The ships came with the break of winter’s grasp, and they covered the sea with darkness. The black sails of the fleet of King Hror loomed through fog and sea-spray, and all who saw it fled from the promise of death. The watchers who guarded the sea paths scattered from his coming. They lit their warning fires and then they fled into the hills or rowed hard for home in their slender ships. War had come upon the southlands, and it came with summer’s burning.
The days grew longer and they reached the place where ships lay dead in the shallows, and their burnt prows rose up to the gray sky. There was a fire on the headland, and there was planted the banner of Ranne, the thane who first declared for the usurper. He had set forth to raid in later winter, and none had heard of what became of him. Boats went ashore to gather whatever remained.
Ranne and a hundred of his men were brought across the water, and the red-bearded thane was gray-faced and thin. His face was dark with smoke from winter fires when they brought him before Hror, son of Herun, who men already named the Red King.
Hror stood and came to the thane, gripped his shoulders in greeting and looked at him. Already the once outlaw bore himself more like a king. He wore a red cloak and a wolfskin mantle, and the patch over his empty left eye socket glittered with a ruby grasped in golden hooks. “We heard nothing,” he said. “Come, tell me what has happened.”
Ranne nodded and followed, took a horn with grateful hands and drank deep from it. “We came south to attack the king’s hall, but they were warned of our coming,” he said. “We reaved along the shore and burned houses and ships, but they were gathered to oppose us, and we could not strike as deeply as we wished.” His hands shook as he drank from the cup of honey wine.
“We turned north, to find shelter before the ice closed off the sea. We did not escape, and were locked in the ice. We settled into camp for the winter, and then . . . and then . . .”