Now, it must be told that, five years before the day of the
death of Gudruda the Gentle, Saevuna, the wife of Thorgrimur
Iron-Toe, gave birth to a son, at Coldback in the Marsh, on Ran
River, and when his father came to look upon the child he called
"Here we have a wondrous bairn, for his hair is yellow like gold
and his eyes shine bright as stars." And Thorgrimur named him Eric
Now, Coldback is but an hour's ride from Middalhof, and it
chanced, in after years, that Thorgrimur went up to Middalhof, to
keep the Yule feast and worship in the Temple, for he was in the
priesthood of Asmund Asmundson, bringing the boy Eric with him.
There also was Groa with Swanhild, for now she dwelt at Middalhof;
and the three fair children were set together in the hall to play,
and men thought it great sport to see them. Now, Gudruda had a
horse of wood and would ride it while Eric pushed the horse along.
But Swanhild smote her from the horse and called to Eric to make it
move; but he comforted Gudruda and would not, and at that Swanhild
was angry and lisped out:
"Push thou must, if I will it, Eric."
Then he pushed sideways and with such good will that Swanhild
fell almost into the fire of the hearth, and, leaping up, she
snatched a brand and threw it at Gudruda, firing her clothes. Men
laughed at this; but Groa, standing apart, frowned and muttered
"Why lookest thou so darkly, housekeeper?" said Asmund; "the boy
is bonny and high of heart."
"Ah, he is bonny as no child is, and he shall be bonny all his
life- days. Nevertheless, she shall not stand against his ill luck.
This I prophesy of him: that women shall bring him to his end, and
he shall die a hero's death, but not at the hand of his foes."
And now the years went by peacefully. Groa dwelt with her
daughter Swanhild up at Middalhof and was the love of Asmund
Asmundson. But, though he forgot his oath thus far, yet he would
never take her to wife. The witchwife was angered at this, and she
schemed and plotted much to bring it about that Asmund should wed
her. But still he would not, though in all things else she led him
as it were by a halter.
Twenty full years had gone by since Gudruda the Gentle was laid
in earth; and now Gudruda the Fair and Swanhild the Fatherless were
women too. Eric, too, was a man of five-and-twenty years, and no
such man had lived in Iceland. For he was strong and great of
stature, his hair was yellow as gold, and his grey eyes shone with
the light of swords. He was gentle and loving as a woman, and even
as a lad his strength was the strength of two men; and there were
none in all the quarter who could leap or swim or wrestle against
Eric Brighteyes. Men held him in honour and spoke well of him,
though as yet he had done no deeds, but lived at home on Coldback,
managing the farm, for now Thorgrimur Iron-Toe, his father, was
dead. But women loved him much, and that was his bane—for of all
women he loved but one, Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter. He
loved her from a child, and her alone till his day of death, and
she, too, loved him and him only. For now Gudruda was a maid of
maids, most beautiful to see and sweet to hear. Her hair, like the
hair of Eric, was golden, and she was white as the snow on Hecla;
but her eyes were large and dark, and black lashes drooped above
them. For the rest she was tall and strong and comely, merry of
face, yet tender, and the most witty of women.
Swanhild also was very fair; she was slender, small of limb, and
dark of hue, having eyes blue as the deep sea, and brown curling
hair, enough to veil her to the knees, and a mind of which none
knew the end, for, though she was open in her talk, her thoughts
were dark and secret. This was her joy: to draw the hearts of men
to her and then to mock them. She beguiled many in this fashion,
for she was the cunningest girl in matters of love, and she knew
well the arts of women, with which they bring men to nothing.
Nevertheless she was cold at heart, and desired power and wealth
greatly, and she studied magic much, of which her mother Groa also
had a store. But Swanhild, too, loved a man, and that was the joint
in her harness by which the shaft of Fate entered her heart, for
that man was Eric Brighteyes, who loved her not. But she desired
him so sorely that, without him, all the world was dark to her, and
her soul but as a ship driven rudderless upon a winter night.
Therefore she put out all her strength to win him, and bent her
witcheries upon him, and they were not few nor small. Nevertheless
they went by him like the wind, for he dreamed ever of Gudruda
alone, and he saw no eyes but hers, though as yet they spoke no
word of love one to the other.
