THE BARD’S GIFT officially launches on January 30th. (Actually, you can get it now on Amazon, though.)
Here’s another fun fact and excerpt.
You never know what your research will turn up–or how you’ll end up using it. In this case, I was looking for fish that one of my characters might reasonably be fishing for–and found the Greenland shark. It’s a real creature.
The Greenland shark lives farther north than any other shark species. They are comparable in size to the great white shark, averaging ten to sixteen feet in length and up to 900 pounds. They can grow as large as 21 feet and over 2,000 pounds. Usually only found near the surface only during the winter, they are otherwise denizens of the deep. They have been found with parts of polar bears in their stomachs.
The flesh of the Greenland shark is poisonous, but the hardy Icelanders (and presumably the Greenlanders), had a way of leaching the poison out. Of course, it still smelled overpoweringly of ammonia, even then.
This was too good not to include in the story, especially the bit about possibly eating polar bears. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 7 of THE BARD’S GIFT (a faering is a small fishing boat with both oars and sail) This excerpt also happens to include their first kiss:
Torolf pushed the skiff down the strand and into the water and jumped aboard. The faering had four oars, meant for two men, but Torolf had changed the rigging of the sail to make it easier for one man alone to manage the steering oar and the sail. He hadn’t had a chance to try that innovation out yet. The wind was in the wrong direction right now, but maybe he’d get a chance to test it on the way back to shore.
It didn’t take long to row out to where he judged the water was deep enough. He threw a half dozen lines over the side and began casting a net for whatever fish might be nearer the surface, stopping after each cast to watch the shore for Astrid.
He’d pulled in several nets full of herring when one of his lines jerked sharply. Torolf dropped the net into the bottom of the skiff to pull in the line. Whatever he’d caught was heavy. He didn’t think he was far enough out for halibut this large, but he couldn’t think of many other fish in these waters that would be so heavy. He continued to pull, muscles straining. Abruptly, the pressure on the line ceased and the fish–or what was left of it–flipped into the boat practically on top of Torolf. It had been a halibut all right, and a big one. Two thirds of it was missing, now, though.
Torolf stared at the ragged bite mark. Only one predator could have made that–a Greenland shark. And it’d have to be a big one to take most of a fish that size in one bite. He looked over the side of the boat and just glimpsed the sleek form below, almost half again as long as the boat. Not the biggest, but more than big enough. Unusual for it to be in this part of the fjord at this time of the year.
Torolf made a face at the thought of shark meat. The flesh of a Greenland shark was poisonous. It had to be fermented and pressed and then hung to dry for several months before it could be eaten. Even then, it smelled strongly of ammonia. Still, kaestur hakarl made in that way would be food for midwinter. By then everyone would probably be willing to overlook the smell and taste just to have a full belly. Looked at that way, the shark represented a lot of meat.
Torolf looked over the side again. No. This was a disadvantage of fishing alone; the shark was much too big for one man in a small boat to bring in. With that one swimming below his skiff, he wasn’t likely to bring in anything on any of his lines, either, so he began to haul them in. Better to go in, now, anyway. He’d heard stories of large Greenland sharks attacking small boats. With his faering half full of herring, there was no need to risk it. The wind was favorable. Now might be a good time to see how the skiff handled under sail.
He’d just gotten the sail up when he heard a shriek. Torolf turned toward the sound and saw Astrid pelting down the rocky beach, her white bear pelt cape flapping behind her. A huge ice bear galloped after her, fifty paces behind Astrid and closing fast. Torolf turned the tiller and set the faering racing toward Astrid.
The skiff was fast under sail, but no human could outrun a bear for long. Torolf shouted, “Astrid! Over here!”
Astrid looked up without breaking stride. She turned, almost slipping on the slick rocks and dove into the fjord. Her woolen dress and the heavy bear pelt immediately started to drag her down. The look on her face was even more panicked. She couldn’t swim? Of course she couldn’t. Few enough of the men could do more than tread water if they fell overboard. And that not for long in water as cold as this. Torolf steered the faering as close into shore as he dared and leaned far over to grab Astrid and pull her in.
The bear leaped into the water, too, with a splash that rocked the small boat. Torolf turned the sail and grabbed the steering oar to drive the faering back out into deep water. Not that that would be much help. He had no weapon aboard that he could hope to kill a bear with. An ice bear could swim the width of the fjord without difficulty, but an idea came to Torolf to pit one predator against another. He pulled the steering oar over a little farther to steer back to the same place where he had been fishing a moment ago.
Astrid struggled off the pile of slippery herring she’d landed on and took up a pair of oars. Her strokes were nowhere near as expert or powerful as Torolf’s, but they added to the skiff’s speed, nonetheless. As she got the rhythm, she started to pull for the home shore, where the larger boats were still pulled up on the sand.
“No,” Torolf shouted, pointing to the course he wanted. “That way. Trust me.”
Astrid paused just an instant, then she started rowing in the direction Torolf indicated.
Torolf looked back. The bear was persistent. Though the skiff was racing ahead of it, the beast still swam after them. Torolf looked ahead. They’d almost made it to the spot where he’d last seen the shark. He turned again at a furious roar close behind. The bear struggled and the water around it turned from green to red. Then the bear disappeared beneath the waves and didn’t come up again.
Astrid looked around as if she expected the bear to surface right beside them. “What happened?”
“Greenland shark. About the only thing big enough to eat an ice bear.” Torolf turned the sail and let the faering skim toward home.
The ripples of the bear’s submersion subsided. After a moment, Astrid smiled and they both erupted into gales of relieved laughter.
“What did you do to that bear?” Torolf asked when he could draw enough breath. “Walk up and tweak it’s nose.”
Astrid giggled. “No. I found a seal carcass back there. I was just going to cut off as much as I could carry with me when that bear charged down the slope and chased me off.” She plucked at the sodden bear pelt. “I think he thought I was a rival.”
“Maybe he did.” Torolf slowed the faering. “Maybe we should go back and bring in as much of that seal meat as we can. The skiff can hold quite a bit more.”
“Maybe we should.” Astrid shivered.
Torolf set the faering back toward home. “No. First you need to get warm and dry. Pa and I can go back for the seal meat. Can’t have you getting sick before we set sail for Iceland.”
Astrid ducked her head, her smile disappearing. “I guess that would be best.” She looked out over the side at the water slipping away beneath them.
Torolf watched her for a long moment. “Astrid . . . I was going to wait until we reach Iceland. Where the distance between us–poor farmer’s son and chieftain’s daughter–won’t be as great. Until I can find work and a place of my own to live. But that might take me a while and you’re so beautiful and brave. By then someone else may start to court you.” He was babbling. He paused, drew in a deep breath, and resolved to just blurt it out. “Astrid, will you be my . . . uh . . . sweetheart?”
Her eyes widened and her breath caught. Astrid stared back at Torolf. He decided that the look on her face was definitely not displeased, though. Greatly daring, he leaned forward and kissed her briefly.
When he pulled back, Astrid put her hand up to her mouth.
By her eyes, though, he could tell she was smiling. “Should I take that as a yes?”