Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 858 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
Oddi entered the submerged cave entrance and swam ahead and up until he broke the surface of the pool inside the cave. All was dark except for a shaft of light filtering in through an air hole. There were no torches lit and the place seemed deserted. Oddi could see faint light at the other end of the cave and he guessed that he would find an entrance there. He walked across the cave and he put his offering of gold wergild into a small grotto at the side of the cave’s entrance. He then stepped out into a sunny wood and he continued on until he came to a crag, and some big ravines, where a river fell in noisy waterfalls. He wondered how anyone could get across, and he saw no way forward. He had just sat down, when something caught him up and lifted him into the air. A huge bird had come flying at Oddi and snatched him up with its claws so fast that he could not protect himself from it. “You’re in Giantland now,” Oddi thought. The creature flew with Oddi to some cliffs and landed on a grassy ledge. Here its young waited. When it let Oddi loose, he tumbled into a nest and bowled over some chicks that were almost as big as he was.
Oddi was left alone with the vulture’s young in the nest. There was a high cliff above, while a sheer drop was underneath. Oddi could see no way to escape without risking his life and jumping into the river that the waterfalls spilled into. The chicks were still unfledged. The vulture was rarely home in the nest, as it was always out looking for prey. Oddi tied up the beaks of the young and concealed himself in a rock cleft behind the nest. The vulture returned with fish and birds and human flesh, and all sorts of animals and livestock. It even began carrying cooked meat there. When the vulture left, Oddi came out and took the food but he concealed himself during feedings.
One day Oddi saw a great giant rowing in a stone boat towards the nest. The giant shouted and said: “An evil bird is nesting there, and she has been stealing away my freshly boiled meat day after day. I shall avenge myself somehow. When I take the oxen of the king, I did not mean that a bird should have them.”
Oddi stood up and killed the chicks and called to the giant: “Here is all that you are looking for, and I have taken care of it.”
The giant went into the nest and took his meat and bore it to the boat. Then he said, “Where is the little boy that I saw here? Don’t be scared, step out and come with me for your reward.” Oddi showed himself then, and the giant took him and put him in the boat. He said: “How shall I kill this beast?”
Oddi said, “Set fire to the nest, and when the vulture comes back, she will fly so near that the fire will burn its feathers, and then we can kill it.” It happened as Oddi said, and they killed the vulture. Oddi took its beaks and claws and climbed into the boat, and the giant rowed away.
“Do you have a name, boy,” the giant asked as he rowed.
“I am Arrow Odd,” was the reply and Oddi asked him his name, and he said he was Hildir and that he was one of the giants of Giantland and he had a wife called Hildirid, and a daughter named Hildigunn.
“And I have a son called Godmund,” Hilder added, “and he was born yesterday.”
Hilder rowed some more, then he said, “I am one of three brothers. The name of one is Ulf, the other Ylfing. We have set up a meeting next summer to see who will be the next king of Giantland, namely, whoever does the most remarkable deeds and has the most savage dog in the dogfight at the meeting.”
Oddi said, “Who do you think, out of you three brothers, will become king?”
Hildir answered: “It seems to go that one of the other two receives it, because I’ve always been the lesser of us three, and so it will likely still be.”
Oddi said, “Would you choose to be king if chance was in your favour?”
Hildir answered: “I would like to be king, but it is very unlikely, because Ulf has a wolf that is so ferocious that no dog can take him. And Ulf has killed an animal called a tiger, and he has the head of the beast to prove it. But Ylfing is even harder, since he has an unbeatable polar bear, and he has killed an animal called a unicorn. I have no deeds to compare with theirs and no dog to compare either.”
“Well, it seems to me,” said Oddi, “that I might have a solution if someone was sympathetic to my cause.”
Hildir said, “I have never met a child as little as you, nor as arrogant, nor as crafty, and because I think you may be too clever by half, you are the greatest treasure. I will bring you to Hildigunn, my daughter, and she can have you to play with and foster you and bring you up with Godmund, my son.”
After that Hildir rowed home to Giantland and Oddi thought that the boat went very fast. When Hildir got home, he showed them the child that he had found, and asked his daughter to take care of him as if he were her own. Hildigunn took Oddi and when he walked with her, he stood thigh high, but Hildir was taller than her, as a father would be. Hildigunn picked up Odd and put him on her knee, then she turned him to look at him, and said: “This tiny pip has a tuft under his nose, but Godmund is bigger, though born just yesterday.”
She put him in the cradle with the giant baby and sang lullabies to the child and cuddled with them. But when Oddi was restless in the cradle, she took him to bed with her and caressed him, and it came about that Oddi played the games he wished and then things went well between them. Then Oddi told her that he was not a child, though he was smaller than local men. But the people of Giantland were so much bigger and stronger than any other kind; they were friendly and handsome, but no wiser than other people. Oddi stayed with them and he asked Hildir how generous he would be to the man who got him a dog that could beat his brothers’. Hildir answered “I would give him anything he asked for. Can you get me such a dog?”
