Stand at the shoreline. Curl your toes into damp sand, dip your fingers in the water, feel cold rush over your skin. Listen to the rumble, the roar and the hiss. Taste the air in your mouth. What colour is the sea, would you say?
Once upon a time the sea was a pale thing, clear as water in a glass. It was sweet, too, and good to drink. The ancient Viking sea-kings could sail for months—so long as they had cured fish and dry bread and barley for porridge—because there was plenty of water to drink.
The sea-king known as Mysing was a trader and a warrior, with grey eyes and the nose of hawk. Many said he had the mind of a hawk, too: sharp, opportunistic, and sometimes cruel. Mysing and his men invaded the lands of King Frodi, drawn there by a low rumble of song. A melody of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation.
Upon Frodi’s inevitable death, Mysing discovered a mill and, chained to the wooden beam that moved the huge millstone, two giantesses with ugly red marks under the iron cuffs that circled their wrists. The muscles on their arms and legs were sharply defined from the unrelenting work of pushing the heavy stone.
They were dressed in blue rags, and it was this which first caught Mysing’s attention. These days, of course, blue dye is no great thing, but then it was rare and valuable, something only the wealthiest would have, so Mysing knew the enslaved women were important. He wondered if he could gain some advantage with the giants’ clan.
And then he learned that the mill was bewitched, and would grind anything one desired so long as the stone could be made to move, and his grey eyes glittered with greed.
Mysing poured a smile onto his face and spoke kindly to the giantesses, whose names were Fenja and Menja, promising freedom and safe passage if they would join him on his boat. They were so relieved to be free they did not ask questions when Mysing broke their chains but left the cuffs on their wrists.
Fenja and Menja walked willingly onto Mysing’s boat and drank the cups of spiced wine they were given. Exhausted from many weeks of hard labour, they slept.
When they woke, they found the millstone had also been transported, and their chains had been repaired.
They roared, then, so loud it might have been thunder, and pulled at their bonds, but it was no use. Mysing laughed and bade them grind salt which then, you understand, was more valuable than gold, for one cannot preserve food with gold.
When they refused he had his men turn their longbows on Menja alone, telling Frenja that he would kill her companion and leave her to live. Mysing recognised love when he saw it and, if you’ll recall, his mind was sharp and opportunistic and, sometimes, cruel.
The giantesses turned their dark eyes to each other and an unspoken word passed between them. They began to push, and Mysing smiled as salt started to pour from the millstone. They moved faster and he laughed, imagining his retirement as a wealthy man.
Then, in little more than a few breaths, the salt began to fill every space on the boat. His laughter died. With the millstone and the giantesses, the boat already sat low in the water, and now the weight of the salt pulled it lower.
Menja and Frenja began to sing a song of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation, and Mysing’s eyes turned to horror as he realised it was the same song which had led him to destroy King Frodi.
Fingers of white lightening caressed the sky, the wind screamed, and waves of icy water breached the sides of the boat. They say the giantesses clasped their hands together and stared into each other’s eyes as the boat, its crew, the mill, and all the salt sank beneath the churning sea surface.
So, what colour is the sea, child? They say that on a still day it is blue, stained forever by the dye that seeped into the water from Menja and Frenja’s ragged clothes. While on a stormy day it is grey-dark, to remind us of the folly of a cruel, greedy man with grey eyes.
Now touch your finger to your tongue, child and tell me.
Do you taste salt?
This is a retelling of a Norse story/poem called “Gróttasöngr” (The Mill’s Songs) with a few extra twists of my own. The character names, however, are unchanged.