It’s My Party
Well, that could have gone bad.
Of course, it could have gone a lot better too…
To begin with, let’s try and not sneak up on people we barely know while they’re still sleeping, shall we? It’s a bit late now, but next time – maybe?
Anyway, it’s done now, and no one got killed, so that’s something at least.
Hulda went and got dressed. Someone else rushed in wielding a large harpoon around and Vissla yelled at Otto to go out and stand guard to let people know it was safe to come in. Harald knocked a hole in the ice.
Pall stood by the fireplace and looked uncomfortable.
Vissla yelled at whoever had just entered with the harpoon not to go into Hulda’s room because Hulda was doing perfectly fine and would be out in just a moment.
Otto got his act together and stepped out to keep watch by the door.
Torrd showed up and said that Gulli was on her way with the medical supplies and Harald told him Hulda was fine. Dagur hurried into the room – big as he was, huffing and puffing – with his largest dog. Finally there was someone for Pall to talk to. He liked dogs.
People kept dropping in. Single or in pairs. Some with dogs, but most without. Everyone armed and excited, or a little bit disappointed they’d missed out on the action.
The doors didn’t stay shut for long.
Hulda got herself into her station master’s uniform in record time and stepped out into the hall again so people could see she was fine and so that Vissla could stop trying to keep them from entering her room to look for themselves.
The station master was back. Safe and sound and unhurt, and what had actually really happened. Had there been an attack? A burglar? What was Pall doing there? He never came down to the village and sure he hadn’t been here since summer or maybe last summer? Was there something going on there? Had he tried something?
Everyone was there, and if someone wasn’t there, it was just because someone else in their house had already gone and they were waiting for them to come back and let it know it was safe.
Soon enough, the entire village would be there – except postmaster Ralphur who had to keep the post office open in case anyone wanted to send a letter. You had to stick to regulations after all, where would you be if everyone just did whatever they felt like?
Hulda put the kettle on. Even brought a spare one from the storage room and got that going too. She told people to sit down, one two three many times, and eventually they did, and she told them there would soon be hot water for everyone – and if they’d all just be patient a little longer while the water heated up she’d go and grab a crate of biscuits from the storage room.
Tea and biscuits.
Might as well go all out Hulda. Why not? You know there won’t be an inspection any time soon and it’ll cheer the villagers up. They need it. You’re bringing out the biscuits already anyway – might as well crack open the tea too.
In the end she did it.
Sure, the boxes of tea were meant for paying customers to the train station’s cafe, but no one had ever used it for as long as she’d been there, and she wasn’t even quite sure where the keys to it were. If the inspector asked she could say rats got in and took it. Maybe they’d send her some more rat poison then.
Tea and biscuits for everyone. On the house. It’s a party.
Forget the cold and dark. Forget the ice and snow. Forget for a while that people died and won’t be showing up. Forget your troubles. Have a cup of tea, with proper tea, in a fancy bag, with a tag on a string and everything. Have a biscuit. Squirrel one away for the kids for later.
Talk to your friends and neighbors like you haven’t done all winter. Smile and relax. Watch the kids play. Remember summer.
Even Pall stayed and enjoyed himself, but perhaps that was because Hulda had told Vissla not to let him leave until she’d had time to have a proper word with him.
Hulda herself darted back and forth among the tables like her heels were on fire. Topping up mugs, offering extra biscuits, reminding everyone there was more if they wanted some, and don’t be shy now.
– – –
Hulda stopped and straightened up.
Everything looked normal. Just like it had a moment ago. Villagers, lots of them, talking and drinking and enjoying themselves. She let her eyes sweep across the room. Full of people. Pall and Vissla in the far corner. Dagur and Njall by the fireplace. Sindri and little Saga. Gulli, Torrd, Otto, Harald, Styrbjorn.
A large crowd. Friendly faces. Familiar. Happy.
Finally a bit of joy and warmth in the cold winter. She should be happy. Had been, up to just now.
