The Viking romance called Gautreks Saga is a rather strange tale, where this king is actually a minor character. The tale centred around more on two heroes – Starkad and Ref. The tale seemed to be unrelated to one another, where Gautrek disappear in the middle of the story and concentrated on King Vikar and his faithful companion Starkad.
You will probably find that part of the saga is quite amusing. It seemed to be a popular tale because it survived in 30 manuscripts.
|Over the Family Cliff|
|Vikar and Starkad the Old|
|The King’s Sacrifice|
|A Peasant’s Gift|
|The tale of Gautrek began before he was born, with his father, King Gauti of West Gotaland, a land in southern Scandinvian peninsula, (southern Norway and Sweden).
Gauti went out hunting, and got separated from his retinues, when he chased a stag in the thick forest. In the chase, he managed to wound the stag, but it still managed to run, with the king’s javelin in its body. Such was the chase that he became hot, so he stripped off most of clothes, and he was left wearing only his underwear. Gauti had even removed his boots.
Gauti became lost, and would not have been able to return to his palace before nightfall. But by fortune, he found his way to an isolate farm, when he heard the sound of a hound barking.
A man with an axe saw the stranger approached. This man angrily killed the dog for attracting unwanted visitor to his master’s home. The slave refused to invite him in, but was afraid to stop the nearly naked stranger.
The farmer was angry that someone had come into his property, but was pleased that his slave had killed the dog.
The farmer was not really poor, but he act like that he was. The farmer’s name was Skinflint, and he was a miser. If he was given a choice, he would never let anyone come to his property nor would offer any food or hospitality, because he feared that he would become poor.
When the family gathered around the table, Skinflint didn’t bother to invite Gauti. Nevertheless, the uninvited guest sat at the table and partake the meal with Skinflint’s family. When the king finished eating, the farmer grumbled that there are no foods left.
Skinflint’s wife was Totra, and he had six children, 3 sons – Fjolmod, Imsigull and Gilling – and 3 daughters – Hjotra, Fjotra and Snotra. Snotra was the brightest one in the family, and only she was willing to talk to the stranger.
At night, Snotra came to the guest, who was sleeping near the fireplace. Though, Gauti told her that he would compensate her father with money for food and lodging, Snotra told him that it was too late. She told the king that there is a cliff, known as the Family Cliff or Gillings Bluff, at the highest peak, known as Ætternisstapi that her family and ancestors have been jumping to their death, to avoid poverty, overpopulation of the farm and starvation, by cutting down the size of the family. They would also jump off the cliff to avoid old age and even minor illness. It is believed among these farmers that their death over the cliff would earn them a place in Valhalla with their god Odin. Snotra told him that in the morning after the king leave his property; both of her parents would jump to their death.
Then king had intercourse with Snotra before sleeping; a child was conceived that night.
In the morning, before the king left, he asked for Skinflint’s pair of shoes, because he came to the farm barefoot. Grumbling, Skinflint gave the king a pair of shoes, but he took back and kept the laces.
The king told Snotra that if she is pregnant and later give birth to a son, she should name him Gautrek, and that she should also seek him out in his kingdom. Snotra told the king that she could not go with him yet.
Skinflint divided his property between his children. Gilling and Snotra would have his fine ox; Fjolmod and his sister Hjotra would share the bar of gold; and the whole cornfields would go to Imsigull and Fjotra. Their father’s final words was to not have any children, otherwise there would not be enough inheritances to dole out.
Then the children watched their father, mother and the thrall (who killed the dog) climbed Gillings Bluff and then leaped to death.
Snotra and her siblings heeding their father’s words, used wooden pegs and tied cloths around their bodies, so that there was no way that they should touch one another, so none of the girls could get pregnant. But Snotra was already pregnant and her brothers and sisters don’t know about it.
One morning, when Gilling woke up, he accidentally touched Snotra’s cheek, and realised that her sister’s face was exposed. Gilling wasn’t afraid that he may have made his sister pregnant. Snotra wanted to keep it a secret from their brothers and sisters, but Gilling refused. Some months later, Snotra gave birth to a boy whom she named Gautrek.
Gilling and others seriously thought that he made Snotra pregnant by just touching her cheek with his fingers. Gilling was willing to leap off Gillings Bluff, but his brothers urged him to wait.
