“Ay, if the gods are with us,” answered Estein. “I am trying to read the stars. Methinks they are unfavourable.”
Helgi laughed. “What know you of the stars?” he said, “and what does Estein Hakonson want with white magic? Will it make his life one day longer? Will it make mine, if I too read the stars?”
“Not one day, Helgi, not one instant of time. We are in the hands of the gods. This serves but to while away a long night.”
“Norsemen should not read the stars,” said Helgi. “These things are for Finns and Lapps, and the poor peoples who fear us.”
“I wished to know what Odin thought of Helgi Sigvaldson,” said Estein with a smile.
Helgi laughed lightly as he answered,—
“I know what Odin thinks of you, Estein—a foolish man and fey.”
Estein stepped forward a pace, and leaning over the side gazed for a while into the darkness. Helgi too was silent, but his blue eyes danced and his heart beat high as his thoughts flew ahead of the ship to the clash of arms and the shout of victory.
“There remains but me,” said Estein at length. “Hakon has no other son.”
“And you have five brothers to avenge; the sword should not rust long in your scabbard, Estein.”
“Twice I have made the Danes pay a dear atonement for Eric. I cannot punish Thor because he suffered Harald to drown, but if ever in my life it be my fate to meet Thord the Tall, Snaekol Gunnarson, or Thorfin of Skapstead, there shall be but one man left to tell of our meeting.”
“The burners of Olaf have long gone out of Norway, have they not?”
“I was but a child when my brother was burned like a fox in his hole at Laxafiord. The burners knew my father too well to bide at home and welcome him; and since then no man has told aught of them, save that Thord the Tall at one time raided much in England, and boasted widely of the burning. He perchance forgot that Hakon had other sons.
“But now, Helgi, we must sleep while we may; nights may come when we shall want it.”
For six days and six nights they sailed with a favouring wind over an empty ocean. On the seventh day land was sighted on the starboard bow.
“Can that be England?” asked old Ulf, Estein’s forecastle man, a hairy, hugely muscular Viking from the far northern fiords.
“The coast of Scotland more likely,” said Helgi. “Shall we try our luck, Estein?”
“I should like to spill a little Scottish blood, and mayhap carry off a maid or two,” said Thorolf Hauskoldson, a young giant from the upland dales.
“It may be but a waste of time,” Estein replied. “We had best make for England while this wind holds.”
“I like not the look of the sky,” said Ulf, gazing round him with a frowning brow.