GRETTIR THE OUTLAW:
A STORY OF ICELAND.
THORKELL AND THE OUTLAWED GRETTIR LEAVE THE ASSIZE.
GRETTIR THE OUTLAW:
A STORY OF ICELAND.
Author of "John Herring;" Mehalah;" "Iceland: its Scenes and Sagas;"
"Germany, Past and Preseit;' &c.
WITH TEN PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY M. ZENO DIEMER,
AND A COLOURED MAP.
BLACKIE & SON, 49 & 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.
GLASGOW, EDINBURGH, AND DUBLIN.
TO MY YOUNG READERS.
It is now just thirty years since I first began to read the
"Saga of Grettir the Strong" in Icelandic. At that time I
had only a Danish grammar of Icelandic and an Icelandic-
Danish dictionary, and I did not know a word of Danish. So
I had to learn Danish in order to learn Icelandic.
It was laborious work making out the Saga, and every line
when I began took me some time to understand. Moreover,
I had not much time at my disposal, for then I was a master
in a school.
Now, after I had worked a little way into the Saga, I be-
came intensely interested in it myself, and it struck me that
my boys whom I taught might like to hear about Grettir. So
I tried every day to translate, after school hours, a chapter,
hardly ever more at first, and sometimes not even as much
as that. Then, when on half-holidays I proposed a walk
to some of my scholars, they were keen to hear the story
of Grettir. Well, Grettir went on for some months in this
way, a fresh instalment of the tale coming every half-holiday,
and it was really wonderful how interested and delighted the
boys were with the story. Nor was I less so; the labour of
translation which was so great at first became rapidly lighter,
and I was as much interested in the adventures of the hero as
were the boys. The other day I met an old pupil of mine,
and almost the first thing he said to me was: "Oh! do you
remember Grettir q Thirty years ago! Fancy! I am a mar-
ried man and have boys of my own, and I have often tried to
tell them the story which made such an impression on me, but
I cannot remember all the incidents nor their order. I do
wish you would write it as a story for boys. I should like to
read it myself again, and my boys would love it." "Very
well," I said, "I will do so."
Now my boy readers must understand that I have told them
the story in my own words and in my own way. I went to
Iceland in 1861, and went over nearly every bit of the ground
made famous by the adventures of Grettir. Consequently, I
am able to help out and illustrate the tale by what I actually
saw. In the original book there is a great deal more than I
have attempted to retell, but much has to do with the ances-
tors of Grettir, and there are other incidents introduced of no
great importance and very confusing to the memory. So I
have taken the leading points in the story, and given them.
I. WINTER TALES, . . . 11
II. How GRETTIR PLAYED ON THE ICE, . . 23
III. OF THE RIDE TO THINGVALLA, .. .. . 27
IV. THE DOOM-DAY, . . ...... 88
V. THE VOYAGE, ....... ..... .41
VI. THE RED ROVERS, .. . . 48
VII. THE STORY OF THE SWORD, .. . 71
VIII. O THE BEAR, ............... 82
IX. THE SLAYING OF BORN, .. . . .. 93
X. OF GRETTIR'S RETUBN,. . . .. 99
XI. THE HORSE-FIGHT, . . .. .109
XII. OF THE FIGHT AT THE NECK, ... . 113
XIII. How GRETTIR AND AUDUN MADE FRIENDS, ... .. .118
XIV. THE VALE OF SHADOWS, .. . . .. .125
XV. How GRETTIB FOUGHT WITH GLAM, . . 139
XVI. How GRETTIR SAILED TO NORWAY, . .. 149
XVII. THE HOSTEL-BURNING,. .. . . 154
XVIII. THE ORDEAL BY IRE, . . .. .160
XIX. THE WINTER IN NORWAY, . . 166
XX. OF WHAT BEFELL AT BIARG, . . .. .177
XXI. THE RETURN OF GRETTI, .... . .. 185
XXII. THE SLAYING OF OMAIN, . . .. 189
XXIII. AT LEARWOOD, . . 196
XXIV. THE FOSTER-BROTHERS, . . .. 222
XXV. HOW. GRETTIR WAS WELL NIGH HUNG, ... 232
XXVI. IN THE DESERT,.. . . .242
XXVII. ON THE GREAT EAGLE LAKE, ... .. .... 250
XXVIII. ON THE FELL,.. ... . . 265
XXIX. THE FIGHT ON THE RIVER, .. ..... 272
XXX. A MYSTERIOUS VALE, .. ... .280
XXXI. THE DEATH OF HALLMUND, . ... 286
XXXII. OF ANOTHER ATTEMPT AGAINST GRETTIR, .
XXXIII. AT SANDHEAPS, . .
XXXIV. How GRETTIR WAS DRIVEN ABOUT, . .
XXXV. ON THE ISLE, . . .
XXXVI. OF GRETTIR ON HERON-NESS, . .
XXXVII. OF HI nING'S LEAP, . . .
XXXVIII. OF THE ATTEMPT MADE BY GRETTIR'S FRIENDS, .
XXXIX. OF THE OLD HAG, . . .
XL. How THE LOG CAME TO DRANGEY, . .
XLI. THE END OF THE OUTLAW, . .
XLII. How ASDTS RECEIVED THE NEWS, . .
XLIII. How DROMUND KEPT HIS WORD . .
EPILOGUE, . . . .
THORKELL AND THE OUTLAWED GRETTIR LEAVE THE ASSIZE, Fronts. 40
GRETTIR REMOVES THE SWORD OF KARR THE OLD, ..... .76
GRETTIR CHALLENGES KORNMAK AND HIS PARTY, . 116
GRETTIR AND AUDUN TALK OVER OLD TALES, . .. 122
GRETTIR SEES A TALL DARK FIGURE STANDING IN THE DOORWAY, 143
GRETTIR DEFENDS HInMSELF TROM THE MOB, . .. 165
GRETTIR ATTACKED IN THE RIFT BY THORIR'S PARTY, ... 261
FORDING THE QUIVERING FLOOD, . . 297
GRETTIR DISCOVERED BY THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER, .. ... .339
ILLUGI DEFENDS THE DYING GRETTIR, . . 368
PEDIGREE OF THE FAMILY OF ASMUND OF BIARG.
Ufeig Clubfoot = a Woman of the
of Rogaland Uplands.
1st wife, ASA, = Onund Treefoot = 2d wife, THORDIS, = 2d husband, AUDUN SKOKULL. GUDBIORG
da. of came to Iceland da. of Thorgrim. I (the
UFEIG GRETTIR and settled at mother).
the Elder. Coldback about
900; d. about 920.
THORGEIR UFEIG GRETTIR, Thorgrim = THORDI, ASGEIR MADPATE GUDBRAND
BOTTLEBACK killed in the Grizzlepate, da. of the Elder (the Ball).
of Coldback, fight about the bought Biarg Asmund. of Willowdale.
eldest son. whale, circ. 922. about A.D. 935.
1st wife, RANVEIG = Asmund the Grey- = 2d wife, ASDIS, THORKELL = THURID. AUDUN ASTA (the
-of Tunsberg in headed of Biarg, da. of Bard. KUGG ofWillow- mother).
Norway, d. circ. 988. t1015. dale.
THORSTEIN ATLI, Grettir ILLUGI, THORDIS, RANNVEIG, THORSTEIN ASGEIR KING OLAF
DROMUND killed by the Outlaw, killed married married KUGGSON MADPATE the Saint,
of Tunsberg Oxmain, b. circ. 997, with to Glum to Gamli of of the Younger of Norway
in Norway, A.D. 1016. killed byThor- Grettir, of Eyre. Melar. Learwood, of Willow-
who avenged biorn Hook, A.D. 1026. dale.
Grettir in Con- A.D. 1031. 1031.
A.D. 1033. the Younger
GRETTIR THE OUTLAW.
T was night-drawing on to midnight-in
summer, that I who write this book ar-
rived at the little lonely farm of Biarg,
on the Middle River, in the north of Iceland.
It was night, near on midnight, and yet I could
hardly call it night, for the sky overhead was
full of light of the clearest amethyst, and every
stock and stone was distinctly visible. Across the
valley rose a rugged moor, and above its shoulder a
snow-clad mountain, turned to rosy gold by the
night sun. As I stood there watching the mist form
on the cold river in the vale below, all at once I
heard a strange sound like horns blowing far away
12 The Birthplace of Grettir.
in the sky, and looking up, I saw a train of swans
flying from west to east, bathed in sunlight, their.
wings of silver, and their feathers as gold.
I had come all the way from England to see Biarg,
for there was born, about the year A.D. 997, a man
called Grettir, whose history I had read, and which
interested me so much that I was resolved to see
his native home, and the principal scenes where his
stormy life was passed.
The landscape was the same as that on which
Grettir's childish eyes had looked more than eight
hundred and fifty years ago. The same outline of
dreary moor, the same snowy ridge of mountain
standing above it, catching the midnight summer
sun, the same mist forming over the river; but the
house was altogether different. Now there stood
only a poor heap of farm-buildings, erected of turf
and wood, where had once been a noble hall of
wood, with carved gable-ends, surrounded by many
Before we begin on the story of Grettir, it will be
well to say a few words about its claim to be history.
The Peopling of Iceland. 13
Iceland never was, and it is not now, a much-
peopled island. The farmhouses are for the most part
far apart, and the farms are of very considerable ex-
tent, because, owing to the severity of the climate,
very little pasturage is obtained over a wide extent
of country for the sheep and cattle. The population
lives round the coast, on the fiords or creeks of the
sea, or on the rivers that flow into these fiords.
The centre of the island is occupied by a vast waste
of ice-covered mountain, and desert black as ink
strewn with volcanic ash and sand, or else with a
region of erupted lava that is impassable, because
in cooling it has exploded, and forms a country of
bristling spikes and gulfs and sharp edges, very
much like the wreck of a huge ginger-beer bottle
What are now farmhouses were the halls and
mansions of families of noble descent. Indeed, the
original settlers in Iceland were the nobles of Nor-
way who left their native land to avoid the tyranny
of Harold Fairhair, who tried to crush their power
so as to make himself a despotic king in the land.
