“By the hammer of Thor!” growled the black-bearded captain, whose temper was ever of the shortest, “these men splash like cattle.”
One by one they stepped ashore, and then the party was divided. One man was left in charge of the boat; Ketill with three others went round to where the long ships lay; while Estein, Helgi, and Grim, with six picked men, cautiously approached the hall.
They crossed a strip of rising heather and struck a sharp slope of turf. Close above them loomed a dark mass of building, and the silence was unbroken save by the stealthy fall of their footsteps. Grim led the way, then came Estein, then Helgi, and the others followed in single file.
Warily they came up to the end of the hall, and under the door there was a brief pause. Estein gave his final instructions in a whisper, and then quickly pushing open the door, he stepped in. Helgi, Grim, and one man followed, while the other five waited outside with their weapons in their hands.
These old Norse drinking-halls were long and high rooms, with great fires down the middle, and beside them long lines of benches for the guests. All down the sides the sleeping chambers opened, and over these hung the arms of the warriors.
The hall of Liot was very dark and still. A ghostly flicker of light struggled through the narrow windows, and on the fires the embers slowly died. Beside the benches slumbered the forms of some of the heaviest drinkers, and once or twice they nearly stumbled over these. Grim came up beside Estein and led him about half-way down the hall. There he stopped and pointed to a door. There were no words; the others closed up and loosened their daggers in their sheaths. Estein stepped back softly to the fire and lifted up a log, one end of which still glowed brightly, and then he pushed open the door. The chamber was dark as a wolf’s mouth as he groped for the bed. So cautiously he stepped that the heavy breathing of the sleeper only broke the silence, and very carefully he went forward and thrust the log so close to the unconscious slumberer that he could clearly read his features. Then he placed it against the wall, and gave one whispered order. In an instant a mantle was twisted round Liot’s mouth, his hands and feet were bound, and ere he was thoroughly awake, he was mounted on the shoulders of his foes, forming one of a singular procession that hurried through the hall of Liot Skulison.
Grim, who walked first, had almost reached the door, when from the blackest of the shadows a man stepped suddenly across his path. For an instant the pilot’s heart stood still. Then he saw that he had only to deal with a half-awakened drinker, and as his mouth was framing a question, Grim’s dagger flashed, and with a cry the man fell heavily on the floor. Instantly there arose such a chorus of barking as might have wakened the dead.
“The dogs are sobering,” said Helgi.
“Hasten!” cried Estein. “The men will be on us.”