Tag: Hidden Cove

1.19 – Svartlauf Island

The Gufuskalam launched out of the storm and into the calm waters beyond it. Rain and sleet still pelted Einarr’s back, but he hardly noticed it now.

Black, water-slicked cliffs shot from the ocean’s surface up fifty feet or more. Above, the black-leaved forest where the fimbulvulf was said to dwell loomed over them, rapidly swallowing their view of what lay inland. Before it was hidden from view, Einarr saw massive stone walls rising up from near the center of the island. The roof was also stone, he thought, and the entire edifice was nearly three times the size of Kjell Hall. It stood on four stone pillars that shot up from the forest floor. There was nothing it could be save the Jotünhall.

More of these massive pillars lined a path or a road of sorts down from the hall to the water’s edge through a break in the rock wall. The cliffs retreated from the water in the path made by the pillars. In the shadow of one of these pillars Einarr thought he saw a rocky cove.

“There. Do you see it?”

Erik raised his hand to shade his eyes from the new-found sun and nodded.

“I think we should land there.”

“Aye, Captain.” Even Tyr’s voice was weary of their journey.

“Once we’ve made land, you two should rest here. Reprovision if you can. I need to go in alone.”

Erik looked like he wanted to protest.

“I think we should all take some time to rest and dry off before anyone ventures into the island.” Tyr’s voice was firm, and it was hard to mistake that for anything but the voice of experience. “That cove is going to be in shadow all day. If I may, I would like to suggest we get a little closer to the island, weigh the sea anchor, and warm up while we have sunlight.”

Einarr considered a moment before nodding crisply. “You’re right. None of us is in good shape after that storm. Let’s at least get close enough we’re not likely to be seen from the island and take a few hours to dry out.”

***

The three-man crew of the Gufuskalam found a sweet spot, not far from the cliffs, where most of the waves were cut by a rocky reef. All three of them sprawled in the sun, enjoying the feel of the sun on their faces as it dried their bodies, their clothes hung from the yardarm in the wind.

“Yer pabbi gets it, boy, but don’t be surprised if ye’re cut down to deckhand anyway,” Tyr was saying.

Einarr chuckled in wry humor. “If that’s the worst price I pay, I’ve got the kindest Captain on the seas.” It wasn’t just his Captain he’d betrayed, or even just his Father. It was his grandfather’s entire line, and their hope of the future.

“You do, Einarr. You do.” Erik’s voice was uncommonly solemn, especially given the mellow feeling that had descended on them as they floated in the sun.

Einarr raised his head to look at his crewmate. “You speak from experience?”

“More than a little. You know what I was doing before I signed on to the Vidofnir?”

“Nope.” Erik had joined the crew four years before Einarr was even a deckhand. “Father always told me the crew’s past was none of my damn business.”

Now it was Erik’s turn to laugh. “Yer pabbi found me drunk and beat to a pulp in a ditch. Decided to give me a chance when I got up swinging. I may be the only man alive who’s gotten a job for punching his new Captain in the jaw.”

Tyr laughed. “I remember that. Tell ‘im why you were in yer cups in the first place, though.”

Erik made some embarrassed sounding noises. When he didn’t answer, Tyr did.

“He felt guilty, he did, because the Weaver booked passage on his old boat in the first place.”

“I was just a deckhand on a freeboat, sure, but Raenshold was still home. If I’d known what the nither intended…”

“You don’t have to prove your loyalty to me.” Einarr shifted his shoulders uncomfortably, staring up into the sky. “Especially not after I went and tried to steal a bride…”

“Her idea, wasn’t it?”

“Doesn’t matter. I wasn’t forced.”

“No, you weren’t. But neither was she, which matters – to yer pabbi and the Jarl.”

Einarr sighed and stood up. “Maybe. We’ve lounged enough, though. We should hide the boat.” He snatched his pants off the yardarm and beat them against the side to loosen the salt-stiffness, shivering a little as the breeze reached him again.

