4. Hakon The Good's Saga

31. Fall Of Skreyja And Askman

King Hakon was very conspicuous among other men, and also when the sun shone his helmet glanced, and thereby many weapons were directed at him. Then Eyvind Finson took a hat and put it over the king’s helmet.

Now Eyvind Skreyja called out,

"Does the king of the Norsemen hide himself, 
or has he fled? Where is now the golden helmet?"

Then Eyvind, and his brother Alf with him, pushed on like fools or madmen. King Hakon shouted to Eyvind,

"Come on as thou art coming, 
and thou shalt find 
the king of the Norsemen."

So says Eyvind Skaldaspiller:

“The raiser of the storm of shields, The conqueror in battle fields, — Hakon the brave, the warrior’s friend, Who scatters gold with liberal hand, Heard Skreyja’s taunt, and saw him rush, Amidst the sharp spears’ thickest push, And loudly shouted in reply —

'If thou wilt for the victory try, 
The Norseman's king thou soon shall find! 
Hold onwards, friend! 
Hast thou a mind!'"

It was also but a short space of time before Eyvind did come up swinging his sword, and made a cut at the king; but Thoralf thrust his shield so hard against Eyvind that he tottered with the shock. Now the king takes his sword Kvernbit with both hands, and hewed Eyvind through helm and head, and clove him down to the shoulders. Thoralf also slew Alf Askman.

So says Eyvind Skaldaspiller:

"With both his hands the gallant king
Swung round his sword, and to the chin
Clove Eyvind down: his faithless mail
Against it could no more avail,
Than the thin plank against the shock
When the ship's side beats on the rock.
By his bright sword with golden haft
Thro' helm, and head, and hair, was cleft
The Danish champion; and amain,
With terror smitten, fled his men."

After this fall of the two brothers, King Hakon pressed on so hard that all men gave way before his assault. Now fear came over the army of Eirik’s sons, and the men began to fly; and King Hakon, who was at the head of his men, pressed on the flying, and hewed down oft and hard.

Then flew an arrow, one of the kind called “flein”, into Hakon’s arm, into the muscles below the shoulder; and it is said by many people that Gunhild’s shoe-boy, whose name was Kisping, ran out and forwards amidst the confusion of arms, called out

"Make room for the king-killer,"

and shot King Hakon with the flein. Others again say that nobody could tell who shot the king, which is indeed the most likely; for spears, arrows, and all kinds of missiles flew as thick as a snow-drift.

Many of the people of Eirik’s sons were killed, both on the field of battle and on the way to the ships, and also on the strand, and many threw themselves into the water. Many also, among whom were Eirik’s sons, got on board their ships, and rowed away as fast as they could, and Hakon’s men after them.

So says Thord Sjarekson:

"The wolf. the murderer, and the thief,
Fled from before the people's chief:
Few breakers of the peace grew old
Under the Northmen's king so bold.
When gallant Hakon lost his life
Black was the day, and dire the strife.
It was bad work for Gunhild's sons,
Leading their pack of Hungry Danes

From out the south, to have to fly,
And many a bonde leave to die,
Leaning his heavy wounded head
On the oar-bench for feather-bed.
Thoralf was nearest to the side
Of gallant Hakon in the tide
Of battle; his the sword that best
Carved out the raven's bloody feast:
Amidst the heaps of foemen slain
He was named bravest on the plain."


32. Hakon’s Death

When King Hakon came out to his ship he had his wound bound up; but the blood ran from it so much and so constantly, that it could not be stopped; and when the day was drawing to an end his strength began to leave him.

Then he told his men that he wanted to go northwards to his house at Alreksstader; but when he came north, as far as Hakonarhella Hill, they put in towards the land, for by this time the king was almost lifeless.

Then he called his friends around him, and told them what he wished to be done with regard to his kingdom. He had only one child, a daughter, called Thora, and had no son. Now he told them to send a message to Eirik’s sons, that they should be kings over the country; but asked them to hold his friends in respect and honour.

"And if fate,"

added he,

"should prolong my life, 
I will, 
at any rate, 
leave the country, 
and go to a Christian land, 
and do penance for what I have done against God; 
but should I die in heathen land, 
give me any burial you think fit."

