“Pray that we get him home safe,” said Steinar uneasily, “for if not there will be trouble with your mother and every other woman in the land, to say nothing of Iduna the Fair.”
“Iduna the Fair would live through it,” answered Ragnar, with a hard laugh. “But you are right; and, what is more, there will be trouble among the men also, especially with my father and in my own heart. After all there is but one Olaf.”
At this moment I held up my hand, and they stopped talking.
THE SLAYING OF THE BEAR
Leaping from their horses, Ragnar and Steinar came to where I stood, for already I had dismounted and was pointing to the ground, which just here had been swept clear of snow by the wind.
“I see nothing,” said Ragnar.
“But I do, brother,” I answered; “who study the ways of wild things while you think I am asleep. Look, that moss has been turned over; for it is frozen underneath and pressed up into little mounds between the bear’s claws. Also that tiny pool has gathered in the slot of the paw; it is its very shape. The other footprints do not show because of the rock.”
Then I went forward a few paces behind some bushes and called out: “Here runs the track, sure enough, and, as I thought, the brute has a split claw; the snow marks it well. Bid the thrall stay with the horses and come you.”
They obeyed, and there on the white snow which lay beyond the bush we saw the track of the bear stamped as if in wax.
“A mighty beast,” said Ragnar. “Never have I seen its like.”
“Aye,” exclaimed Steinar, “but an ill place to hunt it in,” and he looked doubtfully at the rough gorge, covered with undergrowth, that some hundred yards farther on became dense birch forest. “I think it would be well to ride back to Aar, and return to-morrow morning with all whom we can gather. This is no task for three spears.”
By this time I, Olaf, was springing from rock to rock up the gorge, following the bear’s track. For my brother’s taunts rankled in me and I was determined that I should kill this beast or die and thus show Ragnar that I feared no bear. So I called back to them over my shoulder:
“Aye, go home, it is wisest; but I go on for I have never yet seen one of these white ice-bears alive.”
“Now it is Olaf who taunts in his turn,” said Ragnar with a laugh. Then they both sprang after me, but always I kept ahead of them.
For the half of a mile or more they followed me out of the scrub into the birch forest, where the snow, lying on the matted boughs of the trees and especially of some firs that were mingled with the birch, made the place gloomy in that low light. Always in front of me ran the huge slots of the bear till at length they brought me to a little forest glade, where some great whirling wind had torn up many trees which had but a poor root-hold on a patch of almost soilless rock.