This could be a problem…
Svein had seemed relaxed and prepared for every question that had been thrown at him about where Bregðask had been sent and why. He’d answered or danced around every question, but Hilda hadn’t been in attendance for the meeting and neither had Gardar. That meant either they were still finishing up the preparations, or they were against the decision in its entirety.
If Gardar was against the decision, it could mean that something had come to light about Bregðask that had forced Svein to send him to Gardar’s home island, or perhaps, Gardar had suggested the move to protect him.
Sigfúss knew the reputation of Bjørn. He also knew that Svein didn’t really think that a few years on Bjørn would change Bregðask’s nature, so he had to be planning something else.
Hilda was more likely the key person to try and figure out. She had stood by Svein over the years even after Valka left, in spite of that night even, for Bregðasks’s sake. No doubt she was furious, if not mourning, the essential loss of the boy she thought of like a son.
How long would Svien be willing to leave Bregðask on Bjørn virtually unattended? He doubted that Svein had explained the situation to anyone in detail. The council likely only knew the story they were fed, but the goðar would probably know more and be more keen on telling the truth.
His sons remained quiet as he paced slowly through the room. His wife sewed something quietly in the corner, there to receive her orders and little more. Øydís had proven extremely useful. They had two sons and a direct tie to the line of hilmir since he’d married her, and all she’d asked of him once Ullr was born was to never be touched again. She’d be his spy, but she had only become his wife because of her father.
I will return home, and divorce you, she said, Take whatever maiden you want to bed from this day forward but do not touch me.
At the time, it had irked him to be spoken to that way, but he’d had little choice but to obey her wishes. She had the upper hand. She’d given the Renouf clan all that they wanted from her and could take it away with a simple divorce. If they divorced, she could remarry and that tie would be given to the children of her new husband rather than the Renouf clan, and thus, all the years would have been a waste.
Sigfúss had never loved Øydís, so it was merely the need to concede to her that irked him. With time, he got over it and sought his pleasures elsewhere. He had no doubt that she also kept a lover and took provisions against getting pregnant, so their arrangement would stand for as long as was necessary.
“He is up to something,” Sigfúss hissed, “I can feel it. Pay him a visit and ask him what is going on. He would not send Bregðask away without reason.”
“As you wish,” Øydís said softly, “Should I speak to Hilda as well?”
“In passing, Gardar would be a better bet,” he said, “Hilda, for her loyalty to the Harvard house, has some animosity towards Svein, but not enough to say anything useful, but you are his sister, in what I suspect a better position with him than his twin.”
He turned to his two sons, Ullr and Sigfrøðr looked up at him the way all sons should look at their fathers: in reverence and deference.
“Ullr, ask around about what people know, especially the Njall boy, Dvalarr. Are they not friends?”
“They are,” Sigfrøðr sneered.
“Good. Get information out of him if you can. If not, ask around. Bregðask was a lonely child, but not alone. Sigfrøðr, I expect you to behave as normal. We cannot let Svein know we are on to him.”
“Of course, father.”
“I will be very clear, the island of Bjørn is a place where many Vikings have gone to become men, to grow, to learn, to flourish in a very Viking fashion. If Svein’s plan is to make Bregðask a worthy heir, then we have a very hard game to play for the next four years. By the time of the next Ørlǫg Raun, Svein has to name an erfingi by law barring an unfortunate accident. Bregðask going to Bjørn is a threat to that. No doubt that soon after making the announcement here on Calder, Svein has spread the word across the archipelago in preparation for the Thing.”
It would be a tricky game, the next four years, but Sigfúss knew something that Svein did not: he knew that Svein had more than just the four-year limit to contend with because of Calder law, but also because of the treaty with the Houlegate.
