3rd Rail Press_Kujira’s Lament Chapter Six_26Jan2020

Kujira’s Lament©
An Original Work of Fiction
By David G. Yurth

Draft: Nov. 18, 2012
© 2012 David G. Yurth
All Rights Reserved
Holladay, Utah USA


Maddy landed in Sküvoy on the evening of the 5th day. Jean-Louis had bombarded her with information via email and Skype and Drop Box for four long days. As each new piece came in, she searched for clues. She waited until day 5 for two reasons – she couldn’t find an unobtrusive way onto the island until the mob scene had cleared, and she wanted to see how the other media outlets were going to spin the story.

She had called ahead to make an appointment with Marten Sonnerstrom, the Mayor of the village. She had watched his interview with Derek Forest a dozen times, slicing and dicing it in every imaginable way. She was convinced he was hiding nothing. She was also firmly of the opinion that he somehow held the key to unraveling the case.

She stepped off the chartered boat and onto the stone pier that jutted out into the bay from the side of the boat ramp. There were no logs or wooden piers or pilings sunk into the sea. The residents of Sküvoy had learned long ago that the only material strong enough to withstand the pounding of the sea was stone. It explained a lot about the way the people in the village had become.

She walked up the short incline to the top of the village center. She recognized the white clapboard church with the bright red roof, the bakery and public house that sat nestled into the corner abutting each other. She noticed the piles of refuse that still accumulated against the walls and in the corners between each of the buildings. A few people were out in the town, but here and there dogs could be heard barking. Only six boats remained in the bay. That meant that the fleet was back on the water, doing what they had always done. The sea breeze was a little cold, picking up moisture from the sea under a leaden sky, blowing upwards onto the land ahead of a storm that could be seen brewing far off across the horizon. Her hair had already begun to frizz as the barometric pressure began to drop.

She walked around the town for awhile, dialing it in, smelling the odors, feeling the energy and mood of the place. In the back of the church yard she found several head stones that had been knocked down during the media melee. Someone had sat on an ancient headstone dates 1624 – 1679, bearing the name Sonnerstrom in carefully tooled capital letters. Nicotine stains were clearly visible on the edge where more than one cigarette had been allowed to burn down to the filter. Several dark black circles defiled the top of the stone where butts had been crushed. The butts were still lying in the salt grass next to it.

She was standing at the edge of the town, looking out over the sea, watching the storm gather, when Marten hobbled across the square to meet her. He was a giant of a man, a reincarnation of the giant men who first found and conquered this island more than a millennium ago. The wind contorted his silver white hair into a storm of its own, wild and free and unbounded as the sea. She could see him there a thousand years ago, sword in hand, ready to subdue all who crossed his path.

“Ms. Fournier?” he asked gently, extending his hand.

She looked into his eyes and knew this was going to be a very special conversation. The man had something to say. “Yes,” she said, extending her hand to make a bond of peace.

His eyes took her in an instant. She could feel the keenness of his intellect but nothing of lust or desire. She immediately felt safe with the man, sensing as some women can that there was no aggression in him. He led her into the house and invited her to join him in a comfortable tufted easy chair that had been carefully placed before the fire. No one else was in the place. For now, they were all working, getting ready for the storm and cold harsh night that was certain to follow.

He poured steaming hot tea from an ancient clay pot with runic symbols raised in bass relief on its side. The glaze was as vivid and bright as the day it had been fired, white and red against the nearly black satin of the stoneware. She wondered aloud how old it was.

“Maybe 400 years,” Marten said. “I have some of the original cups that were made with it, but I never use them anymore.”

They drank their tea in silence, gazing into the fire, letting the time ripen at its own pace. When her cup was empty, she placed it on the table and looked directly at him. As she turned to face him, she sat back in the chair, crossed her legs and put her hands together in her lap.

“So, Marten, what do you make of all this?”

He looked at her with the hint of a smile and said nothing for a moment. “Someone doesn’t like the fact that we harvest pilot whales from the sea,” he said eventually. “They took our people from their homes and harvested them in a ritualistic way. Don’t know who did it. Don’t know how they did it. But some time in the middle of the night they put us all to sleep so they could do what they had come to do. The people they picked had all been in the grind two days before. Even the kids. They knew who they wanted. Bjorn, the grind-master. His son. Two girls. Twelve women and four men.”

She could see his face. The firelight danced on his eyes and played charades with his craggy face. He was coming to life again. The Viking was coming back to life. She said nothing, listening intensely while he gathered his thoughts.

“The marks on their bellies, where their guts are. The mark on the back of the neck, where we drive the blade in. The way their bodies were arranged. The fact that they were left naked and bound. That is a message.”

