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The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
Part Three: Svipdag's Thread
18. Svipdag Came to King Adils
There was a farmer named Svip. He lived in Sweden well off the beaten track. He was wealthy and had been a great fighter and not altogether what he seemed, for he was skilled in certain arts. Three of his sons are named here: Svipdag, Beigad and Hvitserk. He was the eldest. They all cut a dash, strong and fine-looking.
And when Svipdag was eighteen years old, he said to his father one day, "It's dull being up here in the mountains all the time and these out-of-the-way valleys, all deserted, and never going to see anyone, and no-one comes to see us. It'd be smarter to go to King Adils and join his retinue of warriors, if he'd take us."
Farmer Svip answers, "It doesn't seem that smart to me, as King Adils is a vicious man and not very sound, though he acts pleasant enough, but his men are full of envy, even if they do cut a dash, but sure, King Adils is a mighty man, and famous."
Svipdag says, "You've got take a chance, if you want to get on in this world, and you never know, before you try, which way you're luck will go, but one thing's for sure: I'm not staying here any longer, whatever else lies ahead."
And since his mind was made up, his father gave him a large axe, beautiful and sharp.
He said to his son then, "Don't envy others, don't puff yourself up, or you'll get a bad name. Instead, defend yourself, if anyone attacks you, because it's a great man who doesn't boast much but shows what he's made of, if push comes to shove."
He kitted him out in all lavish armour and a good horse.
So Svipdag rides off now, and comes at evening to King Adils' stronghold. He sees that they're playing games out in front of the hall, and there's Adils sitting on a great gold throne with his berserks beside him. And when Svipdag comes to the fence, the gates are locked, since it was the custom then for people to ask leave to ride in. Svipdag can't be bothered with that. He breaks down the gate and just rides on into the yard.
The king said, "This man's a careless rider, and no-one's tried that before. Could be, he's so tough he just doesn't mind."
At once the berserks started scowling, and it seems to them he's acting rather brashly. Svipdag rides up to the king and greets him nicely; he was well aware of courtly manners. King Adils asks who he might be. He tells them. The king remembers his father, and everyone guesses that the newcomer must be a great warrior, a man of no small mettle. The game hadn't finished yet. Svipdag sits himself down on a bit of wood and watches the game. The berserks glower at him, and now they say to the king that they'll test him out.
The king says, "What I think is, he won't be a push-over, but it's alright with me if you want to test him, and see if he's as good as he thinks he is."
They crowd into the hall now. The berserks walk up to Svipdag and ask if he's some sort of hero, since he's acting so big. He said he was as good as any of them. And at this, their anger and aggression only grew, but the king told them to simmer down for the evening.
The berserks scowled and howled, and they said to Svipdag, "Do you dare fight with us? Because you'll need to dredge up more than your big talk and brashness then, and we want to test you, and see what you're really made of."
He says, "I'll agree to fight you one at a time, then I'll find out if anyone else wants a try."
This was fine by the king, that they should test each other.
Queen Yrsa said, "This man is welcome here."
The berserks answered her, "We already know that you want us all in hell, but we're a bit too fit to be felled by words or ill will."
The queen said, "So what if the king wants to test and see what sort of warriors he's got in you?, since he believes in you so much."
The berserk who was their leader said, "I'll mend your manners and set you down a peg, and we'll have no fear of this man then."
19. Of Svipdag and the Berserks
And come morning, a tough island duel took place, and no shortage of hard hits there. They all saw that this newcomer could swing a sword with great strength, and knew how to make it bite, and the berserk backs off before him, and he kills the berserk. And straightaway the next one wants to avenge his death, but he goes the same way, and Svipdag doesn't stop till he's killed four.
Then King Adils said, "You've dealt me a heavy loss, and now you'll pay," and ordered his men to get up and kill him.
Meanwhile the queen gets together troops of her own to help him and says to the king, surely he can see that there was much more worth in this one than in all those berserks put together. So the queen makes peace between them, and everyone thinks Svipdag a great warrior indeed. He sits now on the bench in the place of honour opposite the king, and that's Queen Yrsa's idea.
