© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE REBIRTH OF FRODI (Circa 829 AD)
“Let men hear how the Earl’s king, hardy of mind, the sea sought;
The overwhelming Ruler failed not to resist the Main.”
The Skald, Arnorr; Prose Edda.
Dawn was creeping in from the orient, when Gunwar awoke with a fright. She saw, by the faint light of a window high up in the wall, that it was snowing and she prayed her thanks to Freya for the day’s delay. Hraerik would not now be at her side, had it snowed the day before. The rest of the Norwegian party were sleeping at their benches, and more than a few of them were sleeping with her valkyries and maidens. The feasting had finished early at the high seat hall, but it had carried on in her own hall until only a few hours earlier. She was tired, but a dream had awakened her. For once it was not her old nightmare, but rather a new fear that disturbed her.
“My brother will not let you leave this place alive,” she whispered to Hraerik, rousing him from his slumbers. “We must escape,” she urged.
Hraerik could feel the desperation in Gunwar’s voice, so he peeled away the down coverings and the cool air caught him up and helped him to his feet. They dressed and went out into the hall, and they quietly roused his men. They stole out to the stable in Gunwar’s quadrant, saddled up horses, and, when everyone was ready, they mounted them and rode out of the stable and down the log dressed road. The muffled clatter of hooves on new fallen snow brought shouts of alarm from the royal guards on the porch of King Frodi’s high seat hall. They swept by the guards and out the harbour town gate, and they rode hard toward the blush of dawn, and they were pelted by the moist falling snowflakes that would melt on contact, and soon their faces were streaming with little rivulets of water.
The horses were spent and steaming in the frosty morning air, when the Norwegian party reached the harbour town. They trotted up, quietly, to their pavilion and set themselves to work, feverishly packing up their gear and readying Hraerik’s ship. Some of his men, Hraerik sent off to scuttle King Frodi’s fleet. They tramped through the new fallen snow, down the line of ships that sat high up on the beach, and they stove in several forward strakes of each with their war-axes. Alfgeir and several of his men arose at the racket, but made no attempt to stop them. Hraerik gave Einar Cuff all of their horses and all the gear left behind and Gunwar gave him a farewell kiss. The Norwegians hauled Fair Faxi out into the water and they were soon rowing for their lives.
They were barely off when King Frodi and his cavalry stormed into the harbour town and out onto the beach. The soldiers quickly dragged their ships into the water, ignoring the protests of Alfgeir, and they set to rowing out after the Norwegians. Pale was the light of dawn and a gentle wind ruffled the waters; King Frodi could be heard shouting over the waves, exhorting his men to greater efforts; and the smell of salty spray was all about, as Hraerik and his crew rowed hard in determined silence. One by one, the Danes turned back, as the sea swamped their damaged boats, until King Frodi’s larger lead ship was the only one in pursuit, but it, too, was foundering. Still, King Frodi urged his men on and Hraerik had his men stop rowing. The ship was sinking, the Danes swimming for shore, when the young king launched himself off the forecastle and attempted, in full armour, to catch the Norwegians on his own. Hraerik had his men back-rowing toward King Frodi and Princess Gunwar was stern-most, encouraging her brother on, when his strength ebbed. Hraerik and Hraelauger, both, dove into the waves and swam for him; twice he sank and struggled to the surf, and then went down a third time before Hraerik reached him and hauled him up by his hair, up above the billows. The two brothers towed the young king back to their ship and the Norwegians yarded him aboard. Brine poured in floods from his heaving chest, as Gunwar stripped him of his armour and clothes and swaddled him in woollens. She massaged warmth into his cold white limbs, as he got his breath back, and she made him comfortable, as they waited for his strength to return. Once his colour came back, a great fit of shivering overcame him. Hraerik and Hraelauger had stripped themselves of their garments, and were also attired in blankets, when King Frodi covered his face with his hands and began a woeful dirge:
“By this orient light I bare my soul
to the gods who’ve so abandoned me:
Spare me not from my enemy, but rather
let him deliver me my doom.
Pray dear Odin that he has captured me
from the waves to die more fitting
by sword or spear or, as Koll did,
by rope to hang and ever fall.
Never has a king of note so far fallen
as the king who bares his breast before you now,
and low-born the man who crushed me
with seeming little effort.
All my short life I have deemed myself
to be a king of wisdom and philosophy,
only to learn, too late, my want of wit.
Repute shattered, let there be no respite.
Gone is the day I could pride myself
in all that I’ve accomplished.
Never more shall I take pride
in all that I have garnered.
Gone is my sister, stolen away,
and gone, again, my honour.
