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Title: The Regent of the North
Author: Kenneth Morris
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700721.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: May 2007
Date most recently updated: May 2007


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Title: The Regent of the North
Author: Kenneth Morris



"The Regent of the North" was first published in the August 1915 issue of
the 'Theosophical Path'.



The northern winter is altogether ghostly and elemental; there is no
friendliness to man to be found in it. There, the snow has its proper
habitation; there, in the gaunt valleys of Lapland, in the terrible,
lonely desolations, the Frost Giants abide. They are servants of the
Regent of the North: smiths, that have the awful mountains for their
anvils; and, with cold for flame tempering water into hardness, fashion
spears and swords of piercing ice, or raise glittering ramparts about the
Pole. All for the dreadful pleasure of doing it! They go about their work
silently in the gray darkness; heaven knows what dreams may be haunting
them--dreams that no mind could imagine, unless death had already frozen
its brain. When the wind wolves come howling down from the Pole,
innumerous, unflagging, and insatiable: when the snow drives down, a
horde of ghosts wandering senseless, hurrying and hurrying through the
night: the giants do their work. They make no sound: they fashion terror,
and illimitable terror, and terror....Or--is it indeed only terror that
they fashion?...

And then spring comes, and the sun rises at last on the world of the
North. The snow melts in the valleys; white wisps of cloud float over
skies blue as the gentian; over a thousand lakes all turquoise and
forget-me-not: waters infinitely calm and clear, infinitely lovely. Then
the snow on the mountain dreams dazzling whiteness by day, defiantly
glittering against the sun; dreams tenderness, all faint rose and
heliotrope and amber, in the evening; blue solemn mystery in the night.
Quick with this last mysterious dreaming!--for the nights are hurrying
away; they grow shorter always; they slink Poleward, immersed in ghostly
preoccupations; by midsummer they have vanished altogether. Then the sun
peers incessantly wizardlike over the horizon; the dumb rocks and the
waters are invincibly awake, alert, and radiant with some magic instilled
into them by the Regent of the North....It is in this spring and
summer-time that you shall see bloom the flowers of Lapland: great pure
blossoms in blue and purple and rose and citron, such as are not found
elsewhere in the world. The valleys are a dreaming, silent wonder with
the myriads there are of them--silent, for the Lapps have followed the
reindeer, and the reindeer have followed the snows.

Into this region it was that Halfdan the Aged came, when he was tired of
the new ways and faith that had come into the south. The viking days were
over forever, one could see that. Meek, crozier-bearing men had invaded
the realms of Odin and Balder; laying terrible axes of soft words, of
chanted prayers and hymns, to the roots of--? All the ancient virtue of
the race, said Halfdan the Aged; all the mighty and mystic dreams that
had been surging through the Northlands these hundreds of years; sending
the brave forth to wonderful deeds and wonderful visions about the seas
and coasts of the world. And Inge the king at Upsala, forgetting all
things noble and generous, had foresworn Odin and battle-breaking Thor;
had foresworn Balder the Beautiful; had welcomed these chanting, canting
foreigners, and decreed their faith for his people. So that now nothing
remained but a fat, slothful life and the straw-death at the end of it:
there should be no more Viking expeditions, no more Valhalla; no more
Asgard and the Gods. "Faugh!" thought Halfdan Halfdansson, old hero of a
hundred raids in the west and south; "this small-souled life for them
that can abide it; it is worse than death for a _Man's Son_."

Not but that his own days of action were over: had been these ten years;
had passed with the age of the Vikings. Also his seven sons were in
Valhalla long since, and beyond being troubled; they had fallen like men
in battle before there was any talk of this Christian heaven and hell; as
for his wife, she, royal-hearted woman, had died when the youngest of
them was born. So that it would have been easy for him to cut himself
adrift from the world and voyage down through pleasant dreams towards
death, after the fashion of clean old age. He had already put by,
somewhat sadly, the prospect of future expeditions, and was reconciling
himself to old age and its illumination, when King Inge went besotted
over the foreign faith. From his house, Bravik on the hillside, through
whose door the sea-winds blew in salt and excellent, he could watch the
changes of the Swan-way, and nourish peace upon the music of the sea.
Below at the foot of the hill, was the harbor from which his ships used
to sail; drawn up on the beach, sheer hulks, still they lay there, the
_Wild Swan_ and the _Dragon_, accustomed to Mediterranean voyagings of old.
For his own life, he found to action to regret in it; it had all been
heroic doing, clean and honorable and vigorous; and the Gods had had
their proper place in it, lighting it mysteriously from within.

