The Outlaws, by Selma Lagerlof
A peasant who had murdered a monk took to the woods and was made an
outlaw. He found there before him in the wilderness another outlaw,
a fisherman from the outermost islands, who had been accused of
stealing a herring net. They joined together, lived in a cave, set
snares, sharpened darts, baked bread on a granite rock and guarded
one another's lives. The peasant never left the woods, but the
fisherman, who had not committed such an abominable crime,
sometimes loaded game on his shoulders and stole down among men.
There he got in exchange for black-cocks, for long-eared hares and
fine-limbed red deer, milk and butter, arrow-heads and clothes.
These helped the outlaws to sustain life.
The cave where they lived was dug in the side of a hill. Broad
stones and thorny sloe-bushes hid the entrance. Above it stood a
thick growing pine-tree. At its roots was the vent-hole of the
cave. The rising smoke filtered through the tree's thick branches
and vanished into space. The men used to go to and from their
dwelling-place, wading in the mountain stream, which ran down the
hill. No-one looked for their tracks under the merry, bubbling
At first they were hunted like wild beasts. The peasants gathered
as if for a chase of bear or wolf. The wood was surrounded by men
with bows and arrows. Men with spears went through it and left no
dark crevice, no bushy thicket unexplored. While the noisy battue
hunted through the wood, the outlaws lay in their dark hole,
listening breathlessly, panting with terror. The fisherman held out
a whole day, but he who had murdered was driven by unbearable fear
out into the open, where he could see his enemy. He was seen and
hunted, but it seemed to him seven times better than to lie still
in helpless inactivity. He fled from his pursuers, slid down
precipices, sprang over streams, climbed up perpendicular mountain
walls. All latent strength and dexterity in him was called forth by
the excitement of danger. His body became elastic like a steel
spring, his foot made no false step, his hand never lost its hold,
eye and ear were twice as sharp as usual. He understood what the
leaves whispered and the rocks warned. When he had climbed up a
precipice, he turned towards his pursuers, sending them gibes in
biting rhyme. When the whistling darts whizzed by him, he caught
them, swift as lightning, and hurled them down on his enemies. As
he forced his way through whipping branches, something within him
sang a song of triumph.
The bald mountain ridge ran through the wood and alone on its
summit stood a lofty fir. The red-brown trunk was bare, but in the
branching top rocked an eagle's nest. The fugitive was now so
audaciously bold that he climbed up there, while his pursuers
looked for him on the wooded slopes. There he sat twisting the
young eaglets' necks, while the hunt passed by far below him. The
male and female eagle, longing for revenge, swooped down on the
ravisher. They fluttered before his face, they struck with their
beaks at his eyes, they beat him with their wings and tore with
their claws bleeding weals in his weather beaten skin. Laughing, he
fought with them. Standing upright in the shaking nest, he cut at
them with his sharp knife and forgot in the pleasure of the play
his danger and his pursuers. When he found time to look for them,
they had gone by to some other part of the forest. No one had
thought to look for their prey on the bald mountain-ridge. No one
had raised his eyes to the clouds to see him practising boyish
tricks and sleep-walking feats while his life was in the greatest
The man trembled when he found that he was paved. With shaking
hands he caught at a support, giddy he measured the height to which
he had climbed. And moaning with the fear of falling, afraid of the
birds, afraid of being seen, afraid of everything, he slid down the
trunk. He laid himself down on the ground, so as not to be seen,
and dragged himself forward over the rocks until the underbrush
covered him. There he hid himself under the young pine-tree's
tangled branches. Weak and powerless, he sank down on the moss. A
single man could have captured him.
Tord was the fisherman's name. He was not more than sixteen years
old, but strong and bold. He had already lived a year in the woods.
