A Sea Queen's Sailing
by Charles Whistler
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Hakon came down the short ladder which led to the maindeck and heard, and laughed. Then he went aft, and Asbiorn looked after him. Some order passed, and the men ran to the sheet and braces.

"Eh, but I am sorry for father," quoth Asbiorn. "Your friends are after him."

The ships paid off to the wind and followed Heidrek. At that time we were broad off the end of the island, and I saw it again as we had first sighted it from the sea in the gale. Phelim and Fergus stood looking at it and the swift boat which was nearing the beach, and I joined them. The good men were full of fears for their brethren, but the Danes were gathered quietly on the beach, watching the boat. There were five of them, and Hakon had sent eight men ashore.

The long reef showed up with a fringe of curling breakers over it, and the boat could not cross it. Hakon's men skirted it, and found some channel they could pass through, and by that time the Danes had learned their mistake, and were plainly in some wonderment as to what they had best do. They gathered together and followed the course of the boat, for I have no doubt they hoped to see one or two of Asbiorn's men with the strangers. Then the boat reached the beach, and they went to meet it.

Whereon was a sudden scattering, and some ran one way and some the other. One man stayed with the boat, and the rest chased the Danes into the sand hills, where we lost sight of them for the most part. Once or twice we spied men between them, and once I thought there was a fight on the slope of one of the nearest hills.

But before we passed beyond further view we knew that the Danes had been taken, for Hakon's men, some of whom wore scarlet cloaks and were easily to be known, came back to the shore, and drove their captives before them. Whereby we knew that the hermits were safe, and the two here gave thanks, almost weeping in their joy. The two English clergy came then, and led them forward to the dim cabin under the foredeck. Until they were sure that the island was to be in peace, neither Phelim nor Fergus would touch aught of food, and they needed it somewhat sorely.

Chapter 14: Dane And Irishman.

Once we had settled down to that chase there was quiet on the decks, and the ship was on an even keel. The ladies came out of their cabin under the after deck and sat them down on a bench which ran across under the shelter of the bulkhead, and I saw Gerda with them. Thoralf's wife had cared for her, and had done it well, so that she seemed to be a very queen as she sat there with those two making much of her. The elder lady had known her as a child, for she had been in Thorwald's hall with Thoralf the Tall on that visit of which he spoke. The younger lady, whose name I knew afterward to be Ortrud, was of Gerda's age.

Presently it was plain that Gerda would have us speak to them, and we went and were made known to them, and after that we sat and told of our doings for half an hour. Thoralf's wife had naught but thanks to us for caring for Gerda, so that I was glad when Hakon joined us for a little while.

He went forward soon, taking us with him, and sought Asbiorn, who sat on the deck still scouring his wet arms and mail with the cloths the men had lent him. Hakon asked if he could tell anything of a large Norse ship which should have gone west some days ago. It was that which we had seen on the day of our wreck.

"I have heard of a ship which has gone to trade at Sligo," said Asbiorn. "It was in our minds to look for her ourselves presently. That is far to the westward, and if you are in any hurry, you may as well let my folk go, and follow her."

"No hurry at all," answered Hakon. "It seems that these ships of yours are too well known for me to overlook. My men say that I am sure to have to settle with Heidrek at some time, and I may as well do so here as on the Norway shore next summer. I shall be busy then, and Heidrek will have heard thereof. I am not busy just now."

"You will be when you overhaul the ships," said Asbiorn. "But they are of less draught than yours, and you may miss them yet. Round yon point is the Bann River, whence we came this morning."

Hakon turned away with a laugh, and watched the chase for a time. Then he went aft and sat him down by the steersman, with Earl Osric and Thoralf the Tall. Heidrek's ships were swift when before the wind, and these great vessels might not overhaul them until they had reached some shallow waters in the river mouth which Heidrek had already entered. But there waited Dalfin and the Irish levies, who would be gathered by this time in force.

Mayhap Heidrek would not chance being pent between two foes.

So that chase went on, and I wearied of watching it at last. Then Bertric and I went to Asbiorn, for we would ask concerning some things which had happened. Men were serving round the midday meal at the time, and we ate and talked. The first thing I asked him was what he had done with our ship.

"Sold her to one Arnkel in Norway, so to speak," he answered, with a grin. "He was the man who had to do with this treasure ship you picked up."

"Then you had some pact with Arnkel?"

"More or less," he said; "but there was a deal of chance in the matter. In the gale I was outsailed, for your ship is not speedy, as you know. The other two took refuge among the islands on the Norse shore, and there heard of the great mound laying of Thorwald which was to be. The ship had passed in the dawn of that morning, and had not far to go. Whereon my father sent a message to Arnkel, whom he knew, to say that he was at hand, and landed and fell on him. As it turned out, he had better have taken his ships, for Thorwald's folk set the ship adrift to save her from pillage. It seems that they meant her to burn, but blundered that part. There was nothing to fight for then, so they ceased. I came to the islands and there had news of my father, and followed him. On the way I passed Thorwald's ship at a distance, and was afraid of her, she seeming to be a fully-armed war vessel. So I let her pass."

"Then you brought the news to Arnkel that she was not burning?"

"So it was. Whereon he would have us sail at once in chase of her on his account. As we would not do that, and he would not let us go on our own, there was a small fight. In the end Arnkel's men manned your ship and we sailed in company, the bargain being that the treasure was to fall to the finder. We thought we might have little difficulty in overhauling the vessel, and should have had none if it had not been for you. Had you picked up a crew of fishers?"

"No; we managed somehow by ourselves."

"I always told my father that Bertric was the best seaman we had in all our crowd," Asbiorn said frankly. "You did well that time."

Then he told us how they had searched for us much in the way which we had thought likely, and so at last had heard of a wreck when they reached the river Bann.

"Asbiorn," I said, "did you know that there was a lady on board this ship which was to be burnt?"

"No, on my word," he said, starting somewhat. "So that is where the young queen was hidden, after all? There was wailing when her men found that she was missing, and they said that she must have gone distraught in her grief, and wandered to the mountains. How was she left on board?"

"Arnkel put her there," I answered.

"So that explains his way somewhat. He seemed to want that ship caught, and yet did not. When we did sail, he steered wide of the course she took, and too far to the northward."

Then his face grew very black, and he growled: "Bad we are, but not so bad as Arnkel, who would have men think him an honest man. Now, if it were but to get in one fair blow at him for this, it were worth joining Hakon. I take it that he will hear your tale—and maybe mine."

"And the lady's also," Bertric answered. "Well—wait until you know what befalls your ships."

"And my father," answered Asbiorn, getting up and looking ahead. "To say the truth, I am not altogether sorry of an excuse to leave that company, which is bad, though I say it. Yet he was driven out of his own home by his foes, and thereafter his hand has been against all men. It is the crew he has gathered which I would leave, not him."

We had not gained on the two pirate ships. Now they were rounding that headland whence they had come, and were altering their course. Asbiorn said that they were making for the river mouth, and half an hour thereafter we opened it out and saw that Heidrek was far within it, heading landward. The beacon fires blazed up afresh as the watchers knew that he had returned, and presently each fire had a second alongside it. Men thought that Heidrek had brought us to help him raid the land.

There were Norsemen on board, men from Dublin, who knew the mouth of the river as well as need be, and better than Heidrek, who had been into it but this once before. One of them piloted the ships after him, for Hakon meant to end the business even as he had said, here and now, if he could, and sent for Bertric that he might tell him more of the enemy. He heard somewhat of our story at this time, we sitting on the after deck with him, but he said little about it then.

I suppose that we stood into the river over the falling tide for five miles or more. Then Heidrek took to his oars, finding that he was chased in earnest, and Hakon did so likewise at once. It was a beautiful river, wide and clear, with great, green hills on either side, and thick forests at their feet. But never a boat on its waters, or man on its shores did we see. Only from each hilltop the smoke of the war beacons rose and eddied.

The channel narrowed presently as we held on, going with all caution. Then we opened out a wide valley, down which ran a fair stream, and there we saw the Irish at last. High up they were, crossing the valley in a column of black-garbed warriors which seemed endless. There was no sparkle of mail among them, but here and there a speck of light flashed from an axe blade or spear point, to tell us that they were armed men. They were keeping pace with Heidrek's ships by crossing from point to point, and how long they may have watched him and us from the forests I cannot say.

Now the river took a sharp bend, and I heard the pilot say to his mate that Heidrek had better have a care at this stage of tide, while Asbiorn, forward, was watching intently. The tide was almost at its lowest by this time, and Heidrek's hindmost ship was about half a mile ahead of us. Hakon meant to pen them in some stretch of the river which the pilot knew, and there deal with them. It was said to be a deep reach with a bar at its head, beyond which no ship might pass until high water.

Suddenly there came a shout from the men forward, and the pilot cried to the oarsmen to cease rowing. Heidrek's second ship had gone aground. We could see her crew trying to pole her off, and Hakon asked if we could reach her.

"Not by five score yards," answered the pilot; "but see what happens."

I suppose that he knew the Irish ways, for he had hardly spoken when somewhat did happen. Out of the fringe of thicket and forest along the bank of the river swarmed the Irish, with yells and howls which reached us plainly, and flung themselves into the water to wade out to the ship. The bank was black with them, and the light from their axes overhead shimmered and sparkled in a wave of brightness. The water was full shoulder deep round the ship, but they did not heed that. Nor did they pay any attention to us, for we could not reach them, and they knew it. They would deal with us presently in one way or another. Meanwhile, this ship was at their mercy.

Heidrek's other ship held on round the bend, and may have been out of sight of her consort before she grounded, as the river bent with its channel close under the banks. At all events, she did not return to help.

