They shuffled out of the gates and over to the edges of the frozen lake. One or two of them found the cold air too sharp even for their smoke-toughened lungs and would burst the air at intervals with fits of coughing. Other than that, a drumming quiet lay across the crowd.
Four men on the ice. They had the same rough coats pulled around them but these sat as capes across their shoulders, arms empty. When the moment came they would be cast off to pool behind them, snatched up by willing helpers.
Their breath throwing out ragged, impermanent abstractions in the air ahead of them, they waited; tendon strained, foot pressing blade into ice. In the crowd, money changed hands silently. Bets were placed with nods and points. No odds. Winner takes all
A whistle, hard as a gun. The four skaters exploded away from their overcoats, limbs suddenly exposed and cold, skates slicing arcs from their destination. Hunched low, heads down, they flew across the ice in the formation of a pack of ancient hunters. One at the spearhead, the arrowpoint, the others keeping pace. Tiring their prey, not attacking. Keeping it in sight for the killing blow.
More cash crumpled into more hands. Them. Him. Keep watching, it will be him. Sverre is unbeatable. Watch him unfold, pull the leader to him and behind him. See him stretch the ice behind him, so those who follow have far to go. And he will go still further.