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When winterís howling gales blow hard across the snows of northern lands,
and great logs burn in feasting halls beneath the light of firebrands,
then do the scarred old men begin to tell the tales of yesteryear
to young men who fall silent then and still the hounds that they might hear
of how great victory was won, by sorcery beneath the stars,
and how the fur-clad skraeling horde found death among the lands afar.
When Sun lay mote in Vestmannseye, the sagas of the elders say,
when thin-eyed dvergar roamed the hills and cast their spears into the sea;
full many were the ship-men then who drowned to please the haf-fru whores,
or bent the knee beneath the waves in fealty to soetrold lords;
yet in the Bane-lands to the north where cold auroras flare and call,
the warband of jarl Thorstein dwelt who would not kneel nor would they fall.
Their lands were dark and strangely wrought by Jotun hand, the legends told,
with barren cliff and snow-foss deep, with ice-locked rivers groaning cold;
and many were the mysteries and tales of wonder through this land,
of vitkar, volur cloaked in frost, of beasts that could men understand;
and from this land jarl Thorstein looked west over sea to Vestmannseye,
and swore upon a broken sword to conquer there or fall and die.
And so it was jarl Thorstein fared out of his harbour bleak and cold,
along the sea-ways west to where the sun turns water into gold,
to face the painted warring-men who waited in their forest gloom,
beside the grey wolf and the bear, to send the warband to their doom;
for many were the dvergar-folk who swore before tall altars there
to take the head of all who came within the reach of axe or spear.
Yet even as such oaths were sworn and sacred songs of death were sung,
nine blackĖrobed volur from Helís mouth came chanting in the ancient tongue.
Amongst the clouds their words were heard, beneath the waves their voices went;
to ship-man, myrkrida and bird, to those unseen the word was sent:
ď1000 hearts for Andhrimir, 1000 heads for Lokiís brood,
1000 sacrifices wait to whet your blades with bitter blood.Ē
A hundred fires lit the hills and flickered by the flattened stones
where horn-men danced beneath the moon and drums were beat with cattle bones.
Still through the night jarl Thorstein fared with bright swords drawn in readiness
to fall upon the fur-clad folk and slay them by the Jutting Ness;
for hawk and raven led the way and harried gulls in bloody hue,
and slew them as the storm-clouds laughed, and word they sent to Thorstein true.
Then drums were stopped and horn-men stilled and howling filled the cold night air
as feathered priests held arms aloft against the moon-skull shining there.
On nameless gods they called in vain to help them in the coming fray,
on weakling sprites they cast their hopes, to such as skogsnafu did pray;
but Thorstein on his fore-ship laughed, and called on higher beings for aid;
to Thor and Odin, Sif and Freyr, to Loki and to helmet-maid.
Upon fine shingle Thorstein and his ship-men beached their three good hulls,
where none could see their shining blades save cliff-top nesting watcher-gulls.
Close by that wave-lashed headland then was slaughter done that bitter night
by ship-man, myrkrida and bird to skraeling in the pale starlight.
Yet when the dawning came at last, no trace of battle could be seen;
no broken spear nor bloodied corpse lay on the grasses growing green.
And where then were the slain ones gone? And where then was their armoury?
All taken unto Odinís halls to serve him for eternity.
Jarl Thorstein and his men bide still where none save heroes dare to sail,
but sing and drink in Gladheimís Halls when winter screams with ice and hail.
If you would join them or would fare west over sea to wear your pride,
first sacrifice a bristled boar with silver tusk and golden hide.
The tale is done but think on this, as to your steadings now you go,
all spread this word to those you meet in summerís heat or winterís snow:
ďHeed well this warning, chiefs and kings,
who seek to plunder and to rieve,
fare not unto far Thorsteinís lands,
for once there ye may never leave.Ē
© Alan Hodgson
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