I started writing this in 2010 for my cool new artist friend Nhaingen and if it's even somewhat readable upon posting in 2016, it's only because Julads gave a thorough beta. Thanks, guys.
Introduction: Understanding Stan and Kyle's saga in history and culture
Icelandic sagas, sometimes called the sagas of the Icelanders, are oral traditions told over generations, usually concerning the histories of a certain family or families and their past deeds. The great Icelandic sagas were mostly contemporary with the High Middle Ages in mainland Europe, roughly 1200-1400. The events in the sagas, however, mostly take place several centuries earlier, around the tenth century CE. Certain historical details are preserved in the sagas — for example, a famous passage in Njal's Saga discusses the coming of Christianity to Iceland. Mostly, however, the sagas detail genealogical minutia and the struggles faced by families, sometimes over a number of years.
Where subject matter is concerned, Stan and Kyle's saga is no exception. The story deals with a particular family, that of Stan Marsh, the son of an old warrior named Randy. Whether Stan Marsh was a historic person was a scholarly debate in the nineteenth century, but some of the characters referenced within the text appear, at least in a cursory way, in other sagas. There is also a note at the end of the saga about the full text of "Kenny's Saga," which must have concerned the exploits of Kenny Stuartsson, who plays a large role in Stan's story. Details like these indicate that some shade of Stan's family's story is true, and that perhaps Stan was a historical figure at the time when the saga was written down. Certain aspects of the story, however, are total invention, even as they fit into the context of the saga tradition. Mentions of sorcery or second sight, premonitions and physical rebirth — these elements are in keeping with the saga tradition, but represent storytelling glosses on the main action of the text.
Stan and Kyle's saga is a rare saga in the Icelandic tradition in that it is not set in Iceland. The landscape of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Colorado was not unlike that of Iceland, and its social system not dissimilar. There is, again, a debate as to how the saga tradition was transmitted to Colorado. By at least the eighteenth century, manuscripts of Stan and Kyle's saga had made their way to Iceland. The story as presented here has obviously been subject to cultural interpretation, filtered though an Icelandic lens. There was no Althing, for example, in medieval Colorado, though there must have been a parliamentary system or judiciary governing body that functioned similarly to the Icelandic Althing. Likewise, some terms have been imported from the saga genre — the word halberd, for example, is commonplace in sagas, although this is a common translation substitution for the Viking weapons the atgeir, skeggøx, or höggspjót, all of which are named in Stan and Kyle's saga. No evidence suggests these existed in Colorado at the time when the story takes place, though neither did the halberd exist in Iceland. Allusions such as these show how the saga has been translated for an Icelandic audience.
Narrative convention in sagas differs quite a bit from that of modern Western storytelling. Verisimilitude is not a priority. Instead, the teller often breaks out of the narrative to inform the reader about what is happening in the telling of the story, i.e. letting the reader know that a certain character is now gone from the saga, or noting that the saga is returning to another plot thread or shifting focus. It is also the case that characters in sagas are plain-spoken; though they experience and share dreams and premonitions, or indulge in banter, the saga language is rather unadorned to the modern ear trained for great literature. There are few figures of speech. Foretelling is the primarily literary device.
The translation here is the most recent in a long history. The first English-language version of Stan and Kyle's saga emerged in 1874, from the pen of a self-trained London mystic. Subsequent translations were taken up or published at least five times in the early twentieth century. Notably, J.R.R. began on a version late in his career, at Merton College, Oxford, sometime in the 1950s. He was not to finish, though scholars have noted a passage in one of his letters, dated to 1961:
I had been at work on a piece of the so-called saga of Stan and Kyle some years back, perhaps five or so. At one point there was some talk of a pronoun mistranslation in the text, and so I poured over the hand-translation by that kook in the British Library — I believe this talk of ‘mistranslation' is due to a deliberate misrepresentation on the transcriber's part. But then, transcription is such a trying exercise — as anyone who's seen mine can relate!
"That kook" aside, in recent years there has been some speculation as to whether the Tolkien estate would consider releasing his efforts at translation from the Icelandic, perhaps in compendium with other partly finished translations. There is some hope in the scholarly community that a version of this may see the light of day yet.
Due to the saga's frank attitude toward gender and sexuality, and especially the mutability of those things, copies of it have been passed around gay circles since at least the late-nineteenth century. Oscar Wilde was said to have penned and perhaps staged a version while at Oxford. When questioned about it during the second of three trials, Montgomery Hyde records him as retorting, "Why, do you think the public would be interested in that sort of thing?" Social and private diaries especially in the period following Wilde, c. 1910-1930, often make note of the text being passed around amongst groups of friends. Evelyn Waugh, as a late example, remarked in 1948 that he had "tried to read that ghastly thing" and come away disappointed. In an early version of Forster's Maurice manuscript, there is a passage in which the main character attempts to read the saga and, finding a Victorian translation with some of the saga's male characters turned to female, muses that this is "disappointing" and "less forthright than what [the character had] found in the Plato. If there was any mention of those things in the text it was undecipherable. Perhaps, as with many disappointments, he had gotten his hopes up over a bit of talk." These references to Stan and Kyle's saga must have been struck early, for they do not appear in subsequent versions. Isherwood, for example, does not mention seeing them in any of the drafts he perused.
Parts of Stan and Kyle's saga have been referenced, in full or in part, in popular media for years, typically with the genders amended to reflect some version of propriety, however misguided. The 1970s Dutch cartoon adaptation produced by Henk van der Linden is a notorious exception, beloved as a cult release in certain circles due to its camp aesthetic. Rather than shifting the genders of certain characters, the animation represents them gender-neutrally. This is not necessarily handled gracefully, to say the least. In 2014 it was announced that the American streaming service Netflix had begun production on an adaption of Stan and Kyle's saga, demonstrating that interest in the story is alive and well in the twenty-first century, and paving the way for the new translation here. There is every reason to expect that Stan and Kyle's saga will continue to hold generations of readers and audiences in its thrall, just as it has since the original story was imported from Colorado to Iceland a millennium ago.
Chicago, Illinois, USA
A note on the translation and transcription
The present translation is the first version to attempt a straight translation of the surviving Icelandic version of the saga, culled from a ten-year study all the original manuscripts. Only where some textual reconstructions could not be made due to the integrity of the documents have nineteenth-century, or later, reconstructions been consulted. Included in this volume are both a translation and a transliteration-transcription, for those who wish to consult the original Icelandic. In regard to the translation, all characters' names have been anglicized following English language conventions: Stannar has become "Stanley" or "Stan," "Kennryr" has become "Kenny," and so on. The epithets — "Marsh," for example — reflect the nearest possible English translation of the Icelandic.
I. Of Randy Marvinsson
There lived in the mountains an old warrior named Randy, who was the son of Marvin. Marvin had been a great Viking who had lived a long and bountiful life and died at the age of 120. His son Randy had inherited all of his property. He was strong and rich and harsh, and people did not like to deal with him. He often spoke of himself as an important man and others did not think Randy was as great as he said he was.
Randy had two children, a daughter and a son. The daughter was named Shelley, and she lived on a farm at Breckinridge and was married to a man named Skyler. She was harsh and beautiful and had a will of her own and ran the household with competence. She was considered a good betrothal.
Randy also had a son, and his son's name was Stan. Stan was strong and a hard worker and owned good horses. Stan was even-tempered and sullen, did not like to talk to anyone, and preferred the company of his dog and horses.
One day Stan's father said to him, "I am concerned that the people are beginning to talk about you. I think it is time that you found a wife."
Stan said to his father, "I do not wish for a wife, and I do not think that it will make me happy."
Randy said to him, "If you do not find a wife I will find one for you."
"Then that is what you should do, father, for I do not want to find a wife."
Randy spoke to his friends until he heard of a man named Testaburger with one daughter. She was beautiful and intelligent but harsh and had a will of her own, and no one had wanted to marry her. Randy knew the girl was impertinent but felt that for his son any wife was better than no wife.
Randy rode to the Testaburger farm to meet the girl. The girl was called Wendy, and her hair was long and straight and black, and she was indeed very beautiful. She was also sullen, and Randy felt this made her a good match for his son. He told Testaburger of his desire for Wendy to marry Stan.
"What is your son's countenance?" Testaburger asked.
Randy said, "He is a better man than I. He is even-tempered and honorable. When I die, he will be rich, and he will make a good husband. And he owns many horses."
Testaburger thought about this. "It sounds like your son is a good man. He is worthy of my daughter, and I will tell her this." He did so and began to prepare the feast.
Randy rode back to his farm and told Stan of the news. "I do not want to marry Wendy or any girl, but if you think it is best, I suppose it is what I should do," Stan said.
"You will be happy with her, and she will be bountiful," Randy told him.
"I do not know that this is true, Father, and I hope that I will be proven incorrect."
At the feast, Wendy sat on the crossbench and was very pleasant. She and Stan talked, and they liked each other. Stan was not entirely pleased about the marriage, but he found that Wendy was amiable and intelligent. After the feast, they rode together back to Stan's farm.
When they arrived, Stan said to her, "I think you should be in charge of the household. Will you accept this duty?"
"I will," Wendy agreed. She followed Stan to the bed closet, and he stopped at the door.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I am going to share your bed and sleep with you," she answered.
"I do not want you to sleep with me. There is a bed closet for you, and it is well-appointed. You will sleep there."
Wendy was confused, and she did as her husband said and went to her bed closet.
Stan was kind to Wendy, and they spoke often. He did not ask her to sleep in his bed, and she was often unhappy because of this. In time Stan was expected to ride to the Althing. Wendy asked to accompany him. "If it is what you wish," he replied. "Ride with me."
At the Althing, Wendy went to her father's booth. He saw that she was unhappy. "What is wrong?" he asked her. "Does Stan mistreat you?"
"He treats me well and with kindness," she answered. "But he will not sleep with me, and it causes me unhappiness." Wendy wanted to know what she should do. She wanted Stan to sleep with her.
"I will keep this in confidence, daughter," her father told her. "You will tell your husband that it is his duty to sleep with you. If he will not, you will tell him you will divorce him and take his lands and dog and horses and return to my house. He will not want that."
"I will do as you suggest," Wendy replied. "But I like him, and I do not want to have to leave him."
Her father told her, "If he will not take heed of you, he is not worthy of you."
After the Althing, Wendy and Stan returned to their farm. She said to him, "It is your duty to ask me to sleep in your bed."
"As your husband I have provided everything and been kind to you," Stan replied.
"You have not provided everything as you have not given me a child. If you do not do your duty, I will take leave of you and return to my father, and he will see to it by law that I receive a divorce. I will take your land and horses and you will be alone."
Stan considered this. "I do not want to be alone," he said. He liked her company, although he did not want her to share his bed. "Come to my bed, and you will sleep with me."
Wendy came to Stan's bed, and he slept with her, but it made Wendy unhappy. Throughout the fall and winter, they slept together in the bed, and Wendy and Stan talked, but she was not happy. All in the household were fond of her, Stan most of all, but she was not happy.
Soon it came time for Stan to ride to the Althing. Wendy asked to accompany him. "If you wish to accompany me, I would be honored for you to do so," he said. He felt they were happy and had no problems. They rode together to the Althing and Wendy went to her father's booth.
"You seem unhappy," he said to her. "Tell me, is Stan unkind to you? Did he not heed your threat?"
"He heeded, and he is very kind to me and provides me with all that it is physically within his ability to do. But he is not able to provide me with the thing I want."
"And what is that?" her father asked.
"When he comes close to me, his penis is not able to penetrate me. He cannot make it go in. He is a good man and like other men apart from that, but I would like for you to grant me a divorce."
"It seems this marriage has taken a turn for the worse," Wendy's father agreed. "When you return home, pack your belongings and tell only your most trusted servant what you intend to do. When Stan is away, you will ride back here to be with me. Soon Stan will follow and come before me. I will tell him that the marriage is no longer tenable."
Wendy did exactly this.
II. Stan challenges Testaburger
After a day of horse fighting in a nearby town, Stan returned to his farm to find that Wendy had left and was not returning. Stan was sad to see his wife go. He rode to Testaburger's farm to discuss with him the conditions of the divorce. "I was good to her, and I felt we got along well," he told her father.
"She would agree, but you were not able to do what it is that a husband is supposed to do, so there is no reason for you to stay married."
"I am fond of her and I do not want to be lonely, which I will be if she leaves," Stan explained.
"A wife is not the kind of companionship you seek. My daughter is beautiful and has a will of her own, and you cannot make her happy. In compensation, you will return to me the land you were granted at the time of your marriage."
"I think that land is rightfully mine, and this is a matter of honor," Stan said. "We should have a duel, and if I lose I will return all land to you, plus four good gelding horses I have personally broken. If you lose, I will keep my land and your daughter."
"And if I choose not to duel?"
"Then I will leave here with your land and without a wife."
Testaburger thought about this. He had been strong and brave in his youth, but Stan was young and strong and would easily hurt or kill him. "I would rather you left with my land than risk losing my life or my daughter," he decided.
"Then it is settled." Stan left with his land, but no wife.
There lived on Stan's farm a man named Kenny. Kenny was the son of Stuart, whose wife was named Carol. Stuart had another son and also a daughter. The son was named Kevin, and he was a Viking, but not a very good one. He did not pillage successfully and had never killed anyone or received compensation. The family altogether was not wealthy and that was why Kenny had come to Stan's farm seeking work. Kenny did not keep the silver he was paid, but sent it back to his family who lived on the other side of the river.
Kenny and Stan were friendly and had a good relationship. Kenny had bedded many women and often stared at them with undue lust. He also did not want to marry anyone, and Stan found this comfortable. Between them, there were few secrets. Kenny was not an honorable man, but he was a good, hard worker, and he was clever. Stan was amused by his biting insults and enjoyed having him at the farm. They pledged friendship to each other, and this was how it was between them for a long time.
III. Of Wendy and Eric
There was a man named Eric who lived on a farm with his mother. He was lavish and often ate so much that he sent his servants to other farms to steal flour and dried fish, or simply bartered his servants in exchange for food. His mother was a bountiful woman named Liane who had lain in bed with so many men that she was not entirely certain who Eric's father was. In the village and amongst the servants, there was often gossip about this. It enraged Eric, but there was not much he could do. He was not a particularly good man, but many were afraid of him. He had no honor but was very clever.
There came a day when Wendy was sitting on a boulder near a river bed. It so happened that on this day Eric was walking by, and he spotted her.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Wendy," she answered. "Who are you?"
"I am Eric, the son of Liane," he replied.
"Oh," she said. "You mean the son without a father."
"Shut up," Eric replied. He was becoming uncomfortable, partially because this was true and partially because the fact that Wendy knew this and was not afraid to speak of it made her seem desirable. "I know something about you, too."
"Oh?" she said. "What's that?"
"They say that you were married, but that your husband was unable to satisfy you, and you asked for a divorce. Then, when your father asked for his land back as compensation for the termination of the marriage, he did not receive it."
"That's true," Wendy said.
"Well, then, it seems to me that we are both at a disadvantage here. I have no inheritance because I have no father, and you have no inheritance because your old husband made off with it. I think for practicality's sake, perhaps we should be married. It's the only good solution."
"Yes, that seems prudent," Wendy agreed. "And also it seems you like me just a little."
"Shut up," Eric replied.
Eric asked Testaburger for his daughter's hand, and he received it. Wendy went back with Eric to his farm, and they were happy with their marriage. Wendy was bountiful and Eric was pleased with that.
Now Eric is out of the saga.
IV. Of Gerald Broflovski
There was a man named Gerald who lived in a valley between two mountains. He was incredibly wise and was considered by many to be the greatest law speaker in the area. If anyone had a dilemma, he often would ask Gerald for an opinion. He had been married to a woman named Sheila, and Sheila and Gerald had one son, a boy named Kyle. Kyle was very clever. He was obstinate and nothing satisfied him, and he was very like his father in that he was good with the law. Gerald also had a foster son named Ike. Ike was originally from way up north, in Canada. He was a decent warrior and brought honor to his family. Kyle was also honorable, but more so because he was so smart and spoke soundly about practical matters.
Because he was so wise and people so wanted to speak with him, Gerald often traveled to the Althing to give counsel to others. One year when summer came, he asked his son Kyle to accompany him.
"You are getting quite mature now, and it is time you learn how to deal with these matters in the community setting," he told his son.
