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´╗┐Title: Frey and His Wife
Author: Hewlett, Maurice, 1861-1923
Language: English
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Libraries.)



FREY AND HIS WIFE



THE NOVELS OF MAURICE HEWLETT.


THE FOREST LOVERS.
A LOVERS' TALE.
THE QUEEN'S QUAIR.
LITTLE NOVELS OF ITALY.
RICHARD YEA-AND-NAY.
THE STOOPING LADY.
FOND ADVENTURES.
NEW CANTERBURY TALES.
HALFWAY HOUSE.
OPEN COUNTRY.
REST HARROW.
BRAZENHEAD THE GROUT.
THE FOOL ERRANT.
SPANISH JADE.


[Illustration: "Gunnar gave her the cloak, and she cast it over Frey's
shoulder, ... while she whispered to him what it was." (Page 126.)

_Frey and his Wife_] [_Frontispiece_ ]



FREY AND HIS WIFE

BY

MAURICE HEWLETT

_Author of "The Forest Lovers," etc._

WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED
LONDON, MELBOURNE AND TORONTO
1917



CONTENTS

CHAP.                                               PAGE
    I WHO AND WHAT WAS OGMUND RAVENSSON,
      AND WHY CALLED OGMUND DINT                       7

   II HOW OGMUND DINT DID NOTHING, AND PRESENTLY
      SAILED HOME TO THWARTWATER; AND WHAT
      BATTLE-GLUM THOUGHT ABOUT IT ALL                25

  III OF KING OLAF TRYGVASSON; AND OF SIGURD
      HELMING AND GUNNAR, HIS BROTHER                 39

   IV OGMUND DINT COMES AGAIN TO NORWAY, AND MEETS
      GUNNAR ON THE HARD OF DRONTHEIM                 55

    V OGMUND DINT SATISFIES HIMSELF, AND SAILS HOME   67

   VI THE HUE-AND-CRY FOR HALWARD NECK                75

  VII GUNNAR CROSSES THE MOUNTAINS                    87

 VIII GUNNAR IN THE FOREST HEARS TELL
      OF FREY AND HIS WONDERS                         97

   IX GUNNAR MEETS WITH FREY. CONCERNING
      FREY'S WIFE                                    115

    X TALK BETWEEN GUNNAR AND SIGRID                 129

   XI GUNNAR TURNS FREY ABOUT AGAINST FREY'S WILL    145

  XII THE WINTER FEASTS                              159

 XIII FREY MAKES READY TO GO HIS ROUNDS              171

  XIV FREY STARTS ON HIS ROUNDS                      187

   XV THE SNOWSTORM                                  195

  XVI MARRIAGE OF SIGRID                             205

 XVII MORROW OF THE STORM                            211

XVIII NEWS OF FREY REACHES NORWAY                    225

  XIX SIGURD IN SWEDEN. THE BATTLE OF THE FORD       233

   XX THE END OF THE TALE                            247



CHAPTER I

WHO AND WHAT WAS OGMUND RAVENSSON, AND WHY CALLED OGMUND DINT


It's hard to tell why men could not get along with Ogmund Ravensson; but
so it was, and something must be said about it. He was of thrall-origin,
it is true, for Raven, his father, who became very rich and lived in the
North, in Skaga Firth, had been a thrall. Glum, of Thwartwater, who was
better known as Battle-Glum, had owned him, and had given him his
freedom. More than that, he had taken in fostership his son Ogmund, and
brought him up with his own son, Wigfus, and made much of him, putting
him in a fair way to gain money and renown on his own account. When
Wigfus went out to Norway and took service with Earl Haakon things
stood better than ever for Ogmund; for Glum was ageing and had no other
young man so much in favour about him. A thrall for your father was not
thought well of; but it had not so far stood in Ogmund's way with Glum,
and there must have been more against him than that. Indeed, the tale
says that his mother was related by blood to Battle-Glum, and that would
be more than enough to cover the taint on his father.

He grew up to be a fine, broad-shouldered, portly, upstanding man, with
a black beard; he had a large, flexible nose, strong eyebrows, white
hands. His eyes were somewhat small and near together; grey eyes, and a
cast in one of them. But what of that? Plenty men have it, and no harm
done. Finally, he was a great talker, full of his reasons for or against
a thing. Other men don't like that, I fancy. They don't follow the
reasoning; and the better it is the less they want it. Here are some of
the causes of Ogmund's lack of friends.

But Battle-Glum, who, as I say, was getting old, was averse from change.
He watched him from under bushy white brows, he watched him with quick
eye-blinks, and shut his lips the firmer, men used to think, for fear he
might let fly a volley at the man he had bred up from a child. When the
time came, and Ogmund desired to see the world, Glum furnished a ship
for him and found everything. So it was that Ogmund became a shipman and
began to get on. He made money, and spent money. He had a fine person,
and knew it very well. He was fond of adorning it. He liked furs, and
gold-work; he wore a chain round his neck, and a good ring on his
forefinger. He had as yet no wife in Iceland, but his fancy ran upon a
young woman of good family, of Glum's kindred and, since that was so,
of the kindred of Earl Haakon, of Norway. In the meantime, he had a
bondwoman in Norway, and a steading in very good land not far from the
firth. She was a pretty and good girl who did her duty by him and his
household there, and by her children also who were dependent upon Ogmund
and what Ogmund's whim might be. Her name was Gerda; but she has little
to do with the tale, which begins here with a voyage made by Ogmund some
three years before the coming of King Olaf Trygvasson into Norway.

For this voyage Ogmund bought a new ship from some men in the North, and
embarked a great store of merchantable goods which he had from his
father Raven, as well as what his own money could furnish him forth. All
this he told his foster-father Glum; and then he said, "I hope that you
will take it well in me, Glum, that I ask nothing of you for this
venture."

To that Glum, blinking hard, replied that there were things which any
man might ask of another without reproach.

"But," said Ogmund, "I would venture what I have of my own, so that what
I win may be my own without cavil."

"That's very fair," said Glum; "and what is it you expect to get out of
the voyage?"

Ogmund laughed a little, and spoke lightly. "Why," he said, "I expect to
get rather more than I give for everything. That is the trader's way,
the chapman's way. If he has a piece of goods that breeds no profit,
overboard with it. It has not earned its stowage."

Now Glum had his lips shut like a trap, and blinked fearfully. "Ah," he
said, "and fame, and great report, and the lifted hands of men--what of
those?"

"They are good," said Ogmund. "Of them, too, you may trust me to render
account."

"Such accounts," said Glum, "are not to be made in money."

"Well," said Ogmund. And that was all he did say.

Then Glum looked at him with earnest eyes; and this time he did not
blink at all. "Many a man goes abroad," he said, "who is of no greater
promise than you are, so far as can be seen. Now I have it close at
heart that in the voyage you make you should rather get honour than
store of money. But you may have both, I believe, if you go rightly to
work."

"To be sure I can," said Ogmund; and soon after this--rather late in
midsummer it was--he set out from Thwartwater.


They started in fair weather, with a westerly wind which blew steady and
strong. It held them all through the voyage, and when they sighted the
islands which lie close together in the channel of the Hardanger Firth,
it was still blowing steadily.

But it was dusk when they saw the islands, and close upon nightfall
when they were threading the course between them; and the pilot whom
they had aboard was strong for bringing up for the night in good
anchorage, such as they could have where they were, rather than to push
on and try to make the haven in the dark.

Ogmund, who was in a hurry, said, there was a moon, and they had a fair
wind. Who knew how long it would hold? And suppose that in the morning
it should come off the land, and keep them beating about for a week or
more? He was vehemently for going, and he was master of the ship; so
they went on in the dark.

That which happened might have been foreseen, and very likely was so by
the pilot. In one of the narrow sounds between the islands there were
long ships moored in the fairway. Before they knew it they drove into
one of them amidships, cut her in half and held on their course.
Whether Ogmund knew it or not--and I suppose he did--that was the way of
it. The crew of the rammed ship were all in the water and most of them
were saved. But none of them were saved by Ogmund's vessel. She ran on
her way before the wind, and made the haven and was drawn up on to the
mainland. The pilot had something to say when he had his ship laid up;
the crew had something to say. There were not two opinions among them.
But Ogmund took a strong line of his own at the time. He said, "The ship
lay in the fairway where no ship has business to be. Every man must take
care of himself first, but no man has a right to risk his life if, in so
doing, he risks the lives of other men. You may take my word for it,
those were no seamen on board that vessel. Why, what are we to think of
men who berth themselves in the fairway, regardless of traffickers who
come and go out of Bergen, so great a town? What of good Icelanders
faring on the sea? Are their lives, is their property, of no account at
all? No, no. We were right and they were wrong; and that is all there is
to say." He went ashore in the morning and made himself busy, disposing
of his merchandise.


Now the long ship which he had sunk was one of a fleet of them which
sailed under the ensign of Earl Haakon himself. The master of it was a
man of Iceland called Halward, who had been in Norway for many years, in
the service of the Earl, and was a close friend of his. This Halward was
a great man and a strong man; everybody spoke well of him and desired
his good opinion.

In the morning, when he had heard the news, he went to Earl Haakon and
told him about it. His men were saved; but his ship and all his gear and
merchandise were at the bottom. The Earl was greatly put out, and his
anger grew as he spoke. "Who and what sort of land-lice are these men?
Are they thralls of Iceland upon a first adventure? Are men of worth and
substance to be tossed into the water like frog-spawn? Now, Halward, you
have my leave to take your due and pleasure of them. It will be a light
matter for you, for you see what sort of cravens they are. Use your wit,
exercise your hands upon them; I give you a free way with them."

Halward thanked the Earl and was for going out then and there to have
the law of his assailants; but Wigfus, Battle-Glum's own son, was
standing by, and had a word to say. It is very possible that he had an
inkling whose ship it was that had been sailed so foully; but if he had
he kept it to himself, and was content to plead with the Earl that
things should go by the law of the land rather than by the power of
Halward's arm. He urged that Halward should take amends from them, if
so be that they were willing, as he had no doubt, to submit themselves
to the judgment of the Earl. "At least," he said, "let Halward agree to
this, that I go myself and find out what men they are, and what sort of
terms may be made with them, supposing that terms may be made at all."
Halward said nothing in reply to this; but the Earl considered the
saying, thought it fair and reasonable, and bade Wigfus see what he
could do. But he said also, "Let these men make no mistake. My plane
makes thick shavings." By that he meant it to be understood that the
fines he should lay would be heavy.

Wigfus betook himself to the ship where men were busy unloading the
merchandise. He soon saw his foster-brother Ogmund, and greeted him
fairly, asking what news of Iceland and his father. Ogmund reported all
well there, and they talked a little about the Thwartwater people. Then
Wigfus opened upon his matter, saying it was going to be awkward, and
that Ogmund would have a difficult cause to plead.

Ogmund frowned. "How is it to be difficult?" he said. "To my mind it's
as plain as daylight."

"If you had waited for daylight it had been very much better," said
Wigfus, and told him what had been said that morning at the Earl's
council. Then he spoke strongly about the necessity of laying it all to
that lord's judgment; but, "I will do what I can for you, since you are
my foster-brother; and we may not come off so badly after all."

But Ogmund was rather hot, and would not listen to reason. That is the
way of men not too sure of their footing; they fan their eloquence and
take fire from it. He stated his case as he viewed it, and stated it at
length, and several times over. And then he said, "I know this Earl of
yours so well by common report that I shall be careful to have nothing
to do with his dooms and judgments. Why!" and he spread his hands wide,
palms outwards, "Why! Look at this, Wigfus, that he says beforehand what
he will do to me--with his talk of planing me deep and the like. And if
I will not lay a case before him where he says nothing, how shall I
plead at his judgment-seat when, before a word said, he avows what he
will do?" He was very indignant; but by and by he said, "Mind you, I do
not refuse if he speaks me fair, and keeps an open mind. No, no. I am
not a hard man, far from it. So much you may tell Earl Haakon--to whom,
nevertheless, I owe no allegiance; for I am not of his country, but am
an Icelander, and a well-friended man in those parts."

Wigfus tossed up his chin. "Well, you shall do what seems good, and be
ready to meet what befalls you. If Earl Haakon is angry, you will smart
for it. You have not a rat's chance with him; and in my opinion you are
talking rank nonsense. But have your own way."

Now then, Wigfus reports to the Earl that Ogmund will abide his
judgment--which was not true, and was even notoriously untrue. So said
one of the Earl's men who was there at the time, and Wigfus could not
deny him.

Then up and spoke Halward, that mighty man, and spoke quietly as mighty
men may. "I believe that Wigfus speaks untruly, and shall take my own
way, by your leave, my lord. I did not need a mediator, and can do much
better without him what I have to do."

Earl Haakon said, "Go on, Halward. Do what becomes thee."

Then said Wigfus, "Give me leave, my lord, to say this. I will be the
death of that man who kills Ogmund, my foster-brother, and kinsman--for
so he is by the mother-side."

Said Halward, "You talk over-big, Wigfus," and Wigfus said, "I come of
a strong stock."

"I know that you do," said Halward; "I know that the Icelanders are good
men. But I know this too, that the custom of my country will not suffer
a man to be injured without amends offered or taken. Neither
Battle-Glum, nor you neither, shall stay me from avenging a shame done
me." And Earl Haakon said that they should not.

Then Halward went down to the shore to board the Iceland ship; but he
found that she had been run down into the water since the morning, and
was now moored a bowshot out. So he took boat and was rowed out to the
ship. There on the poop he saw Ogmund standing with his arms folded.

"Are you the master of this ship?" says Halward. Ogmund said that he
was.

"I have a case against you, as you know very well, and have come to see
what sort of amends you think of offering me."

Ogmund said, "We will make amends if you don't ask too much."

Halward's neck grew red. "It would not be easy to ask too much for
insolence and knavery like yours."

"On those terms," said Ogmund, "we cannot deal with you."

"That suits me better," Halward said, and made a jump for the bulwark of
the ship. He swung himself up as easily as a boy into a row-boat; and
the moment he was on deck, he aimed at Ogmund with the hammer-end of his
axe, and felled him like a bullock. Down he went, and never stirred.
Some of the shipmen who were in the forepart of the ship saw it all
done; but not one of them cared to move. Halward was a very big man.

At leisure he went over the side into his boat, and was pulled ashore.
Then he went to Earl Haakon and told him what he had done. "You have
done well," said the Earl.



CHAPTER II

HOW OGMUND DINT DID NOTHING, AND PRESENTLY SAILED HOME TO THWARTWATER;
AND WHAT BATTLE-GLUM THOUGHT ABOUT IT ALL


That was why Ogmund Ravensson was called Ogmund Dint, or Dint-head.
Halward's hammer had knocked a great hollow in his skull. Men said you
could have boiled an egg in it; but that is nonsense. At any rate, he
was senseless for a long time, and not his own man all the winter; yet
as soon as he was fit to be moved he was carried up into the country, to
his house-stead, and given over to his bondwoman to nurse.

Gerda, who, although she looked as sleek as a stroked kitten, had a
shrewd tongue and a clear understanding, employed both to his
discomfort--but not until she felt that she was justified. So long as he
lay bemused and muttering thickly she was all devotion; but when he
picked up a bit, and presently would get out of bed and sit by the fire
huddled in a bearskin, she did not scruple.

"You look like a shagged rock," she said, "and with a cave in the crown
of it, too. Pity is that you had so little in your head. If there had
been some sense or some manliness there you might have driven against
the hatchet. Halward would have split it open, it's likely, and who
knows what he might have eased you of? A lot of wind."

"Such talk as that maddens me," said Ogmund. "I wish you would have done
with it. It becomes you not at all, and puts me out."

"That's a service I can do you," said Gerda. "You need something of the
kind."

"Woman," said Ogmund, "I am meditating my revenge."

"Yes," said she, "and I have a hen sitting on a chalk egg. She's
meditating also."

However, she did her duty by him, and as he got stronger she did more.
As she said, "It pleases him, and is nothing to me."

Wigfus came to see him now and then, and told him what had happened. He
said that Earl Haakon held Halward to have been justified in what he had
done, and that Halward himself was content for the moment. "There was
plenty more smiting in his axe," Halward said, "and if Ogmund wants any
more he knows now how to get it, and where." Ogmund, brooding over the
fire, swung his foot violently as he heard, but said nothing. He
complained of pains in the head, and dreams at night. Gerda scorned him.

Wigfus went on to say that he himself had taken Halward's deed very much
awry. He had challenged Halward to a battle, and intended to slay him
in that wise, or otherwise, but the Earl had forbidden battle, and had
had a watch set over him, so that he could not get away. He did not then
say what was in his mind to say, that he expected Ogmund to take
vengeance on his own account, because the man was too ill to hear it.

But in the spring, when Ogmund was about again and seemingly as well as
ever he had been, except for the dint in his skull, Wigfus waited for
him, to see what he would do. Ogmund went about his affairs, and had
everybody in the haven laughing at him, and cracking their jokes at his
dunted head. Some said that a sea-bird had made a nest for herself
there, some brought eggs from the rocks to put under her. A man wished
Ogmund to keep it filled with water, and promised him goldfish from his
next voyage to the South. Every one called him Ogmund Dint, even the
boys who played about on the quayside. But Ogmund managed to be very
busy, and pretended that they were not talking of him. Whenever he met
Halward in the course of business he looked sternly at him, but without
greeting. He considered that the dignified way to deal with him, for the
present. To his intimates he said that Halward had taken him unawares
and dealt a foul blow. "But there's a time for all things," he would
conclude; "and so he will learn for himself one fine day." Men looked at
each other at such talk.

Wigfus was now at him, insisting upon his taking vengeance. He said he
would help him in every way, risking outlawry in the act, for certainly
the Earl would resent it. But Ogmund looked very thoughtful, and one day
said fairly that he did not see his way. "What do you mean by that?"
said Wigfus, taken aback.

"We may easily do wrong, I believe," Ogmund said, "and add wrong to
wrong until you have a regular mixen of wrong at your house-door. But
is that good sense? I don't think so. Now, to my thinking, I was as much
in the wrong as Halward was. I am a proud man, and as quick to fire as
touchwood. Everybody knows it who knows me. If I met Halward haughtily I
am sure there's no wonder. We can't help our natures. We didn't make
ourselves. Now that being so, what else could come of it? I ask you. The
man being what he was, a common fellow, took it amiss, and struck me a
foul blow in the half dusk." He rubbed his hands together, then folded
his arms over his chest. "That's the way of the vile. They do vilely,
and the wise man lets them be, and the proud man scorns them. But there
is another thing, which settles me in my opinion, and I will tell you
what it is. This man Halward is befriended by the Earl; and here are
you, my friend, my kinsman, my foster-brother, in the power of the same
great man. Your father is my foster-father, to whom I owe duty,
gratitude, faith and service. It would be a strange way of paying Glum
my scot and lot if I embroiled his son with an Earl, and got him robbed
of life or member in my quarrel. No, no. My fingers itch to be at him; I
lay hands on myself; I tell you I have to run sometimes lest I should
fly at the dog's throat. He knows it too. You can see that by the way he
looks at me--all ways at once. But I will not suffer harm to come to my
fosterer's son--and there's end of it."

At this speech Wigfus grew very red, and clenched his two fists. "It is
a strange way you have of doing service to Battle-Glum. And you will get
no thanks from me for being more careful of my body than I am myself, If
you are not mad, you are something which I don't care to name. Whatever
I may think of your head with a hole in it I have little doubt about
your heart. You have a hare's heart, my man--and there's no driving a
hare to meet a hound. And I will trouble you to talk less about our
kinship than you please to do at present. You had a father as well as a
mother, and he was not of our blood. Now you may do as you please; but I
should not advise you to hold these speeches with my father; and you
shall hold no more of them with me."

With that he walked off, leaving Ogmund to explain to Gerda that it was
no use reasoning with an angry man. "That's the way of it," he said.
"You try to do a man a service, and he reviles you for it."

Gerda bit her lip; and at last she said, "You make me ashamed that I am
a woman. God knows what sons you may have given me." Ogmund boxed her
ears; but she said that he should give her no more sons, and she meant
it.


But Ogmund, whatever else may be said about him, was a good chapman. He
bustled along with his affairs, made a great deal of money, and sailed
away towards midsummer, for Iceland. He came prosperously into Eyefirth,
and when he had settled his business with the ship he rode by the dales
into Thwartwaterdale, to stay with his foster-father Glum. Now Glum had
had news of the coming of the ship, and was told something about the
affray with Halward. He said very little, but thought very much. Ogmund
had a short welcome, but took no notice of it. He was so prosperous, he
had such a store of good clothes that he felt that all was well, when it
was by no means so. He began to take a great part in the affairs of the
country-side, gave it out that Glum was getting old and wanted to be
quiet, that he had no one to look to but Ogmund, in short that all
matters hitherto referred to Glum's arbitrament were now for his
handling--and so on, and so on. He had much to say about the management
of the household; in fact he strutted, and clapped his wings, and
puffed out his wattles very finely.

For a long while Glum, who certainly was old, would not speak to him;
but at last he did.

He then said, "You had better know what I think of you, and maybe I had
better have told you sooner. I think that all this strutting and crowing
becomes you sadly. You have had my name in the dust, and proved yourself
a poltroon, if not worse. A man may be a craven, but if he holds himself
bravely when there is nobody in the way, then he is a fool as well. Now
for the disgrace you have brought upon me I desire never to see you
again."

Ogmund began at once with his excuse. "But look at this," he said. "How
could I bring your own son into danger on my account? What is my revenge
compared to such a life as his?"

"What the mischief had you to do with that?" said Glum. "And how the
mischief did it concern you, if he had no concern about it himself? Do
you think all men are such rats as you are? Don't you know that I would
have seen the pair of you dead with gladness if I knew that you had died
like men? Vex me no more, but let me be rid of you."

Then Ogmund began to plead in earnest, but Glum would hardly listen to
him. He cut him short by saying, "It comes to this, Ogmund. Either you
are a man of long-mindedness and caution--and why you took such a high
hand with Halward at first if you are not, that beats me--or you are a
bag of silly vapour, a bladder of dry peasen. I believe myself, that you
are a cur, and am forced to remind you that you come of base blood. A
thrall deals like a thrall, they say--and so I say. But you shall not
stay here any longer." And Ogmund must needs go. He went away to his
father in the North, and there he was for two years or more.



CHAPTER III

OF KING OLAF TRYGVASSON; AND OF SIGURD HELMING AND GUNNAR, HIS BROTHER


During those years, while Ogmund was faring prosperously with his father
and was thinking of marrying a girl of those parts, misfortune overtook
Earl Haakon, who fell out with some of his sworn friends, became
suspicious of others, and at last took to his bed with a troublesome
complaint, and died in it, but not of the complaint. He had a servant
called Kark, whom he trusted inordinately, and used to have him to sleep
in his chamber at the foot of his bed. He had bad dreams and used to
throw himself about and cry out against his enemies. One night he had a
very bad dream, and sat up in bed, staring at the wall and screaming,
"They are coming, they are coming, they are here!" Kark sprang up in a
fright and with a sword in his hand slashed about him. He slashed the
Earl in the neck; and that was his death-blow. The deed was done, and by
misadventure, but being done, Kark thought he might as well make profit
off it. So he cut off Earl Haakon's head and put it in a bag. Then he
carried it with all speed over the mountains to King Olaf Trygvasson,
who he knew would be chosen King of Norway, as his right was. That was
the end of the Earl, who was a great man. But his death made way for a
greater.

King Olaf was still a youngish man when the Thing chose him. He may have
been thirty years old, and the wife he had was his second, if not third.
He was a great-grandson of King Harold Fairhair, and had been bred up in
Russia, then in Vendland, which is the country round about the Vistula;
then he went viking and did great things in Orkney, in Iceland and in
England also. He sailed to Scilly at one time, and there he was baptized
and became a Christian. The way of it was this: He heard tell of a
prophet in those islands who knew everything that was going to happen,
and determined to see what he could do. So he sent a fine man of his out
to visit him, dressed in the best clothes that he had, rings, chains and
I don't know what else. "Now," he said, "go to the prophet, and say you
are a king. Ask him what he has to tell you, and report it all to me."
The man went as he was bid, found the prophet and said, "Here is a king
come to visit you and hear what you have to say." The prophet, who was
old, and white, and had a loose, wrinkled skin and remarkable
finger-nails, like a bird's claws, plucked at the roots of his beard.
"You are not a king," he said, "but I advise you to be faithful to the
man who is one, and sent you here. I have nothing to tell you, and if I
had I should not tell it. Go away."

There was little else to do, indeed, there was nothing else. When Olaf
heard the story, he said, "This is certainly a prophet. I will go to see
him."

Olaf was a very noticeable man, very tall and broad, with a golden
beard; he was high-coloured and had bright blue eyes. The prophet was
sitting in the mouth of his cave, which he had swept out and put in
order. When he saw Olaf he bowed until his head was level with his
knees. Olaf sat down beside him, and they had a long conversation.

The prophet presently began to prophesy. He said, "You will become a
notable king in a country which is yours, though you have never seen it.
And you will be a Christian king and cause all your people to become so
before the end. And in case you doubt what I say, as you may easily do,
listen to this token. When you take to your ships again, all of you,
there will be a plot against you, and a rising by night. Then there will
be a battle--but on land; and you will lose men, and be wounded. They
will carry you on a shield to your ship, and in seven days you will be
well. The first thing you will do will be to seek out a bishop
hereabouts, and go down into the water with him and be baptized. After
you all your men will go, and that will be the beginning of Christianity
in Norway and Iceland."


Now the odd thing about this tale is that it all fell out as the holy
man had foreseen. That very man of the king's whom he had warned against
treachery was himself the beginner of a treacherous attack. There was
fierce fighting, the king sorely wounded. He was carried on a shield to
the boats, and laid aboard his own long ship. There he lay for seven
days, and on the seventh he was well. The first thing he did was to
visit the man of God.

"You told me the truth," said Olaf; and the prophet said, "That is why I
am here and living in sanctity."

Olaf said, "The least I can do is to fulfil the prophecy which has so
far fulfilled itself. I will go into the water when you please."

The man of God said, "The sooner the better. You will find the bishop
very ready for you."

"I will send for him," King Olaf said, "but you shall tell me something
of the religion which I suppose gives you the powers you possess."

The prophet agreed to that. "It is a very good religion for a king," he
said, "because it may make him humble-minded before God, which he has no
reason otherwise to be--or so he is apt to think. In any event it must
make his subjects so, which is very useful to the king."

"Oh, very," said Olaf, and became attentive to what the wise man had to
say.

To be short about it, King Olaf was baptized and all the men with him in
the long ships; and soon afterwards he sailed for Norway where, in the
time of Earl Haakon's sickness, he made a landing and gathered a company
about him. When the Earl was killed by Kark, his head was brought to
King Olaf in a bag by the malefactor. Olaf accepted it as his due; but
he hanged Kark then and there on a convenient ash-tree.

I said that the Thing chose Olaf for king; and one of the first of his
acts was to proclaim that he chose Christianity for the religion of
Norway, and willed that all his people should be baptized. He had
brought back priests with him from Scilly, and a bishop as well, so
everything was in order.

The common sort gave him no trouble, for they either ran down into the
water in herds, or withdrew themselves to the mountains and forests;
but some of the great men were stiff about it, and did not choose to
forsake their gods. They debated about it among themselves, and sent
chosen champions to debate about it with the king. But in this they had
mistaken their man. King Olaf listened to one or two, and then, lifting
his large hand, slammed it down upon the board in front of him. "Enough
of this," he said. "It may be a good religion or a bad, but it is my own
religion, and I desire it to be that of my people. See you to it, and
let me have no more talk, for I am sick of it." They went away, and a
good many of them were baptized, but by no means all.

There were two brothers living in a dale of Drontheim--Sigurd was the
elder, and his brother was Gunnar. Both were called Helming. They were
well descended, and neither of them was thirty years old, though Sigurd
was near it. He was married and a friend of the King's. Gunnar was
twenty-six years old, a cheerful high-coloured man with a reddish
beard, though his hair was much darker, and might have been taken for
black. Sigurd was a councillor, Gunnar was not, but had been to sea, and
fought in Sicily, and as far as Micklegarth. When he was not voyaging he
lived with his brother. The pair were great friends.

Sigurd Helming was one of those who followed Olaf's example, and went
down into the water. When it was over and all his household had been
made Christians, he said to Gunnar, "Now it's your turn."

Gunnar laughed. "Not for me," he said. "I will go into the water when my
time comes, but that will be the end of me. I know too much about the
water."

Sigurd said, "It's soon over."

"The sooner the better," said Gunnar, "when it is to be--and also, the
later the better."

Sigurd said, "This is the king's religion."

"Why not?" said Gunnar.

"The king will be displeased. He loves his own way."

"We all do that, I believe," said Gunnar.

"What am I to tell him when he asks me of you?" Sigurd asked him.

"Tell him that I follow him because he is a man," said Gunnar. "Tell him
that I will serve him all the better for following my own counsel in
this business of religion. You will see that he understands me."

"I am sure he will not," said Sigurd, "but I will try him."


He made the best case he could, and King Olaf heard him out. When Sigurd
had done he said, "Send Gunnar to me." So Gunnar went to the King's
house.

King Olaf looked at him with his bright blue eyes like swords. "You are
a fighting man, I hear."

Gunnar said that he was.

"And now you will fight with me."

Gunnar said, "If you go fighting, King Olaf, I will go with you, if you
will have me."

"My religion says that he who is not with me is against me."

Gunnar said, "That's a good saying. But I am with you."

"Not at all," said King Olaf, "since you refuse to take my religion."

"If I were to take your religion I should be a liar," said Gunnar, "and
if I were a liar I should not be worth your while. Better take me as I
am."

"I will take you as you are sooner than not at all," the king said. "But
I do not like a stiff-necked man."

Gunnar said, "The neck of a man is part of the back of the man. If he is
too supple in the neck it is likely he will give in the back, and that
at a time when stiffness may be useful."

King Olaf frowned. "Beware of talking too much. It makes me angry."

"I had much rather not talk at all," Gunnar said, "but it would be
ill-mannered to be glum when a king speaks to me."

Olaf said, "Will you consult with my bishop, and hear what he has to
say?"

"I will," said Gunnar, "but you must let me tell you that I am not a
scholar, but a man of hands. There will be more talking. Heat will be
engendered, and you will be angry again."

Olaf liked Gunnar very well, and was silent for a bit. Then he said,
"You are one of the few who gainsay me; yet I don't feel badly disposed
to you. I think you are a fool; but you seem to know it yourself."

"The fact is, that I do," said Gunnar. "Your bishop alarms me."

"You will find out in time that I am right and you wrong," said the
king. "Be off with you, and serve me as well as you can."

"Have no fear about that," said Gunnar, and kept to his own religion,
which was not, with him, a very great matter. But he did not feel at
all inclined to change it because he was told to do so. King Olaf soon
got over his vexation; but, as it will shortly appear, he kept it at the
back of his mind.



CHAPTER IV

OGMUND DINT COMES AGAIN TO NORWAY, AND MEETS GUNNAR ON THE HARD OF
DRONTHEIM


It is time to go back to Ogmund Dint, who had now been two years and
more with his father in the North. He had become something of a great
man, and had impressed himself as such upon the people round about. But
he was not easy in his mind, and more than once or twice he asked
himself, "What am I doing, purfling here in a fine coat, when my
foster-father, who is as rich as he is old, is perhaps dying in his bed
without sight or memory of me, and with none of his kindred at hand
either? Is this sense, is this pious? Here I am, for two years at a
time, a great man, and a great fool."

At another time he would reflect like this: "That was a very dastardly
deed done upon me by Halward, to take me unawares on my own shipboard
and knock a great dint in my head!" He would feel the place of it: there
it lay under a growth of hair as snug as a wren's nest in the roots of a
tree. "A foul blow!" he would say; and "A man may carry his magnanimity
too far, to overlook such a shameful thing for the sake of another man,
only half akin, who moreover gives you no thanks." He shook his head.
"Indeed, I let off Halward too lightly. I daresay he thinks himself a
lucky fellow--and so he is, by God."

One train of thought led him into another, and he began to consider his
affairs more narrowly. "It would be an easy thing, and very pertinent
indeed, to carry this warfare on as it was begun. Two years, three
years, is a goodish while. Halward will not be expecting such a long
memory in a man who never did him any harm. But insults such as he did
to me stay by a man, and the prouder the man the quicker the soil in
which they root themselves. I am astonished--I am fairly
astonished--that I have kept myself off him so long. There are not many
men in Iceland who have themselves so firmly in hand--bitted and
saddled."

In the event, without saying anything of his private mind to anybody, he
gave out that he must go to Norway upon his affairs. He furnished a ship
with men and goods, and towards midsummer sailed from Eyefirth, and
steered East-North-East.

He had a fair wind and came into Drontheim Firth in the morning light,
sailed up the firth prosperously and brought his ship to under Nith's
holm. There he cast his anchor, and bade them get out a boat, though the
day was spent and a cool breeze was now blowing off the land. But "I
must row up the river some little way and go into the town," he said.
"I have heard something of trouble in this country, and we must be sure
of our footing before we go further." He dressed himself with splendour,
and put over him in particular a very fine cloak of two colours. It was
green on one side and golden-brown on the other. It had trimmings of
sable-tails which fluttered in the breeze, and over the back of it a
dragon worked in gold thread: a very magnificent cloak. He took a sword,
and had two men to row him.

They came in to the hard with the last of the light. "Stay you here for
me," he said, "and don't show yourselves. This is an urgent affair."


Ogmund walked on the hard, up and down, and felt himself admired of the
few persons who were about. By and by he saw one coming down from the
town at a brisk pace; a man of his own height, but of sparer frame than
his own. He wore a crimson cloak with a hood to it, and wore the hood
over his head, shadowing his face. The oncomer when he was close at hand
was struck by the splendour of Ogmund's appearance. Ogmund saw that and
saluted him. Gunnar Helming, for that was the man in the hood, returned
it, and stopped his quick step.

"You are the master of that boat, I take it?" said Gunnar. "A stranger
in this water?"

"Not so much as that," replied Ogmund. "I come now and again to see my
friends here. But I am from Iceland myself. My name is Ogmund."

Gunnar looked at him. "Are you Ogmund Dint?"

Ogmund said, "Some men call me that, and others who know me better call
me Ogmund Ravensson. But that matters little to me. Now what might your
name be, in fair return?"