Oddi said, “Perhaps I can show you it, but you will have to grab it yourself.”
Hildir answered, “I will grab it if you show me it.”
Oddi said, “There is a beast on Varg Island that hibernates. Such is its nature that it sleeps all winter, but in spring it wakes up hungry as a bear and then it is so greedy and cruel that nothing is safe, neither cattle nor men nor anything that moves. Now I’m pretty sure that this animal would beat your brothers’ dogs.”
Hildir said, “Take me to this dog, and if it turns out to be true, then I will pay you well when I’m in power.” They got ready to go.
Then Hildigunn spoke to Oddi. “Will you be coming back after this?”
He said that he did not know for sure.
“I hope you do,” she said, “because I love you greatly, even though you are small. I must tell you that I am with child, though it seems unlikely that you could do this, as small and feeble as you are, but there is no one except you who can be the father. And though I love you very much, I will not stop you going, because I know your character is to go where you please, but do not doubt that you cannot get away from here without my letting you. But I would rather bear grief and sorrow, than hold you here against your will. Still, I would like to know what you want me to do with our child?”
“You must send him to me,” said Oddi, “if it’s a boy, when he is ten years old, because I have much to offer him. But if it is a girl, then she should be brought up here, and you should look after her yourself, because I will be of no use to her.”
“You shall have your way in this as in everything else,” she said, “so farewell.” She then cried tragically, but Oddi had his way and went to the stone boat.
Hildir rowed. To Oddi the way seemed too long and the progress too slow with oars, so, he raised his arms like a true Hrafnista man and he hoisted the sail, and there came along a fair wind, and they sailed out of the country. But, before long, Hildir got to his feet in the boat and seized Oddi and pushed him down. “I will kill you if you don’t stop this magic of yours,” he warned, “for the land and the mountains rush past as though sheep and the ship will soon sink under us.”
Oddi explained, “You are dizzy because you’re not accustomed to sailing; let me up and I’ll show you how it works.” Hildir did as he asked and Oddi reefed the sail and the shore and mountains were calm again. Oddi told him not to worry about the speed because he could stop whenever he wished. Hildir was now calm after that and he realized that sailing would be quicker than rowing; Oddi hoisted the sails and the wind took the boat along as before and Hildir sat quietly.
When they got to Varg Island, they went ashore. There was a large scree slope nearby and Oddi asked Hildir to stretch his hand down among the stones and see if he could feel anything. He did so and drove his arm into the stones up to the shoulder, and said, “Oh, there’s something odd inside. I’ll get my rowing glove,” and once so armed, he drove his arm back into the scree and then pulled out a bear by the ears. Oddi said, “Now, treat this dog just as I said; take it home with you and don’t let it loose or feed it until the meeting when it fights the dogs.” Hildir had bites all over his hand. He said, “This should do the trick, Arrow Odd. Come to this grim place next spring, at this time and I’ll have your reward for you.” Oddi agreed to it. Hildir took the beast home and did everything Oddi said, but Oddi stayed on Varg and looked for Asmund and found him in their original camp.
“You’ve been gone awhile,” Asmund said as Oddi walked into the clearing. “Did you make your offering?
“There were no giants left there. But I was taken captive by another giant named Hilder and he spoke Norse fluently and Oddi sat down and told his men all about his adventure in Giantland. When he got to the end of his tale and he told them he would be returning the next spring for a reward the men laughed skeptically. “That giant won’t pay up, even if he beats his brothers,” they claimed in unison.
“Where is Gudmund and Sigurd?” Oddi asked.
“They waited as long as they could,” Asmund replied, “but they wanted to make the crossing and get back home to Hrafnista. They have to help Grim get ready to receive the Norwegian merchant fleet.”
“We should go then,” Oddi said. “They won’t be getting a crossing wind without us.”
And it was as Oddi said, for when they had sailed down the Northern Dvina and crossed the White Sea and sailed past Kandalaks Bay, there in Varangerfjord sat the ships of Gudmund and Sigurd, becalmed in the harbour. Oddi threw out Fair Faxi’s anchor and they all slept aboard ship in the harbour. When night waxed, they awoke to a great crashing in the air, the likes of which they had never heard before. Oddi asked Sigurd and Gudmund if they had heard such a racket before, and as they were discussing this, there was another great crash, and then came a third, and it was the greatest of them all.
“What do you think causes this, Oddi?” Gudmund asked.
Oddi said, “I’ve heard it said that two winds will blow at the same time and clash and from their collision will come a big crash. Now we should expect rough weather soon coming our way.” And they built a bulwark across their ships and lashed them together following Oddi’s instructions, and when it was all done, weather struck that was so evil it swept them clear of the land, and they were carried off out of control and they had to keep bailing so their vessels would not founder beneath them.
