Keeping the peace between my dysfunctional family was difficult. My older brother, Lukas, constantly fought with our roommate, Mathias. The two had never been fond of each other, always speaking venomous words to the other, and beating each other until blood was drawn. Mathias Køhler was a fairly tall blonde man, who was rather intimidating due to his chilling grin and sharp axe. As a lumberjack, Mathias was required keep the blade, but it still frightens me to this day. My brother, Lukas Bondevik, was the smaller of the two. Platinum blonde hair which he wore with a cross barrette, that our younger brother gave to him, as well as a curl extending off his head. Lukas' eyes were indigo and blank with an emotionless gaze. He never smiled, such a face saddens me. He worked in the harbour of Oslo, as a sailor and fisherman to support the family. Lukas and Mathias were very kind to me and my other brother, but they made us feel uncomfortable when they fought.
There was also my younger brother, Emil Steilsson. Emil was rather sickly, and we had to monitor his health very precisely to be sure that he didn't fall ill, like he had in the past. He could hardly move, and had to be pushed in a wheelchair. Emil's white hair had always had a shiny glow to it, and his mauve eyes brought a smile to my face. His gentle nature was always calming, but he also was overwhelmed easily. Then there's me, Kjersti. I was to be the caretaker around our home, seeing how Lukas and Mathias worked to support the family, Emil was too weak to do anything to help, and I was home all the time because I am a woman. That's what the women did around here, stay home, listen to their husbands, and take care of their children. I didn't have a husband or children, I had two brothers and close friend. It felt like I was a mother to them though. I cooked and cleaned while they worked and rested, all day, everyday.
Everyday was the same routine. I woke up before the sun rose, got into my brown long-sleeved dress, and braided my fair blonde hair. I then went downstairs to prepare a warm meal for the family. When Lukas and Mathias awoke, they got in their working attire. Lukas was required wear a blue sailor suit, and Mathias a red and black tunic. They came downstairs and ate the breakfast I prepared for them. After they thanked me, they set out for another day of hard labour. Emil didn't wake up for a few more hours, I constantly prayed that the reason for this was fatigue and not a serious internal conflict. When I heard that Emil had risen, I went into his room and helped him dress. Emil had very stiff joints, hence he could not do this on his own. He wasn't little, but I feel that we treated him as you would a child. I went to prepare his breakfast, which Emil was able to eat without any assistance. After that I would have him conduct activities such as writing, kneading clay, or pushing buttons to loosen the joints in his hands. Once he grew bored with these exercises, we went for a stroll outside and had nice conversations. It was at this time when I truly felt close to my brother. When Lukas and Mathias came home, we ate supper, we bathed, then we went to sleep for the night. That was the routine, and I did not like to stray far from it.
However, one day would change our lives.
It was noon, and the clouds were dark and thundering. I was sitting with Emil's head in my lap, since he had not been feeling well that day. We heard the murmurs of the television in the background, but one statement stood out to me.
"About an hour ago," the reporter started, "local fishermen were put in danger as a storm approaches. Large waves crashed on the workers, making them and their catch fall from their broken boats."
I kept watching, for there seemed to be plenty of workers in their uniforms in the background.
"The fishermen made it back to the dock safely."
I exhaled a sigh of relief.
I froze in shock, as Emil looked at me with fear in his eyes.
"Don't worry," I said, "There's many workers on the harbour, it's unlikely that Lukas is the missing one."
The reporter spoke again as she held up a shining gold object, "This hairslide in the shape of the Cross was found in the broken boat of the missing worker."
I cried out as Emil clenched my hand tightly, holding back his own tears.
"We currently do not know who this item belongs to, but when we find out we will inform the public."
I screamed in anguish, which frightened Emil. I held him close as we sobbed together. At this time, Mathias came through the door. He attempted to calm us down, but we could tell that he was much more upset than the two of us.
"It will be alright," he kept whispering, but it seemed as if he was only trying to assure himself.
"Ægir!" I screamed to the Gods, "Please bring him back! I beg of you!"
Emil embraced me tightly, in an attempt to calm me, "Ægir, Rán, please let us see him again..."
I could hear Mathias' quiet sobs, as he tried to comprehend what had happened to Lukas. The newscast showed the same reporter, her face was euphoric in that appearance.
"Just in!" she said to gain the viewers' attention, "The Cross accessory found belongs to a worker by the name of Lukas Bondevik. He has just been found alive, but in pain as the impact of the storm has seemed to have severely mutilated both of his legs."
I wept joyous tears, as I held the rest of the family near, and thanked the Gods for listening to our prayers.
