Inis Breandán, Isle of Man

Eirik did not like to see that beloved head bowed any time outside of the church.

Pretty as the back of Sigrid’s neck was beneath her coils of hair, Eirik did not like to see that beloved head bowed any time other than Sunday mornings and anywhere outside of a church. He liked it least of all in the middle of a busy afternoon, alone in the bedroom.

His own troubles could wait. He stuffed his letter into his pocket just as the head turned.

“Eirik!” she squealed.


He caught her as she fled into the alcove. “Not so fast!”

“I – I – thought you were Guthrun!”

“I hear that all the time,” he sighed.

'I hear that all the time'

She giggled, and he admired her for it, but he broke through her bravery by caressing her face with particular gentleness.

“I didn’t know who you were,” he said. “Sitting on my bed in the middle of the day. I thought this cannot be Siri.”

She turned her face aside.

She turned her face aside.

There was all the breadth of her silky cheek, made only more exquisite by the dark smudge of her lashes, and edged with the delicate beauty of her profile. Eirik could not bear to see it marred by a frown of pain.

“She was powerfully cute from behind, though,” he added slyly.

“Ha ha!” she scoffed. “Should have pinched her while you had your chance.”

'Should have pinched her while you had your chance.'

“That’s where I was heading when you heard me. Do I miss my chance?” He pinched the air in front of her nose.

“You just lost it!”

She smiled, and he smiled, but he spoiled it again by running a hand down the curve of her waist.

“So,” he said conclusively. He supposed he already knew.

“So,” she agreed.


He might have left it at that, but he did not know how to abandon her to her pain. At risk of making it worse with his fumbling, he always tried to ease it away. He was at least clever enough not to tell her it was nothing grave.

“Mind now, winter’s coming,” he mused. “I don’t have anything else to do with my time…”

“But lie around in bed all day?” she smiled, rousing herself yet again like a little warrior who could not be downed.

“I plan to get some exercise…”

'I plan to get some exercise...'

You may get some exercise chasing those boys around.”

“Why don’t you just set them to chasing each other around, and you sit and watch?” he suggested.

She glared at him suspiciously from beneath her heavy lashes, apparently trying to decide whether he was stupid and serious or stupid and joking.

“Stupid pig-​​dog,” she muttered, effectively covering both possibilities.

'Stupid pig-dog.'

Eirik oinked.

“Oh, Eirik!” she cried and hurled her little body against his. “I’m already running in three directions at once, and I still want to go in a fourth! Tell me I’m crazy!”

“Crazy like the wind that blows on the sea, Siri,” he murmured, “north and south and east and west.”

'Crazy like the wind that blows on the sea, Siri.'

“A week late…” she said dazedly. “I thought for certain…”

He did not tell her a week was not a long time, nor that there was no certainty to be had in such a mysterious matter. Just as Pinknose’s nighttime terrors were very real to him and worthy of respect therefore, so was Sigrid’s pain to her.

“I started to bleed a little,” she whispered. “And I have a little ache…”

Eirik immediately began rubbing the small of her back with his strong fingers. That was easy. That was the one pain he could always take away.

“Not there,” she sighed.

'Not there.'

He stopped. So he would not even be able to do that. He began to worry. He did not worry because her pain was not in the usual place – women were mysterious creatures – but that he would eventually grow desperate enough to say something foolish. He might tell her she already had three handsomer boys than many women would ever have. He might say something so foolish he had not even thought of it yet.

But Sigrid saved him from worsening her problem by reminding him of his own.

“What did you bring me?” she asked brightly.

'What did you bring me?'

Even her moments of weakness were taken with forethought and quickly surrendered. If only Eirik had a shipful or two of men like Sigrid…

“What did I what what?” he asked.

“I saw you hiding something when you came in here,” she accused, already patting over his flanks in search of stuffed pockets.

'You get the pirate or the booty.'

“You will be disappointed, Siri,” he said as he withdrew the letter. “Just a letter today, no presents. You get the pirate or the booty, and you always tell me you rather have the pirate…”

“It is from Lothere?” she squealed. “Let me see!”

