THE STORY OF GRETTIR THE STRONG
TRANSLATED FROM THE ICELANDIC
BY EIRIKR MAGNUSSON AND WILLIAM MORRIS
A life scarce worth the living, a poor fame Scarce worth the winning, in a wretched land, Where fear and pain go upon either hand, As toward the end men fare without an aim Unto the dull grey dark from whence they came: Let them alone, the unshadowed sheer rocks stand Over the twilight graves of that poor band, Who count so little in the great world's game!
Nay, with the dead I deal not; this man lives, And that which carried him through good and ill, Stern against fate while his voice echoed still From rock to rock, now he lies silent, strives With wasting time, and through its long lapse gives Another friend to me, life's void to fill.
We do not feel able to take in hand the wide subject of the Sagas of Iceland within the limits of a Preface; therefore we have only to say that we put forward this volume as the translation of an old story founded on facts, full of dramatic interest, and setting before people's eyes pictures of the life and manners of an interesting race of men near akin to ourselves.
Those to whom the subject is new, we must refer to the translations already made of some other of these works, and to the notes which accompany them: a few notes at the end of this volume may be of use to students of Saga literature.
[Footnote 1: Such as 'Burnt Njal,' Edinburgh, 1861, 8vo, and 'Gisli the Outlaw,' Edinburgh, 1866, 4to, by Dasent; the 'Saga of Viga-Glum,' London, 1866, 8vo, by Sir E. Head; the 'Heimskringla,' London, 1844, 8vo, by S. Laing; the 'Eddas,' Prose by Dasent, Stockholm, 1842; Poetic by A.S. Cottle, Bristol, 1797, and Thorpe, London and Halle, 1866; the 'Three Northern Love Stories,' translated by Magnusson and Morris, London, 1875, and 'The Volsunga Saga,' translated by the same, London, 1870.]
For the original tale we think little apology is due; that it holds a very high place among the Sagas of Iceland no student of that literature will deny; of these we think it yields only to the story of Njal and his sons, a work in our estimation to be placed beside the few great works of the world. Our Saga is fuller and more complete than the tale of the other great outlaw Gisli; less frightful than the wonderfully characteristic and strange history of Egil, the son of Skallagrim; as personal and dramatic as that of Gunnlaug the Worm-tongue, if it lack the rare sentiment of that beautiful story; with more detail and consistency, if with less variety, than the history of Gudrun and her lovers in the Laxdaela; and more a work of art than that, or than the unstrung gems of Eyrbyggja, and the great compilation of Snorri Sturluson, the History of the Kings of Norway.
At any rate, we repeat, whatever place among the best Sagas may be given to Grettla by readers of such things, it must of necessity be held to be one of the best in all ways; nor will those, we hope, of our readers who have not yet turned their attention to the works written in the Icelandic tongue, fail to be moved more or less by the dramatic power and eager interest in human character, shown by our story-teller; we say, we hope, but we are sure that no one of insight will disappoint us in this, when he has once accustomed himself to the unusual, and, if he pleases, barbarous atmosphere of these ancient stories.
[Footnote 2: Such is the conversational title of this Saga; many of the other Sagas have their longer title abbreviated in a like manner: Egil's saga becomes Egla, Njal's saga Njala; Eyrbyggja saga, Laxdaela saga, Vatnsdaeela saga, Reykdaela saga, Svarfdaela saga, become Eyrbyggja, Laxdaela, Vatnsdaela, Reykdaela, Svarfdaela (gen. plur. masc. of daelir, dale-dwellers, is forced into a fem. sing. regularly declined, saga being understood); furthermore, Landnama bok (landnama, gen. pl. neut.) the book of land settlings, becomes Landnama (fem. sing. regularly declined, bok being understood); lastly, Sturlunga saga, the Saga of the mighty family of the Sturlungs, becomes Sturlunga in the same manner.]
As some may like to know what they are going to read about before venturing on beginning the book, we will now give a short outline of our Saga.
The first thirteen chapters (which sometimes are met with separately in the Icelandic as the Saga of Onund Treefoot), we have considered as an introduction to the story, and have accordingly distinguished them from the main body of the book. They relate the doings of Grettir's ancestors in Norway, in the lands West over the Sea and in Iceland, and are interesting and in many points necessary for the understanding of the subsequent story; one of these we note here for the reader's convenience, viz. the consanguinity of Grettir and King Olaf the Saint; for it adds strongly to the significance of the King's refusal to entertain Grettir at his court, or to go further into the case of the murder he was falsely accused of.
Onund Treefoot brother to Gudbiorg Thorgrim Greypate Gudbrand Asmund the Greyhaired Asta (mother of) Grettir the Strong. Olaf the Saint.]
The genealogies of this part of the work agree closely with those of the Landnama-bok, and of the other most reliable Sagas.
After this comes the birth of Grettir, and anecdotes (one at least sufficiently monstrous) of his unruly childhood; then our hero kills his first man by misadventure, and must leave Iceland; wrecked on an isle off Norway, he is taken in there by a lord of that land, and there works the deed that makes him a famous man; the slaying of the villainous bearserks, namely, who would else have made wreck of the honour and goods of Grettir's host in his absence; this great deed, we should say, is prefaced by Grettir's first dealings with the supernatural, which characterise this Saga, and throw a strange light on the more ordinary matters throughout. The slaying of the bearserks is followed by a feud which Grettir has on his hands for the slaying of a braggart who insulted him past bearing, and so great the feud grows that Grettir at last finds himself at enmity with Earl Svein, the ruler of Norway, and, delivered from death by his friends, yet has to leave the land and betake himself to Iceland again. Coming back there, and finding himself a man of great fame, and hungry, for more still, he tries to measure himself against the greatest men in the land, but nothing comes of these trials, for he is being reserved for a greater deed than the dealing with mere men; his enemy is Glam the thrall; the revenant of a strange, unearthly man who was himself killed by an evil spirit; Grettir contends with, and slays, this monster, whose dying curse on him is the turning-point of the story.
All seems fair for our hero, his last deed has made him the foremost man in Iceland, and news now coming out of Olaf the Saint, his relative, being King of Norway, he goes thither to get honour at his hands; but Glam's curse works; Grettir gains a powerful enemy by slaying an insulting braggart just as he was going on ship-board; and on the voyage it falls out that in striving to save the life of his shipmates by a desperate action, he gets the reputation of having destroyed the sons of a powerful Icelander, Thorir of Garth, with their fellows. This evil report clings to him when he lands in Norway; and all people, including the King from whom he hoped so much, look coldly on him. Now he offers to free himself from the false charge by the ordeal of bearing hot iron; the King assents, and all is ready; but Glam is busy, and some strange appearance in the church, where the ordeal is to be, brings all to nothing; and the foreseeing Olaf refuses to take Grettir into his court, because of his ill-luck. So he goes to his brother, Thorstein Dromund, for a while, and then goes back to Iceland. But there, too, his ill-luck had been at work, and when he lands he hears three pieces of bad news at once; his father is dead; his eldest brother, Atli, is slain and unatoned; and he himself has been made an outlaw, by Thorir of Garth, for a deed he has never done.
He avenges his brother, and seeks here and there harbour from his friends, but his foes are too strong for him, or some unlucky turn of fate always pushes him off the help of men, and he has to take to the wilderness with a price upon his head; and now the other part of the curse falls on him heavier, for ever after the struggle with the ghost he sees horrible things in the dark, and cannot bear to be alone, and runs all kinds of risks to avoid it; and so the years of his outlawry pass on. From time to time, driven by need, and rage at his unmerited ill-fortune, he takes to plundering those who cannot hold their own; at other times he lives alone, and supports himself by fishing, and is twice nearly brought to his end by hired assassins the while. Sometimes he dwells with the friendly spirits of the land, and chiefly with Hallmund, his friend, who saves his life in one of the desperate fights he is forced into. But little by little all fall off from him; his friends durst harbour him no more, or are slain. Hallmund comes to a tragic end; Grettir is driven from his lairs one after the other, and makes up his mind to try, as a last resource, to set himself down on the island of Drangey, which rises up sheer from the midst of Skagafirth like a castle; he goes to his father's house, and bids farewell to his mother, and sets off for Drangey in the company of his youngest brother, Illugi, who will not leave him in this pinch, and a losel called "Noise," a good joker (we are told), but a slothful, untrustworthy poltroon. The three get out to Drangey, and possess themselves of the live-stock on it, and for a while all goes well; the land-owners who held the island in shares, despairing of ridding themselves of the outlaw, give their shares or sell them to one Thorbiorn Angle, a man of good house, but violent, unpopular, and unscrupulous. This man, after trying the obvious ways of persuasion, cajolery, and assassination, for getting the island into his hands, at last, with the help of a certain hag, his foster-mother, has recourse to sorcery. By means of her spells (as the story goes) Grettir wounds himself in the leg in the third year of his sojourn at Drangey, and though the wound speedily closes, in a week or two gangrene supervenes, and Grettir, at last, lies nearly helpless, watched continually by his brother Illugi. The losel, "Noise," now that the brothers can no more stir abroad, will not take the trouble to pull up the ladders that lead from the top of the island down to the beach; and, amidst all this, helped by a magic storm the sorceress has raised, Thorbiorn Angle, with a band of men, surprises the island, unroofs the hut of the brothers, and gains ingress there, and after a short struggle (for Grettir is already a dying man) slays the great outlaw and captures Illugi in spite of a gallant defence; he, too, disdaining to make any terms with the murderers of his brother, is slain, and Angle goes away exulting, after he had mutilated the body of Grettir, with the head on which so great a price had been put, and the sword which the dead man had borne.
