Brian's Saga

by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford  -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2006
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Chapter 7
A poor fool
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    There was a man called Odd Fart.  He was the son of Eyvind the Boaster and the son-in-law of King Haakon Bloodhand.  Odd's sons were Saemund the Weasel and Eirik.  When King Haakon was murdered by his sons Odd threw in his lot with Harald and invited his other brothers-in-law to his house to divide their father's inheritance. While they were drinking after the meal Harald's men came in with drawn swords and killed them all.  Afterwards Harald became King of Norway, and Odd Fart was always at his side.
    Harald killed as many of his kinsfolk as he could, to prevent anyone else claiming the throne, and then he decided to make friends with his father's enemies.  When Odd Fart heard that Sigurd the Terrible had made himself Earl of Swardale he laughed and thought it a great joke, but when he heard how much wealth Sigurd had gained from his raiding and trading, and that the soil in Swardale made good farming, he offered to go himself to seek a reconciliation.
    Odd had it in mind to marry one of his daughters to one of Sigurd's sons.  He was wealthy enough to offer any settlement that Sigurd might ask, because the new King had rewarded him with property confiscated from a number of men whom he had killed or banned as outlaws, but he thought that the alliance would please the Earl as much as the King, and did not expect to have to give much of a dowry.  He wanted to use some of the money he had with him to buy farmland in Swardale in case he ever had to flee from Norway.
    So Odd set sail for Swardale, taking with him his son Saemund. In the hold of his ship he had gifts from King Harald to Sigurd: pelts from Finnmark, an ivory-handled knife from Byzantium, and a fine drinking-horn that had once been given to Thorgrim Frey's-Priest by Gudrun Whitehand.
    Odd Fart sailed north of Orkney then round the Scottish coast.  There was heavy weather and the winds were against them, but they managed to tack southward almost as far as Swardale when a strong gale suddenly arose and blew them so far off course that they were obliged to take shelter in Ireland.  There they stayed for several days until the storm had blown itself out.
    It was this same storm that wrecked Sweyne's ship when he came back across the Western Ocean.  A man called Bjorn Bodvarsson, who was out looking for driftwood, found a sword marked with runes.  He took it to Hal¬đan and gave it to Earl Sigurd.
    When Sigurd held the sword and saw the runes he made this lament for the loss of his son.

Cruel crashed the curled sea.
I sorrow for my son.  Sweyne's drowned.
Wave-tossed, Wormbane comes back,
risen from the deep, the dragon-killer.

No help can I hope for, though hard-pressed.
Faithless friends may fail our kin.
Our shield and safeguard has sailed away
beyond the bounds of the bitter world.

    This was the only poem that Earl Sigurd the Terrible ever made.


