H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 7
from her. "Speak on; but of this I warn thee: that if in one word thou
liest, that shall be thy death when Eric comes."
Now Hall was afraid, thinking of the axe of Skallagrim. Still, he
might not go back upon his word. So he began at the beginning, telling
the story of how he was wounded in the fight with Ospakar's ships and
left Farey isles, and how he came thence to Scotland and sat in Atli's
hall on Orkneys. Then he told how the Gudruda was wrecked on Straumey,
and, of all aboard, Eric and Skallagrim alone were saved because of
"Herein I see witch-work," said Gudruda.
Then Hall told that Eric became Swanhild's love, but of the other tale
which Swanhild had whispered to Atli he said nothing. For he knew that
Gudruda would not believe this, and, moreover, if it were so, Swanhild
had not sent the token which he should give.
"It may well be," said Gudruda, proudly; "Swanhild is fair and light
of mind. Perchance she led Brighteyes into this snare." But, though
she spoke thus, bitter jealousy and anger burned in her breast and she
remembered the sight which she had seen when Eric and Swanhild met on
the morn of Atli's wedding.
Then Hall told of the slaying of Atli the Good by Eric, but he said
nothing of the Earl's dying words, nor of how he goaded Brighteyes
with his bitter words.
"It was an ill deed in sooth," said Gudruda, "for Eric to slay an old
man whom he had wronged. Still, it may chance that he was driven to it
for his own life's sake."
Then Hall said that he had seen Swanhild after Atli's slaying, and
that she had told him that she and Eric should wed shortly, and that
Eric would rule in Orkneys by her side.
Gudruda asked if that was all his tale.
"Yes, lady," answered Hall, "that is all my tale, for after that I
sailed and know not what happened. But I am charged to give something
to thee, and that by the Lady Swanhild. She bade me say this also:
that, when thou lookest on the gift, thou shouldst think on a certain
oath which Eric took as to the cutting of his hair." And he drew a
linen packet from his breast and gave it to her.
Thrice Gudruda looked on it, fearing to open it. Then, seeing the
smile of mockery on Björn's cold face, she took the shears that hung
at her side and cut the thread with them. And as she cut, a lock of
golden hair rose from the packet, untwisting itself like a living
snake. The lock was long, and its end was caked with gore.
"Whose hair is this?" said Gudruda, though she knew the hair well.
"Eric's hair," said Hall, "that Swanhild cut from his head with Eric's
Now Gudruda put her hand to her bosom. She drew out a satchel, and
from the satchel a lock of yellow hair. Side by side she placed the
locks, looking first at one and then at the other.
"This is Eric's hair in sooth," she said--"Eric's hair that he swore
none but I should cut! Eric's hair that Swanhild shore with Whitefire
from Eric's head--Whitefire whereon we plighted troth! Say now, whose
blood is this that stains the hair of Eric?"
"It is Atli's blood, whom Eric first dishonoured and then slew with
his own hand," answered Hall.
Now there burned a fire on the hearth, for the day was cold. Gudruda
the Fair stood over the fire and with either hand she let the two
locks of Eric's hair fall upon the embers. Slowly they twisted up and
burned. She watched them burn, then she threw up her hands and with a
great cry fled from the hall.
Björn and Hall of Lithdale looked on each other.
"Thou hadst best go hence!" said Björn; "and of this I warn thee,
Hall, though I hold thy tidings good, that, if thou hast spoken one
false word, that will be thy death. For then it would be better for
thee to face all the wolves in Iceland than to stand before Eric in
Again Hall bethought himself of the axe of Skallagrim, and he went out
That day a messenger came from Gudruda to Björn, saying that she would
speak with him. He went to where she sat alone upon her bed. Her face
was white as death, and her dark eyes glowed.
"Eric has dealt badly with thee, sister, to bring thee to this
sorrow," said Björn.
"Speak no evil of Eric to me," Gudruda answered. "The evil that he has
done will be paid back to him; there is little need for thee to heap
words upon his head. Hearken, Björn my brother: is it yet thy will
that I should wed Ospakar Blacktooth?"
"That is my will, surely. There is no match in Iceland as this
Ospakar, and I should win many friends by it."
"Do this then, Björn. Send messengers to Swinefell and say to Ospakar
that if he would still wed Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter, let
him come to Middalhof when folk ride from the Thing and he shall not
go hence alone. Nay, I have done. Now, I pray thee speak no more to me
of Eric or of Ospakar. Of the one I have seen and heard enough, and of
the other I shall hear and see enough in the years that are to come."
HOW ERIC CAME HOME AGAIN
Swanhild made a good passage from the Orkneys, and was in Iceland
thirty-five days before Eric and Skallagrim set foot there. But she
did not land by Westman Isles, for she had no wish to face Gudruda at
that time, but by Reyjaness. Now she rode thence with her company to
Thingvalla, for here all men were gathered for the Thing. At first
people hung aloof from her, notwithstanding her wealth and beauty; but
Swanhild knew well how to win the hearts of men. For now she told the
same story of Eric that she had told to Atli, and there were none to
say her nay. So it came to pass that she was believed, and Eric
Brighteyes held to be shamed indeed. Now, too, she set a suit on foot
against Eric for the death of Atli at his hand, claiming that sentence
of the greater outlawry should be passed against him, and that his
lands at Coldback in the Marsh on Ran River should be given, half to
her in atonement for the Earl's death, and half to the men of Eric's
On the day of the opening of the Thing Ospakar Blacktooth came from
the north, and with him his son Gizur and a great company of men.
Ospakar was blithe, for from the Thing he should ride to Middalhof,
there to wed Gudruda the Fair. Then Swanhild clad herself in beautiful
attire, and, taking men with her, went to the booth of Ospakar.
Blacktooth sat in his booth and by him sat Gizur his son the Lawman.
When he saw a beauteous lady, very richly clad, enter the booth he did
not know who it might be. But Gizur knew her well, for he could never
put Swanhild from his mind.
"Lo! here comes Swanhild the Fatherless, Atli's widow," said Gizur,
flushing red with joy at the sight of her.
Then Ospakar greeted her heartily, and made place for her by him at
the top of the booth.
"Ospakar Blacktooth," she said, "I am come to ask this of thee: that
thou shalt befriend me in the suit which I have against Eric
Brighteyes for the slaying of Earl Atli, my husband."
"Thou couldst have come to no man who is more willing," said Ospakar,
"for, if thou hast something against Eric, I have yet more."
"I would ask this, too, Ospakar: that thy son Gizur should take up my
suit and plead it; for I know well that he is the most skilful of all
"I will do that," said Gizur, his eyes yet fixed upon her face.
"I looked for no less from thee," said Swanhild, "and be sure of this,
that thou shalt not plead for nothing," and she glanced at him
meaningly. Then she set out her case with a lying tongue, and
afterwards went back to her booth, glad at heart. For now she learned
that Hall had not failed in his errand, seeing that Gudruda was about
to wed Ospakar.
Gizur gave warning of the blood-suit, and the end of it was that,
though he had no notice and was not there to answer to the charge,
against all right and custom Eric was declared outlaw and his lands
were given, half to Swanhild and half to the men of his quarter. For
now all held that Swanhild's was a true tale, and Eric the most
shameful of men, and therefore they were willing to stretch the law
against him. Also, being absent, he had few friends, and those men of
small account; whereas Ospakar, who backed Swanhild's suit, was the
most powerful of the northern chiefs, as Gizur was the most skilled
lawman in Iceland. Moreover, Björn the Priest, Asmund's son, was among
the judges, and, though Swanhild's tale seemed strange to him after
that which he had heard from Hall of Lithdale, he loved Eric little.
He feared also that if Eric came a free man to Iceland before Gudruda
was wed to Ospakar, her love would conquer her anger, for he could see
well that she still loved Brighteyes. Therefore he strove with might
and main that Eric should be brought in guilty, nor did he fail in
So the end of it was that Eric Brighteyes was outlawed, his lands
declared forfeit, and his head a wolf's head, to be taken by him who
might, should he set foot in Iceland.
Thereafter, the Althing being ended, Björn, Gizur, and Ospakar, with
all their company, rode away to Middalhof to sit at the marriage-
feast. But Swanhild and her folk went by sea in the long war-ship to
Westmans. For this was her plan: to seize on Coldback and to sit there
for a while, till she saw if Eric came out to Iceland. Also she
desired to see the wedding of Ospakar and Gudruda, for she had been
bidden to it by Björn, her half-brother.
Now Ospakar came to Middalhof, and found Gudruda waiting his coming.
She stood in the great hall, pale and cold as April snow, and greeted
him courteously. But when he would have kissed her, she shrank from
him, for now he was more hideous in her sight than he had ever been,
and she loathed him in her heart.
That night there was feasting in the hall, and at the feast Gudruda
heard that Eric had been made outlaw. Then she spoke:
"This is an ill deed, thus to judge an absent man."
"Say, Gudruda," said Björn in her ear, "hast thou not also judged Eric
who is absent?"
She turned her head and spoke no more of Eric; but Björn's words fixed
themselves in her heart like arrows. The tale was strange to her, for
it seemed that Eric had been made outlaw at Swanhild's suit, and yet
Eric was Swanhild's love: for Swanhild's self had sent the lock of
Brighteyes' hair by Hall, saying that he was her love and soon would
wed her. How, then, did Swanhild bring a suit against him who should
be her husband? Moreover, she heard that Swanhild sailed down to
Coldback, and was bidden to the marriage-feast, that should be on the
third day from now. Could it be, then, when all was said and done,
that Eric was less faithless than she deemed? Gudruda's heart stood
still and the blood rushed to her brow when she thought on it. Also,
even if it were so, it was now too late. And surely it was not so, for
had not Eric been made outlaw? Men were not made outlaw for a little
thing. Nay, she would meet her fate, and ask no more of Eric and his
On the morrow, as Gudruda sat in her chamber, it was told her that
Saevuna, Thorgrimur's widow and Eric's mother, had come from Coldback
to speak with her. For, after the death of Asmund and of Unna, Saevuna
had moved back to Coldback on the Marsh.
"Nay, how can this be?" said Gudruda astonished, for she knew well
that Saevuna was now both blind and bed-ridden.
"She has been borne here in a chair," said the woman who told her,
"and that is a strange sight to see."
At first Gudruda was minded to say her nay; but her heart softened,
and she bade them bring Saevuna in. Presently she came, being set in a
chair upon the shoulders of four men. She was white to see, for
sickness had aged her much, and she stared about her with sightless
eyes. But she was still tall and straight, and her face was stern to
look on. To Gudruda it seemed like that of Eric when he was angered.
"Am I nigh to Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter?" asked Saevuna.
