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