The Saga of Hervor

&

King Heidrek

the Wise

 

© Peter Tunstall, 2005

 

1. Sigrlami and the Dwarves

 

There was a man called Sigrlami who ruled over Gardariki. That is Russia. His daughter was Eyfura who was the fairest of all girls.

One day as the king rode out hunting, he lost sight of his men. He rode deep into the forest in pursuit of a hart but when the sun sank the following day, he still hadn’t caught it. He’d ridden so far into the forest, he hardly knew where he was. He saw a tall stone in the sunset, and by it two dwarves. He drew his knife over them, binding them outside the stone by the power of graven iron. They begged for their lives.

The king asked, “What are your names?”

One was called Dvalin, the other Dulin.

The king said, “Since you two are the most skilled out of all the dwarves, you shall make me a sword, the best that you can. The guard and boss shall be of gold, and the grip too. It will bite iron like cloth and never rust. It will bring victory in battles and single combats for all who bear it.”

They agree to this. The king rides home. And when it comes to the appointed day, he rides to the stone. The dwarves were outside. They hand him the sword and it was indeed splendid. But as Dvalin stood in the doorway of the stone, he said:

“May your sword, Sigrlami, be a man’s bane each time it is drawn and may three vile deeds be done with that sword. It will also be death to your kin.”[1]

Then the king swung his sword at the dwarves. They sprang into the rock. The sword stuck right into the stone so that both edges were lost from sight, for the door closed behind them in the stone.

Sigrlami kept that sword and called it Tyrfing. It was the sharpest of swords and each time it was drawn it shone like a sunbeam. Never could it be bared without killing a man, and with warm blood it would always be sheathed. And nothing, not human nor animal, could live a day if they got a wound from it, no matter how great or small. It never failed to strike, nor did it stop till it hit the earth, and any man who bore it in battle would have victory if he used it. The king bore it in battles and single combats and had victory every time. That sword is famous in all the old sagas.

 

 

2. Of Arngrim and his Sons

 

There was a man called Arngrim. He was a famous viking. He journeyed east to Gardariki and stayed a while with King Sigrlami and became the general of his army, to get both lands and subjects, for the king was now old. Arngrim became such a great chief now, the king gave him his daughter in marriage and appointed him to the highest position in his realm. He gave him the sword Tyrfing. Then the king settled down and nothing more is told of him.

Arngrim went north with his wife Eyfura to his family estate and settled on the island of Bolm. They had twelve sons. The oldest and most famous was Angantyr, the second Hjorvard, the third Hervard, the fourth Hrani, then Brami, Barri, Reifnir, Tind, Saeming and Bui and the two Haddings, who had between them only as much strength as one of the others, because they were twins, and because they were the youngest. But Angantyr had the strength of two. They were all of them berserks, such strong and great fighters that they would never travel except as a band of twelve. And they were never in a battle they didn’t win. Because of this they became famous in all the lands and there wasn’t a king who did not give them what they wanted.

 

 

3. Hjorvard’s Oathtaking

 

It was Yule Eve, the time for men to make solemn vows at the ceremony of the bragarfull, or chief’s cup, as is the custom. Then Arngrim’s sons made vows. Hjorvard took this oath, that he would have the daughter of Ingjald king of the Swedes, the girl who was famed through all lands for beauty and skill, or else he would have no other woman.

That same spring, the twelve brothers make their way and they come to Uppsala and walk before the kings table, and there sat his daughter beside him. Then Hjorvard tells his errand to the king and his oath, and everyone in the hall listened. Hjorvard asks the king to say quickly what answer he will give. The king thinks about this matter, and he knows how powerful the brothers were and of what reputed kin.

There were two men staying with King Ingjald at this time, as his champions and land-wards: Hjalmar the Great-Heart and Odd the Traveller who was called Arrow-Odd. And when Hjalmar heard what the berserks said, he stepped up before the table and spoke to the king: “Lord king, does your majesty remember now what great honour I have brought you since I came to your kingdom and how many battles I fought to win lands for you, and have I not always put my service at your disposal? Now I ask you that you do me the honour of giving me your daughter to whom my thoughts have always turned. And it is more appropriate that you grant this boon to me than to the berserks who have wrought ill both in your realm and in many other kingdoms.”

Now the king thinks all the more, and it seems a very tricky problem, these two leaders competing so much over his daughter.

The king speaks thus and says that each of them is such a great man and so nobly born that he will refuse them both his daughter. And he asks her to choose which one she wants to have. She says that is fair: if her father wishes to give her in marriage, then she wants the one she knows to be good, and not one she has only heard stories of, and all of them bad, as with Arngrim’s sons.

Hjorvard challenges Hjalmar to come south to the island of Samsey and curses him as a coward despised by all if he goes first and weds the lady before the duel is decided. Hjalmar says he won’t delay. Now Arngrim’s sons go home and tell their father how it went. And Arngrim says he’s never feared for them on any of their expeditions before now.

Immediately afterwards, the brothers travel to Jarl Bjarmar and he welcomes them with a great feast. And now Angantyr wishes to wed the jarl’s daughter, who was called Svafa, and they celebrated their wedding feast. And now Angantyr tells the jarl his dream: “It seemed to me,” he said, “that we brothers stood on Samsey and found many birds and killed them all. Then I dreamt we turned along a different way on the island and there flew towards us two eagles, and it seemed I went against one, and we had tough dealings together, and we both put each other on the floor before we stopped. And the other eagle fought with my eleven brothers, and it seemed to me the eagle got the better of them.”

The jarl says that there is no need to analyse that dream, for there he was shown the fall of mighty men.

 

 

4. Battle on Samsey

 

But when the brothers come home, they prepare themselves for the duelling place, and their father leads them to the ship and then gave the sword Tyrfing to Angantyr.

“I think,” he says, “that there will be a need of good weapons.”

He bids them farewell. After that, they leave.

And when the brothers come to Samsey, they see two ships lying in the cove which is called Munway. Those ships were the kind called ‘ashes’. They thought these ships must belong to Hjalmar and Odd. Then Arngrim’s sons drew their swords and bit on their shield-rims, and the berserk-state came on them. Then six of them went out onto each of the ashes. And there were such good warriors on board there that they all took up their weapons, and no one fled from his post, and no one uttered a word of fear. And the berserks went up one side and down the other and killed them all. Then they walked up onto the land roaring.

Hjalmar and Odd had gone up onto the island to see if the berserks had come. And as they walked out of the woods to their ships, the berserks came out of the ships with bloodied weapons, and then the berserk-state went off them. And they became weaker then that at other times, as after some kind of sickness. And Odd intoned:

 

“One time only

I was frightened,

when from warships

they walked roaring

(and loud yowling

to the island climbed)

twelve together,

gloryless.”

 

Then Hjalmar said to Odd, “Do you see there that all our men have fallen, and it appears to me most likely now that we will all be Odin’s guests in Valhall tonight.”

And that, men say, is the only word of fear that Hjalmar spoke.

Odd answers, “My advice would be this: that we get away from here to the wood, because the two of us will not be able to fight those twelve who have killed the bravest men who were in Sweden.”

Then said Hjalmar, “We will never flee from our enemies but rather endure their weapons. I will go to fight a berserk.”

Odd answered, “Well, I’m not in the mood to lodge with Odin tonight, so they will all be dead berserks before evening, and us two will live.”

That conversation of theirs is proved by this these lines which Hjalmar chanted:

 

“Bold fellows fare

forth off warships,

twelve together,

gloryless;

we foster brothers

must feast with Odin,

this very evening

while those twelve live.”

 

Odd says:

 

“To that an answer

I can give you:

This evening it’s they

who’ll eat with Odin,

those twelve berserks,

and the two of us live.”

 

Then Hjalmar saw that Angantyr had Tyrfing in his hand because it shone like a sunbeam. Hjalmar spoke: “Which do you want to fight: Angantyr on his own, or his eleven brothers?”

Odd says, “I want to fight with Angantyr. He will give hard knocks with Tyrfing, but I believe my shirt is better protection than your byrnie.”

