Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chapter 2: The Causeway

  Over the next two days Olafur scarcely left his hammock. He felt more at home there than anywhere else on the ship, save on deck where he could look out upon the open sea. But on deck the crewmen were loud and their storm-beaten faces were twisted and dark from years of squinting at the sun, and it was an altogether frightening place for the boy. At times Ena would come to bring him food or drink, and she would speak to him about fair things that were far off, things that took Olafur's thoughts away to kinder places, and, if only for a few moments, he was glad. But these moments were fleeting and Ena would return to some place unknown to Olafur, for she too feared the crewmen. He would then close his eyes and pretend that he were laying in his father's boat on his way back to white shores where he would climb the steep stair and follow the well-worn path that led winding away to his home. But even in his dreams Olafur only walked the moors and paced through the ghostly mist, for he was afraid to enter the cottage and see his father laying quiet and still.
  It was dawn of Olafur's third day aboard when they at last came to the southernmost promontory of a great bay wherein lay the port of Seven Rivers. Olafur had ventured to come up from below, indeed he could not keep himself from it upon hearing that land was in sight. The ship came within a furlong of the shore, which was rich with forests that covered the banks and slopes beyond, and as the sea beneath the ship became more and more shallow, it was growing steadily from dark waters into a pale blue. To the west an island could be seen, low but blanketed in trees, stretching five miles or more across the open mouth of the bay as if to veil the inlet from the busier eyes of the world; a passing ship may have overlooked this vast alcove altogether should they be further out to sea and not studying the shoreline closely.
  Another three hours found them approaching the docks (five of them, altogether) that jutted northward, westward and southward from a long cape that reached far out into the bay, like a great hand seizing the waters. And on either side the bay became two and cut away inland out of site to where the mouths of strong torrents opened wide and rushed eagerly into the ocean that they longed for. Beyond the waters all was dense woodlands of hardwood trees and thick undergrowth. Low hills could be faintly glimpsed away beyond the golden shores, rising in the distant haze, then vanishing into the echoed rumor of mountains. It was strange and amazing to Olafur. Until now he could not have imagined a world that was different from Fisk, where there were more rocks than brush, more brush than trees, and more rain than anything else. But now they were coming near to the docks, and the crewmen were busy and agitated, so Olafur hid himself behind a pile of thick rope and hoped to go unnoticed until the bustle was over.
  Once the ship was made fast to the dock and the gangway was set, the Captain called on two men to find someone who could be of service, for apart from a solitary fishing dory the docks were bare. But then, from the lone and cheerless structure that stood at the tip of the cape, came a single figure walking briskly along the dock and speaking sharply. It was a portly man of middle age and course appearance. His hair was dark, his skin tanned thoroughly, his beard was unkempt, his clothes were long-unwashed and he wore no shoes on his feet. Onward he walked, muttering bitterly to himself as though praying some chant of dread; at any rate he seemed wretchedly annoyed at the arrival of travelers. He stopped just short of the Captain, who had just disembarked from the vessel, and frowned hard at the ship and those present.
  “Well?” he said, finally acknowledging the Captain's presence. “You've come far out of your step for supplies, I deem, and we haven't got them. You would have been better off keeping to the open sea until you came to Saltwash or Skailrum. They have enough for themselves and others, though you'll pay more than the stock is worth no doubt. In any manner, we have what we have for ourselves and are not in a way to be taking charge of tourists.”
  “Seven Rivers Port they call this,” said the Captain aloud to his first mate as he stepped past the strange man, disregarding him entirely. “And yet I see no merchant ships, no chandlers trading...I say, there's no business here at all.”
  “Business?” returned the strange man, nearly laughing. “None for you, perhaps, but business goes on even now. Why, the men are all out catching what they will, and come sun-falling these docks will be filled with boats that are heaped with a good catch. Carts will be loaded with fish, families will eat like kings, the town market will be fat, and good men will sleep soundly after a rewarding day of honest work. Business, indeed! But more importantly: a good life. No, no. You'll find no ships fat with spoil at these docks, my dear Captain. I've no doubt that from hence you come such values as preservation have long been sold for a sad price that took it's lonely place in time, only to be forgotten amidst a pale hoard of regretful misfortune: empty wants of waste and decay—indeed your faded eyes tell the tale. But we do not trade the honor and the pride of our homes for the gold of a greedy world. Not here.”
