Immediately after he was gone the King sent for Hake, for whom he also ordered a silver tankard of ale; but to him the King spoke earnestly, and in a low whispering voice, while his courtiers, perceiving that he wished his converse with the berserk to be private, quaffed their liquor and talked noisily.
The young woman who filled Hake's tankard at the King's bidding was no other than Gunhild, the unfortunate widow of Swart of the Springs. For some time after the death of her husband she had dwelt at Haldorstede, and had experienced much kindness at the hands of the family; but having taken a longing to visit her relatives, who belonged to the Drontheim district, she was sent thither, and had become a member of Harald's household, through the influence of King Hakon of Drontheim, the father of Ada of Horlingdal.
Hakon had from necessity, and much against his inclination, become one of Harald Fairhair's jarls. During the feast of which we write, he sat on the King's left hand.
After filling Hake's tankard Gunhild retired, but remained within earshot.
"Hake," said the King, leaning over the arm of his high seat, "it is now time that we were moving south; and the news thou hast brought decides me to complete my arrangements without delay. It seems that Ulf of Romsdal and that fellow Erling the Bold, with his fierce father, are making great preparations for war?"
"Truly they are," said Hake. "I saw as much with my own eyes."
"But may this not be for the purpose of going on viking cruise?"
"Had that been so, mine ears would have guided me, and we had brought a different report, but when men talk loudly and ill of the King, and knit their brows, and wish for a south wind, it needs not the wisdom of a warlock to fathom their meaning. Moreover," he continued earnestly, "I have heard that news has come from the southland that the people of Hordaland and Rogaland, Agder and Thelemark, are gathering, and bringing together ships, men, and arms—what can all this mean if it be not resistance to the King?"
"Right," said Harald thoughtfully. "Now, Hake, I will tell thee what to do, and see thou waste not time about it. Most of my ships are ready for sea. A few days more will suffice to complete them for a cruise, and then will I sail forth to teach these proud men humility. Meanwhile do thou get ready the ships under thy charge, and send Hauskuld in a swift boat with a few chosen men south to Horlingdal fiord. There let him watch the proceedings of the people—particularly of that fellow Erling and his kin—and when he has seen enough let him sail north to give me warning of their movements. They shall be saved the trouble of coming here to meet me, for I will fare south and slay them all, root and branch. Let thy tongue be quiet and thy motions swift, and caution Hauskuld also to be discreet. Another draught of ale, Hake, and then— to thy duty."
These last words the King spoke aloud, and while the berserk was drinking he turned to converse with Hakon of Drontheim, but finding that that chief had left the board, he turned to one of the courtiers, and began to converse on the news recently brought from the south.
Gunhild meanwhile slipped out of the hall, and found King Hakon hasting to his house.
"Ye heard what the King threatened?" she said, plucking him by the sleeve.
"I did, and will—but why dost thou speak to me on this subject?" asked Hakon warily.
"Because I know your daughter Ada is among the doomed and ye would not see her perish. My heart is in the house of Haldor the Fierce. Great kindness have I received there, therefore would I go and warn them of what is coming. I have friends here, and can get a swift cutter to bear me south. Shall I tell them to expect aid from you?"
Hakon was glad to hear this, and told her to inform Haldor that he would soon be in the fiord with his longship, that he would aid the people of Horlingdal in resisting Harald, and that it was probable Rolf Ganger would also join them.
Bearing these tidings Gunhild left Drontheim secretly, and in a swift boat with a stout crew set off for the south a considerable time before Hauskuld sailed, although that worthy did his best to carry out his master's commands without delay. King Hakon also pushed forward his preparations, and that so briskly that he too was enabled to start before the berserk.
Meanwhile King Harald gave himself up entirely to festivity—laughed and talked with his courtiers, and seemed so light of heart that the greater part of his followers thought him to be a careless, hearty man, on whom the weighty matters of the kingdom sat very lightly. But Jarl Rongvold knew that this free-and-easy spirit was affected, and that the King's mind was much troubled by the state of things in several parts of the kingdom. He also knew, however, that Harald had an iron will, which nothing could bend from its purpose, and he felt convinced that the course which his sovereign pursued would end either in his total overthrow, or in the absolute subjection of Norway.
It happened that at this time one of the festivals of sacrifice was being celebrated by the people of the Drontheim country. It was an old custom that, when there was sacrifice, all the bonders should come to the spot where the heathen temple stood, and bring with them all that they required while the festival of the sacrifice lasted. The men were expected to bring ale with them, and all kinds of cattle as well as horses, which were to be slaughtered, boiled, and eaten.
In order to conciliate the people, the King on this occasion issued a proclamation that he meant to pay all the expenses of the festival. This had the double effect of attracting to the locality a vast concourse of people, and of putting them all in great good humour, so that they were quite ready to listen to, and fall in with, the plans of the King, whatever these might be. Of course there were many freeborn noble-spirited udallers who could not thus be tickled into the selling of their birthright; but Harald's tremendous energy and power, coupled with his rigorous treatment of all who resisted him, had the effect of reducing many of these to sullen silence, while some made a virtue of necessity, and accepted the fate which they thought it impossible to evade.
On the evening of the day of which we write, the fire was kindled in the middle of the floor of the temple, and over it hung the kettles. Full goblets were handed across the fire, and the King blessed the full goblets and all the meat of the sacrifice. Then, first, Odin's goblet was emptied for victory and power to the King; thereafter Niord's and Freya's goblets for peace and a good season. After that there was much feasting; and when the ale began to mount to the brains of the revellers, many of them stood up, and raising aloft the "braga goblet"— that over which vows were wont to be made—began, in more or less bombastic strains, to boast of what they meant to do in the future. Having exhausted all other sentiments, the guests then emptied the "remembrance goblet" to the memory of departed friends.
Soon the desire for song and story began to be felt, and there was a loud call for the scald. Whereupon, clearing his throat and glancing round on the audience with a deprecatory air—just as amateur scalds of the present day are wont to do—Thiodolph hinn Frode of Huina stood up to sing. His voice was mellow, and his music wild. The subject chosen showed that he understood how to humour both King and people, and if the song was short it was much to the point.
Song of the Scald.
Of cup and platter need has none, The guest who seeks the generous one— Harald the bounteous—who can trace His lineage from the giant race; For Harald's hand is liberal, free. The guardian of the temple he. He loves the gods, his open hand Scatters his sword's gains o'er the land.
The scald sat down with the prompt energy of a man who believes he has said a good thing, and expects that it will be well received. He was not disappointed, for the rafters rang with the wild huzzas of the revellers as they leaped to their feet and shouted "Victory to the King!"
This was just what the King wanted, and he carefully fanned the flame which the scald had so judiciously kindled. The result was that when he afterwards called for men to go forth with him to do battle with the turbulent spirits of Horlingdal, hundreds of those who would otherwise have been malcontent, or lukewarm followers, busked themselves eagerly for the fight, and flocked to his standard. His longships were crowded with picked men, and war vessels of all sizes—from little boats to dragons with thirty banks of rowers—augmented his fleet. At length he sailed from Drontheim with perhaps the strongest armament that had ever swept over the northern sea.
TELLS SOMETHING OF THE DOINGS OF SOLVE KLOFE AND OTHERS, AND TREATS OF A FEW OF THE MARVELLOUS ADVENTURES OF GUTTORM STOUTHEART.
The scene is changed. It is night; yet how different from night in most other inhabited parts of the earth! The midnight sun is just sinking beneath the horizon, close to the spot whence, in about twenty minutes, he will rise, to repeat his prolonged course of nearly four-and-twenty hours through the northern sky. But if the darkness of night is absent, its deep quietude is there. The mighty cliffs that rise like giant walls to heaven, casting broad, heavy shadows over the sea, send forth no echoes, for the innumerable birds that dwell among them are silently perched like snowflakes on every crag, or nestled in every crevice, buried in repose. The sea resembles glass, and glides with but a faint sigh upon the shore. All is impressively still on mountain and fiord. Everything in nature is asleep, excepting the wakeful eye of day, the hum of distant rills, the boom of inland cataracts, and the ripple on the shore. These sounds, however, do but render the universal silence more profound by suggesting the presence of those stupendous forces which lie latent everywhere.
A white mist floats over the sea like a curtain of gauze, investing insignificant objects with grandeur, and clothing caverns, cliffs, and mountain gorges with unusual sublimity.
Only one object suggestive of man is visible through the haze. It is a ship—of the old, old-fashioned build—with high stem and stern, and monstrous figurehead. Its forefoot rests upon the strip of gravel in yonder bay at the foot of the cliff, whose summit is lost in the clouds. The hull reposes on its own reflected image, and the taper mast is repeated in a wavy but distinct line below. It is the "longship"; the "war vessel"; the "sea horse" of Solve Klofe, the son of King Hunthiof of More, whom Harald Fairhair slew.
Solve had, as we have before said, spent the winter in taking his revenge by herrying the coast in his longship, and doing all in his power to damage the King's men, as well as those who were friendly to his cause. Among other things he had, early in spring, persuaded Haldor the Fierce to let him have the use of one of his warships, with a few of his best men, to accompany him on a viking cruise. Erling had resisted his pressing invitation to bear him company, because of important business, the nature of which he did not think it necessary to disclose. His friend Glumm the Gruff also declined from similar reasons. At all events, he was similarly pre-engaged and taciturn. Thorer the Thick, however, and Kettle Flatnose, and young Alric—the latter by special and importunate request—were allowed to accompany him on this expedition.
