CHRONICLES OF HALDEN, III
by Robin Gordon
- Auksford, 2006 -
Robin Gordon 2006
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manuscript of Odd
Fart's Saga breaks off after the birth of Odd the younger,
but, with the information found therein, using various names as the
basis for searching, I was able to trace a further manuscript which
takes up the story some fifteen years later. I am grateful to
Dr Bronwen Jones-Davies of Bethany College Auksford for drawing my
attention to the manuscript holdings of Annunciation College, among
which I found an untitled, fragment, which I have called Odd's End
and which I have combined with other material to reconstruct a more or
less continuous narrative.
spies told Odd where he went and everything he did.
One day when he was riding back from his farm at Geddonby with two of
his followers he met some men on ponies. One came towards him
and he saw it was Nils Ulfsson.
“Odd Eyvindsson is with us,” said Nils,
“and he would like to talk with you if you don’t
“What has Odd Fart to say to me?” said
“That is something I do not know,”
replied Nils, “but he asks if you will meet him here in the
open air, between our two parties.”
Sweyne agreed and rode forward to meet Odd.
“Sigurd is an old man now,” said Odd,
“and it pains me to see the two of you still at odds after so
“I will come to Halden to see my father whenever he
lets me,” said Sweyne, “and you know that my door
is always open to him.”
“Fine words,” sneered Odd,
“when you know that Earl Sigurd has sworn that no Christian
will be allowed into Halden.”
“My father’s oath was that no Christian
should be Earl in Halden,” said Sweyne, “and that
he would keep Swardale for the old gods.”
“That is what he will do,” replied
Odd. “He will keep his oath even if it means he
will never see his son again. But he is old and the years
weigh heavy on him. He will go to his grave in sorrow unless
you come back to us. What you must do is this: give up this
new god of yours – after all, what difference does it make
which of the gods hold sway here in Swardale? Call to mind
that it was Odin Allfather who blessed your sword and wrote on it its
name in holy runes. After so many years no-one will take your
wife from you. After all, Ædwitha is so old that
Nils, Holger and Fritjoff wouldn’t get enough for her to make
their trip to Mickelgarth worthwhile. All you have to do is
give up your new god, Jesus, agree to worship Odin and Thor, and you
can come back into Halden. I am sure Thorkel won’t
mind giving up a share in the earldom to you, and I shall be delighted
to have you as my fellow earl.”
“I too have sworn an oath,” said
Sweyne. “When I was weak and unmanned I called on
Odin to help me, but he could do nothing. Then when Thorkel
attacked Ædwitha I called on Jesus, and he gave me strength
to defend her. I swore then to serve no other god but Christ
and his Father.”
“Fine words again,” said Odd,
“but I have heard it said that Christians always try to drive
out all other gods. If you are so devoted to Christ, why
haven’t you done that?”
“I honour my father,” said Sweyne,
“and my father worships Odin and Thor. I will not
raise my hand against him. It is enough for me that some
people hear my words and become Christians.”
“One should always respect one’s
father,” said Odd. “That is a right and
holy way to behave. I have always believed that that was your
attitude, and I’m glad to find that my belief is
true. Of course, there are those who say that you
don’t really love your father and that your Christianity is
no more than an excuse to stand against him and go your own
way. I tell them that’s nonsense, but
there’s no way of stopping malicious tongues from
wagging. There could be any number of reasons why you
wouldn’t get rid of the Druid and his outlandish
practices. Perhaps you don’t want to have the
bother of looking after all those British peasants who might become
Christians after he was gone …”
“Sigurd is Earl of Swardale,” said
Sweyne. “It’s not for me to start driving
people out of his lands.”
“I agree,” said Odd.
“I think what you have said is very right and proper and
shows respect for your father; but the slanderers say that the
Druid’s Dale isn’t really part of Swardale at
all. They say it’s a wild, uncivilised place whose
people don’t pay tribute to Sigurd. They say that
your lands at Geddonby are the closest, and that you’re in
league with the Druid. They say you’ve agreed to
leave him in peace as long as his men don’t raid your
farms. They say that, if you were a real Christian, you would
have killed him long ago. I defend you, of course.
