There was a rush to the bulwarks, a splashing of bodies in the water, and then the doomed and deserted ships, the attacker and the attacked, sank in the turmoil of the tide. Estein himself had been pitched clear of his foe into the waist, where he had fallen head first and half-stunned.
He felt a friendly hand dragging him to the side, and heard Helgi’s voice saying,—
“Art thou able to swim for it?”
Then he had a confused recollection of being swept along by an irresistible current, clinging the while to what he afterwards found to be a friendly plank, and after that came oblivion.
The holy isle.
With the first glimmer of consciousness, Estein became aware of an aching head and a bruised body. Next he felt that he was very wet and cold; and then he discovered that he was not alone. His head rested on something soft, and two hands chafed his temples.
“Helgi,” he said.
A voice that was not Helgi’s replied, “Thanks be to the saints! he is alive.”
Estein started up, and his gaze met a pair of dark blue eyes. They and the hands belonged to a fair young girl, a maid of some seventeen summers, on whose knees his aching head had just been resting.
They were sitting on a shelving rock that jutted into the tideway, and at his feet his kindly plank bumped gently in an eddy of the current.
He looked at her so silently and intently that the blue eyes drooped and a faint blush rose to the maiden’s cheeks.
“Are you wounded?” she asked. She spoke in the Norse tongue, but with a pretty, foreign accent, and she looked so fair and so kind that thoughts of sirens and mermaids passed through the Viking’s mind.
“Wounded? Well, methinks I ought to be,” he answered; “and yet I feel rather bruised than pierced. If I can stand—” and as he spoke he rose to his feet, and slipping on the seaweed, slid quietly into the water.
The girl screamed; and then, as he scrambled out none the worse and only a little the wetter, an irresistible inclination to laugh overcame her. Forgetful of his head, he laughed with her.
“Forgive me,” she said; “I could not help laughing, though, to be sure, you seem in no laughing plight. I thought at first that you were drowned.”
“’Tis your doing, I think, that I am not. Did you find me in the water?”
“Half in and half out; and it took much pulling to get you wholly out.”
Estein impulsively drew a massive gold ring off his finger, and in the gift-giving spirit of the times handed it to his preserver.
“I know not your name, fair maiden,” he said, “but this I know, that you have saved my life. Will you accept this Viking’s gift from me? It is all that the sea has left me.”
“Nay, keep such gifts for those who deserve them. It would have been an unchristian act to let you drown.”