We do not intend to give the details of this foray, although it was unusually stirring and prolific of adventure. Suffice it to say, that they had several hard fights both with Swedish and Danish vikings, in all of which Alric distinguished himself for reckless daring, and would certainly have been carried home dead upon his own shield had not Kettle Flatnose watched over him with the solicitude of a father, and warded off many a blow that was aimed at his pugnacious head. We fear it must be added that Alric was not sufficiently impressed with his friend's services in this way. The truth is that he entertained the firm belief that nobody could kill him, and that he could kill anybody—which was all very well as far as it went, but would not have carried him scathless through the cruise, had not the stout Irishman been at his back.
Immense and valuable booty was gained at this time, for one of the vessels which they captured had been cruising in southern lands, and was returning with a large quantity of gold and silver ornaments when Solve Klofe attacked it. A misfortune befell them, however. On their way home a storm drove Thorer's vessel on the rocks in a fog, and it became a total wreck. The crew were all saved, however, and much of the lading, by Solve, who stowed the goods in his own ship, and brought home the men. They were within a day's sail of Horlingdal, when they put ashore to take a few hours' repose.
Three hours after midnight Solve Klofe, whose breathing up to that time had resembled that of an infant, gave vent to a prolonged bass snore, and opened his eyes. This was followed by the shutting of his mouth, and with one of those satisfactory stretchings of the body with which a sound sleeper is wont in the morning to dismiss repose and recall his energies. Having lain still a few moments to enjoy the result, Solve sat up, and stretching forth his hand, drew aside the curtain of the tent under which he slept, and looked out. The sight that gladdened his eyes was beautiful beyond description, for the sun was up in all his northern glory, and shone on the silver sea with dazzling light, while he scattered away the mists of morning. But the best sight of all to the bold viking was the splendid warship which, with painted sides and shields, and gilded masts and prow, glowed and glittered like a beautiful gem in a setting of the brightest azure blue.
Turning his eyes inside his tent again, Solve gazed with the expressionless aspect of a still drowsy man upon the countenance of Kettle, whose flat nose and open mouth gave vent to tones resembling those of a bassoon. Beside him, and nestling close to him, lay the youthful Alric, with his curly head resting on Kettle's broad bosom; for the lad, albeit manly enough when awake, had sufficient of the child still about him to induce a tendency on his part, when asleep, to make use of any willing friend as a pillow. Thorer the Thick was also there, with his head on his arm, his body sprawling indescribably, his shield above him like a literal coverlet, and his right hand on his sword-hilt.
"Ho!" exclaimed Solve, in a tone that marvellously resembled the tones of modern men in similar circumstances.
Kettle and Thorer, however, sprang up to a sitting posture with very primitive alacrity, for in those days a man's life often depended on his being and keeping very wide-awake.
Poor Alric was tumbled somewhat unceremoniously to one side, but that failed to awaken him, for he was not yet sufficiently trained to sleep in the midst of alarms, and felt very naturally inclined to growl and bite when shaken or told to "get up!"
In a few minutes, however, his lethargy was overcome; the men were aroused; the tents were struck; the longship was pushed off, and, under the influence of thirty pair of oars, it crept like a monstrous insect away over the sea.
Those who had not to work at the oars sat at first quietly on the thwarts, or leaned over the gunwale gazing into the deep, or up at the sky, enjoying the warm air and their own fancies. But after a time talkative spirits began to loose their tongues, and ere long a murmur of quiet conversation pervaded the ship.
"I wonder what news we shall hear at the stede when we arrive?" said Thorer to Kettle, who with several others sat on the poop beside Solve.
"I hope it won't be bad news," answered Kettle. "Harald is not the man to sleep through the summer when there is work to be done. If it wasn't that I expect to give him the tooth-ache before I go, surely I should have been in Ireland long ago."
"Whom didst thou serve under, Kettle, before we brought thee to Norway?" asked Alric.
"Under the King of Dublin," replied Kettle.
"Was he a great king?"
"A great king? Aye, never was there a greater; and a great king he is yet, if he's alive, though I have my own fears on that point, for he was taking badly to ale when I left."
There was something pathetic yet humorous in the tone and expression with which Kettle said this which caused Alric to laugh. The Irishman started, and for an instant his huge countenance blazed with a look of wrath which was quite majestic, and overawed the boy, bold though he was. But it passed away in a moment, and was replaced by a sorrowful look as Kettle shook his head and said—
"Ah! boy, your laugh reminded me of the laugh of the villain Haabrok who took the old king's throne at the time I was carried off, bound hand and foot. Lucky was it for him that my hands were not free then.—Well, well, this sounds like bragging," he added with a smile, "which is only fit for boys and cowards."
Alric winced a little at this, for he was quite aware of his own tendency to boast, and for a moment he felt a strong inclination to stand up for "boys", and assert, that although boasting was common enough with cowardly boys, it was not so with all boys; but on consideration he thought it best to hold his tongue, on that point, at least until he should have freed himself of the evil of boasting. To change the subject he said—
"Was the old king fond of thee, Kettle?"
"Aye, as fond of me as of his own son."
"Was he like my father?" pursued the boy.
"No; there are not many men like thy father, lad; but he was a stout and brave old man, and a great warrior in his day. Now I think of it, he was very like Guttorm Stoutheart."
"Then he was a handsome man," said Solve Klofe with emphasis.
"He was," continued Kettle, "but not quite so desperate. Old Guttorm is the most reckless man I ever did see. Did I ever tell ye of the adventure I had with him when we went on viking cruise south to Valland?"
"No," said Solve; "let us hear about it; but stay till I change the oarsmen."
He went forward and gave the order to relieve the men who had rowed from the land, and when the fresh men were on the benches he returned and bade Kettle go on.
"'Tis a fine country," said the Irishman, glancing round him with a glowing eye, and speaking in a low tone, as if to himself—"one to be proud of."
And in truth there was ground for his remark, for the mists had by that time entirely cleared away, leaving unveiled a sea so calm and bright that the innumerable islets off the coast appeared as if floating in air.
"That is true," said Thorer. "I sometimes wonder, Kettle, at thy longing to return to Ireland. I am in the same case with thyself—was taken from my home in Jemteland, laboured as a thrall, wrought out my freedom, and remained in Haldor's service, but have never wished to return home."
"Didst thou leave a wife and children behind thee?" asked Kettle.
"Nay; I was carried away while very young."
"Is thy father alive, or thy mother?"
"No, they are both dead."
"Then I wonder not that ye have no desire to return home. My father and mother are both alive—at least I have good reason to believe so—my wife and children are waiting for me. Canst wonder, man, that I long to behold once more the green hills of Ireland?"
"Nay, if that be so, I wonder not," replied Thorer.
"Come, Kettle, thou forgettest that we wait for the story about old Guttorm Stoutheart," said Solve Klofe, arranging the corner of a sail so as to protect his back from the sun.
"'Tis an old story now in Horlingdal," said Kettle; "but as thou hast not been in this quarter for a long time, no doubt it is new to thee. Thorer there knows it well; but I find that it bears telling more than once. Well, it was, as I have said, two years past that Guttorm went south to Valland on viking cruise. He called at Horlingdal in passing, and got some of the dalesmen. Among others, I was allowed to go. He and I got on very well together, and we were fortunate in getting much booty. One day we came to a part of the coast where we saw a strong castle of stone on the top of a hill a short way inland. We also saw plenty of cattle on a plain near the sea, so Guttorm ordered his longship to be steered for the shore, and we began to drive some of the cattle down to the beach, intending to slaughter them there, as our provisions were getting low. On seeing this, a party of men came out from the castle and bade us begone. We told them to be easy in their minds, for we only wanted a little food. We even went so far as to ask it of them civilly, but the men were such surly fellows that they refused to listen to reason, and attacked us at once. Of course we drove them back into their castle, but in doing so we lost one or two of our best men. This angered old Guttorm, who is not a quarrelsome man, as ye know. He would have gone away peaceably enough if he had been let alone to help himself to a few beasts; but his blood was set up by that time, so he ordered all the men on shore, and we pitched our tents and besieged the castle. Being made of stone, there was no chance of setting it on fire, and as the walls were uncommonly high, it was not possible to take it by assault. Well, we sat down before it, and for two days tried everything we could think of to take it, but failed, for there were plenty of men in it, and they defended the walls stoutly. Besides this, to say the truth, we had already lost a number of good men on the cruise and could ill afford to lose more.
"On the third day some of our chief men advised Guttorm to give it up, but that made him so furious that no one dared speak to him about it for another two days. At the end of that time his nephew plucked up heart, and going to him, said—
"'Uncle, do you see the little birds that fly back and forward over the castle walls so freely, and build their nests in the thatch of the housetops?'
"'I do, nephew,' says Guttorm. 'What then?'
"'My advice is,' says the nephew, 'that you should order the men to make each a pair of wings like those the birds have, and then we shall all fly over the walls, for it seems to me that there is no other way of getting into the castle.'
