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... In Iron Age Britain two brothers struggle for supremacy. The Archdruid prophesies kingship for one, banishment for the other. But it is the exiled brother who will lead the Celts across the Alps into deadly collision with Rome...
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The Saga of Hrolf Kraki

Part Four: Bodvar's Thread

24. Of King Hring

It's now to be told that north in Norway, in the Updales, there ruled a king by the name of Hring. His son was called Bjorn. It's said now that the queen died and that was a great loss to the king, and to many more besides. His landed men and councillors begged him to remarry, so it happens that he sends men south in search of a wife. But wild weathers came against them and dreadful storms, and they're forced now to turn the ship around to escape the weather, and the upshot is, they're driven north to Lapland and stayed the winter there.

One day they went up onto the land and came to a house. Inside sat two women, fair to look at. They welcomed them warmly and asked where they'd come from. They explained all about their journey and what their mission was. They asked who these women might be and why they'd come here all alone and so far from other people, such pretty and beautiful women.

The eldest said, "There's a reason for everything, boys. We're here because some powerful king asked for my daughter but she didn't want him, and he promised to get tough with her in return, and that's why I've got her here in secret, while her father's away, because he's off raiding."

They asked, who her father was.

The mother said, "She's the daughter of the Lapp king."

They asked what they were called.

The eldest said, "I'm called Ingibjorg, and my daughter's called Hvit. I'm the Lapp king's mistress."

There was one girl there to serve them. The king's men were much taken with them, and it was decided to ask and see whether Hvit would go with them and be married to King Hring. The man who was the head of the king's messengers took this matter up with her. She wasn't quick to answer, but instead turned the matter over to her mother's judgement.

"It's just as they say: from every trouble comes some gain," said her mother, "and it seems bad to me that her father will be the last to hear of this, but this has to be chanced if she's to get anywhere."

After this, she prepares for the journey with them. Then they go their way to King Hring, and as soon as they're there, the messengers ask whether the king wants to marry this woman or send her back the way she came. The king is quite taken with the woman and weds her there and then. He doesn't care that she'd not rich. The king is getting a bit old, and that was soon clear from the queen's behaviour.

25. Queen Hvit Lay with Bjorn

A man owned a farm there, not far from the king. He had a wife and child, a daughter called Bera. She was young in years and pretty to look at. Bjorn, the king's son, and Bera, the farmer's daughter, played together as children and they got on well. The farmer was quite well off and he'd spent a long time raiding in his younger days, and was a great hero. Bera and Bjorn loved each other a lot are were always meeting.

Time goes by now and there's nothing much to report. Bjorn grows up promisingly and he gets to be both big and strong. He was well bred and talented in every way. King Hring was often abroad on raids, but Hvit was at home and governed the land. She wasn't too popular with the people, but with Bjorn she was very friendly, but he took little notice of that.

And one time, when the king went away, the queen suggested that her son Bjorn should stay at home with her to govern the land. The king thought that was sensible enough. The queen now became imperious and haughty. The king said to his son Bjorn, that he should stay at home and look after the land with the queen. Bjorn said he wasn't much in favour of that, and that he hated the queen. The king said that he should stay. The king leaves now and goes abroad with a great troop of men.

Bjorn goes home now after this talk with his father, and each of them were mad at the other. He went to his bed and was rather glum and was red as blood. The queen goes to talk to him and wants to cheer him up and said she wanted to be friends with Bjorn. He told her to go away. She did, for a time. She often came to talk to him though and said that it would be the perfect opportunity for them to share the one bed, while the king was away, and said they could have much more fun together than she had with an old man like King Hring. Bjorn was outraged and struck her a great blow on the cheek and told her to get lost and shoved her out.

She said she wasn't accustomed to being lashed or beaten, "and you prefer, Bjorn, to cuddle a churl's daughter, and you deserve exactly what you've got coming to you, something far more disgraceful than enjoying my love and sweetness, and it wouldn't be so farfetched to think that something might just come and pay you back for your stubbornness and stupidity."

She hits him with a wolf-skin glove and says that he must turn into a cave-bear now, grim and grizzly, "and you'll have no other nourishment but your father's livestock. You'll have to kill sheep in unheard-of amounts, just for your food, and you'll never get out of these spells, and they're a little something to remember me by, and for you it'll be worse than anything.

26. Of Bera and Bjorn, and his Death

Bjorn vanishes, after that, and no-one knows what's become of him. And when they notice he's missing, a search is made for him, and he's nowhere to be found, of course. And now it's to be told that the king's sheep are being killed by the dozen, and a grey bear was behind it, both big and vicious.

