Some of the ambushers carried torches with them: the light in the square was now enough that Einarr could see just how badly Finn had been beaten.
One of his eyes was swollen shut, and the other was crusted with dried blood from a head wound. A rope bound Finn’s wrists too tightly, and he dangled from the stocks like a side of meat. He was all over bruises, although Einarr thought he’d avoided any broken bones, and it was impossible to tell how much of the blood on his maille was his and how much belonged to the League toughs. They had laid his scramasax at his feet, snapped in two. Finn groaned.
Einarr growled. With one swift strike he cut down the scout, who slumped to his knees.
“Can you walk?” Einarr sidestepped to avoid the back of a stumbling fighter.
Finn groaned and tried to rise, but fell back on his haunches. Einarr wasn’t entirely sure he was actually conscious.
“Right then. Heidrunings, to me!” They were, as the ambushers planned, in a bad place. However, thus far his men had had very little trouble keeping the toughs away from him. As his crew formed a defensive wall around him, Einarr sheathed his sword and knelt beside the half-conscious Finn. He slid the man’s arm across his shoulders and rose.
Finn hung like a sack of cabbages. Grumbling a little, and using his other arm to steady the body, Einarr started slowly back towards their ship and the hoped-for safety of the harbor.
As they neared the edge of the square their progress ground nearly to a halt. The League fighters – no few of whom wore the same blue and white as the escort ships’ sails – pressed them hard, and Einarr’s escort had all it could manage not to go under the sheer mass of people that converged against them.
Einarr pressed his lips into a thin line. He could reach Sinmora, but he could not fight and carry Finn at the same time. And, while he was skilled with a blade, he was not sufficiently skilled to make a difference if he handed their wounded friend off to one of the others. But his blade was not his only means of fighting these days.
He glanced down at the ground at his feet. The dirt was hard-packed, but still he could see a thin layer of loose soil, as marked out by footprints. It would be enough. Einarr shifted his weight to the side supporting Finn and drew a Thorn: ᚦ. He poured his will into the rune, and a wave of force seemed to knock aside the first rank of enemies.
The rest of the League warriors seemed to vanish then, like rats in an alley. Einarr dragged his foot across the rune, obscuring it. His men had come to accept that he could use seithir, but he had no intention of letting their enemies know it.
“Let’s go,” he said as his escort stood, momentarily flummoxed by the sudden lack of battle.
The streets were suspiciously empty as Einarr and his crew rushed back towards the Heidrun. It was, he thought, impossible that the League would give up so easily after they went to the trouble of capturing one of his crew and stringing him up like a side of meat.
“Troa!” He called up as his men formed a wall on the pier and he began dragging the wounded scout up the gangplank.
He leaned over the bulwark, looking positively eager to be rid of the temporary command. “Captain!”
“Is everything ready?”
“Good! As soon as Finn here is secure, we’re going.” The plank bounced as his company started single-file up after him, Eydri in the lead.
“Now, sir? The tide…”
“Now or never, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll ready the oars.”
Eydri and Hrug took Finn amidships to lay him near Einarr’s awning – probably the safest place if they met with trouble – while Einarr and Naudrek organized the rest of the crew. Those who did not have an oar were instructed to ready their bows. Arrows they had, of course, but Einarr cursed when he realized that they had expended almost all of their fire arrows on the cult ship. He had plainly been in too much of a hurry as they left: that was an oversight that could have killed them all when they still wandered on the Vidofnir. Burning the Blávíkin ships would have been a last resort anyway, but it would have been nice to have the option.
Finally, though, they were ready. Odvir released their mooring, and the only sounds as they rowed out into the night were the creak of timbers and the gentle splashing of the oars dipping into the water.
All their caution was for naught, though. As the Heidrun neared the mouth of harbor, a ring of fire sprang up around them over the water. Ships, bearing torches. After the first surge of surprise passed, Einarr stood calmly near the mast, studying their situation.
It wasn’t good. The Heidrun glided to a stop, waiting for Einarr’s orders. They were a lone longship, surrounded by local vessels that all appeared to be bristling with warriors. At least half of them bore the blue-and-white that seemed to indicate they were part of the Jarl’s war band. Including, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, the ship he had just presented that cask of ale to.
He strode to the bow, trying to determine which boat was in charge of the fleet. None of the fishing boats: of that he was quite sure. Of the others…
“Einarr son of Stigander son of Raen,” boomed a familiar voice. “Surrender quietly and pledge yourselves to the League.”
Angry mutters rose from the deck of the Heidrun. There was only one possible response.
“Go to Hel.”
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