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Near nine hundred years

since the White Christ

and still the world goes on

dark and wintered.

If my husband's life was short and brutish,

what is it worth the time to say

about my own? We were ignorant of much

but not of anything that kills.

None of Earl Sigurd's men were clever,

even Aud "the Deep Minded,"

a great drunken skraeling with brains

in his sea-legs only,

but they took it all, Caithness to Ross,

and angled for the lowlands

which we held, Maelbrigte and I,

with blood, wit, healthy sons

and, sometimes, a spell.

Sigurd sent a herald south demanding parley,

to settle boundaries between us.

Each chieftain would be backed by forty horse.

Maelbrigte agreed.

"Will you go with only forty men?"

I kissed his little crooked dogtooth

and snuggled close, smelling the ghost

of the bear who kept us warm.

"Forty is my bond, my honor."

"How many men, do you suppose,

will be enough to bind up Sigurd's honor?"

"Hush. A good soft wife would steal

my mind away from Sigurd."

So I did, as best I might.

The gleomen tell

that Sigurd thought the bargain forty horses,

not forty warriors.

He came marauding south

with two men mounted on each pony.

All our men were dead by noon.

They took the Scottish heads

to carry home to Norway in the spring.

Sigurd himself strung leather

through my husband's ears.

Slung grimacing behind the great earl's saddle,

Maelbrigte, with his crooked tooth,

bumped and snagged and tore the victor's leg

all twelve miles to Thurso.

Sigurd the Powerful took nine days

dying of the poison blood.

Where they laid him

I have sent the wolves to piss.

My eldest son has brought me home

his father's head.

I have not asked him how

or what or who it cost,

but I have used it in a charm.

During Lent last month,

Sigurd's only son died

of eating rancid eel

and left no child.

And still we hold the border.

And still I go to bed at night alone

as if the morning were a promise

I desire to keep. And still

I kiss the crooked tooth

when nothing else will bring me sleep.

Anne Sheldon's work includes The Adventures of the Faithful Counselor (Aqueduct Press, 2005), The Bone Spindle (Aqueduct Press, 2011), and Hero-surfing (Washington Writers' Publishing House, 2002).
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