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   Chapter 5 No.5

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 14176

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Of Wulnoth's Schooling

When Wulnoth opened his eyes again he was in a cool cave, through the entrance of which he could see the green glades of the forest, and there before him sat Wyborga the Wise, while Princess Edgiva played near by with a little wild fawn.

He raised himself on his elbow and glanced around in wonder, hardly able to remember anything of what had gone beside; and Wyborga rose and brought him a cooling drink, saying gently-

"So thou art better, Wulnoth! For many days has thy spirit hovered between life and death, but thou hast turned back, as I knew thou wouldst-for thy work is before thee, and thou must help to do great things."

"What things must I do, O mother?" he asked. And Wyborga took up her favorite symbol again-a little wooden cross-and planted it in the earth.

"So must thou help to plant this in another land, Wulnoth," she said. And he shook his head somewhat impatiently.

"Oh, good mother, I am weary of symbols and dark sayings. Tell me in plain words, for as for thy cross, I can make nothing of it."

"Not yet, Wulnoth. The time is not yet," she said. "But now thou must rest and grow strong, for there is much to do."

"And how went the fight after I was struck down?" he asked. "Methinks there was little fighting left to do."

"All too little," she answered. "Of all in Lethra, the Danes left not one alive saving only a few who escaped to the woods. Thy father and mother, and the King and Queen, and Hald and all the mighty ones have perished, and Lethra is ruin and ashes and desolation to-day. Such is the work of Hungwar and Hubba."

"Make me strong, O mother! make me strong if thou hast any skill!" cried Wulnoth. "For I will follow those pirates to the end of the world, if need be, and I will bring again Guthred, the Prince, from captivity."

"Not yet, Wulnoth. Thou hast much to learn, and Guthred has much to learn, ere ye two meet again, for so I read your lives. Now sleep, and when thou awakest, I will tell thee what there is to be done first."

So Wulnoth slept; and for a day and night and half a second day, he opened not his eyes. But then when he awoke he felt strong again, and he rose and said to Wyborga, who sat in the entrance of the cave-

"Good mother, I am strong, and I thank thee. Didst thou come and search me out?"

"I sent one to do it, Wulnoth," she answered. "One who found thee nigh to death and bore thee hither to me."

"And thou hast cured me! Now, mother, I am, as thou knowest, the watcher of the Princess, and though she has no realm to come to now, methinks she is still my Princess, and I must do my work. But then I am sworn to seek my friend the Prince. Now both I cannot do; therefore give me thy rede and tell me what to do."

"Wulnoth," answered the wise woman, "the Princess is very fair, and as she grows older there will be none so fair." And Wulnoth answered that it was so.

"Moreover, Wulnoth," said Wyborga, "methinks thou dost love her very much." And again he answered-

"She is my Princess, and I would give every drop of my blood for her."

"Ay, truly, and methinks the Princess is fond of thee. Now, thrones and power are small things. How wouldst thou like to give up all such thoughts, Wulnoth, and to abide here, and perchance when Edgiva is maid grown, to take her for thy wife?" and Wyborga looked gravely at Wulnoth.

But Cerdic's son drew himself up, and he answered quickly-

"Now, mother, that is a hard question, for of itself there would be no better thing than to live in peace beneath the green wood with Edgiva for my wife. But this may not be. For think, is it meet for a king's daughter to live her life like savage maiden? and is it right for a thrall, and a thrall's son, to ask a princess to be his mate? And is it meet that I should do this thing, even if I might, and forget my oath to the Prince, her brother? No, mother, this thing may not be."

Then Wyborga smiled and said-

"Thou hast answered well, Wulnoth, and this thing I said but to prove thee. Know if thou hadst yielded still it would never have been. But listen to my words. Thou canst not seek the Prince yet, for thou wilt have far to go, and thou wilt have to go amongst the champions of the earth. Thou must learn much first, Wulnoth, and be patient in thy learning."

Then answered Wulnoth and said, "What must I learn, mother, and who shall be my schoolmaster?"

So Wyborga went to the door and called softly, and a shadow fell before the entrance of the cave, and there entered the wild-looking man who had come to Wulnoth on the day of the battle.

