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- Eric Brighteyes - 10/62 -
plots well and all the sorrow that thou hast brought upon us. Still, each seeks honour after his own manner, so seek thou as thou wilt; but thou shalt find bitterness and empty days, and thy plots shall come back on thine own head--yes, even though they bring Gudruda and me to sorrow and death."
Swanhild laughed. "A day shall dawn, Eric, when thou who dost hate me shalt hold me dear, and this I promise thee. Another thing I promise thee also: that Gudruda shall never call thee husband."
But Eric did not answer, fearing lest in his anger he should say words that were better unspoken.
Now men rose and sat down to meat, and all talked of the wrestling that should be. But in the morning Ospakar repented of the match, for it is truly said that /ale is another man/, and men do not like that in the morning which seemed well enough on yester eve. He remembered that he held Whitefire dear above all things, and that Eric's eye had no worth to him, except that the loss of it would spoil his beauty, so that perhaps Gudruda would turn from him. It would be very ill if he should chance to lose the play--though of this he had no fear, for he was held the strongest man in Iceland and the most skilled in all feats of strength--and, at the best, no fame is to be won from the overthrow of a deedless man, and the plucking out of his eye. Thus it came to pass that when he saw Eric he called to him in a big voice:
"Hearken, thou Eric."
"I hear thee, thou Ospakar," said Eric, mocking him, and people laughed; while Ospakar grinned angrily and said, "Thou must learn manners, puppy. Still, I shall find no honour in teaching thee in this wise. Last night we made a match in our cups, and I staked my sword Whitefire and thou thine eye. It would be bad that either of us should lose sword or eye; therefore, what sayest thou, shall we let it pass?"
"Ay, Blacktooth, if thou fearest; but first pay thou forfeit of the sword."
Now Ospakar grew very mad and shouted, "Thou wilt indeed stand against me in the ring! I will break thy back anon, youngster, and afterwards tear out thine eye before thou diest."
"It may so befall," answered Eric, "but big words do not make big deeds."
Presently the light came and thralls went out with spades and cleared away the snow in a circle two rods across, and brought dry sand and sprinkled it on the frozen turf, so that the wrestlers should not slip. And they piled the snow in a wall around the ring.
But Groa came up to Ospakar and spoke to him apart.
"Knowest thou, lord," she said, "that my heart bodes ill of this match? Eric is a mighty man, and, great though thou art, I think that thou shalt lout low before him."
"It will be a bad business if I am overthrown by an untried man," said Ospakar, and was troubled in his mind, "and it would be evil moreover to lose the sword. For no price would I have it so."
"What wilt thou give me, lord, if I bring thee victory?"
"I will give thee two hundred in silver."
"Ask no questions and it shall be so," said Groa.
Now Eric was without, taking note of the ground in the ring, and presently Groa called to her the thrall Koll the Half-witted, whom she had sent to Swinefell.
"See," she said, "yonder by the wall stand the wrestling shoes of Eric Brighteyes. Haste thee now and take grease, and rub the soles with it, then hold them in the heat of the fire, so that the fat sinks in. Do this swiftly and secretly, and I will give thee three pennies."
Koll grinned, and did as he was bid, setting back the shoes just as they were before. Scarcely was the deed done when Eric came in, and made himself ready for the game, binding the greased shoes upon his feet, for he feared no trick.
Now everybody went out to the ring, and Ospakar and Eric stripped for wrestling. They were clad in tight woollen jerkins and hose, and sheep-skin shoes were on their feet.
They named Asmund master of the game, and his word must be law to both of them. Eric claimed that Asmund should hold the sword Whitefire that was at stake, but Ospakar gainsaid him, saying that if he gave Whitefire into Asmund's keeping, Eric must also give his eye--and about this they debated hotly. Now the matter was brought before Asmund as umpire, and he gave judgment for Eric, "for," he said, "if Eric yield up his eye into my hand, I can return it to his head no more if he should win; but if Ospakar gives me the good sword and conquers, it is easy for me to pass it back to him unharmed."
Men said that this was a good judgment.
