The decks of the Vidofnir and her allies had finally been sluiced clean of the blood of their countrymen. The inscribed runes on the yardarms had evidently had some effect, as they were no longer stymied at every turn. But breaking through always came at a cost, and Einarr mourned those that fell every time. If Einarr’s mood was grim as they neared Breidelsteinn harbor and Raenshold, his father’s was moreso. Some of these had likely been men he’d known, after all, and they had not chosen their bewitchment.
That ensorcellment would end soon, one way or another. Ahead, he could see now the graceful inward sweep of the harbor’s arms around a city huddled at the water’s edge. Looming above stood his grandfather’s Hold. From the water he could see nothing, of course, save the tower at the front gate and the stone walls curving back from it.
That tower was, as father had explained it, the biggest challenge they would face in retaking their home. Now that he was finally seeing it, for the first time since he was a small boy, he understood why. Whatever else anyone wanted to say about Grandfather Raen, the man in his prime had plainly been a superb strategist. Not only had he united the clans of their archipelago under his own banner, he had built that. Either accomplishment would have landed most men a place in the histories.
That made what had happened with the Weavess and the Usurper even more of a disgrace, to Einarr’s mind. His grandfather should be remembered for his feats on the battlefield, dammit! Not one ill-chosen dalliance in his youth.
Einarr shook his head. The harbor was a choke point: they could not avoid facing more of Ulfr’s ships here. Now was not the time for idle musings. He looked around at his crew and nodded. It was that time, however. “Arm yourselves, men!”
A jangle of maille filled the near-silence that followed his orders. There were those of his crew who had come from the Vidofnir – newer men, mostly, and thus mostly those who had never been to these shores before. One man stood out, however: in quiet conference before they left Kjell, Stigander had asked Tyr to serve as Einarr’s advisor, and Tyr had agreed without hesitation. Thus, the oldest salt on the Vidofnir had now sailed under three generations of the same line. Einarr only hoped he could do as well by the man as Stigander had.
They were nearing the harbor mouth now, and no fewer than five wolf’s-head ships had emerged to try to block their path. Einarr once again regretted Eydri’s absence: having a Singer allowed men to fight harder and longer. Well: they had not rescued their captives yet, and thus they would just have to fight smarter.
From the deck of the Vidofnir, in the center, Bardr waved a torch as a signal to the other ships.
“Archers – draw!” The enemy ships seemed a bit far away yet for a volley, but there was sure to be a reason for that. Knowing that if it came to boarding he would have to stay on the Heidrun, Einarr, too, took up his bow and drew. Please, lady Fates, be true.
The Wolf’s ships did not take the defensive posture Einarr had expected them to. Rather, they rushed forward as though desperate. Einarr furrowed his brow: there was a natural narrowing in the harbor mouth not far behind the enemy ships. Why had they not formed a line there?
He shook his head. Perhaps this was the Norn’s work, after all. At any rate his enemy’s tactical misstep was his gain, and Father and Bardr seemed to have anticipated it. They were nearly in range…
Bowstrings sang as a flock of arrows rose from the decks of the rooster and the ram and the roebuck to strike at the approaching pack of wolves.
No few of them overshot their mark, raining down on the water on the other side of the defending boats. Einarr blinked: he had known of very few boats that fast, and none of them that bore a wolf.
“Ready volley!” Even with the speed of their adversaries, they should have time for at least one more shot. “Fire!”
This time the volley struck true. After a moment’s consideration, Einarr nodded to himself. “Fire at will!”
Einarr sent three more arrows flying before the next signal came: others loosed more. “Prepare for boarding!”
Einarr resettled Sinmora’s baldric as Jorir took his place by Einarr’s side. The dwarf, normally indefatigable, looked tired. Even getting this far had been a long slog: if Jorir was worn out, so were the rest of his men. They would have to end this rapidly. Even so, to leave these ships behind them was to cut off their only means of escape.
He glanced down at Jorir again, weighing his options. They had to either send these dogs back to port with their tails between their legs, or disable them completely. He wasn’t sure which his crew was more capable of, but he had an idea. “Jorir,” he whispered. “You and I have a special operation to take care of.”
“Oh? And what might this be?” The dwarf kept his voice as low as Einarr’s.
“Sabotage.” Einarr offered his leige-man a feral grin. “We can’t fight too long: we’re all exhausted, and there’s still more to come. So we need to give these curs some reason to break off.”
Jorir nodded slowly. “I see your plan, my Lord, and it is sound. But might I suggest you send others? Your place is here, and mine is by your side.”
“Thank you, Jorir, but most of my crew is so wet behind the ears they could swim in the water there. It needs to be you and me if we’re all to get out of this.”
To his credit, the dwarf merely shrugged. “Let’s have it, then.”
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