SAXO GRAMMATICUS. GESTA DANORUM
Book Eight, part II
Jarmerik, enriched with great spoils, wished to provide a safe storehouse for his booty, and built on a lofty hill a treasure- house of marvellous handiwork. Gathering sods, he raised a mound, laying a mass of rocks for the foundation, and girt the lower part with a rampart, the centre with rooms, and the top with battlements. All round he posted a line of sentries without a break. Four huge gates gave free access on the four sides; and into this lordly mansion he heaped all his splendid riches. Having thus settled his affairs at home, he again turned his ambition abroad. He began to voyage, and speedily fought a naval battle with four brothers whom he met on the high seas, Hellespontines by race, and veteran rovers. After this battle had lasted three days, he ceased fighting, having bargained for their sister and half the tribute which they had imposed on those they had conquered.
After this, Bikk, the son of the King of the Livonians, escaped from the captivity in which he lay under these said brothers, and went to Jarmerik. But he did not forget his wrongs, Jarmerik having long before deprived him of his own brothers. He was received kindly by the king, in all whose secret counsels he soon came to have a notable voice; and, as soon as he found the king pliable to his advice in all things, he led him, when his counsel was asked, into the most abominable acts, and drove him to commit crimes and infamies. Thus he sought some device to injure the king by a feint of loyalty, and tried above all to steel him against his nearest of blood; attempting to accomplish the revenge of his brother by guile, since he could not by force. So it came to pass that the king embraced filthy vices instead of virtues, and made himself generally hated by the cruel deeds which he committed at the instance of his treacherous adviser. Even the Sclavs began to rise against him; and, as a means of quelling them, he captured their leaders, passed a rope through their shanks, and delivered them to be torn asunder by horses pulling different ways. So perished their chief men, punished for their stubbornness of spirit by having their bodies rent apart. This kept the Sclavs duly obedient in unbroken and steady subjugation.
Meantime, the sons of Jarmerik's sister, who had all been born and bred in Germany, took up arms, on the strength of their grandsire's title, against their uncle, contending that they had as good a right to the throne as he. The king demolished their strongholds in Germany with engines, blockaded or took several towns, and returned home with a bloodless victory. The Hellespontines came to meet him, proffering their sister for the promised marriage. After this had been celebrated, at Bikk's prompting he again went to Germany, took his nephews in war, and incontinently hanged them. He also got together the chief men under the pretence of a banquet and had them put to death in the same fashion.
Meantime, the king appointed Broder, his son by another marriage, to have charge over his stepmother, a duty which he fulfilled with full vigilance and integrity. But Bikk accused this man to his father of incest; and, to conceal the falsehood of the charge, suborned witnesses against him. When the plea of the accusation had been fully declared, Broder could not bring any support for his defence, and his father bade his friends pass sentence upon the convicted man, thinking it less impious to commit the punishment proper for his son to the judgment of others. All thought that he deserved outlawry except Bikk, who did not shrink from giving a more terrible vote against his life, and declaring that the perpetrator of an infamous seduction ought to be punished with hanging. But lest any should think that this punishment was due to the cruelty of his father, Bikk judged that, when he had been put in the noose, the servants should hold him up on a beam put beneath him, so that, when weariness made them take their hands from the burden, they might be as good as guilty of the young man's death, and by their own fault exonerate the king from an unnatural murder. He also pretended that, unless the accused were punished, he would plot against his father's life. The adulteress Swanhild, he said, ought to suffer a shameful end, trampled under the hoofs of beasts.
The king yielded to Bikk; and, when his son was to be hanged, he made the bystanders hold him up by means of a plank, that he might not be choked. Thus his throat was only a little squeezed, the knot was harmless, and it was but a punishment in show. But the king had the queen tied very tight on the ground, and delivered her to be crushed under the hoofs of horses. The story goes that she was so beautiful, that even the beasts shrank from mangling limbs so lovely with their filthy feet. The king, divining that this proclaimed the innocence of his wife, began to repent of his error, and hastened to release the slandered lady. But meantime Bikk rushed up, declaring that when she was on her back she held off the beasts by awful charms, and could only be crushed if she lay on her face; for he knew that her beauty saved her. When the body of the queen was placed in this manner, the herd of beasts was driven upon it, and trod it down deep with their multitude of feet. Such was the end of Swanhild.
Meantime, the favourite dog of Broder came creeping to the king making a sort of moan, and seemed to bewail its master's punishment; and his hawk, when it was brought in, began to pluck out its breast-feathers with its beak. The king took its nakedness as an omen of his bereavement, to frustrate which he quickly sent men to take his son down from the noose: for he divined by the featherless bird that he would be childless unless he took good heed. Thus Broder was freed from death, and Bikk, fearing he would pay the penalty of an informer, went and told the men of the Hellespont that Swanhild had been abominably slain by her husband. When they set sail to avenge their sister, he came back to Jarmerik, and told him that the Hellespontines were preparing war.
The king thought that it would be safer to fight with walls than in the field, and retreated into the stronghold which he had built. To stand the siege, he filled its inner parts with stores, and its battlements with men-at-arms. Targets and shields flashing with gold were hung round and adorned the topmost circle of the building.
