Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chapter Ten: Once Upon a Broken Arch

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter received a shared sponsorship by the following sponsors.


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©2012 by Marty Reeder

Chapter 10: Once Upon a Broken Arch

White Feather thought it would be strange to have a new name. Usually a vision quest resulted in receiving a different name, just like Little Dog’s name changed to Yellow Wolf after his vision quest revealed to him the spirit of a wolf, granting its powers to the warrior in battle and hunt. White Feather had heard all the stories of warriors and their vision quests. Many times Laughing Flower would find him hiding by the fire of their band, listening to the tales of the spirit animals that the warriors encountered in their quests.

White Feather fondled something around his neck, knowing that, while proud to be on his own vision quest, he would always prefer the name White Feather due to its connection to his history. When the prairie fire scattered his people, he had only been a baby who somehow managed to be on a knoll that the fire would not touch.

When Laughing Flower, then still a young girl, searched for survivors, she saw him crying on that knoll in the distance. Unfortunately, a passing coyote had too. According to Laughing Flower, the coyote crouched to attack when a large bird came crashing out of the sky and barreled into the coyote. The two animals tangled fiercely for a few moments before the coyote eventually retreated with his tail between his legs.

Laughing Flower said that the bird then looked to her, one of its eyes bleeding heavily from the vicious attack. She did not recognize the type of bird, though she said it loomed large. Then it lifted up into the air and glided far away. Sitting next to the rescued baby, Laughing Flower found a white feather.

White Feather now put the necklace with a single feather hanging from it back under his deerskin shirt. After all these years, he still had the white feather. He comforted himself in thinking that even with a new name, he would always have the protection of the feather.

For all the stories of vision quests White Feather had heard, however none of them seemed to compare with the one he experienced now. First of all, there were white men everywhere along his path, including a part Indian who clearly had a troubled spirit wrestling within him. Second of all, Laughing Flower still trailed him, something no other warrior would stand for. Even though White Feather had not seen a dozen snows, however, he understood something that most warriors would not. He understood that asking Laughing Flower to leave him would cause her to shrivel in worry.

Besides raising him from before his own memory because his parents had been lost in the prairie fire, Laughing Flower had lost her own parents in the great slaughter from the white man army somewhere near this very spot. Because of this, Laughing Flower fiercely defended White Feather, determined that he would not be lost to her like the others had been. White Feather did not prefer to be followed by a woman for his vision quest, but he also understood why it happened.

By the time White Feather saw the group of white men traveling along his same path, he had gone three days without food. In order to be in a state to receive the sacred vision, White Feather understood that it was crucial to abstain from eating. The first couple of days, White Feather found this very difficult, his body aching for sustenance. Soon after that point, however, the body subdued itself to the superiority of his spiritual side. He knew that he was entering a state in which he could receive the vision. Now, as he moved forward, forces seemed to guide his pony to the place Nature intended him to receive that vision.

In the dark of night, White Feather allowed the white men behind him to pass as he hid, because he did not want to be distracted by their presence. The hurried men did not pass, however, without White Feather catching another glimpse of the part Indian. White Feather would have thought it strange that the man seemed to fear a small boy, but now that he had entered his heightened spiritual state, he marveled at very little and instead remained passive until they had gone forward along the path.

By the morning of his fourth day on the quest, he saw a tower of rock guarding a valley beyond. It is here. This is where my vision awaits me, White Feather thought. He left his pony behind, choosing journey on foot.

The valley sat closed in by impossibly large cliffs with gaps where canyons entered, such as where he stood. The cliffs looked to White Feather like tremendous waterfalls of frozen rock tumbling down to the valley floor. The dust and grayness of the valley, along with few or barren trees, indicated its arid quality, which made it seem odd to White Feather that the group of white men seemed intent on coming here.

Yet the white men were here, he saw. Across the valley, miles away, he saw forms on horses coming to a stop just at a rift in the valley floor. Though intent on completing his spiritual journey, White Feather felt something tug at him to investigate the white man camp.

The closer he came to the camp, the more details he saw of the landscape surrounding it. The rift in the valley was a gaping hole, like a continuation of the cliffs that dug deeper into the valley. To the east of this immense crack lay a small stretch of land before the hills and cliffs forming the general barrier around the whole valley.

White Feather watched as the white men spread out with their horses, searching the area nearby. Two of them went up towards the boulder-strewn hills below the cliffs. A short time later, they returned. This time, White Feather was close enough to see that they had an extra person with them.

The white men carried the other with them until they met up with their leader, the part Indian. The troubled man instructed the others to bind the captured man with rope. The captured man seemed indignant, but did not say anything.

White Feather felt the injustice of these men’s actions. At any other time, he would vacillate, but that was a different White Feather than this one. While his body may appear pale and weak due to lack of food, his inner self now entered the vision state, and he felt strong, as though he only visited this mortal world whose inhabitants had little power over him.

White Feather confidently moved forward. He moved past the strange, brooding man who lost himself in removing piles and piles of rainbow fabric from a wagon. He moved past the men’s horses, who did not even flinch. They, too, respected his state of spiritual ecstasy. Then White Feather walked right up to the group of four men, who stood conversing in low, evil tones.

White Feather saw that it was the part Indian who sensed him first. The man swung around swiftly, eventually joined by the curiosity of the others. The part Indian stared at White Feather, his mouth open, his eyes wide. One of the other men started reached for the weapon on his hip, but the part Indian hissed something at him, his voice trembling.

White Feather examined each man for a moment, almost confused by their mortal states. Then his eyes returned to the part Indian, who seemed to expect a stroke of death for each moment White Feather stood nearby. The stroke never came as the young boy abruptly strolled past them. He went to the bound man, an older, sickly looking man. He withdrew his knife and soon had the cords lying on the ground like a nest of dead snakes.

White Feather then helped the old man to his feet and guided him past the gawking group of men, including the part Indian, who still held an unmatched terror and hatred for the boy in his eyes, as if the Indian youth were an avenging spirit.

Soon White Feather and the released captive traveled far enough away from the great rift in the valley that they saw two other people coming their direction on horse and mule. When they finally met, White Feather saw Laughing Flower united with a white woman, who looked tired and lonely, but who seemed to carry a secret on the back of her mule and her mind.

All of this, however, did not seem to concern White Feather. He could sense these things but was also removed from them. Instead of making useless queries, he sat back as the man he just rescued cried out and hobbled to the woman on the mule. She got off and they embraced while the man spoke many words.

The scene did not affect White Feather, who witnessed impassively for a moment before going to the side of his mother’s sister. “See that this white man is protected, Laughing Flower, for the other white men intend evil upon him. I go to complete my quest, for my vision is upon me.”

Laughing Flower seemed to know better than to treat him as she usually did, like a doting mother. She simply nodded while White Feather journeyed to the other point of the rift in the valley floor.

So entranced was he by the anticipation of his impending vision, that White Feather did not see, nor would have cared if he did, the black speck swinging around in the sky, approaching the valley just above the southern rim of cliffs, even as a large multi-colored globe began to the side of him near the white man camp.


Having found the Norwegian girl’s homestead, Snorre’s instructions from LeRoi were to fill up the balloon and leave it anchored to the ground as a signal that they had arrived, thus creating a marker that let LeRoi know where to bring the island. Snorre stopped the wagon just at the southern tip of the immense rocky pit delving into the valley floor.

Snorre eyed John Ross suspiciously as he unloaded the wagon of mounds and mounds of silk. The man had certainly held up to his side of the bargain. He and his men were binding up the Norwegian woman’s father, who—frankly—did not pose enough of a threat to even waste rope on, considering his weak state. John had also demonstrated a true skill on the trail in managing to get Snorre and the cumbersome wagon to arrive at the homestead by noon on the next day, though it required hard riding all through the night and morning.

Still, though, Snorre did not like the man. In fact, he hated him. As he went through the process of preparing the hot air balloon, he wondered to himself why this was. By the time he readied the basket and kindled a fire for injecting warm air into the immense cavern of fabric, he realized why he hated him. The cattle baron was just like Snorre.

Snorre could not say for certain, but he did at least sense that the man had a past that haunted him. It reflected in his eyes, it exploded from his every movement, it dripped from his voice.

Snorre watched the ruffled, multi-colored fabric start to tremble as warm air entered the encased silk ball. Whatever he’s haunted by, it can’t be worse than me, he thought.

Even now Snorre saw her face, the rippling silk reminding him cruelly of her waving hair, which would so often wrap around her face when she would go on walks with him. She grew up with a sheep herding family in his fjord, and whenever she came to town, he left the piers to find her. He loved her, though the thought seemed bitter in his mind now.

Snorre rattled his head while spreading out more of the expanding fabric, but the memories still stayed. They never left. He remembered courting her, subduing his rough habits so as to feel worthy to be in her presence. He remembered her gentle smile, her sweet disposition.

Snorre hated these memories, because they were always immediately followed by his monumental transgression. She wanted to leave early one day, to return to her family and help with shearing. Snorre had insisted she stay with him longer, at first pleasantly and then angrily. He did not hit her, Snorre did not think he could ever do such a thing. Of course, Snorre would not have thought he could do what he ended up doing to her years later. Still, on that distant night so long ago, he did not touch her, though he became violent with objects and spouted ugly things. She left without a word.

Snorre meant to apologize, but he smoldered for days. By the time he mustered the humility to work his way up the fjord path to her home, her family explained how she had been in town most of the day. When he returned to town, he found her with a fisherman from another fjord, laughing like she had never laughed with him, telling stories he had never heard.

Snorre’s heart did not immediately go black—he often tried to remind himself of this. Discouraged, yes, he still remembered thinking that he might win her over yet. Snorre knew that any local fisherman would not be able to offer her much. So he became a sailor, sailed the world, saved his earnings and after years and years, returned to Norway. He found her at Mangekilder Fjord, married, living on an island, already with a growing son.

Snorre thought that none of that would matter when she saw what he had done for her, the money he scrimped for her, the life he could offer, one so much more meaningful than that in a small cabin on a remote fjord.

The silk heap now actually started to resemble a balloon with the seams bulging on one side, though the bottom still rested flat on the ground. The brilliant colors seemed to mock Snorre as he recognized the precise moment his heart went dark. It was when he went to her.

At first he stayed at Mangekilder for some time, waiting for her to come to him, spreading rumors of his hidden wealth. After some time he knew she was aware of his presence there, yet she avoided him. She stayed mostly to the pier when she came to town. He stayed mostly at the tavern, quelling his frustration at her lack of attention. Snorre did not then think murderous thoughts, but he began to sense the husband to be more of an obstacle than he originally anticipated. Through his long bouts of drinking, however, he convinced himself that he could still win her over, but that he had not yet demonstrated his grand potential as a provider.

So Snorre searched out an old friend, a Russian, from his days as a sailor. That friend set up a meeting with another Russian, who then struck a deal with Snorre for a smuggling trade. It was a magnificent deal. Snorre threw all his savings into it, and they even gave him a beautiful fishing boat, one specially modified to transfer secret cargo. In Mangekilder, those who had been skeptical about him started to reverse their opinion, especially when they saw the manifestation of his money.

After the boat, Snorre thought for sure that she would be ready to drop her former life and embrace him. A couple weeks of waiting passed, and he could wait no longer. He went to the island, piloting his grand fishing boat on his own, though expecting one more person to be with him on the way back. His confidence was such that he did not care if her husband were there or not. The boy was out building some raft or something, but she was there—as beautiful as ever—along with her plain, poor husband.

Snorre ignored the husband and told her he came to take her away. Snorre’s thoughts paused at this moment, just as she paused then. At the time he mistook it for her considering his offer. When she gave her answer, he realized she was deciding how to inform him in a way that would be firm, but still save him from raging misery—a naive thought.

The balloon started lifting off the ground at this point, mirroring his downward fall after her rejection. When she told him, Snorre refused to believe it. Snorre meant to grab her, to wake her up from the ridiculous world her husband had trapped her in. He only wanted to save her. But then the husband stood in Snorre’s path. He told Snorre to leave. Snorre about shoved the impudent man out of the way, when her voice made him stop. She told him to leave. Then she added that she would always consider him a friend but that she did not and had not ever loved him.

Snorre’s insides collapsed, deflated like this balloon had been minutes earlier. He left the couple, only capable of hearing what she had last said, of seeing her beautiful face insisting he leave. When he made it back to his boat, he sat and drank for a long time. Then, in a stupor, he sailed directly for the reef close to the island. It took him as he intended. It snatched his elegant boat and smashed its hull. He stood at the helm, prepared to go down, but men observing from the village came to rescue him and try—uselessly—to salvage the boat. One of the men was her husband.

Snorre hated him for it. He knew that if he had the chance, he would kill the presumptuous man. But he also knew, for the first time, that he hated her, too. Yes, he still loved her, adored her. But he hated her all the same, because she could not love him back.

Snorre drank away the following months in disdain, part of him plotting the destruction of his own soul by hoping to bring about the destruction of others, but most of him just wallowing in gloom. He knew that his time was short. The Russians would be coming to rendezvous with him and exchange goods soon, but once they discovered that he destroyed their ship, Snorre knew they would not be merciful.

Now the balloon chaffed under the netting that kept it from drifting off into the sky and attached to the basket below. Snorre made sure to anchor the carriage to the ground. As he did, he thought about how unsteady ground can be at times—like that night.

She had come to town alone, and Snorre had seen her. He followed her from a distance, not sure why, just drawn to her as a moth to a flame. It drizzled rain, as it often did, leaving him wet and miserable inside and out. The last he saw her, she ventured out on one of the docks to see about some lobsters. Snorre found himself next to her small boat, perhaps hoping to confront her, though not sure exactly what to do or say.

The fact that she was on the end of one of the docks saved her life. His too. When the horrifying rumbling came, he looked up and saw the mountain moving, sliding downwards, mud and rock competing to be the first to reach the sea. Snorre used his knife to slice the boat away from the pier and drift out into the fjord waters.

Then he looked for her, because that was what he had done all his life. He saw her at the edge of the dock, trapped, while loose rocks and slabs of mud slung towards her. In the last moment, she turned, about to jump into the water, but she was pegged by a heavy stone and plopped into the water. Then she went under, forcibly snatched by the grasping earth.

In that moment, Snorre thought of nothing else than finding a way to get her to breath. He scrambled the boat in that direction, he knew exactly where she had gone under. He dove into the water and found her, encased up to the waist in a muddy trap. He pushed, leveraged, tugged. He refused to go for air because he knew she did not have the option. If she drowned, they would drown together.

Finally, the landslide released her. He brought her to the surface and rolled her into the boat. He saw her body convulse as it ejected the seawater, then he saw her relax as she remained semi-conscious, breathing deeply.

That moment, Snorre remembered, was his best moment. He hated her, but he still rescued her—thought of doing nothing else. Then she lay in the boat, and he knew that he needed to return her to the island, and he even was about to. But Snorre realized what would happen. She would thank him, for his heroic actions. Then she would go to her husband’s arms, then her son’s. And they would love her, they might even sob for joy that she had not been lost. And Snorre would not get to be with her again. And his hatred for her and her happiness swelled within him.

Even with these bitter thoughts lining his mind, Snorre still marveled at the rapid transformation from his best moment to his absolute, despicable worst. He turned the boat to take it away from Mangekilder. She would be with him, now, he thought at the time. He would make her be with him. And she would come to love him, or if she did not … well, she would have to.

Snorre remembered these thoughts while he turned the corner of the fjord’s exit, making plans for their future. These thoughts kept him from seeing the Russian ship sitting in the passage until he turned almost right up onto it.

The smuggling chief recognized Snorre and told him that they had come for him. The smuggler said he heard Snorre lost the fishing boat and had not been collecting the goods he was supposed to collect. Snorre tried to lie. He tried to blame the lost ship on the landslide, but the smuggler saw the desperation of the lie. Snorre still remembered the smuggler’s dark words, “Don’t worry, there is still a way to repay the debt without having to die for it.” The smuggler grinned, “There has been a recent need for hard labor in the remote factories of Siberia. By selling you, I will make up part of what I lost.”

Desperately, Snorre told him that he still had his connections even though he had lost the boat. He could still make up some of the money and sending him to Siberia would guarantee the permanent loss of that money, but the smuggler waved his hand dismissively.

Snorre bent his head in shame just as the balloon bobbed up and down in front of him. He remembered that distant moment as the one where everything in his life converged and he made a choice that would haunt him forever. He saw his way to freedom, and he saw a way to keep her from going back to her island. He offered the smuggler the woman in his boat.

The smuggler accepted before Snorre could even decide whether he wanted to go through with this action or not. The next thing he knew, the Russian ship plopped him back in the little fishing boat after removing her, and the smuggler told him they would be back to collect goods for trade.

Before he knew it, Snorre sat in the boat alone, rising up and down with the swells, ashamed, despairing, and hating himself more than he ever had before. By the time he went back to the landslide, the town was in an uproar of grief and panic. Snorre ignored it all. Instead, he tied up the boat and sat in it for the next couple of days, ignoring the other men going out in boats to find help, ignoring the Icelandic ship coming to provide aid.

Finally, he came to a conclusion. He needed to go back to that island. Snorre untied the boat and started to head towards the island, unsure what he went to do. Part of Snorre thought that he would tell the news to her husband and hope that, in a rage, the man would kill him. The other part of him thought that he just might kill the husband first. He could not say. All he knew was that he intended to go to the island and put an end to everything.

About halfway there, Snorre thought he saw a bunch of swirling birds above the island. Then he squinted as he traced what appeared to be huge, glittering sails blooming above the island. Snorre stopped completely when he watched, amazed, as the entire island suddenly lifted out of the water, as if a giant hand scooped it up. The island, dripping underneath from the fjord waters, rose slowly as it crawled forward through the air for a minute or so and then came back down again.

So disconcerting was this hallucination, which seemed to coincide exactly with his ill-intentioned visit, that Snorre immediately returned to the town’s tavern. There he hoped to do two things: drink away his mind’s overactive imagination, and—more importantly—drink away his monstrous act of selling the person he loved to a life of forced labor.

No matter how much he drank, however, he could never completely remove her from his conscious. She hovered there, reminding him of his reprehensible action. She stayed with him on his trip across the Atlantic, then on the train ride to the West. She stayed there on the trail to the homestead. And even now, as Snorre sat before the balloon, she haunted him. So much so, that a movement in his periphery caused him to swivel his head, and he saw her again, standing there, gazing at him thoughtfully.

Then this strange apparition, which seemed so real, broke all the rules of illusions. It spoke to him. “Snorre?” she said. Immediately he knew that, somehow, it was really her.

Snorre did not see the Indian woman and the feeble man standing in the background. Nor did he see the bundle that she carried to her side. All Snorre saw was her.

Seeing her halfway across the world and in the middle of his harrowing memories of her, Snorre did not know how to react. Part of him felt as if he should be afraid, part of him felt as if he should be overjoyed. Eventually, he realized what he really felt: ashamed. The one person in the world he actually longed to see, and he could barely look her in the eyes.

“How did you find me?” he whispered, partly expecting her to have a weapon and to answer with it.

“I did not mean to. Fate seemed to bring me here,” her soft voice held no vengeance in it. “I came looking for my cousin and her father. I found her father, but not the daughter. Do you know where the daughter is, Snorre?”

Snorre’s eyes remained fastened to her, though he tried to avert them. “You will find my answer difficult to believe.”

She shook her head solemnly. “After what I have been through, I think you could tell me anything.”

Snorre nodded. “She is in the sky. Your island is sailing through the air. She is there.”

“My home,” she stated, her eyes distant with fires of hope. “With my family!” came the next realization. “Where is it?”

For some reason Snorre could withhold nothing from her. “It should be here soon. This balloon is the marker for it.”

She scanned the horizons and then they both saw something flitting in and out of view off the southern horizon. It traveled their direction.

“I must tell you something,” Snorre said suddenly. “There are bad men on the island. They mean to do evil things.”

She regarded his statement with thoughtfulness. Snorre continued, “I am working for the bad men. Once they land the island, they plan on killing everyone … we planned on killing everyone.” It felt so wrong to discuss something so despicable with such a pure person. Yet she did not flinch.

“Then I must not let them land,” she replied, still gazing to the horizon, ignoring that Snorre had mentioned his own, nefarious part in the plot. Snorre shifted uncomfortably.

Then she turned and saw the balloon. “It flies, doesn’t it?”

Distracted, Snorre said that it did. He then saw the look in her eyes. “They will kill you,” he warned.

“Maybe,” she replied, “But I might just be able to go unnoticed.” She patted her bundle thoughtfully while still looking at the balloon.

“Not likely. The man I’m working for won’t let this balloon or its contents just happen upon the island without a thorough search,” Snorre responded.

“Snorre,” she said, now looking straight at him, “you must trust me. I will be safe, and if I am not, then it is a fate I would prefer.” She paused as she gazed at him. “You will help me, old friend, won’t you?”

Snorre squirmed. “You need to know about something I did.” He swallowed hard. “The night of the landslide.”

She stopped all other thoughts and focused entirely on him. “I know what you did, Snorre. You saved my life.”

Snorre shook his head. “I ruined your life. I was the one—”

“I know what you did, Snorre,” she repeated firmly. “And I choose to remember the most important thing: that you saved my life.”

Snorre wept for the second time in America. He wept for her goodness and his badness. She took something out from her side—he could not tell exactly what, his tears or something else prohibited a clear view—and she wiped his wet face. “I know you will help me, old friend,” she repeated.

This time Snorre had run out of excuses. He nodded. The next couple of minutes placed her in the balloon with her bundle. Snorre adjusted ropes and the flame that kept the warm air entering the balloon. He explained that neither he nor his boss really knew anything about how to handle the balloon; they simply bought it and intended to figure it out later, so he did not have specific instructions for her. “The fact that it’ll be in the air at all will bring the island to you,” he added, “And then you must be careful.”

Finally, Snorre started removing anchor lines and pushing them into the basket with her help. Only one remained when he stopped. He looked into her eyes. “Before you go, I have to say …” His lip trembled and his eyes started watering anew.

“Snorre, you don’t have to tell me,” she said, smiling sadly.

Snorre sniffed and cleared his throat. “But I do.” So many things to apologize for in his contemptible life, yet for some reason one thing stood out in his mind over everything else. “I’m sorry that I got angry with you so long ago when you wanted to go home and I did not want to let you. I never should have treated you that way, and I never should have said what I did. It’s haunted me ever since. I’m truly sorry.”

There was a pause as she looked down at him from the basket, her own eyes watering at the memory he invoked. “I forgive you, Snorre,” she said.

Immediately, Snorre felt released from a tremendous burden. In response, he sliced the final anchor line and the balloon began to drift upwards while he watched her and his burdens lifted away from him. “Thank you,” he managed.

Before the balloon made it past thirty feet off the ground, someone approached and said with bitterness, “You fool! What do you think you’re doing?”

John Ross looked pale and vengeful, as if feeling the need to re-establish himself from disgrace. Then Snorre saw John’s eyes connect with his, and he knew the man recognized the softness of love in them. John Ross, Snorre saw, had no sympathy for love. In fact, his own eyes retaliated with hatred.

In a moment John had his knife out, flicked it so that he held the blade. Then he prepared to throw it towards the unknowing woman still packing the last dangling anchor line into the basket. Snorre did not think twice. With his knife already out, all he needed to do was throw.

John felt the impact of the blade in his chest and blinked. Reacting to this mortal shot, he shifted his aim and pitched his knife at Snorre, who took it in the same spot John had taken his. Snorre stumbled to the ground and heard a painful cry from above.

She still cares, he thought. His dying eyes looked upwards. He saw her grief-stricken face staring down, horrified. He, however, felt nothing but peace. Snorre smiled, satisfied. He could not be more pleased with the last thing he would ever look at—her.


The last thing John Ross saw was much more disconcerting. As he clutched the ground and drew his last gasps of breath, he somehow recognized the valley around him, as if seeing it for the first time. It was much more green, he thought, when we first fought … when we massacred … the Indians here. Something told him that it must have been cursed with barrenness after what he and the other soldiers did here.

John Ross scraped his cheek on the ground to look away from the looming cliffs. But he could not escape his past. Standing close by was one of the women he killed on this battlefield. She looked younger than he remembered, like the Indian boy who resembled the warrior he burned in the prairie blaze, but her face was unmistakable. In torment, John Ross writhed at this guide to his afterlife. If this woman was any indication, he did not look forward to the other faces that would join him there.


“How did you survive?” Alfred asked his mother. Alfred’s mother told him yet another story about how Snorre had bravely rescued her from the landslide.

“But then, why did you not come home?” Alfred inquired.

His mother seemed hesitant to answer, so Daniel said, “Maybe I can speculate using some information I gathered.” Alfred’s mother nodded, so Daniel continued, “Snorre intended to take you away, but the Russian smugglers caught him. He owed them a great debt and the smuggling ring has connections to Siberian labor, so they intended to sell him as a laborer to a Siberian factory. To avoid this fate, Snorre offered up you instead.”

While Alfred and his father seemed horrified by this revelation, Alfred’s mother only nodded. Daniel continued. “While on that Russian ship, you met with a strange, marvelous man who could not speak with you but who somehow knew your situation. He gave you something to help you: a cloth both transparent and opaque, making you appear to be just a shadow in the air when you threw it over yourself.”

This time Alfred’s mother nodded more slowly, amazed. “That man would soon be transferred to a passing Icelandic ship, while the Russian ship made it’s way back to St. Petersburg. There, you were placed directly on a train taking you to a factory in Siberia. Being closely watched up until that point, you did not have the opportunity to escape.”

Daniel paused for a moment. “This is as much information as I gathered from a source in Russia who investigated the Russian ship I gave him the name of. The rest I will have to guess.”

Alfred’s mother nodded for Daniel to proceed. “Once at the factory in the remote wastelands of Siberia, you used the fabric to conceal yourself and slip away. The closest and least watched path to freedom led east to the Pacific coast. There, you sneaked onto a ship going to America.”

“A kind captain of a seal hunting ship offered me passage to San Francisco,” Alfred’s mother corrected.

Daniel nodded. “Once in San Francisco, you needed only secure passage on the trans-continental railway, where you would have gone east and eventually to New York and then Norway. How you found this island hundreds of miles away from the railway, however, is beyond my abilities to speculate.”

Alfred’s mother smiled at Daniel. “It was you.”

Daniel, shocked, replied, “Me?”

“Yes. My train stopped at a city, Junction City, I think?” Daniel nodded, while she continued, “The train stopped at the same time as another train going west. While I sat by the window waiting for the train to refill its water supply, I looked out at the remarkable canyons northwest of the city. The canyons immediately reminded me of fjords, and I then remembered my cousin’s letters describing her home as being amidst the fjords of America.”

Alfred’s mother looked at Karen, who held Daniel’s hand tenderly, and smiled. “While taking in this sight, I heard two voices out my window. One of them mentioned ‘Mangekilder,’ which immediately caught my attention. Then I saw them approach a local and ask him something. I did not understand it all, but I did get that they were asking about two Norwegians. The local gave a positive reply, and I knew that it had to be Karen and her father.”

Alfred’s mother pointed to Daniel and Madeleine Ross. “You had both left by the time I hurried out of the train. I was slower getting started because I could not communicate as well, but I managed to get a mule with the last of the money the seal hunting captain had gifted me. Someone pointed me in the general direction and then I came after you as quickly as possible, though you always stayed ahead of me.”

Alfred’s mother now tapped into the events of earlier that day. “I eventually ran into an Indian woman who helped me make the last leg of the journey towards Karen’s homestead. There, I found Snorre. He helped me into the balloon.” She paused for a moment, and her husband hugged her. “The greatest stories require sacrifice,” she said distantly, then continued, “He saved me from a vicious man trying to kill me. They are both dead now.”

“John Ross,” Daniel whispered. He translated the information to Madeleine and Owen. Madeleine broke down and Owen held her, though the news did not seem to move him otherwise.

For a long moment, the island went quiet as everyone processed the new information. Finally, Alfred broke the silence. “That leaves two questions. Without Skipper, how do I fly the island? The next question is where do we fly once we figure out the answer to the first question?”

Alfred’s mother commented, “I don’t know the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second one is that we will fly home.”

Alfred nodded. “But we should take cousin Karen back to her home first.”

Alfred’s mother replied, “Son, when we take Karen home, you will see that it is our home.”

Karen jumped in at this point. “It does look like the fjords of Norway, though it is quite dry.”

“Did you not visit us at Mangekilder enough?” Alfred’s mother said. “The valley where your home resides does not just look like a Norwegian fjord, it is an exact replica of Mangekilder.”

Daniel watched as Karen thought for a moment and then gasped. “I think you are right, cousin. I’ve lived there for months but did not see it. I guess I didn’t even know to look for it.” Her memory must have traced the outlines of the valley in her mind, because she next said, “Why, I think I even know where we are intended to land!”

“But how do I fly there?” Alfred said, excited to act but not knowing how.

Daniel urged Alfred to the quarterdeck. “Go to the box. It has not failed you yet.”

Alfred went to the quarterdeck and immediately the birds flocked to him, lining up respectfully. The stump, however, remained empty, and Alfred looked around, wondering how to address his crew.

Suddenly, Daniel saw a commotion. The terns lifted up and found another bird, starting to tug it towards the stump as if it were a sail. The bird resisted at first, but then several kittiwakes, shoved at it from behind and finally even the puffins relented, flapping their wings in encouragement. That is how Galley, the pelican, received his promotion to first mate and, at the behest of the crew, hopped up to the stump.

Daniel watched as Alfred smiled, petting the large bird affectionately. “From galley cook to first mate. I could not ask for a more appropriate replacement for the noble Skipper.” Then Alfred took the wheel and barked out orders for sails to be raised. While reluctant at first, Galley eventually squawked along the orders until he seemed to feel confident.

Before too long, the island swooped into the valley, and Daniel had to admit that Alfred’s mother made no exaggeration in comparing the scene as an exact model of Mangekilder. Though considerably more dry, as Karen had stated, it otherwise fit as an unparalleled match. While lowering into the valley just as the sun lowered past the western plains, no one needed to tell Alfred the spot that Karen had divined for the island to land. In the precise location where the island would have resided in Mangekilder lay the tremendous gap in the valley floor.

Without hesitating, Alfred expertly guided the island down into the rift like a knife into its sheath. Finally, the great mass of land slid to a soft stop. They were home.

The whole party descended from the cliffs, and the first order of business was to send Dustin and his men away on their horses without weapons. The men were only too happy to leave the bewitched location and sprinted off to an exit of the valley to the southwest, hoping to return to John Ross’s ranch across the plains.

Next, Karen sought her father, whom she found at the edge of the island staring at the new addition to the previously useless hundred-acre gap in their property. Standing with him was a solemn Indian woman with her beautiful rounded face shining in the glowing twilight.

Owen Ross was the first to notice her. Before he knew it, he stared into her eyes and felt something a strong call that he would have had difficulty explaining. He approached her and asked for her name. She did not know how to respond, but only returned his stare with the same intrigue that he had. Madeleine Ross smiled. She came up to the two and spoke to the woman in Shoshone. Laughing Flower responded.

Within a short time, Owen discovered that she had been concerned for her sister’s son, because he had lost his parents in a prairie fire long ago. Now she had been following him while he went on a vision quest. “Grandmother,” Owen said after he had heard her tale, “ask her,” then he paused, thinking of the right words. “Ask her if I can come with her.” Madeleine understood.

When Madeleine asked, Laughing Flower for the first time in a long time—filled with a sudden burst of happiness and excitement—smiled approvingly, then laughed.

While Owen and Madeleine spoke with Laughing Flower, Alfred’s father noted that the stream from the pond now had started emptying into the valley. Looking around, he predicted that, if it continued, the stream might eventually fill the whole valley and create a vast lake, providing missing lushness. The raised nature of the island, however, ought to keep it above the new waterline. Alfred’s father wondered at the type of fishing he could expect from such a phenomenon. Galley seemed to anticipate his query because he joined them at the shoreline with a mouthful of healthy trout.

Within an hour of landing, Karen noticed their flock of sheep greedily grazing on the hardy Norwegian grass. This led to plans to have another cabin built on the island for Karen and her father ... and another occupant, Karen looked meaningfully at Daniel.

Daniel said, “You’re willing to try eloping again?”

Karen smiled, “And I won’t even attempt to elude it this time.”

Daniel grinned. “It looks as if everyone is finding their purpose here. As for me, however, I don’t know what I will write about and send back to my editor in Baltimore. There is plenty to write, but it’s all so … fantastic. No one will believe it.”

Daniel had no way of knowing at the time that his first major story would be about the great fire that destroyed John Ross’s ranch. The timing was terrible for Dustin and his men, who had arrived there just before the fire, which was apparently started—the only surviving man reported—by the bizarre appearance of a hot air balloon being driven madly before an uncommon easterly wind, crashing into the extravagant ranch house, with the balloon fabric immediately catching fire and enveloping everything around it.

For the moment, however, Alfred looked to Daniel and said. “Write about everything anyway, even if they don’t believe it. And make sure to include Skipper.”

Daniel smiled. “Of course I will, Alfred. I’m just a bit of a loss at how to start it.”

Alfred’s mother stepped in. “As the storyteller of the family, may I recommend a semi-traditional approach?”

“Such as?” Daniel prodded.

“Once upon a fjord …”


While Alfred’s joy at the results of their journey overwhelmed him, he still managed to sneak away later that night to the quarterdeck. After spending so much time there over the past several weeks, he felt that he needed to go one more time alone until he completely turned himself over to his family and new friends.

It was dark by the time he reached the top of the cliff, so Alfred tip-toed past the roosting crew, hoping to not disturb them. He went to the quarterdeck and sighed with familiarity as he gripped the wheel and gazed out on his home, the island, and his new home, the valley.

Alfred’s eyes slowly descended until they rested on the stump in front of him. Only then did he notice a startling omission. The ash box that had sat in the stump from the very beginning of his journey was missing.


White Feather cradled the box in his arms as he went towards the western wall of cliffs. He aimed for a rock formation that at first blended in with the cliffs behind it, but the closer he got, the more it distinguished itself as the surviving portion of an arch that had long ago disintegrated.

He did not know why he had the box, he only knew that when the great rock came from out of the sky, it only seemed natural to ascend its promontory, past the silent bird sentinels, and remove the box from the stump.

For the same innate reason, his deep spiritual readiness for a vision, he went towards the broken arch. Soon he stood at the base of the arch, which was big enough to cover numerous buildings of the white man towns. Only then did White Feather notice how much the broken arch had the look of an eagle. The tip of the arch looked like a jagged eagle beak pointed outwards, with an angled head following. The base served as the curved talons, and the side of the arch resembled the body of the eagle with wings folded to the side.

In the waning light, White Feather respectfully climbed the side of the eagle arch, whose height reached far beyond the tallest trees of his mountain home. In several spots, he passed empty pools where springs of water had long ago resided. When he reached what would be the head of the eagle, White Feather found, appropriately, an abandoned eagle’s nest.

White Feather examined the nest and noticed a peculiar shape. The nest had formed in such a way to make a square, with the sharp angles of white men’s houses or wagons. White Feather immediately examined the box that he had taken from the stump. He knew what to do.

Reaching out, he slid the box into the nest, which fit perfectly. Then, after gazing at it for a moment, he lifted the lid. The box was empty. But only for a moment.

Drifting down from above, something landed softly into the box on a sheet of shimmering air. White Feather rustled the cloth in front of him. Buried within it, he found the form of a large, white bird. The bird did not breath, but its body simply lay, relaxed in the box, surrounded by the glimmering cloth that reminded White Feather of the garb that the Shaman wore underneath his skins. The same Shaman who had visited their band and convinced White Feather, through the magic of his eyes, that it was time for his vision quest.

As White Feather examined the bird more closely, he noticed that the immense white animal had a scarred eye on one side, with scratches that looked to come from a wild animal. In a moment of realization, White Feather lifted up the wings and saw the edge of one missing pinion feather. Grasping at the feather around his neck, he released it from his necklace and delicately placed it in its missing spot.

Immediately, the chest of the bird began to rise and fall. The good eye then began to blink and the bird picked itself up. It took a moment to digest its surrounding before stepping out of the box and onto the granite ground below the nest, tripping forward and landing awkwardly on its front as it did so.

White Feather reached out to help it up. “You are my spirit animal,” he said out loud and smiled, “and I shall call you Skips-upon-the-rock.” Thinking further, he added, “Or Skipper, as a nickname.”

The bird turned a satisfied eye in White Feather’s direction. Then he looked at the box and back to White Feather. White Feather was so engrossed by these actions that he did not notice the quiet appearance of a couple dozen birds all around him: small, sleek swallows; larger, jet black crows; and then a small group of self-important red tail hawks.

All White Feather knew was that when he called for the wings to be extended—he was not quite sure why he did—the great white bird called Skipper made a cry and the birds pulled two vast stretches of fabric out of the box, flying them to either side of the broken arch. So large were the glimmering fields of fabric that they proportionally completed the look of an eagle for the island.

Then when he called for the wings to flap and orders were given, the great shimmering prongs of cloth started waving up and down with the help of the band of birds surrounding him. The next thing White Feather knew, the broken piece of arch somehow rocked out of its base and lifted into the air. White Feather soon found himself riding on a magnificent stone eagle into twilight sky.

He did not know where he would go or what would happen to him. One thought, however, did occur to White Feather. It occurred to him that his parents did not perish in that prairie fire eleven snows ago, only that they became separated from him. He wondered if there was a place where he could find them. He wondered if perhaps that same place would boast a landscape where this broken arch could be completed.

The End

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter received a shared sponsorship by the following sponsors.


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