“The strong and foolish fight with weapons suited to their hands,” said Thorar; “the weak and wise with weapons suited to their heads.”
“So hands, it seems, are better than heads,” put in Helgi.
“Know this at least,” exclaimed Ketill, “your sons have perished before you. I slew them in the outset of the battle.”
The dying man laughed a ghastly laugh.
“My sons!” he cried. “Think you I would trust my sons with Norsemen? Those boys were thralls. They died for their country as I die,” and his head fell back upon the snow.
“Dastard!” cried Ketill, “you die indeed.”
He raised his sword as he spoke; but Estein caught his arm before it could descend, saying,—
“You cannot slay the dead, Ketill.”
“Has he baulked me then?” said Ketill, bending over his fallen foe.
It was even so. The lawman had gone to his last account, his bolt impotently shot, and his enemies standing triumphantly over him.
“He at least died well,” said Helgi; “when my turn comes may it be my luck to look as proudly on my foes. But tell us, Ketill, what befell you here since our parting.”
The burly captain frowned and scratched his head, as though deliberating how to do a thing so foreign to his genius as the telling of a narrative.
“On a certain day you left us,” he began.
“Well told indeed,” cried Helgi, laughing, “an excellent beginning—no skald could do it better.”
“Nay,” replied Ketill, frowning angrily, “if you want matter for a jest, tell a tale yourself. Mine have been no boy’s deeds.”
“Take no offence,” replied Helgi, still laughing; “tell your deeds of derring-do, and let Thor himself envy, I will undertake to make you laugh at mine own adventures afterwards.”
“I will warrant your doings will make me laugh rather than envy,” said Ketill. “But, as I said, you left us, and so we were left here without you.”
“Nay, Ketill,” interposed his tormentor, very seriously, “this story passes belief, impose not on my youth.”
“How mean you?” exclaimed the black-bearded captain, wrathfully, his hand seeking his sword hilt.
“Peace, Helgi,” cried Estein, who saw that his good offices were needed; “and you, Ketill, heed not his jests. He is but young and foolish.”
“And slender,” added the irrepressible Helgi, though not loud enough for Ketill to hear, and the stout Viking resumed his story, sulkily enough.
“So were we left here in this town. Cold it was, with little to do, so we even broached Thorar’s ale forthwith. Presently a man who had been in the woods came in hastily to tell me he had disturbed two of these hounds of Jemtlanders spying on the town. It behoved me then to be careful, and I set guards, and was not too drunk myself that night. Upon the next morning one came in with tidings of a man who had left a message for me, though he would not say who sent him.”