The following is a chapter of Frithjof, the Viking of Norway, by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin.
‘Twas Yuletide. King Ring, serene and gracious, sat at the head of his own festive board — never was kindlier host. And by him, fair and gentle, sat his queen: spring and autumn strangely mated.
When lo! a stranger stood in the door: an old man, wrapped in a bear’s pelt to his feet, weak and bent, leaning on a knotty staff. Yet was he great of stature beyond all the assembled guests. He sat him down close by the door, the place for poor guests in all times. The company laughed and exchanged glances, and some pointed at him with their fingers.
The stranger’s eyes shot forth blue lightning. With one hand he seized the nearest of the scoffers, a flippant, beardless youth — and, seemingly without effort, stood him on his head. The others looked on in silence and gave no sign of anger, for each man thought to himself, “I should have done the same.”
“What is the noise down there?” the king asked angrily. “Who is it breaks the peace? Come here, old man, speak up. What is thy name? Thy country? What seek’st thou here?”
“Many questions in one breath, oh, king,” said the stranger; “my answer shall be brief. My name is nothing to thee — ’twill take care of itself. Misery is my country; want, my patrimony. Yesternight I slept with the wolf; tonight I come to thee. There was a time, I rode merrily my good dragon ship; it had strong wings and flew with tempest speed. Now ’tis frozen fast and lies, a captive, by the strand. I wished to see the king whose wisdom is famed in many lands, but thy men jeered at me, and I am too old to put up with insults. So I took up one of the fools and turned him upside down. He took no harm and picked himself up straightway. No offense, oh, king!”
The king laughed.
“Not bad in sooth! I rather like thy coolness. And age has its privileges. Now come, sit thee down by me. And drop that clumsy disguise. Deceit of any sort ill suits with pleasure, and it is my will that pleasure reign at this festive time.”
Then from the guest’s head fell the shaggy pelt, and in the old man’s place there stood a youth in all the splendor of manhood. From the high brow down to the broad shoulders flowed the wealth of golden locks. A blue velvet mantle thrown back from the breast set off the silver belt, broad as a man’s hand, on which, in high chased work, was seen a hunt, with flying hart and pursuing hounds. Broad bands of gold glistened on the arms, and the sword —sheathed lightning!— fell idly on one side. Thus the hero stood revealed. His eye, now mild and thoughtful, took in the hall, the hosts, and the guests. Tall as Thor, fair as Balder, he stood before the king.
Into the queen’s pale cheeks the blood shot quickly at the sight; a snowfield thus is flushed with a reflection of the Northern Light; and her breast could be seen heaving through the clinging robe.
But hark! A horn’s blast loud and long sounded through the hall. All talk ceased at the signal, for it ushered in the most solemn ceremony of Yulenight — the taking of vows for the coming year.
Amid a profound, reverent silence, the boar was brought in, the emblem of Frey, the sun god, who from this, the longest night of the year, begins to gather strength to overcome the evil brood of winter giants. The boar was a mighty forest beast, skilfully roasted whole, with wreaths of evergreens around his neck and shoulders, and an apple in his mouth. As the bearers set the heavy burden down, the king and all his guests bent the knee.
King Ring was the first to rise and touch the boar’s brow. This was the vow he took:
“I will find and capture Frithjof, even though there be no champion to compare with him. So help me Frey, and Odin, and mighty Thor!”
With scornful laugh the unknown sprang from his knees to his full height, his eyes flashed wrathfully, and his features worked angrily. He struck his sword against the table with such violence as made the walls resound and every guest start to his feet.
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“Hear now my vow, my lord king,” he cried. “I know Frithjof well; he and I are blood kin. I will defend him, though a world rise up in arms against him. So help me Fate and my good sword!”
The king laughed good-naturedly and said:
“I call that a challenge if ever there was one. But speech is free where King Ring rules. Come, my queen, pour out a horn of wine for our touchy guest, of our best. He will, I trust, remain with us all winter.”
The queen took up the horn that stood upon the table before her, on bright silver feet, mounted with hoops of gold, filled it to the brim, and offered it to the guest, with downcast eye; but it trembled as she held it, and a few red drops were spilled upon her lily-white hand. He took it gently from her and raised it to his lips. As men are now, no two would have drained that horn; he smiled and quaffed it at one draught.
Then the skald took the harp which stood by the royal table and sang of love and war, of ancient fathers’ deeds on land and sea, and of Valhalla’s joys, and all that men delight to hear at feasts, while still the mighty horn went on its frequent rounds. High ran the revel and harmless merriment, and, when the guests dispersed, their sleep was deep and free from care.