Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
Just as we were all getting back into the mainland domestic groove, somebody started in with dragons and crop blights from across the North Sea. We all knew who it was. A turncoat Norwegian monk named Naddod had been big medicine on the dragon-and-blight circuit for the last decade or so, and was known to bring heavy ordnance for whoever could lay out some silver. Scuttlebutt had it that Naddod was operating out of a monastery on Lindisfarne, whose people wed troubled on a pillage-and-consternation tour through Northumbria after Corn Harvesting Month last fall. Now bitter winds were screaming in from the west, searing the land and ripping the grass from the soil. Salmon were turning up spattered with sores, and grasshoppers clung to the wheat in rapacious buzzing bunches.
I tried to put these things out of my mind. Wed been away three long months harrying the Hibernian shores, and now I was back with Pila, my common-law, and thinking that home was very close to paradise in these endless summer days. Wed built our house together, Pila and me. It was a fine little wattle and daub cabin on a pretty bit of plain where a wide blue fjord stabbed into the land. On summer evenings my young wife and I would sit out front, high on potato wine, and watch the sun stitch its orange skirt across the horizon. At times such as these, you get a good, humble feeling, like the gods made this place, this moment, first and concocted you as an afterthought just to be there to enjoy it.
I was doing a lot of enjoying and relishing and laying around the rack with Pila, though I knew what it meant when I heard those flint-edged winds howling past the house. Some individuals three weeks boat ride off were messing up our summer and would probably need their asses whipped over it.
Of course, DjarfFairhair had his stinger out even before his wife spotted those dragons winging it inland from the coast. He was boss on our ship and a fool for warfare. His appetite for action was so terrifying and infectious, hed once riled up a gang of Frankish slaves and led them south to afflict and maim their own countrymen. Hed gotten in four days of decent sacking when the slaves began to see the situation for what it was and underwent a sudden change of attitude. Djarf had been fighting his way up the Rhine Valley, making steady progress through a half-assed citizens militia of children and farmers, when the slaves closed in behind him. People who were there say he turned absolutely feral and began berserking with a pair of broadaxes, chewing through the lines like corn kernels on a cob, and that when the axes broke, he took up someones severed leg and used it as a club, so horrifying those gentle provincials that they fell back and gave him wide berth to the ship.
Djarf was from Hedeby-Slesvig up the Sli fjord, a foul and rocky locality whose people take a worrisome pleasure in the gruesome sides of life. They have a habit down there if they dont like a childs looks when he slides from the womb, they pitch him into the deep and wait for the next one. Djarf himself was supposedly a colicky baby, and it was only the beneficence of the tides and his own vicious tenacity that got him to the far beach when his father tried to wash him from the world.
Hed been campaigning for payback ever since. I guess I was with him on a search-and-destroy tour against Louis the Pious, and with my own eyes watched him climb up over the soldiers backs and stride across their shoulders, scything skulls as he went. On that same trip, we ran low on food, and it was Djarf who decided to throw our own dead on the fire and have at last nights mutton when their stomachs burst. Hed been the only one of us to dig in, apart from a deranged Arab along as a spellbuster. He reached right in there, scooping out chewed-up victuals with a shank of pine bark. "Greenhorns," he called us, the firelight twitching on his face. "Foods food. If these boys hadnt gotten their threads snipped, theyd tell you the same thing."
Excerpted from Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, published March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Wells Tower. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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