When dawn broke, the water outside their little cove roiled, as though it were teeming with something just beneath the surface. Almost certainly something horrific, under the circumstances. There would be no getting a small boat through, and while they might be able to get one ship through, the cost was far steeper than either Captain was willing to bear – especially when Kaldr, knowing that he would be tasked with their strategy, had a handful of pigeons aboard. It was not a perfect solution, but it would save them a useless fight.
It also changed their strategy entirely. Since the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were already on the inside, so to speak, they would go with a two-pronged assault. When they had enough information to draw a reasonable map of the shore, they sent a copy of that by pigeon, with instructions to get in place but wait their attack on a signal from shore.
Stigander sent a response from the Vidofnir – “Understood and underway. Monsters here, too.”
Great. Well, it’s no fun if it’s easy, right? After all this time, Einarr wasn’t really sure he believed that anymore. He handed the note to Kaldr. “Troa!”
“How many scout groups do we have out right now?”
“Good. Send four men after them, let them know we’ll be taking part in a ground assault and to focus on approaches and defenses from landward.” Einarr frowned, thinking, as Troa hurried off to handle the matter.
The dvergr had been heading out toward the edges of camp, probably to assist in fortifying their position. He stopped and turned when Einarr called for him. “Aye?”
“I’ll help with the fortifications here. Give Kaldr a hand with the assault plans – this sort of planning isn’t really my strong suit.”
“As you wish.” Jorir looked amused, and Einarr couldn’t really blame him. How often, after all, had his ‘plans’ been nothing more than dumb luck and the willingness to seize it?
Their camp was screened from the water by a barrier of trees and brush they had left in place for just such a purpose, but should one of the patrol ships become curious they could still be in trouble. Especially since there was only so much one could do to hide a ship on the beach. What could be done had been done the day before: right now, they were busy building fortifications to protect their encampment from anything that happened upon them from the landward side. Einarr grabbed a sharpened post and added it to the palisade.
He was just beginning to work up a good sweat when, further down the line, someone sounded the alarm. “Draugr! Draugr!”
He let go of the post he was steadying and hurried toward the site of the alarm. It was almost certainly not a draugr, but it might perhaps be a fully corrupted enemy scout.
Sinmora was out of her sheath and in hand when he arrived. He had been right about one thing, at least: it was certainly not draugr. However, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, there was a full crew’s worth of corrupted scouts shambling towards their camp. They had been too slow: now they had to fight well and fight hard, or all their efforts at stealth would be for naught.
“To arms!” Einarr gave the order and plunged into the fray. Behind him, the call was taken up even as more of their crewmen drew steel and fell to.
One of the corrupted warriors caught his attention – larger and fiercer than the others, and roaring about himself like some sort of berserker. Without putting any conscious thought into it, Einarr began fighting his way over to the big one. The farther he moved, the more of the black blood spattered over him. After this, I don’t care how much attention it draws, we’re putting a purification circle on the camp itself.
As he reached the berserker, greeting it by slamming Sinmora into its shield, he realized Jorir was by his side. While Einarr kept the berserker’s attention, Jorir circled around behind it and buried his axe in its hamstrings – taking no small dose of the corrupted blood himself in the process.
“Thanks,” Einarr said, taking a moment to catch his breath. “Any idea how they found us?”
The dvergr slashed at another corrupted warrior who came within reach and harrumphed. “I’ll give you one guess.”
The cat. “I was afraid of that.”
Unfortunately for the corrupted warriors of the cult, a sizable number of Einarr and Kaldr’s men were veterans – if not of fighting cultists, then of several wars. A single crew’s worth of men, even with the enhanced strength and fortitude that came with the corruption and madness, did not make for an impressive battle. It did, however, prove that they could not afford to stay still any longer.
As the rest of the crew was looking about, taking stock of where the battle had struck hardest, Einarr knew what they had to do. “Pack up, move out! Hrug, you’re with me. We’ll let the others handle our things. We’ve all been in contact with the black blood now, so you and I have some work to do.”
Einarr kept Jorir, Kaldr, Hrug, and Naudrek in his team. Since there was no more camp to guard – only a few men to keep watch over their boats – Eydri went with Arkja to send word to the scouts and refresh their spirits. Einarr intended for them to return to the place where they had observed the fortress from the other night: it was a good vantage point to observe the lay of the land, and defensible by itself – provided, of course, that the same scouts who had just wrecked their camp had not infested it, as well.
As they moved, Einarr spoke quietly with Kaldr. “Once we’re emplaced again, we’ll need to move quickly. There’s only so fast the ships can get around, true, but coordinating on the ground will take some time as well… and I fear there may be more cats like the one that still troubles us.”
Kaldr nodded. “Of course, milord. You think the cat is what led them to us?”
“Indirectly, perhaps, but I suspect so, yes. So does Jorir.”
“That makes us all agreed, then. I will do what I can, but my chief constraint will be the speed at which we can get the scout reports.”
“I understand. Do what you can.”
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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