"This affair is off our hands," said Hakon. "Best not meddle therewith, even if we could. It is a great fight."

So it was, for the Danes fought well. The sides of the ship were high above the wading men, and the spears flashed out between the war boards, and the axe and sword were at work across the gunwales. Yet the Irish never fell back from their swarming attack, and their cries never ceased. One or two wounded men floated, paddling with their hands, down past us, and hurled curses and defiance at us also. Phelim and Fergus cried to them to forbear, for we were friends, but they did not heed them, and passed, to reach the shore below us as they might. We did not watch them.

For now the Irish had borne down the defence amidships, where the run of the gunwales was lowest. The sheer weight of them as they clambered, one over the other, on board, listed the ship over, and made the boarding easier for those who followed. The wild Danish war shout rose once or twice, and then it was drowned by the Irish yell. After that there was a sudden silence, for the fighting was over.

Then the victors leapt out of the ship and went ashore as swiftly as they had come, and the forest hid them. The ship was hard and fast aground now, and we pulled up abreast of her slowly, having no mind to share her fate. Whether the Irish took any of her crew with them as captives I do not know, but I saw her decks, and it seemed hardly possible. So terrible a sight were they, that I feared lest Gerda should in any way see it. But the doors of the cabin had been shut, doubtless lest the fighting should fray the ladies.

"Will you venture farther, King Hakon?" asked the pilot.

"We will take one ship farther," he said. "The other shall bide here, and see that this ship is not burnt by these wild folk. Mayhap we shall want her."

Thoralf laughed at that. "We have no men to man her withal," he said.

"We have men to sail her to Norway, and there wait the men to fight for us," Hakon answered gaily. "We shall meet no foes on the high seas, and we have met a queen whose men will hail us as their best friends."

Thoralf shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "None can say that you fare forward sadly, Hakon."

"This is the worse of the two ships," Bertric said. "The other is Heidrek's own. He is not here. Asbiorn yonder commanded this."

"Asbiorn is in luck today," Earl Osric said, nodding toward those terrible decks.

But Asbiorn stood on the foredeck with his back to that which he had looked on, biting the ends of his long moustache, and pale with rage. I did not wonder thereat.

Now Osric hailed the other ship and bade her anchor in the stream while we went on. The pilot said that we could safely do so, and that the next reach was the one of which he had spoken as a trap. Then his comrade went into the bows with a long pole, sounding, and so we crept past the stranded vessel, and into the most lovely reach of river I had ever seen. It was well nigh a lake, long and broad, between the soft hills and forest-clad shores, and the water was bright and clear as glass beneath our keel, so that I saw a great silver salmon flash like an arrow past the ship as we held on. There was a village at the head of the reach, and men swarmed in it like angry bees round a hive's mouth. Only the long black ship, which still pulled slowly away from us, and the fiercely-burning fires on every hilltop spoilt the quiet of the place.

"Now it is a question whether the Irish or we take Heidrek," said Hakon. "It is plain that his time has come, one way or the other. On my word, I am almost in the mind to hail him and bid him yield to us to save himself from these axes."

I believe that so Hakon would have done, but that the chance never came. And that was the doing of Heidrek himself, or of his crew. What madness of despair fell on those pirates I cannot say, but Asbiorn has it that they went berserk as one man at the last, as the wilder Vikings will, when the worst has to be faced.

The Irish swarmed at the upper end of this reach, as I have said, and those who had dealt with the other ship were coming fast along the shore to join them. There must have been five hundred of them in all, if not more. The river beyond the broad reach narrowed fast, and one could see by the broken water that there was no passing upward any farther until the tide was at its height. But before the village was a long sloping beach, on which lay two or three shapeless black skin boats, as if it was a good landing place with deep water up to the shore. Above the village, on the shoulder of the near hill, was an earthwork, and some tents were pitched within its ring. It was the gathering-place to which Dalfin had gone this morning, and no doubt his father, Myrkiartan the King, was there.

There came a hoarse roar across the water to us, which rose and fell, and shaped itself into a song, so terrible that I saw Hakon's men grow restless as they heard it. The pirates were singing their war song for the last time.

Their ship swung round and headed for the village, and with all her oars going, and the white foam flying from her bows, and boiling round the oar blades, she charged the beach and hurled herself half out of the water as she reached it.

Over her bows went her men with a shout. Before the Irish knew that anything had happened, the last of the Danes were halfway up the little beach, and were forming up into a close-locked wedge, which moved swiftly toward the village even as it grew into shape.

"What are they about?" asked men of one another as they watched, breathless, from our decks.

"They will try to win to yonder camp," one said in answer, and that was likely, though what hope could lie in that none could say.

Now the wedge had reached the little green which was between the village and the shore. Before it lay the road hillward, steep and rough, and that was full of Irish.

Still the Irish held back. They looked to see our ship follow, no doubt, and would have all their foes ashore at once, lest we should make some flank attack in the heat of the fight. But the Danes moved onward steadily.

Then into the opening of the lane rode a man on a tall chestnut horse, and the Irish yelled and thronged to him as he leaped off it. It was Dalfin himself, as I saw when he was on foot. I suppose that he had managed to find this steed somewhere on the way, meeting with mounted men hurrying to the levy like himself most likely. If the fishers were yet with him I could not see. They were lost in the crowd round him.

Now Dalfin's sword went up, and the men shook themselves into some sort of order. A slogan rose, wild and shrill, and with the prince at their head they flung themselves on the Danes, lapping round them, so that they hid them from our sight. Only in the midst of the leaping throng there was a steady, bright cluster of helms, above which rose and fell the weapons unceasingly.

The Irish could not stay that wedge. It went on, cleaving its way through the press as a ship cleaves its way to windward through the waves, and after it had passed, there was a track of fallen men to tell of how it had fared. There were mail-clad men among that line of fallen, and those, of course, were not Irish. They, like Dalfin, would wear neither helm nor byrnie.

Slowly the Danes fought their way, uselessly to all seeming, away from the water and hillward. Without heeding the depth of the lane from the village, though the darts rained on them from its banks, they went on, and we lost sight of the fighting, though the black throng of warriors who could not reach their foe still swarmed between them and the village. Some of them came back and yelled at us from the shore, and once they seemed as if they were about to launch the two boats which lay on the strand for an attack on us. We had dropped a small anchor at this time.

Father Phelim saw that and came to me.

"Let me go to the young prince," he said; "I may be of use here. There will be trouble, unless someone tells the poor folk that these ships are friendly in very deed."

So we went to Hakon, and I told him what Phelim thought.

"The good father is right enough," he answered. "But how is he to get ashore unharmed? To send a boat would mean that it would be fallen on before it was seen who was in it."

"Let me swim," said Phelim stoutly.

"Maybe your tonsure might save you, father," said Hakon; "but I would not risk it. One cannot see much of a man in the water."

"Let me have one of the small boats—it can be launched from the far side of the ship—and I will row him ashore," I said. "I can speak the Gaelic."

Hakon considered. "Well," he said, "it may save endless trouble, and I do not see why you should not go. Phelim must stand up, and they will see him."

Thoralf would have us bide on board, letting Phelim stand on the bows and hail the shore. But that would have made trouble at once, for he would have been thought to be a captive. Then Earl Osric said that we might as well wait until we must, but Hakon and I and Phelim thought it easier to deal with the few men here than to wait until the rest returned, most likely flushed with the victory their numbers must needs give them. So in the end the small quarterboat was got over the side away from the village, and we took our place. Phelim was in the bows, and I set my helm at my feet, and had a dark cloak over my mail.

I pulled away from the ship and came round her stern in a wide sweep, in order not to seem at once as if we came from her. Then we went swiftly to the beach, and Phelim stood in the bows and signed to the men who stood along it. They saw what he was, and ran together to meet him, ceasing their cries to hear him. But I was not going to run more risk than I could help. So soon as we were twenty yards from the beach, I stopped pulling, and bade Phelim say his say.

He told them what was needful, and they growled at first, as if they could not believe him. Then he pointed to Fergus, who could be seen on board the ship, and they grew more satisfied. At last he told them that they must fetch Dalfin the Prince as soon as possible, for that we of the ship, or some of us, were those who had brought him back. And at last he told how there was a queen on board who had avenged the death of Dubhtach of the Spearshafts, and given back the torque which was lost.

That was all they needed to hear, for the torque had been seen, and word had passed round concerning it. The black looks faded, and there was naught but friendliness thereafter. Phelim asked for some leader, and a man stepped forward, and so took messages for Dalfin, and went across the green and up the lane with its terrible token of the fighting, that he might give them as soon as it was possible. Then we rowed back slowly, for it was not worthwhile to go ashore.

"Thanks," said Hakon, meeting us at the gangway. "That is well done. I will own that we had nearly run ourselves into a trap, and you have taken a load off my mind."

"No need to have stayed here," said Thoralf.

"Nay, but I want that ship, and now I think we may get her. I did but stay to see if it might be done."

I went and found Asbiorn, for somewhat was troubling me. The thought of the men who had been taken at the same time as myself, and must needs be in one or other of these ships.

"We took seven in all," he said. "Well, I had five. Two got away in Norway as soon as we fell out with Arnkel. One was too much hurt to be of use, and we left him there. My father took the other two, and they are yonder with him, I suppose. Those two who joined us of their own free will were in my ship. They were good men."

Chapter 15: The Torque And Its Wearer.

The roar of that unseen battle came across the still water to us without cease for well nigh half an hour. The first surety we had that it was over was in the dying away of the noise and the coming back to the shore of men from the front who were unwounded. After that we could see the black mass of Irish climbing the hill to the camp quietly, as if to tell their king that they had conquered. There was much shouting thence shortly after they had passed within the earthworks.

