“Fare thee well, my father! I will yet keep my promise to thee!”
Loudest of all cried Earl Sigvald,—
“May Odin be as good a friend to thee as thou hast been to me! Keep me a place beside thee, Hakon. All through life I have been at thy side, in sunshine and frost, feast and battle-storm, and soon I hope to follow thee home!”
At last the flames died down and left but the blackened remnants of the ship and the ashes of its royal captain. The ashes they reverently gathered up and placed within a copper bowl, a lid they made of twelve shield bosses, the gifts were gathered and placed all round, and then the spademen heaped the mound above Hakon, King of Sogn.
With a quicker stroke and tongues unloosed the fleet returned to Hakonstad.
“A noble funeral, Ketill,” said one chief to the black-bearded Viking.
“Ay,” replied Ketill, “a burial worthy of King Estein, and a royal feast we shall have to follow it.”
“Men say he means to set out on a Viking foray, and that before many days are past,” said the other.
“They speak truth,” answered Ketill. “Many a man will he give to the wolves, and eager am I to sail with him. There never was a bolder captain than Estein.”
For the next two days the talk was all of the voyage to the south. Guests were coming in all the time for Estein’s inheritance feast, and many of them—warriors thirsting for adventure and sea-roving--declared their intention of following his banner. A braver force men said had never followed a king of Sogn to war. For three days the feasting was to reign, and then, so soon as they were ready to sail, the host should take the Viking path.
The first night of the feast arrived. The hall was brightly lit and gaily hung with tapestries and cloths, rich and many-coloured, and men bravely dressed poured into their places all down the long rows of benches. The young king sat in his father’s high seat, the highest-born and most honoured guests ranged beside him, and those of humbler standing in the farther places. First, they drank to the dead King Hakon, to his various great kinsmen in Valhalla, and to each of the gods in turn. Then as horns emptied faster toast after toast was called across the fires, and honoured with shouts of “Skoal!” that reached far into the night outside.
Estein, as was his usual custom, drank lightly, and often he would find his thoughts wandering among the most incongruous events— starlight nights in a far-off islet, tossings on distant seas, and over and over again they would stray to that glimpse of a maiden in the Jemtland forests. Helgi, in whose blue eyes there danced a light that was never kindled by water, rallied him on his absence of mind.
“Drink deeper, Estein!” he cried. “Laugh, O king! Look, there sits Ketill, the married man; methinks he looks thirsty. Ketill! drink with me to your wife.”
“The trolls take my wife!” thundered Ketill, who, it may be remembered, had espoused a wealthy widow. “That is only a toast for single men!”