Runa coughed. Again. And again, Irding’s face fell into a scowl. Erik paid his son no mind, merely continued to row. Two weeks had passed since they had escaped the Tower of Ravens, and for two weeks they had been becalmed. Which meant rowing. A lot of rowing meant a lot of singing, ordinarily, to keep their strength up – but Runa’s voice was unused to such long labor.
Einarr’s hands tensed on his fishing line. Fights had sparked from less in the last week. Jorir gave a tug on his own line, and the sound of the sinker pulling through the water defused the moment.
The Gestrisni was low on water, and in two weeks there had been no sign of land where they might find fresh. Which meant that Runa’s voice was in bad condition even when she could sing. This might not have been a problem with a more sea-weathered Singer, who could have taken a turn at oar or rudder or line, but Runa was not accustomed to riding the whale road.
Einarr turned to offer his man at arms a nod of thanks. As he did, though, a darkness on the horizon caught his eye. His brows drew down and he scowled across the water even as the first hint of a breeze tugged at his hair.
“Erik. Storm ahead. Let’s see if we can’t ride the wind.”
“Think this old girl will take it?”
“Think we have another option?”
“No, sir. Let’s go.”
A pair of splashes was followed by the dull rattle of fishhooks on the deck as Einarr and Jorir hurriedly pulled their lines in. Before many minutes had passed, the five had unfurled the sail and turned the Gestrisni about to take advantage of the sudden wind.
This storm blew up nearly as quickly as the one that had brought the Grendel, late the year before. Soon the poor, bedraggled Grestisni was being tossed about on the waves like a young boy’s toy while Runa’s voice cracked over the notes of a song of strength they desperately needed.
And yet, they moved, and for that Einarr was thankful. He had nearly begun to despair of finding land before they all died of thirst, before the storm. Now all they had to do was weather it and find land.
They crested a wave, and the prow of the Gestrisni momentarily pointed straight down, leaving Einarr staring into the deep. He swallowed as the ship righted itself, glad at least that there had been no sign of anything below that might have stared back. He might have done better to heed Erik’s caution – no. That way lay madness. Dangerous or not, riding the wind had been the right call, if only because it got them moving again.
“Brace yourselves!” He just had time to shout before an errant wave crashed over the bow, drenching them all as it washed across the deck. The mast groaned ominously. A string of dwarven curses carried over the wind. Einarr shook his head violently, trying to clear the water from his eyes but only succeeding in whipping about the wet ropes of his beard.
“Everyone okay back there?” He hollered over the wind, never taking his eyes from the sea ahead. Erik and Irding roared wordlessly back. That was four. When Runa’s song picked back up, only a moment later, Einarr nodded to himself. “Steady on, then!”
At the crest of the next wave, Einarr spotted a black shape on the horizon against the darkness of the sky, too rough and angular to be any sort of giant creature, too smooth to be a rock like the one they had just recently left. “Land ho!”
Irding whooped. Einarr allowed himself half of a smile: he couldn’t really disagree with the sentiment. Perhaps their fortune was taking a turn for the better? This was a day for taking chances, and Einarr thought their chances were significantly better on an island than on the water with no provisions.
As the island drew nearer, Einarr could make out the silhouettes of trees near the shore being tossed in the wind. They should have shelter, at least, once they got the Gestrisni ashore. As if in answer to his thoughts, the hull groaned at him. They were near enough now, though, that the pattern of the waves had shifted. Einarr felt the deck swell up under him from behind and gripped the railing as the breaker carried them swiftly towards the unknown shore.
Their feet sank deep in the wet sand of the shore as they hauled the Gestrisni up out of the water, the familiar grind of sand against wood almost inaudible over the crash of waves and the howl of wind. Einarr straightened to have a look around them, now that the fisherman’s boat was out of immediate danger.
A light appeared farther up the shore, a rectangle of fire against the black backdrop of night. It shrank, then, down to a torch-sized ball of flame, and began bobbing closer. The others came up to stand by Einarr, watching as the light walked toward them.
Eventually, the light resolved into an Imperial-style lantern of glass and bronze, dangling from the hand of a weathered old man – old enough, Einarr thought, to make Tyr seem young. The man held the lantern up, peering at them through the rain as they peered at him.
“Storm or no,” the old man cried. “This here is no safe port. Cast off again, if you know what’s good for you.”
“Grandfather,” Einarr answered. “We are two weeks adrift, with no food and little water.”
“And still I say, cast off, before you become cast away.”
Einarr shared a look with the others, who all nodded in agreement. Irding was the first to take a step back toward the Gestrisni, to put his shoulder to her hull and brave the waves again.
A purple flash of lightning split the sky, and the crack of thunder did not drown out the crack of wood as it set mast and sail ablaze.
“Ah.” The old man bobbed his head now, as though in understanding. “Accursed ye be, then. Come, follow me. I’ve warm food to offer, at least, and the roof don’t leak much.”
Under other circumstances, Einarr might have refused such a gloomy old man. At this moment, however, it seemed the best option before them. “My thanks, grandfather. Tell me, what island is this?”
“This?” The man’s laugh was raspy and dry. “This be the Isle of the Forgotten.”
So begins book 6! I hope the wait was worth it. We’re not quite all moved in, but we’re close, and Pago Pago thus far is lovely.
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