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Chapter XXVII: The Story of Frithiof

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Bishop Tegnér

Probably no writer of the nineteenth century did so much to awaken interest in the literary treasures of Scandinavia as Bishop Esaias Tegnér, whom a Swedish author characterised as, “that mighty Genie who organises even disorder.”

Tegnér’s “Frithiof Saga” has been translated once at least into every European tongue, and some twenty times into English and German. Goethe spoke of the work with the greatest enthusiasm, and the tale, which gives a matchless picture of the life of our heathen ancestors in the North, drew similar praise from Longfellow, who considered it to be one of the most remarkable productions of his century.

Although Tegnér has chosen for his theme the Frithiof saga only, we find that that tale is the sequel to the older but less interesting Thorsten saga, of which we give here a very brief outline, merely to enable the reader to understand clearly every allusion in the more modern poem.

As is so frequently the case with these ancient tales, the story begins with Haloge (Loki), who came north with Odin, and began to reign over northern Norway, which from him was called Halogaland. According to Northern mythology, this god had two lovely daughters. They were carried off by bold suitors, who, banished from the mainland by Haloge’s curses and magic spells, took refuge with their newly won wives upon neighbouring islands.

Birth of Viking

Thus it happened that Haloge’s grandson, Viking, was born upon the island of Bornholm, in the Baltic Sea, where he dwelt until he was fifteen, and where he became the biggest and strongest man of his time. Rumours of his valour finally reached Hunvor, a Swedish princess, who was oppressed by the attentions of a gigantic suitor whom none dared drive away, and she sent for Viking to deliver her.

Thus summoned, the youth departed, after having received from his father a magic sword named Angurvadel, whose blows would prove fatal even to a giant like the suitor of Hunvor. A “holmgang,” as a duel was termed in the North, ensued as soon as the hero arrived upon the scene, and Viking, having slain his antagonist, could have married the princess had it not been considered disgraceful for a Northman to marry before he was twenty.

To beguile the time of waiting for his promised bride, Viking set out in a well-manned dragon ship; and cruising about the Northern and Southern seas, he met with countless adventures. During this time he was particularly persecuted by the kindred of the giant he had slain, who were adepts in magic, and they brought upon him innumerable perils by land and sea.

Aided and abetted by his bosom friend, Halfdan, Viking escaped every danger, slew many of his foes, and, after rescuing Hunvor, whom, in the meantime, the enemy had carried off to India, he settled down in Sweden. His friend, faithful in peace as well as in war, settled near him, and married also, choosing for wife Ingeborg, Hunvor’s attendant.

The saga now describes the long, peaceful winters, when the warriors feasted and listened to the tales of scalds, rousing themselves to energetic efforts only when returning spring again permitted them to launch their dragon ships and set out once more upon their piratical expeditions.

“Then the Scald took his harp and sang,

And loud through the music rang

The sound of that shining word;

And the harp-strings a clangour made,

As if they were struck with the blade

Of a sword.

“And the Berserks round about

Broke forth into a shout

That made the rafters ring:

They smote with their fists on the board,

And shouted, ‘Long live the Sword,

And the King!’”

Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf.

In the old story the scalds relate with great gusto every phase of attack and defence during cruise and raid, and describe every blow given and received, dwelling with satisfaction upon the carnage and lurid flames which envelop both enemies and ships in common ruin. A fierce fight is often an earnest of future friendship, however, and we are told that Halfdan and Viking, having failed to conquer Njorfe, a foeman of mettle, sheathed their swords after a most obstinate struggle, and accepted their enemy as a third link in their close bond of friendship.

On returning home from one of these customary raids, Viking lost his beloved wife; and, entrusting her child, Ring, to the care of a foster father, after undergoing a short period of mourning, the brave warrior married again. This time his marital bliss was more lasting, for the saga tells that his second wife bore him nine stalwart sons.

Njorfe, King of Uplands, in Norway, also rejoiced in a family of nine brave sons. Now, although their fathers were united in bonds of the closest friendship, having sworn blood brotherhood according to the true Northern rites, the young men were jealous of one another, and greatly inclined to quarrel.

The Game of Ball

Notwithstanding this smouldering animosity, the youths often met; and the saga relates that they used to play ball together, and gives a description of the earliest ball game on record in the Northern annals. Viking’s sons, as tall and strong as he, were inclined to be rather reckless of their opponents’ welfare, and, judging from the following account, translated from the old saga, the players were often left in as sorry a condition as after a modern game.

“The next morning the brothers went to the games, and generally had the ball during the day; they pushed men and let them fall roughly, and beat others. At night three men had their arms broken, and many were bruised or maimed.”

The game between Njorfe’s and Viking’s sons culminated in a disagreement, and one of Njorfe’s sons struck one of his opponents a dangerous and treacherous blow. Prevented from taking his revenge then and there by the interference of the spectators, the injured man made a trivial excuse to return to the ground alone; and, meeting his assailant there, he slew him.

The Blood Feud

When Viking heard that one of his sons had slain one of his friend’s children, he was very indignant, and mindful of his oath to avenge all Njorfe’s wrongs, he banished the young murderer. The other brothers, on hearing this sentence, vowed that they would accompany the exile, and so Viking sorrowfully bade them farewell, giving his sword Angurvadel to Thorsten, the eldest, and cautioning him to remain quietly on an island in Lake Wener until all danger of retaliation on the part of Njorfe’s remaining sons should be over.

