Archive for January, 2013

Mark Maker 9

Posted: January 20, 2013 in Viking novel
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She is coming across the water. As she leans out over the gunwale her hair splays out like drifting fine cobwebs dusted with the dew in a morning that is all bright. The boat is crowded with passengers, their few barrels of food and poor cloth-wrapped possessions show a desperate haste and a neediness which touches me to the heart. More even than the grey -streaked faces set in lines like seals. Her face is grimy too but the blonde hair is like embroidered gold on the back of the blue sky. The passengers on the longship all look to the crude wharf, their faces show them pondering how their feet might move after so long on the heavy seas. The sailors begin to help the passengers gather their few items and lift them over the boat’s edge. I am surprised when the boat is dock-fastened and when their delicate feet begin to plant themselves on the earth again that they are all women. No youths too as we expected to help with the farms’ labours. They huddle near the boat in their loom-cast kirtles, not a silver saucer-brooch among them, only crude lacing holds the shifts on their shoulders. She looks at me and I feel a fire flash up from my loins and I try to stop the flame flushing my face by looking down at the pebbles on the shore. Every one looks like the blue of her eyes and the solid want of her gaze.
The women have taken up their things now and are moving along the beach towards us. We, all we men stand stock still. It is the woman’s right to choose and it’s the only way that works. They will be more than employed by us. They are here to replace the women we have lost or never had. The skills they bring us are much needed- cloth-making, food preserving, stock tending when we are away and all the multitude of gifts a woman can bring, not the least of which is to spirit-meld. Men who boast of blood-hunger and war, who hack limbs from enemies as soon as slaughter a sheep ache for the other half of themselves in the cold space of a night when everything big becomes small and when all the woes of the day are heightened. Then the comfort of a warm curved back is immeasurable and the horrors of the night fade as when the sun lifts its eyelids open at the horizon. She, the first one to move, walks straight up to me and places her bundle at my feet. My friends are merciless in their teasing of me and I want to take their ears and knock their noses together. I stand looking at her from her toes to the fair crown of her head. Wordlessly, I take up the bundle and turn and she follows silently behind me. I will never forget the feeling of warmth that floods through me again and I want to feel it forever.
But I wake from my dream and feel the horror of her absence anew.

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Mark Maker #8

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Viking novel
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I feel myself being dragged and then I am on a sleigh and the world is flying by like I am on an ice flow or a frozen lake. The aching and bitter cold has sunk deep into my limbs and my brain shuts down again.
When I wake time has stopped and I cannot recognise where I am. There is warm and a boiling broth is being forced into my mouth. My burdens of food are stacked in a corner. My eyes slowly focus on the ginger beard and blue eyes of Ragi, a sheep farmer from the other side of the island.
“Can you speak?” he asks?
I am trying to breathe so speaking is hard. I do not want to know that Valdr is dead. My lips cannot frame the question.
Ragi is patient. He fills the gaps of my answering with his own words.

“Now and then when my ear wants for the sound of a voice, I go to the village. Trade a few sheepskins, some cheese, share some ale.” Ragi squints up his eyes and pauses. The fires crackles and its warmth is unbelievable. “But why did they come here? In the Winter? For what? No one left to tell me who they was… except you. I see they slice you up good too but you must be stronger than most to live as you have.”
It was a question I wasn’t ready to answer.
“My brother !” I croaked.
“Valdr?”
“I left him to get help.”
“How bad is he?”
“Both legs, one skewered, one mangled. I need to get him food!”
“No, you need to stay here!’ Ragi stands, a stocky man with his ginger beard and blond plait, his face cracked with cold.
“Between the three of us we got three good legs and I own two of ’em.” He places the sheep meat broth within my reach and proceeds to stack up the fire with logs. I give him directions to our farm.
“You rest until I get back. The killers are all gone, whoever they were. Nothing more left for ’em to do, so sleep!”
I need no more suggestion and soon fall again in a deep and restless dream.