But Swanhild in her wrath took counsel with her mother Groa,
though there was little liking between them; and, when she had
heard the maiden's tale, Groa laughed aloud:
"Dost think me blind, girl?" she said; "all of this I have seen,
yea and foreseen, and I tell thee thou art mad. Let this yeoman
Eric go and I will find thee finer fowl to fly at."
"Nay, that I will not," quoth Swanhild: "for I love this man
alone, and I would win him; and Gudruda I hate, and I would
overthrow her. Give me of thy counsel."
Groa laughed again. "Things must be as they are fated. This now
is my rede: Asmund would turn Gudruda's beauty to account, and that
man must be rich in friends and money who gets her to wife, and in
this matter the mind of Björn is as the mind of his father. Now we
will watch, and, when a good time chances, we will bear tales of
Gudruda to Asmund and to her brother Björn, and swear that she
oversteps her modesty with Eric. Then shall Asmund be wroth and
drive Eric from Gudruda's side. Meanwhile, I will do this: In the
north there dwells a man mighty in all things and blown up with
pride. He is named Ospakar Blacktooth. His wife is but lately dead,
and he has given out that he will wed the fairest maid in Iceland.
Now, it is in my mind to send Koll the Half-witted, my thrall, whom
Asmund gave to me, to Ospakar as though by chance. He is a great
talker and very clever, for in his half-wits is more cunning than
in the brains of most; and he shall so bepraise Gudruda's beauty
that Ospakar will come hither to ask her in marriage; and in this
fashion, if things go well, thou shalt be rid of thy rival, and I
of one who looks scornfully upon me. But, if this fail, then there
are two roads left on which strong feet may travel to their end;
and of these, one is that thou shouldest win Eric away with thine
own beauty, and that is not little. All men are frail, and I have a
draught that will make the heart as wax; but yet the other path is
"And what is that path, my mother?"
"It runs through blood to blackness. By thy side is a knife and
in Gudruda's bosom beats a heart. Dead women are unmeet for
Swanhild tossed her head and looked upon the dark face of Groa
"Methinks, with such an end to win, I should not fear to tread
that path, if there be need, my mother."
"Now I see thou art indeed my daughter. Happiness is to the
bold. To each it comes in uncertain shape. Some love power, some
wealth, and some—a man. Take that which thou lovest—I say, cut thy
path to it and take it; else shall thy life be but a weariness: for
what does it serve to win the wealth and power when thou lovest a
man alone, or the man when thou dost desire gold and the pride of
place? This is wisdom: to satisfy the longing of thy youth; for age
creeps on apace and beyond is darkness. Therefore, if thou seekest
this man, and Gudruda blocks thy path, slay her, girl—by witchcraft
or by steel—and take him, and in his arms forget that thine own are
red. But first let us try the easier plan. Daughter, I too hate
this proud girl, who scorns me as her father's light-of-love. I too
long to see that bright head of hers dull with the dust of death,
or, at the least, those proud eyes weeping tears of shame as the
man she hates leads her hence as a bride. Were it not for her I
should be Asmund's wife, and, when she is gone, with thy help—for
he loves thee much and has cause to love thee —this I may be yet.
So in this matter, if in no other, let us go hand in hand and match
our wits against her innocence."
Now, Koll the Half-witted went upon his errand, and the time
passed till it lacked but a month to Yule, and men sat indoors, for
the season was dark and much snow fell. At length came frost, and
with it a clear sky, and Gudruda, ceasing from her spinning in the
hall, went to the woman's porch, and, looking out, saw that the
snow was hard, and a great longing came upon her to breathe the
fresh air, for there was still an hour of daylight. So she threw a
cloak about her and walked forth, taking the road towards Coldback
in the Marsh that is by Ran River. But Swanhild watched her till
she was over the hill. Then she also took a cloak and followed on
that path, for she always watched Gudruda.
