Chapter One–The Futility of Vengeance


All he knew was—he was tired of herring.

Harren said to his mother, Bekah, “you could lose a little weight.”

His parents considered him to be a late bloomer, because, while his peers had already gone out on their man-farings and had returned men of the tribe, he had not. It was past time. They had settled down and, if some were not raising families yet, at least they had rendered a good account of themselves.

Bekah, not particularly fat, scowled. She was thirty-five, but looked forty-five. There was little love between mother and son, but she didn’t like any of her children very much. She flicked her long brown hair away with a hand—the arm tattooed with dotted wavy lines, spirals about the wrists. Harren disappointed her because of his lack of ambition. She didn’t like his father, either. Harren resembled her. Like her, he had the same color hair and greenish-blue eyes. Their only son, his father, Deccan, had sons by other women, a fact which annoyed Bekah, for no good reason. He was really old—he had thirty summers.

Harren was not looking forward to his upcoming excursion—the grand tour—every young male of the coastal village must make in order to be considered fully adult. Even though the season would turn cold soon, he knew he had to go; his father was losing patience.

When they were young, Deccan and his companions: Kroli and the brothers Ani and Aber, had arrived at Bekah’s village by the sea, after escaping from the Arkenesai encampment, where they had been captured and made slaves.

Deccan and Bekah had wed, over her objections, but not those of her kin. Her older children, Hu and Yar—Harren’s half-brothers—needed a father, in the village elders opinion. It was no surprise she had returned pregnant, given her brutal mistreatment—gang rape—by the Arkenesai.

Deccan and she slept separately.

“Why do I have to go at all?” Harren fingered the complex spiral pattern carved into the chair arm. “I don’t trust Yar.”

You keep saying that.” Deccan began pacing. “It’s high time you got out from underfoot. I can take care of him.”

“I don’t want to go.”

Somewhat fat, and a little lazy, he wanted things to stay as they were. He’d prefer to stay home, especially with Rhyl, his female friend. But he wanted to be thought a man, too.

And you thought I would change my mind?” Deccan stopped pacing. “Interesting notion.”

I’m a man and able to make my own decisions, aren’t I?” Harren frowned and folded his arms across his chest. The pitch-soaked torches spilled light into the room.

“Technically, not yet. Besides, it’s immemorial tradition,” his father said. “I can’t—I won’t—alter it. I guess you could say you’re half a man.” He stifled a chuckle.

Deccan had been the chief ever since Bekah’s parents had died. A thankless task; everyone demanded something. Harren, while sickly as a child, had grown up to be quite manly in appearance.

“You’re like a bird with a broken wing,” continued Deccan. “You want the best of both worlds without taking responsibility for either. I’m disappointed, I’m sorry to say.” This in a harsh tone.

Harren jumped up, knocking his chair over backwards. He swore and stormed off.

In an attempt to distract himself—he sensed a losing battle—he went down the hill, to the beach to see what his kinsmen, the brothers Goban and Felan, were doing. They were making ready to go out to sail on the ice-blue autumn sea; loved being on it, loved turning work into play. The brothers were geriatric but still hardy and active, even if a bit arthritic. Like many villagers, Goban had a dark complexion, while Felan, surprisingly, had blue eyes. Goban tended to be merry and optimistic, while Felan was prone to periods of melancholy and fits of brooding.

They lived in what is now Norfolk, on the river Ouse, by the Great Wash, during the late stone age. People had been experimenting with growing crops. It wasn’t clear which came first, population increase or agriculture. In any case, they now stayed in one place, although some of their neighbors were not.

Disgustingly healthy, Harren thought, looked at the sailor brothers.

The sea gets in the blood,” Goban had always said, which explained their presence on it in all weathers, even when it was spraying icy water over the bow. They also liked to hunt, being keen archers, deadly accurate with their flint-tipped arrows.

It was late autumn; the Vegetation God was dying again—the grass was withering and the leaves on the oaks and alders were turning a bright color. The brothers had to make one last venture to stock up on fish, before the sea became too rough. The faces of the sea gods would turn unfriendly soon.

The tide was retreating. Each successive wave would come in, its crest then collapsing, white-capped. Even though he had seen the sea every day of his fifteen years, he still didn’t quite understand how the wave could come in and the tide still go out.

The brothers, placing items into the surprisingly strong skin-on-frame boat, looked up as he hailed them. Felan’s son Cym, he of the brawny arms and dark complexion, doing something nautical with rope and mast.

A temple made of rough-cut stone, piled one on top of another, stood, vaguely pyramid in shape. Moss grew in the cracks. The fane stood out, sad and lonely—inaccessible with neglect, visible only at low-tide. Twice a day, it would get a salt water bath. Erected shortly after Harren’s birth, the villagers offered gifts of food to the gods, in gratitude no more land had been taken. He had heard the stories many times, of how it had become necessary to move the village, not once, but twice because of the encroaching sea, changing the coast’s shape.

The incessant wind blew through Goban’s grizzled hair and beard, cut laboriously with a flint knife. A lock of Harren’s long hair blew into his eyes. Thinking about the temple, he spat downwind. It would never do to incur bad luck.

