Part 3 out of 5
and pushed it from her. A passionate yearning came over her for one such word,
one such look, as he would give the dream-lady when she should come. With her
secret on her lips, she lifted her eyes to his.
A little amused but more pitying, and withal very, very kind, his glance met
hers; and her courage forsook her. Suppose the word she was about to speak
should not make his face friendlier? Suppose his surprise should be succeeded
by haughtiness, or, worse than all, by a touch of that gay scorn? Even at the
memory of it she shrank. Better a crumb than no bread at all. Turning away,
she followed him in silence down the dark passage.
When the moment of parting arrived, and Sebert's hand lay on the last bolt,
that mood was so strong upon her that it seemed to her as though she were
passing out of life into death. Clinging to his cloak, with her face buried in
its folds, she wet it with far bitterer tears than any she had shed over her
"I wish I had not thought of it! I wish I had not told you!" she sobbed into
the soft muffling. "Only to be near you I thought heaven; and now the Fates
have cheated me even out of that."
The Etheling put his hand under the bent head to raise it that he might hear
what the lips were saying, and she covered his palm with kisses. Then slipping
away, like the elf he had called her, she glided through the narrow space of
the half-open door and was gone, sobbing, out into the night.
How Fridtjof Cheated The Jotun
Such is the love of women,
Who falsehood meditate,
As if one drove not rough-shod
On slippery ice
A spirited two-year-old
And unbroken horse.
I trust my sword; I trust my steed;
But most I trust myself at need,'"
the fair-haired scald sang exultingly to the Danishmen sprawled around the
camp-fire. It was to no graceful love-song that his harp lent its swelling
chords, but to a stern chant of mighty deeds, whose ringing notes sped through
the forest like the bearers of war-arrows, knocking at the door of each
sleeping echo until it awoke and carried on the summons.
Echoes awoke as well in the breasts of those who listened. When the minstrel
laid aside his harp for his cup, Snorri Scar-Cheek brought his fist down in a
mighty blow upon the earth. "To hear such words and know one's self doomed to
wallow in mast!"
A dozen shaggy heads wagged surly acquiescence. But from the figure
outstretched upon the splendid bearskin a harsh voice sounded. "Now! see that
because you lie in mast you have a swine's wit," it said. "Do you want the
thrall to stand forth and prove for the hundredth time that their bins must
needs be as empty as your head?"
Venturing no more than a growl, the man dropped his chin back upon his fists.
But Brown-Cloak, the English serf, found somewhere the notion that here was an
opportunity to rehearse once more the service which was his sole claim upon
his new masters' indulgence, and he got on his legs accordingly.
"I can say soothly that you will not have to bear it much longer, Lord Dale,"
he reassured. "My own eyes saw that--" He ended in a howl as a half-gnawed
sheep-bone from the warrior's hand struck him with a force that knocked him
sprawling among the ashes.
"Do not trouble yourself to answer until you are questioned," the Scar-Cheek
recommended briefly. And a round of laughter followed the poor scapegoat as he
picked himself up, groaning, and crept away into the shadow. In the
restlessness of their inactivity, and this swift breaking into passages of
growling and tooth-play whenever, in their narrow confines, they chanced to
jostle each other, they were like nothing so much as a pack of caged wolves.
Into the den, a few minutes later, the daughter of Frode came on her difficult
mission. Her face was so ghastly that the man who first caught sight of it did
not recognize her, and snatched up his weapon as against an enemy. It was the
Scar-Cheek who offered the first welcome in a jovial shout. "The hawk escaped
from the cage! Well done, champion! Did you batter a way out with your mighty
fists? Did you get fretful and slay the Englishman? Leave off your bashfulness
and tell us your deeds of valor!" A score of hands were stretched forth to
draw the boy into the circle; a score of horns were held out for his
To all of them Randalin yielded silently,--silently accepting the cup which
was nearest, in order to gain time by sipping its contents. She realized that
only a manner of perfect unconcern could carry her through, yet she felt
herself shaking with excitement.
Rothgar sat up on the great skin with a gesture of some cordiality. "Hail to
you, Fridtjof Frodesson!" he said. "Your escape is a thing that gladdens me. I
did not like the thought of starving you, and I hope your father will overlook
the unfriendliness of it."
The Scar-Cheek, who had been scanning her critically where she stood before
them, drinking, gave a pitying grunt. "By the crooked horn, boy, you must have
had naught but ill luck since the time of Scoerstan! No more meat is on you
than a raven could eat; and the night I was in the Englishman's hall, you had
the appearance of having been under a lash. Your guardian spirit must have
Though she managed to keep her eyes upon her cup, Randalin could not hinder a
wave of burning color from over-running her face. Seeing it, Rothgar held up
his handless left arm for silence.
"You act in a mannerless way, Snorri Gudbrandsson, when you remind a
high-spirited youth that he has been disgraced in his mind. Yet do not let
that prevent your joy, my Bold One. To make up for the injury I have been to
you, I will give you a revenge on the Englishman that shall wipe out
everything you have endured from him. If it is possible for me to take him
alive and bind him, your own hand shall be the one to strike Sebert Oswaldsson
The girl's nervousness betrayed her into a burst of hysterical laughter, but
her wits were quick enough to turn it to good account. She said with
Fridtjof's own petulance, "Your boon is like the one Canute has in store for
me. I am likely to wait so long for both that I shall have no teeth left to
chew them with. I like it much better to take your kindness in the shape of
food, if that is a loaf yonder."
The abruptness with which silence fell over the group was startling. Snorri
bent forward and plucked her sternly back as she made a move toward the bread.
A dozen voices questioned her.
"What do you mean by that?"... "Why will it take long?"... "Are they not short
Knowing that she could not achieve unconcern, she kept to her petulance,
jerking her cloak away from the hand that detained it. "Should I be apt to
blame him for starving me if he did it because no better cheer was to be had?
Nor do I think you have proved much more liberal. Let me by to the bread."
Instead, the ring narrowed around her; and the chief himself put peremptory
questions in his heavy voice. "Has he food? What do you mean? Clear your wits
and answer distinctly. Can you not understand that we think this food-question
of great importance? The thrall told us they are wont to keep their provisions
in the house we burned. Did he lie?"
"I do not know whether he lied or not," Randalin answered slowly; "but it
seems to me great foolishness that you did not take the time into
consideration. At the end of the harvest, any English house would be fitted
out for weeks of feasting. You came the night the larder was fullest; and they
have only spent one meal a day since."
Rothgar got upon his feet and towered over her, his Jotun-frame appearing to
swell with irritation. "Do you not know how provoking your words are, that you
are so glib of tongue?" he thundered. "Tell shortly what you think of their
case; can they last one day more?"
The black head nodded emphatically.
"Can they last two days?"
Fridtjof the Bold took refuge in sullenness. "They can last two weeks as
easily as one. How much longer are you going to keep me from food?" She was
free after that to do anything she liked, for their excitement was so great
that they forgot her existence. Those whose fluency was not hampered by their
feelings, relieved their minds by cursing. Those whose anger could be vented
only in action, made after the blundering serf. And the few who were boldest
turned and bearded the son of Lodbrok himself.
"How much longer must we endure this?"... "Think of the game we are
missing!"... "There is little need to remind me. My naked fists could batter
the stones from their places--"... "In a week more, it is possible that
England may be won!"... "What do you care for their wretched land, chief?"...
"Chief, how much longer must we lie here?"
When that question was finally out, every man heaved a sigh of relief,
straightening in his place like a dog that is pricking his ears, and there was
A fell look came into the Jotun's face as he gazed back at them; and for a
time it seemed that he would either answer with his fist or not at all. But at
length he began to speak in a voice as keen and hard as his sword.
"You know my temper, and that I must have my will. Always I have thought it
shame that my kinsman's odal should lie in English hands, and now I have made
up my mind to put an end to it. You know that I am in no way greedy for
property. When I obtain the victory, you shall have every acre and every stick
on it to burn or plunder or keep, as best pleases you. But I do not want to
reproach myself longer with my neglect; and whether it take two weeks or
whether it take twenty--" He interrupted himself to bend forward, shading his
eyes with his hands. "If I am not much mistaken," he said in quite another
voice, "yonder is Brass Borgar at last! Yonder, near those oak-trees."
In an instant they had all turned to scan the moon-lit open. And now that they
were silent, the thud of hoofs became distinct. Shouting their welcome, some
hurried to heap fresh fuel on the fire, and some ran after more ale-skins;
while others rushed forward to meet the messenger and run beside his horse,
riddling him with questions.
Folding his arms, the chief awaited him in grim silence. If glances could have
burned, he would have writhed under the look that a pair of iris-blue eyes was
dealing him over a bread crust. But it may be that his skin was particularly
thick, for he betrayed no uneasiness whatever.
When the man finally stood before him, Rothgar said sternly, "It is time you
were here! Ten days have gone over your head since I sent you out. You must do
one of two things,--either tell great tidings or submit to sharp words."
The Brass One laughed as he saluted. "I should have been liable to sharp steel
had I come sooner, chief. Would you have taken it well if I had left without
knowing how it went with the battle?"
"Battle!" three-score mouths cried as with one voice. "Who were victorious?"
The man laughed again. "Should I come to you with a noisy voice and my chin
held high, if other than one thing had happened? Honor to the Thunderer, the
Raven possessed the field!"
Such a clamor arose as though the wolf-pack had tasted blood. Three times,
through the trumpet of his hands, Rothgar bawled a command for silence. "One
horn you may have, then all this must be told before you eat," he gave orders.
And he strode restlessly to and fro until the time came when the horn stood on
end above the man's mouth and then was lowered reluctantly.
Drawing his hand across his lips, the Brass One cleared his throat. "At your
pleasure, chief. Is it to your mind to begin with the battle? Or do you rather
wish to hear of my journey thence? I admit that that part is somewhat likely
to stick in my teeth and in your ears. From Otford to Shepey was little better
than a retreat, and if--"
"The battle! the battle!" a chorus of voices cried, and the chief confirmed
"The battle, by all means! The other will do for lesser dishes when the first
edge is off our appetite. Where was it? And how long since? Yet, before any of
these, how goes it with my royal foster-brother? And how do his traitors carry
sail, Odin's curse upon them! Speak! How fares he?"
"On the top of the wave, my chief,--though it is my belief that he has your
mind toward Edric Jarl, for all that Thorkel is ever on hand to urge the value
of his craft. And certainly it was exceedingly useful to them at Assington--"
"Assington!"... "In Essex?" the chorus broke in upon him. "It happened as
Grimalf said--"... "--the horse with the bloody saddle which he found over the
hill--"... "Do you know for certain if Edric--" ... "Why will you interrupt
him?"... "Yes, end this talk!"... "Go on, go on!"
"I also say go on, in the Troll's name!" the Jotun roared. "Go on and tell us
what Edric the Gainer did which they else could not have done."
"I said not that he did what they could not, chief. He did what they would
not, as the thrall who pulls off our boots muddies his hands that we may keep
ours clean. And a strange wonder is the way in which the English king trusts
him even after this treason has been committed! The Gainer fled, with all his
men, at the moment when most King Edmund depended upon his support; and in
this way left for Danish feet a hewn path where a forest of battle-trees had
Rothgar took no part in the stream of questions and comments that again
drowned the voice of the messenger, until suddenly he launched an oath that
out-thundered them all: "May Thor feel otherwise than I do, for I vow that
were I in his place, I would raise Danish warriors in wool-chests! Is that the
valor of the descendants of Odin, that they go not into battle until a
foul-hearted traitor has swept the way clean of danger? Is the heart of the
King become wax within him? Or is it that cold-blooded fox at his side that is
draining the manhood out of him? I would give much if I had been there!"
