Naddod was not dead. His insides had pretty much spilled out, but he was still breathing. Not crying out or anything, though, which you had to give him credit for. Djarf hunkered and flipped Naddod onto his stomach and rested a foot in the small of his back.
Gnut was right beside me. He sighed and put his hand over his eyes. "Oh, Lord, he doing a blood eagle?"
"Yeah," I said. "Looks that way."
Djarf raised his palm for quiet. "Now I know most of the old-timers have seen one of these, but it might be a new one on some of you young men." The hockchoppers tittered. "This thing is what we call a blood eagle, and if youll just sit tight a second you can see - well, its a pretty wild effect."
The men stepped back to give Djarf room to work. He placed the point of his sword to one side of Naddods spine. He leaned into it and worked the steel in gingerly, delicately crunch-ing through one rib at a time until hed made an incision about a foot long. He paused to wipe sweat from his brow, and made a parallel cut on the other side of the backbone. Then he knelt and put his hands into the cuts. He fumbled around in there a second, and then drew Naddods lungs out through the slits. As Naddod huffed and gasped, the lungs flapped, looking sort of like a pair of wings. I had to turn away myself. It was very grisly stuff.
The young men roared, and Djarf stood there, conducting the applause. Then, at his command, they all broke out their sieging tackle and swarmed up the hill.
Only Gnut and Haakon and ØrlStender and me didnt go. Ørl watched the others flock up toward the monastery, and when he was sure no one was looking back, he went to where Naddod lay dying, and struck him hard on the skull with the back of a hatchet. We were all relieved to see those lungs stop quivering. Ørl sighed and blessed himself. He said a funerary prayer, the gist of which was that he didnt know what this mans god was all about, but he was sorry that his humble servant had gotten sent up early, and on a bullshit pretext, too. He said he didnt know the man, but that he probably deserved something better the next time around.
"Cross all that water for this damn stupidity, and a flock of sheep to shave at home," Haakon grumbled.
Gnut smiled and squinted up at the sky. "My God, its a fine day. Lets go up the hill and see if we cant scratch up a bite to eat."
We hiked to the little settlement on the hill. Some ways over, where the monastery was, the young men were on a real binge. Theyd dragged out a half-dozen monks, hanged them from a tree, and then set the tree on fire.
Our hands were stiff and raw from the row over, and we paused at a well in the center of the village to wet our palms and have a drink. We were surprised to see the kid with the thumbs in his belt bust forth from a stand of ash trees, yanking some poor half-dead citizen along behind him. He walked over to where we were standing and let his victim collapse in the dusty boulevard.
"This is nice," he said to us. "Youd make good chieftains, standing around like this, watching other people work."
"Why, you little turd," Haakon said, and backhanded the boy across the mouth. The fellow lying there in the dust looked up and chuckled. The boy flushed. He plucked a dagger from his hip scabbard and stabbed Haakon in the stomach. There was a still moment. Haakon gazed down at the ruby stain spreading across his tunic. He looked greatly vexed.
As the young man realized what hed done, his features fretted up like a child trying to pout his way out of a spanking. He was still looking that way when Haakon cleaved his head across the eyebrows with one crisp stroke.
Haakon cleaned his sword and looked again at his stomach. "Sumbitch," he said, probing the wound with his pinky. "Its deep. I believe Im in a fix."
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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