The Chronicle of The Kings of Norway

by Snorri Sturlson | c.1179-1241 | 320,198 words

The "Heimskringla" of Snorri Sturlason is a collection of sagas concerning the various rulers of Norway, from about A.D. 850 to the year A.D. 1177....

Part 143 - The Expedition To Bjarmaland

This winter (A.D. 1026) King Olaf sat in Sarpsborg, and was surrounded by a very great army of people. He sent the Halogalander Karle to the north country upon his business.

Karle went first to the Uplands, then across the Dovrefield, and came down to Nidaros, where he received as much money as he had the king's order for, together with a good ship, such as he thought suitable for the voyage which the king had ordered him upon; and that was to proceed north to Bjarmaland. It was settled that the king should be in partnership with Karle, and each of them have the half of the profit.

Early in spring Karle directed his course to Halogaland, where his brother Gunstein prepared to accompany him, having his own merchant goods with him. There were about twenty-five men in the ship; and in spring they sailed north to Finmark. When Thorer Hund heard this, he sent a man to the brothers with the verbal message that he intended in summer to go to Bjarmaland, and that he would sail with them, and that they should divide what booty they made equally between them.

Karle sent him back the message that Thorer must have twenty-five men as they had, and they were willing to divide the booty that might be taken equally, but not the merchant goods which each had for himself.

When Thorer's messenger came back he had put a stout long-ship he owned into the water, and rigged it, and he had put eighty men on board of his house-servants. Thorer alone had the command over this crew, and he alone had all the goods they might acquire on the cruise. When Thorer was ready for sea he set out northwards along the coast, and found Karle a little north of Sandver. They then proceeded with good wind.

Gunstein said to his brother, as soon as they met Thorer, that in his opinion Thorer was strongly manned.

"I think,"

said he,

"we had better turn back than sail so entirely in Thorer's power, for I do not trust him."

Karle replies,

"I will not turn back, although if I had known when we were at home on Langey Isle that Thorer Hund would join us on this voyage with so large a crew as he has, I would have taken more hands with us."

The brothers spoke about it to Thorer, and asked what was the meaning of his taking more people with him than was agreed upon between them. He replies,

"We have a large ship which requires many hands, and methinks there cannot be too many brave lads for so dangerous a cruise."

They went in summer as fast in general as the vessels could go. When the wind was light the ship of the brothers sailed fastest, and they separated; but when the wind freshened Thorer overtook them. They were seldom together, but always in sight of each other. When they came to Bjarmaland they went straight to the merchant town, and the market began. All who had money to pay with got filled up with goods. Thorer also got a number of furs, and of beaver and sable skins.

Karle had a considerable sum of money with him, with which he purchased skins and furs. When the fair was at an end they went out of the Vina river, and then the truce of the country people was also at an end. When they came out of the river they held a seaman's council, and Thorer asked the crews if they would like to go on the land and get booty.

They replied, that they would like it well enough, if they saw the booty before their eyes.

Thorer replies, that there was booty to be got, if the voyage proved fortunate; but that in all probability there would be danger in the attempt.

All said they would try, if there was any chance of booty. Thorer explained, that it was so established in this land, that when a rich man died all his movable goods were divided between the dead man and his heirs. He got the half part, or the third part, or sometimes less, and that part was carried out into the forest and buried, — sometimes under a mound, sometimes in the earth, and sometimes even a house was built over it.

He tells them at the same time to get ready for this expedition at the fall of day. It was resolved that one should not desert the other, and none should hold back when the commander ordered them to come on board again. They now left people behind to take care of the ships, and went on land, where they found flat fields at first, and then great forests.

Thorer went first, and the brothers Karle and Gunstein in rear. Thorer commanded the people to observe the utmost silence.

"And let us peel the bark off the trees,"

says he,

"so that one tree-mark can be seen from the other."

They came to a large cleared opening, where there was a high fence upon which there was a gate that was locked. Six men of the country people held watch every night at this fence, two at a time keeping guard, each two for a third part of the night, when Thorer and his men came to the fence the guard had gone home, and those who should relieve them had not yet come upon guard.

Thorer went to the fence, stuck his axe up in it above his head, hauled himself up by it, and so came over the fence, and inside the gate. Karle had also come over the fence, and to the inside of the gate; so that both came at once to the port, took the bar away, and opened the port; and then the people got in within the fence.

Then said Thorer,

"Within this fence there is a mound in which gold, and silver, and earth are all mixed together: seize that. But within here stands the Bjarmaland people's god Jomala: let no one be so presumptuous as to rob him."

Thereupon they went to the mound and took as much of the money as they could carry away in their clothes, with which, as might be expected, much earth was mixed. Thereafter Thorer said that the people now should retreat.

"And ye brothers, Karle and Gunstein,"

says he,

"do ye lead the way, and I will go last."

They all went accordingly out of the gate: but Thorer went back to Jomala, and took a silver bowl that stood upon his knee full of silver money. He put the silver in his purse, and put his arm within the handle of the bowl, and so went out of the gate. The whole troop had come without the fence; but when they perceived that Thorer had stayed behind, Karle returned to trace him, and when they met upon the path Thorer had the silver bowl with him.

Thereupon Karle immediately ran to Jomala; and observing he had a thick gold ornament hanging around his neck, he lifted his axe, cut the string with which the ornament was tied behind his neck, and the stroke was so strong that the head of Jomala rang with such a great sound that they were all astonished. Karle seized the ornament, and they all hastened away. But the moment the sound was made the watchmen came forward upon the cleared space, and blew their horns.

Immediately the sound of the loor [1] was heard all around from every quarter, calling the people together. They hastened to the forest, and rushed into it; and heard the shouts and cries on the other side of the Bjarmaland people in pursuit. Thorer Hund went the last of the whole troop; and before him went two men carrying a great sack between them, in which was something that was like ashes.

Thorer took this in his hand, and strewed it upon the footpath, and sometimes over the people. They came thus out of the woods, and upon the fields, but heard incessantly the Bjarmaland people pursuing with shouts and dreadful yells.

The army of the Bjarmaland people rushed out after them upon the field, and on both sides of them; but neither the people nor their weapons came so near as to do them any harm: from which they perceived that the Bjarmaland people did not see them. Now when they reached their ships Karle and his brother went on board; for they were the foremost, and Thorer was far behind on the land.

As soon as Karle and his men were on board they struck their tents, cast loose their land ropes, hoisted their sails, and their ship in all haste went to sea. Thorer and his people, on the other hand, did not get on so quickly, as their vessel was heavier to manage; so that when they got under sail, Karle and his people were far off from land. Both vessels sailed across the White sea (Gandvik) .

The nights were clear, so that both ships sailed night and day; until one day, towards the time the day turns to shorten, Karle and his people took up the land near an island, let down the sail, cast anchor, and waited until the slack-tide set in, for there was a strong rost before them. Now Thorer came up, and lay at anchor there also. Thorer and his people then put out a boat, went into it, and rowed to Karle's ship. Thorer came on board, and the brothers saluted him.

Thorer told Karle to give him the ornament.

"I think,"

said he,

"that I have best earned the ornaments that have been taken, for methinks ye have to thank me for getting away without any loss of men; and also I think thou, Karle, set us in the greatest fright."

Karle replies,

"King Olaf has the half part of all the goods I gather on this voyage, and I intend the ornament for him. Go to him, if you like, and it is possible he will give thee the ornament, although I took it from Jomala."

Then Thorer insisted that they should go upon the island, and divide the booty.

Gunstein says,

"It is now the turn of the tide, and it is time to sail."

Whereupon they began to raise their anchor.

When Thorer saw that, he returned to his boat and rowed to his own ship. Karle and his men had hoisted sail, and were come a long way before Thorer got under way. They now sailed so that the brothers were always in advance, and both vessels made all the haste they could.

They sailed thus until they came to Geirsver, which is the first roadstead of the traders to the North. They both came there towards evening, and lay in the harbour near the landing-place. Thorer's ship lay inside, and the brothers' the outside vessel in the port. When Thorer had set up his tents he went on shore, and many of his men with him. They went to Karle's ship, which was well provided.

Thorer hailed the ship, and told the commanders to come on shore; on which the brothers, and some men with them, went on the land. Now Thorer began the same discourse, and told them to bring the goods they got in booty to the land to have them divided. The brothers thought that was not necessary, until they had arrived at their own neighbourhood.

Thorer said it was unusual not to divide booty but at their own home, and thus to be left to the honour of other people. They spoke some words about it, but could not agree. Then Thorer turned away; but had not gone far before he came back, and tells his comrades to wait there. Thereupon he calls to Karle, and says he wants to speak with him alone.

Karle went to meet him; and when he came near, Thorer struck at him with a spear, so that it went through him.


said Thorer,

"now thou hast learnt to know a Bjarkey Island man. I thought thou shouldst feel Asbjorn's spear."

Karle died instantly, and Thorer with his people went immediately on board their ship. When Gunstein and his men saw Karle fall they ran instantly to him, took his body and carried it on board their ship, struck their tents, and cast off from the pier, and left the land.

When Thorer and his men saw this, they took down their tents and made preparations to follow. But as they were hoisting the sail the fastenings to the mast broke in two, and the sail fell down across the ship, which caused a great delay before they could hoist the sail again. Gunstein had already got a long way ahead before Thorer's ship fetched way, and now they used both sails and oars. Gunstein did the same.

On both sides they made great way day and night; but so that they did not gain much on each other, although when they came to the small sounds among the islands Gunstein's vessel was lighter in turning. But Thorer's ship made way upon them, so that when they came up to Lengjuvik, Gunstein turned towards the land, and with all his men ran up into the country, and left his ship. A little after Thorer came there with his ship, sprang upon the land after them, and pursued them.

There was a woman who helped Gunstein to conceal himself, and it is told that she was much acquainted with witchcraft. Thorer and his men returned to the vessels, and took all the goods out of Gunstein's vessel, and put on board stones in place of the cargo, and then hauled the ship out into the fjord, cut a hole in its bottom, and sank it to the bottom. Thereafter Thorer, with his people, returned home to Bjarkey Isle.

Gunstein and his people proceeded in small boats at first, and lay concealed by day, until they had passed Bjarkey, and had got beyond Thorer's district. Gunstein went home first to Langey Isle for a short time, and then proceeded south without any halt, until he came south to Throndhjem, and there found King Olaf, to whom he told all that had happened on this Bjarmaland expedition.

The king was ill-pleased with the voyage, but told Gunstein to remain with him, promising to assist him when opportunity offered. Gunstein took the invitation with thanks, and stayed with King Olaf.

Footnotes and references:


Ludr — the loor — is a long tube or roll of birch-bark used as a horn by the herdboys in the mountains in Norway.
— L.