Gunnar told him--but could not keep either eyes or tongue from Ogmund's
wonderful cloak. "Gunnar is my name," he said, "and some call me Gunnar
Helming, and some Gunnar Half-and-Half."

"What do they call you that for?"

"Because I take pleasure in wearing clothes like that fine cloak of
yours," said Gunnar.

"Oh," said Ogmund, "my cloak! It is an ordinary cloak, I believe."

"I, too, like to believe that," said Gunnar.

Then Ogmund asked him for news of the country, "since it is some years
now since I was here."

Gunnar told him that they had news which they thought a good deal of.
"Earl Haakon is dead, and we now have a very notable king, whose name is
Olaf Trygvasson. He is a Christian, and drives all men, and women too,
into the water, to make Christians also of them."

Ogmund said this was greatness; "And do the people take kindly to the
water?" Gunnar said that they did.

Then Ogmund said, "And my friend Halward, how is he?"

"Oh, he!" said Gunnar. "I saw him just now."

"What, here?" says Ogmund.

"Yes," said Gunnar, "he is here sure enough. He is as good friends with
King Olaf as ever he was with Earl Haakon, and yet he is not the man he
was when he gave you your name."

"How is that then?" Ogmund wanted to know.

"Why," Gunnar told him, "one of the last battles fought by Haakon was at
Yomswicking; and in that battle Halward got a great whang by the ear,
and rather below it. It cut the sinew of his neck, and made a bad
healing. The good man now carries his head on one side, and will do it
until his death-day. And yet he is as well as ever he was otherwise, and
in high favour with the king."

Ogmund thanked him for all this news; but saw how preoccupied Gunnar
was, and how his eyes dwelt upon his cloak. "You are pleased to admire
my cloak," he said. "And yet I assure you it is by no means the best I
have."

"I can believe it," said Gunnar, "but for my part I have never seen one
so fine since I left the great city of Micklegarth. Now if I asked you
to sell it to me, Ogmund, would you take it amiss?"

Ogmund thought for a while. "I will not sell it to you," he said, "but I
will ask you to accept it from me. It would be a pleasure to me to
please you."

Gunnar opened his eyes. They were very bright. "Give it to me by all
means," he said, "and prosper in all your undertakings! But it is too
much for you to do--and I am rather ashamed."

"By no means," said Ogmund Dint, "by no manner of means. Yet if it will
set your mind at ease, and as the wind blows shrewdly off the mountains,
perhaps we may make an exchange. How would that suit you?"

"Excellently," said Gunnar, "but my old cloak is dross for your gold."

"It looks a serviceable garment," said Ogmund. "It will keep the weather
away."

There and then they exchanged. Ogmund put on the crimson cloak, and
pulled the hood up over his head; Gunnar put on his bargain and was as
pleased as a boy with a new top.

"Now indeed we shall see something," said Gunnar.

"Yes, indeed," said Ogmund, and saluted him.

Gunnar went his ways with his brisk step, and Ogmund turned back to his
boat. "I shan't be long gone," he said. "Stand by your oars, and be
ready the moment I want you." Then he went into the town with long
strides, and walked briskly, swinging one arm, as he had observed Gunnar
do coming down.



CHAPTER V

OGMUND DINT SATISFIES HIMSELF, AND SAILS HOME


Ogmund walked briskly into the street, looking for Halward. At first he
could not find him, but that was because he looked in the wrong places.
Then, after a time, he turned into a lane or by-way which led to a
creek, and a row of buildings facing it, with willow-trees in front of
them, between them and the water. One of these buildings was an inn, and
in the court of that inn there was a company of men washing their hands
before supper. The tallest of them by far was Halward, and if Ogmund had
not remembered him very well without it, he would have known him by the
twist in his neck, which made him poke his head out like a stork when
she is stretching hers forward to flack her wings. It was now dusk, and
a lamp was alight in the court that men might see what they were about.

Ogmund with the hood well forward over his face stepped into the court.
Before him was Halward, standing with his legs apart. He was rubbing the
soap-suds into one arm with the other hand. His face and beard were wet
with rinsing. He saw the entry and hailed it with a "God save thee,
Gunnar"; but Ogmund laid a finger on his lip and beckoned him to come
apart with an air of having a secret to tell. Having done that, he
stepped out of the court until Halward should follow him.

Halward came after him with a "What's in the wind then?" Ogmund drew
into a doorway, and got his sword free of his cloak. The moment Halward
came within range of him he stepped out to meet him and hewed at his
neck. It was Halward's death-blow. He shook and groaned thickly, and
then fell. His head was nearly off.

Ogmund went away with all speed, and was not long coming to the quay
where he had left his boat. He found his men waiting for him, and jumped
into the boat.

"Pull with a will," he said; "we will be out of this. There's war in
this country. Up the street I saw men fighting. There will be no trading
here."

"What," said one of them, "are we to see nothing of the sport, master?
That will be a poor tale to take home with us."

"We are here to trade, not to go to peep-shows," said Ogmund testily.
"Do you do as I bid you. There is a wind coming strong off the land
which will hold the night out. By morning light we shall be in the open
sea. Fortunate for us that it is so."

The men did as they were bid. One of them said, "It's plain you have
been in the fray. You have changed cloaks with a foe, I see, and lost by
the bargain. That is bad trading for such a keen merchant."

"Pull, man, pull, and hold your tongue," said Ogmund Dint.


They reached the ship and he swung himself aboard. Then while the crew
were busy hauling on the tackle he got himself a great stone from the
ballast. This he rolled into the hood of Gunnar's cloak, and then cast
the thing into the water. As he saw the waves lap over the hole he had
made, he took a long breath.

All went well with him; as he had thought, he was out at sea by the
morning. Even then his luck held, with a quarter wind which carried him
to Eyefirth. People were surprised to see him; but he made a very good
tale of it, and spoke at length about the sad state of things in Norway,
the risks, the frays, the bloodshed in the streets, burnings,
ravishings, cut throats, men hanging by the thumbs and so on. He did not
forget to work into it much about the killing of Earl Haakon, and King
Olaf's baptizings. After a bit he rode South to Thwartwater to see his
foster-father Battle-Glum.


Glum joined his shaggy brows and blinked hard when he saw him. Ogmund
said he brought him news which he would be pleased to hear. "I have
avenged the insult done me by Halward the Strong, and though I have been
slow about it I have done it surely. He will insult no man hereafter."

"What," said Glum, "have you slain Halward?"

"I have," said Ogmund.

"And yourself scatheless?"

"I am."

"That was a good battle then?

"It was. They were twelve to our three; but we thought little of it at
the time. In hot blood such things are not memorable."

"Well," said Glum, "you have done now as I hoped it might have been at
first. Did my son Wigfus help you?"

"He did not."

Glum was thoughtful. "He will be sorry not to have been in with you."

Ogmund said that he had not seen Wigfus at all, and rather thought that
he was at sea; "Or he would surely have stood in with me."

"To be sure he would," said Glum.


Now Ogmund was taken into favour again, and stayed with Battle-Glum all
the winter.



CHAPTER VI

THE HUE-AND-CRY FOR HALWARD NECK


After a bit somebody in the inn yard said, "Let us go in to supper"; and
then another, "Where is Halward, and what is he doing?"

A man said, "He is outside talking with Gunnar Helming."

Then another: "Let us have Gunnar in to sup with us. He is the best
company."

They all agreed to that.

After a time of more waiting a man went out of the yard to see where
Halward and Gunnar were, and came back with a serious face.

"Come out with me," he said. "Here's a bad affair."

They all tumbled out together with the lamp, and there found Halward
dead in his blood. He was stiffening already.

Then, after silence, all began to talk at once. Nobody could understand
the slaying, nobody could doubt who had done it, for everybody had seen
Gunnar come into the yard, or the few who had not took it from the many
who had. Not a word of doubt was raised about it.


As Halward was a friend of the king's certainly the king must have the
news; but all hung back from the errand because all men liked Gunnar.
The end of it was that, having brought the body into the yard and
covered it with a carpet, they went in to supper and ate and drank
thoughtfully and in silence.

While they were sitting at their drink in came Sigurd Helming to see if
Gunnar was there. He asked for him and could not but notice how his
question was received. Repeating it, he had no answer at all. A third
time he asked it, and of one man by name. He was answered that Gunnar
had been there, but had spoken to nobody.

"That is not like Gunnar," Sigurd said. "What did he do when he came
in?"

"He beckoned to one of us, and went out again."

"And to which of you did he beckon?"

"It was to Halward Neck."

"And where is Halward Neck?"

Then there was a silence, and after that another man, very red in the
face and with gleaming eyes, spoke between his teeth.

"I will show you where Halward Neck is," he said. "Come with me." He led
him out into the yard, while the rest crowded at the door.

He showed him the dead man; he held the lamp close to his face.

"Who did this?" said Sigurd. Then, beginning with a low murmur, all
voices rose and the name of Gunnar was cried in his ears. Sigurd lifted
his head, and all were silent.

"I don't believe it," he said, "but somebody must tell the king of it."

They went back into the house and shut the doors. Sigurd was told what
every one knew, or thought that he knew. One man had seen Gunnar go down
to the hard in his cloak and hood; half-a-dozen had seen him come into
the yard afterwards; three or four had heard Halward greet him; some had
seen the beckoning, others had seen Halward follow him out. Then they
had gone out to look for them, and there found Halward slain.

Sigurd said, "It looks very black against Gunnar, but I cannot believe
it. Yet I know that the king must be told, and that he will be ready to
think the worst of my brother because he has been so stiff against his
religion. Now my thought at first was that I would tell him myself,
since none of you seemed ready to go with the news--but see here, my
friends, you would not have me bear witness against my own brother?"

They all agreed to that. Then he said, "I will ask one or several of you
to tell the king in the morning. It is late now, and he will not expect
you to disturb him at this hour of the night. Yet I tell you fairly that
I myself shall go to find Gunnar and warn him of what is astir against
him. If I think, when I see him, that he is the guilty man, it may be
that I shall go with you to King Olaf. If I leave him still in the mind
I am in now, then I shall not testify against him."

They all said, No, no. They said that he knew nothing of the matter, and
that his name need not be in the business at all. Sigurd said, "The king
will speak to me about it, I know. But I shall have time for what I want
to do." Then he left them sitting at their drink, and went to find
Gunnar.


Now first I will deal with the embassy to the king, and then with what
happened when Sigurd saw his brother. Olaf was in a great taking. He
grew red and thumped the table with his fist. "This is what comes of
clemency. That rascal refused my religion and I let him go. He vowed
that he would serve me and I believed him, like a fool. This is how it
is brought back to me, sevenfold into my bosom. Now do you go and
apprehend Gunnar, and hang him up on a tree. Don't let me see him, for I
am in such a rage that I should insult him in his chains. Hang him out
of hand, and let us get on with our affairs."

That was what the king said, and they left him with heavy hearts. But
Gunnar was not hanged because he was not at home when they went to fetch
him.

The very night of the slaying Sigurd had gone to him. He went directly
to him from the inn where Halward lay dead.

"Gunnar," he said, "what was the grief between you and Halward that you
must deal him a dog's death?"

Gunnar gaped at him. "Halward? Is Halward dead? Who did that?"

Sigurd said, "They say that you did it this very evening at the inn on
Markfleet."

Gunnar answered him, "That be far from me." But he had no more to say.

"Well," said Sigurd, "you say what I believe, but it looks very black
against you." Then he told him what the rumours were, how he had been
seen go down the street, then come up the street, how he had shown
himself in the yard, said nothing, but beckoned Halward out; how he had
not been seen again, and how Halward had been found stiff in his own
blood in the street.

Gunnar heard all this in silence, and remained silent so long that
Sigurd had to make him speak. "Well, what are we to answer them?" he
said.

Gunnar lifted his head and looked at him. "I can only tell you," he
said, "that I am innocent of this deed."

"Do you know nothing at all of it?" he was asked.

"Ah," said Gunnar, "that is where you touch me. Now I must tell you
fairly that I can say nothing more to you or anybody at this hour."

Then Sigurd said, "You had better be off. The king will certainly hang
you for it."

Gunnar thought. "Yes," he said, "I must go. All may be set straight some
day; but not by me." Then Sigurd left him, and Gunnar made his
preparations.

He took very little with him, for he knew that he must go far, and most
of it afoot. The king's hand stretched to the confines of Norway, and
even in Iceland his power was being felt. Gunnar thought that he must
travel East--on horseback so far as he could get, but after that, he
must cross the mountains and get down into Sweden. He took a sword and a
sack of provision, and those were all that he took. No, there was one
thing more. He could not bring himself to relinquish the fine cloak he
had had from Ogmund Dint. Besides, if it were found when men came to
look for him it might be witness against the man who had done the deed.
It was against Gunnar's religion to betray a man's secret. He rolled up
the cloak therefore and stuffed it into the saddle-bag.

Then he got out his sorrel mare and rode off in the dusk. He went East
by a dale which he judged would bring him soonest out of King Olaf's
holding; and he rode all night and till noon the next day.



CHAPTER VII

GUNNAR CROSSES THE MOUNTAINS


It was slow going in the dark, but the sorrel picked up her feet, and
the road was well known to Gunnar. He had not much time to think, but
found little to regret except Halward's death. He had liked Halward, as
he was ready to like most men. Nevertheless, he had now to admit that he
had little esteem for Ogmund Dint.

"That was a dirty trick to serve a man who had done him no harm. And I
took his bait down like a codling, and served his turn finely. A sharp
practiser is Ogmund Dint, and gets by foul means what he dare not try
for fairly." So he thought of it--and then he said to himself,
justifying the man, "When all's said, a man must look after himself.
Halward had many friends to avenge him; and if Ogmund had been caught
red-handed he was done for. I am thinking King Olaf would have been
cheated of his rope-work. Somebody or other would have hewn him down
before news ever got to the Court. Yes, I don't see what else he could
have done--and yet I would not have done it myself. Well, I am a fine
cloak to the good, which I will keep in case I want it some day as
testimony." He chuckled over his great gains, glad that he had brought
it with him, though he had had another purpose in his mind when he
packed it into his bag. "May be the Swedes will take me for a king's
son." He knew nothing of the Swedes, believed to be a dark and savage
people, a people of forests and swamps; but he must venture among them
if he wished to save his neck. "Oh, yes, certainly I wish to save my
neck."

He found himself to be passably happy, riding under the stars up the
dales which grew ever narrower, and more intricate. There was little
cantering ground, and the way difficult to find. Knowing the stars well,
he steered by them. Besides that the season was still fair and it could
never be called dark.

He rested not until the sun was warming the snow on the peaks above him,
and then not for long. But he had to go very slowly now, up the bed of a
water-course which he must cross and re-cross half-a-dozen times in the
half-hour to get tolerable going ground. The sorrel stretched her neck
and blew through her nose. She was tired and he knew it, and felt heavy
at the thought that he and she must soon part. She was his dearest
possession. He thought that he loved her as much as his brother. Both of
them had served him well in this affair. "It was a generous thing of
Sigurd, so near as he is to King Olaf, to come and warn me. He may get
into trouble over it. All depends on the king's mood. If he is in a
rage he may tie Sigurd up and keep him in bondage on my account. But no!
I trust that king. He was good to me about his religion." He laughed
over the memory of that, and looking up into the clear sky, which the
sun was burning to whiteness, watching the soaring eagles, marking up
the glittering snowfields the herds of deer stretched out in thin lines
of travel like trees in file, he felt happy.

The time came when he must send the mare home. He freed her of saddle
and bridle. He loaded himself with the pack-bag, cut himself a
birch-sapling for staff, and stood ready. Then he kissed Sorrel's nose,
and turned her face westward. "Home with thee, dear one," he said, "and
keep thy counsel when thou art there. We shall meet again if the luck
holds. Neigh at thy stable door and Sigurd will befriend thee.
Farewell." He gave her a hearty smack on the buttock, then held his
arms wide and said "Off." She looked round at him, prick-eared and
close-eyed. She whinnied to him, then turned to nibble the grass. "What,
thou wilt not? But I tell thee, go. One more kiss perhaps." He kissed
her again, and whispered in her ear, "Home, my dear." She looked forward
down the rocky vale she had climbed and then walked soberly down. Once
or twice she stopped and looked round, and then she neighed after him.
"Shoo, mare!" he said. "Shoo, girl!" and opened his arms. Sorrel went
down the valley and he lost sight of her.

He turned to his way which asked him to cross a mountain shoulder deep
in snow. That was heavy going, for it was soft in the sun. From the top
he saw his work before him, fold within fold of snow, brown
valley-bottoms, and over all the great ridge of white with pines like
scars upon it, which was the boundary between Norway and Sweden.
Heavens! What a job he had got. But he went on, nothing doubting, and
kept a stout heart. "A lonely place to be hanged in, and few trees fit
for it. But I doubt I should have a fight for it here."


I need not delay over his journey, which took him two days longer, and
two nights. By the time he had climbed the great ridge he had come near
the end of his strength and his provisions for it. Yet he must go on;
for that was no place in which to spend the night, a waste of snow and a
line of torn pines driven everlastingly by a cruel wind. When he saw
what was now in front of him and below, his heart might sink, though it
did not. So far as eye could range all was forest. It was like looking
upon a dark sea, featureless except for the lines of light and shadow
which ran over it when wind and sun played together. He saw no ways, no
clearings; there rose no chimney-smoke anywhere. Not a bird sailed
above, not a wolf grieved, not a fox stirred. "And is that Sweden then?
And are there people dwelling in the dark beneath? There are two worlds
there, and there might be dwellers in the tree-tops who know nothing of
the inhabitants of the deep, and are themselves unknown. How am I to
guide myself through that thicket, and who is going to feed me or give
me drink?" Looking into it, he shivered in the wind. "Outlandish
country, you must do better for me than this," he said. He had a
traverse of a league of snow-slope before he could enter the forest. To
that he addressed himself now, with a prayer to all the Gods in Valhall.



