Eric Brighteyes - Henry Rider Haggard - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1889

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Henry Rider Haggard

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About
Dedication
Introduction
Chapter 1 - HOW ASMUND THE PRIEST FOUND GROA THE WITCH
Chapter 2 - HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK

About Haggard:

Henry Rider Haggard was born at Bradenham, Norfolk, to Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, a barrister, and Ella Doveton, an author and poet. He was the eighth of ten children. He was initially sent to Garsington Rectory in Oxfordshire to study under the Reverend H.J. Graham but, unlike his older brothers who graduated from various Public Schools, he ended up attending Ipswich Grammar School. This was because his father, who regarded him as somebody who was not going to amount to much, could no longer afford to maintain his expensive private education. After failing his army entrance exam he was sent to a private ‘crammer’ in London to prepare for the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office, which in the end he never sat. Instead Haggard’s father sent him to Africa in an unpaid position as assistant to the secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer. It was in this role that Haggard was present in Pretoria for the official announcement of the British annexation of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In fact, Haggard raised the Union Flag and was forced to read out much of the proclamation following the loss of voice of the official originally entrusted with the duty. As a young man, Haggard fell deeply in love with Lilith Jackson, whom he intended to marry once he obtained paid employment in South Africa. In 1878 he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal, but when he sent his father a letter telling him that he intended to return to England in order to marry Lilith Jackson his father replied that he forbade it until he had made a career for himself. In 1879 he heard that Lilith had married someone else. When he eventually returned to England he married a friend of his sister, Mariana Louisa Margitson and brought her back to Africa. Later they had a son named Jock (who died of measles at the age of 10) and three daughters. Returning again to England in 1882, the couple settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Later he lived in Kessingland and had connections with the church in Bungay, Suffolk. He turned to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1884. His practice of law was somewhat desultory, and much of his time was taken up by the writing of novels. Heavily influenced by the larger-than-life adventurers he met in Colonial Africa, most notably Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham, the great mineral wealth discovered in Africa, and the ruins of ancient lost civilizations in Africa such as Great Zimbabwe, Haggard created his Allan Quatermain adventures. Three of his books, The Wizard (1896), Elissa; the doom of Zimbabwe (1899), and Black Heart and White Heart; a Zulu idyll (1900) are dedicated to Burnham's daughter, Nada, the first white child born in Bulawayo, herself named after Haggard's 1892 book: Nada the Lily. Years later, when Haggard was a successful novelist, he was contacted by his former love, Lilith Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had left her penniless and infected her with syphilis, from which she eventually died. It was Haggard who paid her medical bills. These details were not generally known until the publication of Haggard's 1983 biography by D. S. Higgins. Haggard was heavily involved in agricultural reform and was a member of many Commissions on land use and related affairs, work that involved several trips to the Colonies and Dominions. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 1912, and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a candidate for the Conservative Party. Source: Wikipedia

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Dedication

Madam,

You have graciously conveyed to me the intelligence that during the weary weeks spent far from his home—in alternate hope and fear, in suffering and mortal trial—a Prince whose memory all men must reverence, the Emperor Frederick, found pleasure in the reading of my stories: that "they interested and fascinated him."

While the world was watching daily at the bedside of your Majesty's Imperial husband, while many were endeavouring to learn courage in our supremest need from the spectacle of that heroic patience, a distant writer little knew that it had been his fortune to bring to such a sufferer an hour's forgetfulness of sorrow and pain.

This knowledge, to an author, is far dearer than any praise, and it is in gratitude that, with your Majesty's permission, I venture to dedicate to you the tale of Eric Brighteyes.

The late Emperor, at heart a lover of peace, though by duty a soldier of soldiers, might perhaps have cared to interest himself in a warrior of long ago, a hero of our Northern stock, whose days were spent in strife, and whose latest desire was Rest. But it may not be; like the Golden Eric of this Saga, and after a nobler fashion, he has passed through the Hundred Gates into the Valhalla of Renown.

To you, then, Madam, I dedicate this book, a token, however slight and unworthy, of profound respect and sympathy.

I am, Madam, Your Majesty's most obedient servant, H. Rider Haggard.

November 17, 1889. To H.I.M. Victoria, Empress Frederick of Germany.


Introduction

"Eric Brighteyes" is a romance founded on the Icelandic Sagas. "What is a saga?" "Is it a fable or a true story?" The answer is not altogether simple. For such sagas as those of Burnt Njal and Grettir the Strong partake both of truth and fiction: historians dispute as to the proportions. This was the manner of the saga's growth: In the early days of the Iceland community—that republic of aristocrats— say, between the dates 900 and 1100 of our era, a quarrel would arise between two great families. As in the case of the Njal Saga, its cause, probably, was the ill doings of some noble woman. This quarrel would lead to manslaughter. Then blood called for blood, and a vendetta was set on foot that ended only with the death by violence of a majority of the actors in the drama and of large numbers of their adherents. In the course of the feud, men of heroic strength and mould would come to the front and perform deeds worthy of the iron age which bore them. Women also would help to fashion the tale, for good or ill, according to their natural gifts and characters. At last the tragedy was covered up by death and time, leaving only a few dinted shields and haunted cairns to tell of those who had played its leading parts.

But its fame lived on in the minds of men. From generation to generation skalds wandered through the winter snows, much as Homer may have wandered in his day across the Grecian vales and mountains, to find a welcome at every stead, because of the old-time story they had to tell. Here, night after night, they would sit in the ingle and while away the weariness of the dayless dark with histories of the times when men carried their lives in their hands, and thought them well lost if there might be a song in the ears of folk to come. To alter the tale was one of the greatest of crimes: the skald must repeat it as it came to him; but by degrees undoubtedly the sagas did suffer alteration. The facts remained the same indeed, but around them gathered a mist of miraculous occurrences and legends. To take a single instance: the account of the burning of Bergthorsknoll in the Njal Saga is not only a piece of descriptive writing that for vivid, simple force and insight is scarcely to be matched out of Homer and the Bible, it is also obviously true. We feel as we read, that no man could have invented that story, though some great skald threw it into shape. That the tale is true, the writer of "Eric" can testify, for, saga in hand, he has followed every act of the drama on its very site. There he who digs beneath the surface of the lonely mound that looks across plain and sea to Westman Isles may still find traces of the burning, and see what appears to be the black sand with which the hands of Bergthora and her women strewed the earthen floor some nine hundred years ago, and even the greasy and clotted remains of the whey that they threw upon the flame to quench it. He may discover the places where Fosi drew up his men, where Skarphedinn died, singing while his legs were burnt from off him, where Kari leapt from the flaming ruin, and the dell in which he laid down to rest—at every step, in short, the truth of the narrative becomes more obvious. And yet the tale has been added to, for, unless we may believe that some human beings are gifted with second sight, we cannot accept as true the prophetic vision that came to Runolf, Thorstein's son; or that of Njal who, on the evening of the onslaught, like Theoclymenus in the Odyssey, saw the whole board and the meats upon it "one gore of blood."

Thus, in the Norse romance now offered to the reader, the tale of Eric and his deeds would be true; but the dream of Asmund, the witchcraft of Swanhild, the incident of the speaking head, and the visions of Eric and Skallagrim, would owe their origin to the imagination of successive generations of skalds; and, finally, in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, the story would have been written down with all its supernatural additions.

The tendency of the human mind—and more especially of the Norse mind —is to supply uncommon and extraordinary reasons for actions and facts that are to be amply accounted for by the working of natural forces. Swanhild would have needed no "familiar" to instruct her in her evil schemes; Eric would have wanted no love-draught to bring about his overthrow. Our common experience of mankind as it is, in opposition to mankind as we fable it to be, is sufficient to teach us that the passion of one and the human weakness of the other would suffice to these ends. The natural magic, the beauty and inherent power of such a woman as Swanhild, are things more forceful than any spell magicians have invented, or any demon they are supposed to have summoned to their aid. But no saga would be complete without the intervention of such extraneous forces: the need of them was always felt, in order to throw up the acts of heroes and heroines, and to invest their persons with an added importance. Even Homer felt this need, and did not scruple to introduce not only second sight, but gods and goddesses, and to bring their supernatural agency to bear directly on the personages of his chant, and that far more freely than any Norse sagaman. A word may be added in explanation of the appearances of "familiars" in the shapes of animals, an instance of which will be found in this story. It was believed in Iceland, as now by the Finns and Eskimo, that the passions and desires of sorcerers took visible form in such creatures as wolves or rats. These were called "sendings," and there are many allusions to them in the Sagas.

