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   Chapter 7 No.7

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 16066

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Of the Coming of Wulnoth to the Danish Sea-kings

For many days did Wulnoth journey southward, for though Lethra was nigh the sea, and the journey over the Westarweg was the shortest road, yet he had no boat in which to sail, and, moreover, the time of the storms was coming, and he knew that to sail alone was to seek for death.

So by land he was forced to go, and the way was long and hard, and many were the times that he felt he would abide where he was, and give up this vain search.

And strange was it that whenever these thoughts came to him, then also came the strange being who was so like himself, and he would cry to Wulnoth to wrestle with him ere he went farther, and only when Wulnoth had wrestled and conquered was he able to go on again.

Many were the adventures which he met with, and many the perils he encountered, yet, still, in spite of all, he went his way over the long, long leagues towards the southern sea, where he must perforce take ship of some kind if he wished to reach the sea-king's land on the other side of the wild Baltic, whereon the storm-king makes his dwelling-place and rides in his flying palace of lightning and tempest.

He made himself a light spear of hard wood, and with this he hunted the wild goats and the forest swine, and took their flesh for his food, and on this and on the wild berries did he live, and for his drink he had the runnels of clear water and nothing else.

By day he journeyed and by night he slept in the hollow trees or in caves, living like a wild man and a berserker, and, moreover, looking like one also, since his face was all grown with a wild beard and his hair hung in tangled masses to his shoulders.

In those dark nights, when the storms raged and the forest groaned beneath the buffets of the blast, evil voices called and made mock, urging him to give up so wild a journey, but in the day time the better voices always answered and encouraged him; and oft in his dreams Edgiva the Beautiful would stand beside him and smile, and beckon him on, whispering to him in tones like the sweet music of the scald's harp-

"Be brave, Wulnoth! Be patient, Wulnoth, for fame, and honor, and love, and that which is better than fame or honor or love await thee in the end."

And when Edgiva stood thus, it ever seemed that she ever held that little cross of wood, bound with grass and wreathed with thorn spray, which Wyborga the Wise had fashioned in the days long past.

So through the forests and across the mountains and over dreary wastes did Wulnoth go, and of those whom he met his only question was whether he was journeying towards the sea-king's land.

"Thou art going aright," he was answered each time he asked that question. "Thou wilt come to the sea, and there thou must take ship. But beware what thou doest in the sea-king's land, for fierce and cruel are the vikings, and their swords sing loudly."

Once, deep in a wild forest, he met a band of masterless men, who sprang up and seized their weapons and bade him stand, and then demanded his name and business.

"I am nameless, and called the Wanderer," he said fearlessly. "As for my business, that is my own alone, yet this I say, I seek the sea-kings of Denmark."

"Then thou seekest a right jolly company," laughed the robber chief. "Bold and daring are they, and there are no warriors to beat them. Yet I prefer to keep my feet on the dry land and to dwell with my jolly company here in the depths of the forest. Now, Wanderer, thou art a goodly man, and that great sword of thine looks a goodly sword. How sayest thou? Abide with us and be content, and thou shalt have fun and plunder enough and to spare, and hardly a day shall pass but thy sword shall sing its merry song while the red flames burst from the roof. The life of the masterless man may not be so full of adventure, but 't is also less full of peril. Not that I fear peril from the weapons of a stout foeman, but, by Odin, I care little for the thought of being sucked down into the depths of the sea for kraken and other monsters to make a meal of me. Stay with us, thou Wanderer, and be of our company."

But to that Wulnoth made reply that this might not be since he had a task to do, and might not turn from it; and the robber asked him what his task might be.

"I want to seek out the mightiest king and the strongest lord," explained Wulnoth. And the robber laughed.

"Methinks thou hast a hard task before thee, Wanderer," he said. "For yonder in the Danish land, and beyond that in the land of the Saxons, which methinks thou must have come from, and beyond that again in the land of the Franks, thou wilt find many who cry that they are the mightiest and bravest; and yet, by the hammer of the great Thor, they are mighty only because they have the swords and axes and spears of fools who are content to shed their blood that their lords may snatch the gain. Not so do we, where all share alike."

"Methinks, though, that old Lodbrok is truly a mighty man, if the stories that I have heard of him are true," said Wulnoth. And the robber nodded.

"Ay, a mighty man. I know few more so."

"But death is mightier than Lodbrok the dragon-slayer," cried another man. And the captain answered-

"True. To the old viking, Death, all heads must bow at last, for Death is strongest and last of all."

"Death is strongest of all!" mused Wulnoth. "Then did Wyborga mean that if I would find Guthred and win Edgiva I must be ready to die? If that is so, then I need not travel far, for death may be met with everywhere."