“Einarr.” Tyr caught his eye as he, too, stood to dress again. “If anyone understands doing something dumb to win the object of his affections, it’s Stigander. And it was obvious to all of us why you felt like you had to go so far.”

“Thanks.” The fact that the rest of the Vidofnings understood didn’t make him feel any better about it, of course.

***

The Gufuskalam slipped quietly into the small, shadowed cove as the sun was nearing the horizon that evening. Erik lowered the anchor into the water with nary a sound even as the weight sunk beneath the water’s surface.

The cove itself was most like a tiny fjord, and once inside its fingers the three men worked by starlight alone. Einarr had intended to enter the island alone, while his companions slept if he had to, but there would be no climbing those walls before daybreak at the earliest, and more likely noon the next day.

“I still want you two here on the boat. Even with all three of us we couldn’t do more than try to evade the fimbulvulf, and we may need to leave quickly.” Einarr tried again to convince them. They were his friends, and he didn’t want to turn this into a test of authority.

“And I’d still be happier if you had someone to watch your back,” Erik countered. “I promised the Captain we’d bring you back safe.”

“Please, Erik. This is my quest.”

“You’re Stigander’s son, all right,” he grunted.

“Proudly.”

“Your quest or not, Erik’s right. I can’t send you up there alone any more than he can. We also won’t need both of us to ensure the boat is ready when you need to leave. Take Erik.”

Einarr exhaled loudly enough that it was nearly a growl. “Fine. I suppose it won’t be bad to have someone watching my back while I’m up there.”

“Yer damn right it won’t.” Erik clapped him on the shoulder. “Now let’s get to it.”

“We’ll be back as soon as we can, but we don’t know what else might be on this island.”

“With a fimbulvulf and a jotün?” Tyr’s question sounded skeptical.

“They’ve got to eat something, right?” Einarr’s joke produced a round of nervous laughter. He tied the sack to his belt and tossed a rope over to catch on the rocky face he would have to climb to get to the island proper.


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1.14 – Setting Sail

The morning after Einarr’s defeat of Trabbi, the Vidofnir set forth in search of the Grendel missing three of its crew – Einarr, of course, plus two of their hardiest warriors: Erik and Tyr. It was all Stigander could spare. The morning after that Einarr led his companions down to Runa’s cove and the waiting skiff, newly dubbed the Gufuskalam. Runa and the Jarl came to see them off, she looking worried and he relieved to see them go.

While Erik and Tyr made one last check of their provisions, Runa caught Einarr’s hand in her own. “Promise me you’ll come back?”

He did not try to repress a smile. “Of course I will. What sort of fool would abandon you?”

She nodded, slowly, and if he was not mistaken sadly, and pressed a small sack into his hands. “Take these. May they speed you on your journey.”

“Thank you. I’m sure they will.”

He did not look in the sack until the island vanished from view. On top was a note.

My dearest Einarr, it read. The island of Svartlauf is hidden behind an eternally raging storm and hunted by a fimbulvulf, two things which I know my father has not told you. There may be other dangers as well, so I have sent gifts that I hope will bring you victory. The small crystal bottle contains my song of strength. Open it when yours fails and remember me. The other is the tafl king, so that you might always keep your wits about you. Be careful, my love, and return in victory!

Einarr smiled and tucked the note carefully into the pouch at his belt. He wasn’t sure how much practical good either of those things would be, but the gesture still warmed him from the inside out. He stowed Runa’s offerings in the box beneath his seat at the tiller.

A breeze caught in his hair, and he offered a devilish grin to his two companions. “Time to sail, boys. Gods but it’s good to be off the rocks again.”

“How true it always is,” Erik agreed while Tyr continued to call their rowing cadence.

“Ease off a bit and I’ll let the sail down.”

