In a cottage overshadowed by wide-spreading oaks, and surrounded by a garden in which bloomed the sweetest flowers of summer, lived an aged peasant named Hilding.
Two children might be seen playing about the garden from sunrise to sunset, but they were not old Hilding's children. The handsome boy was the son of the thane Thorsten Vikingsson; the little girl, with dove-like eyes and silken tresses, was the daughter of good King Belé.
Together the little ones played through the long pleasant days in their foster-father's garden, or wandered through the woods, or climbed the hills that sheltered them from the northern winds. The boy would seek treasures from the birds' nests for his fair companion, not even fearing to rob the mountain eagle, so that he might bring the spoil to Ingebjorg. He would also take her far out on the blue sea in his little boat, and Ingebjorg never felt afraid as long as Frithiof was with her.
As Frithiof grew older, he became a great hunter, and once he slew without weapons a fierce bear, which he brought home in triumph and laid at Ingebjorg's feet.
During the winter evenings, they sat by the blazing logs on the hearth, and Hilding told them wonderful stories of Asgard and all its glories, of Odin the king of the gods, and of the beautiful Frigga.
But Frithiof thought she could not be half so beautiful as Ingebjorg. And once he said so to her, and it pleased her exceedingly. And he said, moreover, that when he was a man, Ingebjorg should be his wife. This also she was glad to hear, for she loved Frithiof better than any one in the world.
But Old Hilding told them not to talk nonsense, for Ingebjorg was a king's daughter, and Frithiof but the son of a thane.
In a room of his palace stood King Belé. He was leaning on his sword, musing over all that was past, and thinking of the future. He was an old man, and he felt that his strength was failing him.
With him was his faithful friend Thorsten Vikingsson. They had grown up to manhood together, they had fought in many a battle side by side. They had been companions at many a feast and revel; and now, when old age had fallen upon them, they drew closer to one another, feeling that the hand of death was raised to summon them into another world.
"The end of life is near," said the King; "the shadow of death is cast upon me. No longer do I care for all that men call pleasure. The chase hath lost its charm, the helmet sits heavy upon my brow, and the mead hath lost its flavor. I would that my sons were here so that I might give them my blessing."
Then the servants summoned to King Belé's presence his two sons, Helgi and Halfdan. Dark was the countenance of Helgi, and there was blood upon his hands, for he had just been assisting at the midday sacrifice. But the face of Halfdan was bright as the early morning, and he was as light and joyous as his brother was dark and gloomy.
Frithiof also came, for the thane Thorsten Vikingsson desired to see him, that he too might bless his son when King Belé blessed the royal princes.
And the two old friends spoke words of wisdom to their children, and prayed that the gods might be with them in peace and war, in joy and sorrow, and grant them a long life and a glorious death.
And when their counsels and prayers were ended, King Belé said, "And now, O sons, I bid you remember, in that day when death shall claim me and my faithful friend, that ye lay our bones side by side near the shore of the great ocean."
In due time, King Belé died, and Helgi and Halfdan shared his kingdom between them.
Thorsten Vikingsson died also, and Frithiof became lord of his ancestral home of Framnäs.
Rich treasures did that home contain, three of them of magic power.
The first was the sword of Angurvadel. Blood-red it shone in time of war, and wo to him who contended with its owner on the battle-field.
Next was an arm-ring of pure gold, made by the god Völund, and given by him to one of Thorsten Vikingsson's forefathers. Once it was stolen and carried to England by the viking Soté, but Thorsten and his friend King Belé pursued the robber. Over the sea they sailed after the viking, and landed at a lonely place where the rocks reared up their sharp points and made the coast dangerous.
There were deep caverns which the waters filled when the tide was up, so lone and dark that men were almost afraid to go into them.
But Thorsten Vikingsson and the King his master were not daunted. Hither had they come after the pirate, and here it was that he had last been heard of; and they searched along the shore and in the caves, and peered into every hole and cranny, until their eyes grew strained and heavy, but no viking Soté was to be seen.
They had almost given up hope of finding him, when, looking through a chink that had hitherto escaped their notice, a fearful sight was seen by the valiant thane.
