Read Chapter II. The Gifts of Two Heroes of King Alfred's Viking A Story of the First English Fleet, free online book, by Charles W. Whistler, on ReadCentral.com.

I will not say that my steps did not falter when we came to whence we could see the mound. But it was lonely and still and silent; no shape of warrior waited our coming.

“Almost do I fear to go nearer,” said Kolgrim.

“Put fear away, comrade,” said I; “we shall fare ill if we turn our backs now.”

“Where you go I go,” he answered, “though I am afraid.”

“The next best thing to not being afraid is to be afraid and not to show it,” I said then, comforting myself also with a show of wisdom at least. “Maybe fear is the worst thing we have to face.”

So we went on more swiftly, and at last were on the tongue of land on the tip of which the mound stood. Still, since we could not see the open doorway, which was towards the water, the place seemed not so terrible. Yet I thought that by this time we should have seen Sigurd, or maybe heard his voice from the tomb. So now I dared to call softly:

“Jarl Sigurd, here is one, a friend’s son, who will learn what you will.”

My voice seemed to fill all the ring of mountains with echoes, but there was no answer. All was still again when the last voice came back from the hillsides.

Then I went nearer yet, and passed to the waterside, where I could look slantwise across the doorway. And again I called, and waited for an answer that did not come.

“It seems that I must go even to the door, and maybe into the mound,” I said, whispering.

“Not inside,” said Kolgrim, taking hold of my arm.

But I had grown bolder with the thought that the hero seemed not angry, and now I had set my heart on winning the sword of which the jarl had told me, and I thought that I dared go even inside the tomb to speak with Sigurd.

“Bide here, and I will go at least to the door,” said I.

So I stepped boldly before it, standing on the heap of newly-fallen earth that had slipped from across it. The posts and lintel of the door were of stone slabs such as lay everywhere on the hillsides, and I stood so close that I could touch them. The doorway was not so high that I could see into it without stooping, for it was partly choked with the fallen earth, and I bent to look in. But I could only see for a few feet into the passage, as I looked from light to darkness.

“Ho, Jarl Sigurd! what would you? Why have you opened your door thus?”

Very hollow my voice sounded, and that was all.

“Sigurd of Orkney Sigurd, son of Rognvald I am the son of Vemund your friend. Speak to me!”

There was no answer. A bit of earth crumbled from the broken side of the mound and made me start, but I saw nothing. So I stepped away from the door and back to my comrade, who had edged nearer the place, though his face showed that he feared greatly.

“I think that the mound has been rifled,” I said. “Sigurd would have us know it and take revenge.”

“No man has dared to go near that doorway till you came, Ranald Vemundsson,” Kolgrim answered. “Now I fear that he plans to lure you into the mound, and slay you there without light to help you. Go no further, maybe you will be closed up with the ghost.”

That was not pleasant to think of, but I had seen nought to make me fear to go in. There was no such unearthly light shining within the mound as I had heard of in many tales of those who sought to speak with dead chiefs.

“Well, I am going in,” I said stoutly; “but do you hide here, and make some noise that I may know you are near me. It is the silence that frays me.

“What can I do?” he said. “I know no runes that are of avail. It would be ill to disturb this place with idle sounds.”

That seemed right, but I thought I could not bear the silence silence of the grave. I must know that he was close at hand. Then a thought came to me, and I unfastened the silver-mounted whetstone that hung from my belt and gave it him.

“Whet your sword edge sharply,” I said. “That is a sound a hero loves, for it speaks of deeds to be done.”

“Ay, that is no idle sound,” he said, and drew his sword gladly. The haft of the well-known blade brought the light into his eyes again. I drew my own sword also.

“If you need me, call, and I think I shall not fail you,” he whispered. “It shall not be said that I failed you in peril.”

“I know it,” I answered, putting my hand on his shoulder.

Then I went boldly, and stepped into the passage. The whetstone sang shrill on the sword edge as it kissed the steel behind me, and the sound was good to hear as I went into darkness with my weapon ready.

I half feared that my first step would be my last, but it was made in safety. Very black seemed the low stone-walled passage before me, and I had to stoop as I went on, feeling with my left hand along the wall. The way was so narrow that little light could pass my body, and therefore it seemed to grow darker as I went deeper into the mound’s heart.

