The Saga of Hrolf Kraki - 8: The Chase, King and Heroes Discard the Treasure Under Pursuit
A time for heroes, a time to fight for what is yours - although when Adhils' hall burns a shield would prove to be of no use
The flames licked at their backs as Hrolf, Bodvar, Svipdag, Hjalti and the others threw themselves against the wall-boards.
They hit the wall so hard it splintered and they burst out of the burning dwelling, smoke billowing out behind them. Outside, mailed men awaited them and fighting began in earnest.
King Hrolf and his men hurled themselves into the fray, the ranks of Adhils' guards thinning as they forged ahead. With such strength to put up with, none of King Adhils' men felt brave enough to try to hold them back. Amidst the slaughter the king's hawk flew from his roost above the stables within the stronghold, settled on the king's shoulder and began preening.
'You would think that hawk had won something for Adhils, the way it fluffs its feathers out', Bodvar laughed.
The fellow whose duty it was to look after the king's hawks hastened to the loft above the stables to see how the bird had worked loose from its tethers. He found all the others dead in the straw on the loft floor.
Fighting in the king's garth ended with Hrolf and his men slaying many of Adhils' household warriors. their king had vanished as if by magic, no-one knew where to. Those few of the king's men still standing begged for quarter, their weapons clattered to the iron-hard frozen earth, their arms raised to show they had yielded. Granted their lives they left, unarmed. Hrolf took his men into what remained of Adhils' hall and Bodvar asked him,
'On which bench do you wish to sit, Lord?'
'I think we should take those seats where the king sits', Hrolf pointed to the head of the charred hall and wood was piled onto the hearth to bring the fire back to life.
Adhils seemed to have left his stronghold, having lost one more fight against the younger Hrolf. The Danes' king sat quietly for the time being until Hjalti asked whether it might be wise for them to go and see their mounts were safe. One of Adhils' thralls was tasked with this, only to show again soon after at the high table with the news that their horses had fared badly.
'Adhils only ever deals shamefully with his guests and their belongings, I would say', Hrolf pondered aloud.
Queen Yrsa came and greeted Hrolf, not so much as a mother but more in the manner of a hostess. He answered her in the same way.
'You have not been welcomed as you should have been', she began. 'It would however be unwise to stay much longer, as I hear the Svear are gathering in great numbers for their king. He would have you dead, sooner than give you your due, as he has so wanted for a long time without the means to attack your kingdom. Your luck is stronger now than is his skill in the dark arts. I shall give you this silver horn, in which are Adhils' best rings. With them is the ring Sviagris, the one he treasures most dearly'.
With the silver horn and its treasures, Yrsa gave Hrolf a great store of her husband's hoard of gold and silver, of worth as yet uncounted.
For his help the thrall Vogg was given gold by Hrolf. Thirteen horses were brought for the queen to give to her son and his men, one being silver-grey for the king himself to make up for Adhils' wrongdoing. These horses were the king's best, as was the finery and saddlery that came with them.
'This is all due to me', Hrolf asked his mother, 'that should have been given to my father, Helgi?'
'It is more - much more - than is your due. You have won great renown here in Uppsala since you came. For that alone your reward should be greater. Now you must make ready to leave, lest you be waylaid. Make no mistake, Hrolf, you will be well-tested', Yrsa told him.
King Hrolf took his farewell of Yrsa. She kissed him on his hand and they parted fondly. He and his champions rode away from Uppsala through the Fyrisvellir, the plains of Fyris, and on riding over a gold ring half-buried in the dirtied snow they heard a rattling noise.
'It dislikes being alone on this forlorn road', Hrolf joked, sliding off one of his gold arm rings and tossing it underarm, back to the one on the road. 'Let it not be said I stoop for gold, even should it lie in the way. None of you should pick it up, as it has been left here to hold us back'.
His men told him they would not stop for it, but as it was war trumpets could be heard from all sides. A great body of men came toward them, rushing hard and Hrolf' urged on his men. Hrolf, Bodvar and Svipdag nevertheless kept their horses at a trot.
'These Svear are hard-pressed to chase us. I would not wish to be caught up by them', Bodvar called out aloud to Hrolf.
'Pay no heed. They will slow themselves down, watch', Hrolf told him and reached out for the horn Beygad carried over his saddle front. He took the horn and upended it so that the treasures fell onto the length of the Fyrisvellir road. When he had emptied the horn the whole field looked as though sown with gold and silver seed.
