A Sea Queen's Sailing
by Charles Whistler
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A Sea Queen's Sailing by Charles W. Whistler


Preface. Chapter 1: The Old Chief And The Young. Chapter 2: Men Of Three Kingdoms. Chapter 3: The Ship Of Silence. Chapter 4: By Sea And Fire. Chapter 5: Vision And Pursuit. Chapter 6: A Sea Queen's Champions. Chapter 7: The Treasure Of The King. Chapter 8: Storm And Salvage. Chapter 9: The Isle Of Hermits. Chapter 10: Planning And Learning. Chapter 11: The Summons Of The Beacons. Chapter 12: With Sail And Oar. Chapter 13: Athelstane's Foster Son. Chapter 14: Dane And Irishman. Chapter 15: The Torque And Its Wearer. Chapter 16: In Old Norway. Chapter 17: Homeward Bound. Chapter 18: A Sea Queen's Welcome. Notes.


Few words of introduction are needed for this story, excepting such as may refer to the sources of the details involved.

The outfit of the funeral ship is practically that of the vessel found in the mound at Goekstadt, and now in the museum at Christiania, supplemented with a few details from the ship disinterred last year near Toensberg, in the same district. In both these cases the treasure has been taken from the mound by raiders, who must have broken into the chamber shortly after the interment; but other finds have been fully large enough to furnish details of what would be buried with a chief of note.

With regard to the seamanship involved, there are incidents recorded in the Sagas, as well as the use of a definite phrase for "beating to windward," which prove that the handling of a Viking ship was necessarily much the same as that of a square-rigged vessel of today. The experience of the men who sailed the reconstructed duplicate of the Goekstadt ship across the Atlantic to the Chicago Exhibition bears this out entirely. The powers of the beautifully designed ship were by no means limited to running before the wind.

The museum at Christiania has a good example of the full war gear of a lady of the Viking times.

Hakon, the son of Harald Fairhair, and foster son of our Athelstane, took the throne of Norway in A.D. 935, which is approximately the date of the story therefore. The long warfare waged by Dane and Norseman against the Irishman at that time, and the incidental troubles of the numerous island hermits on the Irish coast, are written in the Irish annals, and perhaps most fully in "the wars of the Gaedhil and the Gaill."

Chas. W. Whistler.

Stockland, 1906.

Chapter 1: The Old Chief And The Young.

The black smoke eddied and wavered as it rose over my father's burning hall, and then the little sea breeze took it and swept it inland over the heath-clad Caithness hills which I loved. Save for that black cloud, the June sky was bright and blue overhead, and in the sunshine one could not see the red tongues of flame that were licking up the last timbers of the house where I was born. Round the walls, beyond reach of smoke and heat, stood the foemen who had wrought the harm, and nearer the great door lay those of our men who had fallen at the first. There were foemen there also, for it had been a good fight.

At last the roof fell in with a mighty crash and uprush of smoke and sparks, while out of the smother reeled and staggered half a dozen men who had in some way escaped the falling timbers. I think they had been those who still guarded the doorway, being unwounded. But among them were not my father and brothers, and I knew that I was the last of my line by that absence.

It was not my fault that I was not lying with them under our roof yonder. I had headed a charge by a dozen of our best men, when it seemed that a charge might at least give time for the escape of the few women of the house to the glen. My father had bidden me, and we went, and did our best. We won the time we fought for, and that was all. Some of us got back to the hall, and the rest bided where they fell. As for me, I had been stunned by an axe blow, which my helm had turned, and came to myself to find that I was bound hand and foot, and set aside under the stable wall with two others of our men, captives also. Thence I must watch all that went on, helplessly, and after the roof fell I cared no more what should be done with me, for I was alone and desolate.

Nor did I know who these foemen were, or why they had fallen on us. In the gray of the morning they had come from inland, and were round the hall while we broke our fast. We had snatched our weapons as best we might, and done what we could, but the numbers against us were too great from the first.

They had come from inland, but they were not Scots. We were at peace with all the Caithness folk, and had been so for years, though we had few dealings with them. My father had won a place for himself and his men here on the Caithness shore in the days when Harald Harfager had set all Norway under him, for he was one of those jarls who would not bow to him, and left that old Norse land which I had never seen. Presently, he handselled peace for himself here by marriage with my mother, the daughter of a great Scots lord of the lands; and thereafter had built the hall, and made the haven, and won a few fields from the once barren hillside. And now we had been well to do, till this foe came and ended all.

They were not Norsemen either. The Orkney jarls were our friends, and for us Harald cared not. Norsemen on the Viking path we knew and welcomed, and being of that brotherhood ourselves, we had nothing to fear from them. It is true that we owned no king or overlord, but if the Scots king asked for scatt we paid it, grumbling, for the sake of peace. My father was wont to call it rent for the hillsides we tilled.

Yet it would have been better to be swept out of the land by the Scots we won it from, than to be ruined thus for no reason but that of wanton savagery and lust of plunder, as it seemed. At least they would have given us fair warning that they meant to end our stay among them, and take the place we had made into their own hands.

Well, no doubt, I should find out more presently. Meanwhile, as I have said, I cared for naught, lying still without a word. Then the men from out of the hall were brought and set with us; for, blinded as they were with the smoke, it had been easy to take them. That one who was set down next me was black from head to foot and scorched with the burning, but he tried to laugh as his eyes met mine. It was Dalfin of Maghera, the Irish guest who was with us. He had taken a passage in a Norse ship from Belfast, meaning to see lands across the sea, and had bided here when he found that we could show him hunting such as he had never heard of. The mighty aurochs still fed on our hills, and we told tales in hall when guests wondered at the great heads that were on the walls, of how this one and that had been won. The ship had put in here to wait for wind, and of course we were glad to see her crew and hear what news they had of the greater world.

"Friend," I said, "it is hard that you should be brought to this pass."

"It has been the best fight I ever knew," he answered. "The only pity is that it has gone the wrong way. But yonder is a grand funeral pile for the brave men who have fallen. Surely the smoke will bring down the whole countryside on these ruffians?"

I shook my head. What happened to us was the affair of no Scot. Rather they would be setting their own places in order in case their turn came next.

"Well," said Dalfin, "whom are we fighting, then?"

One of our men answered him. He was a Norseman, named Sidroc.

"Red hand, wandering Vikings. Wastrels from every land, and no man's men. Most of them are Danes, but I have heard the tongues of Frisian and Finn and Northumbrian amongst them. We are in evil case, for slavery is the least we have to fear."

"Nay," said Dalfin; "death is a lesser evil than that."

"A man may make shift to escape from slavery," answered the other, and both were silent.

Then for a moment I had half a hope that help was at hand for us, if too late. Round the westward point crept two longships under their broad, brown sails, making for our haven. But a second glance told me that they were the ships belonging to this crew. Doubtless, they had landed the force somewhere along the coast beyond our ken, and now were coming to see how the raid had fared. The matter was plain enough to me now.

Half a dozen men came toward us at this time, leaving the rest to sort the piles of plunder they had brought from the village. I was glad, in a sort of dull way, that none of it came from the hall, for at least no one of them might boast that he wore my father's weapons and war gear. The foremost of these men were a gray-haired old chief and a young man of about my own age, who was plainly his son; and I thought it certain that these two were the leaders of the foe. They were well armed at all points, and richly clad enough, and I could but think them of gentle birth. The men who followed them were hard-featured warriors, whose dress and weapons were strange to me.

We sat still and stared back at them, as they stood before us, wondering little and caring less, so far as I was concerned, for what they thought or would say. The old chief ran his eye down our wretched line, stroking his long beard as if noting our points, while the young man seemed to have a sort of pity for us written on his face.

"Well," said the old chief at last, "you have made a good fight, if foolish. You shall have your chance. Which of you will join me?"

"Tell us who you are first," said Dalfin; "that is only fair."

"I am Heidrek the Seafarer, and this is Asbiorn, my son. Mayhap you have heard of us before."

I had done so. One of the men in our group had fled to us from Banff a year ago, after just such a raid as this. I heard him groan as the name was spoken.

Heidrek heard also, and laughed shortly.

"It seems that I am known," he said. "Well, make your choice. The other choice is death, of course. I can leave no one to say that I am collecting goods from this shore."

"Kill me, then," said Dalfin, while I made no answer.

Two of our men cried that they would join him, and their bonds were cut by Heidrek's followers. One of them set himself by my side and spoke to me at once.

"There are worse things than going on the Viking path, Malcolm, son of my jarl," he said earnestly. "Blame me not."

I turned my head from him. Maybe I was wrong, but it seemed like treachery. Yet, after all, save myself there was not one left of our line, and he was deserting no one. Both these two were single men.

Young Asbiorn heard the man name me, and he came a pace nearer.

"So you are the son of the chief here," he said quietly. "What is your name and rank? Will anyone ransom you?"

"I am the youngest son—I am worth nothing to any man," I said.

"He is Malcolm, the jarl's best-loved son," said that man of ours who had asked my pardon. "Maybe his mother's folk will ransom him. His grandfather is Melbrigda, the Scots jarl over yonder."

He pointed across the hills where the smoke hung among the heather, and at that old Heidrek laughed, while the men at his heels chuckled evilly. For some reason of their own, which, maybe, was not far to seek, they were certain that Melbrigda could find ransom for no one at this time, if he would. Asbiorn turned to our guest, seeing, no doubt, that he was not of the house carles. The great gold torque on his neck seemed to shine all the more brightly by reason of the blackened mail and cloak that half hid it.

