"A Basket to Carry Our Hopes"
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Freyja had cast off her own clothes and put on the garments that a Norsewoman would wear. She wore a long-sleeved wool dress with a long skirt, the crossbars of the plaid pattern woven into it being red and blue with thinner stripes of black separating them. A hooded cape of gray fox fur, undyed wool stockings, leather shoes and a leather belt completed the costume. She exchanged her own dagger for one with an iron blade and slipped the new knife, in its scabbard, down the front of her dress to rest on top of the purse that was also suspended from a cord around her neck.
Suitably attired and equipped, she stood on the rim of Sessrumnir's entrance and gazed out through the hall's windows. The sky was deep blue, with not a cloud in sight, and the distant mountains, far below Asgard, were clearly visible. She made a deep bow, fell through the entrance, and straightened out to glide down the face of the cliff, gathering speed as she fell. As she neared the base of the cliff she pitched up and swooped up into level flight, soaring past one of Asgard's amber beacons. She rolled gently into a wide right turn, flew to the coast, and turned left to follow the coast south.
Staying high, she watched the land float lazily by beneath her. Landmarks drifted as clouds might do: the curving headlands that embraced the wide bay of Jotunvik; the gray cliffs of Hestfoss Ridge rising out of dark gray-green forest; Bjorntale, tumbling white all the way down its deep, narrow, curving valley; the bare rock of Jernskog Island; the cliff-bound gorge of Trollhavn Fjord; the woods and fields of Alfdal; and finally, running between steep mountains rather than cliffs, the calm water of Breivangen Fjord.
She centered her attention on two mountains that rose above the fjord. One mountain's summit was a snow-filled bowl tilted toward the fjord. Below the pass between the mountains the land spread as a forested apron into the fjord, the longhouses of Gullskog visible in several places around the edge of the apron. Freyja rolled left to put the pass above her head and then pitched up until she was flying straight at a point just below the pass. She relaxed and fell passively, plunging into the wind, then pitched up to lie across the wind and opened her arms as though to embrace the land drifting up to greet her. The trees seemed to grow bigger, slowly at first and then faster. She levitated to slow her descent, pitched up to fall feet first, and stood on her thrust to lower herself into the treetops.
Floating from tree to tree, she watched and listened. Satisfied that no people were near enough to see her, she lowered herself to the ground, found the trail that she had glimpsed on her descent, and followed it down toward Gullskog. As she neared the village she passed a group of girls scampering through the forest in a hunt for berries and mushrooms. She paused to admire the craftsmanship evident in a small wooden bridge that crossed the little gurgling brook that tumbled out of the forest and splashed into the fjord just outside the village.
Gullskog's longhouses were laid out in a neat line set back from the fjordshore on a slight rise. The trail led Freyja between the longhouses and the water. She passed two young women weaving cloth on their looms while an old woman spun wool into yarn, teaching three little girls to do the same. Under a tree a man tapped at a hand-big chunk of greenstone, evidently sharpening it to be the blade of a hatchet. Halfway down the length of the village she found the man she wanted; with a flint-bladed adze, he was carving a small log.
"Good day to you, Master of Wood," she called out as she approached him.
"Good day to you, fair lady," the carpenter replied.
"I wish to steal some of your time," Freyja said, "to discuss a matter of business."
"It's no theft, fair lady," the carpenter said. "My time is free to hear your desire." He set his work aside, offered Freyja his stool, and went into his house. Freyja sat down when he returned with two drinking horns and a flagon and took a seat on a log. Filling one horn with mead, he offered it to Freyja and filled the other for himself.
Freyja took a sip from the horn.
"A dream has come to me and told me that it wants to be made real," she said.
"If it can be made real with wood," the carpenter said, "my skills can fill its wish full. What shall it be?"
"It shall be like nothing you have made before," Freyja said. "It shall be a new thing, one that shall bring new power to our people."
"A dream of power," the carpenter said. "A gift from the gods...or from someone else?"
"Surely it's from the gods," Freyja said. "I have dreamed a great basket that shall carry people upon the Ocean Sea, a basket to carry our hopes for a better life."
"I'm no basketweaver," the carpenter said.
Freyja shook her head.
"I need a carpenter. My basket will be as big as a house and must be made of wood." She reached into the purse hung from her neck and withdrew a scroll. "I have drawn pictures and made up a story that will tell you how to make my basket."
"A basket made of wood," the carpenter mused. "As big as a house. Meant to carry people onto the Ocean Sea. Did the dream show you a purpose to this venture?"
"It told me that the purpose would be revealed at the end of the journey," Freyja said.
The carpenter grunted.
