vendredi 16 octobre 2015

The Saga of Half & his Heroes


The Saga of
Half & his Heroes

© Peter Tunstall, 2005

1. Of King Alrek

There was a king called Alrek who lived at Alreksstadir. He ruled over Hordaland. He married Signy, the daughter of the king of Voss. Alrek had a retainer called Koll, and Koll went north with the king to Sogn and he spoke a great deal to the king about the beauty of Geirhild Drif’s daughter—having seen her brewing ale—and he told the king he thought they’d make a good match.
As Geirhild was dressing, Hood (who was really Odin) came to her. He made a bargain with her, that King Alrek would marry her, but she must call on Hood in all things. The king saw her on his way home, and they were wed that same autumn.
The king rewarded Koll well for his loyalty and made him a jarl and a gave him a residence at Kollsey, south of the Hard Sea, and that’s a well populated district.
On account of their squabbles, King Alrek couldn’t keep both wives and so he said he’d keep the one who made him the best ale when he came home from his summer’s raiding. They competed at the brewing. Signy prayed to Freyja, and Geirhild to Hood. He spat on the yeast and said he’d be back for what was between the tub and her. And that proved good ale. Then Alrek said:

“Geirhild, girl,
good is this ale,
I can’t complain
unless there’s a catch.
I see hanging
on high gallows
your son, woman,
sold to Odin.”

Within the year, Vikar was born, the son of Alrek and Geirhild.


2. The Fall of King Ogvald

Ogvald king of Rogaland stayed at Rogi on Josur Heath. That’s between Rogaland and Telemark. It’s now called The Woods. He went deer hunting. His court came with him, and the queen had a son there, who was called Josur. He was fostered by Gunnvald the Jarl of Stord. Haekling the viking came with his raiders against King Ogvald. In that battle King Ogvald fell and he was buried at Ogvaldsnes.
Finn the Rich of Akranes, the settler, put in at Ogvaldsnes on his way to Iceland and asked how long it was since King Ogvald died. He heard this verse[1] intoned in the howe:

“It was long ago
they laid a course
here in their hundreds,
Haekling’s men,
sailed the salty
sea-trouts’ track.
That’s when they crowned me
king of this mound.”


3. The Fall of King Alrek and of Koll

Jarl Gunnvald and Koll both asked to marry the same woman, and Gunnvald got her. After that, Koll came in secret with a great army to Stord, and they set fire to Gunnvald of Rogi’s house. Gunnvald came out and was killed.
Josur had been king then for a while. Later he went with a great army to avenge his foster father, and when Koll saw his sails, he ran to his warships and sailed north round the Hard Sea into Grafdal Bay. Then King Alrek met King Josur, but with only a few men, because he wasn’t expecting battle. They fought then, Josur against Alrek, and King Alrek and Koll fell with the better part of their army. Vikar, Alrek’s son, didn’t get back from mustering his forces before King Josur left. In that expedition, Josur took all the land that had been Koll’s.


4. Vikar Avenged his Father

Many years later, King Vikar came with many men against Josur, while he was in the land that Koll had owned, and they fought a battle, and King Josur fell first and with him all the landowners of the district. That’s why it’s called Kvinnherad, or Women’s County, as only widows lived there after that. Then Vikar took possession of all the land that Koll had owned. For that, Hjor Josursson went against Vikar in battle, and they struggled a long while—first one, then the other getting the upper hand—and at last they came to a settlement. Vikar’s son was Vatnar, who was buried in Vatnar’s Howe—his sons were Snjal and Hjal, who lie in the Brothers’ Howe.


