THE VIKING RAID—ALRIC'S ADVENTURE WITH THE DANE—ERLING'S CUTTER, AND THE BATTLE IN THE PASS.
"Whom have we here?" exclaimed Erling, looking close into the face of the wounded man. "What! Swart of the Springs!"
Erling said this sternly, for he had no liking for Swart, who was a notorious character, belonging to one of the neighbouring fiords—a wild reckless fellow, and, if report said truly, a thief.
"That recent mischief has cost thee a cracked crown?" asked Erling, a little more gently, as he observed the exhausted condition of the man.
"Mischief enough," said Swart, rising from the stone on which he had seated himself, and wiping the blood, dust, and sweat from his haggard face, while his eyes gleamed like coals of fire; "Skarpedin the Dane has landed in the fiord, my house is a smoking pile, my children and most of the people in the stede are burned, and the Springs run blood!"
There was something terrible in the hoarse whisper in which this was hissed out between the man's teeth. Erling's tone changed instantly as he laid his hand on Swart's shoulder.
"Can this be true?" he answered anxiously; "are we too late? are all gone?"
"All," answered Swart, "save the few fighting men that gained the fells." The man then proceeded to give a confused and disjointed account of the raid, of which the following is the substance.
Skarpedin, a Danish viking, noted for his daring, cruelty, and success, had taken it into his head to visit the neighbourhood of Horlingdal, and repay in kind a visit which he had received in Denmark the previous summer from a party of Norsemen, on which occasion his crops had been burned, his cattle slaughtered, and his lands "herried", while he chanced to be absent from home.
It must be observed that this deed of the Northmen was not deemed unusually wicked. It was their custom, and the custom also of their enemies, to go out every summer on viking cruise to plunder and ravage the coasts of Denmark, Sweden, Britain, and France, carrying off all the booty they could lay hold of, and as many prisoners as they wanted or could obtain. Then, returning home, they made slaves or "thralls" of their prisoners, often married the women, and spent the winter in the enjoyment of their plunder.
Among many other simple little habits peculiar to the times was that called "Strandhug". It consisted in a viking, when in want of provisions, landing with his men on any coast—whether that of an enemy or a countryman—and driving as many cattle as he required to the shore, where they were immediately slaughtered and put on board without leave asked or received!
Skarpedin was influenced both by cupidity and revenge. Swart had been one of the chief leaders of the expedition which had done him so much damage. To the Springs therefore he directed his course with six "longships", or ships of war, and about five hundred men.
In the afternoon of a calm day he reached the fiord at the head of which were the Springs and Swart's dwelling. There was a small hamlet at the place, and upon this the vikings descended. So prompt and silent were they, that the men of the place had barely time to seize their arms and defend their homes. They fought like lions, for well they knew that there was no hope of mercy if they should be beaten. But the odds against them were overwhelming. They fell in heaps, with many of their foes underneath them. The few who remained to the last retreated fighting, step by step, each man towards his own dwelling, where he fell dead on its threshold. Swart himself, with a few of the bravest, had driven back that part of the enemy's line which they attacked. Thus they were separated for a time from their less successful comrades, and it was not till the smoke of their burning homesteads rose up in dense clouds that they became aware of the true state of the fight. At once they turned and ran to the rescue of their families, but their retreat was cut off by a party of the enemy, and the roar of the conflagration told them that they were too late. They drew together, therefore, and, making a last desperate onset, hewed their way right through the ranks of their enemies, and made for the mountains. All were more or less wounded in the melee, and only one or two succeeded in effecting their escape. Swart dashed past his own dwelling in his flight, and found it already down on the ground in a blazing ruin. He killed several of the men who were about it, and then, bounding up the mountain side, sought refuge in a ravine.
Here he lay down to rest a few moments. During the brief period of his stay he saw several of his captured friends have their hands and feet chopped off by the marauders, while a terrible shriek that arose once or twice told him all too plainly that on a few of them had been perpetrated the not uncommon cruelty of putting out the eyes.
Swart did not remain many moments inactive. He descended by a circuitous path to the shore, and, keeping carefully out of sight, set off in the direction of Horlingdal. The distance between the two places was little more than nine or ten miles, but being separated from each other by a ridge of almost inaccessible mountains, that rose to a height of above five thousand feet, neither sight nor sound of the terrible tragedy enacted at the Springs could reach the eyes or ears of the inhabitants of Ulfstede. Swart ran round by the coast, and made such good use of his legs that he reached the valley in little more than an hour. Before arriving at Ulfstede his attention was attracted and his step arrested by the sight of a warship creeping along the fiord close under the shadow of the precipitous cliffs. He at once conjectured that this was one of the Danish vessels which had been dispatched to reconnoitre Horlingdal. He knew by its small size (having only about twenty oars) that it could not be there for the purpose of attack. He crouched, therefore, among the rocks to escape observation.
Now, it happened at this very time that Erling's brother Alric, having executed his commission by handing the war-token to the next messenger, whose duty it was to pass it on, came whistling gaily down a neighbouring gorge, slashing the bushes as he went with a stout stick, which in the lad's eyes represented the broadsword or battle-axe he hoped one day to wield, in similar fashion, on the heads of his foes. Those who knew Erling well could have traced his likeness in every act and gesture of the boy. The vikings happened to observe Alric before he saw them, as was not to be wondered at, considering the noise he made. They therefore rowed close in to the rocks, and their leader, a stout red-haired fellow, leaped on shore, ascended the cliffs by a narrow ledge or natural footpath, and came to a spot which overhung the sea, and round which the boy must needs pass. Here the man paused, and leaning on the haft of his battle-axe, awaited his coming up.
It is no disparagement to Alric to say that, when he found himself suddenly face to face with this man, his mouth opened as wide as did his eyes, that the colour fled from his cheeks, that his heart fluttered like a bird in a cage, and that his lips and tongue became uncommonly dry! Well did the little fellow know that one of the Danish vikings was before him, for many a time had he heard the men in Haldorstede describe their dress and arms minutely; and well did he know also that mercy was only to be purchased at the price of becoming an informer as to the state of affairs in Horlingdal—perhaps a guide to his father's house. Besides this, Alric had never up to that time beheld a real foe, even at a distance! He would have been more than mortal, therefore, had he shown no sign of trepidation.
"Thou art light of heart, lad," said the Dane with a grim smile.
Alric would perhaps have replied that his heart was the reverse of light at that moment, but his tongue refused to fulfil its office, so he sighed deeply, and tried to lick his parched lips instead.
"Thou art on thy way to Ulfstede or Haldorstede, I suppose?" said the man.
Alric nodded by way of reply.
"To which?" demanded the Dane sternly.
"Ha!" interrupted the man. "I see. I am in want of a guide thither. Wilt guide me, lad?"
At this the truant blood rushed back to Alric's cheeks. He attempted to say no, and to shake his head, but the tongue was still rebellious, and the head would not move—at least not in that way—so the poor boy glanced slightly aside, as if meditating flight. The Dane, without altering his position, just moved his foot on the stones, which act had the effect of causing the boy's eyes to turn full on him again with that species of activity which cats are wont to display when expecting an immediate assault.
"Escape is impossible," said the Dane, with another grim smile.
Alric glanced at the precipice on his left, full thirty feet deep, with the sea below; at the precipice on his right, which rose an unknown height above; at the steep rugged path behind, and at the wild rugged man in front, who could have clutched him with one bound; and admitted in his heart that escape was impossible.
"Now, lad," continued the viking, "thou wilt go with me and point out the way to Ulfstede and Haldorstede; if not with a good will, torture shall cause thee to do it against thy will; and after we have plundered and burnt both, we will give thee a cruise to Denmark, and teach thee the use of the pitchfork and reaping-hook."
This remark touched a chord in Alric's breast which at once turned his thoughts from himself, and allowed his native courage to rise. During the foregoing dialogue his left hand had been nervously twitching the little elm bow which it carried. It now grasped the bow firmly as he replied:
"Ulfstede and Haldorstede may burn, but thou shalt not live to see it."
With that he plucked an arrow from his quiver, fitted it to the string, and discharged it full at the Dane's throat. Quick as thought the man of war sprang aside, but the shaft had been well and quickly aimed. It passed through his neck between the skin and the flesh.
A cry of anger burst from him as he leaped on the boy and caught him by the throat. He hastily felt for the hilt of his dagger, and in the heat of his rage would assuredly have ended the career of poor Alric then and there; but, missing the hilt at the first grasp, he suddenly changed his mind, lifted the boy as if he had been a little dog, and flung him over the precipice into the sea.
A fall of thirty feet, even though water should be the recipient of the shock, is not a trifle by any means, but Alric was one of those vigorous little fellows—of whom there are fortunately many in this world—who train themselves to feats of strength and daring. Many a time had he, when bathing, leaped off that identical cliff into the sea for his own amusement, and to the admiration and envy of many of his companions, and, now that he felt himself tumbling in the air against his will, the sensation, although modified, was nothing new. He straightened himself out after the manner of a bad child that does not wish to sit on nurse's knee, and went into the blue fiord, head foremost, like a javelin.
He struck the water close to the vessel of his enemies, and on rising to the surface one of them made a plunge at him with an oar, which, had it taken effect, would have killed him on the spot; but he missed his aim, and before he could repeat it, the boy had dived.
The Dane was sensible of his error the instant he had tossed Alric away from him, so he hastened to his boat, leaped into it, and ordered the men to pull to the rocks near to which Alric had dived; but before they could obey the order a loud ringing cheer burst from the cliffs, and in another moment the form of Swart was seen on a ledge, high above, in the act of hurling a huge mass of rock down on the boat. The mass struck the cliff in its descent, burst into fragments, and fell in a shower upon the Danes.
At the same time Swart waved his hand as if to someone behind him, and shouted with stentorian voice:
"This way, men! Come on! Down into the boats and give chase! huzza!"
