For the sea was coming in more heavily still as it gathered weight with the long gale, which was still blowing hard. It was more than likely that the ship would go to pieces in the night as the tide rose again. Now and then the rain squalls came up and drenched us, and passed; but the brothers cared as little for them as did we, and enjoyed the unusual work more. It was a wonder to them to see their young prince working as hard as themselves as we carried the heavy things up the beach.
"It is a matter which I have learned while on my travels," he said, when Fergus said somewhat of the sort to him gently. "I have seen these two friends, who are nobles in their own lands, work as hard at oar and rope's end as they would at fighting. Moreover, it is well to do things for myself now and then—as, for instance, swimming."
Now we loaded the wagon, which was easy to put together, and the brethren harnessed themselves to it, laughing. They would not suffer us to help, and we had to walk behind the wagon in a sort of idle train, not altogether sorry to rest, for we were very weary by this time. As for the hermits, they made light of the rough way and the load, being like schoolboys let loose. I do not suppose that they had laughed thus for many a long day, and it was good to watch them.
So we came to the huts, and set down our load. Presently the brothers would bestow the things under cover, but there was no more to come. So we did but take Gerda her own chest, and have the court men's to the hut which had been given us. We bade Phelim, as guest master, take what he would of the provender as he liked, saying it was theirs altogether; and he thanked us simply, more for our own sake than theirs, as I know. They would not let us go back to the shore for the next load.
"Bide and rest," said Fergus; "this is a holiday for us, and we enjoy it. We shall talk of it all for many a long day; but for you it is but an added and needless weariness."
So, nothing loath, we sat on the stone blocks which were set for seats outside Gerda's hut, and watched them go with the wagon. Presently Gerda came and asked for a little help, and I went and moved her chest for her, and hung a heavy curtain, which I have no doubt was a wrecked boat's sail once, to its stone pegs across the door. They had lit a fire for her at the first, and the cell was comfortable altogether.
"Now I shall rest," she said. "By and by, no doubt, you will bring me supper, but it is strange not to feel the tossing of the ship. It is wonderful to be warm and in safety once more. You have been very good to me."
But I thought of her patience and cheerfulness through the countless discomforts and dangers of the voyage, and knew that the praise was hers.
"We have said truly that you are a sea-king's daughter indeed, my queen," I answered. "It is enough to hear you say that we are not useless courtmen."
We three went to our hut and took off our mail, and found dry clothing in the chest, with many thanks to the careful half-dozen warriors who had kept their best therein. Then in much comfort we saw to our arms, red with the sea rust, and hung them round the cell, which was some nine feet across and about the same height, and by the time that pleasant work was done the brothers were back, and the little bell on the chapel, where it hung in a stone cote, rang for their vespers.
They bade us come also, and Bertric and Dalfin rose up and went gladly. I had no thought that I could be welcome, and was staying, but Phelim called me.
"Malcolm is a Norse Scot," said Dalfin quietly. "He is not of our faith, and I do not know if he may come.
"If he will, he may," answered the hermit kindly. "He can be no evil heathen, seeing that he is your friend."
So, not wishing to seem ungracious, I followed them into the chapel, which was stone built after the same manner as the cells, but with a ridge roof instead of the rounded top, and much larger, being about fifteen feet long and ten wide. Over the door was a cross of white stones set in the wall, and at the eastern end was a cross also, and an altar, on which were candles of wax, at which I wondered, seeing them in this place. Round the walls ran a stone slab as bench, but I was the only one who used it. The others knelt, facing eastward, and I, at a sign from Bertric, sat by the door, wondering what I should see and hear.
There was enough for me to wonder at. I heard them pray, and I heard them sing, and whether of prayer or song the words were good to listen to. I heard them pray for the safety of men at sea in the gale, and for men who fought with the Danes ashore. They prayed that the hands of the Danes who slew their brethren in the churches round the coast wantonly might be stayed from these doings; but they did not pray for the destruction of these terrible foes. They asked that they might be forgiven for the wrong they did to harmless men. And I heard them read from a book whose leaves, as the reader turned them, I saw were bright with gold and colours, words that I cannot set down—words of uttermost peace in the midst of strife. I had never heard or thought the like. I did not know that it could be in the minds of men so to speak and write. I thought that I would ask Phelim more concerning it at some time if I had the chance.
The brethren rose up with still faces and happy, and the vespers were over. We went out into the wind again, and across to the cell they had given us, and there they gave us a supper of barley bread and milk, setting aside some for Gerda in a beautiful silver bowl, which Phelim said had come from the shore after a wreck long ago.
Now, we three had some thought that one of us had better watch through the night, if only for Gerda's comfort. But Phelim heard us speak thereof, and laughed.
"My sons," he said, "there is naught to watch against in all this little island, save only the ghostly foe, against whom your arms were of no avail. Nay, do you sleep in peace. All the night long we watch in turns in the chapel, and will wake you, if by some strange chance there is need."
"What do you watch against then, father?" I asked, somewhat idly. "Wolves round your folds?"
"Aye," he answered; "the wolf of all wolves."
"Ah, the wolf will come from the mainland, betimes, I suppose."
"Most of all we fear him thence," Phelim answered, with a quaint smile. "Nay, my son, it is no earthly wolf we watch against. Hereafter you may learn, or the prince will tell you even now, if you will. Rest in peace."
He lifted his hand and blessed us, even as he had done when he met us on the shore, and left us. They had brought fresh heather for our bedding while we ate, and blankets, and though the light still lingered in the west, we did not wait for darkness. We slept, as shipwrecked men will sleep, when at last others watch for them.
Chapter 10: Planning And Learning.
Twelve good hours I slept that night without stirring, and woke feeling like a new man and fit for aught. The first thing I noticed was the strange calm which brooded over all things, for the wind had gone down, and the long, steady roar of the surf was far off and all unlike the ceaseless rush and countless noises of the labouring ship at sea. There came a little drone of chanting from the chapel a hundred yards away, and there was now and again the bleat of a sheep, and the homely crow of the cocks, sounding as if shut up somewhere still. For a time I stayed, enjoying the unwonted calm, and then the sunlight crept into the little window, and I rose, and went out. My two comrades still slept.
It was a wonderful morning after the storm. The coast of the mainland across the narrow strait seemed close at hand, piled with great, soft, green mountains above the black cliffs, tier after tier of them stretching inland as far as the eye could see. In the valleys between them nestled forests, dark and deep, and in one place I saw the thin lines of smoke rising, which told of houses. The hill which made the best part of this island barred my view to the westward, but it was not high enough to hide the mountain tops on the mainland altogether. There was a fire lighted on it this morning as if it might be a beacon. I minded that Phelim had said that they would call the fishers from the mainland to come over for us when they might venture, and I supposed that this was their signal.
I looked across, past the tall, black cross to where Gerda's hut stood, and it was as I had last seen it. The folds of the curtain at the door had not been moved, and Phelim's crook stood where he set it. The pigs were shut up somewhere even yet. Then the bell on the roof of the little chapel rang once or twice, and I went near. But this morning there was a closed door before me, the only door in all the place. I know now that it was the hour of the morning mass, but wondered at the time why the door was closed and why the bell rang.
My going out woke Bertric, and he joined me, saying, half to himself, that he should have been in time for the service. He, too, looked all the better for the rest, and I dare say that the help of the comb, which Fergus lent us in sheer compassion overnight, had worked no small change in that direction.
We wandered down to the shore and looked at the wreck. The ship had broken up in the night, and nothing but her gaunt ribs stood in a deep pool on the wet sands. On the beach at our feet lay the gilded and green dragon's head from her stem, and all along were strewn oars and planking, and the like. It was pitiful enough. But the brothers had toiled till light failed them, for they had saved the other boat and the sledges, and also the sail, together with smaller things, among which was the cauldron of our first meals, which was a treasure to them. Inside it, on the sand hill, was the little silver cup from the penthouse, too, and the empty wine pitcher lay hard by.
"There are men who would pray for a wreck like this every week," said Bertric, with a short laugh. "But it will be all that we can do to get these good men to keep what they have saved, even if the things are of any use to them. They need little and covet naught."
Presently he heaved a great sigh, and half turned from the sea, as if impatient.
"As good a little ship as ever was framed," he said. "And to come to such an end. Mishandled on a lee shore."
"Why, there is no blame to us," I said. "We were helpless."
"It lies heavy on my mind that we ought to have weathered the point yonder; I held on too long. At best I knew where she was strained, and should have gone on the other tack first. And the canvas we got on her! We might have done better than that."
"It did not seem so at the time," I answered, laughing. "It is easy to think now of what might have been done."
"So it is. But for all my days I shall feel it in my bones that I threw the ship away. I shall dream that I am weathering the island. Two ships I have lost running."
"One by war and the other by sheer misfortune," I answered. "You make too much of it altogether."
He laughed ruefully. "Well, think what a voyage we might have had if we had chanced to pick up a crew."
"It was your own doing that Heidrek did not pick us up," I said. "Maybe that thought will comfort you somewhat."
"I was never glad of a fog before," he answered.
And there that matter ended, for now we had wandered to a place whence we could see the strait between us and the mainland, which we must cross presently.
That was not yet possible, for here the currents, as the tide rose and swirled round either end of the island, were like a mill race, while the heavy sea which still beat on the shore made the turmoil still wilder as it set across the narrow opening.
"Here we have to bide till that mends," said Bertric. "We must make the best of it, for a day or two. Maybe it matters little, for Gerda needs rest. And Dalfin will sleep till midday if we let him. He is worn out."
