ODIN’S BIRD

Chapter One
“Could this dock be any longer” thought young Finn as he sprinted over the wooden planks towards the end of the old wharf. Finnur Tullson was running for his life. Hot on his heals were four of the meanest boys in the small fishing community of Kopervik. And he was not about to let them catch him. A rock flew passed his head as he mustered the last of his energy to leap on to the side of the departing boat. “Come back here you filthy maggot” he heard as he clambered over the side and on to the deck of the small trading vessel. “You lads best not be throwing rocks at my ship here” yelled out the Captain as he observed the odd goings on. Finn gave a sigh of relief to have an as unsuspecting ally in this affair but knew he would have some explaining to do. “And you, young master. What gives you the gaul to jump aboard the The Skald part of your daily tomfoolery” demanded the Captain as the knorr crept away from the wharf and out into the fjord. “Begging your deepest pardon Captain Timgrinn” pleaded Finn, “by the guidance of my father Tull Thorson, I request passage away from this place on your fair ship. I have a grievance in Kopervick that will not be easily resolved and need to gain passage to your next port in the Shetlands where my Mother’s brother lives. I am hence exiled.” “Ahh, so you are Tull’s son” said Timgrinn softening a little. “Exile from this little fjord may not be the end of your life young man. There is a grand world out there waiting to be discovered by the likes of you. Though the distant Shetlands are quite removed from the affairs of men they offer a

rugged beauty that may do you good. Very well, we cannot toss you overboard now but you will earn your keep on this voyage and will not get in the way of the crew. Understood young Finn?” “I am at your bidding and mercy Captain” replied Finn earnestly. He was 13 years old and knew his way around a boat so would contribute what he could during the 200 mile crossing of the North Sea. “For now just get you safely out of the way” said Timgrinn. “All right then…...ALL OARS OUT LADS, UNFURL SAIL……… we’ve a sailor’s breeze to capture this morn.” Nobody saw the two large black birds that seemed to be watching the proceedings, hidden amongst the shadows of the tall fir tree. The Skald made its way further out into the narrow bay and Finn looked back for his last glimpse of home. The reddishorange clouds of the early morning offset the dark canopy of evergreens crawling up the steep slopes of the inlet and the calm waters mirrored the colorful sky. The ice of the glacier sitting majestically above the fjord seemed to glow, reflecting the dawn’s sunlight. It had been a beautiful place to grow up thought Finn, with forests to run through and the sheltered waters of the bay to swim and fish in. Finn knew he would never return here and perhaps never see his family again. The year was 1190, six years into the reign of King Sverre Sigurdson of Norway though such things mattered little to the young boy. As the ship left the safety of the inlet to make it’s way south around the large island of Karmay, Finn found some time to regain his composure and collect his thoughts. The previous day had been a blur and had changed his life forever. It had all started out innocently enough, just another day at play in the woods near his home. After his chores had been completed, Finn had set out alone to hike up to his favorite place to sit and think. The craggy rock outcrop overlooked the fjord and offered a commanding view of the surrounding

area. There he could sit and dream of adventures to come and new lands to see. Though a friendly enough young lad, Finn often sought solitude amongst the trees as he found it easier to enter the fantasy world he conjured in his head. There he could sit quietly and watch the birds and other animals come and go. He would often bring small scraps of food to share with the ravens that would land nearby and hop over and take them right from his hand. Of all the animals in the forest, Finn liked the ravens the best. They were easily the most amusing, possessing an almost human like desire to play. He could watch their aerial acrobatics for hours and he once saw one raven pass a feather to another in mid flight, while flying on its back. Surely this was unusual for he had seen no other bird do this. From his own perch on his rock Finn could watch the ravens torment a dog tied in the yard of a nearby homestead. The birds would take turns distracting the poor beast while the other stole its food. But on that day, Finn’s empathy for the ravens would lead him directly into trouble and help determine his fate forever. As he sat on the rock that afternoon pondering a trip up to the glacier, he heard a commotion down in the woods below him. Some of the older boys of the village were also out and about it would seem. “Let’s see if we can hit one of them” Finn heard Snorri Sveinson bellow to his comrades. “I never liked them damn birds anyways, always taking my dogs food. This will teach them”. The sound of a rock hitting a tree, followed by a hoarse “caaaw” echoed up to where Finn listened attentively. Two black silhouettes flew into the air as he rose to his feet quietly, grabbing a small rock of his own. “Two can play this game” thought Finn as he cocked his own throwing arm. From where he was standing he had a clear shot at Snorri but he didn’t really want to hurt anyone, just dissuade them from their current amusement. So Finn aimed

