[A rocky coast, running precipitously down to the sea at the back. To the left, a boat-house; to the right, rocks and pine-woods. The masts of two war-ships can be seen down in the cove. Far out to the right, the ocean, dotted with reefs and rocky islands; the sea is running high; it is a stormy snow-grey winter day.]
[Sigurd comes up from the ships; he is clad in a white tunic with a silver belt, a blue cloak, cross-gartered hose, untanned shoes, and a steel cap; at his side hangs a short sword. Örnulf comes in sight immediately afterwards, up among the rocks, clad in a dark lamb-skin tunic with a breastplate and greaves, woollen stockings, and untanned shoes; over his shoulders he has a cloak of brown frieze, with the hood drawn over his steel cap, so that his face is partly hidden. He is very tall, and massively built, with a long white beard, but somewhat bowed by age; his weapons are a round shield, sword, and spear.
Sigurd [enters first, looks around, sees the boat-shed, goes quickly up to it, and tries to burst open the door.]
Örnulf [appears among the rocks, starts on seeing Sigurd, seems to recognise him, descends and cries:] Give place, Viking!
Sigurd [turns, lays his hand on his sword, and answers:] ’Twere the first time if I did!
Örnulf. Thou shalt and must! I have need of the shelter for my stiff-frozen men.
Sigurd. Then must outlaws be highly prized in Helgeland!
Örnulf. Dearly shalt thou aby that word!
Sigurd. Now will it go ill with thee, old man!
[Örnulf rushes upon him; Sigurd defends himself.]
[Dagny and some of Sigurd’s men come up from the strand; Örnulf’s six sons appear on the rocks to the right.]
Dagny [who is a little in front, clad in a red kirtle, blue cloak, and fur hood, calls down to the ships:] Up, all Sigurd’s men! My husband is fighting with a stranger!
Örnulf’s Sons. Help for Örnulf! [They descend.]
Sigurd [to his men]. Hold! I can master him alone!
Örnulf [to his sons]. Let me fight in peace! [Rushes in upon Sigurd.] I will see thy blood!
Sigurd. First see thine own! [Wounds him in the arm so that his spear falls.]
Örnulf. A stout stroke, Viking!
Swift the sword thou swingest,
keen thy blows and biting;
Sigurd’s self, the Stalwart,
stood before thee shame-struck.
Sigurd [smiling]. Then were his shame his glory!
Örnulf’s Sons [with a cry of wonder]. Sigurd himself! Sigurd the Strong!
Örnulf. But sharper was thy stroke that night thou didst bear away Dagny, my daughter. [Casts his hood back.]
Sigurd and his men. Örnulf of the Fiords!
Dagny [glad, yet uneasy]. My father and my brothers!
Sigurd. Stand thou behind me.
Örnulf. Nay, no need. [Approaching Sigurd.] I knew thy face as soon as I was ware of thee, and therefore I stirred the strife; I was fain to prove the fame that tells of thee as the stoutest man of his hands in Norway. Henceforth let peace be between us.
Sigurd. Best if so it could be.
Örnulf. Here is my hand. Thou art a warrior indeed; stouter strokes than these has old Örnulf never given or taken.
Sigurd [seizes his outstretched hand]. Let them be the last strokes given and taken between us two; and do thou thyself adjudge the matter between us. Art thou willing?
Örnulf. That am I, and straightway shall the quarrel be healed.
[To the others.] Be the matter, then, known to all. Five winters ago came Sigurd and Gunnar Headman as vikings to Iceland; they lay in harbour close under my homestead. Then Gunnar, by force and craft, carried away my foster-daughter, Hiördis; but thou, Sigurd, didst take Dagny, my own child, and sailed with her over the sea. For that thou art now doomed to pay three hundred pieces of silver, and thereby shall thy misdeed be atoned.
Sigurd. Fair is thy judgment, Örnulf; the three hundred pieces will I pay, and add thereto a silken cloak fringed with gold. It is a gift from King Æthelstan of England, and better has no Icelander yet borne.
Dagny. So be it, my brave husband; and my father, I thank thee. Now at last is my mind at ease.
[She presses her father’s and brothers’ hands, and talks low to them.]