Another peculiarity that may be briefly alluded to as eminently characteristic of the Sagas is their fatefulness. As we read we seem to hear the voice of Doom speaking continually. "Things will happen as they are fated": that is the keynote of them all. The Norse mind had little belief in free will, less even than we have to-day. Men and women were born with certain characters and tendencies, given to them in order that their lives should run in appointed channels, and their acts bring about an appointed end. They do not these things of their own desire, though their desires prompt them to the deeds: they do them because they must. The Norns, as they name Fate, have mapped out their path long and long ago; their feet are set therein, and they must tread it to the end. Such was the conclusion of our Scandinavian ancestors—a belief forced upon them by their intense realisation of the futility of human hopes and schemings, of the terror and the tragedy of life, the vanity of its desires, and the untravelled gloom or sleep, dreamless or dreamfull, which lies beyond its end.

Though the Sagas are entrancing, both as examples of literature of which there is but little in the world and because of their living interest, they are scarcely known to the English-speaking public. This is easy to account for: it is hard to persuade the nineteenth century world to interest itself in people who lived and events that happened a thousand years ago. Moreover, the Sagas are undoubtedly difficult reading. The archaic nature of the work, even in a translation; the multitude of its actors; the Norse sagaman's habit of interweaving endless side-plots, and the persistence with which he introduces the genealogy and adventures of the ancestors of every unimportant character, are none of them to the taste of the modern reader.

"Eric Brighteyes" therefore, is clipped of these peculiarities, and, to some extent, is cast in the form of the romance of our own day, archaisms being avoided as much as possible. The author will be gratified should he succeed in exciting interest in the troubled lives of our Norse forefathers, and still more so if his difficult experiment brings readers to the Sagas—to the prose epics of our own race. Too ample, too prolix, too crowded with detail, they cannot indeed vie in art with the epics of Greece; but in their pictures of life, simple and heroic, they fall beneath no literature in the world, save the Iliad and the Odyssey alone.


Chapter 1 HOW ASMUND THE PRIEST FOUND GROA THE WITCH

There lived a man in the south, before Thangbrand, Wilibald's son, preached the White Christ in Iceland. He was named Eric Brighteyes, Thorgrimur's son, and in those days there was no man like him for strength, beauty and daring, for in all these things he was the first. But he was not the first in good-luck.

Two women lived in the south, not far from where the Westman Islands stand above the sea. Gudruda the Fair was the name of the one, and Swanhild, called the Fatherless, Groa's daughter, was the other. They were half-sisters, and there were none like them in those days, for they were the fairest of all women, though they had nothing in common except their blood and hate.

Now of Eric Brighteyes, of Gudruda the Fair and of Swanhild the Fatherless, there is a tale to tell.

These two fair women saw the light in the self-same hour. But Eric Brighteyes was their elder by five years. The father of Eric was Thorgrimur Iron-Toe. He had been a mighty man; but in fighting with a Baresark,[1]

[2] who fell upon him as he came up from sowing his wheat, his foot was hewn from him, so that afterwards he went upon a wooden leg shod with iron. Still, he slew the Baresark, standing on one leg and leaning against a rock, and for that deed people honoured him much. Thorgrimur was a wealthy yeoman, slow to wrath, just, and rich in friends. Somewhat late in life he took to wife Saevuna, Thorod's daughter. She was the best of women, strong in mind and second- sighted, and she could cover herself in her hair. But these two never loved each other overmuch, and they had but one child, Eric, who was born when Saevuna was well on in years.

The mother of Swanhild the Fatherless was Groa the Witch. She was a Finn, and it is told of her that the ship on which she sailed, trying to run under the lee of the Westman Isles in a great gale from the north-east, was dashed to pieces on a rock, and all those on board of her were caught in the net of Ran[3] and drowned, except Groa herself, who was saved by her magic art. This at the least is true, that, as Asmund the Priest rode down by the sea-shore on the morning after the gale, seeking for some strayed horses, he found a beautiful woman, who wore a purple cloak and a great girdle of gold, seated on a rock, combing her black hair and singing the while; and, at her feet, washing to and fro in a pool, was a dead man. He asked whence she came, and she answered:

"Out of the Swan's Bath."

Next, he asked her where were her kin. But, pointing to the dead man, she said that this alone was left of them.

"Who was the man, then?" said Asmund the Priest.

She laughed again and sang this song:—

Groa sails up from the Swan's Bath, Death Gods grip the Dead Man's hand. Look where lies her luckless husband, Bolder sea-king ne'er swung sword! Asmund, keep the kirtle-wearer, For last night the Norns were crying, And Groa thought they told of thee: Yea, told of thee and babes unborn.

"How knowest thou my name?" asked Asmund.

"The sea-mews cried it as the ship sank, thine and others—and they shall be heard in story."

