CHRONICLES OF HALDEN, III
- Auksford, 2006 -
Copyright Robin Gordon 2006
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The Swardalers' Saga
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Sigurd recognised Sweyne he embraced him. Tears overflowed
down his grey beard. Then he began to give orders to his men
to prepare a great feast. He seized a drinking horn, drank a
draught, and pressed it on Sweyne. He sent messengers to his
farms to bring back provisions. He ordered them to kill the
best beasts and broach the best barrels of beer, and to take silver and
buy anything that was lacking.
said he was glad to see
Sweyne, but Sweyne wanted to keep his eyes on him.
"We'll hold a feast for Sweyne," said Thorkel, "but first,
Father, find some place to keep these women, who belong to Nils, Holger
and Fritjoff. I'm sure they will want to set off as soon as
they can, to sell them. You can get very good prices for
women like these in Arabia."
he wanted to keep the women for himself. The women were not
thralls, he said, but of respectable families.
"If that's so," said Thorkel, "perhaps you know where we can
claim the ransom. I say they are the property of Nils and his
"I refer this to you, Father," said Sweyne. "If you
decide that they are Nils Ulfsson's property, I mean to ransome them
myself. After that we can hold a wedding, for I mean to marry
Ædwitha and none other."
Sigurd laughed when he heard that and said, "Well, now I
understand the power that restored my son's manhood. You may
be sure that I shan't let him lose it again. I will ransom
the prisoners from Nils Ulfsson and his friends, and, if no-one
objects, I will assess the compensation myself."
These are the gifts that Sigurd gave to Nils Ulfsson: a
bronze arm-ring, a dagger with a jewelled hilt that Bodvar Einarsson
had brought back from an expedition with the Rus, and a horn beaker
ornamented with gold that had once belonged to the King of
Mercia. To Holger the Handsome he gave a fine fur cloak made
of pelts from Finnmark, a helmet, inlaid with gold and chased with
silver, said to have been taken from the Franks by Ragnar when he
burned their city of Paris, and a fine gold clasp for a
mantle. To Fritjoff he gave so many silver pieces from his
treasure chest that his men began to laugh and to say that if Fritjoff
sewed them all into his breeches his belt would not hold them and he
would have to stumble around like Sweyne and Thorkel when they were
Atfer that Sigurd wanted to hold the marriage ceremony
straight away. "Unless you have relatives that you want to
invite," he said to Walburga.
Sweyne stopped him. "These women are followers of
Christ, not of Odin," he said, "and the marriage must be consecrated by
a Christian priest. There is something else I want you to
know, Father. I have become a Christian myself. The
poisonous breath of the Midgard Serpent withered my body and killed my
manhood. I called on Odin and all the other gods to help me,
but they failed me. When Thorkel wanted to rape
Ædwitha, I called on her god, Jesus, and my strength came
back straight away. As soon as I felt it in my blood and my
bone I made a vow that I would marry Ædwitha and serve no
other god but Christ."
Sigurd said nothing for a while, then he said that, if that
was what Sweyne wanted, it would be done. "I also made a
vow," he said, "but I will not speak of it now."
When Thorkel saw how things were going he drew Thorolf
"Go at once and tell the Lord Odd what has happened," he
said. "Be sure to tell him everything and answer his questions as well
as you can."
Thorolf went straight to Odd's farm at Odderby and gave him
the news. Odd stroked his skimpy beard and his nose quivered,
but he said nothing.
Next day Odd Fart went to congratulate Earl Sigurd.
"I hear that your son has come back to you," he
said. "You are a very lucky man, and I can see it's a good
thing, both for myself and for my brother-in-law, King Harald, that
I've allied our house to yours."
Sigurd was in high spirits and took Odd to meet Sweyne
straight away. They talked for some time, then Odd Fart drew
"I'm sure your father has a great deal of work to attend to
on his farms," he said, "but he will not mind if you stay idle a little
Sigurd said he did not mind, and left them.
"My difficulty is this," said Odd. "I had heard of
your exploits and I came over from Norway to betroth my daughter
Rannveig to you. I wanted to make an alliance by marriage
between you and King Harald, my brother-in-law, because it seemed to me
that you are the two most able noblemen that our nation has.
When I got here they told me that you were dead and offered to ally our
houses by marrying Rannveig to your brother Thorkel. Well, of
course, it won't do for the King's niece to be married to a man who is
not of the first rank in his country, and, now you've returned, I'm
afraid Thorkel has no choice but to take second place.
"We all know he's a very fine man, but you are obviously much
better fitted to enter the royal family. As you know, there
were a few disagreements about who was to be King, and Harald has very
few living relatives. I've heard it said, though I hope you
won't repeat it, that he is unable to father children, so Rannveig's
sons may well be in line of succession."
