Sigefrith squealed like a child.

Sigefrith immediately forgot the troubling conversation of the stairwell and squealed like a child: “Tryggve! Njal!”

Tryggve only chuckled with far less than his usual volume.

'Tryggve!  Njal!'

Baldwin snorted. “Oh, I forgot to mention they were here.”

“One never has to mention Tryggve!” Sigefrith laughed. “We should have heard him a half-​​mile from here! If he’s not braying or bawling, he’s snoring!”

“You can’t hear him when he’s kissing!” Eirik cooed suggestively. “Why do you think he bring Njal?”

'Why do you think he bring Njal?'

Both of the accused parties leapt at their lord, yelping like joyous puppies at this reunion.

Sigefrith was already looking beyond them, however, into the corner where his father was rising ponderously from the writing table.

His father was rising ponderously from the writing table.

Perhaps, he thought, if even Tryggve Thunder-​​Throat had been keeping quiet, it was due to some instinct of the sick-​​room.

His father had not been ill, of course, nor even greatly wounded, and Sigefrith saw that he had even removed the bandage from his hand.

Sigefrith saw that he had even removed the bandage from his hand.

Nevertheless, his father now lived in the center of the hushed bustle that surrounded an invalid, and with an invalid’s unconsciousness of the gravity of his affliction. There were the same whispered conversations outside the door, the same meetings that always began with “How is he?”, the same shaking of heads, the same staring out of windows.

There was the same shaking of heads.

Sigefrith was not bold enough to ask his father how he was, so he simply asked him, “How’s the hand?”

His father lifted it and looked at it as if he had never yet asked himself the question. Sigefrith took it gently between his fingers, trying to feel out its strength himself.

Sigefrith took it gently between his fingers.

It was strange to take his father’s hand as if it had been a lady’s or a little child’s, although he knew that beefy as it was, it was capable of great gentleness itself.

Of course, it was also capable of great brutality; this hand had wielded swords that had slain men, and beat the faces of other men into bloody messes – and the faces of women too.

But perhaps he would never be so brutal again. Baldwin had said he could no longer make his hand into a fist.

“Getting better, getting better,” his father muttered. “I don’t think I’ll ever swing a sword with it again, but at my age…” He trailed off into a creaky chuckle.

'You'll learn to fight left-handed.'

“You’ll learn to fight left-​​handed, like Eadred,” Sigefrith suggested brightly, with his undying optimism.

“I don’t think I can hold a shield with it either, runt. Only things I can hold with it these days are my spoon, my pen, and my cock.”

“At least you can still shake the drops off the end before you put it away,” Baldwin laughed.

'At least you can still shake the drops off the end before you put it away.'

“Praise God!” Sigefrith’s father snorted. For the moment his old, gloriously vulgar self shone out of his eyes. “The end’s not near! I may be a useless old man, but if I ever turn into a useless old man who smells like piss, you runts better put me out of my misery.”

'If I ever turn into a useless old man who smells like piss, you runts better put me out of my misery.'

“Agreed,” Baldwin nodded, grinning.

But Sigefrith could not quite find it funny. Moreover there was an agitated, unjoyous discussion going on across the room, but he was not clever enough to follow a conversation in English and a conversation in Norse at the same time.

“You’re not useless…” he grumbled.

'You're not useless...'

“What am I good for?” his father sighed. “With my spoon and my pen? Sitting around, eating pudding, getting fat, and writing poetry.

He said the word with all the scorn he had always held for the art form, being a man too busy living life to take the time to sit and write verses about it. But he recoiled from the scorn, too, as if it had whipped back to strike himself.

“You runts ever write a poem?” he asked wistfully. “It’s damned difficult.”

“Is it a poem if it’s unfit for ladies’ ears?” Baldwin laughed.

'Is it a poem if it's unfit for ladies' ears?'

“That is not the sort I meant,” Leofric pouted.

Sigefrith did not think his father had ever cared for any other sort, and under the circumstances, he did not like the change in his tastes.

“Don’t bother yourself fiddling with poetry,” Sigefrith cried. “You’ll be fighting again before you find a rhyme for the third line.”

'You'll be fighting again before you find a rhyme for the third line.'

“I’m an old man, runt,” his father sighed.

“Nonsense! And anyway, a man can already go far in life with a spoon and his cock.”

“What is this you’re plotting?” Eirik bellowed from the far side of the room.

'What is this you're plotting?'

Eirik was easily clever enough to follow conversations in two different languages if they were loud enough, and puzzle out the facial expressions of gibberish-​​speaking foreigners besides.

Sigefrith could not help but laugh. “Not at the same time, of course! I mean – Good Lord! Why do I ever open my mouth?”

They all laughed, even his father, but then Baldwin went off to poke at the fire, leaving Sigefrith and his father alone to whisper if they would.

“How is she?” his father asked at once.

'How is she?'

Sigefrith sighed. “She’s so heartbroken she wouldn’t even cry in front of me, if that’s any indication,” he muttered.

His father’s full lower lip trembled like a toddler’s.

“She wants you to come home.

“She wants me?” his father breathed.

“You don’t deserve it, but she does! God bless her!”

“God bless her…” his father whispered.

Suddenly Sigefrith cursed his dull head for being so slow to understand. He jabbed his father in the ribs and growled, “I’m talking about Mother here!”

'I'm talking about Mother!'

His father’s mind was still quick in spite of the late torpor of his body. He could think faster than his body could react, and Sigefrith saw only the barest quiver pass over his father’s slack face to hint that he had been surprised.

“So am I…” he protested weakly.

“And I think if you can hold your reins in your left hand, you should get back to her as soon as you can, while she’s still looking to forgive you. Don’t make it still harder for her by staying away.”

“I know, runt…” his father whimpered. “But… but Haakon’s birthday is on Saturday, and I promised…”

“Name of God!” Sigefrith groaned. “Take Haakon with you! He can have his birthday with you and Mother! I may not even be home by then, if I go with Eirik.”

“You’re not going with Eirik!” Eirik called out.

'You're not going with Eirik!'

“What?” Sigefrith wailed.

Eirik left Tryggve and Njal and strode up to Sigefrith and his father. “You’re not going with me,” he repeated. “Good day, my lord,” he added with a nod.

Sigefrith’s father smiled faintly as he dropped himself into a chair. “Good day, runt. Won’t you take him off my hands for me?”

“Not forever, I don’t want. You don’t come, boy.”

'You don't come, boy.'

“Why not?” Sigefrith whined.

“Because something stink over that way, and not only Tryggve. So, my ships, they are supposed to meet me at Alaunby. But there the lord, he say, clear out all you blond rats, we have the Irish King he want to send his ships here. But I know it is a lie.”

“They want to trick you into going to Hwitsands!” Sigefrith gasped, pleased that his mind had at least been quick enough to spot this subtlety. “Where they almost killed you last time!”

'They want to trick you into going to Hwitsands!'

“So perhaps. And so Tryggve he go all the way to Haeringtun instead. But I think something stink there, too, and not only the fish. Perhaps my enemy who chase me from Alaunby, if he is stupid he think I go to Hwitsands, but if he is clever he know I go to Haeringtun instead. And if he is twice clever, perhaps he know I go to Hwitsands so not to go to Haeringtun. And so on!”

“Well, what kinds of enemies do you have, runt?” Sigefrith’s father asked Eirik.

“Every kinds,” Eirik sighed. “Now I see why your king he say a man must be more careful when he choose his enemies than his friends. So, next time I take only one kind. But this time I don’t know where to go. I suppose I go to Haeringtun since my ships is already there.” But Eirik shrugged and stamped his foot as if the idea did not please him.

“What do you think, Father?” Sigefrith asked.

'What do you think, Father?'

In only the few seconds Eirik had spent storming, his father’s gaze had already veered off onto those shadowy landscapes visible only to invalids. Nevertheless it appeared that the old lord was still clever enough to think about one thing while dreaming about another.

“Go to Haeringtun, runt,” he muttered. “Men are never as clever as we give them credit for.”

'Men are never as clever as we give them credit for.'