Saga of Magnus the Blind and of Harald Gille – PRELIMINARY REMARKS
Read the Saga of Magnus the Blind and of Harald Gille:
An age of conflict now begins in Norway. On his death, in 1130, Sigurd left his son Magnus and his brother Harald. They soon divided the government, and then entered upon a five-years’ conflict, until Magnus, in 1135, with eyes picked out, went into a convent.
The next year, 1136, a new pretender appeared in the person of Sigurd Slembe, who took King Harald’s life in 1137. Magnus died in 1139.
Other literature in regard to this epoch is “Fagrskinna” and “Morkinskinna”. The corresponding part of “Agrip” is lost.
Skalds quoted are: Haldor Skvaldre, Einar Skulason, and Ivar Ingemundson.
1. MAGNUS AND HARALD PROCLAIMED KINGS.
King Sigurd’s son Magnus was proclaimed in Oslo king of all the country immediately after his father’s death, according to the oath which the whole nation had sworn to King Sigurd; and many went into his service, and many became his lendermen. Magnus was the handsomest man then in Norway; of a passionate temper, and cruel, but distinguished in bodily exercises. The favour of the people he owed most to the respect for his father. He was a great drinker, greedy of money, hard, and obstinate.
Harald Gille, on the other hand, was very pleasing in intercourse, gay, and full of mirth; and so generous that he spared in nothing for the sake of his friends. He willingly listened to good advice, so that he allowed others to consult with him and give counsel. With all this he obtained favour and a good repute, and many men attached themselves as much to him as to King Magnus. Harald was in Tunsberg when he heard of his brother King Sigurd’s death. He called together his friends to a meeting, and it was resolved to hold the Hauga Thing ¹ there in the town. At this Thing, Harald was chosen king of half the country, and it was called a forced oath which had been taken from him to renounce his paternal heritage. Then Harald formed a court, and appointed lendermen; and very soon he had as many people about him as King Magnus. Then men went between them, and matters stood in this way for seven days; but King Magnus, finding he had fewer people, was obliged to give way, and to divide the kingdom with Harald into two parts. The kingdom accordingly was so divided (October 3, 1130) that each of them should have the half part of the kingdom which King Sigurd had possessed; but that King Magnus alone should inherit the fleet of ships, the table service, the valuable articles and the movable effects which had belonged to his father, King Sigurd. He was notwithstanding the least satisfied with his share. Although they were of such different dispositions, they ruled the country for some time in peace. King Harald had a son called Sigurd, by Thora, a daughter of Guthorm Grabarde. King Harald afterwards married Ingerid, a daughter of Ragnvald, who was a son of the Swedish King Inge Steinkelson. King Magnus was married to a daughter of Knut Lavard, and she was a sister of the Danish King Valdernar; but King Magnus having no affection for her, sent her back to Denmark; and from that day everything went ill with him, and he brought upon himself the enmity of her family.
¹ Hauga-thing means a Thing held at the tumuli or burial mounds.—L.
2. OF THE FORCES OF HARALD AND MAGNUS.
When the two relations, Harald and Magnus, had been about three years kings of Norway (A.D. 1131–1133), they both passed the fourth winter (A.D. 1134) in the town of Nidaros, and invited each other as guests; but their people were always ready for a fight. In spring King Magnus sailed southwards along the land with his fleet, and drew all the men he could obtain out of each district, and sounded his friends if they would strengthen him with their power to take the kingly dignity from Harald, and give him such a portion of the kingdom, as might be suitable; representing to them that King Harald had already renounced the kingdom by oath. King Magnus obtained the consent of many powerful men. The same spring Harald went to the Uplands, and by the upper roads eastwards to Viken; and when he heard what King Magnus was doing, he also drew together men on his side. Wheresoever the two parties went they killed the cattle, or even the people, upon the farms of the adverse party. King Magnus had by far the most people, for the main strength of the country lay open to him for collecting men from it. King Harald was in Viken on the east side of the fjord, and collected men, while they were doing each other damage in property and life. King Harald had with him Kristrod, his brother by his mother’s side, and many other lendermen; but King Magnus had many more. King Harald was with his forces at a place called Fors in Ranrike, and went from thence towards the sea. The evening before Saint Lawrence day (August 10), they had their supper at a place called Fyrileif, while the guard kept a watch on horseback all around the house. The watchmen observed King Magnus’s army hastening towards the house, and consisting of full 6000 men, while King Harald had but 1500. Now come the watchmen who had to bring the news to King Harald of what was going on and say that King Magnus’s army was now very near the town.
The king says, “What will my relation King Magnus Sigurdson have? He wants not surely to fight us.”
Thjostolf Alason replies, “You must certainly, sire, make preparation for that, both for yourself and your, men. King Magnus has been drawing together an army all the summer for the purpose of giving you battle when he meets you.”
