When God created the earth and all that is in it, He declared everything to be good except for one thing, and that one thing is the loneliness of man. The majority of my own life I have spent alone, my only companions being God Himself and the animals around me that went through their cycles of birth and death almost too rapidly for me to grow attached to any of them. And yet when the Lord called me, at the age of twenty-three, to venture to the north of St. Anne's Cleft where the Norse live, I was terrified.
In my mind, I had every right to be. The Norse, just seven years prior, had murdered the seventy-eight brothers in Christ who called St. Anne's Monastery their home. The Norse had nearly killed me as well. And hardly a day would pass when I wouldn't wish I had died along with my seventy-eight brothers. Yet the voice of God grew stronger until I could no longer shut it out. So I fashioned a short tunic and a pair of trousers for myself, dyed them unassuming colors, and set off on foot.
Though I kept a brisk pace, the journey took me fully a day. I arrived to the sound of hammering, and I looked through the dim of the setting sun to see men assembling a sea of tents, speaking one to another in Norse, before most of them left for the village. The remainder slept in the tents, though I chose the woods for myself.
When morning dawned, I awoke to find ships lining the harbor, and both the village and the sea of tents were swirling with activity. I could blend in, unassuming, and for the first time in seven years, I walked among people. I heard voices--shouts, whispers, songs! There were children with their mothers, and grown men with their elderly fathers, and such things that one never sees on an island monastery. I had forgotten that such things existed, if I had ever known them to exist in the first place, having spent my entire life cloistered away.
The crowd shifted to the area of tents at midday, and I followed. The village appeared to be having a meeting, as a man stood in front of the throng of Norse men and woman and began to speak. I did not understand a single word spoken, yet the sound of a human voice was like honey to my soul.
A man approached me and asked a question in the unintelligible language of the Norse. I stood like an idiot for a bit, staring at him, until I received a revelation. I pointed to my ear, then to my mouth, and shook my head. The man nodded. For as long as I was with the Norse--I had no idea how long, at the time--I was deaf and mute. And all the better, for I would never trust myself to keep secret my true identity.
The man, by hand signals and the words that escaped him regardless of my supposed infirmities, gave his name as Einarr. He motioned towards the bull's hide where men challenged each other to duels, and I made as clear as I could that I was a farmer and knew nothing of swordsmanship. Einarr drew his sword anyway, and after a while, it was clear that he wanted to teach me.
I learned from him. When the crowds left on their boats, I returned home and practiced the forms he had taught me. I strengthened myself, and in seven years' time, when the boats returned and the sea of tents was once again erected, I again saw Einarr. Again he taught me. Another seven years passed, and I was Einarr's equal; another seven, and I was better than he.
I truly wish that I could have spent more time with Einarr. He was a kind man, and his kindness showed me that not all Norse are the barbaric monsters I made them out to be after they massacred my brothers. Yet the greatest gift he left me with was the gift of swordsmanship, for without him, I would never have known how to defend myself or my home.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.