The Danish History, Books I-IX
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #28a
Amleth, when he had accomplished the slaughter of his stepfather, feared to expose his deed to the fickle judgment of his countrymen, and thought it well to lie in hiding till he had learnt what way the mob of the uncouth populace was tending. So the whole neighbourhood, who had watched the blaze during the night, and in the morning desired to know the cause of the fire they had seen, perceived the royal palace fallen in ashes; and, on searching through its ruins, which were yet warm, found only some shapeless remains of burnt corpses. For the devouring flame had consumed everything so utterly that not a single token was left to inform them of the cause of such a disaster. Also they saw the body of Feng lying pierced by the sword, amid his blood- stained raiment. Some were seized with open anger, others with grief, and some with secret delight. One party bewailed the death of their leader, the other gave thanks that the tyranny of the fratricide was now laid at rest. Thus the occurrence of the king's slaughter was greeted by the beholders with diverse minds.
Amleth, finding the people so quiet, made bold to leave his hiding. Summoning those in whom he knew the memory of his father to be fast-rooted, he went to the assembly and there made a speech after this manner:
"Nobles! Let not any who are troubled by the piteous end of Horwendil be worried by the sight of this disaster before you; be not ye, I say, distressed, who have remained loyal to your king and duteous to your father. Behold the corpse, not of a prince, but of a fratricide. Indeed, it was a sorrier sight when ye saw our prince lying lamentably butchered by a most infamous fratricide-brother, let me not call him. With your own compassionating eyes ye have beheld the mangled limbs of Horwendil; they have seen his body done to death with many wounds. Surely that most abominable butcher only deprived his king of life that he might despoil his country of freedom! The hand that slew him made you slaves. Who then so mad as to choose Feng the cruel before Horwendil the righteous? Remember how benignantly Horwendil fostered you, how justly he dealt with you, how kindly he loved you. Remember how you lost the mildest of princes and the justest of fathers, while in his place was put a tyrant and an assassin set up; how your rights were confiscated; how everything was plague-stricken; how the country was stained with infamies; how the yoke was planted on your necks, and how, your free will was forfeited! And now all this is over; for ye see the criminal stifled in his own crimes, the slayer of his kin punished for his misdoings. What man of but ordinary wit, beholding it, would account this kindness a wrong? What sane man could be sorry that the crime has recoiled upon the culprit? Who could lament the killing of a most savage executioner? Or bewail the righteous death of a most cruel despot? Ye behold the doer of the deed; he is before you. Yea, I own that I have taken vengeance for my country and my father. Your hands were equally bound to the task which mine fulfilled. What it would have beseemed you to accomplish with me, I achieved alone. Nor had I any partner in so glorious a deed, or the service of any man to help me. Not that I forget that you would have helped this work, had I asked you; for doubtless you have remained loyal to your king and loving to your prince. But I chose that the wicked should be punished without imperilling you; I thought that others need not set their shoulders to the burden when I deemed mine strong enough to bear it. Therefore I consumed all the others to ashes, and left only the trunk of Feng for your hands to burn, so that on this at least you may wreak all your longing for a righteous vengeance. Now haste up speedily, heap the pyre, burn up the body of the wicked, consume away his guilty limbs, scatter his sinful ashes, strew broadcast his ruthless dust; let no urn or barrow enclose the abominable remnants of his bones. Let no trace of his fratricide remain; let there be no spot in his own land for his tainted limbs; let no neighbourhood suck infection from him; let not sea nor soil be defiled by harboring his accursed carcase. I have done the rest; this one loyal duty is left for you. These must be the tyrant's obsequies, this the funeral procession of the fratricide. It is not seemly that he who stripped his country of her freedom should have his ashes covered by his country's earth.
"Besides, why tell again my own sorrows? Why count over my troubles? Why weave the thread of my miseries anew? Ye know them more fully than I myself. I, pursued to the death by my stepfather, scorned by my mother, spat upon by friends, have passed my years in pitiable wise, and my days in adversity; and my insecure life has teemed with fear and perils. In fine, I passed every season of my age wretchedly and in extreme calamity. Often in your secret murmurings together you have sighed over my lack of wits; there was none (you said) to avenge the father, none to punish the fratricide. And in this I found a secret testimony of your love; for I saw that the memory of the King's murder had not yet faded from your minds.
"Whose breast is so hard that it can be softened by no fellow- feeling for what I have felt? Who is so stiff and stony, that he is swayed by no compassion for my griefs? Ye whose hands are clean of the blood of Horwendil, pity your fosterling, be moved by my calamities. Pity also my stricken mother, and rejoice with me that the infamy of her who was once your queen is quenched. For this weak woman had to bear a twofold weight of ignominy, embracing one who was her husband's brother and murderer. Therefore, to hide my purpose of revenge and to veil my wit, I counterfeited a listless bearing; I feigned dulness; I planned a stratagem; and now you can see with your own eyes whether it has succeeded, whether it has achieved its purpose to the full; I am content to leave you to judge so great a matter. It is your turn; trample under foot the ashes of the murderer! Disdain the dust of him who slew his brother, and defiled his brother's queen with infamous. desecration, who outraged his sovereign and treasonably assailed his majesty, who brought the sharpest tyranny upon you, stole your freedom, and crowned fratricide with incest. I have been the agent of this just vengeance; I have burned for this righteous retribution; uphold me with a high-born spirit; pay me the homage that you owe; warm me with your kindly looks. It is I who have wiped off my country's shame; I who have quenched my mother's dishonour; I who have beaten back oppression; I who have put to death the murderer; I who have baffled the artful hand of my uncle with retorted arts. Were he living, each new day would have multiplied his crimes. I resented the wrong done to father and to fatherland: I slew him who was governing you outrageously and more hardly than it beseemed men. Acknowledge my service, honour my wit, give me the throne if I have earned it; for you have in me one who has done you a mighty service, and who is no degenerate heir to his father's power; no fratricide, but the lawful successor to the throne; and a dutiful avenger of the crime of murder. It is I who have stripped you of slavery, and clothed you with freedom; I have restored your height of fortune, and given you your glory back; I have deposed the despot and triumphed over the butcher. In your hands is the reward; you know what I have done for you, and from your righteousness I ask my wage."