The young men obeyed; but Njorfe’s sons were determined to avenge their brother, and although they had no boats to convey them over the lake, they made use of a conjurer’s art to bring about a great frost. Accompanied by many armed men, they then stole noiselessly over the ice to attack Thorsten and his brothers, and a terrible carnage ensued. Only two of the attacking party managed to escape, but they left, as they fancied, all their foes among the dead.

Then came Viking to bury his sons, and he found that two of them, Thorsten and Thorer, were still alive; whereupon he secretly conveyed them to a cellar beneath his dwelling, and in due time they recovered from their wounds.

Njorfe’s two surviving sons soon discovered by magic arts that their opponents were not dead, and they made a second desperate but vain attempt to kill them. Viking saw that the quarrel would be incessantly renewed if his sons remained at home; so he now sent them to Halfdan, whose court they reached after a series of adventures which in many points resemble those of Theseus on his way to Athens.

When spring came round Thorsten embarked on a piratical excursion, in the course of which he encountered Jokul, Njorfe’s eldest son, who, meanwhile, had taken forcible possession of the kingdom of Sogn, having killed the king, banished his heir, Belé, and changed his beautiful daughter, Ingeborg, into the similitude of an old witch.

Throughout the story Jokul is represented as somewhat of a coward, for he resorted by preference to magic when he wished to injure Viking’s sons. Thus he stirred up great tempests, and Thorsten, after twice suffering shipwreck, was only saved from the waves by the seeming witch, whom he promised to marry in gratitude for her good offices. Thorsten, advised by Ingeborg, now went in search of Belé, whom he found and replaced upon his hereditary throne, having sworn eternal friendship with him. After this, the baleful spell was removed, and Ingeborg, now revealed in her native beauty, was united to Thorsten, and dwelt with him at Framnäs.

Thorsten and Belé

Every spring Thorsten and Belé set out together in their ships; and, upon one of these expeditions, they joined forces with Angantyr, a foe whose mettle they had duly tested, and proceeded to recover possession of a priceless treasure, a magic dragon ship named Ellida, which Ægir, god of the sea, had once given to Viking in reward for hospitable treatment, and which had been stolen from him.

“A royal gift to behold, for the swelling planks of its framework

Were not fastened with nails, as is wont, but grown in together.

Its shape was that of a dragon when swimming, but forward

Its head rose proudly on high, the throat with yellow gold flaming;

Its belly was spotted with red and yellow, but back by the rudder

Coiled out its mighty tail in circles, all scaly with silver;

Black wings with edges of red; when all were expanded

Ellida raced with the whistling storm, but outstript the eagle.

When filled to the edge with warriors, it sailed o’er the waters,

You’d deem it a floating fortress, or warlike abode of a monarch.

The ship was famed far and wide, and of ships was first in the North.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Spalding’s tr.).

The next season, Thorsten, Belé, and Angantyr conquered the Orkney Islands, which were given as a kingdom to the latter, he voluntarily pledging himself to pay a yearly tribute to Belé. Next Thorsten and Belé went in quest of a magic ring, or armlet, once forged by Völund, the smith, and stolen by Soté, a famous pirate.

This bold robber was so afraid lest some one should gain possession of the magic ring, that he had buried himself alive with it in a mound in Bretland. Here his ghost was said to keep constant watch over it, and when Thorsten entered his tomb, Belé, who waited outside, heard the sound of frightful blows given and returned, and saw lurid gleams of supernatural fire.

When Thorsten finally staggered out of the mound, pale and bloody, but triumphant, he refused to speak of the horrors he had encountered to win the coveted treasure, but often would he say, as he showed it, “I trembled but once in my life, and ’twas when I seized it!”

Birth of Frithiof and Ingeborg

Thus owner of the three greatest treasures of the North, Thorsten returned home to Framnäs, where Ingeborg bore him a fine boy, Frithiof, while two sons, Halfdan and Helgé, were born to Belé. The lads played together, and were already well grown when Ingeborg, Belé’s little daughter, was born, and some time later the child was entrusted to the care of Hilding, who was already Frithiof’s foster father, as Thorsten’s frequent absences made it difficult for him to undertake the training of his boy.

“Jocund they grew, in guileless glee;

Young Frithiof was the sapling tree;

In budding beauty by his side,

Sweet Ingeborg, the garden’s pride.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

Frithiof soon became hardy and fearless under his foster father’s training, and Ingeborg rapidly developed the sweetest traits of character and loveliness. Both were happiest when together; and as they grew older their childish affection daily became deeper and more intense, until Hilding, perceiving this state of affairs, bade the youth remember that he was a subject of the king, and therefore no mate for his only daughter.

“To Odin, in his star-lit sky,

Ascends her titled ancestry;

But Thorsten’s son art thou; give way!

For ‘like thrives best with like,’ they say.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof’s Love for Ingeborg

These wise admonitions came too late, however, and Frithiof vehemently declared that he would win the fair Ingeborg for his bride in spite of all obstacles and his more humble origin.

Shortly after this Belé and Thorsten met for the last time, near the magnificent shrine of Balder, where the king, feeling that his end was near, had convened a solemn assembly, or Thing, of all his principal subjects, in order to present his sons Helgé and Halfdan to the people as his chosen successors. The young heirs were very coldly received on this occasion, for Helgé was of a sombre and taciturn disposition, and inclined to the life of a priest, and Halfdan was of a weak, effeminate nature, and noted for his love of pleasure rather than of war and the chase. Frithiof, who was present, and stood beside them, was the object of many admiring glances from the throng.

