At this Erling laughed, and asked for his sword.
"Which one, my son?"
"The short one, mother. I had indeed thought of taking my good old axe with me, but that would not look well in a man bent on a mission of peace. Would it, Glumm? And if I should have to fight, why, my short sword is not a light one, and by putting to a little more force I can make it bite deep enough. So now, Glumm, I am ready for the road. Farewell, mother."
The young men went out and hastened down the valley to Glummstede, near Horlingend.
Now it chanced that Hilda and her foster-sister Ada had resolved, about that time of the day, to walk up the dale together, and as there was only one road on that side of the river, of necessity they were met by their lovers; and it so fell out that the meeting took place in a picturesque part of the dale, where the road passed between two high precipitous cliffs.
The instant that Ada's eyes fell on Glumm her active brain conceived the idea of treating him to a disappointment, so she said hurriedly to her friend:
"Hilda, wilt thou manage to lead Glumm aside and keep talking to him for a short time, while I speak with Erling? I want to ask him something about that sword-belt which I am making for Glumm, and which I intend to send him as the gift of an enemy."
"I will do as ye desire," replied Hilda, with a feeling of disappointment; "but with what truth canst thou send it, Ada, as an enemy's gift?"
"Simple Hilda!" said the other, with a laugh, "am I not an enemy to his peace of mind? But hush! they will overhear us."
It chanced that Hilda was on the same side of the road with Erling, and Ada on that with Glumm, and both youths observed this fact with secret satisfaction as they approached and wished the maids "good day"; but just as they were about to shake hands Ada crossed in front of her companion, and taking Erling's outstretched hand said:
"Erling, I am glad to meet thee, because I have a knotty point which I wish thine aid to disentangle. I will turn and walk with thee a short way, because I know thy business is pressing. It is always so with men, is it not?"
"I know not," answered Erling, smiling at the girl's arch look, despite his surprise and chagrin at the unexpected turn affairs had taken, for he had noted the readiness with which Hilda had turned towards Glumm, and almost, as he imagined, led him aside purposely! "But it seems to me, Ada, that, however pressing a man's business may be, woman has the power to delay it."
"Nay, then, if thine is indeed so pressing just now," said Ada, with a toss of the head (which Glumm, who walked behind with Hilda, took particular note of), "I will not presume to—"
"Now, Ada," said Erling, with a light laugh, "thou knowest that it is merely waste of time to affect indignation. I know thee too well to be deceived. Come, what is it that ye would consult me about? not the forging of a battle-axe or spear-head, I warrant me."
"Nay, but a portion of armour scarce less important, though not so deadly. What say you to a sword-belt?"
"Well, I am somewhat skilled in such gear."
"I am ornamenting one for a friend of thine, Erling, but I will not tell his name unless I have thy promise not to mention to him anything about our conversation."
"I promise," said Erling, with an amused glance.
"It is for Glumm."
"For Glumm!" repeated Erling in surprise; "does Glumm then know—"
"Know what?" asked Ada, as Erling stopped abruptly.
"Does he know that thou art making this belt for him?"
"Know it? why, how could it be a secret if he knew it?"
"Ah, true, I—well?"
"Besides," continued Ada, "I am not making it; I said I was going to ornament it. Now it is with reference to that I would consult thee."
Here Ada became so deeply absorbed in the mysteries of ornamental armour that she constrained Erling at least to appear interested, although, poor man, his heart was behind him, and he had much difficulty in resisting the desire to turn round when he heard Hilda's voice—which, by the way, was heard pretty constantly, for Glumm was so uncommonly gruff and monosyllabic in his replies that she had most of the talking to herself.
This unpleasant state of things might have lasted a considerable time, had not the party reached the path which diverged to the left, and, crossing the river over a narrow bridge composed of two tall trees thrown across, led to Glummstede. Here Erling stopped suddenly, and wheeling round, said:
"I regret that we cannot go farther down the dale to-day, as Glumm and I must fare with all speed to the Springs to meet King Harald."
"I trust thine errand is one of peace?" said Hilda in a slightly anxious tone.
"To judge by their looks," said Ada, glancing expressively at Glumm, "I should say that their intentions were warlike!"
"Despite our looks," replied Erling, with a laugh, "our business with the King is of a peaceful nature, and as it is pressing, ye will excuse us if—"
"Oh! it is pressing, after all," cried Ada; "come, sister, let us not delay them."
So saying, she hurried away with her friend, and the two youths strode on to Glummstede in a very unenviable frame of mind.
Having refreshed themselves with several cuts of fresh salmon—drawn that morning from the foaming river—and with a deep horn of home-brewed ale, the young warriors mounted a couple of active horses, and rode up the mountain path that led in a zigzag direction over the fells to the valley of the Springs. They rode in silence at first—partly because the nature of the track compelled them to advance in single file, and partly because each was in the worst possible humour of which his nature was capable, while each felt indignant at the other, although neither could have said that his friend had been guilty of any definable sin.
It may here be mentioned in passing, that Glumm had clothed and armed himself much in the same fashion as his companion, the chief difference being that his helmet was of polished steel, and the centre of his shield was painted red, while that of Erling was white. His only offensive weapons were a dagger and the long two-handed sword which had been forged for him by his friend, which latter was slung across his back.
An hour and a half of steady climbing brought the youths to the level summit of the hills, where, after giving their steeds a few minutes to breathe, they set off at a sharp gallop. Here they rode side by side, but the rough nature of the ground rendered it necessary to ride with care, so that conversation, although possible, was not, in the circumstances, very desirable. The silence, therefore, was maintained all the way across the fells. When they came to descend on the other side they were again obliged to advance in single file, so that the silence remained unbroken until they reached the base of the mountains.
Here Erling's spirit revived a little, and he began to realise the absurdity of the conduct of himself and his friend.
"Why, Glumm," he exclaimed at last, "a dumb spirit must have got hold of us! What possesses thee, man?"
"Truly it takes two to make a conversation," said Glumm sulkily.
"That is as thou sayest, friend, yet I am not aware that I refused to talk with thee," retorted Erling.
"Nor I with thee," said Glumm sharply, "and thy tongue was glib enough when ye talked with Ada in Horlingdal."
A light flashed upon Erling as his friend spoke.
"Why, Glumm," he said lightly, "a pretty girl will make most men's tongues wag whether they will or no."
Glumm remembered his own obstinate silence while walking with Hilda, and deeming this a studied insult he became furious, reined up and said:
"Come, Erling, if ye wish to settle this dispute at once we need fear no interruption, and here is a piece of level sward."
"Nay, man, be not so hot," said Erling, with a smile that still more exasperated his companion; "besides, is it fair to challenge me to fight with this light weapon while thou bearest a sword so long and deadly?"
"That shall be no bar," cried the other, unslinging his two-handed sword; "thou canst use it thyself, and I will content me with thine."
"And pray, how shall we give account of our mission," said Erling, "if you and I cut each other's heads off before fulfilling it?"
"That would then concern us little," said Glumm.
"Nay, thou art more selfish than I thought thee, friend. For my part, I would not that she should think me so regardless of her welfare as to leave undelivered a message that may be the means of preventing the ruin of Horlingdal. My regard for Ada seems to sit more heavily on me than on thee."
At this Glumm became still more furious. He leaped off his horse, drew his sword, and flinging it down with the hilt towards Erling, cried in a voice of suppressed passion:
"No longer will I submit to be trifled with by man or woman. Choose thy weapon, Erling. This matter shall be settled now and here, and the one who wins her shall prove him worthy of her by riding forth from this plain alone. If thou art bent on equal combat we can fall to with staves cut from yonder tree, or, for the matter of that, we can make shift to settle it with our knives. What! has woman's love unmanned thee?"
At this Erling leaped out of the saddle, and drew his sword.
"Take up thy weapon, Glumm, and guard thee. But before we begin, perhaps it would be well to ask for whose hand it is that we fight."
"Have we not been talking just now of Ada the Dark-eyed?" said Glumm sternly, as he took up his sword and threw himself into a posture of defence, with the energetic action of a man thoroughly in earnest.
"Then is our combat uncalled for," said Erling, lowering his point, "for I desire not the hand of Ada, though I would fight even to the death for her blue-eyed sister, could I hope thereby to win her love."
"Art thou in earnest?" demanded Glumm in surprise.
"I never was more so in my life," replied Erling; "would that Hilda regarded me with but half the favour that Ada shows to thee!"
"There thou judgest wrongly," said Glumm, from whose brow the frown of anger was passing away like a thundercloud before the summer sun. "I don't pretend to understand a girl's thoughts, but I have wit enough to see what is very plainly revealed. When I walked with Hilda to-day I noticed that her eye followed thee unceasingly, and although she talked to me glibly enough, her thoughts were wandering, so that she uttered absolute nonsense at times—insomuch that I would have laughed had I not been jealous of what I deemed the mutual love of Ada and thee. No, Erling, thy suit will prosper, depend on't. It is I who have reason to despond, for Ada loves me not."
Erling, who heard all this with a certain degree of satisfaction, smiled, shook his head, and said:
"Nay, then, Glumm, thou too art mistaken. The dark-eyed Ada laughs at everyone, and besides, I have good reason to know that her interest in thee is so great that she consulted me to-day about—about—a—"
The promise of secrecy that he had made caused Erling to stammer and stop.
"About what?" asked Glumm.
"I may not tell thee, friend. She bound me over to secrecy, and I must hold by my promise; but this I may say, that thou hast fully greater cause for hope than I have."
"Then it is my opinion," said Glumm, "that we have nothing to do but shake hands and proceed on our journey."