"Methinks I hear her breathe."
"I am here, mother," said Gudruda. "What is thy will with me?"
"Set down, carles, and begone!" quoth Saevuna; "that which I have to
say I would say alone. When I summon you, come."
The carles set down the chair upon the floor and went.
"Gudruda," said the dame, "I am risen from my deathbed, and I have
caused myself to be borne on my last journey here across the meads,
that I may speak with thee and warn thee. I hear that thou hast put
away my son, Eric Brighteyes, to whom thou art sworn in marriage, and
art about to give thyself to Ospakar Blacktooth. I hear also that thou
hast done this deed because a certain man, Hall of Lithdale--whom from
his youth up I have known for a liar and a knave, and whom thou
thyself didst mistrust in years gone by--has come hither to Iceland
from Orkneys, bearing a tale of Eric's dealings with thy half-sister
Swanhild. This I hear, further: that Swanhild, Atli's widow, hath come
out to Iceland and laid a suit against Eric for the slaying of Atli
the Earl, her husband, and that Eric has been outlawed and his lands
at Coldback are forfeit. Tell me now, Gudruda, Asmund's daughter, if
these tales be true?"
"The tales are true, mother," said Gudruda.
"Then hearken to me, girl. Eric sprang from my womb, who of all living
men is the best and first, as he is the bravest and most strong. I
have reared this Eric from a babe and I know his heart well. Now I
tell thee this, that, whatever Eric has done or left undone, naught of
dishonour is on his hands. Mayhap Swanhild has deceived him--thou art
a woman, and thou knowest well the arts which women have, and the
strength that Freya gives them. Well thou knowest, also, of what breed
this Swanhild came; and perchance thou canst remember how she dealt
with thee, and with what mind she looked on Eric. Perchance thou canst
remember how she plotted against thee and Eric--ay, how she thrust
thee from Goldfoss brink. Say, then, wilt thou take her word? Wilt
thou take the word of this witch-daughter of a witch? Wilt thou not
think on Groa, her mother, and of Groa's dealings with thy father, and
with Unna my kinswoman? As the mother is, so shall the daughter be.
Wilt thou cast Eric aside, and that unheard?"
"There is no more room for doubt, mother," said Gudruda. "I have proof
of this: that Eric has forsaken me."
"So thou thinkest, child; but I tell thee that thou art wrong! Eric
loves thee now as he loved thee aforetime, and will love thee always."
"Would that I could believe it!" said Gudruda. "If I could believe
that Eric still loved me--ay, even though he had been faithless to me
--I would die ere I wed Ospakar!"
"Thou art foolish, Gudruda, and thou shalt rue thy folly bitterly. I
am outworn, and death draws near to me--far from me now are hates and
loves, hopes and fears; but I know this: that woman is mad who, loving
a man, weds where she loves not. Shame shall be her portion and
bitterness her bread. Unhappy shall she live, and when she comes to
die, but as a wilderness--but as the desolate winter snow, shall be
the record of her days!"
Now Gudruda wept aloud. "What is done is done," she cried; "the
bridegroom sits within the hall--the bride awaits him in the bower.
What is done is done--I may hope no more to be saved from Ospakar."
"What is done is done, yet it can be brought to nothing; but soon that
shall be done which may never be undone! Gudruda, fare thee well!
Never shall I listen to thy voice again. I hold thee shameless, thou
unfaithful woman, who in thy foolish jealousy art ready to sell
thyself to the arms of one thou hatest! Ho! carles; come hither. Bear
Now the men came in and took up Saevuna's chair. Gudruda watched them
bear her forth. Then suddenly she sprang from her seat and ran after
her into the hall, weeping bitterly.
Now as Saevuna, Eric's mother, was carried out she was met by Ospakar
"Stay," said Björn. "What does this carline here?--and why weeps
Gudruda, my sister?"
The men halted. "Who calls me 'carline'?" said Saevuna. "Is the voice
I hear the voice of Björn, Asmund's son?"
"It is my voice, truly," said Björn, "and I would know this--and this
would Ospakar, who stands at my side, know also--why thou comest here,
carline? and why Gudruda weeps?"
"Gudruda weeps because she has good cause to weep, Björn. She weeps
because she has betrayed her love, Eric Brighteyes, my son, and is
about to be sold in marriage--to be sold to thee, Ospakar Blacktooth,
like a heifer at a fair."
Then Björn grew angry and cursed Saevuna, nor did Ospakar spare to add
his ill words. But the old dame sat in her chair, listening silently
till all their curses were spent.
"Ye are evil, the twain of you," she said, "and ye have told lies of
Eric, my son; and ye have taken his bride for lust and greed, playing
on the jealous folly of a maid like harpers on a harp. Now I tell you
this, Björn and Ospakar! My blind eyes are opened and I see this hall
of Middalhof, and lo! it is but a gore of blood! Blood flows upon the
board--blood streams along the floor, and ye--ye twain!--lie dead
thereon, and about your shapes are shrouds, and on her feet are Hell-
shoon! Eric comes and Whitefire is aloft, and no more shall ye stand
before him whom ye have slandered than stands the birch before the
lightning stroke! Eric comes! I see his angry eyes--I see his helm
flash in the door-place! Red was that marriage-feast at which sat
Unna, my kinswoman, and Asmund, thy father--redder shall be the feast
where sit Gudruda, thy sister, and Ospakar! The wolf howls at thy
door, Björn! the grave-worm opens his mouth! trolls run to and fro
upon thy threshold, and the ghosts of men speed Hellwards! Ill were
the deeds of Groa--worse shall be the deeds of Groa's daughter! Red is
thy hall with blood, Björn!--for Whitefire is aloft and--/I tell thee
Eric comes!/"--and with one great cry she fell back--dead.
Now they stood amazed, and trembling in their fear.
"Saevuna hath spoken strange words," said Björn.
"Shall we be frightened by a dead hag?" quoth Ospakar, drawing his
breath again. "Fellows, bear this carrion forth, or we fling it to the
Then the men tied the body of Saevuna, Thorgrimur's widow, Eric's
mother, fast in the chair, and bore it thence. But when at length they
came to Coldback, they found that Swanhild was there with all her
following, and had driven Eric's grieve and his folk to the fells. But
one old carline, who had been nurse to Eric, was left there, and she
sat wailing in an outhouse, being too weak to move.
Then the men set down the corpse of Saevuna in the outhouse, and,
having told all their tale to the carline, they fled also.
That night passed, and passed the morrow; but on the next day at dawn
Eric Brighteyes and Skallagrim Lambstail landed near Westman Isles.
They had made a bad passage from Fareys, having been beat about by
contrary winds; but at length they came safe and well to land.
Now this was the day of the marriage-feast of Gudruda the Fair and
Ospakar; but Eric knew nothing of these tidings.
"Where to now, lord?" said Skallagrim.
"To Coldback first, to see my mother, if she yet lives, and to learn
tidings of Gudruda. Then as it may chance."
Near to the beach was a yeoman's house. Thither they went to hire
horses; but none were in the house, for all had gone to Gudruda's
marriage-feast. In the home meadow ran two good horses, and in the
outhouses were saddles and bridles. They caught the horses, saddled
them and rode for Coldback. When they had ridden for something over an
hour they came to the crest of a height whence they could see Coldback
in the Marsh.
Eric drew rein and looked, and his heart swelled within him at the
sight of the place where he was born. But as he looked he saw a great
train of people ride away from Coldback towards Middalhof--and in the
company a woman wearing a purple cloak.
"Now what may this mean?" said Eric.
"Ride on and we shall learn," answered Skallagrim.
So they rode on, and as they rode Eric's breast grew heavy with fear.
Now they passed up the banked way through the home meadows of the
house, but they could see no one; and now they were at the door. Down
sprang Eric and walked into the hall. But none were there to greet
him, though a fire yet burned upon the earth. Only a gaunt hound
wandered about the hall, and, seeing him, sprang towards him,
growling. Eric knew him for his old wolf-hound, and called him by his
name. The dog listened, then ran up and smelt his hands, and
straightway howled with joy and leapt upon him. For a while he leapt
thus, while Eric stared around him wondering and sad at heart. Then
the dog ran to the door and stopped, whining. Eric followed after him.
The hound passed through the entrance, and across the yard till he
came to an outhouse. Here the dog stopped and scratched at the door,
still whining. Eric thrust it open. Lo! there before him sat Saevuna,
his mother, dead in a chair, and at her feet crouched the carline--she
who had been Eric's nurse.
Now he grasped the door-posts to steady himself, and his shadow fell
upon the white face of his mother and the old carline at her feet.
HOW ERIC WAS A GUEST AT THE WEDDING-FEAST OF GUDRUDA THE FAIR
Eric looked, but said nothing.
"Who art thou?" whined the carline, gazing up at him with tear-blinded
eyes. But Eric's face was in the shadow, and she only saw the glint of
his golden hair and the flash of the golden helm. For Eric could not
speak yet a while.
"Art thou one of the Swanhild's folk, come to drive me hence with the
rest? Good sir, I cannot go to the fells, my limbs are too weak. Slay
me, if thou wilt, but drive me not from this," and she pointed to the
corpse. "Say now, will thou not help me to give it burial? It is
unmeet that she who in her time had husband, and goods, and son,
should lie unburied like a dead cow on the fells. I have still a
hundred in silver, if I might but come at it. It is hidden, sir, and I
will pay thee if thou wilt help me to bury her. These old hands are
too feeble to dig a grave, nor could I bear her there alone if it were
dug. Thou wilt not help me?--then may thine own mother's bones lie
uncovered, and be picked of gulls and ravens. Oh, that Eric Brighteyes
would come home again! Oh, that Eric was here! there is work to do and
never a man to do it."
Now Eric gave a great sob and cried, "Nurse, nurse! knowest thou me
not! /I/ am Eric Brighteyes."
She uttered a loud cry, and, clasping him by the knees, looked up into
"Thanks be to Odin! Thou art Eric--Eric come home again! But alas,
thou hast come too late!"
"What has happened, then?" said Eric.
"What has happened? All evil things. Thou art outlawed, Eric, at the
suit of Swanhild for the slaying of Atli the Earl. Swanhild sits here
in Coldback, for she hath seized thy lands. Saevuna, thy mother, died
two days ago in the hall of Middalhof, whither she went to speak with
"Gudruda! what of Gudruda?" cried Eric.
"This, Brighteyes: to-day she weds Ospakar Blacktooth."
Eric covered his face with his hand. Presently he lifted it.
"Thou art rich in evil tidings, nurse, though, it would seem, poor in
all besides. Tell me at what hour is the wedding-feast?"
