OF HALDEN, III
- Auksford, 2006
Robin Gordon 2006
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Odd Fart's Saga
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Davies prefaced the second half of his article, his translation of the
surviving fragments of Sweyne Wormbane's Saga and the other, more
extensive, documents related to it, with an account of their
rediscovery. Brian found it excessively boring and
tedious. It was, of course, typical of the Roman Catholic
Church that it should have destroyed the only surviving copy of the
story of Sweyne and used it for scrap paper in the bindings of service
books and those saints' legends of which it was so fond, but he was
totally uninterested in the story of the discovery of the scraps by
Dafydd ap Gruffydd Davies, one of Gogfran's cousins, who had been
engaged in rebinding books from the library of Finchbury
Priory. Thinking his cousin might be interested, Dafydd had
transcribed some of the scraps and notified Gogfran by post.
It had taken four days for the letter to travel from Pont-y-Vair to
Baldersthwaite, where Gogfran was engaged in researching into popular
customs and folklore. Gogfran had pored over the
transcription, recognising certain names with mounting excitement, and,
an hour after the letter had arrived, was breaking the speed limit in
his eagerness to see the fragments themselves.
As the work of rebinding progressed, more and more manuscript
fragments came to light, but, to Gogfran’s disappointment,
nothing more about Sweyne or Swardale. Nevertheless there was
enough to identify the findings as part of the lost saga of St Sweyne
and to open new avenues of research; so Gogfran hurried back to the
University of Halden with transcriptions and photographs, and succeeded
in securing a grant to extend his investigations.
As his research proceeded, Gogfran realised ever more clearly
that his intended explanations for the customs of Baldersdale would
have to be entirely revised, however, the story that he uncovered was
interesting enough in itself to be written up as an extended article.
Resemblances and references had sent him off on a hunt for related
documents, searching libraries and museums throughout Europe, wherever
the Vikings had trod. The search had unearthed the
Swardalers' Saga and the poems and ballads already quoted, but it was
the fragments of The Saga of Sweyne Wormbane, sparse and incomplete
though they were, that remained the cornerstone of his work and had led
him to further documents which would influence his treatment of the
folk customs and ceremonies of Baldersdale when he returned to that
"Get on with it!" thought Brian.
Before his present work's climax in what had been saved of
the story of Sweyne and the Great Worm of Baldersdale, Davies proposed
to interpolate a further story, which he had discovered in the Danish
Royal Library in Copenhagen, and which he found particularly
interesting for the light it threw on the obscene antics of the three
villain-figures in the Baldersdale ceremonies, for whom he had
previously been inclined to give a purely mythological explanation: the
Old Fart, the Running Fart and the Little Fart, or, as they were called
in the local dialect, t' Auld Fart, t' Runnen Fart and t' La'al
Fart. That these figures were based on historical characters
would become apparent from reading the short but ribaldly amusing Odd
Fart's Saga, and he would make the connection clear in his forthcoming
book. A continuation of this tale, which he had found in the
library of Annunciation College, Auksford, would supplement the story
of the Great Worm told in the Sweyne fragments.
Brian looked up ribald in his dictionary, pursed his lips,
and read on.
was a man called Odd Fart who wanted his sons to be kings.
Saemund was his eldest son. Men called him the Weasel because
of his sly, slinking ways. Eirik was Odd's other son, but he
had no nickname. Odd's daughter Rannveig later married
Thorkel Sigurdsson of Swardale in England. She was so like
her father that she was called Rannveig Fart.
Odd was a tall man, but not strong or well built.
His hair, which was short and curly, was nearly white, and his beard
was skimpy. His nose was long and pointed like a spear, and,
whenever Odd talked to anyone, he would thrust it in that
Odd Fart was the son-in-law of Haakon Bloodhand, yet he
dabbled his hands in the slain king's blood. The king's
killers he called to dine. They ate meat at his
table. Mead they drank, and ale. Harald's henchmen hewed them
down. Odd bathed his hands in their blood. While
Harald feasted and gloried in kingship, Odd’s men went out
and killed the wives and children of his fallen
brothers-in-law. Weeping women they wickedly killed and babes
Odd's own enemies were killed too, and the owners of land he
wanted. Harald was King in Norway, and Odd became his
counsellor. He made peace with the powerful and killed the
King Harald's wife was Gunnhild Gunnars-daughter from
Stiklestad. Her mother was the grand-daughter of Earl
Eirik. When Queen Gunnhild was pregnant, Odd Fart began to
tell people that he did not believe the rumours that she had had lovers.