It happened that the Hellespontines, before sharing their booty, accused a great band of their men of embezzling, and put them to death. Having now destroyed so large a part of their forces by internecine slaughter, they thought that their strength was not equal to storming the palace, and consulted a sorceress named Gudrun. She brought it to pass that the defenders of the king's side were suddenly blinded and turned their arms against one another. When the Hellespontines saw this, they brought up a shield-mantlet, and seized the approaches of the gates. Then they tore up the posts, burst into the building, and hewed down the blinded ranks of the enemy. In this uproar Odin appeared, and, making for the thick of the ranks of the fighters, restored by his divine power to the Danes that vision which they had lost by sleights; for he ever cherished them with fatherly love. He instructed them to shower stones to batter the Hellespontines, who used spells to harden their bodies against weapons. Thus both companies slew one another and perished. Jarmerik lost both feet and both hands, and his trunk was rolled among the dead. BRODER, little fit for it, followed him as king.
The next king was SIWALD. His son SNIO took vigorously to roving in his father's old age, and not only preserved the fortunes of his country, but even restored them, lessened as they were, to their former estate. Likewise, when he came to the sovereignty, he crushed the insolence of the champions Eskil and Alkil, and by this conquest reunited to his country Skaane, which had been severed from the general jurisdiction of Denmark. At last he conceived a passion for the daughter of the King of the Goths; it was returned, and he sent secret messengers to seek a chance of meeting her. These men were intercepted by the father of the damsel and hanged: thus paying dearly for their rash mission. Snio, wishing to avenge their death, invaded Gothland. Its king met him with his forces, and the aforesaid champions challenged him to send strong men to fight. Snio laid down as condition of the duel, that each of the two kings should either lose his own empire or gain that of the other, according to the fortune of the champions, and that the kingdom of the conquered should be staked as the prize of the victory. The result was that the King of the Goths was beaten by reason of the ill-success of his defenders, and had to quit his kingdom for the Danes. Snio, learning that this king's daughter had been taken away at the instance of her father to wed the King of the Swedes, sent a man clad in ragged attire, who used to ask alms on the public roads, to try her mind. And while he lay, as beggars do, by the threshold, he chanced to see the queen, and whined in a weak voice, "Snio loves thee." She feigned not to have heard the sound that stole on her ears, and neither looked nor stepped back, but went on to the palace, then returned straightway, and said in a low whisper, which scarcely reached his ears, "I love him who loves me"; and having said this she walked away.
The beggar rejoiced that she had returned a word of love, and, as he sat on the next day at the gate, when the queen came up, he said, briefly as ever, "Wishes should have a tryst." Again she shrewdly caught his cunning speech, and passed on, dissembling wholly. A little later she passed by her questioner, and said that she would shortly go to Bocheror; for this was the spot to which she meant to flee. And when the beggar heard this, he insisted, with his wonted shrewd questions, upon being told a fitting time for the tryst. The woman was as cunning as he, and as little clear of speech, and named as quickly as she could the beginning of the winter.
Her train, who had caught a flying word of this love-message, took her great cleverness for the raving of utter folly. And when Snio had been told all this by the beggar, he contrived to carry the queen off in a vessel; for she got away under pretence of bathing, and took her husband's treasures. After this there were constant wars between Snio and the King of Sweden, whereof the issue was doubtful and the victory changeful; the one king seeking to regain his lawful, the other to keep his unlawful love.
At this time the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement weather, and a mighty dearth of corn befell. Victuals began to be scarce, and the commons were distressed with famine, so that the king, anxiously pondering how to relieve the hardness of the times, and seeing that the thirsty spent somewhat more than the hungry, introduced thrift among the people. He abolished drinking-bouts, and decreed that no drink should be prepared from gram, thinking that the bitter famine should be got rid of by prohibiting needless drinking, and that plentiful food could be levied as a loan on thirst.
Then a certain wanton slave of his belly, lamenting the prohibition against drink, adopted a deep kind of knavery, and found a new way to indulge his desires. He broke the public law of temperance by his own excess, contriving to get at what he loved by a device both cunning and absurd. For he sipped the forbidden liquor drop by drop, and so satisfied his longing to be tipsy. When he was summoned for this by the king, he declared that there was no stricter observer of sobriety than he, inasmuch as he mortified his longing to quaff deep by this device for moderate drinking. He persisted in the fault with which he was taxed, saying that he only sucked. At last he was also menaced with threats, and forbidden not only to drink, but even to sip; yet he could not check his habits. For in order to enjoy the unlawful thing in a lawful way, and not to have his throat subject to the command of another, he sopped morsels of bread in liquor, and fed on the pieces thus soaked with drink; tasting slowly, so as to prolong the desired debauch, and attaining, though in no unlawful manner, the forbidden measure of satiety.
