"Vikings!" cried the chief, "lay hands on her! Tear her from the saddle! She has defied us! She deserves no mercy."
With a tremendous yell the boys rushed forward, brandishing their swords above their heads, and pulled Gunbjor from the saddle. But she held on to her charge with a vigorous clutch, and as soon as her feet touched the ground she began with her disengaged hand to lay about her, with her whip, in a way that proved extremely unpleasant. Wolf-in-the-Temple, against whom her assault was especially directed, received some bad cuts across his face, and Ironbeard was driven backward into the ford, where he fell, full length, and rose dripping wet and mortified. Thore the Hound got a thump in his head from Gunbjor's stalwart elbows, and Skull-Splitter, who had more courage than discretion, was pitched into the water with no more ceremony than if he had been a superfluous kitten. The fact was--I cannot disguise it--within five minutes the whole valiant band of the Sons of the Vikings were routed by that terrible switch, wielded by the intrepid Gunbjor. When the last of her foes had bitten the dust, she calmly remounted her pony, and with the Deacon's Maggie in her lap rode, at a leisurely pace, across the ford.
"Good-by, lads," she said, nodding her head at them over her shoulder; "ye needn't be afraid. I won't tell on you."
To have been routed by a woman was a terrible humiliation to the valiant Sons of the Vikings. They were silent and moody during the evening, and sat staring into the big bonfire on the saeter green with stern and melancholy features. They had suffered defeat in battle, and it behooved them to avenge it. About nine o'clock they retired into their bunks in the log cabin, but no sooner was Brumle-Knute's rhythmic snoring perceived than Wolf-in-the-Temple put his head out and called to his comrades to meet him in front of the house for a council of war. Instantly they scrambled out of their alcoves, pulled on their coats and trousers; and noiselessly stole out into the night. The sun was yet visible, but a red veil of fiery mist was drawn across his face; and a magic air of fairy-tales and strange unreality was diffused over mountains, plains and lakes. The river wound like a huge, blood-red serpent through the mountain pastures, and the snow-hooded peaks blazed with fiery splendor.
The boys were quite stunned at the sight of such magnificence, and stood for some minutes gazing at the landscape, before giving heed to the summons of the chief.
"Comrades," said Wolf-in-the-Temple, solemnly, "what is life without honor?"
There was not a soul present who could answer that conundrum, and after a fitting pause the chief was forced to answer it himself.
"Life without honor, comrades," he said, severely, "life--without honor is--nothing."