“But close behind them Frithiof goes,

Wrapp’d in his mantle blue;

His height a whole head taller rose

Than that of both the two.

He stands between the brothers there—

As though the ripe day stood

Atween young morning rosy-fair,

And night within the wood.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

After giving his last instructions and counsel to his sons, and speaking kindly to Frithiof, for whom he entertained a warm regard, the old king turned to his lifelong companion, Thorsten, to take leave of him, but the old warrior declared that they would not long be parted. Belé then spoke again to his sons, and bade them erect his howe, or funeral mound, within sight of that of Thorsten, that their spirits might commune over the waters of the narrow firth which would flow between them, that so they might not be sundered even in death.

Helgé and Halfdan

These instructions were piously carried out when, shortly after, the aged companions breathed their last; and the great barrows having been erected, the brothers, Helgé and Halfdan, began to rule their kingdom, while Frithiof, their former playmate, withdrew to his own place at Framnäs, a fertile homestead, lying in a snug valley enclosed by the towering mountains and the waters of the ever-changing firth.

“Three miles extended around the fields of the homestead; on three sides

Valleys and mountains and hills, but on the fourth side was the ocean.

Birch-woods crowned the summits, but over the down-sloping hill-sides

Flourished the golden corn, and man-high was waving the rye-field.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

But although surrounded by faithful retainers, and blessed with much wealth and the possession of the famous treasures of his hero sire, the sword Angurvadel, the Völund ring, and the matchless dragon ship Ellida, Frithiof was unhappy, because he could no longer see the fair Ingeborg daily. All his former spirits revived, however, when in the spring, at his invitation, both kings came to visit him, together with their fair sister, and once again they spent long hours in cheerful companionship. As they were thus constantly thrown together, Frithiof found opportunity to make known to Ingeborg his deep affection, and he received in return an avowal of her love.

“He sat by her side, and he pressed her soft hand,

And he felt a soft pressure responsive and bland;

Whilst his love-beaming gaze

Was returned as the sun’s in the moon’s placid rays.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

Frithiof’s Suit

When the visit was ended and the guests had departed, Frithiof informed his confidant and chief companion, Björn, of his determination to follow them and openly ask for Ingeborg’s hand. His ship was set free from its moorings and it swooped like an eagle over to the shore near Balder’s shrine, where the royal brothers were seated in state on Belé’s tomb to listen to the petitions of their subjects. Straightway Frithiof presented himself before them, and manfully made his request, adding that the old king had always loved him and would surely have granted his prayer.

“No king was my sire, not a jarl, ev’n—’tis true;

Yet Scald-songs his mem’ry and exploits renew;

The Rune-stones will tell

On high-vaulted cairn what my race hath done well.

“With ease could I win me both empire and land;—

But rather I stay on my forefathers’ strand;

While arms I can wield—

Both poverty’s hut and king’s palace I’ll shield.

“On Belé’s round barrow we stand; each word

In the dark deeps beneath us he hears and has heard;

With Frithiof pleadeth

The old Chief in his cairn: think! your answer thought needeth.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Then he went on to promise lifelong fealty and the service of his strong right arm in exchange for the boon he craved.

As Frithiof ceased King Helgé rose, and regarding the young man scornfully, he said: “Our sister is not for a peasant’s son; proud chiefs of the Northland may dispute for her hand, but not thou. As for thy arrogant proffer, know that I can protect my kingdom. Yet if thou wouldst be my man, place in my household mayst thou have.”

Enraged at the insult thus publicly offered, Frithiof drew his invincible sword; but, remembering that he stood on a consecrated spot, he struck only at the royal shield, which fell in two pieces clashing to the ground. Then striding back to his ship in sullen silence, he embarked and sailed away.

“And lo! cloven in twain at a stroke

Fell King Helge’s gold shield from its pillar of oak:

At the clang of the blow,

The live started above, the dead started below.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

Sigurd Ring a Suitor

After his departure came messengers from Sigurd Ring, the aged King of Ringric, in Norway, who, having lost his wife, sent to Helgé and Halfdan to ask Ingeborg’s hand in marriage. Before returning answer to this royal suitor, Helgé consulted the Vala, or prophetess, and the priests, who all declared that the omens were not in favour of the marriage. Upon this Helgé assembled his people to hear the word which the messengers were to carry to their master, but unfortunately King Halfdan gave way to his waggish humour, and made scoffing reference to the advanced age of the royal suitor. These impolitic words were reported to King Ring, and so offended him that he immediately collected an army and prepared to march against the Kings of Sogn to avenge the insult with his sword. When the rumour of his approach reached the cowardly brothers they were terrified, and fearing to encounter the foe unaided, they sent Hilding to Frithiof to implore his help.

Hilding found Frithiof playing chess with Björn, and immediately made known his errand.

“‘From Bele’s high heirs

I come with courteous words and prayers

Disastrous tidings rouse the brave;

On thee a nation’s hope relies.

In Balder’s fane, griefs loveliest prey,

Sweet Ing’borg weeps the livelong day:

Say, can her tears unheeded fall,

Nor call her champion to her side?’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

While the old man was speaking Frithiof continued to play, ever and anon interjecting an enigmatical reference to the game, until at this point he said:

“Björn; thou in vain my queen pursuest,

She from childhood dearest, truest!

