Ross Kolby

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Novels

Flames

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Novel, 440 p. 2008, Kagge Forlag

April 17th, 1599:

King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway sets sail with his eight-ship fleet, leaving his safe Copenhagen. The destination of this thousand mile long, daring voyage is the northern part of Norway, where the 22-year-old monarch is to restore political and economical order. But a darker concern than ravaging pirates occupies the king’s mind.

He is about to sail into the homeland of Satan.

Europe believes that the Devil lives in the north of Norway, these wildest of the European landscapes, and fears the inhabitants and above all; the native Lapps.

Aboard is also the king’s notary and friend, Henrik Borkhart, documenting the voyage. The fleet makes a stop in the little village Sennvik in the north of Norway, where Henrik accidentally shoots a Lapp boy in the mountains and meets a local girl; the half Lapp Maren Paulsdaughter. She works with herbs and shaman medicine, a magic craft now forbidden by the king. Irresistible, and forbidden, feelings develop between the two, to their great fear.

A storm almost sinks the royal fleet and kills the region’s governor. Henrik instantly grabs the chance to remain, as the king needs a replacement for the late governor. He is now to head the hunt for the witches having created the storm, a chase that will inevitably involve the girl he loves.

Flames is a drama dealing with an awakening of human spirit and courage, a suppressing religion and the search for the inner truth, forcing these people to go beyond their limits and, for the first time; beyond their faith.

The century after the monarch’s visit to the north the witch processes were to spread dramatically in Norway.

Read three chapters:

THE CLIMB WAS steeper than Henrik had imagined even though he had been looking at these mountainsides for four days now. He was sweating heavily and could feel the taste of blood in his throat. He worked his way further up the mountain and eventually sat down on a rock looking out over the fjord beneath him. 

From up there, Sennvik fjord seemed distant and the ships looked like miniature boats. Henrik wiped off the dried, salty sweat that stung his eyes and looked out at the magnificent scenery in front of him. He had never seen any thing like it. The cold air blew through his damp hair and he felt a slight chill. Mountain peaks, each more pointed than the next, stretched out as far as he could see.

He looked at rough mountains fighting their way out of the snow masses like rugged, desperate beasts and he shivered. The fjord deep down below was so incredibly green and white and reminded him of depictions from warmer countries. For a moment, he was lost in dreaming of such a blessed place and could almost feel the warm sun against his back.

Then a strange sound startled him and he turned abruptly.

It was a large eagle.

It sat quite still on a high rock and peered down at him. He hadn’t noticed it as he sat down, and he hadn’t heard it land either. Henrik stared petrified at the animal and didn’t dare move. He had seen eagles before in Germany, but never one as big as this. An array of black, brown, gray and white feathers glittered in the sunshine. Some of the small feathers fluttered a little in the wind, and the eagle turned its head to the side, looking Henrik up one side and down the other with its big, yellow eye. They both sat completely still, watching each other.

It was unbelievably beautiful and Henrik tried to memorize the image so that he could paint it later on. The eagle turned its head and looked out across the mountains and then, suddenly it flapped its wings and leaped off the rock. The wind rustled as it glided a few meters before soaring high in the air, drifting up from the mountainside. Henrik watched it closely. The encounter had left him with a deep, warm feeling in his chest.

The eagle lingered in the air for a few seconds as if reconsidering, not quite ready to leave him yet. The large feathers on the outer tips of its wings formed a silhouette like dark fingers against the sky. It felt as if it was still peering down at him. But then it rose, quickly riding on the wind across the mountaintops.

June 3rd:

It is with the deepest feeling of fear that I have entered
the mountain world of Satan, but His Majesty’s explicit wish
for my loyalty gave me no other choice.

A threatening silence looms in these mountains. I have
seen an impressive eagle, but I don’t think it has connections
to the Devil. Apart from this, I have not seen a living soul.
Satan and his helpers most probably roam here in the night.
Treacherous light in a land of darkness. I cannot help but
see an incredible beauty in the midst of this evil land.

There is an overwhelming feeling of crude creative
power everywhere, and I am striving against being blinded
and losing sight of why we are here, who I am, and who and
what we stand for. Dall said that in this beauty evil lies
hidden, precisely like in a beautiful, poisonous animal.
May we all manage to see past such false nature.

