'Brede!  What are you doing?'

“Brede! What are you doing?” Estrid panted.

“What does it look like?” he groaned.

It looked like a midnight storm on the sea. In his unsteady hand the candle sloshed streaks of lurid light over the tapestries and walls. Estrid sat up, and a pool of shadow welled up between her knees.

She sat up.

“But – but what are you doing here?” she stammered in confusion.

“It’s my God damned house!” Brede barked.

“I know, but…”

Estrid stopped to draw a breath and collect herself. Brede was home – and why did that seem wrong? She pulled her knees up higher, and an unfamiliar ache cramped her inner thighs. K.

She pulled her knees up higher.

“So, I thought you would be sleeping at the castle again,” she said weakly.

With a drunk’s intense concentration Brede placed the candlestick atop the high chest. Then he slumped into the chair beside him, belched softly, and sighed in weary relief. Estrid’s stomach lurched.

Then he slumped into the chair beside him.

“I’m not staying out two nights in a row,” he grumbled. He spread his legs and sank his head almost between them as he leaned unsteadily down to untie his boot laces. “‘Citement’s over anyway,” he slurred. “Now we just wait’ll Domnall gets back to find out what her father has to say. Or she talks.”

Estrid whisked the blankets aside and slid her feet over the edge of the bed. She felt another twinge in her legs, and she paused to stretch languorously against it. The ache did not alter her stride so far as she could tell, but she felt it with every step – and she had reveled in it all the day, as though her lover’s strong hands were still holding her thighs.

Then she rounded the bed curtain and saw Brede again.

Then she rounded the bed curtain and saw Brede again.

“So, did Domnall decide to go?” she sighed.

Brede grunted in agreement and shakily lifted one foot off the floor just long enough to allow him to pull off his boot.

“Isn’t he eleven or something?” Estrid asked.

“Twelve, I think,” Brede mumbled. “Not alone. Had one of the guards with him. Cousin or something.”

Estrid leaned against the chest and watched him fumble with his other boot, trying to judge just how drunk he was. Thoughtlessly she twisted one of her braids over her fingers and brought it up near her nose – and smelled K.

Oh why, oh why had she not taken a bath? It seemed the height of folly now – like a giddy, love-​​struck, Gwynn-​​like maid’s solemn oath that she would never wash the hand he had touched again

Oh why, oh why had she not taken a bath?

“So… how’s Aengus?” she asked.

Brede brought the back of his hand to his mouth and belched softly again. As always, Estrid held her breath a moment, waiting for the smell of sour wine to dissipate, though she stood well back.

“Don’t know,” Brede grunted. “Haven’t seen him.”

He planted his hands on his knees and pushed himself painfully to his feet, his back hunched, his head hanging, looking except for the glossy chestnut of his hair like a man forty years older.

He staggered a step or two towards her, and Estrid darted around him to pick up his boots. Proud as she was, sometimes she tidied up after him as he shambled towards his bed, in the hope that he would have passed out by the time she lay down beside him. Tonight it was urgent he did. She would take a bath first thing in the morning. She would never be this stupid again.

“What about Egelric?” she asked.


“Did they arrest him or what? I thought he raped her.”

“What in God’s name do you know about that?”

'What in God's name do you know about that?'


“Who’ve you been gossiping with today?”

“So, I…”

At any other time Estrid would have done her most artful best to make him believe – without quite lying, for she knew what would happen if she were caught – that Sophie had stopped by, and she had not left the house herself. But today Sophie was her alibi.

“…I went to see Sophie…”

'I went to see Sophie...'


Brede whacked the chest with the back of his hand – out of drunken clumsiness or drunken fury or some combination of the two.

“How in God’s green name does Sophie know about it?”

He grunted and staggered and yanked at his half-​​unlaced tunic as if he could not bear another second of it, or as if it were the only thing stopping him from giving her the thrashing she deserved.

He grunted and staggered and yanked at his half-unlaced tunic.

“Sophie has her ways…” Estrid said.

“I thought Sophie’s ways consisted of coming here and getting all the good gossip from you!”

“So, sometimes our ways meet half-​​way,” she tittered.

She had succeeded in mentioning Sophie; now she only wanted to soothe him and get him into bed. Perhaps she could check on the children…

'So, sometimes our ways meet half-way.'

“And sometimes they meet at Bernwald,” he sneered.

He clumsily tossed his wadded tunic and shirt behind his head and steadied himself against the chest with his elbows. The candle flames bobbled like little men on the decks of pitching ships, and the wavering shapes and shadows in the room made Estrid feel momentarily as drunk as he.

He veered about and leaned into her face, and the gust of his wine-​​sour breath blew her back.

“Well you can tell Sophie–

Estrid ducked beneath his head, grateful for the excuse of his crumpled tunic on the floor.

Estrid ducked beneath his head.