"He was full of all that would happen when we came as honoured guests to his father's place, as we talked last evening," I said. "That all sounds well enough for a time. But thereafter—what are our plans to be?"
"In what way?" he answered, staying his steps, and looking gravely at me.
Now this was the first chance we two had had of private talk. As may be supposed, we had been drawn together much during the voyage, partly as seamen, and also partly because Norseman and Saxon are kin, while the Irishman was almost as much a stranger to me as to Bertric. Moreover, Dalfin was at home once more, and we were wanderers. So I spoke plainly, not seeing any need to beat about the bush with this quiet friend, of whom I surely learnt so much in the long days of peril together.
"I have no plans beyond those I may make for the help of Gerda," I said. "If your home does not call you maybe it is well for her."
"There are none who will trouble much concerning me until the autumn," he answered. "I am a free man in that matter, and it need not trouble you. Let me work with you in this, for, indeed, I shall not be happy until I have seen her in safety again, and in her own land, if that may be what she wishes."
"That will be her first wish," I answered, being sure thereof.
In those last days on board the ship, when I was not taking my turn at the helm, I had spoken much with Gerda, sitting on the deck just without the little shelter we had rigged for her aft, and ever her thoughts had gone back to Norway and a home there.
"You and I must see this through together," Bertric said frankly. "I knew that this would be your one thought, and you will be none the worse off for someone to help. 'Bare is back without brother behind it,' as your old saw goes."
I held out my hand to him on that bargain with a great relief, and he took it and laughed.
"Maybe we are making much of what need be little trouble," he said; "but we cannot tell. We are in a strange land, and, from all I ever heard, a troubled one. A lady is no light charge. Let us see if we can find her before Dalfin wakes. I think we must plan apart from him for a while, for he is full of our biding always here in Ireland. Which, of course, is out of the question."
Now we turned back to the village, and as we went I asked Bertric what he would do when our end had been gained, and Gerda was once more in Norway, and at rest.
"Make my way home," he answered. "There will be ships who will be glad of a pilot into English ports, if none happen to want a master. That is easy for me. What of yourself?"
"A Norse king is always glad of a courtman," I said. "Or the Orkney earl will not let me be idle if I go to him."
"Aye," he said, "a man can always find a place. I do not think you will have to seek far."
We found Gerda up the glen, watching Fergus milk the little black and white kine which had their byres in that sheltered place. Among the trees wandered half a score of goats, and the ground was white with the wind flowers everywhere. She was bright, and seemed very fair that morning, rejoicing in rest and the peace that was all around.
"See," she said, after our greeting, "even the birds are not feared of us here. They are the little brothers and sisters of the hermits."
So indeed it seemed, for the wood birds flew to us, seeking the food which the brethren never failed to bring them. Gerda stretched out her hand with some crumbs of bread, and they perched thereon, fearless, while Fergus looked up at us and smiled a good morning.
"Have you found your breakfast, my sons?" he asked. "We set it in your cell; but the prince slept still, and we did not wake him."
We had not looked into the hut, and so went back slowly, Gerda with us. And on the way we asked how we might try to plan for her.
"Oh, if you will but do so," she said eagerly. "In any case, let me go back to Norway as soon as I may. Yet I do not know where to look for a friend who can help me to my own there."
"We had thought of Harald Harfager, the king," I said. "He was Thorwald's friend, as you told us. He will act as your guardian."
She looked at us in some surprise.
"Have you heard naught from Norway of late?" she asked.
Bertric had heard none, and we in Caithness were out of the way of news.
"Harald has been dead these six months and more," she said sadly. "Now his son, Eric Bloodaxe, reigns unquietly. Men hate him, and with reason. That terrible name of his may tell you why. Arnkel, who tried to burn me, is hand in glove with him."
Then Bertric said:
"Have you heard naught of Hakon, that son of Harald, whom our king, Athelstane, has brought up in England?"
"No," she answered, shaking her head. "We have heard naught. We would that we had, for all men speak well of him, and it was hoped that he would be back rather than that this terrible half-brother of his should take the throne."
"I know him," Bertric said. "It were well for Norway if he did return. Good warrior and good Christian he is, and that means good friend, moreover."
"We must make for Dublin," I said. "We must go to the Norse king, Sigtryg, who is there, and ask him for help. It will be hard if we cannot find a ship to serve us—even if not men who will sail to set a queen in her place once more."
"If that fails," put in Bertric, "we will go to England and speak with Hakon himself. Maybe he will take you back to Norway when he sails. For he will sail."
Gerda laughed, and shook her head again.
"You make too much of me. Hakon would not heed so small a matter. No, take me to Norway, and I will find my cousins who are in the south, and there I may be welcome. At least, I shall be no burden to them, and they are folk who live on their own land. It will be the quiet life of the homestead and the saeter which I love."
She sighed, and there was a far-off look in her eyes as if she saw again the Norse mountains and streams and the flower-edged glaciers, and heard the song of the maidens on the pastures round the saeters, and the homing call for the cattle, and longed for them.
"What of yourselves?" she said presently, and a little timidly as I thought.
"We shall not be content till we have seen you in safety, and in Norway if that may be," I answered. "That is all we have to think of now."
"We are two men at a loose end if we have not you to follow as your courtmen," added Bertric. "We would pray you not to turn us off."
"It is good to hear you speak so," she said, with a smile that was of sheer relief. "But it is a barren service, though I would not part with you if it must be put in that way. I think that I could not have found better friends, and I fear nothing while you are near."
So she went on to thank us for all our thought for her, as if we did something wonderful, and we were fain to laugh and make light of it.
"Now we are bound for Norway," said Bertric. "What shall be done with all this troublesome treasure? We cannot hale it all over Ireland."
We thought it best to leave the bulk of it with the hermits, taking enough for all possible needs in silver coin and in the rings and links of gold, which were easily carried and hidden. For we had heard from Dalfin how that between the courts of the Irish kings and that of Sigtryg of Dublin was little intercourse, save when fighting was on hand. But of that there was no need to tell Gerda, there being peace at present, so far as the hermits knew, and good reason for at least civility when she was concerned. As for the things we left here, they might he picked up on our way to Norway. So we planned, and thereafter went back to the cells and to Dalfin, who woke at noontide or thereabout with a great hunger on him.
So that day wore on in utter quietness and rest, while the wind and sea fell. Late in that afternoon, when the tide was at its lowest and the slack water was more still, Phelim came hastily and told us that there were fishers on the way from their village to us. Whereat we wondered; for still the sea ran high, and we ourselves had not dreamed of putting out in our boat.
But when we reached the rocky shore which looked on the strait, so it was. Rising and falling on the waves came a tiny craft with two men in it, and I have seldom seen a boat better handled in a sea way. Yet when they came close, it was but a wicker framework, covered with skins, the two men kneeling on the floor, and using narrow, single-bladed paddles, one on either side or both on the same side as need might be.
They came carefully alongside a flat rock which they were wont to use as a landing place, and one leapt out, running to Father Phelim, and kneeling to him for his blessing. It was hard to make out his rough speech, but it was plain that his folk had feared lest somewhat should be amiss with the hermits. Phelim told them that their prince was here, and then there was much homage done of a humble sort to Dalfin, who took it as a matter of course, though the manner of it was more cringing and excited than any Norseman could have put up with. Presently, when all that was over, they asked him what his commands were, knowing that they had been summoned for his service.
He told them that they must go to his father, their king, and ask him to send a guard to meet us as soon as possible at their village, with all that was needed for our journey to the court. Thereafter they were to send their largest boat to ferry us across to the other side. Then he dismissed them, bidding them use all speed, and again they did homage after their manner, and bent before Phelim, and so paddled out among the waves as swiftly and skilfully as they had come. There was never a word of pay or even reward spoken. It would seem to be enough for them that they should be honoured in serving their lord, or else they had no choice but to do his bidding. Maybe that last is most likely.
Now we had to wait for their signal that all was ready for us, and how long that might be we could not tell. It depended mostly on where the king was holding his court, which the fishers did not know. In the end it came to pass that we had to wait four days here, and I will not say that they went at all quickly.
Dalfin waxed moody before the next day was over. He was one of those who loved excitement, and are only happy when one thing follows another fast, caring not what it may be so long as there is somewhat, even danger. I think it was as well that he was a mighty sleeper, being content to lie on a warm sand hill and slumber between his meals. Bertric and I built a pig stye out of wreck wood for the hermits, which pleased them mightily, and was certainly better than doing nothing. Gerda watched us quietly, and then we would climb to the top of the hill and look out toward the land in hopes of seeing the fire which the fishers were to light when all was in order for our going.
So it chanced on the second day that she and I had been up the hill together, and were coming back to Bertric and his work down the little glen, when we came suddenly on the old superior, who was walking with bent head among the trees of a clearing, musing. We had not seen him since the day when we came ashore.
He started when he saw us, and looked at us as if it was the first time that he had met us; and we were about to pass him quickly, with a little due reverence. But he spoke, and we stopped.
"I remember," he said. "You are the Lochlannoch who were cast ashore. Is all well with you?"
"In every way, father," I answered in the Gaelic.
He looked hard at me for a moment, and his face flushed slowly. It had been white before with the whiteness that comes of a dark cell and long biding within it. Only the warm sun had taken him out today, for Phelim said that he was close on ninety years of age. Then he set forth his hand to me, and laid it on my arm.
"Tell me who you are," he said.
"We are Norse folk, cast ashore here by mischance in the gale."
"Norse?" he said. "Yet you speak the tongue of my childhood—the kindly Gaelic of the islands which is not that altogether of the Erse of today. It is full sixty years since I heard it."
