© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
BRAGI THE OLD (Circa 840 AD)
“That’s what my kinsman Bragi the Old did when he had to face the
anger of King Bjorn of Sweden. He made a drapa of twenty stanzas
overnight and that’s what saved his head.”
Prince Arinbjorn; Egil’s Saga (c.1230 A.D.).
“You must garner the support of the north,” Brak told Hraerik. “You must get all of the Aesir behind you.”
Back in Jaederen Province, Hraerik placed a tall stool on his father’s highseat to take down from the rafters Hraegunar’s hidden books, the two red leather-bound renditions of the same book he had found so many years before while searching for a war arrow. This time it was Brak, not Dvalin, who steadied the stool while his mother looked on. Hraerik felt around the top of the rafter for that pair of books and when he felt them he immediately knew which one was the ancient original. He took it down, leaving the second copy where it sat. He passed the book to Brak. “This book is older than Babylon itself,” he said, climbing down from the stool. “I’m not sure what language it is written in.”
“It’s Coptic binding,” Brak said, carefully opening the ancient book. “The binding is older than Coptic and the writing is Aramaic. Chaldean Aramaic perhaps,” Brak said as he studied the print. “It is the script of the Alchemists of Zoroaster,” he added. “What makes you think it is older than Babel?”
“I can feel its age. It’s ancient. The other book is a recent copy of this one.”
Brak marvelled at this gift of Hraerik’s and he looked at Kraka and they both shook their heads. “The copy was made by the monks of an English abbey,” Brak started. “A Christian priest stole the original from Hraegunar and replaced it with the copy. When Hraegunar found out he had been deceived, he led a force against the monastery, got the original back and filled that priest full of arrows, he was so pissed off.”
“But how did father know it was a copy?”
“I think it is time you heard the whole story,” Brak began as they took their places on the highseats and refreshed themselves. “Shortly after your grandfather, Sigurd Fafnirsbane, re-established the Nor’Way, I met him in Damascus. I was escorting a group of Mages out of the Caliphate and they paid me to set up a meeting with the Norse traders. I only knew the group of Varangians through my work with Damascus steel, but the head Magi wanted Sigurd to take that little red book to the farthest reaches of the world and to safeguard it with his life and for this boon he paid Sigurd with some valuable information. A Roman bireme named Fafnir would soon be bound for Khazaria with a cargo of gold for the kagan to build the fortress of Sarkel and, because the ship had the Helm of Fear, Greek fire on board, there were to be no escort vessels. The Magi also told your grandfather how to beat the fire breathing serpent ship by using raw hides soaked in sour wine or vinegar. So, Sigurd took the book, introduced me to his foremost man Gunar and they asked me if I wanted to join in on the adventure and the rest of that famous little viking raid is known by all, pretty much everywhere by now. Years later, after Sigurd’s time, the Alchemists demanded their book back from Hraegunar and, since Fafnir’s red gold turned out to be cursed, your father didn’t feel overly inclined to hold up Sigurd’s end of the deal, but during one trading season he did return the book to the Alchemists Guild and that’s when they told him it was a copy.
“Hraegunar knew that the book had disappeared from his longhall for a time, just when a Christian priest was looking for converts in Jaederen Province, but then it had turned up again, so Hraegunar put two and two together and tracked down that priest at his monastery and got the original book back. He hid both books up in the rafters along with his war arrows and I guess he just forgot about them. The Alchemists never asked for them again anyway, so I guess they just sat up there.”
“So, you have joined this Alchemists Guild?” Kraka asked. “Hraelauger said you have, and he seemed to be very impressed by them. He showed us the scope you gave him.”
“Yes….they call it an optical scope. Did Hraelauger also tell you what I learned of the ton-stone?” he asked Brak.
“Your brother said they were turning ton-stone into gold. I knew they were turning lead into gold, but ton-stone?”