Örnulf. Then thus stands the treaty between us; and from this day shall Dagny be to the full as honourably regarded as though she had been lawfully betrothed to thee, with the good will of her kin.
Sigurd. And in me canst thou trust, as in one of thine own blood.
Örnulf. That doubt I not; and see! I will forthwith prove thy friendship.
Sigurd. Ready shalt thou find me; say, what dost thou crave?
Örnulf. Thy help in rede and deed. I have sailed hither to Helgeland to seek out Gunnar Headman and draw him to reckoning for the carrying away of Hiördis.
Sigurd [surprised]. Gunnar!
Dagny [in the same tone]. And Hiördis — where are they?
Örnulf. In Gunnar’s homestead, I ween.
Sigurd. And it is ——?
Örnulf. Not many bow-shots hence; did ye not know?
Sigurd [with suppressed emotion]. No, truly. Small tidings have I had of Gunnar since we sailed from Iceland together. I have wandered far and wide and served many outland kings, while Gunnar sat at home. Hither we drive at day-dawn before the storm; I knew, indeed, that Gunnar’s homestead lay here in the north, but ——
Dagny [to Örnulf]. So that errand has brought thee hither?
Örnulf. That and no other. [To Sigurd.] Our meeting is the work of the Mighty Ones above; they willed it so. Had I wished to find thee, little knew I where to seek.
Sigurd [thoughtfully]. True, true! — But concerning Gunnar — tell me, Örnulf, art thou minded to go sharply to work, with all thy might, be it for good or ill?
Örnulf. That must I. Listen, Sigurd, for thus it stands: Last summer I rode to the Council where many honourable men were met. When the Council-days were over, I sat in the hall and drank with the men of my hundred, and the talk fell upon the carrying-away of the women; scornful words they gave me, because I had let that wrong rest unavenged. Then, in my wrath, I swore to sail to Norway, seek out Gunnar, and crave reckoning or revenge, and never again to set foot in Iceland till my claim was made good.
Sigurd. Ay, ay, since so it stands, I see well that if need be the matter must be pressed home.
Örnulf. It must; but I shall not crave over much, and Gunnar has the fame of an honourable man. Glad am I, too, that I set about this quest; the time lay heavy on me in Iceland; out upon the blue waters had I grown old and grey, and I longed to fare forth once again before I——; well well — Bergthora, my good wife, was dead these many years; my eldest sons sailed on viking-ventures summer by summer; and since Thorolf was growing up ——
Dagny [gladly]. Thorolf is with thee? Where is he?
Örnulf. On board the ship. [Points towards the background, to the right.] Scarce shalt thou know the boy again, so stout and strong and fair has he grown. He will be a mighty warrior, Sigurd; one day he will equal thee.
Dagny [smiling]. I see it is now as ever; Thorolf stands nearest thy heart.
Örnulf. He is the youngest, and like his mother; therefore it is.
Sigurd. But tell me — thy errand to Gunnar — thinkest thou today ——?
Örnulf. Rather today than tomorrow. Fair amends will content me; if Gunnar says me nay, then must he take what comes.
[Kåre the Peasant enters hastily from the right; he is clad in a grey frieze cloak and low-brimmed felt hat; he carries in his hand a broken fence-rail.]
Kåre. Well met, Vikings!
Örnulf. Vikings are seldom well met.
Kåre. If ye be honourable men, ye will grant me refuge among you; Gunnar Headman’s house-carls are hunting me to slay me.
Sigurd. Then has thou done him some wrong!
Kåre. I have done myself right. Our cattle fed together upon an island, hard by the coast; Gunnar’s men carried off my best oxen, and one of them flouted me for a thrall. Then bare I arms against him and slew him.
Örnulf. That was a lawful deed.
Kåre. But this morning his men came in wrath against me. By good hap I heard of their coming, and fled; but my foemen are on my tracks, and short shrift can I look for at their hands.
Sigurd. Ill can I believe thee, peasant! In bygone days I knew Gunnar as I know myself, and this I wot, that never did he wrong a peaceful man.
Kåre. Gunnar has no part in this wrong-doing; he is in the south-land; nay, it is Hiördis his wife ——
Örnulf [to himself]. Ay, ay, ’tis like her!
