Stein hesitated on the gallery overlooking the hall.

Stein hesitated on the gallery overlooking the hall, thankful he had not called out as soon as he had stepped through the door. He had been told his distant cousin and recent brother-​in-​law Tryggve Thunder-​Throat was here, and Stein could hear his unforgettable braying coming up from below, made all the more raucous by his attempts to speak English to Lathir.

But beneath that was the chattering of two small Norse-​speakers.

Stein hurried on silently to the stairs.

Stein hurried on silently to the stairs.

He could not remember the exact ages and genders of Tryggve’s siblings, but he knew they were many—perhaps enough to provide a boy and a girl of approximately those sizes.

Still, although he had seen only the tops of their heads from the height of the gallery, there were few children even in Norway who had hair so fair. Such hair might even earn them the nickname “Silver-white”—as it had his father.

And in Tryggve’s family the hair was more golden than silver.

In Tryggve's family the hair was more golden than silver.

“Only look who’s here, Stein!” Lathir called.

“Children!” Tryggve boomed. “Only look who’s here!”

“That’s Stein, all right,” the girl said, though she sounded skeptical.

'That's Stein, all right.'

Any lingering doubts of his own were dispelled by her face. Not only did she resemble his mother, but she also had the twin birthmarks beside her right eye. This was his little sister Astrid, making the boy his younger brother Olaf.

Stein tried to laugh. “Well! Stowaways, or what?”

'Well!  Stowaways, or what?'

“A barnacle and a bilge rat!” Tryggve announced, punctuating his roar with a wallop to the back of poor Olaf’s white head.

Astrid spun around and cried angrily, “Who’s the bilge rat?”

“Your brothers two, O beauteous barnacle!”

“Oh,” she huffed, seeming almost disappointed.


“Where’s my sister?” Stein asked weakly.

There was still that hope. He knew that one did not take girls of eight on two-​week voyages across the sea merely to visit their brothers. But perhaps Tryggve and Guthrun had taken charge of the two children, and perhaps they were only stopping by for a visit on their way to Tryggve’s home in the Isles…

It was not that he did not care for his brother and sister, though it was true he hardly knew them. Astrid had been two when he had left for Lothere, and Olaf five. That made them eight and eleven now, he thought, and he had scarcely seen them in the meantime except for a few brief visits.

Stein knew his mother had died last spring, and his elder brother, who had taken in their younger siblings, had died in the fall. Afterwards his fifteen-​year-​old sister Guthrun had been provided for by the timely marriage proposal of Thunder-​Throat himself, but Stein had believed his two youngest siblings were safe with his elder sister Finna and her husband in Norway.

'Speaking of stowaways!'

“Speaking of stowaways!” Tryggve laughed. “Your sister has had an unexpected passenger hiding below-​decks for the last half-​year! I’ve already taken her to the Isles so that the little rascal can answer to appropriate authorities when he finally makes an appearance!”

“He means she’s going to have a baby!” Astrid groaned.

'He means she's going to have a baby!'

“Making you an aunt! But it looks like your brother has us beat there!” He turned and smiled fondly at Lathir. “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you, my pretty one?”

“I understand every word,” Lathir said.

Her Norse was excellent, and she was rightly proud of it. But it was no wonder—she and Stein had spent every free moment that winter cuddling before the fire and speaking nonsense to each other in their respective languages. Stein believed that if he had been as clever as his wife, he would have spoken Gaelic like a born Scot by this time.

“Ah! Now I am in trouble!” Tryggve laughed.

'But I cannot imagine what you are trying to say.'

“But I cannot imagine what you are trying to say.” Her ethereal smile flickered over her lips, and she lifted her eyes to her husband. “Whatever does he mean, Stein?”

“I believe he means you are going to have a baby, too,” Astrid explained.

“Do you think so?” Stein asked dubiously and patted his wife’s enormous belly.

'Do you think so?'

Tryggve’s laughter echoed in the hall. “A couple of innocents! If I get clean of this place before that baby drops out, it will only be because the wind’s at my back and the current in my favor!”

“But one can never be certain until it does,” Lathir murmured. “And you know, Tryggve, I am quite sure I accidentally swallowed a melon seed last summer. So I think it is too soon to say.”

Everyone laughed besides Astrid, who looked horrified. Perhaps the little girl had eaten a few melon seeds herself over the years, Stein thought, and he told himself he would reassure her later.

He told himself he would reassure her later.

But before his wife, her refusal to admit herself pregnant—whether out of superstition or merely out of humor—was sacred law. It was important enough to her that she had denied herself the luxury of complaining about any of the disagreeable symptoms of pregnancy, and that alone gave her the aura of a blessed martyr in her husband’s eyes.

“Well,” Tryggve said, “unless you’re willing to take it out to show me tonight, you’ll have to write me and let me know how it turns out! I mean to hurry up to see Estrid and her babies tomorrow, and then it’s back to the sea for me! I had better get home and ask my wife what she ate last fall! But I think it must have been animal rather than vegetable, for the little thing certainly likes to squirm!”

'The little thing certainly likes to squirm!'

Lathir giggled, but Stein had only heard the “I” and the “me”. Suddenly he was afraid, but not for himself.

“How is my sister Finna?”

'How is my sister Finna?'

“Ah, she!” Tryggve sighed, which in his case was something like the roar of a hurricane. “She’s trim enough, but her husband crossed the bar right after Candlemas! And that’s how I got possession of this cargo!” He delivered another whack to Olaf’s head. “A pretty young widow is one thing, but a pretty young widow with a little brother and sister in tow is another!”

'A pretty young widow with a little brother and sister in tow is another!'

“So you salvaged these two, or what?” Stein asked.

“Ah, no! They still have a rightful owner, to whom they are hereby delivered!”

“Astrid and Olaf have come to live with us in our big, empty house,” Lathir said with her hint of a smile that was like the beatitude on the lips of statues of saints. “Isn’t that wonderful, Stein?”

'Isn't that wonderful, Stein?'

In fact, Stein had been hoping to make the most of the last weeks of emptiness in his house. Once the baby came, he knew he and his bride would never be quite alone together again.

But the daughter of Lord Aed and granddaughter of King Diarmait had spoken. The blessed martyr to Stein’s coming son or daughter or melon had spoken. His beloved wife had spoken.

And more eloquent than she were the eyes of his little brother and sister.

And more eloquent than she were the eyes of his little brother and sister; Olaf’s were lifted in a silent plea, and Astrid’s were already lowered in despair.

“That’s wonderful!” Stein agreed.

'That's wonderful!'