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The Knights of the Ring Welcome A Kinsman by Thit Jensen

Translated by Ann R. Born

As he gallops in to Ollestrop the skies are lowering, he sees that it is a huge old place, with the buildings ranged in long low wings. Formidable it looks though, resembling more than anything a fortress. And it appears to be thickly populated, dogs, pigs and children bark and mill around him as he swings down from the saddle.

A bold, willowy lad, together with several others of the same slimly aristocratic type, surround the horse and himself, and he cannot decide whether it is he or the horse who are causing the excitement; but then he hears one of them blurt out, as he turns towards the front entrance:

"He is like a Gospel!"

And then he knows it is the Lepper.

The great hall at Ollestrop is rightly named. There are many small windows facing out to the courtyard, but none towards the country- side. There are only the thick blind castle walls.

And now Crown-Byrial, the noble king of Himmersyssel, comes towards him. His glance shoots acumen, intelligence lies in the high line of his forehead, the narrow stone-grey cheeks; the long nose with its delicate nostrils gives the appearance of free-born repose. The aristocratic appearance is enhanced by the smoothly bald head, which resembles a tonsured monk's and was caused by a sword wound; this it is which has earned him the name of "Crown-Byrial". But at the mouth the expression of peace and also dignity is lost, for it is a broad, heavy, out-jutting jaw covered with a squarely-trimmed black beard.

The lawlessness of the knights of Rind is in that great heathen mouth, and the uncontrollable wildness of their minds in the fiercely glittering brown eyes.

He is a tall man, though with prominent bone-structure, dressed in a thick, patterned grey jerkin and with a grey wollen scarf about his neck. He is a blending of ancient Danish aristocracy, candid and good- humoured, and fierce primitive warrior. He peers out from under beetling brows, long black hairs grow curling from his nostrils. Apparently this stranger is a peaceful visitor, and he advances peacefully himself, but battle is only dormant within him, if it should chance that way. His weighty shoulders are set strongly for bearing a heavy battle-axe.

A young man rises from a bench by the wall and comes forward with the same clear, penetrating glance—keenly questioning—from beneath identical brows, like eaves, tall, sparse and strongly boned, unmistakably the son of his father.

"Why, but it is—why, Jens Favourskov himself."

That is Kraesten Byrialsson, who took part in the Seven Year's War, and he remembers Jens well, and recalls the memories of home they exchanged, and Jens remembers him and the relationship to Elsa Pors Byrialsdotter they discussed during the war in Sweden....And as if by magic flagons of wine and goblets appear on the table and more sons and their wives and young grandsons arrive, as thickly as if a human anthill has been stirred up.

Dame Kirsten Jensdatter greets Jens with much suspicion, she has eyes of a steely blue which take the measure of his worth in fortune and valuables—but their steely strength is vanquished straightaway by a single smile from Jens, and perhaps they are influenced as well by the eating utensils he has brought stored in his leather pouch. The handles are sticking out, flat ebony shafts with gold ornamentation and strange elongated motifs. The young people gaze at them, and their excitement knows no bounds, for Jens tells them that the designs are notes in gold for Evensong. They draw out the knife and test the blade, they inspect the double-pronged fork, the spoon with its golden bowl, these are passed eagerly from hand to hand, and Kirsten declares there must be royal fare for that kind of tool. The food that had been set on the long table is whisked away, for that is "nowt but slops and crusts, and no fare for lusty menfolk"—new dishes are whirled in, fresh wine in new silver stoups, in honour of kinsmen.

"So you have fought in all the lands and nations," Crown-Byrial says with good-hearted admiration.

"And you have battled until you won renown in all the lands and nations where I came," says Jens, and Crown-Byrial chuckles aloud, and his nephew, Big Jep-Byrial, follows suit, grinning he says that the tongue of Jens has been overlaid with roses in those foreign lands, but doubtless the thorns he inherited from his homeland will come to light. And Wee Jep-Byrial, his younger brother, whistles through his nose saying that those thorns come from his homeland all right.

