Tag: Eikthyrnir

10.26 – The Harbor at Dawn

The proud rooster’s head of the Vidofnir led the way into the mouth of the harbor at Breidelsteinn as the morning sun began to paint the sky vermillion. Einarr scanned the water ahead, curiously detached from the assault to come. There was still too much to do before they even reached the docks to even try thinking of this as a homecoming.

There was no apparent sign of the wolfling fleet, and that worried him. Three ships were accounted for at Lundholm, but that was only three. Even if there were others out raiding or being repaired, Raenshold should support at least ten more ships. One of which would be helmed by Kaldr.

The harbor mouth would have been the ideal place to lay an ambush, but even as the Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir pulled away, deeper into the harbor and closer to their goal, none appeared. Most likely, that meant there would be another blockade, nearer the town.

Einarr nodded: springing an ambush on them now would mainly serve to weaken the blockade line. “At ease, men,” he ordered. “But be ready on those oars.”

It was not impossible that the wolflings would try to drive them into the blockade with a late ambush. It was just less certain than either of the two defense strategies it pulled from.

Under sail, the longships moved nearly silently through the water towards Breidelstein. Even with Einarr’s order, all hands stared ahead nearly as intently as Einarr himself. Bea had come up to join Jorir and Eydri next to Einarr, just forward of the mast. Naudrek, somehow the least tense of anyone aboard, sat next to Hrug. When all was ready, he would signal that it was time to begin the ritual they had devised.

The sky grew lighter. He could start to make out buildings on the shore: the town of Breidelstein. It looked… poorer than Father’s stories had led him to believe. Grayer, as though a thin film of grime had been allowed to coat the whole town. Above, on the edge of the cliff, the tower shone in the sunrise with an ominous light.

Below, on the water, Einarr caught sight of what he had expected to see all along. There, perhaps two hundred yards out from the piers, was a line of longships. He could already see nets slung between them.

So they weren’t just going to roll over and surrender. Not that he’d really expected them to. “Ready volley!”

Half the crew moved a step forward and readied their shields. The other half nocked arrows to bows and drew.

They were not fire arrows, not after Lundholm. Setting the boats ablaze would kill too many men who should be friends: they would just have to cut the nets. This was likely to be a bloody boarding.

“Fire!”

The first volley flew true. A minute later, the blockade answered with a volley of its own. Also not aflame, thankfully. Einarr needed his sorcerer fresh.

His sorcerer. He still wasn’t used to that, not really – nor to the idea that there were some who would call him a sorcerer. But learning the runes had been a matter of necessity… hadn’t it? Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Wotan himself had sought out magic when the circumstances called for it. Einarr shook his head to clear it. “Ready volley!”

The creaking sound of drawing bows fell once more to silence. “Fire!”

Part of the second volley overshot their targets by a significant margin: well, there hadn’t been much time for aiming. Already he could see their enemies preparing boarding lines. It was time to do the same. “Prepare for boarding! Remember, men: our goal is to cut those nets! The men on those ships are your own clansmen, whether they know us or not!”

His speech, such as it was, was met with a cheer. Einarr turned his attention back to his own deck. “Vali?”

“Yes, Einarr?” The ghost’s voice came from behind him. In spite of himself, Einarr jumped. To his credit, Vali made no comment.

“While you’re out sowing chaos amidst the enemy, I need you to try to find information for me. How many ships they have left, and their Captains, and what sort of force they might have on the ground. Think you can manage?”

Vali gave him a sour look. “I’m a ghost, not a mind-reader.” Then he shook his head. “I’ll hunt out log books. There might be something there you can use.”

“Glad to hear it. Good luck.”

There was nothing quite like having a ghost roll its eyes at you. “Thanks. I’ll need it.”

“Eydri, you’re up.”

She raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Yes, sir.” She seemed to grow taller as she drew her shoulders back, and when she opened her mouth to Sing the battle fury began to press against his vision.

Bea stepped up to take her place by Einarr’s left. “Why are you having her Sing already?”

“The faster we beat our way through the blockade, the fresher our men are when we make land.” And the Song didn’t usually carry well through city streets. Too many obstructions.

The answer seemed to satisfy Bea, as she nodded and readied her spear as Einarr turned to check in with Hrug and Naudrek. The sorceror was busy, the Orlognir laid on the deck in front of him as he put the final, last-minute touches on their ritual circle. Naudrek confirmed that all was in order.

The sound of fighting brought his attention back to the matter at hand: the first clash on the ropes was nearly over and the first of his men had made it to the wolfling ships to try to cut the nets.

Einarr brought Sinmora up. The first of their men were also across, and one of them charged across the deck toward Einarr with a feral yell.


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10.22 – The Fall of Urek

“Another weakling from the rebels? You are nothing more than flies. We should have squashed you ages ago.” Urek did not give Einarr time to retort: the hammer was already singing through the air, and for what felt like ages all Einarr could do was dodge.

“Funny thing about flies,” Einarr gasped out while they were in the clinch. “Enough bites will still kill a man.” He leapt out of the clinch to the side and drove forward to strike at the weak spot with Sinmora.

Urek grunted as a blow struck him across the ribs a second time. More importantly, Einarr thought he heard the grinding of metal links. Urek glared down at him from one eye. Einarr sprang back before his opponent could try to take him in a bear hug.

“I’d like to see you try, little fly.”

