For Josiah, Elijah and bump

Text copyright © 2013 James Lloyd Illustrations copyright © 2013 Stefania Manzi All rights reserved

2

“Us Vikings are a fierce bunch,” growled the warrior, waving her plastic axe like a fly swatter. “If you don’t believe me, ask the English. Complete wusses, the lot of them! Complete and utter wusses!” It was a stormy November afternoon on the Isle of Dooey and Class 7a were sitting through their weekly history lesson. Twenty children watched with bemusement as their teacher, Mrs MacDougal, performed her best Viking impression, a replica helmet perched on top of her head. “Olaaaaf!” she cried. “Olaf – that’s my name, and I’ll chop off your heads if you’re not careful!” At the back of the classroom sat Emily Perkins, one eye on the teacher and one eye on the storm outside. It was only three o’clock in the afternoon
3

but the daylight was already fading. Raindrops crashed against the window, colliding and combining like cells under a microscope. Their constant pitter-patter made Emily feel sleepy. She gazed at the window and relaxed her eyes until the droplets began to take on shapes: sea serpents, longships, transparent Vikings going about their daily business. But Emily’s daydream was suddenly interrupted by the sound of the school bell ringing for home time. “Next week, I’ll tell you all about the Viking monsters!” boomed Mrs MacDougal, swiping her axe at the children as they rushed through the door. “Have a good weekend ya wee rascals!” Emily followed dreamily behind her classmates, barely noticing Mrs MacDougal standing by the door. “This’ll keep you dry,” said the teacher, placing the Viking helmet on top of Emily’s small head. The girl gripped hold of the helmet’s two plastic horns and smiled. Not even the worst of storms could harm a Viking. *** Emily battled through the horizontal rain, her straw-coloured hair plastered to her face. There were exactly ten cottages between Emily’s house and the school, and she counted each one off as she
4

5

passed: the postman’s house, the milkman’s house, the seafood restaurant – Marcel’s Mussels – with its neon fish sign swinging in the wind. Halfway along the row was Emily’s favourite cottage – a higgledy-piggledy place that looked like it might fall apart at any moment. Puffs of smoke billowed out of the cottage’s tumbledown chimney and a wrinkled face peered out from behind the kitchen window. This was old Sam’s place and, as usual, he was at home. Emily had passed Sam’s house for as long as she could remember. His face had become part of the scenery. His skin was as craggy as the rocks on Dooey’s windswept plains, and his white hair as tufty as the clouds that settled over Dooey’s hills on a fine spring afternoon.

6

Every day, Sam would be standing in his kitchen, looking out onto the street whilst he did his washing up. When Emily walked by, he’d wink and smile a wonky smile. Sometimes he’d wave, throwing a trail of soapy suds into the air. But today, Sam’s face was obscured behind the rain-streaked window. Emily squinted her eyes, trying to make out the old man’s expression, but she was shaken by a sudden clap of thunder. A flash of lightning lit up the street and the gusty wind nearly blew her off her feet. Trying desperately to stay upright, Emily didn’t notice that she’d been carried straight to Sam’s front door. When she next opened her eyes, Sam was standing in front of her, his eyes twinkling and his face crumpled up like a paper ball.

7

“Come in, wee waif!” he cried. “Come in and shelter yourself from the storm!” *** The darkness of the cottage fell like a curtain as Emily stepped through the door. A small fire in the corner of the sitting room provided the only light, its flickering flames casting ghostly shadows onto the walls. A strong smell of burning wood filled Emily’s nostrils. “What a storm!” exclaimed Sam. “I’ve not seen one like it for years, not since my fishing days! Go over and warm yourself by the fire – I’ll fetch us a wee drink.” Sam returned holding two mugs of warm milk. “Come and sit down,” he said, gesturing to two well-worn armchairs in front of the fire. “You’ll be dry in no time. Now, are you going to tell me why you’re wearing that Viking helmet?” Emily could feel the warmth of the fire moving through her body, from the tips of her toes to the end of her runny nose. She wriggled about in the armchair until she was comfy and then began to tell the old man all about her history lesson and Mrs MacDougal’s strange costume. “You know, I used to pretend I was a Viking when I was out fishing,” said Sam. “It helped me to
8

feel brave. Once, I was caught in a storm so strong that I ended up near the North Pole. Luckily, an army of seahorses guided me back home.”

Emily tried not to giggle. “I didn’t know seahorses could be so helpful!” she said. You’d be surprised,” said Sam. “The animals ‘round here can be very strange. I once saw a ninelegged octopus!”

9

Emily peered around the small cottage. “Do you live here alone?” “Aye,” said Sam. “Ever since my wife died ten years ago. You know, it’s nice to have some company.” “Why do you say that?” asked Emily. Sam sighed. “Well, when you’re on your own, it can be easy to think that no one cares about you. I spend every day looking out of the window, watching people walk by, but most people are too busy to stop and talk to me.” Sam rose from his chair and walked to the fire. He picked up a stick and started to prod the coals, making sparks fly up like tiny dragons. His back was turned, but Emily was sure she could hear him sniffing. “Would you like to come for a walk with me tomorrow morning?” asked Emily, trying to think of a way to make Sam feel better. “Long walks sometimes cheer me up when I’m feeling upset.” Sam looked at the girl, tears in his eyes. “Well, I usually stay here and wave to the villagers in the morning,” he said. “But maybe a change would do me good.”