"My mother was a Scottish lady," I answered. "My own name is Malcolm."
"Tell me more," he said eagerly. "Let me hear the old tongue again before I die."
Now, it is in no wise easy to be told to talk without a hint in the way of question on which to begin, and I hesitated. Gerda asked me softly what was amiss, and I told her in a few words. The old hermit looked kindly at her, but did not speak.
"Tell him of your home," she said. "Tell him without saying aught of the end of it."
I did so, slowly at first, for the words would not come, and then better as I went on. The old man listened, and the tears came into his eyes.
"Ah, the old days," he said, when I stopped. "Your voice is a voice from the days that are gone, and the old tongue comes back to me, with the sound of the piper on the hill and the harper in the hall, with the sough of the summer wind in the fir trees, and the lash of the waves on the rocks. Oh, my son, my son, I would that you had never come here to make me mind the things that are dead."
Now he was trembling, and I took his white hand and set it on my arm to steady him. His hand felt the cold touch of the great gold bracelet Gerda would have me wear, and he looked at it, and turned it in his fingers.
"Jarl, and son of a jarl," he whispered. "War and flame, and the cry of the victors! Oh, my son, you mind me of bitter things."
"I and mine have never hurt Christian folk, father," I said, knowing what he meant.
The sword and fire had fallen heavily on the Scottish islands when the Norseman first came thither. But surely he could not mind that.
Thereafter Phelim told me that he thought the old man spoke of the burning of some monastery on the mainland of Scotland, whence he had fled, with those of his brethren who escaped, to Ireland, coming hither at last to end his days in peace. But I heard no more from himself now. What I had just spoken turned his thoughts afresh, and I was glad.
"Then you are a heathen; and this lady also?"
"We are Odin's folk," I answered. "I suppose that is what you mean, father."
"Yet I think now that I saw you once in the chapel."
"You may do so again, father, if it is permitted by you. I have heard naught but good words there."
His eyes brightened, and he smiled at me.
"You know nothing of the faith then?" he asked.
I shook my head. I had heard never a word of it until I met my friends.
"We will teach you," he said eagerly. "Sit here, my children, in this warm place, and let me tell you somewhat thereof. It may be the last time I may teach the heathen. Aye, I have done it in days long ago."
I spoke to Gerda then, telling her what the old father wished, and she smiled at the thought.
"We have naught to do," she said, "and if it will give him pleasure we may as well bide here."
So we sat down on the bank in the sun amid the quiet of the woodland, and listened. The wood flowers carpeted the ground, and Gerda plucked those that were in reach and played with them while the father began his words. Presently he saw that Gerda was paying no heed, and he bade me translate, hearing that she did not understand. And by that time he spoke the old tongue of his youth, and the Erse way of speaking was forgotten.
Then he told us things which every Christian child knows; but which were new and wonderful and very good to hear, to us two. Soon Gerda had forgotten the flowers, and was listening, and presently asking questions as might a child who hears the sweetest tale ever told. So still we were, and so soft the voice of the old man, that the birds the hermits were wont to feed came close to us, and a robin perched on the shoulder of the father, and he smiled at it.
"See," he said, "the breast of the little bird is red because it had compassion on its Maker as He suffered, and would pluck the cruel thorns away."
And so with all homely words and simple he taught us, and we were fain to listen. Odin and the Asir seemed far off at that time and in that place, and I half blamed myself for harkening.
"What of our Asir?" I said at last.
"Heroes of the old days," he said. "Heroes whom their sons have worshipped; because a man must needs worship the greatest whom he knows."
"And what has become of them?"
He shook his head. "They are in the hands of the true Allfather," he answered. "I cannot tell more than that. It is enough."
"I have heard it said," I went on, for here was somewhat which troubled me, "that you Christians hold that we worship fiends—that the Asir are such."
"That were to wrong the heroes of the past, my son," he answered. "It is meant that you know not what you worship under those honoured names. There are those among you who know that the Asir were your forefathers. Did you ever hear that Alfred, the wise and most Christian king of England, was ashamed of that ancestry of his?"
"I myself cannot be ashamed thereof. I am from the line of Odin," I said. "If you speak truth, father, one count against Christians has passed, from my mind at least."
But now Gerda spoke timidly, for she too had her question at this time.
"What of women, father? Is there a place for them in the heaven of which you speak? Was it won for us?"
"Most truly, my daughter. It is for the woman as for the man. There is no difference."
I saw her face light up with a new wonder and joy, which told me that here was no idle listener. And so the old teacher went on in all kindly wisdom, never hurting us in aught he said of the old gods, but leading us to see the deeper things which our forebears had forgotten. I listened, and thought it all good; but betimes Gerda wept quietly, and would fain hear more and more. The little bell on the chapel rang for the vespers or ever we ended that long talk, and the old man must go. I raised him up, for he was very feeble, and again the touch of the gold put a word into his mind.
"Jarl, and son of Odin," he said, smiling, "no need for you to wait that dim Ragnarok fight of yours for warfare against evil. That fight has begun, and in it you may take your part now, that you may share in the victory hereafter."
Then I said, for I minded how useless to me seemed this life here:
"What part have you therein, father—you and the brethren?"
"We pray for those who have forgotten to do so for themselves," he answered. "And we are of those whose sorest fight has been against evil within."
So we went into the chapel for the vespers with him, and the day was done. But in the morning there hung on the black cross on the green grass a wreath of white flowers which no brother had set there.
Chapter 11: The Summons Of The Beacons.
Now, for all the peace of this holy island there hung over it an ever-present fear of which I learned when we spoke to Phelim concerning the treasure which we would leave in the care of the brethren when we went hence.
He said that it was well if we would do so, and that they would bury it under that new shed which we had helped to build, since no Danes would wonder at seeing newly-turned earth there.
"Moreover," he said, "if we are not here when you come for it, you will know where it is."
He said this quietly, and as a matter of course, and I asked him in surprise if it was likely that they would leave their island.
"Not alive," he answered; "but the Danes may spy our easily-taken flocks at any time, and come ashore here."
"Why, they would not harm the unresisting," I said.
"Nay, but we are priests of the faith, therefore the heathen rage against us. Already they have slain almost every brotherhood along the shores of this land, and of Scotland. Our turn may come at any time."
He was in no way disquieted at this terrible thought. Thereafter I knew that to him such a death was martyrdom, and most glorious.
But Bertric listened with a troubled face, and presently, when we were alone again, he said that he was anxious.
"I only hope that we may not have brought trouble on these good men who have sheltered us," he said. "There was a ship which must have seen us cast ashore here."
"We should have had her back by this time if she meant seeking us."
"It is not her whom I fear," he answered. "This ship of ours was too precious for Heidrek to let go easily. So soon as that fog cleared, and he found we were not ahead on the Norway shore, he would put about. He knew that we must be undermanned, being so close to us. Then he would get back to where he lost us, and thereafter would guess the only course we could have taken, for the matter of handling the sail would settle that. We could not have gone far ere the wind dropped. Then supposing he picked up our mast?"
"Unlikely enough," I said. "We are raising trouble for ourselves."
Bertric shook his head. "I know Heidrek only too well. He may spend this season in hunting for the treasure which he so nearly had. News of a wreck flies fast, and he has but to touch here and there on our track or thereabout to hear of us sooner or later."
Now, I did not trouble much more about this, but it bided in Bertric's mind, and made him restless. That third day passed without sign from the mainland, as was likely, seeing that the fishers had to reach the king. It would have been of no use for us to take the boat and cross, for Dalfin told us that we needs must have horses, and maybe a guard when we would go to his place, which was a long day's ride from the shore. We were well cared for here, and it was a pleasant place wherein to wait.
In the evening the old superior sent for us again, and sitting once more in the sheltered glen, he taught us, taking up his tale where we had left it, after making me speak the old tongue of his youth to him for a little while. He was a wonderful teacher, clear and patient, and it would have been strange if we had not learned from him.
Yet I cannot say that I seemed to learn much. I clung to the old faith of my fathers, and that was not wonderful. But Gerda learned, and loved all that she heard. I had to turn the words of the teacher into the homely Norse for her, and her questions were many and eager.
Somewhere about midnight thereafter, Bertric woke with a start which roused me, so that I sat up and asked what was amiss.
"I do not know," he answered; "but it lies on my mind that somewhat has happened, or is to happen. Somewhat evil."
"The last talk of Heidrek has raised fears in your mind," I said.
Then across the stone-framed window came a flare of red light, and we both sprang to our feet and went to the door. Dalfin stirred, but did not wake. And when we were in the open all was still in the moonlight round us, but on the mainland every hill inland to the westward was tipped with the flame of beacon fires, newly lighted.
That which had waked Bertric, as one may suppose, with its first flash, was set on the hill over the fishers' village, whence we were to look for the signal to tell us to be ready for departure. It had been just lighted, and blazed up fiercely as we stood outside the cell. Five minutes later another fire answered it to the eastward, and again beyond that a third, and fourth, one after the other, as men saw the glare.
"Foes landing to the westward," said Bertric. "The fires run thence. Maybe the ship we saw went down the coast and has returned."
Now we woke Dalfin, who came out yawning, and looked.
"Danes, I suppose," he said carelessly. "That is the usual trouble; or else Connaught men on the raid. Well, as we cannot get at them, we need not trouble concerning them. And they cannot reach us."
"The fires sprang up quickly as if men watched by them tonight," said Bertric. "Some enemy was looked for."
"You have seen the like before then?" asked Dalfin.
"Not once or twice. And for the same reason—the Danes."
"Have you fought with them?"