Mark Maker #7

Posted: January 10, 2013 in Viking novel
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(c) Amundr 2013
A trip of a few hours has taken me all day and now I feel I cannot go on. I think of you, my wife, every step that I take but now I feel lost. I must return to Valdr empty-handed, my exertions have brought us nought but a deepening despair. I turn and go down the slope. The tears freeze on my face.

I have retreated from the village with leaden steps. In the time it has taken me to struggle around the village on my rough skis I have seen enough. Pink snow and frozen corpses litter the roads, doorways and ravaged huts of the town. Men I have fished with and drawn a bow leer upwards into the swirling whiteness of snow flurries in a final grimace of unfair fate and uncaring gods. Torbjorn, Whitebeard and the youthful Lars lay where they fought to the death to protect their women and children. They failed. I have painfully searched each hut. No one is left alive. Not even babes. I want to sink into the snow and die with them.”How can no one have lived?” I scream into the pitiless white of the biting blizzard. The most draining, stomach churning realisation washes over me as I witness the aftermath of the massacre of my fellow islanders. All these simple souls have died until the last breath of the last left living has itself frozen into the pounding sky. So what of my beauty? What of my precious one? How could she possibly have survived what no one else here has? I want to take Torbjorn’s dropped dagger and cut my throat there and then to blend in with the already lost. To join their piled corpses. I cannot. Valdr waits on my arrival. Even if he is to die too, he deserves to know what has happened here. I gather what food I can carry and a few arms, some swords, another dagger and continue the retreat. The bitter snow will hide what is better never to have seen for a few months yet. Then in the Thaw, their poor shrunken and frozen bodies will be picked clean by sea birds after the wolves and foxes have taken what they want. If I was able I would pile them and burn all as is proper. I cannot even do this last ritual. Bile rushes up to fill my mouth. No help is here. No help, nothing anymore. How I get back to Valdr, I do not know.

White, blurring, cutting white. Snow slices my face and scratches my eyeballs. It’s impossible to move. My legs are stone. My mind is slush and dirty snow. I have become the hills, the track, the rocks that line the shore. I want forward. I cannot go. I want backward and backwards is denied me. Forwards is recognition of my Fate sealed. I need to know but I do not want to know. Not knowing means she is still alive. Not knowing means Valdr is still alive. Even if I am to be dead at last, I am trapped in no time like a slippery fish in net. I want to stay fish white in this hell of hope. Not knowing. Not knowing can claim me for itself. I will embrace it with my death. The dragon boat of Ragnarok can sail without me. The snow piles up in a drift around my ankles. I am slowly freezing under my many skins. I will become a tree with a cloak of needles covered in white. In the Thaw my bones will litter the beach’s edge.
“Asmundr!”
I hear Valdr calling me.
“Asmundr”
I feel the sword in his thigh white hot in my back.
“Get up!” He calls.
I feel the push in my back again.
“Get up!”
I am dragged up.
A wet, yelling face is in mine.
“Asmundr! It’s me!

Mark Maker #6

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Viking novel
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c) Amundr 2013
With freshly killed and cooked rabbit inside him Valdr begins to speak lucidly,” Where is Isla?”
I look at him in a way that needs no answer.
“No!”
“What can I do?” I point to my broken leg and then to him.
“How can you just sit … here!”
I draw away from him and his accusations and pull furs over myself on the platform. At times like this emotions stop me answering. I will not tell him how much pain both in my body and in my head I am suffering.
“I thought you were dead,” he goes on. “I screamed and screamed and you didn’t come. Those f—king beserkers had killed you too, I thought. You don’t know…you don’t know.. how I felt when…”
“You have no idea how long it took to get back in here.”
“In the village, the Thing must decide. They will meet and we will have blood revenge. As soon as we are able…”
“Shut up Valdr! Look at us! Your leg is swollen too much. It might have to…”
Valdr squints his eyes at me, “I’d rather have one leg and go out in the boat to find her than stay here doing nothing!”
I’d seen amputations before. I’d even assisted when they needed the hot iron to sear the flesh. But I am not going to cut off my brother’s leg. There was another way. However I am weak. It’s hard to get food in your mouth when your jaw is broken. I can only eat food I mash into a broth. Valdr’s anger has begun to work on me. When I think back on that time now, I think I must been a little mad with grief after Isla was taken. Sick, weak and mad. But Valdr deserved to live. Ten years younger than me, he’d never even had a woman.
I begin to sharpen sticks to splint my leg really firmly. When this was done and wrapped three times for warmth I wind a tablet-woven strip of wool, Isla had been working on around my jaw. I jam on a fur cap and fasten a cape of fur around my shoulders. I eat what food I can while Valdr watches. He still has half the rabbit.
“I am going on the skis.”
My brother grunts as if to say, why has it taken so long to think of them?
“I’ll be back,” I say as I crawl out the door to the store hut to find skis.