The enemy did not await the result of the order, but pulled out into the fiord as fast as possible, while Swart ran down to the edge of the water and assisted Alric to land. It was not until they heard both man and boy utter a cheer of defiance, and burst into a fit of laughter, and saw them hastening at full speed towards Horlingdal, that the vikings knew they had been duped. It was too late, however, to remedy the evil. They knew, also, that they might now expect an immediate attack, so, bending to the oars with all their might, they hastened off to warn their comrades at the Springs.
"Now, Swart," said Erling, after hearing this tale to its conclusion, "if ye are not too much exhausted to—"
"Exhausted!" cried Swart, springing up as though he had but risen from a refreshing slumber.
"Well, I see thou art still fit for the fight. Revenge, like love, is a powerful stirrer of the blood. Come along then; I will lead the way, and do thou tread softly and keep silence. Follow us, Alric, I have yet more work for thee, lad."
Taking one of the numerous narrow paths that ran from Ulfstede to the shores of the fiord, Erling led his companions to a grassy mound which crowned the top of a beetling cliff whose base was laved by deep water. Although the night was young—probably two hours short of midnight—the sun was still high in the heavens, for in most parts of Norway that luminary, during the height of summer, sinks but a short way below the horizon—they have daylight all night for some time. In the higher latitudes the sun, for a brief period, shines all the twenty-four hours round. Erling could therefore see far and wide over the fiord, as well as if it were the hour of noon.
"Nothing in sight!" he exclaimed in a tone of chagrin. "I was a fool to let thee talk so long, Swart; but there is still a chance of catching the boat before it rounds the ness. Come along."
Saying this hurriedly, the youth descended into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. A rude zigzag stair cut in the rock conducted them into a subterranean cavern, which at first seemed to be perfectly dark; but in a few seconds their eyes became accustomed to the dim light, and as they advanced rapidly over a bed of pebbles, Swart, who had never been there before, discovered that he was in an ocean-made cave, for the sound of breaking ripples fell softly on his ears. On turning round a corner of rock the opening of the cave towards the sea suddenly appeared with a dazzling light like a great white gem.
But another beautiful sight met his astonished gaze. This was Erling's ship of war, the Swan, which, with its figurehead erect, as though it were a living thing, sat gracefully on the water, above its own reflected image.
"All ready?" asked Erling, as a man stepped up to him.
"All ready," replied Thorer.
"Get on board, Swart," said Erling; "we will teach these Danes a lesson they will not forget as long as the Springs flow. Here, Alric—where are ye, lad?"
Now, unfortunately for himself, as well as for his friend, Alric was almost too self-reliant in his nature. His active mind was too apt to exert itself in independent thought in circumstances where it would have been wiser to listen and obey. Erling had turned with the intention of telling his little brother that he had started thus quietly in order that he might have the pleasure of capturing the scouting boat, and of beginning the fight at the Springs with a small band of tried men, thus keeping the enemy in play until reinforcements should arrive; for he shrewdly suspected that if the whole valley were to go out at once against the vikings, they would decline the combat and make off. He had intended, therefore, to have warned Alric to watch the Swan past a certain point before sounding the alarm at Ulfstede. But Alric had already formed his own opinions on the subject, and resolved to act on them.
He suspected that Erling, in his thirst for glory, meant to have all the fun to himself, and to attack the Danes with his single boat's crew of fifty or sixty men. He knew enough of war to be aware that sixty men against six hundred would have very small chance of success—in fact, that the thing was sheer madness—so he resolved to balk, and by so doing to save, his headstrong brother.
When Erling turned, as we have said, he beheld Alric running into the cave at full speed. Instantly suspecting the truth, he dashed after him, but the boy was fleet, and Erling was heavily armed. The result was, that the former escaped, while the latter returned to the beach and embarked in the Swan in a most unenviable state of mind.
Erling's "longship" was one of the smaller-sized war vessels of the period. It pulled twenty oars—ten on each side—and belonged to the class named Snekiars, or cutters, which usually had from ten to twenty rowers on a side. To each oar three men were apportioned—one to row, one to shield the rower, and one to throw missiles and fight, so that her crew numbered over sixty men. The forecastle and poop were very high, and the appearance of height was still further increased by the figurehead—the neck and head of a swan—and by a tail that rose from the stern-post, over the steersman's head. Both head and tail were richly gilt; indeed, the whole vessel was gaudily painted. All round the gunwales, from stem to stern, hung a row of shining red and white shields, which resembled the scaly sides of some fabulous creature, so that when the oars, which gave it motion, and not inaptly represented legs, were dipped, the vessel glided swiftly out of the cavern, like some antediluvian monster issuing from its den and crawling away over the dark blue sea. A tall heavy mast rose from the centre of the ship. Its top was also gilded, as well as the tips of the heavy yard attached to it. On this they hoisted a huge square sail, which was composed of alternate stripes of red, white, and blue cloth.
It need scarcely be said that Erling's crew pulled with a will, and that the waters of the fiord curled white upon the breast of the Swan that night; but the vikings' boat had got too long a start of them, so that, when they doubled the ness and pulled towards the Springs, they discovered the enemy hurrying into their ships and preparing to push off from the land.
Now, this did not fall in with Erling's purpose at all, for he was well aware that his little Swan could do nothing against such an overwhelming force, so he directed his course towards the mouth of a small stream, beside which there was a spit of sand, and, just behind it, a piece of level land, of a few acres in extent, covered with short grass. The river was deep at its mouth. About a hundred yards upstream it flowed out of a rugged pass in the mountains or cliffs which hemmed in the fiord. Into this dark spot the Northman rowed his vessel and landed with his men.
The vikings were much surprised at this manoeuvre, and seemed at a loss how to act, for they immediately ceased their hurried embarkation and held a consultation.
"Methinks they are mad," said Skarpedin, on witnessing the movements of the Swan. "But we will give them occasion to make use of all the spirit that is in them. I had thought there were more men in the dale, but if they be few they seem to be bold. They have wisely chosen their ground. Rocks, however, will not avail them against a host like ours. Methinks some of us will be in Valhalla to-night."
Saying this Skarpedin drew up his men in order of battle on the little plain before referred to, and advanced to the attack. Erling, on the other hand, posted his men among the rocks in such a way that they could command the approach to the pass, which their leader with a few picked men defended.
On perceiving the intention of the Danes to attack him, Erling's heart was glad, because he now felt sure that to some extent he had them in his power. If they had, on his first appearance, taken to their ships, they might have easily escaped, or some of the smaller vessels might have pulled up the river and attacked his ship, which, in that case, would have had to meet them on unequal terms; but, now that they were about to attack him on land, he knew that he could keep them in play as long as he pleased, and that if they should, on the appearance of reinforcements, again make for their ships, he could effectively harass them, and retard their embarkation.
Meditating on these things the young Norseman stood in front of his men leaning on his battle-axe, and calmly surveying the approaching foe until they were within a few yards of him.
"Thorer," he said at length, raising his weapon slowly to his shoulder, "take thou the man with the black beard, and leave yonder fellow with the red hair to me."
Thorer drew his sword and glanced along its bright blade without replying. Indeed, there was scarce time for reply. Next moment the combatants uttered a loud shout and met with a dire crash. For some time the clash of steel, the yells of maddened men, the shrieks of the wounded, and the wails of the dying, resounded in horrible commotion among the echoing cliffs. The wisdom of Erling's tactics soon became apparent. It was not until the onset was made, and the battle fairly begun, that the men whom he had placed among the rocks above the approach to the pass began to act. These now sent down such a shower of huge stones and masses of rock that many of the foe were killed, and by degrees a gap was made, so that those who were on the plain dared not advance to the succour of those who were fighting in the pass.
Seeing this, Erling uttered his war-cry, and, collecting his men together, acted on the offensive. Wherever his battle-axe swung, or Thorer's sword gleamed, there men fell, and others gave way, till at last they were driven completely out of the pass and partly across the plain. Erling took care, however, not to advance too far, although Skarpedin, by retreating, endeavoured to entice him to do so; but drew off his men by sound of horn, and returned to his old position—one man only having been killed and a few wounded.
Skarpedin now held a council of war with his chiefs, and from the length of time they were about it, Erling was led to suspect that they did not intend to renew the attack at the same point or in the same manner. He therefore sent men to points of vantage on the cliffs to observe the more distant movements of the enemy, while he remained to guard the pass, and often gazed anxiously towards the ness, round which he expected every minute to see sweeping the longships of Ulf and his father.
EVENING IN THE HALL—THE SCALD TELLS OF GUNDALF'S WOOING—THE FEAST INTERRUPTED AND THE WAR CLOUDS THICKEN.
It is necessary now that we should turn backwards a little in our story, to that point where Erling left the hall at Ulfstede to listen to the sad tale of Swart.
Ulf and his friends, not dreaming of the troubles that were hanging over them, continued to enjoy their evening meal and listen to the songs and stories of the Scald, or to comment upon the doings of King Harald Haarfager, and the prospects of good or evil to Norway that were likely to result therefrom.
At the point where we return to the hall, Ulf wore a very clouded brow as he sat with compressed lips beside his principal guest. He grasped the arm of his rude chair with his left hand, while his right held a large and massive silver tankard. Haldor, on the other hand, was all smiles and good humour. He appeared to have been attempting to soothe the spirit of his fiery neighbour.
"I tell thee, Ulf, that I have as little desire to see King Harald succeed in subduing all Norway as thou hast, but in this world wise men will act not according to what they wish so much, as according to what is best. Already the King has won over or conquered most of the small kings, and it seems to me that the rest will have to follow, whether they like it or no. Common sense teaches submission where conquest cannot be."
"And does not patriotism teach that men may die?" said Ulf sternly.
