"Hm. What about in there?" he asked, indicating Bruces cottage. "Who lives there? You kill them?"
"No, we didnt," Ørl said. "They helped put Haakon back together and everything. Seem like good folks."
"Nobodys killing them," Gnut said.
"So everybodys back at the monastery, then?" I asked.
"Well, most of them. Those young men had a disagreement over some damn thing and fell to cutting each other. Gonna make for a tough row out of here. Pray for wind, I guess."
Brown smoke was heavy in the sky, and I could hear dim sounds of people screaming.
"So heres the deal," Djarf said. "We bivouac here tonight, and if the weather holds, we shoot down to Mercia tomorrow and see if we cant sort things out with this fucker Aethelrik."
"I dont know," Ørl said.
"No deal," I said. "This thing was a goose chase as it is. I got a wife at home and wheat straw to bale. Ill be damned if Ill row you to Mercia."
Djarf clenched his jaw. He looked at Gnut. "You, too?"
"No," Gnut said. "Were just saying we - "
"Call it what it is, motherfucker," Djarf barked. "You sons of bitches are mutinizing my operation?"
"Look, Djarf," I said. "Nobodys doing anything to anybody. We just need to head on back."
He yelled and snorted. Then he ran at us with his sword raised high, and Gnut had to slip behind him quickly and put a bear hug on him. I went over and clamped one hand over Djarfs mouth and pinched his nose shut with the other, and after a while he started to cool down.
We let him go. He stood there huffing and eyeing us, and we kept our knives and things out, and finally he put the sword back and composed himself.
"Okay, sure, I read you," he said. "Fair enough. We go back. Oh, I should have told you, Olaffssen found a stash of beef shells somewhere. Hes gonna cook those up for everybody whos left. Ought to be tasty." He turned and humped it back toward the bay.
Gnut didnt come down to the feast. He said he needed to stay at Bruce and Marys to look after Haakon. Bullshit, of course, seeing as Haakon made it down the hill by himself and crammed his tender stomach with about nine tough steaks. When the dusk started going black and still no Gnut, I legged it back up to Bruces to see about him. Gnut was sitting on a hollow log outside the cottage, flicking gravel into the weeds.
"Shes coming with me," he said.
He nodded gravely. "Im taking her home with me to be my wife. Shes in there talking it over with Bruce."
"This a voluntary thing, or an abduction-type deal?"
Gnut looked off toward the bay as though he hadnt heard the question. "Shes coming with me."
I mulled it over. "You sure this is such a hot idea, bringing her back to live among our people, all things considering?"
He grew quiet. "Any man that touches her, or says anything unkind, it will really be something different, what Ill do to him."
We sat a minute and watched the sparks rising from the bonfire on the beach. The warm evening wind carried smells of blossoms and wood smoke, and I was overcome with calm.
We walked into Bruces, where only a single suet candle was going. Mary stood by the window with her one arm across her chest. Bruce was worked up. When we came in, he moved to block the door. "You get out of my house," he said. "You just cant take her, what little Ive got."
Gnut did not look happy, but he shouldered past and knocked Bruce on his ass. I went and put a hand on the old farmer, who was quaking with rage.
Mary did not hold her hand out to Gnut. But she didnt protest when he put his arm around her and moved her toward the door. The look she gave her father was a wretched thing, but still she went easy. With just one arm like that, what could she do? What other man would have her?
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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