H. Rider Haggard
Part 6 out of 7
sworn and I will keep the oath that I once broke. Give me snow! snow!
my throat burns! Heap snow on my head, I bid you. Ye will not? Ye mock
me, thinking me weak! Where, then, is Whitefire?--I have yet a deed to
do! Who comes yonder? Is it a woman's shape or is it but a smoke-
wraith? 'Tis Swanhild the Fatherless who walks the waters. Begone,
Swanhild, thou witch! thou hast worked evil enough upon me. Nay, it is
not Swanhild, it is Elfrida; lady, here in England I may not stay. In
Iceland I am at home. Yea, yea, things go crossly; perchance in this
garden we may speak again!"
Now Gudruda could bear his words no longer, bur ran to him and knelt
"Peace, Eric!" she whispered. "Peace! It is I, thy love. It is
Gudruda, who am come to thee."
He turned his head and looked upon her strangely.
"No, no," he said, "it is not Gudruda the Fair. She will have little
to do with outlaws, and this is too rough a place for her to come to.
It is dark also and Atli speaks in the darkness. If thou art Gudruda,
give me a sign. Why comest thou here and where is Skallagrim? Ah! that
was a good fight--
"Down among the ballast tumbling
Ospakar's shield-carles were rolled.
"But he should never have slain the steersman. The axe goes first and
Skallagrim follows after. Ha, ha! Ay, Swanhild, we'll mingle tears.
Give me the cup. Why, what is this? Thou art afire, a glory glows
about thee, and from thee floats a scent like the scent of the Iceland
meads in May."
"Eric! Eric!" cried Gudruda, "I am come to shear thy hair, as thou
didst swear that I alone should do."
"Now I know that thou art Gudruda," said the crazed man. "Cut, cut;
but let not those knaves touch my head, lest I should slay them."
Then Gudruda drew out her shears, and without more ado shore off
Brighteyes' golden locks. It was no easy task, for they were thick as
a horse's mane, and glued to the wound. Yet when she had cut them, she
loosened the hair from the flesh with water which she heated upon the
fire. The wound was in a bad state and blue, still Eric never winced
while she dragged the hair from it. Then she washed the sore clean,
and put sweet ointment on it and covered it with napkins.
This done, she gave Eric broth and he drank. Then, laying her hand
upon his head, she looked into his eyes and bade him sleep. And
presently he slept--which he had scarcely done for many days--slept
like a little child.
Eric slept for a day and a night. But at that same hour of the
evening, when he had fallen asleep, Gudruda, watching him by the light
of a taper that was set upon a rock, saw him smile in his dreams.
Presently he opened his eyes and stared at the fire which glowed in
the mouth of the cave, and the great shadows that fell upon the rocks.
"Strange!" she heard him murmur, "it is very strange! but I dreamed I
slept, and that Gudruda the Fair leaned over me as I slept. Where,
then, is Skallagrim? Perhaps I am dead and that is Hela's fire," and
he tried to lift himself upon his arm, but fell back from faintness,
for he was very weak. Then Gudruda took his hand, and, leaning over
"Hush, Eric!" she said; "that was no dream, for I am here. Thou hast
been sick to death, Eric; but now, if thou wilt rest, things shall go
well with thee."
"/Thou/ art here?" said Eric, turning his white face towards her. "Do
I still dream, or how comest thou here to Mosfell, Gudruda?"
"I came through the snows, Eric, to cut thy hair, which clung to the
festering wound, for in thy madness thou wouldst not suffer anyone to
"Thou camest through the snows--over the snows--to nurse me, Gudruda?
Thou must love me much then," and he was so weak that, as he spoke,
the tears rolled down Eric's cheeks.
Then Gudruda kissed him, weeping also, and, laying her face by his,
bade him be at peace, for she was there to watch him.
HOW SWANHILD WON TIDINGS OF ERIC
Now Eric's strength came back to him and his heart opened in the light
of Gudruda's eyes like a flower in the sunshine. For all day long she
sat at his side, holding his hand and talking to him, and they found
much to say.
But on the fifth day from the day of his awakening she spoke thus:
"Eric, now I must go back to Middalhof. Thou art safe and it is not
well that I should stay here."
"Not yet, Gudruda," he said; "leave me not yet."
"Yes, love, I must leave thee. The moon is bright, the sky has
cleared, and the snow is hard with frost and fit for the hoofs of
horses. I must go before more storms come. Listen now: in the second
week of spring, if all is well, I will send thee a messenger with
words of token, then shalt thou come down secretly to Middalhof, and
there, Eric, we will be wed. Then, on the next day, we will sail for
England in a trading-ship that I shall get ready, to seek our fortune
"It will be a good fortune if thou art by my side," said Eric, "so
good that I doubt greatly if I may find it, for I am Eric the Unlucky.
Swanhild must yet be reckoned with, Gudruda. Yes, thou art right: thou
must go hence, Gudruda, and swiftly, though it grieves me much to part
Then Eric called Skallagrim and bade him make things ready to ride
down to Middalhof with the Lady Gudruda.
This Skallagrim did swiftly, and afterwards Eric and Gudruda kissed
and parted, and they were sad at heart to part.
Now on the fifth day after the going of Gudruda, Skallagrim came back
to Mosfell somewhat cold and weary. And he told Eric, who could now
walk and grew strong again, that he and Jon had ridden with Gudruda
the Fair to Horse-Head Heights, seeing no man, and had left her there
to go on with her thralls. He had come back also seeing no one, for
the weather was too cold for the men of Gizur to watch the fell in the
Now Gudruda came safely to Middalhof, having been eleven days gone,
and found that few had visited the house, and that these had been told
that she lay sick abed. Her secret had been well kept, and, though
Swanhild had no lack of spies, many days went by before she learned
that Gudruda had gone up to Mosfell to nurse Eric.
After this Gudruda began to make ready for her flight from Iceland.
She called in the moneys that she had out at interest, and with them
bought from a certain chapman a good trading-ship which lay in its
shed under the shelter of Westman Isles. This ship she began to make
ready for sea so soon as the heart of the winter was broken, putting
it about that she intended to send her on a trading voyage to Scotland
in the spring. And also to give colour to this tale she bought many
pelts and other goods, such as chapmen deal in.
Thus the days passed on--not so badly for Gudruda, who strove to fill
their emptiness in making ready for the full and happy time; but for
Eric in his cave they were very heavy, for he could find nothing to do
except to sleep and eat, and think of Gudruda, whom he might not see.
For Swanhild also, sitting at Coldback, the days did not go well. She
was weary of the courting of Gizur, whom she played with as a cat
plays with a rat, and her heart was sick with love, hate, and
jealousy. For she well knew that Gudruda and Eric still clung to each
other and found means of greeting, if not of speech. At that time she
wished to kill Eric if she could, though she would rather kill Gudruda
if she dared. Still, she could not come at Eric, for her men feared to
try the narrow way of Mosfell, and when they met him in the open they
fled before him.
Presently it came to her ears that Gudruda made a ship ready to sail
to Scotland on a trading voyage, and she was perplexed by this tale,
for she knew that Gudruda had no love of trading and never thought of
gain. So she set spies to watch the ship. Still, the slow days drew
on, and at length the air grew soft with spring, and flowers showed
through the snow.
Eric sat in his mountain nest waiting for tidings, and watched the
nesting eagles wheel about the cliffs. At length news came. For one
morning, as he rose, Skallagrim told him that a man wanted to speak
with him. He had come to the mountain in the darkness, and had lain in
a dell till the breaking of the light, for, now that the snows were
melting, the men of Gizur and Swanhild watched the ways.
Eric bade them bring the man to him. When he saw him he knew that he
was a thrall of Gudruda's and welcomed him heartily.
"What tidings?" he asked.
"This, lord," said the thrall: "Gudruda the Fair bids me say that she
is well and that the snows melt on the roof of Middalhof."
Now this was the signal word that had been agreed upon between Eric
and Gudruda, that she should send him when all was ready.
"Good," said Eric, "ride back to Gudruda the Fair and say that Eric
Brighteyes is well, but on Hecla the snows melt not."
By this answer he meant that he would be with her presently, though
the thrall could make nothing of it. Then Skallagrim asked tidings of
the man, and learned that Swanhild was still at Middalhof, and with
her Gizur, and that they gave out that they wished to make an end of
waiting and slay Eric.
"First snare your bird, then wring his neck," laughed Skallagrim.
Then Eric did this: among his men were some who he knew were not
willing to sail from Iceland, and Jon, his thrall, was of them, for
Jon did not love the angry sea. He bade these bide a while on Mosfell
and make fires nightly on the platform of rock which is in front of
the cave, that the spies of Gizur and Swanhild might be deceived by
them, and think that Eric was still on the fell. Then, when they heard
that he had sailed, they were to come down and hide themselves with
friends till Gizur and his following rode north. But he told two of
the men who would sail with him to make ready.
That night before the moon rose Eric said farewell to Jon and the
others who stayed on Mosfell, and rode away with Skallagrim and the
two who went with him. They passed the plain of black sand in safety,
and so on to Horse-Head Heights. Now at length, as the afternoon drew
on to evening, from Stonefell's crest they saw the Hall of Middalhof
before them, and Eric's heart swelled in his breast. Yet they must
wait till darkness fell before they dared enter the place, lest they
should be seen and notice of their coming should be carried to Gizur
and Swanhild. And this came into the mind of Eric, that of all the
hours of his life that hour of waiting was the longest. Scarcely,
indeed, could Skallagrim hold him back from going down the mountain
side, he was so set on coming to Gudruda whom he should wed that
At length the darkness fell, and they went on. Eric rode swiftly down
the rough mountain path, while Skallagrim and the two men followed
grumbling, for they feared that their horses would fall. At length
they came to the place, and riding into the yard, Eric sprang from his
horse and strode to the women's door. Now Gudruda stood in the porch,
listening; and while he was yet some way off, she heard the clang of
Brighteyen's harness, and the colour came and went upon her cheek.
Then she turned and fled to the high seat of the hall, and sat down
there. Only two women were left in Middalhof with her, and some
thralls who tended the kine and horses. But these slept, not in the
hall, but in an outhouse. Gudruda had sent the rest of her people down
to the ship to help in the lading, for it was given out that the
vessel sailed on the morrow. She had done this that there might be no
talk of the coming of Eric to Middalhof.