"Aye, when by warring with that end in view anything is to be gained for one's country; but where the result would be, first, the embroiling of one's district in prolonged bloody and hopeless warfare, and, after that, the depriving one's family of its head and of the King's favour, patriotism says that to die would be folly, not wisdom."
"Tush, man; folk will learn to call thee Haldor the Mild. Surely years are telling on thee. Was there ever anything in this world worth having gained without a struggle?"
"Thou knowest, Ulf, that I am not wont to be far from the front wherever or whenever a struggle is thought needful, but I doubt the propriety of it in the present case. The subject, however, is open to discussion. The question is, whether it would be better for Norway that the kings of Horlingdal should submit to the conqueror for the sake of the general good, or buckle on the sword in the hope of retrieving what is lost. Peace or war—that is the question."
"I say war!" cried Ulf, striking the board so violently with his clenched fist that the tankards and platters leaped and rang again.
At this a murmur of applause ran round the benches of the friends and housemen.
"The young blades are ever ready to huzza over their drink at the thought of fighting; but methinks it will not strengthen thy cause much, friend Ulf, thus to frighten the women and spill the ale."
Ulf turned round with a momentary look of anger at this speech. The man who uttered it was a splendid specimen of a veteran warrior. His forehead was quite bald, but from the sides and back of his head flowed a mass of luxuriant silky hair which was white as the driven snow. His features were eminently firm and masculine, and there was a hearty good-humoured expression about the mouth, and a genial twinkle in his eyes, especially in the wrinkled corners thereof, that rendered the stout old man irresistibly attractive. His voice was particularly rich, deep, and mellow, like that of a youth, and although his bulky frame stooped a little from age, there was enough of his youthful vigour left to render him a formidable foe, as many a poor fellow had learned to his cost even in days but recently gone by. He was an uncle of Ulf, and on a visit to the stede at that time. The frown fled from Ulf's brow as he looked in the old man's ruddy and jovial countenance.
"Thanks, Guttorm," said he, seizing his tankard, "thanks for reminding me that grey hairs are beginning to sprinkle my beard; come, let us drink success to the right, confusion to the wrong! thou canst not refuse that, Haldor."
"Nay," said Haldor, laughing; "nor will I refuse to fight in thy cause and by thy side, be it right or wrong, when the Thing decides for war."
"Well said, friend! but come, drink deeper. Why, I have taken thee down three pegs already!" said Ulf, glancing into Haldor's tankard. "Ho! Hilda; fetch hither more ale, lass, and fill—fill to the brim." The toast was drunk with right good will by all—from Ulf down to the youngest house-carle at the lowest end of the great hall.
"And now, Guttorm," continued Ulf, turning to the bluff old warrior, "since thou hast shown thy readiness to rebuke, let us see thy willingness to entertain. Sing us a stave or tell us a saga, kinsman, as well thou knowest how, being gifted with more than a fair share of the scald's craft."
The applause with which this proposal was received by the guests and house-carles who crowded the hall from end to end proved that they were aware of Guttorm's gifts, and would gladly hear him. Like a sensible man he complied at once, without affecting that air of false diffidence which is so common among modern songsters and story-tellers.
"I will tell you," said the old man—having previously wet his lips at a silver tankard, which was as bluff and genuine as himself—"of King Gundalf's wooing. Many years have gone by since I followed him on viking cruise, and Gundalf himself has long been feasting in Odin's hall. I was a beardless youth when I joined him. King Gundalf of Orkedal was a goodly man, stout and brisk, and very strong. He could leap on his horse without touching stirrup with all his war gear on; he could fight as well with his left hand as with his right, and his battle-axe bit so deep that none who once felt its edge lived to tell of its weight. He might well be called a Sea-king, for he seldom slept under a sooty roof timber. Withal he was very affable to his men, open-hearted, and an extremely handsome man.
"One summer he ordered us to get ready to go on viking cruise. When we were all a-boun we set sail with five longships and about four hundred men, and fared away to Denmark, where we forayed and fought a great battle with the inhabitants. King Gundalf gained the victory, plundered, wasted, and burned far and wide in the land, and made enormous booty. He returned with this to Orkedal. Here he found his wife at the point of death, and soon after she died. Gundalf felt his loss so much that he had no pleasure in Raumsdal after that. He therefore took to his ships and went again a-plundering. We herried first in Friesland, next in Saxland, and then all the way to Flanders; so sings Halfred the scald:—
"'Gundalf's axe of shining steel For the sly wolf left many a meal. The ill-shaped Saxon corpses lay Heap'd up—the witch-wife's horses' prey. She rides by night, at pools of blood, Where Friesland men in daylight stood, Her horses slake their thirst, and fly On to the field where Flemings lie.'"
[Note. Ravens were the witch-wife's horses.]
The old warrior half recited half sang these lines in a rich full voice, and then paused a few seconds, while a slight murmur arose from the earnest listeners around him.
"Thereafter," resumed Guttorm, "we sailed to England, and ravaged far and wide in the land. We sailed all the way north to Northumberland, where we plundered, and thence to Scotland, where we marauded far and wide. Then we went to the Hebrides and fought some battles, and after that south to Man, which we herried. We ravaged far around in Ireland, and steered thence to Bretland, which we laid waste with fire and sword—also the district of Cumberland. Then we went to Valland, [the west coast of France] from which we fared away for the south coast of England, but missed it and made the Scilly Isles. After that we went to Ireland again, and came to a harbour, into which we ran—but in a friendly way, for we had as much plunder as our ships could carry.
"Now, while we were there, a summons to a Thing went through the country, and when the Thing was assembled, a queen called Gyda came to it. She was a sister of Olaf Quarram, who was King of Dublin. Gyda was very wealthy, and her husband had died that year. In the territory there was a man called Alfin, who was a great champion and single-combat man. He had paid his addresses to Gyda, but she gave for answer that she would choose a husband for herself; and on that account the Thing was assembled, that she might choose a husband. Alfin came there dressed out in his best clothes, and there were many well-dressed men at the meeting. Gundalf and some of his men had gone there also, out of curiosity, but we had on our bad-weather clothes, and Gundalf wore a coarse over-garment. We stood apart from the rest of the crowd, Gyda went round and looked at each, to see if any appeared to her a suitable man. Now when she came to where we were standing, she passed most of us by with a glance; but when she passed me, I noticed that she turned half round and gave me another look, which I have always held was a proof of her good judgment. However, Gyda passed on, and when she came to King Gundalf she stopped, looked at him straight in the face, and asked what sort of a man he was.
"He said, 'I am called Gundalf, and am a stranger here!'
"Gyda replies, 'Wilt thou have me if I choose thee?' He answered, 'I will not say No to that;' then he asked her what her name was, and her family and descent.
"'I am called Gyda,' said she, 'and am daughter of the King of Ireland, and was married in this country to an earl who ruled over this district. Since his death I have ruled over it, and many have courted me, but none to whom I would choose to be married.'
"She was a young and handsome woman. They afterwards talked over the matter together and agreed, and so Gundalf and Gyda were betrothed.
"Alfin was very ill pleased with this. It was the custom there, as it is sometimes here, if two strove for anything, to settle the matter by holm-gang. [Note: or single combat: so called because the combatants in Norway went to a holm, or uninhabited isle, to fight.] And now Alfin challenged Gundalf to fight about this business. The time and place of combat were settled, and it was fixed that each should have twelve men. I was one of the twelve on our side. When we met, Gundalf told us to do exactly as we saw him do. He had a large axe, and went in advance of us, and when Alfin made a desperate cut at him with his sword, he hewed away the sword out of his hand, and with the next blow hit Alfin on the crown with the flat of his axe and felled him. We all met next moment, and each man did his best; but it was hard work, for the Irishmen fought well, and two of them cut down two of our men, but one of these I knocked down, and Gundalf felled the other. Then we bound them all fast, and carried them to Gundalf's lodging. But Gundalf did not wish to take Alfin's life. He ordered him to quit the country and never again to appear in it, and he took all his property. In this way Gundalf got Gyda in marriage, and he lived sometimes in England and sometimes in Ireland. Thikskul the scald says in regard to this:—
"'King Gundalf woo'd Queen Gyda fair, With whom no woman could compare, And won her, too, with all her lands, By force of looks and might of hands From Ireland's green and lovely isle He carried off the Queen in style. He made proud Alfin's weapon dull, And flattened down his stupid skull— This did the bold King Gundalf do When he went o'er the sea to woo.'"
The wholesale robbery and murder which was thus related by the old Norse viking appeared quite a natural and proper state of things in the eyes of all save two of those assembled in the hall, and the saga was consequently concluded amid resounding applause. It is to be presumed that, never having seen or heard of any other course of life, and having always been taught that such doings were quite in accordance with the laws of the land, the consciences of the Northmen did not trouble them. At all events, while we do not for a moment pretend to justify their doings, we think it right to point out that there must necessarily have been a wide difference between their spirits and feelings, and the spirits and feelings of modern pirates, who know that they are deliberately setting at defiance the laws of both God and man.
It has been said there were two in the hall at Ulfstede who did not sympathise with the tale of the old warrior. The reader will scarce require to be told that one of these was Hilda the Sunbeam. The other was Christian the hermit. The old man, although an occasional visitor at the stede, never made his appearance at meal-times, much less at the nightly revels which were held there; but on that day he had arrived with important news, just as Guttorm began his story, and would have unceremoniously interrupted it had not one of the young house-carles, who did not wish to lose the treat, detained him forcibly at the lower end of the hall until it was ended. The moment he was released the hermit advanced hastily, and told Ulf that from the door of his hut on the cliff he had observed bands of men hastening in all directions down the dale.
"Thy news, old man, is no news," said Ulf; "the token for a Thing has been sent out, and it is natural that the bonders should obey the summons. We expect them. But come, it is not often thou favourest us with thy company. Sit down by me, and take a horn of mead."
The hermit shook his head.
"I never taste strong liquor. Its tendency is to make wise men foolish," he said.
