"The Wooing of Swanhild"

An unpublished tale from The Earthly Paradise, edited by David Latham

The Text

Argument.

Of old time a certain king, well stricken
in years, sent his young son to woo for
.5
him an exceeding fair maiden, but, whereas
evil tongues were busy about these three,
the end of it was that the young folk bewrayed
the old king, and, bewrayed in their turn,
died a terrible death.

_____________

A King of the Goths there was as tells my tale
Men called Hermanaric, a man of might
Whose fortune midst all trouble did prevail;
High soared his joyful spirit many a night
Of battle won beneath his banner bright;
5

Bowed knees he knew, and trembling outstretched hands,
And shouts of welcome to new-conquered lands.

But now at last he sat him down in peace
Fain to forget that there was more to win,
10
Doubtful in dealing with his late-gained ease,
Mid the wide borders of his land, wherein
Whateer there was of woe or fear or sin
But reached him whenhis great men bade him choose
If they should slay or save or bind or loose.

15

Now mid his highest lords a man there was
Of forty summers,fair of speech and mien,
Well-liking, deft to bring all things to pass
That by the Kings eyes they might so be seen
As though Hermanaric the Goth had been
20
The King of Paradise, and no more wrong
Than God, to give account to weak or strong.

Black-haired this lord was, thin-lipped, stern of brow,
As one fulfilled of justice; so when he
Gave mercy unto one beat down enow
Strange sweetness seemed in that benignity
25

Wherewith his freed heart bade the wretch go freefree.
Folk trembled at his name, prayed for him, deemed
His death a hope that scarcely might be dreamed.

But whatsoe’er he was to other folk,
This lord called Bikki, to the King he grew
30

His right hand, yea his will, who, ere he spoke
The very thought, his heart was big with knew,
Bold to do things the King had scarce dared do,
Yet would have done – no flatterer of the King,
35
Outspoken, fearing neither man nor thing.

The King had seen him kind, and knew his word
A thing neer broken when the last great strife
Was quenched in one huge battle Bikki’s sword,
When every minute with all loss was rife,
40
Had been unto the King the hope of life,
And his calm heart had made full victory
Bloom from the barren sword-encompassed tree.

So by the King's hands well-nigh Bikki ruled,
Yet in such wise that not to any there
45
It showed as though the King was much befooled,
And he, nigh sixty winters old, must bear,
As he was well content, both foul and fair,
Curses and blessings, seeming still to be
The God that gave both bliss and misery.

50

Yet one there was that had no wish to praise
The state of Bikki, e’en the Kings one son,
A fair man in the spring-time of his days,
Who for his youth’s sake few great deeds had done
And therewithal was strangely looked upon,
55
Unloved, unfeared, unknown by most of folk,
Not kindly men said, haughty when he spoke.

Unknown as he might be, yet was it so
That Bikki knew him, and he none the less,
As one unwitting, Bikki’s heart did know
60
Which thing with all despair would him oppress
At whiles, and whiles would prick him to redress
The wrong that God upon the world had cast
And raise the burden from men’s hearts at last.

For praise and love he longed for overmuch,
65
No sluggard was he, yet with such a soul
As pleasure somewhat overquick did touch,
As over-soon felt pain’s cloud o’er it roll;
And much he lacked clear sight of any goal,
And lacked withal the power of lasting hate
70
Of being to any as relentless fate.

Note of these men too, that though Randver felt
The bright day darken when his foe drew nigh,
And though in Bikkis cruel heart there dwelt
Most strong intent to sweep his enemy
75
From out his path yet scarce to any eye
Seemed Bikki to the prince but frank & kind
Though somewhat sullen Randver did they find.

Now in these days it fell out that the King
Would hold a great feast: thereat Bikki was
80
And Randver the King’s son, and everything
In the most mirthful wise was brought to pass
Till gleamed the summer moonlight through the glass,
Then mid a pleasant lull of the feast’s noise
Unto the King cried Bikki in high voice.

85

“In merry days, O King we dwell with thee
E’en as this day, and wide around thy land
Is richly dowered with all felicity,
And all thy foes lie quiet neath thine hand,
And all men praise thee, praying that still may stand
90
Thy wise dominion; yet no God thou art;
Despite thy wealth one day must thou depart.

“And though we doubt not that, if this thy son
Shall live to reign when thou art fallen asleep,
Then neath the guiding hand of such an one
95
Our honour and our good-hap we shall keep,
Yet is he one alone – not over-deep
The sword need pierce, o’er-deep the arrow fly
For all thy race to perish utterly.”

The King signed with his hand, as down the hall
100
A murmur rose, and smiled, and spake in turn;
“Meseems, O Bikki, that my thoughts do fall
From out thy lips; either the wine doth burn
Within me past its wont now, or I yearn
At waking-tides to see upon my bed
105
Hope of more sons, some fair Queen’s goodlihead.

“Speak out, O friend, what more thou hast to say
For pleasant seems thy face, and well I know
Thou art not one to cast thy words away,
And as thou hast beheld my longing grow,
110
So unto me art thou good friend enow
A fair fulfilment thereunto to seek,
Speak out the name thy heart hath bade thee speak.”

“O King,” said Bikki, scarce without the sound
Of harp and fiddle should I speak the name
115
Thou bidst me name – but bid the girls fill round
At least, and drink one cup unto the fame
Of one who feared not iron nor the flame,
Nor words of men, nor love to madness grown –
– Sigurd, the best man that the world has known!”