Her gaze stuck on the door out into the little entrance room. It opened, and Fannar stepped in, wearing his big hooded cloak and carrying his staff – as always. Slowly he closed the door behind him, not that anyone would hear it creaking shut over the din of the hall, and took in the scene before him.
He spotted Hulda watching him, gave her a nod, and focused his attention on something else. Over in the far corner. Vissla.
Silence spread through the room as Fannar made his way between the tables. Conversations faltered and died. Smiles faded into frowns, and brows creased in worry. A dog growled. All eyes trailed the shaman.
Inwardly Hulda screamed – silent, to herself. She wanted to tear her hair out. She wanted to cry, but she didn’t, and her smile stayed on. A little bit stiff. A little bit hounded. All kinds of forced and not at all real, but it stayed on.
He stupid couldn’t have picked a worse time to show up.
When Fannar reached the table in the corner where Vissla and Pall sat he stopped. Vissla stared up at him, her lips pressed together, and refused bow her head. Pall squirmed.
Words were said, but from where she stood, Hulda couldn’t hear a thing. Vissla’s lips moved, and Fannar’s head bobbed up and down in the same way it always did when he spoke.
No one else spoke. Not a word. Even the fire in the hearth ceased it’s crackling – or so it seemed. Hulda held her breath. The shaman and the hunter getting into a fight right now was the last thing this village needed.
Vissla crossed her arms over her chest, sneered up at Fannar, and shook here head.
Fannar’s shoulders slumped, and he hung his head. A moment later he shrugged, turned around, and raised his hand to beckon Hulda over. “Station Master, would you be so kind as to provide some hot water for an old man?” He pulled a smile on to his face. “I hear there’s cookies too.”
“Biscuits,” snapped Vissla behind him.
Anger flashed across Fannar’s face – just for an instant, but clear enough to cause the entire room to gasp for breath – and then he smiled again. He even clasped his hands in front of him.
“Biscuits,” he said, and winked.
Hulda did her best to widen her smile and bring a spark to her eyes. He tried. She could. Around her, people relaxed. Just a little at first, but as she drew closer to the table in the corner, the tension in the air took on a hint of curiosity.
When she arrived Fannar had sat down and placed his own mug on the table. “I’ll be right back with a teabag and some cookies,” she said when she’d filled his mug up. “Pall? Vissla?”
“No.” said Vissla.
Pall shook his head. Said nothing. And then he looked away – averted his gaze and hung his head.
This really hadn’t worked out the way he’d thought. Not even close. Stupid. He should have stayed home. None of this would have happened. They all looked at him strange now, like he’d done something wrong, like it was his fault.
Vissla wouldn’t let him leave, and now the shaman had showed up as well. Not just any shaman, but the master shaman of the entire Lurvak Bay area. He who spoke to the mountains and the sea and the forests and who heard the song of the stars.
Pall kept his head low. Better not get noticed. Sit still, stay silent.
He shouldn’t have come here. It probably wasn’t important anyway – not really. Better safe than sorry he’d thought. Back then it had made sense. Out there on the ice, with just him and the wind and the snow. He’d been safe then. Strong. Confident.
It had seemed so simple. Go to Lurstrand, talk to Vissla, and perhaps, just maybe, potentially, have a cup of tea with Hulda. Look how well that had turned out. He’d been shot at, yelled at, and now he was stuck with the two most powerful shamans he knew and he hadn’t even get to tell either of them what he’d come here for.
They’d probably laugh at him. Vissla had decades more on the ice than he, and she’d laugh at him for having missed some simple natural explanation.
– – –
Seriously Pall. Stop whinging and get your act together. You went into the village at stupid early in the morning and you broke the unwritten rules and scared the station master. This is your own stupid fault whether you like it or not. Shut up and deal with it. Okay?
Right, sorry about that.
– – –
Hulda appeared beside the table again. She sat down a small paper plate with a few biscuits and a teabag on it. “Is there anything else you need?” she asked and clasped her hands in front of her.
Pall glanced up at her, and then his face grew warm and he hurried to look somewhere else.
Fannar cleared his throat. “Actually, station master, I do have a request if you’d be inclined to here it?”