Then Gudmund called from his ship to Oddi and said: “What should be done now?”
“There is only one thing left to do,” said Oddi.
“What is that?” said Gudmund.
“Take all your Lappish plunder and toss it overboard,” said Oddi.
“What good will that do?” said Gudmund.
“The Lapps will decide that for themselves,” said Oddi. All did as Oddi instructed, and when it was done, the Lappish plunder was all broken up. Then they saw that it was driven along one side of the ships, and back to the other, so that it became one mass, and then it was driven rapidly against the wind, and then it was gone. Soon after this Oddi stood up, spread out his arms and a crossing wind arose to take them west. They sailed all the way to Hrafnista, arriving just in time to beat the merchant fleet. They put all their vast wealth into the hands of Grim and overwintered there. Midwinter, Oddi and Asmund returned to Hraegunarstead and Asmund visited with Ingjald while Brak and Oddi forged more Jaederen blades for Bjarmia.
The next spring, Oddi and his foster-brothers sailed the Nor’Way, once more following two weeks behind the Norwegian contingent of the Hraes’ Trading Company fleet. Again they traded weapons with the Bjarmians, steel and ton-stone for silver and gold and then they returned to Varg Island and rested there. Oddi snuck off alone to the place where the giant, Hilder, had agreed to meet. The young Varanger arrived early and hid in the woods a short way from there so Hildir would not see him. He did not want to meet him, because the giant would want revenge if anything went wrong with his plan and if everything went right, he might regret giving Oddi his freedom and take back the boon. Soon he heard the sound of oars and saw Hildir come ashore. In one hand he had a large kettle full of silver, and under his other arm two very heavy chests. He came to the spot where they had agreed to meet and he waited there a long while, but there was no sign of Oddi. Then Hildir called out to the woods, “It is a shame now, Arrow Odd, foster son, that you did not come, but I see no point in staying here any longer, because my domain is leaderless while I am away, so, I will leave these boxes here, which are full of gold, and a kettle full of silver; please take this treasure, even if you come later. I will put this flat stone on top of it so no wind blows the treasure away. Also, I am leaving these gifts, a sword, a helmet and a shield. But if you are about and can hear my words, then I shall tell you that I was chosen king out of my brothers and I had a great savage dog because it bit to death both the dogs of my brothers and many of the men who tried to save the dogs. I produced the beak and claws of the vulture we killed and that deed seemed greater than those of my brothers. I was declared king of the land and now I shall return to my kingdom. Come with me and I shall give you the best of everything. I can also announce that my daughter, Hildigunn, has given birth to a boy we named Vignir, and she said that you fathered him upon her, so, I shall bring him up to be a lord and I shall teach him sports and do all for him as I will for my own son, and when he is ten years old, he will be sent to you, according to what you told her to do.” Then he rowed off in his stone boat. Oddi stood up and went to the treasure, but it was under the stone slab, and the rock was so big a ship’s crew could not have stirred it. Fortunately for Oddi, he had three ships’ crews on the island at that time, so he donned his new helmet, sword and shield and returned to their camp to get help. It took two full crews to get the stone slab off of the heavy wooden chests and when they opened them, they found them full of gold coins and bars. And between the chests sat a huge silver kettle full of silver Kufas from Baghdad. They buried the gold chests on the island and used the silver Kufas to by the finest sables the Permians had to offer.
Oddi and his men were becoming more confident with the eastern trade so they stopped in Gardariki to visit with Prince Hraerik then carried on to Baghdad to trade their sables and silver swords for chests of gold. When they returned to Gardariki, they spent more time with their prince and he again told them they were once more the richest merchants of the Nor’Way trade that season. That was even before Oddi told Prince Hraerik that he had given a giant named Hilder a Varg Island brown bear for two chests of gold and a silver kettle full of Kufas.
The following trading season, Oddi expanded his fleet, increased trade with the Bjarmians and Permians and began supplying the alchemists of Gardariki with ton-stone from Sweden. Arrow Odd gained such fame for his deeds and his wealth gained in Bjarmaland that no one thinks any greater thing has ever been achieved from Norway. It is said that the name of the northern province of Halogaland means Helgi’s land, but that could be for quite a different matter. There was great joy in the winter and much drinking. When spring came, Odd asked his kinsmen what they wished to do next. “You can decide for us,” they said. But the decision had already been made for Arrow Odd. The war arrow of King Hraelauger of the Nor’Way arrived in Hrafnista midwinter, and it carried news of a planned attack on Constantinople in the summer.
At first, Oddi thought this would work into his plans for even greater eastern trade, but he later learned that the Norwegians were not going to Constantinople via the Nor’Way but would be attacking from the west via the Mediterranean. He then realized that the trip he had taken a few years earlier following King Hraelauger across the Roman Sea was a dry run for this attack on Constantinople, and he marvelled at the foresight of the sons of Hraegunar Lothbrok.