Give me a battle. Give me a weapon. Give me anything but a ship. But if you give me a ship, let me row until the oar breaks, for I need something to distract me from the waves.
The sea holds power. It hides Jormungund, the Serpent of Midgard. It breaks boats and takes lives, and it churns the stomach of the strongest of men. Even I, Einar Shattersword, am subdued by its power. We have sailed for a day and part of the night, and I have taken nothing but ale. With wet clothes and an empty stomach I ply the oars.
"Give Grettir a turn," says the man behind me.
"We draw near to Diaparn," I said. "Let him sleep until we get there."
"We've an hour yet, Einar. You are slowing."
I pull faster on my oar. "Do you call me weak, Sturla? Take your place at the prow and see if you can spot land."
Like a goat on the mountains, Sturla stands and walks to the prow. A sword fits better in my hands than an oar, and I am more at home on land than at sea. But I will stand by my countrymen and row, for even the best swordsman of Hrafney is nothing if he does not help others.
"The gods grant us favor!" Sturla calls. "A quarter hour to land, brothers!"
If the gods wanted to favor us, they would not have put waves on the water. With tired eyes and slowing arms I row, for I have rowed more than my share. I pray I will be able to fight tomorrow. Much I have practiced since last year's Althing, and I will further seal my name as the name of the greatest swordsman in Orkney.
Sturla wakes Steinbjorn, our chief and the captain of our Longship. He stands at the prow and calls directions. I continue to row, though my shoulders ache and my left hand grows raw. My right is used to holding my sword; only a blade can chafe it.
We do not go ashore tonight; rather, we cast anchor in the harbor and wait for sunrise. It is unwise to enter a man's house at night; how much more a man's island! But Hrafney is allied with Diaparn, and though they are a small tribe, they are strong. It is on Diaparn that the first Althing was performed, and now, seven years later, we meet again.
When the anchor is cast from the ship, I lay with a bundle of clothes as a pillow. My stomach rolls with the ship as waves toss it, but I am weary from rowing. There is a battle between sleep and nausea to determine whether I will spend this night in Valhalla or Niflheim
.My sword Neckbiter is at my side. It is precious to me. In my first battle--a raid on an English town--I broke my sword on a man who wore chainmail under his tunic. It is that day that earned me my name Shattersword, and it was that day I vowed to own the strongest sword in the North. I paid good money for Neckbiter, and it never leaves my side. I have also a spear, and a bearded axe, but spears and axes are not given names. I glance to make sure their metal glitters in the moonlight beside me; no one has stolen them. Good. A slow and certain death will meet he who steals from Einar Shattersword.
Sleep wins my battle; I rest in Valhalla tonight.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.