Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chapter Two: The Finn Is Just the Beginning

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter has been sponsored by Daisy Scott:

“This Chapter is Dedicated to my favorite sister ... Daisy, who—when we were both younger—dressed us up to look like twins and then—when we were teenagers—cried when someone said we looked alike, and who is now proud to be recognized as brother and sister!”

Sponsor had no editorial control over the chapter content. The author maintains full responsibility for content.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Chapter 2: The Finn Is Just the Beginning

The thief’s name was Snorre.

Not only that, but he spoke at least a smattering of English, which LeRoi counted as extra good fortune. The nice thing about working with sailors is that many of them pick up all sorts of languages on their trips, even if their knowledge is rudimentary.

Rudimentary described more than just Snorre’s grip on the English language.

The man had a bulging eyebrow with squinty eyes and irregularly cut, short, black hair. His clothes consisted of a stolen sailor’s cap and jacket, which were so tattered and worthless the original possessor denied ownership. Underneath the coat hung a threadbare shirt, spattered with stains and smelling strongly of alcohol. The pants mirrored the shirt, though darker and lacking a hem at the bottom.

He could not have contrasted more with the Frenchman. LeRoi’s suit seemed but a day out of the tailor’s shop, his dark oak cane, decorative only, his hair neatly combed back under a shining black top hat, and his mustache tightly trimmed to match his almost stationary upper lip. Even in the dim light of the cargo hold, LeRoi’s very bearing had all the shape of nobility.

His voice, however, fit the situation with much more ease.

“Come now, you little Norwegian rat,” he hissed, “there must have been something important in that journalist’s satchel or you would have made a grab at my cane or someone else’s watch in the passenger berth before going all the way to the front of the ship to make your pinch.”

LeRoi could tell that Snorre was tired. It had been a full night and day since the ship had put on full steam for Oslo, due to arrive sometime early the next morning, and LeRoi had seen to it that Snorre was bereft of food and water the whole time. LeRoi noticed Snorre’s eyes travel to the flask LeRoi held before him.

“Just like I says afore,” Snorre spits out in clipped English, “the newsman were lookin’ up infermation of more than is good fer ‘im.”

LeRoi, always keeping a keen eye out for potential money-making opportunities, sensed something of more value than mere landslide victim names in that satchel. He tried a different strategy. “Here,” his hand passed Snorre the flask, “just to show you that I’m a man who likes sharing. Not just drinks, but any variety of return gained from lucrative information.”

LeRoi’s proposal was not lost on Snorre, who greedily emptied the contents of the flask into his open, slavering mouth. His face only registered marginal disappointment that the liquid was not as strong as he had hoped. After finishing, Snorre looked out at LeRoi from underneath his protruding eyebrow. Then he shook his head firmly. “No. This ain’t infermation fer you, or ‘im, or any’un.” As an afterthought he threw out, “An’ thanks fer the spirits.”

Surprised by Snorre’s determination, LeRoi concluded that the secret harbored by the American journalist must have even more potential than he originally assumed. “Well then,” LeRoi shrugged, “I suppose I’ll just have to wait until the American publishes the story. You wouldn’t expect a news reporter to hold onto a secret, would you? Of course, I might be able to employ means towards cutting off the story before it reaches print … but only if I have an inkling of what it involves.”

LeRoi could see that Snorre, while clearly a frequent drunk, proved capable of making intelligent judgments when occasion required. “No,” came the pert response again, “The American don’t know all. He’s just got ta the first part of the trail. Even if he finds what he’s lookin’ fer, there’s still no promise he’ll find out exact’ly what I …” Snorre faltered, and LeRoi noted with interest the genuine fear in Snorre’s face. “… well, I can’t risk anyone else knowin’. Even to try an’ stop ‘im.”

Then LeRoi understood. Whatever secret Snorre had, it was personal, shameful, perhaps despicable, but almost certainly worthless in a monetary sense. What a waste of precious time! LeRoi thought. He snapped the empty flask out of Snorre’s hand, turning to leave the man alone with his shackles and disgrace.

“Wait, Mister Leeraw!” Snorre called out, jangling his chains for further effect. “That satchel may not be a use to ya, but I know somethin’ else worth more money than all the secrets of Europe.”

The crude pronunciation of his name almost prompted LeRoi to take a swipe at the pathetic figure with his cane, but his gentleman instincts forbade it. More so, the fact that Snorre alluded to large quantities of money, something LeRoi stood in dire need of at this point. This did not stop him from attempting to appear cynical. “Do you really expect me to take a drunkard and thief seriously when he makes those kind of remarks?”