120

Up stood the King, and through the hall there rang
A mighty shout; for fresh in each mans mind
That memory was; so mid the beakers clang
Folk drank thereto, and brave and true & kind
Men ’gan to feel: but as one deaf and blind
125
Sat Randver, with his hand about his cup,
While to the roof mens’ boastful glee rolled up.

Then turned Hermanaric unto him & said;
“Grudgest thou then the fame of such an one,
Or me the late-come bliss of being well-wed
130
Unto his kin? – for as my friend’s words run
That is the deed meseems that must be done –
Rise up for shame man, lest I deem thee yet
No son that ever erst I did beget!”

Then Randver rose and said with troubled face,
135
In low voice: “Sigurd, wheresoe’er thou art
I drink to thee! – who in such happy case
Abode that thou wert loved, nor diedst apart
From her who was the nighest to thine heart –
So fell the shadows from thee – would that I
140
None otherwise than thus might live and die!

Sourly his father looked on him, then turned
To Bikki, and said: “Yet methought, men tell
Of Sigurd that his young child slain was burned
Beside him on the fire, when that befell
145
Which long had been foretold for him; for well
The Niblungs willed none should be left behind
To grow up keeping their ill deed in mind.”

“Yea,” Bikki said, so was it that there died
A man-child with him, but when Gudrun lay
150
Over her husband dead, within her side
There lay a child unborn – fair was the day
That saw her first, eighteen years past away –
A fair day in despite the tears and woe,
The tangled misery that she woke unto.”

155

Again the King spake; “Dreadful tales we heard
Of Gudrun wed to Atli, and how he
Entrapped the guileful Niblungs unafeared,
And how they died: and how at last that she
Slew both her children in her misery,
160
And of his own hall filled with swirling fire
Made for King Atli royal funeral pyre.”

“Yea,” Bikki said, “such tale may one deem true,
Yet know for sure that on the yellow sand
She stood, not able any more to wail,
165
And foiled in gaining death, her cold white hand
And wet arm round her babe, in the fair land
Of Jonakur: because, folk say, the sea
Would nowise end her life and misery.

There the King wedded her, and there een now
170
She dwelleth: and the sea-drenched white-lipped child
Of that sad morn fairer each day did grow
Till over her the Queen who ne’er had smiled
For many a year is grown all kind & mild
Since of her babe Swanhild the Gods had care;
175
And in that court sweet pass the days & fair.”

Then the King smiled, and said; “Hearkenest thou son
To what our counsellor saith, and deemest thou
That it were good we wedded such an one,
Daughter of Sigurd, were she fair enow
180
To look down from the throne, when, helm on brow,
And spear in hand the Goths go forth to war,
Wondering how fair the maids of Heaven are?”

As Randver reddened struggling with some word
And the King’s wrath seemed rising once again
185
Bikki broke in: “Nay fear ye nought fair lord
That she of Sigurd should be come in vain!
She is so fair, folk say, that men are fain
She should not die or change – it shameth me
Somewhat to speak of such-like things to thee:

190

“For thou art old, I battered with much war,
And worn with thought of counselling thee at need,
Judging of men, all things that weary are,
And through all toil perchance nowhither lead;
And yet, Lord Randver, unto thee indeed
195
Meet might it be to hearken what folk say
Poets and wandering folk of this fair may!”

A troubled frown gathered on Randvers brow
At Bikki’s words but nought he answered him,
Who spake: “Time was I had been fain enow
200
To hear of poets guess of hidden limb
And swaying of the silk-clad body slim,
And what they say of hands like lily-flowers
Dealing a-morning with the golden showers

“Of hair, that God shall never make again;
205
Their tale of lips too fair to love, of eyes
So bright that to behold them is a pain,
Of what it is to see the fall and rise
Of her fair fragrant bosom; what surprise
Of joy shall greet the happy man she loves,
210
When through the clouds the moon of mid night moves.”

Randver sat moody silent, and no less
The King withal, who smiling stroked his beard
Till at the last he woke from thoughtfulness,
And cried: “Well now that I thy tale have heard,
215
It seems a fair tale: neither are we feared
Of this King’s saying nay to our desire
Since for the maiden scarce may he look higher.

But let tomorn bring counsel, and more words
Concerning this last stem of a great race.
220
Drink to our fortune Son! – and ye, fair lords,
In all the earth let there be one glad place
Whatso of trouble the world without may chase
Through these fair hours of night that heed us not –
Drink and be glad for all that we have got!”

225

So wore the feast through to an end: but when
The next morn came then withal Randver knew
That the King sat among his wisest men
In council: but the prince went not thereto
Nor was he summoned, for the days were few
230
Whereon the King would call him to the board
Oer which the great men dealt the treasured word.

But when noon came the King for Randver sent
Who found him lonely; and all eagerly
He gan to tell him of his full intent
235
How Swanhild in his kingly bed should lie:
“Lo son,” he said, “swift draweth eld anigh,
And I would live my life nor waste the days
Yet left me ere I travel on dark ways:

“Therefore tomorrow a fair company
240
Shall take ship here, and in a noble keel
Make for King Jonaks land across the sea
Bearing great gifts, as coming not to steal
The maid, but in a royal fashion deal
With her and hers; and now my will it is
245
That thou and Bikki speed my hope in this.”

Now Randver reddened as the King made end
And answered slowly: “Meet it is that I,
O father, on thine errands still should wend,
And bear aloft thy might and majesty;
250
Yet mindst thou not how in the haven lie
Things wherein thou too once wouldst have delight,
Fair long-ships with no maidens’ pillows dight?