    Soon after, Saemund the Weasel arrived in Halđan.  He went straight to Sigurd and claimed hospitality for himself and his father.  Odd came from his ship and flattered Sigurd, which he was well able to do.
    "Harald is now King of Norway," he said, "and he has sworn to take vengeance on all his father's enemies who won't make a treaty of friendship.  When he heard how well you are doing over here, he wanted to send a fleet to take Swardale from you, but I told him that a strong friend is better than a bitter foe, and persuaded him to let me come and make friends.  What I want to do is this.  I am the King's brother-in-law and my daughters are his nieces.  If you agree, let us marry my daughter Rannveig to your son Sweyne.  A man needs powerful friends these days."
    Afterwards Sigurd talked it over with Ketil Greybeard, his mother's brother's son.
    "If Odd Fart's sword was as sharp as his nose," said Sigurd, “if his boldness was as great as his boasting, and if he were as long-winded in fighting as in talking, then he would be a great man indeed. If Sweyne were alive I should have no need of Odd or his King, but Thorkel will never be the man his brother was, and I shan't last forever."
    "It's a wise man that knows his own weakness," answered Ketil.
    Sigurd then went to where Thorkel was sleeping and shook him awake.
    "You heard what Odd Eyvindsson suggested," said the Earl.  "How would you like to marry the King's niece?"
    As he expected, Thorkel agreed at once.
    Next morning Sigurd took Odd Fart aside.  "My eldest son, Sweyne, was drowned in the storm," he said.  "Thorkel will inherit all my power.  If you agree, Rannveig can marry him.”
    Odd was only too eager to conclude the business.  They shook hands on it there and then.  Saemund set off for Norway the same day to bring back his sister, Rannveig, but Odd stayed on in Swardale for the winter.
    Odd could see that his skill in flattery did not greatly impress Earl Sigurd, but he found that Thorkel could be easily manipulated.
    "It is clear," he said, "that Swardale will be a very prosperous place when you are in charge, for I've never met a more capable and energetic man.  Not even King Harald is your equal."
    Thorkel lapped this up and was always ready to listen to Odd.
    "It's very fortunate," said Odd, "that your brother was drowned, for you are obviously the better man of the two, and it's only your father's blind prejudice that stops everyone realising it.  It's obvious that, now you are his heir, you should have all the land that your brother owned, but your father is keeping it for himself.  That's nothing but foolishness.  He's an old man, and the tenants can cheat him as much as they like.  If you want to claim the farms, I'll support you.  An old man like that won't be able to stand up to both of us, no matter how stubborn he is.  In return all I want you to do is help me to obtain some of the other good farmland that's to be had in Swardale.  I inherited a small legacy last year, and I mean to invest it wisely to keep me in my old age, and it seems to me that farmland in Swardale is the best thing a man can buy."
    Thorkel agreed readily enough.  Odd Fart went straight to where Sigurd was instructing his men which trees to fell in a wood that belonged to him two miles north-east of Halđan, and told him that he thought Thorkel should have Sweyne's farmland made over to him on his marriage.
    "It wouldn't do to hand it over to him straightaway," said Odd.  "People will expect you to observe a due period of mourning for Sweyne, so I would advise you not to be too rash, however much you want to ensure that Thorkel is your successor.  But no-one could take it amiss if you were to hand over the farms on Thorkel's wedding day. That way he will have all the power that his brother had without anyone enviously comparing him to Sweyne, and perhaps your grandchildren will be more like you than he is."
    Odd spoke for a long time in this vein, until Sigurd agreed to all that he asked.
    "It would be as well," said Odd, "to let everyone know that you mean to give the farms to Thorkel, or it may be said that you are treating him shabbily.”
    When Thorkel heard that Odd Eyvindsson had persuaded Sigurd to give him Sweyne's farms on his wedding day, he was very pleased to have such a powerful friend.  Thorkel and Odd visited the farms and took as much as they liked of the harvest.  Sweyne's tenants soon got tired of being pushed around, so they left and went off to seek for work elsewhere.  Thorkel put his own henchmen in to run the farms, even though they would not be his until Rannveig came over in spring.
    The lands that Thorkel took in this way were Swenby, where Sweyne had built his house, Geddonby, and Thorsby, which was on the other side of the Alebeck marshes.  Some other farmers round about soon found that Thorkel's henchmen were poor neighbours, and Odd Fart was able to buy their land cheaply.  Soon Odd and Thorkel together owned more land than anyone else in Swardale.  They did not farm it themselves, but left it to their henchmen, whom they provided with slaves taken from the British villages in the fells.  Each day they rode out hunting for deer or other game, or for slaves.  No-one was safe from them, from the mouth of Derwydd's Dale to the marshes round the estuary of the Swar.


    There was a woman named Walburga who lived in the marshes on the coast.  She was the wife of that Ædwin the Christian priest whom Sweyne had crucified.  Walburga and her daughter, Ædwitha, escaped in the confusion and fled into the marshes.  They knew the safe paths well because they often went there to gather mallows and mosses, for Walburga was skilled in making medicines from plants, and she had taught Ædwitha almost all that she knew.
    They had found shelter in a clump of alders on an island and were able to live by eating berries and roots and catching small fish that got trapped in the tidal pools.  It was poor fare but it kept them alive.
    When Sweyne was cast ashore on the coast of Swardale he lay senseless at the edge of the marsh and would have drowned at the next tide if these two women had not found him.  They dragged him to their island and began to wash him and to tend to his wounds.

Home they carried their husband's killer,
their father's foe.  Fate gave them
a hostage in hand for hope of blood price,
a life for a life, to lie in their grove.

Let the herdsman heed his beasts
but keep his sword swift to his hand.
A warrior who sleeps and watches not
breathes his body's blood to loss.

Let the fighter sleep with his spear at hand,
within reach of his arm let his axe be kept,
for the weaponless warrior's
widow must weep.