Then out of the gate of the camp, which was toward the river, came a train of men, the leaders of which were mounted, and after them swarmed the levies again. Dalfin was bringing his father to see the place of the fight, and to welcome us as friends. It was not altogether a new thing that Norseman and Dane should be known as foes to one another here on the Irish coast, which both wasted. The folk called us the "white" and the Danes the "black" Lochlannoch, and I cannot say which they feared the most, though the Danes were the most hated. But the Irish kings were not slow to take advantage of our rivalries when they could.

Asbiorn came to me as I stood and watched the king coming out of the camp. His face was white and drawn, but he was calm enough.

"Who was the tall, young chief on the red horse?" he asked me.

"Dalfin of Maghera, whom you let go with me," I answered.

"So I thought. Now, I think that he has avenged that doing on the Caithness shore for you. It is not likely that my father has not fallen; he was the leader of the wedge. There is no feud now between you and me."

"There is not," I answered. "I do not know that I had ever thought of one as possible."

"There would have been had Hakon slain Heidrek," he said.

The old law of the blood feud had its full meaning to him.

"If Heidrek had stayed his men to meet us, Hakon would have given him terms rather than that this should have been the end," I said.

"I know it, for I heard him say so. But there was a touch of the berserk in my father since his troubles came. This is not the first time he has tried to fall fighting against odds. He would not have listened to Hakon."

He sighed heavily, and then shook himself, so that his mail rattled. I took his sword from the bottom of a boat on deck in which I had set it, and gave it back to him, and he girt it on.

"So that is the end," he said. "And now I am my own man. Well, it was a better end than might have been had Hakon waited to see if we came raiding to Norway, as we most certainly should. Now I can follow Hakon with a light heart, and maybe come to be known as an honest man once more."

He said no other word, but turned and went forward. Bertric looked after him and smiled.

"Hakon has a good follower there," he said. "I will see that he is not overlooked. Heidrek was the son of a king in Jutland, and the good blood will show itself at last."

"You know Hakon well," I said, having seen that the greeting between those two was not of an every day sort, or as between prince and follower merely.

"We two were long together in Athelstane's court," he answered. "I also am Athelstane's foster son. He has many, according to our custom."

There was a rush made for the entrance to the village by the Irish who yet loitered on the shore staring at us. Some of them had carried away the wounded from off the green already, and now they left nothing to be seen of the track of the Danes across it. The king was coming, and Hakon sent word to the cabin that the ladies should come and see him. We lay perhaps three hundred paces from the shore, and there was no sight to fray them now.

So they and we went to the after deck and watched, and there was not long to wait. But it was Dalfin who came alone, and mounted on a fresh horse. It was plain that he had been fighting, because he had his left arm in a sling, though he managed his horse none the worse for that. He rode down to the beach in all haste, with a dozen men after him, and waved his hand to us. Then he dismounted, and the men put off the nearest boat, into which he stepped. In five minutes he was on the deck, and greeting us.

"This is wonderful," he said. "All this morning I have been crossing the hills to reach here in the nick of time. I heard no news, and I saw no messengers. I did not even know that Heidrek had sailed hence and returned. Now you are here first, and one comes with a message from you on the spot. The luck of the torque lingers with Queen Gerda even yet."

He bowed to her in his way, and she laughed, and looked for the gold. He had not it on him now.

"Have you parted with it already?" she asked.

"With the torque, but not with the luck, as it is to be hoped," he said. "You will see my father wearing it soon. It must needs be on the neck of the head of the realm."

"What were you while you wore it?" asked Thoralf, who knew the Irish ways.

"Deputy king for the time," answered Dalfin dryly. "And in a hurry to hand it over to my father therefore."

Now, as Dalfin had elder brothers, and there were chiefs almost as powerful as the king himself, that was to be expected. Otherwise, our friend might have had an evil time between them. Unless he had chosen to put himself at the head of the men whom he had just led to victory, and called to them to set the torque wearer on the throne. They would have done it, by reason of the magic of the thing; but there was no thought of treason in the mind of Dalfin, though many a king's son would have grasped at the chance, holding, perhaps, that as the sign of royalty had come to him, the throne must needs come with it, though his father held it.

Then he told us how the fight had gone—how Heidrek fell at the forefront of his steadfast wedge, and how but few men had been taken unhurt. Hakon asked what he would do with those who were taken.

"Give them to you," Dalfin answered carelessly, "if you will take them out of this land."

"I was going to ask for the ship," Hakon said.

"She is yours already. You drove her ashore, and the honour falls to us. We should only make a big fire of her and dance round it. Where is the other?"

"Your men took her round the bend below. There will be no more trouble with Heidrek. We have his son, Asbiorn, here with us."

"Give him to me," said Dalfin at once; "give him to me, King Hakon. I owe him much for a good turn he did me and Malcolm here, and I cannot see him a captive."

"Malcolm and Bertric have claimed him already," said Hakon, with a smile. "He is yonder, and has taken service with me, and I think I must keep him."

"That is all one could want for a man," answered Dalfin. "Now, I have to ask if you will go ashore and meet my father. He would also see my two comrades, and, if it may be so, Queen Gerda."

But Thoralf would not hear of the king going ashore, nor would Earl Osric. Gerda, too, shrank from facing the wild crowd of warriors and the sights of the field which she needs must see more or less of. Nor did Dalfin press the matter, for he knew that any little spark might be enough to rouse the wild Irish against the Norsemen. It was but a chance that Hakon had played the part of an ally. So in the end Bertric and I went ashore with Dalfin and the two hermits, as an embassy, so to speak, to represent Hakon.

We had a good welcome at all events, I suppose because men had heard the tale of our voyage and wreck, and maybe of how Hakon saved the hermits at last. Phelim had spoken thereof when he and I went ashore just now, and word passes swiftly without losing in the telling. They took us up through the village to the camp, and there a tent was pitched, large and open in front, as the court of the king.

The enclosure swarmed with men, wilder than any I had ever seen, and picketed rows of most beautiful horses were along one side.

It was a strange court. The nobles were dressed in black or dull saffron-coloured tunics, with great, shaggy cloaks of the natural hue of the wool they were made of, and but for the rich gold ornaments they wore on their arms and necks, there was little to choose between their attire and that of their followers. Not one wore mail, but their swords were good, and their spears heavy and well cared for. As for helms, they had no need of them. Their hair was amazingly thick and long, and was massed into great shocks on their heads, and might turn a sword stroke. Even Dalfin had twisted his up into somewhat like what it might have been before he left Ireland, lest he should be out of the fashion, and it spoilt his looks, though it would be many a long day before he had it properly matted together again. It was strange to see men tossing these shocks aside as they turned.

One other thing I noted at once, and that was how every man, high or low, carried a long-handled axe, bright and keen. It was the only weapon of some, and if they knew how to handle it, maybe they needed no other.

Among all that crowd there were only two men who seemed to shine in any magnificence. One was the old king, who sat waiting us in a great chair, clad in royal robes of scarlet and white and green which no Irish looms could have compassed, with a little golden crown on his white hair, and the torque round his neck. The other was a bishop in mitre and all state robes, wonderfully worked, and with a crosier in his hand. Not having seen the like before I wondered most at him, but his looks were kind and pleasant. Phelim told me who and what he was afterward.

Myrkiartan came from his throne to greet us as we passed through a lane of wild courtiers, who had looks which were not all of the most friendly for us. But we paid no heed to them, though I thought that Hakon was well advised when he sent us instead of coming himself. That first greeting was for us alone as the comrades of Dalfin, and it was a good welcome. Then the king went back to his throne with all ceremony, to receive us as the embassy from Hakon. There was no little state kept up in this court, and matters were to be kept in their right order.

Now, I need say little of all this ceremony and the words which passed of thanks to Hakon for driving the enemy to his end. Myrkiartan made no suggestion that Hakon should stay here, and seemed more willing to speed him on his way elsewhere. Presently, he said, there should be sent to the strand oxen and casks of mead as provender for the voyage, and Hakon was most welcome to take the ship if he would.

Thereon Dalfin asked for the captives, and they were brought in—a dozen Danes, who stared at their captors haughtily in spite of their bonds. Then they spied Bertric in the splendid arms which Gerda gave him, for we had come fully armed, and they looked toward him as if they would ask his help, but were too proud to do so. And then of a sudden one of them spoke my name, and I knew him, though his face was half-hidden in the mud of the field on which some common chance had sent him down. It was that man of ours who had told me that there was always the chance of escape, and had tried to gnaw my bonds when we were in the ship's forepeak—Sidroc, the courtman. I did not pretend to know him then and there, thinking it might seem proof that Hakon was in league with Heidrek in some way. Presently, when his low cry was forgotten, I looked at him, and he saw that I knew him, and was content.

"Look at the men, Bertric," said Dalfin. "See if there are any you will care to take. You know them."

"We cannot leave any of them here," Bertric said to me. "Hakon can set them ashore anywhere if he does not like them. Asbiorn might manage them though, and with Hakon's men they will learn manners."

He spoke our own tongue of course, and the king asked what he said. Dalfin said that Hakon would take them away altogether if the clemency of the king would allow it. Whereon the king waved his hand, and said that they should be sent down with the oxen.

Now, I did not think that this pleased the men of the court. There was a sort of uneasy murmur for a time, and then there was a silence, which grew somewhat awkward at last. I thought it was time for us to go, for there was nothing else to say, but the bishop came forward. He had been speaking with Phelim for some time, and now told Myrkiartan how that Hakon was a good Christian man and had saved the hermit brotherhood even now. That story made the black looks pass at once, and after that it was easy to take our leave and make our way out of the tent; and glad enough I was to be in the open once more. The whispering of the nobles had not been pleasant at times.

