Eivor opens her eyes to a familiar nowhere. She does not panic, does not look around.
She has been here before, she will be here again.
The water is shallow and does not wet her clothes, but Eivor can feel it all the same, passing through her toes, moving the hair at her ankles. The mist is white, illuminated by a source she cannot see and hasn’t wondered about in a very long time. She wonders if she will see him this time, or if she will simply be alone in this dark nothing.
She has been here before, she will be here again.
Eivor sits down after a few moments of waiting, and then lies back soon after that. The water is cool against her but she will not catch a chill. It’s nice, and she can pretend for a while that she is resting. There’s no use in standing around waiting for him. Disrespect, she has learned, does not drive him off. Neither does her tiredness matter to him. He will come as he pleases and leave her alone to wait as he sees fit.
She has been here before and she will be here again.
The footsteps do not approach gradually. At first there is silence, and then there is she hush hush of water against leather starting and stopping near her head. She opens her eyes, and by the seidr of this place, she is upright and looking at him. She shifts her feet to keep her bearings, uncaring that he is wrapped in his usual dark leathers and she has but her underthings and a tunic. His single eye peers out at her, scruitinous. He looks unimpressed. She feels similarly.
“What?” She asks, a frown slanting her mouth. He just stares. Eivor rolls her eyes and turns to-
Face him again. She sighs, long and loud. “What do you want.”
“It seems we made a miscalculation.” He says. Eivor folds her arms and gives him her best glare.
“Was your miscalculation bringing me here instead of letting me rest?” Eivor snips.
The one eyed man curls his lip. “More than one, actually,” he says, and by his tone Eivor can tell that it’s supposed to be cutting. Luckily for her, she spends these dreams lately trying her level best to be as infuriatingly apathetic towards him as she can, and she has the added luck of not knowing what in the world he’s talking about. So she just stands very still and blinks very slowly at him.
She has been here before, she will be here again.
“No, no, only one,” he relents, like they both know what he’s talking about. “Off by a single generation. It was a childs mistake, though I’m certain it doesn’t matter. I certainly don’t mind either way.”
Eivor waits through his pause, as she’s clearly meant to ask him why he came or what he’s talking about. She knows this game, and she’s no longer a child in her curiosity. She knows not to ask for answers she will not be given just to stroke the pride of this man.
The the one eyes man doesn’t do anything so obvious as look dissapointed, he only takes a breath and shifts his stance.
She has been here before, she will be here again.
There is the suggestion of pain in her shoulder. The man frowns, looking at her. She looks at her shoulder too. There is nothing there, but the sleeve of her tunic dimples, and she knows those claws acutely, has for eleven years, now. Synin.
The One-Eyed man frowns. “There is much divergence,” he says, thoughtful, and unhappy, as the fog rolls in, thick and heady, filling her nose, her lungs.
Eivor shuts her eyes.
She has been there before, she will be there again.
Synin closes her beak against Eivor’s ear gently. “I’m awake,” she says pointlessly. Synin cannot understand her when she speaks, and the bird knows instinctively when she is asleep. Synin flutters her wings and Eivor shifts to squint at the window. The sun hasn’t risen past the mountains yet. Everything she can see is cast in the blue of early mornings. She looks at Synin, frowning. “What.” She asks, unamused. She can’t really complain, though, since she did pull her out of the dream earlier than she would have been released.
Synin croaks mildly at her, and flies out of the window. Eivor can feel the tug at her mind. Right.
She sighs and blinks once, twice, and then their minds slot together.
Eivor can see Valka, sitting on the wall outside of Eivor’s little hut, wrapped in too many furs for the time of year, as always. She looks up at Synin circling above her and smiles, lifting her hand in a wave.
Eivor stumbles out of bed before her vision comes back fully, and she trips with a swear, casting around for her boots.
She gets one halfway on before she remembers that she doesn’t have her breeches on. Swearing louder, she tugs the boot off, pulls her breeches on, tucks her tunic into them, and finally stuffs her feet into her boots, only just remembering to pause at the door for her cloak, knowing that Valka will send her back in for it if she doesn’t. She stumbles out of the house, breathless with excitement, and it’s not until Valka turns to look at her, her smile widening to an amused grin that Eivor remembers that she slept on her hair wet and unbraided. She groans, and Valka snickers to herself, watching Eivor smooth her hair back helplessly as she walks towards her down the narrow road.
Valka kicks her legs against the stones, smiling cheerfully down at her.
“Good morning,” she says. Eivor grins back despite the embarrassment simmering low in her gut.