5. King Hjorleif’s Bjarmaland Expedition

King Hjor Josursson was a powerful king. He died of sickness and was buried in Rogaland. His son was King Hjorleif of Hordaland. He also ruled over Rogaland and was a very powerful king. He was called Hjorleif the Ladies’ Man. He married Aesa the Fair, the daughter of Jarl Eystein of Valdres.
Hjorleif’s wealth was used up with his generosity. He had a ship made with special care and went to Bjarmaland. Hogni the Wealthy lived on Njardey island at the mouth of the Namsfjord. He welcomed King Hjorleif who stayed there three nights and got to marry Hild the Slender, Hogni’s daughter, before he left, and she went with him to Bjarmaland along with her brother Solvi.
And when King Hjorleif came to the mouth of the Dvina, he split his crew into three groups. There were ninety men in all on his ship. He fought the locals with one third of his crew—another lot kept watch on the ship with the skipper—and the third group broke into a barrow with the forecastleman, and they got a great deal of treasure.
One night, in the Gjardey Gulf, in the southern part of Finnmark, Hjorleif laid anchor, and the lads had a fire on shore, and two men went to get water from a brook that fell from a nearby outcrop. They saw a brunnmigi[2] there and told Hjorleif. Then the king heats a speartip in the fire and threw it at him. The king called:

“Out the water!
Don’t wind me up.
Off home with you, thrall,
pathetic thing!
Hey wretch, I’ll send
a singeing spear.
That’ll wet
your whiskers with blood.”

When the monster shot into the cliff they got their water. But later, as they sat by the fire, the boggart answered in verse from the rock:

“She doesn’t know,
not exactly,
what awaits her,
your woman, king,
or what’ll halt
her happy days.
You’ve pleased us, Hild:
best keep your king
close to the fire.”

Then Hjorleif threw the same spear and hit the troll in the eye.
Hogni asked for Solvi and Hild to stay behind with him,[3] but the king didn’t want them to. Two servant women went with Hild, and twenty men with Solvi. Aesa was unhappy with the king and his companions, but everyone else was happy.


6. Hjorleif Married Hreidar’s Daughter

Now taking this ship of his in which he’d sailed to Bjarmaland, King Hjorleif went to Konungahella. Hreidar, king of Zealand, and his men pitched their shelters nearby. Heri, King Hreidar’s son, got friendly with King Hjorleif. Having met, he urged his father to invite King Hjorleif home. King Hreidar said no good would come of that, but still he gave his leave and offered to pay the expenses. They sailed together forDenmark. At the banquet, Hjorleif saw Hringja, Hreidar’s daughter, and asked for her hand. Heri encouraged this match, and she left with Hjorleif and a shipful of crew and cargo as dowry.
In the Skagerrak, King Hjorleif lay becalmed. And at sunrise he saw in the north a great mountain come up from the sea, shaped just like a man. It intoned:

“I see a mound
made over Hringja,
Heri sinking thrust
right through with a spear.
I see fetters
forged for Hjorleif,
on Hreidar’s neck
a noose twisted.”

The ships wouldn’t go. So the king ordered them to take to the oars. Then Hringja felt ill. They put up the oars. She died a day after she’d taken ill, and her coffin was cast overboard, and she went back south so fast, it seemed like it was being rowed with six oars. Heri found the casket washed up not far from his father’s boatsheds and told him, and said King Hjorleif must have murdered her.


7. Prophecies of the Merman

That autumn, a father and son, Handir and Hrindir, went fishing and caught a merman. They took him to Hjorleif. The king gave him into the hands of a woman of the court and told her to take good care of him. No one got a word out of him. The candle-boys were larking and wrestling and put the lights out. At that moment Hild tore Aesa’s mantle with a horn. The king hit her with his hand, but Hild said it was the dog on the floor’s fault. So the king struck the dog. Then the merman laughed. The king asked why he was laughing. He said, “Because you were stupid—those two will save your life.”
The king asked him to say some more. He didn’t answer. So the king let him be taken back to sea and asked him to say what he needed to know. As he came to sea, the merman sang:

“Far south at sea
I see the lights,
a Danish king
would avenge his daughter.
Out in the harbour
sit untold ships,
Hjorleif’s invited
to an island fight.[4]
Have a care king,
for what’s to come—
I want to go back in the sea.”

And as they rowed out to where they’d hauled him up, he chanted:

“A tale I can tell
to the sons of Norway,
oh a wonderful one,
if you want to hear:
Odin’s daughter
drawing northward
drenched all in blood
from Denmark’s shore.

She has a helm
on her head buckled,
hard battle-crest,
no hanging back.
Not long have the lads
left to wait now,
for War’s on her way,
she won’t delay.

