Tag: A rival appears?

3.3 – Grave of Ships

“Port side, push off! Starboard, brace and pole forward!”

The grinding sound continued and the Vidofnir began to slow. The sail fluttered disconsolately as the tailwind faded away.

“Put your backs into it!” Stigander added his weight to one of the starboard oars before the order was fully out of his mouth.

Einarr stowed his bow and jumped on to one of the port side oars. The fog was growing thicker with every moment.

The first notes of Reki’s song floated out over the Vidofnir, clear and low, and Einarr felt his arms warm and the fatigue of rowing begin to melt away. “Heave!”

More men joined on the oars. He could hear the creaking of wood from a second ship, now, even over the grunts of exertion from the Vidofnings. There was no going back at this point, not with someone else blocking the channel behind them.

The Vidofnir groaned loudly as she came free of the rock she had lodged on. Water splashed against the hull as she resettled herself. She was a sturdy boat, though: with a little luck, the damage would be minor.

“Good job, men. Looks like we’re poling forward from here. Lookouts forward: let’s see if we can’t avoid the next one.”

If the other ship hit the same rock they did, Einarr never heard it. He spent the remainder of their passage in the chute peering up into the fog, an arrow nocked, hoping he would see a kalalintu before its song could stupefy him. He was not alone in this.

The fog grew colder as the Vidofnir slipped out of the chute and into the maze of shallows on the other side. Here, at least for now, there was no wind.

“Oars out, boys.” The heavy fog seemed to suppress sound: Stigander’s order felt oddly muted, as did the song Reki still sang.

A swell rose from the direction of the open ocean and rocked the Vidofnir shoreward. “Mind the bottom. Sand bars everywhere out here.”

An eternity could have passed that way, or mere minutes, and not one of them would have known the difference. The only way to tell the passage of time was the intermittent calling of depth from the prow.

The bones of a ship rose off a sandbar to the port side after they had traveled this way for a time. A droplet of condensation rolled down Einarr’s neck and he shivered as another ocean swell tried to push them off-course.

“Steady as she goes.” Father may well have been speaking to himself as much as his men, although Stigander was ordinarily a man of steady nerves. Einarr could not remember a less welcoming place than the one they approached. I can see why the locals think it’s haunted.

The keel of another longship rose up out of the fog to starboard, the boards cracked and half-eaten by brine and time. His eyes still scanning the sky for any sign of kalalintu, Einarr stepped over to stand at his father’s shoulder. “Are you sure coming here was a good idea?”

“Would I have put it to a vote if I was?” Stigander muttered back. “But it’s a little late to turn back now, don’t you think?”

Einarr grunted. “Have you seen any sign of our shadow since we left the channel?”

Stigander shook his head. “I’m hoping they turned back.”

“Heard them when we were stuck on a rock back there.” Einarr snorted. “I’ll lay odds they didn’t. Who’d have thought someone else was desperate enough to try coming here the same time we did, though.”

Now it was his father’s turn to snort. “No sign of beasties?”

“Nor ghosts, unless you want to count this abominable weather.”

Stigander nodded. “Stay on your guard. Not much farther. Probably be a lot more derelicts from here on.”

***

As they approached the beach, they came to a point where they could almost rely on the locations of the wrecked husks of boats to show their path.

The mist thinned a little as they neared the shore. Everywhere Einarr looked he could see the remains of ships not so fortunate as their own – ships that probably hadn’t planned on coming here in the first place, he thought. There weren’t many clan Captains who would want to gamble their honor on a venture like this.

The keel of the Vidofnir groaned as its momentum carried it partway up the beach. The men aboard became a flurry of movement, securing the ship on the beach and lowering the sail – the fully ordinary motions of landfall on an island entirely out of the ordinary.

His task completed, Einarr hopped down onto the shore and followed the port side back towards the water line. The familiar planks were older than he was, but the pitch still held and the board felt smooth and familiar as he ran his palm down the side of the boat even as frigid water washed over his boots.

He stood in water up past his knees before he found the wound. A white scar ran across three planks on the bottom, narrowly missing the keel.

“How bad’s it look?” Erik called down.

“Could be worse. A couple wedges and a good coat of pitch should get us back to port.”

“Good,” Stigander rumbled. “Check the other side while you’re down there, would you?”

“Yessir.” Einarr waded back to the shore, ignoring the bite of cold against his wet legs. The water was still up to his ankles when a crash of shattering wood and sailor’s shouts split the air from some small distance on the other side of the Vidofnir.


