Part 3 out of 7
But after this men jeered no more at Skallagrim Lambstail, Eric's
HOW SWANHILD BID FAREWELL TO ERIC
Now all this while Asmund sat deep in thought; but when, at length,
men were sunk in sleep, he took a candle of fat and passed to the shut
bed where Swanhild slept alone. She lay on her bed, and her curling
hair was all about her. She was awake, for the light gleamed in her
blue eyes, and on a naked knife that was on the bed beside her, half
hidden by her hair.
"What wouldst thou, foster-father?" she asked, rising in the couch.
Asmund closed the curtains, then looked at her sternly and spoke in a
"Thou art fair to be so vile a thing, Swanhild," he said. "Who now
would have dreamed that heart of thine could talk with goblins and
with were-wolves--that those eyes of thine could bear to look on
murder and those white hands find strength to do the sin?"
She held up her shapely arms and, looking on them, laughed. "Would
that they had been fashioned in a stronger mould," she said. "May they
wither in their woman's weakness! else had the deed been done
outright. Now my crime is as heavy upon me and nothing gained by it.
Say what fate for me, foster-father--the Stone of Doom and the pool
where faithless women lie? Ah, then might Gudruda laugh indeed, and I
will not live to hear that laugh. See," and she gripped the dagger at
her side: "along this bright edge runs the path to peace and freedom,
and, if need be, I will tread it."
"Be silent," said Asmund. "This Gudruda, my daughter, whom thou
wouldst have foully done to death, is thine own sister, and it is she
who, pitying thee, hath pleaded for thy life."
"I will naught of her pity who have no pity," she answered; "and this
I say to thee who art my father: shame be on thee who hast not dared
to own thy child!"
"Hadst thou not been my child, Swanhild, and had I not loved thee
secretly as my child, be sure of this, I had long since driven thee
hence; for my eyes have been open to much that I have not seemed to
see. But at length thy wickedness has overcome my love, and I will see
thy face no more. Listen: none have heard of this shameful deed of
thine save those who saw it, and their tongues are sealed. Now I give
thee choice: wed Atli and go, or stand in the Doom-ring and take thy
"Have I not said, father, while death may be sought otherwise, that I
will never do this last? Nor will I do the first. I am not all of the
tame breed of you Iceland folk--other and quicker blood runs in my
veins; nor will I be sold in marriage to a dotard as a mare is sold at
a market. I have answered."
"Fool! think again, for I go not back upon my word. Wed Atli or die--
by thy own hand, if thou wilt--there I will not gainsay thee; or, if
thou fearest this, then anon in the Doom-ring."
Now Swanhild covered her eyes with her hands and shook the long hair
about her face, and she seemed wondrous fair to Asmund the Priest who
watched. And as she sat thus, it came into her mind that marriage is
not the end of a young maid's life--that old husbands have been known
to die, and that she might rule this Atli and his earldom and become a
rich and honoured woman, setting her sails in such fashion that when
the wind turned it would fill them. Otherwise she must die--ay, die
shamed and leave Gudruda with her love.
Suddenly she slipped from the bed to the floor of the chamber, and,
clasping the knees of Asmund, looked up through the meshes of her
hair, while tears streamed from her beautiful eyes:
"I have sinned," she sobbed--"I have sinned greatly against thee and
my sister. Hearken: I was mad with love of Eric, whom from a child I
have turned to, and Gudruda is fairer than I and she took him from me.
Most of all was I mad this night when I wrought the deed of shame, for
ill things counselled me--things that I did not call; and oh, I thank
the Gods--if there are Gods--that Gudruda died not at my hand. See
now, father, I put this evil from me and tear Eric from my heart," and
she made as though she rent her bosom--"I will wed Atli, and be a good
housewife to him, and I crave but this of Gudruda: that she forgive me
her wrong; for it was not done of my will, but of my madness, and of
the driving of those whom my mother taught me to know."
Asmund listened and the springs of his love thawed within him. "Now
thou dost take good counsel," he said, "and of this be sure, that so
long as thou art in that mood none shall harm thee; and for Gudruda,
she is the most gentle of women, and it may well be that she will put
away thy sin. So weep no more, and have no more dealings with thy
Finnish witchcraft, but sleep; and to-morrow I will bear thy word to
Atli, for his ship is bound and thou must swiftly be made a wife."
He went out, bearing the light with him; but Swanhild rose from the
ground and sat on the edge of the bed, staring into the darkness and
shuddering from time to time.
"I shall soon be made his wife," she murmured, "who would be but one
man's wife--and methinks I shall soon be made a widow also. Thou wilt
have me, dotard--take me and thy fate! Well, well; better to wed an
Earl than to be shamed and stretched across the Doom-stone. Oh, weak
arms that failed me at my need, no more will I put trust in you! When
next I wound, it shall be with the tongue; when next I strive to slay,
it shall be by another's hand. Curses on thee, thou ill counseller of
darkness, who didst betray me at the last! Is it for this that I
worshipped thee and swore the oath?"
The morning came, and at the first light Asmund sought the Earl. His
heart was heavy because of the guile that his tongue must practise,
and his face was dark as a winter dawn.
"What news, Asmund?" asked Atli. "/Early tidings are bad tidings/, so
runs the saw, and thy looks give weight to it."
"Not altogether bad, Earl. Swanhild gives herself to thee."
"Of her own will, Asmund?"
"Ay, of her own will. But I have warned thee of her temper."
"Her temper! Little hangs to a maid's temper. Once a wife and it will
melt in softness like the snow when summer comes. These are glad
tidings, comrade, and methinks I grow young again beneath the breath
of them. Why art thou so glum then?"
"There is something that must yet be told of Swanhild," said Asmund.
"She is called the Fatherless, but, if thou wilt have the truth, why
here it is for thee--she is my daughter, born out of wedlock, and I
know not how that will please thee."
Atli laughed aloud, and his bright eyes shone in his wrinkled face.
"It pleases me well, Asmund, for then the maid is sprung from a sound
stock. The name of the Priest of Middalhof is famous far south of
Iceland; and never that Iceland bred a comelier girl. Is that all?"
"One more thing, Earl. This I charge thee: watch thy wife, and hold
her back from witchcraft and from dealings with evil things and trolls
of darkness. She is of Finnish blood and the women of the Finns are
much given to such wicked work."
"I set little store by witchwork, goblins and their kin," said Atli.
"I doubt me much of their power, and I shall soon wean Swanhild from
such ways, if indeed she practise them."
Then they fell to talking of Swanhild's dower, and that was not small.
Afterwards Asmund sought Eric and Gudruda, and told them what had come
to pass, and they were glad at the news, though they grieved for Atli
the Earl. And when Swanhild met Gudruda, she came to her humbly, and
humbly kissed her hand, and with tears craved pardon of her evil
doing, saying that she had been mad; nor did Gudruda withhold it, for
of all women she was the gentlest and most forgiving. But to Eric,
Swanhild said nothing.
The wedding-feast must be held on the third day from this, for Atli
would sail on that same day, since his people wearied of waiting and
his ship might lie bound no longer. Blithe was Atli the Earl, and
Swanhild was all changed, for now she seemed the gentlest of maids,
and, as befitted one about to be made a wife, moved through the house
with soft words and downcast eyes. But Skallagrim, watching her,
bethought him of the grey wolf that he had seen by Goldfoss, and this
seemed not well to him.
"It would be bad now," he said to Eric, as they rode to Coldback, "to
stand in yon old earl's shoes. This woman's weather has changed too
fast, and after such a calm there'll come a storm indeed. I am now
minded of Thorunna, for she went just so the day before she gave
herself to Ospakar, and me to shame and bonds."
"Talk not of the raven till you hear his croak," said Eric.
"He is on the wing, lord," answered Skallagrim.
Now Eric came to Coldback in the Marsh, and Saevuna his mother and
Unna, Thorod's daughter, the betrothed of Asmund, were glad to welcome
him; for the tidings of his mighty deeds and of the overthrow of
Ospakar and the slaying of Mord were noised far and wide. But at
Skallagrim Lambstail they looked askance. Still, when they heard of
those things that he had wrought on Horse-Head Heights, they welcomed
him for his deed's sake.
Eric sat two nights at Coldback, and on the second day Saevuna his
mother and Unna rode thence with their servants to the wedding-feast
of Swanhild the Fatherless. But Eric stopped at Coldback that night,
saying that he would be at Middalhof within two hours of sunrise, for
he must talk with a shepherd who came from the fells.
Saevuna and her company came to Middalhof and was asked, first by
Gudruda, then by Swanhild, why Brighteyes tarried. She answered that
he would be there early on the morrow. Next morning, before it was
light, Eric girded on Whitefire, took horse and rode from Coldback
alone, for he would not bring Skallagrim, fearing lest he should get
drunk at the feast and shed some man's blood.
It was Swanhild's wedding-day; but she greeted it with little
lightsomeness of heart, and her eyes knew no sleep that night, though
they were heavy with tears.
At the first light she rose, and, gliding from the house, walked
through the heavy dew down the path by which Eric must draw near, for
she desired to speak with him. Gudruda also rose a while after, though
she did not know this, and followed on the same path, for she would
greet her lover at his coming.
Now three furlongs or more from the stead stood a vetch stack, and
Swanhild waited on the further side of this stack. Presently she heard
a sound of singing come from behind the shoulder of the fell and of
the tramp of a horse's hoofs. Then she saw the golden wings of Eric's
helm all ablaze with the sunlight as he rode merrily along, and great
bitterness laid hold of her that Eric could be of such a joyous mood
on the day when she who loved him must be made the wife of another
Presently he was before her, and Swanhild stepped from the shadow of
the stack and laid her hand upon his horse's bridle.
"Eric," she said humbly and with bowed head, "Gudruda sleeps yet.
Canst thou, then, find time to hearken to my words?"
He frowned and said: "Methinks, Swanhild, it would be better if thou
gavest thy words to him who is thy lord."
She let the bridle-rein drop from her hands. "I am answered," she
said; "ride on."
Now pity stirred in Eric's heart, for Swanhild's mien was most heavy,
and he leaped down from his horse. "Nay," he said, "speak on, if thou
hast anything to tell me."
"I have this to tell thee, Eric; that now, before we part for ever, I
am come to ask thy pardon for my ill-doing--ay, and to wish all joy to
thee and thy fair love," and she sobbed and choked.
