Inis Patraic, Isle of Man

Skorri dropped the hem of his tunic and spun around.

Skorri dropped the hem of his tunic and spun around to snarl, “I’m in here!

But the intruder kept coming, followed by a second, the latter heavily draped in fabric that flapped in the wind like sails. When the door had been pulled closed behind them and the blond head came up, Skorri gasped in recognition, though he was wary enough not to cry aloud their names.

Eirik was looking a wreck: one eye was bruised and swollen and the other bruised and sunken; and his sleeve and tunic were splattered with dark blood – Skorri hoped not his own.

Eirik was looking a wreck.

But clinging to his hand was Sigrid, trim and tidy as a little boat in tow, as if Eirik had borne all the storm himself while she stayed safe in port. She seemed to be moving through a mist, looking so sweet and soft that Skorri would scarcely have recognized her without Eirik’s shadow upon her.

Then she cocked her head to peer out of it, eclipsing one bright eye with a darker veil, and Skorri realized that it was the first time he had ever beheld the great lady without all her heavy coils and braids acrown her head. He saw despairing that what he had said in the hall was not quite true: if any man beside her husband tangled himself in that hair, it was he who would be doomed.

Eirik roused himself and gave Skorri a crushing hug, rousing him, too.

Eirik roused himself and gave Skorri a crushing hug.

“Evening, Captain,” he laughed, blithe and hearty as a man merely coming in out of the cold.

“But – we–how?” Skorri stuttered in confusion.

“I tell you that another time,” Eirik said quickly.

'We were going to get you out of there!'

“We were going to get you out of there!” Skorri protested.

“So, we couldn’t wait.” Eirik shrugged as if it scarcely mattered – as if that unspoken, bloody struggle had been merely a brief bother. He busied himself rolling up his sleeve so the blood would not show, muttering, “Sigi wanted to see the stars, so I said, ‘Let’s go.’”

'Sigi wanted to see the stars.'

Skorri looked awkwardly from Eirik to Eirik’s wife. She still smiled placidly, as if it truly had happened in that way. Skorri knew she was not so naive. If she could smile so – if that mist of sweetness could still cling to her unpolluted – she could only have been remarkably brave.

Skorri had had a strong-​​looking wife who was cold and hard, and a soft-​​looking wife who was brittle and weak, but he had never loved the likes of Sigrid.

'Sigrid, I--'

“Sigrid, I – ” Fisherdaughter’s son that he was, he was forced to cast his nets wide for a courtly apology, and still they came back empty. “ – am sorry…” he mumbled.

“You needn’t be!” she chirped, but she shook her head briskly as soon as Eirik stepped away from her.

“Sorry for what?” Eirik asked dubiously.

'Sorry for what?'

“He called you a dog in front of everybody,” Sigrid explained before Skorri could do more than open his mouth.

Eirik smiled, but he stared at Skorri. “Don’t you?” he asked her.

“Everyone does. That’s why I told him he needn’t be sorry. Besides, he had to do it.”

Skorri held Eirik’s eyes for as long as Eirik wanted to look. Dropping that gaze at the wrong moment was the last thing several men had ever done.

Skorri held Eirik's eyes for as long as Eirik wanted to look.

Skorri feared that Eirik had seen down to the truth in spite of his bold eyes, but when he was permitted to look away, he found Sigrid staring at him too. Eirik might suspect, but Skorri could see she would never confirm his suspicions. And Eirik would believe Sigrid’s story, because whatever Sigrid declared was truer than true.

Whatever Sigrid declared was truer than true.

“So!” Eirik smiled, and the hand he laid on Skorri’s shoulder was merely easy and friendly. “We thank you for the key, but there was a light in the creek tower, else we would have left you to your important business…”

'We thank you for the key.'

He nodded meaningfully at the latrine seat.

“Those are my men!” Skorri whispered eagerly, ignoring Eirik’s teasing and forgetting even Sigrid now that there was man’s work to be done. “I had them watching for you! There’s a boat down in the creek with blankets and food for a week – ”

“Fine!” Eirik grinned.

“But you’ll never make it to shore in this sea!”

'But you'll never make it to shore in this sea!'

They paused, as sea men did when they spoke of her, both out of respect for her and to hear what she had to say. They stood directly over her even then, for the latrines opened over the face of the sea-​​cliff. Her booming voice far below hissed through the narrow hole with an intimate nearness, as if she had come up with her lips to whisper the threat of her jagged teeth.

Eirik inclined his head.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” Skorri said. “I was supposed to leave in two days, but I’ll go back in there and get into a fight with Leki so I have an ex – ”

“Leki’s here!” Eirik snarled. “God damn me if he didn’t have something to do with this!”

'Leki's here!'

Skorri took a breath and tried to collect his thoughts. Had Sigrid told Eirik nothing? Had they so shamed and terrified her that she dared not even tell her husband?

“Careful, Eirik,” Skorri murmured. “Try to profit from an old man’s experience: our true enemies are rarely who we think they are.”

'Our true enemies are rarely who we think they are.'

Eirik snorted, but again he inclined his head.

“So,” Skorri continued, “I’ll get into it with Leki – he has it coming to him anyway – and leave at dawn in a huff. And you can sleep in the creek tower with my men, and you can row out to meet me tomorrow. No?”

Eirik nodded absently, but his eyes darted about as he thought over it all. Then he leaned his head close to Skorri’s. “So long as they don’t notice we’re gone by dawn. If anyone goes to the round tower…”

'If anyone goes to the round tower...'

Skorri frowned.

Eirik lifted his shoulder to hide his mouth from Sigrid. “There are bodies…” he whispered.


Eirik grunted.

“I’ll do what I can,” Skorri sighed. “I’ll put someone in there so the place looks guarded. They’ll have to get out to the sea creek just before dawn, though.”

“Skorri, don’t – ” Eirik swallowed and tipped back his head. Skorri could not guess what he was thinking; Eirik was so tall that God alone could have seen his face at that height. When he lowered it again he whispered, “Don’t put any man in there who isn’t willing to die for me. We’ll take our chances.”

'Don't put any man in there who isn't willing to die for me.'

“Don’t worry about the men,” Skorri said. “There are more of that sort than you know.”

Eirik looked up on high again and sighed, and then down at Sigrid. Though she could not have heard, she smiled bravely at him, and he smiled wistfully at her.

“So,” Skorri said quickly, and loudly enough for Sigrid to hear, “take the key and go to the creek tower, but be in the boat while the sky is still dark. We’ll meet you in the gray dawn.”

“So!” Sigrid smiled.


“But I don’t know how to get you home,” Skorri added grimly. “I fear we’ll have to sail all the way around the Isle. If the King’s men see Snake-Tongue’s ships sailing south instead of north, they’ll be sure to search us.”

“Don’t worry about the King’s men,” Eirik muttered. “Let them sail north and south and all around the coast like little babies clinging to their Mama’s skirts. Snake-​​Tongue is sailing on the open sea.”

Skorri’s mouth dropped open. “In December?

'In December?'

“Can’t do it, Captain?”

Sigrid looked up at Skorri, but not with the frightened, questioning eyes of a woman who believed she was being led into danger, nor with the wide-​​eyed trust of a woman who did not see the danger at all. If Sigrid was brave enough to go out in a ship onto the dark December sea, who was Skorri to say it ought not be done?

“Of course I can… but where?”

“We sail westward, Skorri, like the night,” Eirik said. “To Ireland.”

'We sail westward, Skorri.'