Every heart had been moved while the young man thus spoke; he affected some to compassion, and some even to tears. When the lamentation ceased, he was appointed king by prompt and general acclaim. For one and all rested their greatest hopes on his wisdom, since he had devised the whole of such an achievement with the deepest cunning, and accomplished it with the most astonishing contrivance. Many could have been seen marvelling how he had concealed so subtle a plan over so long a space of time.
After these deeds in Denmark, Amleth equipped three vessels, and went back to Britain to see his wife and her father. He had also enrolled in his service the flower of the warriors, and arrayed them very choicely, wishing to have everything now magnificently appointed, even as of old he had always worn contemptible gear, and to change all his old devotion to poverty for outlay on luxury. He also had a shield made for him, whereon the whole series of his exploits, beginning with his earliest youth, was painted in exquisite designs. This he bore as a record of his deeds of prowess, and gained great increase of fame thereby. Here were to be seen depicted the slaying of Horwendil; the fratricide and incest of Feng; the infamous uncle, the whimsical nephew; the shapes of the hooked stakes; the stepfather suspecting, the stepson dissembling; the various temptations offered, and the woman brought to beguile him; the gaping wolf; the finding of the rudder; the passing of the sand; the entering of the wood; the putting of the straw through the gadfly; the warning of the youth by the tokens; and the privy dealings with the maiden after the escort was eluded. And likewise could be seen the picture of the palace; the queen there with her son; the slaying of the eavesdropper; and how, after being killed, he was boiled down, and so dropped into the sewer, and so thrown out to the swine; how his limbs were strewn in the mud, and so left for the beasts to finish. Also it could be seen how Amleth surprised the secret of his sleeping attendants, how he erased the letters, and put new characters in their places; how he disdained the banquet and scorned the drink; how he condemned time face of the king and taxed the Queen with faulty behaviour. There was also represented the hanging of the envoys, and the young man's wedding; then the voyage back to Denmark; the festive celebration of the funeral rites; Amleth, in answer to questions, pointing to the sticks in place of his attendants, acting as cupbearer, and purposely drawing his sword and pricking his fingers; the sword riveted through, the swelling cheers of the banquet, the dance growing fast and furious; the hangings flung upon the sleepers, then fastened with the interlacing crooks, and wrapped tightly round them as they slumbered; the brand set to the mansion, the burning of the guests, the royal palace consumed with fire and tottering down; the visit to the sleeping-room of Feng, the theft of his sword, the useless one set in its place; and the king slain with his own sword's point by his stepson's hand. All this was there, painted upon Amleth's battle-shield by a careful craftsman in the choicest of handiwork; he copied truth in his figures, and embodied real deeds in his outlines. Moreover, Amleth's followers, to increase the splendour of their presence, wore shields which were gilt over.
The King of Britain received them very graciously, and treated them with costly and royal pomp. During the feast he asked anxiously whether Feng was alive and prosperous. His son-in-law told him that the man of whose welfare he was vainly inquiring had perished by the sword. With a flood of questions he tried to find out who had slain Feng, and learnt that the messenger of his death was likewise its author. And when the king heard this, he was secretly aghast, because he found that an old promise to avenge Feng now devolved upon himself. For Feng and he had determined of old, by a mutual compact, that one of them should act as avenger of the other. Thus the king was drawn one way by his love for his daughter and his affection for his son-in-law; another way by his regard for his friend, and moreover by his strict oath and the sanctity of their mutual declarations, which it was impious to violate. At last he slighted the ties of kinship, and sworn faith prevailed. His heart turned to vengeance, and he put the sanctity of his oath before family bonds. But since it was thought sin to wrong the holy ties of hospitality, he preferred to execrate his revenge by the hand of another, wishing to mask his secret crime with a show of innocence. So he veiled his treachery with attentions, and hid his intent to harm under a show of zealous goodwill. His queen having lately died of illness, he requested Amleth to undertake the mission of making him a fresh match, saying that he was highly delighted with his extraordinary shrewdness. He declared that there was a certain queen reigning in Scotland, whom he vehemently desired to marry. Now he knew that she was not only unwedded by reason of her chastity, but that in the cruelty of her arrogance she had always loathed her wooers, and had inflicted on her lovers the uttermost punishment, so that not one but of all the multitude was to be found who had not paid for his insolence with his life.
Perilous as this commission was Amleth started, never shrinking to obey the duty imposed upon him, but trusting partly in his own servants, and partly in the attendants of the king. He entered Scotland, and, when quite close to the abode of the queen, he went into a meadow by the wayside to rest his horses. Pleased by the look of the spot, he thought of resting -- the pleasant prattle of the stream exciting a desire to sleep -- and posted men to keep watch some way off. The queen on hearing of this, sent out ten warriors to spy on the approach of the foreigners and their equipment. One of these, being quick-witted, slipped past the sentries, pertinaciously made his way up, and took away the shield, which Amleth had chanced to set at his head before he slept, so gently that he did not ruffle his slumbers, though he was lying upon it, nor awaken one man of all that troop; for he wished to assure his mistress not only by report but by some token. With equal address he filched the letter entrusted to Amleth from the coffer in which it was kept. When these things were brought to the queen, she scanned the shield narrowly, and from the notes appended made out the whole argument. Then she knew that here was the man who, trusting in his own nicely calculated scheme, had avenged on his uncle the murder of his father. She also looked at the letter containing the suit for her band, and rubbed out all the writing; for wedlock with the old she utterly abhorred, and desired the embraces of young men. But she wrote in its place a commission purporting to be sent from the King of Britain to herself, signed like the other with his name and title, wherein she pretended that she was asked to marry the bearer. Moreover, she included an account of the deeds of which she had learnt from Amleth's shield, so that one would have thought the shield confirmed the letter, while the letter explained the shield. Then she told the same spies whom she had employed before to take the shield back, and put the letter in its place again; playing the very trick on Amleth which, as she had learnt, he had himself used in outwitting his companions.