CHAPTER VIII

GUNNAR IN THE FOREST HEARS TELL OF FREY AND HIS WONDERS


The course of the snow-slope brought Gunnar to rocks and a precipice
from a gorge in which descended a river of ice. Far below him he heard
the thunderous crash of water, and judged that in following that, if it
could be done, he would find his best chance of guiding his way through
the forest. The river would join another; that other must in time reach
the sea. So he determined to do; but it was easy talking. It took him
the best part of a day to get down the cliff. He spent a miserable night
crouched under a rock, and started off again in the morning almost
fasting. There was coarse grass now growing wherever there was hold for
it. In one of these he saw a white hare lying flat, and by a trick he
knew he fell his length upon her and secured her. He had no fire, and
made what he could of her raw and sinewy flesh. So replenished, he went
on his downward course, reached the waterfall bathed in sweat, and
followed it as nearly as might be down into the chill and silence and
darkness of the forest.

Day and night were alike to him now; for a time whose duration he took
no pains to guess at, he worked his way downwards, a more fearful toil,
with more of peril in it than any he had spent in climbing the ridge.
This great forest was untouched by the hand, unvisited by the foot of
man so far as he could understand. He saw no living thing, though high
above him he sometimes heard the battling of wings, and once or twice
hoarse cries which he judged must come from the air. He listened for
wolves or foxes, but heard none; he kept his eyes aware for the track
of roe-deer or bear, but vainly. All was silent and accursed. Except on
the banks of the torrent there was little vegetation to be seen, for
among the pine stems the needles lay close and deep upon the ground, and
nothing could live in such a soil or in such a chill and dank air.
Whither he went, or how far he had come, he knew not; for all his
steadiness of heart, the conviction turned him sick that if he did not
soon meet with men there would be one man less in the world.

"Better to have been hanging on a green tree in the warm and living air
than to slowly fritter away into corruption, and become bleached bones
here in the dark and cold." He looked back with wistfulness to such a
genial death. "Sigurd would have piled a cairn for me. He would have
grieved for me, and said prayers to his new God in the king's new
temple. Well, hanging is a man's death, as battle is. But to fight the
dark, to grow weak by chill and hunger, to be so lonely that not a raven
troubles about your dead eyes! This is a death for wolves--but not for
men who love to lie snug among their fellows."

These were his thoughts at the worst; at the best he felt that before
long he must hit upon a sign of life.

He was now on level ground, and true it was that he came at last upon a
clearing. A broad green road ran on either side of a ford in the river.
Here he stood and looked up at the blue sky, and saw how the sun made
the tree-tops seem cut out of gold. He forgot his emptiness, his
loneliness and dark forebodings. "Oh, now I see that the sun is a God
who loves men!"

As if that was true, and he was to be assured of it, a shaft of sunlight
struck the ford and turned his eyes that way. It clarified the water and
brought the stones into sight. Presently he saw a better thing: a
goodly fish lay in the deeper part, faintly swaying his tail. Gunnar
made a wide cast over the river and crawled up the bank on his belly. He
lay motionless, watching his prey, and then, inch by inch, approached
his hand to the belly of the fine fish. Inch by inch he went upwards to
the head; then, judging his time, snapped his fingers together into the
gills and jerked him out of the water. Here truly was a prize awarded
him by the sun. The fish was good eating. He ate him all but the head
and bones.

Now he must decide what to do, whether he should follow the river or the
road. If he followed the road, by which hand should he be guided? He was
not long in deciding the first issue. The sun and the sky were too dear
to him to be lost again. For the second, he was for following the sun,
which was high in the heavens. If it was noon, the road which ran into
the sun would lead him to the South. On the South also was the sea.
Besides all that there was to be said that the road had been cleared by
men, and must lead to the dwellings of men.

Strong in this assurance, he went briskly along a good green track. Now
he could tell night from day; now he saw birds flying overhead;
presently a fox trotted across the way in front of him, saw him and sat
up to watch. He barked shortly once or twice and then galloped into the
thicket. But Gunnar felt enheartened by the sight of him. After that he
heard wolves howling afar off, as their custom is at sunset. But the
great event of all was on the next day, when he saw two things, one
after the other, which made his heart beat. The first was a dog, which
the moment he caught sight of him pelted away up the track with his tail
clapped to his hinder parts; the second was a young woman. As he came
round a curve in the road she was standing in the middle of it at a
bowshot's distance. She was very pale, black-haired, short-kirtled and
barefoot. He stopped immediately to watch; but at that moment she saw
him and slipped among the trees. Gunnar ran with all his might; he
called; he shouted. No answer. He couldn't find her anywhere. No matter.
Sweden was inhabited. He would not die lonely. His heart was high to be
sure of that, and he went on rejoicing.

Next he came to an open place, a clearing in the trees where men had
lately been. He saw the ashes of their fire, bones, the skin of a goat.
He saw leaves and branches which had been slept upon; he saw the prints
of hoofs--ponies' or donkeys' hoofs. So he journeyed on, and at last
smelt the friendly smell of burning wood. "Now to accost the Swedes," he
said. "What will they make of me? Or I of them?"

Guided by the smell he was not long before he saw men about a great
fire. There may have been eight of them there. They looked black, and he
knew that they were charcoal-burners--which in fact they were. Taking
his life in his hands he went directly towards them, and when they saw
him, and scrambled to their feet in amazement, he lifted his hand in
greeting and came among them. They were cooking over their fire; a great
pot was bubbling. Their dogs came smelling about his calves; but they
themselves stood speechless where they were. "Do these blacks intend my
death?" he asked himself. He hoped not, but did not draw the sword.

Seeing that they did not move, and that their very dogs had now
withdrawn themselves and were barking uneasily at a distance, Gunnar
advanced with friendly gestures. Hereupon the men with one accord fell
to their knees and stooped their bodies until their faces touched the
earth. "Good souls, they take me for a God," he thought. He was now
fairly within the line of them, and stretching his hands over the fire.
The smell from the pot tickled his nostrils and brought water into his
mouth. How long was it since he had tasted cooked food? It was too much
for him. Forgetting the dangers of manhood and the honours of godhead
alike, he fished in the pot for a morsel, sat down and began to eat. He
found himself ravenous, and in good case to better himself; he might
have eaten the contents of the pot, but that by cautious degrees the
charcoal-burners began to consider him. He found bright eyes peering at
him from between sooty fingers. Finally one bolder than the rest lifted
his head, and fairly asked him if he were a man or a God. He spoke
hoarsely, but could be understood.

"Friend," Gunnar said, "you may see by my procedure that I am a man and
a hungry one, though not now so hungry as I was."

The man, at this, punched his neighbour of either side, and said, "Up,
for this is a man like ourselves." Presently they were all up and about
him, very curious.

"You come from afar off? You are not of this country? Whence then do you
come?"

Gunnar said that he was from Norway. They had never heard of Norway. One
of them said that he had lived all his days in the forest country and
had never seen a stranger before.

Gunnar pointed to the West. Norway, he said, lay over there, beyond the
mountains. They replied that he must be mistaken, because on the level
of the mountains was a great lake of snow and water in which the sun
dropped every night and was quenched with a furious hissing. They said
that you could hear it when the wind came that way, and that the
mountain-tops were covered with steam thrown up by the dying sun, which
sometimes stayed there for days at a time.

"And yet," Gunnar said, "every day the sun comes up again. How do you
account for that?"

They said that was easy to understand; for the lake had no bottom.
Therefore the sun dropped through, and when it had emerged kindled again
upon its flight through the air. And this went on for ever.

Gunnar said, "You tell me marvellous things. Now let me tell you some."
So he spoke of Norway and Iceland, and of the great ocean beyond Orkney;
and of Ireland, and the poets and holy men there. Then he went on to
talk of the inland sea where there were no tides, but only rushing
currents, and whirlpools and desperate storms. Lastly he spoke of
Micklegarth and of a sea beyond that again, which is called the Black
Sea, and of the terrible folding rocks which are on the edge of that.
To all of this they listened with open mouths.

When they inquired what had brought him into Sweden he frankly told them
how it was. They said that he was safe enough here, and that nobody
would do him any harm. "Few men fight here," they said. "The worst that
may happen to you is that you will go into the cage and be offered up to
Frey. But that is reckoned an honourable way of death. You serve Frey,
and you serve Frey's people, and you may be sure that Frey won't forget
it."

"It may be true," Gunnar said, "that Frey won't forget me, but we know
very little about Frey, never having seen him at any time; and for my
part I should not care to risk it."

They all looked at him in wonder. "But," said one of them, "everybody
has seen Frey."

"I assure you," said Gunnar, "that I have not--for one. And I'll answer
for every man in Norway."

"We know nothing of the Norwegians, of whom we hear for the first time,"
he was told; "but the people of this part have good reason to know Frey,
and to fear him, seeing he lives among them, and is now a day's and
night's journey from here. I myself," the speaker said, "saw him but
fourteen days ago, in his holy place."

"What is his holy place?"

The man said, "It is his temple where he lives when he is not upon his
rounds. All the winter he lives there with his wife, and the people
worship him and make feasts for him. But when the winter is over, and
the rains come to wash the world clean for the sun, Frey goes off in his
wagon and visits all the villages in turn, and blesses the grain and
makes it fertile. That is how the world goes on, and men get food for
their pains."

Gunnar was amazed. "Do you say that Frey has a wife?"

"I do say so, since it is true. But as yet she is not fruitful, which
vexes Frey."

"Let Frey consider himself," said Gunnar. "It is not always a wife's
fault if she is not fruitful."

"You may be sure that the fault is not Frey's," they said.

"I am not at all so sure," said Gunnar. "Does Frey do his duty by her?"

They said, "For certain he does. He has been married to her these two
years."

"There's time yet," said Gunnar; "these are early days. Is she a young
woman?"

"She is in the flower of her age. She must be sixteen years old."

"And is she of this country?"

"It is not certainly known. A woman from the South had her. She said
that her husband had been slain on the sea-coast; but no one here can
say anything of it because no one has ever seen the sea. Well, when the
girl was of marriageable age Frey chose her; so she was given him."

"And how did Frey choose her?"

"He took her."

Gunnar thought all this very remarkable, and said that he should himself
go to see Frey. They answered to that, that undoubtedly he would; for if
he did not they would be bound to take him, as an offering, since that
was Frey's pleasure.

"Does Frey demand human sacrifice?" Gunnar asked. They said that he did.

Gunnar said, "He shall be baulked of me; but I have a very handsome
cloak about me, which I shall give him as a present if he pleases to be
benevolent to me."

"All depends upon his wife," they told him. "She has the power of choice
in these matters." Gunnar said, "Leave me to deal with Frey's wife. I
have a way with women."



CHAPTER IX

GUNNAR MEETS WITH FREY. CONCERNING FREY'S WIFE


Directed by the charcoal-burners, Gunnar made his way to the village
where he was to find Frey in his temple. He reached a fine clearing in
the forest by the late afternoon, and was soon remarked and almost as
soon beset by the inhabitants. Young and old, mostly women, they came
about him like a cloud of gnats. They were a wild, dark-haired and pale
people, well-made but not tall. They were all barefoot, and had fierce,
husky voices; but they were harmless, touching him by the prompting of
curiosity, and delight in a thing so rare. His beard especially moved
them. They must by all means touch that. "It is like Frey's beard. He
is Frey's brother. Bring him to Frey then." So they spoke to each other.
As they came into the village they formed a kind of procession. A young
woman took him by either hand; children danced in front of him singing a
shrill song; the older ones shuffled behind. Dogs capered and barked
about.

Wooden houses built clear of the ground on piles formed the village. It
was full of dogs and children, with one or two old men peering at the
entry from the shelter of trees. He saw the roof of Frey's temple, a
long building with a steep gable. The roof was of heather. They entered
a forecourt and stood before the temple. In the midst was an altar of
stone. There was a gallery to the house sheltered by the eaves of it,
and held up by trunks of trees, smoothed and painted with zigzags in
red, blue and yellow. A curtain hung over the doorway. He saw neither
Frey nor his wife.

The women who had conducted him sat upon their heels and began their
song again. The rest of the village crowded the entry of the court. When
they had sung for some time, the curtains of the doorway moved; Gunnar
thought that he saw the outline of a shoulder, and then was positive
that a hand was at the opening. He could not answer for it, but he
fancied that he was being looked at.

In the meantime the crowd began to draw away from him and to form two
companies, one on each side. He found himself standing alone, and
looking presently round, saw an old bearded man coming towards him with
a long bare knife in his hand. He had glittering eyes and a determined
expression. "This old man is going to shed blood," said Gunnar to
himself. "He chooses for mine, but there are two parties to a bargaining
of that sort."

The old man, being now beside him, produced from the bosom of his gown
a coil of cord. "He will truss me like a fowl," said Gunnar; then he
greeted the man fairly, giving him the time of day.

"You are welcome," said the old man. "It is the hour of the evening
sacrifice."

"Is that so?" Gunnar answered. "I hope you don't take me for your
offering. I have not escaped one kind of death to fall into another."

"Frey must be contented," said the old man.

"He shall be," Gunnar said; "I will give him my cloak."

He opened his pack, and brought out the famous cloak. Shaking out the
folds of it, he put it on and displayed it. The assembly murmured
applause; even the old knifer was moved.

"I have brought this cloak as a gift for Frey," said Gunnar. "Set open
the temple; let him show himself and he shall have it. It will last him
longer than a blood-offering, which is a beastly thing not at all
suitable to a great God. In my country we serve Frey--or we did once
upon a time--but not with men's blood. Oxen and sheep are pleasing to
him; dogs also and hens. But he has other uses for men."

The old man was fingering the cloak. The gold work on the back was a
delight and wonder to him.

"Frey has never had so much gold as this. You are fortunately come. He
shall have the cloak and you too."

"You are mistaken," said Gunnar. "But in order to make sure, I will go
and ask him."

With these words he stepped sharply forward and went up the steps to the
temple before any one could stop him. The curtains opened and a young
woman came out and stood before them, closing them behind her.

She was frightened, but bore herself with great dignity. She could not
check the shortness of her breath, however; nor the scare in her eyes.
She was not tall, and she was very young; she was dressed in blue which
had red embroidery round the neck. Her black hair was plaited, and on
her head she had a double band of gold wire with thin leaves of flat
gold between the wires. Gunnar saw that she was a very pretty girl, and
thought that he could deal with her if he had the chance.

He saluted her civilly and told her what was the matter. "This old man
wishes to cut my throat," he told her, "and I, on the other hand, am
strongly against it. I have come to appeal to you or to Frey against
such a breach of hospitality."

She did not answer him at first; but her eyes were upon his own, and her
lips moved as if she was uncertain what to say.

Presently she said, "Who are you, and whence do you come?"

He said, "My name is Gunnar Helming, and I am from Norway over the
mountains of the West. I am outland-faring as you see, and have no
friends in these parts, unless you are inclined to be one."

She hesitated, but had already made up her mind. "I will send the people
away," she said, "and then we will ask Frey."

Gunnar said, "I am sure that Frey will be guided by you"; but she had
not waited to listen to that, being already down the steps and among the
people.

"There can be no blood-sacrifice of this man," she said to them, but not
in Gunnar's hearing. "This man is the friend of Frey, and it is lucky
for you, I can tell you, that you have not shed his blood. I was just in
time to prevent a dreadful thing which Frey would never have forgiven
you. Now you must go away and leave the two together. They have not met
for a long time, and have a great deal to tell each other." With that
they dispersed, and Frey's wife came back to Gunnar.

"Now," she said, "we must see Frey."

"I am going to offer him this cloak which I am wearing. It is very fine,
as you see."

She touched the gold, and then took one of the sable tails in her hand.
"It is beautiful," she said. "Where did you get it?"

"I had it from a great rascal," Gunner said, "who made a pretext of it
to do me the wrong which brings me here. I will tell you the tale if you
care to listen to it." She had fixed and considering eyes, and still
held the sable-tail. Then she said shortly, "We must go in to Frey. Come
with me."


Frey stood in the middle of the temple. He was a young man of Gunnar's
height and proportions. His beard was red and his hair was brown. He had
staring blue eyes, scarlet nostrils and a fixed smile. His lips also
were scarlet. On his head was a crown of golden oak-leaves and acorns.
In one hand he held a golden cone, like the fruit of a pine-tree, but
much larger. In the other he had a staff which was tipped with a bud. He
had a green tunic upon him and red hose. His legs below the knees were
bound in leather, and he was shod with soft leather dyed red. He himself
was made of wood and painted all over in colours brighter than life, but
his clothes were as real as yours or mine.

"So this is Frey," said Gunnar to himself with great astonishment. "I
would rather have the friendship of his wife."

This wife of his did not take much notice of her husband, it seemed to
him. She drew a settle out a little way from the wall, and sat on it,
inviting Gunnar to a seat beside her. "Now tell me the tale," she said.
So he did.