“Mindest thou not how word thou gavest me
That in what embers of the old strife burn,
255
Quickening our life yet, I myself should be
The captain and the leader? Sore I yearn
Among hard things a goodly name to earn;
For mid thy peaceful glory here I dwell
Mocked of myself by unrest none can tell.

260

Mocked of myself – and, to speak out my heart
Scarce looked upon by thee or anyone
In such a wise, as well befits the part
That I should play on earth: with little done
Amid folk wont to see great marvels won –
265
Let me go father, for the world is wide
As lief would I be from my death to hide

“In homespun cloak as in a cloak of gold!”
His voice rose as he spake, and at the last
Nought wavering did there seem in him or cold:
270
But o’er the King’s wide face a shadow passed
Of puzzled wrath; that no less faded fast
Before his sons eyes; and he smiled and said
“Nowise the good-heart of our kin is dead;

“And well meseems is that – I have enow
275
To bring my bride home: in the days by gone
I should make such words just een as thou
Nor born when aught of fame was to be won
To go my fathers errands – I have done
As an old man in asking thee for this –
280
Go son and grudge me not a little bliss

A little bliss such as my life knew not
The sooth to say ere I began to think
That after all my fame might be forgot
Or I the best into dull death must sink –
All blessings on thee would I had to drink
285

The Cup the fates have filled for thee anew
Go forth O son be happy strong & true

Then Randver spake in a low voice & grave
All hail my father and tomorrow morn
290
Two fleets shall stern together the green wave
At the haven's mouth, and unto days unborn
Shall each go its own way and ere the corn
The plain is green with now is garnered in
I hope a little change of life to win

295

Farewell in love O father if again
I see thy face it may be I shall speak
Words that my lips this day should speak in vain
O farewell think if I have been too weak
Through all the toils that mar our life to break
Yet have I been too strong that with blind eyes
300

I should help weave our web of miseries

Then spake the King – I know not of this word
What thou wouldst mean by it; once more I say
Good hap go with thy counsel & thy sword –
And yet again meeter for thee to stay
305

Until thou mightest go upon thy way
After high feast and good gifts as is meet
For a son of the Goths and lord of a fair fleet.

Nay Randver said well thou wottest that we
Have waited but a week for wind and now
310

The wind is fair – hold thou no feast for me,
Pinch not thy treasury to help my show –
Keep all thy gifts until my fame shall grow
For now a banner and a name is all
I need wherewith to conquer or to fall
315

They kissed and parted Randver to the quays
And tumult of the shipmen passed – the King
Sat silent thinking over long-past days
And gazing at the ghosts of many a thing
That once was full of life – till hurrying
320

Oer his departure, thither Bikki came
And thoughtfully the King called out his name –

And when he drew said – Did Randver pass
From out the palace – Yea he said and I
325
Rejoiced to see him blithesome as he was
As in the porch he passed me hurriedly
Most well content he seemeth certainly
To go awooing for thee yet belike
Fair blows one day his gilded sword shall strike

330

Nay Bikki said the King and is it so
Thou growest envious – I have done him wrong
High words he spake een now and needs must go
His own ways and not mine his heart is strong
To win all glory mighty men among
335
And I am glad of him and so being glad
Must lose the sight of him that once I had

When as I deemed him but of little worth –
Then Bikki smiled – Nay me thou wrongest withal
Who ever deemed that all the fame of earth
340
Into the lap of thee and thine would fall
And therefore have so served thee: this I call
A happy day whereon he doth begin
Een greater fame than thou belike to win

Moreover in despite thy word not ill
345
I deem it that this marvel of thy wife
(For surely few days shall that wish fulfill)
Should meet him not first mid an idle life
Idle yet with desire of high things rife –
Thou deemedst him of little worth saidst thou
350
Ever I deemed him wise and great enow

Knewest thou ever dastards or fool’s heart
Go with such eyes as in the head of him
Are set: or hast thou seen a cowards part
Played by a man so wrought in every limb
355
Trust me those eyes shall yet make fair eyes dim.
But all is well now – brave and amorous
Wise fain of fame well shall he prop thine house.

Well pleased the King smiled een as Bikki went
From out the chamber – who at eve that day
360
Came upon Randver on the quays, intent
On furnishing his fleet in the best way
That might be and light of heart and gay
He seemed indeed as one at last set free
From tangling trouble and uncertainty.

365

A cloud came oer his face as Bikki drew
Anigh him, and his cheek grew somewhat red
As though he wotted that the other knew
His inmost thought – but Bikki spake & said –
Of this thy fleet – thou lookest a great chief
I look to hear of deeds past man’s belief
370

By a great open arm-chest Randver stood
And his right hand amid the mail-rings played
A vague blind hate curdled his eager blood
As he looked up to Bikki now and said
With a half smile if all be rightly weighed
375

This journey shall in after days become
More famed than mine this bringing the may home

Yea Bikki said yet as thou art my friend
More than my King’s son so much will I say
That would the thing were well brought to an end
380

And I as heart-whole as I am today
I have heard tell of men who cast all life away
For such a hope as when I lie asleep
Betwixt my troth and vague desire will creep

Randver stared wild at him thou meanest then
385

That thou amid thy 5 & 40 years
Shouldst turn stark traitor be a tale to men
Bethink thee Bikki that thy Kings son wears
A sword and of the axe the headsman bears
Or art thou grown so great that thou art king
390

Lord of my father me and everything

Bikki smiled calmly when the deed is done
Then slay me: but behold I told this tale to thee
Because in good sooth still I deemed thee one
Too wise to long too much for sovereignty
395

And there-fore thought I goeth he over sea
Because he deems holding a war ships helm
An easier thing than ruling a great realm