Thus his stubborn and frantic intemperance risked his life, all for luxury; and, undeterred even by the threats of the king, he fortified his rash appetite to despise every peril. A second time he was summoned by the king on the charge of disobeying his regulation. Yet he did not even theft cease to defend his act, but maintained that he had in no wise contravened the royal decree, and that the temperance prescribed by the ordinance had been in no way violated by that which allured him; especially as the thrift ordered in the law of plain living was so described, that it was apparently forbidden to drink liquor, but not to eat it. Then the king called heaven to witness, and swore by the general good, that if he ventured on any such thing hereafter he would punish him with death. But the man thought that death was not so bad as temperance, and that it was easier to quit life than luxury; and he again boiled the grain in water, and then fermented the liquor; whereupon, despairing of any further plea to excuse his appetite, he openly indulged in drink, and turned to his cups again unabashed. Giving up cunning for effrontery, he chose rather to await the punishment of the king than to turn sober. Therefore, when the king asked him why he had so often made free to use the forbidden thing, he said:
"O king, this craving is begotten, not so much of my thirst, as of my goodwill towards thee! For I remembered that the funeral rites of a king must be paid with a drinking-bout. Therefore, led by good judgment more than the desire to swill, I have, by mixing the forbidden liquid, taken care that the feast whereat thy obsequies are performed should not, by reason of the scarcity of corn, lack the due and customary drinking. Now I do not doubt that thou wilt perish of famine before the rest, and be the first to need a tomb; for thou hast passed this strange law of thrift in fear that thou wilt be thyself the first to lack food. Thou art thinking for thyself, and not for others, when thou bringest thyself to start such strange miserly ways."
This witty quibbling turned the anger of the king into shame; and when he saw that his ordinance for the general good came home in mockery to himself, he thought no more of the public profit, but revoked the edict, relaxing his purpose sooner than anger his subjects.
Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was too hard baked, the crops, as I have said, were slack, and the fields gave but little produce; so that the land lacked victual, and was worn with a weary famine. The stock of food began to fail, and no help was left to stave off hunger. Then, at the proposal of Agg and of Ebb, it was provided by a decree of the people that the old men and the tiny children should be slain; that all who were too young to bear arms should be taken out of the land, and only the strong should be vouchsafed their own country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and husbandmen should continue to abide under their own roofs and in the houses of their fathers. When Agg and Ebb brought news of this to their mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree had found safety in crime. Condemning the decision of the assembly, she said that it was wrong to relieve distress by murder of kindred, and declared that a plan both more honourable and more desirable for the good of their souls and bodies would be, to preserve respect towards their parents and children, and choose by lot men who should quit the country. And if the lot fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer to go into exile in their place, and should of their own free will undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble. But those men who had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and to prosecute their parents and their children by so abominable a decree, did not deserve life; for they would be doing a work of cruelty and not of love. Finally, all those whose own lives were dearer to them than the love of their parents or their children, deserved but ill of their country. These words were reported to the assembly, and assented to by the vote of the majority. So the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and those upon whom it fell were doomed to be banished. Thus those who had been loth to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the award of chance. So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing past Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland; where, according to Paulus, they are said to have been prompted by the goddess Frigg to take the name of the Longobardi (Lombards), whose nation they afterwards founded. In the end they landed at Rugen, and, abandoning their ships, began to march overland. They crossed and wasted a great portion of the world; and at last, finding an abode in Italy, changed the ancient name of the nation for their own.
Meanwhile, the land of the Danes, where the tillers laboured less and less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with overgrowth, began to look like a forest. Almost stripped of its pleasant native turf, it bristled with the dense unshapely woods that grew up. Traces of this are yet seen in the aspect of its fields. What were once acres fertile in grain are now seen to be dotted with trunks of trees; and where of old the tillers turned the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods there has now sprung up a forest covering the fields, which still bear the tracks of ancient tillage. Had not these lands remained untilled and desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees could never have shared the soil of one and the same land with the furrows made by the plough. Moreover, the mounds which men laboriously built up of old on the level ground for the burial of the dead are now covered by a mass of woodland. Many piles of stones are also to be seen interspersed among the forest glades. These were once scattered over the whole country, but the peasants carefully gathered the boulders and piled them into a heap that they might not prevent furrows being cut in all directions; for they would sooner sacrifice a little of the land than find the whole of it stubborn. From this work, done by the toil of the peasants for the easier working of the fields, it is judged that the population in ancient times was greater than the present one, which is satisfied with small fields, and keeps its agriculture within narrower limits than those of the ancient tillage. Thus the present generation is amazed to behold that it has exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for one only fit to grow acorns, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks for a landscape studded with trees. Let this account of Snio, which I have put together as truly as I could, suffice.
Snio was succeeded by BIORN; and after him HARALD became sovereign. Harald's son GORM won no mean place of honour among the ancient generals of the Danes by his record of doughty deeds. For he ventured into fresh fields, preferring to practise his inherited valour, not in war, but in searching the secrets of nature; and, just as other kings are stirred by warlike ardour, so his heart thirsted to look into marvels; either what he could experience himself, or what were merely matters of report. And being desirous to go and see all things foreign and extraordinary, he thought that he must above all test a report which he had heard from the men of Thule concerning the abode of a certain Geirrod. For they boasted past belief of the mighty piles of treasure in that country, but said that the way was beset with peril, and hardly passable by mortal man. For those who had tried it declared that it was needful to sail over the ocean that goes round the lands, to leave the sun and stars behind, to journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a land where no light was and where darkness reigned eternally.
But the warrior trampled down in his soul all fear of the dangers that beset him. Not that he desired booty, but glory; for he hoped for a great increase of renown if he ventured on a wholly unattempted quest. Three hundred men announced that they had the same desire as the king; and he resolved that Thorkill, who had brought the news, should be chosen to guide them on the journey, as he knew the ground and was versed in the approaches to that country. Thorkill did not refuse the task, and advised that, to meet the extraordinary fury of the sea they had to cross, strongly-made vessels should be built, fitted with many knotted cords and close-set nails, filled with great store of provision, and covered above with ox-hides to protect the inner spaces of the ships from the spray of the waves breaking in. Then they sailed off in only three galleys, each containing a hundred chosen men.
