When Ermengarde and Aimeri saw their son standing before them great joy filled their souls. They left their seats and flung themselves on his neck, and William's brother also ran to greet him. The Count told them how he had been vanquished at the Aliscans, how Vivian had been killed, and he himself had fled to Orange, and of the distress in which he had left Gibourc. 'It was at her bidding I came here to ask aid from Louis, the base King, but from the way he has treated me I see plainly that he has no heart. By St. Peter! he shall repent before I go, and my sister also.'
The King heard and again waxed cold with fear; the nobles heard and whispered low, 'Who is strong enough to compass this matter? No man, be he the bravest in France, ever went to his help and came back to tell the tale. Let him abandon Orange, and let the King give him instead the Vermandois.'
It was the Lady Ermengarde who broke the silence. 'O God,' she cried, 'to think that the Franks should be such cowards! And you, Sir Aimeri, has your courage failed you also? Have no fear, fair son William, I have still left gold that would fill thirty chariots, and I will give it to those who enrol themselves under your banner. I myself will don breastplate and shield, and will fight in the front rank of your army.'
Aimeri smiled and sighed as he listened to her words, and his sons shed tears.
William answered nothing, but remained standing in the middle of the hall, his eyes fixed on his sister sitting on her throne, with a small golden crown upon her head, and on her husband King Louis.
'This, then, O King, is the reward of all I have done! When Charlemagne your father died, and all the Barons of the Empire met at Paris, you would have lost your crown if I had not forced them to place it upon your head.'
'That is true,' answered the King, 'and in remembrance of your services I will to-day bestow on you a fief.'
'Yes,' cried Blanchefleur, 'and no doubt will deprive me of one. A nice agreement, truly! Woe to him who dares carry it out.'
'Be silent, woman without shame!' said William. 'Every word you speak proclaims the depth of your baseness! You pass your days wrapped in rich clothing, eating costly food, and drinking rare wines, and little you care that we endure heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and suffer wounds and death so that your life may be easy.' Then he bounded forwards and tore off the crown, and, drawing his sword, would have cut off her head had not Ermengarde wrenched the weapon from his hands. Before he could seize it again the Queen darted away and took refuge in her chamber, where she fell fainting on the floor.
It was her daughter Alix, the fair and the wise, who raised her up and brought her back to consciousness; then heard with shame the tale she had to tell. 'How could you speak so to my uncle, the best man that ever wore a sword?' asked Alix. 'It was he who made you Queen of France, and the words that you uttered must have been taught you by devils.'
'Yes, my daughter, you say truth,' answered the Queen, 'I have done ill, and if it rests with me I will make peace with my brother'; and she wept over her wicked speech, while Alix, red and white as the roses in May, went down into the hall, where the Franks were still whispering together, and calling curses on the head of William.
They all rose as the maiden entered; Aimeri, her grandfather, took her in his arms, and her four uncles kissed her cheek. Her presence seemed to calm the anger and trouble which before had reigned throughout the hall, and Ermengarde flung herself at William's feet and besought his pardon for the Queen. William raised his mother from her knees, but his anger was not soothed. 'I have no love for the King,' he said, 'and before night I will break his pride,' and he stood where he had been always standing, his face red with wrath, leaning on his naked sword. Not a sound was heard, and the eyes of all were fixed breathlessly upon William. Then in her turn Alix stepped forward and knelt at his feet. 'Punish me in my mother's place,' said she, 'and cut off my head if you will, or send me into exile, but let there be peace, I pray you, between you and my father and mother. Her ill words towards you did not come from her heart, but were put into her mouth by devils.'
At the voice of Alix William's wrath melted, but at first he would promise nothing. 'Fair son William,' said Ermengarde again, 'be content. The King will do what you desire, and will aid you to the uttermost.'
'Yes, I will aid you,' answered the King.
So peace was made, the Queen was fetched, and they all sat down to a great feast.
In this manner the pride of the King was broken.
But when one man is shifty and another is hasty wrath is not apt to slumber long, and treaties of peace are easier made than kept. When the feast was over William pressed King Louis to prepare an army at once, so that no time might be lost in giving battle to the Infidels, but the King would bind himself to nothing. 'We will speak of it again,' said he; 'I will tell you to-morrow whether I will go or not.'
At this answer William grew red with rage, and holding out a wand he said to the King, 'I give you back your fief. I will take nothing from you, and henceforth will neither be your friend nor your vassal.'
'Keep your fief,' said Ernaut to his brother, 'and leave the King to do as he will. I will help you and my brothers also, and between us twenty thousand men shall march to the Aliscans, and deal death to any Infidels we shall find there.'
'You speak weak words,' cried Aimeri; 'he is Seneschal of France, and also her Standard Bearer; he has a right to our help, and if that fails a right to vengeance.' And Alix approved of his saying, and the Queen likewise.
The King saw that none was on his side and from fear of Aimeri and of his sons he dared refuse no longer. 'Count William, for love of you I will call together my army, and a hundred thousand men shall obey your commands. But I myself will not go with you, for my kingdom needs me badly.'
'Remain, Sire,' answered William, 'I myself will lead the host.' And the King sent out his messengers, and soon a vast army was gathered under the walls of Laon.
It was on one of these days when the Count stood in the great hall that there entered from the kitchen a young man whom he had never seen before. The youth, whose name was Rainouart, was tall; strong as a wild boar, and swift as a deer. The scullions and grooms had played off jests upon him during the night, but had since repented them sorely, for he had caught the leaders up in his arms and broken their heads against the walls. The rest, eager to avenge their comrades' death, prepared to overcome him with numbers, and in spite of his strength it might have gone ill with Rainouart had not Aimeri de Narbonne, hearing the noise, forbade more brawling.
Count William was told of the unseemly scuffle, and asked the King who and what the young man was who could keep at bay so many of his fellows. 'I bought him once at sea,' said Louis, 'and paid a hundred marks for him. They pretend that he is the son of a Saracen, but he will never reveal the name of his father. Not knowing what to do with him, I sent him to the kitchen.'
'Give him to me, King Louis,' said William, smiling, 'I promise you he shall have plenty to eat.'
'Willingly,' answered the King.
Far off in the kitchen Rainouart knew nothing of what was passing between the King and the Count, and his soul chafed at the sound of the horses' hoofs, and at the scraps of talk he heard let fall by the Knights, who were seeing to the burnishing of their armour before they started to fight the Unbelievers. 'To think,' he said to himself, 'that I, who am of right King of Spain, should be loitering here, heaping logs on the fire and skimming the pot. But let King Louis look to himself! Before a year is past I will snatch the crown from his head.'
When the army had finished its preparations and was ready to march he made up his mind what to do, and it was thus that he sought out William in the great hall. 'Noble Count, let me come with you, I implore you. I can help to look after the horses and cook the food, and if at any time blows are needed I can strike as well as any man.'
'Good fellow,' answered William, who wished to try what stuff he was made of, 'you dream idle dreams! How could you, who have passed your days in the warmth of the kitchen, sleeping on the hearth when you were not busy turning the spit—how could you bear all the fatigue of war, the long fasts, and the longer watches? Before a month had passed you would be dead by the roadside!'
'Put me to the proof,' said he, 'and if you will not have me I will go alone to the Aliscans, and fight barefoot. My only weapon will be an iron-bound staff, and I promise you it shall kill as many Saracens as the best sword among you all.'
'Come then,' answered the Count.
The next morning the army set forth, and Alix and the Queen Blanchefleur watched them go from the steps of the Palace. When Alix saw Rainouart stepping proudly along with his heavy staff on his shoulder her heart stirred, and she said to her mother, 'See, what a goodly young man! In the whole army there is not one like him! Let me bid him farewell, for nevermore shall I see his match.'
'Peace! my daughter,' answered the Queen, 'I hope indeed that he may never more return to Laon.' But Alix took no heed of her mother's words, but signed to Rainouart to draw near. Then Alix put her arms round his neck, and said, 'Brother, you have been a long time at Court, and now you are going to fight under my uncle's banner. If ever I have given you pain, I ask your pardon.' After that she kissed him, and bade him go.
At Orleans William took leave of his father Count Aimeri and his mother Ermengarde, the noble Countess, who returned to their home at Narbonne, and also of his brothers, who promised to return to meet William under the walls of Orange, which they did faithfully. He himself led his army by a different road, and pressed on quickly till he came in sight of his native city. But little of it could he see, for a great smoke covered all the land, rising up from the burning towers which the Saracens had that morning set on fire. Enter the city they could not, for Gibourc and her ladies held it firm, and, armed with helmets and breastplates, flung stones upon the head of any Saracen who appeared on the walls. So the Unbelievers fell back and took the way to the Aliscans, there to build as quickly as they might an engine to bring up against the tower and overthrow it.
When William beheld the smoke, and whence it came, he cried 'Orange is burning! Holy Saint Mary, Gibourc is carried captive! To arms! To arms!' And he spurred his horse to Orange, Rainouart running by his side. From her tower Gibourc saw through the smoke a thousand banners waving and the sparkle of armour, and heard the sound of the horses' hoofs, and it seemed to her that the Infidels were drawing near anew. 'Oh, William!' cried she, 'have you really forgotten me? Noble Count, you linger overlong! Never more shall I look upon your face.' And so saying she fell fainting on the floor.
But something stirred the pulses of Gibourc, and she soon sat up again, and there at the gate was William the Count, with Rainouart behind him. 'Fear nothing, noble lady,' said he, 'it is the army of France that I have brought with me. Open, and welcome to us!' The news seemed so good to Gibourc that she could not believe it, and she bade the Count unlace his helmet, so that she might indeed be sure that it was he. William did her bidding, then like an arrow she ran to the gate and let down the drawbridge, and William stepped across it and embraced her tenderly. Then he ordered his army to take up its quarters in the city.
