No monks and tigers today – this story is about the sea, fishermen and questions and how to find answers to them. And about the nøck – a mystical creature living under the sea.
His village was the wealthiest on the coastline. The fisherman of the little spot where Fredrik grew up caught more fish than the next three villages combined.
This wealth enabled them to trade. They sold their catch even to the city. All their boats were masterpieces of craftsmanship, all their houses had doors! Their windows were sealed with parchment and everyone had a real fireplace. No smoke in the houses of Fredrik’s village!
Since he was a toddler he had many questions, so much longing for the unknown. Though he knew the poor neighbouring villages well, he was convinced that he had seen too little of the world.
Life was rough in the North, the winters were long and hard. There were many deaths to mourn in spring, but not among the families in his village. When Fredrik would ask a fisherman why their place was favoured by the Gods, the answer was: “Our fjord has more fish than the others!”
This was not a satisfactory answer to him. In the next years more and more relatives and acquaintances moved to the small, but rich village. The village got famous on the entire coast for its fjord bubbling with fish. No reason to worry about anything!
But when the old ones spun their tales in winter, they described a life just as miserable and poor as in every other village. Once, long ago, when the old ones where as young as Fredrik was now, their existence seemed unbearable.
Why should the fjord suddenly share so much more fish? What was the reason for the sudden change in behaviour of the Bleka, Kolja, Kummels, Marulkens, Lubbs, Vitlings, Sills and Fjärsings – or all the other fish caught here?
No one wanted to answer his questions. His own father spoke in riddles. The gelder and the seider used farming wisdom to answer: You sow, you harvest! And the thiudan simply told him that he should not be curious and behave!
There was, no doubt, a secret to the fish and Fredrik was determined to explore it! Though none of the adults was willing to tell him, he found out that a man named Balder seemed to be involved in the story. And that this Balder was either a sage or a fool.
Despite all these questions, he grew up to be a strong young man. Soon his time of waiting at the harbour and patching nets would be over. No one ever thought he did a great job anyhow, most of his duty he spend with his eyes on the horizon. Waiting for the fishermen to return. Waiting for answers.
This summer he was introduced to the village’s thing. He would seat with the adults after his first fishing tour – in case he behaved reasonably well.
As the small fleet of fishing boats sailed out to sea with him, Fredrik became more and more excited. The other men only smiled knowingly as he asked his questions.
“Why do we have so much beer and so much meat with us? Why do we have cabbage with us and what’s in all these small black boxes?”
As soon as the village was out of sight, the fishermen stopped and moored the boats in a large circle. The gelder said his prayers and the silk threw powder into the foaming sea. All the men started to sing while they took barrel after barrel and box after box and threw them into the sea.
Fredrik shouted into the wind:
“Why are you throwing away the food? What are you doing? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Again, he only got a knowing smile. Until strong arms grabbed him and the men shouted: “Our gift to the nøck!” In the next moment he flew through the air in a high arc and the water swallowed him!
When he reappeared on the surface, the sea was roaring with laughter. He swam back to his boat and the men gave him dry clothes. Only then did he learn the whole story, the whole secret.
The truth about Balder and the truth about the nøck.
After the gods gave Midgard to the humans, men started to settle on the earth of the coast to be fishermen. The waters were given to the sea-people and each fjord had its own nøck.
When a nøck’s pale body was sighted from a boat, the fishermen threw their nets to catch him or they threw their skewers to chase him away.
But once, when Fredrik’s father’s father was a boy, there was an extraordinary man living in the village. His name was Balder and he was different. Sometimes he would dance naked on his roof in the middle of the night or he would chat with to the cows and the goats for the whole day.
All dogs and cats in the village followed his command and because he could even give orders to the crows, he was respected, though the fearful still were afraid of him because of his different nature. Nevertheless, he was a loving person and the fishermen were happy with his company because nobody could sing as many songs or tell as many stories as Balder.
At one of the four big fishing trips of the year, the nøck was sighted! He drifted slowly under the boats. When the men got ready to chase him away, Balder raised his voice and everyone stopped.
Though he was nothing but the village’s fool, everyone waited for what he had to say. Balder, the stroyteller, said nothing, but he stuck his head into the sea and called the nøck. This was so unexpected that the fishermen lowered their spears and skewers to see what would happen next.
Three times Balder took a deep breath and three times he talked to the nøck. Then he commanded: “Give the nøck our food!” Silence fell over the assembled boats. Food in the village was scarce and the rations were just enough to keep the men alive.
But Balder shouted again: “Give the nøck our food!” He was so filled with determination that the thiurdan was the first to throw his ration into the water. Soon all the men followed this example.