"'Thou art a droll knave,' replies Guttorm, for he was ever fond of a joke; 'but thou art wise also, therefore I advise thee to make a pattern pair of wings for the men; and when they are ready—'
"Here Guttorm stopped short, and fell to thinking; and he thought so long that his nephew asked him at last if he had any further commands for him.
"'Yes, boy, I have. There is more in this matter of the wings than thou dreamest of. Go quickly and order the men to make snares, and catch as many of these little birds as they can before sunset. Let them be careful not to hurt the birds, and send Kettle Flatnose and my house-carle hither without delay.'
"When I came to the old man I found him walking to and fro briskly, with an expression of eagerness in his eye.
"'Kettle,' he said smartly, 'go and prepare two hundred pieces of cord, each about one foot long, and to the end of each piece tie a small chip of wood as long as the first joint of thy thumb, and about the size of a goose quill. Smear these pieces of wood over with pitch, and have the whole in my tent within three hours.'
"As I walked away to obey this order, wondering what it could all be about, I heard him tell his chief house-carle to have all the men armed and ready for action a little after sunset, as quietly as possible.
"Before the three hours were out, I returned to the tent with the two hundred pieces of cord prepared according to orders, and found old Guttorm sitting with a great sack before him, and a look of perplexity on his face that almost made me laugh. He was half-inclined to laugh too, for the sack moved about in a strange way, as if it were alive!
"'Kettle,' said he, when I came forward, 'I need thy help here. I have got some three hundred little birds in that sack, and I don't know how to keep them in order, for they are fluttering about and killing themselves right and left, so that I shall soon have none left alive for my purpose. My thought is to tie one of these cords to a leg of each bird, set the bit of stick on fire and let it go, so that when it flies to its nest in the thatch it will set the houses in the castle on fire. Now, what is thy advice?'
"'Call as many of the men into the tent as it will hold, and let each catch a bird, and keep it till the cords are made fast; says I.'
"This was done at once, but we had more trouble than we expected, for when the mouth of the sack was opened, out flew a dozen of the birds before we could close it! The curtain of the tent was down, however, so, after a good deal of hunting, we caught them again. When the cords were tied to these the men were sent out of the tent, each with a little bird in his hand, and with orders to go to his particular post and remain there till further orders. Then another batch of men came in, and they were supplied with birds and cords like the others; but ye have no notion what trouble we had. I have seen a hundred viking prisoners caught and held fast with half the difficulty and less noise! Moreover, while some of the men squeezed the birds to death in their fear lest they should escape, others let theirs go in their anxiety not to hurt them, and the little things flew back to their nests with the cords and bits of chip trailing after them. At last, however, all was ready. The men were kept in hiding till after dark; then the little chips were set on fire all at the same time, and the birds were let go. It was like a shower of stars descending on the castle, for each bird made straight for its own nest; but just as we were expecting to behold the success of our plan, up jumped a line of men on the castle walls, and by shouting and swinging their arms scared the birds away. We guessed at once that the little birds which had escaped too soon with the strings tied to their legs had been noticed, and the trick suspected, for the men in the castle were well prepared. A few of the birds flew over their heads, and managed to reach the roofs, which caught fire at once; but wherever this happened, a dozen men ran at the place and beat the fire out. The thing was wisely contrived, but it was cleverly met and repelled, so we had only our trouble and the disappointment for our pains.
"After this," continued Kettle, "old Guttorm became like a wolf. He snarled at everyone who came near him for some time, but his passion never lasted long. He soon fell upon another plan.
"There was a small river which ran at the foot of the mound on which the castle stood, and there were mudbanks on the side next to it, One night we were all ordered to go to the mudbanks as quiet as mice, with shovels and picks in our hands, and dig a tunnel under the castle. We did so, and the first night advanced a long way, but we had to stop a good while before day to let the dirt wash away and the water get clear again, so that they might not suspect what we were about. The next night we got under the castle wall, and on the fifth night had got well under the great hall, for we could hear the men singing and shouting as they sat at meat above us. We had then to work very carefully for fear of making a noise, and when we thought it ready for the assault we took our swords and shields with us, and Guttorm led the way. His chief house-carle was appointed to drive through the floor, while Guttorm and I stood ready to egg him on and back him up.
"We heard the men above singing and feasting as usual, when suddenly there was a great silence, for one of the big stones over our heads was loosened, and they had evidently felt or seen it. Now was the time come; so, while the house-carle shovelled off the earth, some of us got our fingers in about the edge of the stone, and pulled with all our force. Suddenly down it came and a man along with it. We knocked him on the head at once, and gave a loud huzza as the house-carle sprang up through the hole, caught a shower of blows on his shield, and began to lay about him fiercely. Guttorm was very mad at the carle for going up before him, but the carle was light and the old man was heavy, so he could not help it. I was about to follow, when a man cut at my head with a great axe as I looked up through the hole. I caught the blow on my shield, and thrust my sword up into his leg, which made him give back; but just at that moment the earth gave way under our feet, and a great mass of stones and rubbish fell down on us, driving us all back into the passage through which we had come, except the house-carle, who had been caught by the enemy and dragged up into the hall. As soon as we could get on our feet we tried to make for the hole again, but it was so filled with earth and stones that we could not get forward a step. Knowing, therefore, that it was useless to stay longer there, we ran back to the entrance of the tunnel, but here we found a body of men who had been sent out of the castle to cut off our retreat. We made short work of these. Disappointment and anger had made every man of us equal to two, so we hewed our way right through them, and got back to the camp with the loss of only two men besides the house-carle.
"Next morning when it was daylight, the enemy brought the poor prisoner to the top of the castle wall, where they lopped off his head, and, having cut his body into four pieces, they cast them down to us with shouts of contempt.
"After this Guttorm Stoutheart appeared to lose all his fire and spirit. He sent for his chief men, and said that he was going to die, and that it was his wish to be left to do so undisturbed. Then he went into his tent, and no one was allowed after that to go near him except his nephew.
"A week later we were told that Guttorm was dying, and that he wanted to be buried inside the castle; for we had discovered that the people were what they called Christians, and that they had consecrated ground there.
"When this was made known to the priests in the castle they were much pleased, and agreed to bury our chief in their ground, if we would bring his body to a spot near the front gateway, and there leave it and retire to a safe distance from the walls. There was some objection to this at first, hit it was finally agreed to—only a request was made that two of the next of kin to Guttorm might be allowed to accompany the body to the burial-place, as it would be considered a lasting disgrace to the family if it were buried by strange hands when friends were near. This request was granted on the understanding that the two relations were to go into the castle unarmed.
"On the day of the funeral I was summoned to Guttorm's tent to help to put him into his coffin, which had been made for him after the pattern of the coffins used in that part of the country. When I entered I found the nephew standing by the side of the coffin, and the old Sea-king himself sitting on the foot of it.
"'Thou art not quite dead yet?' says I, looking hard in his face.
"'Not yet,' says he, 'and I don't expect to be for some time.'
"'Are we to put you into the coffin?' I asked.
"'Yes,' says he, 'and see that my good axe lies ready to my hand. Put thy sword on my left side, nephew, that thou mayst catch it readily. They bury me in consecrated ground to-day, Kettle; and thou, being one of my nearest of kin, must attend me to the grave! Thou must go unarmed too, but that matters little, for thy sword can be placed on the top of my coffin, along with thy shield, to do duty as the weapons of the dead. When to use them I leave to thy well-known discretion. Dost understand?'
"'Your speech is not difficult for the understanding to take in,' says I.
"'Ha! especially the understanding of an Irishman,' says he, with a smile. 'Well, help me to get into this box, and see that thou dost not run it carelessly against gate-posts; for it is not made to be roughly handled!'
"With that old Guttorm lay back in the coffin, and we packed in the nephew's sword and shield with him, and his own axe and shield at his right side. Then we fastened down the lid, and two men were called to assist us in carrying it to the appointed place.
"As we walked slowly forward I saw that our men were drawn up in a line at some distance from the castle wall, with their heads hanging down, as if they were in deep grief,—and so they were, for only a few were aware of what was going to be done; yet all were armed, and ready for instant action. The appointed spot being reached, we put the coffin on the ground, and ordered the two men, who were armed, to retire.
"'But don't go far away, lads,' says I; 'for we have work for ye to do.'
"They went back only fifty ells or so, and then turned to look on.
"At the same time the gate of the castle opened, and twelve priests came out dressed in long black robes, and carrying a cross before them. One of them, who understood the Norse language, said, as they came forward—
"'What meaneth the sword and shield?'
"I told him that it was our custom to bury a warrior's arms along with him. He seemed inclined to object to this at first, but thinking better of it, he ordered four of his men to take up the coffin, which they did, shoulder high, and marched back to the castle, closely followed by the two chief mourners.
