Anxious to read my forthcoming novel, The Dragon in the Whites? Then you're in luck! See below for a sneak peak of the first chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter One - The Camp
It was a day like any other in Iceland; cold and wet with a strong breeze coming in off of the sea. A young boy named Tryggvi Brynjarson was exploring the tiny island of Vestmannaeyjar with his father and the other men. His father, Brynjar, was one of Ingolfr Arnarson’s finest warriors and brought his family along when their leader decided to settle on the southwest coast of the newly claimed land. While arduous and dangerous at times, the explorers eventually settled in a natural inlet of the island and established the village of Reykjavik.
It had taken several days of travel in their small sailboat by rowing and air propulsion along the coast, and then a day upon the ocean, but the two had finally arrived with the rest of the group thanks to the help of a strong, healthy wind. They came in search of new plants, animals, and anything else of use that they could bring back to their village to improve the lives of their people. Visible from the south shore of the main island, the Norsemen were curious as to what may lie on this volcano laden chunk of rock sitting off in the ocean. By choosing to settle in a remote location such as Iceland, the Vikings were often forced to give up simple luxuries available to them back home and be content with scavenging the land and compromising their tastes.
At the moment, however, Tryggvi was not thinking about what types of fauna and flora may be found on this desolate expanse of earth. While a fairly mature boy for his age, he was still a young kid whose attention was often diverted by fun and excitement. He had just received his first real weapon from his father, a well-worn and hard-used, but reliable feeling, short sword. It was only about a foot and a half long, but his father had shown him how to properly sharpen it into a finely honed cutting tool. This particular blade had been in his family for many generations, and the sides of the blades featured a string of runes depicting the many brave men who had carried this weapon into combat and exploring unknown lands. It had been Brynjar’s first sword when he was growing up, and now it was passed on to Tryggvi. The grip felt smooth and proper in his hand, wound with tight reindeer leather and worn smooth from years of use. A small hilt ran above the grip to protect the wielder's hand from the opponent’s blade, something that could save you in the right moment.
Running madly through the tall grass in the field near the shore, Tryggvi was hacking and slashing at illusory foes and mythical beasts that made the mistake of crossing paths with him. Dragons, minotaurs, knights, centaurs, and countless champions of evil fell before his might attacks. He had spent most of his childhood watching the older men of the village practice their swordplay and would lie awake deep into the darkness of the night replaying their moves, tactics, and steps in his head. He now channeled those memories and swooped low at the base of the plants, struck high towards the spikelet and seedheads, and ducked and rolled under the anticipated and imaginary counter-attacks that would surely come. His father told him that he was too young to be fighting for real, but promised to help him practice with his newly gifted sword when the time was right. In the meantime, though, these tall blades of grass would have to do.
Caught off guard in the middle of his daydreaming, Tryggvi realized that he was being called from the distance. “Tryggvi! Tryggvi my son, where have you wondered off to now?” called his father from somewhere behind him. “Come back to camp and grab some food while the meat is still hot”, he said. He had been at it in the field for almost an hour now and completely lost track of time and where he really was. Stopping himself to listen to his father, he realized that he was breathing heavily and almost out of breath due to the physical exertion of swinging the steel blade around for so long. He would have to practice more and build a strong body to wield it. He looked down at the blade and found it to be covered in green chlorophyll and plant matter from all of the foes that he had vanquished. He carefully wiped the blade clean on the end of his cloak and slid the sword into the sheath on his belt that his father had also given him. Looking around the field and observing the mess that he had caused, Tryggvi smiled to himself, turned, and ran in the direction of his father and his awaiting supper.
As he approached the camp, his nose immediately perked up. He could smell the deep, hearty scent of roasting meat and some form of root-based stew hanging over the roaring fire. Before entering the circle of men around the fire, he stopped to enjoy the scene in front of him. Several of the men were squabbling over who’s spoils were grander that day, while several were standing up and demonstrating their fighting techniques and prowess from battles long-forgotten. While Tryggvi didn’t understand much of the context behind the stories, he did enjoy the acting and jovial storytelling.
