Chapter 12 Describes a Terrific and Unequal Combat.
“Now, kinsman, let me endeavour to convince thee of thy folly,” said Jar_ongvold to Erling, on the morning that followed the evening in which th_nterview with the King had taken place, as they walked in front of the hous_ogether.
“It needs no great power of speech to convince me of that,” said Erling. “Th_act that I am still here, after what the King let out last night, convince_e, without your aid, that I am a fool.”
“And pray what said he that has had such powerful influence on thine obtus_ind?”
“Truly he said little, but he expressed much. He gave way to an unreasonabl_urst of passion when I did but claim justice and assert our rights; and th_an must be slow-witted indeed who could believe that subdued passion i_hanged opinion. However, I will wait for another interview until the sun i_n the zenith—after that I leave, whatever be the consequences. So it wer_ell, kinsman, that you should see and advise with your _master_.”
The jarl bit his lip, and was on the point of turning away without replying, when a remarkably stout and tall young man walked up and accosted them.
“This is my son Rolf,” said the jarl, turning round hastily.—“Our kinsman, Erling the Bold. I go to attend the King. Make the most of each other, for y_re not likely to be long in company.”
“Are you that Rolf who is styled Ganger?” enquired Erling with some interest.
“Aye,” replied the other gruffly. “At least I am Rolf. Men choose to call m_anger because I prefer to gang on my legs rather than gang on the legs of _orse. They say it is because no horse can carry me; but thou seest that tha_s a lie, for I am not much heavier than thyself.”
“I should like to know thee better, kinsman,” said Erling.
Rolf Ganger did not respond so heartily to this as Erling wished, and he fel_uch disappointed; for, being a man who did not often express his feelings, h_elt all the more keenly anything like a rebuff.
“What is your business with the King?” asked Rolf, after a short pause.
“To defy him,” said our hero, under the influence of a burst of mingle_eelings.
Rolf Ganger looked at Erling in surprise.
“Thou dost not like the King, then?”
“I hate him!”
“So do I,” said Rolf.
This interchange of sentiment seemed to break down the barriers of diffidenc_hich had hitherto existed between the two, for from that moment their tal_as earnest and confidential. Erling tried to get Rolf to desert the King’_ause and join his opponents, but the latter shook his head, and said tha_hey had no chance of success; and that it was of no use joining a hopeles_ause, even although he had strong sympathy with it. While they wer_onversing, Jarl Rongvold came out and summoned Erling to the presence of th_ing.
This was the first and last interview that our hero had with that Rolf Ganger, whose name—although not much celebrated at that time—was destined to appear i_he pages of history as that of the conqueror of Normandy, and the progenito_f line of English kings.
“I have sent for thee, Erling,” said the King, in a voice so soft, yet s_onstrained, that Erling could not avoid seeing that it was forced, “to tel_hee thou art at liberty to return to thy dalesmen with this message—Kin_arald respects the opinions of the men of Horlingdal, and he will hold _hing at the Springs for the purpose of hearing their views more fully, stating his own, and consulting with them about the whole matter.—Ar_atisfied with that?” he asked, almost sternly.
“I will convey your message,” said Erling.
“And the sooner the better,” said the King. “By the way, there are two road_eading to the Springs, I am told; is it so?” he added.
“There are,” said Erling; “one goes by the uplands over the fells, the othe_hrough the forest.”
“Which would you recommend me to follow when I fare to the Springs?”
“The forest road is the best.”
“It is that which thou wilt follow, I suppose?”
“It is,” replied Erling.
“Well, get thee to horse, and make the most of thy time; my berserk here wil_uide thee past the guards.”
As he spoke, a man who had stood behind the King motionless as a statu_dvanced towards the door. He was one of a peculiar class of men who forme_art of the bodyguard of the King. On his head there was a plain steel helmet, but he wore no “serk”, or shirt of mail (hence the name of berserk, or bare o_erk), and he was, like the rest of his comrades, noted for being capable o_orking himself up into such a fury of madness while in action, that fe_eople of ordinary powers could stand before his terrible onset. He was calle_ake, the berserk of Hadeland, and was comparatively short in stature, bu_ooked shorter than he really was, in consequence of the unnatural breadth an_ulk of his chest and shoulders. Hake led Erling out to the door of the house, where they found Glumm waiting with two horses ready for the road.
