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The sound of Elise Rosenberg’s ring striking against her crystal glass roused me from my fit of reverie. The conversation continued as lively as ever but still harped endlessly on the same subjects—the price of butter, some new lace that’d come out on the last ship from Denmark, the difficulties of convincing the farmers of the sudden scarcity of tobacco (they simply thought you were withholding it in the hope of getting higher offers) and the inexhaustible porridge of scandal, politics and intrigue that’d found its way out to Reykjavík via the ships’ captains and the occasional outdated news-sheet. Per¬haps I could just take another sip of wine, make some passing comment and let them get on with it again.... My age and the fact that I seemed to be able to carry off a singularly good impersonation of a man listening with interest would perhaps allow me to go back to my thoughts without getting dragged into the conversation again. All I had to do was to give the odd smile or nod here and there, just enough to maintain the decency of my silence. Me and my wine and the world going by—that was all I really wanted.

That June night of 1804, there were eight of us at the table of Anders Rosenberg, Danish merchant, in the house up on the slopes at the back of the town. On the table, which was covered with crisp white linen, the best wax candles burned bright and steady in their silver candlesticks so that countless little lights flared on the cutlery, the crystal and the Danish porcelain. By now most of the food had been cleared away and we men were pulling philosophically at our cigars whilst the women plucked small pleasures from the little bowl of sweetmeats that Elise had ceremoniously laid out for this special occasion.

Out through the window opposite me, the light of the midnight sun lay softly in the sky, its warmth rubbing up against the flanks of Esja which rose up high behind the island of Videy.

For a while I sank back into my trance but as soon as there was a sudden lull in the conversation, I took my chance.

‘I really don’t want to break up the party, Anders, but I think I’d best be on my way. I did promise my sister I’d be back at Audnir by morning.’

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