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


 

 

NOW KIARTAN RETURNS

[253]

A
S weakness grew on him, Ar the Peacock kept Grani much by his side. One day Ar said: "I see that thou art troubled at times. Is aught weighing on thee?"

Grani answered: "Rolf is on my mind."

Ar said: "Put away the thought of him."

"That I cannot do," replied Grani, "for I feel I did wrong in enthralling him, and I cannot be easy until he hath forgiven me."

"Meseems," quoth Ar, "that thou expectest Rolf to come and say 'I forgive thee,' before ever thou hast shown him that thou art sorry."

Grani answered nothing.

[254] "Go now," said Ar, "and seek him out. Confess thyself in the wrong."

"It is hard to do that," responded Grani.

"Thou art well named Grani the Proud," said Ar; but then he added: "Never have I blamed thee till now, but thou shouldst have done this thing at the very first. And the longer this estrangement lasts, the harder it will be to forget."

Grani made no answer, but communed for a while with himself; though it was hard to his pride, at last he decided to humble himself before Rolf. He went to the dwelling of Rolf and Frodi; they were on the headland watching the fishing fleet, and thither Grani followed. He sat down at the edge of the cliff beside those two, and had speech with Frodi; but between him and Rolf passed at the first only the good-day.

[255] Frodi asked: "War with the Scots is expected in the spring?"

"Aye," answered Grani.

"I would I were in Iceland!" Frodi said.

"Oh ye Icelanders!" cried Grani. "Why is it ye always burn to return—whether ye love your foggy isle and plain men more, or our realm less?"

"In your realm," answered Frodi, "there are three pests which no Icelander can bear. The first is your baresarks, which in Iceland are held in restraint, but here they go at large. The second is your vikings, which dare not come to us, but here they harry the coasts. And the third is the habit of burning a man in his house, which by us has been done some few times in great matters, yet is always punished; but here it is done in any little quarrel, and little shame is felt for it. And if I leave this land without being burned, then I am lucky."

[256] Grani laughed, and then Rolf spoke. Quoth he: "And as for our land of simple men against thy realm of kings and earls, all I know is that with us there is law to restrain all men. But if thy earls fall out, then the Orkneys are rent with war. And at all times your lives lie in the power of the Scots, who any summer day may come and sweep the land. Nay, the winter is open: why may they not fall upon us now?"

"It is possible," said Frodi, but Grani had nothing to reply.

"And consider this," Rolf said. "Thou art Grani, fosterling of Ar the thane; thou hast honor, and a part of all spoils are thine. But Ar is coming to his end, and some day another thane will rule here. When thy honors fall away, and thou must take thy place like other men: how then wilt thou think of the doings of kings and earls?"

[257] "I fear no misfortune," answered Grani.

"Then," quoth Rolf, "thou art fitted to be an Icelander. And now I will say what I have many times thought: that thy speech is more of Iceland than of this place. Whence did Ar take thee?"

Grani grew red, but answered: "Thou hidest thy parentage."

"True," replied Rolf. "Now I crave thy pardon for questioning thee."

That was the end of that talk, for Rolf drew within himself, and Grani felt shame that he could not ask pardon so easily as the Icelander; and the more he looked on Rolf's countenance the more it seemed that they should be friends. He ceased speaking, and sat with his back half turned, trying to say the words; but for a long time they would not come. At length he said:

"Rolf."

"Aye?" Rolf answered.

[258] Grani said nothing for a while more; at length again he said, "Rolf."

"What is it?" Rolf asked.

But for a second time Grani could not bring himself to speak. Yet at last he made ready to speak without fail and ask forgiveness, and the words were on his tongue.

Then suddenly Rolf rose, and pointed out upon the water, where a ship had come into view; and he cried, "At last cometh he for whom I have waited!"

No need to ask whose ship that was, for Grani saw that it was Kiartan's. And weakly he put aside the chance to set himself right with Rolf, and inquired instead why Rolf waited there for Kiartan so long.