Kyle was not exactly thrilled to go to the Althing, as he would have preferred to stay with his mother and help her run the household. But he knew it would be a great mistake to deny his father anything. "All right," he said. "Father, I will go with you." They set out together for the Althing.
V. Randy asks Stan to accompany him to the Althing
It was at this time that Randy was called to the Althing. He asked Stan to accompany him. Stan thought about it and said, "I will accompany you to the Althing." He did not want to go, and he could not think of a reason not to. As they rode together, Randy told Stan that he had made some mistakes, but there was no better time to fix them than the present.
"Perhaps at the Althing you will find a new wife," Randy said.
Stan replied, "I do not think so." They rode to the Althing, in Denver.
After being there at the Althing for several days, Randy asked Stan whether he saw any girls that he might like to marry.
"Not in particular," Stan said, but almost as soon as the words left his mouth, he changed his mind. "Yes, that one there," he said, pointing to someone.
Randy said, "Stan, you can't marry that person."
"Why not?" Stan asked.
"Well, son, because that's a man," Randy replied.
"Oh," said Stan. "So it is. Regardless, I am going to go talk to him."
"That is ridiculous," Randy replied. "You cannot go talk to some man and expect him to be your wife!"
"Why not?" Stan asked.
"Because people will talk," Randy said.
"People already talk about me. They say that my wife left me, that I live alone on a farm with my horses and dogs and servants, and that no girl would want to marry me because I cannot be dutiful, and what's more, perhaps I do not want to be. Well, people can say whatever they want, and I am not going to be bothered by it."
"To let others insult you and do nothing about it is worse than if they attacked you and robbed you of your life," Randy said.
"Suit yourself, Father. Live in fear of other people's judgment. I am going to talk to that man and see if he is amiable."
"So be it," Randy said.
VI. Of Stanley and Kyle
Stan walked up to the man and greeted him warmly. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Kyle," said the man. He had abundant red curls and no beard, which was perhaps what had drawn Stan to him in the first place. "Who are you?"
"Stan," he said. "I noticed you were standing here alone, and I wanted to speak to you."
"Go ahead," said Kyle. "You may speak to me."
"Are you here alone?"
"I am here with my father."
"That is good. Bring me to his tent — I wish to ask him for your hand."
"My hand?" Kyle asked. "But you are a man, and so am I!"
"I don't care," said Stan. "I have never been so taken with anyone in my entire life, and if I cannot have you, I will never have anyone."
"That seems rash," said Kyle. "You couldn't possibly have met everyone yet!"
"This is just something I know," Stan replied. "Take me to him."
And Kyle did.
Stan was shocked to discover that Kyle's father was Gerald, the great law speaker. Having never seen Kyle before, Stan had assumed that he was not important. Nevertheless, Stan was not one to back down, so he asked Gerald for his son's hand.
"This is a really unusual thing you ask," Gerald said. "Men do not marry other men — much less want to."
"Well, I want to marry your son," Stan said. "He is the only one I have ever seen who makes me feel this way. I am an honorable person, and I have a great farm. Your son would be happy with me. I have many servants, and I raise good horses. I am strong and wealthy, and I will be dutiful. If you give me his hand, great things will come from our marriage. If you deny me, I don't know that I will ever be happy."
Gerald turned to his son. "Kyle," he said, "is this something you want?"
Kyle thought for a moment. "I think the idea of being married to a strong warrior appeals to me," he said, "even if I never considered this before."
"Well, there is nothing in the law that forbids this, although that's likely because no one has ever tried it before," Gerald said. "There's nothing to stop you, if this is what you both want. Take him, with my blessing."
Stan was overjoyed, and Kyle was happy too. Immediately at the Althing there was a feast, and all were invited. Token was there. He was the king of Colorado, and he brought his kinsmen, Clyde and Craig. Stan and Kyle talked and talked, and the more they talked, the more they seemed to like each other.
After the Althing concluded, Stan rode back to his farm with his new bride.
"I think if it pleases you, it would be good for you to run the household," Stan said.
"Yes, I agree," Kyle answered. "That pleases me."
"I also want you to sleep with me in my bed closet," Stan said.
"Although I never considered that before, I think I would enjoy it," Kyle replied. So they slept together in bed, and talked many long hours. Stan did not have the problems he had endured with Wendy, and he found that he liked Kyle even more. Kyle missed his father and mother and foster brother, but when he was with Stan, he did not seem to mind. They were very happy.
VII. Of Kenny and Kyle
It happened one day that Kyle was carrying some flour from the storehouse to the kitchen so he could make some bread. He had spent his days before coming to live with Stan reading many books and not getting a lot of exercise, and he wasn't very strong. Also his family had many servants, so he usually didn't have to do this sort of thing. Moreover, Stan had some servants, but far fewer than before, due to the ones that had come and gone with Wendy. That left a few servants, and they were with Stan at a horse fight, so Kyle had to carry the flour from the storehouse to the kitchen himself. It was in a big bushel, and he was having trouble carrying it.
It was at this time that Kenny was walking by. He had been branding the horses in the barn that had not gone out to the horse fight, and now he was done and was heading back to the house when he noticed Kyle was having difficulty carrying the flour bushel.
"Hello," he said, sidling up to Kyle. "You seem to be having some trouble with the flour here."
Kyle was having plenty of trouble but he was a man of great pride and did not want to admit this to anyone, especially Kenny, who often made clever but biting remarks about other people's abilities. Kyle did not like Kenny too much, but they did not often find themselves in each other's company, so it wasn't usually an issue.
"I'm fine," Kyle said. "You can go about your business."
"Suit yourself," Kenny said. "I'll just be on my way."
"Okay. You do that." Then Kyle made a big mistake. He put the flour bushel down and stretched out to relax his muscles. Kyle was wearing a kind of tunic but it lifted up when he stretched, and Kenny saw how white his skin was. It reminded him of a girl he'd once shared a bed with who happened to be an albino.
"I've never noticed this before," Kenny said, "but you are really beautiful."
"Okay," said Kyle. He thought this a fairly bizarre comment. "Thanks, I suppose."
"No need to thank me. Are you sure I can't help you carry that flour?"
Kyle thought about this for a moment. He was not sure if he was more prideful than he was lazy. He decided that he was in fact lazier than he was prideful. "Okay, you may help me. I'm taking it to the kitchen."
Kenny carried the flour, following closely behind Kyle. When they reached the kitchen, Kyle directed Kenny into the larder where he kept the flour and showed Kenny which shelf to put it on.
Kenny did not leave the larder when he had put the flour down. He pressed Kyle against a wall and said, "Now I realize why Stan wanted you to marry him. You're twice as beautiful as any woman I've ever seen, and I want you to take me to your bed closet and sleep with me."
Kyle was appalled by this. "No!" he cried, smacking Kenny across the face. "Let go of me!"
"If you can force me off I promise to leave and never bother you again."
"Of course I can't force you off," Kyle said. "You're twice my size! I can barely carry a bushel of flour from the storehouse to the larder!"
"Well, then I suppose you're mine for the taking," Kenny said.
Kyle kicked Kenny in one of his shins. He kicked Kenny in the other shin. He said, "Let me go! If you violate me, I'll drag you to the Althing and sue you for compensation!"
"I won't come to the Althing," Kenny replied. "And I have no compensation to give you."
"Then I'll have you declared an outlaw and you won't last a day!"
Kenny realized this was true, and he let go of Kyle and backed out of the larder. He was afraid of being declared an outlaw and, unlike most men, he was afraid to face an opponent in combat, knowing he would surely lose, especially against Stan or, what would be far worse, Ike Broflovski. "Forgive me," he said. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"I don't know what you were thinking, either, but I know what you were thinking with," Kyle said. He was still very shaken from this incident. "I won't forgive you. Get out of my house!"
Kenny left Kyle there in the kitchen and went back to the barn. He felt that whatever fate he had brought upon himself was inevitable, and if Stan would come find him to kill him, he should at least be working when it happened.
VIII. Kenny is banished
As soon as Stan returned from the horse fight, where he had won a great deal of respect, Kyle ran to him in tears. "You have to banish that servant of yours, Kenny!" he said. "He tried to seduce me! He wants to sleep with me!"
Stan was upset by this. Kenny was his most trusted confidante and a great friend, but Stan could totally believe Kenny would do something like try to seduce his man-wife. "That's not right," Stan agreed, stroking Kyle's hair to comfort him. "I'll have a talk with him."
"You have to banish him! I don't feel safe with him here!"
"I will talk to him," Stan said. "But I can't promise to banish him until I ask him what happened."
"You're too rational about this! That man tried to have his way with me against my will!"
"And you are far less rational than usual because you are upset," Stan said.
"This is a matter of honor!" Kyle said.
"Perhaps," Stan said. "Or perhaps it is not because Kenny has no honor. But he is a good friend, and that may be worth something to me."
"Nothing is worth more to you than I!" Kyle replied.
"That is true," Stan agreed. "I will go speak with him."
Stan found Kenny in the barn, braiding the tail of an especially large horse.
"I assume you're not here to tell me how the horse fighting went," he said.
"It went well," Stan said. "I lost two geldings but they fought admirably. I think you should know that all around Colorado men speak well of our horses. But soon enough, I think they won't be speaking well of you."
"No one speaks well of me," Kenny replied. "The greatest honor of my life is my friendship with you."
"And yet you violate that friendship by intimidating Kyle?"
"Kyle is a grown man, and he can make his own choices."
"Kyle is my wife, and I would sacrifice everything to protect him. He would never sleep with you by choice. This is a grievous error, Kenny."
"Your wife is very faithful," Kenny said. "He was resistant of me to the last. I think marrying a man will bring you more trouble than it's worth, but you won't be receiving it from me."
"On the contrary, I think you are going to rain down more trouble on my house than any of us could have anticipated."
"I merely meant that I am voluntarily leaving, and I intend not to return."
"Kenny, that is the most honorable thing you have ever done. I shall miss you."
"And I you," Kenny said. "Good-bye, Stan Marsh."
Kenny had no belongings, and he set off on foot, alone. He would make his way north into the mountains, where he hoped he would encounter some amenable allies who did not know of Stan and Kyle and the troubles that Kenny had gotten into with them.
When Stan returned to the house, Kyle was waiting for him. "Is he gone?" he asked.
"He is gone," Stan answered.
"You sent him away?"
"He volunteered to go."
Kyle said, "That was foolish, Stan. By preempting you he has gotten the better of us."
"What can I do?" Stan asked. "He won't bother you anymore. He is gone now."
"A better man would have defended his wife and his honor by killing that wretch," Kyle said.
"Blood is a difficult thing to absorb, once spilled," Stan replied. "And I do resent your implication that I could be a better man."
"In all of Colorado there is no better man than you," Kyle said. "In fact often I think you are too good." He went into the kitchen and made bread. When he went to the bed closet that night, he would not allow Stan to sleep with him. For a day or two there was strife between them, but this dissipated and for a while there was peace. They were very happy, and Stan was not too worried about Kenny.
IX. Kenny's travels
Kenny wandered up into the hills surrounding Arapahoe. He had a piece of silver in his pocket when he left Stan's, which he had used for food and shelter. Now he was nearing the end of his funds, and it was growing colder and colder the higher he climbed into the mountains. He had not seen another person all day and was beginning to worry about whether he would, and he would probably not survive the night if there were to be a heavy snowfall. He regretted leaving without asking Stan for one of the horses.
Around nightfall Kenny came to a small dwelling. There was smoke coming from the chimney, and he was relieved. He knocked on the door, which was opened by a small person with two long yellow plaits tied in green bows. At first glance, Kenny was very sure this had to be a maiden because the person had no beard and no man would wear his hair in plaits. But on second glance, it seemed to Kenny that perhaps he was in fact dealing with a man because this person also didn't look like a woman. Under normal circumstances Kenny would have just asked. Tonight he was freezing and starving so he just said, "Hi."
"Hello," came the reply. It was a light, high voice. It was probably a woman, Kenny thought. "Who're you?"
"My name is Kenny," he said. "I come from South Park, way down in the valley, from the farm of Stan Marsh. I have been wandering, and I do not know where I am going. I have nothing to pay you for your hospitality, but I am a good worker, and I can help you out. I see you have no horses, which are my specialty, but I have also been known to lug flour."
It seemed Kenny's reputation had not made it this far, and he was relieved that his story received no knowing reply.
"Hello Kenny. Come inside."
Kenny came into the house, and the door shut behind him. It was small and warm, and there was just enough room for one person, with one bed closet. But it looked comfortable, and Kenny was glad to find anyone with food. "I am most grateful you took me in," he said. "What is your name?"
"Name? I have many names. Some call me Leopold. Others have called me Marjorine. Often I have been accused of being Chaos itself. But you, you may call me Butters." Butters smiled. "It's nice to meet you. I don't get a lot of visitors."
Kenny found this very strange, but he was hungry and grateful to be out of the elements, so he thought little of it. "Thank you for taking me in, Butters," he said. "I owe you a debt that I am not certain I can repay. Also, since I am already inside, I think it is now fitting that I inform you that I am actually an outlaw."
"What did you do that caused you to be declared an outlaw?" Butters asked.
"I tried to seduce my friend's wife," Kenny replied. "It was wrong, and I shall carry the burden of regret until I die."
"That may be quite a long time," Butters said. "Tell me, was she beautiful?"
Kenny felt very uncomfortable, but he did not wish to deny Butters something so simple as an answer to a direct question. "Yes," he said. "He is."
Butters' eyes lit up. "Oh, I see."
"But I'm not like that," Kenny said.
"Oh, I think you are," Butters replied.
"I've been with a lot of women."
"In fact given that my transgression was ultimately unsuccessful, I've actually never been with a man. So I think any type of malediction against my masculinity would be incorrect. I break horses, you know. Great muscular stallions. I geld them."
"Well, tell me, Kenny, have you ever seen a man who has been gelded?" Butters asked.
"No, of course not. Such a person would no longer be a man. It is contradictory. No one would be cruel enough to geld a man and yet deprive him of an honorable death, forcing him to live like that."
"No one?" Butters asked. She flipped her plaits behind her and laughed. "I think I know how you are going to repay my hospitality."
Kenny really didn't like this at all, but it would have been suicide to run off now, if for no other reason than that it was freezing outside and Butters had a warm fire.
"But first we will eat. I have warm bread and good cheese and plenty of mead." When Butters saw the fear in Kenny's face, she said, "Oh, don't be like that. No one ever eats with me. I am forever lonely. And forever is a very long time, wouldn't you agree?"
"I suppose," said Kenny.
They ate a good dinner and, sure enough, retired to Butters' bed closet. In Kenny's arms, Butters was very happy. Kenny was still not certain if Butters was a man or a woman or what, but he was happy too and relatively sated, so he did not worry about it too much.
X. In Butters' house
In the morning they ate and drank with abandon. Kenny pulled on his boots, and Butters combed her hair and re-plaited it. They went outside and saw that there had been a great snowfall.
"Oh dear," said Butters. "You certainly can't be going in these conditions."
"I have much to do," said Kenny. "It is imperative that I find some way to compensate my friend Stan for the way I treated his wife."
"But the snow! You must stay here with me. You needn't worry about absolution. I don't care who you wronged. And no one knows what dangers you may risk out there alone. I can't allow you to go on your way until the snow clears."
"I suppose another day can't hurt," Kenny said.
They spent the day singing songs. Butters knew many songs, and her high voice was like music itself to Kenny's ears. They drank mead and ate, and Kenny asked Butters how she had come to live in the mountains alone.
"I do not think I can tell you that," she said. "You will think less of me."
"I have told you about my dishonor," Kenny replied.
"Perhaps when the time is right," Butters agreed. "For now, I know of more productive ways to pass the time." They spent this night as they had spent the last.
Butters' house was very odd. She never lit the fire, and yet it was always burning. She never went for supplies, and yet her larder was always stocked. No one came to see her, and she never left to see anyone. Regardless of how warm or cold it was each night, when they awoke in the morning and Kenny had put on his boots, meaning to leave, it turned out that it had snowed aggressively the night before, and Kenny could go nowhere.
For some time Kenny did not mind. He found that he enjoyed lovemaking and eating and drinking and singing with Butters. She was joyous and bountiful and far better at pleasing him that any of maidens he'd lain with before. She was almost enough to make Kenny forget about Stan and Kyle and his dishonor entirely. But sometimes when Butters went to bathe or to pick herbs from her yard (which grew green in spite of the constant snow) Kenny's mind wandered back to his journey. He knew he had to leave, but felt that summer would come soon enough.
