[ALFHILD, LADY KIRSTEN, ARNE, WEDDING GUESTS, PEASANTS and SERVANTS from various sides. Later OLAF LILJEKRANS.]
LADY KIRSTEN. There she is! Stand still, Alfhild! Do not try to escape,—else we shall shoot you.
ALFHILD. What do you want of me?
LADY KIRSTEN. That you shall learn soon enough.
LADY KIRSTEN. [Points to her bundle.] What is this you are carrying?
ALFHILD. My mother’s treasures!
LADY KIRSTEN. Give it here! See, see! A crown of silver! Indeed, Alfhild! If you are your mother’s only daughter I am very much afraid the bridal crown will nevermore be needed in her family.
LADY KIRSTEN. [To the Servants.] Bind her! She stands there and pretends to be sad; no one can know what she is scheming.
[ALFHILD is bound.]
LADY KIRSTEN. [Aloud and with suppressed passion.] The court is ready. As you all know, I have a legal and prescriptive right to protect my dominions, to pass judgment in accordance with the law of the realm on every one who does me harm on my own lands. This is what you, Alfhild, have presumed to do, and it is therefore that you now stand here accused before your judge. Defend yourself if you can, but do not forget it is a matter of life and death.
ARNE. But listen, Lady Kirsten!
LADY KIRSTEN. Excuse me, Lord Arne! I am within my rights here, and I intend to insist on them.
LADY KIRSTEN. [To ALFHILD.] Come forward and answer me!
ALFHILD. Do you but question me,—I shall answer!
LADY KIRSTEN. Many and grievous are the charges that are directed against you. First and foremost I charge you here with having beguiled my son, Olaf Liljekrans, with your unholy arts, so that he turned heart and soul away from his betrothed to whom he was pledged,—so that he, sick in heart, never at any time found peace in his home, but came up here to this unknown valley where you have had your home. All this could not have happened in any ordinary way; you are therefore accused of witchcraft,—defend yourself if you can.
ALFHILD. I have little to say in answer to this. Witchcraft you call that strange power that drew Olaf up here. Perhaps you are right; but this witchcraft was not of evil;—every hour that Olaf has been here God must surely have witnessed! Each thought that I have had of Olaf the angels of God must have known! And they had no occasion to blush.
LADY KIRSTEN. Enough, enough! You would add blasphemy to your transgression! Woe upon you, Alfhild! Your every word only adds weight to the scales. Yet, that is your affair!
LADY KIRSTEN. [To the rest.] I crave you all as witnesses to her answer.
[Turns to ALFHILD.]
LADY KIRSTEN. I charge you next with having again, this very night, with the aid of these same secret powers, met Olaf up here, and furthermore that you keep him concealed in here!
ALFHILD. There you are right! Secretly is he hidden here!
LADY KIRSTEN. You admit it?
ALFHILD. Yes, but however powerful you are, you will never be able to set him free. Perhaps it would be best for me if you were able; but neither you nor the whole wide world have the power to set him free!
LADY KIRSTEN. [In a violent outburst.] Now death will certainly be your punishment! Out with it,—where have you got him?
ALFHILD. [Presses her hands to her bosom.] In here—in my heart! If you can tear him out from it you can practice witchcraft better than I!
LADY KIRSTEN. That answer is nothing. Out with it,—where is he?
ALFHILD. I have answered!
LADY KIRSTEN. [With repressed irritation.] Good!
ARNE. [To the spectators.] Were Hemming alive he would have been able to get the truth out of her; he had become so crafty of late.
LADY KIRSTEN. Now the third charge against you: last night you set fire to my house and burned it clear to the ground. Perhaps human life has been lost,—that we not know as yet,—but whether or no, it will neither harm nor help your cause; for your intention to burn all of us is as clear as day. Do you deny my charge that you set fire to my home last night?
ALFHILD. I do not deny it; I have destroyed your house!
LADY KIRSTEN. And how will you extenuate your action?
LADY KIRSTEN. [With bitter mockery.] You shall not be able to say that you acted over hastily. Good opportunity you had, so far as I can remember, to stop and consider; you stood outside there, no one came near you, no one prevented you from deliberating as calmly as you could. Nor shall you say that the merriment of the festive occasion went to your head, nor that the wine distracted you; for you were not on the inside at all; you stood on the outside, and it was cool enough there,—the biting wind should have made you sober.
ALFHILD. Yes, I destroyed your house last night; but you and Olaf and all the rest of you out there have done me a greater wrong. The world was to me a festive hall which belonged to the Great Father. The blue heaven was its roof, the stars were the lamps that shone from its ceiling. I wandered happy and rich in all this; but you, you threw a brand right in the midst of this golden splendor; now is everything withered and dead!
LADY KIRSTEN. Such talk will profit you little! Still once more I ask, where is Olaf Liljekrans, my son?
ALFHILD. I have answered!
LADY KIRSTEN. Then you have also passed your own sentence, and I shall confirm it.
[OLAF appears on the rocky cliff among the trees, unnoticed by the rest.]
OLAF. [Aside.] Alfhild! God help me! What is that?
LADY KIRSTEN. You have, in accordance with the law of the land, incurred the penalty of death as guilty of witchcraft and arson. This sentence is herewith pronounced upon you, and forthwith right here on the spot it shall be executed.
ARNE. But listen, Lady Kirsten!
LADY KIRSTEN. Judgment is pronounced! Alfhild shall die!
ALFHILD. Do as you please; little shall I be of hindrance to you. When Olaf denied his love, then ceased my life,—I live no longer.
