“What doest thou here, Estein Hakonson?”
He came to himself with a start, the sweat standing on his forehead. It was the second time he had heard the voice. Once before it had warned him when he first entered the hermit’s cell, but now as then he could find neither name nor circumstance to fit it.
All at once the prophecy of Atli came into his mind—“You will be warned, but you will heed not,” and in spite of himself a feeling of gloom settled over his mind.
A herd of deer browsed unheeded on a distant slope, the hours passed, and the sun sank low in the west, while he sat there alone.
At last he rose and retraced his steps back to the shore. The tide was running strongly, he had a long and stiff pull to win his way across, and the summer dusk that never reaches darkness in the north was gathering when he landed.
He looked round as though he expected to see a cloaked figure start up out of the gloaming, but the island was deserted and still. Before the cell he paused for an instant. “You will not heed the warning,” he repeated. “Yet what is fated must be,” and then he entered.
The hermit was alone. Farmer Margad had come for Osla, for his wife was unwell, and the credulous people thought the daughter of the wizard, as they deemed Father Andreas, might have some healing influence. Estein sat down and took his supper; and all the time he was eating, Andreas paced the floor saying nothing aloud, but muttering continually under his breath. Legends of shape-changing and black magic came into the young Viking’s mind. As he watched the old man pass to and fro in the firelight, and the huge, distorted shadow sweep across and across the cell, he fancied once or twice that he could see the beginnings of some horrid transformation.
All of a sudden the hermit stopped and looked at him earnestly.
“Sing to me a song of battle!” he cried; and Estein saw that a change had indeed taken place. A fit of gloom had given way to a period of strange excitement, and the spirit of the sea-rover was returned.
Estein composed his mind, and sang the song of the Battle of Dunheath, beginning:—
“Many the chiefs who drank the mead
As the sun rose over the plain,
But small the band who bound their wounds
When the heath was dark again.”