“I am looking for the one they call Braidar.” The warrior, with gear and a tattoo clearly identifying him as a Norseman come south a-viking, took up nearly the whole door to the small smithy.

The smith looked up, squinting. He was a short man, former muscle sagged into fat around his arms and midsection, hands and arms caked with the scars of a metalworker’s life well-wrought. “For what do you seek him?” the man asked.

In answer, the man tossed his head, which was rich with long curls that were well-kempt, well-washed, a feat even more notable given his hearth and home were both a longboat away. “I have to tame this for battle,” he said, “and I do not wish to shave it, for Gurður has already shaven his head and I do not want the men to confuse us.”

“Surely you will be wearing helmets,” said the smith.

“Helmets may be lost,” replied the stranger. “And I would be lying if I said I was not at least a little curious about this man of braids. I have seen his handiwork only second-hand and wish to experience it. People in town say you are the man to ask for all the comings and goings around here.”

“I know this man that is sometimes called Braidar,” the smith said.

“Good,” said the warrior. He put a coin on the smith’s table. “That’s yours if you take me to him.”

“Keep your money,” the smith said. “Braidar does not accept payment for his work.”

“But you do, surely,” replied the Norseman. “A handsome sum for a tout, all you need to is steer me true.”

“Put the money away,” the smith repeated. “I am Braidar, and I would work on your locks for free.”

“You?” Scoffing, the stranger looked the smith up and down, lingering over the man’s bald head. Only the barest wisps remained to show that the older man had ever had hair at all, and even those were close-cropped to avoid sparks and embers.

“Sit, and I will show you a small sample. If it pleases you, I will do the whole; if not, go in peace.”

The warrior’s eyes darted to the smith’s work, a small knife taking shape.

“You think I would so dishonorably kill a man?” the smith said. “While his brothers-in-arms wait on the river, prepared to take this town on his whim? Surely you can see this is a simple camp knife, and the only weapon you’ll find anyone in this hamlet bearing.”

Mulling the idea around in his mouth like a piece of well-braised pork, the warrior nodded. “I agree to your terms, smith, but let us spice the wager, for life is short and glory eternal. If I am satisfied, my men will leave this hamlet and go a-viking elsewhere. If I am not, we will have this place the way we had Kirlea, and the smoke will be seen for leagues around. Deal?”

Looking at the sheathed sword and matching dagger on the man’s belt, the smith nodded. “Sit down then, and we’ll let the wager roll on like honorable men.”

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