"No sooner had we entered the gateway, which was crowded with warriors, than I stumbled against the coffin, and drove it heavily against one of the posts, and, pretending to stretch out my hands to support it, I seized my sword and shield. At the same moment the lid of the coffin flew into the air, the sides burst out, and old Guttorm dropped to the ground, embracing two of the priests so fervently in his descent that they fell on the top of him. I had only time to observe that the nephew caught up his sword and shield as they fell among the wreck, when a shower of blows from all directions called for the most rapid action of eye and limb. Before Guttorm could regain his feet and utter his war-cry, I had lopped off two heads, and the nephew's sword was whirling round him like lightning flashes, but of course I could not see what he did. The defenders fought bravely, and in the first rush we were almost borne back; but in another moment the two men who had helped us to carry the coffin were alongside of us; and now, having a front of five stout men, we began to feel confident of success. This was turned into certainty when we heard, a minute later, a great rushing sound behind us, and knew that our men were coming on. Old Guttorm swung his battle-axe as if it had been a toy, and, uttering a tremendous roar, cut his way right into the middle of the castle. We all closed in behind him; the foe wavered—they gave way—at last they turned and fled; for remembering, no doubt, how they had treated the poor house-carle, they knew they had no right to expect mercy. In a quarter of an hour the place was cleared, and the castle was ours."
"And what didst thou do with it?" asked Alric, in much excitement.
"Do with it? Of course we feasted in it till we were tired; then we put as much of its valuables into our ships as they could carry, after which we set the place on fire and returned to Norway."
"'Twas well done, and a lucky venture," observed Solve Klofe.
Alric appeared to meditate for a few minutes, and then said with a smile—
"If Christian the hermit were here he would say it was ill done, and an unlucky venture for the men of the castle."
"The hermit is a fool," said Solve.
"That he is not," cried the boy, reddening. "A braver and better man never drew bow. But he has queer thoughts in his head."
"That may be so. It matters naught to me," retorted Solve, rising and going forward to the high prow of the ship, whence he looked out upon the island-studded sea.—"Come, lads, change hands again, and pull with a will. Methinks a breeze will fill our sails after we pass yonder point, and if so, we shall sleep to-night in Horlingdal."
IN WHICH THE SKY AGAIN BECOMES OVERCAST—THE WAR-TOKEN IS SENT OUT— ALRIC GETS A SURPRISE, AND A BERSERK CATCHES A TARTAR.
Erling the Bold was very fond of salmon-fishing, and it was his wont, when the weather suited, and nothing of greater importance claimed his attention, to sally forth with a three-pronged spear to fish in the Horlingdal river, which swarmed with salmon in the summer season of the year.
One evening he left Haldorstede with his fishing-spear on his shoulder, and went up to the river, accompanied by one of the house-carles. They both wore shirts of mail, and carried shield and sword, for these were not times in which men could venture to go about unarmed. On reaching a place where the stream ran shallow among rocks, our hero waded in, and at the first dart of his spear struck a fish of about fifteen pounds weight, which he cast, like a bar of burnished silver, on the grassy bank.
"That will be our supper to-night," observed the carle, as he disengaged the spear.
Erling made no reply, but in a few minutes he pulled out another fish, and said, as he threw it down—
"That will do for a friend, should one chance to turn in to us to-night."
After that he tried again, but struck no more, although he changed his ground frequently; so he cast his eyes upwards as if to judge of the time of evening, and appeared to doubt whether or not he should persevere any longer.
"Try the foss," suggested the house-carle; "you seldom fail to get one there."
"Well, I will try it. Do thou leave the fish under that bush, and follow me. It needs three big fish to make a good feast for my father's household."
"Besides," said the carle, "there is luck in an odd number, as Kettle Flatnose is fond of telling us."
They were about to ascend the bank to the track which led to the waterfall, about half a mile farther up the river, when their attention was arrested by a shout; looking down the stream in the direction whence it came, they saw a figure approaching them at full speed.
"That must be my brother Alric," said Erling, on hearing the shout repeated.
"It looks like him," said the carle.
All doubt on the point was quickly set at rest by the lad, who ran at a pace which soon brought him near. Waving his cap above his head he shouted—
"News! news! good news!"
"Out with thy news, then," said Erling, as Alric stood before him, panting violently, "though I dare say the best news thou hast to give is that thou hast come back to us safe and well."
"Hah! let me get wind! nay, I have better news than that," exclaimed Alric; "Harald is coming—King Harald Haarfager—with a monstrous fleet of longships, cutters, dragons, and little boats, and a mighty host of men, to lay waste Horlingdal with fire and sword, and burn us all alive, perhaps eat us too, who knows!"
"Truly if this be good news," said Erling, with a laugh, "I hope I may never hear bad news. But where got ye such news, Alric?"
"From the widow Gunhild, to be sure, who is true to us as steel, and comes all the way from Drontheim, out of love to thee, Erling, to tell it. But, I say, don't you think this good news? I always thought you would give your best battle-axe to have a chance of fighting Harald!"
"Aye, truly, for a chance of fighting Harald, but not for that chance coupled with the other chance of seeing Horlingdal laid waste with fire and sword, to say nothing of being eaten alive, which, I suppose, is thine own addition to the news, boy. But come, if this be so, we do not well to waste time chattering here. Fetch the two fish, carle. To-night we must be content with what luck lies in an even number in spite of the opinion of Kettle Flatnose.—Come, Alric, thou canst tell me more of this as we hasten home."
"But I have more good news than that to tell," said the lad, as they hurried towards Haldorstede. "Solve Klofe with his men have come back with us—indeed, I may rather say that we have come back with Solve, for our own ship has been wrecked and lost, but Kettle and I and Thorer and all the men were saved by Solve, with nearly everything belonging to us, and all the booty. It is not more than an hour since we sailed into the fiord, loaded to the shield-circle with, oh! such splendid things— gold, silver, cups, tankards, gems, shawls—and—and I know not what all, besides captives. It was just after we landed that a small boat came round the ness from the north with the widow Gunhild in it, and she jumped ashore, and told what she had seen and heard at Drontheim, and that we may expect Ada's father, King Hakon, in his longship, to our aid; perhaps he may be coming into the fiord even now while we are talking. And—and, she said also that Rolf Ganger had left the King in a huff, and perhaps we might look for help from him too. So methinks I bring good news, don't I?"
"Good, aye, and stirring news, my boy," cried Erling striding onward at such a pace that the carle with the fish was left behind, and Alric was compelled to adopt an undignified trot in order to keep up with his huge brother. "From this I see," continued Erling in a tone of deep seriousness, "that the long-looked-for time is at last approaching. This battle that must surely come will decide the fate of freemen. King Harald Haarfager must now be crushed, or Norway shall be enslaved. Alric, my boy, thou hast been styled Lightfoot. If ever thou didst strive to merit that title, strive this night as ye have never striven before, for there is urgent need that every friendly blade in the land should assemble in the dale without delay. I will send thee forth with the split arrow as soon as I have seen and spoken with my father.—Ha! I see him coming. Go into the house, lad, and sup well and quickly, for no sleep shall visit thine eyelids this night."
Alric's breast swelled with gratification at being spoken to thus earnestly and made of such importance by his brother, whom he admired and loved with an intensity of feeling that no words can convey. Looking up in his face with sparkling eyes, he gave him a little nod. Erling replied with another little nod and a sedate smile, and the boy, turning away, dashed into the house, at which they had now arrived.
"Hast heard the news, Erling?" asked Haldor, as his son drew near.
"Aye, Alric has told it me."
"What thinkest thou?"
"That the game is about to be played out."
Haldor looked full in Erling's face, and his own noble countenance glowed with an expression of majesty which cannot be described, and which arose from the deep conviction that one of the most momentous eras in his life had arrived—a period in which his own fate and that of all he held most dear would in all probability be sealed. Death or victory, he felt assured, were now the alternatives; and when he reflected on the great power of the King, and the stern necessity there was for the exertion of not only the utmost bravery, but the most consummate skill, his whole being glowed with suppressed emotion, while his bearing betokened the presence, and bore the dignified stamp, of a settled purpose to do his best, and meet his fate, for weal or woe, manfully.
"Come," said he, putting his arm within that of his stout son, "let us turn into the wood awhile. I would converse with thee on this matter."
"Alric is ready to start with the token," said Erling.
"I know it, my son. Let him sup first; the women will care well for him, for they will guess the work that lies before him. The people of Ulfstede are with us to-night, and Glumm is here; but Glumm is not of much use as a counsellor just now, poor fellow. It were kind to let him be, until it is time to rouse him up to fight!"
A quiet smile played on Haldor's lips as he thus alluded to the impossibility of getting Glumm to think of anything but love or fighting at that time.
While the father and son strolled in the wood conversing earnestly, a noisy animated scene was presented in the great hall of Haldorstede; for in it were assembled, besides the ordinary household, the family from Ulfstede, a sprinkling of the neighbours, Gunhild and her men, Guttorm Stoutheart, and Solve Klofe, with Kettle Flatnose, Thorer the Thick, and the chief men who had arrived from the recent viking cruise; all of whom were talking together in the utmost excitement, while the fair Herfrida and her daughters and maids prepared a sumptuous meal.
In those days, and at such an establishment as that of Haldor the Fierce, it was not possible for friends to appear inopportunely. A dozen might have "dropped in" to breakfast, dinner, or supper, without costing Dame Herfrida an anxious thought as to whether the cold joint of yesterday "would do", or something more must be procured, for she knew that the larder was always well stocked. When, therefore, a miniature army of hungry warriors made a sudden descent upon her, she was quite prepared for them—received them with the matronly dignity and captivating smile for which she was celebrated, and at once gave directions to her commissariat department to produce and prepare meat and drink suitable to the occasion.
