Inis Patraic, Isle of Man

Sigrid had tied her cloak so tightly.

Sigrid had tied her cloak so tightly that her heart seemed to be battering itself against the knot in a frantic attempt at escape. Her shoulders and breast were covered safe and snug, but it only made the rest of her feel all the more exposed.

Beneath the knot, her cloak opened out over her cream-​​colored gown, and her gown and shift hung straight down to the floor, belling out around her legs. Since she had sacrificed her stockings to make herself a pad, her legs were left bare.

From her shoes to her waist she was naked, and her nakedness was only hidden by her gown – and only for now.

'We don't have to, Siri.'

“We don’t have to, Siri,” Eirik whispered. “So, I think we find another way.”

She smiled indulgently, as if he were only being silly. “I shall think of funny things,” she said, as they had decided.

Secretly she thought she would try to remember other nights, when Eirik had made love to her truly, and she would try to forget Osvald and pretend it was the same.

She smiled indulgently.

“So, don’t laugh at the wrong time,” he warned her as he had warned her before. “We men get our feelings hurt easy that way.” He winked impishly in an attempt to make her laugh even now.

She laughed.

For a moment his eyes twinkled at her with love, but then Osvald’s feet began to thump and scrape on the ladder.

Beneath Eirik’s lowering brows the light of his eyes blinked out, and his face hardened and hollowed into a stony look Sigrid had never seen on him before, nor on any living man – not even the expressionless face of the dead, but the merciless face of death.

His face hardened and hollowed.

She only saw it for an instant before he moved.

He did not leap at her or roughly shove her, but he brought all of his strength to bear, heaving her up like a heavy sack and pressing her back against the wall.

He heaved her up like a heavy sack.

She threw her arms around his shoulders and tried to tell herself it was only one of his hearty hugs, when he lifted her up to his height rather than stooping to hers. But he had also forced her legs apart with his knees, and even the toes of her scrabbling feet could find no floor. Already she felt the cold air on her naked calves.

And Osvald was watching.

Osvald was watching.

“Over here, honey,” he giggled.

He grinned at her as he slid his hand up and down the cold iron of one of the bars – Osvald could make even this simple gesture seem obscene.

Tendril by tendril his vulgarity was reaching through the bars to clutch her more tightly than Eirik. Sigrid moaned.

Osvald’s face lit up with the unholy merriment of one of his wheezing laughs. “I think she liked that.”

Eirik growled and leaned away from the wall, and Sigrid gasped in relief. It was already over.

But he simply hefted her higher on his hips and tipped her back against the wall again, yanking her dress up higher over her dangling legs.

Eirik simply hefted her higher on his hips.

The tip of Osvald’s tongue appeared between his teeth, a nubbin of obscene pink against the yellow-​​white, and his panting breath went on wheezing around it.

“He’s watching me!” Sigrid whispered frantically in English. “He’s staring at me!”

Eirik hissed, “So close your eyes!”

She closed her eyes, and still she saw Osvald leering at her, as if he were on the inside. “I can’t!” she squeaked. “I can’t!”

She closed her eyes, and still she saw him leering at her.

“Keep your mouth shut or I give you something better to do with it!” Eirik threatened loudly in Norse.

Osvald laughed like a baby.

Eirik cried, “Sounds like I even have someone here to keep that end of you occupied! Why don’t you come in, boy?”

Osvald grabbed the bars with both hands and leaned his face as far as he could between them. He was no longer laughing.

Eirik lifted Sigrid away from the wall again, swung her around, and pressed her back against the gate. The hem of her shift slid up to her waist, leaving nothing between her skin and his but the scratchy wool of his tunic.

He pressed her back against the gate.

Little it was: Sigrid was suddenly made aware that he was not pretending to, as they had decided.

This was no longer Eirik. It had been Eirik, but something had happened to him in that instant when she had seen the change in his eyes. He had snapped. He had gone mad.

She could not do it – not truly. She heard herself moaning, “No, Eirik, no…”

'No, Eirik, no...'

“It’s no, no, no, all last night and today!” he snarled. “Someone will see!” he squeaked. “Someone will see!

Osvald giggled, and Sigrid sobbed. It was not even true. Beneath the thin blankets, it had been she who had said she did not care who saw, and Eirik who had told her he could not.

“God damn! I might be executed tomorrow and she doesn’t want anyone to see! I ought to invite every man on this island down in here to see!

“She likes it,” Osvald said.

'She likes it.'

Eirik grunted and shifted her higher. “They all do.”

Osvald leaned his head close to Sigrid’s, close enough that her skin twitched and shuddered away from the heat of his breath.

“Just look at you now, Sigrid Brass-​​Bitch,” he purred.

Eirik’s right hand was groping roughly at his waist or hers, and his left was tight around her back. She knew the third hand that was sliding up the back of her bare thigh could only be Osvald’s.

