Ravenglass, Cumbria

Congal had already clammed up.

Congal had already clammed up by the time his “escort” shoved him into the warehouse where Eirik awaited him. That left the other man ranting for no apparent reason—and, since he was ranting in Gaelic, perhaps incomprehensibly as far as the three Norsemen were concerned.

The man was an Islander from one of the Hebrides, foreign enough that Congal’s favorite insults were novelties to him, and fool enough to take them personally. This was the sort of duel of words that Congal could win.

Eirik cut the man off in mid-​curse by asking coldly, “What in thunder is this?”

'What in thunder is this?'

Congal understood very little Norse, but he had been enough of a brat as a child to recognize the plaintive protest: some Norse approximation of “He started it!”

All eyes turned to Congal. Congal felt a drop of blood welling on his split lip, and he did not lick it away. All eyes turned back to the man who had driven him into the room.

Eirik stepped away from the shelf against which he leaned and stalked across the room, his gaze locked upon the face of his prey. The man was almost blubbering his apologies by the time Eirik reached him.

Eirik silenced him again with one sharp phrase.

Eirik silenced him again with one sharp phrase.

Congal recognized the words “our guests.” He finally sucked the blood from his lip.

Eirik sent the man out with an ominous-​sounding order, then turned to Congal. He tapped a fingertip against his lips as the man’s boots clomped away on the dock outside and faded into the din. Finally, behind his finger, Eirik smiled.

“Sorry about that. Small misunderstanding about the nature of our welcome.”

Congal barked, “Save it!”

Eirik started and dropped his hand. His smile fell away with it.

His smile fell away with it.

“Save your nicey-​nice! I insulted three generations of his family, and he lost his head and decked me. That’s fair. But I’m not your fucking guest, got that? You don’t own this town, and I’m not staying the night. I’m bringing you what you wanted, and then I’m moving on.”

Eirik listened patiently to Congal’s ranting, but at that point he held up a hand to stop it. He tossed a soft-​spoken order over his shoulder at Knut Coal-​biter, who was sitting beside Skorri on a pile of rugs.

Knut got up without a word for Eirik, but as he went out he called, “Heill, Congal.” Congal answered with a nod. He missed Knut as soon as he was gone.

Skorri asked in Gaelic, “What about me?”

'What about me?'

“You stay,” Eirik said. “Maybe you need to help carry out the body.”

“Whose body?” Skorri asked dryly.

“Don’t know yet.”

From where Skorri was sitting, Eirik’s voice gave every indication of a wink, but Congal saw the reptilian lack of mirth on his face. Taken together the effect was bone-​chilling.

Congal saw the reptilian lack of mirth on his face.

“I hear already you have my brother Brede and his men on your ship,” Eirik said. “I wonder about the other thing.”

“Right here.” Congal patted the lump in his coat: the mouth of the horn, right beneath his arm.

“Hmm?” Eirik cocked an eyebrow and lazily waggled his fingers at Congal, as if too bored to do more than feign impatience.

Congal ducked his head and lifted the flap of his coat. His nervous fingers fumbled with the knotted cords that strapped the horn against the lining. Was it going to be this easy? Hand over the horn and get out again? There were questions he wanted to ask Eirik, but he knew he would race through that door like a rabbit if given half a chance. If only he could open these damned knots!

Finally he jerked the horn loose, nearly turning his coat inside-​out, and handed it over to Eirik. As Eirik lifted it away, Aed’s ring clicked softly against the silver rim. Congal’s fingers grasped at the horn in remorse, but it was already gone. His arm fell against his empty coat.

“No profit will you be taking from it,” he warned, his voice low to hide its shaking. “You’re breaking the enchantment. It can only be given by a woman to a man.”

'It can only be given by a woman to a man.'

Eirik slowly turned the horn in his hands, studying the hunters and the stags that raced around the chased silver rim forever.

“So I hear,” he said idly. “But so! At least it still holds water. Ja?” He turned, grinning, to wag the horn at Skorri.

Skorri shrugged with his brows, unimpressed.

Oh, there were no jewels on it—even Old Aed’s horn was bejeweled—but it was a masterpiece of the silversmith’s craft, spare and flawless, with a motif as Celtic as stone carvings from the time of the gods. To Congal’s people it was as sacred as any crucifix or reliquary, and the Norsemen would not be satisfied with possessing it; they had to desecrate it as well. They were as pagan as ever. And Congal felt like a traitor to his race.

“Or ale?” Eirik asked, turning back to Congal. He stepped towards the barrels in the corner. “I never have a chance to drink from the horn of an Irish king before. Did you try it yet?”


“Drink with me?” Eirik asked, smiling insolently.

'Drink with me?'

Congal found his reply in the speech he had made Finn that night. Finn, Congal reminded himself, would not have let himself be so intimidated.

“Eirik, I would rather suck a raven’s asshole than drink with you.”

Eirik chuckled. “So! I would make an effort to oblige you, but since you are not my guest…” He shrugged and stepped out of the corner. “I don’t.”

He strode past Congal, heading for a chest on the opposite side of the room.

“Anyone else drink from it?” he asked.


“Not Aed?”


Congal folded his arms. It felt too strange to let his arms hang straight against his sides after hiding one horn or another beneath his coat for the last day and a half. He did not merely feel naked without it. He felt like he had lost a limb.

'Congal folded his arms.'

Eirik squatted to pull the chest away from the wall and open the lid. “Anyone else see it?” he called back over his shoulder. “Brede?”

“Nobody saw it but Aed, Gaethine, and my own self. Everyone else thinks it’s in the sea by now. We did everything you asked.”

Congal would let Eirik hear the whole story from some other witness. It would do him some good to learn he was not the only lord on the Irish Sea capable of doing the impossible.

Eirik let the lid slam shut and stood. “Knut!” he shouted, his back to the doorway.

Knut stepped in off the dock and peeked past the curtain. “Ja?”

Eirik gave him an order involving “my brother Brede,” and waited until Knut was gone again before turning to Congal. His brows lowered and he fixed his predator stare between Congal’s eyes. Slowly, sauntering, he approached.

“Where is Aed?” he asked. “Why is he not here?”

'Why is he not here?'

Congal swung out his left fist, causing Eirik to falter in his stride.

“Right here!”

Eirik padded up close enough to see the ring clearly. For the first time an unguarded emotion passed over his face, revealing itself in a wrinkle between his eyes.

“Where is he?” he asked. “Is he dead?”

“I don’t know, Eirik! Is he?” Congal’s voice was shrill. He was close to tears. If not for this one question he might already have fled.

If not for this one question he might already have fled.

Eirik asked, “Why—”

“Was he next? He kept his word to you! He sent me here in his name, to keep his word to you. And to tell you he will see you no more forever, but he will pray for your sons. Aye? So he’s kept his word to you, and I’ve kept my word to him, and now I want to know! He was alive when I left him, but now I want to know, Eirik! Was he next?”

Congal turned away to wipe the blood from his lip and brush his sleeve over his eyes.

Eirik waited until Congal was looking up at him again. “Next, for what, after what?”

“Next to die! After Diarmait and mac Nuadu! Weren’t your men telling you I’ve Diarmait’s body on my ship?”

“I heard that.” Eirik pinched his beard. He seemed to take his time thinking, only to come to the obvious conclusion. “So, you think I killed those men?”

'So, you think I killed those men?'

Thirteen brass dogs, Eirik! You had men in Ramsaa the whole time!”

Eirik made a playful frown and held up a hand to warn Congal to keep his voice down. Congal thought he spotted a mirthful glance intended for Skorri.

Congal shivered with pent-​up fury and fear. He was not even being mocked—he was simply a source of amusement. He had to get out of there. But Eirik had not answered his question.

“And just when—” Congal’s words came out in a sort of sob. He swallowed and started over. “Just when you’re getting Muirgius and Diarmait and mac Nuadu and Aed all together—all the lords of the sea between Galloway and Man in one place—and just when everyone is sleeping—and just when the tide is almost out and no one can escape—”

'And just when the tide is almost out and no one can escape--'

His lower lip was throbbing and he tasted blood. He spat watery red, and he stared at his own spittle on the dirty planks, though his empty stomach gurgled with nausea, because it was easier to face than Eirik. Eirik had not yet answered his question. But Congal could not bring himself to ask it again.

