Chapter 11 Describes our Hero’s Interview with Jarl Rongvold and Kin_arald Haarfager.
Late in the evening, Erling and Glumm arrived in the neighbourhood of th_ouse of Jarl Rongvold, where King Harald Haarfager was staying in guest- quarters with a numerous retinue.
In the days of which we write there were no royal palaces in Norway. The king_pent most of their time—when not engaged in war or out on viking cruises—i_ravelling about the country, with a band of “herd-men”, or men-at-arms, in “guest-quarters”. Wherever they went the inhabitants were bound by law t_fford them house-room and good cheer at their own cost, and the kings usuall_ade this tax upon their people as light as possible by staying only a fe_ays at each place.
Rongvold, who entertained the King at this time, was one of those Jarls o_arls—rulers over districts under himself—of whom he had recently created man_hroughout the land, to supersede those small independent kings who refused t_ecome subject to him. He was a stout warrior, an able courtier, and a ver_ear friend of the King.
Just before his arrival at Jarl Rongvold’s house, King Harald had completed _onsiderable part of the programme which he had laid down in the great work o_ubduing the whole of Norway to himself. And wild bloody work it had been.
Hearing that several of the small kings had called a meeting in the uplands t_iscuss his doings, Harald went, with all the men he could gather, through th_orests to the uplands, came to the place of meeting about midnight withou_eing observed by the watchmen, set the house on fire, and burnt or slew fou_ings with all their followers. After that he subdued Hedemark, Ringerige, Gudbrandsdal, Hadeland, Raumarige, and the whole northern part of Vingulmark, and got possession of all the land as far south as the Glommen. It was at thi_ime that he was taunted by the girl Gyda, and took the oath not to clip hi_air until he had subdued the whole land—as formerly related. After hi_omewhat peculiar determination, he gathered together a great force, and wen_orthwards up the Gudbrandsdal and over the Doverfielde. When he came to th_nhabited land he ordered all the men to be killed, and everything wide aroun_o be delivered to the flames. The people fled before him in all directions o_earing of his approach—some down the country to Orkadal, some to Gaulerdal, and some to the forests; but many begged for peace, and obtained it o_ondition of joining him and becoming his men. He met no decided oppositio_ill he came to Orkadal, where a king named Gryting gave him battle. Haral_on the victory. King Gryting was taken prisoner, and most of his men wer_illed. He took service himself, however, under the King, and thereafter al_he people of Orkadal district swore fidelity to him.
Many other battles King Harald fought, and many other kings did he subdue—al_f which, however, we will pass over at present, merely observing tha_herever he conquered he laid down the law that all the udal property shoul_elong to him, and that the bonders—the hitherto free landholders—both smal_nd great, should pay him land dues for their possessions. It is due, however, to Harald Fairhair, to say that he never seems to have aimed at despoti_ower; for it is recorded of him that over every district he set an earl, o_arl, to judge _according to the law of the land and to justice_ , and als_o collect the land dues and the fines; and for this each earl received _hird part of the dues and services and fines for the support of his table an_ther expenses. Every earl had under him four or more bersers, on each of who_as bestowed an estate of twenty merks yearly, for which he was bound t_upport twenty men-at-arms at his own expense—each earl being obliged t_upport sixty retainers. The King increased the land dues and burdens so muc_hat his earls had greater power and income than the kings had before, an_hen this became known at Drontheim many of the great men of that distric_oined the King.
Wherever Harald went, submission or extinction were the alternatives; and a_e carried things with a high hand, using fire and sword freely, it is not _atter of wonder that his conquests were rapid and complete. It has been sai_f Harald Fairhair by his contemporaries, handed down by the scalds, an_ecorded in the Icelandic Sagas, that he was of remarkably handsom_ppearance, great and strong, and very generous and affable to his men.
But to return.
It was late in the evening, as we have said, when Erling and Glumm reached th_icinity of Jarl Rongvold’s dwelling. Before coming in sight of it they wer_et by two of the mounted guards that were posted regularly as sentries roun_he King’s quarters. These challenged them at once, and, on being informe_hat they desired to have speech with the King on matters of urgency, conveye_hem past the inner guard to the house.
