Now that’s really how our story begins. That’s our main character. The girl. Kala. She’s alone now. Her father was on that boat that didn’t come back from the sea. Her father. Her older sister. Her best friend and future husband.
She not the only one who cared for the crew of course.
Kala’s sister, Svana, was married to Larus. But Larus has family in Morskebo, across the bay. They’re still there. He can rely on them for support if he needs to.
Agnar, the man Kala would marry. Her best friend, the love of her life, her channeler of magic. He too had a family – here in the village even. Dagny, his mother, is beside herself with grief and loss, but she has her family still to support her. A husband, two daughters, another son, uncles aunts and grandparents.
Kala has no one. Her mother and younger brother went through the ice a few winters back. Her father and sister, well, you know what happened to them. Her best friend too.
Sure, there’s uncle Bjarni, but he lives in Toft and that’s two days travel even during summer.
And that’s a whole lot of names. Dead people. Living people. Relationships and families and places. It’s there if you want it, but it’s just back story, so don’t worry too much about it if you don’t remember the details. It’s not important. There’s really only one thing here that matters.
Kala is alone.
– – –
Let’s move ahead, to the next day, and to the village’s post office.
It’s a small village, out in the far end of nowhere, the train comes here, but it goes no further. And where the train ends there has to be a post office. It’s the law.
Men from the city came here and built it. Many generations ago. No one still living in the village remembers a time before the post office. Same with the train station. Sometimes, men from the city come to do repairs on the buildings, whether it’s needed or not. That’s the law too, but other than that, it’s no hassle.
Both buildings, post office and train station, have large waiting rooms where people can gather. Public spaces. No one’s home. There is electric light, and at the post office there’s a coffee machine, and it works.
Today, there are three people in the post office. Ralphur, the postmaster. Appointed by the local prefecture, he’s not from here, but he’s a decent enough sort, and the villagers like him. Short and skinny, long fingers and big nose. He makes better coffee than the old postmaster say those who know.
The others are Vissla and Styrbjorn. Local couple. Too old to fish. No children. They made sure Kala got home late last night. Vissla stayed the night in Kala’s house, just to be on the safe side.
He’s a bit round, and bald as an egg. Used to be tailor. She’s thin as a stick, with long white hair in a thick braid down her back. Spent her life in the forests and the mountains hunting wolf and goat.
Hunter, tailor, postmaster.
They’re having coffee.
– – –
Gulli pulled open the outer door to the post office. She stopped in the little entrance chamber and stomped the snow off her boots. It had been coming down all day, as if the autumn snow they’d already had wasn’t enough.
She brushed freshly fallen snow off her shoulders and chest and slapped her hands against her legs. Hopefully it’d die down by tomorrow or the memorial flames would go out and wouldn’t that just be the blood in the water.
Grumbling to herself, Gulli pushed open the inner door and stepped into the post office.
Pale midday light drifted in through the windows to the right. Long wooden benches stood under the windows. A long counter with three hatches ran along the left wall. Two of them had never been opened, as far as anyone could remember, and the last one only on special occasions.
In the far wall, next to the fireplace, stood two little tables. If anyone ever needed a letter sent that’s where they’d find the postmaster. It’s also where you’d find the coffee machine.
As she ambled over, Gulli shrugged out of her parka
Gulli ambled over, shrugged out of her parka, and hung it over the back of one of the chairs at the empty table. “Vissla, Styrbjorn, Poser.” She nodded to each one in turn, and then she sat down.
“Coffee?” said Ralphur and scowled at her.
“How’s it going out there?” said Styrbjorn.
“Coffee.” Gulli nodded and turned to Styrbjorn. “Done. Had some trouble finding a third brazier, but we got one in the end.”
Ralphur got up and started tinkering with the machine.
“Trouble?” Vissla raised an eyebrow.
“Aye, indeed.” Gulli took a deep breath. “Well, not so bad really. Old man Rafne didn’t want to remember he had one since his wife got taken by the sea this spring.” She paused for a moment and grimaced. “Took some prodding. Eventually Dagur had to straight out ask him about it.”
Vissla and Styrbjorn both nodded. Neither of them said anything. Always a bad business that.
“There, coffee.” Ralphur set down a cup in front of Guill.
Steaming hot. Black as the kraken’s eye.
She looked at it for a moment. Too hot still. It would have to wait a little.
Gulli leaned back in her chair, clasped her hands in her lap, and pulled on a casual smile. “How’s the girl?”
“Bad.” Vissla grimaced. “Then again. That’s to be expected.”
Styrbjorn nodded. “We’ll see how she gets on after the memorial ceremony tomorrow. Give her a few days.”
Silence fell over the table. One by one they all nodded. Time. The girl had lost everything. She’d need some time to get back on her feet again.
Gulli sipped her coffee. Warm and strong and bitter. Just the way she liked it, and without burning her tongue off.
“Let’s just hope the weather calms down until tomorrow,” she said and set down the cup on the table. “It wouldn’t do to have the flames go out.”
“No.” Vissla shuddered. She wrapped her arms around her and hunched up her shoulders.
“No, indeed,” muttered Styrbjorn. He sipped his coffee and looked at his wife. “You’ve got a feel for the weather tomorrow?”
“I could go for a walk. But I’m not in the mood.” Vissla twisted around in her chair and spat into the fireplace. “Sat looking after the girl all night to make sure she was okay. It’s not like it matters anyway. We can’t move the ceremony.”
“Right, right…” Styrbjorn squirmed in his chair. “It’s just, it’d be nice to know, you know.”
Ralphur shifted in his seat. “What about the radio at the station house? Is it working?”
“Wasn’t working last I heard,” said Gulli. “Sindri’s going to look at it to try and fix it, but for now it’s dead.” She paused for a moment.
Maybe that had been a bit insensitive. Probably, but so what? People died. You just had to deal with it and move on. Such was life. Her husband had been dead for years but she was still here.
“Maybe we could call Fannar?” Ralphur asked. “The telephone still works, right?”
Vissla snorted. “Might as well call and aks them to listen to the radio for us. We don’t need a shaman for that.”
“Yeah.” Gulli nodded. “It’s not like he could do anything about it so shaman he is. The wind blows as the wind wills.”
“He might want to come for the ceremony though?” said Styrbjorn.
“So what?” Vissla glared at him. “It’s not like he’ll grasp what’s going on anyway. He’s not half the shaman Haraldur was. I can tell the weather at least as well as he can, and the spirits never speak to me.” She snatched up her coffee and drained the cup. “I’m done. Let’s go.”
Styrbjorn rolled his eyes at her, and then he chuckled. Together, the two of them got to their feet, donned their clothes, and made their farewells. Bickering with each other about something or other they made for the door and a moment later they were gone.
Gulli and Ralphur sat silent for a while. Gulli sipped her coffee. Ralphur gazed at the flames in the fireplace. Outside, the snow fell, turning the afternoon twilight into early evening.
“I’ll go to the station,” said Gulli after a while. “They’ve probably already called for Fannar, but it won’t hurt to make sure.”
Ralphur nodded. “Do that.”