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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEric Brighteyes - Chapter II - HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK
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Eric Brighteyes - Chapter II - HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK Post by :crafty Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :April 2011 Read :1784

Click below to download : Eric Brighteyes - Chapter II - HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK (Format : PDF)

Eric Brighteyes - Chapter II - HOW ERIC TOLD HIS LOVE TO GUDRUDA IN THE SNOW ON COLDBACK

Now, it must be told that, five years before the day of the death of
Gudruda the Gentle, Saevuna, the wife of Thorgrimur Iron-Toe, gave
birth to a son, at Coldback in the Marsh, on Ran River, and when his
father came to look upon the child he called out aloud:

"Here we have a wondrous bairn, for his hair is yellow like gold and
his eyes shine bright as stars." And Thorgrimur named him Eric
Brighteyes.

Now, Coldback is but an hour's ride from Middalhof, and it chanced, in
after years, that Thorgrimur went up to Middalhof, to keep the Yule
feast and worship in the Temple, for he was in the priesthood of
Asmund Asmundson, bringing the boy Eric with him. There also was Groa
with Swanhild, for now she dwelt at Middalhof; and the three fair
children were set together in the hall to play, and men thought it
great sport to see them. Now, Gudruda had a horse of wood and would
ride it while Eric pushed the horse along. But Swanhild smote her from
the horse and called to Eric to make it move; but he comforted Gudruda
and would not, and at that Swanhild was angry and lisped out:

"Push thou must, if I will it, Eric."

Then he pushed sideways and with such good will that Swanhild fell
almost into the fire of the hearth, and, leaping up, she snatched a
brand and threw it at Gudruda, firing her clothes. Men laughed at
this; but Groa, standing apart, frowned and muttered witch-words.

"Why lookest thou so darkly, housekeeper?" said Asmund; "the boy is
bonny and high of heart."

"Ah, he is bonny as no child is, and he shall be bonny all his life-
days. Nevertheless, she shall not stand against his ill luck. This I
prophesy of him: that women shall bring him to his end, and he shall
die a hero's death, but not at the hand of his foes."

 

And now the years went by peacefully. Groa dwelt with her daughter
Swanhild up at Middalhof and was the love of Asmund Asmundson. But,
though he forgot his oath thus far, yet he would never take her to
wife. The witchwife was angered at this, and she schemed and plotted
much to bring it about that Asmund should wed her. But still he would
not, though in all things else she led him as it were by a halter.

 

Twenty full years had gone by since Gudruda the Gentle was laid in
earth; and now Gudruda the Fair and Swanhild the Fatherless were women
too. Eric, too, was a man of five-and-twenty years, and no such man
had lived in Iceland. For he was strong and great of stature, his hair
was yellow as gold, and his grey eyes shone with the light of swords.
He was gentle and loving as a woman, and even as a lad his strength
was the strength of two men; and there were none in all the quarter
who could leap or swim or wrestle against Eric Brighteyes. Men held
him in honour and spoke well of him, though as yet he had done no
deeds, but lived at home on Coldback, managing the farm, for now
Thorgrimur Iron-Toe, his father, was dead. But women loved him much,
and that was his bane--for of all women he loved but one, Gudruda the
Fair, Asmund's daughter. He loved her from a child, and her alone till
his day of death, and she, too, loved him and him only. For now
Gudruda was a maid of maids, most beautiful to see and sweet to hear.
Her hair, like the hair of Eric, was golden, and she was white as the
snow on Hecla; but her eyes were large and dark, and black lashes
drooped above them. For the rest she was tall and strong and comely,
merry of face, yet tender, and the most witty of women.

Swanhild also was very fair; she was slender, small of limb, and dark
of hue, having eyes blue as the deep sea, and brown curling hair,
enough to veil her to the knees, and a mind of which none knew the
end, for, though she was open in her talk, her thoughts were dark and
secret. This was her joy: to draw the hearts of men to her and then to
mock them. She beguiled many in this fashion, for she was the
cunningest girl in matters of love, and she knew well the arts of
women, with which they bring men to nothing. Nevertheless she was cold
at heart, and desired power and wealth greatly, and she studied magic
much, of which her mother Groa also had a store. But Swanhild, too,
loved a man, and that was the joint in her harness by which the shaft
of Fate entered her heart, for that man was Eric Brighteyes, who loved
her not. But she desired him so sorely that, without him, all the
world was dark to her, and her soul but as a ship driven rudderless
upon a winter night. Therefore she put out all her strength to win
him, and bent her witcheries upon him, and they were not few nor
small. Nevertheless they went by him like the wind, for he dreamed
ever of Gudruda alone, and he saw no eyes but hers, though as yet they
spoke no word of love one to the other.

