The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
Bele and Thorsten, the two friends, had been laid in the mounds on each side of the bay, as they had ordered. Helge and Halfdan were elected joint kings by the people at a general meeting. Frithjof, being an only son, had no one with whom to share his inheritance and at once entered the homestead at Framnäs as master.
Truly, a fair inheritance: hills and valleys and woods, three miles each way, with the sea as boundary on one side. The heights were crowned with birchwood, and where they gently sloped, the golden barley ripened in the sun, and rye so tall a man might hide in it. Lakes not a few mirrored the mountains and the forests where antlered elks stalked majestic and drank from a hundred streams. And in the valleys the sheltered pastures were gay with herds of kine, sleek and heavy-uddered, and dotted with sheep, white and fleecy as the cloudlets which the spring breeze drives across the sky. And in the stables there stood, in stately rows, twice twelve fiery steeds, winds in harness, their manes braided with red ribbons, their hoofs glistening with polished shoes.
But the wonder of the place was the banquet hall, a palace in itself, solidly built of fir trunks, well fitted. Six hundred guests hardly filled it at the great Yuletide feast. The board, of oak, stretched the whole length of the hall, waxed to a polish as bright as steel. The dais at the host’s end was adorned with two statues of gods carved out of elmwood: Odin, with royal mien, and Frey, with the sun on his brow. Between the two was the host’s seat, covered with a huge bearskin, black, with scarlet mouth and silver-mounted claws. It seemed but yesterday that Thorsten sat there, gravely yet genially entertaining his friends with many a wondrous tale of foreign lands, of vikings’ ventures on the seas. Deep into the night they would sit, listening entranced, while the great logs blazed high in the deep stone hearth in the middle of the hall, and the stars peered down through the wide smoke escape in the roof, and the firelight played, gleaming and glinting, on the armors which hung all around the walls, with a sword between each two, flashing every now and then, like a shooting star on a winter night.
Great wealth was stowed away in the dwelling house; cellars and garrets, closets and storerooms overflowed with substance. Nor was there lack of precious things taken in war or given in gracious token of friendship. Of these family treasures three were prized above all other possessions by Thorsten, and now by his son.
The first and most peerless was the sword Angurwadel, own brother to the lightning. It had been forged and tempered by wizard dwarfs, so went the story, and first worn by the hero Björn Bluetooth; but he soon lost both sword and life in single combat against bold Wifell, whose son was Viking, Thorsten’s father. When Viking was a youth of fifteen winters, he and Angurwadel did battle with a savage troll and slew him. The giant appeared in the land of a feeble and aged king, demanding his crown and only child, a lovely daughter of tender years, unless a champion were found who could fight and overcome him. There was no such champion among the old king’s men, and the poor maid would surely have been carried away into the black forest, of which no man had ever seen more than the outside belt of trees, but for the youth and his magic sword. With one stroke Angurwadel cut in two the bellowing troll and rescued the maid. Now Frithjof owned it. When he drew it, a glory filled the hall like the brilliancy of the Northern light. The hilt was of gold and the blue steel of the blade was graven with countless runes, which showed dull in times of peace; but in battle, or when the owner’s heart was moved in anger, they burned and glowed in ruby red, and woe to them that came across the blazing blade ‘midst the blackness of the fray! — Great was the fame of that sword; it was known far and wide as the best in all the North.
Second in value of the three heirlooms was a massive ring of purest gold, a piece of matchless art, the work of Lame Waulund, the divine smith of the North. Thick it was, and broad and heavy, such as might fitly encircle a hero’s arm. And on it the heavens were imaged, with the twelve immortal mansions where, month after month, the sun rests in his course, and Alfheim, Frey’s own House of Light, whence the young sun each Yuletide begins again his long climb up to the topmost heaven. There, too, in the hall of the gods where Odin drinks mead in a golden cup, Balder sat upon his throne — the Midnight Sun; Balder the good, the blameless; then Balder dead, upon the funeral pyre, and, further still, in the realm of gruesome Hela, the pitiless ruler of the dead. These and many more scenes, all telling of the struggle between light and darkness in the heavens above, and below, in the human breast, were portrayed on the ring. In the clasp was set a ruby of enormous size. Through a long line of ancestors on the mother’s side the ring had come down to Thorsten.
Once it was lost — stolen by a pirate of whom nothing was known but that he called himself Sote and roamed the Northern seas. Then there came a rumor that Sote had landed on a remote shore and had gone, alive, into a huge gravemound, into the vast chamber of which, lined with well-cemented slabs, he had taken his ship and all his treasures; but that he had not found rest, and ghostly doings made the mound a terror for miles around. Thorsten heard the story. He and Bele forthwith mounted their dragon ship, sped over the waves, and quickly reached the unknown strand. There before them rose the mound, looking as would a gigantic temple if it were domed with sward. Gleams of light weirdly shot out of it, and, when the two comrades cautiously peered in through some chinks in the massive iron door, they beheld within the pirate’s ship, serpent-shaped, pitch-black, all equipped with mast and rudder, and high up in the rigging there sat a frightful form, in a fiery mantle, with ireful eyes, rubbing away at a blood-stained sword blade; but the stains would not go. And all around him, in the chamber, lay the gold plunder, scattered and in heaps; the ring was on his arm.