Shield-frame will be smashed,
the maid’s eyes flash
across this district
at the thanes’ maimer,
sword-lord. There’ll be
for all soldiers,
for each man here
many a spear,
before the great storm
of steel appears.

But if such is true,
when it turns out badly,
you’ll have all paid dear
for the year,
when spring comes.”

Then King Hjorleif let him overboard. But first, a man took him by the hand and asked, “What is best for a man?” The merman answered:

“Cold water for eyes,
and meat for teeth,
linen for a body,
let me back in the sea!
No man manhandles
me, never from now,
nobody into boats,
off the sea-bottom.”

The king gave Handir and Hrindir land to farm and with it a thrall and a bondswoman.


8. Of Hjorleif and Hreidar

Now King Hjorleif had the arrow summons sent out and raised himself an army. But King Hreidar came at night with his troops and drew up a ring around Hjorleif’s dwelling. That same night Hjorleif’s dog Floki barked, and Floki never barked unless he knew the king was in danger. King Hjorleif ran at the besiegers and cast back a spear at their ranks. Then he heard someone shouting that Heri had fallen. Hjorleif saw from the woods the burning of his home, and King Hreidar sailing away with much booty, including the women.
That same autumn, King Hjorleif came with a single ship in the night to King Hreidar’s dwelling, and walked alone into the sleeping-house, but none of the women were there in bed except Aesa. Hjorleif asked her to get him close to King Hreidar. She shut him in her washtub and then went and told King Hreidar, and said where he was. On Aesa’s advice, King Hjorleif was strung up by his own shoestraps between two fires in Hreidar’s hall. Meanwhile Hild stayed awake and poured beer on the fire. She set him free by cutting the thongs with a sword. King Hreidar was sat asleep in the high-seat, and Aesa in his lap. King Hjorleif stabbed him through the chest and then went to his ship to fetch his warriors and has them tie up King Hreidar’s retainers, though afterwards he let them off, but as for King Hreidar, he strung him up dead on the very gallows that Hreidar had meant for him.
On the same evening that Hjorleif arrived, Hreidar had heard a voice chanting:

“Hreidar recalled
where you felled Heri.[5]
Woe woke there
before the west door.
She’s yet to get
to your hall, sir,
that woman with the wind behind her.
Wait on, king”

King Hjorleif took possession of all the lands that Hreidar had owned, and he put Solvi Hogni’s son in charge of it and gave him a jarldom, but Hjorleif went back toNorway and took Hild and Aesa with him and summoned an assembly. The people voted that Aesa should be drowned in a bog, but Hjorleif sent her up to the mountains with her dowry.
Hjorleif and Aesa had a son called Oblaud, who was the father of Otrygg, the father of Hogni the White, the father of Ulf the Squint, from whom the folk of Reykjanes are descended.


9. Of Hjorolf Hjorleifsson

Hjorleif and Hild the Slender had two sons. The oldest was called Hjorolf and the youngest Half. King Hjorleif was killed while out raiding. There was a king called Asmund. He took Hild the Slender as his wife and fostered Hjorleif’s sons.
When Hjorolf was thirteen, he got ready to go raiding. He got every ship he could get his hands on, large or small, new or old, and every man he could find, free or forced. They had lots of things for weapons: sticks and staves, posts and poles. That’s why, since then, anything that’s a bit unwieldy is called Hjorolf’s Gear.[6] And when he got into a battle with some vikings, he rallied the troops and attacked. He had an inexperienced and ill-equipped force, and many of his men were killed, but some fled, and he got back home with that lot by autumn, and he didn’t amount to much as a man.


