Leif, son of Erik, defies brisk gusts of wind, and seems to be oblivious of the crushing waves hurling the boat as if it were a child’s toy. Continuous rocking makes the others sick to the stomach; as if it doesn't concern him, Leif seems one with the boat, an anchor heavy and inert, or a mast nailed to the deck. He remains still, but his straggly beard that has grown long and thin since they sailed off, waves fierily in stormy winds. He should cut it, he thinks, but never seems to find the time. It is moistened by the sea, so the scent of salt always accompanies him now, but he couldn't escape this scent, even if he wanted. Leif likes the scent of sea, maybe even more than the scent of blood.
This sea seems endless. This is the sea he dreams about, offing without beginning or finish. In his dreams, unlike all the others, he doesn't reach the shores, he doesn't fear the waves or the profound blue depths. Now and here, the dreams come true, as they sail for days towards the setting Sun, and the end is nowhere near.
On his face, the weary gaze of his men sticks like salt. Did courage betray them in this dark? Three days since murky clouds covered the Sun like a giant heavy woollen röggvarafeldur. It greened the sea and hid the horizon. While sailing on unknown seas, without the help of stars or Sun, they all wonder are they travelling in circles. Only Leif keeps calm. As a mast he stands on the deck, three days and nights, floating above to see through the clouds. It appears the sun or the stars printed runes on the clouds that are visible only to him. Only he keeps his crew composed while he stands solid as this mast for three days and three nights, and sails hailed by the Sun.
Sails come down so as not to be torn by the storm; the weary crew take turns on the oars. Fingers numb and hands battered. They don't feel their limbs anymore. While half of them are below in sleep, the other half are rowing. But the sleep is restless, shattered by fears of the never ending sea, and their shifts comes too soon. Awaking is worst than nightmares as it bears no solace of end.
But Leif doesn't sleep. He guards and in the dark he leads the way. He commands with chin brackish from the waves, like salted fish, and sunken eyes, bloody, and with the look of a madman. When some of the roars weaken, he leaps amid his crew and rows to prevent the oars from breaking. And he continues until the replacement comes, wakened and dragged out of the decks, dazed and frightened by reality. Not even the bravest men overcome their fear of this enemy that cannot be seen. This enemy is an eternal beast, as time is. It is an elusive sea, foamed and greyed mountainous waves that lead them into the unknown, away from home, from their women. Unbeatable enemy that is prolonging the fight, toying with its adversary, large and cruel.
Leif stands, one hand under his woollen cloak. He doesn't know the way, he doesn't know where the Sun sets, or what stars are hidden by the clouds. North and south are now one for him, as well as for all the others. But he stands nevertheless, and the hand inside of his cloak holds tight the stone given to him by a völva.
The völva told him that it is a talisman of Nanna, one that rewards the valiant, and by night, torments the hateful with phantoms shaped as herself; Nanna the goddess of Valhalla. She will show him the way, völva said. The only choice he is left with now is to believe, because he doesn't know the way. Not the sea, not the sky or the stars will tell him where it all began and where it will end. So he must have faith in Nanna, and in his unusual shiny, sea-blue stone that vibrates as if it were somehow alive. And it leads the way, how he doesn't know, but it must be so, for though he is oblivious, he commands his vessel with confidence for days to its destination.
This Iolite is showing him the right path, or his tormented mind is playing one last trick with him, leading him astray by delusions, and his men and ship to demise. Of the possibility that the lost, mysterious land of the setting sun does not exist, he doesn't wish to consider. Ale is long spent, and water is running low too. If they don't find fresh water soon, gruesome death will descend upon them, one that seamen talk about with the greatest fear. It is said that horrific demons possess a man, torturing his body and soul. While some strength remains in him, he screams in terror and pain, and once he is overcome by weakness, he is left lifeless and snivelling, until sweet death comes to set his pour soul free. It is better to choose the swift death by own sword than to die that way.
They must discover the land of the setting Sun. Stories of treasures led the warriors on their way, but now fresh water will be their greatest treasure, one they would give anything for. How easy values change. They were sent off by songs and cheering. Into the adventure, without fear, as heroes. And now the heart shivers like a scared child, frighten by starless skies and unknown seas. So Leif, son of Erik, holds his Iolite given by a völva, feeling its pulse, as if it were telling him something; or this was his wishful thinking, desire creating reality by her own size.
By the fifth day finally the wind scatters the clouds like a wolf scatters gammelnorsk sheep, and Sun comes out to sit at the bow of Leif's knarr, a fire hen nested on the head of his dragon. The crew cheers Leif's name as seagulls around fishermen's boats, but Leif remains grave and grim, looking into the distance. Under his cloak he feels Iolite happily shivering - did he guide them, or did Odin guard them by his own hand. Luck was their ally, but Leif doesn't believe in luck - he believes in his sword, vessel to which he stands riveted, and in his brackish beard. Only when Geir cries out: Land! Leif leaves his place by the mast and goes down under the deck. Sleep overtook him before his head reached the pillow.
Leif, son of Erik, sleeps firmly and gently because in his sword he trusts, sword that will overcome any enemy they can encounter on this new land, he trusts in his ship that will bring back with them rich plunders and songs about brace deeds, and he trusts in his brackish beard which he will soak clean in ale, and in the stone of Iolite which will lead them back home.
