VANDRAD THE VIKING - A Norse Saga - J. Storer Clouston - ebook

Long after King Estein had joined his fathers on the Little Holm beyond Hernersfiord, and Helgi, Earl of Askland, had become but a warlike memory, the skalds of Sogn still sang this tale of Vandrad the Viking. It contained much wonderful magic, and some astonishingly hard strokes, as they told it; but reading between their lines, the magic bears a strong resemblance to many spells cast even at this day, and as for the sword strokes, there was need for them to be hard in Norway then. For that was the age of the making of many kingdoms, and the North was beginning to do its share........TABLE OF CONTENTSCHAPTER I . THE WEST SEA SAILINGCHAPTER II. THE BAIRN-SLAYERSCHAPTER III. THE HOLY ISLECHAPTER IV. THE ISLAND SPELLCHAPTER V. ANDREAS THE HERMITCHAPTER VI. THE HALL OF LIOTCHAPTER VII. THE VERDICT OF THE SWORDCHAPTER VIII. IN THE CELL BY THE ROOSTCHAPTER IX. THE MESSAGE OF THE RUNESCHAPTER X. KING BUE'S FEASTCHAPTER XI. THE HOUSE IN THE FORESTCHAPTER XII. THE MAGICIANCHAPTER XIII. ARROW AND SHIELDCHAPTER XIV. THE MIDNIGHT GUESTCHAPTER XV. THE LAST OF THE LAWMANCHAPTER XVI. KING ESTEINCHAPTER XVII. THE END OF THE STORY 

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The Feud and the Spell

a story by


Republished byAbela Publishing, London[2017]

Vandrad the Viking

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Long after King Estein had joined his fathers on the little holm beyond Hernersfiord, and Helgi, Earl of Askland, had become but a warlike memory, the skalds of Sogn still sang this tale of Vandrad the Viking. It contained much wonderful magic, and some astonishingly hard strokes, as they told it; but reading between their lines, the magic bears a strong resemblance to many spells cast even at this day, and as for the sword strokes, there was need for them to be hard in Norway then. For that was the age of the making of many kingdoms, and the North was beginning to do its share.

One May morning, more than a thousand years ago, so the story runs, an old man came slowly along a woodland track that uncoiled itself from the mountain passes and snow-crowned inlands of Norway. Presently the trees grew thinner, and grass and wild flowers spread on either hand, and at last, just where the path dipped down to the water-side at Hernersfiord, the traveller stopped. For a while he remained there in the morning sunshine, watching the scene below, and now and then speaking out his thoughts absently in the rapt manner of a visionary.

Though his clothes were old and weather-stained, and bare of any ornament, his face and bearing were such as strike the mind at once and stay in the memory. He was tall and powerfully framed, and bore his years and the white volume of his beard in an altogether stately fashion; but his eyes were most indelible, pale blue and singularly cold in repose, very bright and keen and searching when his face was animated.

They saw much to stir them that morning. On the slope above Hernersfiord stood the royal hall of Hakonstad, the seat of the kings of Sogn; and all about the house, and right down to the water's edge, there was a great bustle and movement of men. From the upland valley at the fiord head, warriors trooped down to the ships that lay by the long stone pier. The morning sun glanced on their helmets and coats of mail, and in the still air the clash of preparation rang far up the pine-clad hillside. He could see some bringing weapons and provisions down to the shore, and others busily lading the ships. Women mingled in the crowd, and every here and there a gay cloak and gilded helm marked a leader of rank.

"Ay, the season has come for Vikings to put to sea again," he said. "Brave and gay are the warriors of Sogn, and lightly they leave. When a man is young, all roads are pleasant, and all lead home again. Many have I seen set sail these last sixty years, and their sailing led them—where?"

And then again, as the stir increased, and he could see the men beginning to troop on board the long ships,—

"This voyage shall be as the falling of snowflakes into the sea; but what man can escape his fate?"

Meanwhile a party of men had just left the woods, and were coming down the path to the fiord, ten or twelve in all, headed by an exceedingly broad, black-bearded man, clad in a leather coat closely covered all over with steel scales, and bearing on his shoulder a ponderous halberd.

The path was very narrow at that point, and he of the black beard called out gruffly,—

"Make way, old man! Give room to pass."