"My name?" said Dalfin, with a flash of pride in his gray eyes. "It is Dalfin, prince of Maghera, in Ireland, of the line of the Ulster kings. Kill me, and boast that once you slew a prince. No need to say that I was bound when you did it."

He spoke the Danish of Waterford and Dublin well enough.

Asbiorn flushed, with some sort of manly shame, as I believe, and even old Heidrek frowned uneasily. To have the deed they threatened set in all its shame before them was a new thing to them.

"Let the prince go, chief," I said, seeing this look. "He is a guest, and if this is some old feud with my father of which I have not heard, he does not come into it. He is a guest of the house."

"Faith," answered Heidrek savagely, "he has made it his own affair. He has been the bane of three of my best men. Aye, I have a feud here, and with all who dwell at ease. I am Heidrek the Seafarer."

He turned away, and left us with some sign to his men; but Asbiorn stood still and spoke again to us.

"You bear a Scottish name," he said. "Have you no Scottish kin besides Melbrigda?"

I shook my head, whereon Dalfin spoke for me.

"Here," he said, "if it is just a matter of ransom, let us both go; and come to Belfast in a year's time, or six months' time, an you will. Then my father will pay chief's ransom for the two of us. My word as a prince on it."

"It is a new thing with us to take ransom, or the word of any man," answered Asbiorn doubtfully, yet as if the plan seemed good to him.

One of the men who followed him broke in on that,

"No use, Asbiorn. We cannot put into any Irish port in safety. And over there princes are thick as blackberries, and as poor as the brambles that bear them."

"Aye, and as prickly," said Dalfin. "Have you learned that also?"

The men laughed. One of them said that the Irishman's Danish speech was not bad, and that it was a pity—

"So it is," Asbiorn put in hastily. "I will speak to my father."

The old chief was back with his crew, settling the sharing of the plunder. His son took him aside, and their talk was long; and, as it seemed, not altogether peaceful. Soon the men began to gather round them, and those with us went to hear what was going on. So we were left alone for a moment.

"Men," I said, "save your lives as this chief bids you. Join him now, and leave him when you may."

"Do you join him?" said one in answer.

Not I."

"Neither do we. We live or die with you. What else should courtmen of the jarl's do?"

So said one of our Norsemen; but the eyes of the Scots were on the bleak hills, and for them the choice was harder, I think. They had no ties to us but those of common work and life together, and it was the old land that they must think of leaving. They said nothing, for until he has made up his mind a Scot will not answer.

They would have to decide directly, for now Heidrek was coming back to us. After him were a score or more of his men, and the rest were loading themselves with the plunder and starting one by one towards the haven, into which the two ships were just bearing up. They would be alongside the little wharf by the time the men reached it. Our own good longship lay there also, and I wondered what they would do with her. She was too good to burn.

Now Heidrek stood before me and looked at me, glowering, for a moment.

"Well," he said curtly, "do you join me? Mind you, I would not give every man the chance, but you and yours are men."

Before I could say aught, and it was on my mind to tell the pirate what I thought of him, if I spent my last breath in doing it, the courtman who had spoken with me just now answered for himself.

"We do what the young jarl does," he said; "we follow him."

"The choice was whether you would follow me or not," answered Heidrek coldly; "I will have no leader but myself."

Some of his wilder followers cried out now that we were wasting time, and that an end should be made, while a sword or two were drawn among them. It was the way in which Heidrek's crew were wont to deal with captives when they had no hope of ransom from them. That I and my men should join such a crew was not to be thought of, if for a moment I had half wondered if I ought to save the lives of these courtmen of ours by yielding. Both I and they would be shamed, even as Dalfin had said.

So I made no answer, and Heidrek was turning away with a shrug of his broad shoulders, while the men were only waiting his word to end the affair. Then Asbiorn, whose face was white and pitying as he looked at us, gripped his father by the arm and faced him.

"I will not have it thus," he said hoarsely. "The men are brave men, and it were shame to slay them. Give them to me."

Heidrek laughed at him in a strange way, but the men yelled and made a rush at us, sword in hand. Whereon Asbiorn swung his round shield into place from off his shoulder, and gripped his light axe and faced them. It was the lightness of that axe which had spared me; but the men knew, and feared it and the skill of the wielder, and they shrank back.

"What, again?" said Heidrek. "I thought we had settled that question. What would you with them?"

"That is to be seen. Let me have them."

"Pay for them, then," shouted one of the men. "They are over and above your share of plunder."

"Aye," said Asbiorn at once, "I claim them for my share. Have them down to the new ship, and set them in the forepeak till I need them."

Then old Heidrek laughed harshly.

"Faith, I thought the lad a fool," he said. "Now I know that he will not be so short-handed as I thought. Some of you who are his crew will have an easier time at the oar with these slaves to pull for you."

The men laughed at that, and I knew that the danger was past. I minded what our man had said at first, how that one might escape from slavery. And I think that the nearness of death—though, in truth, not one of us would have shrunk from the steel that was so ready—had taught me how good a thing life might be even yet.

Most of the men went away, the matter being settled. Heidrek went also, without another word to his son, and we were left to Asbiorn and a few men of his own crew. The young chief smiled a little as he looked again at us, but even Dalfin could not smile back again.

"Now," said Asbiorn, "cast off the lashings from their feet, and let them walk to the ship. See that they all get there, and set a watch over the place where they are stowed."

"Are we sailing at once?" a man asked.

"Yes, as usual. The chief has some new plan on foot already."

The end of it was that in a short time we were on board our own ship, and safely stowed forward, still bound. Heidrek had added her to his force, and manned her from the other two vessels; but before we reached the ship I saw that Heidrek's men had piled their slain into an outhouse, set the fagot stack round it, and fired it to windward. There was no more honour for their fallen comrades than that.

So I saw the last of my home in Caithness, and before me was the life of a slave. They had stripped us of our mail and weapons, of course, and had handled us roughly, but that might be borne. The low door of the cramped sail room under the fore deck closed, and we were in darkness, and then Dalfin set into words the thought of us all, with a sort of dull groan:

"This morning I woke and thought it good to be alive!"

Almost at once the ship was warped out of the haven, and went to sea. The last hope I had that the Scots might yet gather and fall on these pirates left me at that time, and a sort of despair fell on me. I think I swooned, or slept at that time, for thereafter I can remember no more until the day was almost spent, and a man came and opened the low door that he might bring us food—oaten loaves, and ale in a great jug. Asbiorn stood outside.

"You may as well loose the men," he said carelessly; "we can mind them well enough."

"More likely to have them out on us in some sort of berserk rage," said the man, growling. "I ken what I would do in their place well enough."

Asbiorn stooped and looked in on us. The light was behind him, and I could not see his face; but he spoke evenly, and not unkindly.

"Will your men bide quiet if I unbind you all?" he said.

"Aye," I answered. "Why not?"

"Good reason enough why you should," he said.

"Let them loose."

One by one we were unbound, some more men coming forward and watching us, with their weapons ready, in case we tried to fall on them. I dare say some old happening of the sort had taught them caution.

"There are thirty of us on board, mind you," the man who set us free said, as he gathered the loose cords and went his way. "Better join us offhand, and make the best of the business."

"Good advice that, maybe," said Dalfin, stretching himself. "Pass along yon ale pot. I have a mighty thirst on me."

"That is better," said the man, and laughed.

I heard him tell another that the Irishman would come round first; but Dalfin's foot had warned me that he spoke in no earnest. Whether my friend had any plan in his mind I could not say, but at all events there was no use in making our bondage worse than it might be by sullenness.

It was good to be free from the lashings that had galled us so sorely, if we were still captives indeed, and had no mind to pass from the cramped cabin, if one may call the forepeak so much, to the deck where the foemen sat and made merry with the stores they had taken from us. The wind was steady and light, and they had naught to do but rest and eat their supper. Asbiorn steered, and was alone on the after deck. The two other ships were not to be seen, and I suppose that they outsailed ours, for she had never been of the swiftest, though staunch and seaworthy in any weather. We were heading due north as if we would make the Faroe Islands, leaving the Orkneys to the starboard.

I wondered if Heidrek had his lair in that far-off spot, whence we should have not the slightest chance of escape in the days to come; but I could say nothing to my comrades. Men of the crew sat just outside the low doorway, with their backs against the bulkhead, as if set there to overhear what we might say.

I looked among them for those two men of ours who had been ready to join Heidrek as their one chance of life, but I could not see them. Perhaps this was no wonder, as it is likely that they were drafted to the other ships in order to keep them apart from us. It was certainly the safest thing to do.

Asbiorn himself seemed to have some thought of this sort with regard to us seven presently. Before sunset, he called some of the men and bade them bring Dalfin and myself and shut us into the after cabin, under his own feet, as he sat at the steering oar. Two of my men were to be left in the fore peak, for they were unhurt and could be shut in safely, while the other three were set amidships, with men of the crew round them. These three had some slight hurts, and a man set about caring for them, roughly but skilfully enough.

But what I chiefly noticed as we were led aft, was that the ale was passing freely, and, as I should have thought, too often for good seamanship. That, however, was not my business, if it did seem to explain why Asbiorn separated us. Seven desperate men might do much among a helpless crowd, once they had snatched the arms they could reach from those who had forgotten to guard them.

The young chief paid no heed to us as we passed into the darkness of the low cabin. The door was closed and barred after us, and we were left to our own devices, though in a few minutes some man on the after deck took off the little square hatch cover which let the light into the place. It was half full of plunder of all sorts, and there was barely room, if soft stowage, for us.

"Well," I said to Dalfin, "if we can sleep, let us do so. I know that every word we speak can be heard on deck."

