“ᴛʜᴇ sᴛᴏʀʏ ᴏғ ᴀsʟᴀᴜɢ”, from Anglo-Saxons classics.
“DURING prehistoric times in ancient Scandinavia, when the land was divided into a number of little principalities, over each of which a chief or king ruled, generally at war with his neighbour, the liege of the bordering state,there lived and ruled a famous family of chiefs called the house of Volsung. Of these Sigurd Fafnirsbane, or Snake-Killer, was the most renowned; he was espoused to the warlike but beautiful Amazon Brynhild, whom he had liberated from the charmed imprisonment of that aforenamed mythical huge snake, which had held her enthralled in a deep trance for a long time. The issue of this union was a little daughter, whom they called Aslog. […]
Dearly loved at the court of Sigurd, there lived an exiled king called Heimer, who was the accepted scald or bard of this chief and hero; and when Sigurd and Brynhild met their untimely end, the old kingly bard took their little daughter Aslog, then only a few years of age, and hastened into other petty states, to seek refuge and save the only surviving child of her race from the general carnage which raged amongst her infuriated kinsfolk. Better to conceal his infantile charge, he had a large harp constructed, in which he was able to hide the child. And now began a period of strange adventures […]
Sometimes, when far from the habitations of men, the old harper would allow his little darling to run by his side gathering flowers and berries from the wayside. He opened the foot of the harp and lifted out his little charge, Aslog, who had fallen asleep within, overpowered with grief at the recollection of her lost parents which the song had evoked in her loving and childish heart.
It was a cold evening, and the stars were out; so the old man bethought himself that he had better warm little Aslog in his embrace. Soon, locked in his arms, she looked up into his face and leaned her head against his cheek, when her silent tears trickled down into his long white beard, and lay like gems reflecting the silvery glimmer of the moon-beams which like a halo played round the group.
“Hush, my little one, you have me still who loves you, and the good god Balder, Odin’s most beloved son, the god of Light and Song. He will protect you when I am dead and gone. Do you know, child, those rustics and warriors who listened to my song about Sigurd and Brynhild (may Balder bless their union in Valhalla!) they, simple folk, thought the harp bewitched, because you muled and wailed, little one. Do not do so again, but cheer up ; we will soon arrive at a place of refuge and safety, where we will find friends that love us. If you weep in the harp to my playing, and bewitch the listeners, I shall have to call you my little witch, and you would not like that, King Sigurd’s daughter! The old man had to sing out of tune to drown your sobs; give me now a kiss and say you love me as much as ever, though I won’t let you cry. You cry indeed ! the daughter of the famous hero and Amazon! Oh no, we will have no mo-re tears now, only love and song.”
[…] This crime accomplished, they eagerly hurried to the harp, and opened the little door of the instrument; but picture their surprise when out stepped a little girl, fairhaired and blue-eyed, just awakened by their bustle, and looking enquiringly around for her aged guardian. When little Aslog saw the sinister-looking couple, she ran frightened to old Heimer, where he lay stretched on the floor; but when she could get no answer to her repeated call upon his name, even though she pulled him by his hands and beard, as she was wont to do, she at last realized the fact that her beloved protector was dead, and would speak no more to her. She burst into bitter sobs, clinging to her silent friend, and flung her little arms around his neck and nestled in his clothes and silvery hair.
The inhuman old wretches considered for a short time whether they should not murder the little girl as well; but her despair was so touching, and her rare beauty so winning, that at last they resolved to spare her and adopt her as their own child. To silence inquisitive people who might call at their lonely hut, she was forthwith dressed in coarse grey baize, as was customary with the children of bondsmen, Aslog was compelled to remain with the old people, who called her Kraka, and she grew up to become a most beautiful maiden, slender, tall, and graceful, and with the inborn gait of a princess. All who saw her admired her wondrous beauty. Her native wit and wisdom were also most remarkable, though she spoke but seldom, and never with strangers, who therefore imagined she was deaf and dumb. Only with her grim wardens did she exchange a few words, when she was alone with them, and only then when their daily intercourse compelled her, for she loathed them’ from her inmost soul, because they had murdered her beloved and venerated guardian, and detained her, the daughter of Sigurd and Brynhild, a slave to wretched bondsmen. She repeated to herself every day the song Heimer had sung to his harp’s accompaniment about her heroic parents, and thus she kept in vivid recollection for many long years the story of their loves and untimely fate.
When Kraka had lived with the wicked old couple thus for more than twelve years she was now sixteen years old a Viking sailed into the creek one day with several galleys, and landed with his men near her home. It was no less a person than Ragnar Lodbrook, a hero famous all over the north for his deeds of daring.
