Going to Sea is a fairy tale set as background for my fantasy novel. It is written for the Write Club Surrey challenge for the July meeting on Saturday.

It was quite hard writing a decent fairy tale, and I’m not claiming that Going to Sea is a decent fairy tale. My first two attempts ended up more like Icelandic sagas than fairy tales. I ended up reading a book about what the Icelanders call the hidden people for inspiration. That was really interesting, but turned out not to be that useful.

In the end I abandoned my earlier attempts and just wrote this instead. I’ll probably finish the other ones though, I think having this sort of detail helps add depth to a fantasy world.

Going to Sea, or how people started worshipping Kari

A replica Viking Longship, with raised sail and rowers. The sail has an image of a man travelling with his belongings in a bag in a staff over his shoulder.
Replica Viking Longship (Photo: archiwum własne wikingów, Jarmeryk, via Wikipedia)

Long ago, when the gods still walked the land and looked after people that prayed to them, there were three children. The three grew up on a farm by the coast and longed to venture over the sea, but this was before we could build good boats. Their farm was on a wide curved bay where a river flowed into the sea. The beach was wide and sandy, and quite steep. They played there often when they were small, and looked longingly at the green tree-covered islands a mile or so over the sea. What adventures they could have over there!

The eldest was a boy called Gunnar. Like his brother and sister, he’d learned to swim where the headland curved round at the end of the bay. The shallows there were safer than the other end, where everything washed up on the strand. One fine summer’s day he looked out at the islands and decided that he would swim to them. Gunnar stripped off all of his clothes and folded them neatly above the high water mark on the beach. Then, without stopping to think, he ran into the cold sea. When he got in up to his waist he dived forwards and struck out towards the closest island. Gunnar swam, and swam. His legs paddled and his arms grabbed the waves to pull him towards the island. He snatched breaths between waves. He was going to do it, he was so sure.

After an age Gunnar felt his arms and legs getting tired. It couldn’t be far. Gunnar stopped to tread water, so that he could see how far he needed to swim. The island didn’t look any closer. At least not close enough for the time he’d been swimming. However he had moved a long way from where he’d started. But it wasn’t towards the islands. He was almost on the beach where the driftwood washed up. Now that he was looking, he realised that the sea was taking him away from the island. Gunnar felt deflated, and he swum back to the beach. It was a long walk back to where he’d left his clothes.

When Gunnar wasn’t able to swim to the islands on the horizon then Olaf decided that there had to be a better way to cross the sea. Olaf was good with his hands, and made most of the things they needed on their farm. So, as he often did, he prayed to Frijdodr, the goddess of the makers, for inspiration. Frijdodr heard his prayers and showed him a way to float in his dreams. The very next day Olaf ran out of the house with his father’s axe and cut down some ash saplings. He bent them into the shape he’d seen in his dreams and covered the frame that he’d made with deer skins. He called to his other two siblings, Gunnar and Freya to come help as he carried it down to the sea.

Together they carried it to the beach, it wasn’t very heavy but quite unwieldy. The weather was still and calm, and the sun shone. The tide was out, so they set it down right at the edge of the water, their beach was quite steep, and when the tide came in it was sure to float Olaf’s invention. Presently the tide began to come in. And as it lapped around Olaf’s invention he decided to climb inside it, just as he’d dreamed. There was just about enough room for Olaf inside it, but no room for the others. Gunnar and Freya went up the beach and watched the tide come in. Olaf was dry inside his contraption, or at least it appeared so. All around him the sea washed in waves onto the sand. When the tide was about half-way in Olaf started moving. His boat freed itself from the beach and floated. At first it just swayed too and fro with the waves, moving slightly out as they receded, and then back in again when the next wave came.

Olaf shouted for Gunnar to bring him a pole from the driftwood on their beach. Gunnar found a long straight stick and passed it to Olaf. He then used it to push the boat away from the beach. Within moments Olaf was floating in the bay. The three cheered!

Then the sky darkened, and the rain swept in off the sea, coming over the horizon with a speed none of them had ever seen. The surf rose and the waves crashed. Gunnar ran up the beach away from the water, but Freya stayed, offering a prayer to Kari. Olaf’s boat balanced on a huge wave for a moment, before it smashed down onto the sand. Olaf struggled free of his broken boat. As soon as he stood the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sea smoothed.

Freya decided that maybe the Goddess of the Sea, wasn’t happy with Olaf’s boat. What else could have caused their sudden squall, that had appeared from nowhere, and then disappeared again just as quickly. So Freya decided to pray for permission to cross the sea. As it happened Kari, the Goddess of the Sea, came to their beach that night, to see for herself what had irritated her earlier that day. As she looked through the poles and deer skins on the beach she heard Freya’s prayer. Kari didn’t usually go beyond the high tide mark in those days, but she was intrigued. So she followed the sound of the prayer, and came to the farmhouse, which wasn’t far from where the river met the sea.

Something made Freya stop and look out the window. Maybe it was the smell of the salt and the wrack that follows Kari around, maybe it was the wind whispering in her ears. Who knows. But when Freya looked out of the window she saw the green eyed woman with wild windswept hair, and she immediately knew she was in the presence of a goddess. Freya didn’t fall to her knees or press her face to the floor like many would. Instead she invited Kari in, and offered her hospitality. Kari accepted. Freya promised to dedicate her life to Kari, and to make sacrifices, and to pray to her first amongst the gods if only Kari would let her and her brothers cross the sea.
Kari thought for a moment, and the smell of the sea filled the room. A fog swirled round the house. ‘What can you give me that I don’t already have?’ Kari said.

‘Lifetimes of prayers, not just from me and my brother’s, but from every other person that goes to sea and returns.’ Freya’s eyes lit up and she was animated, her arms waved like a sea anemone in a rock pool. ‘When they hear of the adventures we’ve had everyone will want to go, and we’ll tell them only those that worship Kari have a chance of returning.’

Kari was moved by Freya’s passion, and relented.

‘Every ship needs my runes carved on it, and every voyage needs prayers before and after. If you do this well I will smile on you. Fail and I will claim you for my own.’

‘We will.’

‘Oh, you’re going to need a bigger boat.’ With that Kari disappeared as fog rolled into the room, and then cleared.

The next morning Freya told her brothers about her meeting with Kari. Together they cut some trees and made a larger version of the boat Olaf had made. They used planks on the inside to help the deer skins. When it was ready they carved Kari’s runes into the keel, and each of the planks.

When it was ready the three carried it to the sea. As before the placed it at the water’s edge when the tide was lowest. Freya returned with a jug of their best ale. Holding it in her right hand she began the prayers to Kari to dedicate their new boat.

‘We should name it?’ Gunnar said when the prayers were finished.

‘Adventurer!’ Freya splashed ale over the boat, and then poured the rest into the sea.

They pushed the boat out a bit, and then climbed in. This time they’d remembered to make oars. So as the tide came in they pushed off and rowed for the islands. The sea stayed calm, and the sky clear. It wasn’t long before they beached on the closest island.

Then their adventures really began…