Henrik fought his way further up the mountain. He would soon encounter snow and be unable to continue. He stopped and decided on a point just above a yellow, moist plateau. He couldn’t see the fjord anymore and a cold, creepy feeling of being alone up there suddenly made his chest tighten. 

He looked vigilantly around as he walked across the rocky landscape. It was very quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. After a while, he stopped by a tall cliff. He held his hand like a funnel against his eye and gazed across the landscape. Two pointed rocks passed before him. They resembled tusks of a mammal sticking up from the ground.

It was an unpleasant sight, but a good motive for the king’s documentary. Henrik put the backpack containing his painting supplies down on the moist grass. Nervously, he looked around and assembled his easel and the little chair he used when painting. The wind fluttered the aquarelle sheets and he secured them with pegs. Then he started to concentrate on sketching the pointed tusks and the distant mountains.

He felt calmer now. There was something meditative about painting, soothing to the soul. The soft marten-hair paintbrushes sucked the paint greedily and brushed the paint smoothly on the rugged paper. Henrik had to work quickly and accurately before the wind dried the watercolours.

Time passed quickly and when he had finished the aquarelle, his back ached and he was so hungry his stomach hurt. He stood up and stepped back while he looked at the picture. It was good. It pleased him to see that he had managed to capture the scenery accurately. With trained hands, he loosened the sheet from the pegs and put it in a stiff folder. He had to eat before he began the next painting.

He rapidly approached the edge of the mountain where he could see the fjord. It gave him a sense of peace to watch the ships down below again, and he sat down on a rock. He looked around and discovered the leather bag where he kept his food. The wine felt warm and pleasantly intoxicating at this elevation. The dried meat and the bread from the baker at “Victor” tasted better than ever. He chewed the food and closed his eyes while he took large sips from the bottle of wine.

The meal made him drowsy and he leaned his back on a large rock. He looked around. No sign of life anywhere. Nor of any eagles. As he rested on the rock, looking down towards the ships, his head slowly began to drop heavily to his chest.

He woke with a start.

Confused, he looked around and stood up as soon as he realized where he was. He shivered from the cold. Then he strode up the slope and on to the plateau. It was impossible to tell how long he had been asleep. The sun barely touched the horizon this time of year, and it was difficult to tell day from night based on the amount of light.

Suddenly something white came fluttering against him. It was one of his watercolour sheets. Henrik tried to catch it, but the wind kept blowing it back and forth in front of him, dancing across the ground. Surprised, he followed it with his eyes. He had secured them thoroughly with the pegs. Maybe the whole thing had blown down? He was annoyed and hurried after it. He passed a rock and saw the easel and his equipment ahead of him.

Suddenly he stopped. He stared towards the easel. What could this be? He slowly went closer and looked at it in disbelief.

Two long, thick twigs were stuck along the sides of the frame, like arms, and on the clean sheet of paper a simple, but grotesque, face with evil eyes and a jaw full of teeth was drawn. A layer of yellow moss along the top made the whole thing look like a face with hair.

Suddenly a cold chill gripped his chest. The easel had turned into a ritual figure. Henrik swirled and stared frightened in all directions. He reached for the pistol in his belt and pulled it out. Luckily, he had loaded it down at “Victor”.

“Laplanders!” he muttered scared and moved closer to the easel. The face had been painted with his paint and the brushes lay scattered on the ground. Henrik looked at the ugly figure. He had seen figures like these in depictions of the Laplanders in the northern areas. They had their own shamans who made these figures and put curses and death sentences on people from a distance. Indeed, they had the spirits of the dead in their power. He shuddered and gazed around once more.

He suddenly spotted movement behind a rock further away. He stiffened. He was nauseous with fear.

Then it stopped. It was over. He swallowed hard and instead a fierce anger filled him. He should never have come up here.

He had been discovered. They had chosen him now. The ritual was carried out. Maybe the figure in the easel was meant to resemble him, and they were watching him this very moment, hiding and with cold calculation, preparing to sacrifice him to the Devil’s master. There is no escaping them in their own realm.

So, this is the way it was meant to end. He had known, hadn’t he? He had tried to tell the king and all the others, hadn’t he? To tell them how dangerous this would be. And yet, here he was, following the monarch’s order, having knowingly climbed straight into Satan’s realm, in the middle of the world of the Lapps. It was complete madness. Damned idiocy. He squeezed his hand tightly around the mother of pearl grip of his pistol.