Whereon he answered me in Erse, and I could understand him well, for the old tongues of Scot of Ireland and Scot of Caithness are the same, if ages have wrought some changes in the way of speaking them here and there.

"Let these Danes make what they can of that," he said. "It will take a man born to the Gaelic to catch aught of it through yon hole, if he thinks he understands it in the open."

So in the Erse we spoke for a little while, and it was a hopeless talk at best. Only we agreed that we would stand by one another through whatever might come, and that the first chance of escape was to be taken, be it what it might.

All the while that we talked thus the noise of the men who drank grew wilder and more foolish. It was a cask of our old heather ale which they had broached, and that is potent, if to the unwary it seems harmless enough. Once or twice Asbiorn called to the noisiest to be still, but they heeded him little.

Soon, however, the noise ceased, and we thought that most of the men slept. After that was no sound but the wash of the waves, and the hum of the sail, and the creak of the great steering oar as Asbiorn met the luff of the ship across the long, smooth sweep of the waves.

We, too, grew drowsy, for the cabin was close and warm beneath the sunny decks. All that could be said was said, and so we slept, if it were but uneasily.

Chapter 2: Men Of Three Kingdoms.

I was roused before long by a tapping on the deck overhead, which came now and again as if Asbiorn, who was steering still, was beating time to some air. So he was, for soon he began to whistle softly, and then to hum to himself. I will not say that the music was much; but he sat barely a fathom from the open hatch, and presently the words he sang caught my ear. They were of no song I had ever heard, and they seemed to have little meaning in them. I listened idly, and the next thing was that I knew, with a great leap of my heart, that what he sang, or pretended to sing, was meant for myself. It could only be so, for he sang of the Orkney Isles to the east of us, and of a boat, and of two men who could win thereto if they dared to try.

"Listen, Dalfin," I said, and my comrade started up eagerly.

Asbiorn heard the movement, and he seemed to lean toward the hatch.

"Jarl's son," he hummed, "come under the hatch and listen. Is it in your mind to get away from us?"

I set my head through the little square opening carefully, and looked round. There was a bale of canvas, plunder from our ship sheds, across the break of the deck, and I could not be seen by the men, while Asbiorn was alone at the helm. It was almost as light as day, with the strange shadowless brightness of our northern June, when the glow of the sunset never leaves the sky till it blends with that of sunrise.

"Your boat is towing aft," he said, still singing, as one may say. "It is shame to keep chiefs in thralldom thus; and I will not do it. Now, I am going forward, and you can drop overboard and take her. The men are asleep, and will not wake."

"What of my men?" I said.

"Glad enough they will be that you have escaped," he said. "They will be all the more ready to do so themselves when they have the chance. They shall have such as I can give them. Leave them to me, for they fought and stood by you well."

"Asbiorn," I said then, "maybe I shall be able to thank you for this someday."

"Mayhap," he answered lightly. "Now, no more words; but take your chance as it comes. The sail is in the boat, and the course is due east hence. If the wind holds you should make the land by to morrow at noon. Hasten, for your time is short. There is a watch forward, and they may see you."

He lashed the helm with a deft turn or two, and stood for a moment with his eyes on the sail. The ship was heading due north, and Heidrek's two ships were some three miles ahead of us. This ship of ours was slow, if stout and weatherly. Then he went forward quickly, never looking behind him.

"Have you heard, Dalfin?" I asked; and he answered that he had, and that he was ready.

"Follow me closely," I said. "I am going to cast off the boat's painter and go over the side with it in my hand. You will be close on me."

With that I drew myself up through the hatch, and crawled under cover of the long bale of canvas—which, doubtless, Asbiorn had set where it was on purpose—to the cleat, cast off the line, and swung myself overboard with as little noise as possible. The boat came up and nearly ran over me; but I had expected that, and was ready. The ship slipped away from me strangely quickly. Still, there was no shout from her, and so far all was well. Then came Dalfin, later than I had expected, for his head was at my heels as I left the hatchway.

He came slowly over the gunwale on all fours, and let himself go with a splash, which I thought every man in the ship must have heard. He fell on his back, with his arms in the air, grasping somewhat in them, which I thought was some man who tried to hold him. Yet I had not seen one come aft. Then there seemed to be a fight in the water where he was, and with that I left the boat to herself. There was a long, deep swell running, but it did not break, and I was maybe fourscore yards from him. The boat would drift after me with the wind, and I swam to his help with all my might. I could see him as the rollers lifted me on their crests now and then, and round him the white water flew as he struggled with somewhat. At that time I saw the tall figure of Asbiorn on the fast-lessening stern of the ship, and with him was another man. One of them seemed to come right aft and look over the stern, and then stooped to the cleat where the painter had been fast. Then both went to the helm, and bided there. Neither looked into the cabin hatch, so far as I could tell.

A long, oily roller slipped from under me, and in its hollow I saw Dalfin. He was learning to swim, with the little four-legged bench belonging to the helmsman as his support. It had never entered my mind that the son of a chief could not swim. I cannot remember when I could not do so, and any one of us would have thought it shame not to be at home in the water, whether rough or calm. Nor had he warned me that he could not do so; and therein I hold was the deed of a brave man. He would not hold me back in any way, but would give me my chance, and take his own. He had to reach the bench, too, which was risky, and that, no doubt, had delayed him. I swam up to him, and he laughed and spluttered.

"Is all going well? Where is the boat?" he gasped.

"Very well," I said. "But why not tell me you could not swim? I would have hove up the boat alongside for you."

"Aye, and so have been seen," he said. "I saw this bench, and—"

The sea filled his mouth, and he had to be silent. I saw the boat coming to us as the wind drifted her, and swam round him, while he splashed wildly as the bench lifted to the waves. Then I saw what was amiss, and got it across and under his chest, and he was happy.

"It is the first time I have ever been out of my depth," he said. "I shall be happier yet when I am in the boat. Yonder she comes!"

I turned my head sharply at that, for he was looking north. We had been running northward dead before the wind when we went overboard, and any boat thence must needs come from the ship.

Then I saw no boat at all, but only the head of a man who swam slowly toward us, and into my mind it came that this was one of our own men who had seen us go, from amidships, and had managed to follow. So I hailed him, but the answering voice was strange to me. With a few strokes the swimmer neared us, and I saw that he was a young man, brown-haired and freckled, with a worn, anxious face, that had desperation written on it. I had never set eyes on him before.

"I would fain make a third in this escape," he said, speaking fair Danish, but slowly, as if unused to it. "I have been a captive with Heidrek like yourselves, and I saw you go."

"You are no Dane?" I said, being somewhat cautious, as may be supposed.

"A Saxon of Wessex," he answered. "On my word, I have had no part in this raid, for I was left with the ships."

"Then you are welcome," I said frankly. It was certain that no man would do as we had done, save he were in as sore straits.

The black bow of the boat lifted on the waves close to us, and I swam to her and climbed in over her stern. By this time the ship was too far off to be dangerous, unless it was thought worthwhile to come back to pick up the boat, which was unlikely, as it would have been done at once if at all. Between us, the Saxon and I managed to get Dalfin into her, and then our new companion followed. He wore a thrall's dress, and had not so much as a knife on him. Yet one could see that he bore himself as might a thane, while his voice was not a thrall's voice.

Now a word or two passed as to whether we should step the mast and set sail at once, but it seemed safer not to do so. We could still be made out clearly from the ship if we did.

"I wonder someone has not looked into the cabin yet to see if we are still there," I said.

"Not likely," answered Dalfin. "I set back the cover on the hatch before I went for the bench."

"A good thought, too," said I. "Now, what I most hope is that none of my poor folk will be harmed for this. Mayhap it will be said that they helped us in some way."

"No," said the Saxon slowly. "They will blame me, and that matters not at all. But it must have been a mere chance that the terrible splashing our comrade made was not seen by Asbiorn; for he went aft, and looked long toward the boat. I heard him say that she had gone adrift, and that some lubber must have made fast the painter carelessly. The man who took the helm said that the boat was not worth putting about for, and that hardly a man of the crew was fit to haul sheet. Which is true enough."

"Asbiorn saw without doubt," I said. "This escape is his doing."

"Aye," answered the Saxon, "I can well believe it. He is the only one of all that crowd who is worth a thought. It is the first time they have let me sail with him—it is but a chance that I have done so now. Men get away from him too easily."

"How did you get away now?"

"There was no man awake near me. I had naught to do but roll over the rail. I dare say Asbiorn saw me also. He would not care, for he hates to have captives held as slaves on board his ship."

Dalfin shivered a little. "It is very cold," he said ruefully.

So it was, for the June nights in the north have still a nip in the air. I told him that sea water has no harm in it, but at the same time thought we might as well get out the oars and make what way we could. Then when we lifted the sail and looked for them, there were none. Only the short steering oar was there; but the new pair I had made myself this winter were gone. No doubt the pirates had put them in their own boat, for they were good. Not that it seemed to matter much, for so soon as the ship was a mile or two farther, we could make sail in safety. We could have done little in the time but warm ourselves. So we had to be content to sit still while the dark sail drew away, and our clothes dried on us.

"Well," said the Saxon presently, "how you feel, friends, I do not know; but I want to shout and leap with the joy of being free again. Nine months I have been a thrall to Heidrek, watched, and bound betimes, moreover."

He held out his hands, and they were hard with the oar, and there were yet traces of cords round the strong wrists.

"Tell us how you came into this trouble," I said, "it is likely that we shall be comrades for a while."

