On shore they landed, quickly went
where Gifli led up broken paths;
once paved with marble, noble slabs,
now weather-cursed, and tree-root wracked.
“That bay is where we set out from,”
they said, “How strange to come again;
bereft of friends of Ylfish heart,
yet strong with diverse new-found ones.
Twice-giving may I be, and yet,
Hretha be praised – twice-blessed too.”
And through the trees and thorns they came
to seek the glory, Dofran’s light,
the city that was almost myth;
long-sought by bold far-voyagers,
a legend spun a thousand times
by poets’ song-craft, a deadly dream;
the city at the world’s edge,
where no night fell, where time was held,
as Gifli told of what to come:
“The Ylfish cities stand still and silent,
whitestone walls, their towers peerless,
not yet derelict despite the time
since last they thronged with eager folk;
though empty, some day soon, they say,
those streets will once again ring out
with talk and laughter, song and joy,
as under Sun-bright so they’ll dwell
as once they did; yet might again.
Lo, beyond those trees ahead -
behold the sight of Dofran fair,
her bold cliff-walls, steadfast might.”
Through gorse and branch they hacked at length
‘til came upon a barren heath,
an open, endless, wind-strewn waste
and through the smoky webs of mist
a crumbling ring of wall-stones lurked,
sketches of a craftsman’s plans;
a city’s grave, its bones exposed;
once steadfast under storms, once proud;
now the wreckage of ninety generations past,
the master-builders bested, their wonders wasted.
The ghost-cries of the cliff-dwellers,
spray-soaked, grey-flecked gulls,
tore at the silence of the tomb.
Gerthild gaped at this, aghast,
and said: “What is this nightmare place?”
Gifli, too, took pause for thought,
searched earth and sky with sight and mind
whilst tongue-bound, struggled with the sight.
“It seems, this is the truth of things,”
they said in sorrow, small in voice;
“The veils of Ylfish magic torn,
the great illusion faded now.
This is not what my mind recalls
when we departed on our quest.
We left the barrows, fire-lit halls,
passed through blazing streets and squares,
the ageless city proud and pure,
a glory, steadfast in stone;
on roads as bright as sun we went,
unto the bay below, rejoicing.
These city-halls were sun-bright once;
high endless spires, gabled roofs,
mead-halls many, walls of might.
Where are the blazing roofs of gold,
where the brazen rails and vanes?
Where stand the columns, where the statues,
whose heads were crowned by cloud and sky?”
Said Womba, “That was long ago,
it seems from this. Those halls are hewn
as if by Ulfish axe and sword;
their gates hang loose, a war-bird’s perch,
the railings gnarled like oaken root.
So many ruins, roofs now sunk
unto the earth; and trees now burst,
from grip of ground, through tile and stone.”
“The trees,” said Gifli; “Yes, indeed.
They’ll know the truth. I’ll ask them now,
for great they are, and tall and strong;
they’ve dwelt for many hundred years
in this same place, for all their lives,
the meeting points of earth and sky;
great knowledge must reside in them.
Make peace, my friends; I need to pray.
And then perhaps, the land may speak.”