Hjalmar spoke: “Wherever did we come to a battle, where you go forward in front of me? That’s why you want to fight with Angantyr, because you think that will get you more glory. Well, I’m the leader of this duelling expedition. In Sweden I promised the king’s daughter I’d not let you or anyone else go into this duel in front of me. So I should fight Angantyr.” And he drew his sword then and stepped up towards Angantyr, and they dedicated each other to Valhall. And they didn’t leave long between each heavy stroke.

Odd called to the berserks and said:

 

“One on one, lads,

unless you’re scared;

single combat,

or where’s your courage?”

 

Then Hjorvard went forward and he and Odd had a hard exchange of blows. And Odd’s silk shirt was so reliable that no weapon could get a grip on it, and he had a sword so good it bit mail like cloth. And he hadn’t dealt many cuts before Hjorvard fell dead. Then Hervard stepped up and went the same way, then Hrani, then one after the other, and Odd dealt them such a fierce onslaught that he laid low all eleven brothers. And of Hjalmar’s match it’s to be told that Hjalmar took sixteen wounds, and Angantyr fell dead.

Odd went up to where Hjalmar was, and said:

 

“What’s up, Hjalmar?

Your hue’s altered.

I say many wounds

do weary you.

Your helm is hewn,

and the hauberk on your side;

I say your life

has left you now.”

 

Hjalmar sang:

 

“I’ve sixteen wounds,

a slit byrnie;

there’s clouds before my eyes—

can’t see.

It entered my heart,

Angantyr’s sword,

fell bloodspike,

forged in poison.”

 

And he sang again:

 

“I owned five

farms in all

but that was never

enough for me.

Now I must lie,

of life deprived,

sword-maimed,

on Samsey Isle.

 

Housecarls do sup

in the hall on mead,

with gems fêted,

at father’s place.

Many men is the ale

making weary,

but me, sword-tracks[2]

on Samsey torment.

 

I left the fair

valkyrie of cloaks[3]

on Agnafit

to the ocean side;

it’ll turn out true,

what she told to me,

that never after

would I be back.

 

Take the red-gold

ring off my hand

and bring it to young

Ingibjorg;

that grief will fix

fast in her mind,

that I’ll not come

to Uppsala.

 

Away I turned

from womens’ song,

and eager for joy,

I eastward fared;

on I hastened,

teamed up with Soti,

left dear friends

one final time.

 

Raven flies from the east

from his lofty tree;

after him eagle
in escort flies.

To that last eagle

I leave my flesh.

He’ll banquet upon

on the blood of me.”

 

After that Hjalmar dies. Odd brings these tidings home to Sweden and the king’s daughter could not live after him and took her own life.

Angantyr and his brothers were laid in a mound on Samsey with all their weapons.

 

 

5. Hervor Got the Sword Tyrfing

 

Bjarmar’s daughter was with child. That was an exceptionally fair lass. She was sprinkled with water[4] and given a name and called Hervor, but it was the opinion of most that she should be left outside,[5] and they said she wouldn’t be too ladylike if she took after her father’s kin. She was brought up with the Jarl and was as strong as the boys. And as soon as she could do anything for herself, she trained more with shot and shield and sword than sewing or embroidery. She did more bad than good too. And when these things were forbidden to her, she ran into the woods and killed men for their money. And when the Jarl hears of this highwayman, he went there with his troops and caught Hervor and brought her home, and then she stayed at home for a bit.

It happened one time that Hervor was stood outside, near where some thralls were, and she was having a go at them, just as she treated everyone.

Then one of the thralls interrupted her, saying, “You, Hervor, all you want to do is evil, but evil’s only to be expected of you. And the Jarl has forbidden anyone to tell you about your parents because he thinks it shameful for you to know about that, because the lowest thrall lay with his daughter and you are their child.”

On hearing this, Hervor became furious and went straight before the Jarl and exclaimed:

 

“I needn’t boast

of noble kin

though mother found

Frodmar’s favour;

a great lineage

I liked to believe,

but here I’m told:

a herder of swine.”

 

The Jarl declared:

 

“You’ve heard a great lie,

little of substance;

noble among men

your father was known.

Strewn all with soil

stands Angantyr’s

hall on Samsey,

south side of the island.”

 

She said:

 

“Now, foster father,

I fain a visit

would pay upon

departed kin.

I’ll warrant they owned

wealth in plenty;

unless I perish

I’d like to get it.

 

From my hair with haste

headdress must go;

let’s off with the linen

before I leave.

Much depends,

upon my rising,

on cloak and shirt

being cut for me.”

 

Then Hervor spoke with her mother and said:

 

“Prepare me now

with proper care,

truly wise woman,

as you would a son;

a certain truth

in sleep to me comes:

no joy will I have

here at all soon.”

 

Then she got ready to leave alone with the gear and weapons of a man and made her way to where some vikings were and sailed with them for a while and called herself Hervard.

A little later, the captain died and this ‘Hervard’ took command of the crew. And when they came to the island of Samsey, ‘Hervard’ told them to stop there so he could go up onto the island and said there’d be a good chance of treasure in the mound. But all the crewmen speak against it and say that such evil things walk there night and day that it’s worse there in the daytime than most places are at night. In the end, they agree to drop anchor, and ‘Hervard’ climbed into the boat and rowed ashore and landed in Munway just as the sun was setting. And he met a man there watching his herd.

 

The young maiden

met at sunset

in Munway Cove

a man herding.

 

He said:

 

“Of human kind,

who’s come to the island?

Hie you hastily

home to your lodging!”

 

She said:

 

“Home to my lodging

I’ll hie me not,

as I know none

of the island folk;

so inform me fast

before you go:

where are Hjorvard’s

Howes[6] meant to be?”

 

He said:

 

“Don’t ask me that,

you don’t seem wise,

prince of pirates,

your plight is dire;

let’s flee as fast

as our feet can carry us;

it’s all too much

for men out here.”

 

She said:

 

“Here’s a prize necklace

in payment for talk;

I doubt you’ll divert

the vikings’ boss.”

 

He said:

“None can hand me

such hansom gems,

such good treasures

that I go not my way.”

 

She said:

 

“Let’s not deign to fear

such fizzing and sizzling[7]

though the whole island

heave with fire;

let’s not take fright

at fallen heroes

quite so quickly,

come let us talk.”

 

He said:

“Silly would seem

someone to me

who heads on alone

from here by night;

fire is blazing,

barrows open,

field burns and fen—

let’s go faster.”

 

Hotfoot to the holt

the herdsman was off then,

fled far away

from the words of this girl,

but Hervor’s heart

hard-knit in her breast

swells boldly now

about such matters.

 

And so he took off home to his village, and they parted company there. And at that she sees where the grave-fire is burning over on the edge of the island, and she goes up there and is not afraid though all the mounds were in her path and the dead standing outside. She waded through the flame as if through fog till she came to the barrow of the berserks.

Then she called:

 

“Awake, Angantyr!

Hervor wakes you,

only daughter

of you and Svafa;

from your crypt give me

that keenest blade,

the sword dwarves struck

for King Sigrlami.

 

Hervard, Hjorvard,

Hrani, Angantyr,

under forest roots

I rouse you all,

with buckler, with byrnie,

bright helm and harness,

a good sharp glaive,

and gold-reddened spear.

 

So much for you

sons of Arngrim,

mean men

to the mould adding,

when Eyfura’s boy

won’t even talk

to me tonight

in Munway Bay.

 

Hervard, Hjorvard,

Hrani, Angantyr,

be racked in your ribs

as if rotting

deep in an anthill,

if you don’t hand over

Dvalin’s sword;

it does not suit

dead men to grip

a good weapon.”

 

Then said Angantyr:

 

“Hervor, daughter,

what drives you to call so?

Brimful of bale-runes,

you’re bound for grief.

You’re out of your mind,

mad have you gone,

lost your wits now,

waking up dead men.

 

A father did not

dig my grave,

no parent buried me,

nor other kinsmen;

they had Tyrfing,

the two who lived,

though the owner was

but one in the end.”

 

She said:

 

“It’s a lie what you say—

may the god only let you

sit hale in your howe

if you have not got it

laid in there with you;

reluctant you are

heirlooms to share

with your only child.”

