The Pagan Seal-Wife (Orkney Folk-Lore) by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

It is to tell of Harold, the son of Egbert, the son of Ib; comely was he to look upon, and a braver than he lived not in these islands, nor one more beloved of all people. But it chanced upon a time, while he was still in early manhood, that a grievous sorrow befell him; for on a day his mother Eleanor came to her end in this full evil wise. It was her intent to go unto the neighboring island, where grazed the goats and the kine, and it fortuned that, as she made her way thither in the boat, she heard sweet music, as if one played upon a harp in the waters, and, looking over the side of the boat, she beheld down in the waters a sea-maiden making those exceeding pleasant sounds. And the sea-maiden ceased to play, and smiled up at Eleanor, and stretched up her hands and besought Eleanor to pluck her from the sea into the boat, which seeking to do, Eleanor fell headlong into the waters, and was never thereafter seen either alive or dead by any of her kin. Now under this passing heavy grief Egbert, the son of Ib, being old and spent by toil, brake down, and on a night died, making with his latest breath most heavy lamentation for Eleanor, his wife; so died he, and his soul sped, as they tell, to that far northern land where the souls of the departed make merry all the night, which merriment sendeth forth so vast and so beautiful a light that all the heavens are illumined thereby. But Harold, the son of Egbert and of Eleanor, was left alone, having neither brother, nor sister, nor any of kin, save an uncle abiding many leagues distant in Jutland. Thereupon befell a wonderful thing; if it had not happened it would not be told. It chanced that, on a certain evening in the summer-time, Harold walked alone where a Druid circle lay coiled like a dark serpent on a hillside; his heart was filled with dolor, for he thought continually of Eleanor, his mother, and he wept softly to himself through love of that dear mother. While thus he walked in vast heaviness of soul, he was beheld of Membril, the fairy that with her goodly subjects dwelt in the ruin of the Pict’s house hard by the Druid circle. And Membril had compassion upon Harold, and upon the exceeding fine down of a tiny sea-bird she rode out to meet him, and it was before his eyes as if a star shined out of a mist in his pathway. So it was that Membril the fairy made herself known to him, and having so done, she said and she sung:

I am Membril, queen of Fay,
That would charm thy grief away!
Thou art like the little bark
Drifting in the cold and dark,–
Drifting through the tempest’s roar
To a rocky, icy shore;
All the torment dost thou feel
Of the spent and fearful seal
Wounded by the hunter’s steel.
I am Membril,–hark to me:
Better times await on thee!
Wouldst thou clasp thy mother dear,–
Strange things see and stranger hear?
Straight betake thee to thy boat
And to yonder haven float,–
Go thy way, and silent be,–
It is Membril counsels thee;
Go thy way, and thou shalt see!

Great marvel had Harold to this thing; nevertheless he did the bidding of Membril the fairy, and it was full wisely done. And presently he came to where his boat lay, half on the shore and half in the waters, and he unloosed the thong that held it, and entered into the boat; but he put neither hand to the oars thereof, for he was intent to do the bidding of Membril the fairy. Then as if of its own accord, or as if the kindly waves themselves bore it along, the boat moved upon the waters and turned toward the yonder haven whereof it was said and sung. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows fell from the hilltops in their sleep and lay, as they had been little weary children, in the valleys and upon the shore, and they were rocked in the cradles of those valleys, and the waters along the shore sung softly to them. Upon the one side lay the island where grazed the goats and the kine, and upon the other side lay the island where Harold and other people abode; between these islands crept the sea with its gentle murmurings, and upon this sea drifted the boat bearing Harold to the yonder haven. Now the haven whereunto the course lay brooded almost beneath the shadow of the Stennis stones, and the waters thereof were dark, as if, forsooth, the sea frowned whensoever it saw those bloody stones peering down into its tranquil bosom. And some said that the place was haunted, and that upon each seventh night came thereunto the spirits of them that had been slain upon those stones, and waved their ghostly arms and wailed grievously; but of latter times none believeth this thing to be true.

