The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
What Folk did at Herdholt after the Slaying.
NOW in the hall next morn did Oswif bide
The while his messengers went far and wide
Asking for help; and all in hiding lay
Whose hapless hands had brought about that day,
Save Bodli; but for him, when back he came
That morn, affrighted, Oswif called his name,
Beholding him so worn and changed, and said:
"Stout art thou, kinsman, not to hide thine head!
Yet think that Olaf is a mighty man,
And though thy coming life look ill and wan
Good reason whyYet will I ask of thee
The staff of mine old age at least to be,
And save thy life therefor."
Then Bodli smiled
A ghastly smile: "Nay, I am not beguiled
To hope for speedy death; is it not told
How that Cain lived till he was very old?"
Therewith he sank adown into a seat
And hid his face. But sound of hurrying feet
Was in the porch withal; and presently
Came one who said:
"Oswif, all hail to thee!
From Holyfell I come with tidings true,
That little will the wily Snorri do p. 512
To help us herein; for he saith the deed
Is most ill done, and that thy sons shall need
More help than they shall get within the land;
Yet saith withal, he will not hold his hand
From buying peace, if that may serve thy turn."
"Well, well," said Oswif, "scarce now first I learn
That Snorri bides his time, and will not run
His neck into a noose for any one.
Go, get thee food, good fellow. Whence comst thou
Who followest, thy face is long enow?"
"The bearer of a message back I am
From Whiteriver, where Audun Festargram
Has well-nigh done his lading, and, saith he,
That so it is he feareth the deep sea
But little, and the devil nought at all;
But he is liefer at hell's gate to call
With better men than are thy sons, he saith."
"Good," Oswif said, "that little he fears death!
My sight clears, and I see his black bows strike
The hidden skerry. But thou next; belike
Thou hast ill tidings too: what saith my friend,
The son of Hauskuld? what shall be the end?"
"Oswif," the man said, "be not wroth with me
If unto Herdholt nowise openly
I went last night; I fared with hidden head p. 513
Een as a man who drifts from stead to stead
When things go ill: so shelter there I gat,
And mid the house-caries long enow I sat
To note men's bearing. Olafan old man
He looks now trulysat all worn and wan
Within the high-seat, and I deemed of him
That he had wept, from his red eyes and dim,
That scarce looked dry as yet; but down the board
Sat Thorgerd, and I saw a naked sword
Gleam from her mantle; round her sat her sons,
And unto Haldor did she whisper once
And looked toward Olaf; Haldor from its sheath
Half drew his sword, and then below his breath
Spake somewhat. Now looked Olaf round the hall,
But when his eyes on Kiartan's place did fall
His mouth twitched, though his eyes gazed steadily;
He set his hand unto a beaker nigh
And drank and cried out:
"Drink now all of you
Unto the best man Iceland ever knew!
Son, I am weary that thou hast not come
With gleesome tales this eve unto my home;
Yet well thou farest surely amid those
Who are the noblest there, and not so close
They sit, but there is room for thee beside;
Sure, too, with them this eve is merry tide
That thou art come amongst themwould that I
O son, O son, were of that company!' p. 514
"With outstretched hand and fixed eyes did he stare,
As though none other in the hall there were
But him he named; the while mid shout and clank
All folk unto the man departed drank,
And midst the noise, withal, I saw no few,
Who from their sheaths the glittering weapons drew,
And through the talk of Kiartan's deeds I heard,
Not lowly spoken, many a threatening word;
While with the tumult of the clattering place
So gathered white-hot rage in Thorgerd's face,
That long it held her silent: then I saw
A black form from the women's chamber draw
White-faced, white-handed; ever did she gaze
Upon the hall-door with an anxious face,
And once or twice as the stout door-planks shook
Beneath the wind's stroke, a half-hopeful look
Came oer her face, that faded presently
In anguish, as she looked some face to see
Come from the night, and then remembered all;
And therewith did great ruth upon me fall,
For this was Refna; and most quietly
She passed to Olaf's side, and with a sigh
Sat down beside him there; now and again
An eager look lit up her patient pain
As from the home-men Kiartan's name came loud,
And then once more her heavy head she bowed,
And strove to weep and might not. In a while
She raised her eyes, and met grey Thorgerd's smile p. 515
Scornful and fierce, who therewithal rose up
And laid her hand upon a silver cup,
And drew from out her cloak a jewelled sword,
And cast it ringing on the oaken board,
And oer the hall's noise high her clear voice shrilled;
If the old gods by Christ and mass are killed,
Or driven away, yet am I left behind,
Daughter of Egil, and with such a mind
As Egil had; wherefore if Asa Thor
Has never lived, and there are men no more
Within the land, yet by this king's gift here,
And by this cup Thor owned once, do I swear
That the false foster-brother shall be slain
Before three summers have come round again,
If but my hand must bring him to his end.'