XI. Kenny learns the truth about Butters
Summer did not come, and the snow did not dissipate. One night after lovemaking — and before sleep — Kenny asked Butters, "How long have I been here?"
"Why does that matter? We are enjoying each other."
"Yes, I agree," said Kenny. "But you know I have a debt to repay."
"Don't worry about that silly old debt," Butters said. "Your friend and his old battleaxe will never find you."
"I want Stan to find me so I can compensate him and regain his trust and friendship," Kenny replied.
"That is irrelevant in my house," Butters said. "Do not worry about it."
"Butters," Kenny said. "What month is it?"
Butters sat up and tied her hair in plaits. "That doesn't matter, and I won't tell you."
Kenny grabbed Butters by the throat. "Tell me the month or I will throw you against a wall."
"Oh, I forgot," Butters said. "You have no honor and would gladly throw a helpless man or woman against a wall regardless of the kindnesses he or she has paid you."
Kenny laughed at this. "You are not a woman. You are not a man. You are nothing, and no god created you. If you do not tell me what month it is, I will break your face like I break horses. You are gelded like a horse, so I think that would be fitting."
Butters' face and voice grew cold. "It is August."
"High summer!" Kenny cried. "How long have I been here?"
"One year and five months," Butters answered. "I make it snow in the night so you cannot leave in the morning."
"What are you?" Kenny asked.
"I am lonely," Butters answered. "Years ago, I was a boy who lived in the valley with the rest of you, but I practiced sorcery. This incensed locals, and countless men set upon me and cut off my penis and left me in the mountains to die. But this was naïve because I control the elements, and I can never die. I can never die, Kenny. I thought castration was the worst of my punishments, but in fact, it is the loneliness of eternal banishment that plagues me. You are the first man who has seen me in fifty years."
"This is a heartbreaking story," Kenny said. "And I do love you, for all you've tried to imprison me with you in your own banishment. Perhaps one day when I have compensated Stan and lived a long life, I will return to you. But I am no sorcerer, and I must go. One day I may return."
"That isn't enough," Butters said. "If you leave me, I will curse you."
"If you geld me I will never return," Kenny said.
"Oh, gelded you are no use to me. I intend to do far worse. Will you stay with me? Live with me as my husband? After all, you have defiled me far worse than my attackers ever did, you wicked man."
"One day, maybe. But for now I must continue my search to find compensation for my crimes against Kyle and Stan."
"So be it!" Butters cried. "Get out of my house and out of my life! You have no honor, and you will have no honorable death! A curse on you, Kenny! No honorable death! No dishonorable death!" She pushed him out of the house and slammed the door in his face.
Kenny felt bad about leaving her, but in his heart he knew he intended to return once he had set things right with Stan. As Kenny went away from her house he noticed that the snow melted, the trees burst into leaves and the flowers into bloom. The sky cleared, and the world began to smell alive again. Kenny went down from the mountains back into the valley.
XII. The death of Randy Marsh
Around this time Randy Marsh died. He was old and died a quick death of illness as he was riding back from the Althing. According to his will, his land was to go to his son Stan, but Stan's brother-in-law, Skyler, protested this, arguing that Stan had no children and, as he was married to a man, would never have children. Stan asked for a period of ten days to seek legal counsel on this matter.
First he asked Kyle. Kyle was very learned in the law, having studied with his father his whole life before coming to live with Stan in South Park. Kyle was often sought for legal advice by people who lived nearby and did not want to go to the Althing to seek better help.
But looking at this case, Kyle was perplexed. "In all my reading I don't know why a will made by a competent man would be contested," he said. "Your sister and her husband are very greedy. They want to take what's legally ours."
"But being practical, it is true that Shelley and Skyler have children and we have none."
"Well, Stan, unless you can find some way to put a baby up in me, I think that is not going to change."
"It's not for lack of trying," Stan said.
"You do try frequently and thoroughly, I admit. No one could accuse you of not trying." Kyle blushed. "But I think this is a more serious matter than we are aware of. That money is ours, and to disregard your father's will would be a serious breach of legal standards. It would set a dangerous precedent. Moreover, it would be an insult to your father's final wishes, to the honor of an old warrior."
"But to deny my sister and her husband would create bad will between us, and I do not want that. After the fiasco with Kenny, the last thing I need is to anger more of my kin."
"I think we have reached the end of where we are able to think out this problem," Kyle said. "Let us take this matter to my father."
XIII. Stan and Kyle travel
Stan and Kyle rode to Gerald's farm, halfway between the valley and the Althing, in Denver. They were greeted warmly and with open arms. Kyle's mother in particular was overjoyed to see him. She wept on his shoulder and cried, "It's been too long!" in an embarrassing manner. Several servants stared at her.
"Hello, Mother," said Kyle. "I come to seek Father's counsel on a legal matter."
"But you will stay for dinner?"
"Sure," said Kyle. "Stan and I will stay for dinner."
"Very well. I'll set places for you." As Sheila walked away she gave Stan a wary eye.
In counsel with his father, Kyle explained the entire situation. Gerald read Randy's will twice over to make sure it was sound. It was.
"This is a very odd case," he said. "You sister has no right to demand your inheritance. She has a husband who is perfectly capable of providing for her, and Skyler has in fact received inheritance from his own father. I think the problem is that your sister and her husband are just not very good people, Stan."
"I am aware of this," Stan agreed. "And yet no one wants to think of his sister in that way. We grew up together, and I do not want to cease to think of her as kin."
"She will always be kin to you regardless of what kind of person she is or how she treats you," Gerald said.
"I think I have learned this the hard way," Stan said. "I do not want to create more ill will with the people I consider my friends and relations. Yet I also do not want to concede my inheritance to my sister. I have a wife to provide for, and this is my birthright."
"Well, don't start fights on account of me," Kyle said. "You need to get that money because it belongs to you. If you first let that lecherous man take advantage of us, and then let your sister and her husband do it, I don't know if I can call you a man. And I do not want to be married to a coward. Legally, you have to fight for it."
"I will not fight my sister in court," Stan said. "That is final. It is not to be done."
Gerald puzzled this for a moment, and then said that he thought he had an idea. "On what grounds does your sister challenge your inheritance?" he asked.
"Well, that I have no children," Stan said.
"I have a feeling that if this is brought before the Althing, they will side with her and Skyler. After all, your marriage is not a subject that sits easy with most men. And without children, it is true that your inheritance would go to waste."
"Well, what do we do?" Kyle asked. "Father, please. Help us."
"I will contemplate this for a night and tell you my decision in the morning," Gerald said. "See to it that you dine with your mother tonight."
Stan and Kyle agreed with this, and at dinner Kyle sat next to his mother on the crossbench, and told her of his happiness with Stanley.
"Nothing troubles you, son?" she asked. "It seems to me that you were never the type to be entirely satisfied."
"Well, there has been one problem," Kyle said, and he spoke to her of his problems with Kenny, and the way things had ended with him. "But he is gone now," Kyle said. "We don't worry about him anymore."
The last thing Sheila said to Kyle at dinner was, "Ill will today, ill will tomorrow. A man stirred by lust will never quite be unstirred. I hope, my son, that you have no more problems and are happy. That man you have chosen to marry loves you. I hope this is enough." She got up from the table and concluded her meal.
Kyle thought this very curious, but it had been a long ride, and he was exhausted. With Stan he retired to bed, and they slept soundly until morning.
XIV. Gerald's advice to Stan and Kyle
In the morning Gerald called Kyle and Stan to speak with him about his advice in regard to Stan's sister and her husband.
"It seems to me," he said, "that the two of you would not be in this situation if you had some children."
"Of course," Kyle agreed. "But as I'm sure you're aware, I am incapable of it. As you raised me yourself, you must know it is impossible."
"As I raised you, Kyle, you must know it is not impossible. Your foster brother Ike is the most noble warrior in the land. His deeds are many and his reputation fearsome. Surely you will not have forgotten how we took him in from Canada when he was just a tiny thing?"
Immediately, Kyle felt both relieved and stultified.
"If you foster a child, your sister and her husband will have no legal ground on which to stand. I recommend you do this. You will not have to go before the Althing, and your sister will not be able to fault you for claiming what's yours. Does this solution suit you?"
"Indeed," Kyle said.
Stan said, "I don't know why we didn't think of it before."
Stan and Kyle were both uncreative and so they named the child "Baby." Kyle's mother asked him what he thought he would call it when it grew up and was no longer a baby. "I suppose I will keep calling him Baby," Kyle said, "for that is his name."
"My heart aches for you sometimes, son," she replied. "It is said that you are very smart, and perhaps you give good advice to others. But I think you are too foolhardy to understand the shortsightedness of your own actions."
"I don't know what you mean by that, and I'm insulted you would imply my stupidity." Kyle snatched the child off of its grandmother's lap. "Stan and I are taking the child and going home."
Stan and Kyle packed their cart and rode home.
XV. Craig kills Kenny
Now the story returns to Kenny.
Kenny had wandered down from the mountains, over many streams and all across Colorado. He did not go to the Althing, nor did he speak to anyone unless necessary. He had no coin, but was able to perform basic tasks for food and shelter. In Bailey, he shod a horse. In Aurora, he carried sacks of flour. In Greeley, he also shod a horse. There were many horses in Colorado. In Breckinridge, he shod another horse. It kicked him in the face. When he was aroused, his scalp was bleeding and his ear was torn clear from his head. The owner of the horse said, "Oh my god! That blow ought to have killed you!"
"I'm resilient," said Kenny. "Now show me where I may sleep." He lay down in a hayloft and thought about what had happened. A horse had kicked him in the head, torn his ear right off, and yet he had survived. Odder still was that he had been kicked in the first place. Kenny was tired and had no time for deep contemplation. He slept through the night.
In the morning, Kenny ate a piece of bread, and the mistress of the house wrapped a piece of cheese in cloth, sending him on his way. When he set off from Breckinridge, he felt he could walk clear across the land, or at least all the way to Utah. By the time he reached Denver, though, he was exhausted. He came upon a group of men enjoying a horse fight. Horse fighting was Kenny's special interest; he was both good at it and enjoyed it. He knew he was very close to South Park and that he would probably be recognized if he went to the horse fight. Immediately it occurred to Kenny that Stan might be there, and perhaps if he showed Stan that he had had his ear kicked off by a horse, Stan would forgive Kenny his transgressions. Being a wanted man was exhausting. Moreover, it had been well over a year since that unpleasantness, and perhaps Stan, being big-hearted and soft but not in possession of the sharpest acuity, would have forgotten about the whole thing.
Stan was not at the horse fight, but Clyde and Craig were there. Clyde and Craig were kinsmen, friends of the King of Colorado, Token. They were also acquaintances of Stan's, although to say that Clyde and Craig and Stan held positive feelings for each other would be a misstatement. They were there with their men and all of their horses. Kenny approached Craig, who was sharpening his axe against a tree stump.
"Hello," Kenny said, raising his arms so that Craig would see he was unarmed and looking for no trouble. "I'm looking for Stan. Is he here?"
"Stan is not here," said Craig. "Who are you?"
Kenny didn't answer this question. "That's too bad. Where can I find Stan?"
"He's probably back in South Park, at home," said Craig. "He spends all his time with that beardless wife of his and their ill-begotten child."
"That's amazing," said Kenny. "Kyle gave birth?"
"That thing couldn't give birth if he tried. I don't know where they got the child, but it's none of my business what they do in their sham marriage. Have a baby, fuck ceaselessly, braid each other's hair — sure, why not? So long as it keeps Stan from coming to the horse fights I don't care what they do."
"Excuse me?" Kenny had to cock his remaining ear closer to Craig to hear what he was saying.
"I said, I don't care what Stan does so long as he stays away from the horse fights. I've been doing quite well without him around. Who are you? And what happened to your ear?"
"A horse kicked me in the face, and it ripped my ear off."
"That sounds painful."
"It was, horribly painful."
"Shouldn't you be dead?"
Kenny did not know what the say. "Maybe?"
Craig studied Kenny now. He looked at the dried blood on Kenny's cheeks and the tattered rags Kenny wore as clothing. "You look familiar to me," he said, "but I cannot place it. Tell me who you are, or I will hold you in contempt and consider it a mark of disrespect."
Kenny now knew that he was in serious trouble. "I am Kenny Stuartsson," he said.
Finally Craig realized who he was dealing with. "It's been so long," he said. "They say you are an outlaw, that you fled from Stan's household in shame after raping that girlfriend of his."
"Kyle is no girlfriend," Kenny said, "and while it is true that I fled in shame, and it is also true that I am an outlaw, I'll do anything to rectify my misdeeds and repair my relationship with my kinsman, Stan."
"Why, do you love him?" Craig asked. "Do you wish to sleep in his bed closet? I'll bet you've been romancing him covertly for years. Does it burn you up inside that he married the son of that boring old law speaker? I always knew Stan was a real woman, but it's difficult to see which one of you would do the man's work."
"I ought to cut your tongue out for speaking of Stan that way!"
"Go ahead and try," Craig said. "Legally, I'm now obligated to kill you, outlaw." Craig drew his halberd and sliced Kenny's torso in half with one heavy blow. Kenny had no weapon and stood nary a chance. He did not beg for mercy, just shouted in pain as he died.
Hearing the commotion, Clyde came over and found Kenny's body in two pieces on the ground at Craig's feet. Craig was wiping the blood from his halberd.
"What's this?" Clyde asked. "It's such an awful mess! Who have you killed, Craig?"
"No one important," said Craig. "Just the outlaw Kenny."
"Stan will be annoyed about this," said Clyde. "I think they were fond of each other."
"Fond like a double-entendre?" Craig asked.
"No," said Clyde. "Just regular fond. You'd better go pay him a visit, though. Despite Kenny's outlaw status, I think this death must be compensated."
"Very well," said Craig, and he set off to do just that.
Clyde rode home.
They left Kenny's body on the plain, in two pieces where Craig's halberd had struck. They left him unburied and unmarked. No one, they figured, would mind this.
XVI. Stan Marsh is compensated
Craig rode to South Park. He knew he owed Stan compensation for killing Kenny, and wanted to be done with the unpleasant business as quickly as possible.
Stan and Kyle were very hospitable. They immediately offered Craig a pint of mead and bread with cheese. Craig was not hungry, but he feared that if he did not accept the meal he would be seen as rude in addition to slaying Stan's kinsman. In general, Craig did not care if he was perceived as rude, but he wanted to get it over with. He shared a meal with Stan, who was cordial if not overly happy to see Craig. Finally, at the end of their meal, Stan pushed his plate away and asked, "Tell me, Craig. Why have you come all the way to my farm to see me?"
"It's not a social visit," Craig said. "I am here because I wish to pay you compensation."
"Compensation for what?" asked Stan.
"I am afraid I've slain your kinsman, Kenny."
"You killed Kenny?"
"I did," said Craig.
"Tell me why," said Stan.
"Because you declared him an outlaw," said Craig. "And he was annoying me." [lol]
"Kenny was an acquired taste and a good friend. It's true, he was an outlaw. Still, I appreciate your forthrightness in this matter. I think a hundred pieces of silver is fair compensation for Kenny's life."
"I'll agree to that," said Craig.
"And I expect with this transaction, we can put the matter behind us," said Stan. "Violence is best left for horse fights. The last thing I want is for more unpleasantness."
"Let us hope this is our last meeting." Craig felt he was being very clever.
Craig paid Stan his silver, slung his halberd across his shoulder, and rode back to Denver.
After Craig had gone, Stan went to the pantry to talk to Kyle. Kyle was making bread and feeding bits of dough to Baby.
"I have news," said Stan.
"I don't like your tone," said Kyle. "It must be bad news."
"Whether it is good or bad remains to be seen," said Stan. "It's foolish to make assumptions about what events will unfold later."
"Or perhaps it's wise to think through your actions before committing them," said Kyle, "lest you end up on the wrong end of someone's sword."
"It's funny you should say that," said Stan.
"There's nothing funny about killing," said Kyle. "And anyway, you're being too reticent. What happened? Is it in regard to Craig's visit? Tell me, or I'll deny you my favors."
Stan took such a threat very seriously. "He killed Kenny."
"That bastard!" Kyle cried.
"This is a surprising reaction," said Stan. "There was no good will between you and Kenny."