"Well," said Sweyne, "if Thorkel's sons can take the crown of
Norway, good luck to them I say, but I don't think it's very likely,
sir, for I hear that you have sons as well as daughters."
"Between ourselves," replied Odd, "I don't think my sons have
the ability to be kings. I set my hopes on my grandchildren,
and, if their father is a man of your stamp, I think I can hope great
things of them. I may add that my voice will be quite
influential in deciding the succession."
"I see that my father's luck has fallen to Thorkel," said
Sweyne. "As for me, I shall be quite content to be Earl of
Swardale, if the Kings of York and Dublin let me keep it."
Odd Fart left without a word. He asked where Sigurd
was and went straight to find him. The Earl was helping
repair a plough that had been broken on a stone.
"I see that you are not as lucky as I thought," said
Odd. "Under the fairest fields lie rocks to blunt the
ploughshare. I've just been talking to your son, Sweyne, and,
though I've never met him before, I'm sure he can't be the same as he
was when he helped defend his mother from Haakon Bloodhand, or when he
helped you to take Swardale, or when his ships were the terror of the
Irish Sea. I had heard of his reputation and that was one of
the reasons I wanted to betroth my daughter, Rannveig, to him, and ally
him to my brother-in-law the King. But he does not seem to be
the same man at all. I can't really imagine Sweyne, as he is
now, being chosen as the favoured son of Odin. I think I am
fortunate to have chosen Thorkel for my son-in-law, for he is clearly
the better man of the two.
"Tell me, has Sweyne said anything that seems odd to
you? He seems to me almost as if he were drugged, or as if
he'd been bewitched by Christians. That's impossible, of
course. I know there aren't any Christians in Swardale, but
that's how he seems to me."
"If there are Christians in Swardale," said Sigurd, "it's not
Sweyne's fault. But it is as you say: he has been bewitched
by Christians and wants to marry this girl Ædwitha who looked
after him when he was sick. Didn't he tell you?"
"No, we spoke of other things," replied Odd. "I
wanted to be sure that he wouldn't bear a grudge when he found out that
his brother was to marry the King's niece. His reply made no
sense to me at all, but now it does. This girl
Ædwitha must be a Saxon. She's probably been sent
here by the King of Mercia. These Christians are so
cunning. Remember how the Frankish Emperor used Christian
missionaries to try and sap his foes' will to fight? If it
hadn't been for King Godfred, Denmark would have fallen, and we'd
probably all be living under the Holy Roman Empire. It's the
same old story. The Mercians have sent this girl to entrap
Sweyne. Well, you can't let him have any share of power in
Swardale unless we can somehow knock this Christian nonsense out of his
head, or we'll find ourselves ruled by the Saxon and all our gods
"I've never heard such disloyalty in my life!
Wasn't it Odin himself who gave Sweyne his sword and marked it with its
runes? And now he calls Odin a devil and says Christ is the
only true god! It's plain that you'll have to leave your
Earldom to Thorkel alone, because if a Christian has any power at all
he won't rest until he has driven out all our old Viking traditions and
made us as soft and weak as the Saxons. It's really hard to
believe that they were like us once, that they came over like us and
raided this country, then conquered it and took it for
themselves. Now they are Christians, and live soft lives just
like the southern peoples. It would be wrong to let our
people go the same way."
Earl Sigurd said he would think about Odd's words.
Odd Fart found Thorolf Bjornsson and spoke to him about
Sweyne and Thorkel. Next he found Gunnar
Hallvardsson. After that Odd, Thorolf and Gunnar all talked
together about Sweyne. Then Odd Fart went to where Nils
Ulfsson was mending his scabbard. He told Nils that he,
Thorolf and Gunnar all agreed that Sweyne had been bewitched by
Christians and was unfit to share power with Thorkel. Nils
agreed and went with him to find Holger and Fritjoff.
All day Odd Fart went around talking to people and bringing
little groups together. Afterwards Odd and several others
went to Ketil Greybeard. They told him that all the men of
Halđan agreed that Sweyne was unfit to share Sigurd's power with
"Some people think he may not be Sweyne at all but a
shape-changer," said Odd. "I told them it was
impossible. The Christians have many black arts, but it's
surely not possible for a shape-changer to counterfeit a man so closely
that even his own father can't tell."
When Ketil told Sigurd what was being said, Sigurd made no
reply but went off by himself.
All this time Sweyne was at Swenby with Ædwitha and
Walburga. He drove Thorkel's men off his land and sent out
for as many of his old labourers as could be found. They did
not all come back to him when they heard he was a Christian.
There was a great deal of work to do. Thorkel's men
had neglected the autumn ploughing. They had let the fences
fall down, and they had slaughtered many of the beasts for their
feasting and carousing, intending to steal more in spring.
Gunnar the One-Eyed came to Swenby. He said to
Sweyne, "Your father sends you this message. The men of
Swardale will not follow a Christian. You must give up
Ædwitha and abandon Christ if you want a share in the
Sweyne said, "This is some trick of Odd Fart's.
