“Halfdan, we can go no farther.” Sturli looked across the bow of the creaking ship, choosing to not meet the cold ice blue eyes glaring at him from the gunwale.
“I say when we can go no farther, my friend.” Halfdan spoke, words rumbling from his damaged mouth. A long wound marred his jaw across the lips, preventing them from properly closing ever again. His thick sand blonde beard bore a large gap where the scar had formed, drawing even more attention to the injury. “When will determines reality, then reality forms to your will.”
Sturli wasn’t sure that was how reality worked, but decided against saying otherwise, instead continuing to gaze out at the massive ice floes clogging the channel along their path in between sea and grey sky. They had encountered ice ever since the fjord, of course, it being only May when the northern seas were still enslaved by the frozen bonds left from winter. But this ice so far north was different.
“Why are the bergs so… Strange?” Jurg, the youngest of the crew, asked. He scratched at the scraggly beginnings of a beard along his jaw as he spoke.
The bergs strained at the sky like drowning men, contorted into unnatural shapes and forms, twisting above the limits of the still water.
“Indeed strange, but strange is no threat.” Halfdan asserted, pulling his heavy fur tighter around his shoulders. The men around the deck rowed slowly while several stood along the railings to guide the ship through the treacherous floes. “They rise like the mountains, yet are young and wild. Hold your guard.” He finished, turning back to the man clutching the top of the mast. “Anything yet, Frinskar?”
“No, nothing. Only ice and-” Frinskar paused, straining forward from the mast to get a better look at something. “There’s something under the water!” He called out. Immediately without orders the men along the gunwales pulled their oars in, drawing swords and axes while standing behind the shields lined along the deck.
Halfdan moved forward, his own intricate sword flashing from the scabbard as he leaped to the very bow of the ship. “Where?” He shouted back.
Frinskar held his hand up to his eyes, lessening the glare off the mountains of shimmering ice around them. “It looks like- like a ship.”
Before long, the shape beneath the clear water appeared even from Halfdan’s vantage point. “Oarsmen, bring us to port.” He said, eyes trained on the dark form beneath the smooth surface. The ship moved to the left slowly, gliding along silently until they were abreast of the sunken wreck.
“A longship.” Sturli murmured, eyes wide. “How shallow is this water?”
“A sounding, now.” Halfdan commanded. “Bring us to a halt, you two-” He gestured to two men standing with weapons drawn near him on the bow. “Lash us to that berg there.”
The men rushed to obey, moving with practiced precision until the ship was full stopped and lashed to the ice. A long rope with a lead weight, coated with tallow, was lowered slowly into the water by Sturli, his hands moving along to each of the leather sounding marks along the length.
The rope suddenly stopped pulling itself, Sturli waited a moment, allowing the weight to slip off of any rocks it may have struck before calling the sound. “By the deep, four fathoms.”
“Four.” Halfdan said to himself, mulling the number over in his mind. “Only four. Frinskar! Do you see land?”
Frinskar continued to strain as far as he could from the mast. “No, I can’t see far past the ice.”
Halfdan grunted. “Very well. It’s too cold to dive without a fire nearby.” He looked over the edge to the sunken ship, seeing its shape clearly in the water but without any real detail. How did it sink? Without diving, there really was no way of knowing. “Dammit, only four fathoms. Its mast is broken or else we’d see it jutting above the surface.”
“The bottom is mostly sand, it seems.” Sturli said, looking at the greasy bottom of the sounding weight, now covered with coarse sand grains. “Orders?” He asked, breathing on his hands to warm them after handling the wet and cold rope.
Halfdan thought a moment, all eyes on the ship looking his way. “Continue on. Unlash us and keep on our course.”
The men moved again, this time with a bit of apprehension. Such a shallow sea was never a good sign when the area was unknown. Sinking in such cold water, even water so shallow, was certain death. They would die here if anything went wrong.
Before long the ship was again nosing itself carefully among the horrifying ice, making a path through the gaps between the bergs. Longships were very maneuverable, and in these conditions such agility was needed above anything else. No amount of armor would shield them from the bergs, better to just avoid them.
Halfdan stood at the bow, as he had most of the voyage, gazing silently over the frozen world, contemplating their destination. The old witch had told him much of his fate, the Wyrd upon his heart, the Wanderlust in his mind, the saltwater in his veins. The icy jaws of the north called to him. The depths called to him. He looked down into the clear sea, now able to see the bottom through the water, flat and gloomy far below.
“The gods will guide me. If not, then my Wyrd shall instead. Either way makes no difference.” He said to himself, mangled lips creasing into a snarl. “No difference at all.”