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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 against nature."

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 your Maker."

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
(Chronicon Lethrense)

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

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 in Denmark."

Then King Hakon said, "Where did you sleep the night?"

Snio answered the king, "There where the sheep ate the wolves."

"How so?"

"Because the wolf was boiled and given to the sheep to drink as a cure."

"Where did you sleep the next night?"

"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."

"How so?"

"Because children made an axe of white cheese. The mice ate that, but not the stick the haft was made of."

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 son Both10.

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.

1. Not a true etymology. The name is first recorded as Hróiskelda, in a poem of c. 1050 (MS. 13the century), thus Hroir's Spring, rather than Hroar's/Ro's. For a fuller version of these events and the subsequent career of Rolf, see Saxo, Book II.
2. Láland, according to the Annals of Lund and other sources, a Danish island.
3. The Swedish king is Athisl in the Annals of Lund, corresponding to Icelandic Aðils, Old English Eadgils. For other dog-king tales, see The Saga of Hakon the Good (Hákons saga ins góða) 13, and Saxo, Book VII.
4. The island of Læsø lies off the north-east coast of Jutland. Old Danish Læ (Ler in Saxo, where he is one of Helghe's generals) = Icelandic Hlér, also called Ægir, the giant king of the sea. See Skáldskaparmál 1 and 23. In the saga Of Fornjot & His Kin (Frá Fornjóti ok hans ættmönnum) 1, Hler is the son of Fornjot; his three brothers each rule over a different element, Hler's being the sea. His name is the basis of many marine kennings.
5. Snio's reign is in Saxo, Book VIII. Here he is the son of Siward, and succeeded in turn by his son Biorn. While Saxo doesn't echo the Chronicle's disapproval, he does describe a time of want in Denmark. Snio tries to counteract the grain shortage by banning beer, on pain of death, but is eventually persuaded to reverse this law, in the face of popular resistance.
6. According to the Annals of Lund: "He saw three beavers collecting wood, one of whom, who was called the servant, or "beaver-thrall", collapsed on the ground with his legs stuck out. The other beavers placed the wood between his legs and walked in front, dragging him along like oxen."
7. In the Annals of Lund, he is to ask the giant by what death King Snio will die. Snio hopes that Roth (Røth 'red') will be killed. Lee refuses to answer unless Roth tells him three true things (this triad motif is common in Saxo).
8. Properly Hiarwarth, as in the Annals of Lund.
9. Latinised form of Skuld.
10. Both = Bous in Saxo = ODan. bóe, OIc. búi. The name was sometimes Latinised as Boethius, hence Both.
11. Rørik Slængeborræ, a corruption of Slænganbøghe (= Old Icelandic Hrærekr slöngvanbaugi) 'ring-slinger', in other words "very generous with giving rings", see Saxo, Book III. Since rake 'the proud' can also mean 'dog', this may have occasioned the dog-king legends.
12. Ambløthæ = Shakespere's Hamlet, see Saxo, Books III & IV, where he is named Amleth, and his mother Gerutha. Saxo's Amleth is killed fighting Wighlek.
13. Obviously a message carved in wood, as in Saxo, who adds that this was "a kind of writing material frequent in old times." Many and diversely-intended runic messages have been discovered on strips of bark, from Bergen for example, although the widespread use of runes in personal communication is attested rather for the medieval period, 12th to 14th centuries, than earlier.
14. See Saxo, Book IV, where he is called Uffe, and the Old English poem Widsith, where he is Offa, and his foes Myrgings or Sweaves.
15. In Saxo, Uffe explains his decision to fight two opponents, saying that this will remove the shame of an earlier incident in which a certain King Athisl of Sweden was killed by two Danes, Ket and Wig, who thereby broke the terms of the duel. It had become a "standing reproach to the Danes."

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