"He will be taken to the nearest hospital and his family will be notified immediately."
We got up and made our way to the hospital where we waited to be escorted to Lukas' room. We waited for around five hours, but we didn't mind it. A nurse walked in and kindly showed us to the hospital room where my brother laid. He was heavily sedated, an oxygen mask was over his face as he struggled to breathe, and an IV was flowing into his veins. However, the most grotesque feature of my brother at that time was his missing legs. I gasped and almost fainted. Hours later, Lukas awoke and looked at the three of us present in the room. We came closer to him and flashed small, yet genuine smiles. He didn't do the same, in fact he showed a guilt-caused grimace. We looked at him with worry, until Emil questioned him.
"Bror, why are you so upset?"
A few tears collected in Lukas' eyes, "I can't provide for the family anymore. We were living off of the money Mathias and I made combined. Now I can't work."
I stood in deep thought for a moment, as everyone stopped and stared. My greatest desire was to be different from the rest of the girls in this city, I wanted to be unique.
"I'll take your place, Lukas. I'm the only other person in our household who is capable of working."
Lukas shook his head, "They're sexist. They don't like women."
"There's no other jobs available for women around here! It's decided, I will pretend you be you, and we will live on without worry."
We argued for a few more minutes, until he reluctantly agreed. He handed me his hair clip and explained how they delivered it to him, and how I would need to wear it all the time.
"I'll see how you go about this when I can go back home in about a month. Please be careful, some people are immoral around there."
That night, I dreamt. I dreamt a sweet illusion of Lukas, sitting beside a stream and listening to the calm rhythm of the running river. He sang quietly to the water.
"The river is flowing...flowing....flowing..... The river is flowing, back to the sea."
He stood on his legs, before he dove into the body of water.
"Mother! Carry me! Your child, I will always be. Mother! Carry me, back to the sea..."
Sadly, we had no mother. Though, when Lukas dove into the water, I could see a smile on his face as he closed his eyes. Such a peaceful expression it was, considering the fact that he had been swallowed by the water.
"The river is growing...growing....growing..... The river is growing, inside of me."
Lukas stayed still in the water, letting the current take him. Though the stream looked small, it was crystal clear and deep.
"Ægir, Rán! Carry me! Your child, I will always be. Ægir, Rán! Carry me, back to the sea..."
With those words last sang, the dream ended, and I awoke feeling enlightened.
After I rose from sleep, I knew that it would be my first day working. Finally... I retrieved Lukas' uniform from the closet and dressed myself in it. It was a bit big on me, which I was glad for since it made my feminine attributes less noticeable and hidden. I tied my hair in a bun atop my head, and put it into the hat. I took the gold hair pin and used it to clip my bangs back. I looked into the mirror, I did indeed look like my brother. Nobody would be able to tell the difference. Except for one thing, the eyes.
My eyes were a bright cerulean, shining and prominent. The complete opposite of Lukas'. I sighed and decided that it would have to do. I walked from the room, to where Mathias was standing in the corridor. He looked at me with worry in his usually cheerful eyes.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked me with sincere concern.
"Yes," I replied, "but I would like to check on Emil before I go."
I walked into Emil's bedroom, but he was already awake. I approached him further, a pained grimace on his face contrary to his usual stoic features. He clutched his stomach as he let out strained and raspy cries. I didn't panic immediately, seeing how Emil was often ill. Though, this time he seemed to be in much more pain than last time his stomach bothered him. I laid him back gently, pulling up his shirt to examine his abdomen. Mathias peered into the room, then came to my side as he witnessed Emil's suffering.
"My God Kjersti," he said to me, "What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know," I replied.
Emil tried to speak, but his stomach lurched and he started to retch violently. Mathias ran to fetch a wastebasket, while I rubbed Emil's back steadily. Mathias handed the basket to Emil, who finished vomiting inside of it.
"Where does it hurt?" I asked him.
Emil caught his breath then replied, "It aches around the navel."
I began to put pressure on the centre of his stomach, he cringed at the painful sensation the action brought.
"I think he should be okay while we're working. It's probably just indigestion, or something along those lines."
Mathias nodded to me, "Emil, do you think you'll be okay?"
"Y-Yeah, I'll be fine..."
With that said, Mathias and reluctantly left to our work.
When I arrived at the docks, I was greeted warmly by the other workers.
"Lukas! We are so glad you're okay."
"Thank you," I told them, "I'm glad to be back."
They looked at me rather confused, but brought the boats to the shore.
"We need you to check the traps we set yesterday."
