List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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   Off and on, in sight of land."


   Every whispered word obeying,
   Swift we bore him down the steep,
   O'er the deep,
   Up the tall ship's side, low swaying
   To the storm-wind's powerful sweep,
   And--his dead companions laying
   Round him,--we had time to weep.


   But the King said--"Peace! bring hither
   Spoil and weapons--battle-strown,
   Make no moan;
   Leave me and my dead together,
   Light my torch, and then--begone."
   But we murmured, each to other,
   "Can we leave him thus alone?"


   Angrily the King replieth;
   Flash the awful eyes again,
   With disdain--
   "Call him not alone who lieth
   Low amidst such noble slain;
   Call him not alone who dieth
   Side by side with gallant men."


   Slowly, sadly, we departed:
   Reached again that desolate shore,
   Trod by him, the brave true-hearted--
   Dying in that dark ship's core!
   Sadder keel from land ne'er parted,
   Nobler freight none ever bore!


   There we lingered, seaward gazing,
   Watching o'er that living tomb,
   Through the gloom--
   Gloom! which awful light is chasing--
   Blood-red flames the surge illume!
   Lo! King Hacon's ship is blazing;
   'Tis the hero's self-sought doom.


   Right before the wild wind driving,
   Madly plunging--stung by fire--
   No help nigh her--
   Lo! the ship has ceased her striving!
   Mount the red flames higher--higher!
   Till--on ocean's verge arriving,
   Sudden sinks the Viking's pyre--
      Hacon's gone!

Let me call one more heroic phantom from Norway's romantic

A kingly presence, stately and tall; his shield held high
above his head--a broken sword in his right hand. Olaf
Tryggvesson! Founder of Nidaros;--that cold Northern Sea
has rolled for many centuries above your noble head, and
yet not chilled the battle heat upon your brow, nor
staunched the blood that trickles down your iron glove,
from hidden, untold wounds, which the tender hand of
Thyri shall never heal!

To such ardent souls it is indeed given "to live for
ever" (the for ever of this world); for is it not "Life"
to keep a hold on OUR affections, when their own passions
are at rest,--to influence our actions (however
indirectly)--when action is at an end for them? Who shall
say how much of modern heroism may owe its laurels to
that first throb of fiery sympathy which young hearts
feel at the relation of deeds such as Olaf Tryggvesson's?

The forms of those old Greeks and Romans whom we are
taught to reverence, may project taller shadows on the
world's stage; but though the scene be narrow here, and
light be wanting, the interest is not less intense, nor
are the passions less awful that inspired these ruder

There is an individuality in the Icelandic historian's
description of King Olaf that wins one's interest--at
first as in an acquaintance--and rivets it at last as in
a personal friend. The old Chronicle lingers with such
loving minuteness over his attaching qualities, his
social, generous nature, his gaiety and "frolicsomeness;"
even his finical taste in dress, and his evident proneness
to fall too hastily in love, have a value in the portrait,
as contrasting with the gloomy colours in which the story
sinks at last. The warm, impulsive spirit speaks in every
action of his life, from the hour when--a young child,
in exile--he strikes his axe into the skull of his
foster-father's murderer, to the last grand scene near
Svalderoe. You trace it in his absorbing grief for the
death of Geyra, the wife of his youth; the saga says,
"he had no pleasure in Vinland after it," and then naively
observes, "he therefore provided himself with war-ships,
and went a-plundering," one of his first achievements
being to go and pull down London Bridge. This peculiar
kind of "distraction" (as the French call it) seems to
have had the desired effect, as is evident in the romantic
incident of his second marriage, when the Irish Princess
Gyda chooses him--apparently an obscure stranger--to be
her husband, out of a hundred wealthy and well-born
aspirants to her hand. But neither Gyda's love, nor the
rude splendours of her father's court, can make Olaf
forgetful of his claims upon the throne of Norway--the
inheritance of his father; and when that object of his
just ambition is attained, and he is proclaimed King by
general election of the Bonders, as his ancestor Harald
Haarfager had been, his character deepens in earnestness
as the sphere of his duties is enlarged.  All the energies
of his ardent nature are put forth in the endeavour to
convert his subjects to the true Faith.  As he himself
expresses it, "he would bring it to this,--that all
Norway should be Christian or die!" In the same spirit
he meets his heretic and rebellious subjects at the Thing
of Lade, and boldly replies, when they require him to
sacrifice to the false gods, "If I turn with you to offer
sacrifice, then shall it be the greatest sacrifice that
can be made; I will not offer slaves, nor malefactors to
your gods,--I will sacrifice men;--and they shall be the
noblest men among you!" It was soon after this that he
despatched the exemplary Thangbrand to Iceland.

