The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus / Book II
HADDING was succeeded by FRODE, his son, whose fortunes were many and changeful. When he had passed the years of a stripling, he displayed the fulness of a warrior’s prowess; and being loth that this should be spoilt by slothfulness, he sequestered his mind from delights and perseveringly constrained it to arms. Warfare having drained his father’s treasury, he lacked a stock of pay to maintain his troops, and cast about diligently for the supplies that he required; and while thus employed, a man of the country met him and roused his hopes by the following strain: “Not far oﬀ is an island rising in delicate slopes, hiding treasure in its hills and ware of its rich booty. Here a noble pile is kept by the occupant of the mount, who is a snake wreathed in coils, doubled in many a fold, and with tail drawn out in winding whorls, shaking his manifold spirals and shedding venom. If thou wouldst conquer him, thou must use thy shield and stretch thereon bulls’ hides, and cover thy body with the skins of kind, nor let thy limbs lie bare to the sharp poison; his slaver burns up what it bespatters. Though the three forked tongue ﬂicker and leap out of the gaping mouth, and with awful yawn menace ghastly wounds remember to keep the dauntless temper of thy mind; nor let the point of the jagged tooth trouble thee, nor the starkness of the beast, nor the venom spat from the swift throat. Though the force of his scales spurn thy spears, yet know there is a place under his lowest belly whither thou mayst plunge the blade; aim at this with thy sword, and thou shalt probe the snake to his centre. Thence go fearless up to the hill, drive the mattock, dig and ransack the holes; soon ﬁll thy pouch with treasure, and bring back to the shore thy craft laden.”
Frode believed, and crossed alone to the island, loth to attack the beast with any stronger escort than that wherewith it was the custom for champions to attack. When it had drunk water and was repairing to its cave, its rough and sharp hide spurned the blow of Frode’s steel. Also the darts that he ﬂung against it rebounded idly, foiling the eﬀort of the thrower. But when the hard back yielded not a whit, he noted the belly heedfully, and its softness gave entrance to the steel. The beast tried to retaliate by biting, but only struck the sharp point of its mouth upon the shield. Then it shot out its ﬂickering tongue again and again, and gasped away life and venom together.
The money which the King found made him rich; and with this supply he approached in his ﬂeet the region of the Kurlanders, whose king Dorn, dreading a perilous war, is said to have made a speech of the following kind to his soldiers:
“Nobles! Our enemy is a foreigner, begirt with the arms and the wealth of almost all the West; let us, by endeavouring to defer the battle for our proﬁt, make him a prey to famine, which is all inward malady; and he will ﬁnd it very hard to conquer a peril among his own people. It is easy to oppose the starving. Hunger will be a better weapon against our foe than arms; famine will be the sharpest lance we shall hurl at him. For lack of food nourishes the pestilence that eats away men’s strength, and lack of victual undermines store of weapons. Let this whirl the spears while we sit still; let this take up the prerogative and the duty of ﬁghting. Unimperiled, we shall be able to imperil others; we can drain their blood and lose no drop of ours. One may defeat an enemy by inaction. Who would not rather ﬁght safely than at a loss? Who would strive to suﬀer chastisement when he may contend unhurt? Our success in arms will be more prosperous if hunger joins battle ﬁrst. Let hunger captain us, and so let us take the ﬁrst chance of conﬂict. Let it decide the day in our stead, and let our camp remain free from the stir of war; if hunger retreat beaten, we must break oﬀ idleness. He who is fresh easily overpowers him who is shaken with languor. The hand that is ﬂaccid and withered will come fainter to the battle. He who many hardship has ﬁrst wearied, will bring slacker hands to the steel. When he that is wasted with sickness engages with the sturdy, the victory hastens. Thus, undamaged ourselves, we shall be able to deal damage to others.”
Having said this, he wasted all the places which he saw would be hard to protect, distrusting his power to guard them, and he so far forestalled the ruthlessness of the foe in ravaging his own land, that he left nothing untouched which could be seized by those who came after. Then he shut up the greater part of his forces in a town of undoubted strength, and suﬀered the enemy to blockade him. Frode, distrusting his power of attacking this town, commanded several trenches of unwonted depth to be made within the camp, and the earth to be secretly carried out in baskets and cast quietly into the river bordering the walls. Then he had a mass of turf put over the trenches to hide the trap: wishing to cut oﬀ the unwary enemy by tumbling them down headlong, and thinking that they would be overwhelmed unawares by the slip of the subsiding earth. Then he feigned a panic, and proceeded to forsake the camp for a short while. The townsmen fell upon it, missed their footing everywhere, rolled forward into the pits, and were massacred by him under a shower of spears.
Thence he travelled and fell in with Trannon, the monarch of the Ruthenians. Desiring to spy out the strength of his navy, he made a number of pegs out of sticks, and loaded a skiﬀ with them; and in this he approached the enemy’s ﬂeet by night, and bored the hulls of the vessels with an auger. And to save them from a sudden inﬂux of the waves, he plugged up the open holes with the pegs he had before provided, and by these pieces of wood he made good the damage done by the auger. But when he thought there were enough holes to drown the ﬂeet, he took out the plugs, thus giving instant access to the waters, and then made haste to surround the enemy’s ﬂeet with his own. The Ruthenians were beset with a double peril, and wavered whether they should ﬁrst withstand waves or weapons. Fighting to save their ships from the foe, they were shipwrecked. Within, the peril was more terrible than without: within, they fell back before the waves, while drawing the sword on those without. For the unhappy men were assaulted by two dangers at once; it was doubtful whether the swiftest way of safety was to swim or to battle to the end; and the fray was broken oﬀ at its hottest by a fresh cause of doom. Two forms of death advanced in a single onset; two paths of destruction oﬀered united peril: it was hard to say whether the sword or the sea hurt them more. While one man was beating oﬀ the swords, the waters stole up silently and took him. Contrariwise, another was struggling with the waves, when the steel came up and encompassed him. The ﬂowing waters were befouled with the gory spray. Thus the Ruthenians were conquered, and Frode made his way back home.
Finding that some envoys, whom he had sent into Russia to levy tribute, had been horribly murdered through the treachery of the inhabitants, Frode was stung by the double wrong and besieged closely their town Rotel. Loth that the intervening river should delay his capture of the town, he divided the entire mass of the waters by making new and diﬀerent streams, thus changing what had been a channel of unknown depth into passable fords; not ceasing till the speed of the eddy, slackened by the division of its outlet, rolled its waves onward in fainter current, and winding along its slender reaches, slowly thinned and dwindled into a shallow. Thus he prevailed over the river; and the town, which lacked natural defenses, he overthrew, his soldiers breaking in without resistance. This done, he took his army to the city of Paltisca. Thinking no force could overcome it, he exchanged war for guile. He went into a dark and unknown hiding- place, only a very few being in on the secret, and ordered a report of his death to be spread abroad, so as to inspire the enemy with less fear; his obsequies being also held, and a barrow raised, to give the tale credit. Even the soldiers bewailed his supposed death with a mourning which was in the secret of the trick. This rumour led Vespasins, the king of the city, to show so faint and feeble a defence, as though the victory was already his, that the enemy got a chance of breaking in, and slew him as he sported at his ease.
Frode, when he had taken this town, aspired to the Empire of the East, and attacked the city of Handwan. This king, warned by Hadding’s having once ﬁred his town, accordingly cleared the tame birds out of all his houses, to save himself from the peril of like punishment. But Frode was not at a loss for new trickery. He exchanged garments with a serving-maid, and feigned himself to be a maiden skilled in ﬁghting; and having thus laid aside the garb of man and imitated that of woman, he went to the town, calling himself a deserter. Here he reconnoitered everything narrowly, and on the next day sent out an attendant with orders that the army should be up at the walls, promising that he would see to it that the gates were opened. Thus the sentries were eluded and the city despoiled while it was buried in sleep; so that it paid for its heedlessness with destruction, and was more pitiable for its own sloth than by reason of the valour of the foe. For in warfare nought is found to be more ruinous than that a man, made foolhardy by ease, should neglect and slacken his aﬀairs and doze in arrogant self-conﬁdence.
