'If the Lord God gave you two hands, it wasn't so you could use them both to hold your sword.'

“Hold your sword a moment, runt,” Sigefrith said. “I didn’t bring you out here solely to teach you how to use a shield, although it’s high time. If the Lord God gave you two hands, it wasn’t so you could use them both to hold your sword.”

His godson laughed. “If you know how to use a two-​​handed sword properly, you never need a shield. No one ever gets close to you.”

“You tried that on Alred, and you saw how long you lasted.”

“But that wasn’t fair–you can’t beat him, even with your shield.”

“Do you suppose that when Alred went into battle the enemy told him that it wasn’t fair?”

“They probably didn’t even have the chance to speak,” the boy laughed.

'They probably didn't even have the chance to speak.'

“I should get Alred to work with you. A little humiliation will do wonders. Listen, runt, in this country we fight with shields, and you shall learn to use one if you want to fight for me. You will need a shield if you fight from horseback in any case. I don’t know how you will tell your Norseman that his duty consists of carrying that thing for you. I wonder how wise it was of you to bring him.”

“But he’s my closest friend. A knight needs a squire he knows and can trust, doesn’t he?”

“I grant you that,” Sigefrith sighed. “But there is something that troubles me about the idea of sending you out with a younger man than yourself, and all the more so since I don’t know him yet. I have not been acquainted with a great number of sixteen-​​year-​​old knights, and those few had earned the rank on the battlefield. You, I need not remind you, earned it in bed.”

The boy blushed red and looked away. “I can fight.”

'I can fight.'

“I know you can. Otherwise I would have left you to your father-​​in-​​law, and good riddance. But I don’t want you to forget how this came about. Speaking as your godfather and as your lord, I should like to give you some advice. There are two things that are essential to a knight, and neither of them is knowing how to fight. That is only essential for staying alive.”

'That is only essential for staying alive.'

“Then it’s the most essential thing of all,” he laughed.

“The first thing is honor, boy, without which a knight might as well be dead anyway. And that is something you have already shown yourself to be sorely lacking. I can only assume that Tryggvason is terribly fond of you, for when I try to imagine what I would do to a boy who treated one of my daughters as you did his, I cannot imagine myself welcoming you home for a wedding. A funeral, perhaps, and by that I mean your own.”

“He wasn’t terribly welcoming at first,” the boy said, and his voice said a great deal more than his words.

'He wasn't terribly welcoming at first.'

“I find that reassuring. Do not forget, either, that you ran away from us to spite your father, without a word to your poor mother. Moreover, you had the impudence to make off with my gray stallion, for a mere palfrey was not fine enough for young Sigefrith, adding horse-​​thievery to your list of crimes.”

“I am sorry about all of that…”

“As far as the girl is concerned, I suppose you have already done the honorable thing. As for your father and mother, I hope you will honor them both hereafter, as a higher lord than myself once commanded. And as for my stallion, don’t expect me to mount you. I consider that I have already given you one of the finest horses in my stable, and if you lost it, then it’s up to you to find him or another.”

'If you lost it, then it's up to you to find him or another.'

“I shall find something – and I shall give you as nice a horse as your gray, as soon as I can.”

“Good luck finding one. Fortunately I got four foals by him this year.”


“Black at the moment. What is that to you? Like grays, do you?”

“I suppose I do.”

“I don’t. Glow like a beacon when there’s a moon. You might convince me that you’re ready to be a knight, but you have a lot to learn about being an outlaw, young man.”

'You have a lot to learn about being an outlaw, young man.'

“I learned quite a bit about that from Malcolm,” he said enthusiastically.

Sigefrith chuckled. “Watch your mouth, runt. I don’t believe he wanted his name mentioned. But we can talk about the virtue of discretion another time, for you have just reminded me of the second thing: Humility, another virtue you lack. I know how it is – I was your age once. Moreover, I became lord at eleven, and I was absolutely insufferable. Ask your father.”

“I shall,” he laughed.

“I thought that the Lord had created the world in seven days for my sole amusement, and was sorry He hadn’t arranged a few things better than He had. Humility is a hard lesson to learn, and I am still studying it. Now, I see you coming in here with your little wife whom you stole from her father, and your young friends, and you are thinking that you will be a knight, and you will have a house and lands, and you will have all sorts of interesting adventures, but there’s one thing you’re not thinking, and that is this: you don’t deserve any of it.

'You don't deserve any of it.'

Sigefrith paused and watched him as the words sunk into his mind. They seemed to take root; this was good.

“You are only a young fool. I heartily encourage you to appreciate and enjoy your many blessings, but I also suggest that you hereafter endeavor to be worthy of them. You won’t be any less a fool – you will only be an old fool instead of young. Look at me! But you will be clever enough to know you are a fool, and then you will be capable of doubting yourself and learning from others and from your own experiences. And remember that there’s a reason why the word humiliation sounds so much like humility. Next time Alred tosses you on your back, you won’t tell him it’s unfair, but thank him for the lesson, hear?”

'Next time Alred tosses you on your back, you won't tell him it's unfair, but thank him for the lesson, hear?'