Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  William Morris  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, [1870], at

Thorhalla tells of Kiartan's Comings and Goings.

WHAT should the next move in the strange game be?
Kiartan rode through the country carelessly
With few behind him, but nought hitherto
The sons of Oswif durst against him do,
While he his hand withheld not utterly
From them; so doubtful did the days go by.

   And Gudrun? Ah, the black spot in her heart
That rose when first she knew that one had part
In Kiartan's life, and ever greater grew,
When of his love toward this new love she knew,
Now at he last, when over sure she felt
That she no longer in his memory dwelt,
O’erspread her life, till from the foiled desire
Cast back upon her heart, there sprang a fire
Of very hate: true was it, that at first
Bodli, herself, and all around she cursed
Rather than Kiartan—Well, what will you have
That was ere hope had sunk into his grave, p. 488
While yet some pleasure clung round Kiartan's name.
Then came the feast at Herdholt; then the shame
About the coif, and fear of shame again,
And many a tale told to make over plain
His love for Refna; then the evil hour,
When she within the darksome hall must cower
Among her trembling brethren: then, when she
Had looked at least a noble death to see,
Of one who loved her, Kiartan sent him back
A baffled man, as who all might did lack,
Yea, even the might to die; still, at each turn
Afresh this weary lesson must she learn;
With the wrong-doers hast thou taken part,
Live then, and die with them, for thy love's heart
Is now no more for thee! still everywhere
Did Kiartan's image meet her; the warm air
Of summer seemed but sent her from his hand,
The sea that beat the borders of the land
Still seemed to bear his fame unto her feet;
All summer sights and sounds, and odours sweet,
Were heavy with his memory: no least way
To ’scape from thought of him from day to day.
Withal, the sight of faces dull with hate
Of that same man, on every step did wait.
Familiar grew the muttering sullen voice
Of those who in no goodhap could rejoice,
Until the very thought and hope of strife,
The use of hate, must grow to be her life.
And shaped therefrom a dreadful longing rose, p. 489
That some fell end the weary way would close,
Unto herself she scarce durst whisper what.

   Now on a day three of her brothers sat
Within the hall, and talked, and she stood by
Hearkening their eager speech most wearily.
"The gabbling crone Thorhalla has just been,"
Said Ospak, "And whom think you she has seen?"

   "Nay, by thy scowl I know well," Thorolf said,
"’Twas Kiartan Olafson, upon my head."

   "Well, Thorolf, thou grow’st wise—now, said the crone,
That in her life she ne’er saw such an one
As Kiartan looked, a loving maiden's dream
Of a great king, she said, the man did seem.
'Well,' said I, 'and how long then will it last?'
'Ah,' said the crone, 'till after ye are passed;
Why, the whole country-side is ringing now
With this, that ye had best be wise and bow
Before him humbly, since most kind is he;
Kind,' says the crone, 'certes he was to me.'
'Well, well,' says I, 'but these are fools’ words here.'
'Nay, let me speak,' she says, 'for he will fare
Unto the west to Knoll; this know I well,
Because to him therewith I needs must tell
Of one who owed me half a mark thereby. p. 490
Well, goody, says he, I shall pass anigh,
And I will fetch it for thee—lo, how kind.'"

   "Now may God strike the gabbling idiot blind!"
Said Thorolf. "Nay," said Ospak, "not so wise
Thou growest now; rather, God keep her eyes!
Tidings she told me, saying he would bide
For just three days at Knoll, and thence will ride
Through Swinedale home, close here, nor like that he
Will ride by us with a great company,
Say two at most—good luck go with his pride,
Whereby so fair a chance doth us betide!—
Bodli shall lead or die."
                           Then Gudrun turned
Sick-hearted from them; how her longing burned
Within her heart! ah, if he died not now,
How might she tell whereto his hate would grow?
Yet a strange hope that longing shot across,
As she got thinking what would be the loss
If Bodli fell ’neath Kiartan's hand. That day,
Like years long told, past Gudrun wore away,
She knew not how; but when the next day came
She cried aloud, "The same, ah, still the same,
Shall every day be, now that he is dead!"
She started as she heard her voice, her head
Seemed filled with flame: she crawled unto her bower
And at her mirrored face hour after hour
She stared, and wondered what she really was,
The once-loved thing o’er which his lips would pass. p. 491
Her feet grew heavy at the end of day,
Her heart grew faint, upon her bed she lay
Moveless for many an hour, until the sun
Told her that now the last day was begun;
Then she arose as one might in a dream
To clothe herself, till a great cloud did seem
To draw away from her; as in bright hell,
Sunless but shadowless she saw full well
Her life that was and would be, now she knew
The deed unmasked that summer day should do.
And then she gnashed her teeth and tore her hair,
And beat her breast, nor lightened thus despair,
As over and over the sweet names she told
Whereby he called her in the days of old;
And then she thought of Refna's longing eyes,
And to her face a dreadful smile did rise
That died amidst its birth, as back again
Her thoughts went to the tender longing pain
She once had deemed a sweet fair day would end;
And therewith such an agony did rend
Her body and soul, that all things she forgat
Amidst of it; upon the bed she sat
Rigid and stark, and deemed she shrieked, yet made
No sound indeed; but slowly now did fade
All will away from her, until the sun
Risen higher, on her moveless body shone,
And as a smitten thing beneath its stroke
She shrank and started, and awhile awoke
To hear the tramp of men about the hall. p. 492
Then did a hand upon the panel fall;
And in her very soul she heard the ring
Of weapons pulled adown, and every thing,
Yea, even pain, was dead a little space.

   At last she woke to see the haggard face
Of Bodli o’er her own: "I go," he said,
"Would God that thou mayst hear of me as dead
Ere the sun sets to-day."
                           She passed her hand
Across her eyes, as he in arms did stand
Before her there, and stared but answered not,
As though indeed his face were clean forgot;
Yet her face quickened as his eyes she saw
So full of ruth yet nigher to her draw:
She shrank aback, but therewith suddenly
A thought smote through her, with an angry cry
She sprang up from the bed, naked and white
Her gold hair glittering in the sunshine bright
That flooded all the place; his arm she caught
And stared into his eyes:
                            "What is thy thought?"
She said, "why goest thou with these murderous men?
Ah! dost thou think thou yet mayst save him then?
Ah! dost thou think that thou mayst still be kind
To every one, fool as thou art and blind,
Yet work thy wicked will to pleasure thee?"

   Across her passion he began to see p. 493
That now she doubted him; he muttered low:
"The work of these my hands what man can know?
And yet at least the end shall be to-day."

   She fell aback nor noted more, but lay
All huddled up upon the bed, her hair
O’er her white body scattered here and there,
And as he gazed on her he saw she wept,
And a wild passion o’er his heart there swept,
And twice he stretched his arms out, to embrace
His curse and his delight, twice turned his face
Unto the door that led unto the hall,
Then with a cry upon her did he fall
And, sobbing, strained her to his mail-clad breast,
And to her writhen lips his lips he pressed,
And moaned o’er her wet cheeks, and kissed her eyes
That knew him not; till in his heart ’gan rise,
Now at the last, a glory in his shame,
A pride to take the whole world's bitter blame;
And like a god he felt, though well he deemed
That to an end at last his dream was dreamed.
And she, she knew him not, her arms fell down
Away from him, her drawn mouth and set frown
Were not for him, she did not shrink from him,
She turned not round to curse or bless, when dim
She lay before his burning eyes once more,
Her long hair gilding the white bed-clothes o’er,
As midst low restless moaning there she tossed.
   Wildly he cried: "Oh, Gudrun, thou hast lost, p. 494
But look on me for I have never won!"
Then from the place he rushed, and with the sun
Burst into the dusk hall, a stream of light,
Neath his dark hair, his face so strange and white
That a dead man dragged up into the day
By wizard's arts he seemed to be, and they
Who waited armed there, and the last cup drank
Looked each at each, and from his presence shrank.

   For there were gathered now the murderous band,
Long to be cursed thereafter through the land,
Gudrun's five brethren, and three stout men more.
Then Ospak cried, "Soon shall our shame be o’er,
And thou and we shall be great men and famed,
And Bathstead free; come now, since thou art named
Our leader, husband of Gudrun, lead forth!
For this day shall be called a day of worth,
By those that tell the story of our house."

   Flushed were the men, and fierce and boisterous,
And Bodli trembled in his helpless rage
To be among them, but his sin's strong cage
Was strait and strong about him: with no word
He girt to him the rover's deadly sword,
And did his helm on: and so forth they wend
Through the bright morn to bring about the end.

Next: The Slaying of Kiartan Olafson