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The Danish History, Books I-IX* by Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned")

Part 4 out of 9

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if any of you shall take heart to fight it out with me, I will
not flinch from these terms of conflict. But first of all I
demand that you accept the terms I prescribe, the form whereof I
have devised as follows: If I conquer, let freedom be granted us
from taxes; if I am conquered, let the tribute be paid you as of
old: For to-day I will either free my country from the yoke of
slavery by my victory or bind her under it by my defeat. Accept
me as the surety and the pledge for either issue." One of the
Danes, whose spirit was stouter than his strength, heard this,
and proceeded to ask Rorik, what would be the reward for the man
who met the challenger in combat? Rorik chanced to have six
bracelets, which were so intertwined that they could not be
parted from one another, the chain of knots being inextricaly
laced; and he promised them as a reward for the man who would
venture on the combat. But the youth, who doubted his fortune,
said: "Rorik, if I prove successful, let thy generosity award the
prize of the conqueror, do thou decide and allot the palm; but if
my enterprise go little to my liking, what prize canst thou owe
to the beaten, who will be wrapped either in cruel death or in
bitter shame? These things commonly go with feebleness, these
are the wages of the defeated, for whom naught remains but utter
infamy. What guerdon must be paid, what thanks offered, to him
who lacks the prize of courage? Who has ever garlanded with ivy
the weakling in War, or decked him with a conqueror's wage?
Valour wins the prize, not sloth, and failure lacks renown. For
one is followed by triumph and honour, the other by an unsightly
life or by a stagnant end. I, who know not which way the issue
of this duel inclines, dare not boldly anticipate that as a
reward, of which I know not whether it be rightly mine. For one
whose victory is doubtful may not seize the assured reward of the
victor. I forbear, while I am not sure of the day, to claim
firmly the title to the wreath. I refuse the gain, which may be
the wages of my death as much as of my life. It is folly to lay
hands on the fruit before it is ripe, and to be fain to pluck
that which one is not yet sure is one's title. This hand shall
win me the prize, or death." Having thus spoken, he smote the
barbarian with his sword; but his fortune was tardier than his
spirit; for the other smote him back, and he fell dead under the
force of the first blow. Thus he was a sorry sight unto the
Danes, but the Slavs granted their triumphant comrade a great
procession, and received him with splendid dances. On the morrow
the same man, whether he was elated with the good fortune of his
late victory, or was fired with the wish to win another, came
close to the enemy, and set to girding at them in the words of
his former challenge. For, supposing that he had laid low the
bravest of the Danes, he did not think that any of them would
have any heart left to fight further with him upon his challenge.
Also, trusting that, now one champion had fallen, he had
shattered the strength of the whole army, he thought that naught
would be hard to achieve upon which his later endeavours were
bent. For nothing pampers arrogance more than success, or
prompts to pride more surely than prosperity.

So Rorik was vexed that the general courage should be sapped by
the impudence of one man; and that the Danes, with their roll of
victories, should be met presumptuously by those whom they had
beaten of old; nay, should be ignominiously spurned; further,
that in all that host not one man should be found so quick of
spirit or so vigorous of arm, that he longed to sacrifice his
life for his country. It was the high-hearted Ubbe who first
wiped off this infamous reproach upon the hesitating Danes. For
he was of great bodily strength and powerful in incantations. He
also purposely asked the prize of the combat, and the king
promised him the bracelets. Then said he: "How can I trust the
promise when thou keepest the pledge in thine own hands, and dost
not deposit the gift in the charge of another? Let there be some
one to whom thou canst entrust the pledge, that thou mayst not be
able to take thy promise back. For the courage of the champion
is kindled by the irrevocable certainty of the prize." Of course
it was plain that he had said this in jest; sheer courage had
armed him to repel the insult to his country. But Rorik thought
he was tempted by avarice, and was loth to seem as if, contrary
to royal fashion, he meant to take back the gift or revoke his
promise; so, being stationed on his vessel, he resolved to shake
off the bracelets, and with a mighty swing send them to the
asker. But his attempt was baulked by the width of the gap
between them; for the bracelets fell short of the intended spot,
the impulse being too faint and slack, and were reft away by the
waters. For this nickname of Slyngebond, (swing-bracelet) clung
to Rorik. But this event testified much to the valour of Ubbe.
For the loss of his drowned prize never turned his mind from his
bold venture; he would not seem to let his courage be tempted by
the wages of covetousness. So he eagerly went to fight, showing
that he was a seeker of honour and not thc slave of lucre, and
that he set bravery before lust of pelf; and intent to prove that
his confidence was based not on hire, but on his own great soul.
Not a moment is lost; a ring is made; the course is thronged with
soldiers; the champions engage; a din arises; the crowd of
onlookers shouts in discord, each backing his own. And so the
valour of the champions blazes to white-heat; falling dead under
the wounds dealt by one another, they end together the combat and
their lives. I think that it was a provision of fortune that
neither of them should reap joy and honour by the other's death.
This event won back to Rorik the hearts of the insurgents and
regained him the tribute.

At this time Horwendil and Feng, whose father Gerwendil had been
governor of the Jutes, were appointed in his place by Rorik to
defend Jutland. But Horwendil held the monarchy for three years,
and then, to will the height of glory, devoted himself to roving.
Then Koller, King of Norway, in rivalry of his great deeds and
renown, deemed it would be a handsome deed if by his greater
strength in arms he could bedim the far-famed glory of the rover;
and cruising about the sea, he watched for Horwendil's fleet and
came up with it. There was an island lying in the middle of the
sea, which each of the rovers, bringing his ships up on either
side, was holding. The captains were tempted by the pleasant
look of the beach, and the comeliness of the shores led them to
look through the interior of the springtide woods, to go through
the glades, and roam over the sequestered forests. It was here
that the advance of Koller and Horwendil brought them face to
face without any witness. Then Horwendil endeavoured to address
the king first, asking him in what way it was his pleasure to
fight, and declaring that one best which needed the courage of as
few as possible. For, said he, the duel was the surest of all
modes of combat for winning the meed of bravery, because it
relied only upon native courage, and excluded all help from the
hand of another. Koller marvelled at so brave a judgment in a
youth, and said: "Since thou hast granted me the choice of
battle, I think it is best to employ that kind which needs only
the endeavours of two, and is free from all the tumult.
Certainly it is more venturesome, and allows of a speedier award
of the victory. This thought we share, in this opinion we agree
of our own accord. But since the issue remains doubtful, we must
pay some regard to gentle dealing, and must not give way so far
to our inclinations as to leave the last offices undone. Hatred
is in our hearts; yet let piety be there also, which in its due
time may take the place of rigour. For the rights of nature
reconcile us, though we are parted by differences of purpose;
they link us together, howsoever rancour estrange our spirit.
Let us, therefore, have this pious stipulation, that the
conqueror shall give funeral rites to the conquered. For all
allow that these are the last duties of human kind, from which no
righteous man shrinks. Let each army lay aside its sternness and
perform this function in harmony. Let jealousy depart at death,
let the feud be buried in the tomb. Let us not show such an
example of cruelty as to persecute one another's dust, though
hatred has come between us in our lives. It will be a boast for
the victor if he has borne his beaten foe in a lordly funeral.
For the man who pays the rightful dues over his dead enemy wins
the goodwill of the survivor; and whoso devotes gentle dealing to
him who is no more, conquers the living by his kindness. Also
there is another disaster, not less lamentable, which sometimes
befalls the living -- the loss of some part of their body; and I
think that succor is due to this just as much as to the worst hap
that may befall. For often those who fight keep their lives
safe, but suffer maiming; and this lot is commonly thought more
dismal than any death; for death cuts off memory of all things,
while the living cannot forget the devastation of his own body.
Therefore this mischief also must be helped somehow; so let it be
agreed, that the injury of either of us by the other shall be
made good with ten talents (marks) of gold. For if it be
righteous to have compassion on the calamities of another, how
much more is it to pity one's own? No man but obeys nature's
prompting; and he who slights it is a self-murderer."

After mutually pledging their faiths to these terms, they began
the battle. Nor was their strangeness his meeting one another,
nor the sweetness of that spring-green spot, so heeded as to
prevent them from the fray. Horwendil, in his too great ardour,
became keener to attack his enemy than to defend his own body;
and, heedless of his shield, had grasped his sword with both
hands; and his boldness did not fail. For by his rain of blows
he destroyed Koller's shield and deprived him of it, and at last
hewed off his foot and drove him lifeless to the ground. Then,
not to fail of his compact, he buried him royally, gave him a
howe of lordly make and pompous obsequies. Then he pursued and
slew Koller's sister Sela, who was a skilled warrior and
experienced in roving.

He had now passed three years in valiant deeds of war; and, in
order to win higher rank in Rorik's favour, he assigned to him
the best trophies and the pick of the plunder. His friendship
with Rorik enabled him to woo and will in marriage his daughter
Gerutha, who bore him a son Amleth.

Such great good fortune stung Feng with jealousy, so that he
resolved treacherously to waylay his brother, thus showing that
goodness is not safe even from those of a man's own house. And
behold, when a chance came to murder him, his bloody hand sated
the deadly passion of his soul. Then he took the wife of the
brother he had butchered, capping unnatural murder with incest.
For whoso yields to one iniquity, speedily falls an easier victim
to the next, the first being an incentive to the second. Also,
the man veiled the monstrosity of his deed with such hardihood of
cunning, that he made up a mock pretence of goodwill to excuse
his crime, and glossed over fratricide with a show of
righteousness. Gerutha, said he, though so gentle that she would
do no man the slightest hurt, had been visited with her husband's
extremest hate; and it was all to save her that he had slain his
brother; for he thought it shameful that a lady so meek and
unrancorous should suffer the heavy disdain of her husband. Nor
did his smooth words fail in their intent; for at courts, where
fools are sometimes favoured and backbiters preferred, a lie
lacks not credit. Nor did Feng keep from shameful embraces the
hands that had slain a brother; pursuing with equal guilt both of
his wicked and impious deeds.

Amleth beheld all this, but feared lest too shrewd a behaviour
might make his uncle suspect him. So he chose to feign dulness,
and pretend an utter lack of wits. This cunning course not only
concealed his intelligence but ensured his safety. Every day he
remained in his mother's house utterly listless and unclean,
flinging himself on the ground and bespattering his person with
foul and filthy dirt. His discoloured face and visage smutched
with slime denoted foolish and grotesque madness. All he said
was of a piece with these follies; all he did savoured of utter
lethargy. In a word, you would not have thought him a man at
all, but some absurd abortion due to a mad fit of destiny. He
used at times to sit over the fire, and, raking up the embers
with his hands, to fashion wooden crooks, and harden them in the
fire, shaping at their lips certain barbs, to make them hold more
tightly to their fastenings. When asked what he was about, he
said that he was preparing sharp javelins to avenge his father.
This answer was not a little scoffed at, all men deriding his
idle and ridiculous pursuit; but the thing helped his purpose
afterwards. Now it was his craft in this matter that first
awakened in the deeper observers a suspicion of his cunning. For
his skill in a trifling art betokened the hidden talent of the
craftsman; nor could they believe the spirit dull where the hand
had acquired so cunning a workmanship. Lastly, he always watched
with the most punctual care over his pile of stakes that he had
pointed in the fire. Some people, therefore, declared that his
mind was quick enough, and fancied that he only played the
simpleton in order to hide his understanding, and veiled some
deep purpose under a cunning feint. His wiliness (said these)
would be most readily detected, if a fair woman were put in his
way in some secluded place, who should provoke his mind to the
temptations of love; all men's natural temper being too blindly
amorous to be artfully dissembled, and this passion being also
too impetuous to be checked by cunning. Therefore, if his
lethargy were feigned, he would seize the opportunity, and yield
straightway to violent delights. So men were commissioned to
draw the young man in his rides into a remote part of the forest,
and there assail him with a temptation of this nature. Among
these chanced to be a foster-brother of Amleth, who had not
ceased to have regard to their common nurture; and who esteemed
his present orders less than the memory of their past fellowship.
He attended Amleth among his appointed train, being anxious not
to entrap, but to warn him; and was persuaded that he would
suffer the worst if he showed the slightest glimpse of sound
reason, and above all if he did the act of love openly. This was
also plain enough to Amleth himself. For when he was bidden
mount his horse, he deliberately set himself in such a fashion
that he turned his back to the neck and faced about, fronting the
tail; which he proceeded to encompass with the reins, just as if
on that side he would check the horse in its furious pace. By
this cunning thought he eluded the trick, and overcame the
treachery of his uncle. The reinless steed galloping on, with
rider directing its tail, was ludicrous enough to behold.