"I was at my own place when we beat them off once."
So we stood and watched the fires until they twinkled as far as we could see to the eastward. Westward the hill, as I have said, cut off sight of both cliffs and open sea, but over it was the glow in the sky of far-off beacons.
Fergus came out of the chapel, and I heard him give a little cry as he saw the fires. Then he came to us, seeing us in the moonlight, which was bright.
"No need to fear, my sons," he said in his still voice. "Many a time I have seen those fires before, and doubtless shall see them again. The trouble may be far off, and of little account. Sleep in peace."
We turned in again, but sleep was broken until daylight came, and we were astir with the first gleam of sun across the door. It was a bright morning, with a steady sea breeze from the northeast, and every promise of the fine weather that comes withal in the summer. On the hills the smoke of the war beacons still rose and drifted, but there was no sign of stir at the foot of the glen on the mainland where the fishers had their haven, such as it was.
The brethren came from their cells, looked at the black smoke wreaths, and sighed, and went their ways into the chapel for the matins, and the little bell rang. Then Gerda came from her cell and saw us, for she, too, was early wakeful here in the quiet.
"Why are you looking so troubled? she asked us, as we bade her good morrow. Her eyes went from one to the other in some dismay, for I dare say we showed that the night had been unquiet for us.
"There seems to be some trouble on the mainland," I answered. "There are beacon fires yonder, but the brothers think little of them. They are not unusual here from all accounts."
"By no means," said Dalfin. "And they may mean little. At the most, we may be kept waiting here for a day or two longer while my father gathers men and goes to see what is amiss. Now I have a mind to ask the hermits to call the fishers and let me cross and help, if so be there is fighting on hand.
"You would come also, would you not?" he asked, looking at us two.
"Hardly," Bertric answered, before I could do so in the same word.
"It is not to be supposed that we could leave our charge," he answered.
"Forgive me; I forgot," said Dalfin at once.
But even that word had made Gerda pale with the thought that she might be left alone, with the fear of our not returning for her. She smiled at Bertric as he answered, and then asked if we should not follow the brothers into the chapel, as we were told we might do at any time, though this first service was not one for which she and I might stay all the while.
So we went in, and there bided while we might. Presently we two had to rise up and leave the place, unwillingly, so far as Gerda was concerned. Phelim and I between us had told her the words of the service.
Now we walked away together toward the shore, and were silent for a time. It was plain that she thought deeply on somewhat. At last she said sadly:
"What is to come is all dim and unknown, but if it does come to pass that I may ever have home of my own again, I would that there was one of these brothers to teach me and mine."
"That might easily be," I answered.
"They would not go to a heathen land?" she said in surprise.
"Maybe not these hermits, but some man like to them would. I have heard them talk of men who are held in the greatest honour because they have dared to do so."
Thereafter she said nothing, but in her face grew a great content. We came to the shore and looked on the bare timbers of the wreck, and with all my heart I would that they were not quite so plain to be seen. The tides were slack now, and the water did not hide them in the least, even at the full flood. Moreover it was calm enough.
"Malcolm," she said presently, "do you and Bertric want to go with the prince and see if there is fighting?"
She looked in my face quickly and half turned away, and I wondered what she was thinking. For a moment I had a foolish thought that mayhap she expected us to be full of longing for the weapon play, and that to please her I might say somewhat which would tend that way. But I bethought myself and answered her frankly:
"I must speak for myself," I said; "but I think it will be the same with Bertric. I have no mind to meddle with the affairs of another man until I am sure that he needs my help. I cannot say that I do not like a fair fight when there is good reason for it; but there is no wisdom or courage in going out of the way to seek for one."
So I laughed, and she laughed also, as relieved.
"I feared lest I held you back from the game you love," she said.
"If we were alone—" I said, and there stopped, for I had said too much. No doubt if she had not been here we should have been off with Dalfin at once with light hearts.
"Then I do stay you," she said, catching my meaning.
Whereon it came to me that I had better say what I meant outright.
"We need no better reason for staying. That we have you to care for is good, and in that care is more honour to us than we might win in fighting in a quarrel which is not ours."
"Little honour can you win here, Malcolm," she said half sadly, and yet smiling. "Yet I know what you mean, and I thank you both."
Now, a thought which had been growing up in my heart for these many days came to the surface, as it were, and I had almost spoken it. I knew that if this charge were taken from me I should be lonely indeed, and that it were honour enough for me to care for and guard Gerda through all my life as the one thing that I could care for. I think that it would have been strange if this had not come to me in these long hours of companionship with her, seeing what she was in all respects, whether as she stood here on the windy shore with her fair hair tossed by the sea breeze, fair and full of health and life, or as I had seen her on the decks of the doomed ship, brave and steadfast, with the cruel terror of the pirates on her.
But here and now I could say nothing of this that was so near to me. I had naught to offer her but my poor presence, no future, and no home. And maybe there were long days of companionship and service due from me, and I would not that there should be the least thing said to mar the ease with which that went so far. One can be wise at times, when the comfort of another is in the balance, as it were.
Moreover, how could I tell that some of her longing for home might not be also from pain of separation? And that was now no happy thought to me. Well, I must wait and find out all that. If it was in my power that longing should be stilled, and then I might know the best and worst of all that might lie before me.
Thoughts like these do not grow up all at once as I have set them down. At this time they seemed to gather from the many times they had passed through my mind, and rank themselves against my words. So it came to pass that I was silent, and was glad presently that so I had been.
"Look!" said Gerda suddenly, pointing out to the far eastward, "yonder are sails on the skyline."
Far off they were, but plain enough under the morning sun. Two white specks on the blue circle's edge, sails of ships which sailed westward, as if beating to windward in long boards against the northeast breeze. They might be Norse vessels from Dublin on their way homewards, though it had been more easy for such to wait a slant from the south or west.
"They cannot be the ships which have caused the firing of the beacons," I said. "That trouble was to the westward."
I half turned to look at the hills and their fires, and saw our comrades coming to us. Dalfin was ahead, and plainly excited.
"Malcolm," he cried, so soon as he was within hearing, "I cannot hold back if there is fighting in our land. Will you two take the boat there and set me across to the mainland?"
I suppose that he had talked of this to Bertric as they came, for the Saxon nodded to me.
"It will but take half an hour," he said. "Moreover, if we cross we may learn what is amiss. What says the queen?"
"If the prince must go," she said, "I do not see how I can stay him. I can sit and watch you there and back, and cannot feel lonely. But need he go?"
"Faith," said Dalfin, laughing, "can a prince of Maghera sit still when the fires are burning yonder to call him? That would be a shame to him, and a wonder to his folk. I must go."
His eyes shone, and it was plain that even had we wished to do so, we could not stay him. The place of the prince was with his men, and he would return for us. Gerda smiled at his eagerness, and bade him hasten to return, and so we went to where the boats lay in the sand hills.
The larger had all her gear in her as we left it, and the smaller, which was meant for three only, had but her oars. We took this latter, as it was easy to get her to the water, and she was all we needed.
"Go and get your arms," I said to Dalfin. "We will pull round and meet you at the rock where the fishers landed."
"Hurry, then," he said, and went his way to the cells in all haste.
More slowly Gerda followed him, and we pushed off and bent to the oars. There was little sea, and we went swiftly from the open round the eastern point of the island and into the strait.
Now I pointed out the distant sails to Bertric, but he had already seen them.
"I do not rightly make out what they are yet," he said; "but I do not think them Danish. Honest Norse traders from Dublin, most likely."
It was at the time of the slack water at the top of high tide now, and we found Dalfin and Gerda waiting with Phelim and another of the brothers at the flat rock. At the first sight I thought the prince had changed his mind, and would stay, as if Gerda had over-persuaded him. For he stood there bare headed, and without mail or shield, though he had the axe and sword which Gerda had given him, and the great torque was on his neck.
"Where is the mail?" I asked, as we steadied the boat by the rock.
"Waiting my return," he answered. "Today I am an Irish prince—tomorrow the queen's courtman again, if she will.
"Now farewell, fathers."
He bent his knee to the priests, and then bowed over Gerda's hand as he kissed it in parting.
"Forgive me, queen," he said. "The call of Eirinn must take me from you for a time. It cannot be denied by me."
"Come back soon, and as a victor, and you will be forgiven," she answered, laughing, and he stepped into the boat.
Then as he put off she sat down on a rock with the brethren behind her, to watch us, and we saw her wave her hand in farewell.
"Concerning the arms, or the want thereof," said Dalfin presently. "Our folk hold that a warrior should need naught but his weapons, and that mail or shield are but cowardly devices. So I have had to leave them, though I am not of that mind myself. Moreover, I shall be likely to find a long tramp across the hills before me presently, and I have no mind to be set on by my own people as a wandering Dane, for the sake of wearing outland arms to please myself."
It was not a quarter of an hour before we were alongside the little tottering landing stage which the fishers had built for themselves of the ribs of some wreck at the foot of their glen. Some of the children who swarmed in the village of huddled turf huts caught sight of us first, and fled, yelling. Out of the huts came their mothers in all haste to see what ailed them, and they too saw and shrieked.
Whereon the men came running, each with a long-handled axe in his hand, as if caught up from close by where each had been working. Though they were wild and short of stature they were wiry and active men, who might be good warriors if well led.
Dalfin leapt ashore and called to them, and they knew him, welcoming him with a yell of delight, and crowding to do him noisy homage. There were ten or fifteen of them, and it was some time before the prince had a chance to make himself heard. When he could, he called for the head man of the place, and one, with fiery-red hair and beard, came and knelt before him to hear his commands, while the rest drew back and stared, in a half circle. As for us, we waited in the boat and laughed.
"What are all these beacon fires about?" asked Dalfin shortly.
"Danes in the river Bann, lord," the head man said.
"Have they landed yet?"
"No, lord. They wait for ransom they have demanded. If it comes not, they will burn and harry all Ulster."
"How many ships, then?" asked Dalfin, on hearing that threat.
"Two ships, lord, and great ones."
The prince laughed at the man.
"What, burn all Ulster with two shiploads of men? That is a great boast which we shall not care for. Where is my father, the king—and where is the muster?"
The man told him that the king was at some place or other, with the mustering warriors. Thereat Dalfin bade the man get him a horse at once, and the fisher threw up his hands and said that there was never a horse within ten miles. Dalfin laughed and spoke to us.
"Just what I thought," he said. "If I get to the muster by sunset I shall be lucky, unless I meet with a horse on the way. And—I am out of condition with these long days on board ship."
He groaned, and we bade him wait till he was sent for; but that he would not hear.
"I shall take a dozen of these knaves as guard—and maybe to carry me betimes. Wish me luck, for I must be going."
Now the wild fishers had been whispering among themselves, and one of them made up his mind to tell somewhat. He came and knelt before Dalfin, and asked him to forgive him.
"What for?" asked the prince.
"For telling foolishness," answered the man. "Yet I think it should be told with the rest of the news."
"Tell it, then."
"I spoke with the man who carried the gathering cry, and he said that the evil Lochlannoch, concerning whom are the beacons, have bidden men give up the treasure which they say we must needs have won from a certain wreck. There has been no wreck, lord, save yours, and the prince will ever have treasure."
Now a sudden heat of rage seemed to fall on Dalfin, and he cried aloud to the men:
"Hearken, fools! It is not to be said that the prince was wrecked like a fisher churl. There has been no wreck—if there has been, there was no treasure. Mind you that."
"Lord," said the man, trembling, "I cannot tell if aught was told the Lochlannoch. We have said naught to them, not having seen them."
"Dalfin," I said, with a great chill on me, "ask if they know the name of the leader of these men."
He changed colour, for I think that the knowledge of what I feared came to him in a flash. He asked, and the man at his feet muttered what was meant for the name of Heidrek. He said it once or twice, stammering, but I knew it, and Bertric caught it also.
"What is it that the man says?" he asked quickly. He had been content to wait until presently to hear what the news was, until this came to his ears.
"What you feared," I answered. "Heidrek treasure hunting."
Dalfin turned to us now, and his face was troubled.
"Malcolm," he said, "you have heard all this. It is a mere chance if Heidrek has not heard of the wreck by this time. Now, it will be best for you to bring Gerda across here at once, and so let these men take you to a hiding in the hills. I will come back swiftly with men and horses and take you thence. Make the hermits come also, if you can—but they will not."
Then he spoke to the fishers and told them that they had to do this, at the same time bidding some get provender and be ready to go with him instantly. That pleased them well enough, and a dozen ran to the huts to find what was needed. I heard the women scolding them.
"Farewell, friends," he said, coming alongside again, and taking our hands with a great grip. "I left Ireland to find adventure, and, faith, I have not been disappointed. Now, the sooner I am away the sooner I will be back."
"Good luck to you," we cried; and he shouted for his ragged men, and was away up the glen.
Behind the little straggling crowd the women came out and wept and howled as if not one would be back again. It was their way of sending their men off in good spirits, I suppose. Not that the men heeded the noise at all, being used to it. One looked back and grinned.
The few men left lingered on the shore, and I called one to me.
"We shall be back here shortly with the young queen," I said. "You will be ready for us."
"As the word of the prince bade us," he answered. "It will be done."
We pulled away, and it was time. The falling tide was setting westward through the strait, and we had to row more or less against it now as we crossed to where Gerda's white dress shone on the farther shore.
"Heidrek will not risk a landing," Bertric said. "The sooner we are back here with Gerda the better. He has heard of that wreck."
I told him the words of the fishers, and he was the more sure of it. We pulled on the faster therefore, and the light boat flew as only a Norse-built boat can fly.
Bertric was in the forward rower's place, steering, and now and again he turned his head to set the course. I suppose we had covered half the distance across, when I heard him draw in his breath sharply.
"Holy saints," he said, "look yonder!"
He was staring toward the westward mouth of the strait, half a mile away. There was a long black boat there, and the sun sparkled on the arms of the men in her. They were rowing slowly against the tide, toward us.
"Too late," said Bertric between his teeth. "That is Heidrek treasure hunting, and we shall not get back to the mainland."
Chapter 12: With Sail And Oar.
I looked over my shoulder at Gerda. Her white dress seemed to shine in the morning sun like silver against some dark bushes, and my first fear was that it could be seen as plainly by the men in the big boat down the strait.
"It cannot be Heidrek's," I groaned.
"I know that boat only too well," answered Bertric; "pull, if you never pulled before."
The oars bent, and the water boiled round the blades. Bertric headed straight across, letting the tide have its way with us. In five minutes we were ashore a hundred yards below where Gerda sat, and then I knew that the bushes must screen her from the view of those who came from the sea. We leapt out and looked at the boat we feared. The men in her did not seem to be heeding us, for, at all events, they had not quickened their stroke. They were keeping over on the far shore. Either they had not seen us, or took us for no more than fishers—or else knew that they had us trapped if they wanted us.
"Give me a lift here," said Bertric, going to a great stone which was a load for any two men. "We must sink this boat—we have the other, if that is any good to us."
Together we hove the great stone into the boat as it rocked on the edge of the tide, starting a plank or two. I stove in one altogether with an oar, shoved her off with all my might, and saw her fill at once, and sink with the weight in her some twenty yards from shore. She would not be seen again till dead low water. Then we hove the oars into the bushes. Maybe it was all useless, but we would leave nothing to be spied which might bring the men to the island sooner than needful.
That took only a few minutes, but in them I cannot tell how many wild plans for Gerda's safety went through my mind. Beyond the bare chance which lay in getting to the hillside and trying to keep out of sight of the men when they landed, there seemed to be nothing we could do.
Now, along the little shore path came Gerda to seek us, smiling at our haste. The boat she missed at once, and looked round for it.
"Why, what has become of the boat?" she asked. "I thought you landed here."
Bertric looked at me, and I at him, and Gerda caught the glance.
"There is something which you fear to tell me," she said steadily. "Let it be spoken at once, for we have faced danger together ere this, have we not?"
"Have you not seen a large boat down the strait?" I asked lamely.
"No," she said, and was stepping forward to the edge of the water, past the screen of low shore bushes to look, but I stayed her.
"It is the boat which we fear," I said. "There are Danes in her, and we think they are seeking the wreck."
She looked me in the face for a moment, and read what was written there.
"We might welcome the coming of honest Vikings," she said, "whether Dane or Norse. They know how to befriend a woman who needs help. These men whom you fear and who seek the wreck can only be the men of our enemy."
Then Bertric said:
"I cannot mistake the boat which I have helped to pull so many a weary time. It is Heidrek's. He has followed us, and has somewhere heard of the fate of the ship. We have sunk the little boat, lest the sight of it should bring them ashore straightway."
"Then we must hide somewhere," she said, looking round her as if to see what place might be.
"Aye, we must hide. There will be fifteen men, or more, in the boat. Malcolm and I cannot stay their landing."
Gerda caught her breath suddenly. "What of the hermits?" she said.
"We waste time," said I. "Come and let us tell them. They may have some hiding place."
Then we went swiftly to the cells. Once we looked back to the strait, from the little rise behind which the cells were sheltered, and saw the boat still working against the tide along the far shore. Heidrek had certainly not heard that the wreck was on the island itself. Most likely it was thought that we had made for the shelter of the strait, and had gone ashore in trying to reach it. Unless the ship which we had seen knew the coast well, her crew could hardly have told that an island was here.
There were no hermits to be seen, for they were either in their cells, or at their tasks about the place. So I went to the first cell and looked in, and finding it empty, went to the next. Fergus sat there, writing in some beautiful book which he was busied with. One never found a brother idle.
"Father," I said, "I must disturb you. There is danger at hand, I fear."
"Ah," he answered, setting down his pen, and rising hastily. "The Danes at last. Well, we have long expected them to come to us, as to our brethren elsewhere. But what shall the poor queen do?"
"Is there no place where you can hide her?" I said.
"None," he answered gloomily. "Tell me more."
I told him, and he shook his head.
"Men in the narrow waters, and men in the open," he muttered. "Hemmed in on every side."
"Danes in the open sea?" I said, with a new fear on me. The end might be nearer than we deemed it.
"Aye, two ships sailing this way."
They were those which we had seen and forgotten. I ran out, and while Fergus went to Bertric, climbed the little hill beyond the village, and looked seaward. The ships were six miles away, and heading due west, having edged somewhat farther from the shore than when we first sighted them. They were not coming hither.
"There need be no fear of those ships, father," I said. "They are making a passage past us—bound elsewhere at all events."
"Then," he said at once, "there lies your boat on the shore of the open sea. Make away to the main land eastward while there is time, and take to the hills inland. You are not likely to be followed thither. We will give you some token which the poor folk of the shore will know."
Now, while the hermit had been speaking, I was translating for the other two, as was my way by this time.
"Father," cried Gerda, and I spoke her words as she said them, "will you not fly also?"
He shook his head with a sad smile. Neither he nor any one of his brethren would leave the place.
"We shall hide in the hill and behind it while we may," he said. "They may not trouble to hunt us."
