The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
The Stealing of the Coif
NOW howso Olaf bade An hold his peace,
And Kiartan promised he would nowise cease
To show a good face to the world on all
That twixt the houses yet might chance to fall,
Certain it is, that ere long, far and wide
The tale was known, throughout the country-side;
Nay, more than this, to Kiartan's ears it came
That Oswif's sons deemed they had cast a shame
On Herdholt, and must mock him openly
And call him 'Mire-blade,' een when those were by
Who held him of the most account; no less
Kiartan was moved not from his quietness,
Nor did aught hap twixt autumn and Yule-tide;
Then men at Herdholt busied them to ride
To Bathstead once again, and Olaf said: p. 466
"Wilt thou once more be guided by my head,
Son Kiartan, and with brave heart go to face
The troublous things that wait thee in that place?"
"Well," Kiartan said, "if so I deemed, that fate
Might be turned back of men, or foolish hate
Die out for lack of fuel, no more would I
Unto the Bathstead hall-door draw anigh;
But forasmuch as now I know full well,
That the same story there shall be to tell
Whether I go, or whether I refrain,
Let all be as thou wilt; and yet we twain
Not oft again, O father, side by side
Unto this merry-making place shall ride."
Then Olaf sighed, as though indeed he knew
To what an end his latter days now drew.
So now all folk were ready there, but when
The women came their ways to meet the men,
Said Thorgerd unto Refna: "Well, this tide
Thou hast the coif, no doubt, and like a bride
Hast heart to look midst those whose hearts are cold
To thee and thine."
Then Refna did behold
Thorgerd's stern face in trembling wise, and said:
"Nay, goodwife, what fair cloth may coif my head
Shall matter little mid the many things
Men have to talk of: rise and fall of kings p. 467
And changes of the world: within my chest
The coif lies."
"There," said Kiartan, "might it rest
For thee and me, sweet; yet I mind indeed
When I, a froward child, deemed I had need
Of some sharp glittering thing, as axe or knife,
But little would my mother raise up strife
With me therefor, and even as I would
I cut myself: so if she think this good
Let fetch the Queen's Gift."
Refna looked adown
Shamefaced and puzzled, Thorgerd with a frown
Turned upon Kiartan, but he smiled in turn,
And said: "Yea, mother, let the red gold burn
Among the lights at Bathstead; great am I
Een as thou deemst; and men must let pass by
Their hatred to me, whatso say their hearts;
Come, open-handed let us play our parts."
So was the coif brought, and once more they rode
Unto the door of Oswif's fair abode;
And there they feasted merrily enow
Such of them as were fools, or cared not how
The next week wentand at the highest tide
Of all the feast, sat Refna as a bride
Coifed with the Queen's Gift; Gudrun stern and cold
Scarce would the tender face of her behold,
Or cast a look at Kiartan; rather she
Did press the hand of Bodli lovingly, p. 468
Softening her face for him alone of all:
Then would strange tumult on his spirit fall,
Mingled of pain and uttermost delight
To think the whole world had so swerved from right
To give him pleasure for a little while,
Nor durst he look upon his old friend's smile,
Who, glad with his own manhood seemed to be
Once more, once more the brave heart frank and free;
As though at last the trouble and the coil
That wrapped him round, and made him sadly toil
Through weary days, had fallen all clean away,
And smiling he might meet the bitterest day.
So passed the high-tide forth unto its end
But when at last folk from the place would wend,
And Refna fain would have the coif of her
Whose office was to tend the women's gear
Lo, it was gonethen Refna trembled sore,
And passing through the crowd about the door
Whispered to Kiartan: Ospak stood anigh
And bit his lips, and watched her eagerly,
And Kiartan with a side-long glance could see
His colour come and go, and cried:
Light won, light gone! if still it is bove ground,
Doubt thou not, Refna, it shall yet be found."