But now that the mighty man was dead, and people were relieved of their fear of him, the minds of men turned against him who had overcome him in a way, according to their notions, so base and unworthy, and Angle has no easy time of it; he fails to get the head-money, and is himself brought to trial for sorcery and practising heathen rites, and the 'nithings-deed' of slaying a man already dying, and is banished from the land.
Now comes the part so necessary to the Icelandic tale of a hero, the revenging of his death; Angle goes to Norway, and is thought highly of for his deed by people who did not know the whole tale; but Thorstein Dromund, an elder half-brother of Grettir, is a lord in that land, and Angle, knowing of this, feels uneasy in Norway, and at last goes away to Micklegarth (Constantinople), to take service with the Varangians: Thorstein hears of this and follows him, and both are together at last in Micklegarth, but neither knows the other: at last Angle betrays himself by showing Grettir's sword, at a 'weapon-show' of the Varangians, and Thorstein slays him then and there with the same weapon. Thorstein alone in a strange land, with none to speak for him, is obliged to submit to the laws of the country, and is thrown into a dungeon to perish of hunger and wretchedness there. From this fate he is delivered by a great lady of the city, called Spes, who afterwards falls in love with him; and the two meet often in spite of the watchful jealousy of the lady's husband, who is at last so completely conquered by a plot of hers (the sagaman here has taken an incident with little or no change from the Romance of Tristram and Iseult), that he is obliged to submit to a divorce and the loss of his wife's dower, and thereafter the lovers go away together to Norway, and live there happily till old age reminds them of their misdeeds, and they then set off together for Rome and pass the rest of their lives in penitence and apart from one another. And so the story ends, summing up the worth of Grettir the Strong by reminding people of his huge strength, his long endurance in outlawry, his gift for dealing with ghosts and evil spirits, the famous vengeance taken for him in Micklegarth; and, lastly, the fortunate life and good end of Thorstein Dromund, his brother and avenger.
Such is the outline of this tale of a man far above his fellows in all matters valued among his times and people, but also far above them all in ill-luck, for that is the conception that the story-teller has formed of the great outlaw. To us moderns the real interest in these records of a past state of life lies principally in seeing events true in the main treated vividly and dramatically by people who completely understood the manners, life, and, above all, the turn of mind of the actors in them. Amidst many drawbacks, perhaps, to the modern reader, this interest is seldom or ever wanting in the historical sagas, and least of all in our present story; the sagaman never relaxes his grasp of Grettir's character, and he is the same man from beginning to end; thrust this way and that by circumstances, but little altered by them; unlucky in all things, yet made strong to bear all ill-luck; scornful of the world, yet capable of enjoyment, and determined to make the most of it; not deceived by men's specious ways, but disdaining to cry out because he must needs bear with them; scorning men, yet helping them when called on, and desirous of fame: prudent in theory, and wise in foreseeing the inevitable sequence of events, but reckless beyond the recklessness even of that time and people, and finally capable of inspiring in others strong affection and devotion to him in spite of his rugged self-sufficing temper—all these traits which we find in our sagaman's Grettir seem always the most suited to the story of the deeds that surround him, and to our mind most skilfully and dramatically are they suggested to the reader.
As is fitting, the other characters are very much subordinate to the principal figure, but in their way they are no less life-like; the braggart—that inevitable foil to the hero in a saga—was never better represented than in the Gisli of our tale; the thrall Noise, with his carelessness, and thriftless, untrustworthy mirth, is the very pattern of a slave; Snorri the Godi, little though there is of him, fully sustains the prudent and crafty character which follows him in all the Sagas; Thorbiorn Oxmain is a good specimen of the overbearing and sour chief, as is Atli, on the other hand, of the kindly and high-minded, if prudent, rich man; and no one, in short, plays his part like a puppet, but acts as one expects him to act, always allowing the peculiar atmosphere of these tales; and to crown all, as the story comes to its end, the high-souled and poetically conceived Illugi throws a tenderness on the dreadful story of the end of the hero, contrasted as it is with that of the gloomy, superstitious Angle.
Something of a blot, from some points of view, the story of Spes and Thorstein Dromund (of which more anon) must be considered; yet whoever added it to the tale did so with some skill considering its incongruous and superfluous nature, for he takes care that Grettir shall not be forgotten amidst all the plots and success of the lovers; and, whether it be accidental or not, there is to our minds something touching in the contrast between the rude life and tragic end of the hero, and the long, drawn out, worldly good hap and quiet hopes for another life which fall to the lot of his happier brother.
As to the authorship of our story, it has no doubt gone through the stages which mark the growth of the Sagas in general, that is, it was for long handed about from mouth to mouth until it took a definite shape in men's minds; and after it had held that position for a certain time, and had received all the necessary polish for an enjoyable saga, was committed to writing as it flowed ready made from the tongue of the people. Its style, in common with that of all the sagas, shows evidences enough of this: for the rest, the only name connected with it is that of Sturla Thordson the Lawman, a man of good position and family, and a prolific author, who was born in 1214 and died 1284; there is, however, no proof that he wrote the present work, though we think the passages in it that mention his name show clearly enough that he had something to do with the story of Grettir: on the whole, we are inclined to think that a story of Grettir was either written by him or under his auspices, but that the present tale is the work of a later hand, nor do we think so complete a saga-teller, as his other undoubted works show him to have been, would ever have finished his story with the epilogue of Spes and Thorstein Dromund, steeped as that latter part is with the spirit of the mediaeval romances, even to the distinct appropriation of a marked and well-known episode of the Tristram; though it must be admitted that he had probably plenty of opportunity for being versed in that romance, as Tristram was first translated into the tongue of Norway in the year 1226, by Brother Robert, at the instance of King Hakon Hakonson, whose great favourite Sturla Thordson was, and whose history was written by him.
For our translation of this work we have no more to say than to apologise for its shortcomings, and to hope, that in spite of them, it will give some portion of the pleasure to our readers which we felt in accomplishing it ourselves.
EIRIKR MAGNUSSON, WILLIAM MORRIS.
LONDON, April 1869.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE STORY.
872. The battle of Hafrsfirth. 874. Begins the settlement of Iceland. cca. 897. Thrand and Ufeigh Grettir settle Gnup-Wardsrape. cca. 900. Onund Treefoot comes to Iceland. cca. 920. Death of Onund Treefoot. 929. The Althing established. 997 (?). Grettir born. 1000. Christianity sanctioned by law. 1004. Skapti Thorodson made lawman. 1011. Grettir slays Skeggi; goes abroad, banished for three years. 1012. Slaying of Thorir Paunch and his fellows in Haramsey. Earl Eric goes to Denmark. 1013. Slaying of Biorn at the Island of Gartar. Slaying of Thorgils Makson. Illugi Asmundson born. Death of Thorkel Krafla. 1014. Slaying of Gunnar in Tunsberg. Grettir goes back to Iceland; fights with the men of Meal on Ramfirth-neck. Heath-slayings. Thorgeir Havarson outlawed. Fight with Glam the ghost. 1015. Fight of Nesjar in Norway. Slaying of Thorbiorn Tardy. Grettir fares abroad. Burning of the sons of Thorir of Garth. Death of Asmund the Greyhaired. 1016. Grettir meets King Olaf; fails to bear iron; goes east to Tunsberg to Thorstein Dromund. Slaying of Atli of Biarg. Grettir outlawed at the Thing for the burning of the sons of Thorir; his return to Iceland. Slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain and his son Arnor. 1017. Grettir at Reek-knolls. Lawsuit for the slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain. Grettir taken by the Icefirth churls. 1018. Grettir at Liarskogar with Thorstein Kuggson; his travels to the East to Skapti the lawman and Thorhall of Tongue, and thence to the Keel-mountain, where he met Hallmund (Air) for the first time. 1019-1021. Grettir on Ernewaterheath. 1021. Grettir goes to the Marshes. 1022-1024. Grettir in Fairwoodfell. 1024. Grettir visits Hallmund again. 1025. Grettir discovers Thorirs-dale. 1025-1026. Grettir travels round by the East; haunts Madderdale-heath and Reek-heath. 1026. Thorstein Kuggson slain. 1027. Grettir at Sand-heaps in Bard-dale. 1028. Grettir haunts the west by Broadfirth-dales, meets Thorod Snorrison. 1028-1031. Grettir in Drangey. 1029. Grettir visits Heron-ness-thing. 1030. Grettir fetches fire from Reeks. Skapti the law man dies. 1031. Death of Snorri Godi and Grettir Asmundson. 1033. Thorbiorn Angle slain.
