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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEric Brighteyes - Chapter IV - HOW ERIC CAME DOWN GOLDEN FALLS
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Eric Brighteyes - Chapter IV - HOW ERIC CAME DOWN GOLDEN FALLS Post by :24-7pcProfits Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :April 2011 Read :2740

Click below to download : Eric Brighteyes - Chapter IV - HOW ERIC CAME DOWN GOLDEN FALLS (Format : PDF)

Eric Brighteyes - Chapter IV - HOW ERIC CAME DOWN GOLDEN FALLS

Now Ospakar rode up to Middalhof on the day before the Yule-feast. He
was splendidly apparelled, and with him came his two sons, Gizur the
Lawman and Mord, young men of promise, and many armed thralls and
servants. Gudruda, watching at the women's door, saw his face in the
moonlight and loathed him.

"What thinkest thou of him who comes to seek thee in marriage, foster-
sister?" asked Swanhild, watching at her side.

"I think he is like a troll, and that, seek as he will, he shall not
find me. I had rather lie in the pool beneath Golden Falls than in
Ospakar's hall."

"That shall be proved," said Swanhild. "At the least he is rich and
noble, and the greatest of men in size. It would go hard with Eric
were those arms about him."

"I am not so sure of that," said Gudruda; "but it is not likely to be
known."

"Comes Eric to the feast by the road of Golden Falls, Gudruda?"

"Nay, no man may try that path and live."

"Then he will die, for Eric will risk it."

Now Gudruda thought, and a great fire burned in her heart and shone
through her eyes. "If Eric dies," she said, "on thee be his blood,
Swanhild--on thee and that dark mother of thine, for ye have plotted
to bring this evil on us. How have I harmed thee that thou shouldst
deal thus with me?"

Swanhild turned white and wicked-looking, for passion mastered her,
and she gazed into Gudruda's face and answered: "How hast thou harmed
me? Surely I will tell thee. Thy beauty has robbed me of Eric's love."

"It would be better to prate of Eric's love when he had told it thee,
Swanhild."

"Thou hast robbed me and therefore I hate thee, and therefore I will
deliver thee to Ospakar, whom thou dost loath--ay and yet win
Brighteyes to myself. Am I not also fair and can I not also love, and
shall I see thee snatch my joy? By the Gods, never! I will see thee
dead, and Eric with thee, ere it shall be so! but first I will see
thee shamed!"

"Thy words are ill-suited to a maiden's lips, Swanhild! But of this be
sure: I fear thee not, and shall never fear thee. And one thing I know
well that, whether thou or I prevail, in the end thou shalt harvest
the greatest shame, and in times to come men shall speak of thee with
hatred and name thee by ill names. Moreover, Eric shall never love
thee; from year to year he shall hate thee with a deeper hate, though
it may well be that thou wilt bring ruin on him. And now I thank thee
that thou hast told me all thy mind, showing me what indeed thou art!"
And Gudruda turned scornfully upon her heel and walked away.

Now Asmund the Priest went out into the courtyard, and meeting Ospakar
Blacktooth, greeted him heartily, though he did not like his looks,
and took him by the hand and led him to the hall, that was bravely
decked with tapestries, and seated him by his side on the high seat.
And Ospakar's thralls brought good gifts for Asmund, who thanked the
giver well.

Now it was supper time, and Gudruda came in, and after her walked
Swanhild. Ospakar gazed hard at Gudruda and a great desire entered
into him to make her his wife. But she passed coldly by, nor looked on
him at all.

"This, then, is that maid of thine of whom I have heard tell, Asmund?
I will say this: fairer was never born of woman."

Then men ate and Ospakar drank much ale, but all the while he stared
at Gudruda and listened for her voice. But as yet he said nothing of
what he came to seek, though all knew his errand. And his two sons,
Gizur and Mord, stared also at Gudruda, for they thought her most
wonderfully fair. But Gizur found Swanhild also fair.

And so the night wore on till it was time to sleep.

 

On this same day Eric rode up from his farm on Ran River and took his
road along the brow of Coldback till he came to Stonefell. Now all
along Coldback and Stonefell is a steep cliff facing to the south,
that grows ever higher till it comes to that point where Golden River
falls over it and, parting its waters below, runs east and west--the
branch to the east being called Ran River and that to the west Laxà--
for these two streams girdle round the rich plain of Middalhof, till
at length they reach the sea. But in the midst of Golden River, on the
edge of the cliff, a mass of rock juts up called Sheep-saddle,
dividing the waters of the fall, and over this the spray flies, and in
winter the ice gathers, but the river does not cover it. The great
fall is thirty fathoms deep, and shaped like a horseshoe, of which the
points lie towards Middalhof. Yet if he could but gain the Sheep-
saddle rock that divides the midst of the waters, a strong and hardy
man might climb down some fifteen fathoms of this depth and scarcely
wet his feet.

Now here at the foot of Sheep-saddle rock the double arches of waters
meet, and fall in one torrent into the bottomless pool below. But,
some three fathoms from this point of the meeting waters, and beneath
it, just where the curve is deepest, a single crag, as large as a
drinking-table and no larger, juts through the foam, and, if a man
could reach it, he might leap from it some twelve fathoms, sheer into
the spray-hidden pit beneath, there to sink or swim as it might
befall. This crag is called Wolf's Fang.

