Historical Tales: 9—Scandinavian - Charles Morris

How King Rolf Won His Bride

At one time very many centuries ago, we cannot say just when, for this was in the days of the early legends, there reigned over Upsala in Sweden a king named Erik. He had no son and only one daughter, but this girl was worth a dozen sons and daughters of some kings. Torborg she was named, and there were few women so wise and beautiful and few men so strong and valiant. She cared nothing for women's work, but was the equal of any man of the court in riding, fighting with sword and shield, and other athletic sports. This troubled King Erik very much, for he thought that the princess should sit in her maiden chamber like other kings' daughters; but she told him that when she came to succeed him on the throne she would need to know how to defend her kingdom, and now was the time for her to learn.

That she might become the better fitted to rule, she asked him to give her some province to govern, and this he did, making her queen of a third of his kingdom, and giving her an army of stout and bold warriors. Her court was held at Ulleraker in Upland, and here she would not let any one treat her as a woman, dressing always in men's clothing and bidding her men to call her King Torborg. To fail in this would be at risk of their heads. As her fame spread abroad, there were many who came to court her, for she was at once very beautiful and the heiress of a great kingdom. But she treated all such with laughter and contempt. It is even said that she put out the eyes of some, and cut off the hands and feet of others, but this we do not like to believe. At any rate, she drove away those who troubled her too much with lance and spear. So it was plain that only a strong and bold man could win this warlike maiden for his wife.

At that time King Götrik who ruled in Gothland, a country in southern Sweden, had sent his younger son Rolf to be brought up at the court of his foster-brother King Ring of Denmark. His elder son Kettil he kept at home, but did not love him much on account of his pride and obstinacy. So it happened that when Götrik was very old and like to die, he decided that Rolf, who was very tall and strong, and very fit and able, should succeed him, though he was the younger son. All agreed to this, even Kettil, so Rolf was sent for and made king of Gothland, which he ruled with skill and valor.

One day Rolf and Kettil, who loved each other as brothers should, were talking together, and Kettil said that one thing was wanting to the glory and honor of Rolf's rule, and that was a queen of noble birth and goodly presence.

"And whom have you in mind?" asked Rolf.

"There is Torborg, the king of Upsala's daughter. If you can win her for wife it will be the greatest marriage in the north."

To this advice Rolf would not listen. He had heard of how the shrewish Torborg treated her suitors, and felt that wooing her would be like taking a wild wolf by the ears. So he stayed unmarried for several years more, though Kettil often spoke of the matter, and one day said to him contemptuously:

"Many a man has a large body with little courage, and I fear you are such a one; for though you stand as a man, you do not dare to speak to a woman."

"I will show you that I am a man," said Rolf, very angry at these words.

He sent to Denmark for his foster-brother Ingiald, son of King Ring, and when he came the two set out with sixty armed men for the court of King Erik in Upsala.

One morning, about this time, Queen Ingerd of Upsala awoke and told King Erik of a strange dream she had dreamed. She had seen in her sleep a troop of wolves running from Gothland towards Sweden, a great lion and a little bear leading them; but these, instead of being fierce and shaggy, were smooth-haired and gentle.

"What do you think it means?" asked the king.

"I think that the lion is the ghost of a king, and that the white bear is some king's son, the wolves being their followers. I fancy it means that Rolf of Gothland and Ingiald of Denmark are coming hither, bent on a mission of peace, since they appear so tame. Do you think that King Rolf is coming to woo our daughter, Torborg?"

"Nonsense, woman; the king of so small a realm would show great assurance to seek for wife so great a princess as our daughter."

So when Rolf and his followers came to Upsala King Erik showed his displeasure, inviting him to his table but giving him no seat of honor at the feast. Rolf sat silent and angry at this treatment, but when Erik asked him why he had come, he told him courteously enough the reason of his visit.

"I know how fond you Goths are of a joke," said Erik, with a laugh. "You have a way of saying one thing when you mean another. But I can guess what brings you. Gothland is little and its revenues are small and you have many people to keep and feed. Food is now scarce in Gothland, and you have come here that you may not suffer from hunger. It was a good thought for you to come to Upsala for help, and you are welcome to go about my kingdom with your men for a month; then you can return home plump and well fed."

This jesting speech made Rolf very angry, though he said little in reply. But when the king told Queen Ingerd that evening what he had said she was much displeased.

"King Rolf may have a small kingdom," she said, "but he has gained fame by his courage and ability, and is as powerful as many kings with a wider rule. You did not well to mock him."

The next day Erik, thus admonished, begged Rolf's pardon, saying that the ale had made him speak foolishly, and thus he became reconciled with his guest. As for Rolf's desire to win his daughter, he would first have to gain Torborg's consent, which would be no easy matter. The king promised not to interfere but would do no more.

Soon after this Rolf and his men arrived at Ulleraker, reaching there when the whole of Torborg's court were assembled in the great hall. Fearing a hostile reception, Rolf took wary precautions. He choose twelve of his stoutest men, with himself and Ingiald at their head, to enter the court with drawn swords in their hands. If they were attacked, they were to go out backward fighting, but they were bidden to conduct themselves like men and let nothing alarm them. The others remained outside, keeping the horses in readiness to mount.

When the party entered the hall, Rolf at their head, all there were struck with his great size and noble aspect. No one assailed them and he walked up the hall, on whose high seat at the front he saw what seemed a tall and finely formed man, dressed in royal robes. Knowing that this must be the haughty princess whose hand he had come to seek, he took off his helmet, bowed low before her, and began to tell what brought him to her court.