Within a mighty vault, forming a still, cold tomb, there lay a vessel all complete, with masts and spars and anchor; and on the deck there sat a grim skeleton clad in a robe of flame, and on his skinless arm glittered the golden arm-ring wrought by Völund. The figure held in his left hand a blood-stained sword, from which he was trying to scour away the stains.
"It is my arm-ring," said Thorsten Vikingsson; "it is the spirit of the viking Soté."
And forthwith he forced his way into the tomb, and, after a deadly conflict with the specter, regained his treasure.
And the two friends sailed home in triumph.
The third great thing that Frithiof inherited was the dragon-ship "Ellide," which his forefathers had won in the following manner:
One of them, a rough, rude viking, with a tender heart, was out at sea, and on a wreck that was fast sinking saw an old man with green locks sitting disconsolately.
The good-natured viking picked him up, took him home, gave him of the best of food and of sparkling mead, and would have lodged him in his house; but the green-haired man said he could not tarry, for he had many miles to sail that night.
"But when the sun comes up in the east," added the stranger, "look for a thank-gift on the wild seashore."
And behold, as morning dawned, the viking saw a goodly vessel making gallant headway. As she drew near the land with streamer flying and broad sails flapping in the wind, the viking saw that there was no soul on board of her; and yet, without steersman to guide her, the vessel avoided the shoals and held her way straight to the spot where he was standing.
Her prow was a dragon's head, a dragon's tail formed her stern, and dragon's wings bore her along swifter than an eagle before the storm.
The green-haired stranger was a sea-god, and the dragon-ship "Ellide" was his thank-gift.
Thus Frithiof, though only the son of a thane, had treasures that might have been coveted by kings and princes. He sat in his father's halls, surrounded by his companions; upon his right was seated his bosom friend Bjorn, and twelve bold champions clad in steel were ranged around the board. And they drank in silence to the memory of Thorsten Vikingsson.
But suddenly the harps struck up, and the skalds poured forth their songs in honor of the dead thane.
And Frithiof's eyes filled with tears as he listened to his father's praises.
In spite of Frithiof's wealth, Helgi and Halfdan looked with disdain upon the son of their father's friend; and when Frithiof asked to have Ingebjorg for his wife, Helgi scornfully answered, "My sister shall not wed the son of a thane. If you like to be our serf, we will make room for you among our servants."
Then went Frithiof away in wrath.
There was another suitor for the hand of Ingebjorg, good old King Ring, who, having lost his wife, thought that the Lily of the North would make a tender mother for his little son.
And he sent to Helgi and Halfdan to ask for Ingebjorg in marriage, but the brothers treated him as they had treated Frithiof; and the old King was roused, and he swore he would revenge himself.
Helgi and Halfdan were afraid when they found that Ring was really making ready for war. They began to get their army into order, and placed Ingebjorg for safety in the temple of Baldur, and in their distress they even sent to Frithiof to ask him to come and help them.
They chose wisely in the messenger they sent to plead for them, for it was none other than old Hilding, who had been so kind to Frithiof in his childhood.
Frithiof was playing at chess with Bjorn when Hilding arrived. He pretended not to hear the message, and went on with his game.
"Shall the pawn save the king?" he asked of Bjorn.
And after a time he added: "There is no other way to save the queen." Which showed that he had been all the time occupied with Hilding's errand.
Therefore he returned with the old peasant, and contrived to see Ingebjorg in the temple of Baldur, and found that she still loved him as much as he loved her, and did not wish to marry any one else.
And again he asked Helgi and Halfdan if they were willing that Ingebjorg should be his wife.
And again the brothers said, Nay, with scorn, and told him that he had profaned the temple of Baldur by speaking to Ingebjorg within its walls.
"For such a misdeed," said Helgi, "death or banishment is the doom, and thou art in our power. Nevertheless, we are willing, as we wish to make thee useful to us, to forego the penalty. Thou shalt therefore sail forth to the distant Orkney Isles, and compel Jarl Angantyr to pay the tribute that he owes us."
Frithiof would have refused to go, but Ingebjorg persuaded him to undertake the mission; for she was afraid of her brothers, and knew that Frithiof would be safer on the wild seas than in their hands.
At last Frithiof consented, and he took leave of Ingebjorg, and placed the golden bracelet that Völund had made upon her arm, praying her to keep it for his sake.
