Legendary Sagas of the Northland
in English Translation
HELGA ÞÁTTR ÞÓRISSONAR
The Tale of Helgi Thorisson
Late 13th or early 14th century
from the Flateyjarbok
|1. Helgi fann Ingibjörgu||Chapter 1. Helgi Met Ingibjorg|
Þórir hét maðr, er bjó í Noregi á bæ þeim, er á Rauðabergi heitir. Þessi bær er skammt frá Víkinni. Þórir átti tvá syni. Hét annarr Helgi, en Þorsteinn annarr; báðir váru þeir þrifligir menn, ok var þó Helgi framar um íþróttir. Faðir þeira var hersir at nafnbót. Hann var í vináttu við Óláf konung.
Þat var á einu sumri, at þeir bræðr höfðu kaupferð norðr til Finnmerkr ok höfðu smjör ok flesk til kaups við Finna. Fengu þeir góða kaupferð ok heldu aptr at áliðnu sumri ok kómu um dag við nes þat, er hét Vímund. Þar var allgóðr skógr. Gengu þeir á land upp ok fengu nokkurt mösurtré. Verðr Helga lengra gengit í skóginn en öðrum mönnum. Síðan kastar yfir myrkri miklu, svá at hann hittir eigi til skipsins á þeim aptni; tekr nú ok skjótt at dimma af nótt.
Þá sér Helgi, hvar tólf konur ríða ór skóginum. Þær váru allar á rauðum hestum ok í rauðum reiðklæðum. Þær stigu af baki. Allr reiðingr hestanna þá glóaði við gull. Ein bar þar af öllum um vænleik, ok allar aðrar þjóna henni, þessi inni sköruligu konu. Hestar þeira gengu á gras. Eptir þat settu þær niðr eitt fagrt tjald. Var þat stafat með ýmsum litum ok víða gullskotit, ok öll höfuðin váru við gull búin, er af upp gengu landtjaldinu, ok svá stöngin, er upp stóð, ok mikill gullknappr ofan á. Ok er þær höfðu um búizt, reistu þær borð ok báru á margs konar krásir. Þá tóku þær handlaugar, vatnskarl ok munnlaugar, gervar af silfri, ok allt laugat í gulli.
Helgi stóð nærri tjaldi þeira ok horfði á. Sú, er fyrir þeim var, mælti: "Helgi, gakk hingat, ok þigg hér mat ok drykk með oss."
Hann gerir svá. Helgi sér, at þar er fríðr drykkr ok önnur fæðsla ok væn ker. Þá váru borð ofan tekin ok hvílur búnar, ok váru þær miklu skrautligri en annarra manna sængr. Sú kona spyrr Helga, er fyrir þeim var, hvárt hann vildi heldr liggja einn saman eða hjá henni. Helgi spyrr hana at nafni.
Hún svarar: "Ek heiti Ingibjörg, dóttir Guðmundar af Glæsisvöllum."
Helgi mælti: "Hjá þér vil ek liggja."
Ok svá gerðu þau þrjár nætr í samt. Var þá bjart veðr; standa þau þá upp ok klæðast.
Ingibjörg mælti þá: "Nú munum vit hér skilja. Eru hér kistlar tveir, annarr er fullr af silfri, en annarr af gulli, er ek vil gefa þér, ok seg engum manni, hvaðan þat kom."
Eptir þat ríða þær burt sama veg sem þangat, en hann fór til skips síns. Fagna þeir honum vel ok spyrja, hvar hann dvaldist, en hann vill þar ekki frá segja. Halda þeir þá suðr með landi ok koma heim til föður síns ok hafa aflat mikils fjár. Faðir Helga ok bróðir spyrja, hvaðan honum kom svá mikit fé sem hann hafði í kistlunum, en hann vill þat eigi segja.
There was once a man called Thorir who lived in Norway at Raudberg. This
farmstead is not far from Oslo Fjord. Thorir had two sons. One was
called Helgi and the other Thorstein. They were both fine men, but Helgi
was the more talented. By rank, their father was a lord. He was friendly
with King Olaf.
