PREVIEW — STONEBORN SAGA II: THE BLACK SHIPS  by Brendan Baker

 

CHAPTER 1
 

July 17, 1627

The island of Heimaey, Westfjords archipelago, 4.6 miles off the southern coast of Iceland


     Ingrid and Siggi were not normally awake this early, and certainly not out of the house. And when they were not where they were supposed to be, it was usually Siggi’s fault. But this little adventure had been Ingrid’s idea, for once. She had already lain awake for an hour that morning, unable to sleep. Today was a special day.

     When she couldn’t take it any longer, she slid out of bed, woke Siggi, and explained her plan. He had agreed — he was always desperate for some form of entertainment, no matter how small. And now they were together, running away from the village in the pale morning light.

 

      It did not take them long to reach the sea cliffs. The difficult part was what came next. They had ascended far above the village and the shoreline, and could look down on both. The town still slept, even though the sun was clear in the sky. This far north, at this time of year, it rose at three or four in the morning, when the world was still pitch dark at lower latitudes. Yet despite the sub-Arctic summer light, there was no smoke coming from the chimneys of Heimaey, no people in the streets. Past the town, on the other side of the island, rose the mound of their local dormant volcano, Helgafell, the ‘Holy Mountain.’ Ingrid always thought of it as a sort of friendly giant looking over their village, and she imagined it sleeping alongside them now.

     Turning away from the town, the children could look across the water to the far horizon. From their vantage point they could see some of the other, smaller islands in their little archipelago, trailing off to the south. The sea was still and smooth. And above it circled their prey. 

 

    In flashes of black, white, and orange, dozens of birds swooped and rose, above the waves and below, catching fish from the water and careening past each other to return to their perches. Just below the top edge where the children stood, hundreds of feet above the sealine, a shelf-like outcropping ran along the cliff face. Scratched into the soil and rock there were dozens of burrows, each one hiding a singular treasure: puffin eggs.

    The eggs were a special treat, enjoyed by nearly all the townsfolk of Heimaey. Only the nimblest adults were permitted to climb over the cliff’s edge to snatch them. This year’s gathering had already happened, earlier in the season, when the birds they stole from still had enough time to grieve their loss, then lay and hatch a second egg before leaving on their long migration to parts unknown. It was forbidden to harvest them this late in the summer. But today Ingrid was 16, and she knew she could do it, and perhaps on your birthday you could ask forgiveness more easily than permission.

    She needed Siggi to lower her over the edge. He was only nine, and always eager to prove himself, especially to Ingrid. She tried not to see it, for the pressure of his admiration was sometimes too much, and he often irritated her. She wasn’t perfect, as her decision to involve him in this lark clearly indicated. But getting what she wanted and making him feel included for once was killing two birds with one stone, she conceded.

    At the edge of the cliff, Ingrid knelt and set her legs out over the edge, then twisted her torso to reach back. The deep calls of the puffins sounded behind her.

    “Here, Siggi, help me.“

    The boy grabbed his sister’s hands, and held on with surprising strength as she shimmied over the edge. When her sheep leather boots found purchase on a small notch that countless feet had slipped themselves into over the years, she nodded at Siggi and he slowly released her hands. She pulled them to the edge, then reached over for the first grip, to her left on the cliff face.

    It wasn’t far to the bird shelf, just another couple of steps down. If Ingrid slipped, as long as she didn’t pitch backwards too far she would not fall to the rocks and water below. But it was still difficult, especially not looking down — Ingrid had picked up enough from hearing the other villagers to know better than to look down.

    But soon she felt solid matter beneath her heels, and settled off the cliff face and onto the ledge. Turning left, she saw the lip of rock jutting out for almost 50 feet along the sheer plane of the cliff, three feet wide at its thickest. All along it were birds’ nests, dug into the earth against the rock face.