“ – to meet your ways here! In this house! And tell Sophie a woman who killed her own husband had better heed the beam in her own eye! She could build a whole God damned ship!”

Estrid whispered, “Brede…”

Brede laughed drunkenly at his own joke till the walls rang. “A whole God damned navy! Name of God!”

“Brede, the children…”

As soon as she stood his expression veered sharply into a malicious sneer, as though an ill wind followed her wherever she blew.

“We didn’t arrest him ’cause he didn’t do anything against the law!”

'We didn't arrest him.'


“She came to his bed in her nightgown once, and he told her not to come back or it wouldn’t be rape! So what did she do?”

His pause was not merely rhetorical. He always expected her to answer his questions while he raved, and was never more gleeful than when he could call her wrong.

“I don’t know,” she said dully.

“She came back! In her nightgown! So what’s a man supposed to do?”

'She came back!'

Estrid looked desperately around for something else she could put away, something she could straighten. She considered turning down the sheets for him, to remind him he had meant to go to bed, but she feared what he would do if she bent over while he stood behind her.

Suddenly she realized he was waiting for an answer. She could not even remember the question.

“I don’t know…” she whispered.

“Well, give her what she wants!”

'Well, give her what she wants!'

He wrapped one arm around her waist and the other around her legs, and his sweaty, unshaven cheek dragged painfully over the bare skin of her breast as he slipped down to thump onto his knees.

“Some women like it rough!” he announced. He lurched and swayed, clinging to her legs as to a mast in a storm.

“Brede!” Estrid lost her balance and barely caught herself with one hand on the edge of the chest.

“But not you, Puss!” he crooned. He rubbed his cheek down her thigh like an enormous, sweaty, sloppy cat – he had only to turn his head to bury his face in the cleft between her legs. Oh why, oh why had she not taken a bath?

“Brede!” Panicked, Estrid arched her body and smacked her hand back against the wood to get his attention, as she did her dogs.

Brede slid his hands up to her hips and squared his feet firmly enough on the pitching floorboards to heave himself up by her pelvis.

He dragged his body up the front of her as he went.

He dragged his body up the front of her as he went, smashing her breasts, and smearing the sweat of his chest up the bodice of her pretty nightgown. She imagined every touch of his skin as a faint, yellowish stain, as if he oozed fermented ale.

Wild-​​eyed, he panted, “He knew just what he was getting!” – blasting Estrid with another gust of sour breath. She turned away in fright and revulsion, and beneath his clinging hands her body twisted itself up in her nightgown like a windlass, winching her hem up high above her bare feet.

She turned away in revulsion.

“If she cheated on Magog, why wouldn’t she cheat on him?”

Estrid hiccuped, “Brede!”

“Once a slut, always a slut! Always marry a virgin, that’s what I say!”

His fumbling arms woke to one purpose – one hand stroked and squeezed her breast till it peeked out of the bodice of her gown, and the other slid tautly down her stomach on a tacking course to the delta between her legs.

Instinctively Estrid sensed the instinct he had awoken in himself, and the hair rose on the back of her neck where his wine-​​fouled breath blew. He was remembering their wedding night, when she had been small and shaking and necessarily in awe of him, and he mighty and confident and necessarily more man than she could take. He was remembering that moment of supreme domination – of utter possession – the instant he had torn her body open in the shape of his.

His fumbling arms woke to one purpose.

Instinctively she knew the power that memory had to arouse him, and she knew she would not be able to slough him off into a lonely bed on some pretense of folding his leggings or checking on the children.


He kissed her neck down the same sensitive path K’s warm lips had laid – but Brede’s were sloppy, sucking kisses that she imagined as a trail of burgundy-​​tinged slime.

She shrieked, “No!” and jabbed her elbow back into his ribs.

He roared like a wild hog and released her, but when she tried to slip away he threw her against the chest and blocked her path with his arms.

“Bitch! Don’t you try to get away from me!”

He threw her against the chest and blocked her path with his arms.

Estrid sobbed and blubbered beneath him. The tall chest rocked once against the wall, and the candlesticks atop it all tottered in time – Estrid heard their silver feet clattering on the wood as they struggled to stand. She cringed into a hunchbacked ball, waiting for one of them to tip onto its side and pour its creamy white wax all down her shoulders – and for a moment she let herself imagine that she would run to K, and show him her burns, and say, “This is what he did…”

But the candles all righted themselves on their weighted feet, and she only whimpered, “The children…”

“If you don’t want the children to hear then you shut up, or I’ll give you something to scream about!”

'I'll give you something to scream about!'

Estrid shook her head in defiance of him – and of his reeking ugliness, and his weak-​​willed vulgarity – and of his sweat-​​stained shirts and his chamber pots and his crusty handkerchiefs and his basins of vomit and his breath and his everything – his everything she despised – but Brede only seemed to believe she was agreeing she would not scream, and he snorted and stepped back and brushed himself off.