It happened one summer that the brothers took a trading trip north to Finnmark with butter and bacon to sell to the Lapps. They had a good trip and as summer was getting on they turned back, and one day they came to the headland known as Vimund. There was a very fine forest there. They went ashore and cut down some maple tree. Helgi has gone deeper into the woods than the others. Then a thick fog comes down so that he can’t find the ship that evening. Soon night falls too.
Then Helgi sees twelve women riding from the wood. They were all in red, on red horses. They dismounted. All the trappings of the horses glittered with gold. One surpassed the others in loveliness, and they’re all serving her, this magnificent imposing woman. Their horses went to graze. Next, they set up a beautiful tent. It was covered in different coloured stripes shot through with gold, and the points flashed with gold as the tent went up, and the pole too, as it stood up, with a big knob of gold on top.And when they were ready, they set up a table and put on it all sorts of delicacies. Then they took water to wash their hands with, using a jug in the shape of a man and basins made of silver and inlaid all over with gold. Helgi stepped closer to the tent and looked in. She who was chief of them said, “Helgi, come here and take food and drink with us.”So he does. Helgi sees that there is excellent drink and good food too and beautiful vessels. Then the table was taken down and beds prepared, and they were much more ornate than the beds of other folk. That woman, the one who was their leader, asks Helgi whether he’d rather sleep on his own, or with her. Helgi asked her name.“I am Ingibjorg, daughter of Godmund of Glasisvellir.”
Helgi said, “With you.”And so they did, for three nights in a row. Then the weather cleared—they rise and get dressed.And Ingibjorg said, “Now we must part. Here are two boxes, one full of silver, one of gold, which I want to give you, but tell no one where it’s from.”
After that, they ride off the way they came, and he went to his ship. They welcome him back and ask where he’s been, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. They steer south along the coast and come home to their father, and they’ve done well for themselves. Helgi’s father and brother ask where he came by so much wealth as he had in the boxes, but he won’t say.
|2. Frá sendimönnum Guðmundar||Chapter 2|
Nú líðr svá fram til jóla. Þat var eina nótt, at kemr á býsna veðr. Þorsteinn mælti við bróður sinn: "Vit skulum standa upp ok vita, hvat líðr um skip okkart."
Þeir gera svá, ok var þat fast vel. Helgi hafði látit gera drekahöfuð á skip þeira upp á stafnana ok búa vel fyrir ofan sjó. Fór þat fé þar til, er Ingibjörg gaf honum, dóttir Guðmundar konungs, en sumt læsti hann í drekahálsinum. Þá heyra þeir brest mikinn. Þar ríða at þeim tveir menn ok höfðu Helga í burt með sér. Veit Þorsteinn eigi, hvat af honum verðr. Fellr þá veðrit skjótt. Þorsteinn kemr heim ok segir föður sínum þenna atburð, ok þykkir þetta mikil tíðendi. Ferr hann þegar á fund Óláfs konungs ok segir honum, hvar komit var, ok biðr hann nú verða vissan um, hvar er sonr hans er niðr kominn. Konungr segist þat gera mundu, sem hann beiddi, en kveðst þó óvíst hugr um segja, hver nyt frændum hans mundi at honum verða.
Síðan fór Þórir heim, ok líðr svá þetta ár ok allt fram á jól annat ár, ok sitr konungr á Alreksstöðum um vetrinn. Þá kemr átti dagr jóla, ok um kveldit ganga þrír menn í höllina fyrir Óláf konung, þá er hann sat yfir borðum. Þeir kveðja hann vel. Konungr heilsar þeim vel í móti. Er þar kominn Helgi, en menn kenna eigi hina tvá.
Konungr spurði þá at nafni, en hvárrtveggi kveðst Grímr heita. "Erum vit sendir af Guðmundi á Glæsisvöllum hingat til yðar. Hann sendi yðr kveðju sína ok þar með tvau horn."
Konungr tók við, ok váru gullbúin. Þetta váru allgóðir gripir. Óláfr konungr átti tvau horn, er Hyrningar váru kallaðir, ok þó at þau væri harðla góð, þá váru þau þó betri, er Guðmundr sendi honum.