  Though the Captain had tried twice to interrupt he was now speechless, as were the crew and servants that stood about on the dock or onboard. Whether the Captain was taken off his guard by the man's right speech or simply stunned by his ability to say so much in one breath, he was nonetheless motionless and silent, baring an expression that could be likened to that of a corrected child.
  “Well said, my good man,” came the voice of Lady Mabel who now stood onboard with her coachman. “Your words are stones, the likes of which I had hoped to find in our coming here. If indeed your kind are the makeup if this place I shall at last feel at home in this world.” The man looked confused but the Lady went on, “We are not pleasure-seekers or excursionists, I assure you. And you need not worry about the Captain; he has no business here apart from leaving me and my servants on these shores in peace. I have not come to take your treasures or exploit your fair land, but rather to add to your economy what I can, and in seeking sanctuary be of what service as I may.
  “Now, where is this town you speak of?”
  “Forgive me my lady,” began the man, “but it is most uncommon for one of notable status and wealth, which you must be, to pass like leaves in the wind from what one can only assume to be an established domain—or at least a respectable society—to a poor and unknown land; and furthermore to come offering service. I find no soil in your words by which my confidence in you might take root. We may be people of simple ways, but not so simple as to be easily swayed by elegant words and lordly airs.”
  “Think what you will,” returned Lady Mabel sharply, “but from whence I come and why is my own affair. And if the soil in which your confidence needs to take root is a bribe or some other dishonest compensation then you can simply forget it. I've had enough of giving to covetous hands for diminutive doings.” At this she shot an eye at the Captain, who was now quickly growing impatient.
  “My name is Winfred,” said the man with a smile growing across his face, “But come, I am only the port keeper, and beyond is but the humble sea town. The town of Seven Rivers is yet some twenty miles to go. You must be on your way at once if you are to make the journey before nightfall tomorrow.”
  “I do not understand,” said the Lady as she stared hard into the man's eyes.
  “Had you offered me gold I would have turned you away, but your stern rebuke is soil enough for now,” he replied as a look of satisfaction fell on him.

  For the next hour Olafur seated himself on a crate with his back against the shack that stood on the cape and waited as the crew and servants made themselves busy unloading the belongings of Lady Mabel. There were a great many chests, bags and crates, and Winfred brought four carts for loading them onto. The Lady settled her agreement with the Captain and he cast off in haste, but he let his first mate take the helm as he stood and gazed sadly upon the Green Lands until The Sea Wing had passed from sight.
  As there were no horses, the carts had to be pulled by hand. Armel himself took the first and greatest cart, followed by three young servant men pulling the others. Winfred had decided to walk with them and direct them for some distance. He walked next to Lady Mabel and they discussed many things concerning the Green Lands. Firstly that The Green Lands was a title wrongly given by outlanders. The rightful name was Nebreace, meaning “abloom” in the olden tongue. They then talked matters of business concerning the town and the people there, and of government. Olafur listened to them no more, as he walked holding the hand of Ena, but rather turned his attention to this strange new land. In his homeland of Fisk he had seen bent and twisted trees that stood sparse across the moors, giving little shade and standing no higher than his father's cottage. But here the trees reached high into the hot sky and stood as thick as grass. Lichen-riddled Water Ash, with their roots thrust deep in bright moss, stood between mighty Hickories that rested heedlessly on thick legs dug deep into the earth, as if they had come hence on their own accord in ages past to find this paradise of shining waters. Escaping their shade could not be done and Olafur was glad of it, for a dull breeze blew a cool air through the sleepy forest, and the sound of water seemed to echo from under every stone and fern as scattered rays of sunlight fought their way through the dense canopy, dancing and glimmering off elusive brooks that journeyed to the sea.
  Within a half mile they had passed many small shacks and cottages of the little sea town, those of the fishermen no doubt, and they were now quickly disappearing behind tree and bush. Due west they traveled on a narrow causeway that rose gently out of the damp woodland floors. After some four miles Ena grew concerned for Olafur, seemingly without cause apart from her born motherly nature, and seated him on the back of a cart. The young man who labored under the weight made complaint but was quickly checked by Ena and he spoke no more of it.
  And so, after nights of grief and unrest, the redundancy of the passing trees and the rhythm of the cart wheels on causeway slowly lulled the tired boy to a slumber that came at last without dream or vision, and he slept. He did not wake when they decided to press on through the night, nor did he wake at daybreak upon their arrival in the town of Seven Rivers. He slept on and on as memories of his home turned to dreams, and when he awoke, he awoke to a new life.