Tag: Astrid

4.20 – Respite

Einarr clashed and clashed again with the Grendeling blocking his path – a creature no bigger than he himself was. He should not have been having so much trouble with this one, but with each bind he found himself another half-step closer to the treacherous drop between their two ships, the water choppy and frothed from the storm the Grendel carried on its back. He ground his teeth together, knowing he should be better than this.

An arrow whistled through the air from the deck of the Vidofnir and those still waiting to board. Einarr dodged to the side and his opponent turned with him – right into the path of the onrushing arrow. Einarr glanced back and saw Arnskar lowering his bow: he raised Sinmora’s hilt to his forehead in thanks before dashing back into the melee.

The Grendelings had not been so difficult to fight last fall, and some corner of Einarr’s brain worried over the question of why even as he joined battle with a third of their number. Whatever the reason, the Vidofnings could not afford to prolong this fight – not with three more ships pursuing their ally.

Another surge of Vidofnings thudded down onto the deck, and Einarr rode their wave back up to his father’s side.

Stigander seemed less tired than Einarr was, at any rate. For the fighting earlier, followed by their mad rowing, to have worn him down should not be surprising – but the weakness still rankled. He lashed forward with Sinmora, glad to be back in the thick of things where he could vent his spleen, and a Grendeling stumbled backwards, the arm nearly cut through at the elbow. Tveir.

“Regretting-” Stigander drove his blade deep into the neckline of a Grendeling’s maille. “Telling them not to Sing?”

“Little bit.” Einarr puffed, cutting at a third enemy even as he ducked the blade of a fourth.

“You’re exhausted. Fall back. Join the bodyguard, tell the ladies they’re covered to Sing if they choose.” Even distracted, Stigander was parrying the blows of three separate Grendelings. He kicked forward and one of the creatures’ knee bent backward.

“Father, I-”

“That was an order, son.” His tone brooked no opposition.

“Yes, sir.” Einarr seethed, although if that Stigander saw him flagging so easily he might be in worse shape than he thought. Einarr swept Sinmora in a wide arc and her blade left only shallow cuts in his targets. He stepped back from the space thus cleared. A heartbeat later, the hole he left was filled by Erik.

“Give your lady five minutes,” the big man laughed. “You’ll be back afore the fight’s over.”

***

Einarr had nearly reached the cluster of men surrounding Reki and Runa before the wave of fatigue truly hit him. He could not quite keep from staggering, although he covered it as best he could.

“Captain Stigander has rescinded the order preventing our Singers from joining battle,” he announced, before shouldering his way in between Bollinn and Jorir. He was, in fact, surprised to see the dwarf back here – until he realized that he was the only one of the assault team that had not joined the bodyguard squad.

“What did y’think ye were doing, racing back out there?” Jorir grumbled.

“Avenging my stepmother, or trying to.” It was some small comfort to Einarr that Barri still looked discontent being stuck back here, away from the fighting.

“Not two hours after raiding their compound and fighting our way back to the ship. I know you’re young yet, but…”

Sivid laughed from the other side of the circle. “Oh, leave off. Don’t tell me you never tried to do it all.”

Runa cleared her throat. “If we’ve been given leave to Sing I rather think that means the Captain would like our help.”

“Quite so,” Reki averred, then paused to hum a moment. “Why don’t you see about freshening up your rescuers. You three, come forward with me a bit.”

Even as Reki left, her chosen guards forming a wedge around her, Runa began to Sing. Almost immediately Einarr’s mind was filled with scenes of early spring, of rebirth and renewal and snowmelt, and he felt the heat and the heaviness begin to slide from his shoulders. He closed his eyes. Many of the scenes he recognized from Kjellvic. Such as walking with the Lady Runa out to inspect the Vidofnir. Only this time, they had nothing to argue over… a heat rose in his face, and he hoped that the others were not seeing the same thing he was.

Almost as soon as he thought that the vision changed and he was diving into the still-icy runoff of a lake, his skin still steaming from a sauna. He cleared his throat: whatever she had done was effective, although neither of those last two was normal. He opened his eyes as her song wound down, and now Reki’s voice began to worm its way into his mind.

Red began to tinge the edges of his vision and Einarr stepped forward, back toward the fray. He was dimly aware of Jorir and Barri flanking him, leaving Sivid, Bollinn, and Kragnir from the island to guard Runa. She would be fine. Reki would be fine. All that mattered now was to destroy the Grendel quickly.

The three of them now stood, each in front of a boarding line, breathing deeply the scent and the sounds of battle. A shout began to well up in Einarr’s breast: he held it back and stepped up on the railing. The smell of smoke tickled his nose.

And then Runa joined in Reki’s song. The taut line beneath his feet swayed as he raced across and the shout, now a roar, burst from his mouth. He was dimly aware of Barri and Jorir behind him, joining in the battle roar, but the fury was already almost overwhelming his senses.

The Grendel would pay.


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4.19 – Boarding

The clink of chain was the only sound to be heard from the deck of the Vidofnir as her crew waited to see who would take the bait and whose Captain had a better head on their shoulders. When only the Grendel turned to face the Vidofnir, some may have spared a thought for their allies on the Skudbrun. Most, however, grinned feral grins and laughed unpleasant laughs: for almost a year now, this was a chance they had wanted.

Reki approached the mast, a full waterskin in hand. “On your command.”

Stigander nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but Einarr cut him off.

“Wait – I think we’ll be better off without the Song magic for this fight.”

“Explain,” his father ordered.

“Back in the cave, when we were escaping, Runa hardly sang at all. When she did, it was like her voice was a beacon to the creatures.”

“…Creatures?” Reki’s skepticism was not out of place: she was one of the few who hadn’t been there.

Stigander nodded slowly. “Under the influence of Astrid’s song, the Grendelings looked more like monsters than men.”

“In their fortress-temple, too.” Einarr paused, then shook his head. There wasn’t time for that now. “At any rate, I think we’re better off doing without the battle fury. As long as we can manage.”

Stigander studied Reki’s face grimly for a long moment before nodding agreement. “And we’re doubling their bodyguards. Get Runa up here. No-one gets through to either Singer.”

Einarr jerked his head in acknowledgement. Runa, he saw, was somehow at the forecastle with Barri and Bollinn. Why would they allow her up there? Why she was there was almost beside the point, however: she needed to be further back, and now. Einarr jogged forward, not yet worried about the rain or waves that were beginning to shake the Vidofnir.