Kåre. I offered Gunnar amends for the thrall, and he was willing; but then came Hiördis, and egged her husband on with scornful words, and hindered the peace. Since then has Gunnar gone to the south, and today ——
Sigurd [looking out to the left]. Here come wayfarers northward. Is it not ——?
Kåre. It is Gunnar himself!
Örnulf. Be of good heart; methinks I can make peace between you.
[Gunnar Headman, with several men, enters from the left. He is in a brown tunic, cross-gartered hose, a blue mantle, and a broad hat; he has no weapon but a small axe.]
Gunnar [stops in surprise and uncertainty on seeing the knot of men]. Örnulf of the Fiords! Yes, it is ——!
Örnulf. Thou seest aright.
Gunnar [approaching]. Then peace and welcome to thee in my land, if thou come in peace.
Örnulf. If thy will be as mine, there shall be no strife between us.
Sigurd [standing forward]. Well met, Gunnar!
Gunnar [gladly]. Sigurd — foster-brother! [Shakes his hand.] Now truly, since thou art here, I know that Örnulf comes in peace. [To Örnulf.] Give me thy hand, greybeard! Thy errand here in the north is lightly guessed: it has to do with Hiördis, thy foster-daughter.
Örnulf. As thou sayest; great wrong was done me when thou didst bear her away from Iceland without my will.
Gunnar. Thy claim is just; what youth has marred, the man must mend. Long have I looked for thee, Örnulf, for this cause; and if amends content thee, we shall soon be at one.
Sigurd. So deem I too. Örnulf will not press thee hard.
Gunnar [warmly]. Nay, Örnulf, didst thou crave her full worth, all my goods would not suffice.
Örnulf. I shall go by law and usage, be sure of that. But now another matter. [Pointing to Kåre.] Seest thou yonder man?
Gunnar. Kåre! [To Örnulf.] Thou knowest, then, that there is a strife between us?
Örnulf. Thy men have stolen his cattle, and theft must be atoned.
Gunnar. Murder no less; he has slain my thrall.
Kåre. Because he flouted me.
Gunnar. I have offered thee terms of peace.
Kåre. But that had Hiördis no mind to, and this morning, whilst thou wert gone, she fell upon me and hunts me now to my death.
Gunnar [angrily]. Is it true what thou sayest? Has she ——?
Kåre. True, every word.
Örnulf. Therefore the peasant besought me to stand by him, and that will I do.
Gunnar [after a moment’s thought]. Honourably hast thou dealt with me, Örnulf; therefore is it fit that I should yield to thy will. Hear then, Kåre: I am willing to let the slaying of the thrall and the wrongs done toward thee quit each other.
Kåre [gives Gunnar his hand]. It is a good offer; I am content.
Örnulf. And he shall have peace for thee and thine?
Gunnar. Peace shall he have, here and overall.
Sigurd [pointing to the right]. See yonder!
Gunnar [disturbed]. It is Hiördis!
Örnulf. With armed men!
Kåre. She is seeking me!
[Hiördis enters, with a troop of house-carls. She is clad in black, wearing a kirtle, cloak, and hood; the men are armed with swords and axes; she herself carries a light spear.]
Hiördis [stops on entering]. A meeting of many, meseems.
Dagny [rushes to meet her]. Peace and joy to thee, Hiördis!
Hiördis [coldly]. Thanks. It was told me that thou wast not far off. [Comes forward, looking sharply at those assembled.] Gunnar, and — Kåre, my foeman — Örnulf and his sons and —— [As she catches sight of Sigurd, she starts almost imperceptibly, is silent a moment, but collects herself and says:] Many I see here who are known to me — but little I know who is best minded towards me.
Örnulf. We are all well-minded towards thee.
Hiördis. If so be, thou wilt not deny to give Kåre into my husband’s hands.
Örnulf. There is no need.
Gunnar. There is peace and friendship between us.
Hiördis [with suppressed scorn]. Friendship? Well well, I know thou art a wise man, Gunnar! Kåre has met mighty friends, and well I woth thou deem’st it safest ——
Gunnar. Thy taunts avail not! [With dignity.] Kåre is at peace with us!
