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THE DEATH THROES OF THE WENDOL



 

SO ALSO I FELL INTO A SLEEP. HERGER AWAKENED ME with these words: “You are to come quickly.” Now I heard the sound of distant thunder. I looked to the bladder window [44] and it was not yet dawn, but I grabbed up my sword; in truth I had fallen asleep in my armor, not caring to remove it. Then I hastened outside. It was the hour before dawn, and the air was misty and thick, and filled with the thunder of distant hoofbeats.

Herger said to me, “The wendol come. They know of the mortal wounds of Buliwyf, and they seek a final revenge for the killing of their mother.”

Each of the warriors of Buliwyf, myself among them, took a place at the perimeter of the fortifications that we had drawn up against the wendol. These defenses were poor, yet we had none else. We peered into the mists to glimpse the horsemen galloping down upon us. I expected great fear, but I did not feel this, for I had seen the aspect of the wendol and I knew them to be creatures, if not men, then like enough to men as monkeys are also like men; but I knew them to be mortal, and they could die.

Thus I had no fear, save the expectation of this final battle. In this manner was I alone, for I saw that the warriors of Buliwyf displayed much fear; and this despite their pains to conceal it. Verily, as we had killed the mother of the wendol, who was their leader, so also had we lost Buliwyf, who was our own leader, and there was no cheerfulness while we waited and heard the thunder approach.

And then I heard a commotion behind me, and upon my turning, I saw this: Buliwyf, pale as the mist itself, garbed in white and bound in his wounds, stood erect upon the land of the kingdom of Rothgar. And on his shoulders sat two black ravens, one to each side; and at this sight the Northmen screamed of his coming, and they raised their weapons into the air and howled for the battle. [45]

Now Buliwyf never spoke, nor did he look to one side or another; nor did he give sign of recognition to any man; but he walked with measured pace forward, beyond the line of the fortifications, and there he awaited the onslaught of the wendol. The ravens flew off, and he gripped his sword Runding and met the attack.

No words can describe the final attack of the wendol in the dawn of the mist. No words will say what blood was spilled, what screams filled the thick air, what horses and horsemen died in hideous agony. With my own eyes I saw Ecthgow, with his arms of steel: verily his head was lopped off by a wendol sword and the head bounced upon the ground as a bauble, the tongue still flicking in the mouth. Also I saw Weath take a spear through his chest; in this way was he pinned to the ground, and there writhed like a fish taken from the sea. I saw a girl child trampled by the hooves of a horse and her body crushed flat and blood pouring from her ear. Also I saw a woman, a slave of King Rothgar: her body was cut in twain cleanly while she ran from a pursuing horseman. I saw many children likewise killed. I saw horses rear and plunge, their riders dismounted, to be fallen upon by old men and women, who slew the creatures as they lay stunned on their backs. Also I saw Wiglif, the son of Rothgar, run from the fray and conceal himself in cowardly safety. The herald I did not see that day.

I myself killed three of the wendol, and suffered a spear in the shoulder, which pain was like a plunge into fire; my blood boiled the length of my arm and also inside my chest; I thought I should collapse, and yet I fought on.

Now the sun burst through the mist, and the dawn was full upon us, and the mist slipped away, and the horsemen disappeared. In the broad light of day, I saw bodies everywhere, including many bodies of the wendol, for they had not collected their dead. This truly was the sign of their end, for they were in disarray and could not again attack Rothgar, and all the people of the kingdom of Rothgar knew this meaning and rejoiced.

Herger bathed my wound, and was elated, until they carried the body of Buliwyf into the great hall of Rothgar. Buliwyf was dead a score over: his body was hacked by the blades of a dozen adversaries; his visage and form were soaked in his own still-warm blood. Herger saw this sight and burst into tears, and hid his face from me, but there was no need, for I myself felt tears that misted my sight.

Buliwyf was laid before King Rothgar, whose duty it was to make a speech. But the old man was not able to do such a thing. He said only this: “Here is a warrior and a hero fit for the gods. Bury him as a great king,” and then he left the hall. I believe he was ashamed, for he himself had not joined in the battle. Also his son Wiglif had run like a coward, and many had seen this, and called it a womanly act; this also may have abashed the father. Or there may be some reason which I do not know. In truth, he was a very old man.