Chronology of the Story
I. XIII. The Forefathers of Grettir
XIV. Of Grettir as a Child, and his froward ways with his father
XV. Of the Ball-play on Midfirth Water
XVI. Of the Slaying of Skeggi
XVII. Of Grettir's Voyage out
XVIII. Of Grettir at Haramsey and his dealings with Karr the Old
XIX. Of Yule at Haramsey, and how Grettir dealt with the Bearserks
XX. How Thorfinn met Grettir at Haramsey again
XXI. Of Grettir and Biorn and the Bear
XXII. Of the Slaying of Biorn
XXIII. The Slaying of Hiarandi
XXIV. Of the Slaying of Gunnar, and Grettir's strife with Earl Svein
XXV. The Slaying of Thorgils Makson
XXVI. Of Thorstein Kuggson, and the gathering for the Bloodsuit for the Slaying of Thorgils Makson
XXVII. The Suit for the Slaying of Thorgils Makson
XXVIII. Grettir comes out to Iceland again
XXIX. Of the Horse-fight at Longfit
XXX. Of Thorbiorn Oxmain and Thorbiorn Tardy, and of Grettir's meeting with Kormak on Ramfirth-neck
XXXI. How Grettir met Bardi, the Son of Gudmund, as he came back from the Heath-slayings
XXXII. Of the Haunting at Thorhall-stead; and how Thorhall took a Shepherd by the rede of Skapti the Lawman, and what befell thereafter
XXXIII. Of the doings of Glam at Thorhall-stead
XXXIV. Grettir hears of the Hauntings
XXXV. Grettir goes to Thorhall-stead, and has to do with Glam
XXXVI. Of Thorbiorn Oxmain's Autumn-feast, and the mocks of Thorbiorn Tardy
XXXVII. Olaf the Saint, King in Norway; the slaying of Thorbiorn Tardy; Grettir goes to Norway
XXXVIII. Of Thorir of Garth and his sons; and how Grettir fetched fire for his shipmates
XXXIX. How Grettir would fain bear Iron before the King
XL. Of Grettir and Snoekoll
XLI. Of Thorstein Dromund's Arms, and what he deemed they might do
XLII. Of the Death of Asmund the Greyhaired
XLIII. The Onset on Atli at the Pass and the Slaying of Gunnar and Thorgeir
XLIV. The Suit for the Slaying of the Sons of Thorir of the Pass
XLV. Of the Slaying of Atli Asmundson
XLVI. Grettir outlawed at the Thing at the Suit of Thorir of Garth
XLVII. Grettir comes out to Iceland again
XLVIII. The Slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain
XLIX. The Gathering to avenge Thorbiorn Oxmain
L. Grettir and the Foster-brothers at Reek-knolls
LI. Of the Suit for the Slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain, and how Thorir of Garth would not that Grettir should be made sackless
LII. How Grettir was taken by the Icefirth Carles
LIII. Grettir with Thorstein Kuggson
LIV. Grettir meets Hallmund on the Keel
LV. Of Grettir on Ernewaterheath, and his dealings with Grim there
LVI. Of Grettir and Thorir Redbeard
LVII. How Thorir of Garth set on Grettir on Ernewaterheath
LVIII. Grettir in Fairwoodfell
LIX. Gisli's meeting with Grettir
LX. Of the Fight at Hitriver
LXI. How Grettir left Fairwoodfell, and of his abiding in Thorir's-dale
LXII. Of the Death of Hallmund, Grettir's Friend
LXIII. How Grettir beguiled Thorir of Garth when he was nigh taking him
LXIV. Of the ill haps at Sand-heaps, and how Guest came to the Goodwife there
LXV. Of Guest and the Troll-wife
LXVI. Of the Dweller in the Cave under the Force
LXVII. Grettir driven from Sand-heaps to the West
LXVIII. How Thorod, the Son of Snorri Godi, went against Grettir
LXIX. How Grettir took leave of his Mother at Biarg, and fared with Illugi his Brother to Drangey
LXX. Of the Bonders who owned Drangey between them
LXXI. How those of Skagafirth found Grettir on Drangey
LXXII. Of the Sports at Heron-ness Thing
LXXIII. The Handselling of Peace
LXXIV. Of Grettir's Wrestling; and how Thorbiorn Angle now bought the more part of Drangey
LXXV. Thorbiorn Angle goes to Drangey to speak with Grettir
LXXVI. How Noise let the Fire out on Drangey, and how Grettir must needs go aland for more
LXXVII. Grettir at the Home-stead of Reeks
LXXVIII. Of Haering at Drangey, and the end of him
LXXIX. Of the Talk at the Thing about Grettir's Outlawry
LXXX. Thorbiorn Angle goes with his Foster-mother out to Drangey
LXXXI. Of the Carline's evil Gift to Grettir
LXXXII. Grettir sings of his Great Deeds
LXXXIII. How Thorbiorn Angle gathered Force and set Sail for Drangey
LXXXIV. The Slaying of Grettir Asmundson
LXXXV. How Thorbiorn Angle claimed Grettir's Head-money
LXXXVI. How Thorbiorn Angle brought Grettir's Head to Biarg
LXXXVII. Affairs at the Althing
LXXXVIII. Thorbiorn Angle goes to Norway, and thence to Micklegarth
LXXXIX. How the Short-Sword was the easier known when sought for by reason of the notch in the blade
XC. How the Lady Spes redeemed Thorstein from the Dungeon
XCI. Of the Doings of Thorstein and the Lady Spes
XCII. Of the Oath that Spes made before the Bishop
XCIII. Thorstein and Spes come out to Norway
XCIV. Thorstein Dromund and Spes leave Norway again
XCV. How Thorstein Dromund and Spes fared to Rome and died there
Notes and Corrections
Index of Persons
Index of Places
Index of Things
Periphrastic Expressions in the Songs
THE STORY OF GRETTIR THE STRONG.
This First Part tells of the forefathers of Grettir in Norway, and how they fled away before Harald Fairhair, and settled in Iceland; and of their deeds in Iceland before Grettir was born.
There was a man named Onund, who was the son of Ufeigh Clubfoot, the son of Ivar the Smiter; Onund was brother of Gudbiorg, the mother of Gudbrand Ball, the father of Asta, the mother of King Olaf the Saint. Onund was an Uplander by the kin of his mother; but the kin of his father dwelt chiefly about Rogaland and Hordaland. He was a great viking, and went harrying west over the Sea. Balk of Sotanes, the son of Blaeng, was with him herein, and Orm the Wealthy withal, and Hallvard was the name of the third of them. They had five ships, all well manned, and therewith they harried in the South-isles; and when they came to Barra, they found there a king, called Kiarval, and he, too, had five ships. They gave him battle, and a hard fray there was. The men of Onund were of the eagerest, and on either side many fell; but the end of it was that the king fled with only one ship. So there the men of Onund took both ships and much wealth, and abode there through the winter. For three summers they harried throughout Ireland and Scotland, and thereafter went to Norway.
[Footnote 4: "West over the Sea," means in the Sagas the British isles, and the islands about them—the Hebrides, Orkneys, &c.]
[Footnote 5: South-isles are the Hebrides, and the other islands down to Man.]
In those days were there great troubles in Norway. Harald the Unshorn, son of Halfdan the Black, was pushing forth for the kingdom. Before that he was King of the Uplands; then he went north through the land, and had many battles there, and ever won the day. Thereafter he harried south in the land, and wheresoever he came, laid all under him; but when he came to Hordaland, swarms of folk came thronging against him; and their captains were Kiotvi the Wealthy, and Thorir Longchin, and those of South Rogaland, and King Sulki. Geirmund Helskin was then in the west over the Sea; nor was he in that battle, though he had a kingdom in Hordaland.
[Footnote 6: "Harald the Unshorn:" he was so called at first because he made a vow not to cut his hair till he was sole king of Norway. When he had attained to this, and Earl Rognvald had taken him to the bath and trimmed his hair, he was called "Fair-hair," from its length and beauty.]
Now that autumn Onund and his fellows came from the west over the Sea; and when Thorir Longchin and King Kiotvi heard thereof, they sent men to meet them, and prayed them for help, and promised them honours. Then they entered into fellowship with Thorir and his men; for they were exceeding fain to try their strength, and said that there would they be whereas the fight was hottest.
Now was the meeting with Harald the King in Rogaland, in that firth which is called Hafrsfirth; and both sides had many men. This was the greatest battle that has ever been fought in Norway, and hereof most Sagas tell; for of those is ever most told, of whom the Sagas are made; and thereto came folk from all the land, and many from other lands and swarms of vikings.
Now Onund laid his ship alongside one board of the ship of Thorir Longchin, about the midst of the fleet, but King Harald laid his on the other board, because Thorir was the greatest bearserk, and the stoutest of men; so the fight was of the fiercest on either side. Then the king cried on his bearserks for an onslaught, and they were called the Wolf-coats, for on them would no steel bite, and when they set on nought might withstand them. Thorir defended him very stoutly, and fell in all hardihood on board his ship; then was it cleared from stem to stern, and cut from the grapplings, and let drift astern betwixt the other ships. Thereafter the king's men laid their ship alongside Onund's, and he was in the forepart thereof and fought manly; then the king's folk said, "Lo, a forward man in the forecastle there, let him have somewhat to mind him how that he was in this battle." Now Onund put one foot out over the bulwark and dealt a blow at a man, and even therewith a spear was aimed at him, and as he put the blow from him he bent backward withal, and one of the king's forecastle men smote at him, and the stroke took his leg below the knee and sheared it off, and forthwith made him unmeet for fight. Then fell the more part of the folk on board his ship; but Onund was brought to the ship of him who is called Thrand; he was the son of Biorn, and brother of Eyvind the Eastman; he was in the fight against King Harald and lay on the other board of Onund's ship.
