Jón returned to Kornsá some hours later. Kristín, who had come back from her afternoon's holiday to a sound chastising from Margrét, was scowling reproachfully at Steina. Margrét paused at her knitting and was considering whether or not to make peace between the girls, when she heard the door to the croft creak open and the sound of her husband's heavy tread in the corridor.
Jón entered and immediately looked across at his wife. She clenched her jaw.
"Well?" Margrét ushered her husband to his bed.
Jón fumbled at the ties on his shoes.
"Please, Pabbi," Lauga said, dropping to her knees. "What did Blöndal say?" She jerked backwards as she pulled off his boots. "Is she still to come here?"
Jón nodded. "It's as Lauga said. Agnes Magnúsdóttir is to be moved from her holdings at Stóra-Borg and brought to us."
"But why, Pabbi?" Lauga asked quietly. "What did we do wrong?"
"We have done nothing wrong. I am a District Officer. She can't be placed with any family. She is a responsibility of the authorities, of which I am one."
"Plenty of authorities at Stóra-Borg." Margrét's tone was sour.
"She's to be moved nevertheless. There was an incident."
"What happened?" Lauga asked.
Jón looked down at the fair face of his youngest child. "I am sure it was nothing to worry about," he said eventually.
Margrét gave a short laugh. "Are we just going to yield to this? Like a dog rolling over?" Her voice dropped to a hiss. "This Agnes is a murderess, Jón! We have our girls, our workmen. Even Kristín! We are responsible for others!"
Jón gave his wife a meaningful look. "Blöndal means to compensate us, Margrét. There is remuneration for her custody."
Margrét paused. When she spoke her voice was subdued. "Perhaps we should send the girls away."
"No, Mamma! I don't want to leave," cried Steina.
"It would be for your own safety."
Jón cleared his throat. "The girls will be safe enough with you, Margrét." He sighed. "There is another thing. Björn Blöndal has requested my presence at Hvammur on the night the woman arrives here."
Margrét opened her mouth in dismay. "You mean to make me meet her?"
"Pabbi, you can't leave Mamma alone with her," Lauga cried.
"She won't be alone. You will all be here. There will be officers from Stóra-Borg. And a Reverend. Blöndal has organized it."
"And what is so important at Hvammur that Blöndal requires you there the very night he ushers a criminal into our home?"
"No, I insist. This is unfair."
"We are to discuss who shall be executioner."
"All the District Officers will be present, including those from Vatnsnes who will travel with the Stóra-Borg riders. We will sleep there that night and return the next day."
"And in the meantime I am left alone with the woman who killed Natan Ketilsson."
Jón looked at his wife calmly. "You will have your daughters."
Margrét began to say something further, but then thought better of it. She gave her husband a hard look, took up her knitting and began working the needles furiously.
Steina watched her mother and father from under lowered brows, and picked up her dinner, feeling sick to her stomach. She held the wooden bowl in her hands and examined the gobbets of mutton swimming in the greasy broth. Slowly taking her spoon, she lifted a piece to her lips and began to chew, her tongue locating a lump of gristle within the flesh. She fought the instinct to spit it out and ground it under her teeth, swallowing in silence.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
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