Chapter 1 In Which the Tale Begins Somewhat Furiously.
By the early light of a bright summer morning, long, long ago, two small boat_ere seen to issue from one of the fiords or firths on the west coast o_orway, and row towards the skerries or low rocky islets that lay about a mil_istant from the mainland.
Although the morning was young, the sun was already high in the heavens, an_rought out in glowing colours the varied characteristics of a mountain scen_f unrivalled grandeur.
The two shallops moved swiftly towards the islands, their oars shivering th_iquid mirror of the sea, and producing almost the only sound that disturbe_he universal stillness, for at that early hour Nature herself seemed burie_n deep repose. A silvery mist hung over the water, through which th_nnumerable rocks and islands assumed fantastic shapes, and the more distan_mong them appeared as though they floated in air. A few seagulls ros_tartled from their nests, and sailed upwards with plaintive cries, as th_eels of the boats grated on the rocks, and the men stepped out and haule_hem up on the beach of one of the islets.
A wild uncouth crew were those Norsemen of old! All were armed, for in thei_ays the power and the means of self-defence were absolutely necessary t_elf-preservation.
Most of them wore portions of scale armour, or shirts of ring mail, an_eadpieces of steel, though a few among them appeared to have confidence i_he protection afforded by the thick hide of the wolf, which, converted int_ude, yet not ungraceful, garments, covered their broad shoulders. All,
without exception, carried sword or battle-axe and shield. They were goodl_talwart men every one, but silent and stern.
It might have been observed that the two boats, although bound for the sam_slet, did not row in company. They were beached as far from each other as th_ittle bay into which they ran would admit of, and the crews stood aloof i_wo distinct groups.
In the centre of each group stood a man who, from his aspect and bearing,
appeared to be superior to his fellows. One was in the prime of life, dark an_rave; the other in the first flush of manhood, full grown, though beardless,
fair, and ruddy. Both were taller and stouter than their comrades.
The two men had met there to fight, and the cause of their feud was—Love!
Both loved a fair Norse maiden in Horlingdal. The father of the maid favoure_he elder warrior; the maid herself preferred the younger.
In those days, barbarous though they undoubtedly were, law and justice wer_ore respected and more frequently appealed to in Norway than in almost an_ther country. Liberty, crushed elsewhere under the deadweight of feudalism,
found a home in the bleak North, and a rough but loving welcome from th_iratical, sea-roving! She did not, indeed, dwell altogether scathless amon_er demi-savage guardians, who, if their perceptions of right and wrong wer_omewhat confused, might have urged in excuse that their light was small. Sh_eceived many shocks and frequent insults from individuals, but liberty wa_incerely loved and fondly cherished by the body of the Norwegian people,
through all the period of those dark ages during which other nations scarc_ared to mention her name.
Nevertheless, it was sometimes deemed more convenient to settle disputes b_he summary method of an appeal to arms than to await the issue of a tediou_nd uncertain lawsuit such an appeal being perfectly competent to those wh_referred it, and the belief being strong among the fiery spirits of the ag_hat Odin, the god of war, would assuredly give victory to the right.
In the present instance it was not considered any infringement of the law o_iberty that the issue of the combat would be the disposal of a fair woman’_and, with or without her heart. Then, as now, women were often forced t_arry against their will.
Having gone to that island to fight—an island being a naturally circumscribe_attlefield whose limits could not conveniently be transgressed—the tw_hampions set to work at once with the cool businesslike promptitude of me_prung from a warlike race, and nurtured from their birth in the midst o_ar’s alarms.
Together, and without speaking, they ascended the rock, which was low an_lmost barren, with a small extent of turf in the centre, level, and admirabl_uited to their purpose. Here they faced each other; the one drew his sword,
the other raised his battle-axe.
There was no sentiment in that combat. The times and the men were extremel_atter-of-fact. The act of slaying gracefully had not yet been acquired; ye_here was much of manly grace displayed as each threw himself into th_osition that nature and experience had taught him was best suited to th_ielding of his peculiar weapon.
For one instant each gazed intently into the face of the other, as if to rea_here his premeditated plan of attack. At that moment the clear blue eye o_he younger man dilated, and, as his courage rose, the colour mounted to hi_heek. The swart brow of the other darkened as he marked the change; then,
with sudden spring and shout, the two fell upon each other and dealt thei_lows with incredible vigour and rapidity.
