Scramasax

Scramasax by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Book: Scramasax by Kevin Crossley-Holland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kevin Crossley-Holland
bear children.’
    Solveig laughed. ‘No,’ she said, ‘daughters bear their fathers.’
    The helmsman looked perplexed.
    â€˜What’s this galley called?’ Solveig asked him. ‘I mean, I know she’s not a karv, or a knar or a skute, so what is she?’
    â€˜A dromon. Every warship’s a dromon. This kind is
ousiai
.’
    â€˜Ooze-ee-eye,’ Solveig repeated slowly.
    â€˜She’s light,’ Nico told her. ‘She’s fast. One hundred oarsmen.’
    â€˜Ooh!’ exclaimed Solveig. ‘That many? There were only six on Red Ottar’s boat. I rowed a half-shift.’
    â€˜You won’t be rowing on this one,’ Halfdan told her.
    â€˜I will if Harald tells me to,’ replied Solveig, and she slipped her father a cheeky smile. Then she turned to Nico again. ‘Ooze-ee-eye.
Ousiai!
I like that word. How far is it to Sicily?’
    The helmsman held out his hands and balanced them. ‘Seven days. First, Sea of Marmara. Here, in front of us.’
    â€˜And then?’
    â€˜Very soon the Great Sea.’ Nico opened his arms and puffed out his cheeks like a statue of a sea-god, but Solveig still thought he looked more like the skeleton of a bream or a mackerel. ‘Sudden winds,’ added Nico. ‘Sudden squalls. Near Chios.’
    â€˜Where?’
    â€˜The island of Chios. Then we sail south-west and west, five more days to Sicily.’
    â€˜Unless …’ said Halfdan, but he didn’t complete the sentence.
    The helmsman shrugged. ‘Always unless,’ he agreed.
    â€˜Tell Solveig about the ram.’
    â€˜Ah!’ exclaimed Nico, and his dark eyes glittered.
    But at this moment Skarp came bounding along the deck between the upper banks of oarsmen.
    â€˜There you are!’ he exclaimed. ‘Still wearing Tamas’s cloak, I see.’
    â€˜Oh! Has he asked for it?’
    Skarp guffawed. ‘He doesn’t even know, does he?’
    â€˜What do you mean?’
    â€˜He’s not on this boat. Not as far as I know.’
    â€˜Oh!’ Solveig lowered her eyes to hide her disappointment – and so she didn’t see Skarp winking at her father.
    â€˜Hmm!’ grunted Halfdan. ‘Well, let’s hope we haven’t left him behind. It’s a long swim from Miklagard to Sicily.’
    â€˜Pfff!’ exclaimed Skarp. ‘He doesn’t even know how to swim!’
    When it came, it was so sudden.
    One moment Solveig was standing at a long wooden table in the stuffy hold, chopping up hunks of mutton alongside muscular Vibrog and lanky Edla and the three Greek cooks, all of them twice her age or older, andthe next moment the galley was lurching as if Ægir had grasped it and was giving it a good shaking. The Greek women were bawling, and all the mutton slid off the slimy counter into the soupy water swilling around in the bottom of the galley.
    It was so sudden, and yet Solveig had already sensed it.
    Sometimes, she thought, I’m like … more like a gull or a wild goose, like a goat or a cow. They know when to take wing, and when to huddle and herd and keep their heads down. My earlobes tingle. My feet sweat. Sometimes my back teeth ache. Yes, my body tells me when a storm is coming.
    At dusk, the wind from the north sprang up and smacked the galley.
    â€˜Etesian! Etesian!’ wailed the Greek women. Ai-ee! Ai-ee! That’s how the wind sounded.
    And then a wind from the north-west added its voice to the storm: violent, thudding, hissing.
    Solveig and the five women tried to hold on to the counter and they could not. They threw down their meat-knives for fear of cutting themselves or stabbing each other. Trying to stay on their feet, they slipped and staggered on the spot. Then all six of them lost their footing at the same time, they whacked their ribs and knees against the galley’s ribs and knees, they tore their fingernails on the galley’s rough

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