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The Saga of Hrolf Kraki

Part Five: Hjalti's Thread

37. Of Berserks and the Courage of Hjalti

Now winter passes and it gets round to the time when Hrolf's berserks are expected back. Bodvar asks Hjalti what the berserks are like. He says that it's their custom, when they come home to the retinue, to go up to each man, starting with the king, and ask each one if he considers himself as brave as them: "But then the king says, 'That's hard to say, with such valiant men as you are, who have so distinguished yourselves in battles and bloodlettings among various peoples in the southern part of the world just as much as the north,' - and the king answers them this way more from courage than cowardliness, because he recognises their support, and they win great victories for the king and much wealth. From there, they then go and ask the same of every man who's in the hall, but no one thinks themselves a match for them."

Bodvar says, "It's sorry selection of warriors King Hrolf has here, if they're all scared to answer back to berserks."

They leave their talk at that, and Bodvar's been with King Hrolf for one year now. And it happens that the following Yule-eve, one time as King Hrolf sat at table, the hall door burst open and in walked twelve berserks, all grey with iron, like shattered sea-ice.

Bodvar asks Hjalti quietly, whether he dares take any of them on.

"Yes," said Hjalti, "not just one, but all of them, as I know nothing of fear, even if I am outnumbered, and none of them will make me shake."

Now first of all, the berserks march further into the hall, and they see that Hrolf's champions have grown in number, since they went away, and they consider the newcomers carefully, and one of them seems no pushover to them, and it's said that their leader was somewhat surprised at this.

Now they go according to their custom up to King Hrolf and ask him the same question as usual. And the king answers in a way that seems suitable, as usual, and they go thus up to each man in the hall, and last of all they come to those two comrades and the leader of the berserks asks Bodvar if he considers himself as brave as him."

Bodvar says that he isn't as brave, in fact he's braver, however they cared to test it, and no need to go on about it like an old sow, there, "you stinking son of a mare," and he leaps at the berserk and lunges in under him, where he stood in all his armour, and throws him down with such a baleful crack, as if his very bones were broken, and there he lay. Hjalti meanwhile does exactly the same. A huge uproar broke out in the hall then, and King Hrolf thought this is looking very dangerous, with his men knocking each other down. He springs from the high-seat and runs to Bodvar and asks him to calm things down and return everything to good order, but Bodvar says that the berserk would lose his life, unless he admits he's the lesser man. King Hrolf said that that would be easily solved, so Bodvar let the berserk stand up, and Hjalti did likewise, as the king commanded.

Everyone sat down in their own seats then, but the berserks sat with heavy thoughts. King Hrolf spoke very persuasively, of how they could now see that there wasn't a thing in the world so famous, strong or big, that it's match could not be found. "I forbid you to wake any strife in my hall, and if you defy me after this, you'll pay with your lives, however fierce you may be when I have business with my enemies, and however much honour and fame you win me. I now have such a choice of champions, that I don't need to depend on you."

Everyone shouted hearty approval at this speech of the king's, and they were all fully reconciled, and this is how the men were arranged in the hall, with Bodvar most esteemed and prized, and he sat at the king's right hand next to him, and then Hjalti the Magnanimous, and the king gave him that name because he could well be called magnanimous, sitting every day with the king's retainers who had once maltreated him as has been told, but not doing them any harm, even though he had now become a much greater man then them, and the king would have thought it excusable if he'd given them something to remember him by, or even killed the odd one of them.

And on the king's left hand sat those three brothers, Svipdag, Hvitserk and Beigad, so important had they become, and then the twelve berserks and other warriors on both sides along the length of the hall, who are not named here.

The king let these men of his practice all kinds of sports and skills with every sort of game and entertainment. And Bodvar proved to be the greatest of his champions, whatever needed proving, and he achieved such honour with King Hrolf, that he got to marry his daughter Drifa. And so things stood for a time, with them in their realm, the most renowned of men.

Part Six: Of Adils the Uppsala King and the Swedish Expedition of King Hrolf and his Champions

38. Planning the Uppsala Ride

It is now said that one day King Hrolf sat in his royal hall with all his champions and great men beside him and that he held a costly banquet.

