The trees were like the dried nerves of a dead giant.
How long had it been since I slept? I did not know. The ice was in me now, had been in me ever since Arve and Berthina left. They were somewhere out on the steppes, out where the reindeer were plentiful and snow caught the light. That place was not here. Here it was night. It had been night for a long time. I had not spoken. I asked "What are you", but nothing replied.
As thoughts of ashes and old tears filled my mouth, I remembered a time in my childhood. I would spend hours alone in the attic, sat by the lump of roughly carved wood that passed for a table, hewn for me from the great pines by my aging grandfather. Sometimes I would hear a soft foghorn, as if from very far away, and I would feel that poor dead Grandfather was still there with me, but in truth it was only the frost of my own breath on the air.
Father was downstairs, staring into the battered tin cup from which he drank, the dregs of his thirteenth vodka whispering to him. "It is grey here," they said, "it is grey and there are trees all around. Where have you gone Eirik, where have you gone?" They spoke in the voice of my mother, Märta. She was dead. Father said it was the famine that took her, but I knew it was the ice in his heart. Now it was in mine, and my dear children Arve and Berthina were gone.
I swung my pickaxe with the pathetic strength left to me. A handful of ice chips flew in the night air, scattering across the rotting wood and old stones that bore witness to my meaningless labours. The hole I had carved out of the unyielding ground was half a dozen feet across now. Soon I would stand in it, dig downwards. I did not know why.
A young girl appeared beside me, and her eyes were echoes of someone else's springtimes.
"The geese are early this year," she said. I did not reply.
"They will not stay though, I think they are just passing by." In her voice I could not hear the God I sought.
She looked at me from a long distance and said,
"Ja tyar int mer, Niklas. Ja tyar bare int mer." I knew then that it would rain hard the next morning, that it would be one of those days where Satan was on the wind.
A month ago I had been at sea, though that part of my life seemed all to be in black and white now. Ragnar and I had fought the North Sea, ever buffeted by bitter winds, always too many leagues from the port. We had set out from Haugensund, we did not know why. We sailed for the island of Jan Mayen, were it was said that the men could catch dreams in their beards, and babies were left to the tundra, to prove themselves against the frost that lives in us all. Perhaps we had hope then. Perhaps.
The moon set somewhere beyond the squalling ocean, and it did not rise again. When we returned to land we were different men, Hevskall and I, and I do not remember who I could have been before that. In a song of crying salt winds and rusting harpoons we lost a part of what we had sought, and gained instead a cold vigil to be sat forever around distant rocks.
"Come inside, father," said the wind, "it is cold, and your dinner grows ashen and tasteless with each moment you spend here."I did not go inside. The trees were all around.