Chapter 6 Evening in the Hall—The Scald tells of Gundalf’s Wooing—The Feas_nterrupted and the War Clouds Thicken.
It is necessary now that we should turn backwards a little in our story, t_hat point where Erling left the hall at Ulfstede to listen to the sad tale o_wart.
Ulf and his friends, not dreaming of the troubles that were hanging over them, continued to enjoy their evening meal and listen to the songs and stories o_he Scald, or to comment upon the doings of King Harald Haarfager, and th_rospects of good or evil to Norway that were likely to result therefrom.
At the point where we return to the hall, Ulf wore a very clouded brow as h_at with compressed lips beside his principal guest. He grasped the arm of hi_ude chair with his left hand, while his right held a large and massive silve_ankard. Haldor, on the other hand, was all smiles and good humour. H_ppeared to have been attempting to soothe the spirit of his fiery neighbour.
“I tell thee, Ulf, that I have as little desire to see King Harald succeed i_ubduing all Norway as thou hast, but in this world wise men will act no_ccording to what they wish so much, as according to what is best. Already th_ing has won over or conquered most of the small kings, and it seems to m_hat the rest will have to follow, whether they like it or no. Common sens_eaches submission where conquest cannot be.”
“And does not patriotism teach that men may die?” said Ulf sternly.
“Aye, when by warring with that end in view anything is to be gained for one’_ountry; but where the result would be, first, the embroiling of one’_istrict in prolonged bloody and hopeless warfare, and, after that, th_epriving one’s family of its head and of the King’s favour, patriotism say_hat to die would be folly, not wisdom.”
“Tush, man; folk will learn to call thee Haldor the Mild. Surely years ar_elling on thee. Was there ever anything in this world worth having gaine_ithout a struggle?”
“Thou knowest, Ulf, that I am not wont to be far from the front wherever o_henever a struggle is thought needful, but I doubt the propriety of it in th_resent case. The subject, however, is open to discussion. The question is, whether it would be better for Norway that the kings of Horlingdal shoul_ubmit to the conqueror for the sake of the general good, or buckle on th_word in the hope of retrieving what is lost. Peace or war—that is th_uestion.”
“I say war!” cried Ulf, striking the board so violently with his clenched fis_hat the tankards and platters leaped and rang again.
At this a murmur of applause ran round the benches of the friends an_ousemen.
“The young blades are ever ready to huzza over their drink at the thought o_ighting; but methinks it will not strengthen thy cause much, friend Ulf, thu_o frighten the women and spill the ale.”
Ulf turned round with a momentary look of anger at this speech. The man wh_ttered it was a splendid specimen of a veteran warrior. His forehead wa_uite bald, but from the sides and back of his head flowed a mass of luxurian_ilky hair which was white as the driven snow. His features were eminentl_irm and masculine, and there was a hearty good-humoured expression about th_outh, and a genial twinkle in his eyes, especially in the wrinkled corner_hereof, that rendered the stout old man irresistibly attractive. His voic_as particularly rich, deep, and mellow, like that of a youth, and althoug_is bulky frame stooped a little from age, there was enough of his youthfu_igour left to render him a formidable foe, as many a poor fellow had learne_o his cost even in days but recently gone by. He was an uncle of Ulf, and o_ visit to the stede at that time. The frown fled from Ulf’s brow as he looke_n the old man’s ruddy and jovial countenance.
“Thanks, Guttorm,” said he, seizing his tankard, “thanks for reminding me tha_rey hairs are beginning to sprinkle my beard; come, let us drink success t_he right, confusion to the wrong! thou canst not refuse that, Haldor.”
“Nay,” said Haldor, laughing; “nor will I refuse to fight in thy cause and b_hy side, be it right or wrong, when the Thing decides for war.”
“Well said, friend! but come, drink deeper. Why, I have taken thee down thre_egs already!” said Ulf, glancing into Haldor’s tankard. “Ho! Hilda; fetc_ither more ale, lass, and fill—fill to the brim.” The toast was drunk wit_ight good will by all—from Ulf down to the youngest house-carle at the lowes_nd of the great hall.
“And now, Guttorm,” continued Ulf, turning to the bluff old warrior, “sinc_hou hast shown thy readiness to rebuke, let us see thy willingness t_ntertain. Sing us a stave or tell us a saga, kinsman, as well thou knowes_ow, being gifted with more than a fair share of the scald’s craft.”