With a front not less determined does he face his country's
foes. The king of Sweden, and Svend "of the forked beard,"
king of Denmark, have combined against him.  With them
is joined the Norse jarl, Eric, the son of Hacon.  Olaf
Tryggvesson is sailing homewards with a fleet of seventy
ships,--himself commanding the famous "Long Serpent,"
the largest ship built in Norway. His enemies are lying
in wait for him behind the islands.

Nothing can be more dramatic than the description of
the sailing of this gallant fleet--(piloted by the treacherous
Earl Sigwald)--within sight of the ambushed Danes and
Swedes, who watch from their hiding-place the beautiful
procession of hostile vessels, mistaking each in turn for the
"Long Serpent," and as often undeceived by a new and yet
more stately apparition. She appears at length, her dragon
prow glittering in the sunshine, all canvas spread, her
sides bristling with armed men; "and when they saw her,
none spoke, all knew it to be indeed the 'Serpent,'--and
they went to their ships to arm for the fight." As soon as
Olaf and his forces had been enticed into the narrow
passage, the united fleets of the three allies pour out of the
Sound; his people beg Olaf to hold on his way and not
risk battle with such a superior force; but the King replied,
high on the quarter-deck where he stood, "Strike the
sails! I never fled from battle: let God dispose of my life,
but flight I will never take!" He then orders the warhorns
to sound, for all his ships to close up to each other.
"Then," says Ulf the Red, captain of the forecastle, "if
the 'Long Serpent' is to lie so much a-head of the other
vessels, we shall have hot work of it here on the forecastle."

The King replies, "I did not think I had a forecastle
man afraid, as well as red." [Footnote: There is a play
on these two words in the Icelandic, "Raudau oc Ragan."]

Says Ulf, "Defend thou the quarter-deck, as _I_ shall
the forecastle."

The King had a bow in his hands; he laid an arrow on the
string, and made as if he aimed at Ulf.

Ulf said, "Shoot another way, King, where it is more
needful,--my work is thy gain."

Then the King asks, "Who is the chief of the force right
opposite to us?" He is answered, "Svend of Denmark, with
his army."

Olaf replies, "We are not afraid of these soft Danes!
Who are the troops on the right?"

They answer, "Olaf of Sweden, and his forces."

"Better it were," replies the King, "for these Swedes to
be sitting at home, killing their sacrifices, than
venturing under the weapons of the 'Long Serpent.' But
who owns the large ships on the larboard side of the

"That is Jarl Eric, son of Hacon," say they.

The King says, "He has reason for meeting us; we may
expect hard blows from these men; they are Norsemen like

The fierce conflict raged for many hours. It went hard
with the "soft Danes," and idolatrous Swedes, as Olaf
had foreseen: after a short struggle they turn and fly.
But Jarl Eric in his large ship the "Iron Beard" is more
than a match for Olafs lighter vessels. One by one their
decks are deluged with blood, their brave defenders swept
into the sea; one by one they are cut adrift and sent
loose with the tide. And now at last the "Iron Beard"
lies side by side with the "Long Serpent," and it is
indeed "hot work" both on forecastle and quarter-deck.

"Einar Tambarskelvar, one of the sharpest of bowmen,
stood by the mast, and shot with his bow." His arrow hits
the tiller-end, just over the Earl's head, and buries
itself up to the shaft in the wood. "Who shot that bolt?"
says the Jarl. Another flies between his hand and side,
and enters the stuffing of the chief's stool. Then said
the Jarl to a man named Fin, "Shoot that tall archer by
the mast!" Fin shoots; the arrow hits the middle of
Einar's bow as he is in the act of drawing it, and the
bow is split in two.

"What is that," cried King Olaf, "that broke with such
a noise?"

"NORWAY, King, from thy hands!" cried Einar.

"No! not so much as that," says the King; "take my bow,
and shoot,"--flinging the bow to him.

Einar took the bow, and drew it over the head of the
arrow. "Too weak, too weak," said he, "for the bow of a
mighty King!" and throwing the bow aside, "he took sword
and buckler, and fought valiantly."

But Olaf's hour is come. Many slain lie around him, many
that have fallen by his hand, more that have fallen at
his side. The thinned ranks on board the "Iron Beard"
are constantly replenished by fresh combatants from other
vessels, even by the Swedes and soft Danes, now "strong,
upon the stronger side,"--while Olaf, cut off from succour,
stands almost alone upon the "Serpent's" deck, made
slippery by his people's blood. The jarl had laid out
boats to intercept all who might escape from the ship;
but escape is not in the King's thoughts. He casts one

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