A couple weeks ago, I meant to brag on my dad because he helped me change my tire when it went flat at work. For some reason, the blog didn't post, and I didn't realize it until the following Monday when I came to post another installment of "Swordsman." Anyway, my dad's awesomeness didn't stop when he changed a tire. Nope. He's capable of far more awesome things than that.
But first, let me back up a couple of months.
I've known since my first day at work that my co-workers are kind of a crazy bunch. Most of them say they go to church, but few of them act like it. There's the overworked assistant manager who will let out a random shout late at night just so she can stay awake. There's two quiet people, the delivery driver who decided to tickle a manager and literally had him on the floor with laughter, and whoever decided to put hot dogs through the pizza oven. And then there's this guy, whom we'll call Tom.
At first glance, Tom is a nice, friendly guy. He's always smiling, he's upbeat, and he remembers things. If I mention one day that I'm in speech class, he'll ask me how it's going three days later. This was a bit surprising, considering that he's somewhere around 70 years old. He neither looks nor acts 70, but he's apparently rather slow on his deliveries.
On my first day at work, he said to me, "I'd ask you out, but I'm guessing you don't date people your grandfather's age."
I thought that was a bit creepy, so I brought it up with my mom that evening. She assured me not to worry about it, that it was probably just a compliment that sounded better in his head. So I let it slide and went on with my work.
Tom was still very friendly, but he kept doing and saying things that creeped me out a bit. He gave me his phone number so that I could use him as a "professional reference." He grabbed my shoulders and tried to take a bite out of the pizza I was eating. But it wasn't until a client called and said that Tom had been flirting with his wife that I started getting nervous.
Tom didn't pick up on the cold shoulder I was giving him. "You're going to make a wonderful wife and mother," he told me one day. "What are you looking for in a husband?"
My parents insisted everything was fine until I told them he'd given me his phone number. Then, they both freaked out a bit. And this is when my dad went into Superhero Mode and decided to go to Domino's and have a little chat with Tom.
He called the manager first, to make sure it was okay. Luckily, the manager has daughters of his own and was perfectly fine with Dad's plan. I checked the schedule I'd taken a picture of to see when Tom's next day of work was. And on that particular day, Dad put his Glock in his back pocket, donned his cowboy boots, and talked some sense into Tom.
Tom has been avoiding me like the plague since that day, and I couldn't be happier. He's still friendly--he's answered a phone for me when I was prepping food, and he opened the door to the walk-in when I had my hands full with a bucket of sauce. But between Dad's chat and my ever-ready harsh glare, I think I don't have to worry about him anymore.
Thanks, Dad, for helping me out. You're the best.
What's the nicest thing your dad's ever done for you? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
The next day I spend fighting. I fight for honor, but also for money; I have gotten two goats, seven halfpence, and a good jug of mead by doing so. I promise twopence to whoever can beat me, and throughout the morning I only lose one fight. I sustain a graze on my shoulder, but I pretend it does not exist.
At midday, I find Hakon the translator and begin my search for the mute man--Magnus, I suppose I should call him. For he has a name, even if he cannot hear it called, and it gives me no small pleasure to connect a name to a face. A common name and a common face, I admit. The only remarkable things about this man are his disability and his literacy. Doubtless the two are connected; his parents probably sent him to a monastery when they learned he would never hear nor speak. Monks have a patience beyond the mortals.
I find Magnus near a cooking-fire, drinking a bowl of skouse as hungrily as if it was mealtime. I scowl at him. Two meals a day are enough for the rest of us; why take time for a third meal when there is work to be done? Magnus seems startled to see me when he puts his bowl down, but he wipes his mouth on his sleeve and smiles.
I purchased a notebook from the vendors, and I give it to Hakon along with a charcoal pencil. "Ask him where he lives," I demand.
I watch Magnus's expressions. At first, he seems puzzled; then, he grows excited. He writes a response quickly, and Hakon reads it: "On this island, on a farm to the east."
