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The Cross and the Hammer/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII.

HOW THE CHIEFS WERE BAPTIZED.

FOR a moment the chiefs stared at the King, incredulous and amazed. Then, as they caught the meaning of his ironic speech, the four men he had named leaped to their feet, and an angry roar went up from all. Olaf's uplifted hand stilled the murmur.

"Wait! You do not seem so eager for the companionship of your gods; can it be that you doubt their power to save you? If that is really the case, and you wish to release me from that oath of mine, I will be right glad to have you all baptized, and believe in the mighty, gentle and kind God whom I and my men serve."

At these words Sigurd blew his horn, and the doors in the side of the hall flew open. His men brought in the spoils of the Ladi temple and laid them at Olaf's feet, while other armed men filed silently into the room.

"Here," exclaimed Olaf, pointing to the temple utensils and trappings, "you see how powerless your gods are to save their belongings! Now think it over, while my men watch the doors; I will return in a few minutes."

With these words he left the hall, followed by Sigurd. Outside the door he gripped the boy's arm joyfully, and was about to speak when an indignant voice broke on their ears:

"What is this tale I hear, King Olaf?"

Looking up they saw before them the old English Bishop, Sigurd, clad in his vestments. His face was stern and cold as Olaf bowed to him.

"Is this tale true? That you hold the Thrandheim chiefs in the great hall, offering them their choice of baptism or death? Answer me!"

Astounded, the King gazed at the Bishop, then after a moment his eyes fell.

"Why, Bishop, it is true, certainly! What mean you?"

The old man's eyes flashed. "Think you that this is the way to spread the gospel of Christ? Is baptism a thing to be forced on men, or a thing which they must choose willingly? Better lose this kingdom of yours and flee back over the ocean again than to do this thing, Olaf Triggveson!"

At this the boy spoke out. "Bishop, it it my fault, for I suggested the plan; but why is it so bad? Did not the chiefs entrap Olaf a week or two ago?"

Bishop Sigurd turned on him. "What of that? Do as you will with the bodies of these men, Olaf, but force not their souls! Let them come to Christ willingly." His voice softened. "I know that you both are only overzealous; but believe me, King and Jarl, this is not Christianity. Christ said, 'Come unto me'; think you he would have men driven to him with whips and swords, who died to save men?"

Olaf bent his head, and Sigurd dropped on his knees. "Pardon, Bishop! I had not thought of it that way; I see how wrong it was now!"

The Bishop put his hand on Sigurd's head. "And you, Olaf? Do you not see that I am right? Must you be led by this boy?"

Olaf, fixing his keen eyes on the old man, nodded slowly. "I see. Bishop, and I will obey your unspoken thought."

He turned slowly, and Sigurd followed him to the door of the great hall. As they entered there was a hush, and Olaf curtly bade his men leave the building, waiting in silence as they filed out.

Then, ascending the high-seat, he said bitterly:

"Chiefs, I came among you preaching the Word of God, the gospel of peace and salvation; but my own acts have been as those of a pagan and worse. Small wonder that you refused to accept my faith! Too late I see that I have done ill by you; now I stand ready to repair my faults, and to act as a true Christian. Go in peace; those of you who wish to accept Christianity will be welcomed. If it is your wish that a heathen King rule over you, I will return whence I came, and will bring no fire and sword into the land."

The chiefs gazed in amazement at the King, and Orn Lugg, one of the greatest spoke out:

"Is this truth. King? Are we free to go to our homes?"

"Yes," said Olaf, a flush mounting to his brow. "I have proved myself a poor Christian, friends, but forgive me for this time; go, and whatever is your will I shall abide by it."

One by one, silent, incredulous, the chiefs left the hall, and Sigurd alone remained with the King. Then the boy, grasping Olaf's hand, cried with tears in his eyes:

"Olaf, we have been wrong, but how you must suffer ! Will you really go back to Ireland if the chiefs refuse to accept the gospel?"

"Yes, my friend," and Olaf's tone was very low and soft. "The good Bishop yonder showed me more in that minute than I can tell you. I have been proud, Sigurd, and my pride is shattered; the Hammer of Thor is not like Christ's Cross. I thought to use the Cross like a weapon, like Thor uses his Hammer; but the Cross is a symbol, not of pride and might, but of gentleness, of pity, of humility. Yes, my—"

Suddenly the doors opened, and in came the chiefs, to the King's amazement. Their faces were very changed now; the fierceness, the resistance, seemed to have given way to some new emotion.

