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 King Sverker I of Sweden
 
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Translated from the Old Norse by Gavin Chapell
 

from "The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek"

HJALMAR'S DEATHSONG

“I felt fear once, 
when they bellowed, 
abandoning the longships 
(and bellowing 
ascended the island) 
inglorious, 
twelve men together.”
 
Then Hjalmar said to Odd, “Do you see now that all our men are fallen, and it seems to me likely that tonight we will all be Odin guests in Valhalla.” And other than in that one speech, Hjalmar never said a word of fear. 
 
Odd said, “This would be my advice, that we flee into the woods. The two of us will not be able to fight the twelve that have killed twelve of the most valiant in in Sweden.” 
 
Then Hjalmar said: “Let us never flee away from our enemies, but rather withstand their weapons; I want to fight the berserks.” 
 
Odd said, “But I am not wishing to guest with Odin tonight, and these berserks will all dead before the evening, but we two shall live.” 
 
These words are proved in these verses; Hjalmar said:
 
“Mighty are the warriors 
leaving the warships, 
twelve men together 
inglorious; 
I think this evening 
I will be Odin’s guest,
two sworn brothers, 
but the twelve will live.”
 
Odd said:
 
“To your word will I
provide an answer: 
This evening they will 
be Odin’s guests,
twelve berserks, 
we two shall live.”
 
Then Hjalmar saw that Angantyr had Tyrfing in hand, since it shone like the sunlight of dawn. Hjalmar said, “Will you fight Angantyr alone or his eleven brothers?” 
 
Odd said: “I will fight Angantyr. He will give big blows with Tyrfing, but I believe my shirt is better than your armour for protection.” 
 
Hjalmar said: “When have you come before me in battle? You want to fight Angantyr that you thought it the fiercer battle. Now I am principal in this duel and this is not what I promised the Swedish princess, to let you or anyone else fight this duel for me, and I will fight Angantyr,” - and then he drew his sword and went against Angantyr, and each showed each other the way to Valhalla. 
Then Hjalmar and Angantyr fought, and wasted little time between each of the massive strokes they gave. Odd called out to the berserks and said:
 
“One shall fight one 
unless they’re wastrels, 
strong fighters,
unless their courage fail.”
 
Then Hjorvard came forward, and he had a savage fight with Odd. But Odd’s silk shirt was so tough that no weapons could bite it, and he had a sword so good that it cut through the armour as if it was cloth. And he gave Hjorvard only a few blows before he fell dead. Then Hervard stepped forward and went the same way, then Hrani, then one after another, but Odd fought so hard that he killed all eleven brothers. From the grim game comes the tale that Hjalmar received sixteen wounds, but Angantyr fell dead. Odd went to where Hjalmar was, and said:
 
“What concerns you, Hjalmar? 
your colour is pale. 
Multiple wounds are 
wasting your strength; 
your helmet is hacked, 
and the harness on your side, 
now I deem you have seen 
the end of your days.”
 
Hjalmar said:
 
I have sixteen wounds; my byrnie is split,
My sight is darkened, I cannot see.
Angantyr’s blade entered my heart:
That sharp sword was steeped in poison.
 
And again he said:
 
Five were the farms I had for my own,
But never have I known joy of them;
Now I must lie with my life taken,
Wounded by the sword on Samsey.
In the hall, the huskarls drink mead,
At my father’s, feted with treasures:
Much mead makes men drowsy,
But the spoor of swords keeps me on Samsey.
I went from the white-cloaked woman,
To Agnafit on the edge of the sea;
It is true what she told me there,
That I would never be near her again.
Slip the red-gold ring from my hand,
And bear it to young Ingibjorg;
Her misery will remain in her thoughts,
For I’ll never be met in Uppsala again.
I sailed away from the songs of women,
Eagerly voyaging eastwards with Soti;
Travelling swiftly after joining a horde, 
Left at last my friends in the hall.
From the east the raven flies, abandons his bough,
After him the eagle flies as well:
I feed him with flesh for a final time,
Now he will guzzle my dripping gore.

 

 Copyright © Gavin Chapell, 2014.