Presently Brighteyes rose and peered at Gudruda through the gloom. She still swooned. Then he gazed about him—but Swanhild, the witchgirl, was gone.
Then he took Gudruda in his arms, and, leading the horse, stumbled through the darkness, calling on Skallagrim. The Baresark answered, and presently his large form was seen looming in the gloom.
Eric told his tale in few words.
“The ways of womankind are evil,” said Skallagrim; “but of all the deeds that I have known done at their hands, this is the worst. It had been well to hurl the wolf-witch from the cliff.”
“Ay, well,” said Eric; “but that song must yet be sung.”
Now dimly lighted of the rising moon by turns they bore Gudruda down the mountain side, till at length, utterly fordone, they saw the fires of Middalhof.
HOW ASMUND SPOKE WITH SWANHILD
Now as the days went, though Atli’s ship was bound for sea, she did not sail, and it came about that the Earl sank ever deeper in the toils of Swanhild. He called to mind many wise saws, but these availed him little: for when Love rises like the sun, wisdom melts like the mists. So at length it came to this, that on the day of Eric’s coming back, Atli went to Asmund the Priest, and asked him for the hand of Swanhild the Fatherless in marriage. Asmund heard and was glad, for he knew well that things went badly between Swanhild and Gudruda, and it seemed good to him that seas should be set between them. Nevertheless, he thought it honest to warn the Earl that Swanhild was apart from other women.
“Thou dost great honour, earl, to my foster-daughter and my house,” he said. “Still, it behoves me to move gently in this matter. Swanhild is fair, and she shall not go hence a wife undowered. But I must tell thee this: that her ways are dark and secret, and strange and fiery are her moods, and I think that she will bring evil on the man who weds her. Now, I love thee, Atli, were it only for our youth’s sake, and thou art not altogether fit to mate with such a maid, for age has met thee on thy way. For, as thou wouldst say, youth draws to youth as the tide to the shore, and falls away from eld as the wave from the rock. Think, then: is it well that thou shouldst take her, Atli?”
“I have thought much and overmuch,” answered the Earl, stroking his grey beard; “but ships old and new drive before a gale.”
“Ay, Atli, and the new ship rides, where the old one founders.”
“A true rede, a heavy rede, Asmund; yet I am minded to sail this sea, and, if it sink me—well, I have known fair weather! Great longing has got hold of me, and I think the maid looks gently on me, and that things may yet go well between us. I have many things to give such as women love. At the least, if thou givest me thy good word, I will risk it, Asmund: for the bold thrower sometimes wins the stake. Only I say this, that, if Swanhild is unwilling, let there be an end of my wooing, for I do not wish to take a bride who turns from my grey hairs.”