Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 45

The reader will not fail to notice the characteristic anachronisms which give to life in Saxon England in the tenth century the colour of the Norman chivalry of the thirteenth.

Havelok and Godard

In Denmark, long ago, lived a good king named Birkabeyn, rich and powerful, a great warrior and a man of mighty prowess, whose rule was undisputed over the whole realm. He had three children—two daughters, named Swanborow and Elfleda the Fair, and one young and goodly son, Havelok, the heir to all [Pg 75] his dominions. All too soon came the day that no man can avoid, when Death would call King Birkabeyn away, and he grieved sore over his young children to be left fatherless and unprotected; but, after much reflection, and prayers to God for wisdom to help his choice, he called to him Jarl Godard, a trusted counsellor and friend, and committed into his hands the care of the realm and of the three royal children, until Havelok should be of age to be knighted and rule the land himself. King Birkabeyn felt that such a charge was too great a temptation for any man unbound by oaths of fealty and honour, and although he did not distrust his friend, he required Godard to swear,

“By altar and by holy service book,
By bells that call the faithful to the church,
By blessed sacrament, and sacred rites,
By Holy Rood, and Him who died thereon,
That thou wilt truly rule and keep my realm,
Wilt guard my babes in love and loyalty,
Until my son be grown, and dubbèd knight:
That thou wilt then resign to him his land,
His power and rule, and all that owns his sway.”

Jarl Godard took this most solemn oath at once with many protestations of affection and whole-hearted devotion to the dying king and his heir, and King Birkabeyn died happy in the thought that his children would be well cared for during their helpless youth.

When the funeral rites were celebrated Jarl Godard assumed the rule of the country, and, under pretext of securing the safety of the royal children, removed them to a strong castle, where no man was allowed access to them, and where they were kept so closely that the royal residence became a prison in all but name. Godard, finding Denmark submit to his government without resistance, began to adopt measures to rid [Pg 76] himself of the real heirs to the throne, and gave orders that food and clothes should be supplied to the three children in such scanty quantities that they might die of hardship; but since they were slow to succumb to this cruel, torturing form of murder, he resolved to slay them suddenly, knowing that no one durst call him to account. Having steeled his heart against all pitiful thoughts, he went to the castle, and was taken to the inner dungeon where the poor babes lay shivering and weeping for cold and hunger. As he entered, Havelok, who was even then a bold lad, greeted him courteously, and knelt before him, with clasped hands, begging a boon.