Why should you want to kill the Druid when he hasn’t done you
any harm? It’s not as if there were any truth in
any of these religions. We should all agree to live and let
live. One man’s god is as good as
another’s. What I advise is this: show these people
that you respect your father by giving up this new-fangled Christianity
of yours and coming back to Odin and Thor.”
Odd rode back to his men, and Sweyne went back to
Swenby. Whatever Odd said he would not forsake Christ, but it
troubled him that slanderers claimed he held his father in
contempt. He turned Odd’s news over in his mind,
and at last decided what to do. He would prove the strength
of his faith by confronting the Druid. The pagan priest must
either become a Christian or die.
Sweyne rode to the Vale and called on the Druid to come forth.
"Tell me why I should not kill you," he said.
"In my death," said the Druid, "you will find the task set
for you. Greatness will be yours and lasting fame."
"What would be so famous about killing an unarmed old man?"
The Druid answered: "If you kill me a Great Worm will lay
waste the fields, kill the cattle, poison the wells and the rivers, and
bring sickness and death to the people. This I swear to you."
"Come forth from the vale," said Sweyne. "Give up
your false beliefs and superstitions. Come down to Swenby and
be baptised. There is a well there of holy water that sprang
up from the earth when I struck it with my staff. The men of
Halden would not let me baptise my followers in the Swar or the
Alebeck, so the Lord sent me this water. Even in time of
drought my well does not run dry. Be baptised there, and you
will receive the well of living water promised by Jesus to all who
"I cannot leave the vale. It is forbidden," said
"You are an old man," said Sweyne. "Your talk of a
Great Worm is nonsense. If you won't come willingly, I shall
take you by force. The waters of baptism will drive this evil
"I will not come," said the Druid. "If you take me
from here, the Worm will come forth. Its foul breath will
blacken the trees and wither the corn. The birds will fall
from the air, and the fish will drown in the water."
"Your threats are meaningless," said Sweyne. "They
are empty words. Come now, or die!"
"Then I will die," said the Druid, "and when I am dead the
Worm will come forth from the vale. The waters of the Swar
will flow no more. The Alebeck will run dry. The
thirsting cattle will falter in the fields. Sheep will fall
dead on the fells. Plague and pestilence will rage in the
towns and villages. All will be destroyed."
"Empty threats," said Sweyne, and stabbed him to the heart.
"Now that the Druid is dead," said Odd, "there is nothing to
hold Hywel to his oath. He can kill Sweyne and Sigurd and
Thorkel. I shall be the only Earl in Swardale. I
shall find a powerful husband for my daughter, Rannveig, my sons will
have earldoms, and my grandson, Odd, will rule all of England."
But, when Hywel heard that Sweyne had killed the Druid, he
fled to Wales. Odd raged, but his grandson, Odd Thorkelsson,
said, "We don't need Hywel. I have learned all his magic. If
you want someone poisoned, I can do it for you."
Odd asked for proof.
"Choose any man," said Odd Thorkelsson, "and I will kill him
for you whenever you want. I'll make it appear like a fever,
so no-one will suspect foul play."
There was a man called Ulf Sigmundsson. He was a
skilled swordsman and horseman. His farm, though small, was
well-maintained and prosperous. He was a cheerful and popular
young man, and most people thought highly of him.
Odd chose Ulf Sigmundsson. Three days later he lay
sick with a high fever, and two days after that he was dead.
Odd was pleased.
"You have learned well," he said to his grandson.
"I shall buy Ulf's farm cheaply and one day it will be yours.
Now, if you have no objection to killing your father and your other
grandfather, let us think how it can be done."
"People say that Thorkel isn't my father," said young Odd,
"so why should I care about killing him? As for Sigurd, he
dislikes me as much as he dislikes you. I'm going to think of
something special for him. You'll know when it happens, and
I’m sure you'll know what to do. But I could
dispose of Thorkel any time, with no more thought than I'd get rid of a
"Wait until Sigurd is dead," said the elder Odd.
"Even if Thorkel isn't really your father, you'll still inherit his
property, and he is Sigurd's heir. You and I will be joint
earls of Swardale, and then we can get rid of Sweyne."
