The Vikings of Helgeland, by Henrik Ibsen

Act Fourth.

[By the coast. It is evening; the moon breaks forth now and again, from among dark and ragged storm-clouds. At the back, a black grave-mound, newly heaped up.]

[Örnulf sits on a stone, in front on the right, his head bare, his elbows resting on his knees, and his face buried in his hands. His men are digging at the mound; some give light with pine-knot torches. After a short pause, Sigurd and Dagny enter from the boat-house, where a wood fire is burning.]

Dagny [in a low voice]. There sits he still. [Holding Sigurd back.] Nay, speak not to him!

Sigurd. Thou say’st well; it is too soon; best leave him!

Dagny [goes over to the right, and gazes at her father in quiet sorrow]. So strong was he yesterday when he bore Thorolf’s body on his back; strong was he as he helped to heap the grave-mound; but when they were all laid to rest, and earth and stones piled over them — then the sorrow seized him; then seemed it of a sudden as though his fire were quenched. [Dries her tears.] Tell me, Sigurd, when thinkest thou to fare homeward to Iceland?

Sigurd. So soon as the storm abates, and my quarrel with Gunnar is ended.

Dagny. And then wilt thou buy land and build thee a homestead, and go a-viking no more?

Sigurd. Yes, yes — that have I promised.

Dagny. And I may believe without doubt that Hiördis spoke falsely when she said that I was unworthy to be thy wife?

Sigurd. Yes yes, Dagny, trust thou to my word.

Dagny. Then am I glad again, and will try to forget all the evil that here has been wrought. In the long winter evenings we will talk together of Gunnar and Hiördis, and ——

Sigurd. Nay, Dagny, wouldst thou have things go well with us, do thou never speak Hiördis’ name when we sit together in Iceland.

Dagny [mildly upbraiding him]. Unjust is thy hatred towards her. Sigurd, Sigurd, it is unlike thee.

One of the Men [approaching]. There now, the mound is finished.

Örnulf [as if awaking]. The mound? Is it — ay, ay ——

Sigurd. Now speak to him, Dagny.

Dagny [approaching]. Father, it is cold out here; a storm is gathering to-night.

Örnulf. Hm; heed it not; the mound is close-heaped and crannyless; they lie warm in there.

Dagny. Ay, but thou ——

Örnulf. I? I am not cold.

Dagny. Nought hast thou eaten today; wilt thou not go in? The supper-board stands ready.

Örnulf. Let the supper-board stand; I have no hunger.

Dagny. But to sit here so still — trust me, thou wilt take hurt of it; thou art ever wont to be stirring.

Örnulf. True, true; there is somewhat that crushes my breast; I cannot draw breath.

[He hides his face in his hands. A pause. Dagny seats herself beside him.]

Dagny. To-morrow wilt thou make ready thy ship and set forth for Iceland?

Örnulf [without looking up]. What should I do there? Nay, I will to my sons.

Dagny [with pain]. Father!

Örnulf [raises his head]. Go in and let me sit here; when the storm has played with me for a night or two, the game will be over, I ween.

Sigurd. Thou canst not think to deal thus with thyself.

Örnulf. Dost marvel that I fain would rest? My day’s work is done; I have laid my sons in their grave. [Vehemently.] Go from me! — Go, go!

[He hides his face.]

Sigurd [softly, to Dagny, who rises]. Let him sit yet a while.

Dagny. Nay, I have one rede yet untried; — I know him. [To Örnulf.] Thy day’s work done, say’st thou? Nay, that it is not. Thou hast laid thy sons in the grave; — but art thou not a skald? It is meet that thou should’st sing their memory.

Örnulf [shaking his head]. Sing? Nay, nay; yesterday I could sing; I am too old today.

Dagny. But needs must thou; honourable men were thy sons, one and all; a song must be made of them, and that can none of our kin but thou.

Örnulf [looks inquiringly at Sigurd]. To sing? What thinkest thou, Sigurd?

Sigurd. Meseems it is but meet; thou must e’en do as she says.

Dagny. Thy neighbours in Iceland will deem it ill done when the grave-ale is drunk over Örnulf’s children, and there is no song to sing with it. Thou hast ever time enough to follow thy sons.

Örnulf. Well well, I will try it; and thou, Dagny, give heed, that afterwards thou may’st carve the song on staves.

[The men approach with the torches, forming a group around him; he is silent for a time, reflecting; then he says:]

Bragi’s10 gift is bitter

when the heart is broken;

sorrow-laden singer,

singing, suffers sorely.

