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~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~

 

Njord's Doughnut

Dave worked with boats, putting in engines and self-righting systems, as well as taking the new boats to sea trials
to test the thousand modifications that each Navy, Coast Guard, and police department seemed compelled to add.
While he was close to a work-a-holic, he still found time for his second wife and child (a lesson learned from losing the first wife).
Sitting at the kitchen table at dinner, his daughter Alexis asked him about Njord.

"Is this some of your mom's witchy stuff?", Dave asked with his trademark tact. While his wife was a practicing pagan,
Dave was more of a pragmatist, believing half of what he saw, little of what he was told, and trusting only what he'd proven would work for him.
Alexis rolled her eyes at her father’s bluntness, and replied with the patience of a person addressing a new and not particularly bright puppy,
or a woman talking to a man:
"No, dad, this is school stuff. You remember the whole cultural heritage project?"

Since Dave had totally forgotten, but had little doubt he'd been told, probably a few times, he nodded sagely and dragged up what he remembered.
His family had been at sea for centuries, sometimes with the Navy, sometimes running rum to the States during prohibition, even whaling in the North.
While he was not superstitious, the men who went down to the sea in fragile wooden ships, where wind and wave determined if you reached home alive,
even in peacetime, often were, and the tales caught his interest when he was a child.

"Right, Njord. He was the chief of the Vanir, the god of the sea."
Alexis looked confused, and countered, "I thought that was Ran."
Dave nodded and repeated, "Because the sea is a lady, and the lady's a bitch."
Something his father had always repeated. Seeing his wife's glare at his language, he decided to push on before she could chime in.
"Ran was the dark face of the sea, the deep depths, the sudden storm, the wrathful sea.
She casts her nets for men and ships, and dragged them down. No one really wanted her attention."
He thought some more and then continued.

"Njord was different. Njord cared. Njord was the god not only of the sea, but of trade. Njord brought prosperity through hard work and daring.
You called to Njord if you made your living on the sea, for the wrong wind could shear your sails, shiver your mast, the wrong waves could swamp you,
or drive you far off course just to not get smashed. You called on Njord for fish luck, for whale luck, for wind luck and gentle waves.
I think the waves were his daughters," Dave paused, thinking about it.
"Although I think he married a mountain goddess or something, so I don't know how that worked.
In the days when you had no compass or GPS, no radar or depth sounder, no electronic charts, no radio, no self-righting systems or dry-suits,
the sea used to kill a lot of people. There is a reason sailors used to sacrifice to Njord before and after every trip. Out there, sometimes you survived
on luck, and a little at the right time could save your life. Now we don't have to worry about that, we have better ships, and if you get in trouble,
you can always call the Coast Guard.”

Alexis thought about it for a while, and then asked her father:
“Aren’t you doing a sea trial tomorrow? Shouldn’t you give an offering to Njord for luck?”
Dave chuckled, shaking his head.
“That’s your mother’s thing. Besides, I’m not doing a sea trial, I’m just towing the new Japanese cabin boat out for a self-righting test.
We’ll sink her, use the airbag to flip her back up, and tow her back to shore without breaking a sweat.”
He smiled complacently, they had done it a hundred times, it really was no big deal.
Alexis and his wife shared a look, but Dave missed it as he headed to the den to catch the hockey game.

Saturday dawned without much promise. The good weather that had held for mid-December seemed to be fleeing, and cold, grey, nastiness
was sweeping in on cold winds from the north. Dave put on his dry suit while listening to Troy complain about the upcoming test.
“I dunno Dave,” Troy said seriously “The cabin on this thing is huge, it’s like twice as deep as the keel. When this thing goes over, it’s like an iceberg.
Plus all the electronics are on top of the cabin, where you really don’t want the weight.”
Dave nodded, all this was true. The customer had made so many changes to the specs that this was almost a new boat. What really bugged him
was the changes to the rope-guard where they mounted the self- righting airbag. The cylinder was over-pressure for North American regulations,
but legal in Japan, and the airbag had been mounted on a bolt on flange, rather than directly on the rope guard like they usually did.
The engineer swore it would work. Of course, the engineer wasn’t towing it out to sea and sinking it to find out. That was Dave’s job.