Five steps I took, and then my outstretched hand was on the post that ended the passage, and beyond that I felt nothing. I had come to the inner doorway, and before me was the place where Sigurd lay. Yet no fiery eyes glared on me, and nothing stirred. The air was heavy with a scent as of peat, and the sound of the whetstone seemed loud as I stood peering into the darkness.

I moved forward, and somewhat rattled under my foot, and I started. Then my fear left me altogether, for I had trodden on dry bones, and shuddered at the first touch of them in that place. I had faced fear, and had overcome it; maybe it was desperation that made me cool then, for it was certain now that I must be slain or else victor over I knew not what.

So I took one pace forward into the chamber, and stood aside from the doorway; and the grey light from the passage came in and filled all the place, so that it fell first on him whom I had come to seek Jarl Sigurd of Orkney.

And when I saw, a great awe fell upon me, and a sadness, but no terror; and in my heart I would that hereafter I might rest as slept the hero where the hands that had loved him had placed him.

Into the silent place came once more with me the clank of mail and weapons that he had loved, and from without the song of the keen sword edge whispered to him; but these could not wake him. Peacefully he seemed to sleep as I stood by his side, and I thought that I should take back no word of his to the jarl, his brother, whom both he and I loved.

They had brought the great carven chair on which he was wont to sit on his ship’s quarterdeck, and thereon had set the jarl, as though he yet lived, and did but sleep as he sat from weariness after fight, with helm and mail upon him. Shield and axe rested on either side of him, ready to hand, against the chair; and behind him, along the wall, were his spears, ashen shafted and rune graven.

His blue, fur-trimmed cloak was round him, and before him was a little table, heavy and carved, whereon were vessels for food, empty now save for dust that showed that they had been full. And across his knees was his sword, golden hilted, with a great yellow cairngorm in the pommel, and with gold-wrought patterns from end to end of the scabbard such a sword as I had never seen before. His right hand held the hilt, and his left rested on the shield’s rim beside him; and so Sigurd slept with his head bowed on his breast, waiting for Ragnaroek and the last great fight of all.

The light seemed to grow stronger as I looked, or my eyes grew used to it, and then I saw that the narrow chamber was full of things, though I minded them afterwards, for now I was as in a dream, noting only the jarl himself. Costly stuffs were on the floor, and mail and helms and more weapons. Gold work there was also, and in one corner lay the dried-up body of a great wolf hound, coiled as in sleep where it had been chained. Another had been tied by the passage doorway, where I had stepped on it; and below a spar that stood across a corner lay a tumbled heap of feathers that had been a falcon.

Many more things there were maybe, but this I saw at last that the jarl’s right foot rested on the skull of a man whose teeth had been long and tusk-like. It was the head of the Scot whose teeth had been his death.

Now the sword drew my eyes, for Einar bade me ask for it, else I think I had gone softly hence without a word, so peaceful seemed the dead. And as I looked again, I saw that the hand holding the hilt was dry and brown and shrunken, so that one might see all the bones through the skin, and at first I was afraid to ask.

At last I said, and my mouth was dry:

“Jarl Einar, your brother, bids me ask for sword Helmbiter, great Sigurd. Let me take it, that he may know how you rest in peace.”

But Sigurd stirred not nor spoke; and slowly I put out my hand on the sword to take it very gently, but his grasp was yet firm on it. Then, as I bent to see if it had tightened when I would draw the sword away, I could see beneath the helm the face of the dead, shrunken indeed and brown, but as of one at rest and beyond anger.

Once more then I took the jarl’s sword in my right hand, and raised his hand with my left, putting my own weapon by against the wall. And then the hilt slipped from the half-open fingers, and the sword was mine, and my hand held the jarl’s. And it seemed to me that he gave it me, and that I must thank him for such a gift. The sword though it was sheathed, was not girt to him, and its golden-studded belt was twisted about it, and it was no imperfect giving.

So I spoke in a low voice:

“Jarl Sigurd, I thank you. If my might is aught, the sword will be used as you would have used it. Surely I will say to Einar that you rest in peace, and we will come here and close your mound again in all honour.”

I set back his hand then, and it seemed empty and helpless, not as a warrior’s should be. So I ungirt my own weapon a good plain sword that I had won from a viking in Caithness and laid it in the place of that he had given me. And as I put the thin fingers on its hilt, almost thinking that they would chose around it, a ring slipped from them into my hand, as if he would give that also, and I kept it therefore.