Amleth went on, and a wolf crossed his path amid the thicket.
When his companions told him that a young colt had met him, he
retorted, that in Feng's stud there were too few of that kind
fighting. This was a gentle but witty fashion of invoking a
curse upon his uncle's riches. When they averred that he had
given a cunning answer, he answered that he had spoken
deliberately; for he was loth, to be thought prone to lying about
any matter, and wished to be held a stranger to falsehood; and
accordingly he mingled craft and candour in such wise that,
though his words did lack truth, yet there was nothing to betoken
the truth and betray how far his keenness went.

Again, as he passed along the beach, his companions found the
rudder of a ship, which had been wrecked, and said they had
discovered a huge knife. "This," said he, "was the right thing
to carve such a huge ham;" by which he really meant the sea, to
whose infinitude, he thought, this enormous rudder matched.
Also, as they passed the sandhills, and bade him look at the
meal, meaning the sand, he replied that it had been ground small
by the hoary tempests of the ocean. His companions praising his
answer, he said that he had spoken it wittingly. Then they
purposely left him, that he might pluck up more courage to
practise wantonness. The woman whom his uncle had dispatched met
him in a dark spot, as though she had crossed him by chance; and
he took her and would have ravished her, had not his foster-
brother, by a secret device, given him an inkling of the trap.
For this man, while pondering the fittest way to play privily the
prompter's part, and forestall the young man's hazardous
lewdness, found a straw on the ground and fastened it underneath
the tail of a gadfly that was flying past; which he then drove
towards the particular quarter where he knew Amleth to be: an act
which served the unwary prince exceedingly well. The token was
interpreted as shrewdly as it had been sent. For Amleth saw the
gadfly, espied with curiosity the straw which it wore embedded in
its tail, and perceived that it was a secret warning to beware of
treachery. Alarmed, scenting a trap, and fain to possess his
desire in greater safety, he caught up the woman in his arms and
dragged her off to a distant and impenetrable fen. Moreover,
when they had lain together, he conjured her earnestly to
disclose the matter to none, and the promise of silence was
accorded as heartily as it was asked. For both of them had been
under the same fostering in their childhood; and this early
rearing in common had brought Amleth and the girl into great

So, when he had returned home, they all jeeringly asked him
whether he had given way to love, and he avowed that he had
ravished the maid. When he was next asked where he did it, and
what had been his pillow, he said that he had rested upon the
hoof of a beast of burden, upon a cockscomb, and also upon a
ceiling. For, when he was starting into temptation, he had
gathered fragments of all these things, in order to avoid lying.
And though his jest did not take aught of the truth out of the
story, the answer was greeted with shouts of merriment from the
bystanders. The maiden, too, when questioned on the matter,
declared that he had done no such thing; and her denial was the
more readily credited when it was found that the escort had not
witnessed the deed. Then he who had marked the gadfly in order
to give a hint, wishing to show Amleth that to his trick he owed
his salvation, observed that latterly he had been singly devoted
to Amleth. The young man's reply was apt. Not to seem forgetful
of his informant's service, he said that he had seen a certain
thing bearing a straw flit by suddenly, wearing a stalk of chaff
fixed in its hinder parts. The cleverness of this speech, which
made the rest split with laughter, rejoiced the heart of Amleth's

Thus all were worsted, and none could open the secret lock of the
young man's wisdom. But a friend of Feng, gifted more with
assurance than judgment, declared that the unfathomable cunning
of such a mind could not be detected by any vulgar plot, for the
man's obstinacy was so great that it ought not to be assailed
with any mild measures; there were many sides to his wiliness,
and it ought not to be entrapped by any one method. Accordingly,
said he, his own profounder acuteness had hit on a more delicate
way, which was well fitted to be put in practice, and would
effectually discover what they desired to know. Feng was
purposely to absent himself, pretending affairs of great import.
Amleth should be closeted alone with his mother in her chamber;
but a man should first be commissioned to place himself in a
concealed part of the room and listen heedfully to what they
talked about. For if the son had any wits at all he would not
hesitate to speak out in the hearing of his mother, or fear to
trust himself to the fidelity of her who bore him. The speaker,
loth to seem readier to devise than to carry out the plot,
zealously proffered himself as the agent of the eavesdropping.
Feng rejoiced at the scheme, and departed on pretence of a long
journey. Now he who had given this counsel repaired privily to
the room where Amleth was shut up with his mother, and lay flown
skulking in the straw. But Amleth had his antidote for the
treachery. Afraid of being overheard by some eavesdropper, he at
first resorted to his usual imbecile ways, and crowed like a
noisy cock, beating his arms together to mimic the flapping of
wings. Then he mounted the straw and began to swing his body and
jump again and again, wishing to try if aught lurked there in
hiding. Feeling a lump beneath his feet, he drove his sword into
the spot, and impaled him who lay hid. Then he dragged him from
his concealment and slew him. Then, cutting his body into
morsels, he seethed it in boiling water, and flung it through the
mouth of an open sewer for the swine to eat, bestrewing the
stinking mire with his hapless limbs. Having in this wise eluded
the snare, he went back to the room. Then his mother set up a
great wailing, and began to lament her son's folly to his face;
but he said: "Most infamous of women; dost thou seek with such
lying lamentations to hide thy most heavy guilt? Wantoning like
a harlot, thou hast entered a wicked and abominable state of
wedlock, embracing with incestuous bosom thy husband's slayer,
and wheedling with filthy lures of blandishment him who had slain
the father of thy son. This, forsooth, is the way that the mares
couple with the vanquishers of their mates; for brute beasts are
naturally incited to pair indiscriminately; and it would seem
that thou, like them, hast clean forgot thy first husband. As
for me, not idly do I wear the mask of folly; for I doubt not
that he who destroyed his brother will riot as ruthlessly in the
blood of his kindred. Therefore it is better to choose the garb
of dulness than that of sense, and to borrow some protection from
a show of utter frenzy. Yet the passion to avenge my father
still burns in my heart; but I am watching the chances, I await
the fitting hour. There is a place for all things; against so
merciless and dark spirit must be used the deeper devices of the
mind. And thou, who hadst been better employed in lamenting
thine own disgrace, know it is superfluity to bewail my
witlessness; thou shouldst weep for the blemish in thine own
mind, not for that in another's. On the rest see thou keep
silence." With such reproaches he rent the heart of his mother
and redeemed her to walk in the ways of virtue; teaching her to
set the fires of the past above the seductions of the present.

When Feng returned, nowhere could he find the man who had
suggested the treacherous espial; he searched for him long and
carefully, but none said they had seen him anywhere. Amleth,
among others, was asked in jest if he had come on any trace of
him, and replied that the man had gone to the sewer, but had
fallen through its bottom and been stifled by the floods of
filth, and that he had then been devoured by the swine that came
up all about that place. This speech was flouted by those who
heard; for it seemed senseless, though really it expressly avowed
the truth.

Feng now suspected that his stepson was certainly full of guile,
and desired to make away with him, but durst not do the deed for
fear of the displeasure, not only of Amleth's grandsire Rorik,
but also of his own wife. So he thought that the King of Britain
should be employed to slay him, so that another could do the
deed, and he be able to feign innocence. Thus, desirous to hide
his cruelty, he chose rather to besmirch his friend than to bring
disgrace on his own head. Amleth, on departing, gave secret
orders to his mother to hang the hall with woven knots, and to
perform pretended obsequies for him a year thence; promising that
he would then return. Two retainers of Feng then accompanied
him, bearing a letter graven on wood -- a kind of writing
material frequent in old times; this letter enjoined the king of
the Britons to put to death the youth who was sent over to him.
While they were reposing, Amleth searched their coffers, found
the letter, and read the instructions therein. Whereupon he
erased all the writing on the surface, substituted fresh
characters, and so, changing the purport of the instructions,
shifted his own doom upon his companions. Nor was he satisfied
with removing from himself the sentence of death and passing the
beril on to others, but added an entreaty that the King of
Britain would grant his daughter in marriage to a youth of great
judgment whom he was sending to him. Under this was falsely
marked the signature of Feng.

Now when they had reached Britain, the envoys went to the king,
and proffered him the letter which they supposed was an implement
of destruction to another, but which really betokened death to
themselves. The king dissembled the truth, and entreated them
hospitably and kindly. Then Amleth scouted all the splendour of
the royal banquet like vulgar viands, and abstaining very
strangely, rejected that plenteous feast, refraining from the
drink even as from the banquet. All marvelled that a youth and a
foreigner should disdain the carefully cooked dainties of the
royal board and the luxurious banquet provided, as if it were
some peasant's relish. So, when the revel broke up, and the king
was dismissing his friends to rest, he had a man sent into the
sleeping-room to listen secretly, in order that he might hear the
midnight conversation of his guests. Now, when Amleth's
companions asked him why he had refrained from the feast of
yestereve, as if it were poison, he answered that the bread was
flecked with blood and tainted; that there was a tang of iron in
the liquor; while the meats of the feast reeked of the stench of
a human carcase, and were infected by a kind of smack of the
odour of the charnel. He further said that the king had the eyes
of a slave, and that the queen had in three ways shown the
behaviour of a bondmaid. Thus he reviled with insulting
invective not so much the feast as its givers. And presently his
companions, taunting him with his old defect of wits, began to
flout him with many saucy jeers, because he blamed and cavilled
at seemly and worthy things, and because he attacked thus ignobly
an illustrous king and a lady of so refined a behaviour,
bespattering with the shamefullest abuse those who merited all

All this the king heard from his retainer; and declared that he
who could say such things had either more than mortal wisdom or
more than mortal folly; in these few words fathoming the full
depth of Amleth's penetration. Then he summoned his steward and
asked him whence he had procured the bread. The steward declared
that it had been made by the king's own baker. The king asked
where the corn had grown of which it was made, and whether any
sign was to be found there of human carnage? The other answered,
that not far off was a field, covered with the ancient bones of
slaughtered men, and still bearing plainly all the signs of
ancient carnage; and that he had himself planted this field with
grain in springtide, thinking it more fruitful than the rest, and
hoping for plenteous abundance; and so, for aught he knew, the
bread had caught some evil savour from this bloodshed. The king,
on hearing this, surmised that Amleth had spoken truly, and took
the pains to learn also what had been the source of the lard.
The other declared that his hogs had, through negligence, strayed
from keeping, and battened on the rotten carcase of a robber, and
that perchance their pork had thus come to have something of a
corrupt smack. The king, finding that Amlet11's judgment was
right in this thing also, asked of what liquor the steward had
mixed the drink? Hearing that it had been brewed of water and
meal, he had the spot of the spring pointed out to him, and set
to digging deep down; and there he found, rusted away, several
swords, the tang whereof it was thought had tainted the waters.
Others relate that Amleth blamed the drink because, while
quaffing it, he had detected some bees that had fed in the paunch
of a dead man; and that the taint, which had formerly been
imparted to the combs, had reappeared in the taste. The king,
seeing that Amleth had rightly given the causes of the taste he
had found so faulty, and learning that the ignoble eyes wherewith
Amleth had reproached him concerned some stain upon his birth,
had a secret interview with his mother, and asked her who his
father had really been. She said she had submitted to no man but
the king. But when he threatened that he would have the truth
out of her by a trial, he was told that he was the offspring of a
slave. By the evidence of the avowal thus extorted he understood
the whole mystery of the reproach upon his origin. Abashed as he
was with shame for his low estate, he was so ravished with the
young man's cleverness, that he asked him why he had aspersed the
queen with the reproach that she had demeaned herself like a
slave? But while resenting that the courtliness of his wife had
been accused in the midnight gossip of guest, he found that her
mother had been a bondmaid. For Amleth said he had noted in her
three blemishes showing the demeanor of a slave; first, she had
muffled her head in her mantle as handmaids do; next, that she
had gathered up her gown for walking; and thirdly, that she had
first picked out with a splinter, and then chewed up, the remnant
of food that stuck in the crevices between her teeth. Further,
he mentioned that the king's mother had been brought into slavery
from captivity, lest she should seem servile only in her habits,
yet not in her birth.

