When the shout of laughter that greeted this speech had subsided, Helgi turned again to Estein, and exclaimed,—
“Then that is the toast for us, King Estein. I drink to your bride!”
“Who is she, Helgi?” cried his father jovially. “Name her. I would that I might see another king married before I die. I saw your mother married, Estein, and a fair maid she was. The girls must be less fair now, or a gallant king will not stay single long.”
“I could name one fair maid,” said Helgi, glancing at the king, but in Estein’s eye he saw a warning look.
“I have sterner things to think of, jarl,” said Estein. “Five days from this I hope to be upon the sea.”
As he spoke, one of his hird-men came up to the high seat and stopped close beside him.
“What ho, Kari!” cried Helgi, “you are strangely sober.”
“I have a message for the king,” replied the man.
The end of the story.
“A boon! a boon!” exclaimed Helgi. “Kari seeks a boon. A wife, or a farm, or a pair of pigskin trousers; which is it, Kari? Before you win it you must sing us a stave. Strike up, man!”
“No boon I seek,” replied Kari. “A maiden stands without who seeks King Estein, and will not come inside.”
“Aha!” laughed Helgi. “Blows the wind that way?”
“What does she want?” asked Estein.
“I know not; she would not tell.”
“Tell her to come in,” said Earl Sigvald. “Do you think it is fitting that the king should go out at every woman’s pleasure?”
“That is what I told her, but she said she would see the king outside or go away.”
“Bid her come in or go away!” cried the earl.
“Nay, rather ask her what her errand is about,” said Estein.
“And tell her,” added Helgi as the bird-man turned away, “that here sits the king’s foster-brother, a most proper person at all times to hear a maiden’s tale, and now most persuasively charged with ale.”
The man went down the hall again, and Earl Sigvald exclaimed testily,—
“Some thrall’s sweetheart doubtless, come to babble her complaints.”
“Or perhaps the bride come to claim King Estein’s hand,” suggested his son. In a minute Kari returned.
“She will not tell her business,” he said, “but begs earnestly to see the king.”
“Bid her begone!” cried the earl. “The king is feasting with his guests.”
“Did not her eyes sparkle and her trouble seem to leave her when she heard the king’s foster-brother was here?” asked Helgi.
“I shall press his claims myself,” said Estein, rising from his seat.
“Will you see her then?” asked the earl.
“Why not?” replied Estein. “Perchance she brings tidings of importance.”
“If you rise at every strange woman’s bidding you will have many suitors,” said the earl.