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The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by  Allen French

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OF THE COMING OF EARL THORFINN

[271]

R
OLF shut the storehouse door, and Frodi held it until it was barred. The Scots could move neither Frodi nor the bars, and knew not what to do. All within was dark, save for light from the crack of the door; and when the Scots who stood before the crack felt Frodi's bill, they stood back. Then Rolf shot arrows out through the crack, and the Scots stood aside, so that those within could do no more. They heard the Scots say that no time should be wasted for three men.

"Now," said Frodi, "they will go away."

"Be not too hopeful," said Grani.

[272] When smoke began to puff in, they knew that the thatch had been fired over their heads. "So," quoth Frodi, "I shall be burned in the Orkneys after all. Seest thou, Grani, why no Icelander loves thy land?"

They sat there a while and the place grew hot; then Grani began to pace up and down. "Would that I," he said at last, "had never seen the Orkneys!"

"What is this?" asked Rolf.

Grani said after a silence: "I shall never speak again to my father, whom I have not seen these many years." Next he said: "My sister must be almost a woman." After that said he: "Peaceful was our home."

Frodi tried to comfort him, but Grani would not listen. "Let us die in the open," he cried, "and give an account of ourselves!"

But when they tried to leave that [273] smothering place, they found the Scots had braced the door, and it could not be moved. Then a corner of the roof fell down, and burned inside the storehouse.

"Now," cried Grani in despair, "would I were once more on the home-field of Fellstead, looking abroad on old Broadfirth and the peaceful dales!"

"A wonderful thing thou sayest!" exclaimed Rolf.

"Let wonders be," said Frodi. "But since we cannot leave this place by the front door, why not by the rear?"

"How do that?" asked Grani.

Frodi drew aside the heavy hide which hung at the back of the storehouse, against the rock of the hillside: there were a carved stone doorway and a black cave.

"Now," cried Grani, "rightly is this place called the Vale of the Hermit; this was his house, though I never knew of it till now. Let us be quick!"

[274] So they went into that cave and sat there, while the fire burned the storehouse quite away, and its roof-beams fell across the door of the cave and hid it. Moreover the green hide did not burn through, and kept out the smoke; and a little air came in through a fissure of the rock. Then the Scots who watched went their way, and Kiartan with them. When they were gone, those three thrust the hide and the beams aside from the cave-mouth, and leaped out over the embers. They were near stifled, and weak from the heat.

Those Scots and Kiartan went back to Hawksness, and for what he had done they gave him his ship unplundered. But they plundered the hall and the church, and with the riches of Ar they had both sport and quarrels, until all was divided. Then they sent out vessels to ravage in the Orkneys; but the main body, and the [275] leader, sat there at Hawksness, and because it was believed Earl Thorfinn thought them still in Scotland, and no ship had been spared to go south and tell of them, they had no fear of him. For it would have been a great undertaking for any small boat to cross the Pentland Firth.

But on a day when the Earl sat in his hall, in Thurso of Caithness, his men came to him, saying: "There are messengers without, and they would speak with thee." But the men laughed.

"Why laugh ye?" asked the Earl.

"The messengers say they are from the Orkneys, yet no ship has come, and they are the worst of scarecrows."

"But bring them in," said the Earl.

So three men were brought before the Earl. One was of middle height, and slender; he bore a bow. One was taller, and carried a sword. The third was as [276] big as any man in that place, and he held in his hand a great bill. All in rags were those men, as if their garments had been scorched. They told the Earl that the Scots were in the Orkneys, and the Earl's men laughed mightily.

"Sailed ye across the Firth?" asked the Earl.

"We rowed," answered they.

"In what?" asked the Earl. "And where is the boat?"

"It sunk off the shore," said those men, "and we swam the last mile."

"Why are ye so burned?"

They said they had been nigh burned to death.

Then the Earl stilled the laughter of his men, and he leaned to that one who bore the bow; he was not much more than a lad. "Where didst thou get," asked the Earl, "that short-sword which thou wearest? For I know the weapon well, since [277] once it belonged to Earl Sigurd my father."

"That may be so," said the lad, "but it was given me out in Iceland."

"Now," said the Earl, "I know the man to whom my father gave the sword, and he went out to Iceland. Tell me what man gave it thee; if the name is the same, then will I believe this news of thine. But if the name is different, then ye three shall die for your false word."

"A light matter on which to hang lives," quoth that one. "Who knows how many have owned this sword? But I got it from Kari, Solmund's son."

The Earl smote his thigh. "And to Kari my father gave it! Up, men, and dight yourselves for war! This day we sail for the Orkneys."

So Earl Thorfinn sailed north, and with him went Grani, Rolf, and Frodi, those [278] bearers of the tidings. And before ever the Scots were ready for them the Orkneyingers closed in upon Hawksness, and attacked the Scottish fleet. Some of the Scots were away, and some were ashore; those who might fight lashed their ships in a line, as in a line the Earl's ships bore down on them. That fight lasted not long, and all the Scottish ships were taken; the Scots who were on shore were hunted down, and as their ships came in from the other isles, they were taken one by one.

Kiartan's ship was still on the beach, and he was found in the church.


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