The Gufuskalam glided backwards along a path pointed by the anchor line, but the two men aboard paid it little heed. Of much more pressing concern were the kalalintu that swooped at them from above, attacking them directly, or rocked their sides from beneath the waves. As for the men themselves, they fought off their attackers with all the strength they could muster. Not infrequently, the flying kalalintu were knocked, dazed and bleeding or already dead, into the water.
The kalalintu who had hold of the sea anchor eventually crawled up onto the shore on its belly. The Gufuskalam was beached, and all around them on the rocky shore Einarr saw nests of the strange creatures’ hideous offspring. Some of them were being fed from the beaks of the adults. Einarr and Tyr fought even harder then: the steady ground under their feet and room to maneuver joined with the worry over just what the hatchlings were being fed to redouble their efforts.
For hours they fought like this, desperation serving in place of song-magic to keep their flagging bodies from failing or the enchantment from taking hold. Finally, when the sky was beginning to redden with the onset of evening, the surviving kalalintu fell back to their nests, crouching protectively over their young even as they glared at the two men standing back to back, panting, on the beach.
Einarr had not felt this level of ache in a very long time. His legs ached from holding his ground. His arms had no strength left in them, for even Sinmora’s familiar weight wore after a time, and he was all over cut and bruised from where the kalalintu’s assault had slipped past his guard.
He glanced at Tyr as they limped back to the relative safety of the Gufuskalam while the orange of sunset faded into the inky purple of night. The older man didn’t seem to be in any better shape, but he did have the presence of mind to claim their sea anchor out of the sand where it had been left.
Once Tyr was aboard, Einarr bent his shoulder and gathered what strength he had left to push the Gufuskalam off the rocky shore. When she floated freely, Tyr offered him a steadying hand up into the boat and they were once again free of imminent attack.
“Now. Did you happen to catch which island they dragged us to?”
Tyr shook his head slowly.
“Well, hel. That makes both of us.” Einarr flopped down in the tiller seat, tilting his head back to stare at the stars.
“These islands aren’t big enough to figure it out that way,” Tyr said, sitting as well.
“No, probably not. And now is probably not an ideal time to sleep, either, but unless you can see a fire on a beach I don’t have any better ideas.”
“And a fire on a beach would be a terrible idea in his situation.”
“…Unless he had already cleared off the cursed beasts on his island! They’re clumsy on land.” Einarr sat up now and scanned the horizon. Black shapes marked where the other islands lurked. “Do we dare row to the center?” A fire on the beach or the smoke from one, either would be visible tonight.
“Worth a shot. Better than sticking around out here another day.”
Navigating the archipelago’s interior was treacherous even at night, while the kalalintu slept. The rocky bottom changed depths drastically from one moment to the next, and the submerged rocks were often not visible under the moonlight before one was right on top of them. Einarr and Tyr poled as much as they rowed, praying to gods of sea and light with every push that this would not end with the Gufuskalam skewered on a rock.
Einarr breathed a sigh of relief as, somehow, they neared the middle of the island chain without more than scraping their hull as though on a beach. He stood, then, and stepped to the center of the boat, back to back with Tyr to scan the horizon. From east to west he searched, and then back west to east, but there was no sign of his friend that he could see.
Tyr elbowed him in the ribs. When he turned, the older man pointed off to the west-northwest. There, not far from the island they had escaped, a plume of dark grey smoke dimmed the stars behind it. A deep belly laugh bubbled up from Einarr, sounding eerily like his father’s despite his smaller size.
“Well spotted, Tyr. You’ve got sailing years left in you yet.”
“I certainly hope so,” he responded flatly.
Einarr laughed again, clapping the old sailor on the shoulder. “Never any doubt, man. Never any doubt. Now let’s go. If it’s safe enough for Erik to light a fire, it’s safe enough for us to sleep for the night.”
“Assuming we get there before dawn.”
“We can make it. Let’s get to it.”
The plume of smoke led them to a small island a quarter-circle from the one the late, enterprising kalalintu had towed them to. The moon was setting by the time they beached the Gufuskalam, but now they were ashore Einarr’s spirit was buoyant. He could smell the smoke from shore, and it carried with it the odor of roasting fish.
Einarr grinned sidelong at his companion. “Rested enough to make it a race?”
“Hah! Maybe thirty years ago. I’ve got a better idea, though.” The twinkle in Tyr’s eye was evident even under the starlight. He leaned over to whisper in Einarr’s ear, and the man’s grin was answer enough.
They came upon the campfire quietly, dashing from scrubby bush to scrubby bush. Erik had built the blaze up ridiculously. There were a few trees on the island, and Einarr guessed that there had been a few more earlier that day. Fish were staked outside the blaze itself, roasting in the radiant heat, and Erik moved around the fire tending both dinner and flame.
Einarr shifted, poised to step out and yodel at the man. Erik froze, but didn’t turn away from the fire. Well, he knows we’re here. Einarr smirked. Rather than bursting forth at full voice, he stepped out normally and kept his voice restrained. Shrugging, Tyr followed suit.
Erik turned around, fists planted against his sides as he looked at his two companions. Thanks to the fire, Einarr couldn’t see his face.
“Well. I thought you two might still be around. Mighty nice of you not to make me swim home.”