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- Hypatia - 10/97 -
shells and roses. Her dark hair lay carefully spread out upon the pillow, in a thousand ringlets entwined with gold and jewels; her languishing eyes blazed like diamonds from a cavern, under eyelids darkened and deepened with black antimony; her lips pouted of themselves, by habit or by nature, into a perpetual kiss; slowly she raised one little lazy hand; slowly the ripe lips opened; and in most pure and melodious Attic, she lisped her huge lover's question to the monk, and repeated it before the boy could shake off the spell, and answer....
'Asgard? What is Asgard?'
The beauty looked at the giant for further instructions.
'The City of the immortal Gods,' interposed the old warrior, hastily and sternly, to the lady.
'The city of God is in heaven,' said Philammon to the interpreter, turning his head away from those. gleaming, luscious, searching glances.
His answer was received with a general laugh by all except the leader, who shrugged his shoulders.
'It may as well be up in the skies as up the Nile. We shall be just as likely, I believe, to reach it by flying, as by rowing up this big ditch. Ask him where the river comes from, Pelagia.'
Pelagia obeyed .... and thereon followed a confusion worse confounded, composed of all the impossible wonders of that mythic fairyland with which Philammon had gorged himself from boyhood in his walks with the old monks, and of the equally trustworthy traditions which the Goths had picked up at Alexandria. There was nothing which that river did not do. It rose in the Caucasus. Where was the Caucasus? He did not know. In Paradise--in Indian Aethiopia--in Aethiopian India. Where were they? He did not know. Nobody knew. It ran for a hundred and fifty days' journey through deserts where nothing but flying serpents and satyrs lived, and the very lions' manes were burnt off by the heat....
'Good sporting there, at all events, among these dragons,' quoth Smid the son of Troll, armourer to the party.
'As good as Thor's when he caught Snake Midgard with the bullock's head,' said Wulf.
It turned to the east for a hundred days' journey more, all round Arabia and India, among forests full of elephants and dog-headed women.
'Better and better, Smid!' growled Wulf, approvingly.
'Fresh beef cheap there, Prince Wulf, eh?' quoth Smid; 'I must look over the arrow-heads.'
--To the mountains of the Hyperboreans, where there was eternal night, and the air was full of feathers .... That is, one-third of it came from thence, and another third came from the Southern ocean, over the Moon mountains, where no one had ever been, and the remaining third from the country where the phoenix lived, and nobody knew where that was. And then there were the cataracts, and the inundations-and-and-and above the cataracts, nothing but sand-hills and ruins, as full of devils as they could hold .... and as for Asgard, no one had ever heard of it .... till every face grew longer and longer, as Pelagia went on interpreting and misinterpreting; and at last the giant smote his hand upon his knee, and swore a great oath that Asgard might rot till the twilight of the gods before he went a step farther up the Nile.
'Curse the monk!' growled Wulf. 'How should such a poor beast know anything about the matter?'
'Why should not he know as well as that ape of a Roman governor?' asked Smid.
'Oh, the monks know everything,' said Pelagia. 'They go hundreds and thousands of miles up the river, and cross the deserts among fiends and monsters, where any one else would be eaten up, or go mad at once.'
'Ah, the dear holy men! It's all by the sign of the blessed cross!' exclaimed all the girls together, devoutly crossing themselves, while two or three of the most enthusiastic were half-minded to go forward and kneel to Philammon for his blessing; but hesitated, their Gothic lovers being heathenishly stupid and prudish on such points.
'Why should he not know as well as the prefect? Well said, Smid! I believe that prefect's quill-driver was humbugging us when he said Asgard was only ten days' sail up.'
'Why?' asked Wulf.
'I never give any reasons. What's the use of being an Amal, and a son of Odin, if one has always to be giving reasons like a rascally Roman lawyer? I say the governor looked like a liar; and I say this monk looks like an honest fellow; and I choose to believe him, and there is an end of it.'
'Don't look so cross at me, Prince Wulf; I'm sure it's not my fault; I could only say what the monk told me,' whispered poor Pelagia.
