“We need to change our clothing,” Godrik declared.
“I like this tunic. You bought it for me,” I said, looking down and its soft black wool and intricate gold embroidery.
“Yes, but we’re all dressed in garb from Germania. If you hadn’t noticed, they have been invading these lands. This is the first time you are truly entering a different part of the world than from whence you hail, child. The Norse and Germanic traditions are very similar. The people intermarry and they trade goods. You didn’t look out of place in the Rhine. Since crossing the sea, we’ve stuck to the countryside and hardly been seen by anyone. We’re nearing a large city.”
“The road traffic has picked up markedly,” I said, confirming how he’d deduced what lay ahead.
Godrik chuckled. “True, a sure sign. I also simply asked the brothel keepers where Maelcon’s court was to be found. We will need to pass through the city undetected by the humans. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to figure out how to get this cart over that mountain there in the horizon in order to avoid the city.”
I looked out at the giant black silhouette in the distance and back at the pathetic animal dragging our belongings around. New clothes it was going to have to be.
Amleth started laughing riotously. “Big blond giant! Foreigner!”
“Shut up, Amla.”
“He’s right,” my maker said. “We are still very near the eastern coast. The brothel keepers also warned me that Norsemen have begun sailing excursions here. Apparently they have not been peaceful, so you really need to blend in if you don’t want to look like you’ve arrived to go viking.”
“Okay. What do we do?”
“Unlock one of those coffers and take out a satchel of our gold.” Godrik asked to switch into the driver’s seat. Amleth got in the back with me. We continued on the path until a passenger carriage approached going the opposite direction. “Quick, Amla, I’ll hail the driver, you ask the fine folk inside where the best inn is nearby. And for the love of the gods, Eirikr, put the hood of your cloak up and cover your braids.” Amla reached over and pulled my cloak over my tunic, then similarly bundled up in his.
The coach creaked to a halt and Amla, wind whipping his lustrous hair around his features, stood to lean into the fancy coach window. The people inside were dressed in finery and greeted him warmly. They bickered momentarily about which inn to recommend for “such a dashing young lord” and once Amleth was given a final answer and directions, we set off.
“You and your stupid beautiful fairy face,” I muttered shoving his head away. Amla socked me in the arm in retribution.
At the inn, Godrik pulled up to the side of the building. He hunted down a particularly muddy patch in the rutted path. A cover of trees kept us out of direct sight of the people inside. “This will do.” He crooked a finger at me. “Take out your hair.” He helped me undo the elaborate plaits weaved over the top and sides of my head and knotted together into a thick tail in the back. Then he snatched the penannular brooch off my cloak. “This is from Svealand. The dragon motif and craftsmanship stick out, eh? You and Amla jump in the mud and roll around. I’ll find you a different pin.”
Both Amleth and I looked at each other skeptically.
“Now!” Godrik growled.
We flopped around and started laughing it was so ridiculous. Then Godrik joined us and he was shaking in silent laughter too.
I re-pinned my cloak and waited for further instructions. Again, Amla was asked to do the talking. We entered the inn. I dipped my height under the low lintel and Godrik stayed behind me.
A hostess came to greet us with a look of horror on her face.
“Miss, forgive our unfortunate appearance. Our transport overturned and this, as you can see, was the result. Might I trouble you for some ale and your assistance?” Amla asked.
She eyed the obvious fine quality of our wool cloaks and jewelry, but the mud obscured any details that might give us away. “How may I be of service?”
“We are travelling north for a ceremony and desperately need something to wear. There’s no time to wait for a tailor. Might some of the other customers or someone you know in town be able to help outfit us? We can pay handsomely.”
I shook the sac of gold in front of her and she bit her lip.
“There will of course be a little something in it for you as well.” Amleth winked.
She smiled brightly and it struck me that she was rather pretty. Suddenly I felt my thirst burning in my throat.
“You gentlemen take a seat, I’ll get you your drinks, and see what I can do.”
“My younger brother here needs a long léine, please. The ceremony is in his honor.”
