Wagner - Daughter Of The God
( Originally Published 1894 )
" IF you say you can see all those things in the fire," said the little girl, with an air of doubt not yet quite overcome, " I suppose I shall have to believe it, but I don't see how. I try to think of them the way you said, but I don't see them in the fire a bit. Can you see them all the time ? "
" It makes a good deal of difference how I feel about it," I answered, " and a little difference how the fire burns. Tonight, you see, the fire does not burn quite as it usually does. It is cold out of doors, and there is a wind that comes in gusts and blows different ways. It gives the fire a good draught, and on the whole it burns rather fiercely, but when the wind goes down the fire goes down a little too, and when the wind changes it blows a puff of smoke down the chimney now and then. Altogether it is not a well-behaved fire at all, and I am afraid if we try to see things in it, some of them will be rather rough and rude, and none of them very cheerful. Still, if you would like to try " Oh, do try," the child said, " I like nice gloomy things."
" Very well. Just now the fire is so fierce and hot that it seems to me nothing less than a house on fire. It is a house that stands all alone in the woods. Before it was set on fire a boy and a girl lived there. Neither of them had any mother, but the boy's father lived with them and took care of them, going out hunting and leaving the boy and the girl together, till the boy was old enough to go hunting with him, and then the girl was left alone. They were very happy there together, all three of them, and the father always thought that the girl would sometime grow up and be his son's wife. But now, while they are hunting, a robber has come and has burned the house, and he takes the girl with him and carries her off to his own house, far away among the mountains.
" After this it is not so pleasant roaming the woods and hunting all day, with no house to go back to and no greeting of a bright face in the evening. To make it still worse, one day, while they are hunting, the poor boy loses sight of his father and never finds him again. So now he is quite alone, but he still lives in the woods in the old way till he grows to be a tall, strong, handsome young man. Perhaps he is all the stronger and the better fighter because the most of his enemies, and his friends too, for that matter, have been wild beasts. That he has had one good enemy I know, because the coat that he wears is the skin of a bear.
" And all this time the girl has been kept a prisoner at the house of the robber, and she has grown up as well, now, to be a tall, beautiful woman. At times, no doubt, the robber has treated her well enough, and at times, I am afraid, not so well. But always he has urged her and has tried to make her promise to be his wife, and now, after all these years, at last she has promised. She has never forgotten the brave boy whom she used to love, but the robber has told her that he is dead, and finally she has come to believe it and has no more any hope of ever being happy.
" I am looking right into the robber's house now. It is a strange house, for right in the middle of it stands a large tree, which grows up through the roof and spreads its branches over the house. And more wonderful still, there is a sword sticking in this tree, up to the hilt. Perhaps I might better tell you something about this sword before we go any farther. Do you remember the gold that was stolen from the river nymphs, the other night, when we were watching the fire, and the magic ring that the dwarf made of it? Of course you do, and you remember too how the Father of the Gods got it and paid it to the giants for building his castle, and would not give it back to the river nymphs, and how one of the giants killed the other and kept all the treasure. Well, the Father of the Gods has been learning and thinking a good deal since then, and he has begun to see what a great wrong he did when he put the gold to his own uses, instead of giving it back to the nymphs. It is no light punishment that falls on gods when they do wrong, and he, sees that for this sin he and all the other gods who live with him in his castle must at last be destroyed utterly. Yet he still hopes to save them if only the gold, or at least the ring, can be given back again to the nymphs.