Then the king adored the wisdom of Amleth as though it were
inspired, and gave him his daughter to wife; accepting his bare
word as though it were a witness from the skies. Moreover, in
order to fulfil the bidding of his friend, he hanged Amleth's
companions on the morrow. Amleth, feigning offence, treated this
piece of kindness as a grievance, and received from the king, as
compensation, some gold, which he afterwards melted in the fire,
and secretly caused to be poured into some hollowed sticks.

When he had passed a whole year with the king he obtained leave
to make a journey, and returned to his own land, carrying away of
all his princely wealth and state only the sticks which held the
gold. On reaching Jutland, he exchanged his present attire for
his ancient demeanour, which he had adopted for righteous ends,
purposely assuming an aspect of absurdity. Covered with filth,
he entered the banquet-room where his own obsequies were being
held, and struck all men utterly aghast, rumour having falsely
noised abroad his death. At last terror melted into mirth, and
the guests jeered and taunted one another, that he whose last
rites they were celebrating as through he were dead, should
appear in the flesh. When he was asked concerning his comrades,
he pointed to the sticks he was carrying, and said, "Here is both
the one and the other." This he observed with equal truth and
pleasantry; for his speech, though most thought it idle, yet
departed not from the truth; for it pointed at the weregild of
the slain as though it were themselves. Thereon, wishing to
bring the company into a gayer mood, he jollied the cupbearers,
and diligently did the office of plying the drink. Then, to
prevent his loose dress hampering his walk, he girdled his sword
upon his side, and purposely drawing it several times, pricked
his fingers with its point. The bystantlers accordingly had both
sword and scabbard riveted across with all iron nail. Then, to
smooth the way more safely to his plot, he went to the lords and
plied them heavily with draught upon draught, and drenched them
all so deep in wine, that their feet were made feeble with
drunkenness, and they turned to rest within the palace, making
their bed where they had revelled. Then he saw they were in a
fit state for his plots, and thought that here was a chance
offered to do his purpose. So he took out of his bosom the
stakes he has long ago prepared, and went into the building,
where the ground lay covered with the bodies of the nobles
wheezing off their sleep and their debauch. Then, cutting away
its support, he brought dlown the hanging his mother had knitted,
which covered the inner as well as the outer walls of the hall.
This he flung upon the snorers, and then applying the crooked
stakes, he knotted and bound them up in such insoluble intricacy,
that not one of the men beneath, however hard he might struggle,
could contrive to rise. After this he set fire to the palace.
The flames spread, scattering the conflagration far and wide. It
enveloped the whole dwelling, destroyed the palace, and burnt
them all while they were either buried in deep sleep or vainly
striving to arise. Then he went to the chamber of Feng, who had
before this been conducted by his train into his pavilion;
plucked up a sword that chanced to be hanging to the bed, and
planted his own in its place. Then, awakening his uncle, he told
him that his nobles were perishing in the flames, and that Amleth
was here, armed with his crooks to help him, and thirsting to
exact the vengeance, now long overdue, for his father's murder.
Feng, on hearing this, leapt from his couch, but was cut down
while deprived of his own sword, and as he strove in vain to draw
the strange one. O valiant Amleth, and worthy of immortal fame,
who being shrewdly armed with a feint of folly, covered a wisdom
too high for human wit under a marvellous disguise of silliness!
And not only found in his subtlety means to protect his own
safety, but also by its guidance found opportunity to avenge his
father. By this skilful defence of himself, and strenuous
revenge for his parent, he has left it doubtful whether we are to
think more of his wit or his bravery. (3)

(1) Saxo now goes back to the history of Denmark. All the
events hitherto related in Bk. III, after the first
paragraph, are a digression in retrospect.
(2) M. conjectures that this was a certain Harald, the bastard
son of Erik the Good, and a wild and dissolute man, who died
in 1135, not long before the probable date of Saxo's birth.
(3) Shakespere's tragedy, "Hamlet", is derived from this story.


Amleth, when he had accomplished the slaughter of his stepfather,
feared to expose his deed to the fickle judgment of his
countrymen, and thought it well to lie in hiding till he had
learnt what way the mob of the uncouth populace was tending. So
the whole neighbourhood, who had watched the blaze during the
night, and in the morning desired to know the cause of the fire
they had seen, perceived the royal palace fallen in ashes; and,
on searching through its ruins, which were yet warm, found only
some shapeless remains of burnt corpses. For the devouring flame
had consumed everything so utterly that not a single token was
left to inform them of the cause of such a disaster. Also they
saw the body of Feng lying pierced by the sword, amid his blood-
stained raiment. Some were seized with open anger, others with
grief, and some with secret delight. One party bewailed the
death of their leader, the other gave thanks that the tyranny of
the fratricide was now laid at rest. Thus the occurrence of the
king's slaughter was greeted by the beholders with diverse minds.

Amleth, finding the people so quiet, made bold to leave his
hiding. Summoning those in whom he knew the memory of his father
to be fast-rooted, he went to the assembly and there made a
speech after this manner:

"Nobles! Let not any who are troubled by the piteous end of
Horwendil be worried by the sight of this disaster before you; be
not ye, I say, distressed, who have remained loyal to your king
and duteous to your father. Behold the corpse, not of a prince,
but of a fratricide. Indeed, it was a sorrier sight when ye saw
our prince lying lamentably butchered by a most infamous
fratricide-brother, let me not call him. With your own
compassionating eyes ye have beheld the mangled limbs of
Horwendil; they have seen his body done to death with many
wounds. Surely that most abominable butcher only deprived his
king of life that he might despoil his country of freedom! The
hand that slew him made you slaves. Who then so mad as to choose
Feng the cruel before Horwendil the righteous? Remember how
benignantly Horwendil fostered you, how justly he dealt with you,
how kindly he loved you. Remember how you lost the mildest of
princes and the justest of fathers, while in his place was put a
tyrant and an assassin set up; how your rights were confiscated;
how everything was plague-stricken; how the country was stained
with infamies; how the yoke was planted on your necks, and how,
your free will was forfeited! And now all this is over; for ye
see the criminal stifled in his own crimes, the slayer of his kin
punished for his misdoings. What man of but ordinary wit,
beholding it, would account this kindness a wrong? What sane man
could be sorry that the crime has recoiled upon the culprit? Who
could lament the killing of a most savage executioner? Or bewail
the righteous death of a most cruel despot? Ye behold the doer
of the deed; he is before you. Yea, I own that I have taken
vengeance for my country and my father. Your hands were equally
bound to the task which mine fulfilled. What it would have
beseemed you to accomplish with me, I achieved alone. Nor had I
any partner in so glorious a deed, or the service of any man to
help me. Not that I forget that you would have helped this work,
had I asked you; for doubtless you have remained loyal to your
king and loving to your prince. But I chose that the wicked
should be punished without imperilling you; I thought that others
need not set their shoulders to the burden when I deemed mine
strong enough to bear it. Therefore I consumed all the others to
ashes, and left only the trunk of Feng for your hands to burn, so
that on this at least you may wreak all your longing for a
righteous vengeance. Now haste up speedily, heap the pyre, burn
up the body of the wicked, consume away his guilty limbs, scatter
his sinful ashes, strew broadcast his ruthless dust; let no urn
or barrow enclose the abominable remnants of his bones. Let no
trace of his fratricide remain; let there be no spot in his own
land for his tainted limbs; let no neighbourhood suck infection
from him; let not sea nor soil be defiled by harboring his
accursed carcase. I have done the rest; this one loyal duty is
left for you. These must be the tyrant's obsequies, this the
funeral procession of the fratricide. It is not seemly that he
who stripped his country of her freedom should have his ashes
covered by his country's earth.

"Besides, why tell again my own sorrows? Why count over my
troubles? Why weave the thread of my miseries anew? Ye know
them more fully than I myself. I, pursued to the death by my
stepfather, scorned by my mother, spat upon by friends, have
passed my years in pitiable wise, and my days in adversity; and
my insecure life has teemed with fear and perils. In fine, I
passed every season of my age wretchedly and in extreme calamity.
Often in your secret murmurings together you have sighed over my
lack of wits; there was none (you said) to avenge the father,
none to punish the fratricide. And in this I found a secret
testimony of your love; for I saw that the memory of the King's
murder had not yet faded from your minds.

"Whose breast is so hard that it can be softened by no fellow-
feeling for what I have felt? Who is so stiff and stony, that he
is swayed by no compassion for my griefs? Ye whose hands are
clean of the blood of Horwendil, pity your fosterling, be moved
by my calamities. Pity also my stricken mother, and rejoice with
me that the infamy of her who was once your queen is quenched.
For this weak woman had to bear a twofold weight of ignominy,
embracing one who was her husband's brother and murderer.
Therefore, to hide my purpose of revenge and to veil my wit, I
counterfeited a listless bearing; I feigned dulness; I planned a
stratagem; and now you can see with your own eyes whether it has
succeeded, whether it has achieved its purpose to the full; I am
content to leave you to judge so great a matter. It is your
turn; trample under foot the ashes of the murderer! Disdain the
dust of him who slew his brother, and defiled his brother's queen
with infamous. desecration, who outraged his sovereign and
treasonably assailed his majesty, who brought the sharpest
tyranny upon you, stole your freedom, and crowned fratricide with
incest. I have been the agent of this just vengeance; I have
burned for this righteous retribution; uphold me with a high-born
spirit; pay me the homage that you owe; warm me with your kindly
looks. It is I who have wiped off my country's shame; I who have
quenched my mother's dishonour; I who have beaten back
oppression; I who have put to death the murderer; I who have
baffled the artful hand of my uncle with retorted arts. Were he
living, each new day would have multiplied his crimes. I
resented the wrong done to father and to fatherland: I slew him
who was governing you outrageously and more hardly than it
beseemed men. Acknowledge my service, honour my wit, give me the
throne if I have earned it; for you have in me one who has done
you a mighty service, and who is no degenerate heir to his
father's power; no fratricide, but the lawful successor to the
throne; and a dutiful avenger of the crime of murder. It is I
who have stripped you of slavery, and clothed you with freedom; I
have restored your height of fortune, and given you your glory
back; I have deposed the despot and triumphed over the butcher.
In your hands is the reward; you know what I have done for you,
and from your righteousness I ask my wage."

Every heart had been moved while the young man thus spoke; he
affected some to compassion, and some even to tears. When the
lamentation ceased, he was appointed king by prompt and general
acclaim. For one and all rested their greatest hopes on his
wisdom, since he had devised the whole of such an achievement
with the deepest cunning, and accomplished it with the most
astonishing contrivance. Many could have been seen marvelling
how he had concealed so subtle a plan over so long a space of

After these deeds in Denmark, Amleth equipped three vessels, and
went back to Britain to see his wife and her father. He had also
enrolled in his service the flower of the warriors, and arrayed
them very choicely, wishing to have everything now magnificently
appointed, even as of old he had always worn contemptible gear,
and to change all his old devotion to poverty for outlay on
luxury. He also had a shield made for him, whereon the whole
series of his exploits, beginning with his earliest youth, was
painted in exquisite designs. This he bore as a record of his
deeds of prowess, and gained great increase of fame thereby.
Here were to be seen depicted the slaying of Horwendil; the
fratricide and incest of Feng; the infamous uncle, the whimsical
nephew; the shapes of the hooked stakes; the stepfather
suspecting, the stepson dissembling; the various temptations
offered, and the woman brought to beguile him; the gaping wolf;
the finding of the rudder; the passing of the sand; the entering
of the wood; the putting of the straw through the gadfly; the
warning of the youth by the tokens; and the privy dealings with
the maiden after the escort was eluded. And likewise could be
seen the picture of the palace; the queen there with her son; the
slaying of the eavesdropper; and how, after being killed, he was
boiled down, and so dropped into the sewer, and so thrown out to
the swine; how his limbs were strewn in the mud, and so left for
the beasts to finish. Also it could be seen how Amleth surprised
the secret of his sleeping attendants, how he erased the letters,
and put new characters in their places; how he disdained the
banquet and scorned the drink; how he condemned time face of the
king and taxed the Queen with faulty behaviour. There was also
represented the hanging of the envoys, and the young man's
wedding; then the voyage back to Denmark; the festive celebration
of the funeral rites; Amleth, in answer to questions, pointing to
the sticks in place of his attendants, acting as cupbearer, and
purposely drawing his sword and pricking his fingers; the sword
riveted through, the swelling cheers of the banquet, the dance
growing fast and furious; the hangings flung upon the sleepers,
then fastened with the interlacing crooks, and wrapped tightly
round them as they slumbered; the brand set to the mansion, the
burning of the guests, the royal palace consumed with fire and
tottering down; the visit to the sleeping-room of Feng, the theft
of his sword, the useless one set in its place; and the king
slain with his own sword's point by his stepson's hand. All this
was there, painted upon Amleth's battle-shield by a careful
craftsman in the choicest of handiwork; he copied truth in his
figures, and embodied real deeds in his outlines. Moreover,
Amleth's followers, to increase the splendour of their presence,
wore shields which were gilt over.