Images of his beloved Copenhagen passed before his eyes. Memories of his mother and father. The face of a woman, very dear to him, appeared. The scent of the city streets. His friends. A sound forced its way up his throat. Tears filled his eyes now and he walked closer to the rock. He wanted to shout. Let them hear his wild powerlessness. The fear. The anger. But he couldn’t speak. Just this cramped sound trapped in his throat. He sobbed and cocked the pistol. What good was a pistol against Satan’s people? Against shamans who fought with the spirits on their side.

And yet. Maybe he could manage to shoot just one. That would frighten them off and he might be able to find his way down to the ships.

“No!” he said to himself, now wasn’t the time to be weak. He’d rather confront these creatures than stand here waiting for them. He would not show them his fear. Henrik couldn’t hear anything, his head was swimming and his feet felt numb. He focused on the rock and moved toward it.

Next to the cliff, he found ragged chasms like big, black jaws. Was it from there the creatures had appeared? Were they possibly troll-like creatures? He pointed the pistol and looked down the chasms. They were deep, and the sharp-pointed rocks at the bottom looked like large teeth.

Nothing. They were empty.

He came around the cliff instinctively closing his eyes as he reached the other side, but forced them open with a wretched face and the pistol pointing straight ahead. But there was no one to be seen. He was standing in front of a small cave, shivering and short of breath while he carefully observed the cliff and the opening to the cave. He swallowed again.

Suddenly a sound was heard from inside the cave and Henrik’s face flashed with fear. He squeezed the pistol grip so hard his knuckles turned white and he tried to focus on controlling his breath.

Complete silence.

All of a sudden, a figure came rushing out of the opening and straight towards Henrik. He instinctively closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. A scream was heard, and he staggered backwards, leaning on to a rock for support. He opened his eyes. A body lay bundled up on the ground right in front of him.

It was a child. Henrik stared in disbelief at the body and looked around. Carefully he approached the child and poked it with the tip of his boots. It was lifeless. He sank down on his knees and touched the small body. The child wore a thin leather-jacket and leather-pants. Thick blood had started penetrating the leather.

“Oh, my God!” Henrik whispered and grabbed hold of the child’s shoulder while turning it around. It was a skinny little boy about eight years old. He’d hit his head against the rock when he fell, and fainted. His eyes were lifeless and empty. His face was so small and there was nothing frightening about the boy at all. Mostly he looked like one of the faces from the harbor back home in Copenhagen. Again, Henrik looked around, terrified.

Then he saw another human being, also a child, disappearing from the top of the cliff. Henrik stared at his head.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Wait!” He jumped to his feet and ran to the other side of the cliff. Another boy the same age now ran as fast as his feet could carry him across the rocky landscape.

“Come back!” Henrik shouted, and without thinking, he rushed back around the cliff. He got a good grip under the boy, feeling the warm blood stick to his palms. He got up on his feet, and holding the little body tight, he ran after the other boy.

The boy ran incredibly fast and easily through what appeared to be familiar territory. Henrik followed, stumbling along as best he could. Groaning out loud when he bumped his calf into a sharp stone. But he was not able to catch up and the boy disappeared out of sight past a cliff.

“Hello!” Henrik cried out in despair. “Stop, please. I won’t harm you!” He spotted him again and stood gasping for air while he watched the boy slow down. This boy was slightly chubbier than the other was. The boy pushed his cap back in place and stopped.

Henrik spat. His heart beat so hard in his chest he thought he was going to faint. He stepped closer. Henrik looked carefully in his direction while holding the injured boy in his arms, reaching toward him.

“You must help me,” he said hoarsely and moved closer. The boy didn’t move, but glanced at him with frightened eyes. Henrik looked down on the child in his arms. The face looked all waxy now, and he could feel the blood dripping from his wet hands underneath him. The boy looked dead. Henrik felt his stomach tighten. He quickly glanced up at the other boy again.

“You don’t understand what I am saying,” he said in a shaky voice, “but you must take me to your home.” The boy just stared frightened at Henrik. “Home!” he repeated and stepped closer. The boy looked petrified at the blood dripping down on the yellow moss. Then he turned around and ran on, though slower now, looking over his shoulder to reassure himself that Henrik was following.

