Pentathlon 2015: Poem

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.






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