The Saga of Hrolf 'Kraki' - 2: On Frodhi's Death, Helgi and Hroar Share the Kingship
Lejre or Leidhra, later Hroarskilde (and latterly Roskilde), at the southern end of its fjord
... However, Helgi and Hroar were not fated to stay together for long after Frodhi's death.
They were as chalk and cheese. Staying together might finally lead to strife between them. Whereas Hroar was mild and easy-going like his father, Helgi was much the warrior and seen by many as the stalwart of the two. Things went on much like that for a time, with Helgi ruling the kingdom.
Meanwhile across the sea amongst the Northumbrian Aengle was a king named Nordrig. He had a daughter, Ogn. Hroar went oversea and spent many years with the Northumbrian king, leading his men against the king's foes. Hroar was seen as a trusted follower of Nordrig and a deep friendship grew between them. The young Danish prince wedded Ogn after a time and settled in the kingdom with his father-in-law as his king.
Helgi ruled ruled the Danes with the inheritance from their father. Jarl Saevil saw to their lands and Signy soon bore her husband a son, Hrok. Helgi was still unwed when their foster father Regin fell ill and died; a deep loss was felt at his passing. He was a well-liked man.
A queen who ruled over Seaxland named Olof fought as a warrior in chain mail with sword and shield. Fair and womanly in looks, she was nevertheless cruel and haughty. Although many who knew Helgi said Olof would be the best match in the northlands, she wanted no man. King Helgi heard of this manly queen and thought marrying her - willing or not - would bring him great renown. One day he set out with a great company of armed men. Without warning they landed on Olof's shores. He sent riders to her hall to tell her to set out a great feast for him and his crews. She was taken wholly unaware and had no time to summon her many armed men. doing the best she could, she asked Helgi to the feat with his followers. He came to the feast and seated himself in the high seat next to Olof. The pair drank together throughout the evening, matching drink for drink. The guests lacked for nought and the queen showed no dislike for Helgi. He told her,
'I want us to drink to our wedding this evening. There are enough guests for such an event and we shall share a bed this night!'
'It seems to me', Olof answered, 'that things are moving too fast for my liking. I could not find a man more polite than you, were I of a mind to find a man. However, i would not think you so rude towards me'.
'It would be fitting through your haughty ways that we stay together for as long as it befits me', Helgi boasted.
'I would have more of my friends, but can do nothing now. You must do as you see fit. I hope you will behave a little better toward me', Olof sniffed, seeming to yield to him.
The drinking went on throughout the evening and long into the night. Olof looked happy enough and no-one saw otherwise, than that she looked well on their wedding. When Helgi was at last led to her bed she seemed to await him welcomingly. Helgi fell, asleep onto the bed having drunk so much. Olof stuck a sleep thorn into his side, as he was too drunk to know better. When his men had left she rose, shaved off all his hair and tarred him. Next she took a leather sleeping sack, stuffed some clothes into it and shoved the king into the bag with it. She called some of her servants and had them carry Helgi to his ship.
Next Olof awakened Helgi's men and told them their king had gone ahead back to his ships,
'With the wind coming from the right quarter he wants to get a good start', she told them.. They leapt up and hastened back to their ships as fast as they could. Drunk and dazed, they hardly knew what was happening. When they reached the ships he was nowhere to be seen. They soon spotted the large sack and, wondering what was inside it they thought they would look whilst awaiting their king.
On untying the sack they found Helgi, shamefully trussed up, shaved and tarred. The sleep thorn fell from his side, he awoke and - although his dreams might have been wonderful, he was now in a vile temper. He dearly wanted to outsmart her, if not exact vengeance on her.
Queen Olof stayed in her realm, her haughtiness and overbearing manner never greater after having tricked Helgi. Following the feast she had laid on for Helgi she kept a strong watch over her hall from now on. News of Helgi being bested by her spread through the lands around the eastern sea and everyone thought she had wronged him with her mockery.
King Helgi set sail again soon after for Seaxland, and headed straight for her hall after making landfall. Queen Olof had raised a great army but Helgi's ships were hidden in an inlet. He told his men to wait for three days, and if not back by then to go their own way. He had with him two chests laden with gold and silver. Clad in rags over his chain mail, he found his way through the woods and hid the treasure.
On his way next to the queen's hall he came across one of her thralls and asked the fellow for news of the queen. The answer came quickly that times were peaceful. On being asked next who he was, Helgi told the man he was a poor beggar,
'All the same', he went on, 'I think I have found a hreat treasure in the woods that the queen will surely think hers, as it is on her land. Good luck should not become bad - do you not think? - so I shall not hide the wealth. She may give me a share if she so wishes, according to what she may think. Yet will she stir herself to come looking for the treasure?'