“You two fighting? We can use all the hands we can get.”

“We’ll be guarding the Lady Runa, all the same to you.” Bollinn drawled.

“Fine. Go join Reki and the other bodyguards amidships. We’ll handle them.”

Barri shot a baleful look at Bollinn, but the man was thoroughly outranked. They stepped back towards the Vidofning Singer, but Runa made them wait.

“What about you, Einarr?” She raised her head defiantly into the wind, the rain stinging her cheeks well past their usual comely shade.

“These are the nithers who murdered Astrid, Runa.” As if he would let other men – even other Vidofnings – take his chance at vengeance from him. He would fight at his father’s side, and they would destroy those who sought to harm their family.

Runa nodded silently, her mouth pursed in an unhappy line, but she followed her two bodyguards from the Skudbrun as they shouldered their way through the crowd gathering at the fore to face their enemy. Of those aboard, there would be precious few who did not want a chance at the Grendelings.

The storm that hovered over the Grendel once again lashed at the Vidofnir and her crew alike, although this time they were ready for her. Fire-tipped arrows sailed across the narrowing gap as Stigander strode up to stand at Einarr’s side. His maille glinted wetly in the light of the fires. Stigander held Hrostlief – Grandfather’s sword – loosely in hand before the inevitable charge. He growled. “Astrid will be avenged.”

As though in answer, Einarr brought his shield to readiness. One of their flaming arrows had caught in the Grendel’s sail and smoldered dully there and Einarr’s lips tightened over his teeth.

The Grendelings answered their volley of fire with arrows of their own, but it was followed only by the sound of iron striking wood or metal. Even now, boarding lines flew from the Vidofnir’s deck. They would not be caught off-guard again.

A sudden gust of wind caused their boarding lines to twist, but it was not enough. Nearly half still caught on the Grendel’s railing, and no sooner were they secure than the first rush of sailors raced across. The sons of Raen gave their men sufficient time to ensure the lines would not be cut before sharing a look and a nod. Father and son brought their swords up for the charge. Then there was only air and water beneath their feet as they sprinted across to the deck of their foe.

Einarr hit the enemy deck at full speed, his boots echoing off their rain-slicked boards. Three steps later he plowed into one of the monstrous Grendelings and knocked the wind from him with the boss of his shield. Bad luck. Einarr brought Sinmora down on the now-exposed back of the man’s -Grendeling’s neck. Ein! …Can we still call them men, at this point?

He glanced to the side, looking for a new target, and saw his father striking down another of their number.

Einarr could feel a touch of the battle fury come upon him unaided and he flashed the next Grendeling in front of him a feral grin. Their blades clashed, sword against axe in the bind. A pair of blows fell against his shield arm from other defenders, but Einarr would not be put off so easily. He swept his leg around to take them in the knees even as he shoved out with the very shield they sought to break. A pair of thuds marked the moment they fell to the deck.

Now he was off-balance, though, and the first Grendeling circled his axe in an attempt to disarm Einarr. He managed to jump back and keep his grip on Sinmora, but the Grendelings were not going to just lay down and die for them.

Einarr’s opponent pressed forward, and Einarr took a step back, followed by another. He was painfully aware of how close he was getting to the railing and the cold sea below. His opponent lunged in, his axe brandished high, and Einarr met him in the bind again.


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4.11 – Blitz

The area of the yard in front of the dungeon entrance was, if anything, more heavily guarded than the front had been. As Einarr had feared, their hasty disposal of the torch before had given them away and made getting back in much harder. He glared at Sivid, despite knowing why: should Runa be lost, Jarl Hroaldr would need to name a new heir and Einarr would need to find a new bride. Should Einarr fall, the Cursebreaker fell, and with him all hope of reclaiming their home. It was not a fact he liked to dwell on. Thankfully, the situation ahead of them demanded too much attention to allow room for such things.

Ahead of the dungeon door stood twenty warriors, who for all their helms revealed could as easily have been monsters as men. Einarr was abruptly reminded of the Grendelings appearance under the effect of Astrid’s battle-chant. He frowned. “Looks like it’s four apiece. Think we can kill them quick enough not to draw more from around front?”

“Dicey,” Bollinn muttered. “Wish our distraction had drawn a few more men away from the keep.”

Jorir grunted, scowling at the group blocking their way. “Always like that, isn’t it? Anyone a quick shot with their bow?”

Barri nodded. “Maybe even fast enough.”

Sivid agreed. “Between the two of us, I’m sure we can cover you.”

“Good,” Einarr breathed. “I think we’re gonna need it. …Jorir, you come in from the left and I’ll take the right if you’ve got center, Bollinn.”

The hook-nosed man nodded.

“Fast and quiet. Give us to a slow count of ten to get in place, would you?” Einarr directed the question at the two archers, who also indicated agreement. He breathed out, suddenly nervous. “All right. Fast and quiet.”

Jorir dashed off to the left, both faster and quieter than a man would expect of any dwarf, while Einarr hurried a distance to the right, ducking down an alley to put a building or two between himself and the Skudbrun’s Mate. Even a slow count of ten didn’t give them very long to get in position before –

The first arrow whizzed through the air, lodging itself underneath the helmet of one of the guards near the edge of the group. He crumpled.

Time’s up. Einarr pressed his lips together in a grim line as he charged out of the byway toward the stone door they had found earlier.

Another arrow sailed through the air, and another guard crumpled. The guard Einarr charged at looked about himself in a frantic way. Einarr did not give him a chance to figure out what was going on: he cut upwards with Sinmora and the guard’s head snapped backwards unnaturally with a spray of dark blood. Ein.

A few paces ahead of him, a flash of gold caught Einarr’s attention as one of the warriors toppled like a tree, taken out at the knee. A second flash of Jorir’s axe took the enemy’s head before silent shock could transform into a scream. A third man fell to an arrow even as Bollinn impaled another on his blade through his maille.

Now their enemies were reacting, however. The next arrow clanged loudly off of one of their enemies’ helmets even as Sinmora struck another in the throat. Tveir. Jorir tackled the one who tried to run, his ears probably still ringing from the arrow. They were running out of time.

Sivid was charging into the yard now even as another pair of arrows found their targets. Barri’s boast had been no idle one, with shooting like that.

“Cover me!” Sivid made a beeline for the dungeon door. Between him and it were six of the remaining ten guards. Bollinn was locked down. Jorir was still getting back to his feet after dispatching the tackled guard.