Rather than answer that, Einarr slipped back in under the man’s guard to strike again at the weakening maille. The gods smiled on him here, for even a man in the grips of the fury might realize when someone was trying to break his armor given three strong hits like this: an axe bit into Urek’s calf at the same moment he struck for the maille.

Einarr spared a scowl for his dwarven retainer while Urek yelped. Thoroughly unnecessary. The dwarf, of course, ignored him, and he could not spare more than a moment’s attention. The enemy captain recovered himself rapidly, and swung his hammer with renewed vigor. Einarr had to step quickly to avoid a fate very like Sivid’s.

Jorir’s plan had been a solid one, though. If Einarr focused too much on the gash that was forming in Urek’s maille, sooner or later the man would cover the weakness.

The next opening Einarr saw, he struck not at the half-smashed section of maille but at the big man’s hamstring. Blood now flowed freely down both legs and under his feet. Flames licked the edges of the puddle, and Jorir’s axe crashed into Urek’s side. Broken chains tumbled to the deck, audible even over the din of battle.

Urek roared in rage and brought his hammer down hard on the dwarf’s golden shield. A sound like a gong rang over the combatants.

Now! Einarr’s angle was not ideal, but there was the gash. He couldn’t give Urek time to recover. He twisted on the balls of his feet to bring Sinmora around in a mighty cut.

The longsword’s blade bit deep into Urek’s side, and blood welled out of the wound as Einarr finished the cut.

Even that barely slowed the man. He fought like an enraged bear, all teeth and claws and fury. Given the blood on the deck boards and the blood spurting from his side, the man would fall soon even if Einarr did nothing. That wasn’t an option, however.

Urek swung his hammer wildly, plowing down unwary friends and foes alike as though he were rage personified, and Urek’s allies showed no sign of quitting while their captain still fought. Even if the fire took them.

Einarr growled as he danced away from yet another hammer swing. This was exactly why Father had taught him how to resist the fury: men made stupid decisions while in its grip, and no Captain could afford those sorts of mistakes.

The very hammer that made Urek so deadly also proved to be his downfall. His wild swings left an opening every time. A daring man could take advantage of that. Daring, or desperate. Einarr reset his shield and drove forward with Sinmora’s point.

Urek’s howls cut off abruptly as the longsword drove through his belly and up into his lungs. The hammer, raised to strike downward at the opponent who refused to die, clattered down against Einarr’s shield and fell to the deck.

Sinmora tried to stick in the man’s chest. Breathing heavily, the smoke burning his throat and covering the smell of viscera, Einarr gave it a quarter turn and withdrew his blade.

The Song still pulsed at the edge of his awareness, but it didn’t matter. Einarr looked at Jorir, currently standing on guard against three very distracted wolflings, and gestured towards the Heidrun. “Fall back.”

Jorir backed away from his opponents, who were still too shocked by the death of their Captain to pursue. The dwarf’s voice rang over the din. “Fall back!”

Drenched in sweat, Einarr wearily crossed across to his own boat. The rest of the Heidrunings followed in good order. Meanwhile, on the wolfling vessels, it looked as though their leadership had abandoned them entirely. Most of the sailors fled the burning ship like a frightened herd of sheep. Those who didn’t still stared dumbly at the body of Frothing Urek. One by one, the Singers brought their men down out of the battle fury.

“Get us off that ship!” Einarr called to his crew, his throat raw. He was just glad the wood in his own boat was still green. Even with that there were the beginnings of scorch marks where the boats had been tied.

The Vidofnir, singed a little, rowed a little ways further out of the fjord, to where the water was wide enough the Heidrun could come alongside, and waited.

Urek’s ship tried to pull away, but even from this distance Einarr could tell it was too late. The dry wood of the wolfling ships kindled quickly.

As the Heidrun pulled up alongside the Vidofnir, Einarr ordered his men to drop anchor. Before long the Eikthyrnir came to join them, the third and final wolfling ship fleeing into the distance. The men of the allied crews stood silent vigil as the wolfling ships became their funeral pyres. Finally, as the sun dropped below the horizon, the last flame died.

The signal lamp flared to life on the deck of the Vidofnir. Father was calling for a meeting, and Einarr knew why. None of those Captains had been the threat they had faced so far. So, where was Kaldr?


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10.18 – Three Captains

Kaldr spent a long, weary night locked in combat in his own mind. For Lord Ulfr to call him back like this could only mean one thing. And yet, the more he thought it through, the more he was convinced that he had done nothing to regret. Certainly nothing that should have gotten him recalled in disgrace – or even castigated on his return, provided he was successful. The rebels were undermanned and poorly equipped, but not so undermanned that they could be caught without significant losses. And for trying to save the strength of Breidelstein, I am humiliated? He rolled over under his blanket, but still sleep eluded him.

The atmosphere on deck was tense, as well. From oarsmen to lookout, he could hear dissatisfied mutterings from his men. That, too, was troublesome, and the corner of his mind that did not gnaw on his abrupt summons like a dog on a bone wondered what new fire he would have to put out on deck come morning.


Frothing Urek waited and watched, a smug smile peeking out from under his beard, until Kaldr’s ship was small on the horizon before he turned to his Mate. “Bring Vittir and Broki over. This blockade is over.”

The man snapped an unusually crisp salute, grinning through his own whiskers. “Yes, sir!”

It did not take long for the captains to gather on the deck of their new flagship. Neither of them looked quite as eager as Urek felt, but that didn’t bother him.

