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   Chapter 4 WHEREIN THE SWORD-BEARER IS FURTHER REMINDED THAT HE HAS BROKEN THE LAW

The Thrall of Leif the Lucky: A Story of Viking Days By Ottilie A. Liljencrantz Characters: 9040

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The return to the Wind-Raven was even fuller of thought than the departure from it had been; though once Gard broke out in lamentation:

"If you had only allowed me to have part in the fun, I should have remembered."

Although his shoulders remained square-set against the gray of the night, Alrek's silence was so full of skepticism that the other blushed and hastened to speak of something else:

"Why are you so bold as to tell of this? It seems to me sufficient to say only that you found the hatchet on the ground."

"The Weathercock must be warned," Alrek said briefly. "Do you not see that this Skraelling may bring back a host, as happened to Thorwald?"

Apparently Gard saw, for he did not speak again. The silence lasted unbroken until they glided under the ship's prow, and a chorus of suppressed greetings came down to them.

"Hail, explorers! What luck?" "It seems that your stay was short-" "Was Thorwald lacking in hospitality?" the voices laughed, while the hands reached down to pull them aboard and assist in raising the boat.

When at last the pair stood on deck, however, the tune changed. "Now there are tidings in their faces!" cried the boy who, from the quality of his temper, was known as the Bull. "News! Let us have it out of them!" Whereupon the group made a fence across the way, every picket in it crying, "Give up your news!"

Gard waved them off crossly. "I have none," he growled.

Alrek gazed back at them as though they really were boards in a fence. "Where is the Weathercock?" he inquired of the Amiable One. "Has he drunk the wits out of him yet?"

"Such as they are, I think he has them still about him," Erlend answered. "But will you not tell us--"

The Sword-Bearer shook his head as he pulled away from the other's ringed hand. "The jest is not good enough to bear two tellings. Come after me if you want to hear it." Whereupon the line instantly became a column, marching at his heels as he walked aft.

On the after-deck, the helmsman who was known among his followers as the Weathercock, was droning a song over his ale horn. He was a fat bald-headed man with a heavy doughlike face and a grizzled beard that bristled like wiry beach-grass from his plucking at it while he sang. His listeners greeted the appearance of the lads with much cordiality; but he took the interruption very ungraciously indeed.

"It may well be that the reason boys always come at the wrong time is because there is no right time for such hindrances," he snapped. "Which of you wants what of me?"

The oncoming wave fell back a little, leaving the Sword-Bearer stranded before the helmsman. He said, saluting, "I want to tell you that when you go upon the Cape to-morrow you must go in war clothes. I have been ashore and seen a Skraelling; and I think he has gone to call his people to arms."

"What!" cried all the men in chorus; and those on the outer edge leaned forward, palms curved around their ears. Only the Weathercock sat squinting in a dull man's attempt at sharpness.

"What kind of jest is this?" he sneered at last.

Alrek drew the stone hatchet from his belt. "One of the proofs that it is not a jest is this."

There were more exclamations, while a dozen hands snatched at it; but old Grimkel bent forward and pinned his eye upon the Sword-Bearer.

"How did you get it?" he demanded. "You did not fail to remember--"

The boy's lips curved into a rueful smile as he met the look. "I remember now," he said slowly, "and I remembered up to the time I saw the Skraelling. But when I came upon him suddenly--"

"You attacked him?" It was the helmsman who screamed that, his doughlike face reddening to the very nose-end.

Alrek regarded him with critical brown eyes. "You prove a good guesser," he said politely.

From all sides went up exclamations of dismay; while from the Weathercock went up smoke and flames as though Hekla itself had broken loose.

