Erlend’s grip on the drekar’s prow never slackened though his left hand was missing two fingers, an old injury. The salt spray sailed high over the horned serpent carved into the front of the ship, saturating his beard and rolling in beads off of his well oiled scale. The drum beat the fastest cadence the rowers could stand, but Erlend’s heart outran it. No wind would be hard enough. No crew would be stout enough. If they failed to make a landing soon they would all die in these foreign waters.
Either way they would all die without seeing Stormhome again.
Seventy two Dragonships, some drekars like his own, some the more formidable skei-ships with thirty benches, had launched from Stormhome. Their goal: to outrun the nightmare dawning in the north. A most ignoble flight for a Stormhir captain, but one which most accepted as necessary. No axe could defeat a plague. No shield could ward off death itself. No glory was to be had in the starless night of total annihilation. Women, children, entire villages – erased. The earth salted. The livestock poisoned. The end.
But even ships will not save a people the Gods have doomed. Erlend knew not where the majority of the seventy two were now. He and his men were alone. Running over white-capped swells with a desperation they’d never before known. Fearing to look over their shoulder to see if Hel rode the sea behind them with her army of Draugr.
Erlend and his men would have laughed in the face of any mortal enemy. They would have died with a smile under any other circumstances. Tonight they rowed up a narrow bay their tears freezing on their cheeks as Erlend scanned the horizon for light. A village, a fort, a hostile port. Any place to make landing and forever leave the sea behind.