The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
The Midnight Sun stands over the hills, blood-red and beamless. It is not day, it is not night — a something grey and weird. Balder’s funeral pyre, emblem of the Sun, is burning on the hearth. When it is all burned down, winter’s reign begins on earth.
The priests were busy with the fire — pale old men with flowing silver locks, holding knives of flint in horny hands. Not far from them stood Helge, the crown on his head, ministering at the altar stone — when, hark! the clang of arms was heard from the sacred grove, and a voice in stern command:
“Björn, keep watch here at the gate. They are in the trap — let not one escape; kill them first, everyone.”
Helge stood pale, as turned to stone: too well he knew that voice. Frithjof entered, like an angry god, and his voice was like the storm’s:
“Here the tribute! I fetched it for thee from beyond the seas. Take it! Then, here by Balder’s pyre, we fight for life or death. Shield on back, and open breast! That is the way to fight. Thine, as king, be the first stroke; the second shall be mine. Look not so anxiously at the door! Rather think of Framnäs! Think too of Ingeborg, the golden-locked!”
He spoke, and taking from his belt the heavy purse, hurled it with aim deliberate straight at Helge’s head. Blood spurted from the royal nose and mouth, the knees gave way, and, senseless, pale, by the altar stone lay the grandson of the gods.
“What!” mocked Frithjof; “not stand the touch of thine own gold? Thou most dastardly of Norseland’s sons! Angurwadel would scorn to draw blood from such as thou. Quiet, priests! Down with the sacred knives, ye phantom shapes of night! Else are ye ripe for death — our blades are all athirst. And thou, pale Balder, check thy anger, for, by thy leave, I must have that ring upon thine arm — ’twas never meant for thee. Not for thee, I dare maintain, did Waulund shape the gold. Stolen goods, taken from weeping maid, are no fitting gift for gods!”
As he spoke, he reached for the ring and would have stripped it off the statue’s arm; but pull and tug as he would, ring and arm seemed grown together; and when at last the ring came off, the statue swayed with the wrench and fell headlong into the fire. In a twinkling the flame caught at the beams of the roof — Björn at the door grew deadly pale, and Frithjof stood transfixed. But not for long. Seized with horror at the sacrilege, at his own unwilling deed, his one thought was now to save.
“Wide the doors!” he cries. “Get out the people! Take off the watch! The temple burns! Water! Pour water! Pour the sea!”
A chain is quickly formed from the temple to the beach; buckets run from hand to hand; the water hisses and sputters on the heated wood. Frithjof sits astride of the roof and floods it as the buckets reach him; his voice never ceases ringing out commands; he alone directs the work, and holds his dangerous post, heedless of the encompassing flames and smoke. But nothing helps — not his almost insane bravery, nor his men’s untiring efforts. The gold and silver plating melt as in a smelting furnace, and the liquid metal falls in heavy drops upon the sand.
All is lost! Many did say afterward that they saw a fire-red cock fly out of the flames, and stand on the top of the roof, crowing and flapping his wings. A brisk northerly wind quickened still more the work of destruction; from the temple the flames leaped over to the grove, hungrier for the lavish food. How they raged among the boughs! How they licked the curling, shriveling foliage up! With a roar as of the tempest they swept through the summits; they bored their way into the earth, and the roots cracked and smoldered. The grove, but now a standing sea of fire, suddenly collapsed into a wilderness of glowing stumps, and a vast heap of red cinders and ashes.
The battle has long been given up. And when the early summer morning ruthlessly shows the night’s awful work, the people silently disperse. But Frithjof goes his way alone, weeping the scalding tears of a strong man’s despair.