But what room was there for dreaming, when the cry _The glory is departed_!
rang so insistent? The new order liked him so little, that in place of
peace and its accompanying wisdom, the years brought him unease
increasingly. With his old skalds about him, to sing to him in the hall
in the evenings; with his old and pagan servants, faithful all of them to
the past as to himself, he watched the change coming on Sweden with
disquietude and disgust; and for the first time in his life, experienced
a kind of fear. But it was a pagan and greathearted fear, and had nought
to do with his own fate or future.

He knew the kind of tales these becroziered men from the south were
telling, and that were becoming increasingly a substitute for the old
valiant stories of the skalds. A man had come to Bravik once, and was
welcomed there, who, when the feast was over, and the poets were relating
their sagas, had risen in his turn with a story to tell--of a
white-faced, agonizing God, who died a felon's death amongst ignoble and
unwarlike people. Halfdan had listened to it with growing anger: where
was the joy, where the mighty and beautiful forms, the splendid life, of
the Divine Ones in this? At the end of it he had called to the stranger:

"Thy tale is a vile one, 0 foreign skald! Fraught with lies it is, and
unwholesome to the hearing?'

"Lies it is not, but the truth of truths, 0 chieftain, and except thou
believest, thou shalt suffer the vengeance of God throughout eternity?'

"Go!" cried the Viking; and in the one word rang all the outraged ideals
that had stood him in stead for sixty years. One does not defend his
standpoint, but merely states it. He saw none of the virtues of
Christianity; while its crude presentation shocked his religious feelings
as profoundly as the blatant negations of atheism shock those of the
pious of our own day. And his aspirations had a core of real spirituality
in them. The Gods, for these high-souled Pagans, were the fountain of
right, the assurance and stability of virtue. Thor, probably, stood for
courage, spiritual as well as physical; Odin for a secret and internal
wisdom; Balder for a peace that passeth understanding. Things did not end
in Berserker fury: the paths of the spirit were open, or had been of old;
beyond the hero stood the God; beyond strife, a golden peace founded on
the perfection of life. Wars, adventure, and strenuous living were to
fashion something divinely calm and grand in the lives of men; that once
established, and no possibility of evil left lurking in any human soul,
Balder's reign would come, something like the glow and afterglow of
sunset, or a vast and perfect music enveloping the world--there should be
a love as of comrades, as of dear brothers, between all men. But that
Peace of Balder and of Odin was separated by all Berserkerism from the
peace that is fear or greed. It was a high, perpetual exultation: a
heaven into which the meek and weak could not slide passively, but the
strong man armed (spiritually) should take it by storm.--And here was
negation of the doctrine of the strong man armed; here was proclaiming
godhood a thing not robust, joyless, unbeautiful....Old Halfdan went
moody and depressed for a week after the priest's visit. The serene
Balder-mood, into the fulness of which now, in the evening of his life,
he had the right to grow naturally had been attacked, and could not be
induced to return. A God crucified!...his soul cried out for Gods
triumphant.

Inge might launch his decrees at Upsala; at Bravik, not the least
intention existed of-obeying them. With dogged and defiant faith Halfdan
performed the rites of the religion of Odin, having dismissed from his
house all who hankered after the newly proclaimed orthodoxy. With it all,
he was ill at ease; as seeing that Sweden would not long hold a man
faithful to her ancient ideals. Tales were brought in, how such and such
a pagan chief had suffered the king's vengeance, or had been compelled to
profess and call himself Christian. Heaven knew when his own turn might
come; Inge would not overlook him forever. Well, there would be no giving
in for him, no lip profession--a thing not in him to understand. He
could-swing a battle-ax yet, at the head of his retainers; he could die
in his burning house like a Viking's son. That would be something: a blow
struck for olden virtue: a beacon of remembrance for Sweden, in the dark
days he feared and foresaw. His religious broodings deepened; he strove
incessantly to come nearer to the Gods; for although he held it a
coward's creed to think They exist to help men, and a brave man's, that
men exist to help Them; yet at such a time, he deemed, They might find it
worth Their while to turn from vaster wars for a moment, and concern
themselves with the fate of Sweden. So he prayed, but his prayer was no
petition nor whining after gains; it was a silencing of the mind, a
stedfast driving it upward towards heights it had not attained before:
eagle altitudes, and sunlight in the windless blue, where no passion
comes, and the eternal voices may be heard.

