Authors: Rebecca Barnhouse
ALSO BY REBECCA BARNHOUSE
The Book of the Maidservant
The Coming of the Dragon
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Barnhouse
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Mel Grant
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Peaceweaver / by Rebecca Barnhouse. — 1st ed.
Companion book to: The coming of the dragon.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Hild hates the perpetual fighting between men of her kingdom and others, but when she is sent to marry a neighboring king, supposedly to ensure peace, she must tap into her own abilities with the sword and choose between loyalty and honor.
[1. Conduct of life—Fiction. 2. Clairvoyance—Fiction. 3. Sex role—Fiction. 4. Wiglaf (Legendary character)—Fiction. 5. Beowulf (Legendary character)—Fiction. 6. Mythology, Norse—Fiction. 7. Scandinavia—History—To 1397—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B2668Pe 2012 [Fic]—dc22 2010045284
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For my parents
The smell reached Hild’s nose, filling her with a sense of unease. Then a door shut—somebody letting a cat out—and she saw it was just smoke from a cooking fire, not the sulfurous fumes that had hung over the lake a few weeks back. Good. She wanted nothing to spoil this day, of all days.
Past the last houses, the lane narrowed as it neared the Lake Gate. Hild crunched over the gravel, increasing her speed as her excitement grew. At the gate, she raised her hand in greeting and watched in surprise when one of the guards waved back, his dagger flashing in a shaft of early-morning sun. It was Brynjolf, her friend Beyla’s brother. He gave her a broken-toothed smile and called her name. Hild shook her head. How many times would Brynjolf forget that he was
no longer a boy but a member of the king’s army, required to stand silently at full attention? A more experienced warrior, menacing behind his masked helmet, stepped out of the guard tower to admonish him. Hild winced. At fifteen, a year younger than Hild, Brynjolf had been promoted to the men’s troop only a week before, but knowing him, it might be years before he remembered to take all the rules seriously. If he remembered them at all.
Past the gate, Brynjolf’s troubles behind her, Hild could see blue lake water glittering as the sun caught tiny wavelets in its net. A breeze carrying the faint smell of fish riffled over her eyelashes and lifted strands of her dark hair into flight. Was that a smudge over the water? No, just her eyes playing tricks on her, and the memory of the wind-driven cloud that had settled over the lake. Dragon smoke, Ari Frothi had insisted, but the old skald’s words had been ignored. Not in living memory had a dragon flown over the land of the Shylfings, and Bragi, the new skald, had announced with smooth certainty that no dragon would dare attack the kingdom. The cloud was soon gone, leaving only an acrid odor and flakes of ash drifting down like dark snow. Most people had forgotten it—but Hild couldn’t. Strange tendrils of smoke wove their way through her dreams, embroidered by words she could almost catch in a voice she didn’t know, a woman’s voice, harsh and commanding. They left her with a longing for something she couldn’t identify, something just beyond her grasp.
She blinked the cloud away, reminding herself why she was out so early. She could barely wait to tell her eldest sister the news. Her exuberance returned, mirrored by the diamonds dancing on the lake, and making her want to rush forward like the waves. Surely, if anything would get Sigyn back into the hall, it would be the sight of Hild standing on the dais beside their uncle, the king.
When the path branched, she turned toward the group of dwellings clustered together on the shore, allowing her feet to skip a few steps. Small boats lined the beach, some of them right-side up, some of them upside down, a few with people gathered around them unloading their early-morning catch as the water shushed onto shore. Far out on the lake, boats bobbed, their bows winking in and out of view, and Hild stopped for a moment to watch them, shielding her eyes with her hand. Beyond the boats, on the lake’s far shore, red and gold birches swayed, too distant to be more than a tossing blur of bright color.
Closer by, on the near shore, a boat sat waiting, eager to be out on the water. Hild gazed at it, memorizing its contours and the way the prow tapered upward, graceful as a drinking horn. It was just the image she needed for the banner she was weaving—the one that would someday hang in a place of prominence in Gyldenseld, her uncle’s splendid mead hall.
