“Let these Danes make what they can of that,” he said. “It will take a man born to the Gaelic to catch aught of it through yon hole, if he thinks he understands it in the open.”
So in the Erse we spoke for a little while, and it was a hopeless talk at best. Only we agreed that we would stand by one another through whatever might come, and that the first chance of escape was to be taken, be it what it might.
All the while that we talked thus the noise of the men who drank grew wilder and more foolish. It was a cask of our old heather ale which they had broached, and that is potent, if to the unwary it seems harmless enough. Once or twice Asbiorn called to the noisiest to be still, but they heeded him little.
Soon, however, the noise ceased, and we thought that most of the men slept. After that was no sound but the wash of the waves, and the hum of the sail, and the creak of the great steering oar as Asbiorn met the luff of the ship across the long, smooth sweep of the waves.
We, too, grew drowsy, for the cabin was close and warm beneath the sunny decks. All that could be said was said, and so we slept, if it were but uneasily.
Chapter 2: Men Of Three Kingdoms.
I was roused before long by a tapping on the deck overhead, which came now and again as if Asbiorn, who was steering still, was beating time to some air. So he was, for soon he began to whistle softly, and then to hum to himself. I will not say that the music was much; but he sat barely a fathom from the open hatch, and presently the words he sang caught my ear. They were of no song I had ever heard, and they seemed to have little meaning in them. I listened idly, and the next thing was that I knew, with a great leap of my heart, that what he sang, or pretended to sing, was meant for myself. It could only be so, for he sang of the Orkney Isles to the east of us, and of a boat, and of two men who could win thereto if they dared to try.
“Listen, Dalfin,” I said, and my comrade started up eagerly.
Asbiorn heard the movement, and he seemed to lean toward the hatch.
“Jarl’s son,” he hummed, “come under the hatch and listen. Is it in your mind to get away from us?”
I set my head through the little square opening carefully, and looked round. There was a bale of canvas, plunder from our ship sheds, across the break of the deck, and I could not be seen by the men, while Asbiorn was alone at the helm. It was almost as light as day, with the strange shadowless brightness of our northern June, when the glow of the sunset never leaves the sky till it blends with that of sunrise.
“Your boat is towing aft,” he said, still singing, as one may say. “It is shame to keep chiefs in thralldom thus; and I will not do it. Now, I am going forward, and you can drop overboard and take her. The men are asleep, and will not wake.”