Dalfin came out with us, and he was grave. There had been words and looks now and then among the group of men with his two brothers which he did not like.

"You had better tell Hakon from me that he had best sail hence as soon as possible. Maybe as soon as tide will serve. I will see that you get the men now and at once. Never wait for the provender unless it comes soon."

"Come down to the ship with us," I said. "Tell Hakon this yourself if you will."

He shrugged his shoulders at that and glanced round him.

"If it were not for you two I doubt if Hakon would not have been fallen on by this time," he said. "There are boats enough, hidden in the village from Heidrek, which can be brought out at any moment."

He was speaking in the Dansk, but suddenly took to the Erse with some words or other of common farewell, as a tall Irish chief passed with a scowl at us.

"Jealousies through and through this court," he said quickly, when the man was out of hearing. "Already some pretend to be wroth with me for having any dealing with Lochlannoch at all. I am the youngest son, and my father favours me, more's the pity."

"Better quit it all, and come and help Hakon to the throne," I said.

"If it were not for my father," he answered.

So then and there he bade us farewell, with messages to Gerda and Hakon, and called some of his own men to see us to the ship. We left him standing in the gate, looking after us somewhat sadly, as we thought.

"Now," said Bertric, "it seems to me that one may guess why Dalfin went to sea to find adventure. This court is not a happy home, take it all round."

Halfway down to the ship we heard some one running after us, and looked round. It was Father Phelim.

"Take me with you, my sons," he said, breathless. "I feared that you would go without me."

"We had not thought you would care to sail with us again," I said.

He made no answer beyond a smile, and we went on. Men stood and stared at us at every turning, axe in hand. In the lane they wrangled over the spoils they gathered there from the fallen Danes, and fought fiercely with the long helves of their weapons without hurting one another at all by reason of their shock heads. One who was felled thus would rise and laugh, and the quarrel was at an end. They were a light-hearted folk to all seeming.

Once a handsome, frowning chief came past us at a gallop on his swift horse. He was glittering with gold, but the steed had neither saddle nor bridle. Its only harness was a halter, but the man rode as if he were part of the horse, so that it was a pleasure to watch him. It was more than either Bertric or I could have managed.

The Danish ship was afloat when we reached the waterside, for the tide had risen swiftly in these upper waters, and the Irish had helped to get her off, after plundering her. There were a dozen or more of Hakon's men on board at this time, making her decks shipshape again. But below the bend rose a black cloud of smoke, for the other ship was on fire, and Hakon had sent a boat to see that all was well with the ship he had left there.

There was no surprise at the message from Dalfin. Thoralf only laughed, and Hakon said he would wait for half an hour in case the supplies came. As for the men, he would take them willingly. There was no need to arm them, and they would take their spell at the oars.

Presently Irish came to the beach holding up spoils—helms and mail shirts, and the Danish swords they did not know how to use. Hakon bought them for silver pennies easily, and the folk thought themselves well paid. So an hour passed, and then the hapless Danes were driven down in a string to the water's edge, and we sent a boat for them. One had a hasty message from Dalfin to say that in no wise were we to wait for aught else. The Dane told me that there was strife up at the camp, and the young prince had had difficulty in getting them away.

Hakon spoke to the men, when they came on board, kindly, and bade them take service with him if they would, as had Asbiorn, and, as may be supposed, they were only too willing. And then I asked for our courtman, telling Hakon how it came about that he was with these pirates, and he turned him over to me at once as my special follower. Nor need it be said how Sidroc greeted me after that escape. He said that Heidrek's men had thrust a spear into his hand and hustled him over the bows to take his chance with the rest, unarmed save with that.

Thereafter, Hakon found mail and helm and sword for him, which had come from the spoils, and he was happy. Nor was I any the less comfortable on board for having him to tend myself and Bertric. But that is of course.

From him we learned two things—one which Asbiorn had not yet told us, and the other which he also would learn. Heidrek had fled from us thinking that the ships could be only those of Sigtryg, the Dublin king, with whom he had some deadly feud. I minded that when Dalfin had offered ransom for both of us how Asbiorn had said that the Irish shore was not open to him. Then, when he was thus pent up by us, Heidrek had tried to cut his way to the camp and take Myrkiartan prisoner, that he might hold him as hostage for safe departure. It was a mad attempt, but at least had some meaning in it which we could not understand at the time. Moreover, had it not been for the men who came up with Dalfin it had been done.

Now Hakon made no delay. Thoralf and as strong a crew as could be spared took charge of the Danish ship, and together the two vessels cautiously made their way down the long reach and past the place where Heidrek's other ship was still burning. By that time the dusk was falling, but we were sure that all along the shores the Irish watched us as they had watched us as we came.

The beacon fires had died down now, for their work was done, and the fair reaches of water were still and peaceful in the evening glow, looking even more beautiful than in the morning, for the tide was full to the banks. Gerda came with the other ladies and sat on deck, and spoke with Hakon of the treasure, which he promised to seek with daylight.

"I would have you take it, King Hakon," she said. "I do not altogether know its worth, but it may go toward the freeing of Norway from Eric and the men who follow him."

"Nay," he answered, "I cannot take it from you."

"Once," she said, and she looked at me as I sat on the deck hard by with Bertric, "once—it seems long ago, though it is but so few days—I would have sent it into the deep with him who gathered it. These friends of mine over-persuaded me, saying that I should need it. Now I am in your care, and I have not so much as to hire a ship to take me home. It was Thorwald's. What if you had come back and asked him to help you? Would it not have been laid at your feet for the sake of the old land and the old friendship?"

He smiled, but did not answer. So she set the gift before him once more, with eager words. I knew, as I listened, that she would be the happier if the wealth once dedicated, so to speak, to so high an end as that gift to the old hero were taken from her charge, and used to the freeing of the land she loved; and at last Hakon saw that there was some deeper feeling about it than gratitude to himself only.

"Well," he said, "it seems that I must not refuse. Only, I will put it in this way—I am to know that you hold it for me in case I need it. Be sure that if it is needed I will make haste to ask."

"Aye, and you will need it," said Earl Osric bluntly.

Then Gerda said: "Take it now, and use it if and when you need it. Let it be so, I pray you, King Hakon."

The young king bowed and thanked her, and there that matter ended for the time. Presently, after the ships had come to anchor with the last light in the river mouth, and the men had spread the awnings for us aft, he spoke to us about it, and I told him what I thought. Also I told him how that Bertric and I had enough wealth on us at this moment for the fitting out of a ship as we had planned. Whereon he laughed.

"Keep that," he said, "and I shall be content. Gerda will know nothing of the worth of what you have, and you will use it for her if needed. I have a plan in my mind for her, which may be told hereafter."

Then one of the men came to the opening of the awning.

"A boat, King Hakon, with two men in her, pulling to us from the western bank."

"Hail her to keep off," said Hakon.

And Osric added that they should heave a big stone into her if she did not. "Spies, most like," he said.

They hailed the boat, and had an answer at once.

"Tell Hakon that hither comes a courtman of Queen Gerda's."

Hakon said that it must be some man who had escaped; but Bertric and I knew at once.

"It is Dalfin the Prince," we said. "He has had to fly from those brothers of his."

So it was, and he had come to see more adventure with King Hakon.

"I might find enough if I stayed," he said; "but of an evil sort."

"Why, what is amiss then?" I said.

"Only that my brothers do not like favourites, and I happen to be one for the moment. There would have been fighting if I had stayed, and that would have ended in my good father being pushed off his throne by my elder brother lest I should be named as successor to the crown. Or else in sudden end to myself."

Then he laughed, as if somewhat pleasant came to mind.

"There are strange stories afloat concerning me and the torque already," he went on. "It is said that the fairy queen has had me in her court for all this time I have been away, and that she gave me back the thing. So I have even fled suddenly and secretly, and they will hold that she has lured me back again."

"It is not altogether for your own safety that you have fled," said Hakon gravely.

"Faith, and so it is not," he answered. "I had but to lift my finger, and the wearing of the torque would have set me on the throne. And a mighty uneasy seat that would have been, too! I think my father is used to it, and might have missed the seat. So I left."

"For your father's sake," said Hakon, smiling at him. "Well, come and help me to not quite so uneasy a realm, and all may be for the best. There is little freedom for him who holds an Irish throne, as it seems to me."

Chapter 16: In Old Norway.

The ships were under way with the tide in the gray of the early morning, and crept along the shore to the island slowly. There were men watching our going from the cliffs, but there had been no alarm from the Irish in the night. I dare say they claim to have driven Hakon of Norway from their shores even to this day, but I do not know that it matters if they do. No one is the worse for the boast, or the better either, for that matter.

Hakon took the ships into the little strait for easier landing than from the open shore. His men were waiting at the water's edge for us, but there were no hermits to be seen at first, for it was one of their hours of service in the chapel. We had heard the faint ringing of its little bell as we drew up to the opening of the strait. Bright and clear it was in the early morning sunlight, and it was peaceful as ever. Even Hakon's men had set aside their mail here, looking as quiet as the place itself.

Gerda would go ashore with us, and so in no long time we, who had left here so hastily, stood once more on the shore, and wondered to find ourselves back again, and safe; for the memory of that flight came back to us afresh with all we saw. We had forgotten it in the wild doings of the long day which came thereafter.

