Kaldr had evidently been the last to know he was about to be freed, and for once Lord Ulfr had not stinted on the manpower at his disposal. Once the Lady Mother declared something, it was evidently unquestionable.
Kaldr would still rather the witch be hanged.
He took the stairs two at a time with a steady, even stride. By the time Kaldr reached the top floor and pushed open the door to the war room, he felt like himself again. Inside, the leaders of Kaldr’s guard stood staring at the map of the city laid out on the table before them. Two of them were arguing about some minor point on a plan Kaldr was reasonably sure would do nothing, based on what he had already heard.
Kaldr ignored the map and the leaders of the guard and went straight for the window that looked out over the town. From there, he could see just how badly this had been bungled so far.
“As you can see, sir,” one of the Guardsmen was saying.
“What I can see is that we need to act quickly if we’re going to repel the rebels. …I’ve run across their ships. How do they have so many men on the ground?”
“That’s just it, sir. The men of the town have taken up with the rebels.”
“See that word of that does not leave this room.” If it did, Kaldr would be surprised if the town existed a month from now.
“We had already agreed as much.”
Kaldr nodded: it was good to confirm that the Guard had some measure of intelligence. He studied the fighting below for another minute before turning to the map on the table.
It did not look good. They were too thin on the ground, with the fleet already out of commission and the townsfolk arrayed against them. “Where are our reinforcements stationed?”
The next ten minutes were a flurry of activity. Kaldr sent more dispatches than he cared to count, but at the end of it he thought they had a chance. He looked up, towards the window, and a strange pulsing caught his eye. Kaldr took two steps closer, then stopped. Out over the harbor, something was glowing. It almost seemed to crackle with light. He knit his brow, then shook his head.
“I don’t know what that is, but we need to stop it. Send a messenger to Thjofgrir on my ship: have them send a team of sailors to put an end to whatever sorcery the rebels are working.”
Irding was never afterward exactly sure what happened. One minute he was driving forward with the right flank, pushing back the wolflings with the aid of the townspeople. He dashed forward into a gap in the line, far too fast for Erik’s warning to be of any use.
Then he was cut off. He realized almost immediately, when the press at his back was not his allies filling the gap but more wolflings. His eyes went wide, and he felt the fear rising in his gorge. He cut at the foe in front of him, his axe slicing neatly across the man’s thighs, and turned.
Erik, his father, was cutting a bloody swath ahead of himself, pushing towards Irding’s position. In terms of absolute distance, it was not far. All he had to do was meet him halfway.
Irding slashed across the back of one wolfling, then another. The third turned to face him as he pushed closer to his own side of the lines. The wolfling gave him a savage grin.
Irding wasted no time with intimidation. He hacked at his opponent’s knee. The wolfling danced back out of the way of the blow, but that let Irding take another step closer toward his goal.
The other man wasn’t done with him yet, though: he stabbed low, for Irding’s legs, forcing him to give ground or try to block. Irding brought the edge of his shield down on his opponent’s wrist hard: the man’s eyes went wide and he stifled a scream.
A fourth man fell to Erik’s blade, and then the two of them stood back to back in the middle of the melee.
“What happened?” Irding asked over the din.
“Ambush! Enemy reinforcements came in from the side. Oh, look, over there. I see Troa and Odvir.”
Irding looked. Their battle line had broken up into little pockets, and while each one fought fiercely this would not end well.
“You see them? Come on.”
Irding and Erik stood back-to-back, fighting their way towards their allies in an elaborate spinning dance. They gained ground by inches, but Irding could feel his arms beginning to burn with exertion.
“How much farther?” He asked in a momentary gap.
Erik was already surging forward. “We’ll get there.”
Irding lunged forward, striking at the leg of one of the wolflings before he could strike at Erik. The gap closed behind him.
“Troa!” Erik bellowed over the din even as he sent another wolfling flying. “This way!”
There was something uniquely tiring – and tiresome – about fighting to incapacitate. Especially when your opponent was under no such constraints. Irding took another chop at another wolfling’s arm and was rewarded with a scream of pain and a spurt of blood as he dropped his shield to hold the bloody stump. That one was out of the fight, at least.
Another gap opened up, allowing Erik and Irding to surge forward once more. Irding nearly tripped over one of the fallen he had not seen until almost too late: when he looked down and saw it was one of the townsfolk, a pair of slashes across her face in addition to the blow that felled her, rage pulsed in his vision. She hadn’t really looked like Mother, not truly except for the hair, but the idea that someone would mutilate one of their own like that…
“Keep it together,” Erik warned. “The time for charging forward is long past.”
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