Nuzgûl of the Month
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Edge of the world: 1. Edge of the world
Edge of the world
"Looks like the worst is over." Garm was smiling as he joined Eirik at the prow of the ship. "That storm could have been the end of us several times over."
Eirik didn't reply. As far as he could see, the storm might very well still be the end of them, though they were now looking at an almost mirror-smooth sea under a sunny sky. They were wildly off course, and were far away from both the rest of Leif's fleet, and from Vinland or any other known landfall.
"Hey!" Garm now said loudly, "You could at least show some joy, you know."
"Joy? At what?" Eirik turned his head to look at his brother.
"At making it through the storm alive and with Ægishjálmr still seaworthy," Garm replied, adding a belated "Captain" when he realised that his raised voice had drawn the attention of the rest of the crew.
"Of course," Eirik nodded. "And of course you also considered where the storm has blown us, and how much fresh water we have. Do you think we can row back home from here? Wherever here may be…"
Garm looked away. "I had not considered that," he admitted, adding, "It's just as well that you're our lord. I have no head for such things."
Again, Eirik said nothing, but this time he smiled as he looked at his brother. Garm might not be the sharpest spear in the sheaf, but he was a good man, and a good brother. He clapped Garm on the shoulder before returning to his usual place, beside Asgeir, their navigator.
"Before you ask, I have no idea where we are," Asgeir growled.
"I wasn't about to," Eirik replied. "All I know is that we are far south of where we should be, and already low on water."
"Agreed," Asgeir said. "And with no coast anywhere in sight, and no wind to speak of, we can only..."
"Captain!" the lookout called, "I can see land."
Land! Eirik virtually ran to the lookout's place. "Where?"
"Just to the right of the dragon's head, see? Some kind of mountain island," Thorvaldr replied.
"I don't… wait, I see it as well now," Eirik said as he spied a small bump of land on the horizon. He turned around and called to Asgeir, "Change your course for the island."
Without wind, it took most of the day to reach the island, and Eirik spent the wait torn between hope and fear. Water would be the difference between perhaps making it home again and dying of thirst at sea, but even if the island had fresh water, they still didn't know where they were. Either way, he doubted they would catch up with Leif and his fleet, and thus for him and his crew the season's víking was over before it began.
They were close enough to the island now that Eirik could see it consisted of a single mountain, which at first rose gently from the waves, but then quickly climbed steeper towards its summit. There was enough vegetation that Eirik had good hope that they would find water.
"Looks like a fire mountain," Thorvaldr offered. "Long time since it last spewed, though, as green as it is."
Eventually they made landfall in a sandy cove on the western side of the island. Eirik ordered the men to make camp; they would send out parties to look for water in the morning. There was not enough of the day left that it was worth setting out now, and if they were as far south as he thought, nightfall would be much swifter than they were used to. He himself wanted to climb to the top of the island's mountain, in the hope that they might see other lands from there.
The next morning, after sending the crew off in twos and threes to look for water, Eirik set out for the mountain's top, along with Garm, Thorvaldr and Asgeir. At first they walked through a dense forest, with the raucous sounds of birds all around them, though there was no sign of four-legged animal life. There were occasional small pools of fresh water and Eirik was reassured that they would be able to refresh their supplies here.
After a while the woods began to thin and they saw their goal. Beyond some huffing and puffing in the afternoon heat, their ascent was silent. The mountainside was hard, but not impossible to climb, and Eirik noted that, though the mountain's shape made it undoubtedly a fire mountain, it must indeed have been a very long time since it had last erupted. Not only was the land green, but the rocks were weathered and worn by the hand of time.
Eirik had heard once that, far to the south, there lay a group of small, rocky islands in the middle of the ocean, and he wondered if they had perhaps found one of these islands. If so, they should see the other islands from the top of the mountain. He tried to remember whether any people were said to live there, but could not recall mention of them. He shrugged and briefly patted the hilt of his sword. If anyone lived here, he would treat them fairly, but he and his men would brook no interference.
They were now nearing the top, and the terrain grew rougher, requiring at times that they climbed rather than walked. Eirik noted that the sun was already well on its way towards the horizon. They would have to make their camp at the top of the mountain and return the next day.
At last, the top; a wide, shallow bowl of land opened up before Eirik. He paused to appreciate the view, and nearly jumped as a silent Garm pointed towards the eastern edge of the top, where three eagles had taken wing and flown up high upon their arrival. The other two men were also silent as they looked around.
Eirik turned around to look at where they had come from. On the beach far below he saw faithful Ægishjálmr, with the men he had left behind to guard her mere dots, so high had they climbed. The sun was nearly on the edge of the world now – a stupid saying, he scoffed silently; anyone who had ever seen a ship's mast disappear beyond the horizon, or watched the Moon in the sky, knew Miðgarðr was round – and he had always liked the hour of sunset at sea.
There was no other land to be seen, at least not from this side of the island, and they would have to walk across to the other side of the top, and see whether there was anything to be seen in the east.
As the last sliver of the sun's disk started to disappear, Eirik thought he saw something on the horizon. Garm and Asgeir were also looking at the sunset, but it was Thorvaldr who suddenly gasped in surprise as he too turned to look west. Eirik was not sure whether he or the other two made any noise, but he knew he held his breath in awe as suddenly a vision opened up of a quickly darkening green coast and white towers shining brightly in the fiery light of the sun dipping out of sight. He stared, not daring to even blink for fear of losing the view. Asgarðr! Or perhaps merely Himinbjorg, with the home of the gods still beyond sight… Whichever it was, few men could boast of having seen beyond Bifröst in life, and Eirik found himself falling to his knees at the realisation.
Slowly the view faded from sight, until all they saw was the starry dome of the sky glistening upon the still-quiet sea. Mutely, the men rose again and, as if by agreement, but still without speaking, made their camp just below the mountain's top.
Despite what he had seen, Eirik found himself falling asleep quickly, and it was only when he awoke just before dawn the next day that he realised they had not even set a sentry. Somehow, looking over the shallow bowl of the mountain's top and seeing that the eagles they had seen fly up when they arrived had returned, he felt that the animals had been their guards this night. He glanced at the vision-free ocean to the west, a strange regret and loss in his heart. Somehow he knew that, even if they could not see land from here, their course lay east; Ægir would see them home and keep them from Rán's cold realm.
From the Silmarillion:
and it was said that the "far-sighted" could see Tol Eressëa from [Meneltarma's] summit. After the Downfall it was believed by the remnants of the Dúnedain that the top of Meneltarma rose once more above the sea level as the Isle of Meneltarma, "a lonely island lost in the great waters."
Asgarðr or Asgard: the court of the Norse gods
Bifröst: the rainbow, believed to be the bridge to Asgarðr
Himinbjorg: 'heavenly castle' – the home of Heimdall, who guards the entrance to Asgarðr at the end of Bifröst
Originally written for the November 2011 Nuzgûl of the Month Challenge. Though this is set in historical times, around the year 1000, none of the main characters are intended to be historical, though I hope there are no glaring errors against history either.
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