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.
“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.”
“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.