But now, after these things, the more part of the fleet scattered in flight; Thrand and his men, with the other vikings, got them away each as he might, and sailed west over the Sea; Onund went with him, and Balk and Hallvard Sweeping; Onund was healed, but went with a wooden leg all his life after; therefore as long as he lived was he called Onund Treefoot.
At that time were many great men west over the Sea, such as had fled from their lands in Norway before King Harald, because he had made all those outlaws, who had met him in battle, and taken to him their possessions. So, when Onund was healed of his wounds, he and Thrand went to meet Geirmund Helskin, because he was the most famed of vikings west there over the Sea, and they asked him whether he had any mind to seek after that kingdom which he had in Hordaland, and offered him their fellowship herein; for they deemed they had a sore loss of their lands there, since Onund was both mighty and of great kin.
Geirmund said that so great had grown the strength of King Harald, that he deemed there was little hope that they would win honour in their war with him when men had been worsted, even when all the folk of the land had been drawn together; and yet withal that he was loth to become a king's thrall and pray for that which was his own; that he would find somewhat better to do than that; and now, too, he was no longer young. So Onund and his fellows went back to the South-isles, and there met many of their friends.
There was a man, Ufeigh by name, who was bynamed Grettir; he was the son of Einar, the son of Olvir Bairn-Carle; he was brother to Oleif the Broad, the father of Thormod Shaft; Steinulf was the name of Olvir Bairn-Carle's son, he was the father of Una whom Thorbiorn Salmon-Carle had to wife. Another son of Olvir Bairn-Carle was Steinmod, the father of Konal, who was the father of Aldis of Barra. The son of Konal was Steinmod, the father of Haldora, the wife of Eilif, the son of Ketil the Onehanded. Ufeigh Grettir had to wife Asny, the daughter of Vestar Haengson; and Asmund the Beardless and Asbiorn were the sons of Ufeigh Grettir, but his daughters were these, Aldis, and Asa, and Asvor. Ufeigh had fled away west over the Sea before Harald the king, and so had Thormod Shaft his kinsman, and had with them their kith and kin; and they harried in Scotland, and far and wide west beyond the sea.
Now Thrand and Onund Treefoot made west for Ireland to find Eyvind the Eastman, Thrand's brother, who was Land-ward along the coasts of Ireland; the mother of Eyvind was Hlif, the daughter of Rolf, son of Ingiald, the son of King Frodi; but Thrand's mother was Helga, the daughter of Ondott the Crow; Biorn was the name of the father of Eyvind and Thrand, he was the son of Rolf from Am; he had had to flee from Gothland, for that he had burned in his house Sigfast, the son-in-law of King Solver; and thereafter had he gone to Norway, and was the next winter with Grim the hersir, the son of Kolbiorn the Abasher. Now Grim had a mind to murder Biorn for his money, so he fled thence to Ondott the Crow, who dwelt in Hvinisfirth in Agdir; he received Biorn well, and Biorn was with him in the winter, but was in warfare in summer-tide, until Hlif his wife died; and after that Ondott gave Biorn Helga his daughter, and then Biorn left off warring.
Now thereon Eyvind took to him the war-ships of his father, and was become a great chief west over the Sea; he wedded Rafarta, the daughter of Kiarval, King of Ireland; their sons were Helgi the Lean and Snaebiorn.
So when Thrand and Onund came to the South-isles, there they met Ufeigh Grettir and Thormod Shaft, and great friendship grew up betwixt them, for each thought he had gained from hell the last who had been left behind in Norway while the troubles there were at the highest. But Onund was exceeding moody, and when Thrand marked it, he asked what he was brooding over in his mind. Onund answered, and sang this stave—
"What joy since that day can I get When shield-fire's thunder last I met; Ah, too soon clutch the claws of ill; For that axe-edge shall grieve me still. In eyes of fighting man and thane, My strength and manhood are but vain, This is the thing that makes me grow A joyless man; is it enow?"
Thrand answered that whereso he was, he would still be deemed a brave man, "And now it is meet for thee to settle down and get married, and I would put forth my word and help, if I but knew whereto thou lookest."
Onund said he did in manly wise, but that his good hope for matches of any gain was gone by now.
Thrand answered, "Ufeigh has a daughter who is called Asa, thitherward will we turn if it seem good to thee." Onund showed that he was willing enough hereto; so afterwards they talked the matter over with Ufeigh; he answered well, and said that he knew how that Onund was a man of great kin and rich of chattels; "but his lands," said he, "I put at low worth, nor do I deem him to be a hale man, and withal my daughter is but a child."
Thrand said, that Onund was a brisker man yet than many who were hale of both legs, and so by Thrand's help was this bargain struck; Ufeigh was to give his daughter but chattels for dowry, because those lands that were in Norway neither would lay down any money for.
A little after Thrand wooed the daughter of Thormod Shaft, and both were to sit in troth for three winters.
So thereafter they went a harrying in the summer, but were in Barra in the winter-tide.
There were two vikings called Vigbiod and Vestmar; they were South-islanders, and lay out both winter and summer; they had thirteen ships, and harried mostly in Ireland, and did many an ill deed there till Eyvind the Eastman took the land-wardship; thereafter they got them gone to the South-isles, and harried there and all about the firths of Scotland: against these went Thrand and Onund, and heard that they had sailed to that island, which is called Bute. Now Onund and his folk came there with five ships; and when the vikings see their ships and know how many they are, they deem they have enough strength gathered there, and take their weapons and lay their ships in the midst betwixt two cliffs, where was a great and deep sound; only on one side could they be set on, and that with but five ships at once. Now Onund was the wisest of men, and bade lay five ships up into the sound, so that he and his might have back way when they would, for there was plenty of sea-room astern. On one board of them too was a certain island, and under the lee thereof he let one ship lie, and his men brought many great stones forth on to the sheer cliffs above, yet might not be seen withal from the ships.
Now the vikings laid their ships boldly enough for the attack, and thought that the others quailed; and Vigbiod asked who they were that were in such jeopardy. Thrand said that he was the brother of Eyvind the Eastman, "and here beside me is Onund Treefoot my fellow."
Then laughed the vikings, and shouted—
"Treefoot, Treefoot, foot of tree, Trolls take thee and thy company."
"Yea, a sight it is seldom seen of us, that such men should go into battle as have no might over themselves."
Onund said that they could know nought thereof ere it were tried; and withal they laid their ships alongside one of the other, and there began a great fight, and either side did boldly. But when they came to handy blows, Onund gave back toward the cliff, and when the vikings saw this, they deemed he was minded to flee, and made towards his ship, and came as nigh to the cliff as they might. But in that very point of time those came forth on to the edge of the cliff who were appointed so to do, and sent at the vikings so great a flight of stones that they might not withstand it.
Then fell many of the viking-folk, and others were hurt so that they might not bear weapon; and withal they were fain to draw back, and might not, because their ships were even then come into the narrowest of the sound, and they were huddled together both by the ships and the stream; but Onund and his men set on fiercely, whereas Vigbiod was, but Thrand set on Vestmar, and won little thereby; so, when the folk were thinned on Vigbiod's ship, Onund's men and Onund himself got ready to board her: that Vigbiod saw, and cheered on his men without stint: then he turned to meet Onund, and the more part fled before him; but Onund bade his men mark how it went between them; for he was of huge strength. Now they set a log of wood under Onund's knee, so that he stood firmly enow; the viking fought his way forward along the ship till he reached Onund, and he smote at him with his sword, and the stroke took the shield, and sheared off all it met; and then the sword drove into the log that Onund had under his knee, and stuck fast therein; and Vigbiod stooped in drawing it out, and even therewith Onund smote at his shoulder in such wise, that he cut the arm from off him, and then was the viking unmeet for battle.
But when Vestmar knew that his fellow was fallen, he leaped into the furthermost ship and fled with all those who might reach her. Thereafter they ransacked the fallen men; and by then was Vigbiod nigh to his death: Onund went up to him, and sang—
"Yea, seest thou thy wide wounds bleed? What of shrinking didst thou heed In the one-foot sling of gold? What scratch here dost thou behold? And in e'en such wise as this Many an axe-breaker there is Strong of tongue and weak of hand: Tried thou wert, and might'st not stand."
So there they took much spoil and sailed back to Barra in the autumn.
The summer after this they made ready to fare west to Ireland. But at that time Balk and Hallvard betook themselves from the lands west over the sea, and went out to Iceland, for from thence came tales of land good to choose. Balk settled land in Ramfirth and dwelt at either Balkstead; Hallvard settled Sweepingsfirth, and Hallwick out to the Stair, and dwelt there.
Now Thrand and Onund met Eyvind the Eastman, and he received his brother well; but when he knew that Onund was come with him, then he waxed wroth, and would fain set on him. Thrand bade him do it not, and said that it was not for him to wage war against Northmen, and least of all such men as fared peaceably. Eyvind said that he fared otherwise before, and had broken the peace of Kiarval the King, and that he should now pay for all. Many words the brothers had over this, till Thrand said at last that one fate should befall both him and Onund; and then Eyvind let himself be appeased.
So they dwelt there long that summer, and went on warfare with Eyvind, who found Onund to be the bravest of men. In the autumn they fared to the South-isles, and Eyvind gave to Thrand to take all the heritage of their father, if Biorn should die before Thrand.