After this, Odd Fart went to his farm at Odderby to wait.
fragments of The
Life of St Sweyne Wormbane, found in a fourteenth centry
Psalter, tell part of the story.
Sweyne saw that the Druid led the people of [Swardale] astray
by false […] and enchantments. Taking up his sword
he slew [the Druid] in the name of [Christ]. Thereafter there
came into Swardale great evil […].
[…] laid waste by a monstrous dragon
[…] cattle died […] waters ran black with venom,
fish […], stench rose from the Swar […] and the
[Ale]beck ran dry so that many […] only from Sweyne's well
[…] came pure [water].
Freezing fog flowed from the vale […] corn and
crops lay blackened in the earth […]
[Si]gurd […] sword Wormbane […] face
the dragon […] fell poisoned by its foul breath. Many died,
men, women, children […] Thorkel Barelegs would not
[…] after Odd had […]
Then Sweyne […] took Wormbane from the hand of Odd
Fart […] faced the worm, that spawn of ancient evil from the
time the world was young […] crawled into a dark place
[…] lurking, waiting to bring desolation to mankind, lay
waste the world, […]
[…] Sweyne's sons … Swenby and
Ormsgarth […] named it Balder's Dale […]
brightest and best of the old gods […] lest it come forth
Not a great
deal of this account survives, but enough to identify the names of
Sweyne, Sigurd, Odd Fart and Thorkel Barelegs. The story is
told in more detail in Odd’s
As the Druid foretold, after his death, plague and pestilence
came upon Swardale. Early winter spoiled the crops.
Cattle had no grass to eat and had to be fed on hay. Freezing
fog crept like icy breath from the Vale of the Druid. The
Britons cried that an afanc was abroad, and the Vikings spoke of a
mighty, wicked worm that would lay waste the world.
Sigurd saw the sword Wormbane in his hall.
"If I were a young man," he said, "I would take this sword,
Wormbane, the Dragon-Slayer, blessed by Odin himself and I would go to
the Druid's Dale and kill the Worm in the name of Odin."
Thus he spoke, but the young men were afraid.
"We should ask Sweyne to kill the Dragon," they
said. "Odin gave the sword to him. While he was
with us we prospered, but, now that Sigurd is old, and we have only Odd
Fart and Thorkel Barelegs to lead us, all that we do goes amiss."
Sigurd was angry. He called his son, Thorkel, and
said, "You are Earl of Swardale along with me. It is your
place to kill the monster that is destroying our cattle and our crops. "
"Now look here," said Thorkel, "I have far too much to do in
Halden to go chasing shadows. My son, Odd, says there are no
such things as dragons, and he should know. He's the
cleverest boy I've ever seen. He knows as much as his
grandfather, Odd, and probably more. I've got to look after
things here. Why don't you send someone to ask Sweyne to
go? After all, he doesn't have the responsibilities that I
Sigurd was displeased, but nothing he could say would move
Thorkel. At last Sigurd determined to go out himself to fight
the Worm. Grimly he gathered his armour, put on his
chainmail, swung the sword Wormbane, and hung it at his belt.
"Cattle die, kinsfolk die," he said, "and even to ourselves
death will come. One thing I know will never die: the fame
that we leave behind on our death."
Then Sigurd rode forth to meet the Worm.
swung the sword Wormbane
black breath bound him
frozen, fingers numbed,
on the ground, unable to grip.
sword fell from his feeble hand.
When Odd Fart heard that Sigurd was dead, killed by the Worm
that wasted the Druid's Dale he thought that young Odd had poisoned the
Earl with slow working venom then inveigled him into riding out.
"You will know when it happens, and you will know what to
do," the boy had said. Odd thought for a few minutes, then he
rode to Halden.
"Sigurd has been killed by the great Worm of the Druid's
Dale," he said, "and Thorkel Barelegs is afraid to avenge
him. I, Odd Eyvindsson will seek bloodprice for my
friend. I will hew the Dragon's head from its body and roast
its foul heart on a spit. I will spill its venomous blood
upon the earth and cleanse Swardale of its evil presence."
Then Odd Fart rode out from Halden to the Vale of the
Druid. What he planned to do was this: he would ride into the
Druid's Dale, and find the body of Earl Sigurd, lying where the poison
brewed by young Odd had slain him. From Sigurd's lifeless
hand he would take the sword Wormbane. With it he would hack
at Sigurd's body so that it looked as if a beast had killed him, and
then he would bring back the sword and say the blood on it was the
Worm's blood. He would be hailed as a hero.
Odd Fart rode to the Druid's Dale and found Sigurd's body, as
he expected. From its hand he took the sword,
Wormbane. He hacked at Sigurd's arms and legs, but the old
man's body was shrivelled and bloodless.
"Never mind," said Odd. "I'll kill a sheep on my
way back to Halden. Fresh blood will be better.
I'll smear some on my face and hands too, and claim that it's mine, and
before I leave here, I'll roll round on the ground and tear my clothes,
so that it looks as if I've been in a fight."
So Odd Fart rolled in the ground and tore his clothes, but as
he rolled he heard a noise. Odd started up in fright and saw
coming from the darkness under the cliff an immense Worm. To
look on it filled him with fear and made his belly heave. He
turned to flee, then stopped to spew, and, before he could run, the
black breath of the worm wasted his life, doomed him to dumb death,
bound him in darkness, and he fell. Faithless fled his
frost-bitten soul, to the dim depths of the underworld, to wander,
witless, through the halls of hell, weeping and wailing for his wasted,
Gogfran Davies described in the next couple of pages of
editorial material how he had sorted the fragments of alliterative
poetry and the scraps of a prose Sweyne Saga found as packing in the
late medieval bindings at Finchbury, and how the parallel of certain
lines of both verse and prose had led him to some further manuscript
pages in the Babylon Library at Auksford. Brian skipped over
this section and the footnotes describing the provenance of each
portion of text and concentrated on the unfolding story, beginning with
these verses about Odd Fart.
fearful fingers he fumbled the blade,
words to the Worm he spoke,
farting with fear he turned to flee
black breath burned his bones
him to death.
The men of Halden chose Nils the Tall and his friends Holger
the Handsome and Fritjoff the Goldgiver, and sent them to Sweyne at
"When Sweyne heard that his father had gone to fight the Worm
and had not come back, he wept for he knew he must be dead.
For Odd Fart he did not weep.
"The words of the Druid were a true saying," he
said. "After his death the Worm came forth to lay waste the
land. Why didn't my brother Thorkel go to pit himself against
"He said he was too busy," said Nils.
Sweyne rode forth. He told his sons to stay well
back and keep watch, and he rode ahead of them into the Druid's
Dale. There he saw the body of his father, Sigurd, facing
forward into the dale, and near him the coprse of Odd Fart, caught in
the act of flight, both shrivelled by the breath of the beast.
From Odd's hand he took the sword, Wormbane, and advanced
towards the lair of the Worm.
found his father dead,
the foe, the fearsome Worm.
son sought his sword,
in Odd’s hand.
From the dale came the Great Worm. No shining
scales it had, nor wings. It was like a rock come forth from
the earth, a hill that crawled on its belly like a slug, and slime
dripped from its snout.
son heard in his skull
words of the Worm.
and anger fought in his breast,
stout he stood.
woe lays all to waste,
high hills it hurls down,
howls in his head he heard the words:
boiling blood bursts out of men,
feathered fowl fall from the sky,
from the boughs.
hovering hawks are hurled from the heavens,
eagles to earth.
are filled with rotting flesh.
swelter, swollen and sick.
men moulder in death,
stick and stone,
smite and stab.
to the warrior who walks weaponless.
and hold him.
grave grasps him.
high hills and hollow caves
cover all the earth,
freeze, flow no more.
waste the world
Sweyne heard in his head the words of the Worm. His
sharp sword he held in his hand and thus he spoke.
“Strong in the strength of the great God, in the name of
Christ I come to face the evil that threatens Middle Earth.
Look on this sword, mighty worm! It is called Wormbane, and
well-wrought runes are carved upon its blade by Odin, the one eyed,
whose cunning crows fly out and about and bring him news of all that
happens here in the wide world. This weapon that I wield
dooms you to death.”