Tell my father I'm coming to see him, and we'll talk things over face
“Sigurd has given orders not to admit you to
Halđan," said Gunnar. "You'll be turned back at the gate, and
if you try to climb the stockade you'll very likely be
killed. There have been raids from Ireland and the guards are
on the alert day and night. The only way you'll get in is if
you send Ædwitha and Walburga back with me. Sigurd
means to give them back to Nils, Holger and Fritjoff to sell to the
"If there are guards on the stockade it's not to watch for
the Earl of Dublin," said Sweyne. "I'll not deny my God, nor
hand over my wife, and if Odd Fart wants any further answer, he can ask
"Perhaps he'll find that easier than you thought," replied
Gunnar. “The rune-marked dragon-killer is still in
"God will provide," said Sweyne.
When Gunnar got back to Halđan he went straight to Odd Fart's
house. Then Odd went to find Sigurd.
"Sweyne will not give up his new religion, nor will he come
to see you," said Odd. "In the circumstances you can't
possibly let him share your power. It looks as if Thorkel
will have to be your only heir. I only hope that you live for a long
time. Thorkel is much too hot-headed. He's sure to
give York or Dublin an excuse to invade. It seems to me that
it would be much safer if you could find a somewhat older and wiser man
to share the power with you and Thorkel, then, if you did die, at least
it wouldn't be a complete disaster."
Sigurd said he would talk it over with his kinsman, Ketil
Greybeard, and Odd had to be content with that.
Next Odd went to see Thorkel.
"I've persuaded your father to disinherit Sweyne," he said,
"but he does not seem to be willing to give all his power to you, or
even to make you his sole heir. It seems that some gossip has
been poisoning his mind against you, and telling him that you're much
too hot-headed to rule as Earl here. At court in Norway
people think I'm a skilful talker, but there's nothing I can do to
change your father's mind. I think an earl should be vigorous
and strong. He should know how to act decisively to punish
his enemies and put down trouble-makers and law-breakers. But
the greybeards won't agree. I'm afraid you have enemies among
your father's friends."
"It's true,” said Thorkel, "that some people have
always preferred Sweyne to me. Ketil has always disliked me,
and he's always whispering in my father's ear.
"It makes my blood boil," said Odd, "to think that my
son-in-law should be deprived of his rightful inheritance by being
forced to share it with a man nominated by Ketil Greybeard -- that my
grandchildren may be turned out of their own land by
usurpers! It's clear that, if Sigurd insists on yoking you
with an older man, we must find someone of our choice, preferably from
our own kin, or at least someone who won't have children. You
see, I'm entirely on your side in this. I don't want your
sons to be disinherited, because they'll be my grandsons."
"Why don't we ask Sigurd to let you share his power with me,"
said Odd. "I hadn't thought of that … though it
would be an excellent way of protecting the interests of our
descendants. Yes, Thorkel, I think you've hit the nail right
on the head and found the only real solution. But we must be
careful. I'll have a word with one or two people and prepare
the ground, just to make sure we have some support before we let Sigurd
know our plans."
Sigurd rode to Ketil Greybeard's farm.
"It's clear," he said, "that Odd Fart means to get a share in
my power, and, if he does, I don't think I shall live very long, and
neither will my sons."
"That's very true," said Ketil, "but the remedy lies in your
own hands. Give Sweyne a share in your power, and send Odd
Fart packing. Your followers may grumble a bit about having a Christian
for a leader, but it won't last. They all know Sweyne, and
they know he's a good fighting man and a good farmer, and just the man
to rule Swardale. After all, what's one god more or less
among so many?"
"Don't think I care one way or the other which gods are going
to have Swardale," said Sigurd angrily, "not after the way Odin has
cheated me! When Sweyne's sword was washed up on the shore,
they brought it to me, and I swore on the sacred runes engraved on it
that, if Sweyne came back, I would keep Swardale sacred to the Aesir
even if the rest of the world forsook them, that I would never allow
Christians to settle in Halđan, and that, as long as we Vikings rule in
Swardale, no-one shall ever be Earl unless he takes an oath to serve
Odin and Thor. -- Well, Odin kept his side of the bargain, Sweyne has
come back; and I'll keep my part: Sweyne will never be Earl of Swardale
unless he gives up his new gods."
"A man should never bind himself without good reason," said
Ketil, “for neither we nor the gods can know what the future
may bring. That oath of yours will probably cost you and your sons your
lives, for it's clear that Thorkel will never have the ability to rule
here, and Odd Eyvindsson seems to be able to bewitch everyone, either
with his silver-tongued flattery or with his sorcerer's poisons."
"Odd Fart would poison his own grandmother for half a mark of
unrefined silver," said Sigurd. "The Swardale Vikings are too
simple and true-hearted to be able to understand his treachery."
