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The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway

Halfdan the Black Saga

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #15b

Of this saga there are other versions found in "Fagrskinna" and in "Flateyjarbok". The "Flateyjarbok" version is to a great extent a copy of Snorre. The story about Halfdan's dream is found both in "Fagrskinna" and in "Flateyjarbok". The probability is that both Snorre and the author of "Fagrskinna" must have transcribed the same original text. -- Ed.


Halfdan was a year old when his father was killed, and his mother
Asa set off immediately with him westwards to Agder, and set
herself there in the kingdom which her father Harald had
possessed.  Halfdan grew up there, and soon became stout and
strong; and, by reason of his black hair, was called Halfdan the
Black.  When he was eighteen years old he took his kingdom in
Agder, and went immediately to Vestfold, where he divided that
kingdom, as before related, with his brother Olaf.  The same
autumn he went with an army to Vingulmark against King Gandalf. 
They had many battles, and sometimes one, sometimes the other
gained the victory; but at last they agreed that Halfdan should
have half of Vingulmark, as his father Gudrod had had it before.
Then King Halfdan proceeded to Raumarike, and subdued it.  King
Sigtryg, son of King Eystein, who then had his residence in
Hedemark, and who had subdued Raumarike before, having heard of
this, came out with his army against King Halfdan, and there was
great battle, in which King Halfdan was victorious; and just as
King Sigtryg and his troops were turning about to fly, an arrow
struck him under the left arm, and he fell dead.  Halfdan then
laid the whole of Raumarike under his power.  King Eystein's
second son, King Sigtryg's brother, was also called Eystein, and
was then king in Hedemark.  As soon as Halfdan had returned to
Vestfold, King Eystein went out with his army to Raumarike, and
laid the whole country in subjection to him.


When King Halfdan heard of these disturbances in Raumarike, he
again gathered his army together; and went out against King
Eystein.  A battle took place between them, and Halfdan gained
the victory, and Eystein fled up to Hedemark, pursued by Halfdan.
Another battle took place, in which Halfdan was again victorious;
and Eystein fled northwards, up into the Dales to the herse
Gudbrand.  There he was strengthened with new people, and in
winter he went towards Hedemark, and met Halfdan the Black upon a
large island which lies in the Mjosen lake.  There a great battle
was fought, and many people on both sides were slain, but Halfdan
won the victory.  There fell Guthorm, the son of the herse
Gudbrand, who was one of the finest men in the Uplands.  Then
Eystein fled north up the valley, and sent his relation Halvard
Skalk to King Halfdan to beg for peace. On consideration of their
relationship, King Halfdan gave King Eystein half of Hedemark,
which he and his relations had held before; but kept to himself
Thoten, and the district called Land.  He likewise appropriated
to himself Hadeland, and thus became a mighty king.


Halfdan the Black got a wife called Ragnhild, a daughter of
Harald Gulskeg (Goldbeard), who was a king in Sogn.  They had a
son, to whom Harald gave his own name; and the boy was brought up
in Sogn, by his mother's father, King Harald.  Now when this
Harald had lived out his days nearly, and was become weak, having
no son, he gave his dominions to his daughter's son Harald, and
gave him his title of king; and he died soon after.  The same
winter his daughter Ragnhild died; and the following spring the
young Harald fell sick and died at ten years of age.  As soon as
Halfdan the Black heard of his son's death, he took the road
northwards to Sogn with a great force, and was well received.  He
claimed the heritage and dominion after his son; and no
opposition being made, he took the whole kingdom.  Earl Atle
Mjove (the Slender), who was a friend of King Halfdan, came to
him from Gaular; and the king set him over the Sogn district, to
judge in the country according to the country's laws, and collect
scat upon the king's account.  Thereafter King Halfdan proceeded
to his kingdom in the Uplands.


In autumn, King Halfdan proceeded to Vingulmark.  One night when
he was there in guest quarters, it happened that about midnight a
man came to him who had been on the watch on horseback, and told
him a war force was come near to the house.  The king instantly
got up, ordered his men to arm themselves, and went out of the
house and drew them up in battle order.  At the same moment,
Gandalf's sons, Hysing and Helsing, made their appearance with a
large army.  There was a great battle; but Halfdan being
overpowered by the numbers of people fled to the forest, leaving
many of his men on this spot.  His foster-father, Olver Spake
(the Wise), fell here.  The people now came in swarms to King
Halfdan, and he advanced to seek Gandalf's sons.  They met at
Eid, near Lake Oieren, and fought there.  Hysing and Helsing
fell, and their brother Hake saved himself by flight.  King
Halfdan then took possession of the whole of Vingulmark, and Hake
fled to Alfheimar.