When Adhils' men saw the gold on the road they fought one another for the greatest share, the strongest coming away laden. Their king yelled at them to stop and chase King Hrolf,
'You stop for trinkets, whilst the greater prize flees. My name is being dragged in the dirt here, and will be known across the northern kingdoms as the king whose great army was unable to stop a mere thirteen men', maddened, Adhils spurred on his mount followed closely by a great posse of his household men.
On seeing adhils closing on them again, Hrolf threw down the ring Viagris onto the road behind him. The embittered Adhils swore when he saw his prided ring in the dirt and grime of the trampled snow,
'Whoever gave Hrolf this treasure thought more of him than of me. I shall enjoy owning it again now, not he!' Crouched low over his horse's neck Adhils lowered the shaft of his spear to catch the ring, guiding the point through the loop.
Hrolf wheeled his horse around when he saw over one shoulder what Adhils was up to and laughed out aloud,
'I have this great Ynglinga king stooping like the hog he is for his own gold!'
As Adhils drew back the spear shaft with the ring fast on it, Hrolf spurred his horse to a gallop and with his sword Skofnung scythed off Adhils' buttocks to the bone.
'You can bear the shame until your wound heals, Adhils. Now you know me, Hrolf Kraki, the one you sought hard to bring low in your hall!'
Suffering with the loss of blood, Adhils grew faint and Hrolf drew the spearpoint back toward himself,
'I shall have that ring now, thank you'. On deftly taking the ring Viagris from the spear the two kings parted company. 'I should not go riding for a while, if I were you, Adhils!'
Meanwhile Hrolf's champions had slain those of Adhils' company foolish enough to close on them. Now they were on their way again, riding the day long until they came across a steading, where who but Hrani should greet them at the door. They were offered food, drink and bed for the night again. He added,
'Things have turned out much as I thought they would, King Hrolf'.
Hrolf nodded to acknowledge that Hrani was no fool, to be blinded by Adhils' guile and cunning.
'I have these weapons to offer you', Hrani then told Hrolf, pointing to a shield, a sword and mailcoat on the bench behind him where he stood in his humble dwelling.
'These are poor quality fare', Hrolf sniffed, looking down at what Hrani offered. 'Do you really want to give me them?'
Hrani's mood soured. He would have lost his temper with anyone else, but Hrolf was a king. He should have known better. Neverthelesss the old man felt let down.
'I think it best you went', Hrani stared balefully at Hrolf for turning down his gifts. 'You, King Hrolf, have not been as wise as you would like to think. nor have you been so clever', Hrani shut the door firmly behind the king and his champions without bidding them farewell.
Had had not ridden far when Bodvar reined in his horse and told his friend the king,
'We are always wise afterwards', Bodvar groaned. 'I do not think we were so wise in turning Hrani's gifts aside. We may have blinded ourselves to our fates'.
'I would say the same', Hrolf answered. 'That was Odin, like as not - old 'One Eye', the Allfather'.
'Perhaps we ought to ride back, since we have not come very far from his steading', Svipdag was all for turning back now. 'We should see the truth in the matter, once and for all'.
They took the road back, but by that time the steading and the freeman, Hrani, were gone. It was as if they had been swallowed whole by the earth beneath.
'It will do no good looking for him. The gods are wilful in their anger and we should not linger here', Hrolf said, suddenly fearful. He wheeled his horse about and kicked in his heels.
Nothing more is known about their way back to Hleidargard. Nor did they set out in the fore-year, as they would have wished.
'If we keep ourselves to ourselves we should not be attacked', Bodvar counselled Hrolf. 'Having snubbed old 'One Eye' like that, we may well be robbed of renown'.
'Urd at her well rules us all, not the Allfather', Hrolf growled in answer. however, he did not wish to push his luck.
'Were it down to us, Hrolf, we would like least to part company with you. I have a feeling we will have little to say in what is to happen. Not so long from now something will overcome our wish for a quiet year', Bodvar finished and lifted his cup of ale. 'To us'.
Yet they had gained renown throughout the northlands from their days in Uppsala, and in the way King Adhils was humbled. However, as Bodvar foresaw a storm was brewing. Urd was busy stirring the well of knowledge at Yggdrasil's roots. The Allfather would test King Hrolf in new ways.
Next - 9: Yuletide Reckoning - Endgame
In a choice between the Penguin Classics version of this saga and Poul Anderson's, I would choose the latter. I've read it, and the treatment is very sympathetic. Although probably true to the original, the Penguin version is fairly 'bald' with a definite lack of detail and description The story deserves the elaboration and detail that Mr Anderson added to 'paint' a picture of early Scandinavia, before the Vikings burst out onto the world at large.
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster