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   Chapter 2 IN WHICH THE BOYS OF THE WIND-RAVEN CONSIDER THE CHANCES OF FINDING A SKRAELLING

The Thrall of Leif the Lucky: A Story of Viking Days By Ottilie A. Liljencrantz Characters: 9140

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Meanwhile, something was happening aft. Over his horn the helmsman discovered that a thin place in the fog vail was wearing into a hole, through which could be seen a low coast ending far ahead in a cloud-like hill.

"The Cape of the Crosses!" he broke the news, and the word was caught and tossed along like a ball.

"The Cape of the Crosses! The last point we must touch at!" the men cheered as they hurried to get up sail and put about for the opening door.

And the twenty lads, busy settling beltfuls of knives over tunics of deerskin, plunged into such eager anticipation of the joys of the landing that it was no time at all before they were scuffling with the Red One, whose smarting wounds made him particularly perverse. By the time Alrek had got into his tunic and buckled on the beautiful weapon that gave him his nickname of "the Sword-Bearer," he was obliged to weather a storm of nutshells in order to join the group. It took all the persuasion of the stout comely fellow called Erlend the Amiable to bring them back to peaceful discussion.

"We were talking of going ashore to-morrow and considering about whether there is any good chance that Skraellings may be there now," he explained, when he could make himself heard.

The subject attracted Alrek. Strolling over to the Amiable One's bench, he stretched himself upon it and made his head comfortable on Erlend's gay blue cloak. "Now it had fallen out of my mind," he mused, "that it was here that the inhabitants killed Thorwald Ericsson, when he went up on land and found three boats with three men hiding under each--"

"What is your tongue wagging about?" Ketil the Glib interrupted. "It was not those men that killed him; he killed all of them but one, who escaped in a boat. It was the host which that one brought back that shot arrows into him until-" He was interrupted in his turn by a piece of sail-cloth which the red-haired boy threw over his head.

"Gabbler! He knew that story before you had chipped the shell," the Red One snubbed him. "Go on, Alrek, and say whether you think it is to be expected that we will see any."

The Sword-Bearer shrugged his shoulders. "You should have the best judgment about that, Brand Erlingsson, for you were visiting your brother Rolf at Brattahlid when Thorwald's men brought back the tidings of his death. You know whether or not it is their belief that Skraellings live on the Cape."

The Red One-who, it appeared, answered also to the name of Brand Erlingsson-replied earnestly. He said that Thorwald's men did not believe that the creatures lived there, but that they inhabited the mainland and only visited the Cape for clams or something; that the Cape was no more than a thin land-neck, that ended in a kind of cross-bar composed of a beach connecting two hills; and that it could not possibly have anything of interest on it; whereas, if they could go on to Keel Cape--

But there the shell shower recommenced, amid a protesting chorus; "Do not let him get started-" "End his noise!" "He is always sputtering!" And Strong Domar extinguished the last sputter by a wild whoop as he tossed up his cap in celebration.

"However it stands, our chance for catching some there on a visit is as good as Thorwald's! Luck be with us!" he shouted. Whereupon he tossed up his neighbor's cap-being much given to good-natured jests of the fists-and the jubilee would have been general if it had not suddenly been discovered that Alrek was slowly shaking his head on its blue pillow.

"Why not?" they paused to demand.

When he had taken his full time about chewing and swallowing a mouthful of nuts, he told them; "Because we lack Thorwald's energy at the helm. He went ashore so soon after he cast anchor that the men on the Cape did not have time to get away. We shall remain quiet a whole night after we come to anchor. If it should happen that any Skraellings are there, they would have plenty of light to see us by, and the whole night to escape in. Little danger is there that the Weathercock will break the Lawman's order to keep peace with the inhabitants; but if Karlsefne is to be any better off about news of them, he will find it needful to put a shrewder man at the steering oar."

The celebration died in mid-air; no more chance was there of denying the argument than of remedying the fact. What comfort they could get out of blaming the helmsman, they took; then returned one by one to a gloomy munching of nuts from the store under the benches. In the lull, Brand of Greenland found opportunity to vent the rest o

f his dissatisfaction.

