First Words-Part II

It will be published in several parts over the course of several days.

1000 AD


Lukas Bjornson, the bread maker, wrung his hands with worry. His mother had been stricken with a terrible affliction that made her so tired and ill she couldn’t leave bed, and it had begun to turn her skin yellow. She openly mourned that the unnatural tinting was blighting her words from Lukas’s father, Bjorn, who had died valiantly in battle, and had moved on to Valhalla with honor when Lukas was a boy. His mother longed to look at her words, “Your beauty conquers me,” for comfort, but instead was met with the harsh reminder of disease. Lukas stacked up five loaves to tie into a bundle, and pocketed the four coins his brother, Erik, the sailor, had scraped together and went to visit the healer on the hill.

Melinda Toftdottir was an unusual young woman in many ways. She was universally renowned as the village medical expert despite her femininity and either her inability or stubborn refusal to speak. It was exceedingly rare for a woman or a speechless person to be deemed and regarded as a healer, but Melinda was both, and she was legendary to the point of being feared by some. She had periodic fits of violent shaking and rigid, stony, far away looks on her face, and one family who lived near the Bjornsons told a tale of only the whites of her eyes showing during one of those convulsions of hers. Lukas wasn’t ashamed to admit he was a bit afraid to go see her, but he had to try whatever it took to help his ailing mother.

The lore surrounding Melinda and her family was that, as a young girl, the goddess Eir, endowed her with special gifts of protection and mercy and the ability to find and correct most illnesses with touch and exceptional skill with herbs, without needing words or incantations of any kind. Melinda’s peculiarity had doubtlessly still made her an outcast in the Viking age, but at least earned her respect rather than ridicule.

Lukas took a deep breath and ascended the steep hill leading to the home of the healer. An older man, Lukas imagined the same age as his father would be were he not now residing in Valhalla, pulled the heavy door open at Lukas’s panicked rapping. “I have plenty of bread and a bit of gold to plead for the healer to visit my mother,” he hurriedly said. Melinda, the healer, entered the room upon hearing Lukas’s voice. He was magnetically drawn to her. Her skill and oddness overshadowed her striking beauty in the stories told of her in the village. She grabbed a satchel and looked expectantly at the man Lukas assumed was her father, Toft. They had the same thick, honey colored hair, and the same deep blue eyes.

“Please describe your mother’s way,” the man said.

“She is burdened with fatigue. Cannot leave her bed. And horribly sad, because her skin has colored so she can no longer read my father’s first words to her. Yellow. She has missed him dearly since he entered Valhalla when I was a boy, but now she can no longer even seek refuge in the words without being reminded of how sick she is,” he explained to Toft. Melinda collected a few small boxes and glass jars holding dried herbs and liquid mixtures and placed them carefully inside her bag. She walked toward Lukas and pressed the fingers of his open hand closed around the offered coins. She accepted only two loaves of bread and nodded at him. “Thank you,” he said, feeling great ease and relief, not just at the kind rejection of his clearly desperate payment, but her eyes and radiating care and confidence gave him an unmistakable sense that everything was going to be alright.

Melinda looked to her father with a tender and hopeful smile. She showed Lukas her wrist, where the words, ‘Thank you,’ were inscribed. He smiled momentarily, but nearly immediately hung his head with failure. Simple bread makers couldn’t read runes.

“It says, ‘Thank you,’” Toft, Melinda’s father, informed him. Lukas briefly smiled again, turning to Melinda, but then turned away from her in sorrowful disbelief.

“Surely I’m not the first man to tell you, ‘Thank you.’ And my inscription is…nonsense. Even to learned men, skilled in runes. They aren’t familiar to even the most well traveled tradesmen and warriors. No one who’s ever looked upon my mark can tell me its meaning.” He hesitantly rolled up his sleeve to reveal, ‘Hey you dropped your phone.’ He expected Melinda and Toft to both be bewildered, but their happiness only increased. “Can you read this?! Do you know what it means?!” he begged, supremely stirred and nearly frenzied with building expectation.

“No. Neither of us can read those strange drawings or language. And you’re correct. You aren’t the first man to tell my daughter, ‘Thank you,’ young sir. But you are the first man to use them as his first words spoken to her. And during my daughter’s last…episode… She has…she is troubled at times. But perhaps it’s the price of her great gifts. Maybe it’s even the source of her great gifts. During her last…time of trouble…she had a vision. That her soul mate would be a young man who would need her skills and offer a trade too generous for the need and have unreadable markings on his arm in place of his soul mate’s first words to him. And in the vision she knew the reason his marks were unintelligible was because she is without oral language.”

“How did she…?” Lukas began to ask Toft, but turned to Melinda before finishing. “How did you…tell your father…about your vision if you can’t…?” She turned to scamper behind the wall she’d appeared from moments before and returned with an elaborate wood carving, nearly as large as a small table top, filled with runes from top to bottom. Lukas once again looked ashamed of his illiteracy. Melinda ran her fingers over the illegible words on his arm and then took his hand, pressing his fingers to the runes on her wrist. He could feel her racing pulse before she smoothed his palm and stretched fingers over the carved message to her father, and looked to Toft with glistening eyes.

“We’ll teach you. To read them,” Toft said. “In the moments waiting for your mother’s remedy to take effect. To occupy your mind and calm your nerves.” Lukas made another attempt to extend more payment for what he was now sure would be his mother’s successful recovery from her mysterious malady, but also for his own lessons and soothing. Melinda again pressed the coins closed in his fingers and pointed to a set of runes at the top of the carved sheet of wood. “It says, ‘Soul Mate.’ The part she’s highlighting. You’re her love. Her future. Payment is…absurd.”

“You would marry a humble bread maker?” Lukas asked her. Ordinary girls in the village wanted to marry traveling tradesmen and scholars and warriors, who could provide riches and prestige and glory. His father had been a great warrior. Toft was clearly a scholar himself. And Melinda was no ordinary girl, so Lukas naturally assumed she’d want more in a mate if she desired a mate at all. But she nodded. And he finally smiled with authority. He led her down the hill to his mother, who indeed healed completely, and welcomed Melinda as a daughter with pride.

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