Now, there is no need for me to tell of the greetings which were for us, and for the young king. They were those of men who owed much on either side, and yet must part again straightway. It seemed that Hakon's men who had been landed were either Christians, or else men who had taken the "prime signing" on them, which was the way in which they proved that they were ready to learn the new faith. Phelim would call them "catechumens," therefore, and that word may be known as meaning the same thing. Presently I was to hear more of that from him. The good hermits were ready to praise them and their ways to the king, while, as for Asbiorn's men, they had given no trouble at all, for they were tied up in the cell we had used. One or two of Hakon's men, who were from Dublin, could speak the Erse, and that had been good.

So there was gratitude and content when the hermits came and spoke with Hakon through Dalfin, while I set the men to work getting the treasure down to the boats. The brothers had buried it as they promised, risking somewhat as they worked, for Asbiorn's Danes might have wandered from the beach at any time. When that was done they fled to the hill, until one of Hakon's men had gone altogether unarmed and spoken with them, telling them that we and they were safe.

Now, we had left Fergus behind us with the bishop, and he would find his way back here shortly. Presently Phelim sought the old superior and spoke long with him, and at last came and asked Gerda to do the same. She went willingly enough, as she reverenced the old teacher, taking me with her.

"My daughter," he said, "have you a mind to learn more of those things of which we have spoken?"

"I can wish nothing better," she answered.

"Then," he said, "I have bidden Phelim go across the seas with you to teach you and yours. Will it please you that he shall do so?"

She flushed with delight, for that was what she had most wished, as she had told me yonder on the shore. And I suppose that because she had so told me, she looked to me to answer.

"Aye, what says Malcolm, my countryman?" asked the old man.

"If Father Phelim will undertake the task, which will be hard," I answered.

"He will bear hardship for that work," the superior said, setting his hand on the shoulder of the strong man, who had knelt before him. "We shall miss him, but we shall know that mayhap he will bring you twain to meet with us hereafter."

Then I said, being moved by words and tone, "So may it be, father," and he smiled at me in much content.

After that Phelim said naught of his own feelings in the matter, but went to the brothers one by one and took leave of them. Afterwards I heard that yesterday the bishop had loosed him from some vows which bound him to the island-hermit life, if it came to pass that we would take him with us. And that was what he had thought would befall him when he and Fergus rowed with us, with Asbiorn in chase.

So we took leave of the old man then, for he was feeble, and time was very short. He bade us remember that day by day in the little chapel our names, and the name of Hakon also, would not be forgotten; and blessed us, and went to his cell. Then one of the brothers came and asked Gerda to see what she had left in her cell, for none had touched it yet, and she went with him. Soon she came out with that little silver cup, which we had found in the penthouse when we first opened it, and asked me if she might give it to the hermits.

"They will have no use for it," I said, smiling at the thought.

"I think they will," she said. "Ask, for I cannot."

So I asked the brother who was with us, and he looked at the cup gravely. It was wrought with a strangely twisted and plaited pattern.

"Why, yes," he said. "I myself can set a stem to it, and thereafter it will be a treasure to us, for our chalice is but of white metal. It will mind us of you every day, in ways which are more wondrous than you can yet know. We may take it, therefore, but you must not offer us aught else. We are vowed to poverty."

Now, I did not know of what he spoke, but Gerda did in some way, which is beyond me. Wherefore she was more than content. It is my thought that all her days it will be a good and pleasant thing to mind the use that cup came to at the last, and where it is.

The treasure was all on board Hakon's ship, and we must go with the tide. The Danes were unbound and sent to help Thoralf on the ship which had been theirs, with the offer of freedom if they worked well; and I will add that they gave no trouble, and took service with Hakon as free men afterward, having learnt the good of honesty. The hermits saw us to the shore, and so we left them, and the ships hoisted sail to a fair breeze, and were away for Norway and what lay before Hakon when he came thither. And if the blessings and prayers of the hermits availed aught, he would do well.

Now, we had to gather men for this warfare that might be to come. There were Norsemen in the Scottish islands everywhere who would join him, for thither had fled many who were not friendly with Eric, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands held more still. So we sailed up the narrow seas among the isles, finding here one man, and here a dozen, until the ships were fully manned, and that with such a force as any leader might go far with, for the men served, not for pay alone, but also for hope in Hakon, and to regain their old homes in the old land. Moreover, two chiefs joined him with their ships and crews in Hebrides, and there we heard news of Eric, and how that men hated him, and would rise for Hakon everywhere when once they knew that he was in the land.

So that was a long voyage and pleasant to me, nor did I seem to care how long it lasted. Maybe the reason for that is not far to seek, for I could not tell what more I might see of Gerda when it ended. For I knew only too well that I had naught to offer her, being but a landless man, with nothing but my sword for heritage. And as the days passed, it seemed to me that in some way Gerda kept herself afar from me, being more ready to speak with Hakon and Bertric than myself, though again at times she was as ever with myself in all ways.

Now I did not altogether wonder at this, and made the best thereof, being minded to pass from her ken with Hakon when the time came. I supposed that we should all go together with the young king to that place which he should choose for his first landing, and thereafter she would bide in his court until Eric had fled the land and the power of Arnkel had ended with his fall. Then she would go to her own place and be once more as a queen, while I would fare with Hakon, and see what honour I might win.

Still, it was pleasant to sit on the deck in the soft, summer weather, and talk with Thoralf's wife and daughter, Ortrud, and watch Gerda as she forgot the hard things she had passed through, and grew cheerful and happy once more. These two ladies were most kind to her, and grew to be great friends in those long days at sea.

One day, after we had left the Shetland Islands, and it wore toward the end of the voyage, and we began to talk of where we might best land and call on men to rise for Hakon, the elder lady, Thoralf's wife, had been talking to me, and I think my mind had wandered a little as I watched Gerda, who was on the after deck with Bertric and Dalfin. The men were all clustered forward, and no one was near for the moment.

"You two well bore the care of Gerda," she said in a low voice. "See, she might never have passed through aught of peril or hardship. Yet she will never forget those days of trial."

"She was very brave through them," I said. "The care was naught but pleasure."

"Yet most heavy to you," she said. "I know you will make the least of it all, but she knows well what she owes to you. Now, I would have you think of what I say. It pleases you to call yourself her courtman—well, that may be no bad way of putting your readiness to serve her. But I would not have you forget that you are Malcolm the Jarl."

I laughed, for the title never had meant much, even when my father held it. Now it was altogether barren to me.

"So I am," I said; "but of no more use to Hakon for all that. If I had a jarl's following now—"

"You are not needed by Hakon so much as by another, Malcolm," she said. "To him you are one among many, and that is all."

"He has my first fealty," I answered. "He was the first who has ever claimed it, and he has it, for good or ill."

"There was one who claimed your fealty before ever he saw you," she said slowly, and smiling at me meaningly. "Will you forget that?"

I could not pretend not to understand what she meant, and I answered her with the thought which troubled me.

"Lady, I cannot forget it. But now it does not seem possible that she should care to remember. There is no reason why she should."

"Every reason, Malcolm," she said, as if angry with me. "Do you think that all the care you had for her before Hakon came is to go for naught?"

"Bertric and Dalfin are to be remembered in that matter also."

"Of course. But Asa Thor, who was only Malcolm the Jarl after all, being a fellow countryman, has had the first place."

"You seem to have heard all the story," I said, smiling.

"From the beginning," she answered, "else had I not spoken to you thus. Now, I will not sit by and see Gerda, whom I love, made wretched because you are somewhat too thoughtful for her, if I may put it so. And I will tell you one thing which she fears more than aught."

There she stayed her words and looked at me somewhat doubtfully. I suppose that what she saw in my face told her that she might go on, for she did so.

"Presently Hakon must needs find a protector for her, if her own lands are to be won back for her. She fears who that may be."

Then she rose up and left me with some new matter for thought, not altogether unpleasant. And thereafter, for the few days that were left of the voyage, I did my best to be the same in all companionship to our charge as I had been in the days on the island.

Hakon made up his mind to sail north to Thrandheim {2}, where men loved his father, and where the strength of Norway lay. With the Thrandheimers behind him there would be every hope of winning in the end, if there must needs be some fighting here and there before the land was quiet. So he steered for the islands which lie outside the great fjord whereon the town lies, and there found a berth for the ships, while he sent men to find out how the minds of the folk were turned toward Eric. Thoralf went, and two others who were known in the district.

When they had gone, he sent for me to speak with him privately, in the little house on the island where he was lodged with some friend of his father's. He sat alone when I came in, and he smiled when he saw me. I would have it remembered that Hakon was far older than his years, and that we forgot what his age was, for, indeed, he was wiser than most men even then.

"Malcolm," he said, "I want you to do somewhat for me. You will have to leave me, and maybe it is not an easy matter which I have in hand for you. Yet it is likely that you are the only man whom I can set to do it."

"If that is so, King Hakon, needs must I undertake it," I answered, lightly enough.

"It is a matter which was forced on you once; but now you shall have your choice whether you will undertake it with your free will or not."

He spoke gravely, but his eyes had the light of a jest in them, and I had to smile.

"This sounds a terrible matter, King Hakon," said I. "Let me know the worst of it."

"Someone has to take Gerda back to her own place and turn out Arnkel for me. Thereafter, he will have to hold the land for me quietly, and make ready for a rising for me if need is. I think there will be little trouble, but I do not know what men of his own this Arnkel may have. Will you do it?"

"Seeing that the care of a lady is in the matter, I will not, for shame's sake, say that I will do it with a light heart," I answered. "But you could have asked me nothing more after my own mind. But what of the lady?"

"If you do not know that by this time," he said gaily, "I am mistaken. Maybe you had better ask her."

"Am I to take her with me?"

"Yes," he said, gravely enough. "There may be fighting here, and she is best out of the way. Her folk will hail her, and she will be safe with them, Arnkel notwithstanding. Thoralf will send his wife and daughter with her that they, too, may be safe."

