Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Shannon in Norway: Driftwood

The North Sea off the coast of Christenlande

Falni stood and stretched, yawning and groaning the kinks out of her bones.
She used the bucket set in the oiled cloth enclosure on the deck of her
ship, Sif's Pride, and took it out to dump into the sea. She saw that her
brother and ship's mate Ranigg was already up and directing the men in the
setting of the sails. The ship was a fishing vessel, light and low with
sails to propel it and no oars men.

Falni went to the chest that held many different things, including her
drinking horn and the dried salt fish that would break her fast. She filled
the horn from the barrel of ale that stood nearby. Then she went to the
stern to sit by the rudder, waiting for Ranigg to come to her so they could
discuss the plans for the day's fishing. She ate the fish and took gulps of
the ale. She stared at the clouds, how the wind moved the lines and sails,
how the waves dip and came up with a little white on their caps, deciding
how best to use these forces to navigate back to Jarlsfjord in Norway with
their latest catch of fish, stored in the shallow hold under the deck.

Ranigg was walking towards her when, idly remembering her driftwood dream,
Falni's keen eyes fell on something that did not belong in her very familiar
environment. It was dull red and there was something next to it.. was it
bowl-shaped and striped?

"Ranigg, look there!" Falni called as he was about to greet her. "What is

Her brother gazed in the direction she was looking. It took him only a
moment to pick out the anomalous thing. He shaded his eyes against the
early sun to see better. "I don't know," he said, "but we should get closer
to see what it is. It might be something that drifted up from some village
on the coast.. we are so close here. Or it might have fallen off a boat.
Could be valuable."

Falni did not seem to hear anything he said. She was poised at the rail of
her deck leaning far out. Her own hand shaded her eyes. She was thinking
of the driftwood in her dream and marveling at the dream's portentous
nature, connecting it with her feeling the night before that there was some
great alteration in the course the gods had set for her life.

A shout came from several of their crew members. One cried "Serpent!"
Another cried, "Treasure!" and another "Jansaxa and her sister sea-maidens!"
Their voices were not serious. With only the exception of Falni herself no
one thought what was floating there alongside the ship was anything but
flotsam or a dead seal.

Falni suddenly jerked into action. She shouted orders to her crew to
maneuver the ship closer to the object. She called for Ranigg to get the
grapples they kept on board to haul in nets full of North Sea fish. As the
ship neared the object in the water she took the proffered grapple from her
brother, stretched out again precariously over the side of the ship and
reached until the grapple was near enough to the thing in the water to try
to snag it somehow.

Before it was near enough to hook Falni and Ranigg could discern what the
object with the patch of dark red and the bowl was. It was a man! His eyes
were closed, his face almost blue with the cold. He indeed had some sort of
bowl strapped to his neck that held it out of the water. Falni could see a
short but evil looking gash on the side of his head that was turned towards
her and slightly up. Ranigg said to the crewman who had come up beside
them, "It seems Njord has delivered up a corpse for us."

"You don't know he's dead," Falni protested in unaccustomed passion. Ranigg
looked at her surprised. "Well, don't just stand there.. help me!"

The woman and her brother reached their grapples out to snag the strap that
seemed to be attached both to the man and to the bowl, which they now saw
had some sort of long handle with pegs on the bent part. Ranigg got hold of
it first, then Falni got her grapple hooked on the man's collar. They
pulled him in. The weight of the strange-handled bowl seemed to be dragging
him back away from them, so when they had the man caught by his clothing and
the dark red which was his hair, the crewman leaned over with his belt knife
and cut the strap. The bowl, which had a small hole on the top, started to
leak water, then fell back into the sea and drifted away.

The three hauled the man onto the deck. Other crewmen had joined them out
of curiosity to see what they had brought out of the sea. One of the men,
who had converted to Christianity, crossed himself. He started to pray for
the dead man. Falni was on her knees and had her ear against the man's
chest. "Wait, fool! He's not dead.. yet anyway. Get him into the
enclosure and let's get him under some furs."