Einarr growled and the man who would have been his next target dashed away. All yours, Barri. If they wanted to succeed, they had to get Sivid to the door.

One of the two guards on Bollinn had put his back to Einarr: that was a mistake. Einarr dashed forward and kicked hard at the back of the man’s knee. He staggered forward and then Einarr was moving again, running hard for the cluster blocking Sivid’s path. Bollinn joined him four paces later.

“My thanks,” the other man breathed, his pace not slacking.

Einarr only grunted, his attention on the fight ahead.

Sivid got there first, his own sword flashing like a silver fish at the first of the guards in his path. He knocked the helmet from his opponent’s head.

The face that was revealed there belonged to neither man nor beast, nor any strange hybrid of the two. Einarr pulled up short, but only for a heartbeat. Long enough for Sivid’s blade to flash again and the monstrous head to be parted from its body.

Einarr shook his head. He couldn’t afford to waste time gawking. Sivid was no slouch, but it would be the worst sort of cowardice not to assist with a mob like that. He surged forward, hacking at the nearest guardsman.

Bollinn surged ahead even as another pair of arrows whistled past Einarr’s ears, embedding themselves in the eyes of two more helmets.

Moments later, Bollinn, Einarr and Sivid all stood in front of the dungeon door, catching their breath. Moments later they were joined by the other two.

“We get everyone?” Barri asked as he jogged up, the last to join them.

“Seems so.” Einarr had been watching their little battlefield for signs of life and finding none. “Sivid? Whenever you’re ready.”

Sivid took a deep breath and nodded. “Let’s get to it, then.”

Einarr moved to stand behind the man, his arms folded in a defiant gesture. “We’ve got your back.”

The mousey little man turned his attention to the stone door, now ignoring the world around him. The others joined Einarr, forming a ring to shield the man who worked at the hidden lock.


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4.7 – Infiltration

Einarr was among the first to slip, cloaked and hooded, off the Vidofnir’s deck and onto the stone pier below. Moments later he was joined by Sivid: Jorir had argued long and hard for the “honor” of accompanying his liege, but the jump to the pier was awkwardly long even for the humans. With stealth a prime concern, they could not risk exposure so early.

In truth most of the crew would venture down, each searching the underground settlement as they saw fit – all but the largest and clumsiest among them, in fact, which meant Jorir was in good company waiting on deck. Likewise from the Skudbrun, Trabbi was among those who were forced to wait on more favorable circumstance.

Sivid adjusted the hood of his cloak before meeting Einarr’s eyes. The man gave a slight nod, and the two of them hurried down the pier on soft soles. Einarr kept them to a fast walk as they neared the more congested areas of the docks. Once or twice he nearly lost track of the mouse-like man when Sivid would dart around a group that blocked the way, but each time found his partner waiting and watching for him on the other side.

“Thanks,” Einarr muttered as they emerged from the pier onto dry land.

“No problem. Can’t go getting separated this early, now can we.”

“Not at all. Any thoughts on where we should start?”

“If I was looking for some place to keep a sacrifice before the event – which I suppose I am – I’d start by looking for a temple of the offending god.”

Einarr opened his mouth and realized he had nothing witty to say to that. Shrugging, he settled on: “Well, let’s have a look then.”

***

The cave led upward from the dock at a steep angle and quickly narrowed. Here and there Einarr spotted a small side-passage, but given the smells that wafted through them, they had more about them of a slum than of holy ground. Still, it was not very long before Einarr and Sivid involuntarily slowed.

Rising up ahead of them was a smooth stone wall. From high above – a hundred feet if it was ten – the same bluish-purple flames illuminated the passage dimly. It looked like…

“A hold? Here?” Sivid finished the thought for him.

Einarr exhaled, more loudly than he really intended. They could be in a great deal more danger than they had anticipated. “So it would seem.”

“We should go back, report to the Captain.”

“What do we really have to report yet? We should at least try to get inside the walls.”

“And what happens when we can’t get out again?”

Einarr shrugged. “We’ll find a way. Come on.”

Sivid was a gambler and had been for as long as Einarr could remember. All strangeness about ‘luck’ aside, the man knew a good bet from a bad one. So when Sivid made no more objection to Einarr’s suggestion, the younger man was reasonably certain they had a decent chance of managing it.

The pair moved down the long stone road towards the gate of the keep, matching their movements to the other passers-by as best they could. The wall to their right continued on, smooth and unbroken and the color of steel in the strange light as it curved around away from the water.

“I feel like we should have seen a gate by now,” Einarr muttered after a time.

“I feel like we’re walking around a city designed by a paranoid man,” Sivid grumbled. “My best guess says the main gate is on the far side of the keep. Less convenient for day-to-day operations, but also more problematic to assault. Especially with how strong those walls look.”

Einarr glanced up involuntarily. If Sivid’s hunch was right, that meant the top of these walls could bristle with spears like a hedgehog. If Sivid was right, that meant their two ships had no chance of prevailing in an assault. He shrugged a shoulder to rid himself of the uncomfortable tightness building there. His chain mail jangled.

When none of the other travelers reacted to the sound of armor, Einarr relaxed a little. There were other ways to prevail than force, after all.

Finally they could see ahead a dark gash in the wall: the gate. Einarr and Sivid both risked a glance behind them: the water was no longer visible even as a reflection on the walls. Einarr harrumphed, and heard Sivid’s snort. He resettled his hood, trying to ensure his human features were thoroughly obscured. Still, Einarr wondered if that mattered. The crew of the Grendel had seemed to be human, after all… at least when he hadn’t been under Astrid’s battle-fury.

Einarr stopped in his tracks. Odd. Why had he not realized that before now? He shook his head and hurried three steps to catch up with Sivid. They would be within sight of the gate guards soon. Now was not the time.

On the far side of the gate stood an open marketplace. Four or five people would be allowed through unhindered, and then the next handful would be stopped. Well. As hard to find as this place was, it was unlikely many crews found their way by chance. Probably most of these people were well-known here. Einarr glanced at his partner, trying not to swallow. Maybe Sivid had been right?

They were too close now to turn back, though – not without drawing more attention. Einarr hung back a little, pretending to browse at the stalls outside the gates while he watched for an opportunity to enter. Sivid, too, was watching for his chance to cast the dice… metaphorically speaking, thankfully.

