The Saga of Illugi,

Grid’s Foster Son

 

© Peter Tunstall, 2005

 

1. Of Sigurd and Illugi

 

There was once king called Hring who ruled in Denmark. He was the son of Skjold who was the son of Dag. This Skjold fought with Hermann, as told in their saga. King Hring was a wise man, well-liked, open-handed with his wealth and the greatest of warriors. He had a queen called Sigrid. She was the daughter of King Vilhjalm of Valland. They had a son called Sigurd. He was the handsomest of men and the most talented. He was kind to his friends, generous with his goods, but grim towards his enemies.

There was a commoner called Svidi. He owned a little place not far from the royal hall. He had a wife called Hild. They had a son called Illugi. Illugi was stout of stature, strong in body and nimble in every sort of sport. His father was called Svidi the Attack-Brave. Illugi and Prince Sigurd would organise games between themselves. Sigurd had many playmates and surpassed them all, whatever they made trial at, but Illugi beat him at everything. And it so happened that these two made a pact of sworn brotherhood, and each was to avenge the other if his sworn brother should be slain with weapons. There was great friendship between them now.

 

 

2. Illugi Killed a Witch

 

There was a man called Bjorn. He was the king’s advisor. As far as those qualities went that he had any control over, there wasn’t a good thing to say about him. He was deceitful and sly in every way, but a very great fighter nonetheless, and defended the land from pirates, and the king set great store by him for that. Bjorn was stricken with envy at the fact that Illugi was so dear to Prince Sigurd, and so it came about that he slandered Illugi to the king and his son, saying that Illugi wasn’t loyal to the prince. The king took note of that, but Sigurd didn’t believe it. So matters stand for a time, with Prince Sigurd at home with his father, enjoying honours and great respect.

But one day Sigurd asked his father to give him ships and men, saying that he wanted to sail off overseas to win wealth and distinction. The king said they’d be ready in a month’s time, “and Bjorn will go with you,” says the king, “but I want Illugi to stay at home.”

Sigurd answers, “I definitely want Illugi to come.”

But the king said that Bjorn should accompany him, “for he is greater than any other fighter and never falters in battle. He’ll be true to you, just as he’s been to me,” said the king, and so they end their conversation.

After this, the prince goes to Svidi’s house and tells Hild what had been spoken between him and his father. She says her son is too young and can’t go plundering. “He’s not been tested either,” she says, “but still, I wouldn’t want Bjorn to go accusing him of not daring to fight at your side in battle.”

Hild finishes speaking, and the prince goes home to the hall and is very unhappy.

Now Hild had a serving woman by the name of Sunnlod. This Sunnlod was versed in sorcery and a serious witch. She’d treated many people despicably with her tricks. Well, Hild comes to talk to Illugi and asks him to look for a hoe that Svidi left up at the shed on the mountain pasture.

He agrees to look.

It was late in the day when Illugi set out. He set a brisk pace and reached the shed and found the hoe. It was dark now. All the same, he set off from the shed, and he hadn’t got far when something jumped on his back, so hard its heels came round and landed on his chest. This creature had a stick in its hand and struck Illugi with that. It was Sunnlod. Illugi walks on in spite of that, carrying this witch a fair distance till he comes to a big rock. He flings the monster down against the rock so hard her back snaps and thus she ended her life. He doesn’t stop till he gets home. His mother Hild was outside when he got home. Illugi had a fierce look on his face. Hild smiles. “Anything happen on your journey, my son?” she says. “Did you find the hoe that I sent you for?”

“Yes,” says Illugi.

She said, “Perhaps you found that lass of mine that I sent to fetch firewood?”

Illugi said, “I very much doubt I’ll find a worse lass that that: she rode me and I killed her by breaking her back on a rock.”

Hild declared that he could go on the expedition, “and I want you,” she says, “to serve Prince Sigurd and go raiding with him.”

Illugi gladly agrees to that. This cheered him up. And he goes inside with his mother and sleeps the rest of the night. In the morning, he gets ready to go to the royal hall, bids farewell first to his mother and father, then off he goes to the hall and gets there as the king is having his after-breakfast drink, around midmorning. He goes before the king and greets him respectfully. The king receives him politely. And when Prince Sigurd sees Illugi, he gives him a very warm welcome and invites Illugi to sit with him. Illugi does so. A few days pass with Sigurd at home with his father and Illugi.