"It's disgraceful," he said, "that people are so envious of
King Harald that they have to say that his wife is unfaithful and his
children not his own."
When the gossip came to the King's ears, Odd told him to
carry on his business as usual, but to set men to watch at the Queen's
door while he was away from home. If no-one visited her, her
innocence would be proved. The King agreed to this.
When he had to visit Ramsdal, he left Gunnhild at home and took his
Odd Fart had a servant named Geirmund Olafsson, a
fine-looking young man, whom no-one would have taken for the peasant he
was. Odd took Geirmund aside and gave him a gold ring.
"Take this to the Queen," he said, "and tell her the King has
sent it to her as a present."
When the King's spies came to tell Odd that they had seen
Geirmund visiting the Queen at night, Odd flew into a rage.
So great was his fury, he foamed at the mouth. He sent for
his servant, and swiftly he came. Odd's axe ended his life.
When the King came home his counsellors told him that Odd had
killed the Queen's lover. The King would not believe it, but
on the Queen's finger was a gold ring, and Odd said it was Geirmund's.
Odd told the King to send the Queen home to her
father. If the child had blue eyes and fair hair, like the
King, all would be well, but if it had green eyes, like Geirmund
Olafsson, the Queen's guilt would be proved.
"It was my servant that people accused," said Odd, "and I
killed him before we could find out the truth, so I feel partly to
blame. I hope you'll let me make amends by riding to
Stiklestad to explain things to Gunnar. I'll make sure he
understands you are only sending Gunnhild home to protect her from
slanders. My sons Saemund and Eirik will ride with her as
escort while I go on ahead."
The King agreed and it was done.
Odd rode to Stiklestad. Gunnar was griefstricken at
Gunnhild's fall, but his heart held no hatred for Harald the King.
When Saemund and Eirik were neither seen nor heard, Odd grew
"I hope the Queen is safe," he said, "for I heard wolves
howling in the hills."
Odd and Gunnar set out with some men. They met
Saemund and Eirik, with bloody swords, seeming exhausted.
Odd's son's said they had been attacked by wolves and their horses
killed. They fought the grey hunters with sharp swords, but
the Queen and her lady were killed and dragged off.
Gunnar's men galloped on, but found no trace of horse or
wolf, nor Queen, nor lady.Great was the grief of Gunnar of Stiklestad.
wept and wailed.
When the King got over his grief Odd said he must have a new
"The King must have an heir," he said.
Odd Fart offered his daughter, Rannveig, but the King refused
her. When he was ready he married Aud Ketils-daughter.
Odd saw that the favours of Kings are fickle, and their whims
veer in the wind of fortune like flags tossed in the breeze.
"If this is the sort of loyalty I can expect from the King,"
he said to his wife, Thordis, "then I don't see why I should stay in
"You can't expect my brother to marry his own niece just to
please you," said Thordis Haakons-daughter.
"I don't see why not," said Odd. "Besides, she's
only his half-niece, and, if you were exerting yourself properly on our
behalf, you would have persuaded him to adopt Saemund as his heir
instead of letting him marry again."
Odd Fart said to the King, "Why don't you send me to Finnmark
to collect your taxes? It would be a fitting punishment to
send me away from your court, though I can't see what I have done to
deserve your anger. Perhaps, while I'm out there in the
northern wastes, I may find some way of serving you and proving how
faithful a friend I am."
King Harald agreed because his coffers were low.
When he first became King he had had many cares, making peace with some
and overcoming his enemies, so the northern lands had been
neglected. He sent Odd to collect tribute in western
Finnmark, and to eastern Finnmark he sent Arinbjorn the White, Atli's
son. Odd took Saemund and Eirik with him. Thordis stayed at
home. Although she had had several miscarriages and
stillbirths and was too old to have healthy children, she was with
child again. Rannveig stayed to look after her.
When Odd arrived in Finnmark he began to seek out the most
powerful landowners to talk to them about the King's tribute.