"Þess beiddi Guðmundr konungr yðr, herra, at þér værið vinir hans, ok þótti mestu varða um yðra þykkju, meir en allra annarra konunga."
Konungr svarar þá engu, en lætr vísa þeim til sætis félögum. Konungr lætr fylla hornin Gríma af góðum drykk ok lætr byskup blessa ok lét færa þeim Grímum, at þeir drykki fyrst af. Þá kvað konungr vísu þessa:
Þá taka Grímar við hornunum ok þykkjast nú vita, hvat byskup hefir yfir lesit drykkinum. Þeir segja þá: "Eigi ferr nú fjarri því, sem Guðmundr, konungr várr, gat til. Er þessi konungr prettóttr ok kann illa gott at launa, því at konungr várr gerði til hans sæmiliga. Stöndum nú upp allir ok verðum í brottu heðan."
Svá gera þeir. Verðr þá hark mikit í stofunni. Þeir slógu niðr drykkinum af hornunum ok slökktu login. Þá heyrðu þeir bresti stóra. Konungr bað guð til gæta ok bað menn upp standa ok stöðva þetta hark. Síðan verða þeir Grímar úti ok Helgi með þeim. Váru þá ljós upp tendruð í konungs herbergi. Sjá þeir þá drepna þrjá menn, en þar liggja hornin Grímar á gólfinu hjá inum dauðum.
"Þetta er undr mikit," sagði konungr, "ok væri betr, at slík yrði sjaldan. Ok þat hef ek heyrt sagt af Guðmundi af Glæsisvöllum, at hann sé mjök fjölkunnigr ok illu megi helzt við hann skipta, ok eru þeir menn illa komnir, er undir hans valdi eru, ef vér mættum nokkut at gera."
Konungr lét varðveita hornin Gríma ok af drekka, ok dugir þat vel. Þar er nú kallat Grímaskarð ofan at Alreksstöðum, er þeir hafa austan farit, ok er þat engra manna at fara þar síðan.
Now it’s getting on for Yule. And one night, it so happened, there comes portentous weather. Thorstein spoke to his brother, “We ought to go and have a look to see how our ship’s doing.”
That’s what they do, but it was quite secure. Helgi had put up a dragon figurehead on their ship, up on the prow, and it was well decorated above the sea-line. He spent some of the treasure that Ingibjorg gave him on this, and the rest he’d locked in the dragon’s neck. Then they hear a great crack. Two men ride at them and carry off Helgi. Thorstein didn’t know what had become of him. The storm quickly subsides then. Thorstein comes home and tells his father what happened, and it sounds serious. Thorir goes to see King Olaf and tells him how things stood, and begged him to find out what had become of his son. The king says he’ll do as Thorir asked, though he said he wasn’t sure if Helgi would be of much use to his family after this.
So Thorir returned home, and a year passes, and now it’s getting on for Yule again, and the king is staying the winter at Alreksstadir. It’s now the eighth day of Yule, and at evening three men walk into the hall and stand before King Olaf as he sat at table. They greet him well. The king greets them well in return. One of them was Helgi, but no one knew the other two. The king asked their names, and they were both called Grim.
“We’ve been sent here to you by Godmund of Glasisvellir. He sends his respects and, with them, these two horns.”
The king took them and they were covered in gold. These were very fine items. King Olaf owned two horns, which were called the Hyrnings, but even though they were very good, these were better, these ones Godmund had sent.
“Here, lord, is Godmund’s offer, that you be his friend, for he sets great store in your having your respect, more so than that of any other king.”
The king doesn’t reply, but has them shown to their seats. He has the horns filled with good drink and blessed by his bishop, and brought to the Grims for them to drink from first. And the horns were called Grim too. Then the king chanted this verse:
“Our guests shall get,
each Grim, a horn,
while Lord Godmund’s
from namesakes two
let them take a sip;
so shall the Grims
good ale receive.”