But if thou art less wise than I had thought
And thinkest to come back unto this land
400

To rule it when thy sire is come to naught
Then wiser had it been to glove thine hand
And in the court of Jonakur to stand
Wooing fair Swanhild for thy fathers bed
Come, art thou wroth when all my word is said
405

There Randver stood a short while silently
The swift thoughts busy in his inmost mind
Somewhat too glad to see the back of me
My father seemed – Bikki is left behind
Hermanarics heart grows day by day more blind
410

Yea and mayhappen I may yet prevail
And death is left me even though I fail

Then Bikki spake: the thing that erst I said
Whenas I deemed that thou wert prince no more
No more thy father’s heir, I scarce should dread
415

If thou went’st with me – and behold full sore
I cling to life nor would that all were oer
For a youths longing – neither durst I say
Unto the King what thee I tell today

Then Randver laughed aloud – I deemed thee wise –
420

Nor know what madmans dream this is that thou
Shouldst tell me of a love for unseen eyes
Grown in an hour within thine heart – ere now
I deemed no wind maids love to thee might blow
Then Bikki said belike a dream it was
425

That brought this strange desire of mine to pass

Medreamed that on my bed last night I lay
And heard a moaning slowly drawing near
And through the open door there came a May
Bewailing her more fair than aught is fair
430

Who seemed unto my inmost heart more dear
Than mine own life – she held out hands to me
And showed her slim wrists shackled cruelly

And moaned O Bikki thine hand forged me these
And who shall free me on mine heart withal
435

Came thronging thick a crowd of memories
Of fair deeds undone, proffered love let fall
All barren to the earth – and musical
Mine own rough voice seemed grown now as I said
In all wise would I help thy dreari head –
440

For thou art Swanhild then she smiled on me
In piteous wise and with bare hands I wrought
As dreams will have it till I set her free –
And then she kissed me and it passes thought
To tell how sweet that was till day made nought
445

Of all my gladness: nay but well thou sayst
I am a fool to strive such bliss to taste.

Then Randver thought – lies is it nought but lies –
Belike – and yet men tell strange tales of love
And this man forger of all miseries
450

Who knows but somewhat might his hard heart move
And lies or truth nowise doth it behove
A man to flee from fate & they meseems
Would have me to the end dream out these dreams

Then he spake out what counsel givest thou
455

For me to follow for thou knowest I deem
That the King gave right joyous leave een now
For my departing; neither will a dream
Hold back the word of dastard if I seem
To choose for my ease sake to go with thee –
460

Nay Bikki said easy the thing shall be

Take thou tonight thy due seat at the board
And in meanwhile shall I have seen the King
So say thou nought till he takes up the word
Then answer at thy best een to such thing
465

As he shall say – yea thou art wise to cling
To what the fates have given into thy life –
Hard to build up great state from daily life

He went therewith, and Randver left alone
Felt listless restless full of a vague fear
470

A petty thing the world to him was grown
And yet he felt as great days drew anear
Great days great joy & woe with them to bear
And yet withal foiled beaten did he feel
And fresh defeat upon him seemed to steal
475

Most glorious was the feast that night in hall
When all the glories of his days bygone
Hermanaric seemed about to recall
Yea with the spirit of old battles won
Mens hearts seemed raised aloft old banners shone
480

From wall and pillar and old warcries rang
Amid the melodies the minstrels sang

There sat Hermanaric ruddy, wide of face
His yellow white streaked hair & beard spread wide
Over his gold gown, keen adown the place
485

Gazed his grey eyes, unruffled fearless pride
All wrath and selfwill in his face did hide –
Great was the hand that had so oft prevailed
In dreadful fight – long fingered almond-nailed

Uneasily did Randver gaze at him
490

As toward his place he went, and in his heart
The morn’s clear vision now had grown all dim
And in a net he seemed to play his part
In a strange land where by some devilish art
All that he had of good seemed turned to ill
495

A petty peevish deedless dreamer still

Dream like the feast went on – as in a dream
At last he heard the King say O fair son
True is it that this morning we did deem
That whereas thou wert fain to get thee gone
500

From our foes hands to win what might be won
Thy wish was worthy of our name yet now
Again a choice we give thee so choose thou

Choose when thou once again hast heard me say
That gain we deem that thy lips should speak
505

The words our heart has for the matchless may
Our counsellor tells of – Sure not far to seek
Hereafter shall times be to help the weak
And beat adown the strong – yet make thy choice
And either way well may thy heart rejoice
510

And now when Randver rose to meet the King
His iron scabbard clashed against the board
And a pang took his heart for in its ring
Seemed unto him a warning word
And oer his heart strange thoughts in bidden poured
515

Of gold and fair things he saw Bikki’s face.