Amleth, meanwhile, who found that his shield had been filched from under his head, deliberately shut his eyes and cunningly feigned sleep, hoping to regain by pretended what he had lost by real slumbers. For he thought that the success of his one attempt would incline the spy to deceive him a second time. And he was not mistaken. For as the spy came up stealthily, and wanted to put back the shield and the writing in their old place, Amleth leapt up, seized him, and detained him in bonds. Then he roused his retinue, and went to the abode of the queen. As representing his father-in-law, he greeted her, and handled her the writing, sealed with the king's seal. The queen, who was named Hermutrude, took and read it, and spoke most warmly of Amleth's diligence and shrewdness, saying, that Feng had deserved his punishment, and that the unfathomable wit of Amleth had accomplished a deed past all human estimation; seeing that not only had his impenetrable depth devised a mode of revenging his father's death and his mother's adultery, but it had further, by his notable deeds Of prowess, seized the kingdom of the man whom he had found constantly plotting against him. She marvelled therefore that a man of such instructed mind could have made the one slip of a mistaken marriage; for though his renown almost rose above mortality, he seemed to have stumbled into an obscure and ignoble match. For the parents of his wife had been slaves, though good luck had graced them with the honours of royalty. Now (said she), when looking for a wife a wise man must reckon the lustre of her birth and not of her beauty. Therefore, if he were to seek a match in a proper spirit, he should weigh the ancestry, and not be smitten by the looks; for though looks were a lure to temptation, yet their empty bedizenment had tarnished the white simplicity of many a man. Now there was a woman, as nobly born as himself, whom he could take. She herself, whose means were not poor nor her birth lowly, was worthy his embraces, since he did not surpass her in royal wealth nor outshine her in the honour of his ancestors. Indeed she was a queen, and but that her sex gainsaid it, might be deemed a king; may (and this is yet truer), whomsoever she thought worthy of her bed was at once a king, and she yielded her kingdom with herself. Thus her sceptre and her hand went together. It was no mean favour for such a woman to offer her love, who in the case of other men had always followed her refusal with the sword. Therefore she pressed him to transfer his wooing, to make over to her his marriage vows, and to learn to prefer birth to beauty. So saying, she fell upon him with a close embrace.
Amleth was overjoyed at the gracious speech of the maiden, fell to kissing back, and returned her close embrace, protesting that the maiden's wish was his own. Then a banquet was held, friends bidden, the nobles gathered, and the marriage rites performed. When they were accomplished, he went back to Britain with his bride, a strong band of Scots being told to follow close behind, that he might have its help against the diverse treacheries in his path. As he was returning, the daughter of the King of Britain, to whom he was still married, met him. Though she complained that she was slighted by the wrong of having a paramour put over her, yet, she said, it would be unworthy for her to hate him as an adulterer more than she loved him as a husband: nor would she so far shrink from her lord as to bring herself to hide in silence the guile which she knew was intended against him. For she had a son as a pledge of their marriage, and regard for him, if nothing else, must have inclined his mother to the affection of a wife. "He," she said, "may hate the supplanter of his mother, I will love her; no disaster shall put out my flame for thee; no ill-will shall quench it, or prevent me from exposing the malignant designs against thee, or from revealing the snares I have detected. Bethink thee, then, that thou must beware of thy father-in-law, for thou hast thyself reaped the harvest of thy mission, foiled the wishes of him who sent thee, and with willful trespass seized over all the fruit for thyself." By this speech she showed herself more inclined to love her husband than her father.
While she thus spoke, the King of Britain came up and embraced his son-in-law closely, but with little love, and welcomed him with a banquet, to hide his intended guile under a show of generosity. But Amleth, having learnt the deceit, dissembled his fear, took a retinue of two hundred horsemen, put on an under- shirt (of mail), and complied with the invitation, preferring the peril of falling in with the king's deceit to the shame of hanging back. So much heed for honour did he think that he must take in all things. As he rode up close, the king attacked him just under the porch of the folding doors, and would have thrust him through with his javelin, but that the hard shirt of mail threw off the blade. Amleth received a slight wound, and went to the spot where he had bidden the Scottish warriors wait on duty. He then sent back to the king his new wife's spy, whom he had captured. This man was to bear witness that he had secretly taken from the coffer where it was kept the letter which was meant for his mistress, and thus was to make the whole blame recoil on Hermutrude, by this studied excuse absolving Amleth from the charge of treachery. The king without tarrying pursued Amleth hotly as he fled, and deprived him of most of his forces. So Amleth, on the morrow, wishing to fight for dear life, and utterly despairing of his powers of resistance, tried to increase his apparent numbers. He put stakes under some of the dead bodies of his comrades to prop them up, set others on horseback like living men, and tied others to neighbouring stones, not taking off any of their armour, and dressing them in due order of line and wedge, just as if they were about to engage. The wing composed of the dead was as thick as the troop of the living. It was an amazing spectacle this, of dead men dragged out to battle, and corpses mustered to fight. The plan served him well, for the very figures of the dead men showed like a vast array as the sunbeams struck them. For those dead and senseless shapes restored the original number of the army so well, that the mass might have been unthinned by the slaughter of yesterday. The Britons, terrified at the spectacle, fled before fighting, conquered by the dead men whom they had overcome in life. I cannot tell whether to think more of the cunning or of the good fortune of this victory. The Danes came down on the king as he was tardily making off, and killed him. Amleth, triumphant, made a great plundering, seized the spoils of Britain, and went back with his wives to his own land.
