The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
51. Of Skuld's Battle
After this urging from Hjali, Bodvar gets up and goes out to the battle. The
bear has disappeared from the army now, and the battle was starting to go against
them. Queen Skuld had used none of her tricks while the bear was in the ranks
of King Hrolf, sitting there in her black tent on her seid-stand. Now the situation
changes as suddenly as dim night coming after a bright day. Now King Hrolf's
men see coming out of King Hjorvard's ranks a monstrous boar. It looked no smaller
than a three-year-old ox and was wolf-grey in colour, and an arrow flew from
each of its bristles, and it went through the king's retainers like nothing
on earth, felling them by the dozen.
Bodvar Bjarki ploughed into them now, hacking two handed, his
only thought to do as much damage as he could before he fell. And now they fall
in heaps before him, one on top of another, and both his arms are bloodied to
the shoulder, and he felled so many, the dead were stacked all about him. He
stormed on as if he was insane. But however many men he and Hrolf's other champions
kill, from the army of Hjorvard and Skuld - it's incredible but - their numbers
aren't a bit diminished, and it's as if the champions are doing nothing, and
they can't recall encountering anything so strange before.
Bodvar said, "Vast is the host of Skuld, and I suspect now
that the dead move here and rise up again and fight against us, and it won't
be easy to fight with zombies, and however many limbs may be cloven, and shields
shivered, helm and hauberk hacked apart, and however many chiefs we cut down,
these dead ones are the grimmest to contend with, and we haven't the power to
combat this, but where is that champion of King Hrolf, who most questioned my
courage and kept challenging me to come out, till I answered him? I don't see
him now, and I'm not one to criticise people."
Then said Hjalti, "You speak true, you are no slanderer.
Here stands that man, Hjalti by name, and now I have some work at hand, and
it's not far between us, and I'm in need of gallant lads, for all my armour
is hewn away, foster-brother, although I reckon I'm battling all out, and now
I'm not avenging all my blows, but this is no time to hold back, if we're going
to stay in Valhall this evening, and we've certainly not seen the like of this
before, though we've had enough warnings of what's now come."
Bodvar Bjarki said, "Harken to what I say: I have fought
in twelve pitched battles, my daring never questioned, and never gave way to
a berserk. I urged King Hrolf to visit King Adils, and we met a trick or two
there, but that was nothing compared to this plight, and now there is something
weighing down on my heart and I am not so eager to fight as before. I met King
Hjorvard earlier, in the first encounter, and we came at one another, and neither
of us cast insults at the other. We clashed with weapons for a while. He gave
me a blow, which tasted to me of death, but I hewed off an arm and a leg, and
landed another blow on his shoulder and sliced down through his side and back,
but he reacted with not so much as a sigh, but just seemed so sleep for a bit,
but I thought he was dead, and there can't be many like him, and afterwards
he fought not a wit feebler than before, and I couldn't say what keeps him going.
Here have many men assembled against us, nobles and commoners, who press from
all sides, so that shields can hardly hold them back, but I can't spot Odin
here yet. I have a strong suspicion he'll be lurking round here somewhere, dirty
treacherous devil that he is, and if anyone could point him out to me, I'd squeeze
him like any other miserable measly little mouse, and I'll have some none too
reverent sport with that nasty venomous creature, if I get a hold of him, and
who wouldn't have hate in his heart, if he saw his liege lord treated as we
see ours now?"
Hjalti said, "It is not easy to bend fate, nor to stand
And with that their talk was done.
52. The Fall of King Hrolf and his Champions
King Hrolf defended himself well and warriorlike and with courage unrivalled
in the tales of men. They pressed him hard, and he was encircled by elite troops
of Skuld and King Hjorvard. Skuld has now come into the battle and wildly eggs
on her rabble to attack King Hrolf, for she sees that the champions are not
too near him, and this is what sorely grieved Bodvar Bjarki, that he was not
able to help his lord, and the other champions felt this too, for they were
now as ready to die with him as they had been to live with him, when they were
in the bloom of their youth. Now the king's bodyguard of retainers was fallen,
and not one remained standing, and most of the champions were mortally wounded,
and this was to be expected.