The applause with which this proposal was received by the guests and house- carles who crowded the hall from end to end proved that they were aware o_uttorm’s gifts, and would gladly hear him. Like a sensible man he complied a_nce, without affecting that air of false diffidence which is so common amon_odern songsters and story-tellers.
“I will tell you,” said the old man—having previously wet his lips at a silve_ankard, which was as bluff and genuine as himself—“of King Gundalf’s wooing.
Many years have gone by since I followed him on viking cruise, and Gundal_imself has long been feasting in Odin’s hall. I was a beardless youth when _oined him. King Gundalf of Orkedal was a goodly man, stout and brisk, an_ery strong. He could leap on his horse without touching stirrup with all hi_ar gear on; he could fight as well with his left hand as with his right, an_is battle-axe bit so deep that none who once felt its edge lived to tell o_ts weight. He might well be called a Sea-king, for he seldom slept under _ooty roof timber. Withal he was very affable to his men, open-hearted, and a_xtremely handsome man.
“One summer he ordered us to get ready to go on viking cruise. When we wer_ll a-boun we set sail with five longships and about four hundred men, an_ared away to Denmark, where we forayed and fought a great battle with th_nhabitants. King Gundalf gained the victory, plundered, wasted, and burne_ar and wide in the land, and made enormous booty. He returned with this t_rkedal. Here he found his wife at the point of death, and soon after sh_ied. Gundalf felt his loss so much that he had no pleasure in Raumsdal afte_hat. He therefore took to his ships and went again a-plundering. We herrie_irst in Friesland, next in Saxland, and then all the way to Flanders; s_ings Halfred the scald:—
> “‘Gundalf’s axe of shining steel > For the sly wolf left many a meal.
> She rides by night, at pools of blood, > Where Friesland men in daylight stood, > Her horses slake their thirst, and fly > On to the field where Flemings lie.’”
(Note. Ravens were the witch-wife’s horses.)
The old warrior half recited half sang these lines in a rich full voice, an_hen paused a few seconds, while a slight murmur arose from the earnes_isteners around him.
“Thereafter,” resumed Guttorm, “we sailed to England, and ravaged far and wid_n the land. We sailed all the way north to Northumberland, where w_lundered, and thence to Scotland, where we marauded far and wide. Then w_ent to the Hebrides and fought some battles, and after that south to Man, which we herried. We ravaged far around in Ireland, and steered thence t_retland, which we laid waste with fire and sword—also the district o_umberland. Then we went to Valland, (the west coast of France) from which w_ared away for the south coast of England, but missed it and made the Scill_sles. After that we went to Ireland again, and came to a harbour, into whic_e ran—but in a friendly way, for we had as much plunder as our ships coul_arry.
“Now, while we were there, a summons to a Thing went through the country, an_hen the Thing was assembled, a queen called Gyda came to it. She was a siste_f Olaf Quarram, who was King of Dublin. Gyda was very wealthy, and he_usband had died that year. In the territory there was a man called Alfin, wh_as a great champion and single-combat man. He had paid his addresses to Gyda, but she gave for answer that she would choose a husband for herself; and o_hat account the Thing was assembled, that she might choose a husband. Alfi_ame there dressed out in his best clothes, and there were many well-dresse_en at the meeting. Gundalf and some of his men had gone there also, out o_uriosity, but we had on our bad-weather clothes, and Gundalf wore a coars_ver-garment. We stood apart from the rest of the crowd, Gyda went round an_ooked at each, to see if any appeared to her a suitable man. Now when sh_ame to where we were standing, she passed most of us by with a glance; bu_hen she passed me, I noticed that she turned half round and gave me anothe_ook, which I have always held was a proof of her good judgment. However, Gyd_assed on, and when she came to King Gundalf she stopped, looked at hi_traight in the face, and asked what sort of a man he was.
“He said, ‘I am called Gundalf, and am a stranger here!’
“Gyda replies, ‘Wilt thou have me if I choose thee?’ He answered, ‘I will no_ay No to that;’ then he asked her what her name was, and her family an_escent.
“‘I am called Gyda,’ said she, ‘and am daughter of the King of Ireland, an_as married in this country to an earl who ruled over this district. Since hi_eath I have ruled over it, and many have courted me, but none to whom I woul_hoose to be married.’
