Gorm’s eyes shone, and he whistled softly. “News indeed! This is a day of wonders. What next?”
“How many of the men in the hall will stand by Arnkel when Gerda is known?” I asked. “She would have no fighting if it can be avoided.”
Maybe a dozen—men who never knew her. That is of no account, for there are two score of our folk supping there.”
“Well, then,” I said, “we will surround the hall and walk in quietly and call on Arnkel to surrender. If he does not, we must make him do so; but first Gerda’s tale shall be told of him.”
Then Gerda said: “Let me go into the hall first and speak with Arnkel face to face. I have no fear of him, and I think that my folk will stand by me.”
Just for a moment we doubted if that was safe for her, but Gorm the Steward had the last word.
“Let it be so,” he said. “Gerda shall call to her men, and they will not hang back. Then Arnkel must needs give in. Now, the sooner the better for all concerned.”
Chapter 18: A Sea Queen’s Welcome.
The folk ashore had made fast the ship by this time, and were idly waiting while Gorm spoke to us. As yet they had paid no heed to the lady with whom he talked, but wondered more at the quiet of the men than aught else. I felt that they were growing uneasy, though that Gorm found us friendly kept them from showing it. I dare say they thought we were more messengers from Eric.
Now, Gorm bade us choose our men quickly and follow him, lest some word should go to Arnkel of the armed ship which had come instead of the peaceful trader which the pilots should have brought. So I went down the starboard side and named a dozen men, while Asbiorn did the same from the other bank of rowers, and as we named them, they leapt up and fell in behind us. Then Asbiorn said:
“Better that I am not seen unless wanted. I will go to the back of the hall and see that none get away thence. What shall you do if all goes well?”
“Take Arnkel and send him back to Hakon in the ship,” I answered. “That is the only thing possible. If he is foolish enough to fight—well, he must take his chance.”
Asbiorn nodded, and we went ashore, leaving that old courtman of mine, Sidroc, in charge of the ship and the dozen men left with her. The folk of the place thronged round to see us pass up the town, and saw Gerda plainly for the first time. In another moment I heard her name pass among them, and Gorm spoke to them, for there was a growing noise of welcome.
“Steady, friends!” he said sternly, “steady! No need to tell Arnkel that his time has come yet. Let us get to the hall quietly, and thereafter shout as you like—
“Ho! stop that man!”
One had broken away from the crowd and was off toward the hall at full speed, meaning, as I have no doubt, to warn Arnkel and win reward. But he did not get far. A dozen men were after him, and had him fast, and no other cared to follow his example.