It befell that, coming into the haven and bearing toward the shore thereof, Harold was ‘ware of sweet music, and presently he saw figures as of men and women dancing upon the holm; but neither could he see who these people were, nor could he tell wherefrom the music came. But such fair music never had he heard before, and with great marvel he came from the boat into the cluster of beech-trees that stood between the haven and that holm where the people danced. Then of a sudden Harold saw twelve skins lying upon the shore in the moonlight; and they were the comeliest and most precious sealskins that ever he saw, and he coveted them. So presently he took up one of the sealskins and bore it with him into his boat, and pushed the boat from the shore into the waters of the haven again, and, so doing, there was such plashing of the waters that those people dancing upon the fair green holm became ‘ware of Harold’s presence, and were afeared, so that, ceasing from their sport, they made haste down to the shore and did on the skins and dived into the waters with shrill cries. But there was one of them that could not do so, because Harold bore off that skin wherewith she was wont to begird herself, and when she found it not she wailed and wept and besought Harold to give her that skin again,–and, lo! it was Eleanor, the wife of Egbert! Now when Harold saw that it was his mother that so entreated him he was filled with wonder, and he drew nearer the shore to regard her and to hear her words, for he loved her passing well. But he denied her that skin, knowing full well that so soon as she possessed it she would leave him and he should never again behold her. Then Eleanor related to him how that she had been drowned in the sea through treachery of the harp-maiden, and how that the souls of drowned people entered into the bodies of seals, nor were permitted to return to earth, save only one night in every month, at which time each recovered his human shape and was suffered to dance in the moonlight upon the fair green holm from the hour of sunset unto the hour of sunrise.

See also  The Vacant Room In Drama by Walter Prichard Eaton

“Give me the skin, I pray thee,” she cried, “for if the sun came upon me unawares I should crumble into dust before thine eyes, and that moment would a curse fall upon you. I am happy as I am; the sea and those who dwell therein are good to me,–give me the skin, I beseech thee, that I may return whence I came, and thereby shall a great blessing accrue to thee and thine.”

But Harold said: “Nay, mother, I were a fool to part so cheerfully with one whom I love dearer than life itself! I shall not let you go so easily; you shall come with me to our home, where I have lived alone too long already. I shall be alone no longer,–come with me, I say, for I will not deliver up this skin, nor shall any force wrest it from me!”

Then Eleanor, his mother, reasoned a space with him, and anon she showed him the folly of his way; but still he hung his head upon his breast and was loath to do her bidding, until at last she sware unto him that if he gave to her that skin he should, upon the next dancing night, have to wife the most beautiful maiden in the world, and therefore should be alone in the world no more. To this presently Harold gave assent, and then Eleanor, his mother, bade him come to that same spot one month hence, and do what she should then bid him do. Receiving, therefore, the skin from him, she folded it about her and threw herself into the sea, and Harold betook himself unto his home.

Now wit ye well that full wearily dragged the days and the nights until that month was spent; but now at last it was the month of August, and upon the night of the seventh day thereof ended the season of waiting. It is to tell that upon that night came Harold, the son of Egbert, from his hut, and stood on the threshold thereof, and awaited the rising of the moon from out the silver waters yonder. While thus he stood there appeared unto him Membril the fairy, and smiling upon him she said and she sung:–

I am Membril, queen of Fay,
Come to urge thee on thy way;
Haste to yonder haven-side
Where awaits thy promised bride;
Daughter of a king is she,–
Many leagues she comes to thee,
Thine and only thine to be.
Haste and see, then come again
To thy pretty home, and, when
Smiles the sun on earth once more,
Will come knocking at thy door;
Open then, and to thy breast
Clasp whom thou shalt love the best!
It is Membril counsels thee,–
Haste and see what thou shalt see!