 

Then the mound opened and it was as though the whole barrow was fire and flame. And Angantyr said:

 

“Hellgate gapes

and graves open,

all is fire

on the island’s rim;

it’s grim outside

to gaze around;

shift yourself, girl,

if you can, to your ships.”

 

She answers:

 

“You can’t burn

any bonfires by night,

no flames flaring

to frighten me;

your daughter’s mind

does not tremble

though dead men there

in the door she see.”

 

Then said Angantyr:

 

“I say to you, Hervor,

have a listen,

wise daughter, now

to what will be:

this sword Tyrfing

(try to believe it)

will, girl, your offspring

all destroy.

 

A lad you’ll bear

who later shall own

the sword Tyrfing

and trust his own strength;

people will call

the boy Heidrek,

he’ll grow mightiest

under heaven’s tent.”

 

She declared:

 

“I cast this curse

on killed warriors,

that you entombed

shall all lie there

undead with dead

in the dank rotten;

give me, Angantyr,

from out of your mound

(it won’t help you to hide it)

the dwarves’ handiwork.”

 

He says:

 

“I say you aren’t, girl,

like other humans,

to walk among howes

up here by night

with graven spear

and with Gothic steel,

with helm and harness

at the door to my hall.”

 

Then said Hervor:

 

“I did think I was human,

at home with the living,

till down I came

to your dead men’s hall;

so hand me from your howe

what hates armour,

the hazard of shields,

Hjalmar’s bane.”

 

Then said Angantyr:

 

“Hjalmar’s bane lies

below my shoulders;

the blade is wrapped

right round in flame;

one girl only

on earth up there

I guess would dare

take that glaive in hand.”

 

Hervor said:

 

“I’ll take care of

and take in my hand

edge-sharp the blade,

could I but have it;

I’m not afraid

of fire burning;

the flame’s soon out

that I look over.”

 

Then said Angantyr:

 

“You’re foolish, Hervor,

but full of daring,

to rush into fire

with your eyes open;

rather, young girl,

I think I’ll give you

the cleaver from my cairn,

I can’t refuse.”

 

Hervor said:

 

“You did well,

warrior kinsman,

when from your grave

you gave the sword;

I’d rather have that,

regal lord,

than all Norway

beneath my sway.”

 

Angantyr said:

 

“Wicked woman,

what would you know?

No need for glee

or glad words now;

this blade Tyrfing

(you’d better believe)

will, girl, your offspring

all destroy.”

 

She says:

 

“I will go

to my ocean-steeds;

now the chief’s daughter

is cheery enough;

what do I care,

cousin of nobles,

how later my sons

will settle this thing.”

 

He says:

 

“You shall own

and long enjoy,

but keep covered,

what killed Hjalmar;

press not the edges—

there’s poison in both—

a man’s doom, that,

more dire than plague.

 

Fare well, daughter,

freely I’d have lent you

the lives of twelve men,

could you believe,

strength and stoutness,

all the sturdy vigour

that Arngrim’s lads

left when they died.”

 

She said:

 

“Now rest you all

(I’m raring to go)

hale men in your mound;

for a moment there I almost

thought I trod

between the worlds

when all about me

fires burned.”

 

Then she went to the ships. But when it got light, she saw that the ships were gone. The vikings had taken fright at the thunders and fires on the island. She gets herself passage from there but nothing is known of her journey till she comes to Godmund in Glasisvellir, and she stayed there over winter and still called herself Hervard.

 

 

6. Of The Brothers Angantyr and Heidrek

 

It is said that in days of yore there was a country up north in Finnmark called Jotunheim, and to the south, between there and Halogaland, lay Ymisland. Giants were widespread in the northern part of the world then. Some were half-giants. A great blending of peoples came about at this time: giants married women from the world of men and some gave their daughters to men. Godmund was the name of a king in Jotunheim. His home was called Grund and his land Glasisvellir. He was a great worshiper of the old gods. He was a wise and powerful man and so old—and all his men too—that they each lived many times the normal span. And because of this, heathens believe that it must be in his realm that The Deathless Acre is to be found, that place to which anyone who comes is so healed that sickness and old age vanish from them and they cannot die. It is said that after Godmund’s death, folk worshipped him with sacrifices and called him their god.

One day, as Godmund was playing chess and was on the verge of losing, he asked if anyone could help him. Then ‘Hervard’ went up and advised for a little while until things were looking better for Godmund. Then a man picked up Tyrfing and drew it. ‘Hervard’ saw that and snatched the sword off him and killed him, then went out. The men wanted to run after him. But Godmund said, “Settle down, there won’t be as much vengeance in that one as you think, because you don’t know who it is. This woman will cost you dear before you take her life.”

Then Hervor spent a long time in warfare and raiding, and had great success. And when she tired of that, she returned home to the jarl, her mother’s father. From then on, she went along like other girls, weaving and doing embroidery.

Hofund, the son of Godmund, hears about her and he comes and asks for Hervor’s hand in marriage and that is agreed and he takes her home. Hofund was the wisest of men for wits and foresight. He was set as judge over all the lands that lay around, so just and fair that he never gave a wrong verdict nor showed any favouritism, neither at home nor abroad. And after him is named the ‘hofund’, or judge, who everywhere judges the law-suits of men. None dared, or needed, to break his ruling.

Hervor and Hofund had two sons. One was called Angantyr and the other Heidrek. They were both big men and strong, clever and promising. Angantyr was like his father in temperament and wished everyone well. Hofund loved him a lot and so did all the people. But as much good as he did, Heidrek did more ill. Hervor loved him a lot. Heidrek’s foster father was called Gizur.

And once when Hofund had a feast, all the chiefs in his land were invited except Heidrek. He didn’t much like that and went all the same and said he should do them some harm. And when he came into the hall, Angantyr stood up to greet him and told him to sit at his side. Heidrek was not happy and sat long into the evening drinking. And when his brother Angantyr went out, Heidrek talked to the men who were next to him and he wound them up with his words so that they got into quarrels and all said bad things about each other. Then Angantyr came back and told them to be quiet. And again, another time, when Angantyr had gone out, Heidrek reminded them about what they had said to each other and, in the end, one punched another. Then Angantyr came and told them to call it quits till morning. But the third time when Angantyr went away, Heidrek asked the one who’d got hit whether he dared to avenge himself. He talked on like this so that eventually the one who’d been hit jumped up and killed his fellow guest, and then Angantyr arrived. And when Hofund became aware of all this, he ordered Heidrek to go away and make no more trouble that night.

After that, Heidrek went out with his brother Angantyr into the yard and they parted there. When Heidrek had gone a little way from the house, he thought to himself that he hadn’t done much harm there. He turned back towards the hall and picked up a big stone and threw it in the direction where he could hear some people talking in the darkness. He realised that the stone must have hit someone, and went there and found a man dead and recognised Angantyr, his brother. He ran straight to the forest.

Hofund held a funeral feast for his son and all grieved at Angantyr’s death. Heidrek regretted his deed and lived long in the woods shooting beasts and birds for his food. But when he pondered his case, it occurred to him that if he was never seen again, then nothing good would ever be said of him. It came into his head that he could still be a famous man with great deeds to his name like those of his forebears. He went home.

Heidrek went then into the hall, in front of his father, and tells him everything. Hofund declares that he should be off and never come into his sight and said that it would be more fitting if he was struck dead or hanged. Then Queen Hervor spoke and she says that Heidrek deserves to suffer but still it would be a harsh punishment if he could never come into his father’s kingdom but must go away with nothing to his name. But Hofund’s word carried such weight that it was done as he commanded and no one was so bold as to speak up against him or to beg mercy for Heidrek. The queen asked Hofund to grant him some sound advice at their parting.

Hofund agrees to give him a few words of advice but says he doubts it would be any good to Heidrek, “And yet, since you ask this thing, queen, the first advice I advise him with is this: that he never help a man who has killed his own liege lord. With this advice I advise him second: that he never save the man who has murdered his own friend. This third: that he mustn’t let his wife visit her family often, even if she asks. This fourth: that he never be out late with his concubine. This fifth: that he never ride his best horse, if he has much need of speed. This sixth: that he never foster a nobler man’s child. And it seems to me most likely you won’t follow that.”

