Now I thought that we should have gone back to the hall; but Olaf walked away from the town, going along the shore. The tide was just out, and the flow would soon begin. Soon we lost sight of the last lights from the houses, and still he went on, and I followed him, not speaking, for I knew not what plans he was making.
At last we came to a place to which I had not been before, and it was lonely enough. The forest came down to the beach, and the land was low and sheltered between the hills. There the king stayed, sitting down on a fallen tree and resting his chin on his hand, as he looked out over the water with grave eyes that seemed to see far beyond the tossing waves.
I rested beside him, and there we bided silent for an hour or more. There was only the sound of the wind in the storm-twisted trees behind us, and of the waves as they broke along the edge of the bare sands, where a few waking sea birds ran and piped unseen by us. Almost had I slept with those well-known sounds in my ears.
Then suddenly the king lifted his head, and spoke one word to me:
“Listen,” he said.
I roused, but all that I could hear at first were the sounds that I had forgotten—the song of the wind in the trees, the rush of the breakers, and the cry of the sea birds across the sands.
Then my heart began to beat wildly, for out of these sounds, or among them, began to come clearly, and yet more clearly the sound of the tread of many armed feet—the passing of a mighty host—and with that the thunder of the war song, and the cry of those who bade farewell. And these sounds passed over us and around us, going seawards; then they died away out towards the north, and were gone.
Yet still the king listened, and again came the tramp of the armed thousands, and the war song, and the voices of parting, and they passed, and came, and passed yet once more.
Then after the third time there was nought but the sound of wind and wave and sea fowl, and I drew closer to Olaf and asked him:
“What is this that we hear?”
“Wait,” he said, and pointed seaward.
Then I looked, and I saw all the northern sky glow red as glows the light of a burning town on the low clouds when the host that has fired it looks back on its work. And plain and clear in the silver moonlight against the crimson sky sat the wraith of a king, throned on the sand at the very water’s edge, and round him stood shadowy nobles, looking seaward.
And even as I saw it the first wave of the rising tide sent its edge of foam shorewards, and it surged around the kingly feet and sapped the base of the throne, and the stately wraith turned and looked upon the nobles, and was gone.
Then faded the red light from the sky, and the waves washed over the place where the throne and court had been, and Olaf rose up and looked in my face. Nor was there fear of what he had seen and heard written in his quiet look.