"What experience do you have with a sword?" I ask.
Magnus takes his time crafting a response. "None. I have never held one, only seen its destruction."
That would explain why he appeared so frightened yesterday on the beach. If there is an excuse for fear, it is past experiences. "You have been wronged?" I ask.
Magnus does not even write a response to Hakon's note. Instead, he looks up at me and nods somberly. In his eyes I see deep fear and hurt, and the anger that causes wars in Asgard and Vanaheim. "Have you taken vengeance? The chiefs of Althing will settle your case."
Once again, Magnus is slow in writing. He knits his brows and clenches the pencil tightly, but does that mean he is troubled or concentrated? Surely writing is an arduous task. In sword fighting, there are motions one must learn; the upward thrusts, and the downwards, and the straightforward stabs that create less of a mess than the others. Is the practice of writing letters similar to the practice of swordsmanship? What finesse does it require?
"I trust in no man, only the gods. They will settle my case and his. Why begin a cycle of pain and bloodshed?"
I am puzzled at his words, but there is more: "I will build up my farm until it prospers, and the man who injured me will return. I have no way to protect what is mine. Will you teach me?"
I am tired, but perhaps I will move more slowly, and so make it easier for Magnus to learn. "Come with me," I tell him, as if he can hear and understand. "I will leave no man unable to protect himself."
I honestly don't know what happened to last week's post. I tried to tell the touching tale of how my dad helped me out when my tire went flat at work, but for some reason the computer didn't want me to. I'm really sorry.
Everyone's heard the expression "TMI," or Too Much Information. It usually has to do with personal information or, at least in my family, bodily functions. But writers have their own version of TMI, and I'm going to call it AUR--Accidental Unwanted Research.
I have the habit of Googling every little question that comes to me while I'm writing, and today, one of those questions was how long hair grows if left uncut. I turned to Wikipedia, which gave me a wonderful history of long hair--along with the unwanted information that, in medieval Ireland, men prized long hair. It was actually a crime to cut a man's hair without his consent.
Interesting, yes. But also disturbing.
In Where the Clouds Catch Fire, I never really give a description of Alynn's father, Rowan. We learn that he has a braided mustache, and that he has a tall and wiry frame, but that's about it. Well, I (of course) have my own mental picture of him, and it certainly didn't include long hair.
Actually, he originally had red hair. Then, I realized that almost every other male in the book has red hair, so I made him blonde with red facial hair (yes, that's a naturally-occurring thing). So I'm already dealing with some cognitive dissonance when I find out that the average Irish guy had hair like Legolas.
I actually turned to Legolas for inspiration, because he manages to make long hair look less stupid. The secret, I suppose, is having it pulled back so it doesn't frame the face. That would also make sense in Rowan's case. He's a smith, so he can't have his hair falling down in his face every five minutes. And maybe adding a close-cropped beard to his mustache would make him look a bit more manly, too.
The only thing is, I can't find a decent picture of a guy with long blonde hair, a red beard, and a braided mustache. I can hardly find pictures of guys with braided mustaches.
Accidental Unwanted Research is both good and bad. It's good because I can now add another element of historical accuracy to my writing. It's bad because I now have to go back and change things. But changing a book is one thing; changing my mind is another. I'm glad I don't give much reference in the book to how Rowan looks. He's not a very major character; it doesn't matter that much anyway. Perhaps it's in everyone's best interest to let them figure out for themselves what Rowan looks like.
And no, he doesn't look like Legolas. Their hair is the only thing they have in common.
Have you ever done any Accidental Unwanted Research? And what's your opinion on guys having long hair? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
It is not until the next day that I meet the deaf and dumb man again. Standing before a leathersmith I find him, trying to trade barley for a belt without the faculties of language. The leathersmith grows impatient with him--no small fault to him--so I barter a deal for him. The mute smiles his thanks.