"Hidden purposes are worrisome things," he said. "Whither will this path lead us? We can only guess and my guess fills my heart with fear for you, dear lady. A thought has just now come to me and whispered that if someone wanted to provide the Midgard Serpent with a meal, he might sent such a dream."
Freyja shook her head.
"Jormungand shall not touch this basket."
"Perhaps not," the carpenter said with a shrug. "I know little of such matters. But I know wood and I can tell you surely that this basket of yours will be too heavy to do what you wish it to do. I guess that it will move slowly, much too slowly to journey upon the Ocean Sea. And at the first opportunity it shall eagerly seek the bottom of the water."
"Perhaps," Freyja said, "and perhaps not. That's only your guess and my guess. We won't know the fact of the matter until we put it to the test." She reached again into her purse and drew out a simple ringweave as big as her outstretched hand: nine gold rings, each as thick as her thumb and as wide as her palm, had been lapped over each other and woven together with blue cords. "I found these in my bed when the dream left me," she said as she set it on the log on which the carpenter sat. "They should be adequate to reward your labors and those of the men and women who will help you."
"Draupnir's Fall!" the carpenter said in hushed awe as he picked up the ringweave. "More than adequate I would say. This is a generosity beyond my experience." He laid the ringweave on the log, next to Freyja's stool. "Dreams often come to us and say that they want to be made real," he said. "But many dreams are not good to realize. I believe that this dream has lifted you up with a frayed hope and I do not want to lift you higher. I do not want you to be badly hurt when your hope breaks and lets you fall."
"It is a superior breed of man," Freyja said, "who will not give pain to others, even when they seem to be asking for it. I am more firmly convinced now that my dream has led me well and true. You are, indeed, the one who must help me, so I will tell you a hidden thing. I know the cause of my dream. It is not a frivolous matter. My family and I have sinned grievously against inoffensive people. We have lifted those people high and pushed them toward the fall. This basket is meant to be our atonement: if it succeeds, it shall repair some of the hurt we have caused; if it fails, the pain of loss that we suffer will be less than we deserve." She picked up the ringweave and set it down next to the carpenter. "Please. Help me set right what we did wrong."
"If you are prepared to see this venture fail...," the carpenter said. Seeing Freyja nod, he held out his hand for the scroll, accepted it from her, and unrolled it. "Then let me look at the pictures of your basket," he said, "while you tell me the story of weaving it."
"My basket must be twenty paces long and five paces wide," Freyja said. "In a way it won't be far different from boats made of branches and animal skins. Instead of branches, we shall use logs to make the boat's skeleton."
"I will need extra greenstone axes," the carpenter commented, "to replace what I and my men wear out and break when we cut down all the trees we shall need."
"We shall make the skin of the boat," Freyja continued, "by lapping planks of wood over each other and sewing them together. The roots of the spruce tree shall hold the skin to the skeleton."
"I will need stone wedges and leather-wrapped wooden mallets for the splitting of logs into planks," the carpenter said. "Bows and drills to bore holes in the planks for the sewing. But if we overlap the planks, the skin won't be smooth like an animal skin."
"No, it won't," Freyja agreed, "but it will be more waterproof than a skin made by putting the planks edge to edge."
"We will also need pitch and caulk," the carpenter said, "to fill the holes and gaps in the planks. That will help keep water out of the boat."
"Yes," Freyja said. "The skin of my boat must be as waterproof as a good roof so that the boat will float well upon the water."
"This I make no claim to understand," the carpenter said, pointing at the drawing. "I have never heard of a boat with a tree's trunk standing up in its center. And then to hang a long branch from it with ropes!?"
"This is a new thing," Freyja said. "It shall hold a big net. For the net I shall need women to weave long strips of cloth an arm's length wide and to sew them together into a big blanket."
"We have many women in Gullskog who can work on your net," the carpenter said, "and if we need more, we can send to Bjorndal for help. I also know a dozen girls who can braid the rope you will need. But what is it you hope to catch in a net on a pole?"
"The wind," Freyja said.
"The Gods have given you a truly strange task, my lady," the carpenter said.
They put the boat into the water early in the morning, rolling it on logs at first and then sliding it on the gravel beach and into the fjord. Tethered to a large stone, it bobbed slowly on the water.
"In truth," the carpenter said to Freyja, "I expected this thing to be an ugliness that would hurt my eyes. It is indeed a strange thing upon which to look, but I find that there is a kind of beauty in it."