10. Of King Half and Half’s Heroes

The following spring Half was twelve years old, and no one could match him for size or strength. Then he got ready to go raiding, and he had one ship, new and well-made.
In Hordaland there lived a jarl whose name was Alf the Old. His wife was Gunnlod, sister of Lord Hamund the Bold—their father was the berserk Hromund. Gunnlod and Alf had two sons and both were called Stein. The oldest was eighteen. He was then adviser to King Half. No one younger or more immature than him was to go on the expedition. In the courtyard stood a big stone. No one was to go unless they’d lifted that stone off the ground. No one who got scared was to go, or who spoke despondently, or who winced at wounds. Stein junior couldn’t go because of his age, as he was twelve years old.
Lord Hamund had two sons, one called Rook the Black and the other Rook the White. They were chosen for this expedition. Aslak was a major landowner. Egil and Erling were his sons. They were fine men. Half’s standard bearer was called Vemund. Four men from the king’s following were attached to him. Now the eleven provinces were scoured. There they found twelve men. There were the two brothers Hawk and Falcon, Styr the Strong, Dag the Dashing, Bork and Brynjolf, Bolverk, and Haki, Hring and Halfdan, Stari and Steingrim, Stuf and Gauti, Bard and Bjorn. There were twenty-three of them in all when they set out.
That first evening, as they put in to harbour, it rained heavily. Stein asked for a tent. The king answered, “Still want to live in a tent? You’re not at home now, you know.” So from then on they called him Innstein.
The next day they rowed around a headland in choppy weather. A man was standing on the headland, and he asked for passage. The king said he could stand on the rudder-post till evening. He said that was very kind of him, and that he guessed then he’d be standing at the king’s right hand. And he did just that. This man was Gunnlod’s other son, Stein the Younger. From then on, he was called Utstein: Outside Stein.
They kept lots of rules, out of exuberance and a sense of competition. One was that none of them should have a sword any longer than eighteen inches, so they would be forced to get in close. They had saxes[7] made specially for them so that the blows would be heavier. Not one of them had less then twelve times the strength of an average man. They never stole women or children on raids. They never bound a wound till a whole day had passed. No one was accepted who failed to meet these standards of strength and courage. King Half was raiding for eighteen summers. It was their custom to always lie in wait round a headland. It was another of their customs to never pitch tents or awnings on deck and never to reef a sail in a storm. They were called Half’s Heroes, and he never had more than sixty on his ship.


11. Asmund Invited King Half

King Half came home from war to own his kingdom. They had a big storm at sea. Their ship was taking water, too much to bail. Then the decision was taken to cast lots for who should go overboard, but there was no need for that, as each man volunteered to go overboard on behalf of his mate. And as they climbed over the gunwales, they said, “There’s no straw on the sea floor!”[8]
But when King Half reached Hordaland, King Asmund came to see him and did homage to him and swore oaths of allegiance and became his man, and he invited King Half to a feast together with half his warriors. But the next morning, as the king got ready and said that half his troops were to stay on the ships, Innstein said:

“We ought all of us
up from our ships
with burning brands,
best of warriors,
take fire to our foe
first while we can,
bring oblivion
to Asmund’s band.”

The king said:

“Half this host
of heroes goes
up from the sea,
I say, in peace.
To us an offer
Asmund has made,
red rings as we
would wish to have.

Innstein said:

“You don’t see all
of Asmund’s mind,
that chief conceals
deceit in his breast.
You’d set less store
in your step-father’s
(if we had our way)
word, my lord.

The king said:

“Asmund’s offered us
oaths untold,
promised peace,
pledged his friendship.
No lord well-born
would abuse a truce,
betray the trust
of a true ally.”

Innstein said:

“Odin’s fury
has fallen on you
if Asmund you trust
so absolutely.
He’ll dissemble,
hoodwink us all,
unless you keep
a look out, lord.”

The king said:

“You always twist
the talk to terror—
that king won’t betray
his treaty with us.
Gold we’ll get there
and gleaming gems,
red rings scattered
from the ruler’s hoard.”

Innstein said:

“Half, I had a dream
—pay heed to me—
fierce flame there played
upon our forces;
from that tight spot it seemed
quite tough to escape.
What meaning, majesty,
do you make of that dream?”

The king said:

“I’ll give a gilt helm
to each gallant hero,
to those bold fellows
who follow me.
That will flash
like fire over
the lord’s warband,
lighting their heads.

Innstein said:

“I dreamed again,
a dreadful scene:
it seemed that shoulders
shone with flame.
I’ve a feeling, sire,
that’s not a good sign.
Any idea
what this dream might mean?”

