This poem came out of the April 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by technogeekslass. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.
Munólfr the captain, war-forged, battle-broken,
stands at the dragon-carved prow of the Friða --
and who would name a ship full of sea-wolves after peace?
but he knows, he knows that death is the most peaceful valley
after the struggle along life's sharp-stoned slopes.
Zina the warrior, dark-skinned and woolly-haired,
follows him like a nightwalker, guarding his steps --
and who knows the value of freedom better than she
who won it on the blood-quenched point of her spear?
Waljan the navigator, keen-sighted, freckled as a horse,
stands at the stern, rudder in hand, telling tales of dragons --
and who better would know the map-rending monsters
than a Welshman, master of the black waves and what lies beyond?
Oh, he's been through the storm-throat of the sea
and lived to tell those tales by right.
Ipsita the dancing girl from India, sloe-eyed, crimson-lipped,
lies on a bench draped in her shining golden silks --
who would look for the tiny poisoned knife in her jeweled hand?
but the knife is always there, and the long pins in her sable hair,
and the six tongues she speaks and the lands she knows.
Joie the mercenary, traced with fierce scars,
never lets go that crossbow and never undresses --
who can cast blame, looking at that harsh face?
but the rabbit-fur cap of many colors speaks of home
and a mother who remembers what it is
to send a child away to war.
Kensa the carpenter, the woman-smith, red-haired and wild,
keeps her hammer and her saws ever at hand --
who would see in her the quiet daughter of Cornwall
when she runs through the battle's aftermath
looting the ruins for nails and ingots, squealing in glee?
Særða the healer, thane-son though disowned of him,
watches over his sister with eyes that never rest --
and woe to whomever would dare to threaten her,
for does a healer not know the wound-rod's worst resting-place?
Ráðhildr the witch, seiðkona, spae-wife,
laughs in the face of death and dances on bare bloody feet --
who could look in the eyes of madness and yet stay sane?
for she flies with the dark-winged ravens of the Allfather,
drinks from the well of Wyrd; none is wiser or more damned.
Berechiah the monk, soft-voiced and sad-eyed,
sits on his bench and reads the one page of the book
that he managed to save from a burning monastery --
and who would seek for him here amongst the wave-reavers?
not the red-handed abbot who wished for his death
and banished him to the coast where men come a-viking.
They live under the dragon-ship's wing,
broad sweep of her scarlet sail with its need-rune beam --
for who could take this from them, sky-bowl and wave-reach?
They are the sea's own and ship's own,
who guard their charges with savage might.
They do the work of Jörmungandr,
circling the ocean in cold-clutching coils.
They do the work of Ratatoskr,
running messages and insults hither and thither.
They do the work of Fenrir,
biting off the hand that binds and deceives.
Who among them would grub in the earth like thralls?
Better to do a rogue's work and live free.
Foolish are those who would stand against them,
for Munólfr and Zina and Joie are deadly in combat,
savage as the hooves of the war-steed Sleipnir.
Waljan is wicked at the rudder, quick to turn like a snake
and strike off the oars from an enemy ship --
for how could they survive the wind-mad waves
had they not the battle-strength within them?
Neither discount the ones who seem small,
for they too are terrible in their own ways.
Kensa's hammer swings more weight
than most men could manage to lift,
and Ipsita's lightest silk can strangle a foe.
Særða knows herbs for woe as well as weal
and even Berechiah has contacts still
among men who follow the sacrificed god --
who would look for trouble among them?
yet it is there, like a snake beneath a stone.
Any would look upon the warriors
and think they have seen their match,
but no, it is the waif-witch Ráðhildr
who is the most baleful of foes --
does she not but lift her littlest finger
and the enemy ships fall to flinders?
At the sound of her sweet voice rising in song
the waves rise also, the lightning strikes to boil the sea,
and the monsters of the deep reach forth to feed --
for is she not their kith and kin, salt-blooded and shark-toothed,
long-armed as the giant squid that haunts the whale-road?
When the fighting and dying are done,
Ráðhildr walks lightly upon the water
with her willow-slender feet all clean now,
and plucks up the treasure sunken to the depths --
for who could say she has not earned her fair share
with the crimson cut of her death-runes across men's souls?
She is surely the chosen of Hel half-faced
and no living man could stand against her.
They would, if left to their lone,
perhaps be peaceable folk;
but they are not the sort to lie down
and become chattel for the asking --
for who could bind a sea-wolf's jaws,
even with a ribbon of cat-quiet and fish-breath?
They aren't coming back to the lands they left,
and those who would look for them will look in vain.
Turn, turn the dragon's nose to the bleeding sun
and sail into the west where the waves run gold --
oh, who could ask for more than this,
a good ship and friends as good as kin,
and the steel to keep them safe from baying fate?
Give over the map and the book, go where the wind goes,
and spin new tales from the wool-gathering clouds.
* * *
Friða means "to pacify."
A thane is a nobleman.
Wound-rod is a kenning for "sword."
A seiðkona is a woman who works seiðr, a type of sorcery.
A spae-wife is a seer.
The ravens of Odin Allfather are Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory).
The Well of Wyrd lies at the root of the world-tree and grants visionary powers.
Read about the Vikings, ancient sea-faring raiders.
The need-rune is Nauthiz, whose shape suggests the upright mast and slanted beam supporting the sail of a dragon-ship.
Jormungandr is a vast serpent encircling the world.
Ratatoskr the squirrel carries messages up and down the world-tree.
Fenrir is a giant wolf.
A thrall is a serf, an unfree servant.
Sleipnir is Odin's eight-legged horse.
Whale-road is a kenning for the sea.
Hel is the goddess of the underworld, half beautiful woman, half rotting corpse.
Gleipnir is the magical ribbon used to bind Fenris.