List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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look around him, glances at his sword--broken like Einar's
bow--draws a deep breath, and, holding his shield above
his head, springs overboard. A shout--a rush! who shall
first grasp that noble prisoner? Back, slaves! the shield
that has brought him scathless through a hundred fights,
shall yet shelter him from dishonour.

Countless hands are stretched to snatch him back to
worthless life, but the shield alone floats on the swirl
of the wave;--King Olaf has sunk beneath it.

Perhaps you have already had enough of my Saga lore; but
with that grey cathedral full in sight, I cannot but
dedicate a few lines to another Olaf, king and warrior
like the last, but to whom after times have accorded a
yet higher title.

Saint Olaf's--Saint Olave, as we call him--early history
savours little of the odour of sanctity, but has rather
that "ancient and fish-like smell" which characterised
the doings of the Vikings, his ancestors. But those were
days when honour rather than disgrace attached to the
ideas of booty and plunder, especially in an enemy's
country; it was a "spoiling of the Egyptians" sanctioned
by custom, and even permitted by the Church, which did
not disdain occasionally to share in the profits of a
successful cruise, when presented in the decent form of
silver candlesticks and other ecclesiastical gauds. As
to the ancient historian, he mentions these matters as
a thing of course. "Here the King landed, burnt, and
ravaged;" "there the Jarl gained much booty;" "this
summer, they took a cruise in the Baltic, to gather
property," etc., much as a modern biographer would speak
of a gentleman's successful railroad speculations, his
taking shares in a coal mine, or coming into a "nice
little thing in the Long Annuities." Nevertheless, there
is something significant of his future vocation, in a
speech which Olaf makes to his assembled friends and
relations, imparting to them his design of endeavouring
to regain possession of the throne: "I and my men have
nothing for our support save what we captured in war,
an innocent man have we deprived of his property, and
some of their lives, and foreigners are now sitting in
the possessions of my fathers." One sees here a faint
glimmer of the Saint's nimbus, over the helmet of the
Viking, a dawning perception of the "rights of property,"
which, no doubt, must have startled his hearers into the
most ardent conservative zeal for the good old marauding

But though years elapsed, and fortunes changed, before
this dim light of the early Church became that scorching
and devouring flame which, later, spread terror and
confusion among the haunts of the still lingering ancient
gods, an earnest sense of duty seems to have been ever
present with him. If it cannot be denied that he shared
the errors of other proselytizing monarchs, and put down
Paganism with a stern and bloody hand, no merely personal
injury ever weighed with him. How grand is his reply to
those who advise him to ravage with fire and sword the
rebellious district of Throndhjem, as he had formerly
punished numbers of his subjects who had rejected
Christianity:--"We had then GOD'S honour to defend; but
this treason against their sovereign is a much less
grievous crime; it is more in my power to spare those
who have dealt ill with me, than those whom God hated."
The same hard measure which he meted to others he applied
to his own actions:  witness that curiously characteristic
scene, when, sitting in his high seat, at table, lost in
thought, he begins unconsciously to cut splinters from
a piece of fir-wood which he held in his hand. The table
servant, seeing what the King was about, says to him,
(mark the respectful periphrasis!) "IT IS MONDAY, SIRE,
TO-MORROW." The King looks at him, and it came into his
mind what he was doing on a Sunday.  He sweeps up the
shavings he had made, sets fire to them, and lets them
burn on his naked hand; "showing thereby that he would
hold fast by God's law, and not trespass without

But whatever human weaknesses may have mingled with the
pure ore of this noble character, whatever barbarities
may have stained his career, they are forgotten in the
pathetic close of his martial story.

His subjects,--alienated by the sternness with which he
administers his own severely religious laws, or corrupted
by the bribes of Canute, king of Denmark and England,
are fallen from their allegiance. The brave, single-hearted
monarch is marching against the rebellious Bonders, at
the head of a handful of foreign troops, and such as
remained faithful among his own people. On the eve of
that last battle, on which he stakes throne and life, he
intrusts a large sum of money to a Bonder, to be laid
out "on churches, priests, and alms-men, as gifts for
the souls of such as may fall in battle AGAINST
HIMSELF,"--strong in the conviction of the righteousness
of his cause, and the assured salvation of such as upheld

He makes a glorious end. Forsaken by many whom he had
loved and served,--yet forgiving and excusing them;
rejecting the aid of all who denied that holy Faith which
had become the absorbing interest of his life,--but
surrounded by a faithful few, who share his fate; "in
the lost battle, borne down by the flying"--he falls,
transpierced by many wounds, and the last words on his
fervent lips are prayer to God. [Footnote: The exact date
of the battle of Sticklestad is known: an eclipse of the
sun occurred while it was going on.]

