The Northern Way

Auðun and His Bear


Auðunar þáttr vestfirzka

There was a man named Auðun whose family was settled along the northwestern fjords of Iceland. He was a poor man. He sailed abroad from the west fjords under the patrongage of Þorsteinn, a well_to_do franklin, and Þorir the helmsman, who had received food and lodging from Þorsteinn during the winter. Auðun was also there, working for Þorir, and recieved from him as a reward the trip abroad and his maintenance.

Auðun gave most of his property _ what there was of it _ to his mother before he embarked with Þorir. It was reckoned enough for her to live on for three winters. Auðun and Þorir then departed. Their journey was a smooth one. The following winter Auðun spent with Þorir, who owned an estate in the province of Moerr in Norway. The next summer they sailed to Greenland and remained there over the winter.

Now it is told that Auðun bought a bear _ a great treasure _ and gave all he possessed for it. When summer came Auðun and Þorir journeyed to Norway and had a good passage. Auðun had his bear with him. He inteded to travel south the Denmark to meet King Sveinn and give him the animal. When Auðun arrived in the sought of Norway, where King Harald of Norway happened to be staying, he disembarked, leading the bear behind him, and hired a lodging.

King Harald was soon told tha tthere had arrived a bear, a great treasure, owned by an Icelander. The King sent men after him. When Auðun came before the King, he greeted the King courteously. The King accepted his greeting and then asked: "Do you own a great treasure in the form of a bear?"

Auðun answered by saying tha the did possess a certain animal. The King said: "Will you sell us the animal for the same amount you paid for it?"

Auðun replied: "I will not, my lord."

"Will you have," said the King, "that I give you double its value? _ and that would be more just if you gave all you possessed for it."

"I will not, my lord," replied Auðun.

The King said: "Will you give it to me then?"

Auðun replied: "No, my lord."

"What are you going to do with it, then?" asked the King.

"Go to Denmark," replied Auðun, "and give it to King Sveinn."

King Harald said: "Is it possible that you are a man so poorly informed that you have not heard that there is a war between his land and mine, or do you consider your luck so great that you can get through to Denmark with treasures where others can not get through without injury although they needs must go?"

Auðun replied: "My lord, that is for you to determine, but I shall agree to nothing else than my original plan."

Then the King said: "Why should you not travel on your way as you will? But come to me when you return and tell me how King Sveinn has rewarded you for the animal. It may be that you are a lucky man."

"I promise you that," said Auðun.

Auðun now journeyed southwards: east to Oslo Fjord and then to Denmark. By this time his money was used up and he had to beg food both for himself and for the bear. He met King Sveinn´s steward, whose name was Aki, and requested of him some provisions both for himself and the animal. "I intend," said Auðun, "to give King Sveinn the bear." Aki agreed to sell Auðun provisions if Auðun so desired. Auðun declared that he had nothing to pay with. "But I should nevertheless like," he said, "to find some way of bringing the animal to the King."

"I shall give you the provisions you need in order to meet the King," said Aki, "But in compensation I shall want to become half_owner of the bear. You must consider that the animal may die on your hands, since you lack food for it and your money is at an end. Then you would not even have the bear." When Auðun thought this over, it seemed to him that the steward was right, so he agreed to sell Aki half the animal, the value of which the king should later estimate. They now planned both to go and meet the King, and this they did. They came to him while he was at table. The King tried to decide who the strange man might be, but he could not recognize him. He then said to Auðun: "Who are you?"

Auðun answered: "I am an Icelander, my lord, and have come from Greenland by way of Norway, intending to bring you this bear. I purchased it for all my possessions. But a great misfortune has befallen me, for I now own only half the bear." And he told the King what had passed between him and the King's steward.

The King asked: "Is what he says true, Aki?"

"True it is," said Aki.

The King said: "And you thought it proper, after I had bestowed upon you an important position, to hinder or make difficulties for a man who takes the trouble to bring me a treasure for which he gave all he possessed? And when King Harald was willing to let him go in peace although he is our enemy? Consider how fair that was on your part! It would be fitting if you were put to death _ but I shall not do that now; but you must leave this land at once and never come within my sight again. To you, Auðun, I can give my thanks as if you had presented me with the entire animal. Remain here with me." For this Auðun thanked the King, and he stayed with him for a time.

When some time had passed, Auðun said to the King: "I should like to go away now, sir."

The King answered slowly. "What do you want to do," he said, "if you will not remain with us?"

Auðun replied: "I want to travel south to Rome."

"If you had not taken such good counsel," said the King, "I should be displeased at your eagerness to leave." The King now gave Auðun a great deal of silver, and Auðun journeyed southward with other pilgrims on their way to Rome. The King furnished him with provisions for the journey and bade him come to see him when he returned.

He now started his journey and traveled south until he came to Rome. When he had stayed there as long as he desired, he departed. He was now taken seriously ill and became very thin. All the money which the King had given him for the journey was used up. He had to take to begging and ask for food. He became bald and was very wretched looking.