Gibourc's eyes had fallen upon Rainouart, who had passed her on his way to the kitchen, where he meant to leave his stout wooden staff. 'Tell me,' said she to the Count, 'who is that young man who bears lightly on his shoulder that huge piece of wood which would weigh down a horse? He is handsome and well made. Where did you find him?'
'Lady,' answered William, 'he was given me by the King.'
'My Lord,' said Gibourc, 'be sure you see that he is honourably treated. He looks to me to be of high birth. Has he been baptized?'
'No, Madam, he is not a Christian. He was brought from Spain as a child, and kept for seven years in the kitchen. But take him, I pray you, under your protection, and do with him as you will.'
The Count was hungry, and while waiting for dinner to be served he stood with Gibourc at the windows which looked out beyond the city. An army was drawing near; thousands of men, well mounted and freshly equipped. 'Gibourc!' cried the Count joyfully, 'here is my brother Ernaut de Gironde, with his vassals. Now all the Saracens in the world shall not prevent Bertrand from being delivered to-morrow.'
'No,' answered Gibourc, 'nor Vivian from being avenged.'
On all sides warriors began to arrive, led by the fathers of those who had been taken prisoners with Bertrand, and with them came Aimeri de Narbonne and the brothers of William. Glad was the heart of the Count as he bade them welcome to his Palace of Gloriette, and ordered a feast to be made ready, and showed each Knight where he should sit.
It was late before the supper was served, but when every man had his trencher filled Rainouart entered the hall, armed with his staff, and stood leaning against a pillar, watching the noble company. 'Sir,' said Aimeri, the man whom the Saracens most dreaded, 'who is it that I see standing there holding a piece of wood that five peasants could hardly lift? Does he mean to murder us?'
'That youth,' replied William, 'is a gift to me from King Louis. None living is as strong as he.' Then Aimeri called Rainouart, and bade him sit at his side, and eat and drink as he would. 'Noble Count,' said Aimeri, 'such men grow not on every bush. Keep him and cherish him, and bring him with you to the Aliscans. For with his staff he will slay many Pagans.'
'Yes,' answered Rainouart, 'wherever I appear the Pagans will fall dead at the sight of me.' Aimeri and William laughed to hear him, but ere four days were past they had learnt what he was worth.
Rainouart went back to the kitchen and slept soundly, but as he had drunk much wine the cooks and scullions thought to play jokes upon him, and lighted some wooden shavings with which to burn his moustache. At the first touch of the flame Rainouart leapt to his feet, seized the head cook by his legs, flung him on to the blazing fire, and turned for another victim, but they had all fled.
At daybreak they went to William to complain of the death of their chief, and to pray for vengeance on his murderer. If the Count would not forbid him the kitchen, not a morsel of food would they cook. But William only laughed at their threats, and said, 'Beware henceforth how you meddle with Rainouart, or it will cost you dear. Did I not forbid anyone to mock at him, and do you dare to disobey my orders? Lady Gibourc, take Rainouart to your chamber, and keep him beside you.'
So the Countess went to the kitchen to look for Rainouart and found him sitting on a bench, his head leaning against his staff. She sat down by him and said graciously, 'Brother, come with me. I will give you my ermine pelisse and a mantle of marten, and we will have some talk together.'
'Willingly,' answered Rainouart, 'the more as I can hardly keep my hands off these low-born scoundrels.'
He followed Gibourc to her room, and then she questioned him about himself and the days of his childhood.
'Have you brothers or sisters?' asked she.
'Yes,' he answered, 'beyond the sea I have a brother who is a King, and a sister who is more beautiful than a fairy,' and as he spoke he bent his head. Something in her heart told Gibourc that this might be her brother, but she only asked again, 'Where do you come from?'
'Lady,' he replied, 'I will answer that question the day I come back from the battle which William shall have won, thanks to my aid.'
Gibourc kept silence, but she opened a chest and drew from it a white breastplate that had belonged to the Emir Tournefer, her uncle, which was so finely wrought that no sword could pierce it. Likewise a helmet of steel and a sword that could cut through iron more easily than a scythe cuts grass. 'My friend,' she said, 'buckle this sword to your left side. It may be useful to you.' Rainouart took the sword and drew it from its scabbard, but it seemed so light that he threw it down again. 'Lady,' he cried, 'what good can such a plaything do me? But with my staff between my hands there is not a Pagan that can stand up against me, and if one escapes then let Count William drive me from his door.'
At this Gibourc felt sure this was indeed her brother, but she did not yet like to ask him more questions, and in her joy and wonder she began to weep. 'Lady Countess,' said Rainouart, 'do not weep. As long as my staff is whole William shall be safe.'
'My friend, may Heaven protect you,' she answered, 'but a man without armour is soon cut down; one blow will be his death. So take these things and wear them in battle,' and she laced on the helmet, and buckled the breastplate, and fastened the sword on his thigh. 'If your staff breaks, it may serve you,' said she.
Rainouart's heart was proud indeed when the armour was girded on him, and he sat himself down well pleased at William's table. The Knights vied with each other in pouring him out bumpers of wine, and after dinner every man tried to lift his iron-bound staff, but none could raise it from the ground, except William himself, who by putting forth all his strength lifted it the height of a foot.
'Let me aid you,' said Rainouart, and catching it up he whirled it round his head, throwing it lightly from hand to hand. 'We are wasting time,' he went on. 'I fear lest the Pagans should fly before we come up with them. If I only have the chance to make them feel the weight of my staff, I shall soon sweep the battle-field clean.' And William embraced him for these words, and ordered the trumpets to be sounded and the army to march.
From her window Gibourc watched them go. She saw the Knights, each with his following, stream out into the plain, their banners floating on the wind, their helmets shining in the sun, their shields glittering with gold. She heard their horses neigh with delight, as they snuffed up the air, and she prayed God to bless all this noble host.
After two days' march they came within sight of the Aliscans, but for five miles round the country was covered by the Pagan army. William perceived that some of his men quailed at the number of the foe, so he turned and spoke to his soldiers. 'My good lords,' he said, 'a fearful battle awaits us, and we must not give way an inch. If any man feels afraid let him go back to his own land. This is no place for cowards.'
The cowards heard joyfully, and without shame took the road by which they had come. They spurred their horses and thought themselves safe, but they rejoiced too soon.
At the mouth of a bridge Rainouart met them, and he took them for Pagans who were flying for their lives. But when he saw that they were part of the Christian host he raised his staff and barred their passage. 'Where are you going?' asked he. 'To France, for rest,' answered the cowards; 'the Count has dismissed us, and when we reach our homes we shall bathe ourselves and have good cheer, and see to the rebuilding of our castles, which have fallen into ill-repair during the wars. With William one has to bear pains without end, and at the last to die suffering. Come with us, if you are a wise man.'
'Ask someone else,' said Rainouart; 'Count William has given me the command of the army, and it is to him that I have to render account. Do you think I shall let you run away like hares? By Saint Denis! not another step shall you stir!' And, swinging his staff round his head, he laid about him. Struck dumb with terror at the sight of their comrades falling rapidly round them they had no mind to go on, and cried with one voice, 'Sir Rainouart, we will return and fight with you in the Aliscans; you shall lead us whither you will.' So they turned their horses' heads and rode the way they had come, and Rainouart followed, keeping guard over them with his staff. When they reached the army he went straight to William, and begged that he might have the command of them. 'I will change them into a troop of lions,' said he.
Harsh words and gibes greeted the cowards, but Rainouart soon forced the mockers to silence. 'Leave my men alone!' he cried, 'or by the faith I owe to Gibourc I will make you. I am a King's son, and the time has come to show you what manner of man I am. I have idled long, but I will idle no longer. I am of the blood royal, and the saying is true that good blood cannot lie.'
'How well he speaks!' whispered the Franks to each other, for they dared not let their voices be heard.
Now the battle was to begin, for the two armies were drawn up in fighting array, and Rainouart took his place at the head of his cowards opposite the Saracens, from which race he sprang.
The charge was sounded, and the two armies met with a shock, and many a man fell from his horse and was trampled under foot. 'Narbonne! Narbonne!' shouted Aimeri, advancing within reach of a crossbow shot, and he would have been slain had not his sons dashed to his rescue. Count William did miracles, and the Saracens were driven so far back that Rainouart feared that the battle would be ended before he had struck a blow.
Followed by his troop of cowards Rainouart made straight for the enemy, and before him they fell as corn before a sickle. 'Strike, soldiers,' shouted he; 'strike and avenge the noble Vivian; woe to the King Desrame if he crosses my path.' And a messenger came and said to Desrame, 'It is Rainouart with the iron staff, the strongest man in the world.'
Rainouart and his cowards pressed on and on, and the Saracens fell back, step by step, till they reached the sea, where their ships were anchored.
Then Rainouart drove his staff in the sand, and by its help swung himself on board a small vessel, which happened to be the very one in which the nephews of William were imprisoned. He laid about him right and left with his staff, till he had slain all the gaolers, and at last he came to a young man whose eyes were bandaged and his feet tied together. 'Who are you?' asked Rainouart.
'I am Bertrand of France, nephew of William Short Nose. Four months ago I was taken captive by the Pagans, and if, as I think, they carry me into Arabia, then may God have pity on my soul, for it is all over with my body.'
'Sir Count,' answered Rainouart, 'for love of William I will deliver you.'
Bertrand was set free and his companions also. Seizing the weapons of the dead Saracens, they scrambled on shore, and, while fighting for their lives, looked about for their uncle, whom they knew at last by the sweep of his sword, which kept a clean space round him. More than once Rainouart swept back fresh foes that were pressing forwards till the tide of battle carried him away and brought him opposite Desrame the King. 'Who are you?' asked Desrame, struck by his face, for there was nothing royal in his dress or his arms.
'I am Rainouart, vassal of William whom I love, and if you do hurt to him I will do hurt to you also.'