Then King Harald stood up, and ordered his men to take their arms. “We shall fight, if our relative King Magnus wants to fight us.”
Then the war-horns sounded, and all Harald’s men went out from the house to an enclosed field, and set up their banners. King Harald had on two shirts of ring-mail, but his brother Kristrod had no armour on; and a gallant man he was. When King Magnus and his men saw King Harald’s troop they drew up and made their array, and made their line so long that they could surround the whole of King Harald’s troop. So says Haldor Skvaldre: —
“King Magnus on the battle-plain
From his long troop-line had great gain;
The plain was drenched with warm blood,
Which lay a red and reeking flood.”
3. BATTLE AT FYRILEIF.
King Magnus had the holy cross carried before him in this battle, and the battle was great and severe. The king’s brother, Kristrod, had penetrated with his troop into the middle of King Magnus’s array, and cut down on each side of him, so that people gave way before him everywhere. But a powerful bonde who was in King Harald’s array raised his spear with both hands, and drove it through between Kristrod’s shoulders, so that it came out at his breast; and thus fell Kristrod. Many who were near asked the bonde why he had done so foul a deed.
The bonde replies, “He knows the consequences now of slaughtering my cattle in summer, and taking all that was in my house, and forcing me to follow him here. I determined to give him some return when the opportunity came.”
After this King Harald’s army took to flight, and he fled himself, with all his men. Many fell; and Ingemar Sveinson of Ask, a great chief and lenderman, got there his death-wound, and nearly sixty of King Harald’s court-men also fell. Harald himself fled eastward to Viken to his ships, and went out of the country to King Eirik Eimune in Denmark, and found him in Seeland and sought aid from him. King Eirik received him well, and principally because they had sworn to each other to be as brothers ¹; and gave him Halland as a fief to rule over, and gave him seven long-ships, but without equipment. Thereafter King Harald went northwards through Halland, and many Northmen came to meet him. After this battle King Magnus subdued the whole country, giving life and safety to all who were wounded, and had them taken care of equally with his own men. He then called the whole country his own, and had a choice of the best men who were in the country. When they held a council among themselves afterwards, Sigurd Sigurdson, Thorer Ingeridson, and all the men of most understanding, advised that they should keep their forces together in Viken, and remain there, in case Harald should return from the south; but King Magnus would take his own way, and went north to Bergen. There he sat all winter (A.D. 1135), and allowed his men to leave him; on which the lendermen returned home to their own houses.
¹ These brotherhoods, by which one man was bound by oath to aid or avenge another, were common in the Middle Ages among all ranks. “Sworn brothers” is still a common expression with us.—L.
4. DEATH OF ASBJORN AND OF NEREID.
King Harald came to Konungahella with the men who had followed him from Denmark. The lendermen and town’s burgesses collected a force against him, which they drew up in a thick array above the town. King Harald landed from his ships, and sent a message to the bondes, desiring that they would not deny him his land, as he wanted no more than what of right belonged to him. Then mediators went between them; and it came to this, that the bondes dismissed their troops, and submitted to him. Thereupon he bestowed fiefs and property on the lendermen, that they might stand by him, and paid the bondes who joined him the lawful mulcts for what they had lost. A great body of men attached themselves, therefore, to King Harald; and he proceeded westwards to Viken, where he gave peace to all men, except to King Magnus’s people, whom he plundered and killed wherever he found them. And when he came west to Sarpsborg he took prisoners two of King Magnus s lendermen, Asbjorn and his brother Nereid; and gave them the choice that one should be hanged, and the other thrown into the Sarpsborg waterfall, and they might choose as they pleased. Asbjorn chose to be thrown into the cataract, for he was the elder of the two, and this death appeared the most dreadful; and so it was done. Halder Skvaldre tells of this: —
“Asbjorn, who opposed the king,
O’er the wild cataract they fling:
Nereid, who opposed the king,
Must on Hagbard’s high tree swing.
The king given food in many a way
To foul-mouthed beasts and birds of prey:
The generous men who dare oppose
Are treated as the worst of foes.”
Thereafter King Harald proceeded north to Tunsberg, where he was well received, and a large force gathered to him.
5. OF THE COUNSELS PROPOSED.
When King Magnus, who was in Bergen, heard these tidings, he called together all the chiefs who were in the town, and asked them their counsel, and what they should now do. Then Sigurd Sigurdson said, “Here I can give a good advice. Let a ship be manned with good men, and put me, or any other lenderman, to command it; send it to thy relation, King Harald, and offer him peace according to the conditions upright men may determine upon, and offer him the half of the kingdom. It appears to me probable that King Harald, by the words and counsel of good men, may accept this offer, and thus there may be a peace established between you.”
Then King Magnus replied, “This proposal I will not accept of; for of what advantage would it be, after we have gained the whole kingdom in summer to give away the half of it now? Give us some other counsel.”