Henrik ran as if in a trance. He kept his eyes on the back of the boy ahead of him and made sure he didn’t fall. He barely noticed the taste of blood in his throat. The rocky landscape whizzed past him as he ran deeper and deeper into Lapland. They entered a valley void of trees and bushes, but covered with moss. A large herd of reindeer grazing looked up as they ran past. Further lay several Lapp tents and the smoke rose dancing from many of them. There were people everywhere.

Henrik stopped abruptly and stared at the camp.

“Holy Jesus, what am I doing here?” he whispered to himself. Then he tightened his grip around the boy and continued.


Chapter 10

THE CAMP THAT the boy was running towards was a large one. More than 30 tents had just been put up on this year’s summer pasture and there was hectic activity going on. More than 100 Lapps lived there and they were all busy preparing for the coming spring chores. Two carcasses were being skinned outside a tent and huge pots of boiling water stood ready. Others were busy with various handicraft activities, sewing and mending clothing. 

The boy speeded up now and started screaming. He waved his arms and some older Lapps who stood talking in the outskirts of the camp, turned their heads in astonishment.

“It’s Johan,” a woman said squinting passed him. “And he has someone with him?” One of the men took one step closer and looked gravely towards Henrik, who still held the boy in his arms.

“Riita! Go get Jerpe. Immediately!” A young girl, who had been standing with them, ran off between the tents. The others gazed towards Henrik while the boy threw himself around the waist of one of the men.

“Aslat is dead!” he howled. They looked terrified at him and Henrik, who was approaching them. Henrik slowed down and stared at the Lapps, all in a blur. He was so tired and his legs started to shake under him from sheer exhaustion and pure fear. He forced himself to advance the last few meters and sank down on his knees. He carefully put down the boy on the yellow grass and removed his arms.

“Help him,” he said in a low voice. A commotion stirred up among the people when they saw Henrik’s arms and hands covered in blood. The boy who was clinging to one of the men, shouted again.

“He shot Aslat!” One of the men rushed over and sat down on his knees while bending over the boy on the ground. Henrik couldn’t understand one word of what the boy was saying, and rose trembling. He stepped back and gazed anxiously at the people. Suddenly another man appeared. He sat down by the boy and held two fingers on his neck.

The tribe’s shaman Jerpe Erke ran his eyes over Aslat’s body while he carefully started to pull off his leather-jacket. Jerpe was a lean man in his late forties. His tan weather-beaten face with a grave expression and fine wrinkles, gave him an honorable, proud appearance. His long, black hair rested on the shoulders of a beautiful, carefully made fur-lined leather-jacket.

“Mattis!” he said out loud, “go to my tent and start heating water and soak some nettles. Aslat still has a pulse.” A young man hurried off.

Jerpe stroked his strong hand across a huge wound on Aslat’s side under his jacket. It had been bleeding intensely. At this point, many members of the tribe had come closer, and worried mumbling was heard among them. The shaman carefully lifted Aslat and stood up. He glanced quickly at Henrik before he hurriedly stepped through the crowd and was gone.

The Lapps now stared at Henrik.

He met some of their gazes, but lowered his eyes. It was just now that he realized what had happened and where he was. He felt terrible. He was sweating heavily and suddenly he was aware of the cold wind that made him shiver. He gazed at the camp and all the people again. Would they attack him now? He couldn’t load his pistol. And what good would it do, anyway? There were at least 70-80 Lapps staring at him, talking together in low voices. He swallowed and slowly turned around. And with his back to the camp, he started to walk away.

They would just have to strike him down from behind. He felt a great fatigue and dazzled, he walked away very slowly from the camp. He had no idea in which direction he should go, he just walked.

A woman brusquely made her made her way through the crowd, stopping when she spotted Henrik’s back.

“Hey, you, Dane!” she called in Norwegian. Henrik stopped as if frozen to the earth.

What was this?

“What have you done?” the voice kept on. He turned slowly and squinted at a woman hurrying towards him. They both jumped as they simultaneously recognized each other. It was the girl from the market.

The one who had splattered fish blood on the king. Here she was, standing yelling at him up in the land of the Lapps. In Norwegian. It was incredible, but he could better understand it now. There was indeed devil blood in that woman.