“No, I don’t,” Snorre said, though he still maintained strong confidence. “So if you want ta pass, you can. I don’t expect ye’ll believe me anyhow.”

LeRoi brushed an imagined speck from his suit coat. “It’s a boring trip. I suppose I have nothing better to do than to listen to a bit of nonsense.”

Snorre squinted LeRoi down in the weak light of the cargo hold, measuring him. Finally, satisfied, he continued softly.

“Ya know that island they couldn’t find just afore leavin’ Mangekilder Fjord?”

LeRoi nodded. Strange business. Though, he had never noticed the island when they entered the fjord, so it never perplexed him as much as Captain Isak and that journalist. Still though, strange indeed. He saw a disconcerting fire in Snorre’s eyes. “What about it?”

Snorre’s jaw set. “I know what happened to it.”


Even though he had interviewed people for years, the novelty of it never wore off for Daniel Rudiger. Every new conversation with a person held the potential of something interesting, as long as you asked the right questions and knew how to listen.

But for the last three months, every interview—including the interviews from Mangekilder Fjord only a couple days ago—brought him back to the One, the interview cemented in his memory since its occurrence. When he would open an interview with a greeting, his mind fell back to the greeting he used for that interview. When he would ask the first question, inevitably, it would remind him of his first question in that interview. When the person would respond to his questions, then he would see exactly how she …

Focus, Daniel forced himself to think. This is not that interview, it is now. Three months have passed. I have to let it go … I have to let her go.

Daniel blinked. The Icelandic sailor sitting before him should have made it easy to live in the present. He didn’t look anything like her. The man presented black hair, a sharp nose, gangly limbs and furry arms. She had long, blonde hair, a soft face, strong but lithe Nordic arms and neck … and she definitely was not furry if his memory served him well at all, which—in the case of that interview—it always did.

What is more, this interview was being conducted in the dank-smelling hull of a foreign sailing vessel, with the loud voice of Grandma Grizzly boasting to the sailors just above deck in a language they would never understand—even if they spoke decent English. The One interview, held in the brightly lit anteroom of the small but quaint American consulate in Oslo, would probably not have been as personal or genuine had Daniel been accompanied by a sharp-shooting, coarse 70 year old—though it still would have been memorable!

Still, though, while the subject and setting may not have been as appealing or quiet as with the interview from three months past, the value of this man now before him went beyond question. The Icelandic sailor’s ship stumbled into Mangekilder Fjord as the first on the scene just a couple days after the landslide, and this sailor served as one of the few interpreters with the Norwegians during the incidents that followed.

As an afterthought, Daniel wondered if the man might be one of the last people to have seen the missing island. Except me, Daniel pointed out to himself, I was probably the last person to see it, so he couldn’t tell me anything more about its alarming disappearance than I already know. And yet, even Daniel knew so little.

Captain Isak, although in a hurry to get to Oslo at the time, felt the disconcerting vacancy of the island worthy of investigation. Isak had been to Mangekilder Fjord enough to be both familiar with the island and even acquainted with the one, small family inhabiting the island’s 100 acres. But in the very spot where the charts and Isak’s memory said the island should be, there was nothing but flat, empty sea.

A couple of the ship’s officers suggested another landslide, noting that there had been a spring on the island, and perhaps the whole landmass slid apart and into the fjord waters surrounding it. A sounding of the area, however, did not suggest the island just rested below the surface, since it proved as deep there as any other part of the fjord. Neither Daniel nor Captain Isak seemed satisfied, but they had no plausible explanation, nor the time to investigate further. They hurried, disquieted, back to Oslo at the edge of a pending storm.

And now, back at Oslo, the Icelandic sailor interrupted Daniel’s thoughts, speaking to him in broken Norwegian, “The fishermen from Mangekilder, they tells us of the landslide. We dropped off supplies and almost leave, but for the rudder to break. We fix it, then sail back to Oslo. With good wind just before storm, we make it a little bit before you.”

Most of this, Daniel already knew. He had just come from the government officials after giving his original report of the landslide. Coupled with the story from the Icelandic ship, they were already making preparations to offer assistance and equipment. He did not mention the missing island in his report, because he didn’t know what he would say when they asked him for more details. He hoped Captain Isak would take that charge.

By reporting to the government what he had discovered in the town, Daniel fulfilled his obligation to Captain Isak and the unfortunate town of Mangekilder Fjord. Still, though, in order to confirm some things for the story he intended to cable to Baltimore, Daniel questioned further, following up on details of the landslide’s aftermath. He gathered some interesting, new tidbits from the lanky sailor but nothing jaw-dropping.

For a moment, Daniel wondered if this would be all he would get from the interview. Somehow, he had expected more when he found the Icelandic ship still in port after Captain Isak made his speedy arrival. In the back of his mind, however, Daniel knew that some possibilities for a breakthrough lingered. He transitioned into his most recent and promising lead: “Did you encounter a Russian ship at any point before or after seeing the landslide?”

The sailor looked surprised. “Yes.”

Daniel tried to contain his excitement, “When and where?”

The sailor thought. “A day, maybe two, before we go to the landslide. Just along coast by Mangekilder Fjord. We stop, and they want for to trade some products, clothes or something, but our captain not like the price.”

Daniel cannot believe his fortune. “Do you remember the name of the ship?”

The sailor frowned. “Russian. I do not know of the Russian language.”

In a flash, Daniel flipped the pages of the notebook to the spot where the fisherman in Mangekilder had written down the Russian characters. With poorly disguised eagerness, he thrust the notebook at the sailor. The man’s furry hands pondered it a moment, then with satisfaction and a nod he said, “That is it, precisely. That is name.”

Pleased with the connection, Daniel suddenly did not know where to go with it. He fumbled a couple words before querying, “What, uh, what type of clothing did they try to barter with you?”

He shook his head. “Don’t know. Just a sailor, not merchant. Maybe they were skins, like coats, hats, gloves, but I can’t say.” Daniel nodded, recognizing his poor question, thinking of searching down the captain of the ship to follow up on the particulars.

Just as Daniel processed where to find the captain and an interpreter, the sailor jumped in. “They did trade sailor.”

“What do you mean ‘trade sailor’? The Russians took one of your sailors?” Daniel had heard vaguely of an underground human trade for workers in new factories in Siberia, but he had yet to find substantial evidence.

“No, no,” the sailor shook his head, “they give us sailor. Something about him could to repair the nets, but Russians not fishing boat, so they pass him to us, because we have nets to be fixed.”

Daniel processed this, suddenly realizing that he may have stumbled across a huge lead. If the sailor had been on board the Russian ship, he may have information on its smuggling operations. Hoping to act nonchalant, he asked, “Is that Russian sailor on board this ship? Can I speak with him?”

“He is on ship, but you could not to speak with him, or to understand him. He is not Russian. He is from Finland.”

Daniel sighed. Language in Europe managed to always be a barrier. “No one on your crew speaks Finnish?” The sailor shook his head and Daniel followed up, “Then how does he do his work?”

Acting as if Daniel lacked common sense, the sailor said, “He find nets to need fix and fix them. No speaking needed.”

“Of course,” Daniel muttered.

“Hey, down thar, Kid! Ya gonna speak ‘till the Salt Lake gets fresh or are-ya wrappin’ it up?” Grandma Grizzly poked her head down the hatch, the tail from her coonskin cap dangling like bait on a lure. “I’m startin’ ta git tired o’ whippin’ these Icelanders in arm wrastlin’.”

A couple of days ago Daniel would have brushed off any notion that Grandma Grizzly could have gone into an arm wrestle without a quick trip to the infirmary, let alone actually beat someone. But Daniel learned quickly not to underestimate this woman. He would never look at a pipe again without thinking of her smooth, single-shot, across-the-length-of-a-boat, bulls-eye smashing of a miniscule, moving target.

“Getting close, Grandma Grizzly,” Daniel said. He could not be sure why he felt he needed to justify himself to her. She simply asked to tag along for something to do until her ship headed out of port later on in the day, hopefully this time to journey to America for good. For some reason, though, when Grandma Grizzly spoke, it demanded attention.

“Well, I hope close is soon, ‘cause they’re startin’ ta prep this ship fer leavin’. Guess they want outta here before a storm comes trompin’ in. If ya don’t wrap up soon, we’ll be goin’ to Iceland together. And while I like ma ice, I’ve gotta git back to America and yu’ve got yer job here in Norway that might miss ya.”

Daniel’s eyes grew. The last thing he wanted was to lose this new interview opportunity. With more time, the rest of the day perhaps, he might have been able to hunt down a Finnish interpreter. But now, he was about to lose one of his biggest leads.

Abstractedly, Daniel called back to Grandma Grizzly. “You don’t happen to speak Finnish, do you?”

“Naw, but I’m wishin’ you’d finish!”

For some reason, her middling joke calmed Daniel down. “Alright, you rancorous Rough Rider, just for that pun you’d better come with me to visit this guy.” Daniel indicated to the Icelandic sailor that they would like to be taken to the Finnish sailor, regardless of the language barrier.

As they made their way under decks to the bow of the ship, Grandma Grizzly sidled up next to Daniel. They both avoided a pile of coiled rope as she asked, “You happy here, Cowboy?”

Daniel thought the question odd. “Well, I’m close to breaking open the story, but I don’t have a Finnish interpreter. So, I don’t know, excited and frustrated, I guess.”

“Shoot,” Grandma Grizzly drawled, “I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout raight now on this ship. I mean in Norway, bein’ a reporter.”

Daniel glanced over at Grandma Grizzly, “This is my dream job. Plus, in all modesty, I’m really good at it.”

“Don’t think that were ever in doubt,” she rejoined, “but it don’t answer ma question. Are ya happy here?”

They paused as the Icelandic sailor moved a partition in a cramped space in front of them. “Why do you ask?” Daniel queried.

“Ya seem distracted, like a hunter pontificatin’ the leaves of the trees while a bear moseys on past yer rifle.”

Daniel seemed surprised to hear such a thought come from Grandma Grizzly; he momentarily wondered if there was merit to it before brushing it away. “It’s just these unanswered questions, that’s all. Don’t worry, the bear is not going to get away.” He seemed to be convincing himself just as much as Grandma Grizzly.

She shrugged. “Maybe. An’ sometimes the bear should just be left alone, and the hunter should folla what them leaves is tellin’ him.” Daniel could not be sure if what she said was absolute nonsense, or if there had been actual wisdom buried underneath. As if to clarify, Grandma Grizzly quipped, “Then agin’, you listenin’ to leaves, maybe ya oughta stop peace pipin’ with the local Indyans or whatever yer doin’ that’s messin’ yer mind up so bad!” She guffawed, slapping Daniel hard on the back.

Daniel’s focus still lingered over what Grandma Grizzly had said before, so it took him a moment before his laugh registered. Absentmindedly, he replied, “Grandma Grizzly, I’d never be caught with a pipe, peace or otherwise, within a hundred miles of you!”

At this point Icelandic sailor reappeared from behind the partition and ushered them past, “The Finn is here. He readies to see you.”

If Daniel had been distracted before, he was no less so after his discussion with Grandma Grizzly. Yet, passing into a space of the bow set off by partitions, draped with nets all over, and an old sailor stuffing something into a chest against the hull, instantly filled his mind with curiosity.

Daniel desperately hoped that the man might have picked up some snippets of English in his travels. “Excuse me, good sir. Do you speak any English?”

The man turned around and immediately Daniel saw the ocean. Yes, they stood inside a dark ship with no windows. Yes, that ship sat in the thick of a busy port crowded by piers and other ships. In spite of that, Daniel wavered before the immensity of the vast and clear ocean mirrored in the eyes of the old man standing before them.

Surrounding the eyes, everything else pointed to an aging, rough sailor. Silver hair, ratted and slipping out from behind his head. Wrinkles deeply embedded in his tanned and scarred face. Clothes stinking of neglect and fingernails filled with grime. But the eyes. The eyes defied everything else. In them reflected eternity, and Daniel found himself suddenly out of place.

If the Old Finn noticed Daniel’s sudden submissiveness, he did not show it. Instead, he only feigned ignorance at what Daniel had said.

“Like I say,” the Icelandic soldier jumped in, “No one can to speak with him.”

Not quite ready to give in, Daniel tried in Norwegian and then English, “Russian ship from Riga, Revel, St. Petersberg?”

The Old Finn regarded Daniel with a curious eye, but said nothing.

“Russian ship trade with Mangekilder Fjord?”

Nothing. An awkward silence dominated the scene for several moments.

“Shoot, Cowboy,” Grandma Grizzly finally spat out. “You might as well ask the seabirds what happened to that thar island that done disappeared. He ain’t pickin’ up on a word.”

The Icelandic sailor caught a piece of Grandma Grizzly’s statement and asked, “What say she of Iceland?”

Daniel moved to Norwegian to clarify. “No, she said ‘island.’ She was talking about the island in Mangekilder Fjord.”

The Icelandic sailor nodded. “Yes, I know the island. When the rudder to break as we leave Mangekilder Fjord, we drift close to island and boy comes on board to ask news of landslide, to see if town find body of his mother.” Daniel could not be sure, but he almost thought he saw a gleam in the Old Finn’s eyes.

“The boy from the island lost his mom in the landslide?” Daniel asked, the tragedy of the landslide increasing by this personal note.

The Icelandic sailor frowned and nodded. “I am supposing.”

“Was she just visiting? Why was she not on the island?” Daniel’s journalism instincts kicked in.

“I not to know. The Finn here,” the sailor nodded over to the Finnish sailor, “He grab boy and take him below for some minutes.”

Daniel’s eyes swiveled to the mysterious Finn, who still took in the conversation as a silent observer. “What did they talk about?”

The Icelandic sailor seemed exasperated. “I do not to speak Finnish. I stay on deck. I cannot know.” He took a second and a deep breath. “I only know that boy leave ship with a wooden box from Finn.”

Hoping to avoid further chastisement, Daniel said, “I’m guessing you don’t know what was in the box.”

The Icelandic sailor nodded. “Even if I could to ask Finn, but I cannot, I would not have time to. The rudder get fixed right after the boy leave, so we stay busy after that to sail to Oslo.”

Daniel listened to what the sailor said, but his mind instead drifted back to the Old Finn. Something powerful lay beneath the surface of this hardy, ancient sailor. Some secret, some story. Daniel could sense it resting below the calm surface, could see it brimming in the ocean eyes of the old man.

What story do you have to tell? Daniel thought as he stared into the endless horizons in front of him.

To his amazement, a thought came back, not in English or Norwegian, but as a perfect thought, unhindered by language. Many stories do I hold, young adventurer, but not all are for you. Your story lies in the West. Tarry here no longer. Follow what you’ve felt for the past three months. Drop your destiny and embrace your dream. Seek it out. Seek her out. There lies your happiness.

Daniel stood frozen. He felt the Finn’s thought penetrate him, though no lips moved—only the deep digging of the eyes. Before Daniel could even process what he had been told, the Finn suddenly turned away, back to his chest and nets and waved his hand to the Icelandic sailor.

“I think the Finn to be done with speaking,” the sailor said, his language so harsh and primitive to Daniel after experiencing something so much more pure.

Grandma Grizzly looked strangely at Daniel, but he was not ready to speak. Instead, the two followed the sailor back through the mess of storage to the hatch. Once on deck, the bustling of the ship seemed so foreign to the calmness and isolation Daniel had just left, and soon they found themselves on the pier staring back at the Icelandic ship, making its final preparations to leave.

Grandma Grizzly spoke. “You look like ya done seen an albino buffalo. What in the world is yer problem?”

Daniel remained quiet for a moment before finally, resolved, he replied, “No, no problem.” Then he turned to Grandma Grizzly, pleased, “A solution. A solution I should have seen three months ago.”

Grandma Grizzly shook her head. “Ya may be speakin’ English, but ya ain’t speakin’ ma language.”

Daniel laughed, suddenly relieved in a way he had not been for a long while. “I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to go with you.”

“With me? Ta America?”

“Not just America,” Daniel responded, “all the way to the American West.”

Daniel expected an immediate response from Grandma Grizzly but was surprised to not get one. He glanced at his friend and saw her falcon eyes squinting past Oslo’s surrounding hillsides up into the cloud-spattered skies.

Finally, she spoke. “What in tarnation is that?”

Daniel squinted and saw nothing. “What?”

She lifted up her arm, straight to the sky, pointing at an object maybe a thousand feet up in the air, “That.”

Immediately, Daniel saw what she pointed out. It was a dark mass, something that would have covered several city blocks, drifting in the sky in a contrary direction to the clouds. And if Daniel’s practical side did not know any better, he would have thought that it looked just like an island.


Only moments earlier, LeRoi had been impatient. Impatient for Captain Isak to get the ship out of this accursed harbor, impatient to get out of Europe and the money problems he had accrued there, and impatient to get to America and see if he could salvage some kind of respite from his problems.

But now, as he gazed curiously up at the sky, he forgot all impatience. Instead, he filled with, first, wonder, then awe, and then, then he remembered the words of the prisoner Snorre.

Snorre had been right. LeRoi had not believed him. In fact, he had rattled him on the head with his cane for making him listen to the madness of a drunken thief.

What LeRoi saw now changed everything. The words that seemed so banal before, now rang in his mind with the power of possibility. “The island can fly,” Snorre had said, “It can pick right up out of the water and fly away.”

For a moment longer LeRoi gazed at the floating mass above him, and then he quickly formed a plan. He knew he would need that sniveling Snorre. And then, he would need that island.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter has been sponsored by Daisy Scott:

“This Chapter is Dedicated to my favorite sister ... Daisy, who—when we were both younger—dressed us up to look like twins and then—when we were teenagers—cried when someone said we looked alike, and who is now proud to be recognized as brother and sister!”

Sponsor had no editorial control over the chapter content. The author maintains full responsibility for content.