Casting himself down upon the bearskin, he lay there breathing hard and
tearing the fur out in great handfuls.
Brass Borgar spoke with the utmost deprecation: "I say nothing against your
feelings, chief; and there are not a few who think as you do; yet I ask you to
remember one thing. I ask you to remember that no Dane has ever held back in
battle because he had the Traitor's help. Canute uses him to strengthen his
back; never to shield his face. The Islanders' own mouths have admitted that
the odds are against ten Englishmen if they face one Dane. I think it is
because he is out of patience with the war that the King makes of the Gainer a
time-saver. It has been told me that he fights not for love of it, nor yet for
glory, but because he covets the land of--"
Like the bellow of an angry bull, Rothgar's voice broke through his. "Land!
Quickly will I proclaim my opinion of any man who sets his heart on that! He
who forgets glory in his eagerness for property, deserves the curse of Thor!"
"Prepare yourself, then, for a thunderbolt, Rothgar Lodbroksson," a clear
voice spoke up suddenly.
None but had forgotten the red-cloaked figure munching its bread in the shadow
behind them. One and all started in surprise. And the chief turned over his
shoulder a face that was livid with anger. "You--you dare!" he roared.
But Randalin's heart was too full of bitterness to leave any room for fear. At
the moment, it seemed to her that it did not matter what happened. She stood
before the Jotun as straight and unbending as a spear-shaft, and her eyes were
reflections of his own. Her wonder was great when slowly, even while his eyes
blazed, Rothgar's mouth began to twitch at the corners. All at once he rolled
over on his back with a shout of laughter.
"By Ragnar, there will not be many jests to equal this!" he gasped. "That a
titmouse should ruffle its feathers and upbraid me! Here is merriment!" He lay
there laughing after the others had joined in with him; and his face was not
entirely sober the next time he turned it toward her. "Good Berserker, give me
leave to live some while longer in order that I may explain my intentions."
Yet when he had risen, a change came into his voice that brought every man to
his feet. "We will make ready to go at cockcrow," he said abruptly. "If it
were only a matter of a couple of days, I would wait; but since it will be at
least a week before we can expect them to give in, I think it unadvisable to
waste more time. Since the King is in this temper, the next battle may well be
the last; and much shame would come of it if we did not have our share. We
will start when the cock crows. As soon as Canute gets the kingship over the
English realm, Ivarsdale will fall to me anyway. Let the Angle enjoy himself
The Sword of Speech
Speech-runes thou must know
If thou wilt that no one
For injury with hate requite thee.
No holiday finery tricked out the Danish host where it squatted along the
Severn Valley that dreary October day; neither festal tables nor dimpling
women nor even the gay striped tents. Of all the multitude of flags but one
banner pricked the murky air,--the Raven standard that marked the headquarters
of the King; and its sodden folds distinguished nothing more regal than a
shepherd's wattled cote. Scattered clumps of trees offered the weary men their
only protection against the drizzling rain; and the sole suggestions of
comfort were the sickly fires that patient endeavor had managed to coax into
life in these retreats. Some, whom exhaustion had robbed even of a
fire-tender's ambition, had dropped down on the very spot where they had
slipped from their saddles, and slept, cloak-wrapped, in the wet. And the
circles about the fires were not much noisier.
Rothgar's face gathered gravity as he gained the crest of the last hill that
lay between him and the straggling encampment.
"The rain appears to fall as coldly on their cheer as on their fires," he
commented. "They hug the earth like the ducks on Videy Island."
"And look about as much like warriors who have got a victory," the child of
Frode added wonderingly.
The Jotun threw her a glance, where she rode at his side. "Hear words of fate!
I think that is the first time you have spoken in three days."
"You would think that great luck if you knew the kind of thoughts that have
been in my mind," she muttered. But the son of Lodbrok was already leading his
men down the hillside toward the point where the silken banner mocked at the
Under the thatched roof of the hut, a still more striking contrast awaited the
eyes of those who entered. With a milking-stool for his table and the
shepherd's rude bunk for a throne, the young King of the Danes was bending in
scowling meditation over an open scroll. Against the mud-plastered walls, the
crimson splendor of his cloak and the glitter of his gold embroideries gave
him the look of a tropical bird in an osier cage; while the fiery beauty of
his face shone like a star in the dusk of the windowless cell. Days in the
saddle and nights in the council had pared away every superfluous curve from
cheek and chin, until there was not one line left that did not tell of
impatient energy; and every spark of his burning soul seemed centred in his
brilliant eyes. At the sight of him, the girl's heart started and shook like a
harp-string under the touch of the master; and Rothgar, the stolid, the stern,
who had come to upbraid, bowed reverently as he grasped the hand his leader
"King, I would not have kept away had I guessed that my sword would be useful
to you. It was my belief that you were entertaining yourself with getting
property in Mercia, else would I have left all to come to you."
Canute half pressed the huge paw and then half spurned it. "It was in my mind
to give you a great scolding when I got you again. I thought you had drunk
sea-water and blood out of a magic horn and forgotten me utterly. You must
have gotten yourself fitted out for the rest of your life since at last you
were willing to leave."
"Lord," Rothgar began, "I have come back to you as poor as I went--"
But the King interrupted him, as at that moment, in the figure hesitating at
the door, he recognized his missing ward. "Say not so, when you have brought
back the bright blade we mourned as lost!" He put out his other hand with a
gleam of pleasure in his changeful eyes. "Welcome to you, Fridtjof the Bold! I
should like to believe that you are as glad to return to me as I am glad to
As she stood there watching him, Randalin had been undergoing a strange
transformation. For four months she had almost forgotten his existence, he had
been little more than an empty name, while she gave every energy of mind and
heart to the things about her. But now, behold! One sight of his life-full
face, one moment in his dominating presence, and those months were swept into
the land of dreams. His deeds alone appeared vital; he alone seemed real. She,
the Etheling himself, were but as shadows depending upon his sun-like career.
If he should choose to shine upon them, what dark evil could come nigh? It was
in all sincerity that she bent her knee as she took his hand. "Lord," she
cried impulsively, "I have brought you back a loyal heart! I have been very
close to the English King, and he is unworthy to hold your sword."
Canute gave a sudden laugh; but it was a short one, and he turned away
abruptly to begin a restless pacing to and fro. "You choose your words in a
thoughtful way," he said. "It is seen that you do not say how it would be if
he were to hold his sword against mine." Pausing before Rothgar, he jerked his
head toward the scroll. "Do you know what that is? That is a challenge from
"A challenge?" his listeners cried in chorus.
He seemed to take petulant offence at their surprise. "A challenge. Did you
never hear the word before, that you stare like oxen? He invites me to settle
this affair by single combat on the island, yonder; and there is the greatest
sense in what he says. Every one who has a man's wit is tired of the strife;
and if we continue at it, there will not be much to win besides ashes and
Rothgar sat gazing at the wooden door as though he could see through it the
huddled groups outside. "Now by no means do I think it strange that your host
is not in high spirits," he said.
With an impatient shrug the King moved on again. "It has happened, then, that
the news has spread? I wonder whether they are troubling themselves most for
fear that I shall undertake this fight and get killed, or for fear that I
shall turn back from it and the war will be obliged to go on. And I should be
glad if I knew what expectation was uppermost in the Gainer's mind when he
made the plan. For certainly one sees his claw behind the pen."
"May wolves tear him!" Rothgar burst out. "Two kings he has used as oaten
pipes, but never did I think that you would make the third."
Canute's foot jarred upon the earth; his face was suddenly aflame. "And never
will I, while my head remains above ground! Now are you even more rash than
you are wont! It is I who play on him, not he on me. Through him, as through a
pipe, I have tempted Edmund on; and through him, as through a pipe, I have
called Edmund off; and as with a broken pipe I shall part with him when I am
done,--and think it no falseness either, since I know for certain that it is
the fate he has in store for me, as soon as I cease to be gainful for him."
The worst of the young chief's nature showed for an instant in the smile that
widened his nostrils. Then it gave way to another flash of temper. "Nor am I a
pipe for your plaything, either. What! Am I to be as a child between you and
Thorkel, that each time I follow the advice of one of you, I am to get a
tongue-lashing from the other? Have you not got it into your head that I am
Rothgar gave a short laugh. "I do not know if I have got it into my head or
not," he said; "but I am certain that my body is aware of your kingship." He
did not even move his eyes toward the stump of his wrist, but Canute turned
from him suddenly, his lip caught in his teeth, and once more strode up and
down the narrow space.
After the fourth round, he stopped and laid his hands affectionately upon his
foster-brother's shoulders. "Too long have we endured each other's roughness,
comrade, for you to think that unfriendliness is in my mind because I foam
over in this way. I tell you, you would not wonder at it if you knew the state
of my feelings. And I will not conceal it that I am glad you have come to
share them--though I have not the intention to heed a word of your advice," he
added, half laughing, half threatening. Pushing the other down upon the rough
bunk, he seated himself beside him, his elbows on his knees, his chin cupped
in his palms.
"The host is full of impatience; and I am weary unto madness. Never do we come
to any end, nor ever shall until that time when the wolf shall catch the sun!
I have nowhere heard of a more foolish war than this. It was in my mind, as
you came in, that I would send a favorable answer to the Englishman and get
the matter decided, one way or another."
Even Randalin uttered a cry; and Rothgar caught his King by the arm as though
to snatch him out of bodily peril. "Only one way would be possible, Canute!
Your waist is not so big as one of his arms. His sword would cleave you as if
it cut water."
Half laughing, but more resentful, the King freed himself. "Now do you hold my
power so lightly? More than once have I gotten under your guard. If skill
could accomplish anything, you would not have to wait long for what I should
fix upon." He broke off with a shrug and flung himself back upon the straw of
the bunk. "Let us speak of something else," he said. "What did the boy say
about having seen Edmund?"
Somewhat ramblingly, as uncertain of his interest, Randalin told him of her
glimpse of the Ironside; and he listened lying back on the straw, his eyes
fixed on the ceiling. She had begun to think he had forgotten her, when all at
once he shot out a swift question: "Did you never find out what the wool was
that Edric Jarl pulled over his eyes?"
"Not unless one could guess it from what King Edmund said, lord,--that the
Jarl had found them so much cleverer than he expected that his victory was
without relish to him, and he was desirous to regain their friendship."
A distinct chuckle came from Canute, and some murmur about the Ironside's
chin. Then he said, "Go on, and tell me everything you can remember"; and once
more lay staring at the ceiling in silence. He did not appear to notice it
when she stopped; the pause lasted so long that Rothgar concluded that sleep
had overtaken their host and rose softly to betake himself to such cheer as
the fires offered. As he made the first step, however, Canute sat up suddenly,
striking his fist upon the bunk.
"I will do it!" he said. While they stared, he rose and recommenced his
hurried pacing, his eyes keen and far away, his mouth set in grim resolve.
"Do what, King?" the son of Lodbrok ventured at last.