Heidrek said that he had advised out of ill will and that he was not obliged to follow it. Then Heidrek goes out of the hall. His mother stands up and goes out with him and follows him out of the yard and said, “You’ve done it now, my son. The way you’ve fixed things, you can’t expect to be back—so there’s not much I can do to help you. Here is a mark of gold and a sword which I want to give you. It is called Tyrfing and it belonged to Angantyr the berserk, your grandfather. No one is so ignorant they haven’t heard tell of him. And if you come to where men trade blows, just remember how Tyrfing has often been victorious.” Now she bids him farewell and with that they part.

 

 

7. Heidrek Got a Home in Reidgotaland

 

And when Heidrek has gone a little while, he meets some men with one tied up. They ask each other the news and Heidrek asks what this man had done to be bound like that. They say that he’s betrayed his lord. Heidrek asks if they’ll take money for him and they say yes. He gives them half a mark of gold and they let him loose.

The man offers Heidrek his service but Heidrek says, “Why would you be true to me, a stranger, when you betrayed your own liege lord? Get lost.”

A little later, Heidrek met some more men with one tied up. He asks what this one’s done wrong. They say he’s murdered his friend. He asks if they want gold for him. They say yes. He gave them the other half mark of gold. The man offers Heidrek his service and Heidrek refuses.

Then Heidrek goes a long way and comes to the place called Reidgotaland. There King Harald held sway, very old, and had dominion over a great empire. He had no son. And his kingdom was diminishing because certain jarls marched against him with an army and he’d fought with them but always lost. And now they’d made peace on such terms that the king paid them tribute every twelve months. Heidrek stopped there and stayed with the king over winter.

It so happened one time that a great amount of goods came to the king. Then Heidrek asks if it’s the king’s taxes. The king says it’s something quite different: “I must pay this wealth as tribute.”

Heidrek says it is not right for a king who’s had such a great empire to pay tax to criminal jarls—it would be more resolute to stand in battle against them. The king says he’d tried that and lost.

Heidrek declared, “I would be better able to repay your good hospitality if I was captain of this expedition. And, I was thinking, if I had an army then it would seem no big deal to me to fight with nobler men than these are.”

The king says, “I’ll give you an army, if you want to fight the jarls. And you’ll certainly have it made, if you do well on this expedition. It’s most likely though that you’ll find out your own mistake, if you’re fooling yourself.”

After that the king had a great army assembled and the force was prepared for war. With Heidrek chief over the army, they went then against these jarls, harrying and plundering as soon as they come into their land. And when the jarls hear that, they marched against them with a great army and when they met there was a big battle. Heidrek was there in the vanguard and had Tyrfing in his right hand and nothing withstood that sword, neither helm nor byrnie, and he killed there all who stood near him. And then he charged forwards out in front of his own ranks and hewed on both sides, and he drove so far into the enemy ranks that he slew both jarls, and after that some of their troops fled but most were killed. Heidrek then went through the jarls’ territory and brought the whole land under the rule of King Harald, as it had been before, demanding tribute and going home when this had been done, with countless treasures and a great victory. King Harald has him met with great honour and bids Heidrek stay with him and have for himself as much land and power as he wanted.

Then Heidrek asked for King Harald’s daughter, who was called Helga, and she was given in marriage to him. Heidrek then took command of half King Harald’s kingdom. Heidrek had a son with his wife. He was called Angantyr. King Harald had a son in his old age but he is not named.

 

 

8. Heidrek Took the Whole Kingdom

 

At that time a great famine fell upon Reidgotaland so that it seemed to be turning into a wasteland. Now lots were cast by soothsayers, and the sacrifice chip was thrown, and in this way they learnt that prosperity would never come to Reidgotaland until the most noble boy in the land was sacrificed. King Harald says that Heidrek’s son is positioned highest, and Heidrek says that Harald’s son is noblest. And this could not be resolved except by going off to the man whose solutions could all be trusted: King Hofund.

Heidrek is chosen as the leader of this mission and with him go many other respected men. As Heidrek came to meet his father, he was well received. He explained the whole matter to his father and asks him to judge. And Hofund says this: that Heidrek’s son was the highest in that land.

Heidrek says, “It looks to me like you’re sentencing my son to death, so what are you going to award me in compensation for my loss?”

Then said King Hofund, “You must request that every fourth man be under your command, of those present at the sacrifice, or else you will not let your own son be sacrificed. You don’t need telling what to do then.”

So when Heidrek came home to Reidgotaland, a council was called. Heidrek begins like this: “It was the decision of my father King Hofund that my son is best in the land, and he is chosen for the sacrifice. And in exchange for this, I want to have authority over every fourth man who’s come to this council, and I want you to grant me this.”

And so it was done—they were transferred to his forces. After that he had his troops mustered and raises a standard and attacks King Harald. And a great battle takes place there. And King Harald falls there along with many of his men. Heidrek now takes over all the land which King Harald owned and made himself king over it. Heidrek says that all these soldiers who were killed would make good enough sacrifice in place of his son, and now he gave the dead to Odin.

His wife was so angry after the fall of her father that she hanged herself in the temple of the goddess.

One summer King Heidrek went south with his army to Hunland and fought with a king called Humli and was victorious there and took his daughter, who was called Sifka, and brought her home with him. And the next summer he sent her back, and she was then with child, and the boy was called Hlod and he was a fine-looking lad and Humli fostered him, his mother’s father.

 

 

9. Of the Queen’s Treachery

 

One summer King Heidrek travelled with his army to Saxland. And when the king of the Saxons heard of that, he invited him to a feast and asked him to take whatever he wanted from his lands, and King Heidrek agreed to that. Then he saw his daughter, wise and fair of feature, and Heidrek asked for this girl and she was given to him in marriage. The feast was extended and afterwards he went home with his wife and took with her countless treasures. King Heidrek now became a great warrior and adds much to his kingdom in many directions. His wife often asked to go to her father and he let her, and with her went her stepson Angantyr.

One summer, when King Heidrek was raiding, he comes to Saxland, to his father-in-law’s kingdom. He puts into some hidden creek with his ships and goes ashore with one man, and they come at night to the royal halls and they head for the building where the queen normally slept, and the guards did not notice their arrival. He goes in the room and sees that a man was sleeping beside her, and he had fair hair on his head. The man who was with the king says that he’d taken revenge for lesser cause.

He answers, “I will not do that now.”

The king took the boy Angantyr, who lay in the next bed, and he cut a big lock out of the hair of this man who lay in the arms of his wife, and carried them both off with him, the hair and the boy. He went then to his ships. In the morning, the king comes into the harbour and all the people go to meet him and a feast was prepared. Heidrek has a council called and then grave tidings were told to him, that his son Angantyr had died suddenly.

Heidrek said, “Show me the body.”

The queen says it would only worsen his grief. Nevertheless, he was taken to the place. There was a cloth there, all wrapped up, and a dog inside it.

King Heidrek said, “There’s a bad change come over my boy now, if he’s turned into a dog...”

After that, the king had the boy brought to the council and said he had evidence of great treachery on the part of the queen and explained everything that had happened, ordering all men who could attend the council to be summoned thither.

And when most of the population had come, the king declared, “The golden haired man hasn’t come yet.”

Then another search was made, and a man was found in the kitchen with a band round his head. Many wondered why he had to come to the council, some miserable thrall. And when he came to the council, King Heidrek said, “Here you can see who the princess wants instead of me.”

Now he took the lock and held it to the hair and they matched.

“But you, King,” says Heidrek, “have always been good to us and so your land will remain at peace with us, but I don’t want to have your daughter any more.”

Heidrek went home now to his kingdom with his son.

One summer King Heidrek sends men to Gardariki with this mission: to invite home the son of the Garda King so that he could foster him, for now he wants to break all his father’s sound counsels, to test them. The messengers go to meet the Garda King and explain the errand with words of friendship. The king said there wasn’t much chance of that, of him giving his son into the hands of that man who was known to be guilty of many bad things.

Then the queen said, “Don’t speak like that, lord. Have you not heard how great a man he is, and how victorious? And it’s wiser to get into his favour or your kingdom will not stay at peace.”

The king said, “We will let ourselves be swayed by you in this.”

