(Or should that be Mauror the Mouse?)
Hey, Toli Tall Tales here with another fine tale. Not borrowed, this, from my neighbours or from my liege lord’s many-tongued men. Ney, this is a story my forefathers brought with them from across the East Sea, from Angeln. So, carry a stool to beside yon hearth, sit the younglings all around you; top up your pot and toast your toes, and listen to what I’ve to tell you. This is the story of Mauror the Sorcerer, though it ambles at first – like in the plays when the men come in to set up the scenes.
Mauror the Sorcerer
Now in the days of my ancient forefathers, when the Angles still lived beside the Danes, in Denmark there ruled many kings. Now, as with all kings, some few were content with their portions of land, while others had hard, greed-marked, eyes upon others. One such greed-marked king was Wiglek of Zealand, son, by a concubine, of King Rorik Ringslinger.
The first thing King Wiglek did upon succeeding his father was to bind to him the sorceress Nanna – he made her his wife. He then sent a challenge north from Zealand cross the Kattegat, to Fiallar King of Scania. Fiallar had too long been bound in peaceable ways; he’d no more heart for a battle. So he released his folk and his land into King Wiglek’s hands, and retired quietly.
Now, while the addition of Scania made King Wiglek stronger (double the land meant double the leidang i.e. the levy of warrior-rowing long-boats), it did nothing to satisfy his hunger for honour – and in those days honour could be got in only one way. King Wiglek needed to fight; he needed to bash in the heads of many tens of men. Then he’d be content with his newly-gained land. So he scanned the lands around him, and his eyes lit upon Juteland, westward of Scania across the Kattegat. There his young nephew Amleth had of late become king.
So, scene’s now set. So now we can jump across the roaring Kattegat and join the happenings in King Amleth’s mead-hall.
Geruda, his mother pulled at Amleth’s arm, and signed for him to leave the hall. When he tried to object, she hushed him. “Outside, outside,” is all that she’d say. Once there, she warned him, “You must take care. King Wiglek has his spies everywhere.”
Amleth laughed and waved his mother’s fears away. “But he is my uncle, your brother, we have good accord. Besides, where are his spies? Has he a stranger lodged in our land? I say not. Then are my people not to be trusted? I say not. Mother, you worry from specks than can be easily washed.”
“And I say, did flies swarm into your hall when the doorkeeper opened the double-leaved doors these few moments past? I say they did. And has my brother not of late wedded a vala, a sorceress, a very daughter of Freya? I say he has. So and see, those very flies are the spies she has sent here. You must take care, and say nothing of note where those flies can hear.”
To humour his mother, Amleth made as if to believe her. But this wasn’t enough for Geruda. “What one can do, so can another.”
“My mother, I already have me a wife. Hermutrude. With her I am happy and, unless she proves barren, I want no other.”
“Ney, I’m not saying to wed a sorceress, Ney, my son, that would only serve to alert my brother. Yet your father, sadly departed this past year, had a sister, and she, a son, Mauror. Now, I admit words were curt when Mauror declared his intent to serve that cunning-man Finningand. But he now has returned, full-cunning in the ways of wizards. He is the Fates very own offering; we cannot ignore it. So here I propose we send young Mauror to spy out the tricks and trickery at your uncle’s court.”
Amleth grunted of his agreement, but mumbled of whether his men would agree it. “You know I always discuss with my men before I change talk into motion.”
“Oh, discuss it, discuss it do – and while you’re about it, why not send Hundi with a message to Wiglek to advise of what you would do. The flies, Amleth; you are not thinking.”
Thusly, you see the second scene set. The tale now moves to Geruda’s (by marriage) nephew, Mauror the Sorcerer.
It is true what Geruda had said of the curt words between them when Mauror declared his intent to take training from Finningand the Finn. But, as Mauror had defended, though never was he a fireside fool yet he fell short by a yard of his father – he’d been named for the ant. A spindle of a man, stunted as a vine grown in the shade, ten, twenty, thirty years still wouldn’t make a warrior of him. But he was clever-headed.