Master Galterus said that human strength cannot withstand such
fiendish power, unless with the strength of God to aid them, "and one thing
stood between you and victory, King Hrolf, that you had not the knowledge of
There came on now such a storm of spells that the champions began
to fall, one on top of the other, and King Hrolf found himself outside the shield-wall
and was near enough laid low with weariness. No need to spin it out with words:
there fell King Hrolf and all his champions with good glory.
But what a slaughter they dealt out there, words cannot describe
it. There fell King Hrolf and all his men, but for a few traitors who lived
on with Skuld. In this way she took the lands of King Hrolf under her command
and governed them, badly and for a short time. And Elk-Frodi avenged his brother
Bodvar Bjarki, just as he promised him, as was told in Frodi's Thread, together
with Thorir Houndsfoot. And they received a mighty force from Sweden from Queen
Yrsa, and it is said that Vogg was the commander of them. The whole host sailed
for Denmark and came on Queen Skuld unawares. They seized her so she wasn't
able to bring any spells to bear, and all her rabble they killed, and tortured
her in various ways, and the lands came back under the rule of King Hrolf's
daughters, then everyone sailed back to their own homes.
A mound was made for King Hrolf and the sword Skofnung laid beside
him, and a mound for each champion, with their weapons too.
And here ends the saga of King Hrolf Kraki and his champions.
The Chronicle of the Kings of Lejre
Preserved with the fourteenth century Latin Annals of Lund is an earlier
record of Danish history, the Chronicle of the Kings of Lejre, of which this
is an extract. The Chronicle of the Kings of Lejre was composed in
the second half of the twelfth century. In contrast to Saxo's Gesta Danorum
(c.1200), the Chronicle is terse, sometimes to the point of baffling, though
it does include some curiosities not in Saxo, such as the Dog King of Denmark.
The translation here is based on the selection in Gordon &
Taylor's An Introduction to Old Norse, which deals with Rolf Krage (=
Hrolf Kraki), his immediate predecessors and successors, including the original
Prince Hamlet (Amblothe), and Offe (called Offa in Old English).
References to Saxo are to Oliver Elton's 1905 translation:
"The Danish History, Books I - IX" - online at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/DanishHistory/
Then Haldan was king. He promptly killed his brothers Ro and Skat,
and their friends, and died peacefully in his bed. Haldan had two sons: one
was called Ro - though some say that he was called Haldan - and the other was
called Helghe. They split the kingdom between them so that Ro got all the firm
land and Helghe all the water. At that time, there was a market town in Zealand
near Hogebierg, called Hokekopinge, and because it was a long way from the beach,
King Ro made a market town near Ysefiorth, and called it Roskilde, Ro's spring,
after himself. 1
One time, Helghe came to Halland2 and lay with Thore,
the daughter of Ro's farmer, and had a daughter with her, called Yrse. Another
time he took his own daughter without knowing it, and had a son called Rolf
Krage. King Ro was buried in Lejre. Helghe killed the king of the Wends in battle
and defeated Hodbrod and won the whole of Denmark. Then, out of shame for having
his daughter, he fled to the east and killed himself there.
Then King Hakon of Sweden sent the Danes a small dog for a king,
with the warning that whoever was the first to say that it was dead would lose
their life3. One day as Dog sat at table, and the hounds were scrapping
on the floor, he sprang from the table and they tore him to death. And no-one
dared tell King Hakon that. Then the giant Lee of Lee's Isle4 told
his herdsman Snio5 to get himself the kingdom from King Hakon. So
king Hakon asked Snio the news. Snio answered, "The bees are all dazed
Then King Hakon said, "Where did you sleep the night?"
Snio answered the king, "There where the sheep ate the wolves."