Now the boy is given into the hands of the messengers and they journey home. King Heidrek received the boy well and gave him a good upbringing and loved him a lot.

Sifka, Humli’s daughter, was back again with the king, but he had been advised not to tell her anything which was best kept secret.

 

 

10. Heidrek Married the Garda King’s Daughter

 

One summer the king of Gardariki sends word to Heidrek, asking him to accept his friendly invitation and come east to Gardariki for a banquet. Heidrek gets ready with a great multitude of followers, and the Garda King’s son was with him, and Sifka. Heidrek now came east to Gardariki and had a magnificent feast.

One day during this feast, the kings went into the forest with a great company and hunted with hounds and hawks. And when they’d loosed the hounds, they each went by themselves through the woods. Then Heidrek and his foster son met.

And Heidrek spoke to the prince: “Listen to my instructions, foster son. There’s a farm not far from here. Go there and hide yourself and you’ll get this ring. Be ready to come home when I send for you.”

The boy says he isn’t keen about this idea, but he did as the king asked. Heidrek came home at evening and was unhappy and sat a short while drinking.

And when he came to bed, Sifka asked him, “Why is your majesty unhappy? What’s the matter, lord? Are you sick, tell me?”

The king says, “It’s hard for me to say this because my life is at stake if the secret isn’t kept.” She says she’d keep the secret, and she fondly fished for the answer.

The king says, “I was stood with the prince beside some apple tree. Then my foster son asked me for an apple that was high up on the tree. So I drew Tyrfing and slashed up at the apple, but that was done before I remembered what curse lay on it, that it must kill if it is drawn, and only the two of us there... Then I killed the boy.”

The next day, during drinks, the Garda King’s queen asks Sifka why Heidrek was so glum. She says, “There’s cause enough for that. He’s killed the son of the Garda King. Your son.” Then she tells the whole incident.

The queen says, “That is serious news but we will not let it come out.” The queen went away immediately out of the hall with great grief.

The king notices that and calls Sifka to him and asked, “What were you and the queen talking about when she got so upset?”

“Lord,” says she, “There’s every reason to be upset. Heidrek has killed your son, most likely on purpose, and he deserves death.”

The Garda King orders Heidrek to be taken and fettered, saying, “And now it’s turned out just as I suspected.”

But King Heidrek had become so popular there that no one would do it. Then two men stood up in the hall and announced that the matter would not end there, and they put shackles on him. These were the two men Heidrek had released from death.

Then Heidrek sent men secretly to fetch the king’s son. And the Garda King has his musters his men and says to them that he wants Heidrek on the gallows. But at that moment, the prince comes running to his father and begged him not to carry out the wretched deed he was about to do, to kill the noblest of men, his foster father.

Heidrek is now set free and gets ready to go home at once.

Then the queen spoke: “Lord, do not let Heidrek get away like this while the two of you have not made up. It does not befit your position. Rather, offer him gold or silver.”

The king does so. He has great riches brought to King Heidrek and says he wishes to give him this and have his friendship again.

Heidrek says, “I am not short of treasure.”

The Garda King tells the queen. She said, “Offer him land and large properties and a host of followers.”

The king does so.

King Heidrek says, “I have plenty of properties and followers.”

The Garda King tells the queen.

She says, “Then offer him what he will accept, and that’s your daughter.”

The king says, “I never thought this would happen to me, but still I’ll follow your advice.” Then the Garda King went to see King Heidrek and declared, “Rather than have us part with bad feelings, I want you to take my daughter together with as much dowry as you choose for yourself.”

Heidrek happily accepts that, and the Garda King’s daughter went home with him. King Heidrek is at home now and he wants to carry Sifka away and takes his best horse, and it was late in the evening. They come to a river. Here she becomes too heavy for the horse, so that it collapsed and died, and the king left it and walked on. Then he had to carry her over the river. Then they come to a point where the current is so rough that they have no choice but for Heidrek to throw her off his shoulder and her back breaks and he is separated from her so that she drifts downstream dead.

After this Heidrek has a great feast prepared and goes to wed the Garda King’s daughter. Their daughter was called Hervor. She was a shield-maiden and was raised in England with Jarl Frodmar, or some say with a man called Ormar.[8]

King Heidrek settles down now and becomes a great chieftain and a wise sage. King Heidrek had a great boar reared. It was as big as the biggest of the full grown bulls and so fair that every hair on it seemed to be of gold. The king lays his hand on the head of the boar and his other hand on its bristles and swears this: that there is no one, however much wrong they may have done him, who won’t get a fair trial from his twelve wise men, and those twelve must look after the boar. Or else the accused must come up with riddles which the king could not guess. And King Heidrek now gets to be very popular.

 

 

11. The Riddles of Gestumblindi

 

There was a man called Gestumblindi, powerful and a great enemy of King Heidrek. The king sent him word that he should come and settle things with him, if he wanted to keep his life. Gestumblindi was not a very wise man, and because he knows that he would be incapable of exchanging words with the king, and because he also knows that he doesn’t stand much chance submitting to the judgement of the wise-men—as they have plenty against him—he follows the course of sacrificing to Odin for help and asks him to look into his case and promises him many presents.

Late one evening there’s a knock at the door and Gestumblindi goes to the threshold and sees that a man has come. He asks the man his name and the stranger calls himself Gestumblindi and said that they should swap clothes—and so they do. The master goes away and hides and the stranger comes in and everyone thinks that he’s Gestumblindi, and the night passes.

Next day, this Gestumblindi makes his way to meet the king. And he greeted the king warmly. The king was silent.

“Lord,” he says, “I’ve come here to settle with you.”

Then the king answers, “Will you take the verdict of my wise men?”

He says, “Is there no other way out?”

The king replied, “There is another, if you think you’re up to asking riddles.”

Gestumblindi says, “I won’t be much good at that. But then the other choice is also tough.”

“Would you rather,” says the king, “accept the verdict of my wise men?”

“I think,” says Gestumblindi, “I’d rather ask riddles.”

“Fair enough,” says the king.

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“I want to have

what I had yesterday—

work out what that was:

the mind-whacker,

the word-thwarter

and word up-raiser.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

The king says, “Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. Bring him ale. That smites many wits, and many are more gabby when the ale takes hold. And some it ties their tongues so they don’t get a word out.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“From home I went,

from home I made my way;

I saw a road of roads

and a road under them

and a road over them

and a road on all sides.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

The king says, “Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. You went on a bridge across a river, and the road of the river was below you and birds flew over your head and on either side, and that was their road.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that drink

I drank yesterday?

It wasn’t wine or water;

not ale either

nor any food

yet I left released from thirst.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. You lay in the shade and dew had fallen on the grass, and so your thirst was cooled and quenched. But if you’re the Gestumblindi I thought you were, then you’re smarter than I imagined, because I’ve heard that your words lacked wisdom, but now they’re getting more shrewd.”

“I’ll probably run out soon,” says Gestumblindi, “but still I’d like you to listen to another.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who is that shrill one

who rides a hard road,

has fared that way before?

He kisses hard

who has two mouths

and goes only on gold.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

“Good riddle Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s a hammer which is used for working gold. It shouts out loud when it hits the hard anvil, and that is its road.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

Two lifeless ones,

lacking breath;

they boiled the leek of wounds.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s bellows. They have no wind unless it’s blown into them. And they’re as dead as any other manmade object, but by means of them may be made a sword or any other thing. But these are crafty riddles for a man like you to be asking. You’re not much of a one with words.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

Eight feet it has

and four eyes

and knees above its belly.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

The king said, “For one thing, your hood hangs low, and, for another, you do certainly see more down there from under it than most other men, pondering as you do every phantom of the earth. It’s a spider.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

Its head directed

down to hell

but sunward face its feet.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s a leek. Its head is stuck in the earth and it sprouts up as it grows.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

Harder than horn,

blacker than raven,

whiter than egg-white,

straighter than shaft of spear.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

Heidrek said, “Your riddles are going downhill a bit now, Gestumblindi. What’s the point in sitting any longer at this? It’s obsidian, and the shine on it a sunbeam. And don’t you know any other way to pose riddles than to have the same beginning for each, seeing as how you seem to know so much?”