“How odd,” Eirik said thoughtfully, “that the horn did not blow three times to warn them.”

Congal looked up, horrified. Had it all been a misunderstanding?

Congal looked up, horrified.

“You’re out of your fucking mind! You do know Diarmait had a real horn for that? And the fucker just blew it whenever he wanted to go into battle?”

Congal glanced at Skorri, hoping for some assistance now that Eirik had revealed his mental state, but Skorri’s face was inscrutable as ever.

“So,” Eirik said coldly, “Diarmait made pretend magic with his horn. Just like how Skorri he make pretend magic with his apples. Pretend magic does work, too, no? Aed got in the fort on the day I say, didn’t he?”

'Aed got in the fort on the day I say, didn't he?'

Congal sucked his lip.

“I keep my word also,” Eirik said. “What Aed he do inside the fort, that is up to Aed. And so, what happen to Diarmait, that is up to Diarmait. If a man live by the sword, he die by the sword. If a man live by treachery, he die by treachery.”

Congal’s throat convulsed, and the pain brought tears to his eyes. Eirik had made a traitor out of Aed. Was that what he was supposed to understand? That Aed would have to die by treachery, too? Eirik had worn Aed like a glove and kept his own hand clean.

Congal's throat convulsed.

Congal shook his head and mustered up a Finn-​like defiant stare. “It’s plain to see you’re no farmer,” he said. “What a man sows, he reaps a hundredfold. And you’re a-​sowing treachery like a thistle in the wind.”

Eirik scratched his chin, staring at Congal out of the sides of his half-​lidded eyes. He looked nothing like a dog of any color. His stance, his every movement had the languor of a well-​fed cat batting lazily at a crippled mouse, more as a matter of feline duty than hunger or even boredom.

He looked nothing like a dog of any color.

Looking at him now, Congal thought he must have been imagining the unguarded look of surprise that had crossed Eirik’s face when he saw the ring. Or perhaps Eirik simply could not believe that Aed would choose an ill-​mannered imbecile like Congal for his heir. Congal could not believe it either.

Outside on the dock, something heavy fell and slammed, sending a flock of gulls scattering and screaming across the harbor. Congal hung his head, wondering whether Eirik’s men were unloading Ghost Wolf, prior to running Eirik’s yellow pennant up her mast.

Congal hung his head.

He wondered whether Eirik would take Aed’s ring for a trophy and take Sadb for a bride, or at least for a night. He decided Eirik would have to kill him first. At least Congal would have the fun of one last fight.

Eirik asked, “So, are you certain you’re not thirsty? We have no ravens, but I hear some nice gulls?”

Congal looked up. Eirik smiled like the most gracious of hosts.

Eirik smiled like the most gracious of hosts.

Congal was tempted to punch him in the gut and get right down to the beginning of the end, but the boards outside creaked beneath a pair of feet returning to the door, and they both turned their heads to listen.

Knut knocked on the wooden wall before peeking his head through the curtain. Congal understood little Norse, but between the words he knew and its similarity to English, he could grasp such a simple phrases as, “He won’t come, Eirik.”

Eirik’s long face went blank and white. “What?”

Knut stepped inside, shrugging an apology. “He said he doesn’t want to see you.”

'He said he doesn't want to see you.'

Knut glanced warily at Congal, perhaps wondering whether he understood. Congal picked at the dirt beneath his fingernail, pretending not to.

Eirik laid his hand limply over his mouth and stared at nothing with dull eyes. Then, catching himself, he smoothed his beard with his hand and turned away to saunter over into the corner.

“So tell him he may go.”

Knut hesitated. “All four of them?”

'All four of them?'

“Yes, of course.”

Knut glanced at Skorri and seemed embarrassed to find Congal in the room.

Congal asked, “What about me?”

He asked in Gaelic, but Knut was startled by this evidence he had been understood. Congal shrugged one shoulder as far as he dared.

“Go!” Eirik said harshly. “Take your ship and go.”

He did not turn, so Congal could not see what feline, reptilian, or merely human emotion crossed his face. His voice softened, and that was all Congal would ever know. But he answered Congal’s question.

“And tell Aed I wish him a long life, and many sons.”

'Tell Aed I wish him a long life, and many sons.'