Sitting down on the ground next to his father, he launched into a string of questions about the hunt that day: What had they seen? Where did they go? What did they find? His father, amused by the boy’s enthusiasm, chuckled and began to count off the more exciting details of their exploration: three goats, two of these small birds that his father called “puffins”, and a collection of tough roots to boil. The goat was currently rotating around a makeshift spit above a roaring fire, while the puffin and roots were boiling in a kettle for a stew to be eaten later. His father handed him part of a goat leg, which he graciously accepted and began to devour.
The trip from the mainland had been long and cold, and food was not always guaranteed to be around in this cold land that they had decided to settle. Perhaps the Saxons or Celts whom his father had fought in many battles could not handle this land, but they were Vikings. Vikings were tough, stubborn, and could adapt to anything. And right now, the hot and delicious juices from the goat meat gushing down his throat made this trip all the more bearable.
As the group continued to dive into their meal for the evening, Brynjar continued his recount of the day’s exploits, as the young boy was still waiting with eager anticipation. While exploring, the men rowed around most of the small island, which took the better part of a couple of hours, even for its minute size. They observed birds settling in nests on the cliff walls, nestled closely to each other as they amazingly braved the harsh and unrelenting weather. They observed several caves worn into the rock by countless years of erosion by the brutal wind and pounding waves. Several of the men within the group even claimed to have seen orcas surfacing near their boats as the animals hunted in groups close to the shoreline.
Tryggvi was entranced listening to the men as they told the group, one by one, of the day’s finds and activities. Each man around the fire had his moment in the forefront of the storytelling and would captivate every ear in the circle until he was done. He couldn’t wait until he was older, stronger, and capable of helping out the rest of the village on missions such as these. For now, however, his father urged him to enjoy his childhood while he could. Playing, learning, and growing stronger were his only responsibilities for the near future.
After the men cleaned up mess from their dinner around the camp and prepared to settle in for the evening, Tryggvi went into their shelter to lie down, but was having a hard time falling asleep. Despite a long day of playing around the campsite, he was still wicked excited from receiving his new sword, the fantastic plants and animals around him, and the plethora of unexplored places surrounding this island that were just waiting for him to discover. Aside from his excitement in being in a new land, it was almost the summer solstice, and the Sun was almost always in the sky shining down on their land. With the solstice only a day away, you could possibly miss the sunset if you blink as it dipped below the horizon. Lying in his deerskin blanket under the shelter his father had erected, Tryggvi was staring up into the air above him, dreaming of future adventures, battles, and tales that had yet to be written. While he eventually fell asleep, it was not before several hours of thinking, wondering, and pondering of the great unknown.
The next morning came and went as the past few mornings had on this trip. The men would dig some of the meat out of the salt barrels from the night before and cook it over the fire for breakfast. The warm, savory scents of the roasting meat would fill the air around the camp and welcome any stragglers in towards the central fire. It was hard to remain asleep once the intoxicating aromas of yesterday’s kills began to tickle the senses in your nose. After everyone had had his fill and warmed up their muscles from the cold sleep during the night, they would venture out into the wild again in search of more food, sod, timber (which was very scarce), and anything else of interest that they may stumble upon. While these trips offered many interesting and tale-worthy adventures, the reality was that most of it was comprised of basic, often boring, chores and activities.
Tryggvi, being the youngest out of the group at only ten years old, was tasked with staying behind in the camp and keeping the fire going while the men were gone. With the ever-present chill on the wind, it was important to have a warm fire ready upon their return to get that night’s game meat cooking and to stave off hypothermia. Despite being the summer season, it is still extremely cold on the island with the cold north Atlantic winds pummeling them near continuously. Tryggvi, unlike most children his age, saw his assignment as an honorable duty which was necessary to keep the entire crew alive. While tedious and long at times, tending to the fire and keeping the camp in working order was reward enough. As the day passed, the men began to wander back into camp one or two at a time. Each man, at his eager request, stopped to show Tryggvi their finds from the day. Many were now preparing the carcasses and food for dinner around the fire, anxious to fill their bellies and warm their spirits against the cold air.
