As he stepped away from the forest, ten year old Wapasha gasped in shock. The icy wind from the Atlantic burned across his face as he stared out through morning fog, just barely making out the dark ship that appeared to materialize ghostlike from the fog bank. Like a wooden apparition, it made its slow approach, the dragon head at the bow looking like some ancient sea monster from the depths. The longship, slender and light, cut through the icy waters quickly and with ease.
Wapasha’s heart pounded with fear at the sight of many dark figures rowing in unison to reach the shore. He took one more long look and spun in the deep snow to seek out the tribal elders. Glancing at the darkening sky, he knew a storm a was coming. A big one. Mounting his little American Paint, he didn’t need to command her to gallop, she felt his urgency. The village was not far, but Wapasha was smart enough to know that his pony’s trail would lead the invaders straight to the village. Taking a right, he found the deer trail, and together they forged their way to the hills just west of the village. Dismounting, he tethered the pony and backtracked his way to the original trail, then with a branch, wiped out all traces of his footsteps until he was safely in the village.
Forgetting his manners, Wapasha burst through the door of the longhouse of his grandfather, Miyakoda.
“Grandfather! They are coming! On the sea in great, long ships!” he burst out, breathing heavily. “We must prepare for war!”
Miyakoda’s only reaction was a slight widening of his dark, wrinkled eyelids. Motioning for his grandson to sit, he called his wife of thirty years over and asked her to pour Wapasha a hot tea drink.
“These men, Wapasha, were they many?” he asked, filling his pipe.
“Yes, grandfather, there were many men on the boat. They had long hair, all different colors, and much hair here..” he pointed to his chin.
“Did the boat have a demon head at the front, Grandson?” he asked the boy.
“Yes, but how did you know? You have seen them before?” Stunned that his grandfather knew, he felt a strange foreboding in his heart.
“Yes, little one. In a vision. We must hurry and prepare, for these are no ordinary men. They come with murder in their hearts and hatred in their eyes,” he said, stopping to take a long pull on the pipe. “Go get Sapatah, hurry.”
Wapasha raced to the home of the warrior Sapatah, also his uncle.
“Uncle! Come quick! Grandfather needs you right away!” he yelled. “Mother! Start getting your belongings together and prepare to move quickly!”
“Wapasha, what is happening?” His mother picked up his little brother, Tala, now almost in his weaning year, before rushing to her eldest son.
“Invaders from the sea, Mother, quickly, no more questions! Get ready!” he urged her. Though only ten, Wapasha’s status in the tribe was unquestionable. His father, a chieftan, and his grandfather, a holy man, his mother did not question the boy’s ability to give orders. She quickly gathered only what she would need to flee, following her son to the main house. There, all would gather to form an immediate plan of action. A storm was coming, and not just from the sky.
The People, seventy-five in all, listened carefully to Miyakoda’s vision, terrified. He spoke quickly, knowing the men in boats would be there soon. He told of blood on the snow, and the bodies of their people, slaughtered without mercy. As he spoke, the wind picked up, howling eerily as if to punctuate his words with truth. They formulated a plan, knowing it was their only means to survive, and then each member did the unthinkable. They set fire to their homes. Women were crying openly, losing all that they held dear. Wapasha opened the corral and let all of the fifty horses go, watching as they headed for the hills. Per his grandfather’s instructions, he took the old roan stallion and reluctantly slit it’s throat, watching with tears as it fell to it’s knees dying. As the snow picked up, the wind blew it sideways, making anything beyond five feet difficult to see. The snow was relentless as it fell heavily, covering everything with a blanket of white.
The Vikings looked upon the land ahead of them as the cold wind pierced their trousers and tunics. This godforsaken place, where the only signs of life were the land birds, disappeared into the swirling mix of snow and wind. Disembarking, Asmund yelled up to his young son, Dagfin.
“Stay here till our return! If all is well, I will send for you!” he shouted, his words almost lost in the blizzard. The boy nodded, hurrying below to get out of the driving wind.
The forty men with Asmund, most redheads and blondes, forged through the deep snow, using their wooden shields like plows. With their heavy swords, they chopped through the underbrush, until they came upon what looked like a trail. They had to find food. The supplies on the ship were at a bare minimum. Suddenly, Asmund held his hand up, wrinkling his nose. Fire. Something was burning. If there were people on this continent, he would take what was theirs, including the clothes from their backs. He felt a rage that he was hungry, cold and wet while others may not be. Savages, perhaps. He’d heard rumors of this land and it’s inhabitants. Red men. Eaters of flesh. He would tear out their hearts and eat them!
“This way!” he yelled over the howling wind. “Get ready for battle!”
The Vikings let out their battle cry, ready to slay each and every savage that they came across in the blinding snow. But when they reached the burning village of the Mohawks, their cry dwindled to absolute silence for there, in front of them, lay nothing but burning buildings and a dead horse. Whatever came ahead of them either killed everyone and everything or drove them out. Strange mounds covered in snow encircled the area, looking like small hills or boulders. But there was something missing. The only blood he saw was the blood of the horse. When this realization hit him, it was too late. They’d stepped into an ambush. As soon as he thought it, the strange mounds erupted in great geysers of snow as the warriors rose, bow and arrows ready. Before the mighty Vikings could even raise a sword, it was over. Each arrow shot true and found it’s mark, killing the Vikings in a battle that was over before it started.
Wapasha led his father, Hateya, and his grandfather, together with four other warriors, to the ship. They walked back and forth on the shore and couldn’t help but admire the craftsmanship of the boat. From the dragon’s head on the bow, to the long streamlined design built for speed. As they were getting ready to go back, a movement on the boat caught Wapasha’s eye. There in the middle of the boat was a boy child staring with fear in his eyes at them. Pointing, he showed Hateya, who proceeded to climb onto the boat.
“Come,” he called to the frightened boy. “Do not be afraid.”
Something in the warrior’s voice told the boy that it was over. His father was not coming home. Bravely, he came up to the warrior, looking up at him curiously.
Putting his hands on the boy’s thin shoulders, he said, “I am your father. You are my son. Come, be one of the People.”
Dagfin let himself be swung up on the man’s strong shoulders, and they climbed down out of the boat. He saw a boy who looked to be about his own age, and he shyly smiled at him, getting one back in return. Yes, his father was dead, and it was not sorrow that filled his young body, but relief. His father was a cruel man, and he would not be missed. Dagfin closed his eyes as the warrior carried him to his new home. It was going to be alright. He would live with these strange, painted people.
Riss Ryker lives with her daughter Caitlynn, pictured with author, her three furry best friends, a cat and a boa. Along with writing, her other passions include rescuing animals, playing Xbox, and gardening.