"Speak no more of it, Swanhild," he said, "but let thy good deeds
cover up the ill, which are not small; so thou shalt be happy."
She looked at him strangely, and her face was white with pain.
"How then are we so differently fashioned that thou, Eric, canst prate
to me of happiness when my heart is racked with grief? Oh, Eric, I
blame thee not, for thou hast not wrought this evil on me willingly;
but I say this: that my heart is dead, as I would that I were dead.
See those flowers: they smell sweet--for me they have no odour. Look
on the light leaping from Coldback to the sea, from the sea to Westman
Isles, and from the Westman crown of rocks far into the wide heavens
above. It is beautiful, is it not? Yet I tell thee, Eric, that now to
my eyes howling winter darkness is every whit as fair. Joy is dead
within me, music's but a jangled madness in my ears, food hath no
savour on my tongue, my youth is sped ere my dawn is day. Nothing is
left to me, Eric, save this fair body that thou didst scorn, and the
dreams which I may gather from my hours of scanty sleep, and such
shame as befalls a loveless bride."
"Speak not so, Swanhild," he said, and clasped her by the hand, for,
though he loathed her wickedness, being soft-hearted and but young, it
grieved him to hear her words and see the anguish of her mind. For it
is so with men, that they are easily moved by the pleading of a fair
woman who loves them, even though they love her not.
"Yea, I will speak out all my mind before I seal it up for ever. See,
Eric, this is my state and thou hast set this crown of sorrow on my
brows: and thou comest singing down the fell, and I go weeping o'er
the sea! I am not all so ill at heart. It was love of thee that drove
me down to sin, as love of thee might otherwise have lifted me to
holiness. But, loving thee as thou seest, this day I wed a dotard, and
go his chattel and his bride across the sea, and leave thee singing on
the fell, and by thy side her who is my foe. Thou hast done great
deeds, Brighteyes, and still greater shalt thou do; yet but as echoes
they shall reach my ears. Thou wilt be to me as one dead, for it is
Gudruda's to bind the byrnie on thy breast when thou goest forth to
war, and hers to loose the winged helm from thy brow when thou
returnest, battle-worn and conquering."
Now Swanhild ceased, and choked with grief; then spoke again:
"So now farewell; doubtless I weary thee, and--Gudruda waits. Nay,
look not on my foolish tears: they are the heritage of woman, of
naught else is she sure! While I live, Eric, morn by morn the thought
of thee shall come to wake me as the sun wakes yon snowy peak, and
night by night thy memory shall pass as at eve he passes from the
valleys, but to dawn again in dreams. For, Eric, 'tis thee I wed
to-day--at heart I am thy bride, thine and thine only; and when shalt
thou find a wife who holds thee so dear as that Swanhild whom once
thou knewest? So now farewell! Yes, this time thou shalt kiss away my
tears; then let them stream for ever. Thus, Eric! and thus! and thus!
do I take farewell of thee."
And now she clung about his neck, gazing on him with great dewy eyes
till things grew strange and dim, and he must kiss her if only for her
love and tender beauty's sake. And so he kissed, and it chanced that
as they clung thus, Gudruda, passing by this path to give her
betrothed greeting, came upon them and stood astonished. Then she
turned and, putting her hands to her head, fled back swiftly to the
stead, and waited there, great anger burning in her heart; for Gudruda
had this fault, that she was very jealous.
Now Eric and Swanhild did not see her, and presently they parted, and
Swanhild wiped her eyes and glided thence.
As she drew near the stead she found Gudruda watching.
"Where hast thou been, Swanhild?" she said.
"To bid farewell to Brighteyes, Gudruda."
"Then thou art foolish, for doubtless he thrust thee from him."
"Nay, Gudruda, he drew me to him. Hearken, I say, thou sister. Vex me
not, for I go my ways and thou goest thine. Thou art strong and fair,
and hitherto thou hast overcome me. But I am also fair, and, if I find
space to strike in, I also have a show of strength. Pray thou that I
find not space, Gudruda. Now is Eric thine. Perchance one day he may
be mine. It lies in the lap of the Norns."
"Fair words from Atli's bride," mocked Gudruda.
"Ay, Atli's bride, but never Atli's love!" said Swanhild, and swept
A while after Eric rode up. He was shamefaced and vexed at heart,
because he had yielded thus to Swanhild's beauty, and been melted by
her tender words and kissed her. Then he saw Gudruda, and at the sight
of her all thought of Swanhild passed from him, for he loved Gudruda
and her alone. He leapt down from his horse and ran to her. But, drawn
to her full height, she stood with dark flashing eyes and fair face
set in anger.
Still, he would have greeted her loverwise; but she lifted her hand
and waved him back, and fear took hold of him.
"What now, Gudruda?" he asked, faltering.
"What now, Eric?" she answered, faltering not. "Hast seen Swanhild?"
"Yea, I have seen Swanhild. She came to bid farewell to me. What of
"What of it? Why '/thus! and thus! and thus!/' didst thou bid farewell
to Atli's bride. Ay, 'thus and thus,' with clinging lips and twined
arms. Warm and soft was thy farewell kiss to her who would have slain
"Gudruda, thou speakest truth, though how thou sawest I know not.
Think no ill of it, and scourge me not with words, for, sooth to say,
I was melted by her grief and the music of her talk."
"It is shame to thee so to speak of her whom but now thou heldest in
thine arms. By the grief and the music of the talk of her who would
have murdered me thou wast melted into kisses, Eric!--for I saw it
with these eyes. Knowest thou what I am minded to say to thee? It is
this: 'Go hence and see me no more;' for I have little wish to cleave
to such a feather-man, to one so blown about by the first breath of
"Yet, methinks, Gudruda, I have withstood some such winds. I tell thee
that, hadst thou been in my place, thyself hadst yielded to Swanhild
and kissed her in farewell, for she was more than woman in that hour."
"Nay, Eric, I am no weak man to be led astray thus. Yet she is more
than woman--troll is she also, that I know; but less than man art
thou, Eric, thus to fall before her who hates me. Time may come when
she shall woo thee after a stronger sort, and what wilt thou say to
her then, thou who art so ready with thy kisses?"
"I will withstand her, Gudruda, for I love thee only, and this is well
known to thee."
"Truly I know thou lovest me, Eric; but tell me of what worth is this
love of man that eyes of beauty and tongue of craft may so readily
bewray? I doubt me of thee, Eric!"
"Nay, doubt me not, Gudruda. I love thee alone, but I grew soft as wax
beneath her pleading. My heart consented not, yet I did consent. I
have no more to say."
Now Gudruda looked on him long and steadfastly. "Thy plight is sorry,
Eric," she said, "and this once I forgive thee. Look to it that thou
givest me no more cause to doubt thee, for then I shall remember how
thou didst bid farewell to Swanhild."
"I will give none," he answered, and would have embraced her; but this
she would not suffer then, nor for many days after, for she was angry
with him. But with Swanhild she was still more angry, though she said
nothing of it. That Swanhild had tried to murder her, Gudruda could
forgive, for there she had failed; but not that she had won Eric to
kiss her, for in this she had succeeded well.
HOW ERIC WAS OUTLAWED AND SAILED A-VIKING
Now the marriage-feast went on, and Swanhild, draped in white and girt
about with gold, sat by Atli's side upon the high seat. He was fain of
her and drew her to him, but she looked at him with cold calm eyes in
which hate lurked. The feast was done, and all the company rode to the
sea strand, where the Earl's ship lay at anchor. They came there, and
Swanhild kissed Asmund, and talked a while with Groa, her mother, and
bade farewell to all men. But she bade no farewell to Eric and to
"Why sayest thou no word to these two?" asked Atli, her husband.
"For this reason, Earl," she answered, "because ere long we three
shall meet again; but I shall see Asmund, my father, and Groa, my
mother, no more."
"That is an ill saying, wife," said Atli. "Methinks thou dost foretell
"Mayhap! And now I will add to my redes, for I foretell /thy/ doom
also: it is not yet, but it draws on."
Then Atli bethought him of many wise saws, but spoke no more, for it
seemed to him this was a strange bride that he had wed.
They hauled the anchor home, shook out the great sail, and passed away
into the evening night. But while land could still be seen, Swanhild
stood near the helm, gazing with her blue eyes upon the lessening
coast. Then she passed to the hold, and shut herself in alone, and
there she stayed, saying that she was sick, till at length, after a
fair voyage of twenty days, they made the Orkney Islands.
But all this pleased Atli wondrous ill, yet he dared not cross her
Now, in Iceland the time drew on when men must ride to the Althing,
and notice was given to Eric Brighteyes of many suits that were laid
against him, in that he had brought Mord, Ospakar's son, to his death,
dealing him a brain or a body or a marrow wound, and others of that
company. But no suits were laid against Skallagrim, for he was already
outlaw. Therefore he must go in hiding, for men were out to slay him,
and this he did unwillingly, at Eric's bidding. Asmund took up Eric's
case, for he was the most famous of all lawmen in that day, and when
thirteen full weeks of summer were done, they two rode to the Thing,
and with them a great company of men of their quarter.
Now, men go up to the Lögberg, and there came Ospakar, though he was
not yet healed of his wound, and all his company, and laid their suits
against Eric by the mouth of Gizur the Lawman, Ospakar's son. The
pleadings were long and cunning on either side; but the end of it was
that Ospakar brought it about, by the help of his friends--and of
these had many--that Eric must go into outlawry for three years. But
no weregild was to be paid to Ospakar and his men for those who had
been killed, and no atonement for the great wound that Skallagrim
Lambstail gave him, or for the death of Mord, his son, inasmuch as
Eric fought for his own hand to save his life.
The party of Ospakar were ill pleased at this finding, and Eric was
not over glad, for it was little to his mind that he should sail a-
warring across the seas, while Gudruda sat at home in Iceland. Still,
there was no help for the matter.
Now Ospakar spoke with his company, and the end of it was that he
called on them to take their weapons and avenge themselves by their
own might. Asmund and Eric, seeing this, mustered their army of free-
men and thralls. There were one hundred and five of them, all stout
men; but Ospakar Blacktooth's band numbered a hundred and thirty-
three, and they stood with their backs to the Raven's Rift.