    The parents were there, too, some of them incubating eggs, others feeding the few hatchlings that had escaped the first egg raid. The birds were oddly undisturbed by Ingrid’s presence. Those still in their nests called at her with their peculiar growl as she scooted along the ledge, but none attacked her. If the puffins were feeling defensive, they could swoop and peck at her with their strong bills until she lost her balance and fell from the cliff. It had happened before, she’d heard. But luckily they were not, and did not.


    Carefully Ingrid bent her legs until she could reach down into the unguarded nest closest to her. She scooped up the egg from the soil it sat in, and gently placed it into the small cloth sack she had stuffed with wool and hung over her shoulder for just this purpose. Still kneeling, she worked her way past it to the next, then the next. She was surprised that so many were unattended, so she did not take the eggs from all of them; she wanted to make sure there would be more birds next year, and more eggs to steal.


    When she had collected nine eggs, she figured she had enough — two for each of the family, and a third for herself — and she made her way back along the ledge to the foot and hand holds. Carefully she pulled herself up, after moving the sack of eggs to her back so they wouldn’t break.


    Siggi had quietly watched her the whole time, uncharacteristically silent as if he feared startling her over the edge. Belly to the ground, he reached his arms down as Ingrid neared the top, and helped her pull herself back up and over.


    And then it was done. Ingrid stood, her face flushed with exertion and triumph. It was far and away the most daring thing she had ever done.


    “Look!” she heard Siggi say beside her. He was pointing away from the ocean, back over the town, toward the harbor. For a moment she could make out nothing past the fishing boats lashed to the docks. Then, suddenly, several objects came into focus, out in the mouth of the bay. Two large boats, bristling with oars, rowing hard into harbor. Then, farther down the narrow bay, another, much larger ship came into view around the southern side of the island. That must have been where the row boats launched from, Ingrid thought. As it came fully into view, the children could see another, slightly smaller ship was following behind it. How many visitors was their small village about to receive? 


    “Where do you think they are from?“ Siggi asked.


She squinted. Her eyes were good, but she could not make out any identifying flags or details on the ships from this distance. Only that the sails were still full and they were moving fast, with churning wakes cutting a 'V' into the sea surface behind them. The second ship entered the harbor mouth, and then a third appeared behind it. 


    “They are probably traders from Denmark,” Ingrid said, but she wondered. Then Siggi pulled on the sleeve of her dress, and pointed again, this time towards the village below.

       

    “Mother is awake,” he said.

    And there she was, just visible in the yard outside their house below, no doubt looking for them.

All thought of the ships was forgotten for the moment. “Hurry, Siggi,” Ingrid said, and the children turned on their heels and thundered down the slope, as quickly as the eggs they carried would allow. Somehow it seemed to take longer going down than it had going up.

 

    The village grew as they approached. The slatted roofs and wooden walls of the houses at the center of the town stood out compared to the buildings along the edges, with several built slightly into the hills in the old turf house style. And the steeple of the town church stood out above these. Ingrid did not think they had been away long, but the community that slept when they left was now awake. Men pulled horses down streets, and her eye was caught by movement here and there as women flung open their windows for the day.

 

    Mother saw them as they were coming down the slope, and stood watching them with hands on hips, looking like a rowan tree with her rigid form and her auburn hair pulled by the breeze. Ingrid loved her mother’s deep red hair, so much prettier than her own straw yellow, but she always kept it covered when out of the house, and Ingrid had not often seen it fully caught by the wind. It magnified the effect of her anger. The children sheepishly opened the gate in the fence and stepped into the yard.

 

    “What were you doing? Where were you?,” she asked, voice pitched high for such an early hour. 

 

    “We saw strange ships, mother!” Siggi cried back before Ingrid could stop him.

 

    Mother's hands came off her hips.

 

    “Fishing boats, surely,“ she said.

 

    “But I thought Father said all the fishing boats had been called into harbor?” Ingrid couldn’t help herself, now she was curious too.

 

    “Danish boats, then, fishers or merchants. Anyway, pay no mind,” she said, all traces of anger gone from her voice.