"Easily told," he said. "When I was at home in England, I was Bertric the ship thane, and had my place in Lyme, in Dorset. I owned my own ship, and was thane by right therefore, according to the old laws. Last year I fared to Flanders, where I had done well before, in the summer. In September I was homeward bound, and met this Heidrek outside the Scheldt mouth. He took my goods, and burned my ship, and kept me, because I was likely to be able to pilot him, knowing all that coast. Oh, aye, we fought him; but he had two ships to my one, and four to one in men. Asbiorn saved me, I think, at that time; but I have never had a chance of escape until tonight. I saw it coming, and was ready. You were but a few minutes before me. Now I know that I am in luck to find comrades."

"May it be so," I said, holding out my hand to him.

There was that in the frank way of this Saxon which won me, half Scot though I am, and therefore prone to be cautious with men. He took it with a steady grip, and smiled, while Dalfin clapped his broad shoulder, and hailed him as a friend in adversity.

"We three should do well in the end, if we hold together," Dalfin said. "But you and I are in less trouble than Malcolm. He has lost all; while we were both wanderers from home only. My folk will trouble not at all for me for a year or so, and a shipmaster may be away as long as he chooses. None will look for you till you return, I suppose? Well, I came out to find adventures, and on my word, I am in the way to find them."

"Not a bad beginning," laughed Bertric. "As for me, it is no new thing that I should be a winter abroad, and my folk have long ceased to trouble much about me. I am twenty-five, and took to the sea when I was seventeen. Well, if Heidrek has spoilt this voyage, we can afford it. Luck has been with me so far. If I win home again it is but to start fresh with a new ship, or settle down on the old manors in the way of my forebears."

Now, the remembrance that I had not one who would so much as think of me took hold of me, for the first time, as these two talked of their people, and it fell sorely heavily on me. I could say naught, and turned away from these light-hearted wanderers.

They knew, and left me to myself in all kindness, for there was no word they could say which would help me. Bertric spoke again to Dalfin, asking him how it came to pass that he could not swim, which was as much a wonder to him as it had been to me.

"Yesterday I would have asked you why I should be able," Dalfin answered lightly, "today I know well enough. But my home in Maghera, where we of the northern O'Neills have our place and state, lies inland. Truly, there is the great Lough Neagh, on which, let me tell you, we have fought the Danes once or twice; but if there is any swimming to be done for the princes, there are always henchmen to get wet for them. Never did I dream that a day would come when there was swimming which no man could do for me. That is why."

"But it seems that you have ships, if you fought the Danes on the water?"

"Never a ship! We fell on them in the fishers' coraghs—the skin boats."

"And beat them?"

"Well, it was not to be expected; but we made them afraid."

Dalfin stood up in the boat unsteadily, and swung his arms to warm himself. She was a wide and roomy fishing craft, and weatherly enough, if she did make more leeway than one would wish in a breeze.

"There is less wind," he said. "It is not so cold."

The long, smooth sea was going down also, or he would not have kept his footing as he did. I looked up sharply, and met the Saxon's eye. A calm to come was the last thing we wished.

"Maybe there is a shift of wind coming," Bertric said. "No reason why we may not make the most of what breeze is left now."

"It is the merest chance if any man spies us by this time," I said. "We will risk it."

So we stepped the mast and set sail, heading eastward at once. We trimmed the boat by putting Dalfin in the bows, while I steered, and the Saxon sat on the floor aft and tended sheet. I asked him to steer, but he said the boat was my own, and that I was likely to get more out of her than a stranger. The sail filled, and the boat heeled to the steady breeze; and it was good to hear the ripples wake at the bows, and feel the life come back to her, as it were, after the idle drifting of the last hour. But there was no doubt that the wind was failing us little by little.

About sunrise it breezed up again, and cheered us mightily. That lasted for half an hour, and then the sail flapped against the mast, and the calm we feared fell. The long swell sank little by little until we floated on a dead smooth sea, under brightest sunshine, with the seabirds calling round us. Nor was there the long line of the Orkney hills to be seen, however dimly, away to the eastward as we had hoped.

"How will the tide serve us hereabout?" asked Bertric presently.

"The flood will set in to the eastward in two hours' time," I answered. "It depends on how we lie on the Orkney coasts whether it drifts us to the northward or to the southward. We have been set to the westward all night with the ebb."

"Wind may come with the flood," said he.

And that was the best we could hope for. But I set the steering oar in the sculling rowlock aft, and did what I could in that way. At least, it saved some of the westward drift, if it was of very little use else.

Dalfin curled up in the sun and slept. He had no care for the possible troubles which were before us, knowing naught of the sea; but this calm made the Saxon and myself anxious enough.

"After all," I said, "maybe it will only be a matter of hunger for a day or two."

Bertric smiled, and pointed to the locker under the stern thwart, on which I was sitting.

"I think I told you that you were but a few minutes before me in this matter," he said. "Well, when I heard that Asbiorn would take the boat, I knew my chance had come. So I dropped six of your barley loaves into her as she lay alongside the wharf, and stowed them aft when I went to bale out the rain water that was in her. The men were too much taken up with the plunder to mind what I was about. I think your little water breaker is full also. It is there, and I tried it."

"Why, then, that will carry us far enough," I said. "You are a friend in need in all truth."

"I wrought for myself. I am glad that things have turned out thus in the end. Now do you sleep, if you can. You shall wake when need is."

He came aft and took the oar from me, and I was glad to lie down on the floor boards amidships and rest. And the first thing that I noted was that the Saxon sculled better than myself, and wonderfully easily. Then I slept heavily for maybe three hours.

Bertric roused me about that time. The wind had come, and the sky had clouded over, and the boat was slipping fast through the water, looking eastward indeed, but the wind headed us too closely for that to be of much use. It was blowing from the worst quarter for us, the southeast, and freshening. The boat was fit for little but running, and at this time I waxed anxious as to what was before us, for any Caithness man has heard tales of fishers who have been caught in the southeast winds, and never heard of more.

Now, it would make a long tale to tell of what came thereafter on the open sea. Bertric would have me sleep now, and I did so, for I was fairly worn out, and then the weather grew wilder, until we were driving before a gale, and our hope of making even the Shetlands was gone.

So we drove for two whole days until we had lost all reckoning, and the gale blew itself out. But for the skilful handling of the boat by Bertric, I know we might have been swamped at times in the following seas, but Dalfin knew naught of the peril. He baled when it was his turn, cheerfully, and slept be times, so that I envied him his carelessness and trust in us.

The wind wore round to the northwest at its last and hardest, and then sank quickly. On the third morning we were in bright sunshine, and the sea was going down fast, and again we were heading east, with a half hope of making some landfall in Norway, if anywhere. At noon we shared the last loaf in just such a calm as had fallen on us at first; and at last Bertric and I might sleep again, leaving Dalfin to keep watch. We might be in the track of vessels from Norway westward and southward, but we could not tell, and maybe we expected him to see nothing. But it may tell how wearied we were that we left so untried a landsman to watch for us, though, indeed, either of us would wake with the least uneasiness of the boat in a rising wind. So we slept a great sleep, and it was not until near sunset that Dalfin roused us.

"There is somewhat like a sail on the skyline to the eastward," he said. "I have watched it this half hour, and it grows bigger fast. I took it for a bird at first and would not wake you."

That brought us to our feet in a moment, and we looked in the direction he gave us.

"A sail," said Bertric. "She is bearing right down on us, and bringing an easterly breeze off shore with her. If only we can hail her!"

"It is not Heidrek again?" asked Dalfin anxiously.

"No; his sails are brown. Nor does one meet men like him often. We shall find naught but help from any other, if we may have to work our passage to their port. That is of no account so long as we are picked up."

In half an hour the breeze from the eastward reached us, and we bore up across the course of the coming ship. She came swiftly down the wind, but was either badly steered, or else was so light that with her yard squared she ran badly. At times the wind was almost spilt from out of her sail, and we looked to see her jibe, and then she would fill again on her true course and hold it a while.

"She is out of the way badly handled," said Bertric, watching her in some puzzlement. "I only hope that they may know enough to pick up a boat in a seaway."

Chapter 3: The Ship Of Silence.

Soon we knew that she must be the ship of some great chief, for her broad sail was striped with red and white, and the sun gleamed and sparkled from gilding on her high stemhead, and from the gilded truck of the mast. Then we made out that a carven dragon reared itself on the stem, while all down the gunwale were hung the round red and yellow war boards, the shields which are set along the rail to heighten it when fighting is on hand. We looked to see the men on watch on the fore deck, but there were none, though, indeed, the upward sweep of the gunwale might hide them.

Presently she yawed again in that clumsy way which we were wondering at, and showed us her whole side, pierced for sixteen oars, and bright with the shields, for a moment, and then she was back on her course. We could not see the steersman for the sail, in any case, but we saw no one on deck.

Now we were right across her bows, and within hail of her, and yet no man had shown himself. Bertric and I lifted our voices together in a great hail, and then in a second, and third, but there was no answer. Only she yawed and swung away from us as if she would pass us, and at that Dalfin cried out, while I paid off fast to follow her, and again Bertric hailed. Now she was broad off our bows and to the starboard, an arrow flight from us, and Bertric and I were staring at her in amazement. She was the most wonderfully appointed ship in all sea bravery we had ever seen—but there was no man at the helm, and not a soul on deck.

"They are asleep, or dead," said I; and hailed again and again, all the while edging down to her, until we were running on the same course, side by side.

"We must overhaul her somehow," said Bertric, "or we are left. This is an uncanny affair."

The height of her great square sail told, and little by little she drew ahead of us. We felt the want of the oars more at this time than any, and I think that with them we might have overhauled her at once. Had she been steered, of course she would have left us astern without hope; but as we chased her now, the unsteady flaws of the rising breeze, which we could make full use of, rather hindered her. Now and again, with some little shift, her sail flapped and she lost her way, and yawed so that we gained on her fast, while a new hope of success sprang up in our minds. Then the sail would fill again, and she was away from us.

