“I am come back to seek no great thing, lord,” answered Eric, “but this only: leave to bid thee farewell. I would wend homeward.”
“Say, Eric,” said the King, “have I not dealt well with thee?”
“Well, and overwell, lord.”
“Why, then, wouldst thou leave me? I have this in my mind—to bring thee to great honour. See, now, there is a fair lady in this court, and in her veins runs blood that even an Iceland viking might be proud to mate with. She has great lands, and, mayhap, she shall have more. Canst thou not find a home on them, thinkest thou, Brighteyes?”
“In Iceland only I am at home, lord,” said Eric.
Then the King was wroth, and bade him begone when it pleased him, and Eric bowed before him and went out.
Two days afterwards, while Eric was walking in the Palace gardens he met the Lady Elfrida face to face. She held white flowers in her hand, and she was fair to see and pale as the flowers she bore.
He greeted her, and, after a while, she spoke to him in a gentle voice: “They say that thou goest from England, Brighteyes?” she said.
“Yes, lady; I go,” he answered.
She looked on him once and twice and then burst out weeping. “Why goest thou hence to that cold land of thine?” she sobbed—“that hateful land of snow and ice! Is not England good enough for thee?”
“I am at home there, lady, and there my mother waits me.”
“‘There thy mother waits thee,’ Eric?—say, does a maid called Gudruda the Fair wait thee there also?”
“There is such a maid in Iceland,” said Eric.
“Yes; I know it—I know it all,” she answered, drying her tears, and of a sudden growing cold and proud; “Eric, thou art betrothed to this Gudruda; and, for thy welfare, somewhat overfaithful to thy troth. For hearken, Eric Brighteyes. I know this: that little luck shall come to thee from the maid Gudruda. It would become me ill to say more; nevertheless, this is true—that here, in England, good fortune waits thy hand, and there in Iceland such fortune as men mete to their foes. Knowest thou this?”
Eric looked at her and answered: “Lady,” he said, “men are not born of their own will, they live and do little that they will, they do and go, perchance, whither they would not. Yet it may happen to a man that one meets him whose hand he fain would hold, if it be but for an hour’s travel over icy ways; and it is better to hold that hand for this short hour than to wend his life through at a stranger’s side.”
“Perhaps there is wisdom in thy folly,” said the Lady Elfrida. “Still, I tell thee this: that no good luck waits thee there in Iceland.”
“It well may be,” said Eric: “my days have been stormy, and the gale is still brewing. But it is a poor heart that fears the storm. Better to sink; for, coward or hero, all must sink at last.”
“Say, Eric,” said the lady, “if that hand thou dost desire to hold is lost to thee, what then?”