The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions (Tr. Tunstall 2003)

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The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions
  The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and his Champions Translation by Peter Tunstall, 2003 Part One: Frodi's Thread 1. Of Halfdan and Frodi There was a man called Halfdan, and another called Frodi, two brothers, kings' sons, and each ruled a realm of his own. King Halfdan  was friendly and easy-going and good-natured, but King Frodi was a great savage. King Halfdan had three children, two sons and a daughter. She was called Signy. She was the eldest and given in marriage to Jarl Saevil. What is told here happened when his sons were  young. One was called Hroar, the other Helgi. Regin was their foster-father, and he loved them very much.  An island lay not far from the stronghold. A man lived there, called Vivil. He was a lifelong friend of King Halfdan. Vifil had two dogs, Hopp and Ho. The man was comfortably off, and knew plenty of the old wisdom, if push came to shove. Now it's to be told, that King Frodi sits in his kingdom, and he bitterly envies his brother, King Halfdan. And the way things have gone, he wasn't too happy with his lot, and it seemed to him that he alone should rule Denmark. So he gets up a mob and a multitude and makes for Denmark, and comes in the dead of night, burns and raises all to the ground. King Halfdan can do little to defend him-self. He's taken and killed, and those who can, flee. And the rabble of the town all swear loyalty to King Frodi, or else he had them tor-tured in various ways. Regin, foster-father of Helgi and Hroar, got them away and out to the island to yeoman Vivil. They grieved much about their loss. Regin said there'd be snow in most shelters , a sorry state of affairs, if Vivil couldn't keep them safe from King Frodi.  Vivil says, We're playing tug-o-war with a tough one here, but he said he was under a great obligation to help the boys. So he took them and put them underground in an earth-house, and they mostly spent the nights there, but by day they came out to get some fresh air in the woods, as half the island was wooded, and that's where Regin left them. Regin had big estates in Denmark, wife and children too, and he saw nothing else for it but to go and swear allegiance to Frodi. King Frodi now laid all Denmark under his rule,  with taxes and tributes. Most went over to him only because they were forced, since King Frodi was hated by all. And he taxed Jarl Saevil the same way too.  After achieving all this, King Frodi feels a little easier about not finding the boys, Helgi and Hroar. He now has a lookout kept for them on all sides, near and far, north and south, east and west, promises huge rewards for whoever who can bring any news of them,  but all sorts of torments to anyone who hides them, if that ever comes to light - but no-one can think of anything to tell the king. So he has seers fetched, volvas, witches and wisemen, from all over the land, and has the country searched top to bottom, up and down, is-lands and out-skerries, but they aren't found. And now he has wizards brought, real galdermen, priers and scriers, who can rune out any secret they want, and they tell him that the boys aren't being raised anywhere in the land, but all the same, they're not far off. King Frodi says, We've searched for them far and wide, so it seems highly unlikely that they're near here, but there is an island close by, where we haven't made a big effort, but no-one lives there, well, except some poor wretch of a peasant. Look there first, said the galdermen, because a great veil of mist lies over the island, and we can't see very well round that fel-low's farm, and we think he's a smart one, and he isn't all that he seems. The king said, It'll be searched again then, but it seems incredible to me that some poor fisherman would be keeping these boys, and dare to shelter people from us, like that. 2. Vivil Hid the King's Sons Early one morning, Vivil wakes up and says, Much and strange is now afoot, on wing and way, and great spirits have come to the is-land, and mighty fetches are here. Get up, sons of Halfdan, Hroar and Helgi, and keep yourselves in my woods today. They ran into the forest. Now it happened just as the cotter had guessed. King Frodi's agents came to the island and they look all over for them, wherever they can think of, and find them nowhere. The owner strikes them as rather suspicious, but they leave it at that and go away, and tell the king they can't seem to find them. You can't have looked well, says the king, but this carl's a canny man, full of magic, so get back there now, go right back the way  you came while he's not expecting, so he won't have time to whisk them off, if they are there… They can but do as the king commanded, so they go back a second time to the island.  Vivil said to the boys, This isn't the time for sitting around, you two. Get to the forest, as fast as you can. The boys do just that. At which, the king's men burst in and demanded a search, and Vivil opens everywhere up to them, but they find them nowhere on the island, no matter where they look, so they leave it at that, and go back and tell the king. King Frodi says, Down with the leaf-sail, no more pussy-footing with this churl. I'll go myself to the island, first thing tomorrow, and that's just what happened now, the king went himself.  