"I thought a hot meal might be of comfort," she said.
Jón looked up at Lauga, who was standing in front of him, holding the tray. "May I change out of these clothes first?"
Lauga hesitated, and, setting the tray down on the bed beside her mother, dropped to her knees and began to untie the binds about Jón's shoes. "There is something I have to tell you both."
"Where's Kristín?" Margrét asked sharply, as Jón leaned back on his elbows and let his daughter work the damp sock off his foot.
"Steina gave her half the day in holiday," Lauga replied.
"And where is Steina?"
"Oh, I don't know. Here somewhere." Lauga felt her stomach twist in panic, aware of the scrutiny of her parents. "Pabbi, District Commissioner Blöndal paid a visit when you were away," she whispered.
Jón sat up a little and looked down at his daughter. "The District Commissioner?" he repeated.
Margrét clenched her fists. "What did he want?" she asked.
"He had a letter for you, Pabbi."
Margrét stared down at Lauga. "Why didn't he send a servant? Are you sure it was Blöndal?"
Jón was silent. "Where is the letter?" he asked.
Lauga wriggled the shoe off his other foot and let it drop to the floor. Mud cracked off the leather.
"Steina burnt it."
"Whatever for? Good Lord!"
"Mamma! It's all right. I know what it said. Pabbi, we are being forced to"
"Pabbi!" Steina's voice rang down the corridor. "You'll never guess who we have to keep locked up in our house!"
"Locked up?" Margrét twisted around to query her elder daughter, who had just bounced into the room. "Oh, Steina, you're sopping."
Steina looked down at her soaked apron and shrugged. "I dropped the buckets and had to go back and fill them up again. Pabbi, Blöndal's forcing us to keep Agnes Magnúsdóttir in our home!"
"Agnes Magnúsdóttir?" Margrét turned to Lauga, horrified.
"Yes, the murderess, Mamma!" Steina exclaimed, untying her wet apron and carelessly flinging it onto the bed next to her. "The one who killed Natan Ketilsson!"
"Steina! I was just about to explain to Pabbi"
"And Pétur Jónsson, Mamma."
"Oh, Lauga, just because you wanted to tell them."
"You ought not to interrupt"
"Girls!" Jón stood up, his arms outstretched. "Enough. Begin from the start, Lauga. What happened?"
Lauga hesitated, then told her parents everything she could remember about the District Commissioner's visit, her face growing flushed as she recited what she recalled reading in the letter.
Before she had finished, Jón began to dress again.
"Surely this is not something we are obliged to do!" Margrét tugged at her husband's sleeve, but Jón shrugged her off, refusing to look at his wife's distraught face.
"Jón," Margrét murmured. She glanced over at her daughters, who both sat with their hands in their laps, watching their parents silently.
Jón pulled his boots back on, whipping the ties around his ankle. The leather squeaked as he pulled them tight.
"It's too late, Jón," Margrét said. "Are you going to Hvammur? They'll all be asleep."
"Then I'll wake them." He picked up his riding hat from its nail, took his wife by the shoulders and gently shifted her out of his way. Nodding farewell to his daughters, he strode out of the room, down the corridor and shut the door to the croft behind him.
"What shall we do, Mamma?" Lauga's small voice came from a dark corner of the room.
Margrét closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Excerpted from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Kent. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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