Then he laughed at me again, and said that if all his followers were so ready to leave him, he would be a lonely man shortly, and so on. Yet I knew that for him to have one loyal haven in the south lands would be no little gain, so that I was serving him as well as Gerda.

"That is well," he said at last. "And I wonder how long I may be able to jest thus. Now, I will give you the ship we took from Heidrek, and Bertric will be shipmaster, for this is his affair also. You shall have crew enough, at least, to make sure that Gerda's men will join you without fear. And you shall sail tomorrow, before ever Arnkel hears that I am in the land. Take him, if you can, and deal with him as you will. Maybe a rope at the end of the yardarm is what he deserves. But, anywise, do not let him get to Eric if you can help it."

Then I had to fetch Bertric, and thereafter we arranged all that was needful as to ship and crew. We were to have thirty men, and that would be as many as we should want, seeing that Gerda's folk would join us so soon as they knew that she had returned. Also we must find a pilot, for Gerda's place lay some four days' sail down the coast, at the head of the fjord which men call Hvinfjord, or Flekkefjord, which lies among the mountains south of Stavanger, in a land of lakes and forests and bright streams, of which she had told me much.

Presently Hakon spoke to me of another matter wherein I might help him. It was his hope that he might win Norway to the Christian faith, and, indeed, I think that he cared little for the crown if it might not give him power to that end. He knew that in the long days of the homeward cruise both Gerda and I had been talking much with Father Phelim and the two English clergy, so that we could not be aught but friendly toward the faith, if not more.

"Stubborn are our Norse folk," he said, "and the work will be hard. Maybe I shall do little, but someone else may take up the task which I mean to begin. It must needs be begun at some time. In that quiet place of Gerda's it is likely that men may listen peacefully, and so will be a centre whence one may hope much."

Then I said, "So may it be, King Hakon; for this will be what Gerda wishes most of all things."

"What of yourself then?" he asked.

Bertric answered for me, and I was glad.

"Malcolm thinks likewise, for so he has told me. But he will do nothing in haste. This is a matter which is weighty, and in no wise to be lightly gone into. But have no fear for him, Hakon."

Thereat Hakon smiled as if well pleased, and said no more. Bertric did but speak the truth concerning me. But most of all, it seemed to me that the new things I had learned were so wondrous that I thought myself unfitted for them. I think that, if I tell the truth, I must needs say that I was afraid thereof, in ways which I cannot set into words.

Bertric and I went out to look for men when all was said that needed saying, and the first person we found was Dalfin. The prince was learning to be a very Norseman, and was in favour with all.

"Ho, Dalfin," I said, "are you minded to sail for another cruise with the queen and us two?"

"Why," he asked, "what of Hakon and his warfare?"

We told him what we were to be about, and his face fell. I think he deemed at first that he was in some way bound in honour to go with us and see Gerda righted. But it was plain that he would rather follow Hakon and meet with the adventure which must needs be before him ere he came to the throne of his fathers.

So we played with him for a while, until he said that he would sail with us if we needed him so sorely, and then let him go. There was no honour to be won with us, and here he might end by standing high in the court, and we had no need of him. Then we went and chose men who were ready for a chance of speedy adventure, rather than the waiting which matters of policy required here for the moment. Presently Bertric would bring the ship back to Hakon with them, if all went well. So we had no trouble in raising a very willing crew. Moreover, the men who knew her were glad to serve Gerda.

So word went about quickly of what we wanted, and we might have had twice the number we asked for. Presently Asbiorn heard it, and came up from the ships and sought us.

"So you are going to try conclusions with my friend Arnkel?" he said. "Let me come with you. You need a pilot."

Now, we liked Asbiorn well enough, for all the way in which we had met him, and the company whence he came to us. He was quiet and fearless, keeping himself to himself, but pleasant in his ways, troubling more over the thought of the ill repute of his father than need have been, perhaps, for none blamed him for that. We had already thought of him as likely to be useful to us; but he, again, might do well with the king, for he had place and name to win, as had Dalfin. We were glad that he would help us therefore, and hailed his coming accordingly, to his content.

This island where we lay was hilly, and forest clad. The ships were at anchor in the little sound between it and a smaller island, hidden and safe, and the ladies were lodged in a house among the woods on the south side of the hill, near the lodging of Hakon. The woods were pleasant at this time, with the first touch of autumn on the leaves of the birches, and the ripe berries of the Norseland were everywhere.

So it happened that presently, as I went to Hakon's lodging with some question which I had for him, I must take the nearest way from the ships by the woodland paths, having to cross the island from east to south, and leaving Bertric and Asbiorn on board. I had it in my mind to find Thoralf's good wife presently, and talk to her, for it seemed to me that this cruise might have much in store for me. Hakon had told her of our sailing with the morning's tide.

But I heard someone singing in the wood, and knew the voice well. It was Gerda who was wandering, and gathering the red raspberries, and I had half a mind to turn aside and keep beyond her sight. That thought came too late, however, for the path turned, and I came on her suddenly, and she looked up from the ripe berries she had found alongside the path and saw me.

A flush went across her fair face, and then she greeted me brightly. I did not know what she had been told of tomorrow as yet, and could not tell from her face whether she knew or not. So I thought it best to ask.

"Have you heard aught from the king as to your going back to the old home yet, Gerda?"

"Yes," she said, standing still and looking somewhat pitifully at me. "And he says that it shall be at once. But I fear how he may send me back."

"He will give you ship and men, and so see that there is no chance of any great trouble with Arnkel."

"Aye—but—but, Malcolm, he says that he needs must find someone who will help me hold the land. Who will that be, for he can spare so few?"

"I think that he will let you make your own choice," I answered.

"If I might—" she said, and there stopped, seeming troubled.

Then I said, "And if you might, who would be the choice?"

She looked at me and paled, and then looked away at the berries again. She stooped to pick one, and her face was away from me.

"I think it is cruel to ask that," she said in a low voice. "I have no one here whom I know—save you, and Bertric."

I moved a pace nearer to her, but still she did not look up. The crimson berries she bent over were no excuse for the colour of her face at that moment, and I feared I had angered her.

"Gerda," I said, "have you forgotten how that in the holy island I was wont to say that I should not rest until your were back in your home?"

"I thought that you had forgotten," she said in a low voice. "I had not."

"I seemed to forget it, because I deemed it best that I should do so. I am but a landless warrior, with naught to offer. And you—"

Then she turned quickly on me, and there was a smile on her face and a new light in her eyes.

"And I," she said. "And I am naught but the girl who was found by Asa Thor in the burning ship.

"O Malcolm, let it be so still, and take me to the end of the voyage and bide there always. For I fear naught as long as you are with me."

She held out her hands to me, and then she was in the shelter of my arms, and no more was needed to be said. We were both content, and more than content.

Chapter 17: Homeward Bound.

Mayhap I need not say that I forgot the message which took me to this place, seeing that it was of no great account. Gerda and I had much to say to one another of matters which would be of note to none but ourselves, and the time fled unheeded by us.

Whereby it came to pass that presently came footsteps through the woods, and here were Hakon and Bertric smiling at us, and Gerda was blushing, though she would not leave my side. Bertric laughed lightly when he met us.

"Hakon," he said, "I told you that there would be no trouble in this matter. Now, Lady Gerda, and you, comrade, I am going to be the first to wish you all happiness. And I will say that thus our voyage ends even as it ought."

"It is not ended yet," said Hakon. "Still it remains for Malcolm to win her home back for his bride that shall be, though that may be easy."

Then he, too, spoke words of kindness to us both, and they were good to hear; until at last he would tell us news which had come from Thrandheim for himself, and that also was of the best.

The land had risen for him at the first sound of his name. Eric was far away to the south and east, in the Wick, fighting with men who would not bow to him, and all went well. The ships would go up to the ancient town on the morning's tide.

"But now," he said, "I have no one to send with Gerda, for Thoralf will take his wife and daughter with us. Will she wait here for the winter, or will she sail, as once before, with you two to serve and guard her?"

"Let us sail at once, King Hakon," she said, laughing. "It would be impossible for me to wish for better care than that I have learned to value most of all."

"Nay, but you shall be better attended at this time," Hakon said, smiling.

And so in the end we learned that the matter had already been arranged in all haste, for they had found two maidens to attend Gerda, and the rough after cabin of the ship had been made somewhat more fitting for her by the time we sailed in the morning.

Now we took Gerda back to Thoralf's wife, and thence I fled with Bertric to the ship, there being more to say than I cared to listen to. Dalfin sat on the deck, and he rose up sadly to greet us, with a half groan.

"Good luck to you," he said, gripping my hand. "I have heard the news. On my word, it was as well that we had no chance to get to my father's court, or I should have been your rival, and there would have been a fight. I will not say that it might not be a relief to break the head of someone even now—but that may pass. The luck of the torque has left me."

"Come with us after all," I said. "No doubt Arnkel will be willing to give you just that chance."

But he shook his head. "No, I bide with Hakon. But there is Asbiorn yonder who will see to Arnkel. And I am sorry for Arnkel if they meet."

Now, whether it was true that Dalfin had his own thoughts concerning the companion of our dangers I cannot say; but he bided with Hakon, and thereafter won honour enough from him, and, indeed, from all with whom he had to do. Princelike, and in all ways a good comrade, was Dalfin.

So it came to pass that very early in the next dawning the ship slid away from under the lee of the islands and headed southward on her voyage, with cheers and good wishes to set her forth. The last message we had from shore came from Dalfin the Prince, and that was an Irish brogue of untanned deerskin, laced with gold, which flew through the dusk like a bat to Gerda's feet from the deck of one of Hakon's ships as we passed her. Words in the Erse came also from the dim figure who cast it, whereat Phelim and I laughed. Gerda asked what they were, and we had to tell her.

"Good luck to you for the thief of my heart," he cried. "If I had not got one, and may never set eyes on your sweet face more, I would wish you the same today and tomorrow."

"Not much heart-broken is Dalfin," said Bertric, laughing.

Thereafter is little which need be told of that voyage in the still, autumn weather of the north. We passed, at times sailing, and now and then with the oars going easily, and always in bright weather, through the countless islands which fringe the Norway shores, some bare and rocky, and some clad with birch and fir even to the edge of the waves. Far inland the great mountains rose, snow-capped now, and shone golden and white and purple in the evening sun; and everywhere the forests climbed to meet the snow, and the sound of the cattle horns came at the homing hour to tell of the saeters hidden in the valleys.

Once we met a ship passing swiftly northward under oars, and were not so sure that we might not have to fight or fly. But her crew were flying from the south, and hailed us to know if it were true that Hakon had come from England to claim his own. And when we hailed in answer that so it was, and that we were of his force, the men roared and cheered while we might hear them. Eric's day was done.

I think that it was on the fifth day that we came at last to the break in the line of fringing islands which marks the opening of the Stavanger Fjord. There we met the long heave and swell of the open sea, and it was good to feel the lift and quiver of the staunch ship as she swung over the rollers again.

Across the open stretch of sea we sailed, and the land along which we coasted was flat and sandy, all unlike that which we had passed for so many days. But beyond that the mountains were not far, though in no wise so high as those farther north. And at last Gerda showed us the place where she had thought to lay Thorwald, her grandfather, to rest in his ship. We could see the timber slipway, which still had been left where it was made for that last beaching, and we could see, too, that here and there the land was turned up into heaps, where the place for the mound had been prepared. There was a little village also, and a hut or two had been burnt.

"Our doing," said Asbiorn. "Forgive us, Queen Gerda."

"You at least had no part therein," she said gently. "The rest is forgotten. Now we have no long way to go before I am again at home."

Now the land rose again from the level of the Jederen marshes we had passed, and we had high black cliffs to port and ahead of us. Along their feet the great rollers of the open sea broke, thundering, even in this quiet weather, and the spray shot up and fell in white clouds unceasingly. It was wonderful even now, and what it would be like in a day of gale and heavy seas might be guessed. And still we held on, with Asbiorn at the helm, though I could see as yet no opening in the mighty walls that barred our way onward. Gerda at my side laughed at me, in all pride in her homecoming, and in the wild coast at which I was wondering.

The cliffs seemed to part us as we neared those before us, and I saw a deep and narrow cleft between them into which we steered. The sail was lowered now, and the oars manned, and so we passed from the open into the shadow of the mighty cliffs which rose higher and higher as we rowed between them. For half a mile the swell of the sea came with us, and then it died away, and we were on still, deep water, clear as glass, but black in the shadow of the grim and sheer rock walls. The rhythm of the leisurely swing and creak and plash of the long oars came back to us from either side as if we rowed amid an unseen fleet, and when the men broke into the rowing song they were fain to cease, laughing, for the echoes spoiled the tune.

The fjord opened out before long, and there was another passage to the sea, up which came a little swell from the open. The cliffs to our right had been those of a great island which lies across the mouth of the fjord itself, which we were but now entering. And then again the cliffs closed in, and we were in the silence. On the verge of the cliffs here were poised great stones, as if set to roll down on those who would try to force a passage, but they were more than man might lift. They might have been hove here by Jotuns at play, so great were they, in truth.

Now, it was Asbiorn's plan that we should try to reach the upper end of the fjord, where the hall and village lay, in the dusk of evening, if we could do so, unseen. Gerda knew that it was unlikely that we should be spied until we had passed higher yet; or, at least, were we seen, that none would wonder at the return of a ship which was known to be that of Heidrek. The brown sail which had been our terror might help us here and now.

Far up its reaches the fjord branched, one arm running on toward the east, and the other, which was our course, northward. Here, at the meeting of these branches, there was a wider stretch of water, ringed around with mountains which sloped, forest clad, to the shores, and dotted with rocky islets round which the tide swirled and eddied in the meeting of the two currents, for it was falling.

We had timed our passage well, and would wait here until we might find our way to the hall as the men were gathered for the evening meal. Our plan was to land and surround the building, and so take Arnkel if we could without any fighting.

Hidden away at the foot of a valley here was a little village, but at first we saw no signs that we were noticed. Presently, however, when Asbiorn had taken the ship into a berth between two of the islets, and the men were getting her shore lines fast to mooring posts which seemed to be used only now and then, a boat with two men in it came off to us thence, and we were hailed to know what we needed in these waters.

Asbiorn answered, saying that we were friends, waiting for tide up the fjord, and they went ashore on the islet next them, and came across it to us. Then Gerda rose up from where she sat watching them and called them by name, and they started as if they had seen a ghost, so that she laughed at them. At that they took courage, and came nearer.

The stern of the ship was not more than a couple of fathoms from the rock, and there they stood, and it was good to hear their welcome of the lady whom they had deemed lost. Then they came on board, and there was rejoicing enough, both in the finding, and in the peace which would come with Gerda's return. They told us how that Arnkel was carrying on his mastership here with a high hand, being in no wise loved. They said that men blamed him for bringing Heidrek on the land, seeing that he had made terms with him when it would have been as well to fight; and that, moreover, there were not a few who believed that in some way he had a hand in the loss of Gerda. Now, he was trying to gather the men in order to go to the help of Eric the King, who was fighting in the Wick, as we had heard, and that was not at all to the mind of those who had followed Thorwald. War in the Wick, beyond their ken altogether, was no affair of theirs.

Whereby it was plain that here we were likely to do a very good turn to Hakon at once, and we were just in time. Our ship, which Heidrek had left here, was ready for sailing, as it seemed, and if we had come a day or two later we should have lost Arnkel, and maybe had trouble to follow.

Now, these two men were the pilots of the fjord, as we had guessed from their coming off to us. At first they were for going straightway and telling the men at the hall and town that Gerda had come, but we thought it best to take that news ourselves. They would steer us up the fjord in the dusk presently, and would answer any hail from watchers who would spy our coming.

So we waited for the turn of the tide, and armed ourselves in all bravery of gold and steel and scarlet as befitted the men of Hakon and of Gerda the Queen, for she should go back to her own as a queen should. And then a thought came to me, and I spoke of it to Bertric, and so went and stood at the door of the cabin where Gerda waited, and asked her to do somewhat for me.

"Will you not come back even as you went?" I asked. "Let the men see you stand before them as you were wont, in your mail and helm and weapons, the very daughter of warriors."

But she shook her head, smiling.

"No, Malcolm, it is foolishness. What need to put on the gear which seems to make me what I am not?"

"Nothing will make you less than a sea queen, my Gerda," I said. "Maybe I might say more than that, but you would think me only flattering. I would have you wear the arms as surety to your folk at first sight that you are indeed here again. It may save words, and time."

So I persuaded her, and she left me to don the war gear for the last time, as she told me. She would dress herself even as she had been clad for the funeral and as we had found her.

Then the tide turned, and slowly the current from the sea found its way up the fjord and reached us, and we warped out of the narrow berth between the rocks, and manned the oars and set out on the last stage of our voyage. The mast was lowered and housed by this time, and the ship ready for aught. Only we did not hang the war boards along the gunwales, and we had no dragon head on the stem, for that Heidrek had not carried at any time. We had no mind to set all men against the ship at first sight as an enemy who came prepared for battle.

We entered the northern branch of the fjord, and at once the high cliffs rose above us again, for the waterway narrowed until we were in a deep cleft of the mountains. The water was still as glass in the evening quiet, and as the stars came out overhead, we seemed to be sailing under one deep sky and on another. But the oar blades broke the water into brighter stars than those which were reflected, and after us stretched a wake of white light between the black cliffs, for the strange sea fires burnt in the broken waters brightly, coming and going as the waves swirled around the ship's path.

So we went steadily for a long way, and then we came to a place where the rocky walls of the channel nearly met, so that one could have thrown a stone from the deck on either as we passed. High up on the left cliffside a little light glimmered, for a cottage hung as it were on a shelf of the mountain above us. The measured beat of the oars sounded hollow here as the sheer cliffs doubled their sounds. Some man heard it, and a door opened by the little light, like a square patch of brightness on the shadow of the hillside.

Then he hailed us in a great voice which echoed back to us, and one of the pilots answered him cheerily with some homely password, and we saw his form stand black against his door for a moment before he closed it, and he waved his hand to the friend whose voice he knew. The pilot told me that it was his duty to listen for passing ships thus and hail them. Beside his hut was piled a beacon ready to light if all was not well, and in the hut hung a great, wooden cattle lure wherewith to alarm the town. We were close to it now.

By this time it was as if I knew the place well, so often had Gerda told me of it. The fjord opened out from this narrow channel into a wide lake from which the mountains fell back, seamed and laced with bright streams and waterfalls, and clad with forests, amid which the cornfields were scattered wherever the rocks gave way to deeper soil. At the head of this lake, where a swift salmon river entered the fjord, was the hall, set on rising ground above the clustering houses of the town, and looking down over them to the anchorage and the wharf for which we were making. Behind the hall rose a sheer cliff, sheltering it and the other houses from the north and east.