A History of Quarrels.
These Norse nobles came in their boats to Iceland,
bringing with them their wives, children, their
thralls or slaves, and their cattle; and they settled
all round the coast. The present Icelanders are
descended from these first colonists.
Now, the history of Iceland for a few hundred
years consists of nothing but the history of the
quarrels of these great families. Iceland was with-
out any political organization, but it had an elected
lawman or judge, and every year the heads of the
families rode to Thingvalla, a plain in the south-
west, where they brought their complaints, carried on
their lawsuits, and had them settled by the judge.
There was no army, no navy, no government in
Iceland for a long time; also no foreign wars, and
no internal revolutions.
These noble families settled in the valleys and upon
the fiords thought a good deal of themselves, and
they carefully preserved, at first orally then in
writing, the record of their pedigrees, and also the
tradition of the famous deeds of their great men.
In summer there is no night; in winter, no day.
Stories Round the Hearth.
In winter there is little or nothing to be done but
sit over the fire, sing songs, and tell yarns. Now,
in winter the Icelanders told the tales of the brave
men of old in their families, and so the tradition
was handed on from father to son, the same stories
told every winter, till all the particulars became
well known. At the same time there can be no
doubt that little embellishments were added, some
exaggerations were indulged in, and here and there
the grand deed of some other man was grafted into
the story of the family hero. About two hundred
or two hundred and fifty years after the death of
Grettir, his history was committed to writing, and
then it became fixed-nothing further was added to
it, and we have his story after having travelled
down over two hundred years as a tradition. That
was plenty of time for additions and emendations,
and the hobgoblin and ghost stories that come into
his life are some of these embellishments. But the
main facts of his life are true history. We are able
to decide this by comparing his story with those of
other families in the same part of the island, and to
see whether they agree as to dates, and as to the
circumstances narrated in them.
In the north-west of Iceland is an immense bay
called the Huna-floi, which branches off into several
creeks, the largest of which is called the Ramsfirth,
and the next to that is the Middlefiord. Into this
flows a river that has its rise in the central desert, in
a perfect tangle of lakes. Three rivers issuing from
these lakes unite just above Biarg, and pour their
waters a short morning's ride lower through sands
into the Middlefirth.
The valley is not cheerful, running from north to
south. Biarg lies on the east side, and faces the
western sun. The moor which lies behind it, and
forms the hill on the other side of the river, is not
broken and picturesque, and if it were not for the
peak of Burfell, covered with snow a good part of
the year, the view from Biarg would be.as uninter-
esting as any to be found in the land. But then,
when one rides down to the coast, or ascends the
moor, what a splendid view bursts on the sight!
The great Polar Sea is before one, intensely blue,
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The Great Blue Bay.
not with the deep ultramarine of the Mediterranean,
but with the blue of the nemophyla or forget-me-
not, rolling in from the mysterious North; and
across the mighty bay of the Huna-floi can be seen
the snowy mountains of that extraordinary peninsula
which runs out to the north-west of Iceland, and is
only just not converted into an island because con-
nected with Iceland by a narrow strip of land. That
great projection is like a hand with fiords between
the fingers .of land, and glacier-mountains where are
the knuckles; but the wrist is very narrow indeed,
only about one English mile across, and there lies a
trough along this junction, with a little stream and a
lake in it. Now, at this wrist, as we may call it, lies
the farm of Eyre, where, somewhat later, lived the
sister of Grettir, who married a man that farmed
there, named Glum.
Looking away across the great blue bay, the
mountains of the hand may be seen rising out of the
sea, and looking like icebergs.
Grettir the Strong was the son of a well-to-do
bonder, or yeoman, who lived at Biarg, and was
The Boy Grettir.
descended from some of the great nobles of Norway.
His father's name was Asmund with the Greyhead,
and his mother's name was Asdis.
He had a brother called Atli, a gentle, kindly
young fellow, who never wittingly quarrelled with
anyone, and was liked by all with whom he had to
do. He had also two sisters one was called
Thordis, and she was married to Glum of Eyre-but
neither come into the story; and he had another
sister called Rannveig, who was married to Gamli of
Melar, at the head of Ramsfirth. He had also a
little brother called Illugi, of whom more hereafter.
Grettir was not a good-looking boy; he had red-
dish hair, a pale face full of freckles, and light blue
eyes. He was broad-built, not tall as a boy, though
in the end he grew to be a very big man.
He was not considered a good-tempered or soci-
able boy. He seemed lazy and sullen; he liked to
sit by the fire without speaking to anyone, listening
to what was said, and brooding over what he had
If his father set him a task, he did it so unwill-
The Saga of Onund Treefoot. 19
ingly, and so badly that Asmund Greyhead regretted
having set him to do anything.
Now, during the winter, as we have already seen,
when there is but a very little daylight, and the
nights are vastly long, when, moreover, the whole
land is deep in snow, so that there is no farm-work
that can be done, and no travelling about to visit
neighbours, it was, and is still, usual in Iceland for
those in the house to tell tales, or sagas, as they
are called. Some of these sagas relate to the old
gods of the Norsemen, some are fabulous stories of
old heroes who never existed, or, if they did exist,
have had all sorts of fantastic legends tacked on to
their histories; but other sagas are the tales of the
doings of ancestors of the family.
Now, among the sagas that Grettir used to hearken
to with greatest delight was that of old Onund
Treefoot, his great-grandfather, who first settled in
Iceland. And this was the tale:
Onund, the son of Ufeigh Clubfoot, son of Ivar
the Smiter, was a mighty Viking in Norway; that is,
20 The Northern Pirates.
he went about every summer harrying the coasts of
England, Ireland, and Scotland. He joined with
three friends, and they had five ships together, and
one summer they sailed to the Hebrides-which
were then called the Sudereys, or southern isles.
The Bishop of the Isle of Man is still called Bishop
of Sodor and Man, because his diocese originally in-
cluded the Sudereys. Then out against them came
Kiarval, king of the Hebrides, with five ships, and
they gave him battle, and there was a hard fray.
But the men of Onund were the mightiest warriors.
On each side many fell, but the end of the battle
was that the king fled with only one ship. So
Onund took the four vessels and great spoil, and he
wrought great havoc on the coast, plundering and
burning, and so in the fall of the year returned to
Norway. In the history of England, and in that of
Scotland and of Ireland, we read of the terrible an-
noyance given to the natives of Great Britain and
Ireland by the northern pirates; and, indeed, they
conquered Dublin, and established a kingdom there,
and also took to themselves Orkney. Well, when
The Fight with King Harald.
Onund returned to Norway he did not find that
matters were pleasant there; for King Harald the
Unshorn had begun to establish himself sole king in
Norway. Hitherto there had been many small
kings and earls; but Harald had taken an oath
that he would not cut or trim his hair till he had
subdued all under his power, and made himself
supreme throughout the land.
A great many bonders and all the little kings
united against him, and there was a great battle
fought at Hafrsfiord-the greatest battle that had
as yet been fought in Norway. Onund was in the
battle along with his friend, King Thorir Longchin,
and he set his ship alongside of that of King Long-
chin. King Harald ran his ship up alongside of that
of Longchin, grappled it, and boarded it. There was a
furious fight, and Harald sent on board his Bearsarks,
a set of half-mad ruffians, who wore not bear but
wolf skins, and who were said to lead charmed lives,
so' that no weapon would wound them. Thorir
Longchin and all his men were killed; and then
King Harald cut away the ship and ran up against
that of Onund. Onund was in the fore part, and
he fought manfully. As the grappling-irons of
Harald caught his ship, Onund made a sweep with
his longsword at the man who threw the irons, and
in so doing he put his leg over the bulwark. Then
one on the king's ship threw a spear at Onund.
He saw it flung, and leaned his head back to let it
fly over him, and as he did so one on the king's
ship smote at him with a battle-axe, and the axe
fell on his leg below the knee and shore his leg off.
Then Onund fell back on board his own vessel, and
his men carried him across into that of a friend
named Thrand, who lay alongside of him on the
other board. And Thrand had a great cauldron
there of pitch boiled, and Onund set his knee in the
boiling pitch, and never blinked nor uttered a cry.
That staunched the blood. If he had not done this
he would have bled to death.
Now, Thrand saw that King Harald was gaining
the mastery everywhere, so he fled away with his
ship and sailed west.
Onund was healed of his wound, but ever after
After the Battle. 23
he walked with a wooden leg, and that is why he
got the name of Onund Treefoot.
After the battle of Hafrsfiord, Onund could only
return to Norway by stealth, and he could not
recover his lands there, so he deemed it wisest for
him to sail away and seek a home elsewhere. That
is how he left Norway and settled in Iceland.
And when King Harald saw himself lord and
master through all the land, then he had his hair
trimmed and combed, and it was so long and so
beautiful, that ever after he who had been called
"The Unshorn" went by the name of "Fairhair,"
and in history he is known as King Harald Fair-
HOW GRETTIR PLAYED ON THE ICE.
THERE are several tales told of Grettir when he
was a boy, which show that he was a rough
and unkindly lad. He was set by his father to keep
geese on the moors, and this made him angry, so he
An Evil Boyhood.
threw stones at the geese and killed or wounded
The old man suffered from lumbago, and in winter
when unwell asked his wife and the boys to rub his
back by the fire; but when Grettir was required to
do this, he lost his temper, and on one occasion he
snatched up a wool-carding comb and dug it into
his old father's back.
Many other things he did which made those at
home not like him, and there was not much love
lost between him and his father. The fact was that
Grettir was a headstrong, wilful fellow, and bitterly
had he to pay in after life for this youthful wilful-
ness and obstinacy. It was these qualities, untamed
in him, that wrecked his whole life, and it may be
said brought ruin and extinction on his family.
There were great and good qualities in Grettir's
nature, but they did not show when he was young;
only much suffering and cruel privations brought
out in the end the higher and nobler elements that
were in him.