    Sweyne's spear and shield were broken, and his sword was lost in the storm and swallowed by the Midgard Serpent in its wrath.  His cunning alone remained.  When he came to his senses he kept his eyes half-closed, looking stealthily through their lowered lids, and listening to what the women said.  He soon knew who they were and saw that his only hope lay in flight.
    He waited until the women had fallen asleep, then he tried to stand up, but he fell heavily and aroused them.
    "Why don't you kill me now?" said Sweyne.  "Or have you some other revenge planned?  My father will give you full compensation for the men I killed.  You can ransom me for enough refined silver to pay your passage to wherever you wish to go."
    The women replied that they would take him back to his father when he was fit to be moved.
    When Sweyne heard this he thought they meant to wait until he was almost well, then torture him, and that his dead body would be sent to Halđan.  His strength soon began to return, but he fooled the women into thinking he was still very weak.  Each night, while they went out into the marsh for food, he got up and exercised his body, but when they came back they found him lying limply on his bed.
    One night Sweyne broke off a straight pole from one of the trees.  When the women were asleep he got up quietly, found his branch, and set off.  The marsh was not wide, but very treacherous.  Sweyne did not know the safe paths, and had to feel every inch of the way with his staff. There was a thick mist, as often happens in late autumn around the mouth of the Swar, and he could scarcely see in front of him.  The women soon found he had gone and he heard them calling his name, but the fog which hampered his progress hid him from them.
    Walburga and Ædwitha went different ways to cover more ground. There were two paths which led from their alders to firm land. Walburga took the more direct way along a spit of solid earth close to the shore, and Ædwitha followed the one that wound around the treacherous bogs to the north-east.  It was she who found Sweyne.
    Ædwitha came up to him quietly and told him it was time to come back.  Sweyne refused, and she told him that, now they had seen how well he was, they would take him to Halđan next morning.
    Sweyne laughed bitterly when he heard this.
    "I know what you mean by sending me home," he said, "and I'm not so foolish as to think that I'll reach my father's house in one piece."
    He would not listen when Ædwitha told him the women were not out for revenge, and, when she said they were acting out of Christian love, he laughed again.
    "I know about your Christ," he said.  "If he had known the sayings of the High One, he would not have let himself be taken unprepared.  What sort of a man leaves his followers to go walking in a garden when his enemies are on his tail?  Only one of them was a man.  He kept his weapon ready and went for his leader's foes.  But what did your Christ do?  He stopped him!  He wouldn't fight!  What sort of a man is that?"
    "A better man than you," replied the woman.
    "I'll show you what sort of a man I am," answered Sweyne.  "For weeks I've lain in your hut, watching you and curbing my lust to seem weak.  But now that you know I am strong again, I have no need to pretend."
    He seized Ædwitha, bore her to the ground, and would have had his will with her, but Walburga, coming back from the firm ground by the longer path, seized his staff, swung it with all her might, and hit him on the head.  Sweyne fell as if dead.

Hell's gate held Sweyne helpless in thrall.
Loki's spawn lurked in wait
to drag to death the doomed warrior.
Sweyne sank through sleepless nightmares.

    When Sweyne awoke he was back in the shelter in the alder grove.  He saw the familiar branches, heard the talk of the women, saw them move towards him, and fell again into a black swoon.  The faithful care of the women brought him back to life again, but how long he had lain helpless he could not tell.  At first he saw but blearily.  To move at all cost him immense effort, and the women had to feed him by pouring spoonfuls of potions into his mouth.  It was many days before he could raise his hand to his face, and when he did he found his beard gone.
    "Why have you shaved me?" he asked, and was told that the women had not shaved him.  When he tried to rape Ædwitha and Walburga knocked him out, the women had fled, leaving him for dead, but, fearing that the Vikings might find him and then search for his killers, they had gone back to drag his body away and sink it in a bog. Finding him alive that had carried him back to their shelter.  Then, without thinking out what to do, they had, more or less by force of habit started caring for him again.  His flight and his new wound must have undermined him.  In spite of all they did for him he seemed to grow weaker and weaker.  His muscular frame had withered away.  His beard had fallen out and his fine head of hair had become lank and lifeless. Even his voice, when he called out in his nightmares, had lost its manly force and become thin and reedy like that of a half-grown boy or an old man in his second childhood.