'Rainouart, I am your father,' cried Desrame, and he besought him to forswear Christianity and to become a follower of Mahomet; but Rainouart turned a deaf ear, and challenged him to continue the combat. Desrame was no match for his son, and was soon struck from his horse. 'Oh, wretch that I am,' said Rainouart to himself, 'I have slain my brothers and wounded my father—it is my staff which has done all this evil,' and he flung it far from him.
He would have been wiser to have kept it, for in a moment three giants surrounded him, and he had only his fists with which to beat them back. Suddenly his hand touched the sword buckled on him by Gibourc, which he had forgotten, and he drew it from its scabbard, and with three blows clove the heads of the giants in twain. Meanwhile King Desrame took refuge in the only ship that had not been sunk by the Christians, and spread its sails. 'Come back whenever you like, fair father,' called Rainouart after him.
The fight was over; the Saracens acknowledged that they were beaten, and the booty they had left behind them was immense. The army, wearied with the day's toil, lay down to sleep, but before midnight Rainouart was awake and trumpets called to arms. 'Vivian must be buried,' said he, 'and then the march to Orange will begin.'
Rainouart rode at the head, his sword drawn, prouder than a lion; and as he went along a poor peasant threw himself before him, asking for vengeance on some wretches who had torn up a field of beans which was all he had with which to feed his family. Rainouart ordered the robbers to be brought before him and had them executed. Then he gave to the peasant their horses and their armour in payment of the ruined beans. 'Ah, it has turned out a good bargain for me,' said the peasant. 'Blessed be the hour when I sowed such a crop.'
William entered into his Palace, where a great feast was spread for the visitors, but one man only remained outside the walls, and that was Rainouart, of whom no one thought in the hour of triumph. His heart swelled with bitterness as he thought of the blows he had given, and the captives he had set free, and, weeping with anger, he turned his face towards the Aliscans. On the road some Knights met him, and asked him whither he was going and why he looked so sad. Then his wrath and grief burst out, and he told how he mourned that ever he had slain a man in William's cause, and that he was now hastening to serve under the banner of Mahomet, and would shortly return with a hundred thousand men behind him, and would avenge himself on France and her King. Only towards Alix would he show any pity!
In vain the Knights tried to soften his heart, it was too sore to listen. So they rode fast to Orange and told the Count what Rainouart had said.
'I have done him grievous wrong,' answered William, and ordered twenty Knights to ride after him. But the Knights were received with threats and curses, and came back to Orange faster than they had left it, thinking that Rainouart was at their heels.
William smiled when he heard the tale of his messengers, and bade them bring his horse, and commanded that a hundred Knights should follow him, and prayed Gibourc to ride at his side. They found Rainouart entering a vessel whose sails were already spread, and all William's entreaties would have availed nothing had not Gibourc herself implored his forgiveness.
'I am your brother,' cried Rainouart, throwing himself on her neck; 'I may confess it now, and for you I will pardon the Count's ingratitude and never more will I remind you of it.'
There was great joy in Orange when William rode through the gates with Rainouart beside him, and the next day the Count made him his Seneschal, and he was baptized. Then William sent his brothers on an embassy to the King in Paris, to beg that he would bestow the hand of Princess Alix on Rainouart, son of King Desrame and brother of Lady Gibourc. And when the embassy returned Alix returned with it, and the marriage took place with great splendour; but to the end of his life, whenever Rainouart felt cold, he warmed himself in the kitchen.
WAYLAND THE SMITH
WAYLAND THE SMITH
Far up to the north of Norway and Sweden, looking straight at the Pole, lies the country of Finmark. It is very cold and very bare, and for half the year very dark; but inside its stony mountains are rich stores of metals, and the strong, ugly men of the country spent their lives in digging out the ore and in working it. Like many people who dwell in mountains, they saw and heard strange things, which were unknown to the inhabitants of the lands to the south.
Now in Finmark there were three brothers whose names were Slagfid, Eigil, and Wayland, all much handsomer and cleverer than their neighbours. They had some money of their own, but this did not prevent them working as hard as anyone else; and as they were either very clever or very lucky, they were soon in a fair way to grow rich.
One day they went to a new part of the mountains which was yet untouched, and began to throw up the earth with their pick-axes; but instead of the iron they expected to see they found they had lighted upon a mine of gold. This discovery pleased them greatly and their blows became stronger and harder, for the gold was deep in the rock and it was not easy to get it out. At last a huge lump rolled out at their feet, and when they picked it up they saw three stones shining in it, one red and one blue and one green. They took it home to their mother, who began to weep bitterly at the sight of it. 'What is the matter?' asked her sons anxiously, for they knew things lay open to her which were hidden from others.
'Ah, my sons,' she said as soon as she could speak, 'you will have much happiness, but I shall be forced to part with you. Therefore I shed tears, for I hoped that only death would divide us! Green is the grass, blue is the sky, red are the roses, golden is the maiden. The Norns' (for so in that country they called the Fates) 'beckon you to a land where green fields lie under a blue sky, fields where golden-haired maidens lie among the flowers.'
Great was the joy of the three brothers when they heard the words of their mother; for they hated the looks of the women who dwelt about them, and longed for the tall stature and white skins of the maidens of the south.
Next morning they rose early and buckled on their swords and coats of mail, and fastened on their heads helmets that they had made the day before from the lump of gold. In the centre of Slagfid's helmet was the green stone, and in the centre of Eigil's was the blue stone, and in the centre of Wayland's was the red stone; and when they were ready they put their reindeer into their sledges, and set out over the snow.
When they reached the mountains where only yesterday they had been digging they saw by the light of the moon a host of little men running to meet them. They were dressed all in grey, except for their caps, which were red; they had red eyes, too, and black tongues, which never ceased chattering. These were the mountain elves, and when they came near they formed themselves into a fairy ring, and sang while they danced round it:
Will you leave us? Will you leave us? Slagfid, Eigil, and Wayland, sons of a King. Is not the emerald better than grass? Is not the ruby better than roses? Is not the sapphire better than the sky? Why do you leave the mountains of Finmark?
But Eigil was impatient and struck his reindeer, that willing beast which flies like the wind and needs not the touch of a whip. It bounded forward in surprise, and knocked down one of the elves that stood in its path. But the hands of his brothers laid hold of the reins, and stopped the reindeer, and sang again,
The Finlander's world, the Finlander's joy, Lies under the earth; Seek not without what we offer within, Despise not the elves, small and dark though they be. The best is within, do not seek it without: The Finlander's world, the Finlander's joy, Lies under the earth.
Slagfid struck his reindeer. It bounded forward and struck down an elf who stood in its road. Then his brothers stood in its path, and stopped the reindeer, and sang:
Because Slagfid struck his reindeer, Because Eigil struck his reindeer, Our hatred shall follow you. A time of weal, a time of woe, a time of grief, a time of joy. Because Wayland also forsook us, Though he struck not the reindeer, A time of weal, a time of woe, a time of grief, a time of joy. Farewell, O Finlanders, sons of a King.
Their voices died away as they crossed a bright strip of moonlight which lay between them and the mountains and were seen no more.
The brothers thought no more about them or their words, but went swiftly on their way south, sleeping at night in their reindeer skins.
After many days they came to a lake full of fish, in a place which was called the Valley of Wolves, because of the number of wolves which hid there. But the Finlanders did not mind the wolves, and built a house close to the lake, and hunted bears, and caught fish through holes in the ice, till winter had passed away and spring had come. Then one day they noticed that the sky was blue and the earth covered with flowers.
By-and-by they noticed something more, and that was that three maidens were sitting on the grass, spinning flax on the bank of a stream. Their eyes were blue, and their skins were white as the snow on the mountains, while instead of the mantles of swansdown they generally wore, golden hair covered their shoulders.
The hearts of the brothers beat as they looked on the maidens, who were such as they had often dreamed of, but had never seen; and as they drew near they found to their surprise that the maidens were dressed each in red, green, and blue garments, and the meadow was so thickly dotted with yellow flowers that it seemed as if it were a mass of solid gold.
'Hail, noble princes! Hail, Slagfid, Eigil, and Wayland,' sang the maidens.
Swanvite, Alvilda, and Alruna are sent by the Norns, To bring joy to the princes of Finland.
Then the tongues of the young men were unloosed, and Slagfid married Swanvite, Eigil Alruna, and Wayland Alvilda.
For nine years they all lived on the shores of the lake, and no people in the world were as happy as these six: till one morning the three wives stood before their husbands and said with weeping eyes:
'Dear lords, the time has now come when we must bid you farewell, for we are not allowed to stay with you any longer. We are Norns—or, as some call us, Valkyrie. Nine years of joy are granted to us, but these are paid for by nine years during which we hover round the combatants on every field of battle. But bear your souls in patience, for on earth all things have an end, and in nine years we will return to be your wives as before.'
'But we shall be getting old then,' answered the brothers, 'and you will have forgotten us. Stay now, we pray you, for we love you well.'
'We are not mortals to grow old,' said the Norns, 'and true love does not grow old either. Still, we do not wish you to fall sick with grieving, so we leave you these three keys, with which you may open the mountain, and busy yourselves by digging out the treasures it contains. By the time the nine years are over you will have become rich men, and men of renown.' So they laid down the keys and vanished.
For a long while the young men only left their houses to seek for food, so dreary had the Valley of Wolves become. At last Slagfid and Eigil could bear it no longer, and declared they would travel through the whole world till they found their wives; but Wayland, the youngest, determined to stay at home.
'You would do much better to remain where you are,' said he. 'You do not know in which direction to look for them, and it is useless to seek on earth for those who fly through the air. You will only lose yourselves, and starve, and when the nine years are ended who can tell where you may be?'
But his words fell on deaf ears; for Slagfid and Eigil merely filled their wallets with food and their horns with drink, and prepared to take leave of their brother. Wayland embraced them weeping, for he feared that he would never more see them, and once again he implored them to give up their quest. Slagfid and Eigil only shook their heads. 'We have no rest, night or day, without them,' they said, and they begged him to look after their property till they came back again.