He soon found out which were honest men and which were
corruptible. To these latter he went and offered to
under-assess their wealth in return for their help in collecting the
tribute from their neighbours. If any of them refused Odd
pretended that he had been testing their honesty, but his nose rarely
led him astray. He used to visit these friends privately,
with only his sons for company.
One day, when Odd and his sons were on their way back from
one such visit, loaded with pelts and other gifts from their grateful
host, they were caught in a blizzard and had to stay where they were
until the storm dropped. It was night before they were able
to move on, and they had not gone far before they heard wolves on their
track. The winter was hard and the wolves lacked food. They
killed cattle. Farms feared them. Now they trailed
trembling Odd. Grey shadows shone in the moonlight.
Soundless feet followed the travellers.
They came to a cart, and found Halldor Gudmundsson, who was
taking his wife and children to his brother Hallvard's house.
The children were cold and crying. The wolves heard their
wailing, and whined as they ran.
Halldor called out to Odd, and asked him to stay and help
fight off the wolves.
"I have a better idea," said Odd. "Since we have no
chance against so many, let us take your children to safety on our
ponies. Leave your oxen here, harnessed to the cart, and
follow us on foot. The wolves will make a meal of the oxen,
but at least you and your children will be saved.
Halldor thought this was a good plan. Odd and his
sons took the three little children on their ponies and rode
off. Halldor and his wife followed on foot. The
wolves ate the oxen. Halldor heard them howling and hurried
Odd's ponies began to tire.
"Why should we carry these brats?" said Saemund.
"They are no concern of ours. If you take my advice, we'll
leave them to die in the snow. No-one will be any the wiser."
"We'll keep them with us, as we promised," said Odd, and they
After a while Eirik said, "There could be wolves following
us, and these children are slowing us down. Why don't we
leave them to die, as Saemund suggested? It's not like you to
risk your life for other people, Father."
Odd said, "We'll keep the children as long as we can," and
they rode on.
From the trees, from behind the rocks came the grey
wolves. Running across the snow they came, racing to the
Odd said, "Now you'll see why I kept these bairns.
Let Eirik throw his burden in the snow.
Eirik threw down the child, and the wolves stopped to eat
him. Odd and his sons rode on.
When the wolves came after them again, Odd told Saemund to
throw down his child. Saemund dropped her in the
snow. The wolves ate her. Odd and his sons rode on.
A third time the wolves came. Odd threw down the
child he was carrying. The wolves ate him. Odd and
his sons rode on till they reached safety.
"If Halldor survives the wolves, which I doubt," said Odd,
"we'll tell him we brought the children here, but they were unhappy
without their mother and wandered off to find her. We'll tell
him we went out to look for them and were almost killed by
wolves. He'll weep for his children, and he'll tell his
friends how we tried to save them. Cattle die, kinsfolk die,
but one thing I know does not die: the reputation that we leave behind
At the agreed time Odd and Arinbjorn met and made ready for
their journey south. Odd invited Arinbjorn and all his men to
a great feast, except for those who were to guard the
tribute. While everyone was eating and drinking, Odd sent
four of his own men to take ale to the watchers. The ale was
drugged, and Arinbjorn's men fell fast asleep soon after drinking
it. Then Odd's men opened the chests and took out all of the
tribute. They filled the bottom half of each chest with earth
and stones they had brought in sacks, then put back half of the
treasure on top. The rest they put into their sacks and
carried them away to Odd's storehouse. Then they went back
and roused the watchers.
"You've obviously been in Finnmark so long that you've
forgotten the strength of good Norwegian beer," they said.
"Why, you were almost asleep. Anyone could have crept in and
stolen the tribute. It's lucky for you that we were here to
prevent you dropping off completely -- and it's lucky for you that
we're the sort of men who'll keep our mouths shut."
When Arinbjorn asked his men if the tribute was safe, they
told him no-one had come near all night.
Next morning Arinbjorn and his men left early, while Odd's
men were still loading their wagons. Arinbjorn went straight
to the King, but Odd stopped at Thorgils Egilsson's farm.
There he divided his wagons into two.
"I've heard that there are robbers in the district," he
said. "If they see so many wagons in one train, they'll be
sure to attack, and we may lose all the King's tribute. My
plan is this. My sons and I will take half our wagons for a
day's journey and leave them at Brynjolf Oxfeller's farm.
