Red Waters | Teen Ink

Red Waters

April 8, 2019
By N GOLD, Eagle, Wisconsin
N GOLD, Eagle, Wisconsin
18 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Everything happens for a reason."


    The ship waited impatiently in cold Norse waters; it bathed in a bitter, fish-filled bay. Clots of blood–both old and new–stained the once turquoise sea. But the red tasted like wealth and thick, meaty riches. It smelled like a well-roasted goat. Tender mutton, earthy, watered-down vegetables, and barrels of honey-sweet mead. A meal of great victory.

    “We are to be back before the river rises, Móðir. When ice still covers the land,” said Þórir with promise.

    “Thor will guide you, my son.” A red-haired woman stood before Þórir, voice a crescendo of hope and pride. The touch of her pale, bare hand warmed Þórir’s cheek, but it could not stop his tears from freezing. And with a final embrace and a few soft-spoken words, she surrendered her youngest son to the sea. She gave her son to me.

    Þórir walked the hull of the idling ship, eyes on frigid Norse waters. His intrigued expression was typical to that of even his outmost kin. Þórir’s eyes were a deep cobalt. They teemed with determination and courage, blue matching the tint of the ocean’s twilight zone. In honesty, I liked him. Þórir, Thor’s warrior, the boy who’d only just been granted the tight beard of manhood. With long hair made of thin strips of rusted gold, white-pink muscles etched by Odin, he stood, an undeniable beauty. I had admired him from the beginning, when the red-haired woman dipped her infant into my Norse waters. She cleansed him of afterbirth and warmed him with wool and the touch of her pale, thin hand. In response, he cried with joy, for Freyja had made a world so beautiful, and an infant could not contain such emotion.

    It was when Þórir finally reached the ship’s bow that I felt it. It was like the early cramp of a nervous, sour stomach. A peculiar feeling. And with it, a drop of rain fell. Then another…and another. Yet Þórir stood still, staring at the paddle in his hand. The fawn-colored oak darkened with every drop, but Þórir saw no issue. The loud, lengthy ship would not scare from an autumn rainfall. Instead, the ship’s men shouted–all forty of them. And with their shouts, the ship set sail.

    The fleet slid over the whitecaps, cutting v-shaped ridges in the ocean’s skin. Dozens of paddles nipped at the tide. The welts were soon stitched over by a smooth current, and the angry whitecaps resumed. There was a frustration at sea. An uneasiness. The brethren of ships did not feel the tightening tension of the sea below and sky above. They were indifferent to Valhalla’s growing temper and my fit of pique. The water warmed with anger, but few noticed the sting of rain on bare flesh.

    “We will see the shores of Wessex,” Þórir shouted. To his family, his friends, his brothers. “We will see them who call us pagans…and we will fight in Odin’s name,” he paused. “And our brothers and sisters–they will feast like nobles. Our children will know no hunger.”

    “When will we reach land?” The question came from a boy. One that stood close and comfortable at Þórir’s back. Þórir felt the voice on the back of his neck, warm, wet, and worried.

    “When our ship’s keel hits sand, Calder.” Þórir spared a glance at the boy. A youth young enough to be his own son. With ice-blue eyes and red-rimmed waterlines. Blond, braided hair as light as the water’s whitecaps. I very much liked him, too. I admired him from the beginning. When a black-haired woman pulled him from cold, harsh waters. As she clobbered his chest until he coughed sea, jowls dripping childhood innocence. When he spent years on land, far from sand.

    “Will we return before the Bjørn rests beneath the village?” Calder’s eyes ran faster than his thoughts, flickering across every aspect of Þórir’s face. He thought about the mother bear that had crossed through the village when the temperature was at its highest. When she visited me, cubs in tow. And then he thought about the frozen toad. The one he poked with the dull and dented blade of his seax.

    “Why?” Þórir asked, voice no longer a shout. It was just loud enough for Calder to hear over the hum of rain.

    “Or will it be when the toads and frogs thaw?”

    “Why?”

    “Móðir will need me. Her belly is big with baby. I wish to be there to pray and sing with the village. Móðir will need help with a newborn if she lives.” Calder was optimistic, but I knew better. The birthing songs were beautiful, yes. I heard them. But Frigg and Freyja were selective, and they protected very few mothers, sons, and daughters. And unlike Calder, emotion never seduced my better judgement.

    Þórir frowned. He kept his gaze pointed forward. Eyes on the ship’s bowsprit figurehead–a carved, wooden dragon.

    “Þórir?” Calder prompted once more, persistent.
    “Yes, before the frogs and toads thaw.” Þórir spoke with his guilty eyes closed, jaw clenched. His beard succeeded in covering the taut, muscular bulge of masseter. Flesh protruded as Þórir angered and tried to stop the lies from leaving his lips.

    “Before the Bjørn rests beneath the village?”

    “No, not before the Bjørn rests.”

    “Oh.”

    Þórir felt a soft, disappointed exhale on the back of his neck. The hairs of his spine fell flat from its force.

    Strong, mighty Þórir could lift boulders. He could crush bone by hand and wrestle a wolf if he wanted. He could win toga-hönk against men double his size. But strong, mighty Þórir could not spread falsehood. Not without guilt and grimace.

