Who was Kraka ?

Way back in Danish history we had a King of the Vikings named Regnar Lodbrog. He went on Vikingraid to Norway. One day he landed in a cove of the peasant Aages farm "Spangerhede". In the morning they sent some of the crew ashore, to bake some loafs. The crew found the old hag Grima at home. The crew asked for help to bake, but Grima answered that she were to old, but she had a daughter named Kraka, who could help them bake, when she came home.

Kraka had been up early in the morning to look after the sheeps, and from the meadow she had seen the big ships. She began to wash her face for dirt and soot, even that Grima had told her, not to do so. Grima wanted to hide that Kraka was a beautiful girl. Her hair were like silk and it were so long, that it swept on the ground. When Kraka had finished washing her face, she went back to the farm and she came just as Regnar’s crew had light the oven. The crew were surprised and asked Grima if she really were Kraka’s mother. Grima told them yes. Kraka started kneading the dough, but the crew couldn’t look at anything else but Kraka, so the bread burnt.  When the crew returned to the ships, they made an excuse for the bread and told Regnar about Kraka.

Regnar sent a couple of men ashore to see if Kraka were as beautiful as the crew told. If she were, they should invite her aboard  Regnar’s ship. But beauty wasn’t enough so they had to ask her some riddle, and she had to come to the ship undressed but not naken – neither satisfied nor fasting – neither alone nor together with somebody.  The men saw that the crew hadn’t exaggerated, so they told Kraka about the King’s wishes. 

Grima ment that it was impossible, but Kraka thought about it and promised to come the next day. The next day Kraka made herself ready. She let down her golden hair so that it covered her and wrapped a fishing net round her. She bit into an onion so that one couldn’t say she was fasting, and then she went down to the ships together with her dog.

Regnar got very fascinated by her and the way she had dealt with his riddle. Kraka wouldn’t enter the ship without a promise from Regnar that she could leave whenever she wanted to. Regnar promised her that, but when he took her hand Kraka’s dog jumped up and bit his hand. The crew griped the dog and strangulated it with a bowstring. 

Regnar told Kraka many loving and tender words and wanted her to sail away with him right away. Kraka told him no, and she wouldn’t stay at night, nor receive any gifts. She told him, that if he still wants her when he returned from his raid, then he could send for her and she would come.

When the summer was over, Regnar landed once more in the cove and he sent his crew to fetch Kraka. She told them, that she would come the next morning. Early in the morning she went to the peasant Aage and his old hag Grima and told them she was leaving. 

She had nothing to say thanks for, but they had given her the food for ten years so she wouldn’t take any revenge at them. She knew they had killed her foster father Heimer. She wished them a long life, but also that the one day would be worse than the other. 

Regnar puts sail at once Kraka was on board, and he asked her to sleep with him during the night. Kraka begged him wait for the wedding because it was the most honourable thing to do. " Both to you and our heir, if we are lucky enough to get some " Kraka said. 

As soon as they reached Regnar’s royal estate the wedding took place. When they came into the bridal chamber Regnar wanted to make love to her, but she asked him to wait for three days, because the child he had so busy to make would be born without bones. Regnar didn’t want to wait.

Regnar and Kraka lived together with great love and passion, and when it was time, Kraka gave birth to a son, whom they named Ivar. Ivar were born without bones, just as Kraka had told, but  he grew big and beautiful and he was the cleverest child they ever had. Later on, Kraka gave birth to Bjoern and Hvidsaerk. They were twins. Two years later Kraka gave birth to Ragnvald. Only Ivar couldn’t go in for athletics and the use of arms. He had to be carried around on a shield. But he was able to use a bow and it was his advises the other were listening to.

Eystein were a king of Sweden – a wealthy and mighty man, who offered a lot of sacrifices to his gods. He was also a clever man – but his heart was evil. Regnar and Eystein were old friends and after a visit at Eystein in Uppsala, Regnar got betroth with Eystein’s daughter Ingeborg. The people told Regnar that it would be a proper thing to cast off the peasant girl Kraka and marry a daughter of a king. Regnar went home, but he forbid his people to talk about his betroth with Ingeborg.

It was a great pleasure to everybody that Regnar were home again and Kraka came, gave him a hug and asked him about his events. Regnar wouldn’t tell her about it and when they got to bed that night Kraka asked once more – and he answered in the same way – and anyhow he were sleepy and wanted to sleep. 

Then Kraka told him that if he didn’t have any news, then she had some: " because I really call it news when a king engage a wife – specially when he has got one ". Regnar thought that one of his men had told Kraka about Ingeborg, but Kraka told him that she had her knowledges from three birds, which had heard Regnar talk to his crew.

She went on: " You fell in love with me, when you only knew me as Kraka – a peasant girl, daughter of the peasant on Spangerhede, and until now, that love has been enough for you. But now you have to know, I am from a more aristocratic lineage than both you and Eystein.

          - I am Aslaug, -
the daughter of Sigurd Fafnersbane and Brynhild Budlesdaughter.

When Brynhild had to merry Gunnar, she brought me to Heimer, so he could race me. Aage and Grima killed Heimer while he were asleep in their barn. They would rob him and great were their surprise when they found a little girl in his chest, instead of the gold they expected.

