It was supposed to be a simple excavation. One chaotic storm later, it has become anything but.
Since running was now, like, their thing, they did some more of it. It’s kind of a waste to skulk your way out of a place when you have no idea where you are and no real idea of how to get away from there. They were going to hit man their way out, which meant running very quickly and shoving anyone who tried to stop them out of their way.
The main goal was to get their stuff back. At least, Fabi thought it was. No one was really discussing anything with him.
They had been tied up in a longhouse with two rows of door-less rooms on either side of a large passageway. Most of the rooms were empty, though the poles in the center and the ropes tossed carelessly on the floor made it look like they hadn’t long been. If each room was meant to hold seven people, this was a modest-sized slave operation. That is, Fabi guessed it was modest-sized. He didn’t actually do the multiplication in his head. That would’ve been waaaay too much effort.
Anyway, most of the rooms were empty but not all of them. An unusually pale- compared to the rest of the islanders, whose skin ranged from tan to olive- man occupied one of them, his hands tied behind him around the center pole. His hair was short, and he looked kind of familiar if Fabi shut one eye and squinted out the other one. He was really dirty and he was looking down at the ground, and Fabi was totally more concerned with getting their stuff and getting out of there as per the plan everyone had yet to tell him about so it wasn’t exactly Fabi’s fault he didn’t recognize him. Or bother to try to recognize him. Or, y’know, do anything other than categorize their surroundings like he was actually going to write it all down for future generations to marvel at.
Jan, whose face had gotten suddenly pale, approached the guy slowly. He dropped into a crouch when only centimeters separated them, placing his hands on either side of the stranger’s face and pushing it upwards gently.
“Timo,” Jan breathed, the sound tearing at something inside Linke because he was right. Objectively, Timo looked like shit, face banged up and wrists caked with dried blood and pus. Non-objectively, he looked…like a thought Linke wasn’t going to finish.
Jan swallowed, his throat all but seizing up with the effort.
"Are you alright?" he asked Timo. "Not- not really hurt?"
"I've felt better, but the pain's not too bad. I think they forgot about me. You're the first people I've seen since yesterday."
“Where’s David?” Linke asked, demanded really, while he busied himself untying the ropes binding Timo’s wrists. He needed a purpose, needed something to distract him right now so he wasn’t focused on how wrong it was to find Timo like this.
“They took him away,” Timo rasped, voice destroyed through disuse or screaming. Linke didn’t know which, wouldn’t stop to find out.
Linke wasn’t expecting to come in there like David’s knight in shining armor or anything, but he was, ah, expecting David to be a little less cheerful. He was tied to a pole, after all. But, no, David was borderline manic happy.
“Oh, Linke, you’re here. Good. You can tell us about the language these people are speaking. Timo thinks it might be Proto-Norse considering the location, but I’m not so sure. What do you think?”
Linke stared at him. David was filthy, dried blood decorating his matted hair, and he was concerned about the local language?
“It’s not even Indo-European,” he said, shooting Jan- who was yanking at David’s bonds- a telling look. Jan shrugged his shoulders. When David got in a ditzy mood, there wasn’t much more you could do than go along. “And David?”
Linke scanned the caves on the northern side of the cliffs, looking for a place to hide. The limestone cliffs, pocked with small caves, sloped down towards the beach. Small craft dotted the busy beach, which Linke quickly realized to be the shoreline of a bay.
It hadn’t taken long to find their packs. A young man had been puzzling over them outside the longhouse but had run away yelling his head off the second he saw them. Linke had hoped Juri might knock him out. Instead, Juri decided to scoop their packs up, grab Jan’s hand, and sprint off in the opposite direction.
Luckily, Juri had had sense enough to go towards the cliffs where they had a hope of concealing themselves, rather than the steppe. They hadn’t seen anyone following them, but there was something supremely suspicious about that, just as there had been about the absence of any non-captives in the longhouse.
They hid in the first cave big enough to hold them all and waited for night to come, hoping any pursuers would give up by then. Barely more than a crevice and littered with sharp, fist-sized rocks, the cave made it impossible to find any comfortable position. Linke resigned himself to being cramped. Jo seemed far more inclined to bitch about it quietly to Mäx, which would have been irritating if Linke hadn’t tuned him out.
Juri was whispering something to Jan that was making the shorter man’s face turn a brilliant shade of red. Linke closed his eyes and strained his ears to listen, but he couldn’t hear. Ah, well, he’d been bored before.
He was tired, and he didn’t know what to do. Linke should have wanted silence then, to think, but he didn’t. He didn’t know what he wanted. In fact, he might even be content to stay huddled in a freezing cave on an icy island for the rest of time. It wasn’t as though anyone was going to come save them. If they were being searched for, their pursuers were terrible or just plain idiots. Quite simply, they could wait until they were ready to get out of here, and Linke wasn’t sure he cared enough to want to.