Erling laughed heartily, sheathed his sword, and grasped his friend's hand, after which they remounted and rode forward; but they did not now ride in silence. Their tongues were effectually loosened, and for some time they discussed their respective prospects with all the warmth and enthusiasm of youthful confidants.
"But Ada perplexes me," suddenly exclaimed Glumm, in the midst of a brief pause; "I know not how to treat her."
"If thou wilt take my advice, Glumm, I will give it thee."
"What is that?" asked Glumm.
"There is nothing like fighting a woman with her own weapons."
"A pretty speech," said Glumm, "to come from the lips of a man who never regards the weapons of his foes, and can scarce be prevailed on to carry anything but a beloved battle-axe."
"The case is entirely the reverse when one fights with woman," replied Erling. "In war I confess that I like everything to be straightforward and downright, because when things come to the worst a man can either hew his way by main force through thick and thin, or die. Truly, I would that it were possible to act thus in matters of love also, but this being impossible—seeing that women will not have it so, and insist on dallying—the next best thing to be done is to act on their own principles. Fight them with their own weapons. If a woman is outspoken and straightforward, a man should be the same—and rejoice, moreover, that he has found a gem so precious. But if she will play fast and loose, let a man—if he does not give her up at once—do the same. Give Ada a little taste of indifference, Glumm, and thou wilt soon bring her down. Laugh at her as well as with her. Show not quite so much attention to her as has been thy wont; and be more attentive to the other girls in the dale—"
"To Hilda, for instance," said Glumm slyly.
"Aye, even so, an it please thee," rejoined Erling; "but rest assured thou wilt receive no encouragement in that quarter; for Hilda the Sunbeam is the very soul of innocence, truth, and straightforwardness."
"Not less so is Ada," said Glumm, firing up at the implied contrast.
Erling made a sharp rejoinder, to which Glumm made a fierce reply; and it is probable that these hot-blooded youths, having quarrelled because of a misunderstanding in regard to their mistresses, would have come to blows about their comparative excellence, had they not come suddenly upon a sight which, for the time, banished all other thoughts from their minds.
During the discussion they had been descending the valley which terminated in the plain where the recent battle of the Springs had been fought. Here, as they galloped across the field, which was still strewn with the bodies of the slain, they came upon the blackened ruins of a hut, around which an old hag was moving, actively engaged, apparently, in raking among the ashes with a forked stick for anything that she could draw forth.
Near to her a woman, who had not yet reached middle age, was seated on the burnt earth, with her hands tightly clasped, and her bloodshot eyes gazing with a stony stare at a blackened heap which lay on her lap. As the young men rode up they saw that part of the head and face of a child lay in the midst of the charred heap, with a few other portions of the little one that had been only partially consumed in the fire.
The Northmen did not require to be told the cause of what they saw. The story was too plainly written in everything around them to admit of uncertainty, had they even been ignorant of the recent fight and its consequences. These were two of the few survivors of that terrible night, who had ventured to creep forth from the mountains and search among the ashes for the remains of those whose smiles and voices had once made the sunshine of their lives. The terrible silence of these voices and the sight of these hideous remains had driven the grandmother of the household raving mad, and she continued to rake among the still smouldering embers of the old house, utterly regardless of the two warriors, and only complaining, in a querulous tone now and then, that her daughter should sit there like a stone and leave her unaided to do the work of trying to save at least some of the household from the flames. But the daughter neither heard nor cared for her. She had found what was left of her idol—her youngest child—once a ruddy, fearless boy, with curly flaxen hair, who had already begun to carve model longships and wooden swords, and to talk with a joyous smile and flashing eye of war! but now—the fair hair gone, and nothing left save a blackened skull and a small portion of his face, scarcely enough—yet to a mother far more than enough—to recognise him by.
Erling and Glumm dismounted and approached the young woman, but received no glance of recognition. To a remark made by Erling no reply was given. He therefore went close to her, and, bending down, laid his large hand on her head, and gently smoothed her flaxen hair, while he spoke soothingly to her. Still the stricken woman took no notice of him until a large hot tear, which the youth could not restrain, dropped upon her forehead, and coursed down her cheek. She then looked suddenly up in Erling's face and uttered a low wail of agony.
"Would ye slay her too?" shrieked the old woman at that moment, coming forward with the pole with which she had been raking in the ashes, as if she were going to attack them.
Glumm turned aside the point of the pole, and gently caught the old woman by the arm.
"Oh! spare her," she cried, falling on her knees and clasping her withered hands; "spare her, she is the last left—the last. I tried to save the others—but, but, they are gone—all gone. Will ye not spare her?"
"They won't harm us, mother," said the younger woman huskily. "They are friends. I know they are friends. Come, sit by me, mother."
The old woman, who appeared to have been subdued by exhaustion, crept on her hands and knees to her side, and laying her head on her daughter's breast, moaned piteously.
"We cannot stay to aid thee," said Erling kindly; "but that matters not because those will soon be here who will do their best for thee. Yet if thou canst travel a few leagues, I will give thee a token which will ensure a good reception in my father's house. Knowest thou Haldorstede in Horlingdal?"
"I know it well," answered the woman.
"Here is a ring," said Erling, "which thou wilt take to Herfrida, the wife of Haldor, and say that her son Erling sent thee, and would have thee and thy mother well cared for."
He took from his finger, as he spoke, a gold ring, and placed it in the woman's hand, but she shook her head sadly, and said in an absent tone: "I dare not go. Swart might come back and would miss me."
"Art thou the wife of Swart of the Springs?"
"Yes; and he told me not to quit the house till he came back. But that seems so long, long ago, and so many things have happened since, that—"
She paused and shuddered.
"Swart is dead," said Glumm.
On hearing this the woman uttered a wild shriek, and fell backward to the earth.
"Now a plague on thy gruff tongue," said Erling angrily, as he raised the woman's head on his knee. "Did you not see that the weight was already more than she could bear? Get thee to the spring for water, man, as quickly as may be."
Glumm, whose heart had already smitten him for his inconsiderate haste, made no reply, but ran to a neighbouring spring, and quickly returned with his helmet full of water. A little of this soon restored the poor woman, and also her mother.
"Now haste thee to Horlingdal," said Erling, giving the woman a share of the small supply of food with which he had supplied himself for the journey. "There may be company more numerous than pleasant at the Springs to-morrow, and a hearty welcome awaits thee at Haldorstede."
Saying this he remounted and rode away.
"I was told last night by Hilda," said Erling, "that, when we were out after the Danes, and just before the attack was made by the men of their cutter on Ulfstede, the hermit had been talking to the women in a wonderful way about war and the God whom he worships. He thinks that war is an evil thing; that to fight in self-defence—that is, in defence of home and country—is right, but that to go on viking cruise is wrong, and displeasing to God."
"The hermit is a fool," said Glumm bluntly.
"Nay, he is no fool," said Erling. "When I think of these poor women, I am led to wish that continued peace were possible."
"But it is, happily, not possible; therefore it is our business to look upon the bright side of war," said Glumm.
"That may be thy business, Glumm, but it is my business to look upon both sides of everything. What would it avail thee to pitch and paint and gild the outside of thy longship, if no attention were given to the timbering and planking of the inside?"
"That is a different thing," said Glumm.
"Yes, truly; yet not different in this, that it has two sides, both of which require to be looked at, if the ship is to work well. I would that I knew what the men of other lands think on this point, for the hermit says that there are nations in the south where men practise chiefly defensive warfare, and often spend years at a time without drawing the sword."
"Right glad am I," said Glumm, with a grim smile, "that my lot has not fallen among these."
"Do you know," continued Erling, "that I have more than once thought of going off on a cruise far and wide over the world to hear and see what men say and do? But something, I know not what, prevents me."
"Perchance Hilda could tell thee!" said Glumm.
Erling laughed, and said there was some truth in that; but checked himself suddenly, for at that moment a man in the garb of a thrall appeared.
"Ho! fellow," cried Glumm, "hast heard of King Harald Haarfager of late?"
"The King is in guest-quarters in Updal," answered the thrall, "in the house of Jarl Rongvold, my master."
"We must speed on," said Erling to Glumm, "if we would speak with the King before supper-time."
"If you would speak with the King at all," said the thrall, "the less you say to him the better, for he is in no mood to be troubled just now. He sets out for the Springs to-morrow morning."
Without making a reply the youths clapped spurs to their horses and galloped away.
DESCRIBES OUR HERO'S INTERVIEW WITH JARL RONGVOLD AND KING HARALD HAARFAGER.
Late in the evening, Erling and Glumm arrived in the neighbourhood of the house of Jarl Rongvold, where King Harald Haarfager was staying in guest-quarters with a numerous retinue.
In the days of which we write there were no royal palaces in Norway. The kings spent most of their time—when not engaged in war or out on viking cruises—in travelling about the country, with a band of "herd-men", or men-at-arms, in "guest-quarters". Wherever they went the inhabitants were bound by law to afford them house-room and good cheer at their own cost, and the kings usually made this tax upon their people as light as possible by staying only a few days at each place.
Rongvold, who entertained the King at this time, was one of those Jarls or Earls—rulers over districts under himself—of whom he had recently created many throughout the land, to supersede those small independent kings who refused to become subject to him. He was a stout warrior, an able courtier, and a very dear friend of the King.
Just before his arrival at Jarl Rongvold's house, King Harald had completed a considerable part of the programme which he had laid down in the great work of subduing the whole of Norway to himself. And wild bloody work it had been.