Gudruda walked on for the half of an hour or so, when she became
aware that the clouds gathered in the sky, and that the air was
heavy with snow to come. Seeing this she turned homewards, and
Swanhild hid herself to let her pass. Now flakes floated down as
big and soft as fifa flowers. Quicker and more quick they came till
all the plain was one white maze of mist, but through it Gudruda
walked on, and after her crept Swanhild, like a shadow. And now the
darkness gathered and the snow fell thick and fast, covering up the
track of her footsteps and she wandered from the path, and after
her wandered Swanhild, being loath to show herself. For an hour or
more Gudruda wandered and then she called aloud and her voice fell
heavily against the cloak of snow. At the last she grew weary and
frightened, and sat down upon a shelving rock whence the snow had
slipped away. Now, a little way behind was another rock and there
Swanhild sat, for she wished to be unseen of Gudruda. So some time
passed, and Swanhild grew heavy as though with sleep, when of a
sudden a moving thing loomed upon the snowy darkness. Then Gudruda
leapt to her feet and called. A man's voice answered:
"Who passes there?"
"I, Gudruda, Asmund's daughter."
The form came nearer; now Swanhild could hear the snorting of a
horse, and now a man leapt from it, and that man was Eric
"Is it thou indeed, Gudruda!" he said with a laugh, and his
great shape showed darkly on the snow mist.
"Oh, is it thou, Eric?" she answered. "I was never more joyed to
see thee; for of a truth thou dost come in a good hour. A little
while and I had seen thee no more, for my eyes grow heavy with the
"Nay, say not so. Art lost, then? Why, so am I. I came out to
seek three horses that are strayed, and was overtaken by the snow.
May they dwell in Odin's stables, for they have led me to thee. Art
thou cold, Gudruda?"
"But a little, Eric. Yea, there is place for thee here on the
So he sat down by her on the stone, and Swanhild crept nearer;
for now all weariness had left her. But still the snow fell
"It comes into my mind that we two shall die here," said Gudruda
"Thinkest thou so?" he answered. "Well, I will say this, that I
ask no better end."
"It is a bad end for thee, Eric: to be choked in snow, and with
all thy deeds to do."
"It is a good end, Gudruda, to die at thy side, for so I shall
die happy; but I grieve for thee."
"Grieve not for me, Brighteyes, worse things might befall."
He drew nearer to her, and now he put his arms about her and
clasped her to his bosom; nor did she say him nay. Swanhild saw and
lifted herself up behind them, but for a while she heard nothing
but the beating of her heart.
"Listen, Gudruda," Eric said at last. "Death draws near to us,
and before it comes I would speak to thee, if speak I may."
"Speak on," she whispers from his breast.
"This I would say, then: that I love thee, and that I ask no
better fate than to die in thy arms."
"First shalt thou see me die in thine, Eric."
"Be sure, if that is so, I shall not tarry for long. Oh!
Gudruda, since I was a child I have loved thee with a mighty love,
and now thou art all to me. Better to die thus than to live without
thee. Speak, then, while there is time."
"I will not hide from thee, Eric, that thy words are sweet in my
And now Gudruda sobs and the tears fall fast from her dark
"Nay, weep not. Dost thou, then, love me?"
"Ay, sure enough, Eric."
"Then kiss me before we pass. A man should not die thus, and yet
men have died worse."
And so these two kissed, for the first time, out in the snow on
Coldback, and that first kiss was long and sweet.
Swanhild heard and her blood seethed within her as water seethes
in a boiling spring when the fires wake beneath. She put her hand
to her kirtle and gripped the knife at her side. She half drew it,
then drove it back.
"Cold kills as sure as steel," she said in her heart. "If I slay
her I cannot save myself or him. Let us die in peace, and let the
snow cover up our troubling." And once more she listened.
"Ah, sweet," said Eric, "even in the midst of death there is
hope of life. Swear to me, then, that if by chance we live thou
wilt love me always as thou lovest me now."
"Ay, Eric, I swear that and readily."
"And swear, come what may, that thou wilt wed no man but
"I swear, if thou dost remain true to me, that I will wed none
but thee, Eric."
"Then I am sure of thee."
"Boast not overmuch, Eric: if thou dost live thy days are all
before thee, and with times come trials."
Now the snow whirled down faster and more thick, till these two,
clasped heart to heart, were but a heap of white, and all white was
the horse, and Swanhild was nearly buried.