Now Brighteyes came to the porch, and, finding the door wide, walked
in. But Skallagrim and the men stayed without a while, and tended the
horses. A fire burned upon the centre hearth in the hall, and threw
shadows on the panelling. Eric walked on by its light, looking to left
and right, but seeing neither man nor woman. Then a great fear took
him lest Gudruda should be gone, or perhaps slain of Swanhild, Groa's
daughter, and he trembled at the thought. He stood by the fire, and
Gudruda, watching from the shadow of the high seat, saw the dull light
glow upon his golden helm, and a sigh of joy broke from her lips. Eric
heard the sigh and looked, and as he looked a stick of pitchy
driftwood fell into the fire and flared up fiercely. Then he saw.
There, in the carved high seat, robed all in bridal white, sat Gudruda
the Fair, his love. Her golden hair flowed about her breast, her white
arms were stretched towards him, and on her sweet face shone such a
look of love as he had never seen.
"/Eric!/" she whispered softly, and the breath of her voice ran down
the empty panelled hall, that from all sides seemed to answer,
Slowly he drew near to her. He saw nothing but the glory of Gudruda's
face and the light shining on Gudruda's hair; he heard nothing save
the sighing of her breath; he knew nothing except that before him sat
his fair bride, won after many years.
Now he had climbed the high seat, and now, wrapped in each other's
arms, they sat and gazed into each other's eyes, and lo! the air of
the great hall rolled round them a sea of glory, and sweet voices
whispered in their ears. Now Freya smiled upon them and led them
through her gates of love, and they were glad that they had been born.
Thus then they were wed.
Now the story tells that Swanhild spoke with Gizur, Ospakar's son, in
the house at Coldback.
"I tire of this slow play," she said. "We have tarried here for many
weeks, and Atli's blood yet cries out for vengeance, and cries for
vengeance the blood of black Ospakar, thy father, and the blood of
many another, dead at great Eric's hand."
"I tire also," said Gizur, "and I am much needed in the north. I say
this to thee, Swanhild, that, hadst thou not so strictly laid it on me
that Eric must die ere thou weddest me, I had flitted back to
Swinefell before now, and there bided my time to bring Brighteyes to
"I will never wed thee, Gizur, till Eric is dead," said Swanhild
"How shall we come at him then?" he answered. "We may not go up that
mountain path, for two men can hold it against all our strength, and
folk do not love to meet Eric and Skallagrim in a narrow way."
"The place has been badly watched," said Swanhild. "I am sure of this,
that Eric has been down to Middalhof and seen Gudruda, my half-sister.
She is shameless, who still holds commune with him who slew her
brother and my husband. Death should be her reward, and I am minded to
slay her because of the shame that she has brought upon our blood."
"That is a deed which thou wilt do alone, then," said Gizur, "for I
will have no hand in the murder of that fair maid--no, nor will any
who live in Iceland!"
Swanhild glanced at him strangely. "Hearken, Gizur!" she said:
"Gudruda makes a ship ready to sail with goods to Scotland and bring a
cargo thence before winter comes again. Now I find this strange, for
never before did I know Gudruda turn her thoughts to trading. I think
that she has it in her mind to sail from Iceland with this outlaw
Eric, and seek a home over seas, and that I will not bear."
"It may be," said Gizur, "and I should not be sorry to see the last of
Brighteyes, for I think that more men will die at his hand before he
stiffens in his barrow."
"Thou art cowardly-hearted, thou son of Ospakar!" Swanhild said. "Thou
sayest thou lovest me and wouldest win me to wife: I tell thee that
there is but one road to my arms, and it leads over the corpse of
Eric. Now this is my counsel: that we send the most of our men to
watch that ship of Gudruda's, and, when she lifts anchor, to board her
and search, for she is already bound for sea. Also among the people
here I have a carle who was born near Hecla, and he swears this to me,
that, when he was a lad, searching for an eagle's eyrie, he found a
path by which Mosfell might be climbed from the north, and that in the
end he came to a large flat place, and, looking over, saw that
platform where Eric dwells with his thralls. But he could not see the
cave, because of the overhanging brow of the rock. Now we will do
this: thou and I, and the carle alone--no more, for I do not wish that
our search should be noised abroad--to-morrow at the dawn we will ride
away for Mosfell, and, passing under Hecla, come round the mountain
and see if this path may still be scaled. For, if so, we will return
with men and make an end of Brighteyes."
This plan pleased Gizur, and he said that it should be so.
So very early on the following morning Swanhild, having sent many men
to watch Gudruda's ship, rode away secretly with Gizur and the thrall,
and before it was again dawn they were on the northern slopes of
Mosfell. It was on this same night that Eric went down from the
mountain to wed Gudruda.
For a while the climbing was easy, but at length they came to a great
wall of rock, a hundred fathoms high, on which no fox might find a
foothold, nor anything that had not wings.
"Here now is an end of our journey," said Gizur, "and I only pray
this, that Eric may not ride round the mountain before we are down
again." For he did not know that Brighteyes already rode hard for
"Not so," said the thrall, "if only I can find the place by which,
some thirty summers ago, I won yonder rift, and through it the crest
of the fell," and he pointed to a narrow cleft in the face of the rock
high above their heads, that was clothed with grey moss.
Then he moved to the right and searched, peering behind stones and
birch-bushes, till presently he held up his hand and whistled. They
passed along the slope and found him standing by a little stream of
water which welled from beneath a great rock.
"Here is the place," the man said.
"I see no place," answered Swanhild.
"Still, it is there, lady," and he climbed on to the rock, drawing her
after him. At the back of it was a hole, almost overgrown with moss.
"Here is the path," he said again.
"Then it is one that I have no mind to follow," answered Swanhild.
"Gizur, go thou with the man and see if his tale is true. I will stay
here till ye come back."
Then the thrall let himself down into the hole and Gizur went after
him. But Swanhild sat there in the shadow of the rock, her chin
resting on her hand, and waited. Presently, as she sat, she saw two
men ride round the base of the fell, and strike off to the right
towards a turf-booth which stood the half of an hour's ride away. Now
Swanhild was the keenest-sighted of all women of her day in Iceland,
and when she looked at these two men she knew one of them for Jon,
Eric's thrall, and she knew the horse also--it was a white horse with
black patches, that Jon had ridden for many years. She watched them go
till they came to the booth, and it seemed to her that they left their
horses and entered.
Swanhild waited upon the side of the fell for nearly two hours in all.
Then, hearing a noise above her, she looked up, and there, black with
dirt and wet with water, was Gizur, and with him was the thrall.
"What luck, Gizur?" she asked.
"This, Swanhild: Eric may hold Mosfell no more, for we have found a
way to bolt the fox."
"That is good news, then," said Swanhild. "Say on."
"Yonder hole, Swanhild, leads to the cleft above, having been cut
through the cliff by fire, or perhaps by water. Now up that cleft a
man may climb, though hardly, as by a difficult stair, till he comes
to the flat crest of the fell. Then, crossing the crest, on the
further side, perhaps six fathoms below him, he sees that space of
rock where is Eric's cave; but he cannot see the cave itself, because
the brow of the cliff hangs over. And so it is that, if any come from
the cave on to the space of rock, it will be an easy matter to roll
stones upon them from above and crush them."
Now when Swanhild heard this she laughed aloud.
"Eric shall mock us no more," she said, "and his might can avail
nothing against rocks rolled on him from above. Let us go back to
Coldback and summon men to make an end of Brighteyes."
So they went on down the mountain till they came to the place where
they had hidden their horses. Then Swanhild remembered Jon and the
other man whom she had seen riding to the booth, and she told Gizur of
"Now," she said, "we will snare these birds, and perchance they will
twitter tidings when we squeeze them."
So they turned and rode for the booth, and drawing near, they saw two
horses grazing without. Now they got off their horses, and creeping up
to the booth, looked in through the door which was ajar. And they saw
this, that one man sat on the ground with his back to the door, eating
stock-fish, while Jon made bundles of fish and meal ready to tie on
the horses. For it was here that those of his quarter who loved Eric
brought food to be carried by his men to the cave on Mosfell.
Now Swanhild touched Gizur on the arm, pointing first to the man who
sat eating the fish and then to the spear in Gizur's hand. Gizur
thought a while, for he shrank from this deed.
Then Swanhild whispered in his ear, "Slay the man and seize the other;
I would learn tidings from him."
So Gizur cast the spear, and it passed through the man's heart, and he
was dead at once. Then he and the thrall leapt into the booth and
threw themselves on Jon, hurling him to the ground, and holding swords
over him. Now Jon was a man of small heart, and when he saw his plight
and his fellow dead he was afraid, and prayed for mercy.
"If I spare thee, knave," said Swanhild, "thou shalt do this: thou
shalt lead me up Mosfell to speak with Eric."
"I may not do that, lady," groaned Jon; "for Eric is not on Mosfell."
"Where is he, then?" asked Swanhild.
Now Jon saw that he had said an unlucky thing, and answered:
"Nay, I know not. Last night he rode from Mosfell with Skallagrim
"Thou liest, knave," said Swanhild. "Speak, or thou shalt be slain."
"Slay on," groaned Jon, glancing at the swords above him, and shutting
his eyes. For, though he feared much to die, he had no will to make
known Eric's plans.
"Look not at the swords; thou shalt not die so easily. Hearken: speak,
and speak truly, or thou shalt seek Hela's lap after this fashion,"
and, bending down, she whispered in his ear, then laughed aloud.
Now Jon grew faint with fear; his lips turned blue, and his teeth
chattered at the thought of how he should be made to die. Still, he
would say nothing.
Then Swanhild spoke to Gizur and the thrall, and bade them bind him
with a rope, tear the garments from him, and bring snow. They did
this, and pushed the matter to the drawing of knives. But when he saw
the steel Jon cried aloud that he would tell all.
"Now thou takest good counsel," said Swanhild.
Then in his fear Jon told how Eric had gone down to Middalhof to wed
Gudruda, and thence to fly with her to England.
Now Swanhild was mad with wrath, for she had sooner died than that
this should come about.
"Let us away," she said to Gizur. "But first kill this man."