She said, "The man is not your enemy. Neither is the king. The man
acted basely, but the king could not do otherwise than he did, for
appearances were against you. But I see that you are an unlucky man,
because Frey has no liking for you."

"How can you say that?" said Gunnar.

"I can tell by the look of him. He will not say anything. It is not his
way. But he is no friend to you."

"If I give him my cloak," said Gunnar, "he may think better of me."

She shook her head. "I doubt it. But certainly he must have it. There is
no other way. Besides, when the people see that he has accepted your
cloak they at least will be contented."

Gunnar gave her the cloak, and she cast it over Frey's shoulder, and
touched his beard while she whispered to him what it was. In order to
whisper in his ear she had to stand tiptoe.

"Well," said Gunnar, "and how does he take it?"

"Very ill," she said.

"Then do you send me away?"

She hung her head, and thought about it. "No," she said, "I can't do
that just yet. You shall stay here for three days, and maybe he will
like you better. I will talk to him about it to-night when we are in
bed."

"Do you go to bed with Frey?" he said in astonishment; but her own was
equal to his.

"Where else should I go if I am his wife?" she said. Then she grew red
and turned away her face.

Gunnar said, "I will ask you what your name is, Frey's wife. I can't
call you that for three days."

"Why so?" she asked him, rather fiercely.

"Because it seems to me foolishness."

"I am called Sigrid," she said.

"Then I shall call you Sigrid," said Gunnar.



CHAPTER X

TALK BETWEEN GUNNAR AND SIGRID


Gunnar was a friendly man and made himself pleasant about the place. He
used to sit out in the sun and converse with the village people. He told
tales to the children and played games with them. The old man who had
been wishful to sacrifice him bore him no malice; but Gunnar told him
plainly that he did not approve his practices. "In my country, and in
Iceland also, there has been much devotion to Frey, who is a great God;
but human sacrifice is not required by him, nor are we profaned with it.
Prisoners of war may not be used that way. We think it barbarous and
abominable."

"Well," the old man said, "it has always been the custom here. And you
must remember the services Frey performs. He is resting now. His work is
over. But when the spring comes there will be no man in the country
busier than Frey. There is not a tilled field he must not visit; and the
grass-lands and the gravid sheep, and the lambs and sucklings of all
sorts; the sick draught-animals; the ewes who are to go under the rams;
the bulling cows; the reindeer--well, you can see for yourself that he
must be propitiated. And how else, pray, would you have it done?"

"The Christians, who are to the fore in Norway just now," replied
Gunnar, "have a God who has given them another law altogether. Their God
had a Son Who said to His Father, 'Enough of these human sacrifices. I
detest them and will have nothing to say to them.' 'What will you do
then?' his Father asked. 'Why,' said He, 'I will be made man myself. I
will be born of a woman, and put to death. That will be a sufficient
sacrifice for every one in the world.' And so it was, they say, and
their God accepted it as sufficient. But the Christians have a strange
power which is resident in their priests; and that is, that the priest
does sacrifice every day, and makes anew the Son of God into a man of
body and blood. Every day he offers it on the altar. So the prime
sacrifice is every day renewed, and all goes well. That is what they
say."

The old man was very much astonished. "You are speaking of marvellous
things," he said. "It is the way of you travellers. But I do not believe
that the Swedes would be content with such a sacrifice, and I am sure
that Frey would not."

"We shall see," Gunnar said, but said no more at the time. He was
determined that while he remained in Frey's house Frey would go without
human blood upon his altar-stone.

Sigrid liked him to be there. She found him very good company. He made
her laugh, which Frey, she said, had never done yet. "He will though,"
Gunnar told her, but she shook her head.

At the end of three days, he asked her what he was to do about staying
on. They sat together under the gallery outside the house. Frey was
inside behind his curtains. It was the hour before the sacrifice, when
his curtains would be opened, and himself shown in his fine new cloak.
So far there had been no attempt made to sacrifice a man or child, which
Gunnar was glad of, because he was not yet sure enough of his footing.

She frowned and nursed her chin. "Why," she said, "I don't know what is
to be done. Frey doesn't like you at all; I can see that."

"Have you talked it over with him as you promised me?" She nodded her
head.

"And what did he say?" She looked away as she answered him.

"He said very little; but he was very stiff."

"I should think he was always rather stiff," Gunnar said, and she
frowned and grew red.

"But what do you feel about it yourself?" said Gunnar. "I believe that
you find me well enough."

She nodded. "Yes, I do. I like you to be here. You make me laugh. I feel
younger than I did."

"That is good news," said Gunnar. "I understand that you are sixteen
years old. Do you now feel that you are twelve?"

She laughed. "Sometimes I do."

"Then," said Gunnar, "keep me here a month or two longer and I shall
rock you in your cradle."

She considered whether he was laughing at her, and then asked him
suddenly, was he married, had he children?

"No, sweetheart," he said, "but I should like a wife very well if I
could get one to my mind."

Now she reproved him. "You must not say that. I am not to be called so."

"Why, what is the harm in that?" he said. "It's what I used to call
Sorrel, my mare."

"It may be so," she replied, "but I am not your mare."

"No indeed," he said. "But what then shall I call you? Shall I say
'Pretty one' or 'Kind lass'?"

"No. Frey would dislike it."

"But," he said, "all these names are true of you."

She said, "Frey will like them all the less."

Gunnar said that he would risk it. And certain it is that he did, and
that she said nothing more about it.

She decided that he should stay on until the winter feasts began. "And
then we will see what can be done. Maybe he will be more used to you by
then."

"Oh, as for him," Gunnar said lightly, "he has had a fine cloak from
me, and I suppose that is enough."

She frowned, and tossed her foot. "You don't know Frey yet."

Then came the hour of sacrifice and a leading-in of sick animals to be
blessed by Frey. Gunnar was very useful here, for he was skilled in
farriery, and could do much too with sheep and cattle. They called him
the new priest of Frey, and held him in great honour. But the more that
they thought of Frey on his account the less, naturally, Gunnar thought
of him on his own. He did not now believe that even a devil resided in
him, or found it difficult of belief. Frey had the appearance of
frowning sometimes, and sometimes there seemed to be a red flame in his
eyes. Another thing he could do with his eyes: he could cause them to
follow you all over the room. Those eyes of his were for ever upon
Gunnar and Sigrid so that they used to say to each other, "We can't
talk here. Let us go into the gallery." She never said, "Let us go into
the chamber," and it never entered Gunnar's mind to propose it. But it
had entered into hers.

Gunnar, however, began to dislike Frey. He despised him, and yet found
that added to his dislike. He told himself that Sigrid's marriage was a
black shame.

After he had been with her a while she told him what she knew about
herself. She had never known her father, nor even what his name was. Her
mother had been called Sea-child; and Sigrid remembered being carried on
her back, slung in a shawl. Her mother had had black hair and yellow
eyes which looked black in the dark, and as pale as the palest amber in
strong light. She was rather tall, whereas Sigrid--who also had black
hair and amber eyes, though of a darker tint--was a little woman. She
thought that she remembered her mother saying that they had crossed the
sea; and that somebody, her mother or an old man who used to be with
them sometimes, had spoken of a city called Prag. She thought that this
must be true, because she had never heard anybody in Sweden speak of
Prag, and doubted she could have made up the name for herself. Gunnar
told her that she had not. "There is a city called Prag, on a mighty
river. I have seen the river," he said, "but not the city of Prag."

Well then she told him that the Swedes had ill-treated the old man who
used to be with them. They had put him into an osier basket, and pierced
that through and through with swords; she remembered the bright blood
welling out between the plaited wicker. That had been done upon the
altar of a God--she believed it was Frey. As for her mother, some man
had taken her to live in his house, and she herself had lain about with
the cattle, and had been sent to keep swine in the woods. Nobody had
hurt her, but she had gone in terror of wolves, which in winter were
dangerous, and came sometimes into the villages and carried off children
from the doorways. They were so hungry that even when they were beaten
off they only ran to a little distance, and then came back again to
snuff about for what there might be in their way.

Then she remembered a day when her mother brought her into the house,
and took off her rags, and put a new gown on her. She twisted up her
hair into a long plait, and made her see if she could still sit upon it.
That was easy. After that she was kept at home with the children of the
house; and men used to take notice of her, kiss her and take her on
their knees. She had liked that for a time, because she liked people who
were kind and friendly; but there was too much of it, and she used to
run away and hide herself.

There had been a lad, she said, called Tostig, belonging to the
household of her mother's husband. He had been in love with her, she
supposed. At any rate he was always in her company, and she had liked
him very well. One day when they were all in the temple before Frey,
with garlands of flowers, his eyes had burned fiercely, and by and by he
fell forward upon Tostig and knocked him down. They picked up Frey; and
the priests said that Tostig was to be sacrificed. That was done. They
put him in an osier basket and transpierced it with their swords. After
that Frey's eyes were cool and steady, and nothing more occurred until
the following spring when Frey was to have started on his rounds to
bless the vegetation. Then again when they were in the temple his eyes
burned, and again he fell, this time upon herself. She was thrown
backwards and Frey upon her. Then she believed that her last hour was at
hand; but her mother was shrill and urgent with the priests, calling
them fools. She said that Frey had been jealous of Tostig and fell upon
him on that account; but he fell upon Sigrid for no reason of that sort,
but to mark her for his own. Sigrid, she said, was now marriageable.
Frey wanted to marry her, and to disoblige him would be at their peril.
There was high debate about all this, and other priests from other
villages were called in. Frey was asked, and they say that he nodded his
head. She herself was not asked; but she was taken into the temple one
night by her mother and told what she would have to do. On the next day
was the wedding and great rejoicings all over the forest country.

Gunnar stopped her here. "They married you to that block of painted
wood?"

She said, "They married me to Frey."

Gunnar said, "But----" and then he stopped short himself. "There is no
more to be said."

"No," she said, "that is the end of it. We set out in the ox-wagon soon
after that."

"How long ago was this?" he asked her.

She replied, "I was marriageable, my mother said. I don't know when it
was." Then she thought aloud. "One, two, three--yes, it was three
springs ago last spring."

"And you say you are sixteen years old."

"I don't say so," she replied; "the people here say so. My mother died
two springs ago when I was away with Frey on his rounds."

Gunnar got up from the bench where they were sitting. "Wait here for
me," he said, and went into the temple, folding the curtains behind him.
There stood Frey, crowned and standing, with his shining scarlet
nostrils. Gunnar went up to him and took him by the nose. "God or
devil," he said, "I'll get this out of joint before I've done with you,
or you with Gunnar." Frey rocked under the force of his passion, but
said nothing.

Gunnar came back and found Sigrid where she was. She did not look up.
He stretched out his hands towards her, then dropped them and began to
whistle a tune.

That made her look up smiling. "You seem in good spirits," she said.

"I feel considerably better than I did," he told her, "but there is much
to do before I am perfectly myself again."



CHAPTER XI

GUNNAR TURNS FREY ABOUT AGAINST FREY'S WILL


Sigrid told Gunnar that the old priest of Frey who lived in the village,
and who had been the man wishful to slay him on the altar, intended to
have a sacrifice on the morrow. "Oh, does he so?" said Gunnar. "And what
is he going to sacrifice?"

She said, "It is a boy."

"We will see about that," Gunnar said. "It may be that it will be
himself who gets the worst of it."


The next day, before the hour of sacrifice, Gunnar told Sigrid to go
into the court and leave him to draw the curtains. She did as she was
told. The people assembled, and he heard their singing, and the stamping
of their feet as they danced about the victim. Then they all called on
Frey, and he peeped through the curtains and saw the old man in a crown
of leaves, with his knife in his hand, and the victim naked except for a
loin-cloth, bound up tightly with cords. There also was the basket of
osier. Having done what he wished to do in the temple, he drew the
curtains. To their great consternation they saw that Frey had his back
to them instead of his face. Gunnar, who had come out by a side door,
joined Sigrid in the gallery of the temple. They sat close together
looking at the amazed people.

The old man gave a shrill cry. "Frey abandons us! He is angry." Then he
turned to his flock and spoke vehemently, but Gunnar could not hear his
words. Sigrid watched them with keen and bitter eyes.

Presently the old man turned again and beckoned to Gunnar. He, however,
sat where he was. Then he was hailed by his enemy. "You, stranger, come
down."

Gunnar said, "I am a servant of the temple, and will not come down. Do
you come up rather and say what you have to say."

The old man then came shuffling up, with his gown dragging at his
ankles. When he stood before Gunnar, he was out of breath, and that
added to his rage.

Gunnar asked him what the matter was, and Whitebeard gnashed his gums
together.

"The matter is that Frey is angry--not because of sacrifice, but because
there has been none since you came here. There must be much more blood
shed--and the sooner the better."

"I assure you," Gunnar replied, "that there will be bloodshed if you
persist, and that blood will be your own."

Whitebeard looked fiercely at him. "You are talking foolishly. Who would
shed my blood? And how would that be pleasing to my master Frey?"

Gunnar replied, "I will tell you the answer to your questions. To your
first: I would very willingly shed your blood, and your blood is the
only blood that I would willingly shed. And I believe that all these
people would dip their hands in it and show it to Frey, who would then
turn his face to them again. As for your second, it is plain that Frey
is displeased with your present sacrifice."

Whitebeard was in a great rage. He put his face close to Gunnar's and
said whispering (but Sigrid heard him), "It was you who turned Frey
about."

"It was," said Gunnar.

"You own to your blasphemy. For blasphemy it is, though you said
nothing."

"Take it so," said Gunnar.

The old man looked about him, not knowing what to do next. His eyes fell
upon Sigrid, who stood stiffly by with fixed looks.

"Mistress," he said then, "Frey's wife, what say you?" She shivered.

"There must be no sacrifice," she said. "Frey will not have it."

"But you heard this man tell me that he turned Frey about?"

"I did," she said. "He did so at my desire."

"You own yourself party to his wicked mind?"

"His mind is the mind of Frey in this," she said.

The old man frowned deeply. "You avow that?"

"I do."

"Did Frey confide it to you?"

"He did."

"When this man Gunnar was not there?"

"He was not there."

The old man tossed his arms up. "There is no more to say."

Then Gunnar, even while his enemy stood by him, addressed the people.
He said, "I come from a distant country, where Frey has been had in
honour, but not in your way. Your way is beastliness and great shame to
you because you read into the mind of the God what is the secret
pleasure of the vilest of you, such as this old toothless man here. He,
loving to see men's blood flow, believes that Frey takes joy in it also.
But Frey knows very well that a man is better than a beast, and if he
love the smell of beasts' blood, that is his affair, but the blood of
men is more honourable than that, and reserved for better work. He says
that I put into the mind of Frey to be done with the slaughter of men.
Have it that I did; did I not well to bring his mind to what is
excellent in men? Of what use to Frey, or what pleasure can he have in
the blood of base or craven men? I said that I would shed the blood of
this vile old man, and so I would if I thought that Frey would be the
better of it. But the fact is that it would make the ground sick, and
Frey would curse you for the gift. Have done with that, and be sure that
Frey does not need blood at all, but honesty and the good works of your
hands. If you have children, offer them to Frey, but alive, not dead.
Shed marrow rather than blood, and Frey will approve your fruitfulness
and bless the seed and the seed-plot. And if blood must be shed, let
Frey shed his own for you, as the God of the Christians did, Who gives
His people every day His body to eat and His blood to drink--which turn
in their breasts to milk and in their veins to courage. Let Frey show
himself such a God, and you will have no need for lascivious-minded old
men to lead you into their own nasty vices." Then turning to Whitebeard,
he said, "Get you gone, old monster, and gnash your gums apart where
none can see your impotent malice."

The people applauded him when he had done. Some brought branches of
trees, and some nests of eggs to Frey. Then Gunnar turned him round to
face them, and they rejoiced.

But Sigrid was pale and trembling, and would not look at Gunnar or speak
to him all the rest of the day. She stood about by Frey, and put her
hand in his, and talked to him, sometimes touching his beard.

Gunnar made the best of it, and let her alone; but seeing her next day
in the same mood of alienation, he asked her what the matter was, and
"Is there anything I can do about it?" She began to tremble again, and
violently; but she used all her force to control herself, and presently
told him that all he could do was to leave the place. "If you seek my
happiness," she said, "that is what you will do."

"Well," said Gunnar, "I do wish you happy, sweetheart."

"Ah," said she, "it is your sweethearting of me that has made this
trouble."

"Well," he said again, "and it does make trouble, my dear; but it is a
pleasant trouble when all's said; and there's a remedy for it."

"It is that which I desire," she said, and he said, "So do I desire it."

Then she said, "Do you know what you did yesterday? You made me untrue
to Frey."

"How so?"

"Why, you drove me to say what was untrue. He did not speak his mind to
me. That is not true. Or if he did, what he said was quite otherwise."

"You mean," said Gunnar, "that the mind of Frey, as you understand it,
is not my mind."

"Certainly it is not," she said. "He hates you. He does not rest because
of you."

Gunnar looked at her. "You mean, I believe, that you do not rest."

She stamped her foot. "It is the same thing. If he does not rest, how
can I rest?"

Gunnar said, "It is not at all the same thing. And do you think you
would rest better if I went away?"

She shook her head, but did not speak. He saw that she was crying.

"Well," said he after a while, "then I shall not go, but will stay here
and make Frey a little more friendly."