"Tell me first," responded Rolf, "why he cometh in such haste, with oars and sails both. He thinks that by this time I am surely gone; but his debts and [259] goods will not flee from him, and he hath hours before sunset to make the harbor. Can he be pursued by aught? Let us watch the headland to the eastward."

"There comes another ship," cried Frodi.

They watched that ship appear: a war-ship, long and low. Grani cried that that must be a viking, and was for running to the hall; but Rolf bade him wait. Then there came a second war-ship, and two more together, and then a great ship, very large; after that the nose of yet another vessel pushed around the headland.

"Is Earl Thorfinn," asked Grani, "coming to visit his realm?"

"Why should Kiartan," responded Rolf, "flee before the Earl, who hath sold him permission to trade here? That is the fleet of the Scots!"

"More of them are in sight," said Frodi.

So they stayed only long enough to see [260] that the fisher fleet, leaving nets and lines, was hurrying to the shore. Those three left the headland and ran to Hawksness; there they told the tidings and gathered men, arming all those who came to the hall. The women were sent into the church with the children, but the men went down to the beach. There the fishermen first made a landing, and hurried for their arms; but when all were gathered together they were very few against what must be the might of the Scots.

Then the ship of Kiartan neared the shore. Frodi said to Rolf: "Before the Scots come there will be time to claim thy due of him."

"Not in the face of this danger," answered Rolf.

Kiartan ran his ship upon the beach, and his men leaped out and pushed her higher up the shingle. Kiartan ran to Ar, and begged protection. "Fight thou [261] with us," quoth Ar. "We shall be but six score against six hundred." Kiartan turned pale and bit his fingers.

Frodi said, "He is as big a coward as I." Grani laughed.

Now when the Scots neared the shore, the people gave way from the beach and drew a little up the hillside; and the nearer the Scots came, the more the Orkneymen withdrew. Then when the Scots were landing, some of the Hawksness men threw away their arms and sat down where they were; and some fled away to the downs and the heather, where they might hide. But Ar said he would not flee, and went back again to fight. Those who went with him were only Grani and Sweyn, and Rolf and Frodi followed behind.

"This is no Icelander's quarrel," said Ar. "We go to die, but the Scots will give you peace."

[262] "Nevertheless we will look on a while," answered Rolf.

Then Ar took his stand on that knoll whence Rolf had slain the baresark; he had his church and his hall at his back, and thinking to die as became a man he seemed to gain his strength again, and shot arrows in marvellous wise. Twenty he sent among the Scots as they landed, and hurt a man with each; then he took his spear, and waited for the Scots to come nearer.

"Now," said Frodi to Rolf, "shall we stay or go?"

"If we stay," answered Rolf, "we never see Iceland again. Yet I have not the heart to leave those three as they stand there." So he and Frodi drew still nearer to Ar, and stood at his back.

But some archer in the fleet sent forth a shaft, and it smote Ar; in the throat it [263] smote him, and he fell. Like a man he died there, near his father's hall; and the Scots, shouting, began to come forward. "Flee!" said Sweyn to Grani.

"Wilt thou flee?" asked Grani.

A spear struck Sweyn in the leg, and down he sat. "Here I stay," quoth he.

"Then here stay I," answered Grani.

But those fisher-folk who had thrown down their arms ran to Grani in a crowd, and cried that he should not stay to be killed. Some bore Sweyn within the church, where no Scot would slay him before the altar; and when Grani saw that, he suffered himself to be pushed away. So he came to the hillside before ever the Scots reached him; and when they began to shoot at him with arrows, he ran. And Rolf and Frodi ran along the hillside a little higher up.

Now the Scots sent swift archers in [264] chase. Grani was armed and had heavy weapons; Frodi was slow and Rolf would not leave him; so the archers began to come up on them, and it looked bad for them. Grani knew the country; he sought the best ways, calling to Rolf that they should meet at the Vale of the Hermit. Then he threw off his mail and ran freely, and shook off his pursuers in a little wood. But in that same wood Rolf took the wrong course; for thinking he knew the way to the Vale he led Frodi where should be a glen with a growth of trees.—Nothing was there of the kind, but a bare hillside rose, where was no cover, and the Scots began to shout as they saw them close in front.

