Leif stirred. There was something on his chest...wait, that was Drostan—how long had they been asleep? The world was dark. Was it cloudy, or still night? Where were they? What time was it? Why had Leif been waken up? Was something wrong?
“We’re at the port.”
Ah, this made sense. Carefully, Leif sat up. If he moved slowly enough, quietly enough, maybe Drostan would stay asleep. Nay—don’t move, son—go back to sleep….
“Whisht, you’re alright,” Leif whispered. Drostan grew quiet again, his head heavy against Leif’s chest. Thank God.
“I’ll give you a hand with your trunk,” the sailor offered. He kept his voice down, as if he knew how hard it was to get children to fall asleep. “You’ve more important things to carry.”
Leif smiled. “You’ve your own children, I suppose?”
“Four of them, and another by autumn.”
What a lucky man, to have four children and a wife to care for them all! But all the work they required! “How do you do it?” Leif asked, a hand on Drostan’s head. “Having one is trial enough.”
“You’ll find it gets easier with time,” the sailor said. “I’ve overheard your plight—you’ve my condolences.”
The word was said with as little emotion as Leif could muster. Now was not the time for thinking back on Adelaide, or wishing she were here and they were together, the big happy family she promised. Now was the time for thinking, for doing, and for being brave.
Nay, but there would be feeling, Leif realized, as he stepped onto the dock. But strange, good feelings. He was home.
Here was the path he played along as a boy. There was the longhouse belonging to Ljot the fisherman—the same longhouse, only a little more weathered—and the fish drying racks. Leif had often stolen stockfish as they hung drying from those racks. He ought to visit Ljot and repay him.
And the docks—ah, the docks! Leif had always loved them. Perhaps it was the stories he’d been told of how he was born on a boat, in this very harbor, as the warriors of Diaparn were forcing the tribe of Gythia off the island. Perhaps he’d loved the docks for the simple freedom they offered from his chores. Or perhaps it was the scent of the salt and the cries of the gulls, the ringing of hammers and the shouts of the shipwrights that had called him.
He knew the houses he passed. This was the longhouse of Hanvald the Stout, here lived Yngvar Sturluson—if he still lived, and his sons if he didn’t. Yngvar’s son Thorstein had been a good friend of Leif’s growing up. How had he fared in the five years Leif had been gone?
And there was the house of Elder Steingrim. Leif hurried past this house. He prayed that Steingrim’s daughter Signy had been promised in marriage to someone else. Steingrim had been rather eager to marry his daughter to someone from high society—Leif, as the son of the chief, had seemed favorable to him. But he couldn’t bear Signy, nor the thought of her raising Drostan.
Leif scanned the streets. He caught the sailor out of the corner of his eye. He looked lost. Leif realized how slowly he’d been walking, how aimlessly he’d been wandering.
The sailor smiled. “Where to, sir?” he asked, his voice thin and losing its patience.
“Konar Idirson, the chief—his house.”
Not Konar’s house. Leif’s house—or it had been. He would be a stranger here, like he was in Scotland. He’d lost his home. No, he hadn’t lost it. He’d given it up. He’d given everything up, but willingly, because Adelaide was worth it.
But Adelaide was gone.
Without her, nowhere was home. It didn’t matter where he would go, how much time he spent there, who he lived with. He would always be alone without her.
Leif pressed his eyes shut. He wouldn’t cry now—not in front of Drostan, not with Konar just a few houses away. But the knives in his heart would not wait for an opportune moment, and tears slipped down his cheeks despite his efforts. His Adelaide. He would have given anything to keep her.
He looked up. He needed to compose himself—dry his eyes, take a breath, run a hand through his unkempt hair. He hid Drostan under his plaid and knocked at the door of the house he stood before.
He was home.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.