Thus then was the arm-game set. Ospakar and Eric must wrestle thrice, and between each bout there would be a space while men could count a thousand. They might strike no blow at one another with hand, or head, or elbow, foot or knee; and it should be counted no fall if the haunch and the head of the fallen were not on the ground at the self-same time. He who suffered two falls should be adjudged conquered and lose his stake.
Asmund called these rules aloud in the presence of witnesses, and Ospakar and Eric said that should bind them. Ospakar drew a small knife and gave it to his son Gizur to hold.
"Thou shalt soon know, youngling, how steel tastes in the eyeball," he said.
"We shall soon know many things," Eric answered.
Now they drew off their cloaks and stood in the ring. Ospakar was great beyond the bigness of men and his arms were clothed with black hair like the limbs of a goat. Beneath the shoulder joint they were almost as thick as a girl's thigh. His legs also were mighty, and the muscles stood out upon him in knotty lumps. He seemed a very giant, and fierce as a Baresark, but still somewhat round about the body and heavy in movement.
From him men looked at Eric.
"Lo! Baldur and the Troll!" said Swanhild, and everybody laughed, since so it was indeed; for, if Ospakar was black and hideous as a troll, Eric was beautiful as Baldur, the loveliest of the Gods. He was taller than Ospakar by the half of a hand and as broad in the chest. Still, he was not yet come to his greatest strength, and, though his limbs were well knit, they seemed but as a child's against the limbs of Ospakar. But he was quick as a cat and lithe, his neck and arms were white as whey, and beneath his golden hair his bright eyes shone like spears.
Now they stood face to face, with arms outstretched, waiting the word of Asmund. He gave it and they circled round each other with arms held low. Presently Ospakar made a rush and, seizing Eric about the middle, tried to lift him, but with no avail. Thrice he strove and failed, then Eric moved his foot and lo! it slipped upon the sanded turf. Again Eric moved and again he slipped, a third time and he slipped a third time, and before he could recover himself he was full on his back and fairly thrown.
Gudruda saw and was sad at heart, and those around her said that it was easy to know how the game would end.
"What said I?" quoth Swanhild, "that it would go badly with Eric were Ospakar's arms about him."
"All is not done yet," answered Gudruda. "Methinks Eric's feet slipped most strangely, as though he stood on ice."
But Eric was very sore at heart and could make nothing of this matter --for he was not overthrown by strength.
He sat on the snow and Ospakar and his sons mocked him. But Gudruda drew near and whispered to him to be of good cheer, for fortune might yet change.
"I think that I am bewitched," said Eric sadly: "my feet have no hold of the ground."
Gudruda covered her eyes with her hand and thought. Presently she looked up quickly. "I seem to see guile here," she said. "Now look narrowly on thy shoes."
He heard, and, loosening his shoe-string, drew a shoe from his foot and looked at the sole. The cold of the snow had hardened the fat, and there it was, all white upon the leather.
Now Eric rose in wrath. "Methought," he cried, "that I dealt with men of honourable mind, not with cheating tricksters. See now! it is little wonder that I slipped, for grease has been set upon my shoes-- and, by Thor! I will cleave the man who did it to the chin," and as he said it his eyes blazed so dreadfully that folk fell back from him. Asmund took the shoes and looked at them. Then he spoke:
"Brighteyes tells the truth, and we have a sorry knave among us. Ospakar, canst thou clear thyself of this ill deed?"
"I will swear on the holy ring that I know nothing of it, and if any man in my company has had a hand therein he shall die," said Ospakar.
"That we will swear also," cried his sons Gizur and Mord.
"This is more like a woman's work," said Gudruda, and she looked at Swanhild.
"It is no work of mine," quoth Swanhild.
"Then go and ask thy mother of it," answered Gudruda.
Now all men cried aloud that this was the greatest shame, and that the match must be set afresh; only Ospakar bethought him of that two hundred in silver which he had promised to Groa, and looked around, but she was not there. Still, he gainsaid Eric in the matter of the match being set afresh.
Then Eric cried out in his anger that he would let the game stand as it was, since Ospakar swore himself free of the shameful deed. Men thought this a mad saying, but Asmund said it should be so. Still, he
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