Erik caught Tyr’s attention and they pulled the oars in as Einarr stepped forward to unfurl the sail. The still-cold wind filled their sail and caught his cloak, contrasting with the warmth on his shoulders of the spring sun. The Ice existed, Einarr thought, to make sure one appreciated the freedom to sail.

Tyr stood up and stretched. “So how much do you think the Jarl hasn’t told you?”

Einarr snorted. “What, you think the Captain’s childhood friend would withhold information from me?”

“Yes,” the two men said at once.

“You’d have to be blind to see he still doesn’t want to allow the match,” Eric continued.

“So anything he can do to make your quest harder…” Tyr trailed off.

“He’s going to try to do.” The right side of Einarr’s mouth curled in an unhappy smirk. “Runa tells me there’s a storm around the island and a fimbulvulf.”

Erik thrust his head forward in surprise. “A what? By the gods, is he trying to kill you?”

Einarr just shrugged.

“If the Captain knew that…”

“He’d have held off on pursuing the Grendel and we’d be on the Vidofnir right now. But I only found out a minute ago, myself.”

Tyr whistled.

“Not that it matters. I said I’d do it, and I am my father’s son. Besides, we’ve got a few weeks before we need to worry about it, and right now the weather is perfect. I say we see what our little Gufuskalam can do!”

His friends voiced their agreement with a cheer.

***

As the sun dipped below the horizon in a blaze of gold and red and purple that blinded the three men on their skiff, Erik stepped to the mast to furl the sail for the night while Einarr took the tiller. He would have first watch, and was glad that the sky was still clear. Overcast skies on their first night out of port would be an ill omen, because while the other two men slept, he would keep their drift on course.

Tyr was pulling out food from their stores for dinner – a cask of ale, some hard tack, and gravlax. There would be no cooking aboard the Gufuskalam, for there was no room in which to light a fire, but they would not go hungry at least.

“You ready for six weeks of this?” Tyr’s voice was a low rumble as he shared out the portions, evidently thinking along the same lines as Einarr.

“We’ll manage.” Erik bit down into the hard tack and followed it up with a swig of beer. “Always have before.”

Einarr nodded. “I think our course takes us close to some small islands partway through, too.”

Tyr grunted and broke off a piece of bread to pair with a bite of the sweet-salted salmon. “Two-edged sword, is what that is.”

Einarr shrugged. “We’ll get by. If anyone knows more tricks for getting through a long sea voyage than you, it’s Father.”

This got a laugh from the gruff man. “I taught him half what he knows, back when he was your age.”

Nobody ever bothered Tyr about retiring, because age had barely touched him. Save for snow-white hair and lines on his face, he still kept up with men half his age. Einarr and Erik both chuckled.

“That is exactly what I meant.”


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1.10 – Runaway Bride

Spring thaw was not far off, and Stigander was impatient to be off hunting the Grendel. If they were going to act, it would need to be quickly, before the Vidofnir sailed and the two young lovers lost their chance forever. At court the night after they had agreed, Runa passed Einarr a message: her lady in waiting had gone to purchase them a fishing boat from the village across the island.

They hid the skiff in a cove up the coast from the Vidofnir’s mooring, and for the remainder of the Ice found ways – separately, of course – to squirrel supplies away on their skiff. Food, water, sea charts, a sextant… Einarr hoped it would be enough, because there would be no going back.

The night of the Equinox was to be a full moon, and it was bad fortune to sail before then. The timing troubled Einarr, but the superstition said nothing of the night itself. Surely that would be near enough? That was the night Einarr judged they would have the best chance of escaping, and so they decided to risk it. Forgive me, Father. I could not refuse her.

As the last light of sunset faded on the last night of winter, Einarr wandered past the table and hid some scraps of meat inside a small sack he carried beneath his cloak. He took no torch, and if anyone noticed when he slipped out they probably assumed he was headed for the outhouse. He gently lifted Sinmora from its hiding place beneath the eaves, pressing the sheath against his breast as he crossed the meadow. The light of the moon silvered the new spring grass around him, but he spared little attention for the beauties of the night.

