“Yet I think there is one for you to guess, brother,” I said gently, “and it is: Where is the live bear hiding? Can’t you see that there were two bears on that ice-head, and that one has killed and eaten the other?”
“How do you know that?” asked Ragnar.
“Because I saw the slot of the second as we passed the birch wood yonder. It has a split claw on the left forefoot and the others are all worn by the ice.”
“Then why in Odin’s name did you not say so before?” exclaimed Ragnar angrily.
Now I was ashamed to confess that I had been dreaming, so I answered at hazard:
“Because I wished to look upon the sea and the floating ice. See what wondrous colours they take in this light!”
When he heard this, Steinar burst out laughing till tears came into his blue eyes and his broad shoulders shook. But Ragnar, who cared nothing for scenery or sunsets, did not laugh. On the contrary, as was usual with him when vexed, he lost his temper and swore by the more evil of the gods. Then he turned on me and said:
“Why not tell the truth at once, Olaf? You are afraid of this beast, and that’s why you let us come on here when you knew it was in the wood. You hoped that before we got back there it would be too dark to hunt.”
At this taunt I flushed and gripped the shaft of my long hunting spear, for among us Northmen to be told that he was afraid of anything was a deadly insult to a man.
“If you were not my brother——” I began, then checked myself, for I was by nature easy-tempered, and went on: “It is true, Ragnar, I am not so fond of hunting as you are. Still, I think that there will be time to fight this bear and kill or be killed by it, before it grows dark, and if not I will return alone to-morrow morning.”
Then I pulled my horse round and rode ahead. As I went, my ears being very quick, I heard the other two talking together. At least, I suppose that I heard them; at any rate, I know what they said, although, strangely enough, nothing at all comes back to me of their tale of an attack upon a ship or of what then I did or did not do.
“It is not wise to jeer at Olaf,” said Steinar, “for when he is stung with words he does mad things. Don’t you remember what happened when your father called him ‘niddering’ last year because Olaf said it was not just to attack the ship of those British men who had been driven to our coast by weather, meaning us no harm?”
“Aye,” answered Ragnar. “He leapt among them all alone as soon as our boat touched her side, and felled the steersman. Then the British men shouted out that they would not kill so brave a lad, and threw him into the sea. It cost us that ship, since by the time we had picked him up she had put about and hoisted her large sail. Oh, Olaf is brave enough, we all know that! Still, he ought to have been born a woman or a priest of Freya who only offers flowers. Also, he knows my tongue and bears no malice.”