Razed is the house of Westmar
and with it, all my strength.
Ruins remain of my own royal house.
My queen, stoking a cuckold’s hearth
no more, reigns no longer in some
far off land. Returned to her father,
she takes with her the Southern Way,
my child, my creation, the culmination
of my life’s work. My Danepar…gone.
Ill fate has become my lot in life.
My fylgja has abandoned me.
Luck has ‘come ‘lusive.
Life ‘comes burdensome.
So, why keep me yet alive?
End me now, Hraerik, for the hanging god broods
and shall cast ill fortune upon you,
should you tarry with his stroke.
Feel no remorse at my death,
for all but life has left me now,
and nothing can repair
the sundered soul within this heaving breast.
No feat could resurrect my ill repute,
no act reclaim my honour.
Kill me now in a manner behoving the gods,
or cast me back into the sea,
before strength returns and I kill myself
All were moved by King Frodi’s elocution; Gunwar was in tears, when Hraerik replied thus:
“Stay the hand that assaults the soul,
for surely the gods have passed
empyreal laws `gainst such harsh
thought and deed.
Trials are to be met with might,
and tests with mettle, and with such
have you risen to this pernicious event,
enduring torments, but losing naught.
Fate has tempered thee, my liege,
and the gods perhaps send warning;
but of loss: you’ve suffered none
that better times and circumstance
cannot replace. Woe to the man
enduring not adversity,
shirking responsibility, giving not
chance, time to repair its ills.
Suffer then this thought: that
many would gladly trade their happiness
for an opportunity to share in your agony.
You are young and strong. Virile with life.
Who could help but admire
the determination of a man who’d
throw himself into the sea to pursue
one perceived as an enemy.
So much for ill repute! Your rule remains
as it ever was. So much for ill fortune!
Your Southern Way is yet to be gained,
’tis much too soon to fear its loss.
And your wife perhaps is better gone,
her father’s wrath a trial yet to be endured,
but the time for tests is over now,
for the Huns are far removed.
Your sister is another matter:
stolen not, she is even now at your side,
dispensing comfort, as she shall ever be,
in heart, if not physically.
I pray you feel not rash in giving her me,
for if you reclaim her I’ll not dispute.
All of her that I need, my heart holds dear.
A boon should you allow me more!
As to accomplishments…my how
far we’ve fallen! If in the future
you’ll look not back, and laugh at this
slight stumble, I shall surely be surprised.
Such confidence have I in your future career,
that you shall look down from the height of it,
in your comfortable old age, and you shall feel
this but a trip in the frolicking of youth.
And you shall long to taste
the bitter-sweetness of youthful folly once more,
for you have lost no power here.
You rule as though yet in your palace.
We may have fled you out of fear,
but we yet obey you out of obligation.
Had you not dove into the surf, so bravely,
we’d have made good our escape beyond your command,
but we could not flee your dire need and so
now you command us once again.
We shall return you to your land,
and you may end us if you so desire,
but I shall be a brother and have your back,
should you but ask the favour.
And you shall rule many lands,
in a manner so just, you shall bury your past,
and the future shall remember your rule,
and the future shall remind all of your justice,
and the future shall record your reign as
the Peace of Frodi.”
Hraerik was clutching at the topstrake of Fair Faxi, steadying himself—his blanket draping him loosely—and staring blankly out over the coast of Denmark. He let forth a great shiver and all knew it was not from the cold. He had just had a vision and, for a moment, all were caught up in it. Young King Frodi’s eyes were glowing in rapture. Hraerik had rekindled his soul-fire. Gunwar felt the strength returning to her brother, but the aura his eyes now cast frightened her. Once Hraerik had dressed, he grabbed the rudder, ordered his men to resume rowing and turned Fair Faxi about. King Frodi donned his armour and he joined the young Norwegian at the stern. There was not a word exchanged between them and when they got to shore, King Frodi’s soldiers anxiously dragged the ship out of the water. The king had his men fetch Princess Gunwar’s horses, and Hraerik’s original party of twelve rode back to Liere with King Frodi, surrounded by his soldiery.
King Frodi said not a word to anybody all the way back, and when they got to his hall he dismounted and signalled for Hraerik and his party to follow him in. He shouted for his steward, as he walked toward the dais, and his steward appeared by the time he had reached his high seat. “Yes Sire,” he stammered, for he noticed at once the change in his king’s demeanour. It was the same courtier that had yanked the hide out from under Hraerik only days before.
“Prepare the court of King Frodi the Third for a royal wedding. My sister, Princess Gunwar, is to be properly married!”