" Now, the giant who took all the treasure carried it away to a deep cave in the side of a mountain, and then, by the help of the magic helmet, he changed himself into a horrible, fierce, fiery, poisonous dragon, so that he might stay in the cave and guard it. And there he has stayed guarding it ever since. You will see at once that the treasure never would do him any good in that way, but giants are usually stupid, and he could not think of anything better to do with it. A boy who has a penny and knows enough to buy a penny whistle with it is richer than this dragon giant. Yet he guards the treasure pretty well, and the Father of the Gods cannot take it away from him, and cannot help anybody else to take it away from him, because he paid it to him for the castle, and to touch it now would be to break his promise. Yet he wishes that some-body, without his help, would kill the dragon and give the gold back to its real owners. This would not really do him any good, for his own old sin would still be just as great, and he knows it ; yet he has a strange kind of hope that it may somehow help him. But the dragon is so big and fierce and fiery and poisonous, that nobody could ever hope to kill him except the very greatest of heroes, and one who simply did not know what fear meant. Even such a hero might have a good deal of trouble about it, if he did not have a sword that was just as keen and strong, just as sharp and firm and true as himself. So, that he may not want for such a good blade, the Father of the Gods has made a magic sword. No one but a god could make a sword like this, and he has driven it up to the hilt into the great tree in the robber's house. It is quite safe there, for the magic of it is that nobody but the bravest, strongest, truest hero living can ever draw it out, but for him it will be easy. There are some things besides drawing swords out of trees which can be done easily by men who are brave and strong and true, and which no other man can do at all.
" All this time I have been looking into the robber's house. There is a storm outside, worse than the wind that is troubling our fire. It howls above the house, and tears at the branches of the tree, till even the great trunk shivers and trembles and makes the roof creak and groan. Suddenly the door is burst open, and in, out of the storm, rushes a man, and falls before the fire as if he were so weary that he could move no more. Then from another room of the house comes the woman who has promised to be the robber's wife, the girl who once lived in the house that the robber burned. When she sees the stranger lying before the fire, she lifts him up and brings him a big drinking-horn, and tells him to stay and rest till the robber comes home. Then he looks at her, and she seems to him the kindest, the sweetest, and the loveliest woman he has ever seen.
" Soon the robber comes home, and he asks the stranger what he is and how he came here. Then the stranger tells him all the story that I have told you of the burning of the house where he lived with his father, and how since then he has wandered the woods and has fought with the wild beasts and with his enemies. As soon as he tells that, the woman knows that the boy whom she used to love so long ago is not dead, but is sitting here before her, and the hope comes to her that he may take her away from this place, so that she may not have to be married to the robber. Then she asks the stranger why he is unarmed, and he says that he fought to rescue a woman from her enemies ; he killed some of them, but the others were so many that they broke his spear and his shield, and he had to save himself from them, and so it was that he came to this house.
" At this the robber grows red and pale with anger. He has heard of the fight, and the men who were killed were his friends. ' Stay here to-night,' he says ; ` while you are in my house I cannot harm you, but to-morrow you must go out and fight with me for killing my friends.'
"The robber and the woman have gone away and the stranger is left alone. Sad and gloomy enough are his thoughts, for to-morrow he must fight with the robber, and he has no sword, no spear, no shield. The fire before him dies down, as our fire dies down too, for the moment, and as all his hope grows darker and colder. And then, just as his life and the world and the future seem blackest, the woman comes back. Why should her coming bring him hope ? He could not tell, perhaps, yet her very presence cheers him ; misfortune and death seem not so near when she is by, and not, so terrible, even should they come. He may' not know why it is, but I know, and so do you.
" She hastens to him and shows him the sword in the tree. She tells him of its magic ; he and then, in the fight tomorrow, he must overcome his enemy and give her revenge for all she had suffered from him. And how gladly he will do her bidding! He seizes the sword and draws it quickly out of the tree, while her eyes gaze at him and are filled with joy. The hero has come—her hero. He holds the wonderful magic sword in his hand, but only for a moment he looks upon its long, gleaming, beautiful blade. Then he turns to her again. They twine their arms about each other and together they leave this hateful house. And now, of a sudden, it is as if their two hearts were all the world, as indeed they are, to each other, for all around them the storm was stilled ; the winter is gone and it is spring ; the peaceful moonlight fills the happy woods with a soft glory ; sweet airs breathe tenderly on them and on the flowers in their path ; quiet voices speak to them out of the budding trees ; and so together they are gone into the forest.
