OLAF THE GLORIOUS A STORY OF THE VIKING AGE
BY ROBERT LEIGHTON
The following narrative is not so much a story as a biography. My hero is not an imaginary one; he was a real flesh and blood man who reigned as King of Norway just nine centuries ago. The main facts of his adventurous career—his boyhood of slavery in Esthonia, his life at the court of King Valdemar, his wanderings as a viking, the many battles he fought, his conversion to Christianity in England, and his ultimate return to his native land—are set forth in the various Icelandic sagas dealing with the period in which he lived. I have made free use of these old time records, and have added only such probable incidents as were necessary to give a continuous thread of interest to the narrative. These sagas, like the epics of Homer, were handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and they were not committed to writing until a long time after Olaf Triggvison's death, so that it is not easy to discriminate between the actual facts as they occurred and the mere exaggerated traditions which must surely have been added to the story of his life as it was told by the old saga men at their winter firesides. But in most instances the records corroborate each other very exactly, and it may be taken that the leading incidents of the story are historically true.
The Icelandic sagas have very little to say concerning Olaf Triggvison's unsuccessful invasion of England, and for this part of the story I have gone for my facts to the English chronicles of the time, wherein frequent allusion to him is made under such names as Anlaf, Olave, and Olaff. The original treaty of peace drawn up between King Ethelred the Second and Olaf still exists to fix the date of the invasion, while the famous battle of Maldon, in which the Norse adventurer gained a victory over the East Anglians, is described at length by a nameless contemporary poet, whose "Death of Brihtnoth" remains as one of the finest of early English narrative poems, full of noble patriotism and primitive simplicity.
I have given no dates throughout these pages, but for the convenience of readers who may wish for greater exactness it may be as well to state here that Olaf was born A.D. 963, that he started on his wanderings as a viking in the year 981, that the sea fight between the vikings of Jomsburg and the Norwegians took place in 986, and the battle of Maldon in the year 991. Olaf reigned only five years as King of Norway, being crowned in 995, and ending his reign with his death in the glorious defeat at Svold in the year 1000.
CHAPTER I: THE FINDING OF OLAF
It happened in the beginning of the summer that Sigurd Erikson journeyed north into Esthonia to gather the king's taxes and tribute. His business in due course brought him into a certain seaport that stood upon the shores of the great Gulf of Finland.
He was a very handsome man, tall and strong, with long fair hair and clear blue eyes. There were many armed servants in his following, for he was a person of great consequence, and was held in high honour throughout the land.
He rode across the marketplace and there alighted from his horse, and turned his eyes towards the sea. Before him stretched the rippling, sunlit bay with its wooded holms. A fleet of fishing boats was putting out with the flood tide, and some merchant vessels lay at anchor under shelter of the green headland.
Nearer to the strand a long dragonship, with a tall gilded prow rising high above the deck tent, was moored against a bank of hewn rock that served as a wharf. At sight of the array of white shields along this vessel's bulwarks his eyes brightened, for he knew that she was a viking ship from his own birth land in distant Norway, and he was glad. Not often did it chance that he could hold speech with the bold warriors of the fiords.
Close by the ship there was a noisy crowd of men and boys. He strode nearer to them, and heard the hoarse voices of the vikings calling out in loud praise of a feat that had been performed by someone in their midst. Sigurd joined the crowd, and saw a boy step out upon the vessel's narrow gangplank, and there, standing between the ship and the shore, begin to throw a knife high up into the sunny air, catching it as it fell.
It seemed that the lad was of good station, for his clothing was of finely woven cloth, and there was a gold neckband to his kirtle, and his long black hair was well combed and curled. Thrice he threw up his glittering knife high above his head and deftly caught it again. But soon, thinking perhaps to excel those who had gone before him, he took a second knife from his belt, and juggled with them both with such skill that the shipmen watching him from under the awning swore by the hammer of Thor that the feat could never be surpassed.
"Well done, well done!" they shouted. And the boys on the bank cried out, "Well done, Rekoni!"
At this the youth put fuller strength into his arms and flung the knives yet higher into the air. But his ambition for the praise of the warriors was greater than his caution, for, in reaching forward to catch one of the weapons, he lost his balance and fell headlong into the deep green water beneath. And as he swam to shore the vikings laughed aloud, and some who had thought of giving him a reward put back their gold into their wallets and turned away.
Now, very close to where Sigurd Erikson was there stood two boys, whose close cropped hair and dress of coarse white vadmal showed them to be slaves. One of them was a tall, gaunt youth, with pale thin cheeks and large sad eyes. He was fair of skin, and by this Sigurd knew that he was not an Esthonian. His companion seemed about twelve winters old, sturdy and broad backed, with very fair hair. His neck and bare strong arms were burnt by the sun to a ruddy brown. Sigurd could not see his face, and might not have noticed him had not the elder lad urged him forward, bidding him step upon the plank and show his skill.
"Not I," said the younger, with an impatient toss of his cropped head. And he thrust his thumbs into his belt and drew back. "Too much have I already done in bidding Rekoni try the feat. Well is it for me that he is not hurt by his fall into the sea, else would his father's whip be about my back. Even as the matter stands, my master will surely stop my food for having left his sheep to stray upon the hills."
"I had but wished to see you succeed where your master's son has failed," sighed the elder lad. And at this the boy turned round and said more softly:
"Well, Thorgils, for your pleasure will I do it, and not for the vikings' praise. Lend me your dirk."
So he took the knife from Thorgils' belt, and, leaving the crowd, walked boldly to the end of the gangplank. Here he rubbed the soles of his bare feet in the dust and then stepped to the middle of the narrow board.
"Now what thinks this child that he can do?" cried one of the vikings.
The boy turned sharply and looked at the man who had spoken. He was a tall, red bearded man, whose nose was flat against his scarred, bronzed face. At sight of him the boy drew back a pace as if in fear.
"Ay. What thinks the babe that he can do?" echoed another of the warriors. But those who were nearer made no answer, for they saw that the boy was very agile and strong beyond his years.
Sigurd watched him as he took his stand on the plank. The sunlight shone upon his fair young face. His clear blue eyes flashed like stars under his knitted brows. He ran his fingers over his short yellow hair, and then, turning with his back to the sun, flung one of his knives high up into the air. As it turned in its descent he flung a second knife, then caught the first and again threw it high—higher even than the vane on the ship's tall mast. He stood with his bare feet firmly gripping the plank, and his head thrown back, and his lithe, well balanced body swaying in regular movement with his arms. Then as the two gleaming weapons were well in play, rising and falling in quick succession, one of his hands went to his belt, and he drew yet a third knife and plied it in turn with the other two.
At this there was a murmur of praise from both ship and shore, and the vikings declared that never before had they seen one so young display such skill. And all the while Sigurd Erikson kept his eyes upon the lad's glowing, upturned face.
"Who is this child?" he asked of the tall youth at his side. But the sad eyed Thorgils paid no heed to the question, but only crept nearer to the end of the gangboard, and stood there earnestly watching. As he looked at the ship's bulwarks he caught sight of the man with the red beard and broken nose—the chief of the vikings,—and he cried out to his companion:
"Enough, Ole, enough!"
Then the boy caught his knives and thrust them one by one into his belt, and, turning shoreward, strode quickly down the plank and made his way through the cheering crowd, followed by Thorgils. Many of the vikings called him back with offers of reward, and Sigurd Erikson tried to arrest him as he passed. But the young slave only gave a careless laugh and ran swiftly away.
Now it seemed that Sigurd had a mind to go after him. But as he was leaving the crowd he met a certain rich merchant of the town, and he said:
"Tell me, Biorn, who is this yellow haired lad that has just proved himself so skilful at the knife feat? And whence came he into Esthonia?"
The merchant shook his head and said:
"He is a wild and wilful loon, hersir, and of no account to any man. As to his feat with the knives, had I my will I'd have it instant death to any thrall who should so much as touch a sharpened weapon."
"By his looks I would judge him to be Norway born," said Sigurd.
"That may well be," returned the merchant, "for it is true that he came with the west wind. It was I who bought him from the vikings, with another of his kind—one Thorgils, who is to this day my bond slave. I bought them in exchange for a good he goat from Klerkon Flatface. Very soon I found the younger lad was worthless. There was little that I could do with him; so I sold him to a dalesman named Reas, who gave me a very fine rain cloak for him; nor do I rue my bargain, for the cloak is still in use and the lad is scarcely of the value of his food and shelter."
"How do men name the lad?" inquired Sigurd. "And whose son is he?"
"Whose son he may be is no concern of mine," answered the merchant. "Some viking's brat, it may be; for he has the viking spirit in him, and the salt of the sea is in his veins. No landman can tame him. As to his name, if ever he had one, 'tis certain he has none now, and is only known as Reasthrall, for he is the thrall of Reas the bonder."
"If it be that Reas will sell his thrall," said Sigurd, "then I would willingly buy the lad, and take him back with me into Holmgard as an offering to the Queen Allogia."
"Think twice ere you act so unkindly towards the queen," said the merchant. "A goodlier gift for Allogia would surely be the jewelled brooch that I showed you yesternight; and you shall have it very cheap. The price is but twelve gold marks."
But before Sigurd could reply a heavy hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a gruff voice called out his name. He turned and saw at his side the tall red bearded viking chief, whose broken nose and coarse scarred face were now shielded from the sun's rays by a wide hat made of dry reeds.
"Well met, Hersir Sigurd!" said the warrior. "And what lordly business brings you north to the coast? 'Tis long since last we met—not since the yuletide feast at Holmgard, two winters back, when we had the horse fight. How fares the Flanders mare that won such glory at that time?"
"A sickness killed her," answered Sigurd. "But I have a foal in training that will soon beat any horse in Holmgard; ay, even in Norway. So if you have a mind to see a good horse fight, come when you will with the best horses you can find. I wager you that mine will beat them all."
"If I meet not my death before the end of the cruising season," said the viking, "then will I engage to bring you the best horse in all the Norseland to fight against." He looked among the crowd of boys that still loitered near the ship, and added—"Where has the youngster gone who stood just now upon the plank? He has in him the makings of a good war man. Such lads as he are scarce, and I would buy him if he be for sale."