Then they all flock out into the courtyard, and the Lepper is brought out, for of course they must see "The Gospel", for the privilege of sleeping in whose stall the boys are squabbling.

There he comes, and the vociferous tones of the men fade to silence.

And Crown-Byrial says only:

"He has the Lord's own blood in him."

And the Lepper knows right well he is there to be gazed at, and that they are ready to fall at his feet there. He is so full of himself that there is no holding him. A pig squeals, and he tosses back his head, oh, not that there is alarm of any sort in the way that he listens, it is just for the sake of his prestige, for nothing can affright him. The fringe of his mane falls from his arching neck sheening white and silken, but he stands there, knowingly docile, fully aware that he is being appraised, fully aware that the gaze of the men is full of delight, that their voices are saying "noble creature"—he turns his great softly shining brown eyes from one man to another—how those eyes smoulder, smoulder with inner fire, with rushing winging blood. "I am faultless," says each fibre of muscle quivering along his sleek loins. "I am faultless," says each silken hair on the broad back and smoothly rounded chest. He stands challengingly on the faultlessly slender legs, bearing his indomitable youth and spirit with dignity. But he turns the liquid peat-brown eyes towards his master, nuzzles with his muzzle the hand holding the leather rein, lined with fine scarlet morocco. All he wants is to blow his warm breath against that hand, no rein is needed, for he has no wish to be anywhere but with his master.

Then they go in to start drinking.

That king of stallions is worth a royal draught.

There is drinking—and there is talk of kinsmen and relationships—of Jens from Hvam, Crown-Byrial's paternal grandfather, who was shot with a cross-bow on Klotrup Field, and they received Bygum in compensation. And there is drinking, and talk of war, and drinking, they slap their thighs and laugh over the Battle of Svarteraa, where the Swedes yelled and halloed that they had the Jutes where they wanted them, for they had fallen to their knees and were praying, and those fools believed it was for mercy. But a fine sort of mercy they found, the Swedes, for in a matter of moments they were on their way to Paradise with the mercy of the Lord! They shout of Daniel Rantzau, that glorious man and warrior, for whom every soldier would gladly dare the jaws of death, and they will vanquish Death itself and...

And Jens is drinking, it seems to him that his maternal family is like a downy nest he has fallen into, and he casts off his courtly demeanour and slaps his thighs with the rest. And with eyes shining with laughter he recounts his wooing at Jorgen Hak's, and a roar of mirth shakes the ceiling. Big Jep-Byrial makes out rantingly that he must surely have been wooing the evil spirit which consumes fiery tow, and is a monster of the heath, and flame springs from its nostrils and venom in the saliva from its jaws, for this is the sort of nickname Jorgen Hak bears, monster that he is and remains.

And Wee Jep-Byrial whistles through his nose and says monster that he is and remains.

"You are all bidden to the wedding," cries Jens, "for I will have the daughter of Jorgen Hak before the year is out."

Then Dame Kirsten looks at him, glance against glance trying to find out what cunning plan he has up his sleeve, for she can feel it with feminine intuition.

"Then you will have to cast a spell, old Jens."

Jens swings the silver goblet above his head and the wine spills over on to his red hair.

"With all the spells in the mansion of the Virgin Mary or the Devil's cauldron will I get Fovlum Abbey and Hella Hak in my power."

Then Dame Kirsten nods with satisfaction.

Well-mellowed, but not intoxicated, Crown-Byrial leans over towards him.

"Jens—trust in us, for we are your bodyguard, we of Rind, and we are many. You will have a host against you, for Malthe Stigsson will not relinquish his wooing easily, and he has many loyal kinsmen in these parts!"

Byrial leans back in his seat—the heathen warrior's jaw juts out in a great triumph.

"It will be a great clash!"