Handwan, seeing that the fortunes of his country were lost and overthrown, put all his royal wealth on shipboard and drowned it in the sea, so as to enrich the waves rather than his enemy. Yet it had been better to forestall the goodwill of his adversaries with gifts of money than to begrudge the proﬁt of it to the service of mankind. After this, when Frode sent ambassadors to ask for the hand of his daughter, he answered, that he must take heed not to be spoiled by his thriving fortunes, or to turn his triumph into haughtiness; but let him rather bethink him to spare the conquered, and in this their abject estate to respect their former bright condition; let him learn to honour their past fortune in their present pitiable lot. Therefore, said Handwan, he must mind that he did not rob of his empire the man with whom he sought alliance, nor bespatter her with the ﬁlth of ignobleness whom he desired to honour with marriage: else he would tarnish the honour of the union with covetousness. The courtliness of this saying not only won him his conqueror for son-in-law, but saved the freedom of his realm.
Meantime Thorhild, wife of Hunding, King of the Swedes, possessed with a boundless hatred for her stepsons Ragnar and Thorwald, and fain to entangle them in divers perils, at last made them the king’s shepherds. But Swanhwid, daughter of Hadding, wished to arrest by woman’s wit the ruin of natures so noble; and taking her sisters to serve as retinue, journeyed to Sweden. Seeing the said youths beset with sundry prodigies while busy watching at night over their ﬂocks, she forbade her sisters, who desired to dismount, in a poem of the following strain:
“Monsters I behold taking swift leaps and ﬂinging themselves over the night places. The demon is at war, and the unholy throng, devoted to the mischievous fray, battles in the mid- thoroughfare. Prodigies of aspect grim to behold pass by, and suﬀer no mortal to enter this country. The ranks galloping in headlong career through the void bid us stay our advance in this spot; they warn us to turn our rein and hold oﬀ from the accursed ﬁelds, they forbid us to approach the country beyond. A scowling horde of ghosts draws near, and scurries furiously through the wind, bellowing drearily to the stars. Fauns join Satyrs, and the throng of Pans mingles with the Spectres and battles with ﬁerce visage. The Swart ones meet the Woodland Spirits, and the pestilent phantoms strive to share the path with the Witches. Furies poise themselves on the leap, and on them huddle the Phantoms, whom Foreboder (Fantua) joined to the Flatnoses (Satyrs), jostles. The path that the foot farer must tread brims with horror. It were safer to burden the back of the tall horse.”
Thereon Ragnar declared that he was a slave of the king, and gave as reason of his departure so far from home that, when he had been banished to the country on his shepherd’s business, he had lost the ﬂock of which he had charge, and despairing to recover it, had chosen rather to forbear from returning than to incur punishment. Also, loth to say nothing about the estate of his brother, he further spoke the following poem:
“Think us men, not monsters; we are slaves who drove our lingering ﬂocks for pasture through the country. But while we took our pastime in gentle sports, our ﬂock chanced to stray and went into far-oﬀ ﬁelds. And when our hope of ﬁnding them, our long quest failed, trouble came upon the mind of the wretched culprits. And when sure tracks of our kine were nowhere to be seen, dismal panic ﬁlled our guilty hearts. That is why, dreading the penal stripe of the rod, we thought it doleful to return to our own roof. We supposed it safer to hold aloof from the familiar hearth than to bear the hand of punishment. Thus we are fain to put oﬀ the punishment; we loathe going back and our wish is to lie hid here and escape our master’s eye. This will aid us to elude the avenger of his neglected ﬂock; and this is the one way of escape that remains safe for us.”
Then Swanhwid gazed intently, and surveying his features, which were very comely, admired them ardently, and said:
“The radiant ﬂashing of thine eyes is eloquent that thou art of kingly and not of servile stock. Beauty announces blood, and loveliness of soul glitters in the ﬂash of the eyes. A keen glance betokens lordly birth, and it is plain that he whom fairness, that sure sign of nobleness, commends, is of no mean station. The outward alertness of thine eyes signiﬁes a spirit of radiance within. Face vouches for race; and the lustre of forefathers is beheld in the brightness of the countenance. For an aspect so benign and noble could never have issued from base parentage. The grace of thy blood makes thy brow mantle with a kindred grace, and the estate of thy birth is reﬂected in the mirror of thy countenance. It is no obscure craftsman, therefore, that has ﬁnished the portrait of so choice a chasing. Now therefore turn aside with all speed, seek constantly to depart out of the road, shun encounters with monsters, lest ye yield your most gracious bodies to be the prey and pasture of the vilest hordes.”
But Ragnar was seized with great shame for his unsightly attire, which he thought was the only possible device to disguise his birth. So he rejoined, “That slaves were not always found to lack manhood; that a strong hand was often hidden under squalid raiment, and sometimes a stout arm was muﬄed under a dusky cloak; thus the fault of nature was retrieved by valour, and deﬁciency in race requited by nobleness of spirit. He therefore feared the might of no supernatural prowess, save of the god Thor only, to the greatness of whose force nothing human or divine could ﬁtly be compared. The hearts of men ought not to be terriﬁed at phantoms, which were only awful from their ghastly foulness, and whose semblances, marked by counterfeit ghostliness, were wont for a moment to borrow materiality from the ﬂuent air. Swanhwid therefore erred in trying, womanlike, to sap the ﬁrm strength of men, and to melt in unmanly panic that might which knew not defeat.”
Swanhwid marvelled at the young man’s steadfastness, and cast oﬀ the cloud of mist which overshadowed her, dispelling the darkness which shrouded her face, till it was clear and cloudless. Then, promising that she would give him a sword ﬁtted for diver’s kinds of battle, she revealed the marvellous maiden beauty of her lustrous limbs. Thus was the youth kindled, and she plighted her troth with him, and proﬀering the sword, she thus began:
“King, in this sword, which shall expose the monsters to thy blows, take the ﬁrst gift of thy betrothed. Show thyself duly deserving hereof; let hand rival sword, and aspire to add lustre to its weapon. Let the might of steel strengthen the defenseless point of thy wit, and let spirit know how to work with hand. Let the bearer match the burden: and that thy deed may sort with thy blade, let equal weight in each be thine. What avails the javelin when the breast is weak and faint, and the quivering hands have dropped the lance? Let steel join soul, and be both the body’s armour! Let the right hand be linked with its hilt in alliance. These ﬁght famous battles, because they always keep more force when together; but less when parted. Therefore if it be joy to thee to win fame by the palm of war, pursue with daring whatsoever is hard pressed by thy hand.”
After thus discoursing long in harmoniously-adjusted strains, she sent away her retinue, and passed all the night in combat against the foulest throngs of monsters; and at return of daybreak she perceived fallen all over the ﬁelds diverse shapes of phantoms, and ﬁgures extraordinary to look on; and among them was seen the semblance of Thorhild herself covered with wounds. All these she piled in a heap and burnt, kindling a huge pyre, lest the foul stench of the ﬁlthy carcases might spread in pestilent vapour and hurt those who came nigh with its taint of corruption. This done, she won the throne of Sweden for Ragnar, and Ragnar for her husband. And though he deemed it uncomely to inaugurate his ﬁrst campaign with a wedding, yet, moved by gratitude for the preservation of his safety, he kept his promise.
