Sunday, February 21, 2021

Death on the Sea

Death on the Sea

A Tale of Viking Horror

Seamus King




    The grey waves beat against the rocky shore, stirred to fury by a wind that howled across the water with a haunting, hungry voice.  Storms twisted in the sky, and Thor's laugh rolled through the heavens as lightning flashed in jagged blue-white bolts.
    A battered long ship struggled across the water, riding atop the waves like a dagger gliding across silk.  Men struggled on the long deck, securing ropes and oars, whispering oaths and desperate pleas to the allfather's son, begging for mercy. They were with a spear's lunge of angle-land's shore, but the treacherous north sea had decided to play one final trick and had caught them in the squall just as solid ground had come into sight.  Now the coast was hidden by grey torrents of heavy rain.
    Their war-chief struggled with the steer-board, his long russet-red hair flying out behind him on the wind.  His teeth were gritted, his eyes fierce and glad, his face alight with the same battle-glory that shone when he charged a saxon shield wall.  He alone among the crew showed no fear in the face of the storm; the warp and weft of his life had long since been woven into place, and no fear or worry would change the hour of his death.  He was a bold man, a steel-thane, a wolf-skinned warrior forged upon the anvil of axe and spear, quenched in the raven-wine that ran in rivers wherever he drew blade.
    A singing came over the water, a keen that rose on the wind as clearly as a falcon's call but lovely as any songbird's.  His eyes flicked across the waves, trying to pick out where it came from, and he thought he saw a figure moving just at the edge of sight.   He turned the boat, muttering an oath of thanks to Freya for her kindness.  
    The ship turned on the roiling tumult, rolling half onto its side; the decks were washed in a flood of water that would freeze an ice-giant out of his home.  One of the crew fell into the waves, a strangled cry rising before his lips before the water took him and filled his lungs.  
    There was no time to mourn.  No time to stop.  As the ship righted itself the war-chief called out to his men, commanding them to their oars, telling them to pull into the long strokes that thrust the sea-sword across the water.  The woman's keen grew clearer, and the men could make out the words of a song, words in a language long forgotten by the mind but still remembered in the heart. Hope for the shore and safer harbour rose against the fear of the storm, and the men pulled again and again, heedless of thor's wild laugh, heedless of the battering waves.  As they worked, the song grew ever-clearer, calling to their souls.  They grew stronger with each verse, the fear falling away, and as the captain's grey eyes watched the water, he saw her again.
    His heart froze.  Where he had thought to see the falcon-goddess, the amber-teared, he saw something else.  Seaweed clung to the bright rings of her mail, the cloak that billowed behind her was ragged and salt-soaked, and a necklace of finger-bones hung round her strong neck.  Her face bore no less beauty than the cat-tamer, but it was fierce and cruel rather than kind and welcoming, and her eyes were dead and cold.  The welcoming song changed suddenly to a angry, haunting dirge, exhulting in the coming doom.  
    The war-chief turned his rudder hard, jerking the swan-steed off course, fighting to get them somewhere else, anywhere else, but it was too late. Hidden rocks tore into the longship like fenris's teeth. Clammy hands, pale and with nails long and sharp as daggers, appeared on the side of the boat, grasping the wood, and as pale-faced women with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth slowly climbed aboard and pulled the ship down into the waves the siren queen's song became a mocking laugh.

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