The wind blew life back into her as she walked, and by the time she was halfway home her grief had found its solace in the pricking of the cold against her skin and the warmth in her legs as she climbed. Turning to look down again at the funeral gathering, she heard the bard’s song drift up from below, although she could not discern the words. He stood with his arms upraised, and many of those present—all her husband’s kinsmen, sworn sword-brothers, and faithful servants—had lifted their faces toward the sky as they listened to his account of her husband’s life and deeds. Almost wishing she could have listened to the song, exaggerated and grandiose though it surely would have sounded in her ears who knew him best, she turned again and walked the rest of the way to the house without looking back.
The warmth of the fire burning in the great hall washed over her as she entered, but she lingered not, instead mounting the stairs to climb to the floor above and enter the bedroom she had shared with her husband these eighteen years. It loomed quiet and empty as she stopped at the door, but after a moment she entered and crossed to the narrow window that looked out over the plain. Far below, minuscule shapes against the emerald green of the moor, her husband’s mourners were scattering; his allies to their homes far away and his tenants to theirs nearby. His daughters and those of the household, lingering a few moments longer beside the grave, had only just begun to climb the hill toward the house, but already she could see that Lavena was starting to dry her tears.
A flash of light on the horizon caught her eye. She lifted her gaze to the hills far beyond, and her heart began to pound faster in her body as she saw, still too distant for any but her eyes to observe, a row of shields glinting against the sun as it emerged from behind the clouds. Turning from the window, she descended once more to the hall and approached the hearth, where hung her long, two-handed sword. Her hand closed around the hilt, and she lifted it down from the wall, casting aside the scabbard and striding toward the door with the naked blade.
“I always hated the stola,” she said, pulling off the bloodied and tattered garment and using it to brush the ash and shattered pottery from the table in the kitchen, which had somehow survived the ransacking of the house more or less intact. “Unflattering sack.”
“Father liked us to appear loyal,” said Lavena, pursing her lips. “Committed.” She sat on the opposite side of the table, near the fire, for she had taken off her dress to stitch up the torn skirt.
“For all the good it did us,” said Mave, tossing more broken clay vessels onto the floor. She slammed the door of the cabinet she had been investigating and opened the next.
It contained a few bowls still largely unbroken, which she took out and carried with her to the storeroom beyond, calling over her shoulder, “We would have done better to show these robbers the points of our swords when they first appeared in the land.”