Authors: Colin Taber
Tags: #Vikings, #Fantasy, #Alternative History, #United States, #epic fantasy, #Adventure, #Historical fiction, #Historical Fantasy, #vinland, #what if
The United States of Vinland: The Landing
The Markland Trilogy, Volume 1
by Colin Taber
Published by Thought Stream Creative Services, 2013.
For Mum & Dad
Thanks for believing
Eskil knew was the smothering chill of the embracing sea. As the waves passed,
they rhythmically lifted and lowered him and the broken mast to which he clung.
But he was not able to focus on any of that; his body was numb, his thoughts
slow and thick.
storm had come from nowhere, to darken the sky and push their two ships off
course. Fierce winds and mountainous waves had driven them well away from their
Greenland heading, and then, after what seemed an eternity of battling the
tempest, both had stolen the other ship out of sight. At that point, with a
prayer to Odin, Eskil could only focus on his own ship and people.
struggled with exhaustion, until their limbs ached, hoping to handle the
protesting ship through the heaving seas. But it was finally swamped by a
monstrous wave. His last memories of the chaos were of his crew’s desperate
attempts to hold the craft together, until a final wall of brine had come to
tear it all apart. Eskil found himself alone in the water, not remembering
where he had last seen his expecting wife, Gudrid.
worst of the weather then dissipated, as if its job was complete.
lose out at the end of such an elemental fight was maddening, but rage was an
emotion Eskil could no longer conjure. Not now, for he was drained and
battered, overcome by the chill of the sea.
knew it would not be long before the cold would claim him, stealing his last
breath as it kissed his shivering lips.
dimly noted the clouds beginning to break up, although the rain continued. Such
a thing at least declared that the storm was well and truly past.
it was a victory of sorts that he had survived such a vile tempest.
clung to the ruin of the ship’s mast and sail, still bound to the rigging, the
best manoeuvre he had been able to manage after finding himself in the sea.
Once secured, he had begun calling out, seeking his beloved Gudrid. But because
of the continuing rain, he had neither seen nor heard her or any of the others.
to the floating timbers, he was relatively safe from the threat of the sea
finding his lungs, although it left him with only one other task – trying to
stay awake. If he did not, he would die. He knew the icy water was far more
likely to kill him than anything else.
seemed otherwise alone, if not for the ship’s ruin, the soft call of the wind,
and the grey curtain of rain.
faded, his fatigue rising to overwhelm him, as the rhythmic motion of the waves
continued to gently lift and drop him. Around him the wind droned on and the
awake, thus setting his sodden blonde hair to flick about his face, Eskil
realised he had blacked out for a moment, or perhaps longer; he was not
certain. He tried to curse, but his voice failed him, coming out as a shivering
rasp. He should have been frightened, but instead lay his forehead back down
against the timber of the mast.
feeling stirred in him; perhaps his spirit was trying to rally whatever
remained. Finally roused, he hissed out across the waves, “Odin, help me! Take
me to this new land you have led me to seek!”
was no answer.
grip began to slacken and his mind began to fall to grim and dark thoughts.
he heard a sound, a sound not of the wind or the waves, or even of the gods.
The noise grabbed his attention.
could it be?
sounded again: the call of a bird, the caw of a raven.
raven meant land!
fought to awaken himself, to focus, as he tightened his grip.
raven sounded again, this time joined by another’s call.
then, after that sweet chorus, came the crash of rolling surf.
lifted his head to look about, seeing nothing but the tight, blue-grey valleys
of water between the passing waves. Once it moved on, he roused in time to make
a new discovery: beneath the waterline, his numb feet briefly stirred gravel as
they dragged along the seabed.
looked past the mast and tangled lines, and the cloth of the ship’s sail in
front of him, to the overcast western sky, where the grey shroud of rain was
brighter because it hid the sun.
the west, where yet more land was reputed to be.
feet then found the shallows again.
still hugging the mast and up to his neck in the chilled sea, Eskil took a step
forward, only to find yet more rising seabed.
curtain of rain continued to fade, revealing huge but distant silhouettes. The
dark, steep-sided forms loomed as if they mouthed a great fjord. With each
moment, more land became visible, in shades of grey, as a rugged coastline
opened up in front of him.
Odin!” he whispered through chattering teeth.
took another step on the stones of the seabed, only to find the water so
shallow that he stumbled to his knees. His spirit soared as he worked with numb
and awkward fingers to untangle himself from the rigging that had bound him to
the mast. Finally breaking free, he rose and stepped forward as he sought to
escape the water.
looked at the land emerging from the receding drizzle as he stumbled forward.
His mind, still half lost, began to stir, but for now he noted the green of
grass and grey of rock ahead; he realized he remained alone. Gazing up and down
the shoreline, he searched for a sign that the others had also made it to land.
but most especially his Gudrid!
thought overcame him, setting him to shake and shiver as he staggered out of
the foaming surf. He had promised his thirty followers a new life of land and
freedom, a life away from the rising kings and the creeping influence of the
would only honour the old gods!
ahead of him, the rocky shore ascended to a narrow pasture, a few shrubs and a
tumble of larger stones before the side of a low green hill began. The steeper
entry into the fjord rose farther along the shore as it ran away to meet with
other valleys. Yet, much remained lost in the colourless haze of drizzle.
a few more exhausted steps, he was out of the water, across the stony shore,
and onto the pasture.
dropped to his knees.
he was alone in the wilds, lost on the rugged shores of Markland, or another
place beyond Greenland.
he had survived!
him, debris from the ship washed up, stranded next to a large, already-beached
section of the hull. He could also see one of his people bobbing face down in
got up and stumbled back to the surf, reaching Drifa’s body. He pulled her up
to the gravel – but to no avail – she was still and dead.