"It's not Kenny's life that troubles me," said Kyle. "It's yours. If you had banished him — or better yet, killed him — before he was able to trump you by leaving of his own free will, this never would have happened. Now he has been wandering far and wide, telling people who knows what about your inability to kill him. And then Craig finishes the job? Such a turn of events makes you look like a coward. I certainly hope you intend to kill Craig — or better yet, have done so already. I'd like to see his corpse bleeding in my hall."
"I wouldn't think of such a thing," said Stan. "Craig offered compensation, and I duly accepted it. We've agreed that the matter is closed, and repairs have been made. We needn't discuss it again."
Kyle knew the law well, and he understood that if there were no future transgressions between Craig and Stan, there would be no more bloodshed. "Listen to me: you have to be careful not to cross Craig. Your sister's wrath is pitiful, but Craig is a kinsman of King Token. I wouldn't want to stir hard feelings in him."
"Token is very wise."
"Very wise but very grave," said Kyle. "In any case, you should avoid Craig from now on. I suggest you make yourself scarce and cease participating in the horse fights."
"What will I do for recreation?" Stan asked.
"That's a silly question," said Kyle. "I believe I can share some ideas with you."
XVIII. Kenny rises from the dead
Craig did not bother to bury Kenny's body in even a grave of dirt, let alone set his corpse alight like that of a true warrior. For the outlaw there was to be no funerary glory. In the tall grasses where Kenny fell, he was left to fester.
The morning after he fell, Kenny woke up with his head throbbing and his mouth dry. "Strange," said Kenny. "My mouth is dry, and yet I am not thirsty." Figuring a drink was the easiest way to rectify this, he walked down to a nearby stream, where he leaned over the currents to drink. Kenny caught his own reflection and said aloud, "Strange that my ear was torn right off and I did not bleed to death." Kenny then cupped water in his hands and drank.
From the stream, Kenny wandered through the hills and down to Denver. It was not that he was consciously trying to go to Denver, but the terrain sloped downward that way, and Kenny was tired, instinctually following the path of least resistance. By the time he reached the center of town, he was starving, but as he had no money, he knew he would have to sell something to eat. That said, Kenny had no material possessions to sell, exactly. He walked to the whorehouse and said to the proprietor, "I require some coin. I am an attractive young man with little to no shame, and I'll do what I have to do to eat."
The proprietor looked him up and down. He said to Kenny, "Attractive my ass. You look like a walking corpse."
"Well," said Kenny, "clearly I'm not, because could a corpse do this?" He smiled his most radiant smile.
"I guess not," said the proprietor. "But there is still a problem, and that is that you are not a lady."
"I can be a lady for the right price," Kenny said.
"I already got eight whores that are real ladies," the proprietor said.
"I can be either a lady or a man, which is a more useful skill."
"Men don't want to have sex with men," said the proprietor, "and most ladies don't want to have sex at all, in my experience. I don't think I have any use for you."
Kenny said, "I know at least two men who want to have sex with men," but as soon as he said this he realized those two men were highly unlikely to be visiting a whorehouse. So he changed tactics. "Listen," said Kenny. "I have two skills. One is that I'm very, very good with horses."
"And what's the other?"
"I'm very, very good with ladies."
The proprietor thought for a moment. "Can you clean a stable?" he asked. "My brother-in-law has a stable."
"I can do that," Kenny agreed.
Kenny found himself working in Kevin Stoley's stable. The pay was nothing to brag about, but Kevin had a very comely wife with big tits. In that respect, the pay was better than he had been promised.
XIX. Kyle visits his mother's
Soon it was summer and time for the Althing. Stan asked Kyle to join him, but Kyle did not want to go. "Someone has to look after the homestead," he said. "Someone must mind our affairs."
"I hope the affairs you are minding will not create more problems to solve," said Stan.
"Don't be silly," said Kyle. "I'm not some stupid woman."
"Of course not," Stan agreed. He bid Kyle farewell and set out on horseback to discuss business, leaving Kyle behind to look after the household.
When Stan was gone, Kyle decided things had gone far enough. Kyle was up to something. He put on his cloaks and began to load up a cart. He put a hood on Baby's head and wrapped Baby's hands in rabbit furs. He bundled up in a fur blanket and instructed one of Stan's farmhands, whose name was Gary, to look after the horses and mind the larder. Kyle set off for his parents' home.
Kyle arrived at his parents' home at nightfall. He instructed the servants to unload the cart and announce his presence to his mother. He sat in the cart with Baby in his arms, rocking him and singing a gentle song from his youth. Baby did not like this song, and it did not curtail his cries.
Kyle's mother rushed out of the house. "Kyle!" she said. "What are you doing here? The child is going to wake up the whole homestead!"
"He is unhappy because he misses his father," Kyle said.
"Well, it won't do to have the both of you sitting out here at night. Come inside." Kyle followed his mother into the kitchen. He carried the child with him. His mother gave them both a plate of food, soft yogurt and unrisen bread for the child, and for Kyle, leftover roasts from the evening meal and fish with honey, as well as a hunk of bread.
"Thank you, Mother," he said. "I was very hungry."
"Certainly," she said. "What are you doing here? Where is Stanley? Did you leave him?"
"No, Mother, of course I didn't leave him," Kyle answered. "He is at the Althing."
"So is your father. Why didn't you go with him?"
"Because I wanted to speak with Ike."
"Well," said Sheila, "he went out riding yesterday. He will return tomorrow. What matter is pressing enough to drive you here?"
"I come seeking counsel, from Father," said Kyle. "And from Ike, protection."
"I am neither wise law speaker nor great warrior," said Kyle's mother, "and there is still some woman's wisdom in me yet."
"The situation is most perilous," said Kyle. "It is not for women's ears."
"It seems, Kyle, you lack both the wisdom of women and the strength of a warrior, and your braids are nearly as long as mine now, and your belly nearly as soft, and your infant as tight on your breast as any on that of any mother at any hearth in any hovel. When you traded your birthright for the comfort of a warrior's bed, you forsook the right to look down your nose at me. Now tell me what drives you here, or I'll send you away and the night is cold. Take heed."
Kyle was incensed at his mother's words. When in his youth he accompanied his father to the Althing, he often heard her called a bitch. "You dare deny me my birthright?" he asked.
"You father with his knowledge of the law is abroad, and we both know that when you left this place to share a bed closet with Stan Marsh, you denied your birthright and left it to your brother. Again you denied it when you fought his sister to have his. Your father's gold and his farm and his horses will go to your foster brother in time, if I have a say in it. For the last time, Kyle, if you have in your head a shred of intelligence, you will tell me know what brings you here."
Kyle was cowed by his mother's admonishments. "I have something stronger than intelligence, and that is fear. Seasons ago, Stan had in his household a man named Kenny, who affronted me and then went abroad. For a time, he was gone and we were happy. Lately, Kenny has reappeared in Denver at a horse fight, and he was slain by Craig in the field. Craig came to Stan, and Stan accepted Craig's silver for Kenny's life. Though they fought, Kenny was like a brother to Stan, and Craig paid for the loss of life."
"It's perfectly acceptable that a man's life should be paid with silver," said Kyle's mother.
"I fear weregild will not be the end of it," said Kyle. "I fear Stan's judgment in this matter, and I fear for the life of my husband and child. Stan is a warrior to be sure, but he is a good man, and he will choose silver over blood every time. If Ike came to my household, I would sleep easily."
"In times when dead men walk, none of us sleep easily."
"That is a cryptic thing to say," Kyle said to his mother.
"It is something my mother told me," she said. "But let us not hold with this wisdom of women. You are always welcome in this home, son. Your brother will return tomorrow, and you will speak with him. He is strong-willed and will make a fair decision."
"I must return to South Park before Stan does, so he does not suspect I've been away in his absence," said Kyle.
His mother said, "Then we will have you back there in due time."
XX. Kyle discusses matters with his brother
Ike returned the next day from riding, and he was weary. Kyle greeted him in the entranceway, holding a goblet of mead.
Kyle said, "I hope your ride was sufficiently entertaining, brother."
Ike said, "It was good enough." He took the goblet and drank from it. "What are you doing here? Lovers' tiff with that horse-fighter of yours?"
"Stan and I are well," said Kyle. "But I have a need for your help."
"I don't see what help I could possibly give you,"
"The situation is very sensitive. I wish not to discuss it here, where there are unknown ears," said Kyle.
"This is my home, and I do not doubt the loyalty of anyone in it."
"Stan did not doubt the loyalty of his household until one of his supposed kinfolk made an advance on me."
"If you're worried about stable hands making advances on you, Kyle, I suggest you wear a looser tunic."
"Making light of my appearance is all well and good, but I beseech you to follow me."
Ike followed Kyle into a private hall, where they sat and spoke.
"I am having terrible visions," said Kyle. "I greatly fear for my family's safety."
"Those are delusions brought on by too much wine and not enough daylight," said Ike.
"I get plenty of daylight," Kyle said. His cheeks were red and warm from riding the day before.
"I don't see why you need my help. Can't Stan look after his household and his woman?" Ike asked.
"He can't be at home at all times. I already forbid him from horse fighting."
"I imagine he loved that."
"He would agree to anything I asked," said Kyle.
"Bully for you," said Ike.
"This is irrelevant," said Kyle. "I throw myself at your mercy."
"My mercy is quite rare and valuable," said Ike. He had killed many men and was quite feared. "But so is your apprehension. Tell me what causes you to dream of ill omens and I'll consider going back to South Park with you."
"It is no particular thing," said Kyle. "A man who Stan formerly counted among his kin who affronted me and left us in disgrace. He was gone for some time, and we made no issue of him. Craig came to us before Stan set off for the Althing to inform us that he wished to pay for Kenny's life on account of having slain him."
"Did Stan accept the payment?" Ike asked.
"Then I think your matter is closed."
"No matter is closed where blood has been spilled," said Kyle. "I dream of it spilling again. I wish to protect my child from that."
"You coddle that boy too much," said Ike. "He is a little warrior like his foster father, and he will know blood soon enough. All right, brother, I'll come with you – but only to see that your son is taught to swing a halberd."
"I would sooner give him law books than a halberd," said Kyle.
Ike laughed. "Some men know how to use both. Come, let's say goodbye to mother. I grow bored of her halls anyway."
XXI. Clyde kills Kenny
In Kevin's house, Kenny was very happy. Kevin's wife had big tits, and so did his two daughters. Kenny liked tits very much and was content to look at them from afar. He hoped one day to touch them. In the meantime, he shod horses and carried sacks of flour when asked. He did not offer.
Kevin had frequent visitors. He was a law speaker and a productive farmer. Some said he had second sight, and it was true that his predictions often prevailed. He liked to remind people of this. In the summer, he asked Kenny to plant twice as much wheat; when the winter came, Kevin's provisions did not run low like those of others during the long ice and snow storms. Often those from the nearby towns came to offer Kevin a price for his wheat. Kevin decided that his daughters were more precious than any flour. Kevin gladly accepted gold and silver for flour, and his daughters stayed in his house. Kenny was glad for this.
It happened one day in the spring that Clyde Rogersson came to see Kevin about a legal matter. Clyde was an associate of Token's and also of Craig's, and Kenny did not know how Clyde and Kevin knew each other. By this time, Kenny had become less fearful of his employment ending and had become very risky. He sat in the cupboard under the stairs and listened while Clyde and Kevin spoke.
"I bring news from the region," said Clyde. "It's said at the thing that there is a new resident in South Park, that Ike Broflovski has been staying in the house of Stan Marsh."
"That's not news," said Kevin. "That happened last summer or autumn."
"It's news to me," said Clyde.
"Everything is news to you," said Kevin. "You eat so loudly that you never hear the conversation at the dinner table."
"I'm all ears in a bed closet, though."
"Hardly," said Kevin.
"Regardless," said Clyde, "this news concerns me. Stan Marsh has had bad history with Craig. Craig slew one of Marsh's kin out of rage. The man was an outlaw, but Craig paid for his life."
"Then it seems to me the matter's settled," said Kevin.
"Not if a formidable warrior like Ike is in his household. They say you have a second sight. Will any ill come from this?"
"What ill would come from a man who's died?"
"It's the men who live that concern me," said Clyde.
"An unusual insight from you," said Kevin. "Come, my daughters will return from the well at any moment. Let us finish this discussion in privacy." They went to Kevin's bed closet, the one he shared with his wife.
This conversation was interesting to Kenny. He waited, and then he followed Kevin and Clyde to the bed closet, where he stopped outside to hear the rest of their conversation. They seemed not to be talking though. Kenny climbed on top of the closet to hear better.
"What's that?" said Clyde.
"Absolutely nothing," said Kevin. "Don't concern yourself with it."
Kenny heard their voices turn to deep moans and underneath him the bed closet began to shake. Aroused, Kenny pulled down his pants and he began to touch himself. Lacking good balance, Kenny fell from the roof of the bed closet and hit the ground with a great noise. He hit his face against the ground, and when he raised his head, he was bleeding from his nose.
"Is no one in Colorado straight?" Kenny asked.
Kevin emerged from the bed closet. "You!" he said. "Get out!"
Clyde emerged as well. "This is impossible!" he said.
"That man is the one Craig killed! Marsh's kin — at the horse fight."
"I know!" said Clyde. "But there he is."
"I'll just be going," said Kenny, picking up his pants.
"Not so fast," said Clyde. "You're Kenny."
Kenny could not deny this.
"You're dead," said Clyde. "You're supposed to be dead."
"Even a man of your acuity must be able to tell that I am not, in fact, dead," said Kenny.
"Craig killed you! He sliced you in half with his halberd. I saw it with my own eyes!"
"Is this true?" asked Kevin.
"No," said Kenny. "Or perhaps. It's difficult to remember. I woke up by the river and wandered down to the whorehouse—"
Kevin said, "But you are in fact the outlaw Kenny?"
"Outlaw is such a harsh term," said Kenny.
"Of course you are, you're missing an ear." Clyde stepped out of the room, and returned with a glaive. "This ought to do it," he said, and he brought it above his head and down again into Kenny's skull. Clyde was not capable with a weapon like Craig, and Clyde swung again and again until blood soaked the dirt floor of Kevin's hall and brains clung to the curve of his glaive. Kenny was dead.
"You've killed him," said Kevin. He felt embarrassment at this graceless act occurring in his own home, near the bed closet he shared with his wife.
"Yes, I did," said Clyde, "but it is unwise to let an outlaw stand before oneself without doing proper justice."
"If only you'd done it properly," said Kevin. "You've defiled my home with the blood of an outlaw."
"I only did what was right," said Clyde.
"You know the law," said Kevin. "If this man is Stan Marsh's kin, Clyde, I think it best you ride for South Park and offer him weregild."
"Craig already paid compensation for Kenny's death."
"Well, he's dead again," said Kevin, "by your glaive this time."
"I find it odd that this one's been killed twice."
"That is odd," said Kevin. "I think when you set out for South Park, I'll pay Craig a visit. He should know of this. Men aren't meant to die twice. If he's indeed the same man."
"He is," said Clyde. "I'd know him anywhere. The missing ear is very telling. Stan won't be pleased with this development."
"I fear," said Kevin, "that none of us will be pleased at the end. I hope Stan will accept your payment. The last thing you'd want is to run afoul of Ike's halberd."
Kevin and Clyde left Kenny's body by the river. In the morning, Clyde rode to South Park, and Kevin went to see Craig.
XXII. Kevin Stoley discusses the matter with Craig
Craig's hall was sterile, and his demeanor was sterile. He was neither friend nor foe to Kevin, though by Craig's reckoning, they had several friends and foes in common. "What brings you here?" Craig asked. He received visitors at his table, where he served a fine complement of pickled fishes and farm cheese, and mead.
"I have news that I'm afraid to report," said Kevin.
"Then best you be out with it," said Craig.
"It's difficult to explain," said Kevin. "Some time ago, Clyde was a visitor in my hall, and it was the case that we were startled by one of my servants. He appeared to be spying, or listening to something he shouldn't, so we stopped to question him."
"All right, that's fine," said Craig. "I don't need to know every niggling detail of your boring life."
"That's where you come in, actually, because it was here that Clyde recognized my servant as a man named Kenny. Do you recognize that name?"
"Yes, of course I recognize that name. The name belongs to a man, and I killed that man. I killed Kenny. And paid Stan Marsh handsomely to compensate him for the loss. As was only fair, of course. The curious aspect of your account, Kevin, is that Kenny was in your hall at all. He was dead, and the matter was settled."
