The Legend of Reor, by Selma Lagerlof

Invisible Links

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.