All this I was to see plainly hereafter. Before me now in the dusk, which was almost darkness, as the ship slid from the narrows into the open, was the wide ring of mountains and the still lake, and across that the twinkling lights of the town, doubled in the water below them, and above them all the long row of high-set openings under the eaves of the hall itself, glowing red with the flame of fire and torches, and flickering as the smoke curled across and through them.

I wondered what welcome was waiting for us from those who were gathered there, as I stood with Gerda on my arm beside our comrades, who watched the pilots as they steered. Bertric was there, and Phelim, who by this time spoke the Norse well enough, besides Asbiorn.

There was some spur of hill between us and part of the town, for the light seemed to glide from behind it as we held on, but its mass was lost in the shadows. I was watching the lights as they came, one by one, to view, and then of a sudden, on the blackness of the cliff above the hall, shone out a cross of light, tall and bright and clear, as it were a portent, or as set there to guard the place. So suddenly did it come that I started, and I heard Father Phelim draw in his breath with some words which I could not catch.

"What is that?" I asked Gerda, under my breath and pointing.

She laughed gently, and her hand tightened on my arm.

"We were wont to call it Thor's hammer," she said. "We see it from time to time, and it brings luck. Now it greets me and you—but it is not the old sign to me any longer."

"It is strange," said Bertric. "Once you called on Asa Thor—and here is that one to whom you called, and yonder—"

"No, no," she said, clinging to me, "it is no longer Thor's hammer."

"It is the sign which shall be held dear here," said Phelim. "It is the sign that all good has come to this place."

"So may it be," said Gerda softly, and I thought that the reflection of the cross made a glimmering pathway from the hall to the ship which bore her homeward.

But I had no time to wonder how and why that sign was there, for now we were seen, and torches began to flicker along the wharf. Our pilots spoke to Asbiorn, and he passed the word for men to go forward with the shore warps, and the oar strokes slowed down. I thought I saw the broad gleam of light as the doors of the hall opened and closed again, and then a hail or two went back and forth from the shore and us. The oars were laid in and we were alongside the wharf, and quietly the rowers took their arms and sat in their places, waiting, as they had been bidden. There were not more than a score of men waiting us ashore, for it was supper time.

Then came a man from out of the town toward us, and by the time we were moored he was on the wharf opposite the stern. He had on helm and sword, but no mail, and his shield hung over his shoulder. The men made way for him, and in the torchlight I saw that he was gray-bearded and strong.

"It is Gorm the Steward," said Gerda to me, "He is my friend. Let me speak to him."

"Ho, shipmaster!" cried Gorm. "Welcome, if you come in friendship, as I suppose. Whence are you, and what would you?"

"Friends," said Asbiorn; "friends with a cargo some of you will be glad to see."

"Aye, aye," answered the steward. "You traders always say that. Well, that will wait for daylight. Meanwhile come up to the hall and sup."

Then his eyes lit on the silent, mail-clad men at the oar benches, and he started.

"Ho!" he cried sternly, "what is the meaning of all this show of weapons?"

"Speak to him, Gerda," I said then, seeing that it was time.

She went to the rail and leaned over it. The red flares shone on her mail and white dress and sparkling helm.

"Gorm," she cried softly; "Gorm, old friend—I have come home!"

He stood for a moment as if turned to stone there on the wharf. Then he shaded his eyes with his hand as if in broad daylight, and stared at Gerda for but a moment, for she spoke his name once more.

"Odin," he cried, "this is a good day—if my ears and eyes do not play me false—yet it is hardly to be believed. Let me come on board."

He hurried to the gangway, and there Gerda met him. One close look was enough for him, and he bent his knee and kissed her hand with words of welcome, and so would be made known to Bertric and myself. He looked us up and down with a sharp glance and smiled, and Gerda told her tale in a few words.

"True enough," he said; "for you wear the arms of the house, and wear them well. I never thought to see one in the war gear of the young master again and not to resent it—but Gerda will have made no mistake. Now, what will you do? Arnkel sits in the hall, and with him men who have come from Eric Bloodaxe the King."

"Hakon, Athelstane's foster son, is king," said Bertric. "There is news for you. He is at Thrandheim, and the north has risen for him. We are his men."

Gorm's eyes shone, and he whistled softly. "News indeed! This is a day of wonders. What next?"

"How many of the men in the hall will stand by Arnkel when Gerda is known?" I asked. "She would have no fighting if it can be avoided."

Maybe a dozen—men who never knew her. That is of no account, for there are two score of our folk supping there."

"Well, then," I said, "we will surround the hall and walk in quietly and call on Arnkel to surrender. If he does not, we must make him do so; but first Gerda's tale shall be told of him."

Then Gerda said: "Let me go into the hall first and speak with Arnkel face to face. I have no fear of him, and I think that my folk will stand by me."

Just for a moment we doubted if that was safe for her, but Gorm the Steward had the last word.

"Let it be so," he said. "Gerda shall call to her men, and they will not hang back. Then Arnkel must needs give in. Now, the sooner the better for all concerned."

Chapter 18: A Sea Queen's Welcome.

The folk ashore had made fast the ship by this time, and were idly waiting while Gorm spoke to us. As yet they had paid no heed to the lady with whom he talked, but wondered more at the quiet of the men than aught else. I felt that they were growing uneasy, though that Gorm found us friendly kept them from showing it. I dare say they thought we were more messengers from Eric.

Now, Gorm bade us choose our men quickly and follow him, lest some word should go to Arnkel of the armed ship which had come instead of the peaceful trader which the pilots should have brought. So I went down the starboard side and named a dozen men, while Asbiorn did the same from the other bank of rowers, and as we named them, they leapt up and fell in behind us. Then Asbiorn said:

"Better that I am not seen unless wanted. I will go to the back of the hall and see that none get away thence. What shall you do if all goes well?"

"Take Arnkel and send him back to Hakon in the ship," I answered. "That is the only thing possible. If he is foolish enough to fight—well, he must take his chance."

Asbiorn nodded, and we went ashore, leaving that old courtman of mine, Sidroc, in charge of the ship and the dozen men left with her. The folk of the place thronged round to see us pass up the town, and saw Gerda plainly for the first time. In another moment I heard her name pass among them, and Gorm spoke to them, for there was a growing noise of welcome.

"Steady, friends!" he said sternly, "steady! No need to tell Arnkel that his time has come yet. Let us get to the hall quietly, and thereafter shout as you like—

"Ho! stop that man!"

One had broken away from the crowd and was off toward the hall at full speed, meaning, as I have no doubt, to warn Arnkel and win reward. But he did not get far. A dozen men were after him, and had him fast, and no other cared to follow his example.

There was a stockade round the hall and its outbuildings which stood to right and left of it. The guest house was to the right, and the bower, which was Gerda's own place, stood on the left, both handsome timber buildings, with high-pitched roofs and carved gables and doorways. The hall itself was like them, but larger, with low, wide eaves that made, as it were, a gallery all round, raised a little from the ground. Daylight showed that every timber that could be seen was carved most wonderfully, but one could not heed that now in the torchlight.

A man stood on guard in the stockade gate, and Gorm the Steward spoke to him, bidding him salute the queen who had returned. He gave one look at Gerda, and tossed his leathern helm in the air, and so fell in with us as we crossed the courtyard to the great door. From the hall came the pleasant sounds of song and laughter from the courtmen within.

Gorm knocked and the doors flew open. The shipmen had been expected to return with him for supper. I saw the whole place as we stood there for the moment in the broad light of the torches on the walls.

We entered at the end of the hall, and right over against us was the high seat, where sat Arnkel and half a dozen other men. There were no ladies with them, and for that I was glad. Two great fires burnt on hearths on either side of the hall, halfway down its length, and at this end sat at their trestle tables the thralls and herdsmen and fishers of the house. Beyond the fires and below the high place were the courtmen on either hand, so that from end to end of the hall ran a clear way for the serving. With them were their wives and daughters here and there, and there were many women with the lesser folk nearer us as we entered. Some were carrying round the ale jugs, and stood still to see us enter.

Asbiorn and his men left us even as the door opened, and went quickly to the rear of the hall. I could see only one other door, and that opened behind the high seat, being meant for the ladies of the house, so that they could pass to the bower without going down the noisy hall. It led to the open gallery round the building, whence it was but a step to the bower.

Very bright and pleasant it all was, with the light flashing red on the courtmen's arms on the walls behind them, and the glow of the two great pine-log fires on the gay dresses of the women. And Arnkel himself, a big man with long, reddish hair and bristling beard, looked at his ease altogether, as he turned a laughing face to see the guests who came.

There was a little hush as we came out of the shadow of the great doorway, and everyone turned, of course, to see us. Gerda was between Bertric and myself, and for the moment behind Gorm the Steward, who ushered us in with all ceremony. She had her dark cloak over her mail, and the hood of it hid her bright helm, and we two were cloaked also. Behind us was Phelim, and then the men followed. I waited until they were all inside the hall, and then Gorm stepped aside, and Gerda stood forward.

"Ha!" said Arnkel, smiling broadly, "a lady. Welcome to our hall, friends. It may be more to your liking than the sea, so late in the year."

Gerda shook her long cloak from her, and stood before him at the length of the hall, plain to be known, even as he had last set eyes on her.

"Am I welcome, Arnkel?" she said in a cold voice, which had no sign of a quiver in it. "I have come from the sea to which you sent me."

Arnkel's red face went white and ghastly of a sudden, and he sprang back from the table as if he had been smitten. The guests with him stared at us and at him, speechless, for they were Eric's men and knew nothing of Arnkel's ways. But the courtmen rose to their feet with a wild medley of voices, for this thing seemed to them beyond belief for the moment. Round us, amid the lesser folk, was a silence, save for the rustle as they shifted and craned to look at their young mistress. But there was a whisper growing among them.

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