The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus / Book VII

We are told by historians of old, that Ingild had four sons, of whom

three perished in war, while OLAF alone reigned after his father; but

some say that Olaf was the son of Ingild’s sister, though this opinion

is doubtful. Posterity has but an uncertain knowledge of his deeds,

which are dim with the dust of antiquity; nothing but the last counsel

of his wisdom has been rescued by tradition. For when he was in the last

grip of death he took thought for his sons FRODE and HARALD, and bade

them have royal sway, one over the land and the other over the sea, and

receive these several powers, not in prolonged possession, but in yearly

rotation. Thus their share in the rule was made equal; but Frode, who

was the first to have control of the affairs of the sea, earned disgrace

from his continual defeats in roving. His calamity was due to his

sailors being newly married, and preferring nuptial joys at home to the

toils of foreign warfare. After a time Harald, the younger son, received

the rule of the sea, and chose soldiers who were unmarried, fearing to

be baffled like his brother. Fortune favoured his choice; for he was as

glorious a rover as his brother was inglorious; and this earned him his

brother’s hatred. Moreover, their queens, Signe and Ulfhild, one of

whom was the daughter of Siward, King of Sweden, the other of Karl, the

governor of Gothland, were continually wrangling as to which was the

nobler, and broke up the mutual fellowship of their husbands. Hence

Harald and Frode, when their common household was thus shattered,

divided up the goods they held in common, and gave more heed to the

wrangling altercations of the women than to the duties of brotherly


Moreover, Frode, judging that his brother’s glory was a disgrace to

himself and brought him into contempt, ordered one of his household to

put him to death secretly; for he saw that the man of whom he had the

advantage in years was surpassing him in courage. When the deed

was done, he had the agent of his treachery privily slain, lest the

accomplice should betray the crime. Then, in order to gain the credit of

innocence and escape the brand of crime, he ordered a full inquiry to be

made into the mischance that had cut off his brother so suddenly. But he

could not manage, by all his arts, to escape silent condemnation in the

thoughts of the common people. He afterwards asked Karl, “Who had killed

Harald?” and Karl replied that it was deceitful in him to ask a question

about something which he knew quite well. These words earned him his

death; for Frode thought that he had reproached him covertly with


After this, the lives of Harald and Halfdan, the sons of Harald by Signe

the daughter of Karl, were attempted by their uncle. But the guardians

devised a cunning method of saving their wards. For they cut off the

claws of wolves and tied them to the soles of their feet; and then

made them run along many times so as to harrow up the mud near their

dwelling, as well as the ground (then covered with, snow), and give the

appearance of an attack by wild beasts. Then they killed the children

of some bond-women, tore their bodies into little pieces, and scattered

their mangled limbs all about. So when the youths were looked for in

vain, the scattered limbs were found, the tracks of the beasts were

pointed out, and the ground was seen besmeared with blood. It was

believed that the boys had been devoured by ravening wolves; and hardly

anyone was suffered to doubt so plain a proof that they were mangled.

The belief in this spectacle served to protect the wards. They were

presently shut up by their guardians in a hollow oak, so that no trace

of their being alive should get abroad, and were fed for a long time

under pretence that they were dogs; and were even called by hounds’

names, to prevent any belief getting abroad that they were hiding. (1)

Frode alone refused to believe in their death; and he went and inquired

of a woman skilled in divination where they were hid. So potent were

her spells, that she seemed able, at any distance, to perceive anything,

however intricately locked away, and to summon it out to light. She

declared that one Ragnar had secretly undertaken to rear them, and had

called them by the names of dogs to cover the matter. When the young

men found themselves dragged from their hiding by the awful force of

her spells, and brought before the eyes of the enchantress, loth to be

betrayed by this terrible and imperious compulsion, they flung into her

lap a shower of gold which they had received from their guardians. When

she had taken the gift, she suddenly feigned death, and fell like one

lifeless. Her servants asked the reason why she fell so suddenly; and

she declared that the refuge of the sons of Harald was inscrutable;

for their wondrous might qualified even the most awful effects of her

spells. Thus she was content with a slight benefit, and could not

bear to await a greater reward at the king’s hands. After this Ragnar,

finding that the belief concerning himself and his wards was becoming

rife in common talk, took them, both away into Funen. Here he was taken

by Frode, and confessed that he had put the young men in safe keeping;

and he prayed the king to spare the wards whom he had made fatherless,

and not to think it a piece of good fortune to be guilty of two

unnatural murders. By this speech he changed the king’s cruelty into

shame; and he promised that if they attempted any plots in their own

land, he would give information to the king. Thus he gained safety for

his wards, and lived many years in freedom from terror.

When the boys grew up, they went to Zealand, and were bidden by their

friends to avenge their father. They vowed that they and their uncle

should not both live out the year. When Ragnar found this out, he went

by night to the palace, prompted by the recollection of his covenant,

and announced that he was come privily to tell the king something he had

promised. But the king was asleep, and he would not suffer them to wake

him up, because Frode had been used to punish any disturbance of his

rest with the sword. So mighty a matter was it thought of old to break

the slumbers of a king by untimely intrusion. Frode heard this from the

sentries in the morning; and when he perceived that Ragnar had come

to tell him of the treachery, he gathered together his soldiers, and

resolved to forestall deceit by ruthless measures. Harald’s sons had

no help for it but to feign madness. For when they found themselves

suddenly attacked, they began to behave like maniacs, as if they were

distraught. And when Frode thought that they were possessed, he gave

up his purpose, thinking it shameful to attack with the sword those who

seemed to be turning the sword against themselves. But he was burned

to death by them on the following night, and was punished as befitted a

fratricide. For they attacked the palace, and first crushing the queen

with a mass of stones and then, having set fire to the house, they

forced Frode to crawl into a narrow cave that had been cut out long

before, and into the dark recesses of tunnels. Here he lurked in hiding

and perished, stifled by the reek and smoke.

After Frode was killed, HALFDAN reigned over his country about three

years, and then, handing over his sovereignty to his brother Harald as

deputy, went roving, and attacked and ravaged Oland and the neighbouring

isles, which are severed from contact with Sweden by a winding sound.

Here in the winter he beached and entrenched his ships, and spent three

years on the expedition. After this he attacked Sweden, and destroyed

its king in the field. Afterwards he prepared to meet the king’s

grandson Erik, the son of his own uncle Frode, in battle; and when he

heard that Erik’s champion, Hakon, was skillful in blunting swords with

his spells, he fashioned, to use for clubbing, a huge mace studded with

iron knobs, as if he would prevail by the strength of wood over the

power of sorcery. Then–for he was conspicuous beyond all others for his

bravery–amid the hottest charges of the enemy, he covered his head with

his helmet, and, without a shield, poised his club, and with the help

of both hands whirled it against the bulwark of shields before him. No

obstacle was so stout but it was crushed to pieces by the blow of the

mass that smote it. Thus he overthrew the champion, who ran against him

in the battle, with a violent stroke of his weapon. But he was conquered

notwithstanding, and fled away into Helsingland, where he went to one

Witolf (who had served of old with Harald), to seek tendance for his

wounds. This man had spent most of his life in camp; but at last, after

the grievous end of his general, he had retreated into this lonely

district, where he lived the life of a peasant, and rested from the

pursuits of war. Often struck himself by the missiles of the enemy, he

had gained no slight skill in leechcraft by constantly tending his own

wounds. But if anyone came with flatteries to seek his aid, instead of

curing him he was accustomed to give him something that would secretly

injure him, thinking it somewhat nobler to threaten than to wheedle for

benefits. When the soldiers of Erik menaced his house, in their desire

to take Halfdan, he so robbed them of the power of sight that they could

neither perceive the house nor trace it with certainty, though it was

close to them. So utterly had their eyesight been dulled by a decisive


When Halfdan had by this man’s help regained his full strength, he

summoned Thore, a champion of notable capacity, and proclaimed war

against Erik. But when the forces were led out on the other side, and

he saw that Erik was superior in numbers, he hid a part of his army, and

instructed it to lie in ambush among the bushes by the wayside, in order

to destroy the enemy by an ambuscade as he marched through the narrow

part of the path. Erik foresaw this, having reconnoitred his means of

advancing, and thought he must withdraw for fear, if he advanced along

the track he had intended, of being hard-pressed by the tricks of the

enemy among the steep windings of the hills. They therefore joined

battle, force against force, in a deep valley, inclosed all round by

lofty mountain ridges. Here Halfdan, when he saw the line of his

men wavering, climbed with Thore up a crag covered with stones and,

uprooting boulders, rolled them down upon the enemy below; and the

weight of these as they fell crushed the line that was drawn up in the

lower position. Thus he regained with stones the victory which he

had lost with arms. For this deed of prowess he received the name of

Biargramm (“rock strong”), a word which seems to have been compounded

from the name of his fierceness and of the mountains. He soon gained so

much esteem for this among the Swedes that he was thought to be the son

of the great Thor, and the people bestowed divine honours upon him, and

judged him worthy of public libation.

But the souls of the conquered find it hard to rest, and the insolence

of the beaten ever struggles towards the forbidden thing. So it came to

pass that Erik, in his desire to repair the losses incurred in flight,

attacked the districts subject to Halfdan. Even Denmark he did not

exempt from this harsh treatment; for he thought it a most worthy deed

to assail the country of the man who had caused him to be driven from

his own. And so, being more anxious to inflict injury than to repel it,

he set Sweden free from the arms of the enemy. When Halfdan heard that

his brother Harald had been beaten by Erik in three battles, and slain

in the fourth, he was afraid of losing his empire; he had to quit the

land of the Swedes and go back to his own country. Thus Erik regained

the kingdom of Sweden all the more quickly, that he quitted it so

lightly. Had fortune wished to favour him in keeping his kingdom as much

as she had in regaining it, she would in nowise have given him into

the hand of Halfdan. This capture was made in the following way: When

Halfdan had gone back into Sweden, he hid his fleet craftily, and went

to meet Erik with two vessels. Erik attacked him with ten; and Halfdan,

sailing through sundry winding channels, stole back to his concealed

forces. Erik pursued him too far, and the Danish fleet came out on

the sea. Thus Erik was surrounded; but he rejected the life, which was

offered him under condition of thraldom. He could not bear to think more

of the light of day than liberty, and chose to die rather than serve;

lest he should seem to love life so well as to turn from a slave into

a freeman; and that he might not court with new-born obeisance the man

whom fortune had just before made only his equal. So little knows virtue

how to buy life with dishonour. Wherefore he was put in chains, and

banished to a place haunted by wild beasts; an end unworthy of that

lofty spirit.

