Einar Tværtungur Haraldsen
“You, boy! More ale!”
A thick finger thrust out towards the young boy, who froze in place, the jug shaking in his hands. Einar did not speak the Saxon tongue. Why would he? Besides, these wastrels were no good for more than menial labour. The men whom he had faced in battle some days earlier had proved that. As the rage had taken him, he remembered Englishmen turning tail and fleeing. Hardly fit to be warriors, were they?
“I said ale! Now!” he exclaimed across the field. He stood, his large frame dominating the crowd that sat around him, and shook his mug impatiently. The boy approached, the shadow of the larger man engulfing him. He poured, unsteadily, ale sloshing around the jug and spilling at his feet.
Einar’s club of a hand grasped the handle of the jug and wrenched it away from the serving boy, sending more of it splashing to the ground. With speed surprising for a man his size his wooden mug came crashing onto the boy's head, and he fell like a ragdoll to the beer-soaked ground.
“Damn you English.” with a brutish fire in his eyes he shouted down at the prostrate figure.
“Can’t fight, can’t pour ale! We should roast you along with the hogs!”
He heard a murmur of laughter from the pack of men behind him. He turned to them with a grin.
“Still, he put up more of a fight than most of them!” the men cheered raucously, mugs thudding together as they once again toasted their victory.
“So what now, Einar?” said the man to his left as he retook his seat.
“Now, we drink.” he replied, taking a heavy swig.
“I mean, what of the warband. Erik is dead, what are…”
“The man is not even cold in his grave and you ask ‘what next?’” his fiery glare silenced the man. There was a frigid silence between the two.
“I...I only mean, where will we go? Further south?” Einar fixed his gaze across the camp, filled with men and women, merry-making, but he knew the fighting was far from over.
“We go where Odin takes us, my friend. South, west, east, north, as long as there is more blood to spill and more ale to drink, it matters not.”
In truth, he did not know what the future held. The Norns had yet to make their ruling, but he suspected there would be more bloodletting to come.
Across the way, the women danced with shadows. It was a celebration, a commemoration of victory, but there was a melancholy in the way they moved. Erik had been alongside Einar when he had tasted his enemy’s blood for the first time. He was a great man, a fierce leader; he should have had a great longship carry him out into the North Sea, flames rising high for all to see, signalling his shield-brother’s ascent to Valhalla. But alas, he burned here, his ashes scattering across the mire and mingling with the blood of his soldiers.
Kjartan, his lord’s brother, had been moving among the revellers, spreading whispers of a voyage west. A number of his men had already asked Einar of his plans, if he meant to join this fool’s expedition; he already knew of Kjartan’s intentions by the time he spoke with him. Whispers snaked their way through soldiers like wine through a drunk, each rumour becoming more outlandish than the last, but the one on the warriors’ lips now was that Kjartan was to sail west, find Atlantis and pull it to the surface like Njǫrd himself.
The truth was much more mundane: sail west and find a new life.
Could he bring himself to leave? He was loyal to Erik, not Kjartan. Though the man was a formidable warrior, he hadn’t proven himself in command as his brother had. Besides, Sveinn’s invasion would continue. The King had already united Denmark and Norway, Einar was sure Englaland would fall into his empire before long. If the men in the capital fought with the same spirit as the men at Thetford had, then London’s streets would run red with the blood of Englishmen, with Sveinn sat atop a throne of its defenders, drinking mead from Æthelred’s skull.
Kjartan had paid him the insult of not asking him first. Einar had served at Erik’s side longer than any other on these shores, and he and Kjartan were shoulder-to-shoulder when they broke the English lines.
Yet he chose to hold discourse with Segrim the Exile first? Einar made no issue of it, not now at least, out of respect for Åse. Poor girl, a widow at such a young age. She would have to fight off suitors, some more literally than others.
Perhaps that was Kjartan’s true intention? To take Åse out to sea and dishonour his brother. And did he trust these other men with her? Segrim? A man who kept himself so shrouded in mystery his father’s name eluded even those he was closest to?
Or this “Fair” Gedda? A man of marrying age, perhaps he desired to take the young widow to wife himself?
No. If anything were to happen to her on her voyage he would never picture his lord and shield-brother again without shame overcoming him.
So be it. He would sail west, and crush the skulls of any who thought of standing in his lady’s way.
He rose, steadily for a man who had drunk so much:
. We’re moving on.” and flanked by four men he made his way to the shimmering pyre.