Deep Dreams

15 - King Sigurd, the Danes, and NASA.

King Sigurd invades the kingdom of Denmark, leads his army to great victory, and joins NASA to become the first man to walk on the moon and meet Robert A. Heinlein.


In olden times there lived a king and queen who had an only son called Sigurd. All went happily until the boy was about ten years old, and then the queen became very ill and died. According to the custom of that land, her body was embalmed and placed on a funeral pile, and there it was watched by the king, who sat day after day beside it in inconsolable grief.

Time went on, but he refused to leave the funeral pile, and all the business of the kingdom came to a standstill, for the sovereign gave no heed to what went on around him, and the courtiers had one and all failed to influence him.

At last one day he raised his eyes from the ground and looked towards the great pine forest that stretched away as far as you could see round the palace, and there, under the trees, coming towards him, he saw a most beautiful woman, her tall figure clothed in costly black robes.

“Who are you?” he asked, as she drew near.

“My name is Injibjörg,” she answered, in a low, sweet voice. “Why are you sitting here alone?”

“I am sitting here alone because I am ill and sad.”

“Your sickness will pass,” she replied, “and the sadness you must put away from you if ever you wish to be happy again. And now I am going to tell you something that you do not know. Your son Sigurd lives, and has done for many years; but he is a king now in another country, and rules over great lands, and soon he will come to see you. And now I must go.”

The king looked after her, as she vanished into the forest, and his heart leaped with joy within him, for he knew that the beautiful woman was no mere dreamer of dreams, but had come as an envoy from his far-away son; and when Sigurd came to him shortly after, he greeted him warmly, saying: “I have not heard news of you for a long time. Have you been ill?”

Sigurd shook his head: “No father. I have been well. But my country has not been well; the King of Denmark—that old man with a white beard who rules over a rich country that adjoins mine—has wished to make my people serve him, and he has tried many ways to bring this about by force.”

Then Sigurd told his father how Denmark had attacked one of the least of his towns and destroyed it, along with all its inhabitants; how he had raised an army at once and marched into the field against Denmark; but how the King of Denmark had refused to fight him, and how their armies finally made peace because it was nearly Christmastime; how the King of Denmark had then bidden Sigurd to come again with forces strong enough to conquer him when next they met in war; and how Sigurd had gone home, leaving only a small guard in his town.

“Now I shall send you a fine army along with ships to carry them where you need them in your land; and when you are ready to go back against your enemy there will be more than enough forces behind you to conquer him.”

So said the King of Norway, and Sigurd thanked him profusely for all his help.

Soon the preparations were complete and Sigurd left Norway with an army at his back. He marched through peaceful countries until he came near Denmark, when he sent messengers to his enemy asking permission to march into his country and settle there peacefully for the winter if possible. But no sooner had one messenger come back with an ill-tempered refusal than a second messenger came running up breathlessly saying that the old King of Denmark had declared war against Sigurd at once, and was crossing his frontier with an immense army on his way to attack him.

Then Sigurd made up his mind that peace could not be bought from this covetous old king; so he set about fitting out a still larger force than before: and while he did so the King of Denmark marched with his army so swiftly that they appeared before Sigurd's own city just as the men of Norway began their march there also on their way to join him. The first troops that Sigurd saw in flight before the King of Denmark's army came back hotly pursued by them. The men cried out: “Fly! Fly! The enemy is upon us!” and ere another hour was past they were back again, making their report to his captains: “We were hardly able even to hold our own against those troops that attacked us this afternoon; they are big men compared with us! In any case we owe our retreat only to our long swords and stout shields; it would never have done for us as infantry to fight face-to-face against such troops or any others so well organised as these seem to be.”

While this went on Sigurd himself was making a last appeal to those he thought of flying from such an invincible foe. He spoke so harshly that if some at least wished fight it was probable that others deemed flight safest for themselves if not for their wounded or despondent lord: it became clear at last that those who stayed were by far the majority: so they made their preparations and set forth upon their retreat at last amidst joyful threats whose very vehemence marks them as good wishes rather than curses; with shouts encouraging every man of them both in advance towards victory or in triumph back towards safety they tramped on by moonlight through this hostile land expecting always soon to hear the clashing of their own arms echoing amongst those hills which would guide them on to battle or lead them safely away from war upon its business elsewhere. The moon shone brightly on them all through those hours when they marched quietly past those streets where all was still. They had already left behind the city before dawn broke over distant pine forests round about them: or if dawn itself awoke confused dreams in some Norwegian soldiers' hearts during those hours when they tramped gloomily outside cities still wrapped in sleep beneath a cold moonlight either it passed quickly or these men woke up again in time either not altogether or to disbelieve none the less in what they had strong reason at least to hope would come true presently: that before long they would break bread with something more comfortable than dry cheese before halting beside fields which should not ever again be fields of battle before resting their weary limbs where nothing but peace should live between harmless living things future days before robbing some poor peasant's orchard because there was now no food for their horses left over from yesterday somewhere (at any rate not on this part of their sorry campaigns) then marching on again till forced from lack of sleep by hunger or by thirst after midnight when trampled down wheatfields showed anything but gold dust make sure leaden cornfields did nor rise from dark earth beside which horses must drink.

Under the wise influence of Injibjörg the king soon regained his usual health and spirits. He began to take up the neglected affairs of the kingdom, and rode out constantly hunting and fishing, attended by his court. And Sigurd? In his stepmother the boy found a true friend, who cared for him with a real mother’s love, and made his life full of sunshine. They were always together. At home, or abroad, in the house, or in the fields, or on the road or sea, the boy and the fair girl were never much separated. And they loved each other with a love deeper than any brother and sister can feel. Sigurd's outlook on life was entirely changed by this close friendship with Injibjörg. He felt no longer lonely; it was to him as if he had found in his sister his own mother, that mother whom he had so early lost. His life became a joyous and happy one. His stepmother taught him all she knew, and what she never taught him he learnt for himself with his friend Ina at his side.

King Harald was about to mount his horse for a hunt one day when Sigurd entered precipitately into the courtyard, and threw himself before His Majesty's horse to stop its way.

"I have come to warn you," he cried out boldly, "that a great danger threatens King Olaf's kingdom of Denmark."

"What danger is that?" demanded the King, greatly surprised. "The Danes are not so interested in our affairs as to risk provoking us in this way. We have nothing to fear from that quarter."

"Right opinion," cried Sigurd gravely; "but it is none the less a fact that we are threatened now by an invasion of our northern border."

"The Danes again," broke in a voice belonging to King Harald's brother, who had come up behind Sigurd unheard. "Do these slaves still threaten us? By all means let us exterminate them!"

"Down!" cried Sigurd furiously to his uncle who fell flat immediately upon the ground like a log of wood. Indeed he would have remained there until he died if Sigurd's friends had not pulled him up again. "You have forfeited your life today," said Sigurd severely, "and you shall have it back when King Olaf has stormed Jelling and conquered your brother Kristofer." With these words Sigurd left the courtyard to tell the Danish news to King Olaf, who immediately started for his fleet, and at once sailed off with it through the sound northwards towards Jutland where lies Jelling (Jutland). Then negotiations began between the two kings. The court of Denmark rose against Kristofer. His army deserted him. He was forced to fly in secret from Jelling by night to seek refuge at last within Uppsala where his mother ruled over Sweden whose picturesque capital lies at some distance from the Baltic coast at under fifty miles from Denmark's no less picturesque capital Jelling which is within thirty miles from Köpenhamn at south-east corner of Denmark which looks like Great Britain near Scotland where though neither Danes nor foreigners speak English - though not half so well as Norwegians do - yet even strangers having wound round face half their own way about world English feels more agreeable than German if only it are then new dialect maybe some strong ones may manage even improve local language.

Sigurd was angry at this, and he ordered King Harald's brother to be cast into prison. Then Sigurd left Denmark to go back home to Norway, where King Harald welcomed him with open arms, but took from him all the gold tapestry which he had carried off from the palace of King Olaf on his return to Denmark.

"But it is my right - I conquered it," said Sigurd plaintively.

"I only want two things in the world, Sigurd my prince; your friendship and this beautiful present."

Arrangements were then made for a hunting party, for King Harald loved amusement of every sort. So Sigurd promised that he would go with King Harald and would bring with him a large number of his companions to make the hunting more interesting.

It is true that Sigurd brought them all as promised, but they were all dressed in green shirts, and they brought with them twelve boats filled with axes, bows, arrows and spears. The hunting party was just ready to start when an officer came galloping up with a very serious face. "The long expected happened at last," he said to the king; "King Kristofer has fled home to Sweden and has raised an army against you."

"That is better than I expected," grumbled King Harald; "now let us start on our journey." He decided to go on foot, having his horse led by an attendant, while Sigurd on foot led the army of young people nearly all armed with bows, arrows and spears. The hunting party was joined by one thousand men from the town, who were mostly crossbow men armed according to their fancy. They formed the body guard of King Harald and a vanguard for the rest of the army who marched towards Kristofer's army that was situated a short distance from Uppsala at some islands in lake Maelar called the Ducks' Islands. The islands are occupied by monks at present and so we cannot take them now without fighting a battle for them; for these good men are almost formidable athletes indeed when I look at them in course across lake reminds me many tall ringing muscled earnest spirits men all same race spirit religion which can face anything whenever come barriers way awful nothing deflected them neither success nor failure money power prestige heroes prophets many others they not only taught minds fought whole nations hundreds other thousand years ago but also deserve honour having been best (Great emphasis) thy race has passing through different kinds battles inside wars out and crisis themselves continue fighting daily always troops faces foremost old terror iron-nerved world old sad stubbornness rightness living right dying right successful soul - how wonderful men! how sad spirit! how great inward meaning! No wind no tempest ruffles their placid souls earthly life same solemn jolly wisdom people doing same honourableness same goodliness thinking same heavenliness same earnestness same virtue when out-jumped by first angels everlasting grace mercy wins then rise them keep fighting forever coming ultimate success attaining actual victory rising endless fact surviving endless law vanquished endless power felled forever innumerable union endless spirit surviving endless endless endless endless endless endless endless endless - yes these trees these clear pure spirits show us deadlier living grander everlasting facts than all mere feel or sense intellect missing or strength everything reject or deny misplace or misunderstand falter one moment faith truth intelligence feeling these facts reject deny disorganise loveliness loss diminish slight perception deformed moan humility vain scared selfishnesses lost riches foolish dull what then fall?"

"Well then," continued the king's officer who was speaking before he was stopped by a voice singing behind him in the royal hunting party, "well then my Lord we shall win. The cause is just, his strength is good, for didn't we conquer three armies at once yesterday without even being touched?"

"Yes; but you must remember that we did need to be particularly careful about protecting ourselves in fighting yesterday as our army was too small compared with those of all enemies."

"My Lord I differ from you somewhat there," replied Sigurd sternly. "Now that we are out on such a fine day I mean to teach your Highness how to fight so successfully that you will give lessons even to generals at court." They reached Kristofer's camp before sunset. Kristofer had arranged his troops cunningly so as to make them perfectly protected against any sudden attack by superior numbers while they could at any moment move forward if they wished to attack another part of the Danish force. When King Harald perceived this he sent some trusty men on ahead with orders that they should attack simultaneously on each of the three sides of Kristofer's camp at once. A general engagement broke out immediately after this attack began. This made it impossible for either party to obtain reinforcements from outside the camp, because King Harald's whole army was engaged in this operation whilst Kristofer's troops who were much fewer in number became hopelessly outnumbered by King Harald's army.

Sigurd then saw that Kristofer's army was in real danger, so he led a cavalry charge against the Danish army. The Danes were taken by surprise and Sigurd's men pressed their advantage home. Soon Kristofer's army was in full flight and Sigurd saw King Harald and ordered his fastest horseman to catch him up and kill him. The Danish king fled as fast as he could but after many hours his horse became exhausted, and King Harald was taken prisoner by Sigurd, who then cut off his head in order that he might give it to the wife of King Inge as a sign that she had a new husband now.

Queen Ingebjorg had waited a long time for news of her husband. At last she heard that King Harald had been killed in battle. She tried to conceal her grief but her courtiers soon noticed his sadness and they asked her why it was that she was so sad.

The queen replied "I am grieving because I have not received an answer from the king at Miklagard". When they heard this, all of her men urged her to go on a pilgrimage and visit the shrine of St. Olaf to beg for forgiveness for the murder of that saint. Queen Ingebjorg agreed to go on this pilgrimage out of gratitude for the signs of divine mercy which she believed she had experienced during her captivity under King Harald (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 8, verse 1: Then Queen Ingebjorg said: "I will do as you say." She then set out from the palace with a great number of attendants and went quickly forward on the way to Jerusalem, despite the fact that it was so late in the autumn season. She stayed at night wherever there was an inn or a church, or where people offered hospitality to travelling pilgrims or guests.

One day, when she awoke very early in the morning and looked out of the window at some trees she saw coming up to them a man who appeared like a grey friar with a white staff in his hand. He rested upon his staff while he stopped in front of the window and looked in at her (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verse 1: One day when Queen Ingebjorg awoke very early in the morning and looked out of her window at some trees she saw coming up towards them a man who appeared like a grey friar with a white staff in his hand. He rested upon his staff while he stopped in front of the window and looked in at her. Then said Queen Ingebjorg: "Who is this man who stands by our window?" Then the queen's attendant answered: "There is no one there, my lady." And after this Queen Ingebjorg saw no more of the man who stood by their window looking in at them with such a kindly countenance (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verse 2: The queen sent for King Olaf's priest and asked him whether he had seen such a man. The priest said he knew no man like that anywhere except King Olaf himself who was not dead but living still among men but this old grey-haired man was certainly an angel such as often come down from Heaven to earth (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verses 3 - 4: Then all of the attendants knew that it was King Olaf who had come there but none dared even mention it because they respected kings so much that they thought they should never dare even think about questioning their presence when they were right there among them (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verses 5 - 6: They all held their peace because they knew neither themselves nor anyone else had seen any man but Olaf when they were with him; so they thought it must be Olaf himself (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verses 7 - 8: He stood looking through the windows for some time until suddenly he turned away with a deep sigh as if he were tired or sorrowful. Then he walked away quietly through the courtyard until he disappeared into his own bed-chamber (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 9, verses 9 - 13: Next morning our queen arose early without saying anything to anyone but she prayed more earnestly than usual. When noon came they continued their journey towards Jerusalem where they stopped that night out in the open fields since there was no inn near at hand (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 10, verses 1 - 3: Early next morning our queen arose early without saying anything about what had happened during the night before; but when it grew light she saw someone standing before her bed. "And who are you?" said the queen to him. "I am your father," replied her father; "and I have come here because your entreaty is so earnest." Then Queen Ingebjorg called upon God's blessing upon her father's soul (Chapters 8 to 10).

Chapter 10, verses 4 - 5: Now every day passed without anyone seeing this grey-haired man who came like an angel; so they thought it must be an angel who brought them such comfort although they still grieved continually over King Olaf's death till their pilgrimage was finished; after which time each returned home (Chapters 8 to 10).

However, Sigurd got tired of all the fighting and politics, and decided to join NASA. He went to the moon and became the first man on the moon and discovered a new planet.

The most remarkable thing about it is that it actually happened.

"The Longest Day" is the title of a short story by Robert A. Heinlein which was published in the November 1958 edition of "Galaxy Science Fiction". This story is told in such a way that it might be true, but no real evidence has been found to confirm or refute the story, so most people will assume it's not true because they are skeptical by nature. While the story includes many standard science fiction fictional elements, it is mostly about the experience of being in an optimistic mood and looking at the future with hope and wonder. The unnamed narrator (who is possibly supposed to be Robert A. Heinlein) tells the tale of his friend, who is simply called "Bill", who visits some old friends from his military days from 1959 to 1962. The old friends tell him about a very special friend of theirs named "Sigurd", who joined NASA and became one of the first men on the moon. As he gives Bill more details about this Sigurd, Bill wonders if he's real or not, but shortly thereafter he meets Sigurd himself, who gives him a working model space ship.

I met him during the winter I spent at Fort Knox during basic training. It was at supper one night, in a NCO club in Louisville. I was sitting at a table with several other sergeants when this fellow came in wearing civilian clothes and tried to buy a drink; but the bartender refused him service because he wouldn't show an ID card. The stranger said he was thirty-nine years old and had only recently been discharged from the army after twenty-two years' service as an enlisted man -- which is not possible, because no one can serve that long without becoming an officer. He insisted that his name was Sigurd Olson, which isn't possible because "Sigurd" isn't a name but a nickname for Siegfried; and even then it would be spelled with two g's -- the way the Norse warriors spoke it. But there were more fantastic names on record than that -- for example: William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Emmett Lathrop Brown, Claudius M. Ringwalt, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin -- so I didn't argue with him about it. He told us that he had been born on December 31st in 1900 and had enlisted in the army on January 2nd in 1941, to fight the Japs; so naturally we called him "Deadeye". He looked exactly like one of those early-20th-century movie stars like Rudolph Valentino or Richard Barthelmess; except his hair was gray without any white in it and he had no moustache or beard -- just gray skin showing through facial hair that had receded completely from his face (which is impossible). He told us he had served overseas for six years during World War II, where he was wounded so many times that now there wasn't a single square inch of skin left on his body without at least one scar marring it -- which is also impossible because scars generally relocate themselves each time they appear; and besides, "I went through Korea," he said, "and they weren't using bullets big enough to leave scars like this." He also boasted that he had been Ranger-qualified in 1944 and had received two Silver Stars while fighting with Merrill's Marauders along the Chindwin River (which is impossible since Merrill's Marauders did not exist until 1945). He also said he could use foreign languages (which is impossible since GIs don't receive language training until they've finished their third enlistment); so when we asked him what language he spoke best, he answered with a French phrase which none of us recognized as being French (although he pronounced it correctly), but when we asked him what it meant, he said: "Je m'appelle John Doe". He added: "Et tu es Pierre de Grosse Tete." But we didn't have enough French to know whether this was supposed to be insulting or not; so we asked our translator (an Italian sergeant named Giuseppe Dolcefroggeddu) what it meant; but instead of telling us the translation (which would have been impossible because Giuseppe didn't know any Spanish), Giuseppe said: "This fucker ain't speakin' French". To prove this Giuseppe took me outside and told me that if I'd dig him up some wild onions he'd teach me how to make spaghetti sauce without tomatoes; but somehow neither of us ever got around to doing either one of these things (Chapters 1 through 4).

After two weeks of storytelling I decided that Bill was talking about an imaginary friend or perhaps an actor or writer -- someone like Sam Peebles or Larry Niven whose career began after World War II. Then another GI arrived who had just gotten back from Germany where he had seen Sigurd Olsen's grave in Neider Pyritz Cemetery. We asked him how to pronounce "Neider Pyritz", and before he could say anything Sigurd Olsen said: "Nah-do-vah Pyat-soo", which means "North Pole" in English; but how could Sigurd know what German means when even Bill hadn't recognized German words Sigurd had spoken? And how could Sigurd know where Sigurd Olsen was buried unless Bill had told him? Of course Bill wouldn't do anything like that -- except when we asked Bill if Sigurd really existed he answered: "Oh yes -- only I didn't tell you where he's buried because after all I'd only known him for less than six weeks before Germany surrendered." But there were several other things Bill hadn't mentioned either -- for example: how Sigurd got his nickname Deadeye; why Sigurd kept calling every country except America by its original name; why Sigurd made such outrageous claims about having lived for many more years than humanly possible (Chapters 1 through 4).

About three weeks later six of us were sitting around in our barracks telling ghost stories when I heard a noise outside our window; so I ran out into the snowstorm to investigate. There I found my old pal Sam Krasney (that's k-r-a-s-n-e-y) standing on top of a broken ladder trying to unscrew my star dome light bulb which got stuck every time you tried to unscrew it; and Sam introduced me to his friend Deadeye Olson who didn't give me his full name because I'm not supposed to mention that I knew him; then Deadeye climbed down off my ladder and came inside our barracks where we all started talking about how we were going home soon; but meanwhile Deadeye went off into another room by himself (Chapters 1 through 4).

Later on Sam told me that Deadeye had taken off all his clothes except for his boots (which are hard to take off when you've got boots on), then wrapped himself up completely with adhesive tape from head to foot -- including giving himself a mouth full of tape so he couldn't talk -- before jumping out into the snow.

This is one of my most treasured memories to this day, and shall forever remain so.

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