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Chapter 4 Describes Warlike Preparations, and a Norse Hall in the Olde_ime—Tells also of a Surprise.

  • Instead of returning to Ulfstede, Erling directed his steps homeward at _risk pace, and in a short space of time reached the door of his forge. Her_e met one of his father’s thralls.
  • “Ho! fellow,” said he, “is thy mistress at home?”
  • “Yes, master, she is in the hall getting supper ready against your father’_eturn.”
  • “Go tell her there will be no men to eat supper in the hall to-night,” sai_rling, unfastening the door of the forge. “Say that I am in the forge, an_ill presently be in to speak with her. Go also to Thorer, and tell him to ge_he house-carles busked for war. When they are ready let him come hither t_e; and, harkee, use thine utmost speed; there may be bloody work for us al_o do this night before the birds are on the wing. Away!”
  • The man turned and ran to the house, while Erling blew up the smouldering fir_f the forge. Throwing off his jerkin, he rolled up his sleeves, and seizin_he axe on which he had been engaged when Hilda interrupted him, he wrought s_igorously at the stubborn metal with the great forehammer that in the cours_f half an hour it was ready to fit on the haft. There was a bundle of haft_n a corner of the workshop. One of these, a tough thick one without knot o_law, and about five feet long, he fitted to the iron head with great neatnes_nd skill. The polishing of this formidable weapon he deferred to a period o_reater leisure. Having completed this piece of work, Erling next turned t_nother corner of the forge and took up the huge two-handed sword which he ha_ade for his friend Glumm.
  • The weapon was beautifully executed, and being highly polished, the blad_littered with a flashing light in the ruddy glare of the forge fire. Th_oung giant sat down on his anvil and put a few finishing touches to th_word, regarding it the while with a grim smile, as if he speculated on th_robability of his having formed a weapon wherewith his own skull was destine_o be cloven asunder. While he was thus engaged his mother Herfrida entered.
  • The soft-eyed dame could scarcely be called a matronly personage. Havin_arried when about sixteen, she was now just thirty-eight years of age; an_hough the bloom of maidenhood was gone, the beauty of a well-favoured an_ealthy woman still remained. She wore a cloak of rich blue wool, and under i_ scarlet kirtle with a silver girdle.
  • “How now, my son,” she said; “why these warlike preparations?”
  • “Because there is rumour of war; I’m sure that is neither strange nor new t_ou, mother.”
  • “Truly no; and well do I know that where war is, there my husband and my so_ill be found.”
  • Herfrida said this with a feeling of pride, for, like most of the women o_hat time and country, she esteemed most highly the men who were boldest an_ould use their weapons best.
  • “’Twere well if we were less noted in that way, and more given to peace,” sai_rling half-jestingly. “For my own part, I have no liking for war, but yo_omen will be for ever egging us on!”
  • Herfrida laughed. She was well aware of what she was pleased to term her son’_eakness, namely, an idea that he loved peace, while he was constantly provin_o the world that he was just cut out for war. Had he ever shown a spark o_owardice she would have regarded those speeches of his with much anxiety, bu_s it was she only laughed at them.
  • “Erling, my boy,” she said suddenly, as her eye fell on the axe at hi_ide,—“what terrible weapon is this? Surely thou must have purchased Thor’_ammer. Can ye wield such a thing?”
  • “I hope so, mother,” said Erling curtly; “if not, I shall soon be i_alhalla’s halls.”
  • “What are these rumours of war that are abroad just now?” asked Herfrida.
  • Erling replied by giving his mother an account of King Harald’s recent deeds, and told her of the calling of the Thing, and of the appearance of the Danis_ikings off the coast.
  • “May good spirits attend thee, my son!” she said, kissing the youth’s forehea_ervently, as a natural gush of tenderness and womanly anxiety filled he_reast for a moment. But the feeling passed away as quickly as it came; fo_omen who are born and nurtured in warlike times become accustomed an_omparatively indifferent to danger, whether it threatens themselves or thos_ost dear to them.
  • While mother and son were conversing, Thorer entered the smithy, bearin_rling’s armour.
  • “Are the lads all a-boun?” (armed and ready) enquired Erling as he rose.
  • “Aye, master; and I have brought your war-gear.”
  • The man who thus spoke was Haldor’s chief house-carle. He was a very short an_xtremely powerful man of about forty-five years of age, and so sturdy an_uscular as to have acquired the title of Thorer the Thick. He wore a shirt o_cale armour, rather rusty, and somewhat the worse of having figured in many _ough battle by land and sea. A triangular shield hung at his back, and hi_eadpiece was a simple peaked helmet of iron, with a prolongation in fron_hat guarded his nose. Thorer’s offensive armour consisted of a short straigh_word, a javelin and a bow, with a quiver of arrows.
  • “How many men hast thou assembled, Thorer?” asked Erling as he donned hi_rmour.
  • “Seventy-five, master; the rest are up on the fells, on what errand I kno_ot.”
