The air was dark and chill. Leif hoped that Drostan was snug and warm in the fold of his plaid. He leaned against the back of the ship. He wouldn’t sleep. He’d watch over Drostan, and be alert for when the ship came to dock at Diaparn, and then he’d pick up his trunk and go to his brother’s house. Would he be accepted there? There was no telling with Konar. Ever since he was a boy, he’d been mad, slowly losing his sanity and replacing it with a strange, manipulative cunning. And anger. A good deal of anger. What was he doing, bringing his three-year-old son to live with a madman?
Guilt welled up in him. Aye, he was bringing his son back to his aunts, uncles, and grandmother on the next ship to Scotland. He was making a mistake.
“We’re nigh there, Mr. Leif,” one of the sailors called. “We’ll dock before sunup.”
“Thanks,” Leif said. He settled back against the ship and sighed. Drostan’s tiny hand slid across his chest as he rubbed sleep out of his cat’s-green eyes. Where he’d gotten those eyes, Leif had no idea. They weren’t his own, and they certainly weren’t Adelaide’s. Perhaps one of Adelaide’s siblings, or her mother, had green eyes, and Leif hadn’t noticed. Or had either of his own parents had green eyes? His father’s, Leif remembered, had been hazel, like his own.
Drostan’s eyes opened. “Mum?”
Leif blinked. He swallowed the lump in his throat and kissed Drostan’s disordered hair. Adelaide would have insisted on brushing it, so Leif tried to sort the little red wisps into a more natural layout. “Mum’s not here,” he said.
Drostan’s little voice was full of sleep and innocence, too little to understand death or heaven or grief outside of his toddler’s need for a mother. “Where’s Mum?”
What could he say? What was there to be said? He’d tried to explain that Adelaide was gone, that she was in a pretty place with Jesus, and that she was happy there. Drostan never seemed to understand.
“She’s…she’s with Jesus, son. Don’t worry about her.”
“When’s Mum coming back?”
“Perchance you’ll see her if you go to sleep.”
Leif ought to have been speaking in Norse, he realized, if his son was going to be spending any time on Diaparn. He’d tried to raise Drostan bilingual. His mind was brilliant, flexible, soaking up knowledge of the wide world he lived in. But he still preferred Gaelic to Norse.
Leif hoped Drostan would drift back to sleep. He had no energy to deal with him. He was tired, but it was a strange tired, as if he’d been sick and spent the day in bed. And yet his spirit felt as if he’d just completed a long day of work.
Work—what was he to do, once he arrived at Diaparn? His family had owned a good deal of land, but Konar had probably sold it. He preferred the much more profitable slave trade. It hadn’t bothered Leif until he had become Christian, but now the mere thought of it sickened him. He’d learned the trade of the shipwright in Scotland. Perchance Hakan, the shipwright of Diaparn, would hire him. Hopeless wish. Hakan had always hated sharing his business.
Drostan wiggled free of Leif’s arms, and he caught him by the back of his tunic. Drostan wailed. “I’m not sleepy, Da!”
“You will go back to sleep,” Leif said in Norse. “It’s night time.”
Drostan’s Norse was pitiful, nearly impossible to understand, yet a valiant effort for a three-year-old. “No!”
“Drostan, when the sky is dark, it is time to sleep.”
“Then why aren’t you sleeping, Da?”
“Because I’m your father, and I don’t need sleep.”
“You sleep during church.” Drostan used the Gaelic word for ‘church.’ Was there even a Norse word for it? “And you make a noise with your nose.”
What grace was given to mothers, that they spent their lives with children like this! For less than a week had Leif been Drostan’s caregiver, and he was losing his mind! Had Adelaide ever grown impatient with him?
Precious Adelaide. What would she do?
Leif lay on his back, making Drostan lay facedown on his chest, and he covered the both of them with his plaid. “Suppose I tell you a story?” Leif said, returning to Gaelic.
“Saint Cuddy and the geese!”
Leif had heard Adelaide tell the story enough times—about how the affectionately-nicknamed St. Cuthbert had turned a miserly farmer and his geese into statues. Drostan simply thought that “geese” was a funny word to say, and he giggled every time he heard it. But as the story wore on, Drostan’s giggles turned to simple smiles, and he was asleep by the time it ended.
It was peaceful—the gentle rocking of the ship, the dim starlight, the quiet noises of the waves lapping at the side of the ship and of the wind ruffling the sails. Leif closed his eyes. It might not hurt him to have a nap...just a short one….
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.