[Story] Story a Week 31

[[ Prompt: A story set at sea

I used the characters from my 2005 NaNo story, except here Hraavik is much younger, a pup on his first sail. I had intended this to be longer but oh well 😛 ]]

Hraavik swallowed hard and stared at the horizon, willing back the queasiness that crept into his belly. The last thing he wanted to do on his first sail was to get seasick. He could only imagine the laughs and jeers that would follow that, some chieftain’s son he would be! Fiske was the one who had noticed his discomfort, but instead of laughing, he’d told Hraavik to watch the flat line of the horizon. He also suggested eating clay, but only as a last resort. It didn’t sound any more pleasant than being seasick to have a belly full of clay. Slowly, he thought he felt the feeling recede, but it was still there, lurking just out of sight. Hraavik prayed that the waves would be calmer today.

His father hadn’t even wanted to bring him along, though Hraavik was nearly fully grown. He was tall and lean, and would no doubt fill out more, but he was older than many pups on their first sail. It was actually his mother who had talked Tarnahk into bringing his son along, another fact that Hraavik hoped never got out to the rest of the clan. Maybe they already knew. At night, when they gathered around the fire to eat, he felt like an imposter. The others laughed and teased each other, but not him. He wasn’t really one of them, not yet, until he’d proven himself. And even then, was he only here because he was the chieftain’s son? They could resent him for that, too. He wished there was another pup aboard, but he was the only one. Vali had gone with the other ship, and Kjeld had broken his leg earlier in the spring, and was still mending.

They raided the little fishing villages along the coast, but they had little to make it worth their time. They were poor to begin with, and had already been subject to looting by every ship that sailed this channel. Hraavik knew from the crew that they were headed west, which meant an extended crossing. If he wasn’t accustomed to the rocking of the waves by then, he might have trouble. There were said to be islands along the way, but they were small and scattered. It would be purely luck if they happened across one.

The novelty began to wear out on the second day, eating their dried meat and salted fish for supper, and a tiny bit of wine from their casks. Hraavik missed the smell of the forest, the feel of the ground under his feet, and his soft comfortable bed, piled with warm furs. Here he slept on a hard bunk, surrounded by the rest of the crew. They were loud and they smelled, even as they slept. Hraavik willed himself to accept it, told himself that they had so in turn, he must as well. There would be gold and riches, not to mention all of the stories and the sense of belonging with the rest of the clan. And, Hraavik hoped, he would prove himself to Tarnahk. He would no longer see him as just a pup, but a full-blooded varg, worthy of respect.

Hraavik had never been happier to see land when they spotted the island three days later. It looked large enough that it might hold some wildlife, and his mouth began to water at the thought of fresh meat, hot and crispy from the fire. The crew was excited too, unloading the supplies quickly before they spread out to explore. The shore was rough and rocky, but the ground became softer further in, and trees blanketed the island and protected it from passing storms. They were not the stoic evergreens that Hraavik was used to, but thin and flexible, so they might bend in the winds. Unsure where else to go, he followed the small group that his father led. No one protested, so Hraavik assumed that it was all right. They had never been very close, even when he wasn’t away. Hraavik felt that his father saw him as more a necessity than a son, someone to carry on his bloodline. Even then, Hraavik always thought he saw disappointment in his fathers’ eyes, though he was never sure why. He was as capable as any other pup in the clan. But maybe that wasn’t enough, maybe he had to be more than that. He just wasn’t sure how.

Fiske shouted down from a rocky pillar, waving his arms. Hraavik perked his ears, and they all looked to see. It was a nest, filled with eggs bigger than Hraavik had ever seen. Fiske cradled one in the hook of his arm, making his way down the slippery rock. He passed the egg off to Tarnahk, and went back for another. It was huge, as large as Hraavik’s head, it seemed. Just that one would feed several vargs, and there were more. They all watched intently as he scooped up a second. He couldn’t carry more than one at a time.

Suddenly, the air split with a keening cry and all at once, they were aware of what it was — the nest’s owner, and she was angry. Her enormous wings seemed to blot out the sun as she descended onto Fiske, her hooked beak and black talons lashing out in fury. Hraavik could hear the crisp snap as her beak closed on the air, but he was sure that she wouldn’t miss for long. Fiske was trapped with her there, unless they could distract her — Tarnahk shoved the egg into Hraavik’s arms. He was surprised by the warmth and weight of it. Helplessly, he held onto it and watched.

The chieftain hefted a rock from the ground and hurled it toward the bird. The others watching did the same. Most of them struck, but clattered down harmlessly. Still, she narrowed her eyes and stared at the vargs, giving Fiske the time he needed to scramble down the side of the rock. Tarnahk drew his sword then, gesturing the others back toward the camp. Hraavik looked uncertainly at the egg. Should he bring it back? The mother was already furious, would she abandon her attack if it was returned? But there was no way he could get it back up into the nest. He laid it down on the ground and hurried after the others. He could hear the huge bird overhead, the flapping of her wings stirring the air. But as they reached the camp, her fury seemed to subside, and she turned around to return to her nest. Hraavik had no idea how she would get the egg back up there, or whether the chick inside would survive. And there would be no eggs to eat tonight. The mender set to work cleaning and bandaging Fiske’s wounds. At the very least, they would have a tale to tell around the fire during the winter.

 

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