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 3 - Battle Of Tunsberg

King Hakon went in spring, after the Easter week, north to Throndhjem, and had with him the whole fleet that had belonged to King Inge. He held a Thing there in the merchant-town, and was chosen king of the whole country. Then he made Sigurd of Reyr an earl, and gave him an earldom, and afterwards proceeded southwards with his followers all the way to Viken. The king went to Tunsberg; but sent Earl Sigurd east to Konungahella, to defend the country with a part of the forces in case Erling should come from the south.

Erling and his fleet came to Agder, and went straight north to Bergen, where they killed Arne Brigdarskalle, King Hakon's officer, and came back immediately against King Hakon. Earl Sigurd, who had not observed the journey of Erling and his followers from the south, was at that time east in the Gaut river, and King Hakon was in Tunsberg. Erling brought up at Hrossanes, and lay there some nights. In the meantime King Hakon made preparations in the town.

When Erling and his fleet were coming up to the town, they took a merchant vessel, filled it with wood and straw, and set fire to it; and the wind blowing right towards the town, drove the vessel against the piers. Erling had two cables brought on board the vessel, and made fast to two boats, and made them row along as the vessel drove. Now when the fire was come almost abreast of the town, those who were in the boats held back the vessel by the ropes, so that the town could not be set on fire; but so thick a smoke spread from it over the town, that one could not see from the piers where the king's array was.

Then Erling drew the whole fleet in where the wind carried the fire, and shot at the enemy. When the townspeople saw that the fire was approaching their houses, and many were wounded by the bowmen, they resolved to send the priest Hroald, the long-winded speaker, to Erling, to beg him to spare them and the town; and they dissolved the array in favour of Hakon, as soon as Hroald told them their prayer was granted.

Now when the array of towns-people had dispersed, the men on the piers were much thinned: however, some urged Hakon's men to make resistance: but Onund Simonson, who had most influence over the army, said,

"I will not fight for Earl Sigurd's earldom, since he is not here himself."

Then Onund fled, and was followed by all the people, and by the king himself; and they hastened up the country.

King Hakon lost many men here; and these verses were made about it: —

"Onund declares he will not go
In battle 'gainst Earl Sigurd's foe,
If Earl Sigurd does not come,
But with his house-men sits at home.
King Magnus' men rush up the street,
Eager with Hakon's troop to meet;
But Hakon's war-hawks, somewhat shy,
Turn quick about, and off they fly."

Thorbjorn Skakkaskald also said: —

"The Tunsberg men would not be slow
In thy good cause to risk a blow;
And well they knew the chief could stain
The wolves' mouths on a battle-plain.
But the town champion rather fears
The sharp bright glance of levelled spears;
Their steel-clad warrior loves no fight
Where bowstring twangs, or fire flies bright."

King Hakon then took the land-road northwards to Throndhjem. When Earl Sigurd heard of this, he proceeded with all the ships he could get the seaway north-wards, to meet King Hakon there.

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