by Dana DeVries
Inky blackness. Weightless silence. Emotionless warmth. Not moving, not thinking, barely breathing, The man floated motionlessly in a sea of darkness.
Intense light shattered upon him as someone roughly shook him. He opened his eyes and found himself staring up at a small blonde women. She wore the tightly stitched clothing of a Vestenmanjavenjar. Even with the furs removed, the stifling heat had bathed her in sweat and an expression of intense concentration removed any trace of beauty about her. One hand clenched a double headed axe carved with intricate runes hung at her side while the other reached for him. He began to close his eyes again when she called his name. That attracted his attention and he cocked his head slightly. It had been many years since his ears had heard his name. He opened his mouth, but only a cough came out.
Impatiently, she held up a wineskin and held it to his mouth. Greedily he drank and then tried to speak again. After a moment, he managed to croak out "Who are you?"
"Yngveld Olafsdottir, captain of the Revensj. The woman who has come to rescue you."
He drank again from the wineskin. His throat loosened up and his voice came much clearer although only is short phrases. "A pleasant thought. But I doubt it. Others have tried. They all failed."
"Yes. But they didn't know who you were. They thought you just a tired man on the tiny isle they'd come upon. I know the risks and I know how to get off the island."
"How did you get here? The waters are in every direction."
"A simple mater for one who has mastered the runes. I speak with the spirits of my ancestors and summoned a hurricane to follow us and broke out the oars when we came close."
"A rune master? You're a long way from home."
"I'm returning home now and you can come with me. You must come back with me. Your people have need of you."
"My people are bloodthirsty barbarians who understand rage far better than peace. Why should I return?"
"To bring peace back. To make them pause for a moment in their warfare."
"Do you speak for the Vestenmanjavenar or the Vendel?"
"I am Vestenmanjavenar and I come seeking aid for them. But not against the Vendel. I seek to end the conflict between us forever and for that I need you." The man stared into her eyes and felt the strength of her conviction. He also felt...something else. Something wild and powerful and enormous straining at the constraints of her mind. It was a feeling he knew well.
He nodded slowly. "Alright. I will go with you. Let us discover together if you were really prepared to rescue me." He stood on unsteady feet and stretched slowly. Each muscle ached and every joint creaked, but he ignored them to consider his surroundings. The tiny crag of an island hadn't grown while he'd meditated. It was only a hundred arm lengths across and held a scattering of small stunted tropical trees. The ground was covered in tall grass except where he'd been sitting; there the grass had long since died beneath him. He stumbled forward a step and Yngveld grabbed his arm to keep him from falling. Muscles long unused to motion protested every movement as they gingerly started towards the Vestenmanjavenar longboat anchored just off shore in the perfectly still water. Not a wave rolled upon the water. Raising his eyes to the skies, he stared at the deep blueness. Not a cloud in the sky. The world around him held all of the beauty of the world without any of the life.
His foot crunched upon dry sticks beneath the grasses. He stopped for a moment and peered down. The bones of a man lie there dried and lifeless. His hands were folded upon his chest as if he'd died peacefully, perhaps while asleep. A pang of sadness struck him but quickly faded to be replaced with the silence that gripped his heart. He began walking again for the boat. He could see dozens of bare chested Vestenmanjavenar on one of their sea going longboats staring about at the still waters. He felt their rage at being trapped and their trust for this women beside him. And he felt all of it being slowly smothered beneath a blanket of apathy.
"How do you plan on getting out of here? You cannot summon a hurricane here. " A palm leaf dropped from a tree and fell straight to the ground as if it were a rock.
"I have more power than you think."
He slowly turned his head and stared at her. A glint of green seemed to glimmer inside her eyes and in the shadows of her face. "I believe you, but it will still be difficult. Your men are already falling prey to the island's influence."
She grimly shook her head, "That's why I came myself, but it's not the island, is it? It's you."
"I've been here so long that they are the same. This island will be becalmed long after I am gone if you succeed. And what do you seek from me?"
"Every day Vendel and Vestenmanjavenar fight and die. And we are losing. I've tried to defeat them one at a time, I've tried to destroy them. But their money buys them allies to face us while they remain safe. The High King knew the truth and tried to tell me but I would not listen. Now we have only one hope left and for that to succeed, we need time. Time that I believe you can bring us by easing the tension between our peoples."
"It is a possibility. If we get off this island."
The two had arrived at the shoreline and they quickly boarded the launch. Two sailors in it stared motionlessly at the pale blue waters surrounding the isle. They didn't even look up when Yngveld and the man climbed aboard until Yngveld touched them upon the shoulder. Shaking their heads as if awakening from a trance, they fumbled with the oars for a moment until she gently ordered them to move back and took the oars herself. She clumsily rowed back to the Vestenmanjavenar longboat while the islander looked on in amusement. "You realize that you won't be able to row your entire boat out by yourself." She saved her breath for rowing and didn't reply.