"An hour after noon, Eric; but now Swanhild has ridden thither with
"Then room must be found at Middalhof for one more guest," said Eric,
and laughed aloud. "Go on!--pour out thy evil news and spare me not!--
for nothing has any more power to harm me now! Come hither,
Skallagrim, and see and hearken."
Skallagrim came and looked on the face of dead Saevuna.
"I am outlawed at Swanhild's suit, Lambstail. My life lies in thy
hand, if so be thou wouldst take it! Hew off my head, if thou wilt,
and bear it to Gudruda the Fair--she will thank thee for the gift. Lay
on, Lambstail; lay on with that axe of thine."
"Child's talk!" said Skallagrim.
"Child's talk, but man's work! Thou hast not heard the tale out.
Swanhild hath seized my lands and sits here at Coldback! And--what
thinkest thou, Skallagrim?--but now she has ridden a-guesting to the
marriage-feast of Ospakar Blacktooth with Gudruda the Fair! Swanhild
at Gudruda's wedding!--the eagle in the wild swan's nest! But there
will be another guest," and again he laughed aloud.
"/Two/ other guests," said Skallagrim.
"More of thy tale, old nurse!--more of thy tale!" quoth Eric. "No
better didst thou ever tell me when, as a lad, I sat by thee, in the
ingle o' winter nights--and the company is fitting to the tale!" and
he pointed to dead Saevuna.
Then the carline told on. She told how Hall of Lithdale had come out
to Iceland, and of the story that he bore to Gudruda, and of the
giving of the lock of hair.
"What did I say, lord?" broke in Skallagrim--"that in Hall thou hadst
let a weasel go who would live to nip thee?"
"Him I will surely live to shorten by a head," quoth Eric.
"Nay, lord, this one for me--Ospakar for thee, Hall for me!"
"As thou wilt, Baresark. Among so many there is room to pick and
choose. Tell on, nurse!"
Then she told how Swanhild came out to Iceland, and, having won
Ospakar Blacktooth and Gizur to her side, had laid a suit against Eric
at the Thing, and there bore false witness against him, so that
Brighteyes was declared outlaw, being absent. She told, too, how
Gudruda had betrothed herself to Ospakar, and how Swanhild had moved
down to Coldback and seized the lands. Lastly she told of the rising
of Saevuna from her deathbed, of her going to Middalhof, of the words
she spoke to Björn and Ospakar, and of her death in the hall at
When all was told, Eric stooped and kissed the cold brow of his
"There is little time to bury thee now, my mother," he said, "and
perchance before six hours are sped there will be one to bury at thy
side. Nevertheless, thou shalt sit in a better place than this."
Then he cut loose the cords that bound the body of Saevuna to the
chair, and, lifting it in his arms, bore it to the hall. There he set
the corpse in the high seat of the hall.
"We need not start yet a while, Skallagrim," said Eric, "if indeed
thou wouldst go a-guesting with me to Middalhof. Therefore let us eat
and drink, for there are deeds to do this day."
So they found meat and mead and ate and drank. Then Eric washed
himself, combed out his golden locks, and looked well to his harness
and to Whitefire's edge. Skallagrim also ground his great axe upon the
whetstone in the yard, singing as he ground. When all was ready, the
horses were caught, and Eric spoke to the carline:
"Hearken, nurse. If it may be that thou canst find any of our folk--
and perchance now that they see that Swanhild has ridden to Middalhof
some one of them will come down to spy--thou shalt say this to them.
Thou shalt say that, if Eric Brighteyes yet lives, he will be at the
foot of Mosfell to-morrow before midday, and if, for the sake of old
days and fellowship, they are minded to befriend a friendless man, let
them come thither with food, for by then food will be needed, and I
will speak with them. And now farewell," and Eric kissed her and went,
leaving her weeping.
As it chanced, before another hour was sped, Jon, Eric's thrall, who
had stayed at home in Iceland, seeing Coldback empty, crept down from
the fells and looked in. The carline saw him, and told him these
tidings. Then he went thence to find the other men. Having found them
he told them Eric's words, and a great gladness came upon them when
they learned that Brighteyes still lived, and was in Iceland. Then
they gathered food and gear, and rode away to the foot of Mosfell that
is now called Ericsfell.
Ospakar sat in the hall at Middalhof, near to the high seat. He was
fully armed, and a black helm with a raven's crest was on his head.
For, though he said nothing of it, not a little did he fear that
Saevuna spoke sooth--that her words would come true, and, before this
day was done, he and Eric should once more stand face to face. At his
side sat Gudruda the Fair, robed in white, a worked head-dress on her
head, golden clasps upon her breast and golden rings about her arms.
Never had she been more beautiful to see; but her face was whiter than
her robes. She looked with loathing on Blacktooth at her side, rough
like a bear, and hideous as a troll. But he looked on her with
longing, and laughed from side to side of his great mouth when he
thought that at last he had got her for his own.
"Ah, if Eric would but come, faithless though he be!--if Eric would
but come!" thought Gudruda; but no Eric came to save her. The guests
gathered fast, and presently Swanhild swept in with all her company,
wrapped about in her purple cloak. She came up to the high seat where
Gudruda sat, and bent the knee before her, looking on her with lovely
mocking face and hate in her blue eyes.
"Greeting, Gudruda, my sister!" she said. "When last we met I sat,
Atli's bride, where to-day thou sittest the bride of Ospakar. Then
Eric Brighteyes held thy hand, and little thou didst think of wedding
Ospakar. Now Eric is afar--so strangely do things come about--and
Blacktooth, Brighteyes' foe, holds that fair hand of thine."
Gudruda looked on her and turned whiter yet in her pain, but she
answered never a word.
"What! no word for me, sister?" said Swanhild. "And yet it is through
me that thou comest to this glad hour. It is through me that thou art
rid of Eric, and it is I who have given thee to the arms of mighty
Ospakar. No word of thanks for so great a service!--fie on thee,
Then Gudruda spoke: "Strange tales are told of thee and Eric, Groa's
daughter! I have done with Eric, but I have done with thee also. Thou
hast thrust thyself here against my will and, if I may, I would see
thy face no more."
"Wouldst thou see Eric's face, Gudruda?--say, wouldst see Eric's face?
I tell thee it is fair!"
But Gudruda answered nothing, and Swanhild fell back, laughing.
Now the feast began, and men waxed merry. But ever Gudruda's heart
grew heavier, for in it echoed those words that Saevuna had spoken.
Her eyes were dim, and she seemed to see naught but the face of Eric
as it had looked when he came back to her that day on the brink of
Goldfoss Falls and she had thought him dead. Oh! what if he still
loved her and were yet true at heart? Swanhild mocked her!--what if
this was a plot of Swanhild's? Had not Swanhild plotted aforetime, and
could a wolf cease from ravening or a witch from witch-work? Nay, she
had seen Eric's hair--that he had sworn none save she should touch!
Perchance he had been drugged, and the hair shorn from him in his
sleep? Too late to think! Of what use was thought?--beside her sat
Ospakar, in one short hour she would be his. Ah! that she could see
him dead--the troll who had trafficked her to shame, the foe she had
summoned in her wrath and jealousy! She had done ill--she had fallen
into Swanhild's snare, and now Swanhild came to mock her!
The feast went on--cup followed cup. Now they poured the bride-cup!
Before her heart beat two hundred times she would be the wife of
Blacktooth took the cup--pledged her in it, and drank deep. Then he
turned and strove to kiss her. But Gudruda shrank from him with horror
in her eyes, and all men wondered. Still she must drink the bridal
cup. She took it. Dimly she saw the upturned faces, faintly she heard
the murmur of a hundred voices.
What was that voice she caught above them all--there--without the
Holding the cup in her hand, Gudruda bent forward, staring down the
skali. Then she cried aloud, pointing to the door, and the cup fell
clattering from her hand and rolled along the ground.
Men turned and looked. They saw this: there on the threshold stood a
man, glorious to look at, and from his winged helm of gold the rays of
light flashed through the dusky hall. The man was great and beautiful
to see. He had long yellow hair bound in about his girdle, and in his
left hand he held a pointed shield, in his right a spear, and at his
thigh there hung a mighty sword. Nor was he alone, for by his side, a
broad axe on his shoulder and shield in hand, stood another man, clad
in black-hued mail--a man well-nigh as broad and big, with hawk's
eyes, eagle beak, and black hair streaked with grey.
For a moment there was silence. Then a voice spoke:
"Lo! here be the Gods Baldur and Thor!--come from Valhalla to grace
Then the man with golden hair cried aloud in a voice that made the
"Here are Eric Brighteyes and Skallagrim Lambstail, his thrall, come
from over sea to grace the feast, indeed!"
"I could have looked for no worse guests," said Björn, beneath his
breath, and rose to bid men thrust them out. But before he could
speak, lo! gold-helmed Eric and black-helmed Skallagrim were stalking
up the length of that great hall. Side by side they stalked, with
faces fierce and cold; nor stayed they till they stood before the high
seat. Eric looked up and round, and the light of his eyes was as the
light of a sword. Men marvelled at his greatness and his wonderful
beauty, and to Gudruda he seemed like a God.
"Here I see faces that are known to me," said Eric. "Greetings,
"Greetings, Brighteyes!" shouted the Middalhof folk and the company of
Swanhild; but the carles of Ospakar laid hand on sword--they too knew
Eric. For still all men loved Eric, and the people of his quarter were
proud of the deeds he had done oversea.
"Greeting, Björn, Asmund's son!" quoth Eric. "Greeting, Ospakar
Blacktooth! Greeting, Swanhild the Fatherless, Atli's witch-wife--
Groa's witch-bairn! Greeting, Hall of Lithdale, Hall the liar--Hall
who cut the grapnel-chain! And to thee, sweet Bride, to thee Gudruda
the Fair, greeting!"
Now Björn spoke: "I will take no greeting from a shamed and outlawed
man. Get thee gone, Eric Brighteyes, and take thy wolf-hound with
thee, lest thou bidest here stiff and cold."
"Speak not so loud, rat, lest hound's fang worry thee!" growled
But Eric laughed aloud and cried--
"Words must be said, and perchance men shall die, ere ever I leave
this hall, Björn!"
HOW THE FEAST WENT
"Hearken all men!" said Eric.
"Thrust him out!" quoth Björn.
"Nay, cut him down!" said Ospakar, "he is an outlawed man."
"Words first, then deeds," answered Skallagrim. "Thou shalt have thy
fill of both, Blacktooth, before day is done."
"Let Eric say his say," said Gudruda, lifting her head. "He has been
doomed unheard, and it is my will that he shall say his say."
"What hast thou to do with Eric?" snarled Ospakar.