    Sweyne's return to consciousness began his recovery.  Slowly he regained the use of his body.  Ædwitha would have become his constant companion.  While her mother gathered herbs and foodstuffs she stayed with Sweyne, helping him to walk a few laboured steps at a time around the grove, and bringing him the message of salvation.  The next we hear of him is in some scraps of anti-Christian alliterative poetry now in the Icelandic National Library.

Scornful was Sven, Sigurd's son.
"You call on Christ and claim his help,
the lily-livered little coward
who would not fight for freedom or life.

"He let himself be killed, your Christ almighty.
He was hanged high,
your hope of Heaven.

He was taken in thrall like a thief at night.
He was bound with bonds like a branded slave.
Roman soldiers ripped his garments,
and scourged him with whips, whining like a cur.

You follow a faith fit only for women.
Your men were maids.  Merry the Viking
who finds such sport and speeds them to hell.
Our souls are strong, stronger our gods.

Our horns give drink, death our swords.
Our bodies are bathed
in beer and blood.

    It would seem that Sweyne recovered enough to walk about unaided, but that his body remained weak.  In this state, with his voice cracking like a half-grown boy's and his beard refusing to grow except perhaps as wispy down or lank patches, he probably chose to stay in hiding with the women rather than show himself in Halden, doubtless remembering one of the sayings of the High One, Odin.
"Cattle die, kinsfolk die, and even to ourselves death will come.  One thing I know will never die: the fame that we leave behind on our death."
How much better to be remembered as the heroic Viking leader who perished in the storm when he was bringing back plunder from across the Western Ocean, than to be seen as a puny weakling.  Seen he was, however, as we read in this fragmentary manuscript in the Babylon Library, Auksford.

    There was a man called Nils, the son of Ulf who used to farm at Skåne until the King burned his house and sold his family.  Ulf fled to join Sigurd in Swardale.  He took an Irish woman to wife and had one son, Nils, who was called Nils the Tall because he was scarcely higher than a table.
    Nils had two close friends, Holger the Handsome, who was so ugly that he might have been one of the spawn of Loki and the giantess, and Fritjoff the Goldgiver, who kept his purse sewn up tightly in his breeches.
    One day, while Thorkel Sigurdsson and his men were out hunting, Nils Ulfsson and his friends rode off by themselves and lost the main group.  They came to a village and wanted to buy ale, but they had no money.
    "We all know," said Nils, "that Fritjoff carries a purse full of silver in his breeches.  Surely he will pay to save his friends from dying of thirst."
    "You have a sharp tongue, Nils," said Fritjoff, "but you should remember that no good comes of stealing someone else's money."
    "Still, I'd very much like to have a try," said Nils, "since Holger and I have might on our side, even if the law is on yours."
    When Fritjoff saw what was in their minds he turned his pony and raced off as fast as he could.  Nils and Holger followed at his heels, eager for plunder.  Fritjoff made for the shore.  In his bid to escape he rode out into the marsh and followed a narrow path, with the other two close behind him.  Suddenly they came to a clump of alders, with a rough hut between the trees.  Two women, roused from sleep by their shouts, came out, followed by a puny man.
    "We can sell these women as slaves," said Fritjoff, "but no-one will buy the man.  He's too weak for work.  We may as well kill him."
    The man called out , "Wait!  Don't you know me?  I'm Sweyne Sigurdsson who set sail across the grey ocean.  The Midgard Serpent swallowed up my ship, but I was cast ashore and these women tended my wounds.”
  The three friends laughed when they heard the puny, bent, little man claiming to be the Earl's son, but Sweyne said, "If I were not Sweyne how would I know your names, Nils, Holger and Fritjoff?"
    "Everybody knows of us," said Nils.  "Our fame has spread throughout Swardale.  Even the peasants tell of our heroic deeds."
    "Thorkel Sigurdsson will laugh when we show him your body and tell him you claimed to be his brother," said Holger.
    "Is Thorkel here?" cried Sweyne.  Bring him to me!"
    "Let's fetch Thorkel," said Fritjoff.  "If this joke can make Earl Sigurd smile, perhaps Thorkel will reward us."
    Nils laughed.  "Fritjoff has so much gold and silver in his breeches that he can hardly walk," he said, "yet he wants to add to the weight he carries.  Well, if Thorkel gives us a reward, at least we shall be able to buy beer."
    When Thorkel came, Sweyne tried to embrace his brother, but the Earl's son threw off the wizened little fellow and drew his sword. Nils Ulfsson and his friends held him back.
    "Don't kill him," they said.  "He's mad.  He believes he is your brother, Sweyne.  We thought it might make Earl Sigurd laugh."
    "I'll prove I'm Sweyne," cried the puny little man in his piping voice.  If you'll bend your head I’ll whisper to you the secret name that Odin wrote on Sweyne's sword."
    "Everyone knows that the sword is called Wormbane," said Thorkel scornfully.  “You could have heard that anywhere in Swardale where people speak of my brother's deeds."
    "Cattle die, kinsfolk die, even to ourselves will death come," said Sweyne.  "One thing I know will never die: the fame that we leave behind on our death.  It is better that Sweyne should have died at sea. I am not Sweyne.  I am a foolish madman.  Let me die."
    "Not so," said Thorkel.  “Earl Sigurd has neither smiled nor laughed since his son was lost.  We'll see how he likes this new son!"
    So Sweyne and the women were brought to Halđan

