The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
In his royal hall, leaning upon his sword, stands King Bele, and by his side stands Thorsten, the doughty bonder, the king’s old brother-in-arms. Nigh on a hundred winters have passed over the two warriors’ heads, and silvered their hair, and marked and lined their faces, till they look like ancient rocks, thickly covered with deeply graven runes. Such, in places, between mountains, stand old temples, relics of heathen ages, shrines of forgotten gods, half tottering to the ground — yet much wise lore speaks from the walls, and many paintings tell of old heroic times.
“Our day is done,” says Bele, “and night is coming on apace. The strongest mead tastes flat to me, and heavy feels the helmet to my brow, for earthly sights my eyes grow dim; but ever nearer shines Valhalla’s light. My time is brief. Therefore, my friend, I have sent for our sons, my two and thy one. They should be firmly knit in love, as thou and I have been. And some warning words I fain would speak to the young eagles ere I go: not many more will they hear from these old lips.”
Even as he spoke, the youths came in: Helge, the eldest, first, with gloomy brow and sullen eye. He was mostly found with priests and seers, by the great altarstone; and even now, as he approached his father, his hands were bloody from the sacrifice. He was followed by the lad Halfdan, with sunny locks, of noble countenance, but too soft: it almost seemed as though he wore the sword for play — a maid in warrior’s guise. Frithjof came last, by a head the tallest of the three, and stood between the king’s sons as the full noon between dawn and dusk.
“Sons,” spoke the king, “my day is sinking low, and yours will soon be breaking. As ye are brothers, so be friends, and rule the land in harmony. Let Power stand guard at the borders, but Peace hold gentle sway within, in your safe keeping. Your swords should not threaten, but protect; your shields should be the padlocks on the peasant’s barn; for kings can do nothing without the people, as the tree’s leafy crown soon withers if its roots plunge into barren soil, which yields the sap but grudgingly to the trunk. Be never hard, King Helge — only firm. Remember that the best-tempered steel bends most easily. Graciousness becomes a king as flower wreaths a shield, and spring’s mild breath opens the earth which wintry frost but hardens. A friendless man, however strong, dies as the lonely tree bereft of its bark. But in the midst of friends thou art safe as the forest tree, sheltered from storms, whose roots drink from the living brook. Thou, Halfdan, be mindful that cheerfulness graces the wise man, but that frivolity ill beseems a king. Honey alone makes not the mead — it needs the bitter hops; a sword should be of steel, and a king should be half earnest even in his play. And, Halfdan, the way to a comrade, a faithful friend, is short, however distant his home; but it is long to a foe’s house, even though it lay close by the road. Do not place confidence in everyone, unthinkingly. Choose one to trust, and look not for another, for what is known to three will soon be known to all.”
Here Thorsten rose; he too had weighty words to speak:
“It is not meet, oh, king, that thou shouldst go to Odin all alone. We shared alike the changeful gifts of life; methinks the death lot should be ours in common too. Son Frithjof, mark me, for age has whispered many a thing into my ear. Odin’s birds dwell on graves in the far North, and they bring words of wisdom to the lips of the dying. Honor the gods, who send us pain and joy, as sunshine and storm, from heaven, who see into the heart’s most secret chamber, be it never so closely locked. Obey the king — one hand should wield the royal power. Envy not him whose place is above thine: the sword needs must have a hilt as well as a blade. Great bodily might is a gift of the gods; but, Frithjof, the gift is worthless unless joined with wit: the bear, with the strength of twelve men, must yield to one. The day, my son, should not be praised before the evening, nor mead before ’tis drunk, nor men’s advice before the event has proved it good. So friends are proven true in need, and steel, in battle. Therefore put not thy trust in ice of one night’s freezing, nor in spring snow, not in the sleep of snakes, nor in woman’s uncertain mind. Thyself must surely die and all that’s thine must pass away; but one thing must as certainly endure: it is the name that thou wilt leave behind; so, Frithjof, turn thee from evil, bend thy will to what is good and noble, and do right. Thus wilt thou not have lived in vain.”
Many more were the loving words spoken by the old warriors on that day. They told the youths of their long friendship, famous in the Northern lands, and how, through joy and sorrow, peace and strife, they had stood together, hand in hand, united until death. The king spoke much of Frithjof’s valor and heroic might — gifts to be prized above royal blood, and Thorsten said much in praise of the crown and the glory of Norseland’s kings. And both bequeathed their friendship to their sons as a treasure of great price.
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“If you three keep together through life as ye stand here before me,” King Bele said, “the man does not live in the North who can prevail against you. And now,” he added, “take my greeting to my daughter, my red rose. She has grown up in rural retirement — such was my will. Shelter her still, that the rude storm winds may not pluck or break the tender flower. To thee, oh, Helge, as to a father, I commit the care of her — as a daughter love her, my Ingeborg! But remember that sternness angers a noble heart, and that gentleness alone leads it, be it man’s or woman’s, to honor and right doing. When we are gone, lay us in two mounds, which ye shall raise one on each side of the blue bay; its waves shall sing our dirge. And, Thorsten, when the pale moon pours on the mountains her silver sheen and the midnight dew lies cool upon the fields, thou and I, old friend, will still commune together as of old, from hill to hill, upon the happenings of the day. And now, sons, fare ye well! Go back to your work and play. For us, our way lies to Allfather’s halls — the place of rest, for which we long as long the weary rivers for the sea. Go, and the grace of Frey, and Thor, and Odin go with you!”