“Welcome aboard, gentlemen. Now that Coward is no longer in charge, I declare this blockade is ended. Ready yourselves for an assault.”

“An assault?” Broki started. “Up the fjord?”

“We are men of action, are we not? We will strike as lightning up the fjord, before the rebels have a chance to pull any of their tricks on us.”

Vittir cleared his throat. “Before they left, we received a report from Kaldr’s scouts. Something is already in the works.”

Broki looked at him sharply. “Something? What something?”

“He didn’t know.”

“All the more reason that we must strike now, while the iron is hot! Ready your ships, men.”

The two under-captains returned to their boats, and the nets with their incidental catch drawn up. The sun was kissing the waves by the time all was in readiness, but that suited Urek well enough. He looked to his Mate and nodded.

“Oars out!” They would have to be quick, to minimize the time when they were vulnerable in the fjord.


Twilight had descended on the waters of Lundholm by the time Stigander and his three ships once more neared the fjord, although it was not yet so dark as to hide anyone. That was why Einarr called not only Jorir but also Naudrek up to confirm what he thought he saw.

The blockade was gone.

The ships were still there: two ships were visible between the fjord walls, with a third ready to enter as soon as its allies made way. Then where is the fourth ship?

There was no place for the last boat to wait in ambush that Einarr could see, which meant they had to be farther up the fjord. Father evidently thought the same: he heard Bardr sound the battle horn. Two other horns joined in, their voices melding into a single loud trumpet announcing their intentions.

The ship that had held back smoothly reversed its course, probably hoping to give its allies time to come around as well. Kormund’s Eikthyrnir launched a volley of arrows and dashed forward while most of them were still in the air. The Vidofnir and the Heidrun, meanwhile, slipped around the boat to either side. If Kormund couldn’t handle them for whatever reason, they would signal.

The ship with its nose halfway into the fjord was still scrambling to prepare for this new threat when the first volley from the Vidofnir struck its deck. That volley was still in the air when Einarr gave the order to shoot from the Heidrun.

“Take us to port! Prepare the boarding lines!” Einarr’s voice rang clear over the deck of the Heidrun, and without hesitation his ship headed off to port while the Vidofnir moved starboard so that they flanked the unfortunate wolf in the trap.

The wolves were not so surprised that they did not answer back, of course, although by then it was far too late for archery. Boarding lines whistled both ways, followed by the clunk or the splash of steel grappling hooks on wood as they fought for purchase.

“Make fast the lines! Go!”

The order was almost superfluous: Irding and some of the other more reckless warriors were already crossing the ropes before the word ‘go’ was out of Einarr’s mouth. With a satisfied smirk, he turned his attention to the woman next to him. “Eydri. Whenever you’re ready.”

Some few of the wolfling warriors had tried a counter-invasion, perhaps not realizing their true straits. Einarr calmly stepped towards the pocket of enemies that had gained a foothold and drew Sinmora.

Eydri’s clear, sweet tones rose over the deck of the Heidrun, urging her warriors to swift victory, as Einarr settled his grip on Sinmora’s hilt. The strongest of the men – himself perhaps as large as Irding, but certainly no larger – raised his shield and readied his axe.

From across the mouth of the fjord, Reki’s low sultry voice joined Eydri’s bell-like one and echoed over the water in harmony.

A moment later, a third voice rose in Song, although it was not a Singer Einarr had ever heard before. The sound set his teeth on edge, so he thought he did not care to hear her again, either. Or is that deliberate?

The red fury was still pulsing at the edges of his vision, though, so whatever she thought she was doing it was not going to break the Chant for the Heidrunings. Einarr raised his shield before him as he brought Sinmora up over his back shoulder. Her strike was true. Ein.


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10.10 – Preparations

“Traitor!” Urek’s face turned from red to crimson, and his eyes bulged out like a toad’s. “Coward! Lord Ulfr will hear of this!”

“Lord Ulfr is well aware of my opinion regarding his mother. And I will thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head. There is more to strategy than attacking, Urek, and if you could understand that we’d have captured them already – alive, as commanded. But -” Kaldr peered pointedly up into the sky, towards Raenshold. “But, unless I miss my guess, the message is already on its way to our Thane. I trust, Urek, that you will be willing to eat those words when we accomplish our task.”

Vittir’s voice cut the air behind him with his sneer. “If you intended to accomplish our task, you’d be sending us up the fjord without delay.”

Kaldr turned to face his new uninvited guest, his eyebrows raised. And now the other one arrives. “Ah. Vittir. Yes, you may come aboard. As I was just telling your compatriot, we cannot afford to destroy Lundholm just to flush out some rats. Let them rest: it will do them no good.”

“You really are a coward if you think this backwater will put up a fight.”

“That is not the cost I was speaking of, Vittir. But never mind: you will all see, soon enough. Look here: the only way in or out of the town by sea is through this fjord, and it is impossible to go through more than one at a time. Assuming they’re not so kind as to simply decide to settle here, sooner or later they have to try to slip past us. Conversely, if we decided to raid the town, we would have the disadvantage of being stuck in that selfsame fjord.”

Vittir looked dubious. Kaldr was reasonably certain Urek hadn’t heard a word: he still stared bug-eyed, his hands clenched at his sides. Kaldr sighed. “If it will make you happier, we can send small parties up the fjord to harry them farther. If we harass the villagers, their guests will probably wear out their welcome faster.”

Urek crossed his arms, the color in his face finally starting to come down. “Fine. But just so you know, I’m still watching you.”