 

 

3. Of Raiding and Misery at Sea

 

Now the time comes when Sigurd’s ships were ready, and off they sail. It had been decided that Bjorn and Illugi should both go. Now the prince takes leave of his father, and they sail first to the Orkneys and Scotland and carry out many raids and achieve a great victory over the Scots, winning much wealth in the process. There isn’t a place they land where they aren’t triumphant. Everyone was scared of them. In the autumn, Sigurd decides to sail home, but a great storm blows up. His ship is blown off course, driven north into the ocean. The sail is straining at its reef-lines. Now all the cords are starting to snap. They see not a glimpse of land anywhere. The sea is getting rough, and there blew such a storm that it poured in on either side. But everyone on board was so brave that not one of them spoke a word of dismay. The ship has now started seriously leaking, and for eight days they’re all standing in bilge water. The ship is driven far to the north into the Bay of Gandvik. They secure the sail with a strong cord, and now they get such a great inrush of water that the ship was on the point of breaking up. They were most of them were exhausted by then. And next thing they know, they’re sighting land. There were cliffs all along the coast. Then the ship is driven up into an inlet. Both ship and men were saved. The prince says that they ought to wait there for a favourable wind. Most of his men were worn out with their toil. They were so cold as well that that they fully expected to die, because they didn’t have any fire. Prince Sigurd bore up remarkably well, though they all dearly wanted to get some fire, but they couldn’t find any.

Bjorn began to get very frozen then and spoke thus: “You, Illugi,” he says, “row over this firth and look for fire; and if you don’t find any, I’ll have your head, but if you get fire, you can have this ring I’m holding.”

Illugi replies, “No way will I wager my head with you, Bjorn, but I’ll gladly go and look for fire, if it may be of use to our men.”  He rows away now from the crew on his own.

 

 

4. Of the Doings of Grid

 

There was a certain cave on the far side of the firth, owned by a troll woman called Grid. She was the worst of troll women. Illugi makes land now, secures his boat, steps ashore and goes inside the cave. Evening had fallen. Then he hears heavy footfalls, and Grid comes home. She asks him his name. He told her he was called Illugi, and it seemed to him as if a blizzard or a tempest was blowing from her nostrils. Mucus hung down in front of her mouth. She was bearded and bald on top. Her hands were eagle’s claws, and both her sleeves were burnt; and the cape she was wearing barely came down to her buttocks at the back, but all the way to her toes in front. She had green eyes, a prominent brow and huge ears. You couldn’t call her pretty. Illugi asked if she could give him some fire.

Grid answers, “You won’t get any fire off me unless you speak three truths. And if you do that quickly, then you’ll lie with my daughter. But if you don’t accept that choice, then Bjorn can freeze to death for all I care.”

Illugi agrees to her bargain. At that, there comes forward a woman. She was so pretty, Illugi doesn’t think he’s seen anyone prettier. And as soon as he saw her, he fell deeply in love with her. She was quiet and didn’t say much.

Then Illugi began: “Here’s some things that I have to say,” he says, “which I think might just be truths: your cave is so high and wide that I’ve never seen a bigger or stronger house. Your nose is so big too that I’ve never seen such a monster as you, and so black you make the floor look fair, and I’ve never seen a woman more horrible than yourself. And your daughter is certainly fairer. And I’ve never seen so big a difference as I see in the two of you; and everyone who sees you will say the same.”

Then Grid spoke: “No doubt about that,” says she: “you don’t want to praise or flatter me. But you don’t think I look as bad as you make out. But now I think it’s best if you go to bed with my daughter, and enjoy yourself in every way you like, because you like the looks of my daughter better than me. Now we won’t hang around by any means,” says Grid, “and that’s all the banns you need.”

Illugi says that that’s how it’ll be. He goes to the bed, takes off his clothes—the old woman undresses her daughter—and they went go to bed together. Illugi turns to her with fondness, but she shows no enjoyment. Then Grid grabs Illugi by his hair and yanks him onto the edge of the bed, drew a bright and very sharp cleaver with her other hand, and levelled it at his head. But Illugi lay quietly and didn’t move a muscle.

Grid said then, very angrily, “Listen up, you wicked son of Satan, what made you think you I would stand by while you shamed my daughter?  No,” she says, “you’ll die instead.”

Then Illugi said, “My heart has never known fear. I came into your cave because fate so decreed, but no one dies more than once, and that’s why your threats don’t scare me.”

At these words of his, Grid throws him back. He turns back to his bride then and was very happy. And just when he was in the heat of passion with her, Grid wraps her hand around his hair and yanks him onto the edge of the bed and swings the cleaver, stopping just short of his head. “You’re bold. But right now you’re going to die.”

But Illugi said he wasn’t afraid of to die.

Then she said, laughing, “I’ve never met anyone like you; you’re the only one not afraid to die. Go to sleep now, and sweet dreams!”

Illugi turns to his wife now and is very passionate with her now. Grid rushes to the bed once more and yanks him onto the edge of it. She lifts the cleaver, and she gives him some very unpleasant looks, but everything happened as before, with Illugi saying he’s not afraid.

Then Grid said, “You aren’t like other men; you’re veins don’t shake at all, and you aren’t afraid in the slightest. So now I’ll spare your life, and with it you can have my daughter, who’s called Hild. But I can never repay you enough for your good deed. You’ve rescued me from great spells, you see. For I’ve murdered and slain many men, and they all feared my terrible cleaver. Sixteen brave men I slew with this blade, and that was no woman’s work, mind. Now I’m going to tell you the story of my life, so listen.

 

 

5. Grid’s Tale

 

“There was a king ruled over Alfheimir by the name of Ali. He had a queen called Alfrun. They had one daughter; she was called Signy. She was in every way pleasant to look on. As soon as Signy was old enough, she was given in marriage to a certain King Eirek. He fell in battle while raiding in the west. They had a daughter together called Hild, and she was the fairest of maidens. Signy returned to her father then and stayed with him. The queen took ill and died, and the king took it badly, and Signy stayed in her room and was very unhappy for the king and her mother. He married again and got himself a new queen, and her name was Grimhild. She was fair to look at on the outside, but inside she was the most monstrous witch. The king loved her dearly. They had seven daughters, and they all took after their mother and became the most monstrous of witch women.

“Now from the time of Grimhild’s arrival, it happened that a man disappeared in the kingdom every night, and everyone suspected that was Grimhild’s doing. The king begins to grow old now, and the queen wasn’t getting as much out of going to bed with him as she would like. She thinks now about betraying the king and getting herself someone younger. So she gives him poison to drink, and he dies from it, and he was buried beside his queen. Grimhild becomes so furious that she’s laying the whole realm to waste, both men and cattle.

“After these deeds of hers, Grimhild goes to the room where Signy was with her daughter, and when she came in she said, ‘You, Signy,’ she says, ‘you’ve enjoyed great honours and much happiness, but I’m going to take all that from you now. And this curse I lay on you: that you go from away and dwell in a cave and turn into the worse of troll women. You’ll be called Grid. Your daughter will go with you. And every man who looks on her will fall deeply in love with her. You must murder whoever you see in her bed. Now you’ve got seven sisters; they’ll fight a battle with you every night. They’ll cut you all to pieces, hew and maim; but even so, you’ll never die. And you’ll never be freed from this curse till you meet a man who isn’t afraid of your terrible cleaver when you brandish it. And because that will seem so terrifying to them all, you’ll never find such a man.’

Signy couldn’t speak for grief and weeping.

“Then Hild said, ‘I’d like to pay you back for your curse, Grimhild, and this do I decree, that you stand with one foot on this chamber and one on the royal hall. Thralls will light a pyre between your legs. That bonfire will be kept burning night and day, and you’ll be all burnt from below by fire, and frozen from above, so that you’ll never get any rest. And if my mother and I are ever released from these spells, then you shall die and fall down into the pyre.’

Grimhild spoke up then and said, ‘This conversation of ours is very stupid. I would rather that neither of these curses hold.’

Hild said that would stand as spoken. Mother and daughter disappeared then into this cave; and I am the self same Signy, and this here is my daughter Hild. And now I wish to give her to you in marriage, and reward you thus for saving me from the curse.”

And when the tale is done, there come into the cave seven witches with sharp swords, and they charge at Grid and hew at her both hard and often. Hild was now intensely afraid. Illugi comes to Grid’s aid and hews at them with blows both fast and furious, and he doesn’t let up till he’s killed them all, and he burns them all on a pyre.

Then Grid said, “Now you’ve freed us both from these witches; I’ve been fighting with them for eleven years.”

Illugi says that’s been long enough.

 

 

6. Sigurd Marries Signy

 

After that, Grid goes with them to Illugi’s boat, and she gave them much gold and many valuable treasures; and he had the fire with him now; and she parts company with them there. Illugi rows back to his crewmates. They were glad to see him and got themselves warm. The prince was there a month and never once got a favourable wind. Bjorn blames Hild, saying that Illugi found her in caves, and he says that she’s the worst of troll women. Sigurd told Bjorn to be silent; he didn’t want to believe what Bjorn said.

It happened one night, that the prince’s men slept onboard ship, and when they awake, they see that Bjorn has disappeared. And they looked for him and eventually see him hanging up on the sailyard. They didn’t know what that was all about, but Grid had hanged Bjorn that night for calling Hild a troll woman.

After that, Sigurd sets sail from Finnmark, and he got a good wind and came home to Denmark with much treasure and gave gold with open hands. He stays at home with his father now. Illugi stayed a long time with Sigurd, although he owned a large farm near the royal hall.

Shortly thereafter, King Hring takes sick and dies. Sigurd holds a memorial feast for his father and invites all the highest men in the land. And Sigurd was acknowledged as king then over the realm that his father had owned. King Hring had been a regional king in Denmark, and had ruled over Scania. Now Signy arrives in Denmark and Illugi and Hild give her a warm welcome. Illugi told the king everything about her. Sigurd asked for her hand in marriage. Signy say that Illugi should give her away. Sigurd discusses this matter with him; and with her agreement, Illugi gives him Signy for his bride. They got on well and had many children, and they all became people of great importance.

King Sigurd and Queen Signy lived long lives, though Illugi lived longer, but nothing is told of any offspring born to him and Hild. This Illugi would go on to become the foster brother of Godar-Asmund.

And so we end this saga.