 

    “Come with me.“ And she grabbed them each by the wrist and brought them into the house.

 

    The home was in the common style, a large wooden rectangle with cabinet-like alcoves built along the side for sleeping, and benches and shelves for cooking and other activities. In the center was a rough-hewn table, and at the far end a hearth, where Mother had not yet started the fire for the morning. Dried fish and herbs hung from the low rafters, and as usual the wooden floor was strewn with straw and several of Siggi’s toys, no matter how often Mother swept and scolded. 

 

    Mother walked over to a large chest next to the curtained chamber where she and Father slept, rummaged to the bottom of it, and pulled something out. It was a small bundle of cloth, embroidered in bright geometric patterns of birds and bursting flowers. She unfolded this quickly upon the table. Inside was another parcel made of what appeared to be seal skin, oiled and waterproof, with a small leather loop and bone button on one side. This she unlatched and opened, so the children could see its contents in the dawn light. It was a small book. Its cover was brown and seemed to be made of some sort of leather, bound with twine and gut stitched through the spine. There was nothing on its surface, no title or mark or image to suggest its contents. At first glance, it didn’t look worth bothering with. But an oddly enticing smell wafted from it, grass and spice, brine and smoke. All three of them looked down at it.

 

    Finally Mother spoke. “This book is a very old and precious heirloom. It has been passed down in our family for generations. It contains an old story, a saga of sorts, though not one you will have heard before.”

 

    Ingrid and Siggi looked at each other, then back at the book.

    “The story was told to one of your ancestors, who made sure that it was written, and preserved, and passed down. Ingrid, today you are 16. I was older than you when this story was first given to me, and better prepared. But now is your time.” 

    She opened the book gently. The pages were made of some material that held the ink beautifully. Ingrid guessed it was vellum, lamb’s skin, but she could not be sure without touching. In contrast to the cover, the front page flashed with color, intricate designs and images nearly jumping onto the table. As Ingrid’s eyes were drawn in, she noticed the small page was covered in a variety of different styles, and some of the colors seemed more faded than others, slightly less brilliant. Perhaps the designs had been added at different times, she pondered.

    There was something written in the middle of the page. It looked a bit different from the writing Ingrid had learned, but after a moment she could make it out: Skraelingasaga. ‘The Saga of the Savage Woman’? Ingrid thought that was something like what the title meant, but she couldn’t be sure where she had heard the word. 

    Mother shut the book before she could ask. With swift motions she wrapped it tightly again in the seal skin covering, and the embroidered cloth, and handed it unceremoniously to Ingrid.

    “The story is yours now. Keep it safe, and read it. You must read it.”

    Siggi did not hide the hurt in his voice.

    “And what about me? I want to know the story too.”

    Mother took his face in her hands.

    “And so you shall. Ingrid can read it to you, or tell it to you, as she sees fit, once she has read it first. Only she must keep the book herself, and she must make sure that the story is passed on.” She turned to look at Ingrid now, though she still spoke to Siggi, her eyes catching the light. “And your sister will know when the time is right to pass it on.”

    “I’m hungry,” Siggi said. “Ingrid went over the cliff face, we’ve got puffin eggs. Where is Father?“

    Ingrid could never quite remember afterward whether her mother’s look of shock had been in reaction to hearing how her children had spent their morning, or if it had come a heartbeat later, when the big bell of the town church began to peal. Even in the dim of the cabin, the children could see the blood drain from her face as the bell of Landakirkja continued to chime, as fast and as loud as any of them had heard before.

    “Wait here, children. Wait!” she hissed, and turned. She ran out the door, leaving it open, and into the yard. The children could see her turn and stare toward town. She stood there for a moment, then brought her hands to her face. She held them there for just a second, then brought them down. When she turned back towards the house, the children could see only implacable resolve in her eyes as they looked at her through the doorway. She stalked back into the house. She held her hand up to silence them before they could ask her any questions. Her eyes searched, darting to and fro, cataloging.

