The consequences of love
|(You need to read the previous parts to make sense of this.)
After my eviction from the Anker mansion, I fretted about my situation. I weighed several scenarios in my head, trying to figure out possible outcomes. Fru Anker knew who I was, so she would most likely deliver on her threat to deal with me later. Which meant informing my parents.
Sophia and I had broken one or more Commandments—our priest often thundered about the wicked ways of men and carnal sin outside wedlock. But this was True Love. God would surely show leniency even if the likes of Fru Anker screamed blue murder? After wandering the streets for a few hours, I skulked home. The worst that would happen was a good talking-to and tedious chores as punishment. I was too old for a caning—I hoped.
A thunderous silence had settled on the Nore household when I opened the front door and slipped inside. I had only taken two steps towards my chamber, when Father’s voice rang out from the living room, “Martin! You will present yourself in here, sir!”
This did not bode well. Fru Anker must have lost no time coming here.
Father occupied the middle of the room while Mother sat by the window. They looked furious and worried, respectively. Father appeared unusually flushed. Waiting for my return wouldn’t have done anything to mellow him after their visitor left.
“Are you trying to sabotage my plans on purpose or are you just dim-witted?” was his opening volley. He stepped closer, and I caught a whiff of gin on his breath. He seldom drank alcohol, so this set off all sorts of alarm bells. I took a step back and steeled myself for the slap which was sure to come my way. With a visible effort, he paused, then went on, “Do you realize your beastliness has put our business with Herr Anker in jeopardy. And set a cloud over this family’s prestige?” He seemed to struggle for words. Suddenly he screamed at me, foaming at the mouth, “And all because of your Godless lust for some floozy of poor reputation.”
Fury swelled in me and replaced the fear I’d felt. I fought for breath as I forced the words out, “Sophia is no floozy. Take it back!” At that moment I hated him, and without realizing it I lifted my clenched fist. God knows what would have happened had Mother not intervened and taken control.
“Sit, the both of you.” Her voice, usually so calm and warm, now sounded like the crack of a whip. Shocked, I plumped into the closest chair. Father made a few noises which suggested he was having a fit, then thought better of it and obeyed. There is a saying about iron fists in silk gloves that seems to describe many of the women I have loved.
Now Mother took center stage in the floor, standing hands on her hips, glaring at the both of us. At last her eyes came to rest on me, giving me the full benefit of her attention. The room now felt uncomfortably warm, and I squirmed. Her gaze was somehow worse than Father’s yelling.
“Martin, someone has informed us you have,” she paused, picking the next word with care, “courted a young lady who is a guest Fru Anker.” There was no use denying it even if I’d wanted to. I nodded, keeping my eyes fixed on my hands.
Mother continued, her voice softer, “Is this the first time you are together? Do you know if you have gotten her with child?” I blinked—the thought had never crossed my mind.
She frowned. “Men never know, do they?” She shot Father a stern glance and to my amazement, he blushed and avoided her eyes. Clearly, there was a story here.
Mother broke my train of thought before I got started. “Let’s hope we can avoid such unpleasantry, for all our sakes.” She ruffled my hair to soften the blow that came. “But your father is right. This can harm the family’s name. Anker’s influence is considerable, and this is a small city. There is also the fact this girl—Sophia, is it?—has a bad reputation, deserved or not. Gossip and ill-will from the Ankers is unavoidable.”
She turned to Father. “There is only one thing for it: Martin must go with you to Copenhagen. He has to stay there until you leave for Africa. Perhaps longer, unless I see things calm down here. If they have not, he will live with my sister until I summon him back here.”
Father, who had conveniently forgotten we almost came to blows a minute ago, nodded. “People soon forget and some new to gossip catches their interest.” He drew a breath of relief and appeared quite pleased. “Visiting the capital provides him with a great opportunity. He is going to university in a few years, anyway. Martin, go to your chamber and pack your clothes.”
Exciting as it all sounded, I had objections to this turn of events and protested, “But I can’t just leave Sophia.”