With her mouth wide open, Maren tried to control herself and blinked her eyes. It was him! That miserable flunky from the market. The one who had jumped her and pushed her away. Of all intolerable snobbish Danes, he was up here in her camp. And he had shot Aslat. She was stupefied and unable to speak.

Syneve approached them now and put one arm on Maren’s arm.

“What is it, Maren?” she said calmly in a low voice. Maren shook her head carefully.

“It is him, Grandma,” she said in disbelief, “the one I told you about, from the market.” She looked at her; she was both shocked and furious. Syneve studied Henrik, but said nothing. With a sudden move, Maren started walking towards Henrik and Syneve quickly followed her. Henrik stood confused looking at them. He stepped back and held up his hand helplessly.

“It was an accident,” he said out loud. “He ran at me and, and.” He looked from Maren’s hard eyes to Syneve. What could he say? All his thoughts made him completely confused. “I must leave,” he said and turned around. He strode off across the moor. Had to get away. The two women didn’t look as if they would stab him in the back, and he might just manage to make it back to the village after all.

“What are you so afraid of, Dane?” the old one said, also in Norwegian. Henrik stopped again. Once more, he felt this fear. He stood there without turning. What was he afraid of? He couldn’t find the words. Were they about to trick him? Lure him into the very heart of this wild Lapp territory, watch him off guard and then curse him. He turned around.

He felt the fury rage in him again and took a step forward towards the two of them.

“I am not afraid!” he said out loud. He clenched his fists so hard his knuckles turned white. “But I know what you are doing and I am very much aware of where I am!” His pulse was pounding in his temples now and he threw a glance at all the people by the camp.

“I know what you think we are doing,” Syneve said calmly, “and I do know where you think you are.” For a moment, there was a sad look in her eye. “But you are mistaken,” she said. She stood looking at him. Then she motioned to him with her arm. “Come. Go with us, and we can talk. You have nothing to fear.”

Henrik looked at them both and a strange feeling caught him. The old one’s words and the look in her eyes. It was as if the tightness in his gut let go a little. As if an odd calmness slowly settled in him. Was this a curse as well? Were they in control of his soul now? Of his strength? He swallowed and wanted to say something, but couldn’t utter a word.

If they had wanted to kill him, they would have done so by now. And if they wanted to curse him, they could always do it while he was running off across the wide plain. There was no use in running from them. He was doomed either way. Unless the old one’s eyes actually conveyed the truth. That she came in peace. He stood for a long while gazing at them without a word.

“Yes,” he eventually said with an unsteady voice. “I can do that.”


Chapter 11

BY ONE OF THE tents stood a group of young men. One of them, a resilient man in his early thirties, looked at Henrik with cold eyes. Biret who was the leader of the younger men of the camp, knew the Danes and their civil servants well enough through several encounters. He had nearly attacked the bailiff the last time he and his men came to collect the king’s taxes. Shaman Jerpe and Chieftain Niillas had managed to stop him. Such an attack would be revenged unbearably hard. 

“Damned Danes”, Biret snarled. “That man is bad news. Just wait and see.”

Syneve and Maren lead Henrik through the camp, but Maren was ice cold. She didn’t talk to him and just glanced angrily in front of her. Everywhere the Lapps gathered to get a glance at the stranger. The Danes were hated up here, but this man who had shot Aslat, was apparently not here to collect taxes. So why had he come here in the first place? He really didn’t seem hostile.

Henrik looked at the people with an uneasy feeling. It all seemed so wild. All the clothing made of leather and fur. The Asian faces. The black, narrow, squinting eyes. He looked at the many tents. There were both small and large ones, made of rich animal hide. At the top, the poles on which the hide was stretched, sprawled like carbonized, bony fingers against the sky.

There was a strong smell of smoke in the air around the open fireplaces where the women prepared the food. Some were working on animal carcasses, skinning the hide and removing sinews from the meat. Children were running around, glancing astonished and curiously at Henrik walking along.

Syneve stopped in front of a big tent.

“This is my tent. Sit down here, and I will go and see to Aslat.” She removed a piece of hide covering the opening and nodded at Henrik. He looked hesitantly at her, and then ducked. It was pitch-dark in the tent, and he tumbled inside and sat down on his knees. Maren said something in that incomprehensible language and entered after him. His eyes soon adjusted to the light from the opening at the top of the tent, meant for the smoke, and he could see more.

