Surrounded by the ravening dead once more, Einarr and his companions moved shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. Not one of them would leave their backs exposed this way… and now that the Allthane’s chanting had ceased the men of the Vidofnir would be able to end this fight. Einarr frowned as they circled, fighting off the revenants intent on their flesh, searching as he could for a path back to the rest of his father’s crew.
And finding nothing. The restless dead formed a writhing wall between the three of them and the refuge of their allies. He felt as though he had been fighting for hours already.
“All we have to do,” He said, grunting, as he caved in the skull of yet another shade. “Is hold out until Father and the rest break through.”
“Is that… supposed to be encouraging?” Troa asked between breaths.
“It’s what I got.”
Then the revenants surged towards them again and there was neither breath nor break in clangor enough to talk for a time. Despite his best efforts, before the battle ebbed again Einarr had taken more than a few hits from their enemies.
“Hey Jorir?” He panted.
The dwarf only grunted in response. Einarr could only imagine how much worse this must be from his liege-man’s height.
“Any chance of getting your shield to burn again?”
“Not sure—” He paused to cut down one of the opponents he faced. “Why it did in the first place.”
Einarr grunted. That was unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected.
“Don’t look now,” said Troa, his words punctuated by the sound of steel hitting rotted flesh. “But I think it’s just about done.”
Einarr could feel Troa urging their circle to turn, pressing Jorir’s shoulder into his side even as Troa’s presence grew lighter. He kept the rotation going, and soon faced back the way they had come.
Einarr whooped and kicked the legs out from under one of the remaining shades. “Come on, now. Just like we did to get over here in the first place!”
As dawn broke Einarr, Troa and Jorir rejoined the rest of the crew of the Vidofnir, to a man battered, bruised and often bleeding. The fight wasn’t over yet, though, not for Einarr and a handful of others. Reki’s song had allowed them to take out the horde of restless dead – for the meantime. But without the funeral songs and the proper rituals, they would be back.
Someone had lit a fire down near the water line, and from it the wind carried the smell of hot mead. Reki coughed, and Snorli handed her a steaming horn of it.
Wouldn’t mind some of that myself… Einarr ambled down towards the cauldron. Arnskar and Kragnir were among those seeing to the wounded. From the looks of it, Einarr thought they might have been lucky. After fighting off the kalalintu, they couldn’t have afforded to lose many in that fight, no matter that everyone was willing.
Stigander, farther forward, near where the main clash had taken place, gave Bardr a hearty clap on the shoulder and came down after the three of them.
“You three ready for the hard part?”
Einarr tried to laugh, but it came out as a grunt. “You mean protecting an exhausted Battle Chanter while exhausted ourselves? Ready as I can be.”
“Good. We’re counting on you.”
“Your son knows that all too well, milord,” Jorir said. “But it might do to remind him once in a while he’s no good to anybody dead.”
“I didn’t hear you complaining about my plan until after we took out the Allthane. And wasn’t someone grumbling about being given backup out there?”
The other three all laughed as they approached the fire and its warmed mead. Snorli had a pair of horns ready for the Captain and Einarr as they approached, and two more were filled just a moment later for Jorir and Troa. All four newcomers at the fire raised their cups to Reki before drinking.
“I will be ready as soon as I’ve finished my drink, gentlemen,” she purred.
“Take your time.” Einarr took a drink of his own and let the hot sweetness warm his bones. “I’m not going to complain about a few minutes’ breather.”
“I don’t think any of the men will.” Stigander gave his cup a swirl. “But we’d best not rest for too long, or we’ll lose our opportunity.”
She cleared her throat. “Exactly that.”
Jorir raised an eyebrow. “Is your voice going to be up to more singing tonight? That fight must’ve put you through the ringer…”
“I’ll be fine. You boys worry about your part, let me handle mine.”
“As you wish.”
Troa took a long swallow, plainly glad for the moment’s rest as well. “How long do you think we have?”
Reki folded her fingers around the horn and held it under her nose. “If we’ve not completed the rites by mid-morning, we’re too late.”
Einarr grimaced, and caught the others in the same expression.”Fine.” He took a long swig of his mead. “In that case – Troa, meet me at the battle line as soon as you’re finished. I know better than to think you don’t already know the best route to the cave. I want to hear every step of it.”
“Of course.” Scouts had been sent out with Troa the day before basically as soon as the plan was hatched. There hadn’t been time to share that knowledge before sundown, though, but Einarr could think of nothing else they would be seeking.
Einarr sighed and stared down in his horn. Only half-empty, and his belly feeling pleasantly warm already. It had been a long day, and it was about to get longer yet. He poured the rest of the horn down his throat. “Take your time. I’m going to go get my blood flowing again, clear my head before we start out.”