“Here I place this “Nidstang” (curse pole), and turneth it against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild – turneth I this against all the gnomes and little people of the land, that they may all be lost, not finding their homes, until they drive King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild out of the country.”
~~ Egil Skallagrimsson ~~
King Eirik ruled over Norway for one year after the death of his father king Harold. In an age of harshness and granite hard men, Eirik had a reputation for being the harshest, hardest and most unforgiving of his enemies.
Egil Skallagrimsson was a warrior of some note in the finest Norse tradition; he raided, he looted, he killed anything with a pulse which stepped in his way, and he was also a skald of exceptional imagination and vision who had just done something unwise; he had killed one of Eirik`s friends after a heated, drunken argument by burying his blade deep into the guts of his victim and shoving it out the other side to greet the rising sun.
He needed to make a quick escape from the scene of the crime because he knew that you really do not mess with someone with the nom de plume of Bloodaxe. Eirik quickly sent his men against Egil, cutting off his route of escape to his ship, so Egil swam his way through the icy cold water to a nearby island in the hope of finding a vessel to steal, but found none. Looking back, he saw a ship full of Eirik`s men sailing towards him; he hunkered down and waited events as twelve warriors left the boat to search for him leaving three behind. Egil considered 3 to 1 was good enough odds for a hard fighting man of his calibre and so proceeded to gut them like fishes…………..
“They who guarded the boat were not aware of it till Egil was upon them. He at once smote one with a death – blow; but another took to his heels, and he had to leap up something of a bank. Egil followed him with a blow cutting off his foot. The third man leapt out into the boat, and pushed off with the pole. Egil drew the boat to him with the rope, and leapt out into it. Few blows were exchanged ere Egil slew him and pushed him overboard. Then he took oars and rowed the boat away. He went all that night and the day after, nor stayed till he came to lord Thorir`s.”
Egil had escaped the wrath of Bloodaxe, but their future relationship was now decidedly on rocky ground. Egil`s one chance of survival would be to avoid any further contact with Eirik for the foreseeable.
But One-Eye and the Norns had other ideas, and Egil`s Wyrd had been weaved into a different pattern to the one he had hoped for: but a mortal could alter the course of Fate if he were bold and courageous enough.
Meantime, Eirik had been expelled from Norway because his brutality had proven too troublesome, and had set himself and his wife Gunnhild up in splendour on the Orkneys; so Egil decided to set sail on a raid to England safe in the knowledge that if he stayed his course away from Eirik`s domains he would be safe.
A great storm blew up and forced Egil`s ship to land on the coast near to Humber-mouth, where he learned that Eirik`s power was supreme in Northumbria and he resided near-by in Yorvik. Now that he nestled deep within the viper`s nest, Egil appeared to stand little chance of leaving alive so decided to seek out an old acquaintance called Arinbjorn in Yorvik to oil the wheels of escape. Egil knocked on Arinbjorn`s door and asked entry………
“There is a man come here out before the door, big as a giant, and he begged me to go in and ask whether thou wouldst rather without or within speak to Egil Skallagrimsson.”
Arinbjorn said: ” Go and beg him to bide without, nor shall he need to bide long.”
He did as Arinbjorn told him, went out and said what had been said to him.
Arinbjorn bade take up the tables; then went he out – and all his housecarls with him.
And when Arinbjorn met Egil, he greeted him well, and asked why he was come here.
Arinbjorn decided it was best for all concerned if Egil faced Bloodaxe and asked forgiveness and reconciliation. This they did……
……….Then the king looked round, and saw over men`s heads where Egil stood. The king knew him at once, and, darting a keen glance at him, said:
“How wert thou so bold, Egil, that thou darest to come before me? Thy parting from me was such that of life thou couldst have from me no hope.”
Then went Egil up to the table , and clasped the foot of the king. He then sang:
“With cross- winds far cruising
I came on my wave horse,
Eirik England`s warder
Eager soon to see.
Now wielder of wound – flash,
White dauntless in daring,
That strong strand of Harold`s
Stout lineage I meet.”
King Eirik said:
“I need not to count the crimes on thy hands, for they are so many and great that each one might well warrant that thou go not hence alive. Thou hast nothing else to expect but that here thou must die. This thou mightest know before , that thou wouldst get no terms from me.”
Gunnhild, that Witch Queen, whose reputation for seidr magic was already legendary when she married Eirik and included her living with two Sami wizards to learn of their magic, and set Eirik to kill them before she married him, was not happy at Eirik`s leniency towards Egil`s silken praise of her husband.
“Why should Egil not be slain at once? Remember thou no more, O king, what Egil hath done to thee — slain thy friends and kin, ay, even thine own son to boot, and cursed thyself? Where ever was it known that a king was thus dealt with?”
Had not the Mother of Kings helped in the killing of some of Eirik`s brothers and other enemies by poisoning and raising storms to drown their ships? She possessed immensely powerful magic and was reputed to go into prolonged trances – the essence of seidr – and transform herself into a crow and fly long distances to spy out the movements of enemies and listen to their conversations. She was a formidable foe and the air crackled with the electricity surrounding this great mistress of darkness.
But despite this, Egil was safe and waited for a discreet moment to slip from Eirik`s presence and take ship for safety away from Gunnhild`s serpent`s eyes.
During the Viking Age, to put a “nid” on someone – as Egil had previously done against Eirik and Gunnhild, was to put a very powerful verbal curse upon them. The Landvaettir would be raised against the accursed ; it was used as the ultimate insult and would have been used only in extremis. Gunnhild knew this and sought to end the weave of Egil`s Fate and consign him to Hel.
After many more years of raiding, fighting, drinking and singing, Egil returned to Iceland to raise a family and share his remarkable life with travellers. He was an epic Viking; big as a house, bad and ugly, but he was a great writer of poems and songs, which are considered today one of the wonders of literature, and which stand as the bedrock upon which the modern world of the imagination stands. The Norse Sagas are the greatest achievement of a great people who continue to talk directly to us through their words and deeds………..Fame Never Dies.
“One with eight I battled
Eleven face I twice,
Made for wolf a meal,
Myself the bane of all.
Shields shook by sword – strokes
Smitten fast and furious;
Angry fire forth – flashing
Flew my ashen spear.”