And then what say I even as a blank
Waiting for somewhat did his vexed heart grow
And all the tumult of his spirit sank.
Within himself he said Scarce did I know
520

This mans power erst – yet did he feel as though
Something there was that craved for help from him
And with vague pity did his eyes wax dim

O father said he, at the last, I choose
Een that wh: seemeth to be most thy will
525

My hope of glory at this tide to lose
The better all thy glory to fulfill
And yet account me fain as ever still
To try myself amid the sweep of swords
Nor deem my morning’s speech but wind & words
530

A short laugh laughed the King & said O son
Thanked be thou as thy deeds shall be thy worth
Then fierce wrath fell on Randver all alone
Deserted did he feel amid the mirth
Wherewith the hall rang, and a hollow dearth
535

Of all desire and hope there seemed to be
On coming days he brooded balefully

And he alone, thought was in such mood
Of all me there though the King once or twice
Cast looks at him that boded nothing good
540

And Bikki glanced at him with eager eyes
Not noted of him: so in mirthful wise
Passed on the feast triumphant to its end
And somewhat nearer death did all men wend

By noon of the next day did Randver stand
545

Upon the ships deck looking back to where
Quick lessening lay the hillsides of his land,
Striving to think if it were foul or fair
The aspect of the days to come – nought clear
Might he behold the road his feet must tread
550

Or know if hope his way adown it led

At least the sense of weakness & defeat
That made his life seem ruined yesterday
Was dimmed withal: he felt as he might meet
Whatever trouble round his journey lay
555

Without complaint & play out all the play
Hoping for little fearing nought at all
Till into time’s waste all he was should fall

Then Bikki came to him & said Fair lord
Worse than my thought went matters yesternight.
560

The King has fools about him & some word
Has reached his ears from these in my despite
Nor might I strive this morn the thing to right
For fear of worsening them let be – for time
Shall help thee yet – high shall thy fortune climb
565

Because methinks I know thee such an one
Who will not strive a little thing to win
Painfully doing what must needs be done
Hour by hour; but waiting to begin
Thou standest did the sky and earth raise din
570

And Gods are on the earth – and then forsooth
The world shall see thy greatness and thy truth.”

He turned away when he had spoken this
Not as one mocking him and Randver stood
Wondering what in such great words was amiss
575

Spoken so gravely too – that scarce seemed good
Despite of that – and yet withal his mood
Was softened by that speech and Bikki seemed
A better man than Randver erst had deemed

So the time passed a ship-board – neither spoke
580

Much of the errand they were bound upon
And Bikki never that past tale awoke
Of dream-brought longings – but of great things done
In days past spoke regretfully, as one
Who still must be a useful drudge and thrall
585

To those on whom the world’s good word should fall

So sailing on ere eve of the sixth day
The shipmen saw King Jonaks land ahead
And in the morning midmost of a bay
Beset by mountains blue on either hand
590

They saw his city and made haste to stand
Toward shore, and ever as they neared the same
On every ship raised banners of great fame

And o’er the shield-hung sides hung cloths of gold
And made the minstrels sweet & soft tunes sing –
595

And all men were arrayed fair to behold
Yet without sign of any warlike thing
As toward the town they sailed forth triumphing
Save only that Prince Randver now was clad
In all the daintiest war-gear that he had
600

A rich and goodly place it seemed to be
Ships of strange fashion thronged the haven there
And noble houses stood anigh the sea
And up the slopes rose wall and tower fair
Guarding the many homes that therein were
605

From war and wrong – then Bikki spake & said
A Peaceful place mid the worlds drearihead –

Were it not good fair lord in such a place
Neath this fair sky a little while to dwell
Beholding through the long days hours some face
610

Though lovest most of all, that loved thee well
Letting the world go its wild ways to tell
Wild stories of the cruel hearts and strong
That weigh the world down with resistless wrong

Nought answered Randver, but with face a-glow
615

Went forward for betwixt the craft that lay
Thick in the haven passed the galley now
And he felt happy and the sunny day
Seemed rife with hope as in time past away
When each new waking up was bright & strange
620

And in his own right hand lay all life’s change

And now ashore with all their state they went
And as along the much thronged street they passed
Folk wondered much what all this glory meant
And many a look on Randver maidens cast
625

And well nigh deemed that now belike at last
Some God long worshipped all unseen had come
To look upon his people in their home

So in the Kings hall were they made good cheer
When they had named themselves and land and lord
630

And word was given then that the King would hear
Their speech if they had brought him any word
Concerning peaceful dealings or the sword
The morrow morn when rested they should be
By food and sleep from tossing on the sea
635

But the next morn in great state were they brought
Unto the King and Bikki on the way
Spake unto Randver – What is now thy thought
Concerning that which we shall see today
Is not this like an old dream passed away
640

And half forgotten – hark how the bells ring
Most certainly this is a mighty King

Yet is thy father mightier – she may live
A noble life this maiden – red as blood
Waxed Randver as some answer he did give
645

Of little import; for it. seemed nought good
That any man should know each changing mood
As this man knew it and in pitying tone
Had Bikki spoken een as he had known

The swelling pity in the prince’s heart
650

Then Bikki spake again –Yea and thou too
Art born methinks to play a noble part
Who thinking not of that which thou shalt do
Shall some day find thyself betwixt the two,
Sorrow and ease, and scarcely made thy choice –
655

Thy heart a maid great hearted shall rejoice

Then Randver would have answered but withal
Out blared the trumpets and the street they turned
Into the square that lay before the hall
Upon the steps whereof the bright sun burned
660

With steel & gold – and sorely Randver yearned
Even as one would see his lady by
665
When some great deed he doeth mightily

But in the hall deep shadowed did they wend
And as one in a dream did Randver see
A throne adown the steel groves nether end
Whereon there sat arrayed majestically
670
A black haired man not great and by his knee
Upon the marble steps a youth there sat
Black-haired and short, & yet well-knit withat

But by the Kings right had stood two men more
Younger it seemed and of most mighty make
675
Who with fierce grey eyes looked the Goth-folk oer
As though they had been ever fain to take
The spear and shield and deadly strife to wake
With men so well arrayed – yet did he gaze
Still as one dreaming for a woman’s face

680

And lo upon the Kings left hand did there sit one,
A woman crowned upon a chair of state
From whose great eyes all restless grief was gone
Whose hands were folded ever as to wait
The hands that came not from the bonds of fate
685
Kind red her 1ips were yet, nor grown all white
The golden hair once wrought for mans delight