10

“Let’s meet at the bottom of Dooey Hill at eight o’clock then,” said Emily, walking towards the door. Sam nodded, wondering what she had in mind. “Aye, see you tomorrow lassie.”

The next morning, Sam was already waiting for Emily when she arrived at Dooey Hill, still sporting her new helmet. The old man held onto the girl’s arm as they made their way slowly up the hill. The storm had cleared now, but the grass was still wet and Emily could feel the water soaking into her socks. Sam weighed heavily on Emily’s arm, but she was a strong little Viking, and the time passed quickly as Sam told her some more of his fishing stories. “You know, on one stormy day at sea, my favourite orange hat was blown overboard!” he said. “You’ll never guess how I got it back. A wee seal – about the same size as you – came swimming
11

right up to my boat. And there, on top of his head, was my hat! I couldnae believe it.” As Sam finished his story, he and Emily finally reached the top of the hill. The sun was beginning to creep over the horizon, reds and yellows spreading through the pale sky.

12

“Och aye!” said Sam, puffing and panting. “The clouds are on fire!” Watching the sunrise from Dooey Hill was one of Emily’s favourite things to do. She sat down next to Sam and rested her head on the old man’s shoulder. The sky was turning a vivid shade of orange now, and the only sounds were the whistling of the wind and the occasional squawk of a sleepy seagull. But all of a sudden, Emily heard another sound. A distant cry drifted up from the village below. “Och noooo! Disaster has come to Dooey!” Emily could have recognised that voice anywhere. Mrs MacDougal! Telling Sam she’d be right back, Emily set off down the hill to find out where the cry had come from. As she got closer, she could hear other voices too, each one just as angry as Mrs MacDougal’s. Fearing the worst, Emily entered the village. *** Dooey’s village square was packed full of people. There was nothing very unusual about this, but today the villagers weren’t eating or drinking or singing or dancing. Today, they were arguing, their fists clenched and their brows furrowed. Emily
13

spotted Mrs MacDougal in a bright pink dressing gown, her hair still in rollers. “What’s going on, Mrs MacDougal?” asked Emily. “It’s a disaster!” exclaimed the teacher. “I usually have fresh fish and milk delivered to my house every morning, but today they didn’t arrive. My poor wee kitties are going to starve to death!” Puzzled, but slightly relieved, Emily left her teacher and started to walk through the crowd, eavesdropping on the villagers’ conversations. “Zer is no fish for my beautiful customers,” said Marcel from the seafood restaurant. “Zees is just unacceptable!” “My post hasn’t been delivered!” said Emily’s dad, who didn’t seem to recognise his own daughter beneath her helmet. “I had no milk for my cereal this morning,” said an elderly woman who lived next door to Emily. “I had to eat my Weetabix dry!” As Emily listened to the complaints, she wondered whether they might all somehow be related. She racked her brains, trying to work out if the stories could be fitted together, like pieces in a jigsaw. What could have upset Dooey’s usual Saturday morning routine?
14

At last, Emily thought she knew what to do. She dragged some upturned fishing crates to the bottom of Dooey Hill and climbed up so that she could see the villagers. Then, she closed her eyes and imagined she was a Viking, braver than anyone else on the island. Taking a deep breath, she spoke to the crowd. “Excuse me,” said Emily, as loudly as she could. “But I think I might be able to help.” The arguing began to die down as the villagers noticed Emily standing at the foot of the hill. The sun was behind her, giving her the silhouette of a fearsome warrior. Feeling encouraged, she carried on. “Maybe we can solve your problems if we work backwards to the beginning,” said Emily. “Are there any fishermen who can explain why there are no fresh fish?” “Aye!” called out a scruffy-looking man standing next to Mrs MacDougal. “The harbour was closed when I came to work this morning. Blame it on the harbour master!” “Don’t blame it on me!” retorted the harbour master, a plump man with a bushy beard. “Blame it on the milkman – he usually wakes me up when he delivers my milk.”
15

“Don’t blame it on me either!” said the milkman, still wearing his pyjamas. “The postman usually knocks on my door when he delivers my post.” The villagers were beginning to get restless again now, and their murmurings were becoming louder. “It’s not my fault,” shouted the postman, a bag full of letters hung over his shoulders. “I was trying to find the old man who usually waves to me every morning. He wasn’t at his window today!” As the postman said this, Emily noticed that the villagers had shifted their attention towards the hill behind her. She turned around to see that Sam was making his way carefully down towards the village. “There he is!” exclaimed the postman. “There’s the old man!” The villagers watched in silence as Sam shuffled closer, one small step at a time, and they began to realise that this was the man who waved to them every day from his window. The man who you could set your watch by. The man whose disappearance one Saturday morning had thrown the Isle of Dooey into complete confusion. When Sam reached Emily, the girl helped him up onto the crates beside her. Then, somebody in the crowd began to clap. Soon enough, the whole village had joined in, and some of the fishermen
16

even launched into one of Sam’s favourite sea shanties. Meanwhile, above the happy crowd, Emily took off her Viking helmet and placed it onto the old man’s head. If anyone deserved to be a warrior, she thought, it was Sam.

17

18