Friday, 5 March 2010

Omens and maledictions 4

Leif the Unvanquished, clan chief of the Berserkers, stood at the prow of his longboat as his men rowed them out into the cold North Sea to meet their destiny. Behind him at the settlement, the elders, the womenfolk and their children watched their departure in silence. At his shoulder stood his battle-scarred lieutenant, the mighty Lars, twin battle-axes strapped across his back, one hand on the rigging as he surveyed the glittering horizon.

“Wherever we strike land, my lord,” Lars rumbled, “Men shall think the torments of Hades have fallen upon them.”

Leif looked back at his crew, hand-picked men, veterans of a hundred merciless raids, trained to slaughter, drenched in blood and the glories of battle, deaf to the pleas of survivors, widows and bondswomen in their rapine and riot, all his to command. They would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is where he intended to lead them.

“So much out there for the taking, Lars,” Leif spoke at last, “and these hellhounds shall snatch it from the jaws of death.”

To the southern sun, then, for the fabulous treasures, the palaces, pearls and princesses, theirs to plunder at will.

High above them in the pale Northern sky a lone seabird circled the boat. Leif and Lars watched it glide effortlessly around them as their oars churned the black waters. Then, with a sudden screech, it broke off its course and plummeted into the icy sea, never to resurface.

Leif looked hard at Lars, and then sighed. “Turn us round and take us back in,” he ordered.

“We’re packing it in, lads,” he explained to his Berserkers as they executed the difficult, arduous turn, “According to that bird there’s a shit storm coming and we don’t want to be caught out in that.”