Poising a spear, thick shafted, strong,
In his right hand ; and ever fast
His heart beat as the floor he passed,
And o'er his shoulder gazed for fear
Once and again ; he raised the spear,
As Heimir's hand the string still pressed,
And thrust it through his noble breast.
Then turned and fled, and heard behind
A sound as of a wildered wind.
Half moan, half sigh ; then all was still.
But yet such fear his soul did fill
That he stayed not until he came
Into the hall, and cried the name
Of his wife, Grima, in high voice.
"Ah well," she said, " what needs this noise,
Can ye not see me here ? ā Well then ?"
" Wife," said he, " of the sons of men
I deem him not, rather belike
Odin it was that I did strike."
She laughed an ill laugh. "Well," she said,
" Wbat then, if only he be dead ?"
THE FOSTERING OF A SLA UG. 47
"What if he only seemed to die?"
He said, " and when night draweth nigh
Shall come again grown twice as great,
And eat where yesternight he ate ?
For certes, wife, that harp of his,
No earthly minstrelsy it is,
Since as in sleep the man was laid
Of its own self a tune it played ;
Yea, yea, and in a man's voice cried \
Belike a troll therein doth bide."
" An ugly, ill-made minstrel's tool,"
She said ; " thou blundering, faint-heart fool !
Some wind moaned through the barn belike,
And the man's hand the strings did strike."
And yet she shivered as she spake.
As though some fear her heart did take,
And neither durst to draw anigh
The bam until the sun was high.
Then in they went together, and saw
The old man lying in the straw,
Scarce otherwise than if asleep.
Though in his heart the spear lay deep,
And round about the floor was red.
Then Grima went, and from the dead
Stripped off the gold ring, while the man
Stood still apart ; then she began
To touch the harp, but in no wise
48 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Might open it to reach the prize.
Wherefore she bade her husband bring
Edge-tools to spUt the cursed thing.
He brought them trembhng, and the twain
Fell to, and soon their end did gain ;
But shrank back trembling to see there
The youngling, her grey eyes and clear
Wide open, fearless ; but the wife
Knew too much of her own sour life
To fear the other world o'ermuch,
And soon began to pull and touch
The golden raiment of the may;
And at the last took heart to say :
" Be comforted ! we shall not die ;
For no work is this certainly
Wrought in the country never seen.
But raiment of a Hunnish queen ā
Gold seest thou, goodman ! gems seest thou !-
No ill work hast thou wrought I trow.
But, for the maiden, we must give
Victuals to her that she may live ;
For though to-day she is indeed
But one more mouth for us to feed,
Yet as she waxeth shall she do
Right many a thing to help us two ;
Yea, whatso hardest work there is,
That shall be hers ā no life of bliss
Like serving gold mid bower-mays;
THE FOSTERING OF ASLA UG. 49
She shall be strong, too, as the days
Increase on her."
Then said the man :
" Get speech from her, for sure she can
Tell somewhat of her life and state."
But whatso he or his vile mate
Might do, no word at all she spake
Either for threat or promise sake ;
Until at last they deemed that she
Was tongue-tied : so now presently
Unto the homestead was she brought,
And her array all golden-wrought
Stripped from her, and in rags of grey
Clad was she. But from light of day
The carl hid Heimir dead, and all
Into dull sodden life did fall.
SO with the twain abode the may,
Waxing in beauty day by day,
But ever as one tongue-tied was,
What thing soever came to pass ;
And needs the hag must call her Crow :
" A name," she said, " full good enow
For thee ā my mother bore it erst."
So lived the child that she was nursed
50 THE EARTHL Y PARADISE.
On little meat and plenteous blows ;
Yet nowise would she weep, but close
Would set her teeth thereat, and go
About what work she had to do,
And ever wrought most sturdily ;
Until at last she grew to be
More than a child. And now the place
That once had borne so dull a face
Grew well-nigh bright to look upon,
And whatso thing might shine there shone ;
Yea, all but her who brought about
That change therein ā for, past all doubt,
Years bettered in nowise our hag.
And ever she said that any rag
Was good enough to clothe the Crow.
And still her hate did grow and grow
As Aslaug grew to womanhood ;
Oft would she sit in murderous mood
Long hours, with hand anigh a knife.
As Aslaug slept, all hate at strife
With greed within her ; yet wdthal
Something like fear of her did fall
Upon her heart, and heavy weighed
That awful beauty, that oft stayed
Her hand from closing on the hilt,
E'en more than thought of good things spilt.
Hard words and blows this scarce might stay.
