"Nonsense," said Gnut. "Just need to lay you down and stitch you up."
Ørl, who was softhearted, went over to the man the youngster had left. He propped him up against the well and gave him the bucket to sip at.
Across the road, an old dried-up farmer had come out of his house. He stared off at the smoke from the monastery rolling down across the bay. He nodded at us. We walked over.
"Hello," he said. I told him good day.
He squinted at my face. "Something wrong?" I asked him.
"Apologies," he said. "Just thought I recognized you, is all."
"Could be. I was through here last fall."
"Uh-huh," he said. "Now, that was a hot one. Dont know why youd want to come back. You got everything that was worth a damn on the last going-over."
"Yeah, well, were having a hard time figuring it ourselves. Came to see your man Naddod. Wrong guy, looks like, but he got gotten anyway, sorry to say."
The man sighed. "Doesnt harelip me any. We all had to tithe in to cover his retainer. Do just as well without him, I expect. So what are you doing, any looting?"
"Why? You got anything to loot?"
"Me? Oh, no. Got a decent cookstove, but I cant see you toting that back on the ship."
"Dont suppose youve got a coin hoard or anything buried out back?"
"Jeezum crow, I wish I did have. Coin hoard, Id really turn things around for myself."
"Yeah, well, I dont suppose youd own up if you did."
He laughed. "You got that right, my friend. But I suppose you got to kill me or believe me, and either way, you get nothing out of the deal." He pointed at Haakon, who was leaning on Gnut and looking pretty spent. "Looks like your friends got a problem. Unless youd like to watch him die, why dont you bring him inside? Got a daughter whos hells own seamstress."
The man, who was called Bruce, had a cozy little place. We all filed in. His daughter was standing by the stove. She gave a nervous little cry when we came through the door. She had a head full of thick black hair, and a thin face, pale as sugar - a pretty girl. So pretty, in fact, that you didnt notice right off that she was missing an arm. We all balked and had a good stare at her. But Gnut, you could tell, was truly smitten. The way he looked, blanched and wide-eyed, he could have been facing a wild dog instead of a good-looking woman. He rucked his hands through his hair and tried to lick the crust off his lips. Then he nodded and uttered a solemn "Hullo."
"Mary," Bruce said, "this man has developed a hole in his stomach. I said wed help fix him up." Mary looked at Haakon. "Aha," she said. She lifted his tunic and surveyed the wound. "Water," she said to Ørl, who was looking on. Gnut eyed him jealously as he left for the well. Then Gnut cleared his throat. "Id like to pitch in," he said. Mary directed him to a little sack of onions in the corner and told him to chop. Bruce got a fire going in the stove. Mary set the water on and shook in some dry porridge. Haakon, who had grown rather waxen, crawled up on the table and lay still. "I dont feel like no porridge," he said.
"Dont worry about that," Bruce said. "The porridge is just for the onions to ride in on."
Gnut kept an eye on Mary as he bent over a small table and overdid it on the onions. He chopped and chopped, and when hed chopped all they had, he started chopping the chopped-up ones over again. Finally, Mary looked over and told him, "Thats fine, thank you," and Gnut laid the knife down.
When the porridge was cooked, Mary threw in a few handfuls of onion and took the concoction over to Haakon. He regarded her warily, but when she held the wooden spoon out to him, he opened his mouth like a baby bird. He chewed and swallowed. "Doesnt taste very good," he said, but he kept eating anyway.
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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