9.12 – Runic Ward

Over all three ships, flaming arrows arced their way down towards the decks. Einarr’s breath caught in his throat as they began their descent. Then, as though they were passing through a bubble that surrounded the boats, the pinpricks of light winked out. If Einarr looked very closely, he could see a shimmering blue energy rippling along as the fires extinguished.

This was not over, though. The leader of the self-styled “wolf pack” may have abandoned the decks of the ships, but it was too much to hope that they would just leave after this display. “To arms!” he bellowed.

Most of the crew was ahead of him, as it happened. The chink of maille being tossed about had begun even as the first volley of arrows launched. The wolfling ships, not to be deterred, were lighting a second round already.

“Keep it up, Hrug! Everyone else, prepare to return fire!” The twanging of bowstrings could already be heard from the deck of the Vidofnir. He hadn’t heard how the conversation had gone over there, but he could guess.

They were committed, of course. Einarr looked around, only to see Jorir and his golden shield standing close at hand holding Einarr’s maille shirt. Without a word, the dwarf tossed him the maille as though it were cloth. Einarr, lacking the dwarf’s strength, had a somewhat harder time catching it, but had still pulled it over his head within moments.

The archers were ready, it appeared. As much as he wanted to, the same ward that extinguished the enemy’s fire arrows prevented them from sending their own. Ordinary arrows would have to do. “Fire!”

The wolfling volley of shooting stars once again winked out under the power of Hrug’s ward even as the Heidruning volley rained iron on their heads. The oars were coming out on the other side, and now Einarr saw ropes dangling from the bulwarks of his ship. The ropes were twitching, each and every one. He smirked and swaggered over to the bulwark, Sinmora hissing from her sheath. “I think some dogs need a bath.”

Casually, he brought Sinmora down with a thunk into the wood of the bulwark, severing the boarding line. This was followed by the satisfying sounds of a startled yelp and a splash as the wolfling attempting the climb found himself instead in the water. A chuckle spread through his crew, and the men acting as shield bearers for the archers drew and followed suit. That wouldn’t prevent boarding for long, but it bought them a little time. With a deep breath, Einarr steadied himself. “Next volley, fire when ready! Prepare for boarding!”

The wolflings did not try a third volley of fire arrows, for which Einarr was grateful. A ward of that size would be exhausting to maintain: indeed, he saw sweat beading on Hrug’s brow.

The men of the Heidrun fired off a fourth volley while their enemies maneuvered, before Einarr realized they were not maneuvering to try to board. Nor had more ropes come up from the smaller boats below. Instead, the wolflings were making a fighting retreat. Arrows still flew both ways between the ships, but they did not approach. Slowly it dawned on him: his father’s wheel-spoke formation made it impossible to board without entrapping your own ship. Einarr grinned: between the circle of ships and the rocks, the wolflings didsn’t seem to have much of a choice.

“Hold your fire!” They would only waste arrows at this point: the wolfling ships were nearly out of range, and there was Father’s standing order not to engage. Einarr strode to the prow and stepped up on the bulwark, steadying himself against his ship’s tail. Before long, he was joined by Stigander and Kormund.

“What news?”

“A few injuries,” Kormund answered, as calm as ever.

“I take back everything bad I ever said about rune magicians.” Stigander shook his head in wonder. “That was your sorcerer, right? Who made their fire arrows wink out like so many shooting stars?”

“That was Hrug, yes. Are your Singers still aboard?”

The other captains both shook their heads.

“So that means they have Reki, Aema, Svana, Eydri, Runa, and Beatrix.”

“Beatrix?” His father sounded surprised.

Einarr shrugged. “I guess they mistook her for another battle chanter, although why they’d think I had three aboard is anyone’s guess. But with that lot working together? I think they may have more than they can handle aboard.”

Stigander chuckled.

“Are we certain they will be working together with Beatrix? She is an Imperial, you remember.”

It was Stigander who answered. “I’ve heard of stranger bedfellows.”

“They’re all smart enough to know where their interest lies. It may not be according to plan, but it’s far from a disaster.”

Kormund hummed. “I suppose there’s not much we can do besides let them look out for themselves. Certainly Svana is capable of looking out for herself in a pinch.”

Einarr nodded, although he was not so sanguine with this as he pretended. Runa had been out of enemy hands for less than a day: how could he call himself worthy to marry her, if he let her be taken again so easily? “Exactly. And if I know Runa, they’ll have the wolflings spinning on their ears before we even reach the harbor.”

Stigander gave him a long, weighing look before nodding once more. “We’d best be moving. That lot will be quick to return and report our location, but if we play this right we can be in the harbor by sunrise.”

In agreement, the three Captains ended their conference and returned to the decks of their respective boats. “All right, men! Now that everyone’s awake, it’s time to be off! We’ve got a curse to end, damsels to save, and usurpers to put to justice. We’ve got a busy night ahead.”

In surprisingly good cheer, the Heidrunings doffed their maille and moved to their oars. Einarr wondered if any of them realized how close it had been with Hrug’s ward.


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