5. Saga Of King Harald Grafeld

1. Government Of The Sons Of Eirik

When King Hakon was killed, the sons of Eirik took the sovereignty of Norway. Harald, who was the oldest of the living brothers, was over them in dignity. Their mother Gunhild, who was called the King-mother, mixed herself much in the affairs of the country. There were many chiefs in the land at that time.

There was Trygve Olafson in the Eastland, Gudrod Bjornson in Vestfold, Sigurd earl of Hlader in the Throndhjem land; but Gunhild’s sons held the middle of the country the first winter.

There went messages and ambassadors between Gunhild’s sons and Trygve and Gudrod, and all was settled upon the footing that they should hold from Gunhild’s sons the same part of the country which they formerly had held under King Hakon.

A man called Glum Geirason, who was King Harald’s skald, and was a very brave man, made this song upon King Hakon’s death: —

"Gamle is avenged by Harald!
Great is thy deed, thou champion bold!
The rumour of it came to me
In distant lands beyond the sea,
How Harald gave King Hakon's blood
To Odin's ravens for their food."

This song was much favoured. When Eyvind Finson heard of it he composed the song which was given before, viz.:

"Our dauntless king with Gamle's gore
Sprinkled his bright sword o'er and o'er," 

This song also was much favoured, and was spread widely abroad; and when King Harald came to hear of it, he laid a charge against Evyind affecting his life; but friends made up the quarrel, on the condition that Eyvind should in future be Harald’s skald, as he had formerly been King Hakon’s.

There was also some relationship between them, as Gunhild, Eyvind’s mother, was a daughter of Earl Halfdan, and her mother was Ingibjorg, a daughter of Harald Harfager.

Thereafter Eyvind made a song about King Harald:

"Guardian of Norway, well we know
Thy heart failed not when from the bow
The piercing arrow-hail sharp rang
On shield and breast-plate, and the clang
Of sword resounded in the press
Of battle, like the splitting ice;
For Harald, wild wolf of the wood,
Must drink his fill of foeman's blood."

Gunhild’s sons resided mostly in the middle of the country, for they did not think it safe for them to dwell among the people of Throndhjem or of Viken, where King Hakon’s best friends lived; and also in both places there were many powerful men. Proposals of agreement then passed between Gunhild~s sons and Earl Sigurd, œor they got no scat from the Throndhjem country; and at last an agreement was concluded between the kings and the earl, and confirmed by oath.

Earl Sigurd was to get the same power in the Throndhjem land which he had possessed under King Hakon, and on that they considered themselves at peace. All Gunhild’s sons had the character of being penurious; and it was said they hid their money in the ground.

Eyvind Skaldaspiller made a song about this:

"Main-mast of battle! Harald bold!
In Hakon's days the skald wore gold
Upon his falcon's seat; he wore
Rolf Krake's seed, the yellow ore
Sown by him as he fled away,
The avenger Adils' speed to stay.
The gold crop grows upon the plain;
But Frode's girls so gay [1] in vain
Grind out the golden meal, while those
Who rule o'er Norway's realm like foes,

In mother earth's old bosom hide
The wealth which Hakon far and wide
Scattered with generous hand: the sun
Shone in the days of that great one,
On the gold band of Fulla's brow,[2]
On gold-ringed hands that bend the bow,
On the skald's hand; but of the ray
Of bright gold, glancing like the spray
Of sun-lit waves, no skald now sings 
Buried are golden chains and rings."

Now when King Harald heard this song, he sent a message to Eyvind to come to him, and when Eyvind came made a charge against him of being unfaithful.

"And it ill becomes thee," 
said the king, 
"to be my enemy, 
as thou hast entered into my service."

Eyvind then made these verses:

"One lord I had before thee, Harald!
One dear-loved lord! Now am I old,
And do not wish to change again,
To that loved lord, through strife and pain,
Faithful I stood; still true to Hakon,
To my good king, and him alone.
But now I'm old and useless grown,
My hands are empty, wealth is flown;
I am but fir for a short space
In thy court-hall to fill a place."

But King Harald forced Eyvind to submit himself to his clemency. Eyvind had a great gold ring, which was called Molde, that had been dug up out of the earth long since. This ring the King said he must have as the mulet for the offence; and there was no help for it.