Then Sigurd Sigurdson answered, “It appears to me, sire, that your lendermen who in autumn asked your leave to return home will now sit at home and will not come to you. At that time it was much against my advice that you dispersed so entirely the people we had collected; for I could well suppose that Harald would come back to Viken as soon as he heard that it was without a chief. Now there is still another counsel, and it is but a poor one; but it may turn out useful to us. Send out your pursuivants, and send other people with them, and let them go against the lendermen who will not join you in your necessity, and kill them; and bestow their property on others who will give you help although they may have been of small importance before. Let them drive together the people, the bad as well as the good; and go with the men you can thus assemble against King Harald, and give him battle.”
The king replies, “It would be unpopular to put to death people of distinction, and raise up inferior people who often break faith and law, and the country would be still worse off. I would like to hear some other counsel still.”
Sigurd replies, “It is difficult for me now to give advice, as you will neither make peace nor give battle. Let us go north to Throndhjem, where the main strength of the country is most inclined to our side; and on the way let us gather all the men we can. It may be that these Elfgrims will be tired of such a long stride after us.”
The king replies, “We must not fly from those whom we beat in summer. Give some better counsel still.”
Then Sigurd stood up and said, while he was preparing to go out, “I will now give you the counsel which I see you will take, and which must have its course. Sit here in Bergen until Harald comes with his troops, and then you will either suffer death or disgrace.”
And Sigurd remained no longer at that meeting.
6. OF HARALD’S FORCE.
King Harald came from the East along the coast with a great army, and this winter (A.D. 1135) is called on that account the Crowd-winter. King Harald came to Bergen on Christmas eve, and landed with his fleet at Floruvagar; but would not fight on account of the sacred time. But King Magnus prepared for defence in the town. He erected a stone-slinging machine out on the holm, and had iron chains and wooden booms laid across over the passage from the king’s house to Nordnes, and to the Monks bridge. He had foot-traps made, and thrown into Saint John’s field, and did not suspend these works except during the three sacred days of Christmas. The last holyday of Yule, King Harald ordered his war-horns to sound the gathering of his men for going to the town; and, during the Yule holydays, his army had been increased by about 900 men.
7. KING MAGNUS TAKEN PRISONER.
King Harald made a promise to King Olaf the Saint for victory, that he would build an Olaf’s church in the town at his own expense. King Magnus drew up his men in the Christ church yard; but King Harald laid his vessels first at Nordnes. Now when King Magnus and his people saw that, they turned round towards the town, and to the end of the shore; but as they passed through the streets many of the burgesses ran into their houses and homes, and those who went across the fields fell into the foot-traps. Then King Magnus and his men perceived that King Harald had rowed with all his men across to Hegravik, and landed there, and had gone from thence the upper road up the hill opposite the town. Now Magnus returned back again through the streets, and then his men fled from him in all directions; some up to the mountains, some up to the neighbourhood of the convent of nuns, some to churches, or hid themselves as they best could. King Magnus fled to his ship; but there was no possibility of getting away, for the iron chains outside prevented the passage of vessels. He had also but few men with him, and therefore could do nothing. Einar Skulason tells of this in the song of Harald: —
“For a whole week an iron chain
Cut off all sailing to the main:
Bergen’s blue stable was locked fast, —
Her floating wains could not get past.”
Soon after Harald’s people came out to the ships, and then King Magnus was made prisoner. He was sitting behind in the forecastle upon the chests of the high-seat, and at his side Hakon Fauk, his mother’s brother, who was very popular but was not considered very wise, and Ivar Assurson. They, and many others of King Magnus’s friends, were taken, and some of them killed on the spot.
8. KING MAGNUS MUTILATED.
Thereafter King Harald had a meeting of his counsellors, and desired their counsel; and in this meeting the judgment was given that Magnus should be deposed from his dominions, and should no longer be called king. Then he was delivered to the king’s slaves, who mutilated him, picked out both his eyes, cut off one foot, and at last castrated him. Ivar Assurson was blinded, and Hakon Fauk killed. The whole country then was reduced to obedience under King Harald. Afterwards it was diligently examined who were King Magnus’s best friends, or who knew most of his concealments of treasure or valuables. The holy cross King Magnus had kept beside him since the battle of Fyrileif, but would not tell where it was deposited for preservation. Bishop Reinald of Stavanger, who was an Englishman, was considered very greedy of money. He was a great friend of King Magnus, and it was thought likely that great treasure and valuables had been given into his keeping. Men were sent for him accordingly, and he came to Bergen, where it was insisted against him that he had some knowledge of such treasure; but he denied it altogether, would not admit it, and offered to clear himself by ordeal. King Harald would not have this, but laid on the bishop a money fine of fifteen marks of gold, which he should pay to the king. The bishop declared he would not thus impoverish his bishop’s see, but would rather offer his life. On this they hanged the bishop out on the holm, beside the sling machine. As he was going to the gallows he threw the sock from his foot, and said with an oath, “I know no more about King Magnus’s treasure than what is in this sock;” and in it there was a gold ring. Bishop Reinald was buried at Nordnes in Michael’s church, and this deed was much blamed. After this Harald Gille was sole king of Norway as long as he lived.
