“I will take your word for it,” I said, laughing as I looked; “but it is a kindly letter, and I will surely come.”
“Ay; he has written to you as to an equal,” Odda said.
“That is so. Now I would have the good king know that I am not that; I am but a sea king. Maybe he thinks that I shall be a good ally, and makes more of my power than should be. I told Godred the thane as plainly as I could what I was, this morning.”
“Why, then,” said Neot, smiling, “Godred has told the king, no doubt.”
“I hope he has,” I answered, “but I doubt it. Nevertheless it is easy to tell the king myself when I see him.”
After that we talked about other matters, and it became plain that this Neot was a wonderfully wise man, and, as I thought, a holy one in truth, as they called him. There is that about such an one that cannot be mistaken.
Harek sang for us, and pleased all, and into his song came, as one might suppose, a good deal about the Asir. And then Neot began to ask me a good deal about the old gods, as he called them. I told him what I knew, which was little enough maybe, and so said that Harek knew all about them, and that he should rather ask him.
He did not care to do that, but asked me plainly if I were a Christian.
“How should I be?” I said. “Odda is the first Christian man I have spoken with, to my knowledge. So, if I were likely to leave my own faith, I have not so much as heard of another.”
“So you are no hater of Christians?” he said.
“Surely not. Why should I be? I never thought of the matter.”
Then he said:
“Herein you Norsemen are not like the Danes, who hate our faith, and slay our priests because of their hatred.”
“More likely because Christian means Saxon to them, or else because you have slain them as heathens. Northmen do not trouble about another nation’s faith so long as their own is not interfered with. Why should they? Each country has its own ways in this as in other matters.”
Thereat Neot was silent, and asked me no more. Hereafter I learned that hatred of race had made the hatred of religion bitter, until the last seemed to be the greatest hatred of all, adding terror and bitterest cruelty to the struggle for mastery.
Presently, before it was very late, Neot rose up and spoke to Odda, bidding him farewell. Then he came to me, and said:
“Tell the king that we have spoken together, and give him this message if you will that I go to my place in Cornwall, and shall be there for a while.”
Then he passed to Thord, and took his hard hand and said:
“Good are words that come from an honest heart. I have learned a lesson tonight where I thought to have learned none.”
“I marvel that you needed to learn that,” Thord said gruffly.
“So do I, friend,” answered Neot; “but one is apt to go too far in a matter which one has at heart, sometimes before one is aware. Then is a word in season welcome.”