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My eyes scanned the surroundings. Scrub and grass covered our sandy island, and gentle swells broke along its shoreline. The sky had cleared to a piercing blue, and the air had that clarity only a storm can bring. Our beach ran a distance in both directions, and I recognized another of our ships down the strand. I could see several men stirring. Of the other two ships, there was no sign.
For the remainder of that day, we rested, dried our goods and garments, and made such repairs as we were able. A watch was kept for our missing ships, though nothing came of it. Those of us with friends and comrades lost either grieved or worried, though we knew it was God’s will if they survived. Any who followed the old gods prayed the drowned would have a straight voyage to the Realm of the Dead.
After the noon sun had traveled on, the king summoned to council Alric, myself, and Sigurd, the captain of our sister ship. We sat upon driftwood logs around the ashes of a lifeless fire.
“I need to know,” said Cnute, “your best reckoning of where we have landed.”
Sigurd, who always struck me as cocksure and vain in his manner—he tied his blond curls back, off a face that would have been acceptable on a woman—spoke first without deferring to Alric or myself. “This island is one of many in the mouthlands of the river the Frisians and Belges call the Rhine.”
“Alric?” the king said. I wasn’t disappointed my father failed to ask me, for I had no experience with these shores.
“I agree. The Rhine.” Alric never said two words when one would do.
The king leaned back against the large roots of the tree trunk on which he sat; he made a church with his fingers and stroked his thick moustache with the steeple. After a long silence, which my father always used to advantage, he spoke.
“It is in my mind, that this sea voyage is ill-fated. It is time to turn southward before more lives are lost. The Rhine will take us into the heart of Europe, all the way to the Alpine Mountains. The states and principalities through which we pass are all subject to the Holy Roman Emperor, and given our mission, they will offer no objection to our passage.”
“And when the river no longer takes us toward Rome...?” I asked.
“Then we purchase horses for the remainder of the journey,” my father replied.
“An excellent plan, Your Majesty,” Sigurd said.
“It will do,” said Alric.
“Now speak to your crews and find me one who knows these channels.” “Sire,” we said, rising to our feet to obey our King.
“And find time to say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Lyfing. He will be sorely missed.”
Not by all.