A slave woman hurried by, lugging a basket filled with silvery fish so newly caught that some still slapped their
fellows with their tails. Hild peered into the basket as the slave passed her, bound for the king’s kitchens, where the fish would become part of the feast at tomorrow’s harvest festival. When Hild reached the cluster of cottages where the fisherfolk lived, she stepped around a pair of little girls chanting a clapping game and nodded to the women and white-haired men who hunched in their doorways, mending piles of nets. A weather-beaten woman squinted up at Hild’s approach. “Good harvest to you, my lady. Come to see your sister, have you?”
At her words, others raised their heads; some greeted Hild, and some turned immediately back to their nets. A little boy peered around an open doorway with sleepy eyes, but when he saw her, he pulled inside again. There was nothing grand about these people her sister had chosen to live among, and they would feel out of place in the hall. They kept to themselves, to their boats and their nets, providing fish for the kingdom and receiving in return protection from enemy tribes. Yet despite their isolation from those who lived inside the wooden gates that surrounded the fortress, one couple had been different. Hild heard in her head Ari Frothi’s lay about how the fisherman and his wife had seen their young son’s talent for war craft and sent him away from boats and nets to be trained instead with sword and spear. And then, through his exploits, Wonred had risen high enough to become one of the king’s hearth companions. So honored had he been that he was given the king’s
sister-daughter—Hild’s sister Sigyn—in marriage. The lay ended with Wonred’s death, but it didn’t mention that he’d been killed in a senseless skirmish with a tribe the Shylfings weren’t even at war with. Nor did Ari Frothi sing about the way Sigyn had barricaded herself in her mother-in-law’s cottage, the two widows alone together with a third companion: grief. Two winters had passed since the old skald first sang that lay at Wonred’s funeral, and the memory of his body’s being consigned to the flames still brought Hild pain. For Sigyn, the pain was far, far worse.
Yet today, Hild was sure, her sister would throw off her mourning and rejoin the women who gathered in the hall. And Thryth, Sigyn’s mother-in-law, would accompany her.
A shorebird shrieked and beat the air with its wings. Hild watched as it hovered, then dove into the waves. When it rose from the water with a minnow glittering in its beak, Hild turned and approached the dark cottage. It was larger than the others, and better built—Wonred had seen to that. Yet unlike the others, with their doors open to catch the morning light, it was silent and shuttered. She knocked on the door, two short raps followed by another, the signal that would let her sister know who it was.
But Thryth, not Sigyn, opened the door, just enough to let herself out. She put a fleshy arm around Hild and drew her close, peering up at her with dim eyes from under a wool cap. “It’s a bad day,” she whispered, shutting the door behind her and leading Hild away from the cottage and the
people who might be listening. “She’s still abed; won’t see a soul.”
“She’ll see me,” Hild said, turning. “When she hears my news, she’ll get out of bed.”
Thryth shook her head and gently pulled her back. “Come, dear one. Tell me instead.” She led Hild toward the lake path, sharp-edged grasses sawing at their skirts.
Hild’s shoulders slumped, and the bright promise of her news lost its luster in the shadow of Sigyn’s grief. Her sister’s bad days had grown worse, not better, as the seasons since her husband’s death had faded into the past. Sometimes Hild wondered if the two women fed off each other’s grief, growing more ravenous with the passage of time, yet she knew that wasn’t fair. After all, here was Thryth, walking alongside her.
Hild looked down at the older woman, at the white curls peeking from under her cap, at her broad nose and the cloudy eyes sunk deep in wrinkled skin, and felt a rush of warmth for her. “Well, if Sigyn won’t come to the hall today, perhaps you will,” she said.
“So your mother thinks you’re ready to serve the mead, does she?”
“How did you know?” Hild asked in surprise.
“How?” Thryth shook her head in amusement. “My dear, you’ve talked of nothing else since your mother started training you.”
“That’s not true.” Hild stopped and took a step back.
“I’ve talked about my weaving, and about my friend Beyla, and all sorts of things, I’m sure.”