“By the hammer of Thor, she seems in haste,” said Helgi. “They must have broached the ale over-night.”
“Perchance Thorkel feels cold,” suggested Thorolf with a laugh.
“They have taken the shields from the sides,” Estein exclaimed as the ship drew nearer. “Can there be an enemy, think you?”
Again Ulf’s hairy face gathered into a heavy frown. “No man can say I fear a foeman,” he said, “but I should like ill to fight after two sleepless nights.”
“Bah! Thorkel is drunk as usual, and thinks we are chapmen,” [Footnote: Merchants.] said Helgi. “They are doubtless making ready to board us.”
The ship drew so near that they could plainly see the men on board, and conspicuous among them the tall form of Thorkel appeared in the bow.
“He waves to us; there is something behind this,” said Estein.
“Drunk,” muttered Helgi. “I wager my gold-handled sword he is drunk. They have ale enough on board to float the ship.”
“A sail!” Estein exclaimed, pointing to a promontory to seaward round which the low black hull and coloured sail of a warship were just appearing.
“Ay, and another!” said Ulf.
“Three-four-seven-eight!” Helgi cried.
“There come nine, and ten!” added Estein. “How many more?”
They watched the strange fleet in silence as one by one they turned and bore down upon them, ten ships in all, their oars rhythmically churning the sea, the strange monsters on the prows creeping gradually nearer.
“Orkney Vikings,” muttered Ulf. “If I know one long ship from another, they are Orkney Vikings.”
Meantime Thorkel’s ship had drawn close alongside, and its captain hailed Estein.
“There is little time for talking now, son of Hakon!” he shouted. “What think you we should do?—run into the islands, or go to Odin where we are? These men, methinks, will show us little mercy.”
“I seek mercy from no man,” answered Estein. “We will bide where we are. We could not escape them if we would, and I would not if I could. Have you seen aught of the other ships?”
“We parted from Ketill yesterday, and I fear me he has gone to feed the fishes. I have seen nothing of Asgrim and the rest. I think with you, Estein, that the bottom here will make as soft a resting-place for us as elsewhere. Fill the beakers and serve the men! It is ill that a man should die thirsty.”
The stout sea-rover turned with a gleam of grim humour in his eyes to the enjoyment of what he fully expected would be his last drink on earth, and on both ships men buckled on their armour and bestirred themselves for fight.