"Settled or not, it seems you didn't kill him," said Kevin, "for if you had, he could not have been in my hall. Perhaps it was merely a light injury, and the man improbably recovered. I should think this would be good news for you! Now Stan Marsh will be required to repay you."
Craig did not buy this reasoning. "Something foul is afoot. That man was dead; I am sure of it. I cleaved him in two! No man could survive that. And surely not without severe handicap. No, the state I left him in would prevent his serving in your hall. I am sure of it."
"Then I agree with your assessment," said Kevin. "Something smells rotten."
"Or not, as the case may be."
Craig stood and dismissed Kevin from his hall. "I will go to South Park at once," he said.
"What will you do there?" Kevin asked.
"I shall begin with compensation from Stan Marsh. I paid him for a dead man, and by definition, if I killed Kenny then he could not have come to your hall to be killed by Clyde. Therefore Kenny was not dead, and I should get my silver back."
"Then you didn't kill him?"
"I did," said Craig. "That is what's odd about it. Regardless, if someone owes weregild to Stan Marsh now, it's Clyde. The law dictates mine shall be returned."
"Shall I accompany you?" Kevin asked.
"Don't bother," said Craig. He strapped his halberd to his back. "I do this alone."
XXIII. Craig and Stan treat
Craig came to Stan Marsh's hall, where he was met by Stan and Kyle and led to the dining table. At the table, Craig and Kyle and Stan split mead and cheese with bread.
"What brings you to South Park?" Stan asked.
"A curious matter," said Craig, "one I'd hoped we had put behind us. You see, I have come to discuss the matter of Kenny Stuartsson."
"Indeed," said Kyle. He was on his second helping of cheese. "I suppose you think the matter is reopened."
"That's right," said Craig. "You see, I had a visit from Kevin Stoley. He told me something curious. He said that Kenny came to his hall seeking employment, and was employed there, and was present when Clyde Rogersson came for a visit."
"That is curious," said Stan, "seeing as you killed Kenny, by your own admission."
"I did," said Craig.
"Then it seems unlikely that Kenny would be working for Kevin Stoley," said Kyle.
"He is no longer working for Kevin Stoley," said Craig. "You declared Kenny an outlaw, and Clyde killed him."
"Unlikely," Kyle repeated.
"Impossible," said Stan.
"Possible or not, you can see why I have returned. The weregild you were given is due back to me. Seeing as Kenny wasn't dead."
"If you did not kill Kenny, then you willingly admit you allowed an outlaw to live," said Kyle. He took another serving of mead.
"I admit no such thing," said Craig. "I killed him, if only temporarily. Yet he was slain a second time by Clyde. If you examine this matter, you will see that I am owed the return of my silver."
"This is highly unusual," said Stan.
"I shall give you some time to consider it," said Craig, "but not much. Now I depart. I warn you to consider prudence in this matter." Craig left.
After Craig had departed from the hall, Kyle sat down, and Stan sat down with him. Both men were unsettled.
"You will not give Craig that silver back," Kyle said. He was drinking mead.
"I must," said Stan. "If Kenny walked into Kevin Stoley's hall then he was not dead, and Craig did not kill him."
"Craig admitted he killed Kenny and paid you weregild for Kenny's life. A man's kin is owed that and you were paid. The law states that if a man should kill another man, then that man owes a debt for the life he's taken to the kin of the one he's slain."
"Kenny is no longer dead. Or perhaps he was no longer dead."
"It does not matter!" said Kyle. "If a man should kill another man — Kenny was slain by Craig!"
"Yes, he was! Craig admits it. Others bore witness. He would not have come to offer you weregild unless he were very sure. You were Kenny's kin?"
"Yes," said Stan. "We were like brothers."
"Then Craig paid you, the matter's finished."
"Kyle, I don't think you understand. If I don't return Craig's money, he'll be very angry."
"If you do return Craig's money, you dishonor yourself, and you dishonor me and Baby. I know I have a strong husband who will do the right thing. I know if I did not, then I would have to return home with the child and obtain a divorce."
Stan swallowed. "I understand."
Stan rode to Denver and to Craig's hall. Craig's hall was cold and sterile, and he offered Stan bread without drink, despite the hard ride.
"Have you considered my conditions?" Craig asked. He was forthright with legal matters.
"Kyle and I have discussed it."
"Kyle? What does that woman know of men's matters?"
Stan did not find this an appropriate comment. "He would have been a great law speaker," Stan said.
"Would have been." Craig rolled his eyes and tore off a hunk of the stale loaf he had provided to Stan. "That ship has sailed. I am sure of it."
"Kyle is wise in legal matters," Stan said. "He counsels me to retain my payment."
"What do you need that money for?" Craig asked. "You've got all of South Park and all the best horses in Colorado and an inheritance you weren't owed."
"Honor," said Stan. "You killed my kin and paid his life. I'll retain Kenny's weregild."
"This matter disturbs me," said Craig. "Clyde has killed your kin. It's Clyde who owes you weregild for Kenny's life. What's worse, that one's become mixed up with some sorcery too deep to understand. I won't speak of it here; it goes against nature and against the gods. I'm sure of it. If you wish to right this, you'll collect your weregild for Clyde and leave mine here."
"No? All right." Craig stood and pushed his chair from the table. "I'd suggest we air this grievance at the Althing. Yet I have a feeling the law speaker would side with you and your woman."
"He is my wife," said Stan, "and I urge you to consider the rightness of his counsel, for he is very wise."
"Even the wisest can err gravely," said Craig. "See you at the Althing, Marsh. I'm sure we won't cross paths at the horse fights, seeing as though you've been henpecked into absconding."
Before Stan could answer, Craig was gone.
Stan rode home to South Park at top speed. He told Kyle of his encounter with Craig. It was night now, and the riding had taken all day. Stan ate a hunk of stale bread with thin broth, stewed gourds and farmer's cheese. Kyle waited until Stan was done eating to ask of the news.
"What of Craig?" Kyle asked.
"He demanded I return the silver," said Stan, "as I expected. He thinks your father will side with us at the Althing."
"He may," said Kyle, "though I should hope it does not come to that. I should hate for a matter this straightforward to consume time at the Althing."
XXIV. Stan and Clyde conduct business
Kyle insisted that Stan ride to Clyde's hall. Stan rode hard on his best horse. He had made many trips on horseback of late. At Clyde's hall, Stan was greeted with bread and salt and beer. The hall was small and cold, and a small fire burned in the hearth. Clyde sat by it sharpening his halberd.
"That is a fine halberd," Stan said in greeting.
"I don't know how to use it," said Clyde, "not properly."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean I have never cleaved anything cleanly in two. I am awful with a halberd or a glaive. If you choose to fight me, I shall surely fare badly."
"Surely," said Stan. He was competent with a weapon. "Yet I do not come to fight you, Clyde. I come for weregild, for my kin, Kenny Stuartsson. It is said that you have killed him."
"I have," said Clyde, "though I would not call his death honorable or my role in it heroic."
"I am sure you fought nobly."
"I hacked away at him with a glaive," said Clyde. "You'd have shuddered to see it, blood flying everywhere."
"I am sure it was a challenging duel."
"Duel nothing," said Clyde. "He just stood there, didn't fight me."
"Well." Stan took a seat by the small fire. Untended, the fire was dying. "Let us agree to a price."
"So you have returned Craig's silver."
"I have done no such thing."
"Then how can you demand from me the same price?"
Stan rolled his eyes and lifted his halberd.
"Oh," said Clyde, lowering his to the floor. "I suppose a better man would fight."
"Perhaps," said Stan, "but that is not what I wish."
"Then I'll get your silver. Please wait a moment."
With weregild in his pocket, Stan rode back to South Park.
XXV. Kyle and Ike have a conversation
One morning, Kyle came to break his fast in the great hall, a look of consternation on his face. Stan was not there, and he was working with the horses. Ike was there, and he saw the look of consternation on Kyle's face. "A long night?" he asked.
Kyle said, "Too short."
"Spare me the details," said Ike. "I care not for these women's matters."
"Were it only," said Kyle. "Stan keeps me satisfied; don't fret about that. I dream of horrors lately, of fire and blood. I believe it's this matter with Kenny and the weregild; Craig Thomasson wishes to air it in front of Father at the Althing."
Ike knew less of legal matters and did not quite grasp the depth of the problem. "Won't Father side with you, then?"
"I expect he would err on the side of honor," said Kyle. "You know he is strict about the correct way of doing things."
"And you think you haven't done things correctly?"
"I think Stan is honorable and, with my guidance, has done the correct thing. Craig took Kenny's life, as did Clyde, and so the honorable thing was to each pay us for the killings. I cannot fathom Father won't see it that way. He trained me in the law himself, and he is known as an honorable man who is honest."
"So, what's the problem, if you know that you are right and that Father would side with you?" Ike asked.
"I worry Craig is not honorable, and that he would not see it that way."
"Ah," said Ike. "Well, that would change things."
"My dreams are of blood," said Kyle, "and fire. You must do as you came here to do and train Baby to use a knife and a glaive and a halberd. He should learn. You were correct. There are men in Colorado who see the law as an obstacle merely to cleave in half. Law books can't protect my Baby. He must learn. You must teach him."
"I can do that," said Ike., "I can teach him."
Kyle wished Ike's words would chase his vile dreams away, and yet they didn't.
XXVI. Kyle relates a dream to Stan
In summer, it came time to return to the Althing. Everyone in north-central Colorado attended. For several years, Kyle had abstained from going with Stan to the Althing. This year, he bundled Baby in fine silks and left him in the care of a nurse. "I wish we might bring him," Kyle said.
"The Althing is no place for a child," said Stan.
En route, Kyle fretted over premonitions. "I dreamt I was on a longship," he said, "and I was not alone. The other passengers were all warriors. I was the only bride. A strange spell was cast over the longship, and the crew began to fall asleep, and we were heading for the falls. It was on the Platte River, I think, if there are falls on that river. I wanted to tell the captain that I didn't want to fall asleep, and that I was afraid to go over the falls. But there was no captain."
"So what happened?" Stan asked.
"I don't know," said Kyle. "I woke up, and I think the boat went over the falls, and everyone aboard drowned."
"You should seek counsel at the Althing concerning this disturbing vision," said Stan. "It doesn't bode well for us."
"Well, we're in a cart, not on a longship."
"I'll remember not to set foot on any longships."
"I don't think you were on it," said Kyle, "and if you were, you would have fallen asleep."
Stan said nothing, perhaps because the vision bothered him. They did not speak of it again, though it would not be the last time Kyle related a vision to Stan. He changed his mind and did not go to the Althing, riding back to South Park.
XXVII. Of Gerald and the Althing
Now the story turns to Gerald Broflovski. Gerald was a wise law speaker, and people came to him for advice and to seek solutions and decisions in many cases. It is said that Gerald was very fair and unbiased, that he did not let his emotions get in the way of his counsel and that he could be trusted to reach the right decision. His knowledge of legal matters was very sound, though he had a very high opinion of himself, too. He would not have taken up the law if he had felt he would have to give advice concerning his son's matters. He had never considered, however, that his son would marry Stan Marsh.
At the Althing, Craig and Stan approached Gerald to ask his advice on the topic at hand: should Stan repay the weregild to Craig for killing Kenny now that Kenny had come back to life and been killed a second time by Clyde?
"The details of this case are so confusing," said Gerald. "I'm afraid you're not making any sense. This servant came back to life?"
"Presumably," said Craig. "The specifics of Kenny's regeneration may be irrelevant. Both myself and Clyde Rogersson have paid Stan Marsh for Kenny's death. I ask that you compel Stan to return the money I paid him, for a man has but one life and so his kin should receive no more than a single payment for it. Logic supports my position."
"But the money compensates for the act of killing," said Stan. "Each time he's killed I'm owed money."
"The money is for his life," said Craig. "It's a life for a life, not money for an act of violence. One is free to substitute silver for a life if it is accepted by the victim's kin and the killer can afford it. Kenny's life wasn't taken. I want my money back."
"You killed him all the same, Craig," Stan insisted. "His life was taken, by you, and some supernatural force returned it. I don't understand the mechanism of it, I fear it to some extent, but you took his life all the same. I'm owed the money."
"Then give back Clyde's."
"He took Kenny's life, too," said Stan. "You both owe me money. His life was taken twice and so I'm paid twice. Refrain from killing him again if you wish to avoid further payment."
"But he is an outlaw," said Craig, "and so it is my duty to kill him."
"Why is killing Kenny the answer to your gripe? As much as I loved him, I knew him to be miserable. Let him go, Craig. He's nothing to you."
"Nothing but a problem. Meet me in a duel and we'll let halberds decide who's right," said Craig. "I think you'll consider those odds even."
Stan was a brave warrior and a pacifist all the same. The thought of killing Craig was anathema to him, and the thought of perishing and abandoning Kyle and baby — something he could not condone. "I see no reason to duel," Stan said, "as I believe I'm in the right here. Let us take a step back and let the law decide. Else why did we convene here, at the Althing?"
"I grow less confident knowing you've the upper hand in this place," said Craig.
"Are you accusing the law speaker of lacking impartiality?"
"Maybe," said Craig.
"Perhaps we should let him ponder it first," said Stan. "If Gerald tells me to return your money, I'll do so, though it might bring shame upon my household."
"Well, someone must be shamed here, and so long as it's not me I'm not too worried about it."
"Very well," said Stan, and he left the tent with Craig and let Gerald ponder the situation.
Stan slept badly that night, without Kyle by his side. Kyle had stayed behind at South Park, to run the household and care for Baby. He had suffered a premonition that if he were to accompany Stan to the Althing it would result in accusations of favoritism — this felt right to Stan, and he trusted Kyle's second sight, and been accused of favoritism working to his advantage all the same. Stan therefore regretted leaving Kyle behind, and wished he had been there to help keep the bed warm and take Stan's mind off the decision in other senses. When Stan had been married to Wendy he had missed her if she stayed behind when he went to the Althing, but hadn't missed her in the same sense — a feeling of dread visited him, keeping him from sleeping, preventing his rest.
So certain something bad would happen without Kyle present, Stan was surprised to hear the decision in his favor the next morning.
"There is no punitive efficacy to the weregild if I compel Stan to give it back," said Gerald. "Others will see it as an exception to laws. Men will begin to fear for their lives. Stan will keep the money."
"It's because he's married to that daughter of yours," said Craig. "You'd never let him keep my money if he were still married to the Testaburger girl."
"Had he killed a kin of yours," said Gerald, "I would make him pay all the same. Our relation matters not to me. It is only what I see as right."
"The idea that I would kill again if my money were returned is laughable," said Craig. "Or perhaps I cannot laugh at it because I don't find it funny. It's ridiculous either way. You'd let this go the other way if Stan Marsh weren't your son-in-law."
"I assure you," said Gerald Broflovski, "I don't even like him. Who will inherit my hall when I go? I had to sell my only biological son for a bride price, is that fair? My judgment speaks to order, which is the point of law. Stan was compensated for his losses and the matter is now closed. More killing won't solve it. Let this be the end of it."
This was news to Stan, but he kept his mouth shut.
"I wonder if the cause of this decision, of your tolerance for Stan Marsh and the problems he causes, is your denial of the gods of this land — should the law speaker be an outsider? I wonder," said Craig.
"It's my knowledge of the law that invests me with authority," said Gerald, "and not my adherence to your pagan religion. My decisions are law. Disagree with them you may but contest them and regret. That is my final word on this matter."
On leaving, Stanley thanked his father-in-law and left without saying a word. He was more bothered by Gerald's dislike of him than pleased that the outcome had been in his favor.
XXVIII. Of Craig and Clyde
Clyde was at the Althing as well, less because he had a reason to be there and more because it was what people did, and Clyde was not sure how to not do what other people did. It was such that Craig came to see him in light of the decision.
"You're out your silver, I'm afraid," Craig said, "because that old law speaker's found in Stan's favor."
"Does it seem odd to you that he'd find in favor of his son-in-law?"
"It does, somewhat," Craig confessed. "I said as much, and he swore his impartiality. He even claimed he hated Stan Marsh as I do, for Stan took something from him as well. It was curious, then, that he saw things in a positive light for Stan. In my view, that man has upset the natural balance of things. I find it so disturbing."
"Perhaps he is impartial, then, and truly," said Clyde.