The evening which had thus grown so unexpectedly big with present facts and future portents had begun in a very small way—in a way somewhat equivalent to the modern "small tea party". Ulf of Romsdal, feeling a disposition "to make a night of it", had propounded to Dame Astrid the idea of "going up to Haldorstede for the evening." His wife, being amiably disposed, agreed. Hilda and Ada were equally willing, and Glumm, who by a mere chance happened to be there at the time, could not choose but accompany them!
The family at Haldorstede were delighted to see their friends. Dame Herfrida carried off Dame Astrid to her apartment to divest her of her hat and mantle. Ingeborg bore off Ada, and the younger girls of the household made away with Hilda, leaving Ulf to talk the politics of the day with Haldor, while Glumm pretended to listen to them, but listened, in reality, for Ada's returning footsteps. In a short time the fair ones re-entered the hall, and there they had supper, or, more properly, an interlude supper—a sort of supperlet, so to speak, composed of cold salmon, scones, milk, and ale, which was intended, no doubt, to give them an appetite for the true supper that should follow ere long. Over this supperlet they were all very talkative and merry, with the exception, poor fellow, of Glumm, who sat sometimes glancing at, and always thinking of, Ada, and pendulating, as usual, between the condition of being miserably happy or happily miserable.
No mortal, save Glumm himself, could have told or conceived what a life Ada led him. She took him up by the neck, figuratively speaking, and shook him again and again as a terrier shakes a rat, and dropped him! But here the simile ceases, for whereas the rat usually crawls away, if it can, and evidently does not want more, Glumm always wanted more, and never crawled away. On the contrary, he crawled humbly back to the feet of his tormentor, and by looks, if not words, craved to be shaken again!
It was while Glumm was drinking this cup of mingled bliss and torment, and the others were enjoying their supperlet, that Solve Klofe and his men, and Kettle Flatnose, Thorer the Thick, and the house-carles, burst clamorously into the hall, with old Guttorm Stoutheart, who had met them on the beach. Scarcely had they got over the excitement of this first invasion when the widow Gunhild and her niece arrived to set the household ablaze with her alarming news. The moment that Haldor heard it he dispatched Alric in search of Erling, who, as we have seen, immediately returned home.
Shortly afterwards he and Haldor entered the hall.
"Ho! my men," cried the latter, "to arms, to arms! Busk ye for the fight, and briskly too, for when Harald Haarfager lifts his hand he is not slow to strike. Where is Alric?"
"Here I am, father."
"Hast fed well, boy?"
"Aye, famously," answered Alric, wiping his mouth and tightening his belt.
"Take the war-token, my son, and see that thou speed it well. Let it not fail for want of a messenger. If need be, go all the round thyself, and rest not as long as wind and limb hold out. Thy fighting days have begun early," he added in a softer tone, as he passed his large hand gently over the fair head of the boy, "perchance they will end early. But, whatever betide, Alric, quit thee like a man—as thou art truly in heart if not in limb."
Such words from one who was not at any time lavish of praise might, a short time before, have caused the boy to hold up his head proudly, but the last year of his life had been fraught with many lessons. He listened with a heaving breast and beating heart indeed, but with his head bent modestly down, while on his flushed countenance there was a bright expression, and on his lips a glad smile which spoke volumes. His father felt assured, as he looked at him, that he would never bring discredit on his name.
"Ye know the course," said Haldor; "away!"
In another minute Alric was running at full speed up the glen with the war-token in his hand. His path was rugged, his race was wild, and its results were striking. He merely shouted as he passed the windows of the cottages low down in the dale, knowing that the men there would be roused by others near at hand; but farther on, where the cottages were more scattered, he opened the door of each and showed the token, uttering a word or two of explanation, during the brief moment he stayed to swallow a mouthful of water or to tighten his belt.
At first his course lay along the banks of the river, every rock and shrub of which he knew. Farther on he left the stream on the right, and struck into the mountains just as the sun went down.
High up on the fells a little cottage stood perched on a cliff. It was one of the "saeters" or mountain dairies where the cattle were pastured in summer long ago—just as they are at the present day. Alric ran up the steep face of the hill, doubled swiftly round the corner of the enclosure, burst open the door, and, springing in, held up the token, while he wiped the streaming perspiration from his face.
A man and his wife, with three stout sons and a comely daughter, were seated on a low bench eating their supper of thickened milk.
"The war-token!" exclaimed the men, springing up, and, without a moment's delay, taking down and girding on the armour which hung round the walls.
"King Harald is on his way to the dale," said Alric; "we assemble at Ulfstede."
"Shall I bear on the token?" asked the youngest of the men.
"Aye; but go thou with it up the Wolf's Den Valley. I myself will bear it round by the Eagle Crag and the coast."
"That is a long way," said the man, taking his shield down from a peg in the wall.
Alric replied not, for he had already darted away, and was again speeding along the mountain side.
Night had begun to close in, for the season had not yet advanced to the period of endless daylight. Far away in an offshoot vale, a bright ruddy light gleamed through the surrounding darkness. Alric's eye was fixed on it. His untiring foot sped towards it. The roar of a mighty cataract grew louder on his ear every moment. He had to slacken his pace a little, and pick his steps as he went on, for the path was rugged and dangerous.
"I wonder if Old Hans of the Foss is at home?" was the thought that passed through his mind as he approached the door.
Old Hans himself answered the thought by opening the door at that moment. He was a short, thick-set, and very powerful man, of apparently sixty years of age, but his eye was as bright and his step as light as that of many a man of twenty.
"The war-token," he said, almost gaily, stepping back into the cottage as Alric leaped in. "What is doing, son of Haldor?"
"King Harald will be upon us sooner than we wish. Ulfstede is the meeting-place. Can thy son speed on the token in the next valley?"
The old warrior shook his head sadly, and pointed to a low bed, where a young man lay with the wasted features and bright eyes that told of a deadly disease in its advanced stage.
An exclamation of regret and sympathy escaped from Alric. "I cannot go," he said; "my course lies to the left, by the Stor foss. Hast no one to send?"
"I will go, father," said a smart girl of fifteen, who had been seated behind her mother, near the couch of the sick man.
"Yes, why not? It is only a league to Hawksdal, where young Eric will gladly relieve me."
"True," said the old warrior, with a smile, as he began to don his armour. "Go; I need not tell thee to make haste!"
Alric waited to hear no more, but darted away as the little maid tripped off in another direction.
Thus hour by hour the night passed by and Alric ran steadily on his course, rousing up all the fighting men in his passage through the district. As he advanced, messengers with war-tokens were multiplied, and, ere the morning's sun had glinted on the mountain peaks or lighted up the white fields of the Justedal glacier, the whole country was in arms, and men were crowding to the rendezvous.
Daylight had just commenced to illumine the eastern sky, when Alric, having completed his round, found himself once more on the cliffs above the sea. But he was still six or eight miles from Ulfstede, and the path to it along the top of the cliffs was an extremely rugged one. Earnestly then did the poor boy wish that he had remembered to put a piece of bread in his wallet before leaving home, but in his haste he had forgotten to do so, and now he found himself weary, foot-sore, and faint from exertion, excitement, and hunger, far from any human habitation. As there was no remedy for this, he made up his mind to take a short rest on the grass, and then set off for home as fast as possible.
With this end in view he selected a soft spot, on a cliff overlooking the sea, and lay down with a sigh of satisfaction. Almost instantly he fell into a deep slumber, in which he lay, perfectly motionless, for some hours. How long that slumber would have lasted it is impossible to say, for it was prematurely and unpleasantly interrupted.
In his cat-like creepings about the coast, Hauskuld the berserk, having obtained all the information that he thought would be of use to his royal master, landed for the last time to reconnoitre the position of Ulfstede, and see as much as he could of the doings of the people before turning his prow again to the north. The spot where he ran his boat ashore was at the foot of a steep cliff, up which he and a comrade ascended with some difficulty.
At the top, to his surprise, he found a lad lying on the grass sound asleep. After contemplating him for a few minutes, and whispering a few words to his comrade, who indulged in a broad grin, Hauskuld drew his sword and pricked Alric on the shoulder with it. An electric shock could not have been more effective. The poor boy sprang up with a loud cry, and for a few seconds gazed at the berserks in bewilderment. Then it flashed upon his awakening faculties that he was standing before enemies, so he suddenly turned round and fled, but Hauskuld sprang after him, and, before he had got three yards away, had caught him by the nape of the neck with a grip that made him gasp.
"Ho, ho! my young fox, so ye thought to leave the hounds in the lurch? Come, cease thy kicking, else will I give thee an inch of steel to quiet thee. Tell me thy name, and what thou art about here, and I will consider whether to make use of thee or hurl thee over the cliffs."
By this time Alric had fully recovered his senses and his self-possession. He stood boldly up before the berserk and replied—
"My name is Alric—son of Haldor the Fierce, out of whose way I advise thee to keep carefully, if thou art not tired of life. I have just been round with the war-token rousing the country."
"A most proper occupation for an eaglet such as thou," said Hauskuld; "that is to say, if the cause be a good one."
"The cause is one of the best," said Alric.
"Prithee, what may it be?"
"Self-defence against a tyrant."
