When Einarr opened his eyes the next morning, it was to the whistle of wind across the Vidofnir’s rails, the slate-gray sky above, and the dull ache of overworked muscles not yet ready to be worked again. He sat up, blinking blearily: those around him appeared no more alert than he was.

Einarr growled low in his throat as he pushed himself to his feet. Where was… Ah. There they are. Near the stern, Stigander and Bardr stood debating in hushed tones between bites of breakfast.

Already know what they’re discussing. This is awful weather to set out in. Einarr twitched his nose when he caught the cold freshness of rain on the wind. Food first. Worry about sailing in this later.

That they would be sailing today, one way or another, was almost unquestioned. There was a storm on the wind, yes, but with all the sandbars and submerged rocks around this island he didn’t think father or Bardr either one would want to risk being blown from their mooring.

Einarr took his bowl from Snorli with a wordless half-smile that was not returned. The cook was staring off at the horizon to the southeast. The direction the wind blew from.

“I smell it, too.”

“Then turn around and look.”

The sky over the southeastern horizon was near as black as the storm the Grendel rode in on last fall, and even from here the swirling of the clouds could be seen.

“Eira preserve us…” Einarr breathed. “Excuse me. I believe I need to go speak with Father and Bardr.”

Snorli grunted, but Einarr hardly noticed. His eyes were still glued to the spectacle the cook had called attention to. He shoveled his breakfast into his mouth without tasting it as he moved.

That Captain and Mate had seen the storm clouds already was never in question. That they weren’t sure how best to deal with it was equally clear as Einarr approached, still spooning porridge into his mouth, still staring at the horizon.

“Father.”

“Einarr.”

“Why are you letting everyone sleep still? Shouldn’t we be hauling Vidofnir up the beach?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Bardr nearly snarled.

“And I’m telling you, there’s nothing natural about that storm. We get back on the water, we find the Grendel, or one of her allies.” Stigander crossed his arms, his mouth set in a stubborn line.

“Father… we’re down nine men already.”

Bardr nodded.

“It’s been one day since we pacified the haunting on this island. One. And that only two days after the kalalintu attack.”

Bardr nodded again. “The men are exhausted.”

“And you want to try to get through the shoals and go after the Grendel… in that?” Einarr could not believe what his father was suggesting.

“If it means a chance at Astrid’s murderers?” Stigander glowered under his brows. “This is the closest I’ve been to those whoresons all season.”

“Is it? All we can see is the storm, not if anyone is crazy enough to be riding it.” Venturing out in that would be suicide, the way they were now.

“Captain, you’ll get your chance for vengeance. Whatever the Grendel is after, we none of us will let her get away with it. But are you willing to throw away Raenshold to do it?”

Now it was Einarr’s turn to nod. There had been times, if he was honest, that he doubted if Raenshold was attainable at all… but to throw the dream away for as slim a margin as this? Even if Stigander survived it, the Vidofnir would shatter. “Father. Let’s not forget our goal, shall we? We’ll find another chance at the Grendel, a surer chance, and then we can wreak vengeance for Mother. But right now, that storm is coming up fast.”

Stigander growled. Einarr worried, for a moment, that he would plant his feet like a mule, but then his father blew air through his moustache in a noisy sigh. “Godsdammit, why do you have to be right? Fine.”

Stigander strode towards the cauldron bubbling with the morning’s porridge and bellowed. “On your feet!”

***

All through the morning the storm raged, the Vidofnings sheltering in the upper chamber of the cave where just the day before they had conducted rites for the old Allthane. As heavy as the Vidofnir was, they had managed to beach it properly, and even found a few rocks near the bog line they could tie to.

When the winds’ shriek died to a low moan and the sky had lightened from black to the grey of a cloudy midafternoon, the Vidofnings ventured forth from the dubious protection of the Cave of Revenants into the freezing drizzle of the storm’s wake.

Thanks in no small part to the weight in her hold, Einarr was sure, the Vidofnir lay exactly where they had left her, surrounded by bones and driftwood blown up from the shoals. They could still catch the afternoon tide, if they hurried.

From the sounds of things, that was the plan. No sooner had they reached the beach than the men were directed to move the Vidofnir back to the water’s edge. Sivid dashed up to undo the mooring lines while the rest of them moved into position along the sides of their boat.

Stigander, his shoulder to the keel, called a cadence. “One! Two! Heave!”

Vidofnir groaned against the sand as she slid back down towards the shallows. Couple more like that and we’re in business.

The cadence sounded out, and again they heaved. Now the stern was in the water and their load was lighter… although she was already riding much lower in the water than usual.

“Last push, men!”

And then the Vidofnir was in the water and the crew was clambering up the side to take their position at the oars. Now they just had to hope that there was still a clear path through the sand bars from here.


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In spite of their exhaustion and soaked feet – and trousers – Einarr’s crew was in high spirits as they returned to the Vidofnir late that morning. The sun said it was nearly midday: as they stepped out of the marsh and onto the sandbar Einarr exchanged a look with Reki. They’d been luckier than any of them had any right to expect. A chuckle rose up from his chest.