So the Grims take hold of the horns and they think they know what words the bishop has read out over the drinks. They say, “He wasn’t far off the mark, our king, Godmund. This is a sneaky king who doesn’t know how to repay kindness very well, for our master acted honourably towards him. Let’s all get up now and be off.”
So they do. There’s a great disturbance in the room. They tipped the drinks from the horns and snuffed the lights. Then a great crack was heard. The king prayed God to watch over them, and told his men to get up and pull themselves together. Now the Grims are gone, and Helgi with them. A light was kindled in the king’s dwelling. They see then that three men have been killed, and there lie the Grim-horns on the hall floor beside the dead.
“This is a great wonder,” said the king, “but it would be better if it didn’t happen too often. And I’ve heard it said of Godmund of Glasisvellir, that he’s full of spells, and dangerous to deal with, and those who have come under his power are in a bad way, even if we could do something about it.”
The king told them to keep the horns of the Grims, and drink from them, and there was no problem. The pass above Alreksstadir, where they came from the east, is now called Grims’ Gap, and nobody’s used it since.
|3. Saga Helga||
Nú líðr af vetrinn, ok kemr annarr átti dagr jóla, ok er konungr í kirkju ok hirð hans at hlýða messu. Þá koma þar þrír menn til kirkjudyra, ok er einn eptir, en tveir fara í brott ok mæla þetta áðr: "Hér færum vit þér Gretti, konungr, ok er eigi víst, nær þú færir af þér."
Kenna menn þar Helga. Síðan gengr konungr til borða, ok er menn tala við Helga, verða menn þess varir, at hann er blindr. Frétti konungr þá, hverju gegndi um hans hag eða hvar hann hefði verit þessa stund alla. Hann segir þá konungi fyrst frá því, er hann fann konurnar í skóginum, þá frá því, er þeir Grímar gerðu veðrit at þeim bræðrum, er þeir vildu bjarga skipinu, ok síðan höfðu þeir Grímar hann með sér til Guðmundar á Glæsisvöllum ok færðu hann Ingibjörgu, dóttur Guðmundar.
Þá mælti konungr: "Hversu þótti þér þar at vera?"
"Allgott," segir hann, "ok hvergi hefir mér betra þótt."
Þá spurði konungr at um siðu Guðmundar konungs ok at fjölmenni eða athöfn. En hann lét yfir öllu vel ok sagði, at hans var miklu fleiri en hann fengi talit. Konungr mælti: "Hví fóru þér svá skjótliga í brott í fyrra vetr?"
"Guðmundr konungr sendi þá til at svíkja yðr," segir hann, "en fyrir bænir yðrar lét hann mik lausan, svá at þér mættið vita, hvat er af mér væri orðit. En því fóru vér svá skjótt í brott næstunni, at þeir Grímar höfðu eigi náttúru til at drekka þann drykk, er þér létuð signa. Urðu þeir þessu reiðir, at þeir sá sik yfirstigna, ok því drápu þeir menn yðra, at svá sagði Guðmundr konungr fyrir, ef þeir fengi ekki mein yðr gert. En hann sýndi tign sína í því, at hann sendi yðr hornin, at þér mundið þá síðr eptir mér leita."
Konungr spurði: "Hví fórtu nú í brott öðru sinni?"
Hann svarar: "Ingibjörg olli því. Hún þóttist eigi mega liggja hjá mér nema með meinlætum, ef hún kæmi við mik beran, ok því fór ek mest í brott, enda vildi Guðmundr konungr ekki þreyta við yðr, þegar hann vissi, at þér vilduð mik í brott hafa. En um tign ok risnu Guðmundar konungs má ek eigi í fám orðum segja ok um fjölmenni þat, er með honum er."
Konungr spurði: "Hví ertu blindr?"
Hann svarar: "Ingibjörg Guðmundardóttir greip ór mér bæði augun, þá er vit skildum, ok sagði, at konur í Noregi mundu mín skamma stund njóta."
Konungr sagði: "Makligr væri Guðmundr meingerða af mér fyrir þau manndráp, er hann gerði, ef guð vildi þat vera láta."
Síðan var sent eptir Þóri, föður Helga, ok þakkaði hann honum vel, er sonr hans var aptr kominn ór trölla höndum. Ferr hann síðan heim, en Helgi er eptir með konungi ok lifir til annarrar jafnlengdar.
En konungr hefir hornin Gríma með sér, þá er hann fór síðasta sinn ór landi. En þat segja menn, þá er Óláfr konungr hvarf af Orminum langa, at hyrfi ok hornin ok hafi engi maðr þau sét síðan. Ok lýkr hér frá Grímum at segja.
Now the winter passes, and another year, and it’s the eighth day of Yule again and the king is in church with his court hearing mass. And three men appear at the church door and two of them say: “Here, we’ve brought Old Sourface for you, king, but when you’ll be rid of him, well, that’s anyone’s guess.”
Then the two of them go, leaving the third man. And people recognise him as Helgi. The king is at now table, and as the men are talking with Helgi there, they notice that he’s blind. The king asked what it meant, what happened to him, and, for that matter, where he’d been all this time. He tells the king first about finding the women in the wood, then about the Grims causing a storm for him and his brother, so that they would want go out to save their ship, and how the Grims had then taken him off to Godmund in Glasisvellir and brought him to Ingibjorg, Godmund’s daughter.
The king asked, “What was it like there?”
“Just perfect,” he says, “and I’ve never seen better.”
Then the king enquired about King Godmund’s way of life, how many his people were, and what they got up to. And Helgi spoke, saying how great everything was, and how it was impossible to describe it all.
The king said, “Why did you leave so suddenly last year?”
“Godmund sent the Grims to trick you,” says Helgi, “He let me come because of your prayers, so that you might know what became of me. But we left so fast then because of the Grims. On account of their nature, they couldn’t drink the drink which you’d had blessed. They got angry at seeing themselves beaten. And they killed those men of yours because that’s what Godmund said to do, if they didn’t manage to harm you. But he showed off his glory, sending you those horns, so that you would think more of them than me.”
The king asked, “Why have you come back now?”
He answers, “It’s due to Ingibjorg. She reckoned she couldn’t sleep with me without feeling sick, if she touched my naked body, and that’s mostly why I left, and of course King Godmund didn’t want any bother with you, as soon as he knew you wanted me away from there. But the glory and bounty of King Godmund, and the vast host of the people that are with him, well, I can’t sum it up in just a few words.”
The king asked, “Why are you blind?”
He answers, “Ingibjorg, Godmund’s daughter, clawed out both my eyes when we parted, and said that the women in Norway would not enjoy me for long.”
The king said, “I’d have Godmund suffer greatly for those murders he did in my hall, if that is God’s will.”
Now they sent for Thorir, Helgi’s father, and he gave thanks to the king, that his son had been brought back out of the clutches of trolls. Then Thorir went home, but Helgi stayed on with the king and lived a year to the day.
And the king had the Grim-horns with him when he put to sea that last time. And it’s said that when King Olaf vanished from his ship, The Long Serpent, the horns vanished too, and they say no one has seen them since. And that’s all there is to be told of the Grims.
 Olaf Tryggvason (Óláfr Tryggvason), king of Norway 995-1000, esteemed in sagas for his attempt to Christianise the country.
 Ormr inn langi. Olaf’s prized flagship, from which he leapt to avoid capture in his final battle, sinking without a trace.
SCHOLARSHIP & COMMENTARY
|Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, 1993:||"The meeting of Helgi and Ingibjorg appears to be based on an episode in the Lai de Lanval of Marie de France, but Guðmundr and his realm are known from other Norse works, of which the closest is Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns. The origins seem to be largely in Celtic tales of a delightful otherworld inhabited by beautiful women, a concept with which the author is clearly uneasy. He endeavors to make the visit to Guðmundr's realm seem morally undesirable, and to show that Helgi is released because of the power of Olafr's prayers. As in Þórsteinns þáttr two horns from the other world come into Olafr's possession and vanish when he disappears from his ship in his final battle. The horns, like their bearers, are named Grimar. Grim is the name used of another otherworld horn in Þórsteinns Þáttr. No literary relatuionship is discernable between the two Þáttur."|