"Now I would that Skallagrim was here to guard my back," said Eric,
"for before this fight is done few will left standing to tell its
"It is a sad thing," said Asmund, "that so many men must die because
some men are now dead."
"A very sad thing," said Eric, and took this counsel. He stalked alone
towards the ranks of Ospakar and called in a loud voice, saying:
"It would be grievous that so many warriors should fall in such a
matter. Now hearken, you company of Ospakar Blacktooth! If there be
any two among you who will dare to match their might against my single
sword in holmgang, here I, Eric Brighteyes, stand and wait them. It is
better that one man, or perchance three men, should fall, than that
anon so many should roll in the dust. What say ye?"
Now all those who watched called out that this was a good offer and a
manly one, though it might turn out ill for Eric; but Ospakar
"Were I but well of my wound I alone would cut that golden comb of
thine, thou braggart; as it is, be sure that two shall be found."
"Who is the braggart?" answered Eric. "He who twice has learned the
weight of this arm and yet boasts his strength, or I who stand craving
that two should come against me? Get thee hence, Ospakar; get thee
home and bid Thorunna, thy leman, whom thou didst beguile from that
Ounound who now is named Skallagrim Lambstail the Baresark, nurse thee
whole of the wound her husband gave thee. Be sure we shall yet stand
face to face, and that combs shall be cut then, combs black or golden.
Nurse thee! nurse thee! cease thy prating--get thee home, and bid
Thorunna nurse thee; but first name thou the two who shall stand
against me in holmgang in Oxarà's stream."
Folk laughed aloud while Eric mocked, but Ospakar gnashed his teeth
with rage. Still, he named the two mightiest men in his company,
bidding them take up their swords against Brighteyes. This, indeed,
they were loth to do; still, because of the shame that they must get
if they hung back, and for fear of the wrath of Ospakar, they made
ready to obey his bidding.
Then all men passed down to the bank of Oxarà, and, on the other side,
people came from their booths and sat upon the slope of All Man's
Raft, for it was a new thing that one man should fight two in
Now Eric crossed to the island where holmgangs are fought to this day,
and after him came the two chosen, flourishing their swords bravely,
and taking counsel how one should rush at his face, while the other
passed behind his back and spitted him, as woodfolk spit a lamb. Eric
drew Whitefire and leaned on it, waiting for the word, and all the
women held him to be wondrous fair as, clad in his byrnie and his
golden helm, he leaned thus on Whitefire. Presently the word was
given, and Eric, standing not to defend himself as they deemed he
surely would, whirled Whitefire round his helm and rushed headlong on
his foes, shield aloft.
The great carles saw the light that played on Whitefire's edge and the
other light that burned in Eric's eyes, and terror got hold of them.
Now he was almost come, and Whitefire sprang aloft like a tongue of
flame. Then they stayed no more, but, running one this way and one
that, cast themselves into the flood and swam for the river-edge. Now
from either bank rose up a roar of laughter, that grew and grew, till
it echoed against the lava rifts and scared the ravens from their
Eric, too, stopped his charge and laughed aloud; then walked back to
where Asmund stood, unarmed, to second him in the holmgang.
"I can get little honour from such champions as these," he said.
"Nay," answered Asmund, "thou hast got the greatest honour, and they,
and Ospakar, such shame as may not be wiped out."
Now when Blacktooth saw what had come to pass, he well-nigh choked,
and fell from his horse in fury. Still, he could find no stomach for
fighting, but, mustering his company, rode straightway from the Thing
home again to Swinefell. But he caused those two whom he had put up to
do battle with Eric to be set upon with staves and driven from his
following, and the end of it was that they might stay no more in
Iceland, but took ship and sailed south, and now they are out of the
On the next day, Asmund, and with him Eric and all their men, rode
back to Middalhof. Gudruda greeted Eric well, and for the first time
since Swanhild went away she kissed him. Moreover, she wept bitterly
when she learned that he must go into outlawry, while she must bide at
"How shall the days pass by, Eric?" she said, "when thou art far, and
I know not where thou art, nor how it goes with thee, nor if thou
livest or art already dead?"
"In sooth I cannot say, sweet," he answered; "but of this I am sure
that, wheresoever I am, yet more weary shall be my hours."
"Three years," she went on--"three long, cold years, and no sight of
thee, and perchance no tidings from thee, till mayhap I learn that
thou art in that land whence tidings cannot come. Oh, it would be
better to die than to part thus."
"Well I wot that it is better to die than to live, and better never to
have been born than to live and die," answered Eric sadly. "Here, it
would seem, is nothing but hate and strife, weariness and bitter envy
to fret away our strength, and at last, if we come so far, sorrowful
age and death, and thereafter we know not what. Little of good do we
find to our hands, and much of evil; nor know I for what ill-doing
these burdens are laid upon us. Yet must we needs breathe such an air
as is blown about us, Gudruda, clasping at this happiness which is
given, though we may not hold it. At the worst, the game will soon be
played, and others will stand where we have stood, and strive as we
have striven, and fail as we have failed, and so on, till man has
worked out his doom, and the Gods cease from their wrath, or Ragnarrök
come upon them, and they too are lost in the jaws of grey wolf
"Men may win one good thing, and that is fame, Eric."
"Nay, Gudruda, what is it to win fame? Is it not to raise up foes, as
it were, from the very soil, who, made with secret hate, seek to stab
us in the back? Is it not to lose peace, and toil on from height to
height only to be hurled down at last? Happy, then, is the man whom
fame flies from, for hers is a deadly gift."
"Yet there is one thing left that thou hast not numbered, Eric, and it
is love--for love is to our life what the sun is to the world, and,
though it seems to set in death, yet it may rise again. We are happy,
then, in our love, for there are many who live their lives and do not
So these two, Eric Brighteyes and Gudruda the Fair, talked sadly, for
their hearts were heavy, and on them lay the shadow of sorrows that
were to come.
"Say, sweet," said Eric at length, "wilt thou that I go not into
banishment? Then I must fall into outlawry, and my life will be in the
hands of him who may take it; yet I think that my foes will find it
hard to come by while my strength remains, and at the worst I do but
turn to meet the fate that dogs me."
"Nay, that I will not suffer, Brighteyes. Now we will go to my father,
and he shall give thee his dragon of war--she is a good vessel--and
thou shalt man her with the briskest men of our quarter: for there are
many who will be glad to fare abroad with thee, Eric. Soon she shall
be bound and thou shalt sail at once, Eric: for the sooner thou art
gone the sooner the three years will be sped, and thou shalt come back
to me. But, oh! that I might go with thee."
Now Gudruda and Eric went to Asmund and spoke of this matter.
"I desired," he answered, "that thou, Eric, shouldst bide here in
Iceland till after harvest, for it is then that I would take Unna,
Thorod's daughter, to wife, and it was meet that thou shouldst sit at
the wedding-feast and give her to me."
"Nay, father, let Eric go," said Gudruda, "for well begun is, surely,
half done. He must remain three years in outlawry: add thou no day to
them, for, if he stays here for long, I know this: that I shall find
no heart to let him go, and, if go he must, then I shall go with him."
"That may never be," said Asmund; "thou art too young and fair to sail
a-viking down the sea-path. Hearken, Eric: I give thee the good ship,
and now we will go about to find stout men to man her."
"That is a good gift," said Eric; and afterwards they rode to the
seashore and overhauled the vessel as she lay in her shed. She was a
great dragon of war, long and slender, and standing high at stem and
prow. She was fashioned of oak, all bolted together with iron, and at
her prow was a gilded dragon most wonderfully carved.
Eric looked on her and his eyes brightened.
"Here rests a wave-horse that shall bear a viking well," he said.
"Ay," answered Asmund, "of all the things I own this ship is the very
best. She is so swift that none may catch her, and she can almost go
about in her own length. That gale must be heavy that shall fill her,
with thee to steer; yet I give her to thee freely, Eric, and thou
shalt do great deeds with this my gift, and, if things go well, she
shall come back to this shore at last, and thou in her."
"Now I will name this war-gift with a new name," said Eric.
"'Gudruda,' I name her: for, as Gudruda here is the fairest of all
women, so is this the fairest of all war-dragons."
"So be it," said Asmund.
Then they rode back to Middalhof, and now Eric Brighteyes let it be
known that he needed men to sail the seas with him. Nor did he ask in
vain, for, when it was told that Eric went a-viking, so great was his
fame grown, that many a stout yeoman and many a great-limbed carle
reached down sword and shield and came up to Middalhof to put their
hands in his. For mate, he took a certain man named Hall of Lithdale,
and this because Björn asked it, for Hall was a friend to Björn, and
he had, moreover, great skill in all manner of seamanship, and had
often sailed the Northern Seas--ay, and round England to the coast of
But when Gudruda saw this man, she did not like him, because of his
sharp face, uncanny eyes, and smooth tongue, and she prayed Eric to
have nothing to do with him.
"It is too late now to talk of that," said Eric. "Hall is a well-
skilled man, and, for the rest, fear not: I will watch him."
"Then evil will come of it," said Gudruda.
Skallagrim also liked Hall little, nor did Hall love Skallagrim and
his great axe.
At length all were gathered; they were fifty in number and it is said
that no such band of men ever took ship from Iceland.
Now the great dragon was bound and her faring goods were aboard of
her, for Eric must sail on the morrow, if the wind should be fair. All
day long he stalked to and fro among his men; he would trust nothing
to others, and there was no sword or shield in his company but he
himself had proved it. All day long he stalked, and at his back went
Skallagrim Lambstail, axe on shoulder, for he would never leave Eric
if he had his will, and they were a mighty pair.
At length all was ready and men sat down to the faring-feast in the
hall at Middalhof, and that was a great feast. Eric's folk were
gathered on the side-benches, and by the high seat at Asmund's side
sat Brighteyes, and near to him where Björn, Asmund's son, Gudruda,
Unna, Asmund's betrothed, and Saevuna, Eric's mother. For this had
been settled between Asmund and Eric, that his mother Saevuna, who was
some somewhat sunk in age, should flit from Coldback and come with
Unna to dwell at Middalhof. But Eric set a trusty grieve to dwell at
Coldback and mind the farm.
When the faring-toasts had been drunk, Eric spoke to Asmund and said:
"I fear one thing, lord, and it is that when I am gone Ospakar will
trouble thee. Now, I pray you all to beware of Blacktooth, for, though
the hound is whipped, he can still bite, and it seems that he has not
yet put Gudruda from his mind."
