So Djarf, whose wife was a sour, carp-mouthed thing and little argument for staying home, was agitating to hop back in the ship and go straighten things out in Northumbria. My buddy Gnut, who lived just over the stony moraine our wheat field backed up on, came down the hill one day and admitted that he, too, was giving it some thought. Like me, he wasnt big on warrioring. He was just crazy for boat. Hed have rowed from his shack to his shithouse if somebody would invent a ship whose prow could cut sod. His wife had passed years ago, dead from bad milk, and now that she was gone, the part of Gnut that felt peaceful in a place that didnt move beneath him had sickened and died as well.
Pila saw him coming down the hill and scowled. "Dont need to guess what hell be wanting," she said, and headed back indoors. Gnut ambled down over the hummocky earth and stopped at the pair of stump chairs Pila and I had put up on the hill where the view was so fine. From there, the fjord shone like poured silver, and sometimes you could spot a seal poking his head up through the waves.
Gnuts wool coat was stiff with filth and his long hair so heavy and unclean that even the raw wind was having a hard time getting it to move. He had a good crust of snot going in his mustache, not a pleasant thing to look at, but then, he had no one around to find it disagreeable. He tore a sprig of heather from the ground and chewed at its sweet roots.
"Djarf get at you yet?" he asked.
"No, not yet, but Im not worried hell forget."
He took the sprig from his teeth and briefly jammed it into his ear before tossing it away. "You gonna go?"
"Not until I hear the particulars, I wont."
"You can bet Im going. Ahydra flew in last night and ran off Rolf Hierdals sheep. We cant be putting up with this shit. It comes down to pride, is what it comes down to."
"Hell, Gnut, whend you get to be such a gung-ho motherfucker? I dont recall you being so proud and thin-skinned before Astrud went off to her good place. Anyhow, Lindisfarne is probably sacked-out already. If you dont recall, we pillaged the tar out of those people on the last swing through, and I doubt theyve come up with much in the meantime to justify a trip."
I wished Gnut would go ahead and own up to the fact that his life out here was making him lonely and miserable instead of laying on with this warrior-man routine. I could tell just to look at him that most days he was thinking of walking into the water and not bothering to turn back. It wasnt combat he was after. He wanted back on the boat among company.
Not that I was all that averse to a job myself, speaking in the abstract, but I was needing more sweet time with Pila. I cared more for that girl than even she probably knew, and I was hoping to get in some thorough lovemaking before the Haycutting Month was under way and see if I couldnt make us a little monkey.
But the days wore on and the weather worsened. Pila watched it closely, and the sadness welled up in her, as it often did when Id be leaving. She cussed me on some days, and others shed hold me to her and weep. And late one evening, far toward dawn, the hail started. It came suddenly, with the rasping sound a ship makes when its keel scrapes stone. We hunkered down in the sheepskins, and I whispered soothing things to Pila, trying to drown out the clatter.
The sun was not yet full up in the sky when Djarf came and knocked. I rose and stepped across the floor, which was damp with cold dew. Djarf stood in the doorway wearing a mail jacket and shield and breathing like hed jogged the whole way over. He chucked a handful of hail at my feet. "Todays the day," he said with a wild grin. "We got to get it on."
Sure, I could have told him thanks anyway, but once you back down from one job, youre lucky if theyll even let you put in for a flat-fee trade escort. I had to think long-term, me and Pila, and any little jits we might produce. Still, she didnt like to hear it. When I got back in bed, she tucked the covers over her face, hoping Id think she was angry instead of crying.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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