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.
"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.