A crowd approached from within the gates, and then the wiry Sivid was on the move. Einarr didn’t see how he did it: in the space of two breaths, he had gone from his position outside the gates to take up a spot, perched on something, within, grinning at Einarr.

My turn. Einarr thought he would have poor luck slipping through a crowd like Sivid had. Instead, he watched for one going the other direction and tried to blend in at its edge.

The guard stopped the leader of the group he had joined. Einarr’s heart raced, and more when he realized he did not understand the words they exchanged. He lowered his head, just in case anyone was looking at his face, and focused on breathing quietly. It was only a short exchange: almost before he realized his supposed group began walking again, and Einarr with them. He was in.


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4.2 – Alliance

When the Vidofnings gathered for supper that evening, they were joined by the greatest part of the Skudbrun’s crew – all of both ships, in fact, save those left to keep watch. In the Wandering Warrior that night, an air of confusion quickly turned to the sort of friendly banter they had all enjoyed the previous winter.

At some point in the middle of the first round of drinks, Stigander and Kragnir stood on a table near the center of the room and called for attention.

“Gentlemen!” Stigander began. “It is with great pleasure that I see the friendship between our two crews is undiminished after this last spring. It gives me great hope for the success of our coming mission… which I’m afraid is nowhere nearly so happy as our reunion tonight. So, first, a toast to one another’s health.”

The cheer that went up around the room was somewhat muted, as was probably to be expected after that introduction. A chorus of thunks marked the end of the toast as the men knocked their mugs against the tables. Stigander nodded, and now Captain Kragnir stepped forward.

“Gentlemen, for the last three weeks we have pursued a ship with a demon’s head that rides a storm black as night.”

Murmurs of recognition rose from most of the Vidofnings.

“We give chase because to do otherwise would be unconscionable. Last fall, a ship matching this description murdered your Battle Chanter. Three weeks ago, this ship stole away my Jarl’s daughter on her way to meet with an elder Singer.”

Now there were no murmurs, only the widened eyes of shock and pursed lips of anger.

“Einarr and I,” Stigander continued. “Were approached early this afternoon by Trabbi. I am sure I don’t need to explain to anyone why I have decided that aiding our brothers from Kjell in finding the foul demon-ship has become our first priority. Bardr informs me that we can be ready to leave the day after tomorrow.”

Captain Kragnir opened his mouth again. “Here, then, is to the demon hunt!”

There was nothing muted about the cheers for the toast this time, although the undercurrent was less one of camaraderie and more of anger. Einarr, leaning against the back wall, drained his cup to this toast. It would have been a decent ale, had he been able to taste it.

Einarr looked around the room, trying to be glad to see the two crews united, looking for his best path forward to the bar for a refill. Maybe he could goad Erik into a drinking contest tonight… the man would drink him under the table, but that didn’t seem like a bad place to be under the circumstances. Not when the alternative was worrying about Runa, and why they had taken her when they had murdered Astrid.

***

Getting stone-cold drunk always seems like a better idea when it’s happening than it does the morning after, and this morning was no exception. Einarr awoke on the floor beneath the table Erik had drunk him under the night before with, blessedly, no room to think about anything other than his aching head and the heaviness of his limbs. Which, he supposed, had been the point.

Einarr rolled out from under the table with a groan, not terribly concerned about why he had been left there. Probably due to Father’s disapproval. The fact that he did not seem to be the only one asleep on the tavern floor barely registered. Bleary, he shoved his hair back out of his face, his eyes scanning the room for something to wet his whistle with.

Stigander growled from across the room. “So you’re up, are you?”

“…’lo, Father.”

“I trust you got it out of your system last night?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Fine, then. Go help load the ship. Bardr and I will double-check the manifest.”

“Yes, sir.”

Stigander thrust a skin of water into his hands as Einarr trudged for the door. “We’ll get her back, and get vengeance for Astrid while we’re at it. Keep it together.”

Einarr paused, his hand on the door, to nod in agreement. Then he stepped out into the bright light of morning, blinking against the light and his hangover.

***

At the dawn tide, two days following the announcement of their venture, two ships slipped out of Mikilgata Harbor onto a calm sea, the sound of their oars plying the water the only sign of movement beyond the harbor master counting the rather generous tolls they had left.

On board the Vidofnir, the Skudbrun’s Mate consulted with Bardr, finalizing the heading they would take in pursuit of the demon-headed ship. There had been some hope, initially, that someone would spot the storm on the horizon, but in vain. Einarr listened with half his attention to the discussion: the other half paid more attention than truly necessary to the cadence of the rowing. If he did not, he would only dwell on the singular problem that stood before him. His stepmother’s murderers had his betrothed under their power. Why?

Eventually, though, when the harbor was little more than a smudge behind him, a gangplank was passed between the two ships and the Skudbrun’s Mate returned to his own crew and the sails were unfurled. Their heading: east by southeast, towards where the Skudbrun had lost sight of the storm – and where the Vidofnir had broken off her chase before.

For a moment it almost seemed as though the crowing cock of the Vidofnir were in a race against the Skudbrun’s wolf’s-head, but as they turned their new ally ceded the forerunner position to the crew that best knew what they pursued.

Einarr set his mouth even as they pulled the oars in. The Grendel, and whoever she was aligned with, would pay for their depredations in blood, or Einarr was not a Son of Raen. Perhaps, in the process, he might even learn what they were after in the first place.


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4.1 – An Unexpected Arrival

When the Vidofnir had emerged from the narrow fjord that served as a gateway to the ship-barrow, someone spotted the black storm clouds that had washed over the island on the southeastern horizon. The sail was unfurled and they gave chase, building speed faster than wind alone with the oars. For three weeks they chased the storm this way, always headed vaguely southeast and ever more convinced that the storm itself was unnatural. Chased, but never gained. In the middle of the third week, Snorli approached the Captain and Mate.

“We must put in to port soon, sirs. We’ve a week’s worth of water and mead left, at best.” They could live off of fish for so long as they had water, but once that was gone…

Reluctantly, Stigander agreed and the order was given to make for Mikilgata Harbor, not many days west of them in territory nominally held by Thane Birlof. Not exactly friendly territory, but safe enough if they kept their noses clean. In this way the Vidofnings found themselves holed up in the guest bunks offered at the Wandering Warrior on the port’s edge.

The benefit of a place like this, of course, was that finding buyers was a simple, if not straightforward affair, and as their first week in port passed they converted no small amount of their treasure from gold to gems or more ivory to lighten their hold.

