Free short story Maelstrom

A Viking drama

The mother was too young. Too young in years to deal with the trauma that was the birth of her child. She was still bleeding as she sat crooked on the stone, looking down on the cliff, her legs warm from the fluid. The smell sickened her. But more so the crying. Her newborn baby lay weeping on a mossy rock behind her. She had not touched it.

Her master had taken the child from her the moment it took its first breath. She had watched him walk out with the tiny bundle, and she’d screamed. From the pain, the shock, the blood and her loss. “You are my slave,” he’d said. “The child is too, and I’ll do with it as I see fit,” he’d said and turned his back on her pleading. “I‘m not feeding another mouth for years until he can make himself useful, preventing you …” His words had trailed off as he walked away. Preventing her from what? her blurred, anaemic mind had asked. But he was gone with her body’s fruit, leaving her torn and broken.

It was a miracle they both had survived the birth – how could he just take it from her, rip her further open and wound her deeper? She wasn’t prepared for the violence of the birth, the horror of the blood and her body being ripped apart. Her own screams had terrified her. And then to see the tiny life, eyes closed and crusted in blood, barely breathing.

So she had followed the dying cries of her baby. The blood had run down her legs in warm, pulsating streams as she crawled out of the hut where they’d put her when the contractions began. Looking at the big house, she’d slowly staggered the other way. After her baby. When she found the child, her master was gone.

The little creature lay on a mossy rock in a clearing close to the raging sea. Dumped there to die, as it was done with unwanted children. She knew it. She’d known the outcome from the moment the baby had kicked alive inside her.

Now she sat listening to the helpless whining in the face of dark, racing clouds. She stared at the crushing waves a tree’s height beneath her, and to her comfort she found that the endless roar and whirl captured her eyes and numbed her pain. Her legs were warm from the never-ending trickle of dark blood, and a shiver had taken over her body. Her mouth was dry, her mind empty like her torn womb, and behind her the crying never ceased. Did he know she was his mother? Did he sense she was suffering, too, if not worse? Did he know she would live while the custom wanted him, the tiny life, dead? The whining swelled and her heart followed suit, as it ached to hold and save her child. But there was no way she could rescue him. Her master would take him away again, or lance him on the spot.

She sat listening to the waves, the gusts, the whimpering. The sounds became one. Her pain merged with that of her helpless, dying child. Her mind was as empty and void as the innocent mind on the rock. The world whirled and whined and stilled. All fused together. Two bloody bodies and dying hearts, two doomed minds and souls, two lives abandoned.

The spray reached up to the young mother on the cliff. It licked at her feet, washing her blood away. She offered herself to the water, stretching low, so the salt diverted the red stream that came from her middle, and took it out to sea. She watched her own lifeblood being churned and carried off to the great nothing. An endless, shapeless, howling maelstrom. Grey like her eyes and soul. Loud like the pulse of her bleeding body, and her crying child.

But although the raging waves beneath her tempted her, she would not be separated from her body’s fruit. The huge head and tiny limbs had ripped her open — and then completed her.

Her ears couldn’t locate the sounds of her child anymore, but her eyes found focus, while her hands felt cold rock. She dragged her legs up and out of the grip of the roaring waters, to turn and look at the stone. Her baby had stilled, his limbs motionless, the brave little voice dead.

It pained her to stand, but she moved over to the deathbed, expecting the worst. The baby was small and weak, without warmth or food. The quicker it was over, the better for her master. Or herself?

She staggered to the stone, almost falling against it with fatigue. What she saw when she bent down to it ripped her apart.

Black little stones, empty of understanding, stared up at the cold grey clouds. Just when the body gave in, his eyes had ignited and sprung to life. He looked at his mother, and the mother collapsed at his feet. She reached out, feeling tiny, icy legs that would never learn to walk. Pale skin, blemished by crusts of dark blood. With trembling fingers the length of his limpid forearms she reached for the baby’s face. To scrape the scabs from leaf-thin eyelids.

A dry gurgle alerted the mother. She straightened at the sound escaping the vulnerable chest and clutched the cool bundle to her heart. The big head rested at her bursting breast, helpless, unable to penetrate the fabric of her dirty tunic. The pale lips would never taste her, her milk would go unused.

She cradled the downy skull and started to walk.

Straight for the first time since the cramps struck her down. Proud for the first time since her belly had swelled. She walked with the child until they reached the blood-soaked spot by the cliff. She lifted the baby from her chest and steadied the wobbling head. His black eyes were huge on her as she held her son up. To the closed up sky she called his name, with a clear voice, like a proud father would have done — Feigr!

Doomed one.

Then, together, they jumped.

By Sarah Dahl, July 2015, 1027 words

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