Now Björn had sat silently, thinking much and drinking more, for he
loved Eric less than ever on this day when he saw how all men did him
honour and mourned his going, and his father not the least of them.
"Methinks it is thou, Eric," he said, "whom Ospakar hates, and thee on
whom he would work his vengeance, and that for no light cause."
"When bad fortune sits in thy neighbour's house, she knocks upon thy
door, Björn. Gudruda, thy sister, is my betrothed, and thou art a
party to this feud," said Eric. "Therefore it becomes thee better to
hold her honour and thy own against this Northlander, than to gird at
me for that in which I have no blame."
Björn grew wroth at these words. "Prate not to me," he said. "Thou art
an upstart who wouldst teach their duty to thy betters--ay, puffed up
with light-won fame, like a feather on the breeze. But I say this: the
breeze shall fail, and thou shalt fall upon the goose's back once
more. And I say this also, that, had I my will, Gudruda should wed
Ospakar: for he is a mighty chief, and not a long-legged carle,
outlawed for man-slaying."
Now Eric sprang from his seat and laid hand upon the hilt of
Whitefire, while men murmured in the hall, for they held this an ill
speech of Björn's.
"In thee, it seems, I have no friend," said Eric, "and hadst thou been
any other man than Gudruda's brother, forsooth thou shouldst answer
for thy mocking words. This I tell thee, Björn, that, wert thou twice
her brother, if thou plottest with Ospakar when I am gone, thou shalt
pay dearly for it when I come back again. I know thy heart well: it is
cunning and greedy of gain, and filled with envy as a cask with ale;
yet, if thou lovest to feel it beating in thy breast, strive not to
work me mischief and to put Gudruda from me."
Now Björn sprang up also and drew his sword, for he was white with
rage; but Asmund his father cried, "Peace!" in a great voice.
"Peace!" he said. "Be seated, Eric, and take no heed of this foolish
talk. And for thee, Björn, art thou the Priest of Middalhof, and
Gudruda's father, or am I? It has pleased me to betroth Brighteyes to
Gudruda, and it pleased me not to betroth her to Ospakar, and that is
enough for thee. For the rest, Ospakar would have slain Eric, not he
Ospakar, therefore Eric's hands are clean. Though thou art my son, I
say this, that, if thou workest ill to Eric when he is over sea, thou
shalt rightly learn the weight of Whitefire: it is a niddering deed to
plot against an absent man."
Eric sat down, but Björn strode scowling from the hall, and, taking
horse, rode south; nor did he and Eric meet again till three years had
come and gone, and then they met but once.
"Maggots shall be bred of that fly, nor shall they lack flesh to feed
on," said Skallagrim in Eric's ears as he watched Björn pass. But Eric
bade him be silent, and turned to Gudruda.
"Look not so sad, sweet," he said, "for hasty words rise like the foam
on mead and pass as soon. It vexes Björn that thy father has given me
the good ship: but his anger will soon pass, or, at the very worst, I
fear him not while thou art true to me."
"Then thou hast little to fear, Eric," she answered. "Look now on thy
hair: it grows long as a woman's, and that is ill, for at sea the salt
will hang to it. Say, shall I cut it for thee?"
So she cut his yellow locks, and one of them lay upon her heart for
many a day.
"Now thou shalt swear to me," she whispered in his ear, "that no other
man or woman shall cut thy hair till thou comest back to me and I clip
"That I swear, and readily," he answered. "I will go long-haired like
a girl for thy sake, Gudruda."
He spoke low, but Koll the Half-witted, Groa's thrall, heard this oath
and kept it in his mind.
Very early on the morrow all men rose, and, taking horse, rode once
more to the seaside, till they came to that shed where the Gudruda
Then, when the tide was high, Eric's company took hold of the black
ship's thwarts, and at his word dragged her with might and main. She
ran down the greased blocks and sped on quivering to the sea, and as
her dragon-prow dipped in the water people cheered aloud.
Now Eric must bid farewell to all, and this he did with a brave heart
till at the last he came to Saevuna, his mother, and Gudruda, his dear
"Farewell, son," said the old dame; "I have little hope that these
eyes shall look again upon that bonny face of thine, yet I am well
paid for my birth-pains, for few have borne such a man as thou. Think
of me at times, for without me thou hadst never been. Be not led
astray of women, nor lead them astray, or ill shall overtake thee. Be
not quarrelsome because of thy great might, for there is a stronger
than the strongest. Spare a fallen foe, and take not a poor man's
goods or a brave man's sword; but, when thou smitest, smite home. So
shalt thou win honour, and, at the last, peace, that is more than
Eric thanked her for her counsel, and kissed her, then turned to
Gudruda, who stood, white and still, plucking at her golden girdle.
"What can I say to thee?" he asked.
"Say nothing, but go," she answered: "go before I weep."
"Weep not, Gudruda, or thou wilt unman me. Say, thou wilt think on
"Ay, Eric, by day and by night."
"And thou wilt be true to me?"
"Ay, till death and after, for so long as thou cleavest to me I will
cleave to thee. I will first die rather than betray thee. But of thee
I am not so sure. Perchance thou mayest find Swanhild in thy
journeyings and crave more kisses of her?"
"Anger me not, Gudruda! thou knowest well that I hate Swanhild more
than any other woman. When I kiss her again, then thou mayst wed
"Speak not so rashly, Eric," she said, and as she spoke Skallagrim
"If thou lingerest here, lord, the tide will serve us little round
Westmans," he said, eyeing Gudruda as it were with jealousy.
"I come," said Eric. "Gudruda, fare thee well!"
She kissed him and clung to him, but did not answer, for she could not
HOW HALL THE MATE CUT THE GRAPNEL CHAIN
Gudruda bent her head like a drooping flower, and presently sank to
earth, for her knees would bear her weight no more; but Eric marched
to the lip of the sea, his head held high and laughing merrily to hide
his pain of heart. Here stood Asmund, who gripped him by both hands,
and kissed him on the brow, bidding him good luck.
"I know not whether we shall meet again," he said; "but, if my hours
be sped before thou returnest, this I charge thee: that thou mindest
Gudruda well, for she is the sweetest of all women that I have known,
and I hold her the most dear."
"Fear not for that, lord," said Eric; "and I pray thee this, that, if
I come back no more, as well may happen, do not force Gudruda into
marriage, if she wills it not, and I think she will have little
leaning that way. And I say this also: do not count overmuch on Björn
thy son, for he has no loyal heart; and beware of Groa, who was thy
housekeeper, for she loves not that Unna should take her place and
more. And now I thank thee for many good things, and farewell."
"Farewell, my son," said Asmund, "for in this hour thou seemest as a
son to me."
Eric turned to enter the sea and wade to the vessel, but Skallagrim
caught him in his arms as though he were but a child, and, wading into
the surf till the water covered his waistbelt, bore him to the vessel
and lifted him up so that Eric reached the bulwarks with his hands.
Then they loosed the cable and got out the oars and soon were dancing
over the sea. Presently the breeze caught them, and they set the great
sail and sped away like a gull towards the Westman Isles. But Gudruda
sat on the shore watching till, at length, the light faded from Eric's
golden helm as he stood upon the poop, and the world grew dark to her.
Now Ospakar Blacktooth had news of this sailing and took counsel of
Gizur his son, and the end of it was that they made ready two great
ships, dragons of war, and, placing sixty fighting men in each of
them, sailed round the Iceland coast to the Westmans and waited there
to waylay Eric. They had spies on the land, and from them they learned
of Brighteyes' coming, and sailed out to meet him in the channel
between the greater and the lesser islands, where they knew that he
Now it drew towards evening when Eric rowed down this channel, for the
wind had fallen and he desired to be clear at sea. Presently, as the
Gudruda came near to the mouth of the channel, that had high cliffs on
either hand, Eric saw two long dragons of war--for their bulwarks were
shield-hung--glide from the cover of the island and take their station
side by side between him and the open sea.
"Now here are vikings," said Eric to Skallagrim.
"Now here is Ospakar Blacktooth," answered Skallagrim, "for well I
know that raven banner of his. This is a good voyage, for we must seek
but a little while before we come to fighting."
Eric bade the men lay on their oars, and spoke:
"Before us is Ospakar Blacktooth in two great dragons, and he is here
to cut us off. Now two choices are left to us: one is to bout ship and
run before him, and the other to row on and give him battle. What say
Hall of Lithdale, the mate, answered, saying:
"Let us go back, lest we die. The odds are too great, Eric."
But a man among the crew cried out, "When thou didst go on holmgang at
Thingvalla, Eric, Ospakar's two chosen champions stood before thee,
yet at Whitefire's flash they skurried through the water like startled
ducks. It was an omen, for so shall his great ships fly when we swoop
on them." Then the others shouted:
"Ay, ay! Never let it be said that we fled from Ospakar--fie on thy
woman's talk, Hall!"
"Then we are all of one mind, save Hall only," said Eric. "Let us put
Ospakar to the proof." And while men shouted "Yea!" he turned to speak
with Skallagrim. The Baresark was gone, for, wasting no breath in
words, already he was fixing the long shields on the bulwark rail.
The men busked on their harness and made them fit for fight, and, when
all was ready, Eric mounted the poop, and with him Skallagrim, and
bade the rowers give way. The Gudruda leapt forward and rushed on
towards Ospakar's ships. Now they saw that these were bound together
with a cable and yet they must go betwixt them.
Eric ran forward to the prow, and with him Skallagrim, and called
aloud to a great man who stood upon the ship to starboard, wearing a
black helm with raven's wings:
"Who art thou that bars the sea against me?"
"I am named Ospakar Blacktooth," answered the great man.
"And what must we lose at thy hands, Ospakar?"
"But one thing--your lives!" answered Blacktooth.
"Thrice have we stood face to face, Ospakar," said Eric, "and it seems
that hitherto thou hast won no great glory. Now it shall be proved if
thy luck has bettered."
"Art yet healed, lord, of that prick in the shoulder which thou camest
by on Horse-Head Heights?" roared Skallagrim.
For answer, Ospakar seized a spear and hurled it straight at Eric, and
it had been his death had he not caught it in his hand as it flew.
