The marsh king's daughter


Dyndkongens datter

The storks relate to their little ones a great many stories, and they are all about moors and reed banks, and suited to their age and capacity. The youngest of them are quite satisfied with "kribble, krabble," or such nonsense, and think it very grand; but the elder ones want something with a deeper meaning, or at least something about their own family.

We are only acquainted with one of the two longest and oldest stories which the storks relate– it is about Moses, who was exposed by his mother on the banks of the Nile, and was found by the king's daughter, who gave him a good education, and he afterwards became a great man; but where he was buried is still unknown.

Every one knows this story, but not the second; very likely because it is quite an inland story. It has been repeated from mouth to mouth, from one stork-mamma to another, for thousands of years; and each has told it better than the last; and now we mean to tell it better than all.

The first stork pair who related it lived at the time it happened, and had their summer residence on the rafters of the Viking's house, which stood near the wild moorlands of Wendsyssell; that is, to speak more correctly, the great moorheath, high up in the north of Jutland, by the Skjagen peak. This wilderness is still an immense wild heath of marshy ground, about which we can read in the "Official Directory." It is said that in olden times the place was a lake, the ground of which had heaved up from beneath, and now the moorland extends for miles in every direction, and is surrounded by damp meadows, trembling, undulating swamps, and marshy ground covered with turf, on which grow bilberry bushes and stunted trees. Mists are almost always hovering over this region, which, seventy years ago, was overrun with wolves. It may well be called the Wild Moor; and one can easily imagine, with such a wild expanse of marsh and lake, how lonely and dreary it must have been a thousand years ago. Many things may be noticed now that existed then. The reeds grow to the same height, and bear the same kind of long, purple-brown leaves, with their feathery tips. There still stands the birch, with its white bark and its delicate, loosely hanging leaves; and with regard to the living beings who frequented this spot, the fly still wears a gauzy dress of the same cut, and the favorite colors of the stork are white, with black and red for stockings. The people, certainly, in those days, wore very different dresses to those they now wear, but if any of them, be he huntsman or squire, master or servant, ventured on the wavering, undulating, marshy ground of the moor, they met with the same fate a thousand years ago as they would now. The wanderer sank, and went down to the Marsh King, as he is named, who rules in the great moorland empire beneath. They also called him "Gunkel King," but we like the name of "Marsh King" better, and we will give him that name as the storks do. Very little is known of the Marsh King's rule, but that, perhaps, is a good thing.

In the neighborhood of the moorlands, and not far from the great arm of the North Sea and the Cattegat which is called the Lumfjorden, lay the castle of the Viking, with its water-tight stone cellars, its tower, and its three projecting storeys. On the ridge of the roof the stork had built his nest, and there the stork-mamma sat on her eggs and felt sure her hatching would come to something.

One evening, stork-papa stayed out rather late, and when he came home he seemed quite busy, bustling, and important. "I have something very dreadful to tell you," said he to the stork-mamma.

"Keep it to yourself then," she replied. "Remember that I am hatching eggs; it may agitate me, and will affect them."

"You must know it at once," said he. "The daughter of our host in Egypt has arrived here. She has ventured to take this journey, and now she is lost."

"She who sprung from the race of the fairies, is it?" cried the mother stork. "Oh, tell me all about it; you know I cannot bear to be kept waiting at a time when I am hatching eggs."

"Well, you see, mother," he replied, "she believed what the doctors said, and what I have heard you state also, that the moor-flowers which grow about here would heal her sick father; and she has flown to the north in swan's plumage, in company with some other swan-princesses, who come to these parts every year to renew their youth. She came, and where is she now!"

"You enter into particulars too much," said the mamma stork, "and the eggs may take cold; I cannot bear such suspense as this."

"Well," said he, "I have kept watch; and this evening I went among the rushes where I thought the marshy ground would bear me, and while I was there three swans came. Something in their manner of flying seemed to say to me, 'Look carefully now; there is one not all swan, only swan's feathers.' You know, mother, you have the same intuitive feeling that I have; you know whether a thing is right or not immediately."

"Yes, of course," said she; "but tell me about the princess; I am tired of hearing about the swan's feathers."

"Well, you know that in the middle of the moor there is something like a lake," said the stork-papa. "You can see the edge of it if you raise yourself a little. Just there, by the reeds and the green banks, lay the trunk of an elder-tree; upon this the three swans stood flapping their wings, and looking about them; one of them threw off her plumage, and I immediately recognized her as one of the princesses of our home in Egypt. There she sat, without any covering but her long, black hair. I heard her tell the two others to take great care of the swan's plumage, while she dipped down into the water to pluck the flowers which she fancied she saw there. The others nodded, and picked up the feather dress, and took possession of it. I wonder what will become of it? thought I, and she most likely asked herself the same question. If so, she received an answer, a very practical one; for the two swans rose up and flew away with her swan's plumage. 'Dive down now!' they cried; 'thou shalt never more fly in the swan's plumage, thou shalt never again see Egypt; here, on the moor, thou wilt remain.' So saying, they tore the swan's plumage into a thousand pieces, the feathers drifted about like a snow-shower, and then the two deceitful princesses flew away."

"Why, that is terrible," said the stork-mamma; "I feel as if I could hardly bear to hear any more, but you must tell me what happened next."

"The princess wept and lamented aloud; her tears moistened the elder stump, which was really not an elder stump but the Marsh King himself, he who in marshy ground lives and rules. I saw myself how the stump of the tree turned round, and was a tree no more, while long, clammy branches like arms, were extended from it. Then the poor child was terribly frightened, and started up to run away. She hastened to cross the green, slimy ground; but it will not bear any weight, much less hers. She quickly sank, and the elder stump dived immediately after her; in fact, it was he who drew her down. Great black bubbles rose up out of the moor-slime, and with these every trace of the two vanished. And now the princess is buried in the wild marsh, she will never now carry flowers to Egypt to cure her father. It would have broken your heart, mother, had you seen it."

"You ought not to have told me," said she, "at such a time as this; the eggs might suffer. But I think the princess will soon find help; some one will rise up to help her. Ah! if it had been you or I, or one of our people, it would have been all over with us."

"I mean to go every day," said he, "to see if anything comes to pass;" and so he did.

A long time went by, but at last he saw a green stalk shooting up out of the deep, marshy ground. As it reached the surface of the marsh, a leaf spread out, and unfolded itself broader and broader, and close to it came forth a bud.

One morning, when the stork-papa was flying over the stem, he saw that the power of the sun's rays had caused the bud to open, and in the cup of the flower lay a charming child– a little maiden, looking as if she had just come out of a bath. The little one was so like the Egyptian princess, that the stork, at the first moment, thought it must be the princess herself, but after a little reflection he decided that it was much more likely to be the daughter of the princess and the Marsh King; and this explained also her being placed in the cup of a water-lily. "But she cannot be left to lie here," thought the stork, "and in my nest there are already so many. But stay, I have thought of something: the wife of the Viking has no children, and how often she has wished for a little one. People always say the stork brings the little ones; I will do so in earnest this time. I shall fly with the child to the Viking's wife; what rejoicing there will be!"

And then the stork lifted the little girl out of the flower-cup, flew to the castle, picked a hole with his beak in the bladder-covered, window, and laid the beautiful child in the bosom of the Viking's wife. Then he flew back quickly to the stork-mamma and told her what he had seen and done; and the little storks listened to it all, for they were then quite old enough to do so. "So you see," he continued, "that the princess is not dead, for she must have sent her little one up here; and now I have found a home for her."

"Ah, I said it would be so from the first," replied the stork-mamma; "but now think a little of your own family. Our travelling time draws near, and I sometimes feel a little irritation already under the wings. The cuckoos and the nightingale are already gone, and I heard the quails say they should go too as soon as the wind was favorable. Our youngsters will go through all the manoeuvres at the review very well, or I am much mistaken in them."

The Viking's wife was above measure delighted when she awoke the next morning and found the beautiful little child lying in her bosom. She kissed it and caressed it; but it cried terribly, and struck out with its arms and legs, and did not seem to be pleased at all. At last it cried itself to sleep; and as it lay there so still and quiet, it was a most beautiful sight to see. The Viking's wife was so delighted, that body and soul were full of joy. Her heart felt so light within her, that it seemed as if her husband and his soldiers, who were absent, must come home as suddenly and unexpectedly as the little child had done. She and her whole household therefore busied themselves in preparing everything for the reception of her lord. The long, colored tapestry, on which she and her maidens had worked pictures of their idols, Odin, Thor, and Friga, was hung up. The slaves polished the old shields that served as ornaments; cushions were placed on the seats, and dry wood laid on the fireplaces in the centre of the hall, so that the flames might be fanned up at a moment's notice. The Viking's wife herself assisted in the work, so that at night she felt very tired, and quickly fell into a sound sleep. When she awoke, just before morning, she was terribly alarmed to find that the infant had vanished. She sprang from her couch, lighted a pine-chip, and searched all round the room, when, at last, in that part of the bed where her feet had been, lay, not the child, but a great, ugly frog. She was quite disgusted at this sight, and seized a heavy stick to kill the frog; but the creature looked at her with such strange, mournful eyes, that she was unable to strike the blow. Once more she searched round the room; then she started at hearing the frog utter a low, painful croak. She sprang from the couch and opened the window hastily; at the same moment the sun rose, and threw its beams through the window, till it rested on the couch where the great frog lay. Suddenly it appeared as if the frog's broad mouth contracted, and became small and red. The limbs moved and stretched out and extended themselves till they took a beautiful shape; and behold there was the pretty child lying before her, and the ugly frog was gone. "How is this?" she cried, "have I had a wicked dream? Is it not my own lovely cherub that lies there." Then she kissed it and fondled it; but the child struggled and fought, and bit as if she had been a little wild cat.

The Viking did not return on that day, nor the next; he was, however, on the way home; but the wind, so favorable to the storks, was against him; for it blew towards the south. A wind in favor of one is often against another.

After two or three days had passed, it became clear to the Viking's wife how matters stood with the child; it was under the influence of a powerful sorcerer. By day it was charming in appearance as an angel of light, but with a temper wicked and wild; while at night, in the form of an ugly frog, it was quiet and mournful, with eyes full of sorrow. Here were two natures, changing inwardly and outwardly with the absence and return of sunlight. And so it happened that by day the child, with the actual form of its mother, possessed the fierce disposition of its father; at night, on the contrary, its outward appearance plainly showed its descent on the father's side, while inwardly it had the heart and mind of its mother. Who would be able to loosen this wicked charm which the sorcerer had worked upon it? The wife of the Viking lived in constant pain and sorrow about it. Her heart clung to the little creature, but she could not explain to her husband the circumstances in which it was placed. He was expected to return shortly; and were she to tell him, he would very likely, as was the custom at that time, expose the poor child in the public highway, and let any one take it away who would. The good wife of the Viking could not let that happen, and she therefore resolved that the Viking should never see the child excepting by daylight.

One morning there sounded a rushing of storks' wings over the roof. More than a hundred pair of storks had rested there during the night, to recover themselves after their excursion; and now they soared aloft, and prepared for the journey southward.

"All the husbands are here, and ready!" they cried; "wives and children also!"

"How light we are!" screamed the young storks in chorus. "Something pleasant seems creeping over us, even down to our toes, as if we were full of live frogs. Ah, how delightful it is to travel into foreign lands!"

"Hold yourselves properly in the line with us," cried papa and mamma. "Do not use your beaks so much; it tries the lungs." And then the storks flew away.

About the same time sounded the clang of the warriors' trumpets across the heath. The Viking had landed with his men. They were returning home, richly laden with spoil from the Gallic coast, where the people, as did also the inhabitants of Britain, often cried in alarm, "Deliver us from the wild northmen."

Life and noisy pleasure came with them into the castle of the Viking on the moorland. A great cask of mead was drawn into the hall, piles of wood blazed, cattle were slain and served up, that they might feast in reality, The priest who offered the sacrifice sprinkled the devoted parishioners with the warm blood; the fire crackled, and the smoke rolled along beneath the roof; the soot fell upon them from the beams; but they were used to all these things. Guests were invited, and received handsome presents. All wrongs and unfaithfulness were forgotten. They drank deeply, and threw in each other's faces the bones that were left, which was looked upon as a sign of good feeling amongst them. A bard, who was a kind of musician as well as warrior, and who had been with the Viking in his expedition, and knew what to sing about, gave them one of his best songs, in which they heard all their warlike deeds praised, and every wonderful action brought forward with honor. Every verse ended with this refrain,–

"Gold and possessions will flee away,
Friends and foes must die one day;
Every man on earth must die,
But a famous name will never die."

And with that they beat upon their shields, and hammered upon the table with knives and bones, in a most outrageous manner.

The Viking's wife sat upon a raised cross seat in the open hall. She wore a silk dress, golden bracelets, and large amber beads. She was in costly attire, and the bard named her in his song, and spoke of the rich treasure of gold which she had brought to her husband. Her husband had already seen the wonderfully beautiful child in the daytime, and was delighted with her beauty; even her wild ways pleased him. He said the little maiden would grow up to be a heroine, with the strong will and determination of a man. She would never wink her eyes, even if, in joke, an expert hand should attempt to cut off her eye-brows with a sharp sword.

The full cask of mead soon became empty, and a fresh one was brought in; for these were people who liked plenty to eat and drink. The old proverb, which every one knows, says that "the cattle know when to leave their pasture, but a foolish man knows not the measure of his own appetite." Yes, they all knew this; but men may know what is right, and yet often do wrong. They also knew "that even the welcome guest becomes wearisome when he sits too long in the house." But there they remained; for pork and mead are good things. And so at the Viking's house they stayed, and enjoyed themselves; and at night the bondmen slept in the ashes, and dipped their fingers in the fat, and licked them. Oh, it was a delightful time!

Once more in the same year the Viking went forth, though the storms of autumn had already commenced to roar. He went with his warriors to the coast of Britain; he said that it was but an excursion of pleasure across the water, so his wife remained at home with the little girl. After a while, it is quite certain the foster-mother began to love the poor frog, with its gentle eyes and its deep sighs, even better than the little beauty who bit and fought with all around her.

The heavy, damp mists of autumn, which destroy the leaves of the wood, had already fallen upon forest and heath. Feathers of plucked birds, as they call the snow, flew about in thick showers, and winter was coming. The sparrows took possession of the stork's nest, and conversed about the absent owners in their own fashion; and they, the stork pair and all their young ones, where were they staying now? The storks might have been found in the land of Egypt, where the sun's rays shone forth bright and warm, as it does here at midsummer. Tamarinds and acacias were in full bloom all over the country, the crescent of Mahomet glittered brightly from the cupolas of the mosques, and on the slender pinnacles sat many of the storks, resting after their long journey. Swarms of them took divided possession of the nests– nests which lay close to each other between the venerable columns, and crowded the arches of temples in forgotten cities. The date and the palm lifted themselves as a screen or as a sun-shade over them. The gray pyramids looked like broken shadows in the clear air and the far-off desert, where the ostrich wheels his rapid flight, and the lion, with his subtle eyes, gazes at the marble sphinx which lies half buried in sand. The waters of the Nile had retreated, and the whole bed of the river was covered with frogs, which was a most acceptable prospect for the stork families. The young storks thought their eyes deceived them, everything around appeared so beautiful.

"It is always like this here, and this is how we live in our warm country," said the stork-mamma; and the thought made the young ones almost beside themselves with pleasure.

"Is there anything more to see?" they asked; "are we going farther into the country?"

"There is nothing further for us to see," answered the stork-mamma. "Beyond this delightful region there are immense forests, where the branches of the trees entwine round each other, while prickly, creeping plants cover the paths, and only an elephant could force a passage for himself with his great feet. The snakes are too large, and the lizards too lively for us to catch. Then there is the desert; if you went there, your eyes would soon be full of sand with the lightest breeze, and if it should blow great guns, you would most likely find yourself in a sand-drift. Here is the best place for you, where there are frogs and locusts; here I shall remain, and so must you." And so they stayed.

The parents sat in the nest on the slender minaret, and rested, yet still were busily employed in cleaning and smoothing their feathers, and in sharpening their beaks against their red stockings; then they would stretch out their necks, salute each other, and gravely raise their heads with the high-polished forehead, and soft, smooth feathers, while their brown eyes shone with intelligence. The female young ones strutted about amid the moist rushes, glancing at the other young storks and making acquaintances, and swallowing a frog at every third step, or tossing a little snake about with their beaks, in a way they considered very becoming, and besides it tasted very good. The young male storks soon began to quarrel; they struck at each other with their wings, and pecked with their beaks till the blood came. And in this manner many of the young ladies and gentlemen were betrothed to each other: it was, of course, what they wanted, and indeed what they lived for. Then they returned to a nest, and there the quarrelling began afresh; for in hot countries people are almost all violent and passionate. But for all that it was pleasant, especially for the old people, who watched them with great joy: all that their young ones did suited them. Every day here there was sunshine, plenty to eat, and nothing to think of but pleasure. But in the rich castle of their Egyptian host, as they called him, pleasure was not to be found. The rich and mighty lord of the castle lay on his couch, in the midst of the great hall, with its many colored walls looking like the centre of a great tulip; but he was stiff and powerless in all his limbs, and lay stretched out like a mummy. His family and servants stood round him; he was not dead, although he could scarcely be said to live. The healing moor-flower from the north, which was to have been found and brought to him by her who loved him so well, had not arrived. His young and beautiful daughter who, in swan's plumage, had flown over land and seas to the distant north, had never returned. She is dead, so the two swan-maidens had said when they came home; and they made up quite a story about her, and this is what they told,–

"We three flew away together through the air," said they: "a hunter caught sight of us, and shot at us with an arrow. The arrow struck our young friend and sister, and slowly singing her farewell song she sank down, a dying swan, into the forest lake. On the shores of the lake, under a spreading birch-tree, we laid her in the cold earth. We had our revenge; we bound fire under the wings of a swallow, who had a nest on the thatched roof of the huntsman. The house took fire, and burst into flames; the hunter was burnt with the house, and the light was reflected over the sea as far as the spreading birch, beneath which we laid her sleeping dust. She will never return to the land of Egypt." And then they both wept. And stork-papa, who heard the story, snapped with his beak so that it might be heard a long way off.

