Ráth an Bheirt Bhan, Leinster, Ireland

'Who could that be?'

“Who could that be?” Synne asked upon hearing a commotion in the front hall.

“Or what manner of beast?” Cearball added.

Murchad’s half-​​finished phrase stuck in his throat.

Murchad's half-finished phrase stuck in his throat.

Certainly he did not intend to make a daily occupation out of superstition, as his late little sister had, but he dabbled in the field as a hobby, to the frequent exasperation of his wife.

Only that morning he had warned her that kicking a black cat out the back door was likely to bring catastrophe through the front, but to her mind a possible future misfortune could not stand against the actual present ruin of the pigeon pie she had intended for their dinner, and out the cat had been kicked.

Now it seemed the curse of black cats was upon them – in the form of a big brass dog.

“Brother Murchad!” Eirik beamed.

'Brother Murchad!'

Sigrid squealed, “Synne!” and Synne shrieked, “Sigi!” and there was so much sisterly squeezing and squirming that there remained nothing for Eirik but to bound across the room and plant a wet kiss on Murchad’s forehead.

“Muuuuurchad!” he whinnied. “My favorite husband of sister of wife! Thank you, but we just ate!”

'Thank you, but we just ate!'

“Good morning, Eirik, won’t you join us for breakfast?” Murchad asked wearily. Eirik’s visits were so much like week-​​long hangovers that Murchad always felt drunk with giddy relief when at last he left.

“And Synne! Look what I brought you for Christmas! This Murchad he can’t top that unless you have some prettier sister I don’t know.”

Sigrid patted the sides of Synne’s belly and snickered, “This Murchad looks likely to ‘top that’ any day now.”

'This Murchad looks likely to 'top that' any day now.'

“It isn’t supposed to come before Christmas,” Murchad protested weakly, though he dreaded not so much the arrival of this next son or daughter as he did the continuing presence of his brother-​​in-​​law.

“Anyway,” Eirik said, “I brought Skorri too. I think Aed he like a man with a snake tongue more than some stinky new baby, eh boy?”

Little Aed seemed to share his father’s feelings at this interruption of his morning routine, though the baby had the advantage of an outlet for them in the form of tears.

“So,” Eirik shrugged, “I give Sigi to Aed and Skorri to Synne instead. You won’t mind, Murchad. And what about you, Cornball? What do you want? A puppy?”

'And what about you, Cornball?'

“Ah, Cearball,” Cearball corrected.

“Siri! Forget about that baby and come meet my best friend Cornwall!”

“Cearball,” Cearball repeated. Eirik smacked him roughly on the back as he stood, but even this did not seem to perturb him. Murchad envied his cousin’s patience – but then his cousin was not married to Eirik’s sister-​​in-​​law.

Murchad envied his cousin's patience.

“So, Synne,” Eirik suggested, “you go meet my best friend Skorri while I introduce this strange man to my wife.”

Murchad did not know which way to turn, whom to introduce to whom. As Sigi bounced up he murmured, “Sigi, this is my cousin – ”

“Carnival!” Eirik cried gleefully.


“Cearball!” Cearball corrected.

Sigrid pulled Murchad along with her as she passed, and Murchad was grateful to be led. “Eirik,” she scolded, “you go introduce Synne to poor Skorri and let Murchad introduce his cousin.”

'You go introduce Synne to poor Skorri.'

“Aye, then, if you would…” Murchad began hopefully.

“Do you think I am crazy?” Eirik gasped. “Leave you with only this Murchad to defend you from Cowbell’s Irish eyes?”

“It’s Cearball…”

'It's Cearball...'

Sigrid giggled and leaned close to Cearball in defiance of the powers of his eyes, but when she was close enough to see well she gasped and stood up straight.

“What color are your eyes, sir?” she asked. “I should call them violet!”

“Ah… blue,” Cearball corrected.

“Eirik!” she squealed. “You never told me you knew a man with violet eyes!”

'You never told me you knew a man with violet eyes!'

Eirik wailed “What?” and grabbed Cearball by the chin to turn his head nearly all the way around. “Damn!”

Even the imperturbable Cearball was beginning to be ruffled. “What in the devil?” he gasped.

“I know a man with violet eyes!” Eirik squealed in imitation of his wife.

'I know a man with violet eyes!'

Cearball snorted and straightened his collar. “Are you liking that sort then?”

“I’m thinking they’re blue…” Murchad said, hoping to ward off whatever unforeseen danger violet eyes might present to his peace and quiet.

“Have you ever met my friend Alred, the Duke?” Sigrid laughed.

“Does he like violet eyes?” Cearball asked.

“He hates them! Synne! Didn’t you ever tell him? His eldest daughter is determined to fall in love with the first fairy tale knight with violet eyes that rides into her father’s court!”

'His eldest daughter is determined to fall in love.'

“That’s the Duke of Nothelm, in Lothere,” Murchad murmured in explanation. “Who was married to the daughter of Gwynn of Gwynedd, the one who was kidnapped…”

“Her cousin is a friend of mine, then,” Cearball said thoughtfully. “You were never telling me about such a lady,” he accused Murchad.

“So romantic!” Eirik gushed. “It is like Destiny!

“Eirik!” Sigrid laughed. “She’s not a lady–only a little girl. How old is she now? Twelve?”


“Twelve?” Eirik bellowed. “I think Gwynn she is fourteen at least. I just dance with her not a fortnight ago. And, so, she bounce in all the right places!” He awkwardly attempted to trace a girl’s curves with his hands all while jabbing Cearball in the side with his elbow.

Sigrid lifted her head high and stalked grandly past her husband. “I shall pretend I did not notice that you noticed,” she sniffed. “You darling boy!” she cooed at the baby, who began to whimper at so many strange happenings.

'You darling boy!'

Murchad longed to rescue him, as he himself longed to be rescued, but he knew Synne did not like to see any sign of shyness encouraged in the boy. It was just as well – it was unlikely Aed would be lucky enough to find another lion-​​hearted woman to take as his own wife.

“Aren’t you a faithful man to Mama! I never thought to meet you till you were old enough to come sailing in and break my little girl’s heart!”

“But what are you doing here?” Synne asked.

They all fell silent, even to the baby. Murchad felt a prickling in his scalp that made him think of curses.

Eirik laughed once, sharply, like a bark. “Damn! We make a small detour to Ireland so Sigi she can take a bath.”

'But what are you doing here?'

“A bath?” Synne tittered.

“She want a bath since days,” Eirik sighed. “Stuck on a ship with these two stinky men.”

Sigrid marched past him with the baby, laughing as if at some folly. “Come show me your house, Synn, and leave these men to their porridge.”

Eirik waited until the ladies had gone up the stairs. “Brother Murchad.”

All the merriment had drained out of his voice, leaving only the ringing brass shell. It seemed to Murchad a curse worse than a cat’s was on Eirik’s head.

“I come all this way to Ireland to talk to you.”

'I come all this way to Ireland to talk to you.'