Wayland saw that more words would be wasted, so he walked with them to the edge of the forest, where their ways would part. Then Slagfid said, 'Our fathers, when they went a journey, left behind them a token by which it might be known whether they were dead or alive, and I will do so also.' So he stamped heavily on the soft ground, and added, 'As long as this footmark remains sharp and clear, I shall be safe. If it is filled with water I shall be drowned; if with blood, I shall have fallen in battle. But if it is filled with earth an illness will have killed me, and I shall lie under the ground.' Thus he did, and Eigil did likewise. Then they cut stout sticks to aid their journeys, and went their ways.
Wayland stood gazing after them as long as they were in sight, then he went sadly home.
Slagfid and Eigil walked steadily on through the day, and when evening came they reached a stream bordered with trees, where they took off their golden helmets and sat down to rest and eat. They had gone far that day and were tired, and drank somewhat heavily, so that they knew not what they did. 'If I lose my Swanvite,' said Slagfid, 'I am undone. She is the fairest woman that sun ever looked on, or that man ever loved.'
'It is a lie,' answered Eigil. 'I know one lovelier still, and her name is Alruna. Odin does not love Freya so fondly as Eigil adores her.'
'It is no lie,' cried Slagfid, 'and may shame fall on him who slanders me.'
'And I,' answered Eigil, 'stand to what I have said, and declare that you are the liar.' At this they both drew their swords and fell fighting, till Slagfid struck Eigil's helmet so hard that the jewel flew into a thousand pieces, while Eigil himself fell backwards into the river.
Slagfid stood still, leaning on his sword and looking at the river into which his brother had fallen. Suddenly the trees behind him rustled, and a voice came out of them, saying, 'A time of weal, a time of woe, a time of tears, a time of death'; and though he could see nothing he remembered the mountain elves, and thought how true their prophecy had been. 'I have slain my brother,' he said to himself, 'my wife has forsaken me; I am miserable and alone. What shall I do? Go back to Wayland, or follow Eigil into the river? No. After all I may find my wife. The Norns do not always bring misfortune.'
As he spoke a light gleamed in the darkness of the night, and, looking up, Slagfid saw it was shed by a bright star which seemed to be drawing nearer to the earth, and the nearer it drew the more its shape seemed to change into a human figure. Then Slagfid knew that it was his wife Swanvite floating just over his head and encircled by a rim of clear green light. He could not speak for joy, but held out his arms to her. She beckoned to him to follow her, and, drawing out a lute, played on it, and Slagfid, flinging away his sword and coat of mail, began to climb the mountain. Half way up it seemed to him as if a hand from behind was pulling him back, and turning he fancied he beheld his mother and heard her say, 'My son, seek not after vain shadows, which yet may be your ruin. Strive not against the will of Odin, nor against the Norns.' The words caused Slagfid to pause for a moment, then the figure of Swanvite danced before him and beckoned to him again, and his mother was forgotten. There were rivers to swim, precipices to climb, chasms to leap, but he passed them all gladly till at last he noticed that the higher he got the less the figure seemed like Swanvite. He felt frightened and tried to turn back, but he could not. On he had to go, till just as he reached the top of the mountain the first rays of the sun appeared above the horizon, and he saw that, instead of Swanvite, he had followed a black elf.
He paused and looked over the green plain that lay thousands of feet below him, cool and inviting after the stony mountain up which he had come. 'A time of death,' whispered the black elf in his ear, and Slagfid flung himself over the precipice.
* * * * *
After his brothers had forsaken him Wayland went to bed lonely and sad; but the next morning he got up and looked at the three keys that the Norns had left behind them. One was of copper, one was of iron, and one was of gold. Taking up the copper one, he walked to the mountain till he reached a flat wall of rock. He laid his key against it, and immediately the mountain flew open and showed a cave where everything was green. Green emeralds studded the rocks, green crystals hung from the ceiling or formed rows of pillars, even the copper which made the walls of the cave had a coating of green. Wayland broke off a huge projecting lump and left the cave, which instantly closed up so that not a crack remained to tell where the opening had been.
He carried the lump home, and put it into the fire till all the earth and stones which clung to it were burned away; and then he fashioned the pure copper into a helmet, and in the front of the helmet he set three of his largest emeralds.
This occupied some days, and when it was done he took the iron key, and went to another mountain, and laid the key against the rock, which flew open like the other one. But now the walls were of iron, which shone like blue steel, while sapphires glittered in the midst. From an opening above, the blue of the sky was reflected in the river beneath, and gentians and other blue flowers grew along the edge. Wayland gazed with wonder at all these things; then he broke off a piece of the iron, and carried it home with him. For many days after he busied himself in forging a sword that was so supple he could wind it round his body, and so sharp it could cut through a rock as if it had been a stick. In the handle and in the sheath he set some of the finest sapphires that he had brought away with him.
When all was finished he laid the sword aside, and returned to the mountain, with the golden key. This time the mountain parted, and he saw before him an archway, with a glimpse of the sea in the distance. Before the entrance roses were lying, and inside the golden walls sparkled with rubies, while branches of red coral filled every crevice. Vines clambered about the pillars, and bore large bunches of red grapes.
Wayland stood long, looking at these marvels; then he plucked some of the grapes, broke off a lump of gold, and set out home again.
Next day he began to make himself a golden breastplate, and in it he placed the jewels, and it was so bright that you could have seen the glitter a mile off.
After he had tried all the three keys, and found out the secrets of the mountain, Wayland felt dull, and as if he had nothing to do or to think about. So his mind went back to his brothers, and he wondered how they had fared all this time. The first thing he did was to go to the edge of the forest, and see if he could find the two footprints they had left. He soon arrived at the spot where they had taken farewell of each other, but a blue pool of water covered the trace of Eigil's foot. He turned to look at the impression made by Slagfid, but fresh green grass had sprung up over it, and on a birch-tree near it a bird had perched, which sang a mournful song.
Then Wayland knew that his brothers were dead, and he returned to his hut, grieving sore.
* * * * *
It was a long time before Wayland could bring himself to go out, so great was his sorrow; but at last he roused himself from his misery, and went to the mountain for more gold, meaning to work hard till the nine years should be over and he should get his wife back again. All day long he stood in his forge, smelting and hammering, till he had made hundreds of suits of armour and thousands of swords, and his fame travelled far, so that all men spoke of his industry. At last he grew tired of making armour, and hammered a number of gold rings, which he strung on strips of bark, and as he hammered he thought of Alvilda his wife, and how the rings would gleam on her arms when once she came back again.
Now at this time Nidud the Little reigned over Sweden, and was hated by his people, for he was vain and cowardly and had many other bad qualities. It came to his ears that away in the forests lived a man who was very rich, and worked all day long in pure gold. The King was one of those people who could not bear to see anyone with things which he did not himself possess, and he began to make plans how to get hold of Wayland's wealth. At length he called together his chief counsellors, and said to them: 'I hear a man has come to my kingdom who is called Wayland, famous in many lands for his skill in sword-making. I have set men to inquire after him, and I have found that when first he came here he was poor and of no account, so he must have grown rich either by magic or else by violence. I command, therefore, that my stoutest men-at-arms should buckle on their iron breastplates and ride in the dead of night to Wayland's house, and seize his goods and his person.'
'King Nidud,' answered one of the courtiers, 'that you should take himself and his goods is well, but why send a troop of soldiers against one man? If he is no sorcerer, then a single one of your soldiers could take him captive; but if, on the other hand, he is a magician, then a whole army could do nothing with him against his will.' At this reply the King flew in a rage, and, snatching up a sword, ran it through his counsellor's body; then, turning to the rest, told them that they would suffer the same fate if they refused to submit to his will.
So the men-at-arms put on all their armour, and, mounting their horses, set forth at sunset to Wayland's house, King Nidud riding at their head. The door stood wide open, and they entered quietly, in deadly fear lest Wayland should attack them. But no one was inside, and they looked about, their eyes dazzled by the gold on the walls. The King gazed with wonder and delight at the long string of golden rings, and, slipping the finest off a strip of bark, placed it on his finger. At that moment steps were heard in the outer court, and the King hastily desired his followers to hide themselves and not to stir till he signed to them to do so. In another moment Wayland stood in the doorway, carrying on his shoulders a bear which he had killed with his spear and was bringing home for supper. He was both tired and hungry, for he had been hunting all day; but he had first to skin the animal, and make a bright fire, before he could cut off some steaks and cook them at the end of the spear. Then he poured some mead into a cup and drank, as he always did, to the memory of his brothers. After that he spread out his bear's skin to dry in the wind, and this done he stretched himself out on his bed and went to sleep.
King Nidud waited till he thought all was safe, then crept forth with his men, who held heavy chains in their hands wherewith to chain the sleeping Wayland. But the task was harder than they expected, and he started up in wrath, asking why he should be treated so. 'If you want my gold, take it and release me. It is useless fighting against such odds.'
'I am no robber,' said the King, 'but Nidud your sovereign.'
'You do me much honour,' replied Wayland, 'but what have I done to be loaded with chains like this?'
'Wayland, I know you well,' said Nidud. 'Poor enough you were when you came from Finland, and now your jewels are finer and your drinking cups heavier than mine.'
'If I am indeed a thief,' answered Wayland, 'then you do well to load me with chains and lead me bound into your dungeons; but if not, I ask again, Why do you misuse me?'
'Riches do not come of themselves,' said Nidud, 'and if you are not a thief, then you must be a magician and must be watched.'
'If I were a magician,' answered Wayland, 'it would be easy for me to burst these bonds. I know not that ever I have wronged any man, but if he can prove it I will restore it to him tenfold. As to the gifts that may come from the gods, no man should grudge them to his fellow. Therefore release me, O King, and I will pay whatever ransom you may fix.'
But Nidud only bade his guards take him away, and Wayland, seeing that resistance availed nothing, went with them quietly. By the King's orders he was thrown into a dark hole fifteen fathoms under ground, and the soldiers then came and robbed the house of all its treasures, which they took to the Palace. The ring which Wayland had made for his wife, Nidud gave to his daughter Banvilda.
