#3 Saga of King Hrolf Kraki: Part Three

By: Hugin

 

It’s interesting to see the contempt with which many of the great Norse warriors viewed the Berserkers.  This final section of The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki begins with Bodvar criticising Hrolf for becoming a coward when dealing with his Berserkers.  Bodvar and Hott agreed that the Berserkers should be put in their place and so, when the Berserkers asked them if they believed they could equal their strength, Bodvar and Hott replied that they could not only equal it, but beat it as well.  When the Berserkers realised that they weren’t as strong as Bodvar and Hott, they became enraged.  Hrolf, however, said that any man who caused a rift between his followers would pay with their life and, once he had said that, the hall became peaceful again.

Hrolf had become one of the greatest kings to have ever ruled but, according to Bodvar, one thing still stopped him from being the greatest.  This was the fact that King Hrolf had never retrieved the treasure that King Adils had promised to Helgi.  Although Hrolf knew that Adils was a cruel and cunning man, Bodvar successfully persuaded him to try and claim the treasure.

As Hrolf and his followers journeyed to the kingdom of Adils they met with an old farmer, Hrani, who invited all of them to stay at his house.  Hrani looked after them all very well, despite appearing to be nothing more than a poor farmer.  On the first night, the temperature in Hrani’s house was very cold and not all of Hrolf’s company could stand it.  In the morning, Hrani explained that anyone who could not stand the cold could not face King Adils.  The men were duly sent home.

The following day, on their travels, King Hrolf and his men met with the same farmer at a different farm.  Although they were unsure what to make of this, they accepted his offer of hospitality and spent the night at the farm.  During the night, all the men were hit by a sudden thirst and some of them got up to take a drink.  Hrani told Hrolf that those men should also be sent home.  There was a great storm on the following day, so Hrolf and his men spent another night with the farmer.  The fire that had been lit for them made all the men feel extremely hot and all but Hrolf and his champions moved away.  In the morning, Hrani told Hrolf to drop the men who had been unable to cope with the heat.  Hrolf agreed and he and his champions stayed with the farmer for another three days.

When Hrolf and his champions reached Adils, the evil King received them with a great deal of graciousness, although he was very cruel towards Svipdag who took it upon himself to be the “go-between” for the two kings.  When Hrolf and his champions entered the hall, a group of Adils’ men rushed out and began attacking them.  However, Hrolf’s group was too quick for them and Adils watched, “swollen with rage”, as he watched his men being killed by Hrolf’s superior warriors.

Adils ordered his men to make a fire in the hall, apparently to create comfort for his “guests”.  However, he ordered the fire to be constantly fuelled and Hrolf’s men soon began to overheat.  In retribution for this Bodvar and Svipdag threw two of Adils’ men onto the fire. Adils escaped by running to Yrsa’s (his wife) chamber where she told him that he was the cruellest and most terrible man for first killing Helgi and then trying to kill her son.

Adils used sorcery to create a troll that took the form of a boar.  However, Hrolf’s dog, Gram, mauled the boar by tearing its ears off and the boar retreated.  After realising that his sorcery had failed, Adils set fire to the building where Hrolf and his champion were locked in. However, Hrolf’s men threw themselves against the wooden walls and escaped by literally breaking out of the building.  A short battle followed, but Adils’ men were no match for Hrolf and his champions and so those who were left alive surrendered quickly.  Adils disappeared, and Yrsa gave her son all the treasure that was rightfully his, and some that wasn’t!  After that, they parted company and Hrolf headed back to his kingdom.

On the journey back, Hrolf threw a valuable gold ring down on the ground and Adils appeared and bent down to pick it up.  As he did so, Hrolf killed him.  Another interesting thing that happened on their journey home was that they met with the farmer, Hrani, who offered them some weapons.  They looked old and worthless so Hrolf did not accept the offer.  However, the following day Hrolf realised that Hrani must have been Odin, the chief god, and Bodvar advised Hrolf that they should not take part in many more battles after offending Odin by refusing to take his offer of weapons.

For a long time, they lived peacefully.  However, Skuld, Hrolf’s half-sister, became angry that her husband was forced to be answerable to her brother and tried to create war between them.  When her husband refused, she took it upon herself to rid them of Hrolf.  Skuld led an army against Hrolf at Yule.  During the battle, it was noticed that Bodvar was not present but a great bear was protecting the king.  When Hott woke Bodvar, the latter explained that he would be of less help to the king awake and, at the same time, the bear disappeared.

An enormous boar came out of Skuld’s ranks, shooting arrows from each of its bristles.  By the end of the battle, Hrolf and all his champions were dead, and Skuld had taken the kingdom by force.  However, as he had promised, Elk-Frodi avenged his brother’s death and killed Skuld and all of her followers.  As for Hrolf, he and each of his champions were given a burial mound and each was buried with his own weapon.

“And here ends the saga of King Hrolf Kraki and his champions.”

Here, in the final section of the Saga, the themes that have previously been introduced rise to the fore.  Revenge and justice knit together until any difference becomes too difficult to decipher.  Is it really justice that causes Bodvar and Svipdag to throw men onto a fire simply because they were too hot?  If indeed it is, then why do I get the feeling that Skuld is the enemy for “avenging” the fact that she and her husband were tricked into serving Hrolf?  As with Hvit in the last section, Skuld is definitely the villain of the piece; a woman is bad enough, but an elvish woman is clearly like hell on Earth if you’re a Norseman!  Adils is almost like a pantomime villain, not helped by the fact that (in the original saga) his death is brought about by Hrolf slicing off his buttocks!  Not only this, but he fled his own battle, making him laughable to any Norseman with their specific ideas about honour.

Magic and sorcery is once again important in the everyday way of life.  Both Adils and Skuld use sorcery to try and defeat King Hrolf, the evil Queen being the successful one of course.  As well as this, we saw the entrance of the Chief of the Norse gods, Odin.  Although in the saga (written in Christian times and probably by Icelandic monks) he is referred to as an evil spirit, he is certainly anything but to Hrolf, whose victory he secures by separating the weaker men from the champions.  He loses his temper, however, when Hrolf refuses his offer of weapons and, in doing so, seals his own fate at the hands of his half-sister.

The importance of numerology in this part is also notable.  The number three plays a vital role in the Saga: Odin sets Hrolf’s men three challenges and then invites them to stay for a further three nights.  In Norse mythology, the numbers nine and three were both of great importance, cropping up several times in most myths, legends and sagas.

 

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