    Earl Sigurd and his men were gathered in their longhouse, drinking and talking over their memories, when Thorkel arrived.
    "Here's entertainment for you, Father," he said, and pushed Sweyne into the middle of the room.
    "What foolishness is this?" cried Sigurd.  "What entertainment can we expect from a broken-down old peasant?"
    "Tell the Earl who you are!" said Thorkel to Sweyne.  "Surely you know your own father!"
    "I am a poor madman," said Sweyne.  "I live with my mother and sister by the sea-shore and listen to the sound of the waves.  When I hear the storms blow, I dream I'm a Viking warrior.  I used to dream I was Sweyne, because he was the best and bravest of all, but Sweyne is dead, and Thorkel has taught me that madmen must be modest."
    "He has grown cunning," said Thorkel.  "Listen, Father, I found this wizened, bent, old fellow living in the swamp with two women, one old, one young.  He says one is his mother and the other his sister, which may be true, but he is such a strange little fellow that sometimes he looks old enough to be his mother's father, and sometimes he seems young enough to be his sister's son.
    "When Nils Ulfsson and his friends, Holger the Handsome and Fritjoff the Goldgiver, found him, he called them by name and told them he was Sweyne, long-lost son of Earl Sigurd.  They spared his life, and we brought him to you, hoping that the sight of this puny little mannikin, puffing himself up like a frog and claiming to be your son, would make you laugh."
    Nils, Holger and Fritjoff assured Sigurd that it was so, and that, when they had grabbed hold of the little worm, he had squirmed and squealed and cried out that he was Sweyne Sigurdsson, the favourite of Odin, the ravisher of half the world.
    When the Vikings heard this and saw Sweyne lying on the floor as if he hadn't the strength to get up, they began to laugh.  Thorkel booted him in the backside so that he fell flat on his face, then picked him up by the scruff of the neck and held him hanging like a dead rabbit.
    There was a man called Thorolf, the son of Bjorn the Beserk who had killed two sons of King Olaf at Ostrarfiord.  This Thorolf was a boastful fellow and had often quarrelled with Sweyne, though he was a close crony of Thorkel's.  Now Thorolf came forward and peered closely at the limp little fellow hanging in Thorkel's grip.
    "Remember me, Sweyne?" he said.  You and I have one or two unsettled scores.  Well, I'm ready to fight you, and any man here can witness to your kin that you fell in fair fight."
    When Thorkel's theigns heard this they began to call for a space to be cleared.  Thorolf drew his broadsword, but Thorkel pulled him aside.
    "Don't kill him yet," he said.  "There's still a lot of fun to be had out of him."
    Don't worry," replied Thorolf.  "My father may have been a berserk, but I know exactly what I'm doing."
    Nils Ulfsson gave Sweyne his sword, which was half the size of a normal man's, but even so Sweyne could scarcely lift it.
    They stood facing one another.  Thorolf was a massive, heavy man with a red face and yellow beard.  His arms were as strong as iron and his muscles like forged steel.  He stood with his sword raised, ready to strike.  Sweyne looked like a puny, half-grown boy stricken suddenly with old age.  His sword hung down and rested on the floor.  His arms were weak and his head drooped onto his chest.  His legs trembled with the effort of standing, and he looked ready to fall into a limp heap.
    Sigurd gave the signal to begin.  Sweyne heaved at his sword, hoping to parry Thorolf's thrust.  Thorolf gently tapped Sweyne's sword aside, and the sick man stumbled and almost fell.
    Thorolf's sword flashed and came to rest against Sweyne's cheek.
    "You'll have to do better than that," said Thorolf.  "I could have split your head in two."
    "You always were a boaster and a bully," said Sweyne.  "Why don't you finish me off?  You could tell your grandchildren it was you who slew Sweyne of Swardale.  What a hero you'd be!"
    Earl Sigurd burst out laughing at this sally, and Thorolf might have put an end to Sweyne's life without further ado if Thorkel and his henchmen hadn't hustled him aside.
    "First strike to little Sweyne," laughed the Earl.  "Have you other champions to carry on the sport, Thorkel?"
    "Gunnar the One-Eyed will take up the challenge," replied Thorkel.
    This Gunnar was a swarthy fellow.  His mother had been captured in the south by Egil the son of Thorfinn Eriksson and bought by Hallvard the Hard-Fighter with money he had stolen from the Brynjolfssons.  Afterwards Hallvard was ambushed at Vefsenfiord by Grim and Gudmund Brynjolfsson.
    Gunnar faced Sweyne and dared him to strike, while Thorkel's men laughed and egged him on.  Sweyne let his sword hang limp and answered Gunnar in verse.