One day the Queen was playing the harp in her own room when the King came in to ask her counsel how best to deal with Wayland, as he did not think it wise to put him to death, for he hoped to make some profit out of his skill. 'His heart will beat high,' said the Queen, 'when he sees his good sword, and beholds his ring on Banvilda's finger. But cut asunder the sinews of his strength, so that he can never more escape from us, and keep him a prisoner on the island of Savarsted.'
The King was pleased with the Queen's words, and sent soldiers to carry Wayland to the tower on the island. The sinews of his leg were cut so that he could not swim away; but they gave him his boots, and the chests of gold they had found in his house. Here he was left, with nothing to do from morning till night but to make helmets and drinking cups and splendid armour for the King.
On this island Wayland remained for a whole year, chained to a stone and visited by no one but the King, who came from time to time to see how his prisoner was getting on with a suit of golden armour he had been ordered to make. The shield was also of gold, and on it Wayland had beaten out a history of the gods and their great deeds. He was very miserable, for the hope of revenge which had kept him alive seemed as far off as ever in its fulfilment, and finding a sword he had lately forged lying close to his hand, he seized it, with the intent of putting an end to his wretched life. He had hardly stretched out his hand when a bird began to sing at the iron bars of his window, while the evening sun shone into his prison. 'I should like to see the world once more,' thought he, and, raising himself on the stone to which his chain was fastened, he was able to look at what lay beneath him. The sea washed the base of the rock on which the tower was built, and on a neck of land a little way off some children were playing before the door of a hut. Everything was bathed in red light from the glow of the setting sun.
Wayland stood quite still on the top of the stone, gazing at the scene with all his eyes, yet thinking of the land of his birth, which was so different. Then he looked again at the sea, which was already turning to steel, and in the distance he saw something moving on the waves. As it came nearer he discovered it was a young Nixie, or water sprite, and she held a lyre in her hand, and sang a song which blended with the murmur of the waves and the notes of the bird. And the song put new life and courage into his heart, for it told him that if he would endure and wait the pleasure of the gods, joy would be his one day.
The Nixie finished her song, and smiled up at Wayland at the window before turning and swimming over the waves till she dived beneath them. That same instant the bird flew away, and the moon was covered by a cloud. But Wayland's heart was cheered, and when he lay down to rest he slept quietly.
Some days later the King paid another visit, and suddenly espied the three keys which had been hidden in a corner with some of Wayland's tools. He at once asked Wayland what they were, and when he would not tell him the King grew so angry that, seizing an axe, he declared that he would put his prisoner to death unless he confessed all he knew. There was no help for it, and Wayland had to say how he came by them and what wonders they wrought. The King heard him with delight and went away, taking the keys with him.
No time was lost in preparing for a journey to the mountains, and when he reached the spot described by Wayland he divided his followers into three parties, sending two to await him some distance off, and keeping the third to enter the mountain with himself, if the copper key did the wonders it had done before. So he gave it to one of the bravest of his men, and told him to lay it against the side of the mountain. The man obeyed, and instantly the mountain split from top to bottom. The King bade them enter, never doubting that rich spoils awaited him; but instead the men sank into a green marsh, which swallowed up many of them, while the rest were stung to death by the green serpents hanging from the roof. Those who, like the King, were near the entrance alone escaped.
As soon as he had recovered from the terror into which this adventure had thrown him he commanded that it should be kept very secret from the other two parties, and desired Storbiorn, his Chamberlain, to take the key of iron and the key of gold and deliver them to the leaders of the divisions he had left behind, with orders to try their fortune in different parts of the mountain. 'Give the keys to me, my lord King,' answered Storbiorn, 'and I shall know what to do with them. These magicians may do their worst, my heart will not beat one whit the faster; and I will see all that happens.' So he went and gave his message to the two divisions, and one stayed behind while Storbiorn went to the mountain with the other.
When they arrived the man who held the key laid it against the rock, which burst asunder, and half the men entered at Storbiorn's command. Suddenly an icy blue stream poured upon them from the depths of the cavern and drowned most of them before they had time to fly. Only those behind escaped, and Storbiorn bade them go instantly to the King and tell him what had befallen them. Then he went to the third troop and marched with them to the rock, where he gave the golden key to one of the men, and ordered him to try it. The rock flew open at once, and Storbiorn told the men to enter, taking care, however, to keep behind himself. They obeyed and found themselves in a lovely golden cave, whose walls were lit up by thousands of precious stones of every hue. There was neither sight nor sound to frighten them, and even Storbiorn, when he saw the gold, forgot his prudence and his fears, and followed them in. In a moment a red fire burst out with a terrific noise, and clouds of smoke poured over them, so that they fell down choked into the flames. Only one man escaped, and he ran back as fast as he could to the King to tell him of the fate of his army.
All this time Wayland was working quietly in his island prison waiting for the day of his revenge. The suit of golden armour which the King had commanded kept him busy day and night, and, besides the wonderful shield with figures of the gods, he had wrought a coat of mail, a helmet, and armour for the thighs, such as never had been seen before. The King had invited all his great nobles to meet him at the Palace when he returned from the mountain, that they might both see his armour and behold all the precious things he should bring with him from the caverns.
When Nidud reached his Palace the Queen and Banvilda, their daughter, came forth to meet him, and told him that the great hall was already full of guests, expecting the wonders he had brought. The King said little about his adventures, but went into the armoury to put on his armour in order to appear before his nobles. Piece by piece he fastened it, but he found the helmet so heavy that he could hardly bear it on his head. However, he did not look properly dressed without it, so he had to wear it, though it felt as if a whole mountain was pressing on his forehead. Then, buckling on the sword which Wayland had forged, he entered the hall, and seated himself on the throne. The Earls were struck dumb by his splendour, and thought at first that it was the god Thor himself, till they looked under the helmet and saw the ugly little man with the pale cowardly face. So they turned their eyes gladly on the Queen and Princess, both tall and beautiful and glittering with jewels, though inwardly they were not much better than the King.
A magnificent dinner made the nobles feel more at ease, and they begged the King to tell them what man there was in Sweden so skilled in smith's work. Now Nidud had drunk deeply of mead, and longed to revenge himself on Wayland, whom he held to have caused the loss of his army; so he gave the key of the tower to one of his Earls, and bade him take two men and bring forth Wayland, adding that if the next time he visited the tower he should find a grain of gold missing, they should pay for it with their lives.
The three men got a boat, and rowed towards the tower, but on the way one who, like the King, had drunk too much mead, fell into the sea and was drowned. The other two reached the tower in safety, and finding Wayland, blackened with dust, busy at his forge, bade him come just as he was to the boat. With his hands bound they led him before the King, and Eyvind the Earl bowed low and said, 'We have done your desire, Sir King, and must now hasten back to look for Gullorm, who fell into the sea.'
'Leave him where he is,' replied Nidud; 'if he is not drowned by now he will never drown at all, but in token of your obedience to my orders I will give you each these golden chains.'
The guests had not thought to see the man who had made such wonderful armour helpless and a cripple, and said so to the King. 'He was once handsome and stately enough,' answered Nidud, 'but I have bowed his stubborn head.' And the Queen and her daughter joined in saying, 'The maidens of Finland will hardly fancy a lover who cannot stand upright.' But Wayland stood as if he heard nothing till the King's son snatched a bone from the table and threw it at his head. Then his patience gave way, and, seizing the bone, he beat Nidud about the head with it till the straps of the helmet gave way and the helmet itself fell off. The guests all took his side, and said that, though a cripple, he was braver than many men whose legs were straight, and begged the King to allow him to go back to his prison without being teased further. But the King cried that Wayland had done mischief enough, and must now be punished, and told them the story of his visit to the mountain and the loss of his followers. 'It would be a small punishment to put him to death,' he said, 'for to so wretched a cripple death would be welcome. He may use the gold that is left, but henceforth he shall only have one eye to work with,' and the Princess came forward and carried out the cruel sentence herself. And Wayland bore it all, saying nothing, but praying the gods to grant him vengeance.
One night Wayland sat filled with grief and despair at his window, looking out over the sea, when he caught sight of two red lights, bobbing in his direction. He watched them curiously till they vanished beneath the tower; and soon the key of the outer door turned, and two men, whom he knew to be the King's sons, Gram and Skule, talked softly together. He kept very still, so that they might think he was asleep, and he heard Skule say: 'Let us first get the golden key from him, and when we have taken from the chest as much as we can carry we will put him to death, lest he should betray us to our father.' Then Wayland took a large sword which lay by his side and hid it behind his seat, and he had scarcely done so when the princes entered the prison. 'Good greeting to you,' said Gram. 'Nidud our father has gone a journey into the country, and as he is so greedy of wealth that he will give us none, we have come here to get it for ourselves. Hand us the key and swear not to tell our father, or you shall die.'
'My good lords,' answered Wayland, 'your request is reasonable, and I am not so foolish as to refuse it. Here is the key, and in the name of the gods I will swear not to betray you.'
The brothers took the key, and opened the chest that stood by Wayland, which was still half full of gold. It dazzled their eyes, and they both stooped down so as to see it better. This was what Wayland had waited for, and, seizing his sword, he cut off their heads, which fell into the chest. He then shut down the lid, and dug a grave for the bodies in the floor of his dungeon. Afterwards he dried the skulls in the sun, and made them into two drinking cups wrought with gold. The eyes he set with precious stones and fashioned into armlets, while the teeth he filed till they were shaped like pearls, and strung like a necklace.
As soon as the King came back from his journey he paid a visit to Wayland, who produced the drinking cups, which he said were made of some curious shells washed up in a gale close to his window. The armlet he sent as a present to the Queen, and the bracelet to the Princess.