She’s my game’s most darling piece, and

Come what will—I’ll save my queen!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Hilding did not understand such mode of answering, and at length rebuked Frithiof for his indifference. Then Frithiof rose, and pressing kindly the old man’s hand, he bade him tell the kings that he was too deeply offended to listen to their appeal.

Helgé and Halfdan, thus forced to fight without their bravest leader, preferred to make a treaty with Sigurd Ring, and they agreed to give him not only their sister Ingeborg, but also a yearly tribute.

At Balder’s Shrine

While they were thus engaged at Sogn Sound, Frithiof hastened to Balder’s temple, to which Ingeborg had been sent for security, and where, as Hilding had declared, he found her a prey to grief. Now although it was considered a sacrilege for man and woman to exchange a word in the sacred building, Frithiof could not forbear to console her; and, forgetting all else, he spoke to her and comforted her, quieting all her apprehensions of the gods’ anger by assuring her that Balder, the good, must view their innocent passion with approving eyes, for love so pure as theirs could defile no sanctuary; and they ended by plighting their troth before the shrine of Balder.

“‘Thou whisp’rest “Balder,”—His wrath fearest;—

That gentle god all anger flies.

We worship here a Lover, dearest!

Our hearts’ love is his sacrifice;

That god whose brow beams sunshine-splendour,

Whose faith lasts through eternity,—

Was not his love to beauteous Nanna

As pure, as warm, as mine to thee?

“‘His image see!—himself broods o’er it—

How mild, how kind, his bright eyes move!

An off’ring bear I here before it,

A warm heart full of purest love.

Come, kneel with me! no altar incense

To Balder’s soul more grateful is

Than two hearts, vowing in his presence

A mutual faith as true as his!’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Reassured by this reasoning, which received added strength from the voice which spoke loudly from her own heart, Ingeborg could not refuse to see and converse with Frithiof. During the kings’ absence the young lovers met every day, and they exchanged love-tokens, Frithiof giving to Ingeborg Völund’s arm-ring, which she solemnly promised to send back to her lover should she be compelled to break her promise to live for him alone. Frithiof lingered at Framnäs until the kings’ return, when, yielding to the fond entreaties of Ingeborg the Fair, he again appeared before them, and pledged himself to free them from their thraldom to Sigurd Ring if they would only reconsider their decision and promise him their sister’s hand.

“‘War stands and strikes

His glitt’ring shield within thy boundaries;

Thy realm, King Helge, is in jeopardy:

But give thy sister, and I’ll lend mine arm

Thy guard in battle. It may stead thee well.

Come! let this grudge between us be forgotten,

Unwilling bear I such ’gainst Ing’borg’s brother.

Be counsell’d, King! be just! and save at once

Thy golden crown and thy fair sister’s heart!

Here is my hand: by Asa-Thor I swear

Never again ’tis stretch’d in reconcilement!’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof Banished

But although this offer was received with acclamation by the assembled warriors, Helgé scornfully demanded of Frithiof whether he had spoken with Ingeborg and so defiled the temple of Balder.

A shout of “Say nay, Frithiof! say nay!” broke from the ring of warriors, but he proudly answered: “I would not lie to gain Valhalla. I have spoken to thy sister, Helgé, yet have I not broken Balder’s peace.”

A murmur of horror passed through the ranks at this avowal, and when the harsh voice of Helgé was raised in judgment, none was there to gainsay the justice of the sentence.

This apparently was not a harsh one, but Helgé well knew that it meant death, and he so intended it.

Far westward lay the Orkney Islands, ruled by Jarl Angantyr, whose yearly tribute to Belé was withheld now that the old king lay in his cairn. Hard-fisted he was said to be, and heavy of hand, and to Frithiof was given the task of demanding the tribute face to face.

Before he sailed upon the judgment-quest, however, he once more sought Ingeborg, and implored her to elope with him to a home in the sunny South, where her happiness should be his law, and where she should rule over his subjects as his honoured wife. But Ingeborg sorrowfully refused to accompany him, saying that, since her father was no more, she was in duty bound to obey her brothers implicitly, and could not marry without their consent.

The fiery spirit of Frithiof was at first impatient under this disappointment of his hopes, but in the end his noble nature conquered, and after a heartrending parting scene, he embarked upon Ellida, and sorrowfully sailed out of the harbour, while Ingeborg, through a mist of tears, watched the sail as it faded and disappeared in the distance.

The vessel was barely out of sight when Helgé sent for two witches named Heid and Ham, bidding them by incantations to stir up a tempest at sea in which it would be impossible for even the god-given vessel Ellida to live, that so all on board should perish. The witches immediately complied; and with Helgé’s aid they soon stirred up a storm the fury of which is unparalleled in history.

“Helgé on the strand

Chants his wizard-spell,

Potent to command

Fiends of earth or hell.

Gathering darkness shrouds the sky;

Hark, the thunder’s distant roll!

Lurid lightnings, as they fly,

Streak with blood the sable pole.

