Hrolf Kraki's Saga

Hrolf Kraki's Saga

by Poul Anderson

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Winner of the British Fantasy Award: The ancient legend of the Danish Viking king is retold in a tale of vengeance, battles, magic, and monsters.

In the court of the Anglo-Saxon king, a visiting storyteller regales the assembled nobles with the enthralling tale of her faraway land’s most revered hero: the Viking Hrolf Kraki. Born of an incestuous union into a royal family with a history of violence, jealousy, usurpation, and murder, Hrolf assembled a loyal band of the mightiest champions in the realm and expanded his small kingdom through wisdom, courage, and conquest. Unbeaten on the battlefield, his great deeds and victories became legends throughout the North as he ushered in an era of peace and prosperity. But Hrolf’s desire for vengeance was ever the warrior-king’s driving force, as he sought the truth about his father’s murder. This obsession would threaten Hrolf’s life and his rule—and ultimately bring his great kingdom to ruin.

Poul Anderson, one of the acknowledged giants of twentieth-century fantasy, employs his unparalleled storytelling talents to bring Denmark’s great Viking king to life. A saga that predates the stories of King Arthur and his knights and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, while echoing the Oedipus and Beowulf myths, the Norse legend of Hrolf Kraki takes on a new and breathtaking richness in this classic novel the Guardian described as “full of thrills.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504024396
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 11/24/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 1,116,979
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.
Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

Hrolf Kraki's Saga

By Poul Anderson


Copyright © 1973 Trigonier Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2439-6



There was a man called Eyvind the Red, who dwelt in the Danelaw of England while Æthelstan was king. His father was Svein Kolbeinsson, who had come there from Denmark and often made trading voyages back. When old enough, Eyvind went along. Yet he was more restless and eager for a name than Svein, and at last took service under the king. In a few years he rose high, until at Brunanburh he fought so mightily and led his followers so well that Æthelstan gave him full friendship and wished him to stay always in the royal household. Eyvind was not sure if he wanted that for the rest of his life, and asked leave to go visit his old homestead.

He found Svein readying for another journey, and decided to embark. In Denmark they got hospitality from the chieftain Sigurdh Haraldsson. This man had a daughter, Gunnvor, a fair maiden whom Eyvind soon began to woo. The fathers thought it would be a match good for both their houses; and when Eyvind returned to England, he brought Gunnvor as his bride.

Then he must attend the king, who spent that winter in travel. Gunnvor came too. She won the heart of ladies in the court, for she could speak much about foreign lands and ways. Though Æthelstan was unwed, news of this came to him: especially of a long saga from olden days that she was relating. He called her to the building where he sat among his men. "These are gloomy nights," he chided her, laughing. "Why do you give the women a pleasure you refuse me?"

"I was only telling stories, lord," she said.

"Good ones, though, from what I hear," answered the king.

Still she looked unhappy. Eyvind took the word on her behalf: "Lord, I know something of this, and it may not be fit for your company." His eye dwelt on the bishop who sat near. "It is a heathen tale." He had not given out that he still offered to the elves.

"Well, what of that?" asked Æthelstan. "If I have among my friends a man like Egil Skallagrimsson —"

"There is no harm in hearing about the forefathers, if we do not forget they were in error," said the bishop. "Rather, it helps us to understand today's heathen, and thus learn how best to bring them to the Faith." After a little, he added thoughtfully: "I must confess, I spent my youth studying abroad and know less about you Danes than do most Englishmen. I would be grateful if you could explain things as you go along, Lady Gunnvor."

The end of it was that she spent many evenings that winter telling them about Hrolf Kraki.




In those days, Denmark was less than it is now. There were Zealand and the smaller islands about this great one. Save for the chalk cliffs of Mön in the south, it is a low country, hills rolling as easily as the rivers flow. Then eastward across the Sound lay Scania. At the narrowest part of that strait, swimmable by any boy, it looks much like its sister; and they say that in an olden year the goddess Gefion plowed Zealand free of the peninsula that she might have it for herself and her man Skjold, Odin's son. But northward, where it juts into the Kattegat, Scania lifts in red heights, the southern end of the Keel.

