As planned, Einarr, Eydri, Naudrek and Hrug came to breakfast looking more presentable than Einarr thought he had ever seen the other two men, and tidier than he had felt since leaving Kjell for Svartlauf last spring. He had even taken the time to braid his own hair and moustache, and those hung down farther than the beard he’d allowed to grow over the winter. He still wasn’t sure he was going to keep that, although there were definite advantages now that it no longer came in patchy.
As they walked down the broad main avenue that led from the Archer straight to the docks, Einarr thought they made a striking figure – especially for a group of sailors come seeking work. He heard the beginnings of a fight stirring like the first signs of a storm.
A crowd had already gathered ahead of them, and Einarr could hear raised voices, although he could not tell why they were arguing. He shouldered his way through the crowd.
On the docks, two men built like Arring argued. A small stack of barrels sat next to the blond man, whose back was to the ship. The other man, swarthy enough to make Jorir look pale, gesticulated wildly as he held forth. It had been his voice Einarr had heard, primarily.
Above, at the top of the gangplank, a well-dressed man stood with his arms crossed, frowning down at the scene below. Braids tamed hair that was redder than Einarr’s, and what sections were not tied still made a bushy mane. Einarr pointed the man out to Hrug, one eyebrow raised in question. The other man nodded.
Right. Time to make a good impression, then. I hope. This looked like your garden-variety trade argument, and ordinarily he would leave it alone. Ordinarily, though, he wouldn’t be trying to get on the good side of the Captain involved – a man who looked, to Einarr’s eye, not just fastidious but also stern. Einarr stepped forward into the open space around the two men, his hands held out placatingly. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, what seems to be the issue here?”
“This two-faced worm’s trying to pass off sour cider as good Imperial wine!” The swarthy man’s face, Einarr thought, could not ordinarily be this red.
The blond man, meanwhile, had remained remarkably cool under the onslaught. “I had thought, when you introduced yourself as a wine seller, that you had some idea what you sold. It is not my fault you cannot tell an Imperial auslese from vinagered cider.”
Einarr stopped to stare at the two men. This was why involving yourself in someone else’s bickering was a poor decision. With a sigh, he turned back to the crowd. “Eydri? I’m afraid wine was never to my taste.”
With a laugh, the Singer came forward. “All right then. Draw a taste and we will see who is true and who is false.”
The blond man shrugged and turned to the tapped cask on top of the stack.
The swarthy man, though, started to bluster. “Now wait just a second! Who do you think you are, interfering with our business?”
Einarr shrugged, tamping down on the smirk that threatened to give him away. “Just a passing sailor. You’re interfering with everyone else’s business, though.”
“Oh, so I’m just supposed to let them cheat me so I don’t inconvenience anyone else? Is that it?”
“Not at all. If they’re actually cheating you. My friend Eydri happens to know a thing or two about wine. If it’s as bad as you say it is, why not let her taste it?”
“Wait. You’re calling me a liar, aren’t you?”
“Not at all. I’m offering impartial judgement. The only one accusing anyone of lying is you.”
The swarthy man’s blustering turned to an angry stammer. Finally he glared at Einarr and Eydri before declaring to all on the docks that they “hadn’t heard the last of this” and storming off.
Einarr could not quite suppress a chuckle as he turned back around to face the men of the stag ship. They looked… somewhat put out, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of the obnoxious merchant or because Einarr had just spoiled a deal. He put on his best princely demeanor. “Sorry – should I not have poked my nose in?”
The blond man snorted and started picking up the casks, but the man on the gangplank stepped forward.
“Not at all,” he said. His voice sounded like it would be more at home in a thane’s hall than the deck of a ship. “I was here because we expected him to try to cheat us like that. You defused that nicely.”
“Happy to be of service.” Einarr bowed slightly, as one does when about to introduce themselves. Eydri, Naudrek, and Hrug started forward to join him at the base of the gangplank.
“What can I do for you?” Evidently, the red-haired man saw through Einarr.
He cleared his throat. “I am Einarr Stigandersen, of the longship Vidofnir. My companions and I need to reach Kjell, where we can rejoin my father’s ship. I was hoping you might be willing to take us on, even if only partway.”
The red-haired man studied them all for a long moment. “Stigander… Vidofnir… I believe I knew your father, once upon a time. Certainly you remind me of a man I used to know. What will your companions bring to my Eikthyrnir?”
“Eydri is a battle chanter and a scholar. It has been my experience that such people are always of value to a ship. Naudrek and I are both good sword-arms and strong at an oar at need. Hrug can predict the weather and… other things, given sufficient time to prepare.”
The red-haired man raised an eyebrow. “A human weathervane, eh? No, I’ll not ask how. But I believe we can work something out, for the son of an old friend. Come aboard and we will speak further. I am Kormund Arnesen, Captain. But I imagine you already knew that.”