"The bride-cup is not yet drunk, lord," she answered.
"To thee, then, I will speak, lady," quoth Eric. "How comes it that,
being betrothed to me, thou dost sit there the bride of Ospakar?"
"Ask of Swanhild," said Gudruda in a low voice. "Ask also of Hall of
Lithdale yonder, who brought me Swanhild's gift from Straumey."
"I must ask much of Hall and he must answer much," said Eric. "What
tale, then, did he bring thee from Straumey?"
"He said this, Eric," Gudruda answered: "that thou wast Swanhild's
love; that for Swanhild's sake thou hadst basely killed Atli the Good,
and that thou wast about to wed Swanhild's self and take the Earl's
seat in Orkneys."
"And for what cause was I made outlaw at the Althing?"
"For this cause, Eric," said Björn, "that thou hadst dealt evilly with
Swanhild, bringing her to shame against her will, and thereafter that
thou hadst slain the Earl, her husband."
"Which, then, of these tales is true? for both cannot be true," said
Brighteyes. "Speak, Swanhild."
"Thou knowest well that the last is true," said Swanhild boldly.
"How then comes it that thou didst charge Hall with that message to
Gudruda? How then comes it that thou didst send her the lock of hair
which thou didst cozen me to give thee?"
"I charged Hall with no message, and I sent no lock of hair," Swanhild
"Stand thou forward, Hall!" said Eric, "and liar and coward though
thou art, dare not to speak other than the truth! Nay, look not at the
door: for, if thou stirrest, this spear shall find thee before thou
hast gone a pace!"
Now Hall stood forward, trembling with fear, for he saw the eye of
Skallagrim watching him close, and while Lambstail watched, his
fingers toyed with the handle of his axe.
"It is true, lord, that Swanhild charged me with that message which I
gave to the Lady Gudruda. Also she bade me give the lock of hair."
"And for this service thou didst take money, Hall?"
"Ay, lord, she gave me money for my faring."
"And all the while thou knewest the tidings false?"
Hall made no reply.
"Answer!" thundered Eric--"answer the truth, knave, or by every God
that passes the hundred gates I will not spare thee twice!"
"It is so, lord," said Hall.
"Thou liest, fox!" cried Swanhild, white with wrath and casting a
fierce look upon Hall. But men took no heed of Swanhild's words, for
all eyes were bent on Eric.
"Is it now your pleasure, comrades, that I should tell you the truth?"
The most part of the company shouted "Yea!" but the men of Ospakar
"Speak on, Eric," quoth Gudruda.
"This is the truth, then: Swanhild the Fatherless, Atli's wife, has
always sought my love, and she has ever hated Gudruda whom I loved.
From a child she has striven to work mischief between us. Ay, and she
did this, though till now it has been hidden: she strove to murder
Gudruda; it was on the day that Skallagrim and I overcame Ospakar and
his band on Horse-Head Heights. She thrust Gudruda from the brink of
Golden Falls while she sat looking on the waters, and as she hung
there I dragged her back. Is it not so, Gudruda?"
"It is so," said Gudruda.
Now men murmured and looked at Swanhild. But she shrank back, plucking
at her purple cloak.
"It was for this cause," said Eric, "that Asmund, Swanhild's father,
gave her choice to wed Atli the Earl and pass over sea or to take her
trial in the Doom-Ring. She wedded Atli and went away. Afterwards, by
witchcraft, she brought my ship to wreck on Straumey's Isle--ay, she
walked the waters like a shape of light and lured us on to ruin, so
that all were drowned except Skallagrim and myself. Is it not so,
"It is so, lord. I saw her with my eyes."
Again folk murmured.
"Then we must sit in Atli's hall," said Eric, "and there we dwelt last
winter. For a while Swanhild did no harm, till I feared her no more.
But some three months ago, I was left with her: and a man called Koll,
Groa's thrall, of whom ye know, came out from Iceland, bringing news
of the death of Asmund the priest, of Unna my cousin, and of Groa the
witch. To these ill-tidings Swanhild bribed him to add something. She
bribed him to add this: that thou, Gudruda, wast betrothed to Ospakar,
and wouldst wed him on last Yule Day. Moreover, he gave me a certain
message from thee, Gudruda, and, in token of its truth, the half of
that coin which I broke with thee long years ago. Say now, lady, didst
thou send the coin?"
"Nay, never!" cried Gudruda; "many years ago I lost the half thou
gavest me, though I feared to tell thee."
"Perchance one stands there who found it," said Eric, pointing with
his spear at Swanhild. "At the least I was deceived by it. Now the
tale is short. Swanhild mourned with me, and in my sorrow I mourned
bitterly. Then it was she asked a boon, that lock of mine, Gudruda,
and, thinking thee faithless, I gave it, holding all oaths broken.
Then too, when I would have left her, she drugged me with a witch-
draught--ay, she drugged me, and I woke to find myself false to my
oath, false to Atli, and false to thee, Gudruda. I cursed her and I
left her, waiting for the Earl, to tell him all. But Swanhild
outwitted me. She told him that other tale of shame that ye have
heard, and brought Koll to him as witness of the tale. Atli was
deceived by her, and not until I had cut him down in anger at the
bitter words he spoke, calling me coward and niddering, did he know
the truth. But before he died he knew it; and he died, holding my hand
and bidding those about him find Koll and slay him. Is it not so, ye
who were Atli's men?"
"It is so, Eric!" they cried; "we heard it with our own ears, and we
slew Koll. But afterwards Swanhild brought is to believe that Earl
Atli was distraught when he spoke thus, and that things were indeed as
she had said."
Again men murmured, and a strange light shone in Gudruda's eyes.
"Now, Gudruda, thou hast heard all my story," said Eric. "Say, dost
thou believe me?"
"I believe thee, Eric."
"Say then, wilt thou still wed yon Ospakar?"
Gudruda looked on Blacktooth, then she looked at golden Eric and
opened her lips to speak. But before a word could pass them Ospakar
rose in wrath, laying his hand upon his sword.
"Thinkest thou thus to lure away my dove, outlaw? First I will see
thee food for crows."
"Well spoken, Blacktooth," laughed Eric. "I waited for such words from
thee. Thrice have we striven together--once out yonder in the snow,
once on Horse-Head Heights, and once by Westman Isles--and still we
live to tell the tale. Come down, Ospakar: come down from that soft
seat of thine and here and now let us put it to the proof who is the
better man. When we met before, the stake was Whitefire set against my
eye. Now the stake is our lives and fair Gudruda's hand. Talk no more,
Ospakar, but fall to it."
"Gudruda shall never wed thee, while I live!" said Björn; "thou art a
landless loon, a brawler, and an outlaw. Get thee gone, Eric, with thy
"Squeak not so loud, rat--squeak not so loud, lest hound's fang worry
thee!" said Skallagrim.
"Whether I wed Gudruda or whether I wed her not is a matter that shall
be known in its season," said Eric. "For thy words, I say this: that
it is risky to hurl names at such as I am, Björn, lest perchance I
answer them with spear-thrusts. Thy answer, Ospakar! What need to
wait? Thy answer!"
Now Ospakar looked at Brighteyes and grew afraid. He was a mighty man,
but he knew the weight of Eric's arm.
"I will not fight with thee, carle," he said, "who hast naught to
"Then thou art coward and niddering!" said Eric. "Ospakar /Niddering/
I name thee here before all men! What! thou couldst plot against me--
thou couldst waylay me, ten to one and two ships to one, but face to
face with me alone thou dost not dare to stand? Comrades, look on your
lord!--look at Ospakar the /Niddering!/"
Now the swarthy brow of Blacktooth grew red with rage, and his breath
came in great gasps. "Ho, men!" he cried, "drive this knave away.
Strip his harness off him and whip him hence with rods."
"Let but a man stir towards me and this spear flies through thy heart,
Niddering," cried Eric. "Gudruda, what thinkest thou of thy lord?"
"I know this," said Gudruda, "that I will not wed a man who is named
'Niddering' in the face of all and lifts no sword."
Gudruda spoke thus, because she was mad with love and fear and shame,
and she desired that Eric should stand face to face with Ospakar
Blacktooth, for thus, alone, she might perhaps be rid of Ospakar.
"Such words do not come well from gentle lips," said Björn.
"Is it to be borne, brother," answered Gudruda, "that the man who
would call me wife should be named Ospakar the Niddering? When that
shame is washed away, and then only, can I think on marriage. I will
never be Niddering's bride!"
"Thou hearest, Ospakar Niddering?" said Eric. Then he gave the spear
in his hand to Skallagrim, and, gripping Whitefire's hilt, he burst
the peace-strings, and tore it from the scabbard.
Now the great sword shone on high like lightning leaping from a cloud,
and as it shone men shouted, "/Ospakar! Ospakar Niddering!/ Come, win
back Whitefire from Eric's hand, or be for ever shamed!"
Blacktooth could endure this no more. He snatched sword and shield,
and, like a bear from a cave, like a wolf from his lair, rushed
roaring from his seat. On he came, and the ground shook beneath his
"At last, Niddering!" cried Eric, and sprang to meet him.
"Back! all men, back!" shouted Skallagrim, "now we shall see blows."
As he spoke the great swords flashed aloft and clanged upon the iron
shields. So heavy were the blows that fire leapt out from them.
Ospakar reeled back beneath the shock, and Eric was beaten to his
knee. Now he was up, but as he rushed, Ospakar struck again and swept
away half of Brighteyen's pointed shield so that it fell upon the
floor. Eric smote also, but Ospakar dropped his knee to earth and the
sword hissed over him. Blacktooth cut at Eric's legs; but Brighteyes
sprang from the ground and took no harm.
Now some cried, "/Eric! Eric!/" and some cried "/Ospakar! Ospakar!/"
for no one knew how the fight would go.
Gudruda sat watching in the high seat, and as blows fell her colour
came and went.
Swanhild drew near, watching also, and she desired in her fierce heart
to see Eric brought to shame and death, for, should he win, then
Gudruda would be rid of Ospakar. Now by her side stood Gizur,
Ospakar's son, and near to her was Björn. These two held their breath,
for, if Eric conquered, all their plans were brought to nothing.
Even as he sprang into the air, Eric smote down with all his strength.
The blow fell on Ospakar's shield. It shore through the shield and
struck on the shoulder beneath. But Blacktooth's byrnie was good, nor
did the sword bite into it. Still the stroke was so heavy that Ospakar
staggered back four paces beneath it, then fell upon the ground.
