The Legend of Reor, by Selma Lagerlof
There was a man called Reor. He was from Fuglekarr in the parish of
Svarteborg, and was considered the best shot in the county. He was
baptized when King Olof rooted out the old belief, and was ever
afterwards an eager Christian. He was freeborn, but poor; handsome,
but not tall; strong, but gentle. He tamed young horses with but a
look and a word, and could lure birds to him with a call. He dwelt
mostly in the woods, and nature had great power over him. The
growing of the plants and the budding of the trees, the play of the
hares in the forest's open places and the fish's leap in the calm
lake at evening, the conflict of the seasons and the changes of the
weather, these were the chief events in his life. Sorrow and joy he
found in such things and not in that which happened among men.
One day the skilful hunter met deep in the thickest forest an old
bear and killed him with a single shot. The great arrow's sharp
point pierced the mighty heart, and he fell dead at the hunter's
feet. It was summer, and the bear's pelt was neither close nor
even, still the archer drew it off, rolled it together into a hard
bundle, and went on with the bear-skin on his back.
He had not wandered far before he perceived an extraordinarily
strong smell of honey. It came from the little flowering plants
that covered the ground. They grew on slender stalks, had light-green,
shiny leaves, which were beautifully veined, and at the top a
little spike, thickly set with white flowers. Their petals were of
the tiniest, but from among them pushed up a little brush of
stamens, whose pollen-filled heads trembled on white filaments.
Reor thought, as he went among them, that those flowers, which
stood alone and unnoticed in the darkness of the forest, were
sending out message after message, summons upon summons. The
strong, sweet fragrance of the honey was their cry; it spread the
knowledge of their existence far away among the trees and high up
towards the clouds. But there was something melancholy in the heavy
perfume. The flowers had filled their cups and spread their table
in expectation of their winged guests, but none came. They pined to
death in the deep loneliness of the dark, windless forest thicket.
They seemed to wish to cry and lament that the beautiful butterflies
did not come and visit them. Where the flowers grew thickest, he
thought that they sang together a monotonous song. "Come, fair
guests, come to-day, for to-morrow we are dead, to-morrow we lie
dead on the dried leaves."
Reor was permitted to see the joyous close of the flower adventure.
He felt behind him a flutter as of the lightest wind and saw a
white butterfly flitting about in the dimness between the thick
trunks. He flew hither and thither in an uneasy quest, as if
uncertain of the way. Nor was he alone; butterfly after butterfly
glimmered in the darkness, until at last there was a host of
white-winged honey seekers. But the first was the leader, and he
found the flowers, guided by their fragrance. After him the whole
butterfly host came storming. It threw itself down among the
longing flowers, as the conqueror throws himself on his booty. Like
a snowfall of white wings it sank down over them. And there was
feasting and drinking on every flowercluster. The woods were full
of silent rejoicing.
Reor went on, but now the honey-sweet fragrance seemed to follow
him wherever he went. And he felt that in the wood was hidden a
longing, stronger than that of the flowers, that something there
drew him to itself, just as the flowers lured the butterflies. He
went forward with a quiet joy in his heart, as if he was expecting
a great, unknown happiness. His only fear was lest he should not be
able to find the way to that which longed for him.
In front of him, on the narrow path, crawled a white snake. He bent
down to pick up the luck-bringing animal, but the snake glided out
of his hands and up the path. There it coiled itself and lay still;
but when the huntsman again tried to catch it, glided slippery as
ice between his fingers.
Reor now grew eager to possess the wisest of beasts. He ran after
the snake, but was not able to reach it, and the latter lured him
away from the path into the trackless forest.
It was overgrown with pines, and in such places one seldom finds
grassy ground. But now the dry moss and brown pine-needles suddenly
disappeared, the stiff cranberry bushes vanished, and Reor felt
under foot velvet like turf. Over the green carpet trembled flower
clusters, light as down, on bending stems, and between the long,
narrow leaves could he seen the half-opened blossoms of the red
gillyflower. It was only a little spot, and over it spread the
gnarled, red-brown branches of the lofty pines, with bunches of
close-growing needles. Through these the sun's rays could find many
paths to the ground, and there was suffocating heat.
In the midst of the little meadow a cliff rose perpendicularly out
of the ground. It lay in sharp sunshine, and the mossy stones were
plainly visible, and in the fresh fractures, where the winter's
frost had last loosened some mighty blocks, the long stalks of
ferns clung with their brown roots in the earth-filled cracks, and
on the inch-wide projections a grass-green moss lifted on needle-like
stems the little, grey caps, which concealed its spores.
The cliff seemed in all ways like every other cliff, but Reor
noticed instantly that he had come upon the gable-wall of a giant's
house, and he discovered under moss and lichen the great hinges on
which the mountain's granite door swung.
He now believed that the snake had crept in, in the grass to hide
there, until it could come in among the rocks unnoticed, and he
gave up all hope of catching it. He perceived now again the
honey-sweet fragrance of the longing flowers and noticed that here
under the cliff the heat was suffocating. It was also marvellously
quiet; not a bird moved, not a leaf played in the wind; it was as
if everything held its breath, waiting and listening in unspeakable
tension. It was as if he had come into a room where he was not
alone, although he saw no one. He thought that some one was
watching him, he felt as if he had been expected. He knew no alarm,
but was thrilled by a pleasant shiver, as if he were soon to see
something above-the-common beautiful.
In that moment he again became aware of the snake. It had not
hidden itself, it had instead crawled up on one of the blocks which
the frost had broken from the cliff. And just below the white snake
he saw the bright body of a girl, who lay asleep in the soft grass.
She lay without any other covering than a light, web-like veil,
just as if she had thrown herself down there after having taken
part the whole night in some elfin dance; but the long blades of
grass and the trembling flower-clusters stood high over the
sleeper, so that Reor could scarcely catch a glimpse of the soft
lines of her body. Nor did he go nearer in order to see better. He
drew his good knife from its sheath and threw it between the girl
and the cliff, so that the steel-shy daughter of the giants should
not be able to flee into the mountain when she awoke.
Then he stood still in deep thought. One thing he knew, that he
wished to possess the maiden who lay there; but as yet he had not
quite made up his mind how he would behave towards her.
He, who knew the language of nature better than that of man,
listened to the great, solemn forest and the stern mountain. "See,"
they said, "to you, who love the wilderness, we give our fair
daughter. She will suit you better than the daughters of the plain.
Reor, are you worthy of this most precious of gifts?"
Then he thanked in his heart the great, kind Nature and decided to
make the maiden his wife and not merely a slave. He thought that
since she had come to Christendom and human ways, she would be
confused at the thought that she had lain so uncovered, so he
loosened the bearskin from his back, unfolded the stiff hide, and
threw the old bear's shaggy, grizzled pelt over her.
And as he did so a laugh, which made the ground shake, thundered
behind the cliff. It did not sound like derision, but as if some
one had sat in great fear and could not help laughing, when
suddenly relieved of it. The terrible silence and oppressive heat
were also at an end. Over the grass floated a cooling wind, and the
pine-branches began their murmuring song. The happy huntsman felt
that the whole forest had held its breath, wondering how the
daughter of the wilderness would be treated by the son of man.
The snake now glided down into the high grass; but the sleeper lay
bound in a magic sleep and did not move. Then Reor wrapped her in
the coarse bear-skin, so that only her head showed above the shaggy
fur. Although she certainly was a daughter of the old giant of the
mountain, she was slender and delicately made, and the strong
hunter lifted her on his arm and carried her away through the forest.
After a while he felt that some one lifted his broad-brimmed hat.
He looked up and found that the giant's daughter was awake. She sat
quiet on his arm, but she wished to see what the man looked like
who was carrying her. He let her do as she pleased. He went on with
longer strides, but said nothing.
Then she must have noticed how hot the sun burned on his head,
since she had taken off his hat. She held it out over his head like
a parasol, but she did not put it back, rather held it so, that she
could still look down into his face. Then it seemed to him that he
did not need to ask or to speak. He carried her silently down to
his mother's hut. But his whole being was filled with happiness,
and when he stood on the threshold of his home, he saw the white
snake, which gives good fortune, glide in under its foundation.