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- The Wagner Story Book - 10/24 -
spot comes the hero, who wears the ring on his finger. He has wandered away from the king and his men, who were hunting with him, and as soon as the nymphs see him they beg him to give them back their ring.
"He says that he will not, at first; it was too much trouble for him to win it from the dragon. But he really does not care so very much about it, and I think he would let them have it in the end if it were not for a great mistake that they make in asking for it. They tell him about the curse of the ring, and that if he keeps it he will be killed this very day. Now, you can see easily enough that that is the very worst thing they could say if they hoped to get the ring from him, for he is not in the least afraid of being killed, and he will not have anybody believe that he is afraid. They shall not have it, he says, happen what will. They will have it, they call back to him, and this very day; and so they dive down under the water and leave him.
"Now come the rest of the huntsmen and sit about in a circle to rest here in the shade and to talk. The king is gloomy, thinking still of the wrongs that have been done him. His half-brother asks the hero if it is true that he knows what the birds say. 'I listen to them no more,' he answers; 'but to cheer the king I will tell you some stories of the things that I have seen and the things that I have done.'
"He tells them of the dwarf who kept him and brought him up that he might fight the dragon; he tells how he mended the magic sword, how he killed the dragon with it, and took the helmet and the ring from the cave. A bird then sang to him, he says, and told him that the dwarf would try to kill him, but he killed the dwarf instead. Here he stops, for he cannot remember anything about the mountain top with the fire around it, or the Daughter of the God, or even what the bird sang to him next. But the king's half-brother squeezes something into his wine and tells him to drink it and it will make him remember better.
"He drinks, and it does make him remember better. He tells of the lovely woman who slept with the fire all around her, and how he kissed her and awoke her. Then suddenly the king understands it all; he remembers the drink of forgetfulness that they gave the hero, and he knows that nobody has done any wrong but his wicked half-brother; he it was who told him of the woman in the fire who should be his wife, he who said that the hero should bring her to him, he who bade them give him the drink to make him forget, he who first said that the hero must die. The king would gladly save the hero now, but it is too late.
"It is too late, for of a sudden two ravens fly up from beside the river and away over the heads of them all. They are the ravens that fly all over the world and then to the Father of the Gods, to tell him all that they see and all that they hear. They are going now to tell him that the end of the gods, the end that he longs for, is near. The hero starts up to hear what they say. He turns his back to the others, and the half-brother, before the king can stop him, thrusts his spear into his back. The hero turns for an instant to rush against the murderer, but his strength is gone, and he falls helpless upon the ground. All the rest cry out in horror, and the half-brother turns from them and strides away.
"And what now of the hero? He speaks no word to those who stand about him as he lies here dying on the ground. Where are his thoughts now? He is thinking of the only time he ever feared. He is back again upon the rock, with the flames curling and whirling all around him. Before him once more lies the Daughter of the God. Again he kisses her lips. She awakes. He sees again those deep, blue, wonderful eyes. He does not see the rocks, or the trees, or the sunlight--only her. Again for one last moment he knows that in all the world there cannot be another woman such as this. They look each into the other's eyes and into the other's heart. He is dead.
"They lay him on his shield and lift it upon their shoulders, and so they bear him back to the king's house by the river. The half-brother is there before them and tells the princess that her lover has been killed by a wild boar. She does not believe him, and when the others come she calls the king and all the rest his murderers. The king indeed wished his death once, but he is sorry enough for it now, and says that it was his half-brother alone who did it. 'Well, then,' cries the murderer, 'it was I, and now I will have my reward; I will take the ring.'
"The king cries out that he shall not have it, and draws his sword. The half-brother draws his own and rushes upon him, and before the men can run between them the king too lies dead upon the ground. Then again the murderer turns toward the body of the hero to take the ring, but, as he comes near it, the hand that wears the ring rises of itself, as if it were not dead and would ward him off. He falls back in terror, and so do all the rest.
"But now comes the Daughter of the God. She bids them all stand back from her hero. 'He was mine, not yours,' she says to the princess; 'he loved me and I loved him before you ever saw him.'
"'Then it was all the fault of this wicked man who has murdered him,' the princess answers; 'he gave me the drink for him that made him forget you.'