"Ah," she said in her tears, "you won't do that. He is jealous of you.
You can see it."

"I see nothing of it, I assure you," Gunnar said, "and he has no cause.
But there are many ways of curing jealousy, one of which is easy." She
waited to hear what it was, but without asking. She wanted to know very
badly, but Gunnar did not tell her what it was. So after a while of
waiting she said, "You are hateful; I hate you," and walked away. Gunnar
went out into the sun; and by and by she came back with needlework and
sat where she could see him at his business of tending the
temple-garth; but she would not speak to him for the rest of the day.


The season wore to the winter. With the first snow and the fall of the
leaf men began to make ready for the winter feasts. There was now no
question of Gunnar going. No man could travel that country in the winter
when the days are but a few hours long, and the snow is deep and bends
the trees to the earth. Gunnar, who did not want to go at all, put it
jokingly to Sigrid that perhaps the god of the wolves wanted a human
sacrifice, and that perhaps it was himself they wanted. She showed him
her eyes full of trouble, and he was touched.

"You don't wish me to say that?"

She said, "I cannot bear you to talk lightly of such things."

"Frey would be glad of such a sacrifice, I am thinking."

She left him instantly and went to Frey. But she soon came back again.
She was never long away from where he happened to be.



CHAPTER XII

THE WINTER FEASTS


The custom of the winter, when no man could work, was to make merry with
what you had gained in the summer. Men killed pigs and sheep, and drank
their mead out of horns. This was the time for skalds and story-tellers.

But the village where Gunnar was now settled was a holy village, because
of Frey's house. It was proper that no feast should be held unless Frey
were present at it. He was carried from homestead to homestead; and
where he was there was Sigrid his wife, and there now was Gunnar also.
Those three always sat on the dais with the giver of the feast, and when
the tables were ready they had the chief seats. Sigrid was waited upon
as if she had been a man, and great respect was shown her, which she
sullenly received. Once she had told Gunnar that she disliked being
noticed. She had said that she had been happiest in her days when she
was keeping pigs in the forest; and he had said that he understood that
very well. Now he put that down as the reason why she had a hang-dog
look at these merry-makings, ate little, drank less, said little and
laughed not at all. When the drinking began she always left the hall and
sat with the women in the bower. Frey was left--and then it was that
Gunnar in his cups used to take liberties with Frey--to clap a clout
over one of his eyes, or stick an apple on a spike of his crown. He was
wary how he played these tricks, for in some company it would have been
taken very ill; but in some, and when men were far disguised in drink,
his japes went well enough, and gave him satisfaction.

He was by now entirely out of conceit with Frey. That a god should be
throned in the world he sincerely believed--and could swear to a hundred
or more; but that one should be caged in a painted block he did not
believe. As for his marriage, that made the hairs on his back bristle,
and his neck to swell. A good deal of talk went on when Sigrid was gone
with the women. He listened to it and raged, but outwardly he was still,
and found nothing to say. The people expected--or some of them--that
Sigrid would bring Frey a child. Some said that she had miscarried; none
thought it unlikely. Things were said and tales were told of Frey which
amazed him while they made him angry. "At this rate," he said to
himself, "I shall be an atheist or a Christian. Would that King Olaf
could hear me say so. He would countermand his rope and make me one of
his household."

Then he found out that it interested him more to hear tales of Sigrid
than it disgusted him; and he said to himself then, "Frey and I shall
be fighting for Sigrid one of these days. I learn that I am in love with
her." But he knew that it would be a shame to tell her so, and resolved
that she should learn nothing about it.


There was never a merrier winter in that village, and never a man more
beloved than Gunnar was. He was no skald, but his tales were without
end, and so were his jokes. He had had his share of travel, and now they
had their portion in it. He told them of Micklegarth and of the great
King of the Greeks. He said that there was a temple there dedicated to
divine wisdom, which was a paragon and wonder of the world. The King did
sacrifice there every day to his god--and there was nothing in the
temple less precious than gold. He spoke of that other Garth in the
North, a Russian city, which was envious of the Greek kingdom, and
wishful to rival it. Then of Frey's worship he had something to say. In
Iceland he said Frey was worshipped, and there had been a priest of his
there called Ravenkeld, who had not only built a house for him with five
or six images of Frey set round in a circle, but had had a famous
stallion which he shared with the god. No one but Ravenkeld or Frey
might ride this horse, which also had a stud of twelve mares for his own
use and pleasure. Ravenkeld had made a vow that he would have the life
of any man who should ride the horse; and he kept it though it cost him
all that he had. For once there came to him a certain man called
Thoreir, wishful to serve him. Ravenkeld made a shepherd of him, and set
him also to keep guard over Frey's horse and his mares, warning him of
the vow he had made. Then on a day thirty sheep were lost and Thoreir
must ride far to find them. Never a mare of the twelve could he come
near, but Frey's horse stood; so he saddled him and rode him all day.
Ravenkeld came to know about it and went out to find Thoreir, who was
lying on the stone wall, counting his sheep over. "How came you to ride
my horse," said Ravenkeld, "when I warned you to ride any other but
him?" Thoreir told him how it was. Then Ravenkeld said, "I am sorry, but
we make vows one day and find them heavy another." Then he drove his
spear through his back and slew him. He paid for doing that, for he was
outlawed by Thoreir's kindred at the Thing, and they came upon him
unawares, and pierced his legs at the tendons of the knees and hung him
up by them for a day. When they came to take him down the blood was in
his eyes and he was as near dead as might be. Then they banished him
with hardly any money or goods; but yet he prospered and got his own
back again. But when he was restored to his ease and wealth he said that
he had no opinion of Frey at all, and would have no more to do with him.
He broke up the images and turned the god's house into a byre for his
cows, and had no religion thereafter that ever Gunnar heard tell of.
"And that," he said, "is the way of men. They make a god first and
unmake him afterwards--and all that is foolishness."

But they said, "How can that be when we know very well what Frey here
does for us, sending the rain in proper time upon the earth?"

"Now tell me this," said Gunnar; "do you pray to Frey for rain when the
wind is in the east?"

"We do not," they said, "for that would be waste of breath."

"So it would," said Gunnar, "and so also if the wind blow from the
south. For then the rain will come of itself."

"That would be Frey's doing, we hold," said they. Then Gunnar smiled.
"You are lucky," he said, "and so is Frey."


They always took Frey back after the feasts, two or three men bearing
him up between them; and many a tumble they had in the snowdrifts, if
they were not very surefooted, through drink or otherwise. One night
when they had some way to go Gunnar picked up Sigrid and carried her
through the worst of the drifts.

"Oh, you should not, you should not," she said; but he laughed. "You are
so small a thing," he said, "it would be a shame."

But she hid her face in his shoulder and said again that he should not
carry her. He had a great mind to kiss her, but he did not do it just
then.

"Well," said he, "let your husband carry you." And he called out, "Hi
you, Frey, come and carry Sigrid through the snow."

But just then Frey and his bearers were all rolling in the snow
together. "You see how it is with poor Frey," Gunnar said. "He has had
too much to drink and can't carry himself, so what would he do if he
had you too?"

After that he got into the way of carrying her, and she grew accustomed
to it, looked for it, and held her arms out for him to lift her when
they came out of the feast.

Gunnar enjoyed himself, but did not tell her so, or speak of it at all.
He took it as a thing of course that he should serve her, and she
accepted it. But there was no love-making, even though the days were
dark, and there was nothing to be done out of doors. He said to himself,
"She is Frey's wife, or believes herself so. I don't care a flick of the
fingers for Frey, but for her I do care."

They were thrown very much together, and found nothing amiss with that.
Gunnar talked to her of his travels and told her stories as they sat by
the fire. He had a happy way with him which made all people like him and
give him their confidence. He neither took liberties nor allowed them;
but if you were simple and gave yourself no airs he was very gentle and
good-humoured. Sigrid had no suspicions of him, nor need for any. He
would be incapable of doing her any harm. It was because he was afraid
of making her unhappy that he left off teasing her about Frey. At first
he had been rather given to it, but he saw that she was troubled by it,
and did not know what to say. Then he stopped his gibes and mockery.



CHAPTER XIII

FREY MAKES READY TO GO HIS ROUNDS


By slow degrees the winter wore away; the clouds broke up, and the thick
snow-fleece was pitted all over as if it had been a blanket which moths
had fretted. The days drew out longer; men looked up, feeling the sun;
the thatches began to drip, and then to run, and to dig for themselves
deep channels in the snow. Then began roof-slides by broad blocks at a
time, and a man might be buried in slush before he knew it.

Sigrid said that they must make ready Frey's wagon for the road, and
told Gunnar where it was stored and asked him to fetch it out. As soon
as the buds began to swell on the trees they must be off. Gunnar was
glad of some work, and soon had the wagon out of the shedding and haled
it into the forecourt.

This wagon was a gaudy affair, being painted all over in red, blue and
yellow. The wheels were red and so was the pole. White oxen drew it,
which had red trappings and brazen stars on their foreheads. Upright
poles at the four corners of the wagon carried a wooden canopy, and held
rods also for the curtains which shut Frey off from mortal eyes until
such times as he would appear and, having been propitiated with
offerings, suffer himself to be carried into the fields. These curtains
Sigrid was now busy over. They were green and had dragons, the sun, the
moon and stars, and runes also sewn upon them, of red and white colours.
The inside of the tent which these curtains made was a fair chamber. In
the forepart Frey stood when he was travelling; in the afterpart was his
bed where he lay at night. But the parts were not divided off. There
was no bed-chamber for him as he had in his winter house. The men who
went with the wagon, and tended the oxen, must lie out in the open to
sleep, or in the sacking slung beneath where the beast-fodder was
carried.

Gunnar thought that he would have no men to help him, and Sigrid said,
"Oh no, we want no others. With you to help all will go well."

"You trust me, I see," said Gunnar, and Sigrid looked at him with
friendly eyes.

"How should I not? Are you not the trustiest of men?"

"If you were not so kind to me," he told her, "perhaps I should not be
so trusty. And it may be that we should both be the better for it. But I
have a soft heart, and you have found that out."

"I know nothing for your heart," she said. "That is the last thing that
I know about you."

"So be it," said Gunnar. "Now tell me what you wish to be at with this
wonderful affair."

It did not suit her very well just then to be talking of the wagon, so
she crossed her knee and clasped it with her hands. "The heart of a man
is like the snow just now, I think. It is quickly melted where the sun
strikes it or the rain falls upon it. It is easy to make a dint in it.
But below that there is ice. In small matters a man will be kind enough;
but there may be great matters which may break themselves to pieces
against him before he will be moved."

Gunnar made no answer, but busied himself examining the wagon. He broke
a bubble of paint with his thumb, and said, "Look at that now. There's
bad workmanship for you."

"It is exactly the contrary with women," said Sigrid. "A girl's heart is
like a spring which is guarded by overhanging snow and a thin film of
ice. The first thaw breaks that through, and the water wells up warm.
But the film, while it remains there, is respectable; for it denotes
that the spring beneath is to be guarded from defiling hands."

Gunnar was very busy. He ran his hand up and down the pole. "The man who
painted this machine," he said, "was a botcher. He has never so much as
planed this pole. It is as rough as an earl's tongue. Just you feel it,
sweetheart."

She was offended. "If you don't care to listen to me, I don't care
either to observe your wagon. It is a strange way to woo a sweetheart to
have her in contempt."

"My dear one," said Gunnar--and now he looked at her--"it is true that
you know nothing of a man's heart, which moves him to do things rather
than to talk about them. And this wagon is not mine, but Frey's, and I
am to work upon it by your desire."

Her eyes filled with tears. "Ah," she said, "do I not know whose wagon
it is? Is this a time to remind me of it?" Gunnar looked quickly about
him. Nobody was by. So then he went to Sigrid, and put his hand on her
shoulder.

"Don't cry, pretty one," he said, "otherwise there will be the mischief
between Frey and me." Then he kissed her; and that was the first time
that ever he did it, strange as it may appear. She sat very still, and
all drawn up into a bunch, as if she felt chilly, which she did for a
minute. Then she went into Frey's house and stayed there for a good
time. Gunnar shook his head, and went to fetch the tools that he needed
for cleaning the paint off the wagon.


He took a long time over it, and was very happy to be so busy. He
cleaned off all the old paint, which was many coats thick, and smoothed
the wood to his fancy. Then he set to work with new colours and was at
it many days from dawn to dusk. It began to look very splendid, with a
green ground, and yellow wheels and pole, and with flowers, trees, birds
and beasts upon all that in blue, red and white. He painted also the sky
and the sun and rivers winding among meadows. Then he had the sea, with
ships upon it, because Sigrid did not know what the sea was like. And he
wrote runes all round the panels of the wagon, sayings such as were
common in his country, such as Bare is Back without Brother Behind it,
and so on.

Sigrid was much the better for being kissed, though she was very careful
not to say so. She thought that Gunnar would not perceive it, but he
did. Her eyes were larger and softer; her colour was higher; she was
quieter in her ways, not so restless, and certainly not so testy. She
used to sit contentedly with her curtains while he worked at his
painting, and could now admire what he did. She talked no more about the
difference between a man's heart and a woman's, perhaps because she knew
more. It was not hard to discern these changes in her.


"This wagon," said Gunnar, "is a paragon. It is my masterpiece." The
time had come when all was done, even to the hangings of Frey's bed, and
the containing boards of the same.

"Now, sweetheart," said he, "it is for you to consider whether we shall
not give your lord a lick of paint. To my eye he would be the better for
it, but you know his fancy better than I do."

She said shortly, "He is well enough." She could not bear his jokes
about Frey just now.

"He is not then," said Gunnar. "He will look shabby in his new wagon.
Just try him for yourself and see."

She was most unwilling, but yet she allowed him to put Frey up in the
forepart of the wain.

"Look at him," said Gunnar. "Look at the brown blur upon his neck; and
see how smeared his cheeks are. There is no shine left. To my thinking
he is failing in one eye. It is like the eye of a dead fish. There
should be new gilding on his cone. Strange how a new wagon shows him
up."

She was not looking at Frey at all; but when Gunnar had him down in the
court and was about to take his clothes off, she sprang forward with
flaming cheeks and dangerous eyes. "I dare you to touch him."

Gunnar stood. "As you please," he said. "It is nothing to me. Let him go
bleary to his work."

She shifted about and paced the court uneasily. "He is very well as he
is. If anything is to be done to him I will do it."

"As you please," said Gunnar again, and left the court. He went out
into the forest where the birds were singing. He looked to see if any
were nesting yet, and was away three or four hours.

When he came back Frey was in his house again, and he examined what
Sigrid had done. She had washed him; Gunnar thought he looked sadly
bleached about the chaps, and there were flaws in his beard. His neck
was pinker. She had tried to repaint his right eye.

While he was looking at Frey Sigrid came in. She was flushed, and
prepared to be angry in a moment.

"I suppose you think I have made matters worse," she said.

"What do you think yourself?" he asked her.

"He will do well enough," she answered. But he told her, "You have not
helped his eye-works. He is looking two ways at once."

"It is what you would say."

"It is what I do say," he answered, "because it is true."

"I know what you think of him," she cried out sharply. "You have no need
to tell me."

Gunnar replied: "He looked shabby before, and in want of a lick; but you
have made him look like a boiled goose."

Sigrid was seriously vexed. She looked as if she was all over spines,
like a teasel. But the worst of it was, that she knew he was right, as
well as he did himself. Meantime Gunnar walked comfortably about, by and
large, while she stood opening and shutting her hands.

"You are hard to please," she said at last, in a dry voice. "Yet I do
think that I have mishandled his right eye. Perhaps you will mend it for
me."

"Ah," said Gunnar, "and for him too I will mend it, though he has no
liking for me. Look at him, I ask you, from where you stand, and then
from where I do. Whereas his eyes used to follow us about to see what
we were doing, now he sees nothing of us at all. Kindly look for
yourself."

She did as he told her. She examined Frey very carefully from where she
stood and then crossed the floor and stood by Gunnar, but looked at
Frey.

"Well?" said Gunnar.

Her answer was not in words, but she looked up at Gunnar with a faint
smile. So then he kissed her again, and that kiss was a long one and
lasted some time.

"Frey cannot see," she said presently, "and it is my fault. Mend his eye
for me."

"Why," said Gunnar, "do you want him to see us?"

She said, "Not always--but sometimes it doesn't matter."

Gunnar said that he would put his eye right, and, more than that, he
would freshen him up altogether. He pointed out many flaws in his
painting.

Sigrid was not in the mood to deny him anything just now. She agreed
readily, and was going away. But she came back again.

"Promise me one thing," she said.

"I will promise you a dozen things," said Gunnar.

"One only. It is that you will only paint what you can see."

Gunnar, who was very quick, said, "I will obey you; but in that case you
must cover him in a blanket, lest I spoil his clothes."

She brought him a blanket, and left him. Gunnar put Frey's eye in order,
and touched up his cheeks and scarlet nostrils for him. He sized the
cone for gilding, and put a tinge more red into his beard.

Then he looked at him with his head on one side and one eye shut. "You
are a fine figure of a god, Frey. We are something alike, I believe. But
for all that I see that you don't love me."

He was at the end of the room as he stood; but for all that Frey had
him in view, and looked furious.


After that there was nothing to do but wait the moment when Frey should
start on his rounds.