One of the men regaled the group with the tale of a tremendous view he had seen from the top of the crater ridge on the west side of the camp. Rising above their camp, as they had settled within its protective walls, was a massive semi-circular mountain side. The ridge appeared to be the blown out remains of a massive volcanic explosion that must have happened eons ago after the island’s birth in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The highest point of the mountainous remains soared up into the sky by several hundred feet. Everyone around the fire listened with uninterrupted attention to the story as they were either interested in the sites, experience, or potential for extra food along the way.
Tryggvi had climbed mountains, hills, and glaciers back at home, but he had always been with his father or another member of his adventurous family. He had not yet, however, had the opportunity to venture out on his own during this trip. His father worried that he would get hurt or into trouble on his own, and requested that he stay close to the camp to “look after things” as he was told. He knew what that really meant. The men, at least, continued to share their colorful narratives with him and told of the families of goats roaming the hillside, huge breeding grounds of puffins burrowing into the side of the hills, and the vast, endless expanse of ocean on the other side. From what they had said, you could see the mainland on one side, but then absolutely nothing but ocean and horizon on the other. The seas stretched out into the distant nothingness, begging to be explored.
During the storytelling, Brynjar had returned and sat near his son while his friends were describing something that they had seen on their travels that day. While settling himself in on a large, flat stone, the elder Viking listened to a detailed description of a small beach down at the bottom of a hill. They said that while exploring the top of the ridge above the camp, they had worked their way around the curve of the volcanic cone and were gazing out into the limitless ocean for signs of approaching weather, available food to hunt or forage, and any signs of other humans. While scanning the ocean, one of the men had looked down and to the left, and let his eyes follow a long stretch of gravel heading down the hill. It had created a trail of sorts, and was surrounded by the small holes in which the puffins burrowed. At the base of the gravel run, there was a small beach enclosed by rocky walls where the wind didn’t enter and the water was calm.
Tryggvi was half-listening and half-daydreaming about climbing the volcano’s remains and exploring this beach. Not wanting to wait for the end of the tale but not wanting to wait another second, he excitedly whispered to his father and asked if he could go explore it.
“Perhaps next time, my son. I am sorry, but it is already growing late, and we must leave early in the morning if we are to make it to shore before the next night fall”, Brynjar unfortunately told his offspring. “There will be plenty of time for adventures in the future, just you wait and see”, he added, with a subtle wink. His father needed his men to see him as strong and unyielding, but he had a difficult time saying ‘no’ to his daring and ambitious son.
Later that night, as he led his son over to the shelter, he looked down upon him and smiled. While he was still his little boy, he was quickly growing into a young man. Still caring about him as that little boy, however, Brynjar reminded him to stay warm and keep his furs on to ward off the biting cold wind. Even inside the reindeer hide tent that they shared, the wind always found a way to creep into their blankets and furs, chilling them to the bone. As he bade him goodnight and started to turn as if to head back to the fire with the rest of the men, he paused, turned back around slowly, and made it clear that he was hiding something in his hands. Happy to see the anticipated look of interest and intrigue upon Tryggvi’s face, he handed a small horn to his son. It appeared to have been fashioned from the horn from one of the rams that they had killed on this trip, and was fabricated very well. Tryggvi had seen and heard many horns used in his days, both for communication, music, and fun, but he had never had one of his own.
“Now Tryggvi, blow on this horn if you ever find yourself in trouble. I will hear it and come to your aid, wherever you may be”, the father said. “But get to bed and stop stalling”, he said more loudly than needed. Tryggvi suspected that this later statement and tone of voice was for the benefit of the other men. After waiting for the conversations to resume, he leaned in closer to his son and whispered “be careful tonight, and make sure to be back before the morning. And son, please try to get some sleep, I can’t have you being a dead weight during the journey tomorrow”.
He gave his son another small wink and chuckled as he reached over and ruffled up Tryggvi’s blond hair. With a smirk developing on his face as he began to imagine the kinds of things that he would be doing right now in Tryggvi’s place, he walked back to the fire with the rest of the warriors. He knew that his son would probably get himself into trouble that night in some shape or form, and he would be ready to help, if needed.
Click here to read Chapter II!