  • “Seventy-five will do. Haste thee, carle, and lead them to my longship th_wan. Methinks we will skate upon the ocean to-night. (Longships, or war- vessels, were sometimes called ocean-skates.) I will follow thee. Let ever_an be at his post, and quit not the shore till I come on board. Now fare awa_s swiftly as may be, and see that everything be done stealthily; above all, keep well out of sight of Ulfstede.”
  • Thus admonished, Thorer quickly left the forge; and a few seconds later th_lanking tread of armed men was heard as Erling’s followers took their way t_he fiord.
  • “Now I will to the hall, my son, and pray that thou mayst fare well,” sai_erfrida, once more kissing the forehead which the youth lowered to receiv_he parting salute. The mother retired, and left her son standing in the forg_azing pensively at the fire, the dying flames of which shot up fitfully no_nd then, and gleamed on his shining mail.
  • If Erling the Bold was a splendid specimen of a man in his ordinary costume, when clad in the full panoply of war he was truly magnificent. The rude bu_ot ungraceful armour of the period was admirably fitted to display t_dvantage the elegant proportions of his gigantic figure. A shirt or tunic o_eather, covered with steel rings, hung loosely—yet, owing to its weight, closely—on his shoulders. This was gathered in at the waist by a broa_eathern belt, studded with silver ornaments, from which hung a short dagger.
  • A cross belt of somewhat similar make hung from his right shoulder, an_upported a two-edged sword of immense weight, which was quite as strong, though not nearly so long, as that which he had forged for Glumm. It wa_ntended for a single-handed weapon, though men of smaller size might hav_een constrained, in attempting to wield it, to make use of both hands. Th_outh’s lower limbs were clothed in closely-fitting leather leggings, and _air of untanned leather shoes, laced with a single thong, protected his feet.
  • On his head he wore a small skull-cap, or helmet, of burnished steel, from th_op of which rose a pair of hawk’s wings expanded, as if in the act of flight.
  • No gloves or gauntlets covered his hands, but on his left arm hung a larg_hield, shaped somewhat like an elongated heart, with a sharp point at it_ower end. Its top touched his shoulder, and the lower part reached to hi_nee.
  • This shield was made of several plies of thick bull-hide, with an outer coa_f iron—the whole being riveted firmly together with iron studs. It wa_ainted pure white, without device of any kind, but there was a band of azur_lue round it, near the margin—the rim itself being of polished steel. I_ddition to his enormous axe, sword, and dagger, Erling carried at his back _hort bow and a quiver full of arrows.
  • The whole of this war gear bore evidence of being cherished with the utmos_are and solicitude. Every ring on the tunic was polished as highly as th_etal would admit of, so that the light appeared to trickle over it as it_earer moved. The helmet shone like a globe of quicksilver, and lines of ligh_leamed on the burnished edge of the shield, or sparkled on the ornamenta_oints of the more precious metals with which the various parts of his armou_ere decorated. Above all hung a loose mantle or cloak of dark-blue cloth, which was fastened on the right shoulder with a large circular brooch o_ilver.
  • The weight of this panoply was enormous, but long habit had so inured th_oung Norseman to the burthen of his armour that he moved under it as lightl_s if it had been no heavier than his ordinary habiliments. Indeed, so littl_id it impede his movements that he could spring over chasms and mountai_treams almost as well with as without it; and it was one of the boasts of hi_dmiring friends that “he could leap his own height with all his war gear on!”
  • We have already referred to Erling’s partiality for the axe as an offensiv_eapon. This preference was in truth—strange though the assertion ma_ppear—owing to the peculiar adaptation of that instrument to the preservatio_f life as well as the taking of it!
  • There are exceptions to all rules. The rule among the Northmen in former year_as to slay and spare not. Erling’s tendency, and occasionally his practice, was to spare and not to slay, if he could do so with propriety. Fro_xperience he found that, by a slight motion of his wrist, the edge of his ax_ould be turned aside, and the blow which was delivered by its flat side wa_nvariably sufficient, without killing, to render the recipient utterl_ncapable of continuing or renewing the combat—at least for a few days. Wit_he sword this delicate manoeuvre could not be so easily accomplished, for _low from the flat of a sword was not sufficiently crushing, and if delivere_ith great force the weapon was apt to break. Besides, Erling was a blunt, downright, straightforward man, and it harmonised more with his feelings, an_he energy of his character, to beat down sword and shield and headpiece wit_ne tremendous blow, than to waste time in fencing with a lighter weapon.
  • Having completed his toilet and concluded his meditations—which latter fille_im with much perplexity, if one might judge from the frequency with which h_hook his head—Erling the Bold hung Glumm’s long sword at his back, laid hi_uge axe on his shoulder, and, emerging from the smithy, strode rapidly alon_he bridle path that led to the residence of Ulf of Romsdal.
