I'm not quite sure what happened last week, but here's Part 8 of "Swordsman." Enjoy!
"Einar! We're boarding!"
"Once more," I tell Magnus. We've been up since dawn practicing with his new sword. We each have an assortment of scratches--my Thjodhild will have a fit patching my tunic--and Magnus is tiring more easily with the weight of a metal sword. But he is eager to learn, and I--for reasons unknown to me--am hesitant to say good-bye to him.
I launch another attack on Magnus. He knows his parries well, but tends to block with the edge of his blade rather than the flat. Some time at the grindstone should help teach him.
He wraps his blade around my crossguard and flicks his wrist. I see the move coming and, for a moment, I tighten my grip. But I loose it again, giving Magnus the privilege of winning his last fight against me.
"Well done, my friend."
Magnus smiles. He is confident now--he has the ability to protect his home, the ability all men should have. And, for giving it to him, I myself feel no small joy. I shake his hand farewell. "We'll be hosting Althing on Hrafney next year," I tell him. "I hope you'll be able to join us." With a final clap on the shoulder, I turn for my ship.
I am not the only one saying farewell to friends. Handshakes and sturdy embraces are everywhere. With a deep breath and a renewed appreciation for solid land, I step foot in a ship and take my seat. In my horn, I have some of Magnus's stomach-settling decoction. Whether it works on seasickness or not is yet to be determined.
With a final glance at the shore and a hand raised in goodbye, I ply my oar. It does not seem as heavy as it did on our trip here. Perhaps, through training Magnus, I became stronger myself.
In the hustle of seeing everyone safely off, Magnus slipped unobserved into the forest. For about a mile he tramped through underbrush, finally emerging in a clearing with twigs in his hair and burrs stuck to his tunic. Now, a mile away from the nearest human, he was free.
"Lord, thank Ye," he said in Latin, approaching a grey horse tied on a tether long enough to reach a small stream nearby. He stroked its nose as it sniffed him, and he smiled. "Thank Ye fer Einar and all he taught me. I won't have to use it, though--will I?"
You will teach another.
"But when?" This he spoke in Gaelic. "By the next meeting of tribes?"
Have patience, My son.
Magnus--or the man who had called himself Magnus--mounted his horse with a sigh. Patience didn't come naturally to him. At least he had learned quietness enough to hear the voice of God; he would have lost his mind without it.
The grey horse picked up a deerpath and took it to what the Norse called the Haunted River, fording it without qualm. Magnus was ever alert, his ears attuned to every noise. No bird could take flight without his notice, no squirrel leap from branch to branch without a blue eye attentive to it. Eventually, horse and rider came to a monastery of stone, magnificent in build and structure, surrounded by fields and outbuildings. Magnus slipped off his mount, stabled it and currycombed it and ensured it had water, and entered the monastery.
His footsteps echoed through empty halls. He lit a fire and heated some tea, then followed a tug on his heart to the chapel. Kneeling on the stone floor before the altar, he thanked God for the wonderful week he'd had--the first time in eight years, since he was fifteen, that he'd seen people. He was not a hermit by choice but by violence, and fear kept him away from the ones who had murdered his brothers. For a week, he had lived among them--silent, for he neither spoke nor understood their language. That week had been worth the fear he'd felt at first. But that week and no more, for he was not strong enough to keep his hand off his hilt for long.
He rose from his prayer and remembered his tea. It was hopelessly over-steeped, but he drank it anyway.
Until the next meeting of tribes, he would remain a hermit.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.