The King of Britain received them very graciously, and treated
them with costly and royal pomp. During the feast he asked
anxiously whether Feng was alive and prosperous. His son-in-law
told him that the man of whose welfare he was vainly inquiring
had perished by the sword. With a flood of questions he tried to
find out who had slain Feng, and learnt that the messenger of his
death was likewise its author. And when the king heard this, he
was secretly aghast, because he found that an old promise to
avenge Feng now devolved upon himself. For Feng and he had
determined of old, by a mutual compact, that one of them should
act as avenger of the other. Thus the king was drawn one way by
his love for his daughter and his affection for his son-in-law;
another way by his regard for his friend, and moreover by his
strict oath and the sanctity of their mutual declarations, which
it was impious to violate. At last he slighted the ties of
kinship, and sworn faith prevailed. His heart turned to
vengeance, and he put the sanctity of his oath before family
bonds. But since it was thought sin to wrong the holy ties of
hospitality, he preferred to execrate his revenge by the hand of
another, wishing to mask his secret crime with a show of
innocence. So he veiled his treachery with attentions, and hid
his intent to harm under a show of zealous goodwill. His queen
having lately died of illness, he requested Amleth to undertake
the mission of making him a fresh match, saying that he was
highly delighted with his extraordinary shrewdness. He declared
that there was a certain queen reigning in Scotland, whom he
vehemently desired to marry. Now he knew that she was not only
unwedded by reason of her chastity, but that in the cruelty of
her arrogance she had always loathed her wooers, and had
inflicted on her lovers the uttermost punishment, so that not one
but of all the multitude was to be found who had not paid for his
insolence with his life.

Perilous as this commission was Amleth started, never shrinking
to obey the duty imposed upon him, but trusting partly in his own
servants, and partly in the attendants of the king. He entered
Scotland, and, when quite close to the abode of the queen, he
went into a meadow by the wayside to rest his horses. Pleased by
the look of the spot, he thought of resting -- the pleasant
prattle of the stream exciting a desire to sleep -- and posted
men to keep watch some way off. The queen on hearing of this,
sent out ten warriors to spy on the approach of the foreigners
and their equipment. One of these, being quick-witted, slipped
past the sentries, pertinaciously made his way up, and took away
the shield, which Amleth had chanced to set at his head before he
slept, so gently that he did not ruffle his slumbers, though he
was lying upon it, nor awaken one man of all that troop; for he
wished to assure his mistress not only by report but by some
token. With equal address he filched the letter entrusted to
Amleth from the coffer in which it was kept. When these things
were brought to the queen, she scanned the shield narrowly, and
from the notes appended made out the whole argument. Then she
knew that here was the man who, trusting in his own nicely
calculated scheme, had avenged on his uncle the murder of his
father. She also looked at the letter containing the suit for
her band, and rubbed out all the writing; for wedlock with the
old she utterly abhorred, and desired the embraces of young men.
But she wrote in its place a commission purporting to be sent
from the King of Britain to herself, signed like the other with
his name and title, wherein she pretended that she was asked to
marry the bearer. Moreover, she included an account of the deeds
of which she had learnt from Amleth's shield, so that one would
have thought the shield confirmed the letter, while the letter
explained the shield. Then she told the same spies whom she had
employed before to take the shield back, and put the letter in
its place again; playing the very trick on Amleth which, as she
had learnt, he had himself used in outwitting his companions.

Amleth, meanwhile, who found that his shield had been filched
from under his head, deliberately shut his eyes and cunningly
feigned sleep, hoping to regain by pretended what he had lost by
real slumbers. For he thought that the success of his one
attempt would incline the spy to deceive him a second time. And
he was not mistaken. For as the spy came up stealthily, and
wanted to put back the shield and the writing in their old place,
Amleth leapt up, seized him, and detained him in bonds. Then he
roused his retinue, and went to the abode of the queen. As
representing his father-in-law, he greeted her, and handled her
the writing, sealed with the king's seal. The queen, who was
named Hermutrude, took and read it, and spoke most warmly of
Amleth's diligence and shrewdness, saying, that Feng had deserved
his punishment, and that the unfathomable wit of Amleth had
accomplished a deed past all human estimation; seeing that not
only had his impenetrable depth devised a mode of revenging his
father's death and his mother's adultery, but it had further, by
his notable deeds Of prowess, seized the kingdom of the man whom
he had found constantly plotting against him. She marvelled
therefore that a man of such instructed mind could have made the
one slip of a mistaken marriage; for though his renown almost
rose above mortality, he seemed to have stumbled into an obscure
and ignoble match. For the parents of his wife had been slaves,
though good luck had graced them with the honours of royalty.
Now (said she), when looking for a wife a wise man must reckon
the lustre of her birth and not of her beauty. Therefore, if he
were to seek a match in a proper spirit, he should weigh the
ancestry, and not be smitten by the looks; for though looks were
a lure to temptation, yet their empty bedizenment had tarnished
the white simplicity of many a man. Now there was a woman, as
nobly born as himself, whom he could take. She herself, whose
means were not poor nor her birth lowly, was worthy his embraces,
since he did not surpass her in royal wealth nor outshine her in
the honour of his ancestors. Indeed she was a queen, and but
that her sex gainsaid it, might be deemed a king; may (and this
is yet truer), whomsoever she thought worthy of her bed was at
once a king, and she yielded her kingdom with herself. Thus her
sceptre and her hand went together. It was no mean favour for
such a woman to offer her love, who in the case of other men had
always followed her refusal with the sword. Therefore she
pressed him to transfer his wooing, to make over to her his
marriage vows, and to learn to prefer birth to beauty. So
saying, she fell upon him with a close embrace.

Amleth was overjoyed at the gracious speech of the maiden, fell
to kissing back, and returned her close embrace, protesting that
the maiden's wish was his own. Then a banquet was held, friends
bidden, the nobles gathered, and the marriage rites performed.
When they were accomplished, he went back to Britain with his
bride, a strong band of Scots being told to follow close behind,
that he might have its help against the diverse treacheries in
his path. As he was returning, the daughter of the King of
Britain, to whom he was still married, met him. Though she
complained that she was slighted by the wrong of having a
paramour put over her, yet, she said, it would be unworthy for
her to hate him as an adulterer more than she loved him as a
husband: nor would she so far shrink from her lord as to bring
herself to hide in silence the guile which she knew was intended
against him. For she had a son as a pledge of their marriage,
and regard for him, if nothing else, must have inclined his
mother to the affection of a wife. "He," she said, "may hate the
supplanter of his mother, I will love her; no disaster shall put
out my flame for thee; no ill-will shall quench it, or prevent me
from exposing the malignant designs against thee, or from
revealing the snares I have detected. Bethink thee, then, that
thou must beware of thy father-in-law, for thou hast thyself
reaped the harvest of thy mission, foiled the wishes of him who
sent thee, and with willful trespass seized over all the fruit
for thyself." By this speech she showed herself more inclined to
love her husband than her father.

While she thus spoke, the King of Britain came up and embraced
his son-in-law closely, but with little love, and welcomed him
with a banquet, to hide his intended guile under a show of
generosity. But Amleth, having learnt the deceit, dissembled his
fear, took a retinue of two hundred horsemen, put on an under-
shirt (of mail), and complied with the invitation, preferring the
peril of falling in with the king's deceit to the shame of
hanging back. So much heed for honour did he think that he must
take in all things. As he rode up close, the king attacked him
just under the porch of the folding doors, and would have thrust
him through with his javelin, but that the hard shirt of mail
threw off the blade. Amleth received a slight wound, and went to
the spot where he had bidden the Scottish warriors wait on duty.
He then sent back to the king his new wife's spy, whom he had
captured. This man was to bear witness that he had secretly
taken from the coffer where it was kept the letter which was
meant for his mistress, and thus was to make the whole blame
recoil on Hermutrude, by this studied excuse absolving Amleth
from the charge of treachery. The king without tarrying pursued
Amleth hotly as he fled, and deprived him of most of his forces.
So Amleth, on the morrow, wishing to fight for dear life, and
utterly despairing of his powers of resistance, tried to increase
his apparent numbers. He put stakes under some of the dead
bodies of his comrades to prop them up, set others on horseback
like living men, and tied others to neighbouring stones, not
taking off any of their armour, and dressing them in due order of
line and wedge, just as if they were about to engage. The wing
composed of the dead was as thick as the troop of the living. It
was an amazing spectacle this, of dead men dragged out to battle,
and corpses mustered to fight. The plan served him well, for the
very figures of the dead men showed like a vast array as the
sunbeams struck them. For those dead and senseless shapes
restored the original number of the army so well, that the mass
might have been unthinned by the slaughter of yesterday. The
Britons, terrified at the spectacle, fled before fighting,
conquered by the dead men whom they had overcome in life. I
cannot tell whether to think more of the cunning or of the good
fortune of this victory. The Danes came down on the king as he
was tardily making off, and killed him. Amleth, triumphant, made
a great plundering, seized the spoils of Britain, and went back
with his wives to his own land.

Meanwhile Rorik had died, and Wiglek, who had come to the throne,
had harassed Amleth's mother with all manner of insolence and
stripped her of her royal wealth, complaining that her son had
usurped the kingdom of Jutland and defrauded the King of Leire,
who had the sole privilege of giving and taking away the rights
of high offices. This treatment Amleth took with such
forbearance as apparently to return kindness for slander, for he
presented Wiglek with the richest of his spoils. But afterwards
he seized a chance of taking vengeance, attacked him, subdued
him, and from a covert became an open foe. Fialler, the governor
of Skaane, he drove into exile; and the tale is that Fialler
retired to a spot called Undensakre, which is unknown to our
peoples. After this, Wiglek, recruited with the forces of Skaane
and Zealand, sent envoys to challenge Amleth to a war. Amleth,
with his marvellous shrewdness, saw that he was tossed between
two difficulties, one of which involved disgrace and the other
danger. For he knew that if he took up the challenge he was
threatened with peril of his life, while to shrink from it would
disgrace his reputation as a soldier. Yet in that spirit ever
fixed on deeds of prowess the desire to save his honour won the
day. Dread of disaster was blunted by more vehement thirst for
glory; he would not tarnish the unblemished lustre of his fame by
timidly skulking from his fate. Also he saw that there is almost
as wide a gap between a mean life and a noble death as that which
is acknowledged between honour and disgrace themselves.

Yet Amleth was enchained by such great love for Hermutrude, that
he was more deeply concerned in his mind about her future
widowhood than about his own death, and cast about very zealously
how he could decide on some second husband for her before the
opening of the war. Hermutrude, therefore, declared that she had
the courage of a man, and promised that she would not forsake him
even on the field, saying that the woman who dreaded to be united
with her lord in death was abominable. But she kept this rare
promise ill; for when Amleth had been slain by Wiglek in battle
in Jutland, she yielded herself up unasked to be the conqueror's
spoil and bride. Thus all vows of woman are loosed by change of
fortune and melted by the shifting of time; the faith of their
soul rests on a slippery foothold, and is weakened by casual
chances; glib in promises, and as sluggish in performance, all
manner of lustful promptings enslave it, and it bounds away with
panting and precipitate desire, forgetful of old things in the
ever hot pursuit after something fresh. So ended Amleth. Had
fortune been as kind to him as nature, he would have equalled the
gods in glory, and surpassed the labours of Hercules by his deeds
of prowess. A plain in Jutland is to be found, famous for his
name and burial-place. Wiglek's administration of the kingdom
was long and peaceful, and he died of disease.