Hauskuld glanced at his comrade, and smiled sarcastically as he asked—
"And who may this tyrant be?"
"Harald Haarfager, tyrant King of Norway," replied the lad stoutly.
"I thought so," said Hauskuld, with a grim twist of his features. "Well, young eaglet, thou art worthy to be made mincemeat of to feed the crows, but it may be that the tyrant would like to dispose of thee himself. Say now, whether will ye walk down that cliff quietly in front of me, or be dragged down?"
"I would rather walk, if I must go."
"Well, thou must go, therefore—walk, and see thou do it as briskly as may be, else will I apply the spur, which thou hast felt once already this morning. Lead the way, comrade; I will bring up the rear to prevent the colt from bolting."
As he knew that resistance would be useless, the boy promptly and silently descended the cliff with his captors, and entered the boat, which was immediately pushed off and rowed along-shore.
"Now listen to me, Alric, son of Haldor," said Hauskuld, seating himself beside his captive: "King Harald is not the tyrant you take him for; he is a good king, and anxious to do the best he can for Norway. Some mistaken men, like your father, compel him to take strong measures when he would fain take mild. If you will take me to a spot where I may safely view the valley of Horlingdal, and tell me all you know about their preparations for resistance, I will take you back to Drontheim, and speak well of you to the King, who will not only reward you with his favour, but make good terms, I doubt not, with your father."
The wily berserk had changed his tone to that of one who addresses a superior in rank while he thus tempted the boy; but he little guessed the spirit of his captive.
"What!" he exclaimed scornfully; "wouldst thou have me turn traitor to my own father?"
"Nay, I would have you turn wise for the sake of your father and yourself. Think well of what I say, and all I ask of you is to guide me to a good point of observation. There is a cave, they say, near Ulfstede, with its mouth to the sea, and a secret entrance from the land. No doubt I could find it myself with a little trouble, but it would save time if you were to point it out."
"Never!" exclaimed Alric sternly.
"Truly thou art a chip of the old tree," said Hauskuld, taking Alric's ear between his finger and thumb; "but there are means to take which have been known to bend stouter hearts than thine. Say, wilt thou show me the cave?"
He pinched the ear with gradually increasing force as he spoke, but Alric neither spoke nor winced, although the blood which rushed to his face showed that he felt the pain keenly.
"Well, well," said the berserk, relaxing his grip, "this is a torture only fit for very small boys after all. Hand me the pincers, Arne."
One of the men drew in his oar, and from a locker pulled out a pair of large pincers, which he handed to his chief, who at once applied them to the fleshy part at the back of Alric's arm, between the elbow and the shoulder.
"When thou art willing to do as I bid thee, I will cease to pinch," said Hauskuld.
Poor Alric had turned pale at the sight of the pincers, for he knew well the use they would be put to; but he set his teeth tightly together, and determined to endure it. As the pain increased the blood rushed again to his face, but an extra squeeze of the instrument of torture sent it rushing back with a deadly chill to his heart. In spite of himself, a sharp cry burst from his lips. Turning suddenly round, he clenched his right hand, and hit his tormentor on the mouth with such force that his head was knocked violently against the steering oar, and two or three of his front teeth were driven out.
"Thou dog's whelp!" shouted Hauskuld, as soon as he could speak. "I'll—"
He could say no more; but, grasping the boy by the hair of the head, he seized his sword, and would certainly have slain him on the spot, had not the man named Arne interposed.
"The King will not thank thee for his slaying," said he, laying his hand on Hauskuld's arm.
The latter made no reply except to utter a curse, then, dropping his sword, he struck Alric a blow on the forehead with his fist, which knocked him insensible into the bottom of the boat.
"Yonder is the mouth of the cave," exclaimed one of the men.
"It may be the one we look for," muttered Hauskuld. "Pull into it."
So saying, he steered the boat into the cavern, and its keel soon grated on the gravelly beach inside. The sound aroused Alric, who at first could not see, owing to the gloom of the place, and the effects of the blow; but he was brought suddenly to a state of mental activity and anxiety when he recognised the sides of the well-known cave. Rising quickly but cautiously, he listened, and knew by the sounds that the boatmen, of whom there were eight, were searching for an outlet towards the land. He therefore slipped over the side of the boat, and hastened towards the darkest side of the cave, but Hauskuld caught sight of him.
"Ha! is the little dog trying to get away?" he shouted, running after him.
The lad formed his plan instantly. "Come on, Hauskuld," he shouted, with a wild laugh; "I will show thee the outlet, and get out before thee too."
He then ran to the inner part of the cave that was farthest from the secret opening, shouting as he ran, and making as much noise as possible. The berserk and his men followed. The instant he reached the extremity of the place Alric became as silent as a mouse, kicked off his shoes, and ran nimbly round by the intricate turnings of the inner wall, until he came to the foot of the dark natural staircase, which has been referred to at the beginning of our tale. Up this he bounded, and reached the open air above, while his pursuers were still knocking their shins and heads on the rocks at the wrong end of the cave below.
Without a moment's pause the exulting boy dashed away towards Ulfstede. He had not run two hundred yards, however, when he observed three men standing on the top of the little mound to which the people of Ulfstede were wont to mount when they wished to obtain an uninterrupted view of the valley and the fiord. They hailed him at that moment, so he turned aside, and found, on drawing near, that they were his brother Erling, Glumm the Gruff, and Kettle Flat-nose.
"Why, Alric!" exclaimed Erling in surprise, on seeing the boy's swelled and bloody face, "what ails thee?"
"Quick, come with me, all of ye! There is work for your swords at hand. Lend me thy sword, Erling. It is the short one, and the axe will be enough for thee."
The excited lad did not wait for permission, but snatched the sword from his brother's side, and without further explanation, ran back towards the cliffs, followed closely by the astonished men. He made straight for the hole that led to the cave, and was about to leap into it when Hauskuld stepped out and almost received him in his arms. Before the berserk could plant his feet firmly on the turf, Alric heaved up his brother's sword and brought it down on Hauskuld's head with right good will. His arm, however, had not yet received power to cleave through a steel helmet, but the blow was sufficient to give it such a dint that its wearer tumbled back into the hole, and went rattling down the steep descent heels over head into the cave. The boy leaped down after him, but Hauskuld, although taken by surprise and partially stunned, had vigour enough left to jump up and run down to the boat. His men, on hearing the noise of his fall, had also rushed to the boat, and pushed off. The berserk sprang into the water, and swam after them, just as his pursuers reached the cave. Seeing this, his men being safe beyond pursuit, lay on their oars and waited for him. But Hauskuld's career had been run out. Either the fall had stunned him, or he was seized with a fit, for he suddenly raised himself in the water, and, uttering a cry that echoed fearfully in the roof of the cavern, he sank to the bottom. Still his men waited a minute or two, but seeing that he did not rise again, they pulled away.
"It is unlucky that they should have escaped thus," said Alric, "for they go to tell King Harald what they have seen."
"Friends," said Erling, "I have a plan in my head to cheat the King. I shall send Thorer round with my Swan to this cave, and here let it lie, well armed and provisioned, during the battle that we shall have to fight with Harald ere long. If ill luck should be ours, those of us who survive will thus have a chance of escaping with the women."
"What need is there of that?" said Glumm; "we are sure to give him the tooth-ache!"
"We are sure of nothing in this world," replied Erling, "save that the sun will rise and set and the seasons will come and go. I shall do as I have said, chiefly for the sake of the women, whom I should not like to see fall into the hands of King Harald; and I counsel thee to do the same with thy small ship the Crane. It can well be spared, for we are like to have a goodly force of men and ships, if I mistake not the spirit that is abroad."
"Well, I will do it," said Glumm.
"And Alric will not object, I dare say, to stand sentinel over the ships in the cave with two or three men till they are wanted," said Erling.
"That will not I," cried Alric, who was delighted to be employed in any service rather than be left at home, for his father, deeming him still too young, had strictly forbidden him to embark in the fleet.
"Well then, the sooner this is set about the better," said Erling, "for there is no counting on the movements of the King."
"Humph!" ejaculated Glumm.
"Ill luck to the tyrant!" said Kettle Flatnose, as they turned and left the cave.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
GLUMM GAINS A GREAT PRIVATE VICTORY—THE DALESMEN ASSEMBLE TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM—THE FOE APPEARS, AND THE SIGNAL OF BATTLE IS SOUNDED.
Again we return to the mound near Ulfstede, the top of which was now bathed in the rays of the morning sun—for the day had only begun, the events narrated at the end of the last chapter having occurred within a period of less than three hours.