Then for a minute I stood before Jarl Sigurd, waiting to see if he had any word; but when he spoke not, I lifted the sword and saluted him.

“Skoal to Jarl Sigurd; rest in peace, and farewell.”

Then I went forth softly, and came out into sunshine; for the wind was singing round the hilltops, and the dun mist had gone. Then I was ware that the sound of the stone on the sword edge had long ceased, and I looked for Kolgrim.

He was lying on the grass in the place where I had left him, but he was on his face, and the sword and whetstone were flung aside from him. At first I feared that he had been in some way slain because of his terror; but when I came near, I saw that his shoulders heaved as if he wept. Then I stood over him, treading softly.

“Kolgrim,” I said.

At that he looked up, and a great light came into his face, and he sprang to his feet and threw his arms round me, weeping, yet with a strong man’s weeping that does but come from bitter grief.

“Master,” he cried, “O master I thought you lost and I dared not follow you.”

“I have met with no peril,” I said, “nor have I been long gone.”

“More than two hours, master, have you been in that place two long hours. See how the sun has sunk since you left me!”

So indeed it seemed, though I knew not that I had been so long. I had stayed still and gazed on that strange sight without stirring for what seemed but a little while. Yet I had thought long thoughts in that time, and I mind every single thing in that dim chamber, even to the markings on the stones that made its walls and roof and floor.

“See,” I said, “Jarl Sigurd has given me the sword!”

Kolgrim gazed in wonder. There was no speck of dust on the broad blade as I drew it, and the waving lines of the dwarf-wrought steel and gold-inlaid runes were clear and bright along its middle for half its length. For the mound was very dry, and they had covered all the chamber with peat before piling the earth over it.

“Let us go back to Jarl Einar; he will fear for us,” I said, sheathing the sword and girding it to me.

So we went across the meadow, and even as we went a blast of cold wind came from, over the mountains, and with it whirled the black thunderclouds of the storm that had been gathering all day. We ran to an overhanging rock on the hillside and crept beneath it, while the thunder crashed and the lightning struck from side to side of the firth, and smote the wind-swept water that was white with foam.

“Master,” said Kolgrim, “the Jarl Sigurd is wroth; he repents the sword gift.”

But I did not think that he had aught to do with this. For, as any hill-bred man could tell, the storm had been brewing in the heat, and was bound to come, and would pass to and fro among the hills till it was worn out.

Nevertheless, when it passed away in pouring rain that swept like a hanging sheet of moving mist down the glens from the half-hidden mountains, and the sun shone out brightly again over the clear-cut purple hillsides and rippling water, I looked at the mound in wonder. For it was closed. We had sought shelter in a place near that whence we saw the mound in coming, and could see the fallen side, though not the doorway, looking across its front. And now the slope of the bank seemed to have been made afresh, as on the day when Sigurd had been closed in, years ago. None could say, save those who had seen it, where the opening into the grave-chamber might be.

Now both the opening and closing of Sigurd’s grave mound seem very strange to me. Thord and the scalds will have it that he himself wrought both. As for me, I know not. In after days I told this to Alfred the king when he wondered at my sword, and he said that he thought an earthquake opened and washing rain closed the mound, but that it happened strangely for me. I cannot gainsay his wise words, and I will leave the matter so.

Thereafter Kolgrim and I went back to Einar, who yet waited for us. Glad was he to see us return in safety; but both he and Thord were speechless when they saw the jarl’s sword girt to me and the jarl’s golden ring on my hand. Neither they nor any one else will believe that I met with no peril; and the tale that the scalds made hereafter of the matter is over wonderful, in spite of all I may say. For they think it but right that I should not be over boastful of my deeds.

But Jarl Einar looked on sword and ring, and said:

“Well have you won these gifts. My brother is in peace in his resting place now. I hold that he called for you.”

So we went back to the ships, and there for many days the men stared at Kolgrim and me strangely. They say I was very silent for long, and it is likely enough. Moreover, Einar was wont to say that I seemed five years older from that day forward.

We went no more to the place of the mound, for it seemed to need no care of earthly hands. Nor were any wishing to go to so awesome a place, and we left the firth next day, for the men waxed uneasy there.

But on that day Einar gave me the great ship that we had taken from Halfdan, the king’s son, saying that he would add to Sigurd’s giving. Also he bade me choose what men I would for her crew, bidding me thank him not at all, for I was his foster son, and a king by birth moreover.