Meanwhile Rorik had died, and Wiglek, who had come to the throne, had harassed Amleth's mother with all manner of insolence and stripped her of her royal wealth, complaining that her son had usurped the kingdom of Jutland and defrauded the King of Leire, who had the sole privilege of giving and taking away the rights of high offices. This treatment Amleth took with such forbearance as apparently to return kindness for slander, for he presented Wiglek with the richest of his spoils. But afterwards he seized a chance of taking vengeance, attacked him, subdued him, and from a covert became an open foe. Fialler, the governor of Skaane, he drove into exile; and the tale is that Fialler retired to a spot called Undensakre, which is unknown to our peoples. After this, Wiglek, recruited with the forces of Skaane and Zealand, sent envoys to challenge Amleth to a war. Amleth, with his marvellous shrewdness, saw that he was tossed between two difficulties, one of which involved disgrace and the other danger. For he knew that if he took up the challenge he was threatened with peril of his life, while to shrink from it would disgrace his reputation as a soldier. Yet in that spirit ever fixed on deeds of prowess the desire to save his honour won the day. Dread of disaster was blunted by more vehement thirst for glory; he would not tarnish the unblemished lustre of his fame by timidly skulking from his fate. Also he saw that there is almost as wide a gap between a mean life and a noble death as that which is acknowledged between honour and disgrace themselves.
Yet Amleth was enchained by such great love for Hermutrude, that he was more deeply concerned in his mind about her future widowhood than about his own death, and cast about very zealously how he could decide on some second husband for her before the opening of the war. Hermutrude, therefore, declared that she had the courage of a man, and promised that she would not forsake him even on the field, saying that the woman who dreaded to be united with her lord in death was abominable. But she kept this rare promise ill; for when Amleth had been slain by Wiglek in battle in Jutland, she yielded herself up unasked to be the conqueror's spoil and bride. Thus all vows of woman are loosed by change of fortune and melted by the shifting of time; the faith of their soul rests on a slippery foothold, and is weakened by casual chances; glib in promises, and as sluggish in performance, all manner of lustful promptings enslave it, and it bounds away with panting and precipitate desire, forgetful of old things in the ever hot pursuit after something fresh. So ended Amleth. Had fortune been as kind to him as nature, he would have equalled the gods in glory, and surpassed the labours of Hercules by his deeds of prowess. A plain in Jutland is to be found, famous for his name and burial-place. Wiglek's administration of the kingdom was long and peaceful, and he died of disease.
WERMUND, his son, succeeded him. The long and leisurely tranquillity of a most prosperous and quiet time flowed by and Wermund in undisturbed security maintained a prolonged and steady peace at home. He had no children during the prime of his life, but in his old age, by a belated gift of fortune, he begat a son, Uffe, though all the years which had glided by had raised him up no offspring. This Uffe surpassed all of his age in stature, but in his early youth was supposed to have so dull and foolish a spirit as to be useless for all affairs public or private. For from his first years he never used to play or make merry, but was so void of all human pleasure that he kept his lips sealed in a perennial silence, and utterly restrained his austere visage from the business of laughter. But though through the years of his youth he was reputed for an utter fool, he afterwards left that despised estate and became famous, turning out as great a pattern of wisdom and hardihood as he had been a picture of stagnation. His father, seeing him such a simpleton, got him for a wife the daughter of Frowin, the governor of the men of Sleswik; thinking that by his alliance with so famous a man Uffe would receive help which would serve him well in administering the realm. Frowin had two sons, Ket and Wig, who were youths of most brilliant parts, and their excellence, not less than that of Frowin, Wermund destined to the future advantage of his son.
At this time the King of Sweden was Athisl, a man of notable fame and energy. After defeating his neighbours far around, he was loth to leave the renown won by his prowess to be tarnished in slothful ease, and by constant and zealous practice brought many novel exercises into vogue. For one thing he had a daily habit of walking alone girt with splendid armour: in part because he knew that nothing was more excellent in warfare than the continual practice of arms; and in part that he might swell his glory by ever following this pursuit. Self-confidence claimed as large a place in this man as thirst for fame. Nothing, he thought, could be so terrible as to make him afraid that it would daunt his stout heart by its opposition. He carried his arms into Denmark, and challenged Frowin to battle near Sleswik. The armies routed one another with vast slaughter, and it happened that the generals came to engage in person, so that they conducted the affair like a duel; and, in addition to the public issues of the war, the fight was like a personal conflict. For both of them longed with equal earnestness for an issue of the combat by which they might exhibit their valour, not by the help of their respective sides, but by a trial of personal strength. The end was that, though the blows rained thick on either side, Athisl prevailed and overthrew Frowin, and won a public victory as well as a duel, breaking up and shattering the Danish ranks in all directions. When he returned to Sweden, he not only counted the slaying of Frowin among the trophies of his valour, but even bragged of it past measure, so ruining the glory of the deed by his wantonness of tongue. For it is sometimes handsomer for deeds of valour to be shrouded in the modesty of silence than to be blazoned in wanton talk.
Wermund raised the sons of Frowin to honours of the same rank as their father's, a kindness which was only due to the children of his friend who had died for the country. This prompted Athisl to carry the war again into Denmark. Emboldened therefore by his previous battle, he called back, bringing with him not only no slender and feeble force, but all the flower of the valour of Sweden, thinking he would seize the supremacy of all Denmark. Ket, the son of Frowin, sent Folk, his chief officer, to take this news to Wermund, who then chanced to be in his house Jellinge. (1) Folk found the king feasting with his friends, and did his errand, admonishing him that here was the long-wished-for chance of war at hand, and pressing itself upon the wishes of Wermund, to whom was give an immediate chance of victory and the free choice of a speedy and honourable triumph. Great and unexpected were the sweets of good fortune, so long sighed for, and now granted to him by this lucky event. For Athisl had come encompassed with countless forces of the Swedes, just as though in his firm assurance he had made sure of victory; and since the enemy who was going to fight would doubtless prefer death to flight, this chance of war gave them a fortunate opportunity to take vengeance for their late disaster.
Wermund, declaring that he had performed his mission nobly and bravely, ordered that he should take some little refreshment of the banquet, since "far-faring ever hurt fasters." When Folk said that he had no kind of leisure to take food, he begged him to take a draught to quench his thirst. This was given him; and Wermund also bade him keep the cup, which was of gold, saying that men who were weary with the heat of wayfaring found it handier to take up the water in a goblet than in the palms, and that it was better to use a cup for drinking than the hand. When the king accompanied his great gift with such gracious words, the young man, overjoyed at both, promised that, before the king should see him turn and flee, he would take a draught of his own blood to the full measure of the liquor he had drunk.