Halfdan had thus become sovereign of both kingdoms, and graced his fame

with a triple degree of honour. For he was skillful and eloquent in

composing poems in the fashion of his country; and he was no less

notable as a valorous champion than as a powerful king. But when he

heard that two active rovers, Toke and Anund, were threatening the

surrounding districts, he attacked and routed them in a sea-fight. For

the ancients thought that nothing was more desirable than glory which

was gained, not by brilliancy of wealth, but by address in arms.

Accordingly, the most famous men of old were so minded as to love

seditions, to renew quarrels, to loathe ease, to prefer fighting to

peace, to be rated by their valour and not by their wealth, to find

their greatest delight in battles, and their least in banquetings.

But Halfdan was not long to seek for a rival. A certain Siwald, of

most illustrious birth, related with lamentation in the assembly of the

Swedes the death of Frode and his queen; and inspired in almost all of

them such a hatred of Halfdan, that the vote of the majority granted him

permission to revolt. Nor was he content with the mere goodwill of their

voices, but so won the heart of the commons by his crafty canvassing

that he induced almost all of them to set with their hands the royal

emblem on his head. Siwald had seven sons, who were such clever

sorcerers that often, inspired with the force of sudden frenzy, they

would roar savagely, bite their shields, swallow hot coals, and go

through any fire that could be piled up; and their frantic passion could

only be checked by the rigour of chains, or propitiated by slaughter

of men. With such a frenzy did their own sanguinary temper, or else the

fury of demons, inspire them.

When Halfdan had heard of these things while busy roving, he said it

was right that his soldiers, who had hitherto spent their rage upon

foreigners, should now smite with the steel the flesh of their own

countrymen, and that they who had been used to labour to extend their

realm should now avenge its wrongful seizure. On Halfdan approaching,

Siwald sent him ambassadors and requested him, if he was as great in act

as in renown, to meet himself and his sons in single combat, and save

the general peril by his own. When the other answered, that a combat

could not lawfully be fought by more than two men, Siwald said, that

it was no wonder that a childless bachelor should refuse the proffered

conflict, since his nature was void of heat, and had struck a

disgraceful frost into his soul and body. Children, he added, were not

different from the man who begot them, since they drew from him their

common principle of birth. Thus he and his sons were to be accounted

as one person, for nature seemed in a manner to have bestowed on them

a single body. Halfdan, stung with this shameful affront, accepted

the challenge; meaning to wipe out with noble deeds of valour such an

insulting taunt upon his celibacy. And while he chanced to be walking

through a shady woodland, he plucked up by the roots all oak that stuck

in his path, and, by simply stripping it of its branches, made it look

like a stout club. Having this trusty weapon, he composed a short song

as follows:

“Behold! The rough burden which I bear with straining crest, shall unto

crests bring wounds and destruction. Never shall any weapon of leafy

wood crush the Goths with direr augury. It shall shatter the towering

strength of the knotty neck, and shall bruise the hollow temples with

the mass of timber. The club which shall quell the wild madness of

the land shall be no less fatal to the Swedes. Breaking bones, and

brandished about the mangled limbs of warriors, the stock I have

wrenched off shall crush the backs of the wicked, crush the hearths of

our kindred, shed the blood of our countrymen, and be a destructive pest

upon our land.”

When he had said this, he attacked Siwald and his seven sons, and

destroyed them, their force and bravery being useless against the

enormous mass of his club.

At this time one Hardbeen, who came from Helsingland, gloried in

kidnapping and ravishing princesses, and used to kill any man who

hindered him in his lusts. He preferred high matches to those that were

lowly; and the more illustrious the victims he could violate, the more

noble he thought himself. No man escaped unpunished who durst measure

himself with Hardbeen in valour. He was so huge, that his stature

reached the measure of nine ells. He had twelve champions dwelling with

him, whose business it was to rise up and to restrain his fury with the

aid of bonds, whenever the rage came on him that foreboded of battle.

These men asked Halfdan to attack Hardbeen and his champions man by man;

and he not only promised to fight, but assured himself the victory with

most confident words. When Hardbeen heard this, a demoniacal frenzy

suddenly took him; he furiously bit and devoured the edges of his

shield; he kept gulping down fiery coals; he snatched live embers in his

mouth and let them pass down into his entrails; he rushed through the

perils of crackling fires; and at last, when he had raved through every

sort of madness, he turned his sword with raging hand against the hearts

of six of his champions. It is doubtful whether this madness came from

thirst for battle or natural ferocity. Then with the remaining band

of his champions he attacked Halfdan, who crushed him with a hammer of

wondrous size, so that he lost both victory and life; paying the

penalty both to Halfdan, whom he had challenged, and to the kings whose

offspring he had violently ravished.

Fortune never seemed satisfied with the trying of Halfdan’s strength,

and used to offer him unexpected occasions for fighting. It so happened

that Egther, a Finlander, was harrying the Swedes on a roving raid.

Halfdan, having found that he had three ships, attacked him with the

same number. Night closed the battle, so that he could not conquer him;

but he challenged Egther next day, fought with and overthrew him. He

next heard that Grim, a champion of immense strength, was suing, under

threats of a duel, for Thorhild, the daughter of the chief Hather, and

that her father had proclaimed that he who put the champion out of the

way should have her. Halfdan, though he had reached old age a bachelor,

was stirred by the promise of the chief as much as by the insolence of

the champion, and went to Norway. When he entered it, he blotted out

every mark by which he could be recognized, disguising his face with

splashes of dirt; and when he came to the spot of the battle, drew his

sword first. And when he knew that it had been blunted by the glance of

the enemy, he cast it on the ground, drew another from the sheath, with

which he attacked Grim, cutting through the meshes on the edge of his

cuirass, as well as the lower part of his shield. Grim wondered at the

deed, and said, “I cannot remember an old man who fought more keenly;”

and, instantly drawing his sword, he pierced through and shattered the

target that was opposed to his blade. But as his right arm tarried on

the stroke, Halfdan, without wavering, met and smote it swiftly with his

sword. The other, notwithstanding, clasped his sword with his left hand,

and cut through the thigh of the striker, revenging the mangling of

his own body with a slight wound. Halfdan, now conqueror, allowed the

conquered man to ransom the remnant of his life with a sum of money;

he would not be thought shamefully to rob a maimed man, who could not

fight, of the pitiful remainder of his days. By this deed he showed

himself almost as great in saving as in conquering his enemy. As a

prize for this victory he won Thorhild in marriage, and had by her a

son Asmund, from whom the kings of Norway treasure the honour of being

descended; retracing the regular succession of their line down from


After this, Ebbe, a rover of common birth, was so confident of his

valour, that he was moved to aspire to a splendid marriage. He was

a suitor for Sigrid, the daughter of Yngwin, King of the Goths, and

moreover demanded half the Gothic kingdom for her dowry. Halfdan was

consulted whether the match should be entertained, and advised that

a feigned consent should be given, promising that he would baulk the

marriage. He also gave instructions that a seat should be allotted to

himself among the places of the guests at table. Yngwin approved the

advice; and Halfdan, utterly defacing the dignity of his royal presence

with an unsightly and alien disguise, and coming by night on the wedding

feast, alarmed those who met him; for they marvelled at the coming of a

man of such superhuman stature.

When Halfdan entered the palace, he looked round on all and asked, who

was he that had taken the place next to the king? Upon Ebbe replying

that the future son-in-law of the king was next to his side, Halfdan

asked him, in the most passionate language, what madness, or what

demons, had brought him to such wantonness, as to make bold to unite his

contemptible and filthy race with a splendid and illustrious line, or to

dare to lay his peasant finger upon the royal family: and, not content

even with such a claim, to aspire, as it seemed, to a share even in the

kingdom of another. Then he bade Ebbe fight him, saying that he must get

the victory before he got his wish. The other answered that the night

was the time to fight with monsters, but the day the time with men;

but Halfdan, to prevent him shirking the battle by pleading the hour,

declared that the moon was shining with the brightness of daylight.

Thus he forced Ebbe to fight, and felled him, turning the banquet into a

spectacle, and the wedding into a funeral.

Some years passed, and Halfdan went back to his own country, and

being childless he bequeathed the royal wealth by will to Yngwin, and

appointed him king. YNGWIN was afterwards overthrown in war by a rival

named Ragnald, and he left a son SIWALD.

Siwald’s daughter, Sigrid, was of such excellent modesty, that though a

great concourse of suitors wooed her for her beauty, it seemed as if she

could not be brought to look at one of them. Confident in this power of

self-restraint, she asked her father for a husband who by the sweetness

of his blandishments should be able to get a look back from her. For in

old time among us the self-restraint of the maidens was a great subduer

of wanton looks, lest the soundness of the soul should be infected by

the licence of the eyes; and women desired to avouch the purity of their

hearts by the modesty of their faces. Then one Ottar, the son of Ebb,

kindled with confidence in the greatness either of his own achievements,

or of his courtesy and eloquent address, stubbornly and ardently desired

to woo the maiden. And though he strove with all the force of his wit to

soften her gaze, no device whatever could move her downcast eyes; and,

marvelling at her persistence in her indomitable rigour, he departed.