After some days had passed, and Gram and Skule had not returned, the King ordered a search to be made for them, and that very evening some sailors brought back their boat, which had drifted into the open sea. Their bodies, of course, were not to be found, and the King ordered a splendid funeral feast to be prepared to do them honour. On this occasion the new drinking cups were filled with mead, and, besides her necklace, Banvilda wore the ring which her father had taken long ago from Wayland's house. As was the custom, the feast lasted long, and the dead Princes were forgotten by the guests, who drank deeply and grew merry. But at midnight their gaiety suddenly came to an end. The King was in the act of drinking from the cup of mead when he felt a violent pain in his head and let the vessel fall. The hues of the armlet became so strange and dreadful that the Queen's eyes suffered agony from looking at them, and she tore the armlets off her; while Banvilda was seized with such severe toothache that she could sit at table no longer. The guests at once took leave, but it was not till the sun rose that the pains of their hosts went away.
In the torture of toothache which she had endured during the night Banvilda had dashed her arm against the wall, and had broken some of the ornaments off the ring. She feared to tell her father, who would be sure to punish her, and was in despair how to get the ring mended when she caught sight of the island on which Wayland's tower stood. 'If I had not mocked at him he might have helped me now,' thought she. But no other way seemed to offer itself, and in the evening she loosened a boat and began to row to the tower. On the way she met an old merman with a long beard, floating on the waves, who warned her not to go on; but she paid no heed, and only rowed the faster.
She entered the tower by a false key, and, holding the ring out to Wayland, begged him to mend it as fast as possible, so that she might return before she was missed. Wayland answered her with courtesy, and promised to do his best, but said that she would have to blow the bellows to keep the forge fire alight. 'How comes it that these bellows are sprinkled with blood?' asked Banvilda.
'It is the blood of two young sea dogs,' answered Wayland; 'they troubled me for long, but I caught them when they least expected it. But blow, I pray you, the bellows harder, or I shall never be finished.'
Banvilda did as she was told, but soon grew tired and thirsty, and begged Wayland to give her something to drink. He mixed something sweet in a cup, which she swallowed hastily, and soon fell fast asleep on a bench. Then Wayland bound her hands, and placed her in the boat, after which he cut the rope that held it and let it drift out to sea. This done, he shut the door of the tower, and, taking a piece of gold, he engraved on it the history of all that had happened and put it where it must meet the King's eye when next he came. 'Now is my hour come,' he cried with joy, snatching his spear from the wall, but before he could throw himself on it he heard a distant song and the notes of a lute.
By this time the sun was high in the heavens, yet its brightness did not hinder Wayland from seeing a large star, which was floating towards him, and a brilliant rainbow spanned the sky. The flowers on the island unfolded themselves as the star drew near, and he could smell the smell of the roses on the shore. And now Wayland saw it was no star, but the golden chariot of Freya the goddess, whose blue mantle floated behind her till it was lost in the blue of the sky. On her left was a maiden dressed in garlands of fresh green leaves, and on her right was one clad in a garment of red. At the sight Wayland's heart beat high, for he thought of the lump of gold set with jewels which he and his brothers had found in the mountain so long ago. Fairies fluttered round them, mermaids rose from the depths of the sea to welcome them, and as Freya and her maidens entered the prison Wayland saw that she who wore the red garment was really Alvilda. 'Wayland,' said the goddess, 'your time of woe is past. You have suffered much and have avenged your wrongs, and now Odin has granted my prayer that Alvilda shall stay by you for the rest of your life, and when you die she shall carry you in her arms to the country of Walhalla, where you shall forge golden armour and fashion drinking horns for the gods.'
When Freya had spoken, she beckoned to the green maiden, who held in her hand a root and a knife. She cut pieces off the root and laid them on Wayland's feet, and on his eye, then, placing some leaves from her garland over the whole, she breathed gently on it. 'Eyr the physician has healed me,' cried Wayland, and the fairies took him in their arms and bore him across the waves to a bower in the forest, where he dreamed that Alvilda and Slagfid and Eigil were all bending over him.
When he woke Alvilda was indeed there, and he seemed to catch glimpses of his brothers amid the leaves of the trees. 'Arise, my husband,' said Alvilda, 'and go straight to the Court of Nidud. He still sleeps, and knows nothing. Throw this mantle on your shoulders, and they will take you for his servant.'
So Wayland went, and reached the royal chamber, and in his sleep the King trembled, though he knew not that Wayland was near. 'Awake,' cried Wayland, and the King woke, and asked who had dared to disturb him thus.
'Be not angry,' answered Wayland; 'had you slain Wayland long ago, the misfortune that I have to tell you of would never have happened.'
'Do not name his name,' said the King, 'since he sent me those drinking cups a burning fever has laid hold upon me.'
'They were not shells, as he told you,' answered Wayland, 'but the skulls of your two sons, Sir King. Their bodies you will find in Wayland's tower. As for your daughter she is tossing, bound, on the wild waves of the sea. But now I, Wayland, have come to give you your deathblow——' But before he could draw his sword fear had slain the King yet more quickly.
So Wayland went back to Alvilda, and they went into another country, where he became a famous smith, and he lived to a good old age; and when he died he was carried in Alvilda's arms to Walhalla, as Freya had promised.
THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD
THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD
Many hundreds of years ago, when the Plantagenets were kings, England was so covered with woods that a squirrel was said to be able to hop from tree to tree from the Severn to the Humber. It must have been very different to look at from the country we travel through now; but still there were roads that ran from north to south and from east to west, for the use of those that wished to leave their homes, and at certain times of the year these roads were thronged with people. Pilgrims going to some holy shrine passed along, merchants taking their wares to Court, fat Abbots and Bishops ambling by on palfreys nearly as fat as themselves, to bear their part in the King's Council, and, more frequently still, a solitary Knight, seeking adventures.
Besides the broad roads there were small tracks and little green paths, and these led to clumps of low huts, where dwelt the peasants, charcoal-burners, and plough-men, and here and there some larger clearing than usual told that the house of a yeoman was near. Now and then as you passed through the forest you might ride by a splendid abbey, and catch a glimpse of monks in long black or white gowns, fishing in the streams and rivers that abound in this part of England, or casting nets in the fish ponds which were in the midst of the abbey gardens. Or you might chance to see a castle with round turrets and high battlements, circled by strong walls, and protected by a moat full of water.
This was the sort of England into which the famous Robin Hood was born. We do not know anything about him, who he was, or where he lived, or what evil deed he had done to put him beyond the King's grace. For he was an outlaw, and any man might kill him and never pay penalty for it. But, outlaw or not, the poor people loved him and looked on him as their friend, and many a stout fellow came to join him, and led a merry life in the greenwood, with moss and fern for bed, and for meat the King's deer, which it was death to slay. Peasants of all sorts, tillers of the land, yeomen, and as some say Knights, went on their ways freely, for of them Robin took no toll; but lordly churchmen with money-bags well filled, or proud Bishops with their richly dressed followers, trembled as they drew near to Sherwood Forest—who was to know whether behind every tree there did not lurk Robin Hood or one of his men?
THE COMING OF LITTLE JOHN
One day Robin was walking alone in the wood, and reached a river which was spanned by a very narrow bridge, over which one man only could pass. In the midst stood a stranger, and Robin bade him go back and let him go over. 'I am no man of yours,' was all the answer Robin got, and in anger he drew his bow and fitted an arrow to it. 'Would you shoot a man who has no arms but a staff?' asked the stranger in scorn; and with shame Robin laid down his bow, and unbuckled an oaken stick at his side. 'We will fight till one of us falls into the water,' he said; and fight they did, till the stranger planted a blow so well that Robin rolled over into the river. 'You are a brave soul,' said he, when he had waded to land, and he blew a blast with his horn which brought fifty good fellows, clad in green, to the little bridge. 'Have you fallen into the river that your clothes are wet?' asked one; and Robin made answer, 'No, but this stranger, fighting on the bridge, got the better of me, and tumbled me into the stream.'
At this the foresters seized the stranger, and would have ducked him had not their leader bade them stop, and begged the stranger to stay with them and make one of themselves. 'Here is my hand,' replied the stranger, 'and my heart with it. My name, if you would know it, is John Little.'
'That must be altered,' cried Will Scarlett; 'we will call a feast, and henceforth, because he is full seven feet tall and round the waist at least an ell, he shall be called Little John.'
And thus it was done; but at the feast Little John, who always liked to know exactly what work he had to do, put some questions to Robin Hood. 'Before I join hands with you, tell me first what sort of life is this you lead? How am I to know whose goods I shall take, and whose I shall leave? Whom I shall beat, and whom I shall refrain from beating?'
And Robin answered: 'Look that you harm not any tiller of the ground, nor any yeoman of the greenwood—no, nor no Knight nor Squire, unless you have heard him ill spoken of. But if Bishops or Archbishops come your way, see that you spoil them, and mark that you always hold in your mind the High Sheriff of Nottingham.'
This being settled, Robin Hood declared Little John to be second in command to himself among the brotherhood of the forest, and the new outlaw never forgot to 'hold in his mind' the High Sheriff of Nottingham, who was the bitterest enemy the foresters had.
LITTLE JOHN'S FIRST ADVENTURE
Robin Hood, however, had no liking for a company of idle men about him, and he at once sent off Little John and Will Scarlett to the great road known as Watling Street, with orders to hide among the trees and wait till some adventure might come to them; and if they took captive Earl or Baron, Abbot or Knight, he was to be brought unharmed back to Robin Hood.
But all along Watling Street the road was bare; white and hard it lay in the sun, without the tiniest cloud of dust to show that a rich company might be coming: east and west the land lay still.
At length, just where a side path turned into the broad highway, there rode a Knight, and a sorrier man than he never sat a horse on summer day. One foot only was in the stirrup, the other hung carelessly by his side; his head was bowed, the reins dropped loose, and his horse went on as he would. At so sad a sight the hearts of the outlaws were filled with pity, and Little John fell on his knees and bade the Knight welcome in the name of his master.
