The Last Ship

The Last Ship
by Deb Houdek Rule

“The Last Ship” is based on the unknown fate of the Norse Viking colony in Greenland. Before the year 1000 A.D. Erik the Red, father of Leif Erikson, the discoverer of America, was forced away from Iceland as an outlaw so colonized Greenland. In an early marketing effort he named it Greenland to attract settlers. For a time the colony thrived, but as the climate cooled toward the middle of the millennium, and the Viking exploration and settlement era ended, contact with the colony ceased. By the time a ship sailed again from Europe to learn the fate of the Greenland Norse, none remained alive. Their exact fate remains speculative. This story is science fiction. ©1996 D. A Houdek (Deb Houdek Rule)

In 1410 the last ship sailed away from the Norse colony in Greenland.  With the mini-ice age deepening, the colony struggled on, alone and forgotten.  By the sixteenth century none of them remained alive.

This was a night for marvels, Asgrid decided as she stared up at the crystalline sky.  This was a night for magic, the glittering stars whispered to her.  Magic danced among the stars, rebounded from the cool planets, brushed against the crescent moon to reach teasingly down to earth, to surround Asgrid.  As she lay on the soft turf she felt the magic swirl through the rocks surrounding her meadow.  Then it reached skyward again, dancing again amongst the stars and planets as the vaporous streamers of an aurora.  Asgrid smiled.  Wonders would indeed abound tonight.

Around her the sheep were woolly shadows against the brilliant sky.  The work of guarding the flock here in Greenland was easy.  No wolves prowled as the old ones said they had in Norway.  Here were only a few foxes, too small to do harm to all but newborn lambs.  Of thieves she felt little fear.  The chieftain of her household, her great-uncle Skuli, was well respected, and as well feared.  Any who might harm his holdings knew well the vengeance the scarred old Viking would wreak upon them.  Or so all pretended to believe.  Asgrid knew he’d never left these ice-bound shores, never gone viking other than in dream-tales from the old sagas.  Like as not Uncle Skuli could scarce raise his arthritic arms to wield a sword.  Yet the old man did tower over his kindred.  Rusty though his sword may be, Uncle Skuli was the better in any match against the younger Norsemen of Greenland.

Contemplation of the bleak decline of her people brought a sigh to Asgrid’s lips.  They needed to be part of the world again.  If only a ship would come to the Norsemen here at the end of the world.

Dismissing all thoughts but the marvels of this night awaiting her, Asgrid listened to the sheep.  Low and rhythmic, the sound of their breathing melded with the chewing of cuds into a sighing incantation.  Imagining she heard in their sounds the haunting melody of a conjuring song, Asgrid began to sing the ancient words of summoning.  Only here in the high meadows, away from the dour Christians, did she dare sing the old sorcerers’ songs.  She’d been taught them as a girl by the crone of Stokkaness — before they drowned her.

Still, what she knew of the old religion, of Thor and Odin and Freya, and of the blood sacrifices they demanded, made her believe the Christian faith was a better one for the people to follow.  At least it offered hope for eternity instead of the cold certainty that one day all mankind, and even the gods, would die in the endless winter of Ragnarok.

Overhead the stars twinkled in the blackness, battling the shifting colors of the aurora for their place in Asgrid’s sky.  The planets, not deigning to twinkle, rested in their ever-shifting places amidst the never-changing stars.  As her clear voice chimed the crescendo to the conjuring song a white streak crossed the sky.  Asgrid paused in her song.  The magic was strong this night, strong enough to summon a star to earth.

Atmosphere braking was dangerous at the best of times.  With this system’s star suddenly so active, playing havoc with instrumentation, it was foolhardy.  Commander would hear nothing of that, ignoring Second’s advice to swing past, do a hyperbolic around this unremarkable little planet with its pesky, flaring sun, and head on to the next target.  No one on Oldworld would ever know.  Another ship was undoubtedly slated to pass this star system with another ecoforming drop for that warm, wet planet.  Mark the drop for this world at the end of the galaxy as done and get on with the trip.

Read the rest of the story in Season of Marvels: Viking Tales, short story anthology available on