The Northern Way

Sorli’s Tale or The Saga of Hedin & Hogni - Translation by Peter Tunstall

© 2005 Peter Tunstall

1. Of Freyja and the Dwarves

East of Vanakvisl in Asia there was a place called Asialand or Asiaheim. And the people who lived there were called Aesir, and they called the chief town Asgard. Odin was the name of the king who reigned there. There was a great shrine there. Odin appointed Njord and Frey as high-priests. Njord's daughter was called Freyja. She accompanied Odin and was his lover.

There were some men in Asia, one called Alfrigg, the next Dvalin, then Berling and Grer. They had their home not far from the king's hall. They were such skilled craftsmen they could turn their hand to anything and do well. Men such as these were called dwarves. They lived in a certain stone. They mixed with people more in those days than now.

Odin loved Freyja a lot, and indeed she was the fairest of all women then living. She had a bower, both fair and strong--so strong, it is said, that when the door was shut and locked, no one could come in unless Freyja wanted them to.

One day Freyja was walking and happened to come to the rock. It was open. The dwarves were forging a gold necklace. It was nearly done. Freyja liked the looks of the necklace. The dwarves liked the looks of Freyja too. She asked to buy the necklace, offered gold and silver for it, and good treasures besides. They said they weren't short of money, but each would sell his share of the necklace for one thing, and they didn't want anything else, except for her to lie a night with each of them. And, whether this was gladly done on her part or otherwise, that's the deal they struck. And four nights later, when these conditions had been met, they handed over the necklace to Freyja. She went home to her bower, and kept quiet, as if nothing has happened.

2. Odin and Freyja's Deal

There was a man called Farbauti. He was a simple farmer and had a wife named Laufey. She was both slim and slight, so they called her Needle. They had a child, a son named Loki. He wasn't great of growth. He soon had a sharp tongue though. Nimble and a fast mover. He outdid other men in that sort of wisdom which is called guile. He was very crafty, even from a young age, so they called him Loki Laeviss, Sly-as-Venom. He set out for Asgard to find Odin and became his man. Odin always spoke according to Loki's counsel, whatever he did. Of course, Odin also set him difficult tasks, but Loki pulled these off better than expected. He knew near enough everything that went on, and he told it all to Odin, whatever he knew.

Now it's said that Loki got wise to Freyja and her necklace: how she'd come by it, and what she'd paid. He told Odin. And when Odin learnt this, he said Loki should get hold of that necklace and bring it to him. Not likely, said Loki, as no man could enter the bower unless Freyja wanted. Odin said that he must go away and not come back till he'd got the necklace. Loki slunk away then howling. Most folks smiled when Loki got nowhere.

He went to Freyja's bower and it was locked. He tried to get in, but couldn't. It was freezing outside and he began to get very cold. Then he turned into a fly. He flapped around all the locks and joints but couldn't find a gap to get in anywhere, except one, right up under the gable top, and even that was no bigger than you could stick a needle through, but he burrows in. And when he came inside, his eyes opened very wide, and he wondered if anyone was awake, but he could see they were all asleep in the bower. So he goes further in towards Freyja's bed and spots that she has the necklace around her neck, but with the clasp underneath. So Loki turns into a flea. He settles on Freyja's cheek and bites so that Freyja wakes up and turns over and goes back to sleep. Then Loki takes off the flea-form, teases the necklace off her, unlocks the bower and goes off back to Odin.

Freyja wakes that morning and sees that the door is open, but unbroken, and the good necklace was gone. She thinks she knows what trickery's behind it, and marches into the hall, the moment she's dressed, to see King Odin and tells him he's done wrong to have her precious treasure stolen from her and asks him to give her treasure back. Odin says she'll never get it back, not after the way she got it, “unless you fix it so that two kings, each served by twenty kings, are set at odds and fight each other under such spells and curses that they stand up and carry on fighting as soon as they fall, that is unless some Christian man should be so bold, and accompanied by such great luck of his lord, that he dares to go into their battle and strike these men with weapons. Only then will their toil be done--thanks to whatever chief it may fall to to release them thus from the bonds and struggle of their baleful doings.”

Freyja agreed, and received the necklace.

3. Of the Viking Sorli

At that time, four and twenty years from the fall of Peace-Frodi, there ruled over the Uplands in Norway a king called Erling. He had a queen and two sons. Sorli the Strong was the eldest, and Erlend the youngest. They were promising men. Sorli was the stronger of them. They set out raiding as soon as they were old enough. They fought Sindri the Viking, the son of Sveigir, the son of Haki the Sea-King, in the Elfar Skerries, and Sindri fell there with all his band. In that battle Erlend Erlingsson also fell. After that Sorli sailed to the eastern Baltic and harried there and did so many great deeds that it would take a long time to write them all.