Hiördis [restraining herself]. Well and good; if thou hast sworn him peace, the vow must be held.
Gunnar [forcibly, but without anger]. It must and it shall.
Örnulf [to Hiördis]. Another pact had been well-nigh made ere thy coming.
Hiördis [sharply]. Between thee and Gunnar.
Örnulf [nods]. It had to do with thee.
Hiördis. Well can I guess what it had to do with; but this I tell thee, foster-father, never shall it be said that Gunnar let himself be cowed because thou camest in arms to the isle. Hadst thou come alone, a single wayfarer, to our hall, the quarrel had more easily been healed.
Gunnar. Örnulf and his sons come in peace.
Hiördis. Mayhap; but otherwise will it sound in the mouths of men; and thou thyself, Gunnar, didst show scant trust in the peace yesterday, in sending our son Egil to the southland so soon as it was known that Örnulf’s warship lay in the fiord.
Sigurd [to Gunnar]. Didst thou send thy sons to the south?
Hiördis. Ay, that he might be in safety should Örnulf fall upon us.
Örnulf. Scoff not at that, Hiördis; what Gunnar has done may prove wise in the end, if so be thou hinderest the pact.
Hiördis. Life must take its chance; come what will, I had liever die than save my life by a shameful pact.
Dagny. Sigurd makes atonement, and will not be deemed the lesser man for that.
Hiördis. Sigurd best knows what his own honour can bear.
Sigurd. On that score shall I never need reminding.
Hiördis. Sigurd has done famous deeds, but the boldest deed of all was Gunnar’s, when he slew the white bear that guarded my bower.
Gunnar [with an embarrassed glance at Sigurd]. Nay nay, no more of that!
Örnulf. In truth it was the boldest deed that e’er was seen in Iceland; and therefore ——
Sigurd. The more easily can Gunnar yield, and not be deemed a coward.
Hiördis. If amends are to be made, amends shall also be craved. Bethink thee, Gunnar, of thy vow!
Gunnar. That vow was ill bethought; wilt thou hold me to it?
Hiördis. That will I, if we two are to dwell under one roof after this day. Know then, Örnulf, that if atonement is to be made for the carrying away of thy foster-daughter, thou, too, must atone for the slaying of Jokul my father, and the seizure of his goods and gear.
2 “I aerling holmgang.” The established form of duel in the viking times was to land the combatants on one of the rocky islets or “holms” that stud the Norwegian coast, and there let them fight it out. Hence “holmgang”=duel.
3 “At knaessette”=to knee-set a child, to take it on one’s knee, an irrevocable form of adoption.
Hiördis. Honour, and now wrong, befell thee in adopting Jokul’s daughter.
Örnulf. Nought but strife hast thou brought me, that I know.
Hiördis. Sterner strife may be at hand, if ——
Örnulf. I came not hither to bandy words with women! — Gunnar, hear my last word: art willing to make atonement?
Hiördis [to Gunnar]. Think of thy vow!
Gunnar [to Örnulf]. Thou hearest, I have sworn a vow, and that must I——
Örnulf [irritated]. Enough, enough! Never shall it be said that I made atonement for slaying in fair fight.
Hiördis [forcibly]. Then we bid defiance to thee and thine.
Örnulf [in rising wrath]. And who has the right to crave atonement for Jokul? Where are his kinsmen? There is none alive! Where is his lawful avenger?
Hiördis. That is Gunnar, on my behalf.
Örnulf. Gunnar! Ay, hadst thou been betrothed to him with thy foster-father’s good-will, or had he made atonement for carrying thee away, then were he thy father’s lawful avenger; but ——
Dagny [apprehensive and imploring]. Father, father!
Sigurd [quickly]. Do not speak it!
Örnulf [raising his voice]. Nay, loudly shall it be spoken! A woman wedded by force has no lawful husband!
Gunnar [vehemently]. Örnulf!
Hiördis [in a wild outburst]. Flouted and shamed! [In a quivering voice.] This — this shalt thou come to rue!