It hadn’t taken much to get the details of the treaty from Embla as they swilled wine in the comfort of the Renouf house. It was an ingenious treaty on both parties, a stalemate of will and who could outmaneuver the other. Embla was arrogant enough not to take precautions against losing out on the deal because she apparently had Svein by the throat
Svein knew she had the advantage and was no doubt taking countermeasures to escape it. Sigfrøðr was the obvious and easiest evasion of the treaty so long as he was married before he was named an heir and Svein never named Bregðask the erfingi, but Svein had four more years to come up with a solution that wouldn’t make him the last Harvard hilmir. While the man wouldn’t go so far as to force Houlegate into a position where they needed the aid, given the political status of the Rekkr Vinfengi, there was a possibility that enough favors could trade hands over the years that Houlegate would have to call the debt repaid in full: armor supplies from Harulf, military training from Bjørn, perhaps even magical knowledge from Asketill were all potentially at Svein’s disposal as bartering chips.
While Sigfúss didn’t know the status of Svein and Valka’s relationship, he knew that since Bregðask was still his only son and Svein had never taken another wife, it was at least still an emotional and legal bond.
There was, of course, the other original clans that would do to be named as successors. Though Calder, on the whole, might be confused about the choice, it was not one that would unsettle anyone too much.
The Thorketill clan’s children were all but occupied with the oddness and borderline insanity that characterized the family. The twins were too unstable to even chance giving them the throne even if the Renouf clan didn’t have them completely under thumb. If he was going to name a Thorketil as erfingi he knew that it would be essentially giving the reins to the Renouf clan in the most roundabout way possible.
Then there were the young men of the Njall clan, but that would do no good. Njalls were the reason they were able to eat and sustain themselves through trade and Dvalarr, the eldest son of the clan, was set to become an heir of that enterprise. The boy was also too soft-hearted to take the throne and none of his contemporaries were well known enough to be considered.
There was Sefi Osulf, the arfi of the Osulf clan and son to the current heads, but he was six years younger than Bregðask and relatively unknown, fading to obscurity behind Eira.
Eira, he thought and hummed. Svein was staunch in his beliefs and adherence to tradition, but he was in a desperate situation. Eira already having a great bond with the erfingi of Harulf wouldn’t be a bad option. It would solidify their ties even further. Embla wanted a new heir for Houlegate. She would never concede to wedding her daughter to another woman, nor would Calder stand for such a union.
If Eira hadn’t been born a woman, she would be the perfect out to Svein’s Houlegate problem, as it stood, she was at least a decent and liveable back up plan to whatever his actual scheme was.
Thus, Sigfúss had to eliminate his back up plan.
“Sigfrøðr,” Sigfúss said, “How goes your pursuit of the Lady Osulf?”
He turned to his son who seemed almost sheepish, “Well… okay, I suppose.”
“Do you not know how to pursue a woman?” Sigfúss asked.
“It’s not that!” He said, his face flushed, “She’s–”
“I don’t want to hear excuses. I expect results. You will up your advances, Sigfrøðr, for the foreseeable future and I expect progress to be made quickly. Four years is a long time to chase, but it is not forever. It will be a tricky game to play. Svein is sneaky. Whatever his plans for Bregðask on Bjørn are, I need to find them out and we need to be prepared to make sure his plans fail.”
“Yes, father,” Sigfrøðr said.
“You are the arfi of the Renouf house, and you could be hilmir. Don’t forget that.”
Sigfrøðr lowered his head, “Yes, sir.
Sigfrøðr left the house meeting and walked out to the main market grumbling to himself.
Eira, he growled, What is it?
He was handsome, in line for the throne, a strong man, and a celebrated brawler. Everyone else seemed to understand his place and importance on Calder except for her. It shouldn’t have been that difficult to get Eira to see him in the same light that everyone else did. She was a noble Calderan woman, yet she hadn’t seemed interested in any of his advances, or the advances of any other young man on the island.
He’d tried gifts, outings, shows of strength, and all the traditional methods of showing interest yet she had glared at him and walked away without so much as a glance.
What is it that I’m missing?
He huffed and punched a post. He hardly felt it from the days his father made him punch solid wood to make him stronger and more tolerant of pain.
Do you not know how to pursue a woman?