“They used to plate lead objects with gold.” Hraerik started, “to pass them off as gold, until a Greek named Archimedes came up with a buoyancy method of quickly checking the density of gold against the lighter lead. Soon, many gold statues and works of art and the gold bars in kings’ treasure houses were turning out to be gold plated lead, so the Guild lost a great source of revenue until they found a replacement for the lead in the ton-stone we place in the pommels of our Jaederen swords. With further acid refining, the alchemists are able to get the density of the ton-stone to match that of gold so that their secret plating process is now undetectable by Archimedes’ testing.”
“That’s amazing,” Brak responded.
“They are experts at just that sort of thing.”
“No. I meant it’s amazing that you learned what they were up to. I set out to find that out when I was training to make Indian steel in Baghdad but I didn’t get anywhere.”
“I had to join them to learn about it. Even Sigurd’s red gold hoard, his cursed treasure,” Hraerik went on, “was red because the Romans put copper in the gold, giving it its reddish hue, and that marked it as the emperor’s gold. Anyone found with the red gold would answer to the emperor, hence its curse, but the Alchemists Guild has special acids and processes to reverse this marking of gold. That is one reason I’ve joined them. And that book is the other. They want that book back. And, again, I want to know what they’re up to.”
Hraerik took Brak and Kraka to his room and he took a silver plate out of a small wooden chest and he showed them the picture of himself that had rendered itself. “You look hung over,” Kraka said as they studied the fine work.
“I travelled the Silk Road as a youth,” Brak said, “and I saw pinhole boxes in China that could do this. But this is much finer work.”
They returned to the highseats for more refreshments.
“That is why I need to control the Huns,” Hraerik stated. “I have so much work to do. I must work with the Alchemists’ Guild and learn as much as they will allow me. They need my visions. They want to harness my abilities to communicate with Zoroaster.”
“But Zoroaster is long dead,” Brak said.
“I know. That is why they need the book. Zoroaster wrote it in his own hand. And eleven others. With the twelve books, the Mages can talk to the dead. The past, the present and the future.”
“Like the three norns?” Kraka asked.
“Yes,” Hraerik answered. “But I have had a vision since I left Gardariki, when I was in a cell in Constantinople. I dreamed that a Golden Horde, a tribe of Turkic horsemen will ride out of the east in the future and, because the Khazar Empire is not there at the gate of the Asian steppe to control them, they will destroy the Romans and Constantinople and roll right across Europe, just as the Huns tried four hundred years ago, but this Golden Horde will not fail. So, I have to be careful in how we deal with the Huns. They must be stopped, but the Khazar Empire must not fall.”
“That will be difficult,” Brak said. “You must garner the support of all the northern lands to get the host you will need to win, but they’ll want the spoils. They’ll want Khazaria.”
“I’ve heard that Prince Hlod recently rode into Kiev and demanded his fair share of the Danepar, the Southern Way trade,” Hraerik started.
“And how did that go?” Brak asked warily.
“King Frodi was in a drunken stupor and told him he would get his bastard’s third once he was gone.”
“Well a third is not bad,” Brak said and Kraka get him a look.
“It’s a bastard’s third,” Hraerik repeated. “Prince Alf would get a share, Princess Eyfura would get a share and Prince Hlod would get one third of a share, the bastard’s third.”
“And what happens to the remaining two thirds of his share?”
“Prince Alf would get a share, Princess Eyfura a share and Prince Hlod would get a third, and, again, that two thirds share left over would be split as before until there is nothing left. They drag it out to embarrass the illegitimate heir.”
“So, Prince Hlod told him to fock off, right?”
“Worse. He told Frodi he would take Gardariki as his share.”
“But Gardariki is yours. It’s part of the Nor’Way. It has nothing to do with the Danepar.”
“Still, we expect an attack in the spring. I want to have a host ready to counter it and then perhaps we can negotiate. If Prince Hlod gets a quarter of the Danepar he may be satisfied.”
