The villagers soon had their boats laden with supplies and people and they headed out to sea. As they sped towards the open water, Amundr and Saegrimr looked back and saw the forms of vergrinn in the village. The vergrinn let out howls of frustration and the villagers looked back in dismay and fear.
“We don’t usually take the boats out at night when it’s this cloudy, so we’ll stay closer to the shore so we can navigate,” said the middle aged man at the tiller of their boat. “It’s a little riskier because of the rocks closer to the shoreline, but far better than being swept out to sea. Sky looks like it’ll have another storm for us tomorrow. That has given us one good thing – the wind has shifted around to the north and will drive us where we want to go pretty quick.”
Amundr and Saegrimr remained silent. Neither had spent any time on a boat other than paddling up and down small rivers in a canoe. Finally Amundr spoke up. “How long until we get to Gudmund?”
“Less than an hour. We go there to trade all the time, but we stay here because the fishing is better near the mouth of the river. There’s lots more people in Gudmund too, and most of us don’t take too kindly to strangers.”
The sun was almost completely down at this point, and as Amundr looked over at the shore he could barely make out the forms of several vergrinn. They were shadowing the progress of the ship, but with a stiff wind at their backs the fishing vessels quickly outpaced them.
The journey seemed to fly by. The smell of the salt air and the cry of the gulls was a new and wonderful experience for the two lads from the woods near Eyjolf. They felt refreshed and invigorated. Before long, a faint golden glow shone like a halo around the trees ahead and to their right. They rounded a bend of the shore and the lights of the city of Gudmund sprang up before them. The city’s outer walls went down to the shore and even extended into the shallows beyond. They were made of stone, but they looked as smooth as the stones from the bottom of a creek instead of giant blocks of hewn rock. The pennants waving from the walls looked like giant blue and white party decorations, stiffened by the steady wind.
Saegrimr spoke first. “I wonder if the others made it here.” Amundr’s heart sank. For the past hour he had been so lost in the joy of his first sea trip that he had forgotten their urgent flight and even the death of his father.
“I hope Aoalbert got eaten. If I see him he’ll wish he had.”
“Mundi, be reasonable. Sure, he’s a cowardly fool, but he’s also a noble. If you lay a hand on him you’ll be in prison until they kill you.” He paused, then continued. “Actually, if Aoalbert hadn’t been such a coward the vergrinn would have snuck up on all of us unawares and we’d all have been killed. That doesn’t make him a hero, but it does make you think.”
The fisher folk entered a harbor protected by a stout sea wall. Men on the docks called out greetings with a curious tone in their voice. One called to the elder in the front boat. “Gedda, what brings you here so late?”
“Vergrinn. They came upon us at sunset, and we would have all been lost but for a warning from some well met visitors.”
“We had heard of the coming of the vergrinn and were going to send someone to you in the morning. We didn’t think they would travel all the way to your village at the shore so soon.”
“Well, our well met visitors may have led them there. They apparently met them earlier in the day at the Svanr bridge.”
Even in the dim light, the surprise on the stranger’s face was evident. “We heard news from the Svanr bridge. Your visitors ought to go to the citadel at once.”
The boats were pulled ashore on a sandy beach and tied to rings set in heavy posts. Amundr and Saegrimr were introduced to Igull, who had greeted them on the docks. “I’ll take you up to the citadel.”
They walked through the broad streets of the city. Even at night they were impressed by the size and variety of everything. The streets were so wide that two wagons could go through side by side, and every building had two stories or more. They passed a courtyard where their church building could have been placed comfortably with both of their houses beside it.
Igull was apparently known in the citadel. At the entrance to the citadel, one of the guards simply glanced at him and waved them in. They passed under the portcullis and into a courtyard larger than the one they had passed previously. Igull opened a large wooden door directly across the courtyard from the portcullis and turned right down a long hallway. Amundr and Saegrimr could hear noises coming from down the hall and as they got closer they could begin to make out voices. Igull paused at an open doorway to his left, and the boys were standing behind him.
From across the hall they heard an exclamation. “Amundr! Saegrimr! You live!” The sound in the hall died down as Sir Herfinnr, Fastbjorn, and Stigr rushed over to greet them. “We had heard that all fell defending the bridge save Aoalbert.” Herfinnr grinned as he said this.
“My father fell. All who stood and fought fell save Saegrimr and I.” There was a bitterness in Amundr’s voice that none could mistake. “At the last there were three of us. As my father fell he ordered us to flee down the river. The good people there brought us here.” They were not much more presentable than they had been at the fishing village, but each of the older men took them into a warm embrace.
“We will speak of Aoalbert later,” said Herfinnr. For now, let us get you cleaned and fed. The young men allowed themselves to be led from the chamber to a room where hot baths and fresh clothes were laid out for them. They undressed and bathed, then hastily redressed and left the chamber. Amundr brought with him the sword and canister he had found within the tree. They found a man waiting to take them back to the hall, where the feast was still underway.
They were seated at a table near their traveling companions and they dug in hungrily to the food provided for them. The two young lads, who had been on short rations for a week, showed the rest of the diners in the hall the meaning of the word ravenous.
After they had each had a fourth helping of everything, they finally slowed their eating. “Did the wagons make it through safely? Did you warn the other villagers? Did the other villagers come to harm? Are we setting out tomorrow for Eyjolf” The questions came tumbling out of both of them so fast that Stigr held up a hand to silence them.
“One question at a time, lads. I believe the first was whether the wagons made it through safely?” Both lads nodded. “Yes, the wagons made it through. Herfinnr saw to that. All the lads aboard looked nervous as a pie at a party, but they made it through.”
“What of the other villages? Did they get warned in time?” Amundr asked.
Stigr nodded. “Fastbjorn and I warned every village this side of the Svanr and many on the far side. Well, every village not on the coast. Those were a bit far afield and we thought they’d be safe until boats could get to them tomorrow. As for the villagers, every one of them from the villages we warned got to the city in safety. You boys did well holding that bridge. The vergrinn had almost reached the stragglers from the last villages when the sortie the Duke sent out got there. They mopped up every one of the vergrinn and went back to the bridge to recover the bodies. We thought you two had ended up in the river and been washed out to sea. They counted the vergrinn and there were over ten score dead at that bridge. The bards will sing of that battle.” Amundr thought of his father’s fate and wished there hadn’t been any battle for the bards to sing of. “Several of the horsemen continued up the road to make sure that there weren’t any more large groups of vergrinn coming. It looks like there may be a few scattered here and there but no organized forces back to the edge of the wood.”
Saegrimr asked “And will we set out for Eyjolf tomorrow?”
Stigr and Fastbjorn looked to Herfinnr. “We will set out soon, but not tomorrow. The Duke was able to send out six score of mounted knights in the sortie, and that was sufficient for the three hundreds of vergrinn that remained after they crossed the bridge, but your father’s men said there were at least two thousands of the vergrinn. The Duke has called out the muster throughout the duchy. It may take several days for the men to arrive and be provisioned. As soon as the muster is ready a force will be sent, and it may be three thousand spears or more.” Amundr had never heard of three thousand men fighting in one battle. The thought overwhelmed him.
“What of Aoalbert? Clearly he survived. Will his cowardice go unpunished?” Amundr asked the question out of bitterness and anger.
It was Herfinnr who spoke. “For now, Aoalbert is being treated with the benefits befitting his station. Fear not, the truth of the battle at Svanr Bridge will be known.” Herfinnr looked up at the high table on the dais at the end of the hall. It took Amundr a moment to realize that Aoalbert was sitting up there at the Duke’s own table!