Then he cast it back, and that so mightily that it sped right through
the shield of Ospakar and was the bane of a man who stood beside him.
"A gift for a gift!" laughed Eric. On rushed the Gudruda, but now the
cable was strained six fathoms from her bow that held together the
ships of Ospakar and it was too strong for breaking. Eric looked and
saw. Then he drew Whitefire, and while all men wondered, leaped over
the prow of the ship and, clasping the golden dragon's head with his
arm, set his feet upon its claws and waited. On sped the ship and
spears flew thick and fast about him, but there Brighteyes hung. Now
the Gudruda's bow caught the great rope and strained it taut and, as
it rose beneath her weight, Eric smote swift and strong with Whitefire
and clove it in two, so that the severed ends fell with a splash into
the quiet water.
Eric sprang back to deck while stones and spears hissed about him.
"That was well done, lord," said Skallagrim; "now we shall be snugly
"In oars and out grappling-irons," shouted Eric.
Up rose the rowers, and their war-gear rattled as they rose. They drew
in the long oars, and not before it was time, for now the Gudruda
forced her way between the two dragons of Ospakar and lay with her bow
to their sterns. Then with a shout Eric's men cast the irons and soon
the ships were locked fast and the fight began. The spears flew thick,
and on either side some got their death before them. Then the men of
that vessel, named the Raven, which was to larboard of the Gudruda,
made ready to board. On they came with a rush, and were driven back,
though hardly, for they were many, and those who stood against them
few. Again they came, scrambling over the bulwarks, and this time a
score of them leapt aboard. Eric turned from the fight against the
dragon of Ospakar and saw it. Then, with Skallagrim, he rushed to meet
the boarders as they swarmed along the hold, and naught might they
withstand the axe and sword.
Through and through them swept the mighty pair, now Whitefire flashed,
and now the great axe fell, and at every stroke a man lay dead or
wounded. Six of the boarders turned to fly, but just then the
grappling-iron broke and their ship drifted out with the tide towards
the open sea, and presently no man of that twenty was left alive.
Now the men of the ship of Ospakar and of the Gudruda pressed each
other hard. Thrice did Ospakar strive to come aboard and thrice he was
pushed back. Eric was ever where he was most needed, and with him
Skallagrim, for these two threw themselves from side to side, and were
now here and now there, so that it seemed as though there were not one
golden helm and one black, but rather four on board the Gudruda.
Eric looked and saw that the other ship was drawing round, though
somewhat slowly, to come alongside of them once more.
"Now we must make an end of Ospakar, else our hands will be overfull,"
he said, and therewith sprang up upon the bulwarks and after him many
men. Once they were driven back, but came on again, and now they
thrust all Ospakar's men before them and passed up his ship on both
boards. By the mast stood Ospakar and with him Gizur his son, and Eric
strove to come to him. But many men were between them, and he could
not do this.
Presently, while the fight yet went on hotly and men fell fast,
Brighteyes felt the dragon of Ospakar strike, and, looking, saw that
they had drifted with the send of the tide on to the rocks of the
island. There was a great hole in the hull amidships and the water
rushed in fast.
"Back! men; back!" he cried, and all his folk that were unhurt, ran,
and leapt on board the Gudruda; but Ospakar and his men sprang into
the sea and swam for the shore. Then Skallagrim cut loose the
grappling-irons with his axe, and that not too soon, for, scarcely had
they pushed clear with great toil when the long warship slipped from
the rock and foundered, taking many dead and wounded men with her.
Now Ospakar and some of his people stood safe upon the rocks, and Eric
called to him in mockery, bidding him come aboard the Gudruda.
Ospakar made no answer, but stood gnawing his hand, while the water
ran from him. Only Gizur his son cursed them aloud.
Eric was greatly minded to follow them, and land and fight them there;
but he might not do this, because of the rocks and of the other
dragon, that hung about them, fearing to come on and yet not willing
to go back.
"We will have her, at the least," said Eric, and bade the rowers get
out their oars.
Now, when the men on board the other ship saw the Gudruda drawing on,
they took to their oars at once and rowed swiftly for the sea, and at
this a great roar of laughter went down Eric's ship.
"They shall not slip from us so easily," said Eric; "give way,
comrades, and after them."
But the men were much wearied with fighting, and the decks were all
cumbered with dead and wounded, so that by the time that the Gudruda
had put about, and come to the mouth of the waterway, Ospakar's vessel
had shaken out her sails and caught the wind, that now blew strong off
shore, and sped away six furlongs or more from Eric's prow.
"Now we shall see how the Gudruda sails," said Eric, and they spread
their canvas and gave chase.
Then Eric bade men clear the decks of the dead, and tend the wounded.
He had lost seven men slain outright, and three were wounded, one to
death. But on board the ship there lay of Ospakar's force twenty and
three dead men.
When all were cast into the sea, men ate and rested.
"We have not done so badly," said Eric to Skallagrim.
"We shall do better yet," said Skallagrim to Eric; "rather had I seen
Ospakar's head lying in the scuppers than those of all his carles; for
he may get more men, but never another head!"
Now the wind freshened till by midnight it blew strongly. The mate
Hall came to Eric and said:
"The Gudruda dips her nose deep in Ran's cup. Say, Eric, shall we
"Nay," answered Eric, "keep her full and bail. Where yonder Raven
flies, my Sea-stag must follow," and he pointed to the warship that
rode the waves before them.
After midnight clouds came up, with rain, and hid the face of the
night-sun and the ship they sought. The wind blew ever harder, till at
length, when the rain had passed and the clouds lifted, there was much
water in the hold and the bailers could hardly stand at their work.
Men murmured, and Hall the mate murmured most of all; but still Eric
held on, for there, not two furlongs ahead of them, rode the dragon of
Ospakar. But now, being afraid of the wind and sea, she had lowered
her sail somewhat, and made as though she would put about and run for
"That she may not do," called Eric to Skallagrim, "if once she rolls
side on to those seas Ran has her, for she must fill and sink."
"So they hold, lord," answered Skallagrim; "see, once more she runs!"
"Ay, but we run faster--she is outsailed. Up, men, up: for presently
the fight begins."
"It is bad to join battle in such a sea," quoth Hall.
"Good or bad," growled Skallagrim, "do thou thy lord's bidding," and
he half lifted up his axe.
The mate said no more, for he misdoubted him of Skallagrim Lambstail
and his axe.
Then men made ready for the fray as best they might, and stood, sword
in hand and drenched with foam, clinging to the bulwarks of the
Gudruda as she wallowed through the seas.
Eric went aft to the helm and seized it. Now but a length ahead
Ospakar's ship laboured on beneath her small sail, but the Gudruda
rushed towards her with all canvas set and at every leap plunged her
golden dragon beneath the surf and shook the water from her foredeck.
"Make ready the grapnel!" shouted Eric through the storm. Skallagrim
seized the iron and stood by. Now the Gudruda rushed alongside the
Raven, and Eric steered so skilfully that there was a fathom space,
and no more, between the ships.
Skallagrim cast the iron well and truly, so that it hooked and held.
On sped the Gudruda and the cable tautened--now her stern kissed the
bow of Ospakar's ship, as though she was towing her, and thus for a
space they travelled through the seas.
Eric's folk shouted and strove to cast spears; but they did this but
ill, because of the rocking of the vessel. As for Ospakar's men, they
clung to their bulwarks and did nothing, for all the heart was out of
them between fear of Eric and terror of the sea. Eric called to a man
to hold the helm, and Skallagrim crept aft to where he stood.
"What counsel shall we take now?" said Eric, and as he spoke a sea
broke over them--for the gale was strong.
"Board them and make an end," answered Skallagrim.
"Rough work; still, we will try it," said Eric, "for we may not lie
thus for long, and I am loath to leave them."
Then Eric called for men to follow him, and many answered, creeping as
best they might to where he stood.
"Thou art mad, Eric," said Hall the mate; "cut loose and let us drive,
else we shall both founder, and that is a poor tale to tell."
Eric took no heed, but, watching his chance, leapt on to the bows of
the Raven, and after him leapt Skallagrim. Even as he did so, a great
sea came and swept past and over them, so that half the ship was hid
for foam. Now, Hall the mate stood near to the grapnel cable, and,
fearing lest they should sink, out of the cowardice of his heart, he
let his axe fall upon the chain, and severed it so swiftly that no man
saw him, except Skallagrim only. Forward sprang the Gudruda, freed
from her burden, and rushed away before the wind, leaving Eric and
Skallagrim alone upon the Raven's prow.
"Now we are in an evil plight," said Eric, "the cable has parted!"
"Ay," answered Skallagrim, "and that losel Hall hath parted it! I saw
his axe fall."
HOW ERIC DREAMED A DREAM
Now, when the men of Ospakar, who were gathered on the poop of the
Raven, saw what had come about, they shouted aloud and made ready to
slay the pair. But Eric and Skallagrim clambered to the mast and got
their backs against it, and swiftly made themselves fast with a rope,
so that they might not fall with the rolling of the ship. Then the
people of Ospakar came on to cut them down.
But this was no easy task, for they might scarcely stand, and they
could not shoot with the bow. Moreover, Eric and Skallagrim, being
bound to the mast, had the use of both hands and were minded to die
hard. Therefore Ospakar's folks got but one thing by their onslaught,
and that was death, for three of their number fell beneath the long
sweep of Whitefire, and one bowed before the axe of Skallagrim. Then
they drew back and strove to throw spears at these two, but they flew
wide because of the rolling of the vessel. One spear struck the mast
near the head of Skallagrim. He drew it out, and, waiting till the
ship steadied herself in the trough of the sea, hurled it at a knot of
Ospakar's thralls, and a man got his death from it. After that they
threw no more spears.
Thence once more the crew came on with swords and axes, but faint-
heartedly, and the end of it was that they lost some more men dead and
wounded and fell back again.
Skallagrim mocked at them with bitter words, and one of them, made mad
by his scoffing, cast a heavy ballast-stone at him. It fell upon his
shoulder and numbed him.
"Now I am unmeet for fight, lord," said Skallagrim, "for my right arm
is dead and I can scarcely hold my axe."
"That is ill, then," said Eric, "for we have little help, except from
each other, and I, too, am well-nigh spent. Well, we have done a great
deed and now it is time to rest."
"My left arm is yet whole, lord, and I can make shift for a while with
it. Cut loose the cord before they bait us to death, and let us rush
upon these wolves and fall fighting."
