The boy colored. He let his sword arm hang. He looked at his friends to see if hed been humiliated in front of them and, if he had, what he needed to do about it. The whole boat was looking over him. Even Djarf paused in his song. The other kid on his bench whispered something and scooted over. The boy sat and took the oar. The rowing and the chatter started up again.
You could say that those people on Lindisfarne were fools, living out there on a tiny island without high cliffs or decent natural defenses, and so close to us and also the Swedes and the Norwegians, how we saw it, we couldnt afford not to come by and sack every now and again. But when we came into the bright little bay, a quiet fell over all of us. Even the hockchoppers quit grab-assing and looked. The place was wild with fields of purple thistle, and when the wind blew, it twitched and rolled, like the hide of some fantastic animal shrugging in its sleep. Wildflowers spurted on the hills in fat red gouts. Apple trees lined the shore, and there was something sorrowful in how they hung so low with fruit. We could see a man making his way toward a clump of white-walled cottages, his donkey loping along behind him with a load. On the far hill, I could make out the silhouette of the monastery, which still lacked a roof from when wed burned it last. It was a lovely place, and I hoped there would still be something left to enjoy after we got off the ship and wrecked it up.
We gathered on the beach, and already Djarf was in a lather. He did a few deep knee bends, got down in front of all of us and ran through some poses, cracking his bones and drawing out the knots in his muscles. Then he closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. His eyes were still closed when a man in a long robe appeared, picking his way down through the thistle.
Haakon Gokstad had a finger stuck in his mouth where one of his teeth had come out. He removed the finger and spat through the hole. He nodded up the hill at the figure heading our way, "My, that sumbitch has got some brass," he said.
The man walked straight to Djarf. He stood before him and removed his hood. His hair lay thin on his scalp and had probably been blond before it went white. He was old, with lines on his face that could have been drawn with a dagger point.
"Naddod," Djarf said, dipping his head slightly. "Suppose youve been expecting us."
"I certainly have not," Naddod said. He brought his hand up to the rude wooden cross that hung from his neck. "And I wont sport with you and pretend the surprise is entirely a pleasant one. Frankly, there isnt much left here worth pirating, so, yes, its a bit of a puzzle."
"Uh-huh," said Djarf. "Cant tell us anything about a hailstorm, or locusts and shit, or a bunch of damn dragons coming around and scaring the piss out of everybodys wife. You dont know nothing about any of that."
Naddod held his palms up and smiled piteously. "No, Im very sorry, I dont. We did send a monkey pox down to the Spanish garrison at Much Wenlock, but honestly, nothing your way."
Djarfs tone changed, and his voice got loud and amiable. "Huh. Well, thats something." He turned to us and held up his hands. "Hey, boys, hate to break it to you, but it sounds like somebody fucked something up here. Old Naddod says it wasnt him, and as soon as he tells me just who in the hell it was behind the inconveniences we been having, well get back under way."
"Right." Naddod was uneasy, and I could see a chill run through him. "If youre passing through Mercia, I know theyve just gotten hold of this man Aethelrik. Supposed to be a very tough customer. You know, that was his leprosy outbreak last year in - "
Djarf was grinning and nodding, but Naddod looked suddenly ill. Djarf kept a small knife in his belt, and in the way other men smoked a pipe or chewed seeds, Djarf liked to strop that little knife. It was sharpened down to a little fingernail of blade. You could shave a fairys ass with that thing. And while Naddod was talking, Djarf had pulled out his knife and drawn it neatly down the priests belly. At the sight of blood washing over the white seashells, everybody pressed forward, hollering and whipping their swords around. Djarf was overcome with crazed elation, and he hopped up and down, yelling for everybody to be quiet and watch him.
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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