Both parents cast baleful looks in my direction and I decided not to press my luck. I felt a great sense of relief at having avoided physical reprisals. And a vacation in Copenhagen didn’t sound bad, all things considered. To prove myself the obedient son, I bowed and voiced my submission, “Yes, Father. Yes, Mother dear.”
As I retreated out the door, Mother called after me, “I’ll come by and help you look over your things. Your father and I need to talk first.”
Alone in my room, I stared out the window, lost in thought. Events had developed too fast today and my emotions were all muddled. On the one hand, spending the summer in Copenhagen was the stuff of dreams, not punishment. On the other hand, leaving Sophia in this mess felt unbearable. Just the thought of her made my anger at Father rise again. How dare he speak of my wonderful girl that way? However, I was grateful for Mother’s intervention before I’d swung at him. The consequences of such an action didn’t bear thinking about.
A soft knock interrupted my thoughts and Mother stepped inside, “Martin?”
I turned and searched her eyes. I saw no signs of anger in them. Instead, there was a warm tenderness I hadn’t seen for a few years. She walked over to my wardrobe and pulled out one garment after the other, pretending to examine them.
Mother’s family is not of Norwegian stock. Rather, they are descendants of Danish Vikings who sailed south and settled in the lush coastal areas of Normandie. They’d owned large tracts of land there since the ninth century. The family legends had them in direct lineage from the great Rollo himself. For all I know, it might be God’s honest truth.
They claim they were titled nobility once, but by the 1750s misfortune had reduced them to living as common, if prosperous, farmers. The family name had become LeBec (or Le Bec) at some point. My maternal grandfather was the youngest of four sons and had no claim to any family’s lands. With a modest sum of money, he moved back north to Denmark, bringing along his young wife and two children. There he established himself as an importer of French wines in 1775.
This is where Father met the LeBecs, or Bekk, as they now called themselves to sound more Danish. A year after university, he traveled back to Copenhagen in 1784 to explore commercial opportunities. Introduced by a common acquaintance, he took lodgings with the Bekks for the duration of his stay. Somehow Father became a valued guest in their household while negotiating various trade agreements; including one that still supplies our shop in Christiania. I guess importing wines to Norway was as good an idea as any other.
Gustav Nore fell in love with the younger Bekk daughter—Josephine—and the two married a few months later. In the fall of ‘85 the happy couple returned to Christiania with their first-born son and settled into blissful marriage. Blissful owing to Mother’s patience and her skill at distracting him from the worst of his business follies.
Josephine Nore always had a flair for languages, a skill I have inherited. Mastery of a new tongue came effortlessly to both of us. Thanks to Mother’s persistence, I was fluent in French, German, Latin, Greek, and English by the summer of 1800. Because of her own upbringing, Mother was also adamant about teaching me the social graces and various etiquettes practiced in Denmark, France, and Prussia.
Like most people of French descent, she was a devout Catholic. However, in the time I have known her, she never expressed regrets about marrying a Protestant or living in a country with few practicing Catholics. Overall, she is more Norwegian than most who are native born to ‘The Mountain’—the affectionate term for my beloved homeland.
I still see her as a wonderful mother. In my mind, she embodied the finest of feminine traits—wisdom and patience. But she would also show a firm hand when required and brooked no nonsense. My inclinations towards pranks and laziness led to many unfortunate audiences with Father and his cane.
All my shirts removed from the wardrobe, she turned, her face filled with sympathy. “Tell me about Sophia, dear. What is she like?”
Taken aback at this, I nonetheless told her our story. It felt strange talking to Mother about such matters. But seeing the kindness in her eyes gave me confidence and everything came rushing out. I told her about Sophia’s beauty and grace; her wealth of knowledge; her thoughts on the future; and her despair at not being allowed to attend university. I spoke at length about her sense of humor and how she challenged me and made me want to better myself.
Mother looked like she’d forgotten why she had come here. She’d picked at the white shirt she was holding while I spoke. When I trailed off, she embraced me. “You know what, Martin? I don’t care what other people say about her. If she is only half the woman you describe, I already like her.”