Sigurd Hjort was the name of a king in Ringerike, who was stouter
and stronger than any other man, and his equal could not be seen
for a handsome appearance.  His father was Helge Hvasse (the
Sharp); and his mother was Aslaug, a daughter of Sigurd the worm-
eyed, who again was a son of Ragnar Lodbrok.  It is told of
Sigurd that when he was only twelve years old he killed in single
combat the berserk Hildebrand, and eleven others of his comrades;
and many are the deeds of manhood told of him in a long saga
about his feats.  Sigurd had two children, one of whom was a
daughter, called Ragnhild, then twenty years of age, and an
excellent brisk girl.  Her brother Guthorm was a youth.  It is
related in regard to Sigurd's death that he had a custom of
riding out quite alone in the uninhabited forest to hunt the wild
beasts that are hurtful to man, and he was always very eager at
this sport.  One day he rode out into the forest as usual, and
when he had ridden a long way he came out at a piece of cleared
land near to Hadeland.  There the berserk Hake came against him
with thirty men, and they fought.  Sigurd Hjort fell there, after
killing twelve of Hake's men; and Hake himself lost one hand, and
had three other wounds.  Then Hake and his men rode to Sigurd's
house, where they took his daughter Ragnhild and her brother
Guthorm, and carried them, with much property and valuable
articles, home to Hadeland, where Hake had many great farms.  He
ordered a feast to be prepared, intending to hold his wedding
with Ragnhild; but the time passed on account of his wounds,
which healed slowly; and the berserk Hake of Hadeland had to keep
his bed, on account of his wounds, all the autumn and beginning
of winter.  Now King Halfdan was in Hedemark at the Yule
entertainments when he heard this news; and one morning early,
when the king was dressed, he called to him Harek Gand, and told
him to go over to Hadeland, and bring him Ragnhild, Sigurd
Hjort's daughter.  Harek got ready with a hundred men, and made
his journey so that they came over the lake to Hake's house in
the grey of the morning, and beset all the doors and stairs of
the places where the house-servants slept.  Then they broke into
the sleeping-room where Hake slept, took Ragnhild, with her
brother Guthorm, and all the goods that were there, and set fire
to the house-servants' place, and burnt all the people in it. 
Then they covered over a magnificent waggon, placed Ragnhild and
Guthorm in it, and drove down upon the ice.  Hake got up and went
after them a while; but when he came to the ice on the lake, he
turned his sword-hilt to the ground and let himself fall upon the
point, so that the sword went through him.  He was buried under a
mound on the banks of the lake.  When King Halfdan, who was very
quick of sight, saw the party returning over the frozen lake, and
with a covered waggon, he knew that their errand was accomplished
according to his desire.  Thereupon he ordered the tables to be
set out, and sent people all round in the neighbourhood to invite
plenty of guests; and the same day there was a good feast which
was also Halfdan's marriage-feast with Ragnhild, who became a
great queen.  Ragnhild's mother was Thorny, a daughter of
Klakharald king in Jutland, and a sister of Thrye Dannebod who
was married to the Danish king, Gorm the Old, who then ruled over
the Danish dominions.


Ragnhild, who was wise and intelligent, dreamt great dreams.  She
dreamt, for one, that she was standing out in her herb-garden,
and she took a thorn out of her shift; but while she was holding
the thorn in her hand it grew so that it became a great tree, one
end of which struck itself down into the earth, and it became
firmly rooted; and the other end of the tree raised itself so
high in the air that she could scarcely see over it, and it
became also wonderfully thick.  The under part of the tree was
red with blood, but the stem upwards was beautifully green and
the branches white as snow.  There were many and great limbs to
the tree, some high up, others low down; and so vast were the
tree's branches that they seemed to her to cover all Norway, and
even much more.


King Halfdan never had dreams, which appeared to him an
extraordinary circumstance; and he told it to a man called
Thorleif Spake (the Wise), and asked him what his advice was
about it.  Thorleif said that what he himself did, when he wanted
to have any revelation by dream, was to take his sleep in a
swine-sty, and then it never failed that he had dreams.  The king
did so, and the following dream was revealed to him.  He thought
he had the most beautiful hair, which was all in ringlets; some
so long as to fall upon the ground, some reaching to the middle
of his legs, some to his knees, some to his loins or the middle
of his sides, some to his neck, and some were only as knots
springing from his head.  These ringlets were of various colours;
but one ringlet surpassed all the others in beauty, lustre, and
size.  This dream he told to Thorleif, who interpreted it thus:
-- There should be a great posterity from him, and his
descendants should rule over countries with great, but not all
with equally great, honour; but one of his race should be more
celebrated than all the others.  It was the opinion of people
that this ringlet betokened King Olaf the Saint.

King Halfdan was a wise man, a man of truth and uprightness --
who made laws, observed them himself, and obliged others to
observe them.  And that violence should not come in place of the
laws, he himself fixed the number of criminal acts in law, and
the compensations, mulcts, or penalties, for each case, according
to every one's birth and dignity (1).

Queen Ragnhild gave birth to a son, and water was poured over
him, and the name of Harald given him, and he soon grew stout and
remarkably handsome.  As he grew up he became very expert at all
feats, and showed also a good understanding.  He was much beloved
by his mother, but less so by his father.


(1)  The penalty, compensation, or manbod for every injury, due
     the party injured, or to his family and next of kin if the
     injury was the death or premeditated murder of the party,
     appears to have been fixed for every rank and condition,
     from the murder of the king down to the maiming or beating a
     man's cattle or his slave.  A man for whom no compensation
     was due was a dishonored person, or an outlaw.  It appears
     to have been optional with the injured party, or his kin if
     he had been killed, to take the mulct or compensation, or to
     refuse it, and wait for an opportunity of taking vengeance
     for the injury on the party who inflicted it, or on his kin.
     A part of each mulct or compensation was due to the king;
     and, these fines or penalties appear to have constituted a
     great proportion of the king's revenues, and to have been
     settled in the Things held in every district for
     administering the law with the lagman. -- L.


King Halfdan was at a Yule-feast in Hadeland, where a wonderful
thing happened one Yule evening.  When the great number of guests
assembled were going to sit down to table, all the meat and all
the ale disappeared from the table.  The king sat alone very
confused in mind; all the others set off, each to his home, in
consternation.  That the king might come to some certainty about
what had occasioned this event, he ordered a Fin to be seized who
was particularly knowing, and tried to force him to disclose the
truth; but however much he tortured the man, he got nothing out
of him.  The Fin sought help particularly from Harald, the king's
son, and Harald begged for mercy for him, but in vain.  Then
Harald let him escape against the king's will, and accompanied
the man himself.  On their journey they came to a place where the
man's chief had a great feast, and it appears they were well
received there.  When they had been there until spring, the chief
said, "Thy father took it much amiss that in winter I took some
provisions from him, -- now I will repay it to thee by a joyful
piece of news: thy father is dead; and now thou shalt return
home, and take possession of the whole kingdom which he had, and
with it thou shalt lay the whole kingdom of Norway under thee."


Halfdan the Black was driving from a feast in Hadeland, and it so
happened that his road lay over the lake called Rand.  It was in
spring, and there was a great thaw.  They drove across the bight
called Rykinsvik, where in winter there had been a pond broken in
the ice for cattle to drink at, and where the dung had fallen
upon the ice the thaw had eaten it into holes.  Now as the king
drove over it the ice broke, and King Halfdan and many with him
perished.  He was then forty years old.  He had been one of the
most fortunate kings in respect of good seasons.  The people
thought so much of him, that when his death was known and his
body was floated to Ringerike to bury it there, the people of
most consequence from Raumarike, Vestfold, and Hedemark came to
meet it.  All desired to take the body with them to bury it in
their own district, and they thought that those who got it would
have good crops to expect.  At last it was agreed to divide the
body into four parts.  The head was laid in a mound at Stein in
Ringerike, and each of the others took his part home and laid it
in a mound; and these have since been called Halfdan's Mounds.

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