“She was a young and handsome woman. They afterwards talked over the matte_ogether and agreed, and so Gundalf and Gyda were betrothed.
“Alfin was very ill pleased with this. It was the custom there, as it i_ometimes here, if two strove for anything, to settle the matter by holm-gang.
(Note: or single combat: so called because the combatants in Norway went to _olm, or uninhabited isle, to fight.) And now Alfin challenged Gundalf t_ight about this business. The time and place of combat were settled, and i_as fixed that each should have twelve men. I was one of the twelve on ou_ide. When we met, Gundalf told us to do exactly as we saw him do. He had _arge axe, and went in advance of us, and when Alfin made a desperate cut a_im with his sword, he hewed away the sword out of his hand, and with the nex_low hit Alfin on the crown with the flat of his axe and felled him. We al_et next moment, and each man did his best; but it was hard work, for th_rishmen fought well, and two of them cut down two of our men, but one o_hese I knocked down, and Gundalf felled the other. Then we bound them al_ast, and carried them to Gundalf’s lodging. But Gundalf did not wish to tak_lfin’s life. He ordered him to quit the country and never again to appear i_t, and he took all his property. In this way Gundalf got Gyda in marriage, and he lived sometimes in England and sometimes in Ireland. Thikskul the scal_ays in regard to this:—
> “‘King Gundalf woo’d Queen Gyda fair, > With whom no woman could compare, > And won her, too, with all her lands, > By force of looks and might of hands > From Ireland’s green and lovely isle > He carried off the Queen in style.
> He made proud Alfin’s weapon dull, > And flattened down his stupid skull— > This did the bold King Gundalf do > When he went o’er the sea to woo.’”
The wholesale robbery and murder which was thus related by the old Nors_iking appeared quite a natural and proper state of things in the eyes of al_ave two of those assembled in the hall, and the saga was consequentl_oncluded amid resounding applause. It is to be presumed that, never havin_een or heard of any other course of life, and having always been taught tha_uch doings were quite in accordance with the laws of the land, th_onsciences of the Northmen did not trouble them. At all events, while we d_ot for a moment pretend to justify their doings, we think it right to poin_ut that there must necessarily have been a wide difference between thei_pirits and feelings, and the spirits and feelings of modern pirates, who kno_hat they are deliberately setting at defiance the laws of both God and man.
It has been said there were two in the hall at Ulfstede who did not sympathis_ith the tale of the old warrior. The reader will scarce require to be tol_hat one of these was Hilda the Sunbeam. The other was Christian the hermit.
The old man, although an occasional visitor at the stede, never made hi_ppearance at meal-times, much less at the nightly revels which were hel_here; but on that day he had arrived with important news, just as Guttor_egan his story, and would have unceremoniously interrupted it had not one o_he young house-carles, who did not wish to lose the treat, detained hi_orcibly at the lower end of the hall until it was ended. The moment he wa_eleased the hermit advanced hastily, and told Ulf that from the door of hi_ut on the cliff he had observed bands of men hastening in all directions dow_he dale.
“Thy news, old man, is no news,” said Ulf; “the token for a Thing has bee_ent out, and it is natural that the bonders should obey the summons. W_xpect them. But come, it is not often thou favourest us with thy company. Si_own by me, and take a horn of mead.”
The hermit shook his head.
“I never taste strong liquor. Its tendency is to make wise men foolish,” h_aid.
“Nay, then, thou wilt not refuse to eat. Here, Hilda, fetch thy friend _latter.”
“I thank thee, but, having already supped, I need no more food. I came but t_ring what I deemed news.”
“Thou art churlish, old man,” exclaimed Ulf angrily; “sit down and drink, else—”
“Come, come,” interrupted Haldor, laying his hand on Ulf’s arm, “Let the ol_an be; he seems to think that he has something worth hearing to tell of; le_im have his say out in peace.”
“Go on,” said Ulf gruffly.
“Was the token sent out a baton or a split arrow?” asked the hermit.
“A baton,” said Ulf.
“Then why,” rejoined the other, “do men come to a peaceful Thing with al_heir war gear on?”
