SAGA OF HARALD HARDRADE.
Harald, son of Sigurd Syr, was born in the year A.D. 1015, and left Norway A.D. 1030. He was called Hardrade, that is, the severe counsellor, the tyrant, though the Icelanders never applied this epithet to him. Harald helped the Icelanders in the famine of A.D. 1056, and sent them timber for a church at Thingvol. It was the Norwegians who gave him the name tyrant in contrast to the "debonairete" of Magnus. He came to Norway in A.D. 1046, and became sole king in A.D. 1047. He died in A.D. 1066, and his son and successor Magnus died in A.D. 1069.
His saga is to be compared with "Agrip", "Fagrskinna", and "Morkinskinna".
The skalds quoted are: Thiodolf, Bolverk, Illuge Bryndalaskald, Stuf the skald, Thorarin Skeggjason, Valgard o' Val, Od Kikinaskald, Grane Skald, Thorleik the Fair, Stein Herdison, Ulf the Marshal, Arnor the earls' skald, Thorkel Skallason, and King Harald Hardrade himself.
1. HARALD ESCAPES FROM THE BATTLE OF STIKLESTAD.
Harald, son of Sigurd Syr, brother of Olaf the Saint, by the same mother, was at the battle of Stiklestad, and was fifteen years old when King Olaf the Saint fell, as was before related. Harald was wounded, and escaped with other fugitives. So says Thiodolf:—
"At Haug the fire-sparks from his shield Flew round the king's head on the field, As blow for blow, for Olaf's sake,
His sword and shield would give and take. Bulgaria's conqueror, I ween,
Had scarcely fifteen winters seen, When from his murdered brother's side His unhelmed head he had to hide."
Ragnvald Brusason led Harald from the battle, and the night after the fray took him to a bonde who dwelt in a forest far from other people. The peasant received Harald, and kept him concealed; and Harald was waited upon until he was quite cured of his wounds. Then the bonde's son attended him on the way east over the ridge of the land, and they went by all the forest paths they could, avoiding the common road. The bonde's son did not know who it was he was attending; and as they were riding together between two uninhabited forests, Harald made these verses:
"My wounds were bleeding as I rode; And down below the bondes strode, Killing the wounded with the sword, The followers of their rightful lord. From wood to wood I crept along, Unnoticed by the bonde-throng;
'Who knows,' I thought, 'a day may come My name will yet be great at home.'"
He went eastward over the ridge through Jamtaland and Helsingjaland, and came to Svithjod, where he found Ragnvald Brusason, and many others of King Olaf's men who had fled from the battle at Stiklestad, and they remained there till winter was over.
2. HARALD'S JOURNEY TO CONSTANTINOPLE.
The spring after (A.D. 1031) Harald and Ragnvald got ships, and went east in summer to Russia to King Jarisleif, and were with him all the following winter. So says the skald Bolverk:—
"The king's sharp sword lies clean and Prepared in foreign lands to fight: Our ravens croak to have their fill, The wolf howls from the distant hill. Our brave king is to Russia gone,— Braver than he on earth there's none; His sharp sword will carve many feast To wolf and raven in the East."
King Jarisleif gave Harald and Ragnvald a kind reception, and made Harald and Ellif, the son of Earl Ragnvald, chiefs over the land-defence men of the king. So says Thiodolf:—
"Where Ellif was, one heart and hand The two chiefs had in their command; In wedge or line their battle order Was ranged by both without disorder. The eastern Vindland men they drove Into a corner; and they move
The Lesians, although ill at ease,
To take the laws their conquerors please."
Harald remained several years in Russia, and travelled far and wide in the Eastern land. Then he began his expedition out to Greece, and had a great suite of men with him; and on he went to Constantinople. So says Bolverk:—
"Before the cold sea-curling blast The cutter from the land flew past, Her black yards swinging to and fro, Her shield-hung gunwale dipping low. The king saw glancing o'er the bow Constantinople's metal glow
From tower and roof, and painted sails Gliding past towns and wooded vales."
3. OF HARALD.
At that time the Greek empire was ruled by the Empress Zoe the Great, and with her Michael Catalactus. Now when Harald came to Constantinople he presented himself to the empress, and went into her pay; and immediately, in autumn, went on board the galleys manned with troops which went out to the Greek sea. Harald had his own men along with him. Now Harald had been but a short time in the army before all the Varings flocked to him, and they all joined together when there was a battle. It thus came to pass that Harald was made chief of the Varings. There was a chief over all the troops who was called Gyrger, and who was a relation of the empress. Gyrger and Harald went round among all the Greek islands, and fought much against the corsairs.
4. OF HARALD AND GYRGER CASTING LOTS.
It happened once that Gyrger and the Varings were going through the country, and they resolved to take their night quarters in a wood; and as the Varings came first to the ground, they chose the place which was best for pitching their tents upon, which was the highest ground; for it is the nature of the land there to be soft when rain falls, and therefore it is bad to choose a low situation for your tents. Now when Gyrger, the chief of the army, came up, and saw where the Varings had set up their tents, he told them to remove, and pitch their tents elsewhere, saying he would himself pitch his tents on their ground. Harald replies, "If ye come first to the night quarter, ye take up your ground, and we must go pitch our tents at some other place where we best can. Now do ye so, in the same way, and find a place where ye will. It is, I think, the privilege of us Varings here in the dominions of the Greek emperor to be free, and independent of all but their own commanders, and bound only to serve the emperor and empress." They disputed long and hotly about this, and both sides armed themselves, and were on the way to fight for it; but men of understanding came between and separated them. They said it would be better to come to an agreement about such questions, so that in future no dispute could arise. It came thus to an arbitration between them, at which the best and most sagacious men should give their judgment in the case. At this arbitration it was determined, with the consent of all parties, that lots should be thrown into a box, and the Greeks and Varings should draw which was first to ride, or to row, or to take place in a harbour, or to choose tent ground; and each side should be satisfied with what the drawing of the lots gave them. Accordingly the lots were made and marked. Harald said to Gyrger, "Let me see what mark thou hast put upon thy lot, that we may not both mark our lots in the same way." He did so. Then Harald marked his lot, and put it into the box along with the other. The man who was to draw out the lots then took up one of the lots between his fingers, held it up in the air, and said, "This lot shall be the first to ride, and to row, and to take place in harbour and on the tent field." Harald seized his band, snatched the die, and threw it into the sea, and called out, "That was our lot!" Gyrger said, "Why did you not let other people see it?" Harald replies, "Look at the one remaining in the box,—there you see your own mark upon it." Accordingly the lot which was left behind was examined, and all men saw that Gyrger's mark was upon it, and accordingly the judgment was given that the Varings had gained the first choice in all they had been quarrelling about. There were many things they quarrelled about, but the end always was that Harald got his own way.