The proud rooster’s head of the Vidofnir led the way into the mouth of the harbor at Breidelsteinn as the morning sun began to paint the sky vermillion. Einarr scanned the water ahead, curiously detached from the assault to come. There was still too much to do before they even reached the docks to even try thinking of this as a homecoming.
There was no apparent sign of the wolfling fleet, and that worried him. Three ships were accounted for at Lundholm, but that was only three. Even if there were others out raiding or being repaired, Raenshold should support at least ten more ships. One of which would be helmed by Kaldr.
The harbor mouth would have been the ideal place to lay an ambush, but even as the Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir pulled away, deeper into the harbor and closer to their goal, none appeared. Most likely, that meant there would be another blockade, nearer the town.
Einarr nodded: springing an ambush on them now would mainly serve to weaken the blockade line. “At ease, men,” he ordered. “But be ready on those oars.”
It was not impossible that the wolflings would try to drive them into the blockade with a late ambush. It was just less certain than either of the two defense strategies it pulled from.
Under sail, the longships moved nearly silently through the water towards Breidelstein. Even with Einarr’s order, all hands stared ahead nearly as intently as Einarr himself. Bea had come up to join Jorir and Eydri next to Einarr, just forward of the mast. Naudrek, somehow the least tense of anyone aboard, sat next to Hrug. When all was ready, he would signal that it was time to begin the ritual they had devised.
The sky grew lighter. He could start to make out buildings on the shore: the town of Breidelstein. It looked… poorer than Father’s stories had led him to believe. Grayer, as though a thin film of grime had been allowed to coat the whole town. Above, on the edge of the cliff, the tower shone in the sunrise with an ominous light.
Below, on the water, Einarr caught sight of what he had expected to see all along. There, perhaps two hundred yards out from the piers, was a line of longships. He could already see nets slung between them.
So they weren’t just going to roll over and surrender. Not that he’d really expected them to. “Ready volley!”
Half the crew moved a step forward and readied their shields. The other half nocked arrows to bows and drew.
They were not fire arrows, not after Lundholm. Setting the boats ablaze would kill too many men who should be friends: they would just have to cut the nets. This was likely to be a bloody boarding.
The first volley flew true. A minute later, the blockade answered with a volley of its own. Also not aflame, thankfully. Einarr needed his sorcerer fresh.
His sorcerer. He still wasn’t used to that, not really – nor to the idea that there were some who would call him a sorcerer. But learning the runes had been a matter of necessity… hadn’t it? Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Wotan himself had sought out magic when the circumstances called for it. Einarr shook his head to clear it. “Ready volley!”
The creaking sound of drawing bows fell once more to silence. “Fire!”
Part of the second volley overshot their targets by a significant margin: well, there hadn’t been much time for aiming. Already he could see their enemies preparing boarding lines. It was time to do the same. “Prepare for boarding! Remember, men: our goal is to cut those nets! The men on those ships are your own clansmen, whether they know us or not!”
His speech, such as it was, was met with a cheer. Einarr turned his attention back to his own deck. “Vali?”
“Yes, Einarr?” The ghost’s voice came from behind him. In spite of himself, Einarr jumped. To his credit, Vali made no comment.
“While you’re out sowing chaos amidst the enemy, I need you to try to find information for me. How many ships they have left, and their Captains, and what sort of force they might have on the ground. Think you can manage?”
Vali gave him a sour look. “I’m a ghost, not a mind-reader.” Then he shook his head. “I’ll hunt out log books. There might be something there you can use.”
“Glad to hear it. Good luck.”
There was nothing quite like having a ghost roll its eyes at you. “Thanks. I’ll need it.”
“Eydri, you’re up.”
She raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Yes, sir.” She seemed to grow taller as she drew her shoulders back, and when she opened her mouth to Sing the battle fury began to press against his vision.
Bea stepped up to take her place by Einarr’s left. “Why are you having her Sing already?”
“The faster we beat our way through the blockade, the fresher our men are when we make land.” And the Song didn’t usually carry well through city streets. Too many obstructions.
The answer seemed to satisfy Bea, as she nodded and readied her spear as Einarr turned to check in with Hrug and Naudrek. The sorceror was busy, the Orlognir laid on the deck in front of him as he put the final, last-minute touches on their ritual circle. Naudrek confirmed that all was in order.
The sound of fighting brought his attention back to the matter at hand: the first clash on the ropes was nearly over and the first of his men had made it to the wolfling ships to try to cut the nets.
Einarr brought Sinmora up. The first of their men were also across, and one of them charged across the deck toward Einarr with a feral yell.
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