and let loose with his rock and as it sailed towards Snorri’s head he wished he hadn’t had aimed that close. Finn had perhaps the best throw of all the boys in the village; he almost never missed a mark. He had tried to send the rock past Snorri’s head to hit the tree trunk directly behind him. But fate intervened that afternoon and the jagged stone found the top of Snorri’s head, toppling the burly youth and drawing blood. “Oh shite” exclaimed Finn to himself as he tried to duck and crouch on the outcrop, to no avail. “Snorri, what the……….look up there, it’s that Tullson kid” cried Breggi Larson. “He did this, let’s get him”. Three of the remaining boys started making their way up the hill towards Finn while one stayed behind with their fallen companion. Finn knew he had to escape, and quickly for these boys already held no affection for him. He had had run-ins with this group before and it had never turned out well for him. He leapt off the rock and sought the shelter of the trees where he may have a chance of eluding his pursuers. Finn was slim of build but fast for his age and he would need all of his speed for this as well as some good luck. He could hear the older boys gaining on him as he sped his way through the dense underbrush of the forest. He was going to have to find a hiding place. As he maneuvered his way around tree after tree an idea popped into Finn’s frantic mind. Long ago he had fashioned a unique hiding spot to help him evade his father’s eye during chore-time. This might just work now so he changed course and headed down the slope towards his home. “Come back here coward” he heard Breggi yell. “You’re gonna get what’s coming to you this time Tullson.” Finn knew that he meant it; the boys would be more than happy to exact their revenge upon him. He hoped he was getting

closer to the place; now just where was that old hollowed out log? As he rounded one last tree he spotted it. He had come across the fallen tree trunk a few summers back and had discovered that he could almost climb inside it. He had further hollowed out the rot and insects inside and placed an old cow-hide scrap inside for comfort in case he needed to stay put while his father looked fruitlessly for him. For the final touch he had found a piece of another nearby deadfall that would cover the opening rendering him all but invisible. His father had never once found him there. But would he be able to fit inside now? There was only one way to find out. Finn raced to the old log and slid to his knees; time was of the essence now. If one of the boys spotted him his old hiding place would become his undoing. He removed the cover piece and began wiggling his way inside, praying for once that he had not grown too much. Luck was with him then as he was just able to squeeze in this one last time and as he pulled the cover to further conceal himself, the boys roared into the clearing. “OK Tullson, be prepared for……….what the” hollered an enraged Breggi. “He should be right here. He must of gone off that way” and with that the group headed off again into the woods. Finn held his breath as the boys headed off in the wrong direction. The ruse had worked but just barely. Had he gotten stuck he would have been an easy target for their merciless kicks and perhaps worse. He knew those boys all carried sharp hunting knives and there was no telling how mad they really were. After 10 minutes had passed, Finn was satisfied that they were truly gone and slowly wriggled out of the log. As he drew a fresh breath of air and squinted in the daylight he noticed two ravens perched in the boughs above him. They seemed to be studying him curiously and one gave a great, hoarse “craaw” as they both took flight and disappeared over the trees.