"Nay,' said Gizur, "I will not do that. He has told his tidings; let
him go free."
"Thou art chicken-hearted," said Swanhild, who, after the fashion of
witches, had no mercy in her. "At the least, he shall not go hence to
warn Eric and Gudruda of our coming. If thou wilt not kill him, then
bind him and leave him."
So Jon was bound, and there in the booth he sat two days before anyone
came to loose him.
"Whither away?" said Gizur to Swanhild.
"To Middalhof first," Swanhild answered.
HOW WENT THE BRIDAL NIGHT
Now Eric and Gudruda sat silent in the high seat of the hall at
Middalhof till they heard Skallagrim enter by the women's door. Then
they came down from the high seat, and stood hand in hand by the fire
on the hearth. Skallagrim greeted Gudruda, looking at her askance, for
Skallagrim stood in fear of women alone.
"What counsel now, lord?" said the Baresark.
"Tell us thy plans, Gudruda," said Eric, for as yet no word had passed
between them of what they should do.
"This is my plan, Eric," she answered. "First, that we eat; then that
thy men take horse and ride hence through the night to where the ship
lies, bearing word that we will be there at dawn when the tide serves,
and bidding the mate make everything ready for sailing. But thou and I
and Skallagrim will stay here till to-morrow is three hours old, and
this because I have tidings that Gizur's folk will search the ship
to-night. Now, when they search and do not find us, they will go away.
Then, at the dawning, thou and I and Skallagrim will row on board the
ship as she lies at anchor, and, slipping the cable, put to sea before
they know we are there, and so bid farewell to Swanhild and our woes."
"Yet it is a risk for us to sleep here alone," said Eric.
"There is little danger," said Gudruda. "Nearly all of Gizur's men
watch the ship; and I have learned this from a spy, that, two days
ago, Gizur, Swanhild, and one thrall rode from Coldback towards
Mosfell, and they have not come back yet. Moreover, the place is
strong, and thou and Skallagrim are here to guard it."
"So be it, then," answered Eric, for indeed he had little thought left
for anything, except Gudruda.
After this the women came in and set meat on the board, and all ate.
Now, when they had eaten, Eric bade Skallagrim fill a cup, and bring
it to him as he sat on the high seat with Gudruda. Skallagrim did so;
and then, looking deep into each other's eyes, Eric Brighteyes and
Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter, drank the bride's cup.
"There are few guests to grace our marriage-feast, husband," said
"Yet shall our vows hold true, wife," said Eric.
"Ay, Brighteyes," she answered, "in life and in death, now and for
ever!" and they kissed.
"It is time for us to be going, methinks," growled Skallagrim to those
about him. "We are not wanted here."
Then the men who were to go on to the ship rose, fetched their horses,
and rode away. Also they caught the horses of Skallagrim, Eric, and
Gudruda, saddled them and, slipping their bridles, made them fast in a
shed in the yard, giving them hay to eat. Afterwards Skallagrim barred
the men's door and the women's door, and, going to Gudruda, asked
where he should stay the night till it was time to ride for the sea.
"In the store-chamber," she answered, "for there is a shutter of which
the latch has gone. See that thou watch it well, Skallagrim; though I
think none will come to trouble thee."
"I know the place. It shall go badly with the head that looks through
yonder hole," said Skallagrim, glancing at his axe.
Now Gudruda forgot this, that in the store-chamber were casks of
Then Gudruda told him to wake them when the morrow was two hours old,
for Eric had neither eyes nor words except for Gudruda alone, and
The women went also to their shut bed at the end of the hall, leaving
Brighteyes and Gudruda alone. Eric looked at her.
"Where do I sleep to-night?" he asked.
"Thou sleepest with me, husband," she answered soft, "for nothing,
except Death, shall come between us any more."
Now Skallagrim went to the store-room, and sat down with his back
against a cask. His heart was heavy in him, for he boded no good of
this marriage. Moreover, he was jealous. Skallagrim loved but one
thing in the world truly, and that was Eric Brighteyes, his lord. Now
he knew that henceforth he must take a second place, and that for one
thought which Eric gave to him, he would give ten to Gudruda.
Therefore Skallagrim was very sad at heart.
"A pest upon the women!" he said to himself, "for from them comes all
evil. Brighteyes owes his ill luck to Swanhild and this fair wife of
his, and that is scarcely done with yet. Well, well, 'tis nature; but
would that we were safe at sea! Had I my will, we had not slept here
to-night. But they are newly wed, and--well, 'tis nature! Better the
bride loves to lie abed than to ride the cold wolds and seek the
Now, as Skallagrim grumbled, fear gathered in his heart, he knew not
of what. He began to think on trolls and goblins. It was dark in the
store-room, except for a little line of light that crept through the
crack of the shutter. At length he could bear the darkness and his
thoughts no longer, but, rising, threw the shutter wide and let the
bright moonlight pour into the chamber, whence he could see the
hillside behind, and watch the shadows of the clouds as they floated
across it. Again Skallagrim sat down against his cask, and as he sat
it moved, and he heard the wash of ale inside it.
"That is a good sound," said Skallagrim, and he turned and smelt at
the cask; "aye, and a good smell, too! We tasted little ale yonder on
Mosfell, and we shall find less at sea." Again he looked at the cask.
There was a spigot in it, and lo! on the shelf stood horn cups.
"It surely is on draught," he said; "and now it will stand till it
goes sour. 'Tis a pity; but I will not drink. I fear ale--ale is
another man! No, I will not drink," and all the while his hand went up
to the cups upon the shelf. "Eric is better lain yonder in Gudruda's
chamber than I am here alone with evil thoughts and trolls," he said.
"Why, what fish was that we ate at supper? My throat is cracked with
thirst! If there were water now I'd drink it, but I see none. Well,
one cup to wish them joy! There is no harm in a cup of ale," and he
drew the spigot from the cask and watched the brown drink flow into
the cup. Then he lifted it to his lips and drank, saying "Skoll!
skoll!"[*] nor did he cease till the horn was drained. "This is
wondrous good ale," said Skallagrim as he wiped his grizzled beard.
"One more cup, and evil thoughts shall cease to haunt me."
[*] "Health! health!"
Again he filled, drank, sat down, and for a while was merry. But
presently the black thoughts came back into his mind. He rose, looked
through the shutter-hole to the hillside. He could see nothing on it
except the shadows of the clouds.
"Trolls walk the winds to-night," he said. "I feel them pulling at my
beard. One more cup to frighten them."
He drank another draught of ale and grew merry. Then ale called for
ale, and Skallagrim drained cup on cup, singing as he drained, till at
last heavy sleep overcame him, and he sank drunken on the ground there
by the barrel, while the brown ale trickled round him.
Now Eric Brighteyes and Gudruda the Fair slept side by side, locked in
each other's arms. Presently Gudruda was wide awake.
"Rouse thee, Eric," she said, "I have dreamed an evil dream."
He awoke and kissed her.
"What, then, was thy dream, sweet?" he said. "This is no hour for bad
"No hour for bad dreams, truly, husband; yet dreams do not weigh the
hour of their coming. I dreamed this: that I lay dead beside thee and
thou knewest it not, while Swanhild looked at thee and mocked."
"An evil dream, truly," said Eric; "but see, thou art not dead. Thou
hast thought too much on Swanhild of late."
Now they slept once more, till presently Eric was wide awake.
"Rouse thee, Gudruda," he said, "I too have dreamed a dream, and it is
full of evil."
"What, then, was thy dream, husband?" she asked.
"I dreamed that Atli the Earl, whom I slew, stood by the bed. His face
was white, and white as snow was his beard, and blood from his great
wound ran down his byrnie. 'Eric Brighteyes,' he said, 'I am he whom
thou didst slay, and I come to tell thee this: that before the moon is
young again thou shalt lie stiff, with Hell-shoes on thy feet. Thou
art Eric the Unlucky! Take thy joy and say thy say to her who lies at
thy side, for wet and cold is the bed that waits thee and soon shall
thy white lips be dumb.' Then he was gone, and lo! in his place stood
Asmund, thy father, and he also spoke to me, saying, 'Thou who dost
lie in my bed and at my daughter's side, know this: the words of Atli
are true; but I add these to them: ye shall die, yet is death but the
gate of life and love and rest,' and he was gone."
Now Gudruda shivered with fear, and crept closer to Eric's side.
"We are surely fey, for the Norns speak with the voices of Atli and of
Asmund," she said. "Oh, Eric! Eric! whither go we when we die? Will
Valhalla take thee, being so mighty a man, and must I away to Hela's
halls, where thou art not? Oh! that would be death indeed! Say, Eric,
whither do we go?"
"What said the voice of Asmund?" answered Brighteyes. "That death is
but the gate of life and love and rest. Hearken, Gudruda, my May! Odin
does not reign over all the world, for when I sat out yonder in
England, a certain holy man taught me of another God--a God who loves
not slaughter, a God who died that men might live for ever in peace
with those they love."
"How is this God named, Eric?"
"They name Him the White Christ, and there are many who cling to Him."
"Would that I knew this Christ, Eric. I am weary of death and blood
and evil deeds, such as are pleasing to our Gods. Oh, Eric, if I am
taken from thee, swear this to me: that thou wilt slay no more, save
for thy life's sake only."
"I swear that, sweet," he made answer. "For I too am weary of death
and blood, and desire peace most of all things. The world is sad, and
sad have been our days. Yet it is well to have lived, for through many
heavy days we have wandered to this happy night."
"Yea, Eric, it is well to have lived; though I think that death draws
on. Now this is my counsel: that we rise, and that thou dost put on
thy harness and summon Skallagrim, so that, if evil comes, thou mayst
meet it armed. Surely I thought I heard a sound--yonder in the hall!"
"There is little use in that," said Eric, "for things will befall as
they are fated. We may do nothing of our own will, I am sure of this,
and it is no good to struggle with the Norns. Yet I will rise."
So he kissed her, and made ready to leave the bed, when suddenly, as
he lingered, a great heaviness seized him.
"Gudruda," he said, "I am pressed down with sleep."
"That I am also, Eric," she said. "My eyes shut of themselves and I
can scarcely stir my limbs. Ah, Eric, we are fey indeed, and this is--
death that comes!"
"Perchance!" he said, speaking heavily.