Meantime one Ubbe, who had long since wedded Ulfhild the sister of Frode, trusting in the high birth of his wife, seized the kingdom of Denmark, which he was managing carelessly as deputy. Frode was thus forced to quit the wars of the East and fought a great battle in Sweden with his sister Swanhwid, in which he was beaten. So he got on board a skiﬀ, and sailed stealthily in a circuit, seeking some way of boring through the enemy’s ﬂeet. When surprised by his sister and asked why he was rowing silently and following divers meandering courses, he cut short her inquiry by a similar question; for Swanhwid had also, at the same time of the night, taken to sailing about alone, and was stealthily searching out all the ways of approach and retreat through devious and dangerous windings. So she reminded her brother of the freedom he had given her long since, and went on to ask him that he should allow her full enjoyment of the husband she had taken; since, before he started on the Russian war, he had given her the boon of marrying as she would; and that he should hold valid after the event what he had himself allowed to happen. These reasonable entreaties touched Frode, and he made a peace with Ragnar, and forgave, at his sister’s request, the wrongdoing which Ragnar, seemed to have begun because of her wantonness. They presented him with a force equal to that which they had caused him to lose: a handsome gift in which he rejoiced as compensation for so ugly a reverse.
Ragnar, entering Denmark, captured Ubbe, had him brought before him, and pardoned him, preferring to visit his ill deserts with grace rather than chastisement; because the man seemed to have aimed at the crown rather at his wife’s instance than of his own ambition, and to have been the imitator and not the cause of the wrong. But he took Ulfhild away from him and forced her to wed his friend Scot, the same man that founded the Scottish name; esteeming change of wedlock a punishment for her. As she went away he even escorted her in the royal chariot, requiting evil with good; for he regarded the kinship of his sister rather than her disposition, and took more thought for his own good name than of her iniquity. But the fair deeds of her brother did not make her obstinate and wonted hatred slacken a whit; she wove the spirit of her new husband with her design of slaying Frode and mastering the sovereignty of the Danes. For whatsoever design the mind has resolutely conceived, it is slow to quit; nor is a sin that is long schemed swept away by the stream of years. For the temper of later life follows the mind of childhood; nor do the traces easily fade of vices which have been stamped upon the character in the impressible age. Finding the ears of her husband deaf, she diverted her treachery from her brother against her lord, hiring bravoes to cut his throat while he slept. Scot was told about this by a waiting-woman, and retired to bed in his cuirass on the night on which he had heard the deed of murder was to be wrought upon him. Ulfhild asked him why he had exchanged his wonted ways to wear the garb of steel; he rejoined that such was just then his fancy. The agents of the treachery, when they imagined him in a deep sleep, burst in; but he slipped from his bed and cut them down. The result was, that he prevented Ulfhild from weaving plots against her brother, and also left a warning to others to beware of treachery from their wives.
Meantime the design occurred to Frode of a campaign against Friesland; he was desirous to dazzle the eyes of the West with the glory he had won in conquering the East. He put out to ocean, and his ﬁrst contest was with Witthe, a rover of the Frisians; and in this battle he bade his crews patiently bear the ﬁrst brunt of the enemy’s charge by merely opposing with their shields, ordering that they should not use their missiles before they perceived that the shower of the enemy’s spears was utterly silent. This the Frisians hurled as vehemently as the Danes received it impassively; for Witthe supposed that the long suﬀering of Frode was due to a wish for peace. High rose the blast of the trumpet, and loud whizzed the javelins everywhere, till at last the heedless Frisians had not a single lance remaining, and they were conquered, overwhelmed by the missiles of the Danes. They ﬂed, hugging the shore, and were cut to pieces amid the circuitous windings of the canals. Then Frode explored the Rhine in his ﬂeet, and laid hands on the farthest parts of Germany. Then he went back to the ocean, and attacked the Frisian ﬂeet, which had struck on shoals; and thus he crowned shipwreck with slaughter. Nor was he content with the destruction of so great an army of his foes, but assailed Britain, defeated its king, and attacked Melbrik, the Governor of the Scottish district. Just as he was preparing to ﬁght him, he heard from a scout that the King of the Britons was at hand, and could not look to his front and his rear both at once. So he assembled the soldiers, and ordered that they should abandon their chariots, ﬂing away all their goods, and scatter everywhere over the ﬁelds the gold which they had about them; for he declared that their one chance was to squander their treasure; and that, now they were hemmed in, their only remaining help was to tempt the enemy from combat to covetousness. They ought cheerfully to spend on so extreme a need the spoil they had gotten among foreigners; for the enemy would drop it as eagerly, when it was once gathered, as they would snatch it when they ﬁrst found it; for it would be to them more burden than proﬁt.
Then Thorkill, who was a more notable miser and a better orator than them all, dishelming and leaning on his shield, said:
“O King! Most of us who rate high what we have bought with our life-blood ﬁnd thy bidding hard. We take it ill that we should ﬂing away what we have won with utmost hazard; and men are loth to forsake what they have purchased at peril of their lives. For it is utter madness to spurn away like women what our manly hearts and hands have earned, and enrich the enemy beyond their hopes. What is more odious than to anticipate the fortune of war by despising the booty which is ours, and, in terror of an evil that may never come, to quit a good which is present and assured? Shall we scatter our gold upon the earth, ere we have set eyes upon the Scots? Those who faint at the thought of warring when they are out for war, what manner of men are they to be thought in the battle? Shall we be a derision to our foes, we who were their terror? Shall we take scorn instead of glory? The Briton will marvel that he was conquered by men whom he sees fear is enough to conquer. We struck them before with panic; shall we be panic-stricken by them? We scorned them when before us; shall we dread them when they are not here? When will our bravery win the treasure which our cowardice rejects? Shall we shirk the ﬁght, in scorn of the money which we fought to win, and enrich those whom we should rightly have impoverished? What deed more despicable can we do than to squander gold on those whom we should smite with steel? Panic must never rob us of the spoils of valour; and only war must make us quit what in warfare we have won. Let us sell our plunder at the price at which we bought it; let the purchase-money be weighed out in steel. It is better to die a noble death, than to molder away too much in love with the light life. In a ﬂeeting instant of time life forsakes us, but shame pursues us past the grave. Further, if we cast away this gold, the greater the enemy thinks our fear, the hotter will be his chase. Besides, whichever the issue of the day, the gold is not hateful to us. Conquerors, we shall triumph in the treasure which now we bear; conquered, we shall leave it to pay our burying.”
So spoke the old man; but the soldiers regarded the advice of their king rather than of their comrade, and thought more of the former than of the latter counsel. So each of them eagerly drew his wealth, whatever he had, from his pouch; they unloaded their ponies of the various goods they were carrying; and having thus cleared their moneybags, girded on their arms more deftly. They went on, and the Britons came up, but broke away after the plunder which lay spread out before them. Their king, when he beheld them too greedily busied with scrambling for the treasure, bade them “take heed not to weary with a load of riches those hands which were meant for battle, since they ought to know that a victory must be culled ere it is counted. Therefore let them scorn the gold and give chase to the possessors of the gold; let them admire the lustre, not of lucre, but of conquest; remembering, that a trophy gave more reward than gain. Courage was worth more than dross, if they measured aright the quality of both; for the one furnished outward adorning, but the other enhanced both outward and inward grace. Therefore they must keep their eyes far from the sight of money, and their soul from covetousness, and devote it to the pursuits of war. Further, they should know that the plunder had been abandoned by the enemy of set purpose, and that the gold had been scattered rather to betray them than to proﬁt them. Moreover, the honest lustre of the silver was only a bait on the barb of secret guile. It was not thought to be that they, who had ﬁrst forced the Britons to ﬂy, would lightly ﬂy themselves. Besides, nothing was more shameful than riches which betrayed into captivity the plunderer whom they were supposed to enrich. For the Danes thought that the men to whom they pretended to have oﬀered riches ought to be punished with sword and slaughter. Let them therefore feel that they were only giving the enemy a weapon if they seized what he had scattered. For if they were caught by the look of the treasure that had been exposed, they must lose, not only that, but any of their own money that might remain. What could it proﬁt them to gather what they must straightway disgorge? But if they refuse to abase themselves before money, they would doubtless abase the foe. Thus it was better for them to stand erect in valour than be groveling in greed; with their souls not sinking into covetousness, but up and doing for renown. In the battle they would have to use not gold but swords.”
