Their backs were to us when Bruce grabbed up an awl from the table and made for Gnut. I stepped in front of him and broke a chair on his face, but still he kept coming, scrabbling at my sword, trying to snatch up something he could use to keep his daughter from going away. I had to hold him steady and run my knife into his cheek. I held it there like a horses bit, and then he didnt want to move. When I got up off him he was crying quietly. As I was leaving, he threw something at me and knocked the candle out.
And you might think it was a good thing, that Gnut had found a woman who would let him love her, and if she didnt exactly love him back, at least she would, in time, get to feeling something for him that wasnt so far from it. But what would you say about that crossing, when the winds went slack and it was five long weeks before we finally fetched up home? Gnut didnt hardly say a word to anybody, just held Mary close to him, trying to keep her soothed and safe from all of us, his friends. He wouldnt look me in the face, stricken as he was by the awful fear that comes with getting hold of something you cant afford to lose.
After that trip, things changed. It seemed to me that all of us were leaving the high and easy time of life and heading into deeper waters. Not long after we got back, Djarf had a worm crawl up a hole in his foot and had to give up raiding. Gnut Mary turned to homesteading full-time, and I saw less of him. Just catching up over a jar turned into a hassle you had to plan two weeks in advance. And when we did get together, he would laugh and jaw with me a little bit, but you could see he had his mind on other things. Hed gotten what he wanted, but he didnt seem too happy about it, just worried all the time.
It didnt make much sense to me then, what Gnut was going through, but after Pila and me had our little twins, and we put a family together, I got an understanding of how terrible love can be. You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know the things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself. Its crazy-making, yet you cling to them with everything and close your eyes against the rest of it. But still you wake up late at night and lie there listening for the creak and splash of oars, the clank of steel, the sounds of men rowing toward your home.
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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