"Where go we when we die, Eric?" said Gudruda; "in Odin's house
there is no place for maids, and how shall my feet fare without
"Nay, sweet, my May, Valhalla shuts its gates to me, a deedless
man; up Bifrost's rainbow bridge I may not travel, for I do not die
with byrnie on breast and sword aloft. To Hela shall we go, and
hand in hand."
"Art thou sure, Eric, that men find these abodes? To say sooth,
at times I misdoubt me of them."
"I am not so sure but that I also doubt. Still, I know this:
that where thou goest there I shall be, Gudruda."
"Then things are well, and well work the Norns.[*] Still, Eric,
of a sudden I grow fey: for it comes upon me that I shall not die
to-night, but that, nevertheless, I shall die with thy arms about
me, and at thy side. There, I see it on the snow! I lie by thee,
sleeping, and one comes with hands outstretched and sleep falls
from them like a mist— by Freya, it is Swanhild's self! Oh! it is
[*] The Northern Fates.
"It was nothing, Gudruda, but a vision of the snow—an untimely
dream that comes before the sleep. I grow cold and my eyes are
heavy; kiss me once again."
"It was no dream, Eric, and ever I doubt me of Swanhild, for I
think she loves thee also, and she is fair and my enemy," says
Gudruda, laying her snow-cold lips on his lips. "Oh, Eric, awake!
awake! See, the snow is done."
He stumbled to his feet and looked forth. Lo! out across the sky
flared the wild Northern fires, throwing light upon the
"Now it seems that I know the land," said Eric. "Look: yonder
are Golden Falls, though we did not hear them because of the snow;
and there, out at sea, loom the Westmans; and that dark thing is
the Temple Hof, and behind it stands the stead. We are saved,
Gudruda, and thus far indeed thou wast fey. Now rise, ere thy limbs
stiffen, and I will set thee on the horse, if he still can run, and
lead thee down to Middalhof before the witchlights fail us."
"So it shall be, Eric."
Now he led Gudruda to the horse—that, seeing its master, snorted
and shook the snow from its coat, for it was not frozen—and set her
on the saddle, and put his arm about her waist, and they passed
slowly through the deep snow. And Swanhild, too, crept from her
place, for her burning rage had kept the life in her, and followed
after them. Many times she fell, and once she was nearly swallowed
in a drift of snow and cried out in her fear.
"Who called aloud?" said Eric, turning; "I thought I heard a
"Nay," answers Gudruda, "it was but a night-hawk screaming."
Now Swanhild lay quiet in the drift, but she said in her
"Ay, a night-hawk that shall tear out those dark eyes of thine,
The two go on and at length they come to the banked roadway that
runs past the Temple to Asmund's hall. Here Swanhild leaves them,
and, climbing over the turf-wall into the home meadow, passes round
the hall by the outbuildings and so comes to the west end of the
house, and enters by the men's door unnoticed of any. For all the
people, seeing a horse coming and a woman seated on it, were
gathered in front of the hall. But Swanhild ran to that shut bed
where she slept, and, closing the curtain, threw off her garments,
shook the snow from her hair, and put on a linen kirtle. Then she
rested a while, for she was weary, and, going to the kitchen,
warmed herself at the fire.
Meanwhile Eric and Gudruda came to the house and there Asmund
greeted them well, for he was troubled in his heart about his
daughter, and very glad to know her living, seeing that men had but
now begun to search for her, because of the snow and the
Now Gudruda told her tale, but not all of it, and Asmund bade
Eric to the house. Then one asked about Swanhild, and Eric said
that he had seen nothing of her, and Asmund was sad at this, for he
loved Swanhild. But as he told all men to go and search, an old
wife came and said that Swanhild was in the kitchen, and while the
carline spoke she came into the hall, dressed in white, very pale,
and with shining eyes and fair to see.
"Where hast thou been, Swanhild?" said Asmund. "I thought
certainly thou wast perishing with Gudruda in the snow, and now all
men go to seek thee while the witchlights burn."
"Nay, foster-father, I have been to the Temple," she answered,
lying. "So Gudruda has but narrowly escaped the snow, thanks be to
Brighteyes yonder! Surely I am glad of it, for we could ill spare
our sweet sister," and, going up to her, she kissed her. But
Gudruda saw that her eyes burned like fire and felt that her lips
were cold as ice, and shrank back wondering.