Surely there was a gallant saint and soldier. Yet he was
not the only one who bore himself nobly on that day.
Here is another episode of that same fatal fight.

A certain Thormod is one of the Scalds (or Poets) in King
Olaf's army. The night before the battle he sings a
spirited song at the King's request, who gives him a gold
ring from his finger in token of his approval. Thormod
thanks him for the gift, and says, "It is my prayer,
Sire, that we shall never part, either in life or death."
When the King receives his death-wound Thormod is near
him,--but, wounded himself, and so weak and weary that
in a desperate onslaught by the King's men,--nicknamed

The noise of the battle has ceased; the King is lying
dead where he fell. The very man who had dealt him his
death-wound has laid the body straight out on the ground,
and spread a cloak over it. "And when he wiped the blood
from the face it was very beautiful, and there was red
in the cheeks, as if he only slept."

Thormod, who had received a second wound as he stood in
the ranks--(an arrow in his side, which he breaks off at
the shaft),--wanders away towards a large barn, where
other wounded men have taken refuge. Entering with his
drawn sword in his hand, he meets one of the Bonders
coming out, who says, "It is very bad there, with howling
and screaming; and a great shame it is, that brisk young
fellows cannot bear their wounds. The King's men may have
done bravely to-day, but truly they bear their wounds

Thormod asks what his name is, and if he was in the
battle. Kimbe was his name, and he had been "with the
Bonders, which was the best side." "And hast thou been
in the battle too?" asks he of Thormod.

Thormod replies, "I was with them that had the best."

"Art thou wounded?" says Kimbe.

"Not much to signify," says Thormod.

Kimbe sees the gold ring, and says, "Thou art a King's
man: give me thy gold ring, and I will hide thee."

Thormod replies, "Take the ring if thou canst get it;

Kimbe stretches out his hand to seize the ring; but
Thormod, swinging his sword, cuts off his hand; "and it
is related, that Kimbe behaved no better under his wound
than those he had just been blaming."

Thormod then enters the house where the wounded men are
lying, and seats himself in silence by the door.

As the people go in and out, one of them casts a look at
Thormod, and says, "Why art thou so dead pale? Art thou
wounded?" He answers carelessly, with a half-jesting
rhyme; then rises and stands awhile by the fire. A woman,
who is attending on those who are hurt, bids him "go out,
and bring in firewood from the door." He returns with
the wood, and the girl then looking him in the face,
says, "Dreadfully pale is this man;" and asks to see his
wounds. She examines his wound in his side, and feels
that the iron of the arrow is still there; she then takes
a pair of tongs and tries to pull it out, "but it sat
too fast, and as the wound was swelled, little of it
stood out to lay hold of." Thormod bids her "cut deep
enough to reach the iron, and then to give him the tongs,
and let him pull." She did as he bade. He takes the ring
from his hand, and gives it to the girl, saying, "It is
a good man's gift! King Olaf gave it to me this morning."
Then Thormod took the tongs and pulled the iron out. The
arrow-head was barbed, and on it there hung some morsels
of flesh. When he saw that he said, "THE KING HAS FED US
WELL! I am fat, even at the heart-roots!" And so saying,
he leant back, and died. [Footnote: When a man was wounded
in the abdomen, it was the habit of the Norse leeches to
give him an onion to eat; by this means they learnt
whether the weapon had perforated the viscera.]

Stout, faithful heart! if they gave you no place in your
master's stately tomb, there is room for you by his side
in heaven!

I have at last received--I need not say how joyfully--two
letters from you; one addressed to Hammerfest. I had
begun to think that some Norwegian warlock had bewitched
the post-bags, in the approved old ballad fashion, to
prevent their rendering up my dues; for when the packet
of letters addressed to the "Foam" was brought on board,
immediately after our arrival, I alone got nothing. From
Sigurdr and the Doctor to the cabin-boy, every face was
beaming over "news from home!" while I was left to walk
the deck, with my hands in my pockets, pretending not to
care. But the spell is broken now, and I retract my evil

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