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Popular Tales from Norse Mythology
By George Webbe Dasent
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.
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SKIÖLD, King of Yutland (Denmark), and the bordering districts of Sweden and Norway, ruled his people with love and kindness. He abolished all cruel laws, introducing in their stead just and humane regulations. It was said that he had come over the sea on a shield from unknown regions, having been sent by his father for the welfare of his people. By means of a bloody duel with a rival, he had won his beautiful and clever wife, Anhild. She gave birth to a son, who received the name of Gram. He resembled his father in mind and body, but was of a very passionate nature, and therefore constantly engaged in war and strife. He was accompanied on all his expeditions by his faithful comrade, Bessi, who protected him in battle with shield and sword. For this reason, Gram gave him Hroar's fair daughter in marriage; whilst he himself sued for the hand of Gro, a daughter of Siglrygg, King of Sweden, celebrated for her beauty and courage. But he received a scornful refusal, and was informed that she was already promised to a more desirable suitor. Gram immediately started with an army and a fleet in order to avenge the insult; and having heard that his enemy could only be wounded with gold, he took with him a club encased in that metal, instead of a sword. Landing on the Swedish coast, he clothed himself in goat's skins, and in this disguise wandered for many weeks, a terror to all whom he encountered. It chanced that the beautiful Gro was walking one day in the same direction. She did not fly at such an unusual sight, for she soon perceived that the seeming monster was filled with admiration at the sight of her, and stood like one enchanted. Besides, he spoke so kindly and pleasantly that she willingly answered him; and then, throwing off his disguise, he revealed to her astonished gaze a hero and a king. Each felt and inspired a mutual passion, and then and there they exchanged vows of eternal love. Gram now requested the consent of the king, who, being averse to his proposal, marched against him with a large army. But Gram's invincible valour spread confusion among the enemy, who fled in all directions, whilst both Gro's suitor and the king were numbered among the slain. Hereupon, Gram conquered the whole of Sweden, and on the day of his marriage he placed the royal crown on the head of his fair young bride.
Gram's next care was to have his fleet splendidly decorated, and all the vessels painted, so that the dragon's heads in the bowsprit could be seen from a very great distance. A specially large and curiously shapen vessel was built for himself and his queen. It resembled the form of a dragon; in front, the head was ornamented with a golden crown, silver teeth, and a blood-red tongue; the helm at the back represented the tail of the dragon, the sails the wings of the monster, and the rudders his feet. When all was completed Gram set sail, and steered under a favourable wind towards Hledra. The crew were stationed on the deck in gay apparel and glistening armour. The shield of peace, composed of pure silver, sparkled from the mast of the Orlog ship, and the king himself, with the queen at his side, sat on the throne overlooking the whole procession. It was thus that Gram entered the harbour of the capital. Old Skiöld stood on the shore with his comrades and a large assembly of people. They welcomed the victorious hero, whose celebrated deeds were sung in all northern lands; and when they reached the court, Skiöld proclaimed loudly that from that time forth Gram should rule in unity with him over Denmark. All the nobles present joyfully assented to this, except Earl Ingo, who envied the young king his fame and power. Furtively he stole from the assembly, and spread the report among his vassals, and, indeed, throughout all Denmark, that "Skiöld was too old, and Gram too young; the government should belong to a better and more experienced man." As a raging fire often arises from a tiny spark, so this secret discontent ripened into a general rebellion. Then Gram arose in arms at the head of his faithful followers. Victory attended him everywhere; and Ingo, after having been defeated in a great battle, fled to Swipdager, King of Norway.
Gram now returned to Hledra, generously rewarded his warriors, and freed the people from their taxes for several years. At the same time he was heavily afflicted by the loss of those who were nearest and dearest to him on earth. First, his father died; then Gro also breathed her last, after having presented him with a son, and when his faithful comrade, Bessi, was also gathered to his forefathers, Gram was left alone in the midst of his worldly prosperity.