Finn had returned home after the day’s events to find that his ordeal was not over, perhaps it was just beginning. It seemed that Snorri had not yet woken up from his injury and had needed to be carried home by his very furious father. He was breathing but showed no signs of regaining consciousness and had lost a fair amount of blood as well. “I might suggest that you have explaining to do young man” declared Finn’s father. Tull was not an imposing man physically but he possessed a penetrating gaze that could look right through you, or rather, right into you. It was impossible to lie to his father Finn had learned over the years, it was like he could read your thoughts plainly on your face. “Father, I meant no true ill” pleaded Finn, “you must believe me. I was merely trying to stop those boys from hurting the ravens.” “Finn, I do believe you” replied Tull. “I know that had you intended malice towards those boys you would have dreamed up something more elaborate than hurling a stone. But what I believe may not matter much here. Snorri’s father is on the warpath and demanding both of our heads. “This may just prove to be a turning point in your young life my son. Even if Snorri is not as gravely injured as it would appear now, those young ruffian friends of his will make your life Hell for the next few years. That is not how I intend you to spend these important years where experience will mould the man inside you. I will not have you forever looking over your shoulder and jumping at shadows when valuable lessons are at hand. “Your mother and I have discussed this at length and have arrived at what may be a workable alternative. Your mother has a brother that lives on the far-away Shetland Islands to the west. So you see Finn, you have an uncle that may just

take you in and raise you to manhood. Now, Camlach is an, er… interesting man but I know you will learn well from him.” “But Father” interrupted Finn “I am not ready for such a change. I..” “Ready or not Finn” replied Tull firmly “you are about to face perhaps the greatest challenge of your young life so I suggest you do it with the finest grace you can muster. You are a fine young man Finnur and I believe in you. You can do this thing and turn this day’s misfortune into a new beginning. “There is a ship in port departing for the west upon the morrow and I want you on it. Timgrinn is a good man and I’ve known him these many years. He will ensure your passage west but give him the respect he’s due. And I expect you to earn your keep.” Finn was crestfallen but offered no further resistance. “As you wish Father” said Finn solemnly. “Perhaps this is the beginning of the great adventure you have always dreamed of Finn” suggested Tull reassuringly. “Come here son, I have a few things for you.” That all seemed like months ago thought Finn as he became familiar with the movements of the ship upon the water. He reached to his side where his father’s hunting knife now rested reassuringly on his belt. Finn had followed his father into the small room where Tull did his personal thinking and writings. Tull had then given him a small belt pouch containing a few coins, a rolled scroll that he was told to give to his uncle Camlach and then finally his father had produced his finest knife to offer to Finn. Finn had spent a fretful night hidden away in the barn as his mother and father fended off the angry parents of the other boys. At daybreak he had made his way down silently to the

waterfront with mixed feelings of excitement and despair swirling about inside him. If only he had not stopped to speak with old-man Olaf those damned boys would never have spotted him. Nonetheless, Finn was now an impromptu member of The Skald’s crew and embarking on the greatest adventure of his life; willing or not. The ship soon left the safety of the fjord entirely and Finn lost sight of Kopervick for good. The open ocean and destiny awaited.

Chapter Two
Finn was horribly ill. Some Viking he was making he thought as he tried without avail to conceal his sea sickness from Timgrinn’s crew. Finn had lived his whole life next to the sea but The Skald was now five days from port and he was experiencing the open ocean for the first time. It was not so much the size of each wave that rattled him but rather the relentless consistency of them. “Yer turnin’ a wee bit green about your gills Finn” observed a scruffy but affable crew-member named Skiff. “Ye might as well let loose of it and get it over with. Ye can always have some more chow and start over agin. ” “Skiff, I don’t mean to sound like a land-lubber but are these waves always so rough” asked an honestly naive Finn. “Ah, these calm waters will be leaving us shortly young master Finn. Then the real waves of the crossing will welcome us” offered Skiff pleasantly. “But don’t let that get

