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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.
  • > The ill-shaped Saxon corpses lay > Heap’d up—the witch-wife’s horses’ prey.
  • > 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.