'Good morning, young runt!'

“Good morning, young runt!” Sigefrith cried.

Eirik looked up from the fire and grinned.

“How tall and how old do I have to be before I stop being a young runt?” he asked.

'How tall and how old do I have to be before I stop being a young runt?'

“You will always be younger than I. And you are far shorter than I at least for a few moments, at least once a day, as far as I know.”

“You think I get down on my knee every day whether I see you or not?” Eirik laughed as he knelt to the King.

'You think I get down on my knee every day whether I see you or not?'

“As I said, as far as I know. I’m not Father Aelfden, to be taking the Unseen into account along with the Seen.”

“But Father Aelfden he say also that time is an illusion, so older is nothing. And I am taller than you when I stand.”

“And uglier and stupider.”

“And faster and stronger.”

“I don’t believe that!”

'I don't believe that!'

Eirik punched him lightly on the shoulder to demonstrate.

“Didn’t even feel that!”

“I would hit you so you feel it, except my wife she tell me I’m not allowed to beat on her family. Except for my brother Brede.”

“A fine excuse!”

“But my sword is bigger than your sword!” Eirik grinned.

“I have long said that the only reason you and Sigefrith have such tremendous swords is to make up for the laughable puniness of some other weapons of yours.”

'Perhaps it's true, but also I think that's the only reason why you have a sword that is so hard all the time.'

“Perhaps it’s true, but also I think that’s the only reason why you have a sword that is so hard all the time.”

“And yours isn’t?”

“Not all the time. Only when he see you.”

“Another example of the Unseen remaining a mystery to me!”

Eirik laughed, but he stopped abruptly and cleared his throat, giving a meaningful nod in the direction of the door behind Sigefrith’s back.

“Sigefrith!” Synne cried and hugged him before he had quite turned around.

Synne hugged him before he had quite turned around.

“Good morning, young runt,” he said again, though this time he could scarcely smile. He loved his young cousin – better, perhaps, than any of her siblings – but it was hard to be near her these days. Every time there would be the same questions, the same answers…

“Good morning!” she said. “I thought I heard you.”

“I was only giving Eirik a lesson in continental diplomacy.”

'I was only giving Eirik a lesson in continental diplomacy.'

“I heard that Malcolm’s father and brother are here.”

“That’s right. Just arrived last night, along with Cubby and Lulach and Magog. I mean to have a fine dinner today, to which you are hereby invited, in their honor, and also so that we can all laugh at Malcolm while he sits in his room and fasts.”

“That isn’t very nice,” she scolded.

“We always do that. We shall do the same to you as soon as you consent to being knighted, runt. And when will that be, again?”

'I don't know, Sigefrith.'

“I don’t know, Sigefrith,” she said, and her smile faded. She was in no mood to joke. “Did they hear anything yet?”

“No, honey, not yet,” he said gently. “But, you know, in the winter it’s a tough time for getting letters delivered. Especially with these blond sharks populating the waters between here and there,” he added and waved a hand at Eirik behind him.

'But, you know, in the winter it's a tough time for getting letters delivered.'

“I know,” she nodded. “I only wondered.”

Sigefrith could not help reaching out to stroke her cheek that had grown so thin and pale in the past year.

Murchad had always been proud to tell of how brave his girl was – he was prouder of that even than of her beauty. Sigefrith did wish he could see her now. If Synne ever cried, her tears remained in the realm of the Unseen, and she always smiled when she was told bad news, and she always pretended to believe their lies and excuses.

She always pretended to believe their lies and excuses.

There were harder things than being a man and going away to take one’s destiny by the horns, he knew. Being a woman and being left behind was certainly one of them.

Sigefrith and Malcolm had long since decided that Murchad would not return. He had met his destiny, and it had been ignoble enough that the men who had killed him and his brother had not even claimed credit for the deed. Either that, or they had been taken by the sea, and the sea never told.

But they would continue to reassure Synne that he lived for as long as Synne wanted to believe it. Sigefrith did not know much about such matters, but he did not believe a girl could be forced into letting go.

After they had said a few more light, insignificant things, Synne went away, and Sigefrith went to join Eirik by the fire.

'Do you think Murchad he come back some day?'

“Do you think Murchad he come back some day?” Eirik asked him.

“I don’t know. I like to say I am an optimist, but I have little hope remaining.”

“I think that boy, if he is still alive, I kill him myself.”

“I don’t think he’s being careless, Eirik. He would have sent a message if he could have.”

'He would have sent a message if he could have.'

“He should send a message or send his body home. I don’t care. But that girl, she need to know,” he grumbled. “A boy should not make a girl love him unless he plan to stay alive.”

“And you? I thought you planned to die young.”

“Now I have a girl who make me to want to stay alive.”

“Murchad does as well.”

“Then he had better come home, or I go bring him back myself.”

'Then he had better come home.'