Holmvé opened the door as little as she could and kept her hand on the bolt, ready to slam the door shut the minute she suspected their caller was another ‘relative’ who wanted to congratulate her good fortune. It had been truly incredible to experience over the last few weeks just how quickly word of her ‘inheritence’ had circulated Bjargtre. Suddenly family members she had never met had been at the door with all kinds of tall tales. Some of them had been amusing and others had made her blood boil. The amount of supposed ‘debts’ her long since dead parents had owed to completely strangers was nothing short of incredible.
Instead she saw Halvard. His beard was wild and uncombed and the furrows on his forehead much deeper than when she had last seen him.
Holmvé swung the door open and threw her arms around him. Her face wrinkled even more as it scrunched into an enormous smile. “You’re back!” Holmvé looked behind him for Knud and Jarl, and her face dropped. “Halvard, where are they?”
“They’re alright,” Halvard quickly reassured her. “I- I just had to come back before them.”
“Why?” The smile on her face was gone, replaced with an angry glare. “What for the love of Nida could be so important that you would leave them?”
“Can I come in first?” Halvard asked sheepishly.
“No! You tell me right now, Halvard Byström!”
Halvard flinched at the sound of his old name. “We had a disagreement. The guide Jarl hired, I had doubts about her.”
Holmvé’s eyes glared at him so intensely Halvard felt as though he might find that a hole had been burnt through his skull.
“You left them…because you had a disagreement?” Holmvé whispered. “How dare you show your face here!”
Halvard took a step back, his head bowed.
“Holmvé, they’ll be fine—”
“Fine! Fine! They’re alone in the wilderness with a guide you just said you didn’t trust! How in Hél’s name do you expect me to think that they’ll be fine!”
Across the street, a small crowd of dwarfs had stopped to watch the spectacle of Holmvé’s rant at a dwarf who was so much larger than her.
“Get out! Get out of here!” Holmvé shrieked at the top of her lungs, tears in her eyes. “How dare you call yourself his friend! Get out!”
Halvard stumbled back. Her words hurt far more that any blow. He stumbled back down the stairs and walked as fast as he could back down the street, his head bowed and a lump at the back of his throat.
* * *
“You want your position back!?”
Halvard nodded his head and tried to appear as confident as he could. Svíarr laughed again.
“Did you fall off your pony and hit your head? You disappear for weeks, abandon your duty, and then you have the gall to walk in here and ask for your position back?”
“I am not an ósómi. The law states that any dwarf may be accepted into the army.” Halvard replied as calmly as he could. Svíarr was enjoying this, he was sure of it.
“Fine, but you know your rank is demoted to Smár. You’ll never be an Áðr now.”
Halvard swallowed, cleared his throat and nodded. Áðr was the highest rank a neinn nefna like him could reach unless their name was restored. It all seemed so stupid now. Years of hard work had been thrown away, all because he had trusted Jarl.
“Vǫrn can go die in a pit for all I care!” Halvard spat, even as he felt a twinge of guilt. Even Svíarr was shocked at how vehemently he spat the words out. “He’s a bloody fool!”
“Why did he leave?” Svíarr asked, curious.
“He wanted Knud to see the High City. He has family there.” Halvard lied. No how angry he angry at Jarl, he would not betray him to a worm like Svíarr.
“Well, I guess a noble can afford to do that, unlike the rest of us.” Svíarr reached into the one of the draws in his desk and pulled the out the oldest rusted Smár cloak pin he could find. “Here,” he tossed it towards Halvard. “That ought to be good enough for you.”
“I need a room in a garrison,” Halvard blurted out before Svíarr could leave the room.
Svíarr schoffed and shook his head. “So even the Vǫrn’s don’t want you now. Perfect. You’re such a vital addition to the king’s army. Go talk to Ǫzurr. I’m sure he can find you a corner somewhere. A dirty one.”
Halvard nodded and walked away, the cloak pin clutched in his hand. It was all he could do not to slam the door as he left.
He looked up to see several of Jarl’s old unit and his face dropped.
“Halvard, it’s good to see you! We were worried when you and Áðr Vǫrn dissapeared.”