It is so with all who have any good in them, if
Golf on the Ice. 25
by early discipline it is not manifested, then it is
brought out by the rough usage of misfortune in
And now I will give one incident of Grettir's
boyhood. It was a favourite amusement for young
fellows at that time to play golf on the ice, and in
winter, when the Middlefirth was frozen over, large
parties assembled there for the sport.
One winter a party was arranged for a match on
the ice, and a good many lads came to Middlefirth
from Willowdale, a valley only separated from the
Middlefirth by a long shoulder of ugly moor. The
Willowdales-men had a much better sheet of water,
a very large lake called Hop, into which their river
flowed, before discharging itself into the sea; and
the return match was to be played on Hop.
Among the young fellows who came from Willow-
dale was Audun, a fine, strapping fellow; frank,
well-built, good-looking, and amiable.
When the parties were assembled at the place,
there they were paired off according to age and
strength; and on this occasion I am speaking of,
Grettir Quarrels with Audz n.
Grettir, who was fourteen, was set to play with
Audun, who was two years older than he, and a
Audun struck the ball and it flew over Grettir's
head, and he missed it, and it went skimming away
over the ice to a great distance, and Grettir had to
run after it. Some of those who were looking on
laughed. Then Grettir's anger was roused. He got
the ball and came back carrying it, till he was with-
in a few yards of Audun, and then, instead of drop-
ping the ball, and striking it with his golfing-stick,
he suddenly threw it with all his force against his
adversary, and struck him between his eyes, so that
it half-stunned him, and cut the skin. Audun
whirled his golfing-bat round, and struck at Grettir,
who dodged under and escaped the blow. Then
Audun and Grettir grappled each other, and wrestled
on the ice.
Every one thought that Audun would have the
stumpy, thick-set boy down in a trice, but it was
not so; Grettir held his ground;-they swung this
way, that way; now one seemed about to be cast,
A Threat of Vengeance. 27
and then the other, and although Audun was almost
come to a man's strength, he could not for a long
time throw Grettir. At last Grettir slipped on a
piece of ice where some had been sliding, and went
down. His blood was up, so was that of Audun; and
the fight would have been continued with their sticks,
had not Grettir's brother Atli thrown himself be-
tween the combatants and separated them. Atli held
his brother back, and tried to patch up the quarrel.
You need not hold me like a mad dog," said
Grettir. "Thralls wreak their vengeance at once,
Audun and Grettir were distant cousins. They
were not allowed to play against each other any
more, and the rest went on with their game.
OF THE RIDE TO THINGVALLA.
THERE lived in Waterdale, a day's journey from
Biarg, an old bonder, named Thorkel Krafla.
He was the first Icelander who became a Christian.
28 Thorkel Mani's Find.
In heathen times, among the Northmen as among
the Romans, it was allowable for parents to expose
their children to death, if they did not want to have
the trouble of rearing them. Now Thorkel had
been so exposed, with a napkin over his face. It so
happened that a great chief called Thorkel Mani
was riding along one day, thinking about the gods
that he had been taught to believe in, who drank
and got drunk, and fought each other, and, being a
grave, meditative man, he could not make out what
these rollicking, fighting gods could have had to do
with the world,-with the creation of sun, moon,
and stars, and the earth with its yield. He thought
to himself, There must be some God above these
tipsy, quarrelsome deities; and this higher God
must love men, and be good and kind to men."
As he thought this, he heard a little whimpering
noise from behind a stone; he got off his horse, and
went to see what produced this noise, and found
there a poor little baby, that with its tiny hands
had rumpled up the kerchief which had been spread
over its nose and mouth. Thorkel Mani took up
the deserted babe in his arms, and looking up to
heaven, to the sun, said, "If the good God, who is
high over all, called this little being into life, gave
it eyes and mouth and ears and hands and feet, He
surely never intended His handiwork to be cast out
as a thing of no value, to die. For the love of Him
I will take this child"
Then Thorkel Mani rode home, carrying the baby
in his arms; and he called it by his own name,
Thorkel; but to distinguish it from himself, it was
given the nickname Krafla, which means to rumple,
because the babe had rumpled up the kerchief, so
as to let its cries be heard. So the child grew up,
and kept the name through life of Thorkel Rumple.
This Thorkel became a very great man, and
Godi, or magistrate, of the Waterdale; and, as I
have said, he was the first man to become a
Christian, when missionaries of the gospel came to
Very soon after Grettir's birth Christianity be-
came general, and in the year 1000 was sanctioned by
law; but there were few Christian priests in the land,
30 The Halt at Biarg.
so that the knowledge of the truth had not spread
much, and taken hold and transformed men's lives.
Thorkel Rumple was now very old. He was the
bosom friend of Asmund, and every year when in
the spring he rode to the great assizes at Thingvalla,
he always halted at least one night at Biarg. Not
only were Asmund and he men of like minds, and
friends, but they were also connected. In the spring
of the year 1011, Thorkel arrived as usual at Biarg,
attended by a great many men, and he was most
warmly received by Asmund and his wife. He
remained with them three nights, and he and
they fell a-talking about the prospects of the two
young men, Atli and Grettir. Asmund told his
kinsman that Atli was a quiet, amiable fellow,
now at man's estate, and likely to prove a good
farmer; a man who would worthily succeed him at
Biarg when he died, and keep the honour of the
family untarnished, and would enlarge the estate.
"Ah! I see," said Thorkel. "A useful man, good
and respectable, like yourself. But what about
A Bad Prospect.
Asmund hesitated a moment before answering;
but presently he said, "I hardly know what to say
of him. He is unruly, sullen, makes no friends, and
he has been a constant cause of vexation to me."
Thorkel answered, "That is a bad prospect; how-
ever, let him come with me to Thingvalla, and I
shall be able to see on the journey of what stuff he
To this Asmund agreed; and right glad was
Grettir to think he was to go to the great law-
Thorkel had sixty men with him, and he rode in
some state; for, as already said, he was a great man.
The way led over the great desolate waste, called
the Two-days-ride; but as on this expanse there were
few halting-places, the grass most scanty, and not
sufficient to allow of a stay, the party rode across it
down to the settled lands nearer the coast as quickly
as they could, and reached Fleet-tongue in time to
sleep; so they took the bridles off their horses, and
let them graze with their saddles on. Their road
had lain among the lakes, from which issued the
Among the Lakes.
rivers that united above Biarg. In each lake floated
a pair of swans. Often they heard the loud hoarse
cry of the great northern diver; but there was
hardly any grass, for the moor lies high, is swept
by the icy blasts from the glacier mountains to the
south, and is made up of black sand. Before them
all day had stood towering into the sky the Eyreks-
jakull, a mountain with perfectly precipitous sides of
black basalt, domed over with glittering ice. It re-
sembles an immense bridecake. At one place this
mountain in former times had gaped, and poured
forth a fiery stream of lava that ran to the lakes,
and for a while converted them to steam. One can
still see whence this great fiery river issued from
the mountain. Little did Grettir think then as he
passed under it, a boy of fourteen, that, for the three
most lonely, wretched years of his life, that great
glacier-crowned mountain was to be the one object
on which his eye would rest.
The men were all very tired after their long ride,
and they slept till late next morning, lying about
on the scant herbage, around a fire made of the roots
The Lost Meal-bags. 33
of trailing willows that they had dug out of the
When they awoke many of the horses had strayed,
and some had rolled in the sand, burst their girths
and shaken off their saddles. But they could not
have gone any great distance, for they were all
hobbled. In Iceland thick woollen ropes are put
round the legs of the horses, below the hocks, and
twisted together into a knot with a knuckle-bone.
This serves as a secure hobble, and the wool being
soft does not gall the skin.
It was customary in those days for every one to
take his own provisions with him, and most of those
who went to the great assize carried meal-bags
athwart their saddles. Grettir found his horse at
last, but not his meal-bag, which had come off, and
was lost; for the saddle was turned under the belly
of his cob.
The horses could not have strayed far, not only
because they were hobbled, but also because the
Tongue where they had been turned loose was a
narrow strip of land between two rivers; but then
the slope was considerable in places, and the meal-
bag might have rolled down into the water.
As Grettir was running about hunting for his bag,
he saw another man in the same predicament. What
is more, he saw that the rest of the party, impatient
to get on their way, would tarry no longer for them,
and were defiling down the hill to cross the river.
Grettir was in great distress. Just then he saw
the man run very directly in one course, and at the
same moment Grettir saw something white lying
under a mass of lava. It was towards this that the
fellow was running. Grettir ran towards it also. It
was a meal-sack. The man reached it first, and
threw it over his shoulder.
"What have you got there?" asked Grettir, coming
My meal-sack," answered the fellow.
Let me look at it," said Grettir. "It may be
mine, not yours. Let me look before you appro-
This the man refused to do.
Grettir's suspicion was confirmed, and he made a
The Slaying of Sleggi. 35
catch at the sack, and tried to drag it away from
"Oh, yes!" sneered the man-who was a servant
at a farm called The Ridge, in Waterdale, and his
name Skeggi,-" Oh, yes! you Middlefirthers think
you will have everything your own way."
"That is not it," answered Grettir. Let each
man take his own. If the sack be yours, keep it;
if mine, I will have it."
"It is a pity Audun is not here," scoffed the
serving-man, "or he would trip up your heels and
throttle you, as he did on the ice when golfing."
But as he is not here," retorted Grettir, "you
are not like to get the better of me."
Skeggi suddenly took his axe by the haft and
hewed at Grettir's head. Grettir saw what he was
at, and instantly put up his left hand and caught
the handle below where Skeggi's hand held it;
wrenched it out of his grasp, and struck him with
it, so that his skull was cleft. The thing was done
in a moment, and Grettir had done it in self-preser-
vation and without premeditation. He was but a
The Song of the Battle-ogress.
boy of fourteen, and this was a full-grown stout
Grettir at once seized the meal-bag, saw it was
his own, and threw it across his saddle. Then he
rode after the company. Thorkel Krafla rode at the
head of his party, and he had no misgiving that
anything untoward had taken place.