"I warn thee of one thing, Wanderer," said one of the robbers. "If thou goest to Lodbrok, the son of Sigurd, beware of his two sons, for they are merciless as the edge of the sword, and fiercer than the flames in war time. By my beard, I had rather keep beyond their reach-the hug of the bear is gentle compared with the hand grasp of Hungwar or Hubba his brother."

"Though Hungwar and Hubba be terrible as the storm god and fiercer than the fire, yet I go on," said Wulnoth stoutly. "My way must be straight as the birds' road, nor may anything turn me aside."

"Then go on and prosper, thou Wanderer of the stout heart," the masterless men answered, "but we abide in the woods and live our merry life."

So Wulnoth, after that he had eaten and rested and warmed himself at the fire around which the robbers sat, their faces glowing red in the flame light, passed on his way, his sword in hand, ready for any dangers that might meet him on the road.

And so he journeyed day by day until he came to a town, and there the people stared at him and asked-

"Who is this stranger with the big sword, who looks wild as a berserker?"

And the lord of the place sent for him, and demanded his business; and when he knew that Wulnoth sought the sea-kings out, he said sternly-

"There be not ropes enough nor trees enough whereon to hang the pirates of Juteland and Denmark, who are the scourge of all honest peoples, and goest thou to join them, stranger? Now methinks that I ought to hang thee rather than let thee go on."

"There may be two sides to that, jarl," answered Wulnoth calmly. "Not while I hold my sword will any one lightly talk of hanging me. Yet this I say, jarl-there may be other reasons why one seeks the sea-kings out. The flames may have burst from the roof and the sword may have sung its song, and there may be a debt to pay, lord jarl; therefore let me go my way."

"And go thou shalt if that is in thy mind," answered the jarl, "though in truth thou must be a bold man if thou art going alone to such a task."

"One may ofttimes accomplish that wherein a score would fail, jarl," was the reply; "therefore again I say let me go in peace, and perchance thou mayst hear a tale one of these days, and in that tale I, the Wanderer, may perchance play a part."

Then the jarl sent him on his way, and at length Wulnoth reached the coast, after many long and weary days of trial; and there before him, dark and vast, the

stormy Baltic heaved, and across that dark water the grim rock-bound shores of Denmark lay.

Now on the rocky shore a village was built, and thither went Wulnoth to ask if he could get ship to Denmark, but not one of those who dwelt there would listen to his words.

"Quite close enough are we to our neighbors," they said. "We have no desire to come nearer if it may be helped, whilst as for the sea, the storms will be sweeping it in a few days now, and we have no wish to become food for the kraken."

"Now," thought Wulnoth to himself, "I am as far off as ever, for this sea I must cross, and yet I cannot get ship to bear me."

And down to the foot of the dark cliffs he went, gazing across the water, and pondering upon how he might cross it; and while he stood there, yet once again there came he who had called himself Wulnoth, and he stood and mocked at him and cried-

"So, Wanderer, thou hast got thus far, and now thou art stopped. Now thou shalt wrestle with me yet once again, and I will carry thee back to the land from which thou hast journeyed and there help thee to make a name for thyself."

Then did Wulnoth utter a cry of anger, and he seized this man whom he before had overthrown, and he said-

"Now am I weary of thy gibing and thy worry, thou who callest thyself by my name, and whom I have already overthrown more than once. Now we will indeed make an end, and if there is no other way, then will I swim this water, but thou shalt swim it with me."

And once again they struggled there on the weed-strewn shore, and this time Wulnoth had easy mastery-for each time they had fought he had grown the stronger and the other had become weaker, and now he soon vanquished him, and he cried-

"Now thou and I will swim together, and if we perish then it is done with."

But to this the other answered, crying in terror-

"Not yet, Wanderer! Not yet! I will show thee a better way."

"And what is that way?" asked Wulnoth. "Speak quickly, for I have no mind to tarry."

Then the other pointed out a spot to Wulnoth, and there two great bears came slyly down to make war against a great monster of the deep-one shaped like a seal but ever so much larger-larger than the largest ox, with huge tusks like unto the horns of a wild bull set in its upper jaw and protruding downwards, and with moustache like a viking lord's on its lip.

"The bears will attack the sea-cow," said the strange man. "Now watch, and when the battle is fierce, take thy sword and slay the bears, and then ask the sea-cow to aid thee."

