The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions
Part Two: Helgi's Thread
6. Hroar Weds Ogn, Nordri's Daughter
There was a king called Nordri. He ruled parts of England. His daughter was called Ogn. Hroar spent long years with King Nordri, defending his realm, and they were the closest of friends, and in time Hroar came to marry Ogn and settled down there in England with his father-in-law King Nordri, but Helgi ruled over Denmark, their inheritance from their father. Jarl Saevil ruled a realm of his own with Signy. Their son was called Hrok. Helgi was unmarried. Regin took sick and died. That was considered a great loss, as he was well loved.
7. Queen Olof Fools King Helgi
In Saxland at that time, there ruled a queen by the name of Olaf. She had the ways of a warrior king. She went with shield and byrnie, a sword at her side and a helm on her head. This is what she was like: fair in looks, but grim in mood, and haughty. They said she was the best match known at that time in the whole of the north, but she wanted no man. Now King Helgi hears of this queen's imperiousness, and thought he'd add much to his reputation if he could win this woman, willing or no.
So one day, he set out with a great army. He came to the land which this mighty queen ruled over, and comes unawares. He sent his men to her hall and bids them tell her that he and they would accept her invitation to a feast. And this took her by surprise, and there was no chance of mustering forces. She took the sensible option, and invited King Helgi to a feast with all his men.
So King Helgi comes to the feast now and took the high-seat beside the queen. They drink the evening together, and nothing was lacking, and he could detect no gloom in Queen Olof.
King Helgi said to the queen, "This is what I'm thinking," he said, "I want us to drink our wedding feast here this evening. There's plenty of company here for that, and we'll share one bed together tonight."
She said, "Too fast, my lord, that seems to me, but I don't know anyone more courteous and noble than you, if I do have to take a husband now, and I'm sure you're not intending to act dishonourably here."
The king said that what she deserved, for her pride and haughtiness, "is that we're together just as long as I like."
She said, "I'd rather have more of my friends here, if I had a choice, but I don't, so it's for you to say, but I'm sure you will treat our person with due respect."
There was hard drinking then, through the evening and long into the night, and the queen is all smiles, and no-one sees anything in her demeanour to suggest that she isn't perfectly happy with the arrangement. And finally the king is led to bed, and there she was, waiting. The king had been drinking so hard that he immediately fell fast asleep on the bed. The queen made use of this opportunity to stick him with a sleep-thorn.
And once everyone has gone, the queen gets up. She shaves off all his hair and covered him in tar. Next she took a sleeping-bag and packed a load of clothes into it. After that, she gets the king and ties him up in the sack, swaddled like a baby. Then she got some men to bundle him back to his ships. She wakes up his men and tells them the king's gone back to the ships and wants to sail, as there's a good wind now. They jumped up, as quick as they could, but they were drunk and hardly know what they were doing. And that's how they were when they came to the ships and the king was nowhere to be seen, but they did see a huge sleeping-sack, that someone had brought. They were very curious now to know what was in it, and they wait for the king, thinking he'd probably be along a bit later. But when they undo it, there they found their king. Someone had played a shameful trick on him. Then the sleep-thorn drops out, and the king starts up from a dream, and not a nice one, and he's in a foul mood now at the queen.
Meanwhile, it must be told, that Queen Olof musters her men in the night, and she's not short of soldiers, and King Helgi sees no way to get to her now. Suddenly from the hinterland, they hear the rasp of lure-horns and the war-blast being blown. The king sees that the best thing now is to get away as fast as they can. There's a good wind, anyway. King Helgi sails home now to his kingdom with this shame and disgrace and seethed with resentment and often wonders how he might get revenge on the queen.
8. Helgi Pays Back the Queen
Queen Olof sits a while in her realm now, and her pride and overbearing have never been greater. She's had a strong guard round her, since the feast she made for King Helgi. News of this spread far and wide. Everyone thinks it's an incredible thing, unheard of, that she should have made a fool of such a king.
And not long after, Helgi puts out to sea in his ship, and comes ashore in Saxland, right where Queen Olof has her residence. She's got a lot of her followers there. He lays anchor in a hidden cove and tells his warriors to wait there for him till the third day, then be on their way, if he didn't come back. He had two chests with him, full of gold and silver. He got himself some rags to wear on top of his clothes.