"Eric!--wake, Eric! Thou canst not move? Yet hearken to me--ah! this
weight of sleep! Thou lovest me, Eric!--is it not so?"
"Yea," he answered.
"Now and for ever thou lovest me--and wilt cleave to me always
wherever we go?"
"Surely, sweet. Oh, sweet, farewell!" he said, and his voice sounded
like the voice of one who speaks across the water.
"Farewell, Eric Brighteyes!--my love--my love, farewell!" she answered
very slowly, and together they sank into a sleep that was heavy as
Now Gizur, Ospakar's son, and Swanhild, Atli's widow, rode fast and
hard from Mosfell, giving no rest to their horses, and with them rode
that thrall who had showed the secret path to Gizur. They stayed a
while on Horse-Head Heights till the moon rose. Now one path led hence
to the shore that is against the Westmans, where Gudruda's ship lay
bound. Then Swanhild turned to the thrall. Her beautiful face was
fierce and she had said few words all this while, but in her heart
raged a fire of hate and jealousy which shone through her blue eyes.
"Listen," she said to the thrall. "Thou shalt ride hence to the bay
where the ship of Gudruda the Fair lies at anchor. Thou knowest where
our folk are in hiding. Thou shalt speak thus to them. Before it is
dawn they must take boats and board Gudruda's ship and search her.
And, if they find Eric, the outlaw, aboard, they shall slay him, if
"That will be no easy task," said the thrall.
"And if they find Gudruda they shall keep her prisoner. But if they
find neither the one nor the other, they shall do this: they shall
drive the crew ashore, killing as few as may be, and burn the ship."
"It is an ill deed thus to burn another's ship," said Gizur.
"Good or ill, it shall be done," answered Swanhild fiercely. "Thou art
a lawman, and well canst thou meet the suit; moreover Gudruda has
wedded an outlaw and shall suffer for her sin. Now go, and see thou
tarry not, or thy back shall pay the price."
The man rode away swiftly. Then Gizur turned to Swanhild, asking:
"Whither, then, go we?"
"I have said to Middalhof."
"That is into the wolf's den, if Eric and Skallagrim are there," he
answered: "I have little chance against the two of them."
"Nay, nor against the one, Gizur. Why, if Eric's right hand were hewn
from him, and he stood unarmed, he would still slay thee with his
left, as, swordless, he slew Ospakar thy father. Yet I shall find a
way to come at him, if he is there."
Then they rode on, and Gizur's heart was heavy for fear of Eric and
Skallagrim the Baresark. So fiercely did they ride that, within one
hour after midnight, they were at the stead of Middalhof.
"We will leave the horses here in the field," said Swanhild.
So they leaped to earth and, tying the reins of the horses together,
left them to feed on the growing grass. Then they crept into the yard
and listened. Presently there came a sound of horses stamping in the
far corner of the yard. They went thither, and there they found a
horse and two geldings saddled, but with the bits slipped, and on the
horse was such a saddle as women use.
"Eric Brighteyes, Skallagrim Lambstail, and Gudruda the Fair,"
whispered Swanhild, naming the horses and laughing evilly--"the birds
are within! Now to snare them."
"Were it not best to meet them by the ship?" asked Gizur.
"Nay, thou fool; if once Eric and Skallagrim are back to back, and
Whitefire is aloft, how many shall be dead before they are down,
thinkest thou? We shall not find them sleeping twice."
"It is shameful to slay sleeping men," said Gizur.
"They are outlaws," she answered. "Hearken, Ospakar's son. Thou sayest
thou dost love me and wouldst wed me: know this, that if thou dost
fail me now, I will never look upon thy face again, but will name thee
Niddering in all men's ears."
Now Gizur loved Swanhild much, for she had thrown her glamour on him
as once she did on Atli, and he thought of her day and night. For
there was this strange thing about Swanhild that, though she was a
witch and wicked, being both fair and gentle she could lead all men,
except Eric, to love her.
But of men she loved Eric alone.
Then Gizur held his peace; but Swanhild spoke again:
"It will be of no use to try the doors, for they are strong. Yet when
I was a child before now I have passed in and out the house at night
by the store-room casement. Follow me, Gizur." Then she crept along
the shadow of the wall, for she knew it every stone, till she came to
the store-room, and lo! the shutter stood open, and through it the
moonlight poured into the chamber. Swanhild lifted her head above the
sill and looked, then started back.
"Hush!" she said, "Skallagrim lies asleep within."
"Pray the Gods he wake not!" said Gizur beneath his breath, and turned
to go. But Swanhild caught him by the arm; then gently raised her head
and looked again, long and steadily. Presently she turned and laughed
"Things go well for us," she said; "the sot lies drunk. We have
nothing to fear from him. He lies drunk in a pool of ale."
Then Gizur looked. The moonlight poured into the little room, and by
it he saw the great shape of Skallagrim. His head was thrown back, his
mouth was wide. He snored loudly in his drunken sleep, and all about
him ran the brown ale, for the spigot of the cask lay upon the floor.
In his left hand was a horn cup, but in his right he still grasped his
"Now we must enter," said Swanhild. Gizur hung back, but she sprang
upon the sill lightly as a fox, and slid thence into the store-room.
Then Gizur must follow, and presently he stood beside her in the room,
and at their feet lay drunken Skallagrim. Gizur looked first at his
sword, then on the Baresark, and lastly at Swanhild.
"Nay," she whispered, "touch him not. Perchance he would cry out--and
we seek higher game. He has that within him which will hold him fast
for a while. Follow where I shall lead."
She took his hand and, gliding through the doorway, passed along the
passage till she came to the great hall. Swanhild could see well in
the dark, and moreover she knew the road. Presently they stood in the
empty hall. The fire had burnt down, but two embers yet glowed upon
the hearth, like red and angry eyes.
For a while Swanhild stood still listening, but there was nothing to
hear. Then she drew near to the shut bed where Gudruda slept, and,
with her ear to the curtain, listened once more. Gizur came with her,
and as he came his foot struck against a bench and stirred it. Now
Swanhild heard murmured words and the sound of kisses. She started
back, and fury filled her heart. Gizur also heard the voice of Eric,
saying: "I will rise." Then he would have fled, but Swanhild caught
him by the arm.
"Fear not," she whispered, "they shall soon sleep sound."
He felt her stretch out her arms and presently he saw this wonderful
thing: the eyes of Swanhild glowing in the darkness as the embers
glowed upon the hearth. Now they glowed brightly, so brightly that he
could see the outstretched arms and the hard white face beneath them,
and now they grew dim, of a sudden to shine bright again. And all the
while she hissed words through her clenched teeth.
Thus she hissed, fierce and low:
"Gudruda, Sister mine, hearken and sleep!
By the bond of blood I bid thee sleep!--
By the strength that is in me I bid thee sleep!--
Sleep! sleep sound!
"Eric Brighteyes, hearken and sleep!
By the bond of sin I charge thee sleep!--
By the blood of Atli I charge thee, sleep!--
Sleep! sleep sound!"
Then thrice she tossed her hands aloft, saying:
"From love to sleep!
From sleep to death!
From death to Hela!
Say, lovers, where shall ye kiss again?"
Then the light went out of her eyes and she laughed low. And ever as
she whispered, the spoken words of the two in the shut bed grew
fainter and more faint, till at length they died away, and a silence
fell upon the place.
"Thou hast no cause to fear the sword of Eric, Gizur," she said.
"Nothing will wake him now till daylight comes."
"Thou art awesome!" answered Gizur, for he shook with fear. "Look not
on me with those flaming eyes, I pray thee!"
"Fear not," she said, "the fire is out. Now to the work."
"What must we do, then?"
"/Thou/ must do this. Thou must enter and slay Eric."
"That I can not--that I will not!" said Gizur.
She turned and looked at him, and lo! her eyes began to flame again--
upon his eyes they seemed to burn.
"Thou wilt do as I bid thee," she said. "With Eric's sword thou shalt
slay Eric, else I will curse thee where thou art, and bring such evil
on thee as thou knowest not of."
"Look not so, Swanhild," he said. "Lead on--I come."
Now they creep into the shut chamber of Gudruda. It is so dark that
they can see nothing, and nothing can they hear except the heavy
breathing of the sleepers.
This is to be told, that at this time Swanhild had it in her mind to
kill, not Eric but Gudruda, for thus she would smite the heart of
Brighteyes. Moreover, she loved Eric, and while he lived she might yet
win him; but Eric dead must be Eric lost. But on Gudruda she would be
bitterly avenged--Gudruda, who, for all her scheming, had yet been a
wife to Eric!
Now they stand by the bed. Swanhild puts out her hand, draws down the
clothes, and feels the breast of Gudruda beneath, for Gudruda slept on
the outside of the bed.
Then she searches by the head of the bed and finds Whitefire which
hung there, and draws the sword.
"Here lies Eric, on the outside," she says to Gizur, "and here is
Whitefire. Strike and strike home, leaving Whitefire in the wound."
Gizur takes the sword and lifts it. He is sore at heart that he must
do such a coward deed; but the spell of Swanhild is upon him, and he
may not flinch from it. Then a thought takes him and he also puts down
his hand to feel. It lights upon Gudruda's golden hair, that hangs
about her breast and falls from the bed to the ground.
"Here is woman's hair," he whispers.
"No," Swanhild answers, "it is Eric's hair. The hair of Eric is long,
as thou hast seen."
Now neither of them knows that Gudruda cut Eric's locks when he lay
sick on Mosfell, though Swanhild knows well that it is not Brighteyes
whom she bids Gizur slay.
Then Gizur, Ospakar's son, lifts the sword, and the faint starlight
struggling into the chamber gathers and gleams upon the blade. Thrice
he lifts it, and thrice it draws it back. Then with an oath he strikes
--and drives it home with all his strength!
From the bed beneath there comes one long sigh and a sound as of limbs
trembling against the bed-gear. Then all is still.
"It is done!" he says faintly.
Swanhild puts down her hand once more. Lo! it is wet and warm. Then
she bends herself and looks, and behold! the dead eyes of Gudruda
glare up into her eyes. She can see them plainly, but none know what
she read there. At the least it was something that she loved not, for
she reels back against the panelling, then falls upon the floor.