And then the merchant spoke.
"Why," said he, addressing the viking, "'tis but six summers since that you sold that self same boy, here on this marketplace. 'Twas I who bought him from you, Klerkon. Have you forgotten the white haired he goat that you got from me?"
"Life is too full for me to keep mind of such small events," answered Klerkon. "But since the lad is yours, what price do you now put upon him?"
"Nay, he is no chattel of mine," said the merchant. "He is the thrall of goodman Reas, over in Rathsdale—a morning's walk from here. If you would deal with him a guide will soon be got to take you over the hill."
"Young flesh will keep," returned the warrior. "I will buy the lad next time we come to Esthonia."
Sigurd said: "It may be that ere that time he will already be sold, Jarl Klerkon; for it chances that I also have taken a fancy to him."
"In that case," said the viking, "we may make him the stake to be fought for in our coming horse fight. And if my horse overcomes yours, then the lad shall be my prize, and I will make a viking of him."
"And how if the victory be mine and not yours?" asked Sigurd.
"You shall have value equal to the boy, be assured of that, hersir."
"Agreed," said Sigurd. "And now, what news have you from west over sea?"
"Ill news and good. There has fallen a great famine in Norway. In Thrandheim the folk are dying for lack of corn and fish, and in Halogaland the snow has lain over the valleys nigh until midsummer, so that all the livestock have been bound in stall and fed upon birch buds. Men lay the famine to the account of Gunnhild's sons, who are over greedy of money and deal hardly with the husbandmen. There is little peace in the land, for the kings are for ever quarrelling over their jointures; but it seems that Harald Greyfell is having the upper hand over his brothers. Little joy is there in ruling over a realm these days. I had rather be as I am, an honest sea rover."
"Doubtless the viking life is, after all, the most joyful that a man can live," said Sigurd. "How fare our friends at Jomsburg?"
"Right well, as always," answered Klerkon. "Sigvaldi has built himself a fine new dragonship of five and twenty seats, and the Jomsvikings now number in all seven times ten hundred men. They speak of making a sally across the sea to Angle land, where there is corn and ale in plenty, with fine clothes, good arms, and vessels of silver and gold to be won; for these Christian folk are very rich, and there is abundance of treasure in their churches, with many a golden bowl and well wrought drinking horn as booty for those who are bold enough to make the adventure."
"But these Angles are good fighting men, I hear," said Sigurd. "And they have many well built ships."
"They are ill matched against the vikings, with all their ships," returned Klerkon. "And I am told that their king is a man of peace; Edgar the Peaceable, they name him. And talking of kings, how fares King Valdemar?"
"As sunny as a summer's noon," answered Sigurd.
"Come, then, on board my ship, and let us pledge to him in a full horn of mead," said the viking. And he drew Sigurd with him across the gangplank, and they went below and sat drinking until one of the shipmen standing on the vessel's lypting, or poop deck, sounded a shrill horn as a sign that the ship was about to leave the harbour.
Then Sigurd came ashore and went about the town on the king's business, and he thought no more of the yellow haired slave boy until the evening time.
It chanced then that he was again beside the sea.
Down there on the shore he stood alone, idly watching the white winged seabirds—some floating in their own reflections on the calm pools of water left by the outgoing tide, others seeking food amid the green and crimson weeds that lay in bright patches on the rocks—and often he turned his eyes in the direction of the setting sun, where, in the mid sea, Jarl Klerkon's dragonship moved slowly outward, with her wet oars glistening in the rosy light.
Suddenly from behind him there came a merry childish laugh, and he turned quickly round, and saw very near to him the white clothed slave boy of the gangplank. The lad was standing at the brink of a deep pool of seawater, and had, as it seemed, started a fleet of empty mussel shells to float upon the calm surface. He was dropping pebbles from his full hand into the water, to give movement to the tiny boats.
Sigurd stepped quietly behind him, and then said:
"Why do you thus set these shells to sail?"
The boy looked up in surprise, and his blue eyes rested for a long time upon the tall strange man. Then he answered:
"Because, hersir, they are my warships, setting out upon a viking cruise."
At this Sigurd smiled.
"It may be, my boy," said he, "that you will yourself command great ships of war in time to come."
"That is what I should wish," said the boy, "for then I might take blood vengeance upon my enemies."
"Not often do I hear one so young thus speak of enemies," said Sigurd. "What is your age?"
"And your name?"
The boy looked up once more into the stranger's face, and at his large crested helmet of bronze and gold. He glanced, too, at the man's great sword and his cloak of rich blue cloth, and guessed rightly that he was of noble rank. There was a smile upon his lips, and his eyes were tender and kindly, winning confidence.
"My name is Olaf," answered the boy.
"Whose son?" asked Sigurd.
At this question Olaf turned aside, threw his pebbles away into the water, and wiped his wet hands on his coarse kirtle. Then stepping nearer to the stranger he stood upright and said, almost in a whisper, as though fearing that even the seagulls might overhear him:
"I am King Triggvi's son."
Sigurd drew back with a little start.
"King Triggvi's son!" he echoed in surprise. And then he looked yet more keenly into the boy's face, as if to seek some likeness there.
"Even so," returned Olaf. "And what of that? Little good can it do me to be a king's son if I am also a slave, made to work hard for my daily portion of black bread and tough horse flesh. Triggvi is in Valhalla, with Harald Fairhair and the rest of them, and he cannot help me now. But Odin be thanked, he died not like a cow upon a bed of straw, but with sword in hand like a brave good man."
"A brave good man in truth he was," said Sigurd. "But tell me, boy, what token have you to prove that you are indeed the child of Triggvi Olafson? You are but ten winters old, you say; and yet, as I reckon it, Triggvi was slain full ten winters back. How can I know the truth of what you tell?"
"No token have I but my bare words," answered Olaf proudly.
Sigurd caught him by the hand and led him up the beach to a ledge of rock, and sat him down before him, bidding him tell how it came about that he was here in bondage in a foreign land.
So Olaf answered him thus:
"I came into the world an orphan," said he, "and never heard my father's voice. But my mother bade me ever remember that I was a king's son, and to make myself worthy. Astrid was the name of my mother. She was the daughter of Erik Biodaskalli, who dwelt at Ofrestead, in the Uplands, a mighty man. Now, after the slaying of Triggvi, Queen Astrid was forced to fly from the realm of Viken, lest she too should fall into the hands of Gunnhild and her wicked sons and be slain. And she travelled as a fugitive through many lands. In her company was her foster father, Thoralf Loosebeard by name. He never departed from her, but always helped her and defended her wheresoever she went. There were many other trusty men in her train, so no harm came to her. And at last she took refuge on a certain islet in the middle of Rand's fiord, and lay hidden there for many days. On that islet I was born, and I am told that they sprinkled me with water and named me Olaf, after my father's father. There, through the summer tide she stayed in safety. But when the days grew short and the nights weary and long, and when the wintry weather came upon us, then she left her hiding place and set forth with her folk into the Uplands, travelling under the shelter of night. And after many hardships and dangers she came to Ofrestead, her father's dwelling, and there we abode through the winter.
"Little do I remember of these matters, which befell while yet I was a babe in arms. This that I tell you was taught to me by Thorgils, my foster brother, who is the thrall of Biorn the merchant; and he can tell you more than I know, for he is older than I, and the son of our faithful Thoralf. Thorgils has said that when Gunnhild got tidings that I had come into the world she sent forth many armed messengers, and bade them fare into the Uplands in search of this son of King Triggvi, that they might prevent my growing up to manhood and claiming my father's realm. But in good time the friends of Erik were aware of the messengers; so Erik arrayed Astrid for departure, and gave her good guides, and sent her east—away into the Swede realm to one Hakon Gamle, a friend of his and a man of might, with whom we abode in all welcome for a long while."
"And what then?" urged Sigurd. For the boy had paused, and had pulled a tangle of brown seaweed from the rock where he was sitting, and was cracking the little air bladders between his fingers.
"Now it chanced," continued Olaf, "that even again Queen Gunnhild secretly learned our hiding place. So she sent a goodly company east to the Swede king with good gifts and fair words, asking that he might send Olaf Triggvison back with them into Norway, where Gunnhild would foster me, and bring me up as became a king's son. And the king sent to Ofrestead. But my mother Astrid knew that there was treachery in this—for in like manner had Gunnhild beguiled my father,—and she would by no means let me go into the care' of my father's murderers, and so Gunnhild's messengers went back empty handed.
"By this time I was full three winters old and strong of limb, and my mother took me on board a trading ship that was eastward bound for Gardarike; for in that land her brother was a great man, and she knew that he would gladly succour us until I should be of an age to avenge my father's death and claim my rightful heritage."
At these words Sigurd grew very grave, and he put his hand gently on Olaf's arm, and asked to know what ill had befallen Queen Astrid, and whether she had reached her journey's end.
"Alas!" answered Olaf. "You ask me what I cannot tell. Would that I knew her to be still living! But never once have I seen her or heard tidings of her since the dread day when we were brought into this land and sold into bondage."
As he spoke the lad looked sadly over the sea to where the viking ship was slowly drifting into the shadow of the holms. Sigurd's eyes dwelt upon him with curious intentness.
"We set sail across the Eastern Sea," Olaf went on "and there were many merchants on our ship with great store of money and rich merchandise. And, as always, Thoralf and his son Thorgils were with us. Now, scarcely was our vessel beyond the sight of land when we were met by a great viking ship, that bore down quickly upon us, and attacked our seamen, first with arrows and stones, and then with spear and sword, and there was great fighting. So the vikings killed many of our people, and took our ship and all that was in it. When we had been made captives the rovers took and shared us among themselves as their bond slaves, and it befell that my mother and I were parted. An Esthonian named Klerkon Flatface got me as his portion, along with Thoralf and Thorgils. Klerkon deemed Thoralf over old for a thrall, and could not see any work in him, so he cruelly slew him before our eyes and cast his body into the sea. But he had us two lads away with him, and he sold us here in the marketplace in exchange for a white goat. Then, being companions in our misfortune, Thorgils and I swore foster brotherhood, and we took an oath in handshaking that when we grew strong enough we would go out upon the sea and take vengeance upon the man who had slain old faithful Thoralf."
Sigurd pointed outward to the ship that was afar off upon the dim horizon.
"Jarl Klerkon, of whom you speak," said he, "is now upon yonder ship."
"And well do I know it," returned Olaf. "Today when I stood upon the vessel's gangplank I saw him standing on the lypting; and I knew him by the token that his nose was flat against his face. I had a mind to throw one of my knives at him, but there were over many of his men around, who would soon have overpowered me had I been so rash. And now," the boy added, as he glanced up at the darkening sky, "it is time that I go back to the hills to gather my master's sheep into the fold, for the night will be dark, and wolves will be about. Too long already have I tarried here."
And before Sigurd could put out his hand to detain him Olaf had bounded up the rocks, and was soon lost to sight.
CHAPTER II: SIGURD ERIKSON.
On the next morning, as the red sun rose above the mist capped hills of Rathsdale, Olaf was at work among his master's swine, cleaning out the styes and filling them with new straw. As he worked he asked himself who the tall man could be who had spoken with him last night upon the beach, and he began to regret that he had told so much, believing now that the stranger might be an enemy—perhaps even a spy of the wicked Queen Gunnhild, who had so often sought to add to her own security by clearing her path of all who had power to dispute her rights. Gunnhild was a very wily woman, and it might well be that she had secretly discovered the abiding place of the young son of King Triggvi, and that she had sent this man into Esthonia to entrap him.
"Never again shall I be so free in telling my story to a stranger," said Olaf to himself. "Thorgils was wise to counsel me to keep secret my kinship with Triggvi Olafson. When I am a man, and can fight my own battles, then it will be time enough to lay claim to my father's realm; and it may be that if I remain in thraldom till that time no one will guess who I am. As a thrall, then, I must work, even though that work be no better than the cleaning of my master's stables and pig styes—Get back, you greedy grunter!"
This last command was addressed to a great bristly boar that brushed past the boy and made its way to the bed of new straw. Olaf caught the animal by its hind leg and struggled with it for a moment, until the boar was thrown heavily on its side, squealing and kicking furiously. Then three of the other pigs rushed forward, and one knocked against the lad with such force that he fell on his knees. This made him very angry, and he rose quickly to his feet and wrestled with the pigs, driving them back with blows of his clenched hands. But the boar was not easily turned. It stood stubbornly glaring at him with its small bloodshot eyes, then suddenly charged at him with a savage roar. Olaf leapt up, but too slowly, for his left foot was caught by the boar's high back, and he rolled over in the mire. And now his wrath got the better of him, and he leapt at the boar with a wild cry, seizing its ears in his two hands. Then they struggled together for many minutes, now rolling over, now breaking asunder and again returning to the charge. But at last Olaf gained the mastery, and his adversary lay panting and exhausted on the coveted straw. Olaf sat upon the animal's side with his bare foot upon its snout. His arm was bleeding, and there was a long scratch upon his cheek. But he did not heed his wounds, for he had conquered.
As he sat thus a shadow moved across the yellow straw. He raised his eyes, and beheld the faces of two men, who looked down upon him from over the barrier of the pig sty. One of the men was his master, Reas. The other he quickly recognized as the tall man who had spoken with him last night. Sigurd Erikson was seated on a beautiful white horse, and he was arrayed as for a long journey.
"This is the boy you mean," said Reas, as Olaf rose and went on with his work—"an ill favoured loon you will think him. But had I expected you I should have seen that he had been well washed and decently clothed. If you would have him for hard labour, however, he is at least strong, and I will warrant you that he is healthy, and has no bodily faults. It may be that he is a little wild and wilful, but you can tame him, and a sound flogging will do him no harm, as I have ofttimes found. What price do you offer for him, hersir?"
Olaf looked up in anxious surprise, wondering if in truth the stranger had come to buy him, so that he might carry him off to the wicked Queen Gunnhild.
"I will give you two silver marks for him," said Sigurd, "and that is the value of a full grown man slave."
Reas demurred, looking at Olaf as if regretting that the lad was not more presentable.
"No," he said at last. "You will not find such a thrall as he in every day's march. If he were but a little cleaner you would see that he is a very pretty boy. Look at his eyes—keen as a young snake's! Why, no woman's eyes are more beautiful! Look at his skin, there where his kirtle is torn. Is it not fair? And he is skilled in many feats. My own son Rekoni is not more clever than he. He can run for half a day without being wearied. He can climb the highest pine tree in Rathsdale—as he did last seed time to harry a bluejay's nest; and no seamew can swim more lightly on the water."
"As to his climbing," said Sigurd, with a curious look in his blue eyes, "I do not doubt that he will some day climb much higher than you list. But swimming is of little avail where there is no sea. And if he runs so well there is all the more danger of his running away. I think you will be well paid if I give you two silver marks. But since you set so high a value on him for his beauty and his skill, then I give you in addition this little ring of gold for your good wife's wearing. What say you?"
"It is a bargain!" said Reas, eagerly grasping the ring that Sigurd took from his belt pouch; "and you may take the lad at once."
Olaf drew back to the far corner of the pig sty. There was a frown on his brow, and his blue eyes flashed in quick anger.
"I will not go!" he said firmly, and he made a rapid movement to leap over the barrier; but he forgot the wound in his arm, and the pain of it made him so awkward that Reas caught him by his wrists and held him there until Sigurd, springing from his horse, came and put an iron chain round the lad's neck. Then the two men forcibly drew him to the gate of the pig sty. So, when Reas had opened the gate, Sigurd, who was a very powerful man, caught Olaf in his arms and carried him to the horse's side, and, holding the end of the chain, mounted. Olaf struggled a little to free himself, but finding the chain secure about his neck, resolved to await a better chance of escape. Then Sigurd gave Reas the two silver marks in payment of his purchase, and urged his horse to a quick walk, dragging Olaf behind him.
Very soon Reas and his straggling farmstead were hidden from sight behind a clump of tall pine trees. Then Sigurd halted at the side of a little stream.
"You have done well," he said to Olaf, "in thus coming away with seeming unwillingness. But do not suppose that I value you so lightly as did your late master, who thinks, foolish man, that you are no better than many another bond slave whom he might buy in the marketplace. Had Reas exacted an hundred gold marks instead of two paltry marks of silver, I should willingly have given him them."
"And why?" asked Olaf with a frown. "Is it that you think to take me west to Norway, and cast me like a young goat among wolves? I had thought when you so blandly spoke to me yesternight that you were a man of honour. Haply Queen Gunnhild would reward you well if you should deliver me into her clutches. But this you shall never do!"
"Rash boy," said Sigurd as he stroked his horse's mane, "do you not recognize a friend when you meet one? Or is friendship so strange to you that you take all men to be your enemies?"
"Enmity comes so often in the guise of friendship," said Olaf, "that it is well to be wary. I had been wiser last night if I had refused to speak with you."
"The time will soon come," said Sigurd, "when you will not be sorry that you so spoke. But I will warn you that it may go very ill with you if you tell your story to all strangers as you told it to me."
Olaf was perplexed. He looked into the man's face and saw only kindness there, and yet there was something very suspicious in the stranger's eagerness to possess him.
"If you are indeed my friend," said the boy, "why do you keep this chain about my neck? Why do you drag me after you like a dog?"
"Because I am not willing that you should escape me," answered Sigurd. "But if you will shake my hand and tell me that you will not run away, then I will take off your chain and you shall ride in front of me on my horse. You are King Triggvi's son, and I know that, once spoken, your word will be sacred."
Now, Olaf had never taken any man's hand since he swore foster brotherhood with Thorgils Thoralf son. He looked upon handshaking as a most solemn covenant, only to be made when great matters were at stake. Also, he had never yet told or acted a lie, or been false to anyone. He answered promptly:
"No, I will not take your hand. Neither will I give you my word that I shall not escape from you very soon. You may keep the chain about my neck. It is more easily broken than my promise."
Sigurd looked at the lad and smiled.
"I think," he said, "that I would admire you even more if you were a little cleaner. Here is a stream of water. Get in and wash yourself."
"I cannot take off my clothes without removing the chain," said Olaf, "and if the chain be removed I shall run away to where even your horse cannot follow me. But if you will give me one boon I will promise you that I will wash myself clean and then come back to the chain."
"What is your boon?" asked Sigurd.
"It is," said Olaf, "that since I am now your lawful thrall, and must go with you wheresoever you wish, you will go to Biorn the merchant and buy from him my foster brother Thorgils."
Sigurd leapt from his horse and at once unfastened the chain from Olaf's neck, and even helped him to draw off his kirtle and woollen sark. And when Olaf stood before him naked, Sigurd drew back amazed at the pure fairness of his skin, the firmness of his well knitted muscles, and the perfect beauty of his form.
In the stream near which they had halted there was a deep, clear pool of water, with a high cascade tumbling into it in creamy foam. Olaf ran lightly over the mossy boulders and plunged into the pool, as though he knew it well. Sigurd watched him rolling and splashing there in childish delight. Sometimes the boy seemed lost in the brown depths of the water, but soon his white body would be seen gliding smoothly along under the surface, and then emerging amid the spray of the waterfall, where the shafts of sunlight made a rainbow arc. And at last Olaf came out and ran swiftly backward and forward on the grassy level until he was dry. Then returning to his new master he took up his woollen sark. But his kirtle was gone.
Sigurd said: "I have thrown it away, for it is not well that a king's son should wear a garment that is sullied by the marks of slavery."
He took off from his own shoulders a riding cloak of scarlet cloth and added, "Take this cloak and wear it. And when we reach the town I will buy you more fitting clothes, with sandals for your feet, and a cap to shield your head from the sun."
Olaf blushed, and took the cloak and put it over him, saying nothing. Then he caught up an end of the chain and signed to his master to fasten it about his neck. Signed fastened it and then remounted his horse.
