The quick man had at the end not been quick enough, and the enemy leader wasted a precious moment in shock. The first man still stared in horror at the blade protruding from his chest when Arring lunged past him and the blade of his axe took off the enemy leader’s arm at the elbow.
“It’s not too late to retreat,” he growled. The other man’s answer was to let his ally slide from the blade, but his face had gone pale.
“Have it your way.” Arring brought his back foot forward and kicked, hard. The enemy leader went flying again, even as the crack of bone said his chest was caved in. Tveir.
Now he turned. Snorli faced three men, but after Arring he was the man on watch best equipped to deal with that. Haki, though, looked like he might be in some trouble. The man stood watching his opponents, panting, as they circled him the way wolves might circle a deer.
Arring let loose another battle roar and bulled forward at the nearest of the two. It was enough to distract the man from Haki, and then axe met long sword in the bind.
His new opponent snarled, and Arring met it with a feral grin before sliding inside the man’s guard to cut at his knee.
His opponent’s leg buckled with the force of the blow and he howled. Another of the assault squad dashed by him to catch his wounded comrade under the shoulder.
They’re retreating? At least they know when they’re beaten. Arring was inclined to let them go. Some of the others started to pursue.
“Stand down. Our job is here. If they come back we can beat them like the curs they are.”
Einarr lunged toward a kalalintu that had come just within reach and nearly tripped over the carcass of one of its fellows. Reki’s battle chant had become a song of Endurance he knew not how long ago, and he was fairly certain it was the only reason any of them could still fight. Sinmora slashed across its back and the creature crumpled. How many is that now?
When the fury had faded he had been relieved to see that they had broken away from the cliff face the creatures were trying to drive them off of – but somehow it felt like there were always more kalalintu.
Except… did he hear them any more? The sea-bird shrieks had blurred and been forgotten ages ago, but now they actually seemed to be gone. Einarr looked up: they stood in the center of a field littered with bodies, not all of them monsters. Sinmora nearly dropped from his hand. He cleaned it on a feathered wing and sheathed his blade before he could lose hold of it.
The kalalintu that wing had belonged to had fallen across the body of Henir. Of the thirty men who had gone to seek their fortune, six had fallen to the bloody birds, and the rational voice in his head whispered that they had been fortunate to lose so few. Still he could not look away. When Henir fell, the arrow he had not had a chance to fire remained stuck to the string.
He swallowed the gorge that threatened to rise and strode over to where Jorir stood tying a bandage for Irding. This made eleven men they had lost so far this summer, between the Valkyries and the kalalintu. Most summers they lost none. “How is he?”
“Well enough, I wager, but we’ll need to watch him for fever. More importantly -”
“What about you?”
Jorir snorted. “I was bloody worthless in that fight, right up until Fari over there hadn’t any more use for that brace of knives he carried. But I’m not wounded. You, though, you look like you’ve been through hell.”
Henir and Fari. They’d been like brothers. At least they would sup with the gods together. “I’ve had better days. …Father. Erik.”
The others were joining them in ones and twos, picking their way across the battlefield.
“Einarr. These things seem awfully tough compared to the flocks this spring to you?”
He nodded. “Smarter, too. Makes me wonder what else we’re up against.”
“Wonder later.” Stigander looked around and sighed. “For right now, we need to get our men down from here and build a proper pyre for those as need it.”
“Yes, sir,” came the unanimous reply.
“I don’t think they’ll try for us again after that thrashing we gave them, but let’s all be a little quicker when someone tells you to cover your ears, got it?”
A chorus of aye’s answered Stigander, and they went to work carting the bodies of the fallen down the narrow trail that had led them to their end in the first place. It was awkward work, but with three men to a body they still had enough people for an honor guard both before and behind their procession.
Down on the beach, Irding and Svarek were dispatched to alert the watch and the repair crews, respectively, of what had occurred. The rest of them, meanwhile, were to gather wood and what funeral goods they could find from about the beach. It was far from ideal, but better a poor funeral than none at all.
His arms half-full of wood, Einarr’s gathering took him over near his liege-man. “What think you, Jorir? Are we going to find anything here that’s worth all this?”
“Find something? Sure. Whether or not its worth what we pay for it, well, only time will tell.”
“Ah, here’s something.” Einarr brushed the sand away from the lid of a half-buried trunk with his free hand, then thought better of it and set down the wood he’d gathered. “Help me dig this out, will you?”
The trunk the two uncovered appeared to have once belonged to a Singer, or perhaps an entire troupe of Singers, and was filled with all manner of instruments and jewelry. Einarr shared a look with Jorir: this should make a fine funerary offering.
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