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Chapter 3 Dark War-Clouds Lower, but Clear away without a Shower—Voices an_egs do Good Service.

  • “Up, carls, buckle on your war-gear!” cried Leif, rising hastily on hearin_he announcement with which the last chapter ended.
  • “Run, Thorward, call out our men,” whispered Karlsefin; “I will stay to lear_hat Leif means to do. Bring them all up to the door.”
  • Thorward was gone almost before the sentence was finished. Leif and his house- carls, of whom there were ten present at the time, did not take long to bus_hem for the fight. The Norse of old were born, bred, and buried—if the_scaped being killed and cut to pieces—in the midst of alarms. Their armou_as easily donned, and not very cumbrous. Even while Leif was giving the firs_rder to his men, Gudrid had run to the peg on which hung his sword an_elmet, and brought him these implements of war.
  • “My men and I shall be able to render you some service, Leif,” said Karlsefin; “what do you intend to do?”
  • “Do!” exclaimed Leif with a grim laugh, as he buckled on his sword, “why, _hall give the Skraelingers a tremendous fright, that is all. The rascals!
  • They knew well that we were short-handed just now, and thought to tak_dvantage of us; but hah! they do not seem to be aware that we chance to hav_tout visitors with us to-night. So, lads, follow me.”
  • Biarne, meanwhile, had darted out on the first alarm, and assembled all th_en in the settlement, so that when Leif, Karlsefin, and the housemen issue_ut of the cottage they found about a dozen men assembled, and others runnin_p every moment to join them. Before these were put in array most of the me_f Karlsefin’s ship, numbering forty, and those belonging to Thorward, numbering thirty, came up, so that when all were mustered they were little i_t all short of one hundred stout warriors.
  • The moon came out brightly at the time, and Leif chuckled as he watched Biarn_ut the men hastily into marching order.
  • “Methought you said that war was distasteful,” observed Karlsefin, in som_urprise.
  • “So it is, so it is, friend,” replied Leif, still laughing in a low tone; “bu_here will be no war to-night. Leave your bows behind you, lads,” he added, addressing the men; “you won’t want them; shield and sword will be enough. Fo_he matter of that, we might do without both. Now, lads, follow my leading, and do as I bid you; advance with as little noise as may be.”
  • So saying, Leif led the way out of the little hamlet towards the extremity o_he ridge or spur of the mountains that sheltered Ericsfiord from the north- west.
  • Towards that same extremity another band of men were hastening on the othe_ide of the ridge. It was a band of our hairy friends whom the Norsemen calle_kraelingers.
  • Truly there was something grand in the look and bearing of the tall man wit_he flat face, as he led his band to attack the warlike Norsemen, and ther_as something almost sublime in the savage, resolute aspect of the men wh_ollowed him—each being armed with a large walrus spear, and each being, moreover, an adept in the use of it.
  • Flatface (in default of a better, let that name stick to him) had ascertaine_eyond a doubt that the entire available force of Norsemen in Ericsfiord had, in consequence of fishing and other expeditions, been reduced to barely thirt_ighting men. He himself could muster a band of at least one hundred and fift_ood men and true—not to mention hairy, a hundred and fifty seals havin_nwillingly contributed their coats to cover these bloodthirsty Skraelingers.
  • The Norsemen, Flatface knew, were strong men and bold, besides being large, but he resolved to take them by surprise, and surely (he argued with himself) a hundred and fifty brave men with spears will be more than a match for thirt_leepy men unarmed and in bed!
  • Flatface had screwed himself up with such considerations; made a few mor_nflammatory speeches to his men, by way of screwing them up also, and then, _ittle before midnight, set forth on his expedition.
  • Now it chanced that there was a man among the Norsemen who was a great hunte_nd trapper. His name was Tyrker—the same Tyrker mentioned by Leif as bein_he man who had found grapes in Vinland. Leif said he was a German, but h_aid so on no better authority than the fact that he had originally come t_orway from the south of Europe. It is much more probable that he was a Turk, for, whereas the Germans are known to be a well-sized handsome race of fai_en, this Tyrker was an ugly little dark wiry fellow, with a high forehead, sharp eyes, and a small face; but he was extremely active, and, although a_lderly man, few of the youths in Ericsfiord could beat him at feats requirin_exterity.
  • But, whether German or Turk, Tyrker was an enthusiastic trapper of white, o_rctic foxes. These creatures being very numerous in that part of Greenland, he was wont to go out at all hours, late and early, to visit his traps. Henc_t happened that, on the night in question, Tyrker found himself in compan_ith two captured arctic foxes at, the extremity of the mountain spur befor_eferred to.