"Which tribe are you from?" I ask, as if he can hear me. "Your coloring suggests Darsidia." For this mute is a man whose skin tans rather than burns, and I envy him. The day at sea has turned my nose and cheeks into an atrocious red, painful to touch. The Darsidians tend to tan easily; I pray he is not one of them. But the Darsidians have no use for a man without language; he would have been killed long ago by them.
He motions me to follow him, and he leads me to the beach. There, he stoops to write in the sand. He uses strange letters, but I recognize them as the Latin hand.
I cannot read runes, let alone the Latin hand. I shake my head and erase his words; I have no time for guessing games. Rather, I draw my sword. I would duel with him.
Upon my drawn sword the man gazes, and he does not move. "On your feet," I tell him. "Have you not a sword of your own? Have you no knowledge of combat?"
I suppose he does not. He stands, but slowly, and looks poised to run. His eyes are wide, but he takes an axe from his belt. A simple farmer, I remind myself, would have neither the need nor the means to purchase a sword. My own Neckbiter cost me dearly. An axe can fend a sword. I make one swing at him, and he parries awkwardly, as if he is chopping wood. Perhaps a man can be literate or a good swordsman, but not both.
The mute's eyes are wide, and he trembles. "You are afraid, aren't you?" I ask, as if he could respond. I drop Neckbiter and approach him as I would a wild animal. "Your feet ought to be set wider apart, and crouch a bit." I use my foot to nudge his own apart, and I crouch to model the swordsman's stance. A wonderful change comes over him, and I watch closely. His eyes are still wide, but his face does not show fear; it shows relief. He laughs a bit.
I laugh at him. "You thought I was going to kill you, didn't you? I'm not quite that heartless. Now bend your knees a bit, or else you'll lose your balance."
I bend my own knees and motion for him to do the same. He does.
I take my sword again and swipe, slowly, an upward diagonal stroke across his chest. He parries.
Another diagonal stroke is parried. He is like a child, watching my every move, copying me. And just as he watches me, I watch him. I try to guess the exact moment when he will switch from defense to offense, and make a swipe of his own. But he never does. He parries my blows and takes a few knocks, but I am careful to tap him lightly.
When I thump his chest a bit too forcefully with Neckbiter's broad edge, he drops his axe and steps backwards. He has trained enough for one day, anyway. What sort of parents did he have, who neglected to teach him to defend himself?
As we leave the beach, he tears a strip of bark and carves into it with his knife. He hands it to me, smiles, and disappears into the crowd.
It is not until evening that I find a man who is fluent in the Latin hand. He translates the strip of bark for me:
"Thank you for the lessons. Magnus."
I am grateful to set foot again on land when morning comes. The harbor is filled with boats from six different islands, but none are of Diaparn. They are wise to harbor their own boats in Idir's Fjord.
Idir's Fjord is named for Idir the Bold, the chieftain who took the island from Gythia. There was hardly a battle for it, the Gythians being weak-willed in the name of peace and diplomacy. It is easy to find a Gythian in a crowd. They are the short ones, the beardless ones, and the ones whose weapons are frail from disuse. And, as I survey a group of such men who drip with seawater, the ones also who cannot build ships. We unload necessary supplies quickly and leave a guard for what is left. The rest of us hurry quickly to the plain where the Lawspeaker is already speaking.
Today, this first day of Althing, is the day the Lawspeaker recites one-third of Orkney's laws. For three years, our Lawspeaker has been Steingrim Hvitserkson, a man of Diaparn. His voice is strong, and it carries well across the plain, as he speaks of cattle and price regulations. I ignore most of what he says. I am tired from a night of rowing, and I want nothing more than sleep. And so I stand, hidden in the crowd of men, and close my eyes.
A sudden jolt startles me. Has the Lawspeaker finished already? I glance around until I see a man swatting at a bee; he must have bumped into me by accident. I scowl and contemplate scolding him, but he turns and opens his mouth to apologize. From him comes no sound. Instead, he raises a hand and lowers his gaze. Perhaps he does not wish to interrupt the Lawspeaker.