The king said:

“Chain-links will chime
on chief’s retainers,
on king’s men clinking
cascades the mail.
That will shine
on shoulders brightly,
of royal comrades
quite like fire.”

Innstein said:

“I dreamed again,
a third dream also,
that we took a dive
in deep water.
It’s got to imply
some great deceit.
What meaning, sire,
do you see in this dream.”

The king said:

“What’s it to me?
I’ve heard all I want,
now fasten your mouth,
it means just nothing.
Enough of this nonsense!
Not a word now
of your dreams and drivel
from this day forth.”

Innstein said:

“Listen up, you two Rooks,
in the ranks of the king,
and heed these words
of warning, Utstein.
Up from the strand
let’s stride together.
The words of our king
we won’t blame for that.”

Utstein said:

“We’ll let the warlord,
our warrior king,
lead with daring
our expeditions.
Let’s chance it, brother,
to please the chief,
risk our bodies
for a brave master.”

Innstein said:

“The ruler’s relied
while roaming abroad,
our lord many times,
on my loyal counsel.
Now though it seems
there’s nothing I can say—
the king won’t listen
since we came this way.”


12. King Asmund’s Treachery

King Half went up to Asmund’s hall with one half of his warriors. There was a multitude of people there. The banquet was bountiful and the drink so strong that Half’s Heroes were soon fast asleep. King Asmund and his men set fire to the hall.
And the first of the Heroes to wake saw that the hall was nearly full of smoke. He said, “Seems a bit smoky round our hawks[9] now.” Then he lay down and went back to sleep.
And another one woke up and he saw that the hall was burning, and he said, “I suppose the wax’ll be dripping off our blades now.”[10] That one lay back down.
And then King Half woke up. He got up and roused the men and told them to arm themselves. They charged at the wall then, so that the clasps on the corner-beams came loose.
And Innstein said:

“Smoke’s to the hawks
in the hall of the king,
and wax from saxes
it seems will drip.
High time to deal out
dear treasures and gold,
hurry helms to share
among Half’s Heroes.

Wake, Half, I urge -
no want of warmth,
of fires kindled,
conflagrations.
Rise ring-sharing king
rise to vengeance:
for a plotting parent
it’s pay back time.

Ram now the planks,
push on the walls.
The props splinter,
split finally in two.
The fame won’t fail
while folk live, ever,
of the day Half’s Heroes
dined with this duke.

With hard blows we’ll go
and give up never.
The chief’s champions
must charge with short-swords.
On themselves they’ll bear
bloody sores,
our foes, before
we’re finished battling.

Look lively, lads,
leap out the fire,
dodge cinders gentlemen
just like your prince.
No man’s likely
to live for ever -
I doubt he’ll dread
to die, our leader.”


13. The Fall of King Half

So it is said that Half and his Heroes got out of the fire and that Half fell before overwhelming odds together with his men. Innstein said, when the king had fallen:

“Here I saw armed-men
all follow one,
(king’s kin he was)
keen as each other.
We’ll meet in one piece
when we part from here.
I’ve little more liking
for life than death.”

Then the rest of the Heroes joint the fight, those who’d stayed with the ships. There fell a great many of Half’s Heroes. The battle dragged on till nightfall, before Innstein fell. Innstein said:

“Rook has fallen
by the feet of our leader,
defending to the last
his liege-lord staunchly.
With Odin we’ve
one bone to pick–
that he snatched victory
from such a king.

I’ve been at sea
eighteen summers,
a bold boss I served,
stained shaft with blood.
Another lord
I’ll never find
more gallant in war,
nor grow old now.

So here Innstein
sinks to the ground,
lays himself down
by his leader’s head.
In latter times
at the telling of sagas,
they’ll hear of how
King Half died laughing.”


