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Höttr is an anti-hero reminiscent of Parzival. He cowardly shirks courtly life and is helped by forces beyond his control. Böthvar and Höttr sneak out at night to slay a beast, drink its blood, and eat its heart. Then they return the next day to enact a pantomime slaying, for which Höttr gets the honor.
Síðan fór Bøðvarr leið sína til Hleiðargarðs. Hann kømr til konungs atsetu. Bøðvarr leiðir síðan hest sinn á stall hjá konungs hestum hinum beztu ok spyrr engan at; gekk síðan inn í høllina, ok var þar fátt manna. Hann sezk útarliga, ok sem hann hefir verit þar lítla hríð, heyrir hann þrausk nøkkut útar í hornit í einhverjum stað. Bøðvarr lítr þangat ok sér at mannshønd kømr upp ór mikilli beinahrúgu, er þar lá; høndin var svørt mjøk. Bøðvarr gengr þangat til ok spyrr hverr þar væri í beinahrúgunni. Þá var honum svarat ok heldr óframliga: "Høttr heiti ek, bokki sæll." "Hví ertu hér," segir Bøðvarr, "eða hvat gørir þú?" Høttr segir, "Ek gøri mér skjaldborg, bokki sæll." Bøðvarr sagði, "Vesall ertu þinnar skjaldborgar!" Bøðvarr þrífr til hans ok hnykkir honum upp ór beinahrúgunni. Høttr kvað þá hátt við ok mælti, "Nú viltu mér bana! Gør eigi þetta, svá sem ek hefi nú vel um búizk áðr, en þú hefir nú rótat í sundr skjaldborg minni, ok hafða ek nú svá gørt hana hvá útan at mér, at hon hefir hlíft mér við øllum høggum ykkar, svá at engi høgg hafa komit á mik lengi, en ekki var hon enn svá búin sem ek ætlaða hon skyldi verða." Bøðvarr mælti: "Ekki muntu fá skjaldborgina lengr." Høttr mælti ok grét: "Skaltu nú bana mér, bokki sæll?" Bøðvarr bað han ekki hafa hátt, tók hann upp síðan ok bar hann út ór høllinni ok til vatns nøkkurs sem þar var í nánd, ok gáfu fáir at þessu gaum, ok þó hann upp allan.
Then Böthvar set out on his journey toward Hleithargarthr. He came upon a king's estate. Böthvar then, asking permission of none, stables his steed beside the king's best stallions; afterward he went into the hall, where there were few people. He sits near the entrance, and after he's been there a short while, he hears a din as someone rummages around in one of the corners. Böthvar looks across and sees a human hand coming up from the large pile of bones that lay there; the hand was very black. Böthvar goes over and asks who might be there in the bone heap.
Then he received a rather timid answer: "Höttr is my name, good man."
"Why are you here," asked Böthvar, "and what are you doing?"
Höttr said, "I'm making myself a shield wall, buddy."
Böthvar said, "You're pathetic with your shield wall!" Böthvar seized him and snatched him up out of the bone pile.
Höttr cried aloud in distress, yelling, "Now you will kill me! Don't do that, I'd just built it up to my satisfaction before you came along, and now you've shattered my shield wall to pieces, and I'd finally got it high enough to protect myself from all your blows, such that I haven't been hit in ages, although it still wasn't yet as ready as I intended to make it."
Böthvar said, "By no means will you build that shield wall anymore."
Höttr sobbed and said, "Are you going to kill me now, mate?"
Böthvar told him to quiet down, picked him up and carried him out of the hall to a nearby lake—few took any notice of this—and thus washed him from head to toe.