Ocean, boiling to its base,

Scatters wide its wave of foam;

Screaming, as in fleetest chase,

Sea-birds seek their island home.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

“Then the storm unfetter’d wingeth

Wild his course; in Ocean’s foam

Now he dips him, now up-swingeth,

Whirling toward the God’s own home:

Rides each Horror-spirit, warning,

High upon the topmost wave—

Up from out the white, vast, yawning,

Bottomless, unfathom’d grave.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

The Tempest

Unfrighted by tossing waves and whistling blasts, Frithiof sang a cheery song to reassure his terrified crew; but when the peril grew so great that his exhausted followers gave themselves up for lost, he bethought him of tribute to the goddess Ran, who ever requires gold of them who would rest in peace under the ocean wave. Taking his armlet, he hewed it with his sword and made fair division among his men.

“Who goes empty-handed

Down to sea-blue Ran?

Cold her kisses strike, and

Fleeting her embrace is.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

He then bade Björn hold the rudder, and himself climbed to the mast-top to view the horizon. While perched there he descried a whale, upon which the two witches were riding the storm. Speaking to his good ship, which was gifted with power of understanding and could obey his commands, he now ran down both whale and witches, and the sea was reddened with their blood. At the same instant the wind fell, the waves ceased to threaten, and fair weather soon smiled again upon the seas.

Exhausted by their previous superhuman efforts and by the labour of baling their water-logged vessel, the men were too weak to land when they at last reached the Orkney Islands, and had to be carried ashore by Björn and Frithiof, who gently laid them down on the sand, bidding them rest and refresh themselves after all the hardships they had endured.

“Yet more wearied than their Dragon

Totter Frithiof’s gallant men;

Though each leans upon his weapon,

Scarcely upright stand they then.

Björn, on pow’rful shoulder, dareth

Four to carry to the land;

Frithiof, all alone, eight beareth,—

Sets them so round the upblaz’d brand.

’Nay! ye white-fac’d, shame not!

Waves are mighty Vikings;

Hard’s the unequal struggle—

Ocean’s maids our foes.

See! there comes the mead-horn,

Wand’ring on bright gold-foot;

Shipmates! cold limbs warm,—and

Here’s to Ingeborg!’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephen’s tr.).

The arrival of Frithiof and his men, and their mode of landing, had been noted by the watchman of Angantyr, who immediately informed his master of all he had seen. The jarl exclaimed that the ship which had weathered such a gale could be none but Ellida, and that its captain was doubtless Frithiof, Thorsten’s gallant son. At these words one of his Berserkers, Atlé, caught up his weapons and strode from the hall, vowing that he would challenge Frithiof, and thus satisfy himself concerning the veracity of the tales he had heard of the young hero’s courage.

Atlé’s Challenge

Although still greatly exhausted, Frithiof immediately accepted Atlé’s challenge, and, after a sharp encounter with swords, in which Angurvadel was triumphant, the two champions grappled in deadly embrace. Widely is that wrestling-match renowned in the North, and well matched were the heroes, but in the end Frithiof threw his antagonist, whom he would have slain then and there had his sword been within reach. Atlé saw his intention, and bade him go in search of the weapon, promising to remain motionless during his absence. Frithiof, knowing that such a warrior’s promise was inviolable, immediately obeyed; but when he returned with his sword, and found his antagonist calmly awaiting death, he relented, and bade Atlé rise and live.

“Then storm they, nothing yielded,

Two autumn-billows like!

And oft, with steel round shielded,

Their jarring breasts fierce strike.

“All like two bears they wrestle,

On hills of snow; and draw

And strain, each like an eagle

On the angry sea at war.

The root-fast rock resisted

Full hardly them between

And green iron oaks down-twisted

With lesser pulls have been.

“From each broad brow sweat rushes;

Their bosoms coldly heave;

And stones and mounds and bushes

Dints hundred-fold receive.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Together the appeased warriors now wended their way to Angantyr’s hall, which Frithiof found to be far different from the rude dwellings of his native land. The walls were covered with leather richly decorated with gilt designs. The chimney-piece was of marble, and glass panes were in the window-frames. A soft light was diffused from many candles burning in silver branches, and the tables groaned under the most luxurious fare.

High in a silver chair sat the jarl, clad in a coat of golden mail, over which was flung a rich mantle bordered with ermine, but when Frithiof entered he strode from his seat with cordial hand outstretched. “Full many a horn have I emptied with my old friend Thorsten,” said he, “and his brave son is equally welcome at my board.”

Nothing loth, Frithiof seated himself beside his host, and after he had eaten and drunk he recounted his adventures upon land and sea.

At last, however, Frithiof made known his errand, whereupon Angantyr said that he owed no tribute to Helgé, and would pay him none; but that he would give the required sum as a free gift to his old friend’s son, leaving him at liberty to dispose of it as he pleased. Meantime, since the season was unpropitious for the return journey, and storms continually swept the sea, the king invited Frithiof to tarry with him over the winter; and it was only when the gentle spring breezes were blowing once more that he at last allowed him to depart.

Frithiof’s Home-coming

Taking leave of his kind host, Frithiof set sail, and wafted by favourable winds, the hero, after six days, came in sight of Framnäs, and found that his home had been reduced to a shapeless heap of ashes by Helgé’s orders. Sadly Frithiof strode over the ravaged site of his childhood’s home, and as he viewed the desolate scene his heart burned within him. The ruins were not entirely deserted, however, and suddenly Frithiof felt the cold nozzle of his hound thrust into his hand. A few moments later his favourite steed bounded to his master’s side, and the faithful creatures were well-nigh frantic with delight. Then came Hilding to greet him with the information that Ingeborg was now the wife of Sigurd Ring. When Frithiof heard this he flew into a Berserker rage, and bade his men scuttle the vessels in the harbour, while he strode to the temple in search of Helgé.