A giant desired the same thing, but, finding himself equally foiled, he

suborned a woman; and she, pretending friendship for the girl, served

her for a while as her handmaid, and at last enticed her far from her

father’s house, by cunningly going out of the way; then the giant rushed

upon her and bore her off into the closest fastnesses of a ledge on

the mountain. Others think that he disguised himself as a woman,

treacherously continued his devices so as to draw the girl away from her

own house, and in the end carried her off. When Ottar heard of this, he

ransacked the recesses of the mountain in search of the maiden, found

her, slew the giant, and bore her off. But the assiduous giant had bound

back the locks of the maiden, tightly twisting her hair in such a way

that the matted mass of tresses was held in a kind of curled bundle; nor

was it easy for anyone to unravel their plaited tangle, without using

the steel. Again, he tried with divers allurements to provoke the maiden

to look at him; and when he had long laid vain siege to her listless

eyes, he abandoned his quest, since his purpose turned out so little to

his liking. But he could not bring himself to violate the girl, loth

to defile with ignoble intercourse one of illustrious birth. She then

wandered long, and sped through divers desert and circuitous paths, and

happened to come to the hut of a certain huge woman of the woods, who

set her to the task of pasturing her goats. Again Ottar granted her his

aid to set her free, and again he tried to move her, addressing her in

this fashion: “Wouldst thou rather hearken to my counsels, and embrace

me even as I desire, than be here and tend the flock of rank goats?

“Spurn the hand of thy wicked mistress, and flee hastily from thy

cruel taskmistress, that thou mayst go back with me to the ships of thy

friends and live in freedom.

“Quit the care of the sheep entrusted to thee; scorn to drive the steps

of the goats; share my bed, and fitly reward my prayers.

“O thou whom I have sought with such pains, turn again thy listless

beams; for a little while–it is an easy gesture–lift thy modest face.

“I will take thee hence, and set thee by the house of thy father, and

unite thee joyfully with thy loving mother, if but once thou wilt show

me thine eyes stirred with soft desires.

“Thou, whom I have borne so oft from the prisons of the giants, pay thou

some due favour to my toil of old; pity my hard endeavours, and be stern

no more.

“For why art thou become so distraught and brainsick, that thou wilt

choose to tend the flock of another, and be counted among the servants

of monsters, sooner than encourage our marriage-troth with fitting and

equal consent?”

But she, that she might not suffer the constancy of her chaste mind to

falter by looking at the world without, restrained her gaze, keeping her

lids immovably rigid. How modest, then, must we think, were the women of

that age, when, under the strongest provocations of their lovers, they

could not be brought to make the slightest motion of their eyes! So when

Ottar found that even by the merits of his double service he could not

stir the maiden’s gaze towards him, he went back to the fleet, wearied

out with shame and chagrin. Sigrid, in her old fashion, ran far away

over the rocks, and chanced to stray in her wanderings to the abode of

Ebb; where, ashamed of her nakedness and distress, she pretended to be

a daughter of paupers. The mother of Ottar saw that this woman, though

bestained and faded, and covered with a meagre cloak, was the scion of

some noble stock; and took her, and with honourable courtesy kept her

by her side in a distinguished seat. For the beauty of the maiden was

a sign that betrayed her birth, and her telltale features echoed her

lineage. Ottar saw her, and asked why she hid her face in her robe.

Also, in order to test her mind more surely, he feigned that a woman was

about to become his wife, and, as he went up into the bride-bed, gave

Sigrid the torch to hold. The lights had almost burnt down, and she

was hard put to it by the flame coming closer; but she showed such an

example of endurance that she was seen to hold her hand motionless, and

might have been thought to feel no annoyance from the heat. For the

fire within mastered the fire without, and the glow of her longing soul

deadened the burn of her scorched skin. At last Ottar bade her look to

her hand. Then, modestly lifting her eyes, she turned her calm gaze upon

him; and straightway, the pretended marriage being put away, went up

unto the bride-bed to be his wife. Siwald afterwards seized Ottar, and

thought that he ought to be hanged for defiling his daughter.

But Sigrid at once explained how she had happened to be carried away,

and not only brought Ottar back into the king’s favour, but also induced

her father himself to marry Ottar’s sister. After this a battle was

fought between Siwald and Ragnald in Zealand, warriors of picked valour

being chosen on both sides. For three days they slaughtered one another;

but so great was the bravery of both sides, that it was doubtful how

the victory would go. Then Ottar, whether seized with weariness at

the prolonged battle, or with desire of glory, broke, despising death,

through the thickest of the foe, cut down Ragnald among the bravest

of his soldiers, and won the Danes a sudden victory. This battle was

notable for the cowardice of the greatest nobles. For the whole mass

fell into such a panic, that forty of the bravest of the Swedes are said

to have turned and fled. The chief of these, Starkad, had been used to

tremble at no fortune, however cruel, and no danger, however great. But

some strange terror stole upon him, and he chose to follow the flight of

his friends rather than to despise it. I should think that he was filled

with this alarm by the power of heaven, that he might not think himself

courageous beyond the measure of human valour. Thus the prosperity of

mankind is wont ever to be incomplete. Then all these warriors embraced

the service of King Hakon, the mightiest of the rovers, like remnants of

the war drifting to him.

After this Siwald was succeeded by his son SIGAR, who had sons Siwald,

Alf, and Alger, and a daughter Signe. All excelled the rest in spirit

and beauty, and devoted himself to the business of a rover. Such a grace

was shed on his hair, which had a wonderful dazzling glow, that his

locks seemed to shine silvery. At the same time Siward, the king of the

Goths, is said to have had two sons, Wemund and Osten, and a daughter

Alfhild, who showed almost from her cradle such faithfulness to modesty

that she continually kept her face muffled in her robe, lest she should

cause her beauty to provoke the passion of another. Her father banished

her into very close keeping, and gave her a viper and a snake to rear,

wishing to defend her chastity by the protection of these reptiles

when they came to grow up. For it would have been hard to pry into her

chamber when it was barred by so dangerous a bolt. He also enacted that

if any man tried to enter it, and failed, he must straightway yield his

head to be taken off and impaled on a stake. The terror which was thus

attached to wantonness chastened the heated spirits of the young men.

Alf, the son of Sigar, thinking that peril of the attempt only made it

nobler, declared himself a wooer, and went to subdue the beasts that

kept watch beside the room of the maiden; inasmuch as, according to the

decree, the embraces of the maiden were the prize of their subduer. Alf

covered his body with a blood-stained hide in order to make them more

frantic against him. Girt with this, as soon as he had entered the doors

of the enclosure, he took a piece of red-hot steel in the tongs, and

plunged it into the yawning throat of the viper, which he laid dead.

Then he flung his spear full into the gaping mouth of the snake as it

wound and writhed forward, and destroyed it. And when he demanded the

gage which was attached to victory by the terms of the covenant, Siward

answered that he would accept that man only for his daughter’s husband

of whom she made a free and decided choice. None but the girl’s mother

was stiff against the wooer’s suit; and she privately spoke to her

daughter in order to search her mind. The daughter warmly praised her

suitor for his valour; whereon the mother upbraided her sharply, that

her chastity should be unstrung, and she be captivated by charming

looks; and because, forgetting to judge his virtue, she cast the gaze of

a wanton mind upon the flattering lures of beauty. Thus Alfhild was led

to despise the young Dane; whereupon she exchanged woman’s for man’s

attire, and, no longer the most modest of maidens, began the life of a

warlike rover.

Enrolling in her service many maidens who were of the same mind, she

happened to come to a spot where a band of rovers were lamenting the

death of their captain, who had been lost in war; they made her their

rover captain for her beauty, and she did deeds beyond the valour of

woman. Alf made many toilsome voyages in pursuit of her, and in winter

happened to come on a fleet of the Blacmen. The waters were at this time

frozen hard, and the ships were caught in such a mass of ice that they

could not get on by the most violent rowing. But the continued frost

promised the prisoners a safer way of advance; and Alf ordered his men

to try the frozen surface of the sea in their brogues, after they had

taken off their slippery shoes, so that they could run over the level

ice more steadily. The Blacmen supposed that they were taking to flight

with all the nimbleness of their heels, and began to fight them, but

their steps tottered exceedingly and they gave back, the slippery

surface under their soles making their footing uncertain. But the Danes

crossed the frozen sea with safer steps, and foiled the feeble advance

of the enemy, whom they conquered, and then turned and sailed to

Finland. Here they chanced to enter a rather narrow gulf, and, on

sending a few men to reconnoitre, they learnt that the harbour was being

held by a few ships. For Alfhild had gone before them with her fleet

into the same narrows. And when she saw the strange ships afar off, she

rowed in swift haste forward to encounter them, thinking it better to

attack the foe than to await them. Alf’s men were against attacking

so many ships with so few; but he replied that it would be shameful

if anyone should report to Alfhild that his desire to advance could be

checked by a few ships in the path; for he said that their record of

honours ought not to be tarnished by such a trifle.

The Danes wondered whence their enemies got such grace of bodily beauty

and such supple limbs. So, when they began the sea-fight, the young

man Alf leapt on Alfhild’s prow, and advanced towards the stern,

slaughtering all that withstood him. His comrade Borgar struck off

Alfhild’s helmet, and, seeing the smoothness of her chin, saw that he

must fight with kisses and not with arms; that the cruel spears must be

put away, and the enemy handled with gentler dealings. So Alf rejoiced

that the woman whom he had sought over land and sea in the face of so

many dangers was now beyond all expectation in his power; whereupon he

took hold of her eagerly, and made her change her man’s apparel for

a woman’s; and afterwards begot on her a daughter, Gurid. Also Borgar

wedded the attendant of Alfhild, Groa, and had by her a son, Harald, to

whom the following age gave the surname Hyldeland.

And that no one may wonder that this sex laboured at warfare, I will

make a brief digression, in order to give a short account of the estate

and character of such women. There were once women among the Danes who

dressed themselves to look like men, and devoted almost every instant

of their lives to the pursuit of war, that they might not suffer their

valour to be unstrung or dulled by the infection of luxury. For they

abhorred all dainty living, and used to harden their minds and

bodies with toil and endurance. They put away all the softness and

lightmindedness of women, and inured their womanish spirit to masculine

ruthlessness. They sought, moreover, so zealously to be skilled in

warfare, that they might have been thought to have unsexed themselves.

Those especially, who had either force of character or tall and comely

persons, used to enter on this kind of life. These women, therefore

(just as if they had forgotten their natural estate, and preferred

sternness to soft words), offered war rather than kisses, and would

rather taste blood than busses, and went about the business of arms more

than that of amours. They devoted those hands to the lance which they

should rather have applied to the loom. They assailed men with their

spears whom they could have melted with their looks, they thought of

death and not of dalliance. Now I will cease to wander, and will go back

to my theme.