The peasant's name was Berg, with the surname Rese. He was the
tallest and the strongest man in the whole district, and moreover
handsome and well-built. He was broad in the shoulders and slender
in the waist. His hands were as well shaped as if he had never done
any hard work. His hair was brown and his skin fair. After he had
been some time in the woods he acquired in all ways a more
formidable appearance. His eyes became piercing, his eyebrows grew
bushy, and the muscles which knitted them lay finger thick above
his nose. It showed now more plainly than before how the upper part
of his athlete's brow projected over the lower. His lips closed
more firmly than of old, his whole face was thinner, the hollows at
the temples grew very deep, and his powerful jaw was much more
prominent. His body was less well filled out but his muscles were
as hard as steel. His hair grew suddenly gray.
Young Tord could never weary of looking at this man. He had never
before seen anything so beautiful and powerful. In his imagination
he stood high as the forest, strong as the sea. He served him as a
master and worshipped him as a god. It was a matter of course that
Tord should carry the hunting spears, drag home the game, fetch the
water and build the fire. Berg Rese accepted all his services, but
almost never gave him a friendly word. He despised him because he
was a thief.
The outlaws did not lead a robber's or brigand's life; they supported
themselves by hunting and fishing. If Berg Rese had not murdered a
holy man, the peasants would soon have ceased to pursue him and
have left him in peace in the mountains. But they feared great
disaster to the district, because he who had raised his hand
against the servant of God was still unpunished. When Tord came
down to the valley with game, they offered him riches and pardon
for his own crime if he would show them the way to Berg Rese's
hole, so that they might take him while he slept. But the boy
always refused; and if any one tried to sneak after him up to the
wood, he led him so cleverly astray that he gave up the pursuit.
Once Berg asked him if the peasants had not tried to tempt him
to betray him, and when he heard what they had offered him as a
reward, he said scornfully that Tord had been foolish not to accept
such a proposal.
Then Tord looked at him with a glance, the like of which Berg Rese
had never before seen. Never had any beautiful woman in his youth,
never had his wife or child looked so at him. "You are my lord, my
elected master," said the glance. "Know that you may strike me and
abuse me as you will, I am faithful notwithstanding."
After that Berg Rese paid more attention to the boy and noticed
that he was bold to act but timid to speak. He had no fear of
death. When the ponds were first frozen, or when the bogs were most
dangerous in the spring, when the quagmires were hidden under
richly flowering grasses and cloudberry, he took his way over them
by choice. He seemed to feel the need of exposing himself to
danger as a compensation for the storms and terrors of the ocean,
which he had no longer to meet. At night he was afraid in the
woods, and even in the middle of the day the darkest thickets or
the wide-stretching roots of a fallen pine could frighten him. But
when Berg Rese asked him about it, he was too shy to even answer.
Tord did not sleep near the fire, far in in the cave, on the bed
which was made soft with moss and warm with skins, but every night,
when Berg had fallen asleep, he crept out to the entrance and lay
there on a rock. Berg discovered this, and although he well
understood the reason, he asked what it meant. Tord would not
explain. To escape any more questions, he did not lie at the door
for two nights, but then he returned to his post.
One night, when the drifting snow whirled about the forest tops and
drove into the thickest underbrush, the driving snowflakes found
their way into the outlaws' cave. Tord, who lay just inside the
entrance, was, when he waked in the morning, covered by a melting
snowdrift. A few days later he fell ill. His lungs wheezed, and
when they were expanded to take in air, he felt excruciating pain.
He kept up as long as his strength held out, but when one evening
he leaned down to blow the fire, he fell over and remained lying.
Berg Rese came to him and told him to go to his bed. Tord moaned
with pain and could not raise himself. Berg then thrust his arms
under him and carried him there. But he felt as if he had got hold
of a slimy snake; he had a taste in the mouth as if he had eaten
the unholy horseflesh, it was so odious to him to touch the
He laid his own big bearskin over him and gave him water, more he
could not do. Nor was it anything dangerous. Tord was soon well
again. But through Berg's being obliged to do his tasks and to be
his servant, they had come nearer to one another. Tord dared to
talk to him when he sat in the cave in the evening and cut arrow
"You are of a good race, Berg," said Tord. "Your kinsmen are the
richest in the valley. Your ancestors have served with kings and
fought in their castles."
"They have oftener fought with bands of rebels and done the kings
great injury," replied Berg Rese.
