A Song of Ice and Fire - Chapter Two
On the caravel headed to Narlind
"Going to leave soon? Looks like you're fully prepared to launch that thing."
It was a little cross, yes, but he couldn't help but get that impression. Sabatt had assumed her usual place atop one of the dinghies where she sat with her nose buried in a book like he'd seen her do for most of the journey. It was still a bit of a surprise to him. To see her on the main deck, out in the open, subjected to wind and weather.
The winds weren't harsh right now, but they would gradually become colder and fiercer the further they moved north. Thordal had somehow expected the Guerannan woman to confine herself to her cabin for the duration of the journey, given her habit to avoid everyone and their dogs. He had little desire to mingle with her as well. Still, he was obliged to a bit of polite conversation if nothing else.
Her reaction was bland nonchalance. Sabatt merely arched a delicate eyebrow, licked a finger and turned the page. "And do you a favour? Hardly."
He sighed inwardly, ignoring the blatant mockery. "Whatcha reading?"
"This," she said with a superior look, "is commonly called 'a book'."
This time, he didn't keep his sigh to himself. "Lass, I'm just trying to be polite."
Not that he'd expected anything else.
Thordal shook his head and left.
Sabatt lifted her eyebrow a trifle higher as the Viking stalked away, then returned to her book. It was not as if the volume was particularly interesting – merely a philosophical treatise she'd borrowed (without permission, naturally) from Lady Alandra's bookshelf – but distancing herself from the other reluctant passenger aboard the vessel was desirable. If she were asked to choose a travelling companion from among the Knights of Darion, the uncouth Narlindir would be at the bottom of the list.
A cool breeze flicked strands of black hair into her eyes. Pushing them aside without emotion, she turned the page and delved into a new chapter.
She was halfway through a long, dull explanation of ethics when an odd sound caught her ear. At first she thought it was part of the rigging, humming in the wind, and returned to her reading, but then she heard it again. No. Definitely not the rigging; she'd spent enough time on ships over the past ten years or so to know. It was softer, more delicate, more musical. She looked up for the source, saw nothing, shrugged and returned to her book.
Only two seconds later, there it was again. And again. It was distinct now – a series of musical notes, almost certainly on a stringed instrument. She pursed her lips briefly, curiosity warring with the impulse to aloofness.
As it always seemed to, curiosity won. Snapping the book shut, she stood and climbed carefully out of the longboat, then strode down the deck looking for the source of the sound.
Down the far end of the main deck, at the break of the poop, was a low wooden bench large enough to sit on comfortably. She'd noticed it earlier. What had not been there earlier was the Viking Knight, sitting casually on the crude chair, plucking carefully at the instrument in his hands. Tuning it, she guessed, judging by the lack of any particular tune to the notes that he was playing.
He looked up as she approached, nodding matter-of-factly. "Afternoon."
She acknowledged the greeting, watching, interested despite herself. The idea of the burly Narlindir playing a musical instrument had never crossed her mind. Perhaps he wasn't quite as uncouth as she'd suspected.
Sabatt tilted her head to the side. "A lyre. And you know how to play it."
Thordal chuckled. "Aren't you observant."
"They say I am," she noted drily, but with a glint of humour in her eyes. "I haven't seen one of these in Vestholm."
"The instrument maker in Vestholm does a horrible job so I make them myself. Like this one."
"You would think nothing surprises me anymore after meeting you Knights." She smirked.
"We're a bunch of odd fellows, aren't we? Gallant Marcus, pious Alandra, spitfire Kestral, the Wise Boy - and I."
"Not to forget the famous donkey-riding Lord of Trade."
"Aye, him. But what kind of knight is he?" He frowned.
"You already have a lily white model of propriety and a bandit with a moral imbalance – I suppose a shady merchant completes the set, somehow."
Thordal smiled. "Probably. But we're in no position to judge the fellow. He's got talent. Closes the greatest deals."
She shrugged. "Hopefully better deals than the one he had with me." She looked at Thordal. "There are things that we should discuss prior to our arrival."
Her brow rose another sliver. "And there I believed you had an interest in questioning me regarding the things you frequently accuse me of having done to your people." She pointed to the seat next to Thordal. "May I?"
"Go ahead," he said.
When Sabatt had settled down next to him Thordal looked her over. She didn't avoid his scrutiny, oddly enough. She didn't appear to be relaxed, not at all. Her face was inexpressive, maybe a little defiant. He found it impossible to tell.
