Over the course of a week the seas plied by the whalers of Attilsund and, now, the Vidofnir grew colder, until it felt more like they were out early in the spring rather than the middle of summer. That they had not yet seen floating ice did not reassure Einarr about the lack of icebergs in the area.
No ice did not mean no thing, however. Occasionally, through the fog off to the east, he thought he saw the shadow of a ship. When he mentioned it to Bardr, the man nodded and doubled the watch.
The move from calm seas to rough waters was just as gradual. They were a week and a half out from Attilsund when they started doing battle with the sail, and a few days beyond that the currents grew mischievous.
The mysterious ship was closer, when it appeared again, although still too far to make out its banner. The Vidofnir assumed a battle footing until they once again lost sight of their shadow
Svarek was tasked with helping Sivid watch the sounding line, just as Irding joined Erik wrestling the sail. The sea was wearing them down, and their target had not yet come into view through the mist that always seemed to obscure the horizon line. And they whale these waters?
On the thirteenth day, a dark shape seemed to rise in the mist out on the horizon. “Land ho!” came the cry from the forecastle.
“Ready oars!” Stigander ordered.
One hour passed, then another, before they felt the waters begin to tug at their boat in earnest and the sounders called a warning. “Hard starboard!”
The oarsmen put their backs into the turn. A moment later a gust of wind puffed into the sail and chilled their necks. Then the true challenge began.
Einarr’s forearms bulged as he fought with his oar, his ears straining for orders from Captain or sounding line. The Vidofnir pitched underfoot. He could be grateful, at least, that there was no rain to slick the deck.
For what felt like hours they fought their way past hidden shoals and unpredictable winds. Now Einarr saw ice when he looked up and, when he had a moment to breathe and looked behind them, their shadow, following the same approach to the ship-barrow that the Vidofnir had plied. “Looks like we’ve got competition, boys!”
Their shadow-ship bore a blue and white sail, and still they were too far to make out the creature on their banner.
“Let ‘em come!” Erik’s laughter was met with cheers from elsewhere on deck.
“Let’s see if they’ve got the guts for what comes next.” Stigander crossed his arms and stared dead ahead. “Mind your oars! Prepare to retract on my word!”
“Aye, sir!” The Chute was ahead where, based on the sea charts and their best reckoning, the safest route forward would take them up a narrow channel between two large rocks jutting up out of the sea.
Stigander took his time getting the Vidofnir lined up to shoot the gap.
A cold wind filled their sail. “Row for all you’re worth, boys!”
They put their backs into it, unsure even now if the channel would be wide enough for their ship, hoping momentum might carry them through a tight squeeze.
The cliffs drew up rapidly on either side. As the cock’s head of the Vidofnir entered the shadow of the rocks they seemed to loom overhead.
With one practiced motion and the clatter of wood striking wood, the oarsmen stowed their oars.
“I want half of you on battle footing. Be on the lookout for kalalintu, or any hostile movements from the ship that’s tailing us. The rest of you stay put in case we have to pole off the rocks.”
Einarr moved to battle footing, feeling only a little bad for those who were too slow to escape oar watch. He wasn’t likely to shiver less than they, and while the possibility of a kalalintu attack was a real danger, they didn’t exactly stir the blood.
His father’s voice echoed twice as loud off the water’s surface and the rock walls, even over the whistling wind, and Einarr started. Calm down. We’ll make it.
The gobbling screech of kalalintu floated down the chasm to his ears, but the winged fish remained out of sight. Einarr glanced up: the sky had shaded from blue to silver since they’d entered the chute.
Einarr managed not to jump that time. The wind seemed to be dying down, though, and he thought he heard the tell-tale creaking of wood from off behind them. It seemed odd, though, that he could not see them now.
He blinked. It wasn’t just the sky that had gone grey: the cliff ledges far above were shrouded with haze, as well as anything more than about a hundred feet forward or back of the Vidofnir. It seemed to have gotten colder, as well: when he exhaled, he could see his breath.
A low muttering rose around the deck of the Vidofnir as the others noticed this as well. Einarr thought he heard some of the men praying forgiveness from the ancestors for what they were about to do. Not that it was likely to do much good. Well. If it came down to it, they could sacrifice some of whatever they found to grant the shipwrecked spirits a proper rest. But first, they had to make it through the chute to the isle of wrecks.
The Vidofnir rocked and wood ground against stone.