"Nay, then, thou wilt not refuse to eat. Here, Hilda, fetch thy friend a platter."
"I thank thee, but, having already supped, I need no more food. I came but to bring what I deemed news."
"Thou art churlish, old man," exclaimed Ulf angrily; "sit down and drink, else—"
"Come, come," interrupted Haldor, laying his hand on Ulf's arm, "Let the old man be; he seems to think that he has something worth hearing to tell of; let him have his say out in peace."
"Go on," said Ulf gruffly.
"Was the token sent out a baton or a split arrow?" asked the hermit.
"A baton," said Ulf.
"Then why," rejoined the other, "do men come to a peaceful Thing with all their war gear on?"
"What say ye? are they armed?" exclaimed Ulf, starting up. "This must be looked to. Ho! my carles all, to arms—"
At that moment there was a bustle at the lower end of the hall, and Alric was seen forcing his way towards Ulf's high seat.
"Father," he said eagerly, addressing Haldor, "short is the hour for acting, and long the hour for feasting."
Haldor cast his eyes upon his son and said—
"What now is in the way?"
"The Danes," said Alric, "are on the fiord—more than six hundred men. Skarpedin leads them. One of them pitched me into the sea, but I marked his neck to keep myself in his memory! They have plundered and burnt at the Springs, and Erling has gone away to attack them all by himself, with only sixty house-carles. You will have to be quick, father."
"Quick, truly," said Haldor, with a grim smile, as he drew tight the buckle of his sword-belt.
"Aye," said Ulf, "with six hundred Danes on the fiord, and armed men descending the vale, methinks—"
"Oh! I can explain that" cried Alric, with an arch smile; "Erling made me change the baton for the split arrow when I was sent round with the token."
"That is good luck," said Haldor, while Ulf's brow cleared a little as he busked himself for the fight; "we shall need all our force."
"Aye, and all our time too," said Guttorm Stoutheart, as he put on his armour with the cheerful air of a man who dons his wedding dress. "Come, my merry men all. Lucky it is that my longships are at hand just now ready loaded with stones:—
"'O! a gallant sight it is to me, The warships darting o'er the sea, A pleasant sound it is to hear The war trump ringing loud and clear.'"
Ulf and his friends and house-carles were soon ready to embark, for in those days the Norseman kept his weapons ready to his hands, being accustomed to sudden assaults and frequent alarms. They streamed out of the hall, and while some collected stones, to be used as missiles, others ran down to the shore to launch the ships. Meanwhile Ulf, Haldor, Guttorm, and other chief men held a rapid consultation, as they stood and watched the assembling of the men of the district.
It was evident that the split arrow had done its duty. From the grassy mound on which they stood could be seen, on the one hand, the dark recesses of Horlingdal, which were lost in the mists of distance among the glaciers on the fells; and, on the other hand, the blue fiord with branching inlets and numerous holms, while the skerries of the coast filled up the background—looming faint and far off on the distant sea. In whatever direction the eye was turned armed men were seen. From every distant gorge and valley on the fells they issued, singly, or in twos and threes. As they descended the dale they formed into groups and larger bands; and when they gained the more level grounds around Haldorstede, the heavy tread of their hastening footsteps could be distinctly heard, while the sun—for although near midnight now it was still above the horizon—flashed from hundreds of javelins, spears, swords, and bills, glittered on steel headpieces and the rims of shields, or trickled fitfully on suits of scale armour and shirts of ring mail. On the fiord, boats came shooting forth from every inlet or creek, making their appearance from the base of precipitous cliffs or dark-mouthed caves as if the very mountains were bringing forth warriors to aid in repelling the foe. These were more sombre than those on the fells, because the sun had set to them by reason of the towering hills, and the fiord was shrouded in deepest gloom. But all in the approaching host—on water and land—were armed from head to foot, and all converged towards Ulfstede.
When they were all assembled they numbered five hundred fighting men— and a stouter or more valiant band never went forth to war. Six longships were sufficient to embark them. Three of these were of the largest size—having thirty oars on each side, and carrying a hundred men. One of them belonged to Haldor, one to Ulf, and one—besides several smaller ships—to Guttorm, who chanced to be on viking cruise at the time he had turned aside to visit his kinsman. The warlike old man could scarce conceal his satisfaction at his unexpected good fortune in being so opportunely at hand when hard blows were likely to be going! Two of the other ships were cutters, similar to Erling's Swan, and carrying sixty men each, and one was a little larger, holding about eighty men. It belonged to Glumm the Gruff; whose gruffness, however, had abated considerably, now that there was a prospect of what we moderns would call "letting the steam off" in a vigorous manner.
Soon the oars were dipped in the fiord, and the sails were set, for a light favourable wind was blowing. In a short time the fleet rounded the ness, and came in sight of the ground where Erling and Skarpedin were preparing to renew the combat.
THE TALE RETURNS TO THE SPRINGS—DESCRIBES A GREAT LAND FIGHT, AND TELLS OF A PECULIAR STYLE OF EXTENDING MERCY TO THE VANQUISHED.
In a previous chapter we left Skarpedin discussing with his chiefs the best mode of attacking the small band of his opponents in the pass of the Springs. They had just come to a decision, and were about to act on it, when they suddenly beheld six warships sweeping round the ness.
"Now will we have to change our plans," said Skarpedin.
Thorvold agreed with this, and counselled getting on board their ships and meeting the enemy on the water; but the other objected, because he knew that while his men were in the act of embarking, Erling would sally forth and kill many of them before they could get away.
"Methinks," said he, "I will take forty of my best men, and try to entice that fox out of his hole, before he has time to see the ships."
"Grief only will come of that," says Thorvold.
Skarpedin did not reply, but choosing forty of his stoutest carles he went to the pass and defied Erling to come out and fight.
"Now here am I, Erling, with forty men. Wilt thou come forth? or is thy title of Bold ill bestowed, seeing thou hast more men than I?"
"Ill should I deserve the title," replies Erling, "if I were to meet thee with superior force."
With that he chose thirty men, and, running down to the plain, gave the assault so fiercely that men fell fast on every side, and the Danes gave back a little. When they saw this, and that Erling and Thorer hewed men down wherever they went, the Danes made a shield circle round Skarpedin, as was the custom when kings went into battle; because they knew that if he fell there would be no one so worthy to guide them in the fight with the approaching longships. Thus they retreated, fighting. When Erling and his men had gone far enough, they returned to the pass, and cheered loudly as they went, both because of the joy of victory, and because they saw the warships of their friends coming into the bay.
King Haldor and his companions at once ran their ships on the beach near the mouth of the river, and, landing, drew them up, intending to fight on shore. Skarpedin did not try to prevent this, for he was a bold man, and thought that with so large a force he could well manage to beat the Northmen, if they would fight on level ground. He therefore drew up his men in order of battle at one end of the plain, and Haldor the Fierce, to whom was assigned the chief command, drew up the Northmen at the other end. Erling joined them with his band, and then it was seen that the two armies were not equal—that of the Northmen being a little smaller than the other.
Then Haldor said, "Let us draw up in a long line that they may not turn our flanks, as they have most men."
This was done, and Haldor advanced into the plain and set up his banner. The Danes in like manner advanced and planted their banner, and both armies rushed to the attack, which was very sharp and bloody. Wherever the battle raged most fiercely there King Haldor and Erling were seen, for they were taller by half a head than most other men. Being clothed alike in almost every respect, they looked more like brothers than father and son. Each wore a gilt helmet, and carried a long shield, the centre of which was painted white, but round the edge was a rim of burnished steel. Each had a sword by his side, and carried a javelin to throw, but both depended chiefly on their favourite weapon, the battle-axe, for, being unusually strong, they knew that few men could withstand the weight of a blow from that. The defensive armour of father and son was also the same—a shirt of leather, sewed all over with small steel rings. Their legs were clothed in armour of the same kind, and a mantle of cloth hung from the shoulders of each.
Most of the chief men on both sides were armed in a similar way, though not quite so richly, and with various modifications; for instance, the helmet of Thorvold was of plain steel, and for ornament had the tail of the ptarmigan as its crest. Skarpedin's, on the other hand, was quite plain, but partly gilded; his armour was of pieces of steel like fish scales sewed on a leathern shirt, and over his shoulders he wore as a mantle the skin of a wolf. His chief weapon was a bill—a sort of hook or short scythe fixed to a pole, and it was very deadly in his hands. Most of the carles and thralls were content to wear thick shirts of wolf and other skins, which were found to offer good resistance to a sword-cut, and some of them had portions of armour of various kinds. Their arms were spears, bows, arrows with stone heads, javelins, swords, bills, and battle-axes and shields.
When both lines met there was a hard fight. The combatants first threw their spears and javelins, and then drew their swords and went at each other in the greatest fury. In the centre Haldor and Erling went together in advance of their banner, cutting down on both sides of them. Old Guttorm Stoutheart went in advance of the right wing, also hewing down right and left. With him went Kettle Flatnose, for that ambitious thrall could not be made to remember his position, and was always putting himself in front of his betters in war; yet it is due to him to say that he kept modestly in the background in time of peace. To these was opposed Thorvold, with many of the stoutest men among the Danes.
Now, old Guttorm and Kettle pressed on so hard that they were almost separated from their men; and while Guttorm was engaged with a very tall and strong man, whom he had wounded severely more than once, another stout fellow came between him and Kettle, and made a cut at him with his sword. Guttorm did not observe him, and it seemed as if the old Stoutheart should get his death-wound there; but the thrall chanced to see what was going on. He fought with a sort of hook, like a reaping-hook, fixed at the end of a spear handle, with the cutting edge inside. The men of Horlingdal used to laugh at Kettle because of his fondness for this weapon, which was one of his own contriving; but when they did so, he was wont to reply that it was better than most other weapons, because it could not only make his friends laugh, but his enemies cry!
