The five men hurried through the fortress town at Troa’s lead, keeping to small side streets and alleys as much as they could. Still, they could not avoid all combat, and they were not the only team that ran into trouble, based on the sound of things.
The clang of battle could be distantly heard in every direction save one – the coast – and at any given intersection it could jump out at them from any direction. I’m not sure what you’re waiting on, Kaldr, but I think they’re distracted.
They cut down another pair of men in leather jerkins carrying spears and hurried on their way. It seemed as though they might cut through everyone in the fortress in their race to the center.
Kaldr, Arring, and Thjofgrir encircled Eydri and Hrug as best they could. Kaldr had moved past cursing himself for underestimating their enemy and on to the serious work of keeping the sorcerers from being eaten by the pair of doubled cats toying with them.
Eydri sang, of course – that was her function, and in another circumstance her voice might have even been pleasant. Arring and Thjofgrir accepted her aid, and Kaldr could admit he was sorely tempted. Still, he was just as glad to be accustomed to shrugging it off. Someone other than Hrug needed a clear head, after all.
One of the two cats tried to pounce on him. Kaldr scrambled out of the way even as Arring, a feral snarl fixed on his face, launched himself at its paws. The cat and its double shrieked as the strong man buried his axe in its toe up to the haft. A smaller creature would have lost the toe, or even the paw, to a blow like that, but not this one.
Arring had, however, caught its full attention, and Kaldr was grateful. He stepped up between the cat and its double.
Maybe Arring didn’t quite have its full attention. One of the tentacles lashed out toward him – which was fine. Actually, it simplified things. Kaldr sidestepped again, pivoting on one foot and wrapping his arms around the tentacle, just below the wider paw at its tip.
The tentacle thrashed about in the air, and for a moment it was all Kaldr could do to hang on. He needed to get down to the cat’s back, but if he loosened his grip now he would just go flying – probably into a tree. For just a moment the tentacle stopped more or less upright, and Kaldr got a look at the city below: smoke rose from multiple locations. Their land raiders had encountered resistance earlier than they’d hoped… and substantial resistance, at that. He loosened his grip just enough to start sliding down the tentacle. “Hrug! Light it up!”
The cat thrashed its tentacle madly and Kaldr nearly lost his hold before he could stop his slide. This isn’t working. He pressed himself against the clammy flesh and risked letting go with one hand. So far, so good, although momentum was not his ally at the moment.
Somehow, Kaldr managed to get his free hand to the knife they all carried at their belts – usually used for eating. He suspected this one would need a good long time in a fire before he’d be willing to trust it with food again. When his hand closed on the hilt, he jerked it free of its sheath and plunged it into the tentacle. Greasy black blood welled up around the blade — the cat yowled and thrashed harder. Abruptly it brought its other tentacle into play, scraping the injured one along the bottom of the other tentacle. Trying to scrape Kaldr off.
That slowed the thrashing enough, however. Glancing down, Kaldr confirmed that he was dangling above its shoulders. He pulled his knife free and sheathed it, allowing the black blood to flow faster, and hung on for dear life with only his legs. Only for a moment, however. As soon as his sword was free of its scabbard, he let go.
Kaldr fell, sword-first, ten feet down to land on the creature’s back, between its shoulder blades. A third time it screamed as the longsword plunged deep into its vitals. It reeled, and Kaldr was now faced with the problem of staying on. The signal still hadn’t gone up: he risked a glance toward the others.
Arring still divided this one’s attention, although unless Kaldr missed his guess the strong man was wounded now. Thjofgrir was also fighting hard, trying to keep the other beast from getting past him and to the sorcerers. He, too, looked as though he had seen better days. The real trouble was, Thjofgrir by himself was not enough to keep the other cat away from Eydri and Hrug. It was damnably intelligent, too. It had noticed that they were defending the woman and the one-handed man, and had begun more or less ignoring Thjofgrir.
Hrug, bless the man, had become a sorcerer because it was the option least offensive to his pride. He remained a warrior at heart, even if his weapons now were symbols traced on the ground. The signal had not gone up because all his attention was focused on the barrier he had erected around the two of them – hastily, Kaldr expected, as they had been taken completely unawares by the beasts. That was why the signal had not yet gone up. Well. Let’s see if I can do something about that.
Kaldr wrenched his blade free of the cat’s back and plunged it deep once more at the same moment Arring buried his axe in its jaw.
It swayed again, and lifted its head as though to yowl to the heavens. Then all the strength seemed to go out of its mighty legs and it collapsed to the ground. It didn’t even twitch. I must have pierced its heart.
He was covered in the black blood, but for the moment that didn’t matter. He pulled his sword free and ran down the head toward the sorcerers. “Arring! Help Thjofgrir! I’ll cover them.”
The man’s answering growl was more animal than human. Once Eydri had sung them down out of the rage, he would have to have a talk with the man.
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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