" The Father of the Gods has done more than I have told you yet to guard against the end which he knows must come, in spite of all that he can do. He has fancied that his castle might be safer if he were to fill it with strong warriors to fight for him in any need. Therefore, wherever battles are fought he sends his nine daughters to choose the bravest of the men who are killed and to bring them to his castle. Each of these daughters has a horse which flies through the air faster than any bird. When the fallen heroes have come thus to the halls of the gods, they are brought to life and their wounds are healed by means that the gods know how to use, and they live there, feasting day after day with other heroes. And lest they should forget their old skill and bravery in fighting, every day they have a battle and many of them are killed and chopped to pieces by the others' swords, but at sunset they are all alive and well again, and they go back together to their feast in the halls of the gods.
" It is one of these daughters of the god, one of these choosers of heroes, whom I see before me now. I wish that I could make you see her. She is more than a beautiful woman, and also she is less. She is tall and her form is strong, yet light and buoyant. She is dressed all in armor, and she has a spear and a shield which gleams and glistens like a beacon-light for an army. She herself, as I see her here, is as graceful and as full of warm life as a flame of the fire, the same hot glow stirs her heart and moves her to the same eager, free action. Her face is as clear and pure as the fire itself, and almost as radiant as her silver shield, while the gold of her hair breaking from under the light of her helmet, outshines them all. Beating under her bosom, thrilling through her form, glowing in her cheeks, and beaming from her eyes, is the joy of life and strength and beauty. Yet where is the tenderness that one would seek in a woman's eyes ? A glad light shines in hers, but it is not softened by any kindly ray of gentleness or mercy. Where is the sweetness of a woman's lips ? Hers are calm and beautiful, but they tempt no more than a stain of blood upon the snow. What is there in her face that could melt into a woman's compassion and pity ? Her face is not cruel, not unkind, only still, stern, and placid as marble. She is not a woman, you know ; only a goddess—a war goddess.
"Just now the Father of the Gods is telling his daughter of the fight that is to come between the robber and the hero who won the sword, and he commands her to help the hero to win. She is delighted at this, for she loves all brave, true heroes as he does, but she has scarcely left her father when the Mother of the Gods comes, riding furiously through the air in a chariot drawn by two rams. She has heard of the fight too, and she takes quite a different view of it. ` This man whom you would save and help,' she says, ` has taken the woman away from the man whose wife she promised to be. Is that all you care for a promise? He must be punished ; you must help his enemy to kill him.'
" You see she cares nothing at all about heroes, but to her a promise is a promise. And the Father of the Gods himself is very particular about promises, as you must remember, so he is forced to say that he will not help the hero. But that is not enough for her ; he must command his daughter not to help him. She shall not, he says, but that is not enough ; he must help his enemy and see that he wins. This is hard for the Father of the Gods, for he loves the hero, and if he is left to himself he must win, with his magic sword, yet he cannot choose; the promise has been broken, and he gives his word that the hero shall die.
" The Father of the Gods is left alone, and again his daughter comes to him. He tells her sadly that she must help the robber in the fight, and that the hero must die. She is as sad as he at this command, for all that she ever wishes is to do what he would have her do, and she knows that, though he says that the hero must die, yet he would have him live. But his word is given, and, full of sorrow, the god and his daughter part. And now comes the hero him-self, with his bride. She is fearful of what may befall him in the fight, and would have him flee farther away. He will not do that, and he tries to cheer her, till she faints and sinks down at his feet. Then, beautiful and sad, but still calm, stern, and placid, the Daughter of the God stands before him.
" ` Soon,' she says to him, ` you must come with me to the castle of the gods. There the Father of the Gods will welcome you, there your own father, whom you lost so long ago, waits for you, there you will fight and feast with heroes, and the daughters of the god will serve you.'
" ` And shall this woman here,' he asks, `whom I love, go with me and with you there?'
"'No,' she answers, `this woman cannot
Then I will not go,' he replies ; `gladly I would stand before the Father of the Gods, gladly I would see my own father again and the heroes and the daughters of the god, but not without her ; I will not go with you; leave us here.'