Once, as the breeze veered a point or two, I thought she must have jibed, for the clew of the sail almost swung inboard; but it filled again.

"She cannot jibe," said Bertric. "See, her yard is braced square for running, and cannot shift. If all holds, she must run till doomsday thus. Her mast may go in a squall, or one of the braces may part—but I don't see what else is to stop her."

But the wind was light, and hardly strained the new rigging, while there was a stout running backstay set up with all care, and even the main halliard had been led far aft to serve as another. She was meant to run while she might, and that silent and lonely ship, passing us on an endless voyage into the great westward ocean, was as strange and uncanny a sight as a seaman could meet in a long life. Moreover, though she was in full war trim, she seemed to have some deck cargo piled amidships, which might be plunder.

So for an hour or more that chase went on. Once or twice we were a full half-mile astern of her, and then gained with the chance of the breeze. Once we might have thrown a line on board her, but had none to heave. Then she gathered way and fled from us, even as we thought we had her. It was just as if she knew that we chased her, and would play with us. We almost lost heart at that time, for it was sickening.

"The ship is bewitched," said Dalfin, and in truth we agreed with him.

Why, and by whom, she had been set adrift thus, or what had befallen her crew, we could not guess. Still, she was our only hope, and we held on after her again. Neither Bertric nor myself had the least thought of giving up, for we knew that the chances of the breeze were all in our favour, so long as it came unsteadily as now. And always, when it fell, we sculled fiercely and gained on her, if only a little.

So another half hour passed, with its hopes and disappointments, and then we were flying down on her with a breeze of our own, when the end came. The wind shifted and I met it, and that shift did all for us. It reached the ship, and took the clew of the sail inboard, shaking and thundering, while the sheets lashed to and fro across the deck. Then somewhere those sheets jammed and held fast, and as if the canvas had been flattened in of set purpose, she luffed, until with a great clap of the sail against the mast, the whole of her upper canvas was aback, and she was hove to helplessly. Maybe she was a furlong from us at the moment, and Bertric shouted.

"We have her," I cried, "if only all holds!"

"She will gather stern way directly," said Bertric, with set teeth. "Then she will fall off again, and the sheets will get adrift."

We flew down on her, but we had been tricked so often before that we hardly dared to hope. Now we were close to her bows, and we heard the great yard creaking and straining, and the dull flapping of the loose canvas of both tack and clew which had blown inboard. The ship lurched and staggered under the uneasy strain, but the tackle held, and we had her. Bertric went to our halliards and lowered the sail as I luffed alongside, and then Dalfin had gripped the rail between two of the shining shields. There was no sea beyond a harmless ripple as yet, and we dropped aft to where a cleat was set for the boats on her quarter, and made fast.

Then as we looked at one another, there came to me as it were a breath from my lost home in far-off Caithness, for a whiff of peat smoke hung round us and was gone so quickly that I thought it almost fancy. But Dalfin had smelt it also.

"There is a fire alight on board," he said. "I smelt the smoke. That means food, and someone on board after all."

With that he shouted, but there was no answer. It would have been a relief to me if some ship's dog had flown out and barked at us; but all was silent, and that was uncanny here in the open sea, and on such a ship.

"Well," said Bertric, "crew or no, we must go on board. No use in waiting."

He swung himself up from the boat over the high gunwale, and then gave me a hand, and together we hauled up Dalfin, and so stood and stared at all we saw in wonder.

Everything was in perfect trim, and the ship was fitted as if for a long cruise. She had two handsome boats, with carven gunwales and stem and stern posts set on their chocks side by side amidships, with their sails and oars in them. Under the gunwales on either board were lashed the ship's oars, and with them two carved gangway planks which seemed never to have been used. Every line and rope's end was coiled down snugly, and every trace of shore litter had been cleared from the white decks as if she had been a week at least at sea, though we knew, from her course, that she could not be more than a few hours out from the Norway coast. We had guessed that she might have sailed at dawn.

But we wondered not so much at the trim of the ship, though that puzzled us; just aft of the mast, and set against its foot, was the pile we had taken for deck cargo, and the like of it I had never seen. There had been built of heavy pine timbers, whose ends butted against either gunwale below, and rose to a ridge pole above, a pent house, as it were, which stood at the ridge some six feet high from the deck, and was about two fathoms long. Its end was closed with timbers also, and against this end, and round, and partly over the roof, had been piled fagots of brushwood, so that it was almost covered. Either from haste, or else loosened by the movement of the ship, one or two of these fagots had not found a place with the rest, but lay on the deck by the boats. As if to keep the pile steady, on either side had been set a handsomely carved sledge, and on the pile at the end was a light wagon, also carved, and with bright bronze fittings. The wheels had been taken off and set inside it. Under the piles showed a barrel or two, which it was plain were tar barrels.

"Firewood for a long sea passage," I said. "And sledges and wagon for a land journey at its end. One would say that the ship was flitting a whole family to Iceland—the new land to which men go today."

"Aye, I have heard of that land, and of families who go there," said Bertric. "That seems to explain some things, but not why the ship is adrift."

"What will be in the house yonder?" asked Dalfin.

"Maybe it was built for the women of the family," I said.

Now, this was so likely that for the moment the wonder passed. We had to tend ship while the breeze held off if we would do anything with her presently. She was not of the largest build, but both Bertric and I knew that it would be all that we three could do, one of us being a landsman moreover, to handle her if it came on to blow at all freshly.

Now, I would not have it thought that we three castaways were much in the mind to puzzle over the ship which we had gained, almost against hope. It was enough for us to rejoice in the feel of firm planks under our feet once more, and to find naught terrible, but promise of all we needed, while the strain of the longboat voyage with its ever-present peril was over. Dalfin broke that first short silence.

"I am desperately hungry," he said. "Surely there will be food on board?"

The breeze freshened up again, and the sail flattened against the mast with a clap, and the ship quivered. It was naught to us, but it made the landsman start and look upward as if expecting to see somewhat carried away, while I laughed at him.

"Work first and food afterward," said Bertric. "We must tend ship while wind is little, if at all. Why, we are not more than half starved yet, for barley bread stands by one nobly."

"Give me somewhat to do, and maybe I shall forget the hunger," Dalfin answered ruefully. "Which of you two is to be captain?"

"Bertric," I said at once. "That is his place by all right."

"It is an old trade of mine," the Saxon said quietly "Well, it is to be seen if I can justify my sayings of myself."

The sun had set by the time we boarded the ship, but we had not noticed it in the bright twilight. The short northern night would be no darker than now until the sunrising, for we were close on midsummer, and there was every sign of settled fair weather after the gale. Even now the last breeze was dying away, leaving the sea bright and unruffled under the glow in the northwest sky. It was only to be hoped that presently some summer breeze might suffer us to lay our course southward or eastward, toward the land where we might find haven and help.

Now Bertric set us to work, and we had little or no trouble, for the breeze fell altogether very quickly. The sheet had fouled the great cleat which was bolted to the deck beams amidships aft for the backstay, and that was easily cleared. Then we swung the yard fore and aft, Dalfin hauling as he was bidden, with fixed intent to haul till further orders, which was all we needed from him. Then Bertric would have two reefs taken in, for we could not tell what weather we might meet, or for how long we might have to stay on board without help. The foot of the sail was wet, as with heavy rain.

"We can take no chances," he said. "Yet it is likely that we shall have a ship or two in chase of us shortly. It is a wonder to me that we have seen none yet. But word will go along the coast of what has happened. It is not the first time that a carelessly-moored vessel has got adrift in a calm, and found a breeze for herself, while her sail was hoisted to dry in the sun."

Now, all we had to do was to carry forward the tack and set it up for reaching, and to do that we had to climb over the fagots at the foot of the penthouse, and the gunwale end of the timbers they rested on, the run of the deck being blocked altogether by the pile. Seeing that when the ship was to be put about the square sail had to be lowered, brought aft round the mast and rehoisted on the other board, the unhandiness of the thing was terribly unseamanlike. Bertric and I grumbled and wondered at it the while we worked, only hoping that by some stroke of luck we might be able to reach a haven without having to shift the sail. It was to the starboard of the mast now, which would serve us well if the wind came from east or north, as was most likely.

Maybe that was an hour's work, and we had done all we might. By that time the breeze had altogether gone, and the ship floated idly on still, bright water, with the hush of the night round us. There was time to tow her head round when we knew whence the morning wind would blow.

Bertric coiled down the fall of the tack purchase, and nodded to Dalfin. "Food now, if there is to be any," he said. "What is in yon kettle?"

Now that we were forward we had seen that against this end of the penthouse no fagots had been piled. The red and white striped awnings of the decks were set there, carefully rolled up round their carved supports, and they rested on a stout sea bedstead, such as might be carried on board for the chief to whom the ship belonged. Two more chests stood at the head and foot of this bedstead, and they were carved, as indeed was the bed. It was plain that all the gear on board belonged to some great house.

But six or eight feet forward of these things, and in the midst of a clear space of deck, was a shallow square box full of sand, and on that was set the covered kettle of which our comrade spoke. The sandbox was that on which a fire might be lighted at sea if need were, but none had been used on it as yet. Hard by were two casks lashed to ringbolts on deck, one of which was covered, and the other had a spigot in it. They held oatcake in one, and water in the other, as perhaps one might have expected, here where the men of the crew would gather forward. And the kettle was full of boiled meat, which was maybe the most welcome sight to us that we could have looked on. For, if we had managed to forget it, we were famished.

