King Svein ruled over all the Danish dominions after King Magnus's death. He sat quiet all the winter; but in summer he lay out in his ships with all his people and it was said he would go north to Norway with the Danish army and make not less havoc there than King Harald had made in Denmark. King Svein proposed to King Harald in winter (A.D. 1049) to meet him the following summer at the Gaut river and fight until in the battle-field their differences were ended, or they were settled peacefully.
They made ready on both sides all winter with their ships, and called out in summer one-half of all the fighting men. The same summer came Thorleik the Fair out of Iceland, and composed a poem about King Svein Ulfson. He heard, when he arrived in Norway, that King Harald had sailed south to the Gaut river against King Svein.
Then Thorleik sang this: —
"The wily Svein, I think, will meet
These inland Norsemen fleet to fleet;
The arrow-storm, and heaving sea,
His vantage-fight and field will be.
God only knows the end of strife,
Or which shall have his land and life;
This strife must come to such an end,
For terms will never bind King Svein."
He also sang these verses: —
"Harald, whose red shield oft has shone
O'er herried coasts, and fields hard won,
Rides in hot wrath, and eager speeds
O'er the blue waves his ocean-steeds.
Svein, who in blood his arrows stains,
Brings o'er the ocean's heaving plains
His gold-beaked ships, which come in view
Out from the Sound with many a hue."
King Harald came with his forces to the appointed meeting-place; but there he heard that King Svein was lying with his fleet at the south side of Seeland. Then King Harald divided his forces; let the greater part of the bonde-troops return home; and took with him his court-men, his lendermen, the best men-at-arms, and all the bonde-troops who lived nearest to the Danish land. They sailed over to Jutland to the south of Vendilskage, and so south to Thioda; and over all they carried fire and sword.
So says Stuf, the skald: —
"In haste the men of Thyland fly
From the great monarch's threat'ning eye;
At the stern Harald's angry look
The boldest hearts in Denmark shook."
They went forward all the way south to Heidaby, took the merchant town and burnt it.
Then one of Harald's men made the following verses: —
"All Heidaby is burned down!
Strangers will ask where stood the town.
In our wild humour up it blazed,
And Svein looks round him all amazed.
All Heidaby is burned down!
From a far corner of the town
I saw, before the peep of morning,
Roofs, walls, and all in flame high burning."
To this also Thorleik alludes in his verses, when he heard there had been no battle at the Gaut river: —
"The stranger-warrior may inquire
Of Harald's men, why in his ire
On Heidaby his wrath he turns,
And the fair town to ashes burns?
Would that the day had never come
When Harald's ships returned home
From the East Sea, since now the town,
Without his gain, is burned down!"