“Then alone upon
Three long days they steer and sail,
Till the waters, welling upwards,
Wash dead men about their feet.
Fails the gale and sinks the dragon,
Barely may they win the boat:
Safe they stand on ship Gudruda—
Say, who cut the grapnel-chain?”
HOW ERIC DWELT IN LONDON TOWN
Men stood astonished, but Hall the mate slunk back.
“Hold, comrade,” said Eric, “I have something to say that songs cannot carry. Hearken, my shield-mates: we swore to be true to each other, even to death: is it not so? What then shall be said of that man who cut loose the Gudruda and left us two to die at the foeman’s hand?”
“Who was the man?” asked a voice.
“That man was Hall of Lithdale,” said Eric.
“It is false!” said Hall, gathering up his courage; “the cable parted beneath the straining of the ship, and afterwards we could not put about because of the great sea.”
“Thou art false!” roared Skallagrim. “With my eyes I saw thee let thine axe fall upon the cable. Liar art thou and dastard! Thou art jealous also of Brighteyes thy lord, and this was in thy mind: to let him die upon the Raven and then to bind his shoes upon thy cowardly feet. Though none else saw, I saw; and I say this: that if I may have my will, I will string thee, living, to the prow in that same cable till gulls tear out thy fox-heart!”
Now Hall grew very white and his knees trembled beneath him. “It is true,” he said, “that I cut the chain, but not from any thought of evil. Had I not cut it the vessel must have sunk and all been lost.”
“Did we not swear, Hall,” said Eric sternly, “together to fight and together to fall—together to fare and, if need be, together to cease from faring, and dost thou read the oath thus? Say, mates, what reward shall be paid to this man for his good fellowship to us and his tenderness for your lives?”
As with one voice the men answered “Death!”
“Thou hearest, Hall?” said Eric. “Yet I would deal more gently with one to whom I swore fellowship so lately. Get thee gone from our company, and let us see thy cur’s face no more. Get thee gone, I say, before I repent of my mercy.”
Then amidst a loud hooting, Hall took his weapons and without a word slunk into the boat of the Raven that lay astern, and rowed ashore; nor did Eric see his face for many months.
“Thou hast done foolishly, lord, to let that weasel go,” said Skallagrim, “for he will live to nip thy hand.”
“For good or evil, he is gone,” said Eric, “and now I am worn out and desire to sleep.”
After this Eric and Skallagrim rested three full days, and they were so weary that they were awake for little of this time. But on the third day they rose up, strong and well, except for their hurts and soreness. Then they told the men of that which had come to pass, and all wondered at their might and hardihood. To them indeed Eric seemed as a God, for few such deeds as his had been told of since the God-kind were on earth.