“Don’t lie, what you mean is, where is Áðr Vǫrn and when is he coming back?” Halvard snapped. “Well, I don’t know when he’s coming back! And even if he does, I doubt they’ll let him back into the army.”
“So it’s true,” one of them whispered.
“He’ll lose his name if he’s wrong.”
“Frankly, I’d be more worried that he might be right.”
The rest of the dwarfs nodded in agreement and walked away without another word to Halvard.
“Glad I could help!” Halvard shouted back at them, insulted.
He turned around to see Holmvé behind him her arm linked with Eilíf to support herself, exhausted by the walk across the city to the garrison. “Halvard, you’re not staying here. Come home.”
For a moment Halvard was tempted to refuse.
“Don’t be stupid” Holmvé snapped as she recognised the familiar stubborn expression on his face. “You’re not staying here! This isn’t your home, Vǫrn hall is. Now come on, I’m tired, and you look like you need to eat something.”
* * *
Halvard did not talk until every single piece of food was finished. Drips of soup made their way down his beard back into the bowl. He was much too hungry to bother with decorum. Holmvé sat opposite him, anxious to ask him more about what had happened, but she waited until Halvard had put his bowl down.
Halvard took a deep breath. He knew he could not tell her the whole story, especially Knud’s accident. It would only panic her even more. Nonetheless, he was determined to be as truthful as he could.
“The guide Jarl hired in Einn, she was a blanda blóð, so I asked Jarl to find another guide. He refused, and we got into a fight.”
Holmvé looked at the remains of the bruise on his face and shook her head angrily. “You’re both a bunch of fools.”
“He punched me in the face!” Halvard spluttered indignantly.
Holmvé stood up and paced up and down the room furiously, with her arms crossed over her stomach.
“What is he supposed to do now, eh? He needed you to go with him so that Knud could be left in Waidu. Now what is he going to do? Leave him with the guide you don’t trust?”
Halvard’s heart sank.
“Oh, I’ll wager you didn’t think of that when you stormed off, did you?”
“They’ll be alright,” Halvard replied sheepishly.
“And how do you know that?”
“The guide, Astrid, she won’t let anything happen to Knud.”
“I thought you said you didn’t trust her.”
“No.” Halvard’s face scrunched itself together as he spoke, the words so bitter in his mouth he felt as though he might choke on them. “I don’t like her because Skad trained her.”
“What?” Holmvé stopped packing and looked at him, confused. “He trained a blanda blóð?”
“And he refused to train you? The bastard!”
“Yes,” Halvard smiled for a moment, relieved that Holmvé understood his indignation.
“Don’t you dare smile. I’m still angry at you! You were annoyed at Skad, not Jarl, you still should have stayed with them.”
“I’m sorry,” Halvard mumbled, his eyes on the floor.
Holmvé glared at him for a few seconds longer before she took a deep breath and stood up. “There, enough of this, you should sleep. You look exhausted.”
Halvard nodded and stood up to walk to the stairs. “I guess now that I’m back Hábrók will probably live for another thirty years.”
“You haven’t heard? King Hábrók died two days after you left.”
Halvard could not decide which emotion to show on his face, happiness, shock or worry. Hábrók was dead, the dwarf who had stripped him of his family name and old life had finally died. “Kings disease?”
When Holmvé nodded, his satisfaction won out and he smiled. Good, it had been a painful end then.
“Halvard!” Holmvé shook her head at him, her displeasure half-hearted. Halvard had made no secret of his hatred of Hábrók over the years and she couldn’t blame him. King Hábrók had stripped away the last thing of value left to Halvard without so much as a second thought. “You shouldn’t curse the dead.”
“I cursed him when he was alive, I don’t see why I should change that now just because he’s dead.” Halvard burst out laughing and shook his head, his face half buried in his hand. “He’s finally dead!”
“Halvard,” Holmvé whispered, but Halvard couldn’t help himself. His laughter grew louder and louder until he began to sob uncontrollably and sat down on the stairs, his head hidden in his hands.
“He’s finally dead. He’s finally dead!”