The Northern Way

The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions - Translation by Peter Tunstall

© Peter Tunstall, 2003

Part One: Frodi's Thread

1. Of Halfdan and Frodi

There was a man called Halfdan, and another called Frodi, two brothers, kings' sons, and each ruled a realm of his own. King Halfdan was friendly and easy-going and good-natured, but King Frodi was a great savage. King Halfdan had three children, two sons and a daughter. She was called Signy. She was the eldest and given in marriage to Jarl Saevil. What is told here happened when his sons were young. One was called Hroar, the other Helgi. Regin was their foster-father, and he loved them very much.

An island lay not far from the stronghold. A man lived there, called Vivil. He was a lifelong friend of King Halfdan. Vifil had two dogs, Hopp and Ho. The man was comfortably off, and knew plenty of the old wisdom, if push came to shove.

Now it's to be told, that King Frodi sits in his kingdom, and he bitterly envies his brother, King Halfdan. And the way things have gone, he wasn't too happy with his lot, and it seemed to him that he alone should rule Denmark. So he gets up a mob and a multitude and makes for Denmark, and comes in the dead of night, burns and raises all to the ground. King Halfdan can do little to defend himself. He's taken and killed, and those who can, flee. And the rabble of the town all swear loyalty to King Frodi, or else he had them tortured in various ways.

Regin, foster-father of Helgi and Hroar, got them away and out to the island to yeoman Vivil. They grieved much about their loss. Regin said there'd be "snow in most shelters", a sorry state of affairs, if Vivil couldn't keep them safe from King Frodi.

Vivil says, "We're playing tug-o-war with a tough one here," but he said he was under a great obligation to help the boys.

So he took them and put them underground in an earth-house, and they mostly spent the nights there, but by day they came out to get some fresh air in the woods, as half the island was wooded, and that's where Regin left them. Regin had big estates in Denmark, wife and children too, and he saw nothing else for it but to go and swear allegiance to Frodi. King Frodi now laid all Denmark under his rule, with taxes and tributes. Most went over to him only because they were forced, since King Frodi was hated by all. And he taxed Jarl Saevil the same way too.

After achieving all this, King Frodi feels a little easier about not finding the boys, Helgi and Hroar. He now has a lookout kept for them on all sides, near and far, north and south, east and west, promises huge rewards for whoever who can bring any news of them, but all sorts of torments to anyone who hides them, if that ever comes to light - but no-one can think of anything to tell the king. So he has seers fetched, volvas, witches and wisemen, from all over the land, and has the country searched top to bottom, up and down, islands and out-skerries, but they aren't found. And now he has wizards brought, real galdermen, priers and scriers, who can rune out any secret they want, and they tell him that the boys aren't being raised anywhere in the land, but all the same, they're not far off.

King Frodi says, "We've searched for them far and wide, so it seems highly unlikely that they're near here, but there is an island close by, where we haven't made a big effort, but no-one lives there, well, except some poor wretch of a peasant."

"Look there first," said the galdermen, "because a great veil of mist lies over the island, and we can't see very well round that fellow's farm, and we think he's a smart one, and he isn't all that he seems."

The king said, "It'll be searched again then, but it seems incredible to me that some poor fisherman would be keeping these boys, and dare to shelter people from us, like that."

2. Vivil Hid the King's Sons

Early one morning, Vivil wakes up and says, "Much and strange is now afoot, on wing and way, and great spirits have come to the island, and mighty fetches are here. Get up, sons of Halfdan, Hroar and Helgi, and keep yourselves in my woods today."

They ran into the forest. Now it happened just as the cotter had guessed. King Frodi's agents came to the island and they look all over for them, wherever they can think of, and find them nowhere. The owner strikes them as rather suspicious, but they leave it at that and go away, and tell the king they can't seem to find them.

"You can't have looked well," says the king, "but this carl's a canny man, full of magic, so get back there now, go right back the way you came while he's not expecting, so he won't have time to whisk them off, if they are there…"

They can but do as the king commanded, so they go back a second time to the island.

Vivil said to the boys, "This isn't the time for sitting around, you two. Get to the forest, as fast as you can."

The boys do just that. At which, the king's men burst in and demanded a search, and Vivil opens everywhere up to them, but they find them nowhere on the island, no matter where they look, so they leave it at that, and go back and tell the king.

King Frodi says, "Down with the leaf-sail, no more pussy-footing with this churl. I'll go myself to the island, first thing tomorrow," and that's just what happened now, the king went himself.

Vivil wakes, rather distraught, and sees that yet again they need to think of something fast. He said to the brothers, "Remember this: If I call out loud to my dogs, Hopp and Ho, that means you. Run to your earth-house then, that's your signal for danger, so hide there, because your Uncle Frodi has joined the search, and he'll come after your lives with tricks and wiles, and now I can't see if I'll manage to save you."

Then Vivil goes to the shore, and the king's ship has arrived. He pretends not to have seen it, and makes as if he's looking all round for his flock, so preoccupied that he never spots the king or his men. The king orders them to seize the carl, and that was done, and he was led before the king.

The king said, "You're a tricky one, you sly old rascal. Tell me where the king's sons are, because you know."