"Deceit and lies!" cried he; "I should like to run my beak deep into their chests."

"And perhaps break it off," said the mamma stork, "then what a sight you would be. Think first of yourself, and then of your family; all others are nothing to us."

"Yes, I know," said the stork-papa; "but to-morrow I can easily place myself on the edge of the open cupola, when the learned and wise men assemble to consult on the state of the sick man; perhaps they may come a little nearer to the truth." And the learned and wise men assembled together, and talked a great deal on every point; but the stork could make no sense out of anything they said; neither were there any good results from their consultations, either for the sick man, or for his daughter in the marshy heath. When we listen to what people say in this world, we shall hear a great deal; but it is an advantage to know what has been said and done before, when we listen to a conversation. The stork did, and we know at least as much as he, the stork.

"Love is a life-giver. The highest love produces the highest life. Only through love can the sick man be cured." This had been said by many, and even the learned men acknowledged that it was a wise saying.

"What a beautiful thought!" exclaimed the papa stork immediately.

"I don't quite understand it," said the mamma stork, when her husband repeated it; "however, it is not my fault, but the fault of the thought; whatever it may be, I have something else to think of."

Now the learned men had spoken also of love between this one and that one; of the difference of the love which we have for our neighbor, to the love that exists between parents and children; of the love of the plant for the light, and how the germ springs forth when the sunbeam kisses the ground. All these things were so elaborately and learnedly explained, that it was impossible for stork-papa to follow it, much less to talk about it. His thoughts on the subject quite weighed him down; he stood the whole of the following day on one leg, with half-shut eyes, thinking deeply. So much learning was quite a heavy weight for him to carry. One thing, however, the papa stork could understand. Every one, high and low, had from their inmost hearts expressed their opinion that it was a great misfortune for so many thousands of people– the whole country indeed– to have this man so sick, with no hopes of his recovery. And what joy and blessing it would spread around if he could by any means be cured! But where bloomed the flower that could bring him health? They had searched for it everywhere; in learned writings, in the shining stars, in the weather and wind. Inquiries had been made in every by-way that could be thought of, until at last the wise and learned men has asserted, as we have been already told, that "love, the life-giver, could alone give new life to a father;" and in saying this, they had overdone it, and said more than they understood themselves. They repeated it, and wrote it down as a recipe, "Love is a life-giver." But how could such a recipe be prepared– that was a difficulty they could not overcome. At last it was decided that help could only come from the princess herself, whose whole soul was wrapped up in her father, especially as a plan had been adopted by her to enable her to obtain a remedy.

More than a year had passed since the princess had set out at night, when the light of the young moon was soon lost beneath the horizon. She had gone to the marble sphinx in the desert, shaking the sand from her sandals, and then passed through the long passage, which leads to the centre of one of the great pyramids, where the mighty kings of antiquity, surrounded with pomp and splendor, lie veiled in the form of mummies. She had been told by the wise men, that if she laid her head on the breast of one of them, from the head she would learn where to find life and recovery for her father. She had performed all this, and in a dream had learnt that she must bring home to her father the lotus flower, which grows in the deep sea, near the moors and heath in the Danish land. The very place and situation had been pointed out to her, and she was told that the flower would restore her father to health and strength. And, therefore, she had gone forth from the land of Egypt, flying over to the open marsh and the wild moor in the plumage of a swan.

The papa and mamma storks knew all this, and we also know it now. We know, too, that the Marsh King has drawn her down to himself, and that to the loved ones at home she is forever dead. One of the wisest of them said, as the stork-mamma also said, "That in some way she would, after all, manage to succeed;" and so at last they comforted themselves with this hope, and would wait patiently; in fact, they could do nothing better.

"I should like to get away the swan's feathers from those two treacherous princesses," said the papa stork; "then, at least, they would not be able to fly over again to the wild moor, and do more wickedness. I can hide the two suits of feathers over yonder, till we find some use for them."

"But where will you put them?" asked the mamma stork.

"In our nest on the moor. I and the young ones will carry them by turns during our flight across; and as we return, should they prove too heavy for us, we shall be sure to find plenty of places on the way in which we can conceal them till our next journey. Certainly one suit of swan's feathers would be enough for the princess, but two are always better. In those northern countries no one can have too many travelling wrappers."

"No one will thank you for it," said stork-mamma; "but you are master; and, excepting at breeding time, I have nothing to say."

In the Viking's castle on the wild moor, to which the storks directed their flight in the following spring, the little maiden still remained. They had named her Helga, which was rather too soft a name for a child with a temper like hers, although her form was still beautiful. Every month this temper showed itself in sharper outlines; and in the course of years, while the storks still made the same journeys in autumn to the hill, and in spring to the moors, the child grew to be almost a woman, and before any one seemed aware of it, she was a wonderfully beautiful maiden of sixteen. The casket was splendid, but the contents were worthless. She was, indeed, wild and savage even in those hard, uncultivated times. It was a pleasure to her to splash about with her white hands in the warm blood of the horse which had been slain for sacrifice. In one of her wild moods she bit off the head of the black cock, which the priest was about to slay for the sacrifice. To her foster-father she said one day, "If thine enemy were to pull down thine house about thy ears, and thou shouldest be sleeping in unconscious security, I would not wake thee; even if I had the power I would never do it, for my ears still tingle with the blow that thou gavest me years ago. I have never forgotten it." But the Viking treated her words as a joke; he was, like every one else, bewitched with her beauty, and knew nothing of the change in the form and temper of Helga at night. Without a saddle, she would sit on a horse as if she were a part of it, while it rushed along at full speed; nor would she spring from its back, even when it quarrelled with other horses and bit them. She would often leap from the high shore into the sea with all her clothes on, and swim to meet the Viking, when his boat was steering home towards the shore. She once cut off a long lock of her beautiful hair, and twisted it into a string for her bow. "If a thing is to be done well," said she, "I must do it myself."

The Viking's wife was, for the time in which she lived, a woman of strong character and will; but, compared to her daughter, she was a gentle, timid woman, and she knew that a wicked sorcerer had the terrible child in his power. It was sometimes as if Helga acted from sheer wickedness; for often when her mother stood on the threshold of the door, or stepped into the yard, she would seat herself on the brink of the well, wave her arms and legs in the air, and suddenly fall right in. Here she was able, from her frog nature, to dip and dive about in the water of the deep well, until at last she would climb forth like a cat, and come back into the hall dripping with water, so that the green leaves that were strewed on the floor were whirled round, and carried away by the streams that flowed from her.

But there was one time of the day which placed a check upon Helga. It was the evening twilight; when this hour arrived she became quiet and thoughtful, and allowed herself to be advised and led; then also a secret feeling seemed to draw her towards her mother. And as usual, when the sun set, and the transformation took place, both in body and mind, inwards and outwards, she would remain quiet and mournful, with her form shrunk together in the shape of a frog. Her body was much larger than those animals ever are, and on this account it was much more hideous in appearance; for she looked like a wretched dwarf, with a frog's head, and webbed fingers. Her eyes had a most piteous expression; she was without a voice, excepting a hollow, croaking sound, like the smothered sobs of a dreaming child.

Then the Viking's wife took her on her lap, and forgot the ugly form, as she looked into the mournful eyes, and often said, "I could wish that thou wouldst always remain my dumb frog child, for thou art too terrible when thou art clothed in a form of beauty." And the Viking woman wrote Runic characters against sorcery and spells of sickness, and threw them over the wretched child; but they did no good.

"One can scarcely believe that she was ever small enough to lie in the cup of the water-lily," said the papa stork; "and now she is grown up, and the image of her Egyptian mother, especially about the eyes. Ah, we shall never see her again; perhaps she has not discovered how to help herself, as you and the wise men said she would. Year after year have I flown across and across the moor, but there was no sign of her being still alive. Yes, and I may as well tell you that you that each year, when I arrived a few days before you to repair the nest, and put everything in its place, I have spent a whole night flying here and there over the marshy lake, as if I had been an owl or a bat, but all to no purpose. The two suit of swan's plumage, which I and the young ones dragged over here from the land of the Nile, are of no use; trouble enough it was to us to bring them here in three journeys, and now they are lying at the bottom of the nest; and if a fire should happen to break out, and the wooden house be burnt down, they would be destroyed."

"And our good nest would be destroyed, too," said the mamma stork; "but you think less of that than of your plumage stuff and your moor-princess. Go and stay with her in the marsh if you like. You are a bad father to your own children, as I have told you already, when I hatched my first brood. I only hope neither we nor our children may have an arrow sent through our wings, owing to that wild girl. Helga does not know in the least what she is about. We have lived in this house longer than she has, she should think of that, and we have never forgotten our duty. We have paid every year our toll of a feather, an egg, and a young one, as it is only right we should do. You don't suppose I can wander about the court-yard, or go everywhere as I used to do in old times. I can do it in Egypt, where I can be a companion of the people, without forgetting myself. But here I cannot go and peep into the pots and kettles as I do there. No, I can only sit up here and feel angry with that girl, the little wretch; and I am angry with you, too; you should have left her lying in the water lily, then no one would have known anything about her."

"You are far better than your conversation," said the papa stork; "I know you better than you know yourself." And with that he gave a hop, and flapped his wings twice, proudly; then he stretched his neck and flew, or rather soared away, without moving his outspread wings. He went on for some distance, and then he gave a great flap with his wings and flew on his course at a rapid rate, his head and neck bending proudly before him, while the sun's rays fell on his glossy plumage.

"He is the handsomest of them all," said the mamma stork, as she watched him; "but I won't tell him so."

Early in the autumn, the Viking again returned home laden with spoil, and bringing prisoners with him. Among them was a young Christian priest, one of those who contemned the gods of the north. Often lately there had been, both in hall and chamber, a talk of the new faith which was spreading far and wide in the south, and which, through the means of the holy Ansgarius, had already reached as far as Hedeby on the Schlei. Even Helga had heard of this belief in the teachings of One who was named Christ, and who for the love of mankind, and for their redemption, had given up His life. But to her all this had, as it were, gone in one ear and out the other. It seemed that she only understood the meaning of the word "love," when in the form of a miserable frog she crouched together in the corner of the sleeping chamber; but the Viking's wife had listened to the wonderful story, and had felt herself strangely moved by it.

On their return, after this voyage, the men spoke of the beautiful temples built of polished stone, which had been raised for the public worship of this holy love. Some vessels, curiously formed of massive gold, had been brought home among the booty. There was a peculiar fragrance about them all, for they were incense vessels, which had been swung before the altars in the temples by the Christian priests. In the deep stony cellars of the castle, the young Christian priest was immured, and his hands and feet tied together with strips of bark. The Viking's wife considered him as beautiful as Baldur, and his distress raised her pity; but Helga said he ought to have ropes fastened to his heels, and be tied to the tails of wild animals.

"I would let the dogs loose after him" she said; "over the moor and across the heath. Hurrah! that would be a spectacle for the gods, and better still to follow in its course."

But the Viking would not allow him to die such a death as that, especially as he was the disowned and despiser of the high gods. In a few days, he had decided to have him offered as a sacrifice on the blood-stone in the grove. For the first time, a man was to be sacrificed here. Helga begged to be allowed to sprinkle the assembled people with the blood of the priest. She sharpened her glittering knife; and when one of the great, savage dogs, who were running about the Viking's castle in great numbers, sprang towards her, she thrust the knife into his side, merely, as she said, to prove its sharpness.

The Viking's wife looked at the wild, badly disposed girl, with great sorrow; and when night came on, and her daughter's beautiful form and disposition were changed, she spoke in eloquent words to Helga of the sorrow and deep grief that was in her heart. The ugly frog, in its monstrous shape, stood before her, and raised its brown mournful eyes to her face, listening to her words, and seeming to understand them with the intelligence of a human being.

"Never once to my lord and husband has a word passed my lips of what I have to suffer through you; my heart is full of grief about you," said the Viking's wife. "The love of a mother is greater and more powerful than I ever imagined. But love never entered thy heart; it is cold and clammy, like the plants on the moor."

Then the miserable form trembled; it was as if these words had touched an invisible bond between body and soul, for great tears stood in the eyes.

"A bitter time will come for thee at last," continued the Viking's wife; "and it will be terrible for me too. It had been better for thee if thou hadst been left on the high-road, with the cold night wind to lull thee to sleep." And the Viking's wife shed bitter tears, and went away in anger and sorrow, passing under the partition of furs, which hung loose over the beam and divided the hall.

The shrivelled frog still sat in the corner alone. Deep silence reigned around. At intervals, a half-stifled sigh was heard from its inmost soul; it was the soul of Helga. It seemed in pain, as if a new life were arising in her heart. Then she took a step forward and listened; then stepped again forward, and seized with her clumsy hands the heavy bar which was laid across the door. Gently, and with much trouble, she pushed back the bar, as silently lifted the latch, and then took up the glimmering lamp which stood in the ante-chamber of the hall. It seemed as if a stronger will than her own gave her strength. She removed the iron bolt from the closed cellar-door, and slipped in to the prisoner. He was slumbering. She touched him with her cold, moist hand, and as he awoke and caught sight of the hideous form, he shuddered as if he beheld a wicked apparition. She drew her knife, cut through the bonds which confined his hands and feet, and beckoned to him to follow her. He uttered some holy names and made the sign of the cross, while the form remained motionless by his side.

"Who art thou?" he asked, "whose outward appearance is that of an animal, while thou willingly performest acts of mercy?"

The frog-figure beckoned to him to follow her, and led him through a long gallery concealed by hanging drapery to the stables, and then pointed to a horse. He mounted upon it, and she sprang up also before him, and held tightly by the animal's mane. The prisoner understood her, and they rode on at a rapid trot, by a road which he would never have found by himself, across the open heath. He forgot her ugly form, and only thought how the mercy and loving-kindness of the Almighty was acting through this hideous apparition. As he offered pious prayers and sang holy songs of praise, she trembled. Was it the effect of prayer and praise that caused this? or, was she shuddering in the cold morning air at the thought of approaching twilight? What were her feelings? She raised herself up, and wanted to stop the horse and spring off, but the Christian priest held her back with all his might, and then sang a pious song, as if this could loosen the wicked charm that had changed her into the semblance of a frog.

And the horse galloped on more wildly than before. The sky painted itself red, the first sunbeam pierced through the clouds, and in the clear flood of sunlight the frog became changed. It was Helga again, young and beautiful, but with a wicked demoniac spirit. He held now a beautiful young woman in his arms, and he was horrified at the sight. He stopped the horse, and sprang from its back. He imagined that some new sorcery was at work. But Helga also leaped from the horse and stood on the ground. The child's short garment reached only to her knee. She snatched the sharp knife from her girdle, and rushed like lightning at the astonished priest. "Let me get at thee!" she cried; "let me get at thee, that I may plunge this knife into thy body. Thou art pale as ashes, thou beardless slave." She pressed in upon him. They struggled with each other in heavy combat, but it was as if an invisible power had been given to the Christian in the struggle. He held her fast, and the old oak under which they stood seemed to help him, for the loosened roots on the ground became entangled in the maiden's feet, and held them fast. Close by rose a bubbling spring, and he sprinkled Helga's face and neck with the water, commanded the unclean spirit to come forth, and pronounced upon her a Christian blessing. But the water of faith has no power unless the well-spring of faith flows within. And yet even here its power was shown; something more than the mere strength of a man opposed itself, through his means, against the evil which struggled within her. His holy action seemed to overpower her. She dropped her arms, glanced at him with pale cheeks and looks of amazement. He appeared to her a mighty magician skilled in secret arts; his language was the darkest magic to her, and the movements of his hands in the air were as the secret signs of a magician's wand. She would not have blinked had he waved over her head a sharp knife or a glittering axe; but she shrunk from him as he signed her with the sign of the cross on her forehead and breast, and sat before him like a tame bird, with her head bowed down. Then he spoke to her, in gentle words, of the deed of love she had performed for him during the night, when she had come to him in the form of an ugly frog, to loosen his bonds, and to lead him forth to life and light; and he told her that she was bound in closer fetters than he had been, and that she could recover also life and light by his means. He would take her to Hedeby to St. Ansgarius, and there, in that Christian town, the spell of the sorcerer would be removed. But he would not let her sit before him on the horse, though of her own free will she wished to do so. "Thou must sit behind me, not before me," said he. "Thy magic beauty has a magic power which comes from an evil origin, and I fear it; still I am sure to overcome through my faith in Christ." Then he knelt down, and prayed with pious fervor. It was as if the quiet woodland were a holy church consecrated by his worship. The birds sang as if they were also of this new congregation; and the fragrance of the wild flowers was as the ambrosial perfume of incense; while, above all, sounded the words of Scripture, "A light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace." And he spoke these words with the deep longing of his whole nature.

Meanwhile, the horse that had carried them in wild career stood quietly by, plucking at the tall bramble-bushes, till the ripe young berries fell down upon Helga's hands, as if inviting her to eat. Patiently she allowed herself to be lifted on the horse, and sat there like a somnambulist– as one who walked in his sleep. The Christian bound two branches together with bark, in the form of a cross, and held it on high as they rode through the forest. The way gradually grew thicker of brushwood, as they rode along, till at last it became a trackless wilderness. Bushes of the wild sloe here and there blocked up the path, so that they had to ride over them. The bubbling spring formed not a stream, but a marsh, round which also they were obliged to guide the horse; still there were strength and refreshment in the cool forest breeze, and no trifling power in the gentle words spoken in faith and Christian love by the young priest, whose inmost heart yearned to lead this poor lost one into the way of light and life. It is said that rain-drops can make a hollow in the hardest stone, and the waves of the sea can smooth and round the rough edges of the rocks; so did the dew of mercy fall upon Helga, softening what was hard, and smoothing what was rough in her character. These effects did not yet appear; she was not herself aware of them; neither does the seed in the lap of earth know, when the refreshing dew and the warm sunbeams fall upon it, that it contains within itself power by which it will flourish and bloom. The song of the mother sinks into the heart of the child, and the little one prattles the words after her, without understanding their meaning; but after a time the thoughts expand, and what has been heard in childhood seems to the mind clear and bright. So now the "Word," which is all-powerful to create, was working in the heart of Helga.

