Read CHAPTER XXX - FROM OVER THE SEA of The Thrall of Leif the Lucky, free online book, by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz, on ReadCentral.com.

At night is joyful
He who is sure of travelling entertainment;
A ship’s yards are short;
Variable is an autumn night;
Many are the weather’s changes
In five days,
But more in a month.

Ha’vama’l

It developed, however, that the lovers’ chances for happiness did not hang upon so frail a thread as the mercy of Gilli of Trondhjem. While the exploring vessel was still at sea, with the icy headlands of Greenland only just beginning to stand out clearly before her bow, unexpected tidings reached those on board.

Watching the chief, who stood by the steering oar, erect as the mast, his eyes piercing the distance ahead, Sigurd put an idle question.

“Can you tell anything yet concerning the drift-ice, foster-father? And why do you steer the ship so close to the wind?”

Without turning his head, Leif answered shortly, “I am attending to my steering, foster-son.”

But as the jarl’s son was turning away, with a shrug of his shoulders for the rebuff, the chief added in the quick, curt tone that with him betrayed unwonted interest, “And I am looking at something else. Where are your eyes that you cannot see anything remarkable? Is that a rock or a ship which I see straight ahead?”

Sigurd’s aimless curiosity promptly found an object; yet after all the craning of his neck and squinting under his hand, he was obliged to confess that he saw nothing more remarkable than a rock.

Leif gave a short harsh laugh.

“See what it is to have young eyes,” he said. “Not only can I see that it is a rock, but I can make out that there are men moving around upon it.”

“Men!” cried Sigurd.

Excitement spread like fire from stern to bow, until even Helga of the Broken Heart arose from her cushions on the fore-deck and stood listlessly watching the approach.

Eyvind the Icelander muttered that any creatures in human shape that dwelt on those rocks, must be either another race of dwarfs, or such fiends as inhabit the ice wastes with which Greenland is cursed; but an old Greenland sailor silenced him contemptuously.

“Landlubber! Has it never been given you to hear of shipwrecks? When Eric the Red came to Greenland with thirty-five ships following his lead, no less than four of them went to pieces on that rock. It is the influence of Leif’s luck which has caused a shipwreck so that the chief can get still more honor in rescuing the distressed ones.”

The Icelander grunted. “Then is Leif’s luck very much like the sword that becomes one man’s bane in becoming another man’s pride,” he retorted.

While he threw all his strength against the great oar, the chief signalled to Valbrand with his head.

“Drop anchor and get the boat ready to lower,” he commanded. “I want to keep close to the wind so that we may get to them. We must give them help if they need it. If they are not peaceful, they are in our power, but we are not in theirs.”

As the boat bounded away on its errand of mercy, every man and boy remaining crowded forward to watch its course. In some way it happened that Alwin of England was pushed even so far forward as the very bow of the boat, and the side of the shield-maiden.

The sun rose in her glooming face when she turned and saw him beside her.

“I have hoped all day that you would come,” she whispered; “so I could tell you an expedient I have bethought myself of. Dear one, from the way you have sat all the day with your chin on your hand and your eyes on the sea, I have known that you needed comfort even more than I; and my heart has ached over you till once the tears came into my eyes.”

Her lover gazed at her hungrily. “Gladly would I give every gift that Leif has lavished on me, if I might take you in my arms and kiss away the smart of those drops.”

A fierce gleam narrowed Helga’s starry eyes. “Before we part,” she said between her teeth, “you shall kiss my eyes once for every tear they have shed; and you shall kiss my mouth three times for farewell, though every man in Greenland should wish to prevent it.”

Suddenly she hid her face against his shoulder with a little cry of despair.

“But you must never come near me after I am married!” she breathed. “The moment after my eyes had fallen upon your face, I should turn upon my husband and kill him.”

“If it had not happened that I had already slain him,” Alwin murmured. Then he said, more steadily, “This is useless talk, sweetheart. Tell me the thought which comforted you. At least it will be a joy to me to cherish in my heart what you have treasured in your brain.”

Helga looked out over the tumbling water with eyes grown wide and thoughtful.

“I will not be so hopeful as to call it a comfort yet,” she said, “too vague is its shape for that. It is a faint plan which I have built on my knowledge of Gilli’s nature. As well as I, you know that he cares for nothing but what is gainful for him. Now if I could manage to make myself so ugly that no chief would care to make offers for me... is it not likely that my father would cease to value me and be even glad to get rid of me, to you? I would disfigure myself in no such way that the ugliness would be lasting,” she reassured him, hastily. “But if I should weep my eyes red and my cheeks pale, and cut off my hair... It would all come right in time; you would not mind the waiting?”

Alwin looked at her with a touch of wonder.

“And you would go ugly for me?” he asked. “Hide your beauty and become a jest where you have always been a queen, for no other reason than to sink so low that I might reach up and pluck you? Would you think it worth while to do that for me?”

But his meaning was lost on Helga’s simplicity. She gathered only that he thought the scheme possible, and hope bloomed like roses in her cheeks.

“Oh, comrade, do you indeed think favorably of the plan?” she whispered, eagerly. “I had not the heart to hope much from it; everything has failed us so. If you think it in the least likely to succeed, I will cut off my hair this instant.”

