The Cross and the Hammer/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V.

THE ESCAPE FROM THRANDHEIM.

THAT night the two boys watched, and discovered that their guard was changed at midnight, so they decided to make the attempt as soon as the guards were changed, as this would give them more time to get away safely.

The two succeeding days passed slowly, and the boys spent them in wandering about the town. They excited no attention, as in the harbor were one or two Danish ships, a vessel from England, and another from Iceland, both of the latter being trading ships wintering in Norway. Sigurd could not repress a shudder as once they passed the gloomy temple of Thor.

"When will these people ever become Christian?" he said to his cousin, as they gazed at the massive stone portal. Should we really conquer Norway, let our first deed be to tear down this blood-stained old place, and erect in its stead a temple to Christ!"

"Aye," corrected Vagn. "'If!' A vow is an easy thing, Fairhair, to make, but a hard one to fulfill. Norway has many chiefs as noble as Jarl Hakon, and no country can be conquered against its will while there is one to lead the people against the invader. King Svein, or his son Canute, may well take England, for Ethelred is a cruel and hated king; but I misdoubt that we shall ever come to Thrandheim as conquerors."

On the second evening, when Harald came to lock them in their room, he grumbled, "If it were not for you two, I would be with the Jarls now. It will soon be all up with your Jomsborgers now!"

"Why, what do you mean?" cried Vagn. "Eirik hasn't come here yet!"

"Nor will he," rejoined Harald, as he shot the bolt. "He passed outside the Firth to-day with sixty ships, and will join his father by to-morrow night at More."

"How many ships will both Jarls have?" called out Sigurd.

The man paused in the hallway. "Close onto two hundred, for Hakon took seventy-four south with him, and he will collect as many more in the south."

As the man's steps died away the two boys stared at each other in dismal silence.

"Too late, Sigurd!" Vagn's voice broke.

"Not yet," contended Sigurd, stoutly. "Ulf said that the 'Otter' was fast enough to pass Eirik, and besides, our own fleet may not have come so far north yet. Never give up!"

"That's true," granted Vagn, "for the men will probably want to land and plunder. Well, there may be hope yet."

They stood watch and watch until mid-night; then, after the relieved guard had retired, Vagn nudged Sigurd and the latter emitted a long, dismal groan.

At the second groan the man outside stirred; at the third he undid the bolts, and said, "Here, what's wrong? Are you sick?"

Sigurd groaned again, muttering something, and the man entered. As he did so, Vagn threw his cloak over his head while Sigurd sprang at him. For an instant he struggled furiously, but the cloak stifled him, and soon he was lying bound on the floor, while the boys darted off down the hall.

Silently they made their way down to the women's quarters, meeting no one. The man before Astrid's door was half asleep, and they secured him with only a slight struggle. As they did so, the door opened and the girl came out, a dark cloak over her kirtle.

"Good!" she whispered, as she saw the man lying bound. "I'm all ready."

They gained the street without mishap, and ran at top speed down the hill to the harbor, without meeting a person. Arriving at the waterside, they found the "Otter's" boat awaiting them, with Ulf himself on the shore, wrapped in a cloak.

As they rowed out to the ship, Vagn told Ulf how they had escaped, and as they reached the "Otter," Ulf leaped on deck, crying in a low tone, "All ready men! Slip the cable and out oars."

The oars, already muffled, were run out, and the men soon made the "Otter" move briskly through the water, the faint starlight serving to guide them through the shipping. A little later they gained the open Firth, and the huge square sail was hoisted. They were at last on their way home!

"Well, that is the last I will see of Thrandheim for many a day," declared Ulf, as they watched the shores flit by. "It will not matter much, though. There is little to be gained in trading from this country, and next voyage I think I will go to England or Flanders. Now, don't you want to turn in? I have made the cabin ready for the Lady Astrid, and I suppose that you can turn in with the men, as I will"

By morning they were well down the coast, and as the Otter was a notably fast ship, Ulf had no fear of pursuit. All day they sailed south, and at evening the ship's prow was turned out to sea.

"Eirik's fleet passed down yesterday afternoon," explained Ulf, "and we do not want to run into them. If the wind holds fair we will be nearly opposite Hiorunga Firth by morning, and will turn in to the coast then."