Gestumblindi said, “He who has a little knife must look for the joint—and likewise if one’s not too knowledgeable. I’d like to ask another.

 

“White-haired women,

servants two,

bore ale-tub to the larder.

No hand turned it

nor hammer beat it.

But there outside the islands,

the upright one who made it.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. There go swans to their nest to lay eggs. The shell of an egg is not turned by hands or shaped by hammers, and a swan is upright outside the islands. Swan is the answer, along with egg.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who are those troll-wives

on the great mountain?

Woman begets with woman,

a girl with a girl,

till she gets a son

but those wives have no husbands.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s two angelicas and a little angelica stalk between them. But I wonder greatly at your wisdom and way with words.”

Gestumblindi said, “I’m about out of riddles now, but everyone’s greedy for life.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“I saw earth’s

ground-dwellers go;

corpse sat on corpse.

The blind rode the blind

to the briny sea.

That steed was short of breath.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. You found a dead horse on a glacier and a dead snake on the horse, and all that drifts down the river.” Then the king said, “Who knows but that wiser men have a hand in this. But what kind of a man you are, that I don’t know.”

Gestumblindi answers, “I am just as you see me, but I’d gladly accept my life from you and be free of this effort?”

The king says, “You’ll ask riddles till you’re finished, or I fail to get them.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who are those thanes

who ride to the thing,[9]

sixteen guys together?

Across the land

they send their men

to seek a home for themselves.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. That’s Itrek, who is also called Odin, and the giant Andad, sitting playing tafl.”

“It’s going to get hard for me now, most likely,” says Gestumblindi, “and I don’t know what lies ahead.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What wives are they:

their weaponless lord

they smite down and slay?

All day long

the darker defend

but the fairer ones go forward.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s a game of hnettafl. The darker pieces defend the king, and the white ones attack.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who is that single one

who sleeps in the hearth

and stems from stone alone?

No father or mother

has Fain-to-Shine;

in that place he’ll pass his life.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“That is fire hidden in the hearth. It comes from flint.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“Who is that great one

who grasps the earth,

swallowing wood and water?

Bad weather he dreads,

wind, but no man,

and picks a fight with the sun.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. That’s fog. It grasps the earth so that no one sees in front of themselves and there’s no sun; but it’s off as soon as the wind gets up. But these are crafty riddles and puzzles you’re posing, whoever you are.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“What beast is that

that butchers wealth,

is circled outside with iron?

Eight horns it has

but a head never

and much hazard hangs upon it.

King Heidrek

guess my riddle.”

 

“That’s the die in hnettafl, also called the cub. Its horns are its corners.”[10]

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What beast is that,

defends fighters;

it bears a bloody back,

but men it saves,

meets spears,

gives life to some,

and lays its self

inside a soldier’s palm?

King Heidrek

guess my riddle.”

 

“It’s a shield. That is often bloody in battles and defends well those men who know how to use it.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What sisters at play

pass over countries

through a father’s wish to be wise?

A white shield

in winter they bear

and a sable one in the summer.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“They’re ptarmigans. They are white in winter and black in summer.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who are the women

who wistful go

through a father’s wish to be wise?

To many a man

mischief they’ve done;

that’s how they’ll live their lives.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Those are Hler’s wives, as we say: waves.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“Who are those maidens

who go many together

through a father’s wish to be wise?

White hair have they,

the white-bonnet ladies,

but those wives have no husbands.”

 

“Those are billows, as before.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Which are the widows

who walk all together

through a father’s wish to be wise?

They’re seldom kind

to the sons of men

and must keep awake in the wind.”

 

“That’s Aegir’s widows, a name for waves.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Up long ago

a nose-goose had grown;

eager for offspring

was she who gathered

house-timber together.

They defended her,

bite-swords of straw,

though drink’s bellow-

basalt lay over her.”

 

“There a duck has built its nest in the middle of an ox’s jawbone, and the skull rests above.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who is that great one

that governs much

and hoves to the hellward side;

men he defends

and fights with earth

if he’s found a trusty friend?”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s an anchor with a good rope. If its fluke is in the sea floor then it offers protection.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“Who are those wives

who walk in the skerries

and take a trip down the firth?

Their bed is hard,

the white-bonnet women.

They can’t play much in calm.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Those are breakers; their bed is skerry and rocks. And they’re not seen much in calm weather. But your delivery’s gone all to pieces; maybe you’d like to endure the judgement of my wise men?”

Gestumblindi says, “I’m reluctant to face that although I suspect it can’t be far off.

 

“Four hang,

four sprang,

two point the way,

two ward off dogs,

one dangles after

and always rather dirty.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi—I’ve got it. It’s a cow. That has four feet and four udders, two horns and two eyes, and the tail dangles after.”

Gestumblindi said:

 

“What inhabits high fells?

What falls in deep dales?

What lives without breath?

What is never silent?

King Heidrek,

Guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle Gestumblindi. A raven always lives on high fells, and dew always falls in a deep dale; fish live without breath, and a rushing waterfall is never silent.”

Gestumblindi said:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

White they whirl,

strike stone,

and bury themselves black in the sand.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle. Now they’re getting easier. That’s hail and rain, since hail strikes the street, and raindrops sink in sand and go into the earth.”

Gestumblindi said:

 

“A black boar I saw

in muck wallow,

and not a bristle grew on its back.

King Heidrek,

guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle. It’s a dung-beetle. But it’s come to something when dung-beetles are the subject of great men’s questions.”

Gestumblindi answers, “Bad things are best put off, and many men play for more time; after all, some people do miss things. I see now too that no stone should be left unturned.

 

“I sat on a sail;

I saw dead men

bear a blood-hole

into the bark of a tree.”

 

“There you sat on a wall and saw a hawk carry an eider-duck into crags.”[11]

Gestumblindi said:

 

“What is that wonder

that whines on high?

The elm-lathe howls;

they’re hard, chief.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

“Good riddle. It’s an arrow,” says the king.

Gestumblindi said:

 

“What is it that makes

for men a light

but flame engulfs it

and wargs fight over it always?”

 

“Good riddle. It’s the sun. She lights up every land and shines over all men, and Skalli and Hatti are called wargs. Those are wolves, one going before the sun, the other after.”

Gestumblindi said:

 

“A stallion I saw stand,

it struck a mare,

tossed tail and beat

buttock under belly;

out it must draw

and waggle a good long while.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

Then the king replied, “My retainers should answer this riddle.” They made many guesses and not very pretty ones. Then, when he saw they weren’t going to get it, the king said, “You call that horse a web of linen, while the reed of the loom is his mare; and up and down the web shall shake.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“In summer I saw them

in the sunset

(when I said goodbye

they were barely drunk),

jarls sipping

ale in silence,

but there howling

the horn just stood.”

 

“Piglets drank from a sow there and she squealed at that. Good riddle, but I don’t know what sort of man you are, to make so much of such a small matter.” And now the king secretly orders them to bolt the doors of the hall.

Gestumblindi said:

 

“Maidens I saw

much like soil

boulders were beds to them,

sable and swarthy

in sunny weather

but lighter the less is seen.

King Heidrek,

Guess my riddle.”

 

“Good riddle. Those are embers faded on the hearth.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

 

“What is that wonder

I saw outside

before the Doors of Day?

Ten tongues it has,

twenty eyes,

forty feet;

forward marches the monster.

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

The king said then, “If you are the Gestumblindi I thought, then you are indeed wiser than I imagined. It’s the sow you’re talking about now out in the yard.”

Then the king had the sow slaughtered, and she had nine piglets inside as Gestumblindi had said. Now the king suspects who man this must be.

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“Who are those two

who have ten feet,

three eyes

and one tail?

Heidrek King,

think on that.”

 

“Good riddle—now you’re making an effort, coming up with ancient marvels for me: that’s Odin riding Sleipnir.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

 

“Then tell me this

one last thing if you can,

if you are

of all kings the wisest:

what did Odin say

in Baldr’s ear

before he was raised on the pyre?”

 

King Heidrek says, “Only you know that, monster.”

And then Heidrek draws Tyrfing and slashes at him, and Odin changed into the form of a hawk and flew out through a window of the hall. But the king hacked after him and cut off his tail-feathers, and that’s why to this day the hawk has a stubby tail. But the sword fell on a retainer, who died instantly.