    Then she was in action. She opened the pantry, pulled out bread and cheese, set them on the table. She reached down to the bench where Ingrid had set the bag of eggs, and upended it on the table. The eggs spilled out; most broke right there, and the rest rolled over the edge and shattered on the floor. Mother made no move to clean the mess, and that was when the children realized something was truly wrong.

    She stuffed the bread and cheese into the bag. Then some dried fish and lamb went in. She looked the children up and down appraisingly, and grabbed her own heavy cloak off the wall, the one Father had gotten from the Danish traders, and given to her for Christmas in the 10th year of their marriage. It was dark blue, with stitching on the sleeves and hood that shone like gold filigree in the right light. 

    She handed the bag to Siggi, then swept the cloak around Ingrid and fastened it at her neck. The sturdy fabric felt almost like armor, and was a bit scratchy at the arms and neck, but she knew it would keep out sun and cold alike. Mother pulled one side back, and showed Ingrid that there were several hidden pockets cleverly sewn into the folds of the cloak’s interior. She grabbed the bundle containing the book from the table, and quickly stuffed it into one of them. It fit just right, and Ingrid barely noticed the difference in weight.

    Mother gave each of the children one more appraising glance.

    “Mother, what is happening?” Ingrid finally shouted. The bell over town was still ringing.

    “There is no time,” was all Mother could say. She ran back to the pantry area. Several knives were hanging from hooks on the wall. Mother looked at them, and after a moment she pulled one of the smaller ones down. She started to wrap it in a thick cloth, but then stopped abruptly, and looked again at the children. Then she set the knife down on the table, and walked back over to them.

 

    “Listen to me now. We are under attack. I want you both to go, now. Stay together! Run away from the house, fast as you can, and into the hills. Find someplace to hide. You must know all the same hiding spots I knew as a child. Find one and wait there. Do not come back down until you hear someone calling for you, either me or your father or some other voice you recognize. If no one comes, stay as long as you can, until your food runs out. And then if you must come back, you do so carefully and quietly. Do you understand me?“

 

    “No!” Both of the children shouted. “What is happening? Who is attacking us?“ Ingrid wanted to shake her mother.

 

    “Why isn’t Father here?” Siggi asked again.

    “He’s in town with the other men. It will be alright. But you need to go, now!“

    “Why can’t you come with us?“ Siggi asked.

    Ingrid could see his eyes glimmering, but he was not yet crying.

    “You will be fine! Please, just go! I will find you later, and explain everything. But you have to go, now!” And she dragged them towards the exit, grabbing Ingrid by the back of her cloak and Siggi by his shirt. But just before the door, she tripped over Siggi’s carelessly discarded hobby-horse, and they all tumbled out into the yard.

    Ingrid got her legs under herself first, and then turned to look at the town while her mother and brother recovered. There was smoke rising here and there, blowing out over the bay. Their home was on the edge of town, but even from here Ingrid could see people running through the streets.

    “What is going on?,” she heard Siggi yell.

    “Run to the hills!,” their mother said. “Run, and don’t look back!”

    And, for once, they listened. 

 

    Siggi and Ingrid turned back the way they had come, running back up the slope towards the cliffs. They did not discuss, they just ran. Here and there they passed a few shallow openings in the ground, surrounded by rocks, that sheep or children sometimes hid in. But they kept going past these, on some mutual understanding.

    Ingrid did not look back, only turning her head enough now and then to be sure Siggi was with her. As she did, she saw other figures apart from them aways on the hills, also running from the town. And some of them, she was sure, were being chased.

    Perhaps it was inevitable that in their haste and fear, the children would run straight back to where they had just come from — the high cliff face overlooking the sea. But, Ingrid quickly realized, it was not the worst place to have fled.

    Siggi didn’t have to be told, he knew her plan. He ran to the edge.