In the early spring, Alf and Alger, who had gone back to sea-roving,

were exploring the sea in various directions, when they lighted with

a hundred ships upon Helwin, Hagbard, and Hamund, sons of the kinglet

Hamund. These they attacked and only the twilight stayed their

blood-wearied hands; and in the night the soldiers were ordered to keep

truce. On the morrow this was ratified for good by a mutual oath; for

such loss had been suffered on both sides in the battle of the day

before that they had no force left to fight again. Thus, exhausted bye

quality of valour, they were driven perforce to make peace. About the

same time Hildigisl, a Teuton Of noble birth, relying on his looks and

his rank, sued for Signe, the daughter of Sigar. But she scorned him,

chiefly for his insignificance, inasmuch as he was not brave, but wished

to adorn his fortunes with the courage of other people. But this woman

was inclined to love Hakon, chiefly for the high renown of his great

deeds. For she thought more of the brave than the feeble; she admired

notable deeds more than looks, knowing that every allurement of beauty

is mere dross when reckoned against simple valour, and cannot weigh

equal with it in the balance. For there are maids that are more charmed

by the fame than by the face of their lovers; who go not by the looks,

but by the mind, and whom naught but regard for a man’s spirit can

kindle to pledge their own troth. Now Hagbard, going to Denmark with the

sons of Sigar, gained speech of their sister without their knowledge,

and in the end induced her to pledge her word to him that she would

secretly become his mistress. Afterwards, when the waiting-women

happened to be comparing the honourable deeds of the nobles, she

preferred Hakon to Hildigisl, declaring that the latter had nothing to

praise but his looks, while in the case of the other a wrinkled visage

was outweighed by a choice spirit. Not content with this plain kind of

praise, she is said to have sung as follows:

“This man lacks fairness, but shines with foremost courage, measuring

his features by his force.

“For the lofty soul redeems the shortcoming of harsh looks, and conquers

the body’s blemish.

“His look flashes with spirit, his face, notable in its very harshness,

delights in fierceness.

“He who strictly judges character praises not the mind for the fair hue,

but rather the complexion for the mind.

“This man is not prized for beauty, but for brave daring and war-won


“While the other is commended by his comely head and radiant countenance

and crest of lustrous locks.

“Vile is the empty grace of beauty, self-confounded the deceptive pride

of comeliness.

“Valour and looks are swayed by different inclinations: one lasts on,

the other perishes.

“Empty red and white brings in vice, and is frittered away little by

little by the lightly gliding years;

“But courage plants firmer the hearts devoted to it, and does not slip

and straightway fall.

“The voice of the multitude is beguiled by outward good, and forsakes

the rule of right;

“But I praise virtue at a higher rate, and scorn the grace of


This utterance fell on the ears of the bystanders in such a way, that

they thought she praised Hagbard under the name of Hakon. And Hildigisl,

vexed that she preferred Hagbard to himself, bribed a certain blind man,

Bolwis, to bring the sons of Sigar and the sons of Hamund to turn their

friendship into hatred. For King Sigar had been used to transact almost

all affairs by the advice of two old men, one of whom was Bolwis. The

temper of these two men was so different, that one used to reconcile

folk who were at feud, while the other loved to sunder in hatred those

who were bound by friendship, and by estranging folk to fan pestilent


So Bolwis began by reviling the sons of Hamund to the sons of Sigar, in

lying slanders, declaring that they never used to preserve the bonds of

fellowship loyally, and that they must be restrained by war rather than

by league. Thus the alliance of the young men was broken through; and

while Hagbard was far away, the sons of Sigar, Alf and Alger, made an

attack, and Helwin and Hamund were destroyed by the harbour which is

called Hamund’s Bay. Hagbard then came up with fresh forces to avenge

his brothers, and destroyed them in battle. Hildigisl slunk off with a

spear through both buttocks, which was the occasion for a jeer at the

Teutons, since the ugliness of the blow did not fail to brand it with


Afterwards Hagbard dressed himself in woman’s attire, and, as though he

had not wronged Sigar’s daughter by slaying her brothers, went back to

her alone, trusting in the promise he had from her, and feeling more

safe in her loyalty than alarmed by reason of his own misdeed. Thus does

lust despise peril. And, not to lack a pretext for his journey, he gave

himself out as a fighting-maid of Hakon, saying that he took an embassy

from him to Sigar. And when he was taken to bed at night among the

handmaids, and the woman who washed his feet were wiping them, they

asked him why he had such hairy legs, and why his hands were not at all

soft to touch, he answered:

“What wonder that the soft hollow of my foot should harden, and that

long hairs should stay on my shaggy leg, when the sand has so often

smitten my soles beneath, and the briars have caught me in mid-step?

“Now I scour the forest with leaping, now the waters with running. Now

the sea, now the earth, now the wave is my path.

“Nor could my breast, shut in bonds of steel, and wont to be beaten with

lance and missile, ever have been soft to the touch, as with you who are

covered by the mantle or the smooth gown.

“Not the distaff or the wool-frails, but spears dripping from the

slaughter, have served for our handling.”

Signe did not hesitate to back up his words with like dissembling, and

replied that it was natural that hands which dealt more in wounds than

wools, and in battle than in tasks of the house should show the hardness

that befitted their service; and that, unenfeebled with the pliable

softness of women, they should not feel smooth to the touch of others.

For they were hardened partly by the toils of war, partly by the habit

of seafaring. For, said she, the warlike handmaid of Hakon did not

deal in woman’s business, but had been wont to bring her right hand

blood-stained with hurling spears and flinging missiles. It was no

wonder, therefore, if her soles were hardened by the immense journeys

she had gone; and that, when the shores she had scoured so often had

bruised them with their rough and broken shingle, they should toughen

in a horny stiffness, and should not feel soft to the touch like theirs,

whose steps never strayed, but who were forever cooped within the

confines of the palace. Hagbard received her as his bedfellow, under

plea that he was to have the couch of honour; and, amid their converse

of mutual delight, he addressed her slowly in such words as these:

“If thy father takes me and gives me to bitter death, wilt thou

ever, when I am dead, forget so strong a troth, and again seek the


“For if the chance should fall that way, I can hope for no room for

pardon; nor will the father who is to avenge his sons spare or have


“For I stripped thy brothers of their power on the sea and slew them;

and now, unknown to thy father, as though I had done naught before

counter to his will, I hold thee in the couch we share.

“Say, then, my one love, what manner of wish wilt thou show when thou

lackest the accustomed embrace?”

Signe answered:

“Trust me, dear; I wish to die with thee, if fate brings thy turn to

perish first, and not to prolong my span of life at all, when once

dismal death has cast thee to the tomb.

“For if thou chance to close thy eyes for ever, a victim to the maddened

attack of the men-at-arms;–by whatsoever doom thy breath be cut off,

by sword or disease, by sea or soil, I forswear every wanton and corrupt

flame, and vow myself to a death like thine; that they who were bound by

one marriage-union may be embraced in one and the same punishment. Nor

will I quit this man, though I am to feel the pains of death; I have

resolved he is worthy of my love who gathered the first kisses of my

mouth, and had the first fruits of my delicate youth. I think that no

vow will be surer than this, if speech of woman have any loyalty at


This speech so quickened the spirit of Hagbard, that he found more

pleasure in her promise than peril in his own going away (to his death).

The serving-women betrayed him; and when Sigar’s men-at-arms attacked

him, he defended himself long and stubbornly, and slew many of them in

the doorway. But at last he was taken, and brought before the assembly,

and found the voices of the people divided over him. For very many said

that he should be punished for so great an offence; but Bilwis, the

brother of Bolwis, and others, conceived a better judgment, and advised

that it would be better to use his stout service than to deal with him

too ruthlessly. Then Bolwis came forward and declared that it was evil

advice which urged the king to pardon when he ought to take vengeance,

and to soften with unworthy compassion his righteous impulse to anger.

For how could Sigar, in the case of this man, feel any desire to spare

or pity him, when he had not only robbed him of the double comfort of

his sons, but had also bestained him with the insult of deflowering

his daughter? The greater part of the assembly voted for this opinion;

Hagbard was condemned, and a gallows-tree planted to receive him. Hence

it came about that he who at first had hardly one sinister voice against

him was punished with general harshness. Soon after the queen handed him

a cup, and, bidding him assuage his thirst, vexed him with threats after

this manner:

“Now, insolent Hagbard, whom the whole assembly has pronounced worthy of

death, now to quench thy thirst thou shalt give thy lips liquor to drink

in a cup of horn.

“Wherefore cast away fear, and, at this last hour of thy life, taste

with bold lips the deadly goblet;

“That, having drunk it, thou mayst presently land by the dwellings of

those below, passing into the sequestered palace of stern Dis, giving

thy body to the gibbet and thy spirit to Orcus.”

Then the young man took the cup offered him, and is said to have made

answer as follows:

“With this hand, wherewith I cut off thy twin sons, I will take my last

taste, yea the draught of the last drink.

“Now not unavenged shall I go to the Elysian regions, not unchastising

to the stern ghosts. For these men have first been shut in the dens of

Tartarus by a slaughter wrought by my endeavours. This right hand was

wet with blood that was yours, this hand robbed thy children of the

years of their youth, children whom thy womb brought to light; but

the deadly sword spared it not then. Infamous woman, raving in spirit,

hapless, childless mother, no years shall restore to thee the lost, no

time and no day whatsoever shall save thy child from the starkness of

death, or redeem him!”

Thus he avenged the queen’s threats of death by taunting her with the

youths whom he had slain; and, flinging back the cup at her, drenched

her face with the sprinkled wine.

