The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
Kiartan fetches the price of the Coif from Bathstead.
AND now a day or two with brooding face
Did Kiartan go about from place to place
And speak few words to any, till one day
He bade his men see to their war-array,
For two hours after midnight all and some
Into the hall to wait his word should come,
And whoso blabbed, he said, the deed should rue.
So thitherward in arms that night they drew;
And Refna trembling lay, while Kiartan clad
His body in the best war-gear he had,
And through the hangings did she watch the spears,
And dreadful seemed the laughter to her ears,
And red the lamps burned, as with twilight grey
They mingled: then he turned to go away,
And kissed her as he spake:
"Refna, this eve,
Most like, a noble gift shalt thou receive;
Do thou thy part to meet it with good grace,
And gather what thou canst into this place
Of fiddlers and of glee-men, and with song
Meet that good gift that comes to heal thy wrong."
Now Refna durst not ask, What wilt thou then,
And whither go to-night these all-armed men?
Because she deemed she knew what word it was p. 479
That all this clash of arms had brought to pass,
And sick at heart she grew to think thereof,
And with her fair white arms made strong by love
She clung to Kiartan, but he drew her hold
With gentle hands from off the mail rings cold.
And kissed her sweet mouth opened now to speak,
And gat him gone; and she fell back all weak
Upon her bed, and lying there alone,
Saw how his war-gear in the bright light shone,
And heard his cheery voice as he cried loud,
"To Bathstead, ho!" and then the noisy crowd
Passed clashing from the hall, and nothing there
Within a little while might Refna hear,
But the dawn's noises, and the loitering tread
Of some maid getting slowly back to bed;
So there she lay alone in grief and fear,
But hope's fresh voice shuddering she needs must hear
Whispering wild words, yet sweet, of chance and crime,
Telling the wondrous ways of slowfoot time.
But now at Bathstead ere they rose that morn,
Men deemed they heard the winding of a horn,
And, running straightway to the door, could see
About the stead a goodly company,
And there were Olaf's sons with sixty men
Besetting every gate and door; but when
The men of Bathstead were all armed and went
Unto the door, they saw a gay-striped tent
Just raised upon the slope-side gainst the hall p. 480
And armed men round about it; one man, tall
Beyond his fellows, stood some yards more near
The hall-door, leaning on a pennoned spear,
Clad in a glittering mail-coat, with a shield
About his neck, where, on a golden field
The holy Rood of God was painted fair;
From neath his gilded helm his golden hair
Fell waving down, but hidden were his eyes
By the wide brim: then did great fear arise
Within their hearts, despite their fiery hate,
Because they knew that now at last, if late,
Was Kiartan's might aroused and in the field.
But none the less little would Ospak yield
To any fear; before the rest he strode,
And cried aloud:
"Within this fair abode
Has been thy place, O Kiartan Olafson,
And not without; what ill deed hast thou done
That father Oswif has forbidden thee
Thy honoured seat where it was wont to be?"
The tall man moved not, but a deep voice came
From neath his helm: "Thou art right wise to name
A hidden head; grow wiser! sick am I,
And somewhat deadly now to come anigh;
My sword has lost its scabbard gainst my will,
Beware then, for its naked edge may kill!"
Then Ospak raised the spear in his right hand p. 481
And shook it, but the tall man forth did stand
And pushed his helm aback and showed the face
Of Kiartan, and across the grassy space
Cried mightily: "Be wise, and get ye back!
Of fighting one day shall ye have small lack;
But now beware, because my father's sons
Have sworn to spare no man of you, if once
A drop of blood is spilt! Come ye not forth
Until I bid you, if of any worth
Ye hold your lives; and meantime for the sake
Of what I had and have not, I will take
My due from mead and byre."
He let his helm down oer his visage fall,
And turned back toward the tent. Back shrank again,
Cowed into sullen rage, the Bathstead men,
And armed but helpless there within the hall
Silent they sat, hearkening the raiders call
The cattle oer the meads: in high-seat there
Sat Bodli, but his visage worn with care
Of the past days, was sad, but calm and soft,
As if he thought of gentle things, though oft
Fierce eyes would scowl upon his dreamy face
Unnoted of him; in that dreary place
He seemed like some dead king, condemned in hell
For his one sin among such men to dwell
As for their wickedness he hated most
Ere righteous ways and life and all were lost. p. 482
And in meantime, twixt silent trembling bower
And silent cursing hall, hour after hour
Did Gudrun pace with restless feet, and heart
Betwixt two nameless miseries torn apart,
Whence cold despair was being well fashioned now.
And Oswif sat apart with wrinkled brow,
Unnoted in that house of grief and wrong.
But midst their shame, from outside, laugh and song
Came loud and louder, mingled with the clank
Of mead-horns; the feast's clamour never sank
Till mid-day was well passed; then quieter
It grew without, and yet they still might hear
Lowing of neat and men's shouts. Then a voice
Cried from the slope-side:
"Bathstead men, rejoice
That ye no autumn-feast need hold this year,
For certes else should ye find victuals dear
And hard to come by! Oswif's sons, come out,
Unarmed and peaceable, and have no doubt
Of hurt from us!"