“Thou art sharp this morning, Glumm.”
“Better to be too sharp than too blunt,” replied his friend. “It seemed to m_hat whatever should be the result of the talk with the King to-day, it wer_ell to be ready for the road in good time. What is yonder big-shouldere_ellow doing?”
“Hush, Glumm,” said Erling, with a smile, “thou must be respectful if tho_ouldst keep thy head on thy shoulders. That is Hake of Hadeland, Kin_arald’s famous berserk. He is to conduct us past the guards. I only hope h_ay not have been commissioned to cut off our heads on the way. But I thin_hat perchance you and I might manage him together, if our courage did no_ail us!”
Glumm replied with that expression of contempt which is usually styled turnin_p one’s nose, and Erling laughed as he mounted his horse and rode off at th_eels of the berserk. He had good reason to look grave, however, as he foun_ut a few moments later. Just as they were about to enter the forest, a voic_as heard shouting behind, and Jarl Rongvold was seen running after them.
“Ho! stay, kinsman, go not away without bidding us farewell. A safe and speed_ourney, lad, and give my good wishes to the old folk at Haldorstede. Say tha_ trust things may yet be happily arranged between the men of Horlingdal an_he King.”
As he spoke the jarl managed to move so that Erling’s horse came between hi_nd the berserk; then he said quickly, in a low but earnest whisper:
“The King means to play thee false, Erling. I cannot explain, but do thou b_ure to take _the road by the fells_ , and let not the berserk know. Thy lif_epends on it. I am ordered to send this berserk with a troop of nineteen me_o waylay thee. They are to go _by the forest road_.—There, thou canst no_oubt my friendship for thee, for now my life is in thy hands! Haste, tho_ast no chance against such odds. Farewell, Glumm,” he added aloud; “give m_espects to Ulf, when next ye see him.”
Jarl Rongvold waved his hand as he turned round and left his friends to pursu_heir way.
They soon reached the point where they had met the two guards on the previou_ay. After riding a little farther, so as to make sure of being beyond th_utmost patrol, the berserk reined up.
“Here I leave you to guard yourselves,” he said.
“Truly we are indebted to thee for thy guidance thus far,” said Erling.
“If you should still chance to meet with any of the guards, they will let yo_ass, no doubt.”
“No doubt,” replied Erling, with a laugh, “and, should they object, we hav_hat which will persuade them.”
He touched the hilt of his sword, and nodded good-humouredly to the berserk, who did not appear to relish the jest at all.
“Your road lies through the forest, I believe?” said Hake, pausing and lookin_ack as he was about to ride away.
“That depends on circumstances,” said Erling. “If the sun troubles me, I ma_o by the forest,—if not, I may go by the fells. But I never can tel_eforehand which way my fancy may lead, and I always follow it.”
So saying he put spurs to his horse and galloped away.
The berserk did the same, but it was evident that he was ill at ease, for h_rumbled very much, and complained a good deal of his ill luck. He did not, however, slacken his pace on that account, but rather increased it, until h_eached Rongvoldstede, where he hastily summoned nineteen armed men, mounted _resh horse, and, ordering them to follow, dashed back into the forest at ful_peed.
For some time he rode in silence by the side of a stout man who was hi_ubordinate officer.
“Krake,” he said at length, “I cannot make up my mind which road this Erlin_nd his comrade are likely to have taken, so, as we must not miss our men, th_ing’s commands being very positive, I intend to send thee by the mountai_oad with nine of the men, and go myself by the forest with the other nine. W_ill ride each at full speed, and will be sure to overtake them before the_each the split rock on the fells, or the double-stemmed pine in the forest.
If thou shalt fall in with them, keep them in play till I come up, for I wil_asten to join thee without delay after reaching the double pine. If I mee_hem I will give the attack at once, and thou wilt hasten to join me afte_assing the split rock. Now, away, for here our roads part.”
In accordance with this plan the troop was divided, and each portion rode of_t full speed.
Meanwhile Erling and Glumm pursued their way, chatting as they rode along, an_ausing occasionally to breathe their horses.
“What ails thee, Erling?” said Glumm abruptly. “One would fancy that the fai_ilda was behind thee, so often hast thou looked back since the berserk lef_s.”
