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- Vandrad the Viking - 2/28 -

After they had talked for a while, he glanced round him, and saw that the bustle was subsiding, and most of the men had gone aboard.

"All is ready now," he said.

"Ay," replied Thorkel Sigurdson, one of his ship captains, "they wait but for us."

"Farewell then, Estein!" cried the earl. "Thor speed you, and send you worthy foemen!"

"My son, I can ill spare you," said the king. "But it becomes a king's son to see the world, and prove his valour in distant lands. Warfare in the Baltic seas is but a pastime for common Vikings. England and Valland, [Footnote: France] the countries of the black man and the flat lands of the rivers, lie before you. There Estein Hakonson must feed the wolves."

"And yet, Estein," he added in a lower tone, as he embraced him, "I would that Yule were here again and you with it. I am growing old, and my dreams last night were sorrow-laden."

"Farewell, son of Hakon!" shouted a loud-mouthed chieftain. "I would that I too were sailing to the southern lands. Spare not, Estein; fire and sword in England, sword and fire in Valland!"

The group had broken up, and Estein was about to go on board when he heard himself hailed by name. He looked round, and saw the same old man who had accosted Ketill coming down the pier after him.

"Hail, Estein Hakonson!" he cried; "I have come far to see thee."

"Hail, old man!" replied Estein courteously; "what errand brings you here?"

"You know me not?" said the old man, looking at him keenly.

"Nay, I cannot call your face to mind."

"My name is Atli, and if my features are strange to thee, much stranger must my name be."

He took Estein's hand, looked closely into his eyes for a minute, and then said solemnly,--

"Estein Hakonson, this voyage will have an ending other than ye deem. Troubles I see before ye--fishes feeding on warriors, and winds that blow as they list, and not as ye."

"That is likely enough," replied Estein. "We are not sailing on a trading voyage, and in the west seas the winds often blow high. But what luck shall I have?"

"Strange luck, Estein, I see before thee. Thou shalt be warned and heed not. More shall be left undone than shall be done. There shall come a change in thee that I cannot fathom. Many that set out shall not return, but thine own fate is dim to me."

A young man of barely twenty, very gaily dressed and martial- looking, had come up to them while they were talking. He had a reckless, merry look on his handsome face, and bore himself as though he was aware of his personal attractions.

"And what is my fate, old man?" he asked, more as if he were in jest than in earnest. "Shall I feed the fishes, or make this strange change with Estein into a troll, [Footnote: A kind of goblin] or werewolf, or whatsoever form he is to take?"

"Thy fate is naught to me, Helgi Sigvaldson," replied the seer; "yet I think thou wilt never be far from Estein."

"That was easily answered," said Helgi with a laugh. "And I can read my fate yet further. When I part from my foster-brother Estein, then shall a man go to Valhalla. What say you to that?"

Atli's face darkened.

"Darest thou mock me?" he cried.

"Not so," interposed Estein. "' Bare is back without brother behind it,' and Helgi means that death only can part us. Farewell, Atli! If your prophecy comes true, and I return alive, you may choose what gift you please from among my spoils."

"Little spoil there will be, Estein!" answered the old man, as the foster-brothers turned from him down the pier.

The last man sprang on board, the oars dipped in the still water, and as the little fleet moved slowly down the fiord the crowd on shore gradually dispersed.

Out at sea, beyond the high headlands that guarded Hernersfiord, a fresh breeze was blowing briskly from the north-east, and past the rocky islets of the coast white caps gleamed in the sunshine. As the ships drew clear of the fiord, and the boom of the outer sea breaking on the skerries rose louder and nearer, sails were spread and oars shipped. Slowly at first, and then more quickly as they caught the deep-sea wind, the vessels cut the open water. Past the islands they heeled to the breeze, and over a wake of foam the men watched the mountains of Norway sink slowly into the wilderness of waters.

On the decked poop of an open boat, sailing over an ocean unknown to him, towards countries of whose whereabouts he was only vaguely informed, Estein Hakonson stood lost in stirring fancies. He was the only surviving son of the King of Sogn. Three brothers had fallen in battle, one had perished at sea, and another, the eldest, had died beneath a burning roof-tree. His education had been conducted according to the only standard known in Scandinavia. At fourteen he had slain his first man in fair fight; at seventeen he was a Viking captain on the Baltic; and now, at two-and-twenty--old far beyond his years and hardened in varied experience--he was setting forth on the Viking path that led to the wonderful countries of the south.

The tide of Norse energy was not yet at the full, the fury and the terror were waxing fast, and the fever of unrest was ever spreading through the North. Men were always coming back with tales of monasteries filled with untold wealth, and rich provinces to be won by the sword. Skalds sang of the deeds done in the south, and shiploads of spoil confirmed their lays. Little wonder then that Estein should feel his heart beat high as he stood by the great tiller.

That night, long after the sun was set, he still sat on deck watching the stars. By-and-by his foster-brother Helgi came up to him, wrapped in a long sea cloak, and humming softly to himself.

"The night is fair, Estein. If Thor is kind, and this wind speeds us, we shall soon reach England."

"Ay, if the gods are with us," answered Estein. "I am trying to read the stars. Methinks they are unfavourable."

Helgi laughed. "What know you of the stars?" he said, "and what does Estein Hakonson want with white magic? Will it make his life one day longer? Will it make mine, if I too read the stars?"

"Not one day, Helgi, not one instant of time. We are in the hands of the gods. This serves but to while away a long night."

"Norsemen should not read the stars," said Helgi. "These things are for Finns and Lapps, and the poor peoples who fear us."

"I wished to know what Odin thought of Helgi Sigvaldson," said Estein with a smile.

Helgi laughed lightly as he answered,--

"I know what Odin thinks of you, Estein--a foolish man and fey."

Estein stepped forward a pace, and leaning over the side gazed for a while into the darkness. Helgi too was silent, but his blue eyes danced and his heart beat high as his thoughts flew ahead of the ship to the clash of arms and the shout of victory.

"There remains but me," said Estein at length. "Hakon has no other son."

"And you have five brothers to avenge; the sword should not rust long in your scabbard, Estein."

"Twice I have made the Danes pay a dear atonement for Eric. I cannot punish Thor because he suffered Harald to drown, but if ever in my life it be my fate to meet Thord the Tall, Snaekol Gunnarson, or Thorfin of Skapstead, there shall be but one man left to tell of our meeting."

"The burners of Olaf have long gone out of Norway, have they not?"

"I was but a child when my brother was burned like a fox in his hole at Laxafiord. The burners knew my father too well to bide at home and welcome him; and since then no man has told aught of them, save that Thord the Tall at one time raided much in England, and boasted widely of the burning. He perchance forgot that Hakon had other sons.

"But now, Helgi, we must sleep while we may; nights may come when we shall want it."

For six days and six nights they sailed with a favouring wind over an empty ocean. On the seventh day land was sighted on the starboard bow.

"Can that be England?" asked old Ulf, Estein's forecastle man, a hairy, hugely muscular Viking from the far northern fiords.

"The coast of Scotland more likely," said Helgi. "Shall we try our luck, Estein?"

"I should like to spill a little Scottish blood, and mayhap carry off a maid or two," said Thorolf Hauskoldson, a young giant from the upland dales.

"It may be but a waste of time," Estein replied. "We had best make for England while this wind holds."

"I like not the look of the sky," said Ulf, gazing round him with

Vandrad the Viking - 2/28

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