Here stood the fair Hilda and the volatile Ada, the former leaning on the arm of the latter, and both gazing intently and in silence on the heart-stirring scene before them. Once again Horlingdal with its fiord was the scene of an assembly of armed men, but this time the concourse was grander, because much greater, than on a previous occasion. Men had learned by recent events that momentous changes were taking place in the land. The news of the King's acts had been carried far and wide. Everyone felt that a decisive blow was about to be struck somewhere, and although many hundreds had little or no opinion of their own as to what was best for the interests of the kingdom, they knew that a side must be taken, and were quite willing to take that which appeared to be the right, or which seemed most likely to win, while a large proportion of them were intelligently and resolutely opposed to the King's designs. Thus, when the war-token was sent round, it was answered promptly. Those who dwelt nearest to the place of rendezvous were soon assembled in great numbers, and, from the elevated point on which the girls stood, their glittering masses could be seen on the shore, while they launched their longships and loaded them with stones—the ammunition of those days—or passed briskly to and fro with arms and provisions; while all up the valley, as far as the eye could see, even to the faint blue distance, in the haze of which the glaciers and clouds and mountain tops seemed to commingle, troops of armed men could be seen pouring down from gorge and glen, through wood and furze and fen. On the fiord, too, the same activity and concentration prevailed, though not quite to the same extent. Constantly there swept round the promontories to the north and south, boat after boat, and ship after ship, until the bay close below Ulfstede was crowded with war-craft of every size—their gay sails, and in some cases gilded masts and figureheads, glancing in the sunshine, and their shield-circled gunwales reflected clearly in the sea.
"What a grand sight!" exclaimed Ada with enthusiasm, as she listened to the deep-toned hum of the busy multitude below.
"Would God I had never seen it!" said her companion.
"Out upon thee, Hilda! I scarce deem thee fit to be a free Norse maiden. Such a scene would stir the heart of stone."
"It does stir my heart strangely, sister," replied Hilda, "I scarcely can explain how. I feel exultation when I see the might of our district, and the bold bearing of our brave and brisk men; but my heart sinks again when I think of what is to come—the blood of men flowing like water, death sweeping them down like grain before the sickle; and for what? Ada, these go not forth to defend us from our enemies, they go to war with brothers and kindred—with Norsemen."
Ada beat her foot impatiently on the sod, and frowned a little as she said—
"I know it well enough, but it is a grand sight for all that, and it does no good to peep into the future as thou art doing continually."
"I do not peep," replied Hilda; "the future stares me full in the face."
"Well, let it stare, sister mine," said Ada, with a laugh, as she cleared her brow, "and stare past its face at what lies before thee at present, which is beautiful enough, thou must allow."
At that moment there seemed to be increasing bustle and energy on the part of the warriors on the shore, and the murmur of their voices grew louder.
"What can that mean, I wonder?" said Ada.
"Fresh news arrived, perhaps," replied her friend. "The Christians' God grant that this war may be averted!"
"Amen, if it be His will," said a deep voice behind the girls, who turned and found the hermit standing at their side. "But, Hilda," he continued, "God does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect—sometimes because we pray for the wrong thing, and sometimes because we pray that the right thing may come to us in the wrong way. I like best to end my petitions with the words of my dear Saviour Jesus Christ—'Thy will be done.' Just now it would seem as if war were ordained to go on, for a scout has just come in to say that King Harald with his fleet is on the other side of yonder point, and I am sent to fetch thee down to a place of safety without delay."
"Who sent thee?" demanded Ada.
"Methinks we are safe enough here," she said, with a gesture of impatience.
"Aye, if we win the day, but not if we lose it," said the old man.
"Come," said Hilda, "we must obey our father."
"I have no intention of disobeying him," retorted the other, tossing her head.
Just then Alric ran up with a look of anxiety on his swelled and blood-stained face.
"Come, girls, ye are in the way here. Haste—ah! here comes Erling—and Glumm too."
The two young men ran up the hill as he spoke.
"Come with us quickly," cried Erling; "we do not wish the King's people to see anyone on this mound. Let me lead thee down, Hilda."
He took her by the hand and led her away. Glumm went forward to Ada, whose old spirit was evidently still alive, for she glanced at the hermit, and appeared as if inclined to put herself under his protection, but there was something in Glumm's expression that arrested her. His gruffness had forsaken him, and he came forward with an unembarrassed and dignified bearing. "Ada," he said, in a gentle but deliberate voice, while he gazed into her face so earnestly that she was fain to drop her eyes, "thou must decide my fate now. To-day it is likely I shall fight my last battle in my fatherland. Death will be abroad on the fiord, more than willing to be courted by all who choose to woo him. Say, dear maid, am I to be thy protector or not?"
Ada hesitated, and clasped her hands tightly together, while the tell-tale blood rushed to her cheeks. Glumm, ever stupid on these matters, said no other word, but turned on his heel and strode quickly away.
"Stay!" she said.
She did not say this loudly, but Glumm heard it, turned round, and strode back again. Ada silently placed her hand in his—it trembled as she did so—and Glumm led her down the hill.
The girls were escorted by their lovers only as far as Ulfstede. With all the other women of the place, and the old people, they were put under the care of the hermit, who conveyed them safely to Haldorstede, there to await the issue of the day.
Meanwhile, Haldor, Erling, Glumm, Hakon of Drontheim, Ulf, Guttorm Stoutheart, and all the other Sea-kings, not only of Horlingdal, but of the surrounding valleys, with a host of smaller bonders, unfreemen, and thralls, went down to the shores of the bay and prepared for battle.
It is needless to say that all were armed to the teeth—with coats of mail and shirts of wolf-skin; swords and battle-axes, bows and arrows, halberds and spears, "morning stars" and bills, scythes, javelins, iron-shod poles—and many other weapons.
The principal ships of the fleet were of course those belonging to Haldor, Ulf, and the wealthier men of the district. Some of these were very large—having thirty benches of rowers, and being capable of carrying above a hundred and fifty men. All of them were more or less decorated, and a stately brilliant spectacle they presented, with their quaint towering figureheads, their high poops, shield-hung sides, and numerous oars. Many proud thoughts doubtless filled the hearts of these Sea-kings as they looked at their ships and men, and silently wended their way down to the strand. In the case of Haldor and Erling, however, if not of others, such thoughts were tempered with the feeling that momentous issues hung on the fate of the day.
Well was it for all concerned that the men who led them that day were so full of forethought and energy, for scarcely had they completed their preparations and embarked their forces when the ships of Harald Fairhair swept round the northern promontory.
If the fleet of the small kings of Horlingdal and the south was imposing, that of the King of Norway was still more so. Besides, being stronger in numbers, and many of the warships being larger—his own huge vessel, the Dragon, led the van, appearing like a gorgeous and gigantic sea-monster.
The King was very proud of this longship. It had recently been built by him, and was one of the largest that had ever been seen in Norway. The exact dimensions of it are not now known, but we know that it had thirty-two banks for rowers, from which we may infer that it must have been of nearly the same size with the Long Serpent, a war vessel of thirty-four banks, which was built about the end of the tenth century, and some of the dimensions of which are given in the Saga of Olaf Tryggvesson. The length of her keel that rested on the grass, we are told, was about 111 feet, which is not far short of the length of the keel of one of our forty-two gun frigates. As these warships were long in proportion to their breadth, like our modern steamers, this speaks to a size approaching 400 tons burden. As we have said, the Dragon was a gorgeous vessel. It had a high poop and forecastle, a low waist, or middle part, and a splendidly gilt and painted stern, figurehead, and tail. The sides, which were, as usual, hung round with the red and white painted shields of the crew, were pierced for sixty-four oars, that is, thirty-two on each side, being two oars to each bank or bench, and as there were three men to each oar, this gave a total crew of 192 men; but in truth the vessel contained, including steersmen and supernumeraries, above 200 men. Under the feet of the rowers, in the waist, were chests of arms, piles of stones to be used as missiles, provisions, clothing, goods, and stores, all of which were protected by a deck of movable hatches. On this deck the crew slept at nights, sheltered by an awning or sail, when it was not convenient for them to land and sleep on the beach in their tents, with which all the vessels of the Norsemen were usually supplied. There was but one great mast, forty feet high, and one enormous square sail to this ship. The mast was tipped with gilding, and the sail was of alternate strips of red, white, and blue cloth. Each space between the banks served as the berth of six or eight men, and was divided into half berths—starboard and larboard—for the men who worked the corresponding oars. On the richly ornamented poop stood the King himself, surrounded by his bodyguard and chief men of the Court, including Jarl Rongvold and Thiodolph the scald. From the stem to the mid-hold was the forecastle, on which were stationed the King's berserkers, under Hake of Hadeland. All the men of Hake's band were splendid fellows; for King Harald, having a choice of men from the best of every district, took into his house troop only such as were remarkable for strength, courage, and dexterity in the use of their weapons.
It must not be supposed that the rest of Harald's fleet was composed of small vessels. On the contrary, some of them were not far short of his own in point of size. Many of his jarls were wealthy men, and had joined him, some with ten or twenty, and others with thirty, or even forty, ships of various sizes. Many of them had from twenty to thirty banks for rowers, with crews of 100 or 150 men. There were also great numbers of cutters with ten or fifteen banks, and from thirty to fifty men in each, besides a swarm of lesser craft, about the size of our ordinary herring boats.
There were many men of note in this fleet, such as King Sigurd of Royer and Simun's sons; Onund and Andreas; Nicolas Skialdvarsson; Eindrid, a son of Mornef, who was the most gallant and popular man in the Drontheim country, and many others; the whole composing a formidable force of seven or eight thousand warriors.
