"No," said Peer bitterly. "Of course not. I understand."
Ingrid flushed deeply. She tried to put an arm round him, but Peer hunched his shoulder at her.
"We only want the best for you," she pleaded. "And don't forget," she went on, thumping the dough, "he's not your only uncle. There's another brother up at the mill, isn't there? Don't you think your father would have wanted you to try?"
"Maybe. Yes," said Peer. He shut his eyes on a sudden glimpse of his father, turning over a piece of oak and saying as he often did, "You've got to make the best of the wood you're given, Peer. And that's true in life, too!" He could almost smell the sweet sawdust clinging to his father's clothes.
"I'm worried. About Loki," he muttered presently, twiddling a piece of dough between his fingers. He pulled little bits off, rolled them into balls, and flicked them away. "Uncle Baldur said his dog would eat him. I don't even know if I'm going to be allowed to keep him!" His voice shook.
"Now that's silly!" said Ingrid briskly. "Loki will make friends with your uncle's dog, you'll see! You'll be all right, won't you, boy?" she said to Loki, who thumped his tail.
An ox cart drove up outside. Loki sprang to his feet barking. The door thudded open and the room darkened as Uncle Baldur bent his head and shoulders to come through.
"Boy!" Uncle Baldur squealed. "Are those chickens in the yard yours? I thought so. I'm taking them. Catch them and put them in the cart. We're leaving. Run!"
Peer fled outside, Loki at his heels. A fine row blew up indoors as his uncle accused Ingrid of trying to steal the chickens. Peer began stalking a fat speckled hen, but she squawked in fright and ran. Peer chased her. Loki joined in. He dashed at the hens, barking excitedly. Feathers flew as the hens scattered, cackling wildly. "Bad dog! Stop it, Loki!" Peer cried, but Loki had lost his head and was hurtling around the yard with a mouthful of brown tailfeathers.
The house door slammed open, bouncing off the wall. Uncle Baldur burst through, bent down, heaved up the heavy doorstop and hurled it at Loki. There were two shrieks, one from Peer and the other from Loki, who lay down suddenly and licked his flank, whimpering.
"You could have killed him!" Peer yelled. His uncle turned on him.
"If he ever chases my chickens again, I will," he wheezed savagely. "Now catch them, and tie them up with this." He threw Peer a hank of twine. "Be quick!"
The exhausted hens crowded together in a frilly huddle. Peer captured them and tied their feet together. "Sorry!" he mumbled to them as he carried them in pairs to the ox cart. There they lay on the splintery boards, gargling faintly. As Peer finished, Uncle Baldur came up dragging a reluctant Loki along by a string around his neck.
"Fasten 'im to the tail of the cart," his uncle ordered. "He can run along behind." He grinned, sneering. "It's a long way. Think he'll make it?"
Loki limped pathetically. "Can't he ride?" Peer faltered. "Look, he's lame. . . ."
His voice died under Uncle Baldur's unwinking stare, and miserably he did as he was told. Then he clambered up into the cart himself. It was time to go.
Ingrid came out to see him off, wiping first her hands and then her eyes on her apron.
"You poor lamb!" she wailed. "Dragged off at a moment's notice! And Brand's down at the shipyard and can't even say good-bye. What he'll say when he hears, I don't dare to think! Come back soon, Peer, and see us!"
"I will if I can," he promised glumly. The cart tipped, creaking, as Uncle Baldur hauled himself up. He took a new piece of twine from his pocket and tied one end around the rail of the cart. Then he tied the other end, in a businesslike manner, around Peer's right wrist. Peer's mouth fell open. He tried to jerk away, and got his ears slapped.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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