Now, instructed by his Aunt (by marriage) Geruda, he set out in a small boat, first across the Kattegat to Scania; thence to encircle the bounds until, coming again to the coast, he took a small boat to Gotar Island. From Gotar Island he sailed on to Zealand. Oh, such a fanciful way just to say, truly, of whence he came.
“Ay, my lord, Wiglek-king, I hail from Gotar Island.” And when Wiglek turned to Nanna, Nanna nodded, having found no fib-like colour in him. So Mauror offered the presents had along the way in exchange of the treasures Geruda had provided for him, and King Wiglek was suitably honoured and pleased.
Mauror began his spying that night. He waited until, one by one, Wiglek’s warriors began to tire and nod off. Then Mauror, too, excused himself. He’d been told he could sleep in the barn, which suited him well. It was a cleaner, quieter, warmer place than Wiglek’s mead-hall. For, though full-grand and glittering, Wiglek’s mead-hall was nasky with the cardings of broth, brew and bread, noisome with gamesome activities, draughty as sleeping upon a foreshore, and gassy as a goose to boot.
So, into the barn he crept, mindful not to wake the fortunate sleepers who along with him had been granted this idyll. Hidden in a corner, not to be seen, Mauror slipped off his clothes and donned the musham, a magical skin he’d brought with him. With a shiver, he shrank – all the way down to a small sneaky mouse. Then out of the barn the little mouse snuck, careful of cats and snakes and night owls, and back into Wiglek’s mead-hall.
Although all others were snoring, the king’s trusted warriors, his closest fellows, were gathered around him as he sat on his high chair. And so intent was the king in fussing his falcon, and so intent were his men in discussing their deceits and devises, and so eager were all to plan out the coming campaign, that not a soul of them noticed the small sneaky mouse as it scurried from cover to cover, hiding first beneath a discarded cloak, next behind a dropped bumper. And in such a manner, Mauror managed to gain a tight corner beneath the king’s chair. There he listened. There he heard. There he resolved to leave on the morrow, to return to Juteland, and report these most urgent findings to his lord, Amleth-king.
At day’s brow on the morrow, Mauror the Sound Farer, again dressed in his own clothes, presented himself before King Wiglek.
“Alas, I must take my leave. I am to Saxland and Frankland now,” he said, for this was his intended route of return, “a message to be delivered to my mother’s lord there.” It was not such a lie, as lies go.
At once, King Wiglek, having heard Mauror’s leave-taking, lost what interest he’d had in the man. In truth, that interest had rested only in what gifts the farer could bring. He dismissed Mauror, “Ay, you may go,” and continued with the more pressing matter of mustering the leidang of Zealand and Scania, for he’d brook no delay in his plans for Juteland.
With never a-heel look, Mauror was down by the chip-stage, where always there waited a good many ships’ captains all pleased to act out the flotman to make a swift-gain – when, fast as a fetch and just as frightening, there before him stood a woman, bright as a swan. Mauror blinked and tried to better his focus, for said glamour-wrapped woman seemed almost a falcon.
“You, like most, believe me an illusion,” the swan-bright woman spoke with high words, “For you doubt such beauty can ever exist.”
But the woman had mis-angled Mauror. Full-well he knew that beneath that fair skin a sorceress hid.
“Ney,” he said. “I know your name and your like. For just this past night you and I shared a meal with Wiglek-king – Lady Nanna.” Mauror was wasting no time; even in speaking, he was listing the hamar he’d brought along with him. To again don the musham would be his undoing. He must match or exceed her valsham, her magical falcon-skin. Lo! He had just the right skin. He donned his arnham.
But Nanna, when she saw the giant eagle bearing down on her, faster than blinking shed her valsham. She became a hare, and Mauror, as greyhound, pursued her. She became a duck, and Mauror as a water-dog almost caught her. At that, Nanna clear disappeared.
Mauror thought it safe now to depart in his boat. Yet not out of the haven and she was again a hawk, and diving down on him. He leapt into the water and changed to a fish. Foolish woman, she danced and dangled herself in front of him as a glittering luring fly – which Mauror then swallowed.
Back in Juteland, Mauror reported what he’d heard of King Wiglek’s plans.
“He is to stir your people to turn against you. He is to tell them you are a weak king, that you take taxes and yet don’t defend them. And do not object that this isn’t so, for he sends his own men to mask as yours, to gather in taxes you never have asked for. Then he’ll send his own men to strike against them.”
“How can we halt this from happening?” Amleth asked his men around him. Himself, he felt sick to the pit of his stomach at such openly underhanded treachery.
“We must bow our heads to him,” said his mother Geruda. “We must offer what wealth we have and pray to Odin that it sates his greed.” Which plan Amleth’s men did readily agree.
But all the wealth of Juteland would not appease Wiglek-king. He took it, and hid it, yet still he mustered the leidang of Scania and Zealand. Meanwhile, Mauror sickened.
He grew stout of the waist, like a woman nine months with a babe. Amleth’s men laughed when they saw him, calling him ‘Stick Mama’. Poor Mauror, he sweated lest that indignity would be his delivery to death.
“That Nanna wasn’t ham-clever; I swallowed her,” he confessed to Geruda. “It’s her that who grows big in my belly. What can I do?” He had tried to pass the fly through.
“Not clever?” Geruda groaned. “For these past few months she’s heard all that’s been said. So our knife-heal will cut you, let her free of your body.We’ll catch her and burn her and she’ll be dead.”
Mauror shivered, he feared, he wanted to run. But in the end the deed was done. Out tumbled the bloodied body of Nanna. In-grabbed the many hands assembled to catch her. Alas. Alas. Nanna was slippery and quick. Not a one caught her. Wrapped again in her valsham, she was up and away, back to her husband’s court in Zealand.
Alas, this story has no happy ending. King Wiglek duly arrived on the shores of Juteland backed by the leidang of Scania and Zealand. King Amleth gave battle, for he was no she-goat. Alas, he was swiftly dispatched to the land of stone-fathers. The victor, King Wiglek took Amleth’s wife Hermutrude as booty. He raked Juteland empty of treasure. But he was not long to enjoy it.
A swarm of flies entered his mead-hall, one day from the west. Alas, alack, King Wiglek swallowed one, sickened and died.
Some say that fly was his own wife, Nanna. But we Jutes and Angles know of a certainty, it was Mauror seeking revenge.
Wiglek was succeeded his son Wermund, that same Wermund who was in turn succeeded by his Offa of Angel, of whom many ripe tales are told. Though none that I’ve heard concerning hamar and flies.
~ ~ ~
As Snæbjorn sang:
They say nine brides of skerries
Swiftly move the Sea-Churn
Of Grótti’s Island-Flour-Bin
Beyond the Earth’s last outskirt –
They who long the corny ale ground
Of Amlódí; the Giver
Of Rings now cuts with ship’s beak
The Abiding-Place of boat-sides.
Here the sea is called Amlódi’s Churn.
Brodeur’s translation, 1916 – from Wikipedia
~ ~ ~
The story of King Wiglek, son of the Danish king Rorik Slengeborre, is found in the Danish Chronicon Lethrense – yet there it hardly resembles this tale told by Toli.
True, Wiglek is given a wife named Nanna, and a son Wermund who succeeds him. There, too, he deposes Fiallar, King of Scania, and fights and defeats his (possible) nephew Amleth (Shakespeare’s Hamlet). But of magical skins and spying flies, there is nothing.
However, it is known that to the Danes and Northmen, all Finns (meaning the Saami) were sorcerers; and it was believed that sorcerers sent out flies to spy for them. They also were able to change their form by donning the hamar, or magical skin. Freya’s skin is the most famous; the skin of a falcon, though in later sagas it had become a more credible cloak of feathers.
The ham is the origin of the berserker’s bear-shirt. In donning the skin of a bear the warrior took on the animal’s character: strong, ferocious and invulnerable in battle.
For more on the beliefs and traditions of pre-Christian Norse and Danes see An Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson (1874). Not only is it the most comprehensive and authoritative dictionary on Old Icelandic, but is jam-packed with commentaries on customs both religious and political, many predating the sagas, many originating in Denmark and Scandinavia, as well as Iceland.