“Offer him more than a bastard’s third of the Southern Way,” Brak agreed, “but he can’t have any of the Nor’Way. That is Hraegunar’s, Hraelauger’s, yours, the Hraes’. And if we can’t carve up Khazaria, people are going to have to want to go to Scythia and fight the Huns. You must garner their support without spoils!”
Later, Hraerik had a private talk with Brak about the quality of the Indian steel they were using in the smithy at Hraegunarstead. “Some are complaining that it’s not as tough as the steel we made in the stone boats, that there’s too much carbon and brittleness in the steel.”
“Indian steel is an expedient process,” Brak admitted. “It is more suited for armour than for swords, but we can’t get the pure Swedish iron that we used to. King Frodi and the Danes have it all bought up. If we could get it we could use stone boat steel for swords and the Indian steel for helmets and bucklers.”
“I’ll talk to King Frodi about getting access to the Swedish iron. If he ever gets sober enough to talk to. But, speaking of Frodi, how am I going to get military support from kings and princes without offering them spoils of war?”
Brak thought for a few moments then offered, “By doing them favours or calling in favours. I have seen where a cause becomes popular and champions are drawn to it just because other champions have joined it.”
Prince Hraerik left Norway for Sweden, intending to raise a host there to lead against the Huns. With an elite troop of Norwegian cavalry behind him, he rode south into Gotland only to learn that a war had broken out between the Goths and the Swedes. Gestiblind, king of the Goths, was losing his struggle against a more powerful Swedish king, Alrik. When Gestiblind learned of Hraerik Bragi’s arrival in his kingdom, he immediately sent his foremost man, Skalk the Skanian, a veritable giant of a man, to enlist the aid of that most renowned skald. Skalk rode out to the Norwegian camp bearing gifts and entertainment, and during the ensuing feasting he inquired of Hraerik what his business in Gotland might be.
“I intend to raise a mighty host with which to fight the Huns,” Hraerik replied. “To this end I wish to gain the support of your king. It is an honourable cause.” And Hraerik went on to explain his situation.
“I have no doubt about the honour of your mission,” the giant, Skalk, declared. “I cannot speak for my king on that matter, but I shall pledge myself to your cause, should you but give ear to my message.”
Hraerik nodded for Skalk to go on.
“King Gestiblind wishes to enlist your support in his campaign against King Alrik of Sweden. I’m here to extend you an invitation to an audience with my liege.”
“I have just learned of the conflict between your peoples,” Hraerik answered. “I need the aid of both the Goths and the Swedes in my upcoming struggle with the Huns. It pains me to see two noble people decimating each other, while the vile Huns carry on their aggressions unchecked. I shall speak with your king, but I shall pledge my efforts foremost to settling the dispute between your peoples amicably.”
“That is perhaps the best answer I could have wished for,” Skalk the Skanian agreed. “I shall set up your audience with my king, and, again, I pledge my support in your struggles with these Huns.”
Several days later, Prince Hraerik was in the court of King Gestiblind discussing his possible support of the Goth effort. Hraerik could see a lot of the Gothic General Ygg in King Gestiblind. They appeared as if cut from the same cloth, both tall and lean and well whiskered. The eloquent prince and the sagacious king got along well from the very beginning, Hraerik entertaining the king with his witty maxims, and Gestiblind responding with clever and amusing riddles. Basing his judgement more on gut feeling than anything else, Hraerik determined to aid the Goths in their struggle against the encroaching Swedes, but, rather than attack King Alrik directly, Hraerik decided to first attack his son, Gunthion, Governor of Wermland and Solongs. To this end, Hraerik got the loan of a brave vanguard of Norwegian warriors from King Hraelauger and placed Goths on their right wing and Skanians on their left, and, when he led them against Gunthion, unfortunately the Swedish governor died in the confrontation.
While the Goths were celebrating their victory, Hraerik set forth to make peace with King Alrik. He listened to pleas from the Swedish king that he quit the struggle, for his father, Hraegunar, and the Swedish king maintained a secret alliance, but Hraerik refused to turn his back on the Goths. When King Alrik offered to fight a duel with King Gestiblind, Hraerik told him that the Goth king was no longer fit for the holmgangr, but that he would stand in the king’s stead.
Hraerik left that night but returned the next morn with King Gestiblind and the allied Goth army. King Alrik arrived at the battlefield with his Swedish host and it was decided that the result of a personal combat between Hraerik and the Swedish king would determine the outcome of the day. A combat circle was gouged out of the sand between the two armies.
Hraerik sorely missed not having Tyrfingr at his side, for the sword he had, although of good Jaederen steel, was no star stone blade. And King Alrik’s blade was fashioned by dwarves and famed for its strength. They fought their duel for over an hour on that un-named Swedish plain, and the dust they raised swirled about their struggle, and the two hosts sweated under the hot sun as they strained to see the outcome. The Swedish king, though older than Hraerik, was in admirable physical condition and, following a short respite, launched a particularly violent assault against the younger prince. As Hraerik put his all into his own defence, parrying the blows with both shield and sword, determined to weather the storm as it were, his blade failed and snapped off under a mortal downward blow; but his sword did deflect Alrik’s blow just enough to miss his body and the Swedish blade bit mercilessly into the Norwegian’s right thigh. Hraerik grunted heavily under the pain of the blow as its force drove him downward onto the gritty soil. King Alrik wrenched his sword free, preparing to dispatch Hraerik with another like blow, but when Hraerik raised his broken shard of Jaederen steel to protect himself, the great Swedish monarch held back his mighty stroke. “For love of your father, Hraegunar,” he declared, “I shall allow you a fresh sword and a poultice for your leg.”
King Gestiblind, himself, bandaged up Hraerik’s wound and urged the eloquent prince not to continue the battle. When Hraerik would have none of that idea, Skalk offered Hraerik his own sword. “This blood-snake will not fail you,” the Skanian said, “but you cannot hold yourself back when he attacks.”
“I didn’t know it, but he is a friend of my father,” Hraerik explained, as Gestiblind bound up his wound with a special poultice to stop the bleeding. “I don’t want to kill him unless I have to.”
Skalk the Skanian got up and looked down at the prone Hraerik and, head shaking, arms akimbo, said, “Well it looks to me like you’re going to have to. And the sooner, the better.”
“Skalk is right,” King Gestiblind concurred. “If you go back into the ring you’d best be quick about it.”
When Hraerik re-entered the combat circle, King Alrik launched another vicious attack that Hraerik staved off only with great difficulty. The older man had benefited, too, from the respite, getting back his wind and most of his strength. He knew his opponent was weak from loss of blood, growing weaker with each succeeding attack. His enemy could put no weight on his right leg, which led to his hopping about on his left as he manoeuvred in defence. King Alrik attacked Hraerik on his weak side, always slashing at him across from the left, at the same time exposing his own unshielded right side, but Hraerik continued to hop backwards in a circling retreat to his own left, apparently unable to move to the right. Soon King Alrik tired of the cat and mouse game; he raised his right arm across his left side, planning a massive stroke from which Hraerik’s paltry hopping could not escape, then lunged to his right till he was almost on top of Hraerik, but Hraerik did not hop weakly backwards as expected. He put his full weight on his right leg and stabbed upwards with the Skanian’s sword, piercing King Alrik’s chain mail shirt at the armpit and driving the blade up to the hilt and out the side of his neck. The Swedish king spun away from Hraerik with the force of his own blow and flung himself upon the ground, quite dead.
As King Alrik’s gore soaked into the dusty Swedish plain, King Gestiblind made Hraerik the ruler of the land he had just conquered. “As long as I rule Gotland,” the old king proclaimed, “so, too, shall you rule Sweden,” and, when he dubbed Hraerik with his sword, the eloquent prince, suffering great loss of blood, fainted dead away.
