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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Carl of Risé and the Kohlman
By Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789–1862)
 
From ‘Waldemar the Victorious’

IT was a clear starlight winter’s night, when Carl of Risé stopped his foaming steed at the foot of the Kohl. He had asked in a neighboring village whether they knew the knight Thord Knudsön, who also went by the name of Thord Knudsön the peasant; but no one seemed to know him, and Carl began to fear he was dead. When at length he asked with anxiety whether any one had ever known the Kohlman, or whether it was long since he was dead, the peasants stared at him with surprise, and crossed themselves as they pointed to the top of the mountain. “That fellow will never die,” they said: “he is either a goblin or a wizard, and dwells in an enchanted tower on the top of the Kohl. It was a godless deed,” they said, “to come near him, especially at night, when he was wont to hold talk with witches and all the devils in hell.” Carl found that no money could prevail on any of his informants to act the part of guide; he therefore pursued the way which the peasants had with some difficulty been persuaded to point out, alone.  1
  He soon came in sight of the dark round rock, which rose proud and majestic out of the ocean. He could not proceed further on horseback, and looked in vain for a tree or bush to which he might tie his charger; at last he spied a post on a heathery hill near the shore, to which he rode up and fastened him. As Carl hastened up the steep he looked back at his horse, and felt as though he had separated from a trusty companion; and now for the first time it occurred to him that the post to which he had tied his horse must have been a gibbet, for he fancied he saw on the top of it a fleshless skull. An involuntary shudder thrilled him, and he proceeded, now with slackened pace, up the steep ascent towards a dark mass of stone, which on his nearer approach he found to be a round tower, built of fragments of the rock. “That must be the Seer’s dwelling,” said he, and called to mind the tower of Sœbygaard, and the figure which he had seen gathering up papers from the flames. This figure he had long identified in his own mind with the Bjergmand, who had appeared to him at Father Saxo’s grave; and he doubted not that this mysterious man was also the famous Seer of the Kohl. He was now about to visit the singular being by whom he had been menaced both awake and in his dreams; and all the tales he had ever heard of wizards and enchanters now revived in his memory. “Not for all the riches in the world would I go on this errand for any other,” said he to himself. “Yes, for my Rigmor,” he added; and as he uttered this beloved name a sudden ray of hope flashed across his soul, and all his anxiety vanished. “If she yet live,” he burst forth, “may not this wonderful man be able to relieve my agony? He may tell me where she is, and what I ought to do.”  2
  Carl redoubled his speed, and presently stood before a small strongly secured door in the north side of the tower. He took his sword, and knocked with the hilt against it. The sound was echoed in the still night, but it was long before he saw any sign of the tower being the abode of the living. At length he heard a hoarse voice from above his head, which seemed to come from an aperture in the wall. “Who art thou, presumptuous man?” croaked forth the voice. “What wouldst thou here, where death sits on the threshold and hell gapes for its prey?”  3
  “Open the door, Sir Thord Knudsön; open the door, Sir Knight,” said Carl. “I am a messenger from King Waldemar the Victorious.” “At last, at last,” said the hoarse voice. “Thou comest late, Carl of Risé: the star is extinguished in the lion’s eye; the name of Waldemar the Victorious and his fortunes have vanished like a meteor, and dimmed the Northern crown.”  4
  “Open the door, wise master Thord,” said Carl. “I have a secret message for you from my lord the King, and must speak with you in private.”  5
  “When I see the North Star over thine head must I open to thee,” said the voice: “but if thou wilt hearken to my counsel, Carl of Risé, hie thee hence: thou art come in an evil hour. Death stands at thy side, and seeks his prey under my roof. He asks not if we be old or young.”  6
  The hoarse voice was hushed, and Carl presently heard a shrill female voice apparently in dispute with the old man in the tower; and after a burst of wild laughter the same voice began to sing a song, which froze the blood in the veins of the pious knight. Carl understood only some few fearful words; but the wild heart-rending tones seemed to come from a despairing and distracted spirit, bidding defiance to Heaven and the Eternal Judge. Carl now looked up at the sky, and perceived the North Star directly over the tower. He seized his sword again, and knocked with all his might against the door.  7
  “I come, I come,” said the hoarse voice from above. “Thou constrainest me, mighty Star!”  8
  It was not long ere Carl heard the rattling of bolts and bars, and the door was opened.  9
  “Enter then, presumptuous knight: thy follower hath passed my threshold; it is now thine own fault if thou come not alive out of these walls.”  10
