The Northern Way

The Saga of Hervor King Heidrek the Wise

1. Sigrlami and the Dwarves

There was a man called Sigrlami, who ruled over Gardariki. That is Russia. His daughter was Eyfura, who was the fairest of all girls.

One day as the king rode out hunting, he lost sight of his men. He rode deep into the forest in pursuit of a hart, but when the sun sank the following day he still hadn't caught it. He'd ridden so far into the forest, he hardly knew where he was. He saw a huge stone in the sunset, and by it two dwarves. He drew his knife over them, binding them outside the stone by the power of graven iron. They begged for their lives.

The king asked, “What are your names?”

One was called Dvalin, the other Dulin.

The king said, “Since you two are the most skilled out of all the dwarves, you shall make me a sword, the best that you can. The guard and boss shall be of gold, and the grip too. It will bite iron like cloth and never rust. It will bring victory in battles and single combats for any who bear it.”

They agree to this. The king rides home, and when it comes to the appointed day, he rides to the stone. The dwarves were outside. They hand him the sword and it was indeed splendid. But as Dvalin stood in the doorway of the stone, he said:

“May your sword, Sigrlami, be a man's bane each time it is drawn, and may three vile deeds be done with that sword. It will also be death to your kin.”

Then the king swung his sword at the dwarves. They sprang into the rock. The sword stuck right into the stone so that both edges were lost from sight, for the door closed behind them in the stone.

Sigrlami kept that sword and called it Tyrfing. It was the sharpest of swords, and each time it was drawn a light shone from it like a sunbeam. Never could it be bared without killing a man, and with warm blood it would always be sheathed. And nothing, not human nor animal, could live a day if they got a wound from it, no matter how great or small. It never failed to strike, nor did it stop till it hit the earth, and any man who bore it in battle would have victory if he used it. The king bore it in battles and single combats and had victory every time. That sword is famous in all the old sagas.

2. Of Arngrim and his Sons

There was a man called Arngrim. He was a famous viking. He journeyed east to Gardariki and stayed a while with King Sigrlami and became the general of his army, to get both lands and subjects, for the king was now old. Arngrim became such a great chief now, that the king gave him his daughter in marriage and appointed him to the highest position in his realm. He gave him the sword Tyrfing. The king settled down into peaceful retirement then, and nothing more is told of him.

Arngrim went with his wife, Eyfura, north to his family estate and settled on the island of Bolm. They had twelve sons. The oldest and most famous was Angantyr, the second Hjorvard, the third Hervard, the fourth Hrani, then Brami, Barri, Reifnir, Tind, Saeming and Bui and the two Haddings, who had between them only as much strength as one of the others, because they were twins, and because they were the youngest. But Angantyr had the strength of two. They were all of them berserks, such strong and great fighters that they would never travel except as a band of twelve. And they were never in a battle they didn't win. Because of this, they became famous in all the lands, and there wasn't a king who did not give them what they wanted.

3. Hjorvard's Oathtaking

It was Yule Eve, the time for men to make solemn vows at the ceremony of the bragarfull, or chief's cup, as is the custom. Then Arngrim's sons made vows. Hjorvard took this oath, that he would have the daughter of Ingjald king of the Swedes, the girl who was famed through all lands for beauty and skill, or else he would have no other woman.

That same spring, the twelve brothers make their way and come to Uppsala and walk before the kings table, and there sat his daughter beside him. Then Hjorvard tells his errand to the king and his oath, and everyone in the hall listened. Hjorvard asks the king to say quick, what answer he will give. The king thinks about this matter, and he knows how powerful the brothers were, and of what reputed kin.

There were two men staying with King Ingjald at this time, as his champions and land-wards: Hjalmar the Great-Heart and Odd the Traveller, who was called Arrow-Odd. And when Hjalmar heard what the berserks said, he stepped up before the table and spoke to the king:

“Lord king, does your majesty remember now what great honour I have brought you, since I came to your kingdom, and how many battles I fought to win lands for you, and have I not always put my service at your disposal? Now I ask you that you do me the honour of giving me your daughter, on whom my thoughts have always played. And it is more appropriate that you grant this boon to me, than to the berserks who have worked ill both in your realm and in many other kingdoms.”

Now the king thinks all the more, and it seems a very tricky problem, these two leaders competing so much over his daughter.

The king speaks in this way, and says that each of them is such a great man and so nobly born, that he will refuse them both his daughter. And he asks her to choose which one she wants to have. She says that is fair: if her father wishes to give her in marriage, then she wants the one who she knows to be good, and not one she has only heard stories of, and all of them bad, as with Arngrim's sons.

Hjorvard challenges Hjalmar to come south to the island of Samsey, and curses him as a coward despised by all, if he goes first and has the lady before the duel is decided. Hjalmar says he won't delay. Now Arngrim's sons travel home and tell their father how it went. And Arngrim never says, before they leave, that he fears for their journey.

Immediately afterwards, the brothers travel to Jarl Bjarmar and he makes for them a great feast. And now Angantyr wishes to wed the jarl's daughter, who was called Svafa, and they celebrated their wedding feast. And now Angantyr tells the jarl his dream:

“It seemed to me,” he said, “that we brothers stood on Samsey and found many birds and killed them all. Then I dreamt we turned along a different way on the island and there flew towards us two eagles, and it seemed I went against one, and we had tough dealings together, and we both put each other on the floor before we stopped. And the other eagle fought with my eleven brothers, and it seemed to me the eagle got the better of them.”

The jarl says that there is no need to analyse that dream, for there he was shown the fall of mighty men.

Translated by Peter Tunstall
© 2005 Peter Tunstall

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page