With this doughty vow Wermund accounted himself well repaid, and got somewhat more joy from giving the boon than the soldier had from gaining it. Nor did he find that Folk's talk was braver than his fighting.
For, when battle had begun, it came to pass that amidst divers charges of the troops Folk and Athisl met and fought a long while together; and that the host of the Swedes, following the fate of their captain, took to flight, and Athisl also was wounded and fled from the battle to his ships. And when Folk, dazed with wounds and toils, and moreover steeped alike in heat and toil and thirst, had ceased to follow the rout of the enemy, then, in order to refresh himself, he caught his own blood in his helmet, and put it to his lips to drain: by which deed he gloriously requited the king's gift of the cup. Wermund, who chanced to see this, praised him warmly for fulfilling his vow. Folk answered, that a noble vow ought to be strictly performed to the end: a speech wherein he showed no less approval of his own deed than Wermund.
Now, while the conquerors had laid down their arms, and, as is usual after battle, were exchanging diverse talk with one another, Ket, the governor of the men of Sleswik, declared that it was a matter of great marvel to him how it was that Athisl, though difficulties strewed his path, had contrived an opportunity to escape, especially as he had been the first and foremost in the battle, but last of all in the retreat; and though there had not been one of the enemy whose fall was so vehemently desired by the Danes. Wermund rejoined that he should know that there were four kinds of warrior to be distinguished in every army. The fighters of the first order were those who, tempering valour with forbearance, were keen to slay those who resisted, but were ashamed to bear hard on fugitives. For these were the men who had won undoubted proofs of prowess by veteran experience in arms, and who found their glory not in the flight of the conquered, but in overcoming those whom they had to conquer. Then there was a second kind of warriors, who were endowed with stout frame and spirit, but with no jot of compassion, and who raged with savage and indiscriminate carnage against the backs as well as the breasts of their foes. Now of this sort were the men carried away by hot and youthful blood, and striving to grace their first campaign with good auguries of warfare. They burned as hotly with the glow of youth as with the glow for glory, and thus rushed headlong into right or wrong with equal recklessness. There was also the third kind, who, wavering betwixt shame and fear, could not go forward for terror, while shame barred retreat. Of distinguished blood, but only notable for their useless stature, they crowded the ranks with numbers and not with strength, smote the foe more with their shadows than with their arms, and were only counted among the throng of warriors as so many bodies to be seen. These men were lords of great riches, but excelled more in birth than bravery; hungry for life because owning great possessions, they were forced to yield to the sway of cowardice rather than nobleness. There were others, again, who brought show to the war, and not substance, and who, foisting themselves into the rear of their comrades, were the first to fly and the last to fight. One sure token of fear betrayed their feebleness; for they always deliberately sought excuses to shirk, and followed with timid and sluggish advance in the rear of the fighters. It must be supposed, therefore, that these were the reasons why the king had escaped safely; for when he fled he was not pursued pertinaciously by the men of the front rank; since these made it their business to preserve the victory, not to arrest the conquered, and massed their wedges, in order that the fresh-won victory might be duly and sufficiently guarded, and attain the fulness of triumph.
Now the second class of fighters, whose desire was to cut down everything in their way, had left Athisl unscathed, from lack not of will but of opportunity; for they had lacked the chance to hurt him rather than the daring. Moreover, though the men of the third kind, who frittered away the very hour of battle by wandering about in a flurried fashion, and also hampered the success of their own side, had had their chance of harming the king, they yet lacked courage to assail him. In this way Wermund satisfied the dull amazement of Ket, and declared that he had set forth and expounded the true reasons of the king's safe escape.
After this Athisl fled back to Sweden, still wantonly bragging of the slaughter of Frowin, and constantly boasting the memory of his exploit with prolix recital of his deeds; not that he bore calmly the shame of his defeat, but that he might salve the wound of his recent flight by the honours of his ancient victory. This naturally much angered Ket and Wig, and they swore a vow to unite in avenging their father. Thinking that they could hardly accomplish this in open war, they took an equipment of lighter armament, and went to Sweden alone. Then, entering a wood in which they had learnt by report that the king used to take his walks unaccompanied, they hid their weapons. Then they talked long with Athisl, giving themselves out as deserters; and when he asked them what was their native country, they said they were men of Sleswik, and had left their land "for manslaughter". The king thought that this statement referred not to their vow to commit the crime, but to the guilt of some crime already committed. For they desired by this deceit to foil his inquisitiveness, so that the truthfulness of the statement might baffle the wit of the questioner, and their true answer, being covertly shadowed forth in a fiction, might inspire in him a belief that it was false. For famous men of old thought lying a most shameful thing. Then Athisl said he would like to know whom the Danes believed to be the slayer of Frowin. Ket replied that there was a doubt as to who ought to claim so illustrious a deed, especially as the general testimony was that he had perished on the field of battle. Athisl answered that it was idle to credit others with the death of Frowin, which he, and he alone, had accomplished in mutual combat. Soon he asked whether Frowin had left any children. Ket answering that two sons of his were alive, said that he would be very glad to learn their age and stature. Ket replied that they were almost of the same size as themselves in body, alike in years, and much resembling them in tallness. Then Athisl said: "If the mind and the valour of their sire were theirs, a bitter tempest would break upon me." Then he asked whether those men constantly spoke of the slaying of their father. Ket rejoined that it was idle to go on talking and talking about a thing that could not be softened by any remedy, and declared that it was no good to harp with constant vexation on an inexpiable ill. By saying this he showed that threats ought not to anticipate vengeance.