Now Grani knew the way better. When he reached the copse he stood and looked where Rolf and Frodi ran on the hillside above him. Then he heard a panting, [265] and looked down. There was Kiartan hiding in the fern.

"Look up now," said Grani, "and see who runneth there above us."

When Kiartan saw Rolf, first he started and then he looked sidewise at Grani. "They can never escape," said he.

"I will call them hither," replied Grani.

"That will bring us in danger!" Kiartan cried.

But Grani leaped upon a boulder and prepared to shout. Then as he stood there, Kiartan snatched up a billet of wood and smote at him from the side: foul was that assault. The stroke fell on the shoulder, but Grani twisted his arm and cast the billet aside; he smote in return, and Kiartan fell. So Grani shouted aloud to Rolf, who stood on the hillside with Frodi and studied his road.

[266] So many copses did Rolf see that he knew not where to go, for most were but small clumps, where was no safety; and only one led to the hidden winding water-course and the secluded dell. But when he heard Grani and saw him, he turned thither, although he must go back a little way. He and Frodi ran hastily, rushing down the hillside with much speed. And they saw they could avoid all but one of the Scots.

That man had run wide of their track, flanking them lest they should double back; now he ran in on them and prepared to strike with his sword. On that slope was no good footing; but the Scot braced himself where the Icelanders must pass, and they could hardly both escape him without a wound. But when Rolf rushed down on him, with sword raised, and those two looked into each other's eyes, then the Scot did not strike, but [267] stood like stone. Neither did Rolf smite, but Frodi struck hard with the butt of his bill; they left that Scot lying in a heap, and sped downward into the hollow.

There they found Grani with Kiartan, and Grani had bound the shipmaster's hands behind his back. Hastily they went into the copse, driving Kiartan before them; they found the crooked water-course and followed it among the stones; it was dry and they wet not their feet. So in a while they came to a little dell, nestled among the hills, the place was called the Vale of the Hermit. But no one lived there, only in one place had been a farm; the hall had been burned, but a storehouse still stood stout against the weather. Thither they went and rested, knowing that no Scot could find them in that place.

Grani loosed Kiartan and bade him [268] gather wood. "And if thou seekest to flee thou wilt carry an arrow in the ribs. Make a fire, for I see beef is in the storehouse, drying, and the green hide hangs against the wall. We will sup." So Kiartan gathered wood and made a fire.

"One thing I fail to understand," said Frodi to Rolf: "why neither thou nor that Scot smote at the other, and it was left to me to knock him down."

"That was strange to me also," said Grani.

Rolf said: "I knew that man, and he was Malcolm, my father's thrall. For very astonishment we could not strike."

"Then I gave him a headache," quoth Frodi, "to make him remember his manner of gaining his freedom."

"Preserve me from such headaches as thou dealest!" said Rolf. "The butt of thy bill is worse than the point."

Then Grani told why he had bound [269] Kiartan. "And now," said he, "thou canst take on him thy vengeance, whatever that may be."

"Call him here," said Rolf.

So Kiartan was called thither and crouched thereby; it was plain that he expected to be killed. "In what has he offended thee?" asked Grani.

"Now," answered Rolf, "that which I say in his hearing will be to him the worst part of his punishment. He is my uncle, and through him my father came to his death."

But when they looked to see him weep, or hear him blame himself, Kiartan rose and thanked them that his life was spared. In loathing they bade him go into the storehouse and lie; then they laid themselves down inside the door, and slept.

For the sake of air, they left the door wide. In the morning they found that Kiartan was gone; and while they were [270] asking where he might be, they heard his voice at a little distance, saying that there those three lay in that storehouse, and the Scots should slay them. Then was heard the rush of feet.


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