"The good father is right," said Bertric. "We must get away as soon as we can. It is our one chance. I had thought of it, but was not sure how the shore folk would greet us. Now we must hasten. Ask the hermit to come and help us launch the boat."
Then he turned to Gerda, who stood with clasped hands waiting to hear the end of the rapid speech.
"It is our only hope," he said again. "We must take that way, though it is hard to leave these holy men to their fate."
Then, of a sudden, a light came into Gerda's eyes, and she flushed as with a fresh hope.
"Those other ships!" she cried. "You said they were not Danish. Norse or Irish, they would help us, if we could reach them!"
Bertric said never a word, but ran to the place whence he could look out to sea, and came back with a brighter face.
"They are not Danish," he said. "I am sure thereof. And it is just a chance that we might reach them. If they see we are in need, there is another hope for us, for they will meet us, or heave to for us."
Then some fear took hold of Gerda, born of the chase by Heidrek, as I believe.
"No," she said, "rather the poor folk ashore than chance what men we may meet at sea."
"As you will," answered Bertric. "You may be right. Now will you gather what you must needs take, and that swiftly? Malcolm and I will get our arms."
She went to her cell, and Fergus hurried to call his brethren. We two went to the cell which had been given us.
"Just as well not to put them on," I said. "We have a long pull before us, and if armed men are seen in the boat we must be chased."
The casket of gold was under the heather pillow of my bed, and I dragged it out. From it we took what we could stow away on us in one way or another, and then, with our war gear bundled in our arms, went out.
Across the strait rose a thick smoke from the foot of the glen. Heidrek's folk were burning the wretched huts for sport. All the fisher people would have fled at their first coming.
"They are busy now," said Bertric grimly, nodding toward the signs of pillage. "They will be here next."
Now Gerda came with a little bundle, wrapped in her blue cloak. She was pale, and near to weeping as she looked on the hermits, who were coming together from their work to the black cross in the midst of their home. The old superior caught sight of me and called to me in his still voice.
"So you must fly, my son," he said. "I would that we had had more speech together. Give this to the lady who has listened to me so patiently. Now, I have bidden Fergus and Phelim to go with you. They can row, and that well, and you need help. Aye, I ken the ways of the boatwork well enough. You will make them go with you, for hardly will they obey me, now at the last."
Thereat those two brethren threw themselves at the feet of the old man, and besought him to let them bide with the rest for that crown of martyrdom which they might gain.
"No, my sons," he said sternly, and yet lovingly; "your lives may yet be of use. Ours are done. Now you shall win more by saving the lives of these friends of ours who came to us in need than by losing your own."
Then he bent toward them, and spoke rapidly in the Latin tongue, and I saw their faces change, and they rose up. Thereafter they had no more to say of staying, though at the time I could not tell what the words which wrought this change might be. Without another word they took Bertric's arms and mine and Gerda's little pack, and started for the shore, and as they went the old man smiled as if content. Then he bent toward us.
"Go, my children," he said; "you have no moment to waste longer. It has been good to speak with you."
Now I set that which he had given me in Gerda's hand. It was a little black crucifix carven of the bog oak by one of the brothers who was skilful at that work. She took it with a flushing face.
"Malcolm," she said, "tell him that we will not forget."
So I told him, and he smiled, saying nothing in answer. I dare say he knew that Gerda would not do so, if he had less hopes for myself. Gerda first, and then we two in turn, bent and kissed his thin hand, and he blessed us, and we must needs go.
Across the sand hills we went, keeping out of sight of the opposite shore, and I looked back once and saw that the little black-robed group was moving away up the glen. One brother was coming from the chapel with a burden, which, no doubt, was the case containing the holy vessels.
"Four of us to pull, and Gerda to steer," said Bertric, whose spirits, like my own, were rising. "We should do well. These brothers, moreover, know where we can land, which was the difficulty I most feared. They are terrible cliff walls yonder."
"How far must we go before we can find a landing?" I asked Phelim on this.
"Some five miles or more," he said, after a little thought. "There is a cove and beach at the foot of a valley. The fishers took me there once to help a sick man. I can find the place."
So it seemed that a village lay there also, which was good hearing, for the sake of Gerda, even if it were naught but of turf huts. Thence we could send a message to Dalfin.
Now, while we spoke thus, we were getting the boat down to the water quickly enough between the four of us. She was very light for her size, and we had all her gear in her already. There was room in her for four rowers and two passengers aft, and I dare say might have carried two more at a pinch. With the five of us she would be in her best trim, therefore, and we might well distance a larger boat if it was overladen at all. But the boat we fled from was not to be seen now, even from the higher sand hills. Some rise in the island hid her, or else she was well over to this shore.
The brothers cast off their long, black robes now, and stowed them in the bows of the boat with our gear. They had thick woollen tunics, like those of the fishers, under them, and their arms were bare, and sinewy with long toil with spade and hoe, for these two were the working brothers in field and garden.
We helped Gerda into the stern sheets, and pushed off, splashing knee deep into the water as we ran the boat out among the waves. Then we took our places and headed straight out to sea, across the broken water where the reef lay still well covered, and so into the long, steady seaway of the offing. Then we turned eastward for the long row which was before us, and settled down to the work, Bertric rowing the stroke oar, with myself next him, and the brothers in the bows.
The boat travelled swiftly and easily, so that Phelim praised her as the best he had ever known. He had come from some burnt monastery on Lough Neagh, where the boat was in constant use, whether for fishing or travelling to the cells round the shores.
Soon we opened up the mouth of the strait, and looked anxiously for Heidrek's boat along the shore, whence the smoke rose still thicker and more black from the burning turf huts of the fishing village. It was not to be seen in that direction, and we thought for the moment that the men had already crossed to the island, whose strand we could not see until we were well off the mouth.
A dozen more strokes of the oars and we saw it, and were ourselves seen at the same moment. Whether the men had caught some fisher and had heard where the wreck lay, or whether they had seen the bare ribs of the ship from the far shore I do not know, and it is of little account. But whatever had led them this way, they were close on us, pulling leisurely toward the end of the island past which we were going, as if to round it to the wreck. They were not more than a quarter of a mile from us, and had been hidden under the near shore.
One of the men in her stern pointed to us, and the rowers stopped and turned to look. Then a great hail came over the water, bidding us hold on and wait. She was full of men, pulling five oars a side, with six or eight in the bows and stern.
We said nothing, but held on quickly. Bertric never hastened the long stroke he was setting us, but we put more power into it without need of bidding. Heidrek's men watched us for a short space, and then made up their minds to chase us, no doubt seeing that this could only be one of the wrecked ship's boats, and making sure that we had the treasure on board.
They ran the boat ashore hastily, and some of the men landed, hurrying across the narrow head of the island toward the wreck, while the rest put off again. Now there were but two men in the stern, and the ten rowers bent to their work and were after us. We could see that they were all armed, and the sun flashed from the bright helms as they rose and fell at the work.
Phelim saw the men cross the island and groaned, fearing that when they found nothing on the beach or in the sand hills they would pass on to the village at once. But, like ourselves when we first came ashore, they had no knowledge that a village was there, and it was not to be seen as it nestled in its little valley. So they bided on the shore and watched the chase as it began.
By the time that the big boat was after us in earnest, we had set a full half mile between us and it, owing to the little delay in landing the men. Then they hailed us again, but though we heard the hail we paid no heed to it. So for a little while we held on, until it was plain that the ten oars must needs wear down our four, and then we stepped the mast and made sail, at least holding our own under it and the oars. The northeast breeze was helping us, though we must sail close-hauled, and my only fear was lest the pursuers should do the same. But they had no sail with them.
Now we held on thus for a matter of two miles, and neither of the boats seemed to gain much on the other. It began to come into my mind that we should win after all, if only we did not tire too soon. They had two fresh men, who could take their turn presently. And then it came across me that even if we ran ashore before they reached us, we should hardly have time to get away before they, too, were on the beach. The fisher folk, if there were any huts at the landing place, might all be away at the muster, and no aid might be waiting us.
I know that all these things went through the mind of my comrade at this time, and from the troubled look on the face of Gerda as she steered, it was plain that she, too, had her doubts as to the end of this race. Then Bertric spoke to me over his shoulder.
"We had better head seaward after all," he said. "What think you of our chance of reaching yon ships before we are overhauled? We shall be caught before we reach a landing, or else taken on the very beach, as we go now."
I looked at the two strange ships. They were three miles from shore, and perhaps at the same distance from us eastward, still heading west and a little out to sea.
"It is our best plan," I answered. "We shall get the wind abeam, and ought to sail away from that great boat. It may be a choice of two evils, but one cannot well meet with another Heidrek."
"We must cut across their course and try to hail them," said Bertric, somewhat wearily. "It all depends on how the boat sails on the wind, and if we can keep the oars going. What say you, Queen Gerda?"
"Do as you think best," she answered bravely. "I know how this boat can sail, and I will answer for her. And I can see no sign of a break in these black cliffs for many a long mile ahead."
Now Bertric turned and took a long look at the ships, and his face was half toward me. He seemed puzzled.
"It is hardly possible," he muttered to me, "but I could almost swear that they were English. If not, they are Frisian. But what could have brought either into these seas? Have we taken to the Viking path?"
"No," I answered, "the Vikings have taken them."
He gave a short laugh and bade me and Phelim lower the sail and hoist it afresh for the new tack, while he and Fergus pulled on. Gerda put the boat about into the wind and it was soon done. Astern the enemy howled, thinking that we had given up, for the moment. Then the sail filled, and the boat heeled to the breeze abeam, and we headed out to sea, taking as wide a sweep as we could, lest we should give the foe too much advantage in the change of course.
As it was, they seemed to gain hand over hand for a while, but they had to pull dead to windward in following us as we went off at an angle to the old course. Then we began to draw ahead steadily, and they hailed us with threats which made Gerda pale somewhat, for if we were still too far for the words to be heard there was no mistaking them. But her faith in the boat was justified, for she sailed wonderfully well with the beam wind. The big rowing boat astern began to go somewhat to leeward also, with the set of wind and wave and the tide together on her high side.
Now I glanced at the island which was lessening fast astern. I could make out that the men were still on the beach, searching, as it seemed, for what they might pick up of value from the wreck. The hermits were safe so far, and I told Gerda so in a word or two, and she smiled for the first time since we put off from shore. Her fear for our kind hosts passed from her for the moment.
We covered a mile or more in silence after that, tugging grimly at the oars, with a wary eye on the waves as they came. It was well for us that they were long and even, with little way in the heads of them. The sail, too, steadied the boat, and the hermits rowed well and evenly. But ever astern of us those ten oars rose and fell, unfaltering, until I grew dazed with the flash of the steadily-swung blades. Then I looked at the iron shore, and saw the long lines of cruel cliffs with the white foam at their feet, seeming endless. There may have been a cove in sight, but I could not make it out, and anywise it must have been too far for us.
Then I looked at Gerda, and saw that there was some trouble in her face as she looked forward. Once she smiled as if to cheer the hermit brothers, and at that I felt the lift of the boat that comes with a fresh life set into the swing on the oar, and that told me somewhat. Fergus was failing. Behind me, Phelim, the younger and stronger man, was still breathing deeply and easily, and I had no fear of his failing yet.
Then I grew certain that the enemy was gaining. We had held our own up till this time, but barely. Gerda's lips tightened, and she had to meet the pull of Bertric and Phelim, lest they should overpower us. I did my best and she knew it, and kept the balance for a while, until I must needs speak.
"Bertric," I said quietly, and in the Norse, "the bow oar is failing. Pull easy on your side for a little."
He did so, and the enemy crept nearer.
"Half a mile more," said Gerda. "Only half a mile—and we can hail the ships."
Bertric looked back, and his face brightened.
"We may do it yet," he said; "and they are English-built ships."
Now I cried to Phelim in the Gaelic that we had but a half mile more, and I felt the flagging oar of Fergus take up the work afresh, with a swifter swirl of the water round its blade as he pulled, while Phelim muttered words in Latin which doubtless were of thanks. I heard him name one Clement, who, as I have heard since, is the patron saint of seamen. The boat leapt and quivered again as she fled toward safety.
Now I had looked to see the pursuers give up the chase as we neared the ships, but they did not, and a cold fear came over me. Maybe these were known friends of Heidrek's. Then I thought that if so they might as well leave the matter to be ended by them. We should be helpless directly if so. But it seemed rather that they quickened the pace. They would not share the treasure with anyone.
There was a sound as of a groan from the bows, and the boat swung aside before Gerda could meet her with the helm. An oar flashed past me on a wave, and Phelim shipped his oar with a smothered cry. Fergus had fainted at last. I heard the sharp howl of delight from the men astern as they saw that, but Bertric and I never ceased pulling.
And suddenly Gerda's face lit up with a new hope, and she pointed to the ships and cried to us to look.
"The leading ship is heading for us," she said breathlessly. "She has just paid off from the wind and is coming swiftly."
Another moment and she cried that they had run up somewhat red to the masthead, and at that Bertric called to me, and he ceased pulling. He turned on the thwart and looked, and his eyes gleamed in his pale face. Then he rose up and set his hands to his mouth, and sent a great hail to the ship:
"Ahoy! Hakon Haraldsson, ahoy! Hakon! Hakon!"
The ship was near enough for her men to hear that. I saw a man on her high bows lift his hand in the silent answer of the seaman who hears and understands a hail, and I saw a red shield, blazoned with a golden lion, at the masthead. Then Bertric sat down and laughed as if he could not cease.
"It is Hakon, Athelstane's foster son, on the way to win Norway for himself. Alfred taught us how to build ships like that."
Chapter 13: Athelstane's Foster Son.
We laid in the oars now and watched the pursuers. They had not the least chance of overhauling us before we were picked up by the ship, and they knew it. Still they were pulling after us, and one of the men in the stern hailed once or twice, making signs that we were to be taken by the ships. I thought that the figure seemed like that of Asbiorn, as I had seen him on the stern after I went overboard, but I could not be sure. Our boat slipped along fast, and his crew were not hurrying so much at this time.
I looked back at the ships, and they were worth a second glance. I had never seen such splendid vessels, for they were higher and longer than any which sailed our northern waters, while their lines were clean cut and graceful as those of the little ship which had brought us hither so well—Thorwald's favourite cutter.
Now Bertric lifted up his head, for he had been finding his breath again after that last despairing pull, and he looked to the westward and pointed without a word. Round a great point which barred the view beyond the island came two ships, and their sails were brown. They were Heidrek's, and no doubt were looking for their boat. The men left on the island saw them at about the same time, and lit a fire to show where they were. They had not gone from the sand hills yet.
"Heidrek is running into danger," Bertric said grimly.
The enemy hailed again at that moment. I could hear now that they cried to the ship that we had their boat—that we were Irish knaves who had stolen it and all that was in it. It is quite likely that they honestly thought us such, but never wondered why Irishry should seek refuge with these ships.
Now the leading vessel was close on us. I could hear the hum of the wind in her broad sail and rigging, and the wash of the waves round her sharp bows. Then a tall young man came and looked at us from her high foredeck, and lifted his hand. The ship luffed and waited for us. As we slid alongside into the still water under her lee, he cried to us:
"Who knows Hakon, and calls on him?"
"An old comrade—Bertric of Lyme."
Hakon stared at Bertric under his hand for a moment, and laughed.
"And so it is!" he cried. "Well met, old friend; but what is that boat astern of you, and why were you in so desperate a hurry?"
"Needs must hurry when the worst pirate in the North Sea is after one. We have escaped once before from him—from Heidrek the Seafarer."
One or two men were beside Hakon, watching us curiously. One whistled when he heard that name, and spoke quickly to Hakon, who nodded. Then a line came uncoiling in the air from the ship to us, and across the huddled body of his comrade Phelim caught it, while I lowered the sail. He made it fast in the bows, and then bent over his brother, setting him more easily against the thwart. He had not dared shift his place to help him before, lest he should alter the sailing trim of the boat, and that must have been hard for him.
The men took the line astern, and the great ship paid off from the wind. We swung astern of her, wondering what this meant. I could hear Heidrek's men shouting, but I could not see how near they were, for the ship hid them.
The next moment told me. I saw, as I looked past the long black side of the ship, the bow of the boat come into view. A man stood up in it with his hand stretched out in a strange way, and I heard a yell. Then the boat was gone, and past us drifted oars and crushed planking, and a helm floating like an upturned bowl. She had been run down.
Close by the bows of our boat a head came to the surface, and the face was turned to us. I knew it, for it was that of Asbiorn Heidreksson, and in a flash I minded that once I said that the day might come when I could repay him for letting us go—saving our lives, rather. He had his full mail on him, and was sinking, when I gripped his hair and held it. Then he got his hands on the gunwale and stared at us.
Gerda had hidden her face in her hands, for he was not the only one who had been swept past us. There were still cries, which rang in my ears, from men who were sinking as we passed on.
Bertric felt the boat lurch, and looked round. He saw the head above the gunwale, and the clutching hands on it, and reached for his oar.
"Hold hard!" I cried, staying the thrust which was coming. "It is Asbiorn!"
He dropped the oar again with a short laugh.
"Lucky for him that so it is," he said; "but I am glad you saved him."
"It is not to be supposed that I am welcome," said Asbiorn, mighty coolly; "but on my word I did not know it was you whom I was chasing. You ought to be in Shetland. Now, if you think this a mistake, I will let go."
"Well," said Bertric, "you are the only man of your crews whom we could make welcome. Get to the stern and we will help you into the boat."
He shifted his hands along the gunwale and we got him on board, while Gerda looked on in a sort of silent terror at all that had happened in that few minutes. There was a row of faces watching us over the rail of the ship by this time, and now Hakon came aft.
"Why," he said, "you have a lady with you. I had not seen that before. We will get you alongside."
So it came to pass that in five minutes more we were on the deck, and some of Hakon's men were helping Phelim to get his still-swooning brother on board. There were a dozen men of rank round us at once, with Hakon at their head. There were not so many warriors to be seen as one might have expected, but all were picked men and well armed.
As for Hakon himself, I have never seen a more handsome young man. He was about seventeen at this time, and might have been taken for three years older, being tall and broad of shoulder, with the wonderful yellow hair and piercing eyes of his father Harald, whom he was most like, as all men knew. It was certain that he did the great English king, Athelstane, who had fostered him, credit, for he was in all ways most kinglike even now.
He took off the blue cap he wore as he went to meet Gerda, and greeted her with all courtesy, asking to know her name. She answered him frankly, though it was plain that the gaze of all the strange faces disquieted her.
"I am Gerda, granddaughter of that Thorwald who was a king in the south lands in the time of your great father, King Hakon," she said. "I have been wrecked here with these friends, who have cared for me, and now will ask for your help."
"They will tell me all the story," said Hakon. "Now, I hold that I am lucky, for Thorwald has ever been a friend of our house."
"Thorwald is dead," she answered in a low voice, which shook somewhat. "I am the only child of the line left."