So when I knew that this would please him, I chose Thord for my shipmaster, and Kolgrim for marshal, as we call the one who has charge of the ordering of the crew. And I chose a hundred good men whom I knew well, so that indeed I had the best ship and following in Norway, as I thought. At least there were none better, unless Harald Fairhair might match me.

Now there was one thing that pleased me not at this time, and that was that Kolgrim, my comrade, never called me aught but “master” since I came from Sigurd’s presence which is not the wont of our free Norsemen with any man. Nor would he change it, though I was angry, until I grew used to it in time.

“Call me not ‘master,’ Kolgrim, my comrade,” I said; “it is unfittinq for you.”

At last he answered me in such wise that I knew it was of no more use to speak of it.

“Master of mine you are, Ranald the king, since the day when you dared more than I thought man might, while I lay like a beaten hound outside, and dared not go within that place to see what had become of you. Little comradeship was mine to you on that day, and I am minded to make amends if I can. I think I may dare aught against living men for you, though I failed at that mound. I will give life for you, if I may.”

I told him that what he had done was well done, and indeed he had had courage to go where none else had dared; for I had ties of friendship that made me bold to meet Jarl Sigurd, and might go therefore where he might not. It was well that he did not come into the presence of the dead.

“Therefore we are comrades, not master and man,” I said.

“Nay, but master and man lord and thrall,” he answered.

So I must let him have his way, but he could not make me think of him as aught but a good and brave comrade whom I loved well.

They hailed me as king when I went on board my ship for the first time with my own men, as I have said. Then our best weapon smith asked for gold from the men, and they gave what they had it was in plenty with us of Einar’s following and made a golden circlet round my helm, that they might see it and follow it in battle.

It was good to wear the crown thus given willingly, but in the end it sent me from north to south, as will be seen. That, however, is a matter with which I will not quarrel, for it sent me to Alfred the king.

We had left the firth two days, cruising slowly northward, when one ship came from the north and met us, not flying from our fleet, but bearing up to join us. And when she was close, there came a hail to tell Einar that she bore a messenger from Harald the king in peace, and presently we hove to while this messenger went on board the Jarl’s ship.

Then it seemed that Einar had been right, and that Harald would lay a fine on the islands for Halfdan’s slaying, and so give them back to Einar to hold for him. The messenger was Thiodolf, Harald’s own scald, and he put the matter very plainly before the jarl, so that he thought well of the offer, but would nevertheless not trust himself in the king’s power before all was certain, and confirmed by oath. Whereon Thiodolf said that one must see the king on the Jarl’s part, and so I seemed the right man to go, as the jarl’s foster son and next in command to him.

“Nevertheless,” said Thiodolf, “I would not advise you to sail in Halfdan’s ship, for that might wake angry thoughts, and trouble would come especially as Halfdan took her without leave when he was outlawed.”

So I took the Jarl’s cutter, manning her with enough men of my own crew; and Kolgrim came with me, and we sailed to Kirkwall in company with Thiodolf the scald.

Then when Thiodolf took me into his presence, I saw Harald Fairhair for the first time, as he sat to receive Einar’s messenger in the great hall that Sigurd had built and which we had dwelt in. Then I thought that never before could have been one more like a king. Hereafter, when sagamen will sing of a king in some fancied story, they will surely make him like King Harald of Norway. I myself have little skill to say what he was like beyond this that never had I seen a more handsome man, nor bigger, nor stronger. King-like he was in all ways, and his face was bright and pleasant, though it was plain that it would be terrible if he was angry, or with the light of battle upon it.

The hair, whence he had his name, was golden bright and shining, and beard and eyebrows were of the same colour. But his eyes were neither grey nor blue altogether, most piercing, seeming to look straight into a man’s heart, so that none dared lie to him.

I think that it is saying much for King Harald that, though his arms and dress were wonderfully rich and splendid, one cared only to look on his face; and that though many men of worth were on the high place with him, there seemed to be none but he present.

When the scald told the king who I was, and what was my errand, with all ceremony, he looked fixedly at me, so that I was ashamed, and grew red under his gaze. Then he smiled pleasantly, and spoke to me. His voice was as I thought to hear it clear and steady, and yet deep.

