“Port side, push off! Starboard, brace and pole forward!”
The grinding sound continued and the Vidofnir began to slow. The sail fluttered disconsolately as the tailwind faded away.
“Put your backs into it!” Stigander added his weight to one of the starboard oars before the order was fully out of his mouth.
Einarr stowed his bow and jumped on to one of the port side oars. The fog was growing thicker with every moment.
The first notes of Reki’s song floated out over the Vidofnir, clear and low, and Einarr felt his arms warm and the fatigue of rowing begin to melt away. “Heave!”
More men joined on the oars. He could hear the creaking of wood from a second ship, now, even over the grunts of exertion from the Vidofnings. There was no going back at this point, not with someone else blocking the channel behind them.
The Vidofnir groaned loudly as she came free of the rock she had lodged on. Water splashed against the hull as she resettled herself. She was a sturdy boat, though: with a little luck, the damage would be minor.
“Good job, men. Looks like we’re poling forward from here. Lookouts forward: let’s see if we can’t avoid the next one.”
If the other ship hit the same rock they did, Einarr never heard it. He spent the remainder of their passage in the chute peering up into the fog, an arrow nocked, hoping he would see a kalalintu before its song could stupefy him. He was not alone in this.
The fog grew colder as the Vidofnir slipped out of the chute and into the maze of shallows on the other side. Here, at least for now, there was no wind.
“Oars out, boys.” The heavy fog seemed to suppress sound: Stigander’s order felt oddly muted, as did the song Reki still sang.
A swell rose from the direction of the open ocean and rocked the Vidofnir shoreward. “Mind the bottom. Sand bars everywhere out here.”
An eternity could have passed that way, or mere minutes, and not one of them would have known the difference. The only way to tell the passage of time was the intermittent calling of depth from the prow.
The bones of a ship rose off a sandbar to the port side after they had traveled this way for a time. A droplet of condensation rolled down Einarr’s neck and he shivered as another ocean swell tried to push them off-course.
“Steady as she goes.” Father may well have been speaking to himself as much as his men, although Stigander was ordinarily a man of steady nerves. Einarr could not remember a less welcoming place than the one they approached. I can see why the locals think it’s haunted.
The keel of another longship rose up out of the fog to starboard, the boards cracked and half-eaten by brine and time. His eyes still scanning the sky for any sign of kalalintu, Einarr stepped over to stand at his father’s shoulder. “Are you sure coming here was a good idea?”
“Would I have put it to a vote if I was?” Stigander muttered back. “But it’s a little late to turn back now, don’t you think?”
Einarr grunted. “Have you seen any sign of our shadow since we left the channel?”
Stigander shook his head. “I’m hoping they turned back.”
“Heard them when we were stuck on a rock back there.” Einarr snorted. “I’ll lay odds they didn’t. Who’d have thought someone else was desperate enough to try coming here the same time we did, though.”
Now it was his father’s turn to snort. “No sign of beasties?”
“Nor ghosts, unless you want to count this abominable weather.”
Stigander nodded. “Stay on your guard. Not much farther. Probably be a lot more derelicts from here on.”
As they approached the beach, they came to a point where they could almost rely on the locations of the wrecked husks of boats to show their path.
The mist thinned a little as they neared the shore. Everywhere Einarr looked he could see the remains of ships not so fortunate as their own – ships that probably hadn’t planned on coming here in the first place, he thought. There weren’t many clan Captains who would want to gamble their honor on a venture like this.
The keel of the Vidofnir groaned as its momentum carried it partway up the beach. The men aboard became a flurry of movement, securing the ship on the beach and lowering the sail – the fully ordinary motions of landfall on an island entirely out of the ordinary.
His task completed, Einarr hopped down onto the shore and followed the port side back towards the water line. The familiar planks were older than he was, but the pitch still held and the board felt smooth and familiar as he ran his palm down the side of the boat even as frigid water washed over his boots.
He stood in water up past his knees before he found the wound. A white scar ran across three planks on the bottom, narrowly missing the keel.
“How bad’s it look?” Erik called down.
“Could be worse. A couple wedges and a good coat of pitch should get us back to port.”
“Good,” Stigander rumbled. “Check the other side while you’re down there, would you?”
“Yessir.” Einarr waded back to the shore, ignoring the bite of cold against his wet legs. The water was still up to his ankles when a crash of shattering wood and sailor’s shouts split the air from some small distance on the other side of the Vidofnir.