Wolken en water


The Nada Chronicles

part 14

© 2002 Hans Brockhuis - translated by Mirjam Coumans, B.A.

Sequence to The Plains of Honey, the Nada Chronicles, part 11

Vodelmus (Vodelm or Vodo) Hiemertson of the Wheel, born A.D. 852, is the son of a basket maker in Dorestad in the Low Countries at the sea. Vodo has magnificent oval steel blue eyes, and has just turned 14. The family, it is now 866, consists of mother Mechte, Goldina (13), the 12 year old Almina, Isebrand, (11), and finally Vinanda (7).

Unexpectedly the bell of the house of God in the city started chiming. A tall ship of the Normans had been spotted! Since 817 that had happened before, but after they had destroyed the city in 850, it had been fairly calm in this region for 16 years.
It turned out to be the Kolding, under captain Ragnar of Valborg, alias the ‘Fork Beard’. Since the city of Witla was looted in 850, a Nordic garrison had been stationed in Dorestad all those years, but it consisted of only 20 men. They kept quiet and on top of that made sure that river pirates had no chance to obstruct the trading, by which Dorestad became rich. The oncoming panic therefore floated away soon, because the Nordics turned out to have come to replace the garrison and for estimation.

The next morning Almina was sent to the market with a load of eggs. Vodo escorted her to follow the lessons of Brother Berthold. When Almina was selling her eggs on the market, one of the sturdy Vikings passing by came to her and made clear he wanted to buy an egg off of her. ‘Hai,’ said the man, while pointing at himself. ‘Jag år Holger Holmgren.’ ‘Hello,’ Almina answered blushing. ‘My name is Almina.’ De Norman nodded. ‘Almina eh?‘ ‘ Yes,’ said Almina and giggled. Holger circled around her a bit, took an egg off of her and gulped until it was empty. A while later he sauntered on and the girl thought she would probably never see this handsome Nordic man again.
One hour later she saw three musculous Nordics, surrounded by some merchants, coming from the direction of the harbour. The tallest one was Ragnar for sure. Not only because of his red hair he was more than well known in Dorestad. “The blonde one with the sword,” Carolus, Almina’ s neighbour on the market said, “is steersman Fridjof Gyldedal. The third one is boats man Frøde Valby.”

The three men stopped at Carolus’ booth. The boats man began to bargain the price of his apples with him. Meanwhile Almina looked stealthily at the ruffians. A shiver ran along her backbone. Imagine she had to come along over the sea on an open ship with such folk. At that moment the ‘Fork Beard’ looked in her direction. Almina blushed and quickly looked another way. A little while later the negotiations had ended and Carolus hastily said goodbye. ‘I have to deliver twenty bags of apples before noon. They want to set sail tomorrow in the early morning, at sunset.’

Almina was utterly confused and on top of that she had a basket of eggs that was not even half empty. She had to wait for Vodo to walk home together. Half an hour later Vodo said goodbye to brother Berthold. ‘Thanks for the lessons brother.’ ‘Yes all right and you paid attention very well as usual,’ the man said ironically. ‘Go and hurry to your sister, because she is awaiting you for a long time already.’ He ran to the market and looked about at the spot of her booth, but to his dismay he could not find his sister in the crowding. He walked toward Carolus, who was working with his apples very busily. “Yo Carolus, where is Almina?” “Eh?”, he answered confused, “a minute ago she was still here.”

After many a question and a lot of searching it turned out that Almina had disappeared. Vodo had become pretty frustrated and it gradually turned dark. He became more and more desperate, frightened and less and less careful. When he ran around the corner of the grain storage with great speed, he bumped into one of the plump Northerlings. It was the young Holger Holmgren who helped in the kitchen. The man shook him gruffly and slapped him so hard that his ears whizzed.

‘Auch,’ Vodo said, to which Holger asked him a question in Nordic at a commanding tone. ‘Almina’, was the only thing he could answer. Without having expected anything, it turned out to hit the target at once, because Holgers’ eyes lit up. With movements of his arms The Viking made clear to him that the girl had been captured, was on the ship as spoils of war and had to come to Denmark.

At home prostration and sadness predominated. Hiemert had a mental breakdown and mother Mechte was sitting staring silently. Just Vodo had any sense left in him. He didn’t say much either, but started planning to free his sister right away.

Later, on their straw mattress, Vodo softly nudged his brother Isebrand. “Listen. In a while, when it is still dark, I’ll try to get aboard to find Almina and bring her back. If that doesn’t work I’ll hide on the ship and we’ll try to flee later when we are in the marshes near the great sea. They’ll never be able to follow us there, because for the Danes that is unknown territory. It could take a few days, but we will come back undoubtedly! And don’t tell Mum and Dad before it is light because otherwise they won’t let me go!”

When it had finally turned light, Vodo carefully stuck his head out of the tarpaulin under which he had been hiding. He looked about and saw they were in the middle of the slow broad river. There was a light breeze. The mast creaked and the ropes chattered. On starboard he could see the woods and the Stichtse hills and on larboard the marshes were full of enormous groups of willows. Vast collars of reed unfolded at each bank. Further land inward the wood mainly consisted of a great number of low, grown together, bent willows. But here and there a stork or a heron was fishing on the bank, while the ship passed, being rowed on the slow rhythm of the drummer.

Suddenly Vodo’s eyes were drawn toward a formation of grey clouds in the North that covered the horizon until one third of the height of the zenith and a part of the furthermore blue sky from West to East. Where had he seen this before? It seemed so familiar and looked like an enormous mountain, much higher than the nearby hill. He kept watching, but couldn’t figure out what it could be that seemed so familiar to him.

Suddenly a beautiful alto spoke in his left ear. He looked behind him, but saw nobody and he shrugged. But again that voice was there.

“Goodmorning Vodo. You’re looking at that formation of clouds that stirs you so much. You think it is a mountain and you wonder where you have seen it before. Still you know for sure that it can’t be familiar, because you’ve never seen a hill higher than that of Thornwood, not far from here.”

Vodo shook his head. He was afraid, because even though nobody of the female sex except probably Almina, could be aboard, a voice that was clearly female sounded in his head. He had never experienced a thing like that before, and he thought he had lost his wits because of all the emotions. But the voice carried on.

“Still that formation of clouds represents something that you have seen before, but in another time and place, very far from here. In that place, Vodo, are the Plains of Honey, and it was there that we first met. It seems surreal to you, but I assure you that we had a conversation at the time in which I foretold you that you would once be in a situation like this. Because know this, dear Vodo, this is the foreplay of which you once said that you would be able to endure. You’ll see that this road will lead you to areas in which you’ll have the position to change the future of the people a little bit to the positive side.”0

To be continued.