The Northern Way

The Norse King's Bridal


The mermaid sat in Sundal Sound,
        Combing her lint-white locks;
She saw the ships sail in and out
        Among the rugged rocks.

The mermaid sat in Sundal Sound,
        Combing her locks so wet---
"I've laid my love on a mortal man,
        And I will have him yet!"

It was the maiden Æthelgif
        Walked in the blowing meads,
And she marked how the tide came in from
And whispered among the reeds.

The tide so free came in from sea,
        And filled the banks to the brim---
And up sailed Ragnar the rover bold,
        And his merry men with him.

Ragnar the rover leapt to land
        Before the maiden pale;
She saw the stars in his haughty helm,
        The low moon in his mail.

Sir Ragnar stared on Æthelgif,
        And uttered never a sound;
But in the song of the nightingale
        His secret thoughts she found.

And all the tale he might not tell,
        The lore of the North and the South,
Was in the look of his eyes, and the kiss
        That he pressed on her trembling mouth.

Up and spake the mermaiden,
        Beneath the keel did swim:
"Would Ragnar woo a mortal maid,
        The worser woe for him!"

The mermaid fell, she spoke a spell,
        And said a secret rune
Or ever he wist, and the maid he kissed
        Grew faded and faint eftsoon,

As the wavering mist, or ever he wist,
        All under the mighty charm---
And like a wraith of wind and breath
        She vanished from out his arm.

It was the mermaid fair and fell
        That sang by the good ship's side
"Ho, ho, for the kiss of salt sea-spray,
        And the toss o' the turning tide!"

Alone in the mead the maiden stood
        Like one in a waking dream;
She saw the sail wind in and out
        Along the level stream;
Like wan marsh-fire were the shields that
Afar in the faint moonbeam.

"Oh the gulls fly out with the turning tide
        And cry across the land,
Each to each in an alien speech
        That I fain would understand."

When days were done and years came on,
        Her sire did speak and say:
"Let bells be rund and Mass be sung
        For a blithsome bridal-day!"

"Oh sweeter to me the wind from sea
        That whispers among the reeds,
Than the wooing words of a bridegroom
Or the tramp of the festal steeds!"

Up and spake the groom so gay:
        "Come, pour the red, red wine!
Play up, play up, ye minstrel men,
        To cheer this bride o' mine!
"For the evening-star, like a bridal lamp,
        Over the tower doth stand;
While thin and pale as a wedding-veil
        The mist steals o'er the land."

She let the golden cup fall down,
        And stared as she were wood;
"Oh is it wine ye pour for me,
        Or a beaker of red, red blood?

"Like a dirge for the dead is the music
That the minstrels play so loud;
And the mist that's pale as a bridal-veil
        Is white as a waiting shroud!"

Up and spake the mermaiden
        All under the waning moon:
"Ho, ho for the ship that sails at dawn,
        And sinks ere afternoon!

"Ho, ho! for the blood of Ragnar's breast
        On his foeman's sword is wet!
I laid my love on a mortal man,
        And I will have him yet!"

It was Sir Ragnar, the rover bold,
        Clung to a floating spar
And drifted in with the turn o' the tide
        Across the harbour-bar.

Oh his look was shent, and his helm was
        And his mail was riven and brast,
And the stream that was so clear before
        Ran red where'er he passed.

Red, red his blood ran down the flood---
        And, wavering, drowned, and dim,
Like the face of death, from the dark be-
The cold moon stared at him.

Into the hall Sir Ragnar went---
        God wot, his face was pale!
The spray was on his dinted helm,
        The red blood on his mail.

"Turn round, turn round, thou beauteous
        Turn round and look on me!
Say, wilt thou wed a living man,
        Or a dead man out o' the sea?"

She took him in her lily-white arms---
        She kissed him on the brow---
"I loved thee well for seven long years,
        And well I love thee now!"

It was Sir Ragnar laid him down
        Dead at the maiden's feet;
She's wrapped him in her bridal veil,
        All for a winding-sheet.

Up and spake the shaven priest---
        "Woe worth the paynim foul!
Ye may not lay him in holy ground,
        Nor sing for his sinful soul.

"Cast out his corse to sink or swim
        With the toss o' the turning tide!
Let it ne'er be said that Christian maid
        Would be a rover's bride!"

Up and spake the mermaiden---
        "Ho, ho, for his pallid lips!
Ho for the merry fish that swim
        Among the sunken ships!

"Ho, ho! for see where he comes to me
        A-floating down so fast!
I laid my love on a mortal man,
        And he is mine at last!"

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