"The Ties that Bind Us" by Karen
The sheer contrast in landscapes between the north and the south is only the first shock
that Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan must cope with as the ship commanded by Hrothgar and his
band of warriors makes landfall in Heverland.
He endured the ribbing and the teasing, and even the abuse both physical and verbal and the crude jibes of the men. He is also dealing with his stomach's rebellion to the to the ship's motion as they crossed the rough and choppy waters of the ocean and later on the North Sea. It's not like his home country of Arabia.
Although he had not expected it to be when his Calif and ruler dispatched him off to the hinterland of the empire to record his observations and then report back to the palace. It was an honorable commission even though it came about due to a most regrettable indiscretion; his dallying with the Calif's wife notwithstanding, Ahmed nevertheless did his duty.
As things turned out he never even reached that remote outpost, instead he finds himself on a cold, wet, sandy shore in the company of rough, uncouth barbarian warriors.
He has spent enough time among them that he picked up a smattering of their guttural language.
The ships are long and narrow and plough through the water like snakes that drag their bellies through a field of grass. The men laugh, shout, cure, and even spit, cry, and every expression in between, throughout the task of bringing the ship into the shore and mooring it so it will not float away with the tide. It is all done with a great deal of noise and economy of movement.
It seems that a boat crewed and oared by slaves is unknown among these men; Ahmed discovers that while there are many differences between his and these people, if he can master the queasy feeling in his stomach, he might actually enjoy this adventure.
Later at the hall
Ahmed doesn't like the hall, too high and narrow, and talk about drafty; he thinks and shoves the thought to the back of his mind. He has struck up an unlikely friendship with Bwuilf and with a fellow by the name of Herger. I have learned to communicate with by means of rough line sketches, waving hands, and lip-reading. Learning of a threat of a monster that preys on the king and his peoples does not daunt Buliwyf for long. After all, this is what they have come all this way for; a change to face mortal danger at the hands of something either monstrous and or supernatural; preferably both. The monster is a Grendel, or perhaps that is its name, Ahmed is not entirely certain because his attention is distracted by the sight of a rather attractive girl passing in and out of the hall, bearing a cup of brimming liquid to the men. She has hair like nothing he has ever seen in his homeland where both men and women are almost uniformly dark-haired; the girl's hair is like spun gold, and she catches his eye with a wary but intent stare of her own.
"Careful, those hands have been known to strangle chickens," his friend whispers out of the side of his mouth, the recently healed scar left behind by a knife during a brawl aboard the ship making the scar twist down in a sardonic twist. The gleam in his blue eye is friendly enough so Ahmed takes the comment in stride.
"I don't intend to learn how to do that," Ahmed whispers back.
"You might have to, my friend, if you intend to pursue an interest in the girl."
The first night spent under the king's roof and they have already lost two of their men. The warriors' last agonized, dying screams still haunt his sleep.
Bwulf is furious and burns off his anger and frustration by stalking around the compound like the caged white tigers that Ahmed has seen in the his Calif's menagerie. The effect is remarkably alike,' Ahmed thinks, watching as the big man paces the length and breadth of their quarters.
"Is there anything I can do, Sir," Ahmed asks, risking breaking the big man's concentration.
"Unless you have some dame eastern remedy for bringing the dead back to life, there is little we can do but wait until the monster strikes again,' Buwlf shouted, then rubbed his hands through the strands of his hair.
"I have a very bad feeling about statements like that. Ahmed shook his head and looked
up from the stool where he sat polishing the slender curved blade favored in his home
country over the hard, unforgiving lines of the northerners long and broad swords.
"It is said that they can be prophetic." Ahmed wondered at his own temerity and daring, this man is strong, powerful, and quick to fly into a fit of rage. Back home Ahmed would have to go through innummerable preliminaries before he even considered bringing his own arguments and concerns to a man in such a position of authority. 'What is this land doing to me, and is a good thing or a bad thing?' he thinks, shoving the thought aside.
"It means we are cursed with bad luck even before we begin," the big man muttered into his blond beard.
"No," Ahmed replied. "It just means that luck can run either way. A wise man must learn to know the difference and make his own luck."
"And just how does a wise man do that?"
"He trusts his own knowledge and heart, and when that fails, to the skill and hearts of those he leads," Ahmed said.
"Easier said than done, my friend. In the days to come I fear we may require more than just good heads on our shoulders and stout hearts."
"Then we shall rely on faith."
"Does your Allah watch over you so far away from home?"
"I believe he does," Ahmed replied, shaking his head at his own firm belief. Throughout the voyage and even in the aftermath of the attack on the hall, he still believes that his life was spared for a reason; although it did take quite a bit of soul-searching and a talk with his friend to restore that belief. Catching Buwlyf's watery blue icy gaze once more Ahmed hears the big man whisper: "I wish I had faith like that."
"You might yet."
"So you are telling me while we have breath in our bodies, there is still hope. Off with you, I must think on this alone."