"Neither will any good come to us out of these trips, while the Weathercock steers!" he burst out, shaking the hair from his bright impatient eyes. "These five months, we have gone ashore only when there was no chance for adventure to result from it; and so have I tired of this trough that I could gnaw the edge of it as a horse gnaws his stall! Sooner than I shall make another voyage under his leadership, I will paddle back to Greenland in a skin-boat!"

The fact that they all agreed with him did not prevent them from jeering through their mouthfuls. Even his loyal younger brother, Olaf the Fair, showed a merry face under his yellow curls.

"You speak too small words! Say that you would build a dragon-ship and have sole power over it," he mocked,-then scrambled discreetly out of reach as Brand turned on him.

"Well-I could!" the Red One defied the universe. "King Half owned a ship and headed a band when he was no more than twelve winters old--"

Jeers cut him short. "King Half! He will liken himself to Olaf Tryggvasson next!" "You great donkey, you!" "No-calf, with the milk of his kinsman's dairy-farm still in him!" cried the unoccupied mouths, while the full ones grinned broadly.

Only Alrek, smiling up at the sky, said whimsically; "Give me leave to travel with you when it is built, champion. I should like to be on a ship that would come and go according to my will. For one thing, I should like to go ashore to-night to see Thorwald Ericsson's grave. The Huntsman told me once, when I laughed at his magic, that if ever I stood beside a grave in the noon of night I should know what fear was. It has long been in my mind to prove him a liar, but no other grave than Thorwald's is in the new land. If we were on your ship now--"

"What is to be said against swimming?" inquired Gard the Ugly, from the bench where he sat weaving fish-nets,-for it was a trace of the thrall blood which was in him, that, although he was free, his great hands were always busy with some service.

"Hallad, Biorn's foster-son, used that expedient once,-and it can not be said that he is of a bold disposition even if he did go with the Huntsman this summer. I am willing to try it. We can slip overboard shortly after it becomes dark, and spend the time before midnight in ranging over the beach,-I would give a ring to get the knots out of my legs! Will you do it?"

Pulling himself up lazily, Alrek sat a while gazing ahead where a second hazy mass, seemingly as far away as the horizon itself, was rapidly pushing out from behind the Cape.

"Why not?" he responded at last. "Only, the swimming part is not to my mind; I find that deerskin dries on me less easily than on deer. Because of what has been told of the shallowness of the harbor, it is unlikely that we shall anchor very near to land; so it is my advice that we take the small boat. We can lower it with little trouble, if there is no moon, while the men are aft drinking their ale."

He rose as he spoke, and Gard leaped up also and clapped him on the back in token that it was a bargain; at which the scoffers quieted into a semblance of interest, and Erlend regarded him with amusement.

"Suppose it does not happen that you get a chance to tell the Huntsman of your experience?" he suggested. "I think it altogether unlikely that he will return from his trip to the south country. Will the entertainment be worth the exertion?"

Alrek gave him a poke between his well-padded ribs. "A man must risk something if he wishes to avoid getting fat," he answered. Whereat the Amiable One came in for his share of gibing; and during it, Gard put his arm through the Sword-Bearer's and drew him forward to look at the land.

The land was worth looking at, certainly, as it revealed itself bit by bit through the mellow haze of the sunset. Skimming toward it in the path of a breeze, it was not long before the sickle-curve of a harbor had drawn out from behind the Cape. Then the inner of the Cape hills looked out from its hiding place beyond the seaward knoll. Next, a streak of white beach unfolded itself between them. Finally the whole began to take on color, gray giving way to grayish green and brown and red, while the cold gleam along the water's edge warmed into faint yellow.

So it lay motionless and soundless in the waning light, the sun fading from it in a drowsy smile, as the helmsman ordered the sail to be lowered and the anchor to be heaved overboard, and the little ship settled into her berth with a groan of satisfaction.

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