14. Of Utstein and Rook the Black

Gunnlod went in the night among the slain to look for her sons. She found Innstein dead, but Utstein was wounded, though barely alive, and likewise Bard and Bjorn. She put them on a cart and brought them to a cottage and healed them in secret and sent them south then to Sweden. Bjorn and Bard went to see King Solvi, Half’s uncle on his mother’s side, but Utstein went to Denmark to King Eystein, his kinsman.
Rook the Black had many grave wounds. In the night, he walked from the battle field till he found a humble cotter whose name was Skogkarl. There he stayed, and his wounds were bandaged. The cotter smuggled him north to Sogn to Lord Geirmund, his father’s brother. There he was healed in secret and in the autumn he went to Oppland and east to Gautland. He made it to King Haki in Scania and stayed the winter with him.


15. Utstein Killed the Sons of Ulf

Utstein was staying with King Eystein. Ulf the Red was Eystein’s advisor. He had eight sons, and they were great fighters and very malicious. They took a dislike to Utstein, and they fell out while drinking. This was before Utstein had told of King Half’s death. He said then:

“What makes me smile
most especially,
is that Asmund’s not yet
out the fire.
Three warriors fell
in the fighting there
from wounds, it’s true,
but one lives.”

When Ulf declared himself a match for Utstein and egged him on, Utstein said:

“Up we’ll get
and out we’ll go then,
shield on shield,
it shan’t take long.
Something tells me
to trust to luck,
helmed here in Denmark
our disir[11] stand near.”

Ulf said:

“All your disir
are dead I think,
your luck’s run dry,
doughty Heroes.
I dreamt this dawn
our daring boys,
triumphed, topped you,
try as you might.”

Utstein said:

“You seem to me
sadly mistaken,
get ready Ulf
for a rude awakening.
Soon a sword
will swipe them off,
from reddened necks,
your heads rolling.”

Ulf said:

“Oh, they’ll succeed,
the sons of Ulf:
Odd and Ornolf,
Ati the Black,
Bork and Brynjolf,
Bui, Hardskafi,
Red Raud the Strong—
unless you run...”

Utstein said:

“Neither Stein nor Stari
would stop for fear
to try their arm
against Ulf’s sons,
(for our brother
balked not at battle),
to prick the pride of your shitmen,
knock them off their perch.

Not to the Rooks,
nor to Halfdan,
did that days’s
deeds seem a challenge,
when the four of us
felled eight cowards
out there
off Annir’s Point.

Though Ulf’s sons step
outside to fight,
eight warriors now
all against one,
Stein won’t flee,
though somewhat fewer
the men with me
in my company.

Half, my king,
he came in a dream,
encouraged me to combat,
kind words speaking.
He’d always be with us,
that’s what he told me,
watching over
wherever we went to war.”

Then Ulf’s sons went outside with Utstein and they fought. He killed all of Ulf’s sons and afterwards went in to the king and said:

“I’m here to give
grave news to Ulf—
his haughty sons
lie hacked to bits.
More men may, Eystein,
if you wish now,
come test their courage,
in combat with me.”

Eystein said:

“I will permit
no more such attempts—
the Heroes of Half
are harder than any.
I know of none
more noble in war,
bolder than you, sir,
slayer of eight.”

Utstein said:

“I’d take on all
of Eystein’s band,
with my sword slash them
same way as these,
if I saw a need
such work to do,
should enmity fall
first among us.

No one’s too keen
to cross me now,
for long ago
my life was shaped.
Hard is the heart
I have in my breast.
As a child I found
favour with Odin.”


16. Of Rook the Black

Rook the black stayed with King Haki. The king’s daughter was called Brynhild. A king called Svein the Victorious asked for Brynhild’s hand in marriage, but Haki refused. Svein swore he’d kill the man who got her, and her father too. King Haki had a jarl called Hedin, and Vivil was his son. He asked for Brynhild’s hand, and this was promised him, if he would defend the land from Svein.
Rook the Black was unknown there, and no one thought anything of him. He sat in the guest’s seat. One day, the men of the court went deer hunting, and the women went gathering nuts. Brynhild saw a big man standing alone by an oak tree. She heard him say:

“Now Hamund’s son
will say something
of the brothers Rook,
their birth and line.
More doughty I deem
my dad to have been,
a keen falcon
compared to your father.

No one would want
to be like Weevil,
not even the herdsmen
of Hamund’s flock.
I didn’t find
any swine-herd with feebler
heart than Hedin’s
gutless son has.