"Your ancestors gave great feasts at Christmas, and so did you,
when you were at home. Hundreds of men and women could find a place
to sit in your big house, which was already built before Saint Olof
first gave the baptism here in Viken. You owned old silver vessels
and great drinking-horns, which passed from man to man, filled with
Again Berg Rese had to look at the boy. He sat up with his legs
hanging out of the bed and his head resting on his hands, with
which he at the same time held back the wild masses of hair which
would fall over his eyes. His face had become pale and delicate
from the ravages of sickness. In his eyes fever still burned. He
smiled at the pictures he conjured up: at the adorned house, at the
silver vessels, at the guests in gala array and at Berg Rese,
sitting in the seat of honor in the hall of his ancestors. The
peasant thought that no one had ever looked at him with such
shining, admiring eyes, or thought him so magnificent, arrayed in
his festival clothes, as that boy thought him in the torn skin
He was both touched and provoked. That miserable thief had no right
to admire him.
"Were there no feasts in your house?" he asked.
Tord laughed. "Out there on the rocks with father and mother!
Father is a wrecker and mother is a witch. No one will come to us."
"Is your mother a witch?"
"She is," answered Tord, quite untroubled. "In stormy weather she
rides out on a seal to meet the ships over which the waves are
washing, and those who are carried overboard are hers."
"What does she do with them?" asked Berg.
"Oh, a witch always needs corpses. She makes ointments out of them,
or perhaps she eats them. On moonlight nights she sits in the surf,
where it is whitest, and the spray dashes over her. They say that
she sits and searches for shipwrecked children's fingers and eyes."
"That is awful," said Berg.
The boy answered with infinite assurance: "That would be awful in
others, but not in witches. They have to do so."
Berg Rese found that he had here come upon a new way of regarding
the world and things.
"Do thieves have to steal, as witches have to use witchcraft?" he
"Yes, of course," answered the boy; "every one has to do what he is
destined to do." But then he added, with a cautious smile: "There
are thieves also who have never stolen."
"Say out what you mean," said Berg.
The boy continued with his mysterious smile, proud at being an
unsolvable riddle: "It is like speaking of birds who do not fly, to
talk of thieves who do not steal."
Berg Rese pretended to be stupid in order to find out what he
wanted. "No one can be called a thief without having stolen," he
"No; but," said the boy, and pressed his lips together as if to
keep in the words, "but if some one had a father who stole," he
hinted after a while.
"One inherits money and lands," replied Berg Rese, "but no one
bears the name of thief if he has not himself earned it."
Tord laughed quietly. "But if somebody has a mother who begs and
prays him to take his father's crime on him. But if such a one
cheats the hangman and escapes to the woods. But if some one is
made an outlaw for a fish-net which he has never seen."
Berg Rese struck the stone table with his clenched fist. He was
angry. This fair young man had thrown away his whole life. He could
never win love, nor riches, nor esteem after that. The wretched
striving for food and clothes was all which was left him. And the
fool had let him, Berg Rese, go on despising one who was innocent.
He rebuked him with stern words, but Tord was not even as afraid as
a sick child is of its mother, when she chides it because it has
caught cold by wading in the spring brooks.
On one of the broad, wooded mountains lay a dark tarn. It was
square, with as straight shores and as sharp corners as if it had
been cut by the hand of man. On three sides it was surrounded by
steep cliffs, on which pines clung with roots as thick as a man's
arm. Down by the pool, where the earth had been gradually washed
away, their roots stood up out of the water, bare and crooked and
wonderfully twisted about one another. It was like an infinite
number of serpents which had wanted all at the same time to crawl
up out of the pool but had got entangled in one another and been
held fast. Or it was like a mass of blackened skeletons of drowned
giants which the pool wanted to throw up on the land. Arms and legs
writhed about one another, the long fingers dug deep into the very
cliff to get a hold, the mighty ribs formed arches, which held up
primeval trees. It had happened, however, that the iron arms, the
steel-like fingers with which the pines held themselves fast, had
given way, and a pine had been borne by a mighty north wind from
the top of the cliff down into the pool. It had burrowed deep down
into the muddy bottom with its top and now stood there. The smaller
fish had a good place of refuge among its branches, but the roots
stuck up above the water like a many-armed monster and contributed
to make the pool awful and terrifying.
