“What did it say?”
“Nothing. It was just a drawing of a hand, like this.” Sif held up her hand, fingers together, palm facing Leifsson.
He sat bolt upright, as though he’d been shocked. Sif blinked, and said, “What—”
Without malice, but firmly nevertheless, he reached across the table, put his hand over hers, and folded her fingers shut. “Be very careful to whom you make that gesture. They may be old wounds, but they run deep. Do you have the paper?”
“Not with me,” said Sif.
“Get it,” Leifsson replied. “I’ll be here tonight at the tenth bell. Bring it to me.”
“What wounds?” Sif asked.
Leifsson paused, looked over her shoulder, then met her eyes. “If I don’t tell you, you’ll just look it up, I expect?” Sif opened her mouth. Leifsson held up a finger. “Honestly, now.”
Sif closed her mouth and nodded.
“Don’t. If you go nosing around, people will ask why. If they are back, they’ll hear. If they aren’t, the thanes’ agents will. Neither is good.” He tapped the table. “I’ll explain tonight. Keep your curiosity in check until then.”
“I can do that.”
“Good. I will see you then.”
Sif went back to her room, lit a candle to ward against the gathering dark, and sat on her bed, back against the cold stone wall, with Geirsson the Scholar’s history on her lap.
The dweorgr now began to figure in the history of the Norrmanne. Both had been slaves of the ælfr. The dweorgr cast off the ælfish yoke at the same time the Norrmanne did, fighting shoulder to shoulder, or at least shoulder to hip. They declined their share of the spoils, grateful for the aid the Norrmanne had provided, but suspicious of magic as ever. Instead, they retreated underground, reclaiming their mountain halls and digging deeper.
After that, the dweorgr disappeared from human history until a century after liberation, when an expedition appeared suddenly from a branch tunnel near Medylwyrmirholm, the Norrmannrike’s capital. Joar King the Second reopened trade, but cautiously; a few years later, he was poisoned, and Joar King the Third threw open the marktplatz gates.
She dimly remembered dweorgr mingling with the Norrman traders in Syderskogholm’s merchant quarters. Every one Sif had come across had been severe-looking and extraordinarily watchful. Not the kind of person whose coin purse you went after.