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- Eric Brighteyes - 20/62 -


"These are tidings in truth," said Asmund--"such tidings as my heart feared! Is this true, Gudruda?"

"It is true, my father," answered Gudruda, trembling. "As I sat on the brink of Goldfoss, Swanhild crept behind me and thrust me into the gulf. There I clung above the waters, and she brought a rock to hurl upon me, when suddenly I saw Eric's face, and after that my mind left me and I can tell no more."

Now Asmund grew as one mad. He plucked at his beard and stamped on the ground. "Maid though she be," he cried, "yet shall Swanhild's back be broken on the Stone of Doom for a witch and a murderess, and her body hurled into the pool of faithless women, and the earth will be well rid of her!"

Now Gudruda looked up and smiled: "It would be ill to wreak such a vengeance on her, father," she said; "and this would also bring the greatest shame on thee, and all our house. I am saved, by the mercy of the Gods and the might of Eric's arm, and this is my counsel: that nothing be told of this tale, but that Swanhild be sent away where she can harm us no more."

"She must be sent to the grave, then," said Asmund, and fell to thinking. Presently he spoke again: "Bid yon man fall back, I would speak with you twain," and Skallagrim went grumbling.

"Hearken now, Eric and Gudruda: only an hour ago hath Atli the Good asked Swanhild of me in marriage. But now I met Swanhild here, and her mien was wild. Still, I spoke of the matter to her, and she would have none of it. Now, this is my counsel: that choice be given to Swanhild, either that she go hence Atli's wife, or take her trial in the Doom- ring."

"That will be bad for the Earl then," said Eric. "Methinks he is too good a man to be played on thus."

"/Bairn first, then friend/," answered Asmund.

"Now I will tell thee something that, till this hour, I have hidden from all, for it is my shame. This Swanhild is my daughter, and therefore I have loved her and put away her evil deeds, and she is half-sister to thee, Gudruda. See, then, how sore is my straight, who must avenge daughter upon daughter."

"Knows thy son Björn of this?" asked Eric.

"None knew it till this hour, except Groa and I."

"Yet I have feared it long, father," said Gudruda, "and therefore I have also borne with Swanhild, though she hates me much and has striven hard to draw my betrothed from me. Now thou canst only take one counsel, and it is: to give choice to Swanhild of these two things, though it is unworthy that Atli should be deceived, and at the best little good can come of it."

"Yet it must be done, for honour is often slain of heavy need," said Asmund. "But we must first swear this Baresark thrall of thine, though little faith lives in Baresark's breast."

Now Eric called to Skallagrim and charged him strictly that he should tell nothing of Swanhild, and of the wolf that he saw by her, and of how Gudruda was found hanging over the gulf.

"Fear not," growled the Baresark, "my tongue is now my master's. What is it to me if women do their wickedness one on another? Let them work magic, hate and slay by stealth, so shall evil be lessened in the world."

"Peace!" said Eric; "if anything of this passes thy lips thou art no longer a thrall of mine, and I give thee up to the men of thy quarter."

"And I cleave that wolf's head of thine down to thy hawk's eyes; but, otherwise, I give thee peace, and will hold thee from harm, wood- dweller as thou art," said Asmund.

The Baresark laughed: "My hands will hold my head against ten such mannikins as thou art, Priest. There was never but one man who might overcome me in fair fight and there he stands, and his bidding is my law. So waste no words and make not niddering threats against greater folk," and he slouched back to his horse.

"A mighty man and a rough," said Asmund, looking after him; "I like his looks little."

"Natheless a strong in battle," quoth Eric; "had he not been at my back some six hours gone, by now the ravens had torn out these eyes of mine. Therefore, for my sake, bear with him."

Asmund said it should be so, and then they passed on to the stead.

Here Eric stripped off his harness, washed, and bound up his wounds. Then, followed by Skallagrim, axe in hand, he came into the hall as men made ready to sit at meat. Now the tale of the mighty deeds that he had done, except that of the saving of Gudruda, had gone abroad, and as Brighteyes came all men rose and with one voice shouted till the roof of the great hall rocked:

"/Welcome, Eric Brighteyes, thou glory of the south!/"

Only Björn, Asmund's son, bit his hand, and did not shout, for he hated Eric because of the fame that he had won.

Brighteyes stood still till the clamour died, then said:

"Much noise for little deeds, brethren. It is true that I overthrew the Mosfell Baresarks. See, here is one," and he turned to Skallagrim; "I strangled him in my arms on Mosfell's brink, and that was something of a deed. Then he swore fealty to me, and we are blood-brethren now, and therefore I ask peace for him, comrades--even from those whom he has wronged or whose kin he has slain. I know this, that when thereafter we stood back to back and met the company of Ospakar Blacktooth, who came to slay us--ay, and Asmund also, and bear away Gudruda to be his wife--he warred right gallantly, till seven of their band lay stiff on Horse-Head Heights, overthrown of us, and among them Mord, Blacktooth's son; and Ospakar himself went thence sore smitten of this Skallagrim. Therefore, for my sake, do no harm to this man who was Baresark, but now is my thrall; and, moreover, I beg the aid and friendship of all men of this quarter in those suits that will be laid against me at the Althing for these slayings, which I hereby give out as done by my hand, and by the hand of Skallagrim Lambstail, the Baresark."

At these words all men shouted again; but Atli the Earl sprang from the high seat where Asmund had placed him, and, coming to Eric, kissed him, and, drawing a gold chain from his neck, flung it about the neck of Eric, crying:

"Thou art a glorious man, Eric Brighteyes. I thought the world had no more of such a breed. Listen to my bidding: come thou to the earldom in Orkneys and be a son to me, and I will give thee all good gifts, and, when I die, thou shalt sit in my seat after me."

But Eric thought of Swanhild, who must go from Iceland as wife to Atli, and answered:

"Thou doest me great honour, Earl, but this may not be. Where the fir is planted, there it must grow and fall. Iceland I love, and I will stay here among my own people till I am driven away."

"That may well happen, then," said Atli, "for be sure Ospakar and his kin will not let the matter of these slayings rest, and I think that it will not avail thee much that thou smotest for thine own hand. Then, come thou and be my man."

"Where the Norns lead there I must follow," said Eric, and sat down to meat. Skallagrim sat down also at the side-bench; but men shrank from him, and he glowered on them in answer.

Presently Gudruda entered, and she seemed pale and faint.

When he had done eating, Eric drew Gudruda on to his knee, and she sat there, resting her golden head upon his breast. But Swanhild did not come into the hall, though ever Earl Atli sought her dark face and lovely eyes of blue, and he wondered greatly how his wooing had sped. Still, at this time he spoke no more of it to Asmund.

Now Skallagrim drank much ale, and glared about him fiercely; for he had this fault, that at times he was drunken. In front of him were two thralls of Asmund's; they were brothers, and large-made men, and they watched Asmund's sheep upon the fells in winter. These two also grew drunk and jeered at Skallagrim, asking him what atonement he would make for those ewes of Asmund's that he had stolen last Yule, and how it came to pass that he, a Baresark, had been overthrown of an unarmed man.

Skallagrim bore their gibes for a space as he drank on, but suddenly he rose and rushed at them, and, seizing a man's throat in either hand, thrust them to the ground beneath him and nearly choked them there.

Then Eric ran down the hall, and, putting out his strength, tore the Baresark from them.

"This then is thy peacefulness, thou wolf!" Eric cried. "Thou art drunk!"

"Ay," growled Skallagrim, "ale is many a man's doom."

"Have a care that it is not thine and mine, then!" said Eric. "Go, sleep; and know that, if I see thee thus once more, I see thee not again."

But after this men jeered no more at Skallagrim Lambstail, Eric's thrall.



Now all this while Asmund sat deep in thought; but when, at length, men were sunk in sleep, he took a candle of fat and passed to the shut bed where Swanhild slept alone. She lay on her bed, and her curling hair was all about her. She was awake, for the light gleamed in her

Eric Brighteyes - 20/62

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