After several days’ rest, Hraerik commanded the allegiance of King Alrik’s officers and, with King Gestiblind’s and his own picked troops, headed off for Birka, the trade centre of Sweden, to establish his realm. With the coming of winter, Hraerik had decided to delay his plans for attacking the Huns. He sent word to his brother, Hraelauger, to continue raising a retinue and to meet him in Gotland in the spring. As previously agreed, King Gestiblind and Skalk the Skanian were busy putting together a force to lead into Hunland.
Hraerik took up the reigns over his newly won land and became determined to overcome a strength of the Huns that had long plagued his Hraes’ troops: the long range of their horn bows. No matter how hard he tried he could not duplicate the power of the Turk hornbow he had acquired. Perhaps it was the injury to his leg that gave him a greater appreciation of just how much power thigh muscles can generate, and perhaps it was while watching the little lever mechanisms of a duplicitous emperor’s twittering birds that he learned how to harness that power, for Hraerik devised a new footbow that could be drawn using leg power while standing and then loosed from the standard archery shooting position by a lever and it shot a long heavy arrow with greater range and power than any other bow in existence. And he trained a troop of Swedish archers to be proficient in its use. Never again would a Hun host be able to rain arrows down upon his warriors while standing just outside the range of the Norse bows.
A Swedish prince named Bjorn had taken it upon himself to erect a huge barrow for the late King Alrik, and every day Bjorn would visit the mound of his late great king. Hraerik’s followers warned him that, of all the Swedish leaders present when Hraerik had defeated Alrik, only Prince Bjorn had refused to swear allegiance to him. Hraerik had spared him because he was a fellow skald, be it, one of minor note, and he seemed harmless enough, asking only to be slain and buried with his fallen king. Besides, Prince Bjorn would spend his days on the barrow of King Alrik, writing poetry and throwing the barrow’s stones at birds that happened by. On windy days, he would assemble a square silk kite he had purchased from the Hraes’ Trading Company, a new item imported from China, that he would let out into the wind on a silken string from atop the barrow and sometimes it would rise up into the air so high that people had trouble even seeing it anymore. Children would gather around the barrow to watch the kite and sometimes men would come up to the barrow and ask questions about the kite and it all seemed quite harmless if not frivolous.
Norwegians and Goths and even some of the Swedes in Hraerik’s retinue warned him that the young prince was either mad or dangerous. One bright fall day Hraerik left his longhall and walked over to the barrow of King Alrik and decided to find out for himself if Bjorn was mad or not.
“Good morning Prince Bjorn,” Hraerik started. “It’s a fine day to go fly a kite.”
“Yes lord,” Bjorn replied. “And it’s a fine Hraes’ kite that has flown the Silk Road all the way from China.”
“Some people are saying you are mad to be flying your kite all the time.”
“I am but mad north-north-west;” Bjorn said looking up at the birds flying above, “when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a hernshaw.”
The subjugated Swedes called him Bjorn of the Barrows and thought him mad, but Hraerik decided that he was an eccentric poet who liked the neufangoled kites just brought in from China. Prince Bjorn, however, found that flying his kite allowed him to talk freely with members of the Swedish Freedom Movement as they passed by without raising the suspicions of the Norwegians or the Hraes’.
Once word of Hraerik’s victory over the Swedes worked its way into the realm of King Frodi, remnants of the fleet of the Hraes’ Trading Company made their way to Sweden and joined their recuperating leader. They brought with them tragic tidings.
Ask, one of Hraerik’s early followers, limped into the high seat hall of King Hraerik Bragi Hraegunarson. Hraerik was overjoyed to see his friend and, as he stepped down from his high seat, he said, “Dear Ask, as you can see I’ve acquired some of that limp of yours.” That said, a serious look came over Hraerik’s countenance. He had only one question to ask, a question that he did not want to ask, a question that was as good as answered by the mere presence of Ask and his followers. “You bring news of Gardariki?” he asked. “Does it still stand? And Gunwar? What has become of my wife?” All these questions Hraerik found he had for Ask, and he blurted them out one after another.