"Then that is the best of luck," quoth Asmund; "but I think that thou art fey."[*]

[*] I.e. subject to supernatural presentiments, generally connected with approaching doom.

"Ay," she answered, "fey and fair."

"True enough thou art fair. What shall we do with this dead man?"

"Leave him in the arms of Ran. So may all husbands lie."

They spoke no more with her at that time, seeing that she was a witchwoman. But Asmund took her up to Middalhof, and gave her a farm, and she lived there alone, and he profited much by her wisdom.

 

Now it chanced that Gudruda the Gentle was with child, and when her time came she gave a daughter birth—a very fair girl, with dark eyes. On the same day, Groa the witchwoman brought forth a girl-child, and men wondered who was its father, for Groa was no man's wife. It was women's talk that Asmund the Priest was the father of this child also; but when he heard it he was angry, and said that no witchwoman should bear a bairn of his, howsoever fair she was. Nevertheless, it was still said that the child was his, and it is certain that he loved it as a man loves his own; but of all things, this is the hardest to know. When Groa was questioned she laughed darkly, as was her fashion, and said that she knew nothing of it, never having seen the face of the child's father, who rose out of the sea at night. And for this cause some thought him to have been a wizard or the wraith of her dead husband; but others said that Groa lied, as many women have done on such matters. But of all this talk the child alone remained and she was named Swanhild.

Now, but an hour before the child of Gudruda the Gentle was born, Asmund went up from his house to the Temple, to tend the holy fire that burned night and day upon the altar. When he had tended the fire, he sat down upon the cross-benches before the shrine, and, gazing on the image of the Goddess Freya, he fell asleep and dreamed a very evil dream.

He dreamed that Gudruda the Gentle bore a dove most beautiful to see, for all its feathers were of silver; but that Groa the Witch bore a golden snake. And the snake and the dove dwelt together, and ever the snake sought to slay the dove. At length there came a great white swan flying over Coldback Fell, and its tongue was a sharp sword. Now the swan saw the dove and loved it, and the dove loved the swan; but the snake reared itself, and hissed, and sought to kill the dove. But the swan covered her with his wings, and beat the snake away. Then he, Asmund, came out and drove away the swan, as the swan had driven the snake, and it wheeled high into the air and flew south, and the snake swam away also through the sea. But the dove drooped and now it was blind. Then an eagle came from the north, and would have taken the dove, but it fled round and round, crying, and always the eagle drew nearer to it. At length, from the south the swan came back, flying heavily, and about its neck was twined the golden snake, and with it came a raven. And it saw the eagle and loud it trumpeted, and shook the snake from it so that it fell like a gleam of gold into the sea. Then the eagle and the swan met in battle, and the swan drove the eagle down and broke it with his wings, and, flying to the dove, comforted it. But those in the house ran out and shot at the swan with bows and drove it away, but now he, Asmund, was not with them. And once more the dove drooped. Again the swan came back, and with it the raven, and a great host were gathered against them, and, among them, all of Asmund's kith and kin, and the men of his quarter and some of his priesthood, and many whom he did not know by face. And the swan flew at Björn his son, and shot out the sword of its tongue and slew him, and many a man it slew thus. And the raven, with a beak and claws of steel, slew also many a man, so that Asmund's kindred fled and the swan slept by the dove. But as it slept the golden snake crawled out of the sea, and hissed in the ears of men, and they rose up to follow it. It came to the swan and twined itself about its neck. It struck at the dove and slew it. Then the swan awoke and the raven awoke, and they did battle till all who remained of Asmund's kindred and people were dead. But still the snake clung about the swan's neck, and presently snake and swan fell into the sea, and far out on the sea there burned a flame of fire. And Asmund awoke trembling and left the Temple.

Now as he went, a woman came running, and weeping as she ran.

"Haste, haste!" she cried; "a daughter is born to thee, and Gudruda thy wife is dying!"

"Is it so?" said Asmund; "after ill dreams ill tidings."

Now in the bed-closet off the great hall of Middalhof lay Gudruda the Gentle and she was dying.

"Art thou there, husband?" she said.

"Even so, wife."

"Thou comest in an evil hour, for it is my last. Now hearken. Take thou the new-born babe within thine arms and kiss it, and pour water over it, and name it with my name."

This Asmund did.

"Hearken, my husband. I have been a good wife to thee, though thou hast not been all good to me. But thus shalt thou atone: thou shalt swear that, though she is a girl, thou wilt not cast this bairn forth to perish, but wilt cherish and nurture her."

"I swear it," he said.

