[GANDALF and the VIKINGS enter from the right.]
ASGAUT. Now we shall soon be there.
GANDALF. Point out the place!
ASGAUT. No, wait till we have gone beyond the wood. There was still standing on the rocky cliff Against the sea a remnant of the wall,— I dare say it is standing there to-day.
JOSTEJN. But tell us, king, what can it profit us To tramp about here on the isle like fools?
HROLLOUG. Yes, tell us what shall—
GANDALF. You shall hold your tongues! And blindly follow where your king commands!
GANDALF. [To ASGAUT.] It seems to me, however, you cleaned house Too well when you were last here on the isle; You might have left a little, I should think, For me and my revenge!
HROLLOUG. You are the king, And loyalty we pledged you at the thing, But when we followed you upon the war path, It was to win our share of fame and glory.
JOSTEJN. And golden treasures, Hrolloug, golden treasures.
SEVERAL. That, Gandalf, is the law, and heed it well!
GANDALF. I know the law perhaps as well as you; But is there not since days of old a law And covenant with us that when a kinsman Falls slain before the enemy and his corpse Unburied lies a prey unto the raven, Blood vengeance must be had?
SOME. Yes, so it is!
GANDALF. Then stand you ready with your sword and shield,— You have a king to avenge and I a father!
[Commotion among the VIKINGS.]
JOSTEJN. A king?
HROLLOUG. A father?
GANDALF. Wait,—I shall relate How all this stands. You know, my father was A mighty viking. Twelve years gone it is Since he the last time sallied forth one spring With Asgaut there and all his old time warriors. Two years he roamed about from strand to strand, Visiting Bratland, Valland, even Blaaland; At length he went and harried Sicily, And there heard stories of a wealthy chief, Who lived upon this island in a castle With sturdy walls built on a rocky base, And in it there were costly treasures hid. At night he took his men and went ashore, And razed the castle walls with fire and sword. Himself went foremost like an angry bear, And in the fury of the fight saw not How all his warriors fell about him dead; And when the morning sun rose in the east, There lay the castle smouldering in ruin. Asgaut alone survived with one or two,— My father and the hundred others there Had ridden to Valhalla through the flames.
ASGAUT. I hoisted every sail upon the bark, And turned the prow straight homeward to the North; There sought I all in vain for Gandalf king; The youthful eagle, I was told, had flown Across the sea to Iceland or the Faroes. I hastened after him but found no trace,- Yet everywhere I went his name was known; For though his bark sped cloud-like in the storm, Yet flew his fame on even swifter wings. At last this spring I found him, as you know; It was in Italy; I told him then What things had happened, how his father died, And Gandalf swore by all Valhalla’s gods Blood-vengeance he would take with fire and sword.
JOSTEJN. It is an ancient law and should be honored! But had I been in your place, Gandalf king, I should have lingered on in Italy,— For there was gold to win.
HROLLOUG. And honor too.
GANDALF. That is your loyalty to your dead king.
JOSTEJN. Come, come now; no offence; I merely meant The dead could wait perhaps.
ASGAUT. [With suppressed rage.] You paltry race!
JOSTEJN. But now that we are here—
HROLLOUG. Yes; let us raise Unto the king a worthy monument!
SOME. Yes, yes!
OTHERS. With bloodshed and with fire!
ASGAUT. Now that I like!
GANDALF. And now away to spy around the island; For even tonight blood-vengeance shall be mine; If not, I must myself fall.
ASGAUT. So he swore.
GANDALF. I swore it solemnly by all the gods! And once again I swear it—
HEMMING. [With a harp on his shoulder has during the preceding emerged from among the WARRIORS and cries out imploringly.] Swear not, Gandalf!
GANDALF. What troubles you?
HEMMING. Swear not here in this wood! Here in the South our gods can never hear; Out on your bark, up North among the hills, There they still hearken to you, but not here!
ASGAUT. Have you too breathed the poison of the South?
HEMMING. In Italy I heard the pious monks Tell lovely stories of the holy Christ, And what they told still lingers in my mind Through night and day and will no more be gone.
GANDALF. I had you brought with me because in youth You showed great promise of poetic gifts. You were to see my bold and warlike deeds, So that when I, King Gandalf, old and gray, Sat with my warriors round the oaken table, The king’s young scald might while away Long winter evenings with heroic lays, And sing at last a saga of my deeds; The hero’s fame voiced in the poet’s song Outlives the monument upon his grave. But now, be off, and if you choose go cast Your harp aside and don the monkish cowl. Aha! King Gandalf has a mighty scald!
[The VIKINGS go into the forest to the left; HEMMING follows them.]
ASGAUT. It is a mouldy time we live in now; Our faith and customs from the olden days Are everywhere upon the downward path. Lucky it is that I am growing old; My eyes shall never see the North decay. But you, King Gandalf, you are young and strong; And wheresoe’er you roam in distant lands, Remember that it is a royal task To guard the people and defend the gods!
[He follows the rest.]
GANDALF. [After a pause.] Hm, he has no great confidence in me. ‘Tis well he went! Whenever he is near, It is as if a burden weighed me down. The grim old viking with his rugged face,— He looks like Asathor, who with his belt Of strength and Mjölnir stood within the grove, Carved out in marble, near my father’s home. My father’s home! Who knows, alas! how things Around the ancient landmarks now may look!— Mountains and fields are doubtless still the same; The people—? Have they still the same old heart? No, there is fallen mildew o’er the age, And it is that which saps the Northern life And eats away like poison what is best. Well, I will homeward,—save what still is left To save before it falls to utter ruin.
GANDALF. [After a pause during which he looks around.] How lovely in these Southern groves it is; My pine groves can not boast such sweet perfume.
[He perceives the mound.]
GANDALF. What now? A warrior’s grave? No doubt it hides A countryman from those more stirring days. A warrior’s barrow in the South!—’Tis only just; It was the South gave us our mortal wound. How lovely it is here! It brings to mind One winter night when as a lad I sat Upon my father’s knee before the hearth, The while he told me stories of the gods, Of Odin, Balder, and the mighty Thor; And when I mentioned Freya’s grove to him, He pictured it exactly like this grove,— But when I asked him something more of Freya, What she herself was like, the old man laughed And answered as he placed me on my feet, “A woman will in due time tell you that!”
GANDALF. [Listening.] Hush! Footsteps in the forest! Quiet, Gandalf,- They bring the first fruits of your blood-revenge!
[He steps aside so that he is half concealed among the bushes to the right.]