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