Thursday, September 18, 2014

Snow Fall, Frost Water: Leiknarr's Burden

The high squeal of the motor disturbed him. Leiknarr looked over his shoulder and glanced at it. Smoke was evaporating off the metal chassis. The motor needed oil. He knew because he had planned on stopping by the market in Orn to scavenge some for himself. It was the downside to owning something so urbane, so unrefined, as a diesel motor. But there was power in it, burning the dead. He observed the heft of the haul against the gentle waters. It reminded him of his youth and the storms he fought, when he sailed to the Nordsj√ł and back.

One call had brought him out, rousing him in the morning.  A boisterous voice echoed from the withered receiver saying he needed transport to the south county. Leiknarr obliged with a surplus rate, but the man on the other end didn’t seem to mind.

Navigating his rudder, Leiknarr saw a rugged man bent over his traveling sack, seated on a round stone in the deep waters, not a hundred paces from the shore. He pulled the ship in. As he did, the man pulled his head out of the sack and began to wave. This was the best part, Leiknarr knew. He would find out whether or not the man was intent on killing him, or actually needing a ride.

“Hallo there!” Leiknarr called out, keeping his hand near a construct rifle hidden away under netting and ropes beside him. “Are you the one called ‘Beda?’”

“Aye, tis I,” Beda answered getting to his feet. He slid down the face of the standing rock until his feet broke the surface of the freezing waters. He stumbled back and forth, nearly losing his balance, until he centered himself back on the rock with a steady hand. Leiknarr smiled and backed his hand away from the construct rifle satisfied.

“Before you get in,” Leiknarr said, reaching for the motor and cutting it, “The pay, please.”

Leiknarr’s boat floated gradually towards Beda.

Beda held up a hand apologetically and, with his free hand, rummaged inside his traveling bag.

“Apologies, ferryman. I have your coin here… somewhere. Ah, yes!”

He pulled out a white pouch and lobbed it forward to Leiknarr, who extended a net on a handle out over the boat to catch it. Pulling it back into the boat, Leiknarr felt the heft of the sack. Inside the bag was the agreed price and a warm feeling of victory washed over him. It was a beginning to look like a good day.

He helped Beda into the boat, setting his things aside at the front. Leiknarr sat at the back, keeping a watchful eye on his passenger. Without introduction Beda’s eyes roamed around him. He bent over the side of the boat and scooped a handful of water into his hand. He drank some, much to Leiknarr’s distaste, and spat it back out. Beda nodded with approval, curiously.

“Something in the water, friend?” Leiknarr asked as he started up the motor. Their bodies lurched backward, feeling the weight of the propellers dig into the current. Beda held his arms out, maintaining his balance.

“Helps me relax, you see,” Beda replied. “Not much of a traveler.”

“You accent says otherwise,” said Leiknarr over the squeal of the motor. “Where are you from? Breton? Southern Nordheim, across the frozen sea?”

The patron snapped his fingers in delight and pointed at Leiknarr enthusiastically.

“Breton,” Beda chimed. “I’m from Breton. I’m on a journey, the kind you write home about, though you could say I lost my ‘quill.’”

Leiknarr let his eyes look toward the frosted sky, vaulted and clear for miles. His breath spilled from his mouth like a geyser. He wondered to himself when the last time he remembered seeing a Breton.

“Didn’t think the lands across the sea bore many Bretons. I heard they were wiped out,” Leiknarr pondered aloud. He looked Beda in the eye, filled with morbid intrigue. Beda mouthed a reply, but found no words. He shrunk with befuddlement and ran his fingers through his knotted brown hair.

“Aye, you could say that,” the Breton finally replied. “Not many of us full blood’d chaps left in the world. Nothing but half-breeds and charlatans. I sought greener pasture across the wayside.”

“You did?”

“’The Northman, he knows how to live.’ I was told this by a quaint traveler I saw in the Orkney, south of the lunatics that aren’t kind to us ‘enlightened’ folk. So up I went. Thought it best, with the fair climes and no war ragin’.”

Leiknarr nodded thoughtfully in approval. Leaning forward in the boat, Leiknarr opened a chest before him. Inside it were steaks of smoked salmon. He picked one out and held it up to Beda.

“That’s not what I think it is,” said Beda, taking the piece in his hand. “Is it? No… No, it can’t be.”

“They are natural here,” Leiknarr replied, grabbing one for himself.  “These are Fjord Salmon.”

“Attributed, no doubt, to the downfall of man, king, and country.”

Beda took a large bite from the steak and chewed slowly, mesmerized.

“Father be praised,” he exclaimed. “This is bloody marvelous. I chose right by you.”

Leiknarr raised his hand.

“I am a ferryman, nothing more,” he assured Beda. “I suit best when I listen and make the best of poor weather, poor people.”

“Here! Here!” Beda exclaimed.

Leiknarr moved his hand over the throttle handle behind him and cranked the lever slowly until it opened up. The boat picked up speed, propping the nose of the boat into the air. The southern country was near the coast, out on the open waters. It would take a few hours he suspected. Above him snow banks shifted in the sky. Leiknarr held his breath. He wasn’t prepared for a blizzard.

The first hour of the journey proved civil; the second contained spotty conversation. Nearly four hours past, Beda lay sound asleep in the boat, covered by thick furs and warm seal skin gloves. The bitter cold nipped Leiknarr’s cheeks as the snow began to fall over the fjord, and it reminded him of Fjellheim: His father tightly holds an old-world rifle, pushing him along the trail. Softly, his father kneels in the path. Powder crunches under his knee, packing it deeper into the ice below it. “Watch me,” he says. “There is a troll around here. It will eat you.”

His father believed in strength. Leiknarr believed in something else. The hole in his heart was proof enough that he had yet to discover what that was exactly. His mother screaming, his father shouting, these and other memories surged into him, savagely overriding his conscience.

Beda slept.

 Leiknarr took two pills, both hidden deep within his breast pocket, and made the visions go away.
Prodding him, Leiknarr roused Beda when the boat pulled into the harbor of Berg. People were friendly there, and it was far enough south for the stranger seeking new life. Taking a good look at the place, Beda cautiously approved. 

“Mmm, you are a good boatman,” Beda said. His voice was full of appreciation and thanksgiving. “My best to your kinsmen. I go to seek mine, wherever they are.”

The thought of such an idea repulsed Leiknarr, but he smiled nonetheless. That was the right thing to do. As he watched Beda disappear into the crowds, Leiknarr observed the people. He was no stranger to Berg; he knew them. But he wasn’t ready.

“Not yet,” Leiknarr murmured. He pushed the boat back out into the frosted sea.

“Not yet.”

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