The one upside to being in the killing field, as far as Einarr could tell, was that the flaming arrows were also pelting the cultists they fought. Such a consolation was cold, however, with he and his men being beset in three different ways. The abomination, though weakened, still fought viciously, and the late-arrived team on the edge of the field was pressed hard by the cursed warriors and the knights who directed them.
Making matters worse, that did not seem to be ordinary fire the arrows were lit with – although it had the ordinary color, thank the gods. Patches of the ground itself seemed to burn.
Jorir drove his axe head once more into the deep wound they had opened into the side of the abomination. “Fall back! We need your sorcery more than we need your sword right now!”
Einarr hopped backwards twice, a scowl etched on his face. Jorir was right: they had not enough men on the field to deal with everything that they faced, and much like at the harbor at Breidelstein they needed to do something to knock the enemy off balance. So, as much as he hated it, Einarr once again withdrew from the melee. He did not make for where he had drawn the ward that currently slowed the abominable bird. Instead, he dashed erratically towards the walls of the fortress. If I can just rattle the defenders, he thought, perhaps we can turn this around… Rattle. I say, I wonder just how well-built this tower is.
Walking along the base of the wall, his back pressed against the stone as he moved, every few steps Einarr stooped to draw a single rune: ár, the rune of earth. If he could collapse the tower, he might end this battle here and now. If he could not collapse the tower, he should at least put a stop to the fiery arrows. Some of the archers at the top of the tower may have realized what he was up to, but it hardly mattered. He was too close, and they did not have the angle to fire at him.
When the circle was nearly complete he heard the sound of two sets of feet pounding across the open courtyard towards him. A glance up in the direction of the battle showed one of the knights headed straight for him, and Irding crossing the space to cut off the knight. Einarr could not afford to worry about Irding: the man was reckless, but a fight such as that should not be beyond him, and Einarr had a task to complete.
Steel rang against steel and the cries of battle echoed across the courtyard, but at last the circle was finished. Einarr stooped one more time and laid his hands on the flagstone at the base of the tower. He willed the circle to life and momentarily felt dizzy. He could not tell if this was from overuse of runes or from the tremor that wracked the ground beneath his feet. Either way, it was time to withdraw.
He was halfway across the courtyard, passing Irding’s duel with the lone knight on his way to the beleaguered team on the edge, when a lucky arrow pierced his calf. He sprawled face-first on the ground and looked over his shoulder. Somehow, his trousers had not yet caught in spite of the flame flickering on the arrow shaft. He reached back and tugged the arrow free, and the blood from the wound was still the proper color.
Einarr could see at a glance that the wound itself was not that bad – except that it would slow him down, and if he rejoined the melee now his men would feel obliged to protect him. Jorir was more right now than he had been before: Einarr would have to rely on the runes for this battle.
The tower still rumbled as the ground beneath it continued to quake. The hail of arrows had not – yet – ceased, although it had slowed dramatically, and those that did still fly went wild.
Irding had gotten inside the talon knight’s guard and was making life difficult for him, although the fact that they still fought meant the knight was no slouch. They were, however, far too close to where Einarr had fallen for comfort: Einarr sat up and tore a strip of cloth from his hem. He wrapped the torn fabric about his leg and tied it then drew a hasty mathr rune to keep it from bleeding any more.
The rumbling around the tower grew louder, and men from the ramparts began to cry out in alarm. Einarr glanced over at his handiwork to see that the tower was now visibly swaying. Just a little bit more should bring it down. Unfortunately, Einarr could not spare the attention to feed more power into the earthquake.
The talon knight got the haft of his spear around behind Irding’s legs and dropped him to his back on the ground. For a moment, Irding lay panting on his back – he must have had the wind knocked out of him, or he’d have been back on his feet immediately. The knight raised the butt of his spear: in another moment, he was going to plunge it down into Irding’s throat.
Einarr brought his chalk up, intending to trip up the knight in turn with some icy ground. Irding, though, was not out yet: he brought both feet up into the air and did a spin-kick worthy of a Hallingdanse. Now he was standing and the knight was on his back. Less than a heartbeat later, an axe was buried in the knight’s throat.
Einarr stood, a little more slowly than usual thanks to his wounded leg, and faced a panting Irding. “Well fought.”
The Son of Erik answered with a cocky grin. “You, too. Not over yet.”
That was very true. While he’d been occupied, a fifth team had made it to the killing field, but the boost to their numbers was more than undone by the two squads of talon knights that had appeared elsewhere on the field. Furthermore, Troa, Arkja, and Jorir still hadn’t managed to destroy the abomination. All of this, and they hadn’t even managed to get inside yet. Einarr frowned, then tore another strip of cloth from his tunic. This one he inscribed with kaun and wrapped about the head of an arrow plucked from the ground. The talon knight supplied a bow.
“Watch my back.”
Now Einarr drew back a bow, taking aim on the abomination his friends still battled. The ᚲ roared to life, and he sighted along its length at the struggling monstrosity. His arrow flew straight and true, and moments later the creature began to shriek and flap about in an obvious panic as its feathers, and even its flesh, began to burn.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.
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