Hearing that several of the small kings had called a meeting in the uplands to discuss his doings, Harald went, with all the men he could gather, through the forests to the uplands, came to the place of meeting about midnight without being observed by the watchmen, set the house on fire, and burnt or slew four kings with all their followers. After that he subdued Hedemark, Ringerige, Gudbrandsdal, Hadeland, Raumarige, and the whole northern part of Vingulmark, and got possession of all the land as far south as the Glommen. It was at this time that he was taunted by the girl Gyda, and took the oath not to clip his hair until he had subdued the whole land—as formerly related. After his somewhat peculiar determination, he gathered together a great force, and went northwards up the Gudbrandsdal and over the Doverfielde. When he came to the inhabited land he ordered all the men to be killed, and everything wide around to be delivered to the flames. The people fled before him in all directions on hearing of his approach—some down the country to Orkadal, some to Gaulerdal, and some to the forests; but many begged for peace, and obtained it on condition of joining him and becoming his men. He met no decided opposition till he came to Orkadal, where a king named Gryting gave him battle. Harald won the victory. King Gryting was taken prisoner, and most of his men were killed. He took service himself, however, under the King, and thereafter all the people of Orkadal district swore fidelity to him.
Many other battles King Harald fought, and many other kings did he subdue—all of which, however, we will pass over at present, merely observing that wherever he conquered he laid down the law that all the udal property should belong to him, and that the bonders—the hitherto free landholders—both small and great, should pay him land dues for their possessions. It is due, however, to Harald Fairhair, to say that he never seems to have aimed at despotic power; for it is recorded of him that over every district he set an earl, or jarl, to judge according to the law of the land and to justice, and also to collect the land dues and the fines; and for this each earl received a third part of the dues and services and fines for the support of his table and other expenses. Every earl had under him four or more bersers, on each of whom was bestowed an estate of twenty merks yearly, for which he was bound to support twenty men-at-arms at his own expense—each earl being obliged to support sixty retainers. The King increased the land dues and burdens so much that his earls had greater power and income than the kings had before, and when this became known at Drontheim many of the great men of that district joined the King.
Wherever Harald went, submission or extinction were the alternatives; and as he carried things with a high hand, using fire and sword freely, it is not a matter of wonder that his conquests were rapid and complete. It has been said of Harald Fairhair by his contemporaries, handed down by the scalds, and recorded in the Icelandic Sagas, that he was of remarkably handsome appearance, great and strong, and very generous and affable to his men.
But to return.
It was late in the evening, as we have said, when Erling and Glumm reached the vicinity of Jarl Rongvold's dwelling. Before coming in sight of it they were met by two of the mounted guards that were posted regularly as sentries round the King's quarters. These challenged them at once, and, on being informed that they desired to have speech with the King on matters of urgency, conveyed them past the inner guard to the house.
The state of readiness for instant action in which the men were kept did not escape the observant eyes of the visitors. Besides an outlying mounted patrol, which they had managed to pass unobserved, and the sentries who conducted them, they found a strong guard round the range of farm buildings where the King and his men lay. These men were all well armed, and those of them who were not on immediate duty lay at their stations sound asleep, each man with his helmet on his head, his sword under it, his right hand grasping the hilt, and his shield serving the purpose of a blanket to cover him.
Although the young men observed all this they did not suffer their looks to betray idle curiosity, but rode on with stern countenances, looking, apparently, straight before them, until they reined up at the front door of the house.
In a few minutes a stout handsome man with white hair came out and saluted Erling in a friendly way. This was Jarl Rongvold, who was distantly related to him.
"I would I could say with truth that I am glad to see thee, cousin," he said, "but I fear me that thine errand to the King is not likely to end in pleasant intercourse, if all be true that is reported of the folk in Horlingdal."
"Thanks, kinsman, for the wish, if not for the welcome," replied the youth, somewhat stiffly, as he dismounted; "but it matters little to me whether our intercourse be pleasant or painful, so long as it is profitable. The men of Horlingdal send a message to Harald Haarfager; can my companion and I have speech with him?"
"I can manage that for thee, yet would I counsel delay, for the King is not in a sweet mood to-night, and it may go ill with thee."
"I care not whether the King's mood be sweet or sour," replied Erling sternly. "Whatever he may become in the future, Harald is not yet the all-powerful king he would wish to be. The men of Horlingdal have held a Thing, and Glumm and I have been deputed to see the King, convey to him their sentiments, and ask his intentions."
A grim smile played on the jarl's fine features for a moment, as he observed the blood mantling to the youth's forehead.
"No good will come to thee or thine, kinsman, by meeting the King with a proud look. Be advised, Erling," he continued in a more confidential tone; "it is easier to swim with the stream than against it—and wiser too, when it is impossible to turn it. Thou hast heard, no doubt, of Harald's doings in the north."
"I have heard," said Erling bitterly.
"Well, be he right or be he wrong, it were easier to make the Glommen run up the fells than to alter the King's determination; and it seems to me that it behoves every man who loves his country, and would spare further bloodshed, to submit to what is inevitable."
"Every lover of his country deems bloodshed better than slavery," said Erling, "because the death of a few is not so great an evil as the slavery of all."
"Aye, when there is hope that good may come of dying," rejoined the jarl, "but now there is no hope."
"That is yet to be proved," said the youth; and Glumm uttered one of those emphatic grunts with which men of few words are wont to signify their hearty assent to a proposition.
"Tut, kinsman," continued Rongvold, with a look of perplexity, "I don't like the idea of seeing so goodly a youth end his days before his right time. Let me assure thee that, if thou wilt join us and win over thy friends in Horlingdal, a splendid career awaits thee, for the King loves stout men, and will treat thee well; he is a good master."
"It grieves me that one whose blood flows in my veins should call any man master!" said Erling.
"Now a plague on thee, for a stupid hot-blood," cried the jarl; "if thou art so displeased with the word, I can tell thee that it need never be used, for, if ye will take service with the King, he will give thee the charge and the revenues of a goodly district, where thou shalt be master and a jarl too."
"I am a king!" said Erling, drawing himself proudly up. "Thinkest thou I would exchange an old title for a new one, which the giver has no right to create?"
Glumm uttered another powerfully emphatic grunt at this point.
"Besides," continued Erling, "I have no desire to become a scatt-gatherer."
The jarl flushed a little at this thrust, but mastering his indignation said, with a smile—
"Nay, then, if ye prefer a warrior's work there is plenty of that at the disposal of the King."
"I have no particular love for war," said Erling. Jarl Rongvold looked at his kinsman in undisguised amazement.
"Truly thou art well fitted for it, if not fond of it," he said curtly; "but as thou art bent on following thine own nose, thou art like to have more than enough of that which thou lovest not.—Come, I will bring thee to the King."
The jarl led the two young men into his dwelling, where nearly a hundred men-at-arms were carousing. The hall was a long, narrow, and high apartment, with a table running down each side, and one at either end. In the centre of each table was a raised seat, on which sat the chief guests, but, at the moment they entered, the highest of these seats was vacant, for the King had left the table. The fireplace of the hall was in the centre, and the smoke from it curled up among the rafters, which it blackened before escaping through a hole in the roof.
As all the revellers were armed, and many of them were moving about the hall, no notice was taken of the entrance of the strangers, except that one or two near whom they passed remarked that Jarl Rongvold owned some stout men-at-arms.
The King had retired to one of the sleeping-chambers off the great halt in which he sat at a small window, gazing dreamily upon the magnificent view of dale, fell, fiord, and sea, that lay stretched out before the house. The slanting rays of the sun shone through the window, and through the heavy masses of the King's golden hair, which fell in enormous volumes, like a lion's mane, on a pair of shoulders which were noted, even in that age of powerful men, for enormous breadth and strength. Like his men, King Harald was armed from head to foot, with the exception of his helmet, which lay, with his shield, on the low wolf-skin couch on which he had passed the previous night.
He did not move when the jarl and the young men entered, but on the former whispering in his ear he let his clenched fist fall on the window sill, and, turning, with a frown on his bold, handsome face, looked long and steadily at Erling. And well might he gaze, for he looked upon one who bore a singularly strong resemblance to himself. There was the same height and width and massive strength, the same bold, fearless look in the clear blue eyes, and the same firm lips; but Erling's hair fell in softer curls on his shoulders, and his brow was more intellectual. Being a younger man, his beard was shorter.
Advancing a step, after Jarl Rongvold had left the room, Erling stated the sentiments of the men of Horlingdal in simple, blunt language, and ended by telling the King that they had no wish to refuse due and lawful allegiance to him, but that they objected to having the old customs of the land illegally altered.
During the progress of his statement both Erling and Glumm observed that the King's face flushed more than once, and that his great blue eyes blazed with astonishment and suppressed wrath. After he had concluded, the King still gazed at him in ominous silence. Then he said, sternly:
"For what purpose camest thou hither if the men of Horlingdal hold such opinions?"
"We came to tell you, King Harald, what the men of Horlingdal think, and to ask what you intend to do."
There was something so cool in this speech that a sort of grin curled the King's moustache, and mingled with the wrath that was gathering on his countenance.
"I'll tell thee what I will do," he said, drawing his breath sharply, and hissing the words; "I will march into the dale, and burn and s—" He stopped abruptly, and then in a soft tone added, "But what will they do if I refuse to listen to them?"
"I know not what the men of Horlingdal will do," replied Erling; "but I will counsel them to defend their rights."
At this the King leaped up, and drew his sword half out of its scabbard, but again checked himself suddenly; for, as the Saga tells us, "it was his invariable rule, whenever anything raised his anger, to collect himself and let his passion run off, and then take the matter into consideration coolly."
"Go," he said, sitting down again at the window, "I will speak with thee on this subject to-morrow."
