Sun Quest - Part 2
by Ruwen Rouhs
Eastward the water of the Bredd-ström rushed towards the rising sun. The rapid current carried the heavy dugout as if it were a feather. Aegir had no trouble keeping the boat in the middle of the big stream where it travelled fast and effortlessly. And the Bredd-ström was an excellent route crossing most of the continent from the west to the east.
Squinting against the morning sun, Aegir, the red-haired young man was hardly able to keep open his eyes. He was dead tired but kept himself awake remembering his adventures. (This was what I indented to say)He remembered the day he finally found the boy of his childhood dream, Buri, the curly-headed, dark-skinned young man. He remembered the hunt for the stolen moonstone crescent, the proof of his friend's kingly descent. And he remembered the days and nights they spent together, days and nights neither of them would ever forget. He looked to Buri asleep in the bow of the boat and his heart jumped for joy. "Hi! Curly-head! Wake up! A new day! The first day of our journey to Ta-Seti, the place where the sun shines all year round even in the cold season, and the place where your mother was born."
"Hi! Red-head!" Buri yawned, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, "There is no cold season down there, my father told me. In the south the weather is hot all year long and the glorious sun shines every day!" Sitting up, he smiled to his friend, "You look tired big boy! Let me take the helm!"
"Do you really want to drown us?" Aegir shook his head, "Look the countryside is passing by as fast as a flock of cranes flying south in the fall. You can't handle a big boat like this in such a swift current. You don't have enough experience!" And really, the forest on both sides of the river, flew by like in a dream.
"Teach me, Red-head! You can't possibly do all the steering till we get ashore on the other side of the Blue Sea!"
So Aegir taught Buri how to handle the big dugout in the fast current. At the end of the day his verdict on his pupil was "You are a good student, caveman! You are clever! You learn as fast as the river flows!" Studying Buri´s beaming face, "Don´t burst with pride, you have much more to learn!"
From now on Aegir and Buri took turns in managing the boat. By day they drifted down the rapid stream and by night they took shelter under the willows on the river bank.
Along the river the settlements were clear of the area liable to flood and not on the banks so they were hardly visible from the passing boat. But in clear weather trails of smoke revealed their location and moorings in coves and fish traps indicated their main occupation.
Aegir and Buri had arranged duties. One, with the steering oar kept the dugout in fastest part of the current of the Bredd-ström, while the other one sat in the bow and kept watch on the banks with eagle eyes spying for possible dangers.
One afternoon passing along the wooded riverside Buri sitting at the bow called back to Aegir on the oar in low voice, "Look the twigs over there! They are moving! It's not the wind. Somebody is watching us! All day long I have had the feeling we were being watched from the riverside.
"Friend or foe, what are you thinking?" Aegir asked back, "It's silly to be afraid of two youngsters passing by in a boat in the middle of the big river far away from the shore!"
Reconsidering the situation, Buri answered, "Something seems wrong. Maybe the locals are afraid! Maybe they are watching out for fighters of a warring clan, maybe for marauders!"
Later in the evening, Buri proved to be right. In the dying light of the day Aegir spotted some stilt-houses on the bank of a subsidiary river. He was sick of eating fish all the time and therefore decided to go ashore to barter furs for meat or roasted nuts. Drawing closer to the landing stage, they were received by a shower of stones thrown out of a hiding place. The whooping cries of the guards alarmed the villagers and only a moment later men showed up at the landing stage brandishing lances, while lads and small boys lined up along the waterfront were throwing stones and waving their bows.
Aegir turned the boat back into the current at once. "A hearty welcome, indeed!" he grumbled, "Do you think that reception was aimed for us, Buri?" shaking his red mane, "Surely not! They were expecting somebody else!"
"The villagers took us for enemies! How stupid! Do they really assume two starved youngsters in a boat are a threat to a village?"
"Maybe they took us for scouts of a rival clan or the spies of a group of raiders!" And they resumed their journey downstream.
"Aegir, look that island over there!" Buri pointed to the left, "It's getting dark, let's land and spend the night there! It's certain to be safer than on the riverbank." When Aegir didn't navigate the dugout out of the fast current immediately, Buri appealed again, "I am starved. I have only eaten a few hazelnuts since this morning. Steer ashore, Aegir! Don't you think we are far enough from those unfriendly people?"
"Don't know. I'd rather go on. However my stomach tells me otherwise! Can't you hear my tummy rumbling?" After a pause for consideration Aegir changed the direction of the boat and headed for the small island.
They landed in a sandy cove, pulled the dugout onto the beach and unloaded their camping gear. While Aegir struggled to kindle a fire with damp reeds, Buri searched the jungle of willows covering the island for a dry place to put up for the night. In the twilight he came across a man-sized bundle caught in the undergrowth. "Hey Aegir come here! There is big bundle of cloth caught in the shrubbery. Maybe it is something valuable! Come quick!"
Buri tried to pull the bundle out of the bushes, "It's wet, cold and damn heavy! We'd better let it stay where it is and get it tomorrow!"
"Let's pull it out now, to morrow we have to leave early and I am curious! Pull!" he commanded and the bundle came out. They turned it around, opened it and in the fading light they were looking into the pale face of a boy. The two friends stared at him, his open eyes lifeless, his mouth contorted in pain, his throat slashed. The terrible sight sent chills down their spines, it made their legs turn to jelly and their hair stand on end.
"Let's leave, let's leave now!" Buri took Aegir´s arm and tried to pull him back to the boat, "I don't want to stay here, I can't! Look! It's a young man like you and me!"
Outwardly Aegir remained calm but his mind ran havoc. He remembered the time back home on the island in the north. Ever since he was a child he had been used to seeing corpses of drowned people. More than once he had found a corpse washed ashore. Nearly every storm left its victims on the shore, corpses of fishermen, of women, of children, even of warriors. Aegir looked at the murdered boy again. Yes, he was about their age, his face was battered, one ear was torn, but he still looked pretty. "No Buri, we can't leave him to the scavengers, the foxes, the vultures, the eels. We have to bury him. He is a young man like us. When Buri protested quietly, Aegir added with determination, "We have to bury him! He is our brother! He is a man like you and me!"
"Aegir, you are right, every man is our brother! We have to find out what his enemies did to him! But it's too dark now, let's do it tomorrow!"
They ate a bit, but their appetite was gone. They slept, but fitfully, haunted by bad dreams! In the morning they were even more tired than in the evening before. After a cold breakfast, they unwrapped the corpse reluctantly. The early daylight revealed a horrifying crime. Not only that the young man's throat had been cut, no, he had been tortured. His upper body showed deep cuts and burns. They had tortured him with live coal. Some of his fingers were broken and the soles of the feet charred. Even his private parts had been injured.
"Aegir! His enemies wanted to drag a secret out of him. But our brother has been brave and steadfast! He kept it, his secret! He was a hero, a real son of Tiwaz, the deity of war and justice!"
"Who ever did this deserves death!" Aegir vowed while he tried to cover the wounds of the dead with the first leaves of spring.
"Was he a young man of the village we passed yesterday, tortured by his enemies or had the villagers tortured an innocent stranger passing by?"
"We don't know, only the Norns know, they that rule the destiny of men and gods! They control destiny but we have an obligation to care for our dead brother!" Aegir groaned with pain in his heart.
"Let's put him in our boat, take him to the riverbank, carry him to the hummock over there and burry him! He is our brother by fate!"
So they did. At the riverbank they build a travois of poles, tied the body to it and pulled it along a game pass through the thicket to the grass-covered hill. It took the whole morning to dig a shallow grave big enough to accommodate the body. They put the body into the grave, laid him down as if he was sleeping facing the rising sun!
"Our brother was brave! In the Otherworld he will need some weapons!"
"He will need a bow and arrows on the other side! Here is a sharp tip of flint, my father has made, and straight twig for an arrow."
"Here is a fine limb of a yew tree and a strong string for his bow!"
"But he needs something else, something to highlight his beauty!"
"Here brother, take a bead from my necklace. It's made of a pearl I found in a shell at seashore where I come from. It's a salute from the rim of the earth!" Aegir threaded the opalescent pearl on a string and put it around the neck of the boy.
"Take this piece of sparkling stalactite from the cave I spent my childhood in!" Buri said. He opened the young man's mouth and placed the shining stone onto his tongue.
They covered the body with soft soil and put heavy stones on top of the burial mound to keep away scavengers!
Raising their arms to heaven Aegir and Buri then recommended their dead brother to the care of the deities:
Edur, Dagr, Balder,
Fathers of light,
Help our brother!
Guard of Bifröst,
Let him pass!
Urd, Verdandi, Skul!
Mothers of destiny,
Help our brother!
Tree of life,
Shade him !"
With tears in their eyes and without looking back once, Aegir and Buri hurried back to the Bredd-ström. Deeply grieved they took off with their dugout. While the powerful current carried the boat downstream, the growing darkness covered the mound on the hill.
"Who ever did this to our brother he should live in the world of mist for ever and never again see the sun!" Aegir cursed the murderers and Buri answered, "The atrocious murderers shall suffer for ever. The murderers will never be allowed to ascend to Asgard and live with the brave fighters in Valhalla."
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