A minute passed, and then a peculiar thing occurred. Mary lifted Haakons tunic again, put her face to the wound, and sniffed at it. She paused a second and then did it again.
"What in the world is this?" I asked.
"Gotta do this with a wound like that," Bruce said. "See if hes got the porridge illness."
"He doesnt have any porridge illness," I said. "At least, he didnt before now. What hes got is a stab hole in his stomach. Now stitch the man up."
"Wont do any good if you smell onions coming out of that hole. Means hes got the porridge illness and hes done for."
Haakon looked up. "Talking about a pierced bowel? Cant believe its as bad as all that."
Mary had another sniff. The wound didnt smell like onions. She cleaned Haakon with hot water and stitched the hole to a tight pucker.
Haakon fingered the stitches, and, satisfied, passed out. The five of us stood around, and no one could think of anything to say.
"So," Gnut said in an offhand way. "Were you born like that?"
"Like what?" Mary said.
"Without both arms, I mean. Is that how you came out?"
"Sir, thats fine a thing to ask my daughter," Bruce said. "It was your people that did it to her."
Gnut said, "Oh." And then he said it again, and then really no one could think of anything to say.
Then Mary spoke. "It wasnt you who did it," she said. "But the man who did, I think Id like to kill him."
Gnut told her that if she would please let him know who it was, hed consider it a favor if shed let him intervene on her behalf.
I said, "I would like a drink. Ørl, what have you got in that wineskin?"
He said nothing. The skin hung from his shoulder, and he put his hands on it protectively.
"I asked what have you got to drink."
"Little bit of root brandy, for your information, Harald. But its got to last me the way back. I cant be damp and not have something to take the chill off."
Gnut was glad to have something to raise his voice about. "Ørl, youre a sonofabitch. We been three weeks on the water for nothing, Haakon is maybe gonna die, and you cant even see your way to splash a little taste around. Now, that is the worst, the lowest thing Ive ever heard."
So Ørl opened up his wineskin, and we all had a dose. It was sweet and potent and we drank and laughed and carried on. Haakon came to. His ordeal had put him in a mawkish bent of mind, and he raised a toast to his pretty surgeon, and to the splendid day, and how much it pleased him that hed get to see the end of it. Bruce and Mary loosened up and we all talked like old friends. Mary told a lewd story about an apothecary who lived down the road. She was having a good time and did not seem to mind how close Gnut was standing. No one looking in on us would have known we were the reason this girl was missing an arm, and also the reason, probably, that nobody asked where Bruces wife had gone.
It was not long before we heard somebody causing a commotion at the well. Me and Gnut and Ørl stepped outside. Djarf had stripped to his waist, and his face and arms and pants looked about how youd figure. He was hauling up buckets of cold water, dumping it over his head, and shrieking with delight. The blood ran off him pink and watery. He saw us and came over.
"Hoo," he said, shaking water from his hair. He jogged in place for a minute, shivered, and then straightened up. "Mercy, that was a spree. Not much loot to speak of, but a hell of a goddamn spree." He massaged his thighs and spat a few times. Then he said, "So, you do much killing?"
"Nah," I said. "Haakon killed that little whats-his-name lying over there, but no, weve just been sort of taking it easy."
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."
- PW Starred Review
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