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Fridthjof's Saga - Chapter XVII

Fridthjof Comes to King Ring

King Ring in state was seated at Yule-time drinking mead.
And with him sat his consort, so white and rosy red;
They seemed like Spring and Autumn, when both together seen,--
The king was chilly Autumn, fresh Spring the fair young queen.

A man, unknown, there entered within the spacious hall,
From head to foot enveloped, a bear-skin covering all;
And though by staff supported, and bent with age and care,
He stood a head the taller than any champion there.

He chose for seat to rest him a bench beside the door,--
'Tis now the poor man's station, as 'twas in days of yore;
The courtiers all laughed loudly, with many a gibe and jest,
And with the finger pointed to him in bear-skin dressed.

The stranger's eyes flashed lightning which made his anger felt,
And quick a young man seizing with one hand, by the belt,
Both up and down he turned him; then ceased the gleeful din,
For all the rest were silent,--so you and I had been.

"What causes such an uproar? who dares disturb our peace?
Old man, come here and answer, and let the tumult cease;
Your name, your place, your errand; come, answer if you can."
Thus spake the angered monarch to the half-concealed old man.

"You ask me many questions, I'll answer every one:
My name (I will not give it) belongs to me alone;
My birthplace was misfortune, my heritage is want,--
I hither came but lately from wolf so fierce and gaunt.

"In youth I rode a dragon upon the waters blue,
Its wings were stout, and gayly and safely too it flew;
But crippled now and frozen, it leaves the land no more,
And I, grown old and weary, burn salt upon the shore.

"I came to see thy wisdom, renowned so far and wide;
And when they met me rudely (for scorn I'll not abide),
One idiot by the girdle I grasped, and turned him round,
For that I beg your pardon,--though now he's safe and sound."

"Thy words are wisely chosen," said Ring, "I must agree;
The aged should be honored, come sit thee here by me;
Slip off these false disguises and let thy form appear,--
Disguise is foe to pleasure, and pleasure ruleth here."

The guest now loosed the bearskin,--it fell from off his head,
Where stood old age decrepit, each saw a youth instead,--
From off whose noble forehead, and round whose shoulders brave,
The light locks fell and floated in many a golden wave.

In azure velvet mantle, he then stood forth erect,
His belt a silver girdle with forest beasts bedecked,--
Embossed by cunning workman, each figure deftly traced,
And round and round the hero they each the other chased.

A massive golden circlet his sinewy arm displayed;
His battle-sword hung by him as though the lightning stayed;
A hero glance about him he cast from time to time,
And stood as Balder beauteous, as Asa-Thor sublime.

Surprised, the queen's cheeks quickly with changing color glow,
As northern lights so ruddy paint fields of driven snow;
As two twin water lilies, alarmed by tempest's swell,
Stand swinging on the billow, her bosom rose and fell.

The horn a shrill blast sounded, then silence reigned throughout;
The hour for vows was coming, and Frey's boar now they brought;
His mouth contained an apple, wreaths on his neck were laid,
His four knees bent beneath him upon a silver cade.

King Ring, his gray locks flowing, arose and straight-way now
The boar's head gently touching, he thus declared his vow:
"I swear to conquer Fridthjof, the champion in war,
So help me Frey and Odin, and likewise mighty Thor."

Then with a smile defiant uprose the stranger tall,
A look of wrath heroic spread o'er his features all,--
He smote with sword the table till through the hall it rang;
And up from oaken benches the steel-clad warriors sprang.

"And now, sir king, please listen while I my vow shall tell,--
Young Fridthjof is my kinsman, and so I know him well;
'Gainst all the world I'll shield him, I give you here my word,
So help me now my norn, and likewise my good sword."

The king then laughed. "Right daring, methinks, your speech," said he,
"But in this Northland palace shall all fair words be free;
My queen, fill him a bumper of wine, the very best,--
I hope that through the winter he'll here remain our guest."

The queen then took the goblet, before her it was placed,--
A rare and costly jewel, which once the ure's head graced;
It stood on feet of silver, and on its golden bands
Were runes of high achievement, engraved by skillful hands.

With downcast eyes she reached him the goblet, brimming filled,--
But with a hand so trembling that wine thereon was spilled:
As evening's shades so ruddy upon the lilies glow,
So gleamed the drops of ruby on hand as white as snow.

The guest the horn accepted with reverential bow,--
Not two men could have drained it, as men are reckoned now,--
Without an instant's waiting the strong man, at a draught,
The lovely queen to honor, the brimming ruby quaffed.

The skald at table seated, his waiting harp brought forth,
And sang a heartfelt story of true love in the North,--
Of Hagbert and of Signe; and at the deep tones' peal
Each warrior's heart was melted, though clad his breast in steel.

He sang of Valhal's mansions, of heroes' blest reward,
Of ancient deeds of valor, on fields of wave and sward;
Then grasped each hand its sword-hilt, then flashed each eye intent,--
And quickly round the table the foaming mead-horn went.

And lively was the drinking within that royal hall,--
An honest Yule carousal engaged the champions all;
The sleep that followed after no care or anger stained;
But Ring, the aged monarch, with Ingeborg remained.

From the Fridthjof's Saga (1820-25) by Esaias Tegner, Swedish poet (1782-1846). 
Its setting is the world of  Norse sagas and mythology. 

From the Fridthjof's Saga,  translated by Thomas A E Holcomb and Martha A Lyon Holcomb, released for public domain.

Image: Victor R. Lambdin, illustration to "Viking Tales" by Jennie Hall, 1902