They had gone a little distance seaward down the dale when they were met by three armed horsemen, who seemed to have been waiting for them. Sigurd gave Olaf into their keeping, bidding them guard him well, and himself rode on in advance. Soon from the top of a hill they came in sight of the blue sea, and then the little town with its wooden huts nestling at the foot of the cliffs.
When they entered the town, two of Sigurd's servants took Olaf with them to the house of a certain merchant, where they gave him some roasted eggs and wheaten bread, and there they kept him until after noontide, never speaking to him, but only watching him while they played countless games of chess and drank many horns of ale.
Now Olaf, as he sat on the floor, chained to the door post, set to wondering where his new master intended taking him to, and he could think of no likely destination but Norway. Why else should this man have bought him but to deliver him to Gunnhild? So thereupon he began to question how he could escape. And he determined in his mind very quickly, that when they were on the sea he would free himself from his chain and jump overboard and swim to land. But then came the thought that if he did this he would be quite alone in the world, and no one would ever believe him if he told them that he was the son of Triggvi Olafson, and perhaps he would again be taken into slavery. If Thorgils were with him they might do very well together, because Thorgils was full of the world's wisdom, and could by his wit earn food and shelter until they were both old enough and skilled enough to join some viking ship and win renown and power. But if Thorgils was to be left behind in Esthonia then it would not be so easy. Nothing could be done without Thorgils. So then Olaf thought it would be much wiser in him to try to escape at once, before he should be taken on board ship.
The chain was tight about his neck and it was fastened behind, so that he could not loosen it without arousing the men's suspicions by the noise it would make. He looked at the other end of it, and saw it was so fastened that he might easily undo it. Little by little he crept nearer to the post as the men went on with their game. Before he could do more, however, there was the sound of horse's feet outside. The two men sprang up from their seats. One of them went to the door and presently returned with a bundle of clothes, which he threw down on the floor, bidding Olaf dress himself. Olaf saw at once that the garments were of very fine woven cloth, and he wondered much. Even his old master's son Rekoni had never worn such rich attire as this, and it was passing strange that he, a bond slave, should be told to clothe himself in such finery.
He was dressing himself—albeit with great trouble, for the things were strange to him who had hitherto worn naught but a poor slave's kirtle—when a shrill horn was sounded from without. Then one of the men came and helped him to lace his sandals and to don his cloak, and hurried him out into the courtyard. Here were three horses waiting. The men pointed to one of them, a shaggy brown pony, and told Olaf to mount.
"I cannot ride," said the boy.
"You will be able to ride long before you reach our journey's end," returned the man. "And, lest you should be afraid of falling off, you will be tied with strong ropes to the horse's back."
"I had rather walk," objected Olaf.
"Slaves must obey their masters," said the man; and he took hold of the boy to help him to mount. But Olaf drew quickly aside with a flash of rebellion in his eyes.
Now at that moment a company of horsemen came in sight, led by Sigurd Erikson, and followed by many mules that were laden with bags of food and merchandise. All the men were well armed with swords and spears, bows and arrows. The sight of so many horses at once showed Olaf that the journey, whatever its destination, was to be made by land. As they came nearer and halted, his eyes quickly searched among the men for Thorgils Thoralfson. Yes, there indeed was his foster brother, mounted on one of the pack mules, with the sunlight falling on his white kirtle and downbent head! Then Olaf grew calm, for his master had kept his promise, and it mattered little where he was to be taken now that Thorgils was to be with him in his bondage. Sometime—not today, perhaps,—they would have a chance of speaking together and of contriving an escape.
Sigurd, seated on his beautiful white horse, looked like a king surrounded by his bodyguard. He watched Olaf springing on the pony's back, and saw the men securing the boy with ropes. One of the men took the end of the chain, while the other held the pony's halter; and thus, with a mounted guard on each side of him, the young slave was led out through the gates.
Very soon the little town in which he had lived in bondage for seven long years, and the sea that he loved so well, were left far behind. Sigurd and his followers rode southward over the hills, and then through long dreary dales, that were strewn with large boulder stones that made travelling very difficult. There was only a narrow horse track to guide them, and soon even this was lost in the rank herbage, and the land became a wild desolate waste without sign of human dwelling, but only the bare rugged hills, with here and there a thread of water streaming down them into the lower land. Olaf began to feel very weary, and the jolting of the pony over the rough ground became painful to his untrained limbs. But at last the hot sun sank in a blaze of gold, and the first day's journey came to an end.
A halt was made within the shelter of a vast forest of pine trees, at the side of a wide, deep stream. Here the horses and mules were unburdened and allowed to wander, with dogs to watch them lest they strayed too far. Some of the men then set to raising tents, others gathered cones and dry twigs to build a fire, while two mounted guard over their master's moneybags. When all was ready, food and drink were served round to all alike.
At nightfall, Olaf and Thorgils, still chained, were put to sleep on a bed of dry ferns. Near them was another slave, a young man who seemed to be of a foreign land. They watched him silently until he was asleep, then as they lay there with the stars shining down upon them through the dark tree branches, they questioned one the other concerning what had happened to them that day. Olaf asked Thorgils if he had heard the name of their new master.
"No," answered Thorgils. "Nor can I guess why it is that he has bought us. All that I know is that he is a Norseman, and that he is very rich."
"I can only think," said Olaf, "that he intends some treachery by us, and that he means to take us west over sea and deliver us into the hands of Gunnhild's sons."
"There is little cause to fear such a thing," said Thorgils. "To him we are but as any other slaves that he might buy in the marketplace, and I think he has only chosen us because we are of his own country. Had he discovered that you were your father's son he might indeed design to take us to Norway. But that is not possible. There are none but our two selves in all Esthonia who know that you are Olaf Triggvison, and this man could not by any means have discovered it."
Olaf was silent for many moments, then at last he said:
"Thorgils, I cannot deceive you. This man knows full well whose son I am, and it was I who told him."
Thorgils drew in his breath, as if he had received a blow.
"You told him?" he cried. "Oh, rash that you are! Have I not always bidden you keep this secret close in your heart? What need was there to tell your story to the first inquiring stranger who crossed your path? You are over ready with your tongue, and now, alas! our misfortunes must only be greater than before."
"He spoke kindly to me," explained Olaf, "and I could not refuse to answer him when he asked me how I came to be a bond slave. I little thought that he was an enemy."
"You are unskilled in the knowledge of men, Ole," returned Thorgils. "There is a look in his eyes that might soon have told you that there is evil in his heart, and such smooth tongued men as he are not to be trusted. But there is one good thing that your thoughtlessness has done: it has brought us again under one master, so it will go ill if, working together, we cannot contrive to run away, and join some viking ship."
"That will not be easy if our new master should take us to an inland place," said Olaf. "None of his men have the marks of the sea upon them; they are landmen."
Thorgils glanced up into the sky and searched for the polar star.
"We are journeying southward," he said presently.
"And what country lies to the south?" asked Olaf.
Thorgils could not tell. But he remembered that on a time some merchants had come to the coast from a great city in the south called Mikligard—which was the Norseman's name for Constantinople, — and he guessed that that might be their journey's end.
Then Olaf crept nearer to their sleeping companion and wakened him.
"Tell me," he asked, "who is this man, our master, and whither is he taking us?"
"I cannot tell," answered the youth. "It is but three days since that he bought me, and I can ill understand the tongue these men speak, for I am not of this land. My home is far across the seas."
"In what realm?" asked Thorgils.
"That must be far away indeed," said Olaf, "for never have I heard of such a land."
"It is an island, out across the Western Sea," explained Thorgils; "often have I heard it named. In that same land it was that King Erik Bloodaxe lived and died. Many vikings out of Norway have crossed the seas for the sake of the wealth they can win from the Angles. And if I were a viking it is to England I would steer my course."
"Gladly would I go with you," said the English youth; "ay, even now, if we could but escape. But it seems that we are journeying away from the seacoast, and there is little hope that we can win our way on board a ship."
"There is hope enough if we do not delay our escape," returned Thorgils, looking out to where the campfires burned. He was silent for many minutes, then, laying his hand on the stranger's arm, he asked:
"What name have you?"
"Egbert," the lad replied.
"And how came it," inquired Thorgils, "that you were brought into Esthonia?"
Egbert then told his story. He was born, he said, in Northumberland. His father, a wealthy armourer and silversmith, had been slain by one of the Northmen who had made a great settlement in that part of the country, and his mother, whose name was Edith, had then wedded the man who had made her a widow. The man was named Grim, and he was a warrior in the service of Erik Bloodaxe, the ruler in those parts. On the death of King Erik, Grim and many of the Norsemen went back to Norway in the train of Queen Gunnhild and Erik's sons, and with him he took his wife and young Egbert. Edith did not live to reach Norway, and Grim, unwilling to be burdened with her son, had sold Egbert into slavery. For ten years the boy had suffered in bondage under different masters, the last of whom—Klerkon Flatface—had brought him into Esthonia.
"My one wish during all these years," said Egbert, has been to return to England, where the people are Christian, and do not worship your heathen gods. Many times I have tried to escape, but always without success; for I have had no companions, and it is not easy for one so young as I am to make his way alone through foreign lands."
"What is your age?" Olaf inquired.
"Fifteen summers," answered Egbert.
Thorgils stood up and leaned his hand against the trunk of a tree, looking down at his two companions.
"I think," said he, "that it would be a very good thing if we three should run away from this new master of ours—now, while the darkness lasts,—and, keeping in company, try to get back to the coast. There we might take possession of a small sailboat, and so make our way over sea to the land of the Angles. What say you, Ole?"
Olaf was silent for a while. At last he said:
"It were much wiser in us to wait until we are old enough to fight our way in the world."
"And you will not try to escape?" asked Thorgils.
"No," answered Olaf firmly. "We have a good master. Why should we leave him?"
"It is because he has given you that fine cloak that you think him good," returned Thorgils tauntingly; "but, believe me, he has his private reasons for so bribing you. I can well guess what he means to do with you, and I tell you that you will surely rue it if you do not escape while we may; for, if men bear their true nature in their faces, then this man who has bought us has an evil heart."
"And what would it avail if we were to escape?" asked Olaf. "Boys as we are, we should be of little use in the world, I think."
"You are afraid!" cried Thorgils.
"Yes," echoed Egbert, "you are afraid." Then turning to Thorgils, he added: "But why should we urge the lad against his will? He is but a child, and would only be a burden to us. Let us leave him and go our ways without him."
"You are not of our folk, Egbert," returned Thorgils, flinging himself down upon the dry leaves, "and you do not know what the vow of foster brotherhood means. You ask me to do that which I would sooner die than do. Ole and I will never part until death parts us. And if either should be slain, then the other will avenge his death. If Ole wills to remain in slavery until he is old and gray, then I will always be his companion in bondage. But to escape without him, that will I never do!"
Nothing more was said. The three boys, weary after their long journey, curled themselves up to sleep.
So soundly did young Olaf sleep, that at midnight, when a man's hands unbound the chain about his neck he was not awakened. Very cautiously the man took him up in his strong arms, and carried him away among the dark shadows of the trees to a part of the forest far removed from the campfires. And at last he laid the lad down on a bed of dry reeds and moss at the side of the stream, where the bright moon, shining through an open glade, shed its light upon his fair round face and his short gold hair. There the man stood over him, watching him as he dreamed his childish dreams. Then he knelt down and gently drew aside the lad's cloak and opened the front of his kirtle, so that the moonlight fell upon the white skin of his throat and breast.
Suddenly Olaf awoke and saw the dark figure bending over him.
"Thorgils, Thorgils!" he cried in alarm.
"Be silent!" commanded Sigurd Erikson, gripping the boy's arm. "No harm will come to you."
Olaf struggled to his feet and was about to take to flight, but his master's firm grip held him.
"Silly child!" muttered Sigurd. "Why do you fear me? Have I not already told you that I am your friend?"
"I do not trust your friendship," answered Olaf angrily, remembering Thorgil's warning. "And now I believe that you have brought me here only that you may secretly put me to death."
"I have brought you here for your own good, my child," said Sigurd softly; "and I give you my solemn word that no man, whosoever he be, shall do you any injury while I live to be your protector. Be silent, and listen to me."
Olaf grew calmer.
"Yester eve," said Sigurd, "when you told me that you were the son of King Triggvi Olafson, I could not easily believe your tale. But when you spoke your mother's name and told me that she was from Ofrestead, in the Uplands of Norway, then I knew very well that you were telling me the truth. I looked into your eyes and I saw that they were the eyes of Queen Astrid—the fairest woman in all the Northland. In your very words I thought I could hear the music of Queen Astrid's voice —"
"Can it be that my mother is known to you?" cried Olaf eagerly. "Can it be that you can take me to where she lives?"
"Well do I know her," answered Sigurd. "But, alas! it is many summers since I saw her last, nor had I heard any tidings of her for a long, long while, until you told me that she had taken flight from Norway. Tell me now, what is the name of him whose succour she wished to seek in Gardarike?"
"Her brother's name," said Olaf, "is Sigurd Erikson."
"I am that same brother," smiled Sigurd, taking the boy by the hand; "and it is because I am your uncle that I now take you with me into Holmgard." He drew Olaf nearer to him and put his arm about his neck. "And you shall live with me as my own dear foster son," he added, "and I will take care of you and teach you all that a king's son should know, so that in the time to come you may be well fitted to claim your dead father's realm. But it is not without great risk that I do this thing, for I well know that there are many men in Norway who would gladly hear of your death. Now, if Gunnhild's sons should learn that you are living in Holmgard they would offer a rich reward to the man who should compass your end. You will be wise, therefore, if you breathe no word of your kinship with Triggvi Olafson. Also, you must betray to no man, not even to your foster brother Thorgils, that I am your uncle, or that I know your name and kin; for it is a law held sacred in Gardarike that no one of royal birth shall abide in the land without the sanction of King Valdemar. If it be known that I am wilfully breaking that law, then both you and I will fall into the sorest trouble."
Amazed at hearing all this, and at learning that the man he had taken for a secret enemy was none other than his own uncle, Olaf was speechless. He silently put his hand into Sigurd's great palm, and let himself be led back to the place where Thorgils and Egbert still lay sound asleep.
CHAPTER III: GERDA' S PROPHECY.
On the morrow, when Olaf awoke, he told nothing of this that he had heard concerning his kinship with Sigurd Erikson, and if Thorgils saw that he was very moody and quiet, he no doubt thought that the lad was but sorrowing at being taken away from the sea that he loved so much. And yet Olaf seemed strangely unwilling to favour any plan of escape. Both Thorgils and Egbert were for ever speaking of flight, but Olaf always had some wise reason to offer for yet further delay, and would only shake his head and say that their plans were ill formed. On the second evening of the journey into the south, a halt was made upon the shores of a great inland lake. Thorgils declared that it was a part of the sea, and he urged his two companions to steal away with him under the cover of night so that they might find some fisher's boat and make off with it. But Olaf quickly pointed out that there were no boats to be seen, and that, as the horses and dogs were drinking of the water, it could not be salt like the waters of the great sea. Every day during the long and weary journey Thorgils brought up some new plan. But Olaf was obstinate. So at last the two elder boys, seeing that he was bent upon remaining in bondage, yielded to his stronger will, and agreed to wait in patience and to go with him wheresoever their master had a mind to take them.
The country into which they were taken was in old times called Gardarike. It lay to the southeast of Esthonia, and it was a part of what is now known as the Russian Empire. Many Norsemen lived in that land, and King Valdemar was himself the son of the great Swedish viking, Rurik, who had made conquests and settlements in the countries east of the Baltic Sea. Valdemar held his court at Holmgard—the modern Novgorod. He was a very wise and powerful ruler, and his subjects were prosperous and peaceable, having many useful arts, and carrying on a commerce with the great city of Mikligard. The people were still heathen, worshipping Odin and Thor and the minor gods of the Scandinavians; for the faith of Christendom was as yet but vaguely known to them and little understood.
Sigurd Erikson, who was Valdemar's high steward, lived in the king's palace in great dignity and had many servants. So when he returned with all the treasure that he had gathered as tribute he took Olaf Triggvison into his service. But Thorgils and Egbert were still held as bond slaves and put to hard labour in the king's stables.
The steward was very good to Olaf, and soon grew to love him as his own son, guarding him from all harm, speaking with him whenever chance brought them together, yet never betraying by word or act that the boy was other than a mere thrall, whom he had bought with other chattels during his journey through the king's dominions. Neither did Olaf whisper, even to his foster brother, any word of his close kinship with their new master. Thorgils, who had not forgotten the name of Queen Astrid's brother, might indeed have discovered Olaf's secret. But it so chanced that the king's steward was spoken of only by his title as the Hersir Sigurd, and not as the son of Erik of Ofrestead.
For many months Olaf fulfilled his little duties very meekly, and no one paid great heed to him, for he still bore the traces of his rough work. Sigurd was well satisfied that his secret was safe, and that Valdemar would never discover that his steward was breaking the law. But soon the lad's fair hair grew long and bright, his hands lost their roughness, and his growing beauty of face and limb attracted many eyes. Then Sigurd began to fear, for he knew the penalty he would be forced to pay if it should be discovered that he had wittingly brought a king born youth into the land.
This danger grew greater when it chanced that the Queen Allogia took notice of young Olaf, for the queen was in some sort a spae woman; she was skilled in foretelling the future, and she quickly perceived that the boy's beauty had come to him from some noble ancestor. It seemed that she was bent upon knowing his history, for she besought many persons about the court to tell her whence he had come, and to discover for her the names of his parents. But none could tell.
Now, Allogia was still but two and twenty years of age, and very fair, and the king did not like that she should be seen holding speech with his handsome steward, for fear that Sigurd should win her heart. But one day in the early winter time the queen came upon Sigurd in the great hall, where he was alone with Olaf, teaching the boy to read the runes carved in the black oak behind the king's high seat.
Olaf stood back as she entered, but his eyes rested fearlessly upon her. She wore a blue woven mantle ornamented with lace, and under it a scarlet kirtle with a silver belt. There was a band of gold round her head, and her fine brown hair reached down to her waist on both sides. She approached the steward, and said as he turned to withdraw from the hall:
"I pray you, go on with your lesson, hersir."
"Your pardon, lady," said Sigurd, "I was but teaching the lad the rune of King Rurik, and it is of no account that I should continue."
"Not often have I heard of a mere slave boy learning runes," returned Allogia; "such knowledge is only meant for those who are of high estate." She paused and looked round at Olaf, who stood apart with his hand caressing the head of a great dog that had risen from before the fire. "And yet," added the queen thoughtfully, "I would say that this boy Ole, as you call him, has no serf's blood in him. His fairness is that of a kingly race. What is his parentage, Hersir Sigurd? You who have shown him so much favour, who have dressed him in such fine clothes, and who even go so far as to teach him the reading of runes, surely know him to be of noble birth. Who is he, I say?"
This question, coming so directly and from the queen herself, whom he dared not disobey, brought the guilty blood to Sigurd's brow. But Allogia did not observe his confusion. Her large dark eyes were gazing full upon Olaf, as though in admiration of the boy's silky gold hair and firm, well knit figure.
"I bought the lad in North Esthonia," Sigurd answered after a moment's pause. "I bought him from a bonder in Rathsdale, and the price I paid for him was two silver marks. It may be that he is some viking's son, I cannot tell. He is quick witted and very clever at all games, and that is why it pleases me to teach him many things."
There was a look of doubt in Allogia's eyes, as though she knew that the steward was telling her but a half truth. He saw her doubt and made a sign to Olaf to draw nearer. The boy obeyed, and stood before the queen with bowed head.
"Of what parentage are you, boy?" demanded Sigurd. "Who is your mother, and what is her condition of life?"
Olaf answered promptly, as he looked calmly into his master's face:
"My mother is a poor bondswoman, hersir," he said. "The vikings brought her into Esthonia from west over sea. I have not had tidings of her since I was a little child."
The queen smiled at him pityingly.
