King Bue’s feast.
Their way at first took them over a flat, white waste by the shores of the lake. Estein fell back and let Helgi walk in front with Thorar; behind those two marched the small band of wild, skin-coated followers of the lawman; and after them came the mail-clad twenty, the shields which hung from their backs clanking now and again as they struck their harness. Last of all walked their leader.
Now that the tension of forced marches and weary journeyings through forest paths was off his mind, his thoughts ran continually on the Runes. “Come hither to Jemtland,” he said to himself. He had come, and what was to follow? Something he felt must happen, and though he was curious, he cared singularly little what it might be. The sun hung high overhead, under foot the snow crunched pleasantly, and the air was clear and bracing—a day to inspire an adventurer and a skald. His thoughts began to take a rhyming turn, and he caught himself repeating his own verses:—
“Fare thee well, sweet blue-eyed
The sea-king must not stay,
E’en for tresses rich as summer
And for smile as bright as May;
But one hope I cannot part from—
We may meet again some day!”
“And we shall, Osla!” he exclaimed half aloud.
He was aroused by hearing the voices of Helgi and Thorar come back to him clear and cheerfully. A thought struck him. Could Thorar have sent the message? A moment’s reflection assured him that it was out of the question, but, to convince himself, he went forward and joined the lawman.
“Is it far to King Bue’s hall?” he asked.
“The marshes are firm and frozen, and the snow lies nowhere very deep. We should reach it by nightfall.”
Helgi laughed, and said,—
“A flight of wild ducks passed overhead just now, and called to mind their kinsmen cooked; their kinsmen cooked called to mind the wherewithal to wash them down; and, in brief, I, for one, shall be glad to meet King Bue.”
“We have a saying that the king loves a guest who loves his cheer,” replied Thorar with a smile.
“Know you one of an old man,” Estein asked, “and—but I forget it--something of a maiden too? I saw it somewhere written in Runes.”
In obedience to an indefinable instinct, he had said nothing of the token to Helgi, and his foster-brother looked at him in surprise. The mention of the Runes brought no look of recognition to Thorar’s face. With his grave smile he answered,—
“There are many sayings concerning maids, and some concerning old men; also, if I mistake not, one or two about young men and maids.”
“Spare Estein those last,” cried Helgi lightly. “He thinks himself old, and never gives maids a thought at all.”
Evidently Thorar knew nothing of the message, and Estein became silent again.