The drawback, however, was that there were very few men interested in going out to sea, and even fewer that Stigander would feel comfortable bringing aboard. So, for the most part, they waited and they drank until the hold was empty enough to accommodate the food and fresh water they required.

Two days before Stigander planned to leave, when most of the Vidofnings were gaming to while away the hours or off in search of a good training field while Snorli and Bardr arranged for the delivery of supplies, a familiar figure trudged into the Warrior and leaned on his arms at the bar.

Einarr, going over the manifest with his father, looked twice before he realized who it was in front of him. He was on his feet, heading for the bar himself, before he had time to consciously process what he was doing.

“Trabbi?”

The old man looked up, weariness and desperation obvious in his face. “Oh, good. When we saw the Vidofnir in port…”

“We? Are you on the Skudbrun now? …Never mind, come sit down.” Truth be told, Einarr hadn’t given the man a second thought since their glìma match in the spring, but even if the fisherman had taken up whaling there wasn’t much that should have brought him this far out.

“For the moment, yes. Lord Stigander, sir.” Trabbi greeted Stigander as he took a seat at their table and slumped against it.

“Trabbi.” Stigander’s voice held a note of caution. After all, the last time they had spoken with this man, he had been competing with Einarr for a bride. “What brings you to Mikilgata?”

“He was relieved to find us, so nothing good.”

“Oh, aye, nothing good at all.” Trabbi looked around for the master of the bar, who was nowhere in sight. He shook his head, sighing. “That letter your new Singer had when you came back last time? It was summoning Runa for – and I quote her – ‘Singer business.’”

Trabbi’s eyes scanned the room again, although less like he was looking for something and more like a man taking in his surroundings. “My Jarl, he asked me to go along as bodyguard – not that he mistrusted the men of the Skudbrun, but that he wanted someone who would stand out less on shore. What else could I do but agree to that?

“Only… on the way… a storm blew up, and riding the winds was a black-headed ship…”

“So then Runa is…” Einarr sat back, stunned. He couldn’t say the word… couldn’t admit to himself the possibility that she might have been murdered the same way Astrid was.

“Kidnapped.” The word Trabbi supplied was far less despair-inducing than the one Einarr had come up with, but still it took a moment for father and son to process what they’d heard.

“Kidnapped?” Stigander was the first to recover.

“Kidnapped. …And I’m no warrior, but I’m to blame… We lost sight of that strange storm they rode four days ago.”

Einarr met his father’s eyes with a wordless plea.

Stigander nodded once, slowly. “You say the Skudbrun is in port? Here?”

Thane Birlof’s waters were even less friendly to Jarl Hroaldr’s Thane than they were to the sons of Raen. Still, Trabbi nodded.

“We’ll go back to your ship with you, speak with Captain Kragnir. I think, all things considered, my crew will be more than willing to help you go after the scum.”

“You have my thanks.”

All three men stood and headed for the door, the manifest tucked beneath Stigander’s arm.

***

Trabbi led them through the port, his shoulders more square than they had been in the bar. The Skudbrun was moored in an out-of-the-way location where it wasn’t likely to be seen by anyone too loyal to the supposed thane. This placed it on the same dock, although much farther back, than the Vidofnir. Bardr looked up and watched as the three of them passed by, but he did nothing to interfere.

The Skudbrun looked exactly as she had when they had come after Einarr and Runa in the Gufuskalam that spring. Captain Kragnir, a white-haired man who only looked small in comparison to Stigander, stood on the deck near the gangplank. Whether he was looking for their party or for porters, who could tell.

“I hear you’ve had a run-in with our old friends, Captain,” Stigander drawled.

“So it appears, Captain.”

“May we come aboard?”

Captain Kragnir stepped to the side and motioned for the three men to join him.


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1.4 – Funeral Rites

In four days a spruce graveship was made ready for Astrid’s body, lavishly appointed by the Jarl. All that was left was for Stigander to select her grave gifts from the hold of the Vidofnir and they could send her off before the Ice. The soothsayers claimed there would be another few days yet before winter rolled over the island.

Stigander and Einarr pulled up the deck boards of the Vidofnir and stared at their gains from the raid. Everyone had offered to help, of course, but Stigander was adamant: his only son was the only one who would be allowed on board.

Gold and bone, glass and pewter and wood stared back at them from below the deck. Stigander sat, dangling his feet over the edge, and Einarr folded his legs under him. “Combs, jewelry, her favorite knife,” Stigander muttered. “Did we get any instruments from the last village? A lute, a lyre?”

Einarr shook his head. “I don’t recall. A cup – no, not a cup. Knowing her, she’d rather have a horn.” He caught his father eyeing the one at his hip. “And she would never let you hear the end of it if you sent Grandfather Raen’s with her.”

Stigander’s mouth curled in half of a smile under his beard. “I suppose you’re right.” He sighed, then, not moving to search through their haul for the gifts. “Why do I do this to myself?” he asked the air above them.

“Why do you do what?”

“Marry.” He bit off the word. “No. Don’t listen to me. I don’t regret a minute of it, with any of them.”

“I know, Pabbi.” He almost never called his father that anymore, but it felt right here. “Loving too freely is far from the worst fault a man can have.”

Stigander choked out a laugh. “That sounds like Grimhildr.”

“I heard it first from Mamma, but I think they’ve all said it.” Well, the three he could remember, anyway. His birth mother had died when he was still a tot. “I think I’m a lucky son, to see the way you adore your wives.”

They sat in silence for a minute, continuing to stare at the treasure belowdecks while the necessity of the moment sank in. “Come on. Astrid had a sailor’s taste. I’m sure we can find gifts she’ll love down here.”

“Show some respect to your stepmother,” Stigander pretended to scold, accepting the attempt to brighten his mood even if only for a moment.

***

The graveship was built upon a wood and earthen pyre mound. At sunset on the appointed night, after her nails had been cut and the body dressed in new clothes, everyone from the Hall gathered with the crew of the Vidofnir to bid Astrid farewell. Runa sang the dirge to ease the passage of the soul into Skaldsgarden. Sixteen was young for the job, but since her mother had passed sometime after Vidofnir last made port here she was the best Singer on the island.

Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander recited the prayers for the dead, a gloomy chant overlaid on the sad, sweet notes of Runa’s voice. Einarr stood at his father’s shoulder, blessing the darkness and the smoke from the torches for hiding the redness of his own eyes. At the last, as the chanted prayers fell silent to leave only the melody and the crackle of fire, Stigander tossed the first torch on the graveship. Einarr threw a moment later, followed by torches from the rest of the crew. They all stood vigil in the sharp wind of an early winter night until the heat from the flames on their faces became unbearable. In the smoke, Einarr saw his stepmother waving silent farewell to her crew, made visible by Runa’s song magic.

Finally people began to fade back into the darkness, headed for the warm comfort of Hroaldr’s hall, first the residents of the hall, then one by one the Vidofnings as they tore themselves away. Einarr took his place near the end of the procession back: Father would be the last to leave, both by custom and by preference. One pair of feet went the wrong way, however. Einarr looked up to see Bardr heading back towards where Stigander still stared into the pyre and stopped. He wanted to stop Bardr, but the man still technically outranked him.

When Grimhildr was slain, eight years ago now, it was Bardr who pointed Father at Astrid. Five years before that, he had found Grimhildr for the Captain, too, when his second wife died in childbirth. Surely Bardr had some other woman in mind to soothe his Captain’s sorrow now, too, and if the pattern followed Father would insist on wedding before bedding. But not at the funeral, man. Have some decency.

He moved on. Bardr was a good sailor and a fine warrior, but Einarr sometimes wondered what went on in the man’s head. Mid-stride of his third step, a name floated on the wind to Einarr’s ears: Princess Runa. He froze. Beautiful, vibrant Runa, younger even than Einarr – for Stigander? Einarr’s mind rebelled. Surely Father wouldn’t be so foolish as to marry a woman young enough to be his daughter, would he?


1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King  1.5 – Tafl
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1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King

Seven years earlier

The soothsayers claimed snow was coming, even though they should ordinarily have had another month. Even though it was bright and sunny over the Hall. But it was unwise to go against the soothsayers in matters of weather or fate, and Captain Stigander set several of his best lookouts up into trees to watch the horizon.

“Not you,” Stigander said when Einarr started to climb a tree.

“What? Why not?” He didn’t want to whine. He’d been a deckhand long enough not to whine, but his voice cracked on the ‘what’ to make it sound like one.

“Deckhands operate on deck. Go help bring in the goats.”

“Yes, sir.” His fingers only itched a little with the urge to climb: once they were up there, they probably weren’t coming down for quite a while, and that would be boring. More boring than wrestling goats, certainly, and there were always a few. He dashed off across the meadow to join the goat-herds, already headed further into the interior of the island.

“Hey-yo,” he called as he caught up. Many of the other boys responded in kind. Most of them did not yet even have the haze of downy stubble that was beginning to grace Einarr’s chin.

The goats had already wandered out from the rockiest area of the island when they found them, perhaps sensing the impending storm as the soothsayers did. The goat-herd hailed the group from a distance of fifty paces. “What news?”

“The Ice descends,” answered one of the few boys there older than Einarr, a hint of melodrama in his voice.

“Ugh,” groaned the goat-herd. “Seriously?”

“That’s what we’re told.”

They moved around behind the herd of goats and began marching forward in a line, back toward the Hall. The goats, of course, mostly ignored them, slipping between legs or kicking back when they got tired of being kneed by walking teenagers. Then someone had the idea to make a game of it; whoever carried or led the most goats back to the winter pen, won. Anyone who hurt a goat by accident got a penalty to their count. It was understood that anyone who hurt a goat on purpose would be thrashed by everyone else.

Einarr had wrestled three does and a young buck into the pen when he noticed a small slip of a girl out among them, her pale blond hair mussed half out of its braid, laughing as she clung to the neck of a particularly headstrong doe that was trying to break for the rocks.

What is she even doing out here? He thought, breaking off from the doe he had been trying to corner. Thankfully the other goat was slowed by the weight of a child hanging on its neck and Einarr was able to get in front of it. The doe stopped just shy of ramming into Einarr and planted her feet, her nostrils flaring. The doe plainly didn’t think she could dodge him with this weight she couldn’t get rid of.

Before the goat could buck and try to throw off its cargo, Einarr bent over and took hold of its slender legs. “You can let go now.”

Once the girl released the goat, he scooped it up over his shoulders. The doe, of course, tried to fight, but with its legs restrained there was a limit to what it could do. “I’ll carry this one back for you.”

“Thanks!” The girl was still a little breathless. “Don’t you try to steal my count, though!”

“Nope, this one’s all yours.” A laugh tried to well up from his belly, but he repressed it. Somehow, he didn’t think she would take that kindly.

“Okay then. I’m Runa.”

“Nice to meet you, Runa. I’m Einarr. Is it fun, having the princess’ name?” They both started walking back toward the pen. Einarr ambled, really, since she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with his longer legs.

“Being the princess is great – except when they try to keep me from playing with the boys.”

Surprised, Einarr nearly let go of the goat that still struggled on his shoulders. That would have ended badly for all three of them. What’s the Princess doing out… oh. Well, she wants to play, let’s see if she can win.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Princess. Come on, we’ll be a team. We’re sure to win, that way.” He was pretty sure he was near the lead before, and it would have been miraculous if she’d managed to get even one goat before this one.

Now

Is that . . . Runa? He shook his head and finished his descent to the bench. Even if it was the princess, she probably didn’t remember him. She had been perhaps ten the last time he’d seen her, and he fourteen. She was a woman, now, and Einarr could think of any number of men more likely to be chosen as her husband. “Heir of Raenshold” meant very little these days. He took a bowl of venison stew and began talking with the men to either side of him, trying not to stare.

Erik, on his left, was talking with one of the Kjellings about the attack on their ship. Einarr couldn’t count the number of times they’d all talked it over when they were off rowing duty, but it still didn’t make any sense. Where had the storm come from? No-one knew. How had the Grendel operated freely in that weather? Some thought it was a ghost ship, filled with the spirits of drowned sailors. Einarr doubted it.

So did the Kjelling Erik was talking to. “If that had been a ghost ship, they wouldn’t have settled for just Astrid.”

“That’s the part that worries me,” Einarr jumped in, the black demon’s head fresh in his mind. Runa was still a distraction from the corner of his eye, but this had been gnawing on him since the attack. “It wasn’t like they settled for Mother at all. They barely even bothered with the rest of us – just enough to keep us away from their target.”

“You think she was targeted?” Erik took a swig of his mead.