The state of readiness for instant action in which the men were kept did no_scape the observant eyes of the visitors. Besides an outlying mounted patrol, which they had managed to pass unobserved, and the sentries who conducte_hem, they found a strong guard round the range of farm buildings where th_ing and his men lay. These men were all well armed, and those of them wh_ere not on immediate duty lay at their stations sound asleep, each man wit_is helmet on his head, his sword under it, his right hand grasping the hilt, and his shield serving the purpose of a blanket to cover him.
Although the young men observed all this they did not suffer their looks t_etray idle curiosity, but rode on with stern countenances, looking, apparently, straight before them, until they reined up at the front door o_he house.
In a few minutes a stout handsome man with white hair came out and salute_rling in a friendly way. This was Jarl Rongvold, who was distantly related t_im.
“I would I could say with truth that I am glad to see thee, cousin,” he said, “but I fear me that thine errand to the King is not likely to end in pleasan_ntercourse, if all be true that is reported of the folk in Horlingdal.”
“Thanks, kinsman, for the wish, if not for the welcome,” replied the youth, somewhat stiffly, as he dismounted; “but it matters little to me whether ou_ntercourse be pleasant or painful, so long as it is profitable. The men o_orlingdal send a message to Harald Haarfager; can my companion and I hav_peech with him?”
“I can manage that for thee, yet would I counsel delay, for the King is not i_ sweet mood to-night, and it may go ill with thee.”
“I care not whether the King’s mood be sweet or sour,” replied Erling sternly.
“Whatever he may become in the future, Harald is not yet the all-powerful kin_e would wish to be. The men of Horlingdal have held a Thing, and Glumm and _ave been deputed to see the King, convey to him their sentiments, and ask hi_ntentions.”
A grim smile played on the jarl’s fine features for a moment, as he observe_he blood mantling to the youth’s forehead.
“No good will come to thee or thine, kinsman, by meeting the King with a prou_ook. Be advised, Erling,” he continued in a more confidential tone; “it i_asier to swim with the stream than against it—and wiser too, when it i_mpossible to turn it. Thou hast heard, no doubt, of Harald’s doings in th_orth.”
“I have heard,” said Erling bitterly.
“Well, be he right or be he wrong, it were easier to make the Glommen run u_he fells than to alter the King’s determination; and it seems to me that i_ehoves every man who loves his country, and would spare further bloodshed, t_ubmit to what is inevitable.”
“Every lover of his country deems bloodshed better than slavery,” said Erling, “because the death of a few is not so great an evil as the slavery of all.”
“Aye, when there is hope that good may come of dying,” rejoined the jarl, “bu_ow there is no hope.”
“That is yet to be proved,” said the youth; and Glumm uttered one of thos_mphatic grunts with which men of few words are wont to signify their heart_ssent to a proposition.
“Tut, kinsman,” continued Rongvold, with a look of perplexity, “I don’t lik_he idea of seeing so goodly a youth end his days before his right time. Le_e assure thee that, if thou wilt join us and win over thy friends i_orlingdal, a splendid career awaits thee, for the King loves stout men, an_ill treat thee well; he is a good master.”
“It grieves me that one whose blood flows in my veins should call any ma_aster!” said Erling.
“Now a plague on thee, for a stupid hot-blood,” cried the jarl; “if thou ar_o displeased with the word, I can tell thee that it need never be used, for, if ye will take service with the King, he will give thee the charge and th_evenues of a goodly district, where thou shalt be master and a jarl too.”
“I am a king!” said Erling, drawing himself proudly up. “Thinkest thou I woul_xchange an old title for a new one, which the giver has no right to create?”
Glumm uttered another powerfully emphatic grunt at this point.
“Besides,” continued Erling, “I have no desire to become a scatt-gatherer.”
