For three days the sky was clear and the wind was fair, and Einarr kept one hand on the tiller while he and his stolen bride spoke of many things, laying plans for how they would live once they were officially wed – and occasionally trading kisses. For all her various skills Runa knew nothing of navigation, and so when night fell they would drop anchor in spite of the pursuers they expected but could not see and sleep. Einarr was glad that Runa did not push herself at him, for after so many hours in such close proximity he would have been hard pressed to refuse. For all that they remained chaste, however, it was no small feat of endurance.
He caught her watching him several times, and she caught him at least once. She had been singing for the joy of it, and the music bolstered his tired mind. His eye fell upon the flaxen braid hanging below her hips on the seat and took in the perfection of her form. She turned to look over her shoulder at him, and a tightness spread across his stomach. He felt his face heat in a blush as he looked away, but not quickly enough to miss the hunger in her own eyes. No. Bad enough to steal her away; you will not have her until you are properly wed.
On the fourth day a storm blew up. The sky turned dark, and Einarr furled the sail and took up oars. He wasn’t sure how much he could do, but he had to at least try to keep them on course. Runa sang of warmth and light and the strength of a man’s arms, and the song magic fortified him. Einarr battled the waves to keep them on course, and while she sang he did not feel the chill of the rain or the strain of his arms. But not even song magic could make his vision pierce the veil of rain.
He did not know how long he had fought the storm when the sound of metal striking wood raised his hackles. He turned to look over his shoulder without letting go of the oars. Behind them, their approach masked by the sheeting rain and the rumbling thunder, the Skudbrun of Kjell Hall loomed. The sound that had alerted him were the two hooks now embedded in the side of their skiff that secured a pair of boarding lines. Einarr thrust the oars forward and Runa took charge of them.
Einarr drew Sinmora and stood between her father’s ship and Runa, expecting even in that moment it would be hopeless. He would fight, of course, but with these odds…
The first man down the rope was one Einarr recognized from long ago. Seven years ago, he had been the one to defeat the team of Einarr and Runa in their goat-game, and all winter long they’d had a friendly rivalry going on. “Barri.”
Einarr glanced back at Runa: the princess’ eyes kept darting between the two men, nearly as worried for Barri’s fate as for Einarr’s. “I don’t suppose there’s any way you’d let us settle this with arm-wrestling – for the Princess’ sake?”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Should’ve thought of that before you took off with her.” Barri took a testing swing toward Einarr with his own blade, which was easily parried.
“I did. But that includes her.” Now Einarr slashed at Barri with the blunt edge of his blade. This, too, was parried.
Barri shrugged, and then the fight began in earnest.
Under ordinary circumstances, Einarr thought he’d be more than a match for Barri at swordplay. These were not ordinary circumstances, however, and between his inability to give ground without putting Runa in harm’s way and the awkward swing he used to strike with Sinmora’s blunt edge Barri actually had the edge. Time and again metal struck metal, Einarr’s saving grace the fact that he could prevent his opponent’s maneuvering just as much as his own movements were limited.
Finally, Barri tried to skewer Einarr on the tip of his sword and forgot his guard. It was only a moment, but that was enough. Einarr raised Sinmora to his opposite shoulder and swung.
The flat of the blade struck the other man across the face and he stumbled to the deck, stunned. A small scream escaped Runa’s lips.
“He’ll be fine,” Einarr said. “Whether or not we will is another question.”
“Be careful,” was all she said. Another Brunning was right on Barri’s heels, pressing forward to get ahead of where his crewmate was beginning to stir, and then he was fighting again. Blades clashed, and a second Brunning fell to the deck, stunned. A third advanced, axe raised, even as Barri took his feet once more.
Over the clang of sword against axe, the solid thunk of a hook embedding itself in the wood caught Einarr’s attention. He glanced up, hardly daring to take his attention away from one of Runa’s countrymen, to see another boarding line attached to the side of their little skiff.
“Einarr, enough.” Tears filled her voice and nearly distracted him from a blow that would have taken his sword arm off at the elbow. “I can’t bear to see anyone get hurt here.”
“Tell that to the Brunnings,” he grunted, bringing Sinmora’s haft down on the back of his opponent’s neck.
A swarthy bear of a man was sliding down the third boarding line, an axe at his belt and an unfamiliar grim expression riding on his otherwise familiar features. Einarr stood ready to duel the newcomer, too, even after the cinnamon-colored braids and beard resolved themselves into the uncharacteristically grim face of Erik, one of his Father’s best men.
|1.10 – Runaway Bride
|1.12 – Negotiations
|Table of Contents