As the king ended, a British knight, showing them all his lapful of gold, said:
“O King! From thy speech can be gathered two feelings; and one of them witnesses to thy cowardice and the other to thy ill will: inasmuch as thou forbiddest us the use of the wealth because of the enemy, and also thinkest it better that we should serve thee needy than rich. What is more odious than such a wish? What more senseless than such a counsel? We recognise these as the treasures of our own homes, and having done so, shall we falter to pick them up? We were on our way to regain them by ﬁghting, we were zealous to win them back by our blood: shall we shun them when they are restored unasked? Shall we hesitate to claim our own? Which is the greater coward, he who squanders his winnings, or he who is fearful to pick up what is squandered? Look how chance has restored what compulsion took! These are, not spoils from the enemy, but from ourselves; the Dane took gold from Britain, he brought none. Beaten and loth we lost it; it comes back for nothing, and shall we run away from it? Such a gift of fortune it were a shame to take in an unworthy spirit. For what were madder than to spurn wealth that is set openly before us, and to desire it when it is shut up and kept from us? Shall we squeamishly yield what is set under our eyes, and clutch at it when it vanishes? Shall we seek distant and foreign treasure, refraining from what is made public property? If we disown what is ours, when shall we despoil the goods of others? No anger of heaven can I experience which can force me to unload of its lawful burden the lap which is ﬁlled with my father’s and my grandsire’s gold. I know the wantonness of the Danes: never would they have left jars full of wine had not fear forced them to ﬂee. They would rather have sacriﬁced their life than their liquor. This passion we share with them, and herein we are like them. Grant that their ﬂight is feigned; yet they will light upon the Scots ere they can come back. This gold shall never rust in the country, to be trodden under foot of swine or brutes: it will better serve the use of men. Besides, if we plunder the spoil of the army that prevailed over us, we transfer the luck of the conqueror to ourselves. For what surer omen of triumph could be got, than to bear oﬀ the booty before the battle, and to capture ere the fray the camp which the enemy have forsaken? Better conquer by fear than by steel.”
The knight had scarce ended, when behold; the hands of all were loosed upon the booty and everywhere plucked up the shining treasure. There you might have marvelled at their disposition of ﬁlthy greed, and watched a portentous spectacle of avarice. You could have seen gold and grass clutched up together; the birth of domestic discord; fellow-countrymen in deadly combat, heedless of the foe; neglect of the bonds of comradeship and of reverence for ties; greed the object of all minds, and friendship of none.
Meantime Frode traversed in a great march the forest which separates Scotland and Britain, and bade his soldiers arm. When the Scots beheld his line, and saw that they had only a supply of light javelins, while the Danes were furnished with a more excellent style of armour, they forestalled the battle by ﬂight. Frode pursued them but a little way, fearing a sally of the British, and on returning met Scot, the husband of Ulfhild, with a great army; he had been brought from the utmost ends of Scotland by the desire of aiding the Danes. Scot entreated him to abandon the pursuit of the Scottish and turn back into Britain. So he eagerly regained the plunder which he had cunningly sacriﬁced; and got back his wealth with the greater ease, that he had so tranquilly let it go. Then did the British repent of their burden and pay for their covetousness with their blood. They were sorry to have clutched at greed with insatiate arms, and ashamed to have hearkened to their own avarice rather than to the counsel of their king.
Then Frode attacked London, the most populous city of Britain; but the strength of its walls gave him no chance of capturing it. Therefore he feigned to be dead, and his guile strengthened him. For Daleman, the governor of London, on hearing the false news of his death, accepted the surrender of the Danes, oﬀered them a native general, and suﬀered them to enter the town, that they might choose him out of a great throng. They feigned to be making a careful choice, but beset Daleman in a night surprise and slew him.
When he had done these things, and gone back to his own land, one Skat entertained him at a banquet, desirous to mingle his toilsome warfare with joyous licence. Frode was lying in his house, in royal fashion, upon cushions of cloth of gold, and a certain Hunding challenged him to ﬁght. Then, though he had bent his mind to the joys of wassail, he had more delight in the prospect of a fray than in the presence of a feast, and wound up the supper with a duel and the duel with a triumph. In the combat he received a dangerous wound; but a taunt of Hakon the champion again roused him, and, slaying his challenger, he took vengeance for the disturbance of his rest. Two of his chamber-servants were openly convicted of treachery, and he had them tied to vast stones and drowned in the sea; thus chastising the weighty guilt of their souls by fastening boulders to their bodies. Some relate that Ulfhild gave him a coat which no steel could pierce, so that when he wore it no missile’s point could hurt him. Nor must I omit how Frode was wont to sprinkle his food with brayed and pounded atoms of gold, as a resource against the usual snares of poisoners. While he was attacking Ragnar, the King of Sweden, who had been falsely accused of treachery, he perished, not by the spears, but stiﬂed in the weight of his arms and by the heat of his own body.
Frode left three sons, Halfdan, Ro, and Skat, who were equal in valour, and were seized with an equal desire for the throne. All thought of sway, none was constrained by brotherly regard: for love of others forsaketh him who is eaten up with love of self, nor can any man take thought at once for his own advancement and for his friendship with others. Halfdan, the eldest son, disgraced his birth with the sin of slaying his brethren, winning his kingdom by the murder of his kin; and, to complete his display of cruelty, arrested their adherents, ﬁrst conﬁning them in bonds, and presently hanging them. The most notable thing in the fortunes of Halfdan was this, that though he devoted every instant of his life to the practice of cruel deeds, yet he died of old age, and not by the steel.
Halfdan’s sons were Ro and Helge. Ro is said to have been the founder of Roskild, which was later increased in population and enhanced in power by Sweyn, who was famous for the surname Forkbeard. Ro was short and spare, while Helge was rather tall of stature. Dividing the realm with his brother, Helge was allotted the domain of the sea; and attacking Skalk, the King of Sklavia, with his naval force, he slew him. Having reduced Sklavia into a province, he scoured the various arms of the sea in a wandering voyage. Savage of temper as Helge was, his cruelty was not greater than his lust. For he was so immoderately prone to love, that it was doubtful whether the heat of his tyranny or of his concupiscence was the greater. In Thorey he ravished the maiden Thora, who bore a daughter, to whom she afterwards gave the name of Urse. Then he conquered in battle, before the town of Stad, the son of Syrik, King of Saxony, Hunding, whom he challenged, attacked, and slew in duel. For this he was called Hunding’s-Bane, and by that name gained glory of his victory. He took Jutland out of the power of the Saxons, and entrusted its management to his generals, Heske, Eyr, and Ler. In Saxony he enacted that the slaughter of a freedman and of a noble should be visited with the same punishment; as though he wished it to be clearly known that all the households of the Teutons were held in equal slavery, and that the freedom of all was tainted and savoured equally of dishonour.
Then Helge went freebooting to Thorey. But Thora had not ceased to bewail her lost virginity, and planned a shameful device in abominable vengeance for her rape. For she deliberately sent down to the beach her daughter, who was of marriageable age, and prompted her father to deﬂower her. And though she yielded her body to the treacherous lures of delight, yet she must not be thought to have abjured her integrity of soul, inasmuch as her fault had a ready excuse by virtue of her ignorance. Insensate mother, who allowed the forfeiture of her child’s chastity in order to avenge her own; caring nought for the purity of her own blood, so she might stain with incest the man who had cost her her own maidenhood at ﬁrst! Infamous-hearted woman, who, to punish her deﬁler, measured out as it were a second deﬁlement to herself, whereas she clearly by the selfsame act rather swelled than lessened the transgression! Surely, by the very act wherewith she thought to reach her revenge, she accumulated guilt; she added a sin in trying to remove a crime: she played the stepdame to her own oﬀspring, not sparing her daughter abomination in order to atone for her own disgrace. Doubtless her soul was brimming over with shamelessness, since she swerved so far from shame fastness, as without a blush to seek solace for her wrong in her daughter’s infamy. A great crime, with but one atonement; namely, that the guilt of this intercourse was wiped away by a fortunate progeny, its fruits being as delightful as its repute was evil.