“Of course.” I should be so lucky.


If Einarr hadn’t known better, he would have thought the men of Lundholm unaware of the approaching ships. That was impossible, of course: news had reached the town at the same time it had reached them. The only real change from before, though, was a trifle more activity down by the water’s edge.

A fisherman paused on his way past the Captains while they still blinked in surprise. “I know it’s none o’ me business to say, but you might be wise to bring your ships up near the boathouse.”

Einarr paused a moment. It was a sound idea, but… “Why?”

“So they can’t sabotage them if they make it up the channel, of course.”

Of course. Einarr shrugged to himself: that was, in fact, the single best reason. He didn’t know what other answer he was expecting. “I take it they’ve harassed you before.”

The fisherman shook his head. “Every handfull of years, or so, that lord they follow gets a bee in his bonnet and tries to bring us to heel. ‘T’ain’t worked yet.”

A smile quirked at the corner of Einarr’s mouth. “Of course. Thanks for the advice.”

With a friendly wave, he jogged to catch up with Father and Kormund, who were already headed towards the shore. As glad as he was to see the town taking this in stride, there was one major difference from the last time his uncle had sent ships here.

Them.

Whether or not Kaldr was sensible, it was plain that at least one of his fleet captains was not. Would their presence make the wolfling response more violent? He could not answer that. All the same, the faster they could resupply their ships, the better.

He stopped a moment, thinking, and then changed course. There were only a few men down at the boats: most of their crews, the men who weren’t out hunting or bringing in water at least, would probably be on the green, and they would be needed.


Afternoon was waning by the time sufficient members of the three crews had gathered at the shore. Longships were light enough that a crew could carry them across land at need. On the other hand, it did take most of a crew, all doing their part. And so the fifty men Einarr had gathered all put their shoulders to the sides of the Vidofnir and heaved.

With a groan of wood and men, and the grinding of wood on wet sand, slowly the Vidofnir lifted off the beach and onto the shoulders of her porters. Einarr felt his feet begin to slip in the sand as he took on the unaccustomed weight: it had been a very long time since he had needed to move a ship this way.

On the other side, his own shoulder to the wood, Stigander called out. “Steady, now! And, forward!”

The boathouse stood in a cleared field on the edge of town nearest the shore, and by the time they were halfway there they had fallen into the proper rhythm. Twilight was falling by the time the Eikthyrnir rested alongside the Vidofnir and the Heidrun, and the crew all stretched tired arms and sore backs on their way to the stewpots of the town alewives.

Near the end of supper, a loud twang rang out over the village, as of a giant’s bowstring being released somewhere in the forest.

“Sleep armed, men,” Stigander warned. “It seems the wolves are still worrying at our heels.”


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10.5 – Blockade Run

The beat of Hàkon’s drum changed, subtly, from the rower’s cadence to a battle drum as the men hastily donned their maille. Eydri caught Einarr’s eye as he approached and inclined her head in acknowledgement. Good: it seemed she knew exactly what he had in mind. Einarr took up a position just forward of the mast and looked out over the water, studying their enemies.

It was a blockade, like the wolves had tried to keep them in Breidelsteinn harbor. There, though, they had used a runic trick and who knows how much of their store of good luck to confuse the wolves. Einarr still couldn’t believe how well that worked: the fleet Captain must have been incompetent as well as unlucky to botch things that badly. He was not willing to assume that of Kaldr.

They could scatter, and try to meet back up after losing their tails. Dangerous, but possible, if either he or Kormund knew where Stigander was headed next. Einarr didn’t, which meant probably Kormund didn’t either, so that was out. He frowned.

“Naudrek. Keep your eyes on the Vidofnir. Let me know the moment you see a signal.”

“Aye, sir!”

“How’s Hrug holding up?” Getting past that previous blockade had taken a lot out of both of them, but the one-armed sorcer had been overextending himself for a lot longer than that.

Jorir cleared his throat as he held up Einarr’s maille shirt. “Bored, near as I can tell. You’ll have to ask him if he’s up for another miracle.”

Einarr grunted and pulled the shirt over his arms. “I’d best go do that, then.”

The fact that he didn’t know already was irksome, but there hadn’t been a great deal of time for discussion since Hrug’s last ‘miracle.’ Things had been moving entirely too quickly on this expedition for niceties such as making sure your sorcerer wasn’t working himself to death.


The lookout on board the Eikthyrnir spotted what looked like a gap in the wolfling’s line. There was a tense moment aboard the Heidrun while Einarr and Jorir considered whether it was a trap, and whether or not such a trap was worth trying anyway. Einarr didn’t see much choice in the matter: either they made a break for it or they settled on the island behind them. Jorir urged caution.

Eventually, though, they agreed to spring the trap. There was no more time to dither. Stigander pulled the Vidofnir forward to be the point of their spear. Einarr took the right flank, while Kormund came up on the left.

Every third man aboard the Heidrun stood guarding the rowers with shields and axes. Another third had their bows limbered and a few of their scant remaining arrows to hand. They could not afford more than one, maybe two volleys here. The idea, though, was to move quickly enough they would not need more than that.

Stigander’s hunting horn echoed over the water and the Vidofnir began its rush.

Kormund’s horn joined Stigander’s as the Eikthyrnir also surged forward.

