“That is the lot of a king,” replied Estein, with a smile.
The smile died quickly from his face as he walked down the hall, and men noticed that he looked grave and preoccupied again. It was not that his thoughts were running on this unusual summons; as he passed through the dark vestibule he felt only a little curiosity, and at the door he paused and looked out idly enough.
It was a fine starlight night, and down below he could see the glimmer of the sea, and across the fiord the black outline of the hills, and nearer at hand he heard the sough of the night breeze in the pines. Close outside, the tall, hooded figure of a woman stood clearly outlined, while he himself was obscured in shadow. At the second glance, something in the pose of his strange visitor struck his memory sharply. She seemed at first afraid to speak, and, with rising interest, he said courteously,—
“You wish to see me?”
The girl seemed to start a little, and then she said in a low voice,—
“Are you King Estein?”
The words were almost lost in the hood that shrouded her head. They died away to a low whisper; but ere they were gone Estein had caught the slight flavour of a foreign accent, and for an instant he was on the Holy Isle again. With a sharp effort he controlled the sudden rush of emotion they called up, and even altered his voice to a low, guarded pitch as he answered,—
“I am the king.” The girl paused for a moment as if to collect her thoughts, and then she said,—
“You had a brother, King Estein—Olaf Hakonson—”
She stopped again, and seemed to look hesitatingly at him.
“What of him?” said Estein.
“He fell, alas, long since. Forgive me for calling him to mind now, but he is in my story.”
“Three men were at his death,” said the girl, gaining confidence a little. “Thord the Tall, Snaekol Gunnarson, and Thorfin of Skapstead. Snaekol and Thorfin are dead long since—may God forgive them! but Thord the Tall lived to repent of the burning.”
“It was an ill deed,” said Estein.
“He was a heathen man then, King Estein—but I forget, you know not of Christians.”
“I have heard of them,” said Estein, half to himself.
“As the years drew on he became a Christian, and followed another God and another creed, and left the world and Viking forays, and came to a little island of the Orkneys with me, his only child. For both my brothers fell in battle, King Estein, and now there are none others left in the feud.”
“How do men call you?” said Estein, asking only that he might hear her name again.
“I am Osla, the daughter of Thord the Tall,” she answered, drawing herself up with a touch of half defiant pride. “He was the enemy of your family, but a lender-man [Footnote: Nobleman.] of high birth, and a good and noble man.”