“So, Ranald Vemundsson, you are worthy of your father. It may be that you bear me ill will on his account, but I would have you forget the deeds done that Norway might be one, and the happier therefor.”

“Had my father been slain in fair fight, lord king,” I said, “no ill will had been thought of. It has not been in my mind that you bade Rognvald slay him as he did. And that Jarl is dead, and the feud is done with therefore. Jarl Einar is my foster father, moreover.”

“That is well said,” answered Harald. “But I thought Sigurd must have fostered you; he was ever a close friend of Vemund’s.”

I did not know why the king thought this, though the reason was at my side; so I only said that my mother had given me to Einar’s keeping, and the king said no more at that time about it.

After that I gave the Jarl’s messages, and the king heard them well enough, though it seemed to Einar that the weregild to be paid was over heavy, and he had bidden me tell Harald that it was so. Therefore the king said that he would give me an answer on the morrow, and I went away into the town well pleased with his kindly way with me.

There was a feast made for me that night, and after it I must sit still and hear the scalds sing of the deeds of Harald the king, which was well enough. But then Thiodolf rose up and sang a great saga about the winning of Sigurd’s sword, wherein it seemed that I had fought the dead jarl, and bale fires, and I know not what. He had heard strange tales from Einar’s men, if they told him all that he sang.

Some men may be pleased to hear their own deeds sung of, with more added thus; but I was not used to it, and the turning of all eyes to me made me uncomfortable. But Harald had paid no sort of heed to what they sang of him, and so I tried to look at my ease, and gave the scald a bracelet when he ended.

“Overmuch make you of that matter, scald,” said I quietly.

He laughed a little, and answered:

“One has to fill in what a warrior will not tell of himself.”

Now the men shouted when I gave Thiodolf the bracelet, and Harald looked quickly at me. Then I thought that maybe I had overdone the gift, though Einar had ever told me that a good scald deserved good reward, and Thiodolf was well known as the best in Norway. It was a heavy ring, silver gilt, and of good design, that I took from the same viking whose sword I gave to Sigurd.

“Overpaid am I,” the scald said, putting it on his arm.

“You are the first who has ever sung of me,” I answered; “and the voice and tune were wonderful, if the saga was too strong for me.”

Then Harald smiled again, and praised Thiodolf also, and I thought no more of the matter. The feast was pleasant enough in the hall, full of Harald’s best men and chiefs, though it seemed strange to sit as a guest in Einar’s house.

Now on the next morning I was to speak with the king about Einar’s business, and I went to him unarmed, as was right, save for helm and Sigurd’s sword. He was in the jarl’s own chamber, and with him were Thiodolf and a young scald named Harek, who sat with things for writing before him, which was what I had never seen before.

We talked for some time, and all went well for peace; but one more message was to go and come between the king and Einar, and so I said I would sail at once.

“Not so much need for haste but that you can bide here for a day or two,” Harald said. “I will not have you complain of my hospitality hereafter. And Thiodolf and Harek here want to learn more about Sigurd’s sword and its winning.”

“If I tell them the truth, I shall spoil their saga, lord king!” I said, laughing.

“Trust the scalds to mind you do not,” he answered. “There are times when I have to ask them which of my own doings they are singing about now. But is there no wonder in the tale?”

So I told him just how the matter was. And when he heard of the noise, and the stroke with which the ships were smitten, he said, looking troubled, as I thought:

“Sigurd is stronger now that he is dead than when he lived. We felt that stroke even here.”

But when I told how I had seen the dead jarl, his face grew thoughtful, and at last he said:

“So shall I lie some day in a grave mound. It is passing strange to think on. I would that if one comes to my side he may step gently as you, Ranald Vemundsson.”

“Else will that comer fare ill,” said Thiodolf.

The king glanced up at him, and his face changed, and he said, smiling grimly:

“Maybe. I think none will win my sword from me.”

Then he had Kolgrim sent for, and Thord, and they told him truly what they had seen, and how they had fared in the matter.

“You are a truth teller, Kolgrim the Tall,” Harald said. “Now if you will leave Einar’s service and come and be of my courtmen, I will speak to the jarl and make matters right with him, and it shall be worth your while.”

Then my comrade answered plainly:

“I am no jarl’s man now, King Harald; I belong to King Ranald here, and I will not leave him.”

“So,” said Harald, knitting his brows suddenly, “we have two kings in the room, as it seems; and you dare choose another instead of me.”

