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- Eric Brighteyes - 62/62 -
Now finding none to stay them, the men of Gizur climb one by one upon the rock and win the space that is beyond. Swanhild goes first of all, because she knows well that Eric will not harm her, and after her come Gizur and the others. But many do not come, for they will lift sword no more.
Now Swanhild draws near and looks on Eric and mocks him in the fierceness of her heart and the rage of her wolf-love.
"Now," she says, "now are Brighteyes dim eyes! What! weepest thou, Eric?"
"Ay, Swanhild," he answered, "I weep tears of blood for those whom thou hast brought to doom."
She draws nearer and speaks low to him: "Hearken, Eric. Yield thee! Thou hast done enough for honour, and thou art not smitten to the death of yonder cowardly hound. Yield and I will nurse thee back to health and bear thee hence, and together we will forget our hates and woes."
"Not twice may a man lie in a witch's bed," said Eric, "and my troth is plighted to other than thee, Swanhild."
"She is dead," says Swanhild.
"Yes, she is dead, Swanhild; and I go to seek her amongst the dead--I go to seek her and to find her!"
But the face of Swanhild grew fierce as the winter sea.
"Thou hast put me away for the last time, Eric! Now thou shalt die, as I have promised thee and as I promised Gudruda the Fair!"
"So shall I the more quickly find Gudruda and lose sight of thy evil face, Swanhild the harlot! Swanhild the murderess! Swanhild the witch! For I know this: thou shalt not escape!--thy doom draws on also!--and haunted and accursed shalt thou be for ever! Fare thee well, Swanhild; we shall meet no more, and the hour comes when thou shalt grieve that thou wast ever born!"
Now Swanhild turned and called to the folk: "Come, cut down these outlaw rogues and make an end. Come, cut them down, for night draws on."
Then once more the men of Gizur closed in upon them. Eric smote thrice and thrice the blow went home, then he could smite no more, for his strength was spent with toil and wounds, and he sank upon the ground. For a while Skallagrim stood over him like a she-bear o'er her young and held the mob at bay. Then Gizur, watching, cast a spear at Eric. It entered his side through a cleft in his byrnie and pierced him deep.
"I am sped, Skallagrim Lambstail," cried Eric in a loud voice, and all men drew back to see giant Brighteyes die. Now his head fell against the rock and his eyes closed.
Then Skallagrim, stooping, drew out the spear and kissed Eric on the forehead.
"Farewell, Eric Brighteyes!" he said. "Iceland shall never see such another man, and few have died so great a death. Tarry a while, lord; tarry a while--I come--I come!"
Then crying "/Eric! Eric!/" the Baresark fit took him, and once more and for the last time Skallagrim rushed screaming upon the foe, and once more they rolled to earth before him. To and fro he rushed, dealing great blows, and ever as he went they stabbed and cut and thrust at his side and back, for they dared not stand before him, till he bled from a hundred wounds. Now, having slain three more men, and wounded two others, Skallagrim might no more. He stood a moment swaying to and fro, then let his axe drop, threw his arms high above him, and with one loud cry of "/Eric!/" fell as a rock falls--dead upon the dead.
But Eric was not yet gone. He opened his eyes and saw the death of Skallagrim and smiled.
"Well ended, Lambstail!" he said in a faint voice.
"Lo!" cried Gizur, "yon outlawed hound still lives! Now I will do a needful task and make an end of him, and so shall Ospakar's sword come back to Ospakar's son."
"Thou art wondrous brave now that the bear lies dying!" said Swanhild.
Now it seemed that Eric heard the words, for suddenly his might came back to him, and he staggered to his knees and thence to his feet. Then, as folk fall from him, with all his strength he whirls Whitefire round his head till it shines like a wheel of fire. "Thy service is done and thou art clean of Gudruda's blood--go back to those who forged thee!" Brighteyes cries, and casts Whitefire from him towards the gulf.
Away speeds the great blade, flashing like lightning through the rays of the setting sun, and behold! as men watch it is gone--gone in mid- air!
Since that day no such sword as Whitefire has been known in Iceland.
"Now slay thou me, Gizur," says the dying Eric.
Gizur comes on with little eagerness, and Eric cries aloud:
"Swordless I slew thy father!--swordless, shieldless, and wounded to the death I will yet slay /thee/, Gizur the Murderer!" and with a loud cry he staggered towards him.
Gizur smites him with his sword, but Eric does not stay, and while men wait and wonder, Brighteyes sweeps him into his great arms--ay, sweeps him up, lifts him from the ground and reels on.
Eric reels on to the brink of the gulf. Gizur sees his purpose, struggles and shrieks aloud. But the strength of the dying Eric is more than the strength of Gizur. Now Brighteyes stands on the dizzy edge and the light of the passing sun flames about his head. And now, bearing Gizur with him, he hurls himself out into the gulf, and lo! the sun sinks!
Men stand wondering, but Swanhild cries aloud:
"Nobly done, Eric! nobly done! So I would have seen thee die who of all men wast the first!"
This then was the end of Eric Brighteyes the Unlucky, who of all warriors that have lived in Iceland was the mightiest, the goodliest, and the best beloved of women and of those who clung to him.
Now, on the morrow, Swanhild caused the body of Eric to be searched for in the cleft, and there they found it, floating in water and with the dead Gizur yet clasped in its bear-grip. Then she cleansed it and clothed it again in its rent armour, and bound on the Hell-shoes, and it was carried on horses to the sea-side, and with it were borne the bodies of Skallagrim Lambstail the Baresark, Eric's thrall, and of all those men whom they had slain in the last great fight on Mosfell, that is now named Ericsfell.
Then Swanhild drew her long dragon of war, in which she had come from Orkneys, from its shed over against Westman Isles, and in the centre of the ship, she piled the bodies of the slain in the shape of a bed, and lashed them fast. And on this bed she laid the corpse of Eric Brighteyes, and the breast of black Skallagrim the Baresark was his pillow, and the breast of Gizur, Ospakar's son, was his foot-rest.
Then she caused the sails to be hoisted, and went alone aboard the long ship, the rails of which were hung with the shields of the dead men.
And when at evening the breeze freshened to a gale that blew from the land, she cut the cable with her own hand, and the ship leapt forward like a thing alive, and rushed out in the red light of the sunset towards the open sea.
Now ever the gale freshened and folk, standing on Westman Heights, saw the long ship plunge past, dipping her prow beneath the waves and sending the water in a rain of spray over the living Swanhild, over the dead Eric and those he lay upon.
And by the head of Eric Brighteyes, her hair streaming on the wind, stood Swanhild the Witch, clad in her purple cloak, and with rings of gold about her throat and arms. She stood by Eric's head, swaying with the rush of the ship, and singing so sweet and wild a song that men grew weak who heard it.
Now, as the people watched, two white swans came down from the clouds and sped on wide wings side by side over the vessel's mast.
The ship rushed on through the glow of sunset into the gathering night. On sped the ship, but still Swanhild sung, and still the swans flew over her.
The gale grew fierce, and fiercer yet. The darkness gathered deep upon the raging sea.
Now that ship was seen no more, and the death-song of Swanhild as she passed to doom was never heard again.
For swans and ship, and Swanhild, and dead Eric and his dead foes, were lost in the wind and the night.
But far out on the sea a great flame of fire leapt up towards the sky.
Now this is the tale of Eric Brighteyes, Thorgrimur's son; of Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter; of Swanhild the Fatherless, Atli's wife, and of Ounound, named Skallagrim Lambstail, the Baresark, Eric's thrall, all of whom lived and died before Thangbrand, Wilibald's son, preached the White Christ in Iceland.
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