“Good morning. It’s good to see you,” Eivor tells her earnestly, tipping her head back to look at her friend.
“It’s good to see you too. It’s been a month,” Valka observes. Eivor grimaces, guilt hanging heavy in her chest.
“It has been… chaotic. I have been trying to reign in Sigurd. It has taken most of my time.”
“So you wrote,” Valka says. She’s not upset, Eivor knows that she would say something if she was. That doesn’t do anything to ease her guilt. Neither have the letters they’ve been exchanging by way of Synin, though, so she's simply going to have to live with it. “Do you know when the ceremony will be?”
Eivor groans and tips her head forward to knock against Valka’s knee. Valka’s laughter is soft in the early morning and her hand comes up to cup the back of Eivor’s head. It’s a lovely laugh, Eivor has always thought. Soft and private like this or loud and joyful like the singing of swords.
“A month, they decided yesterday. I was going to send word to you and your mother today, actually.”
Valka’s fingers thread through her hair absently, her pads of them pressing on the muscles around the column of her neck. It’s something that Eivor has done countless times for her, but it’s not usually the other way around. It’s exceedingly pleasant. “You do not sound excited.”
“Of course I’m excited,” Eivor says, tone unchanging. Valka laughs her lovely laugh again. “My brother is getting married to a woman he will certainly ignore, and she is bound by need to go through with it, even though she will be lonely and unfulfilled.”
There’s the crux of it, at least. It’s not a marriage of love, none of them bear that false impression, at least, but the woman, Randvi seems to regard the situation with a heavier resignation than it might have warranted if Sigurd were less… like he is. Guilt at thinking of him so sourly that stabs at Eivor’s chest. He is her brother , and she would have been be lost without him. Or dead. Likely both.
Valka’s fingers dig in hard at the base of her skull. “Stop that,” she says. Eivor grumbles back at her, and Valka lets out a short breath. It’s not quite a laugh, but it will have to do. “You don’t let me go down those paths, do you think I won’t return the favor?” Eivor smiles into her thigh.
“Mm, I can hope,” she says. Valka chuckles.
“You can be frustrated with him, you know.”
“I often am,” Eivor defends.
“Let me rephrase,” Valka says, sufferingly. “You can be frustrated with who he is fundamentally. It is not a betrayal.”
Eivor mushes her face harder into Valka’s leg. Both of Valka’s hands come up to comb through her hair, and Eivor forces herself to relax. She sighs. “I have tried to offer Randvi friendship where I can, but it is difficult when I am also trying to wrangle Sigurd. She is not charmed by him and only barely pretends to be. Not that he notices.”
Valka gives a derisive snort to that, and Eivor can’t muster her usual defense to it. She knows that Valka doesn’t like Sigurd, hasn’t since the first time they met, but usually, Eivor can find some defense for him.
But she’s tired after this long month of alliance building and brother-minding, and she can’t seem to banish the flashes of Randvi’s false, polite smiles out of her mind’s eye. There’s nothing that she can do to help, nothing that wouldn’t result in war between their people, at least, and she won’t have that needless death on her shoulders. “I cannot help her.” She says, finally.
“Hm,” Valka sounds thoughtful. The first fingers of sunlight have risen above the mountain, touching at the back of Eivor’s head, teasing warmth across her shoulders. “You have offered her companionship in the face of your brother’s future neglect. I would not say that you cannot or have not helped her. She will not be so alone with you around.” Valka’s tone is unreadable, but her words are kind. Eivor lifts her head, shifting so that her chin rests on Valka’s thigh instead of her face. Valka’s hands don’t leave the warm shelter of her hair, and when she looks down, she’s wearing a small smile.
“I hope you are right,” Eivor tells her earnestly.
“I know that I am. I do not need entrails and herbs to see how people like you, Eivor. You give happiness.”
Eivor’s face warms and she fights the urge to bury her face back into Valka’s furs. Valka sees this and laughs, louder now, the notes of her voice ringing through the air like the falling of icicles from trees. Her head tips back, illuminated by the pale gold of the morning sun, radiant and beautiful. She can’t help her own smile even as she puts up a token grumble. The feeling pools in her stomach, warm like the first sip of mead, spreading through her like the sun lighting Valka above her. Valka looks back down at her, brushing a stray strand of hair out of Eivor’s face with a pleased little grin. “I’m sorry, it is just far too easy to do that.”
Eivor pulls a face at her and doesn’t mention that Valka is the only one who has ever managed to. “Ugh,” she says instead, “will you come, then?”
