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The Saga of Yngvar the Traveller

4. Yngvar Demanded Tribute

When those kinsmen, Onund and Yngvar were in the prime of their youth, there was a dispute between King Olaf and that people who are called the Semigallians, and they had not paid tax for some time. Then King Olaf sent Onund and Yngvar with three ships to demand tribute. They reach land and call a meeting with the inhabitants, and there they demanded tribute from their king. Yngvar demonstrated his great skill in speaking there, so that the king and many other chiefs saw no choice but to pay the tax which was demanded, all except three chiefs who did not want to follow the king's advice and refused to pay the tax and raised an army. But when the king heard what they were up to, he asked Onund and Yngvar to fight them and gave them troops. They fought, and there was great loss of life there before they put the chiefs to flight. In the route, the chief who had most opposed the paying of tribute was taken captive, and they strung him up, but the other two got away. They took much booty there and claimed all the tributes, and, that done, they sail back to King Olaf and bring him a great wealth of gold and silver and good treasures, and Yngvar's reputation was greatly increased by this voyage, so much so that the king set him above all the other chiefs in Sweden. Yngvar took himself a mistress and had a son with her, who was called Svein.

Yngvar remained with King Olaf, enjoying his favour, until he was twenty. Then he became unhappy so that he hardly spoke a word from his mouth. The king thought this a great shame and asks why.

Yngvar answers, “If you think it's a shame that I'm unhappy and you wish me as well as you say, then give me the title of king with all the dignity that entails.”

The king answers, “Anything else you ask, wealth or honours, I will give. But this I cannot, for I am no wiser than my forbears, and I can do no better than my kin who came before me.”

This thing became a bone of contention between them, for Yngvar was forever demanding the title of king and didn't get it.

5. Of Yngvar's Levy

Then Yngvar got ready to leave the country to seek out a kingdom abroad and he selected men from the land and thirty ships, all fully equipped. Word of that Yngvar was preparing for a journey reached King Olaf now, and he sent men to meet with Yngvar and begged him to stay and accept the title of king. Yngvar said he would have accepted it if he'd had the chance earlier, but he was ready to sail, he said, as soon as the wind was right.

Soon afterwards, Yngvar sailed out from Sweden with thirty ships and they didn't stop sailing till they came to Russia, and King Jarizleif received him well and honoured him greatly. Yngvar was there for three years and learnt to speak many languages there. He heard talk that three rivers flowed out of the east through Russia, and the middle one was the biggest. Then Yngvar travelled widely in the east, asking if anyone knew where that river flowed from, but no one could say.

Then Yngvar got ready to leave Russia and he meant to try and explore the length of this river. He had a bishop bless his flint and fire-axe. Four men are named among Yngvar's companions on the journey: Hjalmvigi and Soti, Ketil, who was called Garda-Ketil--he was an Icelander--and Valdimar. Anyway, after that, they set out onto the river with thirty ships, and Yngvar turned the prows to the east and made a rule that no one should go ashore without his leave. And if anyone did, they would lose a hand or a foot. Someone had to stay awake at night on every ship.

When they'd been following the river for a while, it's said that one night it fell to Ketil to keep watch, and when everyone had been asleep for a long time he felt bored, and he became curious and went ashore to have a look around and happened to go further than he intended. He stopped and listened. He saw up ahead of him a tall house and walked towards it and into the house, and there he was amazed to see a silver pot over the fire. He took the pot and ran back towards the ships. But when he'd been going for a little while, he looked back and saw a terrible giant tearing after him. Ketil quickened his pace, but still the giant was getting closer. He pulls off the handle and drops the pot, and runs then as fast as he can, glancing back though now and then. He sees the giant stop when it comes to the pot. It walks now towards it, now away, but finally picks up the pot and goes home. And Garda-Ketil walked to the ship and broke up the handle and put it in his luggage box.

But in the morning, when the men woke up and went ashore, they saw tracks leading from the ships, because there'd been a dew, and they told Yngvar. He asked Ketil if it was him, since Ketil wasn't naming anyone else, and said he wouldn't kill him if he told the truth. He did so and begged to be excused for his disobedience, and for his life to be spared, and showed him the handle. Yngvar told him not to do it again and left it at that.

