Beyond the Sunset Sea
The dead travel beyond the sunset sea, into the fair isle, where it is said they meet those who they loved and hated, whom they fought and kissed, they meet them there, beyond the grasp of moral fear. Sometimes, when a great king passes, we load them into a longboat, and set fire to it. They take with them gold, and weapons, and food to make their new life far away from this damp land.
But, while we are here, on this mortal earth, we fear the death and worse - the pain that comes before - but must disregard the fear.
It is coming up to the end of the winter. Cold and ice have started to flee, opening the channel we will use. For the last month we have sharpened out swords, and drenched our leather armour in the secret liquid that stiffens it. We have prayed to our gods, and have said goodbye to our kin. And now, our journey about to start the next day, I look out into the deep sea, looking beyond the sunset, trying to find the home I shall come to one day.
A moment of reflection can be too long, and behind me I hear the others shouting my name. I turn back, ready to return to them. In their midst is the woman I love, who I can never tell my feelings. She is the chiefs daughter, a princess amoung the swine, and is beyond my grasp.
The next day we set off, to celibrations, to cheering. Our oars dip into the water, in slow rhythm, to an observer it would look like we were barely making an effort. But the boat sped forward. Three days and nights of rowing were ahead of us. Hours passed, quietly, one half of the men taking a break, and then another. We made good speed, and the sky remained clear and empty except for whispy clouds.
At our head, our steersman watched the waives, looking at the currents and the sky, looking at secret signs that tell him where we are.
We have no means of being certain we are travelling in the correct direction, and many other ships have sunk, failing to make the shore in good time. But we are lucky. The first sign is when the sea bed starts to raise, so we can see it beneith the ships bottom. Above us, a seagull soars and dips, riding the currents of the air. The steersman yells to get ready. We are about to enter the battle. The people on the shore must have seen us by now, will have run to fetch their weapons. We are unlucky... we arrived here by day, when the lookout had ample warning. But, despite that, I could feel the excitement building up.
This was our chance. To make money, to earn a place in society, maybe if I was particularly lucky to earn enough money to become someone worthy of a Chiefs daughter some day.
I rushed to obey the steersmans order. We rowed the boat until the beach was by the hull, then almost fell out, splashing in the cool water. I pulled the boat with the others, beaching it on the sandy gold shore.
Above us, on the rocky path up the beach, we could hear chanting, the roaring of people ready for battle. They were just villagers, no threat, but as they came closer I could feel a shivver going up my spine. I looked around at the others. They all drew their swords, ready to fight. We were outnumbered, but disciplined fighters. When they reached us, the battle was ferocious and bloody. It seemed like they were fighting for more than just some grain, or gold, it seemed like they believed we would harm their church. They put everything into the fight.
I saw three of them rushing towards the steersman, fighting him with a baserk rage. The person who was fighting gave me a little space, and I disengaged, running over to him. Then we were fighting. Two against three. I didn't hear the person behind me, didn't pay enough attention. All my energy was spent in protecting the steersman who could bring us safely home.
Then I felt the pain.
I fell to the floor, groaning in pain. My back had been split open by the man I had left standing. All I could do was watch as he joined the others. Soon, it felt like my life was floating away. I closed my eyes. Like a daydream, I could hear the fighting still, but above it there was the sound of the waves calling me home.
In those last minutes I wondered if I would ever see the Sunset shore, and I knew that I would soon find out.
Around me, people were fighting, but I no longer cared.