Balder jumped into the water and when he reappeared he brought on board the biggest salmon ever seen by any fisherman in all of Midgard!
Never before had the men of the village caught as many fish as in this year. The nøck drove the largest shoals of the North Sea into their fjord, right in front of their boats.
On each fishing trip the village thanked the nøck. They brought him all the food and all the drinks that did not exist his realm. Dried meat and beer in barrels, even cake and bread in boxes sealed with tar.
That was the secret! The village’s wealth was based on its alliance with the nøck! Because one single man had been crazy enough to try something different! Because the fishermen treated the village’s fool like one of their own and not like a piece of cattle. The good soul of the village itself had cleared a path and this wealth was the reward!
After this trip, Fredrik felt like an adult. Like a man among men, now that he knew the truth!
But even this truth, this secret was far from being big enough for Fredrik. As soon as the boats were on their way back home, more questions came to his mind!
His father said: “Probably the nøck comes from the place where all the other sea-people come from!” Which of course was not an answer.
The seider said: “When the world was created, all elements were full of life. We do not know most living things and there are different ones in every part of the world!” Not a satisfactory answer.
The thiordan said: “Peace with the nøck is the most sacred good after peace with the gods and peace with the other clans!” Important words, but meaningless.
Years passed and the village and its wealth and fame grew. One summer the Jarl himself came to inquire about the secret of the fjord. His clerks asked each fisherman in the village, but nobody revealed the secret and neither did Fredrik.
But his questions became more tormenting and each year he began to lose more and more of his serenity.
He already was a weathered fisherman with a body full of scars and a soul full of experiences – when one summer he built his own little boat, said goodbye to his family and sailed out to the sea.
All alone. Into the unknown. To fish for answers.
He drifted in the fjord, far away from the village, and looked into the water for days to find the nøck. Week after week he stared into the waves until he became like the water himself. Churned on the outside and eternally calm inside.
Until one day he found the nøck. His body so pale! His movement so elegant! He drifted through the fjord without any effort, distinguishable only by his long, green hair.
Fredrik ripped off his clothes, grabbed the large stone tied with rope, took a deep breath and jumped right into the sea!
He sank to the bottom of the bay. And, indeed, the Nock swam towards him. But the white body that looked muscular from the surface was actually long and skinny. The legs and arms were like scrawny branches and his spidery toes and fingers showed webbed skin. What was supposed to be hair was actually seaweed, floating around this head like the fog around the mountain in fall.
After all these weeks, Fredrik realized in this moment that he didn’t know how to talk with this creature! He simply waved with his free arm, holding the rope of the stone in the other one.
Slowly the nøck approached. When Fredrik could see him clearly he was overwhelmed by the strangeness of this creature breathing water, living water. Instead of eyes, it had two huge black pearls in the middle of his head. There was no nose in the pale face in front of him and the mouth was narrow-lipped and reached from ear to ear – if there were ears.
The two drifted next to each other completely weightless and silent as they marvelled at each others existence. Until the Nock extended his arm and put his hand with its thin fingers on Fredrik’s chest.
Shocked by the cold touch Fredrik cried out and all the air escaped from his lungs. Startled he looked up at the surface of the water, where his little boat was floating in the sunlight. His rescue was so far away – the boat, the air – he would drown down here!
Frantically he tried to loosen his left arm from the noose with which he had tied himself to the stone, but to no avail. Flooded with panic he looked into the black eyes of the nøck before he could no longer stand the pain in his chest and then – had to inhale! As the cold of the sea water filled his chest, he saw the nøck’s huge mouth open. Full of pointed teeth like needles and it was approaching.
The last image in his mind before he lost consciousness was that of the village’s small fleet, of all the men who laughingly sacrificed him to the nøck.
“A gift for the nøck!” That was what he was! Everything went black.
In his later years when Fredrik thought back on this encounter, all the questions that had been bothering him back then shot through his head again. All of his lifetime it appeared that each answer gave rise to two new questions!
The day after the encounter with the nøck Fredrik woke up on the shoreline near his village.
He opened his eyes to discover his body breathing air. He did not drown. He was not wounded, he felt healthy and strong instead.
All of his scars were gone.
He told everyone on the coastline about this encounter. He even painted pictures of the nøck on parchment so everyone could share his experience. He became the first of his clan, even of his tribe, who was taught to write and to read at the court of the Jarl – just so he could share his story with future generations.
When Fredrik, the storyteller, was a very old one himself and the sons of his children went on their first trip to become a gift for the nøck, he said goodbye to his wife at her grave and turned his back to the village forever.
All alone. Into the unknown. To fish for answers.