I’m standing in the bow of a low, long boat, and I’m hefting a harpoon. Harpoon. It’s a great word no? Roll it around in your mouth and it sounds ancient, haaaaa-poooon. I’m sounding it myself while I’m looking over the side of the boat at the choppy green water, the northernly breeze bringing warm air from over the Alps and off the lands. Father sounds out quietly, “Spear the calf, the mother will come after.”

Spear the calf. Spear the calf. I repeat it to myself over and over, all the time watching the water for the sign of the beast rising from the water.

The beast rising from the water. Rising from the water. The Beast. Mother would be proud, I’m even remembering my Revelations. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and I saw a beast did rise up.

I glance backwards. My older brothers are in the longboat behind me resting on their oars. We’ve two days of water and biscuit, and we’re 12 hours into this day’s rowing. They’re still and there’s only the lapping of the oars in the water, and the chop of the waves against the side of the boat.

“Sign!! Starboard!” Someone whispers between gritted teeth, and the brothers lean in, the boat jerking as the oars bite, father pulling the rudder hard so we launch towards the rapidly smoothening patch of water. The whale’s head breaks the surface, its blowhole releasing a spray into the air, its slick sides rushing past the waves and slipping beneath the water.

“The calf!!” Father yells. I can see it rising with the cow, close to its mother’s side, it’s tiny eye appearing as the longboat bears down on them both. My brothers have their speed up, their backs straining to get us close enough to the pair, their silence broken as Father yells “Heave you useless buggers!! She’ll not escape us today!!”

A second is split while I draw back my arm and heave the harpoon. My brothers are grunting and roaring. The wind whistling and whipping the water past the bow. The long back of the cow sliding like a great tentacle through the water.

It grunts when the tip enters. A low shudder of shock. Its eye looks at me still. In wonder. In alarm. The sharpened metal of the harpoon sinking into its flanks. The rope unrolling out past my legs as the calf sinks beneath the waves, its life spilling into the water in a long red stream.

“Make for the shore lads!” Father yells, “the cow will be back for the calf and the Wright’s will have her, by God!”

For two days we’ll tether ourselves to her dying carcass, here on the ocean, to be dragged till she tires, a waiting game of courage and endurance.

F,FLP

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