A flurry of motion aboard the Heidrun followed Einarr’s answer. The sail was unfurled and the men at oars began once more to row. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and if Einarr had to meet his end here, he could do so proudly.
He had no desire to actually do so, of course, but this was a particularly tight pinch they were in. Would it have been better to resort to trickery, pretend to surrender? Einarr shook his head. Had he more time to dally here, perhaps, but they would be calling it close already. Thus, the way forward was through, once again.
By the same token, if he turned the hardened warriors of Breidelstein against the green recruits of this League, or if he turned magic against them, he could easily enough destroy them – and plunge Breidelstein into a war it had no stomach for. He had a narrow path to walk, getting them out of this.
“Ready shields! Svarek, steerboard!” Then he turned his attention inward to his core people. “Naudrek, you have the archers. Don’t volley unless we have to. Eydri, I’m counting on you. We need speed and stamina above all.”
“Yes, sir,” Naudrek answered.
“Of course, milord.” Eydri’s voice was strangely breathless, and even in the dark he thought she looked flushed. Is she feeling all right?
He could worry about that after they were free. “Hrug…” He paused, a sudden idea occurring to him. “Hrug, can you give me a light show? We don’t want to hurt them, just frighten them a little.”
The mute sorcerer nodded his agreement.
“Great. Go to it. Have some fun.”
He pursed his lips into a line and nodded, but Einarr could see a question on his brow. Einarr even knew what it was.
“They seem to be organizing to fight that blasted cult with its corrupted monsters. I would have no quarrel at all with them if they weren’t trying to impress us. Probably they assume we’re freeboaters. If we can get out without destroying them, we should.”
The rune seithir nodded his understanding and agreement and trotted off to the bulwarks, already pulling a piece of chalk from the pouch at his belt.
Now then. They were going to have to shoot the gap between two of the encircling boats. There were only a handful of longships, but most of them were between the Heidrun and the break in the sea wall.
There were two fishing boats together just off the port bow, but if he charged between them he would be headed directly for that sea wall. Could he maneuver quickly enough to get around behind the encirclement and race for the exit? Jumping the seawall might be possible, but would definitely be a good way to get them all stranded here.
He took his place on the platform of the mast. It was now or never. Arrows began to rain on their shields and their deck as they drew nearer the spot Einarr had chosen. “Svarek! Hard aport, now! Hrug – show me what you’ve got!”
“Oars, full speed!” Naudrek bellowed after him.
A line of light appeared all along the edge of the bulwark and all the way up to trace the lines of the ramshead on the prow. The line of light seemed to lift its nose to bugle, then lowered its head as though readying for a charge.
That… had not quite been what Einarr had in mind, but it seemed to be effective. The two fishing boats in the Heidrun’s path, scrambled to row out of the way. Meanwhile the enemy arrows faltered, as though none of them could quite believe what they were seeing. Not that Einarr could really fault them.
“Svarek, on my mark, throw us hard to starboard, then even out.”
Three… two… one… “Mark!”
The mast wobbled over the water as the ship abruptly turned almost in place on the water and the Heidrun shot forward – behind the League ships that had tried to capture her.
Someone onboard whooped – too soon. The League ships were taking up oars to give chase, true, but there was a larger problem to hand.
They weren’t going to clear the seawall.
They had good momentum. If Einarr tried to turn farther he would lose some of that, and some of the distance he had wanted to open up with their enemies. More importantly, though, they would still scrape against the seawall. Or, if they held steady, it might be enough to jump the seawall.
Heidrun, my Heidrun, I’m sorry. “Hold steady, Svarek!”
There was a collective intake of breath as large swaths of the crew realized what was about to happen.
As one, the oars lifted into the air and the shield men dropped to their knees. Then there was a jolt, and a jump, and a terrible scraping as of rough stone on wood.
Please let us make it.
For a moment it seemed as though the Heidrun hung in midair. Then, with a splash, she skipped twice on the surface of the ocean. Momentum carried her forward at first, and then the wind filled her sail and she was off into the night.
Einarr exhaled loudly, relief flooding his belly as it became plain they’d made it past the difficult part. He could just make out, from the torchlight on their decks, the longships of Blávík leaving the harbor. Now, though, there was a goodly distance between them, and it was unlikely they would pursue too far.
“Shields down, everyone,” he ordered. He frowned, pondering, then decided it was worth the risk. “Get me a light. Naudrek, we need to find a safe harbor – secluded, this time – to check for damage and set ourselves up to fish on our way home.” And then I’ll get you to a proper shipwright, he promised his boat, and let you have a nice long rest for my honeymoon.
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