The smith led the warrior into his home and set out a stool of him. “Come, sit. I will begin at once.”

Hesitating, the Norseman looked at his host. “It would be easy enough for you to slit my throat while I am vulnerable, and bring our wager to a premature conclusion,” he said.

“Yes, it would,” the blacksmith laughed. “Lucky for you I am an honorable man, no? In any event, I doubt your men would consent to sitting politely, one at a time, for their own slittings.”

“Fair enough. Show me why the name Braidar is sung by warrior-poets with well-tamed locks, then.”

Going to work, the smith found his customer’s hair to be already well-washed and well-kept, as was the custom of the Norse. There was no need for the lengthy washing that normally accompanied his work, so he was able to get straight to braiding.

The process was complex, and soon the smith had a strand of the stranger’s hair in between each of his paired fingers and yet another held in his mouth as he worked. Yet there was not the faintest tug on the Viking’s scalp, nor did the man feel any pain as his locks were gradually woven into an impressive triple braid.

Once the process was over, the blacksmith retrieved a piece of metal he kept for the purpose, one that he had polished to a near-mirror shine and handed it to his guest. The Norseman admired the braids and gave a low whistle.

“It seems, for once, that your reputation is well-deserved, Braidar,” he said. “I have had my hair braided many times, by my own hand and others, and I say to you now that this is the finest.”

“It was my pleasure,” said the smith. “Go in peace, my friend.”

“A moment,” the stranger said, his hand flitting as if my instinct to the blades on his belt. “You must tell me how you learned this art. Who taught you? Who was the master to your apprentice? If there is one of greater skill than you, I must seek them out.”

“I would rather not speak of it,” the smith said with a wistful smile.

“I’m afraid I must insist.” The warrior’s thumb was hooked easily into his sword belt, but the implication was quite clear. “I cannot consider our wager settled otherwise.”

The smith stood, unmoved, with his homemade mirror still in hand.

“Worry not, friend,” the Norseman added. “I have no desire to steal your secrets, nor those of your master. But my curiosity must be sated.”

“Very well,” said the smith. “I will show you. But I must ask that you respect it; I think you will agree that the source of a skill such as this has earned at least that.”

“Of course,” said the warrior. “Lead on.”

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