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- The Wagner Story Book - 5/24 -
the men who are killed and to bring them to his castle. Each of these daughters has a horse which flies through the air faster than any bird. When the fallen heroes have come thus to the halls of the gods, they are brought to life and their wounds are healed by means that the gods know how to use, and they live there, feasting day after day with other heroes. And lest they should forget their old skill and bravery in fighting, every day they have a battle and many of them are killed and chopped to pieces by the others' swords, but at sunset they are all alive and well again, and they go back together to their feast in the halls of the gods.
"It is one of these daughters of the god, one of these choosers of heroes, whom I see before me now. I wish that I could make you see her. She is more than a beautiful woman, and also she is less. She is tall and her form is strong, yet light and buoyant. She is dressed all in armor, and she has a spear and a shield which gleams and glistens like a beacon-light for an army. She herself, as I see her here, is as graceful and as full of warm life as a flame of the fire, the same hot glow stirs her heart and moves her to the same eager, free action. Her face is as clear and pure as the fire itself, and almost as radiant as her silver shield, while the gold of her hair breaking from under the light of her helmet, outshines them all. Beating under her bosom, thrilling through her form, glowing in her cheeks, and beaming from her eyes, is the joy of life and strength and beauty. Yet where is the tenderness that one would seek in a woman's eyes? A glad light shines in hers, but it is not softened by any kindly ray of gentleness or mercy. Where is the sweetness of a woman's lips? Hers are calm and beautiful, but they tempt no more than a stain of blood upon the snow. What is there in her face that could melt into a woman's compassion and pity? Her face is not cruel, not unkind, only still, stern, and placid as marble. She is not a woman, you know; only a goddess--a war goddess.
"Just now the Father of the Gods is telling his daughter of the fight that is to come between the robber and the hero who won the sword, and he commands her to help the hero to win. She is delighted at this, for she loves all brave, true heroes as he does, but she has scarcely left her father when the Mother of the Gods comes, riding furiously through the air in a chariot drawn by two rams. She has heard of the fight too, and she takes quite a different view of it. 'This man whom you would save and help,' she says, 'has taken the woman away from the man whose wife she promised to be. Is that all you care for a promise? He must be punished; you must help his enemy to kill him.'
[Illustration: "DAUGHTER OF THE GOD."]
"You see she cares nothing at all about heroes, but to her a promise is a promise. And the Father of the Gods himself is very particular about promises, as you must remember, so he is forced to say that he will not help the hero. But that is not enough for her; he must command his daughter not to help him. She shall not, he says, but that is not enough; he must help his enemy and see that he wins. This is hard for the Father of the Gods, for he loves the hero, and if he is left to himself he must win, with his magic sword, yet he cannot choose; the promise has been broken, and he gives his word that the hero shall die.
"The Father of the Gods is left alone, and again his daughter comes to him. He tells her sadly that she must help the robber in the fight, and that the hero must die. She is as sad as he at this command, for all that she ever wishes is to do what he would have her do, and she knows that, though he says that the hero must die, yet he would have him live. But his word is given, and, full of sorrow, the god and his daughter part. And now comes the hero himself, with his bride. She is fearful of what may befall him in the fight, and would have him flee farther away. He will not do that, and he tries to cheer her, till she faints and sinks down at his feet. Then, beautiful and sad, but still calm, stern, and placid, the Daughter of the God stands before him.
"'Soon,' she says to him, 'you must come with me to the castle of the gods. There the Father of the Gods will welcome you, there your own father, whom you lost so long ago, waits for you, there you will fight and feast with heroes, and the daughters of the god will serve you.'
"'And shall this woman here,' he asks, 'whom I love, go with me and with you there?'
"'No,' she answers, 'this woman cannot go.'
"'Then I will not go,' he replies; 'gladly I would stand before the Father of the Gods, gladly I would see my own father again and the heroes and the daughters of the god, but not without her; I will not go with you; leave us here.'
"If the daughter of the god were a woman she would understand all this, but now it would make her impatient, if anything could. She cannot know and cannot feel why this man, who has had only trouble and ill luck all his life, should choose to stay and wait for more trouble and ill luck with this one poor woman who lies at their feet, fainting and knowing not even that she is alive, rather than to sit and feast with gods and heroes. How little a war goddess can really know about brave men!
"Yet she does know that her father, whose wishes are her own, wishes this woman to live, and that she will be in danger after her hero has left her; so she tells him that he may leave his bride with her and she will protect her. But the man is still more unreasonable. He says that she is cruel and hard-hearted. That is unjust, for she is not cruel. He says too that the woman shall die rather than be left with her. If he must die, he will kill the woman, too, and he is about to do it, when the Daughter of the God holds his hand. She thinks only now of how much her father longs that this man may live; she resolves that in spite of the command she will save him; she tells him that he shall have her help in the fight, and she leaves him, just as there comes a noise and a shout of the robber with his men and his dogs hunting for the hero to kill him.