But Swanhild in her wrath took counsel with her mother Groa, though
there was little liking between them; and, when she had heard the
maiden's tale, Groa laughed aloud:

"Dost think me blind, girl?" she said; "all of this I have seen, yea
and foreseen, and I tell thee thou art mad. Let this yeoman Eric go
and I will find thee finer fowl to fly at."

"Nay, that I will not," quoth Swanhild: "for I love this man alone,
and I would win him; and Gudruda I hate, and I would overthrow her.
Give me of thy counsel."

Groa laughed again. "Things must be as they are fated. This now is my
rede: Asmund would turn Gudruda's beauty to account, and that man must
be rich in friends and money who gets her to wife, and in this matter
the mind of Björn is as the mind of his father. Now we will watch,
and, when a good time chances, we will bear tales of Gudruda to Asmund
and to her brother Björn, and swear that she oversteps her modesty
with Eric. Then shall Asmund be wroth and drive Eric from Gudruda's
side. Meanwhile, I will do this: In the north there dwells a man
mighty in all things and blown up with pride. He is named Ospakar
Blacktooth. His wife is but lately dead, and he has given out that he
will wed the fairest maid in Iceland. Now, it is in my mind to send
Koll the Half-witted, my thrall, whom Asmund gave to me, to Ospakar as
though by chance. He is a great talker and very clever, for in his
half-wits is more cunning than in the brains of most; and he shall so
bepraise Gudruda's beauty that Ospakar will come hither to ask her in
marriage; and in this fashion, if things go well, thou shalt be rid of
thy rival, and I of one who looks scornfully upon me. But, if this
fail, then there are two roads left on which strong feet may travel to
their end; and of these, one is that thou shouldest win Eric away with
thine own beauty, and that is not little. All men are frail, and I
have a draught that will make the heart as wax; but yet the other path
is surer."

"And what is that path, my mother?"

"It runs through blood to blackness. By thy side is a knife and in
Gudruda's bosom beats a heart. Dead women are unmeet for love!"

Swanhild tossed her head and looked upon the dark face of Groa her
mother.

"Methinks, with such an end to win, I should not fear to tread that
path, if there be need, my mother."

"Now I see thou art indeed my daughter. Happiness is to the bold. To
each it comes in uncertain shape. Some love power, some wealth, and
some--a man. Take that which thou lovest--I say, cut thy path to it
and take it; else shall thy life be but a weariness: for what does it
serve to win the wealth and power when thou lovest a man alone, or the
man when thou dost desire gold and the pride of place? This is wisdom:
to satisfy the longing of thy youth; for age creeps on apace and
beyond is darkness. Therefore, if thou seekest this man, and Gudruda
blocks thy path, slay her, girl--by witchcraft or by steel--and take
him, and in his arms forget that thine own are red. But first let us
try the easier plan. Daughter, I too hate this proud girl, who scorns
me as her father's light-of-love. I too long to see that bright head
of hers dull with the dust of death, or, at the least, those proud
eyes weeping tears of shame as the man she hates leads her hence as a
bride. Were it not for her I should be Asmund's wife, and, when she is
gone, with thy help--for he loves thee much and has cause to love thee
--this I may be yet. So in this matter, if in no other, let us go hand
in hand and match our wits against her innocence."

 

Now, Koll the Half-witted went upon his errand, and the time passed
till it lacked but a month to Yule, and men sat indoors, for the
season was dark and much snow fell. At length came frost, and with it
a clear sky, and Gudruda, ceasing from her spinning in the hall, went
to the woman's porch, and, looking out, saw that the snow was hard,
and a great longing came upon her to breathe the fresh air, for there
was still an hour of daylight. So she threw a cloak about her and
walked forth, taking the road towards Coldback in the Marsh that is by
Ran River. But Swanhild watched her till she was over the hill. Then
she also took a cloak and followed on that path, for she always
watched Gudruda.

Gudruda walked on for the half of an hour or so, when she became aware
that the clouds gathered in the sky, and that the air was heavy with
snow to come. Seeing this she turned homewards, and Swanhild hid
herself to let her pass. Now flakes floated down as big and soft as
fifa flowers. Quicker and more quick they came till all the plain was
one white maze of mist, but through it Gudruda walked on, and after
her crept Swanhild, like a shadow. And now the darkness gathered and
the snow fell thick and fast, covering up the track of her footsteps
and she wandered from the path, and after her wandered Swanhild, being
loath to show herself. For an hour or more Gudruda wandered and then
she called aloud and her voice fell heavily against the cloak of snow.
At the last she grew weary and frightened, and sat down upon a
shelving rock whence the snow had slipped away. Now, a little way
behind was another rock and there Swanhild sat, for she wished to be
unseen of Gudruda. So some time passed, and Swanhild grew heavy as
though with sleep, when of a sudden a moving thing loomed upon the
snowy darkness. Then Gudruda leapt to her feet and called. A man's
voice answered:

"Who passes there?"

