The Saga of HROLF 'KRAKI' - 5: Thorir 'Hounds-foot', King of the Gautar

Odin rides Sleipnir through Midgard whilst below him a shipful of warriors readies for war - those chosen by Odin will be slain in the battle to come, the rest will either be taken by the Valkyries or left for the ravens and taken by Hel if they flee
Odin rides Sleipnir through Midgard whilst below him a shipful of warriors readies for war - those chosen by Odin will be slain in the battle to come, the rest will either be taken by the Valkyries or left for the ravens and taken by Hel if they flee
Bodvai Bjarki's grandfather the king, and the fair witch queen Hvit
Bodvai Bjarki's grandfather the king, and the fair witch queen Hvit
Larp or short-sword against the back of a shield. A shorter sword was more useful in the press of shield-wall against shield-wall
Larp or short-sword against the back of a shield. A shorter sword was more useful in the press of shield-wall against shield-wall
Southern Scandinavia showing Denmark and Gotaland - or Gautland as it was known in mediaeval Scandinavia
Southern Scandinavia showing Denmark and Gotaland - or Gautland as it was known in mediaeval Scandinavia

Slowly the king began to understand the nature of what was happening, what he had done to his own son.

He neverthless kept his thoughts to himself and life went on as ever. Not long afterwards Thorir 'Hounds-foot' asked to take his leave of Bera. She led him to the cave, where she gave him his share of the treasures. She also told him of the weapons, saying the axe was his. Thorir tried the sword hilt, but as with 'Elk'-Frodhi it would not yield. He next grasped the axe shaft and it came away in his hand. With his share of the treasure and the axe, Thorir and Bera bade one another farewell and he, too went on his way.

Thorir set foot on the road that would lead past 'Elk'-Frodhi's humble dwelling, entered and sat at a roughly-hewn table, and let his hood fall over his brow. Frodhi came home not long afterwards, looked at the newcomer and drew his short-sword. He snarled,

'The sword hisses

from the sheath.

The hand recalls

the skill of fighting'.

The sword was driven deep into the bench beside Thorir. Frodhi threatened to kill and Thorir spoke up,

'I allowed

on the wide road

my axe to shout

the self-same call!'

Thorir threw back the hood and showed himself to his brother. Frodhi offered Thorir half his haul but Thorir would have none of it. He stayed with Frodhi a while and then took his leave. 'Elk'-Frodhi showed him the road to Gautaland, telling him the king there had died and they were looking for a new king. He told Thorir,

'It is the law of the Gautar that a meeting should be called and all the men of the kingdom are summoned. A great throne, big enough to seat two men side-by-side is set in the hall and whoever alone can fill that seat is chosen for king. I think you would easily fill that seat!'

'Are you telling me, brother, that I have a fat backside?' Thorir joked and the brothers parted fondly, wishing one another the best in years to come. Thorir went on until he came to Gautaland. A jarl there welcomed him and Thorir spent the night at his hall. All who saw him thought he should be king. At the assembly a law-speaker told the men gathered that those who wished to be king would take their turn. Waiting to take the throne last, Thorir sat quickly and the law-speaker called out for all who wished to hear,

'The throne is yours. You are best suited to rule'.

Thorir was made king and became known as King Thorir 'Hounds-foot'. He fought and won many a battle, withstood Viking raids and strengthened his kingdom's fortifications.

Bodvar stayed with his mother the longest. Bera loved him most of her sons. He showed the most skill and was the most handsome of his brood. Yet he was not widely known around the kingdom.

He once asked Bera about his father, to be told of how Hvit had cast her spell, and the way his father was killed. Bodvar was dismayed, telling his mother,

'We must pay back the witches' wrongs'.

Bera told him also of how Hvit had made her eat some of the bear meat,

'Your brothers bear witness to her evil in the way they were cursed with Bjoern before birth, both 'Elk'-Frodhi and Thorir 'Hounds-foot'.

Bodvar swore that 'Elk'-Frodhi should have avenged Bjoern's death on Hvit, rather than simply take out his temper on wayfarers for their silver and other selfish deeds,

'I think it odd also without giving the troll-witch a reminder of her dark deeds!' He buried his head in his hands briefly, and then told his mother, 'It has been left to me, then, to punish her on ours and father's behalf'.

Bera was fearful, asking him to take care,

'Do it in a way she cannot use her craft on you'.

Bodvar nodded,

'I shall make sure of it, fear not mother!'

Bera went with her son to see the king. After hearing out Bodvar, Bera told Hring how everything had happened. She showed him the ring taken from under the bear's left forefoot, saying his son had been its owner.

'I know that ring', the king acknowledged. 'I had my own thoughts on the matter, about how odd everything had turned out, that the queen must have been behind everything. But for the sake of my love for her, let matters ride for now'.

Bodvar pressed for Hring to send Hvit away, 'Or we will settle with her'.

Hring wanted to make amends, offering as much treasure as he wished, but insisted the matter would have to rest for the time being. He would give Bodvar command of his household warriors, make him jarl forthwith and when he died the kingdom would be Bodvar's - as long as no harm came to Hvit.