"See how the black smoke is driven down the chimney by the changing gusts of wind. It is like dark clouds gathering over the sky and dropping down upon the mountain, so that it is hard to see anything at all. The fire goes down, too, and its flames dart and flicker in sudden, angry flashes. Some of them are like lightning, brightening the whole scene for an instant, and then I can see the hero and the robber in their fight, springing and thrusting and striking at each other so that it seems as if they must both be killed a dozen times over. Again in the sparkle of the fire I see the gleaming of the magic sword, as the hero whirls it above his head and strikes at his enemy. Then comes a flare of flame that shines from the shield of the Daughter of the God, as she throws it over the hero to protect and save him. It is all in vain, for there comes a hot, red glow in which for an instant all the rest is lost, and now, in the midst of it stands the Father of the Gods himself. The daughter falls back helpless before him, and he stretches his spear toward the hero. The magic sword falls upon the spear and is shivered to pieces. Nothing indeed could shatter that blade but the spear of the god who made it, but with that spear to help him the robber springs upon his enemy and his sword is through his heart, and he is fallen.
"The Daughter of the God has come back to where the woman lay, she has lifted her from the ground and has laid her across her horse's saddle as if she were dead; she leaps upon his back and they are galloping away like the wind. The Father of the Gods has avenged the broken promise; he has killed the hero whom he loved, and now he turns for one moment toward the robber whom he has helped to win the fight. Only once the god waves his hand toward him and the robber falls dead; he will fight and kill brave men no more. But a harder task than all is to come for the Father of the Gods; how shall he deal with his own daughter, who has disobeyed him?
"The fire is burning a little better now, but it does not yet seem to be quite on good terms with the wind outside. The smoke is going up again instead of down, and that is an improvement. It rises in sudden puffs and flurries, like clouds flying across the sky after a storm. The shadows of the clouds fall upon a mountain height, a rugged, rocky, wild, beautiful place, where the daughters of the god are meeting to ride home together with the heroes they have brought from some field of battle. Now and then, as the quick flames leap up into the smoke, I can see another and another coming, riding on her flying horse, racing with the driving wind and the hurrying clouds, each with her warrior lying before her across her saddle, and so alighting here and joining her sisters. They are all here at last except the one Daughter of the God whom we have seen before, and now she comes, but she brings no warrior across her saddle, only the poor woman with whom she fled from the fight.
"She tells her sisters how she has disobeyed their father, and she begs them to protect her and the woman against his anger. They dare not help her; never has one of them done anything that was not his will. What can she do? He is coming in pursuit of her; sooner or later he must find her, but she may at least save the woman. She bids her flee alone while she waits with her sisters for her father and her punishment to come. Far away, she tells her, there is a deep forest, and in the forest is a cave where the horrible dragon that was once the giant keeps and guards his treasure. So much does the Father of the Gods dread the curse that the wicked dwarf laid upon the ring, and the doom which he knows is coming to himself because of his own sin, that he never wanders there. To this forest she must go, and there she may find a refuge. The Daughter of the God gives the woman the fragments of the broken magic sword, which she has brought with her from the field of the fight, and bids her go.
"And now, with angry lightnings flashing all around him, comes the Father of the Gods. Never before has he been shaken by such a storm as this. His daughter whom he loved more than all the others, has disobeyed him. Never before has she done anything but that which it was his will that she should do. Now she has known his will, she has heard his command, and she has broken it. She stands before him, sorrowful, but still calm, stern, and placid, and asks what is to be her punishment. She has brought her doom upon herself, he answers, and now she must be a war goddess no more, but only a woman. He must kiss her once, and all the strength and the valor and the pride of the goddess will be gone. Then she will sink to sleep, and here on this rocky mountain height she must lie till some man comes and awakes her, and she must be a woman only and his wife.
"Very dreadful this seems to the poor war goddess, but it is because she has never been a woman, and does not know much about women. To me it does not seem dreadful at all. It is much better and sweeter and nobler, I believe, to be the best that a woman can be than the strongest and greatest and proudest that a goddess can be. And I hope you will always remember what we see here in the fire to-night, and if you ever feel that there is any danger of your being a goddess, or if anybody ever tells you that you are one, then let somebody kiss you and make you a woman.
"But to one who has so long been used to wearing armor and riding through the air, and choosing the bravest of the fallen heroes, and bearing them to the castle of the gods, the change may well seem hard to suffer at first. So the Daughter of the God thinks that no heavier punishment could have been found for her. Her sisters think so, too, and they beg their father to have mercy on her, but he sternly bids them be silent and to leave him. Now the Daughter of the God tells him how she tried to do what he would have her do; she knew that he loved
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