With this hook the thrall made a quick blow at the Dane; the point of it went down through his helmet into his brain, and that was his deathblow.
"Well done, Kettle!" cried old Guttorm, who had just cleft the skull of his opponent with his sword.
At this Thorvold ran forward and said:
"Well done it may be, but well had it been for the doer had it not been done. Come on, thou flatnose!"
"Now, thou must be a remarkably clever man," retorted Kettle, with much of that rich tone of voice which, many centuries later, came to be known as "the Irish brogue", "for it is plain ye know my name without being told it!"
So saying, with a sudden quick movement he got his hook round Thorvold's neck.
"That is an ugly grip," said Thorvold, making a fierce cut at the haft with his sword; but Kettle pulled the hook to him, and with it came the head, and that was Thorvold's end.
While this was going on at the right wing, the left wing was led by Ulf of Romsdal and Glumm the Gruff; but Ulf's men were not so good as Haldor's men, for he was not so wise a man as Haldor, and did not manage his house so well.
It was a common saying among the people of Horlingdal that Haldor had under him the most valiant men in Norway—and as the master was, so were the men. Haldor never went to sea with less than a fully-manned ship of thirty benches of rowers, and had other large vessels and men to man them as well. One of his ships had thirty-two benches of rowers, and could carry at least two hundred men. He had always at home on his farm thirty slaves or thralls, besides other serving people, and about two hundred house-carles. He used to give his thralls a certain day's work; but after it was done he gave them leave and leisure to work in the twilight and at night for themselves. He gave them arable land to sow corn in, and let them apply their crops to their own use. He fixed a certain quantity of work, by the doing of which his slaves might work themselves free; and this put so much heart into them that many of them worked themselves free in one year, and all who had any luck or pluck could work themselves free in three years. Ulf did this too, but he was not so wise nor yet so kind in his way of doing it. With the money thus procured Haldor bought other slaves. Some of his freed people he taught to work in the herring fishery; to others he taught some handicraft; in short, he helped all of them to prosperity; so that many of the best of them remained fast by their old master, although free to take service where they chose. Thus it was that his men were better than those of his neighbour.
Ulf's men were, nevertheless, good stout fellows, and they fought valiantly; but it so happened that the wing of the enemy to which they were opposed was commanded by Skarpedin, of whom it was said that he was equal to any six men. In spite, therefore, of the courage and the strength of Ulf and Glumm, the Northmen in that part of the field began slowly to give back. Ulf and Glumm were so maddened at this that they called their men cowards, and resolved to go forward till they should fall. Uttering their war-cry, they made a desperate charge, hewing down men like stalks of corn; but although this caused the Danes to give way a little, they could not advance, not being well backed, but stood fighting, and merely kept their ground.
Now it had chanced shortly before this, that Haldor stayed his hand and drew back with Erling. They went out from the front of the fight, and observed the left wing giving way.
"Come, let us aid them," cried Haldor.
Saying this he ran to the left wing, with Erling by his side. They two uttered a war-cry that rose high above the din of battle like a roar of thunder, and, rushing to the front, fell upon the foe. Their gilt helmets rose above the crowd, and their ponderous axes went swinging round their heads, continually crashing down on the skulls of the Danes. With four such men as Haldor, Erling, Ulf and Glumm in front, the left wing soon regained its lost ground and drove back the Danes. Nothing could withstand the shock. Skarpedin saw what had occurred, and immediately hastened to the spot where Haldor stood, sweeping down all who stood in his way.
"I have been searching for thee, Erling," he cried, going up to Haldor, and launching a javelin.
Haldor caught it on his shield, which it pierced through, but did him no hurt.
"Mistaken thou art, but thou hast found me now," cried Erling, thrusting his father aside and leaping upon the Dane.
Skarpedin changed his bill to his left hand, drew his sword, and made such a blow at his adversary, that the point cut right through his shield. With a quick turn of the shield, Erling broke the sword short off at the hilt. Skarpedin seized his bill and thrust so fiercely that it also went through the shield and stuck fast. Erling forced the lower end or point of his shield down into the earth, and so held it fast, dropped his axe, drew his sword, and made it flash so quick round his head that no one could see the blade. It fell upon Skarpedin's neck and gave him a grievous wound, cutting right through his armour and deep into his shoulder blade.
A great cry arose at this. The Danes made a rush towards their chief, and succeeded in dragging him out of the fight. They put him on his shield and bore him off to his ship, which was launched immediately. This was the turning-point in the day. Everywhere the Danes fled to their ships pursued by the victors. Some managed to launch their vessels, others were not so fortunate, and many fell fighting, while a few were taken prisoners.
Foreseeing that this would be the result, Haldor and Erling called off their men, hastened on board their ships, and gave chase, while the rest of the force looked after the prisoners and the booty, and dressed their own and their comrades' wounds.
"A bloody day this," said Ulf to Guttorm, as the latter came up, wiping the blade of his sword.
"I have seen worse," observed the old warrior, carefully returning his weapon to its scabbard.
"The Danes will long remember it," observed Glumm. "The ravens will have a good feast to-night."
"And Odin's halls a few more tenants," said Guttorm:
"The Danes came here all filled with greed, And left their flesh the crows to feed.
"But what is to be done with these?" he added, pointing to the prisoners, about twenty of whom were seated on a log with their feet tied together by a long rope, while their hands were loose.
"Kill them, I suppose," said Ulf.
There were thirty men seated there, and although they heard the words, they did not show by a single glance that they feared to meet their doom.
Just then Swart of the Springs came up. He had a great axe in his hands, and was very furious.
"Thou hast killed and burned my wife, children, and homestede," he said fiercely, addressing the prisoner who sat at the end of the log, "but thou shalt never return to Denmark to tell it."
He cut at him with the axe as he spoke, and the man fell dead. One after another Swart killed them. There was one who looked up and said—
"I will stick this fish bone that I have in my hand into the earth, if it be so that I know anything after my head is cut off."
His head was immediately cut off, but the fish bone fell from his hand.
Beside him there sat a very handsome young man with long hair, who twisted his hair over his head, stretched out his neck, and said, "Don't make my hair bloody."
A man took the hair in his hands and held it fast. Then Swart hewed with his axe, but the Dane twitched his head back so strongly, that he who was holding his hair fell forward; the axe cut off both his hands, and stuck fast in the earth.
"Who is that handsome man?" asked Ulf.
The man replied with look of scorn, "I am Einar, the son of King Thorkel of Denmark; and know thou for a certainty that many shall fall to avenge my death."
Ulf said, "Art thou certainly Thorkel's son? Wilt thou now take thy life and peace?"
"That depends," replied the Dane, "upon who it is that offers it."
"He offers who has the power to give it—Ulf of Romsdal."
"I will take it," says he, "from Ulf's hands."
Upon that the rope was loosed from his feet, but Swart, whose vengeance was still unsatisfied, exclaimed—
"Although thou shouldst give all these men life and peace, King Ulf, yet will I not suffer Einar to depart from this place with life."
So saying he ran at him with uplifted axe, but one of the viking prisoners threw himself before Swart's feet, so that he tumbled over him, and the axe fell at the feet of a viking named Gills. Gills caught the axe and gave Swart his death-wound.
Then said Ulf, "Gills, wilt thou accept life?"
"That will I," said he, "if thou wilt give it to all of us."
"Loose them from the rope," said Ulf.
This was done, and the men were set free.
Eighteen of the Danish vikings were killed, and twelve got their lives upon that occasion.
TELLS OF DISCUSSIONS AND EXCITING DEEDS AT ULFSTEDE.
While the fight at the Springs which we have just described was going on, Christian the hermit sat in the hall at Ulfstede conversing with Hilda and Dame Astrid, and some of the other women. All the fighting men of the place had been taken away—only one or two old men and Alric were left behind—for Ulf, in his impetuosity, had forgotten to leave a guard at home.
"I hope it will fare well with our men at the Springs," said Hilda, looking up with an anxious expression from the mantle with which her nimble fingers were busy.
"I hope so too," said Christian, "though I would rather that there had been no occasion to fight."
"No occasion to fight!" exclaimed Alric, who was dressing the feathers on an arrow which he had made to replace the one he lost in shooting at the Dane,—and the losing of which, by the way, he was particularly careful to bring to remembrance as often as opportunity offered— sometimes whether opportunity offered or not. "No occasion to fight! What would be the use of weapons if there were no fighting! Where should we get our plunder if there were no fighting, and our slaves? why, what would Northmen find to do if there were no fighting?"
The hermit almost laughed at the impetuosity of the boy as he replied—
"It would take a wiser head than mine, lad, to answer all these questions, more particularly to answer them to thy satisfaction. Notwithstanding, it remains true that peace is better than war."
"That may be so," said Dame Astrid; "but it seems to me that war is necessary, and what is necessary must be right."
"I agree with that," said Ada, with a toss of her pretty head—for it would seem that that method of expressing contempt for an adversary's opinion was known to womankind at least a thousand years ago, if not longer. "But thou dost not fight, Christian: what has war done to thee that thou shouldst object to it so?"
"What has war done for me?" exclaimed the old man, springing up with sudden excitement, and clasping his lean hands tight together; "has it not done all that it could do? Woman, it has robbed me of all that makes life sweet, and left me only what I did not want. It has robbed me of wife and children, and left a burdened life. Yet no—I sin in speaking thus. Life was left because there was something worth living for; something still to be done: the truth of God to be proclaimed; the good of man to be compassed. But sometimes I forget this when the past flashes upon me, and I forget that it is my duty as well as my joy to say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'"
The old man sat down again, and leaned his brow on his hand. The women, although sympathetic, were puzzled by some of his remarks, and therefore sat in silence for a little, but presently the volatile Ada looked up and said—
"What thinkest thou, Hilda, in regard to war?"
"I know not what to think," replied Hilda.