“It is not even from Lothere, now. You see? Disappointed.”

'You see?  Disappointed.'

She seemed to be, for she stopped her attempts to steal it from him and waited to hear why she ought to care.

Eirik was finding it difficult to joke now that the problem was only his own. “In fact, I think you will wish I hadn’t brought it at all. Because I am here to give you a reading test.”

Her eyes were already sparkling. Sigrid loved a challenge, at least when it meant a chance to impress her husband. He only wished he had a happy letter to test her on – or even one merely banal inside and out.

“Latin or Norse?” she asked shrewdly. “You know in Latin I only do spelling.”

'Latin or Norse?'

“Written in Latin, but addressed in Norse, so we only do the outside today.”

She opened her hand expectantly. “How difficult can this be?” she asked, wary because of the seeming simplicity of the test. “I already know how to read the names of everyone who lives here.”

“This one has a trick.” He frowned because it was true, but Sigrid had already turned towards the light with the letter.

Eirik stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, just below her breasts, as low as he could reach without positively stooping. Now her pretty neck was inches from his lips, but her beloved head was bowed again, and in the present situation it gave him little more pleasure than it had before.

Now her pretty neck was inches from his lips.

“E… I… Eirik!” she snorted. “How difficult could it be?”

“What is that next to it there?” he asked.



“No, Siri,” he growled into her hair.

She giggled and lifted the letter to the light again. “It’s a… a… one of those letters that aren’t in Latin!”

“That is no excuse, lady.”

He loosened the hold of his arms and ran his hands down either side of her waist. If he squeezed, his fingers could almost meet. She liked him to try.

“It must be a J!” she said after a moment. She was pretending to ignore him, but already the play of her hips was loosening, and he could sway her with his hands.

“And then?”

'And then?'

“A… R… L. Who’s that?”

“Say it,” he whispered.

His hands stopped on her belly while he waited for her to sound it out. He could feel a rhythmic fluttering beneath one of them, the echoes of some artery throbbing inside of her at the far edges of what he could perceive. Farther still were the depths where the mysteries dwelled. Those things he could never know. And yet she could be certain – and yet she could be wrong.

Jarl?” she said after much mumbling to herself. “It’s not for you.”

“The Latin inside disagrees,” he muttered.

'The Latin inside disagrees.'

“I don’t even know any Earl Eirik. Do you?”


He began to rub her waist with his hands again, around in big circles that almost seemed intended to mold her belly into the shape she desired, and then down into the hollow spaces below, where the legs met the body.

“Eiiii-​​rik,” she whined. “You’re distracting me.”

'You're distracting me.'

He stopped again. In truth he had been trying to distract himself. Now he stood tall and reached over her shoulder to pluck the letter from her hands.

“The letter is for me. A very nice letter from Rhys of Deheubarth, though it is so insignificant that I wonder why he wrote it.”

He slipped the letter back into his pocket and wrapped his arms tightly around her again, pinning her own at her sides.

'But... why is he calling you Earl?'

“In fact, I believe you have read the most important part,” he added.

“But… why is he calling you Earl?”

“I don’t know, Siri. Either he knows something about me I don’t, or he wants me killed.”

“Killed?” she gasped.


“If men start accidentally-​​on-​​purpose calling me Earl, Whitehand is going to wonder who gave them the idea.”

You certainly didn’t! He can’t blame you!”

“What man who secretly-​​in-​​public declares himself Earl is going to admit it?” he asked bitterly.

She squirmed around to face him, and he saw her eyes shining with pride and loyalty. “You would, Eirik. If you were bold enough to call yourself Earl, you would be bold enough to admit it.”

'You would, Eirik.'

“Bold enough?” he snorted. “You think I am simply too much of a coward to do it?”

“No. I think you are bold enough to do it and wise enough to bide your time.”

“Siri!” he laughed and squeezed her so tightly he might have feared hurting her, had he not known her to be so very strong. “If I had more men like you, I would already be king.”

He was only certain of her warm breath on his neck, but he thought he heard her whisper, “I have already given you three.”

'I have already given you three.'