“It is because the fair Hilda is before me that I look so often over m_houlder, for I suspect that there are those behind us who will one day caus_er grief,” replied Erling sadly; then, assuming a gay air, he added—“Come, friend Glumm, I wish to know thy mind in regard to a matter of som_mportance. How wouldst thou like to engage, single handed, with ten men?”
Glumm smiled grimly, as he was wont to do when amused by anything—which, t_ay truth, was not often.
“Truly,” said he, “my answer to that must depend on thine answer to this—Am _upposed to have my back against a cliff, or to be surrounded by the ten?”
“With thy back guarded, of course.”
“In that case I should not refuse the fight, but I would prefer to be mor_qually matched,” said Glumm, “Two to one, now, is a common chance of war, a_hou knowest full well. I myself have had four against me at one time—and whe_ne is in good spirits this is not a serious difficulty, unless there chanc_o be a berserk amongst them; even in that case, by the use of a littl_ctivity of limb, one can separate them, and so kill them in detail. But te_re almost too many for one man, however bold, big, or skilful he may be.”
“Then what—wouldst thou say to twenty against two?” asked Erling, giving _eculiar glance at his friend.
“That were better than ten to one, because two stout fellows back to back ar_ot easily overcome, if the fight be fair with sword and axe, and arrows o_pears be not allowed. Thou and I, Erling, might make a good stand togethe_gainst twenty, for we can use our weapons, and are not small men.
Nevertheless, I think that it would be our last fight, though I make no doub_e should thin their number somewhat. But why ask such questions?”
“Because I have taken a fancy to know to what extent I might count on thee i_ase of surprise.”
“To what extent!” said Glumm, flushing, and looking his friend full in th_ace. “Hast known me so long to such small purpose, that ye should doubt m_illingness to stand by thee to the death, if need be, against any odds?”
“Nay, be not so hasty, Glumm. I doubt not thy courage nor thy regard for me, but I had a fancy to know what amount of odds thou wouldst deem serious, for _ay tell thee that our powers are likely to be put to the proof to-day. M_insman, Jarl Rongvold, told me at parting that twenty men—and among them Hak_he berserk—are to be sent after us, and are doubtless even now upon ou_rack.”
“Then why this easy pace?” said Glumm, in a tone of great surprise. “Surel_here is no reason why we should abide the issue of such a combat when nothin_s to be gained by it and much to be lost; for if we are killed, who wil_repare the men of Horlingdal for the King’s approach, and tell of hi_ntentions?”
“That is wisely spoken, Glumm; nevertheless I feel disposed to meet Kin_arald’s men.”
“This spirit accords ill with the assertion that thou art not fond of war,” returned Glumm, with a smile.
“I am not so sure of that,” rejoined Erling, with a look of perplexity. “It i_ore the consequences of war—its evil effects on communities, on women an_hildren—that I dislike, than the mere matter of fighting, which, although _annot say I long for it, as some of our friends do, I can truly assert I tak_ome pleasure in, when engaged in it. Besides, in this case I do not wish t_eet these fellows for a mere piece of brag, but I think it might teach Kin_arald that he has to do with men who have heart and skill to use thei_eapons, and show him what he may expect if he tries to subdue this district.
However, be that as it may, the question is, shall we hang back and accep_his challenge—for such I regard it—or shall we push on?”
“Yonder is an answer to that question, which settles it for us,” said Glum_uietly, pointing to a ridge on the right of the bridle path, which rose hig_bove the tree tops. A troop of horsemen were seen to cross it and gallop dow_he slope, where they quickly disappeared in the forest.
“How many didst thou count?” asked Erling, with a look of surprise.
“Only ten,” answered Glumm.
“Come,” cried Erling cheerfully, as he drew his sword, “the odds are not s_reat as we had expected. I suppose that King Harald must have thought u_oor-looking warriors, or perchance he has sent ten berserkers against us.
Anyhow I am content. Only one thing do I regret, and that is, that, among th_ther foolish acts I have been guilty of at this time, I left my good battle- axe behind me. This is a level piece of sward. Shall we await them here?”
“Aye,” was Glumm’s laconic answer, as he felt the edge of his long two-hande_word, settled himself more firmly on his seat, and carefully looked to th_astenings of his armour.
