“Here he is,” said Estein, pointing to the pinioned captive.
Ketill laughed loud and long.
“Estein,” he cried, “I ask your pardon. You may be under a spell, but you have given us a merry night’s work. We have earned a long drink.”
The verdict of the sword.
A shout of congratulation rose from the ship as the boat drew near and the anxious watchers counted the fourteen men returned again with their prisoner. Drink was served round in huge beakers, and the superstitious fears vanished like the fog as they rowed in triumph out of the bay.
They could see behind them the flames and smoke rising ever higher from the burning vessels, and as the ale mounted to their heads they shouted derisive defiance across the water.
“Where shall we go now?” asked Grim.
“Do you know of any uninhabited holm where we could land by daybreak?” said Estein.
“There are many such about the Orkneys; one I know well, which methinks we should reach soon after sunrise. There I shall take you.”
Ketill came up at that moment with a great horn of ale, and cried, with a joviality only shown when drink flowed freely,—
“Drink, Estein, drink!—drink to the soul of Liot Skulison, which shall shortly speed to Valhalla. Shall we slay him now, or keep that sport till we have better light to see him die?”
“I have other work on hand than drinking. Liot and I have an account to settle at daybreak.”
Ketill stared at him in astonishment.
“You mean then in very truth to fight?” he cried. “Well, do as you wish; but it is a strange spell.”
He left the poop with his horn, and Estein seated himself on a stool, and leaning back against the bulwarks, tried to rest.
His face was set, his mind made up, and he only waited impatiently for the hour of his trial. Sleep came to him in uneasy snatches, during which he seemed to pass years of wild adventure, haunted all the time by strangely distorted Oslas. He woke at last to the chill of a grey morning and the roll of a Viking ship. With a little shiver he started to his feet, and began to pace the deck.
Presently Helgi joined him, and laid his hand on his arm.
“Estein,” he said, “tempt not your fate too far. Never before have I seen witchcraft such as this. Why should you fear the wrath of the gods? I tell you, my brother, you are under a spell; let us seek some magician who will cure you, and not rashly look for death when you are wearied with sleepless nights and black magic. If the wrath of the gods is really on you, it will fall were you to flee from men and seek refuge in the loneliest cave on all these coasts. I will slay Liot Skulison for you; in fair fight if you will, though I think not he deserves such a chance. Was it a fair fight when he fell on our two ships with his ten?”