Then we'll come back for the others. If we're not back in
three days, you'll know we have been killed by thieves. Take
the rest of the wagons to the King -- you will be quite safe: the
bandits will be too busy sharing out their loot to think of any more
raiding -- and tell him how we died."
Odd and his sons took with them the four men who had robbed
Arinbjorn's tribute store, and left the others with Thorgils.
They went straight to a farm that Odd owned, and hid the
treasure. Odd then gave the men rich gifts and told them not
to go back to Trondheim.
"You can buy land with what I've given you," he said, "and
I'll tell the King you were killed by the men who stole the treasure."
That night, while the men were asleep, Odd and his sons came
and killed them.
"I always tell the truth," said Odd, "especially when
speaking to the King."
Odd and his sons went back to Thorgils Egilsson's farm and
said they had been attacked by bandits. All four of their
companions had been killed and the tribute carts had been
stolen. The robbers had hung Odd and his son Saemund on trees
to die by slow strangulation, but Eirik, who had been knocked
unconscious in the struggle and left for dead, came to himself again
and cut down his father and brother.
After this they travelled on to Trondheim, where the King was
waiting. Odd and Arinbjorn took the tribute to the King's
house and laid it out for his inspection.
The King asked why Arinbjorn had brought so much less than
Odd. Arinbjorn told him he had collected twice as much, but
it had been stolen on the way and the chests filled with stones.
"How strange that you did not see the robbers," said
Odd. "Perhaps they were shape-changers or elves. We
were robbed too, and all my men can tell you where. In fact
four of them were killed, while all of Arinbjorn's came home
unscathed. If it had not been for my foresight in dividing
our wagons into two parties, we might have lost the lot, so great were
their numbers. As it was my sons and I barely escaped with
our lives, and we have brought you only half of what is due to
you. When I see how little Arinbjorn has brought, it seems
quite clear to me that one of us has been salting away your royal
tribute for his own use."
"That is clear to me too," said Harald.
The King had Arinbjorn the White, Atli's son,
killed. His lands and his goods fell to the crown, and Odd
Fart had his share in them.
When Odd Fart heard that Queen Aud was with child he began to
think that his plan to have Saemund adoped as King Harald's heir would
come to nothing.
"It's a pity," he said, "that King Harald's good fortune
attracts so much envy that people are saying that his second wife is as
unfaithful as the first."
King Harald said, "Aud Ketils-daughter is faithful and
pure. If you know of anyone who has said otherwise, tell me
Odd Fart could not answer.
Afterwards he said to Thordis that King Harald should be more
loyal to the friends who had helped him to the throne, and he began to
look around for other men who could help him to greatness.
There was a man called Sigurd the Terrible whose father was
Sweyne Crookback the son of Sigurd Stone. Sigurd had been
driven from Norway by Haakon Bloodhand with only three ships.
He settled in Swardale and strengthened his walls. His few
followers fought bravely. Sigurd made himself Earl of
Swardale. He gave land to his men. He sent ships
trading. His son, Sweyne, spread his fame throughout the
Irish Sea and around the coasts of England and Scotland.
Sweyne sailed to Denmark and Sweden, and journeyed with the Rus as far
as Mickelgarth, where the Eastern Emperor dwells. It was said
that his sword had been blessed by Odin, and that the all-seeing
Allfather had adopted him as his favourite son. Swardale
would be too small to set as bounds for him. He would unite
York and Dublin. He and his kin would be kings in England.
Odd Fart sent his servants to seek news of him.
"I want to know everything you hear about Sweyne or Sigurd or
Swardale, no matter how unimportant it seems to you," he
said. He saw Rannveig, his daughter, decked in queenly
finery. Rannveig Odds-daughter would rule in England.
There was a ship in the harbour with sickness among the
crew. It had come from Swardale, bringing a sorcerer on
board. Hywel was the man's name, a Welshman, driven out by
his people, who had sought shelter in Swardale and been picked up by
Vikings. Odd pricked up his nose at the news that they
brought him. The evil eye could be useful to him.