They rode forth from the thick forest, crossed the heath, and again entered a pathless wood. Here, towards evening, they met with robbers.

"Where hast thou stolen that beauteous maiden?" cried the robbers, seizing the horse by the bridle, and dragging the two riders from its back.

The priest had nothing to defend himself with, but the knife he had taken from Helga, and with this he struck out right and left. One of the robbers raised his axe against him; but the young priest sprang on one side, and avoided the blow, which fell with great force on the horse's neck, so that the blood gushed forth, and the animal sunk to the ground. Then Helga seemed suddenly to awake from her long, deep reverie; she threw herself hastily upon the dying animal. The priest placed himself before her, to defend and shelter her; but one of the robbers swung his iron axe against the Christian's head with such force that it was dashed to pieces, the blood and brains were scattered about, and he fell dead upon the ground. Then the robbers seized beautiful Helga by her white arms and slender waist; but at that moment the sun went down, and as its last ray disappeared, she was changed into the form of a frog. A greenish white mouth spread half over her face; her arms became thin and slimy; while broad hands, with webbed fingers, spread themselves out like fans. Then the robbers, in terror, let her go, and she stood among them, a hideous monster; and as is the nature of frogs to do, she hopped up as high as her own size, and disappeared in the thicket. Then the robbers knew that this must be the work of an evil spirit or some secret sorcery, and, in a terrible fright, they ran hastily from the spot.

The full moon had already risen, and was shining in all her radiant splendor over the earth, when from the thicket, in the form of a frog, crept poor Helga. She stood still by the corpse of the Christian priest, and the carcase of the dead horse. She looked at them with eyes that seemed to weep, and from the frog's head came forth a croaking sound, as when a child bursts into tears. She threw herself first upon one, and then upon the other; brought water in her hand, which, from being webbed, was large and hollow, and poured it over them; but they were dead, and dead they would remain. She understood that at last. Soon wild animals would come and tear their dead bodies; but no, that must not happen. Then she dug up the earth, as deep as she was able, that she might prepare a grave for them. She had nothing but a branch of a tree and her two hands, between the fingers of which the webbed skin stretched, and they were torn by the work, while the blood ran down her hands. She saw at last that her work would be useless, more than she could accomplish; so she fetched more water, and washed the face of the dead, and then covered it with fresh green leaves; she also brought large boughs and spread over him, and scattered dried leaves between the branches. Then she brought the heaviest stones that she could carry, and laid them over the dead body, filling up the crevices with moss, till she thought she had fenced in his resting-place strongly enough. The difficult task had employed her the whole night; and as the sun broke forth, there stood the beautiful Helga in all her loveliness, with her bleeding hands, and, for the first time, with tears on her maiden cheeks. It was, in this transformation, as if two natures were striving together within her; her whole frame trembled, and she looked around her as if she had just awoke from a painful dream. She leaned for support against the trunk of a slender tree, and at last climbed to the topmost branches, like a cat, and seated herself firmly upon them. She remained there the whole day, sitting alone, like a frightened squirrel, in the silent solitude of the wood, where the rest and stillness is as the calm of death.

Butterflies fluttered around her, and close by were several ant-hills, each with its hundreds of busy little creatures moving quickly to and fro. In the air, danced myriads of gnats, swarm upon swarm, troops of buzzing flies, ladybirds, dragon-flies with golden wings, and other little winged creatures. The worm crawled forth from the moist ground, and the moles crept out; but, excepting these, all around had the stillness of death: but when people say this, they do not quite understand themselves what they mean. None noticed Helga but a flock of magpies, which flew chattering round the top of the tree on which she sat. These birds hopped close to her on the branches with bold curiosity. A glance from her eyes was a signal to frighten them away, and they were not clever enough to find out who she was; indeed she hardly knew herself.

When the sun was near setting, and the evening's twilight about to commence, the approaching transformation aroused her to fresh exertion. She let herself down gently from the tree, and, as the last sunbeam vanished, she stood again in the wrinkled form of a frog, with the torn, webbed skin on her hands, but her eyes now gleamed with more radiant beauty than they had ever possessed in her most beautiful form of loveliness; they were now pure, mild maidenly eyes that shone forth in the face of a frog. They showed the existence of deep feeling and a human heart, and the beauteous eyes overflowed with tears, weeping precious drops that lightened the heart.

On the raised mound which she had made as a grave for the dead priest, she found the cross made of the branches of a tree, the last work of him who now lay dead and cold beneath it. A sudden thought came to Helga, and she lifted up the cross and planted it upon the grave, between the stones that covered him and the dead horse. The sad recollection brought the tears to her eyes, and in this gentle spirit she traced the same sign in the sand round the grave; and as she formed, with both her hands, the sign of the cross, the web skin fell from them like a torn glove. She washed her hands in the water of the spring, and gazed with astonishment at their delicate whiteness. Again she made the holy sign in the air, between herself and the dead man; her lips trembled, her tongue moved, and the name which she in her ride through the forest had so often heard spoken, rose to her lips, and she uttered the words, "Jesus Christ." Then the frog skin fell from her; she was once more a lovely maiden. Her head bent wearily, her tired limbs required rest, and then she slept.

Her sleep, however, was short. Towards midnight, she awoke; before her stood the dead horse, prancing and full of life, which shone forth from his eyes and from his wounded neck. Close by his side appeared the murdered Christian priest, more beautiful than Baldur, as the Viking's wife had said; but now he came as if in a flame of fire. Such gravity, such stern justice, such a piercing glance shone from his large, gentle eyes, that it seemed to penetrate into every corner of her heart. Beautiful Helga trembled at the look, and her memory returned with a power as if it had been the day of judgment. Every good deed that had been done for her, every loving word that had been said, were vividly before her mind. She understood now that love had kept her here during the day of her trial; while the creature formed of dust and clay, soul and spirit, had wrestled and struggled with evil. She acknowledged that she had only followed the impulses of an evil disposition, that she had done nothing to cure herself; everything had been given her, and all had happened as it were by the ordination of Providence. She bowed herself humbly, confessed her great imperfections in the sight of Him who can read every fault of the heart, and then the priest spoke. "Daughter of the moorland, thou hast come from the swamp and the marshy earth, but from this thou shalt arise. The sunlight shining into thy inmost soul proves the origin from which thou hast really sprung, and has restored the body to its natural form. I am come to thee from the land of the dead, and thou also must pass through the valley to reach the holy mountains where mercy and perfection dwell. I cannot lead thee to Hedeby that thou mayst receive Christian baptism, for first thou must remove the thick veil with which the waters of the moorland are shrouded, and bring forth from its depths the living author of thy being and thy life. Till this is done, thou canst not receive consecration."

Then he lifted her on the horse and gave her a golden censer, similar to those she had already seen at the Viking's house. A sweet perfume arose from it, while the open wound in the forehead of the slain priest, shone with the rays of a diamond. He took the cross from the grave, and held it aloft, and now they rode through the air over the rustling trees, over the hills where warriors lay buried each by his dead war-horse; and the brazen monumental figures rose up and galloped forth, and stationed themselves on the summits of the hills. The golden crescent on their foreheads, fastened with golden knots, glittered in the moonlight, and their mantles floated in the wind. The dragon, that guards buried treasure, lifted his head and gazed after them. The goblins and the satyrs peeped out from beneath the hills, and flitted to and fro in the fields, waving blue, red, and green torches, like the glowing sparks in burning paper. Over woodland and heath, flood and fen, they flew on, till they reached the wild moor, over which they hovered in broad circles. The Christian priest held the cross aloft, and it glittered like gold, while from his lips sounded pious prayers. Beautiful Helga's voice joined with his in the hymns he sung, as a child joins in her mother's song. She swung the censer, and a wonderful fragrance of incense arose from it; so powerful, that the reeds and rushes of the moor burst forth into blossom. Each germ came forth from the deep ground: all that had life raised itself. Blooming water-lilies spread themselves forth like a carpet of wrought flowers, and upon them lay a slumbering woman, young and beautiful. Helga fancied that it was her own image she saw reflected in the still water. But it was her mother she beheld, the wife of the Marsh King, the princess from the land of the Nile.

The dead Christian priest desired that the sleeping woman should be lifted on the horse, but the horse sank beneath the load, as if he had been a funeral pall fluttering in the wind. But the sign of the cross made the airy phantom strong, and then the three rode away from the marsh to firm ground.

At the same moment the cock crew in the Viking's castle, and the dream figures dissolved and floated away in the air, but mother and daughter stood opposite to each other.

"Am I looking at my own image in the deep water?" said the mother.

"Is it myself that I see represented on a white shield?" cried the daughter.

Then they came nearer to each other in a fond embrace. The mother's heart beat quickly, and she understood the quickened pulses. "My child!" she exclaimed, "the flower of my heart– my lotus flower of the deep water!" and she embraced her child again and wept, and the tears were as a baptism of new life and love for Helga. "In swan's plumage I came here," said the mother, "and here I threw off my feather dress. Then I sank down through the wavering ground, deep into the marsh beneath, which closed like a wall around me; I found myself after a while in fresher water; still a power drew me down deeper and deeper. I felt the weight of sleep upon my eyelids. Then I slept, and dreams hovered round me. It seemed to me as if I were again in the pyramids of Egypt, and yet the waving elder trunk that had frightened me on the moor stood ever before me. I observed the clefts and wrinkles in the stem; they shone forth in strange colors, and took the form of hieroglyphics. It was the mummy case on which I gazed. At last it burst, and forth stepped the thousand years' old king, the mummy form, black as pitch, black as the shining wood-snail, or the slimy mud of the swamp. Whether it was really the mummy or the Marsh King I know not. He seized me in his arms, and I felt as if I must die. When I recovered myself, I found in my bosom a little bird, flapping its wings, twittering and fluttering. The bird flew away from my bosom, upwards towards the dark, heavy canopy above me, but a long, green band kept it fastened to me. I heard and understood the tenor of its longings. Freedom! sunlight! to my father! Then I thought of my father, and the sunny land of my birth, my life, and my love. Then I loosened the band, and let the bird fly away to its home– to a father. Since that hour I have ceased to dream; my sleep has been long and heavy, till in this very hour, harmony and fragrance awoke me, and set me free."

The green band which fastened the wings of the bird to the mother's heart, where did it flutter now? whither had it been wafted? The stork only had seen it. The band was the green stalk, the cup of the flower the cradle in which lay the child, that now in blooming beauty had been folded to the mother's heart.

And while the two were resting in each other's arms, the old stork flew round and round them in narrowing circles, till at length he flew away swiftly to his nest, and fetched away the two suits of swan's feathers, which he had preserved there for many years. Then he returned to the mother and daughter, and threw the swan's plumage over them; the feathers immediately closed around them, and they rose up from the earth in the form of two white swans.

"And now we can converse with pleasure," said the stork-papa; "we can understand one another, although the beaks of birds are so different in shape. It is very fortunate that you came to-night. To-morrow we should have been gone. The mother, myself and the little ones, we're about to fly to the south. Look at me now: I am an old friend from the Nile, and a mother's heart contains more than her beak. She always said that the princess would know how to help herself. I and the young ones carried the swan's feathers over here, and I am glad of it now, and how lucky it is that I am here still. When the day dawns we shall start with a great company of other storks. We'll fly first, and you can follow in our track, so that you cannot miss your way. I and the young ones will have an eye upon you."

"And the lotus-flower which I was to take with me," said the Egyptian princess, "is flying here by my side, clothed in swan's feathers. The flower of my heart will travel with me; and so the riddle is solved. Now for home! now for home!"

But Helga said she could not leave the Danish land without once more seeing her foster-mother, the loving wife of the Viking. Each pleasing recollection, each kind word, every tear from the heart which her foster-mother had wept for her, rose in her mind, and at that moment she felt as if she loved this mother the best.

"Yes, we must go to the Viking's castle," said the stork; "mother and the young ones are waiting for me there. How they will open their eyes and flap their wings! My wife, you see, does not say much; she is short and abrupt in her manner; but she means well, for all that. I will flap my wings at once, that they may hear us coming." Then stork-papa flapped his wings in first-rate style, and he and the swans flew away to the Viking's castle.

In the castle, every one was in a deep sleep. It had been late in the evening before the Viking's wife retired to rest. She was anxious about Helga, who, three days before, had vanished with the Christian priest. Helga must have helped him in his flight, for it was her horse that was missed from the stable; but by what power had all this been accomplished? The Viking's wife thought of it with wonder, thought on the miracles which they said could be performed by those who believed in the Christian faith, and followed its teachings. These passing thoughts formed themselves into a vivid dream, and it seemed to her that she was still lying awake on her couch, while without darkness reigned. A storm arose; she heard the lake dashing and rolling from east and west, like the waves of the North Sea or the Cattegat. The monstrous snake which, it is said, surrounds the earth in the depths of the ocean, was trembling in spasmodic convulsions. The night of the fall of the gods was come, "Ragnorock," as the heathens call the judgment-day, when everything shall pass away, even the high gods themselves. The war trumpet sounded; riding upon the rainbow, came the gods, clad in steel, to fight their last battle on the last battle-field. Before them flew the winged vampires, and the dead warriors closed up the train. The whole firmament was ablaze with the northern lights, and yet the darkness triumphed. It was a terrible hour. And, close to the terrified woman, Helga seemed to be seated on the floor, in the hideous form of a frog, yet trembling, and clinging to her foster-mother, who took her on her lap, and lovingly caressed her, hideous and frog-like as she was. The air was filled with the clashing of arms and the hissing of arrows, as if a storm of hail was descending upon the earth. It seemed to her the hour when earth and sky would burst asunder, and all things be swallowed up in Saturn's fiery lake; but she knew that a new heaven and a new earth would arise, and that corn-fields would wave where now the lake rolled over desolate sands, and the ineffable God reign. Then she saw rising from the region of the dead, Baldur the gentle, the loving, and as the Viking's wife gazed upon him, she recognized his countenance. It was the captive Christian priest. "White Christian!" she exclaimed aloud, and with the words, she pressed a kiss on the forehead of the hideous frog-child. Then the frog-skin fell off, and Helga stood before her in all her beauty, more lovely and gentle-looking, and with eyes beaming with love. She kissed the hands of her foster-mother, blessed her for all her fostering love and care during the days of her trial and misery, for the thoughts she had suggested and awoke in her heart, and for naming the Name which she now repeated. Then beautiful Helga rose as a mighty swan, and spread her wings with the rushing sound of troops of birds of passage flying through the air.

Then the Viking's wife awoke, but she still heard the rushing sound without. She knew it was the time for the storks to depart, and that it must be their wings which she heard. She felt she should like to see them once more, and bid them farewell. She rose from her couch, stepped out on the threshold, and beheld, on the ridge of the roof, a party of storks ranged side by side. Troops of the birds were flying in circles over the castle and the highest trees; but just before her, as she stood on the threshold and close to the well where Helga had so often sat and alarmed her with her wildness, now stood two swans, gazing at her with intelligent eyes. Then she remembered her dream, which still appeared to her as a reality. She thought of Helga in the form of a swan. She thought of a Christian priest, and suddenly a wonderful joy arose in her heart. The swans flapped their wings and arched their necks as if to offer her a greeting, and the Viking's wife spread out her arms towards them, as if she accepted it, and smiled through her tears. She was roused from deep thought by a rustling of wings and snapping of beaks; all the storks arose, and started on their journey towards the south.

"We will not wait for the swans," said the mamma stork; "if they want to go with us, let them come now; we can't sit here till the plovers start. It is a fine thing after all to travel in families, not like the finches and the partridges. There the male and the female birds fly in separate flocks, which, to speak candidly, I consider very unbecoming."

"What are those swans flapping their wings for?"

"Well, every one flies in his own fashion," said the papa stork. "The swans fly in an oblique line; the cranes, in the form of a triangle; and the plovers, in a curved line like a snake."

"Don't talk about snakes while we are flying up here," said stork-mamma. "It puts ideas into the children's heads that can not be realized."

"Are those the high mountains I have heard spoken of?" asked Helga, in the swan's plumage.

"They are storm-clouds driving along beneath us," replied her mother.

"What are yonder white clouds that rise so high?" again inquired Helga.

"Those are mountains covered with perpetual snows, that you see yonder," said her mother. And then they flew across the Alps towards the blue Mediterranean.

"Africa's land! Egyptia's strand!" sang the daughter of the Nile, in her swan's plumage, as from the upper air she caught sight of her native land, a narrow, golden, wavy strip on the shores of the Nile; the other birds espied it also and hastened their flight.

"I can smell the Nile mud and the wet frogs," said the stork-mamma, "and I begin to feel quite hungry. Yes, now you shall taste something nice, and you will see the marabout bird, and the ibis, and the crane. They all belong to our family, but they are not nearly so handsome as we are. They give themselves great airs, especially the ibis. The Egyptians have spoilt him. They make a mummy of him, and stuff him with spices. I would rather be stuffed with live frogs, and so would you, and so you shall. Better have something in your inside while you are alive, than to be made a parade of after you are dead. That is my opinion, and I am always right."

"The storks are come," was said in the great house on the banks of the Nile, where the lord lay in the hall on his downy cushions, covered with a leopard skin, scarcely alive, yet not dead, waiting and hoping for the lotus-flower from the deep moorland in the far north. Relatives and servants were standing by his couch, when the two beautiful swans who had come with the storks flew into the hall. They threw off their soft white plumage, and two lovely female forms approached the pale, sick old man, and threw back their long hair, and when Helga bent over her grandfather, redness came back to his cheeks, his eyes brightened, and life returned to his benumbed limbs. The old man rose up with health and energy renewed; daughter and grandchild welcomed him as joyfully as if with a morning greeting after a long and troubled dream.

Joy reigned through the whole house, as well as in the stork's nest; although there the chief cause was really the good food, especially the quantities of frogs, which seemed to spring out of the ground in swarms.

Then the learned men hastened to note down, in flying characters, the story of the two princesses, and spoke of the arrival of the health-giving flower as a mighty event, which had been a blessing to the house and the land. Meanwhile, the stork-papa told the story to his family in his own way; but not till they had eaten and were satisfied; otherwise they would have had something else to do than to listen to stories.

"Well," said the stork-mamma, when she had heard it, "you will be made something of at last; I suppose they can do nothing less."

