The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
The Dealings of King Olaf Tryggvison with the Icelanders.
NOW tells the tale that safe to Drontheim came
Kiartan with all his folk, and the great fame
Of Olaf Tryggvison then first they knew,
When thereof spake the townsmen to the crew,
But therewithal yet other news they heard,
Which seemed to one and all a heavy word;
How that the king, from the old customs turned,
Now with such zeal toward his new faith burned,
That thereby nothing else to him was good
But that all folk should bow before the Rood. p. 386
When Kiartan's coming thitherward betid
Three ships of Iceland lay there in the Nid,
Manned by stout men enow; downcast were these
Who had been glad enow the king to please;
And save their goods, and lives, perchance, withal,
But knew not how their forefathers to call
Souls damned for ever and ever; yet they said
That matters drew so swiftly to a head,
That when they met the king he passed them by
With head turned round, or else with threatening eye
Scowled on them; "And when Yule-tide comes," said they,
"We look to have from him a settled day
When we must change our faith or bide the worst."
"Well," Kiartan said, "this king is not the first
To think the world is made for him alone;
Who knows how things will go ere all is done?
God wot, I wish my will done even as he;
I hate him not."
And therewith merrily
From out the ship the men of Herdholt went;
A bright eve was it, and the good town sent
Thin smoke and blue straight upward through the air,
For it had rained of late, and here and there
Sauntered the townsfolk, man and maid and child;
Where street met quay a fiddle's sound beguiled
A knot of listening folk, who no less turned
And stared hard as the westering sunbeams burned p. 387
Upon the steel and scarlet of that band,
Whom, as ye well may wot, no niggard hand
Had furnished forth; so up the long street then,
Gazing about, well gazed at, went the men,
A goodly sight. But een as they would wend
About the corner where that street had end,
High up in air nearby gan ring a chime
Whose sweetness seemed to bless een that sweet time
With double blessing. Kiartan stayed his folk
When first above his head that sound outbroke,
And listened smiling, till he heard a sigh
Close by him, and met Bodli's wandering eye
That fell before his.
Softly Kiartan spake:
"Now would Gudrun were here een for the sake
Of this sweet sound! nought have I heard so sweet."
So on they passed, and turned about the street,
And saw the great church cast its shadow down
Upon the low roofs of the goodly town,
And yet awhile they stayed there marvelling;
But therewith heard behind them armour ring,
And turning, saw a gallant company
Going afoot, and yet most brave to see,
Come toward the church, and nigher as they drew
It was to Kiartan even as if he knew
One man among them, taller by the head
Than any there, and clad in kirtle red,
Girt with a sword, with whose gold hilt he played p. 388
With his left hand, the while his right did shade
His eyes from the bright sun that gainst him blazed,
As on the band of Icelanders he gazed;
Broad-shouldered was he, grand to look upon,
And in his red beard tangled was the sun
That lit his bright face up in wrathful wise,
That fiercer showed his light-grey eager eyes.
Now ere he came quite close, sidelong he bent
Unto a man who close beside him went,
Then turned, and gazed at Kiartan harder yet,
As he passed by, and therewith their eyes met,
And Kiartan's heart beat, and his face grew bright,
His eyes intent as if amidst a fight,
Yet on his lips a smile was, confident,
Devoid of hate, as by him the man went.
But Bodli said, "Let us begone ere day
Is fully passed, if even yet we may;
This is the king, and what then may we do
Gainst such a man, a feeble folk and few?"
But Kiartan turned upon him loftily,
And said, "Abide! I do not look to die
Ere we get back to Iceland; one there is,
Thou knowst, therein, to hold through woe and bliss
My soul from its departing; go we then
And note the way of worship of these men."
So on that eve about the church they hung,
And through the open door heard fair things sung, p. 389
And sniffed the incense; then to ship they went.
But the next morn the king to Kiartan sent
To bid him come unto the royal hall,
Where nought but good to him and his should fall;
Close by the ship upon the sunny quay
Was Kiartan, when the man these words did say,
Amid a ring of Icelanders, who sat
Upon the bales of unshipped goods: with that
Kiartan stood up and said unto the man:
"Undo thy kirtle if thy worn hands can!
Show us thy neck where the king's chain has galled;
But tell us not whereby thy sire was called
Lest some of these should blushgo tell the king
That I left Iceland for another thing
Than to curse all the dead men of my race,
To make him merrylengthen not thy face,
For thou shalt tell him therewithal, that I
Will do him service well and faithfully
As a free man may do; else let him take
What he can get of me for his God's sake."