On the tarn's fourth side the cliff sank down. There a little
foaming stream carried away its waters. Before this stream could
find the only possible way, it had tried to get out between stones
and tufts, and had by so doing made a little world of islands, some
no bigger than a little hillock, others covered with trees.
Here where the encircling cliffs did not shut out all the sun,
leafy trees flourished. Here stood thirsty, gray-green alders and
smooth-leaved willows. The birch-tree grew there as it does
everywhere where it is trying to crowd out the pine woods, and the
wild cherry and the mountain ash, those two which edge the forest
pastures, filling them with fragrance and adorning them with
beauty. Here at the outlet there was a forest of reeds as high as a
man, which made the sunlight fall green on the water just as it
falls on the moss in the real forest. Among the reeds there were
open places; small, round pools, and water-lilies were floating
there. The tall stalks looked down with mild seriousness on those
sensitive beauties, who discontentedly shut their white petals and
yellow stamens in a hard, leather-like sheath as soon as the sun
ceased to show itself.
One sunshiny day the outlaws came to this tarn to fish. They waded
out to a couple of big stones in the midst of the reed forest and
sat there and threw out bait for the big, green-striped pickerel
that lay and slept near the surface of the water.
These men, who were always wandering in the woods and the
mountains, had, without their knowing it themselves, come under
nature's rule as much as the plants and the animals. When the sun
shone, they were open-hearted and brave, but in the evening, as
soon as the sun had disappeared, they became silent; and the night,
which seemed to them much greater and more powerful than the day,
made them anxious and helpless. Now the green light, which slanted
in between the rushes and colored the water with brown and
dark-green streaked with gold, affected their mood until they were
ready for any miracle. Every outlook was shut off. Sometimes the
reeds rocked in an imperceptible wind, their stalks rustled, and
the long, ribbon-like leaves fluttered against their faces. They
sat in gray skins on the gray stones. The shadows in the skins
repeated the shadows of the weather-beaten, mossy stone. Each saw
his companion in his silence and immovability change into a stone
image. But in among the rushes swam mighty fishes with rainbow-colored
backs. When the men threw out their hooks and saw the circles
spreading among the reeds, it seemed as if the motion grew stronger
and stronger, until they perceived that it was not caused only by
their cast. A sea-nymph, half human, half a shining fish, lay and
slept on the surface of the water. She lay on her back with her
whole body under water. The waves so nearly covered her that they
had not noticed her before. It was her breathing that caused the
motion of the waves. But there was nothing strange in her lying
there, and when the next instant she was gone, they were not sure
that she had not been only an illusion.
The green light entered through the eyes into the brain like a
gentle intoxication. The men sat and stared with dulled thoughts,
seeing visions among the reeds, of which they did not dare to tell
one another. Their catch was poor. The day was devoted to dreams
The stroke of oars was heard among the rushes, and they started up
as from sleep. The next moment a flat-bottomed boat appeared,
heavy, hollowed out with no skill and with oars as small as sticks.
A young girl, who had been picking water-lilies, rowed it. She had
dark-brown hair, gathered in great braids, and big dark eyes;
otherwise she was strangely pale. But her paleness toned to pink
and not to gray. Her cheeks had no higher color than the rest of
her face, the lips had hardly enough. She wore a white linen shirt
and a leather belt with a gold buckle. Her skirt was blue with a
red hem. She rowed by the outlaws without seeing them. They kept
breathlessly still, but not for fear of being seen, but only to be
able to really see her. As soon as she had gone they were as if
changed from stone images to living beings. Smiling, they looked at
"She was white like the water-lilies," said one. "Her eyes were as
dark as the water there under the pine-roots."
They were so excited that they wanted to laugh, really laugh as no
one had ever laughed by that pool, till the cliffs thundered with
echoes and the roots of the pines loosened with fright.
"Did you think she was pretty?" asked Berg Rese.