Roused abruptly from his reverie, the dreamer turned quietly, but made no movement to the side. The party by this time were so close that they had perforce to halt, with some clash of armour, and again their captain cried,—

"Are you deaf? Make way!"

Yet there was something daunting in the other's pale eye, and though the Viking moved the halberd uneasily on his shoulder, his own glance shifted. With the slightest intonation of contempt, the traveller asked,—

"Who bids me make way?"

The black-bearded man looked at him with an air of some astonishment, and then answered shortly,—

"They call me Ketill; but what is that to you?"

Without heeding the other's gruffness, the old man asked,—

"Does King Hakon sail from Hernersfiord to-day?"

"King Hakon has not sailed for many a day. His son leads this force."

"Ay, I had forgotten, we are both old men now. Then Estein sails to-day?"

"Ay, and I sail with him. My ship awaits me, so make way, old man," replied Ketill.

"Whither do ye sail?"

"To the west seas. I have no time for talking more. Do you hear?"

"Go on then," replied the old man, stepping to one side; "something tells me that Estein will have need of all his men before this voyage is over."

Without stopping for further words, the black-bearded captain and his men pushed past and continued their way to the fiord, while the old man slowly followed them.

As he went down the hillside he talked again aloud to himself:—

"Ay, this then is the meaning of my warning dreams—danger in the south lands, danger on the seas. Little heed will Estein Hakonson pay to the words of an old man, yet I am fain to see the youth again, and what the gods reveal to me I must speak."

Down below, near the foot of the path that led from the pier up to the hall of Hakonstad, a cluster of chiefs stood talking. In the midst of them, Hakon, King of Sogn, one of the independent kinglings who reigned in the then chaotic Norway, watched the departure of his son.

He was a venerable figure, conspicuous by his long, wintry locks and embroidered cloak of blue, straight as a spear-shaft, but grown too old for warfare. His hand rested on the shoulder of Earl Sigvald of Askland, a bluff old warrior, long the king's most faithful counsellor and companion in arms. Before them stood his son Estein, a tall, auburn-haired, bright-eyed young man, gaily dressed, after the fashion of the times, in red kirtle and cloak, and armed as yet only with a gilded helmet, surmounted with a pair of hawk's wings, and a sword girt to his side. His face, though regular and handsome, would have been rather too grave and reserved but for the keenness of his eyes, and a very pleasant smile which at times lit up his features when he spoke.

After they had talked for a while, he glanced round him, and saw that the bustle was subsiding, and most of the men had gone aboard.

"All is ready now," he said.

"Ay," replied Thorkel Sigurdson, one of his ship captains, "they wait but for us."

"Farewell then, Estein!" cried the earl. "Thor speed you, and send you worthy foemen!"

"My son, I can ill spare you," said the king. "But it becomes a king's son to see the world, and prove his valour in distant lands. Warfare in the Baltic seas is but a pastime for common Vikings. England and

Valland1, the countries of the black man and the flat lands of the rivers, lie before you. There Estein Hakonson must feed the wolves."

"And yet, Estein," he added in a lower tone, as he embraced him, "I would that Yule were here again and you with it. I am growing old, and my dreams last night were sorrow-laden."

"Farewell, son of Hakon!" shouted a loud-mouthed chieftain. "I would that I too were sailing to the southern lands. Spare not, Estein; fire and sword in England, sword and fire in Valland!"

The group had broken up, and Estein was about to go on board when he heard himself hailed by name. He looked round, and saw the same old man who had accosted Ketill coming down the pier after him.

"Hail, Estein Hakonson!" he cried; "I have come far to see thee."

"Hail, old man!" replied Estein courteously; "what errand brings you here?"

"You know me not?" said the old man, looking at him keenly.

"Nay, I cannot call your face to mind."

"My name is Atli, and if my features are strange to thee, much stranger must my name be."

He took Estein's hand, looked closely into his eyes for a minute, and then said solemnly,—

"Estein Hakonson, this voyage will have an ending other than ye deem. Troubles I see before ye—fishes feeding on warriors, and winds that blow as they list, and not as ye."

"That is likely enough," replied Estein. "We are not sailing on a trading voyage, and in the west seas the winds often blow high. But what luck shall I have?"