    They would not return before the Bjørn rested, before the toads and frogs thawed. They would return with wealth and meaty riches–when their ship’s keel hit sand. And then their children would know no hunger.

    Calder was silent, however. He did not question.

    And so, time passed.

    The men grew cold, the wind picked up, and the sun fell. The men raised their paddles, relying solely on the sails. The fabric stretched with the wind, carrying the longship further west.

    “Are we there yet, Þórir?” asked Calder.

    “No,” Þórir frowned, shaking his head.

    Calder’s head fell, for it was congested with worry and homesickness. His eyes were equally so, as they brimmed with tired tears. But he could not rest. The wind harassed the sails. It brought low-pitched ripples that kept Calder from finding sleep. And his arms ached. His muscles were weak and overused.

    Þórir was awake, but his eyes were closed. He listened to Calder’s shivering for hours before he spoke. Perhaps, he wished to distract the troubled adolescent.

    “What will you name your brother?”

    “I think it a girl. I think I will have a sister.” Calder was quick to respond, bored but thoughtful. As if he had been thinking about it. “But a name is Móðir’s choice.”

    “No, I see you with a brother. Name him Þórir. A man’s name.” Þórir chuckled. “So you have at least one man in your family.”

    Calder sat up, bear pelt slipping from his shoulders. His snappy response was muffled and masked by the throb of thunder.

    Lightning cracked the black glass of the sky, shattering it into pieces. For a moment, Þórir could see the full ship. He watched his men wake; their expressions were stoic, void of emotion. They were prepared. They had reached England many times and encountered twice as many storms. They were expert navigators.

    For a moment, there was silence, and the autumn air polluted with thick moisture.

    But then thunder boomed. Waves hit the shell of the vessel, thudding relentlessly. The water grew in height and thickened with power. The force brought Þórir to his haunches.

    “Calder, get the sail.” Þórir shouted over the rain.

    “What?”

    The wind worked on the sail, making it twist and turn. It fluttered miserably. But it caught Calder’s attention, and then he made haste.

    Men stirred in the boat, blinded by rain, cold wind, and flashes of lightning.

    “Thor?” muttered Þórir. He found steady footing and looked to the angry, dark sky above. Small drops of water clung to his eyelashes–perfect spheres of rain and saltwater. He blinked them away, concentrating.

    Steps away, Calder’s fingers roamed the length of a rope. His nails slipped against the course material of hide, hemp, and hair.

    Go back. The thunder growled, and lightning struck water. Two blue-finned tuna surfaced, white bellies facing the sky. They were morning’s breakfast for newborn calves–the white-black wales of the north.

    Once more, lightning struck. The fast jolts followed the bellowing voice of thunder.

    It was like the sound of Thor’s hammer, I thought. As it struck the giant serpent Jörmungandr long, long ago. When Thor fished with the giant Hymir. The serpent’s skull rattled with fury, emitting the deep, thunderous pounding. Jörmungandr’s mouth opened, forked tongue tasting the thick, moist air. Thousands of ice-white fangs bit at the rain, exposed. They layered the serpent’s mouth. Jörmungandr shook its colossal head, but I could see them. White, long, and venomous spikes. The bared, serpentine teeth mirrored the lightning in Þórir’s sky.

    Go back said the thunder once more. Thor roared, his words desperate.

    It was too late, however.

    Wessex was on the horizon, guarded by obese clouds of rain and thunder.

    Calder still moved for the heavy, square sail. He was slow and careful. His hands were high, but his legs were tipsy.

    And with Thor’s threatening voice, I panicked.

    I took the boy. I took Calder in my grasps, desperate to protect and shield him from the storm. From Wessex. From humanity. After all, I liked him. I liked him from the beginning. When the black-haired woman stole him from my Norse waters.

    No matter, my waves enveloped his body yet again, dragging him in. He was brought to my chest–my heart–with a hug. I cradled him, feeling his weak arms claw the water. At first, he struggled. Until he was so full of me that he stilled and filled with peace and calm.

    Þórir was shouting. He shouted, screamed, and shouted some more. His head hung over the side of the boat, looking at me with fire in his irises and anger in his tiny pupils.

    But Calder was gone–long, long gone. He was cold, pale-skinned, and his pink lips were a deep blue like the navy at the ocean floor.

    Silence.

    Calder’s heart, thunder, and Þórir.

    All silent.

    And so, time passed.

    Calder surfaced, swimming stilly with the two blue-finned tuna.

    But the men went on to Wessex. Where they fell to England, defeated. And Norwegian king Harald Hardrada, the last known, great Viking, was slain in battle on Stamford bridge.    

    Where the ship waited patiently in English waters; it bathed forever in a bitter, fish-filled bay. Clots of blood stained the once turquoise sea. But the red tasted like failure. It smelled like blue-finned tuna and Calder’s decaying corpse. It tasted like the salt of sweat on Þórir’s forehead as a strong, English sword pierced his heart. It tasted like the red, rusted metal of King Harald Hardrada’s crown.


   



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