They hurried through the door, and bearing their captive on their shoulders, the whole party broke into a run.
“The dogs are after us!” cried one.
“Turn and kill them,” said Estein.
Three men stopped, and with a few sweeping sword slashes scattered the yelping crowd; but even as they were driving them off, they could see that men were coming out of the hall and outhouses.
“Where is Ketill?” cried Estein, as they reached the boat.
The man in charge had seen nothing of him.
“May werewolves seize him!” exclaimed Helgi. “He has had time enough to tear the long ships plank from plank.”
“We have no time to wait for him; it is his fault if he be left,” said Grim.
“That knowledge would doubtless comfort him,” replied Estein; “but nevertheless I shall wait.”
“Here they come!” cried Helgi.
“And here come those who will reach us before them,” said another man.
He was right. A swarm of men were already running down the slope, and it was clear that they must reach the boat first.
Estein sprang on board.
“Push off!” he cried; “we will row along the shore to meet them.”
“Well thought of,” said Helgi; “’tis lucky we have one cool head with us.”
The pursuers at first either failed to see Ketill’s party, or mistook them for their own men, for they continued their headlong rush straight to the water, firing arrows and darts as they ran. Then they saw the manoeuvre, and turned with loud cries along the shore. The boat had got a start by this time; the rowers bent their backs and made her spring like a live thing, and the still water rose in oily waves from the bow. But fast as they pulled, the men on shore ran faster.
“By all the gods, we are too late!” cried Helgi.
“They take to the water!” said Estein. “Pull, men, pull! Oh, ’tis a night worth living for!”
The four swimmers stoutly struck out for dear life, to a splashing accompaniment of darts and stones.
“By the hammer of Thor! they will be struck as we take them on board,” exclaimed Helgi. “Friend Ketill makes a generous mark.”
“Round them!” said Estein. “Get between them and the shore.”
Grim pressed the tiller hard down, and circling round the swimmers they were presently hauling them in on the sheltered side. Then the crowd on shore set off for their ships. Ketill, dripping with water, and bleeding from an arrow wound on the shoulder, watched them with a grim smile.
“They will find their ships ready for sea,” he said.
As he spoke a tongue of flame shot up from one of the long ships, and Estein turned to him in surprise.
“Then you set them on fire?”
“Ay,” replied Ketill; “we slew some guards—who thereby learned not to sleep at their posts—and made such holes in the ships as will take them two days to patch. Then I bethought me it were well to have a burning, if it were only of a long ship; so we kindled three great fires, one for each vessel, and if the men of Liot feel cold to-night, it will not be my fault. But have you got Liot?”