Hreidar was holding up the cracked bear skull before his face, staring at it with a calm gaze that showed no indication whatsoever of having been bereft of control. Eadlin wasn’t sure whether she should feel relief or be terrified. She had never seen a bear skull before, but she was fairly certain this particular skull wasn’t of the common variety. There was no mistaking the ominous aura it emitted. There was also the markings to consider. They reminded her of the runes covering portions of Hreidar’s body.
“I am sure you have realised by now, brother,” Hreidar was saying without taking his eyes off of the skull. “That I was never lost in the red haze. My rage is of the frosty variety.”
“What are you saying?” Gunnar rumbled in response, forcing his voice to carry over the crowing of countless ravens.
“I know that we have been apart for most of our lives but the brother I remember was smarter than that. You know full well what I am saying.”
“So what would you have me do?” Gunnar demanded. “Kill you? Is that what you want? Death?”
“What I want is no longer of any consequence. Eadlin,” Hreidar addressed her and tore his eyes away from the cranium. “Your nobles should fall in line with your neighbours thoroughly crushed. They won’t be invading your territories again anytime soon.”
She didn’t care for Hreidar’s tone one bit. The finality in his voice sounded too much like a bid farewell. A panicked thought rushed to the forefront of her consciousness, he’s leaving!
“What is eating away at your heart, brother?”
One of Eadlin’s eyebrows arched upward in surprise, hearing tender concern in Gunnar’s voice was not something she had expected.
“That is a story better suited for the warm fires of our family’s great hall, a mead-filled horn in your hand and the raging razor-winds of winter outside,” Hreidar replied. “It is high time I came home.”
She had known, she realised, for a long time that this day would come eventually. However, having it sprung on her like this made her blood boil. She deserved better.
“So that’s it?” She all but yelled. “Not even a word of warning? Not a single farewell? You are just going to take up and leave?”
“You know I cannot return home empty handed,” Gunnar joined in.
“That’s a non-issue,” Hreidar responded to his brother.
Eadlin could feel her blood churning in her veins. She would have hurled some carefully chosen abuse his way if only her jaw hadn’t been strained shut by her own muscles. His habit of ignoring her had really gone too far.
She was about to pry her jaws open and speak when Hreidar suddenly continued, “and why would I bid you farewell, Eadlin? That would imply that I’m leaving you. Brother, you were promised land, you’ll have it. Eadlin is a woman of her word, which is why she is coming with us.”
Both she and Gunnar simply stared at Hreidar for a good long moment. The anger she had felt calmed down to a mere simmer. A myriad of questions formed in her mind but it was Gunnar who broke the daze first.
“I understand, and I suppose it will have to do. However,” he said and raised a finger at his brother. “We are not going anywhere until you and I have a good, long talk. Before that though, you will have to destroy that skull.”
“As you wish,” Hreidar said and tossed the thing over to Gunnar, who immediately dropped it to the ground and crushed it under his heel. Sparks flew as the magic inherit within it dispersed.
“Now then,” Gunnar began after brushing off the palms of his hands against one another. “Queen Eadlin, would you please join my brother and I so that we may speak of the future over something to drink?”
There was a subtle shift in manner that did not slip past her unnoticed. She wondered at the sudden change and cursed the cryptic way in which the two Norsemen so often spoke. At any rate, this would be an opportunity to finally get some answers and she meant to get them. If they finally wanted to talk, well, she would indulge them. Both of them had more than an earful of carefully chosen words coming their way.