4. Of Sorli and King Hogni

Halfdan was another king. He ruled Denmark. His royal seat was at Roskilde. He married Hvedna the Elder. Their sons were Hogni and Hakon. They were outstanding men in strength and stature and every talent. They set out raiding as soon as they were fully grown. Now the story goes that Sorli set course one autumn for Denmark. King Halfdan was thinking then of going to the Assembly of Kings. He was very advanced in years by now, when these things transpired. He owned a dragon-ship so good that its like was not to be found in the Northlands, thanks to its strength and craftsmanship. It was moored in the harbour, but King Halfdan was on land and had summoned guests to his farewell feast. But when Sorli saw the dragon-ship, a great envy flooded his heart, so that he wanted to own the dragon-ship at any cost, and have it all for himself--and indeed, as most admit, there's never been a better bit of ship than this in the all the north, with the exception of the dragon-ships Ellidi and Gnod and The Long Serpent.

He talked to his men then, telling them to prepare for battle, “Because we must kill King Halfdan and have his ship.”

A man called Saevar answered his speech--he was Sorli's forecastleman and marshal. “That's not a good idea, lord,” he said, “Halfdan is a great chief and a man of renown. He also has two sons who are bound to take vengeance, since they're now each of them men of the greatest renown.”

“Be they bolder than gods,” said Sorli, “I shall fight them all the same.”

Now they prepare for battle.

Now King Halfdan gets wind of this. He jumps up and makes for his ships along with all his men, readying themselves for battle. Some men put it to Halfdan that he wouldn't be wise to fight, and that he should flee, because of the difference in numbers. The king said they'd lie in heaps first, their dead stacked one on top of another before he fled. Both sides prepare for battle now, and it ends up with King Halfdan dead and all his men. Then Sorli took the dragon-ship and everything on board that was of value.

Then Sorli heard that Hogni had come back from raiding and lay at anchor by the island of Odinsey. Sorli heads that way with his ships, and as soon as they meet, he told him of the death of his father Halfdan, and offered him a settlement, and he could set the terms, and offered to be his sworn brother, but Hogni rejected everything. Then they fought, as it says in Sorli's Piece. Hakon went forward boldly and killed Saevar, Sorli's standard-bearer and forecastleman. After that, Sorli killed Hakon, and Hogni killed King Erling, Sorli's father. Then Hogni and Sorli fought, the two of them, and Sorli fell before Hogni from wounds and weariness, and after that Hogni had him healed, and they swore oaths of brotherhood and they held fast to that as long as they both lived. But Sorli died first and fell in the east to vikings, as it says in Sorli's Piece, and here it says:

Fell first out eastward,
fierce, to hell's hall-floor,
brave battle-craver,
o'er Baltic assaulting,
down, the deed-famous
one dead that summer
(the snakes' soft season),
sliced mail-spike at vikings.

But when Hogni learnt of Sorli's death, he went raiding in the east that same summer and had victory everywhere and became king there and, so they say, twenty kings became subject to Hogni and paid him tribute. Hogni became so famous from his exploits and raiding that his name was known equally well from Finnabu to Paris and everywhere in between.

5. Hedin Learns of King Hogni

There was a king called Hjarrandi. He ruled over Serkland. He had a queen and a son called Hedin. Hedin soon grew to be an outstanding man in strength, stature and abilities. He took to raiding in his youth and became a sea-king and raided widely in Spain and Greece and all the lands nearby, so that he made twenty kings subject to him, so that they paid tribute and held their lands under him.

Hedin spent the winter at home in Serkland. It's said that one time Hedin went hunting with his retinue. He wound up alone in a clearing. He saw a woman sitting on a chair in the clearing, tall and fair to see. She greeted him courteously. He asked her name, and she called herself Gondul. After this they spoke together. She asked him about his exploits, and he was happy to tell her everything, and he asked her if she knew of any king as bold and hardy as he, or as famous and successful. She said she did know one, every bit his equal, and twenty kings served him, “No less than yourself.” And she said he was called Hogni and that he lived in Denmark in the north.

“This much I know,” said Hedin, “that we must test which of us is best.”

“It's probably time for you to go to your men,” says Gondul, “They'll be looking for you.”

After that they part. He goes to his men, but she stayed sitting there. As soon it was spring, Hedin gets ready to leave. He has one dragon-ship and on it three hundred men. He sails north through the world. He sails that summer and winter. In the spring, he came to Denmark.

