Lief Erikson was only a child when his renowned sire Erik the Red had disappeared at sea. Before him, legends tell of Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson being bold enough to drive his ship into the icy waters west of their homeland.
“For Erik,” he muttered under his breath. He was determined not to have he and his men suffer the fate of those who came before them. The sea was rough but his men were bold, courageous, warriors to the last. Loyal to the oar, to the sail, and to Lief.
“Are you sure, lookout?” Lief cried out to the man roped halfway up the mast.
There had been three false sightings before. Brave though they were, the Viking crew had been out of sight of land for many weeks. Provisions were sufficient, but there were legends of beasts so large and fierce that they could swallow a Nordic longboat whole.
Before now, the last sighting of “land” was mere days ago. As it turned out, they be whales, not islands, their plumes shooting higher into the air than the mast of Lief’s boat, with even the smallest being three times the length of his vessel.
“Yes. See just ahead on the horizon,” the lookout yelled down toward the deck.
He was right. Their intent had been to sail due west but after two weeks, winds and currents forced them to the north as well. Now he could see the edge of a land, snow and ice but still land. A promontory was dead ahead, but to the north, the shore stretched out as far as the eye could see.
“Land, lads. It is land and we’re making straight for it. Neither weather nor rumored beasts of the water can stop us now.”
Then not five boat lengths to the south a whale breached the water sailing skyward is if fleeing from some monstrous terror, and it wasn’t alone.
The pod they’d seen days before, but now they were all surfacing at great speed and then diving again, turning this way and that as if trying to avoid some calamity.
“Leif, what make ye of this?”
“Steady, Bjorn. Calm the men. It’s just the whales having sport.”
The son of Erik was not convinced of this, but he could say naught else. They were in sight of land and though large, the whales had never been known to menace the vessels of men. Leif was still looking at where the whales had submerged when the very sea boiled around his boat.
“To starboard, oarmen! Heave! Put your backs into it!”
They were strong and disciplined men and though terror of the unknown seized their hearts, their bodies served the boat and they obeyed without question.
The boiling sea grew ever more fierce and Lief feared his boat would be swamped. Then from out of the maelstrom, something larger than a dozen adult humpback whales surfaced. Like a dragon it was, like what men from the south called “Leviathan.”
It had a maw that could engulf a score of ships, teeth longer than the mast, eyes cold and dead, like large, dull, black stones stared at him as it surfaced with a whale cow in its jaws, blood and water was spilling over the men and the deck.
The force of its dive back into the depths nearly caused the boat to capsize and three men were thrown overboard and dragged under the waves, never to be seen again. Miraculously, the lookout on the mast survived, tied as he was in his perch.
Leif was drenched, his hands bleeding from hanging so tight onto the rigging. “Make for shore. Pull, oarsmen! Pull! It’s out only chance!”
He thought of his Father. He thought of Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson of a century before. Lief thought of the tales of all those boats who left sight of land and never returned. Some said it was due to storms. Others thought they lost their way and could never find home again.
Some thought the sea was filled with large, terrible, demon-like creatures that devoured any ship daring to cross forbidden waters.
They might make it. They were getting closer. Even if he had to scuttle the ship, at least they’d be alive on some foreign shore. Perhaps that was Erik the Red’s fate as well. He might yet see his sire again, should he have survived the years.
Then the sea went wild as if some mighty force were pushing the water up directly beneath them. Men looked into the water and wept. The lookout on the mast held his grip tight as his face contorted in horror. The Leviathan’s jaws burst from the ocean port and starboard and then closed upon their helpless craft.
Leif Erikson, his boat, his men, all disappeared in one terrifying instant down the throat of an impossible beast joining those brave and foolish souls who went before them as well as those who would come after. The monster casually closed its jaws and sank back into the Stygian depths.
At the dawn of the 11th century CE, Leif Erikson was fated never to explore the coast of the land we now call Canada, and in this tale, he only managed to come within sight of Greenland. Neither Erik the Red or Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson would visit Greenland as they did in our history.
These brave men and any who later called themselves explorers found that the terrors they imagined were held by the sea were greatly compounded by an impenetrable barrier of teeth and flesh. In this world, the monsters of the land had long vanished, but those in the sea remained and endured.
Men like Columbus, Cabot, and DeSoto would never “discover” the New World for it was unintentionally guarded against European explorers, colonists, and conquerors. No one from the east dared venture in boats out of sight of land for beyond that point, there be dragons.
I originally meant for this to be a stand alone story although it does have a bearing on my “Key Out of Time” series. I decided to include it formally in the Table of Contents so readers of this series but not of my shorter fiction could gain the perspective it gives.
The current TOC has been amended to be:
This “interlude” immediately follows “Incursion” in my homage to the works of the late Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton).
The next chapter in this book is Restoration.
Addendum: 7-12-2018: I’m also using this story for Tale Weaver/ Fairy Tale # 179 – Voyage of Discovery – 12/7/18 hosted by Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use the concept of discovery and voyaging to craft a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
I’d already created this story, initially as a standalone, but then inserted it into a continuing series. I think it fits today’s prompt as well.