Ramsaa, Isle of Man

'Well, it's about time!'

Brede locked the door behind him and shuffled in without a word of greeting.

“Well, it’s about time!” Eadred said. “We were starting to think you were kidnapped.”

“I was.”

No one said a word. Brede sniffled deeply and brushed himself off as if the chill of the shore wind clung to him in flecks of foam.

Finally Eadred broke into a laugh. “Leave it to me!” he said to Finn. “Now you see why I keep getting punched in the face every third or fourth time I open my mouth.”

Finn turned his eyes away from Brede long enough to grin at Eadred. But Finn’s father was grave.

'Were you really?'

“Were you really?”

Brede scratched the back of his head. “Well, not really. A couple of men from the Maughold’s Head party got me alone and carted me off a ways to have a chat with me.”

Brede strode slowly into the room, his gaze fixed on a point on the floor that seemed to be creeping away.

“You all right?” Finn’s father asked. “You look a little roughed up.”

Brede sniffled and looked up. He rubbed his throat, perhaps unconsciously, but he said, “No, I’m all right. My brother-​in-​law sent them. And he usually likes to rough me up himself.”

“Eirik?” Eadred gasped.

Brede snorted. “It certainly wasn’t Murchad. And I don’t know who else would have sent this.”


Brede unbuckled his belt. His surcoat bulged slightly above it like a pocket of lumpy belly fat, but it fell flat as soon as the belt slackened. A cloth sack fell to the floor between his boots and landed with a clink of bits of metal.

Eadred asked, “What ho, coin?”

Brede picked up the sack by its corners and spilled its contents onto the bed between Finn and his father. Amidst the glinting jumble Finn spotted a few legs sticking out, and then a few grinning, fanged jaws.

“Brass dogs,” Brede said. “Should be twelve of them there.”

'Should be twelve of them there.'

Finn’s father tossed one of them to Eadred and picked up another for his own study.

Finn counted out the others in his head: once in English, and a second time in elven to be certain. “Twelve,” he announced. He picked up the last one to look it over himself.

Finn’s father frowned into his dog’s toothy face. “What the devil are we supposed to do with these?”

'What the devil are we supposed to do with these?'

“We’re supposed to hide them where Diarmait will find them,” Brede said. “One a day, starting tomorrow. Don’t ask me why, because Eirik neglected to mention that part. Perhaps he didn’t want those men to know too much. And don’t ask me what’s supposed to happen when we’re out of dogs.”

Eadred laughed. “Is this supposed to be a joke on Diarmait or on us?”

“Or a warning?” Finn’s father asked. “Or a threat?”

“Perhaps it is a sign,” Finn said. “Perhaps Diarmait and Eirik agreed on one.”

“Or a spell?” Eadred suggested. “Rub twelve brass dogs together, and Eirik appears?”

“Why twelve?” Finn asked.

'Why twelve?'

“I don’t know. The twelve months? The twelve Apostles?”

“The twelve days of Christmas?” Finn asked, grinning.

Eadred laughed. “My true love sent to me? It’s a little late for that. Maybe it’s some Gaelic thing. Or superstition. Do you know any, Egelric?”

Finn’s father shook his head. “No. There’s a lot of evil around dogs, but not about twelve dogs, that I know of. But if there is one, you can be sure Diarmait knows it.”

'If there is one, you can be sure Diarmait knows it.'

Eadred said, “That’s for sure. Diarmait’ll make up a new one if there isn’t. I always thought Murchad was a superstitious kid, but Diarmait beats all.”

“What’s the date, twelve days from tomorrow?” Finn’s father asked.

They all looked to Brede. Brede was the only one among them for whom dates might still have meaning. Brede was the only one who still got near Diarmait, who still saw glimpses of letters and journals and men from abroad. Brede was the only one who still had evidence that there was a world outside the fort of Ramsaa.

But Brede stood with his back to them, staring down at an immobile spot that seemed to be cowering in the corner.

Finn’s father asked, “You all right?”

Brede responded to the change in tone and turned suddenly. “Sorry. What?”

'Sorry.  What?'

Finn’s father looked at him for a moment. “We were just wondering if it’s not the twelve that’s important, but the date twelve days from now. You know it?”

“Today is the nineteenth. Twelve days… ” He winced as if his mental calculation had caused him pain. “No, I don’t know whether it’s important. We’re simply supposed to do as we’re told.”

Brede looked defeated—exhausted by a task that had only just begun. Brede: who was always on guard, always the first to doubt and protest and question.

“Are you even sure this is Eirik’s doing?” Eadred asked. “What if it’s a trap—for us? Didn’t he give those fellows some proof they were sent by him?”

'Didn't he give those fellows some proof?'

Brede said, “He sent me news from Lothere. He was just there, only a few days ago.”

They all fell silent. A little brass dog clinked against another, dislodged by some slight movement of the mattress as Finn or his father unconsciously leaned closer.

“They said Maire died on the last day of the year. But we knew that already.”

“Everybody knows that by now,” Eadred said. “That doesn’t prove anything.”

Finn’s father grunted. “If they say it, maybe that proves they don’t even know what news has reached us here yet.”

