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- The Wanderer's Necklace - 6/53 -
of the slaying of the bear, which I did as best I could, though afterwards Ragnar told it otherwise, and more fully. Only Steinar said little or nothing, for he seemed to be lost in dreams.
I thought that this was because he felt sad at the news of the death of his father and brethren, since, although he had never known them, blood still calls to blood; and so, I believe, did most there present. At any rate my father and mother tried to cheer him and in the end bade the men of Agger draw near to tell him the tale of his heritage.
They obeyed, and set out all their case, of which the sum was that Steinar must now be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men of the northern lands.
"It seems that we should all take off our caps to you, young lord," said Athalbrand when he heard this tale of rule and riches. "Why did you not ask me for my fair daughter?" he added with a half-drunken laugh, for all the liquor he had swallowed had got a hold of his brain. Recovering himself, he went on: "It is my will, Thorvald, that Iduna and this snipe of an Olaf of yours should be wed as soon as possible. I say that they shall be wed as soon as possible, since otherwise I know not what may happen."
Then his head fell forward on the table and he sank to sleep.
THE WANDERER'S NECKLACE
On the morrow early I lay awake, for how could I sleep when Iduna rested beneath the same roof with me--Iduna, who, as her father had decreed, was to become my wife sooner than I had hoped? I was thinking how beautiful she looked, and how much I loved her; also of other things that were not so pleasant. For instance, why did not everybody see her with my eyes? I could not hide from myself that Ragnar went near to hating her; more than once she had almost been the cause of a quarrel between us. Freydisa, too, my nurse, who loved me, looked on her sourly, and even my mother, although she tried to like her for my sake, had not yet learned to do so, or thus it appeared to me.
When I asked her why, she replied that she feared the maid was somewhat selfish, also too fond of drawing the eyes of men, and of the adornment of her beauty. Of those who were dearest to me, indeed, only Steinar seemed to think Iduna as perfect as I did myself. This, so far as it went, was well; but, then, Steinar and I had always thought alike, which robbed his judgment of something of its worth.
Whilst I was pondering over these things, although it was still so early that my father and Athalbrand were yet in bed sleeping off the fumes of the liquor they had drunk, I heard Steinar himself talking to the messengers from Agger in the hall. They asked him humbly whether he would be pleased to return with them that day and take possession of his inheritance, since they must get back forthwith to Agger with their tidings. He replied that if they would send some or come themselves to escort him on the tenth day from that on which they spoke, he would go to Agger with them, but that until then he could not do so.
"Ten days! In ten days who knows what may happen?" said their spokesman. "Such a heritage as yours will not lack for claimants, Lord, especially as Hakon has left nephews behind him."
"I know not what will or will not happen," answered Steinar, "but until then I cannot come. Go now, I pray you, if you must, and bear my words and greetings to the men of Agger, whom soon I hope to meet myself."
So they went, as I thought, heavily enough. A while afterwards my father rose and came into the hall, where from my bed I could see Steinar seated on a stool by the fire brooding. He asked where the men of Agger were, and Steinar told him what he had done.
"Are you mad, Steinar?" he asked. "that you have sent them away with such an answer? Why did you not consult me first?"
"Because you were asleep, Foster-father, and the messengers said they must catch the tide. Also I could not leave Aar until I had seen Olaf and Iduna married."
"Iduna and Olaf can marry without your help. It takes two to make a marriage, not three. I see well that you owe love and loyalty to Olaf, who is your foster-brother and saved your life, but you owe something to yourself also. I pray Odin that this folly may not have cost you your lordship. Fortune is a wench who will not bear slighting."
"I know it," answered Steinar, and there was something strange in his voice. "Believe me, I do not slight fortune; I follow her in my own fashion."
"Then it is a mad fashion," grumbled my father, and walked away.
