His reflections were cut short by the entrance of Atli.
“Helgi,” said the old man, still speaking very low, “thou hast seen that which ought to have remained hidden from thee.”
“But which was well worthy of the seeing,” said Helgi.
“Speak not so lightly,” replied the old man sternly, and with that air of mystery he could make so impressive. “Thou knowest not what things are behind the veil, or how much may hang upon a word. I charge thee strictly that thou sayest no word of this to Estein; there are matters that should not come to the ears of kings.”
“I shall say nothing to any one,” Helgi answered more soberly.
“That is well said,” replied Atli. “Sleep now, for the dawn draws nigh, and the way is long.”
Helgi had just got back to the loft and was throwing off his coat again, when Estein suddenly rose on his elbow and looked at him, and for a minute he felt like a criminal caught in the act.
“Have I been dreaming, Helgi?” said his foster-brother, “or—or— where have you been?”
“To warm myself at the fire,” replied Helgi readily.
“Spoke you with any one?”
“Ay; Atli heard me and came to see whether perchance a thief had come in to carry away his two Norsemen.”
“Then I only dreamt,” said Estein, passing his hand across his eyes. “I thought I heard the voice of a girl; but when I woke more fully, it was gone, indeed. It sounded like—but it was my dream;” and lying down again, he closed his eyes.
“Should I tell him?” thought Helgi; “nay, I promised Atli, and after all this is mine own adventure.”
By the time the day had fairly broken, they were away under Jomar’s guidance.
“Remember, Estein, my rede,” said Atli, as they departed.
“When the snows melt,” cried Estein in reply; “and I think I shall not have long to wait.”
It was a raw, grey, blustering morning, with no smell of frost in the air, but rather every sign of thaw, and the old man, after watching the two tall mail-clad figures stride off with their dwarfish guide hastening in front, closed the door, and turned with a grave and weary look back to the fire.
Hardly had he come in when the inner door opened, and the girl entered hastily.
“Who was that other man?” she asked. “I saw but his back, and yet--” she stopped with a little confusion, for Atli was regarding her with a look of keen surprise.
“Knowest thou him?” he asked. “Where hast thou seen him before?”
“Nay,” she answered, with an affectation of indifference, as if ashamed of her curiosity, “I only wondered who he might be.”
“He is a certain trader from Norway, whom men call Estein,” said Atli, still looking at her curiously.
“I know not the name,” she said; and then adding with a slight shiver, “How cold this country is,” she turned abruptly and left the room again.