CHAPTER XIV

FREY STARTS ON HIS ROUNDS


The weather was mild and open when Frey set out in his wagon, and the
roads were heavy. They plunged into the forest ways, where the tracks
were swimming in melting snow, and the air was rife with dripping trees.
But the birds were all awake, the buds were shining, there was spring in
the air. Gunnar walked beside the oxen and touched their necks now and
then with the nodding point of his switch; Frey kept his bed, and Sigrid
trudged beside Gunnar, heedless of the wet and mire. Sometimes she took
his hand, sometimes his arm; sometimes his arm supported her. She was
very happy, talked and laughed as she had never before.

Now she could laugh at Frey, it seems. "Frey is snoozing," she said.
"He doesn't see what we see."

"No," said Gunnar; "but let him alone. He will have to work by and by.
It is no light matter to order the yearly affairs of the earth."

"No, indeed," she said. "Besides, you have cut him off his
blood-offerings which he loves."

"He will be all the better for that," Gunnar replied. "Such food makes
fat."

The first village which they reached received them with acclamations.
Children with flowers, women with their children, men with their women,
were there to receive them. They crowded the green track, they came
flying through the forest on all sides. The oxen trudged over budded
boughs and the first-born of flowers. The curtains of the forepart were
open. Sigrid sat in the wagon by the side of Frey, who shook on his
perch. The people were frantic, and many tried to climb the cart that
they might touch Frey's new cloak, or kiss the budded staff in his hand.
Gunnar had all to do to keep them free of the wheels. The elders of the
village were before the first house and turned when the wagon drew nigh
to walk before it to the god-house. It was late by the time they had
reached it and got Frey carried in; but there were torchlights
everywhere flaring about like fiery serpents, and burning all the pools
of water till they looked like melted gold.

They told of great sacrifice in the morning, a boy and girl who were but
just mature, and a foreign woman who had been found lost and benighted
in the time of snow. Then Gunnar made it plain to them that these things
were not to be. "Frey," he said, "utterly abhors this bloodshedding,
which, if you persist in it, will fairly ruin your tillage of the year.
I know what he will do, for he has done it already. He will turn his
back upon your fields, and nothing will move him. Be warned therefore,
before it is too late."

The people were dismayed, and many murmured. Then Gunnar said, "Bring me
your victims, and I will show you the mind of Frey"; which was done. The
victims, bound tightly with withy-bands, were set before him. With his
knife Gunnar cut their bonds. "You are free," he said, "and no one dare
touch you, for Frey wills it. He will bless these fields, seeing that he
has blessed you, who are more to him than fields."

Sigrid, who was standing close by, now said, "He speaks truly the mind
of Frey, as I myself can testify."

So that year there were no bloody rites, but all other things were done
as they had been from time out of mind. They carried Frey about their
fields, and said prayers and sang his praises; and so they went on their
way through the forest from village to village. Everywhere Gunnar
stopped the sacrifices, and everywhere Sigrid upheld him. In time she
was even beforehand with him, and much more vehement than he had ever
been. He admired the spirit in which she did it, but advised her to be
prudent. "If you say too much," he told her, "they will believe you to
be under my thumb." She did not reply to that at first; but presently
she said, "If they charged me with that I should not gainsay it."

He smiled with his eyes as well as his lips. "You might find it a softer
one than Frey's," he said. She turned away her face, but gave him her
hand to hold. He began to talk his nonsense, setting himself the task of
making her laugh; for he thought to himself, "They are better when they
laugh, for they cannot do it unless their hearts are light."



CHAPTER XV

THE SNOWSTORM


After many weeks journeying in dense woodland country, Frey's wagon was
now to cross a range of high mountains. The forest grew lighter, the way
was steadily uphill, the wind blew cooler, the trees were more backward.
At last they were fairly in the uplands among boulders of rock with here
and there a few pines, or a grove of birch. It became like winter again,
except for the length of daylight.

There was a rough road by which the mountains were to be passed. They
reached it at sunset, and it seemed likely they would have to spend the
night upon the top where the snow was still deep. It began to blow
fitfully from the east and north, and Gunnar did not like the look of
things at all.

"Sweetheart," he said, "we had best shelter hereabouts, for I doubt it
is coming on to blow, and we might have snowstorms up above."

"No," said Sigrid, "I feel sure we had best get on. They await us on the
further side of the mountain, but a little way down."

"As you will," said Gunnar; "only keep yourself warm inside, and make
your curtains as snug as you can."

He had spoken truly. The wind increased, and the powdery snow began
flitting in wreaths over the frozen ground. Gunnar put a blanket round
Sigrid and drew his coat closer about him. The oxen plodded on without
taking notice. But both wind and snow were in their faces, and it was a
slow business.

Gunnar kept his eye on the look of the sky. He saw masses of dark cloud
behind the mountain range, inky towards the middle, brown at the edges.
"There's a mort of snow to come," he said.

It grew dark quickly, and he sent Sigrid into the wagon. "Get to bed,"
he told her, "and wrap yourself up warmly. The first good rock I come to
I shall shelter the cattle."

"And what will you do yourself?" she wanted to know.

"I shall turn the wagon back to the wind," he said, "and cover the oxen.
Then I will do the best for myself I can."

She wasn't satisfied and seemed unwilling to leave him, but he told her
again to go to bed. "Well," she said, "I will go, but you shall kiss me
first." It was the first time she had ever asked that of him, and he
gave her what she wanted, though he had other things to think about
then, and plenty of them.

She went away after that, and he trudged along. The snow was coming
thick now; he felt it like gnats against his face, and that his beard
was stiff with it. The front of his clothes was like a board, and his
knees ached with the strain. The oxen stopped several times; but he hued
them on, and often gave a hand to the wheel. But he had to stop as often
to let them breathe themselves, and every time he did so they were the
harder to move. The fury of the wind drove the snow in wreaths; banks of
it formed, through which the cattle stumbled, or failed to stumble. When
they failed he had to kick a passage for them.


The point came beyond which he could not get them to move. It was at a
bend of the road between high rocks. The wind came down the channel in
fury, the snow was blinding. He felt, for he could not see, the
trembling beasts, and understood that there was no moving them. Sigrid
within the curtains made no sign. Gunnar considered that here they must
remain until the storm ceased.

He found stones for the hind wheels of the wain, unyoked the oxen and
led them into the lew, out of the fury of the weather. He sought in the
choked underpart for their coverings, but could not find them there.
They would be in the wagon, and he must have them by all means. He gave
them fodder, however, and then wondered what he should do to get their
clothing, and to help himself. He was not cold, for his exertions had
been too severe, but he would soon become so. Should he make himself a
rampart of snow and crouch under that? He knew there was danger of
swooning, and rejected the thought. Should he then stamp up and down,
flapping his arms until daybreak? He knew that he could not.

"It seems I am to perish for the sake of a wooden god!" His heart grew
hot within him. "Accursed idol," he said, "if I had you here I would
fight it out with you! And I vow that if I come through this pass with
safety, and see again my own land, I will take King Olaf's religion,
which does not send fair women to sleep with painted stocks."

"Sigrid has little love to spare for the like of me," he thought. "What
knows she whether I live or die? There she snuggles asleep, with Frey in
her arms." He heard the voice of Sigrid then, with tears in it. "No, no,
I do not. Come in and you shall see."

He stared before him. "Sigrid, are you awake?"

She answered, "I am awake, and wait for you."

"Then," said he, "I come, but first give me covering for the cattle or
they will perish, for they are now running sweat."

"Stay," she said; "you shall have them; but then you must come."

He was now on fire, and trembling, but he waited while she struck tinder
and blew a flame from which she lit a candle. After a time which was
enough to cool any one, but did not cool him, she handed him out the
wrappings. He made the beasts as snug as he could, and when he had done
the candle was still burning fitfully.



CHAPTER XVI

MARRIAGE OF SIGRID


Gunnar stood by the wagon, backing the storm. He waited for Sigrid to
call him. He could see her shadow moving about, and that she seemed very
busy. His temper began to rise. "What is the matter now? Have I not
earned shelter yet? Or does she wait until I am frostbitten?"

Her voice came scared from the curtains. "Are you there, Gunnar?"

"Ha! Am I here? I am a hillock of snow. There is nothing left of me that
is not ice. Have you no ruth then?"

Her voice had great fear in it. "I am afraid of Frey. He is very angry."

Then Gunnar's wrath overflowed and was bitter in the mouth. "What, is
Frey angry? Ah, but I am angry too. I'll deal with Frey. Let me get at
him."

He climbed the wagon wheel and put his head and shoulders in the
curtains. He saw Frey standing in the cart. With a lurch forward, he got
him by the beard and pulled him over towards himself. "Now, Frey, you
and I are at grips. Come, out with you."

He now had Frey under the arms, and was hauling him out. When he had got
so much of him out as was enough, he let go, and Frey, overbalancing,
fell upon his head into the snow. The gleaming of the candle showed him
the axe hanging on its accustomed nail. "I'll take that," he said, and
got down with it in his hand.

Now he set Frey up in the snow and took him by the ears. Frey had his
crown on, but none of his clothes. Seeing him now as he really was,
Gunnar's blood boiled within him.

"Dangerous, malignant idol," he said, with his teeth clenched, "whether
you are devil or stock you shall be neither within this few minutes. To
what monstrous pass have you brought us, to keep true lovers apart! You,
to keep lovers apart! To what shameful drudgery you turn this sweet
woman. You, to drudge a woman! Ah, block of abomination, the one good
thing you have done is to turn my heart to a faith that is cleaner than
yours. If you have set me free, now it is my turn. Here's for
Sigrid--and to let the fiend out of the tree." With that he swung the
axe high in the air and brought it down true upon the head of Frey. Frey
was cloven from the crown to the chine, and fell neatly in halves on
either side of him. Gunnar looked up. The cloud-wrack had blown over,
the sky was clear and gemmed with stars.

"Frey has ridden off on the storm," he said. Then he called aloud,
"Sigrid!" And her faint voice answered, "Gunnar!" He climbed into the
wagon.



CHAPTER XVII

MORROW OF THE STORM


The storm had abated in the night, the weather of the morning was fair,
with a wind from the south. Gunnar, when he went out and looked about
him, thought that it would be possible to take up the journey by noon.

But there were more serious things to consider of. Frey was dead and in
two halves, and how could they go without Frey? How could they go with
him either? He did not know what had better be done.

But Sigrid knew very well. When Gunnar came back to her she told him.
"We must go on," she said, "and it is for you now to be Frey. You are
strikingly like him. You would do much greater miracles than ever he
did--as," she said, "you have already done."

Gunnar thought about it. "It could be done, I dare say. But we have no
wagoner. You would not have Frey drive his own team."

She said, "We shall easily find a teamster in the country. And until we
have one I can drive the beasts."

Gunnar said that that would not suit him at all. But they settled it
this way, that he should drive until they were nearing the village,
which lay upon a shoulder of the mountain, not far from the pass on the
further side. Then Sigrid would go and find a wagoner and return with
him.

It was necessary to mend Frey's oak-leaf crown, which was in two pieces.
Gunnar joined them neatly together, and gilded the edges of the
fracture. The axe had been very sharp, the cut very clean. There was no
trouble with Frey's clothing; Gunnar was happy to resume his cloak.

Scarlet paint to his nostrils was all that he needed to make him as like
Frey as need be; but he did not need as yet to change his nature and
attributes. There would be time enough for that when Sigrid was gone for
the wagoner.


They took up the journey again through the fast-melting snow. It was
hard work, but the sun was shining, the sky without a cloud; they made
way and reached the top of the pass without serious delay. Thence they
could see the village below them. They saw also that on that side of the
mountain the snow had not drifted so much. It had been exposed to the
full fury of the wind, which had blown the snow off as fast as it fell.
Gunnar considered that this would be a good place to wait for the
teamster; but Sigrid told him that a little way down there was a
better. "There is a shelter there," she said, "and a little birch wood.
You will be more concealed, and I shall not have so far to come back to
you."

Gunnar laughed. "Now that you have me, you are glad of me."

Her answer was a long look, and a sigh from a full heart.

They found the little wood and steered the team there. It was in the
full sun, with very little snow. Flowers were blowing there, and the
birds very busy. Gunnar kissed Sigrid and saw her go on her errand.


As for her, she went on her way rejoicing. She did what she could not
remember to have done before--for she was by nature grave and silent:
she sang snatches of little songs, at first with no words to them, but
afterwards words came of themselves--names which she had had for Gunnar
a long time stored in her heart, and others of the kind. After a few
turns of the road she saw a group of men in a walled close, and went to
them.

They said that they were expecting Frey and his wagon, fearing that the
storm would have stayed him.

"Frey is quite well," she said, "but we have lost our wagoner, who was a
Norwegian, and Frey's priest also. He disappeared in the storm, and we
suppose he perished in a drift."

"Better men than he have perished last night," said one of the men. "But
who may you be, mistress?"

Sigrid said, "I am Frey's wife." And then they all knew her and saluted
her with great respect.

"Frey sent me," said she, "to find a man of yours to lead his wagon into
your village. Afterwards we must let him choose one who will continue
with him on his rounds. It is not likely he will have a new man from
every village. He would not be pleased with that."

They talked together, and then said they would all come gladly. "Very
good," she said. "You shall all bring us into the village. Now we will
go back, for Frey is alone, and I don't know what he may do. He is very
strange this morning, and I believe might be dangerous if he were vexed
or in any way put out."

They struck off up the mountain, and when they came to the wagon in the
birch wood, there stood Frey with shining nostrils, very fierce, in the
cart. He had drawn the curtains so that he might look out over the
country. Sigrid called their attention to that. "You see how it is with
him," she said. "Now I tell you that when I left him those curtains were
closely drawn." One of the men said that a night out on the mountain in
such a storm was enough to make anybody angry.

He stood up very regally while they stood before him bareheaded. One
man said a kind of a prayer, deprecating his anger; but Frey took no
notice of him. Sigrid said, "Better get on as soon as may be. He will be
hungry, and will do no work until he is satisfied." She got up into the
wagon and sat beside Frey, and put her hand within his arm. The men
urged the oxen down the road, and so they came to the village.

As soon as Sigrid saw the concourse which was out to meet them she drew
the curtains, and was immediately in Gunnar's arms. But then, after
that, she had to learn what were his intentions.

He said, "I will have no blood-offerings at all. If they must slay oxen
and sheep, let it be for a good dinner. I will join them there and they
shall be the better of it, as I shall be. But their offerings shall be
gold or silver, or clothing, if they wish to serve me. Eggs, too, I will
take, or cheese, or milk, or bread. Therefore, Sigrid, you must make
them understand and more than that, you must drive it into the head of
the man you choose for priest, that blood-sacrifices are an abomination
to me."

She promised him that she would see to it all; and so they came into the
village with the people flocking about them. When they had taken up
their place and the oxen had been unyoked, fed and watered, Sigrid took
the headmen apart and told them the mind of Frey. They were
disappointed. They said that they had many victims whom they were
anxious to dispose of, and not much gold or silver at any rate, and none
which they could spare. They hoped therefore that Frey would accept of
the accustomed sacrifice, which was a great interest to the people.

Sigrid said, "I see how it is. You wish to glut yourself at Frey's
charge, and to rid yourself of what you don't want, nor Frey neither.
But Frey knows this better than you do, and is not to be deceived. You
will find out very soon that I am right."

They said that he should have eggs, bread, cheese and milk, and went
away very discontented.

The hour of the sacrifice was now at hand. Trestles and boards were laid
before the wagon to hold up the altar and to make degrees of approach to
it. Then when songs had been sung and prayers offered, Sigrid drew the
curtains apart and revealed Frey to them.

They brought baskets of bread, cheeses in the round, milk and eggs. With
a bearer of eggs Frey worked his first miracle.

A certain man came up with a basketful of eggs; there may have been two
dozen of them. He knelt before Frey in his place in the row, waiting his
turn. Gunnar, watching him, saw him fingering the eggs while he waited,
turning them over, lifting one and weighing it in his hands. Presently
he saw him take two from the basket and slip them in his pocket. When
he put his hand to them again Frey brought his budded staff smartly down
upon the back of it, and smashed it into his eggs. The man gave a yell,
and fell down upon his face. All the rest shrank away in consternation,
and there was great commotion down below. The man, sobbing and
blubbering, drew out of his pocket the stolen eggs. Never had been such
a miracle as this within the memory of man. The immediate effect of it
was to bring out treasure to the shrine. Women brought their marriage
crowns, men their rings and armlets. Fine cloth was offered and stuff
embroidered with silk and gold. In the evening there was a feast, to
which Frey himself came, and to their wonder and satisfaction ate and
drank with the best. He said little; but he listened, and nodded his
head when he was pleased, or knit his brows when he was angry. Next day
he was drawn in his wagon to their closes and fields, and blessed them
all very graciously. He gave them to understand through his wife that
by banking up a torrent they could easily turn it and make a head of
water enough to keep the pasture green all the summer through. Another
thing he told them was how to make conduit-pipes of the split trunks of
trees, hollowed out. All these things were wonderful, and carried the
name and fame of Frey before him. The offerings poured into his
treasury; he was rich, and had no more trouble with blood-sacrifices. By
the end of the sowing season Frey was so rich that the wagon would
scarcely hold him, his wife and the treasure. He talked to Sigrid about
it, and said, "Sweetheart, I am thinking that we should do well to have
a bodyguard before we get into our own country."