“Not so, King Harald,” Kolgrim answered, with all respect; “I chose between the jarl and my king. If there is peace between you and the jarl, I suppose we are all your men.”

Now Harald’s face was growing black, and I could see that his anger was rising. But he stayed what words he was about to speak, and only said:

“Jarl Einar is well served when he has a king in his train.”

Then he rose up and turned to Thiodolf, who was looking anxious.

“Bid King Ranald to the feast tonight. He knows my words to Einar his foster father, and I have no more to say.”

So I was dismissed, and was not sorry to be outside the hall.

“Let us get down to the ship,” said Thord. “Here is trouble brewing, as I think.”

So we went on board, and I wished that we might go. Yet the king had bidden me stay, and I had no reason for what would be discourteous at least, if it did not look like flight. What the trouble was we could hardly understand.

In an hour’s time or so I saw Thiodolf and the young scald Harek coming along the wharf and towards our ship, which lay clear of Harald’s vessels, and next the harbour mouth. They came over the gang plank, and I welcomed them, but I saw that they had somewhat special to say to me.

They sat down under the after awning with me, and at once Thiodolf said:

“That was an unlucky speech of your comrade’s just now. No man dares name himself king in Harald’s presence not even his own sons. It is the one thing that he will not bear.”

“So it seemed,” said I; “and, in truth, he had enough trouble with under kings not long since. But he knows what a sea king is no king at all, so to speak. He need not grudge the old title.”

“That is not all,” Thiodolf said. “It is in his mind that he has to guard yet against risings of men of the old families of the kings, and thinks you are likely to give him trouble. Maybe the portent of the blow that spread from Sigurd’s tomb to us has seemed much to him. ‘Here,’ he says, ’is one who will gather masterless men to him in crowds because he wears Sigurd’s sword and ring, and has gained with them the name of a hero. Already he has two of Einar’s best men at his heels. Yet I like him well enough, and I have no fault to find with him, save that he puts a gold circle round his helm and is called king as he would have been but for me. Go to him, therefore, and tell him to keep out of my way. I will not have two kings in Norway.’”

“Well,” I said, “that is plain speaking. But I cannot help what the men call me. The king makes overmuch of the business. I am not foolish enough to try to overturn Harald Fairhair.”

“Maybe,” said Thiodolf, “but those are his words. I rede you get away quickly on the next tide.”

“Ay,” said Harek. “Harald is mild of mood now, because you made no secret of what men call you. Five years ago you would not have escaped hence at all.”

“Then,” said I, “I will go. I think you are right. Vemund’s son troubles Harald;” and I laughed, and added, “I have to thank you for kindly counsel, scalds, as I think. Farewell. Tide serves at any time now, and I will get my men and be gone.”

“That is wise,” they answered. “Einar must find some other messenger, if he comes not himself, after you return.”

They went, and I called two or three men and sent them into the town for their comrades who were at friends’ houses and in the guest house where we were lodged, while Kolgrim made ready for instant sailing.

The next thing that I was ware of was that there was a fight on the wharf end next the town, and men were running to it. Then I heard my own name shouted on one part, and that of Eric, the king’s young son, on the other. So I was going to lead down twenty men to quiet the scuffle, when my people had the best of the matter, and broke through the throng, cheering, and came on to me. The rest did not follow them, for they saw that I was coming, and the wharf was clear behind them but for three of their foes who stayed where they had fallen.

Then another man broke away from the crowd, and came running after my folk. It was Harek the scald, with his head broken.

“Here are fine doings,” said Kolgrim, as the men swarmed on board. “What is on hand now?”

“It is not done with yet,” said a man: “look at yon ship.”

Then came Harek, out of breath, and pale.

“Let me on board, King Ranald, or I am a dead man,” he cried.

“Come, then!” I answered; and he ran across the plank, and Kolgrim pulled it in after him. All my men were come.

Then I looked at the ship spoken of. Men were swarming into her, and were making ready to sail. But if she meant to stay our going, she was too far up the harbour, and we were already casting off the shore ropes.

“Hold on,” said Thord; “here come the other scald and two men.”

The crowd that was yet round the fallen men had parted to let Thiodolf pass, and he came quickly. One of the men bore a chest, and the other a bale of somewhat. They gave these over the gunwale to my people, and Thiodolf spoke to me from the wharf.

