Chapter 39: Hallótta

“How many left?” Halvard grumbled. His back was so sore he felt as though it would snap at any moment.

“Five.”

Halvard growled in frustration and paused to sit down on one of the steps of the nearby houses. The rest of the squad sat down with him and tucked their baskets between their feet. They were all exhausted.

“Hey, Halvard, what’s the different between a plague victim and us?” One of the soldiers laughed.

“They’re prettier!” Halvard snapped. When the soldier did not reply Halvard looked back at him with a deeply unimpressed look on his face. “Don’t tell me that was the joke?”

“Yours was better,” the soldier admitted sheepishly.
“Wow, that must have been one shit joke then,” Rúni laughed.
“That’s the joke,” Tor laughed with the rest of the squad. Humour and comradery was all

they had stop their eyes from closing. “Hey!?”

The all turned to see a dwarf at the top of the stairs they were sat on glaring down at them, a rather pathetic looking staff in his hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” The dwarf glared at them. “Go away. Shoo!”

Halvards looked back at his men and raised an eyebrow. “Did you hear that? He said shoo,” he mocked in a high-pitched voice, a small twitch at the corner of his mouth. All of them snickered loudly. Halvard was the only one able to maintain a perfectly blank expression.

“I mean it! Get out of here. I don’t need any vagr on my my doorstep.”

Halvard sighed and reached down to his feet to pick up the plague mask and pulled it over his back before he looked back at the dwarf who shrieked in terror and ran back into his house. He bolted the door tightly behind him.

“I vote him for prick of the day,” the soldier next to Halvard snorted. “Don’t say that!” Halvard groaned.
“Thanks, Amund, you just had to say it!”
“Just like a woman to be supersticious,” Amund replied.

“Just like a man to tempt fate,” Githa laughed back.

“Alright,” Halvard stood up and cracked his back loudly. “Let’s get a move on. I’d like to have more than three hours sleep tonight.”

“Three whole hours? Wow, such luxury,” Amund replied. “Next you’ll be telling you you can go to the shit box without worrying a goblin might stab you up the arse.”

Halvard laughed and looked back to make sure that they all had their masks pulled down over their faces before they moved on. As they walked away, he turned and saw the noble who had tried to move them on watch worriedly through a window.

“Five fé says we have to deliver bread to him next week,” Ihar whispered to Githa. “He’s rich, he won’t get the plague,” Githa replied resentfully.
Halvard couldn’t help but laugh at her reply. “Do you think the plague cares?”
“I think it does,” Githa retorted.

“Capinta Svíarr told me this morning that they had to cordon some of the east tunnels.” Halvard said.

“What? How’d they get it?”
“I don’t know. Svíarr thinks they caught it on the way back from Einn.”

“Well, good riddance.”

Halvard turned around furiously to face Hagen. “Would you say that if it had been Jarl or his family cordoned?”

“What? No! Jarl isn’t like them.” Hagen spluttered.
“How do you know that?”
One of the soldiers, Rúni, tried to stand between Halvard and Hagen, afraid that Halvard

was about to fight him. “Halvard, he didn’t mean it.”
“If he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t have said it.”
“Look, maybe we should just split up? Two for each cordon?”
Halvard nodded and walked away by himself while the others split up into their own

groups. “He doesn’t make it easy to like him, does he.” Ihar remarked out loud.
“No, but you’re got to admit he’s got balls of steel, I saw him move one of the bodies

yesterday with his bare hands. There isn’t enough gold in Bjargtre to make me do that.” ** *

Halvard waited for the guards to open the wardrobe gate impatiently There were three more guards by the brazier than there had been the day before.

“Why are there more of you?”

“The Har Fleinn thought there might be trouble, one of the cordons was broken out of last night.”

“What? Which one?”
“The tenth.”
“Well…shit.”
The guards nodded in agreement and opened the door for Halvard. “Shit.”
This time as Halvard walked into the cordon the smell hit him like a punch. He gagged

and pulled his cloak up over his nose and mouth. There were more bodies in the street, two of them he recognised as dwarfs he had given food to yesterday. By now it had become obvious which houses had not survived the plague, uneaten bread by the doorways. The rats more interested in the bodies which lay beside it than the bread its self.

What’s the point, he thought. Most of them are going to die anyway.
“Byström, Halvard Byström?”
Unprepared to hear his old name Halvard turned and angrily faced the small dwarf

woman behind him, the same dwarf woman with the bruises on her face. She recoiled a little at his furious expression, but did not move.

“Who are you?” Halvard asked, his tone more gruff than he had intended.
“My name is Hallótta. I…I wanted to ask if you had any bread?”
Halvard nodded and passed her a loaf. She took it from him and smiled nervously, but did

not leave immediately.
“How do you know my name? Do I know you?”
“No, well, yes. You saved me in the plaza the other day. In the stampede?”
Halvard’s face relaxed a little as he remembered. “But how do you know my name? My

family name?”
“I wanted to know the name of the dwarf who saved me, so I asked everyone I knew, all

the guards. When I saw you yesterday, I asked the guards who you were and they eventually told me.”

“I’m a neinn nefna. That’s not my name anymore.” Halvard replied and began to walk away.

“Wait!” Hallótta hobbled after him and placed a small gold cloak pin on the ground a few feet away from him. “To say thank you,” she explained.

Halvard reached down to pick it up and held it in his hand. The pin had a simple design and the gold plating was heavily worn, exposing the underlying bronze in more than a few places.

“You don’t need to pay me.”

“Oh, no, I’m not trying to pay you,” Hallótta exclaimed, her face red and embarrassed. “I was trying to say thank you.”

Halvard smiled at her and walked back to her to hand the pin back. Hallótta stepped back, at first sure that he had stepped forward by accident. That was until he reached for her hand and placed the pin firmly in the middle of her palm.

“You’ve already thanked me,” Halvard smiled and walked away, back through the gate.

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