    “Yes, go first, I will help you,” his sister said. He turned and lowered himself over the edge. Ingrid bent down and held his arms. He slid himself as far off the edge as he could, but his feet still scrambled for purchase against the wall. There was a reason this activity was forbidden to children.

    “Here, I have you,” Ingrid said, and she clasped his wrists. They both scooted closer over the rim above the water. But still Siggi was not secure against the wall. Somewhere far behind her, Ingrid was sure she could hear shots and screams.

    “Calm, Siggi,” she said. “We can do this.” She eased up the tension on his wrist. “You will have to hang from the edge and drop down to the ledge,” she said.

    His brown eyes opened even wider. “We can do this,” she said again. And she released one wrist.

    Siggi slid his hand back to the very edge of the cliff, where rock met soil. Then, slowly, he moved the other. Ingrid was still gripping his other wrist.

    He looked up at her, nodded, and she released his hand.

    Siggi hung there for a minute, his chin just above the ledge, his knuckles white.

    Then he dropped.

    Ingrid gasped, and almost flew over the edge herself as she shot forward to see her brother fall. Chest pounding, she peered over the edge.

    Siggi was there, trying to catch his balance on the ledge below, one heel off the precipice and arms wheeling. Ingrid nearly screamed, and startled him off the ledge. But as she drew breath, he pitched forward and smacked securely into the cliff face. Below and above him puffins flew obliviously.

    Ingrid waited until he had moved along the ledge, then grabbed the pack and handed it down to his upstretched arm. Then she let herself over without a look back, and climbed down easily.

    There was more than enough room for them both along the ledge, without disturbing the nests. The children stood there for a moment, then each sat with a thud upon the rocky soil. Under the occasional calls of the birds, they could hear the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks far, far below them. At least it was warm, and the wind had died down.

    Siggi looked out over the waters, gulped, and turned to his sister.

   

“What is happening? Who do you think is attacking us?”

   

“I don’t know. I don’t know,“ Ingrid said. But this must have been why most of the village had been called into the Danish Market House the entire previous day, before returning to their homes in the evening. Ingrid and her mother and brother had stayed in their home on the edge of town, as had some of the others, so she didn’t know exactly what was going on; no one would tell her or Siggi. When their father returned, she had asked what was happening, but her parents just said there was strange news from the mainland, and quickly changed the subject. But she had already seen the fortifications being built around the Danish Merchant Houses, where their wealthy foreign patrons stored their valuables. 

   

    Ingrid looked over to see that Siggi was crying.

   

    “Where are mother and father?” he sobbed. “Do you think they are alright?”

   

    Ingrid said nothing. She pulled her mother’s cloak from her back, and gestured Siggi over. Carefully she wrapped it around them both, then pulled some bread out of the pack and handed it to Siggi. He stared at it, then grabbed off a hunk and stuck it in his mouth, chewing between sniffles. He loved bread, and it was always a fight for Ingrid to get her fair share at the dinner table. Ingrid got some for herself, and the hard cheese wrapped in cloth, and together the children ate in silence, save for the relentless wash of water on stone and the deep groans of the puffins, who were usually silent in flight. They could hear nothing of what might be happening in the town, but every now and then Ingrid was certain she caught a whiff of smoke.

    The day was clear, and the sun beat down on them as it rarely did. The children pulled the cloak up over their heads to provide some screen. This new intimacy made it impossible to continue their silence though.

 

    “When do we climb back up?“ Siggi asked.

 

    “Like Mother said. We wait until we hear her call.”

 

    “But —”

 

    “We wait.” And even as she said it, Ingrid thought she could see her mother in her mind's eye, running up the hill to retrieve them, tell them the invaders had been repelled, or it was all a mistake, and they could return to the house to finish celebrating Ingrid’s birthday.

 

    Something hit Ingrid on the head. She whipped the cloak down to look around herself. She didn’t see anything for a moment, and then realized why.