The tide of trouble drew nearer. Presently a messenger came from Inge,
with a priest. Halfdan was to install the latter in his house, and learn
from him the faith of the Nazarene; was to forgo the Gods, or expect the
king's armies. Halfdan sent them back; to say that Inge would be welcome
at Bravik: as a friend, as of old; or still more as a foe. Then he
dismissed the few women there were in his house, called in his men, and
prepared for a siege: thoroughly if fiercely happy at last. But there was
no bottom to the king's degeneration, it seemed. After three weeks this
came from Upsala: "Halfdan Halfdansson, you are senile; you will die
soon, and your false religion will all but die with you. The faith of
Christ commands forbearance and forgiveness. You shall die in peace, and
suffer hell-flame thereafter; _I will not trouble with you_." I will not
trouble with you....For a week the old man raged inwardly. Inge should
not thus triumphantly insult him; he would not die in peace, but lead his
fifty against Upsala, and go out fighting....Then the Balder-mood came
once more; and with it, light and direction vouchsafed him. He would go
a-viking.

He summoned his fifty, and proclaimed his intention in the hall. Let who
would, stay behind--in a Sweden that at least would let them be. For
himself, he would take the Swan-way: he would have delight again of the
crisping of blue waves against his prow: he would go under purple sails
into the evening, into the mystery, into the aloneness where grandeur is,
and it is profitable for souls to be, and there are none to tell
heart-sickening tales....There, what should befall him, who could say?
Perhaps there would be sweet battle on the Christian coasts; perhaps he
would burn and break a church or two, and silence the jangling of the
bells that called ignoble races to ignoble prayer. Perhaps there would be
battling only with the storm: going out into that vast unstable region
the Aesir loved, perhaps they would expend their manhood nobly in war
with the shrieking wind, the sweet wild tempest of heaven. At such times
the Gods come near, they come very near, they buffet and slay in their
love, and out of a wild and viking death, the Valkyrie ride, the Valkyrie
ride!...There were fifty men in the hall that heard him; there were fifty
men that rose and shouted their acclamation; fifty that would take the
Swan-way with their lord.

So there came to be noise of ax and hammer in the haven under Bravik: the
_Wild Swan_ and the _Dragon_ being refurbished and made all taut for
voyaging. Within a month they set sail. But not southward, and then
through Skagerack and Cattegat, out into the waters of Britain and
France, as Halfdan had intended. On the first day, a sudden storm
overtook them, and singing they plunged into black seas, beneath blind
and battling skies. Singing they combatted the wave of the north; they
went on, plunging blindly, driven for three days whither they knew nark;
then, with a certain triumph in their souls, they succumbed singing, to
the gale. They saw the Valkyrie ride through heaven, they gave their
bodies to the foam about the rocks and rose upon the howling winds, clean
and joyous of soul at the last.

Halfdan had forgotten Christianity: all thought and memory of it deserted
him utterly before the storm had been beating them an hour. In the end it
was all pagan, all Viking, exultant lover and fighter of the Gods, that
he leaped from his sinking ship in the night, fully armed, into the
driving froth and blackness; struggled as long as might be with the
overwhelming waters, as befitted his manhood; then lost consciousness,
and was buffeted and tossed where the grand elements listed; and thrown
at last, unconscious, on the shore.

Certainly he had seen the Valkyrie riding, had heard their warsong above
the winds and waves: like the lightning of heaven they had ridden,
beautiful and awful beyond any of his old dreaming; why then had they not
taken him? This was no Valhalla into which he had come: this dark place
smokily lamp-lit; this close air, heavy, it must be said, with stench.
And were these the dwarfs, these little figures that moved and chattered
unintelligibly in the gloom?...Slowly he took in the uncouth
surroundings; raising himself, rather painfully, on his elbow from the
bed of dry heather on which he was lying. There, on the tent-pole, hung
his armor: his helmet with the raven wings; his shield, sword, and
battle-ax; these were skins with which he was covered, and of which the
walls of the tent were made. He was not dead then? No; it appeared that
it was still mortal flesh that he was wearing. He had been thrown on some
shore by the waves, and rescued by these quaint, squat people. Ah! he had
been driven into the far north, and was among Lapps in the unknown north
of the world.

He lay back, exhausted by his bodily and mental effort; and the sigh that
broke from him brought the Lapp woman to his side, and the Lapp man after
her. They brought him hot broth, and spoke to him, their unknown and
liquid tongue, in which no sound unmusical intrudes, was full of gentle
kindliness; their words were almost caressing, and full of encouragement
and cheer. He had no strength to sit up; the Lapp woman squatted at his
head and lifted him in her arms; and while he so leaned and rested the
Lapp man fed him, sup by sup; the two of them crooning and chuckling
their good will the while. In three days he was on his feet; and
convinced that he could not outwear the kindly hospitality of his hosts.