Relief washed over me, only to try up at the sight of her frown. She sighed. “But I am afraid things cannot go well for her, dear. There is no place in this world for a girl like her. Society will bend her and make her conform to what it expects from a woman. Or it will destroy her.”
She glanced at the shirt as if surprised she was still holding it. “You cannot see her again. You realize that, don’t you? At least while she remains in Christiania. Your father and the Ankers will make sure of this. Cross them, and the consequences will be dire for both of you.”
I must have looked as downcast as I felt at her words, for she squeezed my hand. “I’ll tell you what—write her a letter. Tell her what has transpired here and I’ll make certain she gets it. I don’t know what’s happening in the Anker household now, but I’m sure she is suffering a lot worse than you.” She frowned again and looked at me like I embodied the sins of all men.
With a final glance at the bundle of shirts, she put them all back in the wardrobe. “Go to bed after you write your letter. Tomorrow you and I need to go shopping for travel goods. It is not fitting for a young gentleman to arrive in the capital unprepared,” she said as if to herself. “And before you sleep, say a prayer to the good Lord to keep His hand over Sophia.”
After she’d left, I sat at my desk and wrote my letter. I told her what had happened, and assured her I would be fine, and we’d see each other again when I returned home from Copenhagen. I then kneeled by my bed, something I hadn’t done for some time, and prayed God would bring us back together soon. After I’d had some exciting adventures, mind you.
The adventures I received. The first part of my wish was not on His list of priorities.
Father’s plans called for us to depart on the 10th of June. A flurry of preparations descended on the household because of my banishment. “We’ll never be ready in time.” Mother handed me a stack of shirts. I believe she was trying to keep my mind off Sophia as much as possible and the past week had passed quickly.
Most days she kept me by her side, ordering me about on various tedious errands. When she felt we had earned a break, she would lecture me about the capital—its sights; its people; and its customs. I was not to leave the house unaccompanied, under the threat of dire punishment. Despite all distractions, my final thoughts before drifting off to sleep were always of Sophia. The image of her lying naked on the bearskin was especially intrusive.
The original idea had been for Father to stay with his old friend Casper Meyer while in Copenhagen. Now Mother had decided we both live with her sister Adeline and her daughter instead. “My sister is a wonderful woman, Martin. Your last time in Copenhagen, you were just a baby. Your aunt Adeline will be delighted to see you. And perhaps you’ll meet a pretty Danish girl?”
I had no interest in Danish girls, but no one cared what I thought.
With my departure only three days away, I reached a decision. I had to see Sophia one final time, and to the best of my knowledge, she was still in Christiania. Sending her a brief letter wasn’t enough.
Getting out of our home after midnight was not a problem. I knew every shadow and creaky board around the place. Sophia had pointed her bedroom out a long time ago, so my point of ingress was equally clear. Fortunately, it faced a side street, not the main thoroughfare. The challenge would be to reach the window as they were all placed over two meters above the ground. This was beyond my height and I’d need some way of climbing higher. I decided to borrow a short ladder from tool-shed and carry it to town.
I waited until silence settled over the house, then set out. Halfway there, my shoulders were aching from carrying the ladder’s cumbersome bulk. I’d expected lugging such an object to be inconvenient, but now it had become a grueling effort. I considered leaving it by the road and then retrieving on my way back. However, I knew finding another ladder inside the town was unlikely, so I persevered.
Hot under my jacket, I reached the outskirts of town, and as expected, everything was quiet. I knew the night watchman’s routes well, and it was a simple task to make my way to the harbor unnoticed. As there is little serious crime in Norway, the watchmen’s job consists primarily of keeping an eye out for fires and calling out the time. The familiar cry of “The hour is two, and all is well!” gave me lots of warning whenever one approached. Hidden in the shadows, I waited for the closest watchman to leave after completing his inspection, then leaped into action.
I’d seen no lights or movement inside the house, but I’d heard our maid gossip about big mansions having a surprising amount to activity at night. I counted the windows carefully to make sure I was beneath the correct one—disturbing family members or a guest would have unfortunate consequences. The ladder in place, I scurried to where I had the window within reach. I rapped the pane, feeling light-headed.