“These are gifts from Harald to Einar’s foster son,” he said. “He bids me say that you have done your errand well, and that this is to prove it. Also he says that Ranald, son of Vemund, may need mail to keep his kingship withal, and so he has sent you a suit.”

“That is a hard saying,” I answered; “is it insult?”

“Nay, but a broad hint only. The gift is most goodly.”

“Well,” said I, “it is plain that he will warn me from Norway. I will leave you, good friend, to say for me what should be said. Maybe if I sent a message it would go wrongly from my lips.”

Thiodolf laughed, and bade me farewell. He paid no heed to Harek, who sat on the deck with his back to him.

Then Kolgrim whistled shrill to his men, and we began to move down to the harbour mouth. I heard a sharp voice hurrying the men in the other ship; but they could not be ready in time to catch us.

When we were well out to sea, I asked Harek what all this was about.

“Your going has spoiled a plan that Eric, the king’s son, had made. He wanted your sword, and thought also that to rid himself now of Vemund’s son might save him trouble when the crown came to him, as it will. You were to be set on as you came from the feast tonight to the guest quarters, as if in a common broil between your men and his. Then he found you were going, and tried to stay your men, and next to take these gifts from Thiodolf and me, being very angry, even to trying to cut me down. Lucky for me that his sword turned in his hand. But he would have had me slain tonight, certainly, for he says that it was our fault that you are getting away. He fears Thiodolf, however. Now I must take service with you, if you will have me.”

It seemed to me that I was making friends with one hand and enemies with the other, and that last rather more quickly than was well. So I laughed, and answered:

“I suppose that if I have a scald of my own, King Harald will blame me for overmuch kingship. However, he is angry enough already, and maybe a good friend will balance that to me. So if you will indeed cast in your lot with me, I am glad!”

So I took his hand, and more than friends have he and I been from that day forward.

Now, when I looked at Harald’s strangely-given gifts, I had reason to say that he was open handed. The chest held two mail shirts, one of steel rings, gold ornamented and fastened, and the other of scales on deerskin, both fit for a king. There were two helms also, one to match either byrnie {iv}, and a seax that was fit to hang with Sigurd’s sword. As for the bale, that held furs of the best, and blue cloth and scarlet. If Harald banished me, it was for no ill will; and it was handsomely done, as though he would fit me out for the viking’s path in all honour, that men might not deem me outlawed for wrongdoing. So I have no ill word to say against him. Five years later he would have troubled about me and my kingship not at all; now he must be careful, for his power was not at its full.

As for young Eric, I suppose that he boasted ever after that he had put me to flight; but I do not know that it matters if he did.

So I came back to Durness, where I was to meet with Einar; and peace was made between him and the king, and he thought it well to go and speak with him. Then he and I must part, and that was hard.

“Now must you go your own way, son Ranald, for Harald is too strong for us. Maybe that is best for you, for here shall I bide in peace in Orkney; and that is not a life for a king’s son to sit at a jarl’s table in idleness, or fight petty fights for scatt withholden and the like. Better for you the wide seas and the lands where you may make a name, and maybe a kingdom, for yourself. Yet I shall miss you sorely.”

So he said, and I knew that he was right. Maybe the spirit of the sword I had won got hold of me, as they say will happen; for I had waxed restless of late, and I had tried to keep it from Einar. Now I hated myself for it, seeing at hand what I had longed for.

So he went north to meet Harald, and of our parting I will not say more. I could not then tell that I should not see him again, and that was well: but I know that when I saw the last flicker of his sails against the sky, I felt more lonely even than at the graveside in Southmere.

Yet I was in no worse case than were many nobly-born men at that time; for whosoever would not bow to Harald and his new laws must leave Norway, and her bravest were seeking new homes everywhere. Some had gone to far-off Iceland, and some to East Anglia; some to the Greek emperor, or Gardariki, and more yet to Ireland. But the greatest viking of all, Rolf, the son of Rognvald, Einar’s young brother, had gone to France or England, with a mighty following; for Harald had outlawed him among the first who broke his law by plundering on the Norway coasts. A good law it was, but it was new, and so went against the grain at first. Rolf had sworn to make a new kingdom for himself, and why should not I do the same?

So when I was in the open sea again, with all the world before me, as the long sea-miles passed I grew lighthearted, and many were the thoughts of great deeds to come that filled my mind.