Now when they had come to Halogaland (Helgeland), they lost their favouring breezes, and were driven and tossed divers ways over the seas in perilous voyage. At last, in extreme want of food, and lacking even bread, they staved off hunger with a little pottage. Some days passed, and they heard the thunder of a storm brawling in the distance, as if it were deluging the rocks. By this perceiving that land was near, they bade a youth of great nimbleness climb to the masthead and look out; and he reported that a precipitous island was in sight. All were overjoyed, and gazed with thirsty eyes at the country at which he pointed, eagerly awaiting the refuge of the promised shore. At last they managed to reach it, and made their way out over the heights that blocked their way, along very steep paths, into the higher ground. Then Thorkill told them to take no more of the herds that were running about in numbers on the coast, than would serve once to appease their hunger. If they disobeyed, the guardian gods of the spot would not let them depart. But the seamen, more anxious to go on filling their bellies than to obey orders, postponed counsels of safety to the temptations of gluttony, and loaded the now emptied holds of their ships with the carcases of slaughtered cattle. These beasts were very easy to capture, because they gathered in amazement at the unwonted sight of men, their fears being made bold. On the following night monsters dashed down upon the shore, filled the forest with clamour, and beleaguered and beset the ships. One of them, huger than the rest, strode over the waters, armed with a mighty club. Coming close up to them, he bellowed out that they should never sail away till they had atoned for the crime they had committed in slaughtering the flock, and had made good the losses of the herd of the gods by giving up one man for each of their ships. Thorkill yielded to these threats; and, in order to preserve the safety of all by imperilling a few, singled out three men by lot and gave them up.
This done, a favouring wind took them, and they sailed to further Permland. It is a region of eternal cold, covered with very deep snows, and not sensible to the force even of the summer heats; full of pathless forests, not fertile in grain and haunted by beasts uncommon elsewhere. Its many rivers pour onwards in a hissing, foaming flood, because of the reefs imbedded in their channels.
Here Thorkill drew up his ships ashore, and bade them pitch their tents on the beach, declaring that they had come to a spot whence the passage to Geirrod would be short. Moreover, he forbade them to exchange any speech with those that came up to them, declaring that nothing enabled the monsters to injure strangers so much as uncivil words on their part: it would be therefore safer for his companions to keep silence; none but he, who had seen all the manners and customs of this nation before, could speak safely. As twilight approached, a man of extraordinary bigness greeted the sailors by their names, and came among them. All were aghast, but Thorkill told them to greet his arrival cheerfully, telling them that this was Gudmund, the brother of Geirrod, and the most faithful guardian in perils of all men who landed in that spot. When the man asked why all the rest thus kept silence, he answered that they were very unskilled in his language, and were ashamed to use a speech they did not know. Then Gudmund invited them to be his guests, and took them up in carriages. As they went forward, they saw a river which could be crossed by a bridge of gold. They wished to go over it, but Gudmund restrained them, telling them that by this channel nature had divided the world of men from the world of monsters, and that no mortal track might go further. Then they reached the dwelling of their guide; and here Thorkill took his companions apart and warned them to behave like men of good counsel amidst the divers temptations chance might throw in their way; to abstain from the food of the stranger, and nourish their bodies only on their own; and to seek a seat apart from the natives, and have no contact with any of them as they lay at meat. For if they partook of that food they would lose recollection of all things, and must live for ever in filthy intercourse amongst ghastly hordes of monsters. Likewise he told them that they must keep their hands off the servants and the cups of the people.
Round the table stood twelve noble sons of Gudmund, and as many daughters of notable beauty. When Gudmund saw that the king barely tasted what his servants brought, he reproached him with repulsing his kindness, and complained that it was a slight on the host. But Thorkill was not at a loss for a fitting excuse. He reminded him that men who took unaccustomed food often suffered from it seriously, and that the king was not ungrateful for the service rendered by another, but was merely taking care of his health, when he refreshed himself as he was wont, and furnished his supper with his own viands. An act, therefore, that was only done in the healthy desire to escape some bane, ought in no wise to be put down to scorn. Now when Gudmund saw that the temperance of his guest had baffled his treacherous preparations, he determined to sap their chastity, if he could not weaken their abstinence, and eagerly strained every nerve of his wit to enfeeble their self-control. For he offered the king his daughter in marriage, and promised the rest that they should have whatever women of his household they desired. Most of them inclined to his offer: but Thorkill by his healthy admonitions prevented them, as he had done before, from falling into temptation.
With wonderful management Thorkill divided his heed between the suspicious host and the delighted guests. Four of the Danes, to whom lust was more than their salvation, accepted the offer; the infection maddened them, distraught their wits, and blotted out their recollection: for they are said never to have been in their right mind after this. If these men had kept themselves within the rightful bounds of temperance, they would have equalled the glories of Hercules, surpassed with their spirit the bravery of giants, and been ennobled for ever by their wondrous services to their country.