yer knickers in a twist, the bigger waves are actually easier ta ride out, less choppy you see?” “Thanks Skiff” responded Finn skeptically. “Even in some of the bigger storms the waters of the fjord back at Kopervick rarely got this unruly. And I thought I was some kind of sailor darting about on old man Olaf’s fishing boat.” “Ah, tis but yer maiden voyage upon the Great Mother Sea Finn” said Skiff, not wanting his young charge to lose hope. Timgrinn had found his most personable crew member to attend to young Finn on this passage. “Ye know, it may just not be natural fer us to be out here at all. So’s there’s no wonderin’ that oftentime we may misplace our, um, stability if yer knows what I means. It often takes many a time out upon the Great Mother to gain yer, um, footing.” “I’m not sure how many more outings I’ll be able to make Skiff” Finn said. “I’m not even sure about this one.” “Yer’ll be fine Finn” said Skiff confidently. “An old trick is to look up at the sky fer a spell every now and then. Try that fer a bit and I’ll be back to check on you after I tend to my chores. Now mind them knots, that’ll help too.” Indeed, after a few minutes Finn found that concentrating, but not too hard, on the great pile of rope in front him helped his stomach to settle somewhat. Old man Olaf had taught him almost every knot there was back at home so he went to work mending the ship’s rigging. Following Skiff’s advice, Finn would occasionally break from his task and just gaze upwards for a period of time. The autumn sky in the North Sea was truly a spectacle; the colors of the late afternoon were as vivid as any Finn could recollect. “There must be something to this seafaring” he mused silently to himself as he took in the scene, “to draw theses men away from their homes and the relative safety of land, this odd feeling must be part of the reward at least.”

“Skiff….I need help with one of these knots” lied Finn in an attempt to ask his friend a question of a different nature. “Auch” came the gruff but not cruel response from somewhere afore decks. “Just er minute young Finn.” When Skiff had ambled over to the rather imposing pile of ropes Finn burst out; “Skiff, I am sorry, the ropes are fine but I need to ask you something.” “Hmmm, I see. I think” muttered a confused Skiff. “All right, what might that be then young Finn?” “Well, I just had the oddest feeling while I was gazing upwards toward the sky. It was not a feeling of isolation out here alone upon the sea but rather a feeling of being with the sea. Sort of like feeling at peace, like somehow being out here made all the troubles of home disappear one by one. Skiff, I do believe I feel……….untouchable?” “Ahh, I see you’ve met your first embrace with the Great Mother. Her spell has begun to take hold of you. I always thought me’self that getting green gills like you did a bit back is like saying good bye to yer land-self and opening up to the sea. Ye’s feeling now what every seaman worth his weight in salt feels at the first. And then he chases that feeling foolishly fer the rest o’ his life. There is no greater lady than the sea Finn and when she chooses to seduce ye tis hard te resist her. Yer follow?” “I believe I just may Skiff. Thanks. Could I bother you with one last question and I’ll be back about my ropes?” “Just one more lad” “What drove you to be a seaman in the first place Skiff?”

“Auch. Water under many a bridge that was so’s I reckon I can tell ye. When I was a much younger man, bit older than ye’s maybe, I had me a trouble in me home on the Orkney’s. Nae far from the Shetlands where we’re headed now. Anyways, seems one of the blokes in town chose to get too friendly with me sister Molly and I thought I’d best set things right. Well, er, things got a might nasty and the bloke suffered a grave wound in his head somehows and me pap said I best be leavin’ the place if’en I knew what was good fer me. He said something about facing me new life with grace er some such so’s I wound up living as a seaman. Yer follow?” Finn smiled, feeling a rare camaraderie with this man. “Skiff, I follow exactly. You are a good man to talk to the likes of me.” “I got to know how’s to read people over the years Finn” said Skiff smiling slightly “and yer have something about yer that makes me feel like talking to ye. Now back ter work lad!” Finn went back to his task of mending the ropes. It was a job he didn’t mind doing, one of those menial tasks that is satisfying in some way and one where you can allow your mind to wander if you know what you are doing. And Finn’s mind tended to wander if the situation arose, as it did now. His thoughts were drifting about from memories of home to what lay ahead on this, his great adventure. And then one time as he gazed upwards in deep thought he spied two black, soaring silhouettes outlined against the steel grey clouds. They spiraled closer, in perfect unison, to draw close to the ship and alight together on the highest tip of the main mast. Finn shook his head; these two new arrivals looked remarkably like the ravens he had helped escape the torments of Snorri and his gang. Finn had long ago learned to identify individual ravens by the way they ruffle their throat feathers upon claiming a new perch. And the one he had come to call Caeg always displayed in a certain manner,