A soft glow appeared behind the glass, and I knocked again—one, two, three. A long moment passed, then the window opened a crack.
“Who?” a familiar voice whispered. “Martin?” Then, a second later, “Are you insane!”
“Please let me in before the watchman spots me.” She flung the window open, and I scrambled inside and ended on all fours, still chuckling. I heard her utter a soft gasp of apprehension.
When I regained my feet, she hugged me in a tight embrace, while simultaneously berating me. “What are you doing here, you foolish boy? You’ll be in terrible trouble if discovered! Are you demented!”
These mixed signals confused me for a second until I realized she was sobbing. I attempted to look into her face, but she only clung tighter, and all her fears came pouring out as she sobbed into my shoulder. “Oh, Martin. I’ve made a mistake. I should have known better, and now we must pay the price for it. Your parents are exiling you to Copenhagen, and Fru Anker will deport me back to Bergen. I’ve become too much of an embarrassment to her. With servants involved, there was no way this would not become the latest gossip about town.”
She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and eyed me anxiously. “Do you know my greatest fear these last few days, Martin?”
I shook my head, so happy to look at her again.
“There are whispers about what can happen to women who,” she made a wry face, “act out; embarrass their families. Diagnosed with female hysteria, they are locked away in the Fool’s House.” She wrung the hem of her nightshirt. “I could never bear that. I would rather die than be imprisoned. Oh, what a little idiot I am.”
It was gut-wrenching to see her in such a state of despair, and I grunted thickly, not knowing what to say. Then it hit me. “I’ll go to Bergen immediately after I return from Denmark, my love. My father leaves for Africa and won’t come back for a year or more. I’ll be the head of the house (Mother might have a thing or two to say about that) while he’s absent. Mother already likes you and I’m sure Grandfather will adore you.” I drew a deep breath, “I’ll ask your parents for your hand in marriage!”
She broke off mid-sob, looking surprised, then amused. Calmer now, she kissed me. “Thank you for saying that, my sweet. Most men would not have acted so gallantly.” She managed a tight smile. “But I must deal with this myself. You are younger than me, and this makes the situation even worse according to Fru Anker. I fear my family won’t take a proposal from you seriously. Not without involving your parents. Please don’t take this the wrong way, my dear, but I have to face this alone. To have a man come running to rescue me would prove conventional thinking right.” She noticed my puzzled frown and caressed my cheek. “Of course, you don’t understand—how can you? I’m struggling to find the words. I’m not sure I fully comprehend it myself.” It was her turn to frown. “I… I need to become stronger,” she ended lamely.
“But…” I protested. She touched a slim finger to my lips and smiled with a semblance of her old confident self. “If they send me to the Fool’s House, you have my permission to come to my rescue, Lancelot.”
We talked for the full hour we had available until the next patrol was due outside. I comforted her and swore she would always be the only one for me. As I sat close to her scantily clad form, I became increasingly distracted, but she rebuffed my amorous advances. “Let’s not make any more mistakes, my dear. It’s not worth it.” I silently disagreed but desisted.
As I crawled outside, we both promised to face what fate held for us, taking solace in the thought we’d meet again. In my case the future held adventure, and in hers, personal humiliation. Sophia assured me my visit had strengthened her resolve. She felt ready to deal with her parents and what Bergen society would throw at her.
“There will be a huge row, but I know Father and Mother love me despite being a problem to them. Perhaps I’ll play the Good Daughter for a while? But that might bring with it the danger of a suitor showing up, asking to marry me. I am beautiful, and my family has money.” She sent me a wicked wink, “Who knows, maybe some young fool will put up with having me for his wife.”
She grew serious, “Don’t blush, Martin, my sweet. Of all the men I have known, you are the only boy I hold dear.”
“I’m making you a promise, though—I’ll be faithful until we find each other again. Or until I’m married off to some man. Whatever comes first. Here is a token of my faith—for you to carry with you,” she said, unclasping the locket she always carried around her neck.