Erling did the same, and both drew up their steeds with their backs towards a_mpenetrable thicket. In front lay a level stretch of ground, encumbered onl_ere and there with one or two small bushes, beyond which they had a view fa_nto the dark forest, where the armour of the approaching horsemen could b_een glancing among the tree stems.
“It is likely,” muttered Erling, “that they will try to speak us fair a_irst. Most assassins do, to throw men off their guard. I counsel that ou_ords be few and our action quick.”
Glumm gave vent to a deep, short laugh, which sounded, however, marvellousl_ike a growl, and again said—
Next moment the ten horsemen galloped towards them, and reined up at th_istance of a few yards, while two of them advanced. One of these, who was n_ther than Krake the berserk, said in a loud, commanding voice—
“Yield thee, Erling, in the name of the King!”
“That for the King!” cried Erling, splitting the head of Krake’s horse wit_he edge of his sword, and receiving Krake himself on the point of it as h_ell forward, so that it went in at his breast and came out at his back. A_he same time Glumm’s horse sprang forward, his long sword whistled sharply a_t flashed through the air, and, next moment, the head of the second man wa_olling on the ground.
So sudden was the onset that the others had barely time to guard themselve_hen Glumm’s heavy sword cleft the top of the shield and the helmet of one, tumbling him out of the saddle, while the point of Erling’s lighter weapo_ierced the throat of another. The remaining six turned aside, right and left, so as to divide their opponents, and then attacked them with great fury—fo_hey were all brave and picked men. At first Erling and Glumm had enough to d_o defend themselves, without attempting to attack, but at a critical momen_he horse of one of Glumm’s opponents stumbled, and his rider being expose_as instantly cut down. Glumm now uttered a shout, for he felt sure o_ictory, having only two to deal with. Erling’s sword proved to be too shor_or such a combat, for his enemies were armed with long and heavy weapons, an_ne of them had a spear. He eluded their assaults, however, with amazin_ctivity, and wounded one of them so badly that he was obliged to retire fro_he fray. Seeing this our hero made a sudden rush at one of the men who fough_ith a battle-axe, seized the axe by the handle, and with one sweep of hi_word lopped off the man’s arm.
Then did Erling also feel that victory was secure, for he now wielded an ax_hat was almost as good and heavy as his own, and only one man stood befor_im. Under the impulse of this feeling he uttered a shout which rang throug_he forest like the roar of a lion.
Now, well would it have been for both Erling and Glumm if they had restraine_hemselves on that occasion, for the shouts they uttered served to guide tw_ands of enemies who were in search of them.
It will be remembered that Hake the berserk had gone after our heroes by th_orest road, but, not finding them so soon as he had anticipated, and feelin_ sort of irresistible belief that they had after all gone by the fells, h_ltered his own plans in so far that he turned towards the road leading by th_ountains, before he reached the pine with the double stem. Thus he jus_issed those whom he sought, and, after some time, came to the conclusion tha_e was a fool, and had made a great mistake in not holding to his origina_lan. By way of improving matters he divided his little band into two, an_ending five of his men in one direction, rode off with the remaining four i_nother. Krake, on the contrary, had fulfilled his orders to the letter; ha_one to the split rock, and then hastened to the double-stemmed pine, not fa_rom which, as we have seen, he found the men of whom he was in search, an_lso met his death.
One of the bands of five men chanced to be within earshot when Erling shouted, and they immediately bore down in the direction, and cheered as they came i_ight of the combatants. The three men who yet stood up to our friends wheele_bout at once and galloped to meet them, only too glad to be reinforced a_uch a critical moment.
There was a little stream which trickled over the edge of a rock close to th_pot where the combat had taken place. Erling and Glumm leaped off thei_orses as if by one impulse, and, running to this, drank deeply and hastily.
As they ran back and vaulted into their saddles, they heard a faint cheer i_he far distance.
“Ha!” exclaimed Erling, “Harald doubtless _did_ send twenty men after all, for here come the rest of them. It is good fortune that a berserk is seldom _ood leader—he should not have divided his force. These eight must go down, friend Glumm, before the others come up, else are our days numbered.”
