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  By the early light of a bright summer morning, long, long ago, two smallboats were seen to issue from one of the fiords or firths on the westcoast of Norway, and row towards the skerries or low rocky islets thatlay about a mile distant from the mainland.

  Although the morning was young, the sun was already high in the heavens,and brought out in glowing colours the varied characteristics of amountain scene of unrivalled grandeur.

  The two shallops moved swiftly towards the islands, their oars shiveringthe liquid mirror of the sea, and producing almost the only sound thatdisturbed the universal stillness, for at that early hour Nature herselfseemed buried in deep repose. A silvery mist hung over the water,through which the innumerable rocks and islands assumed fantasticshapes, and the more distant among them appeared as though they floatedin air. A few seagulls rose startled from their nests, and sailedupwards with plaintive cries, as the keels of the boats grated on therocks, and the men stepped out and hauled them up on the beach of one ofthe islets.

  A wild uncouth crew were those Norsemen of old! All were armed, for intheir days the power and the means of self-defence were absolutelynecessary to self-preservation.

  Most of them wore portions of scale armour, or shirts of ring mail, andheadpieces of steel, though a few among them appeared to have confidencein the protection afforded by the thick hide of the wolf, which,converted into rude, yet not ungraceful, garments, covered their broadshoulders. All, without exception, carried sword or battle-axe andshield. They were goodly stalwart men every one, but silent and stern.

  It might have been observed that the two boats, although bound for thesame islet, did not row in company. They were beached as far from eachother as the little bay into which they ran would admit of, and thecrews stood aloof in two distinct groups.

  In the centre of each group stood a man who, from his aspect andbearing, appeared to be superior to his fellows. One was in the primeof life, dark and grave; the other in the first flush of manhood, fullgrown, though beardless, fair, and ruddy. Both were taller and stouterthan their comrades.

  The two men had met there to fight, and the cause of their feud was--Love!

  Both loved a fair Norse maiden in Horlingdal. The father of the maidfavoured the elder warrior; the maid herself preferred the younger.

  In those days, barbarous though they undoubtedly were, law and justicewere more respected and more frequently appealed to in Norway than inalmost any other country. Liberty, crushed elsewhere under thedeadweight of feudalism, found a home in the bleak North, and a roughbut loving welcome from the piratical, sea-roving! She did not, indeed,dwell altogether scathless among her demi-savage guardians, who, iftheir perceptions of right and wrong were somewhat confused, might haveurged in excuse that their light was small. She received many shocksand frequent insults from individuals, but liberty was sincerely lovedand fondly cherished by the body of the Norwegian people, through allthe period of those dark ages during which other nations scarce dared tomention her name.

  Nevertheless, it was sometimes deemed more convenient to settle disputesby the summary method of an appeal to arms than to await the issue of atedious and uncertain lawsuit such an appeal being perfectly competentto those who preferred it, and the belief being strong among the fieryspirits of the age that Odin, the god of war, would assuredly givevictory to the right.

  In the present instance it was not considered any infringement of thelaw of liberty that the issue of the combat would be the disposal of afair woman's hand, with or without her heart. Then, as now, women wereoften forced to marry against their will.

  Having gone to that island to fight--an island being a naturallycircumscribed battlefield whose limits could not conveniently betransgressed--the two champions set to work at once with the coolbusinesslike promptitude of men sprung from a warlike race, and nurturedfrom their birth in the midst of war's alarms.

  Together, and without speaking, they ascended the rock, which was lowand almost barren, with a small extent of turf in the centre, level, andadmirably suited to their purpose. Here they faced each other; the onedrew his sword, the other raised his battle-axe.

  There was no sentiment in that combat. The times and the men wereextremely matter-of-fact. The act of slaying gracefully had not yetbeen acquired; yet there was much of manly grace displayed as each threwhimself into the position that nature and experience had taught him wasbest suited to the wielding of his peculiar weapon.

  For one instant each gazed intently into the face of the other, as if toread there his premeditated plan of attack. At that moment the clearblue eye of the younger man dilated, and, as his courage rose, thecolour mounted to his cheek. The swart brow of the other darkened as hemarked the change; then, with sudden spring and shout, the two fell uponeach other and dealt their blows with incredible vigour and rapidity.

