15 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Serialized - Installment 3

Moose hunt contd:

As the shadows lengthened toward day’s end, a trio of moose stepped from the dense forest surrounding the lake. The lead animal, an old cow, paused and carefully surveyed the lake environs. Her sensitive nose tested the still air while the huge ears turned this way and that, listening to the cries of birds and the buzz of insects. Her senses told her that all was well. She continued down into the willow scrub along the lake shoreline. She and her calves nibbled at the tender tips of willow before stepping into the shallow waters of the lake. Their kind did this same thing, just before sundown every day, when hunger and thirst drove them from their bedding grounds to begin another night of foraging.
***
Gudbjartur watched the cow moose and two large calves walk with caution from the cover of the forest. The quarry grazed slowly through the thick willows along the shoreline before wading into the lake. The animals began to relax as they grazed along the lake bottom on an abundance of bulrushes and other underwater forage plants, oblivious to the threat lurking nearby.
Gudbjartur waved to Halfdan and the two men began closing in from both sides of the boys’ position. They walked along the shoreline making no attempt at stealth. Gudbjartur figured that he and Halfdan would be almost up to the animals before they became alarmed. If everything worked as planned, the three moose should pass the boys’ hiding place as they ran from the lake.
***
Greenland Sea, east of the Helluland coast

Five hundred sea leagues to the northeast of Halfdansfjord, the four ships of the settlement’s trading flotilla to Greenland rolled and plunged in the heavy swells of the strait separating Helluland and Greenland. The flotilla had sailed from the strait between Markland and Helluland, through the southerly current flowing along the Helluland coast the preceding morning, and into the open ocean area of relatively slack currents between Helluland and Greenland.

Seabirds had recently joined the ships, diving and swooping in their constant quest for food, indicating land was not far off. Estimating there were some fifty leagues remaining in the voyage for the ships bound for Eiriksfjord, Greenland, Bjorn Kjetilsson, flotilla commander, signaled the ships to heave to into the wind as they approached a bank of thin fog and sea mist.

Fog banks of varying thickness and the pervading sea mist had been their constant companion during the twelve days of the voyage. Although it had not been necessary to heave to, the Fog Giant and reduced visibility preyed on Bjorn’s mind. Command of more than his own ship weighed heavily on him. He thought the cargoes of green timber would be most welcome in both Greenland settlements and should induce the local farmers to part with all manner of trade goods from both Iceland and Vestfoldland. The ships had managed to stay in contact while running in the thin fog by sailing in close company and frequently sounding their bullhorns. The sound of the horns reverberating from ship to ship lent a surreal quality to the damp blanket as the ships alternately appeared and disappeared within its shroud.

After turning into the wind to heave to, the heavily laden ships remained close together. As they paid-off slowly downwind, their unfettered sails flapped loosely, and the crews shouted back and forth.

“If the visibility was not so poor the masthead would have the clouds of Greenland in sight to leeward. We will part company when the coast is sighted. As agreed, Athils and Sweyn will steer for Lysufjord, and Brodir and I will make for Eiriksfjord,” Bjorn shouted across the narrow expanse of water separating the ships. “Good luck trading with the Tornit on your return voyages. I hope you kill many walrus with them. We will see you at Halfdansfjord before winter.”

“Brodir,” Sweyn shouted through cupped hands, “I hope you fill your ship with the trade goods we need in Halfdansfjord. Good luck trading with the Thalmiut on your return voyage, Bjorn. Trade them out of another pair of those big dogs.” He waved and turned back to his waiting crew to get his ship underway.

Shouted farewells drifted across the water as crews bid their opposite numbers farewell and sheeted their sails home. A freshening wind out of the northwest began to blow the tatters of fog away and the flotilla rapidly gathered way as each ship answered her helm and steadied on course.

The ships would shortly come under the influence of the current sweeping into the north along the coast of western Greenland, speeding them toward their individual destinations. This fast-moving current would be especially useful to the two ships bound for Lysufjord, more than one hundred and fifty leagues north of Eiriksfjord.
***
The moose hunt

Unseen by the five moose hunters, a large bull moose ambled from his bed grounds toward the same lake. He stopped briefly to graze on the tender tips of ferns that had drawn his attention. The muffled snap of a breaking twig caused him to jerk his head erect. His senses went to full alert. The last mouthful of ferns dangled forgotten from slack lips as his small eyes stared in the direction of the sound. He detected a slight movement and his heightened attention fastened on the object. The animal’s brain registered a warning, possible danger. Long, brown guard hairs along the top of his neck and back slowly came erect as his agitation increased.

The object of the bull’s attention happened to be Yola. The boy stirred ever so slightly in his place of concealment. A small, dry twig snapped under him as he shifted position.

The bull knew not what the creature was, but it had no place in his ordered world. His rigid stance went from interest to alarm to rage in a moment, as he became aware that the creature was between him and the cow and calves. He began to move very slowly, almost noiseless for an animal of his bulk. The only sound of his passage was a slight whispering of the grass and ferns as they parted before him. His little eyes fixed unblinkingly on the creature he stalked.

“Yola, look out!” Lothar shrieked in alarm. The bull broke into a trot. He covered the short distance to the prone boy before Yola was aware of the mortal danger descending upon him.

Yola had but a heartbeat to turn toward the sound before the full force of the bull’s charge descended upon him. The great spread of palmated antler pinned the struggling boy to the ground. The beast struck the center of Yola’s chest with a flailing front hoof, breaking the breastbone in two. A violent whoosh of breath blew from the boy’s mouth as the bull’s head crushed his chest and cut off his screams.

In another heartbeat, the bull scooped Yola from the ground in his antlers and slammed his body against the trunk of a tree. Repeatedly, he smashed the now lifeless body against the tree trunk until it was a bloody pulp.

Ivar and Lothar stood immobilized by the suddenness and ferocity of the attack, but only for a moment. Ivar screamed in fear and rage. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He nocked an arrow on his bowstring as he ran to the bull’s side. Without hesitation he drew the hunting arrow to its razor-sharp head and loosed it into the bull’s heaving ribcage from pointblank range as the beast worried the bundle of bloody rags that had been his friend.
***
To be continued with #4, 20 January 2012

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