“‘Dog!’” cried Helgi. “Hound, I will beat one dog as it deserves!”
In another instant the Jemtlander would have suffered for his temerity, had not Atli seized the angry Norseman’s arm, exclaiming,—
“Peace, Helgi Sigvaldson! Wouldst thou strike my servant in mine own house? The man loves not Norsemen, yet has he saved thy foster-brother’s life, and likely, too, those of Ketill and all his company.”
“Tell us, Atli,” interposed Estein, “what he said on his return.”
“Little he told even me,” replied Atli, “save that he had seen Ketill for the briefest possible space, and then returned straightway home.”
“Did he hear aught of the twenty good men who followed us to King Bue’s hall?”
It was Jomar himself who replied, though without turning over or looking at the speaker.
“Would you have me save them, too, from their fate? I heard naught of them, and wish only to hear of their deaths. Too many enemies have I helped already.”
Helgi was about to reply hotly, but Atli checked him with a gesture, whispering,—
“Will not his deeds atone for his words?”
Low as he spoke, Jomar caught the words, and muttered loud enough to be heard,—
“Would that my words might become my deeds.”
Nothing about the mysterious old man had impressed Estein more than his extraordinary influence over this strange disciple or servant, for he seemed to be partly both; and that one who so loathed and hated the Norsemen could be made to serve his enemies at a word, seemed to point to a power beyond the ken of ordinary man. Helgi, too, was evidently struck, for he looked askance from one to the other, and then fell silent.
By sunrise next morning, the foster-brothers arranged to start for Ketill under Jomar’s guidance, and little time was lost in getting to bed. They went up to the loft by the ladder, heard Atli open a door and evidently enter some inner room, then being very drowsy after the cold air, shortly fell asleep.
Yet the night was not to pass without incident. Helgi knew not how long he had been asleep, when he woke with a shiver, to find that his blankets had slipped off him. He gathered them over him again, and then lay for a few minutes listening to the rising wind. As it beat up in mournful gusts and soughed through the pines, he said to himself, “The frost has left at last, and thankful am I for that.” He was just dropping off to sleep again, when his attention was startled into wakefulness by a knock at the outer door. It was repeated twice, and then he heard Jomar rise with much growling, and go softly across the floor. There followed a parley apparently through a closed door, which ended in a bolt shooting back, and the door opening with a whistle of wind. So far he had been in that half-waking state when things produce a confused and almost monstrous impression, but suddenly his wits were startled into quickness.