Now Eric sprang up with an oath and grasped the hilt of Whitefire. Then he sat down again upon the stone and covered his face with his hands.
“Grieve not, Eric,” she said gently; “I put no faith in this news, for rumour, like the black-backed gull, often changes colour in its flight across the seas. Also I had it but at fifth hand. I am sure of this, at least, that Gudruda will never forsake thee without a cause.”
“It shall go ill with Ospakar if this be true,” said Eric, smiling grimly, “for Whitefire is yet left me and with it one true friend.”
“Run not to meet the evil, Eric. Thou shalt come to Iceland with the summer flowers and find Gudruda faithful and yet fairer than of yore. Knowest thou that Hall of Lithdale, who was thy mate, has sat here these two months? He is gone but this morning, I know not whither, leaving a message that he returns no more.”
“He did well to go,” said Eric, and he told her how Hall had cut the cable.
“Ay, well indeed,” answered Swanhild. “Had Atli known this he would have scourged Hall hence with rods of seaweed. And now, Eric, I desire to ask thee one more thing: why wearest thou thy hair long like a woman’s? Indeed, few women have such hair as thine is now.”
“For this cause, Swanhild: I swore to Gudruda that none should cut my hair till she cut it once more. It is a great burden to me surely, for never did hair grow so fast and strong as mine, and once in a fray I was held fast by it and went near to the losing of my life. Still, I will keep the oath even if it grows on to my feet,” and he laughed a little and shook back his golden locks.
Swanhild smiled also and, turning, went. But when her face was hidden from him she smiled no more.
“As I live,” she said in her heart, “before spring rains fall I again will cause thee to break this oath, Eric. Ay, I will cut a lock of that bright hair of thine and send it for a love-token to Gudruda.”
But Eric still sat upon the rock thinking. Swanhild had set an evil seed of doubt in his heart, and already it put forth roots. What if the tale were true? What if Gudruda had given herself to Ospakar? Well, if so—she should soon be a widow, that he swore.
Then he rose, and stalked grimly towards the hall.
HOW KOLL THE HALF-WITTED BROUGHT TIDINGS FROM ICELAND
Presently as Eric walked he met Atli the Earl seeking him. Atli greeted him.
“I have seen strange things, Eric,” he said, “but none more strange than this coming of thine and the manner of it. Swanhild is foresighted, and that was a doom-dream of hers.”
“I think her foresighted also,” said Eric. “And now, Earl, knowest thou this: that little good can come to thee at the hands of one whom thou hast saved from the sea.”
“I set no faith in such old wives’ tales,” answered Atli. “Here thou art come, and it is my will that thou shouldest sit here. At the least, I will give thee no help to go hence.”