"What could I be made?" said stork-papa; "what have I done?– just nothing."

"You have done more than all the rest," she replied. "But for you and the youngsters the two young princesses would never have seen Egypt again, and the recovery of the old man would not have been effected. You will become something. They must certainly give you a doctor's hood, and our young ones will inherit it, and their children after them, and so on. You already look like an Egyptian doctor, at least in my eyes."

"I cannot quite remember the words I heard when I listened on the roof," said stork-papa, while relating the story to his family; "all I know is, that what the wise men said was so complicated and so learned, that they received not only rank, but presents; even the head cook at the great house was honored with a mark of distinction, most likely for the soup."

"And what did you receive?" said the stork-mamma. "They certainly ought not to forget the most important person in the affair, as you really are. The learned men have done nothing at all but use their tongues. Surely they will not overlook you."

Late in the night, while the gentle sleep of peace rested on the now happy house, there was still one watcher. It was not stork-papa, who, although he stood on guard on one leg, could sleep soundly. Helga alone was awake. She leaned over the balcony, gazing at the sparkling stars that shone clearer and brighter in the pure air than they had done in the north, and yet they were the same stars. She thought of the Viking's wife in the wild moorland, of the gentle eyes of her foster-mother, and of the tears she had shed over the poor frog-child that now lived in splendor and starry beauty by the waters of the Nile, with air balmy and sweet as spring. She thought of the love that dwelt in the breast of the heathen woman, love that had been shown to a wretched creature, hateful as a human being, and hideous when in the form of an animal. She looked at the glittering stars, and thought of the radiance that had shone forth on the forehead of the dead man, as she had fled with him over the woodland and moor. Tones were awakened in her memory; words which she had heard him speak as they rode onward, when she was carried, wondering and trembling, through the air; words from the great Fountain of love, the highest love that embraces all the human race. What had not been won and achieved by this love?

Day and night beautiful Helga was absorbed in the contemplation of the great amount of her happiness, and lost herself in the contemplation, like a child who turns hurriedly from the giver to examine the beautiful gifts. She was over-powered with her good fortune, which seemed always increasing, and therefore what might it become in the future? Had she not been brought by a wonderful miracle to all this joy and happiness? And in these thoughts she indulged, until at last she thought no more of the Giver. It was the over-abundance of youthful spirits unfolding its wings for a daring flight. Her eyes sparkled with energy, when suddenly arose a loud noise in the court below, and the daring thought vanished. She looked down, and saw two large ostriches running round quickly in narrow circles; she had never seen these creatures before,– great, coarse, clumsy-looking birds with curious wings that looked as if they had been clipped, and the birds themselves had the appearance of having been roughly used. She inquired about them, and for the first time heard the legend which the Egyptians relate respecting the ostrich.

Once, say they, the ostriches were a beautiful and glorious race of birds, with large, strong wings. One evening the other large birds of the forest said to the ostrich, "Brother, shall we fly to the river to-morrow morning to drink, God willing?" and the ostrich answered, "I will."

With the break of day, therefore, they commenced their flight; first rising high in the air, towards the sun, which is the eye of God; still higher and higher the ostrich flew, far above the other birds, proudly approaching the light, trusting in its own strength, and thinking not of the Giver, or saying, "if God will." When suddenly the avenging angel drew back the veil from the flaming ocean of sunlight, and in a moment the wings of the proud bird were scorched and shrivelled, and they sunk miserably to the earth. Since that time the ostrich and his race have never been able to rise in the air; they can only fly terror-stricken along the ground, or run round and round in narrow circles. It is a warning to mankind, that in all our thoughts and schemes, and in every action we undertake, we should say, "if God will."

Then Helga bowed her head thoughtfully and seriously, and looked at the circling ostrich, as with timid fear and simple pleasure it glanced at its own great shadow on the sunlit walls. And the story of the ostrich sunk deeply into the heart and mind of Helga: a life of happiness, both in the present and in the future, seemed secure for her, and what was yet to come might be the best of all, God willing.

Early in the spring, when the storks were again about to journey northward, beautiful Helga took off her golden bracelets, scratched her name on them, and beckoned to the stork-father. He came to her, and she placed the golden circlet round his neck, and begged him to deliver it safely to the Viking's wife, so that she might know that her foster-daughter still lived, was happy, and had not forgotten her.

"It is rather heavy to carry," thought stork-papa, when he had it on his neck; "but gold and honor are not to be flung into the street. The stork brings good fortune– they'll be obliged to acknowledge that at last."

"You lay gold, and I lay eggs," said stork-mamma; "with you it is only once in a way, I lay eggs every year But no one appreciates what we do; I call it very mortifying."

"But then we have a consciousness of our own worth, mother," replied stork-papa.

"What good will that do you?" retorted stork-mamma; "it will neither bring you a fair wind, nor a good meal."

"The little nightingale, who is singing yonder in the tamarind grove, will soon be going north, too." Helga said she had often heard her singing on the wild moor, so she determined to send a message by her. While flying in the swan's plumage she had learnt the bird language; she had often conversed with the stork and the swallow, and she knew that the nightingale would understand. So she begged the nightingale to fly to the beechwood, on the peninsula of Jutland, where a mound of stone and twigs had been raised to form the grave, and she begged the nightingale to persuade all the other little birds to build their nests round the place, so that evermore should resound over that grave music and song. And the nightingale flew away, and time flew away also.

In the autumn, an eagle, standing upon a pyramid, saw a stately train of richly laden camels, and men attired in armor on foaming Arabian steeds, whose glossy skins shone like silver, their nostrils were pink, and their thick, flowing manes hung almost to their slender legs. A royal prince of Arabia, handsome as a prince should be, and accompanied by distinguished guests, was on his way to the stately house, on the roof of which the storks' empty nests might be seen. They were away now in the far north, but expected to return very soon. And, indeed, they returned on a day that was rich in joy and gladness.

A marriage was being celebrated, in which the beautiful Helga, glittering in silk and jewels, was the bride, and the bridegroom the young Arab prince. Bride and bridegroom sat at the upper end of the table, between the bride's mother and grandfather. But her gaze was not on the bridegroom, with his manly, sunburnt face, round which curled a black beard, and whose dark fiery eyes were fixed upon her; but away from him, at a twinkling star, that shone down upon her from the sky. Then was heard the sound of rushing wings beating the air. The storks were coming home; and the old stork pair, although tired with the journey and requiring rest, did not fail to fly down at once to the balustrades of the verandah, for they knew already what feast was being celebrated. They had heard of it on the borders of the land, and also that Helga had caused their figures to be represented on the walls, for they belonged to her history.

"I call that very sensible and pretty," said stork-papa.

"Yes, but it is very little," said mamma stork; "they could not possibly have done less."

But, when Helga saw them, she rose and went out into the verandah to stroke the backs of the storks. The old stork pair bowed their heads, and curved their necks, and even the youngest among the young ones felt honored by this reception.

Helga continued to gaze upon the glittering star, which seemed to glow brighter and purer in its light; then between herself and the star floated a form, purer than the air, and visible through it. It floated quite near to her, and she saw that it was the dead Christian priest, who also was coming to her wedding feast– coming from the heavenly kingdom.

"The glory and brightness, yonder, outshines all that is known on earth," said he.

Then Helga the fair prayed more gently, and more earnestly, than she had ever prayed in her life before, that she might be permitted to gaze, if only for a single moment, at the glory and brightness of the heavenly kingdom. Then she felt herself lifted up, as it were, above the earth, through a sea of sound and thought; not only around her, but within her, was there light and song, such as words cannot express.

"Now we must return;" he said; "you will be missed."

"Only one more look," she begged; "but one short moment more."

"We must return to earth; the guests will have all departed. Only one more look!– the last!"

Then Helga stood again in the verandah. But the marriage lamps in the festive hall had been all extinguished, and the torches outside had vanished. The storks were gone; not a guest could be seen; no bridegroom– all in those few short moments seemed to have died. Then a great dread fell upon her. She stepped from the verandah through the empty hall into the next chamber, where slept strange warriors. She opened a side door, which once led into her own apartment, but now, as she passed through, she found herself suddenly in a garden which she had never before seen here, the sky blushed red, it was the dawn of morning. Three minutes only in heaven, and a whole night on earth had passed away! Then she saw the storks, and called to them in their own language.

Then stork-papa turned his head towards here, listened to her words, and drew near. "You speak our language," said he, "what do you wish? Why do you appear,– you– a strange woman?"

"It is I– it is Helga! Dost thou not know me? Three minutes ago we were speaking together yonder in the verandah."

"That is a mistake," said the stork, "you must have dreamed all this."

"No, no," she exclaimed. Then she reminded him of the Viking's castle, of the great lake, and of the journey across the ocean.

Then stork-papa winked his eyes, and said, "Why that's an old story which happened in the time of my grandfather. There certainly was a princess of that kind here in Egypt once, who came from the Danish land, but she vanished on the evening of her wedding day, many hundred years ago, and never came back. You may read about it yourself yonder, on a monument in the garden. There you will find swans and storks sculptured, and on the top is a figure of the princess Helga, in marble."

And so it was; Helga understood it all now, and sank on her knees. The sun burst forth in all its glory, and, as in olden times, the form of the frog vanished in his beams, and the beautiful form stood forth in all its loveliness; so now, bathed in light, rose a beautiful form, purer, clearer than air– a ray of brightness– from the Source of light Himself. The body crumbled into dust, and a faded lotus-flower lay on the spot on which Helga had stood.

"Now that is a new ending to the story," said stork-papa; "I really never expected it would end in this way, but it seems a very good ending."

"And what will the young ones say to it, I wonder?" said stork-mamma.

"Ah, that is a very important question," replied the stork.
Storkene fortælle for deres Smaa saa mange Eventyr, alle fra Sumpen og Mosen, de ere, almindeligviis, afpassede efter Alder og Fatteevne; de mindste Unger ere fornøiede med at der siges »krible, krable, plurremurre!« det finde de udmærket, men de Ældre ville have en dybere Betydning, eller idetmindste Noget om Familien. Af de to ældste og længste Eventyr, som have holdt sig hos Storkene, kjende vi Alle det ene, det om Moses, der af sin Moder blev sat ud i Nilens Vande, fundet af Kongens Datter, fik en god Opdragelse og blev en stor Mand, som man siden ikke veed om, hvor han blev begravet. Det er ganske almindeligt!

Det andet Eventyr kjendes endnu ikke, maaskee fordi det er næsten indenlandsk. Det Eventyr er gaaet fra Storkemo'er til Storkemo'er i tusinde Aar og hver af dem har fortalt det bedre og bedre, og vi fortælle det nu allerbedst.

Det første Storkepar, som kom med det og levede ind i det, havde deres Sommer-Ophold paa Vikingens Bjælkehuus oppe ved Vildmosen i Vendsyssel; det er i Hjøring Amt, høit mod Skagen i Jylland, naar vi skulle tale med Kundskaber; det er endnu en uhyre stor Mose, man kan læse om den i Amtsbeskrivelsen. Her har været Havbund, men den har hævet sig, staaer der; den strækker sig milevidt til alle Sider omgivet af vaade Enge og gyngende Kjær, med Tørvemoser, Multebær og usle Træer; næsten altid svæver en Taage hen over den og for halvfjerdsindstyve Aar siden fandtes her endnu Ulve; den kan rigtignok kaldes »Vildmosen« og man kan tænke sig hvor vildsomt, hvor megen Sump og Sø, her har været for tusind Aar siden! ja, i det Enkelte saae man den Gang her, hvad man endnu seer: Rørene havde samme Høide, samme Slags lange Blade og violbrune Fjæderblomster, som de bære endnu, Birken stod med hvid Bark og fine, løsthængende Blade ligesom endnu, og hvad de Levende, som kom her, angaae, ja, Fluen bar sin Florsklædning med samme Snit som nu, Storkens Liv-Couleur var Hvidt med Sort og røde Strømper, derimod havde Menneskene paa den Tid et andet Kjolesnit end nu til Dags, men hver af dem, Træl eller Jæger, hvem som helst, der traadte ud paa Hængedyndet, gik det for tusind Aar siden som det endnu gaaer dem, der komme her, de plumpede i, og sank ned til Dyndkongen, som de kaldte ham, der regjerede nede i det store Mose-Rige. Gungekongen kunde han ogsaa kaldes, men vi synes nu bedst om at sige Dyndkongen; og det kaldte Storkene ham ogsaa. Meget lidt veed man om hans Regjering, men det er maaskee det Bedste.

Nær ved Mosen, tæt op til Lümfjorden, laae Vikingens Bjælkehuus med steensat Kjelder, Taarn og tre Sæt Stokværk; øverst paa Taget havde Storken bygget Rede, Storkemoder laae paa Æg og var vis paa, de vilde lykkes.

En Aften blev Storkefader noget længe ude og da han kom hjem, saae han forpjusket og iilfærdig ud.

»Jeg har noget ganske Forfærdeligt at fortælle Dig!« sagde han til Storkemoder.

»Lad være med det!« sagde hun, »husk paa, at jeg ligger paa Æg, jeg kunde have Skade af det og da virker det paa Æggene!«

»Du maa vide det!« sagde han. »Hun er kommen her, Datteren af vor Vert i Ægypten! hun har vovet Reisen herop! og væk er hun!«

»Hun, som er af Feernes Slægt! fortæl dog! Du veed, at jeg kan ikke taale at vente i denne Tid, da jeg ligger!«

»Seer Du, Mo'er! hun har dog troet paa, hvad Doctoren sagde, som Du fortalte mig; hun har troet paa, at Moseblomsten heroppe kunde hjelpe hendes syge Fader og hun er fløiet i Fjæderham med de to andre Fjæderhams-Prindsesser, der hvert Aar skulle her Nord paa for at bade sig og forynges! hun er kommen, og hun er væk!«

»Du gjør det saa vidtløftigt!« sagde Storkemoder, »Æggene kunne blive forkølede! jeg kan ikke taale at være i Spænding!«

»Jeg har passet paa!« sagde Storkefader, »og iaften, jeg gik i Rørene, hvor Hængedyndet kan bære mig, da kom tre Svaner, der var Noget ved Svinget, som sagde mig: pas paa, det er ikke heelt Svane, det er Svaneham kun! Du kjender det paa Følelsen, Mo'er! ligesom jeg, Du veed, hvad der er det Rette!«

»Ja vist!« sagde hun, »men fortæl om Prindsessen! jeg er kjed af at høre om Svaneham!«

»Her midt i Mosen, veed Du, er ligesom en Sø,« sagde Storkefader, »Du kan see et Stykke af den, naar Du vil lette Dig; derop til Rørene og det grønne Hængedynd laae en stor Elletrunte; paa den satte de tre Svaner sig, sloge med Vingerne og saae sig om; den ene af dem kastede Svanehammen, og jeg kjendte i hende vor Huus-Prindsesse fra Ægypten; hun sad nu og havde ingen anden Kappe om sig, end sit lange, sorte Haar; hun bad de to andre, hørte jeg, at passe vel paa Svanehammen, naar hun dukkede ned under Vandet for at plukke Blomsten, som hun troede at see. De nikkede og lettede, løftede paa den løse Fjæderkjole; see hvad mon de vil med den, tænkte jeg, og hun spurgte dem vistnok lige om det samme og Svar fik hun, Syn for Sagen, de fløi iveiret med hendes Fjæderham: »»Dyk Du ned!«« raabte de, »»aldrig flyver Du meer i Svaneham, aldrig seer Du Ægyptens Land! sid Du i Vildmosen!«« og saa reve de hendes Fjæderham i hundrede Stykker, saa at Fjædrene fløi rundt omkring, som om det var et Sneefog! og bort fløi de to Skarns-Prindsesser!«

»Det er rædsomt!« sagde Storkemoder, »jeg kan ikke taale at høre det! - siig mig saa, hvad der skete videre!«

»Prindsessen jamrede og græd! Taarerne trillede ned paa Elletrunten og saa rørte den sig, for det var Dyndkongen selv, ham, der boer i Mosen. Jeg saae, hvor Trunten vendte sig og saa var den ingen Trunte meer, der stak op lange, dyndede Grene, ligesom Arme; da blev det stakkels Barn forskrækket og sprang afsted ind paa det gyngende Hængedynd, men der kan det ikke bære mig, mindre hende, hun sank strax i, og Elletrunten gik ned med, det var ham der halede; der kom store, sorte Bobler og saa var der ikke Spor mere. Nu er hun begravet i Vildmosen, aldrig kommer hun med Blomst til Ægyptens Land. Du havde ikke holdt ud at see paa det, Mo'er!«

»Saadant Noget skulde Du slet ikke fortælle mig i denne Tid! det kan gaae ud over Æggene! - Prindsessen hytter sig nok! hun faaer sagtens Hjelp! havde det været mig eller Dig, een af vore, saa havde det været forbi!«

»Jeg vil dog hver Dag see efter!« sagde Storkefader, og det gjorde han.

Nu gik der en lang Tid.

Da saae han en Dag, at dybt fra Bunden skjød frem en grøn Stilk, og da den naaede op til Vandspeilet, voxte frem et Blad, bredere og altid bredere; tæt ved kom en Knop, og da Storken en Morgenstund fløi hen over den, aabnede sig, ved de stærke Solstraaler, Blomsterknoppen og midt i den laae et deiligt Barn, en lille Pige, ligesom om hun var steget op fra Bad; hun lignede i den Grad Prindsessen fra Ægypten, at Storken først troede at det var hende, der var blevet lille, men da han tænkte sig om, fandt han det rimeligere at det var hendes og Dyndkongens Barn; derfor laae hun i Aakande.

»Der kan hun da ikke blive liggende;« tænkte Storken, »i min Rede ere vi allerede saa mange! men, der falder mig Noget ind! Vikingefruen har ingen Børn, tidt ønskede hun sig en Lille, jeg faaer jo Skyld for at bringe de Smaa, nu vil jeg dog engang gjøre Alvor af det! jeg flyver til Vikingefruen med Barnet; der vil blive en Fornøielse!«

Og Storken tog den lille Pige, fløi til Bjælkehuset, slog med Næbbet Hul paa den Blæreskinds Rude, lagde Barnet ved Vikingefruens Bryst, fløi saa til Storkemo'er og fortalte, og Ungerne hørte paa det; de vare store nok dertil.

»Seer Du, Prindsessen er ikke død! hun har sendt den Lille herop, og nu er den anbragt!«

»Det har jeg jo sagt fra første Færd!« sagde Storkemoder, »tænk nu lidt paa dine egne! det er snart paa Reisetiden; det begynder af og til at krille mig under Vingerne! Gjøgen og Nattergalen ere allerede afsted, og Vagtlerne hører jeg tale om, at vi snart faae god Medvind! vore Unger staae sig nok ved Manoeuveren, kjender jeg dem ret!«

Naa, hvor Vikingefruen blev glad, da hun om Morgenen vaagnede og fandt ved sit Bryst det lille, deilige Barn; hun kyssede og klappede det, men det skreg forfærdeligt og sprællede med Arme og Been, det syntes slet ikke fornøiet; tilsidst græd det sig isøvn og som det da laae der, var det Noget af det Deiligste, man kunde see paa. Vikingefruen var saa glad, saa let, saa karsk, det bares hende for, at nu vilde vist hendes Husbond med alle hans Mænd ligesaa uventet komme, som den Lille, og saa fik hun og hele Huset travlt, for at Alt kunde være istand. De lange, couleurte Tapeter, som hun og Pigerne selv havde, vævet med Billeder af deres Afguder, Odin, Thor og Freia, som de kaldtes, bleve hængte op, Trællene maatte skure de gamle Skjolde, som der pyntedes med, Hynder bleve lagte paa Bænkene og tørt Brænde paa Ildstedet midt i Hallen, for at Baalet strax kunde tændes. Vikingefruen tog selv fat med, saa at hun ud paa Aftenen var betydelig træt og sov godt.

Da hun nu henimod Morgenen vaagnede, blev hun inderlig forskrækket, thi det lille Barn var reent borte; hun sprang op, tændte en Fyrrespaan og saae rundt om, og da laae der, hvor hun strakte sine Fødder i Sengen, ikke det lille Barn, men en stor, hæslig Padde; hun blev ganske ækel ved den, tog en svær Stang og vilde slaae Frøen ihjel, men den saae paa hende med saadanne underlige, bedrøvede Øine, at hun ikke kunde slaae til. Endnu engang saae hun rundt om, Frøen gav et fiint, ynkeligt Qvæk, hun foer sammen derved og sprang fra Sengen hen til Lugen, den smak hun op; Solen kom idetsamme frem, kastede sine Straaler lige ind i Sengen paa den store Padde, og det var med Eet som om Udyrets brede Mund trak sig sammen og blev lille og rød, Lemmerne strakte sig i den nydeligste Skikkelse, det var hendes eget lille, deilige Barn, der laae og ingen hæslig Frø.

»Hvad er dog det!« sagde hun, »har jeg drømt en ond Drøm! det er jo mit eget yndige Alfebarn, der ligger!« og hun kyssede og trykkede det til sit Hjerte, men det rev og bed om sig ligesom en vild Kattekilling.

Ikke den Dag, heller ikke den næste kom Vikingeherren, skjøndt han var paa Veien, men Vinden var imod, den blæste syd paa for Storkene. Medbør for Een er Modbør for en Anden.

I et Par Dage og Nætter blev det Vikingefruen klart, hvordan det stod sig med hendes lille Barn, det var jo en forfærdelig Trolddom, der hvilede over det. Ved Dagen var det deiligt som en Lysalf, men havde en ond, vild Natur, om Natten derimod var det en hæslig Padde, stille og klynkende, med sorrigfulde Øine; her var to Naturer, der skiftede om, baade udad og indad; det kom af, at den lille Pige, som Storken havde bragt, eiede ved Dagen sin rette Moders Ydre, men paa den Tid sin Faders Sindelag; ved Natten derimod fik det Slægtskabet med ham synligt i sit Legems * Skikkelse, derimod straalede da, inde i det, Moderens Sind og Hjerte. Hvo kunde løse denne ved Seidkunst øvede Magt. Vikingefruen havde Angest og Bedrøvelse derover, og dog hang hendes Hjerte ved den stakkels Skabning, om hvis Tilstand hun ikke troede at turde fortælle sin Husbond, naar han nu snart kom hjem, thi da vilde han vist, som Skik og Brug var, lægge det stakkels Barn ud paa Alfarvei og lade det tage af hvem, der vilde. Det nænte den skikkelige Vikingefrue ikke, han skulde kun ved den lyse Dag faae Barnet at see.

En Morgenstund susede Storkevingerne hen over Taget; der havde om Natten over hundrede Storkepar udhvilet sig efter den store Manoeuver, nu fløi de op for at drage Syd paa.

»Alle Mand færdig!« hed det, »Kone og Børn med!«

»Jeg er saa let!« sagde Storkeungerne, »det kribler og krabler mig lige ud i Benene som om jeg var fyldt med levende Frøer! hvor det er deiligt at skulle reise udenlands!«

»Hold Jer i Flokken!« sagde Fader og Moder, »og lad ikke Knebbren gaae saa meget, det tager paa Brystet!«

Og de fløi.

I samme Stund klang Luren hen over Heden, Vikingen var landet med alle sine Mænd; de vendte hjem med rigt Bytte fra den galliske Kyst, hvor Folket, som i Bretland, i deres Skræk sang:

»Fri os fra de vilde Normanner!«

Naa, hvor der blev Liv og Lystighed i Vikingeborgen ved Vildmosen. Mjødkarret kom ind i Hallen, Baalet blev tændt og Heste bleve slagtede; her skulde ordentligt brases op. Offergoden sprængte det varme Hesteblod paa Trællene som Indvielse; Ilden knittrede, Bøgen trak hen under Loftet, Soden dryppede fra Bjælken, men det var man vant til. Gjester vare indbudte, og de fik gode Gaver, glemt var Rænker og Falskhed; drukket blev der, og de kastede hverandre de gnavede Knokler i Ansigtet, det var Tegn paa godt Humeur. Skjalden, - det var saadan en Slags Spillemand, men som ogsaa var Krigsmand, havde været med dem og vidste hvad det var han sang om, - gav dem en Vise, hvori de hørte om alle deres Krigsgjerninger og Mærkeligheder; ved hvert Vers kom det samme Omqvæde: »Formue døer, Frænder døe, selv døer man ligerviis, men aldrig døer et herligt Navn!« og saa sloge de Alle paa Skjolde og hamrede med Kniven eller et Knokkelbeen paa Bordpladen, saa at det kunde høres.

Vikingefruen sad paa Tværbænken i den aabne Gildeshal, hun havde Silkekjole, Guld-Armringe og store Ravperler; hun var i sin bedste Stads, og Skjalden nævnede ogsaa hende i sin Sang, talte om den gyldne Skat, hun havde bragt sin rige Husbond, og denne var rigtig glad i det deilige Barn, han havde kun seet det ved Dagen i al dets Deilighed; Vildskaben, der var ved det, syntes han godt om; hun kunde blive, sagde han, en drabelig Skjoldmø, der slog sin Kæmpe! ikke vilde hun blinke med Øinene, naar øvet Haand, i Spøg, hug med det skarpe Sværd Øienbrynene af hende.

Mjødkarret blev tømt, et nyt kjørt op, ja der blev drukket fyldeligt, det var Folk, der kunde taale fuldt op. Det Ordsprog var der dengang: »Qvæget veed, naar det skal gaae hjem fra Græsning, men uklog Mand kjender aldrig sin Maves Maal«. Ja, det vidste man, men man veed Eet og gjør et Andet! man vidste ogsaa, at »Kjær bliver kjedelig, naar han sidder længe i anden Mands Huus!« men man blev dog her, Suul og Mjød er en god Ting! det gik lysteligt; og til Natten sov Trællene i den varme Aske, dyppede Fingrene i den fede Sod og slikkede dem. Det var en rar Tid!

Endnu engang i Aaret drog Vikingen paa Tog, uagtet Efterhøstens Storme reiste sig; han gik med sine Mænd til Bretlands Kyst, det var jo »bare over Vandet«, sagde han, og hans Huusfrue blev tilbage med sin lille Pige, og vist var det, at Pleiemoderen snart næsten holdt mere af den stakkels Padde med de fromme Øine og de dybe Suk, end af Deiligheden, der rev og bed om sig.

Den raae, vaade Efteraars-Taage, »Mundløs«, der gnaver Bladene af, laae hen over Skov og Hede, »Fugl Fjæderløs«, som de kalde Sneen, fløi tæt paa hinanden, Vinteren var paa Vei; Spurvene toge Storke-Reden i Beslag og raisonnerede paa deres Viis over det fraværende Herskab; dette selv, Storkeparret med alle Ungerne, ja hvor vare de nu?


Storkene vare nu i Ægyptens Land, hvor Solen skinnede varmt, som hos os paa en deilig Sommerdag, Tamarinder og Akasier blomstrede rundt om, Muhameds Maane straalede blank fra Tempel-Kuplerne; paa de slanke Taarne sad mangt et Storkepar og hvilede ud efter den lange Reise; hele store Flokke havde Rede ved Rede paa de mægtige Søiler og sønderbrudte Buer af Templer og glemte Steder; Daddelpalmen løftede sit Skjærmtag høit op, som om den vilde være Solskjærm. De hvidgraae Pyramider stode som Skyggerids paa den klare Luft henimod Ørkenen, hvor Strudsen viste, den kunde bruge sine Been, og Løven sad med store, kloge Øine og saae paa Marmor-Sphinxen, der laae halv begravet af Sandet. Nilens Vande vare traadte tilbage, hele Flodleiet mylrede med Frøer og det var nu for Storkefamilien det allerdeiligste Skue i dette Land. Ungerne troede, at det var Øien-Forblindelse, saa mageløst fandt de det Hele.

»Saadanne er det her, og saadanne have vi det altid i vort varme Land!« sagde Storkemoder, og det kriblede de Smaa i Maven.

»Faae vi endnu Mere at see?« sagde de, »skal vi meget meget længer ind i Landet?«

»Der er ikke Noget videre at see!« sagde Storkemoder; »ad den frodige Kant er kun vildsom Skov, hvor Træerne voxe i hverandre og filtres sammen af piggede Slyngplanter, kun Elephanten med sine plumpe Been kan der træde sig Vei; Slangerne ere os for store og Fiirbenene for muntre. Ville I ad Ørkenen til, saa faae I Sand i Øinene, gaaer det fiint til og gaaer det grovt til, komme I ind i en Sandhose; nei, her er bedst! her er Frøer og Græshopper! her bliver jeg og I med!«

Og de bleve; de Gamle sade i deres Rede paa den slanke Minaret, hvilede sig og havde dog travlt med at glatte Fjædrene og gnide med Næbbet paa de røde Strømper; saa løftede de Halsene, hilsede gravitetisk og hævede Hovedet med den høie Pande og de fine, glatte Fjædre, og deres brune Øine straalede saa klogt. Hun-Ungerne gik gravitetisk om mellem de saftige Rør, skottede efter de andre Storke-Unger, gjorde Bekjendtskab og slugte ved hvert tredie Skridt en Frø, eller gik og dinglede med en lille Slange, det tog sig godt ud, troede de, og det smagte. Han-Ungerne gjorde Klammeri, baskede hinanden med Vingerne, hug med Næbbet, ja stak til Blods, og saa blev den forlovet og den forlovet, Han-Ungerne og Hun-Ungerne, det var jo det, de levede for; og de byggede Rede, og kom saa igjen i nyt Klammeri, for i de hede Lande ere de nu Alle saa hidsige, men fornøieligt var det, og især en stor Glæde for de Gamle: Alting klæder Ens Unger! hver Dag var her Solskin, hver Dag fuldtop at æde, man kunde kun tænke paa Fornøielse. - Men inde i det rige Slot hos den ægyptiske Husvert, som de kaldte ham, var den slet ikke tilhuse.

Den rige, mægtige Herre laae paa Løibænk, stiv i alle sine Lemmer, udstrakt som en Mumie, midt i den store Sal med de broget malede Vægge; det var ligesom om han laae i en Tulipan. Slægtninge og Tjenere stode om ham, død var han ikke, leve kunde man heller ikke ret sige at han gjorde; den frelsende Moseblomst fra de nordlige Lande, den, der skulde søges og plukkes af Den, som høiest elskede ham, vilde aldrig blive bragt. Hans unge, deilige Datter, som i Svaneham fløi over Hav og Lande, høit mod Norden, skulde aldrig vende tilbage; »hun er død og borte!« havde de to hjemvendte Svane-Jomfruer meldt; de havde sat en heel Historie sammen derom, den fortalte de:

»Vi fløi alle Tre høit i Luften, da saae en Jæger os og afskjød sin Piil; den ramte vor unge Veninde, og langsomt syngende sit Farvel sank hun, som en døende Svane, ned midt i Skovsøen; der ved Bredden under en duftende Hængebirk begravede vi hende! Dog Hævn have vi taget; Ild bandt vi under Vingen paa Svalen, der byggede under Jægerens Rør-Tag, det tændtes, Huset slog op i Lue, han brændte inde, det lyste ud over Søen hen til den heldende Hængebirk, hvor hun nu er Jord i Jorden; aldrig kommer hun til Ægyptens Land!«

Og saa græd de begge To, og Storkefader, den Gang han hørte det, knebbrede med Næbbet, saa at det skraldede efter:

»Løgn og Paafund!« sagde han. »Jeg kunde have Lyst til at jage dem Snabelen lige ind i Brystet!«

»Og brække den af!« sagde Storkemoder, »saa kom Du til at see godt ud! tænk først paa Dig selv og saa paa din Familie, alt Andet ligger udenfor!«

»Jeg vil dog sætte mig paa Randen af den aabne Kuppel imorgen, naar alle de Lærde og Vise samles for at tale om den Syge; maaskee de saa komme Sandheden lidt nærmere!«

Og de Lærde og Vise kom sammen og talte meget, vidt og bredt, som Storken ikke kunde faae Noget ud af, - og der kom heller ikke Noget ud deraf for den Syge, eller for Datteren i Vildmosen; men derfor kunne vi gjerne høre lidt paa det, man maa jo høre paa saa Meget.

Men nu er det rigtigst ogsaa at høre og vide hvad der var gaaet forud, saa ere vi bedre med i Historien, idetmindste ligesaa meget som Storkefader.

»Kjærlighed føder Liv! den høieste Kjærlighed føder det høieste Liv! kun gjennem Kjærlighed er Livets Frelse for ham at vinde!« var der blevet sagt, og det var overmaade klogt og godt sagt, forsikkrede de Lærde.

»Det er en kjøn Tanke!« sagde strax Storke fader.

»Jeg forstaaer den ikke rigtigt!« sagde Storkemoder, »og det er ikke min Skyld, men Tankens, dog det kan da ogsaa være det samme, jeg har Andet at tænke paa!«

Og nu havde de Lærde talt om Kjærligheden mellem Dit og Dat, Forskjellen der var, Kjærligheden, som Kjærestefolk fornam, og den mellem Forældre og Børn, mellem Lyset og Væxterne, hvorledes Solstraalen kyssede Dyndet og at Spiren derved kom frem - det var saa vidtløftigt og lærd sat ud, at det blev umuligt for Storkefader at følge med, end sige at gjentage det; han blev ganske tankefuld derved, lukkede Øinene halvt i og stod paa eet Been en heel Dag derefter; Lærdommen var ham saa svær at bære.

Dog det forstod Storkefader, han havde hørt baade Smaafolk og de Allerfornemste tale lige ud af Hjertebunden, at det var en stor Ulykke for mange Tusinder og for Landet med, at den Mand laae syg og ikke kunde komme sig; Glæde og Velsignelse vilde det være, om han fik sin Sundhed igjen. »Men hvor voxer Sundhedsblomsten for ham?« derom havde de spurgt Allesammen, spurgt i lærde Skrifter, i blinkende Stjerner, i Veir og Vind, spurgt ad alle de Omveie, der vare at finde, og tilsidst havde de Lærde og Vise, som sagt, faaet det ud: »Kjærlighed føder Liv, Livet til Faderen,« og der sagde de mere end de selv forstode; de gjentoge og skrev da op som Recept: »Kjærlighed føder Liv«, men hvorledes hele den Ting efter Recepten skulde laves sammen, ja derved stod man. Tilsidst bleve de enige derom, Hjelpen maatte komme ved Prindsessen, hun, der med hele sin Sjæl og sit Hjerte holdt af denne Fader. Man faldt endeligt ogsaa paa, hvorledes det kunde bringes istand, ja det var nu mere end Aar og Dag siden, hun skulde om Natten, naar Nyet der tændtes, igjen var nede, begive sig ud til Marmor-Sphinxen ved Ørkenen, kaste Sandet bort fra Døren i Fodstykket, og der, gaae gjennem den lange Gang, som førte ind midt i en af de store Pyramider, hvor en af Oldtids mægtige Konger, omgivet af Pragt og Herlighed, laae i Mumie-Hylster; her skulde hun helde sit Hoved til den Døde, og da vilde aabenbares hende, hvor Liv og Frelse for hendes Fader var at vinde.

Alt det havde hun udført, og i Drømme erfaret, at fra den dybe Mose oppe i det danske Land, Stedet var blevet ganske nøiagtigt betegnet, maatte hun hjembringe den Lotus-Blomst, der i Vandets Dyb havde berørt hendes Bryst, da vilde han frelses.

Og derfor fløi hun i Svaneham fra Ægyptens Land op til Vildmosen. See, alt Dette vidste Storkefader og Storkemoder, og nu veed vi det tydeligere, end vi før vidste det. Vi veed, at Dynd-Kongen drog hende ned til sig, veed, at hun for dem i Hjemmet er død og borte; kun den Viseste af dem Alle sagde endnu, ligesom Storkemoder: »hun hytter sig nok!« og det vilde de da vente paa, for de vidste ikke noget Bedre.

»Jeg troer, at jeg rapser Svanehammen fra de to Skarns-Prindsesser!« sagde Storkefader, »saa kunne de da ikke komme til Vildmosen at gjøre Fortræd; Svanehammene selv gjemmer jeg deroppe til der er Brug for dem!«

»Hvor oppe gjemmer Du dem?« spurgte Storkemoder.