So then and there we made a royal meal, asking not at all what the meat might be, only knowing that it was good, thanks to the unknown hands which had made it ready. There was enough in that great sea cauldron for two more such meals as this, and the oatcake barrel was full. We had no fear of hunger again for a time, and if there was no more to be found by the time this store was ended, we should surely have found haven or help in some way, most likely by the coming of some ship in search with the morning at latest.

Now, as I sat on the deck and ate, once and again came to me that sharp smell of peat smoke, and at last I spoke of it, asking if the others had not smelt it.

"I smell somewhat strange to me," said Bertric. "It is a pleasant smell enough. What is amiss with it?"

"What, do your folk in England use no peat?" said Dalfin in surprise. "Why, we should hardly know how to make a fire without it. It is peat smoke you smell."

"Why, then, there must be fire somewhere!" said Bertric, leaping up.

"Smouldering peat, certainly," I said, rising with him. "Under yon fagots is the only place I can think of as possible—or under the deck planking."

We went to the penthouse, and climbed on the piles of fagots on the port side. When we trimmed sail afresh we had hauled it along the starboard, and had at least smelt nothing of the smoke there. But now we set to work and hove the fagots overboard, setting the handsome sledge from off them forward out of the way. The peat smoke grew stronger as we lowered the pile, and at last a little cloud of blue smoke came up to us.

"No hurry," said I to Bertric, who was anxious, "there is no wind to fan the turfs into flame. It can but smoulder slowly."

"It is here," cried Dalfin, lifting a fagot whose under side was scorched and blackened, though more by heat and smoke than flame.

Under that was a bushel or so of peat, the midst of which was but a black hollow, round the sides of which the fire glowed red, only waiting for the wind to fan it into life. The turfs blazed a little in the draught as we cast them overboard quickly. Then we sent all the fagots on that side after them.

"This is no chance," I said. "There may be more yet. We must get all this lumber cleared."

It had been the same on the other side of the pile, but the peat was cold and dead, not having burned so long. Then we moved the wagon from the after end of the penthouse, and cleared that. Here again was peat, and more of it, and it had been lighted, and had only been out for a short time. Some of the turfs may still have had fire within them, but we did not wait to see. And all the while as we worked at this strange task, I wondered what the meaning of it all was.

The last fagot went overboard, and Bertric rose up and looked at me. His face was white as with some fear, and he stepped backward away from the penthouse aft.

"Comrades," he said, "why did they want to burn this ship? She is not burnt, only because as she ran in the light breeze there was no wind to set the peat aflame. They meant her to burn when she was in the open sea—when the spark they set in the turf should have had time to grow to flame, and fire the brushwood. Look at those two tar barrels set handy."

"Aye," I said, for all this had been growing on me. "They meant her to run far from shore before her rigging went. That is why the halliards have been brought aft, out of the way of the flame."

"And why the sail was wet," said Dalfin. "And maybe why we are not chased."

"It comes into my mind," said Bertric slowly, "that there has been pestilence on board, and that they would rid themselves of it."

But I hardly noted what he said. There had come to me, of a sudden, the memory of old tales of the ways of my Norse forefathers, and the certainty of what that penthouse might hold flashed on me. Many a time I had heard how in long ago days men would set the body of their dead chief afloat in his favourite ship, with all his treasure and war gear, and all else that a chief might need in Asgard; and so light his balefire on board, and let him pass to a sea grave beyond the ken of men in strange magnificence. For we of the old faith hold that what a man buries in life, or takes with him to the grave in death, is his to enjoy in the hall of Odin when he comes thither. It was the ancient way, and a wonderful one—the way of the Asir with the dead Baldur.

Yet I had ever been told that the custom was long past, and that such a sea and fire burial was unheard of now. It was only the finding of the half-dead fire which minded me of it; for that which we had thought of a family flitting across the seas to Iceland—the sail, wet with the thunder rain of yesterday, spread to dry, and then the coming over the hills of the cast wind suddenly, setting the carelessly-moored ship adrift from some westward-looking haven, where lay no other craft which could follow her, had been quite enough to account for the wandering vessel.

Now I knew that only one thing would account for the purposeful firing of the ship. Yonder lay some mighty chief—and as I thought of that I clutched Bertric's arm and pointed.

"Not the pestilence, comrade," I said; "but what lies in yonder penthouse."

"What should be there?" he asked, wondering, for my voice was unsteady.

"We have boarded the funeral ship of some chief," I said. "He lies shut in that chamber with his treasures round him."

"To be burned in his ship at sea," said Bertric quietly. "Well, a Viking might find a less fitting funeral. Truly, it seems as if you may be right, and we must needs see if so it is."

Now Dalfin had listened, crossing himself once or twice, and he nodded.

"I like it not at all," he said; "but we must see what is yonder, and if Malcolm is right."

It was strange to me that these two showed no fear of him who doubtless lay there, in the chamber which his men had made for him. We hold that the one who dares open the grave chamber is the hardiest of men, running most fearsome risk from the wrath of the dead hero. For, if aught will bring back the life to a warrior who has died, it will be that one should set hands on his war gear. And we hold that the ghost of a man hides near his body for many days, and therefore see that at hand is set the food that may be needful if the ghost hungers and will come back for a space to eat. Else he may wander forth, troll-like and terrible, to seek what he needs.

I think that it is no wonder if I feared, having been taught all this. But my comrades were Christians, and on them was no fear of the quiet dead; but only an awe, and reverence. But of that I knew naught.

"Why must we open the house?" I said. "It is as if we courted the wrath of the chief. I have been told of men who would try to win the treasure from a mound where one was buried, and died with fear of what he met with there."

"Such an one deserved it," said Bertric quietly; "but we seek no treasure, nor would rob the dead. No doubt the wrath of Heaven lies hard on one who does so. Yet all this time we do not know if we are right or not."

"Let it be," said I.

"I do not think that we should," Dalfin said. "For if you are right—and you are a Norseman, and know—while it seems about the only possible reading of what has puzzled us—then we must needs sail to the Norway shore that the men of the chief may know what has happened, and either lay him in mound, or see this better carried out."

"Aye," said Bertric, "Dalfin is right. By chance we have been set in charge of this ship—maybe not at all by chance—that we may see honour done at last. Maybe we cannot make for Norway when the wind comes. If not, we must plan otherwise. Come, I cannot rest till I know."

But I held him back, making no secret of my fears.

"We shall have to reckon with the wrath of the hero," I said. "It will be terrible—and we know not what may happen."

At that Dalfin stared at me; but Bertric, who had seen other lands and knew the ways of men, smiled and set his hand on my arm.

"I do not fear him," he said. "It is impossible that if a chief lies there he can be wroth with men who will do naught but honour him. Think—is there any honour to the mighty dead that he should wander across the lone sea thus, as we met him?"

I knew that he was right, and did not gainsay him. After all, we were sure to have looked into that chamber presently, and to have found what I feared—suddenly and unexpectedly—would have been worse. So I set my fears aside as best I could, and went forward with them both to the end of the house, in which we had seen no sign of door. I thought that perhaps the upright timbers which closed the end might be loose; but they were nailed to the roof beam, against which they were set too firmly for us to move them, and we must look for some axe or other tool.

"One of the chests forward is the ship's carpenter's," said Dalfin. "I opened it when we sought for food just now."

He slipped round the house and came back with a heavy hammer and a broad chisel. Bertric took them, and prised away the upper end of the midmost timber without any trouble. Then he drew it toward him, and the lower end wrenched free at once, for the nails that held this building which was to be burnt were not long. And while he did this, he stood on one side, that he might not pry into the chamber idly, as it were, while Dalfin and I could see nothing from where we stood. Only a little peat smoke seemed to come out gently when the timber had gone.

It did but need that two more timbers should be moved thus, and there was room enough for a man to pass through. Then Bertric set down the hammer, and took off his rough sea cap, smiling a little, yet with grave eyes, and so looked in. Dalfin pressed close to him, but I stood aside still.

"The place is full of the peat smoke. I can see nothing," Dalfin said.

"Somewhat white on the floor," said Bertric; "but we block the light."

He stood aside, and the shadowless brightness shone across the chamber through the thinning peat smoke. I saw him start a little, and Dalfin signed himself with his holy sign once or twice. Then I must look also, almost in spite of myself, and I went forward quietly.

Chapter 4: By Sea And Fire.

It was even as I thought. There lay in state, as his men had left him, a wonderful old chief, whose long, white beard swept like a snowdrift down the crimson cloak in which he was shrouded. They had set him on just such a low, carved bedstead as that which we had found outside the house, dressed in his full mail, and helmed, and with his sword at his side, such a priceless weapon, with gold-mounted scabbard and jewelled hilt, as men have risked the terrors of grave mounds to win. His white hand rested on the pommel, and he was facing forward as if looking toward the far shore which he was to reach through the flames. But there was naught terrible in his look, and even my fears passed as I saw the peacefulness of that last sleep.

The smoke thinned quickly from the chamber; for it had only soaked into it from the peat against its roughly made walls, over which the fagots had been piled too heavily and closely for their purpose. Then we saw that all the deck round the bier was full of caskets and bales, and that on the far wall hung weapons—swords and axes, spears, and bows and arrows, and with them mail shirts and helms and shields, such as the chief himself might wear. And by the side of the chief, packed carefully in a rushen basket, were the bowls, one metal, and the rest of black earthenware, which held the food for the grave, according to our custom. There was a tall jar of wine also, covered with its little silver drinking cup.

Now we stood for a little while silent, and then Dalfin spoke.