With a long breath, Einarr brought his own horn up to his mouth and joined his voice to theirs. Hàkon’s cadence shifted slightly as the oarsmen began to row with all speed. The voices of all five Singers lifted over the waves in the wake of the hunting horns call, and they were committed.

Behind Einarr, seated on the deck near Eydri and Runa, Hrug traced the now-familiar runes of a ward at his knees. He had insisted he had the wherewithal to fight, and Einarr was in no position to argue. Let Kaldr sneer all he wants: I’ll not scorn a tool at my disposal.

The three ships surged through the water for the gap in Kaldr’s line. It should be sufficient, barely, for their wedge to slip through with a little luck and a lot of speed.

A cloud of arrows in the sky showed when they had entered bow range. Einarr set his mouth and watched, waiting.

A second volley flew their way. More of these landed on the deck or planted themselves in shields, but still most flew wide. The wind was excellent for sailing, but evidently giving their archers trouble. Einarr glanced down at Hrug, but his one-armed friend showed no sign of having toyed with the wind.

Finally the people on the deck of the wolfling ships looked recognizably human to Einarr. A third flock of arrows rose into the sky. “Archers! Fire!”

The answering volleys from the Vidofnir, the Heidrun, and the Eikthyrnir were striking home even as the three ships came into boarding line range – of one ship. Einarr groaned to see that one of the ships on the edge of the gap was pulling back and firing again. If they weren’t careful, they would be encircled. Maybe even if they were careful.

He signalled for Hàkon to speed his cadence. Some of the slower oarsmen might have trouble keeping up if they held it for a long time, but for a short sprint they should be able to manage.

The ship ahead of them was still falling back, although even from here Einarr could see boarding lines being readied. He caught himself settling into a fighting stance and shrugged his shoulders: it was far too early for the Captain to be preparing to fight – not hand to hand, anyway. He glanced behind them.

Sure enough, another of the wolfling ships – Einarr thought it was Kaldr’s, although he couldn’t say for certain – was trying to sneak behind them. This was about to get very, very messy.


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10.4 – Nerves

For a long while Einarr stood staring over the stern at the four wolfling ships that once more followed in their wake. Why had that ship been called back?

The leader of the pursuing fleet was harrying them, wearing down their morale with every league they followed and every skirmish they forced. If that ship hadn’t been called back, but instead been allowed to nip at their heels, it could have been catastrophic.

Unless the wolflings were also trying to minimize casualties? He didn’t expect it of his uncle, but perhaps if Kaldr hoped to win some of them over it was possible.

“What are they up to?” Arkja muttered from his post nearby. “Why would they just let us go like that?”

Einarr cleared his throat. “What makes you think it would be so easy as that?”

The former de-facto leader of the Forgotten sailors had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Ah, Captain, sir. It’s not that it’d be easy, per se. Just that after all the trouble we had sneaking in, we’re all of us beat. Tired. Ain’t none of us used to this sort of long campaign no more, if we ever were.”

Einarr harrumphed, but nodded anyway. The man wasn’t wrong. “Eskihus was not our only option for a resupply, Arkja. Captain Stigander has a few other options in mind. You let us worry about what they’re up to and concentrate on making it into port with the rest of us.”

“Yes, sir,” he said. The man looked chagrined, but not particularly comforted.

Einarr sighed. Arkja could not be the only one feeling that way. If he was honest with himself, he was starting to as well. With a nod to himself, he walked down the deck to where Eydri waited. She, too, stared pensively back at their pursuers.

Einarr leaned his elbows on the bulwark next to the Singer and spoke out over the sea. “Morale is dropping.”

“And water is wet,” she snapped. “Even if I refresh their bodies,” she went on, less peevishly, “Kaldr’s fleet will wear on their minds. Then you’ll have an anxious, energetic crew. Possibly even a panicky one.”

Einarr winced. A panicky crew could prove deadly at the drop of a hat. “Any thoughts, then?”

Eydri sighed now. “Talk to Bea, too. But the ghost is right about Kaldr. He’s a snake, and the way that fleet is wearing us down he’s certain to be leading it.”

“The… ghost?”

She shook her head. “Sorry. Reki.”

“Do you have something against my father’s Singer?”

She stammered a little before managing a coherent answer. “No. Not… personally. She just puts me on edge a bit. I can still work with her – under her, even, if I have to.”

“Fine. Go on, then.” It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do.

“It’s like she said over on the Vidofnir. The man is devious, and I will swear his blood is ice. The fact that he hasn’t yet struck decisively probably means there’s something he wants from us – and I haven’t the foggiest idea what.”

Einarr nodded. “I have some guesses. Where is Bea, anyway?”

“I think she cajoled Irding and some of the others into a game of dice.” Eydri rolled her eyes, but Einarr chuckled.

“More than one way to boost morale. Thanks.”


They sailed on in this way all through that night and on into the next morning, always with someone looking over their shoulders to see if the enemy had given up yet. Every time Einarr gave in and looked himself, the wolflings were still maintaining the pace.

Mid-morning, the Vidofnir abruptly changed course. They headed now between two islands that were little more than large rocks, but some little ways ahead was a larger piece of land. Is that where we’re going, or are we trying to lose our tail?

The Heidrun turned to follow, and it was as though everyone aboard held their breath, waiting.

The Vidofnir deployed oars as Stigander led his allies along the coast of this larger island. They moved quickly – perhaps faster than most of them were comfortable with, given their proximity to shore. It was, however, not enough. The shore curved gently inward, forming a shallow bay, and as they neared the far end of the bay a horn on the Eikthyrnir sounded the alarm.

