Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 9: Einarr and the Wolf’s Flame. Book 10 will pick up right where we left off on 3/10, at which point we should be finished with our move to Saipan.
Kaldr hurried down the cliff road for the harbor where his ship waited. He should have been out there already, directing the attack, not stuck up in the Hold waiting on Lord Ulfr. Thjofgrir, his mate, trailed a half-pace behind, and as they moved Kaldr confirmed that all was in readiness.
Ulfr hadn’t even wanted anything, so far as Kaldr could tell – at least, nothing worthwhile. He had been kept ashore, it seemed, only because the Lady Urdr wanted him punished for bringing all the Singers instead of just the half-trained one. Even now, though, he could not regret that. Hopefully Lord Ulfr would see soon what came of relying too much on the Arts. Even better if the Lady Urdr learned some humility: the woman was insufferable, and if she would only get out of her son’s way and be a proper matriarch Breidelstein could come back into its own.
There was no time for such musings, though. Kaldr looked out over the harbor again, trying to judge how quickly they would have to move to join the blockade. The smell of smoke tickled his nose and the alarm bells rang, but his orders were clear – and issued after the alarm was sounded. If Lord Ulfr was confident in his ability to contain the fire, who was Kaldr to gainsay that?
On the water, his sister ships had engaged the rebel vessels. It was hard to be sure, but Kaldr did not believe they had managed to board yet. He picked up his pace, in a hurry to join the hunt but unwilling to risk a tumble down the steep slope.
The blockade tightened, drawing around in an attempt to encircle the rebels, but something was wrong. Now he stopped, his throat tightening as he looked out over the stair wall. The rebel ships appeared to be charging straight forward into the blockade, but it was not possible the rebels were that stupid. I need to send up a signal…
He shook his head. In order to send a signal, he would have to climb back up to the tower and through the fire, and then hope that his smoke signal could be distinguished from the Singers’ handiwork. Not likely, that. Even if it could be, though, there was not time with the feint already in motion.
Worse, the commander out there appeared to be taking the bait. The arms of the ships started to close around the three rebel vessels. Why was Captain Beir not using fire arrows? Captives were all well and good, but only if your victory was assured already. Unless it was more of Lord Ulfr’s foolishness. He was the rightful Thane, without a doubt, but the man had an unhealthy obsession with domination and subjugation.
“We’re too late,” he said aloud, interrupting Thjofgrir’s running inventory. Now he looked up, as well.
“Are you sure?”
Out on the water, the rebel vessels changed course with an agility Kaldr had never before seen. The Eikthyrnir, he supposed, was renowned for its speed, but the Vidofnir and the Heidrun were ships after the same mold as the wolf fleet. They should not have been able to turn that quickly, nor pick up so much speed. Arrows flew from the arms of the blockade, so much wasted ammunition as they rained down on the water.
Watch they did. It was almost beautiful in its tragedy: the hind, the rooster, and the ram moved as though under a wind sent by the gods themselves, darting around and through the pack of the blockade as though they were barges. Soon – long before they could have cast off, let alone joined the fray – an answering volley shot from the decks of the retreating rebels. The jaws of the blockade snapped down on empty air, the prey escaped.
Meanwhile, Captain Beir was proving himself incompetent once again. The ships of the blockade were getting in each others’ way as they tried to turn and sail in pursuit. Even from the stair Kaldr could see wolves colliding as they tried to turn themselves. Those on the edges, he wagered, would soon leave off pursuit to untangle the mess in the center. That was none of his business, he supposed, and perhaps he was being unfair to Captain Beir. He could not help but think, though, that had he been out there where he belonged, the rebels would have been brought properly to heel.
For a long moment, Kaldr stood on the mountain path, watching as his prey escaped the net Ulfr had set. He could not deny that their escape had been beautifully executed. And they would not go far, he wagered. Come sunup, they would still be in Lord Ulfr’s waters. Likely close by, in some sheltered cove. Probably they would take a day or two, secure in the knowledge of their escape, to rest and regroup before they tried again. Two or three likely options came immediately to mind. His charts, though, were down on his ship still.
A small smile curled the corner of his mouth, almost involuntarily. “Come, Thjofgrir. It seems the hunt is on.”
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