Chapter 9 Shows how the Ancient Sea-Kings transacted National Business.
Scant was the time allowed the men of Horlingdal for refreshment and res_fter the battle of the Springs, for the assembling of Thingsmen armed to th_eeth, as well as the news that King Harald threatened a descent on them,
rendered it necessary that a District Thing or Council should be held withou_elay.
Accordingly, after brief repose, Haldor the Fierce, who had returned wit_rling to his own house up the dale, arose and ordered the horn to be sounde_or a Thing.
Several hundreds of men had by that time assembled, and when they all cam_ogether they formed an imposing band of warriors, whom any wise king woul_ave deemed it advisable to hold converse with, if possible, on friendl_erms.
When the Thing was seated Haldor rose, and, amid profound silence, said:
“Men of Horlingdal, King Harald Haarfager has sent round the message-token fo_ Thing to be held at the Springs. The token sent was one of peace. The toke_f war was sent round instead, as ye know. Whether this was wise or not doe_ot much concern us now, as ye have seen with your own eyes that there wa_ood fortune in the change; for we knew not, when the token was forwarded, o_he urgent need that should arise at the Springs for our weapons. But, no_hat the Danes have been sent home—excepting that goodly number who have gon_o Valhalla’s halls to keep company with Odin and departed warriors—it seem_o me that we should meet the King in the manner which he desires until h_hall give us occasion to assume arms in defence of our laws. And I would her_emind you that Harald is our rightful King, udal-born to the Kingdom o_orway, his title having been stated and proved at all the District Things,
beginning with the Ore Thing of Drontheim, and having been approved by all th_eople of Norway. I therefore counsel pacific measures, and that we should g_o the Springs unarmed.”
When Haldor sat down there was a slight murmur of assent, but most of thos_resent remained silent, wishing to hear more.
Then up started Ulf, and spoke with great heat.
“I agree not with Haldor,” he said sternly. “Who does not know that Harald i_ightful King of Norway; that he is descended in a direct line from the godar_ho came over from the east with Odin, and has been fairly elected King o_orway? But who does not know also, that our laws are above our King, tha_arald is at this time trampling on these laws, and is everywhere setting a_efiance the small kings, who are as truly udal-born to their rights an_itles as himself?”
At this point Ulf’s indignation became so great that he found he could no_alk connectedly, so he concluded by counselling that they should go to th_prings fully armed, and ready to brave the worst. There was a loud shout o_pproval, and then Erling started up. His manner and tone were subdued, bu_is face was flushed; and men could see, as he went on, that he was keepin_own his wrath and his energy.
“I like it ill,” he said, “to disagree on this point with my father; but Ul_s right. We all know that Harald is King of Norway by _law_ , and we do no_eet here to dispute his title; but we also know that kings are not gods. Me_reate a law and place it over their own heads, so that the lawmakers as wel_s those for whom it is made must bow before it; but when it is found that th_aw works unfairly, the lawmaker may repeal it, and cast it aside as useles_r unworthy. So kings were created for the sole purpose of guiding nations an_dministering laws, in order that national welfare might be advanced. Th_oment they cease to act their part, that moment they cease to be worth_ings, and become useless. But if, in addition to this, they dare to ignor_nd break the laws of the land, then do they become criminal; they deserve no_nly to be cast aside, but punished. If, in defence of our rights, we find i_ecessary to dethrone the King, we cannot be charged with disloyalty, becaus_he King has already dethroned himself!”
Erling paused a moment at this point, and a murmur of approval ran through th_ircle of his auditors.
“When Harald Haarfager’s father,” he resumed, “Halfdan the Black, ruled ove_orway, he made laws which were approved by the people. He obeyed the_imself, and obliged others to observe them; and, that violence should no_ome in the place of the laws, he himself fixed the number of criminal acts i_aw, and the compensations, mulcts, or penalties, for each case, according t_veryone’s birth and dignity, from the King downwards; so that when dispute_ere settled at the Things the utmost fair play prevailed—death for death,
wound for wound; or, if the parties chose, matters could be adjusted b_ayments in money—each injury being valued at a fixed scale; or matters migh_e settled and put right by single combat. All this, ye know full well,
Halfdan the Black compassed and settled in a _legal manner_ , and the goo_hat has flowed from his wise and legal measures (for I hold that a king i_ot entitled to pass even wise laws illegally) has been apparent to us eve_ince. But now all this is to be overturned—with or without the consent of th_hings—because a foolish woman, forsooth, has the power to stir up the vanit_f a foolish king! Shall this be so? Is our manhood to be thus riven from us,
and shall we stand aloof and see it done, or, worse still, be consenting unt_t? Let death be our portion first! It has been rumoured that the people o_outhern lands have done this—that they have sold themselves to their kings,
so that one man’s voice is law, and paid troops of military slaves are kept u_n order that this one man may have his full swing, while his favourites an_is soldier-slaves bask in his sunshine and fatten on the people of the land!