"And what of your father?" she asked.
Olaf shook his head, and looked vacantly at the queen's beautiful hands with their many gold rings.
"I never knew my father, lady," he replied, "for he was dead before I came into the world."
"But do you not know his name?" pursued Allogia. Now Olaf feared to tell a deliberate lie, and yet, for his uncle's sake, he dared not answer with the truth. He stammered for an instant, and then, feeling the dog's head against his hand, he caught the animal's ear between his fingers and gave it a hard, firm pinch. The dog howled with the sudden pain and sprang forward angrily. And the queen, startled and alarmed, moved aside and presently walked majestically from the hall.
Not again for many weeks did Allogia seek an answer to her question. Sigurd, still fearing that his secret might be revealed, kept the boy away from the court so that he might not be seen. But for all his care the danger was for ever recurring.
King Valdemar had a mother named Gerda, who was so old and infirm that she always lay abed. She was wonderfully skilled in spaedom, and it was always the custom at yuletide, when the guests assembled in the king's hall, that his mother was borne in thither and placed in the high seat. There she prophesied touching any danger overhanging the country, or similar thing, according to the questions put to her.
Now it happened in the first winter of Olaf's being in Holmgard, that at the yule feast, when Gerda had been borne in after this fashion, Valdemar asked her whether any foreign prince or warrior would enter his dominions or turn his arms against his kingdom during the following year.
The old mother ran her bent fingers through the thin locks of her white hair, and gazing with dim eyes into the vast hall, thus spoke her prophecy:
"No token of any disastrous war do I discern," she said, "nor any other misfortune. But one wondrous event I see. In the land of Norway there has lately been born a child who will be bred up here, in Holmgard, until he grows to be a famous prince; one so highly gifted that there has never before been seen his equal. He will do no harm to this kingdom; but he will in every way increase thy fame. He will return to his native land while yet he is in the flower of his age, and he will reign with great glory in this northern part of the world. But not for long, not for long. Now, carry me away."
While these words were being spoken, Queen Allogia's eyes rested upon Olaf Triggvison, who was acting as cup bearer to his uncle Sigurd. She saw the drinking horn tremble in his hand, so that the wine it held dripped over the silver rim, and fell upon the front of his white kirtle; and she divined that it was to him that the prophecy referred. But no sign of this suspicion did she betray, either at that time or in the after days. Yet none the less she watched him always, with her mind fixed upon the thought of his nobility, and the glory that had been promised him. In all that he did she was well pleased, for already she had found that he excelled all others of his age, not only in personal beauty but in skilful handling of all warlike weapons, in the training of dogs and horses, in wrestling and riding, in racing on snowshoes, and in all other exercises. Often she would have spoken with him, but, saving at the time of a great feast, he was never to be seen in the hall.
Throughout the long, cold winter months, Olaf saw nothing of his foster brother or of Egbert the Briton, for they had both been taken across the river to labour on one of the king's farmsteads. There they remained until the early summer, when they brought over their flocks and herds for the sheep meeting. At that time there was held a great fair in Holmgard, with sports and games and manly contests. Many parties of men came into the town from distant parts of the kingdom.
On the second morning of the fair, Sigurd Erikson entered the room in which Olaf slept. The boy was dressing himself in his fine clothes, and girding on his leather belt with its small war axe, which Sigurd had had made for his young kinsman.
"My boy," said Sigurd, "there is little need for you to dress yourself in this holiday attire, for it is my will that you do not attend the games. You must not show yourself amid the crowd."
Now, Olaf had engaged to take part in a great wrestling bout with three young champions from Livonia. Also, he was to have run in a footrace, for which the prize was a silver hilted sword, awarded by the queen. So at hearing his uncle thus forbid him to appear, he became very indignant.
"It is too late for you to try to keep me within doors," he protested. "I have given my word to the wrestlers, and I cannot now withdraw. Do you wish me to be jeered at as a coward? Why do you deny me the honour of taking all the prizes that I may so easily win?"
"It is for your own happiness that I forbid you to show yourself before strangers," returned Sigurd. "But, more than all, I wish you to keep in hiding for this great reason. There has come into Holmgard a man whom I met many months ago. I engaged with him to pit my best horse against his in the horse ring, and the prize was to be —"
"What was the prize?" asked Olaf, seeing that his uncle had paused.
"The prize was to be yourself, my son," said Sigurd gravely. "The man coveted you, and would have bought you from your old master Reas."
"And why did you agree to this, knowing that I am your own kinsman and your sister's son?" asked Olaf.
"I did not then know that you were of my kin," answered Sigurd. "But having given my word, I cannot go back from it. I have seen this man's horse, and I judge it to be a finer animal than mine. Therefore do I fear that I must lose you. But if you will keep within the house, I will tell the man that you are dead, and will offer him the young Englander Egbert in your stead."
"Would you then tell the man a falsehood?" cried Olaf.
"Gladly, if by doing so I still keep you with me, for I would not lose you for all the world."
Olaf, obedient to his uncle's word, began to unbuckle his belt. But his face was very gloomy, and it was easy to see that it was only out of his love for his uncle that he would by any means agree to forego his pleasures. Olaf was already very proud of his own skill. Never yet had he been beaten in any contest, and he had hoped to add to his glory by overcoming all who might come against him on this great day. Moreover, it was a sorry sacrifice for him to make if he was not to be allowed to witness the games.
As Sigurd turned to leave him, the boy suddenly caught his arm.
"I will not promise!" he cried. "I cannot give you my word. I have set my heart upon the wrestling, and in spite of your forbiddance I shall go. Tell me what manner of man this is that you speak of, and I will avoid him. Even though he overcome you in the horse fight he shall not take me from you."
"He is a great viking," answered Sigurd. "Men name him Klerkon Flatface. It is the same who sold you into bondage."
A cloud came upon Olaf's brow, and he sat down upon the side of the trestle bed.
"Klerkon Flatface?" he repeated slowly. Then raising his eyes he looked into his uncle's face and added: "Do not fear, hersir. Klerkon shall not take me from you."
Now, very soon after Sigurd had gone out to attend upon the king, Olaf quitted the house and went by secret ways to the stables, where he found his foster brother at work combing out the mane of Sigurd's fighting steed. A very tall and powerful animal it was, with a glossy brown coat and a long tail that reached nearly to the ground. It was well trained, and many a well won fight had it fought. Sleipner was its name, and it was so called after the eight footed horse of Odin.
Olaf went to Thorgils' side and greeted him with friendly words. Then, when they had spoken for a while together, Olaf bent his head close to Thorgils' ear, and said he:
"I have news, brother."
"Ill news or good?" asked Thorgils.
"Judge for yourself," answered Olaf. "It is that our old enemy Klerkon the Viking has come into Holmgard, with many men and a mighty horse that is to be pitted against Sleipner."
Thorgils drew back with a sudden start.
"Then has our good time come," he cried. "Our vow of vengeance must be fulfilled. No longer are we little boys, weak of arm and failing in courage. Never again shall Klerkon sail the seas."
"And who will hinder him?" asked Olaf, looking the while into the other's brightened eyes.
"He shall be hindered by me," returned Thorgils. "With me alone must the vengeance rest, for it is not well that you, who stand so high in honour with the king and his court, should sully your white hands with blood. It was my father whom Klerkon slew that day upon the ship, and it is my part to avenge him."
Then Olaf shook his head.
"Not so shall it be," said he. "Thoralf was my own good foster father, and I am not afraid to face the man who sent him so cruelly to his death. I and not you shall bring the murderer to his bane."
"Rash that you always are!" cried Thorgils. "Will you never learn to be cautious? Keep your peace. If I should fail, then will it be your turn to avenge my death as our vow of foster brotherhood demands. Now bring me a good weapon, for I have none but an oak cudgel."
"You shall not want for a good weapon," said Olaf, and he drew a small sword from under his blue cloak and handed it to Thorgils. "Here is my new handsax. Take it, and use it to good purpose. But in the matter of Klerkon, it may be that I shall be before you. Odin be with you!"
CHAPTER IV: THE SLAYING OF KLERKON.
It was yet early in the forenoon when the games began. They were held on the great plain beyond the gate, where fences were raised as a girdle round the course. Upon the sunny side was the king's tent, where Valdemar and Allogia sat, attended by many guests and courtiers, among whom was Sigurd Erikson.
For a long while Sigurd, who sat near to the queen, was at his ease in the belief that young Olaf was keeping within doors, and he paid little heed to those who were within the ring. First there were jumping matches. Olaf did not join in these, for he was not yet tall enough to compete with full grown men, and there were no youths of his own height who were skilled enough to match him. Neither, for a like reason, did he take part in the sword feats. But at last it came to a trial of skill with the longbow. The bowmen were at the far end of the course, and their faces could not well be seen from the tent, even had Sigurd searched among them for the face of his wilful nephew. There was one, however, who saw better than he, and this was Queen Allogia.
She waited until it came to the turn of those who were younger than eighteen years, and then she watched with keen eyes. Among them she soon discerned the youth whom she sought; nor did she lose sight of him until his well aimed arrow shot full into the mark, and he was proclaimed the victor. Then, when Olaf came before the tent to make his obeisance, Sigurd saw him, and was very wroth, for he knew that Klerkon the Viking was among the king's guests.
Now, when Olaf was thus near, it seemed to Klerkon that the lad was not wholly a stranger to him. Indeed, had it not been for the long gold hair and the disguise of better clothing, he might have known him to be the same whom he had seen in the last summer playing at the knife feat on the gangplank of the viking ship. But Klerkon only admired the lad's skill with the longbow, and thought what a goodly warrior he would make. So having this in his mind, he watched Olaf closely when again the boy ran past in the footrace, leading his competitors by many yards.
And now, being first in the race, Olaf came once more before the tent, and the queen gave him his well won prize.
As he took the silver hilted sword from Allogia's hand, one of the vikings went to Klerkon's side, and said he:
"Master, this youth is the same who appeared in the last summer as a bond slave at the time when the Hersir Sigurd came on board of us. Was it not this same lad who was to be the prize in our horse fight?"
