Sedna - or Walrus Ivory
A Greenland beach - wind scoured, stony and crusted with the leavings of winter’s ice. Turf-roofed huts of dark red stone lean against a limb of land, their smoke blowing amongst screaming sea birds.
Night after night, Sedna has been restless under the heaving sea; her hair coiled, caught and tangled over rocks and floes. Each daybreak has been too rough for the Norsemen’s boats; though some of the townsfolk glimpse a Skraeling* kayak, far out to sea, skimming the white caps– as if pushed by spirits - and glimpsing it, cross themselves in fear.
This morning, as every morning, Thjodhild, worked-to-the-bone, dowerless daughter of a drunkard, her woollen clothes threadbare, has prayed hard, soul-sapped, among quiet pews of whalebone and Norwegian pine; while outside, the sea birds wheeled above Brattahlid. But the God of men has not answered her.
So she has left her father snoring on the floor where he tumbled last night and she has come to the sea, where perhaps Sedna, flippered fingerless sea-goddess of the Skraelings, who gives and takes all and was herself twice betrayed by men, will hear her prayer.
Thjodhild has brought a gift: all she has of her dead mother and the only precious thing he has not yet bartered away. It is an ivory comb with a few teeth broken. She knows a place where things disappear, never to be seen again - and where else must they go but to the bottom of the sea?
With the surge in her ears, she climbs over slippery bladder wrack, upwards to the lip of a vast rocky goblet containing a maelstrom of tidal swirl. Buffeted by the immensity of sky and rock and wave, she feels how strong the wind moans here. Then, just as she holds the comb over the void, the rock seems to slide away, the sky slips-turns and she is falling. She knows she will freeze before she drowns. She plunges into an ice green world, sinking fast. And far below there is pain: someone weeps in a world of waving fronds of tangled hair.
Thjodhild sinks and settles slowly.
Then full of pity, takes her mother’s ivory comb and gently combs the seaweed hair while hours, days, years seem to pass. Until… the last knot is freed, the weeping ceases and she is suddenly released, moving upwards fast towards light, wondering whether she will see her mother in heaven at long last…
...and breaks the surface in a shout.
She floats through kind waters, into a cave mouth where a boat rests, gently wave-washed, on sand. The cave is dark; yet something gleams. A white mountain of piled ivory – smooth curved walrus tusks, some tall as a man. Riches of the sea, to be carved into precious things. Ivory worth enough when sold, to build a palace or buy a fleet of ships to sail her safely to the other side of the vast ocean – far away from the small hut, the drunken father and the icy wind-scraped land.
A dowry for a princess. Sedna’s gift.
* skraeling = Inuit
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