And then he sailed away over the heaving waters, and Ingebjorg mourned that her lover was gone.
Over the sea. It was calm enough when Frithiof started; the storm-winds were asleep, and the waters heaved gently as though they would fain help speed the dragon-ship peacefully on her way.
But King Helgi standing on a rock repented that he had suffered the noble Frithiof to escape his malice; and as he watched the good ship "Ellide" riding over the sea, he prayed loudly to the ocean-fiends that they would trouble the waters and raise a fierce tempest to swallow up Frithiof and the dragon-ship.
All at once, the sparkling sea turned leaden gray, and the billows began to roll, the skies grew dark, and the howl of the driving wind was answered by a sullen roar from the depths beneath. Suddenly, a blinding flash of lightning played around the vessel, and as it vanished the pealing thunder burst from the clouds. The raging sea foamed, and seethed, and tossed the vessel like a feather upon its angry waves, and deeper sounded the thunder, and more fiercely flashed the lightning round the masts.
Wilder, wilder, wilder grew the storm. Alas, for Frithiof!
"Ho! take the tiller in hand," shouted Frithiof to Bjorn. "and I will mount to the topmost mast and look out for danger'"
And when he looked out, he saw the storm-fiends riding on a whale. One was in form like to a great white bear, the other like unto a terrible eagle.
"Now help me, O gift of the sea-god! Help me, my gallant 'Ellide'!" cried Frithiof.
And the dragon-ship heard her master's voice, and with her keel she smote the whale; so he died, and sank to the bottom of the sea, leaving the storm-fiends tossing upon the waves.
"Ho, spears and lances, help me in my need!" shouted Frithiof, as he took aim at the monsters.
And he transfixed the shrieking storm-fiends, and left them entangled in the huge coils of seaweed which the storm had uprooted.
"Ho, ho!" laughed rugged Bjorn, "they are trapped in their own nets."
And so they were; and they were so much taken up with trying to free themselves from the seaweed and from Frithiof's long darts, that they were unable to give any heed to the storm, which therefore went down, and Frithiof and his crew sailed on, and reached the Orkney Isles in safety.
"Here comes Frithiof," said the viking Atlé. "I know him by his dragon-ship."
And forthwith the viking rose and went forth; he had heard of the strength of Frithiof, and wished to match himself against him.
He did not wait to see whether Frithiof came in enmity or friendship. Fighting was the first thing he thought of, and what he most cared for.
However, the viking had the worst of it in the battle.
"There is witchcraft in thy sword," said he to Frithiof.
So Frithiof threw his sword aside, and they wrestled together, unarmed, until Atlé was brought to the ground.
Then spake Frithiof: "And if I had my sword thou wouldst not long be a living man."
"Fetch it, then," replied Atlé. "I swear by the gods that I will not move until thou dost return."
So Frithiof fetched his sword, but when he saw the conquered viking still upon the ground, he could not bring himself to slay so honorable a man.
"Thou art too true and brave to die," said Frithiof. "Rise, let us be friends."
And the two combatants went hand in hand to the banquet hall of Angantyr, Jarl (earl) of the Orkney Islands.
A splendid hall it was, and a rare company of heroes was there; and all listened eagerly as Frithiof told his story, and wherefore he had come.
"I never paid tribute to King Belé, though he was an old friend of mine," said the jarl, as Frithiof ended his speech, "nor will I to his sons. If they want aught of me, let them come and take it."
"It was by no choice of my own that I came upon such an errand," returned Frithiof, "and I shall be well content to carry back your answer."
"Take also this purse of gold in token of friendship," continued the jarl, "and remain with us, for I knew thy father."
Thus Frithiof and the jarl became good friends, and Frithiof consented to stay for a while in the Orkney Islands; but after a time he ordered out his good ship "Ellide," and set sail for his native land.
But fearful things had come to pass since he had left his home! Framnäs, the dwelling of his fathers, was a heap of ruins, and the land was waste and desolate.
And as he stood upon the well-loved spot, striving to find some traces of the past, his faithful hound bounded forth to greet him, and licked his master's hand. And then his favorite steed drew near, and thrust his nose into Frithiof's hand, hoping to find therein a piece of bread, as in the days of old. His favorite falcon perched upon his shoulder, and this was Frithiof's welcome to the home of his ancestors.