'I am sure she will', the thrall told Helgi, 'if it is done without anyone knowing'.
'Here - I will give you a necklace and ring from the hoard for your troubles', Helgi gave the thrall the treasure, ensuring he understood it was on condition the queen came looking for the chests. 'I will think of something else, lest she become angry with you'.
After talking the matter over they came to an agreement. The thrall went back and told Queen Olof of the great treasure he had found in the woods,
'Enough to make many a marriage suitor happy', the thrall added and asked her to follow quickly to gather her newly-found wealth.
Queen Olof was wary of course, but greed overcame her and she told the thrall that if the tale were true it would bring him good luck indeed,
'Otherwise', she warned, 'it will bring you a swift end!' She then smiled, and told him she could trust him.
She showed just how greedy she was in ensuring only she and the thrall knew of the treasure when they set out for the woods in the dead of night. When they came to the woods Helgi was there. He caught Olof's arms before she could run and told her that their meeting was the best way he could achieve his aim. She acknowledged her shabby behaviour towards him,
'But now I will make it up to you. We shall be wed at a great feast!'
'No! You do not have that option any longer', Helgi was angry. 'You will come with me now to my ships and stay with me for as long as I wish. For the sake of my pride - if nothing else - I will take my vengeance on you after the shame you heaped on me!'
'For now you will have your way', Olof nodded sombrely, bitter at her fate.
Helgi had her for many nights. When she went back to her hall Helgi had hiven her reason to be unhappy with her lot. He went on with his seafaring, waging war, raiding and gaining renown.
Months later Queen Olof gave birth to a girl and neglected her badly. Olof had a hound bitch named Yrsa and she named her daughter after her. A fetching child, she was sent to be fostered by a shepherd and his wife when ten summers old. Yrsa was told only that she was the daughter of a freed man and his elderly wife. Keeping her in the dark about who she really was had been easy, as the queen had hidden her swelling body well under long, flowing robes. Few ever knew she had given birth to the girl.
King Helgi came vack to Seaxland at around the time the maid Yrsa had reached thirteen summers. He dressed himself once more in beggar's clothing over his chain mail coat and, coming across a flock of sheep tended by a young woman he went closer and asked about her kin.
'I am Yrsa, daughter of a freed man', she answered.
'Your eyes give the lie. You do not look to me to be the child of a lowly shepherd', Helgi told her, love gor her welling within him. He took her back to his ships despite her begging him not to, and he sailed back to Hleidar.
On learning what had happened, Queen Olof made out before her underlings that she knew nothing of the sort. To herself, however, she thought to herself that this would one day bring grief and shame to King Helgi. She would bide her time, and neither good nor happiness would come of their union. Helgi wedded Yrsa and loved her deeply in his ignorance of who she was.
A ring Helgi owned was widely renowned. Both brothers wanted it, as did their sister Signy. King Hroar once came from across the broad western sea and Helgi laid on a feast for him.
'Between us you are the greater man. I have put down roots in Northumbria and am therefore willing to grant you my share of this kingdom', Hroar waved a hand to show his brother he wished to give up the land around. 'I will agree to this if you share some of our father's treasures with me. I should like you to give me the ring, the one best-treasured by all our kin and which we all wish were our own'.
'After such a speech, brother', Helgi put an arm around Hroar's shoulders, 'nothing else would be more fitting than that you should have that very ring!' Hroar sailed west again soon after and lived peacably in Northumbria.
Jarl Hrok had taken over his father Saevil's lands. Hrok was a cruel and greedy man and his mother Signy often told him of the ring her brothers owned and she coveted. She told her son,
'It would be right if they thought of us as being worthy of some share of their treasure hoard. Your father and I showed them kindness and helped them take their revenge on King Frodhi for the death of our father - your grandfather - King Halfdan. Yet we have had no acknowledgement from them on their debt to us, you, your father or I.
Hrok nodded and told her,
'You are right, mother. Things cannot go on as they are. I shall go and ask what they can do to fulfil our wishes according to our standing'.
Hrok rode off to Hleidar to speak to the king, his uncle, and asked for a third of the kingdom - or the ring, not knowing Hroar had been given it. Helgi was taken aback somewhat. His answer did not please Hrok,
'You are a bold one, Hrok, and haughty with it! We won the kingdom through our bravery, staking our lives on the outcome. True, we did this with your father's help and by the deeds of our foster-father Regin. Other good men stood by us, too. We will be forthcoming for your kinship, if you will agree to what is on offer. The kingdom hascost me much and I shall be unwilling just to give it away, or any part of it. Further, King Hroar now has the ring, so I hardly think he would give it up so easily'.