»I vor Rede ved Vildmosen!« sagde han. »Jeg og vore yngste Unger kunne hjelpes ad med at føre dem, og blive de os for besværlige, saa er der Steder nok paa Veien til at skjule dem til næste Trækning. Een Svaneham var vel nok for hende, men to ere bedre; det er godt at have meget Reisetøi i et nordligt Land!«

»Du faaer ikke Tak for det!« sagde Storkemoder, »men Du er jo Herre! jeg har ikke Noget at sige uden i Liggetiden!«


I Vikingeborgen ved Vildmosen, hvorhen Storkene fløi mod Vaaren, havde den lille Pige faaet Navn; Helga havde de kaldt hende, men det Navn var altfor blødt for et saadant Sind, som det, den deiligste Skikkelse her havde; Maaned for Maaned kom det mere frem, og i Aaringer, ja, medens Storkene gjorde samme Reise, i Høst mod Nilen, i Foraar mod Vildmosen, blev det lille Barn en stor Pige, og før man tænkte derover, var hun den deiligste Jomfru i sit sextende Aar; deilig af Skal, men haard og * beesk af Kjærne, vildere end de Fleste i denne haarde, mørke Tid.

Det var hende en Lyst at stænke med sine hvide Hænder det dampende Blod af den slagtede Offerhest; hun bed i Vildskab Halsen over paa den sorte Hane, som Offergoden skulde slagte, og til sin Pleiefader sagde hun i fuld Alvor:

»Kom din Fjende og slog Toug om Bjælkehovederne af Taget, lettede det over dit Kammer, medens Du sov, jeg skulde ikke vække Dig om jeg kunde! jeg hørte det ikke, saaledes surrer Blodet mig endnu om det Øre, hvorpaa Du for Aaringer siden gav mig en Kindhest, Du! Jeg husker!«

Men Vikingen troede ikke paa de Ord, han var, ligesom de Andre, daaret af hendes Deilighed; vidste heller ikke om, hvorledes Sind og Skind skiftede hos liden Helga. Uden Sadel sad hun, som groet fast til Hesten, der jog i fuldt Løb, og ikke sprang hun af, om den bedes med de andre ondsindede Heste. I alle sine Klæder kastede hun sig tidt fra Skrænten ud i Fjordens stærke Strømning, og svømmede Vikingen imøde, naar hans Baad styrede mod Land. Af sit deilige, lange Haar skar hun den længste Lok og flettede sig deraf en Stræng til sin Bue:

»Selvgjort er velgjort!« sagde hun.

Vikingefruen var vel efter Tid og Vane stærk i Villie og Sind, men mod Datteren var hun at ligne som en blød, angest Qvinde; hun vidste jo ogsaa, at det var Trolddom, der hvilede over det forfærdelige Barn.

Det var som om Helga, ret af ond Fornøielse, lidt for ofte fandt paa, naar Moderen stod paa Svalen eller traadte ud i Gaarden, at sætte sig op paa Brøndkanten, slaae med Arme og Been, og derpaa lade sig plumpe ned i det snevre, dybe Hul, hvor hun, med Frø-Naturen, dukkede og løftede sig igjen, kravlede saa, ligesom om hun var en Kat, og kom drivende af Vand ind i Høisalen, saa at de grønne Blade, der vare strøede paa Gulvet, vendte sig i den vaade Strøm.

Dog eet Baand var der, som holdt liden Helga, det var Aftenskumringen; i den blev hun stille og ligesom eftertænksom, lod sig kalde og føre; da ligesom drog en indre Fornemmelse hende til Moderen, og naar Solen sank og Forvandlingen ude og inde fulgte, sad hun der stille, sørgmodig, skrumpet sammen i Padde-Skikkelsen, Kroppen var vel nu langt større end dette Dyrs, men just derved desgrueligere; hun saae ud som en ynkelig Dværg med Frø-Hoved og Svømmehud mellem Fingrene. Der var Noget saa bedrøveligt i de Øine, hun saae med, Stemmen havde hun ikke, kun et huult Qvæk, ret som et Barn, der hulker i Drømme; da kunde Vikingefruen tage hende paa sit Skjød, hun glemte den hæslige Skikkelse, saae kun paa de bedrøvede Øine og sagde meer end eengang:

»Næsten kunde jeg ønske, at Du altid var mit stumme Frø-Barn; Du er mere forfærdelig at see paa, naar Deiligheden vender udad!«

Og hun skrev Runer mod Seid og Syge, kastede dem over den Elendige, men Bedring viste sig ikke.

»Man skulde ikke troe, at hun har været saa lille, at hun har ligget i en Aakande!« sagde Storkefader; »nu er hun et heelt Menneske og hendes ægyptiske Moder opad Dage; hende saae vi aldrig siden! hun hyttede sig ikke, som Du og den Lærdeste troede. Jeg har nu Aar ud, Aar ind fløiet paa kryds og tværs over Vildmosen, men hun gav aldrig Tegn fra sig! Ja, det kan jeg sige Dig, jeg har i de Aaringer, jeg er kommet herop nogle Dage forud for Dig, at jeg kunde bøde paa Reden, sætte Et og Andet i Stand, fløiet en heel Nat, som om jeg var en Ugle eller Flaggermuus, idelig over det aabne Vand, men til ingen Nytte! den fik vi da heller ikke for de to Svanehamme, som jeg og Ungerne slæbte herop fra Nilens Land; det var besværligt nok, i tre Keiser toge vi dem. Nu have de ligget i mange Aar paa Bunden af Reden, og skeer her nu engang Ilds-Ulykke, skeer det, at Bjælkehuset brænder af, saa ere de da væk!«

»Og vor gode Rede er væk!« sagde Storkemoder, »den tænker Du mindre paa, end paa det Fjædertøi og din Mose-Prindsesse! Du skulde engang gaae ned til hende og blive i Dyndet! Du er en daarlig Fader for dine Egne, det har jeg sagt fra jeg laae paa Æg første Gang. Faae vi eller vore Unger bare ikke en Piil i Vingen af den gale Vikingetøs! hun veed jo ikke, hvad hun gjør. Vi ere dog lidt ældre hjemme her end hun, det skulde hun betænke; vi glemme aldrig vore Skyldigheder, vi give vore Afgifter aarlig, en Fjæder, et Æg og en Unge, som Ret er. Troer Du, at naar hun er udenfor, jeg gider gaae derned, som i gamle Dage, og som jeg gjør i Ægypten, hvor jeg er halv Kammerat med dem, uden at glemme mig, kiger i Kar og i Gryde? Nei, jeg sidder heroppe og ærgrer mig over hende - Tøs! - og jeg ærgrer mig over Dig med! Du skulde have ladet hende ligge i Aakanden, saa havde hun været væk!«

»Du er meget agtværdigere end din Tale!« sagde Storkefader - »jeg kjender Dig bedre, end Du kjender Dig selv!«

Og saa gjorde han et Hop, to tunge Vingeslag, strakte Benene bagud og fløi, seilede afsted, uden at røre Vingerne, han var et godt Stykke borte, da tog han et kraftigt Tag, Solen skinnede paa de hvide Fjædre, Hals og Hoved strakte sig fremad! Der var Fart og Sving.

»Han er dog den Deiligste endnu af dem Allesammen!« sagde Storkemoder, »men jeg siger ham det ikke.«


Tidlig denne Høst kom Vikingen hjem med Bytte og Fanger; mellem disse var en ung, Christen Præst, een af de Mænd, der forfulgte de nordiske Landes Afguder. Ofte i den sidste Tid var i Hal og Fruerstue blevet talt om den nye Tro, der bredte sig vidt om i alle Lande Syd paa, ja ved den hellige Ansgarius endogsaa var naaet op til Hedeby ved Slien; selv liden Helga havde hørt om Troen paa den hvide Christ, der af Kjærlighed til Menneskene havde givet sig hen for at frelse dem; det var for hende, som man siger, gaaet ind ad det ene Øre og ud ad det andet; det Ord Kjærlighed syntes hun kun at have Fornemmelse for, naar hun i den ynkelige Frø-Skikkelse krøb sammen i det aflukkede Kammer; men Vikingefruen havde lyttet til og følt sig forunderlig grebet ved de Sagn og Sagaer, der gik om Sønnen af een eneste sand Gud.

Mændene, komne hjem fra Tog, havde fortalt om de prægtige Templer af hugne kostelige Stene, reiste for ham, hvis Bud var Kjærlighed; et Par svære, gyldne Kar, kunstigt udskaarne og heelt af det pure Guld, vare hjembragte, der var ved hvert en egen krydret Duft, det var Røgelsekar, som de christne Præster svang foran Altret, hvor aldrig Blod flød, men Vinen og det indviede Brød forvandledes i hans Blod, som havde givet sig hen for endnu ufødte Slægter.

I Bjælkehusets dybe, steensatte Kjelder var den fangne, unge christne Præst bragt ned, snørt med Bastbaand om Fødder og Hænder; deilig var han, »som Baldur at see!« sagde Vikingefruen og hun rørtes ved hans Nød, men ung Helga lystede, at der skulde drages et Toug gjennem hans Haser og han bindes til Halerne af de vilde Oxer.

»Saa skulde jeg slippe Hundene løs; hui! afsted over Moser og Kjær, ad Heden til! det vilde være lystigt at see, lystigere endnu at kunne følge ham paa Farten!«

Dog den Død vilde Vikingen ikke han skulde lide, men som Fornægter og Forfølger af de høie Guder, imorgen den Dag offres paa Blodstenen i Lunden, det var første Gang at her et Menneske offredes.

Ung Helga bad om hun maatte bestænke Gudebillederne og Folket med Blodet af ham; hun sleb sin blanke Kniv og da een af de store, glubske Hunde, hvoraf der var nok paa Gaarden, løb hende hen over Fødderne, stak hun den Kniven ind i Siden: »Det er for at prøve den!« sagde hun, og Vikingefruen saae bedrøvet paa den vilde, ondsindede Pige, og da Natten kom og Skjønheds Skikkelsen hos Datteren i Krop og Sjæl skiftede om, talte hun til hende Sorgens varme Ord, ud af en bedrøvet Sjæl.

Den grimme Padde med Troldens Krop stod foran og heftede de brune, sorgfulde Øine paa hende, hørte og syntes at forstaae med Menneskets Tanke.

»Aldrig, selv til min Husbond, er det kommet paa min Tunge om hvad dobbelt jeg lider ved Dig!« sagde Vikingefruen, »der er mere Ynk i mit Hjerte over Dig, end jeg selv troede! stor er en Moders Kjærlighed! men aldrig kom Kjærlighed i dit Sind! Dit Hjerte er som en kold Dyndklump! hvorfra er Du dog kommet i mit Huus!«

Da sittrede forunderligt den ynkelige Skikkelse, det var som om de Ord berørte et usynligt Baand mellem Legem og Sjæl, der kom store Taarer i Øinene.

»Din haarde Tid vil engang komme!« sagde Vikingefruen, »gruelig vil den blive ogsaa for mig! - bedre om Du, som Barn var stillet ud paa Alfarvei, og Nattekulden havde lullet Dig til Døde!« Og Vikingefruen græd de salte Taarer og gik vred og bedrøvet bort, om bag det løse Skindtæppe, der hang over Bjælken og deelte Stuen.

Alene sad i Krogen den sammenskrumpne Padde; der var lydløst, men efter korte Mellemrum kom, inde i hende, et halvqvalt Suk; det var, som om, i Smerte, et Liv fødtes i Hjertets Vraa. Hun gjorde et Skridt frem, lyttede, gik atter et Skridt og greb nu med de ubehjelpelige Hænder om den tunge Stang, der var skudt for Døren; sagte fik hun den fra, stille trak hun bort Pinden, der var stukket ind over Klinken; hun greb den tændte Lampe, der stod i Kamret foran; det var som en stærk Villie gav hende Kræfter; hun drog Jernpinden ud af den stængede Lem, listede sig ned til Fangen; han sov; hun rørte ved ham med sin kolde, klamme Haand, og da han vaagnede og saae den hæslige Skikkelse, gøs han, som for et ondt Syn. Hun drog sin Kniv, overskar hans Baand og vinkede ad ham, at han skulde følge hende.

Han nævnede hellige Navne, gjorde Korsets Tegn, og da Skikkelsen stod uforandret, sagde han Bibelens Ord:

»Salig er Den, som handler forstandigen mod den Ringe; Herren skal redde ham paa en ond Dag! - Hvo er Du? Hvorfra dette Ydre af Dyret og dog fuld af Barmhjertighedens Gjerning!«

Paddeskikkelsen vinkede, og førte ham bag skjulende Tæpper, hen ad en eensom Gang, ud til Stalden, pegede paa en Hest, han svang sig op paa den, men ogsaa hun satte sig der forrest og holdt i Dyrets Manke. Den Fangne forstod hende og i hurtig Trav rede de en Vei, som han aldrig vilde have fundet, ud til den aabne Hede.

Han glemte hendes hæslige Skikkelse, Herrens Naade og Barmhjertighed fornam han virkede gjennem Utysket; fromme Bønner bad han og hellige Sange istemte han; da sittrede hun, var det Bønnens og Sangens Magt, der virkede her, eller var det Kulde-Gyset ved Morgenen, der snart vilde komme? hvad var det vel hun fornam? hun løftede sig høit i Veiret, vilde standse Hesten og springe ned; men den christne Præst holdt hende fast med al sin Kraft, sang høit en Psalme, som mægtede den at løse Trolddommen, der holdt hende i den hæslige Frø-Skikkelse, og Hesten jog vildere frem, Himlen blev rød, den første Solstraale trængte gjennem Skyen, og ved det klare Væld af Lyset kom Omskiftelsen, hun var den unge Deilighed med det dæmoniske, onde Sind; han holdt den skjønneste, unge Qvinde i sine Arme og forfærdedes derover, sprang ned fra Hesten, standsede den, i det han troede at møde en ny ødelæggende Trolddom; men ung Helga var i samme Spring ogsaa paa Jorden, den korte Barnekjole naaede hende kun til Knæet; den skarpe Kniv rev hun af sit Bælte og styrtede ind paa den Overraskede.

»Lad mig naae Dig!« raabte hun, »lad mig naae Dig, og Kniven skal komme op i Dig! Du er jo bleg som Hø! Træl! skjægløs!«

Hun trængte ind paa ham; de brødes i en svær Kamp, men det var som om en usynlig Kraft gav den christne Mand Styrke; han holdt hende fast, og det gamle Egetræ tæt ved kom ham til Hjelp ved ligesom med sine fra Jorden halv løsnede Rødder at binde hendes Fødder, der vare gledne ind under dem. Tæt ved sprudlede en Kilde, han stænkede hende med det friske Væld over Bryst og Ansigt, bød den urene Aand fare ud og signede hende efter christelig Brug, men Daabens Vand har ikke Kraft der, hvor ikke Troens Væld ogsaa strømmer indenfra.

Og dog var han ogsaa heri den Stærke; ja meer end Mands Styrke mod den stridende onde Kraft laae der i hans Gjerning, den ligesom betog hende, hun lod Armene synke, saae med forundrede Blikke og blegnende Kinder paa denne Mand, der syntes en mægtig Troldmand, stærk i Seid og hemmelig Kunst; det var mørke Runer, han læste, Lønstaver, han tegnede i Luften! Ikke for den blinkende Øxe eller skarpe Kniv, om han havde svunget den mod hendes Øine, vilde hun have gjort et Blink, men hun gjorde det, da han skrev Korsets Tegn paa hendes Pande og Bryst; og sad hun nu som en tam Fugl, Hovedet bøiede sig mod Brystet.

Da talte han mildt til hende om den Kjærlighedens Gjerning, hun havde øvet mod ham i denne Nat, da hun i Frøens hæslige Ham var kommen, havde løst hans Baand og ført ham ud til Lys og Liv; hun var ogsaa bunden, bunden med trangere Baand, end han, sagde han, men ogsaa hun skulde, og ved ham, komme til Lys og Liv. Til Hedeby, til den hellige Ansgarius, vilde han bringe hende, der, i den christne Stad, vilde Fortryllelsen hæves; men ikke foran paa Hesten, selv om hun godvillig sad der, turde han føre hende.

»Bag paa Hesten maa du sidde, ikke foran mig! Din Trolddoms Skjønhed har en Magt, som er fra det Onde, jeg frygter den - og dog er Seiren for mig i Christo!«

Han bøiede sine Knæ, bad saa fromt og inderligt! det var som om den tause Skov-Natur indviedes derved til en hellig Kirke; Fuglene begyndte at synge som hørte de med til den nye Menighed, de vilde Krusemynter duftede som vilde de erstatte Ambra og Røgelse; høit forkyndte han Skriftens Ord: »Lyset fra det Høie har besøgt os, for at skinne for dem, som sidde i Mørket og i Dødens Skygge, at styre vore Fødder paa Fredens Vei! -«

Og han talte om Alnaturens Forlængsel, og mens han talte stod Hesten, der havde baaret dem i vildt Løb, stille og ruskede i de store Brombærranker, saa at de modne, saftige Bær faldt paa liden Helgas Haand, bydende sig selv til Vederqvægelse.

Hun lod sig taalmodig løfte op paa Hestens Ryg, sad der som en Søvngjængerske, der ikke vaager og dog ikke vandrer. Den christne Mand bandt to Grene sammen med et Bastbaand, at de dannede et Kors, det holdt han høit i Haanden og saa red de gjennem Skoven, der blev tættere, Veien dybere, eller slet ingen Vei. Slaaentornen stod som Vei-Bom, man maatte ride uden om den; Kilden blev ikke til rindende Bæk, men til staaende Mose, man maatte ride uden om den. Der laae Styrke og Vederqvægelse i den friske Skovluft, der laae en ikke ringere Kraft i Mildhedens Ord, der klang i Tro og Christen-Kjærlighed, i den inderlige Trang til at føre den Betagne til Lys og Liv.

Regndraaben, siger man jo, huler den haarde Steen, Havets Bølger gjøre i Tiden de afrevne kantede Klippe-Stene runde, Naadens Dug, som var oprundet for liden Helga, hulede det Haarde, rundede det Skarpe; vel var det ikke at kjende, hun vidste det ikke selv, hvad veed Spiren i Jorden, ved det qvægende Væde og den varme Solstraale, at den gjemmer i sig Væxt og Blomst.

