Vandrad the Viking - The Feud and the Spell
VANDRAD THE VIKING - The Feud and the Spell
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A VIKING NOVEL
Long after King Estein had joined his fathers on the little holm beyond Hernersfiord, and Helgi, Earl ofAskland, had become but a warlike memory, the skalds of Sogn still sang this tale of Vandrad the Viking. It contained much wonderful magic, and some astonishingly hard strokes, as they told it; but reading between their lines, the magic bears a strong resemblance to many spells cast even at this day, and as for the sword strokes, there was need for them to be hard in Norway then. For that was the age of the making of many kingdoms, and the North was beginning to do its share.
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Excerpt from VANDRAD THE VIKING - The Feud and the Spell
THE VERDICT OF THE SWORD
.The Viking's cool indifference gave place to the most exuberant excitement. Like everybody else he thought that Estein was either mad or the victim of some enchantment; but so long as he was going to strike a good blow for life, he cared not how the chance had come. He called for ale and meat, and with the eye of an old soldier carefully picked his weapons; while the men around him muttered to each other that Estein was surely fey.
All this time they had been sailing eastwards before a light breeze. The sun had long been up, but the whole sky was obscured by light clouds, and there was an early morning feel in the air. Nearly the whole length of the wide and lonely firth that divides Orkney from the Scottish coast lay behind them, and close ahead they saw the little island that Grim had chosen for the meeting- place. When they had reached the holm they anchored the ship close inshore, and two boat-loads of men were first sent to prepare the field of battle. Then when all was ready the two combatants, attended by Helgi and Ketill, were rowed ashore.
Liot was gay and cheerful as a man going to a feast; while Estein sat silent in the stern, his thoughts busy with a landing at another island.
"You need ale, Estein," said his opponent; "a man going to fight should be gay."
"It is more fitting," replied Helgi, "for the man who comes back to be cheerful."
"Well said," said Ketill.
Liot only laughed, and springing ashore before the boat had touched the rocks, cried,
"I had little thought to have such a pleasant morning. We will finish what we began before, Estein."
"Ay, we will finish," said Estein.
They found a wide ring marked off with stones, and in this the two champions took their stand. Each was armed with a helmet and a coat of ring-mail, and bore in his right hand a sword, and in his left a long, heart-shaped shield. Round their waists another sword was girded, though there was likely to be little time to draw this. In height and build they were very equally matched, but men noticed that Estein moved more lightly on his feet.
In a loud voice Ketill proclaimed that whoever should withdraw outside the ring of stones should ever after bear the name of dastard.
Then all went outside the circle, and with a shout Liot sprang at his foe. Estein caught the sword on his shield, and in return delivered such a storm of blows that Liot got no chance for a blow in return. He began to give ground, Estein pressing him hotly, his blade flashing so fast that men could not follow it. It was easily seen that in quickness and dexterity with his weapon Liot was inferior to his foe; but with wary eye and cool head he kept well covered with his shield, shifting his ground all the time. Twice he was nearly driven over the line, but each time saved himself by a rapid side movement.
"I fear that Estein will tire," muttered Helgi.
"Ay; he has started too hard," replied Ketill.
It seemed as if they were right. Estein's blows became less frequent, and Liot in turn attacked hotly. He made as little impression, however, as Estein, and then by mutual consent both men stopped for a minute's breathing-space."
You seem tired, Estein," said Liot.
"Guard yourself," was the reply, and the fight began again. As before, Estein attacked hotly, Liot steadily giving ground.
"Too hard, too hard! after two sleepless nights he cannot fight long like this," exclaimed Helgi.
So thought Liot, and he bided his time with patience. He was opposed, however, by one of the best and most determined swordsmen in Norway, and Estein as well as anyone knew the risk he ran. He rained in his blows like a hailstorm; but fast though they came, he was sparing his strength, and there was less vigour in his attack than there seemed. He bent all his energies on driving Liot back on the ring, shifting his ground as fast as his foe, heading off his attempts to move round, and all the while watching keenly for an opening.
"He wins, Ketill! he wins!" cried Helgi.
"Ay," said the black-bearded captain; "there is little skill we can teach Estein."
As they neared the stones, Estein's onset became more furious than ever; sword and shield had to shift up and down, right and left, to guard his storm of blows, and all the while Liot was being driven back the faster towards one place where larger stones than usual had been used to make the ring. In vain he sprang suddenly to one side; Estein was before him, and his blade nearly found its way home. Two paces more Liot gave way, and then his heel struck a boulder. For an instant he lost his balance, and that moment was his last on earth. As the shield shifted, Estein's sword came full on his neck, and it was only the bairn-slayer's body that fell without the ring.
"Bring the spades!" cried Ketill"a fitting enough epitaph for Liot Skulison."
His conqueror was already in Helgi's arms.
"I thought I should have had to avenge you, Estein. My heart is light again."
"Odin has answered me, Helgi."
"And the spell is broken?"
"No; that spell, I fear, will break only with my death-wound."
Helgi laughed out of pure light-heartedness.
"There are fair maids in the south lands," he said.
"I go to Norway," replied Estein. "I would fain see the pine woods again."
That evening they saw the Orkneys faint and far away astern, and Estein, as he watched them fade into the dusk, would have given all Norway to hear again the roost run clamorous off the Holy Isle.
Table of Contents for VANDRAD THE VIKING - The Feud and the Spell
|CHAPTER I . THE WEST SEA SAILING|
|CHAPTER II. THE BAIRN-SLAYERS|
|CHAPTER III. THE HOLY ISLE|
|CHAPTER IV. THE ISLAND SPELL|
|CHAPTER V. ANDREAS THE HERMIT|
|CHAPTER VI. THE HALL OF LIOT|
|CHAPTER VII. THE VERDICT OF THE SWORD|
|CHAPTER VIII. IN THE CELL BY THE ROOST|
|CHAPTER IX. THE MESSAGE OF THE RUNES|
|CHAPTER X. KING BUE'S FEAST|
|CHAPTER XI. THE HOUSE IN THE FOREST|
|CHAPTER XII. THE MAGICIAN|
|CHAPTER XIII. ARROW AND SHIELD|
|CHAPTER XIV. THE MIDNIGHT GUEST|
|CHAPTER XV. THE LAST OF THE LAWMAN|
|CHAPTER XVI. KING ESTEIN|
|CHAPTER XVII. THE END OF THE STORY|
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