They stirred not for a space;
Then cried the voice: "Lives none within the place?
Are ye all dead of fear? Come out, I say,
Else oer your roof the red cock crows to-day!"
Then Ospak, cursing, on the pavement cast
His shield and spear, and toward the doorway passed,
And in likewise the others one by one,
Till Bodli and Gudrun were left alone: p. 483
And then she said, "And thouwilt thou not go?
Knowst thou the name of him who shames us so?"
"Yea, yea, I know it!" Bodli cried; "farewell!
Of me, too, shall there be a tale to tell:
I will go forth, but not without my sword."
He drew the thing he named with that last word,
And ran unto the door; against the wall
There stood the sons of Oswif, stout and tall,
Foaming, but helpless: in his saddle now
Sat Kiartan, unhelmed, his bright hair a-glow
With the May sun. His brethren stood around
Beside their horses, and a mighty sound
Came from the herd of neat that thronged the way
Beneath the hill-side; spears with pennons gay
Glittered about them in the sunlight fair,
For Kiartan's company was gathered there
Ready to set forth.
So there Bodli stood
One moment, thinking that the world was good,
Though not for him; then he cried out: "O thou,
Thou son of Olaf, come and meet me now,
For long have I been weary of the earth;
And now to me but one thing seems of worth
That I should win death of such hands as thine."
Then in the sunlight did the bright steel shine,
And Kiartan's brethren soon had ended all,
For Bodli ran forth; yet heard Kiartan call p. 484
Across the clash of arms: "Nay, point nor edge
His blood shall redden not; make ye a hedge
Of your strong shields and thrust him back again
Since he knows not that all his might is vain,
Een to win death; live, foster-brother, yet,
And get despite of all, what thou mayst get
Of joy and honour."
Midway, Bodli stayed,
And in his hand he poised the heavy blade
As he would cast it from him, slowly then
Did he give back face foremost from the men,
Till in the doorway once again he stood.
Then Kiartan said: "Yea, cousin, it is good,
If thou must die by me, that thou shouldst bide
Some noble fight, some glorious reaping-tide,
Where each of each fair fame at least may gain
God grant a little bliss ere that last pain!
But hearken, thievish sons of a wise man!
Be taught, ye blustering fools, if yet ye can!
From Yule till now I gave you, a long day,
To pay the debt that needs was ye must pay;
Twice told I take it now, and leave behind
What shall seem shame indeed to most men's mind.
This is my bridal gift, think well of it;
In your own fields it waxed, while ye did sit
Plotting across the meadhorns. Now take heed
That oft henceforth your manhood shall ye need
If ye would live in peace. Blow loud and clear," p. 485
O horns, for Refna waiteth for us there,
And merry shall we be to-night in hall
What things soever afterwards may fall!"
Still Bodli stood with drawn sword in the door
While midst the clang of arms and horn's loud roar,
He saw the herd move up the dusty road;
He saw how Kiartan for a while abode
Behind the rest, and stared at the grey stead
Whose roof so often had been oer his head;
He saw him turn, and well might deem he sighed,
Then muttered he, "Ah, would God I had died
By thee to-day!" and sheathed his sword, and then
Was hustled by the sullen baffled men
Who shouldered past him back into the hall,
Who heeded him just as they did the wall
Past which they rubbed; but with the last of these
He went in, casting by all hope of peace.
But Refna looking from the Herdholt knoll
That evening, saw a dust-cloud upward roll
And move toward Herdholt, and her heart beat fast
When from the midst thereof bright spear-heads passed,
And then men's helms, and then the guarded herd;
And she bethought her of her mate's last word,
And bade the women in their best array,
And minstrels, stand on either side the way
To greet the new-comers, whose horns blew loud
Close by the garth now, while the beasts gan crowd p. 486
About the garth-gate; so, the gate past through,
Over the homefield toward the wall they drew,
Tended by gay-clad men-at-arms, who wore
About their helms fair flowers that Bathstead bore,
While of the beasts, sharp horn and curl-browed head,
And dewlapped neck were well begarlanded.
Then from the close loud joyful cries arose,
Tinkle of harps, sharp noise of fiddle-bows,
And all along the line there ran a shout:
Therewith old Olaf to the door came out,
And saw his sons swift from the cattle ride,
Till Kiartan leapt adown by Refna's side
And cast his arms about her, and gan cry:
"Now is the Queen's-Gift paid for fittingly;
For these are thine, een as my hand and sword,
To put from thee all care, and every word
That grieves thee, sweet. O love, but I am gay!
Sure a fair life beginneth from to-day!"
She gazed at him, and knew not why her heart
Scarce in that joyous scene might play its part
Why it was not enoughthese words of love,
His bright fair face her longing eyes above?
Yet with a loving cry she hid her face
Upon his breast.
Thereat did Olaf gaze
And muttered low: "A goodly price in sooth
For a girl's coif! but yet, for Kiartan's youth, p. 487
For his fair hope and glory, and increase
Of good deeds, and mine own old age of peace,
Not too much, not too much! Ah, woe is me
That I should live these latter days to see!"