Now by this thing was Harold mightily rejoiced, and he believed it to be truth that great good was in store for him; for he had seen pleasant things in the candle a many nights, and the smoke from his fire blew cheerily and lightly to the westward, and a swan had circled over his house that day week, and in his net each day for twice seven days had he drawn from the sea a fish having one golden eye and one silver eye: which things, as all men know, portend full goodly things, or else they portend nothing at all whatsoever. So, being pleasantly minded, Harold returned in kind unto Membril, the fairy queen, that bespoke him so courteously, and to her and to them that bore her company he said and he sung:–

Welcome, bonnie queen of Fay!
For thou speakest pleasing words;
Thou shalt have a gill of whey
And a thimblefull of curds;
In this rose is honey-dew
That a bee hath brought for you!

Welcome, bonnie queen of Fay!
Call thy sisters from the gloam,
And, whilst I am on my way,
Feast and frolic in my home,–
Kiss the moonbeams, blanching white,
Shrinking, shivering with affright!

Welcome, all, and have no fear,–
There is flax upon the sill,
No foul sprite can enter here,–
Feast and frolic as you will;
Feast and frisk till break of day,–
Welcome, little folk of Fay!

Thus having said and thus having sung, Harold went upon his way, and came to his boat and entered into it and journeyed to the haven where some time he had seen and discoursed with Eleanor, his mother. His course to this same haven lay, as before, over the waters that stole in between the two islands from the great sea beyond. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows rolled from the hilltops in their sleep and lay like little weary children in the valleys and upon the shore, and they were rocked in the cradles of those valleys, and the waters along the shore sung softly to them. Upon this hand lay the island where the goats and the kine found sweet pasturage, and upon the other hand stretched the island where people abode, and where the bloody Stennis stones rebuked the smiling sky, and where ghosts walked and wailed and waved their white arms in the shadows of those haunted ruins where once upon a time the Picts had dwelt. And Harold’s heart was full of joy, the more in especial when, as he bore nigh unto the haven, he heard sweet music and beheld a goodly company of people that danced in the moonlight upon the fair green holm. Then, when presently his boat touched the inner shore of the haven, and he departed therefrom and drew the boat upon the shore, he saw wherefrom issued the beautiful music to which the people danced; he saw that the waters reached out their white fingers and touched the kale and the fair pebbles and the brittle shells and the moss upon the beach, and these things gave forth sweet sounds, which were as if a thousand attuned harps vied with the singing of the summer-night winds. Then, as before, Harold saw sealskins lying upon the shore, and presently came Eleanor, his mother, and pointing to a certain fair velvet skin, she said: “Take that fair velvet skin into thy boat and speed with all haste to thy home. To-morrow at sunrise thy bride shall come knocking at thy door. And so, farewell, my son,–oh, Harold, my only son!” Which saying, Eleanor, the wife of Egbert, drew a skin about her and leapt into the sea; nor was she ever thereafter beholden of human eyes.

See also  The Fairy Spring by Louisa May Alcott

Then Harold took up the fair velvet skin to which his mother had directed him, and he bore it away with him in his boat. So softly went he upon the waters that none of them that danced upon the fair green holm either saw or heard him. Still danced they on to the sweet music made by the white fingers of the waves, and still shone the white moon upon the fair green holm where they so danced.

Now when came Harold to his home, bearing the precious skin with him, he saw the fairies at play upon the floor of his hut, and they feared no evil, for there was barley strewn upon the sill so that no wicked sprite could enter there. And when Membril, the fairy queen, saw him bringing the skin that he had found upon the shore, she bade him good welcome, and she said and she sung:–

I am Membril, queen of Fay,–
Ponder well what words I say;
Hide that fair and velvet skin
Some secluded spot within;
In the tree where ravens croak,–
In the hollow of the oak,
In the cave with mosses lined,
In the earth where none may find;
Hide it quick and hide it deep,–
So secure shall be thy sleep,
Thine shall bride and blessings be,
Thine a fair posterity,–
So doth Membril counsel thee!