The weeks of the northern spring went by; the flowers of Lapland were
abloom in the valley, and old Halfdan wandered daily and brooded amidst
the flowers. His mood now had become very inward. He hungered no more
after action, nor dwelt in pictures of the past; rather an interiority of
the present haunted him: a sweetness, as of dear and near deities, in the
crag-reflecting waters, in the fleet cloud-fleeces, in the heather on the
hills, and in the white and yellow poppies on the valley-floor. As the
summer passed this mood grew deeper: from a prevalent serene peace, it
became filled with divine voices almost audibly calling. As for the
Lapps, they behaved to him at all times with such tenderness as might be
given to a father growing helpless in old age, but loved beyond ordinary
standards.

The first frosts were withering the heather; in the valley the flowers
had died; the twilight of early winter, a wan iris withering, drooped
mournful petals over the world. On the hills all was ghostly whiteness:
the Lapps had come south with the winter, and there was a great
encampment of them in the valley; it never occurred to Halfdan to wonder
why the couple that had saved him had remained during the summer so far
from the snows. One day he wandered down to the shore: the sea had
already frozen, and the icy leagues of it shone tinted with rose and
faint violet and beryl where light from the sun, far and low in the
horizon, caught them. Wonderful and beautiful seemed to him the world of
the North. There was no taint in the cold, electric air; no memory to
make his soul ashamed for his fellow men. The wind blew keen over the
ice, blowing back his hair and his beard; it was intense and joyful for
him with that Divine life of the Gods that loves and opposes us. He
walked out on the ice; something at his feet caught his attention, and he
stooped to examine it; it was a spar, belike from the _Wild Swan_ or the
_Dragon_, the ships he had loved. Then came memory in a flood. All his life
had gone from him; the faces familiar of old had vanished; down there, in
the south, in the Gothland, all the glory had departed; and there was
nothing left for him on earth, but the queer, evil-smelling life in the
Lapp tent....Yes, there were still the Gods....A strange unrest came upon
him; he must away and find the Aesir....He had no plan; only he must find
the Bright Ones: must stand in their visible presence, who had been the
secret illumination of the best of his life. In mingled longing and
exultation he made his way back to the camp.

He found his Lapp friends standing before their tent, and their best
reindeer harnessed to an _akja_*; they knew, it appeared, that he was to
go; and mournfully and unbidden, had made preparation. They brought out
his armor, and fondled his hands as they armed him; a crowd gathered
about him, all crooning and chuckling their good will, and their sorrow
to lose the old man in whose shining eyes, it seemed to them, was much
unearthly wisdom. On all sides, evidently, there was full understanding
of his purpose, and sad acquiescence; and this did not seem to him
strange at all: the Gods were near and real enough to control and arrange
all things. He sat down in the _akja_, and took the rein; the Lapps heaped
skins about him for warmth; then, waving farewells, amidst an outburst of
sorrowful crooning and chuckling, he started. Whither the reindeer might
list; whither the mighty Undying Ones might direct.

[* The Lapp sledge of wicker and skin, capable of holding one man sitting
with legs stretched out, and guiding the reindeer with a single thong of
rein.]

On, and on, and on. Through ghostly valleys and through the snowstorm,
right into the heart of the northern night, the reindeer, never uncertain
of the way, drew him. The Balder-mood came to him in the weird darkness;
in the cold desolation the bright Gods seemed nearer than ever. Through
ghastly passes where the north wind, driving ice particles that stung,
came shrieking, boisterous and dismal, down from the Pole to oppose him,
on sped the reindeer while the mind of the old Viking was gathered into
dreams. Waiting for him, somewhere beyond, were Those whose presence
was a growing glory on the horizon of his soul....The snow-ghosts, wan,
innumerable, and silent, came hurrying by; on sped the reindeer, a
beautiful beast, heeding never the snow-ghosts over frozen rivers and
frozen mountains, through ghostly cold valleys and the snow. Under vast
precipices that towered up, iron and mournful into the night; or along
the brink of awful cliffs, with the snowstorm howling below... on and on.
Who was to measure time on that weird journey? There were no changes of
day and night; and Halfdan, wrapped in the warmth of his dreams, hardly
would have heeded them if there had been. Now and again the reindeer
halted to feed, scraping in the snow for his familiar moss-diet; then on
again, and on. It was the beast, or some invisible presence, not the man,
who chose the way.

