“Ho, men,” I said, when I saw that, “get to arms; for here they come to speak with us. Maybe we shall have to fight—and these are no easy nuts to crack!”
Whereat the men laughed; and straightway there was the pleasant hustle and talk of those who donned mail shirt and helm and set the throwing weapons to hand with all good will.
“Let us keep on our course,” I said to Kolgrim. “We will see if we cannot weather on these ships, and anyway shall fight them better apart from the rest. It is a fine breeze for a sailing match.”
So we held on; and the two great ships to windward of us began to gain on us slowly, which was a thing that had never been done by any ship before. I do not know that even Harald Fairhair had any swifter ship than this that Halfdan had taken in his flight from home. Kolgrim waxed very wroth when it became plain that these could outsail us.
“There is witchcraft about those great hulks,” he growled. “They are neither Norse, nor Frisian, nor Danish, but better than all three put together.”
“I have sailed in ships, and talked of ships, and dreamed of them moreover, since I could stand alone,” said Thord, “but I never so much as thought of the like of these. If they belong to some new kind of viking, there are hard times in store for some of us.”
“Faith,” said I, “I believe they have swept up and made prizes of all that medley astern of them.”
So we held on for half an hour, and all that time they gained steadily on us; and we neared them quickly at last, for we tried to hold across their bows and weather on them. That was no good, for they were as weatherly as we.
Now we could see that their decks were covered with armed men, and it seemed certain that they meant to make prize of us. The leading ship was maybe half a mile ahead of the other, and that a mile from us—all three close-hauled as we strove to gain a weather berth. Then the leading ship put her helm up and stood across our course, and the second followed her.
“We must out oars now if we are to weather on them,” said Kolgrim at last.
Then the men shouted; and I looked at the second ship, to which they were pointing. Her great sail was overboard, for the halliards had gone—chafed through maybe, or snapped with the strain as she paid off quickly. Then a new hope came to me.
“Men,” I said, “let us take the other vessel, and then come back on this; they are worth winning.”
They cheered. And now the fight seemed to be even—ship to ship at least, if our foe was larger and higher and swifter than ours; for I thought that he would hardly have a crew like mine.
We up helm and stood away on the new course the foe had taken, leaving the crippled ship astern very fast. And now we began to edge up towards the other vessel, meaning to go about under her stern, and so shoot to windward of her on the other tack. But then I thought of a plan which might help us in the fighting. There had seemed little order and much shouting on board the ship we had left when her sail fell, and maybe there was the same want of discipline here.