She nodded and we settled into the darkest corner of the inn. A few of the other lodgers were staring and whispering, but soon forgot about us and went back to their conversations. We pretended to sip our ale. Most of it was surreptitiously dumped on the floor under the table or into the absorbent fabric of our cloaks.
“Maker, what’s a léine?” I wasn’t quite fluent enough to follow everything being said.
“It’s just the tunic style here. Different embroidery and cut.”
The woman finally returned with a large bundle. “Oh! It’s so dark.” She lit several more candles and Godrik quickly hid his arms and leaned back to block his face behind my shoulder. Up close, he looked too ethereal in this much light.
“You are lucky. We have a great lord and lady staying here who volunteered some spare things.” She displayed the pieces she’d collected. They were very well made. She held up the long tunic for Godrik. “This might be a bit long, young sir, but if you pull it out over a belt a bit more than usual it should do.” Godrik nodded and thanked her in a soft voice.
Amleth dug around in the coin purse and sighed. “Well, miss, it appears to be your lucky day. I’ve spent all my silver.” I bit my tongue so I didn’t smile at the ruse. He counted out two coins for the nobles upstairs and shrugged and gave her one for herself. Her eyes grew square. It was easily what she earned in a year. “I hope you can deduct the cost of the ale from that.” She could only shake her head, speechless. “Please tell your most helpful clients that Lord Gabrán and his brothers thank them. Now, I’m afraid we must be on our way.” He slapped the table and stood, while I took our purchases. As Godrik got up, he blew out two of the candles so fast the servant must have thought it was the wind.
We managed to get out of the stale, smoky room before bursting out in more laughter.
“Couldn’t we just have stolen some clothes?” Amleth asked.
“Would it have been as much fun?” Godrik replied.
“No!” Amla and I said in unison.
“Seriously, do I look like a Gabrán?” Godrik said.
“I was thinking on my feet!”
Godrik scented the air for water. There should be a well nearby for them to wash off in. “That way,” he pointed.
Dressed in our new clothes, Amleth help straighten Godrik’s tunic. “Why did you get a long one,” I asked?
“It’s for persons of very high status. I’m not going into Maelchon’s court looking like a peasant when I’ll likely be received with great fanfare due to my age.”
Godrik was, of course, right. Maelchon treated us with a lavish greeting party. We feasted like fools, except for Godrik, who was still utterly stuffed from his wild night at the blood brothel, and were given a beautiful suite to rest in for the day.
“It’s nice here. Maelchon lives well and is friendly,” I said.
“We continue on tomorrow. There will be a lot of work to repair my cottage, if it’s still standing.”
“How can you be so certain the island is still uninhabited?” Amla asked.
Godrik cut his eyes at him. “If it isn’t, it will be soon.” A shiver ran down my spine.
The next evening, Godrik plopped a heavy sum down to buy a boat. We sold the run-down horse who was no doubt going to be eaten. It was a miracle he hadn’t died along the way. Loading up the boat, Godrik set sail for the islands on the coastline. It was wonderful to be back on the water. I really did not care for being land-locked. We passed a number of islands as we navigated out to a southwestern point on Gòmastra where an inlet allowed us to pull in. It effectively hid the boat from the other islands.
It was hillier than I expected and very lush. At the base of a high cliff we found Godrik’s cottage.
“Oh gods,” Amla said. “Repairs indeed.” The structure of the stone house was mostly intact but the thatch roof had long ago disappeared. The inside was filled with decayed plant matter and rocks that had fallen from the cliff. “When were you actually last here?”
Godrik sucked at his cheek. “It’s been about 200 years.”
“Well I guess we had better get to work,” I said and rolled up my sleeves.
“There should be a grassy field north of here where you can collect reeds for the thatching. You two do that and I’ll start cleaning this mess up.”
Naturally, Amleth and I started being idiots and whacking each other with the reeds, chasing each other in circles.
When we returned, Godrik just shook his head at us and chucked an armload of rubbish at me to haul outside.