Örnulf [continuing]. A woman wedded by force is lawfully no more than a leman! Wilt thou regain thine honour, then must thou ——
Hiördis [controlling herself]. Nay, Örnulf, I know better what is fitting. If I am to be held as Gunnar’s leman — well and good, then must he win me honour by his deeds — by deeds so mighty that my shame shall be shame no more! And thou, Örnulf, beware! Here our ways part, and from this day I shall make war upon thee and thine whensoever and wheresoever it may be; thou shalt know no safety, thou, or any whom thou —— [Looking fiercely at Kåre.] Kåre! Örnulf has stood thy friend, forsooth, and there is peace between us; but I counsel thee not to seek thy home yet awhile; the man thou slewest has many avengers, and it well might befall —— See, I have shown thee the danger; thou must e’en take what follows. Come, Gunnar, we must gird ourselves for the fight. A famous deed didst thou achieve in Iceland, but greater deeds must here be done, if thou wouldst not have thy — thy leman shrink with shame from thee and from herself!
Gunnar. Curb thyself, Hiördis; it is unseemly to bear thee thus.
Dagny [imploringly]. Stay, foster-sister — stay; I will appease my father.
Hiördis [without listening to her]. Homewards, homewards! Who could have foretold me that I should wear out my life as a worthless leman? But if I am to bear this life of shame, ay, even a single day longer, then must my husband do such a deed — such a deed as shall make his name more famous than all other names of men.
[Goes out to the right.]
Gunnar [softly]. Sigurd, this thou must promise me, that we shall have speech together ere thou leave the land.
[Goes out with his men to the right.]
[The storm has meanwhile ceased; the mid-day sun is now visible, like a red disc, low upon the rim of the sea.]
Örnulf [threateningly]. Dearly shalt thou aby this day’s work, foster-daughter!
Dagny. Father, father! Surely thou wilt not harm her!
Örnulf. Let me be! Now, Sigurd, now can no amends avail between Gunnar and me.
Sigurd. What thinkest thou to do?
Örnulf. That I know not; but far and wide shall the tale be told how Örnulf of the Fiords came to Gunnar’s hall.
Sigurd [with quiet determination]. That may be; but this I tell thee, Örnulf, that thou shalt never bear arms against him so long as I am alive.
Örnulf. So, so! And what if it be my will to?
Sigurd. It shall not be-let thy will be never so strong.
Örnulf [angrily]. Go then; join thou with my foes; I can match the twain of you!
Sigurd. Hear me out, Örnulf; the day shall never dawn that shall see thee and me at strife. There is honourable peace between us, Dagny is dearer to me than weapons or gold, and never shall I forget that thou art her nearest kinsman.
Örnulf. There I know thee again, brave Sigurd!
Sigurd. But Gunnar is my foster-brother; faith and friendship have we sworn each other. Both in war and peace have we faced fortune together, and of all men he is dearest to me. Stout though he be, he loves not war; — but as for me, ye know, all of you, that I shrink not from strife; yet here I stand forth, Örnulf, and pray for peace on Gunnar’s behalf. Let me have my will!
Örnulf. I cannot; I should be a scoff to all brave men, were I to fare empty-handed back to Iceland.
Sigurd. Empty-handed shalt thou not fare. Here in the cove my two long-ships are lying, with all the wealth I have won in my viking-ventures. There are many costly gifts from outland kings, good weapons by the chestful, and other priceless chattels. Take thou one of the ships; choose which thou wilt, and it shall be thine with all it contains — be that the atonement for Hiördis, and let Gunnar be at peace.
Örnulf. Brave Sigurd, wilt thou do this for Gunnar?
Sigurd. For a faithful friend, no man can do too much.
Örnulf. Give half thy goods and gear!
Sigurd [urgently]. Take the whole, take both my ships, take all that is mine, and let me fare with thee to Iceland as the poorest man in thy train. What I give, I can win once more; but if thou and Gunnar come to strife, I shall never see a glad day again. Now Örnulf, thy answer?
Örnulf [reflecting]. Two good long-ships, weapons and other chattels — too much gear can no man have; but —— [vehemently] no, no! — Hiördis has threatened me; I will not! It were shameful for me to take thy goods!
Sigurd. Yet listen ——
Örnulf. No, I say! I must fight my own battle, be my fortune what it may.