I choose midday to leave when the light is best. The village is further up on craggy platforms of rock than our farm which is closer to the bay. A rough track wends its way up the slopes which thankfully are covered now in snow. Its defensive position is reinforced by high sod walls garlanded also in a wreath of whiteness. Too often raiders have come into the bay, beached their longships and run amok. So the village is crowded, the longhouses inconveniently close, the roads cramped and mud strewn. Winter until those few weeks ago was safe for us. It was in the Summer when the seas are favourable and Winter’s stock of goods are stored in the holds of vessels to trade that we would expect raiders. We’d fought them before, Valdr and I, with men of the village to help us; men who stayed to watch over their flocks of sheep and cattle on the summer pastures. I’d buried the corpses of our enemies myself in places to ensure better pasture and keep the gods appeased. I’d buried them without a thought of their families or women and now I was paying a price. We might have taken them as slaves but the Village Thing had decided. There were too many here already to feed anyone else even if they worked dawn to dusk for their share.
Pushing the thought of slavery and what it means from my head, I continue my struggle uphill. Every movement is a searing pain, sliding on the snow being no better than hopping on rocks. It feels like at every step that I will fall and smash my leg all over again. It is only the thought of Valdr’s pale face in agony and my wife’s unknown terrors that keep me onward.

Mark Maker # 5

Posted: January 1, 2013 in Viking novel
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(C)) 2013 Amundr

Dried fish, oatmeal and now warmed snow melt makes up the bulk of our diet. I have made myself a crutch to hobble around on. Valdr’s wound is an angry red and I fear he is now developing a fever. He moans in his sleep and cannot hold much food down. I tend him best I can but it is not enough.

A week further has gone since my darling was taken from me and stil I can do nothing. I tried walking in the snow with a crutch. It’s impossible. I just keep falling over. I can only hope that someone from the village will arrive soon and I can borrow their horse. I was not able to bury Shimla, my beautiful dog until  yesterday and then only in a shallow grave scraped into the snow. She might have pulled me on a sled far enough to get help but now there’s nothing I can do but wait and hope the salted fish lasts until help arrives…

Two nights have passed and a blizzard has kept me from even opening the door. This morning, I shovelled snow from the entrance and gazed out over the enclosure in front of our hut. There was a fox’s prints in the snow with some spots of blood from a rabbit he must have caught. Perhaps the smell of Shimla’s body has attracted him. The thought of fresh meat for Valdr spurned me on to crawling over to where Shimla is buried and scraping a hole in the ground beside her. Inside it I have fastened long, sharp sticks, covered the top with thin sticks woven into a lattice with a cloth over that enough to stop the snow weighing it down into the hole. The fresh snow will soon make it look like the surrounding area. If the fox comes back, I hope he won’t notice. As soon as I tend and feed Valdr, I have taken to sitting near the door to listen for the fox though he is more likely to come tonight.

The moon shines on the tops of the bluish pines which shelter us when the wind blows up from the bay. I am watching a rabbit hop under the pines to a spot where it scatches for frozen sages and moss. I was stupid not to set a trap for it but its where villagers might step if they come and I can’t risk that. Tomorrow I will search out its burrow. It must be somewhere under the pines. Though I watched and listened most of the night, the fox didn’t come.