WERMUND, his son, succeeded him. The long and leisurely
tranquillity of a most prosperous and quiet time flowed by and
Wermund in undisturbed security maintained a prolonged and steady
peace at home. He had no children during the prime of his life,
but in his old age, by a belated gift of fortune, he begat a son,
Uffe, though all the years which had glided by had raised him up
no offspring. This Uffe surpassed all of his age in stature, but
in his early youth was supposed to have so dull and foolish a
spirit as to be useless for all affairs public or private. For
from his first years he never used to play or make merry, but was
so void of all human pleasure that he kept his lips sealed in a
perennial silence, and utterly restrained his austere visage from
the business of laughter. But though through the years of his
youth he was reputed for an utter fool, he afterwards left that
despised estate and became famous, turning out as great a pattern
of wisdom and hardihood as he had been a picture of stagnation.
His father, seeing him such a simpleton, got him for a wife the
daughter of Frowin, the governor of the men of Sleswik; thinking
that by his alliance with so famous a man Uffe would receive help
which would serve him well in administering the realm. Frowin
had two sons, Ket and Wig, who were youths of most brilliant
parts, and their excellence, not less than that of Frowin,
Wermund destined to the future advantage of his son.

At this time the King of Sweden was Athisl, a man of notable fame
and energy. After defeating his neighbours far around, he was
loth to leave the renown won by his prowess to be tarnished in
slothful ease, and by constant and zealous practice brought many
novel exercises into vogue. For one thing he had a daily habit
of walking alone girt with splendid armour: in part because he
knew that nothing was more excellent in warfare than the
continual practice of arms; and in part that he might swell his
glory by ever following this pursuit. Self-confidence claimed as
large a place in this man as thirst for fame. Nothing, he
thought, could be so terrible as to make him afraid that it would
daunt his stout heart by its opposition. He carried his arms
into Denmark, and challenged Frowin to battle near Sleswik. The
armies routed one another with vast slaughter, and it happened
that the generals came to engage in person, so that they
conducted the affair like a duel; and, in addition to the public
issues of the war, the fight was like a personal conflict. For
both of them longed with equal earnestness for an issue of the
combat by which they might exhibit their valour, not by the help
of their respective sides, but by a trial of personal strength.
The end was that, though the blows rained thick on either side,
Athisl prevailed and overthrew Frowin, and won a public victory
as well as a duel, breaking up and shattering the Danish ranks in
all directions. When he returned to Sweden, he not only counted
the slaying of Frowin among the trophies of his valour, but even
bragged of it past measure, so ruining the glory of the deed by
his wantonness of tongue. For it is sometimes handsomer for
deeds of valour to be shrouded in the modesty of silence than to
be blazoned in wanton talk.

Wermund raised the sons of Frowin to honours of the same rank as
their father's, a kindness which was only due to the children of
his friend who had died for the country. This prompted Athisl to
carry the war again into Denmark. Emboldened therefore by his
previous battle, he called back, bringing with him not only no
slender and feeble force, but all the flower of the valour of
Sweden, thinking he would seize the supremacy of all Denmark.
Ket, the son of Frowin, sent Folk, his chief officer, to take
this news to Wermund, who then chanced to be in his house
Jellinge. (1) Folk found the king feasting with his friends, and
did his errand, admonishing him that here was the long-wished-for
chance of war at hand, and pressing itself upon the wishes of
Wermund, to whom was give an immediate chance of victory and the
free choice of a speedy and honourable triumph. Great and
unexpected were the sweets of good fortune, so long sighed for,
and now granted to him by this lucky event. For Athisl had come
encompassed with countless forces of the Swedes, just as though
in his firm assurance he had made sure of victory; and since the
enemy who was going to fight would doubtless prefer death to
flight, this chance of war gave them a fortunate opportunity to
take vengeance for their late disaster.

Wermund, declaring that he had performed his mission nobly and
bravely, ordered that he should take some little refreshment of
the banquet, since "far-faring ever hurt fasters." When Folk
said that he had no kind of leisure to take food, he begged him
to take a draught to quench his thirst. This was given him; and
Wermund also bade him keep the cup, which was of gold, saying
that men who were weary with the heat of wayfaring found it
handier to take up the water in a goblet than in the palms, and
that it was better to use a cup for drinking than the hand. When
the king accompanied his great gift with such gracious words, the
young man, overjoyed at both, promised that, before the king
should see him turn and flee, he would take a draught of his own
blood to the full measure of the liquor he had drunk.

With this doughty vow Wermund accounted himself well repaid, and
got somewhat more joy from giving the boon than the soldier had
from gaining it. Nor did he find that Folk's talk was braver
than his fighting.

For, when battle had begun, it came to pass that amidst divers
charges of the troops Folk and Athisl met and fought a long while
together; and that the host of the Swedes, following the fate of
their captain, took to flight, and Athisl also was wounded and
fled from the battle to his ships. And when Folk, dazed with
wounds and toils, and moreover steeped alike in heat and toil and
thirst, had ceased to follow the rout of the enemy, then, in
order to refresh himself, he caught his own blood in his helmet,
and put it to his lips to drain: by which deed he gloriously
requited the king's gift of the cup. Wermund, who chanced to see
this, praised him warmly for fulfilling his vow. Folk answered,
that a noble vow ought to be strictly performed to the end: a
speech wherein he showed no less approval of his own deed than

Now, while the conquerors had laid down their arms, and, as is
usual after battle, were exchanging diverse talk with one
another, Ket, the governor of the men of Sleswik, declared that
it was a matter of great marvel to him how it was that Athisl,
though difficulties strewed his path, had contrived an
opportunity to escape, especially as he had been the first and
foremost in the battle, but last of all in the retreat; and
though there had not been one of the enemy whose fall was so
vehemently desired by the Danes. Wermund rejoined that he should
know that there were four kinds of warrior to be distinguished
in every army. The fighters of the first order were those who,
tempering valour with forbearance, were keen to slay those who
resisted, but were ashamed to bear hard on fugitives. For these
were the men who had won undoubted proofs of prowess by veteran
experience in arms, and who found their glory not in the flight
of the conquered, but in overcoming those whom they had to
conquer. Then there was a second kind of warriors, who were
endowed with stout frame and spirit, but with no jot of
compassion, and who raged with savage and indiscriminate carnage
against the backs as well as the breasts of their foes. Now of
this sort were the men carried away by hot and youthful blood,
and striving to grace their first campaign with good auguries of
warfare. They burned as hotly with the glow of youth as with the
glow for glory, and thus rushed headlong into right or wrong with
equal recklessness. There was also the third kind, who, wavering
betwixt shame and fear, could not go forward for terror, while
shame barred retreat. Of distinguished blood, but only notable
for their useless stature, they crowded the ranks with numbers
and not with strength, smote the foe more with their shadows than
with their arms, and were only counted among the throng of
warriors as so many bodies to be seen. These men were lords of
great riches, but excelled more in birth than bravery; hungry for
life because owning great possessions, they were forced to yield
to the sway of cowardice rather than nobleness. There were
others, again, who brought show to the war, and not substance,
and who, foisting themselves into the rear of their comrades,
were the first to fly and the last to fight. One sure token of
fear betrayed their feebleness; for they always deliberately
sought excuses to shirk, and followed with timid and sluggish
advance in the rear of the fighters. It must be supposed,
therefore, that these were the reasons why the king had escaped
safely; for when he fled he was not pursued pertinaciously by the
men of the front rank; since these made it their business to
preserve the victory, not to arrest the conquered, and massed
their wedges, in order that the fresh-won victory might be duly
and sufficiently guarded, and attain the fulness of triumph.

Now the second class of fighters, whose desire was to cut down
everything in their way, had left Athisl unscathed, from lack not
of will but of opportunity; for they had lacked the chance to
hurt him rather than the daring. Moreover, though the men of the
third kind, who frittered away the very hour of battle by
wandering about in a flurried fashion, and also hampered the
success of their own side, had had their chance of harming the
king, they yet lacked courage to assail him. In this way Wermund
satisfied the dull amazement of Ket, and declared that he had set
forth and expounded the true reasons of the king's safe escape.

After this Athisl fled back to Sweden, still wantonly bragging of
the slaughter of Frowin, and constantly boasting the memory of
his exploit with prolix recital of his deeds; not that he bore
calmly the shame of his defeat, but that he might salve the wound
of his recent flight by the honours of his ancient victory. This
naturally much angered Ket and Wig, and they swore a vow to unite
in avenging their father. Thinking that they could hardly
accomplish this in open war, they took an equipment of lighter
armament, and went to Sweden alone. Then, entering a wood in
which they had learnt by report that the king used to take his
walks unaccompanied, they hid their weapons. Then they talked
long with Athisl, giving themselves out as deserters; and when he
asked them what was their native country, they said they were men
of Sleswik, and had left their land "for manslaughter". The king
thought that this statement referred not to their vow to commit
the crime, but to the guilt of some crime already committed. For
they desired by this deceit to foil his inquisitiveness, so that
the truthfulness of the statement might baffle the wit of the
questioner, and their true answer, being covertly shadowed forth
in a fiction, might inspire in him a belief that it was false.
For famous men of old thought lying a most shameful thing. Then
Athisl said he would like to know whom the Danes believed to be
the slayer of Frowin. Ket replied that there was a doubt as to
who ought to claim so illustrious a deed, especially as the
general testimony was that he had perished on the field of
battle. Athisl answered that it was idle to credit others with
the death of Frowin, which he, and he alone, had accomplished in
mutual combat. Soon he asked whether Frowin had left any
children. Ket answering that two sons of his were alive, said
that he would be very glad to learn their age and stature. Ket
replied that they were almost of the same size as themselves in
body, alike in years, and much resembling them in tallness. Then
Athisl said: "If the mind and the valour of their sire were
theirs, a bitter tempest would break upon me." Then he asked
whether those men constantly spoke of the slaying of their
father. Ket rejoined that it was idle to go on talking and
talking about a thing that could not be softened by any remedy,
and declared that it was no good to harp with constant vexation
on an inexpiable ill. By saying this he showed that threats
ought not to anticipate vengeance.

When Ket saw that the king regularly walked apart alone in order
to train his strength, he took up his arms, and with his brother
followed the king as he walked in front of them. Athisl, when he
saw them, stood his ground on the sand, thinking it shameful to
avoid threateners. Then they said that they would take vengeance
for his slaying of Frowin, especially as he avowed with so many
arrogant vaunts that he alone was his slayer. But he told them
to take heed lest while they sought to compass their revenge,
they should be so foolhardy as to engage him with their feeble
and powerless hand, and while desiring the destruction of
another, should find they had fallen themselves. Thus they would
cut off their goodly promise of overhasty thirst for glory. Let
them then save their youth and spare their promise; let them not
be seized so lightly with a desire to perish. Therefore, let
them suffer him to requite with money the trespass done them in
their father's death, and account it great honour that they would
be credited with forcing so mighty a chief to pay a fine, and in
a manner with shaking him with overmastering fear. Yet he said
he advised them thus, not because he was really terrified, but
because he was moved with compassion for their youth. Ket
replied that it was idle to waste time in beating so much about
the bush and trying to sap their righteous longing for revenge by
an offer of pelf. So he bade him come forward and make trial
with him in single combat of whatever strength he had. He
himself would do without the aid of his brother, and would fight
with his own strength, lest it should appear a shameful and
unequal combat, for the ancients held it to be unfair, and also
infamous, for two men to fight against one; and a victory gained
by this kind of fighting they did not account honourable, but
more like a disgrace than a glory. Indeed, it was considered not
only a poor, but a most shameful exploit for two men to overpower

But Athisl was filled with such assurance that he bade them both
assail him at once, declaring that if he could not cure them of
the desire to fight, he would at least give them the chance of
fighting more safely. But Ket shrank so much from this favour
that he swore he would accept death sooner: for he thought that
the terms of battle thus offered would be turned into a reproach
to himself. So he engaged hotly with Athisl, who desirous to
fight him in a forbearing fashion, merely thrust lightly with his
blade and struck upon his shield; thus guarding his own safety
with more hardihood than success. When he had done this some
while, he advised him to take his brother to share in his
enterprise, and not be ashamed to ask for the help of another
hand, since his unaided efforts were useless. If he refused,
said Athisl, he should not be spared; then making good his
threats, he assailed him with all his might. But Ket received
him with so sturdy a stroke of his sword, that it split the
helmet and forced its way down upon the head. Stung by the wound
(for a stream of blood flowed from his poll), he attacked Ket
with a shower of nimble blows, and drove him to his knees. Wig,
leaning more to personal love than to general usage, (2) could
not bear the sight, but made affection conquer shame, and
attacking Athisl, chose rather to defend the weakness of his
brother than to look on at it. But he won more infamy than glory
by the deed. In helping his brother he had violated the
appointed conditions of the duel; and the help that he gave him
was thought more useful than honourable. For on the one scale he
inclined to the side of disgrace, and on the other to that of
affection. Thereupon they perceived themselves that their
killing of Athisl had been more swift than glorious. Yet, not to
hide the deed from the common people, they cut off his head,
slung his body on a horse, took it out of the wood, and handed it
over to the dwellers in a village near, announcing that the sons
of Frowin had taken vengeance upon Athisl, King of the Swedes,
for the slaying of their father. Boasting of such a victory as
this, they were received by Wermund with the highest honours; for
he thought they had done a most useful deed, and he preferred to
regard the glory of being rid of a rival with more attention than
the infamy of committing an outrage. Nor did he judge that the
killing of a tyrant was in any wise akin to shame. It passed
into a proverb among foreigners, that the death of the king had
broken down the ancient principle of combat.