Som Moderens Sang for Barnet umærkeligt hefter sig i Sindet, og det laller efter de enkelte Ord, uden at forstaae dem, men disse siden samle sig i Tanken og i Tiden blive klarere, saaledes virkede ogsaa her Ordet, der mægter at skabe.

De rede ud af Skoven, hen over Heden, atter igjennem veiløse Skove, da mødte de henimod Aften Røvere.

»Hvor har Du stjaalet den deilige Glut!« raabte de, stoppede Hesten, rev de to Ridende ned, thi mandsstærke vare de. Præsten havde ikke andet Værge end Kniven, som han havde taget fra liden Helga, den stødte han om sig med, een af Røverne svingede sin Øxe, men den unge, christne Mand gjorde et lykkeligt Spring tilside, ellers var han bleven ramt, nu foer Øxens Eg dybt ind i Hestens Hals, saa Blodet strømmede ud og Dyret styrtede til Jorden; da foer liden Helga, som vækket af sin lange, dybe Tanke-Hvile, hen og kastede sig over det gispende Dyr; den christne Præst stillede sig foran hende til Værn og Værge, men een af Røverne svingede sin tunge Jernhammer mod hans Pande, saa at den knustes og Blod og Hjerne sprøitede rundt om, død faldt han til Jorden.

Røverne grebe liden Helga om hendes hvide Arm, da gik Solen i det samme ned, den sidste Solstraale slukkedes og hun forvandledes til en hæslig Padde; den hvidgrønne Mund gik ud over det halve Ansigt, Armene bleve tynde og slimede, en bred Haand med Svømmehud bredte sin Vifte-Form; - da slap Røverne hende forfærdet; hun stod som det hæslige Udyr midt imellem dem og efter Frøens Natur hoppede hun i Veiret, høiere, end hun selv var og forsvandt i Tykningen; da mærkede Røverne, at det var Lokes onde List, eller hemmelig Seid-Kunst og forfærdet skyndte de sig bort derfra.


Fuldmaanen var alt oppe, snart gav den Glands og Lysning, og frem fra Krattet krøb, i Frøens ynkelige Ham, liden Helga; hun standsede ved Liget af den christne Præst og ved sin dræbte Ganger, hun saae paa dem med Øine, som syntes at græde; Frøhovedet gav et Qvæk, som om et Barn brister i Graad. Hun kastede sig snart over den Ene, snart over den Anden, tog Vand i Haanden, der ved Svømmehuden blev større og mere huul og gød det over dem. Døde vare de, døde vilde de blive! hun forstod det. Snart kunde de vilde Dyr komme og æde deres Krop; nei, det maatte ikke skee! derfor gravede hun i Jorden saa dybt hun mægtede det; en Grav vilde hun aabne for dem, men hun havde kun, til at grave med, en haard Trægreen og begge sine Hænder, men paa dem spændte mellem Fingrene Svømmehuden, den revnede, Blodet flød. Hun begreb, at Arbeidet vilde ikke lykkes hende; da tog hun Vand og af vaskede den Dødes Ansigt, bedækkede det med friske, grønne Blade, bar store Grene hen og lagde over ham, rystede Løv derind imellem, tog saa de sværeste Stene, hun mægtede at løfte, lagde dem over de døde Legemer og tilstoppede Aabningerne med Mos, da troede hun, at Gravhøien var stærk og fredet, men under dette tunge Arbeide var Natten skredet hen, Solen brød frem - og liden Helga stod i al sin Deilighed, med blødende Hænder og for første Gang med Taarer paa de rødmende, jomfruelige Kinder.

Da var det i Forvandlingen, som to Naturer brødes inde i hende; hun sittrede, saae omkring sig, som vaagnede hun af en ængstende Drøm, foer derpaa hen til den slanke Bøg, holdt sig fast ved den, for dog at have en Støtte, og snart, i et Nu, klattrede hun, som en Kat, op i Træets Top, og klamrede sig fast; hun sad der som et ængstet Egern, sad der den lange Dag i den dybe Skov-Eensomhed, hvor Alt er stille og dødt, siger man jo! - dødt, ja der fløi et Par Sommerfugle om hinanden, i Leeg eller Strid; der var tæt ved nogle Myretuer, hver med flere Hundrede travle Smaaskabninger, der mylrede frem og tilbage; i Luften dandsede utallige Myg, Sværm ved Sværm; der joge forbi Skarer af surrende Fluer, Vor Herres Høns, Guldsmede og andre vingede Smaadyr, Regnormen krøb frem fra den vaade Grund, Muldvarpene skjøde op, - forresten var det stille, dødt rundt om, dødt, som man siger og forstaaer det. Ingen lagde Mærke til liden Helga uden Skovskaderne der fløi skrigende om Træets Top, hvor hun sad; de hoppede hen ad Grenene mod hende i dristig Nysgjerrighed; et Blink af hendes Øie var et Blink, der jog dem bort igjen, - men de bleve ikke klogere paa hende og hun ikke heller paa sig selv.

Da Aftenen var nær, og Solen begyndte at synke, kaldte Forvandlingen hende til ny Bevægelse; hun lod sig glide ned af Træet, og idet den sidste Solstraale slukkedes, stod hun der i Frøens sammenkrympede Skikkelse, med Hændernes sønderrevne Svømme-Hinder, men Øinene straalede nu med en Skjønheds-Glands, som de knap eiede før i Deilighedens Skikkelse; det var de mildeste, fromme Pige-Øine, der lyste frem bag Frø-Larven, de vidnede om det dybe Sind, det menneskelige Hjerte; og Skjønheds-Øinene brast i Graad, græd Hjertets tunge Lettelses-Taarer.

Der laae endnu ved den reiste Grav det Kors af Grene, der med Bast-Baand var bundet sammen, det sidste Arbeide af ham, som nu var død og borte; liden Helga tog det, Tanken kom af sig selv, hun plantede det mellem Stenene over ham og den dræbte Hest; ved Erindringens Vemod brøde Taarer frem, og i denne Hjerte-Stemning ridsede hun det samme Tegn ind i Jorden rundt om Graven, det hegnede saa pynteligt om den, - og i det hun med begge Hænder ridsede Korsets Tegn, faldt Svømmehuden, som en sønderreven Handske af, og da hun vaskede sig i Kildens Væld, og undrende saae paa sine fine, hvide Hænder, gjorde hun atter Korsets Tegn i Luften, mellem sig og den Døde, da bævede hendes Læber, da rørte sig hendes Tunge og det Navn, hun oftest paa Ridtet gjennem Skoven havde hørt udsjunget og udtalt, blev lydeligt fra hendes Mund, hun sagde det: »Jesus Christ!«

Da faldt Paddehammen, hun var den unge Deilighed; - dog Hovedet bøiede sig træt, Lemmerne trængte til Hvile, - hun sov.

Men Søvnen var kun kort; ved Midnat blev hun vækket; foran hende stod den døde Hest, saa straalende, fuld af Liv, det lyste ud af Øinene og ud af den saarede Hals; tæt ved den viste sig den dræbte, christne Præst; »skjønnere end Baldur!« vilde Vikingefruen have sagt, og dog kom han som i Ildsluer.

Der var en Alvor i de store, milde Øine, en Retfærdighedens Dom, et saa gjennemtrængende Blik, at det lyste ligesom ind i Hjertets Kroge hos den Prøvede. Liden Helga sittrede derved, og hendes Hukommelse vaktes med en Kraft som paa Dommens Dag. Alt hvad Godt der var ydet hende, hvert kjærligt Ord der var sagt hende, blev ligesom levende gjort; hun forstod, at det var Kjærligheden, der havde holdt hende oppe her i Prøvelsens Dage, i hvilke Afkom af Sjæl og Dynd gjærer og stræber; hun erkjendte, at hun kun havde fulgt Stemningernes Tilskyndelser, og selv Intet gjort for sig; Alt var blevet givet hende, Alt var ligesom blevet ledet; hun bøiede sig ringe, ydmyg, skamfuld for Den, der maatte kunde læse hver Fold i Hjertet; og i dette Øieblik fornam hun som et Lynblink af Luttrelsens Flamme, den hellige Aands Lue.

»Du Dyndets Datter!« sagde den christne Præst: »Af Dynd, af Jord est Du kommen, - af Jord skal Du igjen opstaae! Solstraalen i Dig gaaer legemsbevidst tilbage til sit Ophav, Straalen ikke fra Sol-Legemet, men Straalen fra Gud! Ingen Sjæl skal fortabes, men langt er det Timelige, der er Livsens Flugt i det Evige. - Jeg kommer fra de Dødes Land; ogsaa Du skal engang reise gjennem de dybe Dale ind i det lysende Bjergland, hvor Naaden og Fuldendelsen boer. Jeg fører Dig ikke til Hedeby efter Christen-Daab, først maa Du sprænge Vandskjoldet over den dybe Mosegrund, drage den levende Rod op for dit Liv og din Vugge, øve din Gjerning før Indvielsen tør komme.«

Og han løftede hende op paa Hesten, rakte hende et gyldent Røgelsekar som det, hun før havde seet i Vikingeborgen, der kom en Duft saa sød og stærk derfra. Pandens aabne Vunde paa den Dræbte lyste som et straalende Diadem; Korset tog han fra Graven, løftede det høit i Veiret, og nu foer de afsted gjennem Luften, hen over den susende Skov, hen over Høiene hvor Kæmperne vare jordede, siddende paa deres dræbte Gangere; og de mægtige Skikkelser reiste sig, rede ud og holdt øverst paa Høien; i Maaneskinnet straalede om deres Pande den brede Guldring med Guld-Knude, Kaaben flagrede i Vinden. Lindormen, som rugede over Skatte, løftede sit Hoved og saae efter dem. Dvergfolket kiggede frem fra Høie og Plovfurer, de mylrede med røde, blaae og grønne Lys, en Vrimmel at see som Gnisterne i Asken af det brændte Papir.

Hen over Skov og Hede, Aaer og Kjær fløi de, op mod Vildmosen; hen over den svævede de i store Kredse. Den christne Præst løftede Korset høit, det skinnede som Guld, og fra hans Læber lød Messesangen; liden Helga sang den med, som Barnet synger ved sin Moders Sang; hun svingede Røgelsekarret, der kom en Alterduft, saa stærk, saa under virkende, at Mosens Siv og Rør blomstrede derved; alle Spirer skjøde op fra den dybe Bund, Alt, hvad Liv havde løftede sig, der bredte sig et Flor af Aakander, som var det et indvirket Blomstertæppe og paa dette laae en sovende Qvinde, ung og deilig, liden Helga troede at see sig selv, sit Speilbilled i det stille Vand; det var hendes Moder hun saae, Dyndkongens Viv, Prindsessen fra Nilens Vande.

Den døde, christne Præst bød, at den Sovende løftedes op paa Hesten, men denne sank under Byrden som var dens Legem kun et Liiglagen, der flyver i Vinden, men Korsets Tegn gjorde Luft-Phantomet stærkt, og alle Tre rede de hen til den faste Grund.

Da goel Hanen i Vikingens Borg og Synerne løste sig op i Taage, der foer hen i Vinden, men ud for hinanden stod Moder og Datter.

»Er det mig selv, jeg seer i det dybe Vand!« sagde Moderen. »Er det mig selv, jeg seer i det blanke Skjold!« udbrød Datteren, og de nærmede sig hinanden, Bryst mod Bryst, Favn i Favn, stærkest slog Moderens Hjerte og hun forstod det.

»Mit Barn! mit eget Hjertes Blomst! min Lotus fra de dybe Vande!«

Og hun omarmede sit Barn og græd; Taarerne vare en ny Livsens, Kjærlighedens Daab for liden Helga.

»I Svaneham kom jeg herhid og kastede den!« sagde Moderen, »jeg sank igjennem den gyngende Flom, dybt ned i Mosens Dynd, der som en Muur lukkede sig om mig; men snart fornam jeg en friskere Strømning; en Kraft drog mig dybere, altid dybere, jeg følte Søvnens Tryk paa mine Øienlaage, jeg sov ind, jeg drømte - jeg syntes, jeg igjen laae i Ægyptens Pyramide, men foran mig stod endnu den gyngende Elletrunte, der paa Mosens Flade havde skrækket mig, jeg betragtede Revnerne i Barken, og de lyste frem i Farver og bleve Hieroglypher, det var Mumiens Hylster jeg saae paa, det brast, og ud derfra traadte den tusindaarige Drot, Mumie-Skikkelsen, sort som Beg, sortglindsende som Skovsneglen eller det fede, sorte Dynd, Dyndkongen eller Pyramidens Mumie, jeg vidste det ikke. Han slyngede sine Arme om mig og det var som om jeg maatte døe. Livet fornam jeg først igjen ved at det blev varmt paa mit Bryst og der en lille Fugl slog med Vingerne, qviddrede og sang. Den fløi fra mit Bryst høit mod det mørke, tunge Loft, men et langt, grønt Baand bandt den endnu til mig; jeg hørte og forstod dens Længsels Toner: Frihed! Solskin! til Faderen! - da tænkte jeg paa min Fader i Hjemmets solbelyste Land, mit Liv, min Kjærlighed! og jeg løsnede Baandet, lod den flagre bort - hjem til Faderen. Siden Min Stund har jeg ikke drømt, jeg sov en Søvn, tilvisse saa tung og lang, til i denne Stund Toner og Duft løftede og løste mig!«

Det grønne Baand fra Moderens Hjerte til Fuglens Vinge, hvor flagrede det nu, hvor laae det henkastet? kun Storken havde seet det; Baandet var den grønne Stilk, Sløifen den skinnende Blomst, Vugge for det Barn, som nu var voxet i Deilighed og igjen hvilede ved Moderens Hjerte.

Og mens de stode der Favn i Favn, fløi Storkefader i Kredse om dem, tog saa Fart til sin Rede, hentede de der i Aaringer gjemte Fjæderhamme, kastede een til dem hver, og den sluttede sig om dem og de løftede sig fra Jorden som to hvide Svaner.

»Lad os nu tale!« sagde Storkefader, »nu forstaae vi hinandens Sprog, om end Næbbet er anderledes skaaret paa den ene Fugl end paa den anden! det træffer sig saa heldigt som Noget kan, at I komme denne Nat, imorgen havde vi været afsted, Mutter, jeg og Ungerne! vi flyve Syd paa! ja, see kun paa mig! jeg er jo en gammel Ven fra Nil-Landet og det er Mutter med, hun har det i Hjertet mere end i Knebbren. Hun troede altid, at Prindsessen nok hyttede sig; jeg og Ungerne have baaret Svanehammen herop -! naa, hvor jeg er glad! og hvor det er et Held, at jeg er her endnu; naar det gryer ad Dag trække vi afsted! stort Storke-Selskab! Vi flyve foran, flyv kun bag efter, saa tage I ikke feil af Veien; jeg og Ungerne skal ogsaa nok have et Øie med!«

»Og Lotus-Blomsten jeg skulde bringe!« sagde den ægyptiske Prindsesse, »den flyver i Svaneham ved min Side! mit Hjertes Blomst har jeg med, saaledes har det løst sig. Hjemad, hjemad!«

Men Helga sagde, at hun ikke kunde forlade det danske Land, før hun engang endnu havde seet sin Pleiemoder, den kjærlige Vikingefrue. I Helgas Tanke gik op hver smuk Erindring, hvert kjærligt Ord, hver Taare, Pleiemoderen havde grædt og næsten var det i dette Øieblik, som om hun holdt meest af denne Moder.

»Ja, vi maae til Vikingegaarden!« sagde Storkefader, »der venter jo Mo'er og Ungerne! hvor ville de dreie Øine og lade Knebbren gaae! ja, Mo'er siger nu ikke saa meget! kort og fyndig er hun, og saa mener hun det endnu bedre! jeg vil strax slaae en Skralde, at de kunne høre at vi komme!«

Og saa skraldede Storkefader med Næbbet og han og Svanerne fløi til Vikingeborgen.

Derinde laae Alle endnu i dyb Søvn; først seent paa Natten var Vikingefruen kommen til Ro; hun laae i Angest for liden Helga, der nu i hele tre Døgn havde været forsvundet med den christne Præst; hun maatte have hjulpet ham bort, det var hendes Hest, der savnedes paa Stalden, ved hvilken Magt var alt Dette bevirket. Vikingefruen tænkte paa de Underværker, der hørtes skete ved den hvide Christ og ved dem, som troede paa ham og fulgte ham. De vexlende Tanker fik Skikkelse i Drømmens Liv, det forekom hende, at hun endnu sad vaagen, eftertænkende paa sin Seng, og udenfor rugede Mørket. Stormen kom, hun hørte Havets Rullen i Vest og Øst, fra Nordsøen og Kattegattets Vande; den uhyre Slange, som omspændte Jorden i Havdybet, rystede i Krampetrækninger; det var mod Gudernes Nat, Ragnarok, som Hedningfolket kaldte den yderste Time, da Alt skulde forgaae, selv de høie Guder. Gjallerhornet lød, og hen over Regnbuen rede Guderne, klædte i Staal, for at kæmpe den sidste Kamp; foran dem fløi de vingeklædte Skjoldmøer, og Rækken sluttedes med de døde Kæmpers Skikkelser; den hele Luft lyste om dem med Nordlys-Blink, men Mørket var det seirende. Det var en rædsom Stund.