Goban looked slightly anxious, Harren thought. It would be best to avoid talking any about any unlucky topics. He wondered what sacrifice he would have to make to save his people. Hopefully nothing too great.

“Today, the weather is as nice as can be,” Goban said. “I could tell from the sky this morning we’ll have a pleasant time. See how the wind ruffles the surface of the sun-scale water?” Harren wondered what that had to do with anything. The Sun Goddess would retire before too long.

All but Cym, boarded the boat—he shoved it into the water and got in when there was enough water beneath the keelless bottom. Goban and Cym started paddling while Felan hoisted the sail, hauling the light-weight boom over a nob at the mast top by strength of arm; Harren sat, an idle landsman, strangely enough.

“So, Harren,” Goban said, “where will you go on your man-faring?”

Harren flushed and mumbled something incomprehensible. He didn’t understand this need to always plan for the future; it happened all the same, regardless of what you did to prevent it happening. The water lapped against the sides of the boat as it rode high in the water. They then stopped by turning it into the wind. It was time to cast their nets, as soon as they saw some fish.

What’s that?” Goban asked. “My ears must be getting deaf.”

My father expects the unexpectable,” Harren said.

Felan raised his eyebrows and smiled at the choice of words.

I never know what I’m going to do until I have to do it,” Harren said.

“You still need to do it,” Goban said. Unusual for him, his voice had a stern note. “Hold on. We need to start moving—I think there may be a shoal of herring over there.”

Cym and Felan paddled, because the wind was unfavorable. Goban shifted the steering oar to change course. Harren mostly held onto the side of the boat, suddenly queasy, which took his mind off his weighty problems.

After the fish had been caught and had been hauled into the boat, they managed to catch a lucky wind, which got them near the shore, only requiring paddling at the very last. Harren’s older half-brothers, Hu and Yar, had arrived and were there, waiting. Aftershock from the earlier conversation with his parents, no doubt, Harren supposed.

They were Bekah’s older sons, nineteen summers old. They were large-boned, with hazel eyes and medium-length dark-blond wavy hair. The fraternal twins were good-looking, though—popular with the opposite sex, even though anything more than mutual admiration was taboo. Hu was the older, by a few minutes, even though Yar was tougher and meaner.

Before the boat could run aground, they all got out and carried it up above the high-tide mark, amidst the rubbish the water washed up—seaweed, bits of wood, and other sea-wrack. Their feet crunched on the gravel underfoot.

They put the fish in bags made of knit string and taking them from the boat onto a sledge. From the smug look on their faces, Harren assumed his half-brothers had learned of his father’s displeasure and were here to gloat. He thought he would attack, preemptively.

I suppose you think you’re in and I’m out?” He glanced up the hill at the distant village, half-obscured by mists. The thatched roofs were barely visible.

Whatever do you mean?” Hu wore a mock-innocent expression.

We just came to summon you to your father’s presence, once again,” Yar said. “It seems you weren’t quite finished talking when you left.”

Goban and Felan exchanged a glance. The work had stopped. A misting rain, coming down in fine sheets, began to soak their garments.

Fine,” Harren said. “I’ll go.”

Go?” Hu wiped a droplet from his eyebrow.

On my man-faring,” Harren said.

Not without me,” Hu said. “Someone has to keep you in line.”

“Going alone would be too much to hope for.” Harren resumed placing fish bags on the sled. “I don’t need to be supervised.”

At Felan’s pointed glance, Hu and Yar, rather sheepishly, began stacking fish bags on the sledge. The others had done nearly all the work. When it was full, they would loop the pull-ropes over their shoulders and haul the wheelless vehicle up the steep hill to the village. It would be hard work, but they thought nothing of it, because one trip was better than several. Finally, Harren placed the last bag onto the sledge and got into position to help propel it. His half-brothers grasped the ropes and together, they hauled fish. For a while, there was no talk, only heavy breathing and exertion.

When they had arrived at the village, his half-brothers said nothing more of their quarrel, but Harren would not forget. He would need to keep an eye on them, in any case. He went to see his father and to listen to the inevitable lecture.

And afterwards…

Just putting the finishing touches on an “author’s note”. A couple of paragraphs providing some background information, some of the back story, if you will, of Doggerland.

I tend to write fairly heavy unless I pay attention: I wrote a paragraph consisting of a single sentence, until I remembered that I was writing for children. 🙂


Buy now without any money

I’m running a “promotion in exchange for reviews” thing with Doggerland (Kindle edition). Until Sunday, it will be free. Yes, I know that “Novelette” is spelled incorrectly on the print version. Blame it on this damnable flu and lack of brain cells. I guess I could go through the cover generation process again, but it seemed like too much work at the time.

The tyranny of the blank page

This is what I’m doing now instead of writing. I have been under the weather for the past few days; there’s a bug going around. I don’t usually get sick, though.

What I’ve been doing while convalescing is working on this website and reading (or should I say e-reading) a book on my Kindle: Immediate Fiction. Some of what it tells me, I already suspected. Like the adage: write what you know. It really is, according to the author, write what you can imagine.

That’s where doing the Retreat in Daily Life (Ignatian Retreat) and doing journaling helped preparing me for writing. I was blocked from writing anything and my spiritual director told me to “make it up”.

That was an eye opener and no mistake.