“Blame not me for that, Estein,” answered Thorar. “It was done with neither my knowledge nor consent, and none grieved at such an outrage more than I. Now, as you see, you have the land at your mercy; and as an ancient friend of your family and a faithful servant of my master King Bue, I am come to intercede between King Hakon and him. Give us peace, Estein; and as you have a grey-haired father, spare my master the sorrow and the shame you would bring upon him. What can he do against you? The old spirit of my countrymen has died out,” he added sadly, “and no man dare meet your force in the field.”
“Is King Bue in the town?” Estein asked.
“Nay, he could not travel so far; but in his name I bid you welcome to his feast, if you will accept peace instead of war. If you will not, then I can only mourn the devastation of my country. It will be a bloodless victory, Estein.”
“And what compensation does the king intend to make?”
“What you will; he is powerless.”
“Shall we then march to King Bue?”
“Alas!” said Thorar, “in these evil days he cannot entertain you all. Many of his people have fled to the woods already, and—to tell the truth—he, too, would feel ill at ease if he saw so brave a force come nigh him; for he is old, and his spirit is broken. But a following of twenty men or so he will gladly entertain. The others I shall have feasted here in the town at my own cost, and with them I shall leave my two young sons”—he indicated, as he spoke, the two lads. “They are my only children, and them I shall willingly give you as hostages till your return, that I may save my country from fire and sword. Though,” he added, with a grave smile, “if men speak truth, Estein Hakonson can make good his coming or going against most.”
“Be it as you will,” replied Estein; “but if—” He paused, and looked sternly at Thorar.
“If a king’s word and mine are not sufficient, and my only sons satisfy you not, I can but add my oath—though most men would deem it needless.”
Thorar spoke with dignity and a touch of haughtiness, and Estein replied simply and courteously,—
“I shall come.”
He turned to Helgi and said,—
“No fighting will there be, Helgi; but I have known you welcome even a feast. What say you?”
“This snow work and marching call for feasting,” replied Helgi, with a laugh.
“Then Ketill shall stay here with the rest of our troop, and you and I, with twenty more, will to the king. Forward, men!”
“Spare not the ale,” added Ketill.
“A courteous and gallant man is Thorar, for a Jemtlander,” said Helgi to Ketill, as they marched down to the town.
“Dogs and women are his people,” replied Ketill. “They are fit neither to be friends nor enemies.”
Estein liberated the prisoners they had taken on the march, and leaving Ketill in charge of the main force and the hostages, he and Helgi set forth about noon for the seat of King Bue.