Hrok left unhappy and next sought out his other uncle, King Hroar, who welcomed him warmly. The young jarl stayed with him for a while. On sailing along the coast once thry put in at an inlet. Hrok turned to Hroar and began making his demand,
'I think, kinsman, that it would be worthy of your standing if you gave me the ring Helgi have you. By doing so you will ennoble our kinship'.
Hroar was quick to answer,
'I have given much for this ring and will not hand it over to anyone!'
Hrok gave him a sly, sidelong glance, unmoved by his uncle's flat denial,
'Then you should let me at least look upon it, as I wish to know whether the ring is really as worthy as it is made out to be'.
'It would be the least I could do for you', Hroar took out the ring and handed it to Hrok.
The jarl took in the ring's great beauty, and after turning it over in his hands he spoke out,
'I have seen nothing like it. I know now why you value this ring so highly. The best thing I can think of is that neither of us should have the joy of seeing it again', with this Hrok threw the ring as far seaward as he could. King Hroar, beside himself with rage told Hrok he was a deeply despicable fellow and had Hrok held down. With his war axe Hroar chopped off Hrok's right foot and sent him home in disgrace.
After some time Hrok's leg healed and he gathered men to teach Hroar a lesson for the shame and injury inflicted on him. Landing in Northumbria he attacked the king's hall, where Hroar was feasting with some of his followers. Fighting was hard and, although Hroar fought bravely, he was overcome and slain. Hrok's men overran the whole kingdom and had himself made king. Ogn was pressed to marry him, and the old king Nordrig found himself unable to withstand Hrok. He let his daughter know how things srood, and that if she wished he would fight Hrok come what may.
'Although I do not wish to wed Hrok I see no way out of doing so', she answered sorrowfully. 'We must however try to put off any wedding, as I am carrying Hroar's child'.
They put her wish to Hrok, who willingly held back from pressing for marriage. He felt he had come far already and could bide his time, having defeated such a strong king as Hroar. Ogn sent word to Helgi, telling the man who would give the Danish king what she wanted him to say that as she was carrying his brother's child she did not want Hrok to bed her.
Helgi was beside himself in his anger and promised to bring his wrath down on his nephew Hrok's shoulders,
'She tells me wisely that she does not wish for Hrok to lay hands on her whilst my brother's child is still unborn'.
Queen Ogn gave birth to a son she named Agnar, from early on a promising young fellow, big and healthy. On hearing the news King Helgi called on his men and set out for Northumbria to take on the upstart Hrok. A fierce slaughter followed, in which Hrok was taken alive. King Helgi poured scorn on his nephew, telling him,
'You are through and through a bestial chieftain, yet I will not kill you for all you have done. You will live with your crimes in agony and torment'.
Hrok's other leg and arms were broken and he was sent disgraced back to Denmark.
When Agnar was twelve summers old those around saw him as peerless. He had learned warcraft and had become a champion amongst his kind. He asked one day about the inlet into which Hrok had thrown his father's ring. Many had searched in vain but none had as yet found it. A ship was sailed to where Hroar's ship had been,
'Would it not be wonderful if the ring could be found'. Agnar asked if anyone knew the point where the ring fell into the water. On being told where it was thought the ring vanished from sight the lad dived into the depths. Not once but twice he dived but the ring was still not found. Those around him began to despair, but he dived again and came up with the ring, telling those around him, 'I must have been looking wrongly'.
In finding the ring he gained a following far and wide. His name was now greater than that of his father.
Next - 13: Hrolf is born
Protection against evil - Mjoellnir
King Hrolf comes to life
[Beware of dodgy horned helmets]. The Danish kingdom after the time of Bjovulf (Beowulf) and before the time of Charlemagne's Frankish empire. King Hrolf Helgisson comes to life through Poul Anderson. A first rate version of the saga, written with a feeling for the age and the place. Poul Anderson was born late November, 1926 in Bristol, Pennsylvania of Scandinavian parentage. Education was at the University of Minnesota. Much of his work was in science fiction. He may have acquired a taste for writing this saga when he lived in Denmark before the outbreak of WWII. He died in 2001
The early kingdom of the Danes...
... drew men who saw in King Helgi a warrior leader. Yet he would be his own worst enemy, chancing on Queen Olof and taking her by force after being shamefully tricked, humiliated. The outcome of this union would prove his undoing.
A curse hung over the Skjoldungas (pron. 'Sholdungas') that would cost the lives of many a brave warrior and their king...
This was long before the reigns of Godred and Gorm 'the Old', (the latter buried at Jellinge in a barrow and reinterred by his son Harald 'Blue-tooth' in the Christian manner) who united the Danes against the expanding Frankish empire under Charles 'the Great' ('Charlemagne')..
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster