Authors: Juliet Marillier
Also by Juliet Marillier
Daughter of the Forest
Son of the Shadows
Child of the Prophecy
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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
Copyright Â© 2003 by Juliet Marillier
First published in 2003 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Maps by Bronya Marillier
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Foxmask / Juliet Marillier.â1st Tor ed.
“A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
ISBNÂ Â Â 0-765-30674-3
EANÂ Â Â 978-0765-30674-6
1. VikingsâFiction. 2. BirthfathersâFiction. 3. Fathers and sonsâFiction.4. Orkney (Scotland)âFiction. I. Title.
PR9619.3.M26755F69Â Â Â Â 2004
First U.S. Edition: August 2004
Printed in the United States of America
0Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
. . .
if anyone can understand, it will be you; I have always respected your intellect. I had so much to offer here. I could have achieved great things, and in time all would have thanked me for it. Yes, even the Wolfskin. That he has been the one to wrench the possibility from my grasp is bitter indeed
. . .
XCERPT FROM LETTER
he day Thorvald's mother gave him the letter, everything changed. Creidhe was weaving, hands busy on the loom, shuttle flying, a fine web of blue and crimson unfolding before her in perfect pattern, testimony to the skills Aunt Margaret had taught her. So industrious was she, and so quiet, that it seemed she had been forgotten. The bestowal of such a perilous gift as that letter was surely best suited to a moment of complete privacy. Aunt Margaret spoke to her son quietly, in the long room before the hearth. Creidhe could see them through the doorway from the weaving chamber. They did not argue. Voices were seldom raised in this most orderly of households. But Creidhe heard the front door slam open, and she saw Thorvald go down the three steps in a single stride, then vanish across the yard and out over the spring fields as if hunted by demons. She saw the bloodless, driven look on his face. And although she did not know it at the time, that was the moment Thorvald's life, and her own, took a twist and a turn and set off on an entirely different path.
Creidhe knew Thorvald better than anyone. They had been childhood playmates, and they were fast friends. Thorvald had few friends; the fingers
of one hand would be more than enough to count them. There were perhaps only two to whom he ever spoke freely, and whom he allowed close: herself, and Sam, the fisherman on whose boat Thorvald sometimes helped. As for Creidhe, she understood Thorvald well: his black moods, his lengthy silences, his sudden, brilliant schemes and his rare times of openness. She loved him, for all his faults. In her mind there was no doubt that one day they would marry. He wasn't a real cousin, just as Margaret wasn't a real aunt. The tie was one of old friendship, not kinship. If Thorvald hadn't seen yet that he and Creidhe were destined to be together forever, he'd realize some time. It was just a matter of waiting.
The shuttle slowed to a stop. Creidhe stood gazing out the doorway across a landscape dotted with sheep, new lambs at foot. From Aunt Margaret's house you could see all the way to the western ocean, where stark cliffs marked the margin of land and sea. Far off now, there was the small, dark figure of Thorvald, running, running away. Creidhe had seen a terrible change in his eyes.
Creidhe jumped. Margaret had come up beside her without a sound.
“N-no, but maybe I should go home. Father's due back from Sandy Island, and I should be helpingâ” Creidhe fell silent. Aunt Margaret had tears in her eyes. Such a phenomenon was astounding. Her aunt was a model of propriety and restraint. She never lost control.