Therewith a stern shout did her tall sons send
Across the hall, and mighty din arose
Among the home-men. Refna shrank all close
To Olaf's side; but he at first said nought,
Until the cries and clash of weapons brought
Across his dream some image of past days;
And, turning, upon Refna did he gaze,
And on her soft hair laid his hand, and then
Faced round upon the drink-flushed clamorous men,
And in a mighty voice cried out and said:
'Forbear, ye brawlers! now is Kiartan dead,
Nor shall I live long. Will it bring him back p. 516
To let loose on the country war and wrack,
And slay the man I love next after him?
Leave me in peace at least! mine eyes wax dim,
And little pleasure henceforth shall I have,
Until my head hath rest within the grave.'
Then did he rise and stretch across the board,
And took into his hand the noble sword,
And said, 'In good will wert thou given, O blade,
But not to save my son's heart wert thou made.
Help no man henceforth! harm no man henceforth!
Thou foolish glittering toy of little worth!'
Therewith he brake the sword across his knee,
And cast it down; and then I minded me
How the dead man there bore not that fair blade
When unto grass of Swinedale he was laid.
But Olaf looked so great a man, that none
Durst say a word against him. Gone is gone,'
He said, 'nor yet on Bodli shall ye fall.
When all is ready Kiartan's voice shall call
For him he loved; but if it must be so,
Then unto Oswif's base sons shall ye show
That him they did to death left friends behind';
For this thing ever shall ye bear in mind,
That through their vile plots did all come to. pass,
And Bodli but the sword they fought with was.'
And therewithal he sat down wearily,
And once again belike saw nought anigh. p. 517
"Well, Oswif, little more there happed that eve,
And I at dawn to-day their stead did leave,
To tell thee how things went."
Now Bodli heard
The man speak, and some heart in him was stirred
When of the woman's oath was told, but when
The tale was ended, his head sank again
With a low moan; but Oswif said:
Did my heart tell me, when I thought I knew
The nobleness of Olaf Hauskuldson.
What shall be done now?"
As he spake came one
Panting and flushed into the hall, and cried:
Get to your arms in haste; Herdholt doth ride
Unto our stead in goodly company!"
Then was there tumult as was like to be,
And round the silent face of the dead man,
Hither and thither, half-armed tremblers ran
With poor hearts; but old Oswif to the door
Went forth unarmed, and Bodli scarce moved more
Than his dead foster-brother. Soon withal
Did quiet on the troubled homestead fall,
For there was nought come but a peaceful train
To bring back Kiartan to his home again;
And there upon the green slope did they bide,
Whence Kiartan on that other morn had cried
His scorn aloud; wherefrom were six men sent,
Who, entering now the thronged hall, slowly went, p. 518
Looking around them, toward the bier; but as
They drew anear it, from the bower did pass
A black-clad figure, and they stood aghast,
For it was Gudrun, and wild eyes she cast
On this and that man, as if questioning
Mutely the meaning of some dreadful thing
She knew was doing there: her black gown's hem
She caught up wildly as she gazed at them,
Then shuddering cast it down, and seemed to seek
The face of Oswif; then as if to shriek
She raised her head, and clenched her hands, but nought
Of sound from out her parched lips was there brought,
Till at her breast she clutched, and rent adown
With trembling hands the bosom of her gown,
And cried out, panting as for lack of air;
"Alas, what do ye? have ye come to bear
My love a second time from me, O men?
Do ye not know he is come back again
After a long time? Ah, but evil heart
Must be in you such love as ours to part!"
Then, crying out, upon the corpse she fell,
And men's hearts failed them for pure ruth, and well
They deemed it, might she never rise again;
But strong are many hearts to bear all pain
And live, and hers was even such an one.
Softly they bore her back amidst her swoon; p. 519
And then, while even men must weep, once more
Did Kiartan pass the threshold of the door,
That once had been the gate of Paradise
Unto his longing heart. But in nowise
Did Bodli move amidst all this, until
Slow wound the Herdholt men around the hill;
Then stealthily his white face did he raise,
And turned about unto the empty place
Where erst the bier had stood; then he arose,
And looked into the faces of all those
Who stood around, as asking what betid,
What dreadful thing the quivering silence hid;
And then he staggered back unto the wall,
And such a storm of grief on him did fall,
With sobs, and tears, and inarticulate cries,
That men for shame must turn away their eyes,
Nor seem to see a great man fallen so low.
With such wild songs home to the stead came now
The last load of that bitter harvesting,
That from the seed of lust and lies did spring.