Erling the Bold Part 18



On examination it was found that Glumm's hurt was not severe. He had merely been stunned by the force of the blow, and there was a trifling wound in the scalp from which a little blood flowed. While Kettle held a helmet full of water, and Erling bathed the wound, the latter said:

"How comes it, Kettle, that ye discovered our straits, and appeared so fortunately?"

Kettle laughed and said: "The truth is, that accident brought me here.

You know that I had all but wrought out my freedom by this time, but in consideration of my services in the battle at the Springs, Ulf set me free at once, and this morning I left him to seek service with King Harald Haarf.a.ger."

"That was thankless of thee," said Erling.

"So said Ulf," rejoined Kettle; "nevertheless, I came off, and was on my way over the fells to go to the King when I fell in with Hake the berserk--though I knew not that it was he--and joined him."

Erling frowned, and looked enquiringly at Kettle as he said:

"But what possessed thee, that thou shouldst quit so good a master for one so bad, and how comes it thou hast so readily turned against the King's men?"

"Little wonder that you are perplexed," said Kettle, "seeing that ye know not my motive. The truth is, that I had a plan in my head, which was to enter Harald's service, that I might act the spy on him, and so do my best for one who, all the time I have been in thraldom, has been as kind to me as if he had been my own father."

"Thou meanest Ulf?" said Erling.

"I do," replied Kettle with enthusiasm, "and I'd willingly die for him if need be. As ye know full well, it needs no wizard to tell that such men as Ulf and your father will not easily be made to bend their necks to the King's yoke; and for this I honour them, because they respect the law of the land more than they respect the King. Happy is the nation where such men abound; and in saying this I do no dishonour to the King, but the reverse."

Erling looked in surprise at Kettle, while he continued to bathe the face of his still unconscious friend, for his language and bearing were much altered from what they had been when he was in thraldom, and there was an air of quiet dignity about him, which seemed to favour the common report that he had been a man of note in his own land.

"Well," continued Kettle, "it is equally certain that Harald is not a man who will tamely submit to be thwarted in his plans, so I had made up my mind to take service with him, in order that I might be able to find out his intentions and observe his temper towards the men of Horlingdal, and thus be in a position to give them timely warning of any danger that threatened. On my way hither I met Hake, as I have said. On hearing that he belonged to King Harald, I told him that I had just got my freedom from Ulf, and wished to join the King. He seemed very glad, and said he thought I would make a good berserk; told me that he was out in search of some of the King's enemies, and proposed that I should a.s.sist him. Of course this suited me well; but it was only when we found you that I became aware who the King's enemies were, and resolved to act as ye have seen me do. I did not choose to tell Ulf my intention, lest my plan should miscarry; but, now that I find who the King counts his foes, and know how sharply he intends to treat them, it seems to me that I need go no farther."

"Truly thou needst not," said Erling, "for Harald is in the worst possible humour with us all, and did his best to stop me from going home to tell the fact."

"Then is my mission ended. I will return to Ulfstede," said Kettle, throwing the water out of his helmet, and replacing it on his head, as he rose and grasped his sword. "Meanwhile, I will cut off Hake's head, and take it back with me."

"Thou wilt do so at thy peril," said Erling; "Hake fell to my hand, and I will finish the work which I have begun. Do thou go catch three or four of the horses, for I see that Glumm is recovering."

"I will not interfere with your business," said Kettle, with a laugh, "only I thought you meant to leave his carca.s.s lying there unheeded, and was unwilling to go off without his head as a trophy."

Kettle went to catch the horses--three of which he tied to trees to be ready for them, while he loaded the fourth with the most valuable of the arms and garments of the slain. Meanwhile Glumm groaned, and, sitting up, rubbed his head ruefully.

"I thought someone had sent me to Valhalla," he said, fetching a deep sigh.

"Not yet, friend Glumm, not yet. There is still work for thee to do on earth, and the sooner ye set about doing it the better, for methinks the King will wonder what has become of his berserkers, and will send out men in search of them ere long. Canst mount thy horse?"

"Mount him? aye," said Glumm, leaping up, but staggering when he had gained his legs, so that Erling had to support him for a few minutes.

He put his hand to his forehead, and, observing blood on it, asked: "Is the wound deep?"

"Only a scratch," said Erling, "but the blow was heavy. If the sword of Kettle Flatnose had not caught it in time, it would have been thy death."

"Truly it has not been far from that as it is, for my head rings as if the brain were being battered with Thor's hammer! Come, let us mount."

As he spoke, Kettle brought forward the horses. Glumm mounted with difficulty, and they all rode away. But Erling had observed a slight motion of life in the body of Hake, and after they had gone a few yards he said: "Ride on slowly, Glumm, I will go back to get a ring from the finger of the berserk, which I forgot."

He turned, and rode quickly back to the place where the berserk's body lay, dismounted, and kneeled beside it. There was a large silver ring on the middle finger of Hake's right hand, which he took off and put on his own finger, replacing it with a gold one of his own. Then he ran to the spring, and, filling his helmet with water, came back and laved the man's temples therewith, at the same time pouring a little of it into his mouth. In a few minutes he began to show symptoms of revival, but before he had recovered sufficiently to recognise who his benefactor was, Erling had vaulted into the saddle and galloped away.

They arrived at Glummstede that evening about supper-time, but Glumm was eager to hear the discussion that was sure to take place when the news of the fight and of Harald's state of mind was told, so he rode past his own home, and accompanied his friend to Ulfstede. We cannot say for certain that he was uninfluenced by other motives, for Glumm, as the reader knows, was not a communicative man; he never spoke to anyone on the subject; we incline, however, to the belief that there were mingled ideas in his brain and mixed feelings in his heart as he rode to Ulfstede!

Great was the sensation in the hall when Erling, Glumm, and Kettle entered with the marks of the recent fight still visible upon them-- especially on Glumm, whose scalp wound, being undressed, permitted a crimson stream to trickle down his face--a stream which, in his own careless way, he wiped off now and then with the sleeve of his coat, thereby making his aspect conspicuously b.l.o.o.d.y. Tremendous was the flutter in Ada's heart when she saw him in this plight, for well did she know that deeds of daring had been done before such marks could have been left upon her gruff lover.

The hall was crowded with armed men, for many bonders had a.s.sembled to await the issue of the decision at the Thing, and much anxiety as well as excitement prevailed. Ulf recognised his late thrall with a look of surprise, but each of them was made to quaff a br.i.m.m.i.n.g tankard of ale before being allowed to speak. To say truth, they were very willing to accept the draught, which, after the fatigues they had undergone, tasted like nectar.

Erling then stood up, and in the midst of breathless silence began to recount the incidents which had befallen him and his companion while in the execution of their mission.

"In the first place," he said, "it is right to let ye all know that the King's countenance towards us is as black as a thundercloud, and that we may expect to see the lightning flash out before long. But it is some comfort to add that Glumm and Kettle and I have slain, or rendered unfit to fight, twenty of Harald's men."

In the midst of the murmur of congratulation with which this announcement was received, Erling observed that Hilda, who had been standing near the door, went out. The result of this was, that the poor youth's spirit sank, and it was with the utmost difficulty he plucked up heart to relate the incidents of the fight, in which he said so little about himself that one might have imagined he had been a mere spectator.

Pa.s.sing from that subject as quickly as possible, he delivered his opinion as to the hopes and prospects before them, and, cutting his speech short, abruptly quitted the hall.

Any little feeling of disappointment that might have been felt at the lame way in which Erling had recounted his exploits was, however, amply compensated by Glumm, who, although usually a man of few words, had no lack of ideas or of power to express them when occasion required, in a terse, stern style of his own, which was very telling. He gave a faithful account of the fight, making mention of many incidents which his friend had omitted to touch on, and dwelling particularly on the deeds of Kettle. As to that flat-nosed individual himself, when called upon to speak, he addressed the a.s.sembly with a dignity of manner and a racy utterance of language which amazed those who had only known him as a thrall, and who now for the first time met him as a freed man. He moreover introduced into his speech a few touches of humour which convulsed his audience with laughter, and commented on the condition of affairs in a way that filled them with respect, so that from that hour he became one of the noted men of the dale.

Erling meanwhile hurried towards one of the cliffs overlooking the fiord. He was well acquainted with Hilda's favourite haunts, and soon found her, seated on a bank, with a very disconsolate look, which, however, vanished on his appearing.

"Wherefore didst thou hasten away just as I began to speak, Hilda?" he said, somewhat reproachfully, as he sat down beside her.

"Because I did not wish to hear details of the b.l.o.o.d.y work of which thou art so fond. Why wilt thou always be seeking to slay thy fellows?"

The girl spoke in tones so sad and desponding, that her lover looked upon her for some time in silent surprise.

"Truly, Hilda," he said, "the fight was none of my seeking."

"Did I not hear thee say," she replied, "that Kettle and Glumm and thou had slain twenty of the King's men, and that ye regarded this as a comforting thought?"

"Aye, surely; but these twenty men did first attack Glumm and me while alone, and we slew them in self-defence. Never had I returned to tell it, had not stout Kettle Flatnose come to our aid."

"Thank Heaven for that!" said Hilda, with a look of infinite relief.

"How did it happen?"

"Come. I will tell thee all from first to last. And here is one who shall judge whether Glumm and I are to blame for slaying these men."

As he spoke, the hermit approached. The old man looked somewhat paler than usual, owing to the loss of blood caused by the wound he had received in his recent defence of Ulfstede. Erling rose and saluted him heartily, for, since the memorable prowess in the defence of Ulfstede, Christian had been high in favour among the people of the neighbourhood.

"Hilda and I were considering a matter of which we will make thee judge," said Erling, as they sat down on the bank together.

"I will do my best," said the hermit, with a smile, "if Hilda consents to trust my judgment."

"That she gladly does," said the maid.

"Well, then, I will detail the facts of the case," said Erling; "but first tell me what strange marks are those on the skin thou holdest in thy hand?"

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