With the tapestries in hand, Einarr had thought they might gain some time to breathe and regroup. For the space of a night, he thought he’d been right. They’d prayed the confusion in their enemies would continue and sailed all through the night, sleeping in shifts.
Einarr wakened at the break of dawn and rose, stretching, his arms still aching with fatigue from the day before. “Damn them all to Hel.”
Approaching from the East, nearly obscured by the light of the rising sun, were ships. Only a fool, at this point, would bet on these being anything other than part of the wolf fleet. Einarr cupped a hand to his mouth. “Draken incoming!
With a series of groans and muttered curses, the men of his Heidrun roused themselves. Belatedly, someone sounded the warning bell. Moments later, it was taken up by the other two ships, and soon followed by the rattling of maille as the men armed themselves.
Then it was as though meteors flew from the sun as the wolf fleet launched its first volley of fire arrows and combat was joined.
“Will we be returning fire, my lord?” Jorir asked from beside him.
Einarr frowned. It was risky, but he needed to be mindful of how many arrows they had already spent. “No, not this time.”
The dwarf merely grunted, as though he agreed. “Hold your fire, men! Shields up, be ready for the assault!”
Captain Kormund’s Eikthyrnir made the same call, veering south where Einarr veered north. In the middle, the Vidofnir plowed doggedly ahead, and she did return fire.
Einarr nodded to himself. Father should draw their fire that way. Perhaps, if they had only a little good luck, the effect of that rug would be waning. Eydri had said the Weavess had plainly needed to maintain it, and now she couldn’t.
Now came the test, though: boarding lines flew.
“Keep them off us!” Einarr bellowed. He thought he knew what Father had in mind, but for it to work he and Kormund needed to be free to engage on their own terms.
His oarsmen were nimble, and what few the shield wall could not block were handled readily by axe or by sword. Now Einarr grinned as the Wolfling ships, like their totem creature, focused their attention on the ship which decided to stand and fight.
Kormund had already zipped most of the way around the wolves’ flank as though he intended to flee. Einarr knew better, but he hoped the enemy captain did not.
As the Heidrun sailed out of the wolves’ encirclement, they passed near enough to the leader of the pack for Einarr to spot its captain, and as he did he was struck by an odd sense of unreality. The man barking orders on the deck of the other ship could be none other than the man who had stolen the women before! The Singers and Bea had all seemed to think him grounded, though. What was he doing out here? Einarr shook his head: now was not the time to worry over such matters.
In just that moment, the enemy captain looked up and straight at Einarr. The two men locked eyes, and a predatory grin spread over the mouth of the man called Kaldr.
A shiver ran along Einarr’s spine. That man knew exactly what they were trying. “Prepare to repel boarders!” Einarr ordered.
He was too late, or they were too close for it to do any good. This time the lines caught fast.
“Eydri!” At the sound of her name, the battle chanter began to Sing, and Einarr felt the familiar touch of the battle fury on his mind. With a deep breath, he forced himself to focus on the enemy ship. Giving in to the fury as a Captain was never wise. Against a man like Kaldr, he suspected it would be death.
Still, he too drew his sword, and flanked by Jorir and Naudrek stalked toward the bulwark and the wolfling ship.
In the moments their walk took, the first clash had already occurred on the ropes over the water, and then there were Wolflings on the Heidrun’s deck.
Sinmora flashed and men fell. Einarr knew his father wished to minimize casualties, but he would not spend his crew here. Not when they were seemingly no closer to gaining the Hold.
Then the smell of smoke filled the air and fire rained down on the deck of Kaldr’s ship. Now it was Einarr’s turn to grin as the wolves assaulting his ship turned in surprise.
“Press them,” he ordered, and the call was echoed by both Jorir and Naudrek.
Chaos followed as the wolflings tried to get back to their own ship in any way they could. Kormund was back with the Eikthyrnir, and whether or not Kaldr had forgotten about them, his men certainly had.
As his men climbed on the bulwark to follow, though, Kaldr’s men began to cut the lines.
“Hold,” Einarr called now. Whatever Kaldr had planned, the solution was not to charge headlong onto the man’s ship. The Singers had spoken of a man with ice in his veins, and so it might be that he would prove a harrier. If so, then the key was to pace themselves, as well.
As quickly as they had closed, the Usurper’s ships withdrew again, back the way they had come but not out of sight. Einarr scowled over the water every time they crossed his field of view, just out of engagement range. The Vidofnir, the Heidrun, and the Eikthyrnir resumed their retreat under sail.
“Still,” he mused aloud, “It seems Eydri was right about that so-called rug of ‘inevitable victory.’ We caught them by surprise there.”
Jorir cleared his throat as though there was something caught in it. “Maybe so,” he grumbled. “But I’m not sure how much good it actually did us if we did.”
“He pulled back rather than risk panic in his men when Kormund joined the fray. That helps us, I think.”
“Maybe so. Maybe so.” The dwarf did not sound convinced.
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