The Saga of the Quern-Stones

KING FROTHI from Sweden two giant-maidens brought,
With many a shining gulden from King Fiölnir bought;
For in all the realms of Gotland no hand was to be found
To grasp the huge quern-handle and turn the millstones round, —
The wonderful gray quern-stones; of his treasures best by far,
Once wrested from the giants by his great ancestor Thor.
Now whoso turned them round about could grind good luck or ill,
Gold and jewels, joy and plenty, could summon at his will!
“ Grind, grind for me!” cried Frothi. “Beneath your mighty hold
These magical gray quern-stones shall grind me gems and gold! ”
Then Menia and Fenia they stood up at the quern,
And slowly, so slowly, the stones began to turn.
Then swifter and swifter, until through all the land
The gold and silver money was plentiful as sand.
“We grind good luck to Gotland, rich harvest-fields of grain;
No vessel sails from harbor that conies not back again.” “ Grind, grind for me!” cried Frothi. “ Grind love and joy and peace;
Till Gotland is the richest realm your grinding shall not cease!”
“ There is no beggar in the land, each peasant has his hoard,
And nowhere in the kingdom does the warrior draw his sword.
“ Now give us rest, O Frothi!” “Then rest ye,” said the king;
“ But only while the cuckoo’s note is silent in the spring.”
“ Oh, never in the spring-time does the cuckoo’s calling cease,
So bid us somewhat longer from labor find release.”
“ Then rest ye while a verse of my minstrel’s song is sung.”
Upon the handle of the quern the sinewy hands are flung.
“ We grind good luck to Gotland; to Frothi quiet sleep;
Be heard no sound of wrangling, no eye be seen to weep!
“ Now give us rest, O Frothi! Have you not had your fill?
“ Rest only while a verse is sung, or the cuckoo s note is still.”
“ Black are the skies above us, the cold winds beat our breast,
The frost is keen and biting; O Frothi, give us rest! ”...
“ Revenge! Revenge, O Menia! We are of giant’s blood.
Grind, grind, O sister, swiftly, — bring ruin, fire, and flood!
A ship comes sailing, sailing, with valiant warriors manned;
We grind them near and nearer. Say, Frothi, shall they land ?
“ A ship comes sailing, sailing! to Gotland hastening.
Awake, awake, O Frothi, or be no more a king!
’T is Mysinge the viking; thee sleeping shall he find?
. . . Grind faster, grind harder,— to Frothi death we grind! ”
The quern-stones and the giant-maids the vikings bear on board,
With Frothi’s crown and jewels, and all his shining hoard.
“ Of golden store we need no more; but here no salt we find:
Ho, Menia! ho, Fenia! grind salt, weird sisters, grind! ”
“ From noon of day to noon of night we labor at the quern!
Ho, viking, hast thou salt enough? ” And still he bade them turn.
“ The ship is filled with salt, O king, so well thy slaves have ground!”
Beneath the weight the vessel sinks, and all the host are drowned.
“ Grind, Menia! grind, Fenia! the quern-stones shall not halt
Till all the waters of the sea are filled with shining salt!”
Unto this day the quern-stones whirl, and still the salt outpours,
And where they sank off Norway’s coast the Maelstrom seethes and roars!
Alice Williams Brotherlon.