Now were the twain in the South-isles until they wedded their wives, and some winters after withal.
And now it came to pass that Biorn, the father of Thrand, died; and when Grim the hersir hears thereof he went to meet Ondott Crow, and claimed the goods left by Biorn; but Ondott said that Thrand had the heritage after his father; Grim said that Thrand was west over seas, and that Biorn was a Gothlander of kin, and that the king took the heritage of all outland men. Ondott said that he should keep the goods for the hands of Thrand, his daughter's son; and therewith Grim gat him gone, and had nought for his claiming the goods.
Now Thrand had news of his father's death, and straightway got ready to go from the South-isles, and Onund Treefoot with him; but Ufeigh Grettir and Thormod Shaft went out to Iceland with their kith and kin, and came out to the Eres in the south country, and dwelt the first winter with Thorbiorn Salmon-Carle.
Thereafter they settled Gnup-Wards'-rape, Ufeigh, the outward part, between Thwart-river and Kalf-river, and he dwelt at Ufeigh's-stead by Stone-holt; but Thormod settled the eastward part, and abode at Shaft-holt.
The daughters of Thormod were these: Thorvor, mother of Thorod the Godi of Hailti, and Thora, mother of Thorstein, the Godi, the father of Biarni the Sage.
[Footnote 7: "Godi" is the name for the rulers of the thirty-nine districts into which the republic of Iceland was anciently divided. While the ancient religion lasted, their office combined in itself the highest civil and sacerdotal functions.]
Now it is to be said of Thrand and Onund that they sailed from the lands west over the Sea toward Norway, and had fair wind, and such speed, that no rumour of their voyage was abroad till they came to Ondott Crow.
He gave Thrand good welcome, and told him how Grim the hersir had claimed the heritage left by Biorn. "Meeter it seems to me, kinsman," said he, "that thou take the heritage of thy father and not king's-thralls; good luck has befallen thee, in that none knows of thy coming, but it misdoubts me that Grim will come upon one or other of us if he may; therefore I would that thou shouldst take the inheritance to thee, and get thee gone to other lands."
Thrand said that so he would do, he took to him the chattels and got away from Norway at his speediest; but before he sailed into the sea, he asked Onund Treefoot whether he would not make for Iceland with him; Onund said he would first go see his kin and friends in the south country.
Thrand said, "Then must we part now, but I would that thou shouldst aid my kin, for on them will vengeance fall if I get off clear; but to Iceland shall I go, and I would that thou withal shouldst make that journey."
Onund gave his word to all, and they parted in good love. So Thrand went to Iceland, and Ufeigh and Thormod Shaft received him well. Thrand dwelt at Thrand's-holt, which is west of Steer's-river.
Onund went south to Rogaland, and met there many of his kin and friends; he dwelt there in secret at a man's called Kolbein. Now he heard that the king had taken his lands to him and set a man thereover who was called Harek, who was a farmer of the king's; so on a night Onund went to him, and took him in his house; there Harek was led out and cut down, and Onund took all the chattels they found and burnt the homestead; and thereafter he abode in many places that winter.
But that autumn Grim the hersir slew Ondott Crow, because he might not get the heritage-money for the king; and that same night of his slaying, Signy, his wife, brought aboard ship all her chattels, and fared with her sons, Asmund and Asgrim, to Sighvat her father; but a little after sent her sons to Soknadale to Hedin her foster-father; but that seemed good to them but for a little while, and they would fain go back again to their mother; so they departed and came at Yule-tide to Ingiald the Trusty at Hvin; he took them in because of the urgency of Gyda his wife, and they were there the winter through. But in spring came Onund north to Agdir, because he had heard of the slaying of Ondott Crow; but when he found Signy he asked her what help she would have of him.
She said that she would fain have vengeance on Grim the hersir for the slaying of Ondott. Then were the sons of Ondott sent for, and when they met Onund Treefoot, they made up one fellowship together, and had spies abroad on the doings of Grim. Now in the summer was a great ale-drinking held at Grim's, because he had bidden to him Earl Audun; and when Onund and the sons of Ondott knew thereof they went to Grim's homestead and laid fire to the house, for they were come there unawares, and burnt Grim the hersir therein, and nigh thirty men, and many good things they took there withal. Then went Onund to the woods, but the sons of Ondott took a boat of Ingiald's, their foster-father's, and rowed away therein, and lay hid a little way off the homestead. Earl Audun came to the feast, even as had been settled afore, and there "missed friend from stead." Then he gathered men to him, and dwelt there some nights, but nought was heard of Onund and his fellows; and the Earl slept in a loft with two men.
Onund had full tidings from the homestead, and sent after those brothers; and, when they met, Onund asked them whether they would watch the farm or fall on the Earl; but they chose to set on the Earl. So they drove beams at the loft-doors and broke them in; then Asmund caught hold of the two who were with the Earl, and cast them down so hard that they were well-nigh slain; but Asgrim ran at the Earl, and bade him render up weregild for his father, since he had been in the plot and the onslaught with Grim the hersir when Ondott Crow was slain. The Earl said he had no money with him there, and prayed for delay of that payment. Then Asgrim set his spear-point to the Earl's breast and bade him pay there and then; so the Earl took a chain from his neck, and three gold rings, and a cloak of rich web, and gave them up. Asgrim took the goods and gave the Earl a name, and called him Audun Goaty.
But when the bonders and neighbouring folk were ware that war was come among them, they went abroad and would bring help to the Earl, and a hard fight there was, for Onund had many men, and there fell many good bonders and courtmen of the Earl. Now came the brothers, and told how they had fared with the Earl, and Onund said that it was ill that he was not slain, "that would have been somewhat of a revenge on the King for our loss at his hands of fee and friends." They said that this was a greater shame to the Earl; and therewith they went away up to Sorreldale to Eric Alefain, a king's lord, and he took them in for all the winter.
Now at Yule they drank turn and turn about with a man called Hallstein, who was bynamed Horse; Eric gave the first feast, well and truly, and then Hallstein gave his, but thereat was there bickering between them, and Hallstein smote Eric with a deer-horn; Eric gat no revenge therefor, but went home straightway. This sore misliked the sons of Ondott, and a little after Asgrim fared to Hallstein's homestead, and went in alone, and gave him a great wound, but those who were therein sprang up and set on Asgrim. Asgrim defended himself well and got out of their hands in the dark; but they deemed they had slain him.
Onund and Asmund heard thereof and supposed him dead, but deemed they might do nought. Eric counselled them to make for Iceland, and said that would be of no avail to abide there in the land (i.e. in Norway), as soon as the king should bring matters about to his liking. So this they did, and made them ready for Iceland and had each one ship. Hallstein lay wounded, and died before Onund and his folk sailed. Kolbein withal, who is afore mentioned, went abroad with Onund.
Now Onund and Asmund sailed into the sea when they were ready, and held company together; then sang Onund this stave—
"Meet was I in days agone For storm, wherein the Sweeping One, Midst rain of swords, and the darts' breath, Blew o'er all a gale of death. Now a maimed, one-footed man On rollers' steed through waters wan Out to Iceland must I go; Ah, the skald is sinking low."
They had a hard voyage of it and much of baffling gales from the south, and drove north into the main; but they made Iceland, and were by then come to the north off Longness when they found where they were: so little space there was betwixt them that they spake together; and Asmund said that they had best sail to Islefirth, and thereto they both agreed; then they beat up toward the land, and a south-east wind sprang up; but when Onund and his folk laid the ship close to the wind, the yard was sprung; then they took in sail, and therewith were driven off to sea; but Asmund got under the lee of Brakeisle, and there lay till a fair wind brought him into Islefirth; Helgi the Lean gave him all Kraeklings' lithe, and he dwelt at South Glass-river; Asgrim his brother came out some winters later and abode at North Glass-river; he was the father of Ellida-Grim, the father of Asgrim Ellida-Grimson.
Now it is to be told of Onund Treefoot that he drave out to sea for certain days, but at last the wind got round to the north, and they sailed for land: then those knew who had been there before that they had come west off the Skagi; then they sailed into Strand-Bay, and near to the South-Strands, and there rowed toward them six men in a ten-oared boat, who hailed the big ship, and asked who was their captain; Onund named himself, and asked whence they came; they said they were house-carles of Thorvald, from Drangar; Onund asked if all land through the Strands had been settled; they said there was little unsettled in the inner Strands, and none north thereof. Then Onund asked his shipmates, whether they would make for the west country, or take such as they had been told of; they chose to view the land first. So they sailed in up the bay, and brought to in a creek off Arness, then put forth a boat and rowed to land. There dwelt a rich man, Eric Snare, who had taken land betwixt Ingolfs-firth, and Ufoera in Fishless; but when Eric knew that Onund was come there, he bade him take of his hands whatso he would, but said that there was little that had not been settled before. Onund said he would first see what there was, so they went landward south past some firths, till they came to Ufoera; then said Eric, "Here is what there is to look to; all from here is unsettled, and right in to the settlements of Biorn." Now a great mountain went down the eastern side of the firth, and snow had fallen thereon, Onund looked on that mountain, and sang—
"Brand-whetter's life awry doth go. Fair lands and wide full well I know; Past house, and field, and fold of man, The swift steed of the rollers ran: My lands, and kin, I left behind, That I this latter day might find, Coldback for sunny meads to have; Hard fate a bitter bargain drave."
