Kaldr awoke to the smell of smoke with the rising of the dawn. A low growl rumbled in his throat as he sat up. Those idiots.
That they would conduct a raid was expected. He had given leave, after all – as much because he was certain Urek would have sent one anyway as because it was good to make sure the rebels remembered they were there. But this was not the smell of wood smoke. He smelled meat.
He looked around the deck of his ship: most of them seemed unaware anything was amiss, and that was as it should be. Some, though, wore scowls as dark as Kaldr’s thoughts.
“Find Skon. Send him up the fjord. Reconnaissance only. I want to know what was destroyed and how many died. Tell him to be quick, but not to let himself be seen.”
“Yes, sir.” No sooner had Thjofgrir answered, though, than a familiar and grating laugh sounded from behind them, in the direction of Urek’s ship. Slowly, making sure his expression was properly schooled, Kaldr turned to face the man.
“Now that’s how it’s done!” Urek was leaning on the bulwark of his ship and looking smugly across at Kaldr.
“Do tell me, precisely what is ‘how it’s done’?” If he’s killed the townsfolk, I will put his head on a pike.
“Those cursed rebels will come slinking out of there with their tails between their legs now, just you wait. Lundholm can’t very well resupply them when they have to see to their own stores!”
In spite of himself, Kaldr could feel his face go pale. On the one hand, Urek had complied with the letter of his instructions. On the other hand, in terms of ill will, this was almost worse. “You didn’t…”
The man took a long, over-dramatic sniff of the air. “Proof is on the wind, sir. The men who went raiding last night didn’t draw steel on anyone but rebels, but they burned everything they could.”
Kaldr closed his eyes and counted slowly to ten under his breath. Urek, around the time he hit “two” and had not answered, walked away laughing to himself.
“Thjofgrir.” He opened his eyes and looked at his Mate. “Cancel that reconnaissance. Urek is a fool and a braggart, but not a liar.”
“As you say, sir.”
After all the fires had been put out and the food pulled from the smokehouse and the drying shed, the people of Lundholm had lost fully half their stores before accounting for the damage done at the boat house. Einarr could not fault their anger, although it rankled to be the object of it when they had done everything in their power to stop the attack.
They would not be able to finish the resupply now. The men of Lundholm would have to rebuild their own stores, and there simply were not enough materials to go around to handle both.
At the same time, though, they were in no condition to fight their way out of the fjord. Thus, with the noon sun high in the sky, Stigander turned to Elder Vilding with one last request. “Do you have a map?”
“A map? What in Hel’s name do you want with a map?”
Captain Kormund pressed his hands together. “Elder Vilding. There is currently a blockade at the mouth of the fjord that we would have to pass through one at a time. While we would, no doubt, take them down, we would take them down with us. But if Stigander and Einarr do not reach Raenshold, you will never be free of the Usurper. Thus, we need another way out.”
“Our boats are already on dry land,” Einarr filled in.
The Elder spluttered. “Surely you don’t mean to portage your ships across the whole island?”
Stigander nodded. “If a way exists, it may save us. So, please, as one final favor before you are rid of us.”
Now Elder Vilding sighed. “Such a route exists. Or did, last fall. There’s a hermitage on the southwestern coast with a small, rocky beach. Haven’t seen old Gotlief yet this year, and Dagny needs honey for her mead soon.”
Stigander nodded. “So long as it’s broad enough to launch a ship, that sounds like exactly what we need.”
“There is no map – not like what you’re thinking of. We had one, twenty years ago, but it burned up in one of the Usurper’s raids.”
“That’s fine,” Einarr put in quickly. “If you’ll show us the road, we can send a man or two on ahead to scout out the way.”
Vilding hummed. “And while we wait for these scouts of yours to return?”
“We will divide our men in half, if you allow it.” Stigander answered easily. “The first half will help clean up the mess left by the wolflings. The other half will keep making arrows, drawing water, and harvesting pitch. It’s the only way we have a chance of making it back to Raenshold.”
A low grumble rose from among the villagers, but the Elder shook his head. “Fine. And half of any game you take comes back to us, to replace what was burnt.”
The young man who had hailed them when they first arrived stepped forward. “I will go with the scouts, Elder.”
Elder Vilding scowled at the man. “We need you out hunting.”
“More than we need someone Lord Gotlief recognizes running up to the hermitage? The old monk doesn’t take kindly to trespassers.”
“Have it your way.”
The man bobbed his head and darted off into one of the nearby huts. Meanwhile, Stigander had made his decision as well. “Troa. Boti. You’re our scouts. If there’s an obstacle on the road, it’s on you to figure out how to clear it.”
“Yes, sir!” they chorused, quite obviously pleased.
“You’re to head out as soon as your guide is ready. Make sure you are, as well.”
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