9. WONDERFUL OMENS IN KONUNGAHELLA.
Five years after King Sigurd’s death remarkable occurrences took place in Konungahella (A.D. 1135). Guthorm, a son of Harald Fletter, and Saemund Husfreyja, were at that time the king’s officers there. Saemund was married to Ingebjorg, a daughter of the priest Andres Brunson. Their sons were Paul Flip and Gunne Fis. Saemund’s natural son was called Asmund. Andres Brunson was a very remarkable man, who carried on divine service in the Cross church. His wife ¹ was called Solveig. Jon Loptson, who was then eleven years old, was in their house to be fostered and educated. The priest Lopt Saemundson, Jon’s father, was also in the town at that time. The priest Andres and Solveig had a daughter by name Helga, who was Einar’s wife. It happened now in Konungahella, the next Sunday night after Easter week, that there was a great noise in the streets through the whole town as if the king was going through with all his court-men. The dogs were so affected that nobody could hold them, but they slipped loose; and when they came out they ran mad, biting all that came in their way, people and cattle. All who were bitten by them till the blood came turned raging mad; and pregnant women were taken in labour prematurely, and became mad. From Easter to Ascension-day, these portentous circumstances took place almost every night. People were dreadfully alarmed at these wonders; and many made themselves ready to remove, sold their houses, and went out to the country districts, or to other towns. The most intelligent men looked upon it as something extremely remarkable; were in dread of it; and said, as it proved to be, that it was an omen of important events which had not yet taken place. And the priest Andres, on Whit Sunday, made a long and excellent speech, and turned the conclusion of it to the distressing situation of the townspeople; telling them to muster courage, and not lay waste their excellent town by deserting it, but rather to take the utmost care in all things, and use the greatest foresight against all dangers, as of fire or the enemy, and to pray to God to have mercy on them.
¹ The Catholic priests appear to have had wives at that time in Norway, and celibacy to have been confined to the monks. —L.
10. THE RISE OF WAR IN KONUNGAHELLA.
Thirteen loaded merchant ships made ready to leave the town, intending to proceed to Bergen; but eleven of them were lost, men and goods, and all that was in them; the twelfth was lost also, but the people were saved, although the cargo went to the bottom. At that time the priest Lopt went north to Bergen, with all that belonged to him, and arrived safely. The merchant vessels were lost on Saint Lawrence eve (August 10). The Danish king Eirik and the Archbishop Assur, both sent notice to Konungahella to keep watch on their town; and said the Vindland people had a great force on foot with which they made war far around on Christian people, and usually gained the victory. But the townspeople attended very little to this warning, were indifferent, and forgot more and more the dreadful omens the longer it was since they happened. On the holy Saint Lawrence day, while the words of high mass were spoken, came to the Vindland king Rettibur to Konungahella with 550 Vindland cutters, and in each cutter were forty-four men and two horses. The king’s sister’s son Dunimiz, and Unibur, a chief who ruled over many people, were with him. These two chiefs rowed at once, with a part of their troops, up the east arm of the Gaut river past Hising Isle, and thus came down to the town; but a part of the fleet lay in the western arm, and came so to the town. They made fast their ships at the piles, and landed their horses, and rode over the height of Bratsas, and from thence up around the town. Einar, a relation of priest Andres, brought these tidings up to the Castle church; for there the whole inhabitants of the town were gathered to hear high mass. Einar came just as the priest Andres was holding his discourse; and he told the people that an army was sailing up against the town with a great number of ships of war, and that some people were riding over Bratsas. Many said it must be the Danish king Eirik, and from him they might expect peace. The people ran down into the town to their properties, armed themselves, and went down upon the piers, whence they immediately saw there was an enemy and an immense army. Nine East-country trading vessels belonging to the merchants were afloat in the river at the piers. The Vindland people first directed their course toward these and fought with the merchants, who armed themselves, and defended themselves long, well, and manfully. There was a hard battle, and resistance, before the merchant vessels were cleared of their men; and in this conflict the Vindland people lost 150 of their ships, with all the men on board. When the battle was sharpest the townsmen stood upon the piers, and shot at the heathens. But when the fight slackened the burgesses fled up to the town, and from thence into the castle; and the men took with them all their valuable articles, and such goods as they could carry. Solveig and her daughters, with two other women, went on shore when the Vindlanders took possession of the merchant vessels. Now the Vindlanders landed, and mustered their men, and discovered their loss. Some of them went up into the town, some on board the merchant ships, and took all the goods they pleased; and then they set fire to the town, and burnt it and the ships. They hastened then with all their army to assault the castle.
