Ted Garvin - Doggerland
Ted Garvin, a middle-aged, disabled writer of mixed Native American/European descent, lives in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, with his wife and menagerie. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor's degree, but that and $2.00 (adjusted for inflation) will buy you a coffee. His favorite authors, in no particular order, are Patrick O'Brian, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, and Homer.
Doggerland - To the Sea by Ted Garvin
“Goban?” Bekah sounded joyous.
“Bekah!” The men emerged. They carried bows, and arrows with flint trapezoidal-shaped heads, designed for rapid blood loss. “It is you.”
They lowered their weapons, as she rushed forward to embrace him.
“Felan?” Bekah embraced him. “You too?”
“Yes. We came seeking you,” he said.
“Your exile is ended. Your parents have relented.”
“I have been remiss,” she said, after a long pause. She introduced her companions. “Goban is my oldest friend.”
“Now she is calling me old.” He smiled.
“We have been hotfooting it for days,” said Deccan. “Should we be standing here talking? The Arkenesai might be on our trail.”
“Not to worry,” said Goban, hefting his bow. “Felan and I conversed with them.”
“Best to avoid unnecessary conflict,” said Bowdin, uncharacteristically. “Why kill when you don't have to?”
Felan agreed. “Absence is the best way to avoid it.”
After some days' journey, they finally arrived at their village by the sea. Bekah's people had formed a relationship with the landscape. In an attempt to stave off the advancing sea, they had erected permanent sod tents.
In the winter, life was fairly unpleasant, except for the snug inside. The sand and grit were inescapable. They lived by the sea's bounty, gathering shellfish and such in wicker weirs. They caught larger fish by going out in boats. They used long fishing lines with bone hooks. Middens—large piles of shells, rubbish, and their dead—lurked downwind. Nonetheless, the entire place smelled of fish and salt, but the natives didn't seem to mind. One could get used to anything, even fish.
A shaggy cur rushed up to them, barking the mad song of its people. It stopped short at Bekah's feet. As she bent down to pet it, Deccan wondered if it had a name. He started to ask, but before he could she was intent on talking to an attractive young man. An old friend? Deccan didn't want to appear a fool in front of her. Surely I am as good a man.
Embarrassed, he dropped his eyes and pretended to have found a stone in his shoe. Conscious of his rude appearance, he wondered Bekah thought of him. He was used to being confident and in charge. Why had he become so superficial, so vain? What was it about the opposite sex that directed one's attention inward? He resolved to toughen himself and not concern himself with anyone thought.
He was saved by the brothers, Ani and Aber, who had caught up with them. He stopped in shamed silence. They were bubbling over with excitement. It took them a long time to say nothing. Deccan left in pursuit of distraction from his mental ramblings.
He found it in the brothers Goban and Felan. The young men had been born at the same time, but two people who looked more dissimilar could not be found. Where Goban was dark, Felan was fair and had blue eyes. Deccan's people had dark hair and eyes. Where Goban was merry, his brother was melancholy and prone to whistling odd little tunes in a minor key.
“Where do you be going so fast?” asked Goban, as Deccan nearly barreled into him.
Deccan sighed. He didn't know how to express his problem, couldn't unburden himself. It was obvious to the brothers, who exchanged an amused glance.
“You look like someone who has all the troubles of the world upon you,” said Goban. “You need a change of scenery to take your mind off her.”
At Deccan's startled look, he continued, “I can tell when a man's in love.”
“Love?” Deccan practically shouted. “I'm not in love. I can barely stand her.”
“Keep your voice down,” Felan said. “You don't want the whole village to know, but I imagine they will soon enough. News travels fast around here. Anyway, my brother has the right of it. You need an adventure and a change of scene. A bit of sea air is just the thing for you, my lad.”
I am in a seaside village. I am getting plenty of sea air already.
“We were going to hunt for the big fish that can only be got by going out in a boat,” Goban laughed. “The sea is calm today—it's time to stock up—and we should have luck or if not, at least a good story.”
They went down to the beach. As their feet crunched on the gravel, Deccan saw a small skin boat beached above the high tide line. Sea junk of various descriptions: driftwood, bits of unrecognizable vegetation, and sea shell fragments littered the ground. The boat, consisting of a lightweight frame covered by well-oiled skins, looked like a drum. Inside was nautical equipment he didn't recognize.
“Come on, there's not a moment to be lost!” shouted Felan, over the gentle wind, “We'll miss the outgoing tide.”
Together, the brothers dragged the boat over the gravel to the water. They got in when it was up to their thighs. Deccan followed, feeling idle and useless—a landsman. The brothers placed a pole into stones at the bottom, then did nautical things to make the boat go scudding along the water at a brisk pace; a moderate wind was blowing off the shore.
“We'll have to paddle our way back in.” Goban grinned. “You'll help; I doubt you want to spend all day on the sea. I imagine you'll want to get back to your sweetheart.”
Felan pointed to a bit of land sticking out into the sea—a headland.
“The land will shelter us until we pass that point.”
