We were six days at sea when I was called to work the tiller. Only moments after beginning my duty the gathering clouds above began to spew rain onto the rising sea. The rumble of thunder seemed distant but then grew to a tremendous roar. As I felt the tiller become damp in my palms, I watched the skies trying to understand these new portents.
Suddenly the storm clouds began to disperse and Thor, the god of thunder, emerged from behind the gathering above. He appeared as the myths divulged; his hair and beard were long and red, drenched in the rain and trailing behind him in the breeze as he guided two raging goats across the skies. Thor stood in a chariot of gold; one hand gripped the reins of each goat drawing him through the storm, the other held his mighty hammer, Mjollnir, aloft. Thor struck the clouds on either side of his glistening chariot with devastating pounds and, with every blow of his hammer, there erupted sheets of lightning, their incandescent glow brief but powerful. Then, just as he had appeared, Thor was lost in the west, the wheels of his chariot trailing sparks of lightning.
Having witnessed such a spectacle, I reached for my necklace and held the amulet to my face. It was a wooden carving of Thor’s hammer and as I pressed its damp body to my lips, I closed my eyes and thought of home. The gods were with us but could Thor’s presence also have been a warning about the west? I couldn’t be sure. All I knew was that I had to keep the ship on its western course.
We were at sea for what seemed months, but could only have been a few weeks. The atmosphere on every ship was like nothing I had ever felt before. As the fleet overcame storm after storm, our heads remained high, hearts swelled with pride and our spirits felt at one with the gods. When you worked the tiller, there could be felt a certain aura in the air. The gods were watching over us and they wouldn’t let us fall. On the brightest days at sea, we felt like rulers and lords of the sea; we were the masters and the sea, whether calm or raging, was our servant.
Finally, on a clear night without the persistent rain, there came our first sighting of land on the horizon. There was a stir of excitement below deck, the prospect of wealth and power had homed into view and we were ready.
At dawn the following day, the vanguard of our fleet steered us towards the land. The coast was bare; the treasure troves that once clustered the edges of the land were nowhere to be seen. Our fleet remained by the coast, working its way south, and ignoring the distant villages.
By nightfall we reached a passage inland, not a fjord like home, but an estuary guiding us north-west to our destination. I was working the tiller once again as our passage narrowed; the open sea was behind us and the land on either side began to close in on the fleet like the jaws of the great wolf, Fenrir, said by our legends to be imprisoned in Asgard. It was a cold night, but mist and frost did not choke the land, although dew clung to the blades of grass. Not much further now.
When the estuary came to an end, the land on either side seemed even closer. I heard instructions from the tillers on the other ships to keep straight; we were entering a second inroad into this land, a large river continuing northwards. Every man and ship mattered now and there was no turning back.