'What is it, Sig?'

“What is it, Sig?” Synne asked hesitantly.

But she supposed she knew. There had already been some whispering and head-​​shaking among the ladies over the fact that Sigrid, who had been married over three years, had only one child. Synne always reminded them that Eirik had been away from her for a year all at once, and was frequently away ever since, but she herself was always reminded that a visit of a night or two was all it should take.

And today Maire had come with Ete and little Aileann, and there was Estrid and Dyrne and Daeglan, and Hilda and Dora and Blithe. There had also been Hilda’s growing belly, and Estrid’s greater girth, and Maire giggling meaningfully over the fact that she had finally weaned Aileann.

Synne feared that this array of toddlers and pregnant bellies was like a reproach to her.

Synne feared that, to Sigrid, who had only her young Olaf, this array of toddlers and pregnant bellies was like a reproach to her. A woman who had a son of nearly three should have had at least one other child by now.

Synne herself knew that Sigrid ought to have had one. Eirik had told Brede during their voyage to Denmark a year or two before that Sigrid was expecting a baby. He had never written to announce its birth, and they had come to understand that she had lost it, but Synne had never dared ask.

Now, after a laugh from Estrid about a particularly furious kick from her baby, Sigrid had come to hide in her room, and Synne had followed her. They sat on the couch before the cold fire, and Synne waited for Sigrid to speak. Sigrid seemed paralyzed; she had seemed on the verge of a sob ever since Synne had stepped into the room, but the sob would not come.

The sob would not come.

Finally she said, in a cracked and trembling voice, “Why did Eirik have to go away?”

Synne’s heart was briefly warmed at the thought that her sister might miss her husband after all. Their presence in her brother’s house had been awkward so far; Sigrid was stiff with her husband, and Eirik treated her much as he treated Brede: alternating sarcasm and clumsy affection.

But Eirik had gone away at the end of January, shortly after the disappearance of the two German knights. He had claimed a need to make a short journey to the Isles to manage a few affairs of his own, but the timing had provoked much whispering and head-​​shaking of a different sort.

However, King Sigefrith appeared content with the explanation, which was all the reassurance Synne needed. And Sigrid had seemed to take this latest absence of her husband as a matter of course. Until now.

'Do you miss him?'

“Do you miss him?”

“If he goes away, he will return,” Sigrid murmured.

“That’s right!” Synne said cheerily. “And he said he wouldn’t be long.”

“And he will ask me…” Sigrid droned. “About a baby…”

'And he will ask me...'

That was it, Synne thought. Eirik had left too soon, and now Sigrid must fear she would not have another chance at a baby for some time.

“Well, you shall simply tell him it’s his own fault for going away all the time!” Synne said. “He can’t blame you for that.”

Sigrid only stared at the cold fireplace as if even the ashes were a source of flickering fascination.

“Afraid to tell him bad news, Sig?” Synne asked gently. Synne had begun to fear that Eirik did blame her. Perhaps he was cruel to her behind this closed door.

'Afraid to tell him bad news, Sig?'

Sigrid shook her head slowly. “He will be so happy,” she said mournfully. “Sons, sons, sons. Babies, babies, babies. It’s all he talks about with me.”

“Happy?” Synne squeaked in confusion.

Sigrid took her hand. “Synn, it’s easier if he thinks I can’t conceive. It’s harder if he begins to hope and plan, and then I tell him there won’t be a baby after all. Do you understand? No, I hope you never understand.”

'No, I hope you never understand.'

Synne was moved to tears of her own at the thought of herself and Murchad in such a situation.

“If he is here with me,” Sigrid explained slowly, “he does not think or does not dare to ask. But if he goes away, he always asks as soon as he returns.”

“And you are afraid to tell him that you are expecting a baby, Sig?”

“I told you, it’s easier if he doesn’t begin hoping.”



“Three times it has happened, Synn. I’ve only been married three years, and had Olaf on the breast at the beginning, and Eirik was away so long at first… and in the two years since, three times, Synn.”

“But look at Olaf! A big, handsome boy like that! A man ought to have a little patience if a woman can give him such sons, that’s what I think.”

“I think I never shall again,” Sigrid said wearily.

'I think I never shall again.'

“What? Why not?”

“Hilda’s mother says it is a judgement on me.”

“What?” Synne gasped.

“Because Olaf was conceived in sin, the Lord closed my womb after him.”

“What?” Synne cried. “What a – what a cruel thing to say! Did she tell Eirik?”

'What a cruel thing to say!'

“Eirik was the one who read the letter to me.”

“Did you ever ask a priest about it?”


“Well, you shall! You shall ask Father Brandt, and he will tell you what nonsense that is. And he will help you to pray for your baby. That’s all. And we shall take good care of you, and keep you fat and warm and rested, and your next baby will be in your arms before you know it.”

'That's what Eirik said.'

“That’s what Eirik said,” Sigrid smiled faintly. “That’s why he brought me here.”

“So we could fuss over you? That was just the right idea. And, Sig! Think! If you have a baby on the way, he won’t dare to take you back to the Isles now. And you shall stay all year and have your baby here! And then you will have to stay again the winter!” Synne squeezed her. “Just what I need! Now I shan’t be lonely when Murchad goes away. And won’t it be fun to have the two babies around in the fall? Even if a little chaotic? All we need to make the chaos complete is for Uncle to come home and begin launching thunderbolts at Brede’s head again!” she laughed.

Sigrid laughed softly.

Sigrid laughed softly.

“There now! You see? You’re just as pregnant as you were when you sat down here a little while ago, but now you’re beginning to be hopeful a little yourself, aren’t you? And happy, a little?”

Sigrid attempted a smile.

“That’s all you need to do. Be happy, Sig. Then this baby will say to himself, ‘I think I shall come and have a look at this world, if it makes my Mama so happy!’”

“That’s what Eirik said!” Sigrid cried and choked as her sob finally came.

'That's what Eirik said!'