“Who art thou?” said Estein in a low voice, coming forward a step as he spoke, and holding his sword ready to smite on the instant.
“Estein Hakonson,” replied the other in the same tone, “waste not your blows on friends. Remember the Runes, and follow me. There is little time for words now.”
He turned as he spoke, and looking over his shoulder to see that Estein followed him, started for the stockade. For an instant Estein hesitated.
“Are you mad?” exclaimed the man; “or do you wish to die here like a dog?”
“Lead on,” replied Estein, and still holding his naked sword he followed him across the court.
The man went swiftly up to the paling, and taking an axe from under his cloak drove it hard into the wood as high above his head as he could reach. Then with the agility of a cat he drew himself up by it, seized the top of the fence, and sat there astride.
“Quick! quick!” he whispered. “Sheathe that sword, and stand not like a fool looking at me.”
Estein, though a much heavier man, was active and lithe, and his guide, as he watched him mount, muttered,—
“That is better; we have a chance yet.”
They dropped on the other side, and whispering to Estein to follow, the man turned to the wood and was about to plunge in, when his companion seized his arm, and said,—
“I trysted here with my foster brother. Till he comes I must wait.”
The Jemtlander turned on him savagely and answered,—
“Think you I have to succour you of my own pleasure? Never had I less joy in doing anything. If your brother be not here now he will never come at all. I was not told to risk my life for him. Come on!”
“Go, then,” said Estein; “here will I bide.”
The man stamped his foot wrathfully, and turned sharply away as though he would leave him. Then he turned back and answered,—
“The gods curse you and him! See you this path opening ahead of us? Follow that with all the speed you can make, and I, fool that I am for my pains, shall turn back and bring him after you if he is to be found. Stare not at me, but hasten! I shall overtake you ere long.”
With that he started off under the shadow of the stockade, and Estein, after a moment’s deliberation, turned into the path. Never before had he felt himself so completely the football of fortune. Destiny seemed to kick him here and there in no gentle manner, and to no purpose that he could fathom. As he stumbled through the blackness of the tortuous forest path, he tried to connect one thing with another, and find some meaning in the token that had brought him here. Evidently the sender was so far from being in league with his foes that he made a kind of contrary current, eddying him one way just when fate seemed to have driven him another. To add to his perplexities, the disappearance of Helgi had now come to trouble his mind; he had heard no outcry or alarm, his foster-brother had time enough to have easily reached the rendezvous before him, and he felt as he walked like a man in a maze.