Natheless, since the Skald-god

gave me skill in song-craft,

in a lay loud-ringing

be my loss lamented!

[Rises.]

Ruthless Norn11 and wrathful

wrecked my life and ravaged,

wiled away my welfare,

wasted Örnulf’s treasure.

Sons had Örnulf seven,

by the great gods granted; —

lonely now and life-sick

goes the greybeard, sonless.

Seven sons so stately,

bred among the sword-blades,

made a mighty bulwark

round the snow-locked sea-king.

Levelled lies the bulwark,

dead my swordsmen seven;

gone the greybeard’s gladness,

desolate his dwelling.

Thorolf — thou my last-born!

Of the bold the boldest!

Soon were spent my sorrow

so but thou wert left me!

Fair thou wast as springtide,

fond towards thy father,

waxing straight and stalwart

to so wight a warrior.

Dark and drear his death-wound

leaves my life’s lone evening;

grief hath gripped my bosom

as ‘twixt hurtling targes.

Nought the Norn denied me

of her rueful riches,

showering woes unstinted

over Örnulf’s world-way.

Weak are now my weapons.

But, were god-might given me,

then, oh Norn, I swear it,

scarce should’st thou go scatheless!

Dire were then my vengeance;

then had dawned thy doomsday,

Norn, that now hast left me

nought but yonder grave-mound.

Nought, I said? Nay, truly,

somewhat still is Örnulf’s,

since of Suttung’s12 mead-horn

he betimes drank deeply.

[With rising enthusiasm.]

Though she stripped me sonless,

one great gift she gave me —

songcraft’s mighty secret,

skill to sing my sorrows.

On my lips she laid it,

goodly gift of songcraft;

loud, then, let my lay sound,

e’en where they are lying!

Hail, my stout sons seven!

Hail, as homeward ride ye!

Songcraft’s glorious god-gift

stauncheth woe and wailing.

10 Bragi, the god of poetry and eloquence.

11 See note, p. 175 [The “Nornir” were the Fates of northern mythology.]

12 Suttung was a giant who kept guard over the magic mead of poetical inspiration.

[He draws a deep breath, throws back the hair from his brow, and says calmly:]

So — so; now is Örnulf sound and strong again. [To the men.] Follow me to the supper-board, lads; we have had a heavy day’s work!

[Goes with the men into the boat-house.]

Dagny. Praised be the Mighty Ones on high that gave me so good a rede. [To Sigurd.] Wilt thou not go in?

Sigurd. Nay, I list not to. Tell me, are all things ready for tomorrow?

Dagny. They are; a silk-sewn shroud lies on the bench; but I know full surely that thou wilt hold thee against Gunnar, so I have not wept over it.

Sigurd. Grant all good powers, that thou may’st never weep for my sake. [He stops and looks out.]

Dagny. What art thou listening to?

Sigurd. Hear’st thou nought — there?

[Points towards the left.]

Dagny. Ay, there goes a fearsome storm over the sea!

Sigurd [going up a little towards the background]. Hm, there will fall hard hailstones in that storm. [Shouts.] Who comes?

Kåre the Peasant [without on the left]. Folk thou wot’st of, Sigurd Viking!

[Kåre the Peasant, with a band of armed men, enters from the left.]

Sigurd. Whither would ye?

Kåre. To Gunnar’s hall.

Sigurd. As foemen?

Kåre. Ay, trust me for that! Thou didst hinder me before; but now I ween thou wilt scarce do the like.

Sigurd. Maybe not.

Kåre. I have heard of thy challenge to Gunnar; but if things go to my mind, weak will be his weapons when the time comes for your meeting.

Sigurd. ’Tis venturesome work thou goest about; take heed for thyself, Peasant!

Kåre [with defiant laughter]. Leave that to me; if thou wilt tackle thy ship to-night, we will give thee light for the task! — Come, all my men; here goes the way.

[They go off to the right, at the back.]

Dagny. Sigurd, Sigurd, this misdeed must thou hinder.

Sigurd [goes quickly to the door of the hut, and calls in]. Up from the board, Örnulf; take vengeance on Kåre the Peasant.

Örnulf [comes out, with the rest]. Kåre the Peasant — where is he?

Sigurd. He is making for Gunnar’s hall to burn it over their heads.

Örnulf. Ha-ha — let him do as he will; so shall I be avenged on Gunnar and Hiördis, and afterwards I can deal with Kåre.

Sigurd. Ay, that rede avails not; wouldst thou strike at Kåre, thou must seek him out to-night; for when his misdeed is done, he will take to the mountains. I have challenged Gunnar to single combat; him thou hast safely enough, unless I myself — but no matter. — To-night he must be shielded from his foes; it would ill befit thee to let such a dastard as Kåre rob thee of thy revenge.