They have begun to reckon up the fighting men of the district and decide who will be on the Stig side and who on the Rind, when the sons' wives come in and announce that if they are to reach home it is time for the men to prepare for the journey, for now the snow is driving. If all the snow that has threatened for days comes down they may be snowed up before the roads are passable again. But the men have changed their minds, merry with wine they pull off their jerkins, eyes shining, they have no wish to break up such a good gathering, the women must make the best of the available accommodation and take themselves off to bed with the children. But now the women know they will not have to go out into the night they want to have a share of the guest as well, inquisitive as they are they flock around him asking if it is really the latest fashion that men and women dance together in pairs in a dance called the Polka? Jens affirms this, and, rising, slim and dazzling, he bows to one of the young girls and asks her to dance the Polka with him, but they scatter shrieking like terrified chickens—never shall anyone bring them to such unchastity as to let a man dance with his arm around them. Is it really so out in the great world that married ladies reveal their hair beneath a new type of cap?

Jens nods, recently he saw Dame Sophie Brahe, the sister of Tyge, wearing such a cap, and he has seen the Duchess of Parma with nothing but a golden net covering her head so that all her hair was visible.

Dame Kirsten shakes her head indignantly—never shall a daughter of hers cross her threshold if she dishonour herself in so unseemly a fashion! forget all chastity and modesty and show her hair as a married wife! But that's how it is, the world has changed since her young days, and it will all end in disaster, for that is blaspheming the Lord's commandment.

And now they must just wait and see what mishap the storm brings, for as they sat together the other day in the weaving room, every one of them heard a heavy crash, and that was an omen that one, nay several will be caught in the snow.

...The men are drinking, they strive to outdo each other in talk, until Jens begins to tell of his meeting with Jorgen Lykke out at the ford. And now Svingelberigh Church will not be standing much longer. Then they split their sides with laughter, for Pastor Mads will certainly have something to preach about then. But give him his due, Pastor Mads preaches the Word with a bravely fluent tongue, and if the Papists were still in power he would be wearing gaiters by now, and then the battle between him and Jorgen Lykke would be even. But he's an odd blockhead, that Pastor Mads, for he never touches wine, no, nor beer even...That is the last thing Jens hears—for then he finds himself out in the courtyard breathing in the fresh, snow-filled air. He feels himself wavering but he directs his steps straight towards the stable to look to his horse.

The Lepper turns his eyes towards him as he enters, he has been waiting long for him. Jens strokes and caresses his neck, and lays his heavy head to rest against the snowy mane, and the horse turns his head and nuzzles his sleeve.

The manger is spilling over with oats, and fine straw bedding is strewn thick on the floor. In the neighbouring box lies the young lithe boy, like a cavalier, whom Jens saw at first, watchfully awake, guarding "The Gospel". The thought comes to Jens' fuddled brain that he will take him up as a boy and train him to be a nobleman.

When he returns to the hall the men have gone back to their favourite topic, how Himmersyssel will be divided if the two suitors of Mistress Hella each summons his followers.

"The Benderops will be against the Stigs", says Big Jep-Byrial, and Wee Jep-Byrial whistles through his nose as usual and says that the Benderops will be against the Stigs.

Crown-Byrial thinks this is likely, because the Benderops are such a righteous family, they can never forget the old matter of the Marshal, and it is true enough that the family has never fully come into its own again, since Stig Andersen Hvide murdered the King. Not because he inflicted a mortal wound on the King, the devil take it, he had deserved it. No, it was because he became a traitor to his own country, for that was a bad business. Even though they persevere in saying they are related to Esbern Snare and Bishop Absalon and Asser Riig—and Skjalm Hvide into the bargain—the fact that they have traitors' blood in them hangs like a doom over the family...A sudden rustling sounds on the window-panes, gaining in strength. It is the snow's army advancing. In the light from the window the fine whirling mass of snow can be seen like a witches' dance, crazy and wild. The wind tears and howls outside.

The men listen to it, then Niels Byrialsson says thoughtfully:

"That is a wicked tune old Night is playing on her magic pipe out there."

 
 
 

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