Just as the sun’s dying afterglow disappeared into the clouded dark of night, Alynn and Honor cantered into a small Norse village. Honor was covered in lather despite the chill wind, and Alynn’s excitement had faded with her need for sleep. She rode down the wood-paved main road to a longhouse at the center of town, tethered Honor to a hitching-post near the front door, and knocked.
No one answered. Alynn could hear her mother’s voice and the crisp Norse accent that belonged to her uncle Leif, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She knocked louder.
“...stay awake, son, we need your help,” Leif’s voice said as the hired girl opened the door. Alynn hugged her quickly, and Leif finally caught eye of the visitor. “Alynn!” he boomed, finding a tired smile within him. “Come inside, have a seat! Try to keep Drostan awake while you’re at it.”
Alynn hugged Leif and glanced at his seventeen-year-old son, Drostan. He was sitting on the edge of a sleeping bench, leaning against a column that supported the roof, idly moving the pieces to a board game. Tafl, he’d said she could call it, since its true name of hnefatafl was too large of a mouthful for her. His hair looked like a rat had tried to nest in it.
Alynn smiled. “Hard day?”
Drostan’s head moved half an inch in her direction, and he shoved the game board aside so she could sit next to him. “Felling trees and carting timber, all day,” he groaned, his eyes glassy with sleep. “What have you been doing since I last saw you this morning?”
“I found out my brother’s alive,” she smiled. She slipped her fingers under Drostan’s warm hand, realizing how cold her own was.
“Good Lord, your hands are like ice!” Drostan exclaimed.
“I know. The wind doesn’t realize ‘tis June.”
A bit of life came into Drostan’s eyes, and he took a sheepskin from the bed behind them. He draped it around Alynn. His arm rested on her thin shoulder, his leather vambrace cool as she leaned against it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For goodness’ sake, ye’re sittin’ too close together,” Caitriona scolded. She pulled Alynn two feet away from Drostan and wrapped the sheepskin tighter around her. “Try to stay awake. Ye can poke each other if ye start to nod off.”
“Aye, Mum,” both Alynn and Drostan answered.
“Now, for the last time, Drostan, do you have a ship we could use?”
“We’re working on one right now—lovely Karve, if you can wait a week to use her,” Drostan replied, brushing his red hair from his eyes. “We just sold our last Longship. It would be fastest. You could make the trip in a lifeboat if the currents were right.”
“When are we leaving?” Alynn asked.
“We’re not sure at the moment,” Caitriona said. “The winds are contrary, or some such nonsense—”
“The winds are perfect if you’re traveling to Iceland,” Leif interrupted.
“What about rowing?” Alynn asked.
“If you feel like taking five days instead of two to get to Scotland, then I suppose it’s doable,” Drostan said. He stabbed Alynn with his index finger.
“Your mother said I could poke you.”
Alynn shoved his shoulder. “Save it for mornin’. I’m knackered.”
Caitriona studied the flames of the fireplace. “Are there men who would row for money?” she asked. “It isn’t gold, but—Rowan would want me to—” She tugged at a goldtone ring that was reluctant to come off her left hand. Voice trembling, she asked, “How much is this worth?”
“Mistress, don’t do anything daft—that you’ll regret, I mean,” the hired girl interjected. She blushed and bowed her head. “My apologies.”
“Not at all. You’re right, Valdis,” Leif said, fingering the simple ring on his own hand. “Not your wedding band, Caitriona. I wouldn’t give mine up, either, not for the world, and certainly not to save a few days’ waiting time. The winds will change soon enough. I promise. And I’ll pay the sailors.”
“You’re a good man, Leif.”
Leif chuckled. “It’s what brothers do—at least in a functional family. Valdis, you had a normal family once, didn’t you?”
The hired girl’s blonde head dipped again. “Depends on what you’d call normal, sir.”
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.