At Eastertime he arrived in Denmark and near where the King was staying. He did not dare show himself however. He stayed in a corner of the church intending to meet the King when he went to church in the evening, but when he saw the King and beautifully attired retinue, he did not dare show himself. When the King went into the hall to drink, Auðun ate outside as is the custom for pilgrims come from Rome as long as they have not discarded staff and wallet. Later in the evening, when the King went to vespers, Auðun planned to meet him. But unwilling as he was before, he was now the more reluctant because the retainers were drunk. When they went in again, the King noticed the man, who seemed not to have the courage to approach him. And now when the retainers had gone in, the King remained outside and said: "Come forward now, whoever wishes to speak with me. I suspect that that must be the man over there." At this, Auðun went forward and fell at the King's feet and the King hardly recognized him. And when the King knew who it was, he took Auðun's hand and bade him welcome. "You are greatly changed," he said, "since last we met." The King led Auðun in with him. When the retainers saw Auðun they laughed at him. But the King said: "There is no need for you to laugh, for he has provided better for his soul than you." Then the King let Auðun be bathed and thereafter gave him clothes; and Auðun stayed with the King.

It is told that once in the following spring the King asked Auðun to be with him permanently and promised to make him his page and grant him much honour. Auðun said: "God bless you, sir, for all the honour you are willing to bestow upon me, but it is my intention to journey to Iceland."

The King said: "That seems to me to be a queer choice."

Auðun replied: "I cannot bear knowing, sir, that I enjoy so much honour here with you while my mother must beg for her food in Iceland; for the means with which I provided her before I left Iceland have now come to an end."

The King answered: "That is well and manfully spoken, and no doubt you will be a lucky man. This is the only thing that would reconcile me to your going away. Stay with me until ships are ready to said." Auðun did this.

One day in late spring, King Sveinn went along the piers where men were working, loading ships for various countries _ the Baltic lands or Saxony, Sweden or Norway. He and Auðun came upon a beautiful ship which men were making ready. The King then enquired: "How do you like this ship, Auðun?"

Auðun answered: "Well, sir."

The King said: "This ship I will give you in reward for the bear." Auðun thanked the King for the gift as best he could.

When some time had passed and the ship was fully prepared, King Sveinn said to Auðun: "If you wish to leave now, I do not want to hinder you. But I have heard that there are few good harbors in your country and that the coast is open and dangerous for ships. If you should be shipwrecked and lose ship and cargo, there would be little to show that you had met King Sveinn and given him a treasure." Then the King gave him a purse full of silver and said: "And now you will not be entirely penniless even if your ship is destroyed, if you keep hold of this. But it could happen," continued the King, "that you lose this money. It would then be of little use that you had met King Sveinn and given him a treasure." Then the King drew a ring from his hand, gave it to Auðun, and said: "Even if you are so unfortunate as to wreck your ship and lose your possessions, you will not be penniless if you reach land. Many men have gold with them in a shipwreck _ but it can be seen that you have met King Sveinn, if you keep the ring. I would advise you," said the King, "that you do not give the ring away unless you feel that you are greatly obligated to reward some noble man _ then give him this ring, for it is fitting for men of high rank to receive gifts. And now farewell!"

Auðun set off to sea and came to Norway. He unloaded his cargo, and there was more to unload than wehn he had been in Norway before. He then travelled to meet King Harald, intending to fulfill the promise he had made to him before he went to Denmark. He greeted the King. King Harald welcomed him. "Sit down," said the King, "and drink with us." This Auðun did.

King Harald then asked: "How did King Sveinn reward you for the animal?"

Auðun said: "By accepting, sir."

The King said: "I would have rewarded you in that way too. How else did he reward you?"

Auðun answered: "He gave me money for a pilgrimage to Rome."

Then King Harald said: "King Sveinn gives many men money for pilgrimages to Rome and for other purposes even if they do not bring him treasures. Was there anything else?"

"He offered," said Auðun, "to make me his page and show me much honour."

"That was well said," replied the King, "and did he reward you still more?"

Auðun said: "He gave me a ship with cargo which is of the best that has come to Norway."

"That was very generous," said the King, "but I should have given you the same reward. Did he reward you any further?"

Auðun said: "He gave me a leather purse full of silver and said that I would not be penniless if I kept hold of it even though my ship were wrecked off Iceland."

The King said: "That was nobly done, and I would not have done that. I would have felt that I had fulfilled my obligation if I had given you that ship. Did he reward you further?"

"To be sure," said Auðun, "he did. He gave me this ring which I have on my hand and bade me wear it and said that if I should lose all my possessions I would not be penniless if I owned this ring. He commanded me not to part with it unless I was obligated to reward some man of high rank so well that I wanted to give it to him. Now I have found that man, for you had the power of taking from me both the bear and my life but you let me travel on in peace, as others were not allowed to do."

The King received the gift with friendliness and gave Auðun many fine gifts in return before they parted. Auðun invested his money in goods to be taken back home and sailed that summer for Iceland.

He was though to be the luckiest of men.

© 2000 Hringari Oðinssen

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page