Odin said, “For that, King Heidrek, because you lunged at me and wanted to kill me, the lowest thralls shall be your slayers.”

After that they part.

 

 

12. Of the Killing of Heidrek and Hlod’s Inheritance

 

It’s told that King Heidrek had certain thralls that he’d captured on viking trips in the west. There were nine altogether. They came from great families and didn’t think much to their captivity. One night when Heidrek was lying in his bedroom, and few men with him, the thralls got hold of weapons and went to the king’s lodging and first killed the sentries. Next they went on and broke into the king’s lodging and slew King Heidrek and all who were inside there. They took the sword Tyrfing and all the treasure that was inside and carried it off with them. And at first no one knew who had done this or where vengeance should be sought.

Then Angantyr, Heidrek’s son, had a council called, and at the council he was declared king over all the lands that King Heidrek had owned. At this council, he made a solemn vow that he would never sit on his father’s throne till he’d avenged him.

Not long after the council, Angantyr slips away by himself and journeys far and wide in search of these men. One evening, following that river which is called the River Grave, he comes down to a lake. There he saw three men in a fishing boat, and suddenly he saw a man pulling in a fish and calling to one of the others to get him the bait-knife to behead the fish, but the other said he couldn’t spare it.

So the first one said, “Get the sword from under the head-board and give it here. And he took it and drew it and cut the head off the fish, and then he chanted a verse:

 

“The price was paid

by the pike at Grave River,

when Heidrek was slain

under Harveth Fells.”

 

Angantyr recognised Tyrfing at once. He went off into the forest and stayed there till it was dark. And those fishermen rowed to land and they go to their tent and lay down to sleep. And near midnight Angantyr came and knocked down the tent so it fell on them, and then he killed all nine thralls and took the sword Tyrfing, and this was proof that he’d avenged his father. Now Angantyr goes home.

Next, Angantyr has a great feast prepared on the Banks of Danp, at a place called Arheimar, to honour his father.

These were the kings who ruled the lands then, as it is told:

 

Of old, they say, Humli

over Huns did rule,

Gizur the Gauts,

the Goths Angantyr,

Valdar the Danes,

the Romans Kjar,

Alrek the Valiant

the English people.

 

King Heidrek’s son Hlod was brought up with King Humli his mother’s father. He was of all men the finest in appearance and the most manly. And it was an old saying of that time that a man would be ‘born with weapons’ or ‘with horses’. This is because weapons which were made at the same time as a prince was born were said to be ‘born’ with him. So also with cattle, beasts, oxen or horses which were born then. And they were all used in the honouring of men of great birth, as is told here of Hlod Heidreksson:

 

There Hlod was born

in Hunland realm

with brand and bodkin

and long byrnie,

helm ring-welded

and whetted sword

and horse well tamed

in the holy forest.

 

Now Hlod learnt of the death of his father, and at the same time that his brother Angantyr had been made king over all that realm which his father had owned. Now King Humli and Hlod were agreed that Hlod should go and claim his birthright from Angantyr his brother, first with fair words, as it says here:

 

Hlod rode from the east,

Heidrek’s heir;

he came to the gates

of the Goths’ fortress,

to Arheimar

heirlooms to claim;

there Angantyr held

Heidrek’s wake.

 

Now Hlod came to Arheimar with a great army, as it says here:

 

A lone man he found

before the lofty hall

late outside,

then said to him,

“Go thou in, my man,

to this lofty hall,

tell Angantyr:

come talk with me.”

 

The man went in and up to the king’s table, greeted Angantyr well and then said:

 

“Hlod has come here,

Heidrek’s heir,

your brother armed

as if for war;

big is that youth

on horse’s back,

wants now, my lord,

a word with you.”

 

When the king heard that, he threw his knife on the table and got up from the table and flung on his byrnie. He took a white shield in one hand and the sword Tyrfing in the other hand. Then there was a great din in the hall, as it says here:

 

Uproar in the hall,

they rose with the chief;

each strained to hear

what Hlod would say

and what answer

Angantyr gave.

 

Then said Angantyr, “Welcome Hlod, my brother. Come in and drink with us, and let us first drink mead to our father, as is fitting, and to the honour of us all with respect for each of us.”

Hlod says, “It wasn’t to fill our guts that we came here.” Then spoke Hlod:

 

“A half share I’ll have

of what Heidrek owned:

of awl and spear-tip,

of unsplit treasure,

of cow and of calf

and clanking mill,

of slave and servant,

send their children.

 

That famed forest,

folk call the Mirkwoods,

that holy grave

which stands in Gothland realm,

that famed boulder

which stands on the Banks of Danp,

half the war-gear,

that Heidrek owned,

land and people

and lustrous rings.”

 

Then says Angantyr, “You have not come legally to this land, and your proposal is not a just one.”

 

“First will burst, brother,

bright white shield

and cold spear

clash with spear

and many a man

will meet the grass

before a half

to Hun’s son I give,

or Tyrfing ever

in two sunder.”

 

And again Angantyr spoke:

 

“Accept, I bid you,

the bright lances,

money and many riches,

what you wish the most;

twelve hundred men I give you,

twelve hundred steeds I give you,

twelve hundred servants I give you,

bearing shields.

 

Much to every

man I offer,

something else better

than ere he had;

to every man

a maid I give,

and on every lass

I clasp a necklace.

 

There where you sit

I shall cover you in silver;

upon you as you walk

I shall pour down gold;

so rings will roll

to right and left,

for you alone

shall be lord over

one third of the Gothic nation.”

 

 

13. Hlod and Humli Gathered their Forces

 

Gizur Grytingalidi, foster father of King Heidrek, was with King Angantyr and was then very old. And when he heard Angantyr’s words, it seemed to him a bit much to offer, and he intoned:

 

“That’s fine enough

for a thrall’s son,

bairn of slaves

though born a king;

a bastard sat

outside on the mound,[12]

while the prince parted

patrimony.”

 

Hlod was enraged now because if he accepted his brother’s offer he would be called a bastard and the son of a thrall, and he promptly turned and rode away with all his men till he came home to Hunland to his kinsman King Humli and told him that his brother Angantyr had not granted him a half share.

Humli asks about their whole conversation. He flew into a rage at the thought of Hlod, his daughter’s son, being called the son of a servant. And he spoke thus:

 

“At our ease we’ll wait

the winter out,

swap words and swig

some worthy brews;

teach Huns to fashion

fighting tackle

which valiantly

to war we’ll bear.”

 

And again he spoke:

 

“Well shall we summon

war-bands for you, Hlod,

and back you up

boldly with soldiers,

with twelve-winter force

and two-winter foal,

so shall the host

of the Huns gather.”

 

That winter Humli and Hlod sat tight. In the spring they gathered an army so immense that all Hunland was emptied of able men. All men who could wield weapons went, from twelve years upwards, and all horses from two. The multitude of their men grew so great, it could be counted in regiments, and no fewer than regiments in the brigades. And a leader was set over each regiment, and a standard over every brigade, and five regiments in each brigade, each comprising thirteen squadrons. And each squadron numbered four times forty. And of these brigades there were thirty-three.[13]

When this army had assembled, they rode through that forest called Mirkwood which separates Hunland and Gothland. And when they came out of the forest, there before them were large settlements and flat plains, and on the plains stood a fine-looking fortress. And in command there were Angantyr’s sister Hervor and Ormar her foster father—they’d been posted there as a guard against the host of the Huns, and they had there a great army.

 

 

14. The Fall of Hervor and the Gathering of Angantyr’s Army

 

One morning at sunrise, Hervor stood on a tower over the fortress gate. She saw a great cloud of dust to the south near the forest, so that for a long time the sun was hidden. Then she saw something shining under the dust-cloud, and it seemed to her that she looked on gold: fair shields chased with gold, gilded helms and white byrnies. She saw then that this was the Hunnish army and a very great host it was.

Hervor rushed down and called the trumpeter and ordered him to sound the alarm and assemble the army. And then Hervor said, “Take your weapons and prepare for battle. And you, Ormar, ride to the Huns and challenge them to battle before the south gate.”

