“Why have they waited so long?” said Estein, half to himself. “The fools should have fallen on Ketill that very night. I thank them for their folly.”
They had now broken into a run, and the uproar sounded so loud that they knew they must be close upon the town.
“Some one comes,” exclaimed Helgi, and just as he spoke a man dashed past them in the opposite direction, and throwing them only a startled glance, disappeared among the trees behind. A minute later two others ran by to one side, and a fourth stopped and turned when he came upon them. All were Jemtlanders, and Jomar, when he saw them, cursed aloud, while the Norsemen pressed the more excitedly forward.
Thirty yards further and they were at the edge of the wood, stopping at a spot not far from where the expedition first came out upon the town. The great lake and the open country lay below them, white still, but with all the sheen and sparkle off them, and overhung now by a grey, wet-weather sky. But they took little note of sky or snow-fields, for their eyes were enthralled by a more stirring spectacle.
Over the little town rolled a dense and smoky canopy, and from each doomed house the flames leapt and danced. All around it the plain was alive with the signs and terrors of war they saw, black against the snow, men flying over the open country, turning sometimes for the woods, or sometimes sliding and running across the frozen lake, the shouts of the pursuers came to them in a confusion of uproar, and here and there out over the waste, and more thickly near the town, the dead lay scattered. The battle was at an end. Small parties of Norsemen were still driving the vanquished Jemtlanders before them cutting them down as they fled; but the main force seemed already to be devoting itself to the burning and sacking of the town, and Helgi sighed as he exclaimed,—
“Too late after all! the cowardly rabble could not even fight till we had come to join in the sport.”
Like an infuriated animal Jomar turned upon him.
“Whelp of a Norseman!” he cried, drawing his dagger and springing forward, “never more—”
As he spoke, Estein, who stood between them, had just time to throw out one foot and bring the Jemtlander flat on his face, his dagger flying from his hand. After looking for a moment in astonishment at their fallen guide, his would-be victim burst out laughing, and picking up the dagger, handed it back to him, saying,—
“I forgot, friend Jomar, that you were so nigh me. You owed me something, indeed, but try not to pay it like that again, for your own sake.”
The man took the dagger sullenly and answered,—
“I hope never more to see either of you. Go down to the town now, if you can reach it without losing your way again, and my curse go with you.”
Without waiting for reply or reward, he left them abruptly, and disappeared in the wood. “That is a man I am glad to see the last of,” said Helgi, as they started for the town. “It can only be by black magic that Atli made him serve us.”