So, pondering upon this counsel and thinking well of it, Harold took the fair velvet skin and hid it, and none knew where it was hid,–none save only the raven that lived in the hollow oak. And when he had so done he returned unto his home and lay upon his bed and slept. It came to pass that early upon the morrow, when the sun made all the eastward sky blush for the exceeding ardor of his morning kiss, there came a knocking at the door of Harold’s hut, and Harold opened the door, and lo! there stood upon the threshold the fairest maiden that eyes ever beheld. Unlike was she to maidens dwelling in those islands, for her hair was black as the waters of the long winter night, and her eyes were as the twin midnight rocks that look up from the white waves of the moonlit sea in yonder reef; withal was she most beautiful to look upon, and her voice was as music that stealeth to one over pleasant waters.

The maiden’s name was Persis, and she was the daughter of a Pagan king that ruled in a country many, many–oh, many leagues to the southward of these islands, in a country where unicorns and dragons be, and where dwelleth the phoenix and hippogriffins and the cockatrix, and where bloometh a tree that runneth blood, and where mighty princes do wondrous things. Now it fortuned that the king was minded to wed his daughter Persis unto a neighboring prince, a high and mighty prince, but one whom Persis loved not, neither could she love. So for the first time Persis said, “Nay, I will not,” unto her father’s mandate, whereat the king was passing wroth, and he put his daughter in a place that was like a jail to her, for it was where none might see her, and where she might see none,–none but those that attended upon her. This much told Persis, the Pagan princess, unto Harold, and then, furthermore, she said: “The place wherein I was put by the king, my father, was hard by the sea, and oftentimes I went thereon in my little boat, and once, looking down from that boat into the sea, I saw the face of a fair young man within a magic mirror that was held up in the waters of the sea by two ghostly hands, and the fair young man moved his lips and smiled at me, and methought I heard him say: ‘Come, be my bride, O fair and gentle Persis!’ But, vastly afeared, I cried out and put back again to shore. Yet in my dreams I saw that face and heard that voice, nor could I find any rest until I came upon the sea again in hope to see the face and hear the voice once more. Then, that second time, as I looked into the sea, another face came up from below and lifted above the waters, and a woman’s voice spake thus to me: ‘I am mother of him that loveth thee and whom thou lovest; his face hast thou seen in the mirror, and of thee I have spoken to him; come, let me bear thee as a bride to him!’ And in that moment a faintness came upon me and I fell into her arms, and so was I drowned (as men say), and so was I a seal a little space until last dancing night, when, lo! some one brought me to life again, and one that said her name was Membril showed me the way unto thy door. And now I look upon thy face in truth, and thou art he who shall have me to his wife, for thou art he whose face I saw within the mirror which the ghostly hands bore up to me that day upon the sea!”

See also  Some Lessons From The School Of Morals by William Dean Howells

Great then was Harold’s joy, and he folded her in his arms, and he spake sweet words to her, and she was content. So they were wed that very day, and there came to do them honor all the folk upon these islands: Dougal and Tam and Ib and Robbie and Nels and Gram and Rupert and Rolf and many others and all their kin, and they made merry, and it was well. And never spake the Pagan princess of that soft velvet skin which Harold had hid away,–never spake she of it to him or to any other one.

It is to tell that to Harold and to Persis were born these children, and in this order: Egbert and Ib (that was nicknamed the Strong) and Harold and Joan and Tam and Annie and Rupert the Fair and Flocken and Elsa and Albert and Theodoric,–these eleven children were born unto them in good time; and right fair children were they to see, comely and stout, yet sweetly minded withal. And prosperous times continually befell Harold; his herds multiplied, and the fish came into his nets, so that presently there was none other richer than he in all that country, and he did great good with his riches, for he had compassion to the poor. So Harold was beloved of all, and all spake full fairly of his wife,–how that she cared for his little ones, and kept the house, and did deeds of sweet charity among the needy and distressed,–ay, so was Persis, the wife of Harold, beloved of all, and by none other more than by Harold, who was wont to say that Persis had brought him all he loved best: his children, his fortune, his happiness, and, best of all, herself. So now they were wed twice seven years, and in that time was Persis still as young and fair to look upon as when she came to Harold’s door for the first time and knocked. This I account to be a marvel, but still more a marvel was it that in all these years spake she never a word of that soft velvet skin which Harold took and hid,–never a word to him nor to any one else. But the soft velvet skin lay meanwhile in the hollow of the oak, and in the branches of that tree perched a raven that croaked and croaked and croaked.

Now it befell upon a time that a ship touched at that island, and there came therefrom men that knelt down upon the shore and made strange prayers to a strange God, and forthwith uplifted in that island a symbol of wood in the similitude of a cross. Straightway went Harold with the rest to know the cause thereof, being fearful lest for this impiety their own gods, whom they served diligently, should send hail and fire upon them and their herds. But those that had come in the ship spake gently with them and showed themselves to be peaceful folk whose God delighted not in wars, but rather in gentleness and love. How it was, I, knowing not, cannot say, but presently the cause of that new God, whose law was gentleness and love, waxed mightily, and the people came from all around to kiss that cross and worship it. And among them came Harold, for in his heart had dawned the light of a new wisdom, and he knew the truth as we know it, you and I. So Harold was baptized in the Christian faith, he and his children; but Persis, his wife, was not baptized, for she was the daughter of a Pagan king, and she feared to bring evil upon those she loved by doing any blasphemous thing. Right sorely grieved was Harold because of this, and oftentimes he spake with her thereof, and oftentimes he prayed unto his God and ours to incline her mind toward the cross, which saveth all alike. But Persis would say: “My best beloved, let me not do this thing in haste, for I fear to vex thy God since I am a Pagan and the daughter of a Pagan king, and therefore have not within me the light that there is in thee and thy kind. Perchance (since thy God is good and gracious) the light will come to me anon, and shine before mine eyes as it shineth before thine. I pray thee, let me bide my time.” So spake Persis, and her life ever thereafter was kind and charitable, as, soothly, it had ever before been, and she served Harold, her husband, well, and she was beloved of all, and a great sweetness came to all out of her daily life.

It fortuned, upon a day whilst Harold was from home, there was knocking at the door of their house, and forthwith the door opened and there stood in the midst of them one clad all in black and of rueful countenance. Then, as if she foresaw evil, Persis called unto her little ones and stood between them and that one all in black, and she demanded of him his name and will. “I am the Death-Angel,” quoth he, “and I come for the best-beloved of thy lambs!”

See also  El Mamoun And Zubeideh by John Payne

Now Theodoric was that best-beloved; for he was her very little one, and had always slept upon her bosom. So when she heard those words she made a great outcry, and wrestled with the Death-Angel, and sought to stay him in his purpose. But the Death-Angel chilled her with his breath, and overcame her, and prevailed against her; and he reached into the midst of them and took Theodoric in his arms and folded him upon his breast, and Theodoric fell asleep there, and his head dropped upon the Death-Angel’s shoulder. But in her battle for the child, Persis catched at the chain about the child’s neck, and the chain brake and remained in her hand, and upon the chain was the little cross of fair alabaster which an holy man had put there when Theodoric was baptized. So the Death-Angel went his way with that best-beloved lamb, and Persis fell upon her face and wailed.

