Svana Raknisdóttir made her way along the shore. She walked lightly, but her feet made fine impressions in the wet, black sand. They were still small, pretty feet which did not show her age, unlike her face, which was netted in wrinkles. Her frail, slender form in its blue dress and apron-skirt and red cloak stood out against the grayness of the sea as she stepped into the water, while it advanced on the Iceland coast.
Rakni Hrafnsson, her father the freeman, was tall and long-armed. She remembered when he said goodbye, kissing her on the cheek, his beard causing her face to itch. He wore blue-black wool and sable. The wooden stockfish-racks were hung full with drying cod outside the huts, but the fishermen and the slaves were silent. Rakni pressed a silver trefoil brooch into her small, childish hand.
Summers and winters had passed, and each day she used to come to the shore. Her father’s ship left forty years ago, filled with men at the oars with spears and axes and round shields, and did not return. It was her elder brother, Ulfkell, who had looked after the farm, he whose eyes were like coals in the firepit. He was once called Sheepslayer; as a boy of five, it was said, he went adventuring and came across a stray sheep, which he killed with his knife. But he also had three men now to his credit, and no one had mocked him with that name in many years. And yet it was what came to the lips of his killer, Vigolfr, as he spat on Ulfkell’s corpse on the yesterday.
Ulfkell Raknisson was fiery, but not wise enough in his younger years to keep the farm prosperous and in his later years to defend it from their many enemies. He was thought dangerous and volatile, and after Rakni did not return from sea his neighbors withdrew from association with Hrafnsheimr. No man took Svana from her father’s hearth, and the years wore on.
Svana kept walking. The sands were rough, even on the feet that had walked through them often. Rakni killed him. He deemed Máni’s attentions unseemly. Rakni killed him, and blood was on his hands when he spoke with me. Barely a man… fifteen….
She was in deeper now, and her dress was soaking above her knees. She let her arms fall to the side, and the water ran between her fingers. “Kristr, Hvíta-kristr,” she murmured. “The ravens fly over the sea.”
The sun came through the clouds, illuminating her and sparkling on the water. She loosened her cloak and raised up the trefoil brooch. It was black against the sun, black like a carrion-bird. A wave caught her and she fell. Her cloth became heavy, and the brooch slipped from her fingers. She heard the song of the sea as she began to sleep.
When her eyes opened she was on the black sands. A white-bearded holy man stood in front of her, and he helped her to her feet. Then he cast his stainless linen cloak around her shoulders.
“I am Bishop Jónas,” he said. “Come to the white mountain, swan of Hrafnsheimr. It is almost nightfall.”
He pressed the trefoil brooch into her old, childish hand.