"Oh, I do not know, I saw her for such a short time. Perhaps she
"I do not believe you dared to look at her. You thought that it was
And they were again shaken by the same extravagant merriment.
Tord had once as a child seen a drowned man. He had found the body
on the shore on a summer day and had not been at all afraid, but at
night he had dreamed terrible dreams. He saw a sea, where every
wave rolled a dead man to his feet. He saw, too, that all the
islands were covered with drowned men, who were dead and belonged
to the sea, but who still could speak and move and threaten him
with withered white hands.
It was so with him now. The girl whom he had seen among the rushes
came back in his dreams. He met her out in the open pool, where the
sunlight fell even greener than among the rushes, and he had time
to see that she was beautiful. He dreamed that he had crept up on
the big pine root in the middle of the dark tarn, but the pine
swayed and rocked so that sometimes he was quite under water. Then
she came forward on the little islands. She stood under the red
mountain ashes and laughed at him. In the last dream-vision he had
come so far that she kissed him. It was already morning, and he
heard that Berg Rese had got up, but he obstinately shut his eyes
to be able to go on with his dream. When he awoke, he was as though
dizzy and stunned by what had happened to him in the night. He
thought much more now of the girl than he had done the day before.
Towards night he happened to ask Berg Rese if he knew her name.
Berg looked at him inquiringly. "Perhaps it is best for you to hear
it," he said. "She is Unn. We are cousins."
Tord then knew that it was for that pale girl's sake Berg Rese
wandered an outlaw in forest and mountain. Tord tried to remember
what he knew of her. Unn was the daughter of a rich peasant. Her
mother was dead, so that she managed her father's house. This she
liked, for she was fond of her own way and she had no wish to be
Unn and Berg Rese were the children of brothers, and it had long
been said that Berg preferred to sit with Unn and her maids and
jest with them than to work on his own lands. When the great
Christmas feast was celebrated at his house, his wife had invited a
monk from Draksmark, for she wanted him to remonstrate with Berg,
because he was forgetting her for another woman. This monk was
hateful to Berg and to many on account of his appearance. He was
very fat and quite white. The ring of hair about his bald head, the
eyebrows above his watery eyes, his face, his hands and his whole
cloak, everything was white. Many found it hard to endure his looks.
At the banquet table, in the hearing of all the guests, this monk
now said, for he was fearless and thought that his words would have
more effect if they were heard by many, "People are in the habit of
saying that the cuckoo is the worst of birds because he does not
rear his young in his own nest, but here sits a man who does not
provide for his home and his children, but seeks his pleasure with
a strange woman. Him will I call the worst of men."?Unn then rose
up. "That, Berg, is said to you and me," she said. "Never have I
been so insulted, and my father is not here either." She had wished
to go, but Berg sprang after her. "Do not move!" she said. "I will
never see you again." He caught up with her in the hall and asked
her what he should do to make her stay. She had answered with
flashing eyes that he must know that best himself. Then Berg went
in and killed the monk.
Berg and Tord were busy with the same thoughts, for after a while
Berg said: "You should have seen her, Unn, when the white monk
fell. The mistress of the house gathered the small children about
her and cursed her. She turned their faces towards her, that they
might forever remember her who had made their father a murderer.
But Unn stood calm and so beautiful that the men trembled. She
thanked me for the deed and told me to fly to the woods. She bade
me not to be robber, and not to use the knife until I could do it
for an equally just cause."
"Your deed had been to her honor," said Tord.
Berg Rese noticed again what had astonished him before in the boy.
He was like a heathen, worse than a heathen; he never condemned
what was wrong. He felt no responsibility. That which must be, was.
He knew of God and Christ and the saints, but only by name, as one
knows the gods of foreign lands. The ghosts of the rocks were his
gods. His mother, wise in witchcraft, had taught him to believe in
the spirits of the dead.
