The Prophecy


One night when the boy lay and slept on an island in Takern, he was awakened by oar-strokes. He had hardly gotten his eyes open before there fell such a dazzling light on them that he began to blink.

At first he couldn’t make out what it was that shone so brightly out here on the lake; but he soon saw that a scow with a big burning torch stuck up on a spike, aft, lay near the edge of the reeds. The red flame from the torch was clearly reflected in the night-dark lake; and the brilliant light must have lured the fish, for round about the flame in the deep a mass of dark specks were seen, that moved continually, and changed places.

There were two old men in the scow. One sat at the oars, and the other stood on a bench in the stern and held in his hand a short spear which was coarsely barbed. The one who rowed was apparently a poor fisherman. He was small, dried-up and weather-beaten, and wore a thin, threadbare coat. One could see that he was so used to being out in all sorts of weather that he didn’t mind the cold. The other was well fed and well dressed, and looked like a prosperous and self-complacent farmer.

“Now, stop!” said the farmer, when they were opposite the island where the boy lay. At the same time he plunged the spear into the water. When he drew it out again, a long, fine eel came with it.

“Look at that!” said he as he released the eel from the spear. “That was one who was worth while. Now I think we have so many that we can turn back.”

His comrade did not lift the oars, but sat and looked around. “It is lovely out here on the lake tonight,” said he. And so it was. It was absolutely still, so that the entire water-surface lay in undisturbed rest with the exception of the streak where the boat had gone forward. This lay like a path of gold, and shimmered in the firelight. The sky was clear and dark blue and thickly studded with stars. The shores were hidden by the reed islands except toward the west. There Mount Omberg loomed up high and dark, much more impressive than usual, and, cut away a big, three-cornered piece of the vaulted heavens.

The other one turned his head to get the light out of his eyes, and looked about him. “Yes, it is lovely here in Östergylln,” said he. “Still the best thing about the province is not its beauty.”

“Then what is it that’s best?” asked the oarsman.

“That it has always been a respected and honoured province.”

“That may be true enough.”

“And then this, that one knows it will always continue to be so.”

“But how in the world can one know this?” said the one who sat at the oars.

The farmer straightened up where he stood and braced himself with the spear. “There is an old story which has been handed down from father to son in my family; and in it one learns what will happen to Östergötland.”

“Then you may as well tell it to me,” said the oarsman.

“We do not tell it to anyone and everyone, but I do not wish to keep it a secret from an old comrade.

“At Ulvåsa, here in Östergötland,” he continued (and one could tell by the tone of his voice that he talked of something which he had heard from others, and knew by heart), “many, many years ago, there lived a lady who had the gift of looking into the future, and telling people what was going to happen to them⁠—just as certainly and accurately as though it had already occurred. For this she became widely noted; and it is easy to understand that people would come to her, both from far and near, to find out what they were going to pass through of good or evil.

“One day, when Ulvåsa-lady sat in her hall and spun, as was customary in former days, a poor peasant came into the room and seated himself on the bench near the door.

“ ‘I wonder what you are sitting and thinking about, dear lady,’ said the peasant after a little.

“ ‘I am sitting and thinking about high and holy things,’ answered she.

“ ‘Then it is not fitting, perhaps, that I ask you about something which weighs on my heart,’ said the peasant.

“ ‘It is probably nothing else that weighs on your heart than that you may reap much grain on your field. But I am accustomed to receive communications from the Emperor about how it will go with his crown; and from the Pope, about how it will go with his keys.’

“ ‘Such things cannot be easy to answer,’ said the peasant. ‘I have also heard that no one seems to go from here without being dissatisfied with what he has heard.’

“When the peasant said this, he saw that Ulvåsa-lady bit her lip, and moved higher up on the bench. ‘So this is what you have heard about me,’ said she. ‘Then you may as well tempt fortune by asking me about the thing you wish to know; and you shall see if I can answer so that you will be satisfied.’

“After this the peasant did not hesitate to state his errand. He said that he had come to ask how it would go with Östergötland in the future. There was nothing which was so dear to him as his native province, and he felt that he should be happy until his dying day if he could get a satisfactory reply to his query.

“ ‘Oh! is that all you wish to know,’ said the wise lady; ‘then I think that you will be content. For here where I now sit, I can tell you that it will be like this with Östergötland: it will always have something to boast of ahead of other provinces.’

“ ‘Yes, that was a good answer, dear lady,’ said the peasant, ‘and now I would be entirely at peace if I could only comprehend how such a thing should be possible.’

