The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
The feast was ended. King Ring pushed back his carved gilt chair. Warriors and skalds arose to hear their liege’s words, for his wisdom and piety were famed in all the lands of the North. His own land was as a pleasure ground of the gods. Never did those verdant valleys, those shady woods, resound with the evil noises of war. Peacefully the crops ripened there, and the roses bloomed. Justice sat enthroned, severe yet gracious, on the granite judgment seat. Peace alone paid the State’s yearly dues, in golden grain, heaped high on the ground, more precious far than coined ore. Black-breasted ships sailed the waters with white pinions, sent from a hundred lands, freighted with riches for the rich. And freedom dwelled with peace in happy harmony. Loved as a father, the old king ruled; yet the people’s voice was raised without fear or restraint at the Ting meetings, and every man was free to speak his mind there (these were general meetings of the people to discuss important questions; from the Ting’s decision there was no appeal.) Thus for thirty years peace and prosperity had dwelled together under such gentle rule.
And now, when King Ring pushed back his carved gilt chair from the banquet table, all rose expectant to hear the words that would fall from his honored lips. But he sighed, and his speech was sad:
“On purple couch my queen reclines in Freya’s happy bowers above — Freya, the goddess of love and beauty; but here below the grass is green upon her grave, and flowers’ perfume lingers around her mound. Never may I find another wife so sweet, so fair, a mate so queenly on the throne. She has found her guerdon in Valhalla, but vainly land and children call for their gracious queen and mother. King Bele has many a time been our guest, here in this very hall. He left a daughter. Her have I chosen in my mind. True, she is but young, just budding into bloom, playmate of lilies and of roses, while many a winter’s snow lies on my scanty locks. Still, should she find in her heart some love to give an honest man, even though age have already marked his brow, and womanly care for tender motherless babes, then fain would my winter share with her spring this throne. Go then, my trusty ones, to her, with gold and bridal gear from the old oaken safe, and ye, skalds, follow with song and harp, for festive strains should brighten the solemn royal wooing.”
As the king ordered, so was it done. Warriors and skalds, with attendants many and well equipped, a long procession, bearing gifts and honorable offers, set forth to seek King Bele’s sons.
And right royally they were received — entertained in state for three whole days. But on the fourth morning they asked what answer they should take home, as they might not tarry longer.
Then King Helge summoned the high priest and his assistants, that they might, with all due ceremonies and sacrifices, inquire into the will of the gods in a matter of so much import to Bele’s royal house. The sacred falcon was brought forth, the steed was led into the grove where stood the sacrificial altar stone. In the mysterious dusk of overarching murmuring boughs, and the sacred acts were performed amid a deep, awed silence, broken only by the chanted prayers or muttered words of meaning known only to the priests. At last, the divine verdict was proclaimed: fear and dismay fell on those that heard. The falcon’s flight was low and timid and in the wrong direction. The victim’s heart and lungs were unhealthy and ill-placed. Indeed, so disastrous were the signs that King Helge, terrified and trembling, rejected King Ring’s wooing on the spot and bade his messengers depart without delay.
King Halfdan, always light-hearted, laughed loud and thoughtlessly.
“Farewell, ye feasts and festivals!” he cried. “Oh, were King Greybeard but here himself! Right lustily would I help his old limbs into the saddle!”
The envoys departed, bitterly angered. They told their story to King Ring, sparing no detail of their insulting dismissal. He said little, but his words were grim:
“King Greybeard will yet show the youngsters that he is not too old to avenge his honor.”
He struck with his spear the iron shield —the clang of which summons the people to arms, high and low— where it hung in the open field on the boughs of an ancient linden tree. The dragon ships came crowding in, with blood-red crests; the helmets nodded in the breeze. War heralds hurried right and left.
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King Helge heard and was greatly perturbed in mind, for, though arrogant and hard of heart, he was not brave. He knew that King Ring was very powerful, and, though he loved not war, would, if he once took the field, be a most dangerous foe, for he was wise and skilled in the deadly game, and his people loved him and would follow him to the world’s end, and fight for him unto death. Knowing, too, that their first object would be to carry away Ingeborg, he ordered her to retire into the enclosure of Balder’s temple, thus placing her in the pure and gentle keeping of the best-loved among the gods. Not that the place offered safety from attack — the enclosure was but wood, and not otherwise fortified. But it was, to all the Norse people, the most sacred of all sanctuaries, and a woman or maid who had taken refuge there was secure from the approach of man: pain of death stood on the violation of this sanctuary.
There loving Ingeborg sat day after day, sad and fearful of what the next might bring. And as she bent over her embroidery frame, plying her needle, sorting her silks and gold threads, many a tear fell on it or rolled unchecked upon her bosom: not purer the morning dew on the lily of the valley!