Vivil wakes, rather distraught, and sees that yet again they need to think of something fast. He said to the brothers, Remember this: If I call out loud to my dogs, Hopp and Ho, that means you. Run to your earth-house then, that's your signal for danger, so hide there, because your Uncle Frodi has joined the search, and he'll come after your lives with tricks and wiles, and now I can't see if I'll manage to save you.   Then Vivil goes to the shore, and the king's ship has arrived. He pretends not to have seen it, and makes as if he's looking all round for his flock, so preoccupied that he never spots the king or his men. The king orders them to seize the carl, and that was done, and he  was led before the king. The king said, You're a tricky one, you sly old rascal. Tell me where the king's sons are, because you know.  Vivil says, And greetings to you too, my lord, but please don't hold me or the wolf will rip my flock to bits. Then he calls out loud, Hopp! Ho! Help the flock, I can't save them. The king says, What are you calling now? He says, My dogs, that's what they're called. Look where you want, lord, but I doubt the princes will turn up here, and it really amazes me that you think I might shelter people from you. The king said, You really are a sly old dog, but even so, they can't be hid here after this, even if you've had them till now, and it  would be only proper if you were put to death. The yeoman says, It's in your hands, sire. At least you'll have accomplished something on the island then, instead of just leaving it at that. The king said, No, I don't want you killed, although I suspect that's a mistake. The king goes home now, leaving it at that. Vivil finds the boys and says that they can't stay there any longer. I'll send you to Saevil, your brother-in-law, and you two will be famous men, if you live that long. 3. Of Hroar and Helgi Hroar was twelve then, and Helgi ten, although he was the bigger and braver one. Off they go now, and Hroar calls himself Hrani, and Helgi calls himself Ham, wherever they went, or found folks to talk to. These boys came to Jarl Saevil and were there a week before they spoke to the jarl about staying. He said, I'm hardly taking on great men here with you two, but I'll not grudge you food for now. They're there a while, and rather bothersome. No-one can find out what men they were or whose kin. The jarl doesn't suspect them, and they give him no clue about themselves. Some men say that they must have been born with scurf, and teased them because they were always wearing cowls and never took their hoods off, and many reckoned they had lice. They're there till the third winter.  And it happens one time that King Frodi invited Jarl Saevil to a feast, and the king rather suspects that he's harbouring the boys, as they were related. The jarl gets ready for the journey now, with a big following. The boys got ready to go with him. The jarl said no, they couldn't go. Signy, the jarl's wife, was also coming. Ham, really Helgi, gets himself an unbroken colt to ride, charged after the company,  back to front, face to the tail, and acts like a complete nutter. Hrani, his brother, gets himself another such steed but faces the right way. The jarl saw them coming, and that they had no control over their horses. The shaggy colts bolt back and forth under them, and Hrani's hood falls off. This, their sister Signy spots, and knows them at once, and cries bitterly. The jarl asks why she's crying. Then she said a verse: That's all that's left of the Lords of Lund, of Skjoldung kin scattered branches. I saw my brothers bareback riding,  while Saevil's heroes sat in saddles. The jarl says, This is serious news - don't let it out. He rode back and told them to clear off home, says they were a disgrace and not fit for polite company. Then both boys get off and  walk. But he spoke like this because he was watching what he said, so that no-one would realise from his words who these boys were. They scamper about now on the edge of the company and aren't any keener to go back, so they tag along behind. Now they come to the  banquet and race up and down the hall.  And one time, they come to where their sister Signy was. She whispered to them, Don't stay in the hall, you're not very big yet. They take no heed of that. King Frodi starts up about how he'll go after Halfdan's sons, and he says he'll grant great favours to  whoever can bring word of them.  A certain seeress was there, a volva called Heid. Frodi asked her to have a go with her skills and see if she could find out anything about the boys. He had a magnificent feast prepared for her and set her up on a high seid-stand. Then the king asks if she could see anything of note, because, he said, I know that many things will now appear before you, and I see now great luck upon you, I have a good feeling about this, so answer me quick, seid-woman. She flings open her jaws and gives a great yawn, and then a verse came to lips: There's two inside, (I trust neither), sitting by the fire, fine fellows both. The king said, Is that the boys, or those who harboured them? She answers: Those lads who concealed themselves on the island,  Weevil's hounds, Hopp and Ho.  