LADY KIRSTEN. Take her up on the rocky ledge over there.
[Two Servants take ALFHILD up.]
LADY KIRSTEN. For the last time, Alfhild! Give me back my son!
ALFHILD. I will answer no more!
LADY KIRSTEN. Just as you please!
LADY KIRSTEN. [To the Servants.] Cast her down! No, wait! I have an idea!
LADY KIRSTEN. [To ALFHILD.] As you stand there, I remember you again as you yesterday came forward with the golden crown and thought you were worthy to be Olaf Liljekrans’ bride. Now we soon shall see how much you are worth; there are present here peasants and servants and many humble men;—perhaps your life can still be saved! Yes, Alfhild! You stare at me, but so it is; I will be merciful to you!
LADY KIRSTEN. (Turns to the rest.) You all know the old custom, that when a woman is sentenced to death for a capital offence, as she is, her life will be saved and she will be free if an irreproachable man comes forth and upholds her innocence and declares himself ready and willing to marry her. That custom you know?
ALL. Yes, yes!
ALFHILD. [Bursting into tears.] O, to be mocked,—mocked so terribly in my last hour!
LADY KIRSTEN. Well then, Alfhild! This custom you shall have the benefit of. If the most humble man in my company comes forth and declares himself willing to marry you, then are you free.
LADY KIRSTEN. [Looks about.] Is there no one who applies?
[All are silent.]
LADY KIRSTEN. Give her the silver crown; that shall go in the bargain; perhaps, Alfhild, you will then rise in value!
[The crown is placed on ALFHILD’s head.]
LADY KIRSTEN. For the second time I ask,—is any one willing to save her?
[She looks about. All are silent.]
LADY KIRSTEN. Now for it; I am afraid your moments are numbered. Hear me well, you servants up there! Should no one answer my third call, then do you watch for a sign from me and cast her into the lake! Use now your arts, Alfhild! See if you can conjure yourself free from death.
LADY KIRSTEN. [With a loud voice.] For the last time! There stands the witch and incendiary! Who will save and marry her?
[She looks about. All are silent.—LADY KIRSTEN raises her hand quickly as a signal, the Servants seize ALFHILD; in the same moment OLAF rushes out on the ledge in full wedding garb.]
OLAF. I will save and marry her!
[He thrusts the SERVANTS aside and unbinds her. ALFHILD sinks with a cry on his bosom; he puts his left arm around her and raises his right arm threateningly in the air.]
ALL. [Stand as if turned to stone.] Olaf Liljekrans!
LADY KIRSTEN. Olaf Liljekrans, my son! What have you done? Disgraced yourself for all time!
OLAF. No, I blot out the shame and disgrace which I brought on myself by my treatment of her! My sin I shall expiate and make myself happy the while!
OLAF. [Brings ALFHILD forward.] Yes, before all of you I solemnly proclaim this young woman my bride! She is innocent of all that has been charged against her; I only have transgressed.
[Kneels before her.]
OLAF. And at your feet I beg you to forget and forgive—
ALFHILD. [Raises him.] Ah, Olaf! You have given me back all the glory of the world!
LADY KIRSTEN. You will marry her! Well and good; then am I no longer a mother to you!
OLAF. You will cause me great sorrow, although it is now long since that you were a real mother to me. You used me merely to build aloft your own pride, and I was weak and acquiesced. But now have I won power and will; now I stand firmly on my own feet and lay the foundation of my own happiness!
LADY KIRSTEN. But do you stop to consider—
OLAF. Nothing will I now consider,—I know what I want. Now first I understand my strange dream. It was prophesied of me that I was to find the fairest of flowers,—that I was to tear it asunder and strew it to all the winds. O, thus it has happened! A woman’s heart is the fairest flower in the world; all its rich and golden leaves I have torn asunder and scattered to the winds. But be of good cheer, my Alfhild! Many a seed has gone too, and sorrow has ripened it, and from it shall grow a rich life for us here in the valley; for here shall we live and be happy!
ALFHILD. O, now I am happy as in the first hour we met.
LADY KIRSTEN. [Aside.] Ingeborg is gone; this rich valley belongs to Alfhild,—no one else has a claim to it—
LADY KIRSTEN. [Aloud.] Well, Olaf! I shall not stand in the way of your happiness. If you think you will find it in this way, then—well, then you have my consent!
OLAF. Thanks, mother, thanks! Now I lack nothing more!
ALFHILD. [To LADY KIRSTEN.] And me you forgive all my sin?
LADY KIRSTEN. Yes, yes! Perhaps I too was wrong,—let us not say any more of that!
ARNE. But I, then? And my daughter, whom Olaf had pledged—Yet, it is true, perhaps she is no longer alive!
OLAF. Of course she’s alive!
ARNE. She lives! Where is she? Where?
OLAF. That I can not say; but I may say that we both in all friendliness have broken our pledge.
LADY KIRSTEN. You see, Lord Arne! that I—
ARNE. Well, my daughter shall not be forced upon any one. Alfhild was fated to marry a knight; the same may happen to Ingeborg.
ARNE. [With dignity.] Noble lords and honorable men, hear me! It has come to my ear that many of you hold me to be little skilled in courtly manners and customs. I will show you now you are completely mistaken. In the old chronicles it is frequently told that when a noble king loses his daughter he promises her hand and half his kingdom to him who may find her; he who finds Ingeborg shall receive her hand in marriage and in addition half of all that I own and possess. Are you with me on that?
THE YOUNG MEN. Yes, yes!