Einarr tore the wax from his right ear with a curse. “We can’t leave him there.”
“You want to take on an entire island full of those things?” Tyr yelled, his ears still stopped.
Einarr rolled his eyes and gestured to his ear. Yes, it was a risk, but they had to plan this carefully – and he wasn’t about to do that like he was talking over a storm.
Tyr complied. “Odds are he’ll be dead before we even set foot on their little rock.”
“Erik? Not likely. You really think he can’t hold off those things on land?” They had no legs – only wings and a long, snakelike tail. A snake was quick, but a snake wasn’t pushing around the body of an albatross, either.
“Erik’s a good sailor, and a fine warrior. Certainly I’d rather have him with us than not. But is it worth the risk?”
“Yes. It’s going to take all three of us to get to Svartlauf, I think, and good fortune besides. Besides, Father’ll have my hide if we don’t all three come back in one piece.” This last was said with a wink. Tyr was a salty old sailor, and no one survives to become an old sailor without learning a good dose of caution. Einarr pulled out their sea chart. “Now. We could follow them to their nest, or we could plan. I think we’ve got a better shot with a plan, don’t you?”
“You plan, I’ll row. We at least need to know what island they land on.”
The archipelago occupied by kalalintu – one flock or many, Tyr was unable to say – was a small ring of sandy islands with shores that were rocky where they were not cliffs. The awkwardly flying cluster that bore Erik in its talons alighted on one of the nearer shores, although it was little more than a speck to the men on the Gufuskalam when it did so. More than once Einarr worried that they were going to drag his friend along underwater, but if Erik got so much as damp it was through his boots.
Once the speck had settled on its island, Tyr rowed to put one of the smaller islands – little more than a rock poking up out of the water – between the Gufuskalam and their goal. Einarr tossed out the sea anchor. They would wait for nightfall here, and discuss their plan in hushed tones to avoid attracting the attention of more of the beasts.
Alas, it was not to be. No sooner had the pair decided on their angle of approach than a flying serpentine form descended on the Gufuskalam, it’s silvery tail glinting in the sun and threatening to give away their presence with every thrash. Einarr drew Sinmora. If he could kill it quickly enough, they might go unmolested for a while longer. If it brought in others of its flock, however… he tightened his grip on his sword and flexed his empty hand. His shield would be more hinderance than help here, although he never liked fighting without it.
The beast lashed out at Einarr with its tail. In the same moment Einarr struck out with his free hand and snatched the silvery whip out of the air. The kalalintu’s scales bit into his palm,drawing blood that would threaten his grip. It screeched and tried to pull away, but Einarr set his feet against the deck boards.
Tyr cursed as the boat rocked. Einarr was forced to give a step in order to keep his balance. A splash said the older man had missed his strike against one in the water.
The avian body of the kalalintu Einarr restrained was out of reach, and it cried loudly enough that he was surprised they weren’t buried in the creatures already. Einarr gave a heave on the tail, and as the creature yielded he took up slack on his arm like a writhing rope.
It changed tactics, turning to strike with its beak and fists against his skull.
That was when Einarr slashed, Sinmora’s blade slicing through a wing and deep into its feathered side. Its panicked squawk was cut short as it fell to the deck with a thud.
Einarr turned, now. Tyr’s axe was wet, and a cloud of red spread out from beneath the boat. Tveir, he thought grimly. “I think they’ve found us,” he said instead.
“Going to be an eventful afternoon,” Tyr agreed.
The boat jerked to life. Both men staggered. Einarr looked off the back of the boat: the anchor line was taut. “Now I think I know how the fish feels.”
“Har de har. Cut the line or don’t, we’ve got incoming.”
“They drag us to shore, at least we’ve got room for some footwork.” Einarr hefted his shield from where it lay, already staring at the sky where a cloud of the sinuous creatures flew their way, wishing they had time to shoot some of the kalalintu down before they reached the boat.
“Yep. Right up until they start singing.”
Einarr pursed his lips and slashed at the leader of the flock. “Like I’ll let something like this kill us. I have a girl to wed and a weaving to end, after all.”
Tyr grunted, cutting at two more kalalintu that ventured within reach. One of them fell, bleeding, into the sea. “Tveir for me!”