On the beach

Hengist woke to bright sun in his eyes, and sand in his mouth.  He sat up, spat, and spat, then looked around.

He was still on the island, lying in the sand behind the great rock outcrop that had saved his life.  A few bodies floated in the surf.  The fires were all out, only a few thin banners of smoke rose from what was left of the tents.  The ships, both his and Mabinne’s, were destroyed; only wreckage lay washed up on the shore or bobbing gently in the surf.  He saw no living person, save one, who sat in the sand a few feet away, watching the surf roll in.


It took a few moments before he could work up enough spit to speak.  “Well, sweet,” he said at last.  “Er, I mean, Mabinne.  Mabinne the Merciless, I should say.  I suppose you’ll still want to kill me.”

Mabinne turned.  She smiled.  “It matters very little now.” she said.  She tapped her neck.  “I cannot freeze you.  The binding collar your general put on me is still in place.  And since he is dead, I am powerless, for the rest of my life.”

Hengist looked around.  “It would seem General Gustafson has a lot of company in death.”

Mabinne nodded.  She returned to her study of the waves.

“Of course, you could try to kill me with a knife, or a sword.  There would seem to be plenty lying about.”

“Have you not seen enough killing?”

“Have you not yet claimed your revenge?”

Mabinne shook her head.  “I’ve walked that path.  You can see,” she waved a hand at the floating bodies, “where it has taken me.”

Hengist struggled to his wooden feet.  He walked slowly to Mabinne’s side, lowered himself to the sand to sit next to her.  “I must say, you walked that path very effectively.  Even to here.”

Mabinne shrugged.  Then, she laughed.  “As one warrior to another, you say?”

“Even so.  I underestimated you once.  I learned a hard lesson from that.”

“Then we have both learned some hard lessons.”

They sat in silence for some time.  Then:

“I confess, I’m amazed you survived at Port Stronghold.”

Hengist held up his left arm.  The iron hammer head that took the place of his hand was still in place.  “I am rather amazed myself.  You certainly did some damage.  You are strong, Mabinne, but you should have known my own strength, which is great.”

“I could hardly doubt that now.”  She looked over her shoulder at the trees nearest the shore, waving slowly in the wind.  “I don’t suppose you can build us a ship to return to the mainland?”

“Sweet,” Hengist lapsed back into addressing her in the old way, “Building a ship that will survive a sea voyage is the work of a craftsman, and an able-bodied and properly equipped one at that.  I am, candidly, a cripple.  With half an arm, half a hand, half a leg, a missing foot.  We have no tools.  We can make no canvas for sails.  We have no crew to sail a ship.  We are, I am afraid, marooned, on an island that only we two know exists.”

“I see.  So, then.  What happens now?”

Hengist shrugged.  “As I see it, we have two choices.  We can go on as we just were and try to kill each other.”

“And the other?”

“We live.  We two, here, on this island.  There is food here.  We have fire.  Building shelters is within my ability, I think.  We can live here for some time.  Even the rest of our lives, should it come to that.”

“Should it come to that,” Mabinne repeated.

“We lived together before, after all.  We can surely do so again, even if not so… intimately.”

“Given that the alternative is to fight to the death, I suppose it’s the better choice.”

Hengist looked at her for a moment; there was a twinkle in his eye.  “You know, I promised to drag you in chains before the King.  It looks as though that will not happen now.”

Mabinne laughed.  “No,” she said.  “No, I suppose it won’t.”

“Well.  To the task at hand, I suppose.”  Hengist pushed himself again to his wooden feet.  “I should look to building some simple shelters.  Nightfall can’t be that far off.”

“I’ll help.”

“Search among the wrecks, if you would.” Hengist asked.  “See what you can find by way of cordage, any unbroken planks, cooking pots, anything useful.”

“Very well.”

An hour later, they sat in front of a fire in the shade of the trees.  Two simple lean-tos stood back in the woods a few paces away, and over the fire, a small bronze pot simmered with a stew of some dried bison meat and Beretanian yams.  They ate in silence, side by side, facing the sea, as the sun sank slowly behind them.

“Well,” Hengist said at last.  He spooned out the last of his stew and swallowed it, then tossed the bowl in the sand.  “Here we are.  Sailing in a ship of our own building, with our destination unknown to all but the gods.”

“You may be right.”

Hengist looked out over the waves, still gently rolling in on the beach.  Behind them, the sun was setting, and the reddish-gold light played on the sea.  “You know,” he said, “I really did love you.”

“I know.”

Mabinne looked down at Hengist’s mangled hand, in the sand next to her.  She hesitated.  Then she laid her own hand on his.  “Everything we have done has brought us here.  And left us here.”

Hengist looked down at Mabinne’s hand on his.  He frowned.  Then he smiled, but it was a humorless, bitter smile.  “Together,” he said.  “The gods’ own joke.”

“The gods’ own joke,” Mabinne agreed.

Behind them, the sun slowly sank into the trees.


Twenty years later

Floki Haraldson, second son of old King Harald Iron-Jaw, knew and would freely tell anyone that listened that he was the greatest navigator in the history of Ikslund.  He had compiled extensive maps of the coasts of Ikslund and Beretan, as well as star charts that encompassed the entire year.  That, along with a device of his own creation that used a sliver of lodestone to indicate true direction, emboldened him to drive his longboat to places hitherto unknown.

This summer, eighteen years after the final peace between Ikslund and their Ashlander allies and the Beretanians, Jutlanders and Mondrians, he drove to the west, across unknown seas.  And now his search was rewarded:  New land, unknown to all who had gone before.

Or so Floki thought.

“We’ll land,” he directed his crew.  The sun was high in the sky, near midday.  “It will be good to stretch our legs.  When we land, Gunther and Bjorn, see if you can find us some fresh meat.  Jorn and Vigdar, start fires, see about some shelters.”

They landed the ship on a broad, gentle stretch of sandy beach and climbed out.  Past the beach was forest, oddly straight trees with a spray of broad leaves at the top.  Underneath one of the trees, amazingly, stood a girl.

She was tall, fair, with not quite the look of an Ikslunder despite her blonde hair and blue eyes, dressed in a ragged, knee-length tunic that looked as though it had been made from woven packing bags.

She walked forward, slowly, cautiously, with an old, stained bow in her hand, an arrow nocked.  “Who are you?” she asked in an oddly accented Ikslunder.

“Floki Haraldson,” Floki replied.  “Son of the late King Harald Iron-Jaw, brother to the present King Knut Haraldson.  We came out of Port Stronghold.  We mean you no harm.  Who are you?  How did you come to be here?”

The girl lowered the bow.  “Me?  Mabinne Hengistdottir.  How did I come to be here?  I’ve always been here.”

“Where is your family, child?”  Floki asked.  “Where are your people?  Are there others?”

“No.  No longer, at any rate.  My parents were marooned here.  My mother died of a fever when I was two summers of age.  My father died last year.  They are buried back there, in the trees.  I am alone.”

“Well, no longer,” Floki said.  “We will be returning to Port Stronghold with news of this new land.  You are welcome to come with us.”

Mabinne thought about that.  She remembered her father telling her of his farm in Ikslund, and how he had appeared before the King, and all his other stories…

Imagine the daughter of Hengist Iron-Fist and Mabinne the Merciless, returned to Ikslund.  By the brother of the king, no less. 

“Yes,” she said.  “Yes, I think I’d like that.”