Icelandic Sagas Vol. 3
16. See here the stout champion of God in daily strife, how wondrously he lived
with this maiden so long time. For that, though he might lawfully take pleasure
with her, he would rather, stayed by the mercy of God, choose the better lot to
live unspoilt, than to fulfil lawful wedlock; for they suffer the burning passions
of the body who follow such things. Because it is better and more steadfast to
keep flowers safe, than to cure those which are already spoilt; for no wound is
as well healed as that flesh which has been kept whole. But to live in the body
without the body's lusts, is not of man's power, but rather of God's gift. But
what temptation and suffering he bore from the heat of the body, what heavy shafts
of unlawful feeling, and in what hard strife he overcame and steadied the strong
desires of glowing flesh, he knows who tries, but he that is untried doubts. See
my dearest! this is that great sight which Moses saw, that bush blazing and not
burning; that is so to be understood, this young man tempted but not overcome.
But for that the apostle Paul so says that no one is crowned save he lawfully
strives and manfully works for it, so this courtly chief and warlike knight chose
thy courts, ["Thy courts" i.e. "God's courts."] to suffer
daily strife, and the constant battle of the burning flesh. And he fought stoutly
and conquered luckily, for it seemed to him that he will be too much a carpet
knight who will first have the glory ere he accomplishes some doughty deed; for
might is the way to glory and false is that fairness which holy strength does
not bring forth. And I wonder, says the scripture, how fair and desirable is pure
begetting with its brightness and loveliness. This the exalted knight of God,
girt with the belt of chastity, took pains with all the desire of his heart to
further and fulfil all kinds of loving works to the honour of his Lord. For what
could he refuse of this world's goods to his God, who gave his own life and body
in pledge, and poured out his own blood for God's sake?
17. Now, for that no man can be Abel, save he who tholes and proves the spite and envy of Cain; and as the holy Ezekiel dwelt with venomous men, and the righteous Lot was hard pressed of wrongful men; so the foe of the whole human race waked up temptation, and the heat of persecution on all sides against this knight of God, sowing discord and hatred between brothers and kinsfolk and dear friends, all that he might hinder him, and make those wonders of none effect, which then began to grow with him. But the branch of the godly vine might be moved, but not cut off; for as wood floats on water, and is turned over and over by the winds and waves, but sinks not, and just as "the Wain" [i.e., 'Charles' Wain," the Bear, the well-known constellation.] turns round in the heaven, but never sets; as gold is purified in the furnace, and burns not; and as a strong house is shaken of the storm and falls not: after that wise was the will and heart of this famous martyr strong and steadfast, unshaken and fearless amid the hot onslaughts and onset of manifold temptation, in the midst of storms and great breakers of hidden envy and guile, as well as of open wickedness and ill-will, against the shafts of the tempting foe. --- Next after this it must be shown in what wise this discord came about between the earls.
18. When those kinsmen, Saint Magnus and earl Hacon, had ruled the land some winters with peace and good agreement, then that fell about which can often happen, that ill-willing men set themselves to spoil their kinship. Then wicked men gathered themselves around earl Hacon, for those kinsmen were very unlike in temper. The lord earl Magnus was good-hearted and trusty in his promises; he wished to hold the power that God had given him, and coveted naught beyond. For in what wise could he be proved to be greedy of other men's power or property, who was so free of his own body, that he spared not his own life for the love of God? He schooled and taught his subjects to right conduct, so that after he had freed and saved his realm from the onslaughts of wicked vikings, he allowed none of his men to go on warfare, and sternly restrained all lawlessness and wickedness. But earl Hacon was hard-hearted and grim, greedy both of money and power, and more prone to egg on his men to warfare than to hinder them; but wickedness and ill-doing he punished little. He was very envious at the friendships and lordliness of saint Magnus; Hacon would willingly, with the greediness of his bad counsellors, hinder the honour of earl Magnus, and lay under him his realm by wrong and robbery, and Hacon began with his men to plot against his life with guileful schemes.
19. Now when the blessed Magnus has become thoroughly aware of this by many proofs, which he thinks cannot be hidden, that Hacon wished to get at his life and realm, then he took counsel with his advisers, and it seemed good to him to yield for a while to the envy and wrath of Hacon. He chose then out of his men those who were choicest and best fitted to follow him, and sailed to England and sought a meeting with king Henry son of William the bastard, who at that time was absolute king over England. When saint Magnus was come to this king, then he laid bare to him all the story and cause of his coming thither. And the king received him with great worship. And he rose up into such great friendship with the king, that he kept him and all his band at his own cost a whole twelvemonth nobly, as it beseemed a king to treat a noble duke. But this holy martyr kept himself and his followers so wisely that he was ware of and set his face against all fellowship with wicked men. And when the lord king skilled of his wisdom how earl Magnus was a doer of good works and of honourable habits, and that the Holy Spirit abode in him, then he listened willingly to his counsels, and had his foresight in his undertakings; for he was sound and safe in his discourse and counsels, blithe-hearted and long-suffering like Chusi, merry and loveable like Jonathan, a righteous zealot for the law like Phineas. He was so dear and so beloved by all, so pleasant and popular, that there were many who so spoke: "Blessed are they that saw thee, and who flourished in thy friendship." He was gladsome and of good will towards great men, open-handed and liberal towards the poor, good-tempered and good-hearted and lowly-minded to all the people. And though he took his place at the court with wordly chiefs, still he was beware of and set his face against all kinds of lust, which spoil the habits of courtiers. And that he might not for the future fleck his chastity by consorting with other men's sins, he made ready to return home, as soon as those twelve months were past, which he had spent with king Henry. May be that God had revealed to him that he should close his toils within a short time, and so offer to God the pure flower of his chastity, by the triumphant death of his martyrdom. For to be set free from the body, and live with Christ, is far more glorious than to be here in the defilement of this world.