Just as, rounding the island initially, there had been a collective inhale, now everyone seemed to exhale at the same time. The release of tension was followed immediately by the jangle of maille. Einarr, moving across the deck once again to reach his own gear, looked up across the water.

Arrayed across the mouth of the bay, not covering all of it by far but covering enough, all four of the wolfling ships lay in wait. Einarr’s mouth went suddenly dry and he had to swallow hard to find his voice. “To arms! All hands, to arms! Archers – form up!”

This would measure among the fights of his life, he felt certain. Behind them the apparently wild land of one of the freehold islands: ahead, a blockade they would have to run. It was that, or give up on rescuing the Jarl or retaking Breidelstein anytime soon. The land was a trap: a wall against their backs to force the men forward. Einarr scowled across at the crew scrambling into their armor and belting on their blades. They were jittery.

It did not take him long to spot Eydri. Just who I was looking for. It was time for her to Sing and hope the battle fury would blunt their nerves.


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10.3 – Pincer

Author’s Note: My apologies for the lateness of the post. I realized at the eleventh hour that the chapter as I had started it needed to come later.

The three ships with their three tails made good progress toward the outlying island of Eskihus, where Einarr had once spent half of an idyllic summer with Grimhildr’s parents. Ulfr’s men kept steady pace with them, and Einarr had no doubt that if they wished to catch up, they could. So then, why did they wait?

Einarr shook his head. He knew the answer to that: the wolves were wearing them down even when they weren’t in combat. But it wouldn’t matter for much longer: Eskihus village was just a few hours’ further ahead. Assuming these ‘wolves’ were more than merely rabid dogs, gaining the harbor should also gain them some much-needed respite.

Moments later his hopes were dashed. Another ship sailed into view from where she had been laying in wait, the wolf on its prow plain to see. Before words could make it to his mouth he had snatched the horn off his belt and sounded the alarm himself. A chorus of other horns joined in: he looked behind them once more, only to see the three ships led by Kaldr closing in.

“To arms!” How had Kaldr known they would come here? The fourth ship proved that he had, somehow.

Even as he worried, though, Naudrek was helping him into his maille as Jorir checked Sinmora’s blade for any damage. He wouldn’t find any: the edge seemed preternaturally resilient since the sword began eating magic.

“Archers! Form up!” He called as he fitted his own helmet to his head. When the wolflings had assaulted them before, they had been lucky and he hadn’t needed to fire. This time, he didn’t see a way around it. The dwarf returned his sword even as he echoed the order.

“How many volleys do you think we have?”

“Not enough.”

“I knew that. I need your best estimate.”

“Five, maybe? Maybe six? It’s not this fight I’m worried about, it’s the next one.”

Einarr nodded. “That makes us both.” He raised his voice again to bellow at his crew. “Do not – I repeat do not – allow yourselves to be tempted into recklessness here! Concentrate your energy on keeping them from gaining our deck.”

Irding snorted. Einarr hoped he would remember that in the thick of battle. Hoped, but did not expect. He would have gone on, but there was no more time. The enemy was in bowshot.

“Archers! Draw!”

As the sound of the enemy loosing reached his ears, Einarr gave the order to “Fire!”

Arrows whizzed past each other in the air to rain on deck and sea alike. On the Heidrun, Einarr heard the characteristic thunk of several sticking fast in shield and deck. No-one cried out – this time. “Draw!”

Could he afford a second volley? No time to second-guess now. “Fire!”

Again the arrows flew in all directions. Someone cursed: by the sound wounded, but not badly. Not that he could really afford even that, at the moment. Eydri’s battle-chant rose over the deck.

“Man oars! Prepare to repel boarders!”

As though on cue, boarding lines flew from the deck of the wolfling ships toward the Vidofnir and her allies. “Hard about! Now!”

Tyr leaned hard on the tiller and the Heidrun turned about as quickly as she could. It helped, at least: several of the thrown lines landed with a splash in the water. Those who were not on the oars rushed forward to cut at the lines that did take hold.

One glance toward the island told Einarr they would not break through that way. The new ship was near enough to intercept anything they might try in that direction. One of the original three appeared to be circling to join her, as well.

Behind them, Kaldr and the other of his original ships came in under full sail and rowing. Can’t go that way.

He shook his head. Eydri’s song was starting to get to him, and he could not allow that. Not if any of them were going to survive outside Ulfr’s dungeon.

The Vidofnir and the Eikthyrnir were under heavy arrow fire from the onrushing drakken. No surprise, that: they would want Father and the Vidofnir most of all. He could try to push through that way…

No good. We’d just get tangled up.

That only left one direction to go: south. “Sternwise, men! Row!”

The Heidrun shot through the gap. The Vidofnir did not follow: she was caught by the wolfling ship. Einarr frowned, then jogged back to speak with Tyr at the rudder. “Can you get us around behind them?”

“Can? Yes. To what end?”

Einarr looked up. In that brief moment, the last of the boarding lines had fallen from his father’s ship. They plowed forward, away from Einarr and the Heidrun.

“To catch up, evidently.”

A wry smile tugged at Tyr’s mouth as leaned into the tiller once more. “As you say.”

The ship which had come to join the forward anvil changed course now, cutting across the path of its sister ships to pursue the Vidofnir.

Einarr signalled for the cadence drum to play at full speed.

A horn sounded from one of the wolfling ships, sharp and urgent. Not one of them changed course.