Presently, while Gizur stands as one in a dream, she rises, saying: "I
am avenged of the death of Atli. Let us hence!--ah! let us hence
swiftly! Give me thy hand, Gizur, for I am faint!"
So Gizur gives her his hand and they pass thence. Presently they stand
in the store-room, and there lies Skallagrim, still plunged in his
"Must I do more murder?" asks Gizur hoarsely.
"Nay," Swanhild says. "I am sick with blood. Leave the knave."
They pass out by the casement into the yard and so on till they find
"Lift me, Gizur; I can no more," says Swanhild.
He lifts her to the saddle.
"Whither away?" he asks.
"To Coldback, Gizur, and thence to cold Death."
Thus did Gudruda, Eric's bride and Asmund's daughter, the fairest
woman who ever lived in Iceland, die on her marriage night by the hand
of Gizur, Ospakar's son, and through the hate and witchcraft of
Swanhild the Fatherless, her half-sister.
HOW THE DAWN CAME
The dawn broke over Middalhof. Slowly the light gathered in the empty
hall, it crept slowly into the little chamber where Eric slept, and
Gudruda slept also with a deeper sleep.
Now the two women came from their chamber at the far end of the hall,
and drew near the hearth, shivering, for the air was cold. They knelt
by the fire, blowing at the embers till the sticks they cast upon them
crackled to a blaze.
"It seems that Gudruda is not yet gone," said one to the other. "I
thought she should ride away with Eric before the dawn."
"Newly wed lie long abed!" laughed the other.
"I am glad to see the blessed light," said the first woman, "for last
night I dreamed that once again this hall ran red with blood, as at
the marriage-feast of Ospakar."
"Ah," answered the other, "it will be well for the south when Eric
Brighteyes and Gudruda are gone over sea, for their loves have brought
much bloodshed upon the land."
"Well, indeed!" sighed the first. "Had Asmund the Priest never found
Groa, Ran's gift, singing by the sea, Valhalla had not been so full
to-day. Mindest thou the day he brought her here?"
"I remember it well," she answered, "though I was but a girl at the
time. Still, when I saw those dark eyes of hers--just such eyes as
Swanhild's!--I knew her for a witch, as all Finn women are. It is an
evil world: my husband is dead by the sword; dead are both my sons,
fighting for Eric; dead is Unna, Thorod's daughter; Asmund, my lord,
is dead, and dead is Björn; and now Gudruda the Fair, whom I have
rocked to sleep, leaves us to go over sea. I may not go with her, for
my daughter's sake; yet I almost wish that I too were dead."
"That will come soon enough," said the other, who was young and fair.
Now the witch-sleep began to roll from Eric's heart, though his eyes
were not yet open. But the talk of the women echoed in his ears, and
the words "/dead!/" "/dead!/" "/dead!/" fell heavily on his slumbering
sense. At length he opened his eyes, only to shut them again, because
of a bright gleam of light that ran up and down something at his side.
Heavily he wondered what this might be, that shone so keen and bright
--that shone like a naked sword.
Now he looked again. Yes, it was a sword which stood by him upon the
bed, and the golden hilt was like the hilt of Whitefire. He lifted up
his hand to touch it, thinking that he dreamed. Lo! his hand and arm
Then he remembered, and the thought of Gudruda flashed through his
heart. He sat up, gazing down into the shadow at his side.
Presently the women at the fire heard a sound as of a great man
falling to earth.
"What is that noise?" said one.
"Eric leaping from his bed," answered the other. "He has slept too
long, as we have also."
As they spoke the curtain of the shut bed was pushed away, and through
it staggered Eric in his night-gear, and lo! the left side of it was
red. His eyes were wide with horror, his mouth was open, and his face
was white as ice.
He stopped, looking at them, made as though to speak, and could not.
Then, while they shrank from him in terror, he turned, and, walking
like a drunken man, staggered from the hall down that passage which
led to the store-chamber. The door stood wide, the shutter was wide,
and on the floor, soaked in the dregs of ale, Skallagrim yet lay
snoring, his axe in one hand and a cup in the other.
Eric looked and understood.
"Awake, drunkard!" he cried, in so terrible a voice that the room
shook. "Awake, and look upon thy work!"
Skallagrim sat up, yawning.
"Forsooth, my head swims," he said. "Give me ale, I am thirsty."
"Never wilt thou look on ale again, Skallagrim, when thou hast seen
that which I have to show!" said Eric, in the same dread voice.
Then Skallagrim rose to his feet and gaped upon him.
"What means this, lord? Is it time to ride? and say! why is thy shirt
red with blood?"
"Follow me, drunkard, and look upon thy work!" Eric said again.
Then Skallagrim grew altogether sober, and grasping his axe, followed
after Brighteyes, sore afraid of what he might see.
They went down the passage, past the high seat of the hall, till they
came to the curtain of the shut bed; and after them followed the
women. Eric seized the curtain in his hand, rent it from its
fastenings, and cast it on the ground. Now the light flowed in and
struck upon the bed. It fell upon the bed, it fell upon Whitefire's
hilt and ran along the blade, it gleamed on a woman's snowy breast and
golden hair, and shone in her staring eyes--a woman who lay stiff and
cold upon the bed, the great sword fixed within her heart!
"Look upon thy work, drunkard!" Eric cried again, while the women who
peeped behind sent their long wail of woe echoing down the panelled
"Hearken!" said Eric: "while thou didst lie wallowing in thy swine's
sleep, foes crept across thy carcase, and this is their handiwork:--
yonder she lies who was my bride!--now is Gudruda the Fair a death-
wife who last night was my bride! This is thy work, drunkard! and now
what meed for thee?"
Skallagrim looked. Then he spoke in a hoarse slow voice:
"What meed, lord? But one--death!"
Then with one hand he covered his eyes and with the other held out his
axe to Eric Brighteyes.
Eric took the axe, and while the women ran thence screaming, he
whirled it thrice about his head. Then he smote down towards the skull
of Skallagrim, but as he smote it seemed to him that a voice whispered
in his ear: "/Thy oath!/"--and he remembered that he had sworn to slay
no more, save for his own life's sake.
The mighty blow was falling and he might only do this--loose the axe
before it clove Skallagrim in twain. He loosed and away the great axe
flew. It passed over the head of Skallagrim, and sped like light
across the wide hall, till it crashed through the panelling on the
further side, and buried itself to the haft in the wall beyond.
"It is not for me to kill thee, drunkard! Go, die in thy drink!"
"Then I will kill myself!" cried the Baresark, and, rushing across the
hall he tore the great axe from its bed.
"Hold!" said Eric; "perhaps there is yet a deed for thee to do. Then
thou mayest die, if it pleases thee."
"Ay," said Skallagrim coming back, "perchance there is still a deed to
And, flinging down the axe, Skallagrim Lambstail the Baresark fell
upon the floor and wept.
But Eric did not weep. Only he drew Whitefire from the heart of
Gudruda and looked at it.
"Thou art a strange sword, Whitefire," he said, "who slayest both
friend and foe! Shame on thee, Whitefire! We swore our oath on thee,
Whitefire, and thou hast cut its chain! Now I am minded to shatter
thee." And as Eric looked on the great blade, lo! it hummed strangely
"'First must thou be the death of some,' thou sayest? Well, maybe,
Whitefire! But never yet didst thou drink so sweet a life as hers who
now lies dead, nor ever shalt again."
Then he sheathed the sword, but neither then nor afterwards did he
wipe the blood of Gudruda from its blade.
"Last night a-marrying--to-day a-burying," said Eric, and he called to
the women to bring spades. Then, having clothed himself, he went to
the centre of the hall, and, brushing away the sand, broke the hard
clay-flooring, dealing great blows on it with an axe. Now Skallagrim,
seeing his purpose, came to him and took one of the spades, and
together they laboured in silence till they had dug a grave a fathom
"Here," said Eric, "here, in thine own hall where thou wast born and
lived, Gudruda the Fair, thou shalt sleep at the last. And of
Middalhof I say this: that none shall live there henceforth. It shall
be haunted and accursed till the rafters rot and the walls fall in,
making thy barrow, Gudruda."
Now this indeed came to pass, for none have lived in Middalhof since
the days of Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter. It has been ruined
these many years, and now it is but a pile of stones.
When the grave was dug, Eric washed himself and ate some food. Then he
went in to where Gudruda lay dead, and bade the women make her ready
for burial. This they did. When she was washed and clad in a clean
white robe, Eric came to her, and with his own hand bound the Hell-
shoes on her feet and closed her eyes.
It was just then that a man came who said that the people of Gizur and
of Swanhild had burned Gudruda's ship, driving the crew ashore.
"It is well," said Eric. "We need the ship no more; now hath she whom
it should bear wings with which to fly." Then he went in and sat down
on the bed by the body of Gudruda, while Skallagrim crouched on the
ground without, tearing at his beard and muttering. For the fierce
heart of Skallagrim was broken because of that evil which his
drunkenness had brought about.
All day Eric sat thus, looking on his dead love's face, till the hour
came round when he and Gudruda had drunk the bride-cup. Then he rose
and kissed dead Gudruda on the lips, saying:
"I did not look to part with thee thus, sweet! It is sad that thou
shouldst have gone and left me here. Natheless, I shall soon follow on
Then he called aloud:
"Art sober, drunkard?"
Skallagrim came and stood before him, saying nothing.
"Take thou the feet of her whom thou didst bring to death, and I will
take her head."
So they lifted up Gudruda and bore her to the grave. Then Eric stood
near the grave, and, taking dead Gudruda in his arms, looked upon her
face by the light of the fire and of the candles that were set about.
He looked thrice, then sang aloud:
"Long ago, when swept the snow-blast,
Close we clung and plighted troth.
Many a year, through storm and sword-song,
Sore I strove to win thee, sweet!
But last night I held thee, Fairest,
Lock'd, a wife, in lover's arms.
Now, Gudruda, in thy death-rest,
Sleep thou soft till Eric come!
"Hence I go to wreak thy murder.
Hissing fire of flaming stead,
Groan of spear-carles, wail of women,
Soon shall startle through the night.
Then on Mosfell, Kirtle-Wearer,
Eric waits the face of Death.
Freed from weary life and sorrow,
Soon we'll kiss in Hela's halls!"
