Stigander knitted his eyebrows at his son’s declaration. “Explain.”
“Those screams we heard? Those were the death-screams of their captain and a few others. Four warriors were quite literally frightened to death on their wreck. Others were torn apart on the beach while they prepared another raid on us. The restless dead walk this isle.”
Stigander nodded. “We expected as much, did we not?”
“Aye. We also expected the kalalintu to be not much of a threat, though.”
“So, what? We should cut our losses and go?”
“Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t,” Irding grumbled. “Vidofnir’s not ready to sail again.”
Einarr shook his head. “I wasn’t suggesting that, Father, although it might be the sensible course to take. But we have nine berths open, and another ship to fill besides. Not to mention what we’ll owe on that ship.”
Stigander pressed a hand to his forehead and pulled his hand back through his hair. “Right. Glad to hear we’re thinking of the same things. Get some sleep. We’ll figure this all out in the morning.”
When Einarr awoke the next morning it was to silvery fog so thick he couldn’t see the men to either side of them on the deck. The smell of salt pork called to him, though, and so he was reassured that he was not alone on board. A silly concern, ordinarily, but after what he’d seen last night…
“So who all managed to sleep last night?” He made his voice light and jocular as he approached the hearth and the source of the meaty smell. There were only a handful of men up yet and clustered around the warmth of the breakfast pot, and each and every one of them looked as haggard as he felt.
“How does one typically sleep when the presence of murderous spirits has just been graphically confirmed?” Jorir grumbled. He hadn’t gone along last night, but had awakened when they returned.
“That depends, I rather think, on how exhausted one is beforehand.” Erik, too, took on a half-joking tone which was nearly spoiled by a yawn. “For my part, morning came too soon.”
“No joke.” Einarr sat on the deck between the dwarf and the burly man to warm his hands over the embers. “But we can’t just sit on our hands back here. We’ve an island to search and a boat to fix.”
“That we do, although we’re not likely to do much of either before this fog lifts.” Snorli’s voice sounded from out of the mist as he stepped up to join them and lifted the lid on the pot. “Well, grab your bowls. This cooks much longer and it’ll be mush, not dumplings.”
Those were the magic words. As if on cue, everyone who hadn’t already been hovering over the pot arrived, wooden bowls in hand, and the Vidofnings fell to eating. Even in those close quarters Einarr could make out the faces of less than half the other Vidofnings.
It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Stigander’s voice rang across the deck, clear as a bell although he was nowhere to be seen. “We’ll be forming teams today,” he announced. “The repair crew hasn’t changed. The rest of us will form groups of ten and all search in our own area. The sooner we find what we came for the sooner we can get out of here, and hopefully avoid more personal run-ins with the local monstrosities.”
Einarr pursed his lips. The idea made some sense, but nevertheless left him uneasy. “What does Reki think of this idea? Weren’t we counting on her songs to ward off the dead?”
Rather than letting Stigander convey her meaning, the low-voiced woman answered for herself. “I believe it sensible.” She cleared her throat, but not before Einarr caught hoarseness in it. “By spreading out our forces, we maximize the amount of ground we cover while minimizing the danger to any one group. While I intend to participate in the search, I believe that, barring some emergency during the day, my voice is best preserved for warding the Vidofnir at night.”
Einarr bowed his head in the direction her voice came from. “As you say, it is best that your voice be preserved.”
Stigander took too paces towards where the Vidofnings gathered for breakfast and emerged from the fog. “Bardr and I will each take a team. Einarr, you take one as well. That’s three: I want two more groups. We’ll draw lots for them. I’m passing around a bowl: if you’re interested, drop in your ring.”
Most of the Vidofnings passed the bowl and continued to eat, but there were more than enough clinks of metal against wood to round out the teams and then some. Einarr went over in his head who he would choose for his team as he chewed: Jorir, obviously, or the dwarf would never forgive him. Erik, if the man wasn’t leading a team of his own. Who else?
“Is that everyone?” Bardr asked, only partially obscured by the thick fog.
Unnaturally thick fog? Einarr shook his head to rid himself of the thought. The idea was ludicrous. No-one else answered Bardr, either.
“Very well then. Captain, would you do the honors?”
Stigander cleared his throat and turned towards where Bardr was holding out the bowl. The sound of clinking metal carried across the deck. Eventually, he read out the first name: “Arring takes a team.”
Another long moment of clinking rings followed, and then Father spoke again. “And the last team will be led by… Sivid?”
Einarr’s eyebrows jumped in surprise. Sivid? It was odd for him to step up like this. He had to be counting on that strange luck of his turning in his favor… but the idea left a queasy feeling in Einarr’s stomach. This seemed like one Hel of a gamble.
“Finish your breakfast and arm yourselves, then meet on the beach immediately. Daylight’s wasting.”
“Such as it is,” Erik muttered.