When Wermund was losing his sight by infirmity of age, the King
of Saxony, thinking that Denmark lacked a leader, sent envoys
ordering him to surrender to his charge the kingdom which he held
beyond the due term of life; lest, if he thirsted to hold sway
too long, he should strip his country of laws and defence. For
how could he be reckoned a king, whose spirit was darkened with
age, and his eyes with blindness not less black and awful? If he
refused, but yet had a son who would dare to accept a challenge
and fight with his son, let him agree that the victor should
possess the realm. But if he approved neither offer, let him
learn that he must be dealt with by weapons and not by warnings;
and in the end he must unwillingly surrender what he was too
proud at first to yield uncompelled. Wermund, shaken by deep
sighs, answered that it was too insolent to sting him with these
taunts upon his years; for he had passed no timorous youth, nor
shrunk from battle, that age should bring him to this extreme
misery. It was equally unfitting to cast in his teeth the
infirmity of his blindness: for it was common for a loss of this
kind to accompany such a time of life as his, and it seemed a
calamity fitter for sympathy than for taunts. It were juster to
fix the blame on the impatience of the King of Saxony, whom it
would have beseemed to wait for the old man's death, and not
demand his throne; for it was somewhat better to succeed to the
dead than to rob the living. Yet, that he might not be thought
to make over the honours of his ancient freedom, like a madman,
to the possession of another, he would accept the challenge with
his own hand. The envoys answered that they knew that their king
would shrink from the mockery of fighting a blind man, for such
an absurd mode of combat was thought more shameful than
honourable. It would surely be better to settle the affair by
means of their offspring on either side. The Danes were in
consternation, and at a sudden loss for a reply: but Uffe, who
happened to be there with the rest, craved his father's leave to
answer; and suddenly the dumb as it were spake. When Wermund
asked who had thus begged leave to speak, and the attendants said
that it was Uffe, he declared that it was enough that the
insolent foreigner should jeer at the pangs of his misery,
without those of his own household vexing him with the same
wanton effrontery. But the courtiers persistently averred that
this man was Uffe; and the king said: "He is free, whosoever he
be, to say out what he thinks." Then said Uffe, "that it was
idle for their king to covet a realm which could rely not only on
the service of its own ruler, but also on the arms and wisdom of
most valiant nobles. Moreover, the king did not lack a son nor
the kingdom an heir; and they were to know that he had made up
his mind to fight not only the son of their king, but also, at
the same time, whatsoever man the prince should elect as his
comrade out of the bravest of their nation."

The envoys laughed when they beard this, thinking it idle lip-
courage. Instantly the ground for the battle was agreed on, and
a fixed time appointed. But the bystanders were so amazed by the
strangeness of Uffe's speaking and challenging, that one can
scarce say if they were more astonished at his words or at his

But on the departure of the envoys Wermund praised him who had
made the answer, because he had proved his confidence in his own
valour by challenging not one only, but two; and said that he
would sooner quit his kingdom for him, whoever he was, than for
an insolent foe. But when one and all testified that he who with
lofty self-confidence had spurned the arrogance of the envoys was
his own son, he bade him come nearer to him, wishing to test with
his hands what he could not with his eyes. Then he carefully
felt his body, and found by the size of his limbs and by his
features that he was his son; and then began to believe their
assertions, and to ask him why he had taken pains to hide so
sweet an eloquence with such careful dissembling, and had borne
to live through so long a span of life without utterance or any
intercourse of talk, so as to let men think him utterly incapable
of speech, and a born mute. He replied that he had been hitherto
satisfied with the protection of his father, that he had not
needed the use of his own voice, until he saw the wisdom of his
own land hard pressed by the glibness of a foreigner. The king
also asked him why he had chosen to challenge two rather than
one. He said he had desired this mode of combat in order that
the death of King Athisl, which, having been caused by two men,
was a standing reproach to the Danes, might be balanced by the
exploit of one, and that a new ensample of valour might erase the
ancient record of their disgrace. Fresh honour, he said, would
thus obliterate the guilt of their old dishonour.

Wermund said that his son had judged all things rightly, and bade
him first learn the use of arms, since he had been little
accustomed to them. When they were offered to Uffe, he split the
narrow links of the mail-coats by the mighty girth of his chest,
nor could any be found large enough to hold him properly. For he
was too hugely built to be able to use the arms of any other man.
At last, when he was bursting even his father's coat of mail by
the violent compression of his body, Wermund ordered it to be cut
away on the left side and patched with a buckle; thinking it
mattered little if the side guarded by the shield were exposed to
the sword. He also told him to be most careful in fixing on a
sword which he could use safely. Several were offered him; but
Uffe, grasping the hilt, shattered them one after the other into
flinders by shaking them, and not a single blade was of so hard a
temper but at the first blow he broke it into many pieces. But
the king had a sword of extraordinary sharpness, called "Skrep",
which at a single blow of the smiter struck straight through and
cleft asunder any obstacle whatsoever; nor would aught be hard
enough to check its edge when driven home. The king, loth to
leave this for the benefit of posterity, and greatly grudging
others the use of it, had buried it deep in the earth, meaning,
since he had no hopes of his son's improvement, to debar everyone
else from using it. But when he was now asked whether he had a
sword worthy of the strength of Uffe, he said that he had one
which, if he could recognize the lie of the ground and find what
he had consigned long ago to earth, he could offer him as worthy
of his bodily strength. Then he bade them lead him into a field,
and kept questioning his companions over all the ground. At last
he recognised the tokens, found the spot where he had buried the
sword, drew it out of its hole, and handed it to his son. Uffe
saw it was frail with great age and rusted away; and, not daring
to strike with it, asked if he must prove this one also like the
rest, declaring that he must try its temper before the battle
ought to be fought. Wermund replied that if this sword were
shattered by mere brandishing, there was nothing left which could
serve for such strength as his. He must, therefore, forbear from
the act, whose issue remained so doubtful.

So they repaired to the field of battle as agreed. It is fast
encompassed by the waters of the river Eider, which roll between,
and forbid any approach save by ship. Hither Uffe went
unattended, while the Prince of Saxony was followed by a champion
famous for his strength. Dense crowds on either side, eager to
see, thronged each winding bank, and all bent their eyes upon
this scene. Wermund planted himself on the end of the bridge,
determined to perish in the waters if defeat were the lot of his
son: he would rather share the fall of his own flesh and blood
than behold, with heart full of anguish, the destruction of his
own country. Both the warriors assaulted Uffe; but, distrusting
his sword, he parried the blows of both with his shield, being
determined to wait patiently and see which of the two he must
beware of most heedfully, so that he might reach that one at all
events with a single stroke of his blade. Wermund, thinking that
his feebleness was at fault, that he took the blows so patiently,
dragged himself little by little, in his longing for death,
forward to the western edge of the bridge, meaning to fling
himself down and perish, should all be over with his son.

Fortune shielded the old father, for Uffe told the prince to
engage with him more briskly, and to do some deed of prowess
worthy of his famous race; lest the lowborn squire should seem
braver than the prince. Then, in order to try the bravery of the
champion, he bade him not skulk timorously at his master's heels,
but requite by noble deeds of combat the trust placed in him by
his prince, who had chosen him to be his single partner in the
battle. The other complied, and when shame drove him to fight at
close quarters, Uffe clove him through with the first stroke of
his blade. The sound revived Wermund, who said that he heard the
sword of his son, and asked "on what particular part he had dealt
the blow?" Then the retainers answered that it had gone through
no one limb, but the man's whole frame; whereat Wermund drew back
from the precipice and came on the bridge, longing now as
passionately to live as he had just wished to die. Then Uffe,
wishing to destroy his remaining foe after the fashion of the
first, incited the prince with vehement words to offer some
sacrifice by way of requital to the shade of the servant slain in
his cause. Drawing him by those appeals, and warily noting the
right spot to plant his blow, he turned the other edge of his
sword to the front, fearing that the thin side of his blade was
too frail for his strength, and smote with a piercing stroke
through the prince's body. When Wermund heard it, he said that
the sound of his sword "Skrep" had reached his ear for the second
time. Then, when the judges announced that his son had killed
both enemies, he burst into tears from excess of joy. Thus
gladness bedewed the cheeks which sorrow could not moisten. So
while the Saxons, sad and shamefaced, bore their champions to
burial with bitter shame, the Danes welcomed Uffe and bounded for
joy. Then no more was heard of the disgrace of the murder of
Athisl, and there was an end of the taunts of the Saxons.

Thus the realm of Saxony was transferred to the Danes, and Uffe,
after his father, undertook its government; and he, who had not
been thought equal to administering a single kingdom properly,
was now appointed to manage both. Most men have called him Olaf,
and he has won the name of "the Gentle" for his forbearing
spirit. His later deeds, lost in antiquity, have lacked formal
record. But it may well be supposed that when their beginnings
were so notable, their sequel was glorious. I am so brief in
considering his doings, because the lustre of the famous men of
our nation has been lost to memory and praise by the lack of
writings. But if by good luck our land had in old time been
endowed with the Latin tongue, there would have been countless
volumes to read of the exploits of the Danes.

Uffe was succeeded by his son DAN, who carried his arms against
foreigners, and increased his sovereignty with many a trophy; but
he tarnished the brightness of the glory he had won by foul and
abominable presumption; falling so far away from the honour of
his famous father, who surpassed all others in modesty, that he
contrariwise was puffed up and proudly exalted in spirit, so that
he scorned all other men. He also squandered the goods of his
father on infamies, as well as his own winnings from the spoils
of foreign nations; and he devoured in expenditure on luxuries
the wealth which should have ministered to his royal estate.
Thus do sons sometimes, like monstrous births, degenerate from
their ancestors.

After this HUGLEIK was king, who is said to have defeated in
battle at sea Homod and Hogrim, the despots of Sweden.

To him succeeded FRODE, surnamed the Vigorous, who bore out his
name by the strength of his body and mind. He destroyed in war
ten captains of Norway, and finally approached the island which
afterwards had its name from him, meaning to attack the king
himself last of all. This king, Froger, was in two ways very
distinguished, being notable in arms no less than in wealth; and
graced his sovereignty with the deeds of a champion, being as
rich in prizes for bodily feats as in the honours of rank.
According to some, he was the son of Odin, and when he begged the
immortal gods to grant him a boon, received the privilege that no
man should conquer him, save he who at the time of the conflict
could catch up in his hand the dust lying beneath Froger's feet.
When Frode found that Heaven had endowed this king with such
might, he challenged him to a duel, meaning to try to outwit the
favour of the gods. So at first, feigning inexperience, he
besought the king for a lesson in fighting, knowing (he said) his
skill and experience in the same. The other, rejoicing that his
enemy not only yielded to his pretensions, but even made him a
request, said that he was wise to submit his youthful mind to an
old man's wisdom; for his unscarred face and his brow, ploughed
by no marks of battle, showed that his knowledge of such matters
was but slender. So he marked off on the ground two square
spaces with sides an ell long, opposite one another, meaning to
begin by instructing him about the use of these plots. When they
had been marked off, each took the side assigned to him. Then
Frode asked Froger to exchange arms and ground with him, and the
request was readily granted. For Froger was excited with the
dashing of his enemy's arms, because Frode wore a gold-hilted
sword, a breastplate equally bright, and a headpiece most
brilliantly adorned in the same manner. So Frode caught up some
dust from the ground whence Froger had gone, and thought that he
had been granted an omen of victory. Nor was he deceived in his
presage; for he straightway slew Froger, and by this petty trick
won the greatest name for bravery; for he gained by craft what
had been permitted to no man's strength before.