Yea kind the eves beneath the wrinkled brow
Above the cheeks grown hollow colourless
That once were like the sky of dawn aglow.
690
Then many a thought on Randvers dream did press
Scarce knew he if to fear or pity or bless
For Gudrun Giukis daughter there he knew
And all the wild days she had laboured through

No other woman there he saw and while
695
He pondered dreamily on many a thing
Across King Jonaks face there came the smile
That well befits the visage of a king
When all his life goes forward triumphing
And down the hall his voice came round and fair
700
Meet for the glory that was gathered there

Good welcome to you Goths, and chief of all
To thee King’s Son whether thou camest here
To pass fair days with us in festival
Or weighty matters of goodwill dost bear
705
Yea welcome still if news of war and fear
Thou carriest since every man’s last day
Awaits him unseen on his changing way

Then Randver spake rather from memory still
Of things that like a dream or an old tale
710
Hung round him than from any present will
All hail O King no news of war or bale
We bring thee; yet are earnest to prevail
In asking a great gift of thee, that yet
Scarce shall a worthier man than this one get

715

Who asketh thee thereof now. King men say
That in thine house there dwelleth such an one
That all the world holds not so fair a may
And her we ask – is my speech well begun?
For if not ere this glittering morning sun
720
Has come to his full hight our oars shall smite
The green waves of your haven into white

Then spake King Jonak somewhat eagerly
Yea for thyself then asketh thou this maid?
There seemed a murmuring in the air anigh
725
Why not why not as Randver spake and said
The King my father all due things has weighed
And deemeth nothing may fulfill his bliss
Or cure past trouble save the gaining this.

He sayeth also that thy realm is great
730
And rich, abiding ever in good peace
But biddeth thee take heed of wavering fate
To look around and note the worlds disease
And how the grey wolf howls through palaces
Where once a great lord scarce might raise his voice
735
Unless its sound should make the king rejoice

Therewith he bides thee call to mind how oft
Hermanaric’s crest through doubt and fear hath shone
The banner of the Goths been raised aloft
When some great folk must needs with day be done
740
He asketh thee if thou wilt call him son
And from his restful scabard draw his sword
If evil threats thee with thy lightest word

A little space was silence now, the while
King Jonak with his exultation strove
745
That he might answer like a king, a smile
Somewhat the war-worn face of Bikki now did move
And Randver’s eyes met Gudruns from above
Upon with a doubtful gaze
Where fear and pity yea e’en hate had place

750

Then spake the King: thanks at the least we give
To thee for thy fair speech prince – for thy sire
Although we hope without his aid to live
And rule our folk in peace yet we desire
Beyond all things to draw unto us nigher
755
So great a king whom all the world doth praise
For his great heart and life & happy days

Yet must we hold some counsel with our lords
This day at least and making no delay
Give thee thine answer in all loving words
760
Whether we needs must answer year or nay
So with good heart take our good cheer today
And fair things for a memory of this morn
Then forth on both sides were the fair gifts borne

And mens eyes glistened such as looked for gain
765
But twixt the King and Queen sat Randver now
Amid fair talk although a restless pain
Whose seed & root no troublous search would show
Was at his heart and still on him did grow
Craving to be alone a little while
770
All things about him seemed so base & vile –

All things save Gudrun who in kindly wise
Sat hearkening; whose faint smile would die away
At whiles een as the shimmering sunlight dies
About the noon of some wild rainy day
775
At whiles she seemed as she her hand would lay
On his caressingly then with a frown
And helpless look would let her hand fall down

But howsoev er betwixt these twain it went
Or Bikki watching them – oer long it were
780
To tell of all the glee wherein was spent
That summer day joyous seemed all folk there
Nor had the Goths seen anything more fair
Than the Kings house arrayed all suddenly
For feast as if for men who need should die

785

So wore the day until the sun was low
And Randver in his chamber sat alone
At last, and felt the scented west wind blow
From out the garden hearkening to the moan
Of the low surf, and song or thrushes grown
790
Oer joyous with the coming of the dew
And the late wildered bees that scantly flew

From lily-flower to lime tree: sitting so
And pondering did one smite upon the door
And entering bowed before him bid him know
795
That fain the Queen was ere the day was oer
To show him twixt the palace & the shore
How fair the birds sang – so he went with him
Just as the sea sucked down the suns last rim

A little time they went whenas they met
800
Gudrun and he alone between the trees
Not speaking much until a hand she set
Upon his shoulder and said Would the seas
Had been red flame to stay you, that some peace
I might have gained this latter end of life
805
O me O me again beginneth strife –

He shuddered and said Thou knowest not
For thou art young art young – all hope thou hast
I know thee that thy heart may well grow hot
With the sweet poison that for me is past
810
So long ago – poor man thou shalt be cast
Into an endless sea of strife and ill
And good it were if I might save thee still

Lady he said I wot not of thy words
What they should mean! my life is scarce begun
815
I think indeed to try me mid the swords
When this vain day of court-serving is done
But then what then – all life beneath the sun
Is full of risk and trouble little ruth
Is due to me slain mid the swords forsooth

820

Hearken she said thou seemest true and brave
Though thou mayst deem but raving that I say
A wise man and a true nearby I have
Called Ulf the red, at morn of this Same day
His long-ship ready for fair cruising lay
825
Nor did he stop save this same feast to see
Now him and his and life I give to thee –

He started surely said he this I know
That thou wouldst have me straightway get me gone
And in my mind a glimmering thought doth grow
830
That thou for some cause deemst me such an one
That I should cheat the man who sent his son
To win him bliss and honour – hastily
I speak, for haste within thy words doth lie

O haste enow she said else might I tell
835
A many signs to thee whereby I deem
That most strong longing on thy spirit fell
Ere thou mighst know it fostered by some dream
Awake or sleeping or words that did seem
To hold up hope or pleasure to thine eyes
840
How should I tell – but born in dreadful wise.