ROLF, the son of Urse, retrieved the shame of his birth by signal deeds of valour; and their exceeding lustre is honoured with bright laudation by the memory of all succeeding time. For lamentation sometimes ends in laughter, and foul beginnings pass to fair issues. So that the father’s fault, though criminal, was fortunate, being afterwards atoned for by a son of such marvellous splendour.
Meantime Ragnar died in Sweden; and Swanhwid his wife passed away soon after of a malady which she had taken from her sorrow, following in death the husband from whom she had not endured severance in life. For it often happens that some people desire to follow out of life those whom they loved exceedingly when alive. Their son Hothbrodd succeeded them. Fain to extend his empire, he warred upon the East, and after a huge massacre of many peoples begat two sons, Athisl and Hother, and appointed as their tutor a certain Gewar, who was bound to him by great services. Not content with conquering the East, he assailed Denmark, challenged its king, Ro, in three battles, and slew him. Helge, when he heard this, shut up his son Rolf in Leire, wishing, however he might have managed his own fortunes, to see to the safety of his heir. When Hothbrodd sent in governors, wanting to free his country from alien rule, he posted his people about the city and prevailed and slew them. Also he annihilated Hothbrodd himself and all his forces in a naval battle; so avenging fully the wrongs of his country as well as of his brother. Hence he who had before won a nickname for slaying Hunding, now bore a surname for the slaughter of Hothbrodd. Besides, as if the Swedes had not been enough stricken in the battles, he punished them by stipulating foremost humiliating terms; providing by law that no wrong done to any of them should receive amends according to the form of legal covenants. After these deeds, ashamed of his former infamy, he hated his country and his home, went back to the East, and there died. Some think that he was aﬀected by the disgrace which was cast in his teeth, and did himself to death by falling upon his drawn sword.
He was succeeded by his son Rolf, who was comely with every gift of mind and body, and graced his mighty stature with as high a courage. In his time Sweden was subject to the sway of the Danes; wherefore Athisl, the son of Hothbrodd, in pursuit of a crafty design to set his country free, contrived to marry Rolf’s mother, Urse, thinking that his kinship by marriage would plead for him, and enable him to prompt his stepson more eﬀectually to relax the tribute; and fortune prospered his wishes. But Athisl had from his boyhood been imbued with a hatred of liberality, and was so grasping of money, that he accounted it a disgrace to be called openhanded. Urse, seeing him so steeped in ﬁlthy covetousness, desired to be rid of him; but, thinking that she must act by cunning, veiled the shape of her guile with a marvellous skill. Feigning to be unmotherly, she spurred on her husband to grasp his freedom, and urged and tempted him to insurrection; causing her son to be summoned to Sweden with a promise of vast gifts. For she thought that she would best gain her desire if, as soon as her son had got his stepfather’s gold, she could snatch up the royal treasures and ﬂee, robbing her husband of bed and money to boot. For she fancied that the best way to chastise his covetousness would be to steal away his wealth. This deep guilefulness was hard to detect, from such recesses of cunning did it spring; because she dissembled her longing for a change of wedlock under a show of aspiration for freedom. Blind-witted husband, fancying the mother kindled against the life of the son, never seeing that it was rather his own ruin being compassed! Doltish lord, blind to the obstinate scheming of his wife, who, out of pretended hatred of her son, devised opportunity for change of wedlock! Though the heart of woman should never be trusted, he believed in a woman all the more insensately, because he supposed her faithful to himself and treacherous to her son.
Accordingly, Rolf, tempted by the greatness of the gifts, chanced to enter the house of Athisl. He was not recognized by his mother owing to his long absence and the cessation of their common life; so in jest he ﬁrst asked for some victual to appease his hunger. She advised him to ask the king for a luncheon. Then he thrust out a torn piece of his coat, and begged of her the service of sewing it up. Finding his mother’s ears shut to him, he observed, “That it was hard to discover a friendship that was ﬁrm and true, when a mother refused her son a meal, and a sister refused a brother the help of her needle.” Thus he punished his mother’s error, and made her blush deep for her refusal of kindness. Athisl, when he saw him reclining close to his mother at the banquet, taunted them both with wantonness, declaring that it was an impure intercourse of brother and sister. Rolf repelled the charge against his honour by an appeal to the closest of natural bonds, and answered, that it was honourable for a son to embrace a beloved mother. Also, when the feasters asked him what kind of courage he set above all others, he named Endurance. When they also asked Athisl, what was the virtue which above all he desired most devotedly, he declared, Generosity. Proofs were therefore demanded of bravery on the one hand and muniﬁcence on the other, and Rolf was asked to give an evidence of courage ﬁrst. He was placed to the ﬁre, and defending with his target the side that was most hotly assailed, had only the ﬁrmness of his endurance to fortify the other, which had no defence. How dexterous, to borrow from his shield protection to assuage the heat, and to guard his body, which was exposed to the ﬂames, with that which sometime sheltered it amid the hurtling spears! But the glow was hotter than the ﬁre of spears; as though it could not storm the side that was entrenched by the shield, yet it assaulted the ﬂank that lacked its protection. But a waiting-maid who happened to be standing near the hearth, saw that he was being roasted by the unbearable heat upon his ribs; so taking the stopper out of a cask, she spilt the liquid and quenched the ﬂame, and by the timely kindness of the shower checked in its career the torturing blaze. Rolf was lauded for supreme endurance, and then came the request for Athisl’s gifts. And they say that he showered treasures on his stepson, and at last, in order to crown the gift, bestowed on him an enormously heavy necklace.
Now Urse, who had watched her chance for the deed of guile, on the third day of the banquet, without her husband ever dreaming of such a thing, put all the king’s wealth into carriages, and going out stealthily, stole away from her own dwelling and ﬂed in the glimmering twilight, departing with her son. Thrilled with fear of her husband’s pursuit, and utterly despairing of escape beyond, she begged and bade her companions to cast away the money, declaring that they must lose either life or riches; the short and only path to safety lay in ﬂinging away the treasure, nor could any aid to escape be found save in the loss of their possessions. Therefore, said she, they must follow the example of the manner in which Frode was said to have saved himself among the Britons. She added, that it was not paying a great price to lay down the Swedes’ own goods for them to regain; if only they could themselves gain a start in ﬂight, by the very device which would check the others in their pursuit, and if they seemed not so much to abandon their own possessions as to restore those of other men. Not a moment was lost; in order to make the ﬂight swifter, they did the bidding of the queen. The gold is cleared from their purses; the riches are left for the enemy to seize. Some declare that Urse kept back the money, and strewed the tracks of her ﬂight with copper that was gilt over. For it was thought credible that a woman who could scheme such great deeds could also have painted with lying lustre the metal that was meant to be lost, mimicking riches of true worth with the sheen of spurious gold. So Athisl, when he saw the necklace that he had given to Rolf left among the other golden ornaments, gazed ﬁxedly upon the dearest treasure of his avarice, and, in order to pick up the plunder, glued his knees to the earth and deigned to stoop his royalty unto greed. Rolf, seeing him lie abjectly on his face in order to gather up the money, smiled at the sight of a man prostrated by his own gifts, just as if he were seeking covetously to regain what he had craftily yielded up. The Swedes were content with their booty, and Rolf quickly retired to his ships, and managed to escape by rowing violently.
Now they relate that Rolf used with ready generosity to grant at the ﬁrst entreaty whatsoever he was begged to bestow, and never put oﬀ the request till the second time of asking. For he preferred to forestall repeated supplication by speedy liberality, rather than mar his kindness by delay. This habit brought him a great concourse of champions; valour having commonly either rewards for its food or glory for its spur.