Then Berg Rese undertook a task which was as foolish as to twist a
rope about his own neck. He set before those ignorant eyes the
great God, the Lord of justice, the Avenger of misdeeds, who casts
the wicked into places of everlasting torment. And he taught him to
love Christ and his mother and the holy men and women, who with
lifted hands kneeled before God's throne to avert the wrath of the
great Avenger from the hosts of sinners. He taught him all that men
do to appease God's wrath. He showed him the crowds of pilgrims
making pilgrimages to holy places, the flight of self-torturing
penitents and monks from a worldly life.
As he spoke, the boy became more eager and more pale, his eyes grew
large as if for terrible visions. Berg Rese wished to stop, but
thoughts streamed to him, and he went on speaking. The night sank
down over them, the black forest night, when the owls hoot. God
came so near to them that they saw his throne darken the stars, and
the chastising angels sank down to the tops of the trees. And under
them the fires of Hell flamed up to the earth's crust, eagerly
licking that shaking place of refuge for the sorrowing races of
The autumn had come with a heavy storm. Tord went alone in the
woods to see after the snares and traps. Berg Rese sat at home to
mend his clothes. Tord's way led in a broad path up a wooded
Every gust carried the dry leaves in a rustling whirl up the path.
Time after time Tord thought that some one went behind him. He
often looked round. Sometimes he stopped to listen, but he
understood that it was the leaves and the wind, and went on. As
soon as he started on again, he heard some one come dancing on
silken foot up the slope. Small feet came tripping. Elves and
fairies played behind him. When he turned round, there was no one,
always no one. He shook his fists at the rustling leaves and went on.
They did not grow silent for that, but they took another tone. They
began to hiss and to pant be hind him. A big viper came gliding.
Its tongue dripping venom hung far out of its mouth, and its bright
body shone against the withered leaves. Beside the snake pattered a
wolf, a big, gaunt monster, who was ready to seize fast in his
throat when the snake had twisted about his feet and bitten him in
the heel. Sometimes they were both silent, as if to approach him
unperceived, but they soon betrayed themselves by hissing and
panting, and sometimes the wolf's claws rung against a stone.
Involuntarily Tord walked quicker and quicker, but the creatures
hastened after him. When he felt that they were only two steps
distant and were preparing to strike, he turned. There was nothing
there, and he had known it the whole time.
He sat down on a stone to rest. Then the dry leaves played about
his feet as if to amuse him. All the leaves of the forest were
there: small, light yellow birch leaves, red speckled mountain ash,
the elm's dry, dark-brown leaves, the aspen's tough light red, and
the willow's yellow green. Transformed and withered, scarred and
torn were they, and much unlike the downy, light green, delicately
shaped leaves, which a few months ago had rolled out of their buds.
"Sinners," said the boy, "sinners, nothing is pure in God's eyes.
The flame of his wrath has already reached you."
When he resumed his wandering, he saw the forest under him bend
before the storm like a heaving sea, but in the path it was calm.
But he heard what he did not feel. The woods were full of voices.
He heard whisperings, wailing songs, coarse threats, thundering
oaths. There was laughter and laments, there was the noise of many
people. That which hounded and pursued, which rustled and hissed,
which seemed to be something and still was nothing, gave him wild
thoughts. He felt again the anguish of death, as when he lay on the
floor in his den and the peasants hunted him through the wood. He
heard again the crashing of branches, the people's heavy tread, the
ring of weapons, the resounding cries, the wild, bloodthirsty
noise, which followed the crowd.
But it was not only that which he heard in the storm. There was
something else, something still more terrible, voices which he
could not interpret, a confusion of voices, which seemed to him to
speak in foreign tongues. He had heard mightier storms than this
whistle through the rigging, but never before had he heard the wind
play on such a many-voiced harp. Each tree had its own voice; the
pine did not murmur like the aspen nor the poplar like the mountain
ash. Every hole had its note, every cliff's sounding echo its own
ring. And the noise of the brooks and the cry of foxes mingled with
the marvellous forest storm. But all that he could interpret; there
were other strange sounds. It was those which made him begin to
scream and scoff and groan in emulation with the storm.
He had always been afraid when he was alone in the darkness of the
forest. He liked the open sea and the bare rocks. Spirits and
phantoms crept about among the trees.
Suddenly he heard who it was who spoke in the storm. It was God,
the great Avenger, the God of justice. He was hunting him for the
sake of his comrade. He demanded that he should deliver up the
murderer to His vengeance.
Then Tord began to speak in the midst of the storm. He told God
what he had wished to do, but had not been able. He had wished to
speak to Berg Rese and to beg him to make his peace with God, but
he had been too shy. Bashfulness had made him dumb. "When I heard
that the earth was ruled by a just God," he cried, "I understood
that he was a lost man. I have lain and wept for my friend many
long nights. I knew that God would find him out, wherever he might
hide. But I could not speak, nor teach him to understand. I
was speechless, because I loved him so much. Ask not that I shall
speak to him, ask not that the sea shall rise up against the
He was silent, and in the storm the deep voice, which had been the
voice of God for him, ceased. It was suddenly calm, with a sharp
sun and a splashing as of oars and a gentle rustle as of stiff
rushes. These sounds brought Unn's image before him.?The outlaw
cannot have anything, not riches, nor women, nor the esteem of men.
?If he should betray Berg, he would be taken under the protection
of the law.?But Unn must love Berg, after what he had done for
her. There was no way out of it all.
When the storm increased, he heard again steps behind him and
sometimes a breathless panting. Now he did not dare to look back,
for he knew that the white monk went behind him. He came from the
feast at Berg Rese's house, drenched with blood, with a gaping
axe-wound in his forehead. And he whispered: "Denounce him, betray
him, save his soul. Leave his body to the pyre, that his soul may
be spared. Leave him to the slow torture of the rack, that his soul
may have time to repent."
Tord ran. All this fright of what was nothing in itself grew, when
it so continually played on the soul, to an unspeakable terror. He
wished to escape from it all. As he began to run, again thundered
that deep, terrible voice, which was God's. God himself hunted him
with alarms, that he should give up the murderer. Berg Rese's crime
seemed more detestable than ever to him.. An unarmed man had been
murdered, a man of God pierced with shining steel. It was like a
defiance of the Lord of the world. And the murderer dared to live!
He rejoiced in the sun's light and in the fruits of the earth as if
the Almighty's arm were too short to reach him.
He stopped, clenched his fists and howled out a threat. Then he ran
like a madman from the wood down to the valley.
Tord hardly needed to tell his errand; instantly ten peasants were
ready to follow him. It was decided that Tord should go alone up to
the cave, so that Berg's suspicions should not be aroused. But
where he went he should scatter peas, so that the peasants could
find the way.
When Tord came to the cave, the outlaw sat on the stone bench and
sewed. The fire gave hardly any light, and the work seemed to go
badly. The boy's heart swelled with pity. The splendid Berg Rese
seemed to him poor and unhappy. And the only thing he possessed,
his life, should be taken from him. Tord began to weep.
"What is it?" asked Berg. "Are you ill? Have you been frightened?"
Then for the first time Tord spoke of his fear. "It was terrible in
the wood. I heard ghosts and raw spectres. I saw white monks."
"They crowded round me all the way up Broad mountain. I ran, but
they followed after and sang. Can I never be rid of the sound? What
have I to do with them? I think that they could go to one who
needed it more."
"Are you mad to-night, Tord?"
Tord talked, hardly knowing what words he used. He was free from
all shyness. The words streamed from his lips.
"They are all white monks, white, pale as death. They all have
blood on their cloaks. They drag their hoods down over their brows,
but still the wound shines from under; the big, red, gaping wound
from the blow of the axe."
"The big, red, gaping wound from the blow of the axe?"
"Is it I who perhaps have struck it? Why shall I see it?"
"The saints only know, Tord," said Berg Rese, pale and with
terrible earnestness, "what it means that you see a wound from an
axe. I killed the monk with a couple of knife-thrusts."
Tord stood trembling before Berg and wrung his hands. "They demand
you of me! They want to force me to betray you!"
"Who? The monks?"
"They, yes, the monks. They show me visions. They show me her, Unn.
They show me the shining, sunny sea. They show me the fishermen's
camping-ground, where there is dancing and merrymaking. I close my
eyes, but still I see. 'Leave me in peace,' I say. 'My friend has
murdered, but he is not bad. Let me be, and I will talk to him, so
that he repents and atones. He shall confess his sin and go to
Christ's grave. We will both go together to the places which are so
holy that all sin is taken away from him who draws near them.'"
"What do the monks answer?" asked Berg. "They want to have me
saved. They want to have me on the rack and wheel."
"Shall I betray my dearest friend, I ask them," continued Tord. "He
is my world. He has saved me from the bear that had his paw on my
throat. We have been cold together and suffered every want
together. He has spread his bear-skin over me when I was sick. I
have carried wood and water for him; I have watched over him while
he slept; I have fooled his enemies. Why do they think that I am
one who will betray a friend? My friend will soon of his own accord
go to the priest and confess, then we will go together to the land
Berg listened earnestly, his eyes sharply searching Tord's face.
"You shall go to the priest and tell him the truth," he said. "You
need to be among people."
"Does that help me if I go alone? For your sin, Death and all his
spectres follow me. Do you not see how I shudder at you? You have
lifted your hand against God himself. No crime is like yours. I
think that I must rejoice when I see you on rack and wheel. It is
well for him who can receive his punishment in this world and
escapes the wrath to come. Why did you tell me of the just God? You
compel me to betray you. Save me from that sin. Go to the priest."
And he fell on his knees before Berg.
The murderer laid his hand on his head and looked at him. He was
measuring his sin against his friend's anguish, and it grew big and
terrible before his soul. He saw himself at variance with the Will
which rules the world. Repentance entered his heart.
"Woe to me that I have done what I have done," he said. "That which
awaits me is too hard to meet voluntarily. If I give myself up to
the priests, they will torture me for hours; they will roast me
with slow fires. And is not this life of misery, which we lead in
fear and want, penance enough? Have I not lost lands and home? Do I
not live parted from friends and everything which makes a man's
happiness? What more is required?"
When he spoke so, Tord sprang up wild with terror. "Can you
repent?" he cried. "Can my words move your heart? Then come
instantly! How could I believe that! Let us escape! There is still
Berg Rese sprang up, he too. "You have done it, then?"
"Yes, yes, yes! I have betrayed you! But come quickly! Come, as you
can repent! They will let us go. We shall escape them!"
The murderer bent down to the floor, where the battle-axe of his
ancestors lay at his feet. "You son of a thief!" he said, hissing
out the words, "I have trusted you and loved you."
But when Tord saw him bend for the axe, he knew that it was now a
question of his own life. He snatched his own axe from his belt and
struck at Berg before he had time to raise himself. The edge cut
through the whistling air and sank in the bent head. Berg Rese fell
head foremost to the floor, his body rolled after. Blood and brains
spouted out, the axe fell from the wound. In the matted hair Tord
saw a big, red, gaping hole from the blow of an axe.
The peasants came rushing in. They rejoiced and praised the deed.
"You will win by this," they said to Tord.
Tord looked down at his hands as if he saw there the fetters with
which he had been dragged forward to kill him he loved. They were
forged from nothing. Of the rushes' green light, of the play of the
shadows, of the song of the storm, of the rustling of the leaves,
of dreams were they created. And he said aloud: "God is great."
But again the old thought came to him. He fell on his knees beside
the body and put his arm under him head.
"Do him no harm," he said. "He repents; he is going to the Holy
Sepulchre. He is not dead, he is but a prisoner. We were just ready
to go when he fell. The white monk did not want him to repent, but
God, the God of justice, loves repentance."
He lay beside the body, talked to it, wept and begged the dead man
to awake. The peasants arranged a bier. They wished to carry the
peasant's body down to his house. They had respect for the dead and
spoke softly in his presence. When they lifted him up on the bier,
Tord rose, shook the hair back from his face, and said with a voice
which shook with sobs,?
"Say to Unn, who made Berg Rese a murderer, that he was killed by
Tord the fisherman, whose father is a wrecker and whose mother is a
witch, because he taught him that the foundation of the world is