Medieval Icelandic Literature
The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise
13th century, Old Norse.
'Fire doesn't frighten me.' said Hervor. 'Not even the sight of the dead standing beside their burial mounds.'
The viking crewmen tried to dissuade Hervor from going onto the island. 'However much treasure lies buried in those barrows,' they said, 'it would be foolish to try to get at it, so many fearsome ghosts walk there day and night.'
Hervor went ashore anyway and she met a herdsman tending his cattle.
'Set off quickly for home,' he advised.
'I have no lodgings on this island,' she replied. 'Tell me quickly where I can find the burial mound of the Arngrimssons.'
'You must be mad,' he said. 'Get going while you can.'
'Don’t you be frightened of fire and flames,' she cajoled. 'Old dead men shouldn’t scare us, even if the whole island were ablaze with their grave-fires. Here is a necklace; yours if you will tell me where I can find this mound.'
'At night the mounds will open,' he said, and he set off for home with his cattle.
There on a headland in the failing light Hervor could see the grave-fires. She walked through the flames and they did not burn her and she came to the mound in which her father was buried.
'Wake up you old rascal! Wake up Angantyr!' she shouted. 'Arngrimssons, rouse yourselves! Give me the sword Tyrfing. May you all decay like powder in an anthill if you don’t give me this sword.'
'Hervor, my daughter,' came the voice of her father. 'Why do you scream like this? I haven’t got the sword.'
'You lie!' shouted Hervor.
'The mounds are opening!' said Angantyr. 'Get going, woman!'
'Fire doesn't frighten me,' replied Hervor. 'Not even the sight of the dead standing beside their burial mounds.'
'You have more courage than most,' replied her dead father.
Story fragment retold from: the medieval Icelandic saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise, translated by Peter Tunstall. 5. Hervor Got the Sword Tyrfing.