Meantime Signe asked her weeping women whether they could endure to bear

her company in the things which she purposed. They promised that they

would carry out and perform themselves whatsoever their mistress should

come to wish, and their promise was loyally kept. Then, drowned in

tears, she said that she wished to follow in death the only partner of

her bed that she had ever had; and ordered that, as soon as the signal

had been given from a place of watch, torches should be put to the room,

then that halters should be made out of their robes; and to these they

should proffer their throats to be strangled, thrusting away the support

to the feet. They agreed, and that they might blench the less at death,

she gave them a draught of wine. After this Hagbard was led to the hill,

which afterwards took its name from him, to be hanged. Then, to test

the loyalty of his true love, he told the executioners to hang up his

mantle, saying that it would be a pleasure to him if he could see the

likeness of his approaching death rehearsed in some way. The request

was granted; and the watcher on the outlook, thinking that the thing

was being done to Hagbard, reported what she saw to the maidens who were

shut within the palace. They quickly fired the house, and thrusting away

the wooden support under their feet, gave their necks to the noose to

be writhen. So Hagbard, when he saw the palace wrapped in fire, and the

familiar chamber blazing, said that he felt more joy from the loyalty of

his mistress than sorrow at his approaching death. He also charged the

bystanders to do him to death, witnessing how little he made of his doom

by a song like this:

“Swiftly, O warriors! Let me be caught and lifted into the air. Sweet, O

my bride! Is it for me to die when thou hast gone.

“I perceive the crackling and the house ruddy with flames; and the love,

long-promised, declares our troth.

“Behold, thy covenant is fulfilled with no doubtful vows, since thou

sharest my life and my destruction.

“We shall have one end, one bond after our troth, and somewhere our

first love will live on.

“Happy am I, that have deserved to have joy of such a consort, and not

to go basely alone to the gods of Tartarus!

“Then let the knot gripe the midst of the throat; nought but pleasure

the last doom shall bring,

“Since there remains a sure hope of the renewal of love, and a death

which will soon have joys of its own.

“Either country is sweet; in both worlds shall be held in honour the

repose of our souls together, our equal truth in love,

“For, see now, I welcome the doom before me; since not even among the

shades does very love suffer the embrace of its partner to perish.” And

as he spoke the executioners strangled him. And, that none may think

that all traces of antiquity have utterly disappeared, a proof of the

aforesaid event is afforded by local marks yet existing; for the killing

of Hagbard gave his name to the stead; and not far from the town of

Sigar there is a place to be seen, where a mound a little above the

level, with the appearance of a swelling in the ground, looks like an

ancient homestead. Moreover, a man told Absalon that he had seen a beam

found in the spot, which a countryman struck with his ploughshare as he

burrowed into the clods.

Hakon, the son of Hamund, heard of this; but when he was seen to be on

the point of turning his arms from the Irish against the Danes in

order to avenge his brother, Hakon the Zealander, the son of Wigar, and

Starkad deserted him. They had been his allies from the death of Ragnald

up to that hour: one, because he was moved by regard for friendship,

the other by regard for his birth; so that different reasons made both

desire the same thing.

Now patriotism diverted Hakon (of Zealand) from attacking his country;

for it was apparent that he was going to fight his own people, while all

the rest warred with foreigners. But Starkad forbore to become the foe

of the aged Sigar, whose hospitality he had enjoyed, lest he should be

thought to wrong one who deserved well of him. For some men pay

such respect to hospitality that, if they can remember ever to have

experienced kindly offices from folk, they cannot be thought to inflict

any annoyance on them. But Hakon thought the death of his brother a

worse loss than the defection of his champions; and, gathering his fleet

into the haven called Herwig in Danish, and in Latin Hosts’ Bight, he

drew up his men, and posted his line of foot-soldiers in the spot where

the town built by Esbern now defends with its fortifications those who

dwell hard by, and repels the approach of barbarous savages. Then

he divided his forces in three, and sent on two-thirds of his ships,

appointing a few men to row to the river Susa. This force was to advance

on a dangerous voyage along its winding reaches, and to help those on

foot if necessary. He marched in person by land with the remainder,

advancing chiefly over wooded country to escape notice. Part of this

path, which was once closed up with thick woods, is now land ready for

the plough, and fringed with a scanty scrub. And, in order that when

they got out into the plain they might not lack the shelter of trees,

he told them to cut and carry branches. Also, that nothing might burden

their rapid march, he bade them cast away some of their clothes, as

well as their scabbards; and carry their swords naked. In memory of this

event he left the mountain and the ford a perpetual name. Thus by his

night march he eluded two pickets of sentries; but when he came upon

the third, a scout, observing the marvellous event, went to the

sleeping-room of Sigar, saying that he brought news of a portentous

thing; for he saw leaves and shrubs like men walking. Then the king

asked him how far off was the advancing forest; and when he heard that

it was near, he added that this prodigy boded his own death. Hence

the marsh where the shrubs were cut down was styled in common parlance

Deadly Marsh. Therefore, fearing the narrow passages, he left the town,

and went to a level spot which was more open, there to meet the enemy

in battle. Sigar fought unsuccessfully, and was crushed and slain at the

spot that is called in common speech Walbrunna, but in Latin the Spring

of Corpses or Carnage. Then Hakon used his conquest to cruel purpose,

and followed up his good fortune so wickedly, that he lusted for an

indiscriminate massacre, and thought no forbearance should be shown to

rank or sex. Nor did he yield to any regard for compassion or shame,

but stained his sword in the blood of women, and attacked mothers and

children in one general and ruthless slaughter.

SIWALD, the son of Sigar, had thus far stayed under his father’s roof.

But when he heard of this, he mustered an army in order to have his

vengeance. So Hakon, alarmed at the gathering of such numbers, went back

with a third of his army to his fleet at Herwig, and planned to depart

by sea. But his colleague, Hakon, surnamed the Proud, thought that he

ought himself to feel more confidence at the late victory than fear at

the absence of Hakon; and, preferring death to flight, tried to defend

the remainder of the army. So he drew back his camp for a little, and

for a long time waited near the town of Axelsted, for the arrival of the

fleet, blaming his friends for their tardy coming. For the fleet that

had been sent into the river had not yet come to anchor in the appointed

harbour. Now the killing of Sigar and the love of Siwald were stirring

the temper of the people one and all, so that both sexes devoted

themselves to war, and you would have thought that the battle did not

lack the aid of women.

On the morrow Hakon and Siwald met in an encounter and fought two whole

days. The combat was most frightful; both generals fell; and victory

graced the remnants of the Danes. But, in the night after the battle,

the fleet, having penetrated the Susa, reached the appointed haven. It

was once possible to row along this river; but its bed is now choked

with solid substances, and is so narrowed by its straits that

few vessels can get in, being prevented by its sluggishness and

contractedness. At daybreak, when the sailors saw the corpses of their

friends, they heaped up, in order to bury the general, a barrow of

notable size, which is famous to this day, and is commonly named Hakon’s


But Borgar, with Skanian chivalry suddenly came up and slaughtered a

multitude of them. When the enemy were destroyed, he manned their ships,

which now lacked their rowers, and hastily, with breathless speed,

pursued the son of Hamund. He encountered him, and ill-fortune befell

Hakon, who fled in hasty panic with three ships to the country of the

Scots, where, after two years had gone by, he died.

All these perilous wars and fortunes had so exhausted the royal line

among the Danes, that it was found to be reduced to GURID alone, the

daughter of Alf, and granddaughter of Sigar. And when the Danes saw

themselves deprived of their usual high-born sovereigns, they committed

the kingdom to men of the people, and appointed rulers out of the

commons, assigning to Ostmar the regency of Skaane, and that of Zealand

to Hunding; on Hane they conferred the lordship of Funen; while in the

hands of Rorik and Hather they put the supreme power of Jutland, the

authority being divided. Therefore, that it may not be unknown from what

father sprang the succeeding line of kings, some matters come to my mind

which must be glanced at for a while in a needful digression.

They say that Gunnar, the bravest of the Swedes, was once at feud with

Norway for the most weighty reasons, and that he was granted liberty to

attack it, but that he turned this liberty into licence by the greatest

perils, and fell, in the first of the raids he planned, upon the

district of Jather, which he put partly to the sword and partly to the

flames. Forbearing to plunder, he rejoiced only in passing through the

paths that were covered with corpses, and the blood-stained ways.

Other men used to abstain from bloodshed, and love pillage more than

slaughter; but he preferred bloodthirstiness to booty, and liked best

to wreak his deadly pleasure by slaughtering men. His cruelty drove

the islanders to forestall the impending danger by a public submission.

Moreover, Ragnald, the King of the Northmen, now in extreme age, when he

heard how the tyrant busied himself, had a cave made and shut up in

it his daughter Drota, giving her due attendance, and providing her

maintenance for a long time. Also he committed to the cave some swords

which had been adorned with the choicest smith-craft, besides the royal

household gear; so that he might not leave the enemy to capture and use

the sword, which he saw that he could not wield himself. And, to prevent

the cave being noticed by its height, he levelled the hump down to the

firmer ground. Then he set out to war; but being unable with his aged

limbs to go down into battle, he leaned on the shoulders of his escort

and walked forth propped by the steps of others. So he perished in the

battle, where he fought with more ardour than success, and left his

country a sore matter for shame.

For Gunnar, in order to punish the cowardice of the conquered race by

terms of extraordinary baseness, had a dog set over them as a governor.

What can we suppose to have been his object in this action, unless it

were to make a haughty nation feel that their arrogance was being more

signally punished when they bowed their stubborn heads before a yapping

hound? To let no insult be lacking, he appointed governors to look after

public and private affairs in its name; and he appointed separate ranks

of nobles to keep continual and steadfast watch over it. He also

enacted that if any one of the courtiers thought it contemptible to do

allegiance to their chief, and omitted offering most respectful homage

to its various goings and comings as it ran hither and thither, he

should be punished with loss of his limbs. Also Gunnar imposed on the

nation a double tribute, one to be paid out of the autumn harvest, the

other in the spring. Thus he burst the bubble conceit of the Norwegians,

to make them feel clearly how their pride was gone, when they saw it

forced to do homage to a dog.

When he heard that the king’s daughter was shut up in some distant

hiding-place, Gunnar strained his wits in every nerve to track her

out. Hence, while he was himself conducting the search with others, his

doubtful ear caught the distant sound of a subterranean hum. Then he

went on slowly, and recognized a human voice with greater certainty. He

ordered the ground underfoot to be dug down to the solid rock; and

when the cave was suddenly laid open, he saw the winding tunnels. The

servants were slain as they tried to guard the now uncovered entrance

to the cave, and the girl was dragged out of the hole, together with the

booty therein concealed. With great foresight, she had consigned at

any rate her father’s swords to the protection of a more secret place.

