The Iron Flute
Harald Hardrada was the greatest warrior of his age. Wounded, aged 15, at Stiklestad (1030), the most savage battle ever fought on Norwegian soil, he went on to fight in Russia, Byzantium, Sicily, the Balkans, Asia Minor and Jerusalem. He returned to Norway in 1045 to contest and win the crown and was killed in the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. A man of ferocious energy, burning ambition, cunning, cruelty and vengefulness, and a man enormously attractive to women, Harald is a larger-than-life figure and one that has fascinated the poet Kevin Crossley-Holland. In this sequence of short poems, he assumes the persona of Harald during his formative years in Byzantium and writes about his engagement with warfare, leadership and love. Passionate, terse and often witty, these poems - revelations rather than narratives - contrast the glittering hard-edged northern world, still half in thrall to the old Norse gods, with the softer, more seductive south.