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Stories of the Vikings by  Mary MacGregor

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HAKON IS WOUNDED

[61] KING HAKON had little peace during his reign, for again and again Eirik's sons came on Viking expeditions to Norway, and harried the country. After Hakon had reigned for twenty years they came against him, not only with their own Viking band, but with a large army of Danes, which had been given to them by the King of Denmark. By some mischance the enemy had left their ships and marched into Norway before the beacon fires were lighted to give warning of their approach. A peasant, however, hastened to the king to tell him that a great force had entered the country.

Then Hakon called together his wisest men and asked them if he should flee northward to gather an army large enough to withstand the enemy.

Among these wise men was an old peasant named Egil Ulserk. In the days of Harald Fairhair, Egil had been a sturdy [62] standard-bearer and a "hardy man-at-arms withal." Now, though he was old and frail, he answered the king's words thus: "I was in several battles with thy father, Harald the king, and he gave battle sometimes with many, sometimes with few people, but he always came off the victor. Never did I hear him ask counsel of his friends whether he should fly, and neither shalt thou get any such counsel from us, king. But as we know we have a brave leader, thou shalt get a trusty following from us."

Hakon the king was well pleased with this speech, and at once split up a war-arrow which he sent throughout the country as a token that his warriors should hasten to him with all speed.

Egil Ulserk smiled grimly as he said, "At one time the peace had lasted so long I was afraid I might come to die the death of old age, within-doors, upon a bed of straw, although I would rather fall in battle following my chief. And now it may turn out in the end as I wished it to be."

The battle was fought in a large, flat field at the foot of a long ridge. Egil begged the king to give him ten men with ten banners, for the old man had a plan in his mind.

[63] The combat was sharp, for Eirik's sons had a much larger force than King Hakon. But when the battle was raging most fiercely, the Danish troops caught sight of banner after banner waving over the summit of the ridge. It seemed to them that a large army must be following the banners, and in a sudden panic lest it should cut them off from their ships, the troops turned and fled.

Gamle, one of Eirik's sons, saw that the banners were but a device to startle his men, and he ordered his war-horn to be blown and his standard waved aloft in order to stay their flight. But while the Vikings, who had long fought under Gamle, answered to the battle-cry, the army of Danes fled to their ships. Egil's ten banners had done the work he meant them to do.

Then Gamle marched toward the old standard-bearer, and fought with him until the old warrior fell with his men around him. At that moment Hakon rushed up and used his battle-axe so fiercely that the enemy was forced to give way.

When Eirik's sons saw that their men were vanquished, they turned and fled to their ships, followed by those who had escaped from Hakon and his men. But when they [64] reached the shore they found to their dismay that the Danes had pushed many of their ships out to sea, while the others lay high and dry on the beach. There was nothing left for them to do save to plunge into the sea and try to swim to the ships in which the Danes had set sail. But Gamle was drowned. Those Vikings who reached the ships sailed away and reached Denmark in safety.

King Hakon ordered that all the ships left by Eirik's sons should be drawn up to the field of battle. In them were laid Egil Ulserk, the brave old standard-bearer, and all those who had fallen with him. The ships were then covered with earth and stones, and the hillock or mound thus formed was marked by large upright stones.

Six years later Eirik's sons came yet again to fight against Hakon, and once again the king was unprepared for battle. For he was feasting with his friends when his watchmen saw ships come sailing towards the island on which the king and his court were then dwelling.

It was not pleasant to have to disturb King Hakon while he was seated at the supper-table, but at length one of the watchmen stole in, and standing quietly before the [65] king, he said, "Short is the hour for acting and long the hour for feasting."

Hakon at once sprang to his feet, for he knew that danger must be near, and, ordering the tables to be removed, he went to the door and looked out over the sea. As he gazed, long-ship after long-ship came into sight and sailed steadily toward the shore.


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SHORT IS THE HOUR FOR ACTING AND LONG THE HOUR FOR FEASTING.

Then the king girded his sword to his side, on his head he placed his burnished helmet, and in his hands he bore his shield and spear. His men also speedily armed themselves and stood up in battle array.

The enemy had landed, and led by King Harald, who was now the eldest of Eirik's sons, approached Hakon's small but determined force.

Hurling their spears, the two armies rushed upon each other with drawn swords. Hakon was always in the forefront of the fight, and the sun shone upon his helmet until it gleamed so bright that it became a target at which many weapons were aimed. But one of his men, seeing the king's danger, covered the helmet, so that it shone no longer.

Then the enemy cried, "Does the King of the Norsemen hide himself, or has he fled?" Hakon heard the taunt and cried, "Come on [66] as ye are coming, and ye will find the King of the Norsemen."

Swinging his battle-axe and rushing forward, one of the enemy smote at the spot from whence the king's voice seemed to come, but the king's guards thrust so hard at him that he fell back and Hakon was still unhurt.

But now a great rage came upon the king, and taking his sword in both hands, he cut down the enemy right and left. And for fear of him, Harald, Eirik's son, turned to flee, and still Hakon followed, slaughtering all whose path he crossed.

Then, so it is said, a little shoe-boy ran toward Hakon, crying, "Make room for the king-killer," and as he cried, he drew his bow, and an arrow sped into the arm of the king. However that may be, amid all the weapons that were hurled at the king one did indeed wound him. Yet still both he and his men pursued the fugitives and killed many of them, while others escaped in their ships as quickly as was possible.

But now Hakon's wound became very painful, and he went on board his ship to have it bound up. But the bleeding would not cease, and as the day drew to a close [67] the king's strength began to fail. He asked to be taken to his house, but when his men had sailed but a little way toward it, they were forced to turn and put in again to land, for the king was sinking fast.

Knowing that he must soon leave his land, Hakon called his friends around him and bade them send a message to Eirik's sons, to tell them that they should now rule over Norway. For Hakon had no son to rule in his stead.

"And if fate," said the king, "should prolong my days, I will at any rate leave the country and go to a Christian land and do penance for what I have done against God; but should I die in heathen lands, give me any burial you think fit."

Soon after these words King Hakon died, and many, both friends and enemies, sorrowed, for they said, "Never again shall we see such a king in Norway."

His people buried him clad in armour. Though he had been baptized, they believed that their king would go to Valhalla, for he had been a brave warrior, nor had he ever destroyed the temples of the Gods.


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