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Volume 16, Issue 3: Similitudes

A Boar in the Road

Douglas Wilson

Andrew woke up to a glorious morning outside. He sat on the edge of his bed for a moment and then walked over to the window, pleased to see the raven that had awakened him. The enormous raven was sitting on a lower branch of a gnarled and ancient tree next to a path that led back toward the well. Back beyond the tree, he could see Beow grazing quietly in a fenced-off meadow. The sun was already high—Aelfric must not have thought it was important for him to start early.

Andrew went out to the common room and was greeted by Winifred who graciously handed him a bowl of hot porridge off the fire. Andrew sat down at the table, poured cream on the porridge, and waited a moment for it to cool. After thinking about it for a moment, he said grace. After the porridge had cooled, he began to eat
"Where is Aelfric?" Andrew asked, being careful not to sound discourteous.
"There is an old cellar, back near the stables. He is there, gathering supplies for your journey."
Andrew continued to eat, but in silence now. When the bowl was empty, he cleared his place, and sat down again.
"How long have you lived here?" Andrew asked.
Winifred smiled as she thought about it. "I have been here for twenty years or more. My husband is from the Kale, but I came to him across the water. Alone in my tribe, I had believed in the Lord Christ, and my father did not know what to do with me. So he brought me across the water and gave me to the hermit. Aelfric baptized me, and the next day we married."
"You are a Sea-Dane?"
"Yes," she said, "I was," and smiled again. And then, greatly to Andrew's surprise, she lifted her head and began to sing. Her voice was a sweet contralto, and it reminded Andrew of nuts and oranges and a woman that he assumed was his mother. But he was very small in this fleeting reminder, and his memory of her was almost out of reach.
White-throated ships, and following wind
Bring the maid to the swan road end.
She finished the song, and Andrew just quietly, not knowing what to say. Fortunately, the silence had no time to become awkward because Aelfric came in through the door, holding a rucksack in his left hand, and a long ash spear in his right.
"Is the spear for me?" Andrew asked, surprised. "I already have a sword."
"Yes, I know about the sword. But your journey has stages, and you must remember that it is more than a journey. It is also an adventure, which means you are here for a reason. And that means that something will almost certainly happen to you between here and New York. And I want you to have a spear when it does."
Soon, Beow and Andrew were standing out in front of the cottage. Aelfric stood behind them, lifted up his hands in a benediction, and spoke a few words that Andrew could not recognize (but which comforted him anyway). Aelfric then patted Beow on the flank and Andrew on the shoulder.
"Well, hey ho, little one," Beow said. "Since you have decided not to sleep all day, I think we should be off." They said their farewells, and the two began to walk purposefully down the trail.
Two days had passed on the trail, and Andrew and Beow stood still in gloaming light. The sun had gone down shortly before, and they decided they needed to camp by the road. The terrain was rocky with no place for Beow to forage. He had seen a grassy spot off to the right side of the road, about a hundred yards away, so it was decided that he would go up there and graze for his supper while Andrew gathered wood and built their fire. Once the fire was lit, Andrew could take his supper, and then they could think about sleep. Shortly after this was settled, it was done. Andrew could barely make out the white spot that was his friend, as he walked around picking up kindling. He had assembled a respectable pile of wood and had walked over to his pack to get the flint that Aelfric had given him when he heard a snapping sound in the bracken behind him across the road. He turned and looked, and was terrified to see an enormous boar charging out of the wood toward him. Andrew shouted and lunged for his spear, which was right next to his pack. He could not see, but Beow had heard the shout, and began to gallop back immediately. But the boar was only ten yards away, and Beow could have been a hundred miles away, for all that it mattered.
Andrew jumped aside at the last minute, and heard the sound of his trousers tearing. The boar skidded into the pile of wood, not yet a fire, and turned quickly for another charge. Andrew looked down and saw that the boar had wounded him in the leg with one of its tusks. He knew that he would not be able to jump aside a second time.
He planted his feet firmly, gripped the spear with both hands, and thought to himself, "I don't even know where to aim." But the boar gave him no time to consider, and charged again. Andrew was holding the spear down at mid-thigh, and in desperation he swung back and then up, underhanded. Whether it was blind luck, or Andrew was born a warrior, the spear penetrated deeply into the boar's throat, and the shock of their collision knocked Andrew from his feet.

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