“Doesn’t it look that way to you?”

“How could they even have been sure she was there,though?” The man on the other side of Erik leaned forward as he asked the question and looked over at Einarr.

Einarr shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s just what it looks like to me.” That wasn’t quite true: he did have an idea, but it wasn’t one he was certain he could credit. Runa was nodding earnestly at something one of the other Kjellings was saying to her; Einarr blinked, and made himself look back at Erik and the other man. As his eyes flicked across the room, it seemed like Bardr was studying her, as well. Oh, no. Not her, man. “While we’re asking questions, though, why would they risk attacking another ship in a storm?”

“Especially without a battle-chanter of their own,” Erik grumbled.

“They didn’t… you’re right, they didn’t. Or if they did, she wasn’t singing, which amounts to the same thing.”

“You’re sure they weren’t agents of one of the Empires?”

“I… suppose it’s possible?” Einarr hadn’t considered that. From the looks of it, neither had Erik. Finally, though, he shrugged. “Well. Father will want the blood price in blood, I expect, no matter who they are.” He took another mouthful of stew and glanced back toward the princess. When did she grow up?


1.2 – Aftermath 1.4 – Funeral Rites
Table of Contents

1.2 – Aftermath

The storm sluiced the blood from the deck as the Vidofnir rowed, searching for the edge of it, hoping nothing further happened. Astrid’s body was tied to the deck where she fell. It would be too much to bear for any of them, let alone Father, if she were to wash overboard.

Even with the sail furled the mast creaked ominously until they had cleared the storm. Once they dropped the sea anchor, most of the crew swarmed over the ship, checking for damage. Einarr helped his father tend his stepmother’s body under the Captain’s awning. Somehow, she was the only casualty from their ship, and the Grendel had paid in blood for the honor. “This doesn’t make sense,” he blurted, arranging Astrid’s arms so that her hands lay folded on her stomach.

“It never does, son.” Stigander’s voice was raw, his eyes bloodshot. Astrid may have been his fourth wife, but her loss was just as bitter as Grimhildr’s had been six years ago. He stepped up toward the bedroll-turned-bier, a pot of ointment in his hands.

“That’s… that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry, Father.” It was unreasonable to expect him to be paying attention to the oddness of the Grendel’s attack – even if he was the Captain – under the circumstances.

“You don’t have to stay. I can take care of this.”

“Yes, Father.” Heaving a sigh, Einarr straightened and stepped softly out from under the canvas. He had liked Astrid, dammit, but Father required him to put on a public face while Stigander could not.

His steps rang out when he moved amidships, however. The crew would mourn later; the ship came first. He spotted Bardr standing near the mast. “How bad is it?”

“Bad enough. I think this is the worst of it.” He patted the column of wood. “We’ll have to replace it this winter. We can reinforce, but with the time we’ll lose to that we might not make Silringshold before the ice sets in.”

Einarr blew air through his thick red moustache, shoving aside a momentary pang of regret for Raenshold – the home he had never seen. “What are our other options? Is there another friendly hold nearby?”

“Have to check the charts to be sure.”

He knit his brow. His father had the charts, so far as Einarr was aware, and now was not the time to disturb him.

Three men pulled Erik up from over the side of the boat, shaking his soaked head. Two more men were waiting with wool blankets.

“What happened,” Einarr and Bardr asked at the same moment.

“Damage below the water line. Don’t think there’s enough wood to patch it and the mast. Wherever we’re going, we’ll have to row.”

The men were not going to like that. Hel, Einarr didn’t like that with no land in sight.

A slow, heavy step sounded from behind them and Stigander’s blond head glowed nearly white in the sun. “We’ll make for Kjell Hall.”

***

Everyone, even the Captain, took their turn at the oars, and with every silent dip of the paddles beneath the water’s surface they remembered Astrid and her song magic. Occasionally someone would try to get a rowing chant going, but none of them had trained in the song magic and it was a weak, tremulous thing. Those who were not rowing were subdued, warring within themselves between gratitude that they hadn’t lost more and grief for the giant presence that had vanished.

After a week of rowing the Vidofnir slipped into the bay and up the river that led to Kjell Hall, its shallow keel skimming across the water’s surface. It was good that the raid had been a success, for Kjell Hall was the hold of Jarl Hroaldr, and even an old friend did not winter at the King’s Hall without gifts.

The bay was long and narrow, and the mouth of the river broad, such that one could only tell by brackishness where one ended and the other began. The shallow white sand beach proceeded only a few feet from the high tide mark before being met by the open spruce wood that covered most of the island.

Stigander ordered the Vidofnir beached just past the salt-water line and the crew was allowed to debark. A gentle wind blew up over the water towards the interior of the island, cutting through Einarr’s heavy wool cloak. Einarr nearly envied Sivid and the others who were ordered to make fast the ship: they were still moving.

It was only a moment, however, and then they were moving again, walking openly up the forest path from the beach toward Kjell Hall on the highest point of the island. Patches of snow glowed white where the morning sun had not yet reached.

A hunting horn sounded as they stepped out of the wood and into the wide swath of now-dormant farmland surrounding the Hall. Ahead of them stood the great Hall of Jarl Hroaldr, King of the Cold Sea and childhood friend of Captain Stigander, Thane of Raenshold. The gates were opening to reveal the warm light of fire and the rolling laughter of those already present under the great upturned boat of a roof. The Vidofnings tramped through the palisade surrounding the hall after their Captain, who stopped two paces outside the door.

“Hail to ye!” A voice bellowed from within. “Stigander and his Vidofnings are well-come to Kjell.”

“Hail, my Jarl, and many thanks.” Only now, with the proper invitations, did Stigander allow himself and his men to enter the hall. “I’m afraid we’ll have to impose on you for a time. The Vidofnir needs repair, and the winter ice is too near at hand.”

The Jarl laughed. “There will always be a place for old friends at my Hall. For tonight, be merry, and we will see about business on the morrow.”

Einarr stepped to the side when he entered. Jarl Hroaldr was visibly scanning the faces of the crew.

“Stigander, where is your lovely wife?”

His father’s face contorted. “Awaiting entry to Skaldsgarden.”

The mood of the hall was quenched, and Hroaldr’s face fell. “I’m so sorry. Will you allow me to see to the burial arrangements?”

Stigander gave a bitter half-smile. “I’m afraid she cannot be sent off from Raenshold now. That would be most gracious.”