Canute's eyes appeared to rest upon the pair without seeing them. "Accept the
challenge," he answered absently. Then the utter horror in both faces brought
him momentarily back. "You need not look like that. I would not do it if I did
not see a good chance to win. There are other weapons than those which dwell
"But if you lose?" Rothgar's harsh voice was discordant with emotion. "If you
The King silenced him impatiently. "I do not think I shall lose; but if it be
otherwise, then Fate will rule it. I prefer to risk everything rather than to
experience more delay." Catching the bewildered page by the collar, he pushed
him toward the door. "Run, boy, with all the speed of your legs, and find
Ingimund the Swimmer and fetch him here. And you, foster-brother, if my fame
is important to you, do you betake yourself to those dumpish oafs around the
fires and try, by any means whatever, to remedy their faint-heartedness. Ask
them if they want the host across the river to think them turned into a herd
of weeping bondwomen. Ask them if they think thus to show honor to their King.
Tell them that I take it as no proof of their love; that I will have none of
that halting faith which limps up with a great cry after the show is over.
Tell them--Oh, tell them anything you think worth while--only that you get
some noise out of them! Evil will come of it if the Englishman is allowed to
believe that he has beaten us before ever he has struck a blow."
Rothgar sighed as he moved forward. "I am very unfit to speak words of
cheerfulness to anybody; but this shall, like other things, be as you wish."
The Judgment of The Iron Voice
His power should
Every sagacious man
Use with discretion,
For he will find,
When among the bold he comes,
That no one alone is doughtiest.
Fold by fold, the sun's golden fingers drew apart the mists that hid the
valley. One by one, the red Severn cliffs were uncovered, and the wooded
steeps on which the rival hosts were encamped. Brighter and brighter the
river's silver gleamed through its veilings. Finally the moment came when the
last mist-wreath floated up like a curtain, and there lay open the shining
water, and the rocky islet it seethed about, and the vision of two boats
setting forth from the two shores amid the noise of shouting thousands. It was
the hour of the royal duel, when the fate-thread of a nation, beaded with
human destinies, lay between the fingers of two men. What a scattering of the
beads if the cord should be cut!
Under the elms of the east bank, the daughter of Frode stood and watched the
boats set out; and the hands that hung at her side opened and shut as though
they were gasping for breath. For a moment she tortured herself with the
thought that she knew not which side to pray for, since the victory of either
would mean her beloved's undoing; then she forgot Sebert's future in her own
present. Turning, she found herself facing a wall of stalwart bodies, a sea of
coarse faces, and discovered, with a sudden tightening of her muscles, that
all the eyes which were not following the boat were centred curiously upon
Before she could take a step, the nearest warrior thrust out a hand and caught
her by her black locks. "Stop a little, my Bold One," he said gruffly. "Now
that you have a moment to spare from the high-born folk, it is the wish of us
churls to hear some of your news."
A score of heavy voices seconded the demand, and the wall gradually curved
into a circle around her. They were good-natured enough,--even the grasp on
her hair was roughly playful,--but her heart seemed to stop in her as a
swimmer's might the first instant he lost sight of land and beheld only
towering billows looming around him. She darted one swift glance at her knife,
and another at an old willow-tree that overhung the bank, some thirty yards
away. But even as she thought it, the hand left her hair and closed about her
"No cause for knife-play or leg-play either, my hawk," the gruff voice rebuked
her. "To no one are we more anxious to show friendship than to Canute's ward;
and you act like no true man if you cannot, when occasion requires, leave off
your high-born ways and be a plain comrade among plain men."
Again a murmur approved his words: "That is well spoken. Frode of Avalcomb
would be the first to thank us for teaching it to you."... "He carried no such
haughty head, young boy. I fought more than one battle at his heels."... "
Come on, now!"... "Make haste! We want to get into place before they come to
This time it was not a shadow but a sparkle of sunshine that mocked in
Randalin's ear: "You have not dared to be a woman, so you must dare to be a
man." She acknowledged the pitiless truth with a sigh of submission.
"Take your hands off me, and it shall be as you wish." The big Swede released
her wrist to catch her around the waist and toss her like a bone upon the
platter of his shield, which four of them promptly raised between them and
bore along, laughing uproariously at her sprawling efforts for dignity. When
they came to a spot along the bank which was open enough to give them an
unobstructed view of the island, they permitted her to scramble down and seat
herself upon the grass, where they ringed themselves around her, twenty deep.
"Now for it! While they are waiting for Edmund to land; before there is
anything to watch," the Scar-Cheek commanded. "Tell what you told Canute with
regard to the English King which made him so reckless as to agree to this
There was nothing for it but obedience. A flower in a thicket of thistles, a
lamb in the midst of wolves, she sat and watched the tipping of the scales
that had her fortune among their weights.
A shout from the surging mass of English opposite told when the Ironside had
landed; and as soon as it was seen whom he had chosen to accompany him as his
witness, a buzz of excitement passed along the Danish line.
"Edric! by all the gods, Edric Jarl!"
"Now, for the first time, I believe that victory will follow Canute's sword!"
Brass Borgar ejaculated. "Since nothing less than the madness betokening death
could cause Edmund to continue his trust in the Gainer, it is seen from this
that he is a death-fated man."
From the others there came a volley of epithets, so foul a flight that the
girl's knuckles whitened in her struggles to keep her hands down from her
ears. A picture rose in her mind of Sebert's dream-lady, passing her waiting-
time among soft-voiced maids, and her heart turned sick within her.
It was little time that the pack gave her for revery, however; now it was
Edric Jarl of whom they wanted to hear.
"While they are talking about the terms, there is nothing to look at; tell us
how the Gainer pulled the net around King Edmund," the rough voices demanded.
And again she was obliged to bend her wits to their task.
But it came at last, the end that was the beginning. Suddenly a hand reached
around her neck and shut over her mouth. "Stop! They are taking their places.
He need not have added that last word; from that moment for many thousands of
eyes there was but one object in the world,--the strip of rock-ribbed earth
and the two figures that faced each other upon it.
As they fixed their gaze on their champion, the English yelled exultantly, and
the Danes bravely rivalled them in noise; but it was more a cry of rage and
grief than a cheer. Now that the royal duellists stood forth together,
stripped of cloak and steel shirt, and wearing no other helm than the golden
circlet of their rank, their inequality was even more glaring than alarmed
fancy had painted it. The crown of Canute's shining locks reached only to the
chin of the mighty Ironside; and the width of nearly two palms was needed on
Borgar turned, with tears in his bleared eyes, and threw himself face-downward
on the earth; and the fellow next to him, with the mien of a madman, thrust
his mantle between his teeth and bit and tore at it like a dog. "It is
murder," he snarled, "murder."
Of all the Northmen, the young King alone appeared serenely undisturbed. When
he had saluted the Ironside with royal courtesy, he met his sword as though he
were beginning a practising bout with his foster-brother. Smoothly, evenly,
without haste or fury, the blades began to sing their wordless song to the
After a time Borgar dared to raise his face from the grass. "Is he yet alive?"
The men did not seem to hear him. Humped over the earth, with starting eyes
and necks stretched to their uttermost, they were like so many boulders. Nor
did Frode's daughter seem to feel that the hand the Brass One had raised
himself upon was crushing her foot; she did not even glance toward him as she
answered: "Simpleton! Do you think the King does not know how to handle his
weapon? If only his strength--"
Her sentence was not finished, and the man next to her drew in his breath with
a great whistling rush. Canute's weapon, playing with the lightness of a
sun-beam, had evaded a stroke of the great flail and touched for an instant
the shoulder of its wielder. Had he put a pound more force into the thrust-- A
groan crept down the Danish line when the bright blade rose, as lightly as it
had fallen, and continued its butterfly dance. It consoled them a little,
however, that no cheer went up from the English,--only a low buzz that was
half of anger, half of astonishment.
Farther along the eastern bank, where Thorkel the Tall stood beside Ulf Jarl
and Eric of Norway, there was not even a groan. The first rift came in the
puzzled clouds of Eric's face. "Here is the first happening that makes me
hope!" he said. "If he has something more than his fencing accomplishment to
support him, it may be that an unfavorable outcome need not be expected."
The Tall One's brows relaxed ever so little from their snarl of worry. "The
boy has experienced good training, for all that he has at present the
appearance of a great fool. If Rothgar's warrior skill is in his arm, yet my
caution should be in his head."
Certainly there was no Berserk madness about the young Danishman; there was
hardly even seriousness. Now his blade was a fleeing will-o'-the-wisp, keeping
just out of reach of Edmund's brand with apparently no thought but of flight.
Now, when the Ironside's increasing vehemence betrayed him into an instant's
rashness, it was a humming-bird darting into a flower-cup. But it always rose
again as daintily as it had alighted.
The Danish bank was frantic with excitement. "It is the dance of the Northern
Lights!" they cried. "Thor has sent him his own sword!"
The lines of English were wild with anger. "Crush him, the hornet, the wasp l
Crush him, Edmund!" they roared.
In his exultation, the Scar-Cheek rolled himself over and over on the grass,
and wound up by thrusting his shaggy head into the lap of the red-cloaked
page. "I must do something for joy," he panted;"and--except for your hair--you
look near enough like a handsome woman. Do you bend down and kiss me every
time Canute pricks him."
His head fell to the ground with a thump as the child of Frode leaped to her
"If you lay finger on me again," she whispered, "I will caress you with this!"
and for an instant a knife-blade glittered before the bulging eyes. Snorri
rolled back with alacrity and an oath; and after a moment Frode's daughter
dropped down again and hid her face in her hands. If the King should be slain
and she be left adrift in this foul sea! She might as well have screamed as
moaned, for all that they would have noticed.
About this time Canute's blade appeared to have become in earnest. Ceasing its
airy defence, it took on the aggressive. Instead of a flitting sunbeam, it
became a shaft from a burning glass; instead of one merry humming-bird, it
became a whole swarm of skimming, swooping, darting swallows, waging war on a
bewildered owl. Before the sudden fury of the onslaught, Edmund gave back a
pace. And either because his anger made him reckless or his great bulk was
against him, he presently was forced to draw back another step. Wildest cheers
went up from the North-men. It seemed as though they would wade in a body
across the river.
Only Eric of Norway stamped with uneasiness; and the overhanging brows of
Thorkel the Tall were as lowering hoods above his eyes. "Well has he hoarded
his strength," he muttered. "Well has he saved it, yet--yet--"
At that moment such a roar went up from Northern throats as might well have
startled the wolf's shadow off the face of the sun; for Edmund Ironside had
retreated a third step, and the Dane's point appeared to lie at the
Englishman's heart. Then the uproar died somewhere in mid-air, for in what
seemed the very act of thrusting, Canute had leaped backward and lowered his
blade. So deep was the hush on either side the river that the whir of a bird's
wing sounded as loud as a flight of arrows. Bending forward, with strained
ears and starting eyes, the spectators saw that the Northern King was
speaking, eagerly, with now and then an impulsive gesture, while the English
King listened motionless.
"Has he got out of his wits?" the Scar-Cheek roared, fairly dancing with
In Randalin's face a flash of memory was struggling with bewilderment. "Other
weapons than those which dwell in sheaths." Had he meant "the sword of
speech," his tongue?