They sailed then for many days and through many regions till they saw that the colours and lifestyles of the animals had changed, and from this they knew they were far from home. One evening, they saw far off what looked like a half moon standing on the earth. That night Valdimar held watch. He goes ashore in search of the place where they saw it. He came to what looked like a hill looming up before him the colour of gold, and he saw the reason: it was covered in serpents. But since they were asleep, he reached in with his spear-shaft to where a gold ring was, and pulled it out towards himself. Then a little baby snake woke up, and it instantly woke up those beside it, and they all woke their neighbours, snake after snake, till they woke Jakulus.

Valdimar raced back to the ships and told Yngvar the whole truth. Now Yngvar ordered his men to make ready for the serpent and steer the ships to another mooring-site across the river, and so they do. Then they see a dreadful-looking dragon flying towards them over the river. Many hid in fear. And when Jakulus came over the ship that was captained by two priests, he spewed so much venom that both ship and men were destroyed. Then he flew back across the river to his abode.

Yngvar follows the river now for many days. Then towns and big buildings rose into view, and then they see a magnificent citadel. It was built of white marble. As they neared the citadel, they saw great crowds of men and women. They marvelled then at the beauty which they saw there, and the grace of the women, for many were strikingly beautiful. But one among them stood out both for dress and beauty. That fine woman signalled to Yngvar and his men that they should come to meet with her. Then Yngvar stepped from the ship and met that noble lady. She asked who they were and also what they were doing, but Yngvar said nothing, because he wanted to test whether she knew how to speak other languages. And it turned out that she could speak Roman, German, Norse and Russian and many others which were current in the east.

But when Yngvar had learnt that she spoke these languages, he told her his name and enquired after hers and asked what title she held.

“I am called Silkisif,” she said, “and I am queen of this land and realm.”

Then she invited Yngvar into the town with her, together with all his company. He accepted. And the townspeople take their ships with all the rigging and carried them up to the city. Yngvar fitted out a hall for all his men to stay in and locked it carefully, as the surrounding area was full of idolatry. Yngvar warned them not to have any dealings with the heathens and refused entry to any women apart from the queen. Some of his men took little notice of his warning, and he had them killed, and after that no one dared disobey his commands.

Yngvar stayed that winter as an honoured guest, for the queen sat talking to him every day along with her wise men and councillors, and they told the other of many things. Yngvar was always telling her about almighty God, and it appealed to her, this faith. She loved Yngvar so much that she offered him the whole kingdom and the title of king, and finally offered to give herself to him if he would stay there, but he explained that first he wanted to explore the length of the river and would accept after that.

When spring came, Yngvar got ready to leave, and he bade farewell to the queen and her people. Yngvar continued upriver till he came to a great waterfall and a narrow ravine. There were high cliffs there, so they hauled their ships up with ropes. Then they lowered them back to the river and went on like this for some time without seeing anything of note. But one day as summer was drawing to a close, they saw many boats rowing towards them. They were all of them round with oars on every side. They steered towards them so that Yngvar had no choice but to wait there for them, because their boats went as fast as flying birds. But before they met, a man stood up on one of the boats. He was robed in the robes of a king and spoke many tongues. Yngvar made no reply. Then he said a few words of Russian. Yngvar understood that he was called Jolf and was from the city of Heliopolis. And when the king learnt Yngvar's name and where he'd come from and where he was bound, he invited him home with him to stay the winter in his city. Yngvar declared that it didn't suit his plans to delay and refused. Then the king insisted that he accept his hospitality and stay the winter. Yngvar said they'd just have to stay then. After that they came with their company to the harbour and went ashore and up to the city. And when they looked back, they saw the townsmen carrying their ships on their shoulders right up to the city, to where they could be locked up. They saw great idolatry on all the streets there. Yngvar told his men to be diligent in prayer and steadfast in their faith. Jolf gave them a hall, and that winter Yngvar watched his men so closely that not one of them was lost through intercourse with women or other heathenry. But when did have to go out, they went fully armed and locked the hall behind them. No one was allowed in except the king. He sat every day talking with Yngvar, and they told each other many things about their respective lands, past and present.

Yngvar asked Jolf if he knew where this river came from, and Jolf said he knew for sure that it flowed from the spring, “which we call Lindibelti. Another river also flows from that spring to the red sea, to the great whirlpool there which is called Gapi. Between the sea and the river lies the headland of Siggeum. The river doesn't have far to flow before it plummets over a cliff into the Red Sea, and we consider that the ends of the earth. But on this river you've been following, there lurk malefactors in big ships which they disguise with reeds, so that people mistake them for islands, and they have all sorts of weapons and flame-shooters, and they wipe out more men with fire than they do with their weapons.”