"I, Gudruda, Asmund's daughter."

The form came nearer; now Swanhild could hear the snorting of a horse,
and now a man leapt from it, and that man was Eric Brighteyes.

"Is it thou indeed, Gudruda!" he said with a laugh, and his great
shape showed darkly on the snow mist.

"Oh, is it thou, Eric?" she answered. "I was never more joyed to see
thee; for of a truth thou dost come in a good hour. A little while and
I had seen thee no more, for my eyes grow heavy with the death-sleep."

"Nay, say not so. Art lost, then? Why, so am I. I came out to seek
three horses that are strayed, and was overtaken by the snow. May they
dwell in Odin's stables, for they have led me to thee. Art thou cold,
Gudruda?"

"But a little, Eric. Yea, there is place for thee here on the rock."

So he sat down by her on the stone, and Swanhild crept nearer; for now
all weariness had left her. But still the snow fell thick.

"It comes into my mind that we two shall die here," said Gudruda
presently.

"Thinkest thou so?" he answered. "Well, I will say this, that I ask no
better end."

"It is a bad end for thee, Eric: to be choked in snow, and with all
thy deeds to do."

"It is a good end, Gudruda, to die at thy side, for so I shall die
happy; but I grieve for thee."

"Grieve not for me, Brighteyes, worse things might befall."

He drew nearer to her, and now he put his arms about her and clasped
her to his bosom; nor did she say him nay. Swanhild saw and lifted
herself up behind them, but for a while she heard nothing but the
beating of her heart.

"Listen, Gudruda," Eric said at last. "Death draws near to us, and
before it comes I would speak to thee, if speak I may."

"Speak on," she whispers from his breast.

"This I would say, then: that I love thee, and that I ask no better
fate than to die in thy arms."

"First shalt thou see me die in thine, Eric."

"Be sure, if that is so, I shall not tarry for long. Oh! Gudruda,
since I was a child I have loved thee with a mighty love, and now thou
art all to me. Better to die thus than to live without thee. Speak,
then, while there is time."

"I will not hide from thee, Eric, that thy words are sweet in my
ears."

And now Gudruda sobs and the tears fall fast from her dark eyes.

"Nay, weep not. Dost thou, then, love me?"

"Ay, sure enough, Eric."

"Then kiss me before we pass. A man should not die thus, and yet men
have died worse."

And so these two kissed, for the first time, out in the snow on
Coldback, and that first kiss was long and sweet.

Swanhild heard and her blood seethed within her as water seethes in a
boiling spring when the fires wake beneath. She put her hand to her
kirtle and gripped the knife at her side. She half drew it, then drove
it back.

"Cold kills as sure as steel," she said in her heart. "If I slay her I
cannot save myself or him. Let us die in peace, and let the snow cover
up our troubling." And once more she listened.

"Ah, sweet," said Eric, "even in the midst of death there is hope of
life. Swear to me, then, that if by chance we live thou wilt love me
always as thou lovest me now."

"Ay, Eric, I swear that and readily."

"And swear, come what may, that thou wilt wed no man but me."

"I swear, if thou dost remain true to me, that I will wed none but
thee, Eric."

"Then I am sure of thee."

"Boast not overmuch, Eric: if thou dost live thy days are all before
thee, and with times come trials."

Now the snow whirled down faster and more thick, till these two,
clasped heart to heart, were but a heap of white, and all white was
the horse, and Swanhild was nearly buried.

"Where go we when we die, Eric?" said Gudruda; "in Odin's house there
is no place for maids, and how shall my feet fare without thee?"

"Nay, sweet, my May, Valhalla shuts its gates to me, a deedless man;
up Bifrost's rainbow bridge I may not travel, for I do not die with
byrnie on breast and sword aloft. To Hela shall we go, and hand in
hand."

"Art thou sure, Eric, that men find these abodes? To say sooth, at
times I misdoubt me of them."

"I am not so sure but that I also doubt. Still, I know this: that
where thou goest there I shall be, Gudruda."

"Then things are well, and well work the Norns.(*) Still, Eric, of a
sudden I grow fey: for it comes upon me that I shall not die to-night,
but that, nevertheless, I shall die with thy arms about me, and at thy
side. There, I see it on the snow! I lie by thee, sleeping, and one
comes with hands outstretched and sleep falls from them like a mist--
by Freya, it is Swanhild's self! Oh! it is gone."