Erling, who during the little burst of passion had kept his blue eyes unflinchingly fixed on those of the King, bowed and retired, followed by Glumm, whose admiration of his friend's diplomatic powers would have been unbounded, had he only wound up with a challenge to the King, then and there, to single combat!
DESCRIBES A TERRIFIC AND UNEQUAL COMBAT.
"Now, kinsman, let me endeavour to convince thee of thy folly," said Jarl Rongvold to Erling, on the morning that followed the evening in which the interview with the King had taken place, as they walked in front of the house together.
"It needs no great power of speech to convince me of that," said Erling. "The fact that I am still here, after what the King let out last night, convinces me, without your aid, that I am a fool."
"And pray what said he that has had such powerful influence on thine obtuse mind?"
"Truly he said little, but he expressed much. He gave way to an unreasonable burst of passion when I did but claim justice and assert our rights; and the man must be slow-witted indeed who could believe that subdued passion is changed opinion. However, I will wait for another interview until the sun is in the zenith—after that I leave, whatever be the consequences. So it were well, kinsman, that you should see and advise with your master."
The jarl bit his lip, and was on the point of turning away without replying, when a remarkably stout and tall young man walked up and accosted them.
"This is my son Rolf," said the jarl, turning round hastily.—"Our kinsman, Erling the Bold. I go to attend the King. Make the most of each other, for ye are not likely to be long in company."
"Are you that Rolf who is styled Ganger?" enquired Erling with some interest.
"Aye," replied the other gruffly. "At least I am Rolf. Men choose to call me Ganger because I prefer to gang on my legs rather than gang on the legs of a horse. They say it is because no horse can carry me; but thou seest that that is a lie, for I am not much heavier than thyself."
"I should like to know thee better, kinsman," said Erling.
Rolf Ganger did not respond so heartily to this as Erling wished, and he felt much disappointed; for, being a man who did not often express his feelings, he felt all the more keenly anything like a rebuff.
"What is your business with the King?" asked Rolf, after a short pause.
"To defy him," said our hero, under the influence of a burst of mingled feelings.
Rolf Ganger looked at Erling in surprise.
"Thou dost not like the King, then?"
"I hate him!"
"So do I," said Rolf.
This interchange of sentiment seemed to break down the barriers of diffidence which had hitherto existed between the two, for from that moment their talk was earnest and confidential. Erling tried to get Rolf to desert the King's cause and join his opponents, but the latter shook his head, and said that they had no chance of success; and that it was of no use joining a hopeless cause, even although he had strong sympathy with it. While they were conversing, Jarl Rongvold came out and summoned Erling to the presence of the King.
This was the first and last interview that our hero had with that Rolf Ganger, whose name—although not much celebrated at that time—was destined to appear in the pages of history as that of the conqueror of Normandy, and the progenitor of line of English kings.
"I have sent for thee, Erling," said the King, in a voice so soft, yet so constrained, that Erling could not avoid seeing that it was forced, "to tell thee thou art at liberty to return to thy dalesmen with this message—King Harald respects the opinions of the men of Horlingdal, and he will hold a Thing at the Springs for the purpose of hearing their views more fully, stating his own, and consulting with them about the whole matter.—Art satisfied with that?" he asked, almost sternly.
"I will convey your message," said Erling.
"And the sooner the better," said the King. "By the way, there are two roads leading to the Springs, I am told; is it so?" he added.
"There are," said Erling; "one goes by the uplands over the fells, the other through the forest."
"Which would you recommend me to follow when I fare to the Springs?"
"The forest road is the best."
"It is that which thou wilt follow, I suppose?"
"It is," replied Erling.
"Well, get thee to horse, and make the most of thy time; my berserk here will guide thee past the guards."
As he spoke, a man who had stood behind the King motionless as a statue advanced towards the door. He was one of a peculiar class of men who formed part of the bodyguard of the King. On his head there was a plain steel helmet, but he wore no "serk", or shirt of mail (hence the name of berserk, or bare of serk), and he was, like the rest of his comrades, noted for being capable of working himself up into such a fury of madness while in action, that few people of ordinary powers could stand before his terrible onset. He was called Hake, the berserk of Hadeland, and was comparatively short in stature, but looked shorter than he really was, in consequence of the unnatural breadth and bulk of his chest and shoulders. Hake led Erling out to the door of the house, where they found Glumm waiting with two horses ready for the road.
"Thou art sharp this morning, Glumm."
"Better to be too sharp than too blunt," replied his friend. "It seemed to me that whatever should be the result of the talk with the King to-day, it were well to be ready for the road in good time. What is yonder big-shouldered fellow doing?"
"Hush, Glumm," said Erling, with a smile, "thou must be respectful if thou wouldst keep thy head on thy shoulders. That is Hake of Hadeland, King Harald's famous berserk. He is to conduct us past the guards. I only hope he may not have been commissioned to cut off our heads on the way. But I think that perchance you and I might manage him together, if our courage did not fail us!"
Glumm replied with that expression of contempt which is usually styled turning up one's nose, and Erling laughed as he mounted his horse and rode off at the heels of the berserk. He had good reason to look grave, however, as he found out a few moments later. Just as they were about to enter the forest, a voice was heard shouting behind, and Jarl Rongvold was seen running after them.
"Ho! stay, kinsman, go not away without bidding us farewell. A safe and speedy journey, lad, and give my good wishes to the old folk at Haldorstede. Say that I trust things may yet be happily arranged between the men of Horlingdal and the King."
As he spoke the jarl managed to move so that Erling's horse came between him and the berserk; then he said quickly, in a low but earnest whisper:
"The King means to play thee false, Erling. I cannot explain, but do thou be sure to take the road by the fells, and let not the berserk know. Thy life depends on it. I am ordered to send this berserk with a troop of nineteen men to waylay thee. They are to go by the forest road.—There, thou canst not doubt my friendship for thee, for now my life is in thy hands! Haste, thou hast no chance against such odds. Farewell, Glumm," he added aloud; "give my respects to Ulf, when next ye see him."
Jarl Rongvold waved his hand as he turned round and left his friends to pursue their way.
They soon reached the point where they had met the two guards on the previous day. After riding a little farther, so as to make sure of being beyond the outmost patrol, the berserk reined up.
"Here I leave you to guard yourselves," he said.
"Truly we are indebted to thee for thy guidance thus far," said Erling.
"If you should still chance to meet with any of the guards, they will let you pass, no doubt."
"No doubt," replied Erling, with a laugh, "and, should they object, we have that which will persuade them."
He touched the hilt of his sword, and nodded good-humouredly to the berserk, who did not appear to relish the jest at all.
"Your road lies through the forest, I believe?" said Hake, pausing and looking back as he was about to ride away.
"That depends on circumstances," said Erling. "If the sun troubles me, I may go by the forest,—if not, I may go by the fells. But I never can tell beforehand which way my fancy may lead, and I always follow it."
So saying he put spurs to his horse and galloped away.
The berserk did the same, but it was evident that he was ill at ease, for he grumbled very much, and complained a good deal of his ill luck. He did not, however, slacken his pace on that account, but rather increased it, until he reached Rongvoldstede, where he hastily summoned nineteen armed men, mounted a fresh horse, and, ordering them to follow, dashed back into the forest at full speed.
For some time he rode in silence by the side of a stout man who was his subordinate officer.
"Krake," he said at length, "I cannot make up my mind which road this Erling and his comrade are likely to have taken, so, as we must not miss our men, the King's commands being very positive, I intend to send thee by the mountain road with nine of the men, and go myself by the forest with the other nine. We will ride each at full speed, and will be sure to overtake them before they reach the split rock on the fells, or the double-stemmed pine in the forest. If thou shalt fall in with them, keep them in play till I come up, for I will hasten to join thee without delay after reaching the double pine. If I meet them I will give the attack at once, and thou wilt hasten to join me after passing the split rock. Now, away, for here our roads part."
In accordance with this plan the troop was divided, and each portion rode off at full speed.
Meanwhile Erling and Glumm pursued their way, chatting as they rode along, and pausing occasionally to breathe their horses.
"What ails thee, Erling?" said Glumm abruptly. "One would fancy that the fair Hilda was behind thee, so often hast thou looked back since the berserk left us."
"It is because the fair Hilda is before me that I look so often over my shoulder, for I suspect that there are those behind us who will one day cause her grief," replied Erling sadly; then, assuming a gay air, he added—"Come, friend Glumm, I wish to know thy mind in regard to a matter of some importance. How wouldst thou like to engage, single handed, with ten men?"
Glumm smiled grimly, as he was wont to do when amused by anything— which, to say truth, was not often.
"Truly," said he, "my answer to that must depend on thine answer to this—Am I supposed to have my back against a cliff, or to be surrounded by the ten?"
"With thy back guarded, of course."
"In that case I should not refuse the fight, but I would prefer to be more equally matched," said Glumm, "Two to one, now, is a common chance of war, as thou knowest full well. I myself have had four against me at one time—and when one is in good spirits this is not a serious difficulty, unless there chance to be a berserk amongst them; even in that case, by the use of a little activity of limb, one can separate them, and so kill them in detail. But ten are almost too many for one man, however bold, big, or skilful he may be."
"Then what—wouldst thou say to twenty against two?" asked Erling, giving a peculiar glance at his friend.
"That were better than ten to one, because two stout fellows back to back are not easily overcome, if the fight be fair with sword and axe, and arrows or spears be not allowed. Thou and I, Erling, might make a good stand together against twenty, for we can use our weapons, and are not small men. Nevertheless, I think that it would be our last fight, though I make no doubt we should thin their number somewhat. But why ask such questions?"
"Because I have taken a fancy to know to what extent I might count on thee in case of surprise."
