The repair crew headed out while the others divided themselves as they saw fit. Einarr went with Jorir – no surprise – but also Erik and Irding, Tyr, Troa, Fjorkar, Geiti, Odvir, and Boti. All good, reliable men who had been on the Vidofnir at least as long as Einarr had – well, with two exceptions – and yet he felt uneasy.
His lips pressed into a thin line, he looked over the faces of his team and nodded. “Let’s cut overland to the other shore. It should be faster than following the coast, which will leave more time for the actual hunt.”
They were hardly past the line where hardy scrub concealed the ground beyond the coast when Einarr regretted this decision. Rather than calling the beach where they’d landed a shore, it would be more apt to say it was just another massive sand bar. Beyond was brackish, frigid marsh.
Einarr set his jaw and continued on, leading his team across what dry patches there were, hopping between them when they could and wading – or, sometimes, swimming – when they had no other choice. The fog was beginning to thin, finally: to their right, he could see the hulking shadow of the plateau where the kalalintu nested. Probably the largest piece of high ground in the area.
There were no seabird calls this morning. If it were not for the sound of the men trudging across the marsh, trying to keep warm even in their woolens, all would have been silent. Einarr angled toward the plateau, hoping they could make better progress over there.
The fog had mostly burned away by the time they came out onto a raised bit of “shore” like the one where the Vidofnir was beached, far too close for comfort to the too-quiet kalalintu nest but at least out of the water. To their left were the regal-looking remains of a ship.
Though the fog had cleared, the sky was a heavy gray. Einarr could not quite suppress a growl. “Let’s get to it. Troa, Boti, I don’t like the look of the sky. See if you can find us a place to shelter if we need it?”
“Sure.” Troa laughed. “Not sure how much wetter we’ll get under a little rain, though.”
“Not wet I’m worried about. It’s cold. Or do you want your trousers freezing on you?”
Boti shook his head. “No chance. We’ll head towards the plateau: probably our best bet.”
Einarr nodded his agreement. “See you in a bit, then. …All right! I think we have our obvious first target, but keep your eyes open. Who knows what might’ve gotten tossed around over the years.”
Two hours passed, then three, and still no sign of the two Einarr had sent out. As much wealth as the exterior of this derelict had promised, he was now certain it was not the Allthane’s ship. At least we won’t be coming back empty-handed… Where are they?
Einarr looked up at the sky for the hundredth time. “Has anyone caught sight of those two? They should have been back ages ago.”
“Maybe they found something?” Irding ventured.
“Let’s hope that’s all it is. Come on: pack up what you’ve got, and let’s see if we can’t find some trace of our missing pair.”
Jorir pursed his lips in thought. “Give us one moment longer, would you?”
Einarr nodded: it was good to be on the right side of the dwarf’s cleverness. He watched as Jorir dispatched Irding up to cut free a strip of tattered sail. Meanwhile, Jorir went in search of something, eventually settling on a rusted fishing spear. The dark red cloth he tied to the blunt end, and drove what remained of the tip into the sand several paces from the derelict they had been excavating.
Einarr nodded again, satisfied. That would be hard to miss, and should another team come upon the boat it should be easy to determine where they had been, if not where they’d gone. “Ready now?”
“Right then. Let’s see what sort of trouble those two have stirred up for us today, shall we?” Einarr strode off down the beach, looking for the tracks that would mark where he sent Troa and Boti off.
After marching down the beach for a time, Tyr called up. “Einarr. Too far.”
“We’ve gone too far, I think. The plateau’s closer than it should be, and I think they cut back through the marsh.”
Einarr hesitated. His feet were still wet, but his pants were finally starting to feel dry again. On the other hand, what if they’d never made it that far? He shuddered at the thought. “You’re right. We should back up and try to pick up their trail where they split off.”
Now he scowled. He’d chosen those two because they were the best hunters on the team. Einarr hummed, mulling over the other options. “Odvir, you’ve got sharp eyes. Up here with me.”
The trail had been nearly obscured by their passage and the morning’s wind, but between the two of them they spotted signs of a small group entering the marsh. A few paces further in, before their hillock vanished to leave them trudging through the water, Einarr spotted one of Troa’s blazes.
Gradually the hillocks became larger, and the pools of water smaller and shallower, until the island almost felt solid again. They continued to climb through the hardy scrub, the kalalintu’s plateau drawing ever nearer. Einarr pushed out the other side of a thicket of juniper to see that the men’s tracks led directly into a cave in the side of the plateau. He saw no light from within.
Odvir stopped next to him.
“I only see one set of tracks: you?”
The gold-haired man nodded, his mouth grim.
“This cave shouldn’t be that big. Not here,” Einarr mused. “All right, everyone. Partner up. One of you carries a torch, the other is ready to fight. Keep your eyes peeled: this is definitely where they went. They have to be in here somewhere.”
Einarr looked to Jorir: his liege-man was already limbering his axe, so Einarr unhooked the torch from his belt. It took three tries for a spark to catch, but finally it flared to life. Einarr stepped from the dubious light of day into the dark of the cave, the dwarf at his side.