The jarl flushed a little at this thrust, but mastering his indignation said, with a smile—
“Nay, then, if ye prefer a warrior’s work there is plenty of that at th_isposal of the King.”
“I have no particular love for war,” said Erling. Jarl Rongvold looked at hi_insman in undisguised amazement.
“Truly thou art well fitted for it, if not fond of it,” he said curtly; “bu_s thou art bent on following thine own nose, thou art like to have more tha_nough of that which thou lovest not.—Come, I will bring thee to the King.”
The jarl led the two young men into his dwelling, where nearly a hundred men- at-arms were carousing. The hall was a long, narrow, and high apartment, wit_ table running down each side, and one at either end. In the centre of eac_able was a raised seat, on which sat the chief guests, but, at the momen_hey entered, the highest of these seats was vacant, for the King had left th_able. The fireplace of the hall was in the centre, and the smoke from i_urled up among the rafters, which it blackened before escaping through a hol_n the roof.
As all the revellers were armed, and many of them were moving about the hall, no notice was taken of the entrance of the strangers, except that one or tw_ear whom they passed remarked that Jarl Rongvold owned some stout men-at- arms.
The King had retired to one of the sleeping-chambers off the great halt i_hich he sat at a small window, gazing dreamily upon the magnificent view o_ale, fell, fiord, and sea, that lay stretched out before the house. Th_lanting rays of the sun shone through the window, and through the heav_asses of the King’s golden hair, which fell in enormous volumes, like _ion’s mane, on a pair of shoulders which were noted, even in that age o_owerful men, for enormous breadth and strength. Like his men, King Harald wa_rmed from head to foot, with the exception of his helmet, which lay, with hi_hield, on the low wolf-skin couch on which he had passed the previous night.
He did not move when the jarl and the young men entered, but on the forme_hispering in his ear he let his clenched fist fall on the window sill, and, turning, with a frown on his bold, handsome face, looked long and steadily a_rling. And well might he gaze, for he looked upon one who bore a singularl_trong resemblance to himself. There was the same height and width and massiv_trength, the same bold, fearless look in the clear blue eyes, and the sam_irm lips; but Erling’s hair fell in softer curls on his shoulders, and hi_row was more intellectual. Being a younger man, his beard was shorter.
Advancing a step, after Jarl Rongvold had left the room, Erling stated th_entiments of the men of Horlingdal in simple, blunt language, and ended b_elling the King that they had no wish to refuse due and lawful allegiance t_im, but that they objected to having the old customs of the land illegall_ltered.
During the progress of his statement both Erling and Glumm observed that th_ing’s face flushed more than once, and that his great blue eyes blazed wit_stonishment and suppressed wrath. After he had concluded, the King stil_azed at him in ominous silence. Then he said, sternly:
“For what purpose camest thou hither if the men of Horlingdal hold suc_pinions?”
“We came to tell you, King Harald, what the men of Horlingdal think, and t_sk what you intend to do.”
There was something so cool in this speech that a sort of grin curled th_ing’s moustache, and mingled with the wrath that was gathering on hi_ountenance.
“I’ll tell thee what I will do,” he said, drawing his breath sharply, an_issing the words; “I will march into the dale, and burn and s—” He stoppe_bruptly, and then in a soft tone added, “But what will _they_ do if _efuse to listen to them?”
“I know not what the men of Horlingdal will do,” replied Erling; “but I wil_ounsel them to defend their rights.”
At this the King leaped up, and drew his sword half out of its scabbard, bu_gain checked himself suddenly; for, as the Saga tells us, “it was hi_nvariable rule, whenever anything raised his anger, to collect himself an_et his passion run off, and then take the matter into consideration coolly.”
“Go,” he said, sitting down again at the window, “I will speak with thee o_his subject to-morrow.”
Erling, who during the little burst of passion had kept his blue eye_nflinchingly fixed on those of the King, bowed and retired, followed b_lumm, whose admiration of his friend’s diplomatic powers would have bee_nbounded, had he only wound up with a challenge to the King, then and there, to single combat!