With Haldor the Fierce, on the other hand, there was a goodly force of men and ships; for the whole south country had been aroused, and they came pouring into the fiord continuously. Nevertheless they did not number nearly so large a force as that under King Harald. Besides those who have been already named, there were Eric, king of Hordaland; Sulke, king of Rogaland, and his brother Jarl Sote; Kiotve the Rich, king of Agder, and his son Thor Haklang; also the brothers Roald Ryg, and Hadd the Hard, of Thelemark, besides many others. But their whole number did not exceed four thousand men; and the worst of it all was that among these there were a great many of the smaller men, and a few of the chiefs whose hearts were not very enthusiastic in the cause, and who had no very strong objection to take service under Harald Fairhair. These, however, held their peace, because the greater men among them, and the chief leaders, such as Haldor and Ulf, were very stern and decided in their determination to resist the King.
Now, when the report was brought that Harald's fleet had doubled the distant cape beyond Hafurdsfiord, the people crowded to the top of the cliffs behind Ulfstede to watch it; and when it was clearly seen that it was so much larger than their own, there were a few who began to say that it would be wiser to refrain from resistance; but Haldor called a Thing together on the spot by sound of horn, and a great many short pithy speeches were made on both sides of the question. Those who were for war were by far the most able men, and so full of fire that they infused much of their own spirit into those who heard them. Erling in particular was very energetic in his denunciation of the illegality of Harald's proceedings; and even Glumm plucked up heart to leap to his feet and declare, with a face blazing with wrath, that he would rather be drowned in the fiord like a dog, or quit his native land for ever, than remain at home to be the slave of any man!
Glumm was not, as the reader is aware, famed for eloquence; nevertheless the abruptness of his fiery spirit, the quick rush of his few sputtered words, and the clatter of his arms, as he struck his fist violently against his shield, drew from the multitude a loud burst of applause. He had in him a good deal of that element which we moderns call "go". Whatever he did was effectively done.
The last who spoke was Solve Klofe. That redoubtable warrior ascended the hill just as Glumm had finished his remarks. He immediately stood forward, and raised his hand with an impassioned gesture. "Glumm is right," he cried. "It is now clear that we have but one course to take; and that is to rise all as one man against King Harald, for although outnumbered, we still have strength enough to fight for our ancient rights. Fate must decide the victory. If we cannot conquer, at all events we can die. As to becoming his servants, that is no condition for us! My father thought it better to fall in battle than to go willingly into King Harald's service, or refuse to abide the chance of weapons like the Numedal kings."
"That is well spoken," cried Haldor, after the shout with which this was received had subsided. "The Thing is at an end, and now we shall make ready, for it can be but a short time until we meet. Let the people take their weapons, and every man be at his post, so that all may be ready when the war-horn sounds the signal to cast off from the land. [See note 1.] Then let us throw off at once, and together, so that none go on before the rest of the ships, and none lag behind when we row out of the fiord. When we meet, and the battle begins, let people be on the alert to bring all our ships in close order, and ready to bind them together. Let us spare ourselves in the beginning, and take care of our weapons, that we do not cast them into the sea, or shoot them away in the air to no purpose. But when the fight becomes hot, and the ships are bound together, then let each man show what spirit is in him, and how well he can fight for country, law, and freedom!"
A loud ringing cheer was the answer to this speech, and then the whole concourse hurried down the hill and embarked; the vessels were quickly arranged in order according to their size; the war-horn sounded; thousands of oars dipped at the same moment, the blue waters of the fiord were torn into milky foam, and slowly, steadily, and in good order the fleet of the Sea-kings left the strand, doubled the cape to the north of Horlingfiord, and advanced in battle array to meet the foe.
Note 1. Signals by call of trumpet were well understood in those times. We read, in the ancient Sagas, of the trumpet-call to arm, to advance, to attack, to retreat, to land, and also to attend a Court Thing, a House Thing, a General Thing. These instruments were made of metal, and there were regular trumpeters.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
DESCRIBES A GREAT SEA FIGHT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Harald Fairhair stood on the poop of the great Dragon, and held the steering oar. When he saw the fleet of the Sea-kings approaching, he called Jarl Rongvold to him and said—
"Methinks, jarl, that I now see the end of this war with the small kings. It is easy to perceive that the utmost force they are able to raise is here. Now, I intend to beat them to-day, and break their strength for ever. But when the battle is over, many of them will seek to escape. I would prevent that as much as may be."
The King paused, as if engaged in deep thought.
"How do you propose to do it, sire?"
"By means of a boom," said the King. "Go thou, summon hither the trustiest man in the fleet for such a purpose, let him detach as many men and ships as he deems needful, and go into yonder small fiord where there is a pine wood on the hillside. There let him make a long and strong boom of timber, while we are engaged in the fight. I will drive as many of the ships as I can into Horlingfiord, and when that is done let him come out and stretch the boom right across, so that none of them shall escape. And, harkee, see that the man thou choosest for this duty is an able man, and does it well, else shall his head be lopped off."
After issuing this command the King resigned the helm, and ordered his banner to be set up, which was done immediately. At the same time his opponents shook out their banners, and both fleets were put in order of battle.
As both were arrayed much in the same way, it will be sufficient to describe the arrangements made by Haldor the Fierce, who had been elected commander-in-chief of the small kings' fleet.
When Haldor saw the King's banner displayed, he unfurled his own in the centre of the fleet, and arranged his force for attack right against it. Alongside of him on the right was Ulf of Romsdal with thirty ships, and on his left was old Guttorm Stoutheart with twenty-five ships. These composed the centre of the line. Kettle Flatnose commanded the men on the forecastle in Ulf's longship, and Thorer the Thick was over those in Haldor's vessel.
The right wing was commanded by Solve Klofe, under whom were Eric of Hordaland with fifteen ships; Sulke of Rogaland and his brother Sote with thirty ships, as well as Kiotve of Agder, and some others with many ships—all of large size.
The left wing was led by King Hakon of Drontheim, under whom were Roald Ryg and Hadd the Hard, and Thor Haklang, with a good many ships. Solve Klofe laid his ships against King Harald's left wing, which was under Eindrid, son of Mornef, and Hakon laid his against King Sigurd of Royer, who led Harald's right wing. All the chiefs on either side laid their ships according as they were bold or well equipped. When all was ready, they bound the ships together by the stems, and advanced towards each other at the sound of the war-trumpet. But as the fleets were so large, many of the smaller vessels remained loose, and, as it were, went about skirmishing independently. These were laid forward in the fight, according to the courage of their commanders, which was very unequal.
Among these roving warriors were our heroes Erling and Glumm, each in one of his own small cutters, with about forty men.
As soon as the war-blast sounded the men rode forward to the attack, and soon narrowed the small space that lay between the hostile fleets. Then Haldor and the other commanders went down to the sides of their ships, where the men stood so thick that their shields touched all round, and encouraged them to fight well for the freedom of old Norway—to which they replied with loud huzzas. Immediately after the air was darkened with a cloud of arrows, and the fight began.
There were scalds in both fleets at that fight, these afterwards wrote a poem descriptive of it, part of which we now quote:
"With falcon eye and courage bright, Haldor the Fierce prepared for fight; 'Hand up the arms to one and all!' He cries. 'My men, we'll win or fall! Sooner than fly, heaped on each other, Each man will fall across his brother!' Thus spake, and through his vessels' throng His mighty warship moved along. He ran her gaily to the front, To meet the coming battle's brunt— Then gave the word the ships to bind And shake his banner to the wind. Our oars were stowed, our lances high Swung to and fro athwart the sky. Haldor the Fierce went through the ranks, Drawn up beside the rowers' banks, Where rows of shields seemed to enclose The ship's deck from the boarding foes, Encouraging his chosen crew, He tells his brave lads to stand true, And rows against—while arrows sing— The Dragon of the tyrant King. With glowing hearts and loud huzzas, His men lay on in freedom's cause. The sea-steeds foam; they plunge and rock: The warriors meet in battle shock; The ring-linked coats of strongest mail Could not withstand the iron hail. The fire of battle raged around; Odin's steel shirts flew all unbound. The pelting shower of stone and steel, Caused many a Norseman stout to reel, The red blood poured like summer rain; The foam was scarlet on the main; But, all unmoved like oak in wood, Silent and grim fierce Haldor stood, Until his axe could reach the foe— Then—swift he thundered blow on blow. And ever, as his axe came down, It cleft or crushed another crown. Elsewhere the chiefs on either side Fought gallantly above the tide. King Hakon pressed King Sigurd sore, And Ulf made Hake the berserk roar, And Kettle Flatnose dared to spring On board the ship of Norway's King. Old Guttorm Stoutheart's mighty shout Above the din was heard throughout, And Solve Klofe, 'gainst Mornef's son, Slew right and left till day was done. While, all around the loose ships rowed— Where'er they went the red stream flowed. Chief among these was Erling bold And Glumm the Gruff, of whom 'tis told They rushed in thickest of the fray— Whatever part the line gave way— And twice, and thrice, retrieved the day. But heart, and strength, and courage true, Could not avail where one fought two. King Harald, foremost in the fight, With flashing sword, resistless might, Pushed on and slew, and dyed with red The bright steel cap on many a head. Against the hero's shield in vain, The arrow-storm sends forth its rain. The javelins and spear-thrusts fail To pierce his coat of ringed mail. The King stands on the blood-stained deck; Trampling on many a foeman's neck; And high above the dinning stound Of helm and axe, and ringing sound Of blade, and shield, and raven's cry Is heard the shout of—'Victory!'"