Now it happened that in a low voice Wiglif spoke to the herald: “This Buliwyf has done us much service, all the greater for his death at the concluding of it.” Thus he spoke when his father the King had departed the hall.

Herger heard these words, and I also did, and I was the first to draw my sword. Herger said to me, “Do not battle this man, for he is a fox, and you have wounds.”

I said to him, “Who cares for that?” and I challenged the son Wiglif, and upon the spot. Wiglif drew his sword. Now Herger delivered me a mighty kick or manner of blow from behind, and as I was unprepared for this I fell sprawling; then Herger joined battle with the son Wiglif. Also the herald took up arms, and moved slyly, in the desire to stand behind Herger and slay him at the back. This herald I myself killed by plunging my sword deep into his belly, and the herald screamed at the instant of his impalement. The son Wiglif heard this, and although he had battled fearlessly before, now he showed much fear in his contest with Herger.

Then it happened that King Rothgar heard of the clashing; he came once more to the great hall and begged for a ceasing of the matter. In this, his efforts were to no avail. Herger was firm in his purpose. Verily I saw him stand astride the body of Buliwyf and swing his sword at Wiglif, and Herger slew Wiglif, who fell down upon the table of Rothgar, and gripped the cup of the King, and drew it toward his lips. But it is true that he died without drinking, and so the matter was finished.

Now of the party of Buliwyf, once of the number thirteen, only four remained. I among them, we set out Buliwyf beneath a wooden roof, and left his body with a cup of mead in his hands. Then Herger said to the assembled people, “Who shall die with this noble man?” and a woman, a slave of King Rothgar, said that she would die with Buliwyf. The usual preparations of the Northmen were then made.

Although Ibn Fadlan does not specify any passage of time, several days probably elapsed before the funeral ceremony.

Now a ship was fitted out upon the shore below the hall of Rothgar, and treasures of gold and silver were laid upon it, and the carcasses of two horses also. And a tent was erected, and Buliwyf, now stiff in death, placed inside. His body was the black color of death in this cold climate. Then the slave girl was taken to each of the warriors of Buliwyf, and to me also, and I had carnal knowledge of her, and she said to me, “My master thanks you.” Her countenance and manner were most joyful, of a variety in excess of the general good cheer these people show. Whilst she dressed again in her garments, these garments including many splendid ornaments of gold and silver, I said to her that she was joyful.

I had in my mind that she was a fair maiden, and youthful, and yet soon to die, which she knew, as did I. She said to me, “I am joyful because I shall soon see my master.” As yet she had drunk no mead, and she spoke the truth of her heart. Her countenance shone as does a happy child, or certain women when they are with child; this was the nature of the thing.

So, then, I said this: “Tell your master when you see him that I have lived to write.” These words I do not know if she comprehended. I said to her, “It was the wish of your master.”

“Then I will tell him,” she said, and most cheerfully proceeded to the next warrior of Buliwyf. I do not know if she understood my meaning, for the only sense of writing these North people know is the carving of wood or stone, which they do but seldom. Also, my speech in the North tongue was not clear. Yet she was cheerful and went on.



Now in the evening, as the sun was making its descent into the sea, the ship of Buliwyf was prepared upon the beach, and the maiden was taken into the tent of the ship, and the old crone who is called the angel of death placed the dagger between her ribs, and I and Herger held the cord that strangled her, and we seated her alongside Buliwyf, and then we departed.

All of this day I had taken no food or drink, for I knew I must participate in these affairs, and I had no wish to suffer the embarrassment of purging myself. But I felt no revulsion at any of the deeds of that day, nor was I faint, or light of head. For this I was proud in secret. Also it is true that at the moment of her death the maiden smiled, and this expression afterward remained, so that she sat next to her master with this same smile upon her pale face. The face of Buliwyf was black and his eyes were closed, but his expression was calm. Thus did I last view these two North people.

Now the ship of Buliwyf was set aflame, and pushed out into the sea, and the Northmen stood upon the rocky shore and made many invocations to their gods. With my own eyes, I saw the ship carried by the currents as a burning pyre, and then it was lost to vision, and the darkness of night descended upon the Northlands.

 







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