Finally the shadow of the spruce wood rose up before him, and as he stepped into the deeper shade of a tree he buckled the sword about his waist. Its weight was a comfort, but its absence in the hall would give them away. He only hoped it was noted late, once they were already on the water.

Now he saw Runa nearly running across the open field, her face cast into shadow, her hair shining silver in the light. His breath caught in his throat, and all doubts as to their course fled his mind. Her cloak billowed behind her, and he saw a bag slung over one shoulder.

She, too, stepped into the shadow of the forest, and Einarr released a breath he had not known he held as she threw her arms about his neck. “Ready?” She whispered.

He nodded.

“Follow me.”

Out of sight of the Hall, in the shadow of the wood, they fairly flew down the well-remembered path to the cove Runa’s maid had favored. Only the need to step quietly, even here, slowed them, for the moon was bright and full. Einarr kept one hand on the hilt of his sword, his ears alert for trouble, even as he gripped Runa’s hand in his other. Two main concerns troubled his mind as they fled down the path: wolves, and the hounds of the Hall.

The path they followed to their hidden cove was long and meandering, and they had gone perhaps half the distance when one of those concerns came to the forefront.

A dog bayed.

“Hurry!” Runa’s voice was edged with worry but not at all winded.

“You go on ahead. I’ll slow them down and meet you there.”

“Be careful.”

Einarr grunted acknowledgment and stepped off the path to crouch in a bush. The darkness was still his best ally, but with dogs the men from the hall were sure to catch up. He scanned his surroundings. In the mottled light under the trees his eyes tried to play tricks, but he still spotted a deadfall just up the path.

He hurried forward, his boots light on the loamy ground, and put a shoulder to the log. Einarr was pleasantly surprised to find it light, hollowed out and dried by time. He moved it down a side path and set one end on a stone, leaving a gap between wood and ground. Into this gap he shoved pieces of the meat he stole earlier, as well as one of his leather gloves. To screen the bait, he covered it with fallen branches. That should keep them busy for a little while, anyway.

His trap set, Einarr hurried back to the cove trail as best he could, sacrificing a little speed in the name of moving quietly. It would be for nothing if he could not make it back to Runa, after all.

Some ways further down the familiar path, he smirked when he heard the sound of someone shouting at the dogs and picked up the pace. It probably wouldn’t take them long to get the dogs back on the real trail.

Indeed, not many minutes later the shouting stopped, followed after far too short a time by the sound of baying hounds.

Light reflected off of water up ahead and he poured on the speed, sprinting for the sea like he would charge for a boarding line. Einarr scrambled down the scree-covered path to the water. His distraction had slowed the hunters just barely long enough; he could hear his father’s voice bellowing behind, loudly enough that he did not worry about clattering rocks giving away his position. Runa stood in the bow of the boat with an oar resting on the wet sand below. Her hair glowed in the moonlight, a halo suggesting her true origins.

Three bounds took him across the tiny beach, and Einarr vaulted into the boat next to his stolen bride. Her smile was sweet as he took the oar from her hands and pushed off the shore, even as the dogs began racing down the rocky path with Stigander close on their heels.

The dogs stopped at the water’s edge, barking furiously. Runa’s boat had caught the tide, and they were deeper than the hounds wished to swim. Stigander stopped, also, and held his torch aloft.

“I’m sorry, father,” Einarr called across the gulf. Runa’s arms curled around him from behind, offering what support she could.

“Do you think that you will be safe because you are my only son?” Stigander’s voice cracked with anger and betrayal and hurt – and sorrow. A pang of guilt stabbed through Einarr’s resolve, but it was only a pang.

“No, Father. And yet, she has persuaded me. Happy hunting when you seek the Grendel.” Einarr took his seat and began rowing, turning his back on his father and the Vidofnir.


1.9 – Spring Thaw 1.11 – Capture
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