He had scarcely begun when she stopped him. She said that he must be joking; that she knew his real errand was to get food and that this she would give him; but he must apply for it to the chief of the kitchen, not to her.

Rolf had not come so far to be laughed out of the court, and he sturdily went on with what he had to say, speaking to her as a woman, and demanding her hand in marriage. At this she changed her jesting manner, her cheeks grew red with anger, and springing up, she seized her weapons and called upon her men to lay hold upon and bind the fool that had dared affront their monarch. Shouting and confusion followed and a sharp attack was made on the intruders, but Rolf put on his helmet and bade his men to retire, which they did in good order. He walked backward through the whole hall, shield on arm and sword in hand, parrying and dealing blows, so that when he left the room, though no blade had touched him, a dozen of the courtiers lay bleeding. But being greatly overmatched, he ordered his men to mount, and they rode away unscathed.

Back to West Gothland they went and told Kettil how poorly they had fared.

"You have suffered a sore insult and affront at a woman's hand," said Kettil, "and my advice is that it be speedily avenged," but Rolf replied that he was not yet ready to act.

Torborg had not taken the trouble to ask the name of her wooer, but when she learned who it was she knew very well that the matter had not reached its end and that her would-be lover would return stronger than before. As she did not want him or any man for husband she made great preparations for an attack, gathering a large body of warriors and having a wall of great strength and the finest workmanship built round the town. It was so high and thick that no battering ram could shake it, while water-cisterns were built into it to put out the fire if any one sought to burn it. From this we may judge that the wall was of wood. This done, Torborg made merry with her court, thinking that no lover in the wide world would now venture to annoy her.

She did not know the kind of man she had to deal with in King Rolf. He had fought with men and fancied he was fit to conquer a woman. The next summer he had a battle with Asmund, son of the king of Scotland, and when it was over they became friends and foster-brothers and went on viking cruises together. Next spring Rolf armed and manned six ships and, taking Kettil and Ingiald and Asmund with him, set sail for Upsala. He proposed now to woo the warrior princess in another fashion.

Queen Ingerd about this time dreamed again, her dream being the same as before, except that this time there were two white bears, and a hog which was small but spiteful, its bristles pointing forward and its mouth snarling as if ready to bite anything that came before it. And the bears did not look as gentle as before, but seemed irritated.

She interpreted this dream to mean that Rolf was coming again to avenge the affront he had received, and that the fierce hog must stand for Kettil, of whose character she had been told.

When Rolf now arrived King Erik received him with honor, and again agreed to remain his friend, no matter how stormy a courtship he might have. From Upsala he set out for Ulleraker and sent a herald to Princess Torborg, asking speech with her. She presented herself at the top of the wall, surrounded by armed men. King Rolf renewed his suit, and told her plainly that if she did not accept his proposal he had come to burn the town and slay every man within its walls.

"You shall first serve as a goatherd in West Gothland before you get any power over me and mine," answered Torborg haughtily.

Rolf lost no time in assailing the walls, but found them stoutly defended. The Swedes within poured boiling water and hot pitch on their assailants, threw down stones and beams, and hurled spears and arrows from the wall. For fourteen days the siege continued without effect, until the Goths, weary of their hard fighting and the mockery of the defenders, began to complain and wanted to return home. The townspeople derided them by showing costly goods from the ramparts and bidding them come and take them, and ridiculed them in many other ways.

King Rolf now saw that he must take other measures. He had a cover constructed of boards and brushwood and supported by stout beams, making a strong roof which was set against the wall and defied all the boiling water and missiles of the Swedes. Under its shelter a hole was dug through the wall and soon the Goths were in the queen's citadel.

To their surprise they found it empty. Not a soul was to be seen, but in every room they found well-cooked food and many articles of value.

"This is a fine capture," said Kettil. "Let us enjoy ourselves and divide the spoil."

"Not so," said Rolf. "It is a lure to draw us off. I will not rest till I have the princess in my power."

They sought the palace through and through, but no one was there. Finally a secret passage was discovered, leading underground, and the king entered it, the others following. They emerged in a forest where they found Torborg and all her men and where a sharp battle began. No warrior could have fought more bravely than the man-like princess, and her men stood up for her boldly, but they gradually gave way before the onset of Rolf and his tried warriors.

Rolf now bade Kettil to take Torborg prisoner, but not to wound her, saying that it would be shameful to use arms against a woman. Kettil sprang forward and gave the princess a sharp blow with the flat of his sword, reviling her at the same time with rude words. In return, Torborg gave him so hard a blow on the ear with her battle-axe that he fell prostrate, with his heels in the air.

"That is the way we treat our dogs when they bark too loud," she said.

Kettil sprang up, burning with anger, but at the same moment Rolf rushed forward and grasped the warlike princess in his powerful arms, so that she was forced to surrender.

He told her that she was his prisoner, but that he did not wish to win a wife in the viking manner and that he would leave it to her father to judge what should be done. Taken captive in his arms, there was nothing else for her to do, and she went with him to Upsala, where King Erik was delighted at Rolf's success. As for the warlike princess, she laid down her arms at her father's feet, put on a woman's garments, and seemed glad enough to have been won as a bride in so warlike a manner and by so heroic a wooer.

Soon after this the marriage took place, the festivities being the grandest the court could afford and lasting for fourteen days, after which Rolf and his followers returned home, his new queen with him. The sagas say, as we can well believe after so strenuous a wooing, that afterwards King Rolf and Queen Torborg lived a long and happy life.