"Or perhaps he wishes to avoid losing more silver on his investment in Stan Marsh as a husband for Kyle," said Craig. "Either way, my hands are tired. The law has come down against me, and I can act no further on the matter of Kenny's deaths and my payment for them. If I were to spill more blood it would bode badly for me. It's true that Gerald Broflovski worships a foreign god and that is against the natural order of things. And it is also true that he is the law speaker, and to vex him and deny his decision now would cast this whole thing in a rather unfortunate light for me."
"That's a real drag, Craig," said Clyde. "I regret that it came to this for you."
"Then I suppose you won't mind making it right again for me," said Craig, "since your hands aren't tied."
"What am I to do?" Clyde asked.
"I don't know," said Craig. "Perhaps you should sleep on it, or continue to dwell on it after the Althing. You didn't fight Stan Marsh when you might have — if you'd killed him instead of taking his offer to accept silver, the matter would be over, and he might be dead."
"I couldn't have killed him," said Clyde., "I haven't the fortitude."
"Are you a warrior?" Craig asked. "Or a woman? Prove yourself to me, Clyde. Prove yourself for once."
In his anger, Craig left without so much as saying goodbye. He left the Althing immediately, unsure if he would return.
XXVII. Clyde doesn't act on Craig's request
After the Althing, Clyde returned to his hall to stew. For days he contemplated Craig's words to him, and then days turned to weeks. Clyde stalled for so long that Craig came to see him. "Have you made any decisions about Stan Marsh?" he asked. "I grow ever more annoyed with your reluctance to act."
"I'm sorry," said Clyde. "I can't be determined about this, like you. My resolve isn't so sturdy."
"I fear mine isn't nearly as sturdy as it looks against yours by comparison," said Craig. "I wonder if a real warrior would disregard Gerald Broflovski's ruling and take matters into his own hands."
"So why haven't you?" Clyde asked.
"I'm not sure the time is right yet. My intuition tells me there is more of this story to tell yet. When dead men walk there is no clear answer. Nature itself is now inverted. I only wish you'd think of a solution, and soon — I fear what I should have to do if the duty falls to me."
"You've been a staunch supporter and an ally," said Clyde. "I will be one to you if I can manage."
Clyde had his serving girls bring Craig a meal of strained cheese and stewed greens, a loin of goat, and an apple baked in honey butter. It was said that Clyde laid the best table in Colorado, and it was also said that this was peculiar since he had no wife who ran his household. "At least you have good taste," Craig said. It was the closest he came to compliment.
The matter weighed heavily on Clyde. He wanted to do the right thing, but he was inept and clumsy. He felt guilty for having become involved in the unpleasantness with Stan Marsh, however tangentially, but he did not wish to invest time and effort in fixing things. Clyde wished his payment might have been the end of it.
It was not the end of it. Some weeks later, when Clyde had been privately deliberating on his next move, Craig called upon him again. "There is talk," Craig said, "that with the decision in his favor, Stan Marsh will resume his participation in the horse fighting. What did I do to deserve this, Clyde?"
"Maybe it's Kyle who changed his mind," said Clyde. "After all, wasn't it Kyle who forbade Stan from horse fighting in the first place?"
"I suppose, but does it matter? How much grief should I be reasonably expected to take from one man and his wife, and I use that term very loosely? Is no one else outraged? Isn't it an affront to decency, for one man to so aggressively assert his will within the community? How many mores must one man transgress before the law corrects these oversights?"
Clyde did not have any answers and offered only his sympathy to Craig, along with the reassurance that he was thinking of solutions to the issue.
Sometime in the weeks after Craig's second visit to his hall, Clyde resumed his liaisons with Kevin Stoley. Knowing that Craig considered it an affront to decency made Clyde wary, and he insisted to Kevin that they meet at Clyde's hall.
"My hall is larger," Kevin said, upon arrival, "and I have more servants. I'll come here if you insist but it really makes no sense."
"More servants means more tongues wagging," said Clyde, "plus you have a wife, and the last thing I need it Craig getting wind of this. He expects me to fix his problems with Stan Marsh somehow — but the law speaker found in Stan's favor. Craig speaks of needing to step outside the boundaries of the law to execute justice, but I don't think I am that kind of actor. I like to hang back, you know. I'm super chill."
"Craig is regarded as severe for good reason," said Kevin. "Some men have accused me of possessing a second sight, which is ridiculous — no one can see into the future. Yet I have a strong sense that Craig's desire to follow this path from the law will only result in more problems."
"He thinks Stan Marsh and Kenny Stuartsson caused those problems."
"All men cause problems in their own way," said Kevin. "The law exists to warn others away from creating more. Craig had better leave it if he doesn't want to upend things irreversibly."
"And what if he does?" Clyde asked.
"Then I hope he has enough silver to buy every life in Colorado," said Kevin.
They retired to the bed closet.
It was after they had finished that Clyde began to cry.
"Don't cry," said Kevin. "It wasn't that bad; it's not worth your tears."
"I'm not crying for satisfaction," wept Clyde. "Craig has done everything for me."
"Has he really?"
"I think so, and now I'm letting him down because I'm not man enough to figure it out. Every problem has a solution, Kevin — why can't I unlock the solution to this problem?"
"There's no solution, Clyde. You aren't being rational about it. The situation itself defies logic. Evil factors are at play. You cannot simply devise an answer through sheer will, and there is no fault in letting fate answer the question."
Clyde wanted to believe Kevin Stoley's words, but the idea that there was no way to satisfy others made him cry harder still.
XXIX. Kevin Stoley kills Kenny
Now the saga returns to the hall of Kevin Stoley. When Kenny had been killed by Clyde, it was in Kevin's household, near the bed closet he shared with his wife. The room had been splattered with the mess of the killing, which had been badly done by Clyde's clumsy hands.
Kenny woke from this killing with a renewed sense of optimism. He found a burnished unguent pot of silver and examined himself in its warped curves. He was looking as if he was in pretty bad shape now, with blood and bits of brain clinging to his stringy hair. The first thing he did was leave the room and return to the stables to resume his work of shoeing and grooming horses. His foremost goal was to regain Stan's favor, and to do so he would have to journey to South Park, and to journey there, he would need money to afford shelter and food along the way. Recalling how his earlier meanderings had taken him only toward grief, he determined to continue his work at Kevin Stoley's and stay out of trouble. From Kevin's hall to Stan's farm was a long way over a mountain pass, which was difficult to scale in summer and nearly impossible without a team in the winter; to go around the mountain took much longer when not equipped with a horse or horses. He considered stealing a horse or even just borrowing one and returning two later as interest, but Kenny wasn't sure how long it would take to regain Stan's favor and have Stan give him any horses, and in general, it seemed to Kenny that if he wanted to keep his head for the time being, he had better keep it down. When he had earned enough to make the days-long hike back to South Park, he would undertake that trek.
Kenny no longer went into the house and avoided carrying flour sacks or interacting with Kevin Stoley and his family at all. This ambition served him well for a time; Kevin was a busy law speaker and seemed to travel every so often, leaving the house run by his wife. As Kevin's wife had not been there to witness Kenny's death in proximity to her bed closet, she was not fully apprised of situation, as she kept her nose out of the "men's matters" in which Kevin dealt.
On the day Kevin returned from Clyde's hall, no one was there to greet him and take his horse, and he took it to the stables himself. It was fate and coincidence that Kenny was relieving himself against the side of the building at the same time.
"If I'm not shocked it's because I know this has happened before," said Kevin.
"It's some curse, I suppose," said Kenny, shaking his cock dry and stuffing it back into his pants.
"And why would you stay here, where your life might be in danger? It defies logic."
"What about this is logical?" Kenny asked. "Honestly, I'm trying to figure it out." He hadn't been, but he knew Kevin did things with a rational outlook and would appreciate this line of reasoning.
"Be that as it may," replied Kevin. It was the kind of non-answer a man gives when he is stalling for time. He remembered Clyde's crying and his distress at the situation. It filled him with a kind of fury he did not recognize in himself, and with the axe strapped to his horse, he killed Kenny on the spot. The blood ran down the path into the stable, and the coins collecting in Kenny's pocket made a nose when his body hit the ground.
"This will get worse before it gets better," he said to himself, going to the house to collect some silver. Knowing the outcome of Gerald Broflovski's verdict he knew better than to fight this thing and wished only to report back to Clyde that he had taken a step toward advancing the situation — even if he had not, as he feared, fixed it.
XXX. Kevin Stoley goes to Stan Marsh's hall
Kevin Stoley came to South Park seeking an audience in Stan Marsh's hall. Being rational, he assumed it would be a productive visit. Some men were convinced they could simply settle these things with talk. Kevin was admitted and served stale bread in the great hall with salt and mead. He chewed only one small crust and hoped Stan would appear soon. He was kept waiting, and waiting. He waited quite a while.
Soon he was greeted not by Stan but by Kyle.
"I've come here to settle a disturbing matter," Kevin said. "I was hoping to be able to speak with Stan about this."
"He's not here," said Kyle. He sat at the head of the table, in Stan's seat. "He's gone back to horse fighting, against my wisest inclinations, but I'm sure you can relate, if your wife asks you to do this or do that and you disregard it. There's no risk in it, given recent settlements, I'm told. Can I help you?"
"This is really a matter for Stan's ears," said Kevin.
"You can speak with me," said Kyle, "and I'll tell him for you."
"I'm not sure you're the right person to whom I should deliver this news."
"That sounds ominous," said Kyle.
"Well, it is," said Kevin, "but I suppose this matter is best resolved immediately. Perhaps this can just be the end of it. Some time ago, I hired a man named Kenny, who I believe was in your employ at one point, to work in my hall. I was unaware at the time that he had been killed previously by Craig Thomasson, having been declared an outlaw by your husband, and more to the point, had only come to my house following his death. Which was a strange thing, but I was unaware of it at the time. It makes no sense, logically, it defies the laws of nature, and yet it happened. Well, it came to my knowledge that Kenny had been slain once already, and moreover was an outlaw, and so my associate Clyde Rogersson killed Kenny on sight when recognized. As you know this created something of a problem — I'm sure I needn't continue."
"You're right," said Kyle. "I know all of it. Why are you repeating it to me now?"
"It's happened again," said Kevin. "I killed Kenny."
"I don't believe you!" Kyle put his hands over his ears and shook his head. "What did I do? What did I do to deserve this? I'm a good person, I mind my own business, I'm a good wife to Stan — do you think it's because I married a man? It's a legal union, my father validated it, I've only ever tried to live my life in accordance with society's values. Which cruel fates are doing this to me? Why won't it end? Why won't it die? Why won't he die?"
Kevin saw the look of consternation on Kyle's face and listened to his words. "I don't know why he won't die," said Kevin. "It's a strange thing. Unhappy, unsettling to me. I wish I hadn't killed him, though if I've fewer regrets than I should, perhaps it's because I fear the outcome of this killing — I doubt his death with be permanent this time, either. And I don't like to think it's your choice of husband that's to blame for things. They tell me I have second sight, a clarity of vision, but I can't see how far back these things go. I'd like to offer you money in return for Kenny's life, and if Craig protests I'll pay him, too. I am a wealthy man and I can afford it. If it demeans me, so be it."
"No," said Kyle, "that's unacceptable to me. That's what Stan would have agreed to — well, they say I have insights, too, and Stan's not here. Only an idiot accepts the same solution, the same payment, over and over again, only to earn grief every single time. Only an idiot wouldn't learn from that. Wise men like me learn from their mistakes. Wait here."
Kyle left the room for a few minutes, and came back wearing a new gown. "I reject your offer of silver for Kenny's life. Legality dictates a life for a life. We'll settle this in combat."
"You want me to fight you?" Kevin asked. "I'm not much of a fighter, truth be told. And I don't want to fight you anyway." He looked Kyle up and down — his woman's gown, his red hair in two plaits, his wrists weighted down with silver cuffs — Craig's silver, Kevin thought. Clyde's silver. He didn't want to fight Kyle; Kevin had only pity for him.
"Fight me?" Kyle laughed. "Don't be ridiculous. It's Stan's job to fight you, but he's not here. You'll fight my brother, and the outcome will dictate who gets the victory."
Kyle hollered for Ike, who came in with his halberd and in his leather and mail.
"I don't have a weapon," said Kevin. "I obviously can't defeat your brother, and this is a death sentence."
"You killed Kenny," said Kyle. "Skill in combat will determine whether you were justified in that or not. It's not a death sentence; it's a fighting chance."
"I don't have a weapon," said Kevin.
"I'll have one brought to you," said Kyle, and he made a servant bring a halberd to match Ike's.
"This is too heavy for me," said Kevin. "Can't we reschedule this?"
"Let's settle it now," said Ike, "so I won't have a chance to get a second weapon to gut you with."
"I cannot believe this is happening," said Kevin. "With no one to see it, without my wife or children, far from home, and all because of a silly lapse in judgment."
"Your lapse in judgment caused a man's death," said Ike.
"But he'd died before, and he'll die again," said Kevin.
"A death is a death," said Ike, and he swung his halberd cleanly across Kevin's gut. His viscera spilled from the cut, and he fell to the floor and died.
XXXI. Stan learns of Kevin's death
That night Stanley came home to find Kyle seated at the head of the table in the hall, waiting for him.
"You were gone a long time," said Kyle. "I was wondering if you would return tonight."
"It's not such a long ride from Middle Park," said Stan. "I did really well today. I got one of Bradley's best mares. She's being locked up in the stables now. Where is Baby? I should like to have him brought to me."
"After dinner," said Kyle, and he waved to the servants to bring the meal to the table. It was a lamb stew with bread and farmer's cheese, and a dessert of dough fried in lard with honey. While they ate, they spoke of Stan's day, and other inconsequential matters. Stanley removed his boots and rested them on Kyle's lap; he was sore from walking with the mare before riding home; the terrain near Middle Park was rocky, and Stan's thighs and joints ached from riding hard to make it home for dinner.
When it was over, the food was removed and Kyle asked a servant to bring Baby to Stan and a cordial he'd had separately prepared. "And bring Stanley a mug of beer," said Kyle. "We'll toast together."
When Baby was in his arms, Stan put his feet back in the floor and asked Kyle about his day.
"It was awful," said Kyle. "I had a visit from Kevin Stoley — before any more is said I should tell you I've taken care of the matter, and it's done."
"Well, what's the matter?" Stan asked.
Kyle took a long and deep drink, emptying his glass, before answering: "He killed Kenny."
After so many deaths, it was difficult for Stan to be terribly moved by the news. "Well, thankfully Craig can't sue us for his money back this time. Did Kevin bring silver, or will he pay later?"
"He already paid," said Kyle, "with his life." He grinned, and Stan saw the red stain of blood on Kyle's teeth.
"Really?" Stan asked. "Where's the body? What have you done with it?"
"I drained the blood from it and dispatched it to his widow for burial," said Kyle. "I'm not a monster. I told you I took care of it."
"Oh, did you really? This is horrifying, Kyle, what am I supposed to do about this?"
"Don't do anything," said Kyle. "I said I took care of it."
"You killed him?"
"No, I told him to fight Ike, and he did, and he lost. It was easy. I should make more decisions around here."
"Like draining his blood to drink it?"
"I drained the corpse so tit wouldn't putrefy in this summer heat, and the blood was an afterthought."
"What kind of thought is that, though?"
"The notion that to reverse this tide of death one must create life, and unfortunately to create life, I'll have to fall back on methods that are a little … nontraditional, you could say. But I'm eager to try it. If we had more babies, more sons, we could protect ourselves—"
"You've gone mad," said Stan, and he got up from the table. "I was trying to avoid more deaths by taking money for Kenny's instead of dueling with everyone who came into this hall. That's why I didn't kill him in the first place! Oh, Kyle, what have you done?"
"I've done what I should have done at the outset," said Kyle. "I should have killed Kenny when he attacked me, and then none of this would have happened."
"If you're going to use reductive logic like that you might as well say you shouldn't have married me."
"I'd never say that," said Kyle. "I'm your wife, and I should have given you more children. Well, perhaps I will. Put Baby to bed, and we'll try it. Come on." Kyle got up from the table and went to the bed closet to wait for Stan to join him. Kyle took off his clothes and climbed atop the pile of furs and linens on which Stan and Kyle slept and, on most nights, did other things. While sitting alone he wondered if Stan would not come, if Stan would ask him for a divorce; a wife defying her husband's demands was grounds for the end of a marriage, so long as the dowry was returned. Stan had more money now than when he'd challenged Testaburger, and Kyle worried that perhaps Stan would rather cut Kyle away than risk social difficulty for some gold.
