The Olaf Sagas

Date: 1915

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Chapter XXX the Saga of a Viking



Olaf’s Early Career


Olaf was one day in the market place of Novgorod, where there was a great number of people. He there recognized Klerkon, who had killed his foster-father, Thoralf. Olaf had a little ax in his hand, and with it he clove Klerkon’s skull down to the brain, and then ran home and told his friend Sigurd what he had done. Sigurd immediately took Olaf to Queen Olga’s house, told her what had happened, and begged her to protect the boy. She replied that Olaf was too comely a boy to be slain; and she ordered her people to be drawn out fully armed. In Novgorod the sacredness of peace is so respected, that it is law there to slay anyone who puts a man to death except by judgment of law; and, according to this law and usage, the whole people stormed and sought after the boy. . . . It was settled at last that the king should name the fine for the murder; and the queen paid it.

Olaf remained afterwards with the queen, and was much beloved. It is a law at Novgorod that no man of royal descent shall stay there without the king’s permission. Sigurd therefore told the queen of what family Olaf was . . . and asked her to speak to the king about it. She did so, and begged her husband to help a king’s son whose fate had been so hard; and in consequence of her request the king promised to assist him. Accordingly he received Olaf into his court and treated him nobly. Olaf was nine years old when he came to Russia, and he remained nine years more with King Valdemar. Olaf was the handsomest of men, very stout and strong, and in all bodily exercises he excelled every Northman that ever was heard of.

They hinted to the king that he should take care not to make Olaf too powerful. "Such a man," said they, "may be dangerous to you, if he were to allow himself to be used for the purpose of doing you or your kingdom harm; for he is extremely expert in all exercises and feats and is very popular. We do not, indeed, know what it is he can have to talk of so often with the queen." . . . So it fell out that the king listened to such speeches, and became somewhat silent and blunt toward Olaf. When Olaf observed this, he told it to the queen. He said, also, that he desired to travel to the Northern land, where his family formerly had power and kingdoms and where it was most likely he would advance him, self. The queen wished him a prosperous journey, and said he would be found a brave man wherever he might be. Olaf then made ready, went on board, and set out to sea in the Baltic.

As he was coming from the east he made the island of Bornholm, where he landed and plundered. The country people hastened down to the strand and gave him battle; but Olaf gained the victory and a large booty. . . . While Olaf lay at Bornholm there came on bad weather, storm and a heavy sea, so that his ships could not lie there; and he sailed southwards to Wendland,1 where they found a good harbor. They conducted themselves very peacefully and remained some time.

Olaf was three years in Wendland when Geyra, his queen, fell sick, and she died of her illness. Olaf felt his loss so great that he now had no pleasure in Wendland. He provided himself, therefore, with warships, and went out again on plundering expeditions. He plundered first in Friesland, next in Saxony, and then all the way to Flanders. . . . Thereafter Olaf sailed to England and ravaged far and wide in the land. He sailed all the way north to Northumberland, where he plundered; and thence to Scotland. Then he went to the Hebrides, where he fought some battles; and then southwards to Man, where he also fought. He ravaged the country of Ireland, and thence steered to Wales, which he laid waste with fire and sword, and also the district called Cumberland. He then sailed southward to the west coast of France and plundered there. When he left the south, intending to sail to England, he came to the Scilly Islands, lying westward from England in the ocean. . . . Olaf had been four years on this cruise from the time he left Wendland till he came to the Scilly Islands.

While Olaf lay in the Scilly Islands he heard of a seer, who could tell beforehand things not yet done, and what he foretold many believed was really fulfilled. Olaf became curious to try this man’s gift of prophecy. He therefore sent one of his men, who was the handsomest and strongest, clothed him magnificently, and bade him say he was the king; for Olaf was known in all countries as handsomer, stronger, and braver than all others, although, after he had left Russia, he retained no more of his name than that he was called Ole, and was Russian. Now when the messenger came to the seer and gave himself out for the king, he got the answer, "Thou art not the king, but I advise thee to be faithful to thy king." And more he would not say to that man. The man returned and told Olaf, and his desire to meet the seer was increased; and now he had no doubt of his being really a seer.

