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- The Wanderer's Necklace - 2/53 -
while with my eyes I implored my mother to be silent.
Then he thought for awhile, pulling at his long forked beard, and said at last:
"My heart tells me no good of such a marriage. Iduna, who is the only one left to me, could marry a man of more wealth and power than this rune-making stripling is ever likely to be. Yet just now I know none such whom I would wish to hold my place when I am gone. Moreover, it is spread far and wide throughout the land that my daughter is to be wed to Thorvald's son, and it matters little to which son. At least, I will not have it said that she has been given the go-by. Therefore, let this Olaf take her, if she will have him. Only," he added with a growl, "let him play no tricks like that red-headed cub, his brother Ragnar, if he would not taste of a spear through his liver. Now I go to learn Iduna's mind."
So he went; as did my father and mother, leaving me alone, thinking and thanking the gods for the chance that had come my way--yes, and blessing Ragnar and that brown-eyed wench who had thrown her spell over him.
Whilst I stood thus I heard a sound, and, turning, saw Iduna gliding towards me in the blue twilight, looking more lovely than a dream. At my side she stopped and said:
"My father tells me you wish to speak with me," and she laughed a little softly and held me with her beautiful eyes.
After that I know not what happened till I saw Iduna bending towards me like a willow in the wind, and then--oh, joy of joys!--felt her kiss upon my lips. Now my speech was unsealed, and I told her the tale that lovers have always told. How that I was ready to die for her (to which she answered that she had rather that I lived, since ghosts were no good husbands); how that I was not worthy of her (to which she answered that I was young, with all my time before me, and might live to be greater than I thought, as she believed I should); and so forth.
Only one more thing comes back to me of that blissful hour. Foolishly I said what I had been thinking, namely, that I blessed Ragnar. At these words, of a sudden Iduna's face grew stern and the lovelight in her eyes was changed to such as gleams from swords.
"I do not bless Ragnar," she answered. "I hope one day to see Ragnar----" and she checked herself, adding: "Come, let us enter, Olaf. I hear my father calling me to mix his sleeping-cup."
So we went into the house hand in hand, and when they saw us coming thus, all gathered there burst into shouts of laughter after their rude fashion. Moreover, beakers were thrust into our hands, and we were made to drink from them and swear some oath. Thus ended our betrothal.
I think it was on the next day that we sailed for home in my father's largest ship of war, which was named the /Swan/. I went unwillingly enough, who desired to drink more of the delight of Iduna's eyes. Still, go I must, since Athalbrand would have it so. The marriage, he said, should take place at Aar at the time of the Spring feast, and not before. Meanwhile he held it best we should be apart that we might learn whether we still clung to each other in absence.
These were the reasons he gave, but I think that he was already somewhat sorry for what he had done, and reflected that between harvest and springtime he might find another husband for Iduna, who was more to his mind. For Athalbrand, as I learned afterwards, was a scheming and a false-hearted man. Moreover, he was of no high lineage, but one who had raised himself up by war and plunder, and therefore his blood did not compel him to honour.
The next scene which comes back to me of those early days is that of the hunting of the white northern bear, when I saved the life of Steinar, my foster-brother, and nearly lost my own.
It was on a day when the winter was merging into spring, but the coast-line near Aar was still thick with pack ice and large floes which had floated in from the more northern seas. A certain fisherman who dwelt on this shore came to the hall to tell us that he had seen a great white bear on one of these floes, which, he believed, had swum from it to the land. He was a man with a club-foot, and I can recall a vision of him limping across the snow towards the drawbridge of Aar, supporting himself by a staff on the top of which was cut the figure of some animal.
"Young lords," he cried out, "there is a white bear on the land, such a bear as once I saw when I was a boy. Come out and kill the bear and win honour, but first give me a drink for my news."
At that time I think my father, Thorvald, was away from home with most of the men, I do not know why; but Ragnar, Steinar and I were lingering about the stead with little or nothing to do, since the time of sowing was not yet. At the news of the club-footed man, we ran for our spears, and one of us went to tell the only thrall who could be spared to make ready the horses and come with us. Thora, my mother, would have stopped us--she said she had heard from her father that such bears were very dangerous beasts--but Ragnar only thrust her aside, while I kissed her and told her not to fret.