"Hallvard's son  did not seek
his father's killers.  He closed one eye,
let Grim and Gudmund  go free,
and earned his nickname,  one-eyed Gunnar.

Only when he meets  a puny madman
are both his eyes  open wide.
He can see well enough  to kill a weakling,
though blind in one eye  to the Brynjolfssons' crime."

    Sigurd laughed heartily when he heard this, and Gunnar would have killed Sweyne on the spot if Thorkel and his henchmen hadn't hustled him aside.
    "This won't do," thought Thorkel.  "I brought this madman here to make sport of him, but he answers my men with as much boldness as if he were Sweyne himself, and even my own father takes his part. I can see that I shall have to take a hand myself."
    So Thorkel stepped forward with his sword in his hand and challenged Sweyne to fight.
    "Unless you are afraid of killing your own brother," he added, which delighted his men.
    "I don't suppose there's anything you can say against me," said Thorkel, "unless you want to let everyone know how we fought at our mother's knee."
    Sweyne remained silent.
    "Perhaps you know some of Sigurd's secrets," said Thorkel.  "I'm sure he'd be pleased to hear a poem about himself."
    Sweyne lowered his head on to his chest again and said nothing.
    Thorkel grew angry at the failure of the joke he had planned.
    "I see that you are nothing more than a crazy old madman after all," he said.  My friends spared you when you said you were Sweyne. If you're not Sweyne, you might as well die."
    Sweyne said nothing.
    Thorkel looked around angrily, and his eye lighted on a sword hung in a place of honour near Sigurd's chair.  With two strides he seized it from its place and brought it to Sweyne.
    "Here's a more fitting weapon for you, Brother," he said.  “Here's your own sword, Wormbane!"
    Earl Sigurd looked angry at this, but the hunched little madman began to run his finger round the runes on the sword's hilt with such loving care that no-one could help laughing.
    "Tell me how Wormbane came to be here," said Sweyne.  "When I last saw it, it was in the jaws of the Midgard Serpent."
    This made the Vikings laugh even louder.  Thorkel saw that things were going his way, so he called, "Tell us about your fight with the Serpent, Brother!"
    But Sweyne saw they were making a fool of him and kept silent.
    This did not suit Thorkel at all.
    "My brother is too modest," he said.  "He wants to be sure no-one can accuse him of boasting.  After all we all know his record.  We all remember how, when he was still a boy, he defended his mother and his younger brothers and sisters from the King's henchmen, who would have cut them down as they fled to the boats.  I was there, and, when I look at my brother, I can still see him standing there defying the King's warriors.  Do you remember, Sweyne?  Why don't you tell us what happened?"
    Sweyne sank to the floor and sat unmoving.  He spoke no word.  He said nothing.
    Thorkel began to get impatient.  "Aren't you going to tell us how you helped Sigurd take Swardale?" he asked.  "Aren't you going to tell us about the Viking raids you led?  What about the men you killed?  What about the farms you burned?  The gold you took?  The slaves?  The women?"
    When Thorkel saw that his words could not goad the madman into answering him he grew angry.  He seized Sweyne by the scruff of the neck and hauled him up.  Sweyne hung from his brother's grasp like a dead rabbit.
    "So, you claim to be Sweyne, eh?" said Thorkel.  "You claim to be the best-known raider and fighter in Swardale, the eldest son of Earl Sigurd?  I suppose you’ve come to take back your place as the next Earl, eh?  To drive me out?  Well, you're not much of a fighter, and I don't think you're much of a man at all.  Why don't you show us just what you can do, eh?  Here's this girl you've been living with down on the shore -- and don't say she's your sister because we won't believe you.  A pretty girl like that never had the same parents as an ugly little worm like you.  -- So my fine fellow, if you want to save your skin, you'd best show us your mettle and let's see what sort of child you can father!"
