Disclaimer: I doth not owneth ze East or any literature on ze god of thunder (Thor).
A/N: Just a quick side-story about a side-character that really intrigued me (I think any female who read the book was probably similarly intrigued, winkwink). ;D
Long italic bits are flashbacks with dialogue taken (almost) completely from the book.
Not Very Superstitious
I watched as the water flowed under the docks several yards beneath my bare, dangling feet. The half-empty bottle in my hand was doing nothing for my head full of memories. They say big knocks in the noggin are supposed to make you forget. I couldn't imagine any knocks bigger than that wave. But, just like the drink, it hadn't worked. I lifted the bottle up to eye-level and glared at it before softening at the memory of the last time I'd seen one of these.
With a sigh, I put it to my lips again, tilting back for a swallow. I wondered if Thor had always been drinking to forget.
The laughter of two women broke through the serenity I'd been enjoying. I glanced in their direction, slightly upset that my thoughts had been interrupted, but on the other hand, ludicrously happy for a distraction. And they were quite a distraction, even from the distance of the next dock over. At any other time in my life before this, I would've swaggered over and turned on the charm. But this was not like any other time in my life before, and they happened to be standing on that particular dock...
"Forgive Thor's ill manners, miss," I watched as the pretty head of hair turned to look in our direction. Goran looked at me sideways, giving me that look he gave every time I opened my mouth around a woman: that 'don't-do-it' look my mother would've seconded. Every man had his weakness, though, and speaking of - "He is short on ale." The look of understanding in her startlingly purple eyes told me she spoke the language. And that she might have already known about Thor being short on ale. You could, after all, smell it on him five feet away.
I flashed my captain a grin as I crossed the gangplank onto the knorr, settling onto the sea chest Goran and I had brought up earlier. "Ask if she cooks, Thor. I don't think I can abide another sea journey eating your cooking."
She straightened at that, throwing me a glance between approval and gratitude. "I can cook. And I'll pay for my passage besides."
I looked back to Thor, gesturing at the girl like she was the prize pig at a county fair. "Listen to that, she cooks and has a dowry!" Thor's scowl grew stormier, so I turned to the girl. She truly was quite lovely, though too young for me. "Tell me, are you betrothed, maid, for if not, I would make a fine husband for any..."
"I'll snatch out the flapping tongue of yours, Gest, if you don't get to work!" Thor's face was nearly as purple as the girl's eyes. I jumped up, hiding my grin with my shoulder as I checked some of the rigging. Goran only shook his head. We both knew Thor wouldn't cave - too much of a stickler when it came to the old legends. A woman on board was bad luck, and he'd have none of that.
I snorted. The girl - whose name turned out to be Rose - had certainly proved Goran and I wrong, winning Thor over with that magnificent dress. Not that I was particularly upset about this turn of events. Rose hadn't lied when she said she could cook. The week we spent together on the good lady Sif had me eating like a king. Well, compared to our usual diet of cold fish and hard bread, warm fish soup and bread on the side was divine. She was always grumbling endearingly to herself over the cauldron about what she could do with some beans or a vegetable - any kind of vegetable.
Oh, Rose. She was too young to die like that. My eyes found the water below again.
"Looks like a big one, Thor. Best we not risk the sail." I watched with growing apprehension as the burly man threw back the remainder of the ale in his mug, giving Goran and I the order to raise the sail. Like hell. That was a death wish with a sky this black.
"Let it blow! We'll ride her out. And make good time, too."
Was he really that drunk? Never mind our lives - there was the girl to be thought of! I tried logic on him. "But the wind has shifted all around the compass these past few minutes, from south to east to west. You know that portends..."
"We'll raise the sail!" Thor's voice boomed across the deck, and, not to be outdone, the first roll of thunder resounded over the water. "'Rather founder than furl'!"
Quoting the 'real' Thor again. Oh, 'how pleasant's the sea in it's wrath' indeed! Goran and I exchanged wary looks as we turned to unfurl the sail. If we lived through this, a notion that all my sea-faring experience was condemning in my head, I would have Thor incapacitated and tied up below deck with his precious ale for the rest of the journey. And maybe even after we'd reached port for a while.
The wind tossed the sea around us until it was steadily frothing, taking bites at us like a wild, angry beast. The knorr wasn't a classic for nothing, though, and for a time I allowed myself to hope as we cut through wave after wave of infuriated sea. Rose was undoubtedly braver than any woman I'd come across, bailing with Goran and I like she'd been riding out life-threatening storms all of her days. I was beginning to re-think that too-young-for-me-bit. Ten years wasn't anything scandalous.
Then I heard it. Many a sailor has claimed to hear the sea, speak to it like a friend or a lover, something I had always dismissed as folly. But that day, I heard it, and it spoke of the end. Fear clenched iron and icy around my heart and for a moment I thought I'd die from it, but then I saw Rose thrusting her bucket into the water, determined and brave, and I knew I had to do something.
