The Cross and the Hammer/Chapter 26
THE CROSS AND THE HAMMER.
SIGURD'S heart sank as he saw the mighty muscles and powerful limbs of the pagan; but he glanced at Olaf, and while the latter's muscles were not so big, he knew that there was terrible strength in them.
At first the opponents tried out each other carefully; then, gradually warming up, Raud made terrific attempts to throw Olaf, but the latter resisted every endeavor, seemingly without effort. Now was seen the difference in the two men's lives, for while Raud speedily lost his wind, became flushed and tired, King Olaf looked as fresh as when he began the conflict, owing to his temperate life.
As the viking weakened, Olaf suddenly seized him by the thigh in an unguarded moment, and with a movement of his hands flung the man over his head. Amid a shout from his men, and a groan of dismay from those of Raud, the latter struck the ground, Olaf leaping to his side.
As the fallen man struggled up, the King seized his hand and aided him. "You have won fairly, Olaf," gasped Raud, looking with wondering eyes on his antagonist, "and my life is yours."
"Nay," said the King, kindly, handing the viking his garments, "I seek no man's blood, Raud. All I ask is that you serve me faithfully, and you shall have the same lands that you held from Hakon."
Messengers were at once despatched overland to Nidaros, to tell of the outcome of the conflict; then, after Raud, Thori and his men had been baptized, for they accepted the condition willingly, Olaf embarked his men again and they returned south.
The Firth was of course closed again, so the ships were drawn ashore for the winter, and the chiefs of the bonders left the King for their homes, while he pushed on across the snow-clad hills with his own men. At Ladi they crossed the ice to Nidaros, and were received with much joy.
At Eastertide the marriage of King Olaf and Gudrun, the daughter of Ironbeard, was solemnized by Bishop Sigurd; and at the same time Sigurd Fairhair and Astrid were married. The wedding was a surprise to no one, as the whole court knew the story of their adventures, and had long since agreed that sooner or later the two would be wedded.
Easter of this year came late in April, and the Firth had been open for some time. As the procession left the church and wended through the streets of Nidaros to the great hall, a wonderful ship was seen entering the harbor. The prow ended in a dragon's head, the stern in the coils and tail of a dragon; both prow and stern were gilded, shining bravely in the morning sun. The hoisted sail represented a dragon's wings, and the glistening oar blades the beast's legs.
A cry of amazement went up from all, but the King turned, with a smile at Sigurd.
"This ship I have had built in secret, and it is my wedding gift to my faithful Jarl, Sigurd Fairhair. It is not fitting that a Jarl of mine should be landless, so I also bestow on him the earldom of the Agdirs, and command that he take his wedding journey thither in this his new ship!"
Four years later King Olaf Triggveson, with a few of his ships, was entrapped by the treacherous Jarl Sigvald among the islands of Svold Sound, while the main part of his fleet was out at sea. Here had gathered his enemies—the King of Sweden, King Svein, of Denmark, who had turned against Olaf, and the heathen men of Norway, who had chosen rather to leave the land than to accept the Cross. One by one the King's ships were taken, although he made such a defense as Norway had never seen, and at one time it seemed as though he would win, even against such odds. Then Jarl Eirik, the son of Jarl Hakon, tore the dragon-prows from his ships, and rowed to the attack under the sign of the Cross.
As the last of King Olaf's men fell on his forecastle, the King threw aside his shield and sprang overboard. He was famous as a swimmer through all the lands of the north, and now he dived deeply, swimming under the keels of his enemies' ships, so that it seemed to them that he had drowned.
Coming up outside the ring of vessels, the King swam swiftly to a fishing boat that lay in by the islands, and was pulled aboard by Sigurd and his wife Astrid, who had come too late to warn Olaf of the plot to betray him. That night, with his wounds bound, the King sat in the stern of the boat, which sailed swiftly south.
Sigurd urged Olaf to go north, offering to take him to his fleet, which could return and meet the invaders, but the King refused.
"No, my friends, I cannot do this. Toward the end of the fight Jarl Eirik hoisted the Cross, and I believe he made a vow that he and his men would renounce the old gods forever if he conquered me. Therefore, it seems to me that by the will of God, Norway has become Christian at last, and also I am not without fear that God has been displeased with my rule."
"Then shall we go to England with you? You have many great friends there, and King Ethelred, who is almost driven from his kingdom by the Danes, would gladly give you a share of his realm," said Astrid. Again the King shook his head.
"No," he replied, let me be as dead to the realm of Norway, for I will never trouble it again. I will go to Rome, and after that to Jerusalem. There the Crusaders rule the Holy Land, and I will join them and devote the rest of my life to serving against the Moslem. I believe that God used me as an instrument for giving his Word to Norway, and now that this is accomplished, it were best to give peace to this troubled realm."
Seeing that it was useless to urge Olaf further, Sigurd sadly gave up, and two days later they arrived in his earldom of Agdir. Here the King remained for two weeks, then, fearing that his presence would bring trouble on his old friends, decided that he would at once start on his pilgrimage.
"Make your peace with the conquerors, Sigurd," he said. "They will be glad to retain you in your possessions here."
With, this he selected a score of men and a small ship of Sigurd's, and departed from Norway forever. As he and Sigurd and Astrid stood together on the fore-castle, just as the anchor was raised, the King said sadly:
"My friends, it is for the best, believe me, and now peace will come to the land. The faith of Christ has been established, and although men may return at times to the old gods, I think that it will not be for long. Now take this sword of mine, even as you took one long ago in Ireland, and wear it in memory of me; I will never use a weapon again, save in defense of the Holy Land."
Embracing the King with tears, Sigurd and Astrid left the ship; and an hour later it was a white speck far on the horizon.
"Come, Astrid," said Sigurd, we will never see Olaf again; yet he will always be remembered as the first King of Norway to overthrow the Hammer of Thor, and to plant in its stead the Cross of Christ!" THE END