20. After that Saint Magnus had taken leave of king Henry, honoured and esteemed with rich gifts of many kinds, reverenced of the lord king, then they parted with the greatest love and friendship. Then he first visited all those holy shrines which were in the neighbourhood, and afterwards fared home to his own land. But during that time when the holy Magnus was abroad, earl Hacon laid under his rule with great greed and warfare not only all the Orkneys, but all Caithness as well, with robbery and wantoness; whence it came about that Hacon sat at that time in Caithness when the holy earl Magnus landed in the Orkneys with five ships well manned with bold and well-armed men, meaning to get back his realm, albeit with no wrong greed of this world's honour or of property which did not belong to him; least of all when he had already so long yearned for God, and was with the whole joy of his heart taken up from the greed of mortal things into the desire of eternal joys; and so he came now in a little while to close his lifetime all the more worthily as he went sooner away. These tidings of his homecoming were soon heard on all sides. Earl Hacon eftsoons awakening as a grim she-bear robbed of her cubs, gathering together and summoning to him the sons of Belial, wicked ill-doers, and sons of the bad Dohet, who aye and aye wrought evil from the day they were born of their mother's womb. Hacon then meant to come unawares upon the holy Magnus, to work out and fulfil there and then his evil greed and the treachery which he already long had kept harboured in his heart. But the highest Heaven-king, who from the everlasting beginning determined that he would keep that his glorious chosen vessel among his treasures, saw in his chosen man still some rust of worldly behaviour that was to be cleansed away. For the God would that he should be cleansed and purified within a few days with the fire of suffering and insult, and with the frost of temptation and much opposition, though there were no mortal sins to wash off him. Then would God increase his worthiness if aught were lacking in it, that in the same proportion as his temptation and struggle were more and harder so the glory and bliss of the conqueror should be higher and more sublime. For that, it so came about that the earls sent with messages between them for peace and atonement their most trusty counsellors, who rightly betoken Chusi and Ahitophel, who brought about the atonement between king David and Absolom his son when they had fallen out. So at last this matter, by the intervention of good men, was so settled, that there an atonement was formed between those kinsmen in this wise, that the earldom of the Orkneys, Caithness, and Shetland should be equally divided between earls Magnus and Hacon; neither of them was to attack the other's realm with any greed. When this agreement had been settled and strengthened with oaths and hansels, then the earls met with the kiss of peace. But what saint Magnus thought to be peace, that Hacon turned to guile and plotting; and the longer he kept down the venom of his badness, the more basely he spewed it up; for his badness and villainy came forth with great force at the time when he could no longer hide it. In the same way as boils on the face give a man by so much the more pain as they be longer hidden in it, so fares it with all kinds of badness; the longer it festers in heart and mind, the grimmer it grows to do harm.
21. The holy Magnus then began again to rule his realm with peace and joy for some time, and that is most in God's sight how holily he lived in this biding-tide of his death; how he clothed himself with sublime force, and in forwarding all kinds of virtue, in prayers and shedding of tears, and in repentance of heart, in chastity and soberness, in almsgiving and all goodness towards his subjects, in almsgiving and all goddness towards his subjects, in penance and manifold sufferings which he bore on his body, and many more other good deeds than sinful man can call to mind. In the way in which God's saints do, in that way saint Magnus made him ready for his martyrdom, the telling of which we will next after this begin by God's will.
22. When the aforesaid atonement and peace had been kept between the earls for some winters, then Hacon showed himself a traitor, pouring forth out of his breast great wrongfulness, which he had up to that time held back. Hearken how sooth is the judgment of the old poet so saying: ---- "Nulla fides regni sociis, omnisque potestas Inpatiens consortis erit, totum sitit illa." Which says this: "Never can fellowship in this world's power be safe, for all rulers can bear no rivals, and will alone have all." By this ye may skill what kind of fruit guile brings forth, and what growths spring up of greed. All sins come of covetousness, and all unlawful desires proceed from greediness. That was proved with Ahab the most wrongful king, who persecuted Elias the prophet. That was shown by the most wicked Judas, who sold our Lord for a price. The very same showed the traitor earl Hacon, both by examples and plain proofs in that treachery by which he beguiled his kinsman earl Magnus who trusted in him, though the events which led to their dealings and quarrel happened in sundry ways.
