Uncle Baldur grunted. Summing up the crowd with his sharp black eyes, he said at last, "Very well. I'll stay a day or two. There'll be stuff to sell off, I suppose?" Jerking his head toward Brand, he asked Peer shrilly, "Has he paid up your dad's last wageseh?"
"Yes! Of course he has," Peer stammered angrily. "He's been very kind to mehe's arranged everything."
"Nothing owing?" Uncle Baldur scowled, disappointed. "I'll soon see. Your father may have been a halfwit; but nobody cheats me."
Behind him, the funeral pyre collapsed into a pile of glowing ash and sighed out a last stream of sparks, which sped away forever.
With the eagerness of a pig digging for truffles, Uncle Baldur set about selling off Peer's home. Stools, pots, blankets, Ulf's cherished mallets and bright chiselsUncle Baldur squeezed the last penny out of every deal. At first the neighbors paid generously for Peer's goods. Then they realized where the money was going.
Brand dared to complain. Uncle Baldur stared at him coldly and jingled the silver and copper in his pocket. "It's mine," he said flatly. "Ulf owed me money."
"That's not true!" Peer flashed.
"Prove it!" jeered his uncle. "And what's that ring you've got? Silver, eh? Boys don't wear rings. Give it here!"
"No! It was my father's!" Peer backed away, hands behind his back. Uncle Baldur grabbed him, forcing his fingers open. He wrenched the ring off and tried pushing it over his own hairy knuckles, but it was too tight. He bit it. "Silver," he nodded, and stuffed it in his pocket.
Fat, comfortable Ingrid took Peer in and tried to mother him. "Cheer up, my pet," she crooned, pushing a honey cake into his hand. Peer let his hand fall. The honey cake disappeared into the eager jaws of Loki, who was lurking under the table.
"Ingrid," Peer said in desperation, "how can that fat beast be my uncle?"
Ingrid's plump face cramped into worried folds. She sat down heavily and reached across the table to pat his hand. "It's a sad story, Peer. Your father never wanted to tell you. He was just a boy when his own father died, and his mother married the miller at Trollsvik, the other side of Troll Fell. Poor soul, she lived to regret it. The old miller was a cruel, hard man."
Peer flushed and his fists clenched. "He beat my father?"
"Well," said Ingrid cautiously, "what your father could not stand was to see his mother knocked about. So he ran away, you see, and never saw her again. And in the meantime she had two more boys, and this Baldur is one of them. They're your father's own half-brothers, but as far as I know, he never laid eyes on them."
She got up and bustled about, lifting her wooden bread bowl from the hearth and pouring a yeasty froth into the warm flour.
"Still, the old miller's dead now, and his wife, too. Perhaps things will all come right at last! Maybe it's meant to happen. If your uncles don't marry, the mill could come to you one day! I know your uncle Baldur is very rough spoken, and not a bit like your father, but blood is thicker than water. After all, he did come to find you! Surely he'll look after you, you poor, poor boy."
"I don't want to live with him!" Peer shivered. "Or at his mill. What will I do there, way up over Troll Fell? I won't have any friends."
"Perhaps you'll like it," said Ingrid hopefully. "Though Troll Fell itself is a bleak, unchancy place," she added, frowning. "I've heard many an odd tale But there! Your uncles are the millers, so I'm sure you'll live in style. Millers are always well-to-do."
Peer was silent.
"Ingrid?" He cleared his throat. "Couldn't Icouldn't I stay here with you?"
"Oh, my dearie," cried Ingrid, "don't think we haven't thought about it. But we can't. He's your uncle, you see. He's got a right to you, and we haven't."
From Troll Fell. Copyright 2004 by Katherine Langrish. All rights reserved. Excerpt reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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