Gunnar forced her to submit to his will, and she bore a son Hildiger.

This man was such a rival to his father in cruelty, that he was ever

thirsting to kill, and was bent on nothing but the destruction of men,

panting with a boundless lust for bloodshed. Outlawed by his father

on account of his unbearable ruthlessness, and soon after presented by

Alver with a government, he spent his whole life in arms, visiting

his neighbours with wars and slaughters; nor did he, in his estate of

banishment, relax his accustomed savagery a whir, but would not change

his spirit with his habitation.

Meanwhile Borgar, finding that Gunnar had married Drota, the daughter of

Ragnald, by violence, took from him both life and wife, and wedded Drota

himself. She was not an unwilling bride; she thought it right for her to

embrace the avenger of her parent. For the daughter mourned her father,

and could never bring herself to submit with any pleasure to his

murderer. This woman and Borgar had a son Halfdan, who through all his

early youth was believed to be stupid, but whose later years proved

illustrious for the most glorious deeds, and famous for the highest

qualities that can grace life. Once, when a stripling, he mocked in

boyish fashion at a champion of noble repute, who smote him with a

buffet; whereupon Halfdan attacked him with the staff he was carrying

and killed him. This deed was an omen of his future honours; he had

hitherto been held in scorn, but henceforth throughout his life he had

the highest honour and glory. The affair, indeed, was a prophecy of the

greatness of his deeds in war.

At this period, Rothe, a Ruthenian rover, almost destroyed our country

with his rapine and cruelty. His harshness was so notable that, while

other men spared their prisoners utter nakedness, he did not think

it uncomely to strip of their coverings even the privy parts of their

bodies; wherefore we are wont to this day to call all severe and

monstrous acts of rapine Rothe-Ran (Rothe’s Robbery). He used also

sometimes to inflict the following kind of torture: Fastening the men’s

right feet firmly to the earth, he tied the left feet to boughs for

the purpose that when these should spring back the body would be rent

asunder. Hane, Prince of Funen, wishing to win honour and glory, tried

to attack this man with his sea-forces, but took to flight with one

attendant. It was in reproach of him that the proverb arose: “The cock

(Hane) fights better on its own dunghill.” Then Borgar, who could not

bear to see his countrymen perishing any longer, encountered Rothe.

Together they fought and together they perished. It is said that in this

battle Halfdan was sorely stricken, and was for some time feeble with

the wounds he had received. One of these was inflicted conspicuously

on his mouth, and its scar was so manifest that it remained as an open

blotch when all the other wounds were healed; for the crushed portion of

the lip was so ulcerated by the swelling, that the flesh would not grow

out again and mend the noisome gash. This circumstance fixed on him a

most insulting nickname,… although wounds in the front of the body

commonly bring praise and not ignominy. So spiteful a colour does the

belief of the vulgar sometimes put upon men’s virtues.

Meanwhile Gurid, the daughter of Alf, seeing that the royal line was

reduced to herself alone, and having no equal in birth whom she could

marry, proclaimed a vow imposing chastity on herself, thinking it better

to have no husband than to take one from the commons. Moreover, to

escape outrage, she guarded her room with a chosen band of champions.

Once Halfdan happened to come to see her. The champions, whose brother

he had himself slain in his boyhood, were away. He told her that she

ought to loose her virgin zone, and exchange her austere chastity for

deeds of love; that she ought not to give in so much to her inclination

for modesty as to be too proud to make a match, and so by her service

repair the fallen monarchy. So he bade her look on himself, who was

of eminently illustrious birth, in the light of a husband, since it

appeared that she would only admit pleasure for the reason he had named.

Gurid answered that she could not bring her mind to ally the remnants of

the royal line to a man of meaner rank. Not content with reproaching

his obscure birth, she also taunted his unsightly countenance. Halfdan

rejoined that she brought against him two faults: one that his blood was

not illustrious enough; another, that he was blemished with a cracked

lip whose scar had never healed. Therefore he would not come back to ask

for her before he had wiped away both marks of shame by winning glory in


Halfdan entreated her to suffer no man to be privy to her bed until she

heard certain tidings either of his return or his death. The champions,

whom he had bereaved of their brother long ago, were angry that he had

spoken to Gurid, and tried to ride after him as he went away. When

he saw it, he told his comrades to go into ambush, and said he would

encounter the champions alone. His followers lingered, and thought it

shameful to obey his orders, but he drove them off with threats, saying

that Gurid should not find that fear had made him refuse to fight.

Presently he cut down an oak-tree and fashioned it into a club, fought

the twelve single-handed, and killed them. After their destruction, not

content with the honours of so splendid an action, and meaning to do one

yet greater, he got from his mother the swords of his grandfather, one

of which was called Lyusing…. and the other Hwyting, after the sheen

of its well-whetted point. But when he heard that war was raging between

Alver, the King of Sweden, and the Ruthenians (Russians), he instantly

went to Russia, offered help to the natives, and was received by all

with the utmost honour. Alver was not far off, there being only a little

ground to cross to cover the distance between the two. Alver’s soldier

Hildiger, the son of Gunnar, challenged the champions of the Ruthenians

to fight him; but when he saw that Halfdan was put up against him,

though knowing well that he was Halfdan’s brother, he let natural

feeling prevail over courage, and said that he, who was famous for the

destruction of seventy champions, would not fight with an untried

man. Therefore he told him to measure himself in enterprises of lesser

moment, and thenceforth to follow pursuits fitted to his strength. He

made this announcement not from distrust in his own courage, but in

order to preserve his uprightness; for he was not only very valiant, but

also skilled at blunting the sword with spells. For when he remembered

that Halfdan’s father had slain his own, he was moved by two

feelings–the desire to avenge his father, and his love for his brother.

He therefore thought it better to retire from the challenge than to be

guilty of a very great crime. Halfdan demanded another champion in

his place, slew him when he appeared, and was soon awarded the palm

of valour even by the voice of the enemy, being accounted by public

acclamation the bravest of all. On the next day he asked for two men to

fight with, and slew them both. On the third day he subdued three; on

the fourth he overcame four who met him; and on the fifth he asked for


When Halfdan conquered these, and when the eighth day had been reached

with an equal increase in the combatants and in the victory, he laid low

eleven who attacked him at once. Hildiger, seeing that his own record of

honours was equalled by the greatness of Halfdan’s deeds could not bear

to decline to meet him any longer. And when he felt that Halfdan had

dealt him a deadly wound with a sword wrapped in rags, he threw away his

arms, and, lying on the earth, addressed his brother as follows:

“It is pleasing to pass an hour away in mutual talk; and, while the

sword rests, to sit a little on the ground and while away the time by

speaking in turn, and keep ourselves in good heart. Time is left for our

purpose; our two destinies have a different lot; one is surely doomed to

die by a fatal weird, while triumph and glory and all the good of living

await the other in better years. Thus our omens differ, and our portions

are distinguished. Thou art a son of the Danish land, I of the country

of Sweden. Once, Drota thy mother had her breast swell for thee; she

bore me, and by her I am thy foster-brother. Lo now, there perishes

a righteous offspring, who had the heart to fight with savage spears;

brothers born of a shining race charge and bring death on one another;

while they long for the height of power, they lose their days, and,

having now received a fatal mischief in their desire for a sceptre, they

will go to Styx in a common death. Fast by my head stands my Swedish

shield, which is adorned with (as) a fresh mirror of diverse chasing,

and ringed with layers of marvellous fretwork. There a picture of really

hues shows slain nobles and conquered champions, and the wars also and

the notable deed of my right hand. In the midst is to be seen, painted

in bright relief, the figure of my son, whom this hand bereft of his

span of life. He was our only heir, the only thought of his father’s

mind, and given to his mother with comfort from above. An evil lot,

which heaps years of ill-fortune on the joyous, chokes mirth in

mourning, and troubles our destiny. For it is lamentable and wretched

to drag out a downcast life, to draw breath through dismal days and to

chafe at foreboding. But whatsoever things are bound by the prophetic

order of the fates, whatsoever are shadowed in the secrets of the divine

plan, whatsoever are foreseen and fixed in the course of the destinies,

no change of what is transient shall cancel these things.”

When he had thus spoken, Halfdan condemned Hildiger for sloth in avowing

so late their bond of brotherhood; he declared he had kept silence that

he might not be thought a coward for refusing to fight, or a villain

if he fought; and while intent on these words of excuse, he died.

But report had given out among the Danes that Hildiger had overthrown

Halfdan. After this, Siwar, a Saxon of very high birth, began to be a

suitor for Gurid, the only survivor of the royal blood among the Danes.

Secretly she preferred Halfdan to him, and imposed on her wooer the

condition that he should not ask her in marriage till he had united into

one body the kingdom of the Danes, which was now torn limb from limb,

and restored by arms what had been wrongfully taken from her. Siwar made

a vain attempt to do this; but as he bribed all the guardians, she was

at last granted to him in betrothal. Halfdan heard of this in Russia

through traders, and voyaged so hard that he arrived before the time of

the wedding-rites. On their first day, before he went to the palace, he

gave orders that his men should not stir from the watches appointed them

till their ears caught the clash of the steel in the distance. Unknown

to the guests, he came and stood before the maiden, and, that he

might not reveal his meaning to too many by bare and common speech, he

composed a dark and ambiguous song as follows:

“As I left my father’s sceptre, I had no fear of the wiles of woman’s

device nor of female subtlety.

“When I overthrew, one and two, three and four, and soon five, and next

six, then seven, and also eight, yea eleven single-handed, triumphant in


“But neither did I then think that I was to be shamed with the taint of

disgrace, with thy frailness to thy word and thy beguiling pledges.”

