The crow girl knew things that no one should know. She knew when the neighbor’s goat would die. She knew when a child would be stillborn, or when a warrior would lose his hand in battle. These things came to her like wind off the sea, sudden and swift, clouding her gaze and creasing her brow, and then she would eye the goat or the pregnant woman or the warrior with a certainty that scorched. So no one asked the crow girl any questions, because they never liked the answers she gave. They left her to her goats and her old mother and her hut in the scree; they whispered about the raven that perched on her shoulder, a messenger from the gods.

The crow girl knew that the great king’s wife was dead long before the men arrived. It slammed into her ribs all at once: the queen with hair like winter grasses, her blue fingers gripping a string of glass beads as they lowered her into a boat beside a bloody, severed horse head. Of course, the girl did not tell the men this when she met them. Too many times had she seen what men will do when faced with what is beyond their comprehension.

Kráka! Kráka! The sun was high and white in the sky when her mother’s voice summoned her from across the scree, and the girl knew instantly that the men had come. She kissed the top of her favorite goat’s head and followed the voice over the hills, picking her way between the rocks with practiced precision. On her shoulder, her raven screeched and flapped its wings, snapping at her hair with its beak. A bad omen.

The hut was a mound of hollowed-out dirt, and it looked so much like the grave mounds which spotted these hills that no sane person dared to travel near it. Just as well for the girl and her mother—they liked visitors just as well as they liked fish, which is to say, not at all. So the girl did not need to use her second-sight to know that Gríma her mother was unhappy when she pushed her way through the hut’s small wooden door. The seething glare in the old woman’s eyes was enough give that away.

You are the daughter of Gríma, said the men she knew would be there. There were five of them, sea-warriors, too large for the hut, bending their necks to avoid hitting the ceiling. One of their swords knocked against a clay pot; it shattered to the floor. The crow girl’s mother eyed her from across the room. Bad omen.

I am the daughter of many things, one of which is Gríma, the crow girl said.

The men glanced between the crow girl and her withered mother, whose skin was like a tanned leather, whose fingernails were black in some places and missing in others. For even though the crow girl wore rags over her body, dirt on her face, and blisters on her feet, anyone could tell that she was beautiful in a way which could only bring misfortune. How could such a girl share blood with a woman like Gríma?

The crow girl said: you are servants of the king they call Ragnar. She forced her lips to bend the words into a question.

We have come to ask for help, replied the youngest of the warriors. He reminded her, vaguely, of a seal pup, his beard sprouting in fuzzy dark patches from his full-cheeked face. We just landed our ships on the coast, he said, and we have no food left.

The girl shared a look with her mother. The faster they obeyed these men’s demands, the faster they would be rid of them. From her shoulder, the raven gave an irritable squawk.

What would you have me do? said the girl.

Prepare the bread for us to bake.

As you wish.

The men watched her in silence as she shaped five lumps of dough into loaves. Whether they were staring at the raven on her shoulder or her golden hair shimmering in the torchlight was difficult to say, but neither option pleased old Gríma. Her hand never left the knife at her hip, not even when the crow girl helped the men to bake their loaves and sent them on their way, not until they had vanished over the horizon with the last sliver of sunlight. The dog Gríma kept to eat rats and other vermin barked long after the men had gone: a third bad omen, which was an omen in and of itself.

Thank the gods, Gríma said. We can finally have some peace.

For now, said the crow girl with clouded eyes and a creased brow. The bird on her shoulder was gravely silent.

If the girl’s talent was knowing, Gríma’s was sensing when her daughter knew. But the old woman asked no questions. Some things were better left unspoken after dark.

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