The act of writing takes me on adventures to places I have never been. Along the way I meet interesting people. The characters who lead the way often surprise me and I learn much throughout the course of their journeys.
For example today, Ellen Fisher taught me about traditional Danish folk music. Since I don’t speak Danish, nor have I ever been to Denmark or Iceland and knew absolutely zilch about Danish folk-history before today, it was unexpected and exciting. And that Dear Reader is why writing is so much fun!
For those who would like to hear the folk-song Ellen encounters in the below chapter, I’ve attached a YouTube link to a stirring rendition at the end of the page. And for those who would like a reminder of Ellen’s journey to date, click here.
Wishing you all the best on your continuing journeys!
June 27th 2017
THE GIRL FROM THE PAPER-MILL CHAPTER FIVE
Reykjavik’s streets are dark. The houses that line the dirt roads are grey stone with curtained windows shut tight against the cold night air. The buildings loom like slumbering monsters, silent but easily angered. I hurry through their territory as a fugitive, fearful of being alone, equally fearful of whom might be watching from the shadows.
The town square is dominated by a church that is simple in its construction yet commanding in its presence. The doors are closed but a warm orange glow shines through the stained glass windows. I hesitate, unsure whether or not to approach. Churches are sanctuary or so my mother used to say.
The man’s voice burbles from the nearby darkness.
“Get ég hjálpað þér?”
I let out a little shriek and spin to face my assailant. Yet when I round on him he looks frightened of me. He clears his throat. Short, heavily built, dressed in a dark tweed jacket and pants. A cloth hat sits atop his head like a perched bird. The glow from the church’s lights illuminates a weathered face that has been worn and etched by snow and glacial winds. He swallows and raises his hands.
Hands still upraised he backs away. I swallow down the panic rising in my chest and bite my lip.
“Fyrirgefðu!” he repeats his expression apologetic. Then he turns and quickly makes his way to a nearby horse and trap. Both cart and beast are jet black and only the reflected sheen from the harness buckles gives away their position in the darkness. It occurs to me then that the man and his cart may be a taxi. Recalling Beth Bradshaw’s parting words I follow the man.
“Wait!” I croak.
He pauses and half-turns. “Can you help me?” I ask, unaware that he has previously offered to do so in his language.
His eyes widen with understanding. “Jah! An English! That makes sense! Only a foreigner would be so scared of a cab-driver!”
I hesitate for a second and he arches an eyebrow. “Can I help you sir?”
He pronounces the word help as “hilpa”.
“I need to go to the next village” I reply.
I frown. “The next one! It’s quite urgent!”
He snorts. “Well sir, there are several villages around here! Did you have a particular one in mind?”
I take a deep breath and exhale and he studies me in a guarded way.
“I need a hotel” I say slowly. “Someplace to stay for the night.”
He makes a wry face. “Well…I do know a place. Up on the Hiloar.”
“Ill lawyer?” I frown.
He grins. “No, no! Hil-o-ar.”
I still don’t understand his announcement. It sounds like “eel-lo-at”. Seeing my lack of comprehension he gives a curt wave. “No matter, I take you. It’s a good place. Good food, good bed. Unless…”
He grins. “Unless you looking for women.”
For a moment I recall Beth’s lips on mine then shake my head. “No” I reply a little louder than intended. “Just a room for the night.”
The cabbie shrugs. “Very well. You have money?”
I rummage through the foreman’s money bag and produce a coin. I can tell from the wide eyed look from the cabbie that I’ve paid too much.
He jerks his head at the trap-cart. “Climb aboard sir!” he grins. “It is not much for a gentleman but it is safe!”
The taxi is a two wheeled cart. I sit at the front, the driver high up at the back of the vehicle. The single horse plods along with world weary determination. I can sense its hunger and its desire to lie down and sleep.
The cabbie seems to recognize the animal’s reluctance and is gentle with the reins. Slowly we make our way east through the town. The ground begins to ascend until minutes later we emerge on a gentle plateau. Looking north I can see the harbour and the ships anchored there. I wonder if Captain Webster has been alerted of my escape. Wonder too if he has alerted the local authorities. Fear floods through my veins like icy water. Beth told me to find the next village and my guide seems earnest. However, this land and its people are as alien to me as the ship and its passengers. And I know not how long my disguise will stand up to scrutiny come daylight.
The tavern is a two storey building hewn from the same grey stone as the buildings near the harbour. But unlike its peers the tavern is brightly lit. As we approach, I smell roasting meat, wood-smoke and the sweet musky odour of pipe tobacco. The cabbie pulls up at the entrance. The cart creaks as my driver descends and secures the horse to a post. I step from the cart and he makes a wry face.
“No bags, huh?”
“Not today today thank you.”
He shrugs and departs muttering something under his breath. I climb the wooden steps into the building. The smell of roasting meat overcomes my anxiety and my stomach rumbles.
The ground floor of the tavern is warm pinewood floor and panelled walls. Immediately facing the entrance is a long bar with a dozen stools, four of which are occupied. Local men and women are installed at nearby tables, their conversation muted. Most are listening to a man seated at a piano in the corner of the room, adjacent to the bar.
The piano player says something in Danish and the laughter erupts from the patrons. The bartender hollers something encouraging then turns to me with a broad grin.
“Hvað mun það vera?”
“Do you speak English?”
“Of course! We have many sailors from your part of the world coming around here!”
He chuckles then. “They love our Þorramatur. Eat it like they haven’t eaten in months, they do!”
“My wife’s cooking” he says by way of explanation. “Get ég hjálpað þér?” I mean…how can I help you sir?”
“I’m looking for room and maybe some of your wife’s cooking?”
“Of course!” he chortles. He lifts a heavy leather bound book from behind the counter and asks for my name.
“Very good Mr Fisher. And how long will you be staying?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You can stay as long as you need good sir – so long as you have coin.”
Before I can reply, the piano player announces his next tune and both the room and the tavern-keeper fall silent. The opening chords of the piano fill me with melancholy but the singer’s mellifluous voice intrigues me.
“Beautiful” the barkeeper says.
“Yes. What is it about?”
“This is an old ballad called “Liden Karen”**. It’s a story from long ago about a beautiful girl who was tormented by an evil king.”
My gaze never leaves the piano-player. “What is he saying?” I whisper.
The tavern-keeper smiles and begins to translate.
“And it was little Karen
The young King saw
She lit up like a star
Amongst all servants small
She lit up like a star
Amongst all servants small
And listen little Karen
And will you do my bidding?
The silver-bound knives two
I will give to you!
The silver-bound knives two
I will not watch after
Give them to your young Queen
Let me leave with my honour…
“Are you well sir?” the bar-keeper asks.”You look pale!”
I nod slowly. “Fine. Some food would be nice. I’ve travelled a long time and I’m famished.”
“Of course sir. I will have Maja bring you some. A full plate perhaps?”
“Yes” I reply though at that moment I could care less. The piano-players’s voice and the words of the song resonate with my soul. I find that I cannot take my eyes from singer. There is something in his tone that speaks to my heart. Slowly I move to the nearest table to listen.
**To hear the song “Liden Karen” please click here.