They asked her about her family, but she didn’t answer them and they thought she was dumb. Grima ment that they should kill the girl too, but Aage ment that she could earn her living by hard work. They called her Kraka and they cut of her hair and covered her with dirt so nobody should see how beautiful she were.

- but I never forgot who I was –

Aslaug went on: " and every day I were looking at the sea, to look for the king I knew would come and set me free. Then you came and your love didn’t ask for family or money – it gave me satisfaction for the unfair treatment during the years. I will now give you a sign – the child I am going to have, will be a boy and in his eyes you will see a picture of the worm my father Sigurd killed – and you shall name him Sigurd after my father. If things does not happen as I told you – you can do just as you like".

Short time after Aslaug gave birth to a boy; they brought him to Regnar. Regnar saw the sign in the boys left eye and said, that they had to call the boy Sigurd Worm-in-eye. Regnar never again spoke about marrying Eystein’s daughter.

Eystein sent a message for Regnar – their old friendship had come to an end. Agnar and Erik, Regnar’s sons from his first marriage with Thora, meant that they had to react quickly – they assembled men and ships and went to Sweden.

When Eystein heard they were landed, he gathered an enormous army and let the Danes fall into an ambush. Eystein sent his devil cow Sibilja against the Danes and they were terrified. Agner died and Erik got caught. Eystein offered Erik, that he could be married to Ingeborg, but Erik didn’t want to marry her, because he didn’t want a sorcerer as his father in law, and he certainly did not want to join the man, who had killed his brother. Erik took of a golden ring and asked his men to bring it to Aslaug. The Swedish poked a lot of spears in the ground with the spearhead pointing to the air; they took of Erik’s cloth and threw him on the spears. While he were lying there, a raven came flying a cross him. " I have given you foot before " Erik said, just before he died.

When Aslaug got Erik’s ring, the men saw big red tears fell from her eyes. It was the first and the last time anybody saw Aslaug cry. When Aslaug’s sons returned from their raid she went to their house, she had her youngest son Sigurd with her. Sigurd was three years old.

She asked her sons what news they brought with them home, and they told her that Ragnvald had passed away. She said that she rather wanted her sons to live a short honourfull life, than a long without honour. Regnvald couldn’t have got a more honourfull dead than he got. It had been worse for Agner and Erik, she told them, and she asked them to revenge the death of Erik. Ivar told her no – Eystein had a lot of magic and they couldn’t handle that. Sigurd Worm-in-eye came forward and told that he would go to Uppsala and kill Eystein, because Eystein killed Agner and Erik.

Sigurd armed five ships and many brave men came, to follow the boy. Aslaug armed her own ship and so did Bjoern and Hvidsaerk too. Ivar sent a big army across the land and he told Aslaug to be the leader of the army. Ivar killed the sourcer cow Sibilja, but the Swedish fought bravely until Hvidsaerk killed Eystein. Ivar then stopped the battle and let the Swedish men go with peace. The sons went on to another vikingraid and Aslaug returned home.

When Regnar came home, he held a big funeral feast for his two oldest sons. Regnar gave his thanks to Aslaug because she had handled the situation, but he said that he himself would have liked to take revenge. Aslaug answered: "but Erik sent his ring to me " – and they never talked about it again.

Regnar built two ships, they could transport a whole army. He would go to England for a raid. Aslaug pointed out, the ships were to big and heavy, but Regnar wouldn’t listen to her. When the weather was good and the wind favourable, Regnar wanted to leave Denmark. Aslaug followed him down to the ships. Her heart was heavy because she knew, that she would never see Regnar again. She brought him a parting gift – a shirt, which could stop both sword and spears. 

Regnar reached England and King Ella gathered a big army. He told his men, that he wanted Regnar a live. Ella was afraid of the revenge of Regnar’s sons if their father were killed. Regnar got cought and he wouldn’t tell who he were, so they threw him in the snake pit. The snakes wouldn’t bite him before King Ella’s men took of Regnar’s shirt. When the biggest snake bit Regnar in the heart Regnar said: " The pigs would grunt if they knew the hogs distress ".

King Ella understood that it was Regnar and demanded that he had to be taken op from the snake pit. But it was too late. Regnar was dead. 

The sons had returned from their trip to the South. Sigurd Worm-in-eye ment that they ought to go to England too, but Aslaug and Ivar advised not to do so. When Regnar had sailed alone, it was because of the reason that he wanted to be alone. To be the one who conquered – or died. Ella now sent a message to Aslaug and her sons and offered penance. The messengers told Ivar how Regnar died and later on Ivar told Aslaug.

One day, the sons took revenge for their father’s dead, and Ivar founded Lundunaborg, but soon the people called the city London. Ivar left Denmark and rouled over England until his death. Hvidsaerk were killed in Oesterleden and Aslaug – now she was an old woman – composed his commemorative poem. From Sigurd and Bjoern descend noble big families but it is another story.

The illustration to the right shows Kraka meeting Regnar; it is a fragment of an illustration from Saxo's Historia Danica. The artist is Lorenz Frølich (1820-1908), also known for his illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales

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