The boats have gone again. And yet again, they have left without me.
The seasons pass, spring comes, the ice thaws, and each year the boats leave without me.
This year the thaw came early. By early February, the flowers were already starting to bloom. By the mid-February the ice had cracked and separated, forming clear paths for boats to travel through. Preparations for this year’s raid had already begun, but they started in real earnest as the villagers began to realize that the departure date would be sooner than anyone could have ever imagined.
My brothers’ excitement showed on their faces. An early thaw meant a longer raiding season, and that meant more opportunities for gold and glory. I thought that I might see the same joy on my father’s face, but instead he seemed thoughtful… almost troubled. I wanted to ask him if I could lead a ship in this year’s raid, but the request became stuck in my throat when I saw the worried look upon his face. I took out my frustrations in my sword drills, and nearly broke Gilda’s shield with the force of my blows.
It was decided that the boats would depart on March 1st, a full two and a half months earlier than Iklesa. On that day the village gathered to see off the 4 Vettring boats and the 2 Hugrung boats. There were many tearful goodbyes and embraces as the warriors, both men and women, prepared to leave the village. For some of them, it would be the last time they would ever see Myrrtroft again.
I helped load the last of the supplies onto the ships, and then said my good byes to my brothers. The eldest cupped my face in his hand.
“Watch over father and the village Fura. We’re depending on you.”
Just then the call to depart rang out. My eldest brother pulled me into his chest for a final hug and then headed back to his boat.
After the boats departed, I stood at the end of the dock, watching the raiding party disappear into the horizon.
The boats have gone again. And yet again, they have left without me.
But this will be the last time if I have anything to say about it.
The next few days passed as so many days do when the warriors are away – peacefully and without incident. But there was something different this year. There was a nervous tension in the air, as if the atmosphere was like a rope stretched so tight that it needed only a small stimulus to snap in two. But try as I might I could not pinpoint the source of the energy. So I spent my days as I always do, training with my sword and shield, talking with the villagers, and helping my father with local political matters.
It was 4 days after the boats left that father brought up the marriage proposal. He had also felt the tensions in the atmosphere, and took the early thaw as a bad omen. That was what accounted for his worried looks.
He’d also heard news from uncle about discontent in the Bear Clan and other regions. He insisted my marriage to the Agdi, the youngest son of Sigfred Osparkson, would bring peace to the two families, and, consequently, the village. To my father’s credit, he did not force a promise of marriage from me at the time. Instead, he asked that I think it over and give my answer at the feast in two days time.
I left our long house with a thousand thoughts and considerations swirling through my mind. I knew little of Sigred, though I heard he enjoyed his fair share of dalliances. Whether these dalliances were with women or men, I was not sure.
I always knew that I would marry one day, and that my marriage could bring a great advantage to my family. But it seemed that this marriage, though it might bring some peace to our village, would not bring me what I wanted. I wanted ships, and men, and resources. And the Hugrung family had sent but two boats to the raids this year. No, I could do better than this. If I was going to give my hand, it should not just be for a temporary peace. My husband must be someone who can help me achieve my dreams and ambitions.
But was it just possible that Agdi Sigfreson could be that man? I did not know… but perhaps there would be a way for me to find out.
There was also another person to consider as well… but no… I would not let my thoughts wander to things that could never be.
I slept fitfully that night. I awoke the next morning, desperate to relate my troubles to my friends Sterk and Víðarr, and seek their advice on the marriage proposal. Perhaps I should not have gone to Víðarr for such advice, but his counsel has always been considerate and empathetic. Some people in the village think Víðarr to be slow because he never jumps immediately to action. But I know better. His hesitance isn’t slowness, it is thoughtfulness. And he has grown even more thoughtful since the death of his father.
Sterk is also a true friend, and I see in him a man with similar ambitions to my own. He makes a fine living crafting boats out of Hardrada’s workshop, but I can see that he wants more from his life. His ships are the most beautifully crafted vessels I’ve ever seen. Had I a fleet of his boats and enough warriors worthy to board them, I’m sure I could conquer the world.
We went out of the village to our common meeting spot to talk. However, we did not get far into the conversation before a strange man appeared. He talked of dwarves, just like the ones in the stories we heard of in the stories around the hearth. And just like a character in those stories, he demanded payment for his tales. Sterk gave him some fish, Víðarr, some candles, and I offered a feast at our long house. It was not much to give, for all are welcome to feast with my father as long as they are not our foes.
The strange old man, who turned out to be one “Griss” from the Skalgson family, demanded further payment to lead us to the cave where he had seen the dwarf. I know that I should not have left the village to go on a mad hunt for a mythical dwarf. But how often does one hear stories of real dwarves? It is probably nothing but some old hermit or mountain man, but still, it is worth investigating.
I offered a barrel-full of the best of my farm’s crop this season. At first the old man seemed reluctant, but eventually he was persuaded. I wrote up a quick contract to pay him a (small) barrelful of my best crops from the season, and went back to my farm to prepare for the journey. I left the contract on my desk, in plain sight, and then packed for my journey. I brought all the supplies I thought I would need for an overnight journey through the woods, and, at the last minute, I also packed my finest clothing, just in case the end of our adventure came uncomfortably close to the scheduled feast.
It took me some time to get back to our meeting spot. I had some trouble finding my way back, as one part of the river looks very much like any other part. But eventually I caught the sound of the voices of Víðarr and Sterk, and I was able to trace them to the meeting spot.
The trip itself was uneventful. The old man seemed frightened, but his fear made me more excited. Maybe there was something to this man’s tales.
We came upon the edge of the forest by the hills at dusk. We made camp, and Sterk kept the first watch. As I headed to bed I realized I had not told them of the marriage proposal. Now did not seem like the time to bring it up. As I drifted to sleep, thoughts of how I might reassure myself that Agdi would be a good husband drifted through my mind. Perhaps I could ask him to perform a test of some sort….
Just as I dozed off I heard a shout. I woke to see a large, four-legged figure standing menacingly over Sterk. It was a great cat, and she seemed poised to strike at Sterk. I pulled out my sword, and stepped in front of the cat. Behind me I heard the old man shouting, and I also heard the fast motion of a knife being thrown. The combined stimuli seemed to frighten the cat, and she ran off. Luckily Sterk seemed none the worse for wear.
Tomorrow we continue to the dwarf’s cave. But what we shall find there, I know not.