There had been a fierce battle, for King Ring with his army had come against Helgi and Halfdan, and the country had been laid waste, and many warriors slain.
And when all chance of withstanding him was at an end, the brothers, rather than lose their kingdom, had consented that Ingebjorg should be the wife of Ring.
Ingebjorg was married! Frithiof's heart was full of deep sorrow, and he turned his steps towards the temple of Baldur, hoping that at the altar of the god he might meet with consolation.
In the temple he found King Helgi, and the sorrow that was weighing down Frithiof's heart gave place to hatred and revenge.
Caring nothing for the sacred place, he rushed madly forward. "Here, take thy tribute," said he, and he threw the purse that Jarl Angantyr had given him with such force against the face of the King that Helgi fell down senseless on the steps of the altar.
Next, seeing his arm-ring on the arm of the statue, for Helgi had taken it from Ingebjorg and placed it there, he tried to tear it off, and, lo! the image tottered and fell upon the fire that was burning with sweet perfumes before it.
Scarcely had it touched the fire when it was ablaze, and the flames spreading rapidly on every side, the whole temple was soon a smoldering heap of ruins.
Then Frithiof sought his ship. He vowed that he would lead a viking's life, and leave forever a land where he had suffered so much sorrow. And he put out to sea.
But no sooner were his sails spread than he saw ten vessels in chase of him, and on the deck of one stood Helgi, who had been rescued from the burning temple, and had come in chase of him.
Yet Frithiof was rescued from the danger as if by miracle; for one by one the ships sank down as though some water-giant had stretched out his strong arm, and dragged them below, and Helgi only saved himself by swimming ashore.
Loud laughed Bjorn.
"I bored holes in the ships last night," said he; "it is a rare ending to Helgi's fleet."
"And now," said Frithiof, "I will forever lead a viking's life. I care not for aught upon the land. The sea shall be my home. And I will seek climes far away from here."
So he steered the good ship "Ellide" southward, and among the isles of Greece strove to forget the memories of bygone days.
In and out of the sunny islands that lay like studs of emerald on a silver shield sailed Frithiof, and on the deck of the dragon-ship he rested through the summer nights, looking up at the moon, and wondering what she could tell him of the northern land.
Sometimes he dreamed of his home as it was before the wartime. Sometimes he dreamed of the days when he and Ingebjorg roamed through the fields and woods together, or listened to old Hilding's stories by the blazing hearth; and then he would wake up with a start and stroke his faithful hound, who was ever near him, saying, "Thou alone knowest no change; to thee all is alike, so long as thy master is with thee."
One night, however, as Frithiof was musing on the deck of his vessel, gazing into the cloudless sky, a vision of the past rose up before him: old familiar faces crowded round him, and in their midst he marked one, best beloved of all, pale, sad, with sorrowful eyes; and her lips moved, and he seemed to hear her say, "I am very sad without thee, Frithiof."
Then a great longing came upon Frithiof to see Ingebjorg once more. He would go northward, even to the country of King Ring; he must see Ingebjorg. What did he care for danger? He must go.
To the cold, dark north.
Yet he dared not go openly, for King Ring looked upon him as an enemy, and would seize him at once, and if he did not kill him would shut him up in prison, so that either way he would not see the beautiful Queen.
Frithiof. therefore disguised himself as an old man, and wrapped in bearskins, presented himself at the palace.
The old King sat upon his throne, and at his side was Ingebjorg the Fair, looking like spring by the side of fading autumn.
As the strangely dressed figure passed along, the courtiers jeered, and Frithiof, thrown off his guard, angrily seized one of them, and twirled him round with but little effort.
"Ho!" said the King, "thou art a strong old man, O stranger! Whence art thou?"
"I was reared in anguish and want," returned Frithiof; "sorrow has filled a bitter cup for me, and I have almost drunk it to the dregs. Once I rode upon a dragon, but now it lies dead upon the seashore, and I am left in my old age to burn salt upon the strand."
"Thou art not old," answered the wise King; "thy voice is clear, and thy grasp is strong. Throw off thy rude disguise, that we may know our guest."
Then Frithiof threw aside his bearskin, and appeared clad in a mantle of blue embroidered velvet, and his hair fell like a golden wave upon his shoulder.
Ring did not know him, but Ingebjorg did; and when she handed the goblet for him to drink, her color went and came "like to the northern light on a field of snow."
And Frithiof stayed at the court, until the year came round again, and spring once more put forth its early blossoms.
One day a gay hunting train went forth, but old King Ring, not being strong, as in former years, lay down to rest upon the mossy turf beneath some arching pines, while the hunters rode on.
Then Frithiof drew near, and in his heart wild thoughts arose. One blow of his sword, and Ingebjorg was free to be his wife.
But as he looked upon the sleeping King, there came a whisper from a better voice, "It is cowardly to strike a sleeping foe."
And Frithiof shuddered, for he was too brave a man to commit murder.
"Sleep on, old man," he muttered gently to himself.
But Ring's sleep was over. He started up. "O Frithiof why hast thou come hither to steal an old man's bride?"
"I came not hither for so dark a purpose," answered Frithiof; "I came but to look on the face of my loved Ingebjorg once more."
"I know it," replied the King; "I have tried thee, I have proved thee, and true as tried steel hast thou passed through the furnace. Stay with us yet a little longer, the old man soon will be gathered to his fathers, then shall his kingdom and his wife be thine."
But Frithiof replied that he had already remained too long, and that on the morrow he must depart.
Yet he went not; for death had visited the palace, and old King Ring was stretched upon his bier, while the bards around sang of his wisdom.
Then arose a cry among the people, "We must choose a king!"
And Frithiof raised aloft upon his shield the little son of Ring.
"Here is your king," he said, "the son of wise old Ring."
The blue-eyed child laughed and clapped his hands as he beheld the glittering helmets and glancing spears of the warriors. Then tired of his high place, he sprang down into the midst of them.
Loud uprose the shout, "The child shall be our king, and the Jarl Frithiof regent. Hail to the young King of the Northmen!"
But Frithiof in the hour of his good fortune did not forget that he had offended the gods. He must make atonement to Baldur for having caused the ruin of his temple. He must turn his steps once more homeward.
Home! Home! And on his father's grave he sank down with a softened heart, and grieved over the passion and revenge that had swayed his deeds. And as he mourned, the voices of unseen spirits answered him, and whispered that he was forgiven.
And to his wondering eyes a vision was vouchsafed, and the temple of Baldur appeared before him, rebuilt in more than its ancient splendor, and deep peace sank into the soul of Frithiof.
"Rise up, rise up, Frithiof, and journey onward."
The words came clear as a command to Frithiof, and he obeyed them. He rose up, and journeyed to the place where he had left the temple a heap of blackened ruins.
And, lo! the vision that had appeared to him was accomplished, for there stood the beautiful building, stately and fair to look upon. So beautiful, that, as he gazed, his thoughts were of Valhalla.
He entered, and the white-robed, silver-bearded priest welcomed the long-absent viking, and told him that Helgi was dead, and Halfdan reigned alone.
"And know, O Frithiof," said the aged man, "that Baldur is better pleased when the heart grows soft and injuries are forgiven, than with the most costly sacrifices. Lay aside forever all thoughts of hatred and revenge, and stretch out to Halfdan the hand of friendship."
Joy had softened all Frithiofs feelings of anger, and, advancing to Halfdan, who was standing near the altar, he spoke out manfully.
"Halfdan," he said, "let us forget the years that have gone by. Let all past evil and injury be buried in the grave. Henceforth let us be as brothers, and once more I ask thee, give me Ingebjorg to be my wife."
And Halfdan made answer, "Thou shalt be my brother."
And as he spoke, an inner door flew open, and a sweet chorus of youthful voices was heard. A band of maidens issued forth, and at their head walked Ingebjorg, fairer than ever.
Then Halfdan, leading her to Frithiof, placed her hand within that of the viking.
"Behold thy wife," said Halfdan. "Well hast thou won her. May the gods attend upon your bridal."
So Ingebjorg became the wife of Frithiof at last.
Thus steps of sorrow had but led them to a height of happiness that poets love to sing. Paths thick with thorns had blossomed into roses, and wreaths of everlasting flowers had crowned the winter snows. And midst the lights and shadows of the old Northland, their lives flowed on like to two united streams that roll through quiet pastures to the ocean of eternity.