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- Vandrad the Viking - 6/28 -
"Such things are easy to say now," she said. "If you say them again after you have lived on a hermit's fare for one whole day, I may begin to believe you."
They descended the hill, and in a little creek on the shore came upon a skiff.
"This is our long ship," said Osla. "If you wish to show your gratitude, you may assist me to launch her."
"Now," she said, when Estein had run the boat into the water, "you can rest while I row you across."
"It has never been my custom to let a girl row me," he replied, taking the oars.
"But your wounds?"
"If I have any I have forgotten them."
"Well, I will let you row, for the tide is at the turn, and you will not need to watch the currents. There is a great roost here when the tide is running."
Estein laughed. "I see that I am with a skilful helmsman," he said.
"And I, that I am with an over-confident crew," she answered.
Only a distant corncrake broke the silence of the lonely channel, its note sounding more faintly as they left the land behind. The sun set slowly between the headlands to seaward, and by the time they reached the shore of the islet the stillness was absolute, and the northern air was growing chill. Osla led the Viking up a slope of short sea-turf, and presently crossing the crest of the land, they came upon a settlement so strange and primitive that it could scarcely, he thought, have been designed by mortal men.
Facing the land-locked end of the sound, and looking upon a little bay, a cluster of monastic cells marked the northern limits of the Christian church. From this outpost it had for the time receded, and all save two of the rude stone dwellings looked deserted and forlorn. A thin thread of smoke rose straight heavenward in the still air, and before the entrance of the cell whence it issued stood an old and venerable man. Despite a slight stoop, he was still much beyond the common height of men. His brows were shaggy, and his grey beard reached well down over his breast; a long and voluminous cloak, much discoloured by the weather, was bound round his waist by a rope, and in his hand he carried a great staff.
As Estein approached, his brows bent in an expression of displeased surprise, but he waited in silence till his daughter spoke.
"I have brought a shipwrecked seafarer, father," she said. "He is wounded, I fear, and certainly he is both wet and hungry. I have told him we would give him shelter and food, and such tending as his wounds may require."
"Whence came he?" asked the old man.
"From the sound beyond the island; at least, he was in the sound when I first saw him."
"And I have to thank your daughter that I am not there now," Estein added.
"What is your name?"
"I am known as Vandrad, the son of a noble landowner in Norway."
The old man looked for a moment as though he would have questioned him further on his family. Instead, he asked,--
"And why came you to these islands?"
"For that, the wind and not I is answerable. Orkney was the last place I had thought of visiting."
"You were wrecked?"
"Wrecked, and wellnigh drowned."
In a more courteous tone the old man said, "While you are here you are welcome to such cheer as we can give you. This cell is all my dwelling, but since you have come to this island, enter and rest you in peace."
Stooping low in the doorway, Estein entered the abode of Andreas the hermit. Lit only by a small window and the gleam of a driftwood fire, the rude apartment was dusky and dim; yet there seemed nothing there that should make the sea-king pause at the threshold. Was it but a smoke wreath that he saw, and did the wind rise with a sudden gust out of the stillness of the evening? It seemed to him a face that appeared and then vanished, and a far- off voice that whispered a warning in his ear.
"Be not dismayed at our poverty; there is no worse foeman within," said Osla, with a touch of raillery, as he stood for a moment irresolute.
Estein made no answer, but stepped quickly into the room. Had he indeed heard a voice from beyond the grave, or was it but the fancy of a wounded head? The impression lingered so vividly that he stood in a reverie, and the words of his hosts fell unheeded on his ears. He knew the face, he had heard the voice of old, but in the kaleidoscope of memory he could see no name to fit them, no incident wherewith they might be linked.
He was aroused by the voice of Osla.
"Let us give him food and drink quickly, father. He is faint, and hears us not."
The tumultuous stir of battle was forgotten as they brought him supper and gently bound his wounds. A kettle sang a drowsy song and seemed to lay a languid spell upon him, and, as in a dream, he heard the hermit offer up an evening prayer. The petitions, eloquent and brief in his northern tongue, rose above the throbbing of the roost outside, and died away into a prayerful silence; and then, in the pleasant nicker of the firelight, they parted till the morrow.
Estein and the hermit stepped out into the cool night.
"They who visit the Holy Isle must rest content with hard pillows," said Andreas. "Here in this cell you will find a blanket and a couch of stone. May Christ be with you through the night;" and as he spoke he turned into his own bare apartment.
Estein looked upward at the stars shining as calmly on him here as on the sea-king who lately paced his long ship's deck; he listened for a moment to the roost rising higher and moaning more uneasily; and then above both he saw a pair of dark blue eyes, and heard a voice with just a touch of raillery in it. As he bent his head and entered his cell, he smiled to himself at the pleasantness of the vision.
THE ISLAND SPELL.
The Holy Isle was bathed in morning sunshine, shadows of light clouds chased each other over the hills across the sound, and out beyond the headlands the blue sea glimmered restfully.
On a bank of turf sloping to the rocks Estein sat with Osla, drinking in the freshness of the air. She had milked their solitary cow, baked cakes enough for the day's fare, and now, her simple housekeeping over, she was free to entertain her guest.
"My father, I fear, is in a black mood," she said. "His moods come and go, I know not why or when. To-day and perhaps to-morrow, and it may be for four days or more, he will sit in his cell or on the grass before the door, speaking never a word, and hardly answering when I talk to him. Pay no heed to him; he means no inhospitality."
"I fear he likes me not," said Estein. "He came here to escape men, you say, and now he has to entertain a stranger and a Viking."
"It is not that," she said. "The black moods come when we are alone; they come sometimes with the rising storm, sometimes when the sun shines brightest. I cannot tell when the gloom will fall, nor when he will be himself again. When his mind is well, he will talk to me for hours, and instruct me in many things."
"Has he instructed you in this religion he professes? Know you what gods he worships?"
Osla opened her eyes in perplexed surprise; she hardly felt herself equal to the task of converting this pagan, and yet it were a pity not to try. So she told him, with a woman's enthusiastic inaccuracy, of this new creed of love, then being so strikingly illustrated in troubled, warlike Christian Europe.
"And what of the gods I and my ancestors have worshipped for so long? What place have they in the Valhalla of the white Christ?"
"There are no other gods."
"No Odin, no Thor, no Freya of the fair seasons, no Valhalla for the souls of the brave? Nay, Osla, leave me my gods, and I will leave you yours. Mine is the religion of my kinsmen, of my father, of my ancestors. And," he continued, "would you say that Christian men are better than worshippers of Odin? Are they braver, are their swords keener, are they more faithful to their friends?"
"We want not keen swords. Warfare is your only thought. You live but to pillage and to fight. Have you known what it is to lose home and brothers all in one battle? Have you fled from a smoking roof-tree? Have you had mercy refused you? Have you had wife or child borne away to slavery? That is your creed--tell me, is it
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