MarkMaker #16

Posted: April 12, 2013 in Viking novel
Tags: ,

(C) 2013.
I tell him. He shakes his head, “Asmundr…”
“I know, it looks bad but I need to know.”
Ragi enters the hut and is surprised to see Valdr sitting up.
He smiles and offers the young man a drink of fresh sheep milk which he readily drains. I hold out my hand and breakfast on the sweet cup too. I look at Ragi and he nods. I begin to strap on the splint and reach for my crutch again. Together we set out to the beach.
There is fresh green seaweed washed up in lumps all over the small grey beach. Driftwood litters the ground and I resist the impulse to collect it as I have so many times before on our own section of the beach. Gulls coarse cries add an eerie backdrop to the grey crashing waves. A storm is brewing out to sea, the sharp tang of rain is on the air. Ragi moves nimbly over the rocks unlike me. I am as awkward as a crab. My eyes hurt from concentrating on each and every shape around me, searching for anything that might give me a clue to what happened to her. Ragi waits patiently while I catch up. “Here, he says,” This is where I found the cloak.” I drop to the sand and rub my hand over its surface, willing the essence of her to spring up out of the sand or her sense to tell me what I need to look for. The cloak had dropped, fortunately out of the reach of the waves. Ragi has enough sense to let me watch and feel for a while. He wanders off up the shore, gathering the driftwood that keeps us all warm without effort.
The sand draws me back. The only hope she is alive is if she is slave again as she came to me, captured in her native land, the islands above the Pictish Isle, the Norseman’s new realm. But how, after all these weeks to know if the cloak is ripped then dropped as men flee here, more like monsters not men, dropped by them or by her? After I look well for many moments, the dragging shape of their keel as it was heaved back into the surf appears to my tired eyes. I touch the edges of the furrow the keel drew in the sand, the edges softened now by weeks of wind over the beach. Its definition is too sandblasted for me to tell if the keel is one we use or not. I drag my bad leg alongside the shape and touch the sand as I go at intervals hoping, with my heart bursting that I can make something tell me here messages I must know. Ragi comes back weighed down by sticks, concerned, I can tell at my anguish. “Stay till the storm”, he advises.
I continue my searches. A dried fish, a seal skull and the curved half of a leather shoe are all I find after some time. The sky blackens and the surf begins to roar with increasing violence. I look along the empty beach and try to visualise her last moments here. Would she think I had survived? I had left her in the hut and this is the last I can remember until I woke up with my face in my own vomit. How long were we together? One winter to one winter, a year. Was this time enough to forge a bond unbreakable or was the pull of her own islands still strong in her heart and the chance to escape stronger still as a way back. But what of the monsters? Did she witness their carnage of her fellow countrywomen? And why she, of them all, was saved to be taken away? If she was at all.
She was a woman of skill. In the time I knew her, she was adept at the arts of healing and taught me some of her ways: the use of herbs and plants to stem blood flow or take away pain; the grinding of poultices to draw out the poison in a wound; the setting of a broken limb. She birthed babies I saw discarded on the hillside and I wish, I hope, her eyes did not take in those awful sights, her handiwork all wasted, their mothers never to birth again. She surprised me by how willingly she gave of her sweet loving and how expert she was at bringing me pleasure and prolonging the ecstasy. For many a moon’s progress from fingernail to coin, she spoke her own language and laughed at me trying to copy until I made her speak mine which she did one or two words a day, repeated often. Soon the daily round of food, weaving and helping me with the forge was spoken in our native tongue with her strange and weird accent. She and Valdr began to speak of our island and our life and after a long time, she spoke of hers. She described her island and their customs similar to our own. Her speech had sounds like ours too and I detected some common heritage for us both. She would never say her real name or her family name so I called her Isla because she made the island new for me.

I walk back to the hut in my crab way. I am bursting with questions.


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