Chapter 35. Erling Has Harald Beheaded

 

Níkolás Kúfung, the son of Pál Skoptason, was a landed-man of King Magnús. He captured Harald, the reputed son of King Sigurth Haraldsson and Kristín Kingsdaughter, and so the brother, by the same mother, of King Magnús. Níkolás brought Harald to Bergen and delivered him into the hands of Earl Erling. It was the habit of Erling that, when enemies of his were brought before him, he said nothing or only a little, and that very quietly, if he was decided to kill them, but would mercilessly berate those whom he meant to pardon. Erling said little to Harald, and so many feared what he might intend to do with him. So they begged King Magnús to intercede with the earl for Harald. The king did so. The earl answered, “This, your friends advised you to do. But you will not govern your kingdom in peace if you yield to counsels of mercy.” Thereupon Erling had Harald taken to Northness, where he was beheaded.

 

Chapter 36. Eystein Raises the Band Called Birchlegs

 

There was a man called Eystein who was considered [to be] the son of King Eystein Haraldsson. It is said that he was a youth who had not yet attained manhood when one summer he appeared east in Sweden and sought out Birgir Brosa who was married to Brígitha, a daughter of Harald Gilli and paternal aunt of Eystein. [The young] Eystein revealed to them his claim, and requested them to help them. The earl and his spouse both thought well of the matter and promised him their assistance. He stayed there for a while. Earl Birgir procured Eystein some troops and gave him ample money for subsistence and good presents when he left. Both promised him their friendship. Thereupon Eystein proceeded north [west] to Norway and finally arrived in Vík. There, men flocked to him, and his band grew. They made Eystein king, and the band stayed in Vík that winter. But as they ran out of money, they robbed far and wide, so that landed-men and farmers collected troops against them. But when Eystein’s men were overpowered, they fled to the forests and camped for a long time in the wilderness. Then their clothes fell off them, so that they tied birchbark about their calves, whence the farmers called them Birchlegs. Often they made incursions into the settlements, appearing now here, now there, breaking into houses wherever there were not enough people to oppose them. They had some brushes with the farmers, with now the one, now the other victorious. There were three regular battles with the Birchlegs, and they won the day in each one. In the Króka Forest they nearly met disaster. There they met a hosts of farmers. The Birchlegs made a barricade of logs against them, and then escaped into the forests. They remained two years in Vík, not venturing farther north.

 

Chapter 37. Of Erling’s Appearance and Character

 

King Magnús had ruled thirteen years when the Birchlegs arose. In the third summer they procured ships and sailed along the land, making booty and increasing their troops. First they kept to Vík, but as the summer wore on, they held their course to the north and sailed so swiftly that there was no tidings of them before they reached Trondheim. Most of the Birchlegs were from the Forest District and the Gaut Elf River vicinity, and there were many from the province of Thelamork; and they were well armed. Their king, Eystein, was a handsome man with a fair complexion and small features, not of a tall stature. By many he was called Eystein Meyla [Girlie]. King Magnús and Earl Erling were in Bergen when the Birchlegs sailed north, and were not aware of their coming. Erling was a powerful and resourceful man, an excellent general in times of disturbance, a good and capable ruler. He was considered rather cruel and hard. The chief reason for that was that he gave but few of his enemies permission to stay in the country, even though they asked for leniency; and because of that many flocked to bands when such arose against him. Erling was a tall and brawny man, somewhat short-necked, with a long face and sharp features. He had a light complexion and became very gray haired. He carried his head a bit to one side. 1 His disposition was amiable and he had a stately bearing. He wore old-fashioned clothing—kirtles with long waists and long sleeves, and likewise shirts and doublets with long sleeves, French cloaks, and shoes coming high up on the calves. He had the king wear similar clothes while he was young; but when he became independent, he dressed with much finery. King Magnús was of an easy-going disposition and gay, very cheerful, and a great lover of women.

 

Chapter 38. Of Níkolás Sigurtharson

 

Níkolás was the son of Sigurth Hranason and of Skjaldvor, the daughter of Brynjólf Úlfaldi and sister of Halldór Brynjólfsson. She was also the sister, by the same mother, of Magnús Barelegs. Níkolás was a great leader. He had his estate in Hálogaland on the island of Ongul, at a place called Steig. He had a house in Nitharós below Saint John’s Church [near] where Thorgeir the Chaplain had his. Níkolás frequently resided in Kaupang and was influential in all the councils of the townspeople. Skjaldvor, a daughter of Níkolás, was married to Eirík Árnason who also was a landed-man.

 

Chapter 39. Eirík in Vain Warns Níkolás

 

At the time of the latter part of Marymas [September 8th], when people were coming from the matins in the town, Eirík approached Níkolás and said, “Kinsman, some fishermen who have come in from outside [the fjord] report that warships were sailing into the fjord, and people think that it may be the Birchlegs; and it would be well to have all the townsmen summoned out to Eyrar with their arms.”

 

Níkolás replied, “I don’t pay any attention to fishermen’s tittle-tattle. I shall send out men to reconnoiter on the fjord, but let us hold an assembly today.”

 

Eirík went home, and when the bells were rung for high mass, Níkolás went to church. Then Eirík approached him again and said, “I do think, kinsman, that the report is true. There are men here who say they have seen the sails. It seems advisable to me that we two ride outside the town and collect a force.”

 

Níkolás answered, “You are rather importunate, son-in-law. Let us first attend mass and then see about the matter later on.” Níkolás went to church; but when the mass was ended, Eirík again approached Níkolás, saying, “Kinsman, now my horses are ready. I want to ride away.”

 

Níkolás replied, “Farewell, then! We shall hold an assembly on Eyrar and find out how many troops we have in town.” Thereupon Eirík rode on his way, and Níkolás went into his house and sat down to table.

 

Chapter 40. The Birchlegs Kill Níkolás

 

But at the very time the food was set on the table, a man came in and told Níkolás that at this moment the Birchlegs were rowing up the river. Then Níkolás called out that his men should arm themselves; and when they were armed, Níkolás ordered them into the loft. But that was a most unwise counsel, because if they had defended the yard the townsfolk would have come to their assistance, and because the Birchlegs filled the whole yard and then attacked the loft on all sides. The two parties called out to one another, and the Birchlegs offered quarter to Níkolás, but he refused it. Then they fought. Níkolás and his men had their bows and arrows, and defended themselves with spears and rocks from the fireplaces hurled down at their enemies, but the Birchlegs chopped down the houses and shot with arrows incessantly. Níkolás had a red shield starred with gold studs, a work of [smith] Vilhjálm. The Birchlegs shot so [hard] that the arrows sank to the shaft in it. Níkolás said, “Now my shield fails me.” Níkolás fell there, and a great many of his men, and people felt much grief at his death. The Birchlegs gave quarter to all townsmen.

 

image

 

The Birchlegs attack Níkolás’ residence.

 

Chapter 41. Eystein Is Acclaimed King

 

Thereupon Eystein was chosen king there, and all the people swore allegiance to him. He stayed for a while in the town, then proceeded into the District of Trondheim. There, many joined him, among them Thorfinn the Black from Snos with a troop. Toward winter they returned to the town. Then, Jón Kettling, Sigurth, and Vilhjálm, the sons of Guthrun of Saltness, attached themselves to this band. From the town of Nitharós they proceeded up the Orka Dale—by that time their number had increased to nearly two thousand [2400] men. From there they marched to the Uppland districts, then to Thótn and Hathaland, and finally to Hringaríki.