by ROBIN WYATT DUNN
he child was light in my arms, a kind of ballast. Swinging him with my right arm, wrapped around his legs like cucumbers, I killed him by bashing his head against the wall.
We are going to the Dark Island. I row in the middle of the longboat, its meditation calming. The mist is quiet. I am old at twenty-eight.
The woman is young, and sad, and I stand guard while Lars rapes her. I no longer get it up after I have killed. I worry about that.
It is going to rain tonight.
I know that Jesus is one of the saints, and that I am a saint too. I am a hero. I am in stories. When one starts that sounds like me, I go for a walk. If I hear me in a story, I will kill one of my own, and then I will be exiled, and killed by a stranger.
The woman is making a funny sound, like a barking dog.
Lars wants to go more upriver, into the Dark Island. I know I don't like it. But how do I know this? My stomach has been bad lately. Raw meat tastes good but we cook it, and I am an animal. I know I am going to the far off place in my head; I need a woman. The women here are angry and this saddens me. The hunger in me is my friend.
We move through the rain, and I can hear the boy on my shoulder; he is dead.
"Why did you do that, Viking?" he says.
"I'm not a Viking," I say, "Viking is what I do. You got Vikinged."
"Stop speaking their language," says Lars in our tongue. "It's bad luck."
"Shut up Lars," I say in Inglish. The tongue of Ing. It is so ironic. But it is not an irony I can explain.
"Why did you Viking me?" asks the boy on my shoulder.
"I felt like it, boy. I'm lonely."
And the boy tries to bite my neck, but he is only a ghost.
We get back into the longboat with the young woman and an old one too. I like the old one; she is insane. She looks at me like Freya on drugs, high on the holy mushroom. I slap her on the head to show my affection and she curses me. I smile.
My name is Man, "Anders" in your tongue. I am twenty-eight years old. I know the Dark Island better than anyone of us men, and I do not know it at all. They worship stones here and this has always made me afraid, with good reason.
Once I met a man from the North Brown Land, and he told me, in between his gasps, that the stones knew me. I do not want them to. But I figure they'll remember.
It is ridiculous they named themselves after Ing. Ing and his Volga. I cannot explain it. Sometimes, I think about moving here, to the Dark Island. But I know I would be killed. And if I brought one of the dark-haired women back, with their blue eyes, I know she would be changed, and humbled, and the spirit of her land would leave her, and I would not want that.
They say I should become a priest. But I hate priests. Besides, I am too large. I would not fit in the church. Ha ha.
Mushrooms never agreed with me; I see too much already.
The river is cold and the mist is clearing. Lars gestures for quiet and we stop rowing, only listening. Then the arrows are flying and I feel one pierce my cheek, entering my left and shooting straight through my right, and I rip it out without thinking and now my lip is hanging over my jaw and I barely make a sound. Lars slips into the water. He is dead.
The moon is rising and I hear the boy whisper in my ear, I love you.
Under the water I am freezing, I am burning. I am swimming, deeper into the Dark Island.
Are their blue eyes part of Odin? Deeper blue than any of the women of Bjorgvin, Meadow-Between-the-Mountains.
My women's eyes are the blue of the sky but these women's are the blue of the earth, stone moss and peat.
I reach the shore and I am running. I feel joy in my heart like a burr.
I have always been good at surviving on scraps. They can never find old Man. Man listens and does not speak. Old Man is going to get them good.
I am falling asleep, in the bog. It is dark. Lars always was an idiot. He thinks of pussy and then he cannot think about anything else. Whereas I, perhaps I do not think of pussy enough. I cannot decide. If I take a wife, she will make me do things, and this is annoying. But I want a child, not one like many of the men, who say they can see the eyes and know it is their boy, a generation later, across the water, impossible to know. I want my own. I want my boy to know me.
What is it about their eyes, here on Dark Island? These women. These stones. I wish I knew. And yet I do not want to know. I am a mountain man. My gods are above, far above. This earth is a dream.
I am awake. Did I sleep. I was dreaming. My mother's porridge was in my mouth; I could almost taste her milk, from when I was a bairn . . .
I am crying. I will be heard. I am getting old, this should be my last viking.
I can see a fire. A shaman.
She is grinding in her mortar the petals of some flowers. Her face is ugly, but I like them like that. It's the eyes I like. She is young, I would say seventeen.
"You are a spirit," she says to me, and I smile, and answer in her language, "Yes," and I sit down beside her.
She sews my lip back onto my face, which is nice of her.
"You are ugly," she says, and I smile.
"What are you waiting for?" she says, and I scoop her up and throw her over my shoulder and take her back to my boat. But I do not have a boat. It's going to be a long walk. So I put her down, which means she could run.
"I'll kill you if you run," I say, and then she does, she's running, except she's running away from her village, she's running east, out of the Dark Island, and I feel something inside, breaking, like breaking a young woman, or like breaking out of the sea from a deep dive―
The Brown Men are angry. We can hear them. They have torches. The woman is afraid. I fuck her in a tree, hollowed out and black. She is less afraid after that, and I am more afraid. My spirit is returning; it cries for me―
I see the sea.
We move through the village at dawn, it is too light but I don't know what else to do; I am running out of food and we've already eaten her loaf.
The man sees us as we approach his boat; he is up early and gives the alarm. I push the woman towards the boat and she is crying but she unravels the rope as I put my axe into the man's skull, like a carefully planted urn, to please the ancestors. I will have to leave my axe behind; I cannot get it out of his head. He has a thick head.
More arrows. I hate arrows.
I hate Brown Men. But I love the women of Dark Island.
"This boat is going to sink," I say, when we are out in the water, ducking arrows.
Why can the Brown Men not build boats? Perhaps Odin won't let them.
The water is cold but I am warm. The woman looks angry.
"Shut up woman," I say, and she hits me in the face. I keep rowing.
My last crossing this will have to be; to do it alone is to invite disaster, and disaster is awkward. It usually kills you.
I know I am unusual because I pay attention to names; this is why I like Dark Island, many of their names are insane. My people say names are largely meaningless; this is why I am simply named Man and I come from Meadow-Between-Mountains. But the Names of Dark Island are haunted; like me.
Viking is fun but it will have to stop soon; I did not like the look in their faces. They were expecting us, and something else as well. The boy's hair was blonde. He could have been my son.
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