He was in the midst of self-hatred, not that that was a new state for him. From the start, he’d thought Ivgalrea untrustworthy and hadn’t done anything about it. She’d sold them out. Had Svabalrea been right and there was no way off this island? If so, it didn’t matter if they stayed here a little or a lot longer. They knew their coordinates and that was it. They couldn’t just build a raft and hope to get to Jan Mayen. They’d all just dr-
That was it. That was it.
“I’ve got it,” Linke said, startling David, who’d managed to doze off, his head resting against his own shoulder. Jo gave Linke a doubtful look, clearly saying that he’d trusted Linke before and Linke had led him horribly astray. Thankfully, Linke didn’t give too much of a damn what that guy thought. “No, I’m serious. I really do have a plan.”
“What is it?” The snark in Jo’s voice was like an echo of himself.
“We’re going to steal a boat.”
The shore was surprisingly unguarded, as though it had never crossed these people’s minds that someone would attempt to steal their boats. They’d simply been dragged up onto the sandy shore and left there.
Linke crouched next to the Nordland boat he’d picked out and waved to Jan to join him. Jan scurried over, back nearly parallel to the ground as he tried to look inconspicuous.
Suddenly a sharp object pressed against Linke’s throat, while a hand reached around to cover his mouth and nose. Linke’s eyes widened.
“Don’t talk,” Ivgalrea said. “Make no sound.”
Linke drew his elbow forward and slammed it back into the deceptively frail-looking woman’s stomach. She let go with a choked sound.
Linke spun around.
“You!” Linke hissed, careful to keep his voice low. He might not be keen on being apprehended by Ivgalrea, but he wasn’t about to bring others down on them. He and Jan were in the open, the others still in hiding. If the sailors came back, it wouldn’t be pretty. “What do you want?”
Svabalrea stood next to her mother. She glared at him and fingered her hatchet. Linke glared back, but made no move towards Ivgalrea.
“You escape your masters.”
It didn’t make much sense and it wasn’t a question, but Linke answered it anyway. “Yes.”
“They look for you.”
Linke looked to where Juri was hiding, waiting for the signal to move closer. He gave the big blonde a subtle nod, to bring him and the others to them.
“We must move quickly.”
“If we to leave, we must move quickly. Your masters look for you. We must leave.”
Linke stared at her aghast. This woman was undeniably insane. First, she sells them, then she tells them to leave. In. Sane.
“Why should we trust you?” he snapped. “You fucking sold us to slave traders!”
Ivgalrea dismissed this with a wave of her hand.
“I needed money,” she said, as though it were perfectly obvious. “Now we have ship to take us away.”
“We’re not going anywhere with you,” Jan piped up, “so you can just take your ship and go by yourself.”
Great, little speech that it was, all showing his ability to stand up for himself and whatnot, Jo wasn’t having it. Jo grabbed Jan’s arm and yanked him to the side. Juri glowered at that, but Jo ignored him. It wasn’t like Juri was going to hit him unless he really hurt Jan.
“Let’s not be hasty,” Jo told Jan. “If she knows how to get out of here, some of us would like to use that knowledge.”
“But- she sold us to the Lachik.” Jan sounded uncertain.
“We got away, didn’t we?” Now Juri was really glaring at him. Jo let go of Jan’s arm. “Sometimes you gotta work with people you don’t trust.”
Ivgalrea smiled at him. Jo’s face twisted in disgust.
“Come,” she said, gesturing with one of her shriveled, crone fingers. “Ship this way.”
It looked like a Viking longship. There was no getting around that. A big red sail decorated the mast, which stuck out of a hull made of overlapping wooden planks. Both ends of the hull reached high above Jo’s head for no reason at all. The sides were extremely low, which boded very poorly for a long trip. Frank had said something about “getting to Jan Mayen” who could be either a person or a place going by the name. Jo was hoping it was a place.
Fabi stared up at the tip of the front end, his jaw completely slack.
“Do you know how to sail?” Jo asked Ivgalrea. Don’t get him wrong: he wasn’t ecstatic to be with her, but he saw no reason to be rude. She could easily call the Lachik down on them; take back whatever agreement she made with them. Which, hold up, what kind of agreement had she made? She said she’d sold them to get money for the boat, except now she was helping them leave.
“Do you not?” she asked. He couldn’t hear a trace of sarcasm.
Jo searched her face, seeing only honest expectation. Suddenly, his annoyance about the slave business disappeared. This bitch had planned all of this. There was no point at which she had planned to leave them here.