 

    The birds were no longer randomly diving and rising above the sea. They seemed to have disappeared. But she looked up, and saw them rotating in a wide oval above the cliffs, directly over the children’s heads. One was flapping its way back to the flock as she watched — it must have pecked her on the head as it flew past.

 

    “What are you doing?” Siggi huffed. Ingrid pointed up, just as the oval sharpened into a teardrop, then a line, the birds diving directly at the shelf where the children sat.

 

    They pulled the cloak back over themselves, but the puffins were on them in an instant, screeching and beating at the fabric of the precious garment. The children punched and slapped at the birds, but they only succeeded in battering each other, and pulling the cloak partially off of themselves again. Ingrid felt a bird’s talons catch her hair, and she shrieked and batted her head as she tried to get it off. The cloak slipped off the children entirely as they both smacked at the pestering birds. Then Siggi lashed out and caught the edge of the book hidden within its folds, and in a flash the cloak flew over the edge of the narrow ledge.

 

    Ingrid sensed the cloak falling away, and without thinking she lunged for it, like she would have if it had been caught by a heavy gust of wind. Her fingers closed on the thick fabric at the same moment she realized she had overshot the ledge. 

   

    Then her breath caught in her throat, when the collar of her dress connected with her neck. Siggi had grabbed her clothes. He leaned back in his seated position and pulled, and somehow she was able to get her center of gravity over the ledge again, cloak still in hand. The children looked at each other, then both burst into tears. The birds had retreated, but were beginning to circle above them again. The siblings stared straight up to watch them above the edge of the cliff. 

 

    Then suddenly their view was obstructed by a shadow looming over the edge itself. In a second their eyes adjusted, and they saw a gap toothed grin leering down at them, set into the face of a man Ingrid did not recognize. He had a scraggly beard, and wide set eyes that darted from child to child in evident glee. 

 

    He said something to them, but neither child could understand. Then he held out his other arm over the edge, and in it was a flintlock pistol. He spoke again, and now the children understood his meeting.

 

    Cloak in one hand, Ingrid grabbed her brother’s shoulder with the other. She looked out to the sea. They had hidden, but now they were trapped, and had no options. Ingrid had never in her life considered the chance that invaders would come to her sleepy fishing village. Now that they were here, her mind expanded with all the possibilities of what such invaders might intend, and none of them were good. A sudden wild desperation overtook her.

 

    Then the man above shouted down at them again, still gesturing with the pistol, and Ingrid looked to Siggi, and made her choice.

 

    “Up, Siggi. I will help you climb back up.” Siggi’s eyes searched her face, but he nodded, and turned to the rock wall.

 

    In a few moments, Siggi was up and almost over, Ingrid supporting his legs as he reached for each hold. Then he was pulled from her hands by unseen arms, and out of her sight. Ingrid wrapped the cloak securely about herself, and scrambled up as well as she could with trembling fingers.

 

    There were three men standing on the edge of the cliff: the one who had found them, and two others who now held Siggi, already tying his hands behind his back with a length of cord. Tears fell from his eyes still, but his face was defiant.

 

    The man with the gun spoke, and the other two laughed as they knotted off Siggi’s bonds. Ingrid was almost glad she could not understand them. She could only stand there, numb, as they tied her arms too, and then marched the children back down the incline towards the town, shoving them in front.

 

    From the top of the slope, Ingrid could see smoke rising above the village. As she got closer, she could even see flames leaping here and there across the wooden rooftops. The smell of burning came thick, and then she heard the screams. Her knees went weak under her, but she thought of her brother following just behind her, and quashed her terror as much as she could for his sake.

 

    They passed their home on the edge of town. It was unburnt, but the door was still open, and their mother and father were nowhere in sight.

 

    They reached the heart of the village. Up a wide avenue they went, towards the docks, and for the first time Ingrid and Siggi could see the bodies. Here and there, fallen townspeople lay in the thin mud. Ingrid could not help but look, and although she did not recognize all of them, she knew that none had been strangers to her. She was terrified to look too closely though, for fear of who she might see.