After him DAN came to the throne. When he was in the twelfth
year of his age, he was wearied by the insolence of the
embassies, which commanded him either to fight the Saxons or to
pay them tribute. Ashamed, he preferred fighting to payment and
was moved to die stoutly rather than live a coward. So he
elected to fight; and the warriors of the Danes filled the Elbe
with such a throng of vessels, that the decks of the ships lashed
together made it quite easy to cross, as though along a
continuous bridge. The end was that the King of Saxony had to
accept the very terms he was demanding from the Danes.

After Dan, FRIDLEIF, surnamed the Swift, assumed the sovereignty.
During his reign, Huyrwil, the lord of Oland, made a league with
the Danes and attacked Norway. No small fame was added to his
deeds by the defeat of the amazon Rusila, who aspired with
military ardour to prowess in battle: but he gained manly glory
over a female foe. Also he took into his alliance, on account of
their deeds of prowess, her five partners, the children of Finn,
named Brodd, Bild, Bug, Fanning, and Gunholm. Their confederacy
emboldened him to break the treaty which he made with the Danes;
and the treachery of the violation made it all the more
injurious, for the Danes could not believe that he could turn so
suddenly from a friend into an enemy; so easily can some veer
from goodwill into hate. I suppose that this man inaugurated the
morals of our own day, for we do not account lying and treachery
as sinful and sordid. When Huyrwil attacked the southern side of
Zealand, Fridleif assailed him in the harbour which was
afterwards called by Huyrwil's name. In this battle the
soldiers, in their rivalry for glory, engaged with such bravery
that very few fled to escape peril, and both armies were utterly
destroyed; nor did the victory fall to either side, where both
were enveloped in an equal ruin. So much more desirous were they
all of glory than of life. So the survivors of Huyrwil's army,
in order to keep united, had the remnants of their fleet lashed
together at night. But, in the same night, Bild and Brodd cut
the cables with which the ships were joined, and stealthily
severed their own vessels from the rest, thus yielding to their
own terrors by deserting their brethren, and obeying the impulses
of fear rather than fraternal love. When daylight returned,
Fridleif, finding that after the great massacre of their friends
only Huyrwil, Gunholm, Bug, and Fanning were left, determined to
fight them all single-handed, so that the mangled relics of his
fleet might not again have to be imperilled. Besides his innate
courage, a shirt of steel-defying mail gave him confidence; a
garb which he used to wear in all public battles and in duels, as
a preservative of his life. He accomplished his end with as much
fortune as courage, and ended the battle successfully. For,
after slaying Huyrwil, Bug, and Fanning, he killed Gunholm, who
was accustomed to blunt the blade of an enemy with spells, by a
shower of blows from his hilt. But while he gripped the blade
too eagerly, the sinews, being cut and disabled, contracted the
fingers upon the palm, and cramped them with life-long curvature.

While Fridleif was besieging Dublin, a town in Ireland, and saw
from the strength of the walls that there was no chance of
storming them, he imitated the shrewd wit of Hadding, and ordered
fire to be shut up in wicks and fastened to the wings of
swallows. When the birds got back in their own nesting-place,
the dwellings suddenly flared up; and while the citizens all ran
up to quench them, and paid more heed to abating the fire than to
looking after the enemy, Fridleif took Dublin. After this he
lost his soldiers in Britain, and, thinking that he would find it
hard to get back to the coast, he set up the corpses of the slain
(Amleth's device) and stationed them in line, thus producing so
nearly the look of his original host that its great reverse
seemed not to have lessened the show of it a whit. By this deed
he not only took out of the enemy all heart for fighting, but
inspired them with the desire to make their escape.

(1) Jellinge. Lat. "Ialunga", Icel. "Jalangr".
(2) General usage. "publicus consuetudini": namely, the rule of
combat that two should not fight against one.


After the death of Fridleif, his son FRODE, aged seven, was
elected in his stead by the unanimous decision of the Danes. But
they held an assembly first, and judged that the minority of the
king should be taken in charge by guardians, lest the sovereignty
should pass away owing to the boyishness of the ruler. For one
and all paid such respect to the name and memory of Fridleif,
that the royalty was bestowed on his son despite his tender
years. So a selection was made, and the brothers Westmar and
Koll were summoned to the charge of bringing up the king. Isulf,
also, and Agg and eight other men of mark were not only entrusted
with the guardianship of the king, but also granted authority to
administer the realm under him. These men were rich in strength
and courage, and endowed with ample gifts of mind as well as of
body. Thus the state of the Danes was governed with the aid of
regents until the time when the king should be a man.

The wife of Koll was Gotwar, who used to paralyse the most
eloquent and fluent men by her glib and extraordinary insolence;
for she was potent in wrangling, and full of resource in all
kinds of disputation. Words were her weapons; and she not only
trusted in questions, but was armed with stubborn answers. No
man could subdue this woman, who could not fight, but who found
darts in her tongue instead. Some she would argue down with a
flood of impudent words, while others she seemed to entangle in
the meshes of her quibbles, and strangle in the noose of her
sophistries; so nimble a wit had the woman. Moreover, she was
very strong, either in making or cancelling a bargain, and the
sting of her tongue was the secret of her power in both. She was
clever both at making and at breaking leagues; thus she had two
sides to her tongue, and used it for either purpose.

Westmar had twelve sons, three of whom had the same name -- Grep
in common. These three men were conceived at once and
delivered at one birth, and their common name declared their
simultaneous origin. They were exceedingly skillful swordsmen
and boxers. Frode had also given the supremacy of the sea to
Odd; who was very closely related to the king. Koll rejoiced in
an offspring of three sons. At this time a certain son of
Frode's brother held the chief command of naval affairs for the
protection of the country, Now the king had a sister, Gunwar,
surnamed the Fair because of her surpassing beauty. The sons of
Westmar and Koll, being ungrown in years and bold in spirit, let
their courage become recklessness and devoted their guilt-stained
minds to foul and degraded orgies.

Their behaviour was so outrageous and uncontrollable that they
ravished other men's brides and daughters, and seemed to have
outlawed chastity and banished it to the stews. Nay, they
defiled the couches of matrons, and did not even refrain from the
bed of virgins. A man's own chamber was no safety to him: there
was scarce a spot in the land but bore traces of their lust.
Husbands were vexed with fear, and wives with insult to their
persons: and to these wrongs folk bowed. No ties were respected,
and forced embraces became a common thing. Love was prostituted,
all reverence for marriage ties died out, and lust was greedily
run after. And the reason of all this was the peace; for men's
bodies lacked exercise and were enervated in the ease so
propitious to vices. At last the eldest of those who shared the
name of Grep, wishing to regulate and steady his promiscuous
wantonness, ventured to seek a haven for his vagrant amours in
the love of the king's sister. Yet he did amiss. For though it
was right that his vagabond and straying delights should be
bridled by modesty, yet it was audacious for a man of the people
to covet the child of a king. She, much fearing the impudence of
her wooer, and wishing to be safer from outrage, went into a
fortified building. Thirty attendants were given to her, to keep
guard and constant watch over her person.

Now the comrades of Frode, sadly lacking the help of women in the
matter of the wear of their garments, inasmuch as they had no
means of patching or of repairing rents, advised and urged the
king to marry. At first he alleged his tender years as an
excuse, but in the end yielded to the persistent requests of his
people. And when he carefully inquired of his advisers who would
be a fit wife for him, they all praised the daughter of the King
of the Huns beyond the rest. When the question was pushed, what
reason Frode had for objecting to her, he replied that he had
heard from his father that it was not expedient for kings to seek
alliance far afield, or to demand love save from neighbours.
When Gotwar heard this she knew that the king's resistance to his
friends was wily. Wishing to establish his wavering spirit, and
strengthen the courage of his weakling soul, she said: "Bridals
are for young men, but the tomb awaits the old. The steps of
youth go forward in desires and in fortune; but old age declines
helpless to the sepulchre. Hope attends youth; age is bowed with
hopeless decay. The fortune of young men increases; it will
never leave unfinished what it begins." Respecting her words, he
begged her to undertake the management of the suit. But she
refused, pleading her age as her pretext, and declaring herself
too stricken in years to bear so difficult a commission. The
king saw that a bribe was wanted, and, proffering a golden
necklace, promised it as the reward of her embassy. For the
necklace had links consisting of studs, and figures of kings
interspersed in bas-relief, which could be now separated and now
drawn together by pulling a thread inside; a gewgaw devised more
for luxury than use. Frode also ordered that Westmar and Koll,
with their sons, should be summoned to go on the same embassy,
thinking that their cunning would avoid the shame of a rebuff.

They went with Gotwar, and were entertained by the King of the
Huns at a three days' banquet, ere they uttered the purpose of
their embassy. For it was customary of old thus to welcome
guests. When the feast had been prolonged three days, the
princess came forth to make herself pleasant to the envoys with a
most courteous address, and her blithe presence added not a
little to the festal delights of the banqueters. And as the
drink went faster Westmar revealed his purpose in due course, in
a very merry declaration, wishing to sound the mind of the maiden
in talk of a friendly sort. And, in order not to inflict on
himself a rebuff, he spoke in a mirthful vein, and broke the
ground of his mission, by venturing to make up a sportive speech
amid the applause of the revellers. The princess said that she
disdained Frode because he lacked honour and glory. For in days
of old no men were thought fit for the hand of high-born women
but those who had won some great prize of glory by the lustre of
their admirable deeds. Sloth was the worst of vices in a suitor,
and nothing was more of a reproach in one who sought marriage
than the lack of fame. A harvest of glory, and that alone, could
bring wealth in everything else. Maidens admired in their wooers
not so much good looks as deeds nobly done. So the envoys,
flagging and despairing of their wish, left the further conduct
of the affair to the wisdom of Gotwar, who tried to subdue the
maiden not only with words but with love-philtres, and began to
declare that Frode used his left hand as well as his right, and
was a quick and skillful swimmer and fighter. Also by the drink
which she gave she changed the strictness of the maiden to
desire, and replaced her vanished anger with love and delight.
Then she bade Westmar, Koll, and their sons go to the king and
urge their mission afresh; and finally, should they find him
froward, to anticipate a rebuff by a challenge to fight.

So Westmar entered the palace with his men-at-arms, and said:
"Now thou must needs either consent to our entreaties, or meet in
battle us who entreat thee. We would rather die nobly than go
back with our mission unperformed; lest, foully repulsed and
foiled of our purpose, we should take home disgrace where we
hoped to will honour. If thou refuse thy daughter, consent to
fight: thou must needs grant one thing or the other. We wish
either to die or to have our prayers beard. Something -- sorrow
if not joy -- we will get from thee. Frode will be better
pleased to hear of our slaughter than of our repulse." Without
another word, he threatened to aim a blow at the king's throat
with his sword. The king replied that it was unseemly for the
royal majesty to meet an inferior in rank in level combat, and
unfit that those of unequal station should fight as equals. But
when Westmar persisted in urging him to fight, he at last bade
him find out what the real mind of the maiden was; for in old
time men gave women who were to marry, free choice of a husband.
For the king was embarrassed, and hung vacillating betwixt shame
and fear of battle. Thus Westmar, having been referred to the
thoughts of the girl's heart, and knowing that every woman is as
changeable in purpose as she is fickle in soul, proceeded to
fulfil his task all the more confidently because he knew how
mutable the wishes of maidens were. His confidence in his charge
was increased and his zeal encouraged, because she had both a
maiden's simplicity, which was left to its own counsels, and a
woman's freedom of choice, which must be wheedled with the most
delicate and mollifying flatteries; and thus she would be not
only easy to lead away, but even hasty in compliance. But her
father went after the envoys, that he might see more surely into
his daughter's mind. She had already been drawn by the stealthy
working of the draught to love her suitor, and answered that the
promise of Frode, rather than his present renown, had made her
expect much of his nature: since he was sprung from so famous a
father, and every nature commonly answered to its origin. The
youth therefore had pleased her by her regard of his future,
rather than his present, glory. These words amazed the father;
but neither could he bear to revoke the freedom he had granted
her, and he promised her in marriage to Frode. Then, having laid
in ample stores, he took her away with the most splendid pomp,
and, followed by the envoys, hastened to Denmark, knowing that a
father was the best person to give away a daughter in marriage.
Frode welcomed his bride most joyfully, and also bestowed the
highest honours upon his future royal father-in-law; and when the
marriage rites were over, dismissed him with a large gift of gold
and silver.