For like the minutes of the day,
Not looked for, noted not when gone,
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 51
Were all such things unto the crone,
And, smitten or unsmitten, still
The Crow was swift to work her will.
In spring-tide of her seventeenth year,
On the hill-side the house anear
Went Aslaug, following up her goats :
On such a day as when Love floats
Through the soft air unseen, to touch
Our hearts with longings overmuch
Unshapen into hopes, to make
All things seem fairer for the sake
Of that which cometh, who doth bear
Who knows how much of grief and fear
In his fair arms. So Aslaug went,
On vague and unnamed thoughts intent.
That seemed to her full sweet enow,
And ever greater hope did grow.
And sweet seemed life to her and good,
Small reason why : into the wood
She turned, and wandered slim and fair
'Twixt the dark tree-boles : strange and rare
The sight was of her golden head.
So good, uncoifed, unchapleted,
Above her sordid dark array,
That over her fair body lay
As dark clouds on a lilied hill.
The wild things well might gaze their fill.
As through the wind-flowers brushed lier feet.
52 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
As her lips smiled when those did meet
The lush-cold blue-bells, or were set
Light on the pale dog-violet
Late April bears : the red-throat jay
Screamed not for nought, as on her way
She went, light-laughing at some thought ;
If the dove moaned 'twas not for nought,
Since she was gone too soon from him,
And e'en the sight he had was dim
For the thick budding twigs. At last
Into an open space she passed,
Nigh filled with a wide, shallow lake,
Amidmost which the fowl did take
Their pastime ; o'er the firm.er grass,
'Twixt rushy ooze, swift did she pass.
Until upon a bank of sand
Close to the water did she stand,
And gazed down in that windless place
Upon the image of her face,
And as she gazed laughed musically
Once and again ; nor heeded she
Her straying flock : her voice, that none
Had heard since Heimir was undone
Within that wTetched stead, began
Such speech as well had made a man
Forget his land and kin to make
Those sweet lips tremble for his sake :
" Spring bringeth love," she said, " to all.'
THE FOSTERING OF ASLA UG.
She sighed as those sweet sounds did fall
From her unkissed lips : " Ah," said she,
" How came that sweet word unto me,
Among such wretched folk who dwell,
Folk who still seem to carry hell
About with them ? ā That ancient man
They slew, with whom my life began,
I deem he must have taught me that.
And how the steel-clad maiden sat
Asleep within the ring of flame,
Asleep, and waiting till Love came,
Who was my father : many a dream
I dream thereof, till it doth seem
That they will fetch me hence one day.
Somewhere I deem life must be gay.
The flowers are wrought not for the sake
Of those two murderers/'
While she spake
Her hands were busy with her gown.
And at the end it slipped adown
And left her naked there and white
In the unshadowed noontide light.
Like Freyia in her house of gold,
A while her limbs did she behold
Clear mirrored in the lake beneath ;
Then slowly, with a shuddering breath.
Stepped in the water cold, and played
Amid the ripple that she made.
And spoke again aloud, as though
54 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
The lone place of her heart might know :
" Soothly," she said, "if I knew fear,
Scarcely should I be sporting here,
But blinder surely has the crone
In those last months of winter grown,
Nor knows if I be foul or sweet,
Or sharp stripes might I chance to meet,
As heretofore it hath been seen
When I have dared to make me clean
Amid their foulness : loathes her heart
That one she hates should have a part
In the world's joy. ā Well, time wears by,
I was not made for misery.
Surely if dimly do mine eyes
Behold no sordid tale arise.
No ill life drawing near ā who knows
But I am kept for greater woes,
Godlike despair that makes not base,
Though like a stone may grow the face
Because of it, yea, and the heart
\ ^ard-wrought treasure set apart
For the world's glory?"
Made for the smooth bank leisurely.
And, naked as she was, did pass
Unto the warm and flowery grass
All unashamed, and fearing not
For aught that should draw nigh the spot
A.nd soothly had some hunter been
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 55
Near by and all her beauty seen,
He would have deemed he saw a fay
And hastened trembling on his way.
But when full joyance she had had
Of sun and flowers, her limbs she clad
In no long time, forsooth, and then
Called back her wandering flock again
With one strange dumb cry, e'en as though
Their hearts and minds she needs must know,
For hurrying back with many a bleat
They huddled round about her feet.
And back she went unto the stead,
Strange visions pressing round her head,
So light of heart and limb, that though
She went with measured steps and slow,
Each yard seemed but a dance to her.
So now the thick wood did she clear,
And o'er the bent beheld the sea.
And stood amazed there suddenly.
For a long ship, with shield-hung rail.
And fair-stained flapping raven-sail.
And golden dragon-stem, there lay
On balanced oars amidst the bay,
Slow heaving with the unrippled swell.
With a strange hope she might not tell
Her eyes ran down the strand, and there
Lay beached a ship's boat painted fair,
And on the shingle by her side
5 6 THE EARTHL Y PA RADISE.
Three blue-clad axemen did abide
Their fellows, sent belike ashore
To gather victuals for their store.
She looked not long ; with heart that beat
More quickly and with hurr)4ng feet
Unto the homestead did she pass,
And when anigh the door she was
She heard men's voices deep and rough ;
Then the shrill crone, who said, " Enough
Of work I once had done for you,
But now my days left are but few
And I am weak ; I prithee wait.
Already now the noon is late,
My daughter, Crow, shall soon be here."
" Nay," said a shipman, " have no fear,
Goodwife, a speedy death to get,
Thou art a sturdy carline yet :
Howbeit we well may wait a while."
Thereat Aslaug, with a strange smile,
Fresh from that water in the wood,
Pushed back the crazy door, and stood
Upon the threshold silently ;
Bareheaded and barefoot was she,
And scarce her rags held each to each,
Yet did the shipmen stay their speech
And open-mouthed upon her stare.
As with bright eyes and face flushed fair
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 57
She stood ; one gleaming lock of gold,
Strayed from her fair head's plaited fold,
Fell far below her girdlestead,
And round about her shapely head
A garland of dog-violet
And wind-flowers meetly had she set :
They deemed it little scathe indeed
That her coarse homespun ragged weed
Fell off from her round arms and lithe
Laid on the door-post, that a withe
Of willows was her only belt ;
And each as he gazed at her felt
As some gift had been given him.
At last one grumbled, " Nowise dim
It is to see, goodwife, that this
No branch of thy great kinship is."
Grima was glaring on the may,
And scarce for rage found words to say ;
" Yea, soothly is she of our kin :
Sixty-five winters changeth skin.
And whatsoever she may be.
Though she is dumb as a dead tree,
She worketh ever double-tide.
So, masters, ope your mealsacks wide
And fall to work ; enow of wood
There is, I trow."
58 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
And there she stood,
Shaking all o'er, and when the may-
Brushed past her going on her way.
From off the board a knife she caught,
And well-nigh had it in her thought
To end it all. Small heed the men
Would take of her, forsooth ; and when
They turned their baking-work to speed,
And Aslaug fell the meal to knead,
He was the happiest of them all
Unto whose portion it did fall
To take the loaves from out her hand ;
And gaping often would he stand,
And ever he deemed that he could feel
A trembling all along the peel
^V^lenas she touched it ā sooth to say,
Such bread as there was baked that day
Was never seen : such as it was
The work was done, and they did pass
Down toward the ship, and as they went
A dull place seemed the thymy bent.
Gilded by sunset ; the fair ship,
That soft in the long swell did dip
Her golden dragon, seemed nought worth,
And they themselves, all void of mirth.
Stammering and blundering in their speech,
Still looking back, seemed each to each
Ill-shapen, ugly, rough and base
As might be found in any place.
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 59
Well, saith the tale, and when the bread
Was broken, just as light as lead
Men found the same, as sweet as gall,
Half baked and sodden ; one and all
Men gave it to the devil ; at last
Unto their lord the story passed,
Who called for them, and bade them say
Why they had wrought in such a way ;
They grinned and stammered, till said one :
" We did just e'en as must be done
When men are caught ; had it been thou
A-cold had been the oven now."
" Ye deal in riddles," said the lord,
" Enough brine is there overboard ā¢
To fill you full if even so
Ye needs must have it."
" We did go,"
The man said, " to a house, and found
That lack of all things did abound ;
A yellow-faced and blear-eyed crone
Was in the sooty hall alone j
But as we talked with her, and she
Spake to us ill and craftily,
A wondrous scent was wafted o'er
The space about the open door,
And all the birds drew near to sing,
And summer pushed on into spring,
Until there stood before our eyes
6o THE EARTHL V PARADISE.
A damsel clad in wretched guise,
Yet surely of the gods I deem,
So fair she was ; ā well then this dream
Of Freyia on midsummer night.
This breathing love, this once-seen sight.
Flitted amidst us kneading meal,
And from us all the wits did steal ; ā
Hadst thou been wise?"
" Well," said the lord,
" This seemeth but an idle word ;
Yet since ye all are in one tale
Somewhat to you it may avail ā
Speak out ! my lady that is dead ā
Thora, the chief of goodlihead ā
Came this one nigh to her at all ? "
One answer from their mouths did fall.
That she was fairest ever seen.
" If two such marvellous things have been
Wrought by the gods, then have they wrought
Exceeding well," the lord said ; " nought
AVill serve me now but to have sight
Of her, and hear the fresh delight
Of her sweet voice."
" Nay, nay," one cried,
" The carline called the maid tongue-tied
E'en from her birth."
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 6i
The lord spake : " Then belike shall be
Some wonder in the thing. Lo now,
Since I, by reason of my vow
Made on the cup at Yule, no more
May set foot upon any shore
Till I in Micklegarth have been.
And somewhat there of arms have seen,
Go ye at earliest morn and say
That I would see her ere the day
Is quite gone by ; here shall she come
And go as if her father's home
The good ship were, and I indeed
Her very brother. Odin speed
The matter in some better wise.
Unless your words be nought but lies !"
So the next mom she had the word
To come unto their king and lord ;
She answered not, but made as though
Their meaning she did fully know.
And gave assent : the crone was there,
And still askance at her did glare,
And mid her hatred grew afeard
Of what might come, but spoke no word ;
And ye may well believe indeed
That those men gave her little heed,
But stared at Aslaug as she stood
Beside the greasy, blackened wood
Of the hall's uprights, fairer grown
62 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Than yesterday, soft 'neath her gown
Her fair breast heaving, her wide eyes
Mid dreams of far-off things grown wise,
The rock dropped down in her left hand ; ā
There mazed awhile the men did stand,
Then gat them back. And so the sun
Waxed hot and waned, and, day nigh done,
Gleamed on the ship's side as she lay
Close in at deepest of the bay,
Her bridge gold-hung on either hand
Cast out upon the hard white sand ;
While o'er the bulwarks many a man
Gazed forth ; and the great lord began
To fret and fume, till on the brow
Of the low cliff they saw her now,
Who stood a moment to behold
The ship's sun-litten flashing gold ;
Then slowly 'gan to get her down
A steep path in the sea-cliff brown.
Till on a sudden did she meet
The slant sun cast about its feet,
And flashed as in a golden cloud ;
Since scarcely her poor raiment showed
Beneath the glory of her hair.
Whose last lock touched her ankles bare.
For so it was that as she went
Unto this meeting, all intent
Upon the time that was to be,
THE FOSTERING OF ASLA UG. 63
While yet just hidden from the sea,
She stayed her feet a little while,
And, gazing on her raiment vile,
Flushed red, and muttered, ā
" Who can tell
But I may love this great lord well ?
An evil thing then should it be
If he cast loathing eyes on me
This first time for my vile attire."
Then, while her cheek still burned like fire.
She set hand to her hair of gold
Until its many ripples rolled
All over her, and no great queen
Was e'er more gloriously beseen ;
And thus she went upon her way.
Now when the crew beheld the may-
Set foot upon the sand there rose
A mighty shout from midst of those
Rough seafarers ; only the lord
Stood silent gazing overboard
With great eyes, till the bridge she gained,
And still the colour waxed and waned
Within his face ; but when her foot
First pressed the plank, to his heart's root
Sweet pain there pierced, for her great eyes
Were fixed on his in earnest wise.
E'en as her thoughts were all of him ;
64 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
And somewhat now all things waxed dim,
As unto her he stretched his hand,
And felt hers ; and the twain did stand
Hearkening each other's eager breath.
But she was changed, for pale as death
She was now as she heard his voice.
" Full well may we this eve rejoice,
Fair maid, that thou hast come to us ;
That this grey shore and dolorous
Holds greater beauty than the earth
Mid fairer days may bring to birth.
And that I hold it now. But come
Unto the wind-blowm woven home,
Where I have dwelt alone awhile.
And with thy speech the hours beguile."
For nothing he remembered
Of what his men unto him said,
That she was dumb. Not once she turned
Her eyes from his ; the low sun burned
Within her waving hair, as she
Unto the poop went silently
Beside him, and with faltering feet.
Because this hour seemed over sweet,
And still his right hand held her hand.
But when at last the twain did stand
Beneath the gold-hung tilt alone,
THE FOSTERING OF A SLA UG. 65
He said, " Thou seemest such an one
As who could love ; thou lookst on me
As though thou hopedst love might be
Betwixt us ā thou arf pale, my sweet.
Good were it if our lips should meet."
Then mouth to mouth long time they stood,
And when they sundered the red blood
Burnt in her cheek, and tenderly
Trembled her lips, and drew anigh
His lips again : but speech did break
Swiftly from out them, and she spake :
" May it be so, fair man, that thou
Art even no less happy now
Than I am."
With a joyous cry
He caught her to him hastily;
And mid that kiss the sun went down,
And colder was the dark world grown.
Once more they parted ; " Ah, my love,"
He said, " I knew not aught could move
My heart to such joy as thy speech."
She made as if she fain would reach
Her lips to his once more ; but ere
They touched, as smitten by new fear,
She drew aback and said : " Alas !
It darkens, and I needs must pass
Back to the land, to be more sad
66 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Than if this joy I ne'er had had.
And thou ā thou shalt be sorry too,
And pity me that it is so."
" To-morrow morn comes back the day,"
He said, " If we should part, sweet may :
Yet why should I be left forlorn
Betwixt this even and the mom ?"
His hand had swept aback her hair.
And on her shoulder, gleaming bare
From midst her rags, was trembling noAV ;
But she drew back, and o'er her brow
Gathered a troubled thoughtful frown,
And on the bench she sat her down
And spake : " Nay, it were wise to bide
Awhile. Behold, the world is wide.
Yet have we found each other here,
And each to other seems more dear
Than all the world else. ā Yet a king
Thou art, and I am such a thing.
By some half-dreamed-of chance cast forth
To live a life of little worth,
A lonely life ā and it may be
That thou shouldst weary soon of me
If I abode here now ā and I,
How know I ? All unhappily
My life has gone ; scarce a kind word
Except in dreams my ears have heard
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 67
But those thy lovely lips have said :
It might be when all things were weighed
That I too light of soul should prove
To hold for ever this great love."
Down at her feet therewith he knelt,
And round her his strong arms she felt
Drawing her to him, as he said :
" These are strange words for thee, O maid ;
Are those sweet loving lips grown cold
So soon ? Yet art thou in my hold.
And certainly my heart is hot.
What help against me hast thou got ?"
Each unto each their cheeks were laid,
As in a trembling voice she said :
" No help, because so dear to me
Thou art, and mighty as may be ;
Thou hast seen much, art wiser far
Than I am ; yet strange thoughts there are
In my mind now ā some half-told tale
Stirs in me, if I might avail
To tell it."
Suddenly she rose,
And thrust him from her ; " Ah, too close !
Too close now, and too far apart
To-morrow ! ā and a barren heart,
And days that ever fall to worse.
68 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
And blind lives struggling ^^^th a curse
They cannot grasp ! Look on my face,
Because I deem me of a race
That knoweth such a tale too well
Yet if there be such tale to tell
Of us twain, let it e'en be so,
Rather than we should fail to know
Tliis love ā ah me, my love forbear !
No pain for thee and me I fear ;
Yet strive we e'en for more than this !
Thou who hast given me my first bliss
To-day, forgive me, that in turn
I see the pain within thee bum,
And may not help ā because mine eyes
The Gods make clear. I am gro^^-n A\-ise
With gain of love, and hope of days
That many a coming age shall praise."
Awhile he gazed on her, and shook
With passion, and his cloak's hem took
With both hands as to rend it dowTi ;
Yet from his brow soon cleared the frowni
He said : " Yea, such an one thou art.
As needs alone must fill my heart
If I be like my father's kin.
And have a hope great deeds to win ;
And surely nought shall hinder me
From living a great life with thee ā
Say now what thou wouldst have me do."
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 69
" Some deed of fame thou goest to,"
She said, " for surely thou art great \
Go on thy way then, and if fate
So shapen is, that thou mayst come
Once more unto this lonely home,
There shalt thou find me, who will live
Through whatso days that fate may give,
Till on some happy coming day
Thine oars again make white the bay."
" If that might be remembered now,"
He said, " last Yule I made a vow
In some far land to win me fame.
Come nigher, sweet, and hear my name
Before thou goest ; that if so be
Death take me and my love from thee,
Thou mayst then think of who I was.
Nor let all memory of me pass
When thou to some great king art wed :
Then shalt thou say, ' Ragnar is dead,
Who was the son of Sigurd Ring,
Among the Danes a mighty king.
He might have had me by his side,'
Then shalt thou say, ' that hour he died ;
But my heart failed and not his heart.' "
" Nay, make it not too hard to part,"
She said, when once again their lips
Had sundered ; " as gold-bearing ships
70 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Foundered amidmost of the sea,
So shall the loves of most men be,
And leave no trace behind. God wot
This heart of mine shall hate thee not
Whatso befall ; but rather bless
Thee and this hour of happiness ;
And if this tide shall come again
After hard longing and great pain,
How sweet, how sweet ! O love, farewell,