And at that moment, Signy tossed her a gold ring. She liked the present, and wants to break off now. How did that happen? she said, This is just lies, what I'm saying, and now all my powers are getting very confused. The king said, You'll be tortured till you speak, if you don't get it right. I know no more now than before, in this pack of people,  what you're trying to say, and why is Signy not in her seat? Can it be that wolves are plotting with wargs here? The king was told that Signy had felt ill from the smoke that hung over the hearth.  Jarl Saevil begged her to sit up and act brave, as it could well save the boys lives, if that's what will be. So let no-one see what  you're thinking, because we can't lift a finger to help them, as things stand. King Frodi urges on the seeress now, and demands she tell the truth, if she doesn't want to be tortured. She gapes wide, but the vi-sion is hard, but eventually she says a verse: Sitting there, I saw them, sons of Halfdan, Hroar and Helgi, hale and well. Now Frodi's life lies theirs for the taking… …unless they're quickly thwarted, but that can't happen, she said. And after this, she skips down off the seid-platform and said: Baleful the gaze of Ham and Hrani;  warlords the both, wondrously brave.  After that, the boys ran out to the forest, deadly afraid. Regin, their foster-father, recognised them, and really felt for them. And the  volva gave them this sound advice, Save yourselves! , as she ran from the hall. And now the king tells his men to be up and after them. Regin snuffs all the lights in the hall, and some men grab hold of others, because some wanted them to get away, and so they made it to the wood. The king said, They came close then, but I'll warrant there's many in here plotting and conspiring with them, and that will be grimly avenged as soon as there's time. But now we can drink all evening, as they'll be so glad to have got away, and their first thought  will be to save themselves. Regin goes to serve the drinks, and he poured the ale with a vengeance, and many others with him, his friends, so that the king's men dropped down one on top of another, fast asleep. 4. Regin Incites the Brothers Those brothers lie low in the forest now, as we said, and when they'd been there a while, they spot a man riding towards them from the direction of the hall. They recognise him without a shadow of a doubt, it's Regin their foster-father who's come. They're overjoyed and  welcome him with open arms. He ignores their greeting, and just turns his horse back towards the hall. This puzzles them and they ask each other what it could mean. Now Regin turns his horse back to them again and looks at them so unpleasantly, as if he might even attack them. Helgi says, I think I know what he wants. Regin went home to the hall now, and they followed. My foster-father, says Helgi, is acting like this so he won't break his oath to King Frodi, and that's why he won't talk to us, al-though he certainly wants to help. The King owned a grove near the hall, and when they came there, Regin spoke to himself, saying, If I had a bone to pick with King Frodi, I'd burnt this grove down. He said no more. Hroar said, What's that all about? What he wants, said Helgi, is for us to go to the hall and set fire everywhere, except for one exit. How can we do something like that, two young men like us, with such overwhelming odds as there are against us? We'll do it anyway, said Helgi, and we'll have to chance it sometime, if we're going to get avenged for our grief.  And so that's what they do. Next thing they know, Jarl Svaevil is coming out and all his men. He said then, Let's lend these boys a hand and stoke up the fire. I owe King Frodi nothing. King Frodi had two smiths, who were veritable Volunds of their craft, and both called Var - that's Wary. Regin herded his people out the hall door, his friends and relatives. 5. The Killing of King Frodi King Frodi wakes in the hall now, gasping for air: I dreamt a dream, boys, and not a nice one. I'll tell it to you. I dreamt someone was calling to us, and the voice said, 'You're home now, king, and your men too.' I seemed to answer, and rather sharply, 'Home where?' Then the voice came back so close I could feel the blast of his breath, from the one who called. 'Home to hell, home to hell!' the voice said, and with that I awoke.  And at that moment they heard Regin outside the door speaking a verse: There's Rain out here and Halfdan's riders, fierce foes let Frodi know.  Var struck the nails and Var the heads,  Wary for Wary hammered out warnings. Big deal, said the king's men who were inside, So what if it's raining out there, or the royal smiths are hammering away, be it nails or  whatever they're making. The king said, You think that's no big deal? We disagree. Now Regin's told us of some danger, and he's given me some words of  warning, and most likely he's being sly and tricky with us.   