He stands at the bow. Bathing in deep thoughts, looking faraway at some distant and, to others, usually invisible goal. He has turned his back to a small pueblo, and the city of Huelva, hugged by two rivers - the Rio Odiel and Rio Tinto, like two large hands. Andalusian sunrise gilded the ships anchored in the Bay of Palos de la Frontera. Inhabited mostly by seamen families and fishermen, from a distant dusty pueblo resembles scattered dice left after the foolery of some giant child. And further, on the left, seen through the haze of morning, heat seemed to dance on the fortress walls of the city of Huelva.
He heard that Knights of Templar were throned in the fortress, but now they're gone. Though, for fear of the Inquisition, nobody spoke about Templars out loud, so naturally, there were way to many rumours. However, he never had much faith in the stories told in gloomy posadas, taverns crowded by sea wolves and puppies, carried way too far by alcohol vapours while purring kittens sat in the lap. Gloomy tales from gloomy places, and truth hidden by a fog of legends and lies. Although sometimes, he had to admit, there was even some truth in some of the stories.
Pueblo seems deserted, but in the harbour everything is swarming with action: fishermen are unloading night's capture, sailors are hurrying to their post. They are followed by beggars. Beggars follow sailors counting on their superstitious generosity, especially of those who are set to sail. They feel them as with some animal instinct-like feel: "One penny for calm seas!" they call to them. Set to sail, seamen are also trailed by their wives, concerned for their safe return, but even more for themselves, and the children they are dragging by the hand. Will they come back, and bring earned wages, or are they going to scanter it all at some posada, like before, they wonder. Younger sailors were saw off last night by whores from dirty port brothels, drunk on grog and smell of luscious female bodies. Whores do not see off the sailors to high seas, but they are always happy to welcome them back.
He stands at the bow. He is a man with two secrets.
He stands at the bow and he has turned his back on three years spent proselytizing courts: receptions, ceremonies, endless bowing and humility; requests and promises that are not fulfilled, false sponsors and insincere guarantors, corrupt councillors and politicians, crowned heads who with great mercy awards, and devoted secretaries that regretfully inform that the queen decided not to sponsor after all. In the end, he was victorious anyway. But it was not because of the desire for discovery and knowledge, nor the good of humanity, nor the need to know the truth. In the end, victorious is greed and desire for wealth. These ships he owes to gluttony, one of the deadly sins. He finds sins aspire at least as much human progress as noble motives. He never truly wanted to find the spice trade route - this was his first secret. In his mind, he sees the Earth as an orb, a world that can be sailed around, a vast sea, and at its end is a land that needs to be discovered. And although he doesn't know the way, he leaves convinced he will find it.
He stands at the bow. They raise the sails, tie knots and raise anchor. Before him stretches the mouth of the river, the island of salt, and the endless open sea. Before him lies the road that was never took before. Before him, there are ships to be commanded, men that need to be led, sea currents and waves to conquer. Before him, there is superstition that surrounds him with rising strain, whisperings of sea monsters, monsters that rule the sea which receives the setting Sun.
He can hear his crew praying to God not to punish them for blasphemy and to prevent them all from sailing off the earth's plates during this voyage, a voyage not permitted for humans. Some men are so drunk from the previous night, they don't remember where they are going. But they will come around, and then their eyes will be set to him, the commander. The captain of a small fleet that will lead them to their downfall. They will pray too then, those always in sin and blasphemy, whoring in drunken nights, pillaging and killing during the days - they will suddenly become pious, and kiss the skirts of Virgin Mary. That is why he stands at a bow - because he must, motionless and persistent. And if he has to, he will stand there the whole journey, leading them through though the waves. He will stand at the bow, leading them all to his visions. While he is issuing first orders, sails are raised, and sailors shout and swear. Some women are waving from the shores, some are crying. Sailors only occasionally give them a look, or a short wave - they hide how sad and afraid they are. What can they expect from this insane voyage? Where will this end? Who is this gloomy Italian, Genoese, about whom they know nothing? Does he even have sea legs, or will he bend over the fence at first sign of the restless sea? And yet, they raise the sails, tie the knots and lift anchor, and the boats are sailing out of harbour.
He still stands at the bow. The sea is calm, but he certainly knows navigation. From his bow he can clearly see: vision of the world sphere, Europe at one side, and India on the other. And an obstacle in between. He can see it, but he doesn't know it. Yet he is not afraid. Not afraid of a land to which no human has ever set foot on, nor of treacherous seas, nor of sober sailors who seem to be in constant, threatening silent prayer. In his vision, he can unmistakably see this New World, hear it calling him and seducing him with so many promises. He reaches out, many times in recent weeks, for the stone, hidden under his tunic. It hangs from a string around the neck so it’s close to his heart. He feels its warmth and power, and a vibrancy that it passes on.
They call for him: "Christopher!” But he just waves his head in disregard. He holds his Iolite, which he was given three years ago by a strange man. He came to him, peaceful and silent in weary times, and gave him the shiny stone coloured as the deep sea, respectfully, like he was giving away unimaginable treasures. Shortly after that gift, he saw his vision for the first time, and he sees it frequently since. The sphere, the way, the sea, and a great New World. The stone is vibrant as they sail to greatness and immortality, while they sail to something much greater than just soil, mountains and rivers. They sail to a great new beginning, and whilst he feels the stone radiating, he knows he is on a right path.
This text is an original creation of our author, Wolfgang Wael. All copyright kept. Book in print soon!
Iolite is considered to be a way shower crystal. That was the inspiration to this story, a metaphorical story about searching own way in the world, searching for the New World.
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