The Eikthyrnir was not due to leave port for several more days. Einarr chafed at the delay, but preferred not to take his chances on searching out another boat. Especially given that Captain Kormund only brought them on board out of half-remembered friendship for Stigander. Einarr was well aware of how tenuous that made their position on board, and so advised his companions to work twice as hard as they had before. Accusations of favoritism were pure poison on the open sea, and Einarr had no desire to bring that down on his head.
Finally, though, the day dawned when the Eikthyrnir was scheduled to leave port. The weather was clear and cool, as Einarr had come to expect from this island, and his new shipmates did not seem to begrudge him their Captain’s regard. If anything, they seemed to pity him for it. But if there was one thing Einarr was growing used to, it was meeting unreasonably high expectations. If the Captain expected him to live up to his memories of Stigander, well, at least he wasn’t trying to steal from Wotan or escape the forgotten island.
The ship slipped out of the harbor as silently as she had entered it. Had Einarr not been on an oar, he might not have believed they were rowing out, she moved so swiftly and silently. There was barely a ripple as the oars dipped in and out of the sea, and while he could hear the waves lapping at the sides of the Eikthyrnir, it was rather akin to hearing them lap against a sandy shore. Even more than most raiders she was built for speed and for stealth, and Einarr soon discovered that everyone from the lowest deckhand to Hraerek, the ship’s Mate, were quick to boast of it.
Unlike the Vidofnir, there were no post-sailing rituals among the Eikthyrnings. It felt odd to leave port without hearing the Lay of Raen, but neither Eydri nor her senior Singer on board was familiar with it. He shrugged, and that first night out on the water he took some time in his watch to recite the lay to himself. He’d heard it often enough, after all: he’d had it memorized by the time he was 14.
Four days out of port, before they had yet turned north to head towards Kjell but well outside the territory claimed by the Coneheads, Einarr happened to glance toward the stern before supper.
A dromon sat on the horizon, plain as the nose on his face. For an hour, and then two, Einarr watched and waited. The ship seemed, if anything, to be gaining on them. He pursed his lips, thinking. “Excuse me,” he muttered to the men he was eating with.
The men patrolling on watch seemed unconcerned, though, when he pointed the dromon out to them.
“I see him. Nothing to fear,” said Vari, a tall, slender man who nonetheless looked like he would be a terror with the blades at his belt. “We’ve outrun dromon before.”
Einarr looked back out at the dromon, then again at Vari from the corner of his eye. That may be so, but something about this gave him a bad feeling. But, he swallowed his protest and nodded. He was never likely to become anything other than ‘new’ on this ship. Still, he kept his eyes astern.
His turn for watch came around. He gave it half a candle-mark, or so, before he reported the vessel. He definitely thought it was gaining on them.
“Mate Hraerek, I’ve something to report.”
“The dromon off our stern?”
“Good work. Spotted it hours ago.”
A swell of relief washed over Einarr. “Does it look like it’s gaining to you, sir?”
“Unlikely. I expect it will turn aside eventually. It has no proof we’re raiders, after all.”
“If it’s a Valkyrie ship, that might not matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“Last spring, in the waters between Kjell and Apalvik, the Vidofnir was attacked by one of their hunting ships – and I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing to raid in those waters.”
The Mate furrowed his brow. “Apalvik? Why in the world were you headed there?”
Einarr snorted. “We weren’t, until we had a hold full of Valkyrian treasure to sell.”
That got a laugh out of the man, at least. “Keep an eye on it if it makes you feel better. I assure you, you won’t be the only one. But I wager it will turn aside soon enough. There’s not a lot between Eskiborg and Kjell, either, and our business in Eskiborg was peaceful.”
“Thank you, sir.” While not exactly reassuring, at least the Mate knew about it. He returned to his watch, all the while keeping one eye on the mysterious dromon to their south.
Matters continued like that for another day, and another, during which Einarr became increasingly sure that not only was the ship gaining, it was tailing them. He could see, now, the all-too-familiar wing-and-spear of the Order of the Valkyrie when the wind was right. But if he could, so could the Mate and so could the Captain.
On the seventh day out of port, Captain Kormund called on the skills of Hrug.
“All right, fortune teller. We’re far off the normal trade routes by now, and well out of anything the Coneheads even try to claim. Divine for me who mans that ship and why they follow us.”
Hrug made an exaggerated bow, even going so far as to flourish with his stump. The request had sounded more than a little pompous, although at this point he had come to expect that from this captain. Then the mute looked at Einarr and raised an eyebrow.
“Of course I’ll help.”
“What, you’re a fortune-teller too?”
“Then how is it he asks you for help?”
“Oh, I’ve received the same training. At the same time, even. But he’s better at it. I’m just a Cursebreaker.”