Then Klerkon fixed his eyes more keenly on the lad, and thought of him as he might be with his fair hair cropped short, and with a slave's white kirtle in place of the fine clothes he now wore.
"It is the same!" he answered. "And now I mind that someone told me it was he whom we captured among others many summers ago off Alland isle. It was we who brought him into Esthonia. Much would I give to have him with us on our longship. And by the hammer of Thor, I swear that if I win him not over the horse fight, then I will take him by force!"
So then Klerkon made his way to the side of Sigurd Erikson, and told him that he had recognized the boy. At which Sigurd grew very pale, and blamed himself in that he had not kept Olaf within doors by main force.
Now, at high noon when the king and queen departed from the tent, Sigurd made his way round to the entrance of the lists, and there searched for Olaf and found him. He spoke to the lad very gravely, and, telling him of the viking's recognition, cautioned him against appearing again within the circle of the course. Olaf, seeing now that it was a serious matter, agreed to abandon the wrestling, and gave his word that he would thereafter be more cautious of showing himself.
"Much do I fear," said Sigurd, "that the mischief is already done. Your future welfare, your happiness, your claiming of your father's kingdom—all depends upon the result of this horse fight. If Klerkon the Viking's horse should overcome Sleipner there is no help for us. You must go with the victor."
Then Olaf smiled almost mockingly.
"Be not afraid, my kinsman," said he. "Should Klerkon come to claim me as his prize he shall not find me. But he will never need to claim me. I have seen this great stallion that he has so much boasted of, and I know full well that it is no match for Sleipner in a fair fight."
"We shall see very soon," returned Sigurd; "meanwhile, if you intend to witness the combat, I beg you to take your stand as far as possible away from the vikings. And when the fight is over — whatever be the result—make your way over the river and keep well hidden in old Grim Ormson's hut. There you will be safe from all discovery until after the vikings have departed."
Now Olaf had no notion of hiding himself thus. He was not personally afraid of Klerkon, neither did he believe that the viking would go to much trouble to secure his prize even if his horse should be successful. Olaf had heard that that horse had been brought from England, and he did not believe that anything good could come from a country so far away. His uncle's horse, on the other hand, was celebrated all through Gardarike, and it had never been beaten either in the race or in the fight. Why, then, should there be any fear for the result of the coming contest?
But Sigurd Erikson was wiser, and knew better that his steed was at last to meet its equal. Never before had he seen an animal so strong and fierce as the stallion that Klerkon the Viking had matched against Sleipner.
Many horses were led forth into the circle, and they were taken in pairs to the middle, where they fought one against the other. Each horse was followed by its owner or the trainer, who supported and urged it on, inciting it with his stick. The crowd of onlookers was very large, for among the Northmen no amusement was more popular than the horse fight, unless it were the combat between men. But at first there was not much excitement, because many of the horses would not fight, and others were too easily beaten. At last Sleipner and the English horse were led forth into the centre. When they were let loose they came together fiercely, and there followed a splendid fight, both severe and long. Little need was there for the men to urge them or to use the sticks. The two horses rose high on their hind legs, biting at each other savagely until their manes and necks and shoulders were torn and bloody. Often the animals were parted, but only to renew the fight with greater fierceness. The combat went on until eleven rounds had passed. Then Klerkon's stallion took hold of the jawbone of Sleipner, and held on until it seemed that he would never yield his hold. Two of the men then rushed forward, each to his own horse, and beat and pushed them asunder, when Sleipner fell down from exhaustion and hard fighting. At which the vikings set up a loud cheer.
King Valdemar was the umpire, and he said now that the fight must cease, for that Klerkon's horse had proved himself the victor in eight rounds, and that it could easily be seen that the steward's horse was no longer fit. Then the king asked Sigurd what prize he had staked, and Sigurd answered:
"The prize was staked many months ago when I met Klerkon over in Esthonia, and it was arranged that if the viking's horse should overcome mine he was to take the young thrall Ole."
"Let the boy be given up to him, then," said the king; "for he has won him very fairly."
"I will take the boy tonight," said Klerkon, who stood near, "for my business in Holmgard is now over, and at sunrise I go back to the coast."
Now Sigurd believed that Olaf had surely taken his advice, and gone at once across the river to hide himself in Grim Ormson's hut, so he was not in any way anxious.
"Take the lad wheresoever you can find him," said he to the viking. "And if you cannot find him before the sunrise, then I will pay you his just value in gold."
"Though you offered me all the gold you are worth," returned Klerkon, "I would not take it in place of the boy. No thrall born lad is he, but of noble descent, and I intend to make a viking of him and take him with me west over sea to England. It is not well that a youth so clever as he should waste his years in an inland town. He was meant by his nature for the sea, and I think that he will some day prove to be a very great warrior."
At this Sigurd Erikson grew sick at heart, for he knew that the viking was a man of very strong will, and that no half measures would serve to turn him from his purpose. Also, he felt that it was now useless to attempt any deception concerning Olaf. The vikings had recognized the boy, and none other could be passed off in his stead.
With a gloomy cloud on his brow, Sigurd left the tent and made his way back to the king's hall in search of his nephew. Olaf was not there. The hours went by, and still there was no sign of him. Neither did Klerkon come to make claim to his prize.
It was in the evening time. Sigurd sat alone in his room at the back of the great hall. He was thinking that Olaf had become strangely restless and unruly of late. Many times the lad had disappointed him and caused him trouble, but never so much as today, when his wilfulness threatened to bring about very serious consequences. Had Olaf taken the advice that had been given him in the morning, the coming of Klerkon might have been a matter of small moment; but the thoughtless boy had boldly shown himself before the tent, and had never striven to hide himself from the quick eyes of the shipmen. He had been recognized—as how would one so distinguished from all other youths fail to be?—and now Klerkon would not rest until he had safely secured his coveted prize.
Very different now was Olaf from what he had seemed on that day when he stood near the viking ship in the guise of a poor slave. In the year that had passed Sigurd had grown to love the lad with the love of a father, had taught him many useful arts and handicrafts, had given him fine clothes to wear, and had so improved his bodily condition and moulded his mind that no king's son could ever hope to excel him either in physical beauty or in skill of arms, in manly prowess or moral goodness. Never once had Olaf done anything that was mean or unworthy; never once had he told an untruth or gone back from his promise. At any time when Sigurd had told him to do what was not to his liking the boy had simply shaken his golden curls and said, "I will not promise"; but always when he had given his word he held to it firmly and faithfully. He could be trusted in all things. But for all this he had lately become most wilful, and the trouble he was now causing made his uncle very anxious.
Sigurd knew full well that Olaf loved him, and that all the possible glory of being a viking would not lead him away from Holmgard of his own free will. But in the present case he might not be able to help himself, despite his having so positively said that Klerkon should never carry him off alive. So in his heart Sigurd feared that Olaf would take some mischievous and unwise measure of his own to evade the vikings. It might be, indeed, that he had already gone across the river to the security of Grim Ormson's hut; but it was greatly to be feared that he had fallen into the hands of Klerkon Flatface.
Suddenly, as Sigurd sat there in moody thought, the door of the room was flung open, and Olaf rushed in. He was strangely agitated. His hair was rough and his clothing was torn; his large blue eyes flashed in anger, and his breathing was heavy and uneven.
Sigurd sprang up from his seat. He saw that something ill had happened.
"Why are you here?" he cried. "Why are you not in hiding? Have I not warned you enough that you are running into danger by letting yourself be seen? Klerkon has won you from me, and he may be here at any moment to claim you and carry you away!"
Olaf did not reply for a long time. He only bent down and took a handful of rushes up from the floor, and began to quietly clean the blade of his axe that he held under his arm.
"Speak!" cried Sigurd, driven to anger by the boy's silence.
Then at last Olaf said in a steady, boyish voice:
"Klerkon will never claim me from you, my kinsman; for he is dead."
"Dead?" echoed Sigurd in alarm.
"Yes," answered Olaf, "I met him in the gate. He tried to take me. I raised my axe and buried it in his head. Well have you taught me the use of my axe, Hersir Sigurd."
As he spoke there came a loud hum of angry voices from without. They were the voices of the vikings calling aloud for the blood of him who had slain their chief.
Without a word Sigurd Erikson crossed the room, and drew the heavy bar athwart the door. Then he turned upon Olaf.
"Well do I discern," said he, "that you are of King Harald's race. It was ever so with your forefathers; thoughtless, fearless, ruthless! And so all my teaching of you has gone for nothing! Oh, foolish boy! To think that you, who might have lived to be the king of all Norway, have ended in being no more than a common murderer!"
"Murderer?" repeated Olaf. "Not so. It is but justice that I have done. Klerkon was the slayer of my dear foster father. He slew him cruelly and in cold blood, and for no other reason than that poor Thoralf was old and infirm. I have done no murder. I have but taken just and lawful vengeance."
"Just and lawful it may be in our own birthland, Olaf," returned Sigurd gravely; "but in this kingdom wherein we now live the peace is held holy, and it is ordained by law that he who kills another man in anger shall himself lose his life. I cannot save you. You have broken the peace; you have taken the life of one of the king's own guests, and you have insulted the king's hospitality. I fear that you must die."
He broke off, listening to the furious cries of the crowd outside. "Hark!" he went on. "Those wild sea wolves are calling for blood vengeance. Come! come with me quickly. There is but one hope left, and in that hope lies my own despair and my own undoing."
So, while yet the people were clamouring for the young peace breaker's life, Sigurd took Olaf through the back part of the house and by many secret passages into the queen's garth. Here, in a large hall that was most splendidly adorned with carved wood and hung with tapestry, sat Queen Allogia with two of her handmaids working with their needles upon a beautiful robe of embroidered silk.
Sigurd passed the armed sentinel at the door and strode into the apartment, followed closely by the boy. The queen looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitors.
"I crave your help, O queen," cried the steward excitedly.
The queen stood up in alarm. She had heard the turmoil of voices from without.
"What means all this shouting?" she inquired.
Then Sigurd told her how Olaf had killed the viking, and implored her to help the boy out of his trouble.
