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- Vandrad the Viking - 20/28 -
"Of Olaf?" exclaimed Estein, with a slight start.
"Ay, of Olaf. Often have I fought by his side on sea and shore, and dearly, more dearly than I ever loved man or woman since, I loved the youth. Thou even as a child wert strangely like him in features, and as I look upon thee now, there comes back memories of blither days. Wonder not then that I long was fain to see thee."
"Then why came you not to my father's house?" said Estein. "A friend of his son's would ever be welcome."
"Thy father and I fell out," replied Atli, "the wherefore I must still keep behind the shrouding-curtain, but for my present purpose it matters little. I could not visit Hakonstad; I could not even stay in the land of my birth. Olaf fell."
His voice trembled a little, and he paused. Estein said nothing, but waited for him to go on. Then in a brisker tone he continued,- -
"For some years I sailed the west seas; but I was growing old and my strength was wearing away with the wet work and the fighting, so I hied me home again."
"And my father?" asked Estein. "Knew not of my coming," Atli replied. "Of friends and kinsmen I had few left in the land, but I had long had other thoughts for myself than the tilling of fields and the emptying of horns at Yule. Often at night had I sat out. [Footnote: To "sit out" was a method of reading the future practised by sorcerers, in which the magician spent the night under the open sky, and summoned the dead to converse with him.] I had read the stars, and talked with divers magicians and men skilled in the wisdom of things unseen. I wandered for long among the Finns, I dwelt with the Lapps, and learned the lore of those folks. Then I came to Jemtland, where cunning men were said to live."
"Cunning!" exclaimed Estein furiously; "treacherous hounds call them."
"Cunning, indeed, they are," said the old man, "but not wise. This Jomar here is held a spaeman by the people."
He glanced contemptuously at the sleeping figure on the floor.
"Since I came," he went on, "I have taught him more than he could have learned in a lifetime here and now, as thou hast seen, he fears and obeys me as a master. With him I took up my abode, living in a spot known only to few. Yet my thoughts turned continually to Norway, and chiefly flew to thee, Estein. I dreamt of thee often, and at last a voice"--his own sank almost to a whisper as he spoke--"a voice bade me seek thee. How I fared thou knowest."
"I would that I had given more heed to your warning," said Estein gloomily.
"It all came true then?" cried Atli. "Nay, there is no need to answer. Truth I tell, and truth must happen."
"Have you, then, further rede to give me?"
"Ay, I have heard of this spell and the sore change that has befallen thee, and in my dreams and outsittings I have seen many things--an old man habited in a strange garb, and a maid by his side. Ha! flew the shaft true?"
So carried away was Estein by the seer's earnestness, and so suddenly did his last words strike home, that the thought never occurred to him that this might only be the gossip of his followers come in time to Atli's ears. It seemed to him an inspired insight into his past, and he started suddenly, and then said slowly,--
"The shaft indeed flew true."
"For thy brother's sake I owe thee something," the old man went on; "I might give weighty reason, but I may not. For thine own I wish to heal thee, and if I cannot cure this spell there is no man who can.
"Wilt thou trust me with the story?" he added, a little dubiously.
"Ask not that of me," replied Estein. "Tell me what to do, and I promise I shall follow the rede."
As if afraid that to ask further questions might weaken the force of his words, Atli fell at once into his mystic manner again.
"For long I wrestled with the visions. The faces of the wizard and the witch" (Estein's look darkened for an instant), "I could not see, but at last, in the still night-time, there spoke a voice to me, and I knew it came from the gods. For three nights it spoke. On the fourth I sat out, and called to me from far beyond the mountains and the lakes, even from beyond the grave, thy brother Olaf. He too spoke to me, and every time the purport of the message was the same."
"What said the voice?"
"A ship must cross the seas again."
The old man repeated the last words low and slowly, and then, for a little, silence fell upon the pair. Vague and meagre though the message was, it accorded exactly with Estein's long-suppressed desires. So entirely did Atli believe in himself and the virtue of his counsel, that the young Viking was thoroughly infected with his faith; and then, too, it was that early and suggestive hour when a man is quickly stirred.
Estein was the first to speak.
"I accept the counsel, Atli," he cried, springing to his feet. "With the melting of the snow I shall take to the sea again, and steer for the setting of the sun."
The old seer laid his hand affectionately upon his shoulder.
"There spoke the brother of Olaf," he said. "And now to sleep. In the morning I shall send Jomar to warn Ketill, so trouble not thyself further."
"If I but knew Helgi's fate," Estein began.
"Doubt not my words," said Atli. "His fate is too closely linked with thine."
He showed the Viking to a pallet bed in the loft, where, worn out with fatigue and anxiety, he quickly fell asleep.
It was nearly noon when he awoke, and the sun was streaming through the attic window. He found Atli in the room below.
"I have turned sluggard, it seems," he said.
"Young heads need sleep," replied the old man. "There was no need to rise before, or I should have roused thee. Jomar has been gone since daybreak, and till he returns thou canst do naught."
"Naught?" said Estein. "Have I not got my foster-brother to seek for? Give me but a meal to carry me till nightfall and I will away."
At first the old man endeavoured to dissuade him, but finding he was obdurate, he finally gave him a cap and coat of wolf-skin to be worn over his mail lest he should be seen by any natives, a good bow and arrows, and copious but perplexing directions regarding the forest paths. As he sallied forth, and followed the track by which he had come the night before, his plans were vague enough. To make for King Bue's hall, and, taking advantage of the woods that covered all the country, spy out what might be seen, was the hazardous scheme he proposed. Perhaps, he thought, Helgi might be wandering the country too, and if fate was kind they might meet. In any case he could not rest in his state of uncertainty, and he pushed boldly on. He smiled as he glanced at his garb: the long wolf-skin coat reached almost to his knees, over his legs he had drawn thick-knitted hose to keep out the cold, his helmet was hidden by the furry cap, and the only part of his original equipment to be seen were the sword girt round his waist and the long shield that hung upon his back. He had been in two minds about taking this last, but ere the day was done he had reason to congratulate himself that it was with him.
Before long he struck the open glade they had gone down by moonlight, and following it to the end, he found, after a little search, the opening of another path. This at last divided into two divergent tracks, and he had to confess himself completely puzzled.
"I seem to be the plaything of fate," he exclaimed, after he had tried in vain to recall Atli's directions; "let fate decide, life is but made up of the castings of a die," and with that he threw his dagger into the air, crying, "Point right, haft left!" It landed on its point and sunk almost out of sight in the snow. "Right let it be then," he said, and turned down the right-hand path.
It had been so dark and their flight so hurried that nothing remained in his memory of the night before, to show him whither the way was leading. He only knew that he had wandered for some time, when a prospect of white, open country began to show in peeps through the trees ahead. Presently he came to the edge of the forest, and saw that the cast of his dagger had led him wide of his mark. A long stretch of treeless country opened out before him, getting wider and wider in the distance. Near at hand a narrow lake began, and stretched for a mile or two down the snow- fields, and, like the greater lake they had passed, it was frozen and shining white. Less than a hundred yards from him, between the forest and the water, there lay a small village. A number of men stood about among the houses, and from their movements and the presence of two or three sledges he judged that a party must either have lately arrived, or be on the point of departing. As nothing further seemed to happen, he made up his mind that they must be arrivals; and then, seeing little to be gained by waiting further, he was about to retrace his steps when his attention was arrested by the appearance of two women. They came out of a house, and one, the taller of the two, went up to a group of men standing near, while the other, who looked like a peasant's wife, hung behind. The look of the first figure caught Estein's eye at once, and he felt his heart suddenly beat quickly. He could only see her
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