Shortly afterwards Hakon expired, at the little hill on the shore-side at which he was born.

So great was the sorrow over Hakon’s death, that he was lamented both by friends and enemies; and they said that never again would Norway see such a king. His friends removed his body to Saeheim, in North Hordaland, and made a great mound, in which they laid the king in full armour and in his best clothes, but with no other goods.

They spoke over his grave, as heathen people are used to do, and wished him in Valhal. Eyvind Skaldaspiller composed a poem on the death of King Hakon, and on how well he was received in Valhal.

The poem is called “Hakonarmal“:

"In Odin's hall an empty place
Stands for a king of Yngve's race;
'Go, my valkyries,' Odin said,
'Go forth, my angels of the dead,
Gondul and Skogul, to the plain
Drenched with the battle's bloody rain,
And to the dying Hakon tell,
Here in Valhal shall he dwell.' 
"At Stord, so late a lonely shore,

Was heard the battle's wild uproar;
The lightning of the flashing sword
Burned fiercely at the shore of Stord.
From levelled halberd and spearhead
Life-blood was dropping fast and red;
And the keen arrows' biting sleet
Upon the shore at Stord fast beat. 
"Upon the thundering cloud of shield
Flashed bright the sword-storm o'er the field;

And on the plate-mail rattled loud
The arrow-shower's rushing cloud,
In Odin's tempest-weather, there
Swift whistling through the angry air;
And the spear-torrents swept away
Ranks of brave men from light of day. 
"With batter'd shield, and blood-smear'd 
swordSlits one beside the shore of Stord,

With armour crushed and gashed sits he,
A grim and ghastly sight to see;
And round about in sorrow stand
The warriors of his gallant band:
Because the king of Dags' old race
In Odin's hall must fill a place. 
"Then up spake Gondul, standing near

Resting upon her long ash spear, 
'Hakon! the gods' cause prospers well,
And thou in Odin's halls shalt dwell!'
The king beside the shore of Stord
The speech of the valkyrie heard,
Who sat there on his coal-black steed,
With shield on arm and helm on head. 
"Thoughtful, said Hakon, 'Tell me why

Ruler of battles, victory
Is so dealt out on Stord's red plain?
Have we not well deserved to gain?'
'And is it not as well dealt out?'
Said Gondul. 'Hearest thou not the shout?
The field is cleared — the foemen run 
The day is ours — the battle won!' 
"Then Skogul said, 'My coal-black steed,

Home to the gods I now must speed,
To their green home, to tell the tiding
That Hakon's self is thither riding.'
To Hermod and to Brage then
Said Odin, 'Here, the first of men,
Brave Hakon comes, the Norsemen's king, 
Go forth, my welcome to him bring.'
"Fresh from the battle-field came in,

Dripping with blood, the Norsemen'a king.
'Methinks,' said he, great Odin's will
Is harsh, and bodes me further ill;
Thy son from off the field to-day
From victory to snatch away!'
But Odin said, 'Be thine the joy
Valhal gives, my own brave boy!'
"And Brage said, 'Eight brothers here

Welcome thee to Valhal's cheer,
To drain the cup, or fights repeat
Where Hakon Eirik's earls beat.'
Quoth the stout king, 'And shall my gear,
Helm, sword, and mail-coat, axe and spear,
Be still at hand! 'Tis good to hold
Fast by our trusty friends of old.' 
"Well was it seen that Hakon still

Had saved the temples from all ill [1];
For the whole council of the gods
Welcomed the king to their abodes.
Happy the day when men are born
Like Hakon, who all base things scorn. 
Win from the brave and honoured name,
And die amidst an endless fame. 
"Sooner shall Fenriswolf devour

The race of man from shore to shore,
Than such a grace to kingly crown
As gallant Hakon want renown.
Life, land, friends, riches, all will fly,
And we in slavery shall sigh.
But Hakon in the blessed abodes
For ever lives with the bright gods."

[1]: Hakon, although a Christian, appears to have favoured the old religion, and spared the temples of Odin, and therefore a place in Valhal is assigned him.




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