Ranigg and the crew man, with the help of one other, managed to lift the
stiff body and carry it quickly to the enclosure. Falni had dashed ahead
and tied back the flap of the oiled cloth and cleared her own bed roll so
they could lay the man on it. When they had him down, she ordered the
brazier to be stoked and the leather cover for the top and sides of the tent
like enclosure put on.

She knelt and stripped the man's wet clothes from him. He was very blue in
most parts of his anatomy. She looked him over carefully, frowning at the
sad state of his feet and hands. She saw his head gash had bled a good
deal but was washed clean by the sea water and would heal. He had had his
nose broken at some point in his life, she could tell. His belly was
distended.. whether from too much drink or swallowing seawater she was not
sure. She turned him on his side and pressed his belly from the side,
hoping to force some seawater out of him, but not much came forth.

Falni grabbed one of her own shirts and dried the man. She could see his
soaked hair would lighten to a flame red when it was completely dry.. was
that the flame in her dream? She covered him with furs. Then she thought
better of it and stripped her own clothes, climbed into the bed with him and
pulled the furs over them both. "Ranigg,, get naked and get in here!" she
barked at her brother.

Ranigg did not question her. Anyone who sailed or lived in the north knew
that one of the best ways to warm someone who had suffered exposure was to
cover him with your own warm naked body. He did as Falni asked and got in
on the other side of the man.

"It may be too late to save all his fingers and toes, maybe even a foot, but
we can at least save his life. The gods sent us to him, so we must be meant
to help him," the woman said, shivering herself from the icy touch of the
frozen man's body.

The crewman had the brazier going hot. The small hole in the tent and its
leather cover let the thin smoke out but not the heat. The enclosure warmed
quickly. Soon Falni was no longer shivering, but the red haired man was
starting to, and violently. "That's good.. his shivering will make his
blood flow and warm places we can't warm with our bodies and furs," Ranigg

Finally the shivering weakened and stopped and a hint of color started to
come to the man's face. He did not awaken. Falni was troubled when she
inspected the man's hands and feet. "He will lose some of his fingers and
toes. But for all that, he is extremely lucky. He must not have been in
the water too long."

Ranigg drew himself out from the furs and put his clothing back on. "I
think we can let him sleep now. I wonder how he came to be there? And what
that thing strapped to him was?"

Falni climbed off the bed and began to dress again as well. "I saw it
closer for a second when it was just about to fall after Bjorn cut the
strap. It looked like some sort of musical instrument.. with strings. I
suppose this man must be a bard." She climbed back on top of the furs and
the man again, fully clothed. "I will stay and watch him. Bring some ale
and warm it. Use my horn. Can you take Sif's Pride towards home?"

Ranigg watched his sister as she got on top of the man. He admired her
steadfastness. "Of course, captain," he replied. He went outside to
direct the work of the crew in setting the sails for Norway.

A crewman came in with Falni's drinking horn.. He put a small pot with ale
on the brazier. When it had had time to warm, Falni got up to fill her horn
with the ale. She knelt by the man's head and lifted it onto her lap. She
very carefully dripped the warm liquid into his mouth. Though still
unconscious he cough and retched. She turned his head to the side so that
he would not breathe in the ale or vomit. She waited and tried again.

The same thing happened. She sat back with the drinking horn and said,
"Well stranger, I guess that will have to wait. What am I going to call you
until you wake and tell us who you are?" She thought a bit. She poured the
ale back into the pot and put down the horn. She climbed onto the man again
to warm him further. She thought a moment, the side of her head pressed to
his chest, hearing his heartbeat faint but steady. Then she smiled to
herself. "I shall call you 'Drivvid'*."

Falni lay on the man until his heartbeat strengthened, then took up a vigil
sitting at his side.

Sif's Pride slowly made its way back to Jarlsfjord.

* Drivvid is the Norse word for driftwood.

Next: Drivvid

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .