Find part III of the Saga here.
“You think we should make a sacrifice of some of these shrimp?”
“Might have better luck with some beer.”
“Fair enough. So, what’s the protocol?”
“As long as it doesn’t involve dancing without your undies on, I’m open.”
“I think it’s more of a – H’OH BOY that one was close – matter of singing and waving your arms about.”
“We are doomed. No offense sister dear, but you couldn’t carry a tune if – whoops, there go the lights again – your next dinner depended on it. Mother? Any thoughts?”
“Mmmfmmmf?” (they are good shrimp).
Picture it: Rømø, 2016. A lone isle off the coast of Denmark, just after dusk has fallen. Not that you’d know, unless like the Allfather’s Ravens you rise above the clouds and see the sinking sun lingering in the west. Because beneath those clouds, night reigns supreme. A night filled with mighty thunder and lightning and torrents of rain. To stand beneath, or run through, this deluge might appeal to a Newfoundland Dog, or mayhap a lobster. The humans for their part huddle in the hotel’s hyggelig restaurant, some of them still sporting the look that one of said dogs might have after traversing the sea from Canada to Greenland. Where they linger, random puddles form on the hardwood floor, tirelessly chased and mopped up by Pierre the Softspoken. No, he shall not permit one of the gentle guests he cares for so diligently, clucks over like a mother goose with but one chick, to slip and fall into the Æbleflæsk. Least of all shall he allow harm to come to the shining young Valkyrie whose majestic stature and hearty laugh have captured his romantic’s soul. Considering how enthusiastically the ladies decimate tonight’s “Danish Delights” buffet, his task is not an easy one.
“Thor!” Pierre murmurs to the three lovely, if rather damp ladies in the corner, leaning on his mop and gesturing at the mayhem beyond the windows. Since all three have their cheeks stuffed like hamsters after a famine, they only answer by nodding in unison. The old boy is indeed busy this eve, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr making a mighty ruckus as they pull his chariot across the skies. Probably a bit late now to offer a fine sacrifice of assorted seafood and ale. Even if the rødspætte is fit for Gods. Once more the warm lights flicker, and but a heartbeat later the thunder seems to rise from the earth itself, sinking into bone and marrow and setting it to vibrate in sympathy. Soft curses in Swedish sound from the next booth over, where other horse people wait out the divine wrath.
At least they made it just in time. Not that the havoc wreaked upon the isle came entirely without warning. When the Valkyries and their new friends embarked on the magical Sønderstrand tour this second afternoon, temperatures had gone from yesterday’s “For fanden! This is my third shower today!” to all out “For helvede! This weather is fit for coconuts and parrots, not mighty Danish warriors!”. But it was less the tropical air which creased Olaf’s brow and made sweaty horses eye the horizon with a mixture of hope and foreboding. They knew, the moment the winds shifted. Which was, of course, a full hour into the tour. The dreaded “point of no return” that every pilot knows, when all you can do is push full throttle and hang on to your underpants. One forgets, in Bavaria’s gentle hills, how rapidly the weather may change near the ocean. How a sky of Caribbean blue can fill with ominous black clouds, racing afore the storm, in what feels like a heartbeat.
It was a charge worthy of song and story, down that vast expanse of sand and seawater, hooves thundering and manes flying like banners. Led by Elder Valkyrie, whose defiant “Forth, Eorlingas!” had the unforeseen side effect of proving that their dignified German companion not only has a sense of humor, but is capable of riding at full gallop while laughing herself into a hiccup. They outraced the tempest, the brave companions did. Barely. For no sooner had they fed and rubbed down their noble steeds and returned them to the herd, than lightning rendered the air in the west and the first fat drops of the deluge formed craters in the dry earth.
600 yards can feel like miles if you’re running into the gale, but they made it. Piling into the restaurant a sodden mess, but they made it. With the kitchens not quite officially in business yet but already turning out the first delights of the evening, and kind Therese rustling up a stack of towels, the gallant riders decided that the Nornir had the right idea. And thus it was that the waterlogged arrivals of the second hour (those few, those valiant few) were greeted by a half-dried bunch in riding attire and towels, already digging into the feast.
“So much for the Seal Safari tomorrow, I suppose.”
“Never say die, sister mine.”
A mighty gust of wind pushes against the windows, and Pierre the Softspoken casts a rueful gaze at some plastic chairs tumbling past outside. The wreckage of a brightly colored parasol bounces behind them, barely visible behind the veil of water.
Mother Valkyrie has spied the dessert emerging from the kitchens and decides that if they are to brave the roiling seas tomorrow, she might as well have some extra Rødgrød on her ice cream. And a glass of that rum. Maybe two. What could possibly go wrong?
(Denmark Lesson the Fifth: Thou shalt seek to emulate the Dane’s Unruffability in All Things. Weather report somehow missed a massive storm brewing? Patio furniture halfway to Sweden? A restaurant smelling of caramel and berries and wet horse? Break open a few bottles and bring out the old guitar. Watch an American teaching a Swede and a Dane the words to “Barrett’s Privateers”. Tell sagas of old; of daring seafarers and dynastic feuds. Have another glass.)
Havneby, 2016. Silver-grey skies spit a fitful rain down onto a small group of tourists. Last night’s raging tempest has spent its wrath by dawn, but the wind still tugs hard on hair and clothing, and churns the ocean waves. “Det blæser en halv pelican,’ as Olaf notes with a wink of mischief before unloading his three Americans at port. All the same, the faithful little ferry calls for its passengers with an urgent honk. Last chance to back out.
“I have a weird feeling about this.”
“If mother can do it hung over, we don’t exactly have a good excuse.”
“As long as she doesn’t sing about wishing to be in Sherbrooke again, I think I can handle it.”
“Yes?” – “Ja?”
“Never mind. My hair hurts. Shall we?”
“Yo ho and a bottle of rum! I mean, sure.”
Bára, Blóðughadda, Bylgja, and Dúfa; Hefring, Himinglæva, Hrönn, Kólga, and Uðr, all of old Ægir’s girls are out to play. Tossing the stout little ferry this way and that, like kittens with a ball of wool. Somewhere starboard of where mother Valkyrie attempts to find her sea-legs by letting the wind blow the fuzz out of her brain, a green-faced fellow passenger leans over the railing, contemplating the unfairness of the universe. Elder Daughter calmly strolls the deck with a rolling gait, keen eyes scanning the horizon. A sudden downpour shoos everyone inside, but as the ferry bobs and bucks her way into List harbor, a few tentative rays of sunlight peek out behind the clouds.
Well and so. There she sits, the charming old wooden fishing vessel of Seal Safari fame. Swaying cheerfully in her berth, awaiting the last batch of her passengers. Aside from the Americans and the lively Briton, fellow rider and mother’s worthy rival at the breakfast buffet, there are two Germans with skeptical expressions and a half dozen Danish teens with a harried elder in tow.
“Moin!” Helga’s German counterpart Rieke ushers her flock on board, scarcely pausing for breath as she explains the itinerary, ascertains just how many languages she needs to use today, and intersperses with nautical speak and random orders to the placid, amiable captain and crewman.
“Deutsch? Nein? English for you four? Ja gut. Uweeee! Machma hinne!”
Taciturn the small crew may be, and move without undue haste, but there can be no doubt of their competence, for in short order the little vessel with the bright red hull plows into the waves. It may be wishful thinking, but it feels to mother Valkyrie as if frothy Uðr is about to call it a day. Not that it helps much when playful Dúfa yet tosses the little boat hither and thither, making the delighted teens tumble over one another with shrieks and laughter, while the stately German couple wrap themselves into Friesian Martens. They appear to be on to something, for the rain has returned in earnest. Out into the endless ocean they venture, water from above, water below, steel grey and cerulean blue. Every now and then excited teens point at motion in the water – an inquisitive porpoise! And there! Was that a dolphin? No, the sturdy young Dane with tawny hair plastered to his temples declares. That was a porpoise calf! Mother will take his word for it, she’s too busy wiping the rain out of her eyes to see aught but glossy humps emerge from the waves.
Roughly an hour and a half at sea and the downpour turned drizzle, Rieke gauges the time right to pull up a few rather startled creatures from the ocean’s bottom to commence the educational part of the journey. Crabs, mussels, snails, and an annoyed starfish are gently lowered into a shallow glass basin for us to fawn over. Of course the Billow Maidens choose this time to sound their final charge of the day. Coming up hard from port, Hefring gives the valiant vessel a playful push and before mother Valkyrie’s bewildered eyes, eight teens and a German journey to starboard in a tangled pile of limbs. Not that the silver-blue eyed young Dane seems much put out, having taken the opportunity to gallantly let himself be landed on by the smallest of the Valkyries (“Lucky,” spake the Elder “what I land on stays landed on!”).
Alas, even as the winds abate bit by bit to a fussy breeze, the rain falls again in fat drops. Not that the seals seem to mind. For yes, there they are, at last. Silvery white and freckled tan Harbor Seals, doughty Grey Seals with broad snouts and quizzical expressions. Lounging on sandbanks, dozing, playing, obviously familiar with the funny red boat bobbing on the gentle waves, winding its way through their territory. A few courtesy barks greet the lively group of waving and shouting biped youngsters. No two arm spans from the hull, a few heads pop out of the water. Lustrous black eyes examine the funny humans, then disappear again.
Drenched nigh to the bone for the second time in under 24 hours, Mother Valkyrie decides it was all more than worth it.
(Denmark Lesson the Sixth: Thou shalt not believe the tales that there is such a thing as waterproof clothing. Unless thou ventureth forth in a wetsuit, thou shalt get wet. From the crown of thy head to the soles of thy feet. Yet never fear, for if you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit. An hour, a day, ten minutes. The seas shall rise and calm again, the winds shall scuttle the clouds and then bring new ones. And there will be rainbows, and all the shades of blue and grey you can imagine, and a few more besides. Don’t bother with an umbrella, though. Sweden has already declared they’ve more than enough of them, thank you kindly. Even if the Briton’s fancy orange one was rather fetching).
It is, naturally, on the way back to port that the skies clear for long enough to peel out of oilskins and not-so-waterproof-after-all jackets, and expose damp shirts and sodden hair to the summer sun. The utterly smitten young Dane briefly loses his capacity for speech when the slender youngest Valkyrie reveals her “Screw the prince, I’ll take the horse!” t-shirt. Unless “Wstfgl!” is a Danish sound of appreciation for white cotton plastered to an unexpectedly feminine shape.
If mother had been asked, she would have placed bets that at least one of the lively teenagers shall take a bath before the day is done. Not that a bit of extra saltwater would make a great difference by now. But as the little vessel glides back into harbor on only playfully ruffled seas, and all the passengers reach dry land safely, it is once more proven that she’d make a lousy Völva. Yet the Fates are not so easily cheated. All it takes is a bereft Briton, mourning the ill fortune of his second favorite umbrella, and an inconvenient bit of concrete waylaying said distracted traveler, pitching him inexorably over the edge. And a charitable Valkyrie with a trained warrior’s reflexes and the grace and elegance of a one legged goose.
It is astonishing, mother muses while treading water, how cultured even the most vicious curses sound in that accent. It is however difficult to determine whether he is protesting the fact he was safely, if firmly, deposited on terra firma on his hind end, or feels wounded in his sense of chivalry. Maybe both? Just as mother opens her mouth to apologize for the rescue gone slightly awry, Elder Shieldmaiden waves from above, her expression somewhat unsurprised.
“Nicely done, mother. That half spin with minor lift was inspired.”
“I was aiming for a Rittberger, but thank you. Now would you mind…”
“Coastguard is coming. I don’t want to disappoint the guys, they look so happy someone fell in right in front of their noses.”
“Ah. Can’t have that, can we.”
“Also, I heard they give people grog after they fish them out.”
“I knew I raised smart children.”
(The legend, it turns out, is quite true. While usually not applicable to someone who merely fell into the harbor on a valiant errand, the good Captain of the Pidder Lüng was amused enough to make an exception. This, combined with the beers which the fine British gentleman insisted on buying for his impromptu rescuer, made for a rather jolly ferry-ride home to Rømø. And lest it be supposed that the younger Shieldmaidens are heartless and unmoved by their dam’s plight: They’re just used to it. “Can’t take her anywhere, but she’s got the credit cards” used to it).
“In an eagle’s guise | at the end of heaven
Hræsvelg sits, they say;
And from his wings | does the wind come forth
To move o’er the world of men.”
The Saga will continue as the dauntless explorers once more set out across the isle, with steeds of steel and those with hooves. Facing untold dangers from land, sea and air, they walk the Allfather Óðinn’s path and learn an awful lot of things. Mostly, what not to do.