“Humbled here in the dust lie others whose hand
hefted that blade,” said the Worm.
“Broken lie their bones, unknown to any are their
names. No tears are shed for them, no women weep, for they
lie like dung in the wilderness.”
Sweyne answered: “There lies Sigurd, Earl of
Swardale, a mighty warrior. Tears for him are shed in Halden,
and I too weep for him, for I am Sigurd’s son. As
for the other, if any mourn him I care not. He is a liar and
“Fighter and fox lie at the last, taken together by
the everlasting evil,” said the Worm.
“Worm-wrought woe will waste the world and all are doomed to
die by heat and hail, by fire and flood, by frost and snow in
“By the Cross of Christ, who died and rose
again,” cried Sweyne, “give way, Great Worm, or
“Bitter are the words of him who calls on
Christ,” said the Worm. “Our fearsome foe
will overcome us all at last, but the tide has not yet
turned. With Fimbul-Winter we shall win this land.
For long ages we shall hold it.”
On came the Worm. Its black breath fell on
Sweyne. The saint swooned, staggered, and was about to
fall. Sigurd, his son, caught him and held him.
Ketil brandished his sword at the worm.
Croaking in fear he cried, “Back, foul
worm! You shall not pass!”
Sweyne stood again, flanked by his sons. The sword
Wormbane flashed in his hand.
“By this sword, blessed by Odin and the old gods
and now wielded for Christ the King, by all that lives and all that
gives life, I call on you, foul lord of death, to go back whence you
came. Turn once more to stone, dread Worm. Never
come forth again from this black dale!”
“You shall not pass! Go back!”
cried Sigurd and Ketil.
“No sword can harm the hide of a Great
Worm,” they heard in their heads. “The
slime that drips from my fangs can burn the brightest steel.
But sharper far than swords of steel are words of boldness backed by
love. I yield. I will go back to my den in the
dale, and all who look on me throughout the ages will think I am but a
rock. But my time will come. You and your kin will have to
watch me through the years, and when I come back, if there are not men
like you, ready to stand against me and to give their lives for each
other, then Fimbul-Winter will take this land and all shall freeze and
At this point
the Auksford manuscript ends, and the connection to the subject of my
own research begins. In these sagas and saints lives we find
the origins of many of the folk beliefs and practices still carried on
in Baldersdale in the second half of the twentieth century: traditions
such as the Beating of the Beck and the part played therein by the
Three Farts, who, at first sight, seem to be just absurd figures of fun
interrupting the ceremonies and obstructing the participants.
Without these invaluable documents we might have been tempted to see in
them reflections of older, more primitive, perhaps pre-druidic,
deities, worshipped by the aboriginal peoples of Swardale, returning
uninvited from their banishment to disrupt the rites. These
rites themselves might be taken for fertility rites, the ashen rods
carried by the adolescent boys and used by them to agitate the waters
of the beck could be seen as phallic symbols fecundating the female,
life-giving element, and the eventual 'debagging' and ducking of the
participants by the older youths as a pale reflection of a primeval
ceremony in which young men were castrated and sacrificed to a
water-goddess to ensure good crops, healthy livestock and strong
I am now more inclined to believe, as I shall make clear in
my forthcoming book The
folklore and customs of Baldersdale, that the Three Farts
represent real historical characters, Odd Eyvindsson, his daughter
Rannveig, and her son, Odd the Younger. The ashen poles are
probably no more than poles, originally used to clear the Baldersbeck
of dead vegetation after the catastrophe, whatever it may have been,
that is represented in the tales by the fabulous afanc, and the
'debaggings' and duckings no more than youthful horseplay, which
continues, not because of any folkloric significance, but simply
because the young men of Baldersdale realise that, as the ceremony
happens only once every seven years, the boys who perform the beating
of the beck are too young to remember what happened last time. They
therefore eagerly seize the opportunity of inflicting on their juniors
the same humiliation as they once suffered themselves, in much the same
way that generations of schoolboys and apprentices subject their
successors to the same initiation ceremonies that they themselves had
Chapter 13: Mission to ormsgarth
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