Now King Hrolf looks left and right and said, "Overwhelming strength has come together in one hall."

Then King Hrolf asked Bodvar whether he knew of any king like him with such champions at his command.

Bodvar says he doesn't, "but there is one thing that seems to me to diminish your royal dignity."

King Hrolf asked what that might be. Bodvar said, "The thing you're lacking, lord, is that you've not gone to Uppsala after your father's inheritance, which your in-law King Adils wrongly holds."

King Hrolf says it'll be hard to get that, "for Adils is not a simple man, but wise in black arts, crafty, cunning, sly and vicious, and the worst to deal with."

Bodvar says, "Still, it befits you, lord, to go after your property and call on King Adils some time and find out what answer he gives on this matter."

King Hrolf said, "This is a serious point, which you raise, for we have to seek vengeance for our father on King Adils the covetous and tricky, wherever he is, and we shall have to risk it."

"I shan't blame you," says Bodvar, "for trying out, some time, what King Adils is made of."

39. Hrolf Stays with Farmer Hrani

King Hrolf now prepares for his expedition with a hundred and twenty men together with his twelve champions and twelve berserks. Nothing is said of their journey till they come to a farm. The farmer was standing outside as they came and invited them to stay.

The king said, "You're a bold man. Do you have the means for this? Because we're not that little a party, and it's not really a task for a small farmer, to accommodate us all."

He laughed and replied. "Yes, lord," he said, "I've seen just as many men come my way, at times, and you won't lack drink or anything else you need for the night."

The king says, "Then we'll chance it."

The farmer was pleased with that. Their horses are now led away and taken care of.

"What's your name, farmer?" said the king.

"Some call me Hrani," he said.

There was such hospitality there, that they could hardly remember a place where they'd been treated better, and the farmer was very merry, and there was nothing they could ask him for which he didn't have an answer, and he seems to them to be the wisest man. They went to sleep now. And when they awoke, it was so cold the teeth chattered in their heads, and they huddled up all together, pulling on clothes and everything they could lay their hands on, all except King Hrolf's champions, who made do with what clothes they already had. They all stayed cold that night.

Then the farmer asked, "How did you sleep?"

Bodvar answers. "Well," he says.

Then the farmer said to the king, "I know your retainers found it rather cold in the hall last night, and so it was, but they can't expect to stand the trials that King Adils will try on you, if they thought that was so tough, so send them home, lord, half your company, if you want to keep your life, for it won't be by numbers that you'll beat King Adils."

"You're an outstanding man, farmer," said the king, "and I'll take your advice in this matter."

They go their way now, once they're ready, and bid the farmer farewell, and the king sends back half his troop. They ride along now, and suddenly there's another farm in front of them, just a little one. Here they think they recognise the same farmer, who they stayed with before. A strange turn of events, this, they think. Still, the farmer greeted them well and asked why they came so often.

The king answers, "We don't really know what tricks we're getting caught in, but it would be fair to say that you, farmer, are a right tricky chap."

The farmer says, "Nevertheless, you won't be badly treated."

They spend a second night there with excellent fare and went to sleep and were woken by such a powerful thirst coming on them it seemed almost unbearable, so that they could hardly move the tongues in their mouths. They stood up and went to a vat that stood full of wine, and drank from that.

In the morning Farmer Hrani said, "Once again, lord, it's time to heed me, and I sense little endurance in those men who drank in the night. You will have to endure greater challenges when you come to King Adils."

Suddenly a massive snowstorm came on, and they wait out that day, and a third night comes. But in the evening a fire was made for them, and they felt very hot on their arms, those who were sitting by the fire. Most fled from the seats Hrani had assigned them, and they all shrank from the fire except King Hrolf and his champions.

The farmer said, "Once again, lord, you can cull from your company, and it's my advice that none go except your twelve champions, and then there'll be some hope of your return, but otherwise none."

"You impress me so much, farmer," said King Hrolf, "that we will follow your advice."

They stay there three nights. The king rides off with the twelve champions, but sent back all the rest of his troop.

King Adils gets wind of this and said it was good that King Hrolf wanted to visit him, "because he'll surely have such an errand here, before we part, as will be worth the telling."

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