Then she took an iron-shod staff which we had brought with us, and worked its sharp point into the crack, after which we both rested our weight upon the staff. The lid of the coffin lifted quite easily, for it was not pegged down, and slid of its own weight over the side of the tree. In the cavity beneath was a form covered with a purple cloak stained as though by salt water. Freydisa lifted the cloak, and there lay the Wanderer as he had been placed a thousand or more of years before our time, as perfect as he had been in the hour of his death, for the tannin from the new-felled tree in which he was buried had preserved him.
Breathless with wonder, we bent down and examined him by the light of the lamps. He was a tall, spare man, to all appearance of between fifty and sixty years of age. His face was thin and fine; he wore a short, grizzled beard; his hair, so far as it could be seen beneath his helmet, was brown and lightly tinged with grey.
“Does he call anyone to your mind?” asked Freydisa.
“Yes, I think so, a little,” I replied. “Who is it, now? Oh! I know, my mother.”
“That is strange, Olaf, since to me he seems much like what you might become should you live to his years. Yet it was through your mother’s line that Aar came to your race many generations gone, for this much is known. Well, study him hard, for, look you, now that the air has got to him, he melts away.”
Melt he did, indeed, till presently there was nothing left save a skull patched here and there with skin and hair. Yet I never forgot that face; indeed, to this hour I see it quite clearly. When at length it had crumbled, we turned to other things, knowing that our time in the grave must be measured by the oil in the simple lamps we had. Freydisa lifted a cloth from beneath the chin, revealing a dinted breastplate of rich armour, different from any of our day and land, and, lying on it, such a necklace as we had seen upon the ghost, a beauteous thing of inlaid golden shells and emerald stones shaped like beetles.
“Take it for your Iduna,” said Freydisa, “since it is for her sake that we break in upon this great man’s rest.”
I seized the precious thing and tugged at it, but the chain was stout and would not part. Again I tugged, and now it was the neck of the Wanderer that broke, for the head rolled from the body, and the gold chain came loose between the two.
“Let us be going,” said Freydisa, as I hid away the necklace. “The oil in the lamps burns low, and even I do not care to be left here in the dark with this mighty one whom we have robbed.”
“There’s his armour,” I said. “I’d have that armour; it is wonderful.”
“Then stop and get it by yourself,” she answered, “for my lamp dies.”
“At least, I will take the sword,” I exclaimed, and snatched at the belt by which it was girt about the body. The leather had rotted, and it came away in my hand.