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.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.