“What say ye? are they armed?” exclaimed Ulf, starting up. “This must b_ooked to. Ho! my carles all, to arms—”
At that moment there was a bustle at the lower end of the hall, and Alric wa_een forcing his way towards Ulf’s high seat.
“Father,” he said eagerly, addressing Haldor, “short is the hour for acting, and long the hour for feasting.”
Haldor cast his eyes upon his son and said—
“What now is in the way?”
“The Danes,” said Alric, “are on the fiord—more than six hundred men.
Skarpedin leads them. One of them pitched me into the sea, but I marked hi_eck to keep myself in his memory! They have plundered and burnt at th_prings, and Erling has gone away to attack them all by himself, with onl_ixty house-carles. You will have to be quick, father.”
“Quick, truly,” said Haldor, with a grim smile, as he drew tight the buckle o_is sword-belt.
“Aye,” said Ulf, “with six hundred Danes on the fiord, and armed me_escending the vale, methinks—”
“Oh! I can explain that” cried Alric, with an arch smile; “Erling made m_hange the baton for the split arrow when I was sent round with the token.”
“That is good luck,” said Haldor, while Ulf’s brow cleared a little as h_usked himself for the fight; “we shall need all our force.”
“Aye, and all our time too,” said Guttorm Stoutheart, as he put on his armou_ith the cheerful air of a man who dons his wedding dress. “Come, my merry me_ll. Lucky it is that my longships are at hand just now ready loaded wit_tones:—
> “‘O! a gallant sight it is to me, > The warships darting o’er the sea, > A pleasant sound it is to hear > The war trump ringing loud and clear.’”
Ulf and his friends and house-carles were soon ready to embark, for in thos_ays the Norseman kept his weapons ready to his hands, being accustomed t_udden assaults and frequent alarms. They streamed out of the hall, and whil_ome collected stones, to be used as missiles, others ran down to the shore t_aunch the ships. Meanwhile Ulf, Haldor, Guttorm, and other chief men held _apid consultation, as they stood and watched the assembling of the men of th_istrict.
It was evident that the split arrow had done its duty. From the grassy moun_n which they stood could be seen, on the one hand, the dark recesses o_orlingdal, which were lost in the mists of distance among the glaciers on th_ells; and, on the other hand, the blue fiord with branching inlets an_umerous holms, while the skerries of the coast filled up th_ackground—looming faint and far off on the distant sea. In whatever directio_he eye was turned armed men were seen. From every distant gorge and valley o_he fells they issued, singly, or in twos and threes. As they descended th_ale they formed into groups and larger bands; and when they gained the mor_evel grounds around Haldorstede, the heavy tread of their hastening footstep_ould be distinctly heard, while the sun—for although near midnight now it wa_till above the horizon—flashed from hundreds of javelins, spears, swords, an_ills, glittered on steel headpieces and the rims of shields, or trickle_itfully on suits of scale armour and shirts of ring mail. On the fiord, boat_ame shooting forth from every inlet or creek, making their appearance fro_he base of precipitous cliffs or dark-mouthed caves as if the very mountain_ere bringing forth warriors to aid in repelling the foe. These were mor_ombre than those on the fells, because the sun had set to them by reason o_he towering hills, and the fiord was shrouded in deepest gloom. But all i_he approaching host—on water and land—were armed from head to foot, and al_onverged towards Ulfstede.
When they were all assembled they numbered five hundred fighting men—and _touter or more valiant band never went forth to war. Six longships wer_ufficient to embark them. Three of these were of the largest size—havin_hirty oars on each side, and carrying a hundred men. One of them belonged t_aldor, one to Ulf, and one—besides several smaller ships—to Guttorm, wh_hanced to be on viking cruise at the time he had turned aside to visit hi_insman. The warlike old man could scarce conceal his satisfaction at hi_nexpected good fortune in being so opportunely at hand when hard blows wer_ikely to be going! Two of the other ships were cutters, similar to Erling’_wan, and carrying sixty men each, and one was a little larger, holding abou_ighty men. It belonged to Glumm the Gruff; whose gruffness, however, ha_bated considerably, now that there was a prospect of what we moderns woul_all “letting the steam off” in a vigorous manner.
Soon the oars were dipped in the fiord, and the sails were set, for a ligh_avourable wind was blowing. In a short time the fleet rounded the ness, an_ame in sight of the ground where Erling and Skarpedin were preparing to rene_he combat.