'Ow!  The devil!'

“Ow! The devil!”

Kuntigern always talked to himself in Norse and usually dreamt in that language, but he still swore in Gaelic as his old master had.

“Be right with you!” he shouted to the person who was struggling to close the front door in its warped frame. “Just bang it shut!”

Immediately he heard it slam.

Kuntigern wrapped a towel around his hands and pulled the smoking mold clear of the coals. The visitor’s boot heels ticked across the flagstones as he strolled in from the front room.

“Just a moment! Hot work here!”

A deep, rich voice called back, “Take your time.”

'Hot work here!'

Although he did not recognize the speaker, something in the sound warmed his heart to glowing. He wafted the smoke from the lid of his mold with a vague sense that something agreeable was about to come to him.

“Last time I was here,” the voice said, “it was a tavern.”

“Still smells like piss and ale when it rains!”

They were speaking Norse.

The lid of the mold clanged shut, and Kuntigern slipped and tripped and cracked his head against the chair as he attempted to scramble away. It was a man’s voice, but he realized it had reminded him of Estrid.

Kuntigern slipped and tripped and banged his head.

His first terror of Sir Brede was dispelled when he looked up between his knees at the intruder. Of course, there was no reason why her husband’s voice ought to sound like her own rich, passionate voice transposed. This blond giant had to be her brother.

This blond giant was her brother.

The man stood breathlessly still until Kuntigern had stopped scrabbling. Then he dropped his hand from his mouth, revealing a long, pale face and a steep nose. Now there could be no doubt.

“Sorry about that,” Eirik said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

He bent and offered a hand. Kuntigern stared up at him, with quick glances right and left to calculate the distance to anything he might use as a weapon.

Eirik smiled. “I am beginning to think you know who I am.”

Kuntigern did not trust whatever it was that was making that bulge on Eirik’s hip beneath his coat, but at least he did not see a sword. It was said that Eirik’s sword was as tall as an ordinary man.

Eirik laughed. “Don’t worry! I’m not here to plunder your shop. Here.”

He stooped lower and stretched out his hand. Kuntigern did not move. What would he do? Pull him to his feet so that he could punch him in the face? Or slit his throat?

At last Eirik dropped his arm and stepped back. Kuntigern hurried to get his feet under him.

Kuntigern hurried to get his feet under him.

“My reputation,” Eirik said dryly, “is beginning to swell to an inconvenient size. Rather like that bump you just got there, I imagine.”

Kuntigern slid his fingers beneath his ponytail to rub the back of his head.

Eirik laughed. “At least you can put snow on that. Not that a clump of snow stands a chance in this place.” He fanned his face with his hand. “Sorry to surprise you. Unless you’re always that jumpy, in which case you might want to reconsider your wardrobe.” He pointed with his little finger at the hem of Kuntigern’s kilt.

Kuntigern tugged on the cords of his necklaces, as much to straighten them as to choke off the joke that nearly escaped him. He would fight like a man, even die like a man if required, but he would not allow himself to be tricked into letting down his guard.

“You do know who I am?” Eirik asked.

'You do know who I am?'

What was he supposed to say? Estrid’s brother? He muttered, “Earl Eirik.”

“So! You do know. But in Lothere I am simply Eirik. And how are you called?”


“Simply K?”


“Hmm. Short for something?”



“Simply K, my lord, if you please.”

Eirik laughed. “So! I shall tell the ladies I tried. Say, is it a Norse name or a Gaelic name?”

'Say, is it a Norse name or a Gaelic name?'

The quirk of his mouth was so droll that Kuntigern’s smile began edging upward in spite of him. It was too like Estrid’s!

“So,” he said, “my father was a Norseman from Dublin, and my mother was a Manx Gael.”

“Either or,” Eirik said. “Damn!” He pinched his beard and gave Kuntigern a quick head-​to-​toe inspection, no longer smiling. “From Catherine’s Well do you hail?”

Kuntigern swallowed and nodded. What had Estrid told her brother? And why? And what was Eirik going to do about it?

Eirik winked. “Good guess. I don’t think I’ve seen you at Saint Patrick’s or Saint Malew’s before, and it stands to reason a Manx silversmith will set up shop either near his customers or near the mines.”

“Near the mines, my lord.”

“Hmm.” Eirik folded his arms. “And why did you come to Lothere? No customers?”

'No customers?'

Kuntigern winced. His heart hammered away, and his limbs were tense, preparing him for a fight that was stubbornly refusing to come. Did Eirik mean to whack him about with his wits? Trap him into damning himself with his own words?

Eirik sighed and paced a few steps past him. His boots tapped across the floor like echoes of Estrid’s, though his boot laces were ordinary and undyed.

“Would you like to know why I came to Lothere today?” Eirik asked him.

Kuntigern had not even wondered. He expected Sir Brede back any day, once word of Finna’s death had gone abroad. He did not know how long such a message would take.

“I shall tell you anyway,” Eirik said. “I came in the company of two dozen widows and orphans from Ramsaa.”

Kuntigern looked up at him.

Eirik asked, “Have you heard what happened there?”

“We heard… rumors…”

'We heard... rumors...'

“They weren’t rumors,” Eirik said roughly, cutting him off. “Unless you heard that unicorns trotted up out of the sea and danced on the ramparts, everything you heard is true. Probably worse than what you heard. Perhaps the unicorns, too. God damn! Diarmait at least believes he has a magical horn.”

He stopped a moment before the curtains before turning to pace back.

“Have any children?” he asked Kuntigern.

“Uh, no…”

'Uh, no.'

“Hmm. You’ll have to use your imagination, then. Some of those ladies lost a child that night. Lost their husbands, then had their children ripped from their arms, either by the crowd or by the river.”

Eirik paced as far as the dividing wall and turned.

“One young lady lost her young man and her six-​month-​old baby girl that night. Her entire family. You’ve never seen anyone so alone. Now.” He stopped before Kuntigern and lowered his head like a bull. “Care to tell me why you came to Lothere?”

'Care to tell me why you came to Lothere?'

Sweat ran down Kuntigern’s temples as if Eirik were a greater source of heat than the fire at his back.

“Please, my lord, it was nothing like that…”

Eirik snorted with impatience. “I know that, since you are alive and here! Why?”

“I got out before something like that happened! So. That’s why.”

“What made you think it would?”

“When a lit torch comes crashing into your shop and sets the wall on fire, it’s usually a good sign it’s time to go!”

“How do know it wasn’t an accident?”

“That was no accident!”

“How do you know?”

“For the love of Macaille! What do you want to hear?”

“The truth, my good man! The truth! Do you think I have time to waste on you guessing what I would like to hear?”

'The truth, my good man!'

“It wasn’t the first time there was a little accident, that’s how! A little shove here, a little slop pail there… a little fine for supposedly weighting my scales… a little poison in my poor dog’s plate. That’s how!”

Eirik’s looming body straightened, and he blinked at Kuntigern with eyes that had gone mild. “I am sorry about your dog.”

“The Devil!” Kuntigern pressed his hands to his forehead. His arms were shaking. “Just tell me what you want from me!”

“What did you ever do to make such enemies?”




“What did those poor women do?” Kuntigern demanded. “Those women at Ramsaa?”

Eirik snapped his fingers, and Kuntigern jerked back, startled.

Eirik asked, “When was this?”

“When was what?”

“Your dog. The torch.”

“My dog died last summer. The torch, that was on the Feast Day of Martin.”

'My dog died last summer.'

Eirik snapped the fingers of his other hand. “November.”

Kuntigern blinked at him. “What?”

“I wish I had met you in November. You knew something I did not, then.”

Eirik bowed his head and strolled off towards the front door. His steps slowed the farther he went, and Kuntigern dared not hope he would simply leave. At least it gave him a chance to wipe his streaming face on the back of his arm.

At the far end of his pacing, Eirik asked, “Do you care?”

Kuntigern hesitated. His worries about Estrid gurgled up in him again. “About what?”

'About what?'

Eirik turned and headed back towards him, step by slowly tapping step. “About your country.”

“I am not a coward!”

Eirik kept walking. Kuntigern steadied his feet beneath him, preparing to push back. He did not dwell on the fate of his country, but it was not because he did not care. He had left friends behind. He had left his parents’ graves.

“Have you had news from Catherine’s Well, my lord?”

“No. But I have had news from the north: from Bride’s Hill, from Maughold’s Head, from Primrose Hill. And now you give me news from the south. News of things to come. And I ask you: do you care?”

'Do you care?'

Eirik stopped before him again. By now Kuntigern feared worse than being found out: he feared Eirik was here to take him away.

“I’m no warrior, my lord, I beg you!”

“I am told you are a silversmith.”

“Aye, and it’s all I am! I may look strong, but a man doesn’t learn to fight simply by beating silver! Silver doesn’t fight back!”

'Silver doesn't fight back!'

