Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 68

Howard’s man, and rowed to Asbrand’s house. There Howard asked for the promised new turf-cutter, and Asbrand’s son, a tall and manly youth, joined the party. At their next visit, to Thorbrand’s house, Howard asked for the two trout-nets, and Thorbrand’s two sons, with one stout fighting-man, came gladly with their kinsman.

Howard’s Plan

As they rowed away together one of the youths asked: “Why is it that thou hast no sword or axe, Uncle Howard?” Howard replied: “It may be that we shall meet Thorbiorn, and when the meeting is over I shall not be a swordless man, but it is likely that I shall have Warflame, that mighty weapon, the best of swords; and here I have a good spear.”

These words seemed to them all a good omen, and as they rowed towards Bathstead they saw a flock of ravens, which encouraged them yet more, since the raven was the bird of Odin, the haunter of fields of strife and bloodshed.

When they reached Bathstead they sprang on the jetty, carried their boat over the ridge of shingle to the quiet pool by the boathouse, and hid themselves where they could see, but remain themselves unseen. Howard took command, and appointed their places, bidding them be wary, and not stir till he gave the word.

Thorbiorn’s Return

Late that evening, just before dusk, Thorbiorn and Vakr came home, bringing their kinsmen with them, a party of ten in all. They had no suspicion of any ambush, and Thorbiorn said to Vakr: “It is a fine night, and dry, Vakr; we will leave the boat here—she will take no hurt through the night—and thou shalt carry our swords and spears up to the boathouse.”

[Pg 116] Vakr obeyed, and bore all the weapons to the boathouse. Howard’s men would have slain him then but Howard forbade, and let him return to the jetty for more armour. When Vakr had gone back Howard sent to the boathouse for the magic sword, Warflame; drawing it, he gripped it hard and brandished it, for he would fain avenge Olaf with the weapon which had slain him. When Vakr came towards the ambush a second time he was laden with shields and helmets. Howard’s men sprang up to take him, and he turned to flee as he saw and heard them. But his foot slipped, and he fell into the pool, and lay there weighed down by all the armour, till he died miserably—a fitting end for one so ignoble and cruel.

Thorbiorn’s Death

Howard’s men shouted and waved their weapons, and ran down to the beach to attack their enemies; but Thorbiorn, seeing them, flung himself into the sea, swimming towards a small rocky islet. When Howard saw this he took Warflame between his teeth, and, old as he was, plunged into the waves and pursued Thorbiorn. The latter had, however, a considerable start, and was both younger and stronger than his adversary, so that he was already on the rock and prepared to dash a huge stone at Howard, when the old man reached the islet. Now there seemed no hope for Howard, but still he clung fiercely to the rock and strove to draw himself up on the land. Thorbiorn lifted the huge stone to cast at his foe, but his foot slipped on the wet rocks, and he fell backward; before he could recover his footing Howard rushed forward and slew him with his own sword Warflame, striking out his teeth, as Thorbiorn had done to Olaf.