Hero of the Desolate Shore

folktale from Norway

by Joyce Holt




Hero of the Desolate Shore

    At dawn on the seventh day after the shipwreck, Quim clambered once more up the rocky headland. The winter wind blowing in from the North Sea tasted of salt as it combed its cold dry fingers through his hair. He wedged himself into a crevice to rest, poor shelter from the constant stiff breeze. It dried his sweat, chilling him to the marrow.
    Quim shivered as he gazed out to sea. Billows rolled, grey and silver, nothing like the roaring black mountains that had driven the Golfinho Azul so far north. Yearning for sight of white sails, he saw only the froth of sullen waves. A bleak, hopeless view. None but the foolhardy would set to sea during the season of winter storms.
    A smoke tendril spiraled up from the beach. Three sailors crouched there, huddled against the cold, tending their injuries, muttering curses at the ship's owner, safe at home in warm Lisbon.
    Quim braced himself against the cold and set out again. Quim the cabin boy, hero of the deserted island, had prowled the rough coastline until he found a stream to slake his companions' thirst. He'd gathered what little driftwood had lodged on this desolate shore. He'd braved the horrors of the haunted hillsides where hundreds of monster skulls gaped at his feet.
    Fish heads, he had realized after that first terror. Empty eyes. Mummified flesh stretched tight over bone. Lopped clean off at the gills.
    He had kicked his way through the ugly mounds, climbed to the brow of the headland, and found racks of drying codfish, a treasure worth more than gold to the starving men below.
    Now Quim again surmounted that last stretch, then halted in astonish-ment. Around the fish racks moved figures, men dressed in coats and cloaks and felt caps.
    Quim whooped and ran to meet the strangers. They were tall and fair-haired, their eyes as icy blue as the sky. Quim babbled greetings, questions, pleas for help until his breath ran out.
    They stood about, staring down at him, silent as stone. Then one spoke, words as sharp as the gravel under-foot.
    Quim shook his head. He tried a few words in Spanish, then in French.
    One of the men spoke back in the stilted tones of Normandy. Quim at last had answers. The storm had driven the Golfinho Azul all the way to the Lofoten Islands off the northern coast of Noruega, where ever-blowing winds served ideally for drying the winter catch of cod. There was a harbor on the next island to the east.
    Quim explained about his com-panions, and apologized for his theft from the drying racks. "The cod saved our lives," he told the fishermen, and kicked at a fishhead. "They taste much better than they look."
    That fetched a smile from the dour Noruegues.
    Norwegians fetched the stranded Portuguese sailors to their village, and arranged for their passage home in late spring. A decade later, Quim returned with his own ship, bought up all the monster skulls, and began lucrative trade with certain folk in Africa who prized the delicacy of fishhead soup.
   
Based on historical events on the coast of the Lofoten Islands, Norway




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