The king stood crowned amid a circle of priests, some of whom brandished flaming pine-knots, while all grasped a sacrificial flint knife. Suddenly there was a clatter of arms and in burst Frithiof, his brow dark as autumn storms. Helgé’s face went pale as he confronted the angry hero, for he knew what his coming presaged. “Take thy tribute, King,” said Frithiof, and with the words, he took the purse from his girdle and flung it in Helgé’s face with such force that blood gushed from his mouth and he fell swooning at Balder’s feet.

The silver-bearded priests advanced to the scene of violence, but Frithiof motioned them back, and his looks were so threatening that they durst not disobey.

Then his eye fell upon the arm-ring which he had given to Ingeborg and which Helgé had placed upon the arm of Balder, and striding up to the wooden image he said: “Pardon, great Balder, not for thee was the ring wrested from Völund’s tomb!” Then he seized the ring, but strongly as he tugged it would not come apart. At last he put forth all his strength, and with a sudden jerk he recovered the ring, and at the same time the image of the god fell prone across the altar fire. The next moment it was enveloped in flames, and before aught could be done the whole temple was wreathed in fire and smoke.

“All, all’s lost! From half-burned hall

Th’ fire-red cock up-swingeth!—

Sits on the roof, and, with shrilly call

Flutt’ring, his free course wingeth.”

Tegnér’s Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof, horror-stricken at the sacrilege which he had involuntarily occasioned, vainly tried to extinguish the flames and save the costly sanctuary, but finding his efforts unavailing he escaped to his ship and resolved upon the weary life of an outcast and exile.

“Thou may’st not rest thee,

Thou still must haste thee,

Ellida!—out

Th’ wide world about.

Yes! rock on! roaming

Mid froth salt-foaming

My Dragon good!

“Thou billow bold

Befriend me!—Never

I’ll from thee sever!—

My father’s Mound

Dull stands, fast-bound,

And self-same surges

Chaunt changeless dirges;

But blue shall mine

Through foam-flow’rs shine,

’Mid tempests swimming,

And storms thick dimming,

And draw yet mo

Down, down, below.—

My Life-Home given,

Thou shalt, far-driven!

My Barrow be—

Thou free broad Sea!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof an Exile

Helgé started in pursuit with ten great dragon-ships, but these had barely got under way when they began to sink, and Björn said with a laugh, “What Ran enfolds I trust she will keep.” Even King Helgé was with difficulty got ashore, and the survivors were forced to stand in helpless inactivity while Ellida’s great sails slowly sank beneath the horizon. It was thus that Frithiof sadly saw his native land vanish from sight; and as it disappeared he breathed a tender farewell to the beloved country which he never expected to see again.

After thus parting from his native land, Frithiof roved the sea as a pirate, or viking. His code was never to settle anywhere, to sleep on his shield, to fight and neither give nor take quarter, to protect the ships which paid him tribute and to plunder the others, and to distribute all the booty to his men, reserving for himself nothing but the glory of the enterprise. Sailing and fighting thus, Frithiof visited many lands, and came at last to the sunny isles of Greece, whither he would fain have carried Ingeborg as his bride; and the sights called up such a flood of sad memories that he was well-nigh overwhelmed with longing for his beloved and for his native land.

At the Court of Sigurd Ring

Three years had passed away and Frithiof determined to return northward and visit Sigurd Ring’s court. When he announced his purpose to Björn, his faithful companion reproached him for his rashness in thinking to journey alone, but Frithiof would not be turned from his purpose, saying: “I am never alone while Angurvadel hangs at my side.” Steering Ellida up the Vik (the main part of the Christiania Fiord), he entrusted her to Björn’s care, and, enveloped in a bear-hide, which he wore as a disguise, he set out on foot alone for the court of Sigurd Ring, arriving there as the Yuletide festivities were in progress. As if nothing more than an aged beggar, Frithiof sat down upon the bench near the door, where he quickly became the butt of the courtiers’ rough jokes. When one of his tormentors, however, approached too closely, the seeming beggar caught him in a powerful grasp and swung him high above his head.

Terrified by this exhibition of superhuman strength, the courtiers quickly withdrew from the dangerous vicinity, while Sigurd Ring, whose attention was attracted by the commotion, sternly bade the stranger-guest approach and tell who thus dared to break the peace in his royal hall.

Frithiof answered evasively that he was fostered in penitence, that he inherited want, and that he came from the wolf; as to his name, this did not matter. The king, as was the courteous custom, did not press him further, but invited him to take a seat beside him and the queen, and to share his good cheer. “But first,” said he, “let fall the clumsy covering which veils, if I mistake not, a proper form.”

Frithiof gladly accepted the invitation thus cordially given, and when the hairy hide fell from off his head and shoulders, he stood disclosed in the pride of youth, much to the surprise of the assembled warriors.

But although his appearance marked him as of no common race, none of the courtiers recognised him. It was different, however, with Ingeborg. Had any curious eye been upon her at that moment her changing colour and the quick heaving of her breast would have revealed her deep emotion.

