There was only emptiness, and the knocking of the sea against the wooden sides of the listing ship—a fine ship, Leif had to admit. But who was he to take delight in things when his darling Adelaide lay cold in her Scottish grave, and he was running from her?
Precious Adelaide—beautiful, perfect, so full of joy and laughter and spunk. He had never seen her cry, except for tears of joy at births or weddings. She hated no one, she feared nothing. Adelaide was like the ocean—sometimes calm, sometimes wild, never yielding, always beautiful, always strong.
He remembered some of the last few moments they had spent together. The sun had been shining that day, and Leif had escaped work that morning to be with her. They had walked to the sheep pasture. The sun was warm, the wind was cool, and the overall effect was wild and invigorating. It was the perfect day for doing things.
Leif and Adelaide had sat down in a lush green lea. His arm around her, the perfect love of his life, and neither of them giving a thought to death. Only to life.
“Suppose it’s a girl,” Adelaide had said, a hand resting on her stomach swollen with child. “What was yer mum’s name?”
“Angerboda,” Leif replied, “and I wouldn’t wish that name on anyone, least of all my daughter. Suppose we name her Richildis, after your mother.”
“She’d like that.” Adelaide grew silent, perhaps thinking, perhaps feeling her unborn child move in her womb. A gentle breeze blew her flame-colored hair, and Leif tucked it behind her ear. She was a gem, precious, perfect. And very beautiful. Her eyes were blue, deep pools of wonder, and her nose was as cute as a young child’s. She knew how to make one side of it twitch like a rabbit’s. Sometimes she did it on purpose, to make someone smile; it happened involuntarily when she grinned, and sometimes when she scowled.
But Adelaide wouldn’t be complete without her sprinkling of freckles. Nay, those freckles were the very outpouring of her spirit upon her face, a sign that there was still some girlhood in her. She would laugh and make jokes and play in the sunshine like a teenager, and everyone who loved her loved that part of her especially.
Leif kissed her freckles, and she blushed.
“Ye need a namesake, Leif, if it’s a boy,” Adelaide said. “Please?”
Leif laughed. “Why?”
“I want him to turn out just like ye.”
“Trust me. You don’t.”
Adelaide smiled, and her eyes flashed, like they did when she was playing a game. “Fine. Then Eamonn.”
“What about Ivar?” Leif suggested.
The left side of Adelaide’s nose wrinkled. “I don’t like it.”
“It’s the name of a hero!”
“It’s the name of a Norse pillager. Eamonn is a good, sensible, respectable name.”
“The lady who hangs clothes to dry when it’s raining wants her son to have a sensible name,” Leif teased. “But I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
He kissed her, and she kissed back until she drew away with a gasp. Her eyes were closed, her face flushed, a hand pressed into her side.
Leif’s heart stopped. A fear like he had never known before seized him, and for the first time, he saw death instead of life. Suppose Adelaide left him. Leif couldn’t raise a child, at least not the right way, without her.
“It’s nothing,” she had promised. She lied. Adelaide had been known to tease, but for the first time since Leif had known her, she lied outright.
“Don’t worry so much, Leif! Nothing’s going to happen. The baby will come, and we’ll both be fine, and we’ll be one big, happy family.”
The baby came. That had been the only truth Adelaide told that day. Just four days after she promised him that everything would be fine, Leif had kissed her freckles one last time, then touched the silky hair of his stillborn son, then closed the casket on them both.
But he shouldn’t have left.
It was only natural, Leif kept telling himself, that a man in a strange country would want to return to his hometown after his wife’s death. He had no family in Scotland, not anymore. He’d never truly fit in there. Perhaps it was his accent, or his height, or the fact that he always carried a sword. He dressed the same as everyone else, after Adelaide made him a plaid to go over his shoulder. Leif pulled his plaid closer around him as a chill wind blew over the waters.
He knew that he would be fine no matter where he went. If only he had merely himself to worry about! In the warmth of his plaid, close to his heart, lay the one thing Adelaide had given him that Leif could never bear to part with—a precious son, three years old, with his mother’s red hair but none of her freckles.
Drostan was a miracle. He was full of pluck and fire and stubbornness, but when he was sleeping, as he was then, he was perfect. Leif kissed his soft hair and held him closer to his heart.
What business did Leif have, bringing his son to live among the Norse? His brother Konar was a berserker, given to fits of rage since childhood. Would he hurt Drostan? Or worse, would Drostan turn out to be like him? Leif bristled with self-rage. What was he doing? Making the worst mistake of his life, that's what he was doing.
Lord, forgive me, Leif prayed, nearly crushing Drostan in his embrace. If anything happens to him, I’ll never forgive myself.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.