"Wulnoth," he said, "I am Osth the berserker and the giant,"-and truly he was a gigantic man,-"and Wyborga the Wise has bidden me to teach thee if thou wilt be taught; but the time will be long and the work hard, for he who would gain experience must gain it at hard cost, and he who would conquer others must conquer self."

Then said Wulnoth, "For how long must I learn, Osth?" and the berserker replied, "Until thou art perfect."

Then did Edgiva come to Wulnoth and place her arms round his neck, and call him her good Wulnoth, and bid him go; and Wyborga promised that each new moon he should come and see them in the cave. So Wulnoth consented and went away with Osth into the high mountain, along the goats' road, which is hard to climb and weary to walk.

And there in a cave the boy dwelt with the wild man, and he drank no wine nor milk, but only the clear water of the stream. And he ate wild fruit and goat's flesh; and each morning Osth set him to roll great stones up the hill, and as fast as he got them to the top they rolled down again, until at length he cried in anger-

"Of what use is this, Osth? The stones will not remain at the top, and if they did they are no use there," but to that Osth only grunted, and said he that would succeed must labor.

"It shall not be my fault if I do not succeed," thought Wulnoth, and he set to work again, and rolled the stones all day long though he could not see any use in it, until one day the giant said to him-

"Seest thou yon oak tree, Wulnoth? Canst pull off a branch at one wrench?"

"Neither I nor any man could do that," answered Wulnoth; but the berserker said-


So Wulnoth went to the oak, and he took a firm grip on a branch and pulled, and lo, the branch came away.

"Whence have I got this strength?" cried the youth in wonder. And the giant answered, "Rolling stones. Each stone added a little, and each little joined the rest, until thou canst do this. Thou must learn another lesson now."

So Osth set him to leap the precipices and to descend from point to point, until he was as surefooted as the goat, and then one day he bade him strip and wrestle.

Now Wulnoth wrestled hard, but he could not throw the giant, and each time the giant threw him so that he lost heart, and said-

"What use wrestling with thee, O Osth? I shall never conquer thee." But the giant answered with a grunt-

"He who would succeed must labor," and again Wulnoth was silenced.

And one da

y there came a bear, and the giant said, "Canst wrestle with yonder honey-finder, Wulnoth?"

"Nay," said Wulnoth. "Neither can any man." But Osth answered, "Go and try."

So Wulnoth went to the bear, and the honey-finder rose up and opened wide his paws. But Wulnoth took a good grip and squeezed his ribs, and threw him down, so that the honey-finder got up and ran off grunting. And Wulnoth said-

"Whence have I got this cunning?"

"Through being thrown by me," answered Osth. "Thou must learn another lesson now."

And he set him pulling against himself, until at length he could take a bullock by the horns and pull against it, and cast it over the hill, and so, day by day, did the giant make him work until his bones ached and his limbs grew weary, but he grew strong and mighty, and could run all day and not stop, and climb the steepest hill, and leap the widest chasm, and wield a club in either hand, and shatter a rock with every blow; and after each task in which he succeeded the giant laughed and grunted, and said that it was well.

And at every full moon Wulnoth went down to see Wyborga and Edgiva, and it seemed to him that Edgiva grew more and more in grace each time he saw her, until he cried to Wyborga-

"Oh, Wyborga, tell me what this thing does mean! A few months ago and Edgiva was a child, and now she is a woman, and so beautiful that it melts the heart to look at her."

Then did Wyborga laugh and answer-

"The riddle is not hard, Wulnoth. It is thus: For every moon that thou hast been yonder a year has sped. Canst thou not see that thou art a man?"

"I never thought of that, for the giant has kept me so busy," he answered. "I have been seven months with him."

"Seven years," answered Wyborga. "So swiftly has time flown. Thou art twenty-four, and Edgiva is fifteen now."

But then did Wulnoth look wroth, and he said-

"This is all well, mother, but what of my promise? I said that I would seek out my friend, and here I have tarried playing for seven years, and he is a slave. I have somewhat to settle with the sons of Regner, and seven years have been wasted."

"Not wasted," answered Wyborga. "Thou art now fitted for thy work. And now, before thou dost start, go and talk with Edgiva, for she has been learning too, and she now knows the wonder tale of which I spoke, and it has made darkness light, and sorrow has become joy, and weakness strength with her."

