It was the fourth night of the gale. Eric stood at the helm, and by him Skallagrim. They were alone, for their comrades were spent and lay beneath decks, waiting for death. The ship was half full of water, but they had no more strength to bail. Eric seemed grim and gaunt in the white light of the moon, and his long hair streamed about him wildly. Grimmer yet was Skallagrim as he clung to the shield-rail and stared across the deep.
“She rolls heavily, lord,” he shouted, “and the water gains fast.”
“Can the men bail no more?” asked Eric.
“Nay, they are outworn and wait for death.”
“They need not wait long,” said Eric. “What do they say of me?”
Then Eric groaned aloud. “It was my stubbornness that brought us to this pass,” he said; “I care little for myself, but it is ill that all should die for one man’s folly.”
“Grieve not, lord,” answered Skallagrim, “that is the world’s way, and there are worse things than to drown. Listen! methinks I hear the roar of breakers yonder,” and he pointed to the left.
“Breakers they surely are,” said Eric. “Now the end is near. But see, is not that land looming up on the right, or is it cloud?”
“It is land,” said Skallagrim, “and I am sure of this, that we run into a firth. Look, the seas boil like a hot spring. Hold on thy course, lord, perchance we may yet steer between rocks and land. Already the wind falls and the current lessens the seas.”
“Ay,” said Eric, “already the fog and rain come up,” and he pointed ahead where dense clouds gathered in the shape of a giant, whose head reached to the skies and moved towards them, hiding the moon.
Skallagrim looked, then spoke: “Now here, it seems, is witchwork. Say, lord, hast thou ever seen mist travel against wind as it travels now?”
“Never before,” said Eric, and as he spoke the light of the moon went out.
Swanhild, Atli’s wife, sat in beauty in her bower on Straumey Isle and looked with wide eyes towards the sea. It was midnight. None stirred in Atli’s hall, but still Swanhild looked out towards the sea.
Now she turned and spoke into the darkness, for there was no light in the bower save the light of her great eyes.
“Art thou there?” she said. “I have summoned thee thrice in the words thou knowest. Say, Toad, art there?”
“Ay, Swanhild the Fatherless! Swanhild, Groa’s daughter! Witch-mother’s witch-child! I am here. What is thy will with me?” piped a thin voice like the voice of a dying babe.
Swanhild shuddered a little and her eyes grew brighter—as bright as the eyes of a cat.
“This first,” she said: “that thou show thyself. Hideous as thou art, I had rather see thee, than speak with thee seeing thee not.”
“Mock not my form, lady,” answered the thin voice, “for it is as thou dost fashion it in thy thought. To the good I am fair as day; to the evil, foul as their heart. Toad thou didst call me: look, now I come as a toad!”