My station was higher
when we stood by Half,
warred with the wise king
the world over,
with single mind
we marched as one,
always fighting
far and wide.

Hawkish the heart
we had, each man of us,
wherever the chief chose
to chance his luck.
Great lands were they:
with grey helmets
through nine countries
we cut a swathe.

Half I saw hew
two-handed there,
no shield sheltered
our chief that day.
A worthier warrior
you wouldn’t find,
though hard you hunt,
or stouter-hearted.

Some men who know
no better than this,
they think our king
had a fool’s courage.
But they never knew
that noble ruler,
Half, Haloga-king,[12]
if that’s all they’ve heard.

His boys were forbidden
to blanch at death
or to utter but one
word out of worry.
None were allowed
to enlist with that lord
unless his destiny
they dared to share.

None were allowed
to let out a groan
at cuts incurred
in the clash of war,
or bind a sore,
bandage up wounds,
until an entire
day’s time was done.

He commanded that no man
in manacles be harmed,
nor any woman
by his warriors attacked.
Honourably he ordered
should all girls be bought,
with fairest gold
and fathers’ leave.

We never met
so many enemies
in all our time
that we turned and fled,
even when eleven
eager hostile
warriors awaited
each one of us.

The upper hand
we always had
where shields crashed
in combat together.
One prince alone
was the peer of my lord,
hard-knit Sigurd
in the halls of Gjuki.

Many I could mention
who marched with us,
who battled for the boss,
brave men and good:
Bork and Brynjolf,
Bolverk and Haki,
Egil and Erling,
Aslak’s sons.

The finest of friends
I found these to be:
Rook, my brother,
and bold King Half,
Styr and Steinar,
strong men both,
Lady Gunnlod’s
gallant boys.

Hring and Halfdan
hawks the both of them,
Dag the Dashing,
no doubting their judgement.
Stari and Steingrim,
Styr and Gauti—
you’ll hear nowhere
of more handsome lads.

Hawk and Falcon,
on harrying raids,
fine fellows marched,
at their master’s side.
Those king’s fighters would find
few fit for much
here in Haki’s
humble land.

Nor was I deemed
a nobody there,
a wretch in the ranks
of the royal troop.
Keenest of comrades
they called me indeed,
for each one sought
to gain honour
and glory for all the others.

In the vanguard Vemund
advanced with the standard
(Bjorn and Bersi
bore all before them),
dared fight in front
of a fine leader,
who formed up his legions
while life lasted.

The general enjoyed
just a short span,
less days than his deeds
of daring deserved.
At twelve the realm’s
director took to war,
but when our regent
reached thirty, he died.

I don’t sleep well,
wake many a night,
I feel so bad
about my brother:
the thought of Rook
in that ruin burning
alive with the last
of our lord’s fighters.

The darkest day
one dare imagine,
worst one in the world,
that was for me.
Ease no longer
can we expect,
nor company
of faithful kin.

Quite lighter my grief
would grow could I get
vengeance and rend
my ring-giver’s slayer,
with sword scintillating
slice into Asmund,
break open the breast
of Half’s butcher.

Half the hero
has to be avenged,
for they betrayed
his trust in a truce.
Murder was committed
and manslaughter
by Asmund on that
ill-starred day.

There’ll be a test,
a trial of strength,
if Svein we find
on the field of battle,
of who’s hardier,
who has what it takes,
Hamund’s boy
or Haki’s thanes.

Here’s what I’d say
to that smart woman:
Brynhild I’d ask
to be my wife,
did I but believed
she wanted to love
this Rook here,
Hamund’s boy.

Shrewd descendants
I’d expect to see,
some good offspring
if we got together,
for I’ve not encountered
a cannier lass
than Haki’s girl,
the whole world over.

I’ve yet to meet
on my many journeys,
a dearer lass
than Haki’s daughter.
She is all
that I could wish.

I’m an outcast here
in Haki’s kingdom,
ignored by all.
They’ve each a spot
to sit inside,
these slack warriors,
higher at table
than Half’s Heroes.