Kåre [approaching]. Right friendly is Sigurd’s rede, but if thou wilt indeed fight thine own battle with all thy might, I can counsel thee better. Dream not of atonement so long as Hiördis has aught to say; but revenge can be thine if thou wilt hearken to me.
Örnulf. Revenge? What dost thou counsel?
Sigurd. Evil, I can well see.
Dagny [to Örnulf]. Oh, do not hear him!
Kåre. Hiördis has declared me an outlaw; with cunning will she seek to take my life; do thou swear to see me scatheless, and this night will I burn Gunnar’s hall and all within it. Is that to thy mind?
Örnulf [quietly]. To my mind? Knowest thou, Kåre, what were more to my mind? [In a voice of thunder.] To hew off thy nose and ears, thou vile thrall. Little dost thou know old Örnulf if thou thinkest to have his help in such a deed of shame!
Kåre [who has shrunk backwards]. If thou fall not upon Gunnar he will surely fall upon thee.
Örnulf. Have I not weapons, and strength to wield them?
Sigurd [to Kåre]. And now away with thee! Thy presence is a shame to honourable men!
Kåre [going off]. Well well, I must shield myself as best I can. But this I tell you: if ye think to deal gently with Hiördis, ye will come to rue it; I know her — and I know where to strike her sorest!
[Goes down towards the shore.]
Dagny. He is plotting revenge. Sigurd, it must be hindered!
Örnulf [with annoyance]. Nay, let him do as he will; she is worth no better!
Dagny. That meanest thou not; bethink thee she is thy foster-child.
Örnulf. Woe worth the day when I took her under my roof! Jokul’s words are coming true.
Örnulf. Ay, her father’s. When I gave him his death-wound he fell back upon the sward, and fixed his eyes on on me and sang:—
Jokul’s kin for Jokul’s slayer
many a woe shall still be weaving;
Jokul’s hoard whoe’er shall harry
heartily shall rue his rashness.
When he had sung that, he was silent a while, and laughed; and thereupon he died.
Sigurd. Why should’st thou heed his words?
Örnulf. Who knows? The story goes, and many believe it, that Jokul gave his children a wolf’s heart to eat, that they might be fierce and fell; and Hiördis has surely had her share, that one can well see.
[Breaks off, on looking out towards the right.] Gunnar! — Are we two to meet again!
Gunnar [enters]. Ay, Örnulf, think of me what thou wilt, but I cannot part from thee as thy foe.
Örnulf. What is thy purpose?
Gunnar. To hold out the hand of fellowship to thee ere thou depart. Hear me all of you: go with me to my homestead, and be my guests as long as ye will. We lack not meat or drink or sleeping-room, and there shall be no talk of our quarrel either today or tomorrow.
Sigurd. But Hiördis ——?
Gunnar. Yields to my will; she changed her thought on the homeward way, and deemed, as I did, that we would soon be at one if ye would but be our guests.
Dagny. Yes, yes; let it be so.
Sigurd [doubtfully]. But I know not whether ——
Dagny. Gunnar is thy foster-brother; little I know thee if thou say him nay.
Gunnar [to Sigurd]. Thou hast been my friend where’er we fared; thou wilt not stand against me now.
Dagny. And to depart from the land, leaving Hiördis with hate in her heart — no, no, that must we not!
Gunnar. I have done Örnulf a great wrong; until it is made good, I cannot be at peace with myself.
Sigurd [vehemently]. All else will I do for thee, Gunnar, but not stay here! [Mastering himself.] I am in King Æthelstan’s service, and I must be with him in England ere the winter is out.
Dagny. But that thou canst be, nevertheless.
Gunnar. No man can know what lot awaits him; mayhap this is our last meeting, Sigurd, and thou wilt repent that thou didst not stand by me to the end.
Dagny. And long will it be ere thou see me glad again, if thou set sail today.
Sigurd [determined]. Well, be it so! It shall be as ye will, although —— But no more of that; here is my hand; I will stay to feast with thee and Hiördis.
Gunnar [shakes his hand]. Thanks, Sigurd, I never doubted thee. — And thou, Örnulf, dost thou say likewise?
Örnulf [unappeased]. I shall think upon it. Bitterly has Hiördis wounded me; — I will not answer today.