11. THE SECOND BATTLE.
King Rettibur made an offer to those who were in the castle that they should go out, and he would give them their lives, weapons, clothes, silver, and gold; but all exclaimed against it, and went out on the fortification; some shot, some threw stones, some sharp stakes. It was a great battle, in which many fell on both sides, but by far the most of the Vindlanders. Solveig came up to a large farm called Solbjorg, and brought the news. A message war-token was there split, and sent out to Skurbagar, where there happened to be a joint ale-drinking feast, and many men were assembled. A bonde called Olver Miklimun (Mickle Mouth) was there, who immediately sprang up, took helmet and shield, and a great axe in his hand, and said, “Stand up, brave lads, and take your weapons. Let us go help the townspeople; for it would appear shameful to every man who heard of it, if we sit here sipping our ale, while good men in the town are losing their lives by our neglect.”
Many made an objection, and said they would only be losing their own lives, without being of any assistance to the townspeople.
Then said Olver, “Although all of you should hold back, I will go alone; and one or two heathens, at any rate, shall fall before I fall.”
He ran down to the town, and a few men after him to see what he would do, and also whether they could assist him in any way. When he came near the castle, and the heathens saw him, they sent out eight men fully armed against him; and when they met, the heathen men ran and surrounded him on all sides. Olver lifted his axe, and struck behind him with the extreme point of it, hitting the neck of the man who was coming up behind him, so that his throat and jawbone were cut through, and he fell dead backwards. Then he heaved his axe forwards, and struck the next man in the head, and clove him down to the shoulders. He then fought with the others, and killed two of them; but was much wounded himself. The four who remained took to flight, but Olver ran after them. There was a ditch before them, and two of the heathens jumped into it, and Olver killed them both; but he stuck fast himself in the ditch, so that two of the eight heathens escaped. The men who had followed Olver took him up, and brought him back to Skurbagar, where his wounds were bound and healed; and it was the talk of the people, that no single man had ever made such a bloody onset. Two lendermen, Sigurd Gyrdson, a brother of Philip, and Sigard, came with 600 men to Skurbagar; on which Sigurd turned back with 400 men. He was but little respected afterwards, and soon died. Sigard, on the other hand, proceeded with 200 men towards the town; and they gave battle to the heathens, and were all slain. While the Vindlanders were storming the castle, their king and his chiefs were out of the battle. At one place there was a man among the Vindlanders shooting with a bow, and killing a man for every arrow; and two men stood before him, and covered him with their shields. Then Saemund Husfreyja said to his son Asmund, that they should both shoot together at this bowman. “But I will shoot at the man who holds the shield before him.” He did so, and he knocked the shield down a little before the man; and in the same instant Asmund shot between the shields, and the arrow hit the bowman in the forehead, so that it came out at his neck, and he fell down dead. When the Vindlanders saw it they howled like dogs, or like wolves. Then King Rettibur called to them that he would give them safety and life, but they refused terms. The heathens again made a hard assault. One of the heathens in particular fought so bravely, and ventured so near, that he came quite up to the castle-gate, and pierced the man who stood outside the gate with his sword; and although they used both arrows and stones against him, and he had neither shield nor helmet, nothing could touch him, for he was so skilled in witchcraft that weapon could not wound him. Then priest Andres took consecrated fire; blew upon it; cut tinder in pieces, and laid it on the fire; and then laid the tinder on the arrow-point, and gave it to Asmund. He shot this arrow at the warlock; and the shaft hit so well that it did its business, and the man of witchcraft fell dead. Then the heathens crowded together as before, howling and whining dreadfully; and all gathered about their king, on which the Christians believed that they were holding a council about retreating. The interpreters, who understood the Vindland tongue, heard the chief Unibur make the following speech: “These people are brave, and it is difficult to make anything of them; and even if we took all the goods in their town, we might willingly give as much more that we had never come here, so great has been our loss of men and chiefs. Early in the day, when we began to assault the castle, they defended themselves first with arrows and spears; then they fought against us with stones; and now with sticks and staves, as against dogs. I see from this that they are in want of weapons and means of defense; so we shall make one more hard assault, and try their strength.” It was as he said, that they now fought with stakes; because, in the first assault, they had imprudently used up all their missile weapons and stones; and now when the Christians saw the number of their stakes diminishing, they clave each stake in two. The heathens now made a very hot attack, and rested themselves between whiles, and on both sides they were exhausted. During a rest the Vindland king Rettibur again offered terms, and that they should retain the weapons, clothes, and silver they could carry out of the castle. Saemund Husfreyja had fallen, and the men who remained gave the counsel to deliver up the castle and themselves into the power of the heathens; but it was a foolish counsel; for the heathens did not keep their promises, but took all people, men, women, and children, and killed all of them who were wounded or young, or could not easily be carried with them. They took all the goods that were