The four children had been sitting there waiting for a long time. But there was still nothing to be heard except the gurgling of the brook and the scouring of the pebbles on the shore as they were washed out to sea by the waters of the brook, then back to the shore by the waves.
A shrill cry rang out high above their heads, and they all looked up. An eagle was hovering over the sea on widespread wings.
The cry had set the heart of one of the girls beating wildly, and she laid her hand over it as if to calm it. Her light-brown eyes followed the eagle until it disappeared in the rays of the sun, which were slanting low over the face of the sea.
Her hair was plaited in a red-gold braid that ended in a curl in the middle of her back. A small scar showed white in one of her eyebrows.
She was tired of waiting. It shouldn’t take this long, she thought. But it could.
The girl sitting beside her was a couple of years older. Her hair was dark and straight, her nose large and curved. She was holding a little boy on her lap; he was asleep. His mouth was open, and his head rested on her shoulder. A thin trail of drool had trickled from his mouth down her dark-blue dress.
At the older girl’s feet lay a wire-haired black mongrel. The dog had cocked one ear at the eagle’s cry without opening her eyes, as if she knew that it wasn’t the kind of sound she had to attend to.
The last of the lot was a big boy, almost a young man, the oldest of them all. He had bright blue eyes and rather long dark hair, which was constantly falling in his eyes so that he had to keep brushing it aside. He sat whittling on a stick, and he’d been at it so long that there was quite a heap of shavings between his feet.
The children were sitting on the rocks above a cove in which there were three whitewashed houses. Thick smoke rose from one of the chimneys, though it had been a warm summer day. A .ock of chickens were pecking around in front of the house, and on the grassy slope behind it various-colored sheep—black and gray, white and brown—could be seen.
A shout was heard from the cove below. A man had come to the doorway and stood there, calling, “Eidi! Ravnar! Myna! Doup!”
The children got to their feet and scrambled down the steep, rocky slope. First came Myna with Doup in her arms, though he was getting much too big to be carried around, and with the dog at her heels. After her came Ravnar, with his knife dangling from one hand and his stick in the other. Then came Eidi with lagging steps. Her leg had gone to sleep, and she was afraid she might stumble.
She was the last one to step through the door.
So that was what a newborn baby looked like. Little, red, and wrinkled, with small, half-dried blood clots in the fair hairs on its head. With white fat like congealed tallow in all its folds and creases. It lay there at Foula’s breast like a pale little frog. It was wailing hoarsely, all four limbs sprawling.
They were allowed just one quick look at the naked baby. Then Foula tucked it under the blanket and gathered it close in to her. Her eyes shone up at Frid.
“Does it hurt, Mother?” asked Eidi. She had seen the ewes lambing.
Foula smiled at her and stroked her cheek with the back of her hand.
“Not anymore,” she said. “And besides, what does it matter if it hurts a bit, when we’ve got such a lovely little boy.”
“A boy!” exclaimed Eidi in surprise. “I thought it would be a girl, like me!”
“A little baby,” marveled Doup, looking up at Myna, who nodded and smiled at him.
“Would you like to see him again?” asked Frid.
Doup nodded, and his father lifted him up so he could get a better view of his new half brother.
Ravnar, Frid’s other son, stroked the little cheek gingerly with one .nger, and Myna was allowed to hold the baby in her shawl for a moment. She stood quite still, gazing down into a pair of deep-blue eyes.
“It’s like looking into the sky,” she said.
Eidi turned away and walked out of the room and out of the house. She went right down to the edge of the sea and stood there staring over the water at the setting sun until black specks began to dance before her eyes and she had to look away from the glowing light.
She walked barefoot along the shore’s edge over the small, round pebbles and felt how the water cooled her feet and the tears cooled her burning cheeks.
At last she came to where a big, .at rock jutted up in the shallow water near the shore. She waded out and climbed onto it. The waves lapped around the rock and sucked back with a sigh as they left the deep crannies in its sides. Little terns with pointed wings drew sharp angles across the orange sky. The sea smelled of salt and seaweed.
Eidi caught a tear on the tip of her tongue. It tasted of seawater. Then she wiped her eyes and her cheeks with the back of her hand, drew a deep breath, and stopped crying.
Now she could feel that she wasn’t only sad but also relieved and glad. It had all gone well. Her mother was lying there smiling in her bed with a living child in her arms, and that was what counted.
The sun had gone down. It stayed hidden for a short while, only to appear again like a red full moon above the crest of the eastern hills, with a little star for company.
The evening was mild. All the same, there was a .re blazing on the hearth when she stepped into the main room. Foula was sitting on the settle bed with the new baby in her arms. The others were at the table having their supper.
The .re crackled, and Foula hummed bits of a melody now and again. The baby boy made small noises.
When they had eaten, Myna rose and got ready to go home to her own house. Doup wanted to go with her, and Ravnar went along to see them home. Eidi brought a chair and sat down by the settle bed. The baby boy had fallen asleep. He lay quite still, with his tiny hand clutching the edge of the blanket. His .ngernails were so small that Eidi could hardly see them in the dim light.
“May I hold him?” she asked.
“I think you’d better wait a bit,” said Foula. “He’s sleeping now.”
It was as though this new little creature gradually calmed everything in the room. Even the .re had ceased crackling, and let its .ames lick soundlessly along the logs.
Foula had stopped humming; Frid sat very still at the table, looking at her and the child.
It was Foula who broke the silence.
“What shall we call him?”
“Cam,” Eidi said after a while, “because everything goes calm and quiet around him.”
“Cam,” said Foula, considering.
The baby let go of the blanket and moved his arms; he seemed to be swimming up from the depths of sleep toward waking life before he opened his eyes.
He looked at Eidi, and she looked back at him, feeling that she was being regarded from another world. “Cam,” she called quietly.
And he answered her with a little squeak.
“Cam. It’s a good name,” she heard Frid say.
Foula nodded, and that was his name from then on.
Excerpted from Eidi by Bodil Bredsdorff.
Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Mahaffy.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
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