With the deliberate grace which characterized his every motion, the Ironside
slid his sword back to its case, and they saw him take a slow step forward and
slowly extend his hand. Then they saw Canute spring to meet him, and their
palms touch in a long grasp.
From the English shore there went up a joyful shout of "Peace!" And a
deafening clamor rose in answer from the Danish bank. But what sentiment
predominated in that, it would be difficult to say. Blended with rejoicing
over their King's safety, were cries of bitter disappointment, the cries of
thirsty men who have seen wine dashed from their lips.
In their retreat, the two Northern jarls and the young monarch's foster-father
faced each other uncertainly. "Here is mystery!" Eric of Norway said at last.
"I should be thankful if you would tell me whether he thought it unwise to
kill the Englishman before the face of his army; or whether he is in truth
struck with love toward him, as the fools seem to believe?"
"Or whether he had reached the exact limit of his strength so that he was
obliged to save himself by some trick of words?" Ulf Jarl suggested.
The Tall One shook his head slowly. "Now, as always, it is he alone who can
altogether explain his actions. It might easily be that in his mad impatience
he overvalued his strength, so that he was obliged to stop short to keep
within bounds. But I think you will find that there is still some trick which
is not open to our sight. His man-wit is deepening very fast; I will not be so
bold as to say that I can always fathom it."
"Perhaps he thinks a short peace would be useful to the host," the Norwegian
said, and laughed. "Such a truce is as comfortable as a cloak when the weather
is stark, and as easy to get rid of when the sun comes out."
By their faces, the others appeared to agree with him; but before they could
express themselves, a swimmer rose like a dripping seal out of the water at
"Peace and division again!" he cried breathlessly. "And it is the King's will
that you get into a boat and come to him at once."
The rush of the crowd to the water-side to question the messenger gave
Randalin her chance for freedom; and she was not slow in taking it. A moment
more, and she was in the very top of the willow-tree, clasping her hands and
wringing them in alternate thanksgiving and terror.
"Whatever it bring upon me, I will get back to my woman's clothes," she vowed
to herself over and over. "Though it become a hindrance to me, though it be
the cause of my death, I will be a woman always. Odin forgive me that I
thought I had courage enough to be a man!"
What The Red Cloak Hid
At eve, the day is to be praised;
A woman, after she is dead.
In the vault overhead blue had deepened into purple, and all the silver star-
lamps been hung out, their flames trembling unceasingly in the playing winds.
By the soft light, the Jotun, who was striding across the camp, saw a graceful
boyish form leave the elrcle around the King's fire and join a group of
mounted men waiting on the river bank, some fifty yards away.
"Ho there, Fridtjof!" he roared wrathfully.
The figure turned, and he had a fleeting glimpse of a hand waved in mocking
farewell. Then the boy sprang into the saddle of a horse that one of the
warriors was holding, and the whole band moved forward at a swinging pace.
"If you had waited a little, you would be less light on your feet," the Jotun
growled as he strode on, striking his heels savagely upon the frosty ground.
"Where is the King?" he demanded, as soon as he had reached the ring of nobles
sipping mead around the royal fire. Between swallows, they were carrying on a
heated discussion of the day's events; but Eric of Norway stopped long enough
to nod toward the wattled hut beneath the silken banner.
"In there; and I will give you this chain off my neck if you can guess what he
"It is likely that he is busy with messengers," Rothgar said with an accent of
vexation. "I had hoped to reach him before he finished drinking, but there was
a brawl among my men which--"
"He is playing chess," Eric said dryly.
The Norwegian nodded as he swallowed. "Heard you ever anything to equal that?
He has the appearance of a boy who has been released from a lesson. I wish
that you had been here to see him at meal-time. So full of jests and banter
was he that I could scarcely eat for laughing. Yet when I took courage from
his good-nature to ask him concerning his plans for the future, he pretended
that he did not hear me, and put an end to questioning by bidding Ulf come and
play chess with him in the hut. Whether he is mad, or bewitched, or feigning
like Amleth, it is not easy to tell."
"I do not think it is any of these," Rothgar said slowly. "I think it is
because he likes it so well that he has got peace in which to amuse himself.
Sooner would he hunt than fight, any day; and I have often seen him express
pleasure in this manner. I remember how his wife Elfgiva once said of him that
it was well his crown was no more than a ring of gold, for then, when his mood
changed, he could use it for such a gold hoop as kings' children are wont to
"Said Elfgiva of Northampton that?" Eric asked in surprise. "Never would I
have believed her so wise in words. That she is the most beautiful of women,
all the world knows; but I have always supposed that her wit stopped with her
temper, which is suspected to be shorter than her hair."
Rothgar grunted scornfully. "It is easy for a fool to speak some wisdom if she
keeps her tongue moving all the time."
Laughing, the Norwegian plunged again into the general discussion; and the son
of Lodbrok stood listening discontentedly, while he kept a sharp watch of the
Presently his patience was rewarded. Within the hut there arose all at once a
duet of voices, half angrily accusing, half laughingly protesting. Then the
chess-board came flying through the doorway, followed by a handful of chessmen
and the person of the big good-natured Jarl, still uttering his laughing
protests. And finally Canute himself stood under the lintel, storming through
"Blockhead, that you cannot keep your thoughts on what you are doing! One
might expect as good a game from the tumbler's dog. Is it the drink that you
have got into your head, or the war matters that you cannot get out? You
"To lose the honor of playing with the King," the Jotun broke in, making a
long step forward. "Be so good as to allow me to take his place, lord. I have
some words for your ear which are worth a hearing."
"Rothgar!" the King exclaimed with great cordiality, and stepped from the
doorway to meet him. "Willingly do I make the change, for I have been wishing
to speak with you this last hour. I have thought of a fine plan for
to-morrow's sport." Laying his arm boy-fashion across his foster-brother's
shoulders, he swung him around toward the river. "But we will not go in there
to do our talking. We will walk along the shore. To-night I feel as though I
could walk to the rainbow-bridge." He shook back his headful of long hair and
drew a deep breath, like a man from whom a burden has been lifted.
As they strolled beside the moonlit water, the son of Lodbrok listened in
secret amazement to the string of plans that unfolded itself,--hunts and
horse-races, swimming matches and fishing trips.
"But where will you get the fishing tackle, lord? And the hawks and the hounds
for all this?" he ventured presently. They were some little distance up the
bank now, where trees screened them from the camp-fires. Suddenly the young
King made a leaping grab at a bough overhead and hung by it, looking down at
his companion with the face of a mischievous boy.
"How joyfully you will take my answer! I have sent to Northampton for them.
And I have bidden Elfgiva accompany them, with all her following of maids and
lap-dogs and beardless boys. Before the end of the week, I expect that the
Abbey guest-house will have the appearance of a woman's bower; and the monks
will have taken to the woods."
As his foster-brother stood gazing at him in speechless dismay, he laughed
maliciously. "Where are your manners, partner, that you do not praise my
foresight? Here am I eager to go to her to celebrate my victory; and yet
because I think it unadvisable for me to leave the camp, I remain like a rock
at my post. Where is your praise?"
"King," Rothgar said gravely, "is the truce going to last long enough to make
it worth while to fetch those trinkets here?"
His laughter vanishing, the King came to earth in both senses of the phrase.
"Now I do not know what you mean by that," he said. "You were with me on the
island. You heard what was said. You heard that we made peace together to last
the whole of our lives, in truth, longer; since he who outlives is to inherit
peacefully after him who dies. Did you not hear that?"
Rothgar kicked a stone out of his way with impatient emphasis. "Oh, yes, I
heard it. I heard also how you said that you would rather have the
Englishman's friendship than his kingdom."
The eyebrows Canute had drawn down into a frown rose ironically. "There is
room in your breast for more sense, Rothgar, my brother, if you think, because
I am forced into one lie, that I never speak the truth," he said. "We will not
talk of it further. I should like to remain good-humored to-night, if it were
possible. What are the words you have waiting for my ears?"
The Jotun's sudden frown quite eclipsed his eyes. "It is not likely that I
shall remain good-humored if I put my tongue to them. Oh! Now it becomes clear
in my mind what you have sent your black-haired falcon down the wind
after,--to carry your order to Northampton?" "Certainly it is," Canute
assented. "When the boy found that I had need of a messenger, he begged it of
me as a boon that he might be the one to carry the good news to my lady. I
thought it a well-mannered way to show his thankfulness. But why is your voice
so bitter when you speak of him?"
"Because I have just found out that he is a fox," Rothgar bellowed. "Because
it has been borne in upon me that he has played me a foul trick, by which I
lost property that was already under my hands; lost it forever, Troll take
him! if it be really true that we are to make no more warfare upon the lands
south of the Watling Street."
"It is not possible!" Canute ejaculated. "He looks to be as truthful as
Rothgar uttered his favorite grunt. "Never did I hear that Loke had crooked
eyes or a tusk, and black hair grows on both of them. I tell you, I know it
for certain. I have just been to find the English serf who became my man after
Brentford; and he has told me what he says he tried to tell the night before
we left Ivarsdale, but no one would listen to him without pounding him,--that
the servant-maid, who informed him concerning the provision house, spoke also
of a Danish page her lord had, whom he treated with such great love that it
was commonly said he was bewitched. And before that, when the brat was telling
you how the Englishman had saved him from Norman's sword, it occurred to me
that he talked more as a woman talks of her lover than as a man speaks of his
foe. I had my mouth open to tax him with it, when you threw this duel at me
like a rock and knocked everything else out of my head."
"May the gallows take my body!" the King breathed. And he sat down upon a
grassy hummock as suddenly as though a rock had been thrown at him that
knocked the legs from under him. Nor did he get up immediately, but remained
gazing at the string of bright beads which English camp-fires made along the
opposite bluff, his face intent with pondering.
Meanwhile the son of Lodbrok strode to and fro, declaiming wrathfully. "There
is not an honest bone in the imp's body," he wound up. "It is certainly my
belief that he was in league with the Englishman; and his freedom was the
reward he got for drawing me off."
"Certainly you are a very shrewd man," Canute murmured. But something in his
voice did not stand firm; his foster-brother darted him a keen glance. His
suspicions were well founded. Canute's face was crimson with suppressed
laughter; he was biting his lips frantically to hold back his mirth. The
temper of the son of Lodbrok left him in one inarticulate snarl. Turning on
his heel, with a whirlwind of flying cloak and a thunder of clashing weapons,
he would have stalked away if the King had not made him the most peremptory of
"No, wait! Wait, good brother! I will show you whether I offend you
intentionally or not! It is--it is--the--the jest--" Again he became
Rothgar stopped, but it was to glower over his folded arms. "Do you think I do
not know as well as you that I behaved like a fool? What I dislike is that you
cannot see as plainly that your ward is a troll. Because his womanish face has
caught your fancy, you will neither blame him yourself nor allow others to
make a fuss--"
"That is where you are wrong," the King interrupted, with as much gravity as
he could command. "When Fridtjof Frodesson comes again into your presence, I
give you leave to take whatever revenge you like. Lash him with your tongue or
your belt, as you will; and I promise that I will not lift finger to hinder
you from it."
"And not hold it against me?" Rothgar demanded incredulously.
"And not hold it against you," Canute agreed. Then he tilted his head back to
laugh openly in the other's face. "Will you wager a finger-ring against my
knife that your mind will not change when my ward stands again before you?"