This is a land whose soil bears well, whose waters swarm with fish and seal and whale, whose marshes are darkened and made thunderous by the wings of wildfowl, whose timber fares afar in the strakes of goodly ships. But that same timber grows in woods well-nigh impassable, the haunt of deer and elk, aurochs and wisent, wolf and bear. In former times the wildernesses reached further and darker than they do now, cut the settlements of men off from each other in loneliness, sheltered not only outlaws but elves and trolls and other uncanny beings.

North of Scania is the land of the Götar, whom the English call Geats. It was then a realm in its own right. North of it in turn lay Svithjodh, where dwelt the Swedes; theirs was the biggest and strongest of the Northern countries. West across mountains was Norway, but it was a lot of little quarreling kingdoms and tribes. Beyond it and Svithjodh live the Finns. They are mostly wandering hunters and reindeer herders, who speak no tongue akin to any of ours. But they are so rich in furs that, in spite of numbering many among them who are skilled in witchcraft, they are always being raided or laid under scot by Dane, Swede, and Norseman.

Turning south again, to the west of Zealand we find the Great Belt, and beyond that water the island of Fyn. Then comes the Little Belt and then the Jutland peninsula. Jutland is an earth more steep and stern than the rest of what is today the Danish realm. From the wide wind-whistling strands of the Skaw, south to the bogs where men stride on stilts as if they would be storks, and so to the mouth of the mighty Elbe, here is the mother of whole folk who have wandered widely across the world — Cimbri, Teutons, Vandals, Heruli, Angles who gave their name to England, Jutes, Saxons, and more and more.

Not only to gain strength, wealth, and fame, but to halt endless wars and reavings, the Danish kings who held Zealand and Scania strove to bring these others beneath them. And sometimes they would win a battle and be acknowledged overlords here or there. But erelong blades were again unsheathed, and on the roofs of the jarls they had set to steer yonder lands, the red cock crowed. As often as not, this happened because royal brothers fell out with each other.

Theirs was the house of Skjold and Gefion. In England it is told that he — they call him Scyld — drifted to shore in an oarless boat. It was filled with weapons but bore also a sheaf of grain whereon rested the head of the child. The Danes took him for their king, and a great one he grew to be, who gave law and peace and the groundwork of a country. When at last he died, his grieving folk set him adrift in a ship richly laden, that he might go home to that unknownness whence he had come. They believed his father had been Odin. And truth to tell, the blood of the One-Eyed showed itself afterward in many ways, so that some of the Skjoldungs were wise and forbearing landfathers, others wild and greedy, still others given to peering into things best left alone.

This last was more often true of the Svithjodh kings.They were the Ynglings, stemming from Frey, and he is no god of the sky but of the earth, its fruitfulness to be called forth by strange rites, likewise its shadows and all-devouring mould. In their seat of Uppsala, no few of these lords worshipped beasts and wrought wizardries. Withal, they bred their share of doughty warriors, and when at last Ivar Widespan drove them out — long after the tale I will tell you — a man of them became the ancestor of that Harald Fairhair who made Norway into one kingdom.

Between Skjoldungs and Ynglings was scant love and much bloodshed. Between them was also the land of the Götar. Being fewer in numbers than either set of neighbors, these sought the friendship of both, or at least to play a double game. Yet the Götar were no weaklings either. Among them was to arise that man the English call Beowulf.

Thus matters stood in the days when Frodhi the Peace-Good became king of Denmark. Of him are many things told, how he won overlordship through battle and craftiness, then went on to give such laws and keep such a calm that a maiden might carry a sackful of gold from end to end of his realm and be safe. Yet in him was likewise that ravenousness which could show in the Skjoldungs and which had, earlier, caused his own forebear Hermodh to be driven from the royal seat in Leidhra town, into the wilderness. We hear different tales about King Frodhi's ending; but this is the one the skalds like best.

A ship from Norway brought for sale some captured uplanders. Out of these, Frodhi chose two huge young women, long-haired, tangle-haired, dark-haired, high of cheekbone, broad of mouth and nose, slant of eye, clad in stinking skins. They called themselves, in thunder-deep voices, Fenja and Menja. It was told how men's lives were lost in binding them and how they were not really human but of the Jötun race. A Wiseman warned Frodhi that they could never have been made captive were there not the will of a Norn in this. But the king did not listen.