Sigrid, who was sitting on his knee at the time, said that no one would
dare to attack Frey; but Gunnar nodded his head. "Fame is a strange
thing," he told her; "it takes the guise that is most in men's fancy.
Now for one man who has heard report of our miracles, there will be
twenty who know that we have a full treasury. I am minded to have a
guard before we cross the river and come into the parts where we are
known best. And do you know what I am thinking is going to be the crown
of Frey's achievement?"

She said, wonderingly, "No." Then Gunnar kissed her. And then she told
him that she knew quite well what he meant, and that the truth was so.
"Great is Frey," said Gunnar.



CHAPTER XVIII

NEWS OF FREY REACHES NORWAY


In Norway under King Olaf Trygvasson affairs were prospering all this
while. The king had settled his kingdom into his own ways, and being of
a restless and acquisitive mind, he was already thinking how he could
better himself. He had thought more than once of Iceland as a heathen
country stocked with fine people well worth the pains of conversion. "To
drive them to the water may cost me five hundred lives," he said, "but
you may take that as a sowing of which the harvest will be a
thousandfold. Christ will win souls and I a new realm." The more he
thought of it the more he desired to do it.

Then there came strange news out of Sweden, of painful interest to King
Olaf. He heard of mighty stirrings of the pagan people out there, of
miracles wrought by their chief god Frey which overpassed any which his
own priests could do. What struck him most in these accounts was that
the manner of devotion had been changed. Frey, he was assured, was
milder-mannered, and would have nothing to do with human sacrifice. More
than that, blood-offerings of all sorts were utterly done away with. The
king could not understand it, and talked it over with the lords of his
council.

"It looks to me," he said, "as if Frey was half-way to be a Christian.
Not only will he have no bloodshed, but all his works are those of
mercy. He heals the sick, comforts the fatherless, gives sight to the
blind, sets captives free! There is something in all this which I cannot
fathom. But let me tell you that baptism of a heathen god would be a
thing to root the true faith in the rock, as it should be. Then it would
stand fast for ever."

Some said one thing, and some another. But Sigurd Helming looked down at
his finger-nails with his brows drawn up very high, and said nothing at
all.

He was so pointedly silent that the king observed it. "Well," he asked
him, "and what are you thinking to see in your finger-nails?"

Sigurd held up the forefinger of one hand. "There is a white fleck in
this one," he said, "which warns me of a stranger in Sweden."

"Well," said King Olaf, "and that is true to report. What next?"

"Sir," said Sigurd, "a stranger to my knowledge went into Sweden a year
ago, and has not been heard of as coming out again. That was my brother
Gunnar, who went for a good reason."

The king frowned. "You did no service to this country when you warned
him of my anger."

"Sir," Sigurd said, "I know that. But I was very sure then that he had
no part in Halward's slaughter, and I believe that you had an inkling of
how the case stood. Otherwise you had not kept me on your council, but
had expelled me the realm."

"Well," said the king, "what I have heard since has softened my
resentment; but I know nothing. What makes you see the mind of Gunnar in
these heathen doings?"

"The knowledge I have of his mind," said Sigurd. "He is a merry man and
a mild-mannered man until he is vexed. Now, he never would sacrifice
beasts to the gods in the old days when the gods required it. And he
always said that it was better to kill a man outright than to keep him
in chains or darkness. These are two reasons. Lastly, if it is true
that Frey had a woman for his wife, I believe that Gunnar has her now,
and that the next miracle of Frey's we hear about will be that she is to
give him a child."

The king took hold of his chin under his beard, and considered. Then he
said, "Sigurd, do you go into Sweden and witness some of the doings of
Frey. If you are right in what you suspect--and I think that you
are--you will see Gunnar, and maybe he will tell you the truth of the
matter. It is an old story by now, but I don't say that I shall not have
a word with the slayer of Halward hereafter if I happen to meet with
him." Sigurd said that he would gladly go to Sweden. It was settled that
he should set out in the summer when the passes were open and Frey at
home again.



CHAPTER XIX

SIGURD IN SWEDEN. THE BATTLE OF THE FORD


Sigurd said that he should go to Sweden by sea, as that was the quicker
way for one who did not know the land ways. He had a ship fitted out,
and was often down on the hard, either going to his ship or coming from
it.

One day he saw, or thought he saw, Gunnar sitting there in the sun. It
was a man of about his size in a cloak which he had been fond of
wearing; a faded red cloak with a hood to it which stuck out in a bunch
upon his shoulders. After a good look at him he knew that it could not
be Gunnar, but was still curious about the cloak. He went up to the man
until he could touch him, and then did touch him by lifting up the hem
of the cloak to see if the braid was like that of Gunnar's. It was the
very same.

"Good day to you," Sigurd said, and the man, seeing a lord beside him,
rose up and saluted him. He looked like a fisherman or seafarer.

"I was interested in your cloak," Sigurd said. "I think my brother
Gunnar will have given it to you. But he left the country more than a
twelvemonth ago, and I see that you have worn it hard."

The man laughed. "Not so hard then," he said, "seeing I have not had it
in my hands more than a few days, and this is but the second time I have
worn it."

"From whom did you receive it? I must needs know, for a good deal hangs
upon what you tell me."

The man stared, and then looked rather sullen. "It is fairly mine," he
said, "as a thing is that comes from the bottom of the sea."

Now it was Sigurd who stared. "You fished it up from the sea-bed?"

"It came up with my anchor six nights ago or seven."

"Where were you moored?"

He pointed out to sea. "I was lying just off the Ness, having been out
with the nets. But the wind shifted at sunset, and I was not hurried, so
stayed there snug enough till morning. It is a soft bottom there. In the
morning I shipped my anchor, and up comes this cloak with a great stone
in the hood of it. It had been cast there by somebody who wanted it to
stay there, but you see things went awry with him."

"They did so," said Sigurd. "Now I will give you three crowns for the
cloak as it stands."

"If you do that you do a foolish thing," said the man, "but it is not
for me to stop you.

"It's not so foolish as you suppose," Sigurd answered. He paid over his
money, and away with the cloak.

"I take you with me to find your master," he said to it, very well
satisfied with his morning's work.


He made a good journey in his ship, coasted the land of Sweden and ran
up a long way into the land. He arrived there towards the middle of the
summer, and made inquiries of the whereabouts of the woodland Frey.
Hereabouts, they told him, he was not worshipped, though great tales
were told of him which had shaken many, and moved some to go into the
forest country to judge for themselves. They gave him certain
information where that country was. He was to follow the course of the
river up into the land. When it ran finer he would come to a good ford.
On the west of that lay the country of the woodland Frey.

Sigurd set off on horseback with a good retinue, and made long
journeys. In about ten days or a fortnight the river began to run
brokenly; in a day more he should be at the ford. So it proved. The
country ran flat in a broad valley, on the west of which, climbing
gradually to the mountains, so far as the eye could see there was
forest.

They kept a look-out for the ford, and presently a man of theirs, riding
in front, topped, looked earnestly, and then held up his hand with a
spear in it. They came up with him. "What is it you see?" Sigurd asked
him.

"I see the ford," he said, "and I see also men fighting about it. And it
seems to me that twenty are attacking a few."

Sigurd was looking as they all were. "What are those white animals I see
on this bank?"

"They are oxen," said the look-out man.

"I see also a great wagon they have behind them. And I believe that Frey
is in the wagon. What I marvel at is that he should be there at all and
not among the fighters."

"Would Frey fight men?" he was asked.

"If he is what I believe him," said Sigurd, "he would gladly fight men."

They rode on cautiously, taking what cover they could, and came up
within a bowshot of the fight. Then they saw that there were eight men
against the twenty, of whom some were fallen into the river, and some
fell even as they looked. Nevertheless, the greater party was
prevailing. They had pushed back the eight to the close neighbourhood of
the wagon, and it looked as if it would go hard with them. Frey, they
could see, stood fixedly in the front of the cart with his crown on his
head, and his cone and rod in his hands. Sigurd wondered at him, and
could not think it was Gunnar.

But even while he thought, he saw Frey drop his cone and reach
stealthily behind him. He found what he wanted and held it behind his
back, staring all the while fixedly in front.

[Illustration: "Then all of a sudden Frey ... leaped from the cart into
the midst of the fight."

_Frey and his Wife_] [_Page 241_ ]

Then all of a sudden Frey roared aloud, making a terrible booming noise,
and leaped from the cart into the midst of the fight. Sigurd now saw
that he had in his right hand an axe, and remarked with pleasure how
doughtily he laid about him with it, and how men fell before him. Frey
kept up his roaring, which was like the noise of a great buzzing
windmill, and seemed to paralyze his enemies, who gave back in confusion
until they were at the water's edge.

"Now is our time," said Sigurd, and gave the order to set on.

So they did, with spears, and completed the rout. All the remnant of the
assailants was slain. Then Sigurd turned him to Frey.

"This is the last of your miracles, brother," he said, "or the last but
one. You had no need of us."

Gunnar turned upon him in wonderment. "Ah, it is you, Sigurd! I cry you
hail!" Then they shook hands and embraced each other with great joy.

Gunnar told Sigurd that he had had suspicions of some such thing, "since
the people on this side of the river have no love for Frey," and knew
what a treasure he had in his wagon. He had prepared himself beforehand
with a tolerable company; but the marauders were in greater force than
he had thought for. "So it was needful for Frey himself to make an
example of them."

Then Sigurd asked to be shown the treasure; "And they tell me, Gunnar,
that you have more than gold and silver with you."

"So I have," said Gunnar, "as you shall see." He called Sigrid, who then
came down from the cart and greeted Sigurd with gravity and timidity
mingled. She stood very close to Gunnar all the time. Sigurd approved
highly of her, and "I see that the crowning wonder of Frey's life on
earth is to be accomplished in her." This he said to Gunnar when they
were alone, and Gunnar did not deny it.

When they had eaten, drunken and rested themselves, Gunnar desired to
know what had brought his brother adventuring into these wilds. Sigurd
said, Well! he had heard rumours of Frey's doings which put him in mind
of Gunnar. These had been spoken of in the king's council, and authority
given to him to go out and satisfy himself. "And I may tell you," he
continued, "that King Olaf's anger with you is over, and that you need
not fear the sight of a tree any more. But we will talk about that
another time. Let me see this fine treasure of yours which your magic
has drawn from the Swedes."

Gunnar said, "I don't know that there was much magic about it. I gave
them what they wanted, they gave me what I wanted. It seems a fair
barter. And let me tell you, it is no light matter for me to be silent
when men are feasting; and to fill up your nostrils with red paint every
morning--that is worth its price also."

"But you had a pretty wife to talk with," said Sigurd.

"To be sure I had," Gunnar replied, "and a great to-do before I had
her."

Sigrid brought out the treasure to show to Sigurd. He was amazed. "I had
not believed there was so much gold and silver in Sweden," he said. Then
he saw the cloths, the tissues of silk and linen, and the raiment. By
and by he turned over the green and brown cloak which Gunnar had brought
with him from Drontheim. "Here is a notable cloak," he said, "the like
of which I have seen before."

"Have you though?" said Gunnar, and laughed. "That is Frey's own cloak,
which I vowed to him when I took service under him, and long before I
made palings of him."

Sigurd said, "Wait a little. I think I can match it." He went away to
his company and came back with Gunnar's red-hooded cloak in his hands.
"Here," he said, "is a fellow to it, somewhat tousled and time-worn. Do
you know it?"

Gunnar handled it with affection. "That is an old friend which I never
thought to see again," he said. "The last time I saw it, it was on the
back of a dirty rascal."

Sigurd told him the tale of its recovery, and how a great stone had come
up in the hood of it. Gunnar said, "I see it--but I saw it all at the
time."

"I did not," said Sigurd, "but now I do. I shall keep both of these
cloaks, by your leave," he said. "King Olaf requires to be convinced."

Gunnar said that he was ready to go back with his brother the way he had
come, but that he would send Frey's wagon home across the ford. "If they
need a new Frey," he said, "they will make one for themselves."

"There's a new Frey on the road," said Sigurd, "who would give them
great satisfaction," but Gunnar said that he had had enough godship.

So they returned along the river road, and Sigrid had her first sight of
the sea, and a taste of its quality.



CHAPTER XX

THE END OF THE TALE


Gunnar found himself rich with all his Swedish treasure, and bought land
in a dale of Drontheim, and set to work building a fine house. About
Christmas-time Sigrid gave birth to a son, which was a great affair. But
before any of these things happened to him he had to see King Olaf, who
received him with a wry smile.

"So you are not only contumacious, but inveterate in sin," he said; but
Gunnar could see that he wasn't angry. "You not only deny my God, but
set yourself up as His rival. And now you are in my hands, what am I to
do?"

"Sir," said Gunnar, "it is rather true that the only way I had of
escaping your rope was to run among the heathen. As for my godhead,
that in a sense was forced upon me. I would have you remark that I slew
a god before I became one myself."

"You slew a god and took his wife," said the king. "I should like to see
Frey's wife. You shall bring her to me, if you please. I have many
questions to put to her."

So Sigrid was brought to King Olaf, who questioned her alone. But he
found it one thing to question and another thing to get answered. As for
her origin she was quite willing to repeat all that she had told Gunnar
early in her acquaintance with him. King Olaf knew her country and the
city of Prag, from which it seemed she had come, very well. Then he
wanted to know about her marriage with Frey, and she became dumb. How
long was it before she knew that Frey was nought? No answer. What sort
of communication had passed between her and Frey? No answer. Was Frey
kind to her? Did he beat her? Was it his eyes which dominated her? No
answers.

Lastly he said this: "Have you told Gunnar everything that there is to
tell?"

To that she answered, "Yes," and her eyes were unclouded and not afraid
of the king's.

"Well!" said Olaf; and that was all there was to say about it.

The king told Gunnar that he was not married at all, to which Gunnar
answered, "Ho, am I not?" But he went on to say that he had vowed
himself to Christianity on the night of his marriage, and that he and
Sigrid were very ready to accomplish the vow. The king agreed to it; so
the pair of them went into the water with the Bishop of Drontheim, and
were afterwards married again by the laws of Christendom and Holy
Church.

Men sat still then for the winter, and in the spring King Olaf gathered
his hosts and fitted out his long ships for work in Iceland. Gunnar
excused himself, saying that he was busy with his new house and his
child; but he spoke more freely to Sigurd.

"I know one thing which you intend doing over there," he said, "and I
will have no share in it myself. I owe no grudge to Ogmund Dint, though
it was a dirty trick he played me for his own beastly ends. But I got
Sigrid out of the adventure and everything I possess, and that's enough
for me."

"Plenty," said Sigurd, "and I am with you, and should do the same if I
were in your place. But the king won't have slayings done in Norway
unavenged. He is very bitter against Ogmund, and I fancy it will go hard
with him."

"I don't doubt that," said Gunnar. "King Olaf is a hard nut to crack."


The expedition sailed, and sailed north. The landing was made in Shaw
Firth where Ogmund's father, Raven, was a great man. But Ogmund himself
was not there. Wigfus, who was in the host, told the king where he would
be found, and when matters had been settled in the north the fleet
sailed about to the east of Iceland and made a new landing, not far from
Thwartwater.

Ogmund was one of the first of the chieftains in those parts to submit
himself to King Olaf's baptism.

The king received him coldly and put him on one side. "I will consider
of it," he said, "but first I wish to see old Battle-Glum, who is a man
after my own heart."

Battle-Glum was brought before him, and refused to have anything to do
with Christianity. "I am an old man now," he said, "looking out for my
end. It is late for me to change my opinions. Thor is the god I worship,
and in that faith will I die. It matters very little to me whether I
die at your hands, or in my bed. I have settled all my affairs. Wigfus
will take Thwartwater after me. He is young and can follow what gods he
pleases. So also can Ogmund, my foster-son."

"Wigfus your son," said the king, "is a Christian already; but Ogmund
your foster-son is not. He is here at hand, and I will have him in
before you that you may know something about him before you die."

Ogmund was brought in, and Sigurd also was present. Sigurd said, "The
last time you were in Drontheim you left something behind you which I
desire to give back. But there is some doubt left open which of two
things is yours, and I would have you settle it, Ogmund."

Ogmund said that he would do so with pleasure.

Then Sigurd said, "You left a dead man lying in his blood, and a cloak."

Ogmund Dint said that he left no cloak, "and as for the man, I slew him
fairly."

Sigurd said, "You left two cloaks, one in the water with a great stone
in it, and one on the back of my brother Gunnar. Here they are. Which do
you say is yours?"

Ogmund was very troubled. He touched the fine cloak. "I say that that is
mine."

"You lie, Ogmund," said Sigurd. "That was in Gunnar's keeping. He gave
it to me."

Then Ogmund was for justifying himself to the king; but King Olaf told
the story at length to Battle-Glum. Glum listened to it, and said
little. "Thrall's blood will show itself," he said. "I expected
something of the kind." Then he turned to King Olaf and said, "Do you
propose to have this man baptized?" The king said, "I do."

Then Battle-Glum said, "And do you ask me to be of the same religion?"
The king told him he could do as he pleased. "You are a credit to any
religion," he told him.

Ogmund Dint asked vehemently for baptism.

"You shall have it," said King Olaf. "You shall be baptized first and
hanged afterwards, lest your punishment be eternal as well as temporal."

Which was done.


THE END


Butler & Tanner; Frome and London.





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