He sent a message to Hywel, offering to buy his freedom and
inviting him to join his household, for he meant to cross to England,
where Hywel could either rejoin his own people or take vengeance on
them as he saw fit.
Hywel accepted and joined Odd's household. Odd
talked to Hywel and found in him a willing helper of like
mind. They became firm friends.
"They tell me that Sigurd's son Sweyne is a fine young man,"
"That's true enough," said Hywel. “He's
the best and bravest man I ever saw, curse him. If I could do
him some harm, I'd do it gladly."
There's more than one way to kill a cat," said Odd.
"Do you think he could make himself a king over there?"
"I hate to say it," said Hywel, "but I think he could."
"Then I will see that he does," said Odd. "He can
marry my daughter Rannveig, and we'll be his chief
counsellors. I suppose you can make a love potion if one is
"Nothing easier," said Hywel. “I can do
anything with a few herbs: love, sickness, death, miscarriage, madness
- you name it."
"That's very interesting," said Odd.
Odd Fart told King Harald that he meant to go over to
"Your father drove out Sigurd, Sweyne Crookback's son," he
said, but he has made himself a powerful earl over in
England. People say his son, Sweyne, won’t be
satisfied with Swardale. It's time we made them our friends
before they make themselves our foes. What I want to do is
this: I'll bind Sweyne to our house by marrying my daughter, Rannveig,
to him. If he's as good a man as they say, it will be better
to have him with us than against us.
King Harald agreed and Odd made his preparations.
Queen Aud was now close to her time and complaining that the
hot weather made her head ache. Thordis Haakons-daughter
brought her a refreshing drink made from herbs by Hywel the
Welshman. The Queen's headache cleared. She gave
Hywel a gift of silver, and he sent her more of the potion.
Odd and his men sailed the next day. Saemund and Eirik sailed
with their father, but Rannveig stayed at home until the betrothal
could be made. The King gave Odd Fart rich gifts for Sigurd,
but Sigurd saw not a tenth of them.
Soon after, Queen Aud complained of pains in the
belly. Her child was born dead, and she never conceived
again. When Thordis Haakons-daughter heard what had happened
she went to the harbour and drowned herself.
Strong winds drove Odd's ships to shelter in
Ireland. There they lay for a few days while he got over his
sea-sickness, then they sailed swiftly to Swardale.
Sweyne was drowned, dead were Odd's hopes, his English empire
an empty dream. Then news came from Norway: the queen had
miscarried. Odd knew what to do. He would marry
Rannveig to Thorkel Sigurdsson to secure the earldom, but Thorkel was a
half-witted lout who would never keep it. Odd would secure it
for Eirik, then, when the time was right, return to Norway to make
Rannveig sailed for Swardale. Unwillingly she came
to marry the brother of the fallen Sweyne. She brought news:
Thordis Haakons-daughter was dead, drowned in the harbour, crushed
under the keel of a dragon ship.
Odd sent messengers to Denmark to ask for the hand of the
King's daughter. He sent reports to King Harald of his
success in making friends with the warlike Sigurd and turning him from
his heart's longing to ravage the land of his enemy's son. He
betrothed Rannveig to Thorkel, bought land in Swardale with silver he
had brought and with Harald's gifts to Sigurd. He made
Swardale his home and chief refuge and built himself a house on the
high ground across the river from Halden. When Sweyne came
back Odd persuaded Sigurd to banish him. How Odd made himself
Earl is told in the Swardalers' Saga.
After Odd Fart became Earl in Swardale, sharing power with
Sigurd and Thorkel, he was afraid that Sigurd might think of some way
to share his power with Sweyne. Odd wanted to kill Sweyne, so
he asked Hywel the Sorcerer to prepare a poison.
"You swore not to harm Sigurd or any of his family," said
Hywel. "I was the witness and I mean to keep you to the oath."
When Odd heard this he flew into a great rage.
"Is this the sort of loyalty I can expect from you?" he
said. "You were a slave when I bought your freedom.
I have brought you back to your own country and made you what you are,
and now you dare to cross me! It's a grave and serious
insult! I could have you slaughtered on the spot for it!"
"I don't think you will do that," said Hywel. "Even
if I won't let you kill Sigurd and his family, I am quite ready to put
a spell on anyone else you care to name. I'm too useful for
you to kill me, and, besides, if you did I should haunt you
forever. The Evil Eye is a useful friend but a fearful foe."
