Erling the Bold Part 33

Well was it for all concerned that the men who led them that day were so full of forethought and energy, for scarcely had they completed their preparations and embarked their forces when the ships of Harald Fairhair swept round the northern promontory.

If the fleet of the small kings of Horlingdal and the south was imposing, that of the King of Norway was still more so. Besides, being stronger in numbers, and many of the warships being larger--his own huge vessel, the Dragon, led the van, appearing like a gorgeous and gigantic sea-monster.

The King was very proud of this longship. It had recently been built by him, and was one of the largest that had ever been seen in Norway. The exact dimensions of it are not now known, but we know that it had thirty-two banks for rowers, from which we may infer that it must have been of nearly the same size with the Long Serpent, a war vessel of thirty-four banks, which was built about the end of the tenth century, and some of the dimensions of which are given in the Saga of Olaf Tryggvesson. The length of her keel that rested on the gra.s.s, we are told, was about 111 feet, which is not far short of the length of the keel of one of our forty-two gun frigates. As these warships were long in proportion to their breadth, like our modern steamers, this speaks to a size approaching 400 tons burden. As we have said, the Dragon was a gorgeous vessel. It had a high p.o.o.p and forecastle, a low waist, or middle part, and a splendidly gilt and painted stern, figurehead, and tail. The sides, which were, as usual, hung round with the red and white painted shields of the crew, were pierced for sixty-four oars, that is, thirty-two on each side, being two oars to each bank or bench, and as there were three men to each oar, this gave a total crew of 192 men; but in truth the vessel contained, including steersmen and supernumeraries, above 200 men. Under the feet of the rowers, in the waist, were chests of arms, piles of stones to be used as missiles, provisions, clothing, goods, and stores, all of which were protected by a deck of movable hatches. On this deck the crew slept at nights, sheltered by an awning or sail, when it was not convenient for them to land and sleep on the beach in their tents, with which all the vessels of the Nors.e.m.e.n were usually supplied. There was but one great mast, forty feet high, and one enormous square sail to this ship. The mast was tipped with gilding, and the sail was of alternate strips of red, white, and blue cloth. Each s.p.a.ce between the banks served as the berth of six or eight men, and was divided into half berths--starboard and larboard--for the men who worked the corresponding oars. On the richly ornamented p.o.o.p stood the King himself, surrounded by his bodyguard and chief men of the Court, including Jarl Rongvold and Thiodolph the scald.

From the stem to the mid-hold was the forecastle, on which were stationed the King's berserkers, under Hake of Hadeland. All the men of Hake's band were splendid fellows; for King Harald, having a choice of men from the best of every district, took into his house troop only such as were remarkable for strength, courage, and dexterity in the use of their weapons.

It must not be supposed that the rest of Harald's fleet was composed of small vessels. On the contrary, some of them were not far short of his own in point of size. Many of his jarls were wealthy men, and had joined him, some with ten or twenty, and others with thirty, or even forty, ships of various sizes. Many of them had from twenty to thirty banks for rowers, with crews of 100 or 150 men. There were also great numbers of cutters with ten or fifteen banks, and from thirty to fifty men in each, besides a swarm of lesser craft, about the size of our ordinary herring boats.

There were many men of note in this fleet, such as King Sigurd of Royer and Simun's sons; Onund and Andreas; Nicolas Skialdvarsson; Eindrid, a son of Mornef, who was the most gallant and popular man in the Drontheim country, and many others; the whole composing a formidable force of seven or eight thousand warriors.

With Haldor the Fierce, on the other hand, there was a goodly force of men and ships; for the whole south country had been aroused, and they came pouring into the fiord continuously. Nevertheless they did not number nearly so large a force as that under King Harald. Besides those who have been already named, there were Eric, king of Hordaland; Sulke, king of Rogaland, and his brother Jarl Sote; Kiotve the Rich, king of Agder, and his son Thor Haklang; also the brothers Roald Ryg, and Hadd the Hard, of Thelemark, besides many others. But their whole number did not exceed four thousand men; and the worst of it all was that among these there were a great many of the smaller men, and a few of the chiefs whose hearts were not very enthusiastic in the cause, and who had no very strong objection to take service under Harald Fairhair. These, however, held their peace, because the greater men among them, and the chief leaders, such as Haldor and Ulf, were very stern and decided in their determination to resist the King.

Now, when the report was brought that Harald's fleet had doubled the distant cape beyond Hafurdsfiord, the people crowded to the top of the cliffs behind Ulfstede to watch it; and when it was clearly seen that it was so much larger than their own, there were a few who began to say that it would be wiser to refrain from resistance; but Haldor called a Thing together on the spot by sound of horn, and a great many short pithy speeches were made on both sides of the question. Those who were for war were by far the most able men, and so full of fire that they infused much of their own spirit into those who heard them. Erling in particular was very energetic in his denunciation of the illegality of Harald's proceedings; and even Glumm plucked up heart to leap to his feet and declare, with a face blazing with wrath, that he would rather be drowned in the fiord like a dog, or quit his native land for ever, than remain at home to be the slave of any man!