  Carl entered the gloomy dwelling with his sword in his hand, and hastily crossed himself as he beheld the terrific form which, clad in the black Bjergmand’s dress, stood with a lighted horn lantern in his hand on the steps of the tower. He seemed to have outlived a century of years, and had a long white beard which descended far below his belt. His face was withered and wrinkled and of an earth-gray color, like dusty oak bark. His eyes were blear and dim, and his back was bent like a bow. In this attitude his form appeared almost dwarfish; but could he have unbent his back, he must have been almost taller than the stately knight before him. His long arms reached nearly to the ground; he wore on his head a round leather hat without a brim. His leathern apron reached nearly to his feet; and at the thong by which it was tied round the waist, hung a small unlighted lantern. In his right hand he held a crutch or staff which was thickly inscribed with runic letters and unknown characters.  11
  “Follow me,” said the Bjergmand, beginning to ascend the narrow winding stair. Carl followed him with a beating heart. After mounting sixty steps they stopped before a door; the Bjergmand pushed it open with his staff, and they entered a spacious vaulted chamber, paneled with wood, and having four large shutters placed opposite the four points of the compass. The chamber was in other respects fitted up almost precisely like the observatory at Sœbygaard. There was a fireplace, before which were many singularly shaped vessels and empty flasks; some large metal pipes near the shutters; and in the middle of the floor a large chair before a stone table, on which lay a heap of singed parchments inscribed with red letters. The old man seated himself quietly in his chair without seeming to notice his guest, and held a large polished lens up to his dim eyes, while he turned over the papers and drew the iron lamp nearer.  12
  Carl did not venture to disturb him, but occupied himself in the mean time in observing the objects around. A large heap of stones and raw metal which lay on the hearth seemed to indicate that the old man did not wear his Bjergmand’s habit in vain: but Carl’s eye rested not long on the shining treasure; he turned from them to look for the woman whose shrill voice and wild song had just before filled him with horror. At length he observed a recess in the paneling; and peering forth from it, a deadly pale and wrinkled female face, propped upon two shrunken arms and half hidden by black tangled locks, with flashing eyes and an insane smile.  13
  Carl involuntarily stepped back a few paces; but instantly recovered himself, and contemplated with deep interest the traces of beauty and feminine grace which still lingered on that unhappy countenance, and which the more he examined the more he seemed to identify with the features of the once beautiful Lady Helena. “It is she!” said he to himself, looking at her with heartfelt compassion. She nodded to him with a ghastly smile, while a tear trickled down her furrowed cheek; but she neither altered her posture nor uttered a word. She seemed from time to time to cast a timid and anxious glance at the old Bjergmand, but presently again fixed her gleaming eyes on the knight; and her keen despairing look filled him with the same horror which her piercing tones had before awakened.  14
  At last the Bjergmand rose and took up the lantern which stood at his feet. He made a sign to Carl to follow him, and opened a secret door in the wall, which discovered a stair leading apparently to the top of the tower. As Carl quitted the chamber he cast a glance towards the recess, and saw such an expression of frantic joy on the countenance of the unhappy Helena, that he breathed more freely when his long-armed conductor shut the door, and drew a massy iron bolt on the outside.  15
  When they had mounted a few steps, Carl heard the sound of shrill laughter below, and the same fearful song which had before horrified him. The old man seemed not to heed it, but calmly ascended the stair, which wound narrower and narrower toward the top. At last they stood on the top of the tower, on a narrow open platform without a railing, with the bright starry heavens above their heads, and on almost every side within two steps of the dizzy abyss beneath; for the tower was perched on the summit of the rock, and seemed to rise with it in a perpendicular line above the sea. A mist came over Carl’s eyes, and he was forced to lean on his sword to prevent himself from falling over the precipice. He endeavored to overcome his dizziness by fixing his eyes steadily on his companion. The Seer unbent his back, rose to a great height before the eyes of Carl, and looked on him with a wild and threatening aspect. “Here we are alone,” said he, looking fixedly on the knight. “Here am I the strongest, however old I may be. Tell me here, between the heaven and yon abyss, what wouldst thou know?”  16
  Carl summoned up all his strength, and was prepared to defend his life to the last, and contest the platform with the dark giant the instant he approached too near with his long arms; but the Seer stirred not, and seemed desirous to give him time for recollection. Carl then called to mind his King’s behest, and forgot his own dangerous position. He leaned yet more heavily on his sword, and asked whether the Seer knew what his sovereign was thinking of, the day he fell into a revery with his foot in the stirrup; and if he did, what he said thereto?  17
  The old man was silent, and contemplated the heavens for a considerable time. His dim eyes at last lighted up with singular fire, and he half spoke, half chanted:—
  “Thy Liege and Sovereign thought upon
  The fate his children would befall,
When he himself was dead and gone!
  Then tell him this for truth: They all
Shall civil strife and carnage see;
But each at last shall crownèd be!”
  18
  Carl treasured up every word in his memory which concerned the welfare of his King and country, without being able however to comprehend how this answer could console the King, for it seemed to him rather to contain an evil prophecy.  19
  “Wouldst thou know more?” asked the Seer. “Make haste, then, for an evil star is above our heads.”  20
  “Alas! Rigmor, Rigmor,” said Carl with a sigh; and inquired of the old man in his own name if he knew where his wife was, and if he could tell him (without having recourse to any sinful arts) whether he should ever again behold her in this world.  21
  “Goest thou hence alive,” muttered the old man, “thou wilt soon know where she is; but if love be not mightier than hate thou wilt know it to thy cost.”  22
  Carl pondered over these mysterious words, and tried to find comfort in them for the disquietude of his heart. The old man was about to say more, but at this moment a piercing shriek was heard within the tower, and the Seer turned pale. “The lamp!” he shouted; “make way:” and he rushed down to the winding stairs, pushing Carl aside with such force that he lost his balance on the platform and fell with his head resting on the edge of the tower. Carl looked down upon the unfathomable abyss beneath; but fortunately was able to recover himself and creep back on his hands and knees to the staircase, and in a moment overtook the old man. When the secret door was thrown open a bright flame burst forth; the panels and shutters were burning, and a faded female form was seated on the stone table amidst the smoldering papers, shouting and singing as she watched the progress of the flames. Carl seized her in his arms, and rushed with her through fire and smoke down to the last flight of stairs; while the old man thought only of rescuing his papers and instruments from the flames. Carl reached the last step of the stair, succeeded in drawing the bolt from the door, and made his escape from the tower without sustaining any injury; but the unhappy Lady Helena lay scorched and half dead in his arms.  23
  “Waldemar, Waldemar!” she groaned. “Thou hast cost me my soul’s salvation.”  24
  Carl laid her on the ground, and would have endeavored to rescue, if possible, the unfortunate Seer: but he saw with horror that the flames now burst forth from every side of the tower, and that the old man was standing on the platform with a bundle of burning papers, which he scattered around him on the air, while he muttered incantations and wielded his staff as if he thought he could control the flames; but they presently reached him: he plunged in desperation into the burning tower and disappeared.  25
  “Burn, burn, thou black Satan! I burn already,” cried the dying Helena. “I shall no more disturb the peace of King Waldemar till Doomsday. I am the Queen of the Black Seer. I must plunge with him into the gulf. Ha! the millstone, the millstone! it will hang around my neck to all eternity. Where are now thy queens, Waldemar? alas! Dagmar, Dagmar, pray for me: proud Beengièrd strangles me with her bloody kerchief.” After uttering these broken and fearful sentences, the miserable Helena wrung her hands in agony and expired. Carl uttered a hasty prayer, then looked up at the burning tower; the flame had shot over its summit, and a black form was thrown down at his feet. It was the unhappy Seer, whose corse lay crushed and burned among the stones.  26
 
 
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