"That's true enough," said Odd, "but I don't see why you are
so concerned about Sigurd and his sons. They are nothing to
"Nothing at all," replied Hywel, "but a sorcerer cannot
afford to cross anyone whose magic is more powerful than his own, and
Ketil Greybeard has on his side the Druid who lives in the vale of the
"Ketil Greybeard!" said Odd. "Everywhere I turn I
seem to run into Ketil Greybeard. It's time his life came to
an end - unless you have some objection."
"None at all," replied Hywel. "I don't like being
tricked any more than you do, so I'll poison him with the greatest of
Soon afterwards Ketil Greybeard took sick and died.
Since he was an old man nobody thought it strange. Ketil's
first wife and all his children had been killed by Haakon
Bloodhand. His second wife was a British woman, and many of
the Vikings thought it a shame that such good land should revert to the
natives. However Sigurd took her part and the three earls
agreed that she should be left in peace.
A few weeks later sickness struck at the farm
again. Several cattle died and two of the farmhands, then one
of the maids, and the mistress's own brother. After that
Ketil's widow wanted nothing better than to sell the farm and leave the
district. Earl Odd was able to add it to his estates quite
Rannveig Odds-daughter had come to marry a king.
She sniffed out greatness. She scented her prey.
Sweyne was snatched from her, the sea took him. She married
Thorkel. As she made her bed, so let her lie on it.
Her nose knew no greatness in Thorkel her husband, heavy her sorrow.
When Sweyne came home she scolded Thorkel, urged him on to outdo his
brother, mocked his manhood.
Odd Fart went to Rannveig and said: "Since you only married
Thorkel because we were told Sweyne was swallowed by the sea, it's
clear that, if Thorkel cannot make himself as good a man as Sweyne, the
only way for him to earn your favour is by killing Sweyne.
Until Sweyne is dead we are not sure of keeping the Earldom for our
house. What I want you to do is this: refuse to let Thorkel
share your bed until he is the best man in Swardale - apart from
myself, that is - and, when he asks what you mean him to do, tell him
to kill Sweyne. If he refuses you must call him a coward and
a weakling, and say that, if he's not man enough to stand up to Sweyne,
then he's not man enough to be your husband."
Rannveig Fart willingly agreed.
When Thorkel came home that night she refused to let him into
"Now look here," said Thorkel, "you can't do this.
I'm your husband, and, what's more, I'm the Earl of Swardale."
"When it comes to rank," said Rannveig, "my family can beat
yours every time. My father is also Earl of Swardale, and,
what's more, I'm the niece of the King of Norway. I married
into your family because I thought you had ability, but I see that
Sweyne has inherited all Sigurd's skills. You're just a
blustering bully and not a real man at all. I don't intend to
let you sleep with me until you've killed Sweyne, and, if you refuse,
I'll divorce you. I don't think you'll keep your power in
Swardale very long if my father turns against you."
When Thorkel heard this he tried to smash down the doors of
the bed-closet with his bare hands, but they were strongly built and he
could not move them. Then Thorkel went to find an axe, but
Rannveig and her servants had hidden away every axe and knife in the
house. So Thorkel had to sleep in one of the open cubicles
like his men.
This went on for several nights. Thorkel knew
everyone was laughing at him, so at last he agreed to do what Rannveig
Thorkel got his men together.
"My brother has been banished from Halden," he said, "and
denied a share in my father's power, but he seems to think he can make
himself a chieftain without any right at all. Odd Eyvindsson
and I are Sigurd's fellow Earls, not Sweyne, but you might almost think
Swenby was the Earl's seat not Halden. All the native people
in the area look to him, and he even interferes with us when we go out
collecting our tribute, although the amount has been fixed according to
the law by the Earls and their followers at the Thing. He has
built churches in several villages and farms, even though Christians
are outlawed in Swardale. Quite a few of our own people have
gone over to him. He has even got himself some ships and set
up a harbour at Fishers' Cross. If things go on like this,
he'll be able to control the estuary and prevent us getting our ships
in and out of Halden. We've got to get rid of him before it's
When one of his herdsmen told Sweyne that Thorkel and his men
were riding towards them, Sweyne sent Ædwitha with the other
women and the children to hide in the Alebeck marshes. Then
he collected his men together and took up a position in front of the
Thorkel and his men left their ponies tethered to some trees
and came forward on foot. They attacked so violently that
Sweyne and his men were driven back against the wall of the
house. Thorkel hurled a spear at Snorri
Thorhallsson. It struck him just below the thickest part of
the calf. Snorri was thrown to the ground and could not get
up. Sweyne's men dragged him inside the house. At
this Thorkel's men hurled spears and charged with drawn swords, hoping
to drive Sweyne's men to take shelter inside the house so that they
could fire it and burn them all to death.
