“I have waited for thee, Estein.”
“Atli!” he exclaimed.
“Ay,” said the old man. “I see thou knewest not where thy way would lead thee. But enter, Estein, if indeed after a king’s feast thou wilt deign to receive my welcome.”
He added the last words with a touch of irony that hardly tended to propitiate his guest.
“I have to thank you, methinks,” replied Estein, as he entered, “for bringing me to that same banquet.”
He found himself in a room that seemed to occupy most of the small house. One half of it was covered with a wooden ceiling which served as the floor of a loft, while for the rest of the way there was nothing beneath the sloping rafters of the roof. A ladder reached from the floor to the loft, and at one end, that nearest the outer door, a fire of logs burned brightly.
All round the walls hung the skins of many bears and wolves, with here and there a spear or a bow.
Atli left the other man to close the door, and followed Estein up to the fire.
He replied, either not noticing or disregarding the dryness of Estein’s retort,—
“I knew well, Estein, thou wouldst come. Something told me thou wouldst not linger on my summons.”
“Did you then send for me to lead me into this snare?” said Estein, his brows knitting darkly.
“Does one eagle betray another to the kites and crows?” replied the old man loftily.
Estein burst out hotly,—
“Speak plainly, old man! Keep mysteries for Rune-carved staves and kindred tricks. What mean this message and this plot and this rescue? I have left my truest friend and twenty stout followers besides in yonder hall. I myself have had to flee for my life from a yelping pack of Jemtland dogs; and for aught I know, Ketill and the rest of my force may be drugged with drink and burned in their beds even while I talk with you. Give me some plain answer?”
Atli looked at him for a minute, and then replied gravely,—
“I have heard, indeed, that some strange change had befallen Estein Hakonson. There was a time when he who had just saved thy life would have had fairer thanks than this.”
With a strong effort Estein controlled his temper and answered more quietly,—
“You are right. It was another Estein whom you saw before. Bear with me, and go on.”
He sat down on a bench as he spoke and gazed into the fire.
“The gods indeed have dealt heavily with thee,” said Atli, “and it is at their bidding that I called thee here.”
“Spoke they with King Bue also?” said Estein, with a slight curl of his lip, looking all the time at the fire.
“Nay; hear me out, Estein. I knew that King Hakon would send, ere long, an avenging force to Jemtland.”
“He was never the man to forgive an injury,” he added, apparently to himself.
“So, as thou knowest, I sent that token to thee. Then unquiet rumours reached mine ears; for though I live apart from men here in this forest, little passes in the country—ay, and in Norway too—that comes not to Atli’s knowledge. I learned of the plot to treacherously entrap thy force, and though I have long lived out of Norway my Norse blood boiled within me.”