"Because the wolf was boiled
and given to the sheep to drink as a cure."
"Where did you sleep the next
"Where the wolf ate the cart and the horses ran off."
"How could that be?"
"Because the wolves ate the beaver-thrall, who had the wood
between his legs; and the beavers who drew him, they ran away."6
"Where did you sleep the third
night?" said the king.
Snio answered, "Where the
mice ate the axe but not the haft."
"Because children made an
axe of white cheese. The mice ate that, but not the stick the haft was made
Then the king asked about the news.
Then Snio answered, "The bees
are all dazed."
"Then Dog is dead!"
"You said it, not me," said Snio, and so he was king
in Denmark - a twisted and excessively harsh judge, vicious too, who acquired
goods by dishonest means, and he oppressed everyone very much. One man he oppressed
was called Roth. He stood up to him. Out of malice, the king sent him to Lee
the giant to ask about his death7. So Roth delivered the king's greetings
to Lee the giant and told him three true sayings: one, that he never saw thicker
walls on a house than on Lee's; second, that he never saw a man with so many
heads; and third, that if he got away from there, he would never long to be
back. And so he saved his life. Then the giant Lee sent the king two gloves,
and so when he presided over the assembly in Jutland and he pulled on the gloves,
lice ate him to death.
Then Helghe's son, Rolf Krage, was king. He was a grand man in
body and mind, and gave so gladly that that no-one asked him twice for anything.
There was count in Skaane, and he was German, and was called Hartwar8.
He paid tribute to Rolf. He married Rolf's sister against his will; but some
say he gave her to him along with Sweden. One time, Hartwar came to Zealand
with a great army, and bade Rolf - who was then staying at Lejre - to take his
tribute, and so Hartwar killed Rolf and all his men except one; he was called
Wigge, and he ran him through that same day with the same sword he was going
to do him homage with. Hartwar was king from dawn till nine in the morning;
his queen was called Skulda9. Some say that Ake, Hauborth's brother,
killed Hartwar, and so became king.
Then Hodbrod's son Hother was king, the son of Hadding's daughter,
since he was the nearest heir. He was king of Saxland. He killed Othen's son,
Balder, in battle, and pursued Othen and Thor and their companions. They were
seen as gods, even though they weren't. Later he was killed in battle by Othen's
Then his son, Rorik Slengeborre, also called Rake, was king11.
He won Curland, Wendland and Sweden; they paid him tribute. He set up Orwendel
and Feng as rulers in Jutland. The king gave Orwendel his sister, for the good
work he'd done. With her he had a son called Amblothe12. Then Feng
killed Orwendel out of envy and took his woman to wife. The Amblothe devised
a plan to save his life, and acted the fool. Then Feng was wary of Ambothe and
sent him to the king of Britain with two of his servants and a letter saying
Amblothe should be put to death. He scraped it off13 while they slept
and wrote saying that the two servants should be hanged and Amblothe get the
king's daughter; and that's what happened. A year to the day, as Feng drank
to the memory of Amblothe, he came to Denmark and killed Feng, his father's
murderer, and burned all Feng's men in a tent, and so was king of Jutland. Then
he went back to Britain and killed his father-in-law who wanted to avenge Feng's
death. Then he took the queen of Scotland to wife. As soon as he came home,
he was killed in battle.
After Rorik Rake, his son, Wighlek
was king. Nanna was the name of his queen. He had peace and calm in his days,
and died in bed.
Then Wermund, his son, was king. He had good peace at first, but
in his old age he was blind and his son Offe was so slow and dim that he didn't
seem cut out to be a king14. Then the king of Saxland's son threatened
to make himself king of Denmark, unless Wermund would fight a duel with him.
Then Offe offered to go to fight against two Germans, which was his choice -
previously, one German had fought against two Danes15. Then the king
of Saxland's son went with a strong fighter to face Offe, and he killed them
both, and after that Offe the Strong was king in Saxland and in Denmark.
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