But, when Grettir came riding up with his meal-
bag, the men asked him if he had left Skeggi still
in search of his. Grettir answered in song:
"A rock Troll did her burden throw
Down on Skeggi's skull, I trow.
O'er the battle-ogress saw I flow
Ruby rivers all aglow.
She her iron mouth a-gape
Did the life of Skeggi take."
This sounds like nonsense; to understand it one
must have a notion of what constituted poetry in
the minds of Icelanders and Northmen. With them
the charm of poetry consisted in never calling any-
thing by its right name, but using instead of it some
far-fetched similitude or periphrasis. Thus-the
Grettir Chooses to take his Trial.
burden of the rock Troll is iron. The Troll is the
spirit of the mountain, and the heaviest thing found
in the mountain is iron. The battle-ogress is the
axe which bites in battle. The verses that the Norse
poets sang were a series of conundrums, and the
hearers puzzled their brains to make out the sense.
This time they soon understood what Grettir meant,
and the men turned and went back to the Tongue,
and there found Skeggi dead.
Grettir went on to Thorkel, and in few words,
and to the point, told how things had fallen out.
He was not the aggressor. He had merely defended
Thorkel was much troubled, and he told Grettir
that he might either come on to the assize or go
home; that this act of man-slaughter would be in-
vestigated at the law-gathering, and judgment given
Grettir agreed to go on, and see how matters
would turn out for him.
38 The Lava Plain.
HAT evening they arrived at Thingvalla.
The great plain of Thingvalla is entirely com-
posed of lava. At some remote period before Iceland
was colonized a beautiful snowy cone of mountain,
called "The Broad Shield," poured forth a deluge
of molten rock, which ran in a fiery river down a
valley for some miles, half-choking it up, and then
spread out over a wide plain where anciently there
had been a great lake. Then all cooled, but after
the cooling, or whilst it was in process, there came
a great crack, crack. The great mass of lava must
have been poured over some subterranean caverns;
at any rate the whole plain snapped and sank down
a good many feet, the lava becoming cracked and
starred like glass. Nowadays, one cannot cross the
plain because it is all traversed with these fearful
cracks, chasms the bottom of which is filled with
black water. Where the plain sank deepest there
The Law of Man-slaughter. 39
water settled and formed the beautiful Thingvalla
At the side of one of the cracks where the plain
broke off and sank is a very curious pinnacle of
black rock, and this was called the Hanging Rock,
as criminals were hung from it over the chasm.
In one place two of the cracks unite, and there is
a high mound of blistered lava covered with turf
and flowers between them. That is called the Law
Hill, because the judge and his assessors sat there,
and no one could get to them, nor could the accused
get away across the chasms.
Now it was the law at this time in Iceland that
when any man had been killed his nearest relatives
came to the assize, and the slayer appeared by
proxy and offered blood-money-that is to say, to
pay a fine to the relations, and so patch up the
quarrel. But if they refused the money then they
were at liberty to pursue and kill him. There were
no police then. If the relations wanted to have
the criminal punished they must punish him them-
40 Grettir's Sentence.
Upon this occasion the case was discussed in
the court on the finger of rock between the two
chasms, the people standing on the further sides of
these gulfs, listening, but unable to come a step
nearer; and Thorkel appeared for Grettir and offered
to pay the blood-money. The relations of the dead
Skeggi, after a little fuss, agreed to accept a certain
sum, and Thorkel at once paid it. But the court
ordered that, as Grettir had acted with undue vio-
lence, and as there was no evidence except his word
that Skeggi had made the first attack, he should be
outlawed, and leave Iceland for three winters. If
he set his foot in Iceland till three winters had
passed, his life was forfeit. He was allowed a mode-
rate and reasonable time for finding a ship that
would take him out of the country.
When the assize was over all rode home, and the
way that Thorkel and Grettir went was up the
valley that had been half-choked with the lava that
rolled down from Broad Shield. They came to a
small grassy plain with a gently-sloping hill rising
out of it, a place where games took place, the women
The Grettir Stone.
sitting up the slope and watching the men below.
Here Grettir is said to have heaved an enormous
stone. The stone is still shown, and I have seen it.
I also know that Grettir never lifted it; for it has
clearly been brought there by a glacier. But this
is an instance of the way in which stories get mag-
nified in telling. No doubt that Grettir did "put"
there some big stone, and as it happened that at this
spot there was a great rock standing by itself balanced
on one point, in after days folks concluded that this
must have been the stone thrown by Grettir.
G RETTIR, then, was doomed by the court to leave
his native land whilst only a boy, and remain
in banishment for three years-that is to say, till
he was eighteen. He was not over sorry for this,
as he was tired of being at home, and he wanted to
see the world.
42 Preparations for a Voyage.
There was a man called Haflid who had a ship in
which he intended to sail that autumn to Norway,
and Asmund sent to him to ask him to take Grettir
out with him.
Haflid answered that he had not heard a good
account of the boy, and did not particularly wish
to have him in his boat; but he would stretch a
point, because of the regard he had for old Asmund,
and he would take him.
Grettir got ready to start; but Asmund would
not give him much wherewith to trade when abroad,
except some rolls of home-made wadmall, a coarse
felty cloth, and a stock of victuals for his voyage.
Grettir asked his father to give him some weapon;
but the old man answered that he did not trust him
with swords and axes, he might put them to a bad
use, and it would be better he went without till he
had learned to control his temper and keep a check
on his hand.
So Grettir parted from his father without much
love on either side; and it was noticed when he
left home that, though there were plenty of folks
His Grandfather's Sword.
ready to bid him farewell, hardly anyone said that
he hoped to see him come home again-a certain
token that he was not liked by those who had seen
most of him. But indeed he had taken no pains to
oblige anyone and obtain the regard and love of
His mother was an exception. She went along
the road down the valley with him, wearing a long
cloak; and when they were alone, at some distance
from the house, she halted and drew out a sword
from under her cloak, and handing it to Grettir,
said: "This sword belonged to grandfather, and
many a hard fight has it been in, and much good
work has it done. I give it to you, and hope it
may stand you in good stead."
Grettir was highly pleased, and told his mother
that he would rather have the sword than anything
else that could be given him.
Haflid received Grettir in a friendly manner, and
he went at once on board; the ship's anchor was
heaved, and forth they went to sea.
Now, directly Grettir got on board he looked
A Bitter Jester.
about for a place where he could be comfortable,
and chose to make a berth for himself under a boat
that was slung on deck; then he put up his wadmall,
making a sort of felt lining or wall round against
the wind and spray, leaving open only the side in-
wards, and inside he piled his provisions and what-
ever he had; then he lay down there and did not
stir from his snuggery. Now, it was the custom in
those days for every man who went in a ship to
help in the navigation; but Grettir would not only
do nothing, but from his den he shouted or sang
lampoons-that is, spiteful songs, making fun of
every man on board. They were not good-natured
jokes, but bitter, stinging ones.
Naturally enough the other men were annoyed, and
they were not slow to tell Grettir what they thought
of him. He made no other reply than a lampoon.
After the ship had lost sight of land a heavy sea
was encountered, and unfortunately the vessel was
rather leaky and hardly seaworthy in dirty weather.
The weather was squally and very cold, so that the
men suffered much. Moreover, they had to bale
out the water from the hold, and this was laborious
work. They had not pumps in those days.
The gale increased, and the crew and passengers
had been engaged for several days and nights in
baling without intermission, but Grettir would not
help. He lay coiled up in his wadmall under the
boat, peering out at the men and throwing irritating
snatches of song at them. This exasperated them
to such an extent that they determined to take him
and throw him overboard. Haflid heard what they
said, and he went to Grettir and reproached him,
and told him what was menaced.
"Let them try to use force if they will," said
Grettir. "All I can say is that I sha'n't go over-
board alone as long as my sword will bite."
"How can you behave as you do?" said Haflid.
"Keep silence at least, and do not madden the men
with your mockery and sneers."
"I cannot hold my tongue from stabbing," said
"Very well, then, stab on, but stab me."
"No; you have not hurt me."
"I say, stab me. Then, if the fellows hear you
sing or say something spiteful of me, and I disregard
it, they will not mind so much the ill-natured things
you say of them."
Grettir considered a moment, and then, remem-
bering that he had heard of something ridiculous
that had once occurred to Haflid, he composed a
verse about it and shouted it derisively at Haflid
as he walked away.
"Just listen to him," said Haflid to the men.
"Now he is slandering and insulting me. He is
an ill-conditioned cur, so ill-conditioned that I will
not stoop to take notice of his insolence. And if
you take my advice you will disregard him as I do."
"Well," said the men, "if you shrug your shoulders
and pay no regard to his bark, why should we ?"
So Haflid, by his tact, smoothed over this diffi-
culty, and averted a danger from Grettir's head.
The weather slowly began to mend, and the sun
shone out between the clouds; but the wind was
still strong, and the leak gained on the ship, for her
bottom was rotten. Now that the sun shone, the
The Tables Turned.
poor women who had been aboard and under cover
during the gale, crawled forth and came to the side
where the boat was, and where was a little shelter, and
there sat sewing; whilst Grettir still lay, like a dog
in his hutch, within. Then the men began to laugh,
and say that Grettir had found suitable company at
last-he was not a man among men, but a milksop
among women. This was turning the tables on him,
and this roused him. Out he came crawling from
his den, and ran aft to where the men were baling,
and asked to be given the buckets. The way in
which it was done was for one to go down into the
hold into the water, and fill a tub or cask and hoist
it over his head to another man, who carried it up
on deck and poured it over the bulwarks. Grettir
swung himself down into the hold, and filled and
heaved so fast that there had to be two men set to
carry up the baling casks, and then two more, four
in all attending to him. At one time he even kept
eight going, so vigorously did he work;-but then
he was fresh, and they exhausted.
When the men saw what a strong, active fellow
Grettir was, they praised him greatly, and Grettir,
unaccustomed to praise, was delighted and worked
on vigorously, and thenceforth was of the utmost
assistance in the ship.