Silence there was about him at this word,
Except that Bodli muttered in his beard:
"Now certainly a good reward we have,
In that we cast away what fortune gave,
Yet doubtless shall our names be bruited far p. 390
When we are deadthen, too, no longings are
For what we may not have."
So as he came
The man went, and een Kiartan now had blame
For his rash word. "What will ye, friends?" he said,
"The king is wise; his wrath will well be weighed;
He knoweth that we shall not fall for nought.
Should I speak soft?why then should we be brought,
Unarmed belike, and helpless, one by one
Up to the bishop when the feast was done
What, Kálf! thou sayst, aboard, and let us weigh?
Yes, and be overhauled ere end of day
By the king's longshipsnay, friends, all is well;
And at the worst shall be a tale to tell
Ere all is oer."
They hearkened, and cast fear
Aside awhile; for death had need be near
Unto such men for them to heed him aught.
So the time passed, and the king harmed them nought
And sent no message more to them, and they
Were lodged within the town, and day by day
Went here and there in peace, till Yule drew nigh.
And now folk said the feast would not pass by
Without some troubling of the ancient faith
At the king's hands, and war and ugly death
Drew round the season of the peace on earth
The angels sang of at that blessed birth.
Put whoso gloomed at tidings men might show, p. 391
It was not Kiartan; wary was he though,
And weighed men's speech well; and upon a day
He, casting up what this and that might say,
All Iceland folk into one place did call,
And when they were assembled in the hall,
Spake on this wise:
"Fair fellows, well ye know,
The saw that says, the wise saves blow by blow;
This king who lies so heavy on us here
Is a great man; his own folk hold him dear,
For he spares nought to them. Yet ye know well
That when his might on Hacon's fortune fell,
Great foes he left alive, and still they live.
Noble the man is; but yet who can give
Good fortune to his foe? and he must be,
Despite our goodwill, still our enemy.
I grudge it not, for noble seems the chance
The fortunes of a fair name to advance.
And so it may be, friends, that we shall free
The land this tide of the long tyranny
That Harald Fair-hair laid on it, and give
Unto all folk beneath just laws to live,
As in the old daysshortly let us go,
When time shall serve, and to king Olaf show
That death breeds death; I say not this same night,
But hold ye ever ready for the fight,
And shun the mead-horn: Yule is close anigh
And the king's folk will drink abundantly;
Then light the torch and draw the whetted sword! p. 392
A great man certesyet I marked this word
Said by his bishopmany words he made
About a matter small if rightly weighed
To die is gainthis king and I, and ye
Are young for that, yet so it well may be:
Some of us here are deemed to have done well;
How shall it be when folk our story tell
If we die grey-haired? honour fallen away,
Good faith lost, kindness perishedfor a day
Of little pleasure mingled with great pain
So will we not unto the Gods complain
Or draw our mouths awry with foolish hate,
This king and I, if neath the hand of fate
Sword to sword yet we meet: hearken once more
It seems the master of this new-found lore
Said to his men once, Think ye that I bring
Peace upon earth? nay but a swordO king,
Behold the sword ready to meet thy sword!"
Out sprang his bright steel at that latest word,
And bright the weapons glittered round about,
And the roof shook again beneath their shout;
But only Bodli, silent, pensive, stood,
As though he heeded nought of bad or good
In word or deed. But Kiartan, flushed and glad,
Noted him not, for whatso thought he had,
He deemed him ever ready in the end
To follow after as himself should wend.
Howso that was, now were these men at one, p. 393
That een as Kiartan bade it should be done,
And the king set on, ere on them he fell;
So then to meat they gat and feasted well;
But the next morn espial should be made
How best to do the thing that Kiartan bade.
The next morn came, and other news withal,
For by a messenger the king did call
The Icelanders to council in his house,
Bidding them note, that howso valorous
They might be, still but little doubt there was
That lightly he might bring their end to pass
If need should drive him thereto. "Yet," said he,
"Fain would I give you peace, though certainly
This tide but one of two things must ye choose,
Either nought else but life itself to lose,
Or else to come and hearken to my words
In the great hall whereas I see my lords."