And as it got dark, he looks around and thinks he's still been rather too light on the berserks, and wants to provoke a fight with them, and he thinks it's likely, that if they see him on his own, they'll go for him. And that's just what happened, as he expected, because they're on him in an instant.
And then when they'd been fighting for a while, the king arrives and separated them. After that the king outlawed the berserks, those that were left, as the whole lot of them together had not managed to beat one single man, and he said that he'd had no idea till now that they were so useless, just tough talkers. So they had to leave, but they swore to harry Adils' kingdom. The king appeared not to mind their threats and said that these bitches had no pluck in them. Off they went now in disgrace and shame. But really, it was King Adils who had egged them on in the first place, to attack him as he left the hall, and avenge themselves, so that the queen wouldn't know. Svipdag, however, had killed one by the time the king came to separate them.
King Adils now asks Svipdag to provide him with just as much protection as he'd got before from all the berserks, "most of all because the queen would like you in place of them." So Svipdag stayed there for a time.
20. Of the Berserks' Raid
Some time later, news reaches the king that the berserks have got together a great host and are raiding in his land. King Adils asks Svipdag to march against the berserks now and said that it was his duty and promises him as great an army as he needed. He doesn't much like the idea of being leader of the army, although he would go with the king wherever he wanted. But the king would settle for nothing less than Svipdag at the head of his troops.
Svipdag says, "Then I want you to grant me the lives of twelve men, when I say."
The king says, "I'll agree to that."
After which, Svipdag goes to this battle, but the king stays at home. He has a strong force. Svipdag had caltrops made and scattered on the ground where the battlefield had been marked out, and he got ready with many other tricks. Then battle is joined and a hard fight it is, and the raiders' army falls back some distance, and things go very badly for them when they feel the spikes of the caltrops. One of the berserks was killed there, and many men besides, but those who survived fled to their ships and so got away.
Svipdag comes home now to King Adils with a triumph to boast of. King Adils thanks him well for his daring and defence of the land.
Queen Yrsa said, "Surely that seat is better filled, when a warrior like Svipdag sits in it, than those berserks of yours."
The king admits that's true. The berserks now gather their forces, the ones who got away, and once again come raiding in King Adils' realm. And again the king calls on Svipdag to march against them and promises to give him a fine force of men. Svipdag goes to battle, and this time he has a third less men than the berserks. King Adils promised to come to meet him with the royal troops, his own retinue. Svipdag had moved faster than the berserks expected. And now they clash, and a hard battle ensues. King Adils musters his men and his plan was to take the berserks on their unshielded flank.
21. Svipdag Slew the Berserks
Now we return to Farmer Svip. One day he wakes from his sleep and sighed wearily and said to his sons, "I think your brother Svipdag needs some help now, because he's fighting a battle not far from here and they outnumber him, and he's lost one eye and has many wounds besides, but he's felled three berserks, and now there's three left."
The brothers rush to arm themselves, then head off to where the battle is, and the raiding force outnumbered them two to one. Svipdag had done great deeds, though he was now badly wounded and missing one eye. His men have been killed by the dozen, but the king isn't coming to his aid. And when the brothers come to the battle, they charge forward, fighting boldly to where the berserks are. And when the game's over, the berserks all lie slain before the brothers. Now the slaughter quickly falls on the raiders' army, and those who chose life gave themselves up to the brothers.
And after this, they go to meet King Adils and brought him this news. The king thanks them well for that feat of arms. Svipdag had got two wounds on his arms. He had grave wounds to his head and was one-eyed from then on, for the rest of his life. He's laid up a while with these wounds and Queen Yrsa healed him.
But when he was completely well, he said to the king that he wanted to leave that place. "I've a mind to visit a king who'll show us more honour than you, majesty. You've repaid me poorly for defending your land, and for such a victory as we won for you."
King Adils begged him to stay and said he'd treat the brothers fantastically well and said he wouldn't rate anyone above them. Svipdag wants nothing else but to ride away, and mostly because King Adils hadn't joined the battle till it was over, since he wasn't sure who would win, Svipdag or the berserks, for the king had been positioned in a nearby wood, and watched their game from there, and had the choice of coming any time he wanted, but really it was all the same to him if Svipdag lost and bit the dirt.
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