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HARDRADAS SAGA

Lines on Harald Hardrada Sigurdsson inspired by his life and the warriors way. Written by Giles Kristian

I was fifteen years a youth When the steel-storm raged at Stiklestad And my kinsman King Olaf, not then a saint, In golden helm and mail clad Fought King Sveins hordes in high-summers heat. Like thunder the shieldwalls clashed,
Hungry blades biting again and again. Forward, forward! our desperate cry, On, Christs men, cross men, kings men! And ravens croaked in the darkening sky.

Like a forest thinned of ash and oak


Our warriors fell in the blood-drenched fray. Yet Olaf, my brother, fought bravely still As our shieldwall broke in the gore-stained day And the noble king was brought to bay.

Against a rock we held our ground, A storm-tossed, sinking, shivered wreck. And I saw the good king cruelly struck In belly, leg and royal neck. It is hard to fight against such ill luck. But fight I did and killed men too
In the sword song and the arrow hiss, And then was felled against that rock By a gory axes thin-lipped kiss. A good man bent and bore me off.

I took the east-way then, and far To the lands of Grand Prince Jaroslav, And learnt of kingship, craft and court And of the wiles a king must have. Upon the Russian steppe I fought.

Then on, as bleak gales lashed dark prows,


Our longships ploughed the Dnieper. Five hundred raven-feeders came, Our oarblades plunging deeper I went to make my fame.

Amongst the copper, sun-lit domes


Of the Greatest City, Miklagard, I fought for emperors in their wars, I seasoned, tempered and weathered hard. I fed the wolf and edged my claws.

For ten long years my sword drank deep


Of Bulgar, knight and Saracen. My sea chest brimmed with corpses gold, I conquered lands and buried men, And wove a yarn for skalds.

And yet my fame-thirst stood unslaked,


And blood-feud marrowed every bone. I took my ship and shining hoard And aimed her prow at Norways throne. My dead brothers whispers would not be ignored.

King Magnus feared me and rightly so,


His arse between two thrones, And gave me half of Norway For a chest of gold and gleaming stones. He had no heart for the fray.

Then soon enough a blue-skinned corpse,


He lay beneath the sodden loam. What I had sown was mine to reap, I lay both arms upon the throne, Then rode my sea-steed south upon the darkling deep.

Oaken keels sliced the surging sea,


The Danemen trembled in their halls. We rolled along that ragged coast like thunder, Our roller-horses gorged with thralls And chattel maidens worth their weight in plunder.

For fifteen years I lashed them with my fury


And left their skies blood-red ablaze. I ventured far on the north sea-road, To the darksome bounds of the end of days And the fog-veiled abyss beyond the whales way.

Then Englands ring-giver met his death


And a warrior took his throne. Yet Magnus, long dead, should have worn the crown, Thus his claim became my own, And Norwegian woods came crashing down.

I built a fleet of sleek wave-steeds And honed my blood-worms anger. Then filled my ships with fearsome men, The destroyers of eagles hunger. We came to hack and rip and rend. At Fulford Gate the battle-sweat flew.
My banners haft pierced English sod. We made such slaughter of their earls, We crossed the dead-crammed swamp dry-shod And thinned them of their fine housecarls.

Then on to York and Stamford Bridge,


The sky-candle flares this doomed autumn day. Far-flung from our brynja and mighty oar-steeds, We did not expect the bitter blood-fray. Now a spear-din rouses our mighty deeds.

The fury grips me in its claws, I see their king in the gore-stained throng And I soak the earth with slaughters dew, As the ravens croak their greedy song, And Sword-Norse hack and slash and hew. The wound-sea flows now all around,
And their Harolds gift before me lies, Seven long feet of English ground. The arrow like a swallow flies And weaves my death beneath English skies. End