“ ‘Why should it not be possible?’ said Ulvåsa-lady. ‘Don’t you know that Östergötland is already renowned? Or think you there is any place in Sweden that can boast of owning, at the same time, two such cloisters as the ones in Alvastra and Vreta, and such a beautiful cathedral as the one in Linköping?’

“ ‘That may be so,’ said the peasant. ‘But I’m an old man, and I know that people’s minds are changeable. I fear that there will come a time when they won’t want to give us any glory, either for Alvastra or Vreta or for the cathedral.’

“ ‘Herein you may be right,’ said Ulvåsa-lady, ‘but you need not doubt prophecy on that account. I shall now build up a new cloister on Vadstena, and that will become the most celebrated in the North. Thither both the high and the lowly shall make pilgrimages, and all shall sing the praises of the province because it has such a holy place within its confines.’

“The peasant replied that he was right glad to know this. But he also knew, of course, that everything was perishable; and he wondered much what would give distinction to the province, if Vadstena Cloister should once fall into disrepute.

“ ‘You are not easy to satisfy,’ said Ulvåsa-lady, ‘but surely I can see so far ahead that I can tell you, before Vadstena Cloister shall have lost its splendour, there will be a castle erected close by, which will be the most magnificent of its period. Kings and dukes will be guests there, and it shall be accounted an honour to the whole province, that it owns such an ornament.’

“ ‘This I am also glad to hear,’ said the peasant. ‘But I’m an old man, and I know how it generally turns out with this world’s glories. And if the castle goes to ruin, I wonder much what there will be that can attract the people’s attention to this province.’

“ ‘It’s not a little that you want to know,’ said Ulvåsa-lady, ‘but, certainly, I can look far enough into the future to see that there will be life and movement in the forests around Finspång. I see how cabins and smithies arise there, and I believe that the whole province shall be renowned because iron will be moulded within its confines.’

“The peasant didn’t deny that he was delighted to hear this. ‘But if it should go so badly that even Finspång’s foundry went down in importance, then it would hardly be possible that any new thing could arise of which Östergötland might boast.’

“ ‘You are not easy to please,’ said Ulvåsa-lady, ‘but I can see so far into the future that I mark how, along the lake-shores, great manors⁠—large as castles⁠—are built by gentlemen who have carried on wars in foreign lands. I believe that the manors will bring the province just as much honour as anything else that I have mentioned.’

“ ‘But if there comes a time when no one lauds the great manors?’ insisted the peasant.

“ ‘You need not be uneasy at all events,’ said Ulvåsa-lady. I see how health-springs bubble on Medevi meadows, by Vätter’s shores. I believe that the wells at Medevi will bring the land as much praise as you can desire.’

“ ‘That is a mighty good thing to know,’ said the peasant. ‘But if there comes a time when people will seek their health at other springs?’

“ ‘You must not give yourself any anxiety on that account,’ answered Ulvåsa-lady. ‘I see how people dig and labour, from Motala to Mem. They dig a canal right through the country, and then Östergötland’s praise is again on everyone’s lips.’

“But, nevertheless, the peasant looked distraught.

“ ‘I see that the rapids in Motala stream begin to draw wheels,’ said Ulvåsa-lady⁠—and now two bright red spots came to her cheeks, for she began to be impatient⁠—‘I hear hammers resound in Motala, and looms clatter in Norrköping.’

“ ‘Yes, that’s good to know,’ said the peasant, ‘but everything is perishable, and I’m afraid that even this can be forgotten, and go into oblivion.’

“When the peasant was not satisfied even now, there was an end to the lady’s patience. ‘You say that everything is perishable,’ said she, ‘but now I shall still name something which will always be like itself; and that is that such arrogant and pigheaded peasants as you will always be found in this province⁠—until the end of time.’

“Hardly had Ulvåsa-lady said this before the peasant rose⁠—happy and satisfied⁠—and thanked her for a good answer. Now, at last, he was satisfied, he said.

“ ‘Verily, I understand now how you look at it,’ then said Ulvåsa-lady.

“ ‘Well, I look at it in this way, dear lady,’ said the peasant, ‘that everything which kings and priests and noblemen and merchants build and accomplish, can only endure for a few years. But when you tell me that in Östergötland there will always be peasants who are honour-loving and persevering, then I know also that it will be able to keep its ancient glory. For it is only those who go bent under the eternal labour with the soil, who can hold this land in good repute and honour⁠—from one time to another.’ ”