Gunnar. It is well, old warrior; Sigurd and Dagny will know how to soothe thy brow. Now must I prepare the feast; peace be with you the while, and well met in my hall! [Goes out by the right.]
Sigurd [to himself]. Hiördis has changed her thought, said he? Little he knows her; I rather deem that she is plotting ——
[interrupting himself and turning to his men.] Come, follow me all to the ships; good gifts will I choose for Gunnar and his household.
Dagny. Gifts of the best we have. And thou, father — thou shalt have no peace for me until thou yield thee. [She goes with Sigurd and his men down towards the shore at the back.]
Örnulf. Yield me? Ay, if there were no women-folk in Gunnar’s house, then —— Oh, if I but knew how to pierce her armour! — Thorolf, thou here!
Thorolf [who has entered hastily]. As thou seest. Is it true that thou hast met with Gunnar?
Thorolf. And art at enmity with him?
Örnulf. Hm — at least with Hiördis.
Thorolf. Then be of good cheer; soon shalt thou be avenged!
Örnulf. Avenged? Who shall avenge me?
Thorolf. Listen: as I stood on board the ship, there came a man running, with a staff in his hand, and called to me: “If thou be of Örnulf’s shipfolk, then greet him from Kåre the Peasant, and say that now am I avenging the twain of us.” Thereupon he took a boat and rowed away, saying as he passed: “Twenty outlaws are at haven in the fiord; with them I fare southward, and ere eventide shall Hiördis be childless.”
Örnulf. He said that! Ha, now I understand; Gunnar has sent his son away; Kåre is at feud with him ——
Thorolf. And now he is rowing southward to slay the boy!
Örnulf [with sudden resolution]. Up all! That booty will we fight for!
Thorolf. What wilt thou do?
Örnulf. Ask me not; it shall be I, and not Kåre, that will take revenge!
Thorolf. I will go with thee!
Örnulf. Nay, do thou follow with Sigurd and thy sister to Gunnar’s hall.
Thorolf. Sigurd? Is he in the isle?
Örnulf. There may’st thou see his warships; we are at one — do thou go with him.
Thorolf. Among thy foes?
Örnulf. Go thou to the feast. Now shall Hiördis learn to know old Örnulf! But hark thee, Thorolf, to no one must thou speak of what I purpose; dost hear? to no one!
Thorolf. I promise.
Örnulf [takes his hand and looks at him affectionately]. Farewell then, my fair boy; bear thee in courtly wise at the feast-house, that I may have honour of thee. Beware of idle babbling; but what thou sayest, let it be keen as a sword. Be friendly to those that deal with thee in friendly wise; but if thou be taunted, hold not thy peace. Drink not more than thou canst bear; but put not the horn aside when it is offered thee in measure, lest thou be deemed womanish.
Thorolf. Nay, be at ease.
Örnulf. Then away to the feast at Gunnar’s hall. I too will come to the feast, and that in the guise they least think of. [Blithely to the rest.] Come, my wolf-cubs; be your fangs keen; — now shall ye have blood to drink.
[He goes off with his elder sons to the right, at the back.]
[Sigurd and Dagny come up from the ships, richly dressed for the banquet. They are followed by two men, carrying a chest, who lay it down and return as they came.]
Thorolf [looking out after his father]. Now fare they all forth to fight, and I must stay behind; it is hard to be the youngest of the house. — Dagny! all hail and greetings to thee, sister mine!
Dagny. Thorolf! All good powers! — thou art a man, grown!
Thorolf. That may I well be, forsooth, in five years ——
Dagny. Ay, true, true.
Sigurd [giving his his hand]. In thee will Örnulf find a stout carl, or I mistake me.
Thorolf. Would he but prove me ——!
Dagny [smiling]. He spares thee more than thou hast a mind to? Thou wast ever well-nigh too dear to him.
Sigurd. Whither has he gone?
Thorolf. Down to his ships; — he will return ere long.
Sigurd. I await my men; they are mooring my ships and bringing ashore wares.
Thorolf. There must I lend a hand!
[Goes down towards the shore.]
Sigurd [after a moment’s reflection]. Dagny, my wife, we are alone; I have that to tell thee which must no longer be hidden.