Once back to the longboat, she immediately went to a circle of men near the aft of the boat. Each of them held a sparring weapon loosely in their hands and a man dressed as a skald sat in the middle of them. They didn't move until she yelled their names and cuffed them from their trances. The skald shook his head slowly as she moved around the circle. "I'm sorry, Yngveld. I tried to keep the fire alive in them. But the stories didn't help. The sparring didn't help. Nothing seemed to help."
"Shhh. It's alright. I know how to make them awake." The captain ordered her men to the oars and positioned herself near the center of the ship. The muscled oarsmen slowly obeyed, moving as if each step was exhausting. When everyone else was in place and the islander had stepped up beside her, Yngveld drew out her battle axe and raised it to her lips. After whispering a quick prayer of guidance to her father and her mother, she called out in a loud, bold tone, "I call upon the soul of Red. I call upon the soul of Olaf, my father. I call upon the souls of generations of warriors reaching back through time. Aid me now, fill my sails with a wind strong enough to rip the world apart! Hurl us across the water! Show us your power!" As she hurled the words out, Yngveld slashed down with her axe and left a stroke of green fire burning upon the deck. She lifted the axe and slashed again. Another line of green fire flickered into life. She kept attacking the deck with her axe until the glyph of fury burned with emerald flames before her.
A faint breeze fluttered across the boat and stirred the sails. One by one, the rowers stirred and reached for the oars before them. Within a minute, the sails bulged with wind while the men strained to move the sluggish oars. The Revensj slowly pulled away from the island and towards the open waters. But even as she watched, the wind slowed and the rowing grew ragged.
The castaway sighed. "A mighty effort. Invoking my wife's symbol was ingeneous and you almost succeeded. But I have been here too long. The island holds a portion of my power. Your rune has power enough to break free of me or the island. But not both."
Yngveld's hands shook with rage and her face was filled with blood. "We will break free!"
"Only if I leave. I will return to the island and you can escape."
"No. I will bring you back to our people." Her eyes darted about wildly and spittle began to cover her chin.
"Your rune is not strong enough." His voice was level and low, with no trace of rancor or emotion.
"Then I'll make another one!" As she raised the axe, he reached out and grabbed her arm.
"If you carve that here, the power will rip this boat apart once we're clear of the island."
Yngveld stared at him and quivered from the raw force she channeled. She tried to speak, but words were beyond her. He pointed towards the long boat they had taken from the island. Wordlessly, she nodded and stiffly stalked towards it. She stumbled over the edge and barely kept herself upright in the launch. With one fierce blow, a fiery stroke of emerald fire appeared in the floor of the longboat. It seemed to eat at the wood of the boat, but it never consumed it completely. Another stroke followed. And a second glyph formed in the longboat. Within seconds, the sails filled and the rowers let out a huge roar. Yngveld herself dropped the axe and staggered back onto the longboat's dock.
A grey bearded old man stepped up to her with a concerned word. With a snarl of rage, She backhanded him and he flew across the deck. The castaway slowly stepped past her and to the longboat. He released the ropes and it fell over the side with an enormous splash. Yngveld stood in the center of the deck and screamed at the top of her lungs while Orm and Hoskuld Hardrada leapt upon her and held her down. The Revensj flew across the waves while the captain raved madly. The castaway watched silently as the longboat and his prison for so many years fell behind.
A dark-skinned man stood on a small spit of land and stared towards the horizon in wonder. When his companions had returned to their home, he'd left them to explore more of this strange world. Days of enchantment and spectacle had followed until a storm had driven his tiny vessel onto the reef that surrounded this island. Days of calm had followed and he'd begun to wonder at this twist of fate. To escape the walking dead only to die of thirst surrounded by water? But now, he watched a small launch slowly move across the salty waves without a breath of wind or current.
Caution was as foreign to him as the strange food of the chef Gaspar and so Mabela smiled and leapt into the surf. His arms quickly pulled him through the water towards the ship and pulled himself aboard with arms drained of strength by the swim and lack of water. A shiver filled him as the kharma of the boat washed over him. This boat had seen much of battle, much of pain, much of victory. A strange symbol had been burned into the bottom of the boat and an axe lay next to it. He picked the axe up and felt the power within it fill his arm. A weapon that had seen much good use and some bad. A useful tool for one such as he. He put the axe back down and grabbed the oars.
Looking around, water lay in every direction except the small spit of land behind him and he had no notion of where land might lie. As the ship continued to speed through the waves, he shrugged and lay down. He knew not where he was headed, but it felt good to move again.