“Gardariki has fallen to the Huns,” Ask began sadly, quietly, “and Prince Hlod has slain your wife, the fair Princess Gunwar.”
“No!” Hraerik shouted. He turned away from Ask and he staggered onto the dais and clutched his high seat for support. “This cannot be true. You are mistaken,” Hraerik cried, turning quite pale and clutching his injured leg. He was still weak from loss of blood and suddenly he grew faint and, collapsing, was caught up by his retinue. They took him to his bedchamber and they laid him down to rest and the priestesses of Odin fed him herbs and potions, but still he did not recover. He remained unconscious and in a fever, and many thought that he would die of his wound and his grief.
Bjorn of the Barrows took this opportunity to lead a revolt by the common people against this foreign domination, and without Hraerik’s strong hand at the helm of his company of followers, it was a bloodless succession. When Hraerik finally came out of his fever, he learned that Bjorn was now king of the Swedes and that he and his retinue were under house arrest and armed guard. King Bjorn’s first command as ruler of Sweden was to condemn Hraerik to death as soon as he was fully recovered from his illness. Prince Hraerik welcomed the sentence, for he felt he could no longer go on without Princess Gunwar.
Hraerik’s recovery was very slow and he spent his days locked up in his bedchamber attempting to compose a poem in memory of his slain wife. But the writing was going slower than his recovery, and, as days drew into weeks and his health began to return, a date was set for his beheading. The last few days, Hraerik worked feverishly on the poem for his wife, but the words just would not come. It was the day before his execution before Hraerik finally completed the work and, when Eyvind Ingvarson told King Bjorn that it was done, he had Hraerik brought to his hall to recite it.
Hraerik was brought forth to the highseat hall and given a place of honour opposite King Bjorn. Swedish maidens brought him ale, and a fine feast was spread before him. Once Hraerik had had his fill, he strode out into the open area between the high seats and began to recite his poem:
“I sit down and I try
to write a song how you’ve left me now,
but the words won’t come,
the words won’t come.
And my memories,
they flow like white water, echoing…
how it used to be,
it used to be.
will I see you again?
will I see you, will I see you?
My mind’s eye, it sees
the radiant glow of your beauty
through the dust of
the Don plain.
Soul wandering all alone
as you wait for your lover
to join you
But the God of gods will
look down, my life fades on the morrow,
and cast my soul
to the winds. Tween
earth and stars, I shall always remember
the dream of your love
in my heart.
will I see you again?
will I see you, will I see you?
Take me back through time,
back to the day that I met you;
how they baited me.
Hraelauger saved me,
and I won the hand of my lover;
Oh, the fates did bless,
But the god of storms
threatened snow and my father did sacrifice
his life to stem
the tide, and
the storm’s depart will always bring back
the dream of your
love in my heart.
will I see you again?
will I see you, will I see you?
On foot-blades of bone
we razed the house of Westmar,
and old Gotwar
did curse me.
Twelve sons swept up in time,
she tried to poison my lover,
but, with Odin’s aid,
my wife I saved.
But fate would not
be denied fruition in vengeance,
and her nephew
blindsided my wife,
with golden spear, fratricidally,
he snuck up and took her
will I see you again?
will I see you, will I see you?
The lands of
Tmutorokan, they cried out in anguish,
for my wife’s blood
wet the sands of.
As she died out
upon the Don Plain, my blade died beside her;
’twas the curse of
And the cycle has gone
near full round, for I die on the morrow,
her vengeance is
gone to the winds. Though
gods keep us apart, I shall always remember
the dream of her love
in my heart.
will I see you again?
will I see you, will I see you?