"She turns away from the hero and bends over the king, her brother. The Daughter of the God understands now; he was never faithless to her of himself. She tells the men to build a funeral pyre. They pile up the wood and the women scatter flowers upon it. Then she takes the ring from her hero's hand. While they lay his body on the pyre she bids them bring his horse, the horse that once was hers, that flew with her through the clouds when she was a goddess, and slept on the mountain top with the fire around it where she slept. With a torch she lights the pyre. See how the flames leap up and catch at the wood and stream and grow. Once more the ravens fly up from the river bank and away into the sky. Now the end for the gods comes indeed.
"The Daughter of the God springs upon the horse and with one bound they leap into the middle of the flames. Yet, as soon as they are there, they are gone, nor can I see the hero there any more. The pyre all falls together; but in the middle of its hot, red embers I see something brighter than all the rest. It is the ring. The water of the river rises and rises till it flows over the fire and puts it out. Then on the surface, swimming and playing about as always, I see the river nymphs. They have found the ring, and their treasure is their own again. But the wicked half-brother of the king, the son of that dwarf who stole it at first long ago, tries one last time to gain it. He plunges into the river to seize it from the nymphs, but one of them holds it up high in her hand and swims away from him, and the others twine their arms around him and draw him down and down under the water and he is seen no more. The river sinks back to its old bed. The treasure that was stolen is restored. All the evil and the punishment that came from the curse of the ring is done."
[Illustration: "THEIR TREASURE IS THEIR OWN AGAIN."]
A big stick that had been burning brightly and steadily for a long time suddenly fell in two and the quick flames and the sparks sprang high up into the chimney. "See, it is the castle of the gods itself that is burning and lighting up all the sky. The wrong that they have done and the sorrow that they have suffered are past, and their end has come. But the fire burns fiercer still. It seizes upon everything, in the sky and on the earth. Perhaps it is better that it should. The world that we have seen in our fire here grew so selfish and cruel and bad after the gold was stolen from the river that it may be best for it to end in these flames. They will last for only a moment. Even now they are not so fierce. I can see the sky again. There is a beautiful brightness in it, like the coming of the morning; yet it is more than that, for it streams and flashes like the northern lights. I can see the earth again too, but it is not as it was before. It is a new world. It has all the beautiful things that the old one had, the green pastures and plains, the silver rivers, the blue mountains. Some of the gods have come back, but not those who did such wrong and made the old world so wicked. The God of Summer, who died long ago when the evil began, has come again; and if he and all who were good and beautiful before are to be here still, I am sure that the Daughter of the God and the hero who knew no fear must find their way here somehow. A new world that is to be all unselfish and brave and true needs such a woman and such a hero."
THE KNIGHT OF THE SWAN
The little girl was lying on the rug before the fire, one elbow buried in the long fur, and one cheek resting on her hand. She was gazing into the fire, studying the bright, flickering flames and the red embers. I had not noticed that she was there till her mother said, "You will ruin that child's eyes with your stories about the things in the fire. She would watch it half the day if I would let her; it is too bright and too hot to look at so long and so near. Come away, dear, and don't look at the fire again to-day."
"But why can't I see such things as you see?" the child said to me, with a little sigh, as she got up slowly from the rug and came toward me.
"Just because you have not quite learned how yet," I said; "now suppose you give up trying for a little while, because you might hurt your eyes, as your mother says, and let me look into the fire for you again. Sit here in the big chair with me; turn your face right away from the fire and lay it against my shoulder. Now shut your eyes. Some people can see a great deal better with their eyes shut, especially such things as we are trying to see, because when their eyes are open they see the every-day things all around them, and it confuses them and prevents their seeing what they want to see or what they ought to see. They are people who have not learned to look right through the every- day things and see others, in spite of them, that are much better and more beautiful, as you will learn to do some time. But just now keep your eyes shut.
"I see then, first, a splendid company of knights and people. The shining of the fire is like the light of the sun, that glances from the polished armor, the gleaming weapons, the standards, and the banners of bright-colored silk and gold. It is all so fine that it looks like a holiday time; but it is not that, for the crowds of people seem bent on something more important than dancing and playing games. They are all looking toward the King, who stands under a great tree and seems to have something to say to them. The heralds are blowing their trumpets and calling to the people to come and hear what the King has to say, though they are all there already and are only too anxious to hear, and so the King speaks. He says that far away at the other end of the country there is danger. Enemies are coming against him and his people, and he calls upon all the men here about him to help him to guard the land.
"Then they all shout and wave their banners and their arms, as I can see in the flickering of the bright little flames, and they all cry that they will fight for their King and their country. But this does not satisfy the King, for he says that since he has come here he finds everything going wrong and everybody quarrelling, and he asks what it all means. Now there comes forward a man who has all this while been
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