The Japanese boat was the dark orange of a rotting pumpkin, about as unattractive as you could make it. It sliced cleanly through the water
as it was towed behind the predatory low sea-green hull of the Canadian Navy standard test boat. It was time to go play on the water
before the weather hit. The radar was painting a storm front about an hour out, and the radio was broadcasting a small craft advisory.
Not a problem, he was riding the Navy’s version of the Coast Guard rescue boat, with better electronics and much better engines.
Who needs luck, when you’ve got technology!

When they got into the Straits of Georgia, the seas were running about two meters, making the boats cant back and forth like a fun-house
while Troy rigged the guide lines on the test boat; lines to help the boat flip back if the airbag failed. Dave opened his lunch kit to take out
the sandwich he had packed for himself, and to pour some hot coffee. He looked down in surprise to see a green/blue covered jelly filled doughnut
wrapped in wax paper with a tag on it that read:

NJORD'S DOUGHNUT. FOR LUCK ON THE TEST.

Dave was still shaking his head when Troy came over to see what he was laughing at, and Dave had to explain about Njord, and the sacrifice before
voyages. Troy wasn’t as quick to dismiss it.
“I dunno man, I don’t go on these tests without my lucky rabbit's foot. I mean, sure, we build these things like race-cars,
but between our customers and engineers, I’m surprised they haven’t forgotten to put a bottom on one yet.”

It was true there, had been a whole lot of changes in this boat, and sometimes Dave didn’t think anyone had really taken a look at the whole thing
since they started changing the different bits of it. He still didn’t believe in luck. Taking a big bite of Njords doughnut, he told Troy,
“You don’t see a lot of rabbits at sea, Troy. Lucky rabbits don’t end up chopped up for key-chains, and we have a boat to sink,
so enough about luck, and go sink me an ugly pumpkin.”

Dave watched the approaching squall line, and determined that they had better finish the test, and get back to shore. With waves looking to crest
five meters at the storm’s edge, it was no sea to be towing a boat in. He turned to watch the ugly pumpkin Japanese boat turn turtle, and settle keel up
in the heavy seas. With a sigh, he put down the last half of Njord’s doughnut and pushed the airbag remote to self-right the test boat.
That is when lessons on sea luck began.

The seas were definitely getting higher, and that probably spelled the doom of a system that had one too many modifications already.
The ship was sliding broadside down a wave trough when the airbag deployed. Designed to fire just off centre to start the ship tipping,
the airbag actually countered the tilt of the wave, letting the bag inflate directly under the boat, catching the full sideways force of the angry sea
against its sail like bulk. The overpressure cylinder overcame the firing head that was supposed to control the airbags inflation speed.
Instead of exploding like a wave that would toss the boat back upright, it exploded like a depth charge that punched it momentarily out of the water,
before crashing back, the bolted flange tore off the frame on the cabin top, and the great airbag was left dragging behind the cabin like a pontoon,
simultaneously trapping the boat on its back, and making a great sea anchor with its parachute-like drag.

“Fudge puppets,” Dave cursed, using the child friendly version of cursing he'd had to develop when he had children. The line that Troy had worked
around the frame to help tip the boat back manually was snared in the self-righting bag itself. He would have to try to tow the whole ungainly mass
back to shore, or cut his losses, and the tow rope, to leave the boat to the storm, and write off months of work and the better part of half a year’s profits.

Bringing the massive engines online, his transom was pulled low in the water as the lean predatory boat strained to pull its damaged partner
from the storm-tossed seas. It was like watching a porpoise trying to tow a sideways grey whale. The big cabin boat and its pontoon-like airbag
turned broadside in the following seas and wallowed like a drowning pig, mocking the efforts of the big engines to power her to shore.
Dave looked at the approaching squall line on the radar, and the distance to port, and didn’t like his odds much.