Síðan gekk Bøðvarr til þess rúms sem hann hafði áðr tekit, ok leiddi eptir sér Høtt ok þar setr hann Høtt hjá sér. En hann er svá hræddr at skelfr á honum leggr ok liðr, en þó þykkisk hann skilja at þessi maðr vil hjálpa sér. Eptirþat kveldar ok drífa menn í høllina ok sjá Hrólfs kappar at Høttr er settr á bekk upp, ok þykkir þeim sá maðr hafa gørt sik œrit djarfan, er þetta hefir til tekit. Ilt tillit hefir Høttr, þá er hann sér kunningja sína, því at hann hefir ilt eitt af þeim reynt; hann vill lifa gjarnan ok fara aptr í beinahrúgu sína, en Bøðvarr heldr honum, svá at hann náir ekki í brottu at fara, því at hann þóttisk ekki jafnberr fyrir høggum þeira, ef hann næði þangat at komask, sem hann er nú. Hirðmenn hafa nú sama vanda, ok kasta fyrst beinum smám um þvert gólfit til Bøðvars ok Hattar. Bøðvarr lætr sem hann sjái eigi þetta. Høttr er svá hræddr at hann tekr eigi mat né drykk, ok þykkir honum þá sem hann muni vera lostinn. Ok nú mælti Høttr til Bøðvars: "Bokki sæll, nú ferr at þér stór knúta, ok mun þetta ætlat okkr til nauða." Bøðvarr bað hann þegja. Hann setr við holan lófann ok tekr svá við knútunni; þar fylgir leggrinn með. Bøðvarr sendi aptr knútuna ok setr á þann sem kastaði, ok rétt framan í hann með svá harðri svipan at hann fekk bana. Sló þá miklum ótta yfir hirðmennina.
Then Böthvar returned to the room and took his place as before, leading his disciple Höttr to the adjacent seat. But Höttr was frightened such that his body shook down to the joints, yet it occurred to him that this man was willing to help him. Later on, darkness fell and men began to drift into the hall; then Hrolf's champions saw Höttr sitting on a bench, and thought that whoever was responsible was brave enough to have done so. A dark expression overtook Höttr when he saw his acquaintances because he's only gotten hostile treatment from them; he really wants to live ungrudgingly and go back to his bone pile, because he thought himself less vulnerable to their blows than as he is now, if he could only get there—but Böthvar holds him so he cannot get away. The noblemen's looks betrayed wicked intent, and they cast the first bone at Böthvar and Höttr with rancor. Böthvar acts as though he didn't notice this. Höttr was so afraid that he took neither food nor drink, and it seemed only natural that he should get hit.
And now Höttr speaks to Böthvar: "Friend, a large knucklebone is now flying toward us, and I think it's meant to hurt."
Böthvar told him to shut up. He reaches out and catches the knucklebone in his hand; the leg flew along, [still attached to the knuckle]. Böthvar hurls the bone back towards the man who threw it, and it struck him in the front side with such suddenness that it killed him. Great fear struck the other retainers.
Kømr nú þessi fregn fyrir Hrólf konung ok kappa hans upp í kastalann, at maðr mikilúðligr sé kominn til hallarinnar ok hafi drepit einn hirðmann hans, ok vildu þeir láta drepa manninn. Hrólfr konungr spurðisk eptir, hvárt hirðmaðrinn hefði verit saklauss drepinn. "Því var næsta," søgðu þeir. Kómusk þá fyrir Hrólf konung øll sannindi hér um. Hrólfr konungr sagði þat skyldu fjarri, at drepa skyldi manninn—"hafi þit hérillan vanda upp tekit, at berja saklausa menn beinum; er mér í því óvirðing, en yðr stór skømm, at gøra slíkt. Hefi ek jafnan rœtt um þetta áðr, ok hafi þit at þessu engan gaum gefit, ok hygg ek at þessi maðr muni ekki alllítill fyrir sér, er þér hafið nú á leitat; ok kallið hann til mín, svá at ek viti hverr hann er."
Now this news reached Hrolf the king, that a bloodthirsty man had come into the hall and killed one of his retainers, and his warriors in the castle vowed to avenge the slain man. King Hrolf inquired whether the retainer had been killed for no reason.
"Near enough," they said. Then the whole truth found its way to King Hrolf.
King Hrolf declared that seeking vengeance was the last thing they should do: "You've fallen into a bad habit of barraging defenseless men with bones; it dishonors me, but for you it's an absolute disgrace to be carrying on like this. I've spoken to you about this repeatedly, and you've taken no notice, and I doubt this man you've attacked will be a pushover; now summon him for me, so I can learn who he is."
