“Of Olaf?” exclaimed Estein, with a slight start.
“Ay, of Olaf. Often have I fought by his side on sea and shore, and dearly, more dearly than I ever loved man or woman since, I loved the youth. Thou even as a child wert strangely like him in features, and as I look upon thee now, there comes back memories of blither days. Wonder not then that I long was fain to see thee.”
“Then why came you not to my father’s house?” said Estein. “A friend of his son’s would ever be welcome.”
“Thy father and I fell out,” replied Atli, “the wherefore I must still keep behind the shrouding-curtain, but for my present purpose it matters little. I could not visit Hakonstad; I could not even stay in the land of my birth. Olaf fell.”
His voice trembled a little, and he paused. Estein said nothing, but waited for him to go on. Then in a brisker tone he continued,- -
“For some years I sailed the west seas; but I was growing old and my strength was wearing away with the wet work and the fighting, so I hied me home again.”
“And my father?” asked Estein. “Knew not of my coming,” Atli replied. “Of friends and kinsmen I had few left in the land, but I had long had other thoughts for myself than the tilling of fields and the emptying of horns at Yule. Often at night had I sat out. [Footnote: To “sit out” was a method of reading the future practised by sorcerers, in which the magician spent the night under the open sky, and summoned the dead to converse with him.] I had read the stars, and talked with divers magicians and men skilled in the wisdom of things unseen. I wandered for long among the Finns, I dwelt with the Lapps, and learned the lore of those folks. Then I came to Jemtland, where cunning men were said to live.”
“Cunning!” exclaimed Estein furiously; “treacherous hounds call them.”
“Cunning, indeed, they are,” said the old man, “but not wise. This Jomar here is held a spaeman by the people.”
He glanced contemptuously at the sleeping figure on the floor.
“Since I came,” he went on, “I have taught him more than he could have learned in a lifetime here and now, as thou hast seen, he fears and obeys me as a master. With him I took up my abode, living in a spot known only to few. Yet my thoughts turned continually to Norway, and chiefly flew to thee, Estein. I dreamt of thee often, and at last a voice”—his own sank almost to a whisper as he spoke—“a voice bade me seek thee. How I fared thou knowest.”
“I would that I had given more heed to your warning,” said Estein gloomily.
“It all came true then?” cried Atli. “Nay, there is no need to answer. Truth I tell, and truth must happen.”
“Have you, then, further rede to give me?”
“Ay, I have heard of this spell and the sore change that has befallen thee, and in my dreams and outsittings I have seen many things—an old man habited in a strange garb, and a maid by his side. Ha! flew the shaft true?”