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3.2 – Icy Seas

Over the course of a week the seas plied by the whalers of Attilsund and, now, the Vidofnir grew colder, until it felt more like they were out early in the spring rather than the middle of summer. That they had not yet seen floating ice did not reassure Einarr about the lack of icebergs in the area.

No ice did not mean no thing, however. Occasionally, through the fog off to the east, he thought he saw the shadow of a ship. When he mentioned it to Bardr, the man nodded and doubled the watch.

The move from calm seas to rough waters was just as gradual. They were a week and a half out from Attilsund when they started doing battle with the sail, and a few days beyond that the currents grew mischievous.

The mysterious ship was closer, when it appeared again, although still too far to make out its banner. The Vidofnir assumed a battle footing until they once again lost sight of their shadow

Svarek was tasked with helping Sivid watch the sounding line, just as Irding joined Erik wrestling the sail. The sea was wearing them down, and their target had not yet come into view through the mist that always seemed to obscure the horizon line. And they whale these waters?

On the thirteenth day, a dark shape seemed to rise in the mist out on the horizon. “Land ho!” came the cry from the forecastle.

“Ready oars!” Stigander ordered.

One hour passed, then another, before they felt the waters begin to tug at their boat in earnest and the sounders called a warning. “Hard starboard!”

The oarsmen put their backs into the turn. A moment later a gust of wind puffed into the sail and chilled their necks. Then the true challenge began.

Einarr’s forearms bulged as he fought with his oar, his ears straining for orders from Captain or sounding line. The Vidofnir pitched underfoot. He could be grateful, at least, that there was no rain to slick the deck.

For what felt like hours they fought their way past hidden shoals and unpredictable winds. Now Einarr saw ice when he looked up and, when he had a moment to breathe and looked behind them, their shadow, following the same approach to the ship-barrow that the Vidofnir had plied. “Looks like we’ve got competition, boys!”

Their shadow-ship bore a blue and white sail, and still they were too far to make out the creature on their banner.

“Let ‘em come!” Erik’s laughter was met with cheers from elsewhere on deck.

“Let’s see if they’ve got the guts for what comes next.” Stigander crossed his arms and stared dead ahead. “Mind your oars! Prepare to retract on my word!”

“Aye, sir!” The Chute was ahead where, based on the sea charts and their best reckoning, the safest route forward would take them up a narrow channel between two large rocks jutting up out of the sea.

Stigander took his time getting the Vidofnir lined up to shoot the gap.

A cold wind filled their sail. “Row for all you’re worth, boys!”

They put their backs into it, unsure even now if the channel would be wide enough for their ship, hoping momentum might carry them through a tight squeeze.

The cliffs drew up rapidly on either side. As the cock’s head of the Vidofnir entered the shadow of the rocks they seemed to loom overhead.

“Oars in!”

With one practiced motion and the clatter of wood striking wood, the oarsmen stowed their oars.

“I want half of you on battle footing. Be on the lookout for kalalintu, or any hostile movements from the ship that’s tailing us. The rest of you stay put in case we have to pole off the rocks.”

Einarr moved to battle footing, feeling only a little bad for those who were too slow to escape oar watch. He wasn’t likely to shiver less than they, and while the possibility of a kalalintu attack was a real danger, they didn’t exactly stir the blood.

“Portside nudge.”

His father’s voice echoed twice as loud off the water’s surface and the rock walls, even over the whistling wind, and Einarr started. Calm down. We’ll make it.

The gobbling screech of kalalintu floated down the chasm to his ears, but the winged fish remained out of sight. Einarr glanced up: the sky had shaded from blue to silver since they’d entered the chute.

“Starboard nudge.”

Einarr managed not to jump that time. The wind seemed to be dying down, though, and he thought he heard the tell-tale creaking of wood from off behind them. It seemed odd, though, that he could not see them now.

He blinked. It wasn’t just the sky that had gone grey: the cliff ledges far above were shrouded with haze, as well as anything more than about a hundred feet forward or back of the Vidofnir. It seemed to have gotten colder, as well: when he exhaled, he could see his breath.

A low muttering rose around the deck of the Vidofnir as the others noticed this as well. Einarr thought he heard some of the men praying forgiveness from the ancestors for what they were about to do. Not that it was likely to do much good. Well. If it came down to it, they could sacrifice some of whatever they found to grant the shipwrecked spirits a proper rest. But first, they had to make it through the chute to the isle of wrecks.

The Vidofnir rocked and wood ground against stone.


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