  • He could see round the corner of the spur into the country beyond, but as th_ountry there was not attractive, even at its best, he paid no attention t_t. He chanced, however, to cast upon it one glance after setting his traps, just as he was about to return home. That glance called forth a steady look, which was followed by a stare of surprise, and the deep guttural utterance o_he word “zz-grandimaghowl!” which, no doubt, was Turkish, at that ancien_ate, for “hallo!”
  • It was the band of hairy creatures that had met his astonished sight. Tyrke_hrank behind the spur and peeped round it for a few seconds to make quit_ure. Then, turning and creeping fairly out of sight, he rose and bounded bac_o the hamlet, as though he had been a youth of twenty. As we have seen, h_rrived, gasping, in time to warn his friends.
  • Between the hamlet and the spur where Tyrker’s traps were set there wer_everal promontories, or projections from the cliffs, all of which had to b_assed before the spur came in view. Leif led his men past the first an_econd of these at a run. Then, believing that he had gone far enough, h_rdered his band to draw close up under the cliffs, where the shadow wa_eepest, saying that he would go alone in advance to reconnoitre.
  • “And mark me, lads,” he said, “when I give a loud sneeze, do you give vent t_ roar that will only stop short of splitting your lungs; then give chase, an_ell to your hearts’ content as you run; but see to it that ye keep togethe_nd that no man runs past _me_. There is plenty of moonlight to let you se_hat you’re about. If any man tries to overshoot me in the race I’ll hew of_is head.”
  • This last remark was no figure of speech. In those days men were but too wel_ccustomed to hewing off heads. Leif meant to have his orders attended to, an_he men understood him.
  • On reaching the second projection of cliff after leaving his men, Leif peepe_ound cautiously and beheld the advancing Skraelingers several hundred yard_ff. He returned at once to his men and took up a position at their head i_he deep shadow of the cliffs.
  • Although absolutely invisible themselves, the Norsemen could see th_kraelingers quite plainly in the moonlight, as they came slowly and wit_reat caution round each turn of the footpath that led to the hamlet. Ther_as something quite awe-inspiring in the manner of their approach. Evidentl_latface dreaded a surprise, for he put each leg very slowly in advance of th_ther, and went on tiptoe, glancing quickly on either side between each step.
  • His followers—in a compact body, in deep silence and with bate_reath—followed his steps and his example.
  • When they came to the place where the men crouched in ambush, Leif took up _arge stone and cast it high over their heads. So quietly was this done tha_one even of his own party heard him move or saw the stone, though they hear_t fall with a _thud_ on the sand beyond.
  • The Skraelingers heard it too, and stopped abruptly—each man on one leg, wit_he other leg and his arms more or less extended, just as if he had bee_uddenly petrified. So in truth he had been—with horror!
  • To meet an open enemy, however powerful, would have been a pleasure compare_ith that slow nervous advance in the midst of such dead silence! As nothin_ollowed the sound, however, the suspended legs began to descend slowly agai_owards the ground, when Leif sneezed!
  • If Greenland’s icy mountains had become one monstrous polar bear, whose power_f voice, frozen for prolonged ages, had at last found vent that night in on_oncentrated roar, the noise could scarcely have excelled that which instantl_xploded from the Norsemen.
  • The effect on the Skraelingers was almost miraculous. A bomb-shell bursting i_he midst of a hundred and fifty Kilkenny cats could not have been mor_ffective, and the result would certainly have borne some marks o_esemblance. Each hairy creature sprang nearly his own height into the air, and wriggled while there, as if impatient to turn and fly before reaching th_round. Earth regained, the more active among them overshot and overturned th_lumsy, whereby fifty or sixty were instantly cast down, but these rose agai_ike spring-jacks and fled, followed by a roar of laughter from their foes, which, mingled as it was with howls and yells, did infinitely more to appa_he Skraelingers than the most savage war-cry could have done.
  • But they were followed by more than laughter. The Norsemen immediately gav_hase—still yelling and roaring as they ran, for Leif set the example, and hi_ollowers remembered his threat.
  • Karlsefin and Biarne kept one on each side of Leif, about a pace behind him.
  • “If they fight as well as they run,” observed the former, “they must b_roublesome neighbours.”
  • “They are not bad fighters,” replied Leif; “but sometimes they deem it wise t_un.”
  • “Not unlike to other people in that respect,” said Biarne; “but it seems to m_hat we might overhaul them if we were to push on.”
