Leif laughed. “You couldn’t find a man to row anyway, not with Althing coming up. We’re hosting this year.”
Caitriona muttered something under her breath—whether it was a prayer or a profanity Alynn couldn’t tell, but the latter was unlikely. She kicked at the rushes that covered the dirt floor, then took a breath and collected herself. “Can we plan on leavin’ the moment Althing ends?”
“As soon as possible. I promise.”
“Perfect. Now give me somethin’ to do before I go mad with worry.”
“I might have you stay here for the week, act as hostess if you’re willing,” Leif said. “And say a prayer. Neither Drostan nor I are officially going to be the chief of this island until one of us sacrifices to Odin—unless something changes. And blast it, we need something to change.”
“We’ll be prayin’,” Caitriona promised.
“Isn’t Althing rather powerful for a meetin’ of tribes?” Alynn asked.
“It’s a parliament, not just a meeting, so it demands power,” Leif said. “I’m surprised they haven’t killed us for converting to Christianity.”
“They wouldn’t have done anything after the Battle of Faith,” Drostan insisted. “Alynn would have disbanded Althing singlehandedly.”
Alynn blushed. She debated punching Drostan’s shoulder, but finally decided to lean against him and close her eyes. “You’d have helped me, just as you did on the battlefield,” she said.
“You don’t need help,” Drostan insisted. “You’re a berserker, for Thor’s sake. Or do Irish girls tend to fight fiercer than Norse madmen?”
“Drostan, don’t even think that she’s a berserker, and Alynn, sit up,” Caitriona ordered. Alynn sighed and straightened, but not without a caustic glance at her mother. Caitriona returned it.
“Master Leif, will you be needing anything else this evening?” Valdis asked. She was combing her hair that barely passed her shoulders—hardly longer than Leif’s or Drostan’s.
“No, thank you. Go on to bed,” Leif said. “Cait, we can think more in the morning. I’m exhausted.”
Caitriona laughed. “I can’t believe I’m still standin’ up. Where can I sleep?”
Leif gestured to the raised platforms that lined either side of the longhouse. “Pick a bed, any bed. Or the closet, whichever you prefer.”
“I’ve always hated that closet.”
Drostan nodded towards the bedcloset—a paneled-in section of bench that was more like a human-sized dresser drawer than anything else. “Do you want the closet, Alynn, or would you rather I take it?”
“I’ll take it. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Don’t forget to lock the latch,” Caitriona cautioned.
Drostan snatched a few sheepskins and a blanket and tossed them into the closet. “Have a good night.”
After glancing up to see his smile, Alynn returned the gentle embrace he offered. She buried her face in his tunic. Drostan pressed her head against his chest, and she could hear his heartbeat. He smelled of wood and sea and hard work, stained with a medley of scents from the midsummer forest. She smiled.
Thank You, Lord, for Drostan.
He kissed her forehead before leaving for his own bed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said, raking his hand through his hair and making it even wilder than before.
Alynn smiled. “Goodnight, love.”
Alynn crawled awkwardly into the bedcloset and rearranged the sheepskins before she shut and latched the door. In the complete absence of light, the only sounds those of her family readying for bed, Alynn found a call to pray.
“Be with Tarin, Lord, if he’s not with You and Father already,” she murmured before drifting to sleep. “And if he is...please tell him I said hello.”
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.