The Jotun smiled grimly. "Is that the expectation you are stringing your bow
with? It will fail you as surely as the hair of Hother's wife failed him. The
wager shall be as you have made it; and may I lack strength if I do not deal
with him--" He paused, blinking like a startled owl, as his royal
foster-brother leaped to his feet and fronted him with shouts of laughter.
"You dolt, you!" Canute cried. "Do you not see it yet? Frode's child is a
Rothgar's jaw dropped and his bulging eyes seemed in danger of following.
"What!" he gasped; and then his voice rose to a roar. "And the Englishman is
"You are wiser than I expected," the King laughed. "I intend to call you Thrym
after this, for it is unlikely that Loke made a greater fool of the Giant.
Your enemies will make derisive songs about it."
Stamping with rage, the Jotun hammered his huge fist upon a tree-trunk until
bark flew in every direction. "King, I will give you every ring off my hand if
you will give me leave to strangle her!"
"You remind me that I will take one of your rings now," Canute said, reaching
out and opening the mallet-like fist that he might make his choice. Then, as
he fitted on his prize and held it critically to the light, he added with more
sympathy: "I will arrange for you a more profitable revenge than that. I will
make a condition with Edmund that the Etheling's odal shall not be included in
the land which is peace-holy, and that to ravage it shall not be looked upon
as breaking the truce. Then can you betake yourself thither and sit down with
your following, and have no one but yourself to blame if you fail a second
time. Only,"--he thrust his knuckles suddenly between the other's ribs,--
"only, before we get serious over it, do at least give one laugh. Though she
be Ran herself, the maiden has played an excellent joke upon you."
"I do not see how you make out that it is all upon me," Rothgar said sulkily.
"It did not appear that you got suspicious in any way, until I told you myself
what she talked like. You did not have the appearance of choking much on her
The King seemed all at once to recover his dignity. "I will not deny that," he
said gravely; "and have I not said that I expect to be angry about it
presently? Certainly I do not think she has treated me with much respect. That
she did not tell you, is by no means to be wondered at; it might even count as
something in her favor. But me she should have given her confidence. That she
should dare to offer her King that lying story about her sister's death--" His
face flushed as though he were remembering his emotion on receiving that same
story; and his foster-brother's observation did not tend to mollify him.
"And not only to offer it," the son of Lodbrok chuckled, "but to cram it down
his throat and make him swallow it."
Canute's heels also began to ring with ominous sharpness upon the frosty
ground. "She must be Ran herself! Oh, you need not be afraid that I shall not
get overbearing enough after I am started! Had she been no more than her
father's daughter, her behavior would have been sufficiently bad; but that she
whom I had made my ward should withhold her confidence from me to give it to
an Englishman! Become his thrallwoman, by Odin, and betray my people for his
sake! Now, as I am a king, I will punish her in a way that she will like less
than strangling! I tell you, her luck is great that she is not here to-night."
The Gift of The Elves
Fair shall speak
And money offer,
Who would obtain a woman's love.
It was the edge of a forest pool, and a slender dark-haired girl bending from
the brink to see herself in the water. Looking, she smiled,--and small wonder!
Below her, framed in green rushes, was the reflection of a high-born maiden
dressed according to her rank. Clinging silk and jewelled girdle lent new
grace to her lithesome form, while the mossy green of her velvet mantle
brought out the rich coloring of her face as leaves bring out the glowing
splendor of a rose. Gold was in the embroidery that stiffened her trailing
skirts; gold was sewn into her gloves, and golden chains twined in her
lustrous hair added to the spirited poise of her head a touch of stateliness.
No wonder that her mouth curved into a smile as she gazed.
"It cannot be denied that I look woman-like now," she murmured. "It is a great
boon for me that he likes my hair."
Then the water lost both the reflection and the face above it as a sweet voice
sounded up the bank, calling, "Randalin! Randalin!"
Picking up the branchful of scarlet berries which she had dropped, Frode's
daughter moved toward the voice. "Are they about to go, Dearwyn?" she asked
the little gentlewoman who came toward her around a hawthorn bush, lifting her
silken skirts daintily.
Dearwyn shook her head. "My lady wishes to try on you the wreath she has made.
She thinks your dark locks will set it off better than our light ones."
"I was on my way thither," Randalin said, quickening her steps.
With timid friendliness in her pretty face, Dearwyn waited, and the Danish
girl gave her a shy smile when at last they stood side by side; but their
acquaintanceship did not appear to have reached the point of conversation, for
they walked back in silence to the spot where the Lady Elfgiva's train had
halted on its journey for a noonday meal and rest.
Along the bank of a pebbly stream, between pickets of mounted guards, the
troop of holiday-folk was strung in scattered groups. Yonder, a body of the
King's huntsmen struggled with braces of leashed hounds. Here were gathered
together the falconers bearing the King's birds. Nearer, a band of grooms led
the King's blooded horses to the water. And nearer yet, where the sun lay warm
on a leafy glade, the King's beautiful "Danish wife" took her nooning amid her
following of maids and of pages, of ribboned wenches and baggage-laden slaves.
As her glance fell upon this last picture, Randalin drew a quick breath of
admiration. While they waited for the bondwomen to restore to the hampers the
crystal goblets and gold-fringed napkins that even in the wood wastes must
minister to such delicate lips, one merry little lady was launching fleets of
beech-nut rinds down the stream; another, armed with a rush-spear, was making
bold attack on the slumbers of some woodland creature which she had spied out
basking on the sunny side of a stump; and in the centre of the open, the Lady
Elfgiva was amusing herself with the treasures of red and gold leaves which
silk-clad pages were bringing from the thicket.
Gazing at her, Randalin's admiration mounted to wistfulness. "Were I like
that, I should be sure of his feeling toward me," she sighed.
Certainly, as she looked to-day sitting under the towering trees, it was easy
to understand why the King's wife had been named "the gift of the elves."
Every lovely thing in Nature had been robbed to make her, and only fairy
fingers could have woven the sun's gold into such tresses, or made such eyes
from a scrap of June sky and a spark of opal fire. From the crown of her
jewelled hair to the toe of her little red shoe, there was not one line
misplaced, one curve forgotten, while her motions were as graceful as blowing
When the pair came toward her over the carpet of leather-hued leaves, she put
out a white hand in beckoning. "Come here, my Valkyria, and let me try if I
can make you look still more like a gay bird from over the East Sea."
"You have made me look a very splendid bird, lady," Randalin said gratefully,
as she knelt to receive the woodland crown.
Elfgiva patted the brown cheeks in acknowledgment, and also in delight at the
effect of her handiwork. "You are an honor to my art. Do you know that the
night before you came to me I dreamed I held a burning candle in my hand, and
that is known by everybody to be a sign of good. A hundred plans are in my
mind against the time that this peace shall be over, and we are obliged to
return to that loathful house where we suffer so much with dulness that the
quarrels of my little brats are the only excitement we have."
Still kneeling for the white fingers to pat and pull at her head-dress,
Randalin looked up wonderingly. "Is it your belief that King Canute will not
carry out his intention, lady, that you say 'when the peace is over'? I know
for certain that it is expected to last forever."
"Forever?" The lady's voice was an echo of sweet mockery. "Take half a kingdom
when a whole lies almost within his reach? Now I will not deny that the King
is sometimes boyish of mood, but rarely that foolish." She seemed to toss the
idea from her with the leaves she shook from her robe as she rose and moved
back a step to see the wreath from a new point. "Turn your head this way,
child. Yes, there is still one thing wanting on this side; berries if I have
them, or grasses if I have not,--here are more berries! Oh, yes, I declare
that I expect to be very merry through your spirits! You shall have the rule
over my pages and devise games and junketings without end."
Humming gayly, she began to weave in the bright berries; and it struck
Randalin that here was a good opportunity to make the plea she had in her
mind. She said gravely, "I shall be thankful if you are able to manage it,
lady, so that I may go back with you."
Pausing in her work, Elfgiva looked down in surprise. "Now what should
prevent?" she asked.
The girl colored a little as she answered: "It was in the King's mind once,
lady, that a good way to dispose of Randalin, Frode's daughter, would be to
marry her to the son of Lodbrok. If he should still keep that opinion--I would
prefer to die!" she ended abruptly.
But the King's wife laughed her rippling laughter that had in it all the music
of falling waters. "Shed no tears over that, ladybird! Would I be apt to let
such an odious bear as Rothgar Lodbroksson rob me of my newest plaything?
Whence to my dulness a pastime but for your help? Though he were the King's
blood-brother, he should tell for naught. You do not guess half the
entertainment your wild ways will be to me. I expect it will be more pleasant
for me to have you than that Norman ape which Canute sent me at the beginning
of the summer,--which is dead now, unfortunately, because Harald would insist
upon shooting his arrows into it. There! Now my work could not be improved
upon." Again she moved back, her beautiful head tilted in birdlike
examination. Randalin arose slowly and stood before her with widening eyes.
But it was not long that the Lady of Northampton had for her or for the
wreath. Now her attention was attracted to the farthest group of guards and
huntsmen, whose motions and shouting seemed to indicate some unusual
commotion. Bending, she peered curiously under the branches. "I wonder if it
has happened that the King has sent someone to meet us?" she exclaimed. "I see
a gleam of scarlet, lady," the maiden of the riverbank came to tell her
But even as Elfgiva was turning to despatch a page for news, the throng of
moving figures parted, and from it two horsemen emerged and rode toward them.
One was the mighty son of Lodbrok, clad in the scarlet mantle and gilded mail
of the King's guard. The other, who wore no armor at all, only feasting-
clothes of purple velvet, was the King himself.
The whole troop of butterfly pages rushed forward to take possession of the
horses; the little gentlewomen made a fluttering group behind their mistress;
and Elfgiva, laughing in sweetest mockery, swept back her rosy robes in a
"Hail, lord of half a kingdom but of the whole of my heart!" she greeted him.
Canute seemed to drink in her fairness like wine; his face was boyish in its
radiance as he leaped from his horse before her. "What! The first word a
gibe?" he cried, then caught her in his arms and stilled her silvery laughter
with his lips.
It was so charming a picture that Randalin smiled in sympathy, where she stood
a little way behind the young wife, awaiting the moment when the King should
have leisure to discover her. Not the faintest doubt of his friendliness was
in her mind. She was still smiling, when at last he raised his head and looked
at her over Elfgiva's shoulder.
Then alas, the smile died, murdered, on her lips. Turning, Canute beckoned to
the son of Lodbrok, who was enduring the scene with the same stolid
resignation which he displayed toward his chief's other follies. "Foster-
brother, how comes it that you do not follow my example and embrace the bride
that I have given you?"
As ice breaks and reveals sullen waters underneath, so stolidity broke in
Rothgar's face. With a harsh laugh, he strode forward.
Perhaps it was to follow the King's suggestion, perhaps it was only to vent
his reproaches; but Randalin did not wait to see. Before she knew how she got
there, she was at Elfgiva's side, clutching at her mantle.
"Lady! You promised me--" she cried.
And for all her chiming laughter, Elfgiva's silken arm was stretched out like
a bar. "No further, good Giant!" she said gayly. "The King gave what was not
his, for this toy has become mine." She turned to Canute with a little play of
smiling pouts, very bewitching on such lips. "Fie, my lord! Be pleased to call
your wolves off my lambs."