A valley stretched out endlessly before; and afar, afar, a mountain
caught on its whiteness some light from heaven, so that amid all the
ghostly darkness it shone and shot up, a little dazzling beacon of purity
on the rim of the world. The snow had ceased to fall, and no longer the
north wind came shrieking to oppose; there was quiet in the valley broken
only by the tinkling of the reindeer bells and the scrunch of the falling
hoofs on the snow. The white mountain caught the eyes, and at last the
mind of the long dreaming Viking; so that he began to note the tinkling
of the bells, the sound of the hoofs falling, the desolation before and
around. And at last another sound also: long howling out of the mountains
on this side and that; long, dreary howling behind, like the cry of
ghosts in a nightmare, or the lamentation of demons driven forever
through darkness beyond the margin of space. For some time he listened,
before waking to knowledge that it was actual sound he listened to; and
then for some time longer before it came to him to know whence the sound
was. It had drawn nearer by then, much nearer; and peering forth through
the glint and gloom, he saw the shadows that were wolves streaming up
after him through the valley, and coming down from the mountains; singly,
in twos and threes, in multitudes. The reindeer snuffed, tossed its head,
and speeded on prodigiously, yet with what gathered on the hillsides, it
would be a marvel if he escaped. On came the shadows, until one could see
the green fire-sparks of their eyes, behind, to the right and to the
left, almost before; and on sped the reindeer, and the white mountain
drew nearer.

Then Halfdan the Viking scented war: he remembered his youth and its
prowess; he made ready his shield and battle-ax; and thanked the Gods
fervently that after all he should go out fighting. The brave reindeer
should have what chance it might to escape by its own untrammeled
fleetness: so he drew his sword and cut the harness. The beast was away
over the snow at twice its former speed; and Halfdan in the _akja_ shot
forward thirty paces, fell out, and was on his feet in a moment to wait
what should come.

A black, shag shadow, the foremost of them, hurled itself howling at his
throat--eyes green fire and bared teeth gleaming; the ax swept down,
clave its head in midair, and the howl went out in a rattling groan and
sob. No question of failing strength now; old age was a
memory--forgotten. The joy of battle came to him, and as the first wolf
fell he broke into song:

In the bleak of the night and the ghost-held region,
By frozen valley and frozen lake,
A son of the Vikings, breaking his battle,
Doth lovely deeds for Asgard's sake.

Odin All-Father, for thee I slew him!
For thee I slew him, bolt-wielding Thor!
Joy to ye now, ye Aesir, Brothers!
That drive the demons forevermore!

While he sang, another wolf was upon him, and then another and another;
and the war-ax that had made play under Mediterranean suns of old, God,
how it turned and swept and drove and clave things in the northern night!
While they came up one by one, or even in twos, the fight was all in his
favor, so he slew as many as a dozen at his singing; then the end began
to draw near. They were in a ring about him now; rather fearful of the
whirling ax, but closing in. Old age began to tell upon his limbs; he
fought on wearying; and the delight of war ebbed from him; his thigh had
been snapped at and torn, and he had lost much blood with the wound. Then
the ax fell, and he leaned on it for support for a moment, his head bent
down over his breast. The war-mood had gone altogether; his mind sped out
to the Gods. Of inward time there had been enough, since the ax fell, for
the change of mood, for the coming of calm wonder and exaltation; of the
time we measure in minutes, enough for the leaping of a wolf. He saw it,
and lifted the ax; knowing that nothing could be done. At his left it
leaped up; he saw the teeth snap a hand's-breadth from his face.-...An ax
that he knew not, brighter than the lightning, swung; the jaws snapped;
the head and the body apart fell to the ground....And there was a wolf
leaping on his right, and no chance in the world of his slaying it; and a
spear all-glorious suddenly hurtling out of the night, and taking the
wolf through the throat, and pinning it dead to the ground. And here was
a man, a Viking, gray-bearded, one-eyed, glorious, fighting upon his
left; and here was a man, a Viking, young and surpassing beautiful of
form and face and mien, doing battle at his right. And he himself was
young again, and strong; and knew that against the three of them all the
wolves in the world, and all the demons in hell, would have little
chance. They fled yelping into the dark; and Halfdan turned to hail those
that had fought for him.

And behold, the shining mountain that had seemed so far, shone now near
at hand, and for a mountain, it was a palace, exceedingly well-built,
lovely with towers and pinnacles and all the fair appurtenances of a
king's house. No night nor winter was near it; amidst gardens of eternal
sunlight it shone; its portals flung wide, and blithe all things for his
entering. And he greeted Odin All-Father, as one might who had done
nothing in his life to mar the pleasant friendliness of that greeting.
And in like manner he greeted Balder the Beautiful. They linked their
arms in his, and in cheerful conversation he passed in with them into the
Valhalla.



THE END




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