The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
And spring came in due time, and with it the chirping of birds, and the woodland foliage, and the long, long days. Once more the rivers ran, blithely singing, to the sea, glad of their liberty, and the human breast expanded with the renewed vigor of life and hope and joyousness.
A great hunt had long been planned to open the season. The queen was to take part in it, and the whole court gathered in high spirits. Bows creak, arrows rattle in the quivers, the steeds paw the ground with impatient hoof, and the hooded falcons shriek with longing for a flight.
Now she appears, for whom all wait — the lady of the hunt. Alas, poor Frithjof, better look away! As the morning star rides a summer cloud, so light she sits her snowy palfrey. Canst thou bear to look upon those locks of gold thy hand so often stroked, those eyes whose azure was thy heaven, that graceful form which timidly clung to thee? Ah, no! Look not that way, nor stay where thou canst hear that voice, sweet as the spring’s own breath!
All is ready — they are off! Over mount and dale, heigho! The horns blow, the falcons soar straight up, as though they would storm Odin’s own heaven; the woodland beasts fly terrified and make for cave and den and burrow.
The aged King cannot follow at such speed. Frithjof alone rides by his side, silent and moody. His thoughts are far away.
“Why,” he thinks, “why did I leave the sea, to my own harm and sorrow! Out there, where the waves play wild and free, there is no room for brooding, and if dark thoughts do come up, the winds of heaven blow them away, or else they yield to the cares of war. But here they flap their black pinions in my very face, and I go about as in a bad dream all day. Meseems I still walk in Balder’s grove, still hear the words with which she swore me troth. She broke the oath—— Ah, no! Not she, not she! Angry gods — they broke it. They took my rosebud and laid it at Winter’s breast. And is she any good to him? Winter knows not such a flower’s worth, and his chilling breath clothes both bud and leaf, and stalk in ice.”
Thus dreaming, Frithjof forgot himself, his host, the world. He rode on because his horse carried him, and noted not the quiet valley nestling among wooded slopes, shaded by ancient elms and birches, into which they had strayed, so that he started to hear the king’s voice close to him:
“This is a lovely spot, and the grove is cool. Let us rest here, for I am tired. I fain would sleep awhile.”
“Not here, oh, king! This is no spot for sleep. The ground is cold and damp; thou wouldst find unwholesome rest. Come, I will ride home with thee.”
“Sleep, like other gods, sends his gifts unasked,” said the king. “Wouldst grudge thy host a moment’s rest?”
Frithjof then unfastened his mantle and spread it on the ground; the old king laid his head upon his knees, and soon lay slumbering as sweetly as the warrior on his shield after a day of toil and battle, or as a child on its mother’s arm.
And as he slumbers — hark! A blackbird sings in the tree:
“Haste, Frithjof, strike! A single blow ends the strife. Then take the queen — she is thine; for did she not give thee first a bride’s kiss? No human eye sees thee, and dead men tell no tales.”
Frithjof listens. Hark! A white bird sings in the tree:
“If no human eye can see thee, still Odin’s eye is upon thee. Villain! Wouldst thou murder sleep? The man is old, unarmed. Whatever thou mayest win, ’twill not be glory surely.”
Thus by turns the two birds sang, till Frithjof drew his sword, horrified, and flung it from him with such violence that it cut its way through the foliage and fell far into the wood. The blackbird flew away to Nastrand, the black river of death. The white bird soared on light pinion high up into the sunlight, and its joyful carol was like the tone of a silver harp.
The old king woke up abruptly.
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“This sleep is worth much to me,” he said. “It is sweet to slumber in the shady grove, secure under the guard of a brave man’s sword… But, stranger, where is thy sword, own brother to the lightning? Speak! Who parted them that never should be parted?”
“I do not care,” replied Frithjof. “There are swords enough in Norseland. A sword, oh, king, is sharp of tongue and seldom counsels well. Dark spirits lurk in steel — the whole black pack of hell. Sleep is not safe from them, and silver hair attracts them.”
“Hear, then, oh, youth: I did not sleep. I but wished to test thee. A wise man never trusts to man or blade before he has made trial of both and found them true. Thou art Frithjof. I knew thee from the moment thou didst enter the hall. Old Ring has known all the time what thou didst so cleverly conceal, thou wary guest. Why didst thou steal into my home, disguised, nameless? Because thy intent was to rob the old man of his bride? Honor, Frithjof, never sits down at a man’s board a nameless guest. I had heard much of one named Frithjof, a foe to the gods, a terror to men, a desperate man, burner of temples, a hero in war. Long I waited for him to come with an army and challenge me. Instead of which he comes in beggar’s garb, with a beggar’s staff. Nay, look not so shamed. I too have known the ardor of youth. I tried thee — and forgave. I pitied — and forgot. Look on me: I am old, ripe for the grave. When I am gone, take thou my realm, take my queen — she is thine by right. Till then, bide with me still and be my son. The feud between us is no more.”
If Frithjof was astonished at what the king told him, he did not show it, but replied gloomily:
“I did not come as a thief. Had I meant to take thy wife from thee, say — who could have hindered me? No! I only longed to see once more her who had been my promised wife; once, only once, and, alas! for the last time. Ah, woe is me! Flames half extinguished I fanned into a new blaze, and it consumes me. Too long, oh, king, have I tarried; I must go. The wrath of gods unreconciled lies too heavily on my outlawed head. Balder of the shining locks, who looks on all things with love, hates me alone, the banished outcast! — Yes, I did set fire to the temple. For that am I now called the Wolf. Children shriek at my name, and revelers are dumb. There is no peace for me at home, none within my own breast. The green earth has no place for me. The ground burns under my feet, the tree gives me no grateful shade. Ingeborg is lost to me; my life’s sun has set, darkness wraps me around. Then ho, to sea! Thy black breast, my dragon, bathe once more in the salt sea waves! Spread thy wings to the gale, plow up the waters, fly to the uttermost end, so far as stars will guide and winds will carry thee! Let me hear once more the turmoil of the storm, once more feel the fury of battle — in the midst of chaos calm may descend into my breast.”