Then he laid her in the grave, and, having shrouded a sheet over her,
they filled it in together, hiding Gudruda the Fair from the sight of
men for ever.
Afterwards Eric armed himself, and this Skallagrim did also. Then he
strode from the hall, and Skallagrim followed him. In the yard those
horses were still tied that should have carried them to the ship, and
on one was the saddle of Gudruda. She had ridden on this horse for
many years, and loved it much, for it would follow her like a dog.
Eric looked at him, then said aloud:
"Gudruda may need thee where she is, Blackmane," for so the horse was
named. "At the least, none shall ride thee more!" And he snatched the
axe from the hand of Skallagrim and slew the horse at a blow.
Then they rode away, heading for Coldback. The night was wild and
windy, and the sky dark with scudding clouds, through which the moon
peeped out at times. Eric looked up, then spoke to Skallagrim:
"A good night for burning, drunkard!"
"Ay, lord; the flames will fly briskly," answered Skallagrim.
"How many, thinkest thou, walked over thee, drunkard, when thou didst
lie yonder in the ale?"
"I know not," groaned Skallagrim; "but I found this in the soft earth
without: the print of a man's and a woman's feet; and this on the hill
side: the track of two horses ridden hard."
"Gizur and Swanhild, drunkard," said Eric. "Swanhild cast us into deep
sleep by witchcraft, and Gizur dealt the blow. Better for him that he
had never been born than that he has lived to deal that coward's
Then they rode on, and when midnight was a little while gone they came
to the stead at Coldback. Now this house was roofed with turves, and
the windows were barred so that none could pass through them. Also in
the yard were faggots of birch and a stack of hay.
Eric and Skallagrim tied their horses in a dell that is to the north
of the stead and crept up to the house. All was still; but a fire
burnt in the hall, and, looking through a crack, Eric could see many
men sleeping about it. Then he made signs to Skallagrim and together,
very silently, they fetched hay and faggots, piling them against the
north door of the house, for the wind blew from the north. Now Eric
spoke to Skallagrim, bidding him stand, axe in hand, by the south
door, and slay those who came out when the reek began to smart them:
but he went himself to fire the pile.
When Brighteyes had made all things ready for the burning, it came
into his mind that, perhaps, Gizur and Swanhild were not in the house.
But he would not hold his hand for this, for he was mad with grief and
rage. So once more he prepared for the deed, when again he heard a
voice in his ear--the voice of Gudruda, and it seemed to say:
"/Thine oath, Eric! remember thine oath!/"
Then he turned and the rage went out of his heart.
"Let them seek me on Mosfell," he said, "I will not slay them secretly
and by reek, the innocent and the guilty together." And he strode
round the house to where Skallagrim stood at the south door, axe aloft
"Does the fire burn, lord? I see no smoke," whispered Skallagrim.
"Nay, I have made none. I will shed no more blood, except to save my
life. I leave vengeance to the Norns."
Now Skallagrim thought that Brighteyes was mad, but he dared say
nothing. So they went to their horses, and when they found them, Eric
rode back to the house. Presently they drew near, and Eric told
Skallagrim to stay where he was, and riding on to the house, smote
heavy blows upon the door, just as Skallagrim once had smitten, before
Eric went up to Mosfell.
Now Swanhild lay in her shut bed; but she could not sleep, because of
what she saw in the eyes of Gudruda. Little may she ever sleep again,
for when she shuts her eyes once more she sees that which was written
in the dead eyes of Gudruda. So, as she lay, she heard the blows upon
the door, and sprang frightened from her bed. Now there was tumult in
the hall, for every man rose to his feet in fear, searching for his
weapons. Again the loud knocks came.
"It is the ghost of Eric!" cried one, for Gizur had given out that
Eric was dead at his hand in fair fight.
"Open!" said Gizur, and they opened, and there, a little way from the
door, sat Brighteyes on a horse, great and shadowy to see, and behind
him was Skallagrim the Baresark.
"It is the ghost of Eric!" they cried again.
"I am no ghost," said Brighteyes. "I am no ghost, ye men of Swanhild.
Tell me: is Gizur, the son of Ospakar, among you?"
"Gizur is here," said a voice; "but he swore he slew thee last night."
"Then he lied," quoth Eric. "Gizur did not slay me--he murdered
Gudruda the Fair as she lay asleep at my side. See!" and he drew
Whitefire from its scabbard and held it in the rays of the moon that
now shone out between the cloud rifts. "Whitefire is red with
Gudruda's blood--Gudruda slaughtered in her sleep by Gizur's coward
Now men murmured, for this seemed to them the most shameful of all
deeds. But Gizur, hearing, shrank back aghast.
"Listen again!" said Eric. "I was minded but now to burn you all as ye
slept--ay, the firing is piled against the door. Still, I held my
hand, for I have sworn to slay no more, except to save my life. Now I
ride hence to Mosfell. Thither let Gizur come, Gizur the murderer, and
Swanhild the witch, and with them all who will. There I will give them
greeting, and wipe away the blood of Gudruda from Whitefire's blade."
"Fear not, Eric," cried Swanhild, "I will come, and there thou mayst
kill me, if thou canst."
"Against thee, Swanhild," said Eric, "I lift no hand. Do thy worst, I
leave thee to thy fate and the vengeance of the Norns. I am no woman-
slayer. But to Gizur the murderer I say, come."
Then he turned and went, and Skallagrim went with him.
"Up, men, and cut Eric down!" cried Gizur, seeking to cover his shame.
But no man stirred.
HOW ERIC SENT AWAY HIS MEN FROM MOSFELL
Now Eric and Skallagrim came to Mosfell in safety, and during all that
ride Brighteyes spoke no word. He rode in silence, and in silence
Skallagrim rode after him. The heart of Skallagrim was broken because
of the sorrow which his drunkenness had brought about, and the heart
of Eric was buried in Gudruda's grave.
On Mosfell Eric found four of his own men, two of whom had been among
those that the people of Gizur and Swanhild had driven from Gudruda's
ship before they fired her. For no fight had been made on the ship.
There also he found Jon, who had been loosed from his bands in the
booth by one who heard his cries as he rode past. Now when Jon saw
Brighteyes, he told him all, and fell at Eric's feet and wept because
he had betrayed him in his fear.
But Eric spoke no angry word to him. Stooping down he raised him,
saying, "Thou wast never overstout of heart, Jon, and thou art
scarcely to be blamed because thou didst speak rather than die in
torment, though perhaps some had chosen so to die and not to speak.
Now I am a luckless man, and all things happen as they are fated, and
the words of Atli come true, as was to be looked for. The Norns,
against whom none may stand, did but work their will through thy
mouth, Jon; so grieve no more for that which cannot be undone."
Then he turned away, but Jon wept long and loudly.
That night Eric slept well and dreamed no dreams. But on the morrow he
woke at dawn, and clothed himself and ate. Then he called his men
together, and with them Skallagrim. They came and stood before him,
and Eric, drawing Whitefire, leaned upon it and spoke:
"Hearken, mates," he said: "I know this, that my hours are short and
death draws on. My years have been few and evil, and I cannot read the
purpose of my life. She whom I loved has been slain by the witchcraft
of Swanhild and the coward hand of Gizur the murderer, and I go to
seek her where she waits. I am very glad to go, for now I have no more
joy in life, being but a luckless man; it is an ill world, friends,
and all the ways are red with blood. I have shed much blood, though
but one life haunts me now at the last, and that is the life of Atli
the Earl, for he was no match for my might and he is dead because of
my sin. With my own blood I will wash away the blood of Atli, and then
I seek another place, leaving nothing but a tale to be told in the
ingle when fall the winter snows. For to this end we all come at the
last, and it matters little if it find us at midday or at nightfall.
We live in sorrow, we die in pain and darkness: for this is the curse
that the Gods have laid upon men and each must taste it in his season.
But I have sworn that no more men shall die for me. I will fight the
last great fight alone; for I know this: I shall not easily be
overcome, and with my fallen foes I will tread on Bifrost Bridge.
Therefore, farewell! When the bones of Eric Brighteyes lie in their
barrow, or are picked by ravens on the mountain side, Gizur will not
trouble to hunt out those who clung to him, if indeed Gizur shall live
to tell the tale. Nor need ye fear the hate of Swanhild, for she aims
her spears at me alone. Go, therefore, and when I am dead, do not
forget me, and do not seek to avenge me, for Death the avenger of all
will find them also."
Now Eric's men heard and groaned aloud, saying that they would die
with him, for they loved Eric one and all. Only Skallagrim said
Then Brighteyes spoke again: "Hear me, comrades. If ye will not go, my
blood will be on your heads, for I will ride out alone, and meet the
men of Gizur in the plain and fall there fighting."
Then one by one they crept away to seek their horses in the dell. And
each man as he went came to Eric and kissed his hand, then passed
thence weeping. Jon was the last to go, except Skallagrim only, and he
was so moved that he could not speak at all.
It was this Jon who, in after years, when he was grown very old,
wandered from stead to stead telling the deeds of Eric Brighteyes, and
always finding a welcome because of his tale, till at length, as he
journeyed, he was overtaken by a snowstorm and buried in a drift. For
Jon, who lacked much, had this gift: he had a skald's tongue. Men have
always held that it was to the honour of Jon that he told the tale
thus, hiding nothing, seeing that some of it is against himself.
Now when all had gone, Eric looked at Skallagrim, who still stood near
him, axe in hand.
"Wherefore goest thou not, drunkard?" he said. "Surely thou wilt find
ale and mead in the vales or oversea. Here there is none. Hasten! I
would be alone!"
Now the great body of Skallagrim shook with grief and shame, and the
red blood poured up beneath his dark sin. Then he spoke in a thick
"I did not think to live to hear such words from the lips of Eric
Brighteyes. They are well earned, yet it is unmanly of thee, lord,
thus to taunt one who loves thee. I would sooner die as Swanhild said
yonder thrall should die than live to listen to such words. I have
sinned against thee, indeed, and because of my sin my heart is broken.