“Please go, before someone sees your ladder and raises the alarm. I can’t afford more scandal right now. You must promise to write to me from Copenhagen, and I’ll write you back. Describe all your adventures, so I can pretend I’m there with you.”
After exchanging a final passionate kiss, I slipped outside and vanished into the night.
And with that, our affair ended.
There is one member of my close family who’s only received brief mention: Grandfather Einar. As the influence he’s had on my youth is significant, he deserves a few words of his own.
Where Father was a bookish urbanite, Einar Nore is the image of a Viking, right out of the sagas. My grandfather towers a head above most other men, with a frame to fit: shoulders the width of an ogre and fists the size of hams. He sports an enormous bushy beard, from which blaze a pair of steely blue eyes. When amused his laughter is said to have caused heifers to drop their calves in fright. That may not be true, but his voice makes one think of an avalanche—low and rumbling. An intimidating figure to anybody who crosses him. Many’s the time I’ve wished I’d inherited Grandfather’s physique, not my father’s.
He used to be a soldier, serving King and countries for most of his life. He took part in the campaign against a heathen sultan of Algeria sometime around 1770. The Kingdom didn’t come out of the conflict with much honor intact, but somehow Granddad returned with a cartload of loot. There is an interesting story behind that, I’ll wager.
Participation in the war of 1788 against Sweden, sometimes called the Cowberry War, earned him a promotion to Major. A few years later, the Powers That Be ordered him to subdue local unrests in southern Norway. When he refused, instead of summary dismissal, they promoted him to full Colonel along with a fresh set of orders. I’m not clear on the details, but by the time the military had subdued the uprising, he had soured of army life and resigned.
Poles apart in most ways, Grandfather often got into arguments with his son. These quarrels went on for days and only ended when the old man grabbed his gun and left the house. We would not see him for several months when this happened. “People are a waste of space,” he would say, meaning city dwellers in general and Father in particular.
Despite contempt for his fellow man, he remained a respected figure in Christiania. The citizens still address him as ‘Herr Colonel’ when he ventures into town to purchase supplies and his favorite brand of tobacco.
When Grandmother passed away, he announced he’d had enough of what passes for civilization; left most of what he owned to my father; and withdrew to The Eastern Valley of Norway. A small farmstead which he kept for himself, served as the base for his many hunting expeditions and treks through the wilderness.
It was to this place he brought me the summer I turned ten. Father objected, arguing it would interfere with my education, but Grandfather insisted there were lessons outside books and got his way. I suspect even though my parents loved their offspring, it was not without some relief they watched me leave. I was happy as a clam with this turn of events—no algebra for many weeks and the chance to hunt bears and wolves.
Over the first three summers, he taught me essential wilderness survival techniques: Tracking, navigation, foraging, and other useful skills. When we borrowed a horse from the closest neighbor, he instructed me in basic horsemanship. The fourth season I learned how to shoot, and I became quite the marksman with a musket and a fair shot with a pistol.
One rainy day, he also introduced me to hand-to-hand fighting. “On the off chance you miss with your gun.” His grin was sardonic.
He opened a chest and pulled out a saber. “You might think this is the ultimate weapon for a warrior, Martin. But the modern soldier relies on two tools: the musket and the bayonet. The gun deals damage from afar and is devastating when fired in volleys by ranks of trained soldiers. When the enemy closes in, he falls back on the contemporary equivalent of the polearm—his bayonet.” He made a few effortless swings, making the blade look like a toy. “But you’re not a soldier, my boy. And if you have any sense, you’ll never be one. You need a weapon that will keep you standing and your opponent lying in the dust. Hold out your arm.”
I obeyed, wondering what he was up to. He kneeled, extending his own arm toward me. “See the advantage I have? It’s not about muscles, although they keep you from keeling over from fatigue before the fight’s over. What gets you, all things being equal, is reach. If your enemy can touch you, while you cannot reach him, you’re dead.”
