The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
Now, ye may like to hear how, in his hall strongly built of fir trunks, with his men so grim and battle-tried, Earl Angantyr, lord of the Orkneys, sat feasting on that day, and how, as the golden mead went round, they looked, in restful, pensive mood, out on the blue expanse, on which the sinking sun rested light, like to a golden swan.
In the bay of the broad window, old Halwar stands on watch, one eye on the waves, the other on the mead. Silently he drains his horn and silently holds it out for more. Suddenly he throws it, empty, behind him on the floor, and cries:
“A ship, a ship! Out there by the strand. But something is wrong with her. Her crew seems in distress. Now they land, but queerly, i’ faith: two giants are carrying the men to the land and lay them on the ground.”
The earl now joined old Halwar and took a look.
“Those are Ellide’s wings,” he said; “so Frithjof must be there. By his features, by his bearing, Thorsten’s son is easily known — such a face is not often seen here in the North.”
Here Viking Atle springs from the banquet table, black-bearded, grim, his blood-shot eye alight with battle’s fire.
“Now,” he cries, “we shall see whether Frithjof can, as ’tis said of him, cast a spell on steel, or whether he will sue for peace.”
With him up spring twelve champions of the fiercest; waving their swords and maces they rush down to the beach, where tired Ellide lies, and Frithjof sits on the sand, speaking comforting words to his weary men.
“I could easily fell thee where thou sittest,” Atle boastingly addressed him without a pretense of courteous greeting, such as is wont to pass even between foes about to fight; “but I will give thee thy choice: flight or fight. Or, if thou wilt sue for peace, I will befriend thee and take thee to Angantyr.”
“I am sheer spent with the voyage,” Frithjof replied angrily; “but ere I sue for peace, my sword will have a word to say.
Instantly Angurwadel flashes in the sunset’s blaze, with every rune aflame. The blades clash loud and hard, deadly strokes fall thick as hail, and both the shields at once are shattered into splinters. The champions stand firm as rooted trees; but Angurwadel’s bite is sharpest, and Atle’s blade snaps off.
“My sword,” said Frithjof, “has never hurt a swordless man; so, if thou hast stomach for more, we’ll try another game.”
They wrestle; breast to breast, like two great bears on the snow; they rush at each other like furious eagles high above the sea. It seems as though rocks might be unseated and ancient oaks unearthed by shocks less ponderous. The heavy drops stand on the wrestlers’ brows, their breasts heave high and short, shrubs and stones fly all around. Their friends look on aghast and fearful of the end, yet in their hearts they praise alike each champion’s bravery and skill. That fight was long remembered in all the Northern lands.
At last, Frithjof felled his foe and held him down with his knee.
“Had I but my sword,” he cried, “thou black-bearded maniac, I should quickly make an end of thee.”
“Have thy will,” was Atle’s proud retort. “Go, get thy sword; I have no wish to run away. We both must see Valhalla someday; I go now, thou mayest follow me tomorrow.”
Frithjof seemed minded to take his prostrate foe’s advice; already Angurwadel was raised above him, yet Atle did not stir. Such manliness touched the victor’s generous heart; his anger fell, he cast the sword aside and took the fallen man by the hand.
Then Halwar raised aloft his white staff.
“Enough!” he cried. “Your senseless brawl is pleasing to no one but yourselves. The meats have long stood steaming on the board, fish and fowls are growing cold, and I am sheer dying with thirst.”
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And so the two, now friends, walked together into the hall, where Frithjof was to see many things new to him. The walls, instead of bare, rough-hewn planks, were covered with hangings of gilt leather stamped with many cunning designs, of grapes and vines. Instead of a deep hearth in the middle of the floor, the huge logs blazed in fireplaces at both ends of the hall, with marble mantels. No smoke remained inside; no soot blackened the walls. The window had panes of glass; the door a lock. And silver sconces stretched out their arms, laden with wax lights, instead of the smoky but fragrant pine chips, stuck in chinks of the planking. On a round table to itself there stood a deer roasted whole, with gilt hoofs and green boughs twined in his antlers. By each reveler’s chair stood a handmaid, lily-cheeked and rosy-lipped, of golden locks or brown, of dark or azure eye, prompt in willing service.
High on a dais, in a chair of massive silver, the earl sat in state; his golden helmet flashing light, his corset too of gold; star-broidered his purple mantle’s ample folds, bordered with a broad band of ermine.
He rose and took three steps to meet his guest, with cordial hand outstretched.
“Take time to rest, I pray,” he said after the first greeting, with kindly care. “Many a beaker have I drained with Thorsten, here in this very hall. His son, whose name, though young, is honored far and wide, shall not sit far from me.”
With his own hand the earl filled a goblet with wine of Sicily, hot as flame and foaming as the sea wave.
“Welcome in my own hall, son of my friend! This cup to hero Thorsten’s memory!”
A skald of high renown now tuned his harp. In low and solemn strains he pitched his song at first, then rose to loud and martial notes in praise of Thorsten’s deeds.
And now the earl plied his guest with many questions; Frithjof gave answer in words well chosen and discreet. He told of his perilous voyage and how he had defeated the royal wizard’s craft. Loud laughed the warriors; Angantyr smiled, well pleased; Frithjof had found favor with them all. But when he told of Ingeborg, so fair in her sorrow, so sweet in her thoughtfulness, eyes softened and lips ceased to smile; sighs came from many a gentle bosom, and of the maidens many would have liked to press so true a lover’s hand.
At last he boldly told his mission. The earl heard him patiently to the end, unmoved — or so it seemed. A silence fell on all.
“Tribute I never paid,” he answered quietly. “I held Bele in honor, but never was vassal of his. As to his heirs, I know nothing of them. If they have a claim, let them be men and enforce it with the sword. We shall know how to meet them. But Thorsten was my friend.”
He signed to his daughter who sat by his side. She understood the unspoken command and ran to her own chamber, whence she quickly returned and handed her father a belt pouch. It was beautifully worked in green silk, the clasp set with rubies, the tassel of spun gold. The earl filled it as full as it could hold with gold coined in many lands.
“This is for welcome — my gift to my old friend’s son,” he said as he placed it in Frithjof’s hand. “Do with it as thou pleasest. But stay with us the winter, I pray, and rest thee with thy men. The time for storms will soon be coming, and I would wager Ham and Heid will come to life again. Ellide may not always leap with such true aim, nor is there lack of whales for one that sank.”
With talk and jest thus passed the night away. Cheerily the horn traveled around the board, yet the men kept well within bounds, and it was with clear heads and ringing voices that, just as day was breaking, the parting toast, “Earl Angantyr!” was given out and drunk.
Frithjof stayed and had a pleasant winter.