Einarr’s clansmen fought like desperate men, or cornered animals, each believing themselves alone. Einarr had come to expect better discipline from men under Kaldr’s command: was he not here, then, either? Bea and Jorir guarded his flanks, and while the pressure never seemed to let up neither did they seem to be in much danger. Occasionally one would make it past his guards, and Einarr would have to fight as well: as much as he hated cutting down his fellow clansmen, he preferred those moments to the ones where he was free to observe and wonder.
He had heard, of course, that Ulfr was a poor Thane – but only ever third-hand. Father, naturally, took that as a matter of course. But to have the evidence so plainly before his face was galling. Cursed or not, he thought it would almost be better if these men never knew what they had been reduced to under the Usurper.
Eydri paused: Einarr glanced toward his Singer, but she had only stopped to take some water. While no man of the Clans would deliberately shoot a Battle Chanter, there was always the risk of a stray arrow.
Einarr pressed his lips together: this was dragging on too long. He glanced at Bea and at Jorir and nodded. He brought Sinmora up behind his shield and stepped further into the fray. Now was not the time for half-measures, and desperate men broke easily.
Bea and Jorir matched him, foot for foot, as they pressed forward. As Einarr expected, the blockade crew yielded before their onslaught. Soon, they had reached the Heidrun’s bulwark.
Einarr stood for a moment, contemplating the boarding line. They could cross, and take the fight entirely to the blockade ship, but…
The cry came from deep within the blockade line, three different voices at almost the same instant. “It’s cut!”
“Pull back!” Einarr ordered.
The wolfling ships, unmoored from the line and still caught by boarding lines, began to rotate. Soon, they would cross the blockade even if they did nothing.
They were not about to do nothing. The wolflings could not be allowed to cut the boarding lines, not until all their crew were back aboard. With a predatory grin, Einarr jumped up on the bulwark. “We’ll help defend the lines.”
The fighting was still fierce aboard the wolfling vessel, but even there it felt like a ship that had lost its captain. Maybe it had: that would explain the lack of fortitude among its men. If so, however, that made for a shocking number of ships with either bad captains or none at all. Could Ulfr be even worse than we’d thought?
His men were through, now, and lined up in rows. Half had taken oars, and the others had reclaimed their bows. Einarr climbed back up on the bulwark of the wolfling ship. “As soon as you’re both over, cut the lines.”
Jorir grunted even as he took off a man’s leg at the knee. Beatrix, though, was right behind Einarr.
He dashed nimbly across the boarding lines and turned to wait for his man at arms.
It looked as though Jorir was having trouble breaking away. The dwarf could vault up on the bulwark with no issue, normally, but the wolflings pressed him hard.
Einarr took up his own bow. They couldn’t wait much longer, but he could help. He drew, sighting carefully. This would all be for naught if he shot his own liege man by mistake. His arrow flew.
That was the moment Vali made his appearance. It started as a shiver running through the wolflings, and then an unearthly howl began, like wind whistling over the mouth of a sunken cave. The wolflings shared trepidatious glances.
Vali made himself visible, superimposing his own form over that of the dwarf’s. For added effect, Einarr thought, the ghost did not keep himself to the dwarf’s, or even his own, size. Einarr blinked, hardly believing it himself: there, as though growing out of Jorir’s own body, was a spirit nearly three times Einarr’s size.
The wolflings panicked, racing for the farthest possible point from the apparition. Jorir looked about himself in apparent confusion, but only for a moment. With a shrug, he made his way across the boarding line. It was only when he turned to cut it that he saw what had frightened them off, and then he laughed.
“So? Anything?” Einarr asked as Vali vanished from the old ship and appeared, normal size again, on the deck of the Heidrun.
“Not much. Kaldr’s ship is in dock, and Kaldr himself has been removed fom command.”
“You say ‘not much,’ but that means a good deal. Good work, Vali.” Einarr turned to the rest of the crew: they were starting to lag behind the others. “Heidrun, move out!”
The appearance of dirt and decay only grew stronger as they drew nearer to Breidelsteinn town.
Einarr let out a low whistle. “What happened here?” he said, to no-one in particular.
Eydri, sipping at her waterskin, stepped forward. “What usually happens under a usurper. I saw all the signs when we were his ‘guests.’ They abuse their power, without understanding the responsibilities it entails. There’s a reason usurpers are almost universally reviled. And a reason why rulership is inherited.”
Einarr nodded, then swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. No. The clan elders will simply have to accept Father in the Thane’s seat, if Grandfather can’t be.
Eydri chuckled, her eyes warm, but did not explain.
“All we have to do is destroy the Weaving,” he reminded himself. “Once that’s done, the rest of Ulfr’s support should vanish… shouldn’t it?”
“For some, perhaps. I have never dealt with a working on this scale before, but… some people may have grown used to the shackles placed on their loyalty, and not realize they are free for some time after the Weaving is shattered.”
He thought on this for a moment: it made sense. There was a reason Battle Chanters would typically Sing their warriors down out of the battle fury, after all. It took time for calm to return. “I understand.”
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