“We’ve got it,” Jan said cheerfully, breaking Jo’s silent admiration of an old lady’s ability. “Juri and I know all about sailing.”
Jan set about doing mysterious boat things and getting them underway while Linke offered incredibly obvious observations that did nothing to help. Jo was rather impressed by how unperturbed Jan was by it. Jo would probably have flicked Fabi in the head for being that annoying. He didn’t get those two’s relationship.
Svabalrea stood a ways away on the beach, watching them. Her cheek still had a pink tinge to it.
“You could come with us if you wanted,” Jo heard Frank say. Linke looked about to contradict that ludicrous offer when Svabalrea crossed her arms over her ample chest and shook her head, her braids staying perfectly in place.
“I stay here. Life good. But…you take Ivgalrea. That good for…me.” She smiled, and it actually looked carefree. A woman who regularly carried a hatchet was relieved that her mother was leaving her. That was a scary thought.
“Are you sure?” Frank asked. “You might like it where we’re going.”
“No,” Svabalrea said simply, her eyes flicking towards her mother. “I would not.”
“So,” Timo said, “what are we going to do about the Kaulitzes?”
They had followed the coast southeast for several days without any sign of their employers. There had also been no sign of the mountain of ice and rock that had nearly killed them, so there was no hope that they’d all vanished into the island never to be seen again. Jan was a bit disappointed that no one had offered to give up the search and head on to Jan Mayen.
“I vote we leave them,” Linke answered. Juri snorted.
“Halla’s still there. It wouldn’t be fair to leave her. And if the Kaulitzes get rescued, they’d destroy us for leaving them behind.” Timo nodded at David’s words.
“That still leaves the matter about what to do with our findings.”
Linke’s head snapped around.
Timo and David gave him identical mystified expressions.
“From the island. Did you not catalogue anything you found?” David asked.
“We were a little busy trying to survive,” Linke snapped back. “Unlike you, we didn’t have time to study the locals.”
“What about Grandma over there?” David pointed to where Ivgalrea was sitting, staring out at the ocean and ignoring them. “How long have you been with her? She speaks German, doesn’t she? What’s her story? Here’s what Timo and I propose: we collaborate and publish a single report. As we’re the best known, my name and Timo’s will go first, then all of you in alphabetical order.” He smiled broadly.
“What about you three?” Timo asked Jo when no one else said anything. They were all too busy suppressing the urge to murder David.
“We’re not getting into this.” Jo steepled his hands in front of himself, Mäx looking little more than bored. Fabi shuffled his feet uncertainly. “This isn’t our area.” He seemed about to say more, but a glance from Mäx stopped that.
“We’re just trying to get back to Iceland,” Fabi added.
“There is no Iceland. The Kaulitzes were duping us. This island was their destination the whole time.”
Jo swore, kicking at the side of the boat. Fabi’s eyes flicked to him, then back to Timo. Mäx’s gaze stayed on Jo. His stoicism was unnerving in its unfamiliarity. Jan hoped he was just having a bad day. Actually, he was hoping they were all having bad weeks because none of the three were acting like the people Jan remembered.
Timo and David, though, were painfully unchanged.
“You have proof?” Jo asked.
Jo swore again, his accent thickening so much in anger that Jan couldn’t catch his words for seconds after they had been spoken. This man definitely wasn’t the happy ethnomusicologist of Jan’s memory.
“We’re looking to go home,” Mäx said. He leaned against Jo slightly, a move that didn’t look at all conscious. Jan’s spirits sank a little. He missed having friends he knew for certain could do that with without being rebuked. “Nothing more, nothing less. We don’t want to write about these people. We’re not looking to study them or stay here any longer.”
“I’m not letting the Kaulitzes get credit for another discovery,” Jo added with a snarl.
“It’s agreed then: we keep the assholes in the dark.” There was a murmur of general agreement to Linke’s statement. They’d all been put in terrible danger for a cause they hadn’t even known about. Deception didn’t deserve recognition.
“This is the find of the century!” David said, completely ignoring that not two days earlier he’d been trussed up for slave traders. “These people have never been studied. Anything we publish will be the first and foremost works on the subject.”
Timo, of course, chimed right in.
“These people live in the Stone Age. No toilets, no running water, not even the barest of sanitation. Third world countries have better hygiene than they do. If we write about them, get their stories out, they could learn to read and write. They’re denied so many opportunities here.”
It was persuasive, but Timo was always persuasive. Jan had done a lot of stupid things with Timo at his side, encouraging him. The words sounded good, they sounded great, but- it just didn’t seem right. What were toilets to someone who had no sewage system? What was running water to someone who had fresh, unpolluted streams? What was sanitation to people guarded against foreign contagion?