Plainly, Canute's frown was unable to withstand such witcheries. Despite
himself he laughed, and his voice was more persuasive than commanding. "Now he
will not rob you of the girl, my Shining One. Once he has wedded her, you may
keep her until you tire. It was only because--"
But there he stopped, for all at once a mist had come over the heavenly eyes,
and the smiling lips had drawn themselves into a trembling bunch. The sweet
voice too was subtly tremulous.
"It is because you are to a greater degree anxious to please him than me,
though it is a whole year that I have pined away, day and night, in the utmost
loneliness. Wel-a-way! What! Why have you troubled to send for me, if you hold
my happiness so lightly that you will not comply with me in so small a
matter?" Bridling softly, she was turning away, when the young King threw up
his hands in good-humored surrender.
"To this I will quickly reply that my shield does not secure me against tears!
If it is not to your wish we will not speak of it. Give back, foster-brother,
and choose two of the others to be your drinking-companions. Look up, my fair
one, and admit that I am the most obedient of your thralls. Never, on former
days or since, have I so much as kicked one of your little yelping dogs,
though I hate them as Stark Otter hated bells."
Sunshine through the mist, Elfgiva laughed. "Nay, but you have them drowned
when I am not looking," she retorted.
He did not take the trouble to deny it; indeed he laughed as though the
accusation was especially apt. "Have I ever wounded you more deeply than a
trinket would cure?" he demanded.
And behold, she had already forgotten the matter, to catch at the huge
arm-ring which was slipping up and down his sleeve, so loose a fit was it.
"What Grendel's neck did you take it from! If it had but an opening, I could
use it for a belt."
Smiling, the King looked down on his monster bracelet. "That," he said, "does
not altogether do me credit, for it shows the difference in girth between me
and Edmund Ironside. When we set the peace between us, we exchanged ornaments
and weapons. Think if we had followed the custom in every respect and
exchanged garments likewise!"
Elf-fires were in Elfgiva's blue eyes when she raised them to his. "Rule your
words so that no one else hears you say that, bright Lord of the Danes," she
murmured, "lest they think you mean by it that the English crown would fit you
as loosely, and forget that you are a boy who will grow." The King's mouth
"Nay, a man, who has got his growth."
Her little hand spurned the ring that the instant before it had caressed. "Not
a man, but a King!" she reminded him, and drew herself up proudly before him,
a queen in beauty, crowned with the sun's gold.
His eyes devoured her; his breath seemed to come faster as he looked. All at
once he caught her hands and crushed them against his lips. "Neither man nor
king," he cried, "but the lover who has adored you since he came to plunder
but stayed to woo! Do you know that when I came upon you to-day, my heart
burst into flower as a tree blooms in the spring-time? Had I a harp in my
hand, my lips would blossom into song. Get me one from your minstrels, and I
will sing to you as we ride, and we will forget that a day has passed since
the time when first we roved together through the Northampton meadows."
Forgetful of all the world beside, he led her away toward the horses.
A Royal Reckoning
A tale is always half told if only one man tells it.
Whether from policy or necessity, the guest-house of Gloucester Abbey was
surrendered to the royal band with open-armed hospitality. Every comfort the
place afforded was heaped together to soften the bare rooms for the
accommodation of the noble ladies; every delicacy the epicurean abbot could
obtain loaded the table; and what little grass the frost had left in the
cloister garth was sacrificed to the swarm of pages and henchmen, minstrels
and tumblers. Now a tournament of games in the riverside meadows took up the
day, now a pageant up the river itself; again, a ride with the hawks or a run
after the hounds,--and the nights were one long revel. Time slipped by like a
song off the lips of a harper.
To-day it was to chase a boar over the wooded hills that the holiday troop was
awake and stirring at sunrise. The silvery bell-notes that called the monks to
morning prayer were jostled in mid-air by the blare of hunters' horns.
Stamping iron-shod hoofs and the baying of deep-voiced hounds broke the
stillness of the cloister, and threescore merry voices laughed out of memory
the Benedictine vow of silence.
Voices and horns made a joyous uproar when the King led forth his lady and her
fair following; and he smiled with pleasure at the welcome and the picturesque
beauty of the gay throng between the gray old walls.
"Now how could I come upon a better sight if I were the King of a hundred
islands?" he demanded of Elfgiva.
But he did not wait for her answer; instead, he stepped forward as though to
avoid it and put a question to one of his huntsmen. And his wife turned and
spoke sharply to the blond maiden behind her, whose more than usual fairness
had given her the name of Candida, or "the white one."
"Where is Randalin? I sent the garments to. her an hour ago. She stands in
need of a taste of Teboen's rod to teach her promptness."
Little Dearwyn, watching the doorway with fluttering color, cried out eagerly,
"Here she is, lady!"
There she was, in truth, standing on the threshold with crimson cheeks and
flashing eyes. At the sight of her every huntsman uttered a whistle of
amazement, then settled into an admiring stare; and Canute, glancing over his
shoulder, laughed outright.
"What!" he said. "Have you tired of woman's clothes already?"
For, once more, Frode's daughter was attired in a man's short tunic and long
silken hose. It was a suit much richer than the old one, since silver
embroidery banded the blue, and precious furs lined the cloak; but that fact
was evidently of little comfort to her, as her eyes were full of angry tears,
and she deigned the King no answer whatever.
"I am obliged to pay dearly for your amusement, lady," she said bitterly.
Elfgiva chimed her bell-like laughter. "I will not deny that you pay liberally
for my trouble, sweet. Does it not add spice to her stories, maidens, to see
her habited thus? She looks like one of the fairy lords Teboen is wont to sing
"She holds her head like Emma of Normandy," the King said absently.
In wide-eyed surprise, Elfgiva looked up at him. "Ethelred's widow? Never did
I hear that you had seen her! Why has this been passed over in silence? I have
abundance of questions to ask about her garments and her appearance. When saw
you her? And where?"
Canute stirred uneasily. "It is not worth a hearing. I spoke but a few words
with her, about ransoms, the time that I sat before London. And I remember
only that her bearing was noble and her countenance most handsome, such as I
had never seen before, nor did I think that there could be any woman so
queenlike." Because he did not choose to say more, or because some wrinkle in
Elfgiva's satin brow warned him off, he turned hastily to another topic.
"Foolishly do we linger, when we have none too much time to get to covert. Do
you still want your way about accompanying us? I have warned you that a boar
hunt is little like hawking; nor do Northmen stand in one spot and wait for
game to come to them."
"I hold to it with both hands," the lady returned with a gayety which had in
it a touch of defiance. "Nor will I consent to do anything except that alone.
We will partake in the excitement of your sport, and each of these brave
heroes of yours shall answer for the safety of one of us." A gesture of her
hand included Thorkel the Tall, the two Northern jarls, and the King's
"And is it your belief that a man can at the same time chase a boar and talk
fine words to a woman?" Canute demanded between amusement and impatience.
"Call it a ride, if you will, but leave the boar out for reason's sake, as he
would leave us out ere we were so much as on his track."
She gave him a sidelong glimpse of her wonderful eyes, and drooped her head
like a lily grown heavy on its stem. "Would that be so great a misfortune
then?" she murmured. "Do you think it unpleasant to be passing your time at my
Smiling, he watched the play of her long silken lashes, yet shook his head.
"Nay, when I hunt, I hunt," he said. "I would have idled in your bower if you
had chosen it, but you urged me to this, and now if it happens that you cannot
keep up, you must bear your deed."
As one casts aside an ill-fitting glove, she threw aside her pouts, looking up
at him with a flash of dainty mimicry. "Hear the fiery Thor! Take notice that
I shall bear all down before me like a man mowing ripe corn. You cannot guess
how much warlikeness I have caught from my Valkyria." She glanced back where
the girl in the short tunic stood drawing on her gloves, a picture of stormy
Amused, the King's eyes followed hers, then lighted with sudden purpose. "As
you will," he laughed, "and I will give your Valkyria a steed that shall match
her appearance." Advancing again, he spoke to a groom; and the signal set the
whole party in motion.
Randalin heard his words, but at the moment she was too deep in angry
embarrassment to heed them. It seemed to her that every eye in the throng was
fastened upon her as she walked forward, that every mouth buzzed comment
behind her. It was not until she was in the saddle that his intention reached
The powerful black charger, which a groom led toward her, had been pawing and
arching his glossy neck impatiently since the first horn set his blood-drops
dancing; at the touch of her foot upon the stirrup, he snorted satisfaction
through his wide-flaring nostrils and would have leaped forward like a stone
from a sling, if the man had not hung himself upon the bit. The girl awoke to
surprise as she barely managed to reach her seat by the most agile of springs.
"This is not the horse I ride, Dudda! He must belong to one of the nobles."
"He is--the horse--that King Canute said--you should take," the man panted, as
he struggled to keep his footing. "He said to fetch--Praise Odin!" For at that
moment, Canute's silver horn gave the signal, and he was free to leap aside.
Randalin's trained hand upon the reins was as firm as it was light, and her
trained eye was keenly alert to every motion of the black ears, but in her
brain all was whirling confusion,--and no longer any thought of her tunic.
What was the King's purpose in making this change? Certainly he was in no mood
to honor her,--what could he have in his mind? While her tongue answered
mechanically to Ulf Jarl's observations concerning the weather and the fair
farmland they were riding through, her eyes were furtively examining her
companions' steeds. No fiery ambitions disturbed their easy gait, spirited
though they were. Indeed, Elfgiva, looking back at this moment, singled her
out with a rippling laugh.
"By the blessed Ethelberga, you have a horse in all respects befitting your
spirit, my shield-maiden! I hope it is not the King's intention to punish you
by frightening you."
Could it be possible that he should stoop to so unworthy an action, the girl
asked herself? And yet it was as understandable as any of his behavior during
the last fortnight. Suddenly it seemed that a hand had awakened the Viking
blood which slumbered in her veins; it fired her cheeks and flashed from under
her lashes. She answered clearly, "I hope it is not, lady,--for he would
From all sides laughter went up, but there was no time for more, for now a
hunter--one of the men who had brought news of the lair--galloped up, dust-
choked and breathless.
"He has broken cover, King!" he gasped. "He is moving windward -- loose the
hounds -- or-- you will miss him --"
Canute's horn was at his lips before the last broken phrase was out.
"Forward!" he shouted with a blast. "The hounds, and forward!" A whirlwind
seemed to strike the ambling train and sweep them over the ground like autumn
Over stubble fields and leaf-carpeted lanes, with half frightened smiles upon
their parted lips, Elfgiva and her fair ones kept up bravely; then across a
stream into a thicket, over hollows and fallen logs, under low-hanging boughs,
through brush and brier and bramble, --leaping, dodging, tearing, crashing.
Leonorine the Timid uttered a cry, as her horse slid down a bank with his feet
bunched under him; and the Lady Elfgiva dropped her reins to press her hand
where a thorn had scratched her cheek.
"Stop!" she commanded. "Stop! We will turn back and wait--until he strikes
across a field."
As well have tried to call off the hounds after they had caught the scent and
doubled themselves over the trail! It is unlikely that any man so much as
heard her. For one flash of time she beheld them seesawing in the air before
her, as their horses rose over the brush; then there was nothing but the
distant crashing of dry timber and the echo of Canute's jubilant horn.