Bøðvarr gengr fyrir konung ok kveðr hann kurteisliga. Konungr spyrr hann at nafni. "Hattargriða kalla mik hirðmenn yðar, en Bøðvarr heiti ek." Konungr mælti, "Hverjar bœtr viltu bjóða mér fyrir hirðmann minn?" Bøðvarr segir, "Til þess gørði hann, sem hann fekk." Konungr mælti, "Viltu vera minn maðr ok skipa rúm hans?" Bøðvarr segir, "Ekki neita ek at vera yðarr maðr, ok munu vit ekki skiljask svá búit, vit Høttr, ok dveljask nær þér báðir, heldr en þessi hefir setit; elligar vit førum brott báðir." Konungr mælti, "Eigi sé ek at honum sœmd, en ek spara ekki mat við hann."
Böthvar goes before the king and addresses him most courteously. The king asks him his name.
"Your knights know me as Höttsguard, but my name is Böthvar."
The king asked, "How much compensation do you offer me for my retainer?"
Böthvar said, "He got what he asked for."
The king asked, "Will you be my man and take his place?"
Böthvar said, "I don't deny the offer to join your retinue, but I prefer to stay together with Höttr just as we are, and he will be seated nearer to you than before; otherwise we will both leave."
The king said, "I don't see any value in that one, but I won't begrudge him some food."
Bøðvarr gengr nú til þess rúms sem honum líkaði, en ekki vill hann þat skipa sem hinn hafði áðr. Hann kippir upp í einhverjum stað þremr mønnum, ok síðan settusk þeir Høttr þar niðr ok innar í høllinni en þeim var skipat. Heldr þótti mønnum ódælt við Bøðvar, ok er þeim hinn mesti íhugi at honum.
Böthvar now returns to his preferred seat, but wouldn't take that of his victim and had found another. He snatches up some three people and sits there with Höttr, further into the hall than where they were assigned. Champions considered that man Böthvar very difficult to deal with, and regarded him with bitter resentment.
Ok sem leið at jólum, gørðusk menn ókátir. Bøðvarr spyrr Høtt hverju þetta sætti; hann segir honum at dýr eitt hafi þar komit tvá vetr í samt, mikit ok ógurligt—"ok hefir vængi á bakinu ok flýgr þat jafnan. Tvau haust hefir þat nú hingat vitjat ok gørt mikinn skaða. Á þat bíta ekki vápn, en kappar konungs koma ekki heim, þeir sem at eru einna mestr." Bøðvarr mælti, "Ekki er høllin svá vel skipuð sem ek ætlaða, ef eitt dýr skal hér eyða ríki ok fé konungsins." Høttr sagði, "Þat er ekki dýr, heldr er þat hit mesta trøll."
And as Yule drew on, people grew glum. Böthvar asks Höttr what this could mean; he describes to him how a monster has returned for two winters now, huge and horrible—"and it's got wings on its back and flies everywhere. Two harvests now it has visited here and done serious damage. No weapon can wound it, so the king's warriors never return home, and his best men at that."
Böthvar said, "This hall is much less protected than I expected, if one beast can come here and waste the king's whole riches and harvest."
Höttr said, "That is no wild animal, it is the most barbaric type of troll."
Nú kømr jóla-aptann. Þá mælti konungr, "Nú vil ek at menn sé kyrrir ok hljóðir í nótt, ok banna ek øllum mínum mønnum at ganga í nøkkurn háska við dýrit, en fé ferr eptir því sem auðnar; menn mína vil ek ekki missa." Allir heita hér góðu um, at gøra eptir því sem konungr bauð.
Now comes the Yule Eve. At that the king said, "Now I want people to lie silent and at rest tonight, and I forbid all my men to go and take any risks with this creature; if the harvest is spoilt so be it, but I refuse to lose my men."