"But the native British know what sort of man he is," said
Ketil, because he thinks they are of no account and doesn't trouble to
hide his wickedness from them. I think that may be our one
chance. He's a sly, cunning, cowardly rascal who would rather
poison his enemies than stand up to them in fair fight, and he's come
to rely too much on that Welsh sorcerer of his. It's almost
as if the man has some hold on him. Well, if we can bind
Hywel with an oath he's afraid to break, we may be able to save your
"And how does Ketil Silvertongue mean to do that?"
Ketil would not answer, but he told Sigurd to wait for two
days before making Odd and Thorkel his fellow earls.
As soon as Sigurd had gone Ketil saddled his pony and rode
off eastward towards Baldersdale, though in those days it was known as
the Valley of the Derwydd. What he did there no-one knows.
* * *
Even if the
author of the Swardalers' Saga does not know what Ketil did his story
is not entirely lost. The following poem, collected in
northern Norway by the seventeenth-century antiquarian, Guđmund
Guđmundarsson, was called by him "Ketil's dream". Guđmundarsson
thought that the Sigurd mentioned here was the dragon-killing
hero, Sigurd the Volsung. Since the Ketil who tells the story
could not be identified, and the poem was difficult, if not impossible,
to reconcile with the rest of the Sigurd tradition, it remained in
obscurity and has never, till now, been reprinted. Our thesis
is that, far from referring to Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer, the poem is
part of a lost cycle of poems about Sweyne.
you saw, speak, Ketil.
rode through woods, over rocks I went,
horse's hooves hard on the ground.
the wild water like the wind I rode.
foot fell among fern and heath.
lame legs' last strength
me through boulders to the black cliff
the bubbling beck breaks forth.
couldn't climb the cliffs, too high
the rocks where the water ran.
foot stumbled. I fell helpless.
into the water drowning I fell.
on the hill hands brought me.
sayer spoke sooth.
wind and water his words came,
wounding words he woke me to hear.
watch and ward
hold the hound
grubs his grave.
life is death to me.
will I lie,
scorched, sinks to earth.
in my stead.
the rocks quake, quiver the earth.
high heavens hurl fire.
death is doomed thus:
rights the wrong."
Sigurd called all the Vikings together in a Thing in the
assembly fields outside Halđan. When everything was ready, he
stood up and told them what was in his mind.
"It is better for a man to hand on his power to his sons
before he grows so feeble that it falls from his grasp," he
said. "I had two sons, but one of them has turned against me
and against our gods and our Norse way of life. I want to
adopt Odd Eyvindsson as my foster-son, and he has agreed to this, even
though his family is greater than mine. I want my two sons,
Thorkel and Odd, to share my power and be equal with me as Earls of
Swardale, but, even if my son, Sweyne, has forsaken me, I shall not
forsake him entirely, because I know my duty as a father. He
can never be Earl in Swardale as long as he is a Christian, because I
have bound myself by an oath, and I will never be so weak as to break
my word, but I do not mean to harm him or drive him out of
Swardale. I want my fellow Earls to swear an oath that they
will keep faith with me and do no harm to any of my family.
There will be two witnesses to the oath, and, if no-one minds, I will
name them both. First I choose Ketil Greybeard, because he is
my friend and the truest man in Swardale. Secondly, to show
how much regard I have for my son, Odd, I choose his friend, Hywel the
This was agreed. Ketil and Hywel talked together
for a while, then they read out the oath, which was as Sigurd had
said. Thorkel and Odd both bound themselves to keep
it. That is how Odd Fart, the son of Eyvind the Boaster,
became Earl of Swardale. That same day Rannveig Oddsdaughter
was wedded to Thorkel Sigurdsson.
Soon afterwards Sweyne Sigurdsson bought a ship and left
Swardale, sailing southward along the English coast with
Ædwitha and Walburga, to find the abbey of which Walburga's
brother was abbot. He returned safely a few weeks later,
brining back Ædwitha as his wife. Walburga stayed
As soon as Sweyne returned he began to work to convert the
Vikings and the British to Christianity. Most of the Vikings
would have nothing to do with him, and the three Earls would not let
him enter Halđan, but the British, many of whom had been Christians
before, often preferred to join him and get his help against Odd Fart
and his robbers, who plundered the countryside whenever they could.
Sweyne founded several churches, including one on the coastal
island where he had lain hidden with Ædwitha and
Walburga. Here he built a wooden church and erected a stone
cross where the hut had stood. A village grew up around it, and, as the
men made their living by fishing, it was called Fishers' Cross.
Sweyne's other deeds are told in Sweyne Wormbane's Saga,
which was written by his grandson, Knut Sigurdsson the Learned.
And there this saga of the Swardalers ends.
Chapter 9: Odd Fart's Saga
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