This time, when the Norsemen retreated, the occupants of the village took some time before attempting to return to a normal life. The battered gates had to be repaired. The scorched sections of the perimeter wall needed assessing. The village Elders had a vigorous debate with the younger men about the tactics of keeping the Vikings out.
Some of the women, frustrated by weeks of siege and too much helpful advice from their own elders, set out to forage in the woods. It was they who found the boy.
Younger than ten years, with piercing blue eyes, he was dressed in rough fabric, clean enough but well-worn. He said nothing, but seemed to understand their language. He was uninjured, but his throat bore scars that were old, as if he had worn a collar or chain for many years. There was no debate among them – clearly, the boy must come with them to the village.
Upon his arrival and presentation to the Elders, all work stopped. Everyone had an opinion about the boy and what should be done with him. The boy himself sat cross-legged in front of the women who had found him, listening to everything, but saying nothing.
Finally, the only woman on the Elders’ Council pronounced that he must stay. She well remembered old tales of great heroes placed as children by the gods near those in need. No doubt this child, nurtured and protected by the village, would prove to be the village’s protector in time.
“All will care for him, feed him, teach him.” she said. “For it will take a village to raise this child.”
For all that he never spoke a word, the boy was bright, attentive and charming. He was welcome in every home, sharing each meal of the day with a different family. He spent time at the blacksmith’s forge, strung the loom of the Weaver, sorted staves for the Cooper. He was good with the horses and calmed fractious babies without a sound.
One month after arriving in the village, when the moon had waned and the night was dark, the boy slipped from the house where he should be sleeping and lit a torch from the embers of the fire. He wound through the sleeping village, stroking his torch along the edge of every thatch. By the time the villagers were alerted to their danger, the fire was everywhere. Nothing could be done, but to run out of the gates of the village, lit from behind by the glow of their own burning homes. That same hellish light gleamed back at them from the waiting swords of the Norsemen.
Sometimes, it takes a child to raze a village.