Eric answered, "Many have lost so much in Norway, that it may not be bettered: and I think withal that most lands in the main-settlements are already settled, and therefore I urge thee not to go from hence; but I shall hold to what I spake, that thou mayst have whatso of my lands seems meet to thee." Onund said, that he would take that offer, and so he settled land out from Ufoera over the three creeks, Byrgis Creek, Kolbein's Creek, and Coldback Creek, up to Coldback Cleft. Thereafter Eric gave him all Fishless, and Reekfirth, and all Reekness, out on that side of the firth; but as to drifts there was nought set forth, for they were then so plentiful that every man had of them what he would. Now Onund set up a household at Coldback, and had many men about him; but when his goods began to grow great he had another stead in Reekfirth. Kolbein dwelt at Kolbein's Creek. So Onund abode in peace for certain winters.
Now Onund was so brisk a man, that few, even of whole men, could cope with him; and his name withal was well known throughout the land, because of his forefathers. After these things, befell that strife betwixt Ufeigh Grettir and Thorbiorn Earl's-champion, which had such ending, that Ufeigh fell before Thorbiorn in Grettir's-Gill, near Heel. There were many drawn together to the sons of Ufeigh concerning the blood-suit, and Onund Treefoot was sent for, and rode south in the spring, and guested at Hvamm, with Aud the Deeply-wealthy, and she gave him exceeding good welcome, because he had been with her west over the Sea. In those days, Olaf Feilan, her son's son, was a man full grown, and Aud was by then worn with great eld; she bade Onund know that she would have Olaf, her kinsman, married, and was fain that he should woo Aldis of Barra, who was cousin to Asa, whom Onund had to wife. Onund deemed the matter hopeful, and Olaf rode south with him. So when Onund met his friends and kin-in-law they bade him abide with them: then was the suit talked over, and was laid to Kialarnes Thing, for as then the Althing was not yet set up. So the case was settled by umpiredom, and heavy weregild came for the slayings, and Thorbiorn Earl's-champion was outlawed. His son was Solmund, the father of Kari the Singed; father and son dwelt abroad a long time afterwards.
Thrand bade Onund and Olaf to his house, and so did Thormod Shaft, and they backed Olaf's wooing, which was settled with ease, because men knew how mighty a woman Aud was. So the bargain was made, and, so much being done, Onund rode home, and Aud thanked him well for his help to Olaf. That autumn Olaf Feilan wedded Aldis of Barra; and then died Aud the Deeply-wealthy, as is told in the story of the Laxdale men.
Onund and Asa had two sons; the elder was called Thorgeir, the younger Ufeigh Grettir; but Asa soon died. Thereafter Onund got to wife a woman called Thordis, the daughter of Thorgrim, from Gnup in Midfirth, and akin to Midfirth Skeggi. Of her Onund had a son called Thorgrim; he was early a big man, and a strong, wise, and good withal in matters of husbandry. Onund dwelt on at Coldback till he was old, then he died in his bed, and is buried in Treefoot's barrow; he was the briskest and lithest of one-footed men who have ever lived in Iceland.
Now Thorgrim took the lead among the sons of Onund, though others of them were older than he; but when he was twenty-five years old he grew grey-haired, and therefore was he bynamed Greypate; Thordis, his mother, was afterwards wedded north in Willowdale, to Audun Skokul, and their son was Asgeir, of Asgeir's-River. Thorgrim Greypate and his brothers had great possessions in common, nor did they divide the goods between them. Now Eric, who farmed at Arness, as is aforesaid, had to wife Alof, daughter of Ingolf, of Ingolfs-firth; and Flosi was the name of their son, a hopeful man, and of many friends. In those days three brothers came out hither, Ingolf, Ufeigh, and Eyvind, and settled those three firths that are known by their names, and there dwelt afterwards. Olaf was the name of Eyvind's son, he first dwelt at Eyvind's-firth, and after at Drangar, and was a man to hold his own well.
Now there was no strife betwixt these men while their elders were alive; but when Eric died, it seemed to Flosi, that those of Coldback had no lawful title to the lands which Eric had given to Onund; and from this befell much ill-blood betwixt them; but Thorgrim and his kin still held their lands as before, but they might not risk having sports together. Now Thorgeir was head-man of the household of those brothers in Reekfirth, and would ever be rowing out a-fishing, because in those days were the firths full of fish; so those in the Creek made up their plot; a man there was, a house-carle of Flosi in Arness, called Thorfin, him Flosi sent for Thorgeir's head, and he went and hid himself in the boat-stand; that morning, Thorgeir got ready to row out to sea, and two men with him, one called Hamund, the other Brand. Thorgeir went first, and had on his back a leather bottle and drink therein. It was very dark, and as he walked down from the boat-stand Thorfin ran at him, and smote him with an axe betwixt the shoulders, and the axe sank in, and the bottle squeaked, but he let go the axe, for he deemed that there would be little need of binding up, and would save himself as swiftly as might be; and it is to be told of him that he ran off to Arness, and came there before broad day, and told of Thorgeir's slaying, and said that he should have need of Flosi's shelter, and that the only thing to be done was to offer atonement, "for that of all things," said he, "is like to better our strait, great as it has now grown."
Flosi said that he would first hear tidings; "and I am minded to think that thou art afraid after thy big deed."
Now it is to be said of Thorgeir, that he turned from the blow as the axe smote the bottle, nor had he any wound; they made no search for the man because of the dark, so they rowed over the firths to Coldback, and told tidings of what had happed; thereat folk made much mocking, and called Thorgeir, Bottleback, and that was his by-name ever after.
And this was sung withal—
"The brave men of days of old, Whereof many a tale is told, Bathed the whiting of the shield, In wounds' house on battle-field; But the honour-missing fool, Both sides of his slaying tool, Since faint heart his hand made vain. With but curdled milk must stain."
In those days befell such hard times in Iceland, that nought like them has been known there; well-nigh all gettings from the sea, and all drifts, came to an end; and this went on for many seasons. One autumn certain chapmen in a big ship were drifted thither, and were wrecked there in the Creek, and Flosi took to him four or five of them; Stein was the name of their captain; they were housed here and there about the Creek, and were minded to build them a new ship from the wreck; but they were unhandy herein, and the ship was over small stem and stern, but over big amidships.
That spring befell a great storm from the north, which lasted near a week, and after the storm men looked after their drifts. Now there was a man called Thorstein, who dwelt at Reekness; he found a whale driven up on the firthward side of the ness, at a place called Rib-Skerries, and the whale was a big whale.
Thorstein sent forthwith a messenger to Wick to Flosi, and so to the nighest farm-steads. Now Einar was the name of the farmer at Combe, and he was a tenant of those of Coldback, and had the ward of their drifts on that side of the firths; and now withal he was ware of the stranding of the whale: and he took boat and rowed past the firths to Byrgis Creek, whence he sent a man to Coldback; and when Thorgrim and his brothers heard that, they got ready at their swiftest, and were twelve in a ten-oared boat, and Kolbein's sons fared with them, Ivar and Leif, and were six altogether; and all farmers who could bring it about went to the whale.
Now it is to be told of Flosi that he sent to his kin in Ingolfs-firth and Ufeigh's-firth, and for Olaf Eyvindson, who then dwelt at Drangar; and Flosi came first to the whale, with the men of Wick, then they fell to cutting up the whale, and what was cut was forthwith sent ashore; near twenty men were thereat at first, but soon folk came thronging thither.
Therewith came those of Coldback in four boats, and Thorgrim laid claim to the whale and forbade the men of Wick to shear, allot, or carry off aught thereof: Flosi bade him show if Eric had given Onund Treefoot the drift in clear terms, or else he said he should defend himself with arms. Thorgrim thought he and his too few, and would not risk an onset; but therewithal came a boat rowing up the firth, and the rowers therein pulled smartly. Soon they came up, and there was Swan, from Knoll in Biornfirth, and his house-carles; and straightway, when he came, he bade Thorgrim not to let himself be robbed; and great friends they had been heretofore, and now Swan offered his aid. The brothers said they would take it, and therewith set on fiercely; Thorgeir Bottleback first mounted the whale against Flosi's house-carles; there the aforenamed Thorfin was cutting the whale, he was in front nigh the head, and stood in a foot-hold he had cut for himself; then Thorgeir said, "Herewith I bring thee back thy axe," and smote him on the neck, and struck off his head.
Flosi was up on the foreshore when he saw that, and he egged on his men to meet them hardily; now they fought long together, but those of Coldback had the best of it: few men there had weapons except the axes wherewith they were cutting up the whale, and some choppers. So the men of Wick gave back to the foreshores; the Eastmen had weapons, and many a wound they gave; Stein, the captain, smote a foot off Ivar Kolbeinson, but Leif, Ivar's brother, beat to death a fellow of Stein's with a whale-rib; blows were dealt there with whatever could be caught at, and men fell on either side. But now came up Olaf and his men from Drangar in many boats, and gave help to Flosi, and then those of Coldback were borne back overpowered; but they had loaded their boats already, and Swan bade get aboard and thitherward they gave back, and the men of Wick came on after them; and when Swan was come down to the sea, he smote at Stein, the sea-captain, and gave him a great wound, and then leapt aboard his boat; Thorgrim wounded Flosi with a great wound and therewith got away; Olaf cut at Ufeigh Grettir, and wounded him to death; but Thorgeir caught Ufeigh up and leapt aboard with him. Now those of Coldback row east by the firths, and thus they parted; and this was sung of their meeting—
At Rib-skerries, I hear folk tell, A hard and dreadful fray befell, For men unarmed upon that day With strips of whale-fat made good play. Fierce steel-gods these in turn did meet With blubber-slices nowise sweet; Certes a wretched thing it is To tell of squabbles such as this.
