Erling the Bold Part 12

At this point Ivor the Old arose and gave it as his opinion that the sooner the King should be brought off his high horse the better; whereupon Finn the One-eyed suggested, with a laugh, that the old hermit should be sent with his bow and arrow to teach him due submission to the laws. Then there was a good deal of confused, and not a little pa.s.sionate discussion, which waxed louder and more vehement until Guttorm Stoutheart stood up, and, although not a dalesman, requested the attention of the a.s.sembly for a few minutes.

"It is obvious," he said in the hearty tones of a man who knows that he is sure of carrying a large portion of his audience along with him--"it is obvious that you are all pretty much of one mind as to the principle on which we should act at this time; and my good friend Haldor the Fierce (who seems of late to have changed his nature, and should, methinks, in future, be styled Haldor the Mild) is evidently on the losing side. The only thing that concerns us, it seems to me, is the manner in which we shall convey our opinion to the King--how we shall best, as the scald says:--

"`Whisper in the King's unwilling ear That which is wholesome but unsweet to hear.'

"Now, to the quick-witted among you various methods will doubtless have already been suggested; and I am perchance only echoing the sentiments of many here, when I say that it would be worthy of the men of Horlingdal that they should fight the King at once, and put a stop to the burnings, hangings, torturings, jarl-makings, and subduings of which he has been so guilty of late, and which I confess is so unlike his free, generous, manly character, that I have found it hard to believe the reports which have reached my ears, and which, after all, can only be accounted for by the fact that he is at present led by the nose by that worst of all creatures, a proud imperious girl, who has the pa.s.sions of a warrior and the brains of a bairn! Another method, which would signify at least our contempt for Harald's principles, would be the sending of a thrall to him with a reaping-hook, and a request that he would cut off his own head and give it to us in token that, having ceased to be a king, he is resolved no longer to continue to be a dishonoured man! And that reminds me of one of Ulf's thralls named Kettle Flatnose, who could a.s.sist Harald n.o.bly in the work of beheading himself, for last night, when he and I fought side by side against the Danes, he used a hook of his own making, with such effect, that I was fain to pause and laugh, while myself in the very act of splitting an iron headpiece. But perchance that is not a suitable method of compa.s.sing our ends, besides it would cost the thrall his life, and I should be sorry to aid in bringing about the death of Kettle Flatnose, whose island is a happy one if it counts many such clear-headed and able-bodied warriors.

"But another plan was proposed by Glumm the Gruff, which seemed to me to have the approval of many present, and a.s.suredly it has mine, that we should send King Erling at once to Harald, to tell him our opinions to his face, to sound him as to his intentions, and to bring back the news as fast as possible, so that we may go armed or unarmed to the Springs, as prudence may direct. Moreover, as it would be unfair to send a man alone on such a dangerous errand, I would suggest that he should have a comrade to keep him company and share his fortunes, and that for this end none better could be found than Glumm the Gruff himself."

This speech settled the mind of the meeting. After a little more talk it was finally arranged that Erling and Glumm should go at once to meet King Harald, who could not yet, it was thought, have arrived at the Springs, and endeavour to find out his temper of mind in regard to the men of Horlingdal. After that the Thing broke up, and the members dispersed to partake of "midag-mad", or dinner, in the dwellings of their various friends.

CHAPTER TEN.

PROVES THAT THE BEST OF FRIENDS MAY QUARREL ABOUT NOTHING, AND THAT WAR HAS TWO ASPECTS.

"Now, Erling," said Glumm, with a face so cheerful, that had the expression been habitual, he never would have been styled the Gruff, "I will go home with thee and wait until thou art busked, after which we will go together to my house and have a bite and a horn of mead before setting out on this expedition. I thank the Stoutheart for suggesting it, for the business likes me well."

"Thou wert ever p.r.o.ne to court danger, Glumm," said Erling with a laugh, as they hurried towards Haldorstede, "and methinks thou art going to be blessed with a full share of it just now, for this Harald Haarf.a.ger is not a man to be trifled with. Although thou and I could hold our own against some odds, we shall find the odds too much for us in the King's camp, should he set his face against us. However, the cause is a good one, and to say truth, I am not sorry that they had the goodness to pitch on thee and me to carry out the plan."

Thus conversing they arrived at Ulfstede, where Herfrida met them at the door, and was soon informed of their mission. She immediately went to an inner closet, where the best garments and arms were kept, and brought forth Erling's finest suit of armour, in order that he might appear with suitable dignity at court.

She made him change his ordinary shoes for a pair made of tanned leather, on which he bound a pair of silver spurs, which had been taken from a cavalier of southern lands in one of Haldor's viking cruises.

She brought, and a.s.sisted him to put on, a new suit of mail, every ring of which had been brightly polished by the busy hands of Ingeborg, who was unusually fond of meddling with everything that pertained to the art of war; also a new sword-belt of yellow leather, ornamented with gold studs. On his head she placed a gilt helmet with his favourite crest, a pair of hawk's wings expanded upwards, and a curtain of leather covered with gilt-steel rings to defend the neck. Over his shoulders she flung a short scarlet cloak, which was fastened at the throat by a large silver brooch, similar to the circular brooches which are still to be found in the possession of the rich bonders of Norway. Then she surveyed her stalwart son from head to foot, and said that he would stand comparison with any king in the land, small or great.

At this Erling laughed, and asked for his sword.

"Which one, my son?"

"The short one, mother. I had indeed thought of taking my good old axe with me, but that would not look well in a man bent on a mission of peace. Would it, Glumm? And if I should have to fight, why, my short sword is not a light one, and by putting to a little more force I can make it bite deep enough. So now, Glumm, I am ready for the road.

Farewell, mother."

The young men went out and hastened down the valley to Glummstede, near Horlingend.

Now it chanced that Hilda and her foster-sister Ada had resolved, about that time of the day, to walk up the dale together, and as there was only one road on that side of the river, of necessity they were met by their lovers; and it so fell out that the meeting took place in a picturesque part of the dale, where the road pa.s.sed between two high precipitous cliffs.

The instant that Ada's eyes fell on Glumm her active brain conceived the idea of treating him to a disappointment, so she said hurriedly to her friend:

"Hilda, wilt thou manage to lead Glumm aside and keep talking to him for a short time, while I speak with Erling? I want to ask him something about that sword-belt which I am making for Glumm, and which I intend to send him as the gift of an enemy."

"I will do as ye desire," replied Hilda, with a feeling of disappointment; "but with what truth canst thou send it, Ada, as an enemy's gift?"

"Simple Hilda!" said the other, with a laugh, "am I not an enemy to his peace of mind? But hush! they will overhear us."

It chanced that Hilda was on the same side of the road with Erling, and Ada on that with Glumm, and both youths observed this fact with secret satisfaction as they approached and wished the maids "good day"; but just as they were about to shake hands Ada crossed in front of her companion, and taking Erling's outstretched hand said:

"Erling, I am glad to meet thee, because I have a knotty point which I wish thine aid to disentangle. I will turn and walk with thee a short way, because I know thy business is pressing. It is always so with men, is it not?"

"I know not," answered Erling, smiling at the girl's arch look, despite his surprise and chagrin at the unexpected turn affairs had taken, for he had noted the readiness with which Hilda had turned towards Glumm, and almost, as he imagined, led him aside purposely! "But it seems to me, Ada, that, however pressing a man's business may be, woman has the power to delay it."

"Nay, then, if thine is indeed so pressing just now," said Ada, with a toss of the head (which Glumm, who walked behind with Hilda, took particular note of), "I will not presume to--"

"Now, Ada," said Erling, with a light laugh, "thou knowest that it is merely waste of time to affect indignation. I know thee too well to be deceived. Come, what is it that ye would consult me about? not the forging of a battle-axe or spear-head, I warrant me."

"Nay, but a portion of armour scarce less important, though not so deadly. What say you to a sword-belt?"

"Well, I am somewhat skilled in such gear."

"I am ornamenting one for a friend of thine, Erling, but I will not tell his name unless I have thy promise not to mention to him anything about our conversation."

"I promise," said Erling, with an amused glance.

"It is for Glumm."

"For Glumm!" repeated Erling in surprise; "does Glumm then know--"

"Know what?" asked Ada, as Erling stopped abruptly.

"Does he know that thou art making this belt for him?"

"Know it? why, how could it be a secret if he knew it?"

"Ah, true, I--well?"

"Besides," continued Ada, "I am not _making_ it; I said I was going to ornament it. Now it is with reference to that I would consult thee."

Here Ada became so deeply absorbed in the mysteries of ornamental armour that she constrained Erling at least to appear interested, although, poor man, his heart was behind him, and he had much difficulty in resisting the desire to turn round when he heard Hilda's voice--which, by the way, was heard pretty constantly, for Glumm was so uncommonly gruff and monosyllabic in his replies that she had most of the talking to herself.

This unpleasant state of things might have lasted a considerable time, had not the party reached the path which diverged to the left, and, crossing the river over a narrow bridge composed of two tall trees thrown across, led to Glummstede. Here Erling stopped suddenly, and wheeling round, said:

"I regret that we cannot go farther down the dale to-day, as Glumm and I must fare with all speed to the Springs to meet King Harald."

"I trust thine errand is one of peace?" said Hilda in a slightly anxious tone.

"To judge by their looks," said Ada, glancing expressively at Glumm, "I should say that their intentions were warlike!"

"Despite our looks," replied Erling, with a laugh, "our business with the King is of a peaceful nature, and as it is pressing, ye will excuse us if--"

"Oh! it _is_ pressing, after all," cried Ada; "come, sister, let us not delay them."

So saying, she hurried away with her friend, and the two youths strode on to Glummstede in a very unenviable frame of mind.

Having refreshed themselves with several cuts of fresh salmon--drawn that morning from the foaming river--and with a deep horn of home-brewed ale, the young warriors mounted a couple of active horses, and rode up the mountain path that led in a zigzag direction over the fells to the valley of the Springs. They rode in silence at first--partly because the nature of the track compelled them to advance in single file, and partly because each was in the worst possible humour of which his nature was capable, while each felt indignant at the other, although neither could have said that his friend had been guilty of any definable sin.

It may here be mentioned in pa.s.sing, that Glumm had clothed and armed himself much in the same fashion as his companion, the chief difference being that his helmet was of polished steel, and the centre of his shield was painted red, while that of Erling was white. His only offensive weapons were a dagger and the long two-handed sword which had been forged for him by his friend, which latter was slung across his back.

An hour and a half of steady climbing brought the youths to the level summit of the hills, where, after giving their steeds a few minutes to breathe, they set off at a sharp gallop. Here they rode side by side, but the rough nature of the ground rendered it necessary to ride with care, so that conversation, although possible, was not, in the circ.u.mstances, very desirable. The silence, therefore, was maintained all the way across the fells. When they came to descend on the other side they were again obliged to advance in single file, so that the silence remained unbroken until they reached the base of the mountains.

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