I probably looked as dismayed as I felt, knowing well I’d never be a large man, for he winked. “The solution is simple. Extend your reach by using a longer weapon. Spears are not used outside of boar-hunting now, but let me assure you—if equally skilled, a spear-man can usually defeat a swordsman.” He gave the blade a buff with his sleeve, then put it on the dining table. “Now, what’s an even better weapon than a spear, considering they are scarce now?”
“A halberd?” I tried, well aware it sounded stupid.
He laughed, almost deafening me. “You know the answer because you have used it many times: the humble stick. Or, what one would call a quarterstaff in the olden days. With a solid pole, you can readily subdue most enemies in close combat by poking them in the face or other vulnerable spots. Even better, a man armed with a blade will often underestimate you, increasing your chances of winning.”
He poured himself another cup of the vile, black stuff he called coffee and sniffed it in appreciation. “When I’m done treating myself, we’ll get started on making you a worthy opponent with the fun stuff, lad.”
By the fall of 1799, I felt confident I could handle myself in most situations, should push ever came to shove. Ah, the naivety of youth.
“Come here, Martin. Sit, and we will talk.” Grandfather smacked the slab next to him with his palm. As I walked towards the giant seated there, he eyed the farm he’d left to us with a serious expression. “Some days I miss this place,” he said.
I wondered whether my parents had informed Granddad about the change of plans and he traveled to town to say farewell, or if he was here by chance. I doubted Father would have summoned him, their relationship being what it was. No, I suspected Mother had sent him a letter; he’d always been fond of his daughter-in-law. And here he was, sitting in the garden with a steaming cup of coffee.
He smiled, not unkindly. “Gotten yourself into trouble over a girl, have you?” He scratched his beard and winked, “I seem to recall warning you, lad. Well, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. I remember one time when I…” He broke off and started over. “That’s not why I’m here. Martin, I believe I have taught you some useful skills over the summers. You’re leaving peaceful Norway now and God knows where you will end up. Perhaps you like it so much out there we won’t see you for many years.”
Little did we know his words would prove prophetic.
He shifted to face me without straining his neck and continued. “I’m only a simple soldier, my boy. I have nothing profound to impart on you beyond what’s useful on the battlefield. But in my travels, I have picked up a few bits of wisdom which have helped me return home in one piece.”
He displayed a grimy finger. “One! Assume everything that smells bad will make you ill. Keep cadavers and excrements away from food, drink, and wounds. Field surgeons have told me the smell poisons the air, and it seeps into the body and makes you sick. You can add strong spirits to your victuals to keep healthy, too. Likewise, drink ale or wine instead of water. If you must drink water, boiling it with coffee might help.”
A second finger rose. “Two! A wound, even a small scratch, can kill a grown man if the fevers set in. It’s my experience alcohol’s your friend here, as well. Wash all open lacerations thoroughly with alcohol. Or vinegar.”
“Three! Never turn your back on an enemy, even if he has surrounded or appears incapacitated. I have seen seasoned soldiers killed by enemies they thought dead. If in doubt, give a prone man an extra stab for good measure.”
“Four! Always take care of your boots. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
He gave up counting. “Remember your prayers—who knows; God might listen. Take a glass of decent wine or spirits before bed—it helps the digestion. Avoid the cheap stuff as it will only make for poor sleep. Never drink in excess, as you’ll make an easy target for anyone out to get you.”
“And maybe most important advice of all—never ask a woman’s age. If she looks like 30 but claims to be 25, the latter is correct.” He grinned at his own feeble joke. “Oh, and did I mention alcohol’s good for you?”
“Granddad, I’m only going to Copenhagen. I’m not off to war,” I protested.
The old man got to his feet and gave me a stern look. “War is never far off. Anyway, I believe I hear your Mother calling you. Come here, lad!” He grabbed me in a bearlike hug and squeezed till I felt my eyes about to pop. When he put me down, it was as tenderly as a mother would a child. I thought I saw wetness on his cheeks before he quickly turned and stalked off.