Thordal brushed his fingers along the length of his beard. He grunted as he considered her unexpected proposition. "All right, lass. Why did you do that? Why did you raze the villages?"
That was the one question he really wanted to see answered.
"You see," she began, seemingly giving his question some thought. Her voice was as calm and smooth as ever. "The majority of the Red Prince's invasive forces consisted of hired blades and less than desirable subjects forced to enlist into military service to avoid whatever punishment was in store for them. Naturally, their morale and discipline depended entirely upon the amount of loot to be had. You will not like this answer, Viking – it was easy pickings. We never expected your warriors to return so soon once I had successfully dispatched them to raid Westerlin's shores."
Thordal felt his eyes drift off to some point in the distance. So that's what Narlind was to her, fruit ripe for the plucking. "You're being honest at least. But we were too tough for you, weren't we?" A faint, bitter smile appeared on his face.
Sabatt didn't return the smile. Her face was a blank. "Not you, you weren't. Let us not forget that your warriors were so eager to raid Westerlin's coasts they left without ever looking back."
His eyes narrowed. "Not all Viking warriors are of my people. Why would we even have to deal with Vikings if they were?"
"That is the interesting part, isn't it? Vikings raiding Vikings, that is somewhat ... intriguing."
"Not as intriguing as you'd think, lass. The Narlindir used to be divided into many opposing tribes. Drinking, plundering, stealing spouses – business as usual."
"So it would be considered usual for a seven foot tall Viking to rip chunks of meat out of me with his bare teeth rather than play a lyre." She gave a half-chuckle of incredulous amusement.
Thordal laughed. "Shouldn't have mentioned the plundering, aye? Do I really make such a terrible impression?"
"Do I?" She mimicked his questioning tone, perhaps even added a hint of mockery.
He shrugged, smiling. "I might be able to tell if you weren't such a grump, lass. An occasional smile doesn't hurt anyone."
"Not much reason to smile, is there. But that is hardly an issue you need to concern yourself with." Sabatt flicked some hair back over her shoulder.
Thordal understood the gesture signalled her generous offer to discuss personal matters was now expired. He plucked a string of his lyre. "Your call. You're right, though, there's not much for you to look forward to in Narlind. So, decided on a clever alias yet?" He plucked another string, analysing the sound it produced.
"I'd rather not have you slip up, so you better get used to referring to me as Maria del Cordillera from now on."
He chuckled, absent-mindedly plucking another string. "What kind of a lousy name is that?"
"My lousy name."
Oops. Thordal blinked and looked up from his instrument. "Whoa. Sorry, lass. Didn't mean to put it that way."
She chuckled, much to his surprise. "What's in a name," she stated philosophically. "Yours ought to be less lousy, of course."
"Thordal Fjiskassønn av Vjoskerg," he responded with a grin. So that was her real name, then? She was apparently serious about being a little more open-minded today; fine with him.
"Pleased to meet you." Her look held faint amusement.
Grinning, he said: "Likewise. By the way, that name has a noble ring to it. It smells of a big fortune."
Again, he was surprised when she laughed. "A fortune lost as I may remind you. Not much there to plunder. My apologies, Viking."
He grunted, amused. "Lost or not, you're a noble – can you deny it? Do the others know?"
She shrugged. "So are you, Thordal of Vjoskerg. You're a knight of Vestholm. Does it matter if they do?"
Again, he laughed, booming. "A fine noble I am! All I had was a fishing pole!"
"So? What do I have? Not even a fishing pole." She chuckled. "It doesn't matter, does it?"
Still laughing, he shook his head. "No, it never did. Look at the others, baker's sons and bandits!"
"Precisely my point."
"So," he said, "Maria Whatevera, eh? I'll have to remember that."
She shook her head. "Del Cordillera. It's not that difficult."
He huffed. "Easy for you to say that." He took a deep breath. "Del Cordillera."
She shook her head, apparently humoured by his attempts to pronounce the foreign name. She repeated the words, slowly, rolling the syllables from her tongue. "Maria Sabatta Ferrando del Cordillera."
"Well, Marrrria." He stressed the name, grinning. "I better take care of a song now. I promised I'd finish it."
"Well then, I won't keep you from your work, Viking Knight. Only one more thing before I go." She got up.
Her eyes went narrow and revealed a dangerous blaze in them, shining like fiery embers. "Do not call me a snake again. Ever."
He smiled wryly. "You can change the name but you won't change the skin, Lady Sabatt. But as you wish."
A Song of Ice and Fire - Chapter Two
updated: 13. Mar. 2012
word count: 1772