So Wulnoth watched, full of wonder, and the two bears came down and flung themselves upon the sea-cow who had been sleeping there on the shore, and the mighty animal made a valiant fight and smote hard with its tusks, and the whole air trembled with the bellowings and roarings of the strife. But the bears got one on either side, and Wulnoth saw that the fight was going against the sea-cow and that it would be slain. So he drew his sword and he rushed at the bears, and smote strong strokes, so that one was slain and the other fled, leaving the track of its blood to tell of Wulnoth's strong hand.

Then the sea-cow turned and spoke in deep hoarse tones, and Wulnoth wondered that he could understand its speech, not knowing that Wyborga the Wise had put this into his mind. And the sea-cow said-

"Greeting to thee, O Wanderer, and thanks for the help of thy hand and thy sword, for without that help methinks the bears would have made an end of me. Now, therefore, tell me what is in thine heart, and if it may be I will do it."

So Wulnoth made known his desire to cross the water, and the sea-cow laughed at that.

"It is a light task for me that you have set, Wanderer," it said. "Nor will it take long to fulfil. Now get thee on to my back and hold thee still, and I will do thy behest and carry thee to Denmark."

Then Wulnoth, greatly marvelling, obeyed, and clambered upon the monster's broad back. And the sea-cow beat the waves with her mighty flippers and cleaved her way through the sea, faster than the fastest ship could sail, until the shores of the North faded and the shores of the South grew clear, and then, beating against the wind and making for the land, they saw a long ship with shields along the sides and the raven banner overhead, and Wulnoth knew that it was a vessel of the sea-kings, and he hailed it across the waves.

Now in the ship the rowers sat tugging at the oars and the leaders gathered on the prow and looked across the water, laughing and jesting. A big, fierce, warlike set they were, grizzled in battle and marked with many marks of the war game; and as they talked and laughed, suddenly over the waves rang the sound of a voice, and they stared in fear to see a great man, shaggy as a berserker, with long yellow hair and blue eyes, come speeding towards them upon the back of a sea monster.

"By Thor!" cried one. "'T is surely some warlock come to do us harm. Let us flee."

But another, who was leader of the pirates, answered with a fierce oath and said-

"Warlock or not, I flee not from anything. If the hour of the death-song comes, it comes, therefore round with the ship and let us go to meet this being, who thus calls to us from out the swan bath."

So round came the ship, and near Wulnoth approached, and he cried aloud-

"Greeting to you, viking lords; I come to meet you."

"Greeting to thee, stranger," they answered. "And who art thou who sailest the swan bath in so strange a ship, and what dost thou want with us?"

"I am the Wanderer," answered Wulnoth. "So am I called, for I have wandered far, seeking that which I seek, and I have come to you because ye perchance may know of that which I want."

"By Thor, this is passing strange," muttered the viking lord, whilst the rowers sat open-mouthed and wide-eyed. "'T is strange, and none who have not seen this will believe it." Then he said aloud-

"Tell me, Wanderer, what is it that thou dost seek so straitly?"

"The strongest and mightiest of lords," answered Wulnoth, "and so I have heard Regner Lodbrok called, and hither have I come seeking for him."

"And by the beard of Beorn, thou hast sought a right worthy lord," the viking replied. "For there is none more mighty than old Regner, Sigurd's son. But he is not in his hall now. Four moons ago he sailed to East Anglia and we await his message to join him. But his sons are in the hall, and Hungwar and Hubba are names known to men. Also there is the renowned Guthrun there, awaiting tidings from Regner. To these chiefs of fame thou canst make thy story known if thou desirest. But how comes it that thou ridest the waves in so strange a fashion?"

"Because I could get no man to let me have ship, all fearing to come too nigh your coasts."

"Ay," laughed the vikings, "they know our greetings are somewhat rough. But what of thy steed, Wanderer? Thou hast not told that!"

"The steed I found and rendered some service to, and for my payment he brought me over, as you see. Now shall I come into your ship, or shall I race you across?"

"A race, a race!" cried the vikings, and they bent to their oars, and they stretched the sail, and flew before the wind. But swift though they went, swifter still sped the sea-cow, and when they reached the land, there stood Wulnoth to greet them, and the sea-cow had gone back to the depths.

"Thou hast won the race, Wanderer," they said, "and never did man win in stranger fashion. Yet never mind that now. Come thou with us, and we will lead thee to our lords. And look that thou answer firmly and without fear, and in few words, for Hungwar loveth not long speech nor to be crossed, and the rod and the sword are his only words to any whom he thinks nithing."

"I am well content," answered Wulnoth. "Lead the way." And so to the sea-king's hall he was conducted.

Now, this is how Wulnoth crossed the swans' bath, and how he met the vikings, and was led to the presence of the Danish sea-kings.

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