All the Wends of Saxo Grammaticus – Book XVI

This tells of the German-inspired war by Boguslav/Bugislav of the Pomeranians against Cnut of Denmark, Waldemar’s son in which war the Rugians (freshly defeated by the Danes) under their duke Jarimar, found themselves on the front lines and fought on the Danish side. This is from the Jensen-Fisher translation though I corrected their English in those instances where its usage was just too atrocious.

Chapter 3

5. On hearing of this answer, Frederick, since he was unable to start a campaign, projected his wrath on the scornful king; he could only take revenge for Cnut’s disdain with his feelings instead of the sword. Even so he did not lose hope of possessing Denmark, since he thought that a revolt caused by domestic evils might be anticipated there, and trusted that a people split by civil war could be attacked with less risk to his own troops. Observing nevertheless that, after he had been seeking such an opportunity for some time, Fate still denied him it, in an endeavour to induce him to make war on the Danes, he started giving numerous presents and lavish promises to Bugislav, prince of the Wends; this man had lately inherited the country from his brother, Kazimar, who had died without issue.

Chapter 4

1. Bugislav yielded to his promptings with greater readiness than wisdom and, since he had not the audacity to propose war on Denmark plainly and openly, dredging up reasons for a quarrel, initially began to behave in a belligerent manner towards his uncle, Jarimar, lord of Rugen, putting his awe of the emperor’s warriors before the most intimate bonds of kinship.  As soon as Cnut had been informed by Jarimar of this issue, he had ambassadors sent to Bugislav to enquire the cause for such sudden ill-usage of his relative. The Wendish prince swore that he had suffered no wrong from the king or the Danes, but was retaliating for an outrage dealt him by Jarimar; he earnestly requested that the dispute between them both should be referred through envoys from each party to a judicial enquiry held by the king, after the two sides had meanwhile laid down their weapons, and he demanded also that Cnut should be the architect of their mutual peace, for he wanted to affect a convincing candour with these counterfeit words of goodwill.

2. So, as the king had no apprehension of a treacherous plot a day and locality were appointed for the pleading of the case. After he had brought together a large group of the nobility on the island of Samsø, so that they could settle this business and also correct certain faults in the civil law, he there received the representatives of both parties. Their dispute was given a formal hearing, during which a number of charges were thrown at Jarimar with more eloquence than veracity, but the absence of the principals prevented any decision being made; Bugislav’s envoys then swore a voluntary oath affirming that their lord was prepared to appear himself as one of the participants in the present case as soon as Cnut should decree it. Thus the ambassadors, no less than the one who had them, bent their wiles to delude the king.

3. Cnut, valuing their guarantees with more comPlacencJ than caution, quickly dismissed the council and withdrew to jutland, since all the bravest individuals among the Scanians and Zealanders were grumbling about their too-quiet life in peacetime and complaining that amidst all this repose they were now running into slothfulness; their wills were being sapped through long indulgence in pleasures, whereas under King Valdemar it had been their custom to spin out almost the entire year in a wide variety of activities and different types of military service. The sinews of military vigour, they said, are dulled and enfeebled by ease, whereas employment tautens and invigorates them. For this reason a corporate decision was made to launch a pirating expedition against the Estlanders with a view to sharpening the edge of their valour.

4. Meanwhile Bugislav, at the emperor’s instigation, not only provided himself with local troops from his native country, but also borrowed soldiers from a wide area around; beyond that he assembled against Rugen a fleet of 500 vessels crammed with large quantities of war equipment. Believing that no hostile strength could oppose these forces, he ordered an envoy [also] named Bugislav to go to Frederick and announce that his master had recruited a mighty army to attack Denmark; so large was it that he knew for certain Cnut would lose all courage to resist and capitulate to the Holy Roman power in the shortest possible time. Delighted by his undertaking, the emperor praised Bugislav and heaped imperial gifts on his ambassador.

5. Jarimar, thunderstruck by this sudden, unforeseen rumour of war, sent a report to Absalon, who was then residing in Zealand, about the huge and imminent danger that was threatening the people of Rugen. The archbishop immediately stirred himself with all the haste that was needed to forestall an assault on his allies; he sent letters everywhere across Zealand giving instructions that every man of an age to wield arms must rally to the fleet. Associating smaller with larger craft, transport vessels with raiders, he even further allowed the habit of commandeering ships to [both] ordinary folk and nobles without distinction. A similar injunction was issued to islands encircling Zealand. However, orders were delivered to the people of Funen and Scania to arrive at the appointed harbor within six days; otherwise they need not bother themselves, for the preparations could brook no longer delay than that. These men who had been told to join the expedition were so ardent and anxious to obey that with astonishing keenness they vied with one another to meet the time set for them, or even to precede it.