Later, when I asked his whereabouts, Father said he'd taken off without saying goodbye. I wondered if he was angry with me but banished the thought when I discovered the box he had placed on my bed. Inside I found a note which said—‘Take care of yourself, dear boy’; Grandfather’s silver pocket watch; and a brace of fine pistols with accessories.
The pistols I hid at the bottom of my trunk.
The average European thinks of Norway as ‘that backward place, up north’. While there is some truth to this, our coastal cities will feel familiar to most visitors. I use the term city liberally as ours are the size of small towns elsewhere.
Historians believe Germanic tribes followed the retreat of the glaciers thousands of years ago and eventually settled in Norway. Except for a narrow strip along the coastline, the country is unsuited for farming. Most places you’ll find a thin layer of topsoil on top the bedrock, and steep mountainsides.
Unlike the rest of Europe, transport along roads has always been a poor investment, compared to passage by sea. Which is why my Viking ancestors invested considerable energy into developing better ships. The crowning achievement of the era was the iconic longships, which enabled the Norse to form a network of trade routes and colonies over much of the northern hemisphere.
We were always few, limited by what fertile land there was, with small settlements spread out along the coast. Each region ruled by its own chieftain or petty king. It was not until the ninth century a man laid claim to the title King of Norway: Harald Fairhair.
Around that time, the Norse homelands had become overpopulated. As a result, the era of the Vikings erupted on the western theater.
The Swedes traveled east and founded colonies in what is now Russia, then down to Constantinople. The Danes went south and west to fertile Normandy and England. The Norwegians chose the long routes over the oceans north and westwards, ending up in the northern British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, and North America—places as barren as their homeland.
But fortunes wax and wane. Norway is no longer what it was at the height of its glory. Due to the intricacies of royal marriages and alliances, my country found itself subject to a Danish king by 1380. Additionally, the repeated ravages of the Black Death decimated the population. By the 18th century, we had been reduced to an appendage on the fringes of Europe which no one cared much about.
The Draugen III was one of several small, fast cutters that serviced the mail route between Christiania and Copenhagen. Freezing in the raw morning mist, Father and I huddled on the deck waving to Mother, who was making no attempt to hide her tears as we sailed out of her life. Her final words as I was about to ascend the gangway were, “Keep practicing your penmanship, alongside everything else. Start a diary, Martin.” She handed me a thick volume, wrapped in oilskin.
The thought of leaving my beloved mother hit me hard then. In unlike going off with Grandfather, I was now destined for a journey into the scary unknown. Now everything and everyone I loved was torn from me. I desperately wanted things to go back to what they were only two weeks ago.
Father must have had similar feelings because he placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled—the first time since my troubles started. “Things will turn out for the better, boy. This will be a remarkable experience for you and you will learn a lot about business. I’m confident our fortunes are changing now.”
Had I known how they would change, I might have jumped ship and made for shore, there and then. Instead, I grinned and chimed in, “Yes Father. I’m sure it will be a great adventure.”
The wind picked up and dispelled the remaining mist as we sped along southwards towards Denmark and the metropolis of Copenhagen. We soon left the larger fjord of Viken behind and sometime later in the day Father told me we were passing the town of Fredrikshald to port. Further south, our speed increased further, and we flew across the water. Throughout the day I watched the captain and crew handing the small craft with the skill that comes from years of experience.
When evening descended, the few passengers enjoyed a light supper in the captain’s company, then went to bed. The captain knew these waters like the back of his hand, and the next morning I caught my first glimpse of the Danish coast through his telescope. We were well inside Kattegat by now and the Swedish coast could easily be seen off to port.
Hours later, the coastlines on both sides closed in and judging from the captain’s map we were on our final leg to the capital. This narrow stretch of water between Denmark and Sweden is busy with ships—small and large, going north and south. Shortly after he’d pointed out the Swedish naval base of Landskrona to the east, the captain ordered the course set for the south-west. Our heading was now directly toward Copenhagen, and a little later I saw the afternoon sun bathe the bulwarks of our destination in a warm glow.
The first part of my ultimately long journey was over.