(*) The Northern Fates.

"It was nothing, Gudruda, but a vision of the snow--an untimely dream
that comes before the sleep. I grow cold and my eyes are heavy; kiss
me once again."

"It was no dream, Eric, and ever I doubt me of Swanhild, for I think
she loves thee also, and she is fair and my enemy," says Gudruda,
laying her snow-cold lips on his lips. "Oh, Eric, awake! awake! See,
the snow is done."

He stumbled to his feet and looked forth. Lo! out across the sky
flared the wild Northern fires, throwing light upon the darkness.

"Now it seems that I know the land," said Eric. "Look: yonder are
Golden Falls, though we did not hear them because of the snow; and
there, out at sea, loom the Westmans; and that dark thing is the
Temple Hof, and behind it stands the stead. We are saved, Gudruda, and
thus far indeed thou wast fey. Now rise, ere thy limbs stiffen, and I
will set thee on the horse, if he still can run, and lead thee down to
Middalhof before the witchlights fail us."

"So it shall be, Eric."

Now he led Gudruda to the horse--that, seeing its master, snorted and
shook the snow from its coat, for it was not frozen--and set her on
the saddle, and put his arm about her waist, and they passed slowly
through the deep snow. And Swanhild, too, crept from her place, for
her burning rage had kept the life in her, and followed after them.
Many times she fell, and once she was nearly swallowed in a drift of
snow and cried out in her fear.

"Who called aloud?" said Eric, turning; "I thought I heard a voice."

"Nay," answers Gudruda, "it was but a night-hawk screaming."

Now Swanhild lay quiet in the drift, but she said in her heart:

"Ay, a night-hawk that shall tear out those dark eyes of thine, mine
enemy!"

The two go on and at length they come to the banked roadway that runs
past the Temple to Asmund's hall. Here Swanhild leaves them, and,
climbing over the turf-wall into the home meadow, passes round the
hall by the outbuildings and so comes to the west end of the house,
and enters by the men's door unnoticed of any. For all the people,
seeing a horse coming and a woman seated on it, were gathered in front
of the hall. But Swanhild ran to that shut bed where she slept, and,
closing the curtain, threw off her garments, shook the snow from her
hair, and put on a linen kirtle. Then she rested a while, for she was
weary, and, going to the kitchen, warmed herself at the fire.

Meanwhile Eric and Gudruda came to the house and there Asmund greeted
them well, for he was troubled in his heart about his daughter, and
very glad to know her living, seeing that men had but now begun to
search for her, because of the snow and the darkness.

Now Gudruda told her tale, but not all of it, and Asmund bade Eric to
the house. Then one asked about Swanhild, and Eric said that he had
seen nothing of her, and Asmund was sad at this, for he loved
Swanhild. But as he told all men to go and search, an old wife came
and said that Swanhild was in the kitchen, and while the carline spoke
she came into the hall, dressed in white, very pale, and with shining
eyes and fair to see.

"Where hast thou been, Swanhild?" said Asmund. "I thought certainly
thou wast perishing with Gudruda in the snow, and now all men go to
seek thee while the witchlights burn."

"Nay, foster-father, I have been to the Temple," she answered, lying.
"So Gudruda has but narrowly escaped the snow, thanks be to Brighteyes
yonder! Surely I am glad of it, for we could ill spare our sweet
sister," and, going up to her, she kissed her. But Gudruda saw that
her eyes burned like fire and felt that her lips were cold as ice, and
shrank back wondering.

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Now it was supper-time and men sat at meat while the women waited uponthem. But as she went to and fro, Gudruda always looked at Eric, andSwanhild watched them both. Supper being over, people gathered roundthe hearth, and, having finished her service, Gudruda came and sat byEric, so that her sleeve might touch his. They spoke no word, butthere they sat and were happy. Swanhild saw and bit her lip. Now, shewas seated by Asmund and Björn his son."Look, foster-father," she said; "yonder sit a pretty pair!""That cannot be denied," answered Asmund. "One may ride many days tosee such another man
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There lived a man in the south, before Thangbrand, Wilibald's son,preached the White Christ in Iceland. He was named Eric Brighteyes,Thorgrimur's son, and in those days there was no man like him forstrength, beauty and daring, for in all these things he was the first.But he was not the first in good-luck.Two women lived in the south, not far from where the Westman Islandsstand above the sea. Gudruda the Fair was the name of the one, andSwanhild, called the Fatherless, Groa's daughter, was the other. Theywere half-sisters, and there were none like them in those days, forthey were the fairest of
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