Og tæt ved den ængstede Vikingefrue sad paa Gulvet liden Helga i Frøens hæslige Skikkelse, ogsaa hun skjælvede og knugede sig op til Pleiemoderen, som tog hende paa sit Skjød og i Kjærlighed holdt hende fast, i hvor hæslig end Paddehammen syntes. Luften gjenlød af Sværd- og Kølle-Slag, af susende Pile, som var det en stormende Hagelbyge, der gik hen over dem. Timen var kommen, da Jord og Himmel vilde briste, Stjernerne falde, Alt gaae tilgrunde i Surturs Ild, men en ny Jord og Himmel, vidste hun, vilde komme, Kornet bølge, hvor Havet nu rullede hen over den golde Sandbund, den unævnelige Gud raade og op til ham steg Baldur, den milde, kjærlige, løst fra de Dødes Rige - han kom - Vikingefruen saae ham, hun kjendte hans Aasyn, - det var den christne, fangne Præst. »Hvide Christ!« raabte hun høit og i Navnets Nævnelse trykkede hun et Kys paa sit hæslige Frøbarns Pande; da faldt Paddehammen, og liden Helga stod der i al sin Deilighed, mild som aldrig før og med straalende Øine; hun kyssede Pleiemoderens Hænder, velsignede hende for al den Omhu og Kjærlighed, hun i Trængselens og Prøvelsens Dage forundte hende; takkede hende for de Tanker, hun havde nedlagt i hende og vakt, takkede hende for Navnets Nævnelse det hun gjentog: hvide Christ! og liden Helga løftede sig som en mægtig Svane, Vingerne bredte sig saa store, med en Susen, som naar Trækfuglenes Skare flyver bort.

Vikingefruen vaagnede derved, og udenfor lød endnu det samme stærke Vingeslag, - det var Tiden vidste hun, at Storkene droge herfra, dem var det hun hørte; endnu engang vilde hun see dem før deres Afreise og sige dem Farvel! Hun stod op, gik ud paa Svalen, og da saae hun paa Sidehusets Tagryg Stork ved Stork, og rundt om Gaarden, hen over de høie Træer, fløi Skarer i store Svingninger, men ligeud for hende, paa Brøndkanten, hvor liden Helga saa tidt havde siddet og skrækket hende ved sin Vildskab, sade nu to Svaner og saae med kloge Øine paa hende; og hun huskede paa sin Drøm, den fyldte hende endnu heel, aldeles som en Virkelighed, hun tænkte paa liden Helga i Svaneskikkelse, hun tænkte paa den christne Præst, og følte sig med Eet forunderlig glad i Hjertet.

Svanerne sloge med Vingerne, bøiede deres Halse, som vilde de ogsaa give deres Hilsen; og Vikingefruen bredte sine Arme ud imod dem, som om hun forstod det, smilede i Graad og mange Tanker.

Da løftede sig med Vinge-Larm og Knebbren alle Storkene til Reisen Syd paa.

»Vi vente ikke paa Svanerne!« sagde Storkemoder, »vil de med, maae de komme! vi kunne ikke blive her til Brokfuglene reise! Der er dog noget kjønt i at reise saaledes familieviis, ikke som Bogfinker og Bruushøns, hvor Hannerne flyve for sig og Hunnerne for sig, det er egentligt talt ikke anstændigt! og hvad er det for et Vingeslag Svanerne gjør?«

»Hver flyver paa sit Sæt!« sagde Storkefader, »Svanerne tage det paa skraa, Tranerne i Trekant og Brokfuglene i Slangelinie!«

»Nævn ikke Slange naar vi flyve heroppe!« sagde Storkemoder, »det giver kun Ungerne Lyster, som ikke kunne tilfredsstilles!«


»Er det de høie Bjerge dernede, jeg hørte om!« spurgte Helga i Svaneham.

»Det er Tordenskyer, som drive under os!« sagde Moderen.

»Hvad er det for hvide Skyer, som løfte sig saa høit?« spurgte Helga.

»Det er de evigt besneede Bjerge, Du seer!« sagde Moderen, og de fløi over Alperne, ned mod det blaanende Middelhav.


»Africas Land! Ægyptens Strand!« jublede i Svane-Skikkelse Nilens Datter, idet hun høit fra Luften øinede, som en hvidguul, bølgeformig Stribe, sin Hjemstavn.

Ogsaa Fuglene saae den og fremskyndte deres Flugt.

»Jeg lugter Nil-Dynd og vaade Frøer!« sagde Storkemoder, »det kriller i mig! - Ja, nu skulle I faae at smage, og I skulle see Marabu, Ibis og Traner! de høre alle til Familien, men ere ikke nær saa kjønne, som vi; de stille sig fornemme an, især Ibis; han er nu blevet forvænt af Ægypterne, de gjøre ham til Mumie, stoppe ham med Kryder-Urter. Jeg vil heller stoppes med levende Frøer, det ville I med og det skulle I blive! Bedre Noget i Skrotten mens man lever, end at være til Stads naar man er død! det er min Mening og den er altid den rigtige!«

»Nu ere Storkene komne!« sagde man i det rige Huus ved Nilens Bred, hvor i den aabne Hal, paa bløde * Hynder dækkede med Leopardens Skind, den kongelige Herre laae udstrakt, ikke levende heller ikke død, haabende paa Lotus-Blomsten fra den dybe Mose i Norden. Slægtninge og Tyende stode om ham.

Og ind i Hallen fløi to prægtige, hvide Svaner, de vare komne med Storkene; de kastede den blendende Fjæderham og der stode to deilige Qvinder, hinanden saa liig som to Dugdraaber; de bøiede sig hen over den blege, henvisnede gamle Mand, de kastede deres lange Haar tilbage, og idet liden Helga bøiede sig over Bedstefaderen, rødmede hans Kinder, hans Øine fik Glands, der kom Liv i de stivnede Lemmer. Den Gamle reiste sig karsk og forynget; Datter og Datterdatter holdt ham i deres Arme som til Morgenhilsen i Glæde efter en lang, tung Drøm.


Og der var Glæde over al den Gaard og i Storkereden med, men der var det dog meest over den gode Føde, de mylrende mange Frøer; og mens de Lærde i Hast optegnede saa løseligt Historien om de to Prindsesser og om Sundheds-Blomsten, der var en stor Begivenhed og Velsignelse for Huus og Land, fortalte Storkeforældrene den paa deres Viis og for deres Familie, men først da de Alle vare mætte, ellers havde de jo Andet at bestille end at høre paa Historier.

»Nu bliver Du da Noget!« hviskede Storkemoder; »det er ikke rimeligt Andet!«

»O, hvad skulde jeg blive!« sagde Storkefader, »og hvad har jeg gjort? Ingenting!«

»Du har gjort mere, end alle de Andre! uden Dig og Ungerne havde de to Prindsesser aldrig seet Ægypten igjen og faaet den Gamle rask. Du bliver Noget! Du faaer bestemt DoctorGraden og vore Unger fødes siden med den, og deres Unger igjen videre frem! Du seer ogsaa allerede ud som en ægyptisk Doctor, - i mine Øine!«

De Lærde og Vise udviklede Grundtanken, som de kaldte det, der gik gjennem den hele Begivenhed: »Kjærlighed føder Liv!« den gav de Forklaring paa forskjellige Maader: »den varme Solstraale var Ægyptens Prindsesse, hun steg ned til Dyndkongen og i deres Møden sprang Blomsten frem -«

»Jeg kan ikke saaledes rigtig gjentage Ordene!« sagde Storkefader, der havde hørt til fra Taget og skulde fortælle derom i Reden. »Det var saa indviklet hvad de sagde, det var saa klogt, at de strax fik Rang og Skjenkads, selv Mundkokken fik et stort Udmærkelses-Tegn - det var nok for Suppen!«

»Og hvad fik Du?« spurgte Storkemoder, »De skulde da ikke glemme den Vigtigste og Den er Du! de Lærde have kun knebbret ved det Hele! men dit kommer vel!«

I den sildige Nat, da Søvnens Fred hvilede over det * rige lykkelige Huus, var der Een, der endnu vaagede, og det var ikke Storkefader, uagtet han paa eet Been stod op i Reden og sov Skildvagt, nei, liden Helga vaagede, heldede sig ud over Altanen og saae paa den klare Luft med de store, lysende Stjerner, større og renere i Glands, end hun havde seet dem i Norden, og dog de samme. Hun tænkte paa Vikingefruen ved Vildmosen, paa Pleiemoderens milde Øine, de Taarer, hun havde grædt over det arme Frøbarn, der nu stod i Glands og Stjernepragt ved Nilens Vande i deilig Foraars-Luft. Hun tænkte paa Kjærligheden i den hedenske Qvindes Bryst, den Kjærlighed, hun havde viist en ynkelig Skabning, der i Menneske-Ham var et ondt Dyr og i Dyrets Ham væmmelig at see og røre ved. Hun saae paa de lysende Stjerner og huskede paa Glandsen fra den Dødes Pande, da de fløi hen over Skov og Mose; der klang Toner i hendes Erindring, Ord, hun havde hørt udtale, da de red afsted og hun sad som den Betagne, Ord om Kjærlighedens store Ophav, den høieste Kjærlighed, der omfattede alle Slægter.

Ja, hvad var ikke givet, vundet, opnaaet! Liden Helgas Tanke omfattede, ved Nat, ved Dag, hele sin Lykke-Sum og stod i Skuet af den som Barnet, der vender sig ilsomt fra Giveren til det Givne, alle de deilige Gaver; hun ligesom gik op i den stigende Lyksalighed, der kunde komme, vilde komme; hun var jo baaren gjennem Underværker til altid høiere Glæde og Lykke og heri fortabte hun sig en Dag, saa ganske, at hun ikke mere tænkte paa Giveren. Det var Ungdoms-Modets Kjækhed, der gjorde sit raske Kast! hendes Øine lyste derved, men øiebliklig reves hun ud derfra ved en stærk Støien nede i Gaarden under sig. Der saae hun to mægtige Strudse løbe ilsomt omkring i enge Kredse; aldrig før havde hun seet dette Dyr, saa stor en Fugl, saa plump og tung, Vingerne saae ud som vare de stækkede, Fuglen selv som var der gjort den Overlast, og hun spurgte om hvad der var skeet med den, og for første Gang hørte hun det Sagn, Ægypterne fortælle om Strudsen.

Deilig havde dens Slægt engang været, dens Vinger store og stærke; da sagde en Aften Skovens mægtige Fugle til den: »Broder! skulle vi imorgen, om Gud vil det, flyve til Floden og drikke?« Og Strudsen svarede: »jeg vil det!« Da det dagedes fløi de afsted, først høit op ad mod Solen, Guds Øie, altid høiere og høiere, Strudsen langt foran alle de Andre; den fløi i Stolthed mod Lyset; den stolede paa sin Kraft og ikke paa Giveren; den sagde ikke: »om Gud vil!« da drog Straffens Engel Sløret bort fra den Flammestraalende, og i dette Nu forbrændte Fuglens Vinger, den sank, elendig, til Jorden. Den og dens Slægt mægter aldrig meer at hæve sig; den flyer i Skræk, stormer om i Kredse i det snevre Rum; en Mindelse er det for os Mennesker, i al vor Tanke, ved hver vor Gjerning at sige: »om Gud vil!«

Og Helga bøiede tankefuld sit Hoved, saae paa den jagende Struds, saae dens Angest, saae dens taabelige Glæde ved Skuet af sin egen store Skygge paa den hvide solbelyste Væg. Og i Sind og Tanke slog Alvoren sin dybe Rod. Et Liv saa rigt, fremad i Lykken, var givet, vundet, - hvad vilde skee, hvad vilde endnu komme -? Det Bedste: »om Gud vil!«


I det tidlige Foraar, da Storkene atter droge Nord paa, tog liden Helga sit Guld-Armbaand, ridsede deri sit Navn, vinkede ad Storkefader, gav ham Guldringen om Halsen, bad ham bringe den til Vikingefruen, der vilde heraf forstaae, at Pleiedatteren levede, var lykkelig og huskede paa hende.

»Det er svært at bære!« tænkte Storken, da han fik det om Halsen; »men Guld og Ære skal man ikke kaste paa Landeveien! der er Lykke ved Storken vil de sande deroppe!«

»Du lægger Guld, og jeg lægger Æg!« sagde Storkemoder, »men Du lægger kun eengang, jeg gjør det alle Aaringer! men Paaskjønnelse faae Ingen af os! det krænker!«

»Man har Bevidstheden, Mo'er!« sagde Storkefader. »Den kan Du ikke hænge uden paa!« sagde Storkemoder, »den giver hverken Medbør eller Maaltid!«

Og saa fløi de.

Den lille Nattergal, der sang i Tamarindebusken, vilde ogsaa snart drage Nord paa; deroppe ved Vildmosen havde liden Helga tidt hørt den; Bud med vilde hun give den, Fuglenes Sprog kunde hun, fra hun fløi i Svaneham, hun havde tidt siden talt det med Stork og Svale, Nattergalen vilde forstaae hende; og den bad hun at flyve til Bøgeskoven paa den jydske Halvø, hvor Graven var reist af Steen og Grene, hun bad den bede alle Smaafugle der værne om Graven og synge en Sang og atter en Sang.

Og Nattergalen fløi - og Tiden fløi hen!


Ørnen stod paa Pyramiden og saae i Høst et stadseligt Tog med rigtladte Kameler, med kosteligt klædte, væbnede Mænd paa fnysende, arabiske Heste, skinnende hvide som Sølv, og med røde, bævrende Næsebor, Manken stor og tæt, hængende ned om de fine Been. Rige Gjester, en kongelig Prinds fra Arabiens Land, deilig som en Prinds skal være det, drog ind i det stolte Huus, hvor nu Storkereden stod tom; de som boede oppe i den vare jo i et nordligt Land, men snart vilde de komme tilbage. - Og netop den Dag kom de, da her var rigest paa Glæde og Lystighed. Her var Bryllupsstads, og liden Helga var Bruden, klædt i Silke og Juveler; Brudgommen var den unge Prinds fra Arabiens Land; de sade øverst ved Bordet mellem Moder og Bedstefader.

Men hun saae ikke paa Brudgommens brune, mandige Kind, hvor det sorte Skjæg krusede sig, hun saae ikke paa hans ildfulde, mørke Øine, der fæstede sig paa hende, hun saae ud, op mod den blinkende, funklende Stjerne, der straalede ned fra Himlen.

Da raslede det med stærke Vingeslag derude i Luften, Storkene kom tilbage; og det gamle Storkepar, i hvor træt det end var af Reisen og nok kunde trænge til at hvile ud, fløi dog strax ned paa Rækværket ved Verandaen, de vidste det, hvilken Fest det var. De havde allerede ved Landets Grændse hørt, at liden Helga havde ladet dem afmale paa Muren, de hørte med til hendes Historie.

»Det er meget net betænkt!« sagde Storkefader. »Det er meget lidt!« sagde Storkemoder, »mindre kunde det da ikke være!«

Og da Helga saae dem, reiste hun sig og gik ud i Verandaen til dem, for at klappe dem ned ad Byggen. Det gamle Storkepar neiede med Halsene, og de yngste Unger saae derpaa og følte sig beærede.

Og Helga saae op til den lysende Stjerne, der straalede mere og mere klar; og imellem den og hende bevægede sig en Skikkelse, renere endnu end Luften og derved synlig, den svævede hende ganske nær, det var den døde christne Præst, ogsaa han kom paa hendes Høitidsfest, kom fra Himmeriges Rige. »Glandsen og Herligheden der overgaaer Alt hvad Jorden kjender!« sagde han.

Og liden Helga bad saa blødt, saa inderligt, som hun aldrig før havde bedet, at hun, kun et eneste Minut, turde see derind, kun kaste et eneste Blik ind i Himmeriges Rige, til Faderen.

Og han løftede hende i Glands og Herlighed, i en Strømning af Toner og Tanker; det var ikke blot udenom hende, det lyste og klang, men inden i hende. Ord kan ikke udsige det.

»Nu maae vi tilbage, Du savnes!« sagde han.

»Kun eet Blik endnu!« bad hun; »kun et eneste kort Minut!«

»Vi maae til Jorden, alle Gjester gaae bort!«

»Kun eet Blik! det sidste -!«

Og liden Helga stod atter i Verandaen, - men alle Blus derudenfor vare slukkede, alle Lys i Brudesalen vare borte, Storkene borte, ingen Gjester at see, ingen Brudgom, Alt, som veiret hen i tre korte Minuter.

Da følte Helga Angest, gik igjennem den tomme, store Hal, ind i det næste Kammer, der sov fremmede Soldater, hun aabnede Sidedøren, der førte ind til hendes Stue, og idet hun troede at staae der, stod hun udenfor i Haven, - saaledes var her jo ikke før; rødlig skinnede Himlen, det var mod Daggry.

Tre Minuter i Himlen kun, og en heel Jord-Nat var gaaet!

Da saae hun Storkene; hun raabte til dem, talede deres Sprog, og Storkefader dreiede Hovedet, lyttede og nærmede sig.

»Du taler vort Sprog!« sagde han, »hvad vil Du? Hvorfor kommer Du her, du fremmede Qvinde?«

»Det er jo mig! det er Helga! kjender Du mig ikke? For tre Minuter siden talte vi sammen, derhenne i Verandaen.«

»Det er en Feiltagelse!« sagde Storken; »det har Du drømt Altsammen!«

»Nei, nei!« sagde hun og erindrede ham om Vikingeborgen og om Vildmosen, Reisen herhid -!

Da blinkede Storkefader med Øinene: »Det er jo en gammel Historie, jeg har hørt fra min Tip-tip-Oldemoders Tid! ja vist var her i Ægypten en saadan Prindsesse fra det danske Land, men hun forsvandt paa sin Bryllups-Aften for mange hundrede Aar siden og kom aldrig igjen! det kan Du selv læse Dig til her paa Monumentet i Haven, der er jo hugget baade Svaner og Storke, og øverst staaer Du selv i det hvide Marmor.«

Saaledes var det. Liden Helga saae det, forstod det og sank i Knæ.

Solen straalede frem, og som i Fordumstid ved dens Straaler Frøhammen faldt og den deilige Skikkelse kom tilsyne, saa løftede sig nu ved Lysets Daab en Skjønheds-Skikkelse klarere, renere end Luften, en Lysstraale - til Faderen.

Legemet sank i Støv: der laae en henvisnet Lotus-Blomst, hvor hun havde staaet.


»Det var da en ny Slutning paa Historien!« sagde Storkefader, »den havde jeg nu slet ikke ventet! men jeg kunde ganske godt lide den!«

»Hvad mon Ungerne ville sige om den?« spurgte Storkemoder.

»Ja, det er rigtignok det Vigtigste!« sagde Storkefader.

Compare two languages:

Donations are welcomed & appreciated.

Thank you for your support.