Then Eyvind sang:

"I go across the ocean-foam,
Swift skating to my Iceland home
Upon the ocean-skates, fast driven
By gales by Thurse's witch fire given.
For from the falcon-bearing hand
Harald has plucked the gold snake band
My father wore — by lawless might
Has taken what is mine by right."

Eyvind went home; but it is not told that he ever came near the king again.

[1]: Menja and Fenja were strong girls of the giant race, whom Frode bought in Sweden to grind gold and good luck to him; and their meal means gold. (Gróttasöngr )

[2]: Fulla was one of Frig’s attendants, who wore a gold band on the forehead, and the figure means gold, that the sun shone on gold rings on the hands of the skalds in Hakon’s days.


2. Christianity Of Gunhild’s Sons

Gunhild’s sons embraced Christianity in England, as told before; but when they came to rule over Norway they made no progress in spreading Christianity — only they pulled down the temples of the idols, and cast away the sacrifices where they had it in their power, and raised great animosity by doing so.

The good crops of the country were soon wasted in their days, because there were many kings, and each had his court about him. They had therefore great expenses, and were very greedy. Besides, they only observed those laws of King Hakon which suited themselves. They were, however, all of them remarkably handsome men stout, strong, and expert in all exercises.

So says Glum Geirason, in the verses he composed about Harald, Gunhild’s son:

"The foeman's terror, Harald bold,
Had gained enough of yellow gold;
Had Heimdal's teeth [1] enough in store,
And understood twelve arts or more."

The brothers sometimes went out on expeditions together, and sometimes each on his own account. They were fierce, but brave and active; and great warriors, and very successful.

[1]: Heimdal was one of the gods, whose horse was called Gold- top; and the horse’s teeth were of gold.


3. Councils By Gunhild And Her Sons

Gunhild the King-mother, and her sons, often met, and talked together upon the government of the country. Once Gunhild asked her sons what they intended to do with their kingdom of Throndhjem.

"Ye have the title of king, 
as your forefathers had before you; 
but ye have little land or people, 
and there are many to divide with. 
In the East, 
at Viken, 
there are Trygve and Gudrod; 
and they have some right, 
from relationship, 
to their governments.

There is besides Earl Sigurd 
ruling over the whole Throndhjem country; 
and no reason can I see 
why ye let so large a kingdom be ruled by an earl, 
and not by yourselves. 
It appears wonderful to me 
that ye go every summer upon viking cruises against other lands, 
and allow an earl 
within the country to take your father's heritage from you.

Your grandfather, 
whose name you bear, 
King Harald, 
thought it but a small matter to take an earl's life 
and land when he subdued all Norway, 
and held it under him to old age."

Harald replied,

"It is not so easy, mother, 
to cut off Earl Sigurd as to slay a kid or a calf.

Earl Sigurd is of high birth, 
powerful in relations, 
and prudent; 
and I think if the Throndhjem people knew 
for certain there was enmity between us, 
they would all take his side, 
and we could expect only evil from them.

I don't think it would be safe for any of us brothers 
to fall into the hands of the Throndhjem people."

Then said Gunhild,

"We shall go to work another way, 
and not put ourselves forward. 
Harald and Erling shall come in harvest to North More, 
and there I shall meet you, 
and we shall consult together what is to be done."

This was done.


4. Gunhild’s Sons And Grjotgard

Earl Sigurd had a brother called Grjotgard, who was much younger, and much less respected; in fact, was held in no title of honour. He had many people, however, about him, and in summer went on viking cruises, and gathered to himself property. Now King Harald sent messengers to Throndhjem with offers of friendship, and with presents.

The messengers declared that King Harald was willing to be on the same friendly terms with the earl that King Hakon had been; adding, that they wished the earl to come to King Harald, that their friendship might be put on a firm footing. The Earl Sigurd received well the king’s messengers and friendly message, but said that on account of his many affairs he could not come to the king. He sent many friendly gifts, and many glad and grateful words to the king, in return for his friendship.

With this reply the messengers set off, and went to Grjotgard, for whom they had the same message, and brought him good presents, and offered him King Harald’s friendship, and invited him to visit the king. Grjotgard promised to come and at the appointed time he paid a visit to King Harald and Gunhild, and was received in the most friendly manner. They treated him on the most intimate footing, so that Grjotgard had access to their private consultations and secret councils.

At last the conversation, by an understanding between the king and queen, was turned upon Earl Sigurd; and they spoke to Grjotgard about the earl having kept him so long in obscurity, and asked him if he would not join the king’s brothers in an attack on the earl. If he would join with them, the king promised Grjotgard that he should be his earl, and have the same government that Sigurd had.

It came so far that a secret agreement was made between them, that Grjotgard should spy out the most favourable opportunity of attacking by surprise Earl Sigurd, and should give King Harald notice of it. After this agreement Grjotgard returned home with many good presents from the king.


5. Sigurd Burnt In A House In Stjoradal

Earl Sigurd went in harvest into Stjoradal to guest-quarters, and from thence went to Oglo to a feast. The earl usually had many people about him, for he did not trust the king; but now, after friendly messages had passed between the king and him, he had no great following of people with him.

Then Grjotgard sent word to the king that he could never expect a better opportunity to fall upon Earl Sigurd; and immediately, that very evening, Harald and Erling sailed into Throndhjem fjord with several ships and many people. They sailed all night by starlight, and Grjotgard came out to meet them.

Late in the night they came to Oglo, where Earl Sigurd was at the feast, and set fire to the house; and burnt the house, the earl, and all his men. As soon as it was daylight, they set out through the fjord, and south to More, where they remained a long time.


6. History Of Hakon, Sigurd’s Son

Hakon, the son of Earl Sigurd, was up in the interior of the Throndhjem country when he heard this news. Great was the tumult through all the Throndhjem land, and every vessel that could swim was put into the water; and as soon as the people were gathered together they took Earl Sigurd’s son Hakon to be their earl and the leader of the troops, and the whole body steered out of Throndhjem fjord.

When Gunhild’s sons heard of this, they set off southwards to Raumsdal and South More; and both parties kept eye on each other by their spies. Earl Sigurd was killed two years after the fall of King Hakon (A.D. 962).

So says Eyvind Skaldaspiller in the “Haleygjatal“:

"At Oglo. as I've heard, Earl Sigurd
Was burnt to death by Norway's lord,
Sigurd, who once on Hadding's grave
A feast to Odin's ravens gave.
In Oglo's hall, amidst the feast,
When bowls went round and ale flowed fast,
He perished: Harald lit the fire
Which burnt to death the son of Tyr."

Earl Hakan, with the help of his friends, maintained himself in the Throndhjem country for three years; and during that time (A.D. 963-965) Gunhild’s sons got no revenues from it. Hakon had many a battle with Gunhild’s sons, and many a man lost his life on both sides.

Of this Einar Skalaglam speaks in his lay, called “Vellekla,” which he composed about Earl Hakon:

"The sharp bow-shooter on the sea
Spread wide his fleet, for well loved he
The battle storm: well loved the earl
His battle-banner to unfurl,
O'er the well-trampled battle-field
He raised the red-moon of his shield;
And often dared King Eirik's son
To try the fray with the Earl Hakon."

And he also says

"Who is the man who'll dare to say
That Sigurd's son avoids the fray?
He gluts the raven — he ne'er fears
The arrow's song or flight of spears,
With thundering sword he storms in war,
As Odin dreadful; or from far

He makes the arrow-shower fly
To swell the sail of victory.
The victory was dearly bought,
And many a viking-fight was fought
Before the swinger of the sword
Was of the eastern country lord."

And Einar tells also how Earl Hakon avenged his father’s murderer:

"I praise the man, my hero he,
Who in his good ship roves the sea,
Like bird of prey, intent to win
Red vengeance for his slaughtered kin.
From his blue sword the iron rain

That freezes life poured down amain
On him who took his father's life,
On him and his men in the strife.
To Odin many a soul was driven, 
To Odin many a rich gift given.
Loud raged the storm on battle-field 
Axe rang on helm, and sword on shield."

The friends on both sides at last laid themselves between, and brought proposals of peace; for the bondes suffered by this strife and war in the land.

At last it was brought to this, by the advice of prudent men, that Earl Hakon should have the same power in the Throndhjem land which his father Earl Sigurd had enjoyed; and the kings, on the other hand, should have the same dominion as King Hakon had: and this agreement was settled with the fullest promises of fidelity to it. Afterwards a great friendship arose between Earl Hakon and Gunhild, although they sometimes attempted to deceive each other.

And thus matters stood for three years longer (A.D. 966-968), in which time Earl Hakon sat quietly in his dominions.


7. Of Harald Grafeld

King Hakon had generally his seat in Hordaland and Rogaland, and also his brothers; but very often, also, they went to Hardanger. One summer it happened that a vessel came from Iceland belonging to Icelanders, and loaded with skins and peltry.

They sailed to Hardanger, where they heard the greatest number of people assembled; but when the folks came to deal with them, nobody would buy their skins.

Then the steersman went to King Harald, whom he had been acquainted with before, and complained of his ill luck. The king promised to visit him, and did so. King Harald was very condescending, and full of fun.

He came with a fully manned boat, looked at the skins, and then said to the steersman,

"Wilt thou give me a present of one of these gray skins?"


said the steersman,

"if it were ever so many."

On this the king wrapped himself up in a gray-skin, and went back to his boat; but before they rowed away from the ship, every man in his suite bought such another skin as the king wore for himself. In a few days so many people came to buy skins, that not half of them could be served with what they wanted; and thereafter the king was called Harald Grafeld (Grayskin).


8. Earl Eirik’s Birth

Earl Hakon came one winter to the Uplands to a feast, and it so happened that he had intercourse with a girl of mean birth. Some time after the girl had to prepare for her confinement, and she bore a child, a boy, who had water poured on him, and was named Eirik. The mother carried the boy to Earl Hakon, and said that he was the father.

The earl placed him to be brought up with a man called Thorleif the Wise, who dwelt in Medaldal, and was a rich and powerful man, and a great friend of the earl. Eirik gave hopes very early that he would become an able man, was handsome in countenance, and stout and strong for a child; but the earl did not pay much attention to him.

The earl himself was one of the handsomest men in countenance, not tall, but very strong, and well practised in all kinds of exercises; and witha1 prudent, of good understanding, and a deadly man at arms.


9. King Trygve Olafson’s Murder

It happened one harvest (A.D. 962) that Earl Hakon, on a journey in the Uplands, came to Hedemark; and King Trygve Olafson and King Gudrod Bjornson met him there, and Dale-Gudbrand also came to the meeting. They had agreed to meet, and they talked together long by themselves; but so much only was known of their business, that they were to be friends of each other. They parted, and each went home to his own kingdom.

Gunhild and her sons came to hear of this meeting, and they suspected it must have been to lay a treasonable plot against the kings; and they often talked of this among themselves. When spring (A.D. 963) began to set in, King Harald and his brother King Gudrod proclaimed that they were to make a viking cruise, as usual, either in the West sea, or the Baltic. The people accordingly assembled, launched the ships into the sea, and made themselves ready to sail.

When they were drinking the farewell ale, and they drank bravely, much and many things were talked over at the drink-table, and, among other things, were comparisons between different men, and at last between the kings themselves. One said that King Harald excelled his brothers by far, and in every way. On this King Gudrod was very angry, and said that he was in no respect behind Harald, and was ready to prove it.

Instantly both parties were so inflamed that they challenged each other to battle, and ran to their arms. But some of the guests who were less drunk, and had more understanding, came between them, and quieted them; and each went to his ship, but nobody expected that they would all sail together.

Gudrod sailed east ward along the land, and Harald went out to sea, saying he would go to the westward; but when he came outside of the islands he steered east along the coast, outside of the rocks and isles. Gudrod, again, sailed inside, through the usual channel, to Viken, and eastwards to Folden. He then sent a message to King Trygve to meet him, that they might make a cruise together in summer in the Baltic to plunder.

Trygve accepted willingly, and as a friend, the invitation; and as heard King Gudrod had but few people with him, he came to meet him with a single boat. They met at Veggen, to the east of Sotanes; but just as they were come to the meeting place, Gudrod’s men ran up and killed King Trygve and twelve men. He lies buried at a place called Trygve’s Cairn (A.D. 963).


10. King Gudrod’s Fall

King Harald sailed far outside of the rocks and isles; but set his course to Viken, and came in the night-time to Tunsberg, and heard that Gudrod Bjornson was at a feast a little way up the country. Then King Harald set out immediately with his followers, came in the night, and surrounded the house. King Gudrod Bjornson went out with his people; but after a short resistance he fell, and many men with him.

Then King Harald joined his brother King Gudrod, and they subdued all Viken.