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- The Wanderer's Necklace - 10/53 -
She listened to my story, then said briefly,
"Let be. Things will go as they are fated. You are no madder than the rest of men. I can say no more."
It was the custom of that time and land that, if possible, the wife to be should not pass the night before her marriage under the same roof as her future husband. Therefore Athalbrand, whose mood had been strange of late, went with Iduna to sleep in his beached ship. At my request Steinar went with them, in order that he might see that they were brought back in good time in the morning.
"You will not fail me in this, Steinar?" I said, clasping his hand.
He tried to answer something, but the words seemed to choke in his throat and he turned away, leaving them unspoken.
"Why," I exclaimed, "one might think you were going to be married, not I."
"Aye," broke in Iduna hurriedly. "The truth is that Steinar is jealous of me. How is it that you can make us all love you so much, Olaf?"
"Would that I were more worthy of your love," I answered, smiling, "as in years to come I hope to show myself."
Athalbrand, who was watching, tugged at his forked beard and muttered something that sounded like an oath. Then he rode off, kicking his horse savagely and not noting my outstretched hand, or so it seemed. Of this, however, I took little heed, for I was engaged in kissing Iduna in farewell.
"Be not sad," she said, as she kissed me back on the lips. "Remember that we part for the last time." Again she kissed me and went, laughing happily.
The morning came. All was prepared. From far and near the guests were gathered, waiting to do honour to the marriage feast. Even some of the men of Agger were there, who had come to pay homage to their new lord. The spring sun shone brightly, as it should upon a marriage morn, and without the doors the trumpeters blew blasts with their curved horns. In the temple the altar of Odin was decorated with flowers, and by it, also decorated with flowers, the offering awaited sacrifice. My mother, in her finest robe, the same, in truth, in which she herself had been wed, stood by the door of the hall, which was cleared of kine and set with tables, giving and returning greetings. Her arm was round me, who, as bridegroom, was clothed in new garments of woven wool through which ran a purple streak, the best that could be made in all the land. Ragnar came up.
"They should be here," he said. "The hour is over past."
"Doubtless the fair bride has been long in decking herself," answered my father, looking at the sun. "She will come presently."
Still time went on, and the company began to murmur, while a strange, cold fear seemed to grip my heart. At length a man was seen riding towards the hall, and one cried,
"At last! Here comes the herald!"
Another answered: "For a messenger of love he rides slowly and sadly." And a silence fell on all that heard him.
The man, a stranger to us, arrived and said:
"I have a message for the lord Thorvald from the lord Athalbrand, which I was charged to deliver at this hour, neither before nor after. It is that he sailed for Lesso at the rising of the moon last night, there purposing to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, the lady Iduna, with Steinar, lord of Agger, and is therefore grieved that he and the lady Iduna cannot be present at your feast this day."
Now, when I heard these words I felt as though a spear had been thrust through me. "Steinar! Oh! surely not with my brother Steinar," I gasped, and staggered against the door-post, where I stood like one who has been struck helpless.
Ragnar sprang at the messenger, and, dragging him from his horse, would have killed him had not some stayed his hand. My father, Thorvald, remained silent, but his half-brother, the dark-browed priest of Odin, lifted his hands to heaven and called down the curse of Odin upon the troth-breakers. The company drew swords and shouted for vengeance, demanding to be led against the false Athalbrand. At length my father called for silence.
"Athalbrand is a man without shame," he said. "Steinar is a viper whom I have nursed in my breast, a viper that has bitten the hand which saved him from death; aye, you men of Agger, you have a viper for your lord. Iduna is a light-of-love upon whom all honest women should spit, who has broken her oath and sold herself for Steinar's wealth and rule. I swear by Thor that, with your help, my friends and neighbours, I will be avenged upon all three of these. But for such vengeance preparations must be made, since Athalbrand and Steinar are strong. Moreover, they lie in an island, and can only be attacked by sea. Further, there is no haste, since the mischief is done, and by now Steinar the Snake and Iduna the Light-of-love will have drunk their marriage-cup. Come, eat, my friends, and not too sadly, seeing that if my house has suffered shame, it has escaped worse shame, that of welcoming a false woman as a bride of one of us. Doubtless, when his bitterness is past, Olaf, my son, will find a better wife."