'Who is your master?' asked the Knight.
'Robin Hood,' answered Little John.
'I have heard much good of him,' replied the Knight, 'and will go with you gladly.'
Then they all set off together, tears running down the Knight's cheeks as he rode, but he said nothing, neither was anything said to him. And in this wise they came to Robin Hood.
'Welcome, Sir Knight,' cried he, 'and thrice welcome, for I waited to break my fast till you or some other had come to me.'
'God save you, good Robin,' answered the Knight, and after they had washed themselves in the stream they sat down to dine off bread and wine, with flesh of the King's deer, and swans and pheasants. 'Such a dinner have I not had for three weeks and more,' said the Knight. 'And if I ever come again this way, good Robin, I will give you as fine a dinner as you have given me.'
'I thank you,' replied Robin, 'my dinner is always welcome; still, I am none so greedy but I can wait for it. But before you go, pay me, I pray you, for the food which you have had. It was never the custom for a yeoman to pay for a Knight.'
'My bag is empty,' said the Knight, 'save for ten shillings only.'
'Go, Little John, and look in his wallet,' said Robin, 'and, Sir Knight, if in truth you have no more, not one penny will I take, nay, I will give you all that you shall need.'
So Little John spread out the Knight's mantle, and opened the bag, and therein lay ten shillings and naught besides.
'What tidings, Little John?' cried his master.
'Sir, the Knight speaks truly,' said Little John.
'Then fill a cup of the best wine and tell me, Sir Knight, whether it is your own ill doings which have brought you to this sorry pass.'
'For an hundred years my fathers have dwelt in the forest,' answered the Knight, 'and four hundred pounds might they spend yearly. But within two years misfortune has befallen me, and my wife and children also.'
'How did this evil come to pass?' asked Robin.
'Through my own folly,' answered the Knight, 'and because of the great love I bore my son, who would never be guided of my counsel, and slew, ere he was twenty years old, a Knight of Lancaster and his Squire. For their deaths I had to pay a large sum, which I could not raise without giving my lands in pledge to the rich Abbot of St. Mary's. If I cannot bring him the money by a certain day they will be lost to me for ever.'
'What is the sum?' asked Robin. 'Tell me truly.'
'It is four hundred pounds,' said the Knight.
'And what will you do if you lose your lands?' asked Robin again.
'Hide myself over the sea,' said the Knight, 'and bid farewell to my friends and country. There is no better way open to me.'
At this tears fell from his eyes, and he turned him to depart. 'Good day, my friend,' he said to Robin, 'I cannot pay you what I should—' But Robin held him fast. 'Where are your friends?' asked he.
'Sir, they have all forsaken me since I became poor, and they turn away their heads if we meet upon the road, though when I was rich they were ever in my castle.'
When Little John and Will Scarlett and the rest heard this they wept for very shame and fury and Robin bade them fill a cup of the best wine, and give it to the Knight.
'Have you no one who would stay surety for you?' said he.
'None,' answered the Knight, 'but only Our Lady, who has never yet failed to help me.'
'You speak well,' said Robin, 'and you, Little John, go to my treasure chest, and bring me thence four hundred pounds. And be sure you count it truly.'
So Little John went, and Will Scarlett, and they brought back the money.
'Sir,' said Little John, when Robin had counted it and found it no more nor no less, 'look at his clothes, how thin they are! You have stores of garments, green and scarlet, in your coffers—no merchant in England can boast the like. I will measure some out with my bow.' And thus he did.
'Master,' spoke Little John again, 'there is still something else. You must give him a horse, that he may go as beseems his quality to the Abbey.'
'Take the grey horse,' said Robin, 'and put a new saddle on it, and take likewise a good palfrey and a pair of boots, with gilt spurs on them. And as it were a shame for a Knight to ride by himself on this errand, I will lend you Little John as Squire—perchance he may stand you in yeoman's stead.'
'When shall we meet again?' asked the Knight.
'This day twelve months,' said Robin, 'under the greenwood tree.'
Then the Knight rode on his way, with Little John behind him, and as he went he thought of Robin Hood and his men, and blessed them for the goodness they had shown towards him.
'To-morrow,' he said to Little John, 'I must be at the Abbey of St. Mary, which is in the city of York, for if I am but so much as a day late my lands are lost for ever, and though I were to bring the money I should not be suffered to redeem them.'
* * * * *
Now the Abbot had been counting the days as well as the Knight, and the next morning he said to his monks: 'This day year there came a Knight and borrowed of me four hundred pounds, giving his lands in surety. And if he come not to pay his debt ere midnight tolls they will be ours for ever.'
'It is full early yet,' answered the Prior, 'he may still be coming.'
'He is far beyond the sea,' said the Abbot, 'and suffers from hunger and cold. How is he to get here?'
'It were a shame,' said the Prior, 'for you to take his lands. And you do him much wrong if you drive such a hard bargain.'
'He is dead or hanged,' spake a fat-headed monk who was the cellarer, 'and we shall have his four hundred pounds to spend on our gardens and our wines,' and he went with the Abbot to attend the court of justice wherein the Knight's lands would be declared forfeited by the High Justiciar.
'If he come not this day,' cried the Abbot, rubbing his hands, 'if he come not this day, they will be ours.'
'He will not come yet,' said the Justiciar, but he knew not that the Knight was already at the outer gate, and Little John with him.
'Welcome, Sir Knight,' said the porter. 'The horse that you ride is the noblest that ever I saw. Let me lead them both to the stable, that they may have food and rest.'
'They shall not pass these gates,' answered the Knight sternly, and he entered the hall alone, where the monks were sitting at meat, and knelt down and bowed to them.
'I have come back, my lord,' he said to the Abbot, who had just returned from the court. 'I have come back this day as I promised.'
'Have you brought my money?' was all the Abbot said.
'Not a penny,' answered the Knight, who wished to see how the Abbot would treat him.
'Then what do you here without it?' cried the Abbot in angry tones.
'I have come to pray you for a longer day,' answered the Knight meekly.
'The day was fixed and cannot be gainsaid,' replied the Justiciar, but the Knight only begged that he would stand his friend and help him in his strait. 'I am with the Abbot,' was all the Justiciar would answer.
'Good Sir Abbot, be my friend,' prayed the Knight again, 'and give me one chance more to get the money and free my lands. I will serve you day and night till I have four hundred pounds to redeem them.'
But the Abbot only swore a great oath, and vowed that the money must be paid that day or the lands be forfeited.
The Knight stood up straight and tall: 'It is well,' said he, 'to prove one's friends against the hour of need,' and he looked the Abbot full in the face, and the Abbot felt uneasy, he did not know why, and hated the Knight more than ever. 'Out of my hall, false Knight!' cried he, pretending to a courage which he did not feel. But the Knight stayed where he was, and answered him, 'You lie, Abbot. Never was I false, and that I have shown in jousts and in tourneys.'
'Give him two hundred pounds more,' said the Justiciar to the Abbot, 'and keep the lands yourself.'
'No, by Heaven!' answered the Knight, 'not if you offered me a thousand pounds would I do it! Neither Justiciar, Abbot, nor Monk shall be heir of mine.' Then he strode up to a table and emptied out four hundred pounds. 'Take your gold, Sir Abbot, which you lent to me a year agone. Had you but received me civilly, I would have paid you something more.
'Sir Abbot, and ye men of law, Now have I kept my day! Now shall I have my land again, For aught that you may say.'
So he passed out of the hall singing merrily, leaving the Abbot staring silently after him, and rode back to his house in Verisdale, where his wife met him at the gate.
'Welcome, my lord,' said his lady, 'Sir, lost is all your good.' 'Be merry, dame,' said the Knight, 'And pray for Robin Hood.'
'But for his kindness, we had been beggars.'
After this the Knight dwelt at home, looking after his lands, and saving his money carefully till the four hundred pounds lay ready for Robin Hood. Then he bought a hundred bows and a hundred arrows, and every arrow was an ell long, and had a head of silver and peacock's feathers. And clothing himself in white and red, and with a hundred men in his train, he set off to Sherwood Forest.
On the way he passed an open space near a bridge where there was a wrestling, and the Knight stopped and looked, for he himself had taken many a prize in that sport. Here the prizes were such as to fill any man with envy; a fine horse, saddled and bridled, a great white bull, a pair of gloves, a ring of bright red gold, and a pipe of wine. There was not a yeoman present who did not hope to win one of them. But when the wrestling was over, the yeoman who had beaten them all was a man who kept apart from his fellows, and was said to think much of himself. Therefore the men grudged him his skill, and set upon him with blows, and would have killed him, had not the Knight, for love of Robin Hood, taken pity on him, while his followers fought with the crowd, and would not suffer them to touch the prizes a better man had won.
When the wrestling was finished the Knight rode on, and there under the greenwood tree, in the place appointed, he found Robin Hood and his merry men waiting for him, according to the tryst that they had fixed last year:
'God save thee, Robin Hood, And all this company.' 'Welcome be thou, gentle Knight, And right welcome to me.'
'Hast thou thy land again?' said Robin, 'Truth then tell thou me.' 'Yea, for God,' said the Knight, 'And that thank I God and thee.'
'Have here four hundred pounds,' said the Knight, 'The which you lent to me; And here are also twenty marks For your courtesie.'
But Robin would not take the money. A miracle had happened, he said, and Our Lady had paid it to him, and shame would it be for him to take it twice over. Then he noticed for the first time the bows and arrows which the Knight had brought, and asked what they were. 'A poor present to you,' answered the Knight, and Robin, who would not be outdone, sent Little John once more to his treasury, and bade him bring forth four hundred pounds, which was given to the Knight. After that they parted, in much love, and Robin prayed the Knight if he were in any strait 'to let him know at the greenwood tree, and while there was any gold there he should have it.'
