The Story of the Glittering Plain - Chapter 4
NOW HALLBLITHE TAKETH THE SEA
Now must it be told of Hallblithe that he rode fiercely down to the sea-shore, and from the top of the beach he gazed about him, and there below him was the Ship-stead and Rollers of his kindred, whereon lay the three long-ships, the Seamew, and the Osprey and the Erne. Heavy and huge they seemed to him as they lay there, black-sided, icy-cold with the washing of the March waves, their golden dragon-heads looking seaward wistfully. But first had he looked out into the offing, and it was only when he had let his eyes come back from where the sea and sky met, and they had beheld nothing but the waste of waters, that he beheld the Ship-stead closely; and therewith he saw where a little to the west of it lay a skiff, which the low wave of the tide lifted and let fall from time to time. It had a mast, and a black sail hoisted thereon and flapping with slackened sheet. A man sat in the boat clad in black raiment, and the sun smote a gleam from the helm on his head. Then Hallblithe leapt off his horse, and strode down the sands shouldering his spear; and when he came near to the man in the boat he poised his spear and shook it and cried out: “Man, art thou friend or foe?”
Said the man: “Thou art a fair young man: but there is grief in thy voice along with wrath. Cast not till thou hast heard me, and mayst deem whether I may do aught to heal thy grief.”
“What mayst thou do?” said Hallblithe; “art thou not a robber of the sea, a harrier of the folks that dwell in peace?”
The man laughed: “Yea,” said he, “my craft is thieving and carrying off the daughters of folk, so that we may have a ransom for them. Wilt thou come over the waters with me?”
Hallblithe said wrathfully:
“Nay, rather, come thou ashore here! Thou seemest a big man, and belike shall be good of thine hands. Come and fight with me; and then he of us who is vanquished, if he be unslain, shall serve the other for a year, and then shalt thou do my business in the ransoming.”
The man in the boat laughed again, and that so scornfully that he angered Hallblithe beyond measure: then he arose in the boat and stood on his feet swaying from side to side as he laughed. He was passing big, long-armed and big-headed, and long hair came from under his helm like the tail of a red horse; his eyes were grey and gleaming, and his mouth wide.
In a while he stayed his laughter and said: “O Warrior of the Raven, this were a simple game for thee to play; though it is not far from my mind, for fighting when I needs must win is no dull work. Look you, if I slay or vanquish thee, then all is said; and if by some chance stroke thou slayest me, then is thine only helper in this matter gone from thee. Now to be short, I bid thee come aboard to me if thou wouldst ever hear another word of thy damsel betrothed. And moreover this need not hinder thee to fight with me if thou hast a mind to it thereafter; for we shall soon come to a land big enough for two to stand on. Or if thou listest to fight in a boat rocking on the waves, I see not but there may be manhood in that also.”
Now was the hot wrath somewhat run off Hallblithe, nor durst he lose any chance to hear a word of his beloved; so he said: “Big man, I will come aboard. But look thou to it, if thou hast a mind to bewray me; for the sons of the Raven die hard.”
“Well,” said the big man, “I have heard that their minstrels are of many words, and think that they have tales to tell. Come aboard and loiter not.” Then Hallblithe waded the surf and lightly strode over the gunwale of the skiff and sat him down. The big man thrust out into the deep and haled home the sheet; but there was but little wind.
Then said Hallblithe: “Wilt thou have me row, for I wot not whitherward to steer?”
Said the red carle: “Maybe thou art not in a hurry; I am not: do as thou wilt.” So Hallblithe took the oars and rowed mightily, while the alien steered, and they went swiftly and lightly over the sea, and the waves were little.