There. He’d hit on it. Jan’s specialty was physical anthropology, but he’d minored in forensic pathology. Here was a place untouched by the filthy, germy squalor that was the rest of mankind. These people were, well, not clean, per se, but certainly not living in crowded shacks surrounded by dirt roads littered with trash and human and animal waste. Start introducing them to the rest of mankind and they’d be decimated by diseases most people couldn’t even remember were life-threatening, like chickenpox, measles, diphtheria, polio, and rabies. Subcontinents had been decimated by the sudden introduction of foreign pathogens by invaders and colonists. These people had no natural defenses.
He told Timo as much, looking at a point over Timo’s shoulder the whole time. He still couldn’t look Timo in the eye, didn’t know if he ever could.
“But- this could be our chance to get back in the scene!” David said, his eyes almost feverishly bright. They glinted with a dangerous fervor. “We could be the talk of the whole world with this discovery! Chris, we can’t just leave all of this here. It’ll be found out anyway. Jan already promised to bring Ivgalrea back home with us.”
All eyes turned to Jan, who tried to look as small as possible. His failure at doing so was spectacular.
“You did what?” Juri asked, his words not quite angry or incredulous, just confused, like Jan was supposed to look at a little, old lady and tell her, sorry, you can’t come back with us to civilization after we’ve planned to expose your culture to the world. That would be horribly cruel, especially when she’d helped them so much.
“I maybe…said she could come with us? Back to Germany?”
“Why the hell would you do that?” Linke asked. “All we promised was to get her away from here. Not get her to Germany, not even to Iceland. We take her back and it’ll be complete culture shock. She’s eighty! She can’t just leave everything she’s ever known.”
“She’ll adjust,” Jan said stubbornly, folding his arms over his chest. “Ivgalrea said she wanted to come with us. Where did you think she wanted to go? We owe it to her. We probably would have starved or frozen to death without her.”
Frank looked miffed.
“We wouldn’t have starved,” he countered. “Linke and I had food.”
“Okay. Right. Look, I promised her.” She’s already on the boat, he thought but didn’t say. What were they going to do, toss her overboard? Hadn’t it been obvious once she got on the boat that she wouldn’t be getting back off?
Linke and David shared a look, which seemed more than enough dangerous before David grabbed Linke’s and Timo’s shirts and dragged the two into a huddle. They whispered rapidly to each other at a level too quiet for Jan to hear.
He looked helplessly at Juri, who shook his head. Frank stamped his feet in the snow and then walked over to Ivgalrea. Thankfully, the woman didn’t seem to have followed their conversation too well and wasn’t aware they were arguing about her and the fate of everyone she’d ever known, unless she was just super good at hiding it. Jan would bet she was super good at hiding it.
Linke and David pulled out of their huddle. Timo did not seem happy with whatever decision they’d come to.
“We’ll take Ivgalrea,” David said as though he had any control over this situation- and, really, why did Timo or David get to say anything about what they were doing? They weren’t in charge: the Kaulitzes were. Linke should be asking for the Kaulitzes’ permission. Actually, Jan should be the one asking, but Jan didn’t really want to talk to either Kaulitz if he could avoid it. They were kind of scary.- “on one condition.”
“What.” Jan was not excited to hear about this condition. He’d had enough with David and Timo’s decisions and their limitations and conditions, and all the other bullshit he’d put up with before Linke had helped him realize he didn’t have to rely on them to get what he wanted: he could rely on himself for that.
“We get to review anything published about this island.”
“No,” Jan and Frank said at the same time. Jan looked at him in surprise. Frank had a backbone, but he rarely showed it and never against David.
“No. We didn’t sign up to research this island. We’re supposed to be in Iceland and yet we’re somewhere no one from our world’s heard of. We publish anything, people are going to come looking for this place. And they’re going to destroy it.” Frank looked at them all grimly, and Jan knew he was right.
“But what about Ivgalrea?” David asked, the gleam back in his eyes. “People are going to want to know where she’s from, too.”
Juri laughed, a low, powerful sound. “Who’s going to believe an old woman with no records? She’s got no I.D., no passport, nothing. No one’s going to take anything she says seriously.” Now Jan remembered why he’d always liked Juri so much. He was the one who always made sense in their divisive, fractured group.
Linke took a step to the side and muttered something under his breath to Frank. The brunet wrinkled his brow for a second before smoothing it back out, deflating somewhat. Curiosity bit at Jan’s insides, but he kept quiet. He was good at that.
“Okay,” Frank said, barely loud enough to hear.
“Alrighty then.” Linke rubbed his hands together. “Let’s go save ourselves some Kaulitzes.”