Ormar spoke:

 

“Sure I’ll gallop

grasping shield

and give battle

for the Gothic peoples.”

 

Then Ormar rode from the fortress towards the army. He called in a loud voice and bade them ride to the fortress, “And out before the south gate upon the plain, there I challenge you to battle. Whoever comes first will wait for the other.”

Now Ormar rode back to the fortress and found Hervor armed and all the army ready. Now they rode out of the fortress with their army against the Huns, and there began a mighty battle. And as the Huns have a much bigger force, the slaughter turned to the Gothic side. And at last Hervor fell, and many Goths around her. And when Ormar saw her fall, he fled along with all who survived. Ormar rode day and night as fast as he could to King Angantyr in Arheimar. The Huns now take to harrying the land, pillaging and burning far and wide.

And when Ormar came before King Angantyr he said:

 

“From the south I’ve come

to say this news:

burnt’s Mirkwood Heath

and the whole forest,

Goth-folk all blotched

with blood of men.”

 

And again he spoke:

 

“Down, I hear,

is Heidrek’s lass;

heard your sister,

the Huns felled her—

and of your people

plenty more.

 

More cheery in battle

than chatting with suitors

or taking the bench

at a bridal feast.”

 

When King Angantyr heard this, he grinned and was slow to speak, but at last he said:

 

“Unbrotherly

the bloody game

they played with you,

excellent sister.”

 

And then he looked at his household troop, and there weren’t many with him. He said then:

 

“Many more of us

drank mead together

but now in need

our number’s less.

 

No man I see

in my army

(although I ask

and offer rings)

who’ll ride boldly

and bear a shield

or hasten the Hunnish

host to find.”

 

Gizur the Old said:

 

“Not one ounce

I’ll ask of silver

nor for jingling

jangling gold,

yet boldly I’ll ride

and bear a shield,

bring now to Huns

the battle-stave.”

 

It was a law of King Heidrek’s that if an invading army was in a country, and the king of the land marked out a field with hazel twigs, so setting the place for battle,[14] then the raiders shouldn’t harry till the battle was decided. Gizur armed himself with good weapons and leapt on his horse as if he was a young man. Then he said to the king:

 

“Where shall I point

the Hunnish people?”

 

Angantyr said:

 

“Point them to Dylgja

and to Dun Heath direct them

and mark out all

the Mounts of Jass;

there Goths often

have given battle

and fine victory

they, famous, gained.”

 

Now Gizur rode off till he came to the army of the Huns. He rode no nearer than he needed to talk to them. Then he calls out in a loud voice and said:

 

“There’s fear on your forces,

fey are your generals;

the battle-banner

above you looms;

wrath with you is Odin.”

 

And also:

 

“I offer you at Dylgja

and on Dun Heath I offer

a fight under

the Jassar Fells.

A corpse be to you

on every horse.

May Odin let the javelin fly

just as I decree.”

 

When Hlod had heard Gizur’s words he said:

 

“Grab hold of Gizur

Grytingalidi,

Angantyr’s man,

from Arheimar.”

 

King Humli said:

 

“Messenger men

we must not slay,

wreak wrong on those

who ride alone.”

 

Gizur said, “Huns don’t scare us, nor your horn-bows.”

Gizur spurred his horse and rode till he came to King Angantyr and went before him and greeted him well. Angantyr asks whether he had found the kings.

Gizur said, “I spoke with them and summoned them to battle on Dun Heath in the Dylgja Dales.”

Angantyr asks how big an army the Huns have.

Gizur said, “Great is their host:

 

“Six brigades

of soldiers they have,

in each brigade

five regiments,

in each regiment

thirteen squadrons,

in each squadron

quadrupled men.”[15]

 

So Angantyr hears about the host of the Huns. Then he sent messengers in all directions and summoned to him every man who wished to support him and could bear arms. He went to Dun Heath then with his troops, and that was an immense army. Then the army of the Huns came to meet him, and their host was twice as big.

 

 

15. The Battle of Dun Heath

 

The next day they began their battle and fought all that day and went at evening to their camps. They fought thus for eight days, with the leaders unharmed, but none knew the number of those who fell. But day and night more troops thronged to Angantyr’s camp from all directions, so that he had no less men than he had at the start. Now the battle grew yet more bitter. The Huns became all the more desperate as they saw their position: that their only hope of life was to win, and that they wouldn’t get much mercy from the Goths. The Goths were defending their freedom and fatherland against the Huns, and so stood fast and encouraged each other. Then, as the day wore on, the Goths made an attack so hard that the Hun ranks broke before them. And when Angantyr saw that, he charged forward out of the shield-wall and into the forefront of the enemy host and had in his hand Tyrfing and struck down both men and horses. Then the shield-wall collapsed around the Hunnish kings, and the brothers traded blows. There fell Hlod and King Humli, and a rout broke out among the Huns, but the Goths killed them and they felled so many that the rivers were dammed and burst their banks, and the dales were full of horses and dead men and blood.

King Angantyr went then to search the dead and found Hlod, his brother. Then he said:

 

“I offered you, brother,

every treasure,

money and many riches,

what you wished the most;

but now for war

you’ve no reward,

no lustrous rings

nor land either.”

 

And further:

 

“Cursed are we, brother,

your killer I’ve become,

it will never be forgotten—

grim is the doom of norns.”

 



[1] See Note on Translation.

[2] eggja spor, a kenning (poetic circumlocution) for ‘wounds’.

[3] hlaðs beðgunnr, a kenning for ‘woman’. Literally: ‘the embroidered border’s bed-valkyrie’, probably to be analysed as ‘the valkyrie of the bed of embroidery (i.e. of the cloak)’.

[4] A heathen custom similar to baptism.

[5] In pre-Christian times, poor families might leave a baby out to die if they felt unable to look after it.

[6] haugar ‘grave mounds’.

[7] According to folk belief, fire over grave mounds was as a sign of buried treasure.

[8] See Note on Translation.

[9] þing. A Norse legal assembly, a meeting, but also poetically ‘battle’.

[10] The Norse horn means both.

[11] This riddle relies on a type of cryptic wordplay called ironically ofljóst ‘too clear’, in which the word is replaced by a synonym of a homonym (that is, by one that means the same as one that sounds the same), e.g. in the first line, segl means ‘sail’, but another Norse word for ‘sail’ veggr also means ‘wall’. Similarly, dauðir menn ‘dead men’ describes valr ‘the slain’; valr also signifies ‘hawk’. Interpretations of the last two lines are speculative. An editorial amendment, ‘blood-hole’ in line three, would suggest a play on æðr ‘vein, artery, eider-duck’—but there is no consensus about the final line, for which a variety of readings exist in the different manuscripts.

[12] Sitting on mounds is what herdsmen did, and this is may the implication. But it was also a symbolic practice of kings to sit on the grave mounds of their ancestors—in the Book of Flatey version of Saint Olaf’s Saga, the twelve year old Bjorn sits on his father’s grave mound when he first claims the kingship—so alternatively, Gizur might be suggesting that Hlod is getting ideas above his station.

[13] The words translated as ‘regiment’ and ‘squadron’ are also the Norse words for ‘thousand’ and ‘hundred’ respectively, but used here in a specialised sense for military units.

[14] To ‘hazel someone a field’ meant to challenge them to pitched battle (as in Egil’s Saga, ch. 52). Four poles of hazel wood marked the corners of the ground where the battle was to be fought. A similar practice was used for duels between single combatants (see Kormak’s Saga, ch. 10).

[15] The numbers here do not tally with those given earlier in the prose. sex ein could mean ‘some six’ or ‘only six’, though the context might speak against the latter. Kershaw: “six in all”. Hollander translates the first line ‘sixteen’ (sextán). Kershaw and Hollander both make the last line 160 men (40 x 4, presumably because the ‘hundreds’ (squadrons) were earlier said to contain 40 men each), but Turville-Petre writes that í hundraði hverju halir fjórtaldir (literally: “in each ‘hundred’, men counted four times”) appears to mean (his emphasis) “every hundred consisted of 120 x 4”. The Old Norse hundrað was used both for 120 and 100, though the larger figure is more likely in a traditional, non-ecclesiastical context.