Authors: Elizabeth Bear
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The authors would like to acknowledge their debts to Snorri Sturluson (1179â1241), the author of the
the Viking Answer Lady and her fascinating and tremendously helpful website,
; Dr. Robert J. Hasenfratz (for teaching Bear Anglo-Saxon all these years ago); Mitchell and Robinson's
A Guide to Old English;
Jennifer Jackson, agent beyond compare; and Beth Meacham, for being the extraordinary editor that she is.
Tin laced her fingers together across her gravid belly and frowned along her nose at the feeble human child.
The feeble human child frowned back. Eventually, because she was human and did not have the patience of a svartalf (and because she was seven years old, which even among her short-lived kind was considered very young), Alfgyfa blurted, “I'm not sorry.”
Tin said nothing. Although she was by far the most experienced of all the smiths and mothers in dealing with humans, she still found it difficult to sieve all the meanings in the words of creatures who could not sing their nuances, and the issues here were unfortunately and unpleasantly complex.
Alfgyfa, her scowl not abated one whit, said, “What Manganese said was
And it wasn't
The aettrynalfar aren't trolls.”
The aettrynalfar, like Alfgyfa herself, were yet another headache handed to Tin by Isolfr Viradechtisbrother, and not something she wanted to discuss at the moment. “Be that as it may,” she said and held up a warning finger at Alfgyfa's indignant expression. “Be that as it may, it is not correct to hit someone with whom you disagree.”
“But they have holmgangs all the time in stories!”
What had possessed her, Tin wondered, and not for the first time, to agree to Isolfr's mad fostering scheme? “What you did was not a holmgang.”
“I don't see why not,” Alfgyfa muttered mutinously.
“A holmgang has rules,” Tin said. “It isn't just jumping on someone and swelling her eye. And you know that perfectly well.”
Here, for the first time, Alfgyfa's direct, pale stareâso unnervingly like and so unnervingly unlike her father'sâshifted away. Tin felt a spark of unworthy and disproportionate triumph.
The point was not that Alfgyfa had hurt Manganese badlyâor even could have with her spindly child-human arms. The point wasn't even that Manganese hadn't deserved a bruised eye, because on that matter Tin was by no means decided. The point was that Alfgyfa was as wild as a wolf pup, and there were only so many of her ructions and disturbances that the Smiths and Mothers would put up with before they declared this experiment a failure and shipped Alfgyfa back to her father at Franangford. Even at times when Tin found that idea personally tempting, she did not want it to happen. She did not want the svartalfar to march to war against the humans, and she knew as well as Isolfr did that if they did not find some way to build bridgesânot one bridge, but many bridgesâbetween their peoples, war was exactly what was going to happen. It might not come for another century or more, given the problems the humans of the Northlands were having with the humans from beyond the sea, but Tin did not want to see war as an old alf any more than she wanted to see it now.
And this mulish scrap of a creature, slouched and sulking, might be a part of the solution to the problem of linking their peoples together. If Tin could stop her brawling like a bear in rut.
She allowed herself a sigh and said, “Tell me what you should have done.”
“Swelled both her eyes,” Alfgyfa muttered sullenly.
Tin found herself afflicted with a sudden, transient deafness, which lasted long enough for Alfgyfa to heave a sigh of her own, sit up straight, and begin to recite the Nine Recourses of the Apprentice.
Tin was not sure whether it made the child more or less aggravating that she already knew them perfectly.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Alfgyfa had always been able to speak to wolves. Always, through all of her memory, the wolves had been her nursemaids and companions. Gentle Amma, and trickster Kjaran with his odd-colored eyes. Old Hroi, gray-muzzled to his forehead and devious at games. Snow-shouldered Kothran, ears and nose of the pack. Black Hrafn and blacker Mar, the wit-sharp wildling and the leggy, raw-boned, silent old wolf upon whom so much of the pack-courage of Franangford Wolfheall rested.
And Viradechtis. Of course, Viradechtis, the konigenwolf of the Franangfordthreat, a warrior already legendary in her tenth yearâand, as the bond-sister of Alfgyfa's father, Alfgyfa's frequent babysitter and playmate.
Like her father, Alfgyfa heard all of these wolves plainly and understood them. Not that wolvesâmost wolvesâspoke in anything like words, though Viradechtis came close sometimes. But they had always accepted her as one of their own, a strange slow-growing pup with no teeth. They had been her playmates, her packmates, her champions, and her allies.
But Alfgyfa was a girl, and she would never belong to a wolf of her own, the way Father belonged to Viradechtis, the way Brokkolfr belonged to Amma. When she was old enough to understand thisâwhen her father had explained that wolves were warriors, and wolfcarls died young, and that women bore children, and children were the future of the packâshe had grown very quiet for a long time. This had worried her father and his shieldmates, and the other wolfheofodmenn, because even as a small girl, Alfgyfa was not known to take being thwarted lightly.
But she had thought about it, and thought about it. And three days later (which was a very long time to think about anything), she had marched up to her father at dinner and told him, “If I can't belong to one of your wolves, I'll find my own!”
She'd never heard such laughter in the heall. But if Kari could find his own wolfâHrafn had been a wild wolf before Kari had become his brotherâwhy couldn't Alfgyfa?
“You'll go to the svartalfar,” Father had said, quite kindly, “and learn to be a smith. The apprenticeship is arranged.”
Being a smith was interesting workâFather's woman Thorlot was a smithâbut it wasn't like running through the woods with wolves, and Alfgyfa had said so. But now, here she was, two years laterâa big girl of seven summersâand Father had sent her away, just as he promised. Not even to the aettrynalfar, the poison elves who lived within a day's walk of Franangford. But all the way to the Iskryne, at the lonely top of the world, to study with a svartalf, a dark elf, Mastersmith and Mother: Tin, who had made Alfgyfa's father's axe.
It was a splendid axe, that much was true.
But while there were wild wolves aplenty in the cold, heavy forests on the lower slopes of the mountains of the Iskryne, there were no wolves at all in the endless alf-warrens beneath them.
She missed her father, of courseâhow could she not?âand his wolfjarls and the people of his heall, wolfcarls and wolfless, who had been kind to her. She missed the heallbred children, the noisy, tumbling almost-pack she'd grown up with. But when she lay awake at night in the odd rounded room that she shared with Tin's other apprentices, it wasn't any of them she longed for. It wasn't even any individual wolf, although she would have given a great deal to have Viradechtis' great shadow appear in the doorless entryway. It was the sense of
the wolves, what her father called the pack-sense, which she hadn't even fully realized she felt until it was taken away from her. And then she knew, bereft, that she had no memory that did not have the pack-sense as part of itâuntil she came to the Iskryne.