"Why, then, I am still happy in being hailed as king by Queen Gerda here and now.
"It is a good omen, friends, is it not?"
He turned to the nobles round us with a bright smile, and they laughed and said that none could be better. But one, a very tall man, older than most there, spoke to one of the courtmen hard by, and sent him aft with some message. Then he went to Gerda and asked if she did not remember him.
"You were a little thing, though, when I came with your father to Thorwald's hall," he said; "mayhap you do not recall it, but we were good friends then for a week or two. You have changed less than I."
Gerda looked shyly at him, and at last smiled.
"I remember," she said. "You are Thoralf the Tall."
Now, from aft came two ladies hastily, brought by Thoralf's message, from the after cabin under the raised deck of the ship, and the little throng parted to let them reach us. One was the wife of this Thoralf, and the other his daughter, and they looked pityingly at Gerda as they came, with all kindness in their faces. And when the elder lady saw that she seemed distressed at all the notice paid her, she took Gerda into her arms as might a mother, and so drew her away with her to her own place gently, with words of welcome. And that was a load off my mind, for I knew that Gerda was in good hands at last.
Hakon watched them go gravely, and then turned to Bertric and greeted him as an old and most welcome friend, and so Bertric made me known, and I also was well greeted. Then Hakon turned to Asbiorn, who stood by, watching all this quietly.
"Who is this prisoner of yours, Malcolm?" he asked. "You have not taken his sword from him, as I see."
"He is Asbiorn Heidreksson, King Hakon," I answered. "I cannot call him a prisoner, for I owe my own life to him, and freedom also. He saved me from his father's men."
"And let you go thereafter. I see," answered Hakon.
"Do you know aught of this Viking, Earl Osric?"
This was the chief to whom Hakon had spoken before the boat was run down. He had told the young king that which had led him to crush her as if her crew were vermin, and wondered to see us save one of them.
"I have heard much of Heidrek, seeing that I am a Northumbrian," he said. "The track of that ruffian lies black on our coasts; but I have not heard of his son. We have naught against his name, at least."
Then said Bertric: "I sailed as a thrall with yon ships for six months or more, and have naught against Asbiorn here. He is the only one of all the crew who follow Heidrek of whom I could say as much."
"Faith!" said Asbiorn, with a grave face, "it is somewhat to have no sort of character at all, as it seems."
Hakon looked at him and laughed a little.
"Take service with me and make a good name for yourself," he said. "It is a pity to see a good warrior who will do a kindly turn to a captive naught but a wolf's-head Viking. I have need of courtmen."
"I might do worse," he answered; "but hither comes my father, and I have no mind to fight him at the very beginning of my service."
Hakon looked at the two ships, which were nearing us fast, though we were still close-hauled, as when the boat was brought alongside.
"I had no mind to fight him," said Hakon.
"It is not his way to let a ship pass without either toll or battle," Asbiorn said bluntly.
"Why, then, go forward and get dried," Hakon said. "We will speak of this presently, after we have met your ships."
Thereon Asbiorn ungirt his sword and gave it to me solemnly.
"It is in my mind that this might get loose when our men come over the side," he said. "Better that I am your captive for a while."
With that he walked forward, and Hakon looked after him with a smile that was somewhat grim. Then someone touched my arm, and there was Father Phelim, with a face full of trouble. With him were two men, dressed in somewhat the same way as himself. They were Hakon's English chaplains, and they could not understand his Erse.
"Malcolm," he said, "what of our brethren on the island? There are the wild Danes yet there—on the shore. I can see them."
Hakon asked with some concern what was amiss with the hermit, and I told him, adding that they had only too much reason to fear the Danes. And when he heard he turned to Earl Osric, who seemed to be his shipmaster, and asked him to send a boat with men enough to take these Danes, if possible, and anywise to see that the hermits came to no harm.
"If we are to fight this Heidrek," the earl said doubtfully, "you will want us all. We are not over-manned."
Nor were they. The ship pulled five-and-thirty oars a side, but had no more than two men to each, instead of the full fighting number, which should be three—one to row, one to shield the rower, and one to fight or relieve. King Athelstane had given Hakon these ships and sailing crews, but could not find Norsemen for him. Those who were here had been picked up from the Norse towns in Ireland, where many men of note waited for his coming. Eric, his half brother, was not loved in Norway.
Presently I learned that Hakon was steering westward thus in order to find that ship which we had seen when we were wrecked. It belonged to some friend of his cause.
But Hakon would have the hermits protected, and Osric manned our boat and sent it away, bidding the men hasten. They had a two-mile sail to the island now, but the Danes stood and watched the coming of the boat as if unconcerned. Doubtless they had not seen what happened to their comrades, and thought they were returning.
"Tell me about these ships," Hakon said to Bertric when the boat had gone. "Is there to be fighting, as this Asbiorn says?"
"Heidrek will not fight without surety of gain," my comrade answered. "His ships are full of men, but he cannot tell that you are under-manned. He can see that he must needs lose heavily in boarding, for you have the advantage in height of side. I doubt if he will chance it. There is an Irish levy waiting ashore for him, and he has not faced that—or has been driven off."
"Rid the seas of him," growled Earl Osric. "Get to windward of him and run his ships down, and have done."
"There is not a seaman in the North Sea who will not thank you if you do so," said Bertric. "Those two ships are a pest."
"See to it, Osric," answered Hakon.
Then he glanced at us and saw our arms lying at our feet, for his men had brought them from the boat.
"I was going to offer to arm you, but there is no need. Bertric and I have drawn sword together against Danes before now, but I do not know whether Malcolm may not owe some fealty to Eric, my half brother. I am going to try to turn him out of Norway—as men have begged me to do—and I would sooner have you on my side than against me."
"Thanks, King Hakon," I answered. "I have owned no king as yet. My sword is yours to command; but first I have promised to see Queen Gerda into safety, at least, in Norway, if her home may not be won again for her."
Hakon laughed, as if pleased enough.
"I think you have done the first already," he said. "As for the winning her home afresh, who knows if you may not be in a fair way to do so from this moment? It is likely."
"Hakon does not forget the friends of the house of Harald," Thoralf the Tall said. "Tell him all the tale presently, for there seems to be one, and be content."
"It would be strange if I were not," I answered.
Hakon held out his hand to me and I took it, and thereby pledged myself to help set him on the Norse throne. It was a hazardous, and perhaps hopeless errand on which he was setting forth, but I did not stay to weigh all that. I knew that at least I had found a leader who was worth following, and who had claimed friendship with Gerda from the first.
Maybe there was another thought mixed up with all this. I will not say that it might not have had the first place. Gerda was in Hakon's care now, and I would not be far from her.
Now, there was the bustle of clearing ship for action. Already it was plain that Heidrek meant fighting, if he could make no gain of these ships elsewise, for we could see that his men had hung the war boards—the shields—along the gunwales. He would see the same here directly, and make up his mind either to fight or fly. As we armed ourselves, Bertric and I had some thoughts that he might choose the latter.
Now, I would not have it thought that I had forgotten Fergus, who had spent himself so bravely for us. The two English chaplains and Phelim were caring for him forward, and I had seen that he was himself again, so far as coming to his senses is concerned. Now we went and spoke to him, with all thanks for his help.
He smiled and shook his head.
"The flesh is very weak," he answered. "Now tell me if I may not go back to the cells again. This crowd of men bewilders me after the quiet. I am not fit now for the open world."
"In truth you may, father," I answered, somewhat surprised, for I had not a thought but that both would do so. "We shall not take you far. You will be landed when we go to take up the queen's treasure."
"Then we will ask the superior to send me alone," said Phelim. "You mind that we deemed that the end of our life here had come. Now, all is safe once more, for this time at least."
"I do not think that we shall go to the court of the Irish king now," said I, thinking that they were sent with us thither. "King Hakon, who is a friend of the queen's, is bound for Norway."
There that talk ended, for Hakon came forward to watch the enemy, and called us to go to the raised foredeck with him. But he spoke to the hermits in passing, and though they could not understand him, yet they might see that his words were kindly.
We were going to windward of Heidrek fast. His ships had tried to weather on us, but had failed. Neither side had taken to the oars, for he saw that we had the advantage, and we had no need to do so, therefore. It was a fair sailing match.
But now Heidrek saw what sort of ships he had to deal with, and he did not like the look of them, being near enough to note their height of side and strength of build. It is likely that, like myself, he saw at last what manner of shipbuilder that Alfred was of whom we had heard such tales. I had ever been told, when shipmen gathered in our hall, that the ships of the west Saxons were framed with all the best points of the best ships yet built, with added size and power, and now I knew that all I had heard was but truth. Also I minded how Bertric had laughed when I said that most likely Vikings had taken these vessels, and understood why.
Heidrek saw that he had no chance if there was to be a fight, and acted accordingly. Had he been an honest Viking, cruising for ransom from coast towns, and toll from cargo ships as he met them, or ready to do some fair fighting for any chief who had a quarrel on hand, and needed a little more help toward the ending of it, no doubt he would have borne down on us and spoken with Hakon. Being what he was, with the smoke of the burning village of the harmless fishers rising black against the hills to prove the ways of his men; or else, being in no wise willing to let us hear of the treasure he had found at last, he did but take a fair look at the great ships, put his helm over, and fled down the coast westward whence he had come.
Asbiorn sat below the break of the foredeck, paying no heed to what went on. He had taken off his mail, and was drying it carefully with some cloths which Hakon's men had given him. I called down to him and told him what had happened.
"Best thing my father could have done," he growled, without looking up. "He does not take foolish risks, as a rule."