6. Hedin and Hogni Tested their Skills

King Hogni was at home then. And when he learns that a notable king has come to the land, he invites him home to a grand feast. Hedin accepted. And as they sat drinking, Hogni asked on what business Hedin had come, or what would make him want to travel so far north in the world. Hedin told him his business, that he wanted the two of them to test their courage and toughness against each other, their skills and all their abilities. Hogni said he was ready for that. And early the next day, they went swimming and shooting at targets. They competed at jousting and fencing and every sport and were so evenly matched in each skill that no one could find any difference between them, or say who was best. Afterwards they swear brotherhood and agree to share everything equally. Hedin was young and unmarried, but Hogni somewhat older. He was married to Hervor, daughter of Hjorvard, the son of Heidrek Wolfskin. Hogni had a daughter who was called Hild. She was the fairest and wisest of women. He loved his daughter a lot. He had no other children.

7. Hedin Tricked

It's said that after a little while Hogni went out raiding, but Hedin stayed behind to watch over his kingdom. One day Hedin rode in the forest for fun. It was fine weather. Again he was separated from his men. He came to a clearing. There he saw sitting on a chair the same woman that he'd seen before in Serkland, and she seemed to him even more beautiful than before. Once again she said the first word, speaking pleasantly to him. She held out a horn with a lid. The king's heart was filled with yearning for her. She invited him to drink, and the king was thirsty as he'd got hot, so he takes it and drinks. But when he'd drunk he was strangely altered, for he remembered nothing of what had gone before. He sat down and they spoke together. She asked whether he'd found the toughness and skill of Hogni to be as she'd told him. Hedin said it was true, “for there wasn't a single skill we tested in which he fell short of me, and so we counted ourselves equal.”

“But you're not equal,” says she.

“How do you figure that?” he says.

“I figure it like this,” she says, “Hogni has a queen of great lineage, but you have no wife at all.”

He answers, “Hogni would give me his daughter if I ask, and then I'll be no less distinguished in marriage than him.”

“Your glory will be less then,” she says, “if you ask to marry into Hogni's family. It would be better--if, as you say, you're not short on courage or toughness--to carry off Hild and kill the queen in the following way: by taking her and laying her down in front of the prow of the dragon-ship, and letting it cut her in two as it's launched.”

Hedin was so ensnared in evil and forgetfulness from that ale he'd drunk, that he saw no other choice, and it never entered his mind that he and Hogni were sworn brothers. Then they parted, and Hedin went to his men. It was late summer. Hedin sets his men to work now fitting out the dragon-ship, as he said he wanted to go home to Serkland. When this was done he went to the bower and took Hild and the queen, one in each arm, and goes out with them. His men took the clothes and treasures of Hild. There was no one in the realm who dared challenge Hedin and his men, so fierce he looked. Hild asked Hedin what he planned to do, and he told her. She begged him not to do it, “because my father will give me to you if you only ask.”

“I don't want to do that,” says Hedin, “to ask for you.”

“Even so,” she says, “even if nothing will dissuade you from carrying me off, my father will still forgive you, so long as you don't do such an evil and unmanly thing as to cause my mother's death, because then my father will never forgive you. And this is how my dreams have gone: that you will fight and kill each other. But even grimmer things will come to pass, and it will bring me great grief if I see my father subjected to harm and mighty spells, and it saddens me to see even you labouring under such spite.”

Hedin said he didn't care what might follow, and said he would do exactly what he said he would.

“You can't do anything about it now,” says Hild, “because you're not in control of yourself.”

Then Hedin went to the shore. Then the dragon-ship was launched. He thrust the queen down in front of the prow. She lost her life there, and Hedin walks out onto the ship. And when it's all fitted out and ready to go, he's eager to land in that place where he'd been before and to go up onto the shore alone and into that same wood. And when he stepped forward into the clearing, there he saw Gondul sitting on her chair. They exchanged a friendly greeting. Hedin told her of his deeds. She was pleased at this. She had the horn that she'd used before, and invited him to drink from it. He took it and drank. And when he had drunk, sleep came over him and he sank into her lap. And when he was asleep, she slipped out from under his head and said, “Now with my power I compel you under all those terms and conditions that Odin decreed, cursing you with these spells, you and Hogni both, and all your men.”

Then Hedin woke up and saw a glimpse of Gondul, and now she seemed black and big. Hedin now remembered everything, and his misfortune seemed great, and he thinks of going away somewhere so that he won't have to hear himself blamed every day for his evil deeds. He goes to his ship, quickly undoes the moorings--a fair wind is blowing seawards--and so sails off with Hild.