Örnulf. Thou say’st truly. To-night will I shield the slayer of Thorolf; but tomorrow he must die.

Sigurd. He or I— doubt not of that!

Örnulf. Come then, to take vengeance for Örnulf’s sons.

[He goes out with his men by the back, to the right.]

Sigurd. Dagny, do thou follow them; — I must bide here; for the rumour of the combat is already abroad, and I may not meet Gunnar ere the time comes. But thou — do thou keep rein on thy father; he must go honourably to work; in Gunnar’s hall there are many women; no harm must befall Hiördis or the rest.

Dagny. Yes, I will follow them. Thou hast a kind thought even for Hiördis; I thank thee.

Sigurd. Go, go, Dagny!

Dagny. I go; but be thou at ease as to Hiördis; she has gilded armour in her bower, and will know how to shield herself.

Sigurd. That deem I too; but go thou nevertheless; guide thy father’s course; watch over all — and over Gunnar’s wife!

Dagny. Trust to me. Farewell, till we meet again.

[She follows the others.]

Sigurd. ’Tis the first time, foster-brother, that I stand weaponless whilst thou art in danger. [Listens.] I hear shouts and sword-strokes; — they are already at the hall. [Goes towards the right, but stops and recoils in astonishment.] Hiördis! Comes she hither!

[Hiördis enters, clad in a short scarlet kirtle, with gilded armour: helmet, hauberk, arm-plates, and greaves. Her hair is flying loose; at her back hangs a quiver, and at her belt a small shield. She has in her hand the bow strung with her hair.]

Hiördis [hastily looking behind her, as though in dread of something pursuing her, goes close up to Sigurd, seizes him by the arm, and whispers:] Sigurd, Sigurd, canst thou see it?

Sigurd. What? Where?

Hiördis. The wolf there — close behind me; it does not move; it glares at me with its two red eyes. It is my wraith,13, Sigurd! Three times has it appeared to me; that bodes that I shall surely die to-night!

13 The word “wraith” is here used in an obviously inexact sense; but the wraith seemed to be the nearest equivalent in English mythology to the Scandinavian “fylgie,” an attendant spirit, often regarded as a sort of emanation from the person it accompanied, and sometimes [as in this case] typifying that person’s moral attributes.

Sigurd. Hiördis, Hiördis!

Hiördis. It has sunk into the earth! Yes, yes, now it has warned me.

Sigurd. Thou art sick; come, go in with me.

Hiördis. Nay, here will I bide; I have but little time left.

Sigurd. What has befallen thee?

Hiördis. What has befallen? That know I not; but true was it what thou said’st today, that Gunnar and Dagny stand between us; we must away from them and from life: then can we be together!

Sigurd. We? Ha, thou meanest ——!

Hiördis [with dignity]. I have been homeless in this world from that day thou didst take another to wife. That was ill done of thee! All good gifts may a man give his faithful friend — all, save the woman he loves; for if he do that, he rends the Norn’s secret web, and two lives are wrecked. An unerring voice within me tells me I came into the world that my strong soul might cheer and sustain thee through heavy days, and that thou wast born to the end I might find in one man all that seemed to me great and noble; for this I know Sigurd — had we two held together, thou hadst become more famous than all others, and I happier.

Sigurd. It avails not now to mourn. Thinkest thou it is a merry life that awaits me? To be by Dagny’s side day be day, and feign a love my heart shrinks from? Yet so it must be; it cannot be altered.

Hiördis [in a growing frenzy]. It shall be altered! We must out of this life, both of us! Seest thou this bow-string? With it can I surely hit my mark; for I have crooned fair sorceries over it! [Places an arrow in the bow, which is strung.] Hark! hearest thou that rushing in the air? It is the dead men’s ride to Nalhal: I have bewitched them hither; — we two will join them in their ride!

Sigurd [shrinking back]. Hiördis, Hiördis — I fear thee!

Hiördis [not heeding him]. Our fate no power can alter now! Oh, ’tis better so than if thou hadst wedded me here in this life — if I had sat in thy homestead weaving linen and wool for thee and bearing thee children — pah!

Sigurd. Hold, hold! Thy sorcery has been too strong for thee; thou art soul-sick, Hiördis! [Horror-struck.] Ha, see — see! Gunnar’s hall — it is burning!

Hiördis. Let it burn, let it burn! The cloud-hall up yonder is loftier than Gunnar’s rafter-roof!