"And thou shalt swear that thou wilt not take the witchwoman Groa to wife, nor have anything to do with her, and this for thine own sake: for, if thou dost, she will be thy death. Dost thou swear?"

"I swear it," he said.

"It is well; but, husband, if thou dost break thine oath, either in the words or in the spirit of the words, evil shall overtake thee and all thy house. Now bid me farewell, for I die."

He bent over her and kissed her, and it is said that Asmund wept in that hour, for after his fashion he loved his wife.

"Give me the babe," she said, "that it may lie once upon my breast."

They gave her the babe and she looked upon its dark eyes and said:

"Fairest of women shalt thou be, Gudruda—fair as no woman in Iceland ever was before thee; and thou shalt love with a mighty love—and thou shalt lose—and, losing, thou shalt find again."

Now, it is said that, as she spoke these words, her face grew bright as a spirit's, and, having spoken them, she fell back dead. And they laid her in earth, but Asmund mourned her much.

But, when all was over and done, the dream that he had dreamed lay heavy on him. Now of all diviners of dreams Groa was the most skilled, and when Gudruda had been in earth seven full days, Asmund went to Groa, though doubtfully, because of his oath.

He came to the house and entered. On a couch in the chamber lay Groa, and her babe was on her breast and she was very fair to see.

"Greeting, lord!" she said. "What wouldest thou here?"

"I have dreamed a dream, and thou alone canst read it."

"That is as it may be," she answered. "It is true that I have some skill in dreams. At the least I will hear it."

Then he unfolded it to her every word.

"What wilt thou give me if I read thy dream?" she said.

"What dost thou ask? Methinks I have given thee much."

"Yea, lord," and she looked at the babe upon her breast. "I ask but a little thing: that thou shalt take this bairn in thy arms, pour water over it and name it."

"Men will talk if I do this, for it is the father's part."

"It is a little thing what men say: talk goes by as the wind. Moreover, thou shalt give them the lie in the child's name, for it shall be Swanhild the Fatherless. Nevertheless that is my price. Pay it if thou wilt."

"Read me the dream and I will name the child."

"Nay, first name thou the babe: for then no harm shall come to her at thy hands."

So Asmund took the child, poured water over her, and named her.

Then Groa spoke: "This lord, is the reading of thy dream, else my wisdom is at fault: The silver dove is thy daughter Gudruda, the golden snake is my daughter Swanhild, and these two shall hate one the other and strive against each other. But the swan is a mighty man whom both shall love, and, if he love not both, yet shall belong to both. And thou shalt send him away; but he shall return and bring bad luck to thee and thy house, and thy daughter shall be blind with love of him. And in the end he shall slay the eagle, a great lord from the north who shall seek to wed thy daughter, and many another shall he slay, by the help of that raven with the bill of steel who shall be with him. But Swanhild shall triumph over thy daughter Gudruda, and this man, and the two of them, shall die at her hands, and, for the rest, who can say? But this is true—that the mighty man shall bring all thy race to an end. See now, I have read thy rede."

Then Asmund was very wroth. "Thou wast wise to beguile me to name thy bastard brat," he said; "else had I been its death within this hour."

"This thou canst not do, lord, seeing that thou hast held it in thy arms," Groa answered, laughing. "Go rather and lay out Gudruda the Fair on Coldback Hill; so shalt thou make an end of the evil, for Gudruda shall be its very root. Learn this, moreover: that thy dream does not tell all, seeing that thou thyself must play a part in the fate. Go, send forth the babe Gudruda, and be at rest."

"That cannot be, for I have sworn to cherish it, and with an oath that may not be broken."

"It is well," laughed Groa. "Things will befall as they are fated; let them befall in their season. There is space for cairns on Coldback and the sea can shroud its dead!"

And Asmund went thence, angered at heart.


Chapter 2 HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK

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 out aloud:

"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 Brighteyes.

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 witch-words.

"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 surer."

"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 love!"

Swanhild tossed her head and looked upon the dark face of Groa her mother.

"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 Brighteyes.

"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 death-sleep."

"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 rock."

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 thick.

"It comes into my mind that we two shall die here," said Gudruda presently.

"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 ears."

And now Gudruda sobs and the tears fall fast from her dark eyes.

"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 me."

"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 thee?"

"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 gone."

[*] 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 darkness.

"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 voice."

"Nay," answers Gudruda, "it was but a night-hawk screaming."

Now Swanhild lay quiet in the drift, but she said in her heart:

"Ay, a night-hawk that shall tear out those dark eyes of thine, mine enemy!"

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 darkness.

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.