  They were a well-matched pair. For nearly two hours did they toil andmoil over the narrow limits of that sea-girt rock--yet victory leaned toneither side. Now the furious blows rained incessant on the soundingshields; anon the din of strife ceased, while the combatants moved roundeach other, shifting their position with elastic step, as, with warymotion and eagle glances, each sought to catch the other off his guard,and the clash of steel, as the weapons met in sudden onset, was mingledwith the shout of anger or defiance. The sun glanced on whirling bladeand axe, and sparkled on their coats of mail as if the lightning flashwere playing round them; while screaming seamews flew and circledoverhead, as though they regarded with intelligent interest and terrorthe mortal strife that was going on below.

  Blood ere long began to flow freely on both sides; the vigour of theblows began to abate, the steps to falter. The youthful cheek grewpale; the dark warrior's brow grew darker, while heaving chests,labouring breath, and an occasional gasp, betokened the approachingtermination of the struggle. Suddenly the youth, as if under theinfluence of a new impulse, dropped his shield, sprang forward, raisedhimself to his full height, grasped his axe with both hands, and,throwing it aloft

thus recklessly exposing his person

, brought it downwith terrific violence on the shield of his adversary.

  The action was so sudden that the other, already much exhausted, was forthe moment paralysed, and failed to take advantage of his opportunity.He met but failed to arrest the blow with his shield. It was crusheddown upon his head, and in another moment the swarthy warrior laystretched upon the turf.

  Sternly the men conveyed their fallen chief to his boat, and rowed himto the mainland, and many a week passed by ere he recovered from theeffects of the blow that felled him. His conqueror returned to have hiswounds dressed by the bride for whom he had fought so long and sovaliantly on that bright summer morning.

  Thus it was that King Haldor of Horlingdal, surnamed the Fierce,conquered King Ulf of Romsdal, acquired his distinctive appellation, andwon Herfrida the Soft-eyed for his bride.

  It must not be supposed that these warriors were kings in the ordinaryacceptation of that term. They belonged to the class of "small" orpetty kings, of whom there were great numbers in Norway in those days,and were merely rich and powerful free-landholders or udallers.

  Haldor the Fierce had a large family of sons and daughters. They wereall fair, strong, and extremely handsome, like himself.

  Ulf of Romsdal did not die of his wounds, neither did he die of love.Disappointed love was then, as now, a terrible disease, but notnecessarily fatal. Northmen were very sturdy in the olden time. Theyalmost always recovered from that disease sooner or later. When hiswounds were healed, Ulf married a fair girl of the Horlingdal district,and went to reside there, but his change of abode did not alter histitle. He was always spoken of as Ulf of Romsdal. He and his old enemyHaldor the Fierce speedily became fast friends; and so was it with theirwives, Astrid and Herfrida, who also took mightily to each other. Theyspan, and carded wool, and sewed together oftentimes, and discussed theaffairs of Horlingdal, no doubt with mutual advantage and satisfaction.

  Twenty years passed away, and Haldor's eldest son, Erling, grew to be aman. He was very like his father--almost a giant in size; fair, verystrong, and remarkably handsome. His silken yellow hair fell in heavycurls on a pair of the broadest shoulders in the dale. Although soyoung, he already had a thick short beard, which was very soft andcurly. His limbs were massive, but they were so well proportioned, andhis movements so lithe, that his great size and strength were not fullyappreciated until one stood close by his side or fell into his powerfulgrasp.

  Erling was lion-like, yet he was by nature gentle and retiring. He hada kindly smile, a hearty laugh, and bright blue eyes. Had he lived inmodern days he would undoubtedly have been a man of peace. But he lived"long long ago"--therefore he was a man of war. Being unusuallyfearless, his companions of the valley called him Erling the Bold. Hewas, moreover, extremely fond of the sea, and often went on vikingcruises in his own ships, whence he was also styled Erling the Sea-king,although he did not at that time possess a foot of land over which toexercise kingly authority.

  Now, it must be explained here that the words Sea-king and Viking do notdenote the same thing. One is apt to be misled by the termination ofthe latter word, which has no reference whatever to the royal titleking. A viking was merely a piratical rover on the sea, the sea-warriorof the period, but a Sea-king was a leader and commander of vikings.Every Sea-king was a viking, but every viking was not a Sea-king; justas every Admiral is a sailor, but every sailor is not an Admiral. Whenit is said that Erling was a Sea-king, it is much as if we had said hewas an admiral in a small way.

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