Dagny [surprised]. What meanest thou?
Sigurd. There may be danger in this faring to Gunnar’s hall.
Dagny. Danger? Thinkest thou that Gunnar ——?
Sigurd. Nay, Gunnar is brave and true — yet better had it been that I had sailed from the isle without crossing his threshold.
Dagny. Thou makest me fear! Sigurd, what is amiss?
Sigurd. First answer me this: the golden ring that I gave thee, where hast thou it?
Dagny [showing it]. Here, on my arm; thou badest me wear it.
Sigurd. Cast it to the bottom of the sea, so deep that none may ever set eyes on it again; else may it be the bane of many men.
Dagny. The ring!
Sigurd [in a low voice]. That evening when we carried away thy father’s daughters — dost remember it?
Dagny. Do I remember it!
Sigurd. It is of that I would speak.
Dagny [in suspense]. What is it? Say on!
Sigurd. Thou knowest there had been a feast; thou didst seek thy chamber betimes; but Hiördis still sat among the men in the feast-hall. The horn went busily round, and many a great vow was sworn. I swore to bear away a fair maid with me from Iceland; Gunnar swore the same as I, and passed the cup to Hiördis. She grasped it and stood up, and vowed this vow, that no warrior should have her to wife, save he who should go to her bower, slay the white bear that stood bound at the door, and carry her away in his arms.
Dagny. Yes, yes; all this I know!
Sigurd. All men deemed that it might not be, for the bear was the fiercest of beasts; none but Hiördis might come near it, and it had the strength of twenty men.
Dagny. But Gunnar slew it, and by that deed won fame throughout all lands.
Sigurd [in a low voice]. He won the fame — but — I did the deed!
Dagny [with a cry]. Thou!
Sigurd. When the men left the feast-hall, Gunnar prayed me to come with him alone to our sleeping-place. Then said he: “Hiördis is dearer to me than all women; without her I cannot live.” I answered him: “Then go to her bower; thou knowest the vow she hath sworn.” But he said: “Life is dear to him that loves; if I should assail the bear, the end were doubtful, and I am loath to lose my life, for then should I lose Hiördis too.” Long did we talk, and the end was that Gunnar made ready his ship, while I drew my sword, donned Gunnar’s harness, and went to the bower.
Dagny [with pride and joy]. And thou — thou didst slay the bear!
Sigurd. I slew him. In the bower it was dark as under a raven’s wing; Hiördis deemed it was Gunnar that sat by her — she was heated with the mead — she drew a ring from her arm and gave it to me — it is that thou wearest now.
Dagny [hesitating]. And thou didst pass the night with Hiördis in her bower?
Sigurd. My sword lay drawn between us. [A short pause.] Ere the dawn, I bore Hiördis to Gunnar’s ship; she dreamed not or our wiles, and he sailed away with her. Then went I to thy sleeping-place and found thee there among thy women; — what followed, thou knowest; I sailed from Iceland with a fair maid, as I had sworn, and from that day hast thou stood faithfully at my side whithersoever I might wander.
Dagny [much moved]. My brave husband! And that great deed was thine! — Oh, I should have known it; none but thou would have dared! Hiördis, that proud and stately woman, couldst thou have won, yet didst choose me! Now wouldst thou be tenfold dearer to me, wert thou not already dearer than all the world.
Sigurd. Dagny, my sweet wife, now thou knowest all — that is needful. I could not but warn thee; for that ring — Hiördis must never set eyes on it! Wouldst thou do my will, then cast it from thee — into the depths of the sea.
Dagny. Nay, Sigurd, it is too dear to me; is it not thy gift? But be thou at ease, I shall hide it from every eye, and never shall I breathe a word of what thou hast told me.
[Thorolf comes up from the ships, with Sigurd’s men.]
Thorolf. All is ready for the feast.
Dagny. Come then, Sigurd — my brave, my noble warrior!
Sigurd. Beware, Dagny — beware! It rests with thee now whether this meeting shall end peacefully or in bloodshed. [Cheerfully to the others.] Away then, to the feast in Gunnar’s hall!
[Goes out with Dagny to the right; the others follow.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51