At this time, a certain Agnar, son of Ingild, being about to wed Rute, the sister of Rolf, celebrated his bridal with a great banquet. The champions were rioting at this banquet with every sort of wantonness, and ﬂinging from all over the room knobbed bones at a certain Hjalte; but it chanced that his messmate, named Bjarke, received a violent blow on the head through the ill aim of the thrower; at whom, stung both by the pain and the jeering, he sent the bone back, so that he twisted the front of his head to the back, and wrung the back of it to where the front had been; punishing the wryness of the man’s temper by turning his face sidelong. This deed moderated their wanton and injurious jests, and drove the champions to quit the place. The bridegroom, nettled at this aﬀront to the banquet, resolved to ﬁght Bjarke, in order to seek vengeance by means of a duel for the interruption of their mirth. At the outset of the duel there was a long dispute, which of them ought to have the chance of striking ﬁrst. For of old, in the ordering of combats, men did not try to exchange their blows thick and fast; but there was a pause, and at the same time a deﬁnite succession in striking: the contest being carried on with few strokes, but those terrible, so that honour was paid more to the mightiness than to the number of the blows. Agnar, being of higher rank, was put ﬁrst; and the blow which he dealt is said to have been so furious, that he cut through the front of the helmet, wounded the skin on the scalp, and had to let go his sword, which became locked in the vizor-holes. Then Bjarke, who was to deal the return-stroke, leaned his foot against a stock, in order to give the freer poise to his steel, and passed his ﬁne-edged blade through the midst of Agnar’s body. Some declare that Agnar, in supreme suppression of his pain, gave up the ghost with his lips relaxed into a smile. The champions passionately sought to avenge him, but were visited by Bjarke with like destruction; for he used a sword of wonderful sharpness and unusual length which he called Lovi. While he was triumphing in these deeds of prowess, a beast of the forest furnished him fresh laurels. For he met a huge bear in a thicket, and slew it with a javelin; and then bade his companion Hjalte put his lips to the beast and drink the blood that came out, that he might be the stronger afterwards. For it was believed that a draught of this sort caused an increase of bodily strength. By these valorous achievements he became intimate with the most illustrious nobles, and even became a favourite of the king; took to wife his sister Rute, and had the bride of the conquered as the prize of the conquest. When Rolf was harried by Athisl he avenged himself on him in battle and overthrew Athisl in war. Then Rolf gave his sister Skulde in marriage to a youth of keen wit, called Hiartuar, and made him governor of Sweden, ordaining a yearly tax; wishing to soften the loss of freedom to him by the favour of an alliance with himself.
Here let me put into my work a thing that it is mirthful to record. A youth named Wigg, scanning with attentive eye the bodily size of Rolf, and smitten with great wonder there at, proceeded to inquire in jest who was that “Krage” whom Nature in her beauty had endowed with such towering stature? Meaning humorously to banter his uncommon tallness. For “Krage” in the Danish tongue means a tree-trunk, whose branches are pollarded, and whose summit is climbed in such wise that the foot uses the lopped timbers as supports, as if leaning on a ladder, and, gradually advancing to the higher parts, ﬁnds the shortest way to the top. Rolf accepted this random word as though it were a name of honour for him, and rewarded the wit of the saying with a heavy bracelet. Then Wigg, thrusting out his right arm decked with the bracelet, put his left behind his back in aﬀected shame, and walked with a ludicrous gait, declaring that he, whose lot had so long been poverty-stricken, was glad of a scanty gift. When he was asked why he was behaving so, he said that the arm which lacked ornament and had no splendour to boast of was mantling with the modest blush of poverty to behold the other. The ingenuity of this saying won him a present to match the ﬁrst. For Rolf made him bring out to view, like the other, the hand which he was hiding. Nor was Wigg heedless to repay the kindness; for he promised, uttering a strict vow, that, if it befell Rolf to perish by the sword, he would himself take vengeance on his slayers. Nor should it be omitted that in old time nobles who were entering the court used to devote to their rulers the ﬁrst-fruits of their service by vowing some mighty exploit; thus bravely inaugurating their ﬁrst campaign.
Meantime, Skulde was stung with humiliation at the payment of the tribute, and bent her mind to devise deeds of horror. Taunting her husband with his ignominious estate, she urged and egged him to break oﬀ his servitude, induced him to weave plots against Rolf, and ﬁlled his mind with the most abominable plans of disloyalty, declaring that everyone owed more to their freedom than to kinship. Accordingly, she ordered huge piles of arms to be muﬄed up under divers coverings, to be carried by Hiartuar into Denmark, as if they were tribute: these would furnish a store wherewith to slay the king by night. So the vessels were loaded with the mass of pretended tribute, and they proceeded to Leire, a town which Rolf had built and adorned with the richest treasure of his realm, and which, being a royal foundation and a royal seat, surpassed in importance all the cities of the neighbouring districts. The king welcomed the coming of Hiartuar with a splendid banquet, and drank very deep, while his guests, contrary to their custom, shunned immoderate tippling. So, while all the others were sleeping soundly, the Swedes, who had been kept from their ordinary rest by their eagerness on their guilty purpose, began furtively to slip down from their sleeping-rooms. Straightway uncovering the hidden heap of weapons, each girded on his arms silently and then went to the palace. Bursting in to its recesses, they drew their swords upon the sleeping ﬁgures. Many awoke; but, invaded as much by the sudden and dreadful carnage as by the drowsiness of sleep, they faltered in their resistance; for the night misled them and made it doubtful whether those they met were friends or foes. Hjalte, who was foremost in tried bravery among the nobles of the king, chanced to have gone out in the dead of that same night into the country and given himself to the embraces of a harlot. But when his torpid hearing caught from afar the rising din of battle, preferring valour to wantonness, he chose rather to seek the deadly perils of the War-god than to yield to the soft allurements of Love. What a love for his king, must we suppose, burned in this warrior! For he might have excused his absence by feigning not to have known; but he thought it better to expose his life to manifest danger than save it for pleasure. As he went away, his mistress asked him how aged a man she ought to marry if she were to lose him? Then Hjalte bade her come closer, as though he would speak to her more privately; and, resenting that she needed a successor to his love, he cut oﬀ her nose and made her unsightly, punishing the utterance of that wanton question with a shameful wound, and thinking that the lecherousness of her soul ought to be cooled by outrage to her face. When he had done this, he said he left her choice free in the matter she had asked about. Then he went quickly back to the town and plunged into the densest of the fray, mowing down the opposing ranks as he gave blow for blow. Passing the sleeping-room of Bjarke, who was still slumbering, he bade him wake up, addressing him as follows:
“Let him awake speedily, who so showeth himself by service or avoweth himself in mere loyalty, a friend of the king! Let the princes shake oﬀ slumber, let shameless lethargy begone; let their spirits awake and warm to the work; each man’s own right hand shall either give him to glory, or steep him in sluggard shame; and this night shall be either end or vengeance of our woes.
“I do not now bid ye learn the sports of maidens, nor stroke soft cheeks, nor give sweet kisses to the bride and press the slender breasts, nor desire the ﬂowing wine and chafe the soft thigh and cast eyes upon snowy arms. I call you out to the sterner fray of War. We need the battle, and not light love; nerveless languor has no business here: our need calls for battles. Who so cherishes friendship for the king, let him take up arms. Prowess in war is the readiest appraiser of men’s spirits. Therefore let warriors have no fearfulness and the brave no ﬁckleness: let pleasure quit their soul and yield place to arms. Glory is now appointed for wages; each can be the arbiter of his own renown, and shine by his own right hand. Let nought here be tricked out with wantonness: let all be full of sternness, and learn how to rid them of this calamity. He who covets the honours or prizes of glory must not be faint with craven fear, but go forth to meet the brave, nor whiten at the cold steel.”
At this utterance, Bjarke, awakened, roused up his chamber-page Skalk speedily, and addressed him as follows:
“Up, lad, and fan the ﬁre with constant blowing; sweep the hearth clear of wood, and scatter the ﬁne ashes. Strike out sparks from the ﬁre, rouse the fallen embers, draw out the smothered blaze. Force the slackening hearth to yield light by kindling the coals to a red glow with a burning log. It will do me good to stretch out my ﬁngers when the ﬁre is brought nigh. Surely he that takes heed for his friend should have warm hands, and utterly drive away the blue and hurtful chill.”
