He walked alone along the shore towards the docks when something burned his nostrils. It was faint, but it was unmistakably smoke. Rather than the warmth of cooking meat, it smelled more like a burning building, but the nearest building was in town and he was sure that the people of Bjørn would have been on full alert if there was a fire.
Bregðask looked out over the sea as the scent grew a little stronger with the breeze. In the distance, there was the trail of smoke drawing closer from the horizon. Squinting, he could barely make out the shape of a Bjørn ship. Before he’d realized it, he’d stood and ran down the road towards the docks where people were beginning to gather and hustle into boats to meet the damaged ship.
There was a large man shouting orders and calling for aid over the sound of rushing bodies. His dark hair was pulled high up on his head, and his expression was grim beneath his thick beard.
Bregðask went to him, “How can I help?”
The man spun around and looked down at him with a huff. While not dismissive, there was skepticism in his dark gaze.
“I appreciate the initiative. You can make sure not to get stepped on, lad.” He turned and yelled at the group of men coming down the hill towards them, “Where’s the healer?”
“I have medical training,” Bregðask said, “And I’m more capable than I look.”
Before the man could respond, another plume of smoke started on the far off boat and Bregðask could hear the faint sound of an explosion.
“Damn, pirates,” he turned back to yell up the docks, “Get ready for a fight!”
Bregðask squinted. He had clear vision for dozens of miles, so if he had to squint to see them clearly, they were at least fifty sea miles away from shore. No matter how fast the people of Bjørn rowed out, with a boat full of weapons and pirates on the tail of a badly damaged ship, there was neither a chance that the boat would make it into safe enough water soon enough nor that the men of Bjørn would reach them in time.
They either had to slow the pirates down or pull the boat in faster.
“They’re too far to row out in time,” the leader of the docks hissed, “Get men together, the best archers with magic rope arrows. We’ll pull them in! Get the heavy artillery ready, whatever we can that will reach those pirates.”
Bregðask ran off with the group of men to get bows and arrows. He tied a rope to his arrow and took aim with the rest of the archers.
“They’re too far to see,” someone cursed, “I can’t even see that far let alone shoot.”
“Can anyone get a clear shot?”
“Give it a fucking try anyway! The rest of you, armor on and axes ready! Where are the damn long-range canons!”
“We don’t have any that would reach that far.”
Bregðask exhaled and let his arrow fly into what was left of the mast and took hold as the others fired. Three other men shot and hit the deck as a figure ran to the back of the boat and held up a shield.
“What are they doing?” someone asked, “They could abandon ship and swim
The men grabbed hold of the ropes and began to pull while a man with a spyglass took post on the dock.
“Pirates just on their tail and gaining,” the man with a spyglass hissed, “She’s trying to distract them. It’s Calia.”
The large man cursed, “She’ll get herself fucking killed, and what are we supposed to tell Torvald?”
“That she’s his daughter?”
A man jumped overboard and started swimming towards shore. Soon after, four others followed suit. From what Bregðask could see there were others onboard the ship too injured to do anything but lay behind what little coverage the remnants of the boat could give. A bright light flashed and tore through the side of the boat before crashing into the water a few miles from the shore.
Magic, he thought, his heart jumped.
They were just off the coast and probably just out of the range that the island could affect them. With the ocean acting as a buffer between the pirates’ mage and the island, the mage could tear the boat to pieces without much hassle long before it would be impossible to retrieve any of the supplies on the boat. The only option would be to get rid of the mage.
Get rid of him, Bregðask thought and shuddered.
“They have a mage? Why didn’t she just surrender the damn ship?”
“You know she’d never do that,” the leader grunted, “Just like her damn father. Call for the dugrforingi, we might have pirates to deal with onshore if they’ve hired a fucking mage. They’ve chased them this close to the island, they won’t be shy about coming on shore, and send word to Frejyr, we need help. Get the canons ready, there’s a chance we can ward them off.”
“They’ll never get here in time.”
Another flash of light tore through the air and crashed onto the beach not too far from them. Sand exploded into a plume of solid crystal as the water sloshed onto the shore. The boat rocked in the distance, and the figure he guessed to be Calia struggled back onto her feet to try and distract them with a badly aimed canon ball. She was too injured it seemed to even see straight.
You have to get rid of the mage, Bregðask thought, It’s the only way.
He looked around and saw the men glaring out into the distance helpless and furious. The leader seemed calm, still giving orders, but when their eyes met briefly, Bregðask knew that he was running out of ideas of how to save the people on the boat even as the people swimming towards shore were collected on the few skips that had left the harbor.