Now folk raised a shout of "/Eric! Eric!/" for it seemed that Ospakar
was sped. Brighteyes, too, cried aloud, then rushed forward. Now, as
he came, Swanhild whispered an eager word into the ear of Björn. By
Björn's foot lay that half of Eric's shield which had been shorn away
by the sword of Ospakar. Gudruda, watching, saw Björn push it with his
shoe so that it slid before the feet of Brighteyes. His right foot
caught on it, he stumbled heavily--stumbled again, then fell prone on
his face, and, as he fell, stretched out his sword hand to save
himself, so that Whitefire flew from his grasp. The blade struck its
hilt against the ground, then circled in the air and fixed itself,
point downwards, in the clay of the flooring. The hand of Ospakar
rising from the ground smote against the hilt of Whitefire. He saw it,
with a shout he cast his own sword away and clasped Whitefire.
Away circled the sword of Ospakar; and of that cast this strange thing
is told, false or true. Far in the corner of the hall lurked Thorunna,
she who had betrayed Skallagrim when he was named Ounound. She had
come with a heavy heart to Middalhof in the company of Ospakar; but
when she saw Skallagrim, her husband--whom she had betrayed, and who
had turned Baresark because of her wickedness--shame smote her, and
she crept away and hid herself behind the hangings of the hall. The
sword sped along point first, it rushed like a spear through the air.
It fell on the hangings, piercing them, piercing the heart of
Thorunna, who cowered behind them, so that with one cry she sank dead
to earth, slain by her lover's hand.
Now when men saw that Ospakar once more held Whitefire in his hand--
Whitefire that Brighteyes had won from him--they called aloud that it
was an omen. The sword of Blacktooth had come back to Blacktooth and
now Eric would surely be slain of it!
Eric sprang from the ground. He heard the shouts and saw Whitefire
blazing in Ospakar's hand.
"Now thou art weaponless, fly! Brighteyes; fly!" cried some.
Gudruda's cheek grew white with fear, and for a moment Eric's heart
"Fly not!" roared Skallagrim. "Björn tripped thee. Yet hast thou half
Ospakar rushed on, and Whitefire flickered over Eric's helm. Down it
came and shore one wing from the helm. Again it shone and fell, but
Brighteyes caught the blow on his broken shield.
Then, while men waited to see him slain, Eric gave a great war-shout
and sprang forward.
"Thou art mad!" shouted the folk.
"Ye shall see! Ye shall see!" screamed Skallagrim.
Again Ospakar smote and again Eric caught the blow; and behold! he
struck back, thrusting with the point of the shorn shield straight at
the face of Ospakar.
"/Peck! Eagle; peck!/" cried Skallagrim.
Once more Whitefire shone above him. Eric rushed in beneath the sword,
and with all his mighty strength thrust the buckler-point at
Blacktooth's face. It struck fair and full, and lo! the helm of
Ospakar burst asunder. He threw wide his giant arms, then fell as a
pine falls upon the mountain edge. He fell back, and he lay still.
But Eric, stooping over him, took Whitefire from his hand.
HOW THE FEAST ENDED
For a moment there was silence in the hall, for men had known no such
fight as this.
"Why, then, do ye gape?" laughed Skallagrim, pointing with the spear.
"Dead is Ospakar!--slain by the swordless man! Eric Brighteyes hath
slain Ospakar Blacktooth!"
Then there went up such a shout as never was heard in the hall of
Now when Gudruda knew that Ospakar was sped, she looked at Eric as he
rested, leaning on his sword, and her heart was filled with awe and
love. She sprang from her seat, and, coming to where Brighteyes stood,
she greeted him.
"Welcome to Iceland, Eric!" she said. "Welcome, thou glory of the
Now Swanhild grew wild, for she saw that Eric was about to take
Gudruda in his arms and kiss her before all men.
"Say, Björn," she cried; "wilt thou suffer that this outlaw, having
slain Ospakar, should lead Gudruda hence as wife?"
"He shall never do so while I live," cried Björn, nearly mad with
rage. "This is my command, sister: that thou dost see Eric no more."
"Say, Björn," answered Gudruda, "did I dream, or did I indeed see thee
thrust the broken buckler before Eric's feet, so that he stumbled on
it and fell?"
"That thou sawest, lady," said Skallagrim; "for I saw it also."
Now Björn grew white in his anger. He did not answer Gudruda, but
called aloud to his men to slay Eric and Skallagrim. Gizur called also
to the folk of Ospakar, and Swanhild to those who came with her.
Then Gudruda fled back to her seat.
But Eric cried aloud also: "Ye who love me, cleave to me. Suffer it
not that Brighteyes be cut down of northerners and outland men. Hear
me, Atli's folk; hear me, carles of Coldback and of Middalhof!"
And so greatly did many love Eric that half of the thralls of Björn,
and almost all of the company of Swanhild who had been Atli's shield-
men and Brighteyes' comrades, drew swords, shouting "Eric! Eric!" But
the carles of Ospakar came on to make an end of him.
Björn saw, and, drawing sword, smote at Brighteyes, taking him
unawares. But Skallagrim caught the blow upon his axe, and before
Björn could smite again Whitefire was aloft and down fell Björn, dead!
That was the end of Björn, Asmund's son.
"Thou hast squeaked thy last, rat! What did I tell thee?" cried
Skallagrim. "Take Björn's shield and back to back, lord, for here come
"There goes one," answered Eric, pointing to the door.
Now Hall of Lithdale slunk through the doorway--Hall, the liar, who
cut the grapnel-chain--for he wished to see the last of Skallagrim.
But the Baresark still held Eric's spear in his hand. He whirled it
aloft, and it hissed through the air. The aim was good, for, as he
crept away, the spear struck Hall between neck and shoulder, pinning
him to the doorpost, and there the liar died.
"Now the weasel is nailed to the beam," said Skallagrim. "Hall of
Lithdale, what did I promise thee?"
"Guard thy head and my back," quoth Eric; "blows fall!"
Now men smote at Eric and Skallagrim, nor did they spare to smite in
turn. And as foes fell before him, Eric stepped one pace forward
towards the door, and Skallagrim, who, back to back with him, held off
those who pressed behind, took one step rearwards. Thus, a foe for
every step, they won their way down the long hall. Fierce raged the
fray around them, for, made with hate and drink and the lust of fight,
Swanhild's folk--Eric's friends--remembering the words of Atli, fell
on Ospakar's; and the people of Björn fell on each other, brother on
brother, and father on son--nor might the fray be stayed. The boards
were overthrown, dead men lay among the meats and mead, and the blood
of freeman, lord and thrall ran adown the floor. Everywhere through
the dusky hall glittered the sheen of flashing swords and rose the
clang of war. Darts clove the air like tongues of flame, and the
clamour of battle beat against the roof.
Blinded of the Norns who brought these things to pass, men sought no
mercy and they gave none, but smote and slew till few were left to
And still Gudruda sat in her bride-seat, and, with eyes fixed in
horror, watched the waxing of the war. Near to her stood Swanhild,
marking all things with a fierce-set face, and calling down curses on
her folk, who one and all cried "Eric! Eric!" and swept the thralls of
Ospakar as corn is swept of the sickle.
And there, nigh to the door, pale of face and beautiful to see, golden
Eric clove his way, and with him went black Skallagrim. Terrible was
the flare of Whitefire as he flicked aloft like the levin in the
cloud. Terrible was the flare of Whitefire; but more terrible was the
light of Eric's eyes, for they seemed to flame in his head, and
wherever that fire fell it lighted men the way to death. Whitefire
sung and flickered, and crashed the axe of Skallagrim, and still
through the press of war they won their way. Now Gizur stands before
them, spear aloft, and Whitefire leaps up to meet him. Lo! he turns
and flies. The coward son of Ospakar does not seek the fate of
The door is won. They stand without but little harmed, while women
"To horse!" cried Skallagrim; "to horse, ere our luck fail us!"
"There is no luck in this," gasped Eric; "for I have slain many men,
and among them is Björn, the brother of her whom I would make my
"Better one such fight than many brides," said Skallagrim, shaking his
red axe. "We have won great glory this day, Brighteyes, and Ospakar is
dead--slain by a swordless man!"
Now Eric and Skallagrim ran to their horses, none hindering them, and,
mounting, rode towards Mosfell.
All that evening and all the night they rode, and at morning they came
across the black sand to Mosfell slopes that are by the Hecla. Here
they rested, and, taking off their armour, washed themselves in the
stream: for they were very weary and foul with blood and wounds. When
they had finished washing and had buckled on their harness again,
Skallagrim, peering across the plain with his hawk's eyes, saw men
riding fast towards them.
"Foes are soon afoot, lord," he said. "I thought we had stayed their
hunger for a while."
"Would that I might stay mine," quoth Eric. "I am weary, and unfit for
"I have still strength for one or two," said Skallagrim, "and then
good-night! But these are no foes. They are of the Coldback folk. The
carline has kept her word."
Then Eric was glad, and presently six men, headed by Jon his thrall,
the same man who had watched on Mosfell when Eric went up to slay the
Baresark, rode to them and greeted them. "Beggar women," said Jon,
"whom they met at Ran River, had told them of the death of Ospakar,
and of the great slaying at Middalhof, and they would know if the
tidings were true."
"It is true, Jon," said Eric; "but first give us food, if ye have it,
for we are hungered and spent. When we have eaten we will speak."
So they led up a pack-horse and from it took stockfish and smoked
meat, of which Eric and Skallagrim ate heartily, till their strength
came back to them.
Then Eric spoke. "Comrades," he said, "I am an outlawed man, and,
though I have not sought it, much blood is on my head. Atli is dead at
my hand; Ospakar is dead at my hand; Björn the Priest, Asmund's son,
is dead at my hand, and with them many another man. Nor may the matter
stay here, for Gizur, Blacktooth's son, yet lives, and Björn has kin
in the south, and Swanhild will buy friends with gold, and all of
these will set on me to slay me, so that at the last I die by the
"No need for that," said Skallagrim. "Our vengeance is wrought, and
now, as before, the sea is open, and I think that a welcome awaits us
"Now Gudruda is widowed before she was fully wed," said Eric,
"therefore I bide an outlawed man here in Iceland. I go hence no more,
though it be death to stay, unless indeed Gudruda the Fair goes with
"It will be death, then," said Skallagrim, "and the swords are forged
that we shall feel. The odds are too heavy, lord."
"Mayhap," answered Eric. "No man may flee his fate, and I shall not
altogether grieve when mine finds me. Hearken, comrades: I go up to
Mosfell height, and there I stay, till those be found who can drag me
from my hole. But this is my counsel to you: that ye leave me to my
doom, for I am an unlucky man who always chooses the wrong road."
"That will not I," said Skallagrim.