When Ket saw that the king regularly walked apart alone in order to train his strength, he took up his arms, and with his brother followed the king as he walked in front of them. Athisl, when he saw them, stood his ground on the sand, thinking it shameful to avoid threateners. Then they said that they would take vengeance for his slaying of Frowin, especially as he avowed with so many arrogant vaunts that he alone was his slayer. But he told them to take heed lest while they sought to compass their revenge, they should be so foolhardy as to engage him with their feeble and powerless hand, and while desiring the destruction of another, should find they had fallen themselves. Thus they would cut off their goodly promise of overhasty thirst for glory. Let them then save their youth and spare their promise; let them not be seized so lightly with a desire to perish. Therefore, let them suffer him to requite with money the trespass done them in their father's death, and account it great honour that they would be credited with forcing so mighty a chief to pay a fine, and in a manner with shaking him with overmastering fear. Yet he said he advised them thus, not because he was really terrified, but because he was moved with compassion for their youth. Ket replied that it was idle to waste time in beating so much about the bush and trying to sap their righteous longing for revenge by an offer of pelf. So he bade him come forward and make trial with him in single combat of whatever strength he had. He himself would do without the aid of his brother, and would fight with his own strength, lest it should appear a shameful and unequal combat, for the ancients held it to be unfair, and also infamous, for two men to fight against one; and a victory gained by this kind of fighting they did not account honourable, but more like a disgrace than a glory. Indeed, it was considered not only a poor, but a most shameful exploit for two men to overpower one.
But Athisl was filled with such assurance that he bade them both assail him at once, declaring that if he could not cure them of the desire to fight, he would at least give them the chance of fighting more safely. But Ket shrank so much from this favour that he swore he would accept death sooner: for he thought that the terms of battle thus offered would be turned into a reproach to himself. So he engaged hotly with Athisl, who desirous to fight him in a forbearing fashion, merely thrust lightly with his blade and struck upon his shield; thus guarding his own safety with more hardihood than success. When he had done this some while, he advised him to take his brother to share in his enterprise, and not be ashamed to ask for the help of another hand, since his unaided efforts were useless. If he refused, said Athisl, he should not be spared; then making good his threats, he assailed him with all his might. But Ket received him with so sturdy a stroke of his sword, that it split the helmet and forced its way down upon the head. Stung by the wound (for a stream of blood flowed from his poll), he attacked Ket with a shower of nimble blows, and drove him to his knees. Wig, leaning more to personal love than to general usage, (2) could not bear the sight, but made affection conquer shame, and attacking Athisl, chose rather to defend the weakness of his brother than to look on at it. But he won more infamy than glory by the deed. In helping his brother he had violated the appointed conditions of the duel; and the help that he gave him was thought more useful than honourable. For on the one scale he inclined to the side of disgrace, and on the other to that of affection. Thereupon they perceived themselves that their killing of Athisl had been more swift than glorious. Yet, not to hide the deed from the common people, they cut off his head, slung his body on a horse, took it out of the wood, and handed it over to the dwellers in a village near, announcing that the sons of Frowin had taken vengeance upon Athisl, King of the Swedes, for the slaying of their father. Boasting of such a victory as this, they were received by Wermund with the highest honours; for he thought they had done a most useful deed, and he preferred to regard the glory of being rid of a rival with more attention than the infamy of committing an outrage. Nor did he judge that the killing of a tyrant was in any wise akin to shame. It passed into a proverb among foreigners, that the death of the king had broken down the ancient principle of combat.
When Wermund was losing his sight by infirmity of age, the King of Saxony, thinking that Denmark lacked a leader, sent envoys ordering him to surrender to his charge the kingdom which he held beyond the due term of life; lest, if he thirsted to hold sway too long, he should strip his country of laws and defence. For how could he be reckoned a king, whose spirit was darkened with age, and his eyes with blindness not less black and awful? If he refused, but yet had a son who would dare to accept a challenge and fight with his son, let him agree that the victor should possess the realm. But if he approved neither offer, let him learn that he must be dealt with by weapons and not by warnings; and in the end he must unwillingly surrender what he was too proud at first to yield uncompelled. Wermund, shaken by deep sighs, answered that it was too insolent to sting him with these taunts upon his years; for he had passed no timorous youth, nor shrunk from battle, that age should bring him to this extreme misery. It was equally unfitting to cast in his teeth the infirmity of his blindness: for it was common for a loss of this kind to accompany such a time of life as his, and it seemed a calamity fitter for sympathy than for taunts. It were juster to fix the blame on the impatience of the King of Saxony, whom it would have beseemed to wait for the old man's death, and not demand his throne; for it was somewhat better to succeed to the dead than to rob the living. Yet, that he might not be thought to make over the honours of his ancient freedom, like a madman, to the possession of another, he would accept the challenge with his own hand. The envoys answered that they knew that their king would shrink from the mockery of fighting a blind man, for such an absurd mode of combat was thought more shameful than honourable. It would surely be better to settle the affair by means of their offspring on either side. The Danes were in consternation, and at a sudden loss for a reply: but Uffe, who happened to be there with the rest, craved his father's leave to answer; and suddenly the dumb as it were spake. When Wermund asked who had thus begged leave to speak, and the attendants said that it was Uffe, he declared that it was enough that the insolent foreigner should jeer at the pangs of his misery, without those of his own household vexing him with the same wanton effrontery. But the courtiers persistently averred that this man was Uffe; and the king said: "He is free, whosoever he be, to say out what he thinks." Then said Uffe, "that it was idle for their king to covet a realm which could rely not only on the service of its own ruler, but also on the arms and wisdom of most valiant nobles. Moreover, the king did not lack a son nor the kingdom an heir; and they were to know that he had made up his mind to fight not only the son of their king, but also, at the same time, whatsoever man the prince should elect as his comrade out of the bravest of their nation."
The envoys laughed when they beard this, thinking it idle lip- courage. Instantly the ground for the battle was agreed on, and a fixed time appointed. But the bystanders were so amazed by the strangeness of Uffe's speaking and challenging, that one can scarce say if they were more astonished at his words or at his assurance.