'I do not wish to be king, rather I would sooner be with you and serve you. You are ensnared by the queen's magic and you have lost your wits. From now she will never more thrive here!' Bodvar told him, enraged.

The king dare not stand in his way. With a large pouch in his hand, Bodvar went to the queen's room with Bera trailing behind him. He went into the room where Queen Hvit sat, looking away from the door. Putting the rough leather pouch over her head he drew it down, tightened the cords and knocked her feet away from under her. He beat and kicked her and dragged her through the streets. She died during the punishment, to be taken by Hel. Those around thought it the least of what she should have met with. The king was saddened at his queen's fate, but could do nothing for Hvit. Her end was deemeed fitting, Hring's underlings thought.

Bodvar became king soon after when Hring sickened after the death of Hvit, and died during the long winter. Bjoern's third son was eighteen summers old at the time of his brief reign. He called together the nobles of Uppsdala to tell them he wished to leave, and that he was marrying off his mother, Bera, to Jarl Vasleyt. He attended their wedding feast soon after before riding away towards the kingdom of Gautaland. He took little gold or silver, nor did he take anything much of value, aside from his weapons. He was well-mounted and clothed, however. His mother had told him to pass by the cave on his way south, whichever way he was bound.

The sword came away as soon as he gripped its hilt. He knew it was not to be drawn without bringing death to a foe, nor was it to be laid under a man's head or rested on its hilt. Moreover, it could never be drawn more than three times in the life of its owner. Thereafter the sword could not be drawn by the same man.

He set out first to find his brother 'Elk'-Frodhi after making a sheath for the sword from birchwood. Nothing noteworthy happened until he came late one day to a large hall. This was now where his brother held sway. Bodvar led his horse to the stable as though he had a right to all he wished for. Frodhi came late in the evening to his hall, muttering,

'Truly only a foolhardy fellow would dare to sit inside without asking me first!'

Bodvar let his hood fall forward. Drawing his short-sword, 'Elk'-Frodhi struck down onto the bench beside Bodvar, buring the weapon up to its hilt in the wood. Even after he did it again Bodvar did not flinch. On raising the short-sword the third time, 'Elk'-Frodhi turned on Bodvar. The outsider seemed not to know the meaning of fear, and he - 'Elk'-Frodhi - was meant to be master of his own hall! Understanding what Frodhi meant to do next, bodvar sprang to his feet and ducked under Frodhi's arm. 'Elk'-Frodhi had a strong grip and they were now locked in mortal combat.

When Bodvar's hood fell back Frodhi knew him,

'Welcome brother - we have struggled for too long!'

'No harm has come to anyone - yet!' Bodvar answered wryly.

'It would be safer for you to stop fighting with me, brother. Were we to fight in earnest - with no holds barred - you would soon know who was the stronger of us!'

Bodvar let that ride and said nothing. Frodhi asked him to stay with him but Bodvar did not wish to be beholden to his brother, thinking it wrong to kill men for their wealth. He stood to leave. Frodhi went a short way with his brother, telling him that he often gave quarter to men much weaker and smaller than he. Cheered by these words, Bodvar told him he was proud of him and that he did well by that. He added,

'You should let most go their way without mishap, even if you cannot abide them'.

'Everything to me is ill-gained. For you the way is open. Go and seek out King Hrolf. All the greatest champions wish to be with him', Frodhi answered. 'He is open-handed and free with rewards, more than other over-kings by far'.

Frodhi leaned toward Bodvar and elbowed him, telling him,

'Brother, you lack the strength you will need for the way ahead', so saying 'Elk'-Frodhi took his short-sword and drew blood from his right calf. 'Drink from this'.

Bodvar did as he was bidden. When Frodhi shoved his brother away Bodvar stood upright, rock steady.

'You are greatly strengthened by my blood, brother. The blood from my calf has done you good! As of now you will outdo most men in strength and skill as well as in steadfastness and renown. I am happy for you!'

Next Frodhi stamped on a nearby rock with his right hoof, sinking it in the hard stone up to the fetlock,

'I will come here daily to see what is in the hole. If earth is in it I will know you have sickened and died; if water is there I shall know you have drowned, and if it is full of blood I will know you have been slain by a foe's weapons. Should it be the last, then I will avenge your death and hunt down your killer because of all men, brother, I love you the most!'

They parted then and Bodvar set out to find King Hrolf. He came first to Gautland but Thorir was not home. He and his brother were so alike that folk in Thorir's kingdom thought he was back early. Bodvar was set on the high seat and waited on, hand and foot, as if he were the king. As Thorir now had a queen, Bodvar was taken to her room. However, he would not climb in under the cover with her, keeping instead a sheet between them. She thought it odd, to say the least, but when Bodvar enlightened her she understood. She kept this from her household maids and when Thorir came back there was much confusion until Thorir told them about his brother.

The brothers were overjoyed at seeing one another again after so many years, and Thorir told Bodvar he trusted him above all others to be so close to his queen. He wanted Bodvar to stay, but Bodvar was by now set on going on to Denmark. Thorir offered whatever he might wish to take with him but his brother turned down the offer, as well as a company of men to take with him.