“Oh, don't worry, we've been out here lots of times,” said Goban, at Deccan's fearful look. “Hardly anyone gets blown out to sea, although there are always exceptions.”
“Maybe our luck will change,” Felan always looked on the dark side of things.
Deccan blanched and not just from fear. He found the movement of the boat unsettling and not calming at all. There were white caps out past the headland.
“Does it always do this?” he asked, his face a pale green.
“No,” Felan said, “sometimes it's worse. This is a gentle swell. But it'll get more exciting once we pass the point. It'll be a bit choppy, then.”
“Would you like some breakfast?” Goban asked, mock-innocently.
This was too much. Deccan leaned over to leeward and vomited.
Once out past the headland, Goban cast their lines, while Felan managed the boat. While he waited for the fish to bite, Goban tried to engage Deccan in a conversation about women in general and Bekah in particular, but he'd have none of it, even though his stomach had settled somewhat. He even took an interest in his surroundings, although with a death grip on the gunwale. The boat pitched about fiercely. Goban got a nibble. He pulled in the line and there was a large cod—a monster—on the bone hook. He removed it and cast the line back out. Before too much time had passed, the bottom of the boat was full.
After this, Felan turned the boat toward home. The wind was against them, naturally, so they lowered the sail and paddled. Even Deccan helped. The sun glinted on the water like the scales of a radiant fish. The day was nearly over. Where had the time gone?
“What are we going to do with all these fish?” Deccan asked.
“Eat them. We have a village to feed. These are fine fish,” said Goban. “It'll feed us for a few days.”
They got out of the boat as soon as it ran ashore. Deccan stepped over the side and almost fell over. After the tossing of the boat, the earth seemed to shake and move about. He grabbed the side for support. He regained his land-legs and helped drag the boat above the high tide mark. They filled bags with the fish, then went into the village to get help to bring them in. Ani and Aber rushed up.
“Where have you been?” Ani asked.
“I've been at sea, puking my guts out and having fun,” Deccan replied.
Aber told him that Bodmin wanted him. Deccan sighed and went to the room he shared with the old man, where he offered a false apology. Tired of the constant need to carry him, he resented the pull on his time. The old patterns of servility, of master and slave, were hard to break.
“Where have you been?” demanded Bodmin, a hint of quaver in his voice.
Deccan told him of his sea adventures, but omitted his seasickness. He disliked admitting weakness, especially in front of this old man.
“My time here is almost up. I have lived five hands (plus three more) years,” Bodmin said. He meant he was forty. “There is something I must tell you before I go.”
There was a pause. Bodmin wanted to make sure he had Deccan's attention.
“I have been trying to figure out who you reminded me of. I have finally, after getting to know you and speaking with you, worked it out.”
“You remind me of a woman I once knew. She was beautiful and we both desired her—the man you know as your father, and I. He is the reason I cannot walk. We fought. I didn't desire the fight—I wished for a peaceful solution to our mutual problem.”
“What was that?” Deccan asked, not knowing what he was asking. He just had to keep the old man talking.
“I keep saying, the man you know as your father, because he was not your father,” Bodmin continued, “At least, I don't think so. That honor belongs to me, probably.”
Deccan's mouth dropped open. “Probably? Are you sure?”
“One is never sure about these things, to tell the truth. We both loved her. It's hard to talk about—it was so long ago, but the memory is still fresh and painful.”
Deccan had many questions, but couldn't choose just one.
“We dueled over her. A silly affair, by her lights. We went after each other with spears, then knives. I thought I had killed him and had walked away. He picked up his spear and thrust it at me, piercing my lower back. I walk no more.”
Deccan was dumb-founded. Bodmin paused to hack breath, after this speech.
“He died by my hand. It was hard, but I accomplished it.”
Deccan shook his head. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“You need to know the truth.”
“So now what? Why do you say your time is up?” Deccan finally said, to break the uncomfortable silence. “Do you have reason to believe you are going to die?”
“I know you have questions,” Bodmin said. “I wish I had the answers.”
“It was my duty to kill you,” Deccan rushed the words out. “My mother told me to seek vengeance, or so I thought. Now I'm confused.”
“Don't be. There is no revenge to take. It takes you. It is best to avoid it.”
“So why do you believe you're going to die?”
“It's just a feeling I have. I have lived a hard life. It is time to release you from your servitude. It is time.”
Deccan left the room before he began to weep, but ran into Bekah. Almost literally. Strangely enough, she didn't snap at him. He apologized, after a moment's hesitation. She did too. This was almost too much to handle. Bekah apologizing? What is wrong with the world? Deccan needed to change the subject—quickly, to avoid further embarrassment. He led with his chin.
“So who was that guy I saw you with earlier?”
“Nobody special.” She bristled. Her bad attitude was back, with a vengeance. “Just someone I hadn't seen in a long time, from before. Do you object?”
“Oh. I wondered, is all.” Time to change the subject. “I'm hungry. Want to eat some fish, guaranteed fresh?”
She started to refuse angrily, then changed her mind, abruptly.
He was right. It was fresh.