So Wulnoth went to Edgiva and said-

"My Princess, Wyborga has sent me to talk with you, that I may hear the story which she says you know. Though before she said that in another land alone I should hear it."

"Wulnoth," answered Edgiva gently, "there is hearing with the ears, and hearing with the heart; and which hearing thine will be I know not yet. But sit down beside me and listen to my story."

So Wulnoth obeyed, and Edgiva told him her story, and it was such a story as he had never thought of. For she told him how the gods of the North were false gods, and how there was but one true God Who made all things. And she told how this God had sent His Son, who was the Lord Christ, and the Bretwalda of all angels; and how men had put Him to death on the cross, and crowned Him with thorns, and how for His love He had suffered and not destroyed them. And she spoke of how His subjects must be lowly and gentle and forgiving and meek, until at last Wulnoth jumped up and cried in impatience-

"What story is this you tell me, O Edgiva the Beautiful? This is a tale for nithings and cowards! What man would stand and be buffeted and spat upon if his hand could grasp a good sword and strike a good blow? I like not the tale, and I like not Wyborga for telling it to thee. The gods of our Northland were men truly, and did heroes' deeds; but as for this Lord of thine, methinks he deserved to die for the nithing and the coward that He was. Put such things away, Edgiva. I go to search for thy brother. I have sworn, and I must fulfil; and thou canst either tarry here, or, if thou wilt come with me, I will be thy servant and thrall."

But Edgiva shook her head. "I want not servant or thrall, Wulnoth," she said. And he asked-

"Then what dost thou want, Edgiva?"

"That I may not tell thee until thine own heart finds out, and thou wilt never truly find out until thou dost hear the wonder tale."

"I have just heard it," answered Wulnoth, "and I have told thee that I like it not. Fit for women and nithings perhaps, but for men and heroes it is an idle story. Edgiva, I must go to seek thy brother."

"That I know, Wulnoth," she said. "May fortune speed thy seeking. Now farewell."

"But what wilt thou do?" he cried. "Wilt thou tarry here with Wyborga?"

"I shall do as my Lord wills," she answered. And at that Wulnoth was angry, for who was this whom Edgiva called Lord? What lover had sought her in the woodlands, he wondered.

He strode away in wrath and pain, but then he thought that after all he had no right to be angry, for he was but a born thrall, and Edgiva was a princess.

Still, in those dark moments he knew that he loved her, and he felt that he must go back and tell her, and beg her to let him be her servant for ever.

So back, through the moonlight, Wulnoth went to the cave and called to Wyborga and to Edgiva, but no answer came. Then he entered and looked around, and no one was there!

He went into the woods and cried aloud, but only the echoes answered, and the night owl cried, and then he sat down and wept, for he thought that indeed Edgiva had gone to her Lord, and that he would see her no more.

And then he went back to the cave, and there was a strange stillness in the place, as though it mourned that Edgiva had gone-as though in going she had taken all life and light with her; and he sat down and wept, and cried her name aloud, and said that he loved her and would surely die now; and then he looked up and he saw Wyborga some way off in the wood, and she called to him and spoke-

"Listen, Wulnoth," she said. "The time for work is now, and you must wander forth to seek for Guthred. As for Edgiva, she has gone where her Lord wills, and some day you will meet her again, when you have fulfilled your task."

"My task!" he cried. "What task is that, Wyborga? To find the Prince?"

"Nay, more than that," she replied. "You have said that the Lord Christ is weakling and nithing. Now, therefore, go and search in the world, and when you have found the strongest and the noblest, and the bravest of all Lords, then know that you will see Edgiva again, and that your task will be nearly done."

"But, Wyborga!" he cried. But she had gone-the darkness of the forest had swallowed her up, and he was alone.

He went back to the giant's cave, but Osth was gone also, and he was alone-alone without a single friend, not knowing whither to go to search for Guthred, nor who might be the bravest and mightiest Lord upon earth.

Now, this is how Wulnoth served seven years with Osth the giant, and this is how he lost Edgiva the Beautiful and Wyborga the Wise.

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