of Ragnar’s Sons
© Peter Tunstall, 2005
1. King Ragnar
After the death of King Hring, his son Ragnar came to power in
Sweden and Denmark. Then many kings came to the kingdom and seized land. And because he was a young man, they thought he would also be unfit for decision making or governing the country. There was a jarl in West Gautland who was called Herraud. He was a vassal of King Ragnar. He was the wisest man there was and a great warrior. He had a daughter, whowas called Thora Hart-of-the-Town. She was the fairest of all women that the king had heard tell of.
The jarl, her father, had given her a baby snake for a present one morning. To begin with, she kept it in a box. But in time, this snake got so big that it coiled right round the bower and bit its own tail. It grew so fierce then that no one dared come near the bower, except her servants and those who fed it, and it ate an ox a day. Folk were very scared, and they could see that it would do great harm, so big and fierce had it become. The jarl made this solemn vow at the bragarfull, the ceremony of the chief’s cup, that he would give his daughter Thora in marriage to none but the man who could kill that snake, or who dared go and talk with her there in front of the snake.
And when King Ragnar hears this news, he goes to
West Gautland. And when he had just a little way to go to the jarl’s dwelling, he donned shaggy clothes: trousers and a cloak with sleeves and hood. These clothes were treated with sand and tar, and he took in his hand a great spear, and had a sword on his belt, and in this way he left his men and walked alone to the jarl’s dwelling and Thora’s bower. And as soon as the snake saw that a stranger had come, it reared up and blew poison at him. But he thrust his shield at it and went bravely towards it and pierced its heart with his spear. Then he drew his sword and cut off the serpent’s head. And it turned out just as it says in the Saga of King Ragnar: he married Thora Hart-of-the-Town.
And afterwards he went to war and liberated the whole kingdom. He had two sons with Thora, one called Eirik, the other Agnar. And when they were a few years old, Thora takes sick and she died. After that, Ragnar married Aslaug, whom some call Randalin, the daughter of Sigurd Fafnir’s Bane and Brynhild Budli’s daughter. They had four sons. Ivar Boneless was the eldest, then Bjorn Ironside, then Hvitserk, then Sigurd. There was a mark is his eye, as if a snake lay around the pupil, and that’s why he was called Sigurd Snake-in-Eye.
2. The Death of Ragnar’s Elder Sons
Now when Ragnar’s sons were fully grown, they went raiding far and wide. The brothers Eirek and Agnar were second in rank after Ragnar, and Ivar third with his younger brothers, and he was the leader because he was very clever. They conquered
Zealand and Reidgotaland, Gotland, and Öland and all the smaller islands in the sea. Then Ivar set himself up at Hleidargard in Zealand with his younger brothers, but that went against the will of King Ragnar. His sons all went warring, because they didn’twant to be any less famous than their father the king.
King Ragnar wasn’t too pleased about this, that his sons had turned against him and taken his tributary lands against his will. He set up a man called Eystein Beli as king over
Upper Sweden, and told him to hold the realm for him and guard it from his sons, if they laid claim to it.
One summer, when King Ragnar had gone east over the Baltic with his army, his sons Eirik and Agnar came to
Sweden and brought their ships into . Then they sent word to King Eystein in Lake Mälaren Uppsala, telling him to come to them. And when they met, Eirik said that he wanted Eystein to govern Sweden under the brothers, and adds that he wants to marry Eystein’s daughter Borghild, and says that then they’ll be well able to hold the kingdom against King Ragnar. Eystein tells them that he wants to consult the Swedish chieftains, so with that they part. And when King Eystein raised this matter, the chieftains were all of one mind: to defend the land from Ragnar’s sons. And they bring together now an overwhelming host, and King Eystein marches against Ragnar’s sons.And when they clash, a great battle ensues and Lodbrok’s sons are overwhelmed by superior numbers, and their troops fall in such numbers that hardly any were left standing. Then Agnar fell too, and Eirik was captured.
King Eystein offered peace to Eirik and as much of the wealth of Uppsala as he wanted in compensation for his brother Agnar and, along with that, he could have his daughter Borghild, just as he’d asked. Eirik didn’t want any money, and he didn’t want the king’s daughter, and he says he doesn’t want to live after such a defeat as he’s just had. But this, he said, this is what he would accept: to choose for himself the day of his death. Andsince King Eystein couldn’t get any settlement out of Eirik, he agreed to that.
Eirik asked them to catch him from below on spear-points and so lift him up above all the slain. Then chanted Eirik:
“Don’t care, cur, to hear you,
killer if you offer;
(Eystein, they say, slew Agnar)
I don’t want your daughter.
To mourn me I’ve no mother;
make haste, hey!, impale me.
I’ll die over host hoisted,
highest o’er the slaughter.”
And before he was lifted up on the spears, he saw a man riding hard. Then he said:
“Send word to my slender
sweet stepmother, greet her:
(my forays east are ended)
say all my rings are hers.
Great will grow their anger
when they get to know it,
when she brings her bounteous
boys news of my demise.”
Now it was done, just as he’d said: Eirik was raised up on the spear-points, and he died thus, up above the slain.
And when word of this reaches Aslaug in
Zealand, she goes at once to see her sons and tells them the news. Bjorn and Hvitserk were playing tafl, and Sigurd was stood in front.Then said Aslaug:
“I doubt, if they’d made it,
and you lot had fallen,
(with loved ones not living)
they’d let you go forgotten
—I say and make no secret—
six whole months sans vengeance,
if Eirik lived, and Agnar—
I who never bore them.”
Then Sigurd Snake-in-Eye answered:
“In three weeks we’ll be through with
(if that grieves you, mother)
(long the way that waits us)
war-readying of levies.
Eystein’s rule’s soon over
—even if he offers
payments big and brazen—
if our blades prove true then.
Then said Bjorn Ironside:
“Heart will hold, heroic,
in a hawk-keen torso:
doughty, daring, though I
don’t shout out about it,
nor snakes nor beady serpents
sit in my eyes spiralled.
Those men made me merry:
your stepsons I remember.”
Then answered Hvitserk:
“Let’s plan, before vowing,
how vengeance might be managed,
various vile torments
devise for Agnar’s killer;
heave hulls onto billows,
hew ice aside, slice it.
Let’s see whose sloop’s scrambled,
schooners to sea, soonest.
Then Ivar Boneless said:
“Pluck you have in plenty
and pith as well with it:
let’s trust too you’re stubborn,
as tough heads are needed.
I’m borne before my fighters
forward though I’m boneless,
I have hands for vengeance,
though hardly strength in either.”
After that, Ragnar’s sons mustered an overwhelming army. And when they were ready, they went with a fleet to
Sweden, while Queen Aslaug goes overland with fifteen hundred knights, and that host was well equipped. She wore armour herself and commanded the army, and they called her Randalin, and they meet up in Sweden and plunder and burn wherever they go.
King Eystein hears word of this and raises an army against them, with every man of fighting age who was in his realm. And when they met, a mighty battle ensued, and Lodbrok’s sons had the victory, and King Eystein fell, and news of this battle spreads far and wide, and very famous it becomes.
Out campaigning, King Ragnar hears of it, and he’s less than happy with his sons, as they’d taken revenge without waiting for him. And when he comes home to his realm, he says to Aslaug that he’ll do deeds no less famous than his sons have done. “I’ve now won back almost all the lands that my forebears held, but not
England. And that’s why I’ve now had two knorrs made at Lidum in Vestfold”—his kingdom reached all the way to Dovrefjell and Lindesnes.
Aslaug answered, “You could have had many longships made for the price of these knorrs. And besides, you know that big ships are no good for going to
England, with all the streams and shallows there, and this is not well thought out.”
But all the same, King Ragnar goes west to
England in these knorrs with five hundred men and both ships are wrecked in England, but Ragnar himself and all his crew came safely ashore. He takes now to harrying wherever he goes.
3. The Fall of Ragnar and the Vengeance of his Sons
At that time, there was a king called Ella ruling over
Northumbria in England. Andwhen he learns that raiders have come to his kingdom, he musters a mighty force and marches against Ragnar with an overwhelming host, and hard and terrible battle ensues. King Ragnar was clad in the silken jacket Aslaug had given him at their parting. But as the defending army was so big that nothing could withstand them, so almost all his men were killed, but he himself charged four times through the ranks of King Ella, and iron just glanced off his silk shirt. Finally he was taken captive and put in a snake-pit, but the snakes wouldn’t come near him. King Ella had seen during the day, as they fought, that iron didn’t bite him, and now the snakes won’t harm him. So he had him stripped of the clothes that he’d been wearing on the day, and at once snakes were hanging off him on all sides, and he left his life there with much courage.
And when the sons of King Ragnar hear this news, they head west to
England and fight with King Ella. But since Ivar wouldn’t fight, nor his men, and moreover the English army was immense, they were defeated and fled to their ships and home to Denmark, leaving it at that.
But Ivar stayed in
England and went to see King Ella and asked to be compensated for his father. And because King Ella had seen that Ivar didn’t want to fight alongside his brothers, he took this for a genuine offer of peace. Ivar asked the king to give him in compensation as much land as he could cover with the biggest old bull-hide he could find, because, he says, he can’t very well go home in peace to his brothers if he doesn’t get anything. This all seemed above board to Ella and they agree to these terms. Ivar now takes a fresh supple bull-skin and has it stretched out as thin as can be. And then he has the hide sliced into the finest string, and he then splits the flesh-side from the hair-side for himself. Then he has it pulled around a flat stretch of land and marked out foundations. He builds strong city walls, and that town is now called York. He makes alliances with all the people of the country and especially with the leaders, and eventually all the chiefs around pledged loyalty to him and his brothers.
Then he sends word to his brothers and says it’s more likely they’ll be able to avenge their father now if they come with an army to
England. And when they hear that, they order out the army and make for England. And as soon as Ivar learns they’re on their way, he goes to King Ella and says that he doesn’t want to keep such news a secret, but he can’t really fight against his own brothers; nevertheless he’ll go and talk to them and try to make peace. The king agrees. Ivar goes to meet his brothers and incites them to avenge their father, and then goes back to King Ella and says that they’re so savage and crazed with fury that they want to fight no matter what. As far as the king can see, Ivar is acting with the utmost faith. Now Ella goes against the bothers with his army.
But when they clash, a good many leaders leave the king and go over to Ivar. The kingwas outnumbered then, so that the greater part of his forces fell, while he himself was taken captive. Ivar and the brothers now recall how their father was tortured. They now had the eagle cut in Ella’s back, then all his ribs severed from the backbone with a sword, in such a way that his lungs were pulled out there. As Sighvat says in the poem Knutsdrapa:
“Ivar, he who
held court at
had eagle hacked
in Ella’s back.”
After this battle, Ivar made himself king over that part of
England which his forbears had owned before him. He had two brothers born out of wedlock, one called Yngvar, the other Husto. They tortured King Edmund the Saint on Ivar’s orders, and then he took his kingdom.
The sons of Lodbrok went raiding in many lands:
England, Normandy, France, and out over Lombardy. But it’s said the furthest they got was when they took the town of Luni.And one time they thought of going to Rome and taking that. And their warrings have become the most famous in all the northlands where Norse is spoken. And when they come back to their realm in Denmark, they shared out the lands between them. Bjorn Ironside got Uppsala and central Sweden and all the lands that belong to that, and it’stold that Sigurd Snake-in-Eye had Zealand and Scania and Halland, and Oslo Fjord, and Agder as far as Lindesnes and a good portion of the Norwegian Uplands, while Hvitserk had Reidgotaland and Wendland.
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye married Blaeja, the daughter of King Ella. Their son was Knut, who was called Horda-Knut, who succeeded his father in
Zealand, Scania and Halland, but Oslo Fjord broke away from his rule. Gorm was his son. He was named after his foster father, the son of Knut the Foundling. He governed all the lands of Ragnar’s sons while they were away at war. Gorm Knutsson was the biggest of men and the strongest and the most impressive in every respect, but he wasn’t as wise as his forebears had been.
4. Of King Gorm
Gorm took the kingship after his father. He married Thyri, who was called
Denmark’s Saviour, daughter of Klakk-Harald, who was king in Jutland. But when Harald died, Gorm took all of Harald’s realm under his rule too. King Gorm went with his host over the whole of Jutland and abolished all the petty kings as far south as the River Schlei, and thus seized much of Wendland, and he fought great battles against the Saxons and became a mighty king. He had two sons. The eldest was called Knut, and the younger one Harald. Knut was the most handsome man ever seen. The king loved him above any other man, and so did all the people. He was called The Love of the Danes. Harald resembled his mother’s kin and his mother loved him no less than Knut.
Ivar the Boneless was king in
England for a long time. He had no children, because of the way he was: with no lust or love—but he wasn’t short of cunning and cruelty. And he died of old-age in England and was buried there. Then all Ragnar’s sons were dead. After Ivar, Adalmund, the son of Saint Edmund’s brother, took the kingship in England and converted large parts of it to Christianity. He took tribute from Northumbria, because that was heathen. His son, Adalbrigt, ruled after him. He was a good king and lived to an old age.
Towards the end of his time, a Danish army came to England, and the leaders of the army were Knut and Harald, the sons of King Gorm. They seized large parts of the kingdom in Northumbria, which Ivar had owned. King Adalbrigt marched against them and they fought north of
Cleveland, and a great many Danes fell there. And a little later, the Danes went up to Scarborough and fought there and won. Then they marched south to York and the whole populous accepted their rule, and they had no fear. And one day, when the weather was hot, the men went bathing in the sea. And as the king’s sons were also swimming between the ships, some men rushed down from the land and shot at them. Knut was mortally wounded with an arrow, and they took the body and carried it out to the ship. And when the English hear that, they gather their forces, so that the Danes can’t get ashore, due to the Englishmen gathered there. So after that they go back home to Denmark.
King Gorm was in Jutland at the time. And when he heard these tidings, he collapsed and he died of grief at the same hour the following day. Then Harald, his son, ruled in Denmark. He was the first of his kin to take the faith and be baptised.
5. The Fall of Sigurd Hart
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye and Bjorn Ironside and Hvitserk had raided widely in
France. Then Bjorn headed back home to his kingdom. After that, the Emperor Arnulf fought with the brothers, and a hundred thousand Danes and Norwegians fell there. There also fell Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and Gudrod was the name of another king who fell there. He was the son of Olaf, the son of Hring, the son of Ingjald, the son of Ingi, the son of Hring, after whom Ringerike in Norway is known. Hring was the son of Dag and Thora Mother-of-Drengs.  They had nine sons, and the Dagling dynasty comes from them.
Helgi Hvassi, the Sharp, was the name of Gudrod’s brother. He escaped from the battle with the standard of Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and his sword and shield. He went home to Demark with his own forces and there found Aslaug, Sigurd’s mother, and told her the tidings. Then Aslaug spoke a verse:
“Sad sit the corpse-stalkers,
slaverers after cadavers:
the slain-craver, raven—
what a shame!—forsaken
by namesake of Sigurd;
in vain now they’re waiting.
Too soon from life Lord Odin
let such a hero go.”
But because Horda-Knut was young, Helgi stayed with Aslaug for a long time as protector of the land. Sigurd and Blaeja had a daughter. She was Horda-Knut’s twin. Aslaug gave her own name to her and brought her up then and fostered her. Afterwards she married Helgi Hvassi. Their son was Sigurd Hart. Of all the men ever seen, he was the fairest, and the biggest, and the strongest. They were the same age, Gorm Knutsson and Sigurd Hart.
When Sigurd was twelve, he killed the berserk Hildibrand in a duel, and he single-handedly slew twelve men in that fight. After that Klakk-Harald gave him his daughter, who was called Ingibjorg. They had two children: Gudthorm and Ragnhild.
Then Sigurd learnt that King Frodi, his father’s brother, was dead. He went north to Norway and became king over Ringerike, his inheritance. There is a long story told of him, as he did all manner of mighty deeds.
But it’s said of his passing, that he rode out hunting in the wilderness, as was his custom, and Haki Hadaberserk came at him with thirty fully armed men and they fought with him. Sigurd fell there, after first killing twelve men, but King Haki had lost his right hand and received three other wounds besides. Afterwards Haki and his men rode to Ringerike, to Stein, where Sigurd’s dwelling was, and took away Ragnhild his daughter, and his son Gudthorm, and plenty of goods too, and carried them off home with him to Hadeland. And soon after that, he had a great feast prepared and meant to celebrate his wedding, but it was put off because his wounds weren’t healing. Ragnhild was fifteen years old then, and Gudthorm fourteen. Autumn passed, and Haki was laid up with his wounds till Yule.
At this time, King Halfdan the Black was staying at his estate in Hedmark. He sent Harek Gand with a hundred and twenty men, and they marched over the frozen Lake Mjøsa to Hadeland one night and came the next morning to King Haki’s home and seized all the doors of the hall where the retainers were sleeping. And then they went to King Haki’s bedroom and took Ragnhild and Gudthorm, her brother, and all the treasure that was there, and carry it off with them. They burnt all the retainers in their hall and then leave. But King Haki got up and got dressed and went after them for a while. But when he came to the ice, he turned down his sword-hilt to the ground and fell on the point and met his death there, and he’s buried on the bank of the lake.
King Halfdan saw them coming over the ice with a covered wagon and guessed their mission had gone exactly as he wished. He had a message sent then to all the settlements and invited to all the important people in Hedmark to a big feast that very day. There he celebrated his wedding to Ragnhild, and they lived together for many years after. Their son was King Harald the Fine-Haired, who was first to become sole ruler over the whole of
 Bulky cargo ships.
 Sleeker vessel favoured as a warship.
 drengr ‘a gallant, brave fellow’.
The Tale Ragnar's Sons
archived 8 Jul 2013 13:12:21 UTC