“No!” snapped Vissla, her voice barely more than a whisper, but still with the crack of a whip in it. “We’ll stay here, and we’ll talk where everyone can see us. That’s final.”
“Very well then,” said Fannar. “No thank you Hulda, that will be all for now dear.”
“Pall?” came Hulda’s voice. “More tea?”
He took a deep breath and looked up. “Yes.”
Hulda smiled back, and his heart beat a little faster, and she leaned forward and filled up his mug.
“Err…” he stammered, and his face grew beet red. “I mean, yes please.”
Stupid. She’d already done it. The word was thanks. He really shouldn’t be among people.
She winked at him, turned around, and left. Leaving him alone with the two shamans and an entire village’s worth of faces staring at him.
“Very well then,” said Fannar once more. “Vissla, would you be so kind as to fill me in on the events that took place here and which lead to this gathering?”
Vissla leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “No. Can’t. Don’t know.” She turned to Pall, and a thin grin spread across her face. “But I know someone who does…”
“Uhm…” Pall’s mouth went dry.
Fannar shifted in his seat and turned to look at him. “Pall, my friend. Is it that you have information about what has transpired here?”
Pall said nothing. He bowed his head and stared at the mug of tea on the table.
“Yes he has,” said Vissla. “He was here.”
“I’m sorry…” he stammered, still looking down into the mug. “I just thought I’d tell you… I mean… I wanted too talk to you.”
“Who?” said Fannar, with something of an edge to his voice.
Pall squirmed. “Uhm… I mean… I didn’t mean…” He swallowed again and reached for his mug.
Fannars hand, snapped out and grabbed him by the wrist, pinning his arm to the table.
Eyes wide, Pall stared at him.
Sneering, Fannar leaned close. Real close. So close Pall could smell the sweat on his skin and the anger in his eyes.
“Now listen here Pall,” he snarled through clenched teeth. “I know you don’t like having all these people around, but just because you’re a cliff sider doesn’t mean you don’t know how to speak, and I’ve had more than enough of people who don’t reply when spoken to.” Fannar paused to let the words sink in. He didn’t as much as blink. “I’m going to go and have a word with Hulda, and by the time I get back you will have your act together. Is that clear?”
Without waiting for a response Fannar got to his feet and walked off.
Pall’s heart sank and his shoulders slumped. Should have stayed home. He raised his head and glanced towards the door out.
“You’re not going anywhere,” said Vissla.
No. She was right. He wasn’t. He took a deep breath, clenched his jaws – filled his spine with steel and his belly with ice. Strong. Confident. Invulnerable.
Time. It was all about time. Time never stopped. If he could just keep his cool for long enough he’d be through this and then he could leave. Spine of steel. Belly of ice. Take all the hits. Shrug off all the hurt. Time healed all wounds.
Pall clasped his hands in his lap, straightened his back, and held his head high. Then he waited. Stared at the wall of the arrivals hall, and waited.
Vissla sipped her tea. Didn’t look at him, and sipped her tea.
Fannar appeared by the table, sat down, and faced Pall. “Talk.”
“I came to talk to Vissla.” Without taking his eyes of the wall he paused to clear his throat. So dry. “I was early and decided to wait here.”
“Why did you want to talk to me?” said Vissla.
“I had noticed unfamiliar tracks in the snow out on the ice.” Sweat broke out on his neck. “I decided to inform you.”
“What kind of tracks?”
“Skis. Two pairs. One heavy. One light.” Stare straight ahead. Look at the wall. Don’t flinch.
“North of Rotten Beak.” A drop of sweat ran down the side of his face, just at the corner of his eye.
His eyes twitched. His face burned. His jaws hurt from the tension, and his heart raced like rainstorm whipping at the sea.
“Thank you Pall,” said Vissla. “Don’t tell anyone else about this.”
Lips pressed together, Pall nodded, still without taking his eyes off the spot on the wall.
Beside him, Fannar cleared his throat. “Pall, I have a favor to ask.”
“Of course, shaman Fannar.”
“Kala is alone. I’d like you to keep her company until I’m done here.”