The horn sounded again, and again nothing happened. The wolfling was getting far too close to the Vidofnir for Einarr’s liking, but he could coax no more speed from fatigued men at the oars.

A third time the horn sounded. Reluctantly, grudgingly, the ship slowed itself and moved to rejoin its fellows. What was that all about?

There would be time to question it later. For now, he needed to rejoin his allies, as well.


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10.2 – Strategy

A note in Jorir’s voice caught Einarr’s ear. “Well, spit it out. What’s the matter?”

“Only this. How many more skirmishes like that can we take?”

Einarr frowned. “That probably depends on how many volleys we have to fire. You’re concerned about supplies, then.”

“Aye. That, and manpower.”

“You’re right, of course.” Movement caught Einarr’s eye from the deck of the Vidofnir. “That’s Bardr, signalling a conference. You, Tyr, and Eydri, and Vali with me.”

“Not that I question your wisdom, but why the ghost?”

“Same reason as Tyr. Experience.”

Jorir harrumphed but said no more.

Half an hour later, all three Captains were gathered on board the Vidofnir with their Mates and advisors. Einarr had brought the largest contingent, but neither Father nor Captain Kormund so much as batted an eye.

Stigander locked eyes with Tyr and nodded in greeting. “Tyr.”

“C- Stigander.”

“You see anyone you know on those ships?”

“One or two.”

“Good.” Stigander turned his attention now to the other Captains. “How are your crews holding out.”

“Well enough, Father, but…”

Captain Kormund shook his head. “The men are getting tired, Stigander, and we’re going to need not just food and water but arrows and pitch and bandages before long.”

Jorir made a rumbling noise that might have been a chuckle as Einarr nodded.

“Exactly. Is there still a town near Afi’s old freehold?” It had been safe enough for him to summer there after Breidelstein fell, after all.

Stigander frowned. “I haven’t heard if they recovered or not. But there’s not often a lot of news coming out of the smaller islands like that, so we might not have. And if they’re not terribly happy to see me, there were others nearby.”

“Why would they have anything to hold against us?”

Stigander raised his eyebrows. “You were there. You can’t tell me you didn’t know.”

Einarr’s answer was to look at his father with greater confusion.

The older man sighed. “Those raiders who burned the town and killed your grandparents? They were Ulfr’s men, under a false flag. Looking for us.”

“Ah.”

Nevertheless, Stigander nodded to Bardr, who stepped away to give their new heading to Arring at the tiller. That done, Stigander turned back to their conference. “Now then. Tyr, you said you caught sight of some familiar faces during the fighting?”

“Oh, aye. And some of them men I’d never have expected to see live this long, let alone taking the helm.”

Tyr settled himself on a barrel near the mast. “Let’s start with the dangerous one – the one our Singers warned us about.”

Reki scowled. “Kaldr.”

Einarr perked up. “You remember him? Was he as odd about magic before the Weaving?”

“Oh, aye. But you see, I remember his pabbi, too. Man was always blaming his own mistakes on ‘bewitchment,’ and it seemed like he was always in some sort of trouble. But however weird he is about the Arts, that’s not what makes him dangerous.”

Eydri nodded in agreement. “He’s devious as a snake, and just as bloodless.”

“You say ‘devious,’ I say ‘clever,’ and he plainly has a good head for strategy. Is he still following us?”

Einarr glanced back into the wake of their passage and pursed his lips. “Yes.”

“I’d have been more surprised if he wasn’t,” Hraerek grumbled, and Captain Kormund nodded in agreement.

“Plainly he intends to harry us into submission,” Stigander said, his arms crossed. “Just as plainly, we need time to rest the men and resupply our ships if we’re going to win back the Isles. But we’ve already set course to deal with just that. What of the others?”

“Men who, I think, would have long since retired under you or Lord Raen, that I saw. None of whom would have gained their own ship in that circumstance. I suspect the Usurper chose his Captains based on toadying and biddability more than skill. If you can believe it, Stigander, it looks like little Frothing Urek has a commission.”

Stigander snorted. “Him? The one who you could goad into a fight by disagreeing over the weather?”

“The very same.” Tyr chuckled along with his old Captain.

“I wonder if he ever grew out of that?”

“If not,” Kormund mused. “We can use that. He’s also, presumably, the sort who can’t back down?”

“If he’s the same as he used to be, yes.”

Einarr shook his head. “And he’s a Captain? Well. If he’s working under Kaldr, he’s not going to tolerate this harrying strategy. That gives us something we can try, at least.”

The conference continued in this way throughout the rest of the day as the three ships sailed for one of the outlying islands, tailed by three of the wolfling ships keeping just out of bow range. Eventually Einarr sent Vali back to the Heidrun with the plan as it existed.

“And Vali? Ask Hrug to be ready to destroy those rugs when we make landfall.”

The ghost gave a wry smile and a mocking salute before winking out of existence. Einarr shook his head and turned his attention back to their discussion.

Captain Kormund and Hraerek, his Mate, stared, agog.

“Did you… not know about him?”

Kormund cleared his throat. “I had heard you had a ghost among your crew, but…”

“But the sheer insolence of it!” Hraerek chuckled. Bardr smirked.

“Far be it for me to tell you how to run your ship…” Kormund cleared his throat, plainly intending to do just that until Stigander raised a forestalling hand.