"Strange luck, Estein, I see before thee. Thou shalt be warned and heed not. More shall be left undone than shall be done. There shall come a change in thee that I cannot fathom. Many that set out shall not return, but thine own fate is dim to me."

A young man of barely twenty, very gaily dressed and martial- looking, had come up to them while they were talking. He had a reckless, merry look on his handsome face, and bore himself as though he was aware of his personal attractions.

"And what is my fate, old man?" he asked, more as if he were in jest than in earnest. "Shall I feed the fishes, or make this strange change with Estein into a troll, or werewolf, or whatsoever form he is to take?"

"Thy fate is naught to me, Helgi Sigvaldson," replied the seer; "yet I think thou wilt never be far from Estein."

"That was easily answered," said Helgi with a laugh. "And I can read my fate yet further. When I part from my foster-brother Estein, then shall a man go to Valhalla. What say you to that?"

Atli's face darkened.

"Darest thou mock me?" he cried.

"Not so," interposed Estein. "' Bare is back without brother behind it,' and Helgi means that death only can part us. Farewell, Atli! If your prophecy comes true, and I return alive, you may choose what gift you please from among my spoils."

"Little spoil there will be, Estein!" answered the old man, as the foster-brothers turned from him down the pier.

The last man sprang on board, the oars dipped in the still water, and as the little fleet moved slowly down the fiord the crowd on shore gradually dispersed.

Out at sea, beyond the high headlands that guarded Hernersfiord, a fresh breeze was blowing briskly from the north-east, and past the rocky islets of the coast white caps gleamed in the sunshine. As the ships drew clear of the fiord, and the boom of the outer sea breaking on the skerries rose louder and nearer, sails were spread and oars shipped. Slowly at first, and then more quickly as they caught the deep-sea wind, the vessels cut the open water. Past the islands they heeled to the breeze, and over a wake of foam the men watched the mountains of Norway sink slowly into the wilderness of waters.

On the decked poop of an open boat, sailing over an ocean unknown to him, towards countries of whose whereabouts he was only vaguely informed, Estein Hakonson stood lost in stirring fancies. He was the only surviving son of the King of Sogn. Three brothers had fallen in battle, one had perished at sea, and another, the eldest, had died beneath a burning roof-tree. His education had been conducted according to the only standard known in Scandinavia. At fourteen he had slain his first man in fair fight; at seventeen he was a Viking captain on the Baltic; and now, at two-and-twenty—old far beyond his years and hardened in varied experience—he was setting forth on the Viking path that led to the wonderful countries of the south.

The tide of Norse energy was not yet at the full, the fury and the terror were waxing fast, and the fever of unrest was ever spreading through the North. Men were always coming back with tales of monasteries filled with untold wealth, and rich provinces to be won by the sword. Skalds sang of the deeds done in the south, and shiploads of spoil confirmed their lays. Little wonder then that Estein should feel his heart beat high as he stood by the great tiller.

That night, long after the sun was set, he still sat on deck watching the stars. By-and-by his foster-brother Helgi came up to him, wrapped in a long sea cloak, and humming softly to himself.

"The night is fair, Estein. If Thor is kind, and this wind speeds us, we shall soon reach England."

"Ay, if the gods are with us," answered Estein. "I am trying to read the stars. Methinks they are unfavourable."

Helgi laughed. "What know you of the stars?" he said, "and what does Estein Hakonson want with white magic? Will it make his life one day longer? Will it make mine, if I too read the stars?"

"Not one day, Helgi, not one instant of time. We are in the hands of the gods. This serves but to while away a long night."

"Norsemen should not read the stars," said Helgi. "These things are for Finns and Lapps, and the poor peoples who fear us."

"I wished to know what Odin thought of Helgi Sigvaldson," said Estein with a smile.

Helgi laughed lightly as he answered,—

"I know what Odin thinks of you, Estein—a foolish man and fey."

Estein stepped forward a pace, and leaning over the side gazed for a while into the darkness. Helgi too was silent, but his blue eyes danced and his heart beat high as his thoughts flew ahead of the ship to the clash of arms and the shout of victory.

"There remains but me," said Estein at length. "Hakon has no other son."

"And you have five brothers to avenge; the sword should not rust long in your scabbard, Estein."