He owned a quern named Grotti. Whence it came, no one knows — maybe from one of those dolmens whichstand stark around the Danish lands, the very names of their builders long ago forgotten. A witch had said that it could grind forth whatever he wanted; but none had strength to wield the oaken shaft which turned the upper stone. He thought that these women might.

And they did. He set them in a gloomy shed where stood the quern. An old lay tells the story of what followed.

Now are they come to the house of the king,
the twain foresighted, Fenja and Menja.
Sold to Frodhi, the son of Fridhleif,
were these two maidens, mighty in thralldom.

There were the women set to working,
there must they heave the heavy millstone,
and never did Frodhi give aught of freedom.
He bade them sing without cease at the quern.

Then gave the maidens a voice to the mill;
the stones were groaning; it growled in the earth.
Yet told he the maidens they must mill and must mill.

They swung and swung the swift-flying millstone.
To sleep went most of the slaves of Frodhi.
Then sang Menja, beside the millshaft:

"We grind you welfare, Frodhi, and wealth,
manyfold kine, on the mill of luck.
You shall sit in riches and sleep on down
and wake when you wish. Well is it milled!

"Here shall nobody harm any other,
sunder the peace, or slay his fellow,
nor kill the bane of his own dear brother,
though he have the murderer bound and helpless."

But Frodhi for them had no words save these:
"As long may you sleep as the cuckoo keeps still,
or while one may voice a single verse."

"Unwise you were, Frodhi, you darling of folk,
when you did buy us to be your thralls
and saw that we looked to be likely workers,
yet left off asking what land we hail from.

"Hard was the giant known as Hrungnir,
but even more of might had Thjazi.
Idhi and Aarnir are of our blood:
berg-trolls' brethren; of them are we born.

"Never was Grotti made out of granite,
nor out of cliffs were cloven its stones.
Nor do they mill — the maids from the mountains —
knowing not what they are whirling forth.

"Through nine whole winters our strength was waxing
while still we played games beneath the ground.
Then were the maidens ripe in their mightiness.
Hills we upheaved and had on our backs.

"We tumbled boulders on Jötun buildings
and down to the dales, with a noise of doom.
So did we fling the flinders of cliffs
that afterward men made houses out of them.

"Then did we fare, we foresighted sisters,
off to Svithjodh, seeking for war.
Bears we slaughtered and shields we split,
breaking a road through byrnie-clad men.
One king did we raise, and cast down another,
giving the goodly Guthorm our help,
with killing and fire, till Knui had fallen.

"Through all those years we were yare for battle
and widely were known as warrior maidens.
We shore our way with the sharpened spears,
and blood made dim the blinking blade.

"Now are we come to the house of the king.
Bad luck has made us thralls at the millstone.
Gravel gnaws our feet, we freeze above,
but have room to work — and woe with Frodhi.

"Let the stone now stand and the hands rest still.
I have ground what I must; I will grind no more."
But never the hands may know any rest
until Frodhi says that his greed is sated.

"Now hands shall grasp the hardened spears
and the reddened weapons. Waken, Frodhi!
Waken, Frodhi, if you are willing
to hear our songs and sagas of old.

"Fire I see burning, eastward beacons,
signs which warn of war oncoming.
A host is abroad and hither it hastens
to burn the stronghold that Frodhi built.

"You shall be cast from Leidhra's kingship,
from ruddy rings and the quern of riches.
Grip harder, maiden, the millstone-handle,
for now we are grinding blood on the ground.

"Mightily grinding the grist of doom,
we see how many are marked for death.
Now we are shaking the iron shafts
upholding the quern. Hard will we swing it.

"Hard will we swing it. The son of Yrsa
alone may redeem what is lost to you:
he who is both the brother of Yrsa
and the child she has nursed, as well we do know."

The maidens were grinding, and great was their might;
young they stood there in Jötun wrath.
The quern fell down and lay in the dust,
he millstones shivered and shattered to bits.

hen sang the maidens who came from the mountains:
Now have we toiled as you told us, Frodhi,
nd ground out your weird. We have worked long enough!"

And so in their anger Fenja and Menja brought forth a viking host which fell upon the king's burg and slew him. As to what became of those giantesses, there are different stories; but all agree that here a fate was laid upon the Skjoldungs.

Frodhi left three sons, Halfdan, Hroar, and Skati. They fell into strife over who should be foremost. It has ever been the curse of the lands across the North Sea, that their kings beget many sons and one's claim is as good as another's, whether he be born of a queen, a leman, a thrall-woman, or a chance meeting — can he but raise men who hope to gain if he wins.

This time luck chose Halfdan. He even died in bed, albeit rather young. He left two sons of his own. The older was called Frodhi from the grandfather. The younger, being born after Halfdan's death, got the name of the latter.

I have spoken of jarls. They are not the same as English earls, though the words sound much alike. A jarl is a headman second only to the king. Sometimes a king will set him over a part of the country; or sometimes a jarl will himself become king in all but name. So it was while these boys Frodhi and Halfdan were small. Einar, jarl of the lands around the royal seat Leidhra, took charge.

He was a sensible man who did not want to see Denmark again ripped apart. To this end, he got each of the brothers taken as king by the yeomen, when these gathered at the meetings known as Things. But they were hailed separately. Halfdan was to rule in Zealand, Frodhi in Scania.

Einar Jarl likewise arranged marriages after the lads were grown. Halfdan wed Sigridh, daughter of a small king on the island of Fyn. By her he got three children who lived. Oldest was the daughter Signy, who in due course married Einar's son and heir Sævil. Five years younger than her was the boy Hroar, and two years younger than him was his brother Helgi.

The custom was that high-born children should be reared in the homes of folk of somewhat lower rank. Thus they learned those skills which become a youth or a maiden; and bonds of friendship were forged. Hroar and Helgi Halfdansson were taken by Regin Erlingsson, the reeve of the shire which held Leidhra. He grew as fond of them as if they had been his own.

King Halfdan was mild and easygoing. The folk loved him for his openhandedness and for the just judgments he gave.

But meanwhile King Frodhi in Scania had turned into a man harsh and hungry. He married Borghild, a king's daughter from among those Saxons who dwell just south of Jutland. By this means he got allies who, able to cross the Baltic Sea, awed Svithjodh enough that the Swedes kept off his back. She died in giving birth to their son Ingjald. Frodhi sent the babe to its grandfather to raise. Nevertheless, on behalf of it, he dreamed greatly.

And now, full of years, Einar died. Then matters stood like this:

In Leidhra on Zealand dwelt King Halfdan and his queen Sigridh. He was well-liked; but, with scant hankering for war, he kept no very strong guard, nor did he offer restless men much chance to win fame and booty abroad. His daughter Signy was wife to the jarl Sævil Einarsson. His sons Hroar and Helgi were mere boys, living with Regin the sheriff about twenty miles from the royal town.

And in Scania brooded King Frodhi.

He plotted with discontented men in Denmark, as well as with headmen among Swedes, Götar, and Jutes. Erelong he could call on a great host.

So he took ship across the Sound, lifted his banner and let blow the lur horns. Warriors flocked to him. Too late did the arrow pass from garth to garth, summoning those who would fight for King Halfdan. Looting and burning, Frodhi carried victory wherever he went. In a clash at darkest midnight, he fell upon Halfdan's army, overthrew it, and himself put his brother to death.

Thereafter he called the Danish chieftains to a Thing and made them plight faith. Among those who, to save their lives, laid hands on the golden rings and swore by Njörd and Frey and almighty Thor that they would never forsake him — among them was Sævil Jarl, husband of Halfdan's daughter Signy.

Thereupon Frodhi clinched his standing by marriage to his brother's widow, Sigridh. She had no choice about this, but it was with a bleak face that she went to his bed. And now Frodhi sent after her sons. He gave out that he wanted to see they were well taken care of. Most men supposed the care would be a quick throat-cutting, lest they grow up to avenge their father.


Excerpted from Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1973 Trigonier Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


THE HISTORY OF HROLF KRAKI: A Foreword by Poul Anderson,
About the Author,

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