"Nor we," said Eric's folk; "Swanhild holds Coldback, and we are
driven to the fells. To the fells then we will go with thee, Eric
Brighteyes, and become cave-dwellers and outlaws for thy sake. Fear
not, thou shalt still find many friends."
"I did not look for such a thing at your hands," said Eric; "but
stormy waters show how the boat is built. May no bad luck come to you
from your good fellowship. And now let us to our nest."
Then they caught the horses, and rode with Brighteyes up the steep
side of Mosfell, till at length they came to that secret dell which
Skallagrim had once shown to Eric. Here they turned the horses loose
to feed, and, going forward on foot, reached the dark and narrow pass
that Brighteyes had trod when he sought for the Baresark foe.
Skallagrim led the way along it, then came Eric and the rest. One by
one they stepped on to the giddy point of rock, and, catching at the
birch-bush, entered the hole. So they gained the platform and the
great cave beyond; and they found that no man had set foot there since
the day when Eric had striven with Skallagrim. For there on the rock,
rotten with the weather, lay that haft of wood which Brighteyes had
hewed from the axe of Skallagrim, and in the cave were many things
beside as the Baresark had left them.
So they took up their dwelling in the cave, Eric, Skallagrim, and the
six Coldback men, and there they dwelt many months. But Eric sent out
his men, one at a time, and got together food and a store of
sheepskins, and other needful things. For he knew this well: that
Gizur and Swanhild would before long come up against them, and, if
they could not take them by force, would set themselves to watch the
mountain-path and starve them out.
When Eric and Skallagrim rode away from Middalhof the fight still
raged fiercely in the hall, and nothing but death might stay it. The
minds of men were mad, and they smote one another, and slew each
other, till at length of all that marriage company few were left
unharmed, except Gizur, Swanhild, and Gudruda. For the serving thralls
and womenfolk had fled the hall, and with them some peaceful men.
Then Gudruda spoke as one in a dream.
"Saevuna's prophecy was true," she said, "red was the marriage-feast
of Asmund my father, redder has been the marriage-feast of Ospakar!
She saw the hall of Middalhof one gore of blood, and lo! it is so.
look upon thy work, Swanhild," and she pointed to the piled-up dead--
"look upon thy work, witch-sister, and grow fearful: for all this
death is on thy head!"
Swanhild laughed aloud. "I think it a merry sight," she cried. "The
marriage-feast of Asmund our father was red, and thy marriage-feast,
Gudruda, has been redder. Would that thy blood and the blood of Eric
ran with the blood of Björn and Ospakar! That tale must yet be told,
Gudruda. There shall be binding on of Hell-shoes at Middalhof, but I
bind them not. My task is still to come: for I will live to fasten the
Hell-shoes on the feet of Eric, and on thy feet, Gudruda! At the
least, I have brought about this much, that thou canst scarcely wed
Eric the outlaw: for with his own hand he slew Björn our brother, and
because of this I count all that death as nothing. Thou canst not mate
with Brighteyes, lest the wide wounds of Björn thy brother should take
tongues and cry thy shame from sea to sea!"
Gudruda made no answer, but sat as one carved in stone. Then Swanhild
"Let us away to the north, Gizur; there to gather strength to make an
end of Eric. Say, wilt thou help us, Gudruda? The blood-feud for the
death of Björn is thine."
"Ye are enough to bring about the fall of one unfriended man," Gudruda
said. "Go, and leave me with my sorrow and the dead. Nay! before thou
goest, listen, Swanhild, for there is that in my heart which tells me
I shall never look again upon thy face. From evil to evil thou hast
ever gone, Swanhild, and from evil to evil thou wilt go. It may well
chance that thy wickedness will win. It may well chance that thou wilt
crown thy crimes with my slaying and the slaying of the man who loves
me. But I tell thee this, traitress--murderess, as thou art--that here
the tale ends not. Not by death, Swanhild, shalt thou escape the deeds
of life! /There/ they shall rise up against thee, and /there/ every
shame that thou hast worked, every sin that thou hast sinned, and
every soul that thou hast brought to Hela's halls, shall come to haunt
thee and to drive thee on from age to age! That witchcraft which thou
lovest shall mesh thee. Shadows shall bewilder thee; from the bowl of
empty longings thou shalt drink and drink, and not be satisfied. Yea!
lusts shall mock and madden thee. Thou shalt ride the winds, thou
shalt sail the seas, but thou shalt find no harbour, and never shalt
thou set foot upon a shore of peace.
"Go on, Swanhild--dye those hands in blood--wade through the river of
shame! Seek thy desire, and finding, lose! Work thy evil, and winning,
fail! I yet shall triumph--I yet shall trample thee; and, in a place
to come, with Eric at my side, I shall make a mock of Swanhild the
murderess! Swanhild the liar, and the wanton, and the witch! Now get
Swanhild heard. She looked up at Gudruda's face and it was alight as
with a fire. She strove to answer, but no words came. Then Groa's
daughter turned and went, and with her went Gizur.
Now women and thralls came in and drew out the wounded and those who
still breathed from among the dead, taking them to the temple. They
bore away the body of Ospakar also, but they left the rest.
All night long Gudruda sat in the bride's seat. There she sat in the
silver summer midnight, looking on the slain who were strewn about the
great hall. All night she sat alone in the bride's seat thinking--ever
How, then, would it end? There her brother Björn lay a-cold--Björn the
justly slain of Brighteyes; yet how could she wed the man who slew her
brother? From Ospakar she was divorced by death; from Eric she was
divorced by the blood of Björn her brother! How might she unravel this
tangled skein and float to weal upon this sea of death? All things
went amiss! The doom was on her! She had lived to an ill purpose--her
love had wrought evil! What availed it to have been born to be fair
among women and to have desired that which might not be? And she
herself had brought these things to pass--she had loosed the rock
which crushed her! Why had she hearkened to that false tale?
Gudruda sat on high in the bride's seat, asking wisdom of the piled-up
dead, while the cold blue shadows of the nightless night gathered over
her and them--gathered, and waned, and grew at last to the glare of
HOW ERIC VENTURED DOWN TO MIDDALHOF AND WHAT HE FOUND
Gizur went north to Swinefell, and Swanhild went with him. For now
that Ospakar was dead at Eric's hand, Gizur ruled in his place at
Swinefell, and was the greatest lord in all the north. He loved
Swanhild, and desired to make her his wife; but she played with him,
talking darkly of what might be. Swanhild was not minded to be the
wife of any man, except of Eric; to all others she was cold as the
winter earth. Still, she fooled Gizur as she had fooled Atli the Good,
and he grew blind with love of her. For still the beauty of Swanhild
waxed as the moon waxes in the sky, and her wicked eyes shone as the
stars shine when the moon has set.
Now they came to Swinefell, and there Gizur buried Ospakar Blacktooth,
his father, with much state. He set him in a chamber of rock and
timbers on a mountain-top, whence he might see all the lands that once
were his, and built up a great mound of earth above him. To this day
people tell that here on Yule night black Ospakar bursts out, and
golden Eric rides down the blast to meet him. Then come the clang of
swords, and groans, and the sound of riven helms, till presently
Brighteyes passes southward on the wind, bearing in his hand the half
of a cloven shield.
So Gizur bound the Hell-shoes on his father, and swore that he would
neither rest nor stay till Eric Brighteyes was dead and dead was
Skallagrim Lambstail. Then he gathered a great force of men and rode
south to Coldback, to the slaying of Eric, and with him went Swanhild.
Gudruda sat alone in the haunted hall of Middalhof and brooded on her
love and on her fate. Eric, too, sat in Mosfell cave and brooded on
his evil chance. His heart was sick with sorrow, and there was little
that he could do except think about the past. He would not go to
foray, after the fashion of outlaws, and there was no need of this.
For the talk of his mighty deeds spread through the land, so that the
people spoke of little else. And the men of his quarter were so proud
of these deeds of Eric's that, though some of their kind had fallen at
his hands in the great fight of Middalhof and some at the hands of
Skallagrim, yet they spoke of him as men speak of a God. Moreover they
brought him gifts of food and clothing and arms, as many as his people
could carry away, and laid them in a booth that is on the plain near
the foot of Mosfell, which thenceforth was named Ericsfell. Further,
they bade his thralls tell him that, if he wished it, they would find
him a good ship of war to take him from Iceland--ay, and man it with
loyal men and true.
Eric thanked them through Jon his thrall, but answered that he wished
to die here in Iceland.
Now, when Eric had sat two months and more in Mosfell cave and autumn
was coming, he learned that Gizur and Swanhild had moved down to
Coldback, and with them a great company of men who were sworn to slay
him. He asked if Gudruda the Fair had also gathered men for his
slaying. They told him no; that Gudruda stayed with her thralls and
women at Middalhof, mourning for Björn her brother. From these tidings
Eric took some heart of hope: at the least Gudruda laid no blood-feud
against him. For he waited, thinking, if indeed she yet loved him,
that Gudruda would send him some word or token of her love. But no
word came, since between them ran the blood of Björn. On the morrow of
these tidings Skallagrim spoke to Eric.
"This is my counsel, lord," he said, "that we ride out by night and
fall on the folk of Gizur at Coldback, and burn the stead over them,
putting them to the sword. I am weary of sitting here like an eagle in
"Such is no counsel of mine, Skallagrim," answered Brighteyes. "I am
weary of sitting here, indeed; but I am yet more weary of bringing men
to their death. I will shed no more blood, unless it is to save my own
head. When the people of Gizur came to seek me on Mosfell, they shall
find me here; but I will not go to them."
"Thy heart is out of thee, lord," said Skallagrim; "thou wast not wont
to speak thus."
"Ay, Skallagrim," said Eric, "the heart is out of me. Yet I ride from
"To Middalhof, to have speech with Gudruda the Fair."
"Like enough, then, thou wilt be silent thereafter."
"It well may be," said Eric. "Yet I will ride. I can bear this doubt
"Then I shall come with thee," said Skallagrim.
"As thou wilt," answered Eric.
So at midday Eric and Skallagrim rode away from Mosfell in a storm of
rain. The rain was so heavy that those of Gizur's spies who watched
the mountain did not see them. All that day they rode and all the
night, till by morning they came to Middalhof. Eric told Skallagrim to
stay with the horses and let them feed, while he went on foot to see
if by chance he might get speech with Gudruda. This the Baresark did,
though he grumbled at the task, fearing lest Eric should be done to
death, and he not there to die with him.
Now Eric walked to within two bowshots of the house, then sat down in
a dell by the river, from the edge of which he could see those who
passed in and out. Presently his heart gave a leap, for there came out
from the woman's door a lady tall and beautiful to see, and with
golden hair that flowed about her breast. It was Gudruda, and he saw
that she bore a napkin in her hand. Then Eric knew, according to her
custom on the warm mornings, that she came alone to bathe in the
river, as she had always done from a child. It was her habit to bathe
here in this place: for at the bottom of the dell was a spot where
reeds and bushes grew thick, and the water lay in a basin of rock and
was clear and still. For at this spot a hot spring ran into the river.
Eric went down the dell, hid himself close in the bushes and waited,
for he feared to speak with Gudruda in the open field. A while passed,
and presently the shadow of the lady crept over the edge of the dell,
then she came herself in that beauty which since her day has not been
known in Iceland. Her face was sad and sweet, her dark and lovely eyes
were sad. On she came, till she stood within a spear's length of where
Eric lay, crouched in the bush, and looking at her through the hedge
of reeds. Here a flat rock overhung the water, and Gudruda sat herself
on this rock, and, shaking off her shoes, dipped her white feet in the
water. Then suddenly she threw aside her cloak, baring her arms, and,
gazing upon the shadow of her beauty in the mirror of the water,
sighed and sighed again, while Eric looked at her with a bursting
heart, for as yet he could find no words to say.
Now she spoke aloud. "Of what use to be so fair?" she said. "Oh,
wherefore was I born so fair to bring death to many and sorrow on
myself and him I love?" And she shook her golden hair about her arms
of snow, and, holding the napkin to her eyes, wept softly. But it
seemed to Eric that between her sobs she called upon his name.
Now Eric could no longer bear the sight of Gudruda weeping. While she
wept, hiding her eyes, he rose from behind the screen of reeds and
stood beside her in such fashion that his shadow fell upon her. She
felt the sunlight pass and looked up. Lo! it was no cloud, but the
shape of Eric, and the sun glittered on his golden helm and hair.
"Eric!" Gudruda cried; "Eric!" Then, remembering how she was attired,
snatching her cloak, she threw it about her arms and thrust her wet
feet into her shoes. "Out upon thee!" she said; "is it not enough,
then, that thou shouldst break thy troth for Swanhild's sake, that
thou shouldst slay my brother and turn my hall to shambles? Wouldst
now steal upon me thus!"
"Methought that thou didst weep and call upon my name, Gudruda," he
"By what right art thou here to hearken to my words?" she answered.
"Is it, then, strange that I should speak the name of him who slew my
brother? Is it strange that I should weep over that brother whom thou
didst slay? Get thee gone, Brighteyes, before I call my folk to kill
"Call on, Gudruda. I set little price upon my life. I laid it in the
hands of chance when I came from Mosfell to speak with thee, and now I
will pay it down if so it pleases thee. Fear not, thy thralls shall
have an easy task: for I shall scarcely care to hold my own. Say,
shall I call for thee?"
"Hush! Speak not so loud! Folk may hear thee, Eric, and then thou wilt
be in danger--I would say that, then shall ill things be told of me,
because I am found with him who slew my brother?"
"I slew Ospakar too, Gudruda. Surely the death of him by whose side
thou didst sit as wife is more to thee than the death of Björn?"
"The bride-cup was not yet drunk, Eric; therefore I have no blood-feud
"Is it, then, thy will that I should go, lady?"
"Yes, go!--go! Never let me see thy face again!"
Brighteyes turned without a word. He took three paces and Gudruda
watched him as he went.
"Eric!" she called. "Eric! thou mayest not go yet: for at this hour
the thralls bring down the kine to milk, and they will see thee. Liest
thou hid here. I--I will go. For though, indeed, thou dost deserve to
die, I am not willing to bring thee to thy end--because of old
friendship I am not willing!"
"If thou goest, I will go also," said Eric. "Thralls or no thralls, I
will go, Gudruda."
"Thou art cruel to drive me to such a choice, and I have a mind to
give thee to thy fate."
"As thou wilt," said Eric; but she made as though she did not hear his
"Now," she said, "if we must stay here, it is better that we hide
where thou didst hide, lest some come upon thee." And she passed
through the screen of rushes and sat down in a grassy place beyond,
and spoke again.
"Nay, sit not near me; sit yonder. I would not touch thee, nor look
upon thee, who wast Swanhild's love, and didst slay Björn my brother."
"Say, Gudruda," said Eric, "did I not tell thee of the magic arts of
Swanhild? Did I not tell thee before all men yonder in the hall, and
didst thou not say that thou didst believe my words? Speak."
"That is true," said Gudruda.
"Wherefore, then, dost thou taunt me with being Swanhild's love--with
being the love of her whom of all alive I hate the most--and whose
wicked guile has brought these sorrows on us?"
But Gudruda did not answer.
"And for this matter of the death of Björn at my hands, think,
Gudruda: was I to blame in it? Did not Björn thrust the cloven shield
before my feet, and thus give me into the hand of Ospakar? Did he not
afterwards smite at me from behind, and would he not have slain me if
Skallagrim had not caught the blow? Was I, then, to blame if I smote
back and if the sword flew home? Wilt thou let the needful deed rise
up against our love? Speak, Gudruda!"
"Talk no more of love to me, Eric," she answered; "the blood of Björn
has blotted out our love: it cries to me for vengeance. How may I
speak of love with him who slew my brother? Listen!" she went on,
looking on him sidelong, as one who wished to look and yet not seem to
see: "here thou must hide an hour, and, since thou wilt not sit in
silence, speak no tender words to me, for it is not fitting; but tell
me of those deeds thou didst in the south lands over sea, before thou
wentest to woo Swanhild and camest hither to kill my brother. For till
then thou wast mine--till then I loved thee--who now love thee not.
Therefore I would hear of the deeds of that Eric whom once I loved,
before he became as one dead to me."
"Heavy words, lady," said Eric--"words to make death easy."
"Speak not so," she said; "it is unmanly thus to work upon my fears.
Tell me those tidings of which I ask."
So Eric told her all his deeds, though he showed small boastfulness
about them. He told her how he had smitten the war-dragons of Ospakar,
how he had boarded the Raven and with Skallagrim slain those who
sailed in her. He told her also of his deeds in Ireland, and of how he
took the viking ships and came to London town.
And as he told, Gudruda listened as one who hung upon her lover's
dying words, and there was but one light in the world for her, the
light of Eric's eyes, and there was but one music, the music of his
voice. Now she looked upon him sidelong no longer, but with open eyes
and parted lips she drank in his words, and always, though she knew it
not herself, she crept closer to his side.
Then he told her how he had been greatly honoured of the King of
England, and of the battles he had fought in at his side. Lastly, Eric
told her how the King would have given him a certain great lady of
royal blood in marriage, and how Edmund had been angered because he
would not stay in England.
"Tell me of this lady," said Gudruda, quickly. "Is she fair, and how
is she named?"
"She is fair, and her name is Elfrida," said Eric.
"And didst thou have speech with her on this matter?"
Now Gudruda drew herself away from Eric's side.
"What was the purport of thy speech?" she said, looking down. "Speak
"It came to little," he answered. "I told her that there was one in
Iceland to whom I was betrothed, and to Iceland I must go."
"And what said this Elfrida, then?"
"She said that I should get little luck at the hands of Gudruda the
Fair. Moreover, she asked, should my betrothed be faithless to me, or
put me from her, if I should come again to England."
Now Gudruda looked him in the face and spoke. "Say, Eric, is it in thy
mind to sail for England in the spring, if thou canst escape thy foes
Now Eric took counsel with himself, and in his love and doubt grew
guileful as he had never been before. For he knew well that Gudruda
had this weakness--she was a jealous woman.
"Since thou dost put me from thee, that is in my mind, lady," he
Gudruda heard. She thought on the great and beauteous Lady Elfrida,
far away in England, and of Eric walking at her side, and sorrow took
hold of her. She said no word, but fixed her dark eyes on Brighteyes'
face, and lo! they filled with tears.
Eric might not bear this sight, for his heart beat within him as
though it would burst the byrnie over it. Suddenly he stretched out
his arms and swept her to his breast. Soft and sweet he kissed her,
again and yet again, and she struggled not, though she wept a little.
"It is small blame to me," she whispered, "if thou dost hold me on thy
breast and kiss me, for thou art more strong than I. Björn must know
this if his dead eyes see aught. Yet for thee, Eric, it is the
greatest shame of all thy shames."
"Talk not, my sweet; talk not," said Eric, "but kiss thou me: for thou
knowest well that thou lovest me yet as I love thee."
Now the end of it was that Gudruda yielded and kissed him whom she had
not kissed for many years.
"Loose me, Eric," she said; "I would speak with thee," and he loosed
her, though unwillingly.
"Hearken," she went on, hiding her fair face in her hands: "it is true
that for life and death I love thee now as ever--how much thou mayest
never know. Though Björn be dead at thy hands, yet I love thee; but
how I may wed thee and not win the greatest shame, that I know not. I
am sure of one thing, that we may not bide here in Iceland. Now if,
indeed, thou lovest me, listen to my rede. Get thee back to Mosfell,
Eric, and sit there in safety through this winter, for they may not
come at thee yonder on Mosfell. Then, if thou art willing, in the
spring I will make ready a ship, for I have no ship now, and,
moreover, it is too late to sail. Then, perchance, leaving all my
lands and goods, I will take thy hand, Eric, and we will fare together
to England, seeking such fortune as the Norns may give us. What sayest
"I say it is a good rede, and would that the spring were come."
"Ay, Eric, would that the spring were come. Our lot has been hard, and
I doubt much if things will go well with us at the last. And now thou
must hence, for presently the serving-women will come to seek me.
Guard thyself, Eric, as thou lovest me--guard thyself, and beware of
Swanhild!" Then once more they kissed soft and long, and Eric went.
But Gudruda sat a while behind the screen of reeds, and was very happy
for a space. For it was as though the winter were past and summer
shone upon her heart again.
HOW GUDRUDA WENT UP TO MOSFELL
Eric walked warily till he came to the dell where he had left
Skallagrim and the horses. It was the same dell in which Groa had
brewed the poison-draught for Asmund the Priest and Unna, Thorod's
"What news, lord?" said Skallagrim. "Thou wast gone so long that I
thought of seeking thee. Hast thou seen Gudruda?"
"Ay," said Eric, "and this is the upshot of it, that in the spring we
sail for England and bid farewell to Iceland and our ill luck."
"Would, then, that it were spring," said Skallagrim, speaking
Brighteyes' own words. "Why not sail now and make an end?"
"Gudruda has no ship and it is late to take the sea. Also I think that
she would let a time go by because of the blood-feud which she has
against me for the death of Björn."
"I would rather risk these things than stay the winter through in
Iceland," said Skallagrim, "it is long from now to spring, and yon
wolf's den is cold-lying in the dark months, as I know well."