in the castle; went into the Cross church, and plundered it of all its ornaments. The priest Andres gave King Rettibur a silver-mounted gilt sceptre, and to his sister’s son Dunimiz he gave a gold ring. They supposed from this that he was a man of great importance in the town, and held him in higher respect than the others. They took away with them the holy cross, and also the tables which stood before the altar, which Sigurd had got made in the Greek country, and had brought home himself. These they took, and laid flat down on the steps before the altar. Then the heathens went out of the church. Rettibur said, “This house has been adorned with great zeal for the God to whom it is dedicated; but, methinks, He has shown little regard for the town or house: so I see their God has been angry at those who defended them.” King Rettibur gave the priest Andres the church, the shrine, the holy cross, the Bible, the altar-book, and four clerks (prisoners); but the heathens burnt the Castle church, and all the houses that were in the castle. As the fire they had set to the church went out twice, they hewed the church down, and then it burnt like other houses. Then the heathens went to their ships with the booty; but when they mustered their people and saw their loss, they made prisoners of all the people, and divided them among the vessels. Now priest Andres went on board the king’s ship with the holy cross, and there came a great terror over the heathens on account of the portentous circumstance which took place in the king’s ship; namely, it became so hot that all thought they were to be burnt up. The king ordered the interpreter to ask the priest why this happened. He replied, that the Almighty God on whom the Christians believed, sent them a proof of His anger, that they who would not believe in their Creator presumed to lay hands on the emblem of His suffering; and that there lay so much power in the cross, that such, and even clearer miracles, happened to heathen men who had taken the cross in their hands. The king had the priest put into the ship’s boat, and the priest Andres carried the holy cross in his grasp. They led the boat along past the ship’s bow, and then along the side of the next ship, and then shoved it with a boat-hook in beside the pier. Then Andres went with the cross by night to Solbjorg, in rain and dreadful weather; but brought it in good preservation. King Rettibur, and the men he had remaining, went home to Vindland, and many of the people who were taken at Konungahella were long afterwards in slavery in Vindland; and those who were ransomed and came back to Norway to their udal lands and properties, throve worse than before their capture. The merchant town of Konungahella has never since risen to the importance it was of before this event.
12. OF MAGNUS THE BLIND.
King Magnus, after he was deprived of sight, went north to Nidaros, where he went into the cloister on the holm, and assumed the monk’s dress. The cloister received the farm of Great Hernes in Frosta for his support. King Harald alone ruled the country the following winter, gave all men peace and pardon who desired it, and took many of the men into his court-service who had been with King Magnus. Einar Skulason says that King Harald had two battles in Denmark; the one at Hvedn Isle, and the other at Hlesey Isle: —
“Unwearied champion! who wast bred
To stain thy blue-edged weapons red!
Beneath high Hvedn’s rocky shore,
The faithless felt thy steel once more.”
And again, thus: —
“On Hlesey’s plain the foe must quail
‘Fore him who dyes their shirts of mail.
His storm-stretched banner o’er his head
Flies straight, and fills the foe with dread.”
13. OF KING HARALD GILLE AND BISHOP MAGNUS.
King Harald Gille was a very generous man. It is told that in his time Magnus Einarson came from Iceland to be consecrated a bishop, and the king received him well, and showed him much respect. When the bishop was ready to sail for Iceland again, and the ship was rigged out for sea, he went to the hall where the king was drinking, saluted him politely and warmly, and the king received him joyfully. The queen was sitting beside the king.
Then said the king, “Are you ready, bishop, for your voyage?”
He replied that he was.
The king said, “You come to us just now at a bad time; for the tables are just removed, and there is nothing at hand suitable to present to you. What is there to give the bishop?”
The treasurer replies, “Sire, as far as I know, all articles of any value are given away.”
The king: “Here is a drinking goblet remaining; take this, bishop; it is not without value.”
The bishop expressed his thanks for the honour shown him.
Then said the queen, “Farewell, bishop! and a happy voyage.”
The king said to her, “When did you ever hear a noble lady say so to a bishop without giving him something?”
She replies, “Sire, what have I to give him?”
The king: “Thou hast the cushion under thee.”
Thereupon this, which was covered with costly cloth, and was a valuable article, was given to the bishop. When the bishop was going away the king took the cushion from under himself and gave it him, saying, “They have long been together.” When the bishop arrived in Iceland to his bishop’s see, it was talked over what should be done with the goblet that would be serviceable for the king; and when the bishop asked the opinion of other people, many thought it should be sold, and the value-bestowed on the poor. Then said the bishop, “I will take another plan. I will have a chalice made of it for this church, and consecrate it, so that all the saints of whom there are relics in this church shall let the king have some good for his gift every time a mass is sung over it.” This chalice has since belonged to the bishopric of Skalholt; and of the costly cloth with which the cushions given him by the king were covered, were made the choristers’ cloaks which are now in Skalholt. From this the generous spirit of King Harald may be seen, as well as from many other things, of which but a few are set down here.
