Come listen to a tale of old,
Of love, and truth, and magic spell
Such as, in wildest number told,
Oft charm’d Norweya’s warriors bold
To act the deeds they lov’d in song so well.
Fair smiled Biorno’s youthful morn,
A gallant Prince was he;
Of Hringo, King of Upland, born,
A monarch brave and free.
None to Biorno could compare
For courage, sense and truth;
For eagle eye and raven hair
For manly form and beauty rare;
And every grace of youth.
No royal maid the North that graced
To win his love but sigh’d;
No damsel noble, fair and chaste,
Of Upland, but in joyful haste
The glorious proffer had unbraced
To shine Biorno’s bride.
But royal charms or noble art
Alike he held in scorn,
For, from sweet childhood’s days, his heart
Love’s gentle chain had worn.
Round Bera’s heart love’s gentle chain
In equal measure twined,
And never was a worthier twain
By that sweet knot conjoined!
Old Gothmund was her humble sire
A warrior stout and bold,
Biorno o’er his wintry fire
No tale of days gone by could tire;
But Bera’s flood ran cold.
When came the martial time of spring
And o’er the seas should roam
Her country’s heroes, prince and king
Thro’ strife and danger bound to bring
Renown and booty home.
The ships are mann’d, the banners fly,
Bold Hringo courts the breeze;
But see, the Queen with tearful eye
Beseech him not to lead his boy
Out o’er the dangerous seas.
And why should she her safety prize
When not his mother she,
But one who, versed in fraud and lies,
Late charmed the King’s misjudging eyes,
A skilful Witch-Ladye.
The Prince remain’d, the sails were spread,
And then the Queen began
To tempt Biorno to her bed —
“Sweet youth, be my leman!”
“Avoid! false Queen! away for shame!
Is this thy plighted troth?
I hate and scorn thy impious flame!”
How sudden then the weird step-dance
Changed love to deadly wrath!
“Hence,” she exclaimed, “while yet alive
Hence to the lonely wood!
There on thy father’s herds to thrive,
There be it still thy fate to live
Pursuing, die pursued.”
With this the sorceress raised her hand
A wolfskin glove it bore
No mortal can that blow withstand,
And henceforth none in all the land
Prince Biorno e’er saw more.
But soon a black and shaggy bear,
Of monstrous strength and size,
Rush’d nightly from his forest lair
And of the flocks the choicest tore
E’en in the herdsmen’s eyes.
“Alas,” they cry, “Biorno wight
Was foremost in the chase!
He best could urge the arrows flight
What spear like his, what sword so bright
Who fleeter in the race;
What arm like his in equal might
This furious bear can face?
Whose eyes are those of softest blue
That mournful fix on earth?
Whose cheek is that of pallid hue,
That smiled, e’er steeped in sorrow’s dew,
The rosy haunt of mirth?
Whose golden locks dishevelled fly?
Whose bosom heaves with many a sigh?
Who wildly roams the groves
’Tis Bera mourns with haggard eye
The loss of him she loves.
Beneath a willow’s mournful shade
Her weary length she threw;
There as her sad lament she made
And sometimes wept and sometimes pray’d
What wonder met her view!
The bear, the terror of the land
In shaggy pomp appeared —
She nor can flee, nor can withstand
Those dreadful paws upreared.
But see! the savage crouches low
And fawns upon her feet!
By youth and expressive show
He gives the astonished maid to know
’Tis joy e’en thus to meet.
No more her limbs with terror shook;
She gazed upon his face
And seem’d in every wondrous look
Some well-known glance to trace.
And soon a wild and frantic cry
Burst from her trembling tongue
“What volumes in those glances lie!
’Tis his, my own Biorno’s eye!
But ah, this dreadful semblance why?
What fiend has done this wrong?”
Tears such as tender lovers shed
And looks of woe he gave;
Then on the dauntless damsel led
To where he made his mossy bed
Within a secret cave.
There for short space the potent spell
His human form restored,
There speech was his the maid to tell
The doings of his step-dame fell,
And much the maid deplored.
Oh wond’rous pow’r of youthful love!
Here will that maiden stay
Biorno’s only joy she’ll prove,
She’ll be his wife, tho’ he must rove
A bear each fated day.
Thus she who shone in hall and bow’r
In savage den would live;
Ah who in this degenerate hour
Believes that sweet affection’s pow’r
Such constancy can give!
So time roll’d on, and summer passed;
Biorno call’d his wife,
“My best belov’d, I know at last
The thread is spun, the shuttle’s cast,
That ends my web of life.
“Soon shall my flesh the banquet grace
Of Hringo and his court,
Soon shall the last of my sad days
Afford my step-dame sport.
“But thou, my Bera, ah beware!
Remember our sad love!
The fiend-like Queen shall bend her care
To make thee eat, but may that snare,
Her last successless prove!”
Now would he take a last farewell
Of her, and that drear home;
But, powerless ’gainst the wicked spell,
Once more he roars a savage fell,
And o’er the woods must roam.
What sounds disturb the lone greenwood
With clam’rous shout and bay?
’Tis Hringo, from the field of blood
Victorious come, in jocund mood
With hound and horn and hunter good
The fell black bear to slay.
The generous bear to fly disdains,
But many a hound he tore
And, ere he yielded, dyed the plains
With many a hunter’s gore.
Wearied at length, and faint with wounds
He sought at Hringo’s feet
Protection from assailing hounds,
And what he might not ask in sounds
He begg’d in gestures sweet.
But duller were paternal eyes
Than those of love so clear,
Cowering in vain the suppliant lies
And gallant good Biorno dies
E’en by his father’s spear.
The weeping Bera, who beheld
From far the dreadful fight
Is now to meet with fear compell’d
The royal sorceress’ sight.
“Bring hither, bring hither, my faithful page
A mess of royal meat!”
Oh then how rose the weird-queen’s rage
When the damsel would not eat!
One piece of flesh she had refused,
Another touched her tongue,
The third, such force the weird-queen used,
She swallowed down, and thus abused
Was from the palace flung.
Then Bera sought her father’s home
All sad and mournfully;
And when her day of pain was come
Three various sons bore she.
One rough and cruel, prone to blood
And savage in his form
Betray’d the bear in ev’ry mood,
And dwelt a robber in the wood
The trav’ler’s dread and harm.
The next with foot of dog deform’d,
All else well-shaped and tall,
Was fair in mind and body form’d
And men him Houndsfoot call.
But Bodvar all his sires surpassed
In every princely grace,
Consoled his mother for the past,
Destroyed that wicked Queen at last,
And o’er the North a glory cast,
The champion of his race.