"But I haven't got an uncle!" Peer gasped.
The huge stranger paid no attention. He dragged Peer's arm up, twisting it. Peer yelped in pain, and Loki began to growl.
"I don't like saying things twice!" the man menaced. "I'm your Uncle Baldur, the miller of Trollsvik. Come on!" He challenged the crowd. "You all know it's true. Tell him so, before I twist his arm off!"
"Why" Brand the shipbuilder stepped forward uncertainly, rubbing his hands. Peer stared at him in disbelief. Brand spread his arms helplessly. "Thisthat is to say, Peer, your father did tell me once"
His wife, Ingrid, pushed in front of him, glaring. "Let go of the boy, you brute! How dare you show your face here? We all know that poor Ulf never had anything to do with you!"
"Is this my uncle?" Peer whispered. He twisted his head and looked up at Uncle Baldur. It was like looking up at a dark cliff. First came a powerful chest, then a thick neck, gleaming like naked rock. There was a black beard like a rook's nest. Then a face of stony slabs with bristling black eyebrows for ledges. At the top came a tangled bush of black hair.
Loki's body tensed against Peer's legs, quivering with growls. In another moment he would bite. Uncle Baldur knew it too, and Peer read the death penalty in his face. "Loki!" he cried sharply, afraid. "Quiet!"
Loki subsided. Uncle Baldur let Peer go and bent his shaggy head to look at the dog.
"What d'you call that?" he taunted.
"He's my dog, Loki," said Peer defiantly, rubbing his bruised arm.
"That, a dog? Wait till my dog meets him. He'll eat 'im!" Uncle Baldur tipped back his head and yelped with laughter. Peer glared at him. Brand put a protective arm around his shoulder.
"You can't take the boy away," he began. "We're looking after him!"
"You? Who are you?" spat Uncle Baldur.
"He's the master shipbuilder of Hammerhaven, that's who he is!" declared Ingrid angrily, folding her arms. "Peer's poor father was his best carpenter!"
"Best of a bad lot, eh?" sneered Uncle Baldur. "Could he make a barrel that didn't leak?"
Brand glared at Baldur. "Ulf did a wonderful job on the new ship. Never made a mistake!"
"No? But he sliced himself with a chisel and died when it turned bad!" scoffed Uncle Baldur. "Some carpenter!"
Peer's heart rapped like a hammer, hurting his chest. He leaped forward. "Don't talk about my father like that! You want to know what he could do? That's what he could do! That's what he made! See!" He pointed defiantly past Uncle Baldur.
High over the heads of the crowd reared the fierce dragon neck and head of the new longship. People stepped back, opening a path to where it lay chocked upright on the shelving beach. And the dragon head glared straight at Uncle Baldur, ogling him threateningly, as if it commanded the sea behind it, whose dark armies of marching waves rushed snarling up the shingle.
Uncle Baldur rocked back, off balance. He lowered his head and clenched his fists. Then he shrugged. "A dragon ship! A pretty toy!" he jeered, turning his back on it. The crowd muttered angrily, but Uncle Baldur ignored them.
He seized Peer's arm again. "You'll come now. I'm a busy man. I've a mill to run, and no time to waste!"
With a bang, a piece of wood exploded in the heart of the pyre. People dodged as the fire spat glowing fragments at their feet. The whole burning structure slipped and settled. Brand stepped in front of Uncle Baldur, barring his way.
"You won't drag the boy away from his father's funeral!" he exclaimed. "Whyit's not even over!"
"A funeral? And I thought it was a pig roast!" Uncle Baldur crowed with laughter. Sickened, Peer jerked his arm free, as the crowd surged angrily forward, some crying, "Shame!" They surrounded Uncle Baldur, who shifted uneasily, looking around. "Can't you take a joke?" he complained.
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.
Blood at the Root
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