"What is that yonder?" he asked under his breath, and pointing to the far end of the chamber. "As it were a heap of mail and linen."

I could not see what he meant, for I stood on one side, but Bertric stepped a pace toward him, and looked more closely past the bier, which almost hid whatever the pile might be. It seemed the only thing set carelessly, for all else was in perfect order. Then he started somewhat, and spoke hurriedly.

"As I live," he cried, but so low that the cry was all but stifled, "it is a girl! Is she also dead or in a swoon?"

He stooped, after a moment's doubt, and went straight into the place. It was so low at the sides of the bier which he must pass, that he was almost double until he reached the foot, and stood up under the ridge. Then he bent, and lifting his burden brought it out into the open air, carrying it toward the after deck away from the penthouse.

Then we saw that it was indeed a girl, tall and pale, with long tresses of yellow-golden hair plaited and bound with some strange gold-woven blue band, dressed in white, with a beautiful light coat of mail over the kirtle.

"She is alive," said Bertric, setting her down very gently. "Either the smoke in that close chamber—or fear—has overcome her. One of you get water from the cask forward."

I went hastily; but I had to search for somewhat in which to bring it, and was a few minutes before I found where the ship's buckets hung under the gunwale right forward. But meanwhile, Dalfin, with no fears in him, had gone gently to the penthouse and brought thence the pitcher of wine and the silver bowl, so that when I came back those two were trying to get some of the wine between the pale lips, though without much success. Now we bathed her face with the cool water, and presently the colour began to come back slowly, though she did not stir.

"We are rough nurses at best," said Bertric; "but we can do better than this. Let us get the bedstead that is forward, and set a fold or two of the awning on it for her to rest on. Better than the hard deck when she comes to herself, and maybe not so terrifying."

We left Dalfin to tend her, and brought the bedstead and canvas with all speed, and so lifted her on it. Then Bertric went back into the house and brought thence a blue cloak which lay where she had fallen, and covered her with it, for the night was chill now. It was her own, and with it he brought a light helm made of steel bands and transparent horn between them, which must have fallen from her head.

Maybe this maiden was of twenty years, or less, and to me, at least, who had no sisters as had the others, she seemed beautiful altogether. I know that had she faced us in life in the entry of the chamber, clad as she was in her mail and helm, I had been sure that she was a Valkyria, sent hither by Odin to choose the hero yonder for his halls.

"She is long in coming round," said Bertric presently. "It may be as well to close up that chamber before she sees it open, lest she take us for common robbers, and be terrified."

Dalfin laughed a little.

"Helm and mail and fear should not go together," he said.

"She will wake without thought of what she has tried to be," answered Bertric. "Get the place closed, Malcolm, anywise."

Now Dalfin and I went together, and set back the timbers in their places. But they would not bide there properly, and I took up the hammer we had used to take them down, and drove one or two of the upper nails again lightly, Dalfin kneeling and holding the ends below. Whether the sharp click of the iron roused the girl or not I cannot say, but I had not driven more than three before I heard a little cry behind me, and turned to see if there was anything amiss.

The girl was sitting up, and seeming not to heed Bertric at all—for he was behind her and supporting her—was looking at us two with wide eyes of fear and wonder. And when I turned of a sudden, she set her hands together and held them out toward me as if she prayed, and cried to me:

"Asa Thor! Asa Thor! will you leave me? Is there no place in Freya's hall—in Gladsheim—for a maiden, if to Asgard she may not come?"

I had no answer. For the moment I thought that she saw some vision of the Asir beyond my ken, and then knew that it was indeed to myself that she spoke. For I stood at the door of the house of the dead, with Thor's weapon—the hammer—in my hand, and she wandered in her mind with the weakness that comes after a swoon.

"Hush, lady, hush," said Bertric in a wonderfully gentle voice. "It is not Thor whom you see, but only a friend."

But seeing that I made no answer, nor moved, for I was at a loss altogether, she turned to Dalfin, who still knelt beside me, watching her in blank amaze. The Norse gods were all but unknown to him, save perhaps as he had heard their names now and then from the Irish Danes.

"You must be Freyr, you other of the greeters of the slain. Speak for me, I pray you, to the hammer bearer, that I may go whither my grandfather is gone, if so be that I am dead."

"Nay, lady," said Dalfin, with all courtesy, "I do not know him you mean. I am only Dalfin, Prince of Maghera, of the northern O'Neills."

Now, at that magnificent "only" I saw Bertric trying to stifle somewhat like a grin beyond the shoulder of his charge.

"Lady," he said, "we are but mortal men. We are here to help you, for the ship has not taken fire, and you are safe."

She gave a little gasp and sank back on the roll of canvas we had set for a pillow, and her eyes closed. I put back the last timber hastily, and came aft, getting out of sight behind the bedstead, being in no wise willing to be hailed as Thor again. As for Dalfin, he poured out another cup of the wine and gave it to Bertric, who had signed to him for it.

"She will be herself directly," he said sagely. "Who was it that she took me for?"

"Only a heathen god, and a worthy one," answered the Saxon, setting the cup to the lips of the girl, and making her drink some of its contents slowly. "Neither you nor Malcolm will ever be held quite so highly again. Make the most of it."

I think that he meant the lady to hear him speak thus cheerfully, and it is certain that she did so. A little wan smile flitted across her face, and then she flushed red, and opened her eyes. Her first glance fell on the penthouse, and she shuddered somewhat. Then she sat up and looked round for us, seeing Bertric for the first time, as he stood at the head of the rough couch.

"Forgive me, friends," she said quietly. "I think I was not quite myself. I must have been in a long swoon. There was smoke also rising round me when last I knew anything."

Now she slipped from the bedstead and set her feet on the deck, facing us. I saw her look pass quickly over our dress, and minded that we were in no holiday trim. She saw Bertric in the thrall's dress, and Dalfin in his torn and scorched and sea-stained green hunting tunic and leather hose, and myself only in the Norse dress, and that war torn and grimed with the fight in the hall, which seemed so many years ago now, and with the long sea struggle that came thereafter. Yet she did not shrink from us.

"I cannot understand it all," she said. "How comes it that you are here, and thus? You seem as men who have fought, and are hardly yet restored after the weariness of fight."

"We have fought, lady, and have fared ill. We were captives and have escaped; and as we fled by sea we fell in with this ship when at our wits' end."

So I answered, for my comrades looked at me. The fight was mine, so to speak.

"It seems well for me," she said, smiling somewhat sadly. "I had no thought but to be burnt. Now I have escaped that. Tell me how it may have been."

I did so, wondering all the time how she came to be in that terrible place, for she spoke of escape. That she would tell us in her own time, no doubt.

"What can be done now?" she asked, speaking to us as to known friends, very bravely.

If she had doubts of us, she hid them. Perhaps that we owned to being escaped captives explained much to her—else she had surely wondered that the tattered Dalfin claimed to be a prince. Yet he was princely, both in look and bearing, as he rose up and made himself known, with a bow which none but a courtier could have compassed.

"Bertric is shipmaster," I said; "he will answer."

"The ship is yours, lady, and we can but serve you," he answered. "Now, it depends on the wind when it comes with dawn, as no doubt it will, what course we can take, for we are too few to work the ship rightly. We had thought of trying to make the Norway shore at the nearest point we could reach, and so setting the ship, and the hero who lies in her, in the hands of those who will do him the honour that he needs at the last."

At that, to our great surprise, she shook her head.

"That you cannot do; at least, you may not go back to the land whence he came. Hall and town may be in the hands of our worst foe, else I had not been here."

"We cannot be sure of making your haven in any case. We should have sought such haven as we might, had we been alone."

"And you thought nothing of the treasure, which will be surely taken from you?"

"We had not thought of it, lady. We have been on board the ship but three hours or so. What thought might have come to us I cannot say. But it is not ours, and we could not rob the dead."

He said that quite simply, and as the very truth, which must be to us as a matter of honour.

"Tell me who you are," she said. "The prince I know already. Dalfin, I think it was, an Irish name."

Dalfin bowed again, well pleased. Then he took on himself to make us known in turn, as gravely as if in his father's court.

"This is my host, Malcolm, son of the Norse Jarl of Caithness, who has unfortunately succeeded his brave father after a gallant fight, in which I was honoured in taking part. This is Bertric the Thane, of Lyme, in England, a shipmaster of long standing. He joined us when we two escaped from Heidrek, who calls himself the Seafarer, and held us captive after burning out my host and his folk."

"Heidrek the Seafarer!" she said, with a sharp sigh, looking up in wonder at us. "When was it that he did this harm to you?"

"It was three days ago," I answered. "He fell on us at dawn, and by noon we were at sea with him as captives. That same night we escaped, thanks to the young chief, Asbiorn."

"Then he came straightway from your home and fell on mine," she said gravely. "Surely the wrath of the Asir will fall on Heidrek ere long, if, indeed, the Asir care aught what a warrior does of wrong."

"Has he burnt you out also, lady?" asked Dalfin.

"That I doubt," she answered shortly. "But it was with his help that I myself was set afloat to be burned."

Then her strength seemed to give way at last as the fullness of her trouble came to her, and she turned from us and sank down sideways on the bed where she sat, and wept silently. It was hard for us to stand and see this; but we were helpless, not at all knowing what we could do. I suppose that we could have done nothing, in truth; but it seemed as if we ought to have been of some help in word, at least.

At last she ceased, and sat up again, trying to smile.

"Yesterday, I had thought myself far from such foolishness as this," she said. "Today, I know that this mail and helm of mine and the sword that lies yonder in the chamber where you found me are not fitting for me. They are an idle boast and empty. I am only a weak woman—and alone."