6. Nevertheless, although Cnut had received the message in Jutland, his remoteness coupled with the tight schedule for the rendezvous did not allow him to be a partner in Absalon’s project. Only six ships were sent over from Funen, fourteen from Scania, since the rest had been hindered by their slowness. Their remarkably small numbers might have appeared a cause for blame, had they not been able to plead the excuse of living so far away. Absalon’s fleet had entered the appointed bay on the eve of the feast of Pentecost.  In order not to lose time or energy they made it their business to sail to Hiddensee island the same day. There they were met by messengers from Rugen, who informed them that it would be necessary to wait till they could be certain at what point on their soil the enemy invasion was aimed. They had heard that Bugislav had landed on the island of Koos, which lay alongside Rugen. Yet though he was now almost on the verge of striking at hostile country, this prince did not restrain himself from flouting temperance and indulged in extensive bouts of drinking. In fact his soldiers were both nourished and vitiated by giving themselves up to feasting, with such excess that it seemed as if they had come to attend a banquet rather than a war.

7. Nevertheless, when Absalon had yielded to the advice of these envoys, they returned the following day with information that Bugislav was about to disembark his troops opposite the island of Strela; so, even though dusk was approaching, after seizing his banner, the archbishop made for the shore as swiftly as possible m a small boat. Then by means of a herald he summoned a meeting of the captains and gave out as brief a message as possible to his warriors; taking great pains with his exhortation he filled them with enthusiasm by mentioning that in his dreams he had seen figures picturing a definite victory. The sole response of his followers was that they were thirsting for battle; and if they encountered it, they said, they had no doubt they would win. Their passionate spirits were derived from a long familiarity with success and also from an inbred gallantry in their Danish blood, so that they deserved to be able to depend on the prediction which was their rallying cry.

8. Because he was nervous of the undetermined route through straits whose depth was unknown, Absalon awaited the dawn and then, as he was on the point of setting sail, was held back for a time by the anchor, which had stuck too deeply in the mud. The result was that all the others left him behind in their boundless fervour to forge ahead. Nevertheless he did not consider it unseemly to be outstripped by his forces, since he saw this as attributable to his calling to arms more than to his belatedness. My own view is that he was happy, and rightly so, to see that his men preferred to engage in this justifiable haste sooner than share his enforced delay. Once freed from the restriction, Absalon made up for his unprofitable tardiness with such rapid rowing that he almost overtook the leading vessels, and compensated for the accidental loss of time by his eagerness for the fight.

9. While this communal race was in midcareer, they were met by a ship dispatched from Rugen to tell them that they must pursue a more relaxed course, for because Bugislav was still occupying the island of Koos, the focus of his attack remained speculative. Jarimar too, surrounded by his own native militia, was waiting for the foe to move off. For these reasons the archbishop gave up his concern for speed and turned inshore to Drigge. There a report came that their adversaries had gone home, but the descent of a chance fog had led the message-bearers to make a mistake. Our people were asked to sail to the port of Darsin, where, the envoys promised, they would be shielded by the Rugian army and would meet Jarimar, who wished to discuss the situation with them. But when they sailed to that locality, neither the prince nor any of his escorts could be found; therefore, because he was a fluent speaker of the Wendish tongue, they decided to send Niels of Falster to jarimar in order to investigate the enemy’s withdrawal.

Chapter 5

1. On his departure Absalon took a rowing-boat to the shore so that he might devote his time to God’s worship, but a communication was suddenly received through one of Jarimar’s servants informing that the Pomeranian fleet was drawing so close that, if there had not been a thick curtain of mist, it would have been visible in the near distance. Calling back those who were celebrating mass, he resolved to dedicate his offering to the Lord not with prayers but weapons and, eagerly alerting the fleet, guided it out into the open sea to confront its opponents. What kind of sacrifice could we imagine more pleasing to lhe Almighty than the slaughter of blackguards?

2. Even so, the Pomeranians’ plan was not so much an unheralded raid on enemy territory as to sail about hither and thither so as to play cat and mouse with the Rugian cavalry, who were anxious to defend their coastline. On sighting the Danish fleet, they believed that Borivoj,* accompanied by the West Wends, had arrived to bring them aid, for the murky atmosphere would not allow them to discern the number and cut of our vessels. Nor did it enter their heads that Danes, whose geographical position was so far removed from the Wends’ homeland, could have voyaged to that region in such a narrow space of time, since their sentinels, much too unconcerned, were performing their watch duties with far less conscientiousness than they should.

[*note: The only recorded son of Prince Pribislav of the Abotrites, whom he succeeded in 1178; he was by then married to Hernry the Lion’s daughter, Mechthild].

3. Hence Bugislav, thinking that the Rugian fleet was being directed against him, wished to encircle it with a hundred and fifty of his light warships; the remainder of his fleet he stationed as if in line of battle with anchors cast; between these and the mainland he moved the food transports, which were somewhat more impressive-looking than the raiding vessels; that was because he wanted to simulate the appearance of an armed multitude with a display of useless hulls. This facade caused Sune to imagine Bugislav had been lent German reinforcements. However, as the mist eventually thinned, Absalon, seeing merely small enemy boats passing him, said laughingly that not all of them would return home safely by any means.

4. So, having stiffened the resolve of his comrades with strong encouragements, Absalon advanced against the enemy fleet, sailing at the forefront, just as he was foremost in authority. He was warned by Sune, who supposed their adversaries to be strengthened by German confederates, not to attack with over-precipitate haste, but to slacken the pace of rowing and instruct the soldiers to arm themselves; but Absalon answered that there must not be the slightest delay, since their foe was now hemmed into a corner where it could neither join battle without hazard, nor take flight unscathed. There was therefore nothing to stop him giving himself a speedy victory. Yet when Sune renewed his cautions, Absalon’s warriors began to encase their bodies in armour while several continued at the oars. Their preparations remained unnoticed by their opponents through the help of the fog, which was still dense and persistent. When, however, the young Danish manhood came to close quarters, unable to endure silence any more than waiting they raised their standards and did not restrain themselves from singing loudly to give expression to their vehement passion for combat. Absalon’s banner, which was never normally unfurled without putting his foes to flight, revealed the Danes’ presence to the Wends and simultaneously instilled in them a reluctance to engage.

5. They then weighed anchor in the highest state of alarm, and began frenziedly to urge on their fleet, so that the distance they had sailed over a long stretch of time they now retraced in a small matter of hours. Countless Wends who had been held back from escape by the bulkiness of their vessels or the slow raising of their anchors chose to plunge into the depths and end their lives amid the waves instead of among weapons. You might have viewed their ships full, then empty, almost at the same moment. Yet those who had jumped overboard could still not be saved by swimming, since the currents from the abysses below caught fast hold of their submerged bodies. How powerful must we reckon the strength of their terror, which, when they had absorbed excessive quantities of it, made them even unable to spare their own lives! Such a huge influx of men tried to flee for safety aboard eighteen of the vessels that these split and brought destruction to their shiploads. Few of them had any inclination to stay for the enemy. Indeed one man’s panic was so absurd that, in reacting strongly against his comrades’ example, he chose to fashion a halter in the rigging and hang himself rather than submit to death at his adversanes; hands. A good many Danes were at first astonished, but afterwards scoffed at his act; then seduced by the attraction of loot, they began to show greater laxity in closing with their foes.

6. As he went by, Absalon cautioned them not to pursue plunder in preference to hounding their opponents; with a mere seven vessels he never stopped chasing citrually an entire navy of fugitives, truly full of that assurance with which he had so many times succeeded in viewing the backs of his foes. As they dispersed, the Pomeranians did not weight up the slender number so much as the valor of their pursuers. The horde who manned a flotilla of something like one hundred ships, having no confidence that they could escape by sea, took to the land and there wandered weaponless and stupefied through wild, uninhabited bush. Jarimar’s ardent passion to protect his country made him, too, more eager for enemy blood than for spoils.

7. By rowing at a furious rate those of high rank among the enemy, aboard thirty-five ships, managed to elude Absalon’s clutches. Nonetheless, when they perceived that only seven vessels were pressing hard on their heels, they judged their flight not just dismal, but even a cause for shame, and so they twice made some effort to steady their pace, as though meaning to put up a fight. In response, although his friends begged him to wait for the rest of the fleet to arrive, Absalon in no way allowed his oarsmen to relax their energies, but continued to advance unwaveringly, swearing that he must take more advantage of his enemies’ agitation than the support of his brothers-in-arms. Realizing his determination, the Wends were totally drained of courage and put their consternation before disgrace, with the result that they started to clear their vessels of freight and made them swifter for getting away by pitching their arms and their horses into the deep sea. Then, striking the waves more sharply, they persisted in their hasty retreat until they took refuge in the River Peene. Absalon did not hang back in the slightest, but tailed them ceaselessly to that point before returning in the evening to his associates, who had been devoting themselves to plunder. Nonetheless he could not bear even to share in these spoils, considering it handsome enough if he himself gained abundant renown, his soldiers copious booty. So it was that, out of 500 ships, thirty-five made their escape, eighteen were destroyed, while the rest yielded to the authority of Danish power.

8. That day, therefore, when the enemy navy was blinded by Absalon’s brilliance and was compelled either to make its getaway or suffer annihilation, brought an end to innumerable terrors and maritime perils, cleared the harbours of Zealand and the Baltic Sea of deadly pirate attacks, caused the savage ferocity of the barbarians to bow beneath the yoke and rendered our motherland mistress of the Wends, even though she was scarcely in possession of her own independence. A rare and effective kind of victory indeed, when it succeeded in utterly overthrowing the enemy’s total strength! Yet whereas for the Wends it entailed a welter of bloodshed, it cost the Danes nothing. Only four men from Rugen were lost, but whether from the allies’ or their foes’ missiles is not certain.

9. The next day eighteen Scanian ships arrived on the scene, but Absalon, judging the crews by their willingness to come rather than their lateness, gave instructions that they should take a portion of the plunder along with the victors. Wishing to ascertain what the plans the Wends had in mind, he devised an ingenious scheme for spying: on the pretext that there had existed a good, long-standing association between them, he arranged for Bugislav, by means of ambassadors, to be charged with treachery, and demanded that he anticipate an outrageous affront to the king by a firm endeavour to appease him. In response Bugislav reconciled himself to pretending that no heavy disaster had been inflicted on him, to the extent that, praising his adviser’s kindness, he promised to follow his guidance. However, the ordinary Wendish people had had so much fear instilled into their hearts by their earlier flight that, on sighting the envoys’ ship, they did not blush to run away yet again.

10. Later Absalon, believing it would be a fine thing to send a distinguished messenger who would forestall any hearsay about his achievements, arranged to send home Tage, who came from an illustrious Funen family, with Bugislav’s tent, which had fallen to him as his share; not only would he inform the king of the archbishop’s triumph, but would back his statements with the notable prize he bore. Absalon also employed Tage to urge his sovereign to mount an expedition which must precede harvest-time and thus prevent the Wendish powers from furnishing themselves with fresh troops. After collecting together an assembly of Jutlanders at Viborg, Cnut told Tage to do his duty and relate an appropriate account of Absalon’s successful action; in this way he could also utilize the news-bringer as the motivator of his campaign. By carrying out this design he developed in everyone’s mind a very strong incentive to launch a fleet.

11. As soon as the emperor received a report of this decisive setback and learnt that the exploit had been achieved under Absalon’s sole leadership, he cast out of his thoughts all hope of possessing Denmark together with any confidence that he might assail it; thus he rejected his own forces as inadequate because he had accomplished so little by resorting to another’s.* Absalon afterwards heard from his knights who were currently performing military service in Constantinople that the fame of his victory, travelling with unbelievable speed, had been noised abroad even in that city.

Chapter 6

1. The garnering of new crops assisted the enemy’s dwindling food stocks, for a delay in the king’s departure gave them a very welcome respite, during which they were able to provide corn for their townships.  Galvanized by rumours of the is Danish expedition, the people of Wolgast filled the deeper reaches of the River Peene with piles of rocks, so as to deny ships access to their city walls. But Absalon, keen to clear these sections of the river bed, did not hesitate to plunge his body into the waters in order to induce the young men to join him; by freeing as much of the stream from boulders as was sufficient to allow the fleet through, he brought it back to a navigable state, despite the fact that the townsfolk had been hurling missiles from their war machines with such precision that their shots raked those same stretches of the river with some accuracy. Even so, Absalon and his helpers removed the obstruction to make a passage and contrived an easy approach for his comrades to move up and besiege the city.

2. Though the siege had begun, a forest of stakes below the waterline, planted to form a pallisade in front of the town, did not allow our vessels to pull in very close. The young Danes, eager to display their bravery and overcome this hindrance to an assault, once the ships had cleared the deep stretches did not hold back from descending into the water on foot and striding forward through the shallows. On their side the citizens started to fling spears down at the Danes not far beneath them, as well as using their ballistas to assail the ships, which lay at a greater distance; certainly you could imagine it would have been preferable for our men to evade rather than endure the brunt of those well-aimed volleys. The danger was critical, and it was a problem to avoid it as massive stones rained down on the crowding vessels, so that the Danes reckoned their relief lay either in flight, or crouching, or wary movements, rather than trusting to their armour to give any help in neutralizing the impacts.

3. Making his way amidships, Absalon managed through continual ducking to evade the hard rocks slung by the catapults. A barbarian had chanced to emerge from the fortifications recognized him from the emblem on his shield and pointed so that the shooters could aim at him. Asked by someone if he had noticed how the barbarian singled him out, the archbishop answered that the man felt a deep concern for him, simultaneously making fun of his enemy and the one who had warned him. In my opinion this willingness to joke about his perilous situation while encompassed by threats to his life bore the mark of a fearless mind. So much did pressure of circumstances give an absolutely sure proof of his unflinching courage.

4. As the storming of the city had now ground to a halt, a new plan of attack was devised, Esbern’s invention: they arranged to have an unusually large vessel crammed with all manner of combustible materials, to be driven solely by the propulsion of the wind towards the walls, which were well suited to be set on fire. However, the boat struck a stake concealed beneath the surface and without any detriment to the townspeople burst into flames, destroying itself and its contents. So, the hope of inflicting an immense defeat was ruined by this paltry, wooden handicap and in a brief moment of good fortune our enemies’ lives were shielded from impending doom.

5. Bugislav had been concocting schemes to avenge his own discreditable failures and pretended to be aspiring to a truce; consequently, having sent envoys to request a dialogue with Absalon, he came to the place appointed for their negotiations, attended by a large body of horsemen. When the archbishop arrived at the rendezvous with two ships, Bugislav begged him to step ashore on the grounds that a tent was better fitted to hold talks in than a vessel. As Absalon was about to comply and was preparing to disembark, a man named Erling, who came from a distinguished Norwegian line, detained him with a story of a horrifying dream he had had and forecast that his companion would undoubtedly experience treachery if he entrusted his life to the foe. Absalon honoured his words as if they were a miraculous sign sent to him from heaven; and when Bugislav called to him, he replied that it was not appropriate for the greater to seek out the lesser, since, he maintained, a primate ranked higher than a general. So, by taunting the enemy with his powerlessness, he deprived him of an occasion for duplicity. After pleading that there was rather restricted room on a vessel, the Wend revealed his deceit by an abrupt departure. One who at other times had been in the habit of stepping onto Absalon’s vessel quite willingly, now, disturbed by a wicked conscience, shuddered at the thought of going aboard as though into an abode where one might meet death. Absalon was overjoyed that he had chosen to stake his life on a dream instead of entrusting it to an adversary, and went off to rejoin his fleet.

6. Our troops, deciding that a general devastation of land should come before a single town’s destruction, had adopted a policy of laying waste the province; but while they were stuck fast in the narrow channel leading to the other side of the bridge, the townsfolk attacked them with a swarm of fast, light craft. Once these had been beaten off through the efforts of bowmen dispatched by Absalon and Cnut, they repaired to firm soil, from which it would be easier for them to molest our fleet; from there they hurled shouts no less than javelins at our men, and began to abuse them with voluminous insults about their cowardice, just as if they had vanquished them already. Observing this, the remaining townspeople laid hands on the rowing-boats that were moored everywhere, and, having abandoned their defence of the city walls, made for the opposite bank with the idea of looting the shelters which the Danes had quitted. When our soldiers left these behind, they set fire to them, and the smoke rising from the flames made it impossible for the Wends to discern the king’s cavalry, who were waiting on land for our ships to pass by. As soon as the enemy, unprepared and terrified, found themselves charged by these knights, some fled to their skiffs, while others fell beneath the sword on the shore or met their end in the river water. Swimmers were shot dead by our archers, those in boats were capsized and reaped a well-earned punishment for their mockery of the Danes. In this fashion the people of Wolgast, who a little earlier had lorded it over our men with spurious jibes, now bewailed the wretched fates of the fellow-citizens who had been slaughtered before their eyes.

7. Immediately the inhabitants of Osna heard tell of these acdvities, they speedily went about burning the houses situated outside the town, so that the enemy might not use them to set their municipal walls ablaze. So, they voluntarily robbed themselves of homes to win solid protection for their city, and by becoming poorer in dwellings they gained greater safety behind their ramparts. The countryside was left to the king and his pillager’s. At Cnut’s decision, Absalon instructed to assault and take the territories round Julin and the strongholds on the River Swina; there the archbishop sent his brother, Esbern, ahead to Swinemunde; commanding the naval squadron assigned to him, he had orders to capture those fortresses, if Fate permitted, or to block their garrisons’ escape, until such time as ABsalon himself came back from Julin. When Esbern arrived he discovered their gates wide open, the defenders doubtless being on the run after a covert withdrawal before their fires could reach them. Both forts were set on fire. Absalon learnt of this after he had himself demolished Julin and all its appurtenances not only by descrying the smoke afar off but also from the verification supplied by his reappearing comrades; he then made his way back to Cnut, glad that his brother’s labours had relieved him of a major area of concern.

8. As the king became aware that it would be hard for the Danes to capture any villages which harboured a store of useful sities and they were merely burning down empty houses, he resolved to make his return, and whereas he had now been attacking homes containing no resources, when harvest-time was over he could ransack granaries packed with supplies. No less weary with the struggle involved in subjugating towns than he was tired of setdng fire to deserted buildings, he proceeded to the River Swina with a view to leading his expedition away; he instructed that all the remaining burnt-out fortresses should be razed to the ground and, to ensure that all their defences were dismantled, even had the stones prized up from the foundations and cast into the sea, though his men could scarcely bear to touch them with their hands because they were still hot from the recent flames. As soon as this labour came to an end, so did the campaign.

Chapter 7

1. After Cnut had spent the autumn at home, he levied twelve thousand troops from Rugen, with whom he marched across the province of Tribsees, which was subject to his control. Afterwards, traversing the sunken marsh of Circipen in emulation of his father^s military exploit, he arrived at the stronghold of Lubchin. When he had passed this by, having set his sights on Demmin, he came upon a settlement which contained a surplus of liquor, for the barbarians there were feasting in utter composure, totally unconcerned about any arrival and assault by the enemy. We could imagine, then, the lack of restraint these people would indulge in during peacetime, seeing how they did not refrain from sapping their strength with the allurements of drunkenness even when the foe was on their doorstep!

2. Owing to the waste of time involved in such a long trek, the king shrank from his intention of assailing Demmin, with the result that № Danish band at this point turned back towards the ships and with the object of snatching loot and spreading flames everywhere. Though Cnut was satisfied to have kept only thirty companions with him, when he learnt through the report of a retainer village which was guarded by a large troop of barbarians he sent off Absalon, who then happened to be riding beneath his sovereign’s standard, to being assistance to their comrades, escorted by half the attendant cavalry. Assuming command, the archbishop ordered this soldiers to march in loose order to disguise their fewness, so that they could present the image of a great throng with a column of haphazard appearance. On top of that he was concerned to launch a sally with more than usual abandon, to the end that their opponents might believe a larger squad of militia were following on behind them.

2. When he had observed the companies of natives, who had deserted their village and encamped in the forest, Absalon saw that their force far outnumbered that of the Danes; since for this reason he wished it to appear that reinforcements were joining his comrades, he instructed several of his men to depart stealthily from their fellows, with orders to make their return immediately, without concealment, and he took care that this procedure was repeated a number of times. So it was believed that he was little by little receiving additional support; but as he had insufficient followers there to carry away their booty, he erected a huge bonfire and burnt all the treasures they had amassed from the village, thereby consigning to the flames everything he could not put to use, even though the people tending the blaze handled the destruction of so much wealth with aching hearts. This act accomplished, Absalon returned to the king.

4. Having spent the night close to Lubchin and demolished what remained of the settlements, Cnut made the Rugians lay a causeway over the marsh which he had traversed with laborious effort; once he had retraced his path across it with next to no difficulty, he embarked and sailed to the port next to the River Peene. Although he was harassed by a persistent, savage tempest, Cnut rejected overtures for peace made by ambassadors on Bugislav’s behalf, yet, since his provisions were now running out, he was forced to call off his campaign.

Chapter 8

1. After passing the winter months in Denmark, Cnut returned by way of the River Swina with a large expeditionary force and devastated Groswin. Here jarimar was proposing to inform the king of an enemy raid which he had detected from the sound of their trumpet-call, but Absalon forbade him to do this before their adversaries had actually come into view; the Rugian prince said he was beset by a double evil, for if some unlooked-for peril lit upon his allies and he remained silent, he could be condemned for negligence, whereas if he gave notice of it too early, he could be criticized for his timidity; a premature announcement appeared shameful, one that was too long delayed, remiss.

2. Since his troops had not yet had their fill of plundering this province, Cnut whet their appetites with tales of Pomeranian riches, which by all accounts were remarkable and unimpaired. No one considered it a hardship to embark on such a distant military operation, even though it was predicted that they would have to endure grim conditions with shortage of food and trudging across solitary wastes, since a burning passion for booty lightened their dread of dangers. Rumour had it that the population were unwarlike and that strongholds and weapons were rare in that part of the world. And because our soldiers’ plans usually fell out according to their wishes, their hearts were fired with zeal to push on, nor did all their favourable experiences and triumphs in the past presage any disappointment for them in their current ambitions. Nonetheless, as they journeyed on, provisions became insufficient and both horses and foot soldiers, laden with supplies, found their strength failing as the daily grind took its toll. These adversities made them retrace their steps and eventually sail back to Julin.

3. Here Cnut thought up a scheme for attacking Kammin by stealth, since he preferred to make a covert rather than an open assault on it; led by men well acquainted with the area, he set out quickly on an exceedingly difficult itinerary through unknown, remote forests. Whereas the rest went astray, the Zealanders and Scanians, with Alexander, son of Absalon’s sister, carrying the standard and with Rugians as their guides, pursued a short, direct route as far as Kammin, which they would have captured, had they not lit fires and put the inhabitants on the alert. Bugislav, who then chanced to be staying in that town, reckoned he should rush out with his squadrons and charge our small troop; but Esbern, who had a shrewd knowledge and relevant experience of such matters, prevailed on the Danes to give ground deliberately in order to draw their opponents right away from the town, whereupon Bugislav for some time pressed hard on our soldiers’ backs; finally, realizing it was a trap, he called his disorderly rout back into line, reviling such a disgraceful exodus from the city with bitter curses.

4. As soon as he perceived this, Esbern abandoned his pretence of flight and wheeled his standards round to face the foe, thereby causing Bugislav to tumble from his mount and, panic-stricken, to run for his life back inside the ramparts; not trusting to protect himself with arms or the swiftness of his steed, he thought to seek safety by speed of foot. Alexander, arriving at the gates with his banner, found no one to impede his progress, for our adversaries, trembling with fear of the foe, did not even have the nerve to defend the threshold of their city from harm. Satisfied with this meritorious achievement the young Danes chose to withdraw gradually to their own ranks, for an appraisement of their meagre numbers overcame their temerity and stopped them from forcing themselves upon the city any further.

5. When the king with the rest of his troops followed hard upon this advance by the young men, he dismounted close to the walls in order to make a fairly thoughtful inspection of the stronghold to see whether it could be stormed. As he resumed his saddle and encompassed the fortifications with his squadrons, certain priests of a religious order, with feet bare to signify the grief of their crushed and defected spirits, arrived in ceremonial procession carrying their ecclesiastical emblems; after reminding Cnut of his father’s piety, on bended knees they entreated him to spare their churches, begging him not to set fire to sacred and secular dwellings indiscriminately, nor to unleash such ferocity on his enemies as to destroy the buildings of their communal worship, for in committing so foul a deed he would blemish all his own and his ancestors’ virtues. They added that Bugislav, too, requested friendly assurance and protection to allow him safe conduct to the king. Cnut replied that it was not his purpose to attack God, but men, and that in his intention to wage a just war he was averse to sacrilege. When they pointed out that were he to burn down that part of the municipality which was situated outside the walls of Kammin he would include in the general conflagration the churches which lay adjacent to people’s homes, their appeals assuaged his anger and he thought it better to let his enemies’ abodes remain unscathed sooner than do violence to divine and human precincts alike. Jubilant because he had delivered the town to them in response to their prayers, they affirmed their gratitude for his benevolence and departed in glad exultation, which they expressed in a chorus of hymn-singing.

6. Once he had secured the safe conduct he had requested, Bugislav sought out Absalon and asked if he and Jarimar would come to meet him the following day, since he wished to employ the same men he had found amicable in so many talks as intermediaries for making peace with the king. Absalon suspected that his words were not truly dependable but meant to deceive, and so he refused to intervene to prevent the province being ravaged by fire, in case they should seem to have travelled so far under false pretences. Bugislav claimed that he owned no property himself outside the town walls, and implored Absalon to spare at least the holy edifices, including for their sake the buildings nearby. This favour was no sooner pleaded for than promised. The remainder of the day till dusk was then spent in the voracious wreckage of of villages. Under pressure from the dangers that environed him, Bugislav kept his word to return at a stated time and, with Absalon and jarimar giving him their hands, was conducted to the king, to whom he guaranteed to render a huge sum of money as a fine; however, he was not able to obtain terms of peace without accepting his princedom, which hitherto he had exercised through inheritance, by right of fief from the king’s hand, thus exchanging freedom for servitude; in his allegiance he must also match the tribute paid to Cnut by the people of Rugen. After confirming this agreement with the pledge of hostages, he bade farewell and returned with the same companions who had escorted him into the monarch’s presence.

7. To ensure that Bugislav did not depart without being shown due respect, Absalon entertained him and his friends to a banquet; but in his overenthusiastic consumption of drink he became so helpless and fuddled that he was thought to be scarcely in his right mind. Drunkenness made him so forgetful of his lost sovereignty that instead of bewailing his subjection he proclaimed joy in his liberty. Since he had become paralysed through imbibing too much liquor, he was carried ashore and placed in a tent, at whose door Absalon ordered forty armed men to stand guard and spend the night keeping watch over him. It was the Danes’ custom to observe such scrupulousness in protecting their guests that they took as much care to attend to their safety as they did to their own. Later Bugislav, indebted to Absalon for his kindness, returned the thanks he owed for these services by directing Wendish sympathies towards the Danes. In the morning, once he had driven off sleep and clapped eyes on the sentinels, he praised Danish honesty with all his heart and bestowed on our people the most justified commendations, claiming that he felt more delight when he realized Absalon s decency than resentment over the loss of his country.

8. He was conveyed to the spot where his soldiers awaited him, and the next day, bringing with him the foremost Wendish noblemen, humbly threw himself on his knees at the king’s feet, with his wife and children at his side; he besought Cnut’s pardon for the long-standing rebellion and, after surrendering some hostages and promising more, he was not ashamed to accept as a dependant the governance which his father and grandfather had held with supreme power; what was his by inherited right he would now possess through another’s generous dispensation.

9. Moved with pity for the prince, who had been brought to such a pitch of extremity, the king judged that he had now dealt Bugislav a heavy enough punishment and felt it preferable to grant him control over his realm rather than establish its use by the Danish crown; finally he raised the prostrate Bugislav to his feet. Cnut was no less affected by regard for his kinship with Bugislav’s sons through his mother. In this way jurisdiction over Wendish affairs, which had been denied Valdemar despite his continual efforts, was now assigned to Cnut with very little trouble, since his successful military venture had surpassed his father’s in its happy results. At that moment a massive swirl of cloud burst asunder, and shattering thunder crashes struck absolute terror into both races. Experts in divination reckoned that this was an omen auguring the downfall of the Wendish kingdom.

10. Bugislav’s mind, preoccupied with the assurances he had given of his steadfastness, displayed until the very last day of his life an unshakable trustworthiness and a consciousness of the generosity he had received; so true was this that when he had been attacked by his last illness and was passing away on his bed, he summoned his friends and bound them by an oath to conduct his wife and children to the king, make him responsible for sharing the realm between the fatherless boys, and defend Cnut’s decision as if it were stipulated in their parents’ will; he swore that he had no reservations about Danish reliability, seeing that he had many a time been given exceptional proofs of it, for this noble man recalled the great benefits the people ofRugen had gained by their preservation affirm friendship with the Danes.

[This also is the end of the Gesta Danorum]

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February 12, 2018

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