The Slaying of the Witch

By George Sterling

Erik the prince came back from sea,
    His galley low with spoil—
Armor and silks and weeping slaves,
    Silver and wine and oil.

And there was one that did not weep,
    But laughed in Erik's face,
And 'tween the helmsman and the mast
    Strode with a leopard's grace.

Her hair was darker than the night
    In which our foemen sink;
Her limbs were whiter than the milk
    Of which our maidens drink.

Her lips were coral-red her eyes
    As shoaling seas were green.
She wore cupped gold on either breast
    And one blue gem between.

And cross her path or say her word
    No man save Erik dared;
But all day long men stood apart,
    And knit their brows, and stared.

And they have made the harbor strand,
    And all have seen her charms;
Erik has borne her to the shore
    Uplifted in his arms.

Soon in the council-hall they stood
    Of Gudrod, sire and king,
Who bade grey Sigurd, seer and .skald,
    The prince's valor sing.

Long looked the skald on Erik's face
    And face of her he led;
Then snatched the blade from Erik's belt
    And stabbed the captive dead.

Erik has sprung at Sigurd's throat,
    But four lords hold him fast,
With eyes that glare on nothingness,
    And straining arms upcast.

There is hot tumult in the place,
    With clash of steel and word,
Until in thunder over all
    The king's deep voice is heard.

"Assoil thee, skald! and give good cause
    For this that thou hast done,
Or ravens for thy sightless eyes
    Shall fight ere set of sun!"

The skald stood silent and apart,
    Then smiled upon his deed.
"It is that we bleed not," he said,
    "That she in time does bleed.

From isles of sin that one was brought,
    Far westward and to-south;
She whispered in a witch's tongue
    And has a harlot's mouth.

O Gudrod! in thy grandsire's time
    Such one across the still
Was led into the royal house
    To love, and plot her will.

Thou hast heard sung what strong one's death
    Her cunning did devise,
With sorcery of philtred glance,—
    With promise of her eyes.

Thou hast heard sung the woes she wrought
    With swords of jealous men:
Know now that in this serpent slain
    That poison came again !

I have done well by thee and thine—
    Thy daughters, lords and son;
And many hearts shall go unpierced,
    For that I pierced this one."

He made an end, and stood aloof. . . .
    The great king bent his head. . . .
Then, gazing long on him that slew,
    "Thou hast done well," he said.

But from the sorceress the blood
    Crept slowly on the stone,
And pointed like a scarlet arm
    At Gudrod on his throne.

Bibliography Entry