Outside the hall I met Freydisa, a dark, quiet woman of middle age, one of the virgins of Odin, whom I loved and who loved me and, save one other, me only among men, for she had been my nurse.
"Whither now, young Olaf?" she asked me. "Has Iduna come here that you run so fast?"
"No," I answered, "but a white bear has."
"Oh! then things are better than I thought, who feared lest it might be Iduna before her time. Still, you go on an ill errand, from which I think you will return sadly."
"Why do you say that, Freydisa?" I asked. "Is it just because you love to croak like a raven on a rock, or for some good reason?"
"I don't know, Olaf," she answered. "I say things because they come to me, and I must, that is all. I tell you that evil will be born of this bear hunt of yours, and you had better stop at home."
"To be laughed at by my brethren, Freydisa? Moreover, you are foolish, for if evil is to be, how can I avoid it? Either your foresight is nothing or the evil must come."
"That is so," answered Freydisa. "From your childhood up you had the gift of reason which is more than is granted to most of these fools about us. Go, Olaf, and meet your fore-ordained evil. Still, kiss me before you go lest we should not see each other again for a while. If the bear kills you, at least you will be saved from Iduna."
Now while she said these words I was kissing Freydisa, whom I loved dearly, but when I understood them I leapt back before she could kiss me again.
"What do you mean by your talk about Iduna?" I asked. "Iduna is my betrothed, and I'll suffer no ill speech of her."
"I know she is, Olaf. You've got Ragnar's leavings. Although he is so hot-headed, Ragnar is a wise dog in some ways, who can tell what he should not eat. There, begone, you think me jealous of Iduna, as old women can be, but it's not that, my dear. Oh! you'll learn before all is done, if you live. Begone, begone! I'll tell you no more. Hark, Ragnar is shouting to you," and she pushed me away.
It was a long ride to where the bear was supposed to be. At first as we went we talked a great deal, and made a wager as to which of the three of us should first drive a spear into the beast's body so deep that the blade was hidden, but afterwards I grew silent. Indeed, I was musing so much of Iduna and how the time drew near when once more I should see her sweet face, wondering also why Ragnar and Freydisa should think so ill of her who seemed a goddess rather than a woman, that I forgot all about the bear. So completely did I forget it that when, being by nature very observant, I saw the slot of such a beast as we passed a certain birch wood, I did not think to connect it with that which we were hunting or to point it out to the others who were riding ahead of me.
At length we came to the sea, and there, sure enough, saw a great ice- floe, which now and again tilted as the surge caught its broad green flank. When it tilted towards us we perceived a track worn deep into the ice by the paws of the prisoned bear as it had marched endlessly round. Also we saw a big grinning skull, whereon sat a raven picking at the eye-holes, and some fragments of white fur.
"The bear is dead!" exclaimed Ragnar. "Odin's curse be on that club- footed fool who gave us this cold ride for nothing."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Steinar doubtfully. "Don't you think that it is dead, Olaf?"
"What is the good of asking Olaf?" broke in Ragnar, with a loud laugh. "What does Olaf know about bears? He has been asleep for the last half-hour dreaming of Athalbrand's blue-eyed daughter; or perhaps he is making up another poem."
"Olaf sees farther when he seems asleep than some of us do when we are awake," answered Steinar hotly.
"Oh yes," replied Ragnar. "Sleeping or waking, Olaf is perfect in your eyes, for you've drunk the same milk, and that ties you tighter than a rope. Wake up, now, brother Olaf, and tell us: Is not the bear dead?"
Then I answered, "Why, of course, a bear is dead; see its skull, also pieces of its hide?"
"There!" exclaimed Ragnar. "Our family prophet has settled the matter. Let us go home."
"Olaf said that /a/ bear was dead," answered Steinar, hesitating.
Ragnar, who had already swung himself round in his quick fashion, spoke back over his shoulder:
"Isn't that enough for you? Do you want to hunt a skull or the raven sitting on it? Or is this, perchance, one of Olaf's riddles? If so, I am too cold to guess riddles just now."
"Yet I think there is one for you to guess, brother," I said gently, "and it is: Where is the live bear hiding? Can't you see that there were two bears on that ice-head, and that one has killed and eaten the other?"
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