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Vladyslav is stuck. His ship is held in a frozen grip by an unforgiving ocean. But Vlad knows a secret that the ocean doesn't: tomorrow is going to be the best day of his life.

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Chapter 1

The northern sea had turned to a lightly dusted sapphire in the night. The frozen waves held fast against the bow of the ship, as if they were afraid of losing it. The polehammer came down on the ice with a wicked crack, spraying chips in every direction. Vladyslav winced as a jagged tooth of ice bit into the back of his hand.

He flicked his wrist, blood sprayed in the shape of a bird in the fresh snow.

“I am so lucky” bellowed the large man, his red braid whipping against his shoulder as he looked up and smiled. “It’s so cold I can’t feel anything! What outrageous fortune we have, comrades” His voice boomed, carrying up from his place on the ice, echoing loudly enough to be heard on the ship. It flew across the frozen desert of white.

Again and again the hammer fell–the scored metal face seemed to sing as it was brought against the ice with unrelenting patience. Vladyslav sang as he worked, his arms kept time with his tempo. He sang all the songs he knew of brave warriors who overcame impossible odds. He sang Marlon the Mighty, Sergei and the Dagger, Willam and the Wind Walker. Then when he couldn’t think of any more songs about brave men, he began to make up his own clumsy verses.

“Ho and the men lost their way

Tried to leave instead they stay

Vlad toils and hammers all day

And stronger he gets until…”

Vladyslav pondered the next rhyme as he worked. A cold wind blew down his collar and froze the sweat that was beginning to collect at the base of his spine. He stopped for a moment to tighten the makeshift scarf around his neck and leaned against the long hammer. His back sang a song of pain and exhaustion like a whale about to beach itself. There was a flapping sound as the sail tried to free itself from the mast.

Vladyslav’s hand pulsed in time to his heart, -the blood has ceased to flow. He called out

“Ho brothers! Watch for the pole!” and then threw his hammer with a practiced ease onto the deck of the ship. There was a metallic clatter as it landed on the frozen boards above. Vladyslav winced against the cold as he gazed at the mountains of drifting snow that rested on the solid sea. The ship was a speck of darkness in a white void, like an inverted star. Even the sky seemed to be made of the same bright firmament as the snow, and the horizon blurred into nothingness. Vladyslav fought a wave of vertigo and then shook his head.

“Coming up brothers! Time for a drink.” He grinned like a schoolboy about to steal some sweets from the jar.

He hauled his massive frame up the rope ladder and into the ship. Dimitri was by the pile of ropes that wrapped around the anchor point.

“The ice is mean today, but we’ll fight her again tomorrow” he said to Dimitri as he patted him on the shoulder. Dimtiri said nothing, his eyes fixed on the blindingly white sky.

Vladyslav shouldered open the frozen door to the crew’s quarters. “Lazy dogs!” he called out in a jovial tone. “Time for our reward after a long day” he crouched down and opened his trunk. Inside were three empty bottles and one that still had some clear liquid at the bottom. Vladyslav carefully measured out the rest and poured small glasses for himself and Dimitri. “What a miracle, that vodka doesn’t freeze,” chattered Vlad

“And that is the least of its power” the men would have said and slapped him on the back two weeks ago, but now they were silent. The cold had stilled their humor, turned them into slow and quiet things.

Vlad leaned back in his bunk, the blanket crunched and let loose a shower of frost to the dark floorboards. “Tomorrow is going to be the best day of our lives.”

The next morning, the sun broke across the snow like a raw egg. Vlad shielded his eyes. He was already chipping away at the ice. There was a dark green line painted across the bow to show the maximum load the ship could carry. Yesterday the ice had barely reached it and now the line was almost covered. Vlad whistled and struck again and again. His hands were numb from the ceaseless vibration and the ever-present cold. His red braid waved like a flame in the early morning cold. An arctic fox ran past, as quick as the wind. The sail banged its irregular staccato against the mast, and Vlad tried to sing along.

That night he slept with two jackets on.

“Tomorrow is going to be the best day of our lives.”

The next morning the green line was invisible. The ice had climbed another steady inch. Vlad swung again and again. He began to make up poems and sayings, and the air ate them without comment.

“Everyday we live, another day forgives” he panted and wiped the freezing sweat from his brow.