  • He shot up to Leif as he spoke, but the latter checked him.
  • “Hold back, Biarne; I mean them no harm, and wish no bloodshed—only they mus_ave a good fright. The lads, no doubt, would like to run in and make shor_ork of them; but I intend to breathe the lads, which will in the end do jus_s well as fighting to relieve their feelings.—Enough. It is ill talking an_unning.”
  • They were silent after that, and ran thus for fully an hour, at nearly the to_f their speed. But Leif sometimes checked his men, and sometimes urged the_n, so that they fancied he was chasing with full intent to run th_kraelingers down. When the fugitives showed signs of flagging, he uttered _remendous roar, and his men echoed it, sending such a thrill to the hearts o_he Skraelingers that they seemed to recover fresh wind and strength; then h_ushed after them harder than ever, and so managed that, without catching o_illing one, he terrified them almost out of their wits, and ran them nearl_o death.
  • At last they came to a place where there was an abrupt bend in the mountains.
  • Here Leif resolved to let them go. When they were pretty near the cliff roun_hich the path turned, he put on what, in modern sporting phraseology, i_ermed a spurt, and came up so close with the flying band that those in rea_egan to glance despairingly over their shoulders. Suddenly Leif gave vent t_ roar, into which he threw all his remaining strength. It was taken up an_rolonged by his men. The horror-struck Skraelingers shrieked in reply, swep_ike a torrent round the projecting cliff, and disappeared!
  • Leif stopped at once, and held up his hand. All his men stopped short also, and though they heard the Skraelingers still howling as they fled, no on_ollowed them any farther. Indeed, most of the Norsemen were pantin_ehemently, and rather glad than otherwise to be allowed to halt.
  • There were, however, two young men among them—tall, strong-boned, and thin, but with broad shoulders, and grave, earnest, though not exactly handsom_ountenances—who appeared to be perfectly cool and in good wind after thei_ong run. Leif noticed them at once.
  • “Yonder youths seem to think little of this sort of thing,” he said t_arlsefin.
  • “You are right, Leif; it is mere child’s play to them. These are the tw_cots—the famous runners—whom I was charged by King Olaf to present to you.
  • Why, these men, I’ll engage to say, could overtake the Skraelingers even yet, if they chose.”
  • “Say you so?” cried Leif. “Do they speak Norse?”
  • “Yes; excellently well.”
  • “Their names?”
  • “The one is Heika, the other Hake.”
  • “Ho! Hake and Heika, come hither,” cried Leif, beckoning to the men, an_astening round the point, where the Skraelingers could be seen nearly a mil_ff, and still running as if all the evil spirits of the North were afte_hem.
  • “See there, carls; think you that ye could overtake these rascals?”
  • The Scots looked at each other, nodded, smiled, and said they thought the_ould.
  • “Do it, then. Let them see how you can use your legs, and give them a shout a_ou draw near; but have a care: do them no hurt, and see that they do n_njury to you. Take no arms; your legs must suffice on this occasion.”
  • The Scots looked again at each other, and laughed, as if they enjoyed th_oke; then they started off like a couple of deer at a pace which no Norsema_egs had ever before equalled, or even approached.
  • Leif, Biarne, and the men gazed in speechless wonder, much to the amusement o_arlsefin and Thorward, while Hake and Heika made straight for the flying ban_nd came up with them. They shouted wildly as they drew near. The Skraelinger_ooked back, and seeing only two unarmed men, stopped to receive them.
  • “As the saying goes,” remarked Biarne, “a stern chase is a long one; but to- night proves the truth of that other saying, that there is no rule without a_xception.”
  • “What are they doing now?” cried Leif, laughing. “See—they are mad!”
  • Truly it seemed as if they were; for, after separating and coursing twic_ompletely round the astonished natives, the two Scots performed a species o_ar-dance before them, which had a sort of fling about it, more easil_onceived than described. In the middle of this they made a dart at the grou_o sudden and swift that Hake managed to overturn Flatface with a tremendou_uffet, and Heika did the same to his second in command with an energeti_uff. The Skraelingers were taken so thoroughly by surprise that the Scots ha_heered off and got out of reach before a spear could be thrown.
  • Of course a furious rush was made at them, but the hairy men might as wel_ave chased the wind. After tormenting and tantalising them a little longer, the Scots returned at full speed to their friends, and the Skraelingers, gla_o be rid of them, hastened to seek the shelter of the gloomy gorge from whic_hey had originally issued, “like a wolf on the fold.”