It was a massive piglet that Blomqvist kicked along the road, clotted and ragged and filthy, every year another layer of skin and earth.
Blomqvist emerged from his hovel just after daybreak, holding aloft the sign of our superiority. He held the gray, patched-over, oval object over his head against the purpling sky as a reminder that the gods favored us over our hated neighbors from Formigny. Of all the men and women of Bayeux, he alone did not believe this, but he understood and played his part in the ritual.
He dropped it to the ground as he kicked it, and our fellows cheered and roared malison and malediction against the men of Formigny as we began running in their direction.
All the healthy men of our town ran alongside and around him, shielding him from sight as we drew closer and closer, clots of mud slipping from our shoes, birds aflight, burgeoning tree buds bobbing their approval.
As we approached our enemies, some of the men raised their staffs and promised to brain the first man from Formigny who approached (even though the use of weapons was against the rules). Then we heard a roar from ahead, where the big men of Formigny had set up a wedge and awaited us with pitchforks. I drew in closer to the center of our group, and Blomqvist picked up the piglet and tucked it under his arm.
“Stay close,” he growled in my direction.
Beads of sweat flew off the long black hair that covered his neck and curled over the thick brow that protected his clear blue eyes.
I hurtled unconscious into the shoulders of the man ahead of me as our group slammed to a halt. The men of Formigny were bigger and better armed, and it seemed that they returned our hatred with interest.
The cry of “fuck your mother” rose from both quarters, men on both sides kicking, gouging, hair-pulling, clawing. The men of Formigny were desperate to get the piglet back, as it had been years since they had held it for themselves, years since they had been able to bask in its fertile emanations.
They hadn’t held it since Blomqvist had become our keeper. On the eve of this match, he confessed to me that he pitied them. “They really believe they will have a better harvest and more children if they take the piglet,” he said–as if there were some doubt, as if it were a myth rather than accepted truth. “The old religion really holds its charms for those poor fools,” he chuckled.
“You do not believe it?” I asked.
I wriggled uncomfortably on my pallet of blankets. After all, what did he know of the gods and their pleasures and their fickleness?
“No,” he said softly.
“So let them have it, if it means so little to you,” I suggested petulantly.
“Some day I will weaken and die,” he said. “Not until then.”
He burst out of the melee through the ranks that our townsmen had formed and through the volley of fists and staff pokes from the men of Formigny, and I stuck alongside him, cut and bruised but safer all the same than if I had run with the other men.
Blomqvist ran with long uncatchable strides the rest of the way into the center of Formigny, one long street winding past stables, the blacksmith, a bakery, through shit wallow, scattering chickens and hopping over pigs, and I panted and scuffled along behind him, trying not to trip. He held the piglet aloft while he kicked in a bunch of doors at random, circled the square where the old men gathered most evenings to toss stones and gamble on dice, taunted the young women of child-bearing age as according to custom, then ran back out of town the way he came.
The sun had passed overhead, and the men of Formigny were still waiting, but now they had to contend with the sun in their eyes and our fellows at their backs, and they were too tired from the long fight to stop him at this decisive moment, when they could have wrested the piglet from him. (This was when most carriers were at their weakest, winded from their long run and exhausted by the ritual taunting they had had to inflict upon their opponents. But not Blomqvist.)
He held the piglet with one hand and fended off his attackers with the other, and it didn’t matter what means the others tried–clubs, teeth, feet, mud in his face. With one massive forearm he sent teeth flying, or broke the cheekbone of another, or stepped on the ankle of an unlucky enemy.
Yes, they were our neighbors and our enemies. There wasn’t anyone we hated more. All of us except for Blomqvist, who hated no one. He was methodical and relentless, but not especially passionate.
I could barely keep up as Blomqvist loped the rest of the distance to Bayeux, where we were greeted like returning conquerors, the women lining the main street and blowing kisses at their lovers. Blomqvist trotted slowly, with the piglet held above his head, and we followed him to the house of Ganelon, our lord. We gathered below the balcony as Ganelon waited for all the townspeople to catch up. His lone eye shone brightly and his honey-colored hair shimmered in the waning sunlight.
Blomqvist and Ganelon smiled the generous mouth of friends, as if they loved us as parents, and Blomqvist laid his hand gently upon my shoulder.
Old Wido, our druid, waved a small branch over Blomqvist’s head.
Blomqvist swatted at the branch in annoyance, but he continued smiling for all to see. All of our fellows saw in his smile the joy of victory, of seeing the suffering of our enemies, of reliving the broken bones and the gouged eyes of our neighbors from Formigny.
Some of Blomqvist’s bastard children were allowed to run from their mothers’ arms and play in the mud and sewage beneath our feet, and Blomqvist scooped one of them up happily, saying, “And what is your name?”