The Falcons of Fire and Ice - By Karen Maitland



Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before finally settling in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln. She is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars, The Owl Killers and The Gallows Curse. The latter three titles are available as Penguin paperbacks.

Time and chance happen to all men. For man knows not his time. As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of man snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them.

Ecclesiastecus 9:11–12

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

‘Strange Meeting’, Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)

First World War poet

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

So potent a persuasion to evil was religion.

De Rerum Natura, Titus Lucretius Carus

(c. 95–55 BC) Roman poet

Cast of Characters

Iceland – 1514

Elísabet – pregnant woman

Jóhann – her husband

Portugal – 1539

Manuel da Costa – glassblower

Jorge – physician

Benito – Spanish Marrano

Portugal – 1564

Isabela – daughter of the Royal Falconer

Ana – Isabela’s mother

King Sebastian – sovereign of Portugal, a boy of ten years old

Cardinal Henry – the king’s great-uncle and Regent

Dona Ofelia – wife of royal courtier

Jorge – physician in 1539 and now elderly neighbour of Isabela

Ricardo – adventurer

Dona Lúcia – rich widow

Carlos – Dona Lúcia’s nephew

Silvia – Ricardo’s lover

Filipe – potboy at the local tavern

Iceland – 1564

Eydis – oracle and shaman

Valdis – twin sister of Eydis

Fannar – local farmer

Ari – hired farmhand

Unnur – Fannar’s wife, and mother to daughters Margrét and Lilja

Heidrun – friend of Eydis

Pastor Fridrik – Lutheran clergyman

Jónas – stallion owner and father to little daughter frída

Pétur – breeder of horses

On Board the Ship

Dona Flávia – wife of a merchant

Marcos – physician

Vítor – map-maker and collector of curios

Fausto – diamond hunter

Hinrik – ship’s boy from Iceland


Anno Domini 1514 – Iceland

‘I killed them, Elísabet, I killed them!’

Elísabet heard the sobs tearing at her husband’s throat. She knew Jóhann was desperate for her to comfort him, begging her to assure him that no evil would come from the terrible thing he’d done, but she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even bring herself to turn and look at him. She stared at her own hand grasping the iron ladle. She watched her reed-thin fingers stir the dried stockfish in the steaming pot, as if her hand was a strange animal she didn’t recognize.

‘I had to do it, Elísabet … I had no choice.’

Her back snapped upright. ‘I begged you not to go. Did you listen? No, as usual you …’

But even as she turned to confront him, her eyes glittering with fear and rage, her words died away in a horrified gasp. Jóhann was standing close behind her in the tiny cottage, bathed in the mustard light of the fish-oil lamp. But if she hadn’t heard his voice, Elísabet would never have recognized the creature staring down at her as her husband.

His face was a mask of blood. It ran down his cheeks, and pooled in the creases of his skin, staining his pale beard crimson. Blood oozed too from numerous deep gashes on his arms and hands. Even his hair was soaked and matted with gore. If it hadn’t been for his clothes, which she had woven and stitched with her own hand, Elísabet would have sworn he was the ghost of some ancient Viking who’d perished in battle.

Jóhann’s legs buckled beneath him and he sank down on the wooden platform that served as both bed and chairs in the tiny room. That was enough to jerk Elísabet into action. Although her belly was swollen with child, she moved with a swiftness that she had not managed for weeks, hurrying to dip a handful of raw wool into the water pail and return with it, dripping, to her husband’s side. Gently she began to wipe the scarlet stains from his face, but even as she washed the blood away more ran from the wounds to cover the blanched skin. Jóhann, wincing, caught her wrist and, pulling the hank of wet wool from her fingers, pressed it to his forehead. He closed his eyes and, for a moment, Elísabet thought he was going to pass out, but he didn’t fall.

‘Did you …’ She swallowed hard. ‘Did you get the foreigner what he wanted?’

Jóhann reached beneath his shirt, flinching as the coarse woollen cloth rasped over the cuts on his hand. He pulled out a leather draw-string purse and let it fall on to the bed. The purse looked well stuffed, but that told Elísabet little