His father looked up from the boiling fish and nodded.
"I'm expected to arrive early in the evening to acquaint myself with the family at Kornsá, and be present when Well, when the criminal arrives."
His father frowned. "Go then, son."
Tóti hesitated. "Do you think I'm ready?"
Reverend Jón sighed and lifted the kettle off its hook over the coals. "You know your own heart."
"I've been praying in the church. I wonder what Mamma would have thought about it all."
Tóti's father blinked slowly and looked away.
"What do you think, Father?"
"A man must be true to his word."
"Is it the right decision, though? I I don't want to displease you."
"You should seek to please the Lord," Reverend Jón muttered, trying to scoop his fish from the hot water with his knife.
"Will you pray for me, Father?"
Tóti waited for a response, but none came. Perhaps he thinks he is better suited to meet murderesses, Tóti thought. Perhaps he is jealous she chose me. He watched his father lick a fragment of fish from where it had stuck to the blade. She chose me, he repeated to himself.
"Don't wake me when you return," Reverend Jón called out as his son turned and left the room.
Tóti slipped a saddle over his horse and mounted. "This is it, then," he whispered quietly. He gently squeezed his knees to urge his horse forward, and looked back at the croft. Its thin wreath of kitchen smoke dissipated into the soft drizzle of the afternoon.
Traveling through the long grasses of the valley surrounding the church, the Assistant Reverend tried to think of what he should say. Should he be kind and welcoming, or stern and impenetrable, like Blöndal? As he rode, he rehearsed various tones of voice, different greetings. Perhaps he should wait until he saw the woman. Unexpectedly, a small thrill flickered through his body. She was only a workmaid, but she was a murderess. She had killed two men. Slaughtered them like animals. He silently mouthed the word to himself. Murderess. Morðingi. It slipped through his mouth like milk.
As he traveled over the north peninsula with its thin lip of ocean on the horizon, the clouds began to clear and the soft red light of the late June sun flooded the pass. Drops of water glittered brightly upon the ground, and the hills appeared pink and muted, shadows moving slowly across them as clouds drifted overhead. Small insects wound their way through the air, lit up like flecks of dust as they passed through the sunshine, and the sweet, damp smell of grass, almost ready to be harvested, lingered in the cool air of the valleys. The dread that Tóti had felt so firmly lining his stomach dissipated as he fell into a quiet appreciation of the countryside before him. We are all God's children, he thought to himself. This woman is my sister in Jesus, and I, as her spiritual brother, must guide her home. He smiled and brought his horse to a tölt. "I will save her," he whispered.
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
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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