In a cottage overshadowed by wide-spreading oaks, and surrounded by a garden in which bloomed the sweetest flowers of summer, lived an aged peasant named Hilding.
Two children might be seen playing about the garden from sunrise to sunset, but they were not old Hilding’s children. The handsome boy was the son of the thane Thorsten Vikingsson; the little girl, with dove-like eyes and silken tresses, was the daughter of good King Bele.
Together the little ones played through the long pleasant days in their foster-father’s garden, or wandered through the woods, or climbed the hills that sheltered them from the northern winds. The boy would seek treasures from the birds’ nests for his fair companion, not even fearing to rob the mountain eagle, so that he might bring the spoil to Ingebjorg. He would also take her far out on the blue sea in his little boat, and Ingebjorg never felt afraid as long as Frithiof was with her.
As Frithiof grew older, he became a great hunter, and once he slew without weapons a fierce bear, which he brought home in triumph and laid at Ingebjorg’s feet.
During the winter evenings, they sat by the blazing logs on the hearth, and Hilding told them wonderful stories of Asgard and all its glories, of Odin the king of the gods, and of the beautiful Frigga.
But Frithiof thought she could not be half so beautiful as Ingebjorg. And once he said so to her, and it pleased her exceedingly. And he said, moreover, that when he was a man, Ingebjorg should be his wife. This also she was glad to hear, for she loved Frithiof better than any one in the world.
But Old Hilding told them not to talk nonsense, for Ingebjorg was a king’s daughter, and Frithiof but the son of a thane.
In a room of his palace stood King Bele. He was leaning on his sword, musing over all that was past, and thinking of the future. He was an old man, and he felt that his strength was failing him.
With him was his faithful friend Thorsten Vikingsson. They had grown up to manhood together, they had fought in many a battle side by side. They had been companions at many a feast and revel; and now, when old age had fallen upon them, they drew closer to one another, feeling that the hand of death was raised to summon them into another world.
“The end of life is near,” said the King; “the shadow of death is cast upon me. No longer do I care for all that men call pleasure. The chase hath lost its charm, the helmet sits heavy upon my brow, and the mead hath lost its flavor. I would that my sons were here so that I might give them my blessing.”
Then the servants summoned to King Bele’s presence his two sons, Helgi and Halfdan. Dark was the countenance of Helgi, and there was blood upon his hands, for he had just been assisting at the midday sacrifice. But the face of Halfdan was bright as the early morning, and he was as light and joyous as his brother was dark and gloomy.