"To what extent!" said Glumm, flushing, and looking his friend full in the face. "Hast known me so long to such small purpose, that ye should doubt my willingness to stand by thee to the death, if need be, against any odds?"
"Nay, be not so hasty, Glumm. I doubt not thy courage nor thy regard for me, but I had a fancy to know what amount of odds thou wouldst deem serious, for I may tell thee that our powers are likely to be put to the proof to-day. My kinsman, Jarl Rongvold, told me at parting that twenty men—and among them Hake the berserk—are to be sent after us, and are doubtless even now upon our track."
"Then why this easy pace?" said Glumm, in a tone of great surprise. "Surely there is no reason why we should abide the issue of such a combat when nothing is to be gained by it and much to be lost; for if we are killed, who will prepare the men of Horlingdal for the King's approach, and tell of his intentions?"
"That is wisely spoken, Glumm; nevertheless I feel disposed to meet King Harald's men."
"This spirit accords ill with the assertion that thou art not fond of war," returned Glumm, with a smile.
"I am not so sure of that," rejoined Erling, with a look of perplexity. "It is more the consequences of war—its evil effects on communities, on women and children—that I dislike, than the mere matter of fighting, which, although I cannot say I long for it, as some of our friends do, I can truly assert I take some pleasure in, when engaged in it. Besides, in this case I do not wish to meet these fellows for a mere piece of brag, but I think it might teach King Harald that he has to do with men who have heart and skill to use their weapons, and show him what he may expect if he tries to subdue this district. However, be that as it may, the question is, shall we hang back and accept this challenge—for such I regard it—or shall we push on?"
"Yonder is an answer to that question, which settles it for us," said Glumm quietly, pointing to a ridge on the right of the bridle path, which rose high above the tree tops. A troop of horsemen were seen to cross it and gallop down the slope, where they quickly disappeared in the forest.
"How many didst thou count?" asked Erling, with a look of surprise.
"Only ten," answered Glumm.
"Come," cried Erling cheerfully, as he drew his sword, "the odds are not so great as we had expected. I suppose that King Harald must have thought us poor-looking warriors, or perchance he has sent ten berserkers against us. Anyhow I am content. Only one thing do I regret, and that is, that, among the other foolish acts I have been guilty of at this time, I left my good battle-axe behind me. This is a level piece of sward. Shall we await them here?"
"Aye," was Glumm's laconic answer, as he felt the edge of his long two-handed sword, settled himself more firmly on his seat, and carefully looked to the fastenings of his armour.
Erling did the same, and both drew up their steeds with their backs towards an impenetrable thicket. In front lay a level stretch of ground, encumbered only here and there with one or two small bushes, beyond which they had a view far into the dark forest, where the armour of the approaching horsemen could be seen glancing among the tree stems.
"It is likely," muttered Erling, "that they will try to speak us fair at first. Most assassins do, to throw men off their guard. I counsel that our words be few and our action quick."
Glumm gave vent to a deep, short laugh, which sounded, however, marvellously like a growl, and again said—
Next moment the ten horsemen galloped towards them, and reined up at the distance of a few yards, while two of them advanced. One of these, who was no other than Krake the berserk, said in a loud, commanding voice—
"Yield thee, Erling, in the name of the King!"
"That for the King!" cried Erling, splitting the head of Krake's horse with the edge of his sword, and receiving Krake himself on the point of it as he fell forward, so that it went in at his breast and came out at his back. At the same time Glumm's horse sprang forward, his long sword whistled sharply as it flashed through the air, and, next moment, the head of the second man was rolling on the ground.
So sudden was the onset that the others had barely time to guard themselves when Glumm's heavy sword cleft the top of the shield and the helmet of one, tumbling him out of the saddle, while the point of Erling's lighter weapon pierced the throat of another. The remaining six turned aside, right and left, so as to divide their opponents, and then attacked them with great fury—for they were all brave and picked men. At first Erling and Glumm had enough to do to defend themselves, without attempting to attack, but at a critical moment the horse of one of Glumm's opponents stumbled, and his rider being exposed was instantly cut down. Glumm now uttered a shout, for he felt sure of victory, having only two to deal with. Erling's sword proved to be too short for such a combat, for his enemies were armed with long and heavy weapons, and one of them had a spear. He eluded their assaults, however, with amazing activity, and wounded one of them so badly that he was obliged to retire from the fray. Seeing this our hero made a sudden rush at one of the men who fought with a battle-axe, seized the axe by the handle, and with one sweep of his sword lopped off the man's arm.
Then did Erling also feel that victory was secure, for he now wielded an axe that was almost as good and heavy as his own, and only one man stood before him. Under the impulse of this feeling he uttered a shout which rang through the forest like the roar of a lion.
Now, well would it have been for both Erling and Glumm if they had restrained themselves on that occasion, for the shouts they uttered served to guide two bands of enemies who were in search of them.
It will be remembered that Hake the berserk had gone after our heroes by the forest road, but, not finding them so soon as he had anticipated, and feeling a sort of irresistible belief that they had after all gone by the fells, he altered his own plans in so far that he turned towards the road leading by the mountains, before he reached the pine with the double stem. Thus he just missed those whom he sought, and, after some time, came to the conclusion that he was a fool, and had made a great mistake in not holding to his original plan. By way of improving matters he divided his little band into two, and sending five of his men in one direction, rode off with the remaining four in another. Krake, on the contrary, had fulfilled his orders to the letter; had gone to the split rock, and then hastened to the double-stemmed pine, not far from which, as we have seen, he found the men of whom he was in search, and also met his death.
One of the bands of five men chanced to be within earshot when Erling shouted, and they immediately bore down in the direction, and cheered as they came in sight of the combatants. The three men who yet stood up to our friends wheeled about at once and galloped to meet them, only too glad to be reinforced at such a critical moment.
There was a little stream which trickled over the edge of a rock close to the spot where the combat had taken place. Erling and Glumm leaped off their horses as if by one impulse, and, running to this, drank deeply and hastily. As they ran back and vaulted into their saddles, they heard a faint cheer in the far distance.
"Ha!" exclaimed Erling, "Harald doubtless did send twenty men after all, for here come the rest of them. It is good fortune that a berserk is seldom a good leader—he should not have divided his force. These eight must go down, friend Glumm, before the others come up, else are our days numbered."
The expression of Glumm's blood-stained visage spoke volumes, but his tongue uttered never a word. Indeed, there was no time for further speech, for the eight men, who had conversed hurriedly together for a few seconds, were now approaching. The two friends did not await the attack, but, setting spurs to their horses, dashed straight at them. Two were overturned in the shock, and their horses rolled on them, so that they never rose again. On the right Erling hewed down one man, and on the left his friend cut down another. They reined up, turned round, and charged again, but the four who were left were too wise to withstand the shock; they swerved aside. In doing so the foot of one of their horses caught in a bramble. He stumbled, and the rider was thrown violently against a tree and stunned, so that he could not remount. This was fortunate, for Erling and Glumm were becoming exhausted, and the three men who still opposed them were comparatively fresh. One of these suddenly charged Glumm, and killed his horse. Glumm leaped up, and, drawing his knife, stabbed the horse of the other to the heart. As it fell he caught his rider by the right wrist, and with a sudden wrench dislocated his arm. Erling meanwhile disabled one of the others, and gave the third such a severe wound that he thought it best to seek safety in flight.
Erling now turned to Glumm, and asked if he thought it would be best to ride away from the men who were still to come up, or to remain and fight them also.
"If there be five more," said Glumm, leaning against a tree, and removing his helmet in order to wipe his brow, "then is our last battle fought, for, although I have that in me which could manage to slay one, I have not strength for two, much less three. Besides, my good steed is dead, and we have no time to catch one of the others."
"Now will I become a berserk," cried Erling, casting his gilt helmet on the ground and undoing the fastenings of his coat of mail. "Armour is good when a man is strong, but when he is worn out it is only an encumbrance. I counsel thee to follow my example."
"It is not a bad one," said Glumm, also throwing down his helmet and stripping off his armour. "Ha! there are more of them than we counted on—six."
As he spoke six horsemen were seen approaching through the distant glades of the forest.
The two friends ran to the fountain before mentioned, slaked their thirst, and hastily bathed their heads and faces; then, seizing their swords and shields, and leaving the rest of their armour on the sward, they ran to a rugged part of the ground, where horses could not act. Mounting to the highest point of a rocky mound, they awaited the approach of their foes.
Quickly they came forward, their faces blazing with wrath as they rode over the field of battle, and saw their slaughtered comrades. Hake the berserk rode in front, and, advancing as near as possible to the place where his enemies stood, said tauntingly:
"What, are ye so fearful of only six men, after having slain so many?"
"Small meat would we make of thee and thy men, so that the crows might pick it easily, if we were only half as fresh as ye are," said Erling; "but we chose to rest here awhile, so if ye would fight ye must come hither to us on foot."
"Nay, but methinks it would be well for both parties," returned the berserk, "that they should fight on level ground."
Erling and Glumm had thrown themselves on the rocks to get as much rest as possible before the inevitable combat that was still before them. They consulted for a few seconds, and then the former replied:
"We will gladly come down, if ye will meet us on foot."
"Agreed," cried the berserk, leaping off his horse, and leading it to a neighbouring tree, to which he fastened it. The others followed his example. Then our two heroes arose and stretched themselves.
"It has been a good fight," said Erling. "Men will talk of it in days to come, after we are far away in the world of spirits."
There was deep pathos in the tone of the young warrior as he spoke these words, and cast his eyes upwards to the blue vault as if he sought to penetrate that spirit world, on the threshold of which he believed himself to stand.
