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The Story of Norna-Gest


Translated by George L. Hardman
© 2005 George L. Hardman

1. Gest Comes to King Olaf

It is said that at one time, when King Olaf Tryggvason was staying in Thrandheim, it so happened that a man came to him as day was drawing to an end, and spoke to him honorably. The king received him well, and asked who he was, and he said that he was named Gest.

The king answered: "You shall be a guest here, whatever your name is."

Gest answered: "I say my name truly, sire, and I will gladly accept your hospitality, if possible."

The king said to him that he was ready. But since the day was ending, the king did not want to talk to his guest, since he was going straight to his evening-songs and then to eat and then to rest and quiet.

And on the same night King Olaf Trygvasson was awake in his bed and reading his prayers, when everyone else was sleeping in the room. Then the king thought that some sort of elf or spirit had come into the house, even though all the doors were locked. He came before the bed of each man sleeping there, and finally he came to the bed of one man who was lying there near the entrance.

Then the elf stopped and said: "A wonderfully strong lock here, before an empty house, and the king is not so wise about such things as others say, even if he is the wisest of all men, and sleeps now so soundly."

Then he disappeared through the locked door.

Early the next morning the king sent his servant to ascertain, who had occupied this bed during the night; it proved to be that the guest had lain there. The king had him called before him, and asked whose son he was.

He answered: "My father was named Thord, and was called 'Thingbitr,' because he was so argumentative at the assembly. He was of Danish ancestry. He lived at a farm in Denmark that was called Graening."

"Good-looking man, you are," said the king.

Gest was bold in words and more than other men before, strong, and somewhat advanced in age. He asked the king to stay there longer with his men. The king asked if he was Christian. Gest said that he had been christened but not baptized.

The king said that he should be baptized with his troops, --"for you must be unbaptized for only a short time with me."

The elf had spoken so about the lock, because Gest had crossed himself in the evening like other men, even though he was actually heathen.

The king said: "Do you have any skills?"

He said that he played the harp and recited sagas, so that people were pleased.

The king said then: "King Sveinn does ill, that he lets unbaptized men travel out of his realm among the lands."

Gest answered: "The Danish king has no way of knowing that I traveled out of Denmark long before Kaiser Otto had Denmark burned and tyrannized King Harald Gormsson and Hakon Blotjarl to receive Christianity."

The king asked Gest about many things, and he explained them well and wisely.

People say that this Gest came to King Olaf in the third year of his reign. In that year there came to him also men who were called Grimar, and were sent from Gudmund from Glasir Plain. They brought the king two horns which Gudmund gave to him. They were also called Grim. They also had much business for the king, of which will be spoken later.

Now it is to be said that Gest dwelled with the king. He was placed apart from the guests. He was a good-mannered man and conducted himself well. He was also well liked by most men and well esteemed.

2. The Wager of Gest and his Troops

Shortly before Yule, Ulf the Red came home and his men with him. He had been off during the summer on the king's business, since he was assigned to watch over the land in the bays during the fall, in anticipation of an attack by the Danes. He was accustomed to be with King Olaf during the height of winter.

Ulf had brought the king much good treasure, which he he had gained during the summer, and he had gotten a gold ring, which was named Hnitud. It was welded together in seven places, and each part had its own color. The gold was much better than other rings. A farmer named Lothmund had given it to Ulf. The ring had previously belonged to King Half, from whom the Halfsrekkar are descended and known. They had forced treasure from King Halfdan in Ylfing. But Lodmund had asked Ulf in return for it, that he guard his farm for him with the assistance of King Olaf. Ulf had agreed to that.

The king was now holding a magnificent Yule celebration at his court in Thrandheim. On the eighth day of Yule, Ulf the Red gave the ring Hnitud to King Olaf. The king thanked him for the gift, and for all of his faithful service, which he had always shown him. The ring was circulated widely around the room, where men were drinking, since there were no halls built at that time in Norway. Each man showed it to the other, and it seemed to the men that they had never seen such fine gold as was in the ring. Eventually it came to the guest bench, and so to the stranger Gest. He looked at it and handed it back, in the palm of the hand in which he had previously held his goblet. He did not think much of it, and did not say much about this treasure, but continued to talk merrily as before with his companions.

A room servant served drinks at the end of the guest bench. He asked: "Don't you like the ring?"

"Quite well," they said, "except for the new arrival Gest. He doesn't find anything in it, and we think that he doesn't appreciate it, since he doesn't notice such things."

The room servant went in before the king and told him this in the same words that the guests had used, and that when the new-comer came in, he had taken little notice of the treasure, even when he was shown such a valuable thing.

The king said: "The newcomer Gest must know a lot more than you suspect, and he shall come to me in the morning and tell me a story."

Now guests at the other end of the table were talking among one another. They asked the newly arrived guest, where he had ever seen such an equally good ring or better.

Gest answered: "Since you think it is strange, that I speak so little, I should say that I have seen gold that seems not at all worse, but actually better."

Now the king's men laughed a lot and said, that this appeared to be a great entertainment, -- "and will you wager us, that you have seen gold which is equally as good as that, so that you can prove it. We will put forth four marks of current silver coins, and you your knife and belt, and the king will say who is right."

Gest then said: "I will not do either, to be in mockery with you, or to fail to hold to the wager, which you offer. And I shall certainly wager right here and lay out against it what you have said, and the king will say who is right."

They stopped their discussion. Gest took his harp and played it well, and long into the evening, so that everyone was delighted to hear it, and he played the Gunnarsslag best. At the end he played the ancient Gudrunarbrogd. No one had heard that before. And after that, they went to sleep for the night.