Olaf himself went to him and, entering into conversation, asked him if he could foresee how it would go with him with regard to his kingdom, or of any other fortune he was to have. The seer replied in a holy spirit of prophecy, "Thou wilt become a renowned king and do celebrated deeds. Many men wilt thou bring to faith and baptism, and both to thy own and others’ good; and that thou mayst have no doubt of the truth of this answer, listen to these tokens: When thou comest to thy ships many of thy people will conspire against thee, and then a battle will follow in which many of thy men will fall, and thou wilt be wounded almost to death, and carried upon a shield to thy ship; yet after seven days thou shalt be well of thy wounds, and immediately thou shalt let thyself be baptized."

Soon after Olaf went down to his ships, where he met some mutineers and people who would destroy him and his men. A fight took place, and the result was what the seer had predicted. Olaf was wounded, and carried upon a shield to his ship, and his wound was healed in seven days. Then Olaf perceived that the man had spoken truth. Olaf went once more to the seer, and asked particularly how he came to have such wisdom in foreseeing things to be. The hermit replied that the Christian’s God himself let him know all that he desired, and he brought before Olaf many great proofs of the power of the Almighty. In consequence of this encouragement Olaf agreed to let himself be baptized, and he and all his followers were baptized forthwith. He remained here a long time, took the true faith, and got with him priests and other learned men.

At this time a summons to a Thing1 went through the country, that all men should come to hold a Thing. Now when the Thing was assembled, a queen called Gyda came to it, a daughter of Olaf Kvaran, who was king of Dublin in Ireland. She had been married to a great earl in England, and after his death she was at the head of his dominions. In her territory there was a man called Alfin, who was a great champion and single-combat man. He had paid his addresses to her; but she answered that she herself would choose what man in her dominions she would take in marriage; and on that account the Thing was assembled. Alfin came to the assembly dressed in his best clothes, and there were many well-dressed men at the meeting. Olaf had come there also; but had on his bad-weather clothes, and a coarse over-garment, and stood with his people apart from the rest of the crowd. Gyda went round and looked at each, to see if any appeared to her a suitable man. Now when she came to where Olaf stood, she looked at him straight in the face, and asked, "What sort of man are you?"

He said, "I am called Ole; and I am a stranger here."

Gyda replied, "Wilt thou have me if I choose thee?"

"I will not say no to that," answered he; and he asked what her name was, and her family, and descent.

"I am called Gyda," said she, "and am the daughter of the king of Ireland, and was married in this country to an earl who ruled over this territory. Since his death I have ruled over it, and many have courted me, but none to whom I would choose to be married."

She was a young and handsome woman. They afterwards talked over the matter together and agreed, and so Olaf and Gyda were betrothed.

Alfin was very ill pleased with this. It was the custom then in England, if two men strove for anything, to settle the matter by single combat; and now Alfin challenged Olaf to fight about this business. The time and place for the duel were settled. Each combatant was to have twelve men with him. When they met, Olaf told his men to do exactly as they saw him do. He had a large ax; and when Alfin was going to cut at him with his sword, he hewed away the sword out of his hand and with the next blow struck down Alfin himself. He then bound him fast. It went in the same way with all Alfin’s men. They were beaten down, bound, and carried to Olaf’s lodging. Thereupon he ordered Alfin to quit the country, and never appear in it again; and Olaf took all his property. Olaf in this way got Gyda in marriage, and lived sometimes in England and sometimes in Ireland.

1 Heimskringla. , by Snorre Sturlason. The translation by Samuel Laing, revised by John Beveridge. London, 1915. J. M. Dent and Sons.

2Olaf Trygvesson’s Saga, chs. 7, 21, 30, 32–34.

1 The land of the Wends, a Slavic people who then occupied the coast from the mouth of the Vistula westward.

1 A general assembly.

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Chicago: Samuel Laing, trans., The Olaf Sagas in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 325–329. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . The Olaf Sagas, translted by Samuel Laing, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 325–329. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: (trans.), The Olaf Sagas. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.325–329. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from