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The Saga of Half and His Heroes

7. Prophecies of the Merman

That autumn, a father and son, Handir and Hrindir, went fishing and caught a merman. They took him to Hjorleif. The king gave him into the hands of a woman of the court and told her to take good care of him. No one got a word out of him. The candle-boys were larking and wrestling and put the lights out. At that moment Hild tore Aesa's mantle with a horn. The king hit her with his hand, but Hild said it was the dog on the floor's fault. So the king struck the dog. Then the merman laughed. The king asked why he was laughing. He said, “Because you were stupid--those two will save your life.”

The king asked him to say some more. He didn't answer. So the king let him be taken back to sea and asked him to say what he needed to know. As he came to sea, the merman sang:

“Far south at sea
I see the lights,
a Danish king
would avenge his daughter.
Out in the harbour
sit untold ships,
Hjorleif's invited
to an island fight.4
Have a care king,
for what's to come--
I want to go back in the sea.”

And as they rowed out to where they'd hauled him up, he chanted:

“A story I can tell
to the sons of Norway,
oh a wonderful one,
if you want to hear:
Odin's daughter
drawing northward
drenched all in blood
from Denmark's shore.

She has a helm
on her head buckled,
hard battle-crest,
no hanging back.
Not long have the lads
left to wait now,
for War's on her way,
she won't delay.

Shield-frame will be smashed,
the maid's eyes flash
across this district
at the thanes' maimer,
sword-lord. There'll be
for all soldiers,
for each man here
many a spear,
before the great storm
of steel appears.

But if such is true,
when it turns out badly,
you'll have all paid dear
for the year,
when spring comes.”

Then King Hjorleif let him overboard. But first, a man took him by the hand and asked, “What is best for a man?” The merman answered:

“Cold water for eyes,
and meat for teeth,
linen for a body,
let me back in the sea!
No man manhandles
me, never from now,
nobody into boats,
off the sea-bottom.”

The king gave Handir and Hrindir land to farm and with it a thrall and a bondswoman.

8. Of Hjorleif and Hreidar

Now King Hjorleif had the arrow summons sent out and raised himself an army. But King Hreidar came at night with his troops and drew up a ring around Hjorleif's dwelling. That same night Hjorleif's dog Floki barked, and Floki never barked unless he knew the king was in danger. King Hjorleif ran at the besiegers and cast back a spear at their ranks. Then he heard someone shouting that Heri had fallen. Hjorleif saw from the woods the burning of his home, and King Hreidar sailing away with much booty, including the women.

That same autumn, King Hjorleif came with a single ship in the night to King Hreidar's dwelling, and walked alone into the sleeping-house, but none of the women were there in bed except Aesa. Hjorleif asked her to get him close to King Hreidar. She shut him in her washtub and then went and told King Hreidar, and said where he was. On Aesa's advice, King Hjorleif was strung up by his own shoestraps between two fires in Hreidar's hall. Meanwhile Hild stayed awake and poured beer on the fire. She set him free by cutting the thongs with a sword. King Hreidar was sat asleep in the high-seat, and Aesa in his lap. King Hjorleif stabbed him through the chest and then went to his ship to fetch his warriors and has them tie up King Hreidar's retainers, though afterwards he let them off, but as for King Hreidar, he strung him up dead on the very gallows that Hreidar had meant for him.

On the same evening that Hjorleif arrived, Hreidar had heard a voice chanting:

“Hreidar recalled
where you felled Heri.5
Woe woke there
before the west door.
She's yet to get
to your hall, sir,
that woman with the wind behind her.
Wait on, king”

King Hjorleif took possession of all the lands that Hreidar had owned, and he put Solvi Hogni's son in charge of it and gave him a jarldom, but Hjorleif went back to Norway and took Hild and Aesa with him and summoned an assembly. The people voted that Aesa should be drowned in a bog, but Hjorleif sent her up to the mountains with her dowry.