After these things was peace settled between them, and these suits were laid to the Althing; there Thorod the Godi and Midfirth-Skeggi, with many of the south-country folk, aided those of Coldback; Flosi was outlawed, and many of those who had been with him; and his moneys were greatly drained because he chose to pay up all weregild himself. Thorgrim and his folk could not show that they had paid money for the lands and drifts which Flosi claimed. Thorkel Moon was lawman then, and he was bidden to give his decision; he said that to him it seemed law, that something had been paid for those lands, though mayhap not their full worth; "For so did Steinvor the Old to Ingolf, my grandfather, that she had from him all Rosmwhale-ness and gave therefor a spotted cloak, nor has that gift been voided, though certes greater flaws be therein: but here I lay down my rede," said he, "that the land be shared, and that both sides have equal part therein; and henceforth be it made law, that each man have the drifts before his own lands." Now this was done, and the land was so divided that Thorgrim and his folk had to give up Reekfirth and all the lands by the firth-side, but Combe they were to keep still. Ufeigh was atoned with a great sum; Thorfin was unatoned, and boot was given to Thorgeir for the attack on his life; and thereafter were they set at one together. Flosi took ship for Norway with Stein, the ship-master, and sold his lands in the Wick to Geirmund Hiuka-timber, who dwelt there afterwards. Now that ship which the chapmen had made was very broad of beam, so that men called it the Treetub, and by that name is the creek known: but in that keel did Flosi go out, but was driven back to Axefirth, whereof came the tale of Bodmod, and Grimulf, and Gerpir.
Now after this the brothers Thorgrim and Thorgeir shared their possessions. Thorgrim took the chattels and Thorgeir the land; Thorgrim betook himself to Midfirth and bought land at Biarg by the counsel of Skeggi; he had to wife Thordis, daughter of Asmund of Asmund's-peak, who had settled the Thingere lands: Thorgrim and Thordis had a son who was called Asmund; he was a big man and a strong, wise withal, and the fairest-haired of men, but his head grew grey early, wherefore he was called Asmund the Greyhaired. Thorgrim grew to be a man very busy about his household, and kept all his men well to their work. Asmund would do but little work, so the father and son had small fellowship together; and so things fared till Asmund had grown of age; then he asked his father for travelling money; Thorgrim said he should have little enough, but gave him somewhat of huckstering wares.
Then Asmund went abroad, and his goods soon grew great; he sailed to sundry lands, and became the greatest of merchants, and very rich; he was a man well beloved and trusty, and many kinsmen he had in Norway of great birth.
One autumn he guested east in the Wick with a great man who was called Thorstein; he was an Uplander of kin, and had a sister called Ranveig, one to be chosen before all women; her Asmund wooed, and gained her by the help of Thorstein her brother; and there Asmund dwelt a while and was held in good esteem: he had of Ranveig a son hight Thorstein, strong, and the fairest of men, and great of voice; a man tall of growth he was, but somewhat slow in his mien, and therefore was he called Dromund. Now when Thorstein was nigh grown up, his mother fell sick and died, and thereafter Asmund had no joy in Norway; the kin of Thorstein's mother took his goods, and him withal to foster; but Asmund betook himself once more to seafaring, and became a man of great renown. Now he brought his ship into Hunawater, and in those days was Thorkel Krafla chief over the Waterdale folk; and he heard of Asmund's coming out, and rode to the ship and bade Asmund to his house; and he dwelt at Marstead in Waterdale; so Asmund went to be guest there. This Thorkel was the son of Thorgrim the Godi of Cornriver, and was a very wise man.
Now this was after the coming out of Bishop Frederick, and Thorvald Kodran's son, and they dwelt at the Brooks-meet, when these things came to pass: they were the first to preach the law of Christ in the north country; Thorkel let himself be signed with the cross and many men with him, and things enow betid betwixt the bishop and the north-country folk which come not into this tale.
Now at Thorkel's was a woman brought up, Asdis by name, who was the daughter of Bard, the son of Jokul, the son of Ingimund the Old, the son of Thorstein, the son of Ketil the Huge: the mother of Asdis was Aldis the daughter of Ufeigh Grettir, as is aforesaid; Asdis was as yet unwedded, and was deemed the best match among women, both for her kin and her possessions; Asmund was grown weary of seafaring, and was fain to take up his abode in Iceland; so he took up the word, and wooed this woman. Thorkel knew well all his ways, that he was a rich man and of good counsel to hold his wealth; so that came about, that Asmund got Asdis to wife; he became a bosom friend of Thorkel, and a great dealer in matters of farming, cunning in the law, and far-reaching. And now a little after this Thorgrim Greypate died at Biarg, and Asmund took the heritage after him and dwelt there.
HERE BEGINS THE STORY OF THE LIFE OF GRETTIR THE STRONG
Of Grettir as a child, and his froward ways with his father.
Asmund the Greyhaired kept house at Biarg; great and proud was his household, and many men he had about him, and was a man much beloved. These were the children of him and Asdis. Atli was the eldest son; a man yielding and soft-natured, easy, and meek withal, and all men liked him well: another son they had called Grettir; he was very froward in his childhood; of few words, and rough; worrying both in word and deed. Little fondness he got from his father Asmund, but his mother loved him right well.
Grettir Asmundson was fair to look on, broad-faced, short-faced, red-haired, and much freckled; not of quick growth in his childhood.
Thordis was a daughter of Asmund, whom Glum, the son of Uspak, the son of Kiarlak of Skridinsenni, afterwards had to wife. Ranveig was another daughter of Asmund; she was the wife of Gamli, the son of Thorhal, the son of the Vendlander; they kept house at Meals in Ramfirth; their son was Grim. The son of Glum and Thordis, the daughter of Asmund, was Uspak, who quarrelled with Odd, the son of Ufeigh, as is told in the Bandamanna Saga.
Grettir grew up at Biarg till he was ten years old; then he began to get on a little; but Asmund bade him do some work; Grettir answered that work was not right meet for him, but asked what he should do.
Says Asmund, "Thou shalt watch my home-geese."
Grettir answered and said, "A mean work, a milksop's work."
Asmund said, "Turn it well out of hand, and then matters shall get better between us."
Then Grettir betook himself to watching the home-geese; fifty of them there were, with many goslings; but no long time went by before he found them a troublesome drove, and the goslings slow-paced withal. Thereat he got sore worried, for little did he keep his temper in hand. So some time after this, wayfaring men found the goslings strewn about dead, and the home-geese broken-winged; and this was in autumn. Asmund was mightily vexed hereat, and asked if Grettir had killed the fowl: he sneered mockingly, and answered—
"Surely as winter comes, shall I Twist the goslings' necks awry. If in like case are the geese, I have finished each of these."
"Thou shalt kill them no more," said Asmund.
"Well, a friend should warn a friend of ill," said Grettir.
"Another work shall be found for thee then," said Asmund.
"More one knows the more one tries," said Grettir; "and what shall I do now?"
Asmund answered, "Thou shalt rub my back at the fire, as I have been wont to have it done."
"Hot for the hand, truly," said Grettir; "but still a milksop's work."
Now Grettir went on with this work for a while; but autumn came on, and Asmund became very fain of heat, and he spurs Grettir on to rub his back briskly. Now, in those times there were wont to be large fire-halls at the homesteads, wherein men sat at long fires in the evenings; boards were set before the men there, and afterwards folk slept out sideways from the fires; there also women worked at the wool in the daytime. Now, one evening, when Grettir had to rub Asmund's back, the old carle said,—
"Now thou wilt have to put away thy sloth, thou milk-sop."
Says Grettir, "Ill is it to goad the foolhardy."
Asmund answers, "Thou wilt ever be a good-for-nought."
Now Grettir sees where, in one of the seats stood wool-combs: one of these he caught up, and let it go all down Asmund's back. He sprang up, and was mad wroth thereat; and was going to smite Grettir with his staff, but he ran off. Then came the housewife, and asked what was this to-do betwixt them. Then Grettir answered by this ditty—
"This jewel-strewer, O ground of gold, (His counsels I deem over bold), On both these hands that trouble sow, (Ah bitter pain) will burn me now;
Therefore with wool-comb's nails unshorn Somewhat ring-strewer's back is torn: The hook-clawed bird that wrought his wound,— Lo, now I see it on the ground."
Hereupon was his mother sore vexed, that he should have taken to a trick like this; she said he would never fail to be the most reckless of men. All this nowise bettered matters between Asmund and Grettir.
Now, some time after this, Asmund had a talk with Grettir, that he should watch his horses. Grettir said this was more to his mind than the back-rubbing.
"Then shalt thou do as I bid thee," said Asmund. "I have a dun mare, which I call Keingala; she is so wise as to shifts of weather, thaws, and the like, that rough weather will never fail to follow, when she will not go out on grazing. At such times thou shalt lock the horses up under cover; but keep them to grazing on the mountain neck yonder, when winter comes on. Now I shall deem it needful that thou turn this work out of hand better than the two I have set thee to already."