HOW LITTLE JOHN BECAME THE
Meanwhile the High Sheriff of Nottingham proclaimed a great shooting-match in a broad open space, and Little John was minded to try his skill with the rest. He rode through the forest, whistling gaily to himself, for well he knew that not one of Robin Hood's men could send an arrow as straight as he, and he felt little fear of anyone else. When he reached the trysting place he found a large company assembled, the Sheriff with them, and the rules of the match were read out: where they were to stand, how far the mark was to be, and how that three tries should be given to every man.
Some of the shooters shot near the mark, some of them even touched it, but none but Little John split the slender wand of willow with every arrow that flew from his bow. And at this sight the Sheriff of Nottingham swore a great oath that Little John was the best archer that ever he had seen, and asked him who he was and where he was born, and vowed that if he would enter his service he would give twenty marks a year to so good a bowman.
Little John, who did not wish to confess that he was one of Robin Hood's men and an outlaw, said his name was Reynold Greenleaf, and that he was in the service of a Knight, whose leave he must get before he became the servant of any man. This was given heartily by the Knight, and Little John bound himself to the Sheriff for the space of twelve months, and was given a good white horse to ride on whenever he went abroad. But for all that he did not like his bargain, and made up his mind to do the Sheriff, who was hated of the outlaws, all the mischief he could.
His chance came on a Wednesday when the Sheriff always went hunting and Little John lay in bed till noon, when he grew hungry. Then he got up, and told the steward that he wanted some dinner. The steward answered he should have nothing till the Sheriff came home, so Little John grumbled and left him, and sought out the butler. Here he was no more successful than before; the butler just went to the buttery door and locked it, and told Little John that he would have to make himself happy till his lord returned.
Rude words mattered nothing to Little John, who was not accustomed to be baulked by trifles, so he gave a mighty kick which burst open the door, and then ate and drank as much as he would, and when he had finished all there was in the buttery, he went down into the kitchen.
Now the Sheriff's cook was a strong man and a bold one, and had no mind to let another man play the king in his kitchen; so he gave Little John three smart blows, which were returned heartily. 'Thou art a brave man and hardy,' said Little John, 'and a good fighter withal. I have a sword, take you another, and let us see which is the better man of us twain.'
The cook did as he was bid, and for two hours they fought, neither of them harming the other. 'Fellow,' said Little John at last, 'you are one of the best swordsmen that I ever saw—and if you could shoot as well with the bow I would take you back to the merry greenwood, and Robin Hood would give you twenty marks a year and two changes of clothing.'
'Put up your sword,' said the cook, 'and I will go with you. But first we will have some food in my kitchen, and carry off a little of the gold that is in the Sheriff's treasure house.'
They ate and drank till they wanted no more, then they broke the locks of the treasure house, and took of the silver as much as they could carry, three hundred pounds and more, and departed unseen by anyone to Robin in the forest.
'Welcome! Welcome!' cried Robin when he saw them, 'welcome, too, to the fair yeoman you bring with you. What tidings from Nottingham, Little John?'
'The proud Sheriff greets you, and sends you by my hand his cook and his silver vessels, and three hundred pounds and three also.'
Robin shook his head, for he knew better than to believe Little John's tale. 'It was never by his good will that you brought such treasure to me,' he answered, and Little John, fearing that he might be ordered to take it back again, slipped away into the forest to carry out a plan that had just come into his head.
He ran straight on for five miles, till he came up with the Sheriff, who was still hunting, and flung himself on his knees before him.
'Reynold Greenleaf,' cried the Sheriff, 'what are you doing here, and where have you been?'
'I have been in the forest, where I saw a fair hart of a green colour, and sevenscore deer feeding hard by.'
'That sight would I see too,' said the Sheriff.
'Then follow me,' answered Little John, and he ran back the way he came, the Sheriff following on horseback, till they turned a corner of the forest, and found themselves in Robin Hood's presence. 'Sir, here is the master-hart,' said Little John.
Still stood the proud Sheriff, A sorry man was he, 'Woe be to you, Reynold Greenleaf, Thou hast betrayed me!'
'It was not my fault,' answered Little John, 'but the fault of your servants, master. For they would not give me my dinner,' and he went away to see to the supper.
It was spread under the greenwood tree, and they sat down to it, hungry men all. But when the Sheriff saw himself served from his own vessels, his appetite went from him.
'Take heart, man,' said Robin Hood, 'and think not we will poison you. For charity's sake, and for the love of Little John, your life shall be granted you. Only for twelve months you shall dwell with me, and learn what it is to be an outlaw.'
To the Sheriff this punishment was worse to bear than the loss of gold or silver dishes, and earnestly he begged Robin Hood to set him free, vowing he would prove himself the best friend that ever the foresters had.
Neither Robin nor any of his men believed him, but he took a great oath that he would never seek to do them harm, and that if he found any of them in evil plight he would deliver them out of it. With that Robin let him go.
HOW ROBIN MET FRIAR TUCK
In many ways life in the forest was dull in the winter, and often the days passed slowly; but in summer, when the leaves grew green, and flowers and ferns covered all the woodland, Robin Hood and his men would come out of their warm resting places, like the rabbits and the squirrels, and would play too. Races they ran, to stretch their legs, or leaping matches were arranged, or they would shoot at a mark. Anything was pleasant, when the grass was soft once more under their feet.
* * * * *
'Who can kill a hart of grace five hundred paces off?'
So said Robin to his men in the bright May time; and they went into the wood and tried their skill, and in the end it was Little John who brought down the 'hart of grace,' to the great joy of Robin Hood. 'I would ride my horse a hundred miles to find one who could match with thee,' he said to Little John, and Will Scarlett, who was perhaps rather jealous of this mighty deed, answered with a laugh, 'There lives a friar in Fountains Abbey who would beat both him and you.'
Now Robin Hood did not like to be told that any man could shoot better than himself or his foresters, so he swore lustily that he would neither eat nor drink till he had seen that friar. Leaving his men where they were, he put on a coat of mail and a steel cap, took his shield and sword, slung his bow over his shoulder, and filled his quiver with arrows. Thus armed, he set forth to Fountains Dale.
By the side of the river a friar was walking, armed like Robin, but without a bow. At this sight Robin jumped from his horse, which he tied to a thorn, and called to the friar to carry him over the water or it would cost him his life.
The friar said nothing, but hoisted Robin on his broad back and marched into the river. Not a word was spoken till they reached the other side, when Robin leaped lightly down, and was going on his way when the friar stopped him. 'Not so fast, my fine fellow,' said he. 'It is my turn now, and you shall take me across the river, or woe will betide you.' So Robin carried him, and when they had reached the side from which they had started he set down the friar and jumped for the second time on his back, and bade him take him whence he had come. The friar strode into the stream with his burden, but as soon as they got to the middle he bent his head and Robin fell into the water. 'Now you can sink or swim as you like,' said the friar, as he stood and laughed.
Robin Hood swam to a bush of golden broom, and pulled himself out of the water, and while the friar was scrambling out Robin fitted an arrow to his bow and let fly at him. But the friar quickly held up his shield, and the arrow fell harmless.
'Shoot on, my fine fellow, shoot on all day if you like,' shouted the friar, and Robin shot till his arrows were gone, but always missed his mark. Then they took their swords, and at four of the afternoon they were still fighting.
By this time Robin's strength was wearing, and he felt he could not fight much more. 'A boon, a boon!' cried he. 'Let me but blow three blasts on my horn, and I will thank you on my bended knees for it.'
The friar told him to blow as many blasts as he liked, and in an instant the forest echoed with his horn; it was but a few minutes before 'half a hundred yeomen were racing over the lea.' The friar stared when he saw them; then, turning to Robin, he begged of him a boon also, and leave being granted he gave three whistles, which were followed by the noise of a great crashing through the trees, as fifty great dogs bounded towards him.
'Here's a dog for each of your men,' said the friar, 'and I myself for you'; but the dogs did not listen to his words, for two of them rushed at Robin, and tore his mantle of Lincoln green from off his back. His men were too busy defending themselves to take heed of their master's plight, for every arrow shot at a dog was caught and held in the creature's mouth.
Robin's men were not used to fight with dogs, and felt they were getting beaten. At last Little John bade the friar call off his dogs, and as he did not do so at once he let fly some arrows, which this time left half a dozen dead on the ground.
'Hold, hold, my good fellow,' said the friar, 'till your master and I can come to a bargain,' and when the bargain was made this was how it ran. That the friar was to forswear Fountains Abbey and join Robin Hood, and that he should be paid a golden noble every Sunday throughout the year, besides a change of clothes on each holy day.
This Friar had kept Fountains Dale Seven long years or more, There was neither Knight, nor Lord, nor Earl Could make him yield before.
But now he became one of the most famous members of Robin Hood's men under the name of Friar Tuck.
HOW ROBIN HOOD AND LITTLE JOHN
One Whitsunday morning, when the sun was shining and the birds singing, Robin Hood called to Little John to come with him into Nottingham to hear Mass. As was their custom, they took their bows, and on the way Little John proposed that they should shoot a match with a penny for a wager. Robin, who held that he himself shot better than any man living, laughed in scorn, and told Little John that he should have three tries to his master's one, which John without more ado accepted. But Robin soon repented both of his offer and his scorn, for Little John speedily won five shillings, whereat Robin became angry and smote Little John with his hand. Little John was not the man to bear being treated so, and he told Robin roundly that he would never more own him for master, and straightway turned back into the wood. At this Robin was ashamed of what he had done, but his pride would not suffer him to say so, and he continued his way to Nottingham, and entered the Church of St. Mary, not without secret fears, for the Sheriff of the town was ever his enemy. However, there he was, and there he meant to stay.
He knelt down before the great cross in the sight of all the people, but none knew him save one monk only, and he stole out of church and ran to the Sheriff, and bade him come quickly and take his foe. The Sheriff was not slow to do the monk's bidding, and, calling his men to follow him, he marched to the church. The noise they made in entering caused Robin to look round. 'Alas, alas,' he said to himself, 'now miss I Little John.'