The expression of Glumm’s blood-stained visage spoke volumes, but his tongu_ttered never a word. Indeed, there was no time for further speech, for th_ight men, who had conversed hurriedly together for a few seconds, were no_pproaching. The two friends did not await the attack, but, setting spurs t_heir horses, dashed straight at them. Two were overturned in the shock, an_heir horses rolled on them, so that they never rose again. On the righ_rling hewed down one man, and on the left his friend cut down another. The_eined up, turned round, and charged again, but the four who were left wer_oo wise to withstand the shock; they swerved aside. In doing so the foot o_ne of their horses caught in a bramble. He stumbled, and the rider was throw_iolently against a tree and stunned, so that he could not remount. This wa_ortunate, for Erling and Glumm were becoming exhausted, and the three men wh_till opposed them were comparatively fresh. One of these suddenly charge_lumm, and killed his horse. Glumm leaped up, and, drawing his knife, stabbe_he horse of the other to the heart. As it fell he caught his rider by th_ight wrist, and with a sudden wrench dislocated his arm. Erling meanwhil_isabled one of the others, and gave the third such a severe wound that h_hought it best to seek safety in flight.
Erling now turned to Glumm, and asked if he thought it would be best to rid_way from the men who were still to come up, or to remain and fight them also.
“If there be five more,” said Glumm, leaning against a tree, and removing hi_elmet in order to wipe his brow, “then is our last battle fought, for, although I have that in me which could manage to slay one, I have not strengt_or two, much less three. Besides, my good steed is dead, and we have no tim_o catch one of the others.”
“Now will I become a berserk,” cried Erling, casting his gilt helmet on th_round and undoing the fastenings of his coat of mail. “Armour is good when _an is strong, but when he is worn out it is only an encumbrance. I counse_hee to follow my example.”
“It is not a bad one,” said Glumm, also throwing down his helmet and strippin_ff his armour. “Ha! there are more of them than we counted on—six.”
As he spoke six horsemen were seen approaching through the distant glades o_he forest.
The two friends ran to the fountain before mentioned, slaked their thirst, an_astily bathed their heads and faces; then, seizing their swords and shields, and leaving the rest of their armour on the sward, they ran to a rugged par_f the ground, where horses could not act. Mounting to the highest point of _ocky mound, they awaited the approach of their foes.
Quickly they came forward, their faces blazing with wrath as they rode ove_he field of battle, and saw their slaughtered comrades. Hake the berserk rod_n front, and, advancing as near as possible to the place where his enemie_tood, said tauntingly:
“What, are ye so fearful of only six men, after having slain so many?”
“Small meat would we make of thee and thy men, so that the crows might pick i_asily, if we were only half as fresh as ye are,” said Erling; “but we chos_o rest here awhile, so if ye would fight ye must come hither to us on foot.”
“Nay, but methinks it would be well for both parties,” returned the berserk, “that they should fight on level ground.”
Erling and Glumm had thrown themselves on the rocks to get as much rest a_ossible before the inevitable combat that was still before them. The_onsulted for a few seconds, and then the former replied:
“We will gladly come down, if ye will meet us on foot.”
“Agreed,” cried the berserk, leaping off his horse, and leading it to _eighbouring tree, to which he fastened it. The others followed his example.
Then our two heroes arose and stretched themselves.
“It has been a good fight,” said Erling. “Men will talk of it in days to come, after we are far away in the world of spirits.”
There was deep pathos in the tone of the young warrior as he spoke thes_ords, and cast his eyes upwards to the blue vault as if he sought t_enetrate that spirit world, on the threshold of which he believed himself t_tand.
“If we had but one hour’s rest, or one other man on our side; but—” He stoppe_uddenly, for the six men now stood in the middle of the little plain wher_rling and Glumm had fought so long and so valiantly that day, and awaite_heir coming.
Hastily descending the mound, the two friends strode boldly towards thei_pponents, scorning to let them see by look or gesture that they were eithe_atigued or depressed. As they drew near, Erling singled out Hake, and Glum_ent towards a tall, powerful man, who stood ready with a huge sword restin_n his shoulder, as if eager to begin the combat. Glumm had arranged in hi_wn mind that that man and he should die together. Beside him stood a warrio_ith a battle-axe, and a steel helmet on his head. Before Glumm could reac_is intended victim the tall man’s sword flashed in the air like a gleam o_ight, and the head with the steel helmet went spinning on the ground!
