Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 47

“Fair lord, have mercy on me now, I pray!
Look on my helpless youth, and pity me!
Oh, let me live, and I will yield you all—
My realm of Denmark will I leave to you,
[Pg 77] And swear that I will ne’er assail your sway.
Oh, pity me, lord! be compassionate!
And I will flee far from this land of mine,
And vow that Birkabeyn was ne’er my sire!”

Jarl Godard was touched by Havelok’s piteous speech, and felt some faint compassion, so that he could not slay the lad himself; yet he knew that his only safety was in Havelok’s death.

“If I let him go,” thought he, “Havelok will at last work me woe! I shall have no peace in my life, and my children after me will not hold the lordship of Denmark in safety, if Havelok escapes! Yet I cannot slay him with my own hands. I will have him cast into the sea with an anchor about his neck: thus at least his body will not float.”

Godard left Havelok kneeling in terror, and, striding from the tower, leaving the door locked behind him, he sent for an ignorant fisherman, Grim, who, he thought, could be frightened into doing his will. When Grim came he was led into an ante-room, where Godard, with terrible look and voice, addressed him thus:

“Grim, thou knowest thou art my thrall.” “Yea, fair lord,” quoth Grim, trembling at Godard’s stern voice. “And I can slay thee if thou dost disobey me.” “Yea, lord; but how have I offended you?” “Thou hast not yet; but I have a task for thee, and if thou dost it not, dire punishment shall fall upon thee.” “Lord, what is the work that I must do?” asked the poor fisherman. “Tarry: I will show thee.” Then Godard went into the inner room of the tower, whence he returned leading a fair boy, who wept bitterly. “Take this boy secretly to thy house, and keep him there till dead of night; then launch thy boat, row out to sea, and fling him therein with an anchor round his neck, so that I shall see him never again.”

[Pg 78] Grim looked curiously at the weeping boy, and said: “What reward shall I have if I work this sin for you?”

Godard replied: “The sin will be on my head as I am thy lord and bid thee do it; but I will make thee a freeman, noble and rich, and my friend, if thou wilt do this secretly and discreetly.”

Thus reassured and bribed, Grim suddenly took the boy, flung him to the ground, and bound him hand and foot with cord which he took from his pockets. So anxious was he to secure the boy that he drew the cords very tight, and Havelok suffered terrible pain; he could not cry out, for a handful of rags was thrust into his mouth and over his nostrils, so that he could hardly breathe. Then Grim flung the poor boy into a horrible black sack, and carried him thus from the castle, as if he were bringing home broken food for his family. When Grim reached his poor cottage, where his wife Leve was waiting for him, he slung the sack from his shoulder and gave it to her, saying, “Take good care of this boy as of thy life. I am to drown him at midnight, and if I do so my lord has promised to make me a free man and give me great wealth.”

When Dame Leve heard this she sprang up and flung the lad down in a corner, and nearly broke his head with the crash against the earthen floor. There Havelok lay, bruised and aching, while the couple went to sleep, leaving the room all dark but for the red glow from the fire. At midnight Grim awoke to do his lord’s behest, and Dame Leve, going to the living-room to kindle a light, was terrified by a mysterious gleam as bright as day which shone around the boy on the floor and streamed from his mouth. Leve hastily called Grim to see this wonder, and [Pg 79] together they released Havelok from the gag and bonds and examined his body, when they found on the right shoulder the token of true royalty, a cross of red gold.

“God knows,” quoth Grim, “that this is the heir of our land. He will come to rule in good time, will bear sway over England and Denmark, and will punish the cruel Godard.” Then, weeping sore, the loyal fisherman fell down at Havelok’s feet, crying, “Lord, have mercy on me and my wife! We are thy thralls, and never will we do aught against thee. We will nourish thee until thou canst rule, and will hide thee from Godard; and thou wilt perchance give me my freedom in return for thy life.”

At this unexpected address Havelok sat up surprised, and rubbed his bruised head and said: “I am nearly dead, what with hunger, and thy cruel bonds, and the gag. Now bring me food in plenty!” “Yea, lord,” said Dame Leve, and bustled about, bringing the best they had in the hut; and Havelok ate as if he had fasted for three days; and then he was put to bed, and slept in peace while Grim watched over him.