Hjalte said again: “Sweet is it to repay the gifts received from our lord, to grip the swords, and devote the steel to glory. Behold, each man’s courage tells him loyally to follow a king of such deserts, and to guard our captain with ﬁtting earnestness. Let the Teuton swords, the helmets, the shining armlets, the mail-coats that reach the heel, which Rolf of old bestowed upon his men, let these sharpen our mindful hearts to the fray. The time requires, and it is just, that in time of war we should earn whatsoever we have gotten in the deep idleness of peace, that we should not think more of joyous courses than of sorrowful fortunes, or always prefer prosperity to hardship. Being noble, let us with even soul accept either lot, nor let fortune sway our behaviour, for it beseems us to receive equably diﬃcult and delightsome days; let us pass the years of sorrow with the same countenance wherewith we took the years of joy. Let us do with brave hearts all the things that in our cups we boasted with sodden lips; let us keep the vows which we swore by highest Jove and the mighty gods. My master is the greatest of the Danes: let each man, as he is valorous, stand by him; far, far hence be all cowards! We need a brave and steadfast man, not one that turns his back on a dangerous pass, or dreads the grim preparations for battle. Often a general’s greatest valour depends on his soldiery, for the chief enters the fray all the more at ease that a better array of nobles throngs him round. Let the thane catch up his arms with ﬁghting ﬁngers, setting his right hand on the hilt and holding fast the shield: let him charge upon the foes, nor pale at any strokes. Let none oﬀer himself to be smitten by the enemy behind, let none receive the swords in his back: let the battling breast ever front the blow. `Eagles ﬁght brow foremost’, and with swift gaping beaks speed onward in the front: be ye like that bird in mien, shrinking from no stroke, but with body facing the foe.
“See how the enemy, furious and conﬁdent overduly, his limbs defended by the steel, and his face with a gilded helmet, charges the thick of the battle-wedges, as though sure of victory, fearless of rout and invincible by any endeavour. Ah, misery! Swedish assurance spurns the Danes. Behold, the Goths with savage eyes and grim aspect advance with crested helms and clanging spears: wreaking heavy slaughter in our blood, they wield their swords and their battle-axes hone-sharpened.
“Why name thee, Hiartuar, whom Skulde hath ﬁlled with guilty purpose, and hath suﬀered thus to harden in sin? Why sing of thee, villain, who hast caused our peril, betrayer of a noble king? Furious lust of sway hath driven thee to attempt an abomination, and, stung with frenzy, to screen thyself behind thy wife’s everlasting guilt. What error hath made thee to hurt the Danes and thy lord, and hurled thee into such foul crime as this? Whence entered thy heart the treason framed with such careful guile?
“Why do I linger? Now we have swallowed our last morsel. Our king perishes, and utter doom overtakes our hapless city. Our last dawn has risen, unless perchance there be one here so soft that he fears to oﬀer himself to the blows, or so unwarlike that he dares not avenge his lord, and disowns all honours worthy of his valour.
“Thou, Ruta, rise and put forth thy snow-white head, come forth from thy hiding into the battle. The carnage that is being done without calls thee. By now the council chamber is shaken with warfare, and the gates creak with the dreadful fray. Steel rends the mail-coats, the woven mesh is torn apart, and the midriﬀ gives under the rain of spears. By now the huge axes have hacked small the shield of the king; by now the long swords clash, and the battle-axe clatters its blows upon the shoulders of men, and cleaves their breasts. Why are your hearts afraid? Why is your sword faint and blunted? The gate is cleared of our people, and is ﬁlled with the press of the strangers.”
And when Hjalte had wrought very great carnage and stained the battle with blood, he stumbled for the third time on Bjarke’s berth, and thinking he desired to keep quiet because he was afraid, made trial of him with such taunts at his cowardice as these:
“Bjarke, why art thou absent? Doth deep sleep hold thee? I prithee, what makes thee tarry? Come out, or the ﬁre will overcome thee. Ho! Choose the better way, charge with me! Bears may be kept oﬀ with ﬁre; let us spread ﬁre in the recesses, and let the blaze attack the door-posts ﬁrst. Let the ﬁrebrand fall upon the bedchamber, let the falling roof oﬀer fuel for the ﬂames and serve to feed the ﬁre. It is right to scatter conﬂagration on the doomed gates. But let us who honour our king with better loyalty form the ﬁrm battle-wedges, and, having measured the phalanx in safe rows, go forth in the way the king taught us: our king, who laid low Rorik, the son of Bok the covetous, and wrapped the coward in death. He was rich in wealth, but in enjoyment poor, stronger in gain than bravery; and thinking gold better than warfare, he set lucre above all things, and ingloriously accumulated piles of treasure, scorning the service of noble friends. And when he was attacked by the navy of Rolf, he bade his servants take the gold from the chests and spread it out in front of the city gates, making ready bribes rather than battle, because he knew not the soldier, and thought that the foe should be attempted with gifts and not with arms: as though he could ﬁght with wealth alone, and prolong the war by using, not men, but wares! So he undid the heavy coﬀers and the rich chests; he brought forth the polished bracelets and the heavy caskets; they only fed his destruction. Rich in treasure, poor in warriors, he left his foes to take away the prizes which he forebore to give to the friends of his own land. He who once shrank to give little rings of his own will, now unwillingly squandered his masses of wealth, riﬂing his hoarded heap. But our king in his wisdom spurned him and the gifts he proffered, and took from him life and goods at once; nor was his foe proﬁted by the useless wealth which he had greedily heaped up through long years. But Rolf the righteous assailed him, slew him, and captured his vast wealth, and shared among worthy friends what the hand of avarice had piled up in all those years; and, bursting into the camp which was wealthy but not brave, gave his friends a lordly booty without bloodshed. Nothing was so fair to him that he would not lavish it, or so dear that he would not give it to his friends, for he used treasure like ashes, and measured his years by glory and not by gain. Whence it is plain that the king who hath died nobly lived also most nobly, that the hour of his doom is beautiful, and that he graced the years of his life with manliness. For while he lived, his glowing valour prevailed over all things, and he was allotted might worthy of his lofty stature. He was as swift to war as a torrent tearing down to sea, and as speedy to begin battle as a stag is to ﬂy with cleft foot upon his ﬂeet way.
“See now, among the pools dripping with human blood, the teeth struck out of the slain are carried on by the full torrent of gore, and are polished on the rough sands. Dashed on the slime they glitter, and the torrent of blood bears along splintered bones and ﬂows above lopped limbs. The blood of the Danes is wet, and the gory ﬂow stagnates far around, and the stream pressed out of the steaming veins rolls back the scattered bodies. Tirelessly against the Danes advances Hiartuar, lover of battle, and challenges the ﬁghters with outstretched spear. Yet here, amid the dangers and dooms of war, I see Frode’s grandson smiling joyously, who once sowed the ﬁelds of Fyriswald with gold. Let us also be exalted with an honourable show of joy, following in death the doom of our noble father. Be we therefore cheery in voice and bold in daring; for it is right to spurn all fear with words of courage, and to meet our death in deeds of glory. Let fear quit heart and face; in both let us avow our dauntless endeavours, that no sign anywhere may show us to betray faltering fear. Let our drawn sword measure the weight of our service. Fame follows us in death, and glory shall outlive our crumbling ashes! And that which perfect valour hath achieved during its span shall not fade for ever and ever. What want we with closed ﬂoors? Why doth the locked bolt close the folding-gates? For it is now the third cry, Bjarke, that calls thee, and bids thee come forth from the barred room.”
