Warning: This poem features some intense topics. Highlight to read more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. There are examples of internalized homophobia, negative coping methods, sexual extortion, attempted help that goes awry, a fistfight, emotional angst, and other challenges. And despite efforts to clean up the mess afterwards, it doesn't have a completely happy ending. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"The Needs of the Many, the Flesh of the One"
Ragi was difficult,
even in a community
that prided itself on acceptance,
because he could not accept himself.
That was not, of course,
the name he had been born with,
but it was what he called himself
and it was all he would answer to,
so they put up with it, rude though it was.
It was not new
for Ragi to be difficult
but every so often it came to a head.
Vendel the shepherd put his foot down
when he found out that one of the sailors in town
had been extorting sexual favors from Ragi,
and his patience ran out like beer from a burst barrel.
"What, you won't so much as come to supper
more than three or four times in a year,
but you'll lie down for a man
who bullies and beats you?" Vendel said,
trying to move Ragi back toward the farm wagons.
"You should tell him to be off, and be done with it.
You have plenty of better choices
among the men of the farm if you want them."
Ragi hissed at him to shut up
before he made matters worse,
but the damage was already done
and the sailor laid into both of them.
They two of them rode home
with black eyes and bloody noses,
clutching chunks of ice to their swollen faces.
As soon as the wagon stopped,
Ragi stormed away up the slope.
Vendel would have gone after him
but for the two teenaged boys
who helped him tend the herds.
"It's like you've taught us about sheep,"
said Thorsten. "Chasing won't help."
"Better to wait," said Sindri.
"Talk again after you've both calmed down."
How many times
had he said such things to them
when wild Sindri was pestering quiet Thorsten?
They'd never listen to Vendel
if he couldn't take his own advice
when it applied to him.
So Vendel spent the evening
thinking about what had gone wrong
and how they might work it out.
In the morning he packed a basket
with two loaves of bread from the kitchen
and a jar of bruise ointment from Rowen,
then hiked up the slope to Ragi's cabin.
From behind the cabin, Vendel could hear
the steady whop-whop of the axe,
Ragi's preferred method of calming himself.
The smell of birch sap hung brightly in the air.
Ragi looked at him, but did not stop working.
Vendel sat on a log bench,
set the basket between his feet,
Eventually Ragi put down the axe.
He came and sat next to Vendel,
but said nothing.
"I guess you were right about
me making things worse,"
said Vendel. "Sorry about that."
Ragi just grunted and
helped himself to some bread.
"I'm curious about what happened,
because this doesn't seem like you,"
Vendel said to him.
"You don't seek ... company ... very much,
so it makes me wonder why
you'd go in for such rough handling."
"I'll tell you a thing," Ragi said slowly.
"People in a village, they want a man
to take a wife, and if he won't,
well then they don't want him."
"We're not like that," Vendel said.
"You know we're not."
"You're not," Ragi agreed with a nod,
"and that's the other half of the problem.
You don't care what a man's body wants,
as long as his heart is happy."
He shrugged. "And mine isn't,
nor is it likely to be. I grew up in a village,
learned their rules for what's right and wrong.
I don't want company often, but when I do,
it's with a man and has to be someone I know.
Even then I'm not easy with it."
"You can't change the world, Ragi,"
said Vendel. "You can change yourself."
"Maybe some can. I can't," Ragi said.
"I don't feel at home in the world, Vendel.
I've tried. I just don't. Not in a village,
and not on your fine farm either.
The needs of the many matter more
than the flesh of the one.
So I come up here, by myself,
where my odd ways won't bother
anyone besides me."
"Until you go into town and get hurt,"
Vendel pointed out.
"As I recall, that was your fault,"
Ragi said, glaring at him again.
The shepherd sighed.
"Ragi, he was hurting you
before he punched us in the face."
Vendel took the jar from the basket
and handed it to Ragi.
"It's what he wanted
for what I wanted," Ragi said,
but he swiped the ointment
across his bruises anyway.
"What could be worth that?"
"He runs the only boat
that goes to my old village,"
Ragi explained. "I still write
to my sister so she knows I'm alive.
Or I did. Likely that's done now.
He won't want anyone carrying tales
about our arrangement."
Vendel winced. "I'm sorry.
You could have come to us ..."
"I know, I know,
I don't follow farm ways
like everyone wishes I would,"
Ragi said. "I try, it's just ...
so different, and so many people,
and I can't make myself do it
except when my flesh gets desperate
for what I need but shouldn't want.
Coming in for a favor?" He spread his hands.
"It only attracts attention, and then trouble."
"That happens every time
you've asked for help with something,
in town or on the farm?" Vendel asked.
"Yes -- and you wonder," Ragi said acidly,
"why I prefer to stay in my cabin up the woods."
Well, people did.
It was lonely up there
and homey down amongst the farmhouses.
After this latest fiasco, however, they would
lay off asking him about it for a while.
"I don't think your arrangement
with that sailor was really
working out very well for you,"
"You're right about that.
So goes the tale of my life,
and I'm sorry it spilled over on you."
Ragi said. "I don't want to be
always fighting with the world,
so I step aside as much as I can.
My sister doesn't deserve for me
to vanish without a word, though.
This is none of her failing."
"Well, there's Tyko," said Vendel,
tipping his head back to watch the clouds.
"He's a fisherman, and he goes
to different places every time.
He's got no set course.
We could ask if he'd be willing
to stop by your old village."
Ragi sat in silence for a long minute.
Then he went inside the cabin
and fetched the rumpled letter
that he hadn't had a chance to send.
He told Vendel how to find the village
and his sister, so Vendel could tell Tyko.
"You know you can come to us any time,
for a favor or company or anything,"
said Vendel, putting a hand on Ragi's knee.
Ragi just looked at him and said,
"Everyone wants me to be something I'm not,
it's just different things on the farm than in town.
Stop trying to herd me, Vendel,
I'm not one of your blasted sheep."
"All right, then," Vendel said
as he stood to leave.
"As long as nobody's trying
to pound you flat, I'll keep my peace."
Ragi said, lifting the basket
but meaning more than just its contents.
Vendel walked back down the slope,
leaving Ragi to his solitude and his trees.
He patted the letter in his breast pocket,
making sure it was safe for Tyko.
This wasn't an ideal solution,
but with Ragi, little ever was.
It was enough that they settled
the current conflict, and Vendel would
try harder to keep his nose out of Ragi's way.
* * *
Homosexuality can lead to self-hate and internalized homophobia, especially in a hostile environment. There are simple and more complex tips for overcoming those issues.
Ragi -- May be found in Old Danish as Raghi, occurs in OW.Norse as Ragi (also found as a by-name). From the OW.Norse adjective ragr "cowardly, homosexual." May occur in the nominative case form ragi, although this may instead represent the name Raggi. GB p. 14 s.n.Ragi; NR s.n.Raggi, Ragi.
(In essence, he nicknamed himself Faggot.)
-- Old Norse Men's Names
Sexual extortion appears both as an entertainment trope and in everyday life. Understand how to handle blackmail and sexual misconduct.
The purpose of an apology is to restore damaged relationships. Know how to apologize when you have really hurt someone.