Hroaldr nodded, waving his hand in invitation for Stigander to come and sit at the head of the hall with him. Einarr found an open seat elsewhere, but as he was lowering himself a flash of gold caught his attention. He looked up. Time seemed to stop. There, reclining on a cushion near the Jarl, the fairest woman Einarr had ever seen laughed with one of the serving wenches. Her hair was the color of spun flax, her lips the vibrant pink of fireweed, her skin as pale and fair as the rein rose. Is that . . . Runa?


1.1 – A Sudden Squall  1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King
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1.1 – A Sudden Squall

It was the end of the last raid before the winter’s ice, and yet the sun was bright and the weather warm. The longship Vidofnir skated across the smooth surface of the ocean under sail, the sounds of merriment carrying across the water from its deck. They would live well this winter. Einarr leaned against the side, drinking in the scene as he sipped from the skin in his hand.

On the aftcastle, a group of six sat casting the bones. Big, heavyset Erik threw down the cup. “Eight!”

“No way. That’s three eights in a row,” Sivid objected.

“Read ’em and weep.” He lifted the cup to reveal a three and a five. “That puts you out, don’t it?”

Sivid laughed. A few people among the onlookers groaned, but everyone on board knew he was awful at dice.

Captain Stigander’s deep belly laugh sounded from amidships. “Remember how I handle the fleecing of crewmen, gents.”

“How could they forget?” Einarr laughed. His father had a habit of reminding them. In fairness, it was uncommonly generous. If you gambled all your money away before the next raid, whoever won it from you had to loan it back – with interest, of course, but not as much as the counting houses charged. He hopped down off the railing and scanned the horizon. “Besides, I’m sure Erik could use the help this winter.”

“Always,” the big man boomed.

“Come on, let’s have a cask,” someone called.

“Haven’t you had enough?”

“Oh, come now, dear, don’t be like that,” Astrid said, flowing out of the crowd toward the Captain. Einarr’s black-haired beauty of a stepmother was also the Vidofnir’s battle chanter. “It’s clear sailing all around, and not a thing between us and port.”

A cheer went up from among the men. She was as much a sailor as any of the rest of them.

“Captain’s right, though.” Bardr spoke up, appearing at Stigander’s left. “Aren’t you on duty?”

Most of the men laughed. The one who’d called for a cask grumbled, as did one or two others. Einarr took half a step forward to find the shirker, and stopped. A cold wind tickled the back of his neck. He looked up, alarmed, and scanned the horizon.

“Make fast the rigging!” came the call from the crow’s nest at the same moment Einarr spotted the dark clouds billowing up from the south.

“Somethin’ unnatural ’bout that storm,” Einarr said. He couldn’t tell if anyone heard. He had work to do now, too, in the face of a squall like that.

The storm rolled in as quickly as it appeared, and the bright light of midday was replaced by dim twilight and stinging rain before they had finished battening down. Somewhere in there, Astrid began to sing, warming their arms and bolstering their strength with her song magic. Einarr looked up to scrub the water from his brow with a beefy forearm and nearly dropped the rope in his hand.

“Hey!” His crewmates shouted their objection even as he tightened his grip, but his attention was out over the water.

“Oy!” He slapped the man ahead of him on the shoulder and pointed out across the waves. “Do you see what I see?”

His crewmate nodded. “Draken, dead ahead!”

Cresting the waves ahead of them, the prow of another longship cut toward them. It’s dragon’s head was oddly misshapen and painted black. The unknown ship approached the Vidofnir at a rapid clip, and now he could make out the foreshortening of the snout. Not precisely a dragon’s head. More like a demon’s. Einarr felt a chill run up his spine that had nothing to do with the weather.

“Make ready!” he shouted. He could just make out movement from the deck of the enemy ship – and enemies they were. They were readying boarding lines. In this weather! The call went up from other parts of the ship, as well.

Astrid’s song became a hymn of battle. Einarr felt the muscles in his shoulders tense as the warmth in his blood began to stoke the battle-fury. With the initial burst of strength, he secured the rope that before five men had trouble pulling.

A boarding line caught the side of the Vidofnir.

Grendelings, forward!” he heard from the enemy ship. More boarding lines flew across the remaining feet between their boats. The sound of scraping steel rang out from all sides, and Einarr felt the familiar, comfortable weight of his long sword in his hand.

The axe-men from the Grendel raced across the already sodden boarding lines or leapt across the gap, landing with a heavy thud on the Vidofnir‘s deck. Einarr slashed at the Grendeling in front of him and steel rang against steel. The scoundrel took half a step back before swinging again with his axe. Einarr twisted and felt the wind of the axe’s passing against his shoulder. He brought his sword down on his opponent’s wrist. The axe, with hand still attached, clattered to the deck. In one motion, Einarr brought Sinmora back up and slashed at the villain’s throat. The blade cut deep. Ein!

The figure that collapsed before him seemed more monster than man. He could barely hear Astrid over the clash of steel, but her song still worked its magic.

He lunged at a monster that stood just two steps from one of the Grendel’s boarding lines, and the blow sent the raider tumbling into the icy deep between the two ships. Tveir!

The Vidofnir pitched over a larger wave. Einarr’s boots began to slide on the rain-slick deck as it lurched. Alarm overrode fury for an instant and allowed him to catch his footing. The sea would not embrace Einarr this day.

The fury did not reassert itself. Suddenly clear-headed, he looked around. The raiders – now clearly men again – were fleeing back to their own ship. Cowards. He heard an axe clatter to the deck of the forecastle – someone surrendering. Evidently, the Grendel wasn’t willing to wait for all its crew. The boarding lines were already flying. Something’s wrong. Where’s Mother? Why isn’t she singing us down?

A circle of Vidofnings gathered on the aftcastle, and he could see his father’s back where the man knelt. Einarr shoved his way back, afraid he already knew what had happened.

The crowd around Captain Stigander was thick before Einarr got there, and as he elbowed through to the center of the circle a single sob sounded over the pounding rain, shaking the old man’s shoulders. Einarr looked down: a pair of gold coins already held his stepmother’s eyes closed. Blood stained her kirtle and pooled under her back. He felt his own throat tighten, but did not ask the question that tore at it. He stepped around the outside of the clear space to stand behind his father and rest a hand on his shoulder.

“And who is manning the oars?” He asked instead, his voice husky. “Let’s move, people.”


Table of Contents 1.2 – Aftermath