Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 157

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Frithiof cleaves the Shield of Helgé

Knut Ekwall

By Permission of F. Bruckmann, Munich

As Frithiof ceased King Helgé rose, and regarding the young man scornfully, he said: “Our sister is not for a peasant’s son; proud chiefs of the Northland may dispute for her hand, but not thou. As for thy arrogant proffer, know that I can protect my kingdom. Yet if thou wouldst be my man, place in my household mayst thou have.”

Enraged at the insult thus publicly offered, Frithiof drew his invincible sword; but, remembering that he stood on a consecrated spot, he struck only at the royal shield, which fell in two pieces clashing to the ground. Then striding back to his ship in sullen silence, he embarked and sailed away.

“And lo! cloven in twain at a stroke

Fell King Helge’s gold shield from its pillar of oak:

At the clang of the blow,

The live started above, the dead started below.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

Sigurd Ring a Suitor

After his departure came messengers from Sigurd Ring, the aged King of Ringric, in Norway, who, having lost his wife, sent to Helgé and Halfdan to ask [309]Ingeborg’s hand in marriage. Before returning answer to this royal suitor, Helgé consulted the Vala, or prophetess, and the priests, who all declared that the omens were not in favour of the marriage. Upon this Helgé assembled his people to hear the word which the messengers were to carry to their master, but unfortunately King Halfdan gave way to his waggish humour, and made scoffing reference to the advanced age of the royal suitor. These impolitic words were reported to King Ring, and so offended him that he immediately collected an army and prepared to march against the Kings of Sogn to avenge the insult with his sword. When the rumour of his approach reached the cowardly brothers they were terrified, and fearing to encounter the foe unaided, they sent Hilding to Frithiof to implore his help.

Hilding found Frithiof playing chess with Björn, and immediately made known his errand.

“‘From Bele’s high heirs

I come with courteous words and prayers

Disastrous tidings rouse the brave;

On thee a nation’s hope relies.

In Balder’s fane, griefs loveliest prey,

Sweet Ing’borg weeps the livelong day:

Say, can her tears unheeded fall,

Nor call her champion to her side?’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow’s tr.).

While the old man was speaking Frithiof continued to play, ever and anon interjecting an enigmatical reference to the game, until at this point he said:

“Björn; thou in vain my queen pursuest,

She from childhood dearest, truest!

She’s my game’s most darling piece, and

Come what will—I’ll save my queen!”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.). [310]

Hilding did not understand such mode of answering, and at length rebuked Frithiof for his indifference. Then Frithiof rose, and pressing kindly the old man’s hand, he bade him tell the kings that he was too deeply offended to listen to their appeal.

Helgé and Halfdan, thus forced to fight without their bravest leader, preferred to make a treaty with Sigurd Ring, and they agreed to give him not only their sister Ingeborg, but also a yearly tribute.

At Balder’s Shrine

While they were thus engaged at Sogn Sound, Frithiof hastened to Balder’s temple, to which Ingeborg had been sent for security, and where, as Hilding had declared, he found her a prey to grief. Now although it was considered a sacrilege for man and woman to exchange a word in the sacred building, Frithiof could not forbear to console her; and, forgetting all else, he spoke to her and comforted her, quieting all her apprehensions of the gods’ anger by assuring her that Balder, the good, must view their innocent passion with approving eyes, for love so pure as theirs could defile no sanctuary; and they ended by plighting their troth before the shrine of Balder.

“‘Thou whisp’rest “Balder,”—His wrath fearest;—

That gentle god all anger flies.

We worship here a Lover, dearest!

Our hearts’ love is his sacrifice;

That god whose brow beams sunshine-splendour,

Whose faith lasts through eternity,—

Was not his love to beauteous Nanna

As pure, as warm, as mine to thee?

“‘His image see!—himself broods o’er it—

How mild, how kind, his bright eyes move!

An off’ring bear I here before it,

A warm heart full of purest love.[311]

Come, kneel with me! no altar incense

To Balder’s soul more grateful is

Than two hearts, vowing in his presence

A mutual faith as true as his!’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Reassured by this reasoning, which received added strength from the voice which spoke loudly from her own heart, Ingeborg could not refuse to see and converse with Frithiof. During the kings’ absence the young lovers met every day, and they exchanged love-tokens, Frithiof giving to Ingeborg Völund’s arm-ring, which she solemnly promised to send back to her lover should she be compelled to break her promise to live for him alone. Frithiof lingered at Framnäs until the kings’ return, when, yielding to the fond entreaties of Ingeborg the Fair, he again appeared before them, and pledged himself to free them from their thraldom to Sigurd Ring if they would only reconsider their decision and promise him their sister’s hand.

“‘War stands and strikes

His glitt’ring shield within thy boundaries;

Thy realm, King Helge, is in jeopardy:

But give thy sister, and I’ll lend mine arm

Thy guard in battle. It may stead thee well.

Come! let this grudge between us be forgotten,

Unwilling bear I such ’gainst Ing’borg’s brother.

Be counsell’d, King! be just! and save at once

Thy golden crown and thy fair sister’s heart!

Here is my hand: by Asa-Thor I swear

Never again ’tis stretch’d in reconcilement!’”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.).

Frithiof Banished