The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
At the first breath of spring in the blue air, at the first touch of green in the thawing fields, Frithjof thanked his host and once again trusted himself to the treacherous sea, now smooth and mild enough, and merrily Ellide drew the silver furrow across the dark blue plain. Light west winds sang in the sails like nightingales, and Aegir’s daughters, disporting themselves in their native waves, seemed playfully to help the ship along. ‘Tis joy to the mariner to set the sails for home, to watch for the smoke which rises from his own hearth, for the green mounds in which his fathers rest, for the rock from which a faithful maid has daily looked out on the sea.
Six days the voyage lasted, unhindered and unclouded. On the seventh, a faint bluish streak is espied; it grows and expands into the jagged lines of rocky islets, and, at last, of solid land. Frithjof looks with beating heart, with dimming eye: ’tis his own land, and those are his own woods; and now he can hear the waterfall which rushes headlong down the rock’s naked breast. He greets the fjord, the headland; he sails hard by the temple and the grove where, last summer, he and Ingeborg talked and dreamed so many a night away.
“Why does she not come forth?” he thinks, impatiently. “Can she not feel how near I am to her? Or has she gone from Balder’s keeping, and does she sorrowfully spend her days in Helge’s home, between the harp, the distaff, and the loom?”
And lo! from the temple’s roof his favorite falcon comes flying with joyful shriek and lights upon his shoulder, as was his wont. He flaps and flaps his snowy wings, holds fast the shoulder, scratches with his claw in wild excitement, and pecks with his bill in Frithjof’s ear with little moaning cries, as though he would quickly tell him something of import.
Ellide now lightly turns the point; ’tis as though her keel felt the touch of native waters. Frithjof stands at the prow and looks eagerly towards the shore. He rubs his eyes and holds his hand over them — in vain! There is no sign of his own Framnäs. Yet stay! A tall chimneystack, bare and black, rises in the middle of a heap of rubbish — cinders, ashes, stones. He looks, and looks again — his heart stands still — he leaps ashore, strides to where the gate once stood — the house, the barns: a waste! No sign of life! Only his hound, his faithful Bran, who has worried many a bear for him, runs out and springs at him in wild glee, baying and whining; and his favorite courser, milk-white, with golden mane, swan-necked and deer-footed, comes bounding from the wood, weighing, and whinnying, and nibbles at his hand for bread. Alas! Frithjof now is poorer than these friends; he has nothing more to share with them, not even the shelter of a roof!
He does not know how long he stands upon his wasted homestead’s land, when, turning round, he finds Hilding, his aged foster-father, by his side. He has no greeting for the old man in the great bitterness of his soul, but gives vent to his anger at once:
“What I now behold I might have foreseen. The eagle flown, they robbed the nest. A truly royal feat! However, it angers me more than it grieves. Now tell me, where is Ingeborg?”
“I will tell thee,” replied Hilding, “for thou must know sometime. But I fear me the tidings will not please thee. No sooner hadst thou gone, than Ring came on in force. There was a battle — only one. King Halfdan, boyish in manner as ever, laughed and jested, yet when it came to fighting, showed himself a man. But there was not much fighting, for Helge lost heart and fled — and that was the end. As he passed thy homestead in his flight, he set fire to it. Now the brothers had no choice: Ring would accept of no peace offering but their sister. If not — he would take their land and crown. There was much parleying; many messages went back and forward: but—— well, King Ring has his bride.”
“Oh, women, women!” cried Frithjof, passionately. “Out on their rosy cheeks, whose blush is a lie! Their laughing eyes, whose loving glance is deceit! Their dainty lips, whose smile is perjury! They do say of Balder’s Nanna, she was true. But then she was a goddess. There is no truth in human souls, if Ingeborg could be false. False — yet how dear! As far back as memory takes me, she was my one thought, my one desire, my mate in earnest and in play; of all the deeds I dreamed of doing, she was to have been the prize. I cannot, cannot think of myself apart from her. Yet here I stand — alone! Away! away! I will not think of her again, the fair witch, the bride that played me false! Away with dalliance and with dreams! I will out into the world, wherever there is food for my sword, on mountain height, in peopled valley, or on ocean wave. Let me but meet a king — see if I spare him! And if, between scenes of tempest and of slaughter, I should haply chance upon some love-sick boy, from very pity, by my troth, I will slay him straight and save him from standing some day, betrayed, bereft, befooled — as I stand here!”
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“How rash and reckless courses youthful blood!” sighed Hilding. “It takes the snows of age to cool it. Thou dost wrong the noble maid most grievously. Sorrowful she dwelled in Helge’s house. To me alone she opened all her heart; I alone knew how bravely that gentle spirit battled with its grief. ‘I am the victim of expiation,’ she often said to me, ‘that is to ransom my country and my people. I might die, ’tis true, but a harder lot was set aside for me. What I am going to is a lingering death in life. But, father, tell no one of my agony. Suffering I can accept, but not compassion; the king’s daughter recoils from that… But to Frlthjof take the greet-of poor Ingeborg!’
“On the wedding day —oh, that it had never dawned!— the men-at-arms, the maiden’s own bodyguard, walked to the temple two by two. Sadly stepped the Skald with his harp before the sable steed, on which the bride sat pale as a spirit on a dark thundercloud. In these my arms I lifted her from the saddle, slender and swaying as a lily stalk, and led her in. Yet she took the vow with voice both firm and clear. All were in tears, except herself. Only one ugly incident marred the dignity of the sad and solemn rite: King Helge caught sight of thy ring upon her arm and tore it off roughly, with a curse. Now, by her wish, it is on Balder’s arm, and in his sacred keeping. My patience at this gave way; I snatched my sword from my side — the king’s life was not worth much to me just then. But Ingeborg whispered: ‘Let go the sword! True, a brother might have spared me this, but the heart will bear much before it breaks. All-Father shall requite. I murmur not.'”
“All-Father shall requite!” Frithjof broke in. “Methinks it would please me to do a little of the requiting myself. Is not this Balder’s Midsummer day? Yonder in the temple the priestly king will be holding high revelry — the murderer, the incendiary, who trades away his sisterward. The very thing! I feel inspired to play the judge!”