Now that the ships had been brought fully onto land, their crews moved to sleep among the villagers. Some managed to find space on the floor in a man’s home, but most crowded onto the village green. Einarr thought, although he could not confirm, that the villagers were happier to have them there, as an added measure of security against the wolflings.
Well, they would do what they could, at least. Poor recompense to the villagers was the least of the reasons they did not want to allow the town to be raided and razed. A watch was set, two men from each ship at every change of the guards. When they all finally bedded down with full bellies and clear heads, the sky had been dark for hours already.
Einarr started awake to the sound of the watchmen’s cry in the darkness just before grey dawn. The rattle of maille from all around told of the others also rising as he belted Sinmora about his waist.He paused, straining his ears for any sign of where their assailants were.
The smell of smoke tickled his nose, from off in the direction of the fjord he thought. Had they gone for the boathouse? Einarr started off at a jog, following the smell of smoke.
He was halfway across the town when the hairs on the back of his neck started to prickle. Without thinking he threw himself forward into a roll. With a whizz, an arrow clipped his hair and embedded itself in a house rather than in his thigh. Sinmora slid from her sheath and he brought her to bear even as he rose to his feet.
Einarr stood stock still, studying the night and the shadows around him. There! A dark blur moved between two buildings. Einarr followed, venturing a glance around the corner before stepping out to keep on the trail of the archer who thought to ambush him.
Their path led closer and closer to the boathouse, and now Einarr was almost certain that was where the wolflings had attacked. The archer ducked between a pair of sheds along the road: had he noticed Einarr?
He pressed himself into the shadow of one of the sheds and tiptoed forward. He could hear the other man’s breathing, heavy and labored, as though he was frightened or hurt. Einarr flattened his lips into a thin line and lunged around the corner. “Stand down,” he growled.
The wolfling lunged forward with a desperate shout, and at the last moment Einarr caught a glint of light on the blade of the man’s scramasax. He batted the man’s blade aside with his own.
“Who are you?”
“I have no name to give to rebel scum!” The man’s words were brave, but his voice was more than tinged with desperation.
“Surrender, or die.” Einarr hated to kill a man so obviously out of his depth. Why he was even on a ship was a mystery, let alone a raid – but when one went raiding, one accepted the consequences.
The wolfling’s only answer was to try once more, with another mad cry, to stab Einarr in the belly, through the maille. With a sidestep and a single chop, the man fell to earth unconscious. Einarr allowed himself the luxury of a sigh.
Once more the smell of smoke impinged on his mind, stronger now. Much stronger. He set out at a run for the boathouse, scanning the sky as he went for the telltale reddening of fire.
The first hint of day touched the sky when Einarr arrived at the boathouse. Fires had been set beneath each of the three ships, but none of them had caught. That probably explained why men still tended each of the three blazes with an air of annoyance and desperation.
None of them seemed to have noticed him – yet. Einarr smirked and swiftly traced a pair of runes on the ground. When he poured his will into them, all three fires winked out at once. For a long moment, the wolflings sat blinking at the charred wood that now barely smoked sitting beneath the waterlogged wood of their ships. “Excuse me, sirs, but I don’t believe you belong here.”
As one, all six of them turned to stare blankly at Einarr. Then, one by one, they blinked, and realization began to spread over their faces.
“Hey, isn’t that…” started one.
“Don’t he look a bit like…” a second asked his companion.
A third, back near the Heidrun, jumped to his feet. “It’s Stigander’s whelp! We’ll be heroes if we bring him back!”
Einarr sighed, taking in his surroundings. Other than the boathouse and the three ships, both likely out of reach, he had very few options for cover. With a shrug and a grin, he raised Sinmora and his shield. “I’d like to see you try.”
All six charged him at once, but Einarr was ready.
One of them sprouted an arrow in the back of his thigh before he was halfway across the yard and fell.
A second fell sideways as the stocky figure of a dwarf barrelled into his knees.
With a grin and a shrug, Einarr charged forward as well. He suddenly had friends to watch his back, after all. When he reached the dwarf, he stood back-to-back with him. “Took you long enough.”
“These stubby legs don’t cover ground as fast as yours,” Jorir grumbled back.
Einarr chuckled and changed the subject. “Who’s the archer?”
“Captain Bollinn himself.”
The four wolflings still in the fight circled warily even as Einarr barked a laugh. “Just like old times.”
“These men go down rather easier.” Jorir actually sounded disappointed about that.
One of the four tried his luck, only to stumble when the pair in the center turned to let him run right past them. Before he could recover, Einarr struck with the flat of his blade to the back of the man’s neck. He crumpled.
“Three down, three to go.”
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