8. The Battle of the Hjadnings

Now Hogni comes home and learns the truth, that Hedin has sailed away with Hild and the dragon-ship Halfdan's Gift, leaving the queen dead in his wake. Hogni became very angry at this and ordered his men to get a move on and sail after Hedin. They do so too, and get the perfect breeze, and day in day out they would come at evening to the very harbour that Hedin had left in the morning.

But one day as Hogni entered harbour, they could see Hedin's sails at sea. Hogni and his crew made straight for them. And, strange but true, Hedin then got a head wind against him, but Hogni the best of sailing breezes. Hedin puts in at the island of Hoy and lays anchor in the harbour there. Hogni is soon upon him and when they meet Hedin said respectfully, “I have to tell you, my sworn brother,” says Hedin, “that such great misfortune has befallen me that no one can amend it but you. I have carried off your daughter and ship, and I caused the death of your queen, but not from any cruelty of my own, but because of evil prophesies and bad spells. Now I want you to set your own terms and decide on how to make peace between us. And I will also offer to give up to you both Hild and the ship with all my men and property, and to go away so far in the world that I never come again to the north or into your sight as long as I live.”

Hogni answers, “I would have given you Hild if you'd asked for her. And even now that you have carried her off, still we could have made peace for that. But now that you've done such evil and acted so shamefully with my queen, there's little chance I'll accept a settlement. We must find out right now which of us can strike the strongest.”

Hedin answers, “If you won't settle for anything less than battle, then I suggest that we prove this issue between the two of us, since you have no quarrel with anyone here but me. It's not right that innocent men should pay for my crimes and misdeeds.”

But their followers all swore with one voice that they would first fall at one another's feet before the two of them would be able to trade blows. When Hedin saw that Hogni would accept nothing else but fighting, he ordered his men ashore. “I won't give way to Hogni any longer, or excuse myself from this fight. And now each must look to his courage.”

They go ashore now and fight. Hogni is mad with rage, and Hedin nimble and deals stiff blows. And strange to say, but true, such great spells and evil attended this curse that even though they clove down through one another's shoulders, they got just as before and fought on. Hild sat in a grove and watched this grim game. This baleful bondage went on without stopping from the moment they began to fight, and on till Olaf Tryggvason became king of Norway. They say that it was 143 years before it would be fated for that fine man, King Olaf, that one of his retainers freed them from this wretched doom and bitter trial.

9. The End of the Battle

In the first year of King Olaf's reign, it's said that he came to the Isle of Hoy and laid anchor there one evening. It was normal on the aforementioned island for watchmen to go missing every night, so that no one knew what had become of them. It was Ivar Gleam's duty to keep watch this night. But when everyone had gone to sleep on board the ships, Ivar took his sword--which Jarnskjold had owned, but which Thorstein, his son, had given to Ivar--and put on all his armour and went up onto the island. But when he's come up onto the island, he saw a man walking towards him. The man was great in size and all covered in blood, with a very grave face. Ivar asked this man his name. He said he was called Hedin and was the son of Hjarrandi, a Serklander by birth.

“I tell you truly: if watchmen have vanished here you can blame me and Hogni Halfdan's son, for we are obliged by these spells and curses that enslave us and our men to fight both night and day, and so it has been these many generations, and Hogni's daughter Hild sits and looks on. But Odin has lain this doom on us, and there can be no release unless some Christian man fights with us, and then the man he slays shall not stand up again, and then each of us will be freed from our curse. Now I would like to ask you to go into battle with us, for I know you are a good Christian, and also that the king you serve is a man of strong luck. And so my mind tells me that we will get something good from him and his men.”

Ivar agrees to go against him.

Hedin became glad at that and said, “You must be careful not to go face-to-face Hogni, and also not to kill me before he is down, because there is no human man who can face Hogni and kill him, if I am already dead, for he has an Aegis Helm in his eyes, from which no one can protect themselves. And so the only thing for it is for me to face him and fight with him, and you go behind him and deliver his death-blow, for you will have little trouble slaying me, even if I'm the only one left of us all.”

So they go into battle, and Ivar sees that it's all true what Hedin has told him. He steps behind Hogni and hews into his head and cleaves him down to the shoulders. Hogni falls dead then and never stood up again. Then he killed all the men who were at the battle, and finally Hedin, and he was easy to kill. Afterwards he went to the ships, and day was just dawning. He went to the king and told him. The king was pleased at his night's work, and said he'd had some good luck there. The following day they went ashore to where the battle had been and saw no trace of what had gone on there, but blood was seen on Ivar's sword as proof, and no more watchmen went missing after that. Then the king went home to his kingdom.

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