The Maiden’s Choice
Retold by Jenny Bennett
The girl sat on an outcropping of rock which was only inches away from the edge of the cliff overlooking the raging ocean below.
Motionless, save for the lock of hair that had escaped her veil and which the wind playfully tugged at, she watched the waves dash themselves to pieces upon the gleaming rocks that lined the shore. She had an important decision to make and here, where the roaring of the sea drowned out all else, she could think.
“My daughter,” the king had said to her only moments earlier. “You are aware that it has been three weeks since our guest King Sigmund arrived, and King Lygni has been with us for almost as long. At first I wondered at their reasons for visiting us, for as you well know our kingdom is small and has neither the wealth nor the power of either of theirs. The last few days, however, have made their intentions very clear.”
The princess looked down at her spinning, her heart in her throat and her fingers trembling. She knew where this was going, and the thought of it frightened her.
“Are you listening, my dear?” the king asked, reaching out to touch her cheek. “Yesterday, King Lygni asked me for your hand in marriage and just this morning King Sigmund of Hunland asked my permission to propose to you.”
Princess Hjordis lowered her hands to her lap where they sat motionless and empty while she stared into them as though looking for an answer.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” the king said after watching her for a while.
“Yes, Father,” the girl replied quietly. “This could put our kingdom in grave danger. Both kings have great might and large armies. If I accept one, the other will become our enemy and perhaps attack us. If I accept neither, we may earn the enmity of both. And as you have said, ours is a small kingdom and cannot afford an enemy like Sigmund or Lygni.”
“As I have told you once already, Daughter,” the king answered with a sigh. “I will not interfere in your choice of whom to marry. You alone will choose your husband and whatever choice you make, I will support it.”
The king had left shortly afterwards and the girl, putting aside her work, had made her way down to the cliff beside the shore to think.
Now as she watched the waves hurling themselves to their deaths upon the cruel shore, a new sound cut into her thoughts; human voices which rose up over the ocean’s roar. She turned her head towards the noise and saw that a dozen or so men were making their way over the rocks and into the water, laughing and shouting at one another. From her seat upon the cliff she could see make out their faces and realised that these were King Lygni’s men. And if they were here, their master would surely be close by. Even as the thought crossed her mind she saw the king upon the shore strip off his tunic revealing a broad and powerfully made form. She heard him whoop as he ran towards the water and jumped into its depths. For a moment he was out of sight then before long he resurfaced, the droplets of water upon his skin gleaming momentarily in the sun before trickling lazily down in a hundred rivulets to join the sea once more.
King Lygni was certainly very handsome with the face of a god and a body so perfectly formed that it might have been the work of a master sculptor. And yet, as the princess remembered, despite his beauty and obvious strength, there was something in his eyes that had made her dislike him the first time she had seen him in her father’s mead hall.
“And here she is at last! The elusive Princess Hjordis!” he had declared when her father had brought her to the long table to meet his guests. The youthful king had lifted his newly filled drinking horn in salute and let his eyes travel boldly over her face and down to her bosom to linger there for far too long.
“I am King Lygni, the son of the far-famed King Hunding!” he had said loudly, raising his eyes to her face once more. And in those eyes gleamed pride and arrogance which the girl had turned away from without a word.
“Here is King Sigmund of Hunland, my dear,” King Eylimi said nodding at the silver bearded man who had risen to bow politely to the young woman.
“It gives me great pleasure to meet you at last Princess,” he had said in his deep, gentle voice with a smile which the maiden returned immediately, recognising in the old man before her the wise and brave hero whose daring deeds were known far and wide.
“I am honoured and humbled, my Lord,” she had replied. “To stand before the famous King Sigmund. Your heroic deeds, Sir, are spoken of around every hearth even in our little kingdom.”
Chuckling, the old king had brushed aside her praise with:
“The gossips add much to their tales that is not true and make gods out of mere mortals. I am afraid I am not the hero I am often made out to be, my Lady.”
During the feast that followed King Lygni had endlessly recounted in great detail his many brave exploits, in an obvious attempt to impress the daughter of his host, but the Princess did not hear half of what he said. Instead she had watched the two kings closely throughout the night, marvelling at how different they were. The youthful Lygni was at the zenith of manhood and excessively proud of his strength and beauty. Sigmund on the other hand had long lost his youth and although still strong was no longer the formidable warrior he had once been; but his many years had taught him wisdom, which the princess detected in every word he spoke. And to Hjordis, this alone was worth more than Lygni’s beauty and strength combined.
Now the princess sighed and rose from her stone seat upon the cliff, turning away from the men whose voices had intruded upon her thoughts. The weight of the choice she had been asked to make weighed heavily upon her for she knew that her decision would determine not only her fate but that of her people. But well she knew that whatever her choice, the kingdom of her father would make a powerful enemy.
What would Princess Hjordis decide to do? Would she agree to marry the strong and handsome Lygni? Or would she choose to become the wife of King Sigmund of Hunland?
We will find out next time...