you, Odin,” he growled, “I was doing this for you! To bring your faith to a new
land, away from those who have turned from your might!” Exhausted, verging on
delirium, he collapsed onto the rocks leading up to the pasture, his spirit all
but broken. “You led me here, you whispered to me in my dreams of a westerly
land that I should seek. Well, I did as you directed; now I am here!”
then the wind died, as the last of the squall’s clouds and rain parted,
allowing the mid-afternoon sun to shine down from over the distant heart of the
fjord. The light washed over him, golden, generous and warm.
slowly rose back to his feet as he called out, “Odin, give me this land and I
shall give it back to you a thousand-fold!”
raven called, drawing his attention.
the golden glare, briefly highlighted by the departing showers, Eskil saw a
raven perched on a tall stone rising straight and true by the tumbled boulders
at the base of the hill.
stepped forward, drawn to it.
raven watched his approach.
slowed, with each step, not believing what he saw: a stone, taller than a man,
marked by the runes of his people.
runes read: "The Landing".
then heard another voice, the sound of which made his heart jump.
It was his wife, Gudrid.
looked down at the base of the standing stone and noticed wet cloth on the
grass, trailing away behind it. Putting a hand to the runestone, he leaned on
it for support as he stepped around it, holding his breath.
she sat, with her back to the stone, her woollens still damp from the sea, but
lit by the warm sunlight. Already her long blonde hair was mostly dry.
he whispered in disbelief, using his pet name for her.
looked up to him, her hands over the small bulge of her expectant belly, her
blue eyes sparkling with relief. “Oh, Eskil!”
dropped to his knees beside her and took her into his arms.
thought I had lost you!”
I you. But Odin has spared us.” Pulling away from her, he surveyed the green
slopes of the hill in front of them and then turned to the steep sides and
rocky crests at the entry to the fjord rising farther down the coast. “He has
brought us here.”
where are we?”
not sure, perhaps Markland.”
think we passed Greenland.” He pointed to the distant fjord. “And I can see
thickets of trees farther down the sound. They might simply be willow and
birch, but others will be deeper inland, where they are better sheltered from
the fury of the sea. Markland is named after the trees.”
she whispered again.
The sailors in Iceland described it as a rugged and harsh land said to be
beyond Greenland, but a place with more timber.”
both turned to take in the view – low green hills behind the beach, running
west onto a deep and wide sound along the coast. The steep sides of the fjord
rose in the far distance, occasionally edged by narrow, sun-warmed pastures.
Glimpses of waterfalls spilled down like white ribbons between exposed rocks
and thin woodlands. By the golden light of a summer afternoon, Markland seemed
a land of rugged beauty and promise.
stood and offered his hand to Gudrid; she took it and rose. “Are you hurt?”
smiled. “Merely tired and cold, although I feel sickly.” One of her hands went
to her belly again as she spoke, “I think I swallowed a lot of seawater.”
nodded as he put an arm about her. “And how long have you been here, sitting
against this runestone?”
both turned to examine the etchings, the raven watching them from above.
long, although to be truthful, I find it hard to think of how it all came
about. I grabbed at some wood from the ship and was brought here by the waves.
I do not think I was in the water for long, and I did not realise this stone
was special until now. I simply came ashore and sought to escape the last of
the rain and wind.”
ran his hand over the stone’s weathered face, his fingers tracing over the
rough runes. The stone faced out towards the open sea as a marker.
raven watched them for a moment, and then jumped into the air, spreading its
black wings. The bird flew above their heads and dove down towards the shore.
It did not land, instead gliding to pass over the breaking waves. The raven
then rose again and turned to land on the broken timbers of the beached hull
lying in the shallows. It looked back at them and cried out.
wet sounds of splashing came to Eskil and Gudrid as something stirred the water
nearby. Another part of the ruined ship drifted into view. A small, partially
hidden section of timbers emerged from behind the bulk of the beached hull the raven
was using as a perch.
and Gudrid could see three of their people clinging to the timbers as they
tried to get to shore, their kicks and strokes heavy with exhaustion.
Eskil called out as he led Gudrid racing down to the water, wading into the
chilly surf to reach them.
grabbed the three men, one by one, and dragged them to the gravel beach.
men collapsed. Torrador coughed up water while the blonde brothers, Steinarr
and Samr, both gasped for breath.
raven called out again before leaving the hull, flying up and over them. It
turned and dove again, down towards the breakers, as it headed along the
shallows and towards the distant fjord. With another call, it flew towards the
glare of the sun, but not before drawing Gudrid’s attention up the beach.
figures, silhouettes against the golden glare, waved as they staggered towards
of our people!” Gudrid exclaimed as she left Eskil with the recovering men.
began a fresh round of choking and retching, ending with a hoarse gasp. “By
Odin, thank you, Eskil!”
knelt beside the big man, relieved to hear his voice. “Only concentrate on
getting the sea out and some air in.” He patted the big man firmly on the back,
setting his brown hair to jiggle.
them, Steinarr was now on all fours, as was Samr, who was trying to rise.
called from down the beach. “Erik is over here!”
watched the silhouette of the Dane as he crawled from the water, amongst the
bobbing timbers and other debris from their ship.
went to the wretching man who was slumped onto the gravel. As he gathered
himself, she called back to Eskil and the others, “There is much here we can
use, including the rigging and sail.”
patted Torrador on the back again as he looked at his wife and whispered,
“Thank you, Odin.”
remained with Erik as he recovered.
her, a man and woman approached from down the beach, both moving heavily with