"Nay, then, thy spirit must be flying from thee, for thou wert not wont to be without an opinion on most things. Why, even Erling's sister, Ingeborg, has made up her mind about war I doubt not, though she is too modest to express it."
Now this was a sly hit at Ingeborg, who was sitting by, for she was well known to have a shrewish temper, and to be self-willed and opinionated, in so much that most men kept out of her way. She was very unlike Erling, or her father and mother, or her little sisters, in this respect.
"I can express my opinion well enough when I have a mind," said Ingeborg sharply; "and as to war, it stands to reason that a Sea-king's daughter must approve of a Sea-king's business. Why, the beautiful cloths, and gold and jewels, that are so plentiful in the dale, would never have delighted our eyes if our men had not gone on viking cruise, and fallen in with those rich traders from the far south lands. Besides, war makes our men brisk and handsome."
"Aye," exclaimed Alric, laughing, "especially when they get their noses cut off and their cheeks gashed!"
"Sometimes it takes them from us altogether," observed a poor woman of the household, the widow of a man who had been slain on a viking cruise, after having had his eyes put out, and being otherwise cruelly treated.
"That is the other side of the question," said Astrid. "Of course everything has two sides. We cannot change the plans of the gods. Sunshine and rain, heat and cold, come as they are sent. We must accept them as they are sent."
"That is true," said Christian, "and thou sayest wisely that we must accept things as they are sent; but can it be said that war is sent to us when we rush into it of our own accord? Defensive warfare, truly, is right—else would this world be left in the sole possession of the wicked; but aggressive warfare is not right. To go on viking cruise and take by force that which is not our own is sinful. There is a good way to prove the truth of these things. Let me ask the question, Astrid,— How would thy husband like to have thee and all his property taken from him, and Ulfstede burned about his ears?"
"Methinks he would like it ill."
"Then why should he do that to others which he would not like done to himself?"
"These are strange words," said Astrid in surprise; "I know not that I have ever heard the like before."
"Truly no," said Christian, "because the Word of God has not yet been sounded in the dale. Thou saidst just now that we cannot change the plans of the gods; that would be true if ye had said 'the plans of God,' for there is but one God, and His ways are unchangeable. But what if God had revealed some of His plans to man, and told him that this revelation was sufficient to guide him in his walk through this life, and to prepare him for the next?"
"Then would I think it man's wisdom to follow that guide carefully," replied Astrid.
"Such plans do exist, such a revelation has been made," said the hermit, "and the name that stands on the forefront of it is Jesus Christ."
As he spoke the hermit drew from his bosom a scroll of parchment, which he unrolled slowly. This, he said, was a copy, made by himself, of part of the Gospel. He had meant, he said, to have copied the whole of it, but war had put an end to his labours at the same time that it deprived him of his earthly joys, and drove him from his native land to be a wanderer on the earth.
"But if," he continued, "the Lord permits me to preach His gospel of truth and love and peace in Norway, I shall count the sufferings of this present time as nothing compared with the glory yet to be revealed."
"Christian," said Astrid, who appeared to have been struck by some reminiscence, "methinks I have heard Ulf talk of a religion which the men of the south profess. He saw something of it when he went on viking cruise to the great fiord that runs far into the land, [the Mediterranean] and if my memory is faithful he said that they called themselves by a name that sounds marvellously like thine own."
"I suppose Ulf must have met with Christians, after whom I call myself, seeing that my own name is of consequence to no one," said the hermit. "What said he about them?"
"That they were a bad set," replied Astrid,—"men who professed love to their fellows, but were guilty of great cruelty to all who did not believe their faith."
"All who call themselves Christians deserve not the name, Astrid; some are hypocrites and deceivers, others are foolish and easily deceived."
"They all make the same profession, I am told," said Dame Astrid.
"The men of Norway are warriors," returned the hermit, "and all profess courage,—nay, when they stand in the ranks and go forth to war, they all show the same stern face and front, so that one could not know but that all were brave; yet are they not all courageous, as thou knowest full well. Some, it may be very few, but some are cowards at heart, and it only requires the test of the fight to prove them. So is it with professing Christians. I would gladly tell the story of Jesus if ye will hear me, Dame Astrid."
The matron's curiosity was excited, so she expressed her willingness to listen; and the hermit, reading passages from his manuscript copy of the New Testament, and commenting thereon, unfolded the "old old story" of God's wonderful love to man in Jesus Christ.
While he was yet in the midst of his discourse the door of the hall was burst violently open, and one of the serving-girls, rushing in, exclaimed that the Danes were approaching from the fiord!
The Danes referred to composed a small party who had been sent off in a cutter by Skarpedin Redbeard to survey the coast beyond Horlingdal fiord, as he had intended, after herrying that district, to plunder still farther north. This party in returning had witnessed, unseen, the departure of the fleet of Northmen. Thinking it probable that the place might have been left with few protectors, they waited until they deemed it safe to send out scouts, and, on their report being favourable, they landed to make an attack on the nearest village or farm.
On hearing the news all was uproar in Ulfstede. The women rushed about in a distracted state, imploring the few helpless old men about the place to arm and defend them. To do these veteran warriors justice they did their best. They put the armour that was brought to them on their palsied limbs, but shook their heads sadly, for they felt that although they might die in defence of the household, they could not save it.
Meanwhile Christian and Alric proved themselves equal to the occasion. The former, although advanced in years, retained much of his strength and energy; and the latter, still inflated with the remembrance of the fact that he had actually drawn blood from a full-grown bearded Dane, and deeply impressed with the idea that he was the only able-bodied warrior in Ulfstede at this crisis, resolved to seize the opportunity and prove to the whole world that his boasting was at all events not "empty!"
"The first thing to be done is to bar the doors," he cried, starting up on hearing the serving-girl's report. "Thou knowest how to do it, Christian; run to the south door, I will bar the north."
The hermit smiled at the lad's energy, but he was too well aware of the importance of speed to waste time in talking. He dropped his outer garment and ran to the south door, which was very solid. Closing it, and fastening the ponderous wooden bar which stretched diagonally across it, he turned and ran to the chamber in which the weapons were kept. On the way he was arrested by a cry from Alric—
"Here! here, quick, Christian, else we are lost!"
The hermit sprang to the north door with the agility of a youth. He was just in time. Poor Alric, despite the strength of his bold heart and will, had not strength of muscle enough to close the door, which had somehow got jammed. Through the open doorway Christian could see a band of Danish vikings running towards the house at full speed. He flung the door forward with a crash, and drew the bar across just as the vikings ran against it.
"Open, open without delay!" cried a voice outside, "else will we tear out the heart of every man and child under this roof."
"We will not open; we will defend ourselves to the last; our trust is in God," replied Christian.
"And as to tearing out our hearts," cried Alric, feeling emboldened now that the stout door stood between him and his foes, "if ye do not make off as fast as ye came, we will punch out your eyes and roast your livers."
The reply to this was a shower of blows on the door, so heavy that the whole building shook beneath them, and Alric almost wished that his boastful threat had been left unsaid. He recollected at that moment, however, that there was a hole under the eaves of the roof just above the door. It had been constructed for the purpose of preventing attacks of this kind. The boy seized his bow and arrows and dashed up the ladder that led to the loft above the hall. On it he found one of the old retainers of the stede struggling up with a weighty iron pot, from which issued clouds of steam.
"Let me pass, old Ivor; what hast thou there?"
"Boiling water to warm them," gasped Ivor, "I knew we should want it ere long. Finn is gone to the loft above the south door with another pot."
Alric did not wait to hear the end of this answer, but pushing past the old man, hastened to the trap-door under the eaves and opened it. He found, however, that he could not use his bow in the constrained position necessary to enable him to shoot through the hole. In desperation he seized a barrel that chanced to be at hand, and overturned its contents on the heads of the foe. It happened to contain rye-flour, and the result was that two of the assailants were nearly blinded, while two others who stood beside them burst into a loud laugh, and, seizing the battle-axes which the others had been using, continued their efforts to drive in the door. By this time old Ivor had joined Alric. He set down the pot of boiling water by the side of the hole, and at once emptied its contents on the heads of the vikings, who uttered a terrific yell and leaped backward as the scalding water flowed over their heads and shoulders. A similar cry from the other door of the house told that the defence there had been equally successful. Almost at the same moment Alric discovered a small slit in the roof through which he could observe the enemy. He quickly sent through it an arrow, which fixed itself in the left shoulder of one of the men. This had the effect of inducing the attacking party to draw off for the purpose of consultation.
The breathing-time thus afforded to the assailed was used in strengthening their defences and holding a hurried council of war. Piling several heavy pieces of furniture against the doors, and directing the women to make additions to these, Christian drew Alric into the hall, where the ancient retainers were already assembled.
"It will cost them a long time and much labour to drive in the doors, defended as they are," said the hermit.
"They will not waste time nor labour upon them," said Ivor, shaking his hoary head. "What think ye, Finn?"
The women, who had crowded round the men, looked anxiously at Finn, who was a man of immense bulk, and had been noted for strength in his younger days, but who was now bent almost double with age. "Fire will do the work quicker than the battle-axe," answered Finn, with grim smile, which did not improve the expression of a countenance already disfigured by the scars of a hundred fights, and by the absence of an eye—long ago gouged out and left to feed the ravens of a foreign shore! "If this had only come to pass a dozen years ago," he added, while a gleam of light illumined the sound eye, "I might have gone off to Valhalla with a straight hack and some credit. But mayhap a good onset will straighten it yet, who knows?—and I do feel as if I had strength left to send at least one foe out of the world before me."
Ivor the Old nodded. "Yes," he said; "I think they will burn us out."
"I had already feared this," said Christian, with a look of perplexity. "What wouldst thou recommend should be done, Ivor?"
"Nothing more can be done than to kill as many as possible before we die."