the one he was witnessing now. But this simply could not be. The ravens of his forest would not be this far out to sea, and why would they fly to this particular ship? What was going on here? Finn had a quick idea; he had fed these ravens on many an occasion so he scurried over to the galley and asked Lars the ship’s cook for a scrap. Bringing his dripping, raw bounty back to his work area he looked up at the ravens on the mast and made a coarse “caaw” sound of his own. The ravens had never taken their eyes off Finn and immediately glided down to perch upon the pile of Finn’s ropes. Caeg made a loud demanding croak and hopped one step closer, beak open. Finn tossed the scrap to the audacious bird. The large raven easily caught the prize in its bill and hopped back to it’s partner; offering up the raw meat as a great gift. The partner nonchalantly gobbled down the morsel and looked questioningly at Caeg as if saying “Is that all?” Finn had long suspected that the boisterous Caeg was the male raven and the other was the female and had called her Ceem. Finn now saw that the animated Caeg perhaps was not the ruler of the roost as it had once appeared! Caeg bounded back towards Finn and stared directly at one of his pockets, the one that contained some salted jerky Finn had kept as a treat for himself. Finn, amazed, surrendered his snack and again tossed it towards the bird. This time Caeg caught it, easily tore it in two and gulped down one piece himself before again offering the remainder to Ceem. Seemingly satisfied, the birds took flight and embraced the winds in a game of aerial tag; leaving Finn to ponder these events as he noticed that his workload was not getting any less. Apparently the strange event had caught someone’s eye. “I’ve only seen birds behave so strangely once before” came a deep, raspy voice, catching Finn’s attention. “And that was a long, long time ago when I was a lad myself.” Finn turned to face a crew member he had not yet acquainted himself

with as the man was quiet and had kept to himself thus far. Finn knew he was a fletcher, a crafter of arrows and projectiles that Timgrinn’s crew used to defend The Skald in times of conflict. He was a small man and wore a dark tunic with hood drawn to mask his face and Finn noticed that he moved with a slight limp. “I am called Domnall” the man proclaimed “and those birds behaved as if they knew you somehow young Master Finn.” “Sir, they just might” answered Finn cautiously; this fellow unnerved him. “Though I am bewildered yet, I believe I know these ravens from the forest of my home. But I cannot explain their presence here and now.” “I see” said Domnall suspiciously. He moved a little closer to Finn and removed his hood revealing a rather unpleasant face, scarred and slightly misshapen. Seeing Finn’s slight discomfort Domnall cleared his throat “Ah, yes. When I was young I had the misfortune to have hot pitch spill upon me to leave me somewhat…….unappealing to most. Afterwards I learned how to craft a fine arrow from a local master near my home in the woods north of Oslo and sought the solitude of that profession. It has served me well enough I suppose. “But back to your birds” persisted the small man. “As I have said young Finn, I have seen the likes of this but once before. I shall share this tale with you and know that I have not spoken of it to another soul in many a good year.” Finn found himself warming to the man somewhat, his odd appearance and jagged voice belied the eloquence of a story teller of old. “It was autumn, I remember, with the trees of the forest beginning preparations for their long winter slumber. There was a cool chill upon the air and clouds of grey painted the sky. I was frolicking in the woods about the town as young lads are wont to do, presumably looking for kindling. A stranger had arrived in the town previous day. An odd fellow