" If the daughter of the god were a woman she would understand all this, but now it would make her impatient, if anything could. She cannot know and cannot feel why this man, who has had only trouble and ill luck all his life, should choose to stay and wait for more trouble and ill luck with this one poor woman who lies at their feet, fainting and knowing not even that she is alive, rather than to sit and feast with gods and heroes. How little a war goddess can really know about brave men!
" Yet she does know that her father, whose wishes are her own, wishes this woman to live, and that she will be in danger after her hero has left her; so she tells him that he may leave his bride with her and she will protect her. But the man is still more unreasonable. He says that she is cruel and hard-hearted. That is unjust, for she is not cruel. He says too that the woman shall die rather than be left with her. If he must die, he will kill the woman, too, and he is about to do it, when the Daughter of the God holds his hand. She thinks only now of how much her father longs that this man may live ; she resolves that in spite of the command she will save him ; she tells him that he shall have her help in the fight, and she leaves him, just as there comes a noise and a shout of the robber with his men and his dogs hunting for the hero to kill him.
" See how the black smoke is driven down the chimney by the changing gusts of wind. It is like dark clouds gathering over the sky and dropping down upon the mountain, so that it is hard to see anything at all. The fire goes down, too, and its flames dart and flicker in sudden, angry flashes. Some of them are like lightning, brightening the whole scene for an instant, and then I can see the hero and the robber in their fight, springing and thrusting and striking at each other so that it seems as if they must both be killed a dozen times over. Again in the sparkle of the fire I see the gleaming of the magic sword, as the hero whirls it above his head and strikes at his enemy. Then comes a flare of flame that shines from the shield of the Daughter of the God, as she throws it over the hero to protect and save him. It is all in vain, for there comes a hot, red glow in which for an instant all the rest is lost, and now, in the midst of it stands the Father of the Gods himself. The daughter falls back helpless before him, and he stretches his spear toward the hero. The magic sword falls upon the spear and is shivered to pieces. Nothing indeed could shatter that blade but the spear of the god who made it, but with that spear to help him the robber springs upon his enemy and his sword is through his heart, and he is fallen.
" The Daughter of the God has come back to where the woman lay, she has lifted her from the ground and has laid her across her horse's saddle as if she were dead; she leaps upon his back and they are galloping away like the wind. The Father of the Gods has avenged the broken promise ; he has killed the hero whom he loved, and now he turns for one moment toward the robber whom he has helped to win the fight. Only once the god waves his hand toward him and the robber falls dead ; he will fight and kill brave men no more. But a harder task than all is to come for the Father of the Gods ; how shall he deal with his own daughter, who has disobeyed him?
" The fire is burning a little better now, but it does not yet seem to be quite on good terms with the wind outside. The smoke is going up again instead of down, and that is an improvement. It rises in sudden puffs and flurries, like clouds flying across the sky after a storm. The shadows of the clouds fall upon a mountain height, a rugged, rocky, wild, beautiful place, where the daughters of the god are meeting to ride home together with the heroes they have brought from some field of battle. Now and then, as the quick flames leap up into the smoke, I can see another and another coming, riding on her flying horse, racing with the driving wind and the hurrying clouds, each with her warrior lying before her across her saddle, and so alighting here and joining her sisters. They are all here at last except the one Daughter of the God whom we have seen before, and now she comes, but she brings no warrior across her saddle, only the poor woman with whom she fled from the fight.
" She tells her sisters how she has disobeyed their father, and she begs them to protect her and the woman against his anger. They dare not help her ; never has one of them done anything that was not his will. What can she do ? He is coming in pursuit of her ; sooner or later he must find her, but she may at least save the woman. She bids her flee alone while she waits with her sisters for her father and her punishment to come. Far away, she tells her, there is a deep forest, and in the forest is a cave where the horrible dragon that was once the giant keeps and guards his treasure. So much does the Father of the Gods dread the curse that the wicked dwarf laid upon the ring, and the doom which he knows is coming to himself because of his own sin, that he never wanders there. To this forest she must go, and there she may find a refuge. The Daughter of the God gives the woman the fragments of the broken magic sword, which she has brought with her from the field of the fight, and bids her go.
