Tag: Heidrun

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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10.20 – Berserker

Einarr heard the warriors aboard the trapped wolfling ship give a battle roar only moments before they swarmed over the boarding lines. The ship swayed under the weight of reinforcements even as the fire spread from the arrows along the deck boards.

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. They needed to take out the wolflings quickly, before this became an inferno. And if they escape, Lundholm is done for.

Their line was solid: he stood shoulder to shoulder with his own men and the men of his father’s ship – it was still odd that those were two different things now. The first boots were pounding across the blackening deck boards. “Brace yourselves!”

Einarr lowered his shoulder. A heartbeat later, the wolflings collided with their shield wall. Einarr stabbed through the gap between his shield and Jorir’s and Sinmora’s tip came away wet with fresh blood.

The wolfling screamed, pain mixed with rage, and did not fall back. Blood ran down his leg from the wound in his thigh, and he brought his axe around to strike at Einarr.

Jorir took the opportunity and drove his axe home in the man’s already-wounded leg. The wolfling hit the deck, hard, and Jorir ensured he would not rise again. Einarr’s attention was already forward, on the next man coming to fill the hole, wondering if their captain, too, would come forward to join the melee.

The next man up tried to put his scramasax in Einarr’s side and lost his hand for his trouble. He staggered backward clutching his stump and Einarr shouldered his way forward into the gap. The crackle of fire on the deck and the reek of smoke lent an unusual urgency to Eydri and Reki’s Song. Still he resisted it: no Captain worth his salt gave in to the battle chant, not if there was any other way.

Slowly, relentlessly, he began cutting his way through the wolflings in search of their Captain. His arm began to tire, and a thousand small wounds burned across his forearms and his legs. The wolflings were falling, but they were falling hard. Where is Kaldr?

He wasn’t even certain this was Kaldr’s ship, based on what the Singers had said of the man.

One man, bigger than the other wolflings, laid about himself with a formidable hammer. Not Kaldr. Might be a leader, though. Not many men wielded hammers on the battlefield: it took a special combination of brawn and coin. Leader or not, though, the man with the hammer was plowing through Einarr’s allies like they were nothing. He raised his sword and pointed across the deck at his target.

Jorir, beside him, grunted agreement.

Einarr shouldered his way through the throng, trying to ignore just how hot it was getting on the wolfling ship. That was another reason to hurry: he couldn’t let the fire spread to the Heidrun.

There was Sivid, giving the enraged hammer-wielder a taste of his own wolf pack tactics. Sivid would bait the man into a wild swing, and while he was open dash in to cut at his legs. It looked like the other wolves were interfering, though. With a grunt, Einarr slid in between Sivid and the man about to take a stab at his kidneys.

Clang! The blade instead hit the boss of Einarr’s shield. “Got your back,” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sivid spared him a glance and a breathless “thanks” before turning back to the enemy captain.


Sivid became aware that the pressure was off his back abruptly. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Einarr? “Thanks,” he managed. Almost immediately he had to duck another swing of the massive hammer the enemy captain used.

This was, without a doubt, Frothing Urek. Tyr had said the man had made Captain somehow: Sivid had just not expected to have to face the man on the field. Why is he in the fury, though? Captain Stigander never takes it…

The hammer still whistled through the air. Sivid bounced out of the way, then lunged in to stab at the man’s exposed leg. Urek was big, but not as big as Erik. Urek was strong, but not as strong as Arring. And even Arring would have had trouble not leaving openings with a weapon like that. Sivid just hoped his stamina would hold out.

The hammer came from above this time. Sivid danced off to the side as the heavy steel head splintered the deck boards where he had been a moment before. The fire crackled, licking at the newly-made kindling.

One way or another, they needed to take Urek out of the picture before this ship took everyone to their graves. It was time to gamble.

Sivid dropped into a low lunge, darting inside the berserker’s reach and stabbing his blade home in the man’s thigh. He couldn’t stay there, though: his blade still in Urek’s leg, he dropped his other hand down to the deck and kicked his heels up.

Urek roared as the blade twisted in his thigh. Sivid’s first boot caught him in the teeth: the second in the jaw, and as he regained his feet he finally drew out the blade.

Urek turned to face Sivid again, a level of disgust showing through the rage as he popped his neck and once more started his hammer moving. Sivid scowled: he hadn’t really expected much out of the kicks, but it had been worth a try.

Urek pressed forward, sweeping his hammer back and forth in front of him, and Sivid was forced to hop backwards with every sweep. He wasn’t getting in under the man’s guard again anytime soon, it looked like.

Sivid glanced to either side nervously: those flames were far too close, and far too high, for his liking, and they hemmed him in. By the same token, he couldn’t go backward too much farther without going over the wrong side. Can I kick the rafters well enough to get clear?