They still had bad weather, thick mist, in which
they drifted and lost their bearings, and one night
unawares they ran suddenly on a rock, and the
rotten bottom of the ship was crushed in. They
had the utmost difficulty in rescuing their goods
and getting the boat ready; but fortunately they
were able to put all the women and the loose goods
into the boat, man her, and row off before the ship
went to pieces. They came to a sandy island, ran
the boat ashore, and disembarked in the cold and
wet and darkness.
THE RED ROVERS.
ONE morning, after a night of storm on the coast
of Norway, the servants ran into the hall of
a wealthy bonder, named Thorfin, to tell him that
Bescued from the Holm. 49
during the night a ship had been wrecked off the
coast, and that the crew and passengers were crowded
on a little sandy holm, and were signalling for
The bonder sprang up and ran down to the shore.
He ordered out a great punt from his boat-house,
and jumping in with his thralls, rowed to the holm
to rescue those who were there.
These were, I need not tell you, the crew and
passengers of Haflid's merchant vessel. Thorfin took
the half-frozen wretches on board his boat and rowed
them to his farm, after which he returned to the
islet and brought away the wares. In the meantime
his good housewife had been lighting fires, preparing
beds, brewing hot ale with honey to sweeten it, and
making every preparation she could think of for the
Haflid and the rest of the merchants or chapmen
who had sailed with him remained at the farm a
week, whilst the women were recovering from the
cold and exposure and their goods were being dried
and sorted. Then they departed, with many thanks
The Sullen Guest.
for the hospitality shown them, on their way to
Grettir, however, remained. Thorfin, the master
of the house, did not much like him. He did not
ask him to stay; but then he had not the lack of
hospitality to bid him depart. In the farm Grettir
never offered to lend a hand in any of the work;
he never joined in conversation, he sat over the fire
warming himself, and ate and drank heartily.
Thorfin was much abroad, hunting or seeing after
the wood-cutting, and he often asked Grettir to come
with him. But he was granted no other answer
than a shake of the head and a growl. Now the
bonder was a merry, kindly-hearted fellow, and he
liked to have all about him cheerful. It is no
wonder, then, that Grettir, morose and indolent, found
no favour with him.
Yule drew near, and Thorfin busked him to depart,
with a number of his attendants, to keep the festival
at one of his farms distant a good day's journey.
His wife was unable to accompany him, as his eldest
daughter was ill and needed careful nursing. Grettir
The Outlawed Rovers. 51
he did not invite, as his sullenness would have acted
as a damper on the joviality of the banquet.
The farmer started for his house where he was
going to spend Yule some days before. A large
company of guests were invited to meet him, so he
took thirty serving-men to attend on him and them.
Norway was at this time being brought into order
by Earl Erik, who was putting down with a high
hand the bands of rovers who had been the terror
of the country. He had outlawed all these men,
and that meant that whoever killed them could not
be fined or punished in any way for the slaying.
Now Thorfin, the farmer with whom Grettir was
staying, had been very active against these rovers,
and they bore him a grudge. Among the worst of
them were two brothers, Thorir wi' the Paunch and
Bad Ogmund. They had not yet been caught, and
they defied the power of the Earl. They robbed
wherever they went, burned farms over the heads
of the sleeping inmates, and with the points of their
spears drove the shrieking victims back into the
flames when they attempted to escape.
Christmas Eve was bright and sunny, and the
sick girl was sufficiently recovered to be brought
out to take the air on the sunny side of the great
hall, leaning on her mother's arm.
Grettir spent the whole day out of doors, not in
the most amiable mood at being shut out from the
merry-makings, and left to keep house with the
women and eight dunderheaded churls. He fed his
discontent by sitting on a headland watching the
boats glide by, as parties went to convivial gather-
ings at the houses of their friends. The deep blue
sea was speckled with sails, as though gulls were
plunging in the waters. Now a stately dragon-ship
rolled past, her fearful carved head glittering with
golden scales, her sails spread like wings before the
breeze, and her banks of oars dipping into the sea
and flashing as they rose. Now a wherry was rowed
by laden with cakes and ale, and the boatmen's song
rang merrily through the crisp air.
The day began to decline, and Grettir was on the
point of returning to the farm, when the strange
proceedings of a craft at no great distance attracted
The Suspicious Craft. 53
his attention. He noticed that she stole along in
the shadows of the islets, keeping out of sight as
much as possible. Grettir could make out of her
just this much, that she was floating low in the
water, and was built for speed. As she stranded
the rowers jumped on the beach. Grettir counted
them, and found they were twelve, all armed men.
They burst into Thorfin's boat-house, thrust out his
punt, and in its place drew in their own vessel, and
pulled her up on the rollers.
Mischief was a-brewing-that was clear. So
Grettir went down the hill, and sauntered up to the
strangers, with his hands in his pockets, kicking the
pebbles before him.
Who is your leader?" he asked curtly.
"I am. What do you want with me?" answered
a stout coarse man-" Thorir, whom they nickname
'wi' the Paunch.' Here is my brother Ogmund.
I reckon that Thorfin knows our names well enough.
Don't you think so, brother? We have come here
to settle a little outstanding reckoning. Is he at
Grettir Guides the Rovers.
"You are lucky fellows," laughed Grettir, coming
here in the very nick of time. The bonder is away
with all his able-bodied and fighting men, and won't
be back for a couple of days. His wife and daugh-
ter are, however, at the farm. Now is your time if
you have old scores to wipe off; for he has left all
his things that he values unprotected, silver, cloth-
ing, ale, and food in abundance."
Thorir listened, then turning to Ogmund he said,
"This is as I had expected. But what a chatterbox
this fellow is, he lets out everything without being
"Every man knows the use of his tongue," said
Grettir. "Now, follow me, and I will do what I can
The rovers at once followed. Then Grettir took
fat Thorir by the hand and led him to the farm,
talking all the way as hard as his tongue could wag.
Now the housewife happened at the time to be in
the hall, and hearing Grettir thus talking, she was
filled with surprise, and called out to know whom he
had with him.
The Worst Ruffians in Norway. 55
"I have brought you guests for Yule," said Grettir.
"We shall not keep it in as dull a fashion as we
feared. Here come visitors uninvited, but merry,
"Who are they?" asked the housewife.
"Thorir wi' the Paunch and Ogmund the Bad,
and ten of their comrades."
Then she cried out: "What have you done? These
are the worst ruffians in all Norway. Is this the
way you repay the kindness Thorfin has shown you
in housing and keeping you here, without it's cost-
ing you anything?"
"Stay your woman's tongue!" growled Grettir.
"Now bestir yourself and bring out dry clothes for
Then the housewife ran away crying, and her sick
daughter, who saw the house invaded by ill-looking
men all armed, hid herself.
"Well," said Grettir, "as the women are too
scared to attend on you, I will do what is necessary;
so give me your wet clothes, and let me wipe your
weapons and set them by the fire lest they get rusted."
Grettir Entertains the Band.
"You are a different fellow from all the rest in
"I do not belong to the house. I am a stranger,
"Then I don't mind taking you along with us
when we go away."
"As you will," answered the young fellow; "only
mind, I don't behave like this to every one."
Then the freebooters gave him their weapons, and he
wiped the salt water from them, and laid them aside
in a warm spot. Next he removed their wet garments,
and brought them dry suits which he routed out of
the clothes-chests belonging to Thorfin and his men.
By this time it was night. Grettir brought in
logs and faggots of fir branches, and made a roaring
fire that filled the great hall with ruddy light and
warmth. In those days the halls were long build-
ings with a set of hearths running down the middle,
and benches beside the fires.
Now, then, my men," said Grettir, come to the
table and drink, for I doubt not you are thirsty with
A Crew of Revellers.
"We are ready," said they. But where are the
Oh, if you please, I will bring you ale."
"Certainly, you shall attend on us," said Thorir.
Then Grettir went and fetched the best and
strongest ale in Thorfin's cellars, and poured it out
for the men. They were very tired and thirsty,
and they drank eagerly. Grettir did not stint them
in meat or drink, and at last he took his place by
them, and recited many tales that made them laugh,
he also sang them songs; but they were becoming
fast too tipsy to rack their brains to find out the
meaning in the poetry.
Not one of the house-churls showed his face in
the hall that evening; they slunk about the farm,
in the stables and sheds, frightened and trem-
Then said Thorir: "I'll tell you what, my men.
I like this young chap, and I doubt our finding
another so handy and willing. What say you all to
our taking him into our band?"
The pirates banged their drinking-horns on the
When the Wine is in.
table in token of approval. Then Grettir stood up
"I thank you for the offer, and if you are in the
same mind to-morrow morning when the ale is no
longer in your heads, I will strike hands and go
"Let us drink brotherhood at once," shouted the
"Not so," said Grettir calmly. "I will not
have it said that I took advantage of you when
you were not sober. It is said that when the wine
is in the wit is out."
They all protested that they would be of the same
mind next morning, but Grettir stuck to his decision.
They were now becoming so tipsy that he proposed
they should go to bed.
But first of all," said he, I think you will like
to run your eyes over Thorfin's storehouse where he
keeps all his treasures."
"That we shall!" roared Thorir, staggering to his
Then Grettir took a blazing firebrand from the
Thorfit's Treasures. 59
hearth, and led the way out of the hall into the
The storehouse was detached from the main
buildings. It was very strongly built of massive
logs, firmly mortised together. The door also was
very solid, and the whole stood on a strong stone
basement, and a flight of stone steps led up to the
door. Adjoining the storehouse was a lean-to build-
ing divided off from it by a partition of planks.
The sharp frosty air of night striking on the faces
of the revellers increased their intoxication, and
they became very riotous, staggering against each
other, uttering howls and attempting to sing.
Drawing back the bolt Grettir flung the door
open, and showed the twelve rovers into the trea-
sury; and he held the flaming torch above his head
and showed the silver-mounted drinking-horns, the
embroidered garments, the rich fur mantles, gold
bracelets, and bags filled with silver coins obtained
from England. The drunken men dashed upon the
spoil, knocking each other over and quarrelling for
the goods they wanted.
