The Cross and the Hammer/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI.

THE DEATH OF HAKON.

AS THEY left the shelter of the bay and drew across the Firth, the narrow entrance of which was only two or three miles in width, three ships were seen sailing along the opposite shore. Olaf steered directly for them, for without doubt these were ships of Hakons; but as the fleets neared each other, the three ships, evidently taking Olaf's ships for foes, turned toward the shore.

The King dashed forward, coming up with the three ships just as they ran up on a sandbar. Their crews leaped overboard, wading and swimming to shore, and directly in front of Olaf's ship was seen a large, handsome man, swimming. Olaf shouted, but he paid no heed; so, seizing the tiller, the King flung it at him. The heavy missle struck him on the head, and he sank.

Then Olaf's men, leaping overboard, pursued the flying men, slaying some and capturing others. As soon as the captives were brought on board the King interrogated them.

It seemed that the man whom Olaf had slain with the tiller was Erland, a son of Jarl Hakon, and that these ships were going to the Jarl's aid. Further, the prisoners said that Jarl Hakon's forces were utterly dispersed, that the bonders were in revolt throughout the whole district, and that none knew where the Jarl was in hiding.

King Olaf at once landed some of his men with orders to tell everyone who he was, why he had come, and to bid all the bonders meet him the next day in Gauladale. Then the five ships were steered east, going up the Firth, and that afternoon the King was landed at Gauladale.

He found a great meeting of the chief bonders and leaders of the revolt against Hakon in progress, and as soon as these found who he was, they greeted him with tears of joy, and welcomed him most heartily. Olaf brought his chiefs, Sigurd among them, to the assembly, and when all were seated one of the older leaders of the peasants rose and addressed him.

"Olaf, Jarl Eirik will demand stern payment of this attack on his father, Hakon, when he hears of it; nevertheless, we are determined that Jarl Hakon shall die, for his life has been altogether evil. You, however, are of the race of our old Kings, from Harald Fairhair to your father, Triggve, and in the name of this assembly I ask you to become King over us, at least until an assembly of the people can be held at Thrandheim to elect you in regular form."

This caused the men of Olaf much joy, and the King accepted the offer of leadership which they made him. The same evening they traveled up the valley to Rimul, where the Lady Thora lived. It was here that the bonders thought Jarl Hakon was in hiding, but some distance up the valley, beside the river was found a cloak, which was recognized as Jarl Hakon's.

"He has perished in the river!" cried many voices, and this opinion was strengthened by finding the body of Hakon's horse farther down, on a sandbank. But as everyone was discussing this, an old bonder came up to Olaf.

"Olaf," he remarked, "you know well how cunning the Jarl is, and how skilled he is in tricks, A man of his nature does not get carried away by a river, however swift; can you not see that this is but a trick to make us cease the search and disband?"

"That is so," replied Sigurd at once. "I believe the man is right, King."

Others assented to this opinion also, and the small army pushed on to Rimul. By torchlight they made a thorough search of the homestead of Lady Thora, but without avail; so King Olaf, standing on a large stone near the barn, cried out:

"Men, we have searched without avail for Jarl Hakon; at this time we can do no more. But know, that with fitting gift and payment I will reward whoever shall slay the Jarl and bring me his head."

With that they left the homestead, and proceeded to Ladi, where they remained for the night. This was a very large farm and village, belonging to the Kings of Norway, and here Olaf took up temporary quarters. The men were next morning landed from the ships, the bonders were levied, and word was sent throughout the whole country that King Olaf, son of King Triggve, had arrived to take the rule from the hands of Hakon, and that a General Assembly of the People was to meet at once at Thrandheim.

These things, however, were not all done in a day. The very next afternoon, after reaching Ladi, word was brought to King Olaf that a man was inquiring for him, having a large package. King Olaf and Sigurd went to the door of the farmhouse, and saw an ill-favored man wearing the collar of a thrall, or slave.

"What do you want of me?" inquired the King.

For answer the man opened his package and showed a human head. Sigurd could not repress a shudder, and he turned away; the head was that of Jarl Hakon of Norway.

