Erics eldest son and his pregnant wife were waiting in the common room with him and Ole, the youngest, while the midwife and the wiseman of the order were in an adjacent room delivering the baby. It hurt Eric that his other sons were not present, but life in the order meant for them to abandon their previous lives, hard as that might be on an island with only two villages.

Ole himself was too young to join the order, but since he had an older brother who already was goung to inherit Eric’s lands and livestock, he too was destined to join the order.

Gently the door opened, and he old man in the white robes slipped out. The ash gray shape on his heart depucted a large creature that had been slain. Knights of the order called it a dragon, old texts referred to them eiher as a sphinx or as a chimera.

“Good news?” Eric rushed to him.

“It is both good and bad.” the old.man spoke in a gentle voice. “It is a healthy child born, but he’s a boy.” Eric said, he had heard the rhetoric over an dover again.

Five times so far.

Not that he didn’t love his sons, but the land needed girls.

“Your wife is dying.” the old man said, his voice gentle as ever but clouded by sorrow. Striken as if the stormy waves had crushed against him he sunk into the nearest chair. “But she has birthed a healthy, strong girl.” he added, although bearing sad news he conjured up a smile, bringing light into the dimly lit room with his words.

What use is a girl to me without my beloved Yngrid? “Can I see my wife?” Eric climbed to his feet. The old man nodded leading him in. Yngrid was lying a bed with the child at her breast, sleeping after the exhaustion of being born. “Eric.” she sighed, in stark contrast to the rosy child next to her it became obvious even to his eyes how pale Yngrid looked. “I told you I’ll birthen a girl.” she whispered, a frown on her lips despite the good news of the newborn girl. She knows she is dying! “Yngrid. Save your strength, I need you here.” he kbew he couldn’t lie to her about her impending death, but he needed her. And he needed to tell her just how bad he needed her. For all his life she had been there, for all his life she was the voice of reason in his every day.

“I know.” she smiled faintly, “But she needs you more than you need me! Raise her for me, and I’ll be there when she smiles.” Ponderous he squeezed his wife’s hand. “I love you. I alwayw have and always will.” another smile appeared on her lips. “I love you too, always will and always have. Take good care of Erica and make me proud of her!” Eric stared at the baby, the peaceful face and slow breaths that swayed the little girl’s body. “Erica? I shall,” suddenly the baby began frowning, filling the room with cries of agony felt at the heart, Eric fell.in line with her cries, a life less smile on slightly parted lips was Yngrid’s final greeting to her family.

 

Eric sat at the table, as usual winds tore at the shutters of his home. Unlike many others in tge two villages, and unlike the knights of the order, his family dwelled on the surface, not in tunnels, halls and rooms carved from the age old basalt of the pole. In some nights he wished that they did.

His sister had married off to a subterranean family. His nephews barely saw the clouds, seldom felt the winds, close to never felt the rain on their faces.

It had been three exhausting weeks since Erica was born, three weeks of barely enough sleep. The child demanded food every two hours, to his relief he was not alone in taking care of her. Thorsten and his wife Haale were there, and even Ole could help. Thoughts about the harvest crept into his mind. It was plentiful, more than usual.

Although the constant howling of the wind, the continuous noise of the shutters was still there he observed that it grew fainter. Faibter than the years before. Since the previous harvest he had seen the sun more times than he had fingers to count. Three of his sons coukd count them, but they were with the order.

“Father?” Thorsten stood across the table. “Yes?” his smile was thin and faded after a heartbeat.

“You should come tovthe door.” Eric looked confused, he gad not heard a knock. But he could imagine who it was, what he wanted. Haggle over Ericas marriage arrangements. Already two farmers and the innkeeper had approached him. “Send him away, she is too young to be haggled over.” his voice sounded the growls of an annoyed hound.

Thorsten turned to the door and opened it bidding the hooded figure to enter, despite his fathers wish.

“Hello father.” Eric rose after the visitor had lifted his hood. “Leif!?” he could not believe his eyes. The second oldest son of his stood there in his common room. “Isn’t it forbidden for knights to,” he shook his head, went around the table and embraced the young lad. “I’m glad to see you.” he held Leif at the shoulders looking him up and down. For ten years he hadn’t seen him, but still recognized him. When he became a man grown he was introduced to the order, and soon after took his vows and lost his manhood. Sorrowful he glanced at the small wooden chip hanging on a leather cord from Leif’s neck. It said his name, his fathers name, the dates of his birth and when he joined tge order. In the center it bore a sigyll of the part of the order he was in. “What brings you to our gloomy home?” he bid his sons to sit, seating himself again as well.

“For one, I wanted to see my sister!” he grinned. “I wanted to pray at mothers grave.” his smile began to fade. “But I wanted to know whether you still kept the secret of ship crafting stowed away in your vault?”

Taken by surprise Eric reached for his goblet of fermented sheep milk. “I’m astonished, doesn’t the order keep similar secrets?” Leif smiled faintly glancing at the symbol on his amulet. “They do, as you see I am with the scholars of the order, but they have the knowledge to build ships for hundreds of men, or small boats. The knowledge of building fishing boats is readily available too, but I need your secrets father.” his gaze turned to his father. “I need a ship that can brave the stormy sea, walls high enough to keep the waves out, and at the same time a ship small enough to be maneuvered by one man.”

Eric began stroking his beard. “Why does the order want to brave the stormy sea? Especially with a boat this small?”

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