Two men skied across the ice. Otto and Harald. The brothers. The call came in from Lurensborg the other day. The spare parts for the radio had arrived with a trader from Gammalsborg. The weather had been too bad to go out at the time, but this morning the wind had died down and the snowfall had stopped.
The moon shone down from a cloudless sky, light enough to make out the coastline. Ice and snow a dark grey underlining the black silhouette of the mountains inland.
Somewhere in there, at the inner end of the bay, lay Lurensborg. The big village. With a shop and a guesthouse and an office – whatever good that ever did anyone. It’d be hours yet before they got there, and they’d probably stay the night.
Hulda had called ahead to let station master Blaskman to let him know they were on the way. There would be a room and beds available for them at the guesthouse when they arrived. No point in not staying the night really. You could be treated like a governor and have a full meal, with mushroom sauce and everything. They knew how to spoil people in Lurensborg – not like in Morskebo where you got to sleep on pallet in the hall at the train station.
In fairness, that was probably how you’d get to sleep if you came to visit Lurstrand, but that wasn’t the same. Lurstrand’s station house was much better everyone knew that. Hulda knew how to take care of guests, even if she was from the south. She was their outsider and they’d taught her well.
Two men skied across the ice, but they were not the only ones.
– – –
Otto, a little bit ahead of Harald, stopped and pushed his ski poles into the ground. He held his breath and listened. Behind him, Harald stopped moving, his skis no longer scratching against the snow.
Ahead of them, somewhere in the darkness, another pair of skis kept moving. Faint. Two pairs. Someone heavy, and someone light.
“Hello!” Otto shouted. “Who goes there?”
The skis in the distance stopped moving. Otto’s hand went for the axe at his side. It wouldn’t do much good in a fight – not with the skis on – but they only had one rifle and it had been Harald’s turn to carry it today.
“Hello!” came a shout from out of the darkness ahead. “Otto, is that you?”
“Otto? Harald?” the shout came again.
“Yes, hello. It’s us,” Otto shouted back eventually. “Me and Harald.” He tapped his hand against the axe and then grabbed hold of his ski poles again. “Shaman Fannar, is that you?”
– – –
Two men skied across the ice. Otto and Harald. The brothers. They were on their way to Lurensborg to pick up spare parts for the repair of their village’s radio.
It had been a good day to go skiing on the bay. No wind to speak of. The snow had stopped falling. A nearly full moon and no clouds in the way. Good conditions for skiing.
Then they’d met the shaman and his companion, and after that the brothers had picked up their pace. It wasn’t so nice out there on the ice anymore.
Harald had said it was just Kala, but Otto wasn’t so sure. You never knew with a shaman. He could have conjured up some frozen spirit from the depths, or it might have been one of the People dressed up as a human. Shamans could talk with the People – everyone knew that. Their mother had told them always to be careful with who you met in the dark. Always speak with your own voice. Always say hello.
He knew Fannar was one of the good guys, and he was on their side. It had probably been Kala who was with him, but you never knew, and why hadn’t she said anything. You can’t trust someone who doesn’t speak.
What if the girl was possessed?
Otto kept skiing. Perhaps he picked up his pace a little more, or perhaps he was just really eager to get inside and sit down somewhere nice and warm.
– – –
The brothers reached Lurensborg without further incidents. They were treated well, with food and with drink, and they spent the night. The following morning, they were both reluctant to leave, but they’d achieved what they came for and they had no real reason to stay.
No one would think they were afraid to set out of course. Perish the thought, but it did seem like they dawdled a bit. Probably just liked the nice and welcoming atmosphere at the guest house.
– – –
The next day, Sindri fixed the radio. Let’s see how that went. It’s back at the post office. Sindri is still there and he’s grabbed a seat by the fireplace, taking a little rest after fixing the radio. Also at the post office is Dagur and Njall – Sindri’s father and Sindri’s son, respectively.
Obviously, postmaster Ralphur is also there, but then that should go without saying by now. The man barely ever left the building, even in summer.
Who isn’t there is Fannar. He’s still in the village. Sleeps in the room upstairs every night, but spends all of the rest of his time with Kala. He’s not expected to be showing up any time soon.
– – –
“Coffee,” asked Ralphur, and got to his feet without waiting for a response.
“Yes please,” said Sindri.
“Can I have coffee?,” asked Njall, sitting on his grandfather’s lap.
