“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” Einarr said when the crews were assembled on the deck of the Vidofnir. “The bad news, some of you already know. This is definitely a stronghold for some sort of cult, and it seems like a well-established one.”

He and Sivid had managed to slip back past the gate guards by causing a minor commotion on the far side of the market and disappearing back into the crowd. It had only bought them a moment, but a moment was all they needed. They had been the last pair to arrive: most of the other pairs had remained outside the walls, and those that had not ventured nowhere near the center of the circle.

“The good news is, I’m afraid, qualified. You see, we found her…”

The assembled Vidofnings and Brunnings were subdued as they waited for the promised qualifier. Sivid sat on the railing behind him, having graciously allowed Einarr to make the announcement.

“…In the dungeon of the keep. Healthy, by the sound of things, at least so far, but locked in the dungeon in the center of the hold. …And in slipping out, we were nearly discovered. At the very least they will know that outsiders have broken in to the dungeon stair.”

A grumbling rose among the gathered crews. The expressions of many of the men of the Skudbrun matched Einarr’s mood. Among the Vidofnings, only Stigander’s came close. These were the men who agreed both that the rescue must happen and that there were no good options.

Stigander stepped forward into the area cleared around Einarr and Sivid. “So this is where we stand. The Grendel doesn’t seem to be in port now, so we can focus our attention on the young Lady. Two ships hardly seems sufficient to take on the hold in a straight-up fight, so let’s not waste our time thinking about it. When dinner rolls around, I want ideas.”

Captain Kragnir snorted and shook his head but said nothing. Stigander may not run an orthodox ship, but he did run an effective one.

“We won’t be able to hide back here forever, people. Move!”

That sounded more like a captain to the Brunnings. The men scattered in groups of two and three.

***

Dark thoughts of cowardice floated through Einarr’s mind as he stood once more on the dock, his hood pulled up over his face. Had Sivid not stopped him, they could have had Runa aboard with this island behind them already. What good had reporting in done them? It meant there were now five warriors instead of two who would have to sneak into the dungeon, and three besides who would try to sabotage the walls. Two would have been sufficient that afternoon.

He shook his head. That’s not fair to Sivid, and you know it.

Jorir stood beside him on the deck this time. Sivid was going, too, of course – he knew how to operate the lock. From the Skudbrun, Barri was along while Trabbi awaited, sour-faced, on deck. The skills of a fisherman were not what would be needed tonight. Rounding out their party was Bollinn, Captain Kragnir’s first mate. Hair as blond as Stigander’s glinted out from under the hood which could not quite hide his hooked nose no matter how far forward he pulled it. Einarr had met the man only a few times, but he always came across as a capable sort.

The three men of the distraction should be off the pier and climbing towards the wall, now. It was time to go. Einarr strode down the pier as though he belonged there, impatience hastening his steps. Sivid was right behind him, followed in short order by the rest of their team. All was quiet until they approached the gateless face of the wall nearest the port.

From the top of the wall, warm yellow light sprang into existence as someone lit one of the spear throwers on fire. Cries of alarm drifted down towards them, but Einarr was already running up the road toward the gate. Their window wouldn’t last long.

The market gate stood ajar and unguarded, evidently forgotten for the moment because of the chaos within. Get in and get out – don’t get stuck fighting on the walls, men. Erik and Arring were both up there, and neither was a man the Vidofnir could afford to lose. Of course, he had insisted on being the head of the spear for the infiltration, so did he really have room to complain about the Brunnings not pulling their weight?

The market inside was not alight, but it was thoroughly overturned. Einarr and his entourage – bodyguards? A snide corner of his mind supplied idly – barely slowed as they hurdled overturned barrels and crates to get past the market and into the back streets of the circle fortress.

Once they were away from the commotion at the walls the city felt oddly quiet. Einarr shrugged; the feeling pricked between his shoulders, but if it meant less fighting to do then so much the better. Bollinn’s hood had fallen back as they raced through the market – unfortunate, that. He reached up to tug his back into place and realized that it, too, no longer covered his head. Well.

With a sigh of annoyance he gave it up and picked up his pace. Five men loped through the nearly deserted streets under the eerie purple glow of the local lanterns. Einarr did not slow until they neared the wide open area about the keep itself. This time, rather than being an apparent class of some sort, the field was filled with the armored figures of warriors.

Einarr cursed under his breath. “Looks like the distraction only half worked.”

“Let’s see how things look by the dungeon entrance before we do something desperate, eh?” Sivid answered, his voice low but somehow amused. At what, Einarr could not guess.

He looked at the gambler for a long moment before shaking it off. “Right. Back we go.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

From where Einarr stood he saw nothing but mist and ocean and the bones of ships. “What happened?”

Sivid’s head popped over the railing from above. “Those freeboaters following us seem to have missed a turn.”

“They’re freeboaters?”