The years went on and all was well upon these islands. Egbert became a mighty fisherman, and Ib (that was nicknamed the Strong) wrought wondrous things in Norroway, as all men know; Joan was wed to Cuthbert the Dane, and Flocken was wooed of a rich man’s son of Scotland. So were all things for good and for the best, and it was a marvel to all that Persis, the wife of Harold, looked still to be as young and beautiful as when she came from the sea to be her husband’s bride. Her life was full of gentleness and charity, and all folk blessed her. But never in all these years spake she aught to any one of the fair velvet skin; and through all the years that skin lay hid in the hollow of the oak-tree, where the raven croaked and croaked and croaked.

At last upon a time a malady fell upon Persis, and a strange light came into her eyes, and naught they did was of avail to her. One day she called Harold to her, and said: “My beloved, the time draweth near when we twain must part. I pray thee, send for the holy man, for I would fain be baptized in thy faith and in the faith of our children.” So Harold fetched the holy man, and Persis, the daughter of the Pagan king, was baptized, and she spake freely and full sweetly of her love to Jesus Christ, her Saviour, and she prayed to be taken into his rest. And when she was baptized, there was given to her the name of Ruth, which was most fairly done, I trow, for soothly she had been the friend of all.

Then, when the holy man was gone, she said to her husband: “Beloved, I beseech thee go to yonder oak-tree, and bring me from the hollow thereof the fair velvet skin that hath lain therein so many years.”

Then Harold marvelled, and he cried: “Who told thee that the fair velvet skin was hidden there?”

“The raven told me all,” she answered; “and had I been so minded I might have left thee long ago,–thee and our little ones. But I loved thee and them, and the fair velvet skin hath been unseen of me.”

“And wouldst thou leave us now?” he cried. “Nay, it shall not be! Thou shalt not see that fair velvet skin, for this very day will I cast it into the sea!”

But she put an arm about his neck and said: “This night, dear one, we part; but whether we shall presently be joined together in another life I know not, neither canst thou say; for I, having been a Pagan and the daughter of a Pagan king, may by my birth and custom have so grievously offended our true God that even in his compassion and mercy he shall not find pardon for me. Therefore I would have thee fetch–since I shall die this night and do require of thee this last act of kindness–I would have thee fetch that same fair velvet skin from yonder oak-tree, and wrap me therein, and bear me hence, and lay me upon the green holm by the farther haven, for this is dancing night, and the seal-folk shall come from the sea as is their wont. Thou shalt lay me, so wrapped within that fair velvet skin, upon that holm, and thou shalt go a space aside and watch throughout the night, coming not anear me (as thou lovest me!) until the dawn breaks, nor shalt thou make any outcry, but thou shalt wait until the night is sped. Then, when thou comest at daybreak to the holm, if thou findest me in the fair velvet skin thou shalt know that my sin hath been pardoned; but if I be not there thou may’st know that, being a Pagan, the seal-folk have borne me back into the sea unto my kind. Thus do I require of thee; swear so to do, and let thy beloved bless thee.”

So Harold swore to do, and so he did. Straightway he went to the oak-tree and took from the hollow thereof the fair velvet skin; seeing which deed, the raven flew away and was never thereafter seen in these islands. And with a heavy heart, and with full many a caress and word of love, did Harold bind his fair wife in that same velvet skin, and he bore her to his boat, and they went together upon the waters; for he had sworn so to do. His course unto the haven lay as before over the waters that stole in between the two islands from the great troubled sea beyond. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows lay asleep, like little weary children, in the valleys, and the waters moaned, and the winds rebuked the white fingers that stretched up from the waves to clutch them. And when they were come to the inner shore of the haven, Harold took his wife and bore her up the bank and laid her where the light came down from the moon and slept full sweetly upon the fragrant sward. Then, kissing her, he went his way and sat behind the Stennis stones a goodly space beyond, and there he kept his watch, as he had sworn to do.

