One day he was out hunting on the fells with Helgi. They were oftener together than ever, and his foster-brother had far more influence with him than any other man.
They stood on a desolate hillside a little above the highest pine woods, examining the tracks of a bear, when Helgi suddenly turned to him and said,—
“Do you not think, Estein, you have moped and mourned long enough?”
“They whom the gods have cursed,” replied Estein, “have little cause for laughter. What is there left for me on this earth?”
“To prove yourself a man; to accept the destiny you cannot alter; and in time, Estein, to be a king. Are these things nothing?”
Helgi seldom spoke so gravely, and Estein for a time stood silent. Then he exclaimed,—
“You are right, Helgi; I have acted as a beaten child. Henceforth I shall try to look on my fate, I cannot say merrily, but at least with a steady eye.”
As another winter passed, he gradually seemed to come to himself. He was sadder and more reserved than of yore, but the king saw with joy that the gloom was lifting. One day in the season when spring and winter overlap, and the snow melts by day and hardens again over-night, Earl Sigvald returned to Hakonstad from his seat by a northern fiord. King Hakon greeted him cheerfully.
“The spell is lifting, jarl,” he said; “Estein is becoming himself again.”
“That is well, sire,” replied the earl; “and my old heart lightens at the news. But I have other tidings that need your attention. I have brought with me Arne the Slim, your scatt-gatherer in Jemtland. The people there have slain some of his followers, forced him to fly for his life, and refused to pay scatt to a Norse king. There is work ahead for some of our young blades.”
“They shall see that my arm is longer than they deem,” replied the king grimly.
Arne told his tale in the great hall before all the assembled chiefs, and the king’s face darkened with anger as he listened. Every now and then, as he spoke of some particular act of treachery, or of his hardships and hurried flight, an angry murmur rose from his audience, and a weapon here and there clashed sternly. Estein alone seemed unmoved. He stood listlessly at the back, apparently hardly hearing what was going on, his thoughts returning despite himself to their melancholy groove. All at once he heard himself addressed, and turning round saw a stranger at his side. The man was holding out something towards him, and when he had caught Estein’s eye, he said respectfully,—
“I was charged to give this token to you, sire.” Estein looked at him in surprise, and taking the token from his hand, glanced at it curiously.
It was a stave of oak, about two feet long, and shaped with some care. Along one side an inscription was carved in Runes, and as he read the first words his expression changed and he spelt it keenly through. The whole writing ran: “An old man, a maiden, and a spell. Come hither to Jemtland.”