One day, Fjolmod fell asleep after attending flock of sheep. When he woke he saw snail crawling over his bar of gold. Fjolmod seriously thought that the snail had dented his gold, so the value of gold was now worthless. The gold was not diminished at all; there was only stained black on the surface of the gold. Believing that they were now poor, he Fjolmod split his property between his other siblings, then he and his sister Hjotra went up the cliff and jumped off the Family Cliff.
One day, in the cornfield, Imsigull saw a small sparrow had eaten a single grain from one ear of the corn; he thought his entire crops were ruined. So he and his sister/wife also went over the cliff.
Years had passed, and Gautrek was now a boy of seven. He was tall and strong for his age. The Gilling’s ox was killed when the boy stabbed it to death with his spear. Gilling was devastated, and thought his wealth was gone, so he too passed over the Family Cliff.
This left Snotra and her son all alone in the farm, so she decided to leave, and go to Gauti’s kingdom. Gauti welcomed Snotra and their son, where the boy was brought up in his court. Gautrek reached his manhood at age ten or eleven. Gauti fell ill and died, leaving his young son to succeed him to rule Gotaland.
This part of tale is interesting, because of the people jumping to their death from the top of cliff, known as Ætternisstapi (“Family Drop”). It is voluntary euthanasia, where a person can avoid serious illness or old age, because they didn’t want to die in bed, helpless. It was used to cut down size of the family, so that others may survive.
However, in this situation, it seemed to be lurid, because the farmer leaps to their death over the most trivial circumstances and their over-imagined loss of wealth.
|Alfhild was the daughter of King Alf, whom the giant Starkad the Ala-Warrior had abducted. Thor killed Starkad and returned Alfhild to her father, but it was too late, because she was already pregnant. Alfhild gave birth to Storvirk, a mighty Viking warrior, who served King Harald of the Agder Province. The king rewarded Storvirk by giving him a farm at Thruma Island. Storvirk abducted Unn, daughter of Earl Freki of Halogaland. Unn became the mother of a son, whom Storvirk named after his grandfather, Starkad.
Unn had two brothers, Fjori and Fyri, and they attacked Storvirk one night, by burning the house down. This also killed their sister. Fjori and Fyri didn’t survive very long. On their return journey to their home, they drowned when their ship sank in the storm.
The only survivor on the farm was Storvirk’s son. Storvirk’s friend, Harald, brought up the infant Starkad in his court. But the king had enemy, and he was killed by King Herthjof of Hordaland, after capturing the kingdom. Herthjof took Starkad and Vikar, son of King Harald as hostages. Starkad was only three at that time.
Starkad was then brought up in fosterage of Grani Horsehair at Ask on the island of Fenhring. Grani had served King Herthjof.
Nine years later Vikar went to Ask, and found that Starkad was quite tall for his age. Vikar took his foster brother with him. Vikar had only twelve men with him, but he took a ship, and attacked Herthjof’s castle. Despite being outnumbered, they not only defeated Herthjof’s men in the fighting without losing a single man, but Vikar also killed the king. Young Starkad fought side-by-side with Vikar.
Vikar became king and regained his father’s kingdom (Agder), and Starkad served him faithfully. Starkad fought in Vikar’s army, winning many wars and battles, expanding Vikar’s kingdom. In Kiev, Starkad killed King Sisar. Vikar also took the kingdoms of Uplands and Telemark, ruled by Herthjof’s brothers – Geirthjof and Frithjof. Geirthjof was killed in the Battle of Uplands, but Vikar gained Telemark without a battle, because Frithjof was away from his kingdom at that time.
Frithjof did regain his brother’s kingdom of Uplands, and the two enemies faced each other in battle. King Olaf of Sweden was Vikar’s ally in the battle. In this battle, Starkad had fought without any armour and weapon; he used his bare hands. Frithjof surrendered when he was defeated; he went into exile.
Starkad was Vikar’s right hand man and counsellor. Though, he was Vikar’s best warrior, Starkad was a poet.
Vikar had two sons, Harald and Neri. Vikar gave Telemark to Harald, while Neri received Upland. Earl Neri was a friend of King Gautrek of Gotaland, and he was known for his wisdom, acting as Gautrek’s counsellor.
|Fifteen years after Vikar and Starkad gained their freedom, unfavourable winds kept Vikar ships stranded on a group of small islands. Through divination they found out that a human sacrifice must be performed. So each man drew lots in the army, but the victim chosen was their king. They tried drawing lots again and again, but each time it was Vikar who was chosen. They decided to call upon a meeting in the next day, to see if they can avoid killing their king.
That night, around midnight, Starkad’s foster father woke the hero up and asked him to follow. They set out on a boat, rowing until they reached another island. Grani led the hero into the woods and then to a clearing, where eleven people were seated in twelve chairs. While Starkad stood in the centre of the meeting, Grani sat in the twelfth chair. Starkad heard the other seated men greeted Grani as Odin. They were Starkad’s twelve judges who would decide his fate.
Thor began by saying that since Starkad’s grandmother, Alfhild, preferred Starkad’s grandfather (Starkad the Ala-Warrior) instead of him, Starkad should have no children of his own. Odin countered Thor saying that the hero would live a span of three lifetimes, which Thor immediately cursed Starkad would commit a terrible deed in each lifetime.
Odin declared that Starkad would have the finest clothes and weapons, but Thor countered that he should have no land or estate. The one-eyed god said that Starkad would have riches, but Thor announced that he would never be satisfied with what he has. He shall have victory in every battle, but he would also be sorely wounded in each one. He would well-known for his art in poetry, but he would never remember what he composes. Nobles would admire and respect Starkad, but the common people shall despise him.
After the blessings and curses from the two gods, all twelve judges agreed that everything that was said about Starkad’s fate would come to pass.
With that the judges vanished, leaving Starkad alone with Grani Horsehair. Grani gave his foster son a spear, but it looked like a reed-stalk. They returned to the army in the morning.
A new meeting was held, and Starkad advised Vikar and the other counsellors that they would hold a mock sacrifice.
Starkad found a tall pine tree, and found one with a very thin branch. He used a gut from a slaughtered calf and tied it to the end of slender branch. This was to be the King’s gallows, which doesn’t look at all dangerous.
Vikar climbed on a tree stump, and Starkad placed the noose of calf’s gut around the king’s neck. Starkad thought all this was very safe, and the king would be unharmed in the mock sacrifice. But the fates of Starkad and Vikar were inevitable.
When Starkad jabbed the reed-stalk into the king’s chest, the stalk turned into a real spear, piercing Vikar. Vikar slipped off the stump. The gut turned into a thick rope around Vikar’s neck, and the thin branch became a thick one. King Vikar died, and the place was named Vikarsholmar.
What should have become a mock sacrifice became a real blood sacrifice of the king. As you would notice, Vikar’s sacrifice resembled that of Odin’s sacrifice, when the god hanged himself on a tree for nine days with his spear pierced through his body, so that Odin could learn the magic of the runes. See Sacrifice: Hanging and Runes.
At Vikar’s death, his two sons divided the kingdom of their father. Earl Neri was wiser than his old brother, but he let Harald succeed their father, but Neri would take Uplands and Telemark.
For the death of Vikar, Starkad’s foster brother, he was tormented with guilt, and the common people hated him. This was his foul deed that he had committed. He was banished from Hordaland, so he migrated to Uppsala, in Sweden, to serve Eirik and Alrek, sons of Agni and Skjalf. Starkad often went into plundering expeditions, so he travelled widely. He never lost a duel or battle.
Twelve berserkers in Uppsala would often mock and taunt Starkad, saying that he was a traitor and the reincarnation of a giant. Ulf and Otrygg, two brothers, often ridiculed the hero, saying that he had eight arms, until Thor tore six of them out of his body.
The tale about Starkad ended at this point so he wasn’t mentioned again in the rest of the narrative. But he did grow very old, living another two lifetimes, which is why he was called Starkad the Old.
In another tale, Egil and Asmund, it mentioned the third foul deed that he committed. He killed Armod, son of Asmund, in his bath. I have yet to find, the second crime that Starkad had committed.
|Gautrek was known as a fine king and a great warrior. He ruled in Gotaland for many years, before he found himself a wife. Her name was Alfhind, daughter of King Harald of Wendland. They had a beautiful daughter, who was named Helga. Her daughter grew into a most beautiful woman in all Gotaland.
Gautrek was very happy until his wife fell into a long illness before she died. From that point on, Gautrek would not stop grieving for his wife. All he did was sitting on her burial mound all day, flying his hawk, ignoring his kingly duties to kingdom.
One of Vikar’s champions was Rennir, whom the king gave farmland to, in return for his faithful service. The farm was at Rennis Island, off Jaederen in Norway. Rennir most prized possession was a magnificent ox.
Rennir has one son, named Ref. Whereas Rennir was a hardworking farmer, Ref was lazy, lying around in the kitchen, not bothering to wash the filth from his body. Though, he was tall and strong, Ref refusing to work on his father’s farm.