"A good counsel," said Eric, "and a quick end; but stay a while: what
plan have they now?"
Now the men of Ospakar, having little heart left in them for such work
as this, had taken thought together.
"We have got great hurt, and little honour," said the mate. "There are
but nineteen of us left alive, and that is scarcely enough to work the
ship, and it seems that we shall be fewer before Eric Brighteyes and
Skallagrim Lambstail lie quiet by yonder mast. They are mighty men,
indeed, and it would be better, methinks, to deal with them by craft,
rather than by force."
The sailors said that this was a good word, for they were weary of the
sight of Whitefire as he flamed on high and the sound of the axe of
Skallagrim as it crashed through helm and byrnie; and as fear crept in
valour fled out.
"This is my rede, then," said the mate: "that we go to them and give
them peace, and lay them in bonds, swearing that we will put them
ashore when we are come back to Iceland. But when we have them fast,
as they sleep at night, we will creep on them and hurl them into the
sea, and afterwards we will say that we slew them fighting."
"A shameful deed!" said a man.
"Then go thou up against them," answered the mate. "If we slay them
not, then shall this tale be told against us throughout Iceland: that
a ship's company were worsted by two men, and we may not live beneath
The man held his peace, and the mate, laying down his arms, crept
forward alone, towards the mast, just as Eric and Skallagrim were
about to cut themselves loose and rush on them.
"What wouldest thou?" shouted Eric. "Has it gone so well with you with
arms that ye are minded to come up against us bearing none?"
"It has gone ill, Eric," said the mate, "for ye twain are too mighty
for us. We have lost many men, and we shall lose more ere ye are laid
low. Therefore we make you this offer: that you lay down your weapons
and suffer yourselves to be bound till such time as we touch land,
where we will set you ashore, and give you your arms again. Meanwhile,
we will deal with you in friendly fashion, giving you of the best we
have; nor will we set foot any suit against you for those of our
number whom ye two have slain."
"Wherefore then should we be bound?" said Eric.
"For this reason only: that we dare not leave you free within our
ship. Now choose, and, if ye will, take peace, which we swear by all
the Gods we will keep towards you, and, if ye will not, then we will
bear you down with beams and sails and stones, and slay you."
"What thinkest thou, Skallagrim?" said Eric beneath his breath.
"I think that I find little faith in yon carle's face," answered
Skallagrim. "Still, I am unfit to fight, and thy strength is spent, so
it seems that we must lie low if we would rise again. They can
scarcely be so base as to do murder having handselled peace to us."
"I am not so sure of that," said Eric; "still, starving beggars must
eat bones. Hearken thou: we take the terms, trusting to your honour;
and I say this: that ye shall get shame and death if ye depart from
them to harm us."
"Have no fear, lord," said the mate, "we are true men."
"That we shall look to your deeds to learn," said Eric, laying down
his sword and shield.
Skallagrim did likewise, though with no good grace. Then men came with
strong cords and bound them fast hand and foot, handling them
fearsomely as men handle a live bear in a net. Then they led them
forward to the prow.
As they went Eric looked up. Yonder, twenty furlongs and more away,
sailed the Gudruda.
"This is good fellowship," said Skallagrim, "thus to leave us in the
"Nay," answered Eric. "They cannot put about in such a sea, and
doubtless also they think us dead. Nevertheless, if ever it comes
about that Hall and I stand face to face again, there will be need for
me to think of gentleness."
"I shall think little thereon," growled Skallagrim.
Now they were come to the prow, and there was a half deck under which
they were set, out of reach of the wind and water. In the deck was a
stout iron ring, and the men made them fast with ropes to it, so that
they might move but little, and they set their helms and weapons
behind them in such fashion that they could not come at them. Then
they flung cloaks about them, and brought them food and drink, of
which they stood much in need, and treated them well in every way. But
for all this Skallagrim trusted them no more.
"We are new-hooked, lord," he said, "and they give us line. Presently
they will haul us in."
"Evil comes soon enough," answered Eric, "no need to run to greet it,"
and he fell to thinking of Gudruda, and of the day's deeds, till
presently he dropped asleep, for he was very weary.
Now it chanced that as Eric slept he dreamed a dream so strong and
strange that it seemed to live within him. He dreamed that he slept
there beneath the Raven's deck, and that a rat came and whispered
spells into his ear. Then he dreamed that Swanhild glided towards him,
walking on the stormy seas. He saw her afar, and she came swiftly, and
ever the sea grew smooth before her feet, nor did the wind so much as
stir her hair. Presently she stood by him in the ship, and, bending
over him, touched him on the shoulder, saying:
"Awake, Eric Brighteyes! Awake! awake!"
It seemed to him that he awoke and said "What tidings, Swanhild?" and
that she answered:
"Ill tidings, Eric--so ill that I am come hither from Straumey[*] to
tell of them--ay, come walking on the seas. Had Gudruda done so much,
[*] Stroma, the southernmost of the Orkneys.
"Gudruda is no witch," he said in his dream.
"Nay, but I am a witch, and it is well for thee, Eric. Ay, I am a
witch. Now do I seem to sleep at Atli's side, and lo! here I stand by
thine, and I must journey back again many a league before another day
be born--ay, many a league, and all for love of thee, Eric! Hearken,
for not long may the spell endure. I have seen this by my magic: that
these men who bound thee come even now to take thee, sleeping, and
cast thee and thy thrall into the deep, there to drown."
"If it is fated it will befall," he said in his dream.
"Nay, it shall not befall. Put forth all thy might and burst thy
bonds. Then fetch Whitefire; cut away the bonds of Skallagrim, and
give him his axe and shield. This done, cover yourselves with your
cloaks, and wait till ye hear the murderers come. Then rise and rush
upon them, the two of you, and they shall melt before your might. I
have journeyed over the great deep to tell thee this, Eric! Had
Gudruda done as much, thinkest thou?"
And it seemed to him that the wraith of Swanhild kissed him on the
brow, sighed and vanished, bearing the rat in her bosom.
Eric awoke suddenly, just as though he had never slept, and looked
around. He knew by the lowness of the sun that it was far into the
night, and that he had slept for many hours. They were alone beneath
the deck, and far aft, beyond the mast, as the vessel rose upon the
waves--for the sea was still rough, though the wind had fallen--Eric
saw the mate of the Raven talking earnestly with some men of his crew.
Skallagrim snored beside him.
"Awake!" Eric said in his ear, "awake and listen!"
He yawned and roused himself. "What now, lord?" he said.
"This," said Eric, and he told him the dream that he had dreamed.
"That was a fey dream," said Skallagrim, "and now we must do as the
wraith bade thee."
"Easy to say, but hard to do," quoth Eric; "this is a great rope that
holds us, and a strong."
"Yes, it is great and strong; still, we must burst it."
Now Eric and Skallagrim were made fast in this fashion: their hands
were bound behind them, and their legs were lashed above the feet and
above the knee. Moreover, a thick cord was fixed about the waist of
each, and this cord was passed through the iron ring and knotted
there. But it chanced that beneath the hollows of their knees ran an
oaken beam, which held the forepart of the dragon together.
"We may try this," said Eric: "to set our feet against the beam and
strain with all our strength upon the rope; though I think that no two
men can part it."
"We shall know that presently," said Skallagrim, gathering up his
Then they set their feet against the beam and pulled till it groaned;
but, though the rope gave somewhat, it would not break. They rested a
while, then strained again till the sweat burst out upon them and the
rope cut into their flesh, but still it would not part.
"We have found our match," said Eric.
"That is not altogether proved yet," answered the Baresark. "Many a
shield is riven at the third stroke."
So once again they set their feet against the beam, and put out all
"The ring bends," gasped Eric. "Now, when the roll of the ship throws
our weight to leeward, in the name of Thor pull!"
They waited, then put out their might, and lo! though the rope did not
break, the iron ring burst asunder and they rolled upon the deck.
"Well pulled, truly," said Skallagrim as he struggled to his haunches:
"I am marked about the middle with rope-twists for many a day to come,
that I will swear. What next, lord?"
"Whitefire," answered Eric.
Now, their arms were piled a fathom or more from where they sat, and
right in the prow of the ship. Hither, then, they must crawl upon
their knees, and this was weary work, for ever as the ship rolled they
fell, and could in no wise save themselves from hurt. Eric was
bleeding at the brow, and bloody was the hooked nose of Skallagrim,
before they came to where Whitefire was. At length they reached the
sword, and pushed aside the bucklers that were over it with their
heads. The great war-blade was sheathed, and Eric must needs lie upon
his breast and draw the weapon somewhat with his teeth.
"This is an ill razor to shave with," he said, rising, for the keen
blade had cut his chin.
"So some have thought and perchance more shall think," answered
Skallagrim. "Now set the rope on the edge and rub."
This they did, and presently the thick cord that bound them was in
two. Then Eric knelt upon the deck and pressed the bonds that bound
his legs upon the blade, and after him Skallagrim. They were free now,
except for their hands, and it was no easy thing to cut away the bonds
upon their wrists. It was done thus: Skallagrim sat upon the deck, and
Eric pushed the sword between his fingers with his feet. Then the
Baresark rose, holding the sword, and Eric, turning back to back with
him, fretted the cords upon his wrists against the blade. Twice he cut
himself, but the third time the cord parted and he was free. He
stretched his arms, for they were stiff; then took Whitefire and cut
away the bonds of Skallagrim.
"How goes it with that hurt of thine?" he asked.
"Better than I had thought," answered Skallagrim; "the soreness has
come out with the bruise."
"That is good news," said Eric, "for methinks, unless Swanhild walked
the seas for nothing, thou wilt soon need thine arms."
"They have never failed me yet," said Skallagrim and took his axe and
shield. "What counsel now?"
"This, Skallagrim: that we lie down as we were, and put the cloaks
about us as though we were yet in bonds. Then, if these knaves come,
we can take them unawares as they think to take us."
So they went again to where they had been bound, and lay down upon
their shields and weapons, drawing cloaks over them. Scarcely had they
done this and rested a while, when they saw the mate and all the crew
coming along both boards towards them. They bore no weapons in their
"None too soon did Swanhild walk," said Eric; "now we shall learn
their purpose. Be thou ready to leap forth when I give the word."
