“I am dying, Osla; fare thee well! The box—you know the box?”
“The steel-bound box?” she answered.
“Ay, steel-bound, ’tis steel-bound indeed. I took it—”
He had begun to wander again, but with a last effort he collected his thoughts and went on,—
“Open it. There is a writing. Read, it will tell—promise—I can speak no more.”
“I promise,” she replied, hardly knowing what she said, her heart was so full.
There was another brief silence, and then loudly and clearly he cried,—
“Bring up my banner! Forward, Thord’s men! Forward!......They fly!......They fly!”
The voice died away, and Osla was left alone.
The message of the runes.
The story must now come back to Norway. Though Estein had returned with neither spoil nor captives, the tale of Liot’s capture and the combat on the holm added much to his renown, and no fewer than six skalds composed lengthy poems on the adventure. There seemed no reason why the hero of these lays should shrink from talking of his expedition, and avoid, so far as he could, the company of men. Gradually strange rumours began to spread. Helgi, who alone knew the truth, held his peace for Estein’s sake, even when the ale flowed most freely. The others who had sailed with them laid no such restraint on their tongues, and stories of a spell and an Orkney witch, vague and contradictory, but none the less eagerly listened to and often repeated, went the round of the country. The king at last began to take alarm, and one day he called Earl Sigvald to him and talked with him alone.
“What rede can you give, jarl?” he said; “a strange witchcraft I fear has been at work. When a young man smiles but seldom, broods often by himself, and shuns the flagon and the feast, there is something more to be looked for than a loss of men and ships, or the changefulness of youth.”
“Get him a wife,” replied the earl. “He has been single too long. There is no cure for spells like a pair of bright eyes.”
But when the king spoke to his son, he found him resolutely opposed to marriage. Hakon loved him so dearly that he forbore to press the matter, and again he consulted Earl Sigvald.
“If he will not marry, let him fight,” answered the earl. “For a prince of the race of Yngve, the clash of arms cures melancholy better than a maid.”
So with the coming of spring Estein cruised in the Baltic, and carried the terror of his arms far into Finland and Russia. Yet he returned as moody as before.
At feasts his spirits sometimes rose to an extraordinary pitch. For the time he would be carried away as he had never been before. He would sing, jest, and quarrel; but his jests were often bitter, and his quarrels gave rise to more talk than his gloom, for before he had been of an even and generous temper. And when the fit passed away he was quieter than ever.