14. BEGINNING OF SIGURD SLEMBIDJAKN.
There was a man, by name Sigurd, who was brought up in Norway, and was called priest Adalbrikt’s son. Sigurd’s mother was Thora, a daughter of Saxe of Vik, a sister of Sigrid, who was mother of King Olaf Magnuson, and of Kare, the king’s brother who married Borghild, a daughter of Dag Eilifson. Their sons were Sigurd of Austrat and Dag. Sigurd of Austrat’s sons were Jon of Austrat, Thorstein, and Andres the Deaf. Jon was married to Sigrid, a sister of King Inge and of Duke Skule. This Sigurd, in his childhood, was kept at his book, became a clerk, and was consecrated a deacon; but as he ripened in years and strength he became a very clever man, stout, strong, distinguished for all perfections and exercises beyond any of his years,—indeed, beyond any man in Norway. Sigurd showed early traces of a haughty ungovernable spirit, and was therefore called Slembidjakn. He was as handsome a man as could be seen, with rather thin but beautiful hair. When it came to Sigurd’s ears that his mother said King Magnus was his father, he laid aside all clerkship; and as soon as he was old enough to be his own master, he left the country. He was a long time on his travels, went to Palestine; was at the Jordan river; and visited many holy places, as pilgrims usually do. When he came back, he applied himself to trading expeditions. One winter he was in Orkney with Earl Harald, and was with him when Thorkel Fostre Summarlidason was killed. Sigurd was also in Scotland with the Scottish king David, and was held in great esteem by him. Thereafter Sigurd went to Denmark; and according to the account of himself and his men, he there submitted to the iron ordeal to confirm his paternal descent, and proved by it, in the presence of five bishops, that he was a son of King Magnus Barefoot. So says Ivar Ingemundson, in Sigurd’s song: —
“The holiest five
Of men alive, —
Bishops were they, —
The iron glowing
Red hot, yet showing
No scaith on skin,
Proves cause and kin.”
King Harald Gille’s friends, however, said this was only a lie, and deceit of the Danes.
15. SIGURD IN ICELAND.
It is told before of Sigurd that he passed some years in merchant voyages, and he came thus to Iceland one winter, and took up his lodging with Thorgils Odson in Saurby; but very few knew where he was. In autumn, when the sheep were being driven into a fold to be slaughtered, a sheep that was to be caught ran to Sigurd; and as Sigurd thought the sheep ran to him for protection, he stretched out his hands to it and lifted it over the fold dyke, and let it run to the hills, saying, “There are not many who seek help from me, so I may well help this one.” It happened the same winter that a woman had committed a theft, and Thorgils, who was angry at her for it, was going to punish her; but she ran to Sigurd to ask his help, and he set her upon the bench by his side. Thorgils told him to give her up, and told him what she had committed; but Sigurd begged forgiveness for her since she had come to him for protection, and that Thorgils would dismiss the complaint against her, but Thorgils insisted that she should receive her punishment. When Sigurd saw that Thorgils would not listen to his entreaty, he started up, drew his sword, and bade him take her if he dared; and Thorgils seeing that Sigurd would defend the woman by force of arms, and observing his commanding mien, guessed who he must be, desisted from pursuing the woman, and pardoned her. There were many foreign men there, and Sigurd made the least appearance among them. One day Sigurd came into the sitting-room, and a Northman who was splendidly clothed was playing chess with one of Thorads house-servants. The Northman called Sigurd, and asked him his advice how to play; but when Sigurd looked at the board, he saw the game was lost. The man who was playing against the Northman had a sore foot, so that one toe was bruised, and matter was coming out of it. Sigurd, who was sitting on the bench, takes a straw, and draws it along the floor, so that some young kittens ran after it. He drew the straw always before them, until they came near the house-servant’s foot, who jumping up with a scream, threw the chessmen in disorder on the board; and thus it was a dispute how the game had stood. This is given as a proof of Sigurd’s cunning. People did not know that he was a learned clerk until the Saturday before Easter, when he consecrated the holy water with chant; and the longer he stayed there the more he was esteemed. The summer after, Sigurd told Thorgils before they parted, that he might with all confidence address his friends to Sigurd Slembidjakn. Thorgils asked how nearly he was related to him, on which he replies, “I am Sigurd Slembidjakn, a son of King Magnus Barefoot.” He then left Iceland.