Now Eric stood for a long while on the edge of the fall and looked,
measuring every thing with his eye. Then he went up above, where the
river swirls down to the precipice, and looked again, for it is from
this bank that the dividing island-rock Sheep-saddle must be reached.

"A man may hardly do this thing; yet I will try it," he said to
himself at last. "My honour shall be great for the feat, if I chance
to live, and if I die--well, there is an end of troubling after maids
and all other things."

So he went home and sat silent that evening. Now, since Thorgrimur
Iron-Toe's death, his housewife, Saevuna, Eric's mother, had grown dim
of sight, and, though she peered and peered again from her seat in the
ingle nook, she could not see the face of her son.

"What ails thee, Eric, that thou sittest so silent? Was not the meat,
then, to thy mind at supper?"

"Yes, mother, the meat was well enough, though a little undersmoked."

"Now I see that thou art not thyself, son, for thou hadst no meat, but
only stock-fish--and I never knew a man forget his supper on the night
of its eating, except he was distraught or deep in love."

"Was it so?" said Brighteyes.

"What troubles thee, Eric?--that sweet lass yonder?"

"Ay, somewhat, mother."

"What more, then?"

"This, that I go down Golden Falls to-morrow, and I do not know how I
may come from Sheep-saddle rock to Wolf's Fang crag and keep my life
whole in me; and now, I pray thee, weary me not with words, for my
brain is slow, and I must use it."

When she heard this Saevuna screamed aloud, and threw herself before
Eric, praying him to forgo his mad venture. But he would not listen to
her, for he was slow to make up his mind, but, that being made up,
nothing could change it. Then, when she learned that it was to get
sight of Gudruda that he purposed thus to throw his life away, she was
very angry and cursed her and all her kith and kin.

"It is likely enough that thou wilt have cause to use such words
before all this tale is told," said Eric; "nevertheless, mother,
forbear to curse Gudruda, who is in no way to blame for these
matters."

"Thou art a faithless son," Saevuna said, "who wilt slay thyself
striving to win speech with thy May, and leave thy mother childless."

Eric said that it seemed so indeed, but he was plighted to it and the
feat must be tried. Then he kissed her, and she sought her bed,
weeping.

 

Now it was the day of the Yule-feast, and there was no sun till one
hour before noon. But Eric, having kissed his mother and bidden her
farewell, called a thrall, Jon by name, and giving him a sealskin bag
full of his best apparel, bade him ride to Middalhof and tell Asmund
the Priest that Eric Brighteyes would come down Golden Falls an hour
after mid-day, to join his feast; and thence go to the foot of the
Golden Falls, to await him there. And the man went, wondering, for he
thought his master mad.

Then Eric took a good rope, and a staff tipped with iron, and, so soon
as the light served, mounted his horse, forded Ran River, and rode
along Coldback till he came to the lip of Golden Falls. Here he stayed
a while till at length he saw many people streaming up the snow from
Middalhof far beneath, and, among them, two women who by their stature
should be Gudruda and Swanhild, and, near to them, a great man whom he
did not know. Then he showed himself for a space on the brink of the
gulf and turned his horse up stream. The sun shone bright upon the
edge of the sky, but the frost bit like a sword. Still, he must strip
off his garments, so that nothing remained on him except his sheepskin
shoes, shirt and hose, and take the water. Now here the river runs
mightily, and he must cross full thirty fathoms of the swirling water
before he can reach Sheep-saddle, and woe to him if his foot slip on
the boulders, for certainly he must be swept over the brink.

Eric rested the staff against the stony bottom and, leaning his weight
on it, took the stream, and he was so strong that it could not prevail
against him till at length he was rather more than half-way across and
the water swept above his shoulders. Now he was lifted from his feet
and, letting the staff float, he swam for his life, and with such
mighty strokes that he felt little of that icy cold. Down he was swept
--now the lip of the fall was but three fathoms away on his left, and
already the green water boiled beneath him. A fathom from him was the
corner of Sheep-saddle. If he may grasp it, all is well; if not, he
dies.

Three great strokes and he held it. His feet were swept out over the
brink of the fall, but he clung on grimly, and by the strength of his
arms drew himself on to the rock and rested a while. Presently he
stood up, for the cold began to nip him, and the people below became
aware that he had swum the river above the fall and raised a shout,
for the deed was great. Now Eric must begin to clamber down Sheep-
saddle, and this was no easy task, for the rock is almost sheer, and
slippery with ice, and on either side the waters rushed and thundered,
throwing their blinding spray about him as they leapt to the depths
beneath. He looked down, studying the rock; then, feeling that he grew
afraid, made an end of doubt and, grasping a point with both hands,
swung himself down his own length and more. Now for many minutes he
climbed down Sheep-saddle, and the task was hard, for he was
bewildered with the booming of the waters that bent out on either side
of him like the arc of a bow, and the rock was very steep and
slippery. Still, he came down all those fifteen fathoms and fell not,
though twice he was near to falling, and the watchers below marvelled
greatly at his hardihood.