But now the townsfolk felt that their king wasn't attending to their needs, being distracted by Yngvar, and threatened to drive him from the land and take for themselves another king. And when Yngvar heard this, he asked the king to do as his people wished. The king did. He asked Yngvar to lend him support to fight his brother. His brother was the mightier of the two and inflicted much injustice on the king. Yngvar promised to lend his support when he returned.

6. Battles with Giants and Pirates

When winter was over, Yngvar sets out with all his men in good health from the kingdom of Jolf. And when they'd been going for a while, they came to a great waterfall of such ferocity they had to make for the shore. But when they reached land, they saw the footprint of a terrible giant. It was eight feet long. The cliffs were too high there for them to haul their ships up with ropes, so they steered on alongside the cliffs to where the river curved with the current. A small gap was spotted in the cliffs there, and they went ashore there, and the ground there was flat and damp. Yngvar told them to fell trees and make tools for digging, and this they did, after which they began digging, measuring out the depth and breadth of the channel from the point where the river was to flow into it. It took some months of this before they could pass along it in their ships.

And when they'd been travelling for a long time, they saw a house and a terrifying giant beside it, so ugly they thought it was the devil himself. They became very afraid and prayed to God to have mercy on them. Then Yngvar told Hjalmvigi to sing hymns to the glory of God, since he was a good cleric, and they promised a six day fast with prayers. Finally the giant went away from the house, in the opposite direction along the river. And when he'd gone, they went to the house and saw that it was surrounded by a stout wall. And when they went inside, they saw that the house was held up by a single pillar. It was built of mud. Then they took to chopping at the pillar all round its base, till the whole house shook with every blow. Yngvar told them to get big stones and bring them to the house. This they did. And as dusk came on, Yngvar told them to go inside the ramparts and hide in the reeds.

And late that evening they saw the giant coming, and he had many men hanging under his belt. He securely locked up the outer gate and the house. Then he ate. As time passed, they went to see what he was up to, and heard his mighty snoring. Now Yngvar told them to take out the stones they'd brought, and they threw them at the pillar so that the house collapsed. The giant struggled hard, managing to get one of his feet out from under it. Yngvar and his companions came up and hacked at the foot with axes--because it was hard as a tree. And when it was done, they realised that he was dead. They dragged the foot to the ship and preserved it in white salt.

They went on till the river divided, and there they see five islands moving and coming towards them. Yngvar ordered his men to get ready. He had fire lit with the consecrated flint. Soon one of the islands came up and launched a shower of stones at them, but they shielded themselves and shot back. But when the pirates saw what they were up against, they began pumping with bellows into the furnace where the fire was, and a great roar came forth. There was also a bronze tube there, and a great jet of fire poured out of it, hitting one of their ships, and in a short time it all burnt to ashes. When Yngvar saw this, he grieved at his loss and told them to fetch him the tinder with the consecrated fire. Then he bent his bow and strung an arrow and had them put the tinder onto its tip, with the consecrated fire. And this arrow flew from the bow with fire into the tube that stuck out of the furnace, and the fire turned on the heathens themselves. And in the blink of an eye, the island had all burnt up, men and ships together.

And the other islands have come up. But as soon as Yngvar hears the blast of the bellows, he shot consecrated fire and so destroyed those folk of the devil with God's help, so that they came to nothing but ash.

Soon afterwards Yngvar came to the source of the river. There they saw such a dragon, the like of which they'd never seen before, in terms of size, and much gold lying under it. They landed nearby and all stepped up onto the shore and walked on till they reached the place where the dragon was wont to crawl down to the water. That path was very wide. Then Yngvar told them to sprinkle salt along the way and drag the giant's foot there, and said he expected the dragon would be held up there for a while. They kept their voices down and took cover. And when the time came for the dragon to crawl to the water, and when he came onto the path, he saw salt on the path in front of him, and he started licking. And when he came to where the giant's foot stood, he swallowed it at once. The journey took him longer than usual, because three times he turned back to drink after getting half way. Meanwhile Yngvar and his companions went to the dragon's lair, and there they saw much gold, as hot as if it had just been melted in a forge. They cut gold off the lump with their axes, and it was a great deal of wealth that they got there. Then they saw that the dragon was approaching. They made off with much treasure and hid it. There were a lot of reeds there. Yngvar ordered them to ignore the dragon. They did as he said, except for a few men who stood up and saw that the dragon was angry at his loss. He reared up on his tail and made a noise like a man whistling and span round in a circle on the gold. They told what they had seen and then fell down dead.

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