"The sail!" I shouted at Goran, who was just as fiercely throwing the sea back where it belonged. He looked up at me, blond hair whipping wildly around his face, and seemed to understand everything in an instant. He nodded and we both dropped our buckets, yanking out ropes on our path to the sail.
Thor was furious, but I didn't care. My loyalty lied with the girl now. Maybe this was why it was bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. "Cowards!" he roared. We ignored him, securing the sail the best we could manage before running back to Rose. No sooner had we picked up our buckets, however, did the sea make good on it's words. A wall of churning water rose up so high I could hardly believe it was real. The sound of Rose's cry drove me to pray - if the gods wouldn't save me, then let them save her. She was too young. Oh god, we were all too young...
It took me a full beat to realize Thor had deserted his post, the tiller wobbling around almost as crazily as Goran's hair. He scooped up Rose and stormed across the deck, thrusting her down into the cargo hold. I looked at him with more approval than I had in a months as he came past me again. "Secure yourselves!" He yelled, aiming for the mast. I glanced back at the wave now bearing down upon us and dove for the cargo hold.
The blow from the sea had knocked a few memories loose - I didn't recall latching onto the ale cask they found me floating on. I didn't really remember the impact, either. I remembered coming-to, my fingers stiff from being clamped onto the spout of the cask for so long, and the very sudden knowledge that I had survived something the likes of which most men never lived to tell tale of. The joy had died before it had been truly born, however, as I remembered purple eyes and blond hair snapping in the wind.
When the ship found me, I was close to drowning myself and finishing the job the sea hadn't.
A gentle breeze brought me back again, and I realized I was staring into the bay and not the dark depths of the mid-sea. My bottle of ale was empty - useless even had it been full. There was a reason men weren't supposed to live through these things. I squeezed my eyes shut again the sun, refusing to believe I had.
"Here - that one on the docks right there."
"Aye - thank you sir!"
Footsteps sounded behind me. I turned to see a well dressed man practically skipping towards me, the man who had sold me the ale tottering off back into town. When the man strolling down the dock saw me looking his way he grinned. What could possibly be so good about seeing me?
"Are you the man they call Gest?" He asked brightly, stopping at my side.
I stood to answer. "Yes, I am."
He reached out to shake my hand, and I responded, still confused. "Allow me to introduce myself - my name is Niels. I'm here in Tronsberg to collect information for my boss Harold Soren, and you are just the man I need to speak to! But first, let me congratulate you on your amazing feat of survival."
I winced in reply. Niels turned sympathetic. "And also offer you my condolences on your loss." He cleared his throat. "I'm afraid I'm here to inquire about the other people involved in your accident, mister Gest."
"They're all dead," I said flatly, cutting him off before he could ask the obvious question. "I really don't know how I lived." Or why, for that matter, but this man didn't need to know that.
"I do not wish to give you false hopes, sir," Niels continued, "but there is chance there was one other survivor. A young woman-"
"Rose?" Impossible. Not by herself. So... that meant... Thor, or maybe Goran...
"Yes, her brother had a vision, and is setting out to search for her. They are preparing a ship for the voyage as we speak. But they need a direction - if the ship were to have survived..."
I swayed back for a second - finally feeling that ale, I told myself - and raised a hand to my forehead to steady myself. "If the old knorr made it, it would've been blown far to the west, and north. Maybe even to Gronland."
Niels nodded. "Aye, that's where everyone's been saying the storm blew to. Is there anything else you can tell me? Anything about the other passengers, or why the girl was headed North?"
I heard his voice, but I couldn't bring myself to respond. Maybe I wasn't the only survivor. Maybe, somewhere, Thor was lamenting the loss of some of his ale while Goran looked on disapprovingly, and Rose would be wondering what she could possibly cook for dinner. I suppose a half-crazed smile came across my face then, because Niels looked a little worried as he reached out to touch my shoulder. Ah, Niels, a herald of good news. My new best mate.
"I know this a little hard to believe, Gest, and I understand if you don't wish to speak of them. But a vision strong enough to put together a searching expedition is certainly nothing to toss aside."
Smiling a little less crazily now, I shook off Niels hand and reached down to grab up the empty bottle of ale. "Now Niels," I threw my arm around his shoulder and turned him back towards town. "I'm not a very superstitious man. But I do think you're on to something. Perhaps I could tell you more over some ale?" I waved the empty bottle into the sun a bit; Niels chuckled.
"So you are a sailor after all."
I tossed a grin and nod at the ladies as we passed them on the dock. "Only all my life."
End A/N: I know the book insinuates that Gest knew Goran had drowned, but I just couldn't bring myself to angst it up any more than it was. Besides, I find it much more likely that he didn't remember anything post-wave for a bit. That's sort of standard with head-trauma.
Also, Niels' name is an authentic male name, circa 1500's Norway. It was either Niels or Hans - no contest there.