“You use a word that is strange to me; but I would that you might take this ring.”
“No, no!” she cried decidedly; “it will be time enough to talk of gifts when I have earned them. Not,” she added, a little proudly, “that it is my wish to earn gifts. But you are wet and wounded; come where I can give you shelter, poor though it be.”
“Any shelter will seem good to me. Yet, ere I go, I would fain learn something of my comrades’ fate.”
He scanned the sound narrowly, and in all its long stretch there was not a sign of friend or foe. About a mile back the fatal reef, bared by the ebbing tide, showed its line of black heads high out of the water, but of ships there was no vestige to be seen. It was long past mid-day by the sun, and he knew that he must have been unconscious for some hours. In that time, such of the Vikings as had escaped the rocks had evidently sailed away, leaving only the dead in the sound.
“They are gone,” he said, turning away, “friends and foes—gone, or drowned, as I should have been, fair maid, but for you.”
They scrambled together up the rocks, and then struck a winding sheep-path that led them over the shoulder of a heath-clad hill.
At first they walked in silence, the girl in front, going at a great speed up the narrow track; and Estein watched the wind blow her fair hair about her neck in a waving tangle, and he saw that she was tall and slender. By-and-by, when they had crossed the hill and reached a less broken tract of ground, he came up to her side.
“How did you come to be down where you found me?” he asked.
“I was on the hill,” she answered, “when I saw ships in the sound rowing hard to escape the current, and then I saw that some had been wrecked. Wreckage was floating by, and I espied, for my eyes are good, a man clinging to a plank; and presently he drifted upon a rock, and I thought that perhaps I might save a life. So I went down to the shore—and you yourself know the rest.”
“I know, indeed, that I have to thank you for my life, such as it is. And I know further that every girl would not have been so kind.”
She smiled, and her smile was one of those that illuminate a face.
“Thank rather the tide, which so kindly brought you ashore, for I had done little if you had been in the middle of the sound. But you have not yet told me how you came to be wrecked.”
Estein told her of the storm at sea and the fight with the Vikings; how they had fallen man by man, and how he too would have been numbered amongst the dead but for the tideway and the rocks.
As she listened, her eyes betrayed her interest in the tale, and when he had finished, she said,—
“I have heard of Liot and Osmund. They are the most pitiless of all the robbers in these seas. Give thanks that you escaped them.”
He asked her name, and she told him it was Osla, daughter of a Norse leader who had fought in the Irish seas, and had finally settled in Ireland. There his daughter was born and passed her early girlhood; and it was a trace of the Irish accent that Estein had noticed in her speech. In one fatal battle her two brothers fell, her father was forced to fly from the land, and Osla had left her Irish home with him and come to reside in Orkney.