Almost was she to breaking down again, but she was brave. And then Bertric spoke for the three of us.

"Lady," he said, "we are homeless wanderers, but we would not have you think yourself altogether alone so long as we can plan for you. Mayhap we can do no more, but, at least, we shall see. I cannot think that all hope is lost. See, we have the ship, and it is high summer. Not one of us can be worse off than we have been of late, and we may win to comfort once more."

Thereat she looked at the three of us, and rose up and stretched her hands toward us, as in greeting.

"I will trust you," she said. "I will think of you as friends and brothers in trouble, and in enmity to Heidrek the evildoer. It must be that you three have wrought loyally together through the long storm, and you can never be aught but friends thereafter, for you have tried one another. Let me be as the fourth of you without favour."

"Lady," said Dalfin, "I have sisters at home, and they were wont to share all the sport of myself and my brothers, even as you say, as of our number without favour. But always the sisters had the favoured place, because we willed it, and should be unhappy if it were otherwise. There were some favours which they held as their unspoken right.

"Is not that so in your land, Bertric the Thane, and in yours, friend Malcolm the Jarl?"

Truly this Dalfin knew how to set things in the right way, for even I, who had no sisters, was not left out of that answer. So we both said that he was right, and she knew well what we meant, and was content. Moreover, by naming our titles once again, though they were barren enough here in all truth, he told her that it was on our honour to help her.

"I am more than content," she said softly. "I am no longer friendless. Now I will tell you what befell me, and then you shall plan what you may, not in anywise thinking too much of me, but for all four of us."

She set the blue cloak round her as if chill, and was silent, thinking for a few minutes. Bertric and I leant on the gunwale close by, and Dalfin set himself on the deck near us. And all the while she spoke, Bertric was glancing eastward across the still water for the first sign of the breeze we longed for. I know now that on him was a dread lest it should bring with it the brown sails of Heidrek's two ships; but he did not show it. It was likely that men would have watched for the smoke of the burning ship, and that when they did not see it, would put out to search, guessing what had happened.

"Yonder lies my grandfather," the lady said presently. "He was a king in the old days before Harald made himself the one ruler in the land who should so call himself. But he cared not at all for the name, so that he held his own place among his own people, and therefore let it be, for he was a friend of Harald's and helped him to the one throne. Whereby we have lived in peace till just now, when the old chief grew feeble. Then came my far cousin, Arnkel, and would take first place, for my father, the old man's son, was dead. That my grandfather would not suffer. He would have me rule, for I should not be the first woman who had done so in his little realm. One of my ancestresses fought as a shield maiden—as I thought myself until today—in the great Bravalla fight long ago. It is her mail which I have on now. Arnkel pretended to agree to this, being crafty. It pleased the chief, and deceived me—till yesterday. Then at last I knew that he did but wait for the death of my grandfather, Thorwald, and then would get rid of me and my claims. So Thorwald died, and we would set him in his ship and build a mound over her in all honour. But to do that must sail her from up the long fjord, where we have our place, to a low shore which lies open to the sea near its mouth, for with us is no place where we may find such a spot as we needed. A little village of ours is there on the coast, at which we might beach and draw up the ship; and so we made all ready, even as you see it now, save for closing the chamber, and sailed thither after the storm had passed, in the bright night. There we beached the ship, with the rollers under her, while the people made ready the place for the mound.

"Then suddenly, from over the near hills came Heidrek and his men, and fell on us as the folk worked. I sat on the deck here alone at that time, clad thus for the last rites, and saw the warriors swarm out of a little valley on my folk, and rose up to go to them with my arms. Then came Arnkel on board in haste, and bade me shelter in the chamber. The ship was to be set afloat lest the fight should go against us. But I would not go."

There she stopped, and a look of remembered terror crossed her face.

"He had two men with him; and all the rest—our courtmen and the freemen who loved me, as I think—were running to the fight. So they made no more ado, but carried me thither, bound me that I might not cry out, and then set up the timbers hastily and fastened them. So I must lie helpless and hear what went on. They went ashore, and soon the ship groaned and creaked over the rollers, but stopped before she was afloat. Men came then and cast things on board, which were the fagots and the peat for firing; but I could not cry out, for my head was too closely muffled. I think you would say that I was gagged. The noise of the fight went on, and seemed to come nearer. Then the ship took the water. I heard men leap on board her, and the sail was hoisted. One cried that the chief would have a fitting funeral after all, Heidrek or no Heidrek; and another said that the treasure Heidrek sought would be lost to him. I heard the creak of the yard, and I felt the ship swing to the wind, and then the men went over the side, and there was silence. Only from the shore after a little space came a great cry, 'Skoal to King Thorwald, and farewell!' and with that the war horns blew fiercely, and the battle cry rang again. Then came the terrible stifling smoke, and I knew that Arnkel had thus rid himself of me.

"Presently I freed myself from the gag and the bonds, and tried to beat down the end of the house, but I could not. I took an axe from the wall, feeling for it in the darkness, but I waxed faint and breathless, and the roof is low and I could not use it. I mind that I set it back; and that is all until I woke here to see, as I thought, Thor with his hammer and Freyr beside him, and so—"

That was all; and it was enough. Only Dalfin had one question to ask.

"I wonder this evil Arnkel parted with the treasure so lightly."

"My folk would not have let him lay hands on it in any case," she answered plainly. "And they would keep it from Heidrek."

"That is how the men of Heidrek fell on us," I said. "He must have landed his men beyond your sight, but not far off."

"There were two ships seen passing north in the storm," she said. "They will have been his, and he must have berthed them in some near fjord. There he would hear of this that was to be, and of the treasure which the old king took with him to his grave."

Then Bertric said thoughtfully enough:

"It may well be that the fight has gone hardly for Heidrek, else I think that he would have put off to follow the ship before this. After all, it may be that we can sail back to your fjord and tell this tale to your folk, and so make an end of Arnkel and his misdeeds. Now, lady—for as yet we do not know your name—we will rig the forward awning for you, and there you shall sleep. Here is this bed, and if there is aught else—"

"My name is Gerda," she answered, smiling. "I forgot that you could not know it. Yes, I am weary, and what you will do is most kind. See, there is one chest there which I would have with me. It holds the gear that was my grandmother's, and I may surely use it in my need. I had never to ask my grandsire for aught but he would give it me."

We had all ready in very little time, and there we left her, and she smiled at us and thanked us again, and so let fall the awning curtains and was gone. Then we three went aft and sat down and looked at one another. We had a new care thrust on us, and a heavy one.

Chapter 5: Vision And Pursuit.

Bertric walked backward and forward, as a seaman ever will, across the deck, whistling softly to himself, and looking eastward.

"Once," he said, as if thinking aloud, "I was foolish enough to buy a bag full of wind from a Finn. He said that it depended on how much I let out what sort of breeze I had. When he was out of my reach, I found that he had not told me from which quarter the wind would come. So I hove the thing overboard. Now I wish I had it. Any wind is better than this doubt of what may come."

"Aye," I said. "We may be blown back into the arms of old Heidrek. What say you to taking one of these boats, or fitting out our own with their oars, and so trying to make the coast? Even Heidrek would pay no heed to a boat."

"We may have to do that yet," answered my friend. "Heidrek is not coming, or he would have sought this ship under oars at once. That Arnkel must have beaten him soundly—is that likely?"

"I think so," I said. "Every warrior would be in his war gear at that funeral, and it would be a full gathering of the king's folk. Now, I wonder how Arnkel explained the making away of the lady to her people."

"One may think of many lies he could tell. Men do not heed what goes on behind them when a fight is on hand. He will say that she fled, or that Heidrek's men took her—as the fight may go. They will search for her, in the first case, and presently think her lost for good."

"If there is one thing which I should like more than another," said Dalfin, "it would be to see Arnkel's face when we take back the lady."

"So we may—but not yet. We must know where Heidrek is. And we have to wait for wind. Eh, well! We had better sleep. I will take first watch."

"No, Bertric," I said; "do you two sleep. I could not if I tried."

"Why not?" he asked, with a great yawn. "I could sleep anywhere at this minute, and Dalfin is as bad."

"I think that I could not sleep with yonder chief so near me," I said frankly.

Dalfin laughed, though Bertric did not; but without more ado, they took the sail from the nearest boat and rolled themselves under it on the after deck. They were asleep in a moment, knowing that I would call them with the first sign of wind, if it came before my watch was ended. It wanted about an hour to midnight at this time, and the red glow of the sun in the sky was flooding the north.

Now for a long while I paced the deck, thinking of all that had happened in these few days. Heavy things they were, but the heaviest were those of the summer morning when Heidrek came, so that beside those terrors what else had passed was as nothing. And I passed through them all again, as it were, and hardened myself to bear them.

I have said little or nothing of my folk, and I needed not to do so. They were gone, and from henceforth I was alone. What had been was no more for me. Even the little Norse village in Caithness, which had been my home, was destroyed, so far as I was concerned, for the Scots would have stepped into our place, if it was worth having after the fire and sword had been there. I could never regain it. Only, there were some things which I owed to my father, and no man could take them from me while I lived. Skill in arms I had from his teaching, and such seamanship as a man of two-and-twenty may have learned in short cruises; woodcraft, too, and the many other things which the son of a jarl should know. And with these, health and strength, and a little Scots coolness, maybe; for I could see that if aught was to be won, I had only myself to look to for the winning.

So I, in the weird twilight that had fallen now with midnight, thought and tried to foresee what should be in the days to come, and could plan nothing. Only I knew that now, for the time at least, I and these two friends who slept had the lady yonder to care for before ourselves.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse