“If I have any I have forgotten them.”
“Well, I will let you row, for the tide is at the turn, and you will not need to watch the currents. There is a great roost here when the tide is running.”
Estein laughed. “I see that I am with a skilful helmsman,” he said.
“And I, that I am with an over-confident crew,” she answered.
Only a distant corncrake broke the silence of the lonely channel, its note sounding more faintly as they left the land behind. The sun set slowly between the headlands to seaward, and by the time they reached the shore of the islet the stillness was absolute, and the northern air was growing chill. Osla led the Viking up a slope of short sea-turf, and presently crossing the crest of the land, they came upon a settlement so strange and primitive that it could scarcely, he thought, have been designed by mortal men.
Facing the land-locked end of the sound, and looking upon a little bay, a cluster of monastic cells marked the northern limits of the Christian church. From this outpost it had for the time receded, and all save two of the rude stone dwellings looked deserted and forlorn. A thin thread of smoke rose straight heavenward in the still air, and before the entrance of the cell whence it issued stood an old and venerable man. Despite a slight stoop, he was still much beyond the common height of men. His brows were shaggy, and his grey beard reached well down over his breast; a long and voluminous cloak, much discoloured by the weather, was bound round his waist by a rope, and in his hand he carried a great staff.
As Estein approached, his brows bent in an expression of displeased surprise, but he waited in silence till his daughter spoke.
“I have brought a shipwrecked seafarer, father,” she said. “He is wounded, I fear, and certainly he is both wet and hungry. I have told him we would give him shelter and food, and such tending as his wounds may require.”
“Whence came he?” asked the old man.
“From the sound beyond the island; at least, he was in the sound when I first saw him.”
“And I have to thank your daughter that I am not there now,” Estein added.
“What is your name?”
“I am known as Vandrad, the son of a noble landowner in Norway.”
The old man looked for a moment as though he would have questioned him further on his family. Instead, he asked,—
“And why came you to these islands?”
“For that, the wind and not I is answerable. Orkney was the last place I had thought of visiting.”
“You were wrecked?”
“Wrecked, and wellnigh drowned.”
In a more courteous tone the old man said, “While you are here you are welcome to such cheer as we can give you. This cell is all my dwelling, but since you have come to this island, enter and rest you in peace.”