Broad of beam, the boat seemed to squat upon the water. Its sternpost rose vertically and then bent over backward to end in an ornate curl. A broad plank on the right side near the stern plunged deep into the water and a branch attached to its top jutted across the inside of the boat; Freyja had given these the names "steerboard" and "tiller". Wooden pegs, the length of a man's hand and as thick as a man's wrist, were fixed to the tops of the boat's ribs. The pegs all curved backward and more pegs like them were fixed along the top of the prow. The thick beam of the boat's keel curved up out of the water and then curved a little down again so that the prow, carved to resemble the neck and head of a scowling dragon, jutted far out over the water. From the top of the tree trunk standing up in the middle of the boat hung a long, straight branch to which was attached the giant blanket, rolled up and secured by two ropes whose free ends were tied to the two pegs nearest the stern; to the tree trunk Freyja had given the name "mast"; the long branch she called "spar"; and the blanket, her windnet, gained the name "sail". Strange names, they were, but the people of Gullskog knew that strange names often come with dreams sent by the Gods.
"It's a fine piece of work," Freyja said. "I am well pleased with it. Now we must see whether I dreamed it true."
The people of Gullskog had gathered on the shore to watch the launch. When Freyja turned to address them, a little girl walked forward and pointed.
"Why does it look like a dragon?" the girl asked.
"So that the Midgard Serpent will believe that it is one of its own kin and leave it in peace," Freyja told her. To the people she said, "I need four strong men to help me take my basket to Trollhavn."
A heavily muscled young man with blond hair and beard pointed to the boat. "You shall need more than four men to carry that giant basket over the mountains to Trollhavn," he said.
Freyja shook her head.
"We shall not carry it," she said. "It will carry us. We will ride it onto the Ocean Sea and float up Trollhavn Fjord. Four men will be enough."
"Fair lady," the critic said, "your basket is a kind of boat, so it will act like a boat. The waves of the Ocean Sea will throw it over. Anyone who rides with you will only swim in the ocean."
"Are you afraid to swim in the ocean?" Freyja asked.
A tall man with gray hair and beard stepped forward.
"No one will swim in the ocean. Look and see how big this boat is and how broadly it sits upon the water. It is bigger than other boats, so a bigger wave will be needed to throw it over. I believe that the Ocean Sea has no waves big enough." To Freyja he said, "I shall be your four men, my lady."
"No, my lady," the critic replied, "I am not afraid to swim in the ocean. I will also go with you. I will see for myself how this venture succeeds or fails."
A stout man whose reddish-brown hair and beard showed streaks of gray stepped forward.
"My lady," he said, "can this boat of yours carry more than four men? It looks big enough for more."
"It's meant to carry a clan of people and all of their household goods," Freyja said.
"A considerable weight," the man commented. "I have some bales of wool that I am obliged to take to Trollhavn. If you will permit me to bring them onto your boat, I will offer you my service."
"Then bring your wool," Freyja said. "It will be good to see my boat's usefulness put to the test." She looked at the rest of the villagers, but people were starting to back away little by little. "Is there no one else to join us?" she asked. "My dream required four men, but..." she looked at her volunteers and shrugged, "three men of hard strength should be enough."
"Four!" the carpenter said. "I must also see how this boat floats and moves. If it is good enough, I can enlarge my craft by building others like it."
"Then let's see how good it is," Freyja said.
With the help of the other villagers, Freyja and her crew loaded the merchant's bales of wool onto the boat. The men lifted Freyja into the boat so that she would not wet her feet. Then, after untying the tether rope and giving the boat a push away from shore, the four men climbed into the boat and took their seats. Freyja stood behind the tiller, which came almost chest-high to her, and directed the men in the placement and use of their long oars. Bracing the oar on the aft side of one of the thick, curved pegs, each man leaned forward, put the paddle into the water, and pulled. Freyja pushed down and forward on the tiller to steer the boat left, away from the shore and toward the middle of the fjord. Then she steered the boat down the middle of Breivangen Fjord, toward the Ocean Sea.
Slowly at first the boat moved and then faster as the men discovered the best rhythm for rowing. The villagers followed them, walking along the shore, then running, and finally being stopped where the village ended and the forest came down to the water. Freyja concentrated her attention on steering the boat, casting an occasional glance at the top of the mast, where the tassel she had tied there fluttered in the breeze. After a time Freyja called to the men and told them to stop rowing.
"Bring your paddles into the boat and rest now," she said.
"Hardly seems needful," the carpenter commented as he and the other men pulled in their oars and stowed them between the bales of wool. He chuckled. "I believed that these long paddles were for the use of giants, but they make this new way of paddling easier than the old way. And look! We have already come to the mouth of the fjord. The boat moves faster than I expected."
The merchant passed food from a basket to the other men.