“Oh, no! Not more of your ‘they don’t know that we know they know’ brain-​twisters! What else did they say?” He looked at Brede.

'They said my daughter's dead.'

“They said my daughter’s dead.”

The phrase was short enough to fit in one breath, so Brede managed to say it simply and calmly.

The next breath caught in his throat, and he choked, “Finna.” Afterwards his breath went ragged, and he spluttered, “She was always—Papa’s girl!”

He wrapped his hand around his own throat, and his face contorted into a grimace so terrible that Finn thought tears would have been less revealing of his feelings. But no tears came.

Finn looked to Eadred and to his father, horrified, hoping to see what men said and did in the face of such grief. After Lili’s death Finn had never even managed to tell his father the “I’m sorry” Conrad had recommended him. Not because he thought the words too meager—though he did—but because he was too shy.

He was too shy.

In the first instants both Eadred and his father looked down at the brass dog each still held in his hand, giving Brede a sort of privacy in which to recover his composure.

Then Finn’s father tossed his dog atop the pile. “That’s just inhuman,” he muttered. “Whether it’s a lie or the truth. Especially if it’s the truth. I can’t believe your brother-​in-​law would want you to learn it that way.”

Brede shrugged a shoulder. “But my brother-​in-​law is Eirik.”

“He’s that baby’s uncle. He’s her mother’s brother. Why would he send you such a cruel message and not even give you certain proof that it’s true?”

Brede flapped his limp arm against his hip. “He wants me home with Estrid as soon as possible. There’s no cruelty he wouldn’t do me if it meant sparing Estrid any pain. And…” Brede’s voice broke, and his lip trembled. “I’ll endure anything if it helps her.”

'I'll endure anything if it helps her.'

Again the men looked away from the raw emotion on his face. Finn’s father scowled at the pile of brass dogs beside him, and Eadred lifted the little dog he still held and studied its belly.

“I don’t believe Eirik had anything to do with it,” Finn’s father grumbled. “I think someone is trying to incriminate us. Or at least use us. And I think they told you what they did because it was a way to keep you from thinking straight and seeing through it.”

Brede looked up. “Do you think?”

“That’s what I think. And I’ll be damned if I let myself get mixed up in some other conspiracy I had no intention of committing. Who were these men? Norse or Gaels?”

'Who were these men?'

“Gaels,” Brede admitted. “Is it even possible that Eirik could still have men loyal to him at Maughold’s Head?”

“Maughold’s Head was the first to bow to Diarmait.”

“But how would they know my daughter’s name?”

Finn’s father hesitated. Brede’s face contracted as the sandcastle constructions of his intellect gave way to another tide of pain. This time Finn’s father did not look away.

“Lad, everyone who has ever sat near you at dinner or walked out with you on a watch knows the names and ages and favorite tricks of all your babies. It doesn’t prove anything.”

“Uh, gentlemen?” Eadred interrupted, still staring at his dog. “I think these might be the real thing. I think they might be the proof right here.”

'I think they might be the proof right here.'

Finn’s father scowled at him, creasing his gaunt face into deep folds, but he picked up another dog. “Why?”

“I think they were made in Lothere. Look at the mark on the inside of the hind leg. A K inside a circle. That’s the new silversmith’s mark.”

Finn flipped his dog over and looked. “Shirtless K!”

Eadred gave him a half-​smile. “He showed me his mark, trying to prove his name was just K.”

Brede picked up a dog at last and inspected it.

Finn’s father still frowned. “Isn’t he a Manxman himself? What if he’s some kind of spy?”

'Isn't he a Manxman himself?'

Eadred chuckled. “He sure didn’t act like a spy.”

“Do you think a spy ever does? Do you really think Eirik knew we would know the damned metalsmith’s mark?”

“Oh, no, not your ‘did he know we knew what we knew’ nonsense again…”

“The Devil! I’ll tell you when I start speaking nonsense!” Finn’s father dashed his dog down to clank atop the others.

Brede whimpered, “What should we do? What should we do?”

Finn’s father quieted and looked up.

“Should we bury these things and forget we ever saw them?” Brede asked. “Or should we believe the whole story and do as Eirik asked?”

Eadred stood and tossed his dog in a glinting arc onto the pile.

Eadred stood.

“Well,” Finn’s father said, “what would you have done if they hadn’t told you that thing about your daughter?”

“I don’t know. I can’t…” Brede paused to breathe in gasps through his gritted teeth. “I can’t even imagine that world any more.”

Eadred laid an arm over Brede’s shoulders, never looking Brede in the face. Finn watched closely. This was something he thought he could do.

Finn watched closely.

“If we do what they say,” Brede panted, “it—it means I think she’s dead. But I can’t—go on like this. For weeks or months without any news. Now that I have this—fear in my gut.”

“You give the orders, Brede,” Finn’s father reminded him. “We’re behind you, whatever you decide.”

Brede took a sobbing breath, and another wash of pain ebbed away, leaving him calm. But there was something new in his expression: a little wrinkle between his eyes, like a frill of gray foam marking the new height of the tide.

“I’ll do it,” he said at last. “I’ll do it. And I’ll take all the blame if it’s a trap. And if it is… at least I’ll die knowing my baby still lives.”

'At least I'll die knowing my baby still lives.'