Saga of Böthvar Egilsson

Only the bravest of Vikings could enter Valhalla. These warriors were chosen by the Valkyries to feast with Odin until the last great battle of Ragnarok. Like Freyja, their queen, the Valkyries had magical feathered cloaks allowing them to tum into ravens. Early one morning an inquisitive young Valkyrie met with these black scavengers; blood crusting on their beaks and rags of flesh held firmly in their talons.

"So ravens, where have you come from with such gory beaks at the dawning of the day? I think you've spent the night where you knew corpses lay."

The ravens told of how they had followed a bloodthirsty king to Hafrsfjord, and there watched him crush his enemies in battle. Those who didn’t want to live under King Harald’s tyrannical rule set sail westwards to Shetland. Many, hearing of a new land to the north, decided to make the long journey to Iceland. Among these was an old shape-shifter called Kveldulf, and his berserker son, Skallagrim. Both were devout friends of Odin, the Raven­ god.

Knowing he was about to die, Kveldulf announced that he would go on ahead and choose the place where Skallagrim should settle. His coffin was put overboard and, right enough, when they reached Iceland it was found washed up on a rocky shore. Skallagrim named the place Borg and set about building his house. When he died his son, Egil, took over the farm with his wife, Asgerd. Böthvar was the eldest of their three sons, and they had two daughters besides.

Egil made some long journeys abroad. He set off on his fourth expedition around the year 955 and was away for several years. On his return he was met by a tall strong man with long hair and a shaggy beard. Böthvar had grown up into a fine young man and Egil saw that he would become a brave warrior for Odin, just like his forefathers. During the summer merchants held a trading fair by the river Hvita. Egil bought a load of timber for he had plans to do more building at Borg. Ravens circled ominously overhead as Böthvar prepared his ship to take the wood home. He waited that evening for the tide to turn blissfully unaware that a storm was brewing.

Böthvar soon found himself in the grip of a raging south­ westerly gale which churned up the water making it impossible to steer. Crashing waves began to swamp the ship, which overturned before being driven ashore. The wild breakers proved too strong for Böthvar who drowned together with all his companions. The next day Egil found Böthvar’s body washed up on the rocks. The Valkyries however had already carried his son from the seething waters to be welcomed by the Raven-god in Valhalla. Egil was inconsolable but he could not question the Valkyrie’s choice. They could no doubt see that Böthvar had within him the spirit of a true berserker.

Egil had been devoted to Odin all his life but now he was bitter and vengeful. Odin would enjoy Böthvar’s company while he had to go without. Egil remembered how Odin too had grieved at the death of his son, Balder. This brought him some comfort in his distress. Böthvar would indeed make a worthy replacement and Odin had duly compensated him with a drink from his divine mead of poetry. Considering his tragic loss Egil sat down and composed the monumental poem, ‘Sonatorrek’. This cheered him up and when he had finished he returned to his high-seat and prepared a great funeral feast in honour of Böthvar Egilsson.

Brydon Leslie