Gudmund, stubborn to his purpose, and still spreading his nets, extolled the delights of his garden, and tried to lure the king thither to gather fruits, desiring to break down his constant wariness by the lust of the eye and the baits of the palate. The king, as before, was strengthened against these treacheries by Thorkill, and rejected this feint of kindly service; he excused himself from accepting it on the plea that he must hasten on his journey. Gudmund perceived that Thorkill was shrewder than he at every point; so, despairing to accomplish his treachery, he carried them all across the further side of the river, and let them finish their journey.
They went on; and saw, not far off, a gloomy, neglected town, looking more like a cloud exhaling vapour. Stakes interspersed among the battlements showed the severed heads of warriors and dogs of great ferocity were seen watching before the doors to guard the entrance. Thorkill threw them a horn smeared with fat to lick, and so, at slight cost, appeased their most furious rage. High up the gates lay open to enter, and they climbed to their level with ladders, entering with difficulty. Inside the town was crowded with murky and misshapen phantoms, and it was hard to say whether their shrieking figures were more ghastly to the eye or to the ear; everything was foul, and the reeking mire afflicted the nostrils of the visitors with its unbearable stench. Then they found the rocky dwelling which Geirrod was rumoured to inhabit for his palace. They resolved to visit its narrow and horrible ledge, but stayed their steps and halted in panic at the very entrance. Then Thorkill, seeing that they were of two minds, dispelled their hesitation to enter by manful encouragement, counselling them, to restrain themselves, and not to touch any piece of gear in the house they were about to enter, albeit it seemed delightful to have or pleasant to behold; to keep their hearts as far from all covetousness as from fear; neither to desire what was pleasant to take, nor dread what was awful to look upon, though they should find themselves amidst abundance of both these things. If they did, their greedy hands would suddenly be bound fast, unable to tear themselves away from the thing they touched, and knotted up with it as by inextricable bonds. Moreover, they should enter in order, four by four.
Broder and Buchi (Buk?) were the first to show courage to attempt to enter the vile palace; Thorkill with the king followed them, and the rest advanced behind these in ordered ranks.
Inside, the house was seen to be ruinous throughout, and filled with a violent and abominable reek. And it also teemed with everything that could disgust the eye or the mind: the door-posts were begrimed with the soot of ages, the wall was plastered with filth, the roof was made up of spear-heads, the flooring was covered with snakes and bespattered with all manner of uncleanliness. Such an unwonted sight struck terror into the strangers, and, over all, the acrid and incessant stench assailed their afflicted nostrils. Also bloodless phantasmal monsters huddled on the iron seats, and the places for sitting were railed off by leaden trellises; and hideous doorkeepers stood at watch on the thresholds. Some of these, armed with clubs lashed together, yelled, while others played a gruesome game, tossing a goat's hide from one to the other with mutual motion of goatish backs.
Here Thorkill again warned the men, and forbade them to stretch forth their covetous hands rashly to the forbidden things. Going on through the breach in the crag, they beheld an old man with his body pierced through, sitting not far off, on a lofty seat facing the side of the rock that had been rent away. Moreover, three women, whose bodies were covered with tumours, and who seemed to have lost the strength of their back-bones, filled adjoining seats. Thorkill's companions were very curious; and he, who well knew the reason of the matter, told them that long ago the god Thor had been provoked by the insolence of the giants to drive red-hot irons through the vitals of Geirrod, who strove with him, and that the iron had slid further, torn up the mountain, and battered through its side; while the women had been stricken by the might of his thunderbolts, and had been punished (so he declared) for their attempt on the same deity, by having their bodies broken.
As the men were about to depart thence, there were disclosed to them seven butts hooped round with belts of gold; and from these hung circlets of silver entwined with them in manifold links. Near these was found the tusk of a strange beast, tipped at both ends with gold. Close by was a vast stag-horn, laboriously decked with choice and flashing gems, and this also did not lack chasing. Hard by was to be seen a very heavy bracelet. One man was kindled with an inordinate desire for this bracelet, and laid covetous hands upon the gold, not knowing that the glorious metal covered deadly mischief, and that a fatal bane lay hid under the shining spoil. A second also, unable to restrain his covetousness, reached out his quivering hands to the horn. A third, matching the confidence of the others, and having no control over his fingers, ventured to shoulder the tusk. The spoil seemed alike lovely to look upon and desirable to enjoy, for all that met the eye was fair and tempting to behold. But the bracelet suddenly took the form of a snake, and attacked him who was carrying it with its poisoned tooth; the horn lengthened out into a serpent, and took the life of the man who bore it; the tusk wrought itself into a sword, and plunged into the vitals of its bearer.
The rest dreaded the fate of perishing with their friends, and thought that the guiltless would be destroyed like the guilty; they durst not hope that even innocence would be safe. Then the side-door of another room showed them a narrow alcove: and a privy chamber with a yet richer treasure was revealed, wherein arms were laid out too great for those of human stature. Among these were seen a royal mantle, a handsome hat, and a belt marvellously wrought. Thorkill, struck with amazement at these things, gave rein to his covetousness, and cast off all his purposed self-restraint. He who so oft had trained others could not so much as conquer his own cravings. For he laid his hand upon the mantle, and his rash example tempted the rest to join in his enterprise of plunder. Thereupon the recess shook from its lowest foundations, and began suddenly to reel and totter. Straightway the women raised a shriek that the wicked robbers were being endured too long. Then they, who were before supposed to be half-dead or lifeless phantoms, seemed to obey the cries of the women, and, leaping suddenly up from their seats, attacked the strangers with furious onset. The other creatures bellowed hoarsely.
