King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 31, 32, 33, 34

“I think so. So many were never found. The kite fell to earth, he was dragged away and killed defenseless, in a field somewhere. They found his pendant, with the chain broken. You have asked these questions far too often,” he added gently. “Now let the dead lie in peace.”

She did not hear him—or perhaps did not want to hear what he said. She still worried at her memories like a tongue worrying a sore tooth. “Hund never came back either,” said Godive. She, more than anyone else, knew the bond between the two men.

“We have talked of this too often before. They say that he fled over the wall, perhaps from remorse. I expect some straggler killed him too. They looked hard for him, you know, Brand and Cwicca and the others, for they felt remorse as well. When Cwicca refused the reeveship I offered him, he said he would never serve another master. He has gone back to his farm, like so many of the others.”

“And Brand holds York for you as jarl of Northumbria.”

“Better him than the descendant of one of their old kings. It will take a while for the northern parts to accept rule from me. I like this new capital of London. It is nearer the center of England than Winchester was. But Stamford was Shef’s city and like Cwicca will take no other king. It will always be the town for the Way. The Way that grows ever stronger. No wonder the Pope feels he needs to make an alliance!”

Godive did not answer. She was thinking of Cwicca, refusing to take another master. An old saying came to her mind, “First love is last love.” It was true of Cwicca. Would it be true of her?

“I hope he is dead,” she said barely audibly. “Not poor and lost, wandering alone somewhere or begging his bread.”

Spring. A spring morning far more gentle than the cold bluster of an English one. The night’s storm had almost died away, and the storm-raised waves breaking against the cliff below were already losing their strength in this shallow sea. The tall man, wrapped in a cloak against the last warm showers of rain, sat on the base of a broken stone column looking out to sea. His left leg was stretched out before him to ease the pressure of the wooden stake against his flesh; the leg ended just below the knee. The shower died away and sunlight burnt through. An arching rainbow cut across the bay, seemingly ending near the summit of the smoking volcano. The man pulled the sodden hood from his head, pushed back into place the dislodged patch that covered his empty eye socket.

With a warrior’s reactions he turned instantly when he heard the snap of a twig behind him. Smiled when he saw the graceful figure coming towards him through the pines.

“The boy is asleep,” Svandis said. “If he wakes Hund is there.”

“Come, sit beside me,” Shef said. “It was a storm like this that brought our little boat here, almost wrecked us on these cliffs.”

“Five years past. Don’t you… think ever of leaving?”

“Yes, in the beginning. Now, very rarely.”

“Every day when I wake I think of the North. Of the sharp frost and the white snow—”

“Do you want to go back?”

“Sometimes. Then I think about how happy we were that first winter, when we sheltered with Solomon. Happier than we had ever been before, once we knew you could be healed.”

“Maybe we should have tried harder to follow Solomon to his homeland.”

“Maybe.” Svandis hesitated. She had not lost her convictions about the gods. Yet she had begun to believe, too, in luck, in some kind of direction from elsewhere. “But I think it was a fortunate wind that blew us to this isle of goats. The people, the peasants, at times I am so angry at them. But it is warm, the wine is good and—you are happy.”

“I think that I am. When I work with my hands again, I know that I would rather be a smith than a king. And if I beat out something else that is strange and new—well, we will find someone else to take the credit. No one asks what happened to Völund after he made his wings and flew. Maybe he got back his swan-maiden wife, his own Svandis, and lived happily in secret.”

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