“Greeting, Bjoern, Asmund’s son!” quoth Eric. “Greeting, Ospakar Blacktooth! Greeting, Swanhild the Fatherless, Atli’s witch-wife—Groa’s witch-bairn! Greeting, Hall of Lithdale, Hall the liar—Hall who cut the grapnel-chain! And to thee, sweet Bride, to thee Gudruda the Fair, greeting!”
Now Bjoern spoke: “I will take no greeting from a shamed and outlawed man. Get thee gone, Eric Brighteyes, and take thy wolf-hound with thee, lest thou bidest here stiff and cold.”
“Speak not so loud, rat, lest hound’s fang worry thee!” growled Skallagrim.
But Eric laughed aloud and cried—
“Words must be said, and perchance men shall die, ere ever I leave this hall, Bjoern!”
HOW THE FEAST WENT
“Hearken all men!” said Eric.
“Thrust him out!” quoth Bjoern.
“Nay, cut him down!” said Ospakar, “he is an outlawed man.”
“Words first, then deeds,” answered Skallagrim. “Thou shalt have thy fill of both, Blacktooth, before day is done.”
“Let Eric say his say,” said Gudruda, lifting her head. “He has been doomed unheard, and it is my will that he shall say his say.”
“What hast thou to do with Eric?” snarled Ospakar.
“The bride-cup is not yet drunk, lord,” she answered.
“To thee, then, I will speak, lady,” quoth Eric. “How comes it that, being betrothed to me, thou dost sit there the bride of Ospakar?”
“Ask of Swanhild,” said Gudruda in a low voice. “Ask also of Hall of Lithdale yonder, who brought me Swanhild’s gift from Straumey.”
“I must ask much of Hall and he must answer much,” said Eric. “What tale, then, did he bring thee from Straumey?”
“He said this, Eric,” Gudruda answered: “that thou wast Swanhild’s love; that for Swanhild’s sake thou hadst basely killed Atli the Good, and that thou wast about to wed Swanhild’s self and take the Earl’s seat in Orkneys.”
“And for what cause was I made outlaw at the Althing?”
“For this cause, Eric,” said Bjoern, “that thou hadst dealt evilly with Swanhild, bringing her to shame against her will, and thereafter that thou hadst slain the Earl, her husband.”
“Which, then, of these tales is true? for both cannot be true,” said Brighteyes. “Speak, Swanhild.”
“Thou knowest well that the last is true,” said Swanhild boldly.
“How then comes it that thou didst charge Hall with that message to Gudruda? How then comes it that thou didst send her the lock of hair which thou didst cozen me to give thee?”
“I charged Hall with no message, and I sent no lock of hair,” Swanhild answered.
“Stand thou forward, Hall!” said Eric, “and liar and coward though thou art, dare not to speak other than the truth! Nay, look not at the door: for, if thou stirrest, this spear shall find thee before thou hast gone a pace!”