Another tale from my good friend, Stanislas Delafield
The tepid sea slowly rose and fell as I left my sword in the foc’sle and went up to the crow’s nest for a breath of air and some slight relief from the heat.
“Greetings M’Lord!” That’s John, my captain. “Tis awfully hot to be climbing about the masts. You should be saving your strength for battle.”
“Aye friend John you’re right.” I shake my head and gesture west. “… But this damned stillness befouling us has me at wit’s end. Look! Just over there! My kingdom is within site! Ha! If not for that I’d be swimming back by now.”
“Aye M’Lord, I know what you mean.” He glanced up towards the sun. “It’s after mass. My mate will be up as soon as he confesses his sins. My Lord…?” He hesitates.
“Yes? Out with it man.”
“I’ve got a flagon of mead in my seabag… I’d think it an honor to share a drink with you before we touch land.”
“That sounds good John; go below and get it. With all his sins to account for it may be some time until your relief is ready. I’ll stand your watch for a short time.”
He laughs and climbs down the rigging just as a ghost of cool breeze caresses my cheek. I can see the gray-green line of some English forest on the western horizon and the sun is almost hidden behind a huge black cloud. The cloud grabs my attention, since it promises wind as well as a shower and a welcome relief from the smothering heat and animal smells of our boat.
As I watch, the cloud becomes larger and begins to roll about in a frantic and somewhat frightening way. The air around me grows even more still and, except for the slight breeze and the ship’s slow movement through the now-leaden waters, there is a strange softness and a sense of expectancy about me.
“Rumble…” the muted sound of thunder rolls over me. My eyes rove over the face of the cloud as it obscures the sun and grows highlights of blue-gray. Suddenly a white spiderweb illuminates the interior of the cloud and shows me several almost-human figures within it. I slowly scan the sea and sky until another sharp crack of thunder tells me I should be seeking cover. The crew is moving about the lines, getting ready for the storm. But something about those figures in the cloud makes me hesitate. The black cloud was now over a half of the sky and I can feel the chill of the first real breeze all day.
“Rumble… mutter… ”
That’s funny, I saw no lightning that time.
Again, no flash of light before the noise. Then a brilliant display of fire laces the cloud and I can again see the figures within it. One appears to be grasping the lightning as if twisting it. Spellbound after the flash, I realize I can see them faintly without the heavenly fire… and I see the figure wielding the fire gaze at me and then turn to his companions and…
The largest one now slowly turns to me and I am suddenly aware of who I am confronting.
“Odin?” I barely breathe as Loki looms low on the horizon dragging steel shackles of rain and helping to mold the lightning. I’m almost looking straight up now as the cloud covers most of the sky. I see a smile and hear an answering rumble of assent. Stunned, but somehow not scared, I watch the friendly giants grow around me, listen to their rumbling jokes and I admire Thor’s skill with the lightning.
The cold slap of huge raindrops obscures my vision for a moment and I remember John climbing the rigging below me. I call to him.
“John! Good John, climb quickly, come look!”
He wraps his arm about a line and leans back to look up.
“What is it Sire? What do you see?
“Don’t you see them man?” I’m pointing vaguely over my head.
“See what M’Lord… oh, you mean that cloud?”
“Yes, yes, of course! The Gods, aren’t they fantastic?”
He looks up and around and… after a moment, crosses himself. “God damn M’Lord but that is one hell of a thunderhead isn’t it?”
I sit there stunned at his irreverent words… and then I start to laugh as I realize my own privilege and good fortune.
I slap him on the back. “You are right my friend. It is one hell of a thunderhead.”
He hands me the flagon. I raise it in salute. “To victory!” Thunder answers me. I allow a few drops of sweetness to pass over my lips then hand it back and climb down.
Laughing and grinning I head towards the shelter of the fo’csle just as one of Loki’s shackles drags a wall of cold rain over us. The captain is ordering the crew to make ready for landfall as the wind pushes us on to England, but all I hear between the thunder and lightning is the Christian priest blessing our efforts and the muted rumble of my ancestors in the clouds; fading away as I prepare for battle.
This basis for this tale was written while I was serving with the US Navy off the coast of Vietnam in 1969. It was found while going through some souvenirs a while back. I hope you enjoyed it.