Bodvar rode out after taking a fond farewell of Thorir and his queen. Thorir had gone a short way on with him and now Thorir told his brother of his misgivings about letting Bodvar go like this but things had to be that way.

'May the gods be with you', was the last Thorir told him over the the wind as he watched him ride away through the land.

Again little of note happened on bodvar's ride south-west to the coast. The sea crossing over the Sound had been quiet; no-one spoke to him and the steersman merely grinned as he paid his silver. From the coast on Sjaelland a heavy rainstorm overtook him from the south-east and he was soaked to the skin. The going worsened across the open land and the track beneath him turned swiftly to mud. Even as darkness came over the land there was no let-up from the rain but he pressed on, even though his horse had been tired by the hard going.

When his horse stumbled knew he would have to make a halt. He dismounted and stared around in the dark, and then down at what the beast had stumbled upon. Here was some sort of dwelling, set low against a hillside. Following around the low walls he came to a door and thumped on it until an elderly fellow opened up for him.

'Might I rest with you for the night?' Bodvar asked.

'I shall not send you away, friend - as you are an outlander. The road here is nowhere a man should be in the dead of night, more so in the pouring rain'. The householder saw Bodvar was a big man and told him to duck as he entered, then went out himself to see to Bodvar's horse. When he came back in he answered whatever Bodvar asked about King Hrolf. When Bodvar asked how far he was from Hleidargard the householder told him,

'From here it is fairly near. You wish to go there at the earliest, I take it?'

'That is why I came', Bodvar nodded gravely. The householder nodded too, telling the outlander it would be fitting for a man like him to go there,

'I see you are a strong fellow, and the king's men see themselves as great champions'.

An elderly woman who crouched beside the hearth began to moan and sob each time talk of the champions arose. Bemused, Bodvar asked her,

'Why is it you cry each time we talk of Hleidargard's champions?'

The woman began sobbing again. When she had calmed down she answered, stifling more sobs,

'My husband and I have a son, Hott by name. He went to the king's garth one day to see what went on but the king's men taunted him. He was unable to withstand their taunts and the men took hold of him, shoving him into a stack of animal bones. When they finished gnawing the meat from a bone, they would toss it at him. When one hit him he would turn black and blue. I do not know if he is alive still, but I only ask this of you, for our hospitality, that you only throw smaller bones at him - that is, if he still lives'.

'I shall do as you ask', Bodvar told her, smiling, 'although I do not think it fitting that a warrior should strike the feeble amongst us'.

'You will do well, then', the woman looked happy at his answer. 'Your hand looks strong and I know full well that should you not hold back no man could shield himself from your blows'.

Bodvar rode on in the early morning to Hleidargard. On reaching the king's garth he stabled his horse in a stall with the king's best mounts, without anyone's say-so. He entered the hall next, where only a few men sat, paying no heed to him. He took a bench near the door and, having only been there a short time heard noises from a darkened corner of the hall. He looked that way and, coming closer saw a blackened hand sticking out from the bone pile. Bodvar strode to the corner and called aloud,

'Who is that in there, and what do you think you are doing?'

'My name is Hott, good sir', came the weak answer.

'I also asked what you were doing there?' Bodvar could only stop himself laughing with difficulty.

'I am making a sort of shield-wall, good sir', Hott answered timidly.

'You and your shield-wall are unworthy', Bodvar laughed and hauled Hott from the bone pile.

'You seem to want me dead, as I had made my wall so well. Now you have broken it into rubble, although I had built it high enough around me to withstand even the heaviest bones being thrown at me. None has reached me for a while now, even though the wall was as yet unfinished!' Hott still yelled at Bodvar when he was told,

'You will no longer need your so-called shield-wall'.

'You are going to kill me now, good sir?' Hott whimpered as Bodvar lifted him bodily and took him outside to a pond close by. Few in the hall bothered to say anything. Nothing was said to Bodvar. When Bodvar had swilled Hott in the water he took him back to where he first sat near the door. He sat Hott down and joined him on the bench, but the wretch shook with fear even though he could sense Bodvar meant him no harm.

Next - 6: Bodvar and the Berserkers


This is the Poul Anderson version of the saga that features also in the Penguin Classics collection of sagas. Much more detailed and elaborately explained than the Penguin version, which follows the original more faithfully, this version reads almost like the storyboard for a feature film. I'm frankly surprised no-one's tackled a production of this saga for the large screen.

The Saga of Hrolf Kraki

Bjoern under attack from his father Hring's huntsmen
Bjoern under attack from his father Hring's huntsmen | Source

From their origins in Central Scandinavia, migration south and east to sunnier climes between the Black and Caspian seas, as Roman foederati or mercenaries to crashing in on Rome and demanding territory for their people. From when the Ostrogoths and Visigoths divided, the migrant Goths' descendants now live in the Alps and sub-Alpine regions of northern Italy and Austria as well as the Iberian Peninsula in Spain

A History of the Goths

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