"Ay, lord," answered Skallagrim as he worked his stiff arms to and
fro. "In such matters few have thought me backward."
"What news, friends?" cried Eric as the men drew near.
"Bad news for thee, Brighteyes," answered the mate, "and that Baresark
thrall of thine, for we must loose your bands."
"That is good news, then," said Eric, "for our limbs are numb and dead
because of the nipping of the cords. Is land in sight?"
"Nay, nor will be for thee, Eric."
"How now, friend? how now? Sure, having handselled peace to us, ye
mean no harm towards two unarmed men?"
"We swore to do you no harm, nor will we, Eric; this only will we do:
deliver you, bound, to Ran, and leave her to deal with you as she
"Bethink you, sirs," said Eric: "this is a cruel deed and most
unmanly. We yielded to you in faith--will ye break your troth?"
"War has no troth," he answered, "ye are too great to let slip between
our fingers. Shall it be said of us that two men overcame us all?"
"Mayhap!" murmured Skallagrim beneath his breath.
"Oh, sirs, I beseech you," said Eric; "I am young, and there is a maid
who waits me out in Iceland, and it is hard to die," and he made as
though he wept, while Skallagrim laughed within his sleeve, for it was
strange to see Eric feigning fear.
But the men mocked aloud.
"This is the great man," they cried, "this is that Eric of whose deeds
folk sing! Look! he weeps like a child when he sees the water. Drag
him forth and away with him into the sea!"
"Little need for that," cried Eric, and lo! the cloaks about him and
Skallagrim flew aside. Out they came with a roar; they came out as a
she-bear from her cave, and high above Brighteyes' golden curls
Whitefire shone in the pale light, and nigh to it shone the axe of
Skallagrim. Whitefire flared aloft, then down he fell and sought the
false heart of the mate. The great axe of Skallagrim shone and was
lost in the breast of the carle who stood before him.
"Trolls!" shrieked one. "Here are trolls!" and turned to fly. But
again Whitefire was up and that man flew not far--one pace, and no
more. Then they fled screaming and after them came axe and sword. They
fled, they fell, they leaped into the sea, till none were left to fall
and leap, for they had no time or heart to find or draw their weapons,
and presently Eric Brighteyes and Skallagrim Lambstail stood alone
upon the deck--alone with the dead.
"Swanhild is a wise witch," gasped Eric, "and, whatever ill she has
done, I will remember this to her honour."
"Little good comes of witchcraft," answered Skallagrim, wiping his
brow: "to-day it works for our hands, to-morrow it shall work against
"To the helm," said Eric; "the ship yaws and comes side on to the
Skallagrim sprang to the tiller and put his strength on it, and but
just in time, for one big sea came aboard them and left much water in
"We owe this to thy Baresark ways," said Eric. "Hadst thou not slain
the steersman we had not filled with water."
"True, lord," answered Skallagrim; "but when once my axe is aloft, it
seems to fly of itself, till nothing is left before it. What course
"The same on which the Gudruda was laid. Perhaps, if we may endure
till we come to the Farey Isles,[*] we shall find her in harbour
[*] The Faroes.
"There is not much chance of that," said Skallagrim; "still, the wind
is fair, and we fly fast before it."
Then they lashed the tiller and set to bailing. They bailed long, and
it was heavy work, but they rid the ship of much water. After that
they ate food, for it was now morning, and it came on to blow yet more
For three days and three nights it blew thus, and the Raven sped along
before the gale. All this time, turn and turn about, Eric and
Skallagrim stood at the helm and tended the sails. They had little
time to eat, and none to sleep. They were so hard pressed also, and
must harbour their strength so closely, that the bodies of the dead
men yet cumbered the hold. Thus they grew very weary and like to fall
from faintness, but still they held the Raven on her course. In the
beginning of the fourth night a great sea struck the good ship so that
she quivered from stem to stern.
"Methinks I hear water bubbling up," said Skallagrim in a hoarse
Eric climbed down into the well and lifted the bottom planks, and
there beneath them was a leak through which the water spouted in a
thin stream. He stopped up the rent as best he might with garments
from the dead men, and placed ballast stones upon them, then clambered
on to the deck again.
"Our hours are short now," he said, "the water rushes in apace."
"Well, it is time to rest," said Skallagrim; "but see, lord!" and he
pointed ahead. "What land is that?"
"It must be the Fareys," answered Eric; "now, if we can but keep
afloat for three hours more, we may yet die ashore."
After this the wind began to fall, but still there was enough to drive
the Raven on swiftly.
And ever the water gained in the hold.
Now they were not far from land, for ahead of them the bleak hills
towered up, shining in the faint midnight light, and between the hills
was a cleft that seemed to be a fjord. Another hour passed, and they
were no more than ten furlongs from the mouth of the fjord, when
suddenly the wind fell, and they were in calm water under shelter of
the land. They went amidships and looked. The hold was half full of
water, and in it floated the bodies of Ospakar's men.
"She has not long to live," said Skallagrim, "but we may still be
saved if the boat is not broken."
Now aft, near the tiller, a small boat was bound on the half deck of
the Raven. They went to it and looked; it was whole, with oars lashed
in it, but half full of water, which they must bail out. This they did
as swiftly as they might; then they cut the little boat loose, and,
having made it fast with a rope, lifted it over the side-rail and let
it fall into the sea, and that was no great way, for the Raven had
sunk deep. It fell on an even keel, and Eric let himself down the rope
into it and called to Skallagrim to follow.
"Bide a while, lord," he answered; "there is that which I would bring
For a space Eric waited and then called aloud, "Swift! thou fool;
swift! the ship sinks!"
And as he called, Skallagrim came, and his arms were full of swords
and byrnies, and red rings of gold that he had found time to gather
from the dead and out of the cabin.
"Throw all aside and come," said Eric, laying on to the oars, for the
Raven wallowed before she sank.
"There is yet time, lord, and the gear is good," answered Skallagrim,
and one by one he threw pieces down into the boat. As the last fell
the Raven sank to her bulwarks. Then Skallagrim stepped from the
sinking deck into the boat, and cut the cord, not too soon.
Eric gave way with all his strength, and, as he pulled, when he was no
more than five fathoms from her, the Raven vanished with a huge swirl.
"Hold still," he said, "or we shall follow."
Round spun the boat in the eddy, she was sucked down till the water
trickled over her gunwale, and for a moment they knew not if they were
lost or saved. Eric held his breath and watched, then slowly the boat
lifted her nose, and they were safe from the whirlpool of the lost
"Greed is many a man's bane," said Eric, "and it was nearly thine and
"I had no heart to leave the good gear," he answered; "and thou seest,
lord, it is safe and we with it."
Then they got the boat's head round slowly into the mouth of the
fjord, pausing now and again to rest, for their strength was spent.
For two hours they rowed down a gulf, as it were, and on either side
of them were barren hills. At length the water-way opened out into a
great basin, and there, on the further side of the basin, they saw
green slopes running down to the water's edge, strewn with white
stock-fish set to dry in the wind and sun, and above the slopes a
large hall, and about it booths. Moreover, they saw a long dragon of
war at anchor near the shore. For a while they rowed on, easing now
and again. Then Eric spoke to Skallagrim.
"What thinkest thou of yonder ship, Lambstail?"
"I think this, lord: that she is fashioned wondrous like to the
"That is in my mind also," said Eric, "and our fortune is good if it
They rowed on again, and presently a ray from the sun came over the
hills--for now it was three hours past midnight--and, the ship having
swung a little with the tide, lit upon her prow, and lo! there gleamed
the golden dragon of the Gudruda.
"This is a strange thing," said Eric.
"Ay, lord, a strange and a merry, for now I shall talk with Hall the
mate," and the Baresark smiled grimly.
"Thou shalt do no hurt to Hall," said Eric. "I am lord here, and I
"Thy will is my will," said Skallagrim; "but if my will were thine, he
would hang on the mast till sea-birds nested amidst his bones."
Now they were close to the ship, but they could see no man. Skallagrim
would have called aloud, but Eric bade him hold his peace.
"Either they are dead, and thy calling cannot wake them, or perchance
they sleep and will wake of themselves. We will row under the stern,
and, having made fast, climb aboard and see with our own eyes."
This, then, they did as silently as might be, and saw that the Gudruda
had not been handled gently by the winds and waves, for her shield
rail was washed away. This they found also, that all men lay deep in
sleep. Now, amidships a fire still burned, and by it was food. They
came there and ate of the food, of which they had great need. Then
they took two cloaks that lay on the deck, and, throwing them about
them, warmed themselves over the fire: for they were cold and wet, ay,
and utterly outworn.
As they sat thus warming themselves, a man of the crew awoke and saw
them, and being amazed, at once called to his fellows, saying that two
giants were aboard, warming themselves at the fire. Now men sprang up,
and, seizing their weapons, ran towards them, and among them was Hall
Then suddenly Eric Brighteyes and Skallagrim Lambstail threw aside the
cloaks and stood up. They were gaunt and grim to see. Their cheeks
were hollow and their eyes stared wide with want of sleep. Thick was
their harness with brine, and open wounds gaped upon their faces and
their hands. Men saw and fell back in fear, for they held them to be
wizards risen from the sea in the shapes of Eric and the Baresark.
Then Eric sang this song:
"Swift and sure across the Swan's Bath
Sped Sea-stag on Raven's track,
Heav'd Ran's breast in raging billows,
Stream'd gale-banners through the sky!
Yet did Eric the war-eager
Leap with Baresark-mate aboard,
Fierce their onset on the foemen!
Wherefore brake the grapnel-chain?"
Hall heard and slunk back, for now he saw that these were indeed Eric
and Skallagrim come up alive from the sea, and that they knew his
Eric looked at him and sang again:
"Swift away sped ship Gudruda,
Left her lord in foeman's ring;
Brighteyes back to back with Baresark
Held his head 'gainst mighty odds.
Down amidst the ballast tumbling,
Ospakar's shield-carles were rolled.
Holy peace at length they handselled,
Eric must in bonds be laid!
"Came the Grey Rat, came the Earl's wife,
Came the witch-word from afar;
Cag'd wolves roused them, and with struggling
Tore their fetter from its hold.
Now they watch upon their weapons;
Now they weep and pray for life;
Now they leap forth like a torrent--
Swept away in foeman's strength!