Hast thou, then, never sinned that thou wouldst tear it living from my
breast as eagles tear a foundered horse? Think on thine own sins,
Eric, and pity mine! Taunt me thus once more or bid me go once more
and I will go indeed! I will go thus--on the edge of yonder gulf thou
didst overcome me by thy naked might, and there I swore fealty to
thee, Eric Brighteyes. Many a year have we wandered side by side, and,
standing back to back, have struck many a blow. I am minded to do
this: to stand by thee in the last great fight that draws on and to
die there with thee. I have loved no other man save thee, and I am too
old to seek new lords. Yet, if still thou biddest me, I will go thus.
Where I swore my oath to thee, there I will end it. For I will lay me
down on the brink of yonder gulf, as once I lay when thy hand was at
my throat, and call out that thou art no more my lord and I am no more
thy thrall. Then I will roll into the depths beneath, and by this
death of shame thou shalt be freed of me, Eric Brighteyes."
Eric looked at the great man--he looked long and sadly. Then he spoke:
"Skallagrim Lambstail, thou hast a true heart. I too have sinned, and
now I put away thy sin, although Gudruda is dead through thee and I
must die because of thee. Stay by me if thou wilt and let us fall
Then Skallagrim came to Eric, and, kneeling before him, took his hands
and kissed them.
"Now I am once more a man," he said, "and I know this: we two shall
die such a great death that it will be well to have lived to die it!"
and he arose and shouted:
"A! hai! A! hai! I see foes pass in pride!
A! hai! A! hai! Valkyries ride the wind!
Hear the song of the sword!
Whitefire is aloft--aloft!
Bare is the axe of the Baresark!
Croak, ye nesting ravens;
Flap your wings, ye eagles,
For bright is Mosfell's cave with blood!
Lap! lap! thou Grey Wolf,
Laugh aloud, Odin!
"Laugh till shake the golden doors;
Heroes' feet are set on Bifrost,
Open, ye hundred gates!
A! hai! A! hai! red runs the fray!
A! hai! A! hai! Valkyries ride the wind!"
Then Skallagrim turned and went to clean his harness and the golden
helm of Eric.
Now at Coldback Gizur spoke with Swanhild.
"Thou hast brought the greatest shame upon me," he said, "for thou
hast caused me to slay a sleeping woman. Knowest thou that my own men
will scarcely speak with me? I have come to this evil pass, through
love of thee, that I have slain a sleeping woman!"
"It was not my fault that thou didst kill Gudruda," answered Swanhild;
"surely I thought it was Eric whom thy sword pierced! I have not
sought thy love, Gizur, and I say this to thee: go, if thou wilt, and
leave me alone!"
Now Gizur looked at her, and was minded to go; but, as Swanhild knew
well, she held him too fast in the net of her witcheries.
"I would go, if I might go!" answered Gizur; "but I am bound to thee
for good or evil, since it is fated that I shall wed thee."
"Thou wilt never wed me while Eric lives," said Swanhild.
Now she spoke thus truthfully, and by chance, as it were, not as
driving Gizur on to slay Eric--for, now that Gudruda was dead, she was
in two minds as to this matter, since, if she might, she still desired
to take Eric to herself--but meaning that while Eric lived she would
wed no other man. But Gizur took it otherwise.
"Eric shall certainly die if I may bring it about," he answered, and
went to speak with his men.
Now all were gathered in the yard at Coldback, and that was a great
company. But their looks were heavy because of the shame that Gizur,
Ospakar's son, had brought upon them by the murder of Gudruda in her
"Hearken, comrades!" said Gizur: "great shame is come upon me because
of a deed that I have done unwittingly, for I aimed at the eagle Eric
and I have slain the swan Gudruda."
Then a certain old viking in the company, named Ketel, whom Gizur had
hired for the slaying of Eric, spoke:
"Man or woman, it is a niddering deed to kill folk in their sleep,
Gizur! It is murder, and no less, and small luck can be hoped for from
Now Gizur felt that his people looked on him askance and heavily, and
knew that it would be hard to show them that he was driven to this
deed against his will, and by the witchcraft of Swanhild. So, as was
his nature, he turned to guile for shelter, like a fox to his hole,
and spoke to them with the tongue of a lawman; for Gizur had great
skill in speech.
"That tale was not all true which Eric Brighteyes told you," he said.
"He was mad with grief, and moreover it seems that he slept, and only
woke to find Gudruda dead. It came about thus: I stood with the lady
Swanhild, and was about to call aloud on Eric to arm himself and come
forth and meet me face to face----"
"Then, lord, methinks thou hadst never met another foe," quoth the
viking Ketel who had spoken first.
"When of a sudden," went on Gizur, taking no note of Ketel's words,
"one clothed in white sprang from the bed and rushed on me. Then I,
thinking that it was Eric, lifted sword, not to smite, but to ward him
away; but the linen-wearer met the sword and fell down dead. Then I
fled, fearing lest men should wake and trap us, and that is all the
tale. It was no fault of mine if Gudruda died upon the sword."
Thus he spoke, but still men looked doubtfully upon him, for his eye
was the eye of a liar--and Eric, as they knew, did not lie.
"It is hard to find the truth between lawman's brain and tongue," said
the old viking Ketel. "Eric is no lawman, but a true man, and he sang
another song. I would slay Eric indeed, for between him and me there
is a blood-feud, since my brother died at his hand when, with
Whitefire for a crook, Brighteyes drove armed men like sheep down the
hall of Middalhof--ay and swordless, slew Ospakar. Yet I say that Eric
is a true man, and, whether or no thou art true, Gizur the Lawman,
that thou knowest best--thou and Swanhild the Fatherless, Groa's
daughter. If thou didst slay Gudruda as thou tellest, say, how come
Gudruda's blood on Whitefire's blade? How did it chance, Gizur, that
thou heldest Whitefire in thy hand and not thine own sword? Now I tell
thee this: either thou shalt go up against Eric and clear thyself by
blows, or I leave thee; and methinks there are others among this
company who will do the same, for we have no wish to be partners with
murderers and their wickedness"
"Ay, a good word!" said many who stood by. "Let Gizur go up with us to
Mosfell, and there stand face to face with Eric and clear himself by
"I ask no more," said Gizur; "we will ride to-night."
"But much more shalt thou get, liar," quoth Ketel to himself, "for
that hour when thou lookest once again on Whitefire shall be thy
So Gizur and Swanhild made ready to go up against Eric. That day they
rode away with a great company, a hundred and one in all, and this was
their plan. They sent six men with that thrall who had shown them the
secret path, bidding him guide them to the mountain-top. Then, when
they were come thither, and heard the shouts of those who sought to
gain the platform from the south, they were to watch till Eric and his
folk came out from the cave, and shoot them with arrows from above or
crush them with stones. But if perchance Eric left the platform and
came to meet his foes in the narrow pass, then they must let
themselves down with ropes from the height above, and, creeping after
him round the rock, must smite him in the back. Moreover, in secret,
Gizur promised a great reward of ten hundreds in silver to him who
should kill Eric, for he did not long to stand face to face with him
alone. Swanhild also in secret made promise of reward to those who
should bring Eric to her, bound, but living; and she bade them do this
--to bear him down with shields and tie him with ropes.
So they rode away, the seven who should climb the mountain from behind
going first, and on the morrow morning they crossed the sand and came
HOW ERIC AND SKALLAGRIM GREW FEY
Now the night came down upon Mosfell, and of all nights this was the
strangest. The air was quiet and heavy, yet no rain fell. It was so
silent, moreover, that, did a stone slip upon the mountain side or a
horse neigh far off on the plains, the sound of it crept up the fell
and was echoed from the crags.
Eric and Skallagrim sat together on the open space of rock that is
before the cave, and great heaviness and fear came into their hearts,
so that they had no desire to sleep.
"Methinks the night is ghost-ridden," said Eric, "and I am fey, for I
grow cold, and it seems to me that one strokes my hair."
"It is ghost-ridden, lord," answered Skallagrim. "Trolls are abroad,
and the God-kind gather to see Eric die."
For a while they sat in silence, then suddenly the mountain heaved up
gently beneath them. Thrice it seemed to heave like a woman's breast,
and left them frightened.
"Now the dwarf-folk come from their caves," quoth Skallagrim, "and
great deeds may be looked for, since they are not drawn to the upper
earth by a little thing."
Then once more they sat silent; and thick darkness came down upon the
mountain, hiding the stars.
"Look," said Eric of a sudden, and he pointed to Hecla.
Skallagrim looked, and lo! the snowy dome of Hecla was aglow with a
rosy flame like the light of dawn.
"Winter lights," said Lambstail, shuddering.
"Death lights!" answered Eric. "Look again!"
They looked, and behold! in the rosy glow there sat three giant forms
of fire, and their shapes were the shapes of women. Before them was a
loom of blackness that stretched from earth to sky, and they wove at
it with threads of flame. They were splendid and terrible to see.
Their hair streamed behind them like meteor flames, their eyes shone
like lightning, and their breasts gleamed like the polished bucklers
of the gods. They wove fiercely at the loom of blackness, and as they
wove they sang. The voice of the one was as the wind whistling through
the pines; the voice of the other was as the sound of rain hissing on
deep waters; and the voice of the third was as the moan of the sea.
They wove fearfully and they sang loudly, but what they sang might not
be known. Now the web grew and the woof grew, and a picture came upon
the loom--a great picture written in fire.
Behold! it was the semblance of a storm-awakened sea, and a giant ship
fled before the gale--a dragon of war, and in the ship were piled the
corses of men, and on these lay another corse, as one lies upon a bed.
They looked, and the face of the corse grew bright. It was the face of
Eric, and his head rested upon the dead heart of Skallagrim.
Clinging to each other, Eric and Skallagrim saw the sight of fear that
was written on the loom of the Norns. They saw it for a breath. Then,
with a laugh like the wail of wolves, the shapes of fire sprang up and
rent the web asunder. Then the first passed upward to the sky, the
second southward towards Middalhof, but the third swept over Mosfell,
so that the brightness of her flaming form shone on the rock where
they sat by the cave, and the lightning of her eyes was mirrored in
the byrnie of Skallagrim and on Eric's golden helm. She swept past,
pointing downwards as she went, and lo! she was gone, and once more
darkness and silence lay upon the earth.
Now this sight was seen of Jon the thrall also, and he told it in his
story of the deeds of Eric. For Jon lay hid in a secret place on
Mosfell, waiting for tidings of what came to pass.