They were a well-matched pair. For nearly two hours did they toil and moi_ver the narrow limits of that sea-girt rock—yet victory leaned to neithe_ide. Now the furious blows rained incessant on the sounding shields; anon th_in of strife ceased, while the combatants moved round each other, shiftin_heir position with elastic step, as, with wary motion and eagle glances, eac_ought to catch the other off his guard, and the clash of steel, as th_eapons met in sudden onset, was mingled with the shout of anger or defiance.
The sun glanced on whirling blade and axe, and sparkled on their coats of mai_s if the lightning flash were playing round them; while screaming seamew_lew and circled overhead, as though they regarded with intelligent interes_nd terror the mortal strife that was going on below.
Blood ere long began to flow freely on both sides; the vigour of the blow_egan to abate, the steps to falter. The youthful cheek grew pale; the dar_arrior’s brow grew darker, while heaving chests, labouring breath, and a_ccasional gasp, betokened the approaching termination of the struggle.
Suddenly the youth, as if under the influence of a new impulse, dropped hi_hield, sprang forward, raised himself to his full height, grasped his ax_ith both hands, and, throwing it aloft (thus recklessly exposing his person),
brought it down with terrific violence on the shield of his adversary.
The action was so sudden that the other, already much exhausted, was for th_oment paralysed, and failed to take advantage of his opportunity. He met bu_ailed to arrest the blow with his shield. It was crushed down upon his head,
and in another moment the swarthy warrior lay stretched upon the turf.
Sternly the men conveyed their fallen chief to his boat, and rowed him to th_ainland, and many a week passed by ere he recovered from the effects of th_low that felled him. His conqueror returned to have his wounds dressed by th_ride for whom he had fought so long and so valiantly on that bright summe_orning.
Thus it was that King Haldor of Horlingdal, surnamed the Fierce, conquere_ing Ulf of Romsdal, acquired his distinctive appellation, and won Herfrid_he Soft-eyed for his bride.
It must not be supposed that these warriors were kings in the ordinar_cceptation of that term. They belonged to the class of “small” or pett_ings, of whom there were great numbers in Norway in those days, and wer_erely rich and powerful free-landholders or udallers.
Haldor the Fierce had a large family of sons and daughters. They were al_air, strong, and extremely handsome, like himself.
Ulf of Romsdal did not die of his wounds, neither did he die of love.
Disappointed love was then, as now, a terrible disease, but not necessaril_atal. Northmen were very sturdy in the olden time. They almost alway_ecovered from that disease sooner or later. When his wounds were healed, Ul_arried a fair girl of the Horlingdal district, and went to reside there, bu_is change of abode did not alter his title. He was always spoken of as Ulf o_omsdal. He and his old enemy Haldor the Fierce speedily became fast friends;
and so was it with their wives, Astrid and Herfrida, who also took mightily t_ach other. They span, and carded wool, and sewed together oftentimes, an_iscussed the affairs of Horlingdal, no doubt with mutual advantage an_atisfaction.
Twenty years passed away, and Haldor’s eldest son, Erling, grew to be a man.
He was very like his father—almost a giant in size; fair, very strong, an_emarkably handsome. His silken yellow hair fell in heavy curls on a pair o_he broadest shoulders in the dale. Although so young, he already had a thic_hort beard, which was very soft and curly. His limbs were massive, but the_ere so well proportioned, and his movements so lithe, that his great size an_trength were not fully appreciated until one stood close by his side or fel_nto his powerful grasp.
Erling was lion-like, yet he was by nature gentle and retiring. He had _indly smile, a hearty laugh, and bright blue eyes. Had he lived in moder_ays he would undoubtedly have been a man of peace. But he lived “long lon_go”—therefore he was a man of war. Being unusually fearless, his companion_f the valley called him Erling the Bold. He was, moreover, extremely fond o_he sea, and often went on viking cruises in his own ships, whence he was als_tyled Erling the Sea-king, although he did not at that time possess a foot o_and over which to exercise kingly authority.
Now, it must be explained here that the words Sea-king and Viking do no_enote the same thing. One is apt to be misled by the termination of th_atter word, which has no reference whatever to the royal title king. A vikin_as merely a piratical rover on the sea, the sea-warrior of the period, but _ea-king was a leader and commander of vikings. Every Sea-king was a viking,
but every viking was not a Sea-king; just as every Admiral is a sailor, bu_very sailor is not an Admiral. When it is said that Erling was a Sea-king, i_s much as if we had said he was an admiral in a small way.