Archive for March 24, 2009
CHAPTER 3 – HEIMSKRING
Naomi hated always having to look up at people, and in the case of this man she had to crane her head back even farther than usual. His colossal frame was clothed in brown leather, layered like a suit of armor and adorned with two pieces of chain mail on his upper arms. The plaits of his blond hair mingled with the plaits of his beard, making it hard to see whether a particular plait grew out of his face or the top of his head. Naomi was frightened to look at him for too long.
“Dis struger, egnildeme!” (“Greetings, strangers!”) the man said and lifted his right hand in greeting. “Fard ki nehrafer ref ri dis?” (“May I know who you are?”)
Jerick cleared his throat and also lifted his right hand, but then moved it to scratch the back of his head. “Uh … you probably can’t understand us, just like we can’t understand a word of your gibberish, but maybe you could, I don’t know, communicate to us somehow who you are and where the heck we are?”
The man looked at them calmly, his blue eyes exuding dignity, despite the fact that his bearded face lacked any sort of comprehension. “Un, nef sad rier emana raf, nada si red rees ganal.” (“Well, if that was your name, then it’s very long.”)
“Well, as I said, we don’t seem to understand each other.” Jerick laughed uncomfortably.
“Rif nenisha nus tichin u nehesterfe.” (“We don’t seem to understand each other.”)
“Yeah, right, whatever.”
Before Jerick could think of what else to say, Naomi had the sensible idea of pointing to herself and saying “Naomi” several times.
“Yes, yes, I’m Naomi.”
“And I’m Jerick.”
“Jar-rick. Jar-rick. Ah!” The man pointed to himself. “O-no-gog. O-no-gog.”
“Onogog,” the children said.
“Aye, ki ni Onogog.” (“Yes, I am Onogog.”) He nodded again. Then he lifted his long, muscular arms and pointed all around him, saying repeatedly, “Heimskring. Heimskring.”
“Heimskring?” Naomi and Jerick glanced at each other.
“Maybe that’s the name of this ocean or country here,” Jerick said.
“Or this world,” Naomi suggested.
Jerick first sneered, then grunted. “I think you’ve been reading too many fantasy novels, Nomers.”
“Well, where else can we be? We don’t have any people like him at home. At least not anymore.”
Naomi felt as though she had stepped into a dream or a movie—or yes, into one of her fantasy novels she liked so much. Was this really happening? Had they drifted into a different world? Had it been a magic cloud that had wrapped them up like a blanket and carried them to an unknown place? Or had they landed in another time, like they did in stories with time machines?
She would have to wait to find out.
They proceeded to climb down the mast with Onogog, leaving the dragon balloon tied on top. Down on deck they met the sailors, who still threw fearful glances at the dragon hovering above them. They were twelve in all, including Onogog, but none of them was as imposing as he. Their hair and beards were not as long, their foreheads not as square, their shoulders not as broad, and their statures not as giant-like. Like Onogog, however, they were all blond and wore brown leather outfits.
Naomi scooted close to Jerick. She had never stood amongst a whole group of warriors, all equipped with real weapons. By the looks of them, they’d all killed people at one time or another. She felt like she’d much rather be at home reading about other worlds or times than actually being there.
Naomi’s fears turned out to be groundless. The sailors gave them as warm a welcome as possible on such a rustic ship, serving the hungry children plenty of cold meat, bread, and fruit, as well as some beer. It was the first time Naomi had beer, and it tasted very bitter. She had a hard time not spitting it back out. Although it seemed the right sort of drink in this setting.
During the meal, Onogog took one of the wooden plates and turned it upside down. With a few sticks and a piece of leather, he built a little model of a ship and put it on the plate. He gestured to the children that the ship was the one they were sailing on right now, and, pointing to the plate, he said, “Heimskring.” After that he slowly moved the ship toward the edge of the plate, even imitating the wind by bending down and blowing into the leathery sail. “Aye?”
“I think he’s trying to tell us about the purpose of their voyage,” Naomi said.
“Yeah, seems like they’ve got the fantastic notion that they could travel to the end of the world. As if the world were flat. Seem to be a little behind the times, these guys. Stuck in the Middle Ages or something.”
“A lot of people in the Middle Ages didn’t think that the earth was flat. You read the wrong kind of books, Jerick. You should read some older ones for a change. The other day Dad read to me a—”
“Okay, okay, know-it-all, I’m a balloon specialist, that’s all. I don’t have time to read all that old stuff.”
Onogog raised his thick eyebrows. He did not have to understand English to perceive their irritated tone of voice.
Naomi saw his face and smiled at him. “It’s all right, Onogog. We just still aren’t sure where we are and if your world might really be flat.”
“What?” said Jerick. “You think that the earth here actually might be flat?”
“Well, you never know.” Naomi forced herself to keep smiling and glanced at Onogog. “We might be in another world, and other worlds might be different from ours.”
“Yeah, and are being carried on the back of some giant ant or something.” He grunted again. “I guess we’ll see. At least it’s pretty obvious that that’s what they think. I mean the part about the world being flat, not the ant. Which isn’t very comforting. Either we’re headed toward the brim of the world and might fall off any minute or we’re traveling with a bunch of blockheads.”
○ ○ ○
After they had been on the ship for two hours, Naomi leaned over the starboard railing to take in the scenery. The railing was very low, even for her, and she wondered how the tall men managed not to trip over it by accident and fall into the sea. Naomi peered down at the moving water. It looked alive, as if it were a creature of its own: the waves, the gushing power with which it hit the ship, the white foam dancing over the dark azure.
She was glad to be on the ship and no longer in the balloon where she would still have to be afraid of landing in the ocean and drowning. She always had been especially afraid that she might die of drowning. Sometimes at night, when she could not fall asleep, she had horrible pictures in her head of being on a sinking ship and not getting on a lifeboat. She imagined herself struggling in the water, panic-stricken, being pulled under, her lungs bursting—
She shook her head as if to wake up. Stupid girl, to think of that now! Being on a ship was the worst possible time to remember her waking nightmares. So she looked down on the water and tried to simply appreciate its beauty. How quickly the ship was moving. Much more quickly, it seemed, than when they had first arrived. The water also looked much clearer. Naomi almost thought she could see the bottom of the ocean. But that must be an optical illusion, she figured. And what was that? A dolphin?
Naomi leaned farther over the railing. In the water, a slender creature swam parallel to the ship. It grew larger and larger, and suddenly it surged out of the water, and for an infinitesimal moment Naomi thought she saw a mermaid, though much more beautiful and terrifying than any she had ever seen in a picture.
The creature shot directly at her. A strong hand gripped her left upper arm and tore her over the railing, pulled her down headfirst into the water. The sounds of the wind and the voices of the sailors abruptly died away, and wet coldness engulfed her instead of the warm rays of the sun.
For a moment the strong hand let Naomi go, but then a whole arm slung around her from behind and wedged her in while she was being pulled down, down into her nightmares.
The light from the sun became fainter. The coldness grew.
The body of the creature pressed against her spine, swung back and forth, back and forth. Like a fish. The motion distracted Naomi for a few seconds, until she remembered her fears. Her lungs felt strangely tight. A rush of panic surged through her body. She struggled to free herself, but the arm held her as if it were made of steel.