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“Shall we go in,” whispered Bele, “and fight the horror? Two men against a fire goblin?”
“One against one is champions’ law,” retorted Thorsten almost angrily; “I will dare the test alone.”
Bele would not hear of it, and they wrangled long and eagerly for the dangerous honor, till at last they agreed to cast lots in Bele’s steel helmet; they shook it, and when one lot was taken out, Thorsten knew it for his own in the pale starlight. He struck the door with his lance, and so powerful was that first shock that bolt and lock gave way; the door flew open, and he descended many steps…
When people asked him in later years what he had seen that night, he would shudder and keep silence. But Bele, who listened anxiously outside, told how he had first heard what seemed like a song of the evil trolls — then a clanging, as of swords at deadly play — then fearful shrieks — then sudden stillness. And Thorsten rushed out, pale, dazed, half-witted, for it was Black Surtur, Death’s own self, with whom he had wrestled. But the ring was on his arm. And in after times, whenever he showed it, he would say: “This ring has cost me dear: once in my life I quaked with fear — that was when it was lost and I won it back.” — Great was the fame of that ring; it was known far and wide as the finest in all the North.
The third family heirloom was the ship Ellide. A strange tale was told of how she came into the possession of Viking, old Thorsten’s father. One day, returning home from a long voyage, he was sailing along the coast, when he saw a dismasted wreck swaying on the gently heaving waters, and on it sat a man who seemed to enjoy the play of the sunlit waves. He was tall of stature and of lofty mien, with a countenance open and cheery, yet changeful as the sea itself. He was clad in a long blue mantle, his belt was of gold, studded with red corals; his beard was white as the sea foam; his locks were of a dark sea green. Viking steered for the wreck, took off the man, who seemed all drenched and chilled and cared for him at his own home, with food and drink, by his own reviving hearth fire. The stranger accepted the care, well pleased; but when his host would have urged him to rest in his own warm bed, he laughed and said:
“The wind is good enough for me, nor is my ship as bad as thou mayest think: between now and night it will, I trow, carry me a good hundred miles. Have hearty thanks for thy kindly urging. Fain would I leave thee a gift to remember me by; but my substance all lies in the deep. Still, if tomorrow thou shouldst happen to walk the way of the beach, and thou shouldst take a look around, thou mayest perchance find something.”
Next day, Viking stood on the beach, when lo! swift as the sea eagle in pursuit of its quarry, a dragon ship flew into the river’s mouth. No sailor was to be seen, not even a steersman. Yet she threaded her way in and out between the cliffs and banks, as though instinct with mind. As she neared the strand, the sails reefed themselves; the anchor dropped and bit the sand. Viking stood gazing in speechless wonder; but in the whisper of the playful waves he plainly heard a voice: “God Aegir, ruler of the seas, was thy guest yesterday. Mindful of his debt of kindness, he sends thee the dragon — take his gift.”
And a right royal gift was the ship. In her shapely sides, the oaken timbers were not joined, as usual, by practiced carpenter’s hand, but grown together as in a living body. Long-stretched as a sea serpent, the neck rose in bold yet graceful curves, carrying high the head with red mouth wide open; the sides were blue, gold-spotted; at the stern the mighty tail uncoiled in rings, silver-scaled; the wings were black, tipped with scarlet, and when she unfurled them she could keep pace with the storm wind and far exceed in fleetness the eagle’s flight. When filled with men in armor, she seemed like a royal city or a swimming castle. — Great was the fame of that ship; it was known far and wide as peerless in the North.
These and many other beautiful things did Frithjof inherit from his father. A wealthier heir could hardly have been found in the Northern lands, unless it were among the sons of kings. And truly, if not of royal blood, he was of royal soul — gentle, and generous, and of lofty mind, and his fame grew with each day. Among his men there were twelve grey-haired warriors, Thorsten’s own comrades, princes among men, although of simple birth, like himself, with breasts like steel corslets, and broad brows all scar-lined. And in their midst, upon the bench of honor, there sat a youth — a rose in a wreath of withered leaves. Björn was his name. With a child’s joyousness, he had a man’s firmness and an old man’s wisdom. He had grown up with Frithjof, and the two were sworn brothers: they had mixed blood and drunk it, after the ancient custom, held sacred by the sons of the North, and exchanged an oath: to share good and evil fortune through life and to avenge each other in death.
Now, at the funeral feast, Frithjof sat, a tearful host, on his father’s seat, henceforth his own, between Odin and Frey, listening to praises of the dead, from the lips of friends and guests, and in the song of heaven-taught skalds. For such, of old, was the custom in the North.