THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER 617
evil that struggled within the girl. His holy action seemed to overpower her : she dropped her hands, and gazed with astonished eyes and pale cheeks upon him who appeared to her a mighty magician learned in secret arts ; he seemed to her to speak in a dark Runic tongue, and to be making magic signs in the air. She would not have winked had he swung a sharp knife or a glittering axe against her ; but she trembled when he signed her with the sign of the cross on her brow and her bosom, and she sat there like a tame bird with bowed head.
Then he spoke to her in gentle words of the kindly deed she had done for him in the past night, when she came to him in the form of the hideous frog, to loosen his bonds and to lead him out to life and light ; and he told her that she too was bound in closer* bonds than those that had confined him, and that she should be released by his means. He would take her to Hedeby, to the holy Ansgar, and there in the Christian city the spell that bound her would be loosed. But he would not let her sit before him on the horse, though of her own accord she offered to do so.
' Thou must sit behind me, not before me,' he said. ' Thy magic beauty hath a power that comes of evil, and I fear it ; and yet I feel that the victory is sure to him who hath faith.'
And he knelt down and prayed fervently. It seemed as though the woodland scenes were consecrated as a holy church by his prayer. The birds sang as though they belonged to the new congregation, the wild flowers smelt sweet as incense ; and while he spoke the horse that had carried them both in headlong career stood still before the tall bramble bushes, and plucked at them, so that the ripe juicy berries fell down upon Helga's hands, offering themselves for her refreshment.
Patiently she suffered the priest to lift her on the horse, and sat like a somnambulist, neither completely asleep nor wholly awake. The Christian bound two branches together with bark, in the form of a cross, which he held up high as they rode through the forest. The wood became thicker as they went on, and at last became a trackless wilderness.
The wild sloe grew across the way, so that they had to ride round the bushes. The spring became not a stream