He makes his way to the wood and hides the treasure there, then went off towards the queen's hall. He meets one of her thralls and asks what's new in the land. Thrall says good peace, and asks who might he be.
He said he was a tramp, "mind you, I've come across this huge find of treasure in the forest, and the sensible thing I would think, would be to show you where that treasure is."
So they go back to the wood and he shows him the treasure, and the thrall thinks this is big luck that's come his way.
"How much does your queen like treasure?" asks the tramp. The thrall says she's the most treasure-loving queen there is.
"Then she'll like this," says the tramp, "and she'll no doubt think she owns this treasure that I've found here, since this is meant to be her land. Well, good luck won't turn to bad here, I'm not going to hide this haul. The queen will give me whatever share of it she thinks fit, and what'll suit me best. But will she want to come here to get it?"
"I reckon so," says the thrall, "if it's done on the quiet."
"Here's a necklace and a ring," says the tramp, "I want you to have them. They're yours if you come out here with the queen to the wood, just you and her. But if she's mad at you, I'll deal with her." This they agree, and the bargain is struck.
The thrall goes home now and says to the queen that he's found a great haul of treasure in the wood, big enough to make a dozen fortunes, and begs her to come quick and follow him to the gold.
She says, "If this is true, what you're saying, you'll be well rewarded for telling me, otherwise I'll have your head, and yet you've always been a reliable man till now, so I'll believe you in this."
She shows just how greedy for gold she was now, and goes with him in secret under cover of darkness, so that none but the two of them knows. And when they come to the wood, Helgi's there waiting, and says what a lucky meeting this is, and what an excellent time to avenge his shame.
The queen admitted she's treated him badly, "but I want to make it all up to you now, and you can wed me with honour."
"No," said Helgi, "that's not an option to you anymore. You're coming to the ships with me for a bit, till I say you can go. But because of my pride, I'm not in the mood to pay you back in kind, however badly I was humiliated.
"That's in your hands," she said, "for now."
The king lay with the queen many nights. And after that the queen goes home, and that's how she was paid back, and she's all too resentful of the state she's in now.
9. Helgi Married Yrsa
After that, King Helgi sets to raiding, and he was a famous man. And as time went on, Olaf has a baby. It was a girl. She had no time for that child. She had a dog which was called Yrsa, and she named the girl after it, so she was called Yrsa too. She was pretty to look at. And when she was twelve years old, she had to watch the flocks, and never knew she was anything other than a daughter of peasants, since the queen had dealt with this matter in such secrecy that few knew she'd been with child and had a baby.
It went on like this till she was thirteen. Then this happened: King Helgi came to the land, and is curious for tidings. He has on beggar's gear. He sees a big flock on the edge of some wood, and a woman was keeping watch, young in years, and so fair that he doesn't think he's he seen a fairer woman. He asks what she's called, or of which family she might be.
She says, "I'm a shepherd's daughter, and I'm called Yrsa."
"You don't have thrall's eyes," he said, and that moment his love ran out to her, and he said that it was only fair a beggar should have her, if she was a peasant's daughter. She asked him not to do that, but he takes her to the ships, just as he'd done once before to a woman there, and then sails home to his kingdom.
Queen Olof was crafty and didn't let on, when she knew. She pretended not to know what was happening, and it came to her that this would bring down grief and disgrace on King Helgi, instead of fame and joy. But King Helgi weds Yrsa and he loved her very much.
10. Helgi Gave Hroar the Good Ring
King Helgi owned a ring, a very famous one, and both brothers wanted it, and Signy their sister too. One day, King Hroar came to the realm of King Helgi. Helgi arranged a magnificent feast for him.
King Hroar said, "I guess you're the greater man out of us two, and since I've settled down in Northumbria, I'll gladly grant you this whole kingdom, which we both own, if you will share a bit of treasure with me. I want that ring, the one that's the best of all your treasures and we both want to have."
Helgi said, "You deserve no less, kinsman, certainly you can have the ring."
This talk pleased them both. So King Helgi gave the ring to his brother King Hroar. Now Hroar goes away home to his lands and stays peacefully there.