The ship was sinking. Little Ellen Kiel huddled in her parents’ berth, waiting for them to come back for her.
The water was rising, churning, and black. A dirty, oily gleam rippled upon the surface. It was cold, freezing cold, where it lapped at her toes.
Ellen squeezed herself into the corner as tightly as she could.
The cupboard doors tilted open and spilled out their belongings: clothes, toiletries, and books. It all splashed down in the water and slowly sank out of sight.
“Mama?” Ellen called. “Mama, where are you?”
A monstrous groan that rose up from far below, and the ship creaked.
The water was unrelenting. In no hurry, it filled the cabin from bottom to top as the walls shifted askew.
Body shivering beyond control, Ellen trod water with difficulty. Her tears blended with the salty sea, as lost as she in its vastness.
When the water overcame her, Ellen promised the gods that she would be a good girl, forever and ever, if they would only send her parents to get her. Please, she silently pleaded. I’ll be good!
Suddenly, something large and strong wrapped around her ankle and dragged her down.
She nearly cried out in fear or in hope, but she was moving so quickly through the water that it was going up her nose. She began to cough and choke—letting the all-consuming sea inside.
The next thing she knew, her head emerged into the open air, and she inhaled. Her lungs and belly rejected the water in them with painful determination.
A thick band wrapped around her middle kept her head above the surface, and a gruff voice growled in her ear, “That’s it. Cough it all up. You’re gonna be okay.”
Ellen clung to the norn who had her in his arms. Her fingers closed around his hair, and she would not let go, not even after he’d set her on the deck of the rescue ship and wrapped her in a blanket.
“It’s all right, kid,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Magnus. Are your parents on that ship?”
Ellen nodded. “Mama and Daddy.”
“We’ve got people looking for them. It’s going to be okay. You can let go of me now.” Magnus gently pried at her small hand with his large one.
“No!” Ellen insisted and clung harder.
“Okay, okay.” Magnus wrapped her in his arms. “Today’s a good day to be afraid. You have tomorrow and the rest of your life to be brave.”