But Broder and Buchi fell to their old and familiar arts, and attacked the witches, who ran at them, with a shower of spears from every side; and with the missiles from their bows and slings they crushed the array of monsters. There could be no stronger or more successful way to repulse them; but only twenty men out of all the king's company were rescued by the intervention of this archery; the rest were torn in pieces by the monsters. The survivors returned to the river, and were ferried over by Gudmund, who entertained them at his house. Long and often as he besought them, he could not keep them back; so at last he gave them presents and let them go.
Buchi relaxed his watch upon himself; his self-control became unstrung, and he forsook the virtue in which he hitherto rejoiced. For he conceived an incurable love for one of the daughters of Gudmund, and embraced her; but he obtained a bride to his undoing, for soon his brain suddenly began to whirl, and he lost his recollection. Thus the hero who had subdued all the monsters and overcome all the perils was mastered by passion for one girl; his soul strayed far from temperance, and he lay under a wretched sensual yoke. For the sake of respect, he started to accompany the departing king; but as he was about to ford the river in his carriage, his wheels sank deep, he was caught up in the violent eddies and destroyed.
The king bewailed his friend's disaster and departed hastening on his voyage. This was at first prosperous, but afterwards he was tossed by bad weather; his men perished of hunger, and but few survived, so that he began to feel awe in his heart, and fell to making vows to heaven, thinking the gods alone could help him in his extreme need. At last the others besought sundry powers among the gods, and thought they ought to sacrifice to the majesty of divers deities; but the king, offering both vows and peace-offerings to Utgarda-Loki, obtained that fair season of weather for which he prayed.
Coming home, and feeling that he had passed through all these seas and toils, he thought it was time for his spirit, wearied with calamities, to withdraw from his labours. So he took a queen from Sweden, and exchanged his old pursuits for meditative leisure. His life was prolonged in the utmost peace and quietness; but when he had almost come to the end of his days, certain men persuaded him by likely arguments that souls were immortal; so that he was constantly turning over in his mind the questions, to what abode he was to fare when the breath left his limbs, or what reward was earned by zealous adoration of the gods.
While he was thus inclined, certain men who wished ill to Thorkill came and told Gorm that it was needful to consult the gods, and that assurance about so great a matter must be sought of the oracles of heaven, since it was too deep for human wit and hard for mortals to discover.
Therefore, they said, Utgarda-Loki must be appeased, and no man would accomplish this more fitly than Thorkill. Others, again, laid information against him as guilty of treachery and an enemy of the king's life. Thorkill, seeing himself doomed to extreme peril, demanded that his accusers should share his journey. Then they who had aspersed an innocent man saw that the peril they had designed against the life of another had recoiled upon themselves, and tried to take back their plan. But vainly did they pester the ears of the king; he forced them to sail under the command of Thorkill, and even upbraided them with cowardice. Thus, when a mischief is designed against another, it is commonly sure to strike home to its author. And when these men saw that they were constrained, and could not possibly avoid the peril, they covered their ship with ox-hides, and filled it with abundant store of provision.
In this ship they sailed away, and came to a sunless land, which knew not the stars, was void of daylight, and seemed to overshadow them with eternal night. Long they sailed under this strange sky; at last their timber fell short, and they lacked fuel; and, having no place to boil their meat in, they staved off their hunger with raw viands. But most of those who ate contracted extreme disease, being glutted with undigested food. For the unusual diet first made a faintness steal gradually upon their stomachs; then the infection spread further, and the malady reached the vital parts. Thus there was danger in either extreme, which made it hurtful not to eat, and perilous to indulge; for it was found both unsafe to feed and bad for them to abstain. Then, when they were beginning to be in utter despair, a gleam of unexpected help relieved them, even as the string breaks most easily when it is stretched tightest. For suddenly the weary men saw the twinkle of a fire at no great distance, and conceived a hope of prolonging their lives. Thorkill thought this fire a heaven-sent relief, and resolved to go and take some of it.
To be surer of getting back to his friends, Thorkill fastened a jewel upon the mast-head, to mark it by the gleam. When he got to the shore, his eyes fell on a cavern in a close defile, to which a narrow way led. Telling his companions to await him outside, he went in, and saw two men, swart and very huge, with horny noses, feeding their fire with any chance-given fuel. Moreover, the entrance was hideous, the door-posts were decayed, the walls grimy with mould, the roof filthy, and the floor swarming with snakes; all of which disgusted the eye as much as the mind. Then one of the giants greeted him, and said that he had begun a most difficult venture in his burning desire to visit a strange god, and his attempt to explore with curious search an untrodden region beyond the world. Yet he promised to tell Thorkill the paths of the journey he proposed to make, if he would deliver three true judgments in the form of as many sayings. Then said Thorkill: "In good truth, I do not remember ever to have seen a household with more uncomely noses; nor have I ever come to a spot where I had less mind to live." Also he said: "That, I think, is my best foot which can get out of this foremost."
