When the ice closed in, the ships were caught. Thane Ranne’s wounded fleet lay close to a rocky shore, the ice too thick to force a way through. The half-dozen longships groaned as the ice locked them in and winter descended, coating their dragon prows with ice. The sky was low and heavy with snow, and the winds from the northern seas were bitter and hungry, seeking for blood.
Buran was a young hearthman, and this raid had not borne him the fruits he had hoped for. He huddled against the rail on watch, keeping his gaze on the ice. He could not see far in the dim light, and the haze of the low clouds made the world a place of shadow and darkness. This had been his first taste of war, and it had been bitter.
A dozen war craft had set out, planning a surprise attack on the shores of Hadrad. It was the closing days of autumn, and no one would expect a sudden attack in ill weather and cold seas. They had planned to fire King Arnan’s hall and then range along the shores and pillage settlements and the halls of lesser thanes. Then they would slip back north before the freeze and return home covered in glory and laden with plunder.
But the ice came early and slowed their passage southward. Arnan and his war-hound Crune had been warned, and when they went ashore they met a heavy force of steel-clad warriors that threw them back into the sea with a price of blood. Buran had taken a hard blow on the helm and been carried senseless back to the ships as they escaped. Two had been burned before they could put to sea, and the others were short of crew.
There had been other raids in the weeks since, ships going ashore to plunder for firewood and food, rather than gold. Ranne still dreamed of a rich strike to fill the ship holds with treasure, but there was nothing. The heavy autumn mists separated the longships and now they were only six, with many wounded and hungry men. Now the winter had come and trapped them, and they would have to remain here until the thaw came in spring. The men looked ahead to privation and hunger and long winter nights. Already there were bitter words and hidden anger.