“The astonish’d queen’s pale cheeks, how fast-changing rose-tints dye!—

So purple Northlights, quiv’ring, on snow-hid meadows lie;

Like two white water-lilies on storm-wave wild that rest,

Each moment rising, falling,—so heaves her trembling breast!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof had barely taken his seat at the board when with flourish of trumpets a great boar was brought in and placed before the king. In accordance with the Yule-tide custom of those days the old monarch rose, and touching the head of the animal, he uttered a vow that with the help of Frey, Odin, and Thor, he would conquer the bold champion Frithiof. The next moment Frithiof, too, was upon his feet, and dashing his sword upon the great wooden bench he declared that Frithiof was his kinsman and he also would vow that though all the world withstood, no harm should reach the hero while he had power to wield his sword.

At this unexpected interruption the warriors had risen quickly from the oaken benches, but Sigurd Ring smiled indulgently at the young man’s vehemence and said: “Friend, thy words are overbold, but never yet was guest restrained from uttering his thoughts in this kingly hall.” Then he turned to Ingeborg and bade her fill to the brim with her choicest mead a huge horn, richly decorated, which stood in front of her, and present it to the guest. The queen obeyed with downcast eyes, and the trembling of her hand caused the liquid to overflow. Two ordinary men could hardly have drained the mighty draught, but Frithiof raised it to his lips, and when he removed the horn not one drop of the mead remained.

Ere the banquet was ended Sigurd Ring invited the youthful stranger to remain at his court until the return of spring, and accepting the proffered hospitality, Frithiof became the constant companion of the royal couple, whom he accompanied upon all occasions.

One day Sigurd Ring set out to a banquet with Ingeborg. They travelled in a sleigh, while Frithiof, with steel-shod feet, sped gracefully by their side, cutting many mystic characters in the ice. Their way lay over a dangerous portion of the frozen surface, and Frithiof warned the king that it would be prudent to avoid this. He would not listen to the counsel, however, and suddenly the sleigh sank in a deep fissure, which threatened to engulph it with the king and queen. But like falcon descending upon its quarry, Frithiof was at their side in a moment, and without apparent effort he dragged the steed and its burden on to the firm ice. “In good sooth,” said Ring, “Frithiof himself could not have done better.”

The long winter came to an end, and in the early spring the king and queen arranged a hunting-party in which all the court were to take part. During the progress of the chase the advancing years of Sigurd Ring made it impossible for him to keep up with the eager hunt, and thus it happened that he dropped behind, until at length he was left with Frithiof as his sole companion. They rode slowly together until they reached a pleasant dell which invited the weary king to repose, and he declared that he would lie down for a season to rest.

“Then threw Frithiof down his mantle, and upon the greensward spread,

And the ancient king so trustful laid on Frithiof’s knee his head;

Slept, as calmly as the hero sleepeth after war’s alarms

On his shield, calm as an infant sleepeth in its mother’s arms.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

Frithiof’s Loyalty

While the aged king was thus reposing, a bird sang to Frithiof from a tree near by, bidding him take advantage of his host’s powerlessness to slay him, and recover the bride of whom he had been unfairly deprived. But although Frithiof’s hot young heart clamoured for his beloved, he utterly refused to entertain the dastardly suggestion, but, fearing lest he should be overcome by temptation, despite his horror at the thought, he impulsively flung his sword far from him into a neighbouring thicket.

A few moments later Sigurd Ring opened his eyes, and informed Frithiof that he had only feigned sleep; he told him also that having recognised him from the first, he had tested him in many ways, and had found his honour equal to his courage. Old age had now overtaken him and he felt that death was drawing nigh. In but a short time, therefore, Frithiof might hope to realise his dearest hope, and Sigurd Ring told him that he would die happy if he would stay by him until the end.

A revulsion of feeling had, however, overtaken Frithiof, and he told the aged king that he felt that Ingeborg could never be his, because of the wrath of Balder. Too long had he stayed; he would now go once more upon the sea and would seek death in the fray, that so he might appease the offended gods.

Full of his resolve, he quickly made preparations to depart, but when he returned to the court to bid farewell to his royal hosts he found that Sigurd Ring was at the point of death. The old warrior bethought him that “a straw death” would not win the favour of Odin, and in the presence of Frithiof and his court he slashed bravely the death runes on his arm and breast. Then clasping Ingeborg with one hand, he raised the other in blessing over Frithiof and his youthful son, and so passed in peace to the halls of the blessed.

“Gods all, I hail ye!

Sons of Valhalla!

Earth disappears; to the Asa’s high feast

Gjallar-horn bids me;

Blessedness, like a

Gold-helmet, circles their up-coming guest!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Betrothal of Frithiof and Ingeborg

The warriors of the nation now assembled in solemn Thing to choose a successor to the throne. Frithiof had won the people’s enthusiastic admiration, and they would fain have elected him king; but he raised Sigurd Ring’s little son high on his shield when he heard the shout which acclaimed his name, and presented the boy to the assembly as their future king, publicly swearing to uphold him until he was of age to defend the realm. The lad, weary of his cramped position, boldly sprang to the ground as soon as Frithiof’s speech was ended, and alighted upon his feet. This act of agile daring in one so young appealed to the rude Northmen, and a loud shout arose, “We choose thee, shield-borne child!”

“But thron’d king-like, the lad sat proud

On shield-floor high;

So the eaglet glad, from rock-hung cloud,

The Sun will eye!

