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The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (Saga Heidreks Konungs Ins Vitra) - Christopher,  translated by Tolkien

The Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks is an Icelandic Fornaldarsaga from the 13th century that contains various Scandinavian traditions combined with a poem called Hlöðskviða which seems to preserve much older traditions based on events featuring battles between Goths and Huns in Migration Period Europe. Certain characters from Hlöðskviða also find parallels in the Old English Widsith.


The Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks tells the story of the mythical cursed sword (each time the sword is drawn from its scabbard it must kill a man) called Tyrfing and how it was forged by the Dwarves Dvalinn and Durin for king Svafrlami and how he lost it to the berserker Arngrim from Bolmsö who gave it to his son Angantyr. Angantyr died during a fight on Samsø against the Swedish hero Hjalmar, whose friend Orvar-Odd buried the cursed sword in a barrow together with Angantyr. In a particularly haunting section of the saga Angantyr's Valkyrie daughter, Valkyrie daughter, the shieldmaiden Hervor visits the barrow and retrieves the sword Tyrfing by summoning her dead father from the barrow to claim her inheritance. The the saga continues with her and her son Heidrek,  his banishment from his father's kingdom and adventures with the sword Tyrfing. Heidrek's adventures take him to Reidgotaland, where he marries the kings daughter and has a son named Angantyr. Eventually Heidrek becomes ruler of the Goths and defeats the Hunnish king Humle in battle  and captures his daughter Sifka, whom he raped. When Sifka becomes pregnant, she is sent back to her father's kingdom, where she has a son named Hlöd.


The saga now tells the story of how Angantyr inherits his father's kingdom in Gothland and how his stepbrother Hlöd with Hunnish backing arrives to claim half of the Gothic kingdom from his brother. Upon Angantyr's refusal of Hlöd's claim a huge battle ensues between Goths and Huns. The battle commences with an old and grizzled Gothic warrior named Gizur (Odin?) taunting the Huns. In the ensuing battle, Hervor, Angantyr's Valkyrie sister is slain by the invading Hunnish forces. The battle reaches its climatic conclusion with Hlöd's death at the hands of his half brother Angantyr.  The final section of the saga is taken up by a somewhat dry section that links the saga to Scandinavian history.


The last section of the saga that includes the Hlöðskviða has become something of scholarly preoccupation with numerous scholars trying to identify the poem with various battles from the Migration Period. Candidates have included everything from the Battle of Nedao to Attila's Battle on the Catalaunian Plains. In this edition Tolkien puts forward is theory that the events in the poem "contain legend and not history" and that "the matter of legend has roots, however much transformed by poets" also that "no actual event has been found in the meagrely recorded history of those times, and surely never will be." The inclusion of a section in the Old English Widsith that mentions Heidrek (Heathoric) together with his sons Angantyr (Incgentheow) and Hlöð (Hlith) is ample proof that the story was well known throughout the Germanic speaking areas of Europe in the Middle Ages.


Christopher Tolkien's edition of this saga is excellent and contains an informative introduction, the Norse text of the saga and an English translation on the opposing page. There's also a few useful appendices that include translations from the beginning of a variant manuscript of the saga and parallels to the work from  Örvar-Odds saga. Due to the Tolkien connection the original first edition of this book has become something of a collectors item and fetches high prices on the secondhand market, but the Official Tolkien Bookshop have recently released print on demand copies at a more reasonable price and are available to order on their site. Alternatively there's free downloadable pdf versions available from the Viking Societies online publications site.





 Battle of the Goths and Huns, extracted from The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise




The Battle Of The Goths And Huns 


Of old they said Humli

of Huns was ruler,

Gizur of the Gautar,

of Goths Agantyr,

Valdar the Danes ruled,

and the Valir Kjar,

Alrek the valiant

the English people.


Hlod, the son of King Heidrek, had been brought up in the halls 

of King Humli, his mother's father, and he was the most valiant of all

men, and the most beautiful in appearance, There was an old saying

at that time, that a man was born with weapons or horses; and the

explanation of this is that it was said of those weapons which were

being made at the time when the man was born, and so likewise with

beasts. sheep, oxen, or horses, which were born at the same time: all

this was gathered together in honour of men of noble birth, as is told

here concerning Hlod, the son of Heidrek:


In the Hun-kingdom

was Hlod's birthplace,

with sword and cutlass

and corslet hanging,

ring-adorned helmet

and harsh-edged sword,

horse well-broken

in the holy forest.


Now Hlod learnt of the death of his father, and learnt too that

Agantyr his brother had been made king over all the realm which

their father had held. Then Humli the king and Hlod resolved that

Hlod should go and demand his inheritance from Agantyr his brother,

using fair words at first, as is thus told:


Hlod rode from the east,

heir of Heidrek,

he came to the court

claiming his birhtright,

to Arheimar,

the homes of the Goths;

there drank Agantyr

arval for Heidrek.


And so Hlod came to Arheimar with a great following, as is told in 

this verse:


A man he found lingering

late in the open

by the high dwelling.

and hailed him thereafter:

Friend, now hasten

to the high dwelling,

demand of Agantyr

that with me he speak!