"Twice I have made the Danes pay a dear atonement for Eric. I cannot punish Thor because he suffered Harald to drown, but if ever in my life it be my fate to meet Thord the Tall, Snaekol Gunnarson, or Thorfin of Skapstead, there shall be but one man left to tell of our meeting."

"The burners of Olaf have long gone out of Norway, have they not?"

"I was but a child when my brother was burned like a fox in his hole at Laxafiord. The burners knew my father too well to bide at home and welcome him; and since then no man has told aught of them, save that Thord the Tall at one time raided much in England, and boasted widely of the burning. He perchance forgot that Hakon had other sons.

"But now, Helgi, we must sleep while we may; nights may come when we shall want it."

For six days and six nights they sailed with a favouring wind over an empty ocean. On the seventh day land was sighted on the starboard bow.

"Can that be England?" asked old Ulf, Estein's forecastle man, a hairy, hugely muscular Viking from the far northern fiords.

"The coast of Scotland more likely," said Helgi. "Shall we try our luck, Estein?"

"I should like to spill a little Scottish blood, and mayhap carry off a maid or two," said Thorolf Hauskoldson, a young giant from the upland dales.

"It may be but a waste of time," Estein replied. "We had best make for England while this wind holds."

"I like not the look of the sky," said Ulf, gazing round him with a frowning brow.

The wind had been dropping off for some time, and along the eastern horizon the settled sky was giving place to heavy clouds. For a short time Estein hesitated, but as the outlook grew more threatening and the wind beat in flaws and gusts, now from one quarter, now from another, the Vikings changed their course and ran under oars and sails for the shelter of the land. Little shelter it promised as they drew nearer: a dark, inhospitable line of precipices stretched north and south as far as the eye could reach, and even from a long distance they could see white flashes breaking at the cliff foot. Again they changed their course; and then, with a dull hum of approaching rain, a south-easterly storm broke over them, and there was nothing for it but to turn and run before the gale.

"I read the stars too well," said Estein grimly between his teeth, clinging to the straining tiller, and watching the rollers rising higher. "And the first part of Atli's prophecy has come true."

"Winds, war, and women make a Viking's luck," replied Helgi; "this is but the first part of the rede."

At night the gale increased, the fleet was scattered over the North Sea, and next morning from Estein's ship only two other black hulls could be seen running before the tempest. Another wild day passed, and it was not till the evening that the weather moderated. Little by little the great seas began to calm, and the drifts of stinging rain ceased. In their wake the stars struggled through the cloud wrack, and towards morning the wind sank altogether.



At earliest dawn eyes were strained to catch a glimpse of something that might tell them where they were. None of the men on Estein's ship had been in those seas more than two or three times at most, and the vaguest conjectures were rife when, as the light was slowly gaining, Ulf raised a cry of land ahead.

"Land to the right!" cried Helgi, a moment later.

"Land to the left!" exclaimed Estein; "and we are close on it, methinks."

When the morning fully broke they found themselves lying off a wide-mouthed sound, that bent and narrowed among low, lonely- looking islands. Only on the more distant land to the right were heather hills of any height to be seen, and those, so far as they could judge, were uninhabited. A heavy swell was running in from the open sea, and a canopy of grey clouds hung over all.

"I like not this country," said Ulf. "What think you is it?"

"The Hjaltland islands, I should think, from what men tell of them," Estein suggested.

"The Orkneys more likely," said Thorolf, who had sailed in those seas before.

Far astern one other vessel was making towards them.

"Which ship is that, Ulf?" asked Estein. "One of our fleet, think you?"

"Ay, it is Thorkel Sigurdson's," replied the shaggy forecastle man, after a long, frowning look.

"By the hammer of Thor, she seems in haste," said Helgi. "They must have broached the ale over-night."

"Perchance Thorkel feels cold," suggested Thorolf with a laugh.

"They have taken the shields from the sides," Estein exclaimed as the ship drew nearer. "Can there be an enemy, think you?"

Again Ulf's hairy face gathered into a heavy frown. "No man can say I fear a foeman," he said, "but I should like ill to fight after two sleepless nights."

"Bah! Thorkel is drunk as usual, and thinks we are chapmen,"2 said Helgi. "They are doubtless making ready to board us."

