Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/King Harold's answer to Harold Halfagar

KING HAROLD’S ANSWER TO HAROLD HALFAGAR.
(A NORSEMAN’S SAGA. TEMP. SEPT. 1066, A.D.)

 

From Norway onwards sailing, with breakers on their lee,
Like falcons, in their galleys came the Norsemen o’er the sea,
To the broad green fields of England came these iron hearts of war,
From the ice-bound steppes of Norway under[1] Harold Halfagàr.

Twas a clear September morning the war-horns first did sound
By Stanford Bridge, awakening the quiet welkin round,
As the Norsemen, bee-like swarming, strode onwards to the fight,
While before them rode their Viking, the Norsemen’s tallest knight.

Oh! grim looked Stanford Castle, with the spearmen at the keep,
And bright flashed back their spear-heads, as they stood in order deep,
And bright in morning’s sunrise gleamed the golden stubble fields,
But brighter far the glitter of the English swords and shields.

Down falls the snorting war-horse of the fierce Norwegian king,
Like a hammer on an anvil loud his clashing trappings ring;
His knights close in around him—he leaps up before them all,
And unhurt their Viking tells them[2]—“Well forbodes a trav’ller’s fall!”

Knights!” quoth stout English Harold to his Saxons standing by,
Who is that giant Viking whose downfall we espy,
That man of giant sinews—his like are none in height?”
’Tis Norway’s king, stern Halfagàr”—outspeaks an English knight.

A truce!” shouts English Harold—“let twenty men ride forth
To parley with these ravagers, Vœringers of the North—
My brother’s banded with them[3]—we were dear in days of yore;
There’s blood upon my hands enow—I would not make it more.”

Rides Earl Tosti with ye, Norsemen? ’Gainst his brother makes he war?”
Aye,” says Tosti—“for my brother now is Harold Halfagàr!”
Says the Saxon—“English Harold offers thee of English land
The third part of his kingdom, if thou’lt come and take his hand.”

Then outspake Tosti—“I would take my brother at his word,
But how would then fare Halfagàr, who helps with his sword?
What will English Harold give him?”—Grimly glanced the envoy round—
He will give him in an English grave full seven feet of ground!”

Forwards! horse and foot,” shouts Tosti—“let my brother do or die,
Win or lose, we’ll ride together, King Halfagàr and I!
Dear unto me”—quoth Tosti—“is the sight of English home,
But dearer is the oath I swore in Norway o’er the foam!”

Then outspake Harold Halfagàr—“I pray thee, Tosti, tell,
Who was that haughty envoy who answered thee so well?”
King Halfagàr,” quoth Tosti—“Christ that envoy sain and see!
My brother, English Harold, is the man who answered me.”

On! on! brave sons of Odin! the foremost man that falls,
To-night shall sit high honoured in high Valhalla’s halls;
Shoot! bowmen true and stalwart, let your shafts fly thick as hail,”
Shouts hardy Harold Halfagàr—“the Norsemen never fail!”

 
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Alas! alas! bold Halfagàr! the English Harold’s won!
Thou’lt never see the rising of to-morrow’s golden sun;
Tosti in death is sleeping, with an arrow in his brain;
Thou with thy stout Vœringers wilt never charge again!

Ha! liest thou there, stern Halfagàr? That arrow sped too well;
There’ll be curses deep in Norway when our Viking’s death they tell.
And tears will fall from dark blue eyes when the Saga sad goes round,
How the English gave our Halfagàr seven feet of English ground!

W. B. B. Stevens.

 

  1. Harold Halfagar, as Hume names this Norwegian Viking, is styled Harold Hardrada by other chroniclers. See Lord Dufferin’s “Letters from High Latitudes,” page 375.
  2. A Norse proverb.
  3. “The Duke William of Normandy, that he might increase the number of Harold’s enemies, encouraged Tosti (King Harold’s brother), in concert with Harold Halfagàr, King of Norway, to infest the coasts of England.”—Hume.