Then the king goes to the hall door and sees that enemies are outside. Now the whole hall is ablaze. King Frodi asks who ordered the fire. They said that it was Helgi and his brother Hroar. The king offers a deal to the boys and asks them to set the terms for them-selves, And it's not right, this feuding among family, or for one kinsman to wish death on another. Helgi says, No-one can trust you. Are you going to betray us any less than you did our father? And now you'll pay for that. Then King Frodi turned from the hall door and made for the entrance to his underground tunnel, hoping to escape down there to the wood. But when he enters the tunnel, there's Regin waiting for him, and not looking too friendly. The king turns back then and  burns inside with many of his followers. Sigrid burnt in there too, the boys' mother, Helgi's and Hroar's, because she wouldn't come out. The brothers thanked their kinsman Jarl Saevil well for his help, and Regin their foster-father too, and all their followers, and gave many good gifts and took command of the whole kingdom, and with it much wealth which had been King Frodi's, lands and riches. They  were quite different in mood, those brothers. Hroar was easy-going and good-natured, but Helgi a great warrior, and generally seemed the greater of the two. And that's how it was, for a while.  And here ends the Thread of Frodi, and the Thread of Hroar and Helgi, Halfdan's sons begins. Part Two: Helgi's Thread 6. Hroar Weds Ogn, Nordri's Daughter There was a king called Nordri. He ruled parts of England. His daughter was called Ogn. Hroar spent long years with King Nordri, de-fending his realm, and they were the closest of friends, and in time Hroar came to marry Ogn and settled down there in England with his father-in-law King Nordri, but Helgi ruled over Denmark, their inheritance from their father. Jarl Saevil ruled a realm of his own  with Signy. Their son was called Hrok. Helgi was unmarried. Regin took sick and died. That was considered a great loss, as he was well loved. 7. Queen Olof Fools King Helgi In Saxland at that time, there ruled a queen by the name of Olaf. She had the ways of a warrior king. She went with shield and byrnie, a sword at her side and a helm on her head. This is what she was like: fair in looks, but grim in mood, and haughty. They said she was the  best match known at that time in the whole of the north, but she wanted no man. Now King Helgi hears of this queen's imperiousness, and thought he'd add much to his reputation if he could win this woman, willing or no. So one day, he set out with a great army. He came to the land which this mighty queen ruled over, and comes unawares. He sent his men to her hall and bids them tell her that he and they would accept her invitation to a feast. And this took her by surprise, and there was no chance of mustering forces. She took the sensible option, and invited King Helgi to a feast with all his men. So King Helgi comes to the feast now and took the high-seat beside the queen. They drink the evening together, and nothing was lacking, and he could detect no gloom in Queen Olof. King Helgi said to the queen, This is what I'm thinking, he said, I want us to drink our wedding feast here this evening. There's plenty of company here for that, and we'll share one bed together tonight. She said, Too fast, my lord, that seems to me, but I don't know anyone more courteous and noble than you, if I do have to take a husband now, and I'm sure you're not intending to act dishonourably here. The king said that what she deserved, for her pride and haughtiness, is that we're together just as long as I like. She said, I'd rather have more of my friends here, if I had a choice, but I don't, so it's for you to say, but I'm sure you will treat our person with due respect. There was hard drinking then, through the evening and long into the night, and the queen is all smiles, and no-one sees anything in her demeanour to suggest that she isn't perfectly happy with the arrangement. And finally the king is led to bed, and there she was,  waiting. The king had been drinking so hard that he immediately fell fast asleep on the bed. The queen made use of this opportunity to stick him with a sleep-thorn.  And once everyone has gone, the queen gets up. She shaves off all his hair and covered him in tar. Next she took a sleeping-bag and packed a load of clothes into it. After that, she gets the king and ties him up in the sack, swaddled like a baby. Then she got some men to  bundle him back to his ships. She wakes up his men and tells them the king's gone back to the ships and wants to sail, as there's a good  wind now. They jumped up, as quick as they could, but they were drunk and hardly know what they were doing. And that's how they  were when they came to the ships and the king was nowhere to be seen, but they did see a huge sleeping-sack, that someone had  brought. They were very curious now to know what was in it, and they wait for the king, thinking he'd probably be along a bit later. But  when they undo it, there they found their king. Someone had played a shameful trick on him. Then the sleep-thorn drops out, and the king starts up from a dream, and not a nice one, and he's in a foul mood now at the queen. Meanwhile, it must be told, that Queen Olof musters her men in the night, and she's not short of soldiers, and King Helgi sees no  way to get to her now. Suddenly from the hinterland, they hear the rasp of lure-horns and the war-blast being blown. The king sees that the best thing now is to get away as fast as they can. There's a good wind, anyway. King Helgi sails home now to his kingdom with this shame and disgrace and seethed with resentment and often wonders how he might get revenge on the queen. 8. Helgi Pays Back the Queen
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