Vivil says, "And greetings to you too, my lord, but please don't hold me or the wolf will rip my flock to bits." Then he calls out loud, "Hopp! Ho! Help the flock, I can't save them."

The king says, "What are you calling now?"

He says, "My dogs, that's what they're called. Look where you want, lord, but I doubt the princes will turn up here, and it really amazes me that you think I might shelter people from you."

The king said, "You really are a sly old dog, but even so, they can't be hid here after this, even if you've had them till now, and it would be only proper if you were put to death."

The yeoman says, "It's in your hands, sire. At least you'll have accomplished something on the island then, instead of just leaving it at that."

The king said, "No, I don't want you killed, although I suspect that's a mistake."

The king goes home now, leaving it at that. Vivil finds the boys and says that they can't stay there any longer. "I'll send you to Saevil, your brother-in-law, and you two will be famous men, if you live that long."

3. Of Hroar and Helgi

Hroar was twelve then, and Helgi ten, although he was the bigger and braver one. Off they go now, and Hroar calls himself Hrani, and Helgi calls himself Ham, wherever they went, or found folks to talk to. These boys came to Jarl Saevil and were there a week before they spoke to the jarl about staying.

He said, "I'm hardly taking on great men here with you two, but I'll not grudge you food for now."

They're there a while, and rather bothersome. No-one can find out what men they were or whose kin. The jarl doesn't suspect them, and they give him no clue about themselves. Some men say that they must have been born with scurf, and teased them because they were always wearing cowls and never took their hoods off, and many reckoned they had lice. They're there till the third winter.

And it happens one time that King Frodi invited Jarl Saevil to a feast, and the king rather suspects that he's harbouring the boys, as they were related. The jarl gets ready for the journey now, with a big following. The boys got ready to go with him. The jarl said no, they couldn't go. Signy, the jarl's wife, was also coming. Ham, really Helgi, gets himself an unbroken colt to ride, charged after the company, back to front, face to the tail, and acts like a complete nutter. Hrani, his brother, gets himself another such steed but faces the right way. The jarl saw them coming, and that they had no control over their horses. The shaggy colts bolt back and forth under them, and Hrani's hood falls off.

This, their sister Signy spots, and knows them at once, and cries bitterly. The jarl asks why she's crying. Then she said a verse:

"That's all that's left
of the Lords of Lund,
of Skjoldung kin
scattered branches.
I saw my brothers
bareback riding,
while Saevil's heroes
sat in saddles."

The jarl says, "This is serious news - don't let it out."

He rode back and told them to clear off home, says they were a disgrace and not fit for polite company. Then both boys get off and walk. But he spoke like this because he was watching what he said, so that no-one would realise from his words who these boys were. They scamper about now on the edge of the company and aren't any keener to go back, so they tag along behind. Now they come to the banquet and race up and down the hall.

And one time, they come to where their sister Signy was. She whispered to them, "Don't stay in the hall, you're not very big yet."

They take no heed of that. King Frodi starts up about how he'll go after Halfdan's sons, and he says he'll grant great favours to whoever can bring word of them.

A certain seeress was there, a volva called Heid. Frodi asked her to have a go with her skills and see if she could find out anything about the boys. He had a magnificent feast prepared for her and set her up on a high seid-stand.

Then the king asks if she could see anything of note, "because," he said, "I know that many things will now appear before you, and I see now great luck upon you, I have a good feeling about this, so answer me quick, seid-woman."

She flings open her jaws and gives a great yawn, and then a verse came to lips:

There's two inside,
(I trust neither),
sitting by the fire,
fine fellows both.

The king said, "Is that the boys, or those who harboured them?"

She answers:

"Those lads who concealed
themselves on the island,
Weevil's hounds,
Hopp and Ho."

And at that moment, Signy tossed her a gold ring. She liked the present, and wants to break off now. "How did that happen?" she said, "This is just lies, what I'm saying, and now all my powers are getting very confused."

The king said, "You'll be tortured till you speak, if you don't get it right. I know no more now than before, in this pack of people, what you're trying to say, and why is Signy not in her seat? Can it be that wolves are plotting with wargs here?

The king was told that Signy had felt ill from the smoke that hung over the hearth.

Jarl Saevil begged her to sit up and act brave, "as it could well save the boys lives, if that's what will be. So let no-one see what you're thinking, because we can't lift a finger to help them, as things stand."

King Frodi urges on the seeress now, and demands she tell the truth, if she doesn't want to be tortured. She gapes wide, but the vision is hard, but eventually she says a verse:

"Sitting there, I saw them,
sons of Halfdan,
Hroar and Helgi,
hale and well.
Now Frodi's life
lies theirs for the taking…

"…unless they're quickly thwarted, but that can't happen," she said. And after this, she skips down off the seid-platform and said:

"Baleful the gaze
of Ham and Hrani;
warlords the both,
wondrously brave."

After that, the boys ran out to the forest, deadly afraid. Regin, their foster-father, recognised them, and really felt for them. And the volva gave them this sound advice, "Save yourselves!", as she ran from the hall. And now the king tells his men to be up and after them. Regin snuffs all the lights in the hall, and some men grab hold of others, because some wanted them to get away, and so they made it to the wood.

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