It is impossible for us of Norway to understand the feelings or ideas of th_en who have thus sold themselves—for we have never known such tyranny—having,
as the scalds tell us, enjoyed our privileges, held our Things, and governe_urselves by means of the collective wisdom of the people ever since ou_orefathers came from the East; but I warn ye that if this man, Haral_aarfager, is allowed to have his will, our institutions shall be swept away,
our privileges will depart, our rights will be crushed, and the time will com_hen it shall be said of Norsemen that they have utterly forgotten that the_nce were free! Again I ask, shall we tamely stand aside and suffer this t_e? Shall our children ever have it in their power to say, ‘There was a tim_hen our mean-spirited forefathers might have easily stopped the leak tha_aused the flood by which we are now borne irresistibly downward?’ I repeat,
let us rather perish! Let us go armed to the Springs and tell the King tha_e—equally with ourselves—is subject to the laws of the land!”
Erling delivered the last sentence in a voice of thunder, and with a fierc_ave of the hand, that drew forth shouts of enthusiastic applause.
Instantly Glumm started up, forgetful, in the heat of the moment, of th_ealousy that had so recently sprung up between him and his friend.
“I am not a speaker,” he shouted gruffly, “but poor is the man who cannot bac_p and egg on his friend. Erling speaks the truth; and all I have to sugges_s that he should be sent by us to tell all this to King Harald Haarfager’_ace!”
Glumm sat down with the prompt decision of a man who has thoroughly delivere_imself of all that he intends to say; and many in the assembly testifie_heir approval of his sentiments.
At this point Ivor the Old arose and gave it as his opinion that the soone_he King should be brought off his high horse the better; whereupon Finn th_ne-eyed suggested, with a laugh, that the old hermit should be sent with hi_ow and arrow to teach him due submission to the laws. Then there was a goo_eal of confused, and not a little passionate discussion, which waxed loude_nd more vehement until Guttorm Stoutheart stood up, and, although not _alesman, requested the attention of the assembly for a few minutes.
“It is obvious,” he said in the hearty tones of a man who knows that he i_ure of carrying a large portion of his audience along with him—“it is obviou_hat you are all pretty much of one mind as to the principle on which w_hould act at this time; and my good friend Haldor the Fierce (who seems o_ate to have changed his nature, and should, methinks, in future, be style_aldor the Mild) is evidently on the losing side. The only thing that concern_s, it seems to me, is the manner in which we shall convey our opinion to th_ing—how we shall best, as the scald says:—
> “‘Whisper in the King’s unwilling ear
> That which is wholesome but unsweet to hear.’
“Now, to the quick-witted among you various methods will doubtless hav_lready been suggested; and I am perchance only echoing the sentiments of man_ere, when I say that it would be worthy of the men of Horlingdal that the_hould fight the King at once, and put a stop to the burnings, hangings,
torturings, jarl-makings, and subduings of which he has been so guilty o_ate, and which I confess is so unlike his free, generous, manly character,
that I have found it hard to believe the reports which have reached my ears,
and which, after all, can only be accounted for by the fact that he is a_resent led by the nose by that worst of all creatures, a proud imperiou_irl, who has the passions of a warrior and the brains of a bairn! Anothe_ethod, which would signify at least our contempt for Harald’s principles,
would be the sending of a thrall to him with a reaping-hook, and a reques_hat he would cut off his own head and give it to us in token that, havin_eased to be a king, he is resolved no longer to continue to be a dishonoure_an! And that reminds me of one of Ulf’s thralls named Kettle Flatnose, wh_ould assist Harald nobly in the work of beheading himself, for last night,
when he and I fought side by side against the Danes, he used a hook of his ow_aking, with such effect, that I was fain to pause and laugh, while myself i_he very act of splitting an iron headpiece. But perchance that is not _uitable method of compassing our ends, besides it would cost the thrall hi_ife, and I should be sorry to aid in bringing about the death of Kettl_latnose, whose island is a happy one if it counts many such clear-headed an_ble-bodied warriors.
“But another plan was proposed by Glumm the Gruff, which seemed to me to hav_he approval of many present, and assuredly it has mine, that we should sen_ing Erling at once to Harald, to tell him our opinions to his face, to soun_im as to his intentions, and to bring back the news as fast as possible, s_hat we may go armed or unarmed to the Springs, as prudence may direct.
Moreover, as it would be unfair to send a man alone on such a dangerou_rrand, I would suggest that he should have a comrade to keep him company an_hare his fortunes, and that for this end none better could be found tha_lumm the Gruff himself.”
This speech settled the mind of the meeting. After a little more talk it wa_inally arranged that Erling and Glumm should go at once to meet King Harald,
who could not yet, it was thought, have arrived at the Springs, and endeavou_o find out his temper of mind in regard to the men of Horlingdal. After tha_he Thing broke up, and the members dispersed to partake of “midag-mad”, o_inner, in the dwellings of their various friends.