60 Prisoners and Unarmed.
In the midst of this noise and tumult Grettir
quietly extinguished the torch, stepped outside and
ran the bolt into its place; he had shut them all-
all twelve, into the strong-room, and not one of
them had his weapons about him.
Then Grettir ran to the farm door and shouted
for the housewife. But she would not answer, as she
mistrusted him; and no wonder, for he had seemed
to be hand and glove with the pirates.
"Come, come!" shouted Grettir, "I have caught
all twelve, and all I need now are weapons. Call up
the thralls and arm them. Quick! not a moment
must be lost."
There are plenty of weapons here," answered the
poor woman, emerging from her place of conceal-
ment. "But, Grettir, I mistrust you."
Trust or no trust," said Grettir, "I must have
weapons. Where are the serving-men? Here, Kol-
bein! Swein! Gamli! Rolf! Confound the rascals,
where are they skulking?"
"Over Thorfin's bed hangs a great barbed spear,"
said the housewife. "You will also find a sword
Mad with Drink and Fury.
and helmet and cuirass. No lack of weapons, only
pluck to wield them is needed."
Grettir seized the casque and spear, girded on the
sword and dashed into the yard, begging the woman
to send the churls after him. She called the eight
men, and they came up timidly-that is to say, four
appeared and took the weapons, but the other four,
after showing their faces, ran and hid themselves
again, they were afraid to measure swords with the
In the meantime the pirates had been trying the
door, but it was too massive for them to break
through, so they tore down the partitions of boards
between the store and the lean-to room at the side.
They were mad with drink and fury. They broke
down the door of the side-room easily enough, and
came out on the platform at the head of the stone
steps just as Grettir reached the bottom.
Thorir and Ogmund were together. In the fitful
gleams of the moon they seemed like demons as
they scrambled out, armed with splinters of deal
they had broken from the planks and turned into
One Against Twelve.
weapons. The brothers plunged down the narrow
stairs with a howl that rang through the snow-clad
forest for miles. Grettir planted the boar-spear in the
ground and caught Thorir on its point. The sharp
double-edged blade, three feet in length, sliced into
him and came out between his shoulders, then tore
into Ogmund's breast a span deep. The yew shaft
bent like a bow, and flipped from the ground the
stone against which the butt-end had been planted.
The wretched men crashed over the stair, tried to
rise, staggered, and fell again. Grettir trod on
Thorir, wrenched the spear out of him, and then
running up the steps cut down another rover as he
came through the door. Then the rest came out
stumbling over each other, some armed with bits of
broken stick, others unarmed, and as they came
forth Grettir hewed at them with the sword, or
thrust at them with the spear.
In the meantime the churls had come up, armed
indeed, but not knowing how to use the weapons,
and in a condition of too great terror to use them
to any purpose. The pirates saw that they were
In Hot Pursuit.
being worsted, and their danger sobered them. They
went back into the room and ripped the planks till
they had obtained serviceable pieces, and then came
two together down tie stair, warding off Grettir's
blows with their sticks, and not attempting to strike.
Then they forced him back and allowed space and
time for those behind to leap down to the ground.
If then they had combined they might have re-
covered the mastery, but they did not believe that
they were assailed by a single enemy, they thought
that there must have been many; consequently
those who had leaped from the platform, instead
of attacking Grettir from behind, ran away across
the farmyard, and those who were warding off his
blows, finding themselves unsupported, lost heart,
and leaped down as well and attempted to escape.
The yard was full of flying frightened wretches, too
blinded by their fear to find the gate, and in the
wildness of their terror they climbed or leaped over
the yard wall and ran towards the boat-house.
Grettir went after them. They plunged into the
dark boat-shed, and possessed themselves of the
The Slaughter in the Boat-shed.
oars, whilst some tried to run their boat down into
the water. Grettir followed them in the gloom,
smiting to right and left. The bewildered wretches
in the darkness hit each other, stumbled and fell in
the boat, and some wounded went into the water.
The thralls, content that the pirates had cleared
out of the yard, did not trouble themselves to pur-
sue them, but went into the farmhouse. The good
woman in vain urged them to go after and suc-
cour Grettir. They thought they had done quite
enough. It is true, they had neither killed nor
wounded anyone, but they had seen some men
killed. So Grettir got no help from them. He was
still in the boat-house, and he had this advantage:
the boat-house was open to the air on the side that
faced the sea, whilst the further side was closed with
a door, consequently Grettir was himself in shadow.
But the moon shone on the water, and he could see
the black figures of the rovers cut sharply against
this silver background. So he could see where to
strike, whilst he himself was unseen.
One stroke from an oar reached him on the
The Last of the Band.
shoulder, and for the moment numbed his arm; but
he speedily recovered sensation, and killed two more
of the ruffians; then the remaining four made a dash
together, past him, through the door, and separating
into pairs, fled in opposite directions. Grettir went
after one of the couples and tracked them to a
neighboring farm, where they dashed into a granary
and hid among the straw. Unfortunately for them
most of the wheat had been thrashed out, so that
only a few bundles remained. Grettir shut and
bolted the door behind him, then chased the poor
wretches like rats from corner to corner, till he had
cut them both down. Then he opened the door,
and cast the corpses outside.
In the meanwhile the weather was changing, the
sky had become overcast with a thick snow fog that
rolled up from the sea, so that Grettir, on coming
out, saw that he must abandon the pursuit of the
remaining two. Moreover, his arm pained him, his
strength was failing him, and a sense of overpowering
fatigue stole over him.
The housewife had placed a lamp in a window of
66 Wearied with Slaying.
a loft as a guide to Grettir in the fog; the stupid
house-thralls could not be induced by her to go out
in search of him, and she was becoming uneasy at
his protracted absence. The fog turned into small
snow, thick and blinding, and Grettir struggled
through it with difficulty, as the weariness he felt
became almost overpowering. At last he reached
the farm and staggered in through the door. He
could hardly speak. He went to the table, took a
horn of mead, drank some, and then threw himself
down among the rushes on the floor by the fire, full
armed grasping the sword, and in a moment was
He did not wake for twelve hours; but the
cautious and prudent housewife had sent out the
cares in search of the pirates. The dead bodies
were found, some in the yard, some in the boat-
house; then Grettir woke and came to them and
pointed out in what direction the only remaining
two had run. The snow had fallen so thick that
their traces could not be followed, but before night-
fall they were discovered, dead, under a rock where
Thorfin's Return. 67
they had taken refuge; they had died of cold and
loss of blood. All the bodies were collected and a
great cairn of stones was piled over them.
When they had been buried, then the housewife
made Grettir take the high seat in the hall, and
she treated him with the utmost respect, as he de-
Time passed, and Thorfin prepared to return home;
he dismissed his guests, and he and his men got into
their boat to return home. No tidings had reached
him of the events that had happened whilst he had
been away. The first thing he saw as he came
rowing to his harbour was his punt lying stranded.
This surprised and alarmed him, and he bade his
men row harder. They ran to the boat-house, and
then saw it occupied by a vessel, on the rollers,
which there was no mistaking; he knew it well,
it belonged to those redoubted pirates Thorir and
Ogmund. For a moment he was silent with the
terror and grief that came on him. "The Red
Rovers!" he said, when he recovered the stunning
sense of alarm. "The Red Rovers are here--they
A Moment of Perplexity.
are on my farm. God grant they have not hurt my
wife and daughter!"
Then he considered what was to be done, whether
it was best to go at once to the farm, or to make a
secret approach to it from different quarters, and
surprise the enemy.
Grettir was to blame. He ought not to have
allowed Thorfin to be thus thrown into uncertainty
and distress. He had seen the master's boat round
the headland and enter the bay, but he would neither
go himself to meet him on the strand, nor suffer
anyone else to go.
"I do not care even if the bonder be a bit
disturbed at what he sees,' said the young man.
"Then let me go," urged the wife.
"You are mistress, do as you like," said Grettir
So the housewife and her daughter went down
towards the boat-house, and when Thorfin saw them
he ran to meet them, greatly relieved but much
perplexed, and he clasped his wife to his heart and
said, "God be praised that you and my child are
Better than a Dozen Men.
safe! But tell me how matters have stood whilst I
have been away, for I cannot understand the boat
being where I found it."
"We have been in grievous peril," answered his
wife. "But the shipwrecked boy whom you shel-
tered has been our protector, better than a dozen
Then he said, "Sit down on this rock by me and
tell me all."
They took each other by the hand and sat on a
stone; and the attendants gathered round, and the
housewife told them the whole story from beginning
to end. When she spoke of the way in which the
young Icelander had led the tipsy rovers into the
storehouse and fastened them in, without their
swords, the men burst into a shout of joy; and
when her tale was concluded, their exultant cries
rang so loud that Grettir heard them in the farm-
Thorfin said nothing to interrupt the thread of
his wife's story; and after she had done he remained
silent, rapt in thought. No one ventured to disturb
The Gift of the Sword.
him. Presently he looked up, and said quietly,
"That is a good proverb which says, 'Never despair
of anyone.' Now I must speak a word with
Thorfin walked with his wife to the farm, and
when he saw Grettir he held out both his hands to
him, and thanked him.
"This I say to you," said Thorfin, "which few
would say to their best of friends-that I hope some
day you may need my help, and then I will prove
to you how thankful I am for what you have done.
I can say no more."
Grettir thanked him, and spent the rest of the
winter at his house. The story of what he had done
spread through all the country, and was much
praised, especially by such as had suffered from the
violence of the Red Rovers. But Thorfin made to
Grettir a present, in acknowledgment of what he
had done; and that present was the sword that had
hung above his bed, with which Grettir had killed
so many of the rovers. Now, concerning this sword
a tale has to be told.
The Light on the Cliff.
THE STORY OF THE SWORD.
OME little while before the slaying of the Red
Rovers, a strange event had taken place.