Brynhild told her father what she’d heard, and said that one of Half’s Heroes must have arrived. And when the king realised that, he directed Rook to sit in the seat of honour, and they got on great, Rook and the king. Rook the Black married King Haki’s daughter Brynhild. The following spring, Rook went with an army against Svein the Victorious, and they fought a battle. Svein fell there, and Rook came back triumphant to King Haki.
That summer they sailed out with an army: King Solvi and King Haki and Rook the Black, King Eystein and Utstein with him. They went to Norway, fought a battle with King Asmund and slew him.
Half’s son Hjor was then king of Hordaland. Rook and Utstein went raiding for many years, and they were men of great renown. The daughter of Brynhild and Rook the Black was Gunnlod, who was Hromund Gripsson’s mother.


17. The Birth of Hamund and Geirmund Deathskin

King Hjor Halfsson married Hagny, daughter of King Haki Hamundsson. King Hjor went to a meeting of kings, and while he was gone, Hagny gave birth to two sons, and they were black and strikingly ugly, and one was called Hamund and the other Geirmund. A serving woman gave birth at the same time, to a son, and he was called Leif. He was very handsome. The queen swapped sons with the servant and brought Leif to the king. The king went away again, this time on campaign. The boys were now three years old. Leif became timid, as he got older, but Hamund and Geirmund were enormous and spoke intelligently.
The skald Bragi came to a feast there. One day, all the men went to the forest, and the women to the hazel wood to gather nuts, and no one was home in the hall except Bragi, sitting in the seat of honour, and the queen was hiding there covered in a pile of clothes. Leif sat on the throne, playing with gold, but Hamund and Geirmund were in the straw down on the floor. But then they went over to Leif and pushed him off his chair, and took off him all his gold. He cried then. Bragi got up and went to where the queen lay, and poked the clothes with his staff and said:

“There’s two in here
and both I trust,
Hamund and Geirmund,
born to Hjor;
but the third one, Leif,
is Lodhott’s son.
You never gave birth
to that boy, woman.” [13]

After which, Hagny swapped her boys back with the servant. And when King Hjor came home, she took the boys to him and said that they were his sons.
“Away with them!” he said, “I never saw such deathlike skin.” They were both called Deathskin after this.
They were men of great deeds and strength, and a major family in Iceland is descended from them. Hamund’s son was Thorir-at-Espihol. From him are descended the Espiholers. Geirmund Deathskin settled in Medalfellsstrond in Breidafjord. His daughter was called Yri, and a great family comes from her.


[1] Virtually the same verse is uttered by a giant moss-grown ‘wooden man’ in the final chapter of Ragnar’s Saga.
[2] A fox-spirit, literally ‘one who urinates in springs’. In Norse folklore foxes were thought to pollute drinking water in this way, or worse...
[3] When Hjorleif stops by on his return journey.
[4] hólmstefna ‘duel’, literally ‘island-meeting’, since duels were traditionally fought on islands. But the term seems to be used more loosely here for ‘battle’ in general.
[5] A puzzling prophecy, if such it be, delivered after the event and apparently to the wrong king. Variously interpreted as misplaced or corrupt, or both. Perhaps an accidental amalgam of two once separate verses, as the first half seems addressed to Hjorleif, while the second might apply to Hreidar before finding his daughter.
[6] The expression is not otherwise recorded.
[7] A type of short-sword.
[8] Understatement: it’s not so cosy in the sea, quite unlike the straw-strewn floor of a hall.
[9] A conventional metaphor for brave warriors, but the writer of the prose may have interpreted it literally here.
[10] The blades were coated in wax to prevent rust.
[11] Guardian goddesses.
[12] King of Halogaland, a coastal region of northwest Norway, but poetically stands for Norway in general.
[13] A more detailed retelling of this anecdote can be found in Tale of Geirmund Deathskin in Sturlunga saga ‘The Saga of the Sturlungs’, along with a slightly different version of the verse, and the story of Geirmund and Hamund’s subsequent carrier as vikings and settlers. A third account of these twins can be found in Landnámabók ‘The Book of Settlements’.

The Saga of Half and His Heroes
archived 5 May 2013 13:23:46 UTC

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