In spite of his misery, Alwin laughed a little.

“Do you then imagine that the gold of your hair and the red of your cheeks is all that makes you fair?” he asked. “No, dear one, I think it would be easier to make Gilli generous than you ugly. No man who had eyes to look into your eyes, and ears to hear your voice, could be otherwise than eager to lay down his life to possess you. Trust to no such rootless trees, comrade. And do not raise your face toward me like that either; for, in honor, I may not kiss you, and and you are not ugly yet, sweetheart.”

Shouts from those around them recalled the lovers to themselves. The returning boat was almost upon them; and from among her burly crew the wan faces of several strangers looked up, while a swooning woman was seen to lie in the bow. Her face, though pinched and pallid, was also fair and lovable, and Helga momentarily forgot disappointment in pity.

“Bring her here and lay her upon my cushions,” she said to the men who carried the woman on board. Wrapping the limp form in her own cloak, the shield-maiden pulled off such of the sodden garments as she could, poured wine down the stranger’s throat, and strove energetically to chafe some returning warmth into the benumbed limbs.

While the boat hastened back to bring off the rest of the unfortunates, those of the first load whom wine and hope had sufficiently revived, explained the disaster.

The wrecked ship belonged to Thorir of Trondhjem; and that merchant and his wife Gudrid and fourteen sailors made up her company. On the voyage from Nidaros to Greenland with a cargo of timber, their vessel had gone to pieces on a submerged reef, and they had been just able to reach that most inhospitable of rocks and cling there like flies, frozen, wind-battered, and drenched. The waves, in a moment of repentance, had thrown a little of their timber back to them, and this had been their only shelter; and their only food some coarse lichens and a few sea-birds’ eggs.

It was little wonder that when Leif had brought the last load on board, and drowned their past woes in present comforts, the starved creatures were almost ready to embrace his knees with thankfulness.

“It seems to me that we should be called ‘the Lucky,’ and you ’the Good,’” Thorir said, as the two chiefs stood on the forecastle, watching the anchor and the sail both rising with joyful alacrity. “Without your aid, we could not have lived a day longer.”

And Gudrid, opening her eyes to see Helga’s fair face bending over her to put a wine cup to her lips, murmured faintly, “A Valkyria could not look more beautiful to me than you do. Tell me what you are called, that I may know what name to love you by.”

“I am called Helga, Gilli’s daughter,” the shield-maiden answered, with just an edge of bitterness on the last words.

Gudrid’s gentle eyes opened wide with wonder and alarm.

“Not Helga the Fair of Trondhjem,” she gasped, “who fled from Gilli to his kinsfolk in Greenland? Alas, my unfortunate child!”

In the eagerness in which she clasped her hands, the wine-cup fell clanging from Helga’s hold. “Is he dead?” she cried, imploringly. “Only tell me that, and I will serve you all the rest of my life! Is Gilli dead?”

But Gudrid had sunk back in another faint. She lay with her eyes closed, moaning and murmuring to herself.

Leif, biting sharply at his thick mustache, as he was wont to do when excited, turned sharply on Thorir.

“What is the reason of this?” he demanded. “What are these tidings concerning my kinswoman, which your wife hesitates to speak? Is Gilli of Trondhjem dead?”

Thorir answered with great haste and politeness, “No, no; naught so bad as that. Naught but what I expect can be easily remedied. But it appears that when Gilli attempted to follow his daughter to Greenland, last fall, he suffered a shipwreck and the loss of much valuable property, barely escaping with his life. From this he drew the rash conclusion that his daughter had become a misfortune to him, as some foreknowing woman had once said she would. And he declared that since the maiden preferred her poorer kinsfolk in Greenland, she might stay with them; and ”

The words burst rapturously from Helga’s lips: “And he disowned me?”

Thorir stared at her in astonishment. “Yes,” he said, pityingly.

It was just as well that he had not attempted a longer answer, for he never would have finished it. Madness seemed suddenly to fall upon the ship. In the face of her disinheritance, the shield-maiden was radiant. Down in the waist of the ship, two youths who had caught the words threw up their hats with cheers. Leif Ericsson himself laughed loudly, and snapped his fingers in derision.

“A mighty revenge!” he said. “My kinswoman could have received no greater kindness at the churl’s hands. Could she have accomplished it by a dagger-thrust, I doubt not that she would have let his base blood run from her veins long ere this.”

He turned to where Helga stood watching him, her heart in her eyes, and pulled her toward him and kissed her.

“You chose between honor and riches, kinswoman,” he said, “but while there is a ring in my pouch you shall never lack property; you have behaved like a true Norse maiden, and I am free now to say that I honor you for it. Go the way your heart desires, without further hindrance.”

Helga stayed to press his hand to her cheek; then, before them all, without a thought of shame, she went the way that ended in her lover’s arms.

They stood side by side in the gilded prow, and he kissed her eyes twice for every tear they had shed; and he kissed her mouth thrice three times, and not a man in the whole world rose up to prevent him. Side by side, they stood in the flying bow, a divinely modelled figure-head, gilded by the light of love.