"No good will come to thee or thine, kinsman, by meeting the King with a proud look. Be advised, Erling," he continued in a more confidential tone; "it is easier to swim with the stream than against it--and wiser too, when it is impossible to turn it. Thou hast heard, no doubt, of Harald's doings in the north."
"I have heard," said Erling bitterly.
"Well, be he right or be he wrong, it were easier to make the Glommen run up the fells than to alter the King's determination; and it seems to me that it behoves every man who loves his country, and would spare further bloodshed, to submit to what is inevitable."
"Every lover of his country deems bloodshed better than slavery," said Erling, "because the death of a few is not so great an evil as the slavery of all."
"Aye, when there is hope that good may come of dying," rejoined the jarl, "but now there is no hope."
"That is yet to be proved," said the youth; and Glumm uttered one of those emphatic grunts with which men of few words are wont to signify their hearty a.s.sent to a proposition.
"Tut, kinsman," continued Rongvold, with a look of perplexity, "I don't like the idea of seeing so goodly a youth end his days before his right time. Let me a.s.sure thee that, if thou wilt join us and win over thy friends in Horlingdal, a splendid career awaits thee, for the King loves stout men, and will treat thee well; he is a good master."
"It grieves me that one whose blood flows in my veins should call any man master!" said Erling.
"Now a plague on thee, for a stupid hot-blood," cried the jarl; "if thou art so displeased with the word, I can tell thee that it need never be used, for, if ye will take service with the King, he will give thee the charge and the revenues of a goodly district, where thou shalt be master and a jarl too."
"I am a king!" said Erling, drawing himself proudly up. "Thinkest thou I would exchange an old t.i.tle for a new one, which the giver has no right to create?"
Glumm uttered another powerfully emphatic grunt at this point.
"Besides," continued Erling, "I have no desire to become a scatt-gatherer."
The jarl flushed a little at this thrust, but mastering his indignation said, with a smile--
"Nay, then, if ye prefer a warrior's work there is plenty of that at the disposal of the King."
"I have no particular love for war," said Erling. Jarl Rongvold looked at his kinsman in undisguised amazement.
"Truly thou art well fitted for it, if not fond of it," he said curtly; "but as thou art bent on following thine own nose, thou art like to have more than enough of that which thou lovest not.--Come, I will bring thee to the King."
The jarl led the two young men into his dwelling, where nearly a hundred men-at-arms were carousing. The hall was a long, narrow, and high apartment, with a table running down each side, and one at either end.
In the centre of each table was a raised seat, on which sat the chief guests, but, at the moment they entered, the highest of these seats was vacant, for the King had left the table. The fireplace of the hall was in the centre, and the smoke from it curled up among the rafters, which it blackened before escaping through a hole in the roof.
As all the revellers were armed, and many of them were moving about the hall, no notice was taken of the entrance of the strangers, except that one or two near whom they pa.s.sed remarked that Jarl Rongvold owned some stout men-at-arms.
The King had retired to one of the sleeping-chambers off the great halt in which he sat at a small window, gazing dreamily upon the magnificent view of dale, fell, fiord, and sea, that lay stretched out before the house. The slanting rays of the sun shone through the window, and through the heavy ma.s.ses of the King's golden hair, which fell in enormous volumes, like a lion's mane, on a pair of shoulders which were noted, even in that age of powerful men, for enormous breadth and strength. Like his men, King Harald was armed from head to foot, with the exception of his helmet, which lay, with his shield, on the low wolf-skin couch on which he had pa.s.sed the previous night.
He did not move when the jarl and the young men entered, but on the former whispering in his ear he let his clenched fist fall on the window sill, and, turning, with a frown on his bold, handsome face, looked long and steadily at Erling. And well might he gaze, for he looked upon one who bore a singularly strong resemblance to himself. There was the same height and width and ma.s.sive strength, the same bold, fearless look in the clear blue eyes, and the same firm lips; but Erling's hair fell in softer curls on his shoulders, and his brow was more intellectual.
Being a younger man, his beard was shorter.
Advancing a step, after Jarl Rongvold had left the room, Erling stated the sentiments of the men of Horlingdal in simple, blunt language, and ended by telling the King that they had no wish to refuse due and lawful allegiance to him, but that they objected to having the old customs of the land illegally altered.
During the progress of his statement both Erling and Glumm observed that the King's face flushed more than once, and that his great blue eyes blazed with astonishment and suppressed wrath. After he had concluded, the King still gazed at him in ominous silence. Then he said, sternly:
"For what purpose camest thou hither if the men of Horlingdal hold such opinions?"
"We came to tell you, King Harald, what the men of Horlingdal think, and to ask what you intend to do."
There was something so cool in this speech that a sort of grin curled the King's moustache, and mingled with the wrath that was gathering on his countenance.
"I'll tell thee what I will do," he said, drawing his breath sharply, and hissing the words; "I will march into the dale, and burn and s--" He stopped abruptly, and then in a soft tone added, "But what will _they_ do if I refuse to listen to them?"
"I know not what the men of Horlingdal will do," replied Erling; "but I will counsel them to defend their rights."
At this the King leaped up, and drew his sword half out of its scabbard, but again checked himself suddenly; for, as the Saga tells us, "it was his invariable rule, whenever anything raised his anger, to collect himself and let his pa.s.sion run off, and then take the matter into consideration coolly."
"Go," he said, sitting down again at the window, "I will speak with thee on this subject to-morrow."
Erling, who during the little burst of pa.s.sion had kept his blue eyes unflinchingly fixed on those of the King, bowed and retired, followed by Glumm, whose admiration of his friend's diplomatic powers would have been unbounded, had he only wound up with a challenge to the King, then and there, to single combat!
DESCRIBES A TERRIFIC AND UNEQUAL COMBAT.
"Now, kinsman, let me endeavour to convince thee of thy folly," said Jarl Rongvold to Erling, on the morning that followed the evening in which the interview with the King had taken place, as they walked in front of the house together.
"It needs no great power of speech to convince me of that," said Erling.
"The fact that I am still here, after what the King let out last night, convinces me, without your aid, that I am a fool."
"And pray what said he that has had such powerful influence on thine obtuse mind?"
"Truly he said little, but he expressed much. He gave way to an unreasonable burst of pa.s.sion when I did but claim justice and a.s.sert our rights; and the man must be slow-witted indeed who could believe that subdued pa.s.sion is changed opinion. However, I will wait for another interview until the sun is in the zenith--after that I leave, whatever be the consequences. So it were well, kinsman, that you should see and advise with your _master_."
The jarl bit his lip, and was on the point of turning away without replying, when a remarkably stout and tall young man walked up and accosted them.
"This is my son Rolf," said the jarl, turning round hastily.--"Our kinsman, Erling the Bold. I go to attend the King. Make the most of each other, for ye are not likely to be long in company."
"Are you that Rolf who is styled Ganger?" enquired Erling with some interest.
"Aye," replied the other gruffly. "At least I am Rolf. Men choose to call me Ganger because I prefer to gang on my legs rather than gang on the legs of a horse. They say it is because no horse can carry me; but thou seest that that is a lie, for I am not much heavier than thyself."
"I should like to know thee better, kinsman," said Erling.
Rolf Ganger did not respond so heartily to this as Erling wished, and he felt much disappointed; for, being a man who did not often express his feelings, he felt all the more keenly anything like a rebuff.
"What is your business with the King?" asked Rolf, after a short pause.
"To defy him," said our hero, under the influence of a burst of mingled feelings.
Rolf Ganger looked at Erling in surprise.
"Thou dost not like the King, then?"
"I hate him!"
"So do I," said Rolf.
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