Kiartan gazed round about when this was said,
Smiling beneath a frown, his face flushed red
With wrath and shame. "Well," said he, "we are caught
The sluggards counsel morning brings to nought.
What say ye, shall we hold the feast at home?
Hearken, the guests get ready! shall they come?"
For as he spake upon the wind was borne
Unto their ears the blast of a great horn, p. 394
And smiled the messenger, and therewithal
Down from the minster roar of bells did fall,
Rung back and clashing; thereon Bodli spake:
"Thou and I, cousin, for our honour's sake,
May be content to die; but what of these?
Thy part it is to bring us unto peace
If it may be; then, if the worst befall,
There can we die too, as in Atli's Hall
The Niblungs fell; nor worser will it sound
That thus it was, when we are underground,
And over there our Gudrun hears the tale."
Silent sat Kiartan, gazing on the pale
Set face of Bodli for a while, then turned
Unto his silent folk, and saw they yearned
For one chance more of life.
"Go, man," he said,
And tell thy king his will shall be obeyed
So far as this, that we will come to him;
But bid him guard with steel, head, breast, and limb,
Since as we come, belike, we shall not go,
And who the end of words begun can know.
Ho, friends! do on your war-gear! Fear ye not,
Since two good things to choose from have ye got:
Peace, or a famed death!"
Then with both his ears
Ringing with clink of mail and clash of spears p. 395
The messenger went forth upon his way;
And the king knew by spies, the wise ones say,
What counsel Kiartan gave his folk that eve,
And had no will in such great hands to leave
His chance of life or death. Now, armed at last,
The men of Iceland up the long street passed,
And saw few men there; wives and children stood
Before the doors to gaze, or in his hood
An elder muttered, as they passed him by,
Or sad-eyed maids looked on them longingly.
So came they to the great hall of the king,
And round about the door there stood a ring
Of tall men armed, and each a dreaded name;
These opened to them as anigh they came,
And then again drew close, and hemmed them in,
Nor spared they speech or laughter, and the din
Was great among them as all silently
The men of Herdholt passed the door-posts by.
Then through the hall's dusk Kiartan gazed, and saw
Small space whereby his company might draw
Nigh to the king, for there so thick men stood
That their tall spears were like a wizard's wood.
Now some way from the daïs must they stand
Where sat the king, and close to his right hand
The German bishop, but no heed at all
The king gave to our folk, as down the hall
His marshal cried for silence, and the din
Being quite appeased, in a clear voice and thin
The holy man gan to set forth the faith; p. 396
But for these men brought nigh the gate of Death,
Hard was it now to weigh the right and wrong
Of what he said, that seemed both dull and long.
So when at last he came unto an end,
Uprose the king, and oer the place did send
A mighty voice: "Now have ye heard the faith,
And what the High God through his servant saith;
This is my faith: what say ye to it, then?"
Uprose a great shout from King Olaf's men,
And clash of tossing spears, and Bodli set
His hand upon his sword, while Kiartan yet
Stood still, and, smiling, eyed the king: and he
Turned on him as the din fell:
"What say ye,
What say ye, Icelanders? thou specially?
I call thee yet a year too young to die,
Son of my namesake; neither seemst thou such
As who would trust in Odin overmuch,
Or pray long prayers to Thor, while yet thy sword
Hangs by thy side."
Now at the king's first word
Down Kiartan stooped, and gan his shoe to lace,
And a dumb growl went through the crowded place
Like the far thunder while the sky is bright;
But when he rose again and stood upright
The king cried out:
"Which man of these is he p. 397
Who counselled you to slay no man but me
Amid my guards?"
Kiartan stood forth a space;
And said: "Een so, O king, thou biddst him face
Of his own will, the thing that all men fear,
Swift death and certainking, the man is here,
And in his own land, Kiartan Olafson
Men called himpity that his days are done,
For fair maids loved him."
As he said the word
From out its sheath flamed forth the rover's sword,
And Bodli was beside him, and the hall
Was filled with fury now from wall to wall,
And back to back now stood the Herdholt band,
Each with his weapon gleaming in his hand.
Then oer the clamour was the king's voice heard;
"Peace, men of mine, too quickly are ye stirred!
Do ye not see how that this man and I
Alone of men still let our sharp swords lie
Within their sheaths? Wise is the man to know
How troublous things among great men will go.
Speak, Kiartan Olafson! I offer thee
That in my court here thou abide with me,
Keeping what faith thou wilt; but let me deal
To these thy fellows either bane or weal,
As they shall do my bidding."
Said Kiartan, "dost thou speak about these men; p. 398
Yea, like a fool, who knowest not the earth,
And what things thereon bring us woe or mirth;
No man there is of these but calls me friend;
Yea, and if all truth but this truth should end,
And sire, and love, and all were false to me,
Still should I look on my right hand to see
Bodli the son of ThorleikCome, then, death,'
Thy yokefellow am I."
Then from his sheath
Outsprang his sword, and even therewithal
Clear rang the Iceland shout amidst the hall,
And in a short space had the tale been oer,
But therewith Olaf stilled the noise once more,
And smiling said;
"Thou growest angry, man!
Content thee, thou it was the strife began,
And now thou hast the best of it; come, then,
And sit beside me; thou and thy good men
Shall go in peaceonly, bethink thee how
In idle poet's lies thou needst must trow
Make no delay to take me by the hand,
Not meet it is that neath me thou shouldst stand."
To Kiartan's face, pale erst with death, there rose
A sudden flush, and then his lips, set close,
And knitted brow, grew soft, and in his eyes
There came at first a look of great surprise,
Then kind they grew, and with shamefaced smile
He looked upon the king a little while, p. 399
Then slowly sank his sword, and, taking it
By the sharp point, to where the king did sit
He made his way, and said:
"Nay, thou hast won;
Do thou for me what no man yet has done,
And take my sword, and leave me weaponless:
And if thy Christ is one who een can bless
An earthly man, or heed him aught at all,
On me too let his love and blessing fall;
But if nor Christ, nor Odin help, why, then
Still at the worst are we the sons of men,
And will we, will we not, yet must we hope,
And after unknown happiness must grope,
Since the known fails us, as the elders say;
Though sooth, for me, who know no evil day,
Are all these things but words."
"Put back thy blade,"
The king said, "thereof may I be apaid,
With thee to wield it for me; and now, come,
Deem of my land and house een as thy home,
For surely now I know that this thy smile
The heart from man or maid can well beguile."
As the king spake, drew Bodli nigh the place,
And a strange look withal there crossed his face;
It seemed he waited as a man in dread
What next should come; but little Kiartan said
Save thanks unto the king, and gayer now
Than men had seen him yet, he gan to grow. p. 400
Then gave the king command, and presently
All strife was swallowed of festivity,
And in all joyance the time slipped away,
And a fair ending crowned a troublous day.
Great love there grew twixt Kiartan and the king
From that time forth, and many a noble thing
Was planned betwixt them; and ere Yule was oer
White raiment in the Minster, Kiartan bore,
And he and his were hallowed at the font.
Now so I deem it is, that use and wont,
The lords of men, the masks of many a face,
Raising the base perchance, somewhat abase
Those that are wise and noble; even so
Oer Kiartan's head as day by day did go,
Worthier the king's court, and its ways gan seem
Than many a thing whereof he erst did dream,
And gay he grew beyond the wont of men.
Now with the king dwelt Ingibiorg as then,
His sister; unwed was she, fair of face,
Beloved and wise, not lacking any grace
Of mind or body: Often it befell
That she and Kiartan met, and more than well
She gan to love him; and he let her love,
Saying withal, that nought at all might move
His heart from Gudrun; and for very sooth
He might have held that word; but yet for ruth.
And a soft pleasure that he would not name p. 401
All unrebuked he let her soft eyes claim
Kindness from his; and surely to the king
This love of theirs seemed a most happy thing,
And to himself he promised merry days,
And had in heart so Kiartan's state to raise
That he should be a king too.
Silent would Bodli go, without a smile
Upon his sad changed face from morn to eve;
And often now the thronged hall would he leave
To wander by the borders of the sea,
Waiting, half dreading, till some news should free
The band of Icelanders; most wearily
Month after month to him the days dragged by.
For ye shall know that the king looked for news
Whether the folk of Iceland would refuse,
At the priest Thangbrand's word, to change their faith.
A man of violence, the story saith,
A lecher, and a manslayertidings came
While yet the summer at its height did flame,
And Thangbrand brought it; little could he do,
Although indeed two swordsmen stout he slew,
Unto the holy faith folk's hearts to turn.
