Althing draws to a close. On the last afternoon, when the merchant's wares are thinning and friends prepare to say goodbye, I spy Magnus fighting a tree.
I have taught him the simple moves of swordsmanship--diagonal cuts across the chest--and he exerts all his strength, trying to break his toy sword on the oak bark. I laugh at him, and he turns, lifting his curls to mop his brow, and sits down, leaning against his foe. When he sees me, he smiles.
Drawing my own sword, I motion for him to stand. He does so, and taking his battered toy in his tired arm, stands to face me. His face has changed. No longer is he afraid. Courageous he is, almost eager for a fight, as if he finds the same joy in the art of sword fighting that I do.
I have not fought Magnus in three days, and already, he has improved. He holds his own well. He moves quickly, surprisingly quickly, and his speed is his strength. My family is said to have the fastest reflexes in Hrafney. My cousin Jormund can catch a fish with a bare hand; his sister Jofrid is the best fly-killer man has seen. I put the same speed and reflex into parrying blows and throwing thrusts of my own. Yet I am used to relying on my own speed as my strength.
Magnus's eyes flash; he knows my weakness. He wraps his blade around my crossguard and, flicking his wrist as I taught him, wrenches my sword from my hand.
"Have I taught you that well, or are you merely a gifted student?" I ask him. He hands me my sword back, smiles again, and stretches his sore arm.
"If you were given a sword, would you use it?" I ask. "The blacksmiths will sell their swords for less, since it is the last day of Althing. How much do you have?" I take my own purse from my belt and show to him the coins and bits of hacksilver given me for winning duels. Magnus has a purse at his own belt; what it holds I have not ventured to guess. Today, he shows its contents to be a misshapen lump of silver, melted from some other artifact, worth at least three-quarters of a logeyrir. It might buy a sword on such a day as today, but one of poor quality. I take him to the market anyway, to act as his mouthpiece and advocate.
Magnus seems to know the reason for our visit. He navigates the merchants on his own accord, finally selecting a single sword from a Gythian merchant. The sword is simple yet useful, and discounted to nine dirhams--and a dirham being the tenth part of a logeyrir. I smile. The Gythians are easy to intimidate, and I am quick to strike a bargain.
How a farmer came into the possession of so much silver remains a mystery. Magnus is no thief; perhaps he has a brother of baser morality than he.
As the afternoon draws closer to evening, I again find Hakon the learned man. "Ask him what he will do with his sword," I tell him.
Magnus smiles at the note, and crafts his own response. "I will practice with it," he says. "And when you return to this island, we will fight again, and you will find me improved."
"Will you not take vengeance against the man who has wronged you?" I ask.
I can see in Magnus's eyes that he struggles. He burns with anger and freezes with fear all at once, his emotions like a fever inside him. Finally, he writes, "The man who killed my family cannot escape the judgement of the gods. In them I trust."
Magnus is a strange man. It is his duty to exact vengeance from those who have wrought evil against him. And yet there is something nobler in forgiveness than there is in retribution.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.