Hjorleif and Aesa had a son called Oblaud, who was the father of Otrygg, the father of Hogni the White, the father of Ulf the Squint, from whom the folk of Reykjanes are descended.

9. Of Hjorolf Hjorleifsson

Hjorleif and Hild the Slender had two sons. The oldest was called Hjorolf and the youngest Half. King Hjorleif was killed while out raiding. There was a king called Asmund. He took Hild the Slender as his wife and fostered Hjorleif's sons.

When Hjorolf was thirteen, he got ready to go raiding. He got every ship he could get his hands on, large or small, new or old, and every man he could find, free or forced. They had lots of things for weapons: sticks and staves, posts and poles. That's why, since then, anything that's a bit unwieldy is called Hjorolf's Gear.6 And when he got into a battle with some vikings, he rallied the troops and attacked. He had an inexperienced and ill-equipped force, and many of his men were killed, but some fled, and he got back home with that lot by autumn, and he didn't amount to much as a man.

10. Of King Half and Half's Heroes

The following spring Half was twelve years old, and no one could match him for size or strength. Then he got ready to go raiding, and he had one ship, new and well-made.

In Hordaland there lived a jarl whose name was Alf the Old. His wife was Gunnlod, sister of Lord Hamund the Bold--their father was the berserk Hromund. Gunnlod and Alf had two sons and both were called Stein. The oldest was eighteen. He was then adviser to King Half. No one younger or more immature than him was to go on the expedition. In the courtyard stood a big stone. No one was to go unless they'd lifted that stone off the ground. No one who got scared was to go, or who spoke despondently, or who winced at wounds. Stein junior couldn't go because of his age, as he was twelve years old.

Lord Hamund had two sons, one called Rook the Black and the other Rook the White. They were chosen for this expedition. Aslak was a major landowner. Egil and Erling were his sons. They were fine men. Half's standard bearer was called Vemund. Four men from the king's following were attached to him. Now the eleven provinces were scoured. There they found twelve men. There were the two brothers Hawk and Falcon, Styr the Strong, Dag the Dashing, Bork and Brynjolf, Bolverk, and Haki, Hring and Halfdan, Stari and Steingrim, Stuf and Gauti, Bard and Bjorn. There were twenty-three of them in all when they set out.

That first evening, as they put in to harbour, it rained heavily. Stein asked for a tent. The king answered, “Still want to live in a tent? You're not at home now, you know.” So from then on they called him Innstein.

The next day they rowed around a headland in choppy weather. A man was standing on the headland, and he asked for passage. The king said he could stand on the rudder-post till evening. He said that was very kind of him, and that he guessed then he'd be standing at the king's right hand. And he did just that. This man was Gunnlod's other son, Stein the Younger. From then on, he was called Utstein: Outside Stein.

They kept lots of rules, out of exuberance and a sense of competition. One was that none of them should have a sword any longer than eighteen inches, so they would be forced to get in close. They had saxes7 made specially for them so that the blows would be heavier. Not one of them had less then twelve times the strength of an average man. They never stole women or children on raids. They never bound a wound till a whole day had passed. No one was accepted who failed to meet these standards of strength and courage. King Half was raiding for eighteen summers. It was their custom to always lie in wait round a headland. It was another of their customs to never pitch tents or awnings on deck and never to reef a sail in a storm. They were called Half's Heroes, and he never had more than sixty on his ship.


4. hólmstefna ‘duel’, literally ‘meeting on an island’, since duels were traditionally fought on islands. But the term seems to be used more loosely here for ‘battle’ in general.
5. A puzzling prophecy, if such it be, delivered after the events have already taken place, and apparently to the wrong king. Variously interpreted as misplaced, or corrupt, or both. Perhaps an accidental amalgam of two originally separate verses, as the first half seems addressed to Hjorleif, while the second might apply to Hreidar before finding his daughter.
6. The expression is not otherwise recorded.
7. A type of short-sword.

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