Folk looked on one another; Thorgerd said,
Turning on Gudrun: "Small account is made p. 469
Of great folk's gifts, then; I have seen the day
When Egil's kin a man or two would slay
For things less worth than this."
Her angry frown
Gudrun met calmly: "Was the thing his own?
Then let him do een as he will with it;
Small loss it is methinks for her to sit
Without his old love's gift upon her head!"
Ere Thorgerd answered, Kiartan cried, and said:
"Come swift to saddle! Cousin, ride with me,
Until we turn the hill anigh the sea;
I fain would speak with thee a word or twain
That I have striven to think about in vain
These last days that we met."
Bodli flushed red
And looked adown: "So be it then," he said.
Then stammered and turned pale, and said, "Enow
Shall one sword be to-day betwixt us two;
Take thou the rover's weapon, O fair wife."
She looked on him, her lovely face was rife
With many thoughts, but Kiartan's kindly gaze
Seemed to bring back the thoughts of happier days
To both of them, and swift away she passed
Unto her bower; and men were horsed at last,
And sharp the hoofs upon the hard way rung.
So as into the saddle Kiartan swung,
He leant toward Ospak, and said mockingly: p. 470
"I love theeI would not that thou shouldst die;
So see me not too oft, because I have
A plague sometimes, that bringeth to the grave,
Those that come nigh me; live on well and whole!"
Then to his face rushed Ospak's envious soul,
His hand fell on his sword-hilt as le shrank
Back to the doorway, while the fresh air drank
Kiartan's clear laughter, as their company
Rode jingling down unto the hoary sea.
But the last smile from off his face was gone,
When silent, in a while he rode alone
With Bodli silent: then he said to him:
"Thou seest, Bodli, how we twain must swim
Adown a strange streamthou art weaponless
To-day, and certes bides my sword no less
Within its scabbardhow long shall it last?"
Then Bodli cried, "Until my life is past
Shall I take life from thee as well as love?"
"Nay," Kiartan said, "be not too sure thereof,
Bethink thee where by thine own deed thou art
Betwixt a passionate woman's hungry heart,
And the vile envy of a dangerous fool;
Doubt not but thou art helpless, and the tool
Of thy mad love, and that ill comes from ill,
And as a thing begins, so ends it still p. 471
Nay, not to preach to thee I brought thee here,
Rather to say that the old days are dear,
Despite of all, unto my weary heart.
And now methinks from them and thee I part
This day; not unforgiven, whatsoeer
Thou at my hands, or I of thine may bear.
For I tooshall I guide myself indeed,
Or rather be so driven by hard need
That still my hand as in a dream shall be,
While clearly sees the heart that is in me
Desires I may not try to bring to pass?
So since no more it may be as it was
In the past days, when fair and orderly
The world before our footsteps seemed to lie,
Now in this welter wherein we are set,
Lonely and bare of all, deem we not yet
That each for each these ill days we have made;
Rather the more let those good words be weighed
We spake, when truth and love within us burned,
Before the lesson of our life was learned.
What say's thou? are the days to come forgiven,
Shall folk remember less that we have striven,
Than that we loved, when all the tale is told?"
Then long did Bodli Kiartan's face behold,
Striving for speech: then said, "Why speakst thou so?
Twice over now I seem my deed to do,
Twice over strive to wake as from a dream,
That I, once happy, never real may deem, p. 472
So vile and bitter is it; may thy sword
If eer we meet be sharper than thy word,
And make a speedy end of doubt and strife;
Fear not to take much from me, taking life!"
Still seemed the air filled with his words when he
Turned back to Bathstead, and the murmuring sea
Seemed from afar to speak of rest from pain.
Then on a little knoll he shortened rein,
And turned about, and looking toward the hill
Beheld the spear of Kiartan glittering still,
When all the rest of him behind the brow
Was sunken; but the spear sank quickly now,
And slowly home withal did Bodli ride,
Een as he might the coming end to bide.