Pushing open the door to the farmhouse, Lauga made her way down the dark corridor and turned left into the kitchen. In the absence of her mistress, Kristín had taken the afternoon off to visit her family, but the hearth was still smoking from that morning's fire. Lauga quickly heaped it with dried dung, almost suffocating the flames that crept up in her rush. How would her father react to news of the District Commissioner's visit? How long would the prisoner be kept at Kornsá? She didn't even have the letter he had shown her; Steina had thrown it on the fire during their quarrel.
Still, Lauga thought, placing a pot on a hook above the flames, once Pabbi knew, he would take charge.
She stoked the hearth with a little air from the bellows, and then quickly trotted down the corridor to poke her head outside the door. Another thrill of panic ran down her spine. What would he do? She ducked her head back inside and went into the pantry to gather what she could for a broth. There was only a little barley left. They were still waiting for the farmhands to return from the merchants in the south.
Lauga stepped across the doorway, nearly tripping on the raised ledge, and went into the storeroom to fetch a little mutton for the pot. There was no point cutting down any smoked lamb at this time of year, but there was a slice or two of blood sausage left from the winter, very sour but good.
We'll eat together in the badstofa. I'll tell them then, Lauga decided. She heard the sounds of the horse's hooves in the dirt of the yard outside.
"Komið þið sæl!" Lauga stepped out of the croft, brushing the dust from the dung off her hands, and quickly smoothing her hair back under her cap. "Good to see you both safely returned."
Jón, her father, slowed the horse to a stop and gave her a smile from under his riding hat. He raised a bare hand in greeting and stepped forward to give her a quick, formal kiss.
"Little Lauga. How have you managed?" He turned to the horse to unload a few parcels fastened on its back.
Margrét glanced down at Lauga and gave her a warm look, although her lips barely moved. "Hello, Sigurlaug," she said.
"You look well."
"I'm still alive," she replied.
"Are you tired?"
Margrét ignored the question and slid awkwardly to the ground. Lauga embraced her mother shyly, then ran her hand over the mare's nose and felt the nostrils quiver, the hot, wet breath on her palm.
"Where's your sister?"
Lauga glanced at the outcrop where the stream was, but could see no movement. "Fetching water for supper."
Margrét raised her eyebrows. "I thought she'd be here to welcome us."
Lauga turned again to her father, who was placing the small packages from the saddle on the ground. She took a deep breath. "Pabbi, there is something I have to tell you later."
He began to untie the stiff rope from about the mare. "A death?"
"Have we lost any animals?"
"Oh. Oh no, nothing like that," Lauga answered, adding, "Thank the Lord," as an afterthought. She stepped closer to her father. "I might need to tell you this alone," she said in a low voice.
Her mother heard her. "What you have to say can be told to the both of us, Lauga."
"I don't want to distress you, Mamma."
"Oh, I am often distressed," Margrét said, suddenly smiling. "It comes from having children and servants to look after." Then, telling her husband to make sure he didn't set the remaining parcels down in puddles, Margrét picked up some packages and headed inside, Lauga following after her.
Jón had entered the badstofa and eased himself down next to his wife by the time Lauga brought in the bowls of broth.
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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