“All oaths are broken, Eric,” she murmured, “all oaths are broken indeed, and now must new oaths be sworn. For cut is thy golden hair, Brighteyes, and not by Gudruda’s hand!”
HOW ERIC WAS NAMED ANEW
Eric dreamed. He dreamed that Gudruda stood by him looking at him with soft, sad eyes, while with her hand she pointed to his hair, and spake.
“Thou hast done ill, Eric,” she seemed to say. “Thou hast done ill to doubt me; and now thou art for ever shamed, for thou hast betrayed Atli, thy friend. Thou hast broken thy oath, and therefore hast thou fallen into this pit; for when Swanhild shore that lock of thine, my watching Spirit passed, leaving thee to Swanhild and thy fate. Now, I tell thee this: that shame shall lead to shame, and many lives shall pay forfeit for thy sin, Eric.”
Eric awoke, thinking that this was indeed an evil dream which he had dreamed. He woke, and lo! by him was Swanhild, Atli’s wife. He looked upon her beauty, and fear and shame crept into his heart, for now he knew that it was no dream, but he was lost indeed. He looked again at Swanhild, and hatred and loathing of her shook him. She had overcome him by her arts; that cup was drugged which he had drunk, and he was mad with grief. Yes, she had played upon his woe like a harper on a harp, and now he was ashamed—now he had betrayed his friend who loved him! Had Whitefire been to his hand at that moment, Eric had surely slain himself. But the great sword was not there, for it hung in Swanhild’s bower. Eric groaned aloud, and Swanhild turned at the sound. But he sprang away and stood over her, cursing her.
“Thou witch!” he cried, “what hast thou done? What didst thou mix in that cup yestre’en? Thou hast brought me to this that I have betrayed Atli, my friend—Atli, thy lord, who left thee in my keeping!”
He seemed so terrible in his woe and rage that Swanhild shrank from him, and, throwing her hair about her face, peeped at him through its meshes as once she had peeped at Asmund.
“It is like a man,” she said, gathering up her courage and her wit; “’tis like a man, having won my love, now to turn upon me and upbraid me. Fie upon thee, Eric! thou hast dealt ill with me to bring me to this.”
Now Eric ceased his raving, and spoke more calmly.
“Well thou knowest the truth, Swanhild,” he said.
“Hearken, Eric,” she answered. “Let this be secret between us. Atli is old, and methinks that not for long shall he bide here in Straumey. Soon he will die; it is upon my mind that he soon will die, and, being childless, his lands and goods pass to me. Then, Eric, thou shalt sit in Atli’s hall, and in all honour shall Atli’s wife become thy bride.”
Eric listened coldly. “I can well believe,” he said, “that thou hast it in mind to slay thy lord, for all evil is in thy heart, Swanhild. Now know this: that if in honour or dishonour my lips touch that fair face of thine again, may the limbs rot from thy trunk, and may I lie a log for ever in the halls of Hela! If ever my eyes of their own will look again upon thy beauty, may I go blind and beg my meat from homestead to homestead! If ever my tongue whisper word of love into thy ears, may dumbness seize it, and may it wither to the root!”