'Who looks cross at you, my queen?' roared the Amal. 'Let me have him out here, and by Thor's hammer, I'll--'
'Who spoke to you, you stupid darling?' answered Pelagia, who lived in hourly fear of thunderstorms. 'Who is going to be cross with any one, except I with you, for mishearing and misunderstanding, and meddling, as you are always doing? I shall do as I threatened, and run away with Prince Wulf, if you are not good. Don't you see that the whole crew are expecting you to make them an oration?'
Whereupon the Amal rose.
'See you here, Wulf the son of Ovida, and warriors all! If we want wealth, we shan't find it among the sand-hills. If we want women, we shall find nothing prettier than these among dragons and devils. Don't look angry, Wulf. You have no mind to marry one of those dog- headed girls the monk talked of, have you? Well, then, we have money and women; and if we want sport, it's better sport killing men than killing beasts; so we had better go where we shall find most of that game, which we certainly shall not up this road. As for fame and all that, though I've had enough, there's plenty to be got anywhere along the shores of that Mediterranean. Let's burn and plunder Alexandria: forty of us Goths might kill down all these donkey-riders in two days, and hang up that lying prefect who sent us hereon this fool's errand. Don't answer, Wulf. I knew he was humbugging us all along, but you were so open-mouthed to all he said, that I wasbound to let my elders choose for me. Let's go back; send over for any of the tribes; send to Spain for those Vandals--they have had enough of Adolf by now, curse him!--I'll warrant them; get together an army, and take Constantinople. I'll be Augustus, and Pelagia, Augusta; you and Smid here, the two Caesars; and we'll make the monk the chief of the eunuchs, eh?-- anything you like for a quiet life; but up this accursed kennel of hot water I go no farther. Ask your girls, my heroes, and I'll ask mine. Women are all prophetesses, every one of them.'
'When they are not harlots,' growled Wulf to himself.
'I will go to the world's end with you, my king!' sighed Pelagia; 'but Alexandria is certainly pleasanter than this.'
Old Wulf sprang up fiercely enough.
'Hear me, Amalric the Amal, son of Odin, and heroes all! When my fathers swore to be Odin's men, and gave up the kingdom to the holy Annals, the sons of the Aesir, what was the bond between your fathers and mine? Was it not that we should move and move, southward and southward ever, till we came back to Asgard, the city where Odin dwells for ever, and gave into his hands the kingdom of all the earth? And did we not keep our oath? Have we not held to the Amals? Did we not leave Adolf, because we would not follow a Balth, while there was an Amal to lead us? Have we not been true men to you, son of the Aesir?'
'No man ever saw Wulf, the son of Ovida, fail friend or foe.'
'Then why does his friend fail him? Why does his friend fail himself? If the bison-bull lie down and wallow, what will the herd do for a leader? If the king-wolf lose the scent, how will the pack hold it? If the Yngling forgets the song of Asgard, who will sing it to the heroes?'
'Sing it yourself, if you choose. Pelagia sings quite well enough for me.'
In an instant the cunning beauty caught at the hint, and poured forth a soft, low, sleepy song:--
'Loose the sail, rest the oar, float away down, Fleeting and gliding by tower and town; Life is so short at best! snatch, while thou canst, thy rest, Sleeping by me!'
'Can you answer that, Wulf?' shouted a dozen voices.
'Hear the song of Asgard, warriors of the Goths! Did not Alaric the king love it well? Did I not sing it before him in the palace of the Caesars, till he swore, for all the Christian that he was, to go southward in search of the holy city? And when he went to Valhalla, and the ships were wrecked off Sicily, and Adolf the Balth turned back like a lazy hound, and married the daughter of the Romans, whom Odin hates, and went northward again to Gaul, did not I sing you all the song of Asgard in Messina there, till you swore to follow the Amal through fire and water until we found the hall of Odin, and received the mead-cup from his own hand? Hear it again, warriors of the Goths!'
'Not that song!' roared the Amal, stopping his ears with both his hands. 'Will you drive us blood-mad again, just as we are settling down into our sober senses, and finding out what our lives were given us for?'
'Hear the song of Asgard! On to Asgard, wolves of the Goths!' shouted another; and a babel of voices arose.
'Haven't we been fighting and marching these seven years?'
'Haven't we drunk blood enough to satisfy Odin ten times over? If
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