23. Two men were they with earl Hacon who are named as having been the worst of all in going between those kinsmen; the one's name was Sigurd, and the other Sighvat sock. Sigurd had a brother hight Thorstein, who was the doughtiest follower of earl Magnus. There were many others who had a bad share in those matters, and these were all with Hacon, for saint Magnus would not keep any backbiters in his following. These backbitings came to such a length that the earls drew force together and fared each against the other with a very great company. They both held on for Hrossey, for that was the place of meeting of the Orkneyingers. But when they came thither, then either side drew them up in array and busked them to battle. Then there had come together there all the great men with the earls, and many were friends of both, who did all they could to set them at one, and went between them with manliness and good will. This meeting was in Lent. But for that many men their well wishers took part in hindering difficulties between them, but would stand by neither to do the other a mischief, then they bound this their agreement with oaths and handsels, at the witness of the best men. It was so settled that they should meet in the spring at Egelsha (Egils-ey) after Easter. At this meeting each of the earls was to have two ships, and just as many men as the other. Both the earls bound that with oaths to have and to hold those terms of agreement which the best men should settle to utter between them at that meeting. And when this had been done each fared back to his home again. This preliminary of agreement and concord liked the holy Magnus right well, as he was thoroughly whole-hearted and of good conscience without all mistrust. But earl Hacon at this meeting had veiled his treachery and covered it with the cloud of falsehood; for he had made this agreement with guile and treachery and full deceit, as was afterwards proved; for at that time Hacon and his band, who are rightly called the treasury of hidden wickedness, together with his unworthy thralls, had conspired together in the counsel of their badness for the death and murder of the holy Magnus. For that all evil is mighty and right dear to shameful company, they determine among themselves that this mischief shall now no longer be put off, and that now they will thoroughly slake their cruel thirst in the out-shedding of innocent blood. But the highest Lord of all power took care for his dear friend and chosen martyr that, as at that time ready for the kingdom of heaven, he should be taken out of this life under the heavy flail of sharp death. As the grapes in the winepress by being trodden on and crushed give off the purest wine in their season with great fragrance and sweet savour; so gave this the glorious martyr of God by reason of his death to all the friends of God and his own, the heavenly sweetness of godly mercy, from that glory and bliss which he hath obtained in the endless joy of everlasting life with God and his saints.
24. As soon as the holy time of Easter day was over, then each side made them ready to this meeting in unlike wise. The holy Magnus summoned to him all those men whom he knew had the best good-will to do a good turn to those kinsmen. He had two longships manned with the bravest men, just as many as were agreed on, and when he was boun he held on for Egelsha. But as they were rowing in still water and calm weather, then there rose a billow close to the ship in which the earl Magnus was, and broke over the ship where the earl sat. The chief men on board the ship of earl Magnus hight thus: Thorstein, of whom we spoke before, Arnkell, Grim, and Gilli, and many other doughty men. They wondered much at the hap that a billow fell on them in a calm where no man had ever known a billow to fall before, and where the water under was deep. Then saint Magnus said: "It is not strange though ye wonder at this, but my thought is, that this hap is a foreboding of my life's end; may be that may happen here which was before spaed, that earl Paul's son would work the greatest wickedness; may be that Hacon is plotting treachery against us at this meeting." The men of earl Magnus were much afraid at these words, when he said he had so short hope as to his life's end, and bade him to shelter himself and be wary of his life, and not go on trusting in earl Hacon. Saint Magnus answers: "I will of a surety fare to this meeting as hath been agreed on, and bring no reproach that I have broken my word on me for the sake of my foreboding alone. And may all be done after God's will as to our voyage. But if I may have any choice, then I would much rather thole wrong than do wrong to another man. So may God let my kinsman Hacon get forgiveness though he may do wrong to me." Now we must tell of earl Hacon that he summoned to him a great band of warriors. He had seven or eight warships all large, filled with men; all that company were well boun as though they were running out to battle. But when the force came together, the earl made it clear to his men that that meeting should so settle matters between earl Magnus and him that they should not thenceforth both of them be over the realm. Many of the earl's men, who might soothly be called the sons of the Devil, showed themselves well pleased at this purpose, and added to it many fearful words; but they, Sigurd and Sighvat sock, were then still among the worst in utterance, who aye and aye were egging on to ill. Then men fell to rowing hard, and they fared hotly and furiously. Havard Gunni's son, of whom we spoke before, ws then with earl Hacon, he was a dear friend of both earls, Hacon had hidden this bad counsel from Havard. But as soon as ever he was aware of it, then he leaped overboard from the earl's ship and swam to an isle where no man dwelt, for he would not be a partner in any treachery with Hacon against the holy Magnus. That man was with earl Magnus who hight Holdbodi, a truth-telling householder out of the Southern isles, he was one of the dearest of earl Magnus' followers; he was then hard by at all these tidings, and has afterwards told most fully about all that befell and all the discourse between earl Hacon and earl Magnus, as may now be heard next after this.