Sigridúr smiles sadly. 'Your pabbi would have known what to do.'
'I miss him too.' Rósa embraces her, closing her eyes and inhaling the sour smell of wool and sweat that reminds her of her childhood.
Rósa's father, Magnús, the Bishop of Skálholt, had died nearly two months earlier. It had started with stomach pains, but within a month his belly had swollen as if he were heavy with child.
The village had whispered, of course, that it was the work of some witch with a grudge, peeved perhaps that he had banned all runes and the casting of spells, where previous bishops had openly read from the Sagas and the Bible alike. Magnús had treated the rumours with contempt: he had denounced them from the pulpit and had threatened to have the gossips thrown from the church. It smothered the hissed rumours, but didn't stop the illness raging through his body. He was dead before the Solstice, leaving little in the way of money or goods for his wife and daughter. Magnús had sold the lavish croft with its glass windows and wood-lined walls, giving the money to the upkeep of the church. He had chosen to live instead in a small, cramped, turf-roofed building, like his flock.
Riches feed the body but devour the soul. Better to live humbly, like Christ.
During his lifetime the villagers had been generous: in addition to the weekly tithe, they had given ale and mutton enough to keep the family well fed and create the illusion of prosperity. But it had taken Rósa very little time after her pabbi's death to see that their situation was desperate.
Soon, her mamma had developed a cough that bubbled like a sulphurous marsh with every breath. Rósa lay in the baðstofa at night, listening to the fluid filling Sigridúr's chest. She remembered Pabbi's lessons about the four humours: too much water in the lungs could leave a person drowning in their own body.
She watched her mother shrink and wheeze, curling into herself like an old woman: grey-skinned, with eye-sockets like caves. Rósa's desires for herself withered and her life sharpened to a single purpose: help Mamma to survive.
On the first Sunday of July, a month after Magnús's death, Rósa had gone to church with the intention of praying for guidance. She and Mamma had eaten the last of their skyr that morning and were too proud to beg.
On the way to the church, she had passed Margrét, who was using a stick to scratch lines in the ground outside her croft. She turned at Rósa's footsteps, then quickly scuffed out the lines with her shoe. 'Just a Bible verse.' She grimaced, her chin jutting aggressively, and tucked her grey hair into the threadbare cap where it had come loose.
'Which one?' Rósa couldn't help asking. It was no secret that Margrét couldn't read or write a word and was envious of Rósa's knowledge. She had been scratching out a rune, no doubt.
'Ten Commandments,' Margrét snapped. 'In pictures. Enough of your smirking, Rósa. I saw that young man of yours.'
'Young man of mine?' Rósa thought she could feel heat rising to her cheeks.
'Don't play the fool with me. He's off digging turf on a Sunday instead of going to church. You'll have to keep Páll in line if you want him to make a good husband.'
'Then you must look for the girl he means to marry and tell her so. Perhaps you will find her when you go to church, Margrét, instead of making patterns outside your croft.'
Rósa didn't wait for her to respond, but quickly walked on. She scanned the fields for Páll, but couldn't see him. Neither was his one of the dozens of faces that turned to hers, then away, whispering, when she walked into the church.
The building was hot with bodies as the villagers crowded to welcome the newly appointed bishop, Olaf Gunnarsson. They fidgeted as he spoke.
Suddenly, Bishop Olaf was speaking Rósa's name, the daughter of the great Bishop Magnús. He beckoned her up to the wooden pulpit as everyone stared; she could imagine them judging how thin she had grown. As soon as he let her go, she darted back to her bench, taking a deep breath only once the eyes of a hundred villagers were no longer upon her.
But as she looked up once more, she had the feeling that someone was still watching. She glanced to her left and there he was: a stranger in the village where she knew everybody's name.
He was a huge man: the muscles in his arms stretched the material of his tunic. He was dark-skinned, as if he spent much of his time outside. His heavy beard hid too much of his mouth for her to read his expression.
She dropped her gaze. When she looked up again, he was still staring.
After the service, the stranger left quickly. Rósa didn't have to ask to find out who he was because everyone was full of talk: Jón Eiríksson was a rich fisherman, farmer and merchant from Stykkishólmur. A self-made, powerful man. Since the death of the chieftain in the area, he also acted as goði, dealing with many legal and church matters from his own croft—there was no church building in his tiny settlement'.' He had been travelling south to buy a new cow and had stopped at Rósa's village. The Skálholt church buzzed with talk.