"Then alone upon the Raven
Three long days they steer and sail,
Till the waters, welling upwards,
Wash dead men about their feet.
Fails the gale and sinks the dragon,
Barely may they win the boat:
Safe they stand on ship Gudruda--
Say, who cut the grapnel-chain?"
HOW ERIC DWELT IN LONDON TOWN
Men stood astonished, but Hall the mate slunk back.
"Hold, comrade," said Eric, "I have something to say that songs cannot
carry. Hearken, my shield-mates: we swore to be true to each other,
even to death: is it not so? What then shall be said of that man who
cut loose the Gudruda and left us two to die at the foeman's hand?"
"Who was the man?" asked a voice.
"That man was Hall of Lithdale," said Eric.
"It is false!" said Hall, gathering up his courage; "the cable parted
beneath the straining of the ship, and afterwards we could not put
about because of the great sea."
"Thou art false!" roared Skallagrim. "With my eyes I saw thee let
thine axe fall upon the cable. Liar art thou and dastard! Thou art
jealous also of Brighteyes thy lord, and this was in thy mind: to let
him die upon the Raven and then to bind his shoes upon thy cowardly
feet. Though none else saw, I saw; and I say this: that if I may have
my will, I will string thee, living, to the prow in that same cable
till gulls tear out thy fox-heart!"
Now Hall grew very white and his knees trembled beneath him. "It is
true," he said, "that I cut the chain, but not from any thought of
evil. Had I not cut it the vessel must have sunk and all been lost."
"Did we not swear, Hall," said Eric sternly, "together to fight and
together to fall--together to fare and, if need be, together to cease
from faring, and dost thou read the oath thus? Say, mates, what reward
shall be paid to this man for his good fellowship to us and his
tenderness for your lives?"
As with one voice the men answered "/Death!/"
"Thou hearest, Hall?" said Eric. "Yet I would deal more gently with
one to whom I swore fellowship so lately. Get thee gone from our
company, and let us see thy cur's face no more. Get thee gone, I say,
before I repent of my mercy."
Then amidst a loud hooting, Hall took his weapons and without a word
slunk into the boat of the Raven that lay astern, and rowed ashore;
nor did Eric see his face for many months.
"Thou hast done foolishly, lord, to let that weasel go," said
Skallagrim, "for he will live to nip thy hand."
"For good or evil, he is gone," said Eric, "and now I am worn out and
desire to sleep."
After this Eric and Skallagrim rested three full days, and they were
so weary that they were awake for little of this time. But on the
third day they rose up, strong and well, except for their hurts and
soreness. Then they told the men of that which had come to pass, and
all wondered at their might and hardihood. To them indeed Eric seemed
as a God, for few such deeds as his had been told of since the God-
kind were on earth.
But Brighteyes thought little of his deeds, and much of Gudruda. At
times also he thought of Swanhild, and of that witch-dream she sent
him: for it was wonderful to him that she should have saved him thus
from Ran's net.
Eric was heartily welcomed by the Earl of the Farey Isles, for, when
he heard his deeds, he made a feast in his honour, and set him in the
high seat. It was a great feast, but Skallagrim became drunk at it and
ran down the chamber, axe aloft, roaring for Hall of Lithdale.
This angered Eric much and he would scarcely speak to Skallagrim for
many days, though the great Baresark slunk about after him like his
shadow, or a whipped hound at its master's heel, and at length humbled
his pride so far as to ask pardon for his fault.
"I grant it for thy deeds' sake," said Eric shortly; "but this is upon
my mind: that thou wilt err thus again, and it shall be my cause of
death--ay, and that of many more."
"First may my bones be white," said Skallagrim.
"They shall be white thereafter," answered Eric.
At Fareys Eric shipped twelve good men and true, to take the seats of
those who had been slain by Ospakar's folk. Afterwards, when the
wounded were well of their hurts (except one man who died), and the
Gudruda was made fit to take the sea again, Brighteyes bade farewell
to the Earl of those Isles, who gave him a good cloak and a gold ring
at parting, and sailed away.
Now it were too long to tell of all the deeds that Eric and his men
did. Never, so scalds sing, was there a viking like him for strength
and skill and hardihood, and, in those days, no such war-dragon as the
Gudruda had been known upon the sea. Wherever Eric joined battle, and
that was in many places, he conquered, for none prevailed against him,
till at last foes would fly before the terror of his name, and earls
and kings would send from far craving the aid of his hands. Withal he
was the best and gentlest of men. It is said of Eric that in all his
days he did no base deed, nor hurt the weak, nor refused peace to him
who prayed it, nor lifted sword against prisoner or wounded foe. From
traders he would take a toll of their merchandise only and let them
go, and whatever gains he won he would share equally, asking no larger
part than the meanest of his band. All men loved Eric, and even his
foes gave him honour and spoke well of him. Now that Hall of Lithdale
was gone, there was no man among his mates who would not have passed
to death for him, for they held him dearer than their lives. Women,
too, loved him much; but his heart was set upon Gudruda, and he seldom
turned to look on them.
The first summer of his outlawry Eric warred along the coast of
Ireland, but in the winter he came to Dublin, and for a while served
in the body-guard of the king of that town, who held him in honour,
and would have had him stay there. But Eric would not bide there, and
next spring, the Gudruda being ready for sea, he sailed for the shores
of England. There he gave battle to two vikings' ships of war, and
took them after a hard fight. It was in this fight that Skallagrim
Lambstail was wounded almost to death. For when, having taken one
ship, Eric boarded the other with but few men, he was driven back and
fell over a beam, and would have been slain, had not Skallagrim thrown
himself across his body, taking on his own back that blow of a battle-
axe which was aimed at Eric's head. This was a great wound, for the
axe shore through the steel of the byrnie and sank into the flesh. But
when Eric's men saw their lord down, and Skallagrim, as they deemed,
dead athwart him, they made so fierce a rush that the foemen fell
before them like leaves before a winter gale, and the end of it was
that the vikings prayed peace of Eric. Skallagrim lay sick for many
days, but he was hard to kill, and Eric nursed him back to life. After
this these two loved each other as brother loves twin brother, and
they could scarcely bear to be apart. But other people did not love
Skallagrim, nor he them.
Eric sailed on up the Thames to London, bringing the viking ships with
him, and he delivered their captains bound to Edmund, Edward's son,
the king who was called Edmund the Magnificent. These captains the
King hung, for they had wrought damage to his ships.
Eric found much favour with the King, and, indeed, his fame had gone
before him. So when he came into the court, bravely clad, with
Skallagrim at his back, who was now almost recovered of his wound, the
King called out to him to draw near, saying that he desired to look on
the bravest viking and most beauteous man who sailed the seas, and on
that fierce Baresark whom men called "Eric's Death-shadow."
So Eric came forward up the long hall that was adorned with things
more splendid than ever his eyes had seen, and stood before the King.
With him came Skallagrim, driving the two captive viking chiefs before
him with his axe, as a flesher drives lambs. Now, during these many
months Brighteyes had grown yet more great in girth and glorious to
look on than he was before. Moreover, his hair was now so long that it
flowed like a flood of gold down towards his girdle, for since Gudruda
trimmed it no shears had come near his head, and his locks grew fast
as a woman's. The King looked at him and was astonished.
"Of a truth," he said, "men have not lied about thee, Icelander, nor
concerning that great wolf-hound of thine," and he pointed at
Skallagrim with his sword of state. "Never saw I such a man;" and he
bade all the mightiest men of his body-guard stand forward that he
might measure them against Eric. But Brighteyes was an inch taller
than the tallest, and measured half a span more round the chest than
"What wouldest thou of me, Icelander?" asked the King.
"This, lord," said Eric: "to serve thee a while, and all my men with
"That is an offer that few would turn from," answered the King. "Thou
shalt go into my body-guard, and, if I have my will, thou shalt be
near me in battle, and thy wolf-dog also."
Eric said that he asked no better, and thereafter he went up with
Edmund the King to make war on the Danes of Mercia, and he and
Skallagrim did great deeds before the eyes of the Englishmen.
That winter Eric and his company came back to London, and abode with
the King in much state and honour. Now, there was a certain lady of
the court named Elfrida. She was both fair and wealthy, the sweetest
of women, and of royal blood by her mother's side. So soon as her eyes
fell on Eric she loved him, and no one thing did she desire more than
to be his wife. But Brighteyes kept aloof from her, for he loved
Gudruda alone; and so the winter wore away, and in the spring he went
away warring, nor did he come back till autumn was at hand.
The Lady Elfrida sat at a window when Eric rode through London Town in
the King's following, and as he passed she threw him a wreath of
flowers. The King saw it and laughed.
"My cold kinswoman seems to melt before those bright eyes of thine,
Icelander," he said, "as my foes melt before Whitefire's flame. Well,
I could wish her a worse mate," and he looked on him strangely.
Eric bowed, but made no answer.
That night, as they sat at meat in the palace, the Lady Elfrida, being
bidden in jest of Edmund the King to fill the cup of the bravest,
passed down the board, and, before all men, poured wine into Eric's
cup, and, as she did so, welcomed him back with short sweet words.
Eric grew red as dawn, and thanked her graciously; but after the feast
he spoke with Skallagrim, asking him of the Gudruda, and when she
could be ready to take the sea.
"In ten days, lord," said Skallagrim; "but stay we not here with the
King this winter? It is late to sail."
"Nay," said Eric, "we bide not here. I would winter this year in
Fareys, for they are the nighest place to Iceland that I may reach.
Next summer my three years of outlawry are over, and I would fare back
"Now, I see the shadow of a woman's hand," said Skallagrim. "It is
very late to face the northern seas, and we may sail to Iceland from
London in the spring."
"It is my will that we should sail," answered Eric.
"Past Orkneys runs the road to Fareys," said Skallagrim, "and in
Orkneys sits a hawk to whom the Lady Elfrida is but a dove. In faring
from ill we may hap on worse."
"It is my will that we sail," said Eric stubbornly.
"As thou wilt, and as the King wills," answered Skallagrim.
On the morrow Eric went in before the King, and craved a boon.
"There is little that thou canst ask, Brighteyes," said the King,
"that I will not give thee, for, by my troth, I hold thee dear."
"I am come back to seek no great thing, lord," answered Eric, "but
this only: leave to bid thee farewell. I would wend homeward."