All swore faithfully to do as the king commanded.
|Jenny Nyström, Hjörvard and Rolf krake, 1895. Image from Wikimedia Commons.|
Bøðvarr leyndisk í brott um nóttina; hann lætr Høtt fara með sér, ok gørir hann þat nauðugr ok kallaði hann sér stýrt til bana. Bøðvarr segir at betr mundi til takask. Þeir ganga í brott frá høllinni, ok verðr Bøðvarr at bera hann, svá er hann hræddr. Nú sjá þeir dýrit, ok því næst œpir Høttr slíkt sem hann má ok kvað dýrit mundu gleypa hann. Bøðvarr bað bikkjuna hans þegja ok kastar honum niðr í mosann, ok þar liggr hann ok eigi með øllu óhræddr. Eigi þorir hann heim at fara heldr. Nú gengr Bøðvarr móti dýrinu; þat hœfir honum, at averðit er fast í umgjørðinni, er hann vildi bregða því. Bøðvarr eggjar nú fast sverðit ok þá bragðar í umgjørðinni, ok nú fær hann brugðit umgjørðinni svá at sverðit gengr ór slíðrunum, ok leggr þegar undir bœgi dýrsins ok svá fast at stóð í hjartanu, ok datt þá dýrit til jarðar dautt niðr. Eptir þat ferr hann þangat sem Høttr liggr. Bøðvarr tekr hann upp ok berr þangat sem dýrit liggr dautt. Høttr skelfr ákaft. Bøðvarr mælti: "Nú skaltu drekka blóð dýrsins." Hann er lengi tregr, en þó þorir hann víst eigi annat. Bøðvarr lætr hann drekka tvá sopa stóra; hann lét hann ok eta nøkkut af dýrshjartanu. Eptir þetta tekr Bøðvarr til hans ok áttusk þeir við lengi. Bøðvarr mælti: "Helzt ertu nú sterkr orðinn, ok ekki vænti ek at þú hræðisk nú hirðmenn Hrólfs konungs." Høttr sagði, "Eigi mun ek þá hræðask ok eigi þik upp frá þessu." "Vel er þá orðir, Høttr félagi. Føru vit nú til ok reisum upp dýrit ok búum svá um at aðrir ætli at kvikt muni vera." Þeir gøra nú svá. Eptir þat fara þeir heim ok hafa kyrt um sik, ok veit engi maðr hvat þeir hafa iðjat.
Böthvar stole away in the night; he brought Höttr along on the adventure, though the latter went unwillingly and thought himself good as dead. Böthvar said it might turn out for the better. They walk away from the palace and Böthvar ends up carrying him, so petrified he was. Now they see the brute, and immediately Höttr shrieks that the monster would swallow him. Böthvar told him to shut up, bitch, and throws him down on the moss and there he lies, not entirely unafraid. He dares not go home either. Now Böthvar goes to challenge the barbarian; it doesn't help that his sword was stuck in its sheath the moment he needed to draw it. Böthvar now wrenches the blade out of its scabbard, releases it from the sheath and wields it; he thrusts it hard and fast under the enemy's shoulder so that it pierced the heart, and the beast dropped dead on the ground. After that, he goes to where Höttr is lying. Böthvar picks him up and carries him to where the monster lay dead. Höttr trembles uncontrollably.
Böthvar said, "Now you shall drink the creature's blood."
For a long time he's reluctant, though he dares not really do anything else. Böthvar encourages him take two large draughts; he also makes him eat a bit of the fiend's heart. Afterward Böthvar makes a start at him, and they wrestle for a long time.
Böthvar said, "See now how strong you've become; I doubt you'll fear King Hrolf's retainers now."
Höttr said, "I will not fear them or thou after this."
"It worked out well then, Höttr buddy. Let us now raise the beast and prop it up so that other people will think it is still alive."
They do just that. Afterward they return to the hall and keep quietly to themselves, so nobody knows what they've done.