On the ground in the middle of the tent was a small bonfire. The ground was covered with thick reindeer pelt, just like the ones he had seen at the market in Sennvik. Henrik edged his way over and instinctively held his hands over the flames. He was shaking now.

Maren studied him silently while she sat down on a reindeer pelt on the other side of the fire. She sat with her legs crossed and Henrik glanced at her and tried to settle himself in the same way on his pelt. Maren reached for a large log and put it on the fire. The fire crackled as the flames quickly caught the dry log.

Not one word was spoken.



Inside Shaman Jerpe’s tent, there was hectic activity. Aslat lay on a piece of cloth by the fire and Syneve sat by his feet. Shaman Jerpe held his hands firmly over the wound. He didn’t let go of the boy’s drowsy eyes, and soon his huge body shook from incessant shivers.

He started mumbling while his eyes narrowed.

“Come Máttaráhkká, come Máderácce, come Sáráhhkká. I call upon you, Aslat’s forefathers, come, I call you on to me,” he mumbled coarsely. “Help Aslat in his struggle, help him become a whole. Follow him in this lifespan, in this happening and bring him back to strength and life.

Come Jábemeáhkká, I beg you, do not call Aslat to you yet; let him continue this lifespan, if it pleases you.

I thank you.”

Then he suddenly removed his hands. The wound lay open and glistening, but the blood wasn’t running. He had stopped it. Syneve quickly handed him a drum that lay behind him. It was the size of a fist, slightly oval-shaped and as wide as his hips. A number of small figures and symbols were painted with reindeer blood on the drumskin, people and animals, the sun and the moon and some wooden buildings.

Jerpe grabbed a wooden hammer and placed the drum edgewise on his lap. Then he closed his eyes and started drumming.

The sound was faint at first, then it gradually became louder and more intense and soon filled the tent as if the air was being pressed out. The rumbling resonance from the drum vibrated in their bodies and Aslat lay quivering on the pelt. Eventually everything was united. They all three shut their eyes and lost sense of time and place as the even drumming filled them completely.

Syneve let her voice slowly rise; chanting a song of the Lapps, louder and louder until Jerpe’s drumming gradually calmed and became softer.

Then there was silence.  

*

The smoke rose efficiently through the opening at the top, and Henrik edged himself even closer to the warming flames of the bonfire.

“You are not welcome in Sennvik,” Maren suddenly said, “and you are not welcome here. Yet here you are.” Henrik waved his arms.

“I am depicting the mountains for my captain. And I was painting when the boys destroyed my equipment and made an evil, ritual figure.”

“So you just shot them!” Maren said angrily.

“I was taken by surprise!” Henrik shouted in sudden rage. Then he controlled himself and continued in a calmer voice. “I panicked and shot. I didn’t plan on it.” He sat looking into the flames for a moment. “But fortunately they were two and the other boy could take me here.” He looked up at Maren. “I sincerely hope he will live.”

Suddenly the hide cover in the opening was pulled aside and Syneve entered. She sat down between them by the fire and looked gravely at Henrik.

“Aslat will live,” she said in a calm voice. Henrik closed his eyes and clenched his fists. A wave of relief flowed through him. The thought of having killed the little boy would have been impossible for him to bear. “Jerpe managed to stop the bleeding, but he has lost a lot of blood for which we have given him nettle brew,” Syneve continued.

“Your shot tore open his flesh and ribs, but didn’t penetrate his rib case. The Creator has spared the both of you.

Henrik looked relieved and she studied him in wonder.

“What is your name?” she said. He hesitated. There was apparently a lot Lapp shamans could do just by knowing people’s names. But that was probably distant doings and he was here in person. So it wouldn’t do any harm to tell, would it? He tried to calm his mind.

“Henrik … Borkhart,” he said and looked at them both. Syneve nodded.

“My name is Syneve Andersdatter and this is my grandchild.” She looked over at Maren.

“I am Maren,” she said briefly and eyed Henrik up and down. “I am trying to understand why all this is happening, Dane,” she said. Syneve looked at her gravely.

“We all do, and I think we should go over to Chieftain Niillas now. They are waiting for us.”

Chieftain Niillas lived in a large, tall tent. Syneve entered first, followed by Henrik, bowing his way in, then finally Maren. 