The news that Swipdager, at the instigation of Ingo, was preparing to invade Denmark, first aroused him from the melancholy into which he had fallen. He gathered all his brave warriors together, and was preparing to march against the enemy, when a Finlander came to him with the news that Humbel, the ruler of Finland, had a wonderfully beautiful daughter, whom he kept in confinement, because it had been prophesied that her marriage would cause some great misfortune to fall upon him. The old man showed him the picture of the maiden in a magic mirror, and the king was so enraptured with her loveliness, that he forgot his former queen, and the war by which he was threatened, and straightway sailed with his fleet to Finland. The king of that country not being prepared to oppose him, received the royal hero at his court, and told his daughter Signe to fill him a goblet of mead. Gram on seeing the maiden, thought that in reality she was far more lovely than in the magic mirror, and when she sang a song to the sweet tones of the harp, praising the hero who had slain many a giant with his club, and had successfully fought for the crown of Swithiod, he fell so deeply in love with her that he then and there sought her hand in marriage. Humbel, not daring to refuse him, granted his request, whereupon Gram set sail, in order to terminate his quarrel with the Northmen. But, just as he was on the point of opening the battle, the old Finlander again appeared before him, holding the magic mirror in his hand. When Gram looked into it, he saw a sight that filled him with rage. The court of Finland rose before his view, and there he saw a princely hero in glistening armour, and in his hand Humbel was placing that of his daughter, although evidently much against her will.
"It is Henry, the celebrated Duke of Saxony, whom thou now seest," said the magician; "the faithless king has promised him the hand of the noble Signe, and the wedding will soon take place." Gram lifted his sword in his fury, in order to destroy the mirror and its hateful representation, but both man and mirror had vanished like a passing shadow from before his eyes. He rushed like one distraught to the shore, embarked on one of his vessels, and sailed for Finland. Wind and weather were favourable, the ship bounded swiftly over the crested waves, and they soon reached their place of destination. The king wrapt himself in a large cloak to hide his costly apparel, drew his hat low over his forehead, and thus approached the palace, whence sounds of feasting and of revelry proceeded. He passed himself off as a man skilled in medicine, who was capable of healing all wounds, and of curing pains of every kind. On hearing this the king was pleased, and offered him a seat among the men in waiting.
Beer and mead were drunk to such an excess that the minds of the guests succumbed to their potent influence. Then Gram took a stringed instrument from one of the singers, and as he sang the praises of manly courage and womanly faith, Signe, who sat next to her bridegroom, raised her soft eyes to his face.
She recognised him,—she rose. Then the king threw off his disguise, rushed among the intoxicated guests, drew his sword and killed the duke and all who opposed him, and finally carried the maiden away to his vessel in safety. Lightly their ship bounded over the waves, as if drawn by invisible hands, and the sea-nymphs laughed, and the nixies sang marriage-songs, and the wedding was soon after celebrated in the castle at Hledra. The king was beside himself with joy in the possession of his fair bride, who won all hearts by her beauty and wisdom. Moreover, they were now no longer threatened by war, for the Northmen had retreated, without venturing to engage in battle.
Years went by, rich in love and happiness, till suddenly the report spread that Swipdager had once more risen in arms, and was expecting the forces of the Saxons, who were coming to his aid. The energies of the king were thus again awakened by this approaching danger; he summoned his soldiers to battle, and the warriors of Denmark and Swithiod, eager for fame and plunder, readily enlisted under the banner of their great ruler.
The hostile factions soon found themselves face to face. When the first rays of the sun shone through the morning mist, horns were sounded for the attack. Then the war-cry arose; arrows and javelins whistled through the air, swords and lances clashed against helmets and shields. Gram and his warriors broke wildly through the ranks of their adversaries, filling all hearts with dismay. The hostile forces retreated before the superior strength of the foe, until at last all had fled except the rear-guard, commanded by Swipdager. Just at this moment, white sails appeared in the distance, coming nearer and nearer, till the vessels reached the shore. Many armed warriors disembarked, arranged themselves in ranks, and marched against the enemy, who, confident that the victory was won, were scattered hither and thither, pursuing the flying Northmen. When Gram saw the Saxons, he knew well the extent of the danger which threatened him; and determined either to make himself master of the occasion by killing Swipdager, or else, if the fates so willed it, to lose his life upon the field of battle. When the combat was at its fiercest, a bold Saxon suddenly forced his way through the ranks. He clove in two the shield of the Danish king, who thereupon grasped his sword to aim a desperate blow at his adversary, but it unfortunately caught in the boughs of a neighbouring oak, and before he had time to disentangle it, he was felled to the ground by Swipdager's sword.