And so with Hanund, the daughter of the King of the Huns, for his
wife, he passed three years in the most prosperous peace. But
idleness brought wantonness among his courtiers, and peace begot
lewdness, which they displayed in the most abominable crimes.
For they would draw some men up in the air on ropes, and torment
them, pushing their bodies as they hung, like a ball that is
tossed; or they would put a kid's hide under the feet of others
as they walked, and, by stealthily pulling a rope, trip their
unwary steps on the slippery skill in their path; others they
would strip of their clothes, and lash with sundry tortures of
stripes; others they fastened to pegs, as with a noose, and
punished with mock-hanging. They scorched off the beard and hair
with tapers; of others they burned the hair of the groin with a
brand. Only those maidens might marry whose chastity they had
first deflowered. Strangers they battered with bones; others
they compelled to drunkenness with immoderate draughts, and made
them burst. No man might give his daughter to wife unless he had
first bought their favour and goodwill. None might contract any
marriage without first purchasing their consent with a bribe.
Moreover, they extended their abominable and abandoned lust not
only to virgins, but to the multitude of matrons
indiscriminately. Thus a twofold madness incited this mixture of
wantonness and frenzy. Guests and strangers were proffered not
shelter but revilings. All these maddening mockeries did this
insolent and wanton crew devise, and thus under a boy-king
freedom fostered licence. For nothing prolongs reckless sin like
the procrastination of punishment and vengeance. This unbridled
impudence of the soldiers ended by making the king detested, not
only by foreigners, but even by his own people, for the Danes
resented such an arrogant and cruel rule. But Grep was contented
with no humble loves; he broke out so outrageously that he was
guilty of intercourse with the queen, and proved as false to the
king as he was violent to all other men. Then by degrees the
scandal grew, and the suspicion of his guilt crept on with silent
step. The common people found it out before the king. For Grep,
by always punishing all who alluded in the least to this
circumstance, had made it dangerous to accuse him. But the
rumour of his crime, which at first was kept alive in whispers,
was next passed on in public reports; for it is hard for men to
hide another's guilt if they are aware of it. Gunwar had many
suitors; and accordingly Grep, trying to take revenge for his
rebuff by stealthy wiles, demanded the right of judging the
suitors, declaring that the princess ought to make the choicest
match. But he disguised his anger, lest he should seem to have
sought the office from hatred of the maiden. At his request the
king granted him leave to examine the merits of the young men.
So he first gathered all the wooers of Gunwar together on the
pretence of a banquet, and then lined the customary room of the
princess with their heads -- a gruesome spectacle for all the
rest. Yet he forfeited none of his favour with Frode, nor abated
his old intimacy with him. For he decided that any opportunity
of an interview with the king must be paid for, and gave out that
no one should have any conversation with him who brought no
presents. Access, he announced, to so great a general must be
gained by no stale or usual method, but by making interest most
zealously. He wished to lighten the scandal of his cruelty by
the pretence of affection to his king. The people, thus
tormented, vented their complaint of their trouble in silent
groans. None had the spirit to lift up his voice in public
against this season of misery. No one had become so bold as to
complain openly of the affliction that was falling upon them.
Inward resentment vexed the hearts of men, secretly indeed, but
all the more bitterly.

When Gotar, the King of Norway, heard this, he assembled his
soldiers, and said that the Danes were disgusted with their own
king, and longed for another if they could get the opportunity;
that he had himself resolved to lead an army thither, and that
Denmark would be easy to seize if attacked. Frode's government
of his country was as covetous as it was cruel. Then Erik rose
up and gainsaid the project with contrary reasons. "We
remember," he said, "how often coveters of other men's goods lose
their own. He who snatches at both has oft lost both. It must
be a very strong bird that can wrest the prey from the claws of
another. It is idle for thee to be encouraged by the internal
jealousies of the country, for these are oft blown away by the
approach of an enemy. For though the Danes now seem divided in
counsel, yet they will soon be of one mind to meet the foe. The
wolves have often made peace between the quarrelling swine.
Every man prefers a leader of his own land to a foreigner, and
every province is warmer in loyalty to a native than to a
stranger king. For Frode will not await thee at home, but will
intercept thee abroad as thou comest. Eagles claw each other
with their talons, and fowls fight fronting. Thou thyself
knowest that the keen sight of the wise man must leave no cause
for repentance. Thou hast an ample guard of nobles. Keep thou
quiet as thou art; indeed thou wilt almost be able to find out by
means of others what are thy resources for war. Let the soldiers
first try the fortunes of their king. Provide in peace for thine
own safety, and risk others if thou dost undertake the
enterprise: better that the slave should perish than the master.
Let thy servant do for thee what the tongs do for the smith, who
by the aid of his iron tool guards his hand from scorching, and
saves his fingers from burning. Learn thou also, by using thy
men, to spare and take thought for thyself."

So spake Erik, and Gotar, who had hitherto held him a man of no
parts, now marvelled that he had graced his answer with sentences
so choice and weighty, and gave him the name of Shrewd-spoken,
thinking that his admirable wisdom deserved some title. For the
young man's reputation had been kept in the shade by the
exceeding brilliancy of his brother Roller. Erik begged that
some substantial gift should be added to the name, declaring that
the bestowal of the title ought to be graced by a present
besides. The king gave him a ship, and the oarsmen called it
"Skroter." Now Erik and Roller were the sons of Ragnar, the
champion, and children of one father by different mothers;
Roller's mother and Erik's stepmother was named Kraka.

And so, by leave of Gotar, the task of making a raid on the Danes
fell to one Hrafn. He was encountered by Odd, who had at that
time the greatest prestige among the Danes as a rover, for he was
such a skilled magician that he could range over the sea without
a ship, and could often raise tempests by his spells, and wreck
the vessels of the enemy. Accordingly, that he might not have to
condescend to pit his sea-forces against the rovers, he used to
ruffle the waters by enchantment, and cause them to shipwreck his
foes. To traders this man was ruthless, but to tillers of the
soil he was merciful, for he thought less of merchandise than of
the plough-handle, but rated the clean business of the country
higher than the toil for filthy lucre. When he began to fight
with the Northmen he so dulled the sight of the enemy by the
power of his spells that they thought the drawn swords of the
Danes cast their beams from afar off, and sparkled as if aflame.
Moreover, their vision was so blunted that they could not so much
as look upon the sword when it was drawn from the sheath: the
dazzle was too much for their eyesight, which could not endure
the glittering mirage. So Hrafn and many of his men were slain,
and only six vessels slipped back to Norway to teach the king
that it was not so easy to crush the Danes. The survivors also
spread the news that Frode trusted only in the help of his
champions, and reigned against the will of his people, for his
rule had become a tyranny.

In order to examine this rumour, Roller, who was a great
traveller abroad, and eager to visit unknown parts, made a vow
that he would get into the company of Frode. But Erik declared
that, splendid as were his bodily parts, he had been rash in
pronouncing the vow. At last, seeing him persisting stubbornly
in his purpose, Erik bound himself under a similar vow; and the
king promised them that he would give them for companions
whomsoever they approved by their choice. The brethren,
therefore, first resolved to visit their father and beg for the
stores and the necessaries that were wanted for so long a
journey. He welcomed them paternally, and on the morrow took
them to the forest to inspect the herd, for the old man was
wealthy in cattle. Also he revealed to them treasures which had
long lain hid in caverns of the earth; and they were suffered to
gather up whatsoever of these they would. The boon was accepted
as heartily as it was offered: so they took the riches out of the
ground, and bore away what pleased them.

Their rowers meanwhile were either refreshing themselves or
exercising their skill with casting weights. Some sped leaping,
some running; others tried their strength by sturdily hurling
stones; others tested their archery by drawing the bow. Thus
they essayed to strengthen themselves with divers exercises.
Some again tried to drink themselves into a drowse. Roller was
sent by his father to find out what had passed at home in the
meanwhile. And when he saw smoke coming from his mother's hut he
went up outside, and, stealthily applying his eye, saw through
the little chink and into the house, where he perceived his
mother stirring a cooked mess in an ugly-looking pot. Also he
looked up at three snakes hanging from above by a thin cord, from
whose mouths flowed a slaver which dribbled drops of moisture on
the meal. Now two of these were pitchy of hue, while the third
seemed to have whitish scales, and was hung somewhat higher than
the others. This last had a fastening on its tail, while the
others were held by a cord round their bellies. Roller thought
the affair looked like magic, but was silent on what he had seen,
that he might not be thought to charge his mother with sorcery.
For he did not know that the snakes were naturally harmless, or
how much strength was being brewed for that meal. Then Ragnar
and Erik came up, and, when they saw the smoke issuing from the
cottage, entered and went to sit at meat. When they were at
table, and Kraka's son and stepson were about to eat together,
she put before them a small dish containing a piebald mess, part
looking pitchy, but spotted with specks of yellow, while part
was whitish: the pottage having taken a different hue answering
to the different appearance of the snakes. And when each had
tasted a single morsel, Erik, judging the feast not by the
colours but by the inward strengthening effected, turned the dish
around very quickly, and transferred to himself the part which
was black but compounded of stronger juices; and, putting over to
Roller the whitish part which had first been set before himself,
throve more on his supper. And, to avoid showing that the
exchange was made on purpose, he said, "Thus does prow become
stern when the sea boils up." The man had no little shrewdness,
thus to use the ways of a ship to dissemble his cunning act.

So Erik, now refreshed by this lucky meal, attained by its inward
working to the highest pitch of human wisdom. For the potency of
the meal bred in him the fulness of all kinds of knowledge to an
incredible degree, so that he had cunning to interpret even the
utterances of wild beasts and cattle. For he was not only well
versed in all the affairs of men, but he could interpret the
particular feelings which brutes experienced from the sounds
which expressed them. He was also gifted with an eloquence so
courteous and graceful, that he adorned whatsoever he desired to
expound with a flow of witty adages. But when Kraka came up, and
found that the dish had been turned round, and that Erik had
eaten the stronger share of the meal, she lamented that the good
luck she had bred for her son should have passed to her stepson.
Soon she began to sigh, and entreat Eric that he should never
fail to help his brother, whose mother had heaped on him fortune
so rich and strange: for by tasting a single savoury meal he had
clearly attained sovereign wit and eloquence, besides the promise
of success in combat. She added also, that Roller was almost as
capable of good counsel, and that he should not utterly miss the
dainty that had been intended for him. She also told him that in
case of extreme and violent need, he could find speedy help by
calling on her name; declaring that she trusted partially in her
divine attributes, and that, consorting as she did in a manner
with the gods, she wielded an innate and heavenly power. Erik
said that he was naturally drawn to stand by his brother, and
that the bird was infamous which fouled its own nest. But Kraka
was more vexed by her own carelessness than weighed down by her
son's ill-fortune: for in old time it made a craftsman bitterly
ashamed to be outwitted by his own cleverness.

Then Kraka, accompanied by her husband, took away the brothers on
their journey to the sea. They embarked in a single ship, but
soon attached two others. They had already reached the coast of
Denmark, when, reconnoitering, they learned that seven ships had
come up at no great distance. Then Erik bade two men who could
speak the Danish tongue well, to go to them unclothed, and, in
order to spy better, to complain to Odd of their nakedness, as if

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