But on the departure of the envoys Wermund praised him who had made the answer, because he had proved his confidence in his own valour by challenging not one only, but two; and said that he would sooner quit his kingdom for him, whoever he was, than for an insolent foe. But when one and all testified that he who with lofty self-confidence had spurned the arrogance of the envoys was his own son, he bade him come nearer to him, wishing to test with his hands what he could not with his eyes. Then he carefully felt his body, and found by the size of his limbs and by his features that he was his son; and then began to believe their assertions, and to ask him why he had taken pains to hide so sweet an eloquence with such careful dissembling, and had borne to live through so long a span of life without utterance or any intercourse of talk, so as to let men think him utterly incapable of speech, and a born mute. He replied that he had been hitherto satisfied with the protection of his father, that he had not needed the use of his own voice, until he saw the wisdom of his own land hard pressed by the glibness of a foreigner. The king also asked him why he had chosen to challenge two rather than one. He said he had desired this mode of combat in order that the death of King Athisl, which, having been caused by two men, was a standing reproach to the Danes, might be balanced by the exploit of one, and that a new ensample of valour might erase the ancient record of their disgrace. Fresh honour, he said, would thus obliterate the guilt of their old dishonour.
Wermund said that his son had judged all things rightly, and bade him first learn the use of arms, since he had been little accustomed to them. When they were offered to Uffe, he split the narrow links of the mail-coats by the mighty girth of his chest, nor could any be found large enough to hold him properly. For he was too hugely built to be able to use the arms of any other man. At last, when he was bursting even his father's coat of mail by the violent compression of his body, Wermund ordered it to be cut away on the left side and patched with a buckle; thinking it mattered little if the side guarded by the shield were exposed to the sword. He also told him to be most careful in fixing on a sword which he could use safely. Several were offered him; but Uffe, grasping the hilt, shattered them one after the other into flinders by shaking them, and not a single blade was of so hard a temper but at the first blow he broke it into many pieces. But the king had a sword of extraordinary sharpness, called "Skrep", which at a single blow of the smiter struck straight through and cleft asunder any obstacle whatsoever; nor would aught be hard enough to check its edge when driven home. The king, loth to leave this for the benefit of posterity, and greatly grudging others the use of it, had buried it deep in the earth, meaning, since he had no hopes of his son's improvement, to debar everyone else from using it. But when he was now asked whether he had a sword worthy of the strength of Uffe, he said that he had one which, if he could recognize the lie of the ground and find what he had consigned long ago to earth, he could offer him as worthy of his bodily strength. Then he bade them lead him into a field, and kept questioning his companions over all the ground. At last he recognised the tokens, found the spot where he had buried the sword, drew it out of its hole, and handed it to his son. Uffe saw it was frail with great age and rusted away; and, not daring to strike with it, asked if he must prove this one also like the rest, declaring that he must try its temper before the battle ought to be fought. Wermund replied that if this sword were shattered by mere brandishing, there was nothing left which could serve for such strength as his. He must, therefore, forbear from the act, whose issue remained so doubtful.
So they repaired to the field of battle as agreed. It is fast encompassed by the waters of the river Eider, which roll between, and forbid any approach save by ship. Hither Uffe went unattended, while the Prince of Saxony was followed by a champion famous for his strength. Dense crowds on either side, eager to see, thronged each winding bank, and all bent their eyes upon this scene. Wermund planted himself on the end of the bridge, determined to perish in the waters if defeat were the lot of his son: he would rather share the fall of his own flesh and blood than behold, with heart full of anguish, the destruction of his own country. Both the warriors assaulted Uffe; but, distrusting his sword, he parried the blows of both with his shield, being determined to wait patiently and see which of the two he must beware of most heedfully, so that he might reach that one at all events with a single stroke of his blade. Wermund, thinking that his feebleness was at fault, that he took the blows so patiently, dragged himself little by little, in his longing for death, forward to the western edge of the bridge, meaning to fling himself down and perish, should all be over with his son.
Fortune shielded the old father, for Uffe told the prince to engage with him more briskly, and to do some deed of prowess worthy of his famous race; lest the lowborn squire should seem braver than the prince. Then, in order to try the bravery of the champion, he bade him not skulk timorously at his master's heels, but requite by noble deeds of combat the trust placed in him by his prince, who had chosen him to be his single partner in the battle. The other complied, and when shame drove him to fight at close quarters, Uffe clove him through with the first stroke of his blade. The sound revived Wermund, who said that he heard the sword of his son, and asked "on what particular part he had dealt the blow?" Then the retainers answered that it had gone through no one limb, but the man's whole frame; whereat Wermund drew back from the precipice and came on the bridge, longing now as passionately to live as he had just wished to die. Then Uffe, wishing to destroy his remaining foe after the fashion of the first, incited the prince with vehement words to offer some sacrifice by way of requital to the shade of the servant slain in his cause. Drawing him by those appeals, and warily noting the right spot to plant his blow, he turned the other edge of his sword to the front, fearing that the thin side of his blade was too frail for his strength, and smote with a piercing stroke through the prince's body. When Wermund heard it, he said that the sound of his sword "Skrep" had reached his ear for the second time. Then, when the judges announced that his son had killed both enemies, he burst into tears from excess of joy. Thus gladness bedewed the cheeks which sorrow could not moisten. So while the Saxons, sad and shamefaced, bore their champions to burial with bitter shame, the Danes welcomed Uffe and bounded for joy. Then no more was heard of the disgrace of the murder of Athisl, and there was an end of the taunts of the Saxons.
Thus the realm of Saxony was transferred to the Danes, and Uffe, after his father, undertook its government; and he, who had not been thought equal to administering a single kingdom properly, was now appointed to manage both. Most men have called him Olaf, and he has won the name of "the Gentle" for his forbearing spirit. His later deeds, lost in antiquity, have lacked formal record. But it may well be supposed that when their beginnings were so notable, their sequel was glorious. I am so brief in considering his doings, because the lustre of the famous men of our nation has been lost to memory and praise by the lack of writings. But if by good luck our land had in old time been endowed with the Latin tongue, there would have been countless volumes to read of the exploits of the Danes.
