Fresh air. A cool, crisp morning. No rain! And no snow, either. Of course, winter was supposed to be over, but you never could tell. Iceland's weather had a mood of its own.
Reynir slipped inside the door, humming. He'd already tended to the earliest of chores - checking on the animals, delivering their food for the morning. And now? It was time for his breakfast.
Lalli was in the kitchen. He glanced up, gave Reynir a nod and a mumble that passed as "Good morning," and then returned his attention to what he was doing: cooking breakfast. His hair had the mussed, windswept look that told Reynir that he had been out running around all night again. Even though he woke up beside him that morning, Reynir couldn't remember hearing him come in. But then again, Lalli was like that, and always had been.
A few years had passed since they had settled down onto their little farm together. Before that, they'd had to put up with attention divided between Lalli's work in Finland and Reynir's training at the academy - and they'd had to put up with the distance that came with it, too. No wonder they'd taken off on more adventures when the opportunity came up - it was hard to be together any other way. After that, there was a year spent together with Reynir's parents, which shouldn't have been all that different from living in close quarters with the team they'd both come to think of as friends, but it was. Finally, they'd been able to get hold of a place to call their own - not too far from the family farm, but just far enough.
It suited the both of them. Life was so different when they could be together exactly the way that they wanted.
"Good morning!" Reynir said cheerily, brushing a kiss against Lalli's cheek.
"You smell like sheep," Lalli muttered, taking the teakettle from the stove. He paused for a moment, blinking slowly, then added, "The mail is on the table."
"All right, all right." Reynir laughed and let him be, turning his attention to the post. As he sank down into his chair he reflected that Lalli almost always said that he smelled like sheep. Every morning, without fail, the same thing. At first, he'd wrinkled his nose when he said it. But after a while, Lalli had stopped saying it like it was a bad thing. Maybe he didn't mind any more.
The first letter was from one of Reynir's brothers. After an especially difficult season abroad, he had decided to spend some time on the family farm instead. While the work was all right, he was finding it difficult to be at home with the parents.
A chattier lot I haven't seen in ages, he wrote. Were they always like this? I'd rather spend time with the sheep, they don't talk so much.
The second letter, much to Reynir's surprise, was from Tuuri.
"Did you see this?" Reynir said with a grin as Lalli set a mug of tea in front of him, and a plate of breakfast - bread and cheese and eggs. "Tuuri mailed us!"
Lalli peered at the envelope. "I didn't look at it," he said. "It's your mail." Even though he had become very good at speaking Icelandic over the years, he still spoke it with a sort of flatness, and sometimes it was hard to tell just how he meant something.
"Well, it has both of our names on it."
Giving a soft "Hmm," Lalli shrugged and sat down across from him. He bit into his toast and stared at Reynir with a look that said, Well, get on with it, then.
The letter was postmarked from Norway, with a return address in Dalsnes. Well, then! That was a surprise, too. The last time they had heard from Tuuri and Sigrun, they were in Luleå together. Reynir couldn't help but smile as he opened it.
Dear Reynir and Lalli --
I hope this finds you well. And I hope this is the right address. I lost the paper that I wrote it down on. Well, one of the cats decided to play with it, and then there was nothing left of it after they were finished. Even if it's the wrong address, maybe it'll get to you somehow anyway.
I don't know if you remember what I said in my previous letter, but last time, Sigrun and I were preparing to go to Dalsnes. And here we are! She's been saying for years that she wanted to take me here. I can't believe it! It's so exciting! Very, very different from anywhere else I've travelled to. Gosh, these Norwegians really are loud. But they're so friendly too! Sigrun told me that she would like for us to settle down here, and I think that I would like that.
But that isn't the reason I'm writing to you. Well, it is, but it isn't the only reason. We were talking about old times, and she said that if both of you want to join up over here, you're more than welcome to. She says that they can always use a mage and a good scout here, especially now that it's starting to warm up and summer is coming fast. The hunters are going to be very busy.
We would both love to see you! Both of you. Maybe you two should consider it? Reynir, everyone is so nice here, I think you would like it. And I think Lalli might like working again. It might be nice for him to visit somewhere with a lot of trees.
Please think about it, and write back to let us know how you're doing.
The rest of the letter was long and rambling, detailing the time she and Sigrun had spent bounding back and forth between Finland and Sweden before the trip to Norway. Surprisingly enough, Sigrun's Finnish was apparently halfway-decent by now, even if she still insisted that the language was gibberish.
Reynir tried to remember how long those two had been together. Five years? It had been so long, he couldn't quite remember when they first started signing their letters as "Tuuri and Sigrun", rather than just one or the other.
He read the letter all the way to the bottom, and then read it again, and then slid it over to Lalli, who ignored it for a while.
"You really should read it," Reynir said.
"Hmph." Lalli frowned, then picked it up anyway.
Reynir watched him as he read it, a piece of toast in one hand, the letter in the other. Occasionally Lalli's brows knitted, and his lips moved as he read, and Reynir bit his tongue to stop himself from offering to help him with the more difficult Icelandic words. If Lalli wanted help with reading it, he would ask for it.
Eventually, Lalli set the letter down. He said nothing, and reached for his tea.
"So?" Reynir asked, offering him a broad smile. "What do you think of her idea?"
Lalli stared at his mug. He didn't drink from it. There was a concentrating sort of look on his face, the sort of look he got when he was considering something very carefully. "Tuuri has weird ideas sometimes," he said.
"Yes, but it wasn't just her idea; it was Sigrun's too."
"Sigrun also gets weird ideas."
Reynir sighed. On the one hand, Lalli was right. They did get weird ideas, those two. Or at least, ideas that Lalli would think were weird. On the other hand... it would be nice to see his friends again. And even more than that, there was a part of him that missed adventure, and exploring, and working as a mage - even if it meant that there were dangers that he needed to be wary of too.
But Lalli was right. Maybe it was a dumb idea. And besides, if they left Iceland to go adventuring in Dalsnes, who would be there to look after the farm?
While Reynir turned the idea over in his head, Lalli picked up the letter again. His narrow eyes slowly scanned it, taking it in, and for a moment he seemed to stare at one point on the page, as if there was one thing in particular that he needed to see. Then he looked up.
"I'll think about it," Lalli said. He folded the letter up and put it back in the envelope, as if that was the end of the discussion, as far as he was concerned.
Reynir raised an eyebrow. That wasn't quite what he expected, not after what Lalli said about it being a weird idea. "Why?" he asked.
Lalli didn't offer any other explanation, and by now, Reynir knew better than to ask for one.
The day passed slowly. It was unusually sunny and bright, and while ordinarily that would be nice enough, Reynir's mind kept straying to the letter, and the thought of Dalsnes, and to what Lalli had said about it all.
I'll think about it.
Would he agree to it? That was the question. Reynir couldn't very well leave without him; of course not. So either it would be both of them, or neither of them, and that was that.
Reynir thought about it all through the day. Even as he kept himself busy with farmwork, the image of Norway hung over his mind. He had never been to Dalsnes, but he had seen photographs of it. He imagined the sharp mountains, the lush green woods where Lalli could run. Reynir kept thinking about this all through the afternoon, and all through the time Lalli disappeared into the house for his usual rest toward the evening. And later, when Reynir was cooking supper, and Lalli emerged from their bedroom, looking wide-awake and refreshed, Reynir thought about it too.
He opened his mouth to ask Lalli, not if he had enjoyed his nap, as he usually would, but if he had given the trip any thought.
Then he thought better about it, and didn't say anything. Lalli didn't usually like to be pushed about anything. Reynir had realized that a long time ago.
I'll bring it up tomorrow, Reynir told himself. At least, if he doesn't mention it first.
But even if they didn't talk about it, Reynir could tell that Lalli was thinking hard about something. He was quieter than usual, more deep in thought.
They didn't talk about it later, either. Not after supper. Not during the wash-up. Not after the last time Reynir went out to do one last check-over on the animals for the night.
Not when Lalli was pulling on his coat and his boots to go out for one of his long runs.
He brushed a kiss against Reynir's cheek, and then he left, going who-knew-where to do who-knew-what. Lalli never really told him, and after a while, it had seemed better not to ask. From the doorway, Reynir watched him go until his shape disappeared into the dim dusklight.
Reynir stayed awake that night. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Staring up at the ceiling, sprawled out on his side of the bed, the moonlight spilling through the window onto the wall. With the idea of Dalsnes hanging over him, he couldn't sleep.
Anyone would think that they were both crazy for considering, even for a moment, the possibility of leaving.
They'd made a home together, and their little farm was doing well. Together, he and Lalli were secure, and safe, and thriving. They'd settled into a routine that suited both of them, even if Lalli's midnight wanderings meant that their routine was a little different from what most people would usually expect. They fit into each other in one perfect, seamless joint.
They were safe.
Reynir closed his eyes and tried to sleep. It didn't work. He thought about the smell of fresh greenery. Trees. And he imagined green mountains rising up around him, the summer sun brushing against the mountains' rocky heads.
He thought about Tuuri, and her smiling face. He thought about Sigrun, slapping him on the back so hard that he practically fell over. She'd become so much more friendly to him after they made it safely through that first trip, and even more during the second, and the third....
He thought of trees and stone. He thought of Lalli running outside.
Was it so crazy to want that again? To see somewhere new, and to see some old friends, and to taste that strange air and have a bit of adventure?
A lot of people would say it was foolhardy. But they'd said it about all the other times, too. And he and Lalli and everyone else had always come back in one piece, anyway. Even though there were moments when it seemed like everything was over, they always managed to come back.
They would be a lot safer in Dalsnes than they ever had been in the Silent World.
Reynir opened his eyes and sighed. "You're not going to want to stay here," he murmured to himself, finally admitting it. "You really, really want to go." It was the same feeling he'd had when he'd decided to leave the first time, all those years ago. The feeling that it would be impossible to stay.
Maybe his brother wouldn't mind looking after the farm? Just for a while. They would only be gone for a year, wouldn't they? Or two years?
I'll ask Lalli about this in the morning, Reynir thought.
There was no way to get around it. He would have to ask.
It was early in the morning when Lalli slipped into bed beside him.
Reynir hadn't slept. He opened his eyes, edged closer to him, and murmured a welcome.
Lalli smelled like grasses and damp air. What have you been doing out there? Reynir thought, but didn't ask.
"You're awake." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah." Reynir yawned. "Good morning."
Lalli slid an arm around him and nestled close, pressing his pointed nose against the crook of Reynir's neck. He was quiet for a moment, and then –
"We should go."
Reynir blinked. He sucked in a breath and couldn't help but smile. "Okay," he said, tugging Lalli just a fraction closer, holding him tightly. "You're sure you want to?"
Lalli didn't answer. He just shifted until he was practically sprawling over Reynir, bracketing his arms against the mattress. Peering down at him, his hair fell to brush against Reynir's cheeks.
"There's trees in Norway," he said after a moment, as if this was something he had considered very carefully.
"Well, yes." Reynir laughed, reaching up to tuck a bit of Lalli's hair behind his ear, out of the way. The moonlight came in through the window and brushed a pale wash over his face. "It won't look much like Finland, though, with all those mountains. But... yes. They have trees there. And Tuuri will be there."
Sigrun, and other people, too, Reynir thought. A lot of people that you don't know. You might not like that at first. He considered it, but didn't say, and didn't get a chance to say it, because Lalli dipped his head before he could speak, and anything he would have said was muffled in a sigh against his mouth.
They could talk about the details later.
Reynir woke that morning with Lalli draped over him and exhaustion scratching at his eyes. He'd hardly slept at all, and Lalli hadn't either. Maybe he should have objected when Lalli gripped at his wrists and held him down and pressed him into the mattress, but –
Well. No. He didn't regret anything, not really. Even if he hadn't slept a wink, he didn't regret it at all.
Reynir carefully slid out from under Lalli, threw on a housecoat, and slipped into the kitchen. The morning light pressed in through the window, falling onto the table, where Tuuri's letter sat, spread open, just as he had left it after re-reading it for the fifth time last night.
He picked it up and glanced over it again, even though by now he had nearly memorized it. His gaze fell on the last line.
I'm looking forward to seeing you again.
A grin spread over Reynir's lips. Tuuri must have known that neither of them would be able to turn her down.
He went to rummage for a pen and writing paper. If he was quick, he could have the letter written before the post came.
No matter what, they would find a way.
He and Lalli were long due for another adventure.