“Pretty sure. Cap’ and Bardr are ‘discussing’ sending aid.”

“What’s there to discuss? Of course we should help them out.”

“And if they’re hostile?”

“We’ll teach them a lesson, of course.”

Sivid laughed and his head disappeared back behind the ship. “Looks like the Captain won that one. We’re coming down!”

***

Their shadow had been rather unceremoniously dumped aground a good half-mile down the coast from where the Vidofnir had made landfall, a good hundred feet out from shore but, for the moment, at least mostly connected by a series of sandbars. Whether that would last with the changing of the tide remained to be seen.

Her crew swarmed about like ants, offloading anything and everything they could carry as though it might help them get off this island again. Their ship certainly wasn’t: where the Vidofnir was gouged, they had a rather horrendous crack.

“Ho there!” Stigander called as they neared the broken vessel.

The crew stopped moving as a unit and turned to look at them.

“I am Stigander Raensson of the Vidofnir, and these are my men. We thought you might like some assistance.”

A figure emerged from the deck and hopped lightly down to squelch in the sand. The brown-haired and bearded man took several slow steps toward them, wiping his hand with a rag. “You’re the boat we kept seeing ahead of us?”

“And you’re the ones who were tailing us.”

“Tailing nothing,” he spat. “We planned out our route in months ago. Go see to your own.”

Stigander raised an eyebrow. “Well, suit yourself, friend. If you change your mind we’ll be up the beach a ways, doing exactly as you suggest.”

They turned, and with a shrug began sauntering back up the sand to the shore proper.

“Wait!” The voice came from behind them. When they turned to see what the commotion was, a younger man from the other boat was hurrying up to speak with the one who had come to send them off. For a moment, it looked as though he would have his ear boxed for his trouble. At the last moment, their spokesman turned it to a clap on the shoulder.

“I’m not sure I like this,” Einarr whispered to his Father.

Stigander nodded. “Walk on, men.”

“Good sirs,” came the suddenly obsequious voice of the spokesman when they were perhaps five steps further on.

The Vidofnings continued walking. The call did not come again.

***

The crew of the Vidofnir split off into three parties. The first, and smallest, was to guard the ship, led by Arring. With the unknown crew stranded here, leaving the boat unattended struck everyone involved as unwise. The second headed east, towards the freeboaters, their first task to find good wood for patching the scar in their hull.

The third party was by far the largest. Had there been anyone to fight on the island, they would have been the raiding party. Einarr shouldered his shield and joined them, hardly alone in the precaution.

“So are we ready to find out what sort of a haul might be waiting for us here?” He half-grinned, clapping Erik on the shoulder.

Sivid laughed. No-one else ventured more than a nervous grin, save Reki. He thought she actually smiled under her hood, but it was difficult to tell.

“You’re not all still worried about the ghosts of sailors, are you? Have some faith in our Singer.”

“It’s not just that,” Irding grumbled. “I don’ know about the rest of ye, but what sort of luck will we be bringing on ourselves like this? Not like the Allthane’s wealth did him much good.”

Sivid laughed again. “If luck’s what you’re worried about, I think I’ve got us covered.”

Erik cocked an eyebrow. “But you’ve terrible luck.”

“I think we can trust him with this one, anyway.” Einarr spoke quickly to avoid forcing Sivid to dissemble. There was plainly a reason the man continually played and lost at dice, based on his Weaving, and if that got around the crew he’d never get in another game. “Are we all here?”

“Captain’s leaving some orders with the others,” Bardr answered. “Give him a few minutes.”

Stigander sauntered up behind his first mate. “I’m what now?”

To his credit, Bardr did not jump. “You were leaving instructions, weren’t you? But it looks as though we’re all here now.”

“Indeed we are. Now. Onward, and let us see if there is anything worth finding on this rock.”

Stigander led the way up the beach. Most of the wrecks they could see were rather thoroughly decomposed, empty skeletons of ships, their contents long ago rotted or washed out to sea or, possibly, buried beneath the sand… but they felt like unpromising places to dig.

Einarr was just as glad most of the crew was on the treasure hunt. He was not so indifferent to the atmosphere on the island as he pretended, and though the fog had lifted the gray haze weighed gloomily on their shoulders.

He shook his head. There was no sense worrying about it now: each and every one of them had known what they were signing up for when they chose this path. The only thing to be done now was to fill their hold quickly and get back to the open ocean, outside the maze of sandbars that trapped so many boats.

It was hard to tell the passage of time under the haze. After they had walked for a period, occasionally pausing to evaluate a wreck for promising finds, a strange noise came to Einarr’s ears. He stopped, closing his eyes to listen.

“…Seabirds?” He muttered, still trying to place it. They sounded almost like the gulls that had flocked about Kem Harbor, but he had seen no feathers along the shore. He shook his head: now he knew the sound. “Kalalintu.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents