Now though the vikings had fewer ships than Earl Hakon, they were larger and higher, and Sigvald hoped that this would help them to gain the victory.
Slowly the fleets drew together and a fierce battle began. At first Hakon’s men fell in great numbers, for the Jomsvikings fought with all their wonted strength. So many spears also were aimed at Hakon himself that his armor was split asunder and he threw it aside.
When the earl saw that the battle was going against him, he called his sons together and said, “I dislike to fight against these men, for I believe that none are their equals, and I see that it will fare ill with us unless we hit upon some plan. Stay here with the host and I will go ashore and see what can be done.”
Then the jarl went into the depths of a forest, and, sinking on his knees, he prayed to the goddess Thorgerd. But when no answer came to his cry, Hakon thought she was angry, and to appease her wrath he sacrificed many precious things to her. Yet still the goddess hid her face.
In his despair Hakon then promised to offer human sacrifices, but no sign was given to him that his offering would be accepted.
“Thou shalt have my son, my youngest son Erling!” cried the King, and then at length, so it seemed to Hakon, Thorgerd was satisfied. He therefore gave his son, who was but seven years old, to his thrall, and bade him offer the child as a sacrifice to the goddess.
Then Hakon went back to his ships, and lo! as the battle raged, the sky began to grow dark though it was but noon, and a storm arose and a heavy shower of hail fell. The hail was driven by the wind in the faces of the vikings, and flashes of lightning blinded them and loud peals of thunder made them afraid. But a short time before the warriors had flung aside their garments because of the heat; now the cold was so intense that they could scarce hold their weapons.
While the storm raged, Hakon praised the gods and encouraged his men to fight more fiercely. Then, as the battle went against them, the Jomsvikings saw in the clouds a troll, or fiend. In each finger the troll held an arrow, which, as it seemed to them, always hit and killed a man.
Sigvald saw that his men were growing fearful, and he, too; felt that the gods were against them. “It seems to me,” he said, “that it is not men whom we have to fight to-day but fiends, and it requires some manliness to go boldly against them.”
But now the storm abated, and once more the vikings began to conquer. Then the earl cried again to Thorgerd, saying that now he deserved victory, for he had sacrificed to her his youngest son.
Then once more the storm-cloud crept over the sky and a terrific storm of hail beat upon the vikings, and now they saw, not in the clouds, but in Hakon’s ship, two trolls, and they were speeding arrows among the enemies of Hakon.
Even Sigvald, the renowned leader of the Jomsvikings, could not stand before these unknown powers. He called to his men to flee, for, said he, “we did not vow to fight against fiends, but against men.”