This household, run by Margaret's long-time retainer, Ash, but ordered by Margaret herself, operated to a strict routine, with little allowance for errors. This approach was reflected in Margaret's own appearance. She was a handsome woman of around six-and-thirty, her hair a rich auburn, plaited neatly and pinned up under a snowy lace cap. Her linen gown was ironed into immaculate pleats, her woolen overdress fastened with twin brooches of patterned silver polished to a moon-bright shine. She bore the accouterments of a good housewife: knife, scissors and keys hanging from a chain. Margaret was capable. Some found her intimidating. She had never remarried after her husband died in the very first year of Norse settlement here in the Light Isles, before Thorvald was born. Creidhe did not find her aunt frightening; there was a bond between them. Creidhe might not be skilled in the arts of a priestess, as her sister Eanna was. She might not be beautiful in the style of the island girls, slender, dark and graceful. But she had other abilities. Young as she was, Creidhe had the best hands for midwifery in Hrossey, and had advanced quickly from assisting the island expert to taking a full share of responsibility. The women valued Creidhe's deft touch and cool
head; these made her youth irrelevant. The same clever hands gave her a talent for spinning, weaving and embroidery. Margaret valued that talent, and over the years she had taken pleasure in fostering this buxom, fair-haired niece's skills.
If Thorvald never comes round to marrying me
, Creidhe told herself sourly,
some other man surely will, just so he can say his wife's the best weaver in Hrossey
It wasn't as if nobody was interested. Creidhe was never short of partners for dancing. Sam had made her a whalebone comb with sea creatures carved on it. Egil had composed a poem for her and recited it, blushing. Brude had kissed her behind the cowshed when nobody was looking. The problem was, she didn't want sweet-natured Sam or scholarly Egil or handsome Brude with his merry blue eyes. She only wanted Thorvald. Thorvald had eyes dark as night and smooth auburn hair like his mother's. Creidhe loved his cleverness, his wit, the way he could always surprise her. She loved his moments of kindness, rare as they were. She wished, sometimes, that he were a little less aloof; she'd heard other girls call him arrogant, and she didn't like that. He did keep himself to himself; she was lucky to be one of those he considered a friend. Creidhe sighed. Thorvald was taking a long time to realize she could be more than just a friend to him. At sixteen she was a woman, and ready to be married; more than ready, she thought sometimes. If Thorvald didn't wake up to himself soon, her father would start suggesting likely husbands for her, and what could she say then? As her mother's daughter, she must wed and bear children. It could not be long before Eyvind began to apply subtle pressure.
“Oh! Sorry.” She'd been daydreaming again. “Are you all right, Aunt Margaret?”
“Well enough.” The words belied the red eyes, the tight mouth. “Go on then, if Nessa's expecting you home. This can wait for tomorrow. The design's coming out well, Creidhe. You're quite an artist.”
Creidhe blushed. “Thank you, Aunt.” She paused. “Aunt Margaretâ” Margaret raised a hand.
It was a gesture that said plainly, no questions. Whatever it was that had sent Thorvald out of the house like a man pursued by dark dreams, it was not going to be shared just yet.
“Creidhe,” said Margaret as her niece hovered in the doorway, small bundle of belongings in hand, “don't go after Thorvald. Not today. Believe me, he's best left alone awhile.”
“If he wants to tell you, he'll tell you in his own time. Now off home with you. Your father's been away a long while. I expect he'd enjoy some of his daughter's fine cooking, perhaps your roasted mutton and garlic, or the baked cod with leek sauce. Off with you now.”
The tone was light, kept carefully so, Creidhe thought. It was her aunt's eyes that gave her away. Thorvald's had held the same shadow.
Sometimes Creidhe did as she was told, and sometimes she didn't. Thorvald was sitting on the ground, his back to a low stone dike overlooking the western sea. He had his head in his hands, his face concealed. His sleek red hair had escaped its neat ribbon, and the wind whipped the strands like dark fire in the air around his head. He was very still. Behind him in the walled field, sheep bleated and lambs answered. Above in the sky, birds fluted songs of spring. Creidhe climbed over the wall and sat down by his side, saying not a word. She had become quite good at this kind of thing.
“Go away, Creidhe!” Thorvald growled after a while. He did not open his eyes.
There was a little boat out in the swell, coming in from fishing. The wind was picking up; the scrap of sail carried the vessel forward on a fast, rocking course southward, perhaps to Hafnarvagr, or some point closer. Creidhe raised a hand in greeting, but they did not see her.