One evening it happened that the farmer's daughter saw this grim bear. Bjorn goes to her and acts quite friendly towards her. In this bear she thinks she spots the eyes of the king's son, Bjorn, and she didn't run. The creature walks away from her then, and she follows it, all the way till it comes to this cave. And when she comes to the cave, there's a man there waiting and he greets her, Bera, the farmer's daughter. She sees that it's Bjorn Hringsson, and that was a very happy meeting. They stayed in the cave for a while, because she didn't want to leave him, not while she had a choice. He says that it's not right for her to live with him, because he was a beast by day, though a man at night.

King Hring comes home now from the raiding and he's told the news of what's happened while he's been away, his son Bjorn's disappearance, and also about that great beast which had come to the land and was laying into the king's flocks most of all. The queen urged him most insistently to have the creature killed, but they waited a while, all the same. The king kept his thoughts to himself, and it seems a strange business.

One night, as Bera and Bjorn were in bed together, Bjorn started speaking and said, "I have a feeling that tomorrow will be my dying day, and they will catch me, and anyway I don't see any pleasure in life, not with that curse that's on me, although I have that one joy, that we're together, but that will now end. I will now give you this ring which is under my left arm. In the morning, you will see the men who are coming to attack me, and when I'm dead, go to the king and ask him to give you what is under the bear's left shoulder, and he'll grant you that. The queen will suspect you, when you want to go, and she'll offer you the bear's meat to eat, but you mustn't eat that, because you are a pregnant woman, as you know, and you will give birth to three boys, who will be our children, and if you eat the bear's meat it'll be clear from them, but this queen is the worst troll. Afterwards, go home to your father and you'll raise the boys there. One will seem worst to you. And if you can't look after them there due to their wild ways and unruliness, then come here to the cave with them. Here you will see a coffer with three compartments. The runes that are beside it will say what each of them shall own. Three weapons are in the rock, and each lad will have the one that's meant for him. The son of ours who comes out first should be called Elk-Frodi, the next Thorir, the third Bodvar, and it's my guess they won't be weaklings, and their names will long be remembered."

He tells her of many things, and finally the bear-form came over him, and the bear steps out, and her after it, and she looks around, and then she sees a big band of men coming up over the shoulder of the mountain, and many massive hounds out in front of them. The bear runs from the cave now and out along the mountain. The dogs and the king's men come after him now, and he proved hard to catch. He maimed many of their men before he was taken, and killed all the dogs. In the end, they got him surrounded with a ring of men, and he paced about inside the ring and sees how the situation is, that he won't get away. He turns then to where the king is standing and grabbed the man who stood next to him, and tore him apart where he stood. Then the bear was so tired that it threw itself flat on the ground. They rushed in quick then to kill it.

The farmer's daughter sees this. She goes to the king and said, "Lord, will you give me what is under the bear's left shoulder?"

The king grants it, saying there wouldn't be anything unfit to give her under there.

The king's men had stripped a lot of the bear. Bera went up to it then and took away the ring and hid it, and the men didn't see what she took - nothing was asked about it, anyway. The king asks who she might be, as he didn't recognise her. She said what seemed best, but not the truth.

27. Bera Had Three Sons

The king goes home now and Bera among his followers. The queen was very happy and gave her a good welcome and inquired who she might be. As before, she didn't tell the truth. The queen organises a great feast and has the bear meat prepared as a special treat. The farmer's daughter is in the queen's chamber and can't get away, because the queen suspects who she must be.

And along comes the queen, sooner than expected, in fact, with a plate of bear-meat, and told her to tuck in. She didn't want to eat.

"How rude," says the queen, "You turn your nose up at this treat which the queen sees fit to offer you! So eat up quick, or else you'll end up with Something Worse." She cuts off a bite for her, and in the end, she did eat that little mouthful. The queen then carves another bit and stuffs it into her mouth, and a little bit of that went down too, but she spat out the rest and said she wouldn't eat any more, even if she tortured or killed her.

The queen said, "Maybe it's done the trick already," and laughed.

Afterwards, Bera went off home to her father. She has a difficult pregnancy. She told her father the whole story of her marriage and the way it had been.

And shortly after, she went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy, though a bit of a strange one. It was human above the navel, but an elk below. She names him Elk-Frodi. A second boy comes out, and is called Thorir. He had dog's feet from the instep down, and so he was called Thorir Houndsfoot. He was more handsome to look at than other men. The third boy appeared, and was the most beautiful of all. He's called Bodvar, and there was nothing wrong with him. She liked Bodvar best.

They're growing up now, fast as grass. And when they play games with other people they're vicious and quite unrelenting. Folks got a hard a hard time off them. Frodi savaged many of the king's followers, and some he even killed.

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