“So much for my rabbit’s foot” said Troy. “It’s going to take a whole lot of luck to get out of this one without calling mama for help,” he said,
pointing to the Coast Guard radio on the console. Dave frowned, because if he declared an emergency with a tow, they would tell him to drop a buoy
and cut the line. That was the smart thing to do. Maybe it was time for something crazy instead.

Looking seriously at the half doughnut, and its sign to Njord, he considered. Troy followed his gaze to the doughnut, and began nodding.
“Do it man, I don’t feel like swimming today.“
Dave picked up his doughnut and went to the railing. Holding the rope lines on the side tube he spoke matter-of-factly to the heaving seas.

“Njord, first of the Vanir, luck bringer, sea lord, we who ride the sea roads offer you this doughnut in return for your gifts of sea luck,
for the shelter of your fair daughters the bright waves, that we may see our home ports again.”
Dave was somehow unsurprised when he threw the sea-green doughnut out to sea, only to have a rogue wave rise and snap it from the air
like a Major League mid fielder catching a line drive. Troy was watching wide eyed and thoughtful as Dave crossed the deck to grab hold of the wheel.

When Troy began shouting, Dave looked back to see two converging waves closing on their wallowing charge, easily as high as their radar mast.
Dave spun the wheel hard and rammed the throttles home to see if he could ride out their force. Considering the dead weight they were still towing
behind them, he didn’t figure it would work, but the sea doesn’t forgive people who don’t do the little things right, so even as the waves closed
he pulled the boat around to run before them.

When the waves hit the Japanese boat, it rolled like the Titanic in reverse. The force of the wave snapped to tow line tight, halting the boat keel down,
but wallowing with a hold full of water. Once upright, the sensors in the self-righting bag emptied the airbag, letting it deflate as so much cloth to drag behind the boat.

The two waves folded around the lead boat like the closing palm of a giant jade hand, lifting them gently, then pushing them forward with soft authority.
As the lead boat heaved forward, the water slammed to the back of the empty Japanese boat, and pushed out its scuppers, allowing it to rise higher
in the water, and letting both boats start to pick up speed. As they began to move faster, the bow came up on both boats, and water streamed from the
scuppers of the Japanese boat until it was cutting through the waves like a ship, not a wallowing hog.

Troy came up with a grin, and looked Dave in the eye and said, only partly joking:
“Looks like you owe somebody a half doughnut, dude!”
Dave nodded slowly and replied, “Looks like I owe somebody a whole new bloody doughnut.”

Once the two boats were stowed on their trailers, and they had pulled their trucks up to the marina for a warmup coffee, the two men wandered over
to the doughnut stand. The two men exchanged glances. There were two sprinkled, jelly filled doughnuts. Surrounded by the garish decorations of December,
these two were the same horrible pumpkin shade of their problem boat. Dave pointed to one, while Troy silently indicated the other. Without a word, they
strode out from the marina and onto the dock. Reaching the end, they paused to look at the windswept winter sea.
Dave looked out at the crashing waves and shuddered to think how today might have gone, if the waves hadn’t slapped their test boat upright.

“Njord, my daughter was right, I owed you a doughnut. We needed your sea luck, and the help of your wave-daughters to get back.
Take this doughnut and my thanks.”

Troy, being less familiar with pagan rituals, just tossed his out as well, saying simply: “Cheers, man!”

As they walked back towards their trucks, Troy tossed his rabbit foot in the garbage.
Turning to Dave, he shouted:
“Next time, Njord gets his doughnuts on the way out, right?”
“Damned straight!”, Dave shouted back.
Sure he wasn’t superstitious, but it was good to have friends you could count on at sea.
Nodding one last time to Njord, he turned his truck away from the sea and back to work.
It was about being practical.

For Stephanie Robbins, a good Njordswoman.

© John T Mainer, March 08 2007  

This work by John T Mainer is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.

The Freyr's Press of the Heathen Freehold Society of BC:
Kindertales and Kindertales 2 by John T Mainer et al..

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