The theme of this story was “leap”, to coincide with the leap year.
Note: Black birds was what the Vikings called guillemots.
I’m paralysed with terror. I can’t go on.
“Forget your fear, Bjarne,” Thorvald calls over the roar of the sea. “It’s bad luck you lost the draw, but we need food.”
Thorvald, Harald and Rolf are grasping the rope which is all that holds me back from a lethal fall. It’s brand new and staked to the ground, but it still feels horribly flimsy as I hang over the edge of the cliff, the breakers pounding far beneath me. My head spins like a whirlpool as my sense of balance and direction becomes meaningless.
Thorvald’s right; a raiding party’s got to eat. But there must be hares or deer to hunt round here. Why risk all this just to gather eggs?
“I’m going to give you some more slack, Bjarne,” Thorvald shouts. “Watch your feet.”
I feel a renewed surge of dread as I am eased over the precipice. My sandals slither around on the slick rock. A gust of wind buffets me from the left, but my feet are widely spaced and I don’t stumble.
The leaden sky soon fills my vision as down starts to become backwards. Thorvald and the team mercilessly let out ever more rope. There’s no going back. I’m going to have to accept the inevitable.
With a supreme act of willpower I force my knees to bend, then… I leap.
Thorvald and the others are caught off guard by my boldness and forget to hold tight to the rope. I lurch downwards. For a heartbeat, it feels like I’ve made a fatal misjudgement. But then the team takes the strain once more and I wince as the rope jerks me to a stop.
“Bjarne, you mead brain!” roars Thorvald from above. “Don’t catch us by surprise like that!”
Chuckling in spite of myself, I tug the rope twice to tell him, `let out some more’. He does, and as I start to pace my way down the cliff, a funny sense of calm overcomes me. Now that I have leapt from the edge and am against the cliff face, moving down it is really just walking backwards. The winds still howl around me and the waves still boom against the cliff, but it’s good to feel that bit more in control.
About fifteen metres down, I reach the black birds’ nests. They wheel around me, crying shrilly, ready to defend their nests. The chill air is now biting into me, numbing my fingers. I’ll have to work fast.
I snatch the first two eggs easily, since they are exposed and the mother bird slow. They and three more go into my basket. But soon the black birds are wise to me. One spears me with its bill so hard it draws blood. Manoeuvring eggs out of the nooks and crannies also becomes harder as my fingers grown numb.
Twenty eggs is as much as I dare gather. The chill is too much to bear. My hands are bruised and raw. I pull on the rope three times; the signal for ‘pull me up’. I use my feet to guide me as I go, walking forwards this time. When I’m over the edge, my knees buckle and I throw myself onto the grass.
“Nice work, Bjarne!” Thorvald beams, when he sees my basket.
The eggs were delicious once they were boiled. That night, I became the raiding party’s hero of the hour and got the best place by the fire. All the same, I’m quite sure that I’ll have much easier meals in my lifetime.