"And the Valkyria has gone also!" the lady ejaculated, when her injured gaze
was able to come sufficiently close to earth.
And so the Valkyria had, though with as little of free will as on that day
when her runaway steed carried her out of the press of the fleeing army. At
the first call of the horn, Black Ymer had taken the bronze bit between his
teeth and followed, and his rider's one concern in life became--not the
guiding of him--but the staying on. Before they left the first thicket her
mantle was torn from her shoulders, and she was lying along his neck, now on
this side, now on that, to escape the whipping twigs that lashed at her,
threatening to cut out her eyes. From the thicket out into the open, where it
seemed as if the wind that rushed against her would blow not only the clothes
from her body but the flesh from her bones!
Far ahead, where the little valley ended and the wood began again, she caught
a fleeting glimpse of the boar as it burst covert with the yelping pack at its
heels and was for one instant revealed, snarling, bare-tusked, and flecked
with bloody foam. Then it dived again under cover and was gone in a new
direction. Canute's horn sounded a recall, and one by one the hunters checked
their onward rush and wheeled.
Black Ymer's rider also tried to obey, but all the strength of her body was
not enough to sway him by a hair's breadth. On he shot into the thicket.
"He will have enough sense to stop when he finds out that he is alone," was
her despairing thought.
But he continued to forge ahead like a race horse,--in uneven leaps as though
some sound from behind were urging him on. Suddenly, through the roaring of
her ears, it broke upon her that he was not alone, that at least one horse was
following. Its approaching tread was like thunder in the stillness. If it
could but get ahead of her, all would be well. Her heart beat hopefully as the
jar sounded nearer and nearer. When the snorting nostrils seemed at the Black
One's very flank, at the risk of her neck she turned her head.
Looking, she understood why a steed had been given her which should carry her
out of Elfgiva's reach, for the horseman who was even now stretching his
gauntleted hand toward her rein was the King himself. No one followed, and the
forest around them was silent as a vault. At last, he was free to speak his
Under the drag of his hand, the horse came slowly to a halt and stood panting
and trembling in the middle of a little dell. For a while, she could do no
more than cling to the saddle-bow, sick with dizziness.
Still holding her rein, her royal guardian sat regarding her critically. "Now
it seems to me that your boasting is less than before," he said. "And you were
mistaken in supposing that I would have given this animal to you if I had not
known you could ride him." When she made no reply, he shook the rein
impatiently. "Is it still the horse that makes you heavy in your breathing? Or
perhaps you scarcely dare to face my justice? I warn you that I shall not take
it well if you begin to weep."
A spark was drawn out of her by that. With an effort, she raised her head and
shot him a glance from bright angry eyes. "No such intention have I, Lord
King. Certainly I do not fear your justice. Why should I?"
"Since I have little time to spend upon your freaks, I will tell you why," he
said sternly. "Because you have betrayed one of my people for the sake of an
With surprise, her glance wavered. "I did not know you knew that," she said
slowly. But, as he expected her to droop, she bristled instead. "Nor was it to
be expected, Lord King, that you would be the one to blame me for using
His eyes kindled; if she had stopped there it might have gone hard with her,
but she spoke on swiftly, her head indignantly erect. "If Rothgar Lodbroksson
thinks he should have indemnity because he was too stupid to see through a
trick, let him have Avalcomb, when you get it back from the English, and feel
that he has got more than he deserves; but your anger--" she broke off
abruptly and sat with her lips pressed tight as though keeping back a sob. "In
the beginning, I got great kindness at your hands, Lord King," she said at
last, "and your anger--hurts me!"
On the point of softening, the King's face hardened, and he averted his head.
"You value my favor rather late in the day, Frode's daughter. It would have
been better if you had shown honor to it when you came in to me at Scoerstan,
by giving me truth in return for friendship."
If she had laughed as though recalling the jest in that scene, it is possible
that he would have struck her with his glove. It was fortunate that her sense
of humor was no more than a bubble on the foam of her high spirits. Her eyes
were dark with earnestness as they sought his.
"Lord King, I was hindered by necessity. Your camp--was it a place for women?
And did not your own mouth tell me that Randalin, Frode's daughter, should wed
the son of Lodbrok if she were alive?"
He struck his knee a ringing slap. "I confess that it is not easy to be a
match for you! But I can tell you one thing which you will not be able to
explain, as heretofore,--and it is a thing which has made me get bitterest
against you. If you had kept your confidence from all it might have passed for
discreetness, but that you should keep it from me to give it to an
"But I did not give it to the Englishman," she interrupted. For an instant he
stared at her; directly after he burst into a loud laugh. "Now that is the
best thing that has occurred yet! Where you cannot crawl through, you break
through!" He laughed again, and was opening his mouth to repeat some of the
suspicions he had shared with Rothgar when something about her stopped him,--
whether it was the way she bore her head or something in her deep eyes.
Dropping his derision, he spoke bluntly: "What reason in the world could cause
you to behave thus if it is not that he is your lover?"
The color gathered and spread over her face in maiden shame, until her tunic
became the cruelest of mockeries.
"Short is the reason to tell, Lord King," she said, "it is because I love
him." As he sat regarding her, she put out her hand and played with a tendril
of wild grapevine that hung from the tree beside her, her eyes following her
fingers. "I do not know why I should be ashamed of the state of my feelings. I
should not be able to stand alive before you if he had not been a better lord
to me than you are to English captives; and he is more gentle and high-minded
than any man I ever heard sung of. Sometimes I think I should have more to be
ashamed of if I did not feel love toward him." A little defiantly, she raised
her eyes to his, only to drop them back to the spray. "But he does not love
me. He knows me only as the boy he was kind to. I have given him the high-seat
in my heart, but I sit only within the door of his."
The forest seemed very still when she had done,--the only sound the clanking
of the bits as the horses cropped the withered grass. Then suddenly the King
gathered up his lines with a jerk.
"I cannot believe it," he said harshly. "You are all alike, you women, with
your cat-like purrings and tricksy eyes that surpass most other things in
deceit. I do not deny both that you know well how to feign and that I would
like to believe you, but you must prove it first before I do."
"How can I do that, lord?" she said helplessly; but shrank, the next moment,
as she saw that already he had a plan in his mind. Moving his horse a step
nearer, he bent toward her triumphantly. "I will send for the Englishman, in
your name--or the name you wore--and you shall meet him in my presence, and I
shall be able to tell from his manner whether or not you have spoken
Send for him! At the very thought her face was ecstatic with happiness. Then
she clasped her hands in dismay. "But not if I must continue in these
garments, lord! You can decide over my fate, but I will never face him again
in anything but woman's weeds."
The King frowned. "Strangely do you speak; as if I did not know what is
befitting a Danish woman that I would allow one who is noble-born in all her
kindred to be treated disgracefully after I had taken her into my wardership!"
A while longer he sat there, watching her changeful face with its lovely mouth
and the eyes that some trick of light and shade had deepened to the purple of
an iris petal's markings; and the sight seemed to gentle his mood.
"I should like to reconcile myself to you," he said slowly. "Since first you
came before me and showed by your entreaty that you thought me something
besides an animal, I have felt friendliness toward you. And I should like to
believe that some woman loves some man as you say you love this Englishman."
Out of the very wishfulness of his voice, a terrible menace spoke: "I should
like it so much that I shall neither spare you in word nor deed if you have
deceived me!" Then once more his manner softened. "Yet my mind feels a kind of
faith toward you. I shall try you, to make sure, but until you have proved
that you are unworthy of it, I will not keep you out of my friendship."
Drawing off his glove, he stretched forth his hand. "You may find that a man's
harshness is little worse than a woman's guile," he said bitterly.
Dimly guessing what was in his mind, she dared not trust herself to words but
told her gratitude with her eyes, as she returned his clasp. Then he sent her
back by the one semblance of a path which ran through the forest, and himself
rode on to his hunters.
With The Jotun as Chamberlain
Before going forward,
Should be looked to;
For difficult it is to know
Where foes may sit
Within a dwelling.
Once more, Lord Sebert, be exhorted to turn back," old Morcard spurred forward
to offer a last remonstrance as city gates yawned before them. "Even if the
message be genuine, you are putting your life in peril. If men speak rightly,
Gloucester Town is no better than a camp of carousing Danes. Is it likely that
they care enough about this peace to stick at so small a thing as man-
The Etheling replied without slackening his pace: "I do not think they are
liable to molest a peaceful traveller. I will take care that I upheave no
strife, and I will make all my inquiries of the monks."
"Go a little more slowly, lord, and consider the other side of it," the old
cniht entreated. "Suppose the message is false,--the black tress around it
proves nothing. Suppose the son of Lodbrok has spread a net for you?"
"Then should I keep on my way still more lustily," the Lord of Ivarsdale
answered, "for his making use of the boy's name to entice me would show that
he had discovered our friendship, in which case the youngling would be
suffering from his anger."
The old man plucked violently at his beard as the walls loomed clearer before
them. "Lord, you have already gone through some risk in leaving home. It is by
no means impossible that Edmund will fall upon the Tower during your absence."
"Edmund is too busy with big game at Oxford to have that trouble about such
quarry as I," the young man said lightly, "and the Gainer is not likely to
stir far from Edmund while land is being distributed." Then, sobering, he gave
the other a grave glance over his shoulder. "Even though the errand for danger
could not be accomplished, how could I do less than undertake it? Did not the
boy go through some risk for me when he betrayed his own countryman to get me
out of a hard place? Had they guessed his treason, they would have torn him in
pieces. I owe him a debt which it concerns my honor to pay. It lies not on
your shoulders, however,--" his gravity gave way to his gay smile,--"if it is
more pleasant for you not to enter the city, you may ride back to the hostelry
we passed, and await me in its shelter."
The old cniht's courage was too well approved to require any defence.
Contenting himself with an indignant grunt, he reined back to his place at the
head of the dozen armed servants who formed the Etheling's safeguard, and the
young lord galloped on between the bare fields, humming absently under his
"Poor bantling!" he was thinking compassionately. "I shall be right glad to
get sight of him again. I hope he will not betray himself in his joy when he
sees me. Anything like showing that one is fond of him is apt to turn him a
None of these undercurrents was visible in his face however, when, having left
his escort in one of the outer courts, he stood at last in the parlor of the
"I am a traveller, reverend brother, journeying from London to Worcester," he
said with grave courtesy to the gaunt black-robed monk who admitted him. "And
my errand hither is to ask refreshment for myself and my men, as we have been
in the saddle since cockcrow."
"The brother whose duty it is to attend upon travellers is at this hour in the
Chapter House, with the rest of the household," the monk made answer. "When he
comes forth, I will acquaint him with your needs. Until then, bide here, and I
will bring you a morsel to stay your stomach."
Sebert smiled his satisfaction as the sandals pattered away. He had foreseen
this interval of waiting, indeed, he had timed his arrival to gain it,--and it
was his design to put it to good use. While he swallowed what he wanted of the
wafers and wine which were brought him, he took measure of the reverend
servitor, with the result that, as he set down the goblet, he ventured a
"From the numbers and heaps of attendants I saw in the outer courts, holy
brother, it appears that this season of peace has in no way lessened the tax
on your generosity. Is rumor right in declaring the Danish King to be one of
the guests of your bounty?"