Grettir answered, "This is a cold work and a manly, but I deem it ill to trust in the mare, for I know none who has done it yet."
Now Grettir took to the horse-watching, and so the time went on till past Yule-time; then came on much cold weather with snow, that made grazing hard to come at. Now Grettir was ill clad, and as yet little hardened, and he began to be starved by the cold; but Keingala grazed away in the windiest place she could find, let the weather be as rough as it would. Early as she might go to the pasture, never would she go back to stable before nightfall. Now Grettir deemed that he must think of some scurvy trick or other, that Keingala might be paid in full for her way of grazing: so, one morning early, he comes to the horse-stable, opens it, and finds Keingala standing all along before the crib; for, whatever food was given to the horses with her, it was her way to get it all to herself. Grettir got on her back, and had a sharp knife in his hand, and drew it right across Keingala's shoulder, and then all along both sides of the back. Thereat the mare, being both fat and shy, gave a mad bound, and kicked so fiercely, that her hooves clattered against the wall. Grettir fell off; but, getting on his legs, strove to mount her again. Now their struggle is of the sharpest, but the end of it is, that he flays off the whole of the strip along the back to the loins. Thereafter he drove the horses out on grazing; Keingala would bite but at her back, and when noon was barely past, she started off, and ran back to the house. Grettir now locks the stable and goes home. Asmund asked Grettir where the horses were. He said that he had stabled them as he was wont. Asmund said that rough weather was like to be at hand, as the horses would not keep at their grazing in such good weather as now it was.
Grettir said, "Oft fail in wisdom folk of better trust."
Now the night goes by, but no rough weather came on. Grettir drove off the horses, but Keingala cannot bear the grazing. This seemed strange to Asmund, as the weather changed in nowise from what it had been theretofore. The third morning Asmund went to the horses, and, coming to Keingala, said,—
"I must needs deem these horses to be in sorry case, good as the winter has been, but thy sides will scarce lack flesh, my dun."
"Things boded will happen," said Grettir, "but so will things unboded."
Asmund stroked the back of the mare, and, lo, the hide came off beneath his hand; he wondered how this could have happened, and said it was likely to be Grettir's doing. Grettir sneered mockingly, but said nought. Now goodman Asmund went home talking as one mad; he went straight to the fire-hall, and as he came heard the good wife say, "It were good indeed if the horse-keeping of my kinsman had gone off well."
Then Asmund sang this stave—
"Grettir has in such wise played, That Keingala has he flayed, Whose trustiness would be my boast (Proudest women talk the most); So the cunning lad has wrought, Thinking thereby to do nought Of my biddings any more. In thy mind turn these words o'er."
The housewife answered, "I know not which is least to my mind, that thou shouldst ever be bidding him work, or that he should turn out all his work in one wise."
"That too we will make an end of," said Asmund, "but he shall fare the worse therefor."
Then Grettir said, "Well, let neither make words about it to the other."
So things went on awhile, and Asmund had Keingala killed; and many other scurvy tricks did Grettir in his childhood whereof the story says nought. But he grew great of body, though his strength was not well known, for he was unskilled in wrestling; he would make ditties and rhymes, but was somewhat scurrilous therein. He had no will to lie anight in the fire-hall and was mostly of few words.
Of the ball-play on Midfirth Water.
At this time there were many growing up to be men in Midfirth; Skald-Torfa dwelt at Torfa's-stead in those days; her son was called Bessi, he was the shapeliest of men and a good skald.
At Meal lived two brothers, Kormak and Thorgils, with them a man called Odd was fostered, and was called the Foundling-skald.
One called Audun was growing up at Audunstead in Willowdale, he was a kind and good man to deal with, and the strongest in those north parts, of all who were of an age with him. Kalf Asgeirson dwelt at Asgeir's-river, and his brother Thorvald with him. Atli also, Grettir's brother, was growing into a ripe man at that time; the gentlest of men he was, and well beloved of all. Now these men settled to have ball-play together on Midfirth Water; thither came the Midfirthers, and Willowdale men, and men from Westhope, and Waterness, and Ramfirth, but those who came from far abode at the play-stead.
Now those who were most even in strength were paired together, and thereat was always the greatest sport in autumn-tide. But when he was fourteen years old Grettir went to the plays, because he was prayed thereto by his brother Atli.
Now were all paired off for the plays, and Grettir was allotted to play against Audun, the aforenamed, who was some winters the eldest of the two; Audun struck the ball over Grettir's head, so that he could not catch it, and it bounded far away along the ice; Grettir got angry thereat, deeming that Audun would outplay him; but he fetches the ball and brings it back, and, when he was within reach of Audun, hurls it right against his forehead, and smites him so that the skin was broken; then Audun struck at Grettir with the bat he held in his hand, but smote him no hard blow, for Grettir ran in under the stroke; and thereat they seized one another with arms clasped, and wrestled. Then all saw that Grettir was stronger than he had been taken to be, for Audun was a man full of strength.
A long tug they had of it, but the end was that Grettir fell, and Audun thrust his knees against his belly and breast, and dealt hardly with him.
Then Atli and Bessi and many others ran up and parted them; but Grettir said there was no need to hold him like a mad dog, "For," said he, "thralls wreak themselves at once, dastards never."
This men suffered not to grow into open strife, for the brothers, Kalf and Thorvald, were fain that all should be at one again, and Audun and Grettir were somewhat akin withal; so the play went on as before, nor did anything else befall to bring about strife.
Of the slaying of Skeggi.
Now Thorkel Krafla got very old; he had the rule of Waterdale and was a great man. He was bosom friend of Asmund the Greyhaired, as was beseeming for the sake of their kinship; he was wont to ride to Biarg every year and see his kin there, nor did he fail herein the spring following these matters just told. Asmund and Asdis welcomed him most heartily, he was there three nights, and many things did the kinsmen speak of between them. Now Thorkel asked Asmund what his mind foreboded him about his sons, as to what kind of craft they would be likely to take to. Asmund said that he thought Atli would be a great man at farming, foreseeing, and money-making. Thorkel answered, "A useful man and like unto thyself: but what dost thou say of Grettir?"
Asmund said, "Of him I say, that he will be a strong man and an unruly, and, certes, of wrathful mood, and heavy enough he has been to me."
Thorkel answered, "That bodes no good, friend; but how shall we settle about our riding to the Thing next summer?"
Asmund answered, "I am growing heavy for wayfaring, and would fain sit at home."
"Wouldst thou that Atli go in thy stead?" said Thorkel.
"I do not see how I could spare him," says Asmund, "because of the farm-work and ingathering of household stores; but now Grettir will not work, yet he bears about that wit with him that I deem he will know how to keep up the showing forth of the law for me through thy aid."
"Well, thou shall have thy will," said Thorkel, and withal he rode home when he was ready, and Asmund let him go with good gifts.
Some time after this Thorkel made him ready to ride to the Thing, he rode with sixty men, for all went with him who were in his rule: thus he came to Biarg, and therefrom rode Grettir with him.
Now they rode south over the heath that is called Two-days'-ride; but on this mountain the baiting grounds were poor, therefore they rode fast across it down to the settled lands, and when they came down to Fleet-tongue they thought it was time to sleep, so they took the bridles off their horses and let them graze with the saddles on. They lay sleeping till far on in the day, and when they woke, the men went about looking for their horses; but they had gone each his own way, and some of them had been rolling; but Grettir was the last to find his horse.
Now it was the wont in those days that men should carry their own victuals when they rode to the Althing, and most bore meal-bags athwart their saddles; and the saddle was turned under the belly of Grettir's horse, and the meal-bag was gone, so he goes and searches, and finds nought.
Just then he sees a man running fast, Grettir asks who it is who is running there; the man answered that his name was Skeggi, and that he was a house-carle from the Ridge in Waterdale. "I am one of the following of goodman Thorkel," he says, "but, faring heedlessly, I have lost my meal-bag."
Grettir said, "Odd haps are worst haps, for I, also, have lost the meal-sack which I owned, and now let us search both together."
This Skeggi liked well, and a while they go thus together; but all of a sudden Skeggi bounded off up along the moors and caught up a meal-sack. Grettir saw him stoop, and asked what he took up there.
"My meal-sack," says Skeggi.
"Who speaks to that besides thyself?" says Grettir; "let me see it, for many a thing has its like."
Skeggi said that no man should take from him what was his own; but Grettir caught at the meal-bag, and now they tug one another along with the meal-sack between them, both trying hard to get the best of it.
"It is to be wondered at," says the house-carle, "that ye Waterdale men should deem, that because other men are not as wealthy as ye, that they should not therefore dare to hold aught of their own in your despite."
Grettir said, that it had nought to do with the worth of men that each should have his own.
Skeggi answers, "Too far off is Audun now to throttle thee as at that ball-play."
"Good," said Grettir; "but, howsoever that went, thou at least shall never throttle me."
Then Skeggi got at his axe and hewed at Grettir; when Grettir saw that, he caught the axe-handle with the left hand bladeward of Skeggi's hand, so hard that straightway was the axe loosed from his hold. Then Grettir drave that same axe into his head so that it stood in the brain, and the house-carle fell dead to earth. Then Grettir seized the meal-bag and threw it across his saddle, and thereon rode after his fellows.