When Rennir tripped over his son’s foot one-day, it was the last straw, so he decided throw his useless son off his property. Seeing that he must leave, he leave home, he ask his father if he could take something valuable with him. Not realising his son’s intention, Rennir readily agreed, if this would get rid of his son.
So one day, Ref left the farm with his father’s most prized ox in tow. Ref travelled to the Uplands. To do that he must cross the sea to the mainland, and he did so rowing in a large boat. The ox was forced to follow, swimming behind the boat. He travelled through Norway until he reached Earl Neri’s palace in the Uplands.
The doorkeeper refused entry to Ref, but Earl Neri remembered that Ref’s father had serve his father in many campaigns, so he went out to meet the young peasant.
Ref offered his father’s fine ox to Neri, but the earl was known for refusing gifts, because he never want to give any gift in return. But Ref persuaded the earl to take the ox, in return for advice (because of Neri’s wisdom), not gift nor gold; so Neri delightfully accepted. Neri invited Ref to a feast.
In Neri’s hall, the walls were completely lined with overlapping shields. Neri took one down and gave it to his guest. The fine shield was inlaid with gold. But after a short while, Neri was upset with giving away the shield because one of them was missing on the wall. Seeing this, Ref returned the shield to the earl. Since he has no weapon, what is the point of carrying a shield, said Ref? Admiring Ref’s generosity, Neri invited the peasant that he could stay in the hall as long as Ref wishes, and he would promise to give a very good counsel to Ref.
Neri gave Ref a whetstone, and told him to go to Gotaland. Neri instructed Ref to give this whetstone to King Gautrek.
So Ref went to Gotaland, and found the king sitting on a mound where his wife was buried. Here, the king would fly his hawk, until the bird was tired. Gautrek reached around and would throw objects at his hawk. When the king ran out of things to throw at the bird, Ref placed the whetstone in Gautrek’s hand. The whetstone struck the bird, and flew off. So pleased was the king that he gave his gold ring to Ref, without even turning around to see who had given him the whetstone. Everything happened as the earl had said.
Ref returned to the Uplands, and showed the ring to Neri. Ref stayed with Neri all winter, then in spring the earl was sending Ref to King Aella of England. Instead of selling the gold ring for money, Ref was to give the ring to Aella.
Following the earl’s instruction, Ref gave the gold ring to Aella. When Aella heard that Ref received the ring from Gautrek in exchange for a whetstone, the king admired Gautrek’s generosity. Ref returned to Neri in autumn, but not before Aella gave his guest two little dogs; each dog wore seven rings on a chain around its neck.
At the next spring, Neri now sends Ref to Denmark. Here, Ref gave his two dogs to King Hrolf. When Hrolf found about the dogs, Gautrek’s gold ring and the whetstone, he accepted the gift. Hrolf in return gave his guest a ship, with crew and cargo. Hrolf also gave Ref a helmet and a coat of mail, made of red gold. Ref returned to his foster father (Neri) with these new gifts before winter.
In spring, Neri sent Ref in another venture, this time to King Olaf, who command eighty raiding ships. Ref followed the earl’s instruction again, giving away the helmet and a coat of mail to Olaf. Olaf was very pleased with these gifts and found out he receive them from King Hrolf he also heard about the two dogs, a gold ring and the whetstone. Olaf found that of all these gifts, Gautrek was the most generous of kings.
In exchange for these gifts, Ref asked Olaf to lend him fleet for only a fortnight. Before the king could accept the gifts, Olaf’s adviser, Ref-Nose, stole the helmet and mail-coat from Ref and jumped overboard. Ref followed the evil adviser, but only managed to retrieve the coat of mail, and gave it to the king.
Again, following Neri’s instruction, Ref sailed with Olaf’s fleet to Gotaland, where he met Neri. The earl wanted Ref to pretend that he was intending to invade Gotaland, with Olaf’s forces. Neri persuaded the Gautrek to give in to Ref’s demand, not realizing Neri’s deception. The price to Gautrek for Ref not to invade his kingdom, the king accepted the term, offering to Ref, his daughter in marriage, as well as some lands. Once Gautrek sealed the agreement with an oath, Ref thanked Olaf, who left with his fleet and men.
Gautrek realised that Neri and Ref had tricked him, but he was not entirely angry about the proposal. The king had a feast prepared, and Ref married Helga. Gautrek also bestowed the title of earl to Ref.
So through Neri’s advice, the earl had repaid Ref for the ox.
So ends the Saga of Gautrek.