Written in 1857 and first performed in 1858, "The Vikings of Helgeland" is Henrik Ibsen's seventh play based on the old Norse sagas.
The plot takes place during the time of Erik Blood-axe (c. 930–934) in the north of Norway in historic Helgeland, a time in which Norwegian society was adjusting from the tradition of Old Norse Sagas to the new era of Christianity.
"The Vikings of Helgeland" tells the tragedy that occurs after the arrival of Ornulf, who with his seven sons is seeking his daughter, Dagny, and foster-daughter, Hjordis, who were abducted and married by Sigurd and Gunnar, respectively...
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[ A rocky coast, running precipitously down to the sea at the back. To the left, a boat-house; to the right, rocks and pine-woods. The masts of two war-ships can be seen down in the cove. Far out to the right, the ocean, dotted with reefs and rocky islands; the sea is running high; it is a stormy snow-grey winter day.]
[ Sigurd comes up from the ships; he is clad in a white tunic with a silver belt, a blue cloak, cross-gartered hose, untanned shoes, and a steel cap; at his side hangs a short sword. Örnulf comes in sight immediately afterwards, up among the rocks, clad in a dark lamb-skin tunic with a breastplate and greaves, woollen stockings, and untanned shoes; over his shoulders he has a cloak of brown frieze, with the hood drawn over his steel cap, so that his face is partly hidden. He is very tall, and massively built, with a long white beard, but somewhat bowed by age; his weapons are a round shield, sword, and spear.
Sigurd [ enters first, looks around, sees the boat-shed, goes quickly up to it, and tries to burst open the door.]
Örnulf [ appears among the rocks, starts on seeing Sigurd, seems to recognise him, descends and cries:] Give place, Viking!
Sigurd [ turns, lays his hand on his sword, and answers:] ’Twere the first time if I did!
Örnulf. Thou shalt and must! I have need of the shelter for my stiff-frozen men.
Sigurd. Then must outlaws be highly prized in Helgeland!
Örnulf. Dearly shalt thou aby that word!
Sigurd. Now will it go ill with thee, old man!
[ Örnulf rushes upon him; Sigurd defends himself.]
[ Dagny and some of Sigurd’s men come up from the strand; Örnulf’s six sons appear on the rocks to the right.]
Dagny [ who is a little in front, clad in a red kirtle, blue cloak, and fur hood, calls down to the ships:] Up, all Sigurd’s men! My husband is fighting with a stranger!
Örnulf’s Sons. Help for Örnulf! [ They descend.]
Sigurd [ to his men]. Hold! I can master him alone!
Örnulf [ to his sons]. Let me fight in peace! [ Rushes in upon Sigurd.] I will see thy blood!
Sigurd. First see thine own! [ Wounds him in the arm so that his spear falls.]
Örnulf. A stout stroke, Viking!
Swift the sword thou swingest, keen thy blows and biting;
Sigurd’s self, the Stalwart, stood before thee shame-struck.
Sigurd [ smiling]. Then were his shame his glory!
Örnulf’s Sons [ with a cry of wonder]. Sigurd himself! Sigurd the Strong!
Örnulf. But sharper was thy stroke that night thou didst bear away Dagny, my daughter. [ Casts his hood back.]
Sigurd and his men. Örnulf of the Fiords!
Dagny [ glad, yet uneasy]. My father and my brothers!
Sigurd. Stand thou behind me.
Örnulf. Nay, no need. [ Approaching Sigurd.] I knew thy face as soon as I was ware of thee, and therefore I stirred the strife; I was fain to prove the fame that tells of thee as the stoutest man of his hands in Norway. Henceforth let peace be between us.
Sigurd. Best if so it could be.
Örnulf. Here is my hand. Thou art a warrior indeed; stouter strokes than these has old Örnulf never given or taken.
Sigurd [ seizes his outstretched hand]. Let them be the last strokes given and taken between us two; and do thou thyself adjudge the matter between us. Art thou willing?
Örnulf. That am I, and straightway shall the quarrel be healed.
[ To the others.] Be the matter, then, known to all. Five winters ago came Sigurd and Gunnar Headman as vikings to Iceland; they lay in harbour close under my homestead. Then Gunnar, by force and craft, carried away my foster-daughter, Hiördis; but thou, Sigurd, didst take Dagny, my own child, and sailed with her over the sea. For that thou art now doomed to pay three hundred pieces of silver, and thereby shall thy misdeed be atoned.
Sigurd. Fair is thy judgment, Örnulf; the three hundred pieces will I pay, and add thereto a silken cloak fringed with gold. It is a gift from King Æthelstan of England, and better has no Icelander yet borne.
Dagny. So be it, my brave husband; and my father, I thank thee. Now at last is my mind at ease.
[ She presses her father’s and brothers’ hands, and talks low to them.]
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