Swipdager was victorious; many of his enemies lay dead on the battle-field, and the rest he had put to flight. Denmark was tributary to him, and he now made preparations for fresh conquests. He marched into Hledra, and gave orders that the two sons of the slain king should be brought to him, so as to prevent them, when older, from avenging the death of their father. But nowhere could they be found; they seemed to have disappeared from off the face of the earth, for since Gram's death no one had seen them. Swipdager now marched against Swithiod, in order that that land also should be subject to him. As the Swedish warriors were headed by no very able man, it took him but a very short time to subdue them. In consequence of his many conquests, Swipdager was now looked upon as the greatest monarch of his time, and ambassadors were sent from distant lands to do homage to the great ruler of the North. He had been successful in everything, except in his search for Gram's sons, to whom he was desirous of offering compensation for the loss they had sustained at his hands. For Swipdager was in reality a good and kind man, and it was only through the cunning of Ingo that he had been induced to take part in any violent proceedings; after the death of the latter his better feelings prevailed, and he longed for reconciliation.
Meanwhile, the princes, Guthorm and Hadding, had been in safe keeping. A mighty warrior named Wagnoft had taken the children during the battle from the arms of their dying mother Signe, and had fled with them into an almost inaccessible wilderness in Sweden. He thought it better that they should be brought up among bears and wolves than that they should fall victims to the fury of the enemy. They grew into fine strong youths, who learnt under his tuition to bend the bow, to wield the sword, and to slay the wild beasts of the forest. As they grew older, their expeditions took them into more inhabited parts, and people began to suspect who the brothers were. When the rumour reached Swipdager's ears, he immediately sought out the strangers in their retreat, and spoke to them kind words of reconciliation. He pointed out to them the poverty of their present mode of life, and promised them not only abundance of wealth, but also that he would give them to hold, as his vassals, their father's kingdom of Denmark. Guthorm, who was of a kind and friendly disposition, laid his hand in that of the king, and gladly acceded to his proposals; but Hadding answered never a word. The image of his dead father seemed to rise before his view, while at his side stood Wagnoft, like a spirit of vengeance, knowing of no atonement.
Swipdager, despising the anger of his obstinate opponents, left them to their fate, and returned to the castle, accompanied by Guthorm.
Hadding and Wagnoft now felt that their hiding-place was no longer secure, and they therefore wandered over hill and vale, till they reached the sea-shore. Some pirates, who happened to be sailing by, took them on board, and on hearing that Hadding was of royal descent, chose him as their king, and under his guidance gained much fame and plunder. One of their most important battles was fought in Kurland, against Lokir, the king of that country. Hadding pressed through the thick of the battle, in order to fight face to face with the king, but he soon found himself in a most perilous situation, surrounded on all sides by the enemy, separated from his friends and deprived of all weapons of defence. Death seemed inevitable, when suddenly an old man, blind of one eye, and whom no sword or spear could harm, approached. He strode over the battle-field, towering above all other men, as if he were a god come to rule the earth. Hadding felt himself enveloped in the old man's mantle, raised in the air, and carried away with lightning speed. When at last he was set down on firm ground, he found himself on a lonely coast, but the old man had disappeared as soon as the cloak had been withdrawn from him. Nevertheless, when Hadding once more ventured into the interior of the land, he again fell into Lokir's power, who gave orders that he should be thrown before a wild bear. But, fortunately, he had learnt in his youth the nature of wild animals, and lay on the ground stiff and motionless as a corpse. The bear turned him from side to side with his paws, when suddenly Hadding sprang to his feet, threw himself on the monster, and strangled him. The young hero, whose great strength had awakened much admiration, was once more conducted to his prison; but he sang the guards to sleep, and escaped from the dungeon where he was confined into a fresh green wood. There the little birds welcomed him with sweet songs, and inspired him with hope and happiness.
After many years Hadding again met with his former companions. At their head he devastated the country far and wide, revenged himself on Lokir, conquered the stronghold Düna, and demanded, as ransom, an amount of gold equal to the weight of the governor of the town. As the latter was a very fat man, and weighed no less than three hundredweight, he had to give up all the gold in his kingdom.
Hadding now crossed over to Sweden with a formidable army, in order to avenge himself on Swipdager, and thereby fulfil the oath which he had sworn as a boy. For by day and night the spirit of his father was ever before him, reminding him of the filial duty he was called upon to perform.
The great king of the north thought it would be no difficult matter to overcome this adventurer, but he was somewhat alarmed when he saw that Hadding was accompanied by a very large army. He would gladly have deferred the battle till he had obtained some reinforcements, but Hadding discovered his enemies among the mountains, where they had pitched their camps and straightway commenced the attack.
Excerpted from Popular Tales from Norse Mythology by George Webbe Dasent. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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