The thought burned his pride. He’d done everything in his power, yet Eira hadn’t budged at all. He walked down the row of original clan houses towards the Osulf clan house. As he approached, the door of the Osulf clan house opened and Sefi leaned back out of the doorway.
“Come on, Eira! You promised!”
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” She laughed as Sefi pulled her out the door.
Dag followed behind him and waved to whoever was bidding them goodbye from within the house.
“Goodbye dear!” Solveig came to the door and seemed to notice him though no one else had.
He froze under her gaze but gave her the most confident smile he could. He knew that unlike the Thorketill’s most of the battle would be gaining the approval of her family. Solveig seemed to already like him, but there was the matter of Dag to contend with and Sefi.
Solveig’s smile spread, and she glanced at Eira who seemed preoccupied with roughhousing with Sefi in the middle of the walking path. Dag watched on cheering for either side as their laughter filled the air.
“Arfi Renouf, how nice to see you!” Solveig said loudly.
Dag turned to see him and his expression was polite as he rested his ax on his shoulder and Sigfrøðr approached. Either Eira didn’t care or wasn’t paying attention because she paid his approach no heed as Sefi laughed and faced her.
Eira set her ax down, “Alright tough guy, put ‘em up. Winner gets the other’s dessert for a week.”
Sefi raised his fists and swung playfully at Eira. She danced out of his way with a laugh and caught him around the neck to rub her knuckle against his blonde head. He wiggled in her grasp.
“Got ya’! Looks like you owe me dessert for a week.”
“You’re cheating, and I never agreed!”
“Oh yeah, Arfi Osulf?” She laughed, “You may have a point, but that won’t save you!”
He glanced at Solveig, and she gave him a pleasant smile.
“Eira, Arfi Renouf is here to take you out,” Solveig called with a wink in his direction, “You didn’t say you had plans.”
Eira looked up with a scoff and rolled her eyes, “That’s because we don’t.”
“Are you sure dear?” Solveig tried casting a nervous glance at Sigfrøðr.
Dag snorted, “I think Eira would remember if she made plans with someone.”
“Well, surely you can take Sefi–”
“Let’s go!” Sefi said, “You promised!”
“Sefi,” Solveig cut in with a stern tone, “Eira will have to teach you some other day.”
“Why is that?” Eira asked with a frown, “I promised him today.”
“Because Arfi Renouf is clearly here to see you,” Solveig said pointedly, “It would be rude to turn away a suitor.”
“Suitor?” Eira snorted, “Well, he should have thought about whether I wanted to see him or not.”
Solveig’s eyes narrowed, “Eira, dear–”
“Sigfrøðr, you’re relatively handy at hand to hand combat, aren’t you?” Dag asked.
“I am the best brawler on the island.”
“Great,” he said, “Why don’t you tag along?”
Solveig looked a little put out as did Eira.
“Let’s see what you’ve got.”
He smiled and followed Sefi and Eira who started to race towards the training pitch.
Dag waited until they were out of hearing range.
“I’m not sure what you and your father’s plan is,” Dag said so softly that Sigfrøðr almost didn’t hear him, but his voice was deceptively calm, “But I warn your body, they will never find you if harm comes to Eira, Arfi Renouf.”
He looked up at the man whose expression was as bright as it had been a few moments ago. There was a coldness to his voice that felt like the hand of Hel on the back of his neck.
“Your father and the hilmir can play their power games, but you will leave Eira out of it, or you will have much more than a hurt pride to contend with.”
“Come on, Dad!” Sefi called back.
“I only have pure intentions towards Lady Osulf.”
Dag looked at him with a vicious grin, “You’ll need a great deal more cunning to make me believe that and a great deal more luck to get out of what comes next.”
If Sigfrøðr had known that he would be limping home from a long day with Dag on the pitch, he may have waited to get Eira alone some other time. As it stood, he barely had the strength to wrap his injuries and crawl into bed at the end of the day.
Ullr stuck his head into his room, “What the hell happened to you?”
Ullr hummed, “Right… so I’ll have Elli to myself then.”
Sigfrøðr groaned and waved him off, “Have fun.”