Bjarke rejoined: “Warlike Hjalte, why dost thou call me so loud? I am the son-in-law of Rolf. He who boasts loud and with big words challenges other men to battle, is bound to be venturous and act up to his words, that his deed may avouch his vaunt. But stay till I am armed and have girded on the dread attire of war.
“And now I tie my sword to my side, now ﬁrst I get my body guarded with mail-coat and headpiece, the helm keeping my brows and the stout iron shrouding my breast. None shrinks more than I from being burnt a prisoner inside, and made a pyre together with my own house: though an island brought me forth, and though the land of my birth be bounded, I shall hold it a debt to repay to the king the twelve kindreds which he added to my honours. Hearken, warriors! Let none robe in mail his body that shall perish; let him last of all draw tight the woven steel; let the shields go behind the back; let us ﬁght with bared breasts, and load all your arms with gold. Let your right hands receive the bracelets, that they may swing their blows the more heavily and plant the grievous wound. Let none fall back! Let each zealously strive to meet the swords of the enemy and the threatening spears, that we may avenge our beloved master. Happy beyond all things is he who can mete out revenge for such a crime, and with righteous steel punish the guilt of treacheries.
“Lo, methinks I surely pierced a wild stag with the Teutonic sword which is called Snyrtir: from which I won the name of Warrior, when I felled Agnar, son of Ingild, and brought the trophy home. He shattered and broke with the bite the sword Hoding which smote upon my head, and would have dealt worse wounds if the edge of his blade had held out better. In return I clove asunder his left arm and part of his left side and his right foot, and the piercing steel ran down his limbs and smote deep into his ribs. By Hercules! No man ever seemed to me stronger than he. For he sank down half-conscious, and, leaning on his elbow, welcomed death with a smile, and spurned destruction with a laugh, and passed rejoicing in the world of Elysium. Mighty was the man’s courage, which knew how with one laugh to cover his death-hour, and with a joyous face to suppress utter anguish of mind and body!
“Now also with the same blade I searched the heart of one sprung from an illustrious line, and plunged the steel deep in his breast. He was a king’s son, of illustrious ancestry, of a noble nature, and shone with the brightness of youth. The mailed metal could not avail him, nor his sword, nor the smooth target-boss; so keen was the force of my steel, it knew not how to be stayed by obstacles.
“Where, then, are the captains of the Goths, and the soldiery of Hiartuar? Let them come, and pay for their might with their life-blood. Who can cast, who whirl the lance, save scions of kings? War springs from the nobly born: famous pedigrees are the makers of war. For the perilous deeds which chiefs attempt are not to be done by the ventures of common men. Renowned nobles are passing away. Lo! Greatest Rolf, thy great ones have fallen, thy holy line is vanishing. No dim and lowly race, no low born dead, no base souls are Pluto’s prey, but he weaves the dooms of the mighty, and ﬁlls Phlegethon with noble shapes.
“I do not remember any combat wherein swords were crossed in turn and blow dealt out for blow more speedily. I take three for each I give; thus do the Goths requite the wounds I deal them, and thus doth the stronger hand of the enemy avenge with heaped interest the punishment that they receive. Yet singly in battle I have given over the bodies of so many men to the pyre of destruction, that a mound like a hill could grow up and be raised out of their lopped limbs, and the piles of carcases would look like a burial-barrow. And now what doeth he, who but now bade me come forth, vaunting himself with mighty praise, and chaﬁng others with his arrogant words, and scattering harsh taunts, as though in his one body he enclosed twelve lives?”
Hjalte answered: “Though I have but scant help, I am not far oﬀ. Even here, where I stand, there is need of aid, and nowhere is a force or a chosen band of warriors ready for battle wanted more. Already the hard edges and the spear-points have cleft my shield in splinters, and the ravening steel has rent and devoured its portions bit by bit in the battle. The ﬁrst of these things testiﬁes to and avows itself. Seeing is better than telling, eyesight faithfuller than hearing. For of the broken shield only the fastenings remain, and the boss, pierced and broken in its circle, is all left me. And now, Bjarke, thou art strong, though thou hast come forth more tardily than was right, and thou retrievest by bravery the loss caused by thy loitering.”
But Bjarke said: “Art thou not yet weary of girding at me and goading me with taunts? Many things often cause delay. The reason why I tarried was the sword in my path, which the Swedish foe whirled against my breast with mighty eﬀort. Nor did the guider of the hilt drive home the sword with little might; for though the body was armed he smote it as far as one may when it is bare or defenseless; he pierced the armour of hard steel like yielding waters; nor could the rough, heavy breastplate give me any help.
“But where now is he that is commonly called Odin, the mighty in battle, content ever with a single eye? If thou see him anywhere, Rute, tell me.”
Rute replied: “Bring thine eye closer and look under my arm akimbo: thou must ﬁrst hallow thine eyes with the victorious sign, if thou wilt safely know the War-god face to face.”
Then said Bjarke: “If I may look on the awful husband of Frigg, howsoever he be covered with his white shield, and guide his tall steed, he shall in no wise go safe out of Leire; it is lawful to lay low in war the war-waging god. Let a noble death come to those that fall before the eyes of their king. While life lasts, let us strive for the power to die honourably and to reap a noble end by our deeds. I will die overpowered near the head of my slain captain, and at his feet thou also shalt slip on thy face in death, so that who so scans the piled corpses may see in what wise we rate the gold our lord gave us. We shall be the prey of ravens and a morsel for hungry eagles, and the ravening bird shall feast on the banquet of our body. Thus should fall princes dauntless in war, clasping their famous king in a common death.”
I have composed this particular series of harangues in metrical shape, because the gist of the same thoughts is found arranged in a short form in a certain ancient Danish song, which is repeated by heart by many conversant with antiquity.
Now, it came to pass that the Goths gained the victory and all the array of Rolf fell, no man save Wigg remaining out of all those warriors. For the soldiers of the king paid this homage to his noble virtues in that battle, that his slaying inspired in all the longing to meet their end, and union with him in death was accounted sweeter than life.
HIARTUAR rejoiced, and had the tables spread for feasting, bidding the banquet come after the battle, and fain to honour his triumph with a carouse. And when he was well ﬁlled therewith, he said that it was matter of great marvel to him, that out of all the army of Rolf no man had been found to take thought for his life by ﬂight or fraud. Hence, he said, it had been manifest with what zealous loyalty they had kept their love for their king, because they had not endured to survive him. He also blamed his ill fortune, because it had not suﬀered the homage of a single one of them to be left for himself: protesting that he would very willingly accept the service of such men. Then Wigg came forth, and Hiartuar, as though he were congratulating him on the gift, asked him if he were willing to ﬁght for him. Wigg assenting, he drew and proffered him a sword. But Wigg refused the point, and asked for the hilt, saying ﬁrst that this had been Rolf’s custom when he handed forth a sword to his soldiers. For in old time those who were about to put themselves in dependence on the king used to promise fealty by touching the hilt of the sword. And in this wise Wigg clasped the hilt, and then drove the point through Hiartuar; thus gaining the vengeance which he had promised Rolf to accomplish for him. When he had done this, and the soldiers of Hiartuar rushed at him, he exposed his body to them eagerly and exultantly, shouting that he felt more joy in the slaughter of the tyrant than bitterness at his own. Thus the feast was turned into a funeral, and the wailing of burial followed the joy of victory. Glorious, ever memorable hero, who valiantly kept his vow, and voluntarily courted death, staining with blood by his service the tables of the despot! For the lively valour of his spirit feared not the hands of the slaughterers, when he had once beheld the place where Rolf had been wont to live bespattered with the blood of his slayer. Thus the royalty of Hiartuar was won and ended on the same day. For whatsoever is gotten with guile melts away in like fashion as it is sought, and no fruits are long-lasting that have been won by treachery and crime. Hence it came to pass that the Swedes, who had a little before been the possessors of Denmark, came to lose even their own liberty. For they were straightway cut oﬀ by the Zealanders, and paid righteous atonement to the injured shades of Rolf. In this way does stern fortune commonly avenge the works of craft and cunning.