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10.19 – Ebb and Flow

Two more of the pocket of wolflings fell before Sinmora’s blade. The others looked shaken: perhaps, then, he could get through to them. “Surrender and quarter will be given.”

The man in front of the others hardened his jaw, although his eyes were still wide with fear.

“Are we not countrymen?”

The man in front found enough of his spine to spit on the deck and answer. “You rebel scum are no countrymen of mine.”

So that’s how it was going to be, was it? Einarr’s jaw hardened in turn. He had tried: there were witnesses to show he had tried to save these mens’ lives. “Then fight like men!”

Einarr did not give in to the battle fury, although the wolflings could be forgiven for thinking he had. With a roar he brought his blade up again overhead.

The men broke and ran. Einarr shook his head: these were the men who had been giving them so much trouble? Even had his uncle been the legitimate heir, if these were the men in his service he would have no right to rule.

Jorir harrumphed from beside him.

Einarr spared his Mate and liege-man a glance. “Have you ever seen such cowardice?”

“Not in a long time, my lord.”

Einarr hummed. “I’m going across.”

“Not without me, ye’re not.”

“That’s fine. I’ll want you there anyway, I expect.”

With a grunt of assent, Jorir shouldered his shield of golden fire and stamped his feet in his boots. “Let’s go, then.”

On the wolfling ship, the first wave of Heidrunings and Vidofnings were locked in the clinch with the enemy crew. They already held most of the deck but, much like the wolflings Einarr had frightened off his own ship, these were refusing to back down. He frowned: was this the Weaving at work?

It almost had to be, but there was nothing he could do about it right now. They needed the distaff to dissolve Urdr’s curse, and even if they had not been locked in combat it would be far too risky to try that now. Einarr shouldered his way forward toward the line: if these men would not surrender, as it appeared they would not, they were lost.

Jorir matched him step for step, their charge building across the deck boards, and when the dwarf raised his voice in a battle yell Einarr joined him. They crashed into the enemy line and broke through with almost no resistance.

Others followed, and soon the deck was filled with pockets of wolflings fighting desperately to stave off the “rebel” assault. Einarr frowned again: this was too easy.

The smell of burning pitch tickled his nostrils. Einarr looked up in time to see the other wolfling ship, the one trapped in the fjord, with a blazing line of fire on its deck. Or, rather, above its deck, on the arrows of the archers arrayed for a volley.

He could hear the order to fire echo from the other ship.

“Shields! Now!” Ignoring the wolfling in front of him for a moment, he spun around to face the Heidrun. “Hrug!”

For his trouble, he felt the searing heat of a sword slice across the back of his leg as he spun the rest of the way around. Einarr found he could not care: he raised his shield overhead even as he thrust forward with Sinmora at the man’s gut.

The wolfling doubled over as two feet of steel thrust through his belly. A moment later, fire arrows rained down around him, thudding into the deck and catching the wolfling ship ablaze.

Einarr looked over his shoulder once more, but the Heidrun was safe. Hrug must have gotten the shields up in time. He turned his attention back to the fight, only to see the other wolfling ship sailing up to join the fray. Boarding lines whistled through the air, and the line in front of Einarr gave a ragged cheer.

Einarr scowled at the lines around him. They could not keep the other ship from joining the fray – not without exposing their backs to the warriors already aboard – but they could control where they fought the enemy reinforcements.

“Heidrunings! Vidofnings! Fall back!”

If they formed a solid line on the other side of the mast, possibly even almost as far as the other bulwark, then the wolfling lines would have to advance through the fire to get at them. That was worth it.


Urek grinned a wolf’s grin as boarding lines flew toward Vittir’s ship. That volley hadn’t landed quite where he wanted it to, but fire was always effective. A little niggling voice in the back of his head wondered what sort of witchcraft that was, that protected the Heidrun, but it was easy to ignore. The only thing that mattered right now was the battle ahead of him.

Urek settled his grip on his shield and drew his prized hammer from its hook on his belt. He swung it back and forth a few times, limbering his arm for the fight to come and nodded in satisfaction.

Now. Where is she. Ah. There. “Gudrun! We are about to put an end to the rebels once and for all. Give us a Song!”

For a very long moment she just looked at him. Sometimes, Urek wondered if his very own battle chanter looked down on him. If he could ever confirm it, he would put her in her place, but so far she had always done her duty.

As the boarding hooks gripped the bulwarks of Vittir’s ship, Gudrun raised her voice in a suitably victorious-sounding battle chant. The red haze of the fury began to pulse at the edges of Urek’s vision. With a roar he accepted it. The other warriors on board joined him in his battle cry and they charged across the lines.


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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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10.6 – Encirclement

The Vidofnir veered left as the wolfling ship began to circle around in front of them but did not slow her pace.

“Steady!” Einarr ordered. “Be ready to cut lines.”

There was nowhere to go now but forward. Even if they changed directions, the rope behind them was solid. The Eikthyrnir, built for speed as she was, seemed to be having a little trouble maintaining position, but the Heidrun kept to her wing.

They weren’t going to make it. The noose was closing too quickly. Einarr’s fingers tightened around Sinmora’s hilt.

The Vidofnir’s prow nosed into the rapidly-slimming gap that was their only way out.

Abruptly the ship ahead of them surged toward the Vidofnir, boarding lines already aloft. Einarr held his breath: surely his father must have foreseen this. But, how did he intend to break free?

The ship to Einarr’s right had not moved to close the gap created by the foreward ship’s lunge. Another trap?

Did it matter if it were? “Hard to starboard! Drive forward!”

The Heidrun tilted as Arkja leaned into the tiller. It might not be enough to save them, but Einarr was not willing to let the chance pass. There might not be another one. Then the oarsmen redoubled their efforts once more even as the wolfling ship was still struggling to react to its fellow’s abrupt aggression.

Kormund, too, was making a break for freedom. Don’t get bogged down, Father…

“Hrug?”

“On your word.”

Einarr nodded at the one-armed man, his attention already back out on the wolves circling on the water’s surface.

The starboard-side ship was finally turned to intercept, but Heidrun was already nosing into the space between it and its neighbor. “Hàkon!”

The drummer knew exactly what he was after: he increased his tempo yet again, so that the oarsmen were pulling into a sprint.

The Heidrun crossed over to outside the circle. Boarding lines flew from the wolfling ship, but there was not a thrower alive who could have made that toss. The Heidrun was just out of range. Einarr smirked, satisfaction flowing over his shoulders like water.

“Drop tempo and bring her about. We can’t just leave our flagship behind.”

That was the moment when the Heidrun shuddered and jerked nearly to a stop. Evidently there was an exceptional thrower among the wolves on that ship. Nevertheless, a moment later the lone caught line was severed.

Not a moment too soon, either. Kormund had somehow managed to squeeze through the rapidly narrowing gap left by the impulsive wolfling Captain, but that left Stigander to fend for himself in the center of the circle.

Not for long, however. Einarr grinned as his ship jerked back into motion. The Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir would free the Vidofnir – although it looked like she was doing a decent job of fighting free on her own – and then they would make for the nearest port. Whether or not Kaldr continued to follow, though, Einarr had found a weakness in their fleet.


Kaldr blew the horn to call Frothing Urek’s ship back, half expecting the man not to heed. When he did, however reluctantly, Kaldr released a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and nodded. There would be nothing for it, now, but to track them into port. If the other fleet allowed a fourth encounter they were lost, and so the rebels would make all speed for the nearest freehold. Lundholm, if he recalled aright.

Still, though, that was twice now Urek had deviated from the plan in the name of personal glory. That could not be allowed to stand: not if the fleet was going to have any chance at success. “Thjofgrir.”

“Aye, sir?”

“Signal the other Captains to join us here. And set us on course to continue following them.” Despite the rage seething in his belly, he was pleased to note that his face remained placid. Had it not, his Mate would have questioned him.

“As you wish, sir. You should know, however, that the other crews grow restless.”

“I, too, grow restless. Spread it around – quietly – that they escaped us this time because of Urek’s impatience.”

“As you say, sir.”

Kaldr nodded a dismissal, but his Mate was already off about his errand.

Boarding lines passed between the four ships, and within the hour all four Captains were gathered on Kaldr’s deck.

Urek, as expected, looked thoroughly dissatisfied. As well he should, although Kaldr doubted he had the self-awareness to realize why. Kaldr cleared his throat.

“We have lost them, for the moment,” he began. “I very much doubt they will let us catch them again so easily before they reach a port.”

“We’d not have lost them,” Urek spat. “If you hadn’t kept calling me back like some craven fool. I could have ended the rebels.”

“You overestimate your own skills, Urek. Or grossly underestimate theirs. Had I allowed you to go haring off after the Vidofnir, you’d have caught it – or they’d have caught you, and proceeded to send you back to us rather ill-used.”

“How dare you -” Urek started.

Vittir, of all people, spoke up next. “Urek’s right, you know. If you hadn’t been keeping us back like a craven pack of dogs…”

Count on Vittir to regurgitate what the others told him.

“Now, now. Kaldr has a point, too. We’d have netted them all this time, if Urek hadn’t gotten impatient and broken formation,” Broki answered. He had been the one caught off-guard when Urek charged ahead.

“They were about to slip through our much-vaunted formation anyway.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. That was not what he’d seen. “I did not call you all aboard to discuss what has already happened, gentlemen, but to discuss how we will smoke them out of port when they finally arrive in one.”


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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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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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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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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.