“Damn! Call Freyr anyway. Late is better than never!”
No one else is a mage.
“That’s Mjöllnir’s banner,” the lookout said, “The bastards.”
It has to be me, he thought.
Bregðask felt his heart racing and the adrenaline kicking in as he kneeled and grabbed an arrow without a rope tied to it. On the dock and above the waves, he didn’t feel the pull of the island, so with any luck, the spell he planned to cast on the arrow would hold. The pirate’s boat was another twenty sea miles away from the merchant ship. Bregðask was a good shot but the element of surprise was what would make it most effective. If he missed, the mage would attack the docks.
And if he didn’t, they would have time.
What if I kill him? He thought, his heart hammering. He forced the thought away, I don’t have to kill him. Just incapacitate him.
His heart trembled, filled with trepidation, but time was running out as he saw the man gearing up to cast another spell that would likely rip the boat apart. Callia remained on deck and fired another cannonball that barely glanced off the side of the pirate’s ship before swaying away from it to another cannon.
Ullr’s blessing on this arrow to cast away enemies in my sight, Bregðask prayed taking in a deep breath as the spell etched itself down the shaft of the arrow warm and glowing, By Odin’s grace, may it fly straight. Through Njord’s might, wind part.
His arms burned from drawing the bow and his sight extended beyond the fledgling boat, past the woman with her shield raised high to the mage who stood on the deck preparing to cast another spell.
Them or him, Bregðask thought, It has to be me. No one else can. You have to Bregðask.
“You’re a good shot kid, but you’ll never hit that far out,” the man with the spyglass said, “It’s at least a hundred sea miles.”
You have to Kostr, Bregðask thought and steadying his breathing. Aunt Hilda, what should I do?
He remembered sitting in the kitchen with Hilda as she cleaned up his wounds after a rough day at school and trying to defend a young woman from Sigfrøðr’s advances.
“What difference does it make for me to stand up every time if it changes nothing? I might be his son but I don’t have any power.”
“Power comes in many forms, Kostr,” she’d said with a gentle smile, “Everyone has their own form of power, it is just a matter of how it is used.”
“What good is it if it does nothing.”
“How you use your power, whatever it may be and however much it may be, tells you who you are,” she’d said and kissed his head, “For all the power that you have and all that you don’t, you have never let it stop you from doing what is right and what no one else has the courage to do… That is a power worth having and a person worth being.”
She’d tell him to shoot if he could, and so, he would.
Bregðask let out a shuddering breath, If Tyr judges my cause just, his will be done.
He let the arrow tear through the air between the dock and the pirate’s ship. It shook the boat as it passed. The pirates yelled a warning, but it was too late. The arrow found its target and buried itself in the mage’s chest, killing him near instantly. His body jerked, the spell fizzled out, and his eyes stared out into nothing as he collapsed dead on the deck.
Bregðask watched as the pirates hustled towards the fallen body. They checked the man’s pulse and then look towards the docks and squinted. The man with a captain’s hat on his head screamed some order that Bregðask couldn’t hear or read from his lips as his heart thundered in his chest. He felt someone’s hand on his shoulder trying to shake him.
The pirates scrambled and another person came from behind the group of men. The new man looked down at the fallen man as the horrible reality of the man’s death made Bregðask’s hands tremble.
He’d just killed a man. The bow fell from his hands clattering as the horror rose and filled him. The man was dead. He hadn’t meant to kill him.
Murderer, something in him whispered, yet something else was calm, indifferent even to it.
How could he be indifferent he’d just killed a man! His stomach roiled.
“Who the hell are you kid?” The question shook him out of the daze and he looked up at the leader who had almost dismissed him earlier trying to understand what the man wanted. His eyes were calm above him and he met Bregðask’s gaze, “Can you do that again?”
His hands shook. Tyr had found his cause just, his motive fair, but that didn’t mean it was right. He’d just killed a man.
Oh Gods, what have I done?
If Tyr judges my cause just, his will be done.
The spell felt like a lie, an attempt to evade the truth. He’d just killed a man!
I had to, he thought, He would have killed them. Would have sunk the boat.
The arrow had sunk into his chest with unerring accuracy. He hadn’t been aiming for his chest.
Tyr’s will be done, Bregðask thought and shuddered, his stomach roiling. He’d seen men be killed. Seen the light leave their eyes and felt the winds of Valkyrie chariots rush around him.
This was different.