Eirik looked down at Kuntigern’s chest and quirked his mouth into another Estrid-​like smile. “Strong is one word for it. I was told you are a talented silversmith, but since it was a couple of ladies who told me, I ought to have asked what sort of talent they meant.”

Kuntigern backed away and shook his head, flinging a few beads of sweat loose to slither down his neck.

Eirik laughed. “You don’t know Lady Sophie if you think she noticed your metalworking.

'You don't know Lady Sophie.'

Would he not mention Estrid? Was it possible he knew nothing but that the ladies had discovered an Islander in the valley?

Eirik said, “I am not looking for a warrior, my good man. I am looking for a Manx silversmith who cares about what is happening to his country. Do you know where I can find one?”

His pale brows bristled above his eyes, but a light smile softened his expression into one of amused patience. In spite of himself Kuntigern could not help but like the man.

He said, “There’s one standing right here in my boots, my lord.”

“Does he work with brass, too, perchance?”

'Does he work with brass, too, perchance?'

“Of course.”

“Send him over here, then, with me.”

Eirik clapped his shoulder and strode over to the work table. Kuntigern lifted his boots and followed. He found himself shaky in the knees.

“It goes without saying,” Eirik said, “that you will not mention this job to anyone.”

“Uh, of course.” Kuntigern wiped his hands on the towel beside his table, wishing he dared dry off the rest of himself.

“Not even the King. Not even if he sends another of his knights here kilt-​shopping. Yes?”

“I don’t know what you mean, my lord.”

'I don't know what you mean, my lord.'

Eirik bestowed a grin upon him. “Correct answer.”

He lowered his head to open the purse on his belt, and his smile fell away.

“I need you to hurry,” he said as he fished through the purse. “I hope to leave on Saturday. I shall pay you well enough.”

He held up a small wooden carving, hand-​rubbed to a dim polish. It was a dog, grinning with his fangs, and sporting a jaunty curving tail. Eirik handed it over.

“I would like thirteen brass dogs along these lines. Can you do that by Saturday dawn?”

Kuntigern studied the little animal from all sides. “Thirteen is considered unlucky on the Island.”

'Thirteen is considered unlucky on the Island.'

“I believe it is unlucky everywhere. Thirteen is the number of Judas Iscariot.”

Kuntigern snorted. “Do they need to be identical?”

“Does it make a difference?”

“The difference between making a permanent mold and casting it thirteen times, and making thirteen clay molds and casting each once.”

“Hmm.” Eirik scratched his beard. “Do whatever is faster. But it might be amusing if they were all a little different. Only make certain they’re all just as doggy as a dog can be. And, I need not repeat, made of brass. Let there be no mistaking what they are.”


“Can you do this by Saturday? Today is Wednesday.”

'It shouldn't be any trouble.'

“It shouldn’t be any trouble.”

“That’s fine. So, will you have time to do something else?”

Eirik slipped his hand into his coat, and for a panicked moment Kuntigern believed he was pulling out the fatal weapon at last.

It proved to be nothing more threatening than a worn old drinking horn, capped with tarnished brass.

“I need you to refit this horn with silver,” Eirik explained. “The tip should be about the same. But the mouth needs to be about half again as wide, and with a toothed edge… a zig-​zag like so.” He traced the imaginary lines with the nail of his little finger.

Kuntigern wrinkled his nose and nodded.

“And there should be some sort of stamped pattern along the rim. It isn’t very important what it is. It simply has to look patterned. But it does need to look old. You can make the silver look aged?”

“Of course.”

Eirik laid the horn on the table. “So, that’s fine. Don’t bother making anything too fancy. You’ll never duplicate the original. What’s essential is that it look like the real thing from a distance.”

'What real thing?'

“What real thing?”

“You’re making the horn of Mael na mBo.”

Kuntigern opened his mouth in a silent “Oh…”

“So? Will you have time to do all that before Saturday morning?”

“I believe so.”


They both stared at the table top.

They both stared at the table top. The dauntless little dog snarled into the mouth of the horn, defying any dragon that might have dwelled inside.

Eirik asked, “You won’t need to destroy that dog, will you?”

“Not at all. I’ll just use him as a model when I’m carving my wax. But the wax dogs, sadly to say, are doomed.”

Eirik’s mouth quirked into a brief smile he did not seem to feel. “I would like to have it back on Saturday. Pinknose gave me that dog from his Noah’s ark, to carry with me since I can’t take my real dog on my ship.”

“I give my word, he won’t be harmed.”

“Harald Pinknose is my son,” Eirik explained. He added softly, “He is three years old.”

'He is three years old.'