When the hut was observed by the mariners, some of the men were sent thither to bake some bread, of which provision they had been short for the last few days.
When the men returned with the hard-baked bread, it was found to be burned and wholly spoiled; upon this the Viking became greatly exasperated, and gave orders to have the negligent fellows severely punished. But the men tried to excuse themselves, and said that in the hut they had beheld such a beautiful maiden that they had quite forgotten all about the bread in the oven, and they could not help it, for she had quite bewitched them.
The Viking became interested at this, and asked who the girl might be. They answered that she was the daughter of Ake and Grima, the bondsmen who lived in the hut, though they could scarcely believe it, for they were such an aged and repugnant-looking couple, and the old woman such a vicious old harridan; and yet they said she was their daughter Kraka, their only child, who tended the goats on the mountain slopes.
But her beauty, they persisted, was fairly bewitching, and her bearing that of a queen. "Impossible!” the Viking answered, “I cannot believe it. […] You have all seen my lamented consort,the incomparable Thora, and any one who ever saw her ought not to speak of other women’s loveliness.”
Yet the men maintained that the girl’s rare beauty would in every respect vie with that of their dead queen. Then the chief ordered that Kraka should immediately be brought before him, and promised that if he really found her so exceedingly lovely as the men had given out, he would forgive them their negligence.
Kraka was soon brought, and Ragnar Lodbrook was even more bewitched than his men by her incomparable beauty, and was quite spellbound by the prudent and ready answers she gave to all his questions. The Viking thought her a fair prize, and took her aboard his own galley, and told her she should never return to the old people at the hut.
Her radiant beauty at first repelled every advance from the wild and passionate hero of many lands, for she was virtuous as she was wise and beautiful; and this pleased her captor much, and he could not hdp admiring that lofty spirit which dared even him, the hero of his time.
Ragnar already possessed two sons, Eric and Agnar, by his former consort, and they found in Kraka a loving stepmother; indeed the young queen, through her many virtues and rare wisdom, endeared herself not only to her newly-found family, but to all the people over whom Ragnar Lodbrook ruled. Many years of happy married life followed, during which she presented her royal husband with five sons, all of whom became more or less famous in the warfares of the times.
When King Ragnar, already advanced in years, was on a visit to King Eisten Bele, one of the Swedish petty kings, he saw this chief’s daughter Ingeborg, whose beauty quite captivated the gallant champion. The Princess* went the round of the table at the banquet given in his honour, and filled the goblets of the royal guest Her beauty, and the wine, must have intoxicated him, for he determined upon separating himself from Kraka, whom he but knew as a bondsman’s daughter, and thus unworthy to share his throne, and then marry Ingeborg, the daughter of a king, as more befitting his royal state. Eisten Bele readily consented to this union, to be contracted as soon as Ragnar had rid himself of Kraka. When the ice broke up Ragnar sailed away, promising to return during the summer to celebrate the nuptials with the fair Ingeborg.
Upon his return home he divulged nothing to Kraka of his design, but the news came to her through other channels at the court. Instead of upbraiding her spouse, she resorted to other means far wiser; she increased her loving attention to him, and was more charming than ever; and she told the king that at last she thought the right time had come to tell him who were her real parents, and that she was no vile bondsman’s child.
With unfeigned amazement he learnt that she was the daughter of Sigurd and Brynhild; he listened eagerly to the recital of her wondrous flight in the harp; effected by King Heimer, and to her tale of woe during her long captivity with Ake and Grima. His joy to possess a queen of noble descent and equal to himself was sincere; he thought he had never loved her so- well before, and dispelled all thoughts of parting with her.
The image of Ingeborg vanished from his heart for ever, and no journey to Eisten Bele was taken to celebrate the contemplated union, which this warrior thought a great insult to him, as his daughter was a princess, and he the King oif Upsala. But Eisten Bele got no opportunity to avenge this breach of promise, for Queen Aslog, the name she now resumed, persuaded her two stepsons to hasten to Upsala to war with its king in his own domains. This they did, but Agnar fell in the battle, which grieved his noble and grateful stepmother as if he had been her own son.
When Ragnar Lodbrook, on one of his seafaring expeditions, fell into the hands of King Ella of Northumbria, and by his victor was thrown into a pit filled with serpents, and there met his tragic death, which event is recorded in the English Chronicles, Aslog sent all her own five sons to avenge his death.
She survived her spouse many years, a disconsolate widow, honouring the memory of the noble Viking who had rescued her from ignoble thraldom and made her queen of his heart and realm, Aslog, the little child princess, who had lain in a harp, and sobbed in harmony with its tremulous strings to the piteous lay recording the fate of her hapless parents.”