He turned his eyes from the fire and looked her full in the face. “Don’t kill the whales. That’s the message. If you kill the whales, we will kill you. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. We can kill you any time we wish. You can’t stop us because you can’t see us. We are powerful beyond your imagination. We can isolate you just like you isolate a pod. We can drag you up on the land and slaughter you. Your life means nothing. Your life simply doesn’t matter.”

“But your life obviously does matter,” she offered quietly. Not staring him down but focusing on the base of this throat, where the knot of his tie intersected the collar of his shirt. “Whoever did this didn’t kill you. In fact, unless I miss my guess someone went to extraordinary lengths NOT to kill you.”

He nodded slowly in assent. “But they could have. Next time they might.”

“So, Marten, what will you do now?”

“One day we will find them. Until then we will continue to live as we have always lived for a thousand years.”

“Forgive me for asking, but how can you do that? Knowing what you know, knowing that this could happen again with far more serious consequences, how can you take that risk?”

“What choice do we have? We can’t stop living. The sea provides everything we need to survive. It always has.” He paused, rubbed his gnarled hands together in front of the fire, then sat back into his chair.

“Look, there are people who hate us because we harvest and eat whales. We know all about that. But the fact of the matter is that they have become so disconnected from what they eat that they have forgotten how hamburgers become hamburgers, haven’t they?”

It wasn’t a question. She knew that.

“Hardly anyone in America kills their own meat anymore. Europe either, except maybe for the Balkans. Chickens, maybe but not very often, and certainly not pigs and cattle. Kids in America and most of Europe don’t even know where milk and cheese and butter come from, for heaven’s sake. When they see us killing whales, they get all worked up because the confrontation is up close and personal. We have to wade into the water to get to them. We have to be in the same water they die in when it is tainted red with their blood. They can’t handle the savagery and brutality of it. But they don’t get it. They don’t understand that we are doing the same damned thing with whales that they do with beef and pigs and chickens. The only difference is that they don’t have to get blood on their hands. They are absolutely the same as we are but they have lost contact with what they eat.”

Maddy took the leap she had been contemplating, organizing, assessing for four days. “Marten, who would claim that the life of a person is worth no more and no less than the life of a whale?”

He looked at her. This was not a question he had considered, so he thought about it. After a moment he offered a conjecture.

“Well, maybe someone who thinks about whales the same way we think about each other. World wars have been started for less.”

She considered this for a moment, then decided to go ahead. “Isn’t this about more than just predation for survival?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“For all the hundreds and thousands of years people have been living by harvesting fish and whales from the sea, until recently the ocean was clean. At least not contaminated. Right?” She looked at him to make sure he was with her. He was a long way up the road.

“It’s true,” he said without the slightest inkling of defense. “Today it is no longer true. The sea has been polluted to such an extent that we are warned not to eat tuna and dolphins and whales any more.”

“What do you think about that? Does it change anything for you?”

“It’s a real problem for us. We have only two choices, as I see it. If we stop eating deep sea fishes and whales we will starve. Our way of life will collapse and our culture will end. If we eat contaminated fish we will be poisoned to death. Starvation is not a useful option. I don’t think anyone can choose to starve an entire culture by simply not eating.”

The door to the house opened and several seamen walked in. They saw her there with Marten and waved. They made friendly greetings and Marten turned in his chair to face them.

“Help yourselves, boys. You know where the handles are.”

They smiled and made themselves at home behind the bar. Marten turned back so he could look at her, crossed his legs, winced, and put his long leg out to stretch.

“You alright?” she asked.

“Oh, sure. Just this hip. It acts up if I sit too long.”

“We can take a walk if you’d like…”

He looked out through the window and saw that it was getting dark. The wind blew against the side of the house loud enough to be heard. “Probably not a good idea,” he offered. After a pause, he spoke to her again. His voice did not become quiet just because others were in the room. In a small town everyone hears everything eventually anyway.

“Do you think maybe that’s the point of all this?” he asked. “You think maybe the people who did this think we are killing these animals for sport or something, even though we can’t eat them?”

“It’s a thought.”

“But we do eat them. Nothing goes to waste. Not a scrap. Just like cows and horses and pigs in Europe and America. We make use of everything.”

“Let’s put ourselves in that frame of mind,” she said, looking into the fire. “If we were certain that other people were killing as many whales and dolphins as they could, for no other reason than because no one could stop them, how would we react?”

“If we needed those animals to survive, in the same way the American Indians needed the bison, we would have no choice but to stop them.”

The fire crackled and popped a cinder out onto the stone hearth.

“But no one else needs to eat the pilot whales to survive. You kill them and make use of them. You don’t go hunting for them like 19th century whalers used to. You let them come to you and harvest them as they come.”

He lolled his massive head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. “It took some doing, didn’t it? Someone worked very hard to make this happen with total precision.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, they did.”

“Maybe if we could understand why, we could figure out who they are…”

She reached out and touched the back of his hand. “All right, then,” she said. “Let’s do that.”