Sweyne realised what Thorkel intended. He shouted
his warning and rushed forward, swinging his axe. Thorkel's
men closed around him. Thorolf Bjornsson struck him in the
leg with a spear, but Sweyne swung his axe and split his head from top
to bottom. All the same it would have gone hard for Sweyne if
his men had not come rushing out of the house. They charged
so vigorously that Thorkel's men were driven off and Thorkel himself
Sweyne's men would have killed him, but Sweyne was unwilling
to shed his brother's blood. He offered to let him go if he
would swear an oath to leave Swenby in peace. Thorkel was
eager to save his skin, so he agreed to Sweyne's terms and sent his men
to wait with the ponies. Then Sweyne's men went into the
house, and the two brothers took their leave. Sweyne turned
and began to walk towards the door, but Thorkel suddenly swung his
sword at his brother's head. The blow would have split Sweyne's skull
in two and cut deep into his shoulders if it had landed, but Sweyne
heard it and twisted aside in time. Thorkel lost his balance,
and Sweyne's men ran out and held him before he could recover.
"Now look here, Sweyne," said Thorkel, "a man shouldn't kill
his own brother. You said so yourself. Blood's
thicker than water, after all, and, besides, I only meant it as a
joke. I knew you'd be able to avoid my blow. You
were always too quick for me when we used to fight with sticks when we
Sweyne told his men to bind Thorkel and keep him in the house
overnight. Then he told Thorkel's men to go back to Halden
and say nothing to anyone if they wanted their leader back in one
piece. The next day he set Thorkel on his pony and sent him
back to Halden without his breeches.
"If Rannveig denies Thorkel his manhood until he kills me,"
said Sweyne, "she'll have to content herself with a gelding for a
When Rannveig heard of Thorkel's disgrace she left his house
and went to her father at Odderby.
"I want to divorce Thorkel," she said.
"That's not what I advise," said Odd. "We need the
alliance with Sigurd's family if we are to keep our grip on the
Earldom. If you divorce Thorkel it will only strengthen
Sweyne. We need Thorkel until I can find some way of securing
the succession for Saemund and Eirik, and getting rid of Sigurd."
"That's all very well," said Rannveig, "but what do I get out
of it. You promised me marriage to a king, but now I'm tied
to a drunken bully who brays like an ass and lets himself be made a
"When we have the Earldom of Swardale safely in our grasp,"
said Odd, "that will be the time to rid ourselves of Thorkel, and then
we'll be in a strong position to find you a suitable husband."
"And until then I'll have to be content to be the wife of
Thorkel Barelegs?" said Rannveig. She refused to listen to
her father, and Odd had to use all his powers of persuasion to calm
her. His silky voice insinuated itself into every crevice of
her mind, while his hands stroked her arms. Still Rannveig
wept for the disgrace Sweyne and Thorkel had brought upon
her. Odd assured her of her father's love, but she said he
cared more for his sons and was only using her for their
benefit. Odd embraced her, held her in his arms, his nose
against her nose, soothed and calmed her, caressed her, kissed her, and
lay with his own daughter.
"Perhaps nothing will come of it," said Rannveig, "for you
are an old man, Father."
"I am in the prime of life," replied Odd Fart, "and I can't
count the number of children I've sired. I think you had
better go back and make it up with Thorkel as soon as you can."
Odd Thorkelsson was born about nine months after Thorkel
tried to kill Sweyne and lost his breeches. The child took
after his mother's side of the family and showed a striking resemblance
to Odd Fart. He soon became Odd's favourite, and his
grandfather could deny him nothing.
10: A new obsession
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