"I pray the Lord to help us in our extremity," said Christian; "but I believe it to be His will to help those who are willing to help themselves, depending upon Him for strength, courage, and victory. It may be that Ulf and his men will soon return from the Springs, so that if we could only hold out for a short time all might be well. Have ye nothing to suggest?"
"As to Ulf and the men returning from the Springs," said Finn, "there is small chance of that before morning. With regard to holding out, I know of nothing that will cause fire to burn slow once it is well kindled. An hour hence and Ulfstede will be in ashes, as that sound surely tells."
He referred to a crashing blow which occurred just then at the north door. Nearly all present knew full well that it was the first bundle of a pile of faggots with which the assailants meant to set the house on fire.
"Had this arm retained but a little of the strength it once knew," continued Finn bitterly, as he stretched out the huge but withered limb, "things had not come to this pass so quickly. I remember the day, now forty years ago, when on the roof of this very house I stood alone with my bow and kept thirty men at bay for two full hours. But I could not now draw an arrow of Alric's little bow to its head, to save the lives of all present."
"But I can do it," cried Alric, starting forward suddenly; "and if thou wilt show me the window in the roof I will—"
"Brave boy," said old Ivor, with a kindly smile, as he laid his hand on Alric's head, "thy heart is large, and it is sad that one so full of promise should come to such an end; but it needs not that ye should fall before thy time. These shafts may do against the crows, but they would avail nothing against men in mail."
"Is there not a warrior's bow in the house?" asked Christian quickly.
"There is," replied Ivor, "but who will use it?"
"Thou?" exclaimed Ivor, with a slight touch of contempt in his tone.
"Hold thy peace, Ivor," said Hilda quickly. "This man has saved my life once, as thou knowest, and well assured am I that what he undertakes to do he will accomplish."
"Now thanks to thee, Hilda, for that," said the hermit heartily; "not that I boast of being sure to accomplish what I undertake, yet I never offer to attempt what I have not some reasonable hope of being able to do. But it is not strange that this old warrior should doubt of the courage or capacity of one who preaches the gospel of peace. Nevertheless, when I was a youth I fought in the army of the great Thorfin, and was somewhat expert in the use of the bow. It is possible that some of my ancient skill may remain, and I am willing to use it in a good cause. I pray thee, therefore, let us not waste more time in useless talk, but fetch me a bow and quiver, and show me the window in the roof."
Ivor went at once to the place where the armour was kept, and brought out the desired weapons, which he placed in the hands of the hermit, and watched his mode of handling them with some curiosity. Christian, unconscious of the look, strung the bow and examined one of the arrows with the air of a man who was thoroughly accustomed to such weapons. Ivor regarded him with increased respect as he conducted him to the loft, and opened the window.
The hermit at once stepped out, and was instantly observed by the Danes, who of course seized the opportunity and let fly several arrows at him, which grazed him or stuck quivering in the roof close to the spot where he stood. He was not slow to reply. One of the vikings, who was approaching the house at the moment with a bundle of faggots on his back, received a shaft in his shoulder, which caused him to drop his bundle and fly to the woods, where he took shelter behind a tree. Almost before that shaft had reached its mark another was on the string, and, in another instant, transfixed the biceps muscle of the right arm of one of the vikings who was preparing to discharge an arrow. He also sought shelter behind a tree, and called to a comrade to come and assist him to extract the shaft.
"Mine ancient skill," said the hermit in an undertone, as if the remark were made half to himself and half to Ivor, whose head appeared at the window, and whose old countenance was wrinkled with a grin of delight at this unexpected display of prowess; "mine ancient skill, it would seem, has not deserted me, for which I am thankful, for it is an awful thing, Ivor, more awful than thou thinkest, to send a human being into eternity unforgiven. I am glad, therefore, to be able thus to render our assailants unfit for war without taking away their lives—ha! that was better aimed than usual," he added, as an arrow passed through his jerkin, and stuck deep into the roof. "The man shoots well, he would soon end the fight if I did not—stop—that."
At the second-last word the hermit bent his bow; at the last, which was uttered with emphasis, he let the arrow fly, and sent it through the left hand of his adversary, who instantly dropped his bow. At the same moment it seemed as though the whole band of vikings had become suddenly convinced that they stood exposed to the shafts of a man who could use them with unerring certainty, for they turned with one consent and fled into the woods—each man seeking shelter behind the nearest tree.
Here they called to one another to stand forth and shoot at the hermit.
"Go thou, Arne," cried the leader; "thine aim is true. Surely one old man is not to keep us all at bay. If my left hand were unscathed I would not trouble thee to do it, thou knowest."
"I have no desire to get an arrow in mine eye," cried Arne; "see, I did but show the tip of my right elbow just now, and the skin of it is cut up as though the crows had pecked it."
In the excess of his wrath Arne extended his clenched fist and shook it at the hermit, who instantly transfixed it with an arrow, causing the foolish man to howl with pain and passion.
"I have always held and acted on the opinion," said Christian to Ivor, who was now joined by his comrade Finn, "that whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. Thou seest," he continued, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his coat, "it is only by being expert in the use of this weapon that I have succeeded in driving bark the Danes without the loss of life. There is indeed a passage in the Book of God (which I hope to be spared to tell thee more about in time to come), where this principle of thoroughness in all things is implied, if not absolutely taught—namely, 'Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.'"
"A just maxim," said Finn, shading his one eye with his hands and gazing earnestly into the woods, "and if acted upon, makes a man fit for every duty that falls upon him; but it seems to me that while we are talking here, there is some movement going on. See, Christian (since that is thy name), they are retiring in haste, and exposing themselves. Now, I pray thee, as thine eye is so sure, do drop a shaft on the nape of yonder fellow's neck, that we may have something to show of this night's work."
"I told thee, Finn, that my desire is to avoid taking life."
"Humph," said Finn testily, "whatever thy desire may be matters little now, for he is beyond range. Hark! That shout accounts for the flight of the Danes. Ulf must have returned."
As he spoke, a loud cry, as if of men in conflict, arose from the fiord. Immediately after, the vikings who had not already taken to flight left their places of shelter and dashed into the underwood. The hermit let them go without moving a hand; but Alric, who was actuated by no merciful principles, suddenly opened the north door, sprang out, and let fly an arrow with so true an aim that it struck one of the Danes between the shoulders. Fortunately for him, the Dane had, in accordance with the usual custom of the time, hung his shield on his back when he took to flight, so that the shaft rebounded from it and fell harmless to the ground.
By this time the hermit had descended from the roof. Running out he seized Alric, and, dragging him into the house, reclosed the door.
"Ye know not, foolish boy, whether or not this is Ulf whom we hear."
As he spoke, the tramp of approaching footsteps and the voices of excited men were heard outside. The door flew open, and Ulf, Erling, and Haldor, with a number of the house-carles, strode into the hall and flung down their arms.
"Not much too soon, it would seem," said Ulf, with a look of stern joy.
"Thou wouldst have been altogether too late, Ulf," said Astrid, "had not Christian been here to save us."
"How so?" exclaimed Ulf, turning with an enquiring look to the hermit; "hast turned warrior after all thy preaching of peace? But thou art pale. Ho! fetch a horn of ale here; fighting has disagreed with thy stomach, old man."
"I think," said Christian, pressing his hand to his side, "that one of these arrows must have—"
He paused suddenly, and would have fallen to the ground had not Erling caught him. Letting him gently down at full length, our hero raised his head on his knee, while Hilda came forward with a horn of ale. As she kneeled by the old man's side she glanced anxiously at her lover's face, which was covered with blood and dust, and presented anything but an attractive appearance.
"Hast thou been wounded?" whispered Hilda.
"No, not wounded," muttered Erling, "but—"
"Not wounded!" exclaimed Ulf, who overheard the words, but misunderstood their application, "not wounded! Why, Erling, where have thy wits gone? The man is wellnigh dead from loss of blood. See, his jerkin is soaking. Bring hither bandages; come, let me see the wound. If the old man has indeed saved Ulfstede this day, eternal disgrace would be our due did we let his life slip out under our roof-tree for want of proper care. And hark'ee; get ready all the dressings thou hast, for wounded men enough will be here ere long, and let the boards be spread with the best of meat and ale, for we have gone through hard work to-day, and there is harder yet in store for us, I trow."
Thus admonished, the women went to make preparation for the reception of the wounded, and the entertainment of those who had been more fortunate in the recent conflict. Meanwhile the hermit was conveyed to Ulf's own bed, and his wound, which proved to be less serious than had been feared, was carefully dressed by Hilda, to whom Erling, in the most attentive and disinterested manner, acted the part of assistant-surgeon.
SHOWS HOW THE ANCIENT SEA-KINGS TRANSACTED NATIONAL BUSINESS.
Scant was the time allowed the men of Horlingdal for refreshment and rest after the battle of the Springs, for the assembling of Thingsmen armed to the teeth, as well as the news that King Harald threatened a descent on them, rendered it necessary that a District Thing or Council should be held without delay.
Accordingly, after brief repose, Haldor the Fierce, who had returned with Erling to his own house up the dale, arose and ordered the horn to be sounded for a Thing.
Several hundreds of men had by that time assembled, and when they all came together they formed an imposing band of warriors, whom any wise king would have deemed it advisable to hold converse with, if possible, on friendly terms.
When the Thing was seated Haldor rose, and, amid profound silence, said:
"Men of Horlingdal, King Harald Haarfager has sent round the message-token for a Thing to be held at the Springs. The token sent was one of peace. The token of war was sent round instead, as ye know. Whether this was wise or not does not much concern us now, as ye have seen with your own eyes that there was good fortune in the change; for we knew not, when the token was forwarded, of the urgent need that should arise at the Springs for our weapons. But, now that the Danes have been sent home—excepting that goodly number who have gone to Valhalla's halls to keep company with Odin and departed warriors—it seems to me that we should meet the King in the manner which he desires until he shall give us occasion to assume arms in defence of our laws. And I would here remind you that Harald is our rightful King, udal-born to the Kingdom of Norway, his title having been stated and proved at all the District Things, beginning with the Ore Thing of Drontheim, and having been approved by all the people of Norway. I therefore counsel pacific measures, and that we should go to the Springs unarmed."