“Every day I am alive, I am so grateful. I am.” He fell to one knee, not feeling the impact. His vision swam. He gritted his teeth and got back up.

“Brothers!” he called out, his empty belly seemed to echo like a gong as he spoke.

“I’m starving, I hope you saved something for me!”

He tried to climb the rigid rope ladder to the deck, slipping twice and falling to the blue-black ice. The second time, he gave in and admired the sky above. That resistant, featureless white. He grinned and his chapped lips cracked. The metal taste invigorated him.

He bellowed like a charging bull as he climbed the ladder to the ship.

“This ice isn’t so bad!” he heard a high noise and realized he was laughing.

Dimitri was by the anchorpoint still, he hadn’t moved today. He hadn’t moved in weeks.

Vlad stumbled over to him, going to a knee. His hands shook as he took off his brother’s boots.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry” he whispered “I’ll leave your socks on so you don’t get cold.”

He pulled out the hunting knife from his belt, the sail knocked against the mast with a loud clang. He began to dissect Dimitri’s boot, the sole fell to the deck with a soft thump. Vlad put a strip of leather between his teeth and began to chew.

“This is so tough, it’s like chewing a boot!” Vlad roared with laughter. He slapped Dimitri on the shoulder, his brother slumped further into the pile of ropes. Three glasses of vodka lay next to him, two of them half full of snow.

“Brother, if you don’t drink those, I will.” Vladyslav said around his mouthful of boot leather.

Dimitri said nothing.

Vladyslav threw back one of the drinks, the alcohol and the leather in his mouth made his stomach clench reflexively. The loose metal rings of the sail knocked against the mast.

“Tomorrow–” he coughed while trying to swallow the thick leather.

“Is going to be the best day of our lives.”

The sun didn’t want to rise the next morning. It clung like a blue flame to the horizon and refused to let go. Vlad laughed, squinting into the distance. “Lazy dog!” he said to the dawn and swung the hammer down once, twice. The metal pole slipped from his hands. The flapping of the sail was insistent now and sounded like something rolling down a large hill, gaining speed and crashing into the whole village on the way down.

“The noise will help keep me awake,” he whispered. He hadn’t moved the pole hammer in an hour. It stuck fast in the rising crown of ice that circled the ship.

The arctic fox watched him from behind a fresh dune of white powdery snow. The dune blew away in a huge rush of wind and the small creature fled.

“Hello friend!” shouted Vlad, or he thought he shouted but he might have just thought it.

He reached for the hammer and tugged, but it didn’t move from its icy grip. I am like Thor, he mused. He tugged the hammer but it

Didn’t move. Didn’t move. The sail. Flapped like a dancer. Dancing. Dancing with Natasha. The curve of her hips aquiline like an eagle’s beak she used to say. Hammer stuck. What was the. Word she said. The ground is so

Hammer stuck

When did I sit down. Why is the wind so hard I can barely


The sail banging. Stuck.


Tomorrow is going


There was a loud crack. The ship heaved. The metal screeched like a banshee in Vlad’s ear. When did he sit down? When did he lean against the ship? The noise ran through him, making him vibrate like an iron string in a piano.

He stood up, his legs held him. His red braid whipped wildly in the wind. The ship was ten yards away. Twenty. His red braid smacked against his back as he chased the ship in a sprint. The sail had finally undone itself in all the flapping. It was filled with the mighty wind and was now tight as a pregnant woman’s belly.

Vlad ran, not feeling his legs as they dutifully carried him. He hooked one claw-like hand into the rope ladder that dangled from the ship. The ice cracked, showing the dark fangs of the cold water beneath, Vlad tried to climb the ladder but his hands wouldn’t hold. He fell, plunging into the black water. A gasp of air, his own hands seemed far away from him as they grabbed the razor sharp edge, somehow he pulled himself up.

Vlad found himself sitting upright, staring at the ship as it flew far beyond him. It was a hundred yards away now, then more. Soon it would vanish over the horizon, sailing into the setting sun. His brother, the men, their cargo, all safely on their way home. His breath finally came back, his wet clothes cracked as he stood up. Vlad started walking, the edge of his vision swam into darkness. He couldn’t help but smile.

Tomorrow was going to be the best day of his life.

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