"I have a thought that tells me why that's so," he said. "Paddling backward with the paddle braced against a peg allows us to put more strength into our strokes. It gives us the strength of giants."
"The council of my thoughts endorses your new thought on this matter," Graybeard said. "With more men to paddle this will be a fine boat. We might even be able to paddle it to Trollhavn in only two or three days."
Smiling, Freyja tugged on the two ropes holding the sail furled and watched the sail unroll and fill with wind. A shadow fell over the men.
"You should have done that earlier when we needed shade," the carpenter said.
"It's not meant to make shade," Freyja said as she pulled in the ropes, which were attached to the lower corners of the sail, and tied them around the pegs.
"Well, it wouldn't be a bad idea to make shade," the carpenter said. "Perhaps we should have put a roof over the boat."
The critic idly watched a piece of wood drift past the boat. Startled, he stared hard at the wood, then he put his hand over the side of the boat and dipped it into the water.
"That's a good thought to remember," Freyja said. "Someday we may put a roof on our boat."
The critic looked up at the mountains alongside the fjord, at the trees along the shore gliding past, and then at Freyja.
"We're moving!" he said in hushed awe. He turned to the other men and said, "No one is paddling, but the boat is moving."
The other men looked around them and then stared at Freyja in astonishment.
"By what power--?" Graybeard asked.
Freyja pointed to the sail.
"My net has caught a wind. It will pull the boat now, as a horse pulls a wagon."
The men looked at the sail, bulging forward, at the water, flowing past, and at the sides of the fjord, gliding by, and then began laughing and weeping.
"That something so big and so heavy can be made to move so fast!" the carpenter marveled. "And with only a blanket on a pole! The Gods themselves will be amazed."
"I'm sure that they will," Freyja said.
"We won't need to paddle," the critic said. "This journey will be easy."
"Yes, it will," Freyja agreed. "But take your ease with care. We have many things yet to learn about traveling upon the Ocean Sea. Cling tight now! We're going to be bumped."
The men fell silent, gripped the sides of the boat, and stared ahead as the boat ran into a steep swell in the mouth of the fjord. It ran into a second swell and hit a third at an angle. The boat rolled to the right and then back to the left, creaking and groaning.
"The wood speaks!" the carpenter cried out.
"It speaks of your skill," Freyja called back to him. "Look around you!" she said, waving at the interior of the boat. "The boat is being twisted and bent like leather, but nothing is broken."
"The boat slithers over the water as a serpent does," Graybeard said. Keeping a strong hand-over-hand grip on the side of the boat, he made his way toward the stern, pausing when he came abreast the mast. "If my lady tires of steering...," he said.
Freyja beckoned to him to come and take the tiller.
"I'm not tired," she said. "I am truly enjoying my boat, but I want you to learn how to steer the boat and make the wind move it. I want all of you to learn so that someday all Norsemen will know how to make the wind pull boats like this." When Graybeard took the tiller from her, she made her way to the middle of the boat and sat down on one of the merchant's bales of wool. "Keep the boat pointed so that the wind comes from behind you," she said. "Keep the boat moving. As we travel and become familiar with the sea, you can try pointing the boat in different directions to see what it will do."
At that same moment Odin, his hair, beard, and clothes dripping wet, was pacing the top of the flint slab in the little clearing in the stone forest deep under Asgard. The luminous ripples in the flint, blurred in some places, kinked in others, jerked and twitched as they rolled outward from their origins. Urd stood at the lower end of the slab with her staff in hand, its tentacles slithering rapidly over the flint and occasionally jerking away from a ripple as though stung.
"She will weaken them," Odin was saying. "She doesn't begin to know the damage she will do. We must find her quickly."
"She was not where I expected her to be," Urd said. "Finding her now will take time."
"How much time?" Odin asked.
"I don't know," Urd said.
"You do know," Odin said angrily, gesturing at the slab. "It's here in the web. Find it!"
"If you don't trust my efforts," Urd said, "you are welcome to make the search yourself."
"You are unwilling to help me on this," Odin accused.
"Unable," Urd said firmly. "For sheaves of days now the pattern has been difficult to read. The web of futures trembles and quakes like a fearful animal."
"Calm it!" Odin demanded. "Give it strength!"
"Do you know how?" Urd asked. "I don't. I have applied my every skill to the task...to the same effect as trying to move a stone with a breath. I have put my best efforts into dissolving this difficulty and the problem mocks me."
"Then let's find a new skill to melt the problem and do so quickly," Odin said. "We must find Freyja before she ruins everything."
"Everything is not already ruined?" Urd asked.
"Not if we are careful," Odin said. "Let's not forget, I'm the one who knows this situation best. I am the one best able to dissolve its problems. Freyja can add nothing of value."