He said tomorrow would I answer thee
Fain would I commune with myself this night
Nay ere men sleep begins the misery
O man O man when thou hast her in thy sight
845
How shalt thou bear to let that dear delight
Pass without thee adown lifes dismal road
How shalt thou bear the unhelped lonely load

How sweet the eve was – twixt the garden trees
The new risen moon showed now and sweeter scent
850
The lily cast forth neath the dewy breeze
And round their heads flittering the dusk bats went
He hearkened and knew all her swift words meant
But sweet and sweet and sweet they seemed him
No pain there seemed in them however dim

855

His heat beat quick as with some joy new gained
As silent there he stood awhile, the night
Strode on apace and the light west wind waned
And she stood silent watching him till bright
The house gan glow with new lit light on light
860
And noise of much folk hurrying to the hall
For well nigh ready was the festival –

Then spake she in a low hard voice voice vain love –
The vain love of my life and vainer still
The life that nothing other folk may move –
865
O Gods that make alive that ye may kill
And give that ye may take away your will
In other worlds should needs work something good
Since here your chosen dwell mid tears & blood.

And now the last the image of old days
870
Drifts from me into mortal change & strife
Where this man seeing but flower tangled ways
Pitys not her nor me nor his own life
And Sigurd has no memory of the wife
Ah not his love but she who dwelt with him
875
Ere yet the glory of the world waxed dim

Ah me how kind how kind I might have been –
Had I been loved – She sought his dreaming eyes
Amid the the soft nights gathering dusk of green
Until strange passion in her breast gan rise
880
And on his breast she laid in eager wise
A trembling hand and cried not all so ill
Thou choosest son – short life with woe to fill

And be beloved & be beloved as I
Was never loved who yet for all good peace
885
I might would cast no longing by
Nor change my misery for the world’s increase
Of all good things – O we at least with these
Will deal not waiting dully for the tide
When stripped and shivering death we must abide

890

Then from the palace out the trumpets blared
And growing clamour came across the night
And through the trees afar the torches flared
As seeking betwixt rose & lily white
The King’s folk went – Hearken she said delight
895
Awaiteth many a careless man this eve
And thou – thou goest thither to receive

A strange new life that beareth death withal
For doubt thou not thy wooing well hath sped
And on thine offer King and lords did fall
900
As falls a starving man on new baked bread –
I hate thee not yet would thou hadst been dead
A month agone would that the Gothic land
Lay waste and kingless neath some conquerors hand

Ah me I rave yet hearken once again
905
That councillor that on thy right stood
Either my ancient foresight is all vain
Or thou and I from him may hope no good –
I know the eyes and mouth that thirst for blood
Then as one wakened toward her Randver turned
910
And in his eyes a strange and new light burned

He spake: Thanks have thou O great hearted Queen
For all thy words – natheless thou wrongest me,
Whatever idle dreams in me have been,
If still thou deemest that on thine and thee
915
My hands shall lay the weight of misery
For though thy Swanhilds loveliness should move
My dreamy fiery heart to utter love

Yet fear me not for I might live worse life
Than such a love about with me to bear
920
To make my hands the stronger in all strife
And make my heart the freer from all fear
Since I should care nought for what most men care
Perchance at last to fall asleep and find
That she at last was grown mine own and kind

925

Be merrier Queen for where she goeth indeed
May I not serve her as a very friend
Where not unlike it is that she shall need
True heart to help her ere her life days end
So that we twain unto deaths door may wend
930
With hands not touching aught – heart free from heart
Yet scarcely lonely though so nigh apart

She answered not save only with a sigh
And in the dusk eve did he deem withal
He saw her smile – but those drew anigh
935

Who bore the torches and the flowers did fall
Brushed by the stiff gold robes as toward the hall
They passed together talking of such things
As well befit the lives of Queens & Kings

High feast in hall that eve, great joyance there
940
Of pageant and of song while men did eat
The very maidens that the cups did bear
About the Gothic guests adorned seat
Were clad in raiment for Kings daughters meet
And as the scented tapers burned away
945
From off their sides waned figures painted gay

Scarcely the Goths deemed they had seen ere then
Such weight of gold and silver nobly wrought
Or such rich raiment on the serving men
Or drank such goodly wine from far lands brought
950
Shortly to say in glory passing thought
Such careful state as though mens lives should last
For everto its midst that great feast passed

Then flushed were men with glory and with wine
And many rash word to their lips did rise
955
As more and more they deemed themselves divine
But Randver sat with restless troubled eyes
Glancing about aweary anxious wise
From Bikkis laugh and the Kings merry face
To Gudruns sad set smile, till the glad place

960

Seemed filled with foolish shadows round about
Dread lurking hate and guile & baffled love
And yet a strange hope struggled with his doubt
And whiles his heart beat high with thought to prove
How yet his secret love the world should move
965
For now at last he knew how it should be
When he that face the worlds desire should see

Now made the King a sign and forthwithal
Loud sang the shattering gainst the high
Adorned roof and down the joyous hall
970
Was silence when their noise died utterly –
And then afar off a low melody
Sprang up and seemed drawing nigh but slow
As if the folk who made it lingered now