Gurid answered: “My soul wavered in suspense, with slender power over

events, and shifted about with restless fickleness. The report of thee

was so fleeting, so doubtful, borne on uncertain stories, and parched by

doubting heart. I feared that the years of thy youth had perished by

the sword. Could I withstand singly my elders and governors, when they

forbade me to refuse that thing, and pressed me to become a wife? My

love and my flame are both yet unchanged, they shall be mate and match

to thine; nor has my troth been disturbed, but shall have faithful

approach to thee.

“For my promise has not yet beguiled thee at all, though I, being alone,

could not reject the counsel of such manifold persuasion, nor oppose

their stern bidding in the matter of my consent to the marriage bond.”

Before the maiden had finished her answer, Halfdan had already run his

sword through the bridegroom. Not content with having killed one man, he

massacred most of the guests. Staggering tipsily backwards, the Saxons

ran at him, but his servants came up and slaughtered them. After this

HALFDAN took Gurid to wife. But finding in her the fault of barrenness,

and desiring much to have offspring, he went to Upsala in order to

procure fruitfulness for her; and being told in answer, that he must

make atonement to the shades of his brother if he would raise up

children, he obeyed the oracle, and was comforted by gaining his desire.

For he had a son by Gurid, to whom he gave the name of Harald. Under his

title Halfdan tried to restore the kingdom of the Danes to its ancient

estate, as it was torn asunder by the injuries of the chiefs; but, while

fighting in Zealand, he attacked Wesete, a very famous champion, in

battle, and was slain. Gurid was at the battle in man’s attire, from

love for her son. She saw the event; the young man fought hotly, but

his companions fled; and she took him on her shoulders to a neighbouring

wood. Weariness, more than anything else, kept the enemy from pursuing

him; but one of them shot him as he hung, with an arrow, through the

hinder parts, and Harald thought that his mother’s care brought him more

shame than help.

HARALD, being of great beauty and unusual size, and surpassing those of

his age in strength and stature, received such favour from Odin (whose

oracle was thought to have been the cause of his birth), that steel

could not injure his perfect soundness. The result was, that shafts

which wounded others were disabled from doing him any harm. Nor was the

boon unrequited; for he is reported to have promised to Odin all the

souls which his sword cast out of their bodies. He also had his father’s

deeds recorded for a memorial by craftsmen on a rock in Bleking, whereof

I have made mention.

After this, hearing that Wesete was to hold his wedding in Skaane, he

went to the feast disguised as a beggar; and when all were sunken in

wine and sleep, he battered the bride-chamber with a beam. But Wesete,

without inflicting a wound, so beat his mouth with a cudgel, that he

took out two teeth; but two grinders unexpectedly broke out afterwards

and repaired their loss: an event which earned him the name of

Hyldetand, which some declare he obtained on account of a prominent row

of teeth. Here he slew Wesete, and got the sovereignty of Skaane. Next

he attacked and killed Hather in Jutland; and his fall is marked by the

lasting name of the town. After this he overthrew Hunding and Rorik,

seized Leire, and reunited the dismembered realm of Denmark into its

original shape. Then he found that Asmund, the King of the Wikars, had

been deprived of his throne by his elder sister; and, angered by such

presumption on the part of a woman, went to Norway with a single ship,

while the war was still undecided, to help him. The battle began; and,

clothed in a purple cloak, with a coif broidered with gold, and with his

hair bound up, he went against the enemy trusting not in arms, but in

his silent certainty of his luck, insomuch that he seemed dressed more

for a feast than a fray. But his spirit did not match his attire.

For, though unarmed and only adorned with his emblems of royalty, he

outstripped the rest who bore arms, and exposed himself, lightly-armed

as he was, to the hottest perils of the battle. For the shafts aimed

against him lost all power to hurt, as if their points had been blunted.

When the other side saw him fighting unarmed, they made an attack, and

were forced for very shame into assailing him more hotly. But Harald,

whole in body, either put them to the sword, or made them take to

flight; and thus he overthrew the sister of Asmund, and restored him his

kingdom. When Asmund offered him the prizes of victory, he said that the

reward of glory was enough by itself; and demeaned himself as greatly

in refusing the gifts as he had in earning them. By this he made all men

admire his self-restraint as much as his valour; and declared that the

victory should give him a harvest not of gold but glory.

Meantime Alver, the King of the Swedes, died leaving sons Olaf, Ing,

and Ingild. One of these, Ing, dissatisfied with the honours his father

bequeathed him, declared war with the Danes in order to extend his

empire. And when Harald wished to inquire of oracles how this war would

end, an old man of great height, but lacking one eye, and clad also in a

hairy mantle, appeared before him, and declared that he was called Odin,

and was versed in the practice of warfare; and he gave him the most

useful instruction how to divide up his army in the field. Now he told

him, whenever he was going to make war with his land-forces, to divide

his whole army into three squadrons, each of which he was to pack into

twenty ranks; the centre squadron, however, he was to extend further

than the rest by the number of twenty men. This squadron he was also to

arrange in the form of the point of a cone or pyramid, and to make the

wings on either side slant off obliquely from it. He was to compose the

successive ranks of each squadron in the following way: the front should

begin with two men, and the number in each succeeding rank should only

increase by one; he was, in fact, to post a rank of three in the second

line, four in the third, and so on behind. And thus, when the men

mustered, all the succeeding ranks were to be manned at the same rate

of proportion, until the end of (the edge that made) the junction of men

came down to the wings; each wing was to be drawn up in ten lines from

that point. Likewise after these squadrons he was to put the young men,

equipped with lances, and behind these to set the company of aged men,

who would support their comrades with what one might call a veteran

valour if they faltered; next, a skilful reckoner should attach wings of

slingers to stand behind the ranks of their fellows and attack the enemy

from a distance with missiles. After these he was to enroll men of any

age or rank indiscriminately, without heed of their estate. Moreover, he

was to draw up the rear like the vanguard, in three separated divisions,

and arranged in ranks similarly proportioned. The back of this, joining

on to the body in front would protect it by facing in the opposite

direction. But if a sea-battle happened to occur, he should withdraw a

portion of his fleet, which when he began the intended engagement, was

to cruise round that of the enemy, wheeling to and fro continually.

Equipped with this system of warfare, he forestalled matters in Sweden,

and killed Ing and Olaf as they were making ready to fight. Their

brother Ingild sent messengers to beg a truce, on pretence of his

ill-health. Harald granted his request, that his own valour, which had

learnt to spare distress, might not triumph over a man in the hour

of lowliness and dejection. When Ingild afterwards provoked Harald

by wrongfully ravishing his sister, Harald vexed him with long and

indecisive war, but then took him into his friendship, thinking it

better to have him for ally than for enemy.

After this he heard that Olaf, King of the Thronds, had to fight with

the maidens Stikla and Rusila for the kingdom. Much angered at this

arrogance on the part of women, he went to Olaf unobserved, put on dress

which concealed the length of his teeth, and attacked the maidens. He

overthrew them both, leaving to two harbours a name akin to theirs. It

was then that he gave a notable exhibition of valour; for defended

only by a shirt under his shoulders, he fronted the spears with unarmed


When Olaf offered Harald the prize of victory, he rejected the gift,

thus leaving it a question whether he had shown a greater example of

bravery or self-control. Then he attacked a champion of the Frisian

nation, named Ubbe, who was ravaging the borders of Jutland and

destroying numbers of the common people; and when Harald could not

subdue him to his arms, he charged his soldiers to grip him with their

hands, throw him on the ground, and to bind him while thus overpowered.

Thus he only overcame the man and mastered him by a shameful kind of

attack, though a little before he thought he would inflict a heavy

defeat on him. But Harald gave him his sister in marriage, and thus

gained him for his soldier.

Harald made tributaries of the nations that lay along the Rhine, levying

troops from the bravest of that race. With these forces he conquered

Sclavonia in war, and caused its generals, Duk and Dal, because of their

bravery, to be captured, and not killed. These men he took to serve with

him, and, after overcoming Aquitania, soon went to Britain, where he

overthrew the King of the Humbrians, and enrolled the smartest of the

warriors he had conquered, the chief of whom was esteemed to be Orm,

surnamed the Briton. The fame of these deeds brought champions from

divers parts of the world, whom he formed into a band of mercenaries.

Strengthened by their numbers, he kept down insurrections in all

kingdoms by the terror of his name, so that he took out of their rulers

all courage to fight with one another. Moreover, no man durst assume any

sovereignty on the sea without his consent; for of old the state of the

Danes had the joint lordship of land and sea.

Meantime Ingild died in Sweden, leaving only a very little son, Ring,

whom he had by the sister of Harald. Harald gave the boy guardians, and

put him over his father’s kingdom. Thus, when he had overcome princes

and provinces, he passed fifty years in peace. To save the minds of his

soldiers from being melted into sloth by this inaction, he decreed that

they should assiduously learn from the champions the way of parrying

and dealing blows. Some of these were skilled in a remarkable manner of

fighting, and used to smite the eyebrow on the enemy’s forehead with an

infallible stroke; but if any man, on receiving the blow, blinked for

fear, twitching his eyebrow, he was at once expelled the court and

dismissed the service.

At this time Ole, the son of Siward and of Harald’s sister, came to

Denmark from the land of Norway in the desire to see his uncle. Since it

is known that he had the first place among the followers of Harald, and

that after the Swedish war he came to the throne of Denmark, it bears

somewhat on the subject to relate the traditions of his deeds. Ole,

then, when he had passed his tenth to his fifteenth year with his

father, showed incredible proofs of his brilliant gifts both of mind and

body. Moreover, he was so savage of countenance that his eyes were like

the arms of other men against the enemy, and he terrified the bravest

with his stern and flashing glance. He heard the tidings that Gunn,

ruler of Tellemark, with his son Grim, was haunting as a robber the

forest of Etha-scog, which was thick with underbrush and full of gloomy

glens. The offence moved his anger; then he asked his father for a

horse, a dog, and such armour as could be got, and cursed his youth,

which was suffering the right season for valour to slip sluggishly away.

He got what he asked, and explored the aforesaid wood very narrowly. He

saw the footsteps of a man printed deep on the snow; for the rime was

blemished by the steps, and betrayed the robber’s progress. Thus guided,

he went over a hill, and came on a very great river. This effaced the

human tracks he had seen before, and he determined that he must cross.

