Brian's Saga

by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2006  -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2006

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    Chapter 9
    Odd Fart's Saga
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    Gogfran 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 project.
    "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.


Odd Fart's Saga

    There 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 person’s face.
    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 they butchered.
    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 weak.

    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 leave cheerfully.
    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 anxious.
    "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.
Harald howled.
The King cried,
He wept and wailed.
    When the King got over his grief Odd said he must have a new wife.
    "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 Norway."
    "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 his utmost.
    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 rode on.
    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 attack.
    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 us."

    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 his name."
    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," said Odd.
    "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 needed."
    "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 Swardale.
    "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 Saemund king.
    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 you."
    "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 Afanc."
    "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 pleasure."

    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 cheaply.

    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 the bed-closet.
    "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 wanted.

    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 too late."
    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 house.
    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 was captured.
    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 were boys."
    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 husband.”
    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 laughing-stock."
    "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.

Chapter 10: A new obsession

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