“That’s the way that Kettle Flatnose pays off old scores,” cried the Iris_hrall, turning suddenly upon his late friends, and assailing one of them wit_uch fury that he cut him down in a few seconds, and then ran to draw off on_f the two who had attacked Erling. Glumm’s amazement at this was, as may wel_e believed, excessive; but it was nothing to the intensity of his joy when h_ound suddenly that the fight was now equalised, and that there stood only on_an to oppose him. His heart leaped up. New life gave spring to his muscles; and to these new feelings he gave vent in one loud shout, as he sprang upo_is adversary and cleft him to the chin with one sweep of his sword!
Meanwhile Kettle Flatnose had killed his man; and he was about to come u_ehind Hake and sweep off his head, when he was seized by Glumm and dragge_iolently back.
“Would ye rob Erling of the honour of slaying this noted berserk?” he sai_ternly.
“Truly,” replied Kettle, somewhat abashed, “I did not know that he was noted; and as for the honour of it, I do think that Erling seems to have got honou_nough to-day (if all this be his work) to content him for some time to come; but as ye will,” he added, putting the point of his sword on the ground, an_esting his arms on the hilt.
Glumm also leaned on his sword; and standing thus, these two watched th_ight.
Now, it may perhaps seem to some readers that as the other men had bee_isposed of so summarily, it was strange that Erling the Bold should be s_ong in dispatching this one; but for our hero’s credit, we must point ou_everal facts which may have perhaps been overlooked. In the first place, Kettle Flatnose was a thoroughly fresh man when he began the fight, an_lthough he killed two men, it must be remembered that one of these was slai_hile off his guard. Then, Glumm did indeed slay his man promptly, but he wa_ne of King Harald’s ordinary men-at-arms; whereas Erling was opposed by on_f the most celebrated of the King’s warriors—Hake, the berserk of Hadeland—_an whose name and prowess were known far and wide, not only in Norway, but i_enmark, and all along the southern shores of the Baltic. It would have bee_trange indeed had such a man fallen easily before any human arm, much mor_trange had he succumbed at once to one that had been already much exhauste_ith fighting.
True to the brotherhood to which he belonged, the berserk attacked Erling wit_ncredible fury. He roared more like a mad bull than a man as he made th_nset; his eyes glared, his mouth foamed, and he bit his shield as he wa_riven back. Being fresh, he danced round Erling perpetually, springing in t_ut and thrust, and leaping back to avoid the terrific blows which the latte_etched at him with his weighty axe. Once he made a cut at Erling’s head, which the latter did not attempt to parry, intending to trust to his helmet t_efend him, and forgetting for the moment that he had cast that useful piec_f armour on the plain. Luckily the blow was not truly aimed. It shore a loc_rom Erling’s head as he swung his axe against his opponent’s shield, an_attered him down on his knees; but the berserk leaped up with a yell, an_gain rushed at him. Hake happened just then to cast his eyes on the two me_ho were quietly looking on, and he so managed the fight for a few moment_fterwards that he got near to them. Then turning towards them with a howl o_emoniacal fury, he made a desperate cut at the unsuspecting Glumm, who wa_aken so thoroughly by surprise that he made no movement whatever to defen_imself. Fortunately. Kettle Flatnose was on the alert, but he had only tim_o thrust his sword awkwardly between Glumm’s head and the descending weapon.
The act prevented a fatal gash, but it could not altogether arrest the forc_f the blow, which fell on the flat of his sword, and beat it down on Glumm’_kull so violently that he was instantly stretched upon the green sward.
Erling’s axe fell on the helm of the berserk almost at the same time. Even i_hat moment of victory a feeling of respect for the courage and boldness o_his man touched the heart of Erling, who, with the swiftness of thought, pu_n force his favourite practice—he turned the edge of the axe, and the broa_ide of it fell on the steel headpiece with tremendous force, causing th_erserk of Hadeland to stretch himself on the green sward beside Glumm th_ruff; thus ending the famous battle of the “Berserkers and the Bold”, i_egard to which Thikskul the scald writes:—
> “The Bold one and his doughty friend, > Glumm the Gruff of Horlingsend, > Faced, fought, and felled, and bravely slew, > Full twenty men—a berserk crew > Sent by King Harald them to slay— > But much he rued it—lack-a-day!
> The heroes cut and hacked them sore, > Hit, split, and slashed them back and fore— > And left them lying in their gore.”