Urd adjusted her gray tiara and shook her head. "I begin to wonder," she muttered.
The sun had already begun its daily descent down the west side of the sky. Freyja's boat plowed a foamy furrow in smooth, sparkling blue water humped up in low, broad swells. The carpenter held the tiller while Freyja herself rode on the prow, straddling the dragon's neck and gripping its head. Mountains rose from the sea far away on their right and the wind pushed the sail forward and to their left.
Freyja had been watching the mountains for some time. Certain at last, she waved and shouted, "Trollhavn Fjord!" She rolled over to hang under the prow and then, hand over hand and foot over foot, she climbed down the prow and, with the help of the critic's hand, into the boat. She pointed to the cleft in the mountains and called to the carpenter, "There is the way to Trollhavn."
"So soon?" the carpenter said. "But the journey to Trollhavn takes days."
"If you walk, it does," Graybeard said. He was using a small bucket to scoop water out of the boat's lowest part and to throw it overboard. "We are not walking."
The carpenter pulled up and back on the tiller and the boat began to turn to the right. The sail shifted over the left side of the boat and soon the boat was no longer moving forward, but was sliding slowly sideways to the left.
After a short time the critic picked up an oar. "We must set our wind free now," he said. "From here we must paddle."
"And perhaps not," Graybeard said.
"Look and see for yourself," the critic said. "The wind is coming from Trollhavn Fjord. Surely we can't make it pull us against itself."
"A thought has come into my heart and whispered that we may be able to trick it into doing so," Graybeard said. "It seemed to me that for a short time we were moving a little bit against the wind. If we can tie ropes to the ends of the spar, we can control how the sail faces the wind and perhaps trick the wind."
Under Freyja's guidance, the men lowered the spar, pulling the sail into the boat as it came down. Quickly they tied spare ropes to the ends of the spar and raised the sail anew.
"Now," Graybeard called to the critic, "use your paddle to turn the boat away from the wind."
The critic braced his oar against a curved peg on the steerboard side of the boat and rowed. The boat turned slowly, the sail filled with wind, and the boat began to move forward again.
"Stop paddling," Graybeard called. As the critic brought his oar into the boat and stowed it, Graybeard told the carpenter, "Turn the boat slowly toward Trollhavn Fjord and go straight when I say so." Gently the carpenter pulled up and back on the tiller. The merchant, under Graybeard's guidance, kept his rope taut and Graybeard payed his rope out little by little as the boat turned slowly. "Go straight now," Graybeard called to the carpenter. He payed out a little more rope, then he and the merchant wound their ropes around pegs and tied them.
"We will miss the fjord if we go this way," the critic said, pointing to the fjord entrance and then to the boat's prow.
"Yes," Graybeard agreed, "but we shall go this way only a short time. Feel the wind. It comes from that way." He pointed off the right side of the boat and forward. "We are moving mostly to the side of the wind and a little against it. After a time we shall turn the boat so that the wind comes from that way." He pointed off the left side of the boat and a little forward. "We shall climb up the wind as we climb up a mountain; by zigging and zagging."
"Yes, I see how you mean," the critic said. "Now we won't have to paddle until we come to the fjord. This is a good trick. Now we know how to make the wind pull us in any direction. If we have enough water around us, we can go anywhere."
Freyja looked at the men in awe.
"My dream did not show me this trick," she said. "You have outdone the Gods!"
"My lady," the merchant said to her, "a thought speaks to me and tells me that there is another new thing that we can do. You have said that you want us to learn well how to travel in this boat. My thought tells me that we can fill your wish full by traveling from village to village. In the boat we shall carry things that are plentiful in one village and trade them in a village where they are scarce. The profit that comes to us from such trade will be more than enough to let us stay with the boat all of the time and improve our skills as boatmen."
"That's a good and wise thought," Freyja said. "I like it. It would please me greatly if you all would do what you propose."
"Must it be only us?" the critic asked. "I have kin and friends who will want to be boatmen too."
"It will be good to have more men on this boat," Graybeard said, "but I believe that all of our kin and friends will be too many."
"If the profit that comes to us is big enough," the carpenter said, "we can build more boats like this one, enough for all who are dear to us."
"Not too many, though," the merchant cautioned. "If too many boats trade as we shall do, then the profit that comes to each will be smaller."
"We shall make sure that it does not," Graybeard said. "We can make the profit bigger for everybody. We shall find new things to trade and new markets in which to trade them. We shall make it our business to explore strange new lands, to seek out new peoples and new villages, to boldly go whither no Norseman has gone before!"
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