The tent was full of people. Behind a fire sat Niillas himself. He was a short man in his sixties with a straight back, big head and short graying hair. His eyes were narrow and dark and his mouth had strict lines. He sat with his feet crossed and his hands calmly on his lap. He wore a thick, light leather-jacket and brown leather-pants. The shiny knees of his pants indicated that they were well worn. On each side of him and around in the tent, sat a number of the camp’s elders, both men and women.

Syneve motioned with her hand toward a reindeer pelt and Henrik sat down. Maren and Syneve sat down beside Niillas and looked at Henrik. Everybody’s eyes rested on him. He tried to breathe deeply without seeming nervous, but he was tense despite Syneve’s reassurances.

He looked at their faces. Were they hostile? Full of hate? Would he be punished in any way? What was hiding behind those weather beaten, leathery faces?

Most of them were older men and women, but also some younger men. Most of them watched him with hard eyes, and he turned away his gaze and concentrated on looking at the man who obviously was their leader.

“This is Henrik Borkhart from the Danish ships,” Syneve said in Lapp language. Chieftain Niillas nodded slowly and looked calmly at Henrik.

“Hen-rik,” he said, as if tasting the name. Then he took a deep breath. “Dramatic circumstances have brought us together here today, Henrik.” Syneve leaned over toward him and translated in a low voice. He nodded. “Even though your act was violent, you have shown courage,” Niillas continued, “and a pure heart.” Henrik just looked at him while silence lingered in the tent. Firewood sparked and a sudden crackling sound was heard.

“The Gods have a purpose with everything,” the chieftain said solemnly and stared into the fire. “And Aslat is alive because Jábemeáhkká wants him to be. She rules over life and death, but even death should not be feared.” He looked up at Henrik again. “Because when you leave this world you enter down into “the other world”, the subterranean world and some time later, your life will continue in a newborn human baby.

That is the wheel of life.”

Henrik stared gravely at him while Syneve translated. He nodded and looked unhappily at the chieftain.

“I must ask of you to forgive me this accident,” he said. Niillas threw a glance at Syneve and nodded slowly while she translated.

“We can forgive you,” he said. “I believe you when you say it was an accident. And I can sense your sincere concern for Aslat’s life. Bringing him here is what is important.” He drummed his fingers against each other and looked down into the flames for a moment.

“We were in a way expecting you when we heard of the ships. We get visits from the Danes and their men now and then,” he continued and looked up at Henrik. “But the men that come are not pure at heart.”

Henrik nodded while Syneve translated. “Your king demands taxes from us. Many taxes. And his men are cruel in their eagerness to collect them.”

He motioned with his hand toward Shaman Jerpe. “They fear our medicine people. They accuse us of evil doings. And they kill us for it. A shaman in Finnmark, a relative of us, was burned this winter. They said that he will not be the last.” He looked at Henrik with dark eyes. “We know what you think. We know what you fear. And we see it coming now.

We see death.”

Henrik was silent. Shamans on the fire. Troll-like creatures. He knew very well about these things, and it had been reassuring to know that someone handled the witchery. There had been many witch burnings in Copenhagen over the past years. Although it hadn’t really affected him, he had always felt it was the right thing. Necessary.

That was why it felt so strange to be there now. The chieftain’s face. His words. The shaman who saved the boy’s life. The elders. Suddenly he wasn’t quite so sure.

The thoughts rushed through his head again. Was it a curse? He shifted between being calm and confident, and experiencing the all too familiar feeling of fear. He looked Chieftain Niillas deep in the eye. He didn’t see hate or vengeance. But he saw sadness. He had nothing to say. Words couldn’t do anything now. Almost instinctively, he bowed his head. As if he was offering his condolences. Apologizing. It happened out of his control and he looked almost surprised as he lifted his head again and gazed up at the chieftain.

*

Henrik was followed through the camp by the same curious eyes as when he arrived, but now he felt different. In his mind, there was chaos and he tried to gather his thoughts. Niillas looked at him thoughtfully.

“Máttaráhkká and Máderácce have been generous with us today. I wish for you that they will watch over you among your own people.” Henrik reached out his hand and Niillas accepted it. “You are a good man, Henrik Dane.” There was a moment of silence.

“But will you find your way back on your own?” Syneve said.

“Oh, I will,” Henrik insisted. “Farewell, then.” He met their gazes. “Maybe we will meet again.”