Uffe was succeeded by his son DAN, who carried his arms against foreigners, and increased his sovereignty with many a trophy; but he tarnished the brightness of the glory he had won by foul and abominable presumption; falling so far away from the honour of his famous father, who surpassed all others in modesty, that he contrariwise was puffed up and proudly exalted in spirit, so that he scorned all other men. He also squandered the goods of his father on infamies, as well as his own winnings from the spoils of foreign nations; and he devoured in expenditure on luxuries the wealth which should have ministered to his royal estate. Thus do sons sometimes, like monstrous births, degenerate from their ancestors.
After this HUGLEIK was king, who is said to have defeated in battle at sea Homod and Hogrim, the despots of Sweden.
To him succeeded FRODE, surnamed the Vigorous, who bore out his name by the strength of his body and mind. He destroyed in war ten captains of Norway, and finally approached the island which afterwards had its name from him, meaning to attack the king himself last of all. This king, Froger, was in two ways very distinguished, being notable in arms no less than in wealth; and graced his sovereignty with the deeds of a champion, being as rich in prizes for bodily feats as in the honours of rank. According to some, he was the son of Odin, and when he begged the immortal gods to grant him a boon, received the privilege that no man should conquer him, save he who at the time of the conflict could catch up in his hand the dust lying beneath Froger's feet. When Frode found that Heaven had endowed this king with such might, he challenged him to a duel, meaning to try to outwit the favour of the gods. So at first, feigning inexperience, he besought the king for a lesson in fighting, knowing (he said) his skill and experience in the same. The other, rejoicing that his enemy not only yielded to his pretensions, but even made him a request, said that he was wise to submit his youthful mind to an old man's wisdom; for his unscarred face and his brow, ploughed by no marks of battle, showed that his knowledge of such matters was but slender. So he marked off on the ground two square spaces with sides an ell long, opposite one another, meaning to begin by instructing him about the use of these plots. When they had been marked off, each took the side assigned to him. Then Frode asked Froger to exchange arms and ground with him, and the request was readily granted. For Froger was excited with the dashing of his enemy's arms, because Frode wore a gold-hilted sword, a breastplate equally bright, and a headpiece most brilliantly adorned in the same manner. So Frode caught up some dust from the ground whence Froger had gone, and thought that he had been granted an omen of victory. Nor was he deceived in his presage; for he straightway slew Froger, and by this petty trick won the greatest name for bravery; for he gained by craft what had been permitted to no man's strength before.
After him DAN came to the throne. When he was in the twelfth year of his age, he was wearied by the insolence of the embassies, which commanded him either to fight the Saxons or to pay them tribute. Ashamed, he preferred fighting to payment and was moved to die stoutly rather than live a coward. So he elected to fight; and the warriors of the Danes filled the Elbe with such a throng of vessels, that the decks of the ships lashed together made it quite easy to cross, as though along a continuous bridge. The end was that the King of Saxony had to accept the very terms he was demanding from the Danes.
After Dan, FRIDLEIF, surnamed the Swift, assumed the sovereignty. During his reign, Huyrwil, the lord of Oland, made a league with the Danes and attacked Norway. No small fame was added to his deeds by the defeat of the amazon Rusila, who aspired with military ardour to prowess in battle: but he gained manly glory over a female foe. Also he took into his alliance, on account of their deeds of prowess, her five partners, the children of Finn, named Brodd, Bild, Bug, Fanning, and Gunholm. Their confederacy emboldened him to break the treaty which he made with the Danes; and the treachery of the violation made it all the more injurious, for the Danes could not believe that he could turn so suddenly from a friend into an enemy; so easily can some veer from goodwill into hate. I suppose that this man inaugurated the morals of our own day, for we do not account lying and treachery as sinful and sordid. When Huyrwil attacked the southern side of Zealand, Fridleif assailed him in the harbour which was afterwards called by Huyrwil's name. In this battle the soldiers, in their rivalry for glory, engaged with such bravery that very few fled to escape peril, and both armies were utterly destroyed; nor did the victory fall to either side, where both were enveloped in an equal ruin. So much more desirous were they all of glory than of life. So the survivors of Huyrwil's army, in order to keep united, had the remnants of their fleet lashed together at night. But, in the same night, Bild and Brodd cut the cables with which the ships were joined, and stealthily severed their own vessels from the rest, thus yielding to their own terrors by deserting their brethren, and obeying the impulses of fear rather than fraternal love. When daylight returned, Fridleif, finding that after the great massacre of their friends only Huyrwil, Gunholm, Bug, and Fanning were left, determined to fight them all single-handed, so that the mangled relics of his fleet might not again have to be imperilled. Besides his innate courage, a shirt of steel-defying mail gave him confidence; a garb which he used to wear in all public battles and in duels, as a preservative of his life. He accomplished his end with as much fortune as courage, and ended the battle successfully. For, after slaying Huyrwil, Bug, and Fanning, he killed Gunholm, who was accustomed to blunt the blade of an enemy with spells, by a shower of blows from his hilt. But while he gripped the blade too eagerly, the sinews, being cut and disabled, contracted the fingers upon the palm, and cramped them with life-long curvature.
While Fridleif was besieging Dublin, a town in Ireland, and saw from the strength of the walls that there was no chance of storming them, he imitated the shrewd wit of Hadding, and ordered fire to be shut up in wicks and fastened to the wings of swallows. When the birds got back in their own nesting-place, the dwellings suddenly flared up; and while the citizens all ran up to quench them, and paid more heed to abating the fire than to looking after the enemy, Fridleif took Dublin. After this he lost his soldiers in Britain, and, thinking that he would find it hard to get back to the coast, he set up the corpses of the slain (Amleth's device) and stationed them in line, thus producing so nearly the look of his original host that its great reverse seemed not to have lessened the show of it a whit. By this deed he not only took out of the enemy all heart for fighting, but inspired them with the desire to make their escape.
Go to Book Five: Part I
(1) Jellinge. Lat. "Ialunga", Icel. "Jalangr".
(2) General usage. "publicus consuetudini": namely, the rule of combat that two should not fight against one.