Glumm was not, as the reader is aware, famed for eloquence; nevertheless the abruptness of his fiery spirit, the quick rush of his few sputtered words, and the clatter of his arms, as he struck his fist violently against his shield, drew from the mult.i.tude a loud burst of applause.

He had in him a good deal of that element which we moderns call "go".

Whatever he did was effectively done.

The last who spoke was Solve Klofe. That redoubtable warrior ascended the hill just as Glumm had finished his remarks. He immediately stood forward, and raised his hand with an impa.s.sioned gesture. "Glumm is right," he cried. "It is now clear that we have but one course to take; and that is to rise all as one man against King Harald, for although outnumbered, we still have strength enough to fight for our ancient rights. Fate must decide the victory. If we cannot conquer, at all events we can die. As to becoming his servants, that is no condition for _us_! My father thought it better to fall in battle than to go willingly into King Harald's service, or refuse to abide the chance of weapons like the Numedal kings."

"That is well spoken," cried Haldor, after the shout with which this was received had subsided. "The Thing is at an end, and now we shall make ready, for it can be but a short time until we meet. Let the people take their weapons, and every man be at his post, so that all may be ready when the war-horn sounds the signal to cast off from the land.

[See note 1.] Then let us throw off at once, and together, so that none go on before the rest of the ships, and none lag behind when we row out of the fiord. When we meet, and the battle begins, let people be on the alert to bring all our ships in close order, and ready to bind them together. Let us spare ourselves in the beginning, and take care of our weapons, that we do not cast them into the sea, or shoot them away in the air to no purpose. But when the fight becomes hot, and the ships are bound together, _then_ let each man show what spirit is in him, and how well he can fight for country, law, and freedom!"

A loud ringing cheer was the answer to this speech, and then the whole concourse hurried down the hill and embarked; the vessels were quickly arranged in order according to their size; the war-horn sounded; thousands of oars dipped at the same moment, the blue waters of the fiord were torn into milky foam, and slowly, steadily, and in good order the fleet of the Sea-kings left the strand, doubled the cape to the north of Horlingfiord, and advanced in battle array to meet the foe.

Note 1. Signals by call of trumpet were well understood in those times.

We read, in the ancient Sagas, of the trumpet-call to arm, to advance, to attack, to retreat, to land, and also to attend a Court Thing, a House Thing, a General Thing. These instruments were made of metal, and there were regular trumpeters.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

DESCRIBES A GREAT SEA FIGHT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

Harald Fairhair stood on the p.o.o.p of the great Dragon, and held the steering oar. When he saw the fleet of the Sea-kings approaching, he called Jarl Rongvold to him and said--

"Methinks, jarl, that I now see the end of this war with the small kings. It is easy to perceive that the utmost force they are able to raise is here. Now, I intend to beat them to-day, and break their strength for ever. But when the battle is over, many of them will seek to escape. I would prevent that as much as may be."

The King paused, as if engaged in deep thought.

"How do you propose to do it, sire?"

"By means of a boom," said the King. "Go thou, summon hither the trustiest man in the fleet for such a purpose, let him detach as many men and ships as he deems needful, and go into yonder small fiord where there is a pine wood on the hillside. There let him make a long and strong boom of timber, while we are engaged in the fight. I will drive as many of the ships as I can into Horlingfiord, and when that is done let him come out and stretch the boom right across, so that none of them shall escape. And, harkee, see that the man thou choosest for this duty is an able man, and does it well, else shall his head be lopped off."

After issuing this command the King resigned the helm, and ordered his banner to be set up, which was done immediately. At the same time his opponents shook out their banners, and both fleets were put in order of battle.

As both were arrayed much in the same way, it will be sufficient to describe the arrangements made by Haldor the Fierce, who had been elected commander-in-chief of the small kings' fleet.

When Haldor saw the King's banner displayed, he unfurled his own in the centre of the fleet, and arranged his force for attack right against it.

Alongside of him on the right was Ulf of Romsdal with thirty ships, and on his left was old Guttorm Stoutheart with twenty-five ships. These composed the centre of the line. Kettle Flatnose commanded the men on the forecastle in Ulf's longship, and Th.o.r.er the Thick was over those in Haldor's vessel.

The right wing was commanded by Solve Klofe, under whom were Eric of Hordaland with fifteen ships; Sulke of Rogaland and his brother Sote with thirty ships, as well as Kiotve of Agder, and some others with many ships--all of large size.

The left wing was led by King Hakon of Drontheim, under whom were Roald Ryg and Hadd the Hard, and Thor Haklang, with a good many ships. Solve Klofe laid his ships against King Harald's left wing, which was under Eindrid, son of Mornef, and Hakon laid his against King Sigurd of Royer, who led Harald's right wing. All the chiefs on either side laid their ships according as they were bold or well equipped. When all was ready, they bound the ships together by the stems, and advanced towards each other at the sound of the war-trumpet. But as the fleets were so large, many of the smaller vessels remained loose, and, as it were, went about skirmishing independently. These were laid forward in the fight, according to the courage of their commanders, which was very unequal.

Among these roving warriors were our heroes Erling and Glumm, each in one of his own small cutters, with about forty men.

As soon as the war-blast sounded the men rode forward to the attack, and soon narrowed the small s.p.a.ce that lay between the hostile fleets. Then Haldor and the other commanders went down to the sides of their ships, where the men stood so thick that their shields touched all round, and encouraged them to fight well for the freedom of old Norway--to which they replied with loud huzzas. Immediately after the air was darkened with a cloud of arrows, and the fight began.

There were scalds in both fleets at that fight, these afterwards wrote a poem descriptive of it, part of which we now quote:

"With falcon eye and courage bright, Haldor the Fierce prepared for fight; `Hand up the arms to one and all!'

He cries. `My men, we'll win or fall!

Sooner than fly, heaped on each other, Each man will fall across his brother!'

Thus spake, and through his vessels' throng His mighty warship moved along.

He ran her gaily to the front, To meet the coming battle's brunt-- Then gave the word the ships to bind And shake his banner to the wind.

Our oars were stowed, our lances high Swung to and fro athwart the sky.

Haldor the Fierce went through the ranks, Drawn up beside the rowers' banks, Where rows of shields seemed to enclose The ship's deck from the boarding foes, Encouraging his chosen crew, He tells his brave lads to stand true, And rows against--while arrows sing-- The Dragon of the tyrant King.

With glowing hearts and loud huzzas, His men lay on in freedom's cause.

The sea-steeds foam; they plunge and rock: The warriors meet in battle shock; The ring-linked coats of strongest mail Could not withstand the iron hail.

The fire of battle raged around; Odin's steel shirts flew all unbound.

The pelting shower of stone and steel, Caused many a Norseman stout to reel, The red blood poured like summer rain; The foam was scarlet on the main; But, all unmoved like oak in wood, Silent and grim fierce Haldor stood, Until his axe could reach the foe-- Then--swift he thundered blow on blow.

And ever, as his axe came down, It cleft or crushed another crown.

Elsewhere the chiefs on either side Fought gallantly above the tide.

King Hakon pressed King Sigurd sore, And Ulf made Hake the berserk roar, And Kettle Flatnose dared to spring On board the ship of Norway's King.

Old Guttorm Stoutheart's mighty shout Above the din was heard throughout, And Solve Klofe, 'gainst Mornef's son, Slew right and left till day was done.

While, all around the loose ships rowed-- Where'er they went the red stream flowed.

Chief among these was Erling bold And Glumm the Gruff, of whom 'tis told They rushed in thickest of the fray-- Whatever part the line gave way-- And twice, and thrice, retrieved the day.

But heart, and strength, and courage true, Could not avail where one fought two.

King Harald, foremost in the fight, With flashing sword, resistless might, Pushed on and slew, and dyed with red The bright steel cap on many a head.

Against the hero's shield in vain, The arrow-storm sends forth its rain.

The javelins and spear-thrusts fail To pierce his coat of ringed mail.

The King stands on the blood-stained deck; Trampling on many a foeman's neck; And high above the dinning stound Of helm and axe, and ringing sound Of blade, and shield, and raven's cry Is heard the shout of--`Victory!'"

In this poem the scald gives only an outline of the great fight. Let us follow more closely the action of those in whom we are peculiarly interested.

For more than two hours the battle raged with unabated fury--victory inclining to neither side; but as the day advanced, the energy with which Solve Klofe pushed the right wing began to tell, and the King's men gave way a little at that part. Harald, however, was on the alert.

He sent some of his loose ships to reinforce them, and so regained his position. A short time after that, some of Solve's ships were boarded, but at that moment Erling and Glumm chanced to pa.s.s in their cutters-- for they kept always close together--and they gave such a shout, while they turned and pulled to the rescue, that the men, who were wavering, took heart again and drove the foe overboard. Just then the ship on the right of Solve Klofe's vessel was also boarded by the enemy. Seeing this, Erling called to Glumm that there was need of succour there, and they rowed swiftly to the spot.

"Art thou hard pressed, Solve?" asked Erling, as he ranged up to the stern of his friend's ship.

Solve was so furious that he could not answer, but pointed to the ship next his, and sprang on the edge of his own, intending to leap into that of the enemy, and get to the forefront. At the same time Eindrid, son of Mornef, stood up on the high foredeck of his ship with a large stone in his hand. He was a very powerful man, and hurled the stone with such force against Solve's shield that it battered him down, and he fell back into his own ship much stunned. Seeing this, Erling bade two of his men follow him, leaped into Solve's ship, and thence into the one where the fight was sharpest. Glumm followed him closely with his long two-handed sword, and these two fought so dreadfully that Eindrid's men were driven back into their own ship again. Then Erling ran to the place where the high stern was wedged between two of the enemy's ships, and sprang on the forecastle of Eindrid's ship.

"Thou art a bold man!" said Eindrid, turning on him.

"That may be as thou sayest," replied Erling, at the same time catching a thrust on his shield, which he returned with such interest with his axe that Eindrid's head was nearly severed from his body. At the same moment Glumm cut down a famous berserk who ran at him, and in a few minutes they had cleared the deck of the ship, and taken possession of it. But this was scarcely accomplished when a cry arose that the left wing under King Hakon was giving way.

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