"If we had but one hour's rest, or one other man on our side; but—" He stopped suddenly, for the six men now stood in the middle of the little plain where Erling and Glumm had fought so long and so valiantly that day, and awaited their coming.
Hastily descending the mound, the two friends strode boldly towards their opponents, scorning to let them see by look or gesture that they were either fatigued or depressed. As they drew near, Erling singled out Hake, and Glumm went towards a tall, powerful man, who stood ready with a huge sword resting on his shoulder, as if eager to begin the combat. Glumm had arranged in his own mind that that man and he should die together. Beside him stood a warrior with a battle-axe, and a steel helmet on his head. Before Glumm could reach his intended victim the tall man's sword flashed in the air like a gleam of light, and the head with the steel helmet went spinning on the ground!
"That's the way that Kettle Flatnose pays off old scores," cried the Irish thrall, turning suddenly upon his late friends, and assailing one of them with such fury that he cut him down in a few seconds, and then ran to draw off one of the two who had attacked Erling. Glumm's amazement at this was, as may well be believed, excessive; but it was nothing to the intensity of his joy when he found suddenly that the fight was now equalised, and that there stood only one man to oppose him. His heart leaped up. New life gave spring to his muscles; and to these new feelings he gave vent in one loud shout, as he sprang upon his adversary and cleft him to the chin with one sweep of his sword!
Meanwhile Kettle Flatnose had killed his man; and he was about to come up behind Hake and sweep off his head, when he was seized by Glumm and dragged violently back.
"Would ye rob Erling of the honour of slaying this noted berserk?" he said sternly.
"Truly," replied Kettle, somewhat abashed, "I did not know that he was noted; and as for the honour of it, I do think that Erling seems to have got honour enough to-day (if all this be his work) to content him for some time to come; but as ye will," he added, putting the point of his sword on the ground, and resting his arms on the hilt.
Glumm also leaned on his sword; and standing thus, these two watched the fight.
Now, it may perhaps seem to some readers that as the other men had been disposed of so summarily, it was strange that Erling the Bold should be so long in dispatching this one; but for our hero's credit, we must point out several facts which may have perhaps been overlooked. In the first place, Kettle Flatnose was a thoroughly fresh man when he began the fight, and although he killed two men, it must be remembered that one of these was slain while off his guard. Then, Glumm did indeed slay his man promptly, but he was one of King Harald's ordinary men-at-arms; whereas Erling was opposed by one of the most celebrated of the King's warriors—Hake, the berserk of Hadeland—a man whose name and prowess were known far and wide, not only in Norway, but in Denmark, and all along the southern shores of the Baltic. It would have been strange indeed had such a man fallen easily before any human arm, much more strange had he succumbed at once to one that had been already much exhausted with fighting.
True to the brotherhood to which he belonged, the berserk attacked Erling with incredible fury. He roared more like a mad bull than a man as he made the onset; his eyes glared, his mouth foamed, and he bit his shield as he was driven back. Being fresh, he danced round Erling perpetually, springing in to cut and thrust, and leaping back to avoid the terrific blows which the latter fetched at him with his weighty axe. Once he made a cut at Erling's head, which the latter did not attempt to parry, intending to trust to his helmet to defend him, and forgetting for the moment that he had cast that useful piece of armour on the plain. Luckily the blow was not truly aimed. It shore a lock from Erling's head as he swung his axe against his opponent's shield, and battered him down on his knees; but the berserk leaped up with a yell, and again rushed at him. Hake happened just then to cast his eyes on the two men who were quietly looking on, and he so managed the fight for a few moments afterwards that he got near to them. Then turning towards them with a howl of demoniacal fury, he made a desperate cut at the unsuspecting Glumm, who was taken so thoroughly by surprise that he made no movement whatever to defend himself. Fortunately. Kettle Flatnose was on the alert, but he had only time to thrust his sword awkwardly between Glumm's head and the descending weapon. The act prevented a fatal gash, but it could not altogether arrest the force of the blow, which fell on the flat of his sword, and beat it down on Glumm's skull so violently that he was instantly stretched upon the green sward. Erling's axe fell on the helm of the berserk almost at the same time. Even in that moment of victory a feeling of respect for the courage and boldness of this man touched the heart of Erling, who, with the swiftness of thought, put in force his favourite practice—he turned the edge of the axe, and the broad side of it fell on the steel headpiece with tremendous force, causing the berserk of Hadeland to stretch himself on the green sward beside Glumm the Gruff; thus ending the famous battle of the "Berserkers and the Bold", in regard to which Thikskul the scald writes:—
"The Bold one and his doughty friend, Glumm the Gruff of Horlingsend, Faced, fought, and felled, and bravely slew, Full twenty men—a berserk crew Sent by King Harald them to slay— But much he rued it—lack-a-day! The heroes cut and hacked them sore, Hit, split, and slashed them back and fore— And left them lying in their gore."
SHOWS THAT ELOQUENCE DOES NOT ALWAYS FLOW WHEN IT IS EXPECTED, AND THAT GLUMM BEGINS A NEW COURSE OF ACTION.
On examination it was found that Glumm's hurt was not severe. He had merely been stunned by the force of the blow, and there was a trifling wound in the scalp from which a little blood flowed. While Kettle held a helmet full of water, and Erling bathed the wound, the latter said:
"How comes it, Kettle, that ye discovered our straits, and appeared so fortunately?"
Kettle laughed and said: "The truth is, that accident brought me here. You know that I had all but wrought out my freedom by this time, but in consideration of my services in the battle at the Springs, Ulf set me free at once, and this morning I left him to seek service with King Harald Haarfager."
"That was thankless of thee," said Erling.
"So said Ulf," rejoined Kettle; "nevertheless, I came off, and was on my way over the fells to go to the King when I fell in with Hake the berserk—though I knew not that it was he—and joined him."
Erling frowned, and looked enquiringly at Kettle as he said:
"But what possessed thee, that thou shouldst quit so good a master for one so bad, and how comes it thou hast so readily turned against the King's men?"
"Little wonder that you are perplexed," said Kettle, "seeing that ye know not my motive. The truth is, that I had a plan in my head, which was to enter Harald's service, that I might act the spy on him, and so do my best for one who, all the time I have been in thraldom, has been as kind to me as if he had been my own father."
"Thou meanest Ulf?" said Erling.
"I do," replied Kettle with enthusiasm, "and I'd willingly die for him if need be. As ye know full well, it needs no wizard to tell that such men as Ulf and your father will not easily be made to bend their necks to the King's yoke; and for this I honour them, because they respect the law of the land more than they respect the King. Happy is the nation where such men abound; and in saying this I do no dishonour to the King, but the reverse."
Erling looked in surprise at Kettle, while he continued to bathe the face of his still unconscious friend, for his language and bearing were much altered from what they had been when he was in thraldom, and there was an air of quiet dignity about him, which seemed to favour the common report that he had been a man of note in his own land.
"Well," continued Kettle, "it is equally certain that Harald is not a man who will tamely submit to be thwarted in his plans, so I had made up my mind to take service with him, in order that I might be able to find out his intentions and observe his temper towards the men of Horlingdal, and thus be in a position to give them timely warning of any danger that threatened. On my way hither I met Hake, as I have said. On hearing that he belonged to King Harald, I told him that I had just got my freedom from Ulf, and wished to join the King. He seemed very glad, and said he thought I would make a good berserk; told me that he was out in search of some of the King's enemies, and proposed that I should assist him. Of course this suited me well; but it was only when we found you that I became aware who the King's enemies were, and resolved to act as ye have seen me do. I did not choose to tell Ulf my intention, lest my plan should miscarry; but, now that I find who the King counts his foes, and know how sharply he intends to treat them, it seems to me that I need go no farther."
"Truly thou needst not," said Erling, "for Harald is in the worst possible humour with us all, and did his best to stop me from going home to tell the fact."
"Then is my mission ended. I will return to Ulfstede," said Kettle, throwing the water out of his helmet, and replacing it on his head, as he rose and grasped his sword. "Meanwhile, I will cut off Hake's head, and take it back with me."
"Thou wilt do so at thy peril," said Erling; "Hake fell to my hand, and I will finish the work which I have begun. Do thou go catch three or four of the horses, for I see that Glumm is recovering."
"I will not interfere with your business," said Kettle, with a laugh, "only I thought you meant to leave his carcass lying there unheeded, and was unwilling to go off without his head as a trophy."
Kettle went to catch the horses—three of which he tied to trees to be ready for them, while he loaded the fourth with the most valuable of the arms and garments of the slain. Meanwhile Glumm groaned, and, sitting up, rubbed his head ruefully.
"I thought someone had sent me to Valhalla," he said, fetching a deep sigh.
"Not yet, friend Glumm, not yet. There is still work for thee to do on earth, and the sooner ye set about doing it the better, for methinks the King will wonder what has become of his berserkers, and will send out men in search of them ere long. Canst mount thy horse?"
"Mount him? aye," said Glumm, leaping up, but staggering when he had gained his legs, so that Erling had to support him for a few minutes. He put his hand to his forehead, and, observing blood on it, asked: "Is the wound deep?"
"Only a scratch," said Erling, "but the blow was heavy. If the sword of Kettle Flatnose had not caught it in time, it would have been thy death."
"Truly it has not been far from that as it is, for my head rings as if the brain were being battered with Thor's hammer! Come, let us mount."
As he spoke, Kettle brought forward the horses. Glumm mounted with difficulty, and they all rode away. But Erling had observed a slight motion of life in the body of Hake, and after they had gone a few yards he said: "Ride on slowly, Glumm, I will go back to get a ring from the finger of the berserk, which I forgot."
He turned, and rode quickly back to the place where the berserk's body lay, dismounted, and kneeled beside it. There was a large silver ring on the middle finger of Hake's right hand, which he took off and put on his own finger, replacing it with a gold one of his own. Then he ran to the spring, and, filling his helmet with water, came back and laved the man's temples therewith, at the same time pouring a little of it into his mouth. In a few minutes he began to show symptoms of revival, but before he had recovered sufficiently to recognise who his benefactor was, Erling had vaulted into the saddle and galloped away.
They arrived at Glummstede that evening about supper-time, but Glumm was eager to hear the discussion that was sure to take place when the news of the fight and of Harald's state of mind was told, so he rode past his own home, and accompanied his friend to Ulfstede. We cannot say for certain that he was uninfluenced by other motives, for Glumm, as the reader knows, was not a communicative man; he never spoke to anyone on the subject; we incline, however, to the belief that there were mingled ideas in his brain and mixed feelings in his heart as he rode to Ulfstede!
Great was the sensation in the hall when Erling, Glumm, and Kettle entered with the marks of the recent fight still visible upon them— especially on Glumm, whose scalp wound, being undressed, permitted a crimson stream to trickle down his face—a stream which, in his own careless way, he wiped off now and then with the sleeve of his coat, thereby making his aspect conspicuously bloody. Tremendous was the flutter in Ada's heart when she saw him in this plight, for well did she know that deeds of daring had been done before such marks could have been left upon her gruff lover.
The hall was crowded with armed men, for many bonders had assembled to await the issue of the decision at the Thing, and much anxiety as well as excitement prevailed. Ulf recognised his late thrall with a look of surprise, but each of them was made to quaff a brimming tankard of ale before being allowed to speak. To say truth, they were very willing to accept the draught, which, after the fatigues they had undergone, tasted like nectar.
Erling then stood up, and in the midst of breathless silence began to recount the incidents which had befallen him and his companion while in the execution of their mission.
"In the first place," he said, "it is right to let ye all know that the King's countenance towards us is as black as a thundercloud, and that we may expect to see the lightning flash out before long. But it is some comfort to add that Glumm and Kettle and I have slain, or rendered unfit to fight, twenty of Harald's men."
In the midst of the murmur of congratulation with which this announcement was received, Erling observed that Hilda, who had been standing near the door, went out. The result of this was, that the poor youth's spirit sank, and it was with the utmost difficulty he plucked up heart to relate the incidents of the fight, in which he said so little about himself that one might have imagined he had been a mere spectator. Passing from that subject as quickly as possible, he delivered his opinion as to the hopes and prospects before them, and, cutting his speech short, abruptly quitted the hall.
Any little feeling of disappointment that might have been felt at the lame way in which Erling had recounted his exploits was, however, amply compensated by Glumm, who, although usually a man of few words, had no lack of ideas or of power to express them when occasion required, in a terse, stern style of his own, which was very telling. He gave a faithful account of the fight, making mention of many incidents which his friend had omitted to touch on, and dwelling particularly on the deeds of Kettle. As to that flat-nosed individual himself, when called upon to speak, he addressed the assembly with a dignity of manner and a racy utterance of language which amazed those who had only known him as a thrall, and who now for the first time met him as a freed man. He moreover introduced into his speech a few touches of humour which convulsed his audience with laughter, and commented on the condition of affairs in a way that filled them with respect, so that from that hour he became one of the noted men of the dale.
Erling meanwhile hurried towards one of the cliffs overlooking the fiord. He was well acquainted with Hilda's favourite haunts, and soon found her, seated on a bank, with a very disconsolate look, which, however, vanished on his appearing.
"Wherefore didst thou hasten away just as I began to speak, Hilda?" he said, somewhat reproachfully, as he sat down beside her.
"Because I did not wish to hear details of the bloody work of which thou art so fond. Why wilt thou always be seeking to slay thy fellows?"
The girl spoke in tones so sad and desponding, that her lover looked upon her for some time in silent surprise.
"Truly, Hilda," he said, "the fight was none of my seeking."
"Did I not hear thee say," she replied, "that Kettle and Glumm and thou had slain twenty of the King's men, and that ye regarded this as a comforting thought?"
"Aye, surely; but these twenty men did first attack Glumm and me while alone, and we slew them in self-defence. Never had I returned to tell it, had not stout Kettle Flatnose come to our aid."
"Thank Heaven for that!" said Hilda, with a look of infinite relief. "How did it happen?"
"Come. I will tell thee all from first to last. And here is one who shall judge whether Glumm and I are to blame for slaying these men."
As he spoke, the hermit approached. The old man looked somewhat paler than usual, owing to the loss of blood caused by the wound he had received in his recent defence of Ulfstede. Erling rose and saluted him heartily, for, since the memorable prowess in the defence of Ulfstede, Christian had been high in favour among the people of the neighbourhood.
"Hilda and I were considering a matter of which we will make thee judge," said Erling, as they sat down on the bank together.
"I will do my best," said the hermit, with a smile, "if Hilda consents to trust my judgment."
"That she gladly does," said the maid.
"Well, then, I will detail the facts of the case," said Erling; "but first tell me what strange marks are those on the skin thou holdest in thy hand?"
"These are words," said the hermit, carefully spreading out a roll of parchment, on which a few lines were written.
Erling and Hilda regarded the strange characters with much interest. Indeed, the young man's look almost amounted to one of awe, for he had never seen the scroll before, although Hilda, to whom it had several times been shown and explained, had told him about it.
"These marks convey thoughts," said Christian, laying his forefinger on the characters.
"Can they convey intricate thoughts," asked Erling, "such as are difficult to express?"
"Aye; there is no thought which can quit the tongue of one man and enter the understanding of another which may not be expressed by these letters in different combinations."
"Dim ideas of this have been in my mind," said Erling, "since I went on viking cruise to the south, when first I heard of such a power being known to and used by many, but I believed it not. If this be as thou sayest, and these letters convey thy thoughts, then, though absent, thy thoughts might be known to me—if I did but understand the tracing of them."
"Most true," returned the hermit; "and more than that, there be some who, though dead, yet speak to their fellows, and will continue to do so as long as the records are preserved and the power to comprehend them be maintained."
"Mysterious power," said Erling; "I should like much to possess it."
"If thou wilt come to my poor abode on the cliff I will teach it thee. A few months, or less, will suffice. Even Hilda knows the names of the separate signs, and she has applied herself to it for little more than a few days."
Hilda's face became scarlet when Erling looked at her in surprise, but the unobservant hermit went on to descant upon the immense value of written language, until Hilda reminded him that he had consented to sit in judgment on a knotty point.
"True, I had forgotten.—Come now, Erling, let me hear it."
The youth at once began, and in a few minutes had so interested his hearers that they gazed in his face and hung upon his words with rapt attention, while he detailed the incidents of the combats with a degree of fluency and fervour that would have thrown the oratory of Glumm and Kettle quite into the shade had it been told in the hall.
While Erling was thus engaged, his friend Glumm, having finished the recital of his adventures for the twentieth time, and at the same time eaten a good supper, was advised by his companions to have the wound in his head looked to.
"What! hast thou not had it dressed yet?" asked Ulf; "why, that is very foolish. Knowest thou not that a neglected wound may compass thy death? Come hither, Ada; thy fingers are skilled in such offices. Take Glumm to an inner chamber, and see if thou canst put his head to rights."
"Methinks," cried Guttorm Stoutheart, with a laugh, "that she is more likely to put his heart wrong than his head right with these wicked black eyes of hers. Have a care, Glumm: they pierce deeper than the sword of the berserk."
Ada pretended not to hear this, but she appeared by no means displeased, as she led Glumm to an inner chamber, whither they were followed by Alric, whose pugnacious soul had been quite fascinated by the story of the recent fight, and who was never tired of putting questions as to minute points.
As Glumm sat down on a low stool to enable Ada to get at his head, she said (for she was very proud of her lover's prowess, and her heart chanced to be in a melting mood that night), "Thou hast done well to-day, it would seem?"
"It is well thou thinkest so," replied Glumm curtly, remembering Erling's advice.—"No, boy," he added, in reply to Alric, "I did not kill the one with the black helmet; it was Erling who gave him his deathblow."
"Did Hake the berserk look dreadfully fierce?" asked Alric.
"He made a few strange faces," replied Glumm.
"The wound is but slight," observed Ada, in a tone that indicated a little displeasure at the apparent indifference of her lover.
"It might have been worse," replied Glumm.
"Do tell me all about it again," entreated Alric.
"Not now," said Glumm; "I'll repeat it when Hilda is by; she has not heard it yet—methinks she would like to hear it."
"Hilda like to hear it!" cried the lad, with a shout of laughter; "why, she detests fighting almost as much as the hermit does, though, I must say, for a man who hates it, he can do it wonderfully well himself! But do tell me, Glumm, what was the cut that Erling gave when he brought down that second man, you know—the big one—"
"Which? the man whose head he chopped off, with half of the left shoulder?"
"No; that was the fourth. I mean the other one, with—"
"Oh, the one he split the nose of by accident before battering down with—"
"No, no," cried Alric, "I mean the one with the black beard."
"Ha!" exclaimed Glumm, "that wasn't the second man; his fall was much further on in the fight, just after Erling had got hold of the battle-axe. He whirled the axe round his head, brought it from over the left down on Blackbeard's right shoulder, and split him to the waist."
"Now, that is finished," said Ada sharply, as she put away the things that she had used in the dressing of the wound. "I hope that every foe thou hast to deal with in future may let thee off as well."
"I thank thee, Ada, both for the dressing and the good wish," said Glumm gravely, as he rose and walked into the hall, followed by his persevering and insatiable little friend.