He took her by the shoulders and slightly shook her, and then he slid his hands down her sides, looking her over, trying to remember where he had left off. His panting breath moved from high in his chest down into his diaphragm as his wrath settled back into deep lust.

Estrid knew she had lost. She was small and shaking and still rather in awe of him. He was a strong man, and when he drank he was more than she could take.

Estrid knew she had lost.

He pushed her hands aside and slid his thumbs beneath the finely smocked trim of her bodice. With his fingers he awkwardly groped at her, seeking to pop her breasts free of the gown. Estrid shrugged and tried to help him, fearing he would simply tear through it if she did not, but before they succeeded he gasped and pushed her off.

“What in God’s name is that?”

Estrid opened her eyes in wide panic.

Estrid opened her eyes in a panic.

“On your chest! A rash!”

“A what?”

“A rash! Look!”

He clumsily snatched up a candlestick to light the tops of her breasts, and the white gobs of wax it spilled along the way stopped just short of her hem on the floor.

“Brede, put that down!”

“Damn it! Sorry! Look!”

The candlestick clattered onto the chest again, and Brede took her by the shoulders and shook her.

“God damn it! It looks like measles!”

Estrid gasped, “Measles?” She could not pronounce the terrible word in more than a whisper. Oh, her babies!



At last he let her still enough to look down at her chest. Her skin was mottled pink, and where her breasts peeked out of her gown it was marked with red patches of tiny blisters. She had not noticed it before, but suddenly it itched horribly.

Brede slapped her hand away. “Don’t scratch it! What about the children? Do they have it?”

Still stunned, Estrid mumbled, “I don’t know…”

“What in God’s name do you mean–I don’t know! Why don’t you know? Are you their mother or what? Did you even see them today, or did you spend the whole day running around and gossiping with Sophie?”

'Did you even see them today?'

“So, I mean no,” she said, rousing herself now that her love for her babies was being questioned. “I spent the whole afternoon and evening with them, and had supper, and so, everyone was perfectly well and perfectly white. So I don’t know, it means no.

Brede scowled defiantly at her for a moment before snatching up the candle again and stomping for the door.

“Brede! Don’t spill wax on them!”

Brede flung out his arms and succeeded in splattering wax on the wall. “I’m not going to spill wax on my children! Jesus Christ! What do you take me for?”

Estrid did not answer, neither in her mind nor aloud.

Estrid did not answer.

What was wrong with her? She lifted one breast out of her bodice and found it spattered with rash all the way around. She felt a little muddled and feverish – and suddenly she was itching all over, neck and breast and arms.

What had happened to her? Like a fool she had gone out naked but for her scarf and cloak and boots, and she had caught her death cantering over the downs. Her aunt had always threatened as much if she forgot so much as a mitten.

“They’re all fine,” Brede said as he returned. His legs were still unsteady and his bare feet did not quite fall in a line, but his voice was higher and sounded more like a sober Brede.

He set the candle back on the chest and meekly looked her over.

He set the candle back on the chest and meekly looked her over.

“Are you…” He took a breath and began again, “Didn’t you ever have the measles, Puss?”

Estrid shrugged her limp arms. She felt so weary now.

“I don’t remember,” she said. “So, I was small if I had. Eirik, he would know.”

Brede patted her face with a hand little more graceful than a paw.

Brede patted her face.

“And I was squeezing the stuffing out of you and kissing you, and you were trying to tell me, weren’t you? That you’re not feeling so well, are you, Puss?”

Estrid sighed. She would not deny it now, since he so earnestly believed it, but she found the irony cruel. In times past she had learned the folly of trying to tell Brede she was “not feeling so well” – even when she was feeling truly not so well at all.

“Can I get you anything? A cup of soup? Or some hot wine?”

Estrid grimaced, nauseated by the very thought. All the while he steamed her face with his sour breath.

He stroked his other hand down her arm and took her hand. “You just want to sleep, don’t you, Puss?”

'You just want to sleep, don't you, Puss?'

She nodded wearily.

“You just wanted to sleep and I came bumbling in here and woke you up.” He sighed and pulled up her hand to kiss the backs of her fingers. “I’m sorry, Puss,” he murmured. “You go back to bed. I shall just go sleep downstairs and leave you in peace.”

He waited for a moment for her to respond. Estrid watched him blankly, set adrift without rudder or oar.

He leaned in and kissed her cleanly on the lips.

“Good night,” he whispered.

Dutifully Estrid lipped, “Good night.”

Brede went out on a veering course, like a ship dodging shoals no one could see. Estrid listened to his heavy steps thumping all the way downstairs.

Downstairs, to pour himself another drink.

Estrid listened to his heavy steps thumping all the way downstairs.