Olaf called his men at once, and the thrall told his story. He was the tooth-thrall of Hakon, the slave, who, according to custom, had been given the Jarl when he cut his first teeth; he had fled with Hakon from the bonders, and the Lady Thora had made for them a sure hiding-place in a cave beneath the pigsty, in the very yard where Olaf had offered a reward for Hakon's head.

"What led you to betray the Jarl?" asked Olaf, angrily.

"Chiefly for the reward you promised, King, for we could hear your voice distinctly. So I slew him as he slept and brought his head to you for the promised reward."

"Seize him, men!" cried Olaf, his eyes blazing with anger as he pointed to the thrall. "I will keep the promise which I made, to give you a fit reward, and it will keep those who come after us from betraying their lords! You dog! You were the servant of a wicked man, but he was your master and a good one to you, and you were bound to him by oaths the most sacred. Your reward shall be a fitting one indeed; take him out and behead him, men!"

When this was done. King Olaf took the thrall's head, together with that of Hakon, and sailing out to the island of Nidarholm, which was used as a place of execution for evildoers, the two heads were placed on the gallows. That night King Olaf gathered his leaders in the farmhouse at Ladi.

"My friends," he said, "Jarl Hakon is dead, and I doubt if Jarl Eirik will dare to attack us. The General Assembly will be held soon, and I trust that the people will take me for their king. It seems to me that only by the aid of God was the mighty Hakon overthrown so easily; moreover, the time is come when idolatry and heathen worship in Norway must give way to the Holy Truth. You have come hither from Ireland with me, and are you now willing to give your lives, if need be, to spread the Word of God?"

"Aye!" shouted all, and after a council it was decided that as soon as Olaf had been chosen king the first steps should be taken to stamp out the worship of Thor and Odin at the great temple in Thrandheim. Sigurd remembered his adventure with Vagn in that temple, and he felt a thrill at thought of planting the Cross in place of the great golden statue of Thor; for the words of the King had fired all his chiefs, and Bishop Sigurd also had spoken at length.

They abode quietly at Ladi for two or three weeks, Astrid taking up her quarters in the big farmhouse. There was nothing to do save to wait till the bonders met in General Assembly, and for this reason also King Olaf waited before tearing down the great temple to Odin at Ladi. It would not be wise to anger the bonders before being elected; afterwards, when he was the rightful King, it would be different.

Finally word arrived that the delegates to the Assembly had met from all eight districts of Norway, so Olaf and his men traveled up to Thrandheim, at the head of the Firth. Olaf was pretty sure of election, for while he dwelt at Ladi most of the great men of the country had visited him, and his handsome presence and kingly mien had made a very favorable impression; moreover, he was well known by reputation as one of the greatest warriors of his time.

Arrived at Thrandheim, Olaf, Sigurd, Astrid and the others of the King's party were given apartments in the palace of Jarl Hakon, and two mornings later they took their way to the Assembly. Here an immense crowd was assembled, from the whole Thrandheim district, and as soon as the Assembly had been constituted. King Olaf stood up in sight of all, his red-gold hair flying in the breeze, the sun streaming from his golden armor and scarlet cloak.

"It is known to all men here assembled that I have offered myself to be King over you. You must expect the sternest treatment by Jarl Eirik for the attack on his father, unless you obtain protection; on the other hand, I have a difficult task before me in obtaining possession of my father's realm, after being so long absent."

Olaf gave a brief account of his life and adventures, from his boyhood up to his discovery of Thorir Klakke's treachery, his coming to Norway, and the death of Hakon, and concluded with:

" I believe that there is no man in Norway who by legal right and descent has so much right to the crown as I. But I must be made King by you, the Assembly of the People, and if you do so I will protect you and rule you according to the ancient laws of Norway."

The tale of his exile and sufferings greatly moved the people, who were already predisposed in his favor. As he sat down, half the delegates leaped to their feet.

"Skoal! Olaf Triggveson, skoal! We will have you to be our King, and none other! Skoal!"

A blare of horns mingled with shouts rent the air, and Sigurd, behind Olaf, set his great standard flapping in the breeze. A silence fell over the people as they saw the Cross, but only for a moment; again the shout arose, pealing across the town and the bay and echoing back from hill to hill behind them:

"Skoal to King Olaf! Skoal!"