I nodded and paddled myself over to the first trap. I examined it, removing the crustaceans inside of it. I checked it again and replaced it. I repeated this procedure until all the traps were examined. I returned to the shoreline, handing my catch off to one of the other workers. Another one of the fishermen pulled me to the side.
"Hei, Lukas. You seem different. Are you alright?"
"Yeah," I responded immediately, trying to sound as much like my brother as possible, "I'm perfectly fine."
"You sure?" he asked, not buying it, "You sound different, and your eyes are brighter. Also, you seem shorter."
I laughed nervously, "You must be imagining things."
"No," the man whispered, "I know that you're not Lukas."
He put his hand on my chest, I gasped and slapped it away.
"I knew it," he said in a very dark tone, "You're a woman."
The man called over a few others and whispered quickly to them. They began to remove my clothing and do as they wished to my body for quite some time. I screamed for help, and the men threw me into the water before they fled, as they saw Mathias dashing towards the scene. I wept bitterly in the water, cold and naked. Mathias scooped me in his arms, not minding that I was stark.
"What happened?" he asked.
"T-They took-" Mathias hushed me, for he knew how I was to finish that sentence. He wiped the tears I was crying, and took off his overcoat and wrapped it around me. He walked home, carrying me in his arms. Somehow, it reminded me of the dream I had that one night.
"Mother! Carry me! Your child I will always be. Ægir, Rán! Carry me, back to the sea..."
When we arrived home, Mathias set me down in my bed, questioning me about what happened, trying to put names with faces, etcetera. I gave him all the information he needed, and he promised to punish the people who hurt me. By him personally. When I collected myself, though I was traumatised for life, I went to see how Emil was doing. My little brother was the only person that could bring me peace. He was sound asleep, though his face was pale with flushed cheeks, beads of sweat on his forehead, and the wastebasket filled with an alarming amount of vomit. Even in sleep, he was still in pain. I could see it in his gentle face. I lightly caressed his cheek, feeling the hot touch of his skin. I removed his shirt, and saw how swollen his stomach had become. I sympathised him, my brother was very sick indeed. The swelling seemed painful, and very serious.
"Mathias!" I called, "You should come see this..."
Mathias walked into the room and came to the bedside.
"Holy shit... Wake him up, we need to check a few things."
I nodded, then gently shook Emil awake. He moaned in pain as he pulled his knees to his chest to ease his discomfort.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"The c-cramps are much w-worse now," he replied.
Mathias began to put pressure on the tender spots, Emil winced and his muscles tensed.
"It hurts worse now, doesn't it?"
"Fjandinn..." Emil muttered.
"I'll take that as a yes. Where?"
Emil took shallow breaths as he spoke, "L-Lower...r-right..."
Mathias nodded and looked at me, "Kjersti, I don't want you to worry, but he has appendicitis and we need to take him to the hospital. Immediately."
My eyes widened, appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires an appendicectomy. With everything that had happened that day, I couldn't take it. I sobbed as I held onto Mathias.
"Hej... Calm down, it's not like he's going to die. He just needs the surgery, then he'll be perfectly fine."
We carried Emil to the car, I held him in the backseat as Mathias drove to the hospital. The nurse took him to a room, and Mathias and I filled out the paperwork. One hour, five hours, seven hours, we heard nothing. I paced in the room, very anxious. It wasn't until twelve hours later that we finally heard from one of the doctors. He took us into the back room and looked at us with a sympathetic gaze.
"He didn't make it."
I was silent for a moment. My baby brother didn't survive this illness because I thought nothing of it. My angel was now dead because of me. I ran from the room in tears, weeping bitterly, blaming myself for everything.
"I shouldn't have waited! I needed to take him in days ago! Fean! I can't take it!"
Cause of death; Ruptured appendix with late treatment. Days later, I realised this had only made me stronger. I was going to stand up for myself, and work at the harbour today. I put on my uniform and made my way down. There was almost no adults there. Children in boats, laughing and playing, fishing and setting traps. When I walked down to the docks, the children came to me.
"Kjersti?" a small boy asked, "We've heard so much about you! You're a real hero."
I smiled, "For my giver, other half, and angel. Lukas, Mathias, and Emil. I'm here for my family."
"We want to help you!" a little girl stated cheerfully, "We caught you fish, because the bad men got in trouble and can't work here anymore. We work here now because we want to!"
"Thank you all," I told them.
"Do you want to come in the boats with us?"
I nodded, "Of course."
I stepped into a boat and started to paddle down the river that the harbour leads into.
"Dark brown is the river, golden is the sand. If it flows along forever, when will we all come home?"