When Haldor sat down there was a slight murmur of assent, but most of those present remained silent, wishing to hear more.
Then up started Ulf, and spoke with great heat.
"I agree not with Haldor," he said sternly. "Who does not know that Harald is rightful King of Norway; that he is descended in a direct line from the godars who came over from the east with Odin, and has been fairly elected King of Norway? But who does not know also, that our laws are above our King, that Harald is at this time trampling on these laws, and is everywhere setting at defiance the small kings, who are as truly udal-born to their rights and titles as himself?"
At this point Ulf's indignation became so great that he found he could not talk connectedly, so he concluded by counselling that they should go to the Springs fully armed, and ready to brave the worst. There was a loud shout of approval, and then Erling started up. His manner and tone were subdued, but his face was flushed; and men could see, as he went on, that he was keeping down his wrath and his energy.
"I like it ill," he said, "to disagree on this point with my father; but Ulf is right. We all know that Harald is King of Norway by law, and we do not meet here to dispute his title; but we also know that kings are not gods. Men create a law and place it over their own heads, so that the lawmakers as well as those for whom it is made must bow before it; but when it is found that the law works unfairly, the lawmaker may repeal it, and cast it aside as useless or unworthy. So kings were created for the sole purpose of guiding nations and administering laws, in order that national welfare might be advanced. The moment they cease to act their part, that moment they cease to be worthy kings, and become useless. But if, in addition to this, they dare to ignore and break the laws of the land, then do they become criminal; they deserve not only to be cast aside, but punished. If, in defence of our rights, we find it necessary to dethrone the King, we cannot be charged with disloyalty, because the King has already dethroned himself!"
Erling paused a moment at this point, and a murmur of approval ran through the circle of his auditors.
"When Harald Haarfager's father," he resumed, "Halfdan the Black, ruled over Norway, he made laws which were approved by the people. He obeyed them himself, and obliged others to observe them; and, that violence should not come in the place of the laws, he himself fixed the number of criminal acts in law, and the compensations, mulcts, or penalties, for each case, according to everyone's birth and dignity, from the King downwards; so that when disputes were settled at the Things the utmost fair play prevailed—death for death, wound for wound; or, if the parties chose, matters could be adjusted by payments in money—each injury being valued at a fixed scale; or matters might be settled and put right by single combat. All this, ye know full well, Halfdan the Black compassed and settled in a legal manner, and the good that has flowed from his wise and legal measures (for I hold that a king is not entitled to pass even wise laws illegally) has been apparent to us ever since. But now all this is to be overturned—with or without the consent of the Things—because a foolish woman, forsooth, has the power to stir up the vanity of a foolish king! Shall this be so? Is our manhood to be thus riven from us, and shall we stand aloof and see it done, or, worse still, be consenting unto it? Let death be our portion first! It has been rumoured that the people of southern lands have done this—that they have sold themselves to their kings, so that one man's voice is law, and paid troops of military slaves are kept up in order that this one man may have his full swing, while his favourites and his soldier-slaves bask in his sunshine and fatten on the people of the land! It is impossible for us of Norway to understand the feelings or ideas of the men who have thus sold themselves—for we have never known such tyranny—having, as the scalds tell us, enjoyed our privileges, held our Things, and governed ourselves by means of the collective wisdom of the people ever since our forefathers came from the East; but I warn ye that if this man, Harald Haarfager, is allowed to have his will, our institutions shall be swept away, our privileges will depart, our rights will be crushed, and the time will come when it shall be said of Norsemen that they have utterly forgotten that they once were free! Again I ask, shall we tamely stand aside and suffer this to be? Shall our children ever have it in their power to say, 'There was a time when our mean-spirited forefathers might have easily stopped the leak that caused the flood by which we are now borne irresistibly downward?' I repeat, let us rather perish! Let us go armed to the Springs and tell the King that he—equally with ourselves—is subject to the laws of the land!"
Erling delivered the last sentence in a voice of thunder, and with a fierce wave of the hand, that drew forth shouts of enthusiastic applause.
Instantly Glumm started up, forgetful, in the heat of the moment, of the jealousy that had so recently sprung up between him and his friend.
"I am not a speaker," he shouted gruffly, "but poor is the man who cannot back up and egg on his friend. Erling speaks the truth; and all I have to suggest is that he should be sent by us to tell all this to King Harald Haarfager's face!"
Glumm sat down with the prompt decision of a man who has thoroughly delivered himself of all that he intends to say; and many in the assembly testified their approval of his sentiments.
At this point Ivor the Old arose and gave it as his opinion that the sooner the King should be brought off his high horse the better; whereupon Finn the One-eyed suggested, with a laugh, that the old hermit should be sent with his bow and arrow to teach him due submission to the laws. Then there was a good deal of confused, and not a little passionate discussion, which waxed louder and more vehement until Guttorm Stoutheart stood up, and, although not a dalesman, requested the attention of the assembly for a few minutes.
"It is obvious," he said in the hearty tones of a man who knows that he is sure of carrying a large portion of his audience along with him—"it is obvious that you are all pretty much of one mind as to the principle on which we should act at this time; and my good friend Haldor the Fierce (who seems of late to have changed his nature, and should, methinks, in future, be styled Haldor the Mild) is evidently on the losing side. The only thing that concerns us, it seems to me, is the manner in which we shall convey our opinion to the King—how we shall best, as the scald says:—
"'Whisper in the King's unwilling ear That which is wholesome but unsweet to hear.'
"Now, to the quick-witted among you various methods will doubtless have already been suggested; and I am perchance only echoing the sentiments of many here, when I say that it would be worthy of the men of Horlingdal that they should fight the King at once, and put a stop to the burnings, hangings, torturings, jarl-makings, and subduings of which he has been so guilty of late, and which I confess is so unlike his free, generous, manly character, that I have found it hard to believe the reports which have reached my ears, and which, after all, can only be accounted for by the fact that he is at present led by the nose by that worst of all creatures, a proud imperious girl, who has the passions of a warrior and the brains of a bairn! Another method, which would signify at least our contempt for Harald's principles, would be the sending of a thrall to him with a reaping-hook, and a request that he would cut off his own head and give it to us in token that, having ceased to be a king, he is resolved no longer to continue to be a dishonoured man! And that reminds me of one of Ulf's thralls named Kettle Flatnose, who could assist Harald nobly in the work of beheading himself, for last night, when he and I fought side by side against the Danes, he used a hook of his own making, with such effect, that I was fain to pause and laugh, while myself in the very act of splitting an iron headpiece. But perchance that is not a suitable method of compassing our ends, besides it would cost the thrall his life, and I should be sorry to aid in bringing about the death of Kettle Flatnose, whose island is a happy one if it counts many such clear-headed and able-bodied warriors.
"But another plan was proposed by Glumm the Gruff, which seemed to me to have the approval of many present, and assuredly it has mine, that we should send King Erling at once to Harald, to tell him our opinions to his face, to sound him as to his intentions, and to bring back the news as fast as possible, so that we may go armed or unarmed to the Springs, as prudence may direct. Moreover, as it would be unfair to send a man alone on such a dangerous errand, I would suggest that he should have a comrade to keep him company and share his fortunes, and that for this end none better could be found than Glumm the Gruff himself."
This speech settled the mind of the meeting. After a little more talk it was finally arranged that Erling and Glumm should go at once to meet King Harald, who could not yet, it was thought, have arrived at the Springs, and endeavour to find out his temper of mind in regard to the men of Horlingdal. After that the Thing broke up, and the members dispersed to partake of "midag-mad", or dinner, in the dwellings of their various friends.
PROVES THAT THE BEST OF FRIENDS MAY QUARREL ABOUT NOTHING, AND THAT WAR HAS TWO ASPECTS.
"Now, Erling," said Glumm, with a face so cheerful, that had the expression been habitual, he never would have been styled the Gruff, "I will go home with thee and wait until thou art busked, after which we will go together to my house and have a bite and a horn of mead before setting out on this expedition. I thank the Stoutheart for suggesting it, for the business likes me well."
"Thou wert ever prone to court danger, Glumm," said Erling with a laugh, as they hurried towards Haldorstede, "and methinks thou art going to be blessed with a full share of it just now, for this Harald Haarfager is not a man to be trifled with. Although thou and I could hold our own against some odds, we shall find the odds too much for us in the King's camp, should he set his face against us. However, the cause is a good one, and to say truth, I am not sorry that they had the goodness to pitch on thee and me to carry out the plan."
Thus conversing they arrived at Ulfstede, where Herfrida met them at the door, and was soon informed of their mission. She immediately went to an inner closet, where the best garments and arms were kept, and brought forth Erling's finest suit of armour, in order that he might appear with suitable dignity at court.
She made him change his ordinary shoes for a pair made of tanned leather, on which he bound a pair of silver spurs, which had been taken from a cavalier of southern lands in one of Haldor's viking cruises. She brought, and assisted him to put on, a new suit of mail, every ring of which had been brightly polished by the busy hands of Ingeborg, who was unusually fond of meddling with everything that pertained to the art of war; also a new sword-belt of yellow leather, ornamented with gold studs. On his head she placed a gilt helmet with his favourite crest, a pair of hawk's wings expanded upwards, and a curtain of leather covered with gilt-steel rings to defend the neck. Over his shoulders she flung a short scarlet cloak, which was fastened at the throat by a large silver brooch, similar to the circular brooches which are still to be found in the possession of the rich bonders of Norway. Then she surveyed her stalwart son from head to foot, and said that he would stand comparison with any king in the land, small or great.