"King Olaf," said Orm, the spokesman, "we found it as you said; the palace is unguarded, the streets are clear. Oh, King, I have a hard thing to say, but mayhap you will understand! Listen.

"We bonders have in truth resisted your faith because, as you said just now, you preached one thing to us, and you acted another thing. We have resisted, not because we love the old gods, but because we could not see wherein the White Christ was better."

Orm paused, fixing his eyes on the King's. "But to-day, King Olaf, you have shown us a new thing. We have not known you long, yet we have found in you a strong man, a proud man, a man used to ruling the wills of others, and for this we have rejoiced in a worthy King. To-day, Olaf, we have found that there was one thing stronger than these, a thing able to overcome all your strength, pride—even your will; and because this is so, we freely accept from your hand the Cross of Christ."

For a moment Olaf gazed at the men around him, unable to speak. Then, the tears flowing down his cheeks, he pressed their hands, one by one, and said:

"My friends, this is a victory where I had found a defeat. I cannot tell you what it means to me, but I think that none of us will forget this day. Jarl Sigurd and I have to-day learned a lesson from you and from ourselves; pray God we may never have to learn it over again!"

Then Sigurd summoned the Bishop, telling him what had happened on the way, and without delay the chiefs were baptized in Olaf's new church, together with their men. That night Olaf and Sigurd sat in Astrid's chamber, talking over the events of the day until late.

King Olaf had given Astrid part of Jarl Halfon's forfeited estates, to compensate her for those she possessed in Vendland, so that she might be able to live as became her dignity; further, he constituted himself her ward, although with the laughing declaration that he would run the risk of forcing her to marry against her will. He had also promised to give Sigurd an earldom, as soon as he had put the country into some kind of order.

"What are now your plans, my lord?" asked the girl, that same night. Olaf shook his head.

"Truly, Astrid, I know not. Practically all of the greater chiefs from the Thrandheim districts were baptized to-day, and I think that the bond established between us will never be broken. Ironbeard alone holds out; I am strongly minded to visit him at once, during the winter sacrifice, and try to win him over. To-morrow, Sigurd, we will go to Thrandheim and demolish the great temple there."

For a minute Sigurd looked at Olaf, then the latter smiled. "No, Sigurd, I have learned my lesson. There will be no bloodshed, either there or at the winter sacrifice, if I can help it. But the greatest chiefs have been baptized; now it is essential that Ironbeard be either forced to accept my rule or leave the country."

So, without the least opposition, Olaf and Sigurd burned the old temple of the war-god the very next day. Many of the chiefs so recently baptized showed their sincerity by joining Olaf or sending men to his aid; and the idols were taken out before all the people, and burned. Sigurd longed for Vagn to be there, as he remembered their adventure with Jarl Hakon; but his cousin was far away to the south.

The work was finished by midday, and the party returned to Nidaros. The sudden conversion of their greatest chiefs seemed to have demoralized the bonders, for no longer were threats heard against Olaf, but instead, many of them came to Nidaros and were baptized by the good Bishop.

The day after the destruction of the Thrandheim temple, Olaf prepared to go to Moeri, where the winter sacrifice was held. He took all his men, sailing up Thrandheim Firth with his largest ships, and came to Moeri the day of the sacrifice.

The King sent Sigurd ashore, demanding that the people first hold an Assembly. Fairhair found a great multitude assembled from all the countryside, with Ironbeard and his men all present. They at once agreed to Olaf's demand, so the King landed with his men, and the Assembly was constituted on the plain before the temple.

When the noise and talking of the opening had subsided, Olaf arose in his seat and told the bonders what had taken place in his hall at Nidaros, told them how he had found his mistake, and would no longer try to force a religion on them that they did not want.

Sigurd could see a change sweep over the faces of the bonders before him, and they glanced at each other and began whispering. At this, however, Ironbeard leaped to his feet—an immense man, wearing the robes of a priest of Thor, and with an iron-gray beard that swept over his chest. He lifted his hand and began to speak, slowly and with great dignity.