“I’ve seen no sign since his return from Svartlauf that suggests discipline slips under his command.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Stigander nodded acknowledgement. “Be cautious, however. The friendlier you are with your crew, the worse it will be when you have to make the hard call.”

Einarr swallowed, then inclined his head in return. He had thought of that, long and hard, after taking Hrug’s hand the previous fall. But, in the end, he knew he could be no other way.

“There is one last thing we must consider, Father.”

“Oh?”

“Will our hunters strike at us in port?”


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10.1 – Dawn Assault

With the tapestries in hand, Einarr had thought they might gain some time to breathe and regroup. For the space of a night, he thought he’d been right. They’d prayed the confusion in their enemies would continue and sailed all through the night, sleeping in shifts.

Einarr wakened at the break of dawn and rose, stretching, his arms still aching with fatigue from the day before. “Damn them all to Hel.”

Approaching from the East, nearly obscured by the light of the rising sun, were ships. Only a fool, at this point, would bet on these being anything other than part of the wolf fleet. Einarr cupped a hand to his mouth. “Draken incoming!

With a series of groans and muttered curses, the men of his Heidrun roused themselves. Belatedly, someone sounded the warning bell. Moments later, it was taken up by the other two ships, and soon followed by the rattling of maille as the men armed themselves.

Then it was as though meteors flew from the sun as the wolf fleet launched its first volley of fire arrows and combat was joined.

“Will we be returning fire, my lord?” Jorir asked from beside him.

Einarr frowned. It was risky, but he needed to be mindful of how many arrows they had already spent. “No, not this time.”

The dwarf merely grunted, as though he agreed. “Hold your fire, men! Shields up, be ready for the assault!”

Captain Kormund’s Eikthyrnir made the same call, veering south where Einarr veered north. In the middle, the Vidofnir plowed doggedly ahead, and she did return fire.

Einarr nodded to himself. Father should draw their fire that way. Perhaps, if they had only a little good luck, the effect of that rug would be waning. Eydri had said the Weavess had plainly needed to maintain it, and now she couldn’t.

Now came the test, though: boarding lines flew.

“Keep them off us!” Einarr bellowed. He thought he knew what Father had in mind, but for it to work he and Kormund needed to be free to engage on their own terms.

His oarsmen were nimble, and what few the shield wall could not block were handled readily by axe or by sword. Now Einarr grinned as the Wolfling ships, like their totem creature, focused their attention on the ship which decided to stand and fight.

Kormund had already zipped most of the way around the wolves’ flank as though he intended to flee. Einarr knew better, but he hoped the enemy captain did not.

As the Heidrun sailed out of the wolves’ encirclement, they passed near enough to the leader of the pack for Einarr to spot its captain, and as he did he was struck by an odd sense of unreality. The man barking orders on the deck of the other ship could be none other than the man who had stolen the women before! The Singers and Bea had all seemed to think him grounded, though. What was he doing out here? Einarr shook his head: now was not the time to worry over such matters.

In just that moment, the enemy captain looked up and straight at Einarr. The two men locked eyes, and a predatory grin spread over the mouth of the man called Kaldr.

A shiver ran along Einarr’s spine. That man knew exactly what they were trying. “Prepare to repel boarders!” Einarr ordered.

He was too late, or they were too close for it to do any good. This time the lines caught fast.

“Eydri!” At the sound of her name, the battle chanter began to Sing, and Einarr felt the familiar touch of the battle fury on his mind. With a deep breath, he forced himself to focus on the enemy ship. Giving in to the fury as a Captain was never wise. Against a man like Kaldr, he suspected it would be death.

Still, he too drew his sword, and flanked by Jorir and Naudrek stalked toward the bulwark and the wolfling ship.

In the moments their walk took, the first clash had already occurred on the ropes over the water, and then there were Wolflings on the Heidrun’s deck.

Sinmora flashed and men fell. Einarr knew his father wished to minimize casualties, but he would not spend his crew here. Not when they were seemingly no closer to gaining the Hold.

Then the smell of smoke filled the air and fire rained down on the deck of Kaldr’s ship. Now it was Einarr’s turn to grin as the wolves assaulting his ship turned in surprise.

“Press them,” he ordered, and the call was echoed by both Jorir and Naudrek.

Chaos followed as the wolflings tried to get back to their own ship in any way they could. Kormund was back with the Eikthyrnir, and whether or not Kaldr had forgotten about them, his men certainly had.

As his men climbed on the bulwark to follow, though, Kaldr’s men began to cut the lines.

“Hold,” Einarr called now. Whatever Kaldr had planned, the solution was not to charge headlong onto the man’s ship. The Singers had spoken of a man with ice in his veins, and so it might be that he would prove a harrier. If so, then the key was to pace themselves, as well.

As quickly as they had closed, the Usurper’s ships withdrew again, back the way they had come but not out of sight. Einarr scowled over the water every time they crossed his field of view, just out of engagement range. The Vidofnir, the Heidrun, and the Eikthyrnir resumed their retreat under sail.

“Still,” he mused aloud, “It seems Eydri was right about that so-called rug of ‘inevitable victory.’ We caught them by surprise there.”

Jorir cleared his throat as though there was something caught in it. “Maybe so,” he grumbled. “But I’m not sure how much good it actually did us if we did.”

“He pulled back rather than risk panic in his men when Kormund joined the fray. That helps us, I think.”

“Maybe so. Maybe so.” The dwarf did not sound convinced.


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9.32 – Food From the Mouth

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.

“Just watch.”

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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