Reki opened her mouth as though to say something, but then closed it again. With a sigh she, too, started to laugh, and soon the men were talking and laughing with the ebullience of relief.

“All right, Father, your turn,” Einarr called as they approached the ship.

Stigander studied the approaching group, looking for any sign of new injury and finding none. “Welcome back. Everything’s in order?”

“The Allthane lies buried in the frozen deep. And none too soon, either.”

Stigander nodded. “All right, you lot! On your feet. The faster we load the hold, the sooner we can get off this stinking rock.”

The rest of the Vidofnings pulled themselves over the side of the boat with far less alacrity than was their custom, the fatigue of the night before still showing in the eyes and shoulders of all of them. That few hours’ rest they had claimed while the rites were conducted had not been enough, and everyone knew it. Still, though, as the two strings of Vidofnings crossed paths there were congratulatory gestures all around.

Einarr locked hands with his father as they crossed paths, almost as though they intended to arm wrestle.

“Good job out there.”

Einarr nodded. “Take your time with the portage. Don’t think we’re getting out of here before morning anyway.”

Stigander barked a laugh. “You sound like Bardr.”

“Good! That means I might be on to something.”

Now they both laughed, and clapping each other’s shoulders continued on – Stigander to the treasure hold, and Einarr to the deck of the Vidofnir. When he pulled himself up, he saw that Snorli had remained behind, stirring a cauldron over the ship’s hearth that smelled distinctly of mulled mead.

“You are a lifesaver, man!” Einarr grinned at their cook.

“Gotta stay warm while you dry off somehow, right?” Snorli returned the smile without looking away from the horn he was ladling into. “This is the second cask I’ve opened since last night.”

“And we thank you for both of them. You haven’t seen the haul down there: we won’t need to worry about our resupplies the rest of the season.”

“Good.” Snorli handed the steaming horn to Troa, who had arrived just before Einarr. “Certainly you lot deserve the treat. It’s been ages since we’ve had a fight like that.”

Einarr grunted in agreement. A moment later he, too, had a hot drink in hand and was striding across the deck towards his bedroll. He groaned as he folded grateful legs under him to sit, cross-legged, on the blanket.

“All right, lads. We’ve to keep a lookout… but I’ll be buggered if there’s anything else alive on this rock. Boti, you up for first watch?”

The scout shrugged. Thus far he didn’t seem to have suffered any worse than a headache and a bad goose egg from his knock on the head. “Sure. Someone’s gotta.”

“Thanks. The rest of you…” He turned, then, as he realized what it was he saw from the corner of his eye. “Why is there a jar on my pillow?”

“It was in the cache you found before. Odvir thought you must’ve liked it, since ceramic doesn’t really sell…”

The jar did look familiar, with its Imperial-style painting that had somehow weathered the centuries unchipped, but Einarr shook his head. “There was an ivory tafl set that I wanted, but this… this is just a jar.”

He took a drink of his mead, still staring at the strange jar. I could have sworn I threw that away back then… Einarr shrugged, and turned to the nearest man remaining. He thrust his horn toward the other man. “Hold this for a second.”

Einarr pushed himself up on protesting legs and sore feet. When he picked the jar up, it felt warm to the touch – even accounting for the horn full of hot mead he’d just had clasped in his hands. Odd. He shrugged again and moved aft, towards the sea.

“May the waves carry you to someone who actually has a use for you,” he muttered. Einarr pulled his arm back all the way, twisting for extra force, and pitched the jar as far as he could out toward the open ocean. Even Snorli did no more than shrug. Ceramic was a dicey thing to keep on a longship, as vulnerable in the hold as on deck.

***

An hour passed before the larger group of Vidofnings began to return with sacks full of gold from the ancient horde, and then Einarr and his companions were moving again, stowing the gold in every spare crevice they could find underneath the deck boards. The way people were moving, no one would be up for rowing without a full night’s rest.

Stigander and Erik, to no one’s surprise, carried the largest loads slung over their shoulders as though it was nothing, and their two sacks filled the Vidofnir until she was nearly fit to burst.

“Much still left down there?”

“We didn’t even get half of it,” Erik laughed.

Einarr shook his head. “Maybe now we know why they wrecked?”

“Maybe.” Bardr sounded less amused. “Let’s just hope we’re not too heavy to get out of here.”

Vidofnir’s nimble enough. I’m sure we’ll manage.”

“You mean like we did on our way in, where we almost got a rock through our hull? We’ll be lower in the water now. A lot lower.”

“I think we all decided that was a risk we were willing to take, wasn’t it?” Einarr looked levelly at his father’s first Mate. This plan had been his idea in the first place, after all.

Bardr just grunted, acknowledging that fact as well as his misgivings.

“Long as we all get some proper rest tonight we’ll be fine.” Erik stepped in: Einarr wasn’t sure he was as reassuring as he wanted to be.

“I’m… sure you’re right.” Bardr didn’t sound convinced, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one argued about at this point in a raid.

“’Course I’m right!” Erik laughed and clapped the Mate on his shoulder so hard he nearly stumbled. “Pretty sure that’s why the Captain keeps me around.”


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