“No Njall.” Dagur smiled down at the kid. “Coffee is for grown ups.”
“Can I be a grown up?”
“Of course you can. You just have to grow up first.” He grabbed the boy’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. “Get you some meat on those little bones.”
Njall giggled and squirmed, and then his grandpa wrapped his big arms around him and held him still, and it was nice and warm and safe. He closed his eye and rested his head on his grandpa’s chest, listening to the beating of the big old heart. Solid, steady thumps that went on and on forever.
His mother’s heart hadn’t beat like that. Perhaps that was why she died? Njall lay very still and pressed his eyes shut. Would she still be dead if he had told dad that mom’s heart didn’t beat right? Dad could have fixed it. Dad fixed all the machines. He could fix everything. Mom was not a machine but he could have fixed her too.
Njall pressed his eyes shut and lay as still as he could. If he didn’t think about it they couldn’t tell that he knew about mom’s heart. He had to keep it secret or they’d be mad at him and set him out on the ice and the People would take him.
– – –
“There you go.” Ralphur sat down a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of Sindri. “Is the radio working now?”
Sindri nodded and reached for the cup. “With the new parts it was no trouble at all. Just replace the old faulty bits.”
It hadn’t been quite that easy, and the new parts hadn’t quite fit, and the stupid thing would break again. With some luck it’d last until summer though, and then he could convince the regional council to submit a request for a new radio communication device to the provincial quartermaster offices in Gammalsborg. They’d had this one for years and it kept breaking down. Surely they’d approve a new one this time around – now that they actually had need for one with Fannar having to spend time here.
“Thank you, Sindri.” Ralphur let out a long sigh and sat down. “That’s such a relief. Fannar’s been on to me about it like a hawk ever since he came here.” He took a sip of his own coffee and his face relaxed into a happy little smile. “I can finally tell him it’s working now.”
Over in his own chair, Sindri squirmed. He reached for his cup and tried not to look uncomfortable. As long as you didn’t use it too much it’d be fine – as long as it didn’t overheat. There’s no way anyone would be able to fix the stupid thing if it caught fire and exploded.
He’d tell Fannar later. No need to worry the little postmaster about it.
Ralphur set down his cup and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. He raised an eyebrow and looked from Sindri to Dagur and back again. “Did you hear the brothers ran into him out on the ice the other day?” he said in a hushed voice.
“Him?” Dagur said.
“Shaman Fannar.” Ralphur said, not quite a whisper, but almost. “They met him on the ice just about an hour or so out from here. Him and that girl.”
“Kala?” Sindri raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t been out the house since, they sent Lilja to the stars.
Ralphur nodded. He picked up his coffee and gazed down into the cup. “That’s what Harald said.” Drawing out the silence, he took a sip and then set the cup down on the table again. “Otto didn’t seem so sure… ”
Over in his chair, Dagur grunted. “Otto? He couldn’t tell himself from a dead walrus in the middle of summer if he had a mirror to look at.”
“I know.” Ralphur glared at him. “But that’s what he said. Said she never spoke a word at all. There was no way of knowing it was really her.”
Dagur rolled his eyes. “Of course he’d say that. You know what he’s like. Who else could it be?”
“Well, I’m just telling what I heard, and that’s no lie.” He snatched up his coffee and drained what was left of it. “There’s something wrong with that girl though, and there’s something wrong with people who don’t speak in the dark.”
“Ralphur.” Dagur’s face turned serious. “There’s no need to be spreading rumors like that. The kids are scared enough as it is.” He nodded at Njall who sat silent in his lap, eyes closed, but probably not sleeping. “We don’t need that.”
“It’s okay father,” Sindri said. “Everyone knows what the brothers are like. I’m sure no one will take it seriously.”
He looked back and forth between the two older men. The village didn’t need people arguing about stupid rumors either. Neither of them looked at him – just glared at each other.
“Well, it’s good he managed to get her out of the house at least, isn’t it?” he tried.
Stubborn old fools should stop arguing. That really did scare the kid.
“Yes. Yes of course,” said Ralphur and pulled a smile to his face. “More coffee?”
Sindri looked down at his cup. Still more than half full. He looked over at Dagur and raised an eyebrow.
Dagur shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. I believe we’d better head home and see about getting dinner started.” He patted Njall on the shoulder. “What do you say kid, should we go home? Get you some food?”
“I’m hungry,” said Njall.
“Well then kiddo, let’s get you dressed and get out of here.