But the mere mass of water, whose waves ran down in a headlong torrent,

seemed to forbid all crossing; for it was full of hidden reefs, and the

whole length of its channel was turbid with a kind of whirl of foam.

Yet all fear of danger was banished from Ole’s mind by his impatience

to make haste. So valour conquered fear, and rashness scorned peril;

thinking nothing hard to do if it were only to his mind, he crossed

the hissing eddies on horseback. When he had passed these, he came upon

defiles surrounded on all sides with swamps, the interior of which was

barred from easy approach by the pinnacle of a bank in front. He took

his horse over this, and saw an enclosure with a number of stalls. Out

of this he turned many horses, and was minded to put in his own, when

a certain Tok, a servant of Gunn, angry that a stranger should wax so

insolent, attacked him fiercely; but Ole foiled his assailant by simply

opposing his shield. Thinking it a shame to slay the fellow with the

sword, he seized him, shattered him limb by limb, and flung him across

into the house whence he had issued in his haste. This insult quickly

aroused Gunn and Grim: they ran out by different side-doors, and charged

Ole both at once, despising his age and strength. He wounded them

fatally; and, when their bodily powers were quite spent, Grim, who could

scarce muster a final gasp, and whose force was almost utterly gone,

with his last pants composed this song:

“Though we be weak in frame, and the loss of blood has drained our

strength; since the life-breath, now drawn out by my wound, scarce

quivers softly in my pierced breast:

“I counsel that we should make the battle of our last hour glorious

with dauntless deeds, that none may say that a combat has anywhere been

bravelier waged or harder fought;

“And that our wild strife while we bore arms may, when our weary flesh

has found rest in the tomb, win us the wage of immortal fame.

“Let our first stroke crush the shoulder-blades of the foe, let our

steel cut off both his hands; so that, when Stygian Pluto has taken us,

a like doom may fall on Ole also, and a common death tremble over three,

and one urn cover the ashes of three.”

Here Grim ended. But his father, rivalling his indomitable spirit, and

wishing to give some exhortation in answer to his son’s valiant speech,

thus began:

“What though our veins be wholly bloodless, and in our frail body the

life be brief, yet our last fight be so strong and strenuous that it

suffer not the praise of us to be brief also.

“Therefore aim the javelin first at the shoulders and arms of the foe,

so that the work of his hands may be weakened; and thus when we are

gone three shall receive a common sepulchre, and one urn alike for three

shall cover our united dust.”

When he had said this, both of them, resting on their knees (for the

approach of death had drained their strength), made a desperate effort

to fight Ole hand to hand, in order that, before they perished, they

might slay their enemy also; counting death as nothing if only they

might envelope their slayer in a common fall. Ole slew one of them with

his sword, the other with his hound. But even he gained no bloodless

victory; for though he had been hitherto unscathed, now at last he

received a wound in front. His dog diligently licked him over, and he

regained his bodily strength: and soon, to publish sure news of his

victory, he hung the bodies of the robbers upon gibbets in wide view.

Moreover, he took the stronghold, and put in secret keeping all the

booty he found there, in reserve for future use.

At this time the arrogant wantonness of the brothers Skate and Hiale

waxed so high that they would take virgins of notable beauty from

their parents and ravish them. Hence it came about that they formed the

purpose of seizing Esa, the daughter of Olaf, prince of the Werms;

and bade her father, if he would not have her serve the passion of a

stranger, fight either in person, or by some deputy, in defence of his

child. When Ole had news of this, he rejoiced in the chance of a battle,

and borrowing the attire of a peasant, went to the dwelling of Olaf.

He received one of the lowest places at table; and when he saw the

household of the king in sorrow, he called the king’s son closer to him,

and asked why they all wore so lamentable a face. The other answered,

that unless someone quickly interposed to protect them, his sister’s

chastity would soon be outraged by some ferocious champions. Ole next

asked him what reward would be received by the man who devoted his life

for the maiden. Olaf, on his son asking him about this matter, said that

his daughter should go to the man who fought for her: and these words,

more than anything, made Ole long to encounter the danger.

Now the maiden was wont to go from one guest to another in order to scan

their faces narrowly, holding out a light that she might have a surer

view of the dress and character of those who were entertained. It is

also believed that she divined their lineage from the lines and features

of the face, and could discern any man’s birth by sheer shrewdness of

vision. When she stood and fixed the scrutiny of her gaze upon Olaf,

she was stricken with the strange awfulness of his eyes, and fell almost

lifeless. But when her strength came slowly back, and her breath went

and came more freely, she again tried to look at the young man, but

suddenly slipped and fell forward, as though distraught. A third time

also she strove to lift her closed and downcast gaze, but suddenly

tottered and fell, unable not only to move her eyes, but even to control

her feet; so much can strength be palsied by amazement. When Olaf saw

it, he asked her why she had fallen so often. She averred that she was

stricken by the savage gaze of the guest; that he was born of kings; and

she declared that if he could baulk the will of the ravishers, he was

well worthy of her arms. Then all of them asked Ole, who was keeping

his face muffled in a hat, to fling off his covering, and let them see

something by which to learn his features. Then, bidding them all lay

aside their grief, and keep their heart far from sorrow, he uncovered

his brow; and he drew the eyes of all upon him in marvel at his great

beauty. For his locks were golden and the hair of his head was radiant;

but he kept the lids close over his pupils, that they might not terrify

the beholders.

All were heartened with the hope of better things; the guests seemed to

dance and the courtiers to leap for joy; the deepest melancholy seemed

to be scattered by an outburst of cheerfulness. Thus hope relieved their

fears; the banquet wore a new face, and nothing was the same, or

like what it had been before. So the kindly promise of a single guest

dispelled the universal terror. Meanwhile Hiale and Skate came up

with ten servants, meaning to carry off the maiden then and there, and

disturbed all the place with their noisy shouts. They called on the king

to give battle, unless he produced his daughter instantly. Ole at once

met their frenzy with the promise to fight, adding the condition that

no one should stealthily attack an opponent in the rear, but should only

combat in the battle face to face. Then, with his sword called Logthi,

he felled them all, single-handed–an achievement beyond his years. The

ground for the battle was found on an isle in the middle of a swamp,

not far from which is a stead that serves to memorise this slaughter,

bearing the names of the brothers Hiale and Skate together.

So the girl was given him as prize of the combat, and bore him a son

Omund. Then he gained his father-in-law’s leave to revisit his father.

But when he heard that his country was being attacked by Thore, with

the help of Toste Sacrificer, and Leotar, surnamed…. he went to fight

them, content with a single servant, who was dressed as a woman. When

he was near the house of Thore, he concealed his own and his attendant’s

swords in hollowed staves. And when he entered the palace, he disguised

his true countenance, and feigned to be a man broken with age. He said

that with Siward he had been king of the beggars, but that he was now in

exile, having been stubbornly driven forth by the hatred of the king’s

son Ole. Presently many of the courtiers greeted him with the name of

king, and began to kneel and offer him their hands in mockery. He told

them to bear out in deeds what they had done in jest; and, plucking out

the swords which he and his man kept shut in their staves, attacked the

king. So some aided Ole, taking it more as jest than earnest, and would

not be false to the loyalty which they mockingly yielded him; but most

of them, breaking their idle vow, took the side of Thore. Thus arose an

internecine and undecided fray. At last Thore was overwhelmed and slain

by the arms of his own folk, as much as by these of his guests; and

Leotar, wounded to the death, and judging that his conqueror, Ole, was

as keen in mind as he was valorous in deeds, gave him the name of the

Vigorous, and prophesied that he should perish by the same kind of trick

as he had used with Thore; for, without question he should fall by the

treachery of his own house. And, as he spoke, he suddenly passed away.

Thus we can see that the last speech of the dying man expressed by its

shrewd divination the end that should come upon his conqueror.

After these deeds Ole did not go back to his father till he had restored

peace to his house. His father gave him the command of the sea, and he

destroyed seventy sea-kings in a naval battle. The most distinguished

among these were Birwil and Hwirwil, Thorwil, Nef and Onef, Redward (?),

Rand and Erand (?). By the honour and glory of this exploit he excited

many champions, whose whole heart’s desire was for bravery, to join

in alliance with him. He also enrolled into a bodyguard the wild young

warriors who were kindled with a passion for glory. Among these he

received Starkad with the greatest honour, and cherished him with more

friendship than profit. Thus fortified, he checked, by the greatness of

his name, the wantonness of the neighbouring kings, in that he took from

them all their forces and all liking and heart for mutual warfare.

After this he went to Harald, who made him commander of the sea; and at

last he was transferred to the service of Ring. At this time one Brun

was the sole partner and confidant of all Harald’s councils. To this man

both Harald and Ring, whenever they needed a secret messenger, used to

entrust their commissions. This degree of intimacy he obtained because

he had been reared and fostered with them. But Brun, amid the toils of

his constant journeys to and fro, was drowned in a certain river; and

Odin, disguised under his name and looks, shook the close union of the

kings by his treacherous embassage; and he sowed strife so guilefully

that he engendered in men, who were bound by friendship and blood,

a bitter mutual hate, which seemed unappeasable except by war. Their

dissensions first grew up silently; at last both sides betrayed their

leanings, and their secret malice burst into the light of day. So they

declared their feuds, and seven years passed in collecting the materials

of war. Some say that Harald secretly sought occasions to destroy

himself, not being moved by malice or jealousy for the crown, but by a

deliberate and voluntary effort. His old age and his cruelty made him a

burden to his subjects; he preferred the sword to the pangs of disease,

and liked better to lay down his life in the battle-field than in his

bed, that he might have an end in harmony with the deeds of his past

life. Thus, to make his death more illustrious, and go to the nether

world in a larger company, he longed to summon many men to share his

end; and he therefore of his own will prepared for war, in order to make

food for future slaughter. For these reasons, being seized with as great

a thirst to die himself as to kill others, and wishing the massacre on

both sides to be equal, he furnished both sides with equal resources;

but let Ring have a somewhat stronger force, preferring he should

conquer and survive him.


     (1)  A parallel is the Lionel-Lancelot story of children saved by

     being turned into dogs.