"There's no shame in whispering an apology," I hiss, "especially to Einar Shattersword!"
The man looks up, nods respectfully, and turns back to the Lawspeaker. Is he daft or insolent? My sleeplessness fades into ire. I shall have my satisfaction, just as soon as the Lawspeaker finishes his oration.
Steingrim's voice carries well until the very last word he speaks, when he nods and abandons the stage for Chief Idir the Bold himself to take it. "Welcome to the seventh annual Althing of Orkney!" he announces. He is a powerful man, tall and sturdily built, with a forked beard and a steely gaze; his words seem to be orders rather than greetings. "You are welcome to all Diaparn has to offer you. Bathe in our pools, feast on our food, and entreat our men for the young women you fancy. All but the Haunted River is open to you."
"You've still got a water-draugr?" someone shouts.
"We do," Idir retorts. "If you value your life, you'll keep your distance. But you're welcome to anything else. Now, let the celebration of Althing commence!"
As soon as the crowd begins to dissipate, I grab the insolent man who jostled me. "What is your name?" I demand.
The man stares at me with eyes as wide as a young child's. Finally, he raises a shaking hand, points to his ear, and shakes his head. He then points to his mouth and shakes his head.
"Can you not hear me?" I demand.
He does not respond. What else am I to expect from a man deaf and dumb? I feel stupid and offer my hand. He looks at it for a moment, then shakes it. He has the strong grip of a farmer.
I look at the rest of him. He is thin, clad in dark trousers and a dun-colored tunic. He might be a poor farmer, deaf and dumb, or even a half-wit. But I can see intelligence in his face, even if he has no language to express it in.
If I am to fight, I need to learn the expressions of the face and body. I must be able to read a man's next move before he makes it, simply by reading his face. Who better to teach me than a man who has no other means of communication?
I shall keep an eye on him. He might prove useful to me.
Three things in my life are extremely annoying: canker sores, my little sister, and electronic devices.
I love my computer probably more than is healthy. I use it several hours a day for writing, schoolwork, and occasionally pleasure. I started saving up for my first computer when I was ten years old--not so I could play on it, although I did a bit of that too--but so I could write on it. I didn't want to go through the hassle of writing a book in a notebook then erasing every single word I wanted to change. And if you wanted to add a sentence or a scene in the middle of a page, what did you do?
I didn't get internet access on that first laptop--a purple HP purchased by my late grandmother--until I was twelve or so. Then, I could use it to research. I could look up any useless fact I needed to in a matter of seconds, rather than waiting until the next time Mom took me to the library, then forgetting what I needed to research and ending up with a Boxcar Children mystery instead of an herb book.
That's about where the usefulness of electronic devices ends.
First up, tech wastes time. Sure, they shorten a few tasks--typing is faster than handwriting, and emailing might take less time than a phone call--but having your brain kidnapped by Pinterest can lead to three hours of mindless scrolling through cat memes and How to Train Your Dragon fanart. Three hours that could have been used to clean house, weed the garden, or do pretty much anything else productive. I'm guilty of this, too. Unless you're super-disciplined, it's far too easy to get sucked into the World Wide Web and only come out for snacks.
Screens themselves aren't the greatest for you. I wrote a paper on the use of technology in schools in my junior year of high school. I researched quite a bit and realized that staring at electronics isn't good for peoples' mental or physical health. Besides the obvious eye strain and headaches caused by the excessive use of technology, we also end up with bad posture, weight problems, and trouble sleeping. All of these things can, in turn, cause more problems. One of my sources even said that the mental effects of too much screen time could resemble a mental disorder.
I use an app blocker on my phone called Stay Focused. It limits how much time I can spend on each app and even shuts off certain apps during certain times of the day, meaning I can't watch YouTube or Google anything after 10:30 p.m., when I should be sleeping anyway. Technology is kind of like chocolate cake. It's good in moderation, but too much is more trouble than it's worth.
What's your favorite use of technology? Do you think it's too widely used in modern America? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.