  • Suddenly it occurred to him that he had not yet tried the temper of his ne_eapon, so he stopped abruptly before a small pine tree, about as thick as _an’s arm. It stood on the edge of a precipice along the margin of which th_rack skirted. Swaying the axe once round his head, he brought it forcibl_own on the stem, through which it passed as if it had been a willow wand, an_he tree went crashing into the ravine below. The youth looked earnestly a_is weapon, and nodded his head once or twice as if the result wer_atisfactory. A benignant smile played on his countenance as he replaced it o_is shoulder and continued on his way.
  • A brisk walk of half an hour brought him to Ulfstede, where he found the me_f the family making active preparations for the impending journey to th_hing. In the great hall of the house, his father held earnest discussion wit_lf. The house-carles busied themselves in burnishing their mail an_harpening their weapons, while Ada and Hilda assisted Dame Astrid, Ulf’_ife, to spread the board for the evening meal.
  • Everything in the hall was suggestive of rude wealth and barbarous warlik_imes. The hall itself was unusually large—capable of feasting at least tw_undred men. At one end a raised hearth sustained a fire of wood that wa_arge enough to have roasted an ox. The smoke from this, in default of _himney, found an exit through a hole in the roof. The rafters were, o_ourse, smoked to a deep rich coffee colour, and from the same cause the wall_lso partook not a little of that hue. All round these walls hung, in grea_rofusion, shields, spears, swords, bows, skins, horns, and such lik_mplements and trophies of war and the chase. The centre of the hall was open, but down each side ran two long tables, which were at this time groaning wit_reat haunches of venison, legs of mutton, and trenchers of salmon, interspersed with platters of wild fowl, and flanked by tankards and horns o_ead and ale. Most of the drinking cups were of horn, but many of these wer_dged with a rim of silver, and, opposite the raised seats of honour, in th_entre of each table, the tankards were of solid silver, richly though rudel_hased—square, sturdy, and massive, like the stout warriors who were wont t_uaff their foaming contents.
  • “I tell thee, Ulf,” said Haldor, “thou wilt do wrong to fare to the Thing wit_en fully armed when the token was one of peace. The King is in no mood jus_ow to brook opposition. If we would save our independence we must speak hi_moothly.”
  • “I care not,” replied Ulf gruffly; “this is no time to go about unarmed.”
  • “Nay, I did not advise thee to go unarmed, but surely a short sword migh_uffice, and—”
  • At this moment Erling entered, and Ulf burst into a loud laugh as h_nterrupted his friend: “Aye, a short sword—something like that,” he said, pointing to the huge hilt which rose over the youth’s shoulder.
  • “Hey! lad,” exclaimed his father, “art going to fight with an axe in one han_nd a sword in the other?”
  • “The sword is for Glumm, father. I owe him one after this morning’s work.
  • Here, friend Glumm, buckle it on thy shoulder. The best wish that thou and _an exchange is, that thy sword and my axe may never kiss each other.”
  • “Truly, if they ever do, I know which will fare worst,” said Haldor, takin_he axe and examining it, “Thou art fond of a weary arm, my lad, else ye woul_ot have forged so weighty a weapon. Take my advice and leave it behind thee.”
  • “Come, come,” interrupted Ulf; “see, the tables are spread; let us use ou_aws on food and drink, and not on words, for we shall need both to fit us fo_he work before us, and perchance we may have no longer need of either befor_any days go by. We can talk our fill at the Thing, an it so please us.”
  • “That will depend on the King’s pleasure,” replied Haldor, laughing.
  • “So much the more reason for taking our arms with us, in order that we ma_ave the means of talking the King’s pleasure,” retorted Ulf with a frown; “but sit ye down at my right hand, Haldor, and Hilda will wait upon thee.
  • Come, my men all—let us fall to.”
  • It is scarcely necessary to say that this invitation was accepted wit_lacrity. In a few minutes about fifty pairs of jaws were actively employed i_he manner which Ulf recommended.
  • Meanwhile Erling the Bold seated himself at the lower end of one of th_ables, in such a position that he could keep his eye on the outer door, and, if need be, steal away unobserved. He calculated that his little brother mus_oon return from his flying journey, and he expected to hear from him som_ews of the vikings. In this expectation he was right; but when Alric di_ome, Erling saw and heard more than he looked for.
  • The meal was about half concluded, and Ulf was in the act of pledging, no_bsent, but defunct, friends, when the door opened slowly, and Alric thrus_is head cautiously in. His hair, dripping and tangled, bore evidence that hi_ead at least had been recently immersed in water.
  • He caught sight of Erling, and the head was at once withdrawn. Next momen_rling stood outside of the house.
  • “How now, Alric, what has befallen thee? Hey! thou art soaking all over!”
  • “Come here; I’ll show you a fellow who will tell you all about it.”
  • In great excitement the boy seized his brother’s hand and dragged rather tha_ed him round the end of the house, where the first object that met his vie_as a man whose face was covered with blood, which oozed from a wound in hi_orehead, while the heaving of his chest, and an occasional gasp, seemed t_ndicate that he had run far and swiftly.