“She’s not one of oos. Just look at her.” Tirn sat on a bench in the empty longhouse. He pushed his clay cup half-full of sour mead away in disgust. “I can’t drink this piss.”
Findar took the cup and sniffed it. “Eske knows the secret to making sweet wine. Even in spring.”
“Her hair’s the wrong color, as are her eyes.” The older-by-a-year, Tirn, picked at the wooden table with his favorite treasure, a steel knife pillaged from a hamlet, a week’s voyage south. It had rusted during the return trip, but hard polishing and a fresh antler handle had given it a new life.
The hall’s dim light, roof hatches propped open to let in the sun and exhaust the stench, allowed the pair to witness each other’s grim visage. The fate of the southern woman would be decided that day when the sun peaked and the elders crawled from their huts, addled by the debauch of the prior evening.
“She’s learning our language. She’s helping Lanna and Bennia with tanning. And she’s…”
“She’s not one of oos!” Tirn drove the blade, knuckle deep into the wood.
Findar flung back from the strike and stood. “Yoo and yoor purist ideals.” He tossed the sour mead hissing into the embers of the hearth and dipped out a cupful of water from a nearby bucket. “I know yoor heart, Tirn, I see the way yoo stare at her. The way every man stares at her. But yoo, I can see your loathing and and how it twists to lust.”
“Do not pretend to know my mind, Fin. Eske is not one of oos. Will never be one of oos.”
“The elders will determine that. And you will abide by their decision.”
Tirn yanked the blade from the table and left, pausing at the open door. “Elders, bah! Your father’s rank will take you only so far, Fin. Someday you’ll have to be a true Viking—on yoor own.”
Outside, Lanna, carrying a basket of rabbit skins, collided with the irate Tirn as he stormed from the hall. She dipped her head as was custom. “Apologies, Tirn. I did not expect anyone coming from…”
“Yoo don’t fool me, Lanna. Findar’s inside and yoo know it.” Tirn marched away.
She entered the long-house and plopped the basket down next to Findar. “That arsehole is going to get himself banished.”
Fin looked up from gazing into the cup. “What?” He creased his forehead. “Hmm, maybe that’s it. It must be.”
“Must be what?”
“What did you want?”
“I was looking for Eske, she was to help me with all these rabbits.”
“Ja? Where did you see her last?”
Lanna looked concerned. “Going to the cove. I didn’t believe it, but she said Tirn had a task for her.”
“Shite.” Findar jumped up and ran from the longhouse.
“What? What’s Tirn going to do?”
“Nothing good. Gather the elders, what of ’em can stand, at least.”
Findar ran through the village, leaping dogs and children, dodging stone huts. He worked his way down the path to the sea. One of the smaller skiffs had been pushed into the water. He recognized Tirn at the helm and the exotic, dark-haired Eske seated mid-ship.
“Tirn!” Fin skidded to a stop on the pebble beach. The cove, mirror calm, showed only the trace of the departing vessel. Past the point, the sea’s waves picked up, whitecaps flashing like ermine in the heather. “Tirn, don’t do it.”
“Don’t do what, Fin?”
“Eske doesn’t deserve to die, Tirn. It’s not your place. Not your choice.”
“Die? Die, yoo fool? I’m not goin’ ta kill her. I love her. I’m goin’ ta save her.”