Grettir had made the acquaintance of a man called
Audun, who lived at a little farm fat some distance
from the house of Thorfin, and he walked over
there occasionally to sit and talk with his friend. As
he returned late at night he noticed that a strange
light used to dance at the end of a cliff that over-
hung the sea, at the end of a headland; a lonely
desolate headland it was, without house or stall near
it. Grettir had never been there, and as it was so
bare, he knew that no one lived on that headland,
so he could not account for the light. One day he
said to Audun that he had seen this strange light,
which was not steady but flickered; and he asked
him what it meant.
Audun at once became very grave, and after a
moment's hesitation said, "You are right. No one
72 The Grave of Karr the Old.
lives on that ness, but there is a great mound there,
under which is buried Karr the Old, the forefather of
your host Thorfin; and it is said that much treasure
was buried with him. That is why the ghostly light
burns above the mound, for-you must know that
flames dance over hidden treasure."
"If treasure be hidden there, I will dig it up,"
"Attempt nothing of the kind," said Audun, "or
Thorfin will be angry. Besides, Karr the Old is a
dangerous fellow to have to deal with. He walks
at night, and haunts all that headland and has scared
away the dwellers in the nearest farms. No one dare
live there because of him. That is why the Ness is
all desolate without houses."
"I will stay the night here," said Grettir, "and
to-morrow we will go together to the Ness, and take
spade and pick and a rope, and I will see what can
Audun did not relish the proposal, but he did
not like to seem behindhand with Grettir, and he
reluctantly agreed to go with him.
The Visit to the Ness. 73
So next day the two went out on the Ness together.
They passed two ruined farmhouses, the buildings
rotting, the roofs fallen in. Those who had lived in
them had been driven away by the dweller in the
old burial mound, or barrow. The Norse name for
these sepulchral mounds is Haug, pronounced almost
like How; and where in England we have places
with the names ending in hoe, there undoubtedly in
former times were such mounds. Thus, in Essex are
Langenhoe and Fingringhoe, that is to say the Long
Barrow and Fingar's How. Also, the Hoe, the great
walk at Plymouth above the sea, derives its name
from some old burial mound now long ago destroyed.
The Ness was a finger of land running out into
the sea, and on it grew no trees, only a little coarse
grass; at the end rose a great circular bell-shaped
mound, with a ring of stones set round it, to mark
its circumference. Grettir began to dig at the
summit, and he worked hard. The day was short,
and the sun was touching the sea as his pickaxe
went through an oak plank, into a hollow space
beneath, and he knew at once that he had struck
The Chamber of the Dead.
into the chamber of the dead. He worked with
redoubled energy, and tore away the planks, leaving
a black hole beneath of unknown depth, but which
to his thinking could not be more than seven feet
beneath him. Then he called to Audun for the
rope. The end he fastened round his waist, and
bade his friend secure the other end to a pole thrown
across the pit mouth. When this was done, Audun
cautiously let Grettir down into the chamber of the
Now, you must know that in heathen times what
was often done with old warriors was to draw up a
boat on the shore, and to seat the dead man in the
cabin, with his horse slain beside him, sometimes
some of his slaves or thralls were also killed and put
in with him, and his choicest treasures were heaped
about him. This men did because they thought
that the dead man would want his weapons, his
raiment, his ornaments, his horse and his servants
in the spirit world. Of late years such a mound
has been opened in Norway, and a great ship found
in it, well preserved, with the old dead chiefs bones
The Shape on the Throne.
in it. When a ship was not buried, then a chamber
of strong planks was built, and he was put in that,
and the earth heaped over him. Into such a chamber
had Grettir now dug.
He soon reached the bottom, and was in darkness,
only a little light came in from above, through the
hole he had broken in the roof of the cabin or
chamber. His feet were among bones, and these he
was quite sure were horse bones. Then he groped
As his eyes became more accustomed to the dark-
ness, he discerned a figure seated in a throne. It
was the long-dead Karr the Old. He was in full
harness, with a helmet on his head with bull's horns
sticking out, one on each side; his hands were on
his knees, and his feet on a great chest. Round his
neck was a gold torque or necklet, made of bars of
twisted gold, hooked together behind the head.
Grettir in the dark could only just make out the
glimmer of the gold, but it seemed to him that a
phosphorescent light played about the face -of the
In the Dead Man's Arms.
So little light was left, that Grettir hasted to
collect what he could. There stood a brazen vessel
near the chair, in which were various articles, probably
of worth, but it was too dark for Grettir to see what
they were. He brought the vessel to the rope and
fastened the end of the cord to its handle. Then he
went back to the old dead man and drew away a
short sword that lay on his lap, and this he placed
in the brass vessel. Next he began to unhook the
gold torque from his neck, and as he did this the
phosphorescent flame glared strangely about the dead
Then, all at once, as both his hands were engaged
undoing the hook behind Karr's neck, he was clipped.
The dead man's arms had clutched him, and with a
roar like a bull Karr the Old stood up, holding him
fast, and now all the light that had played over
his features gathered into and glared out of his
When Audun heard the roar, he was so frightened
that he ran from the barrow, and did not stay his
feet till he reached home, feeling convinced that the
GRETTIR REMOVES THE SWORD OF KARR THE OLD,
A Fearful Wrestle.
ghost or whatever it was that lived in the tomb had
torn Grettir to pieces.
Then began in the chamber of the dead a fearful
wrestle. Grettir was at times nigh on smothered
by the gray beard of the dead chief, that had been
growing, growing, in the vault, ever since he had
How long that terrible struggle continued no one
can tell. Grettir had to use his utmost force to
stand against Karr the Old. The two wrestled up
and down in the chamber, kicking the horse bones
about from side to side, stumbling over the coffer,
and the brass vessel, and the horse's skull, striking
against the sides, and when they did this then
masses of earth and portions of broken plank fell in
At last Karr's feet gave way under him and he
fell, and Grettir fell over him. Then instantly he
laid hold of his sword, and smote off Old Karr's head
and laid it beside his thigh.
This, according to Norse belief, was the only way
in which to prevent a dead man from walking, who
The Dead Vanquished.
had haunted the neighbourhood of his tomb, and in
the Icelandic sagas we hear of other cases where the
same proceeding was gone through. The Norsemen
held to something more dreadful than ghosts walk-
ing; they thought that some evil spirit entered into
the bodies of the dead, that when this happened the
dead no longer decayed, but walked, and ate, and
drank, and fought, very much like living ruffians,
but with redoubled strength. Then, when this
happened, nothing was of any avail save the digging
up of the dead man, cutting off his head and laying
it at his thigh.
When Grettir had done this, he despoiled Karr
the Old of his helm, his breast-plate, his torque,
and he took the box on which the feet had rested.
He fastened all together to the rope, and called to
Audun to haul up. He received no answer, so he
swarmed up himself, and finding that his friend had
run away he pulled up what he had tied together,
and carried the whole lot in his arms to the house of
Thorfin. Thorfin and his party were at supper; and
when Grettir came in, the bonder looked up, and
The Dragon's Treasure. 79
asked why he did not keep regular hours, and be at
the table when the meal began. Grettir made no
other answer than to throw all he carried down on
the supper-table before the master. Thorfin raised
his eyebrows when he saw so much treasure.
"Where did you get all this?" he asked.
Then Grettir answered in one of his enigmatical
"Thou who dost the wave-shine shorten,
My attempt has been to find
In the barrow what was hidden,
Deep in darkness black and blind.
Nothing of the dragon's treasure
With the dead is left behind."
By the wave-shine shortener he meant Thorfin;
the dragon's treasure meant gold, because dragons
were thought to line their lairs with that metal.
Thorfin saw that Grettir's eye looked longingly at
the short sword that had lain on the knees of Karr.
He said: "It was a heathen custom in old times to
bury very much that was precious along with the
dead. I do not blame you for what you have done;
but this I will say, that there is no one else about
The Tale of the Sword.
this place who would have ventured to attempt
what you have done. As for that sword on which
you cast your eyes so longingly, it has ever been in
our family, and I cannot part with it till you have
shown that you are worthy to wear it."
Then that sword was hung up over Thorfin's bed.
You have heard how Grettir did show that he was
worthy to wear it, and also how Thorfin gave it
Now, this tale about the sword will very well
illustrate what was said at the beginning, that the
history of Grettir contains, in the main, truth; but
that this substance of truth has been embroidered
over by fancy. What is true is, that during the
winter in which he was with Thorfin he did dig into
the mound in which Karr was buried, and did take
thence his treasures and his sword. But all the
story of his fight with the dead man was added.
The same story occurs in a good many other sagas,
as in that of Hromund Greip's son, who also got a
sword by digging into a barrow for it. When the
history of Grettir was told, and this adventure of his
The Two Swords of Grettir. 81
was related, those who told the story imported into
it the legend of the fight of Hromund in the grave
with the dead man, so as to make the history of
Grettir more amusing. As you will see by the tale,
no one else was present when it happened, for
Audun had run away, and it was not like Grettir to
boast of what he had done. This was an embellish-
ment added by the story-teller, and from the story-
teller the incident passed into the volume of the
Grettir had now two good swords; one long,
which he called Jokull's Gift, that he had received
from his mother, and this short one that he wore at
his girdle, which he had taken out of the grave of
Karr the Old, and which he had won fairly by his
bravery in the defence of the house and family of
Grettir goes North.
OF THE BEAR.
W HEN spring came, then Grettir left his friend
Thorfin, and went north along the Norwegian
coast, and was everywhere well received, because
the story of how he had killed twelve rovers, he
being as yet but a boy, was noised through all the
country, and every one who had anything to lose
felt safer because that wicked gang was broken up.
Nothing of consequence is told about him during
that summer. For the winter he did not return to
Thorfin as asked, but accepted the invitation of
another bonder, named Thorgils.
Thorgils was a merry, pleasant man, and he had
a great company in his house that winter. Among
his visitors was a certain Biorn, a distant cousin, a
man whom Thorgils did not like, as he was a slan-
derous-tongued fellow, and moreover he was a brag-
gart. He was one of those persons we meet with
not infrequently who cannot endure to hear another
Biorn the Braggart. 83
praised; who, the moment a good word is spoken
of someone, immediately puts in a nasty, spiteful
word, and tells an unkind story, so as to drag that
person down in the general opinion. At the same
time, concerning himself he had only praiseworthy
and wonderful feats to relate about his wit, his
wisdom, his craft, his knowledge of the world, about
his strength and courage.