As Kyle was wondering about this, Stan came to the bed closet, and said, "This isn't good, Kyle. It violates every tenet society holds dear — guest rights, for starters. Kevin was your guest here. You gave him bread, the servants tell me."
"He killed Kenny," said Kyle. "You kept taking payments, but Kenny kept dying. Well, it won't happen again — people will see we mean business, that we're not to be trifled with. You'll give me children, and we'll have a great legacy, and they'll sing about it on winter nights, the story of Stan and Kyle and how they created a great legacy from nothing, how they created life from death. Don't you want that, Stan?"
"I want that with you," Stan admitted. He made love to Kyle and hoped Kyle was right, that that would be the end of it.
XXXII. Clyde receives word of Kevin's death
Clyde's messages to Kevin Stoley went unanswered for some time, and he began to grow uneasy, and also, pretty horny. Clyde felt rejected at first, but then he thought about what Craig would do. Being stupid, Clyde found Craig's determination inspirational, rather than demented and at times self-destructive.
Despairing of the lack of communication, Clyde rode to Kevin's hall to meet with him in person. On the ride, he reassured himself that maybe Kevin was just busy, or maybe something else was going on which, unbeknownst to Clyde, was keeping Kevin from remaining in contact. Clyde tried to remain level-headed and tell himself that surely it wasn't personal, surely nothing had gone wrong, and that perhaps Kevin had even come up with some solution to Clyde's larger problems, his lack of ideas for how to deal with Stan Marsh.
Clyde was seated in the hall and given some bread, and he waited. He waited, and he waited; the mood in Kevin's hall was different than it had been in the past, and Clyde would not define how, exactly. All he knew was that he has been there many times before and, on this occasion, he felt something was out of sorts.
Finally, Clyde asked a servant where Kevin was, and why he hadn't appeared to meet Clyde — was he busy with his wife and daughters, or was he attending to legal business?
"He's dead," said the servant.
Clyde despaired. "Dead?" he asked. "How? By what mechanism? Kevin couldn't be dead."
"But he is, I'm afraid," said the servant. "Gutted in the hall of Stan Marsh."
Nearly thrown into a rage, Clyde asked, "Stan Marsh killed him?"
"I don't know the details."
"Where are Kevin's children? Where is his wife?"
"Gone to her father," said Kevin's servant. "I'm to keep the hall until such time she returns, or it's sold. Were you hungry, sir? Did you ride far today? I've seen you here before, I think."
"I think so," said Clyde, "and you won't be seeing me again. If Kevin's wife returns, tell her she has my condolences. I'm going to meet with Stan Marsh. He can't get away with this."
Despite these threats, Clyde rode to Craig's hall after leaving Kevin's.
"Did you know of this?" he asked Craig, red-faced and panting from riding so hard.
"No," said Craig, "but I wasn't in touch with Stoley. You seem upset, Clyde. Come sit with me."
Craig ordered his servant to bring them beer and bread with honey, some dried fish and summer fruits.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Clyde asked, dutifully shoving honeyed bread into his mouth.
"Because you seem upset," Craig repeated. "What happened, what spooked you? I've never seen you upset like this."
"I've never been upset like this," said Clyde. "I hadn't seen Kevin for some time, so I went to go speak with him, or at least discover his whereabouts. Well, his hall was deserted save for one servant, who told me Kevin was gutted in Stan Marsh's hall. I wouldn't believe it if I didn't know what Stan Marsh was capable of."
"Capable of?" Craig asked. "To my knowledge Stan has never killed anyone, save for invading barbarians. He's ruthless in other ways. His ruthlessness is preternatural. I wouldn't trust him to kill a man." The more Craig spoke of it the more he came to believe it: "No, I can't see him killing Kevin Stoley. I don't think anyone whose life revolved around buggering the old law speaker's daughter could get it together to actually slay someone."
"Well, I'm told he did," said Clyde, "and I'm distraught."
"Well, why are you so distraught? When I implored you to help me figure out an answer to my Stan Marsh problem, you seemed less than enthused to go after a solution."
"I can't tell you," said Clyde. "More than that, I have a personal stake in the matter, and this news is devastating to me. It feels like my heart is ripped in two."
"Don't be dramatic," said Craig. "This maudlin behavior is unbecoming on a man. Grieve if you must, but a man whose heart has been ripped in two is soon to lie down and die. Do you just want to die, Clyde? Or would you rise from the ashes of injustice and correct those who've wronged you?"
"I want to correct it," said Clyde. "I don't want to be the man who was laid low by others. It's just that this sadness is all-consuming. Do you know how this feels? Have you ever been sad?"
"No," said Craig. "I've been angry."
"Well, how do I turn my sadness into anger?" Clyde asked.
"You rise up and correct the wrongs done to you, I guess. In honesty, I tried and that is where the law failed me, and I am angry still. My wrath burns. It's a guiding light. This place is cold and vast and empty, and I need that light. It's my only company."
"Kevin was my company, in some ways. Now that he's gone, I don't dare imagine what is left for me. I have nothing to offer to a wife. I have no clan to care for with my parents dead. Should I fill that void with anger?"
"Better than to fill it with sadness, I think," said Craig.
"Then ride with me to Stan Marsh's hall and help me right this injustice."
Craig did not have to think long before he agreed.
XXXIII. Craig accompanies Clyde to South Park
Craig welcomed Clyde to spend the night and told him they would set out in the morning. He asked his servants to stable and water Clyde's horse and offered him a spare bed closet. The Spartan fittings of Craig's hall were different from the warmth that Clyde felt in Kevin's place. Craig was a farmer, and summer was a busy season for his servants, who cultivated wheat, which Craig sold to neighboring farms and to Token, the king of Colorado. Clyde wondered why Craig had no wife and why he lived so sparsely. The depth of these thoughts was exhausting for Clyde and he passed out while imagining what kind of life he'd live with Craig, especially if they shared a bed closet. By the morning he had forgotten these notions, else he would have been ashamed. Deep down, he wondered if he was not a little jealous of Stan Marsh's ability to live such an enviable life so shamelessly.
On the ride to South Park, Craig stopped at an inn for a meal and to water the horses. Clyde was glad for the respite, as he has been doing a lot of hard riding lately and wasn't quite used to it.
"When we arrive at Stan's hall, I can't get involved," said Craig. "You know my hands are tied by the law. This is your injustice to right, Clyde. I'll advise you. I can't assist you."
"That's fine," said Clyde, though inwardly he was panicked.
XXXIV. Kenny returns to South Park
Now the saga returns to Kenny.
Kenny was getting better at the dying thing. Upon reviving, he left the scene promptly. He stole some silver from the household. This was the kind of thing that was liable to get him in trouble, and Kenny didn't care. He had learned enough times now that the road back into Stan and Kyle's good graces grew only longer the more times he was killed, complicating the situation and vexing him and everyone else involved. With silver in hand, he set out, venturing across the countryside, doing little odd jobs for coin and hoping he wasn't recognized. He spent some of his silver on the favors of the occasional prostitute, men and women alike, though he spent more on bribing random men in order to ease his passage.
At last, on the cusp of autumn, Kenny arrived at Stan Marsh's hall, looking worse for wear and requesting an audience with the head of the household. He was told to wait; no one gave any sign of recognizing him. It had been years.
After not too long a wait, Kenny was brought before Stan and Kyle. Stan looked much the same, slightly older, his beard a little fuller. Kyle looked very different; he had grown his hair out and wore it in two long elaborate plaits, which he secured to his head with a golden comb. His robes were fine linens, and he carried the weight of a wife of a wealthy household; Kenny knew they hadn't been much deprived of resources in his absence.
"I'm shocked," said Stan, seeing Kenny before him. His old friend looked no older; his face was unlined, and his perpetual regenerations had kept him from fully growing out a beard. Kenny did look haggard from his journey, and the injuries he'd sustained along the way had healed to various degrees, his face and arms a patchwork of scars and wounds. He was missing an ear.
"You look the same," said Kenny, to Stan. "And also not. You look like a man who's come into his own."
"My father's long dead," said Stan, "and it's been ages since you've been gone. We've a child now, a fosterling. He's a boy named Baby. I have come into my own, Kenny. This is my hall."
"Well, I'm much as I was when I left here," said Kenny, "though maybe a little worse off."
"A little worse off?" Kyle asked. "You look horrifying, like walking death."
Kenny shrugged it off. "I suppose that's right. Well, you look — a little different." He smiled at Kyle, trying to be charming.
"Why would you ever think to come here?" Kyle hissed. "You're a wanted man who's brought nothing but disgrace and trouble to our home."
"I've come to make it up to you," said Kenny, "to make an offering for your forgiveness."
"Oh?" Kyle asked. "And what are you offering?"
"Well, nothing," said Kenny, "I have nothing to give."
"You must think our forgiveness comes awfully cheap, then."
"I fall on your mercy," said Kenny. "My road has been rocky, to say the least. You guys don't know the horrors I've experienced. If this is penance for what I did to you, Kyle, I question whether there is any justice in this world. I made a youthful mistake, and I have paid for it, dearly. Please take me into your home and forgive me, and I will work the rest of my natural life to right the wrongs I've inflicted upon both of you."
"And of your unnatural life?" Kyle asked.
"I can't speak to that," said Kenny, "though it speaks to your wisdom that you ask about it."
"Kyle and I will resolve this," said Stan. "Go wait in the stables, and I'll bring you an answer when we've got one for you."
"Thanks," said Kenny. "I'm grateful, Stan. You were always a loyal friend."
"Well, you weren't, and maybe that's the root of all these problems," said Stan. "Leave us and I'll bring our decision when we've reached it."
When Kenny had gone, Kyle said, "You've got to kill him, Stan."
"I'm not going to kill Kenny," said Stan.
"And why not?" Kyle demanded. "He threatened and insulted me and went on to cause all varieties of stress to our lives. If you love me, you'll end him, right here, on this spot. What's holding you back? Don't want to owe yourself the silver?"
"Killing Kenny has never fixed any problems," said Stan. "It's just created new ones. Killing Kenny isn't going to help us, or him, or anyone else in Colorado. I have said it before, but blood does not absorb. It can't plug up a hole. It flows and flows, a coursing river that runs and runs."
"Blood coagulates," said Kyle. "I am your wife, and I am not some ignorant woman. I know that much."
"But his doesn't," said Stan, "and I am the master of this house, and it's plain to me that your judgment is weak where Kenny is concerned. If he violates your space again, I'll take care of him personally, but if he stays here and agrees to behave himself, we'll shelter him. If you dislike, it you can go back to your father's house and brood."
"I don't want to go back to my father's house," said Kyle. "My place is here, with you, at your side."
"Then accept this test for what it is," said Stan. "We'll endure it together."
That night, Stan went to Kenny in the stables and told him that he had been allowed to stay at South Park.
Kenny was grateful.
"But there are rules," said Stan, "oaths you must not violate. You are to stay away from Kyle. He's my wife. He is the most treasured thing in my household. I won't hesitate to banish you again if you are found in his presence without my consent. Baby's either. You're to live here in the stables and perhaps earn your way back into my house. You'll tend to my horses and keep your head down. You'll take what you're given and won't get it into your head that you can charm your way out of a tight spot."
"I can agree to that," said Kenny.
He and Stan agreed to the terms, and Stan went back to the house to join Kyle in their bed closet.
XXXV. Clyde comes to South Park
After a long ride, Craig and Clyde reached their destination. The reception at Stan's hall was warm, and Stan's servants brought them bread and salt. Knowing better, Craig ate some, but Clyde was too troubled to eat anything.
"I'm afraid I'll be sick if I put anything inside of me," said Clyde. "Well, sicker, I suppose, since I'm already a nervous wreck."
"There's much to be said against Stan Marsh, and yet I take comfort in knowing he'll uphold the guest right."
"I don't trust him as far as I can throw him," said Clyde. It would not have been far because Clyde was not very strong, and Stan was a fully developed man.
They sat in the hall and waited for Stan to meet them. When he came, he brought Kyle, who sat across from Clyde and Craig, while Stan sat at the head of the table. "To what do we owe this visit?" Stan asked. "I really thought our business had concluded back at the Althing."
"That business is concluded, as far as I'm aware, not that it's been concluded to my satisfaction," Craig replied. "But Clyde has come seeking answers about the death of Kevin Stoley."
"Yes," said Stan, "that was a regrettable affair."
"So, it's true that you killed him?" said Clyde.
"I didn't kill him," said Stan. "Kyle's brother Ike did the deed."
"He came to me to confess to killing Kenny, you know." Kyle sounded a bit bored in the telling. "Stan was away, and I took it upon myself to exact the retribution in his absence. As I'm sure you can tell, I'm not much of a warrior, and so I asked my brother to serve as my champion. It's all very good and legal, I'm sure you agree."
"I don't agree," said Clyde. "As Kevin's kin, I claim my right to compensation for his life."
"How do you justify such a thing?" Stan asked. "We've treated with Kevin's kin, and they've agreed that his death, though ill-timed, was justified, since he killed my servant. I wish things had been settled with silver rather than combat, but I was away and couldn't make that choice. In any case, the matter is done."
"We were kin," Clyde reiterated. "We were lovers."
"Were you?" Kyle asked. "How boring. Who isn't, these days?"
"I'm not," said Craig. "And to be honest this whole thing is slightly shocking."
"It's not really shocking," said Kyle. "Take one look at Clyde and the whole thing comes together, don't you think?"
"In what way?" Clyde asked.
"He's not married, and he spent a lot of time voluntarily with Kevin Stoley. You know, it adds up."
"I'm not married," said Craig.
"Well, yes," said Kyle, "but what woman in her right mind would marry you?"
"Plenty of women would marry me," said Craig, "but that's not really what we're here to establish."
"Enough of this occlusive distraction," said Clyde. "I claim my right to compensation for Kevin's death. A life for a life. Bring your brother to me, Kyle."
"He won't pay you," said Stan.
"No, he'll fight me," said Clyde. "Bring him to me, and we'll settle this."
"I really caution you not to," said Stan. "Have you seen Ike? Don't fight him. Don't put yourself in harm's way. I can see you're distressed about this — when spring comes again we can take it up at the Althing."
"I spit on the Althing," said Clyde. "What has the Althing ever done for me? I won't wait for spring for my compensation. I want my vengeance now. It goes deeper than Kevin — everything the two of you and your servant Kenny touch turns to ashes. I am aggrieved, and I am angry. Bring Ike to me, and if I die at his hand, so be it."
"All right, very well. You'll get your trial by combat," said Stan, "but let the record show I urged you to solve this through some other means.
Soon Ike joined the others in the main hall, clad in his mail and leather and armed with his halberd. Clyde had brought his own.
"Kevin didn't get much use out of the one we gave him," said Ike, "though I supposed you think you might fare better with your own."
"I'm filled with lust for vengeance," said Clyde, "because my grief has turned to anger. I've never used my own halberd. This will be a first."
"If anger made a man a worthy opponent I'd be dead by now," said Ike. "There are other ways to settle this, you know."
"Are you afraid to die?" Clyde asked. "Because I'm not. What's left for me in this realm? The next must be an improvement. I may not find glory in death nor be greeted as a great warrior, but I'll know I righted a wrong that no one else would."
"I'm not afraid to die," said Ike. "My brother named me his champion, and I fought for him, that's all. I won't apologize for it, though it fills me with regret to see you so disturbed by seeing Kevin felled. I can't imagine a kinder fate than to fall in defense of my kin."
"Then we agree there," said Clyde. "Well, loyalty gets you nowhere as I have learned, and as I'm sure you'll soon find out yourself."
Watching from a distance, the spectators were surprised to see Clyde put up an admirable struggle; the fight was more evenly matched than expected. Ike struck at early blow to Clyde that began to bleed, and though Clyde cried out, he fought on, his blows against Ike coming more forcefully until he was able to swipe at Ike's shins, bringing him to the floor. Ike attempted to lunge up at Clyde's gut, and since Clyde was not wearing armor, a blow to him there would have been fatal. Yet Clyde swung his halberd a split second earlier and won, nearly separating Ike's head from his body. The dead man's head fell back, partly severed. Seeing it, Kyle screamed.
"Now you know how it feels to lose," said Clyde. He was panting, and bleeding profusely.
