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: . 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?”

“Yes, sir!”

“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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The chatter of kalalintu from above rattled Einarr’s nerves. They were starting to feint at diving, trying to keep their prey from escaping, nudging them ever closer to the ledge. Not good. “Henir!”

The blond man snapped his head around and Einarr tossed his bow back to him. The archer wasted no time nocking another arrow. He studied the sky, looking for a promising target.

The others had woken up by now. Some of them stuffed their ears, just in case one of the creatures began to sing again. Everyone drew arms.

Another kalalintu dived for the Vidofnings, and Henir took the shot. His arrow caught its shoulder and the wing collapsed, sending the creature tumbling to the ground where the rest of the crew could make short work of it.

Arrows soared. More found their marks than not, based on the furor above, but it hardly seemed enough. Einarr stood poised, his shield hand empty, Sinmora ready. Step by step, circle by circle, he saw the plateau ledge growing nearer.

A kalalintu dived over his head. Einarr leapt, reaching with his free hand to catch its silver-scaled tail. It flapped harder, its powerful wings nearly strong enough to pull Einarr off his feet. He dug his heels in and threw his weight backward.

The kalalintu rotated around its tail to pummel Einarr with its gigantic wings and he was forced to lower his head. Still he swung Sinmora around in a blind arc. His blade bit flesh, but not deeply.

A moment later, the creature shrieked in his face and the wings let up for a moment. Einarr risked a glance up and saw Jorir pulling his axe from the creature’s side.

Now the kalalintu’s attention was divided between the human grasping its tail and the dwarf, and now both men struck out at the same moment. Sinmora slashed across its breast in a wicked backhand at the same moment that Jorir embedded his axe in its belly. The creature fell to the ground.

“Thanks. Was that your count or mine?”

Jorir laughed. “You kidding? That shallow cut o’ yours wouldn’t kill a dog.”

“And you’d never have got a chance at it if I wasn’t keeping it busy.” He was already watching the sky again, looking for another opportunity.

“You mean if you hadn’t pulled it down on your head? You’re lucky you don’t have a beak in your skull. Call it a tie?”

Einarr grunted in response. All around them now the kalalintu were swooping down to beat at the Vidofnings, as though Einarr’s catch had triggered a rage in them.

Reki’s voice rose above the din. Finally! Einarr felt the red haze of the battle fury stirring and he roared a challenge at the circling monsters above.

***

Arring had volunteered for the first watch not because he was uneager to see the island, but because the freeboaters had left an uneasiness in his breast. He thought most of the others were the same: they were unusually vigilant today, even for men of the Vidofnir.

Hours passed in this way, as near as Arring could tell in the overcast. Once someone from the repair crew returned, to measure again the chink in the hull Einarr had found, but otherwise all was quiet.

This circuit began as uneventfully as all the rest. Only, when he approached the prow to look out at the highest point, men were moving further up the beach. None of them Vidofnings. He gave a low whistle to alert the rest of his men.

Arring swung down out of the Vidofnir to land lightly in the sand below. “What ho, gents,” he called to the men who now swaggered down the beach towards him.

“Our Cap’n has reconsidered yer most generous offer of assistance.” The man spoke from the head of the oncoming party. His voice was oily. “We’ve been sent to see to it.”

“Have you now. Well I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. Our Captain gave strict orders to see to the repair of our ship first, and since they’ve not yet returned with materials your boat will simply have to wait.”

“Ah, good sir, I think you mistake my meaning.” Their spokesman dry-washed his hands.

Arring sighed and muttered, “I think I am not the one who has made a mistake.” Raising his voice again, he continued. “And how might that be?”

The freeboaters did not deign to answer except by the scrape of steel and the roar of a battle-cry.

“Hop to, men!” There were only ten of them on watch, and perhaps twenty of the freeboaters come to capture the Vidofnir. With a feral snarl, he hefted his axe.

His companions boiled out of the Vidofnir to join him on the sand, join him in the charge up the beach toward those who would rob them of all they had.

Arring’s first blow caught the enemy leader in the stomach and sent him flying back. Two of the enemies were bowled over by his passing. Impressively, he stood again, blood dripping from beneath his chain shirt. Ein?

…No. Credit for guts, though. Rather than limping back away from the fight to observe, the spokesman rushed back into the fray. Then another man had engaged with Arring and he found he had little attention to spare. The man was quick enough he might have given Sivid a run for his money.

Arring’s strength counted for little against a man who could dodge like an adder. Still, he managed to block most of the man’s blows, although those which got through stung ferociously.

In a moment when their axes were in the bind Arring caught movement from the corner of his eye: something rushing towards them. He side-stepped, bringing his opponent’s back in between himself and the onrushing figure of the enemy leader. With the quick man still off-balance, Arring knocked him backwards with a shoulder, right onto his allies’ sword.

Ein.


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