The Dole of Jarl Thorkell

THE land was pale with famine
And racked with fever-pain;
The frozen fiords were fishless,
The earth withheld her grain.
Men saw the boding Fylgja
Before them come and go,
And, through their dreams, the Urdar-moon
From west to east sailed slow !
Jarl Thorkell of Thevera
At Yule-time made his vow;
On Rykdal’s holy Doom-stone
He slew to Frey his cow.
To bounteous Frey he slew her;
To Skuld, the younger Norn,
Who watches over birth and death,
He gave her calf unborn.
And his little gold-haired daughter
Took up the sprinkling-rod,
And smeared with blood the temple
And the wide lips of the god.
Hoarse below, the winter water
Ground its ice-blocks o’er and o’er;
Jets of foam, like ghosts ot dead waves,
Rose and fell along the shore.
The red torch of the Jokul,
Aloft in icy space,
Shone down on the bloody Horg-stones
And the statue’s carven face.
And closer round and grimmer
Beneath its baleful light
The Jotun shapes of mountains
Came crowding through the night.
The gray-haired Hersir trembled
As a fame by wind is blown ;
A weird power moved his white lips,
And their voice was not his own !
“ The Æsir thirst! ” he muttered ;
“The gods must have more blood
Before the tun shall blossom
Or fish shall fill the flood.
“The Æsir thirst and hunger,
And hence our blight and ban;
The mouths of the strong gods water
For the flesh and blood of man!
“Whom shall we give to Asgard?
Not warriors, sword on thigh;
But let the nursling infant
And bedrid old man die.”
“ So be it! ” cried the young men,
“There needs nor doubt nor parle”;
But, knitting hard his red brows,
In silence stood the jarl.
A sound of woman’s weeping
At the temple door was heard ;
But the old men bowed their white heads,
And answered not a word.
Then the Dream-wife of Thingvalla,
A Yala young and fair,
Sang softly, stirring with her breath
The veil of her loose hair.
She sang: “The winds from Alfheim
Bring never sound of strife ;
The gifts for Frey the meetest
Are not of death, but life.
“ He loves the grass-green meadows,
The grazing kine’s sweet breath ;
He loathes your bloody Horg-stones,
Your gifts that smell of death.
“No wrong by wrong is righted,
No pain is cured by pain ;
The blood that smokes from Doom-rings
Falls back in redder rain.
“ The gods are what you make them,
As earth shall Asgard prove;
And hate will come of hating,
And love will come of love.
“ Make dole of skyr and black bread
That old and young may live;
And look to Frey for favor
When first like Frey you give.
“Even now o’er Njord’s sea-meadows
The summer dawn begins ;
The tun shall have its harvest,
The fiord its glancing fins.”
Then up and swore Jarl Thorkell :
“ By Gimli and by Hel,
O Vala of Thingvalla,
Thou singest wise and well!
“Too dear the Æsir’s favors
Bought with our children’s lives;
Better die than shame in living
Our mothers and our wives.
“ The full shall give his portion
To him who hath most need;
Of curdled skyr and black bread,
Be daily dole decreed.”
He broke from off his neck-chain
Three links of beaten gold;
And each man, at his bidding,
Brought gifts for young and old.
Then mothers nursed their children,
And daughters fed their sires,
And Health sat down with Plenty
Before the next Yule fires.
The Horg-stones stand in Rykdal ;
The Doom-ring still remains ;
But the snows of a thousand winters
Have washed away the stains.
Christ ruleth now; the Æsir
Have found their twilight dim ;
And, wiser than she dreamed, of old
The Vala sang of Him !