Mid-morning the day after Einarr and Tyr reunited with Erik, no kalalintu had yet shown themselves on the island. This, they agreed, probably related to the albatross heads Erik had staked around his camp, which in the darkness neither Einarr nor Tyr had noticed.
Erik, it seemed, had fought just as hard as Einarr and Tyr, but been fortunate enough to be grabbed by beasts from one of the smaller, less-populated islands. Some few escaped, but whether they would find welcome among one of the other groups none of the three could guess. Once the sun was down, Erik had lit his signal fire with hope, rather than expectation, of rescue.
Since they had already landed, and proven the island relatively safe, the three agreed to take the day for fishing and tending to their little boat. They would have no more opportunities before Svartlauf, and Runa had warned of an eternal storm and treacherous, rocky shoals. When they finally cast off the morning after, it was well-rested with replenished stores.
For another week they were blessed with smooth sailing, save for the occasional drizzle. Then the drizzles became full rainstorms, and before long their little boat was sailing through a squall even more ferocious than the one which had injured the Vidofnir last fall.
“Furl sail!” Einarr ordered as the prow of their ship nosed into the tempest. He bent the full strength of his arms to keeping their Gufuskalam on course while Erik tried to tie the billowing sail out of the wind and Tyr readied the oars.
Each and every one of them had pulled their knit caps as far down over their ears as they would go. Sleet pounded on the bow, freezing fingers and noses and ears where they still stuck out under their hats. Einarr gripped the tiller, knuckles white with more than cold. The storm obscured his vision, but not enough to entirely hide the rocks they rowed towards.
“Steady!” Einarr called over the storm. Erik and Tyr fought the ocean with oars that kept trying to jump out of their grasp. Water streamed down their faces and soaked their beards and their cloaks, and their hands were red from the cold.
Tyr started chanting a rower’s cadence, although the lack of a drummer left it feeling hollow.
Einarr’s nose felt like ice. He watched the ocean ahead of them for rocks, doing battle against the water with rudder rather than oar in their fragile skiff.
A strange current caught the Gufuskalam and pulled them sideways as the water swirled around the rocks. Einarr leaned into the rudder, trying to correct before they were dashed against the jagged pillar now looming ahead of them. “Starboard!”
At the last moment the Gufuskalam turned, just barely scraping by the rock. Einarr spared a glance for his crewmates. They slumped, frozen by the storm and wearied by hard sailing, but still struggling to make it through to their goal in the eye of the storm.
“Come on, men! No surrendering to a storm!” It was hard to tell if his friends heard over the howl of the wind and the lashing of sleet, but at least they were still moving. His own hands felt like ice as they gripped the tiller. Much more of this and frostbite might be the least of the damage.
“Nearly there,” he called a little later, still trying to encourage his friends. The hull thumped against a rock he had not seen beneath the water. It seemed his own vigilance flagged. At least there had been no crack of breaking wood with the impact. Einarr shook his head and shifted his footing, aiming to keep his balance.
A chiming noise sounded over the wind from the sack at his belt. At first it meant nothing. He blinked twice: another large rock loomed, dead ahead.
“Hard to port!” He hauled on the tiller.
Erik saw the rock just in time to flatten his oar against the side of the Gufuskalam.
Einarr heard the crystal chime again. What can that even be? He knew they’d have been lucky to hear the song of a battle chanter over the howl of this storm.
A battle chanter? …The crystal bottle! A little extra strength will go a long way toward getting us through to the island. Runa’s song of strength. How she had bottled it, Einarr could not guess, but the reminder of its existence fanned the flame of hope in his breast.
He fumbled with the ties on the sack with numb fingers until it opened. Even within the bag and in the stormy darkness the bottle seemed to glimmer from its place on top. Einarr lifted the bottle by its neck even as reverent gratitude filled him.
The stopper, too, was crystal, and Einarr pulled it carefully free. Even before the stopper was clear of the bottle the clear tones of Runa’s voice sounded over the howl of wind and sleet. Within moments his friends both had a firmer grip on the oars, and his own mind and body felt alert again. Undaunted, they battled the storm while the princess’s voice sustained them.