The third hand that was sliding up the back of her bare thigh could only be Osvald's.

Sigrid was too horrified to scream – she could only clench her teeth and whine between them – but she struggled with all her might.

“God, she won’t – hold – still!” Eirik huffed as he tried to press her flat against the bars with his shoulders. “Come in and help me hold her!”

“Oh, no, no,” Osvald chuckled. “I hear Brass-​​Dog bites.” His hand lifted away from her leg to paw through the drooping folds of her gown and shift, no doubt searching for access to the part of her body that was still hidden by the sheer mass of fabric. “Let’s see what we can do through the bars.”

'Let's see what we can do through the bars.'

Sigrid heard her own voice bleating incoherently like a panicked ewe. Eirik slammed her back against the bars and clapped a hand over her mouth, sacrificing the arm he was using to hold her up, rather than withdrawing the hand that was fumbling at his belt.

Her gown was bunched up into a fat roll of cloth protecting her belly, but the rest of her was squeezed painfully between Eirik’s body and bars of iron. She had to cling to his shoulders or risk slipping down and cracking a rib.

“What do you want to do through the bars, boy?” Eirik snapped. “Come in here and help me!”

'Come in here and help me!'

Osvald slapped his hand on the back of Sigrid’s thigh again and slid it slowly up as far as the bunched fabric would let him. She could feel each of his fingertips gouging its own narrow groove.

He leaned his head near hers and murmured, “I can feel her.” His giddy, chortling laughter seemed to be entering her ears like a stain.

Sigrid could hear her own squeals even through Eirik’s hand. He lowered his head until his lips brushed her ear and growled, “Be quiet! Be quiet!”

Osvald giggled as if he had thought of a joke. “I know how to make her be quiet.”

'I know how to make her be quiet.'

His first hand clamped down painfully on the back of her leg, and the other slipped between the bars near her head, slithering through her hair and gliding past her face. His slow hand held the fascination of a serpent to a hare, and she stopped screaming – almost stopped struggling – merely to watch it with her eyes.

Then it disappeared, suddenly dipping below her chin, and his fingers jerked tight around her throat like a snare.

Eirik bellowed and flung her aside, though Osvald’s fingers clung long enough to thigh and throat to scratch and bruise them both.

While she choked and sobbed and shook down her skirts, Eirik was punching Osvald through the bars, over and over in the stomach, taunting him cruelly all the while. He laughed a horrifying, soft-​​pitched laughter that was like Osvald’s own giggling, but transposed onto a powerful, dangerous man.

Osvald doubled over and smacked his face against the bars.

Osvald doubled over and smacked his face against the bars, and then Eirik aimed higher and punched him in the throat. When Osvald seemed about to fall, Eirik grabbed his tunic with his other hand and dragged him up to the bars so that he could be punched twice in the face.

It all happened faster than Osvald could bleed, and Eirik was already tucking the bloody knife back into his belt by the time Sigrid understood that he had not been punching him but stabbing him – stabbing him over and over in the stomach, and slashing him across the throat from collarbone to ear, and jamming the short blade straight into his leering eyes.

The sight entered Sigrid's eyes like a stain she would never wash clean.

Osvald was laughing no longer, but his body still shook as if he was giggling. His cheeks were streaming blood, and his gaping mouth was full of red: red teeth, red tongue, and nothing in it was pink nor yellow-​​white. The sight entered Sigrid’s eyes like a stain she would never wash clean.

Eirik too had stopped laughing, but even from the side his face was terrifying, tense with hatred.

Even from the side his face was terrifying.

He reached through the bars to grope Osvald obscenely for a moment, like a final, brutal insult even as the young man stood dying. Then he roughly shoved him away, letting Osvald’s body slump to the floor, and he stood tall to shake his bloody fist at the heavens. Sigrid understood then what he had been seeking beneath the belt of Osvald’s tunic: he was holding a ring of keys.

She waited for him to turn to her, to smile at her, to apologize to her, to embrace her, to reassure her. Instead he opened the door and sprang on Osvald’s body, crouching over it to stroke and tug and prod at it. All she saw of him was knees and elbows, long bent limbs, and a blond head, like a creeping man-​​spider, still ruthless after the death of its prey, sucking it dry.

She began to hope he would simply acknowledge her – simply turn to look at her through the barred window or the open door. He had left her standing in the corner as if she had been forgotten.

She began to hope he would simply acknowledge her.

Eirik unbent his long legs and stood, and in his hand there was a new blade. It was too short to be called a sword, but it was long enough to pierce through a man’s eyes to the back of his skull.

“Come, Sigrid,” he growled. He had not even remembered to call her Siri.

Sigrid sucked away the tears that had collected between her lips and tottered after him.

He did not turn. After that first blood-​​chilling glimpse, he had never let her see his face.

She had not once seen his face.