"Alas!" said she, when she had heard the tale. "Little power have I to meddle in such affairs. The penalty of murder is death, and I cannot hinder the law." She looked at Olaf as she spoke, and saw the pleading in his eyes. "And yet," she added with quick pity, "such a handsome boy must not be slain. I will save him if I can."
She then bade Sigurd call in her bodyguard fully armed to protect the lad, while she went out into the king's chamber and pleaded with Valdemar to prevent the shedding of blood.
Now, by this time, the enraged vikings and many men of the town had gained entrance to the outer court, and they rushed forward to claim the life of the offender according to their custom and laws. Long they waited, hammering noisily at the oaken doors of the hall wherein Olaf was now known to have taken refuge. But at last the door was flung open, and King Valdemar appeared on the threshold, guarded by many armed men. The crowd drew back, leaving only the chief of the vikings to speak for them and ask for justice. He told the king how Klerkon, standing within the gate, had been attacked by young Ole of the golden hair, and how without word or warning the boy had suddenly raised his axe and driven it into Klerkon's head, so that the blade stood right down into the brain of him.
The king then declared that he could not believe a boy so young as Ole could have either the skill or the boldness to attack so powerful a man as Klerkon Flatface. But the viking turned and called upon some of his shipmates to bring forward the dead body of their chief, which they laid down before the king. Valdemar looked upon it and examined the death wound. The skull was cloven with one clean blow from the crown right down to the red bearded chin.
"A wondrous strong blow!" murmured Valdemar. "But I see that it was struck from the front. How came it that Klerkon could not defend himself?"
"Little time had he for that," answered the viking, "for the lad fell upon him with the quickness of an eagle's swoop, and although my master was well armed, yet he could not raise his sword ere he fell dead at our feet, and then Ole turned and fled with such speed that none could follow him."
"Such an act as this," said the king, "cannot have been without some cause. What reason of enmity was there between this boy and Klerkon?"
"No reason but wanton mischief," answered the warrior. "It was a causeless murder, and we claim the full and lawful punishment."
"Justice shall be done," returned the king. "But I must first know what the peace breaker may have to say in his own defence. I beg you, therefore, to keep truce until the sunrise, when the penalty shall be adjudged."
At hearing this promise the crowd dispersed in peace. Many grumbled that the customary sentence of death had not been instantly pronounced. But in causing this delay King Valdemar was but yielding to the pleadings of the queen, who had implored him to spare the life of the handsome young murderer, or at the least to save him from the fury of the vikings.
When the crowd had gone from the courtyard Allogia returned to the hall in which the steward and Olaf had been kept under the protection of the guards. Dismissing the men, she turned to Sigurd Erikson.
"You have asked me to save the boy's life, hersir," said she, "but, alas! I cannot do it. All that the king will do is to give a few hours' respite. At sunrise the law is to take its course, and much do I fear that its course will be death."
Olaf heard her words, but did not show any fear of the expected punishment. It seemed, indeed, that he had become suddenly hard of heart and dauntless, as though he thought that the killing of a man was a matter to be proud of. Certainly, in his own mind, he did not look upon the taking of Klerkon's life as an act of guilt deserving punishment. He recalled what he had seen on the viking ship years before. The old man Thoralf had fallen to Klerkon's share in the dividing of booty. Thoralf had held little Olaf by the hand as they stood apart on the ship's deck, and Klerkon had come up to them and roughly separated them, flinging Olaf across to where young Thorgils stood. Then, tearing off Thoralf's cloak, the viking had said: "Little use is there in an old toothless hound, but his flesh may serve as food for the fishes;" and, drawing his sword, he had given the aged man his death blow and tilted him over into the sea. So Olaf and Thorgils had sworn to take vengeance upon this viking, and Olaf had now fulfilled his vow.
The queen came nearer to Olaf, and looked at him tenderly. "It is a great pity," said she, "that one so fair should be doomed to die before he has grown to manhood. It might be that with good training he would become a very famous warrior, and I would gladly see him enlisted in the service of the king."
She broke off and turned to Sigurd. "Hersir Sigurd," she said, looking keenly into the steward's face, "I have noticed many times that you take a more than common interest in this boy. Even now, when he has broken the law of the land, it is you who take it upon yourself to plead his cause. It must surely be that you have powerful reasons for keeping him from harm. Whose son is he? Of what kin is he? It is but right that I should know."
Sigurd demurred, remembering that it was forbidden by the law of the land that any king born person should live in Gardarike, except with the king's permission. He thought that it would go very ill with himself if Olaf's kingly birth should be known.
"Lady, I cannot tell you," he murmured.
"Would you then rather that the boy should die?" she asked with anger in her tone.
"Not so," answered Sigurd, drawing himself up to his full height. "If the boy is to be condemned to death, then I will offer to take the punishment in his stead."
The queen glanced at him quietly.
"If that be so," said she, "then the sacrifice of your own life can only be taken as showing that you count the boy of more value to the world than yourself." She paused for a moment, then added: "I am your queen, Hersir Sigurd, and I command you to tell me what I ask. What is the boy's true name, and what is his parentage?"
She went across to the side of the great fireplace, and, seating herself in one of the large oaken chairs, signed to Sigurd and Olaf to approach her. Then, taking up an end of the silken robe upon which she had before been working, she threaded her needle.
"I am ready," she said.
So Sigurd, seeing that there was no way out of his difficulty and hoping that the telling of his secret might after all be of benefit to Olaf, obeyed the queen's behest, relating the story of the kings of Norway and showing how this boy, Olaf, the slayer of Klerkon, was descended in a direct line from the great King Harald Fairhair.
CHAPTER V: THE STORY OP THE NORSE KINGS.
"On a time very long ago," began Sigurd, as he sat beside Olaf on a bench facing Queen Allogia, "there reigned in the south of Norway a young king named Halfdan the Swarthy. His realm was not large, for the country was at that time divided into many districts, each having its independent king. But, by warfare and by fortunate marriage, Halfdan soon increased the possessions which his father had left to him, so that he became the mightiest king in all the land. The name of his wife was Queen Ragnhild, who was very beautiful, and they had a son whom they named Harald.
"This Harald grew to be a very handsome boy, tall and strong and of great intelligence. He was fond of manly sports, and his skill and beauty brought him the favour and admiration of all men of the northland. Well, when Harald was still a youth of ten winters, his father was one day crossing the ice on the Randsfjord when the ice broke under him and he was drowned, so his kingdom fell to his son. The kings whom Halfdan the Swarthy had conquered then bethought them that they might win back what lands they had lost, and they accordingly made war against the young king. Many battles were fought, but Harald was always victorious. Instead of yielding to his enemies he soon extended his dominions until they stretched as far north as Orkadale. And then he was content."
Sigurd here raised his eyes and looked across at Allogia as she silently plied her busy needle.
"It is a long story, lady," he said; "and it may be that it is not new to you."
"Tell it to the end," returned the queen.
"There lived at that time in Valders a maid named Gyda," continued Sigurd. "She was the daughter of King Erik of Hordaland, and King Harald, hearing that she was exceedingly fair and high minded would fain have her to be his wife. So he sent forth messengers to her, asking her to wed with him. Now the maid was proud as well as beautiful, and when she received this message she answered thus: 'Tell your master,' she said, 'that I will not sacrifice myself to be the wife of a king who has no more realm to rule over than a few counties. Marvellous it seems to me that there is no king who can make all Norway his own and be the sole lord thereof, as King Erik in Sweden, and King Gorm in Denmark. Give this message to King Harald, and tell him that I will only promise to be his wedded wife on this condition, that he will for my sake lay under him all Norway. For only then can he be accounted the king of a people."
"Now these words of Gyda were taken duly to the king, and they awakened in his mind a thought which had never before occurred to him, and he said, in the presence of many men: 'This oath do I now solemnly make, and swear before that God who made me and rules over all things, that never more will I cut my hair nor comb it until the day when I have conquered all Norway, and have made myself the sole ruler of the Northmen. And if I do not fulfil my vow, I shall die in the attempt.'"
"Spoken like a true king!" interrupted Allogia. "I trust, for the proud maiden's sake, that he did not take long to fulfil his vow."
"Ten long years it took him," returned Sigurd. "Northward he sallied with a vast army and conquered Orkadale, Trondelag, and Naumdale, and all the country about Thrandheim, making himself the overlord of all the old kings who thereafter became his earls and vassals. Those who would not be subdued he killed or maimed. He made new laws, took from the peasants their odal estates, and declared all land to be the king's property. Many of the conquered people rebelled against his rule and his strict feudal laws, and some of his provinces had to be conquered twice over. But with every year he came nearer to his goal, and those who opposed him only brought about their own ruin.
"At last the old kings, smarting in their subjection, banded themselves together, resolving to assert their ancient rights in a pitched battle. They assembled a great fleet of warships and met the conqueror in the Hafrsfjord. In the sea fight that followed many of Harald's bravest men were slain; spears and stones fell about them on every side; the air was filled with the flying arrows as with winter hail. But the king's berserks at length took on their fury and won for their master the greatest battle that has ever been fought in Norway. Thus, after a ten years' struggle, did Harald fulfil his vow.
"At a feast which followed this fight his hair was cut and combed. Men had formerly named him Harald Shockhead; but now they marvelled at his new made beauty and called him Harald Fairhair. Then, having done what he set out to do, he married Gyda and lived with her until she died.
"From that day forth," continued Sigurd, "Harald Fairhair ruled with great rigour, and so severely did he tax his people that many of the nobler and prouder sort grew discontented and straightway abandoned Norway to seek new homes across the sea. Many were content to roam upon the waters as vikings; others sailed west to the Faroe Isles, some settled in Shetland and the Orkneys, while others went far north into Iceland—a country so rich that, as I have heard, every blade of grass drips with butter. But Harald followed these adventurous men who had thus sought to escape his rule, with the result that he reduced all these islands to his sway."
At this point of the steward's narrative the queen moved impatiently and said:
"All this may be very well, Hersir Sigurd. But I fail to see how this history can bear upon the story of the boy Ole."