"You-you-you good-for-nothing-wolf's-whelp-gone-mad!" he sputtered. "What do you mean by standing there so quietly when your mad-dog temper has brought discredit upon my leadership which would otherwise have got me great fame with the Lawman? One thing after another, worse and worse, will be caused by this! The Skraellings may be surrounding us even as we speak; and we shall be forced to share your disobedience or else get killed-or, it may be, both fight and get killed, since when Karlsefne finds how his orders have been regarded-But the first result of this will be that we

will not go ashore to-morrow nor any other time-Ale! Faste! Hjalmar! Up with the anchor and out with the sail--"

As cries of protest arose, he beat them down with his short fat arms. "You shall not set foot upon land, you pack of ravening curs! Not until you get to camp,-and then I hope you will have reason to wish-Ah, to think that when we get to camp I must tell this instead of the report I had expected to give!" He struck his fists together until it seemed as if he might forget the Sword-Bearer's free birth and lay them on him in blows. "Why did I not remember that you had outlaw blood under your fair speaking, and keep you under my heel! But you shall pay for your liberty now. You shall be tied with walrus thongs and thrown into the foreroom, and kept there without food or drink until we reach Vinland! Take him hence,-do you hear my words? Lodin! Grimkel!"

He broke off to tug at his belt, which unwonted exertion was rendering distressfully snug; and in the interval the protests of the young Greenlanders burst forth anew, expressing unreservedly what they thought of him for taking away their chance of going ashore. When he turned on them, his thick neck rumbling volcano-like, they even gave back curse for curse; until-what with their racket and his bawling and the running to and fro of the sailors-the after-deck of the Wind-Raven presented a lively appearance.

The only quiet person on it was the culprit. Saluting with ironical ceremony, he yielded to the touch of Grimkel's hand upon his shoulder; and they proceeded to the little room under the fore-deck, which served on extraordinary occasions for a dungeon and on ordinary ones as a storeroom for bales of fur and ale-casks and kegs of salted fish.

"If I could learn to feed my stomach through my nose, I should not starve however long I stayed here," Alrek observed with an expressive grimace as they entered.

The hand on his shoulder shook him roughly. "You deserve to starve," the old man snapped. "I have the heart to pound you! After I had warned you how the Lawman is holding you in the balance!" He jammed into its bracket the torch he carried, and sent a barrel out of his way with a thundering kick.

Somehow, the heat of his elder's concern moved the boy to an affectation of unconcern. Holding out his wrists for the rope, he replied that if Karlsefne had been watching him for two years, it was time he found out something.

Grimkel jerked at the thongs with a growl for every knot. "You will find out something when you come before him! Have you got it into your mind that you have prevented him from fulfilling what lies nearest his heart? Since the time when he was making ready for his journey at Leif Ericsson's house in Greenland, he has counted on strengthening the settlement by making friends of the Skraellings; and planned to get knowledge from their experience of the country, and riches by trading with them. And he has condemned Thorwald's short-sightedness in attacking them, and commanded how they should be received with gifts and fair words-Oh, it is impossible that the Fates will allow a wise man to be balked by a boy's folly!"

"If it is impossible why do you trouble yourself over it?" Alrek suggested; then went on to request that the hatchet be carefully preserved for him.

Grimkel, bending over to fasten the ankle-bonds, straightened stiffly in awful silence. But before his exasperation could escape through his lips, a waking thrill ran along the Wind-Raven's spine; a voice called him to lend a hand with the sail, and he was obliged to wheel and stamp away.

With him went the torch; so that the darkness of the foreroom became a black wall, upon which a gray square like a patch showed where the low doorway opened into the night. Gradually, the outside hubbub died away until the only sound that came in was the creaking of ropes and the sail's dull boom.

Left to himself, the boy left off feigning; and turned and grappled with his trouble. Breast to breast they struggled, while the gray square melted shade by shade into cold light; and when the square was gilded by the morning sun, they were struggling still.

Trying to shake off his thoughts, the Sword-Bearer flung his fettered body about in a kind of frenzy. "If I stay three days like this, I shall go out of my wits!" he cried to himself. "To lose all my chance with him is bad enough, but to sit here and think about it-! I shall become mad if I cannot move about and forget it for a while!"

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