James Baldwin.

Hero Tales online

. (page 7 of 9)
Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 7 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he can do no further harm."

Great stir was there then in Asgard. Every one hastened to answer
Odin's call, and to join in the quest for the Mischief-maker. Thor
came on foot, with his hammer tightly grasped in his hands, and
lightning flashing from beneath his red brows. Tyr, the one-handed,
came with his sword. Then followed Bragi the Wise, with his harp and
his sage counsels; then Hermod the Nimble, with his quick wit and ready
hands; and lastly, a great company of elves and wood-sprites and
trolls. Then a whirlwind caught them up in its swirling arms, and
carried them through the air, over the hilltops and the countryside,
and the meadows and the mountains, and set them down in the gorge of
the Fanander Force.

But Loki was not caught napping. His wakeful ears had heard the tumult
in the air, and he guessed who it was that was coming. He threw the
net, which he had just finished, into the fire, and jumped quickly into
the swift torrent, where, changing himself into a salmon, he lay hidden
beneath the foaming water.

When the eager Asa-folk reached Loki's dwelling, they found that he
whom they sought had fled; and although they searched high and low,
among the rocks and the caves and the snowy crags, they could see no
signs of the cunning fugitive. Then they went back to his house again
to consult what next to do. And, while standing by the hearth, Kwaser,
a sharp-sighted elf, whose eyes were quicker than the sunbeam, saw the
white ashes of the burned net lying undisturbed in the still hot
embers, the woven meshes unbroken and whole.

"See what the cunning fellow has been making!" cried the elf. "It must
have been a trap for catching fish."

"Or rather for catching men," said Bragi; "for it is strangely like the
Sea-queen's net."

"In that case," said Hermod the Nimble, "he has made a trap for
himself; for, no doubt, he has changed himself, as is his wont, to a
slippery salmon, and lies at this moment hidden beneath the Fanander
torrent. Here are plenty of cords of flax and hemp and wool, with
which he intended to make other nets. Let us take them, and weave one
like the pattern which lies there in the embers; and then, if I mistake
not, we shall catch the too cunning fellow."

All saw the wisdom of these words, and all set quickly to work. In a
short time they had made a net strong and large, and full of fine
meshes, like the model among the coals. Then they threw it into the
roaring stream, Thor holding to one end, and all the other folk pulling
it the other. With great toil, they dragged it forward, against the
current, even to the foot of the waterfall. But the cunning Loki crept
close down between two sharp stones, and lay there quietly while the
net passed harmlessly over him.

"Let us try again!" cried Thor. "I am sure that something besides dead
rocks lies at the bottom of the stream."

So they hung heavy weights to the net, and began to drag it again, this
time going down stream. Loki looked out from his hiding place, and saw
that he would not be able to escape now by lying between the rocks, and
that his only chance for safety was either to leap over the net, and
hide himself behind the rushing cataract itself, or to swim with the
current out to the sea. But the way to the sea was long, and there
were many shallow places; and Loki had doubts as to how old Aegir would
receive him in his kingdom. He feared greatly to undertake so
dangerous and uncertain a course. So, turning upon his foes, and
calling up all his strength, he made a tremendous leap high into the
air and clean over the net. But Thor was too quick for him. As he
fell toward the water, the Thunderer quickly threw out his hand, and
caught the slippery salmon, holding him firmly by the tail.

When Loki found that he was surely caught, and could not by any means
escape, he took again his proper shape. Fiercely did he struggle with
mighty Thor, and bitter were the curses which he poured down upon his
enemies. But he could not get free. Into the deep, dark cavern,
beneath the smoking mountain, where daylight never comes, nor the
warmth of the sun, nor the sound of Nature's music, the fallen
Mischief-maker was carried. The Asas bound him firmly to the sharp
rocks, with his face turned upwards toward the dripping roof; for they
said that nevermore, until the last dread twilight, should he be free
to vex the world with his wickedness. Skade, the giant daughter of Old
Winter, took a hideous snake, and hung it up above Loki, so that its
venom would drop into his upturned face. But Sigyn, the loving wife of
the suffering wretch, left her home in the pleasant halls of Asgard,
and came to his horrible prison house to soothe and comfort him; and
evermore she holds a basin above his head, and catches in it the
poisonous drops as they fall. When the basin is filled, and she turns
to empty it in the tar-black river that flows through that home of
horrors, the terrible venom falls upon his unprotected face, and Loki
writhes and shrieks in fearful agony, until the earth around him shakes
and trembles, and the mountains spit forth fire, and fumes of sulphur

And there the Mischief-maker, the spirit of evil, shall lie in torment
until the last great day and the dread twilight of all mid-world things.



Charles the Hammer was dead, and his young son Pepin was king of
France. Bego of Belin was his dearest friend, and to him he had given
all Gascony in fief. You would have far to go to find the peer of the
valiant Bego. None of King Pepin's nobles dared gainsay him. Rude in
speech and rough in war, though he was, he was a true knight, gentle
and loving to his friends, very tender to his wife and children, kind
to his vassals, just and upright in all his doings. The very flower of
knighthood was Bego.

Bitter feuds had there been between the family of Bego and that of
Fromont of Bordeaux. Long time had these quarrels continued, and on
both sides much blood had been spilled. But now there had been peace
between them for ten years and more, and the old hatred was being

One day Bego sat in his lordly castle at Belin; and beside him was his
wife, the fair Beatrice. In all France there was not a happier man.
From the windows the duke looked out upon his broad lands and the rich
farms of his tenants. As far as a bird could fly in a day, all was
his; and his vassals and serving-men were numbered by the tens of
thousands. "What more," thought Bego, "could the heart of man wish or
pray for?"

His two young sons came bounding into the hall, - Gerin, the elder born,
fair-haired and tall, brave and gentle as his father; and Hernaudin,
the younger, a child of six summers, his mother's pet, and the joy of
the household. With them were six other lads, sons of noblemen; and
all together laughed and played, and had their boyish pleasure.

When the duke saw them, he remembered his own boyhood days and the
companions who had shared his sports, and he sighed. The fair Beatrice
heard him, and she said, "My lord, what ails you, that you are so
thoughtful to-day? Why should a rich duke like you sigh and seem sad?
Great plenty of gold and silver have you in your coffers; you have
enough of the vair and the gray,[2] of hawks on their perches, of mules
and palfreys and war steeds; you have overcome all your foes, and none
dare rise up against you. All within six days' journey are your
vassals. What more would you desire to make you happy?"

"Sweet lady," answered Bego, "you have spoken truly. I am rich, as the
world goes; but my wealth is not happiness. True wealth is not of
money, of the vair and the gray, of mules, or of horses. It is of
kinsfolk and friends. The heart of a man is worth more than all the
gold of a country. Had it not been for my friends, I would have been
put to shame long ago. The king has given me this fief, far from my
boyhood's home, where I see but few of my old comrades and helpers. I
have not seen my brother Garin, the Lorrainer, these seven years, and
my heart yearns to behold him. Now, methinks, I will go to him, and I
will see his son, the child Girbert, whom I have never seen."

The Lady Beatrice said not a word, but the tears began to well up sadly
in her eyes.

"In the wood of Puelle," said Bego, after a pause, "there is said to be
a wild boar, the largest and fiercest ever seen. He outruns the
fleetest horses. No man can slay him. Methinks, that if it please
God, and I live, I will hunt in that wood, and I will carry the head of
the great beast to my brother the Lorrainer."

Then Beatrice, forcing back her tears, spoke:

"Sir," said she, "what is it thou sayest? The wood of Puelle is in the
march of Fromont the chief, and he owes thee a great grudge. He would
be too glad to do thee harm. I pray thee do not undertake this hunt.
My heart tells me, - I will not hide the truth from thee, - my heart
tells me, that if thou goest thither thou shalt never come back alive."

But the duke laughed at her fears; and the more she tried to dissuade
him, the more he set his mind on seeing his brother the Lorrainer, and
on carrying to him the head of the great wild boar of Puelle. Neither
prayers nor tears could turn him from his purpose. All the gold in the
world, he said, would not tempt him to give up the adventure.

So on the morrow morning, before the sun had fairly risen, Bego made
ready to go. As this was no warlike enterprise, he dressed himself in
the richest garb of knightly hero, - with mantle of ermine, and spurs of
gold. With him he took three dozen huntsmen, all skilled in the lore
of the woods, and ten packs of hunting hounds. He had, also, ten
horses loaded with gold and silver and costly presents, and more than a
score of squires and serving-men. Tenderly he bade fair Beatrice and
his two young sons good-by. Ah, what grief! Never was he to see them

Going by way of Orleans, Bego stopped a day with his sister, the lovely
Helois. Three days he tarried at Paris, the honored guest of the king
and queen. Then pushing on to Valenciennes, which was on the borders
of the great forest, he took up lodging with a rich burgher called
Berenger the Gray.

"Thou hast many foes in these parts," said the burgher, "and thou
wouldst do well to ware of them."

Bego only laughed at the warning. "Didst thou ever know a Gascon to
shun danger?" he asked. "I have heard of the famed wild boar of
Puelle, and I mean to hunt him in this wood, and slay him. Neither
friends nor foes shall hinder me."

On the morrow Berenger led the duke and his party into the wood, and
showed them the lair of the beast. Out rushed the monster upon his
foes; then swiftly he fled, crashing through brush and brake, keeping
well out of the reach of the huntsmen, turning every now and then to
rend some too venturesome hound. For fifteen leagues across the
country he led the chase. One by one the huntsmen lost sight of him.
Toward evening a cold rain came up; and they turned, and rode back
toward Valenciennes. They had not seen the duke since noon. They
supposed that he had gone back with Berenger. But Bego was still
riding through the forest in close pursuit of the wild boar. Only
three hounds kept him company.

The boar was well-nigh wearied out, and the duke knew that he could not
go much farther. He rode up close behind him; and the fierce animal,
his mouth foaming with rage, turned furiously upon him. But the duke,
with a well-aimed thrust of his sword, pierced the great beast through
his heart.

By this time, night was falling. The duke knew that he was very far
from any town or castle, but he hoped that some of his men might be
within call. He took his horn, and blew it twice full loudly. But his
huntsmen were now riding into Valenciennes; nor did they think that
they had left their master behind them in the wood. With his flint the
duke kindled a fire; beneath an aspen tree, and made ready to spend the
night near the place where the slain wild boar lay.

The forester who kept the wood heard the sound of Bego's horn, and saw
the light of the fire gleaming through the trees. Cautiously he drew
nearer. He was surprised to see a knight so richly clad, with his
silken hose and his golden spurs, his ivory horn hanging from his neck
by a blue ribbon. He noticed the great sword that hung at Bego's side.
It was the fairest and fearfulest weapon he had ever seen. He hastened
as fast as he could ride to Lens, where Duke Fromont dwelt; but he
spoke not a word to Fromont. He took the steward of the castle aside,
and told him of what he had seen in the wood.

"He is no common huntsman," said the forester; "and you should see how
richly clad he is. No king was ever arrayed more gorgeously while
hunting. And his horse - I never saw a better."

"But what is all this to me?" asked the steward. "If he is trespassing
in the forest, it is your duty to bring him before the duke."

"Ah! it is hard for you to understand," answered the forester.
"Methinks that if our master had the boar, the sword, and the horn, he
would let me keep the clothing, and you the horse, and would trouble us
with but few questions."

"Thou art indeed wise," answered the steward. And he at once called
six men, whom he knew he could trust to any evil deed, and told them to
go with the forester.

"And, if you find any man trespassing in Duke Fromont's wood, spare him
not," he added.

In the morning the ruffians came to the place where Duke Bego had spent
the night. They found him sitting not far from the great beast which
he had slain, while his horse stood before him and neighed with
impatience and struck his hoofs upon the ground. They asked him who
gave him leave to hunt in the wood of Puelle.

"I ask no man's leave to hunt where it pleases me," he answered.

They told him then that the lordship of the wood was with Fromont and
that he must go with them, as their prisoner, to Lens.

"Very well," said Bego. "I will go with you. If I have done aught of
wrong to Fromont the old, I am willing to make it right with him. My
brother Garin, the Lorrainer, and King Pepin, will go my surety."

Then, looking around upon the villainous faces of the men who had come
to make prisoner of him, he bethought himself for a moment.

"No, no!" he cried. "Never will I yield me to six such rascals.
Before I die, I will sell myself full dear. Yesterday six and thirty
knights were with me, and master huntsmen, skilled in all the lore of
the wood. Noble men were they all; for not one of them but held in
fief some town or castle or rich countryside. They will join me ere

"He speaks thus, either to excuse himself or to frighten us," said one
of the men; and he went boldly forward, and tried to snatch the horn
from Bego's neck. The duke raised his fist, and knocked him senseless
to the ground.

"Never shall ye take horn from count's neck!" he cried.

Then all set upon him at once, hoping that by their numbers they might
overpower him. But Bego drew his sword, and struck valiantly to the
right and to the left of him. Three of the villains were slain
outright; and the rest took to their heels and fled, glad to escape
such fury.

And now all might have been well with Duke Bego. But a churl, armed
with a bow, and arrows of steel, was hidden among the trees. When he
saw his fellows put to flight, he drew a great steel bolt and aimed it
at the duke. Swiftly sped the arrow toward the noble targe: too truly
was it aimed. The duke's sword fell from his hands: the master-vein of
his heart had been cut in twain. He lifted his hands toward heaven,
and prayed: -

"Almighty Father, who always wert and art, have pity on my soul. - Ah,
Beatrice! thou sweet, gentle wife, never more shalt thou see me under
heaven. - Fair brother Garin of Lorraine, never shall I be with thee to
serve thee. - My two noble boys, if I had lived, you should have been
the worthiest of knights: now, may Heaven defend you!"

After a while the churl and the three villains came near him, and found
him dead. It was no common huntsman whom they had killed, but a good
knight, - the loyalest and the best that ever God's sun shone upon.
They took the sword and the horn and the good steed; they loaded the
boar upon a horse; and all returned to Lens. But they left Bego in the
forest, and with him his three dogs, who sat around him, and howled
most mournfully, as if they knew they had lost their best friend.

The men carried the great boar into the castle of Lens, and threw it
down upon the kitchen hearth. A wonderful beast he was: his sharp,
curved tusks stuck out full a foot from his mouth. The serving-men and
the squires crowded around to see the huge animal; then, as the news
was told through the castle, many fair ladies and knights, and the
priests from the chapel, came in to view the sight. Old Duke Fromont
heard the uproar, and came in slippers and gown to ask what it all

"Whence came this boar, this ivory horn, this sword?" he inquired.
"This horn never belonged to a mere huntsman. It looks like the
wondrous horn that King Charles the Hammer had in the days of my
father. There is but one knight now living that can blow it; and he is
far away in Gascony. Tell me where you got these things."

Then the forester told him all that had happened in the wood, coloring
the story, of course, so as to excuse himself from wrong-doing.

"And left ye the slain man in the wood?" asked the old duke. "A more
shameful sin I have never known than to leave him there for the wolves
to eat. Go ye back at once, and fetch him hither. To-night he shall
be watched in the chapel, and to-morrow he shall be buried with all due
honor. Men should have pity of one another."

The body of the noble Duke Bego was brought, and laid upon a table in
the great hall. His dogs were still with him, howling pitifully, and
licking his face. Knights and noblemen came in to see him.

"A gentle man this was," said they; "for even his dogs loved him."

"Shame on the rascals who slew him!" said others. "No freeman would
have touched so noble a knight."

Old Duke Fromont came in. He started back at sight of him who lay
there lifeless. Well he knew Duke Bego, by a scar that he himself had
given him at the battle of St. Quentin ten years before. He fell
fainting into the arms of his knights. Then afterward he upbraided his
men for their dastardly deed, and bewailed their wicked folly.

"This is no poaching huntsman whom you have slain," said he, "but a
most worthy knight, - the kindest, the best taught, that ever wore
spurs. And ye have dragged me this day into such a war that I shall
not be out of it so long as I live. I shall see my lands overrun and
wasted, my great castles thrown down and destroyed, and my people
distressed and slain; and as for myself I shall have to die - and all
this for a fault which is none of mine, and for a deed which I have
neither wished nor sanctioned."

And the words of Duke Fromont were true. The death of Bego of Belin
was fearfully avenged by his brother the Lorrainer and by his young
sons Gerin and Hernaud. Never was realm so impoverished as was
Fromont's dukedom. The Lorrainers and the Gascons overran and laid
waste the whole country. A pilgrim might go six days' journey without
finding bread, or meat, or wine. The crucifixes lay prone upon the
ground; the grass grew upon the altars; and no man stopped to plead
with his neighbor. Where had been fields and houses, and fair towns
and lordly castles, now there was naught but woods and underbrush and
thorns. And old Duke Fromont, thus ruined through no fault of his own,
bewailed his misfortunes, and said to his friends, "I have not land
enough to rest upon alive, or to lie upon dead."

[1]The original of this tale is found in "The Song of the Lorrainers,"
a famous poem written by Jehan de Flagy, a minstrel of the twelfth
century. In the "Story of Roland" it is supposed to have been related
at the court of Charlemagne by a minstrel of Lorraine.

[2]_The vair and the gray_, - furs used for garments, and in heraldry.
Vair is the skin of the squirrel, and was arranged in shields of blue
and white alternating.


When Ogier the Dane was but a babe in his mother's arms, there was
heard one day, in his father's castle, the sweetest music that mortals
ever listened to. Nobody knew whence the bewitching sounds came; for
they seemed to be now here, now there: yet every one was charmed with
the delightful melody, and declared that only angels could make music
so heavenly. Then suddenly there came into the chamber where Ogier lay
six fairies, whose beauty was so wonderful and awful, that none but a
babe might gaze upon them without fear. And each of the lovely
creatures bore in her hands a garland of the rarest flowers, and rich
gifts of gold and gems. And the first fairy took the child in her
arms, and kissed him, and said, -

"Better than kingly crown, or lands, or rich heritage, fair babe, I
give thee a brave, strong heart. Be fearless as the eagle, and bold as
the lion; be the bravest knight among men."

Then the second fairy took the child, and dandled him fondly on her
knees, and looked long and lovingly into his clear gray eyes.

"What is genius without opportunity?" said she. "What is a brave heart
without the ability to do brave deeds? I give to thee many an
opportunity for manly action."

The third fairy laid the dimpled hands of the babe in her own white
palm, and stroked softly his golden hair.

"Strong-hearted boy, for whom so many noble deeds are waiting, I, too,
will give thee a boon. My gift is skill and strength such as shall
never fail thee in fight, nor allow thee to be beaten by a foe.
Success to thee, fair Ogier!"

The fourth fairy touched tenderly the mouth and the eyes and the noble
brow of the babe.

"Be fair of speech," said she, "be noble in action, be courteous, be
kind: these are the gifts I bring thee. For what will a strong heart,
or a bold undertaking, or success in every enterprise, avail, unless
one has the respect and the love of one's fellow-men?"

Then the fifth fairy came forward, and clasped Ogier in her arms, and
held him a long time quietly, without speaking a word. At last she
said, -

"The gifts which my sisters have given thee will scarcely bring thee
happiness; for, while they add to thy honor, they may make thee
dangerous to others. They may lead thee into the practice of
selfishness and base acts of tyranny. That man is little to be envied
who loves not his fellow-men. The boon, therefore, that I bring thee
is the power and the will to esteem others as frail mortals equally
deserving with thyself."

And then the sixth fairy, the youngest and the most beautiful of all,
who was none other than Morgan le Fay, the Queen of Avalon, caught up
the child, and danced about the room in rapturous joy. And, in tones
more musical than mortals often hear, she sang a sweet lullaby, a song
of fairyland and of the island vale of Avalon, where the souls of
heroes dwell.

And, when she had finished singing, Morgan le Fay crowned the babe with
a wreath of laurel and gold, and lighted a fairy torch that she held in
her hand. "This torch," said she, "is the measure of thy earthly days;
and it shall not cease to burn until thou hast visited me in Avalon,
and sat at table with King Arthur and the heroes who dwell there in
that eternal summer-land."

Then the fairies gave the babe gently back into his mother's arms, and
they strewed the floor of the chamber with many a rich gem and lovely
flower; the odor of roses and the sweetest perfumes filled the air, and
the music of angels' voices was heard above; and the fairies vanished
in a burst of sunbeams, and were seen no more. And when the queen's
maidens came soon afterward into the chamber, they found the child
smiling in his mother's arms. But she was cold and lifeless: her
spirit had flown away to fairyland.


It was near the time of the solemn festival of Easter, - the time when
Nature seems to rise from the grave, and the Earth puts on anew her
garb of youth and beauty. King Charlemagne was at St. Omer; for there
the good Archbishop Turpin was making ready to celebrate the great
feast with more than ordinary grandeur. Thither, too, had come the
members of the king's household, and a great number of lords and
ladies, the noblest in France.

Scarcely had the good archbishop pronounced a blessing upon the devout

1 2 3 4 5 7 9

Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 7 of 9)