Ada retired hastily to her own chamber, where she stood for a moment motionless, then twice stamped her little foot, after which she sat down on a stool, and, covering her face with both hands, burst into a passionate flood of tears.
IN WHICH ALRIC BOASTS A LITTLE, DISCOVERS SECRETS, CONFESSES A LITTLE, AND DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF GREATLY.
Next day there was great bustle at Ulfstede, and along the shores of the fiord, for the men of Horlingdal were busy launching their ships and making preparations to go to the Springs to meet and hold council with King Harald Haarfager.
It had been finally resolved, without a dissentient voice, that the whole district should go forth to meet him in arms, and thus ensure fair play at the deliberations of the Thing. Even Haldor no longer objected; but, on the contrary, when he heard his son's account of his meeting with the King, and of the dastardly attempt that had been made to assassinate him and his friend, there shot across his face a gleam of that wild ferocity which had procured him his title. It passed quickly away, however, and gave place to a look of sad resignation, which assured those who knew him that he regarded their chance of opposing the King successfully to be very small indeed.
The fleet that left the fiord consisted of the longships of Ulf, Haldor, Erling, Glumm, and Guttorm, besides an innumerable flotilla of smaller crafts and boats. Many of the men were well armed, not only with first-rate weapons, but with complete suits of excellent mail of the kinds peculiar to the period—such as shirts of leather, with steel rings sewed thickly over them, and others covered with steel scales— while of the poorer bonders and the thralls some wore portions of defensive armour, and some trusted to the thick hides of the wolf, which were more serviceable against a sword-cut than many people might suppose. All had shields, however, and carried either swords, bills, spears, javelins, axes, or bows and arrows, so that, numbering as they did, about a thousand men, they composed a formidable host.
While these rowed away over the fiord to the Springs to make war or peace—as the case might be—with King Harald, a disappointed spirit was left behind in Horlingdal.
"I'm sure I cannot see why I should not be allowed to go too," said little Alric, on returning to Haldorstede, after seeing the fleet set forth. "Of course I cannot fight so well as Erling yet, but I can do something in that way; and can even face up to a full-grown man when occasion serves, as that red-haired Dane knows full well, methinks, if he has got any power of feeling in his neck!"
This was said to Herfrida, who was in the great hall spreading the board for the midday meal, and surrounded by her maidens, some of whom were engaged in spinning or carding wool, while others wove and sewed, or busied themselves about household matters.
"Have patience, my son," said Herfrida. "Thou art not yet strong enough to go forth to battle. Doubtless, in three or four years—"
"Three or four years!" exclaimed Alric, to whom such a space of time appeared an age. "Why, there will be no more fighting left to be done at the end of three or four years. Does not father say that if the King succeeds in his illegal plans all the independence of the small kings will be gone for ever, and—and—of course I am old enough to see that if the small kings are not allowed to do as they please, there will be no more occasion for war—nothing but a dull time of constant peace!"
Herfrida laughed lightly, while her warlike son strutted up and down the ancestral hall like a bantam cock, frowning and grunting indignantly, as he brooded over the dark prospects of peace that threatened his native land, and thought of his own incapacity, on account of youth, to make glorious hay while yet the sun of war was shining.
"Mother," he said, stopping suddenly, and crossing his arms, as he stood with his feet planted pretty wide apart, after the fashion of those who desire to be thought very resolute—"mother, I had a dream last night."
"Tell it me, my son," said Herfrida, sitting down on a low stool beside the lad.
Now, it must be known that in those days the Northmen believed in dreams and omens and warnings—indeed, they were altogether a very superstitious people, having perfect faith in giants, good and bad; elves, dark and bright; wraiths, and fetches, and guardian spirits— insomuch that there was scarcely one among the grown-up people who had not seen some of these fabulous creatures, or who had not seen some other people who had either seen them themselves or had seen individuals who said they had seen them! There were also many "clear-sighted" or "fore-sighted" old men and women, who not only saw goblins and supernatural appearances occasionally, and, as it were, accidentally, like ordinary folk, but who also had the gift—so it is said—of seeing such things when they pleased—enjoyed, as it were, an unenviable privilege in that way. It was therefore with unusual interest that Herfrida asked about her son's dream.
"It must have been mara [nightmare], I think," he said, "for though I never had it before, it seemed to me very like what Guttorm Stoutheart says he always has after eating too hearty a meal."
"Relate it, my son."
"Well, you must know," said Alric, with much gravity and importance, for he observed that the girls about the room were working softly that they might hear him, "I dreamed that I was out on the fells, and there I met a dreadful wolf, as big as a horse, with two heads and three tails, or three heads and two tails, I mind not which, but it gave me little time to notice it, for, before I was aware, it dashed at me, and I turned to run, but my feet seemed to cleave to the earth, and my legs felt heavy as lead, so that I could scarce drag myself along, yet, strange to say, the wolf did not overtake me, although I heard it coming nearer and nearer every moment, and I tried to shout, but my voice would not come out."
"What hadst thou to supper last night?" asked Herfrida.
"Let me think," replied the boy meditatively; "I had four cuts of salmon, three rolls of bread and butter, half a wild-duck, two small bits of salt-fish, some eggs, a little milk, and a horn of ale."
"It must have been mara," said she, thoughtfully; "but go on with thy dream."
"Well, just as I came to the brink of the river, I looked back and saw the wolf close at my heels, so I dropped suddenly, and the wolf tumbled right over me into the water, but next moment it came up in the shape of another monster with a fish's tail, which made straight at me. Then it all at once came into my head that my guardian spirit was behind me, and I turned quickly round, but did not see it."
"Art thou quite sure of that, my son?"
Herfrida asked this in a tone of great anxiety, for to see one's own guardian spirit was thought unlucky, and a sign that the person seeing it was "fey", or death-doomed.
"I'm quite sure that I did not," replied Alric, to the manifest relief of his mother; "but I saw a long pole on the ground, which I seized, and attacked the beast therewith, and a most notable fight we had. I only wish that it had been true, and that thou hadst been there to see it. Mara fled away at once, for I felt no more fear, but laid about me in a way that minded me of Erling. Indeed, I don't think he could have done it better himself. Oh! how I do wish, sometimes, that my dreams would come true! However, I killed the monster at last, and hurled him into the river, after which I felt tossed about in a strange way, and then my senses left me, and then I awoke."
"What thinkest thou of the dream?" said Herfrida to a wrinkled old crone who sat on a low stool beside the fire.
The witch-like old creature roused herself a little and said:
"Good luck is in store for the boy."
"Thanks for that, granny," said Alric; "canst say what sort o' good luck it is?"
"No; my knowledge goes no further. It may be good luck in great things, it may be only in small matters; perhaps soon, perhaps a long time hence: I know not."
Having ventured this very safe and indefinite prophecy, the old woman let her chin drop on her bosom, and recommenced the rocking to and fro which had been interrupted by the question; while Alric laughed, and, taking up a three-pronged spear, said that, as he had been disappointed in going to see the fun at the Springs, he would console himself by going and sticking salmon at the foss [waterfall].
"Wilt thou not wait for midday meal?" said Herfrida.
"No, mother; this roll will suffice till night."
"And then thou wilt come home ravening, and have mara again."
"Be it so. I'd run the risk of that for the sake of the chance of another glorious battle such as I had last night!"
Saying this the reckless youth sallied forth with the spear or leister on his shoulder, and took the narrow bridle path leading up the glen.
It was one of those calm bright days of early autumn in which men feel that they draw in fresh life and vigour at each inhalation. With the fragrant odours that arose from innumerable wild flowers, including that sweetest of plants, the lily of the valley, was mingled the pleasant smell of the pines, which clothed the knolls, or hung here and there like eyebrows on the cliffs. The river was swollen considerably by recent heat, which had caused the great glaciers on the mountain tops to melt more rapidly than usual, and its rushing sound was mingled with the deeper roar of the foss, or waterfall, which leaped over a cliff thirty feet high about two miles up the valley. Hundreds of rills of all sizes fell and zigzagged down the mountains on either side, some of them appearing like threads of silver on the precipices, and all, river and rills, being as cold as the perpetual ice-fields above which gave them birth. Birds twittered in the bushes, adding sweetness to the wild music, and bright greens and purples, lit up by gleams of sunshine, threw a charm of softness over the somewhat rugged scene.
The Norse boy's nature was sensitive, and peculiarly susceptible of outward influences. As he walked briskly along, casting his eager gaze now at the river which foamed below him, and anon at the distant mountain ridges capped with perennial snows, he forgot his late disappointment, or, which is the same thing, drowned it in present enjoyment. Giving vent to his delight, much as boys did a thousand years later, by violent whistling or in uproarious bursts of song, he descended to the river's edge, with the intention of darting his salmon spear, when his eye caught sight of a woman's skirt fluttering on one of the cliffs above. He knew that Hilda and Ada had gone up the valley together on a visit to a kinswoman, for Herfrida had spoken of expecting them back to midday meal; guessing, therefore, that it must be them, he drew back out of sight, and clambered hastily up the bank, intending to give them a surprise. He hid himself in the bushes at a jutting point which they had to pass, and from which there was a magnificent view of the valley, the fiord, and the distant sea.
He heard the voices of the two girls in animated conversation as they drew near, and distinguished the name of Glumm more than once, but, not being a gossip by nature, he thought nothing of this, and was intent only on pouncing out on them when they should reach a certain stone in the path. Truth constrains us to admit that our young friend, like many young folk of the present day, was a practical joker—yet it must also be said that he was not a very bad one, and, to his honour be it recorded, he never practised jokes on old people!