When the boys wakened in the morning they saw that the "Otter" was indeed heading east, but a thick fog lay over the sea and the wind had dropped, the "Otter" being propelled by her oars.

"We are near the coast," declared Ulf, and as the sun must be just rising this fog will blow away before long."

Suddenly, as they forged slowly ahead, the helmsman hailed Ulf, who sprang into the forecastle.

"Come hither, friends," he called to the boys, and pointing ahead, "what is that yonder?"

There, ahead of them, it seemed as though many lights were burning dimly through the mist. For a few minutes they gazed, puzzled; then Vagn gave a cry.

"Turn her prow, quickly!" he shouted to the helmsman. Those are not fires at all! That is a fleet yonder, and the fog where they are must have cleared off, so that the sun shines on the gilded dragon-prows! That is what we see!"

It was too late, however, for a few minutes later the fog cleared off around them, and not a mile away they saw the high cliffs of Norway; while, farther off, gleamed the white sails of a great fleet of ships.

"Which fleet is it?" cried Sigurd, his heart leaping.

"I know not," responded Ulf. "We must run in and take our chance. If the worst comes to the worst, we can outrun them, for the wind is coming up strongly. Now for breakfast."

They ate a hurried meal, while the "Otter" plowed on swiftly through the waves. At the end of an hour Vagn, who was watching from the forecastle, cried out in joy. "It is our own fleet! I see a sail with a red cross!"

"That is Hiorunga Firth, there to the north," declared Ulf, as Astrid joined them in the prow. "See, the fleet is heading in toward it, and we may be in time yet, for we will be up with them in half an hour."

In less than that space of time, indeed, they had come so near that they could make out the individual ships, and as they all knew Jarl Sigvald's ship by sight, Ulf steered toward that division.

What a sight it was! Ship after ship, with their gayly painted sails and glittering prows, in the shape of birds and beasts, all crowded with armed men, while, far ahead, shone the sails of more.

"That looks strange, Vagn," said Sigurd, uneasily. "I do not see any of my father's ships; it must be that he has pressed ahead, and may fall into Sigvald's trap!"

A few minutes later the nearest ship hailed them, and as the Jomsvikings recognized Vagn and Sigurd a mighty shout went up, which rolled from ship to ship as the news spread through the fleet, and amid a roar of war-horns and clashing of arms, the "Otter " drew up to the ship of Jarl Sigvald, the oars being hastily drawn in, and Vagn leaped aboard, followed closely by Sigurd.

Sigvald was overjoyed at their escape, but there was no time for telling the story now. Vagn swiftly described the plot of Jarl Hakon, and a yell of rage arose from the men who had crowded around. It was
 
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As they all knew Jarl Sigvald's ship hy sight, Ulf steered toward that division.

 
echoed from the other ships, who had drawn in, as the helmsman shouted out the tidings.

"We have no time to lose, then," cried Sigvald, "for Bui has gone ahead and has landed men to plunder." He turned to the "Otter." "Ulf," he shouted, "keep the Lady Astrid on board, and wait for three days at the midmost of the Herey Isles, a mile or two south. If you hear no news of us by then, fly with all speed to King Svein."

Ulf waved his hand, and with a last good-by the boys parted from Astrid as the ships were cast asunder.

"I will put you on board your ship," exclaimed Sigvald to Vagn, "as we go. Up sail! Out oars!" He seized his great war-horn and blew a mighty blast. The men sprang to their places, and as they passed through the fleet cheer after cheer went up for the plucky boys who had brought the news. Hastily sails arose again and blades flashed out in the morning sun, for Bui, who had landed ahead of the fleet near Hod Island, must be warned at once.

They drew alongside Vagn's ship, and the two boys sprang on board. Vagn's men, who had followed his father and grandfather in many a hard fray, went wild at the sight of him, and greeted Sigurd no less heartily. But Fairhair was worried about his father, who he knew was over-rash, and suddenly he heard the helmsman give a great cry of dismay, and saw him wave his arms.

"What is it?" he cried, as he dashed up the ladder, followed by Vagn. But there was no need of words. There, cutting swiftly around the end of Hod Island toward Hiorunga Bay, was the division of Bui, in mad haste. He had fallen into the trap!