3. Gest Wins the Bet

The king got up early in the morning and attended mass. And when it was finished, the king went to eat with his troops. And when he came to the high seat, the guests went in before the king and Gest with them, and told him all about what was said, and the wager, which they had made.

The king answered: "Your wager does not mean much to me, though you have staked your own money on it. I suspect that you had gotten drink in your heads, and it seems to me that you should have nothing of it, all the more if Gest thinks it would be better."

Gest answered: "I want for the whole agreement to be held to."

The king said: "It seems to me, Gest, that my men must have talked themselves into trouble about the matter more than you have, but that will soon be determined."

After that, they went away to drink. And when the drinking tables were taken away, the king had Gest called to him and spoke thus to him: "Now you will be obliged to bring forth some gold, if you have any, so that I may decide your wager."

"That shall be as you wish, sire," said Gest.

He thrust his hand into his purse, which he had with him, and took up a bag, which he loosened and put into the hand of the king. The king saw that it was broken from a saddle ring, and said that it was extremely fine gold. He asked then to take the ring Hnitud.

When this was done, the king compared the gold and the ring and then said: "It certainly seems to me that the gold, which Gest has produced, is better, and so it should seem to anyone who sees it."

Many men agreed with the king. Afterward he declared Gest the winner. It seemed to the other guests that they had been unwise about the situation.

Then Gest said: "Take your money yourselves, since I don't need to have it, but don't bet any more with strangers, for you never know whether you may have met someone who has seen and heard more than you have. I thank you, sire, for your decision."

The king said: "Now I would like you to tell me, where you got that gold, which you carry with you."

Gest answered: "I am reluctant to do so, for most people would think unbelievable, what I would say about it."

"We would like to hear it, though," said the king, "since you have promised us before that you would tell us your story."

Gest answered: "If I tell you what has happened about the gold, then I expect that you will want to hear the other story also."

"I suspect," said the king, "that you are right about that."

4. Gest Tells of the Volsungs

Then I must tell you how I went south in Frakkland. I was curious to know about the king's customs, and great praise that had emerged about Sigurd Sigmundarson, about his handsomeness and courage. There was nothing newsworthy, until I came to Frakkland and met King Hjalprek. He had a great army around himself. There was Sigurd Sigmundarson, son of the Volsungs, and Hjordis Eylimadottir. Sigmund fell in battle before the sons of the Hundings and Hjordis married Halfi, son of King Hjalprek. Sigurd grew up there in childhood, along with all of the sons of King Sigmund. They were superior to all men in strength and size, Sinfljotli and Helgi, who killed King Hunding and so was called "Hundingsbani." The third was called Hamund. Sigurd was the greatest of all the brothers. Everyone knows that Sigurd had been the most noble of all the warrior kings, and the best in ancient times.

At the same time, Regin, son of Hreithmar, had also come to King Hjalprek. He was the most cunning of men, but a dwarf in stature, a wise man, but stern and skilled in magic. Regin taught Sigurd many things, and loved him greatly. He spoke of his ancestors, and wondrous occurrences, which had happened there. And when I had been there a short time, I was made a retainer to Sigurd, like many others. All were devoted to him, since he was both friendly and humble and generous to us.

5. Of the Sons of Hunding

One day, we came to the house of Regin, and Sigurd was welcomed there. Then Regin spoke these verses:

"The son of Sigmund
Has come here
The resolute man
To our hall
He has great strength
But I, an old man,
Vanquished by the grasp
Of the greedy wolf."

He spoke further:

"But I must honor
The warrior, brave in battle.
Now Yngvar's son
Has come to us.
This chieftain must be
The most powerful under the sun
Renowned in all lands
With his praise."

Sigurd was then always with Regin, and he told him much of Fafnir, how he lived at Gnitahaedi in the form of a snake and that he was wondrously great in size. Regin made a sword for Sigurd, which was called Gram. It was exceedingly sharp-edged, so that when he thrust it into the River Rhine and tossed a flock of wool in the stream, it cut it asunder. Then Sigurd cut the anvil of Regin with the sword. After that, Reginn encouraged Sigurd to kill Fafnir, his brother, and spoke these lines:

"Loudly would laugh
The sons of Hunding
Those who denied
Old age to Eylimi,
If I was enticed
To seek more
A red-gold ring
Than vengeance for his father."

After that Sigurd prepared his journey and decided to harry the sons of Hunding, and King Hjalprek gave him many men and some warships. Hamund, his brother, was with Sigurd on the expedition, and the dwarf Regin. I was there too, and they called me Norna-Gest. King Hjalprek was familiar to me, since he was in Denmark with Sigmund Volsungsson. At that time, Sigmund was married to Borghild, but they separated since Borghild killed Sinfjotli, son of Sigmund, with poison. Then Sigmund went south to Frakkland, and married Hjordis, daughter of Eylimi. The Hunding's sons slew him, and thus Sigurd had to avenge both his father and his mother's father.

Helgi Sigmundarson, who was called Hundingsbani, Slayer of Hunding, was the brother of Sigurd, who afterward was called Fafnisbani, Slayer of Fafnir. Helgi, the brother of Sigurd, had killed King Hunding, and his three sons, Eyjolf, Herrod, and Hjorvard. Lyngvi escaped and his two brothers, Alf and Heming. They were the most famous men in all achievements, and Lyngvi excelled his brothers. They were very skilled in magic. They had tyrannized many minor kings and killed many champions and burned many cities, and did most of their pillaging in Spain and France. At that time the imperial power had not reached north over the mountains. Hunding's sons had conquered the realm that Sigurd had in France, and there were large forces there.

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