" And now, with angry lightnings flashing all around him, comes the Father of the Gods. Never before has he been shaken by such a storm as this. His daughter whom he loved more than all the others, has disobeyed him. Never before has she done anything but that which it was his will that she should do. Now she has known his will, she has heard his command, and she has broken it. She stands be-fore him, sorrowful, but still calm, stern, and placid, and asks what is to be her punishment.
She has brought her doom upon herself, he answers, and now she must be a war goddess no more, but only a woman. He must kiss her once, and all the strength and the valor and the pride of the goddess will be gone. Then she will sink to sleep, and here on this rocky mountain height she must lie till some man comes and awakes her, and she must be a woman only and his wife.
" Very dreadful this seems to the poor war goddess, but it is because she has never been a woman, and does not know much about women. To me it does not seem dreadful at all. It is much better and sweeter and nobler, I believe, to be the best that a woman can be than the strongest and greatest and proudest that a goddess can be. And I hope you will always remember what we see here in the fire tonight, and if you ever feel that there is any danger of your being a goddess, or if anybody ever tells you that you are one, then let somebody kiss you and make you a woman.
" But to one who has so long been used to wearing armor and riding through the air, and choosing the bravest of the fallen heroes, and bearing them to the castle of the gods, the change may well seem hard to suffer at first. So the Daughter of the God thinks that no heavier punishment could have been found for her. Her sisters think so, too, and they beg their father to have mercy on her, but he sternly bids them be silent and to leave him. Now the Daughter of the God tells him how she tried to do what he would have her do ; she knew that he loved the hero and hated the robber, and that his command to her was given unwillingly ; she hoped to gain for him the wish of his heart, in spite of his words, and she threw her shield over the hero.
" It is useless ; he cannot stay her punishment now, but his anger is all gone and he is filled with sorrow like her own. He loves her still, more than any other daughter, and now he will never have her beside him in the halls of the gods again, never again see her ride to the battle, never see her return with brave men to guard his house, never again speak to her as he could to no other, and tell her all that is in his heart, never again see her glad, deep, answering eyes look into his, full of sympathy and help. One thing yet she begs : if all that they have been to each other, the god and his daughter, must be no more, if she must sleep and wait here for an unknown husband to wake her, she prays him to set some guard around her, a wall of fire, that no one but a brave man, the bravest of men, may win her for his bride.
" Yes, he will do this ; she shall be shut in by fire and none shall ever come to her but the bravest of heroes, one who knows no fear at all. No one who fears even his own terrible spear, that spear which broke the magic sword that he himself had made, shall ever awake her who was his daughter, and now is to be his daughter no more. He draws her to him for one last time ; he kisses her lips and they are silent ; he kisses her eyes and they close. He lays her on a bank of soft moss ; he closes her helmet and covers her with her shield. Near by her horse lies upon the ground asleep too ; the flowers among the grass and in the crevices of the rocks droop their drowsy heads; the winds as they pass make no noise. He touches the point of his spear to the ground. Instantly the fire springs up; it makes a fierce, raging ring around the rock ; surely only one who knows no fear can ever pass it. The Father of the Gods is gone. Now we can see nothing but the fire streaming up and exulting in its life and its hot defiance of all but the bravest; but there in the midst of it lies the Daughter of the God, asleep till her lover shall call her with a kiss to come with him and be a woman."
The little girl's mother had come into the room and had heard the last of the story. " Isn't it time," she said, "that the daughter of somebody else was asleep, too, if she wants to grow to be a woman ? "
" It is late," I had to admit. " Well, the Daughter of the God is safe for the present. Perhaps some other time, when we have a better-behaved fire, we may see something of the lover."