The giant was pleased with the shrewdness of Thorkill, and praised his sayings, telling him that he must first travel to a grassless land which was veiled in deep darkness; but he must first voyage for four days, rowing incessantly, before he could reach his goal. There he could visit Utgarda-Loki, who had chosen hideous and grisly caves for his filthy dwelling. Thorkill was much aghast at being bidden to go on a voyage so long and hazardous; but his doubtful hopes prevailed over his present fears, and he asked for some live fuel. Then said the giant: "If thou needest fire, thou must deliver three more judgments in like sayings." Then said Thorkill: "Good counsel is to be obeyed, though a mean fellow gave it." Likewise: "I have gone so far in rashness, that if I can get back I shall owe my safety to none but my own legs." And again: "Were I free to retreat this moment, I would take good care never to come back."
Thereupon Thorkill took the fire along to his companions; and finding a kindly wind, landed on the fourth day at the appointed harbour. With his crew he entered a land where an aspect of unbroken night checked the vicissitude of light and darkness. He could hardly see before him, but beheld a rock of enormous size. Wishing to explore it, he told his companions, who were standing posted at the door, to strike a fire from flints as a timely safeguard against demons, and kindle it in the entrance. Then he made others bear a light before him, and stooped his body through the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of iron seats among a swarm of gliding serpents. Next there met his eye a sluggish mass of water gently flowing over a sandy bottom. He crossed this, and approached a cavern which sloped somewhat more steeply. Again, after this, a foul and gloomy room was disclosed to the visitors, wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered it. Straightway such a noisome smell reached the bystanders, that they could not breathe without stopping their noses with their mantles. They could scarcely make their way out, and were bespattered by the snakes which darted at them on every side.
Only five of Thorkill's company embarked with their captain: the poison killed the rest. The demons hung furiously over them, and cast their poisonous slaver from every side upon the men below them. But the sailors sheltered themselves with their hides, and cast back the venom that fell upon them. One man by chance at this point wished to peep out; the poison touched his head, which was taken off his neck as if it had been severed with a sword. Another put his eyes out of their shelter, and when he brought them back under it they were blinded. Another thrust forth his hand while unfolding his covering, and, when he withdrew his arm, it was withered by the virulence of the same slaver. They besought their deities to be kinder to them; vainly, until Thorkill prayed to the god of the universe, and poured forth unto him libations as well as prayers; and thus, presently finding the sky even as before and the elements clear, he made a fair voyage.
And now they seemed to behold another world, and the way towards the life of man. At last Thorkill landed in Germany, which had then been admitted to Christianity; and among its people he began to learn how to worship God. His band of men were almost destroyed, because of the dreadful air they had breathed, and he returned to his country accompanied by two men only, who had escaped the worst. But the corrupt matter which smeared his face so disguised his person and original features that not even his friends knew him. But when he wiped off the filth, he made himself recognizable by those who saw him, and inspired the king with the greatest eagerness to hear about his quest. But the detraction of his rivals was not yet silenced; and some pretended that the king would die suddenly if he learnt Thorkill's tidings. The king was the more disposed to credit this saying, because he was already credulous by reason of a dream which falsely prophesied the same thing. Men were therefore hired by the king's command to slay Thorkill in the night. But somehow he got wind of it, left his bed unknown to all, and put a heavy log in his place. By this he baffled the treacherous device of the king, for the hirelings smote only the stock.
On the morrow Thorkill went up to the king as he sat at meat, and said: "I forgive thy cruelty and pardon thy error, in that thou hast decreed punishment, and not thanks, to him who brings good tidings of his errand. For thy sake I have devoted my life to all these afflictions, and battered it in all these perils; I hoped that thou wouldst requite my services with much gratitude; and behold! I have found thee, and thee alone, punish my valour sharpliest. But I forbear all vengeance, and am satisfied with the shame within thy heart -- if, after all, any shame visits the thankless -- as expiation for this wrongdoing towards me. I have a right to surmise that thou art worse than all demons in fury, and all beasts in cruelty, if, after escaping the snares of all these monsters, I have failed to be safe from thine."
The king desired to learn everything from Thorkill's own lips; and, thinking it hard to escape destiny, bade him relate what had happened in due order. He listened eagerly to his recital of everything, till at last, when his own god was named, he could not endure him to be unfavourably judged. For he could not bear to hear Utgarda-Loki reproached with filthiness, and so resented his shameful misfortunes, that his very life could not brook such words, and he yielded it up in the midst of Thorkill's narrative. Thus, whilst he was so zealous in the worship of a false god, he came to find where the true prison of sorrows really was. Moreover, the reek of the hair, which Thorkill plucked from the locks of the giant to testify to the greatness of his own deeds, was exhaled upon the bystanders, so that many perished of it.
After the death of Gorm, GOTRIK his son came to the throne. He was notable not only for prowess but for generosity, and none can say whether his courage or his compassion was the greater. He so chastened his harshness with mercy, that he seemed to counterweigh the one with the other. At this time Gaut, the King of Norway, was visited by Ber (Biorn?) and Ref, men of Thule. Gaut treated Ref with attention and friendship, and presented him with a heavy bracelet.