Konungr spyrr um morguninn hvat þeir viti til dýrsins, hvárt þat hafi nøkkut þangat vitjat um nóttina. Honum var sagt at fé alt væri heilt í grindum ok ósakat. Konungr bað menn forvitnask hvárt engi sæi líkindi til at þat hefði heim komit. Varðmenn gørðu svá ok kómu skjótt aptr ok søgðu konungi at dýrit fœri þar ok heldr geyst at borginni. Konungr bað hirðmenn vera hrausta ok duga nú hvern eptir því sem hann hefði hug til, ok ráða af óvætt þenna; ok svá var gørt, sem konungr bað, at þeir bjoggu sik til þess. Konungr horfði á dýrit ok mælti síðan, "Enga sé ek før á dýrinu, en hverr vill nú taka kaup einn ok ganga í móti því?" Bøðvarr mælti, "Þat væri næsta hrausts mann forvitnisbót. Høttr félagi, rektu nú af þér illmælit þat at menn láta, sem engi krellr né dugr muni í þér vera. Far nú ok drep þú dýrit. Máttu sjá at engi er allfúss til annarra." "Já," sagði Høttr, "ek mun til þessa ráðask." Konungr mælti, "Ekki veit ek hvaðan þessi hreysti er at þér komin, Høttr, ok mikit hefir um þik skipazk á skammri stundu." Høttr mælti, "Gef mér til sverðit Gullinhjalta, er þú heldr á, ok skal ek þá fella dýrit eða fá bana." Hrólfr konungr mælti, "Þetta sverð er ekki beranda nema þeim manni sem bæði er góðr drengr ok hraustr." Høttr sagði, "Svá skaltu til ætla at mér sé svá háttat." Konungr mælti, "Hvat má vita, nema fleira hafiskipzk um hagi þína en sjá þykkir? En fæstir menn þykkjask þik kenna, at þú sér inn sami maðr. Nú tak við sverðinu ok njót manna bezt, ef þetta er til unnit."
The king asked in the morning what was known about the monster, whether it visited at all that night. He was told that all the cattle were safe and sound in their pens. The king instructed his men to go and find any evidence of whether it had come to their homes. Watchmen made to look but came quickly back to tell the king that the beast was preparing to rush forth violently towards the stronghold. The king commanded his retainers to embolden themselves and bade each man show as much prowess as his courage allowed, and to beat back this feral misfortune; and it was done as the king commanded, they prepared themselves for this.
The king looked towards the creature and eventually asked, "I don't see any movement in the beast; who will now take the chance to go up against it?"
Böthvar said, "That would satisfy the bravest man's curiosity. Höttr my companion, you can now redeem yourself from slander by those who believe you possess neither spirit nor strength of soul and body. Go now and slay the beast. You can tell that none of the others are very eager to do so."
"Ja," said Höttr, "I shall do away with it."
The king said, "I don't know where your courage comes from, Höttr, but you have changed very much in a short time."
Höttr said, "Give me the sword Gullinhjalti [or Goldenhilt] which you hold, and I will fell the beast or die trying."
King Hrolf said, "That sword is not for any man to wield, unless he is a valiant man and a stout-hearted warrior."
Höttr said, "You must consider me able and I will act as such."
The king said, "Who knows, maybe more has changed in you than can be seen? I doubt that many would recognize you as the same man. Now take the sword and it will be yours, best of men, if the task is performed."
Síðan gengr Høttr at dýrinu alldjarfliga ok høggr til þess, þá er hann kømr í høggfœri, ok dýrit fellr niðr dautt. Bøðvarr mælti, "Sjáið nú, herra, hvat hann hefir til unnit." Konungr segir, "Víst hefir hann mikit skipazk, en ekki hefir Høttr einn dýrit drepit; heldr hefir þú þat gørt." Bøðvarr segir, "Vera má at svá sé." Konungr segir, "Vissa ek, þá er þú komt hér, at fáir mundu þínir jafningjar vera, en þat þykki mér þó þitt verk frægiligast, at þú hefir gørt hér annan kappa þar er Høttr er, ok óvænligr þótti til mikillar giptu. Ok nú vil ek at hann heiti eigi Høttr lengr ok skal hann heita Hjalti upp frá þessu; skaltu heita eptir sverðinu Gullinhjalta."
So Höttr went very boldly to the monster and swings at it when it is within striking distance, and the creature fell down, dead.
Böthvar said, "See now, lord, what he's done."
The king said, "Certainly he's changed a lot, but Höttr hasn't killed the beast alone; rather you've done it."
Böthvar said, "Perhaps that is so."
The king said, "I knew when you came here that few would be your equal, but still that seems to me your finest work, that you have made Höttr into a new champion, who seemed unlikely to have any great luck. And now I shall no longer call him Höttr, but he will be called Hjalti from now on; you shall be named for the sword Gullinhjalti."
"Bøðvar Bjarki at the Court of King Hrólf." In An Introduction to Old Norse, edited by E. V. Gordon and revised by A. A. Taylor, pp. 26–32. Oxford: University Press, 1974.