16. OF SIGURD SLEMBE.
When Harald Gille had been six years (A.D. 1136), king of Norway, Sigurd came to the country and went to his brother King Harald, and found him in Bergen. He placed himself entirely in the king’s hands, disclosed who his father was, and asked him to acknowledge their relationship. The king gave him no hasty or distinct reply; but laid the matter before his friends in a conference at a specially appointed meeting. After this conference it became known that the king laid an accusation against Sigurd, because he had been at the killing of Thorkel Fostre in the West. Thorkel had accompanied Harald to Norway when he first came to the country, and had been one of Harald’s best friends. This case was followed up so severely, that a capital accusation against Sigurd was made, and, by the advice of the lendermen, was carried so far, that some of the king’s pursuivants went one evening late to Sigurd, and called him to them. They then took a boat and rowed away with Sigurd from the town south to Nordnes. Sigurd sat on a chest in the stern of the boat, and had his suspicions that foul play was intended. He was clothed in blue trousers, and over his shirt he had a hood tied with ribands, which served him for a cloak. He sat looking down, and holding his hood-strings; and sometimes moved them over his head, sometimes let them fall again before him. Now when they had passed the ness, they were drunk, and merry, were rowing so eagerly that they were not taking notice of anything. Sigurd stood up, and went on the boat’s deck; but the two men who were placed to guard him stood up also, and followed him to the side of the vessel, holding by his cloak, as is the custom in guarding people of distinction. As he was afraid that they would catch hold of more of his clothes, he seized them both, and leaped overboard with them. The boat, in the meantime, had gone on a long way, and it was a long time before those on board could turn the vessel, and long before they could get their own men taken on board again; and Sigurd dived under water, and swam so far away that he reached the land before they could get the boat turned to pursue him. Sigurd, who was very swift of foot, hied up to the mountains, and the king’s men travelled about the whole night seeking him without finding him. He lay down in a cleft of the rocks; and as he was very cold he took off his trousers, cut a hole in the seat of them, and stuck his head through it, and put his arms in the legs of them. He escaped with life this time; and the king’s men returned, and could not conceal their unsuccessful adventure.
17. TREACHERY TOWARDS KING HARALD.
Sigurd thought now that it would be of no use to seek any help from King Harald again; and he kept himself concealed all the autumn and the beginning of the winter. He lay hid in Bergen, in the house of a priest. King Harald was also in the town, and many great people with him. Now Sigurd considered how, with his friends’ help, he might take the king by surprise, and make an end of him. Many men took part in this design; and among them some who were King Harald’s court-men and chamberlains, but who had formerly been King Magnus’s court-men. They stood in great favour with the king, and some of them sat constantly at the king’s table. On Saint Lucia’s day (December 13), in the evening when they proposed to execute this treason, two men sat at the king’s table talking together; and one of them said to the king, “Sire, we two table-companions submit our dispute to your judgment, having made a wager of a basket of honey to him who guesses right. I say that you will sleep this night with your Queen Ingerid; and he says that you will sleep with Thora, Guthorm’s daughter.”
The king answered laughing, and without suspecting in the least that there lay treachery under the question, that he who had asked had lost his bet.
They knew thus where he was to be found that night; but the main guard was without the house in which most people thought the king would sleep, viz., that which the queen was in.
18. MURDER OF KING HARALD.
Sigurd Slembe, and some men who were in his design, came in the night to the lodging in which King Harald was sleeping; killed the watchman first; then broke open the door, and went in with drawn swords. Ivar Kolbeinson made the first attack on King Harald; and as the king had been drunk when he went to bed he slept sound, and awoke only when the men were striking at him. Then he said in his sleep, “Thou art treating me hardly, Thora.” She sprang up, saying, “They are treating thee hardly who love thee less than I do.” Harald was deprived of life. Then Sigurd went out with his helpers, and ordered the men to be called to him who had promised him their support if he should get King Harald taken out of the way. Sigurd and his men then went on, and took a boat, set themselves to the oars, and rowed out in front of the king’s house; and then it was just beginning to be daylight. Then Sigurd stood up, spoke to those who were standing on the king’s pier, made known to them the murder of King Harald by his hand, and desired that they would take him, and choose him as chief according to his birth. Now came many swarming down to the pier from the king’s house; and all with one voice replied, that they would never give obedience or service to a man who had murdered his own brother. “And if thou are not his brother, thou hast no claim from descent to be king.” They clashed their weapons together, and adjudged all murderers to be banished and outlawed men. Now the king’s horn sounded, and all lendermen and courtmen were called together. Sigurd and his companions saw it was best for them to get way; and he went northward to North Hordaland, where he held a Thing with the bondes, who submitted to him, and gave him the title of king. From thence he went to Sogn, and held a Thing there with the bondes and was proclaimed king. Then he went north across the fjords, and most people supported his cause. So says Ivar Ingemundson: —
“On Harald’s fall
The bondes all,
In Hord and Sogn,
Took Magnus’ son.
The Things swore too
They would be true
To this new head
In Harald’s stead.”
King Harald was buried in the old Christ church.