Einarr and Jorir stood, back to back, as the three remaining wolflings at the boatyard came warily forward. He would be a prime target, he knew, but whether his uncle would want him alive or dead was an open question. It seemed, though, that the two of them had some reputation already.
Some unspoken word seemed to pass among the wolflings: all at the same moment, they broke for the cover of the trees. Einarr turned to race after them, but then something else caught his eye.
Smoke. There was still at least one of the raiders around, trying again to set a blaze. Einarr growled. “Jorir! Stay on them. I’ll search out the rat.”
Jorir gave a grunt of acknowledgement even as he jogged off into the forest. With a shake of his head, Einarr took a deep sniff of the morning air. The smoke was coming, it seemed, from behind him.
The man would want to escape before the full light of dawn. Burning the ships was probably the main objective, but Einarr would be surprised if there hadn’t been a distraction elsewhere in town. That meant he needed to hurry if he wanted to catch the arsonist. He, too, set off at a jog, but he only made it a few paces before he froze in his tracks.
The smell had not been behind him – not quite. As he moved back toward the village, though, the boat house itself had come into view. Or, rather, the flames that engulfed its dry wood. Where the waterlogged ships had not wanted to catch at all, the outbuilding had apparently gone up all too easily. Einarr stooped to kneel, to trace the runes again, but as he did so a silhouette dashed across in front of the building. Found you.
With one last, regretful look at the boathouse, Einarr took off after the man responsible for the blaze. He could only hope that either Hrug or the town fire brigade would arrive on scene quickly enough to save the shop: he had to catch that man.
Einarr took off at a dead run straight from his crouch. The arsonist wove between trees and around buildings in a way that would have been bewildering in a less familiar setting, a burning brand still in hand, sweeping over every wooden thing he passed. The man was leading him towards the green – away from the river. He must have another mission in town. But, what?
No good could come of it, whatever it was. Straightening for a moment, Einarr slowed enough to shout at the top of his lungs “Fire! Fire at the boathouse!”
Einarr took off again, his legs pumping as fast as he dared in the dim morning twilight, as he ran after the red trail of the arsonist.
He raced out into the very middle of the village green – emptied, naturally, by the attacks elsewhere in town – and trailed the torch along the grass as he changed direction.
Oh no you don’t. The grass was too damp and too trampled to really catch. He cornered hard, trying to shorten the space between them. Where is he going now?
Einarr could see the man he chased now, not that it helped him much. Blond hair, braided. Maille, which suggested there would be a boat waiting on the water, rather than the raiders swimming up. Perhaps broader of shoulder than Einarr but certainly no taller. He looked, from the back, as average as a man could. That wouldn’t matter, though, if Einarr could simply catch up. He pumped his legs faster.
Now he knew what the man was headed for: the smokehouse and the drying shed.
There was no time to limber a bow, even if he had taken it with him. There were no stones he could see along the road – not large enough, anyway, to slow the arsonist. Once more, Einarr begged his legs for more speed. The people of Lundholm would not go hungry on their account.
The arsonist stood just a few paces back from the smokehouse now. The man raised his arm by his head and threw the torch like a spear.
It flew true, somehow, and landed with a clatter on the lid of a súrr vat. It kindled almost immediately.
Einarr launched himself forward. His shoulder plowed into the back of the man’s knees, and both men went down.
Einarr rolled to the side, out from under the wolfling. The arsonist grunted in pain as he landed flat on his back a second time in less than a minute, but he was on his feet only moments after Einarr.
“What have you done?” Einarr demanded.
The wolfling grinned – a singularly unpleasant expression. “Merely exterminated a few pests.”
With a roar of rage that had nothing of red about it, Einarr lunged forward with Sinmora and cleaved his shield in half.
The arsonist was not smiling any longer. He danced back two paces and drew his axe. Behind them, the fire that had so quickly kindled the whey vat was licking at the pole of the shed and the wall of the smokehouse.
The wolfling actually howled before dashing forward, his axe held high overhead.
Einarr brought Sinmora around and dug the edge of her blade into the man’s wide-open side. For his trouble, the arsonist’s axe buried itself in his shoulder.
The flames behind the arsonist were audibly crackling. Einarr spared a glance over his opponent’s shoulder as the man spat blood. He needed to end this quickly if he wanted to save any of the food stores.
The wolfling twisted his axe sideways as he wrenched it out of Einarr’s shield arm. Two could play at that game, and the wound was sucking at Sinmora’s blade. With a flick of the wrist he turned the blade and drew her out of the man’s side.
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