Friday, February 14, 2014

The Bard's Gift Blog Tour

Sixteen-year-old Astrid keeps mostly to herself, finding companionship in the stories her grandmother used to tell. She's too shy even to talk in front of Torolf, the young man she secretly dreams of. Then the Norse god of eloquence appears in Astrid's dreams and forces her to drink the Mead of Poetry. Suddenly, she's compelled to tell her stories. In public. Even in front of Torolf. 

Astrid is meant to use these stories to guide her people from starvation in Greenland to a better future in Markland. A place legends claim is the abode of dragons. But not all of her fierce and independent people are willing to follow a mere girl, even the chieftain's daughter--especially when she counsels peace. Some have other plans for the new land and want to use Astrid and her gift as a tool. 

Torolf never dreamed that quiet Astrid could choose him. Now he's stranded in Iceland as she sails in the opposite direction. To attain the promise of a future with Astrid, he'll have to attempt the impossible--sailing alone across the North Atlantic. 

Together, they might defy the plans the gods have made for them and change the fate of more than just their own people. 

Today's post is from the author Meredith Mansfield.

In researching the Greenlanders for THE BARD’S GIFT, of course I ran across their legends about sea monsters. One of those monsters was hafgufa.
Translated as “sea mist” or “sea reek”, hafgufa was a sea monster of the Greenland Sea between Greenland and Iceland. Hafgufa was supposed to lie on the surface to feed. The stench of its belch drew in fish, which the hafgufa would then consume, along with anything else in the vicinity, including ships. Only Orvar-Odd had ever escaped, because he knew the beast rose and submerged with the turn of the tides and was able to get his ship out of range just in time.
Hafgufa was usually seen as only a pair of rocks said to be the beast’s nose. Sometimes hafgufa was equated with the kraken. Others attribute the stories of hafgufa to underwater volcanic activity and the release of methane gas.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 20 of THE BARD’S GIFT. To set the scene: it’s foggy and Torolf is alone in a small boat (a faering, or small fishing boat). A few strange phenomena (attributable entirely to deep ocean volcanism, not sea monsters) start his imagination running wild.

Torolf paused, lifting the oars out of the water. He was closely tuned, now, to the background noises of the sea around him. He'd swear he'd heard a sound that didn't fit. There it was again. A sort of gurgling noise that wasn't like anything he'd heard at sea before. A whale diving? No, he'd heard that before and it didn't sound like this. In fact, more than anything else in his experience, this sound reminded him of a kettle on the boil--which made no sense at all.

The skiff rocked as a wave struck its side. That was wrong, too. The waves should be following from behind the skiff. It wasn't a storm wave; there was still no wind to speak of. The wave came from the same direction as the strange sound.

The air moved slowly in this fog, slower than sound, so the stench reminiscent of rotten eggs reached Torolf last. Magni's wild stories about hafgufa came back to him at the same instant. They didn't seem so wild right now.

Sweat ran down his face despite the clammy fog and his pulse raced. What now? The only thing he could think of was that the monster only surfaced at the turn of the tide and stayed on the surface until it turned again. Orvar-Odd had sailed through safely because hafgufa had just surfaced and he had time to get out before it submerged again, sucking everything in the vicinity down with it. It wasn't so easy to determine the turn of the tide out here in the open ocean. When had it turned?

He clutched the oars hard. Did it matter? He could hope at least that the splash he'd heard was the creature surfacing. Well, obviously. Otherwise, he'd already have been sucked down with the monster. So, his only hope was to get as far away as he could before hafgufa submerged.

Torolf drove the oars into the water so hard he almost lost control of them. He drew a deep breath and set up a steadier rhythm as fast as he thought he could maintain.
After what felt like hours, but was probably little more than one hour, he had to stop to rest a little and eat something, especially to drink water. He flinched at every sound or slightest movement. The fog seemed a little thinner and he thought he felt a breath of air. He hoped that wasn't only wishful thinking. Being able to raise the sail was his only hope of making real distance. The faering could almost fly over the water with enough wind to fill its sails.

Another gurgle sounded off to his left and Torolf grabbed up the oars again, pulling for all he was worth. He rowed until he thought his heart would burst. When he couldn't row another stroke, he shipped the oars and sagged against the gunwale, breathing heavily. His throat felt like he'd tried to swallow sand and his shoulders burned. He fumbled for one of his precious water skins and drank deeply.

He wasn't far enough. Not nearly far enough. He was sure of that, but he couldn't row anymore. Not to save his own life. A breeze ruffled his hair and cooled his sweaty face. Torolf looked up. The fog had lifted and he'd been too intent on rowing to even notice. The breeze ruffled his hair again. He lifted the little pendant that had been his mother's, halfway between a cross and a Thor's hammer, to his lips. It wasn't a strong wind, but it was enough to put up the sail. He could rest for a while and still keep moving.

Torolf raised the sail, forcing his aching arms to the task. Then he collapsed in the bottom of the boat, too tired to move another muscle.

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