So they sat down and ate the marriage feast. Only the seats of the bride and bridegroom were empty, for I could not take part in that feast, but went alone to my sleeping-place and drew the curtains. My mother also was so overcome that she departed to her own chamber. Alone I sat upon my bed and listened to the sounds of that marriage feast, which more resembled such a one as is given at funerals. When it was finished I heard my father and Ragnar and the head men and chiefs of the company take counsel together, after which all departed to their homes.
So soon as they were gone Freydisa came to me, bringing food and drink.
"I am a shamed man, Freydisa," I said, "and can no longer stay in this land where I have been made one for children to mock at."
"It is not you who are shamed," answered Freydisa hotly. "It is Steinar and that----," and she used a harsh word of Iduna. "Oh! I saw it coming, and yet I dared not warn you. I feared lest I might be wrong and put doubts into your heart against your foster-brother and your wife without cause. May Odin destroy them both!"
"Speak not so roughly, Freydisa," I said. "Ragnar was right about Iduna. Her beauty never blinded him as it did me, and he read her truly. Well, she did but follow her nature; and as for Steinar, she fooled him as she has the power to do by any man, save Ragnar. Doubtless he will repent bitterly ere all is done. Also I think that necklace from the grave is an evil magic."
"It is like you, Olaf, to find excuse even for sin that cannot be forgiven. Not but what I hold with you that Steinar has been led away against his will, for I read it in his face. Well, his life must pay the price of it, for surely he shall bleed on Odin's altar. Now, be a man. Come out and face your trouble. You are not the first that a woman has fooled, nor will you be the last. Forget love and dream of vengeance."
"I cannot forget love, and I do not wish for vengeance, especially against Steinar, who is my foster-brother," I answered wearily.
THE BATTLE ON THE SEA
On the morrow Thorvald, my father, sent messengers to the head men of Agger, telling them of all that he and his House had suffered at the hands of Steinar, whereof those of their folk who had been present at the feast could bear witness. He added that if they stood by Steinar in his wickedness and treachery, thenceforward he and the men of the North would be their foes and work them mischief by land and sea.
In due course these messengers returned with the tale that the head men of Agger had met together and deposed Steinar from his lordship over them, electing another man, a nephew of Steinar's father. Also they sent a present of gold rings in atonement for the wrong which had been done to the house of Thorvald by one of their blood, and prayed that Thorvald and the northern men would bear them no ill will for that in which they were blameless.
Cheered by this answer, which halved the number of their foes, my father, Thorvald of Aar, and those Over-men of whom he was the High- lord, began to make their preparations to attack Athalbrand on his Island of Lesso. Of all these things Athalbrand learned by his spies, and later, when the warships were being prepared and manned, two messengers came from him, old men of repute, and demanded to see my father. This was the substance of his message, which was delivered in my hearing.
That he, Athalbrand, was little to blame for what had happened, which was due to the mad passions of two young people who had blinded and misled him. That no marriage had taken place between Steinar and his daughter, Iduna, as he was prepared and able to prove, since he had refused to allow any such marriage. That, therefore, he was ready to outlaw Steinar, who only dwelt with him as an unwelcome guest, and to return his daughter, Iduna, to me, Olaf, and with her a fine in gold rings as compensation for the wrong done, of which the amount was to be ascertained by judges to be agreed upon.
My father entertained the messengers, but would give them no answer till he had summoned a council of the Under-lords who stood with him in this business. At that council, where I was present, some said that the insult could only be washed out with blood. At length I was called upon to speak as the man most concerned. While all listened I rose and said:
"These are my words. After what has chanced, not for all the wealth in Denmark would I take Iduna the Fair to be my wife. Let her stay with Steinar, whom she has chosen. Still, I do not wish to cause the blood of innocent men to be spent because of my private wrong. Neither do I wish to wreak vengeance upon Steinar, who for many years was my brother, and who has been led away by a woman, as may chance to any one of us and has chanced to many. Therefore I say that my father should accept Athalbrand's fine in satisfaction of the insult to our House, and let all this matter be forgotten. As for myself, I purpose to leave my home, where I have been put to shame, and to seek my
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