Here’s another excerpt from Chapter 20 of THE BARD’S GIFT.
Torolf has attempted to sail alone in a small fishing boat (a faering) from Iceland to Greenland in order to get back to Astrid. He’s made a few alterations to the typical faering, like a hide covering over the prow of the boat, copying the idea from the Inuit boats he’s seen.
The wind whipped his wet hair into his face. He had no idea how long he’d been alternately bailing and trying to keep the faering running before the waves. Every muscle and bone in his body ached with cold and exhaustion. He shivered violently. That was a very bad sign. Cold could kill as surely as drowning.
He thought longingly of the dry clothes in the waterproof sack up under that hide covering. There was no way to stop long enough to change. Even if he did, the fresh clothes would be soaked through much too soon in this storm. The only way to stay even a little warm was to keep moving. Fortunately, the need to bail forced him to do that or let the boat become swamped.
Was it his wishful thinking, or had the sound of the waves changed? He focused his attention. No, not his imagination. That was the boom of rollers breaking on the shore. Even a barren skerry would be a welcome relief now–always supposing he could get the skiff ashore without tearing her bottom out.
He looked around through the rain gloom for the tell-tale white of the breakers. He blinked the rain from his eyes. There was too much white, rising much too high. For an instant he thought he was about to be drowned by a towering wave, but no wave was that tall, even in his worst nightmares. He blinked again. That was no wave. Surely that was the massive bulk of Hvitserk. Could he really be that close to Greenland, to home?
He stared for a moment, shivering harder. He was too cold and exhausted to think. The only thing that kept running through his mind was land . . . land . . . land. The risk receded to nothing compared to that siren call. He had to make a run for it.
Torolf dropped the auskjer and reached his shaking arms for the sail. The wind was driving for the shore and the sail would get him there faster. Solid ground, the promise of a fire, any kind of shelter. It was all he could think of.
With the sail up, the faering skimmed over the rising wave like a skate over ice. Torolf clung grimly to the steering oar, ignoring the water that began to slosh in the bottom again. He peered forward through the curtains of rain, trying to spot any hazard in time. He had to fight against exhaustion to keep his mind focused. He was getting stupid with the cold.
His attention narrowed to the rocky shore ahead. Not far, now. Torolf failed to notice the waves breaking off to his right until too late. That had to be a submerged rock. He pushed the steering oar over hard, trying to turn away. He felt it catch on something.
The faering swung toward the rock, pulled around by the oar. He should release the steering oar, let it turn and free itself, but his senses were numbed by the cold. He didn’t react fast enough. With a loud crack the blade of the steering oar tore free–of the rock and the tiller both. There was a crunching sound and a rush of icy water. The faering had hit the submerged rock and bounced off. Torolf stared dumbly at the hole, just at the waterline. He put his hands against the damaged hull as if that could hold the water back.
His brain was as numbed as his hands. He had to force himself to think, to react, or he’d die out here, yards from the safety of the shore. His mind refused to respond. More than that, his mind or his eyes must be playing tricks on him. For a moment, Torolf could have sworn he saw two figures in the towering storm clouds–one massive, red-haired and red-bearded, the other smaller and lighter. The smaller figure pointed down at Torolf. The red-head raised what looked like a war hammer and then the skiff spun, shifting Torolf’s view away from the impossible scene.
A wave, larger than the rest, picked up the little skiff. Torolf screamed in fear. Panic finally penetrated the haze of his thoughts. He held on with white knuckles to the sides of the skiff as the wave carried the boat up onto the beach.
Legs shaking in reaction, Torolf jumped out and pulled the boat up past the line of debris deposited by the waves. With the last of his strength, he turned it over, so that it was propped up by the mast, by some miracle still intact, and the hull was to the wind. There was nothing more he could do, no better shelter he could contrive for the moment. He crawled into the space under the hull. Some instinct drove him to crawl farther, into the greater shelter of the hide-covered bow. Up off the wet beach, the enclosed space held what was left of his body heat. That was as much warmth as he was likely to get.