One of the courtiers, when he saw this, praised the greatness of the gift over-zealously, and declared that no one was equal to King Gaut in kindliness. But Ref, though he owed thanks for the benefit, could not approve the inflated words of this extravagant praiser, and said that Gotrik was more generous than Gaut. Wishing to crush the empty boast of the flatterer, he chose rather to bear witness to the generosity of the absent than tickle with lies the vanity of his benefactor who was present. For another thing, he thought it somewhat more desirable to be charged with ingratitude than to support with his assent such idle and boastful praise, and also to move the king by the solemn truth than to beguile him with lying flatteries. But Ulf persisted not only in stubbornly repeating his praises of the king, but in bringing them to the proof; and proposed their gainsayer a wager.
With his consent Ref went to Denmark, and found Gotrik seated in state, and dealing out the pay to his soldiers. When the king asked him who he was, he said that his name was "Fox-cub" The answer filled some with mirth and some with marvel, and Gotrik said, "Yea, and it is fitting that a fox should catch his prey in his mouth." And thereupon he drew a bracelet from his arm, called the man to him, and put it between his lips. Straightway Ref put it upon his arm, which he displayed to them all adorned with gold, but the other arm he kept hidden as lacking ornament; for which shrewdness he received a gift equal to the first from that hand of matchless generosity. At this he was overjoyed, not so much because the reward was great, as because he had won his contention. And when the king learnt from him about the wager he had laid, he rejoiced that he had been lavish to him more by accident than of set purpose, and declared that he got more pleasure from the giving than the receiver from the gift. So Ref returned to Norway and slew his opponent, who refused to pay the wager. Then he took the daughter of Gaut captive, and brought her to Gotrik for his own.
Gotrik, who is also called Godefride, carried his arms against foreigners, and increased his strength and glory by his successful generalship. Among his memorable deeds were the terms of tribute he imposed upon the Saxons; namely, that whenever a change of kings occurred among the Danes, their princes should devote a hundred snow-white horses to the new king on his accession. But if the Saxons should receive a new chief upon a change in the succession, this chief was likewise to pay the aforesaid tribute obediently, and bow at the outset of his power to the sovereign majesty of Denmark; thereby acknowledging the supremacy of our nation, and solemnly confessing his own subjection. Nor was it enough for Gotrik to subjugate Germany: he appointed Ref on a mission to try the strength of Sweden. The Swedes feared to slay him with open violence, but ventured to act like bandits, and killed him, as he slept, with the blow of a stone. For, hanging a millstone above him, they cut its fastenings, and let it drop upon his neck as he lay beneath. To expiate this crime it was decreed that each of the ringleaders should pay twelve golden talents, while each of the common people should pay Gotrik one ounce. Men called this "the Fox-cub's tribute". (Refsgild).
Meanwhile it befell that Karl, King of the Franks, crushed Germany in war, and forced it not only to embrace the worship of Christianity, but also to obey his authority. When Gotrik heard of this, he attacked the nations bordering on the Elbe, and attempted to regain under his sway as of old the realm of Saxony, which eagerly accepted the yoke of Karl, and preferred the Roman to the Danish arms. Karl had at this time withdrawn his victorious camp beyond the Rhine, and therefore forbore to engage the stranger enemy, being prevented by the intervening river. But when he was intending to cross once more to subdue the power of Gotrik, he was summoned by Leo the Pope of the Romans to defend the city.
Obeying this command, Karl intrusted his son Pepin with the conduct of the war aganst Gotrik; so that while he himself was working against a distant foe, Pepin might manage the conflict he had undertaken with his neighbour. For Karl was distracted by two anxieties, and had to furnish sufficient out of a scanty band to meet both of them. Meanwhile Gotrik won a glorious victory over the Saxons. Then gathering new strength, and mustering a larger body of forces, he resolved to avenge the wrong he had suffered in losing his sovereignty, not only upon the Saxons, but upon the whole people of Germany. He began by subduing Friesland with his fleet.
This province lies very low, and whenever the fury of the ocean bursts tho dykes that bar its waves, it is wont to receive the whole mass of the deluge over its open plains. On this country Gotrik imposed a kind of tribute, which was not so much harsh as strange. I will briefly relate its terms and the manner of it. First, a building was arranged, two hundred and forty feet in length, and divided into twelve spaces; each of these stretching over an interval of twenty feet, and thus making together, when the whole room was exhausted, the aforesaid total. Now at the upper end of this building sat the king's treasurer, and in a line with him at its further end was displayed a round shield. When the Frisians came to pay tribute, they used to cast their coins one by one into the hollow of this shield; but only those coins which struck the ear of the distant toll-gatherer with a distinct clang were chosen by him, as he counted, to be reckoned among the royal tribute. The result was that the collector only reckoned that money towards the treasury of which his distant ear caught the sound as it fell. But that of which the sound was duller, and which fell out of his earshot, was received indeed into the treasury, but did not count as any increase to the sum paid. Now many coins that were cast in struck with no audible loudness whatever on the collector's ear, so that men who came to pay their appointed toll sometimes squandered much of their money in useless tribute. Karl is said to have freed them afterwards from the burden of this tax. After Gotrik had crossed Friesland, and Karl had now come back from Rome, Gotrik determined to swoop down upon the further districts of Germany, but was treacherously attacked by one of his own servants, and perished at home by the sword of a traitor. When Karl heard this, he leapt up overjoyed, declaring that nothing more delightful had ever fallen to his lot than this happy chance.