At length this place his young blood found

Too dull to keep;

And, with one spring, he gains the ground—

A royal leap!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

According to some accounts, Frithiof now made war against Ingeborg’s brothers, and after conquering them, allowed them to retain their kingdom on condition that they paid him a yearly tribute. Then he and Ingeborg remained in Ringric until the young king was able to assume the government, when they repaired to Hordaland, a kingdom Frithiof had obtained by conquest, and which he left to his sons Gungthiof and Hunthiof.

Bishop Tegnér’s conclusion, however, differs very considerably, and if it appears less true to the rude temper of the rugged days of the sea-rovers, its superior spiritual qualities make it more attractive. According to Tegnér’s poem, Frithiof was urged by the people of Sigurd Ring to espouse Ingeborg and remain amongst them as guardian of the realm. But he answered that this might not be, since the wrath of Balder still burned against him, and none else could bestow his cherished bride. He told the people that he would fare over the seas and seek forgiveness of the god, and soon after, his farewells were spoken, and once more his vessel was speeding before the wind.

Frithiof’s first visit was paid to his father’s burial mound, where, plunged in melancholy at the desolation around, he poured out his soul to the outraged god. He reminded him that it was the custom of the Northmen to exact blood-fines for kinsmen slain, and surely the blessed gods would not be less forgiving than the earth-born. Passionately he adjured Balder to show him how he could make reparation for his unpremeditated fault, and suddenly, an answer was vouchsafed, and Frithiof beheld in the clouds a vision of a new temple.

“Then sudden, o’er the western waters pendent,

An Image comes, with gold and flames resplendent,

O’er Balder’s grove it hovers, night’s clouds under,

Like gold crown resting on a bed of green.

At last to a temple settling, firm ’tis grounded—

Where Balder stood, another temple’s founded.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

The hero immediately understood that the gods had thus indicated a means of atonement, and he grudged neither wealth nor pains until a glorious temple and grove, which far exceeded the splendour of the old shrine, rose out of the ruins.

“Finish’d great Balder’s Temple stood!

Round it no palisade of wood

Ran now as erst;

A railing stronger, fairer than the first,

And all of hammer’d iron—each bar

Gold-tipp’d and regular—

Walls Balder’s sacred House. Like some long line

Of steel-clad champions, whose bright war-spears shine

And golden helms afar—so stood

This glitt’ring guard within the holy wood!

“Of granite blocks enormous, join’d with curious care

And daring art, the massy pile was built; and there

(A giant-work intended

To last till time was ended,)

It rose like Upsal’s temple, where the north

Saw Valhall’s halls fair imag’d here on earth.

“Proud stood it there on mountain-steep, its lofty brow

Reflected calmly on the sea’s bright-flowing wave.

But round about, some girdle like of beauteous flow’rs,

Went Balder’s Dale, with all its groves’ soft-murmur’d sighs,

And all its birds’ sweet-twitter’d songs,—the Home of Peace.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Meantime, while the timbers were being hewed, King Helgé was absent upon a foray amongst the Finnish mountains. One day it chanced that his band passed by a crag where stood the lonely shrine of some forgotten god, and King Helgé scaled the rocky summit with intent to raze the ruined walls. The lock held fast, and, as Helgé tugged fiercely at the mouldered gate, suddenly a sculptured image of the deity, rudely summoned from his ancient sleep, started from his niche above.

Heavily he fell upon the head of the intruder, and Helgé stretched his length upon the rocky floor, nor stirred again.

When the temple was duly consecrated to Balder’s service, Frithiof stood by the altar to await the coming of his expected bride. But Halfdan first crossed the threshold, his faltering gait showing plainly that he feared an unfriendly reception. Seeing this, Frithiof unbuckled his sword and strode frankly to Halfdan with hand outstretched, whereupon the king, blushing deeply, grasped heartily the proffered hand, and from that moment all their differences were forgotten. The next moment Ingeborg approached and the renewed amity of the long-sundered friends was ratified with the hand of the bride, which Halfdan placed in that of his new brother.

“Over the copper threshold Halfdan now,

With pallid brow

And fearful fitful glance, advanceth slow

Tow’rds yonder tow’ring ever-dreaded foe—

And, silent, at a distance stands,—

Then Frithiof, with quick hands,

The corslet-hater, Angurvadel, from his thigh

Unbuckleth, and his bright shield’s golden round

Leaning ’gainst the altar, thus draws nigh;—

While his cow’d enemy

He thus accosts, with pleasant dignity.—

’Most noble in this strife will he be found

Who first his right hand good

Offers in pledge of peaceful brotherhood!’—

Then Halfdan, deeply blushing, doffs with haste

His iron-gauntlet and,—with hearty grasp embrac’d,—

Each long, long, sever’d hand

Its friend-foe hails, steadfast as mountain-bases stand!

“And as th’ last deep accents

Of reconcilement and of blessing sounded;

Lo! Ing’borg sudden enters, rich adorn’d

With bridal ornaments, and all enrob’d

In gorgeous ermine, and by bright-ey’d maidens

Slow-follow’d, as on heav’n’s broad canopy,

Attending star-trains guard the regent-moon!—

But the young bride’s fair eyes,

Those two blue skies,

Fill quick with tears,

And to her brother’s heart she trembling sinketh;—

He, with his sister’s fears

Deep-mov’d, her hand all tenderly in Frithiof’s linketh,

His burden soft transferring to that hero’s breast,

Its long-tried faith fit place for Ing’borg’s rest.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).


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