Retold by Jenny Bennett
King Alf walked away from the fields that were littered with the lifeless bodies of King Eylimi’s men, towards the forest.
It was in there that he had seen the two women go as he and his men made their way up from the shores.
He had come from his father’s deathbed to visit Eylimi at the dying king’s request, and to strengthen the alliance with Eylimi’s kingdom, only to find the fields littered with corpses and the city burned to the ground. There was nobody left alive; nobody except for the two women he had seen on the cliff.
“We have to find them, Sire,” his men had said. “Surely they can tell us what happened here.” And the men had made to hurry towards the forest. But their king stopped them.
“They have just seen their homes destroyed; their kinsmen slaughtered,” he said. “We must not frighten them! I will go to them alone; unarmed. So that they can see I mean them no harm.”
The king would not listen to the protests of his men and now he entered the woods alone.
And there, not far from the edge of the forest, stood the two women he had seen from his ship. One was tall and slender and fair, with a dark veil covering most of her auburn hair, her eyes downcast and her face half-turned away from him.
She wore the plain garments of a servant and no jewelry and the slight bulge in her belly told him clearly that she was heavy with child. The other was dark-featured, and her fine garments bore the marks of royalty. She watched King Alf approach boldly, her eyes marking his every movement and her full red mouth slightly ajar.
“Ladies!” called the king. “Forgive me if I frighten you, but I am Alf, son of King Hjalprek who, before his death, was an ally of King Eylimi. I and my men are friends to this land and you have no reason to fear us. ”
The ladies both bowed and then the dark haired one in the fine garments greeted the King.
“I am Princess Hjordis, daughter of King Eylimi and widow of King Sigmund of Hunland,” she said. “And this beside me is my handmaiden.”
“As you must have seen, my father’s kingdom has been destroyed and both he and King Sigmund have been slain along with all of our men. Our women and children have been taken as slaves and of the whole kingdom, we alone have survived the attack of King Lygni’s armies.”
“The bodies of the two kings will be found and buried as befits their status.” King Alf said, reaching the side of the speaking woman and bowing again.
“Even now my men are preparing funeral pyres and we will not leave this land until every fallen warrior has been properly buried.”
“I thank you for your kindness, my Lord,” the woman said. “And should you be willing to take us under your protection, we will show you where the wealth of our kingdom is hidden.
Then the woman turned and led the way into the heart of the forest where countless boxes of silver, gold and precious stones were hidden. King Alf could not help but notice how, as the boxes were opened and their contents revealed, the handmaiden’s eyes filled with tears which spilled over and ran unnoticed down her cheeks while the eyes of the princess widened excitedly at the sight as she eagerly threw open box after box for him to see.
Days later, the ship of King Alf was sailing away from King Eylimi’s land with the wealth of the king on board and the two women he had found in the forest. In his kingdom, the young king took the two women into his home and gave the Princess a place of honour there; second only to his own mother, the Queen. However, it was not the Princess who captured the king’s attention but her servant. So beautiful was she and so noble that he began to wonder how such a woman could be a slave.
The princess on the other hand proved to be loud and somewhat vulgar in her speech and manners, but he excused it readily as the customs of a foreigner.
One evening, however, as he sat alone before the hearth, gazing into the fire, his aged mother came in and sat beside him in silence.
“It is interesting,” she said after a moment. “That the Princess’ servant should be so much more beautiful than she is. The slave bears herself like royalty and everything about her is noble and fair.”
“I have noticed this too, Mother,” King Alf said thoughtfully. “I have wondered about this from the moment I met the women in the forest, for the stories of Princess Hjordis’ beauty and wisdom are well known to us, and the princess seems to be wanting in wisdom at times, although she is beautiful. But this slave of hers….”
“I think perhaps the princess and her servant have been deceiving us somehow, my son,” the Queen said as she got to her feet. “And you should find out what is happening.”
Both the King and his mother were right.
The Princess Hjordis and her maid had switched clothing and it was not Hjordis but the servant who had introduced herself as the princess.
But how was King Alf going to test the women? Would he find out about their deception? And if so, would he be angry at the princess and refuse his protection? We will find out next time…