Sigurd. But Egil, thy son — they are slaying him!

Hiördis. Let him die — my shame dies with him!

Sigurd. And Gunnar — they are taking thy husband’s life!

Hiördis. What care I! A better husband shall I follow home this night! Ay, Sigurd, so must it be; here on this earth is no happiness for me. The White God is coming northward; him will I not meet; the old gods are strong no longer; — they sleep, they sit half shadow-high; — with them will we strive! Out of this life, Sigurd; I will enthrone thee king in heaven, and I will sit at thy side. [The storm bursts wildly.] Hark, hark, here comes our company! Canst see the black steeds galloping? — one is for me and one for thee. [Draws the arrow to her ear and shoots.] Away, then, on thy last ride home!

Sigurd. Well aimed, Hiördis!

[He falls.]

Hiördis [jubilant, rushes up to him]. Sigurd, my brother — now art thou mine at last!

Sigurd. Now less than ever. Here our ways part; for I am a Christian man.

Hiördis [appalled]. Thou ——! Ha, no, no!

Sigurd. The White God is mine; King Æthelstan taught me to know him; it is to him I go.

Hiördis [in despair]. And I——! [Drops her bow.] Woe! woe!

Sigurd. Heavy has my life been from the hour I tore thee out of my own heart and gave thee to Gunnar. Thanks, Hiördis; — now am I so light and free.

[Dies.]

Hiördis [quietly]. Dead! Then truly have I brought my soul to wreck!

[The storm increases; she breaks forth wildly.] They come! I have bewitched them hither! No, no! I will not go with you! I will not ride without Sigurd! It avails not — they see me; they laugh and beckon to me; they spur their horses! [Rushes out to the edge of the cliff at the back.] They are upon me; — and no shelter no hiding — place! Ay, mayhap at the bottom of the sea!

[She casts herself over.]

[Örnulf, Dagny, Gunnar, with Egil, followed by Sigurd’s and Örnulf’s men, gradually enter from the right.]

Örnulf [turning towards the grave-mound]. Now may ye sleep in peace; for ye lie not unavenged.

Dagny [entering]. Father, father — I die of fear — all that bloody strife — and the storm; — hark, hark!

Gunnar [carrying Egil]. Peace, and shelter for my child!

Örnulf. Gunnar!

Gunnar. Ay, Örnulf, my homestead is burnt and my men are slain; I am in thy power; do with me what thou wilt!

Örnulf. That Sigurd must look to. But in, under roof! It is not safe out here.

Dagny. Ay, in, in! [Goes towards the boat-house, catches sight of Sigurd’s body, and shrieks.] Sigurd, my husband! — They have slain him!

[Throwing herself upon him.]

Örnulf [rushes up]. Sigurd!

Gunnar [sets Egil down]. Sigurd dead!

Dagny [looks despairingly at the men, who surround the body]. No, no, it is not so; — he must be alive! [Catches sight of the bow.] Ha, what is that? [Rises.]

Örnulf. Daughter, it is as first thou saidst — Sigurd is slain.

Gunnar [as if seized by a sudden thought]. And Hiördis! — Has Hiördis been here?

Dagny [softly and with self-control]. I know not; but this I know, that her bow has been here.

Gunnar. Ay, I thought as much!

Dagny. Hush, hush! [To herself.] So bitterly did she hate him!

Gunnar [aside]. She has slain him — the night before the combat; then she loved me after all.

[A thrill of dread runs through the whole group; Asgardsreien — the ride of the fallen heroes to Valhal — hurtles through the air.]

Egil [in terror]. Father! See, see!

Gunnar. What is it?

Egil. Up there — all the black horses ——!

Gunnar. It is the clouds that ——

Örnulf. Nay, it is the dead men’s home-faring.

Egil [with a shriek]. Mother is with them!

Dagny. All good spirits!

Gunnar. Child, what say’st thou?

Egil. There — in front — on the black horse! Father, father!

[Egil clings in terror to his father; a short pause; the storm passes over, the clouds part, the moon shines peacefully on the scene.]

Gunnar [in quiet sorrow]. Now is Hiördis surely dead!

Örnulf. So it must be, Gunnar; — and my vengeance was rather against her than thee. Dear has this meeting been to both of us; ———— there is my hand; be there peace between us!

Gunnar. Thanks, Örnulf! And now aboard; I sail with thee to Iceland.

Örnulf. Ay, to Iceland! Long will it be ere our forth-faring is forgotten.

Weapon wielding warrior’s meeting,

woeful by the northern seaboard,

still shall live in song and saga

while our stem endure in Iceland.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38