Erland was resting against an ash tree, a thousand feet above the road. A simple tent sat open next to a smoldering fire pit. He had just woken up; the sun was high. Even so, he hadn’t slept long. Emile had scared off his horse and forced him to escape on foot. By the time he circled back to camp, the sun was rising. It had been hard to lose the dogs. His fractured rib had slowed him down.
A flock of black birds fled the trees along the mountain pass below. Groggily, he ducked to the ground and crawled to the edge of the cliff to see what had scared them. Two men passed through a clearing directly below. They were dressed in the same dark cloaks, chainmail and pointed helmets as Erland. Northmen – looking for him.
He scrambled back to his tent and grabbed his unstrung bow. Quickly, he set one end against his foot and bent the limbs until the string found its notch. He scoffed, loud enough for the sword to hear. Why should he feel guilty about using another weapon? It’s not as if it were another woman.
Erland set his cooking pot on the hot coals and threw a little onion in. The scent filled the air almost immediately. He took a deep breath, satisfied, and walked down the slope from his campsite to meet his uninvited guests. A group of large boulders were clustered where the ground flattened. He hid among the stones and waited with an arrow nocked. I told them not to follow, he thought. Gods forgive me.