For a while Eric and Skallagrim clung to each other. Then Skallagrim
"We have seen the Valkyries," he said.
"Nay," answered Eric, "we have seen the Norns--who are come to warn us
of our doom! We shall die to-morrow."
"At the least," said Skallagrim, "we shall not die alone: we had a
goodly bed on yonder goblin ship, and all of our own slaying methinks.
It is not so ill to die thus, lord!"
"Not so ill!" said Eric; "and yet I am weary of blood and war, of
glory and of my strength. Now I desire rest alone. Light fire--I can
bear this darkness no longer; the marrow freezes in my bones."
"Fire can be seen of foes," said Skallagrim.
"It matters little now," said Eric, "we are feyfolk."
So Skallagrim lighted the fire, piling much brushwood and dry turf
over it, till presently it burnt up brightly, throwing light on all
the space of rock, and heavy shadows against the cliff behind. They
sat thus a while in the light of the flames, looking towards the deep
gulf, till suddenly there came a sound as of one who climbed the gulf.
"Who comes now, climbing where no man may pass?" cried Eric, seizing
Whitefire and springing to his feet. Presently he sank down again with
white face and staring eyes, and pointed at the edge of the cliff. And
as he pointed, the neck of a man rose in the shadow above the brink,
and the hands of a man grasped the rock. But there was no head on the
neck. The shape of the headless man drew itself slowly over the brink,
it walked slowly into the light towards the fire, then sat itself down
in the glare of the flames, which shrank away from it as from a
draught of wind. Pale with terror, Eric and Skallagrim looked on the
headless thing and knew it. It was the wraith of the Baresark that
Brighteyes had slain--the first of all the men he slew.
"It is my mate, Eric, whom thou didst kill years ago and whose severed
head spoke with thee!" gasped Skallagrim.
"It is he, sure enough!" said Eric; "but where may his head be?"
"Perchance the head will come," answered Skallagrim. "He is an evil
sight to see, surely. Say, lord, shall I fall upon him, though I love
not the task?"
"Nay, Skallagrim, let him bide; he does but come to warn us of our
fate. Moreover, ghosts can only be laid in one way--by the hewing off
of the head and the laying of it at the thigh. But this one has no
head to hew."
Now as he spoke the headless man turned his neck as though to look.
Once more there came the sound of feet and lo! men marched in from the
darkness on either side. Eric and Skallagrim looked up and knew them.
They were those of Ospakar's folk whom they had slain on Horse-Head
Heights; all their wounds were on them and in front of them marched
Mord, Ospakar's son. The ghosts gazed upon Eric and Skallagrim with
cold dead eyes, then they too sat down by the fire. Now once more
there came the sound of feet, and from every side men poured in who
had died at the hands of Eric and Skallagrim. First came those who
fell on that ship of Ospakar's which Eric sank by Westmans; then the
crew of the Raven who had perished upon the sea-path. Even as the man
died, so did each ghost come. Some had been drowned and their harness
dripped water! Some had died of spear-thrusts and the spears were yet
fixed in their breasts! Some had fallen beneath the flash of Whitefire
and the weight of the axe of Skallagrim, and there they sat, looking
on their wide wounds!
Then came more and more. There were those whom Eric and Skallagrim had
slain upon the seas, those who had fallen before them in the English
wars, and all that company who had been drowned in the waters of the
Pentland Firth when the witchcraft of Swanhild had brought the Gudruda
to her wreck.
"Now here we have a goodly crew," said Eric at length. "Is it done,
thinkest thou, or will Mosfell send forth more dead?"
As he spoke the wraith of a grey-headed man drew near. He had but one
arm, for the other was hewn from him, and the byrnie on his left side
was red with blood.
"Welcome, Earl Atli!" cried Eric. "Sit thou over against me, who
to-morrow shall be with thee."
The ghost of the Earl seated itself and looked on Eric with sad eyes,
but it spake never a word.
Then came another company, and at their head stalked black Ospakar.
"These be they who died at Middalhof," cried Eric. "Welcome, Ospakar!
that marriage-feast of thine went ill!"
"Now methinks we are overdone with trolls," said Skallagrim; "but see!
here come more."
As he spoke, Hall of Lithdale came, and with him Koll the Half-witted,
and others. And so it went on till all the men whom Eric and
Skallagrim had slain, or who had died because of them, or at their
side, were gathered in deep ranks before them.
"Now it is surely done," said Eric.
"There is yet a space," said Skallagrim, pointing to the other side of
the fire, "and Hell holds many dead."
Even as the words left his lips there came a noise of the galloping of
horse's hoofs, and one clad in white rode up. It was a woman, for her
golden hair flowed down about her white arms. Then she slid from the
horse and stood in the light of the fire, and behold! her white robe
was red with blood, a great sword was set in her heart, and the face
and eyes were the face and eyes of Gudruda the Fair, and the horse she
rode was Blackmane, that Eric had slain.
Now when Brighteyes saw her he gave a great cry.
"Greeting, sweet!" he said. "I am no longer afraid, since thou comest
to bear me company. Thou art dear to my sight--ay even in yon death-
sheet. Greeting, sweet, my May! I laid thee stiff and cold in the
earth at Middalhof, but, like a loving wife, thou hast burst thy
bonds, and art come to save me from the grip of trolls. Thou art
welcome, Gudruda, Asmund's daughter! Come, wife, sit thou at my side."
The ghost of Gudruda spake no word. She walked through the fire
towards him, and the flames went out beneath her feet, to burn up
again when she had passed. Then she sat down over against Eric and
looked on him with wide and tender eyes. Thrice he stretched out his
arms to clasp her, but thrice their strength left them and they fell
back to his side. It was as though they struck a wall of ice and were
numbed by the bitter cold.
"Look, here are more," groaned Skallagrim.
Then Eric looked, and lo! the empty space to the left of the fire was
filled with shadowy shapes like shapes of mist. Amongst them was
Gizur, Ospakar's son, and many a man of his company. There, too, was
Swanhild, Groa's daughter, and a toad nestled in her breast. She
looked with wide eyes upon the eyes of dead Gudruda's ghost, that
seemed not to see her, and a stare of fear was set on her lovely face.
Nor was this all; for there, before that shadowy throng, stood two
great shapes clad in their harness, and one was the shape of Eric and
one the shape of Skallagrim.
Thus, being yet alive, did these two look upon their own wraiths!
Then Eric and Skallagrim cried out aloud and their brains swam and
their senses left them, so that they swooned.
When they opened their eyes and life came back to them the fire was
dead, and it was day. Nor was there any sign of that company which had
been gathered on the rock before them.
"Skallagrim," quoth Eric, "it seems that I have dreamed a strange
dream--a most strange dream of Norns and trolls!"
"Tell me thy dream, lord," said Skallagrim.
So Eric told all the vision, and the Baresark listened in silence.
"It was no dream, lord," said Skallagrim, "for I myself have seen the
same things. Now this is in my mind, that yonder sun is the last that
we shall see, for we have beheld the death-shadows. All those who were
gathered here last night wait to welcome us on Bifrost Bridge. And the
mist-shapes who sat there, amongst whom our wraiths were numbered, are
the shapes of those who shall die in the great fight to-day. For days
are fled and we are sped!"
"I would not have it otherwise," said Eric. "We have been greatly
honoured of the Gods, and of the ghost-kind that are around us and
above us. Now let us make ready to die as becomes men who have never
turned back to blow, for the end of the story should fit the
beginning, and of us there is a tale to tell."
"A good word, lord," answered Skallagrim: "I have struck few strokes
to be shamed of, and I do not fear to tread Bifrost Bridge in thy
company. Now we will wash ourselves and eat, so that our strength may
be whole in us."
So they washed themselves with water, and ate merrily, and for the
first time for many months Eric was merry. For now that the end was at
hand his heart grew light within him. And when they had put the desire
of food from them, and buckled on their harness, they looked out from
their mountain height, and saw a cloud of dust rise in the desert
plain of black sand beneath, and through it the sheen of spears.
"Here come those of whom, if there is truth in visions, some few shall
never go back again," said Eric. "Now, what counsel hast thou,
Skallagrim? Where shall we meet them? Here on the space of rock, or
yonder in the deep way of the cliff?"
"My counsel is that we meet them here," said Skallagrim, "and cut them
down one by one as they try to turn the rock. They can scarcely come
at us to slay us here so long as our arms have strength to smite."
"Yet they will come, though I know not how," answered Eric, "for I am
sure of this, that our death lies before us. Here, then, we will meet
Now the cloud of dust drew nearer, and they saw that this was a great
company which came up against them. At the foot of the fell the men
stayed and rested a while, and it was not till afternoon that they
began to climb the mountain.
"Night will be at hand before the game is played," said Skallagrim.
"See, they climb slowly, saving their strength, and yonder among them
is Swanhild in a purple cloak."
"Ay, night will be at hand, Skallagrim--a last long night! A hundred
to two--the odds are heavy; yet some shall wish them heavier. Now let
us bind on our helms."
Meanwhile Gizur and his folk crept up the paths from below. Now that
thrall who knew the secret way had gone on with six chosen men, and
already they climbed the watercourse and drew near to the flat crest
of the fell. But Eric and Skallagrim knew nothing of this. So they sat
down by the turning place that is over the gulf and waited, singing of
the taking of the Raven and of the slaying in the stead at Middalhof,
and telling tales of deeds that they had done. And the thrall and his
six men climbed on till at length they gained the crest of the fell,
and, looking over, saw Eric and Skallagrim beneath them.
"The birds are in the snare, and hark! they sing," said the thrall;
"now bring rocks and be silent."
But Gizur and his people, having learned that Eric and Skallagrim were
alone upon the mountain, pushed on.
"We have not much to fear from two men," said Gizur.
"That we shall learn presently," answered Swanhild. "I tell thee this,
that I saw strange sights last night, though I did not sleep. I may
sleep little now that Gudruda is dead, for that which I saw in her
eyes haunts me."
Then they went on, and the face of Gizur grew white with fear.
HOW ERIC AND SKALLAGRIM FOUGHT THEIR LAST GREAT FIGHT
Now the thrall and those with him on the crest of the fell heard the
murmur of the company of Gizur and Swanhild as they won the mountain
side, though they could not see them because of the rocks.
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