Hall of the Side, as in the tale we learn,
Gizur the White, and Hialti Skeggison,
With some few others, to the faith were won,
The most of men little these things would heed,
And some were furious heathens; so, indeed, p. 402
To save his life he had to flee away.
Wroth was the king hereat, and now would stay
The Iceland ships from sailing; little fain
Was Kiartan yet to get him back again,
Since he, forgetting not the former days
It might bepassed his life fulfilled of praise,
And love, and glory. So the time went on,
Gizur the White and Hialti Skeggison,
Fleeing from Iceland, in the autumn-tide
Came out to Norway with the king to bide
Until the summer came, when they should go
Once more the truth of Christ's fair lore to show.
Long ago now of Gudrun and her ways,
And of the coming of those happy days
That were to be, had Kiartan ceased to speak
Unto his friend; who sullen now and weak,
Weary with waiting, faint with holding back
He scarcely knew from what, did surely lack
Some change of days if yet he was to live.
Tidings the new comers to him did give
From Laxdale, speaking lightly of the thing
That like a red-hot iron hand did wring
His weary heart; Gudrun was fair and well,
And still at Bathstead in good hope did dwell
Of Kiartan's swift return. That word or two,
That name, wrought in him, that at last he knew
His longing, and intent; and desolate
The passing of the days did he await,
Torn by remorse, tortured by fear, lest yet p. 403
Kiartan the lapse of strange days should forget,
And take to heart the old familiar days,
And once more turn him to the bygone ways
Where they were happybut his fear was vain,
For if his friend of Iceland had been fain
Scarce had he gone; the king would keep him there
A pledge with other three, till he should hear
What thing the Icelanders this time would do,
Nor, as we said, had he good will to go
Whatso his power was: for so far things went
With Ingibiorg, that folk with one consent
Named her his bride that was to be, and said,
That sure a nobler pair were never wed.
And so the time passed, till the day came round
When at the quay the ships lay Iceland-bound,
And Bodli went to bid his friend farewell,
Flushed and bright-eyed, for wild hope, sooth to tell,
Had striven with shame, and cast its light on love,
Until a fairer sky there seemed above,
A fairer earth about, and still most fair
The fresh green sea that was to bring him there,
Whereon his heart was set.
"O gay! O gay!"
Said Kiartan, "thou art glad to go away;
This is the best face I have seen on thee
Since first our black oars smote the Burgfirth sea."
But as he spake a dark flush and a frown p. 404
Swallowed up Bodli's smile; he cast adown
His eager eyes: "Thou art as glad to stay,
Belike," he said, "as I to go away.
What thinkest thou I plot against thee then?"
"Thou art the strangest of the sons of men,"
Said Kiartan, with a puzzled look. "Come now,
Leave off thy riddles, clear thy troubled brow,
And let me think of thee as in time past,
When ever a most merry lad thou wast!
Why talkest thou of plotting? True and leal
I deem thee ever as the well-tried steel
That hangs beside thee; neither cross at all
Our fond desires. Though whatso thing may fall
Still shall I trust thee."
His own face grew grave
As oer his heart there swept a sudden wave
Of the old thoughts. But Bodli said, "O friend,
Forgive my face fair looks and foul; I wend
Back to our kin and land, that gladdens me.
I leave thee here behind across the sea,
That makes me sad and sour."
He did not raise
His eyes up midst his words, or meet the gaze
Kiartan bent on him, till again he said:
"Olaf shall hear of all the goodlihead
Thou gainest here. Thy brethren shall be glad
That thou such honour from all men hast had. p. 405
Oswif the Wise no doubt I soon shall see
What shall I say to him?"
Gazed Kiartan on him. "Tell Gudrun all this
Thou knowest of, my honour and my bliss;
Say we shall meet again!"
No more they spake,
But kissed and parted; either's heart did ache
A little while with thought of the old days;
Then Bodli to the future turned his gaze,
Unhappy and remorseful, knowing well
How ill his life should go whateer befell.
But Kiartan, left behind, being such a man
As through all turns of fortune never can
Hold truce with fear or sorrow, lived his life
Not ill content with all the change and strife.
Fair goes the ship that beareth out Christ's truth,
Mingled of hope, of sorrow, and of ruth,
And on the prow Bodli the Christian stands,
Sunk deep in thought of all the many lands
The world holds, and the folk that dwell therein,
And wondering why that grief and rage and sin
Was ever wrought; but wondering most of all
Why such wild passion on his heart should fall. p. 406