The ship drew so near that they could plainly see the men on board, and conspicuous among them the tall form of Thorkel appeared in the bow.

"He waves to us; there is something behind this," said Estein.

"Drunk," muttered Helgi. "I wager my gold-handled sword he is drunk. They have ale enough on board to float the ship."

"A sail!" Estein exclaimed, pointing to a promontory to seaward round which the low black hull and coloured sail of a warship were just appearing.

"Ay, and another!" said Ulf.

"Three-four-seven-eight!" Helgi cried.

"There come nine, and ten!" added Estein. "How many more?"

They watched the strange fleet in silence as one by one they turned and bore down upon them, ten ships in all, their oars rhythmically churning the sea, the strange monsters on the prows creeping gradually nearer.

"Orkney Vikings," muttered Ulf. "If I know one long ship from another, they are Orkney Vikings."

Meantime Thorkel's ship had drawn close alongside, and its captain hailed Estein.

"There is little time for talking now, son of Hakon!" he shouted. "What think you we should do?—run into the islands, or go to Odin where we are? These men, methinks, will show us little mercy."

"I seek mercy from no man," answered Estein. "We will bide where we are. We could not escape them if we would, and I would not if I could. Have you seen aught of the other ships?"

"We parted from Ketill yesterday, and I fear me he has gone to feed the fishes. I have seen nothing of Asgrim and the rest. I think with you, Estein, that the bottom here will make as soft a resting-place for us as elsewhere. Fill the beakers and serve the men! It is ill that a man should die thirsty."

The stout sea-rover turned with a gleam of grim humour in his eyes to the enjoyment of what he fully expected would be his last drink on earth, and on both ships men buckled on their armour and bestirred themselves for fight.

Vikings in those days preyed on one another as freely as on men of alien blood. They came out to fight, and better sport could generally be had from a crew of seasoned warriors like themselves than from the softer peoples of the south. Particularly were the Orkney and Shetland islands the stations for the freest of free lances, men so hostile to all semblance of law and order that the son of a Norwegian king would seem in their eyes a most desirable quarry. Many a load of hard-won spoil changed hands on its way home; and the shores of Norway itself were so harried by these island Vikings that some time later King Harald Harfagri descended and made a clean sweep of them in the interests of what he probably considered society.

The two vessels floated close together, the oars were shipped, and there, in the grey prosaic early morning light, they heaved gently on the North Sea swell, and awaited the approach of the ten. A few sea-birds circled and screamed above them; a faint pillar of smoke rose from some homestead on a distant shore; elsewhere there was no sign of life save in the ships to seaward.

Thorkel, leaning over the side of his vessel, told a tale of buffetings by night and day such as Estein and his crew had undergone. That morning he said they had descried Estein's ship just as the day broke, and almost immediately afterwards ten long ships were spied lying at anchor in an island bay. For a time they hoped to slip by them unseen. The fates, however, were against them. They were observed, and the strange Vikings awoke and gave chase like a swarm of bees incautiously aroused.

Apparently the strangers considered themselves hardly yet prepared for battle; for they slackened speed as they advanced, and those on Estein's ships could see that a hasty bustle of preparation was going on.

"What think you—friends or foes?" asked Helgi.

"To the Orkney Vikings all men are foes," replied Estein.

"Ay," said Thorkel with a laugh, "particularly when they are but two to ten."

By this time the strangers were within hailing distance, and in the leading ship a man in a red cloak came from the poop and stood before the others in the bow. In a loud tone he bade his men cease rowing, and then, clapping his hand to his mouth, asked in a voice that had a ring of scornful command what name the captain bore.

"Estein, the son of Hakon, King of Sogn; and who are you who ask my name?" came the reply across the water.

"Liot, the son of Skuli," answered the man in the red cloak. "With me sails Osmund Hooknose, the son of Hallward. We have here ten warships, as you see. Yield to us, Estein Hakonson, or we will take by force what you will not give us."

The man threw his left hand on his hip, drew himself up, and said something to his crew, accompanying the words by gestures with a spear. They answered with a loud shout, and then struck up a wild and monotonous chorus, the words of which were a refrain descriptive of the usual fate of those who ventured to stand in Liot Skulison's way. At the same time their oars churned the water, and their vessel was brought into line with the others.