Either it was the agreeable presence of the young noble which relaxed the
Benedictine's austerity, or else the fact that Sebert had left half his wine
in his cup. The holy man answered with unwonted readiness.
"Rumor, which is the mother of lies, has given birth to one truth, noble
stranger. The King whom a chastening Providence has set over the northern half
of the Island, has been our guest for the space of four weeks,--together with
the gold-bought English woman who is known as his 'Danish wife.'" The monk's
watery eyes were rolled upward in pious disapproval, before he turned them
earthward with a sigh of resignation. "Nevertheless, it is the will of Heaven,
--and he is very open-handed with lands and gold when his meals please him."
He cast a thirsty glance toward the half-filled goblet which Sebert was
absently fingering. "If you have eagerness for a sight of him, you have but to
walk through the galleries until you come to the garden in which he is
fleeting his time with his women."
"Now I think I should like to take a look at him while I am waiting," the
Etheling assented, rising gravely. "Should Edmund be the first to pay the debt
of nature, which God avert! the Dane will become my King also. Is it this door
that commands the cloister?"
"The door on your left," the monk corrected; and shuffled away lest some
envious chance should snatch the cup from him before his thirsty throat could
close on the sweet remnant.
At the moment that he was making sure of his booty in the safe darkness of a
passage, the Lord of Ivarsdale was pursuing his object along the chill
enclosure of the gallery. The November sunlight that, unsoftened by any filter
of rich-tinted glass, fell coldly upon the worn stone, showed the carrels
beneath the windows to be one and all deserted by their monkish occupants, and
he strode along unhampered by curious eye or ear.
"After all this luck," he congratulated himself, "it will go hard with me if I
do not either stumble on the youngling himself, or someone who can give me
news of him."
He had no more than thought it, when the sound reached him of a door closing
somewhere along the next side of the square, followed by the clank of spurred
feet coming heavily toward him. As they drew nearer, the rattle of a sword
also became audible. Lifting his eyebrows dubiously, the Etheling grasped his
own weapon beneath his cloak.
When the feet had brought their owner around the corner into sight, he did not
feel that his motion had been a mistaken one, for the man who was advancing
was Rothgar Lodbroksson. It flashed through Sebert's mind that the old cniht's
forebodings had not been without cause, and that Ivarsdale was in danger of
changing masters by a process much quicker than a month's siege. He stared in
amazement when the Dane, instead of flashing out his blade, stopped short with
a burst of jeering laughter.
"Here is the Englishman arrived, and he looks small enough now!" he cried in
his thunderous voice. "Has it happened that I am to be the bower-thane who is
to fetch you in!"
Sebert's grasp tightened around his hilt. Apparently the son of Lodbrok was
expecting him! Yet even on a forlorn hope, he deemed it wise not to commit
himself. He said with what haughtiness he could muster, "What should a plain
traveller want with a bower-thane, Danishman? I stand in more need of the
cellarer who is to provide me with a meal."
Another jeering outburst interrupted him. "Now I say nothing against it if you
declare yourself looking for sweetmeats! Well, I will be the cellarer, and
lead you to them."
"I do not understand you," Sebert said slowly, and quite truthfully.
The Dane grinned at him. "I mean that I will fetch you in to the one who sent
you the summons."
"The one who sent you the summons?" Certainly that sounded as though he were
using the words to conceal a name. Neither the Etheling's patience nor his
temper was long enough to reach below the knee. He made a swift gesture of
throwing aside all reserve. "Enough of mystery, Danishman! If the message
which I have received was not sent by Fridtjof Frodesson, it was sent by you.
Be honest enough to admit it and say plainly what your intention is toward
"Fridtjof Frodesson," the Jotun mocked, and his fiery eyes probed the
Englishman like knives. "Now since honesty is to your wish, I will go so far
as to confess that the word came neither from Frode's son nor from me."
Sebert's foot rang upon the ground. "Say then that the Devil sent it, and a
truce to this juggling! Since you know that I am the boy's friend, you
understand that any harm he has suffered is a harm to me, and that my sword is
equally ready to avenge it."
Much to his surprise, the Dane accorded this challenge no notice whatever. He
stood studying the Lord of Ivarsdale with eyes in which malicious amusement
was growing into open mirth. It came out in another laugh. "Now it would be
more unlikely than the wonder which has occurred, yet I begin to believe you!
I myself will guide you to your Fridtjof, only for the pleasure of watching
your face. The Fates are no such step-mothers after all!" He turned in the
direction from which he had come and made the other a sign. "This way, if you
dare to follow. I am not afraid to go first, so you need give no thought of
the chances of steel between your ribs."
The Etheling took his hand off his weapon with a twinge of shame; but he was
not without misgivings as he strode along at Rothgar's heels. Unless the
youngling had made a decided change for the worse, what satisfaction could the
Jotun expect to get from witnessing their meeting? Before his mind, there rose
again the tear-stained boyish face which had bidden him farewell that night at
the postern, and his pulses throbbed with a fierce pity.
"He took himself from the one person who was dear to him, poor little cub," he
murmured. "If they have maimed him, I swear I will tuck him under my arm and
cut my way out though there be a wall of the brutes around him."
His musings came to an end, as the man preceding him stopped suddenly where
one of the milky panes broken from the cloister window gave a view of the
cloister garden. With the cold November sunshine a hum of voices was coming
in, now brightened by peals of laughter, again blurred by the thud of falling
quoits. Over the Jotun's shoulder, he caught a glimpse of gorgeous nobles and
fair-haired women scattered in graceful groups about a sunny old garden, green
in the very face of winter, thanks to the protecting shelter of the gray
Only a glimpse,--for even as he looked, Rothgar caught his cloak and pulled
him ahead. "Yonder door is a better place to look through; already it is open,
and the shadow inside is thick enough to hide us."
Pricked as he was by a dozen spurs, Sebert offered no resistance. In a moment,
they stood just out of reach of the square of light which fell through the
open doorway. Framed in carved stone, the quaint old garden with its gravelled
paths, its weedless turfs and its background of ivy-hung walls, lay before
them like a picture.
In the longest of the oval spaces, a group of maidens and warriors were
gathered to watch a wonderful flower-faced woman play at quoits under the
instruction of a noble tutor. At every one of her graceful blunders her
laughter rang out in fairy music, which was sweetly echoed by her maids; but
the men appeared to see nothing but her beauty as she poised herself lightly
before them like some shining azure bird on tiptoe for flight. Sebert paid her
the tribute of a quickly drawn breath, even as he took his eyes from her to
scan the butterfly pages who ran to and fro, recovering the gilded rings.
Yellow hair and red hair and brown hair curled on their gaudy shoulders, but
no black. In all the picture there was but one figure crowned with such raven
locks as had distinguished Fridtjof the Bold, and that figure belonged to a
girl standing directly opposite by the mossy curb of the old well, which,
guarded by a circle of carefully tended trees, rose like an altar in the
centre of the inclosure. Four of the red-cloaked Danish nobles stood about
her,--and one of them wore a golden circlet upon the gold of his hair,--but
the Etheling's eyes passed them almost unheedingly to dwell upon the
Something about her, while it was entirely strange, was yet so absurdly
familiar. She was some very high-born lady, there could be no doubt of that,
for the delicate fabric of her trailing kirtle was flowered with gold, and
gold and coral were twined in the dusky softness of her hair and hung around
her neck in a costly chain, which the King was fingering idly as he talked
with her. Now she looked up to answer the jesting words, and the man in the
passage saw her smile and shake back her clustering curls with a gesture so
familiar... so familiar...
Rothgar's gloating eyes detected light breaking in his victim's face,
incredulity, amazement, consternation; and he began to jeer under his breath.
"A great joy is this that you see your Fridtjof again! Why do you not go in
boldly and rescue him? Does he not look to be in need of your help?" To stifle
his laughter, he muffled his head in his cloak and leaned, shaking, against
Flushing a deeper and deeper red, the Lord of Ivarsdale stared at the smiling
maiden. Just so, a hundred times, she had lifted her sparkling face toward
him, and he--fool that he was!--where had been his eyes? Perhaps it is not
strange that after the surprise had faded from his look, the first feeling to
show was bitterest mortification. Turning, he forced a laugh between his
"I do not deny you the right to be amused. You speak truly that she needs no
help from me. I will hinder you no longer."
Rothgar leaped forward to bar the passage, and the mantle that fell from his
face showed no laughter of mouth or eyes. "I have not as yet spoken harm, but
it is not sure that I do not mean it," he said. "If you take it in this manner
to see how you have been tricked, you may suppose how well I like it to
remember the lies she fed to me, who would have staked my life upon her
truthfulness. It is not allowed me to take revenge on her for her treachery,
but I think I need not spare you, as you got the profit of her falseness."
The Etheling's sword was out while the other was still speaking. "By Saint
Mary, do you imagine that I am fearful of you? Never in my life was I more
thirsty for fighting."
But Rothgar pushed the blade aside with his naked palm. "Not here, where she
could come between. Besides, the King wants a thrust at you first. Nor have
you yet greeted Randalin, Frode's daughter." His hand, which was itching for a
sword, began to tear the fur from his cloak, and his lips curved in a grin
that had in it little of mirth. "Certainly you would not rob the maiden of the
pleasure of seeing the one she has taken so much trouble for?" he mocked.
On the verge of an angry retort, Sebert paused to regard him, a suspicion
darting spark-like through his mind. Did the Jotun's words smack of jealousy?
It was true that it needed not that to explain their bitterness, and yet--
What more natural than that the King's foster-brother should love the King's
ward? If it was so, it was small wonder the girl had said that he would slay
her when he discovered her unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness! Sebert started. Had
she not in that very word acknowledged a bond? Not only did he love her, but
she must have returned his affections. The spark of suspicion flared into a
flame. That would solve so many riddles. For one, her presence in the Danish
camp,--for surely, as a chieftain's daughter, she would have been sent on to
the care of the Lady of Northampton! Was it not thoroughly in accordance with
her elfish wildness to have chosen man's attire and the roughness of camp-life
in order to remain near her lover? Her lover! The young noble's lips curled as
he glanced at the warrior beside him, at the coarse face under the unkempt
locks, at the huge body in its trap-pings of stained gaudiness. Involuntarily,
he looked again at the group by the well. She was very winsome in her smiling,
and the graceful lines of her trailing robes, their delicacy and soft
richness, threw about her all the glamour of rank and state. He clenched his
hands at the thought of such treasures thrown down for brutal feet to trample
on; and his heart grew hot with anger against her, anger and scorn that were
almost loathing, that she who looked so fine should be so poor, so--But he did
not finish his thought, for on its heels came another, a recollection that
stayed his anger and changed his scorn to compunction. However dear Rothgar
might have been to her, he could be dear no longer, or she would never have
betrayed his trust and dared his hate to save Ivarsdale Tower--and its master.
Sebert winced and put up his hand to shut out the vision as he realized at
whose feet her heart lay now, like a pitiful bruised flower.
Meanwhile, the son of Lodbrok had been drawing heavily on his scant stock of
patience. Suddenly, he ran out completely. Seizing the Etheling by the
shoulders, before he could raise finger in resistance, he thrust him through
the open doorway into the garden, a target for every startled glance. After
which, he himself stalked grimly on to await him at the city gate.
How The Lord of Ivarsdale Paid His Debt