I sit down and I try
to write a song how you’ve left me now,
but the words won’t come,
the words won’t come…”
Hraerik’s poem was a full drapa in length, and, when he had finished, everyone in the hall, King Bjorn included, rose up and applauded his work. “A poem such as this,” the Swedish king began, “shall commend your fair Princess Gunwar’s memory to the ends of time. If you could but write such a fine poem on my behalf, I’d be inclined to pardon you.”
“Had you lived such a life as my Gunwar, and died as bravely, then, and only then, could I write such a fine poem on your behalf.”
“Because you are a fellow skald I shall ignore your slight, but should you change your mind on into the night and sit down and write me a drapa: my offer shall still stand.”
Hraerik looked hard into King Bjorn’s eyes and saw that he was dead serious. He stepped closer to the king and said, “Would this offer include your support in my cause against the Huns?”
“Your poem has told all, most eloquently, how the Huns have slain your wife, Princess Gunwar, most foully, fratricidally,” King Bjorn replied. “If you gain the support of the Danes and Norwegians, yes, and even the Goths, you may count on my support as well. This I swear.”
“You shall have your drapa,” Hraerik stated. “My death shall come at the hands of the Huns or, fates willing, theirs at mine. I must return to my hall and compose,” Hraerik concluded.
When the Swedish guardsmen came forward to take Hraerik back to his hall, King Bjorn waved them back. “He knows his way,” Bjorn stated impatiently.
Sitting in his high seat hall, with not a soul astir, Hraerik began working on a drapa for King Bjorn. The pain of Gunwar’s loss had given him great difficulty while writing her poem, but the prospect of avenging her death made the skaldsmith’s words flow off his tongue like droplets of sweet dew in a field full of flowers. But there was the problem of accomplishments or lack thereof. To write a full drapa of someone who was yet to accomplish great things, and Hraerik was being polite, would be a challenge. The only thing that Bjorn of the Barrows had accomplished so far was to play the mad fool to bide his time while he plotted against his king and then Hraerik remembered an old Roman tale that the Emperor of Constantinople had read to him while anonymously visiting him in his Byzant cell. It was about a Roman prince named Brutus who feigned madness to buy time to overthrow his usurping uncle, King Tarquin. Emperor Theophilus had seemed to go out of his way to point out that the name Brutus meant powerful, strong, but above all else, dull. Hraerik could think of only one Norse name that would cover those attributes and that was Amlodi, the dull powerful storm that pounded the Kattegat on occasion, so he named his character Amleth. By starting his drapa in the Palatine throne room of ancient Rome and by comparing the Roman Prince Brutus cum Amleth to the Swedish Prince Bjorn of the Barrows, Hraerik was able to string enough heroic actions together to compile a full heroic drapa that sounded both sincere and complimentary and, by morning, he had composed and memorized the whole thing.
No record remains of Hraerik Bragi’s poem for King Bjorn of the Barrows, only tales of its telling, but the Swedish king was most pleased with the verses and he not only spared Hraerik’s life but added a postscript to the byname King Gotar of Norway had given him. “You are now Bragi the Old,” King Bjorn announced. “Bragi as given you by King Gotar, meaning eloquent in speech, and the Old, meaning you are of the old Danish Fridleif line of kings and shall avenge Princess Gunwar’s death with the help of the people of Sweden.” And the Swedish King provided for Hraerik and his Hraes’ people over the rest of the winter, and he held Hraerik in the highest esteem.
The poems that Bragi the Old wrote when he had to face the anger of King Bjorn of Sweden and the story that he made a drapa of twenty stanzas overnight to save his own head became a rallying cry across the northern lands and kings and princes flocked to Gotland in the spring to wreak vengeance on the Huns for the death of Princess Gunwar. And King Bjorn of the Barrow’s investment in a poem on his behalf by the famous skald, Bragi the Old, was a good one, for that is all that was ever recorded about him.