Then Randvar noted Bikki grow right grave
975
And how the Queen flushed and the King meanwhile
Seemed struggling all his kingly grace to save
From mere delight – and Randver a faint smile
Strove somewhat his wild faintness to beguile
And even this he said. “If it should be
980
That all my hope was but vain mockery

But amid this the music grew all loud,
The hall doors swung aback and through them came
Into the hall so fair and strange a crowd
That the Goths’ wonder has not any name –
985
For in their foremost did great tapers flame
And down the hall a day like lustre shed
From hands of damsels white clad garlanded

Then came the music maids and children fair
Flushed sweet with summer bright eyed with delight
990
So clad that cantles of the meads seemed there
Whereas their raiment neath young limbs & light
Went wavering underneath the harp strings bright
Down the hall there came a marvellous scent
As though the summer through its portals went

995

More maids withal each holding in her hand
Lily or rose bough clad in such a wise
As though the summer never left the land
And they need hide but little from the eyes
Of the brown thrush hushed by the mysteries
1000
the dove, that in the shade
Of moon blessed woods now on the high tree swayed

But round the hindermost of these were slung
Baskets of thin woven silver wherefrom they
Sweet roseleaves on the marble pavement flung
1005
Making thereon a soft and odorous way
For feet that were to follow and the day
Might well come back for midmost night to show
Her aspect that adown that path did go

Gold-clad she was, gold-shod & crowned with gold
1010
So that her raiment like herself might seem
Too delicate for mere men to behold
Yet she herself looked not like any dream
Nay rather mid the changing flush and gleam
Of moving limbs and waving raiment she
1015
Seemed the one noble fair reality –

I know not what within her eyes there was
More than in other sweet and passionate eyes
I know not what across her mouth did pass
More than oer others wrought in wondrous wise
1020
With what snare heaved the storehouse of her sighs
More than anothers wrought supremely fair
Yet went all madness and desire there

Whereas she went with adown the silent hall
Not stern nor kind nor glad nor sorry at all
1025
Nor might one call her eager or at peace
Nor full of love nor lacking love’s increase
And yet above and ruling all of these
Not bound by love nor binding it but more
Herself the very love she did adore

1030

The hall was silent for a while and then
Up lepd the Goths unto their feet, and high
Their wild shout rang and in the hands of men
Gleamed the white steel and tossed tumultuously
Round the white face of Randver but one cry
1035
Unheard amid the tumult had he given
As though his heart with unnamed pangs was riven

Bikki himself was pale a little while
And a strange frown made dark his wide clear brow
That gave place soon unto a lip made smile
1040
The eyes might make no answer to – but now
She drew anigh – King Jonak flushed did grow
And raised his cup twice then spake out & said
O Kings son have thou here the goodlihead

That thou hast asked for for thy fathers sake
1045
Knowing not what thou askedst, and thou maid –
Draw nigh unto him give a kiss and take –
For he is now thy son – as the King said
These words gan Gudrun tremble & she laid
Her hands upon her chair as if to rise
1050
Gazing about with wild & wandering eyes

But Randver when he felt her hand in his
And all the heaven of her sweet lips drew nigh
Faltered no more nor shrank away from bliss
When on his lips at last her lips did lie
1055
And when the little space had clean gone by
Wherein they touched so, a strange happy smile
The pallor of his changed face did beguile –

But she was changed and for a little space
Piteous & wild her eyes were till at last
1060
They met as in a dream her mothers face
Kind and imploring, then the anguish passed
From out her face and round about she cast
A glance by inner agony made cold
But durst no more the princes eyes behold

1065

Yet must she sit betwixt him and her sire
And hearken to his voice and wonder how
Amid the bitterness of his desire
He spake of common things for surely now
She did not fail her heart & his to know
1070
And she fell wondering when the time should be
When she alone his lonely eyes should see

Strange minutes heavy laden to these twain
With bitterness and joy, so real so strange
Wherein now nothing more seemed left to gain,
1075
Now nothing gained of all the wondrous change
Had left them yearning for and still did range
From utter woe to utter bliss each heart
So close they seemed now now so far apart

Meanwhile who noted them – Bikki talked loud
1080
With flushed face, and the King sat glad and smiled
With lips & eyes & heard – Gudrun was bowed
Over the board as somewhat now beguiled
With thought of past days – and the joy waxed wild
Within the hall among the rest of folk
1085
Until the pale dawn oer the garden broke

Then as a burnt-down torch out the feast flared
And through the town & palace noisily
The guests unto their wonted dwellings fared
Then in the gathering light oer all did lie
1090
Deep silence but no rest of heart or eye
For those that love from all the world made lone
Who lone of love lay that hour was gone

In tilt and pageant and high feast went by
The next few days Randver saw Swanhild oft
1095
But never so but some one was anigh
Whether he saw her glorious eyes aloft
Above the spears or heard her speaking soft
Anigh him, or they passed so close that each
Might feel the others breath their parch lips reach

1100

Howere they met still flickering shadows seemed
To part their hands & lips and hearts & make
Their lives a dream without their own wills dreamed
A dream that feverish pain should neer forsake
Wherefrom perchance they never should awake
1105
With no more hope than hell yet sweet indeed
As Heaven’s neer parched neer frozen blessed mead

So shall it be thought Randver many a day
Till all days end for us why must change needs be
Why must we strive to cast this pain away
1110
And in the gulf of all uncertainty
Go struggling till again we come to see
All things as others see them with no hope
With all the dread ourselves have made to cope

 

 

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