See also  Robert Burns by Elbert Hubbard

Now wit ye well a grievous heavy watch it was that night, for his heart yearned for that beloved wife that lay that while upon the fair green holm,–ay, never before had night seemed so long to Harold as did that dancing night when he waited for the seal-folk to come where the some-time Pagan princess lay wrapped in the fair velvet skin. But while he watched and waited, Membril, the fairy queen, came and brought others of her kind with her, and they made a circle about Harold, and threw around him such a charm that no evil could befall him from the ghosts and ghouls that in their shrouds walked among those bloody stones and wailed wofully and waved their white arms. For Membril, coming to Harold in the similitude of a glow-worm, made herself known to him, and she said and she sung:

Loving heart, be calm a space
In this gloomy vigil place;
Though these confines haunted be
Naught of harm can come to thee–
Nothing canst thou see or hear
Of the ghosts that stalk anear,
For around thee Membril flings
Charms of Fay and fairy rings.

Nothing daunted was Harold by thoughts of evil monsters, and naught recked he of the uncanny dangers of that haunted place; but he addressed these words to Membril and her host, and he said and he sung:

Tell me if thy piercing eyes
See the inner haven shore.
There my Own Beloved lies,
With the cowslips bending o’er:
Speed, O gentle folk of Fay!
And in guise of cowslips say
I shall love my love for aye!

Even so did Membril and the rest; and presently they returned, and they brought these words unto Harold, saying and singing them:–

We as cowslips in that place
Clustered round thy dear one’s face,
And we whispered to her there
Those same words we went to bear;
And she smiled and bade us then
Bear these words to thee again:
“Die we shall, and part we may,–
Love is love and lives for aye!”

Then of a sudden there was a tumult upon the waters, as if the waters were troubled, and there came up out of the waters a host of seals that made their way to the shore and cast aside their skins and came forth in the forms of men and of women, for they were the drowned folk that were come, as was their wont, to dance in the moonlight upon the fair green holm. At that moment the waters stretched out their white fingers and struck the kale and the pebbles and the soft moss upon the beach, for they sought to make music for the seal-folk to dance thereby; but the music that was made was not merry nor gleeful, but was passing gruesome and mournful. And presently the seal-folk came where lay the wife of Harold wrapped in the fair velvet skin, and they knew her of old, and they called her by what name she was known to them, “Persis! Persis!” over and over again, and there was great wailing among the seal-folk for a mighty space; and the seal-folk danced never at all that night, but wailed about the wife of Harold, and called “Persis! Persis!” over and over again, and made great moan. And at last all was still once more, for the seal-folk, weeping and clamoring grievously, went back into the sea, and the sea sobbed itself to sleep.

Mindful of the oath he swore, Harold dared not go down to that shore, but he besought Membril, the queen of Fay, to fetch him tidings from his beloved, whether she still lay upon the holm, or whether the seal-folk had borne her away with them into the waters of the deep. But Membril might not go, nor any of her host, for already the dawn was in the east and the kine were lowing on yonder slope. So Harold was left alone a tedious time, until the sun looked upon the earth, and then, with clamoring heart, Harold came from the Stennis stones and leapt downward to the holm where his beloved had lain that weary while. Then he saw that the fair velvet skin was still there, and presently he saw that within the skin his beloved still reposed. He called to her, but she made no answer; with exceeding haste he kneeled down and did off the fair velvet skin, and folded his beloved to his breast. The sun shone full upon her glorious face and kissed away the dew that clung to her white cheeks.

“Thou art redeemed, O my beloved!” cried Harold; but her lips spake not, and her eyes opened not upon him. Yet on the dead wife’s face was such a smile as angels wear, and it told him that they should meet again in a love that knoweth no fear of parting. And as Harold held her to his bosom and wailed, there fell down from her hand what she had kept with her to the last, and it lay upon the fair green holm,–the little alabaster cross which she had snatched from Theodoric’s neck that day the Death-Angel bore the child away.

It was to tell of Harold, the son of Egbert, the son of Ib, and of Persis, his wife, daughter of the Pagan king; and it hath been told. And there is no more to tell, for the tale is ended.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *