I would go myself to find him, for I run so much faster than Inga can. Yet I am barely from our line when I hear behind me, "Katla, think you 'tis your concern? Stay back where you belong." Nay, I know 'tis Hallgerd. Hallgerd, who finds her chore most fit to tell us all our rightful cares, though she is but a bonded slave herself. "He is Inga's charge," she jeers, "and well she knows just what to do. She'll do without you even better, for you know our mistress wants you not too close about her kin."
It is true, my mistress does not like me. Perhaps 'tis on my mother's 'count, yet I do not ask and dare not wonder. Instead, I stay within our line, for now it is moving slowly closer toward the shore. First we cross the last of moss and grasses, then upon the gravel's clack, then to stand before the creaking board - nay, it does but sway! And the waves leap up, sudden ranging higher from the deep, menacing there before my bundled feet as I take my final step from this Iceland shore.
I am pressed ahead, first by Hallgerd, then by others. It is but quick across, then I stumble on the wide-berth knarr. Trembling still, I catch myself. Each body's weight tips the vessel ever deeper. The fjord's waters rise, hugging close the wooden boards as I try to sit where I am bidden, between the bundles, crates, the bags, and chests, upon the rough and rocking floor.
Barely have I settled on a place when, down the beach, I sense a stranger watching. I know at once he is no slave. His stance wears a self-conscious grace, though his cloak is cloth, not leather, his cap soft wool, not pounded bronze. His look is fair and lean - a freeman, though a poor one, if I am any judge. Yet at me, his mouth is set agape, on his lips an almost speaking, his fingers reach as if to catch my own. He sudden presses through the throng. I draw back sharply, calling quick for Inga. Almost he is at our ship, but she is nowhere by. Yet, when he hears my voice, he bows his head and murmurs, "I am sorry," turning, shrinking fast away.
Strange, for he turns again several times, even as he tends his burdens, loaded up with sheep and goats and other goods in a wind-washed chest. Twice he has to thwart his goats upon the rut, and nearly loses a lamb with no one else close watching. He turns and smiles softly as I try to hide my laugh. Then he is gone, lost among the crowd.
Now, at last, comes Inga, breathless, up the plank. Her skirt is soiled and she is bent, fretting over poor Torunn. "Katla, take this Torgrim from me!" she begs as Torunn retches over the side. "Nay," Inga coos, "Torunn, already? Even in this little waft of sea?"
Torgrim squirms within my grasp. "Katla, think you my father - will he send us off upon the deep alone?"
Einar still stands on the shore with the other chieftains, setting fires and sacrifices up to Odin and to Thor. "Nay," I hush him, "of course he'll not. He but prays to have us make the safest journey." I press Torgrim close against my bosom, patting gently across his narrow back. Yet, after not too long, he wriggles quick away.
Escaping fast, he tries to climb the railing. "Father!" he shouts, setting out to leap just as the sacrificial flames set up to roar.
"Stay back!" I grasp him, falling hard across a pile of boxes. But Torgrim's close to me now, clinging, pulling some, yet starting up to shout, "Father, do not leave me!"
"Nay." I stroke his sun-bright crown, enduring the soggy damp of his tears soaking through my wadmal dress, and the breeze as it shifts and cuts now harsh across the shallow rail.
Another heavy step sets the vessel jostling: Einar himself, his broad shadow blocking the sun until he sees us, comes, bends, and pats his child's brow. "There, Torgrim, be proud and bold as a proper Viking. Now Thor's eye will watch our ship with favor. Hush you, so, and clutch upon our Katla. There, I know you like her well."
Excerpted from The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh. Copyright © 2006 by Judith Lindbergh. Excerpted by permission of Plume, a division of Penguin Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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