“And watch you make a fool of yourself with ale? I would not miss it.”
Eivor lifts a fist to knock gently against Valka’s knee, wrinkling her nose. “I take it back, you are uninvited.”
“You cannot uninvite me from a wedding that is not yours.”
“I will find a way,” Eivor threatens, but it’s belied by the way that they’re both grinning. Valka tugs on a lock of her hair playfully, and their laughter tapers off into a comfortable silence.
Eivor brings an arm up to rest across Valka’s thighs, rests her other hand on Valka’s hip, twisting a bead between her fingers and running her thumb against her side intermittently. Valka keeps petting through her hair.
“You haven’t told me much of your life this past month.” Eivor comments, and when Valka’s fingers pause ever so slightly in their movement she knows her suspicions were right. She doesn’t press, lets Valka take her time putting words together.
“It has been tense,” she says. “My mother is… ever-changing in her moods.” It’s a very kind way of putting it, considering the reality of the matter. Eivor has been to Valka’s home, she has seen Svala’s decline this past year. Eivor lets go of the beaded cord to grip Valka’s hip. “She speaks to those who are not there, and there are times when she thinks I am a thief, come to steal something away from her.”
“Still?” Eivor asks, grimacing in sympathy. Those times are, Eivor thinks, the times that hurt Valka the most.
The corners of Valka’s mouth pull down. “More often.” She admits. “It is no fault of mine, but it is hard not to feel that way.”
“You’re right,” Eivor reinforces. “It is not your fault. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Valka’s smile is tight, but it is genuine. “Sometimes she knows who I am, but she does not speak to me as herself.”
Eivor frowns, confused. “That is new.”
“Yes, and it is just as baffling as it sounds. I do not know why it happens.”
“There may not be a reason,” Eivor reminds her. Valka curls a lip in frustration. “I know it would be easier if there was, but there does not have to be fault or reason. It can just be.”
Valka looks terribly sad, and Eivor releases her hip so that she can pull one of Valka’s hands from her hair and weave their fingers together. Valka’s grip is strong, and her eyes are impossibly sad.
“I miss her,” she confesses in a low voice, like it’s a secret to be ashamed of. “She is right there, but I miss her so much.”
“I know,” Eivor says, and she knows that Valka knows that she does, “it is okay to miss her.”
Valka blinks rapidly, eyes glassy, and Eivor lifts her other hand to brush a thumb under her eyes. She lets her hand come to rest on Valka’s cheek, cupping it gently so that Valka’s skin isn’t abraided by her rough callouses. Valka leans into it anyway, but that’s certainly her choice to make, though Eivor can’t imagine that it feels good.
“Thank you,” Valka murmurs with a weak smile.
“Always,” Eivor returns, and the exchange is nearly as old as their friendship, worn and soft, fitting perfectly into the air between them. She lets her hand drop from Valka’s cold cheek ignores the bereft feeling that swirls in as she returns her forearm to its resting place. “You should have mentioned, I would have found a way up,” Eivor starts, but Valka shakes her head halfway through, a small smile breaking through the solemn slant of her mouth.
“Hearing of your wrangling brought me a bright spot to hold onto, and you have duties here.”
“I’m glad my struggling makes you smile,” Eivor says wryly, and Valka laughs again, finally, tightening her grip on Eivor’s hand briefly before she buries it again in the hair at her neck, and Eivor laughs as she pressed her cold fingers against her skin.
“It’s very amusing struggling. You speak of him as though he is an eel you are trying to tie into a knot.”
Eivor snorts out a surprised laugh. “It feels that way, at times, certainly.” Valka looks pleased with herself, and the warmth returns to Eivor’s stomach. “How long are you staying today?”
Valka looks past her, up to where the sun is cresting the mountains.
“There is nothing much for me to do at home,” she starts, and Eivor’s heart skips like a stone over water. “I could stay.”
“You could,” Eivor agrees readily, excitement beginning to course through her. “Do you want to?”
Valka’s smile turns lopsided. “I would like to.”
“Then do,” Eivor tells her.
“Are you sure?” Valka asks. “I would not want to be in the way of preparations.”
“You won’t be,” Eivor assures her quickly. “There is not much to do today, while plans are still being made. We could do anything.” Excitement is spreading across Valka’s face.
“Anything is a tall order for just one day.”
“Then we will do almost anything.”
Valka runs her short nails across Eivors scalp and grins and she is so, so beautiful. “I will hold you to that.”