    With that he tore down Sweyne's breeches and thrust him at Ædwitha.
    Sweyne wriggled and squirmed and kicked, but he could not break free from his brother's grasp.  Thorkel held him by the scruff of the neck until he grew tired and hung even limper than before.  Then Thorkel tore open Ædwitha's dress and pushed Sweyne against her.
    "Come on, little Sweyne" he jeered.  "Show us if you are a man, or, if you won't, I will!"
    Then he threw Sweyne aside, pulled down his own breeches, and sprang on the woman.
    This was too much for Sweyne.  Without a second thought he flung himself on Thorkel and tried to pull him away.  With an angry grunt the Viking picked up the weakling and hurled him across the floor.  Then Thorkel turned again to Ædwitha, only to be startled by a warning cry from Sigurd.  The madman had picked up the sword, Wormbane, and was staggering towards him, holding the sword above his head with both hands.  Thorkel's own sword lay close to hand.  He snatched it up and swung at Sweyne.  Thorkel would have killed his brother, but as he stepped forward he stumbled on his breeches and fell heavily.  Sweyne swung at Thorkel, but fell over his own breeches.
    The two men hauled themselves to their feet and stood facing one another.  Thorkel stooped to hoist his breeches and Sweyne thrust at him.  Thorkel stepped back and stumbled.  Sweyne tried to pull up his own breeches, which bound his feet, and Thorkel swung his sword.  Neither could free himself from his breeches without giving the other a chance to strike.  Neither could strike freely without stumbling.
    Sigurd saw that his son was safe and had no objection to making Thorkel look a fool, so he called on his men not to come between them but to let them fight it out to the end.  Thorkel agreed.  The puny weakling had somehow found the strength to swing the sword he hadn't been able to lift before, but he would soon tire.  Thorkel left his breeches where they were and swung and thrust at Sweyne, but, instead of tiring, Sweyne seemed to grow stronger.  He felt his arms fill out and his muscles grow strong.  He held the sword as lightly as he had before the breath of the Serpent had withered his body.  His head raised itself proudly on his neck, and his eyes searched Thorkel's guard keenly, seeking a chink for the point of his sword.
    Thorkel felt Sweyne's strength growing.  He lunged like a berserk, trying to throw the madman off balance long enough for him to kick his breeches away and free his feet, but always Sweyne met his blows and made him stumble.

Thorkel choked  at the onlookers' chuckles.
He swung his sword,  cutting at Sweyne.
The Earl's son  stepped aside.
His weapon whirled  and whipped Thorkel's away.

When Sigurd saw  his son weaponless
he snatched up a sword.  Shieldless he came.
The bewitched warrior's  weapon sank.
"Not a finger will I cut  of my father's hand.
Not a hair of his head  shall be harmed by me."

Sweyne's words  worried the Earl.
"My son spoke thus,"  he said dully.
"You do not whimper  like the whelp you were.
You speak like a man  mighty in war,
hardened in strife  like a honed blade.

"Like the sea's ploughman  proudly you stand,
your sails swelling,  your spars firm.
I'd think you my boy  were you but bearded,
my long-lost son, whom I loved as a father."

Sweyne's face burned, his blood seethed.
Bitter he rued  the loss of his beard.
God in His goodness  gave him his manhood:
red grew his beard,  ruddy and full.

Red grew his beard,  bursting forth,
his face's forest,  firmly anchored.
Mightily maned  in his manhood's crest,
proud like a lion  he leaned on his sword.

Red grew his beard,  great was the wonder.
His father first  found words.
"My son is alive!  Sweyne is back!
Red is his beard  and bold his eye."

Chapter 8: The Swardalers' Saga

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