he was, a traveler from some unknown land it seemed. He was old and grey-bearded and wore the most unique garment; a mottled cloak of varying hues of grey and flecked with black. The cloak seemed to change subtly as the man moved, which he did with a grace few men of age possess. He wore an outlandish hat with a fine feather in it, held fast by a grey leather band. But the strangest part of the man’s appearance by far was this; at his waist affixed to his belt he possessed a grey steel ring with a collection of various bird feathers attached to it. A most peculiar adornment wouldn’t you say young Finn?” Finn nodded, rapt with the tale being woven for him by his strange new acquaintance. “I had watched the man stroll about town upon his arrival, unable to avert my eyes from him. But that day in the woods I chanced upon him sitting in a clearing amidst the thick stand of trees, apparently in a trance of some nature. He had prepared a small fire in front of where he sat and was chanting unknown sounds in deep low voice. I crouched low behind a large rock with hopes to remain undetected. I felt not fear exactly but certainly a bemusement of sorts. The Grey Man, as I had begun to call him, then pulled a handful of powder from a small pouch inside his cloak and tossed it upon the fire. A most incredible billow of smoke then issued up from the flames, the grey wisps soaring up above the Grey Man while slowly assuming the vague shape of what appeared to be an owl that then in turn took flight upwards towards the heavens. Astounded, I wondered what kind of parlor trick this could be and for whose benefit and for what purpose, all the while trying to preserve my concealment. “A moment later the still of the forest was broken by the high pitched shrill of a bird and from the darkness of the woods came the phantom shape of a great grey owl that promptly landed with ethereal grace on the forest floor in front of the stranger. The Grey Man smiled, reached into yet another pocket and tossed what appeared to be a small field

mouse to the bird, which graciously gobbled it up in one bite. The Grey Man stood and held out his arm muttering something apparently to the owl as it hopped up to perch upon his arm. “The stranger turned away and began to make his way into the dense woods. To the bird so willingly perched upon his forearm, I heard him say ‘Good to see you again my old friend, it would appear that we have some work to do’. And the small fire extinguished itself somehow, almost obediently, as the Grey Man disappeared from my view. “Being young I wanted to share my tale with anyone who would listen and I soon learned that my Father was not one of them. He told me to keep my whimsy to myself lest I be ridiculed by the town folk. And young Master Finn, I have kept my silence till now. You see, I had half expected that raven to jump upon your arm as I watched you with them. I am most curious, naturally.” Finn was at a rare loss for words. Surely this tale was some childhood fantasy of this man and yet he had been very amazed at the raven’s behavior mere minutes before. “Sir, um, Domnall, I am at a lack of words to respond to both your great tale and the raven’s behavior” Finn sputtered, “I simply do not know what to say. Did you ever see the old man again, the grey Man” Finn asked anxiously. “No Finn, never again. I had all but forgotten the long ago memory till this incident” replied Domnall. “But know you this, our village back then had been harassed by a band of brigands not brave enough to go a vikingr and after the appearance of the Grey Man those ruffians were not heard from nor seen again. I have no explanation other than coincidence but I have always suspected something more.” “Dom, Finn” cried a seldom anxious Timgrinn, “It is nigh on nightfall and I have neither rigging nor arrows. The two of you make a most unexpected disappointment!”

“Aye Captain” responded Domnall grimly, “you shall have your arrows and I assure you Finn here has accomplished rigging enough for this day” “Aye then Dom” said Timgrinn marginally placated. “Finn get you below decks for some rest and Dom, a word with you in my quarters if you please.” As the two men walked off Finn retreated below decks to his small sleeping quarters which amounted to a pile of old leather sacks he had arranged. He had a great deal to think about this eve and found sleep a long time in coming. ________ The fire was at its smoldering best. It is in the deepest coals, the very root and heart of the fire that the true meanings are subtly revealed if one knows when and how to look. While Angus McNabb rested his weary bones alone by his fire as he had done so often before, he saw a new bird soaring in the rich amber of the coals. A bird of foreboding black with the fury of a Northern God was a flight it seemed. But this one was yet a fledgling. He would need guidance. Angus shifted his worn grey cloak and peered even more deeply into the fading embers; “Ah, a ship I see. Hmm; the Skald. Very well then. Let it begin.”