Then he set off. He had to get away now, to clear his mind. He was confused.

Shortly after, Syneve called at him.

“Eh, Henrik!” He stopped and turned around. She nodded her head. “It’s the other direction.” He looked slightly helpless, but pretended he just came to think of it himself. Embarrassed, he walked back towards them again.

“Maren, will you be good and accompany Henrik to the coast?” Syneve suddenly said,” so that the quagmire won’t swallow him.” Maren shot her an annoyed glance, but nodded briefly. That would have been just as well, she seemed to think and Syneve smiled lovingly at Maren’s temper.

“Heh, yes … so we meet again,” Henrik said embarrassed. Syneve translated and people started smiling.

“Shall we?” Maren said impatiently and started walking.

“Maren will accompany you to the fjord,” Syneve explained. Henrik looked briefly at her and tried to hide his discouragement.

Then he followed her.

They went for a long while without talking. He could tell that Maren was used to getting about in the landscape. She moved easily across the terrain. The incidents had affected Henrik deeply and he felt a fatigue filling him. He hurried as best he could to keep up with her, but his body hurt all over.

“So they are your family?” he suddenly said.

“Yes,” she said without turning around. He could feel the cold from her back in front of him. He tried to ignore it.

“And your parents? Were they present today as well?” She shook her head.

“They’re dead. A long time ago.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” he said, immediately regretting his question. She still didn’t turn, but he could sense another mood.

“I have Grandma,” Maren continued. “She’s fantastic and I owe her everything.” Henrik didn’t know what more to say and they went on in silence again.

Suddenly he started recognizing the landscape and shortly after, at a distance, he saw his easel. They went over to it and Maren looked at the branches and the face with moss hair.

“Really scary, this,” she said sarcastically. Henrik removed the moss and pulled out the branches. It didn’t look very scary to him either now. He peered uncomfortably at her where she was standing looking out over the fjord and the mountains. He tossed the painting supplies into his backpack and lifted it on to his back. What a damned difficult girl she was. He didn’t know how to handle all that hate, all that anger.

“I should probably thank you,” she suddenly said. He tied a leather strap around the legs of the easel and looked surprised up at her.

“Thank me?” he said puzzled.

“You carried Aslat back to our camp,” she said. “You could have let him lie here and bleed to death. You burn Lapp shamans on the bonfire, so why bother about a little Lapp-boy. No one would report it to your powerful fleet.” She turned around, facing him. The chill was gone and she actually almost looked mild for a second. Their eyes turned down and he had nothing to say.

They stood like this for a few seconds. It was a moment that was quite unexpected to both of them.

“Will you be all right from here?” she suddenly said, as if she wanted to break the spell. Henrik was torn out of thoughts he never even knew he had.

“Absolutely,” he answered and hung the easel over his shoulder. “Should be able to find my way now,” he grinned. “Thanks for the company.” Then he looked straight ahead and walked resolutely toward the edge of the mountain. He felt so strange. He stared in front of him while walking. After a few meters, he turned around wanting to say something to her.

But she had already vanished between the cliffs.

*

A decree signed by King Christian intensified the man hunt, and from 1593 to 1695 more than 800 trials were held and 307 executions carried out nationwide. Demanding no mercy the king sent more than 5% of the population of northern Norway in the flames, 86% of the executed being women. Percentage wise these processes became among the worst in the whole of Europe.

Johanne Nilsdaughter was the last woman executed as a witch. She was burned in Kvaefjord in Troms in November 1695.

Female power and independence is still seen as a threat in many places today. In South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia and India as much as a 100,000 women have been executed for witchery since World War II.

In the 1990’s President Mandela had to open asylums for women fleeing from the witch accusations. The Tanzanian Ministry of Families report that from 1970-1985 more than 3,000 persons were burnt as witches, 70 % of them being women. And from 1994-1998 more than 5,000 persons were executed, now more than 80 % of them being women and many of them elderly.

In June 2001 more than 800 women were burned in the Aru region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amnesty International criticises these countries for not paying real attention to this growing, lethal problem, as thousands of women are still sent into the flames every year.

Kolby is renowned as a painter, but in the recent years he has dedicated himself more to his authorship. After having published the children’s fairytale novel Will O’Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge in 2001 he began researching and writing both a screenplay and a novel of the story Flames.

The author Ross Kolby