It comes back to me that it was some days after this that I saw the ghost of the Wanderer standing on his grave mound. It happened thus. On a certain afternoon I had been riding alone with Iduna, which was a great joy to me, though I would sooner have walked, for then I could have held her hand, and perhaps, if she had suffered it, kissed her. I had recited to her a poem which I had made comparing her to the goddess Iduna, the wife of Bragi, she who guarded the apples of immortal youth whereof the gods must eat or die, she whose garment was the spring, woven of the flowers that she put on when she escaped from winter's giant grasp. I think that it was a very good poem of its own sort, but Iduna seemed to have small taste for poetry and to know little of the lovely goddess and her apples, although she smiled sweetly and thanked me for my verses.
Then she began to talk of other matters, especially of how, after we were wed, her father wished to make war upon another chieftain and to seize his land. She said that it was for this reason that he had been so anxious to form an alliance with my father, Thorvald, as such an alliance would make him sure of victory. Before that time, she told me that he, Athalbrand, had purposed to marry her to another lord for this very reason, but unhappily this lord had been killed in battle.
"Nay, happily for us, Iduna," I said.
"Perhaps," she answered with a sigh. "Who knows? At any rate, your House will be able to give us more ships and men than he who is dead could have done."
"Yet I love peace, not war," I broke in, "I who hate the slaying of those who have never harmed me, and do not seek to die on the swords of men whom I have no desire to harm. Of what good is war when one has enough? I would be no widow-maker, Iduna, nor do I wish that others should make you a widow."
Iduna looked at me with her steady blue eyes.
"You talk strangely, Olaf," she said, "and were it not known to be otherwise, some might hold that you are a coward. Yet it was no coward who leapt alone on board the battle ship, or who slew the great white bear to save Steinar's life. I do not understand you, Olaf, you who have doubts as to the killing of men. How does a man grow great except upon the blood of others? It is that which fats him. How does the wolf live? How does the kite live? How does Odin fill Valhalla? By death, always by death."
"I cannot answer you," I said; "yet I hold that somewhere there is an answer which I do not know, since wrong can never be the right."
Then, as she did not seem to understand, I began to talk of other things, but from that moment I felt as though a veil swung between me and Iduna. Her beauty held my flesh, but some other part in me turned away from her. We were different.
When we reached the hall we met Steinar, who was lingering near the door. He ran forward and helped Iduna to dismount, then said:
"Olaf, I know that you must not overtire yourself as yet, but your lady has told me that she desires to see the sunset from Odin's Mount. Have I your leave to take her there?"
"I do not yet need Olaf's leave to walk abroad, though some few days hence it may be different," broke in Iduna, with a merry laugh, before I could answer. "Come, lord Steinar, let us go and see this sunset whereof you talk so much."
"Yes, go," I said, "only do not stay too long, for I think a storm comes up. But who is that has taught Steinar to love sunsets?"
So they went, and before they had been gone an hour the storm broke as I had foreseen. First came wind, and with it hail, and after that thunder and great darkness, lit up from time to time by pulsing lightning.
"Steinar and Iduna do not return. I am afraid for them," I said at last to Freydisa.
"Then why do you not go to seek them?" she asked with a little laugh.
"I think I will," I said.
"If so, I will come with you, Olaf, for you still need a nurse, though, for my part, I hold that the lord Steinar and the lady Iduna can guard themselves as well as most folk. No, I am wrong. I mean that the lady Iduna can guard herself and the lord Steinar. Now, be not angry. Here's your cloak."
So we started, for I was urged to this foolish journey by some impulse that I could not master. There were two ways of reaching Odin's Mount; one, the shorter, over the rocks and through the forest land. The other, the longer, ran across the open plain, between the many earth tombs of the dead who had lived thousands of years before, and past the great mound in which it was said that a warrior of long ago, who was named the Wanderer, lay buried. Because of the darkness we chose this latter road, and presently found ourselves beneath the great mass of the Wanderer's Mount. Now the darkness was intense, and the lightning grew rare, for the hail and rain had ceased and the storm was rolling away.
"My counsel is," said Freydisa, "that we wait here until the moon rises, which it should do soon. When the wind has driven away the clouds it will show us our path, but if we go on in this darkness we shall fall into some pit. It is not cold to-night, and you will take no harm."
"No, indeed," I answered, "for now I am as strong again as ever I
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