 

    They turned a corner, and both children had to step over the upturned face of Fritholf, the town cobbler. It was the first time either of them looked into eyes they had once met in life, and saw them cold and empty.

 

    Their captors spoke from time to time amongst themselves, but Ingrid had no better idea what they said or what language they spoke. It wasn’t Danish, which she would have recognized and understood, but it didn’t sound too far off. 

 

    As they neared the center of town, they encountered another group of invaders and captives. Ingrid recognized Eigil the brewer and his wife, Audur; Eigil was bleeding heavily from the head, and Audur’s dress was torn. The pirates with them laughed as they pushed them forward. By appearance, most of the pirates could easily have been villagers in her own town, save for their dress. They wore loose, flowing clothes, open shirts and baggy trousers tied with colorful sashes.  Three of them sported short caps in a style Ingrid had never seen, bright red and rounded, with a tassel on top. And all of them had pistols and long, curved swords held in scabbards at their sides. 

 

    But some of the men driving the couple in front of them looked unlike any Ingrid had ever seen. They were dressed much as the men with her and Siggy, but these men had dark skin, darker than anyone she had ever seen in Heimaey. Ingrid felt a mental shock as she struggled to adjust to this new idea of what a person could look like. 

 

    Behind her, the man who had found them on the cliff shouted at his approaching comrades. They shouted back, and both groups broke into smiles and more laughter. They shoved their captives forward, joined up, and trundled on down the street together. Ingrid tried to get Eigil’s attention, but he was staring ahead as if blind, and Audur was sobbing too hard to be coherent.

 

    As they approached the water, the smell of smoke cleared a bit from the air. Their destination soon became clear as well. Up ahead were the docks, and Ingrid and Siggi could see other townsfolk being herded that way by more armed men. Sometimes one of the villagers would start to wail or yell, but a quick strike from a saber pommel or the butt of a flintlock put a quick stop to that, and there was not much struggling overall. Ingrid looked around as well as she could, but she still did not see her parents, standing or fallen.

 

    At the end of the largest dock, the pirates were loading their captives indiscriminately onto the two ten-oared galleys they had rowed into town. Ingrid and Siggi clung to each other as they were pushed down the pier and into one of the boats. Ingrid saw Father Olafur at the prow, with his visibly pregnant wife and his son, sitting with a pirate who was dressed in even more elaborate clothes than the others. They seemed to be conversing, though how Ingrid did not know. 

 

    When the boat was full, the pirates untied it from the dock and pushed off. There was a sharp easterly wind, and for a moment the boat just drifted. Then the air was rent by the crack of a whip, just behind Ingrid’s head. With rough shouts and beatings, the pirates forced the villagers to start rowing. Ingrid and Siggi were not their targets, but they tried to help, grabbing the end of the nearest oar. Slowly they turned the boat away from the town they had known all of their lives, and towards the mouth of the harbor. There loomed the great black ships, white sails billowing in the breeze.

 

    Ingrid did not look back until they reached the largest ship, and a rope ladder was thrown down for the prisoners to climb up awkwardly one by one. When it was Ingrid and Siggi’s turn, she indicated she would go before him; she did not know what they would find at the top, though she could hear shouts, screams, and laughter far above. 

 

    As she grabbed the first rough rung, and began to haul herself up the side of the ship and into certain bondage, Ingrid turned her head back towards her home, to see what was left of what they were leaving behind. 

 

    Where before there had been homes and businesses, now there were only simmering embers and the charred skeletons of buildings and people. The church in the center of town was on fire, orange flames framed by the still-green hills behind. And above it all, a thick, dark smoke spread over Heimaey, like the open wings of a scavenging bird.

 

    Ingrid turned away, eyes burning, and reached for the next rung of the ladder. 

TO BE CONTINUED in Stoneborn Saga II: The Black Ships, coming 2020