I wrote this poem in January 2015, just in time for early compositional entries for Caid’s Pentathlon 2015. The original prose story is found in the 14th century Orkneyinga Saga. I created the poem as a stanzaic fornyrðislag style.
Sigurd and the Raven Banner
Songs we sing of Odin’s messengers
Ravens black, bearers of the bright word
One-eye’s will flown into the world,
Sage-spells test men’s deeds.
Hlodver is heir to the Orkneys
Storm-clad center of the sea roads.
Dragonships dock midst their deadly passage
Soaring the sea to slay their foes.
Earl’s fame earns a queen Audna was her name.
Wed he Audna, wife and wyrd woman
Vowed to the vaunted lady victories brave,
No maid’s magic unmanfully asked.
On day Hlodver trod the Hel-path hale at dawn, dead at noontide.
Earl’s son Sigurd sat the high seat
Stout was he and strong, seemingly fearless.
He feared no fate but one – to fail that which he faced.
From the Scot’s land to the south sailed Earl Finnleik
Longships eleven in number left Skye ports.
Many strong men manned the oars
The Orkneys their aim, its harbors their prize.
Sigurd sighted them set his men to wait
To fall back before their foes till fief-lord returned.
Sigurd to Skidda-myre swiftly rode
The sorceress to see, sybil named Audra.
Earl’s own mother, augurer and spell-weaver.
Came he to the cave living cairn since her lord’s death.
Silently she signed for her son to approach.
The earl stood still, spoke of Finnleik’s army.
“Seven men to one of mine, your magic we need.
Witch us so we may wage war against the Scots.”
With scorn the sorceress her son’s eyes fixed.
“I would have warded you in my wool-basket
If I knew you feared the fall of the brave.
Do your duty and die if God wills.
But since you are set on a sager course
then this brave banner may bear your courage for you.
Victory it gives him afore it is carried
But is the bane of him who bears it.”
From a chest she shook a cloth that shone in the dimness
The weave woven by a wise woman.
Black bird soaring on bright banner
Wrought with strange spells sorcery gleaming.
“A goodly gift grants the raven
For he who fields the flag will fall and to Valhalla go.
But he who bears not the banner his bravery is forfeit
Huginn and Muninn will judge between them.”
Sigurd was wroth at her words for wicked he judged them.
Silently he snatched the banner and strode from her sight
If to Odin geld was owed then the Earl would pay,
But Finnleik would fall first on the field.
To Skidda-myre Sigurd rode the Scots to meet.
In battle array brawling men bore proud banners
Weapons glittered, warriors roared, war-surge meets
Glint of weapons, blood-glistened shields glaring at the foe.
Armies clashed, crashed together with clanging blades
Sigurd’s standard-bearer streamed the raven banner
Into the air aloft it flew all who fought Sigurd fell
and the banner bearer too was borne to the ground.
Three more brave bearers bore it across the field
Three more fighters to the fates fell that day
Ere the valiant for vanity’s sake his victory achieved
Warriors be wary of spell-wrought deeds.
Wind-blown banner whets blade woes
And bearer’s blood is its bounty.
Yet Orkneymen overlooked Earl’s lost honor
For the savage sacrifice satisfaction was deemed.
Twenty years of time then trod the earl
While the spell-wrought raven rested in shadows.
Then Máel Mórda monarch of Leinster
rose in revolt a rival for the high throne.
Brian Boru’s lawful brother by marriage
Blood’s brother to Gormflaith, Brian’s own queen.
Queen Gormlaith gained ground with allies
Her brother Mael Morda the chief man among them
Her son Sigtrygg despised his stepfather Brian
Kinship was naught to killers with a king to betray.
Sigurd gave Sigtrygg his assent to war
To punish the prince for his pride of high place.
Crooked conspirators to Clontarth would go
Felling Brian Boru the royal blood to spill.
Took the earl the wyrd-wrapped spell-weave
Set sail with his men south they bore
Orkney joining Ulster and Ui Neill
Ancient rights to recover a rule to end.
At Clontarth the companies clashed on the field.
Monarch’s heir Murchad the Irishmen led
Kerthialfad, king’s foster son cleaved the way
Fell warriors forced forward to Sigurd’s line.
Sailed the standard snapping in the wind
before many spears bore its bearer to the ground.
For honor another raised it a man with courage
His battle went badly overborne was he.
Standing with Sigurd still were his kin
Their sacrifice would stay certain defeat.
To Thorstein of Sida Sigurd cried
That he should bear the banner the battle to save.
Yet Asmund the White warned of woe to come
Thorstein heeded his words and hasted away.
Sigurd roared at Hrafn the Red to raise the banner
But Hrafn denied and dared him “Your own devil bear!”
Sigurd spat his command scarce heed gave Hrafn
Earl-kin gave no ground no glory in magecraft.
Sigurd snatched up the cloth the sigil to take.
“Mayhap the beggar should bear his own bag.”
From its pole he plucked it placed it in his cloak
Clasping it close to a coward’s heart
When a spear pierced Sigurd slicing also the raven.
Fell was his passing and evil his fate.
This same fate failed his men and fast they fled
Swiftly taking sail upon the gray sea.
Killed was the high king and of his kin many fell
Fallen too was Mael Morda much mourned was he.
Irish and Ui Neill and Ulstermen united in uneasy peace.
Far Skidda-myre saw Sigurd’s fall
The weird women of Caithness the war-weave cut.
Singing their song of Earl’s ending
So fell the savage sigil the seer of deeds.