"There is light beyond the darkness," said Eric, and they rode away.
Everything went well with them till late at night they came to the
slopes of Mosfell. They were half asleep on their horses, being weary
with much riding, and the horses were weary also. Suddenly,
Skallagrim, looking up, caught the faint gleam of light from swords
hidden behind some stones.
"Awake, lord!" he cried, "here are foes ahead."
Gizur's folk behind the stones heard his voice and came out from their
ambush. There were six of them, and they formed in line before the
pair. They were watching the mountain, for a rumour had reached them
that Eric was abroad, and, seeing him, they had hidden hastily behind
"Now what counsel shall we take?" said Eric, drawing Whitefire.
"We have often stood against men more than six, and sometimes we have
left more men than six to mark where we stood," answered Skallagrim.
"It is my counsel that we ride at them!"
"So be it," said Eric, and he spurred his weary horse with his heels.
Now when the six saw Eric and Skallagrim charge on them boldly, they
wavered, and the end of it was that they broke and fled to either side
before a blow was struck. For it had come to this pass, so great was
the terror of the names of Eric Brighteyes and Skallagrim Lambstail,
that no six men dared to stand before them in open fight.
So the path being clear they rode on up the slope. But when they had
gone a little way, Skallagrim turned his horse, and mocked those who
had lain in ambush, saying:
"Ye fight well, ye carles of Gizur, Ospakar's son! Ye are heroes,
surely! Say now, mighty men, will ye stand there if I come down alone
At these words the men grew mad with wrath, and flung their spears.
Skallagrim caught one on his shield and it fell to the earth, but
another passed over his head and struck Eric on the left shoulder,
near the neck, making a deep wound. Feeling the spear fast in him,
Eric grasped it with his right hand, drew it forth, and turning,
hurled it so hard, that the man before it got his death from the blow,
for his shield did not serve to stay it. Then the rest fled.
Skallagrim bound up Eric's wound as well as he could, and they went on
to the cave. But when Eric's folk, watching above, saw the fight they
ran down and met him. Now the hurt was bad and Eric bled much; still,
within ten days it healed up for the time.
But a little while after Eric's wound was skinned over, the snows set
in on Mosfell, and the days grew short and the nights long. Once
Gizur's men to the number of fifty came half way up the mountain to
take it; but, when they saw how strong the place was, they feared, and
went back, and after that returned no more, though they always watched
It was very dark and lonesome there upon the fell. For a while Eric
kept in good heart, but as the days went by he grew troubled. For
since he was wounded this had come upon him, that he feared the dark,
and the death of Atli at his hand and Atli's words weighed more and
more upon his mind. They had no candles on the fell, yet, rather than
stay in the blackness of the cave, Eric would wrap sheepskins about
him and sit by the edge of that gulf down which the head of the
Baresark had foretold his fall, and look out at the wide plains and
fells and ice-mountains, gleaming in the silver shine of the Northern
lights or in the white beams of the stars.
It chanced that Eric had bidden the men who stayed with him to build a
stone hut upon the flat space of rock before the cave, and to roof it
with turves. He had done this that work might keep them in heart, also
that they might have a place to store such goods as they had gathered.
Now there was one stone lying near that no two men of their number
could move, except Skallagrim and one other. One day, while it was
light, Eric watched these two rolling the stone along to where it must
stand, and it was slow work. Presently they stayed to rest. Then Eric
came and putting his hands beneath the stone, lifted, and while men
wondered, he rolled the mass alone, to where it should be set as the
corner stone of the hut.
"Ye are all children," he said, and laughed merrily.
"Ay, when we set our strength against thine, lord," answered
Skallagrim; "but look: the blood runs from thy neck--the spear-wound
has broken out afresh."
"So it is, surely," said Eric. Then he washed the wound and bound it
up, thinking little of the matter.
But that night, according to his custom, Eric sat on the edge of the
gulf and looked at the winter lights as they played over Hecla's
snows. He was sad and heavy at heart, for he thought of Gudruda and
wondered much if they should live to wed. Remembering Atli's words, he
had little faith in his good luck. Now as Eric sat and thought, the
bandage on his neck slipped, so that the hurt bled, and the frost got
hold of the wound and froze it, and froze his long hair to it also, in
such fashion that when he went to the cave where all men slept, he
could not loose his hair from the sore, but lay down with it frozen to
him. On the morrow the hair was caked so fast about his neck that it
could only be freed by shearing it. But this Eric would not suffer.
None, he said, should shear his hair, except Gudruda. Thus he had
sworn, and when he broke the oath misfortune had come of it. He would
break that vow no more, if it cost him his life. For sorrow and his
ill luck had taken so great a hold of Eric's mind that in some ways he
was scarcely himself.
So it came to pass that he fell more and more sick, till at length he
could not rise from his bed in the cave, but lay there all day and
night, staring at the little light which pierced the gloom. Still, he
would not suffer that anyone should touch his hair. And when one stole
upon him sleeping, thinking so to cut it before he woke, and come at
the wound, suddenly he sat up and dealt the man such a buffet on the
head that he went near to death from it.
Then Skallagrim spoke.
"On this matter," he said, "it seems that Brighteyes is mad. He will
not suffer that any touch his hair, except Gudruda, and yet, if his
hair is not shorn, he must die, for the wound will fester under it.
Nor may we cut it by strength, for then he will kill himself in
struggling. It is come to this then: either Gudruda must be brought
hither or Eric will shortly die."
"That may not be," they answered. "How can the lady Gudruda come here
across the snows, even if she will come?"
"Come she can, if she has the heart," said Skallagrim, "though I put
little trust in women's hearts. Still, I ride down to Middalhof, and
thou, Jon, shalt go with me. For the rest, I charge you watch your
lord; for, if I come back and find anything amiss, that shall be the
death of some, and if I do not come back but perish on the road, yet I
will haunt you."
Now Jon liked not this task; still, for love of Eric and fear of
Skallagrim, he set out with the Baresark. They had a hard journey
through the snow-drifts and the dark, but on the third day they came
to Middalhof, knocked upon the door and entered.
Now it was supper-time, and people, sitting at meat, saw a great black
man, covered with snow and rime, stalk up the hall, and after him
another smaller man, who groaned with the cold, and they wondered at
the sight. Gudruda sat on the high seat and the firelight beat upon
"Who comes here?" she said.
"One who would speak with thee, lady," answered Skallagrim.
"Here is Skallagrim the Baresark," said a man. "He is an outlaw, let
us kill him!"
"Ay, it is Skallagrim," he answered, "and if there is killing to be
done, why here's that which shall do it," and he drew out his axe and
Then all held their peace, for they feared the axe of Skallagrim.
"Lady," he said, "I do not come for slaying or such child's play, I
come to speak a word in thine ear--but first I ask a cup of mead and a
morsel of food, for we have spent three days in the snows."
So they ate and drank. Then Gudruda bade the Baresark draw near and
tell her his tale.
"Lady," said he, "Eric, my lord, lies dying on Mosfell."
Gudruda turned white as the snow.
"Dying?--Eric lies dying?" she said. "Why, then, art thou here?"
"For this cause, lady: I think that thou canst save him, if he is not
already sped." And he told her all the tale.
Now Gudruda thought a while.
"This is a hard journey," she said, 'and it does not become a maid to
visit outlaws in their caves. Yet I am come to this, that I will die
before I shrink from anything that may save the life of Eric. When
must we ride, Skallagrim?"
"This night," said the Baresark. "This night while the men sleep, for
now night and day are almost the same. The snow is deep and we have no
time to lose if we would find Brighteyes living."
"Then we will ride to-night," answered Gudruda.
Afterwards, when people slept, Gudruda the Fair summoned her women,
and bade them say to all who asked for her that she lay sick in bed.
But she called three trusty thralls, bidding them bring two pack-
horses laden with hay, food, drugs, candles made of sheep's fat, and
other goods, and ride with her. Then, all being ready, they rode away
secretly up Stonefell, Gudruda on her horse Blackmane, and the others
on good geldings that had been hay-fed in the yard, and by daylight
they passed up Horse-Head Heights. They slept two nights in the snow,
and on the second night almost perished there, for much soft snow
fell. But afterwards came frost and a bitter northerly wind and they
passed on. Gudruda was a strong woman and great of heart and will, and
so it came about that on the third day she reached Mosfell, weary but
little harmed, though the fingers of her left hand were frostbitten.
They climbed the mountain, and when they came to the dell where the
horses were kept, certain of Eric's men met them and their faces were
"How goes it now with Brighteyes?" said Skallagrim, for Gudruda could
scarcely speak because of doubt and cold. "Is he dead, then?"
"Nay," they answered, "but like to die, for he is beside himself and
"Push on," quoth Gudruda; "push on, lest it be too late."
So they climbed the mountain on foot, won the pass and came to that
giddy point of rock where he must tread who would reach the platform
that is before the cave. Now since she had hung by her hands over
Goldfoss gulf, Gudruda had feared to tread upon a height with nothing
to hold to. Skallagrim went first, then called to her to follow.
Thrice she looked, and turned away, trembling, for the place was awful
and the fall bottomless. Then she spoke aloud to herself:
"Eric did not fear to risk his life to save me when I hung over Golden
Falls; less, then, should I fear to risk mine to save him," and she
stepped boldly down upon the point. But when she stood there, over the
giddy height, shivers ran along her body, and her mind grew dark. She
clutched at the rock, gave one low cry and began to fall. Indeed she
would have fallen and been lost, had not Skallagrim, lying on his
breast in the narrow hole, stretched out his arms, caught her by the
cloak and kirtle and dragged her to him. Presently her senses came
"I am safe!" she gasped, "but by a very little. Methinks that here in
this place I must live and die, for I can never tread yonder rock
"Thou shalt pass it safe enough, lady, with a rope round thee," said
Skallagrim, and led the way to the cave.
Gudruda entered, forgetting all things in her love of Eric. A great
fire of turf burned in the mouth of the cave to temper the bitter wind
and frost, and by its light Gudruda saw her love through the smoke-
reek. He lay upon a bed of skins at the far end of the cave and his
bright grey eyes were wild, his wan face was white, and now of a
sudden it grew red with fever, and then was white again. He had thrown
the sheepskins from his mighty chest, the bones of which stood out
grimly. His long arms were thrust through the locks of his golden
hair, and on one side of his neck the hair clung to him and it was but
a black mass.
He raved loudly in his madness. "Touch me not, carles, touch me not;
ye think me spent and weak, but, by Thor! if ye touch my hair, I will
loosen the knees of some. Gudruda alone shall shear my hair: I have
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