The man went in, up to the king's table, and hailed Agantyr with

fair words, and then he said:


Hlod is come here,

Heidrek's offspring,

your own brother,

for battle eager;

mighty this youth is

mounted on horseback;

king! he claims now

converse with you.


When the king heard that, he cast down his knife upon the board

and rose from the table; he put on his coat of mail, and took his white

shield in one hand and the sword Tyrfing in the other. Then there

arose a great din within the hall, as is thus told:


Clamour woke in the court,

with the king rising

each would hearken

to Hlod's greeting

and learn what answer 

Agantyr gave.


'You are welcome, Hlod my brother! said Agantyr then. 'Come

in and drink with us; and first let us drink in memory of our

father, for concord between us, us for the honour of us all, with all

the dignity we have!'

But Hlod answered,'We have come here for something other than

the filling of our bellies.' Then he said:


Half will I have

of Heidrek's riches,

of cow and of calf,

of creaking handmill,

tools and weapons,

treasure undivided,

slave and bondmaid

and thier sons and daughters;


the renowned forest

that is named Mirkwood,

the hallowed grave

in Gothland standing,

the fair-wrought stone

beside the Dneiper,

half the armour

owned by Heidrek,

lands and leigemen

and lustrous rings!


Then Agantyr said,'You have no title to this land, and you are

resolved to deal unjustly'; and then he said:


The bright buckler

shall break, kinsman,

the cold lances

clash together,

grim men unnumbered

in the grass sinking,

ere the heritage I share

with Humli's grandson

or ever Tyrfing

in twain sunder!


Yet more Agantyr uttered:


I will give you

gleaming lances,

wealth and cattle

well to content you;

thralls a thousand,

a thousand horses,

a thousand bondsmen

bearing armour.


Each shall get of me

gifts in plenty,

nobler than all that 

he now possess;

to every man

shall a maid be given,

the neck of each

by necklace clasped.


I will measure you in silver

as you sit in your chair,

upon your departing

I will pour down gold,

rings shall go rolling

round about you;

a third of Gothland

shall you govern over.


Gizur Grytingalidi, the foster-father of King Heidrek, was at

that time at the court of King Agantyr; he was now very aged.


When he heard Agantyr's offer it seemed that he offered too

much, and he said:


A bountiful offer

for a bondmaid's child-

child of a bondmaid.

though born to a king!

The bastard son

did sit on a mound

while the prince was 

parting the heritage.


Hlod became greatly enraged at being called a bastard and the son

of a slave-girl, if he should accept his brother's offer, and immediately

he went away with all his following, and returned home to the land of

the Huns, to King Humli his mother's father, and told him that his

brother Agantyr has refused him an equal division of the inheritance.


Humli the king asked then concerning all that had passed, and he

was very angry that Hlod, his daughters son, should be called the son

of a bondmaid; and he said:


In winter unstirring

let us sit content,

in converse drinking

the costly wine;

let us teach the Huns

to tend their wargear,

which bold-hearted

we shall bear to war.


We shall for you, Hlod,

the host be armed,


shall we fight this war,

with twelve year-old warriors

and two-winter foals,

so shall we muster

the might of Hunland.


All that winter Humli and Hlod remained quiet; but in the spring

they gathered together an army so vast that afterwards the land of the

Huns was utterly despoiled of all it's fighting- men. All men went,

from twelve years old and upwards, who were able to bear weapons in

war, and all their horses went, of two years old or more. So great was

the multitude that the men of the phalanxes could be counted by their

thousands only, and by nothing less than thousands; a captain was set

over every thousand, and a standard over every phalanx. There were

five thousands in every phalanx, each thousand containing thirteen

hundreds, and in each hundred were four times forty men; these

phalanxes were thirty-three in number.


When this host had gaethered together they rode through the forest

called Mirkwood, which divided the land of the Huns from the land of

the Goths; and when they came out of the forest they were in a land 

of broad populous tracts and level plains. On the plains stood a fair

stronghold, over which Hervor, the sister of Hlod and Agantyr, had

command, together with Ormar her foster-father; they were set there

to defend this land against the army of the Huns, and they had a strong garrison.


One morning at sunrise Hervor stood on a watchtower above the

fortress-gate, and she saw a great cloud of dust from horses' hooves

rising southwards toward the forest, which for a long time hid the sun.

Presently she saw a glittering beneath the dustcloud, as though she

were gazing on a mass of gold, bright shields overlaid with gold,

gilded helms and bright corslets; and then she saw that it was the

army of the Huns, and a mighty host.


Hervor went down swiftly and called her trumpeter, and ordered

him to blow a summons to the host; and then she said,'Take your

weapons and make ready for battle; but do you, ormar, ride to meet

the Huns and challenge them to battle before the south gate of the



Ormar answered:


Surely shall I ride,

my shield holding,

to give battle

for the Gothic people!


Then Ormar rode out of the fortress towards the Huns; he called

out in a great voice and told them to ride on to the fortress--' and out-

side the stronghold-gate, in the plains to the south, there I offer you

battle; and let them await the others, those who first come there'


Now Ormar rode back to the fortress, and Hervor was ready, and

all her army. They rode out of the stronghold with alll the garrison to

meet the Huns; and there a mighty battle arose. But since the

Huns had by far the larger army the slaughter became heavier in

Hervor's host; and at last Hervor fell, and a great compamy around 

her. When Ormar saw her fall he fled away, and all the rest, who were

fainthearted. Day and night Ormar rode, as fast as he could, to reach

King Agantyr in Arheimar; but the Huns began now to ravage and

burn far and wide accross the land.


When Ormar came before Agantyr the king, he said:


From the south have I come

to speak these tidings:

fire in the marches

of Mirkwood is raging,

with the gore of men

all Gothland's sprinkled!


And more he spoke:


I know that Hervor

Heidrek's daughter,

your own sister,

has sunk to the earth;

the Hun foemen

felled the maiden

and many more

of your men by her--


In war more happy

than in wooer's converse,

or at a bridal banquet

on bench to seat her.


When King Agantyr heard this, he drew back his lips, and was

slow to speak; at last he said,' In no brotherly fashion have you been

treated, my noble sister.' Then he cast his eye over his following,

and no great company was there with him; and he said:


Full many we were

at the mead-drinking;

when more are needed

the number is smaller.


I see not the man

among my lieges, not though I begged him

and bribed him with rings,

who would surely ride,

his shield bearing,

to seek the host

of the Hun people.


Then Gizur the old spoke:


No single ounce

do I ask from you,

no single coin

of clinking gold;

yet ride I shall,

my shield bearing,

and to the Hun army

offer the war-staff.


Now it was the law of King Heidrek that if an army were invading

a land and the king of that country marked out a field with hazel-poles

and ordained a place of battle, then the raiders should do no ravaging

before the battle's issue was decided.


Gizur now clad himself for war with good weapons. and leapt upon

his horse as if he were a youth. Then he said to the king:


Where shall the Huns be

to war bidden?


The kind answered:


On the Danube-heath

below the Hills of Ash

shall you call them to fight,

their foes meeting;

there often Goths

have given battle,

renown gaining

in noble victories.


Now Gizur rode away until he came to the host of the Huns; but

he rode no nearer than within earshot, and called out in a great voice:


Daunted are your legions,

doomed your leader,

banners rise over you,

Odin is wrathful!


And then he said:


On the Danube-heath

below the Hills of Ash

I call you to fight,

your foes meeting;...

may Odin let the dart fly

as I prescribe it!


When Hlod heard the words of Gizur, he cried:


Seize you Gizur


Agantyr's man

come from Arheimar!


But Humli the king answered him, We must not harm heralds

who ride alone.'


Then Gizur said,' Neither the Huns nor their hornbows make us

afraid!' Then he struck spurs to his horse and rode back to King

Agantyr, and went before him, and greeted him with fair words.

The king asked whether he had met with the king of the Huns, and

Gizur answered, ' I spoke with them, and summoned them to the

battlefield on the Danube-heath, in the dales of strife.'


Agantyr asked how great was the host of the Huns, and Gizur

replied, ' Huge is their multitude':


Of soldiers have they

six phalanxes,

every phalanx

has five thousands,

every thousand

thirteen hundreds,

and a full hundred

is four times counted.


Agantyr learnt now of the strength of the Hunnish host, and then

he sent out messengers to every quarter, summoning to him every man

who could bear arms and would give him service. He marched then

to the Danube Heath with his army, and it was very great; and the 

Hunnish host came against him, and it was as great again.


On the next day they began the battle, and all that day they fought,

and in the evening they went to their tents. They fought thus for 

eight days without the captains being wounded, but no-one could

number the fallen. But both by day and night men thronged in to

Agantyr from every quarter, and thus it was that he had no fewer

men than at the beginning of the battle. And now the fighting grew

yet more bitter than before; the Huns were ferocious. seeing their

case, that only in victory lay hope of life, and that it would be of little

avail to ask quarter of the Goths. But the Goths were defending their

freedom and the land of their birth against the Huns, and for this they

stood firm, and each man urged on his comrade. When the day was

far spent the Goths pressed on so hard that the Hunnish legions gave

way before them; and seeing this Agantyr strode out from behind

the shield-wall and up into the foremost rank, and in his hand he held

Tyrfing, and he cut down both men and horses; then the ranks fell

apart before the kings of the Huns, and brother struck at brother.

There Hlod fell and Humli the king, and the Huns took to flight; but

the Goths slew them, and made such carnage that the rivers were

choked and turned from their courses, and the valleys were filled with

dead men and horses.


Agantyr went to search among the slain, and finding his brother 

Hlod he said:


Treasures uncounted,

kinsman, I offered you,

wealth and cattle

well to content you;

but for war's reward

you have won neither

realm more spacious

nor rings glittering.


And then he said:


We are cursed, kinsman,

your killer am I!

It will never be forgotten;

the Norns doom is evil.


Christopher Tolkien translation.