"He will be dashed to pieces where the waters meet," said Ospakar, "he
can never gain Wolf's Fang crag beneath; and, if so it be that he come
there and leaps to the pool, the weight of water will drive him down
and drown him."

"It is certainly so," quoth Asmund, "and it grieves me much; for it
was my jest that drove him to this perilous adventure, and we cannot
spare such a man as Eric Brighteyes."

Now Swanhild turned white as death; but Gudruda said: "If great heart
and strength and skill may avail at all, then Eric shall come safely
down the waters."

"Thou fool!" whispered Swanhild in her ear, "how can these help him?
No troll could live in yonder cauldron. Dead is Eric, and thou art the
bait that lured him to his death!"

"Spare thy words," she answered; "as the Norns have ordered so it
shall be."

Now Eric stood at the foot of Sheep-saddle, and within an arm's length
the mighty waters met, tossing their yellow waves and seething
furiously as they leapt to the mist-hid gulf beneath. He bent over and
looked through the spray. Three fathoms under him the rock Wolf's Fang
split the waters, and thence, if he can come thither, he may leap
sheer into the pool below. Now he unwound the rope that was about his
middle, and made one end fast to a knob of rock--and this was
difficult, for his hands were stiff with cold--and the other end he
passed through his leathern girdle. Then Eric looked again, and his
heart sank within him. How might he give himself to this boiling flood
and not be shattered? But as he looked, lo! a rainbow grew upon the
face of the water, and one end of it lit upon him, and the other, like
a glory from the Gods, fell full upon Gudruda as she stood a little
way apart, watching at the foot of Golden Falls.

"Seest thou that," said Asmund to Groa, who was at his side, "the Gods
build their Bifrost bridge between these two. Who now shall keep them
asunder?"

"Read the portent thus," she answered: "they shall be united, but not
here. Yon is a Spirit bridge, and, see: the waters of Death foam and
fall between them!"

Eric, too, saw the omen and it seemed good to him, and all fear left
his heart. Round about him the waters thundered, but amidst their roar
he dreamed that he heard a voice calling:

"Be of good cheer, Eric Brighteyes; for thou shalt live to do mightier
deeds than this, and in guerdon thou shalt win Gudruda."

So he paused no longer, but, shortening up the rope, pulled on it with
all his strength, and then leapt out upon the arch of waters. They
struck him and he was dashed out like a stone from a sling; again he
fell against them and again was dashed away, so that his girdle burst.
Eric felt it go and clung wildly to the rope and lo! with the inward
swing, he fell on Wolf's Fang, where never a man has stood before and
never a man shall stand again. Eric lay a little while on the rock
till his breath came back to him, and he listened to the roar of the
waters. Then, rising on his hands and knees, he crept to its point,
for he could scarcely stand because of the trembling of the stone
beneath the shock of the fall; and when the people below saw that he
was not dead, they raised a great shout, and the sound of their voices
came to him through the noise of the waters.

Now, twelve fathoms beneath him was the surface of the pool; but he
could not see it because of the wreaths of spray. Nevertheless, he
must leap and that swiftly, for he grew cold. So of a sudden Eric
stood up to his full height, and, with a loud cry and a mighty spring,
bounded out from the point of Wolf's Fang far into the air, beyond the
reach of the falling flood, and rushed headlong towards the gulf
beneath. Now all men watching held their breath as his body travelled,
and so great is the place and so high the leap that through the mist
Eric seemed but as a big white stone hurled down the face of the
arching waters.

He was gone, and the watchers rushed down to the foot of the pool, for
there, if he rose at all, he must pass to the shallows. Swanhild could
look no more, but sank upon the ground. The face of Gudruda was set
like a stone with doubt and anguish. Ospakar saw and read the meaning,
and he said to himself: "Now Odin grant that this youngling rise not
again! for the maid loves him dearly, and he is too much a man to be
lightly swept aside."

Eric struck the pool. Down he sank, and down and down--for the water
falling from so far must almost reach the bottom of the pool before it
can rise again--and he with it. Now he touched the bottom, but very
gently, and slowly began to rise, and, as he rose, was carried along
by the stream. But it was long before he could breathe, and it seemed
to him that his lungs would burst. Still, he struggled up, striking
great strokes with his legs.

"Farewell to Eric," said Asmund, "he will rise no more now."

But just as he spoke Gudruda pointed to something that gleamed, white
and golden, beneath the surface of the current, and lo! the bright
hair of Eric rose from the water, and he drew a great breath, shaking
his head like a seal, and, though but feebly, struck out for the
shallows that are at the foot of the pool. Now he found footing, but
was swept over by the fierce current, and cut his forehead, and he
carried that scar till his death. Again he rose, and with a rush
gained the bank unaided and fell upon the snow.

Now people gathered about him in silence and wondering, for none had
known so great a deed. And presently Eric opened his eyes and looked
up, and found the eyes of Gudruda fixed on his, and there was that in
them which made him glad he had dared the path of Golden Falls.

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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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