Dalfin turned to us now, and his face was troubled.
“Malcolm,” he said, “you have heard all this. It is a mere chance if Heidrek has not heard of the wreck by this time. Now, it will be best for you to bring Gerda across here at once, and so let these men take you to a hiding in the hills. I will come back swiftly with men and horses and take you thence. Make the hermits come also, if you can—but they will not.”
Then he spoke to the fishers and told them that they had to do this, at the same time bidding some get provender and be ready to go with him instantly. That pleased them well enough, and a dozen ran to the huts to find what was needed. I heard the women scolding them.
“Farewell, friends,” he said, coming alongside again, and taking our hands with a great grip. “I left Ireland to find adventure, and, faith, I have not been disappointed. Now, the sooner I am away the sooner I will be back.”
“Good luck to you,” we cried; and he shouted for his ragged men, and was away up the glen.
Behind the little straggling crowd the women came out and wept and howled as if not one would be back again. It was their way of sending their men off in good spirits, I suppose. Not that the men heeded the noise at all, being used to it. One looked back and grinned.
The few men left lingered on the shore, and I called one to me.
“We shall be back here shortly with the young queen,” I said. “You will be ready for us.”
“As the word of the prince bade us,” he answered. “It will be done.”
We pulled away, and it was time. The falling tide was setting westward through the strait, and we had to row more or less against it now as we crossed to where Gerda’s white dress shone on the farther shore.
“Heidrek will not risk a landing,” Bertric said. “The sooner we are back here with Gerda the better. He has heard of that wreck.”
I told him the words of the fishers, and he was the more sure of it. We pulled on the faster therefore, and the light boat flew as only a Norse-built boat can fly.
Bertric was in the forward rower’s place, steering, and now and again he turned his head to set the course. I suppose we had covered half the distance across, when I heard him draw in his breath sharply.
“Holy saints,” he said, “look yonder!”
He was staring toward the westward mouth of the strait, half a mile away. There was a long black boat there, and the sun sparkled on the arms of the men in her. They were rowing slowly against the tide, toward us.
“Too late,” said Bertric between his teeth. “That is Heidrek treasure hunting, and we shall not get back to the mainland.”
Chapter 12: With Sail And Oar.
I looked over my shoulder at Gerda. Her white dress seemed to shine in the morning sun like silver against some dark bushes, and my first fear was that it could be seen as plainly by the men in the big boat down the strait.