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- The Wanderer's Necklace - 5/53 -
"Then think no more, Olaf, for such thoughts are dangerous. If Leif, your uncle, Odin's high priest, heard them, what might he not say or do? Remember that whether the gods live or no, certainly the priest lives, and on the gods, and if the gods went, where would the priest be? Also, as regards these gods--well, whatever they may or may not be, at least they are the voices that in our day speak to us from that land whence we came and whither we go. The world has known millions of days, and each day has its god--or its voice--and all the voices speak truth to those who can hear them. Meanwhile, you are a fool to have sent Steinar bearing your gift to Iduna. Or perhaps you are very wise. I cannot say as yet. When I learn I will tell you."
Then again she shrugged her shoulders and left me wondering what she meant by her dark sayings. I can see her going now, a wooden bowl in her hand, and in it a horn spoon of which the handle was cracked longways, and thus in my mind ends all the scene of my sickness after the slaying of the white bear.
The next thing that I remember is the coming of the men of Agger. This cannot have been very long after Steinar went to Lesso, for he had not yet returned. Being still weak from my great illness, I was seated in the sun in the shelter of the house, wrapped up in a cloak of deerskins--for the northern wind blew bitter. By me stood my father, who was in a happy mood now he knew that I should live and be strong again.
"Steinar should be back by now," I said to him. "I trust that he has come by no ill."
"Oh no," answered my father carelessly. "For seven days the wind has been high, and doubtless Athalbrand fears to let him sail from Lesso."
"Or perhaps Steinar finds Athalbrand's hall a pleasant place to bide in," suggested Ragnar, who had joined us, a spear in his hand, for he had come in from hunting. "There are good drink and bright eyes there."
I was about to answer sharply, since Ragnar stung me with his bitter talk of Steinar, of whom I knew him to be somewhat jealous, because he thought I loved my foster-brother more than I did him, my brother. Just then, however, three men appeared through trees that grew about the hall, and came towards the bridge, whereon Ragnar's great wolfhounds, knowing them for strangers, set up a furious baying and sprang forward to tear them. By the time the beasts were caught and quelled, these men, aged persons of presence, had crossed the bridge and were greeting us.
"This is the hall of Thorvald of Aar, is it not? And a certain Steinar dwells here with him, does he not?" asked their spokesman.
"It is, and I am Thorvald," answered my father. "Also Steinar has dwelt here from his birth up, but is now away from home on a visit to the lord Athalbrand of Lesso. Who are you, and what would you of Steinar, my fosterling"
"When you have told us the story of Steinar we will tell you who we are and what we seek," answered the man, adding: "Fear not, we mean him no harm, but rather good if he is the man we think."
"Wife," called my father, "come hither. Here are men who would know the story of Steinar, and say that they mean him good."
So my mother came, and the men bowed to her.
"The story of Steinar is short, sirs," she said. "His mother, Steingerdi, who was my cousin and the friend of my childhood, married the great chief Hakon, of Agger, two and twenty summers gone. A year later, just before Steinar was born, she fled to me here, asking shelter of my lord. Her tale was that she had quarrelled with Hakon because another woman had crept into her place. Finding that this tale was true, and that Hakon had treated her ill indeed, we gave her shelter, and here her son Steinar was born, in giving birth to whom she died--of a broken heart, as I think, for she was mad with grief and jealousy. I nursed him with my son Olaf yonder, and as, although he had news of his birth, Hakon never claimed him, with us he has dwelt as a son ever since. That is all the tale. Now what would you with Steinar?"
"This Lady. The lord Hakon and the three sons whom that other woman you tell of bore him ere she died--for after Steingerdi's death he married her--were drowned in making harbour on the night of the great gale eighteen days ago."
"That is the day when the bear nearly killed Steinar," I interrupted.
"Well for him, then, young sir, that he escaped this bear, for now, as it seems to us, he is the lord of all Hakon's lands and people, being the only male left living of his issue. This, by the wish of the head men of Agger, where is Hakon's hall, we have come to tell him, if he still lives, since by report he is a goodly man and brave--one well fitted to sit in Hakon's place.
"Is the heritage great?" asked my father.
"Aye, very great, Lord. In all Jutland there was no richer man than Hakon."
"By Odin!" exclaimed my father, "it seems that Steinar is in Fortune's favour. Well, men of Agger, enter and rest you. After you have eaten we will talk further of these matters."
It was just then that, appearing between the trees on the road that ran to Fladstrand and to the sea, I saw a company mounted upon horses. In front was a young woman, wrapped in a coat of furs, talking eagerly to a man who rode by her. Behind, clad in armour, with a battle-axe girt about him, rode another man, big and fork-bearded, who stared about him gloomily, and behind him again ten or twelve thralls and seamen.
One glance was enough for me. Then I sprang up, crying:
"Iduna's self, and with her my brother Steinar, the lord Athalbrand and his folk. A happy sight indeed!" And I would have run forward to meet them.
"Yes, yes," said my mother; "but await them here, I pray you. You are not yet strong, my son." And she flung her arms about me and held me.
Presently they were at the bridge, and Steinar, springing from his horse, lifted Iduna from her saddle, a sight at which I saw my mother frown. Then I would no longer be restrained, but ran forward, crying greetings as I came, and, seizing Iduna's hand, I kissed it. Indeed, I would have kissed her cheek also, but she shrank back, saying:
"Not before all these folk, Olaf."
"As you will," I answered, though just then a chill struck me, which, I thought to myself, came doubtless from the cold wind. "It will be the sweeter afterwards," I added as gaily as I could.
"Yes," she said hurriedly. "But, Olaf, how white and thin you are. I had hoped to find you well again, though, not knowing how it fared with you, I came to see with my own eyes."
"That is good of you," I muttered as I turned to grasp Steinar's hand, adding: "I know well who it was that brought you here."
"Nay, nay," she said. "I came of myself. But my father waits you, Olaf."
So I went to where the lord Athalbrand Fork-beard was dismounting, and greeted him, lifting my cap.
"What!" grumbled Athalbrand, who seemed to be in an ill temper, "are you Olaf? I should scarcely have known you again, lad, for you look more like a wisp of hay tied on a stick than a man. Now that the flesh is off you I see you lack bone, unlike some others," and he glanced at the broad-shouldered Steinar. "Greeting to you, Thorvald. We are come here through a sea that nearly drowned us, somewhat before the appointed time, because--well, because, on the whole, I thought it best to come. I pray Odin that you are more glad to see us than I am to see you."
"If so, friend Athalbrand, why did you not stop away?" asked my father, firing up, then adding quickly: "Nay, no offence; you are welcome here, whatever your humour, and you too, my daughter that is to be, and you, Steinar, my fosterling, who, as it chances, are come in a good hour."
"How's that, Lord?" asked Steinar absently, for he was looking at Iduna.
"Thus, Steinar: These men"--and he pointed to the three messengers-- "have but just arrived from Agger with the news that your father, Hakon, and your half-brothers are all drowned. They say also that the folk of Agger have named you Hakon's heir, as, indeed, you are by right of blood."
"Is that so?" exclaimed Steinar, bewildered. "Well, as I never saw my father or my brothers, and they treated me but ill, I cannot weep for them."
"Hakon!" broke in Athalbrand. "Why, I knew him well, for in my youth we were comrades in war. He was the wealthiest man in Jutland in cattle, lands, thralls and stored gold. Young friend, your luck is great," and he stared first at Steinar, then at Iduna, pulling his forked beard and muttering words to himself that I could not catch.
"Steinar gets the fortune he deserves," I exclaimed, embracing him. "Not for nothing did I save you from the bear, Steinar. Come, wish my foster-brother joy, Iduna."
"Aye, that I do with all my heart," she said. "Joy and long life to you, and with them rule and greatness, Steinar, Lord of Agger," and she curtsied to him, her blue eyes fixed upon his face.
But Steinar turned away, making no answer. Only Ragnar, who stood by, burst into a loud laugh. Then, putting his arm through mine, he led me into the hall, saying:
"This wind is over cold for you, Olaf. Nay, trouble not about Iduna. Steinar, Lord of Agger, will care for her, I think."
That night there was a feast at Aar, and I sat at it with Iduna by my side. Beautiful she was indeed in her garment of blue, over which streamed her yellow hair, bright as the gold rings that tinkled on her rounded arms. She was kind to me also, and bade me tell her the story
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