The chapters begins where the last book ended: in Queen Gunnhild's bed chamber.
In the previous book, The Bitch Queen, Sigve the Awful defeated a fearsome adversary, but he had to pay a high price. In the new book, he has sworn allegiance to King Harald Greycloak of Norway, an old enemy. Queen Gunnhild, the king's mother, demands more and more of Sigve.
War is building in Denmark, and when King Greycloak is dragged into the conflict, Sigve seeks to take advantage of the situation and get out of his thralldom. He still wears his rune sword, and he gets help from Life, the king's subdued lover thrall.
|History and myth, love and action in John Snow's next book|
1I could kill for those hands, Sigve thought.
Sigve the Awful watched Life, the woman tending his wounds. She rinsed the cuts at his shoulders and turned to fetch a bowl of soothing ointment. The cut-washing hurt, but Life’s fingers lessened the pain; the salve would relieve the ache even more. It was not the first time Life had treated his sore skin.
They sat on a bench in a small nursing house. A fire was burning in a pit on the floor, and a tiny beam of light swept down from the smoke vent. On a timber along the bench, two oil-lamps were set up to help Life in her treatment. In times of war, the sickroom could be packed with wounded warriors. Today they were alone in the room.
Sigve studied Life. Her hair was bundled up and pinned with a polished bone stick; it was shining black, and usually the hair hung down her back. Life was a healer, not very tall or slim; she was small and oozing of woman. Her hands were warm, and turning to Sigve, she used the tip of her fingers to stroke his shoulders, preparing to rub salve into the wounds. When she turned towards him, Sigve caught her eyes; they were almond-shaped, dark, and sad.
"You’ve grown stronger," Life said. Steering clear of the cuts, her fingers rubbed his bulging muscles.
"Yes," he answered.