"You monster," Kyle seethed. "I hope it was worth it. I hope your moment of satisfaction was worth the pain I'll rain down upon you. Bring me Ike's halberd, Stan, and I'll show this little cretin something to grieve over."
"Your wife is acting irrationally," Craig said to Stan, "though I admit he might hold his own against a man bleeding half to death, especially Clyde. Do him this kindness for me and don't let him meet his end at the hands of a woman."
"Very well," Stan said, and he retrieved Ike's halberd from the floor, where it fell when Ike dropped it. To Clyde, he said, "I hope you were serious when you said you didn't fear death. Come on, get up and fight me."
"I can't," said Clyde, "and I don't want to. There's no honor in killing a man who's dead already. I won't give you the satisfaction."
"So be it," said Stan. "Get up and meet your end."
"I won't get up," said Clyde.
"Then die cowering," said Stan, and he swung Ike's halberd, clearing Clyde's head from its body with such force that it toppled across the floor of the hall.
Stan dropped the halberd and picked up Clyde's severed head and handed it to Craig. "We'll keep the body," he said. "Now, get away from here."
"You're absolutely senseless," said Craig. "I'm not leaving without the body."
"We'll keep it as a trophy," said Stan. "Leave my hall and never return. I am done with this. This matter is behind me."
"Give me his body, and I'll put it behind me as well," said Craig.
"Never," said Stan. "Get out of my hall."
"You're a dead man, Marsh," said Craig. "You've forgotten to reset the talion again. Give me his body or give me his weight in silver."
"Fuck the talion," said Stan. "I'm done with this. I owe you nothing. Get out."
"Very well," said Craig. "I'll extract it from you some other way. I was willing to let the law settle it when it came to Kenny's life, but Clyde is a new case. I'll be back for my money."
Craig dropped Clyde's head on the floor and left without it.
XXXVI. Stan and Kyle discuss their situation
Solemnly a burial was prepared for Ike, a great mound befitting a great warrior. Stan charged Kenny with the construction, and left Clyde's body for Kyle, bidding him, "Do what you wish with this, but don't tell me."
Kyle had the body drained and forbid his servants from discussing it with Stan. What Kyle did with the remains is not recorded. Some say Clyde was never given a proper burial, and his hall sat abandoned for some time.
In any case, Stan and Kyle conferred on the matter of how to handle Craig.
"I think we ought to pay him," said Stan. "I think that will make him leave us alone. He's not irrational, but angry, and I believe the sooner we extricate ourselves from this situation, the better."
"Never," said Kyle, "I forbid it. Clyde killed my brother. His life was owed to us."
"From Craig's perspective, it would follow that as Ike killed Kevin, Clyde was merely taking what was his when he killed Ike. My killing of Clyde represents not a righting of the balance but a subversion of justice."
"That doesn't hold," said Kyle, "since Kevin's family considered the matter closed, and Clyde was boneheaded enough to step outside the legal dealings and take it upon himself to kill Ike. It was purely an irrational act of carnage."
"I agree, but Craig will not," said Stan. "He's had it out for me since that business with Kenny, and he was never happy with the settlement your father made in our favor. I think it's best to just give him the silver he wants and trust he'll let the matter be settled. If he agrees and then takes it any further than that, I'll be within my right to kill him, and then the matter will be considered settled. I don't think we ought to tempt fate here. Craig and Clyde were right to say that we've left a trail of angry associates in our wake. So what if we had the law on our side? Wendy and her father, my sister and her husband, Craig and his companions — the pattern speaks to the inadequacy of the law to accommodate people's feelings. Let's just pay Craig and forget it now. We can live happily together — we have Baby, and we have plenty of money."
"I don't care about the money," said Kyle. "Money can't buy me your children. Money can't even buy us peace — it didn't after any of Kenny's deaths. I believe in the rightness of the law. I was never a warrior, merely gifted in legal matters, and I believe if we hold fast to the law, things will be righted in the end. Stick with the law, and the talion will even out. There's no need to pay Craig off. He's not liable to leave us alone, anyway."
"I hope you're right," said Stan. "I think giving him the money would be better."
"Yes, I know what you think," said Kyle, "but this is why we live in a society with laws, Stanley. If we ignore those laws, the whole system falls apart."
"I hope you're right," said Stan, and he did as Kyle asked and did not send payment to Craig.
XXXVII. Stan and Craig treat
Now the saga returns to Craig. Furious, he returned to his hall and gathered troops to follow him back to South Park, intending to lay siege to Stan's hall until he got what he wanted.
"This is what we will do," said Craig. "We will approach the main house and attempt to treat with Stan Marsh. If he won't give me the money, then truly he has no honor."
"Of course he won't give you the money," said one of Craig's kin, a man named Jason. "He has been very clear on that, and he has that little woman advising him. Everyone knows wives are the most obstinate, and this one is also a man."
"It's a dangerous combination," Craig agreed, "and yet what else am I to do? He will not give me the weregild I'm owed and will not face me in armed combat. If he won't duel with me to settle this, I suspect the only way to settle it is to set fire to the place and burn him out."
"That's a dangerous game you're playing," said Jason. "If he won't leave, then he'll burn to death. That's no honorable way to handle this."
"I trust he'll come out," said Craig. "Reason cannot settle it, the law won't settle it, and it is said that Stan Marsh is honorable."
"It's your funeral," Jason said.
"I highly doubt it," Craig replied.
"A funeral nevertheless," said Jason.
"Well," said Craig, "I suppose we shall see."
Craig treated with Stan at the door to Stan's hall. "I killed your kin," said Craig. "The talion reset when I paid you in silver for Kenny's life. I know not what perverse sorcery brought Kenny back to life, and yet his life was restored. Kenny was killed a second time, by Clyde, and he paid you again for Kenny's life. A trail of death has led us here, to the door of your hall, and I have come to ask you a final time, Stan. Pay me the money you owe me for Clyde's death or meet me in combat. A man of honor will see that the balance of rightness is justified."
"I don't see it that way," said Stan. "You killed Kenny, and your money belongs to me. Clyde killed Kenny, and his money belongs to me. Then Clyde killed Ike, so I killed Clyde. In my view, we're done with this, Craig. Go home."
"I won't go home without my money," said Craig, "or your blood on my halberd."
"You'll have neither. South Park is fortified impenetrably," said Stan Marsh. "Good luck."
"If you don't come out and fight, I'll force you out."
"How do you propose that would happen?"
"There are ways," said Craig. "Even the stoutest warrior has the potential to be consumed."
"Even a scoundrel must have a shred of honor. You paid, Craig. I don't trust you for a minute."
"That's your mistake," said Craig. He left Stan to make his decision.
XXXVIII. The burning
Kyle had been listening at the door as Stan spoke with Craig. "What do you make of this?" he asked. "That man intends to ruin us!"
"You must let me fight him," said Stan. "I could kill him in combat and end this."
"I don't want you to leave this hall!"
"Don't you see, Kyle? Craig has a sister. His sister has a husband. Her husband has a family, kin of his own — there's no end to this if we sit here. This feud has roots that go down, deep down, reaching into the deepest and farthest realms of this very earth. It must end sometime. Maybe it ends with me."
"You will not leave me and Baby," said Kyle. "I'm afraid, Stanley. I wish I knew how to wield a glaive, so that I could protect you as you've protected me."
"I haven't protected you, Kyle. This is the end. This is the end of us. When our hall is besieged and our lives near the end, remember this: I loved you, and what good did it do?"
"It did a world of good for me," said Kyle, "and for Baby." He placed Baby in Stan's arms and the three of them sat in the hall, with Kenny.
"What will Craig do now?" Kenny asked.
"Attempt to smoke us out, I think," said Stan. "He would force me to fight him if he could."
"And will you?"
"Kyle has forbidden it," said Stan.
"Stan might defeat him," said Kenny.
"Or he might be slain," said Kyle. "I like our odds of survival better here. We'll be together, and that's what matters. It's said that I have a second sight — but the truth is all I've foreseen is flame. What good is seeing one's immolation if no strength of will could prevent it? I should have seen what I had and turned away from everything else. But it's too late now, and I'm sorry. I caused this, and it's my fault."
"It may not be too late," said Stan. "For all you've done or not done, it was my choice to bring you to this hall, and I can't regret it. I wouldn't have been happy otherwise. Maybe this doom is the folly that attends happiness. I would never have loved anyone but you and Baby."
"You're both mad," said Kenny. "It was I. You both know it. I should have died that day. I wish I had."
"If it's any consolation to you, Kenny," said Kyle, "you did. And that's the cause of all this trouble, and now we're all of us sitting here blaming ourselves, when the real culprit is out there."
The real culprit was standing in front of Stan Marsh's hall, fretting over the corner into which he'd painted himself.
"It's a serious thing you're proposing," said Jason. "There is nothing honorable about burning a man out of his own home. If he doesn't leave it, everyone in there will perish."
"I regret that it's come to this," said Craig. "I wished for Stan Marsh to do the noble thing and reset the scale of justice. If we burn his hall, he'll have to come out or risk the annihilation of his household. Kyle and the child, a countless number of servants, horse-breakers and armorers, and perhaps that scoundrel Kenny — all of them would die. I highly doubt that would reset the talion, but I can't risk a blow to my reputation — I said I'd settle this. It must end somewhere. Stan Marsh is a reasonable man. Light the fires. It will be like a warning to him."
"This is so morbid," said Craig's men. "We hate to think of it."
"I have no further options," said Craig. "I've come this far, and now I can't walk it back. Go into the woods around the hall and gather kindling for the start of the fires. We have no choice left but to burn them out and hope they come to their senses."
"This has gone too far," said Craig's men, and they followed their orders.
When smoke began to fill the hall, and when it was obvious what Craig had done, Stan turned to Kyle and said, "I wish you had gone and taken Baby. You could have gone to your mother's house. Had I the chance to save your life, I'd choose that for you now. It's a deep regret of mine that it's too late. Your life was forfeit the day I wooed you, Kyle. That isn't what I would have chosen, had I chosen."
"Oh, Stanley, I don't believe there ever was a choice. These things were written before we knew each other. I've lived my life so long in fear — there was no point to it. I loved you, because fate pushed me toward you."
"I still believe our choices govern actions," said Stan. "I don't know that I could ever let go of that."
"Well, if that's the case," Kyle said, "then I chose to be with you in the first place, and I choose to be with you at the mouth of the grave."
"It's so grim, and you are so calm."
"So it goes in these sagas," said Kyle. He had always been able to see beyond the text.
XXXIX. King Token declares Craig an outlaw
Word of the burning spread quickly throughout Colorado. In halls large and small, men and women spoke of the horror that had consumed South Park. "What sort of man would burn everyone alive?" people asked.
"It's a curious situation," said others. "Nothing was right about it." To some the mitigating circumstances were the unusual and uncommon members of Stan Marsh's household: his wife, who was no woman, but the son of a great law speaker; and his servant Kenny, who had succumbed to, and yet also mysteriously survived, multiple attacks on his own life. "It isn't right," people seemed to think, and even those who felt Stan had it coming agreed that there was no reason to make the other people in the hall the victims of Stan's feud with Craig Thomasson. Even the most skeptical regretted spilling the blood of young children.
The events at South Park so unsettled the people of Colorado that Craig was called before the king of Colorado, Token. Though they were associates in social and business matters, Token had no kind words to spare on the matter.
"This is a very grave thing you've done," said the king, when Craig stood before him. "I should take your life, but that is not the answer. Too much blood has been spilled already. I once considered you as close as kin."
"I don't deserve to live," said Craig. "Now that I have the justice I so sought, it tastes bitter on my tongue."
"True justice is that you will have to live with that guilt. It will destroy you far worse than I could. But I won't be rid of you forever — I declare thee an outlaw, and put that price on your head. For three years, you must leave these lands if you intend to survive, else any man may kill you on sight. I doubt you'd survive it ad infinitum, as did Kenny."
"Very good," said Craig. He took his leave and went abroad. It is said by some that he did return three years hence; still others say Craig died abroad. Memory does not record the end of his journey, though it can be assumed that he lived for some time away from Colorado.
Now Craig and Token are out of the saga.
XL. Kenny travels abroad
From the ashes Kenny rose. Without looking back, he left South Park, never to return there again. In front of him lay the green fields of spring and the icy tundra of the north. He went to Canada for a time and dwelt there among the Canadians. The king of the Canadians dwelt in Ottawa. The Canadian kings were always the subject of much talk in Colorado. Sometimes it is said that the king of the Canadians was a tyrant, but Kenny did not meet the king of the Canadians, and he stuck to the yellow road that led through Canada, which was the only road in Canada. For a time, Kenny dwelt in Canada, and it is said that he performed great deeds there, but no one can remember what it was that he did there, and those deeds are not part of the saga. He stayed in Canada for a period of time, long enough he hoped that he would not be remembered in Colorado when he returned. The memories of men are fragile and die quickly; they can never outlast the spirit world.
Kenny was not at rest. He was troubled by what had happened to Stan and Kyle. Sometimes he was plagued with guilt. Were he to speak of it to anyone he would have said, "I wonder whether I should have died with them," but he never spoke of the events he had witnessed. His part in the feud weighed on him. Soon Kenny felt he could no longer stay in Canada, and he set out further abroad, to Romania and elsewhere. Kenny was never settled in one place and would move on quickly. He took work on Viking ships and earned passage that way. He wondered if he would encounter his brother on one of these ships but never did, and soon Kenny wondered if his family was still alive. It had been many years since he left them. He did not know how much time had passed, exactly. He also did not ask.
On one ship, he fell overboard and awoke bobbing in the icy sea, the crew of another raider hoisting him over. Kenny had no money in his pockets and asked to be made part of the crew. As a hard worker, Kenny was accepted into the crew with little question. One day, a member of the crew did say to him, "We were surprised to find you alive out in the water. How long had it been since you'd fallen over? Not many survive for long in the arctic seas."
"It's an absurd story, and I don't know if you'd believe it," said Kenny.
"The days are brutal on these waters, and the nights are ceaseless. Tell me your tale — it'll be good for a laugh at any rate."
"A scare, more like, if I'm being honest," said Kenny. Though he possessed many faults, he was in fact quite honest.
"I'm scared of no tale," said the Viking.
"Very well," said Kenny, and he sang a song of all that had happened to him, from his childhood in his father's house to his association with Stan Marsh. It is too long to record here, but I have heard that this Viking made a copy of Kenny's saga and has told it in full, and perhaps you will meet someone who knows the tale of Kenny's saga and will relate it to you. In any case, Kenny's song told of the same events I have narrated for you here.
"It's a strange thing you tell me," said the Viking, when the song was over.
"So strange I imagine you can't believe me, which is well enough," said Kenny.
"There are many tales in this world far stranger than that one," said the Viking, "and all men know these witches do exist. The strange part is Stan Marsh's wife. Is it true that in Colorado they marry men to one another?"
"It isn't something that they do," said Kenny. "I think Stan and Kyle were a special exception."
"Well, on hearing the tale in its entirety, I wonder if it wasn't the thing that caused all the problems in the first place."
"It may well have been," Kenny agreed, and he spoke no more of it. He served on the Viking ship for years longer, perhaps two or three. When the ship docked off Newfoundland, Kenny left the crew and began his journey away from the sea. He had been on boats for too long and worried that he would never eat well again if he did not end his participation in the raids. The destruction became too much for him and he departed.
"I hope you find the peace you are looking for," said the Viking to whom Kenny has told his story, upon his departure.
"I hope that too," Kenny agreed. He was being truthful.
XLI. Kenny and Butters are reunited
Kenny did not know where he was going, and yet his feet found the way as if the route were mapped upon his conscience. It was the little house in the spring clearing, set on either side with a fall of great snow. Butters greeted Kenny at the door, and she was twice as fair as he remembered, and not a day older to Kenny's eyes.
Butters saw that Kenny looked much worse, and haggard, with a missing ear and terrible burns.
"I didn't mean to come here," Kenny said. "I set out and ended up here."
"The road was always leading you back to me," said Butters, and that was her only comment on the matter. "Well, Kenny, I'm sure glad you're back."
Butters asked Kenny to stay for the winter. "Just for the winter," said Butters. Kenny, knowing the winter was never-ending, agreed.
Some spoke of Kenny and whether he had survived the burning. Some said no one could have survived, and others said Kenny's remains were never found. He'll turn up again someday, some said. Somehow all of these were true.
Butters and Kenny had no children.
That is the end of the saga.