Thorgils knew how much, or rather how little,
to believe of what Biorn said, and he did not pay
much.regard to his talk. But now Grettir had an
opportunity of seeing and of feeling how mistaken
had been his conduct on board the ship upon which
he had come to Norway, when he made lampoons on
the sailors and chapmen, and stung them with sharp
words. He saw how disagreeable a fellow Biorn
was, how much he was disliked, and by some
despised; and he kept very greatly to himself and
out of Biorn's way. He did not wish to quarrel
with him, because he was the relative of his host,
and he was afraid that his anger would get the better
of him if he did come to words with the braggart.
The Bear's Den.
Grettir had grown a great deal since he left Ice-
land, and he was now a strapping fellow, broad
built but not short. He was not handsome, but his
face was intelligent.
It fell out that a bear gave much trouble that
winter to Thorgils and the neighboring farmers.
It was so strong and so daring that no folds were
secure against it, and Thorgils and the other farmers
endured severe losses through the depredations of
Before Yule, a party was formed to go in search
of and kill the bear, but all that was done was to
find the lair.
The bear had taken up his abode in the face of a
tremendous cliff that overhung the sea. There was
but one path up to the cave, and that was so narrow
that only one man could creep along it at a time.
Moreover, if his foot slipped he would be flung over
the edge upon the rocks or skerries below against
which the waves dashed.
When the den of the bear had been discovered,
Biorn said, "That is the main thing. Now I know
where the rogue lies, I'll settle with him, trust me.
I've been the death of scores of bears. My only
dread is lest he be afraid of me, and will not
And, actually, Biorn went out on several moonlit
nights to watch for the bear. He saw that the only
way to deal with him would be to stop the track
from the den, and fight him as he attempted to
come away. He took his short sword and great
shield with him covered with ox-hide, and one night
he laid himself down on the path of the bear, and
put his shield over him. He thought that Bruin
would come smelling at the great hide-covered
shield, and then all at once he (Biorn) would spring
up and drive his sword into the heart of the bear.
That was his plan-and not a bad plan-only, un-
fortunately for Biorn, the bear did not come out for
a long time. He had got an inkling that a man was
watching for him, so he was shy, and whilst he
waited before venturing forth, Biorn, who had
been drinking pretty freely that evening, went to
86 A Hunting Party.
Presently the bear came out, crept cautiously down
the narrow track, snuffing about, and when he came
to Biorn, he plucked with his claws at the shield,
and with one wrench had it off and tumbled it
down the cliff.
Biorn woke with a start, rose to his knees, saw
the huge bear before him, and in a moment turned
tail, and ran as hard as he could run to Thorgils'
house, and was too scared to be able to boast that
he had killed or wounded the bear.
Next morning his shield was found where the
bear had thrown it, and much fun did this adven-
ture of the braggart occasion. This made him very
irritable and more spiteful than ever.
Thorgils now said that really something must be
done to rid the neighbourhood of the bear, so a
party of eight set out well armed with spears; of
this party were Biorn and Grettir. They reached the
point where the track to the den ran up the cliff to
the lair, and one man after another tried it. But
there was no getting at the bear; for as soon as a
man came near the beast put his great forepaws
The Lost Cloak.
forth and caught and snapped the spear-heads or
beat them down. As already said, only one could
crawl up at a time.
Grettir had gone out that day in a fur coat that
his friend Thorfin had given him, and which he
greatly valued. When the onslaught against the
bear began, he took off his fur coat, and folded it,
and put it on a stone. Biorn saw this, and, when
none observed, he took the fur coat and threw it
into the cave of the bear. Grettir did not see what
had been done till the party, disappointed with
their want of success, made ready to depart, when
he missed it, and then some suspicion entered his
head as to what had been done with it, and by
whom, but he said nothing.
As they walked home, Biorn began to taunt
Grettir with having done nothing all day. He
could kill robbers who were unarmed and were
drunk, perhaps asleep, but a bear was too serious an
adversary for him.
Grettir said nothing, but as his gaiter thong
became broken, he stopped and stooped to mend it.
Grettir Seeks the Bear Alone.
Thorgils asked if they should wait for him. Grettir
"Oh," said Biorn, "it is all nonsense. It is a
pretence. He means to have all the glory of fight-
ing the bear alone when we have gone on."
He said the truth, but he had no idea when he
spoke that it was the truth.
Grettir tarried till the party had crossed a hill
and was out of sight, then he turned and went back
to the bear's den. He slipped his hand through the
loop at the end of the handle of his short sword
that he had taken from the grave of Karr the Old,
and let it hang on his wrist, but he held the long
sword, Jokull's gift, by the pommel His plan was
to use the long sword if needed, but if the bear
came to close quarters he would throw it down and
grasp the short one without having to put his hand
to his girdle for it. Very cautiously he crept along
the path. Bruin saw him, and was now angry and
hungry, and came down to meet him. The bear
was somewhat above him; Grettir halted, and the
bear stood up growling on his hind-legs.
Grettir's Hardest Tussle.
At once the long sword was whirled and fell on
the right wrist above the paw, and cut it off. The
bear immediately fell down on all-fours; but the am-
putated paw was on the side away from the wall of
rock, and when he went down on the stump he was
overbalanced, and came down with his whole weight
Grettir let fall his long sword at once, and with
both hands grasped the brute's ears, and held his
head off lest he should get a bite at him. Grettir,
in after years, was wont to say that this was the
hardest tussle he had in his life-it was even worse
than anything he had to do with the rovers. For if
the beast had but been able to nip him on the
breast, or shoulder, or face with his great fangs, all
would have been up with him. Moreover, the ears
were so smooth that he had to do his utmost not to
let them slip. Grettir had the wit to drag back the
brute's head to the rock, and by so doing the bear
could not use his only uninjured fore-leg, armed
with terrible claws, which would have ripped Gret-
tir's clothes and flesh.
The Fall Over the Cliff
In the struggle the two went over the edge, and
for a moment Grettir thought, as they spun in the
air, that he was lost. But the bear was heavier than
the lad, consequently he fell crash on the rocks at the
bottom first, and Grettir on him, breaking Grettir's
fall by his great body. The bear's back was broken.
Then Grettir got up, shook himself, left the bear,
went up the path and found his fur coat torn to
tatters, and he put it about him, recovered also his
long sword, and took the cut-off paw of the bear.
He now went back to Thorgils' house, and when
he came into the hall where the fires were blazing,
every one laughed to see him in his tattered coat;
but when he gave the paw of the bear to Thorgils
the general merriment exchanged to surprise. Biorn,
however, could not contain himself for vexation,
and launched forth some coarse jest that made
Grettir's blood tingle in his veins.
"Do not listen to him," said Thorgils. "You are
a brave fellow, and there are not many your like."
Then turning to Biorn, he said, "Kinsman, I advise
and warn you to keep a civil tongue in your head,
Thorgils Acts as Peacemaker.
or you will come to rue it, and have to be taught
"Oh, if I am to learn manners from Grettir, that
is sending me to a cub indeed!"
"I want to know," said Grettir, "whether you
threw my fur coat into the den?"
"I am not afraid of saying that I did."
"Will you give me another in its place?"
"I have not the smallest intention of doing charity
The braggart knew that Grettir was restraining
himself because he did not wish to quarrel with his
host's kinsman, and he took advantage of his know-
ledge. But Thorgils was greatly distressed and
ashamed, and he said to Grettir:
"Pay no attention to his words. He has in-
sulted you, and I will pay you a fine in compensa-
tion for his insult, that it may be buried and for-
That was customary then. When one had hurt
another in body or in honour by blow or foul word,
he was bound to pay a sum of money; if he did not,
Grettir Restrains Himself.
then the man injured was required by the laws of
honour to revenge the injury.
But when Biorn heard this proposal, he shouted
out that he would not suffer the matter to be so
compromised; he was not ashamed of his words.
Thorgils drew Grettir aside, and said to him that
his kinsman was a badly-behaved, brutal fellow,
but that he hoped Grettir would not take up the
quarrel in his house; and Grettir promised him
solemnly that he would not attempt to take revenge
for the rudeness of Biorn so long as they were both
inmates of his house.
"As for what may happen between you later,"
said Thorgils, "I wash my hands of responsibility.
If Biorn is offensive to those who have never hurt
him, he must take the consequences."
So matters remained; only that Biorn, presuming
on his position, became daily more arrogant, intoler-
able, and abusive, so that Grettir had to exercise
daily self-restraint to keep his hands off him. And
glad he was when spring came, that he might get
away to another part of Norway.
The Meeting on the Island.
As for Biorn, he went in the summer to England
in a ship that belonged to Thorgils, trading there
for Thorgils and for himself. Consequently, all that
summer he and Grettir did not meet.
THE SLAYING OF BIORN.
SRETTIR left Thorgils very good friends, and he
went with some merchants to the north, but
when the summer was over he came back south, and
arrived at a little island in the entrance of the Dront-
heim firth. His intention was to see Earl Sweyn,
and perhaps take service under him; but if so,
things fell out other than he had reckoned. For, as
he was in this island, there came in a large merchant
vessel from England, and Grettir and those with him
at once went to see the shipmen, and among them
was Biorn. The ship was, in fact, that of Thorgils,
and it was laden with commodities bought in Eng-
land, or obtained by exchange for the wool, and furs,
and women's embroidery sent out in the spring by
Directly Biorn saw Grettir he turned red, and
pretended not to recognize him; but Grettir went
to him at once and said:
"Now has come the time when we two can settle
"Oh," said Biorn, "that is soon done. I don't
object to paying a trifle."
"The time for paying is over," said Grettir.
"Thorgils offered an indemnity for your insolence,
and you refused to consent to it."
Then Biorn saw that there was no help for him
but that he must fight. So he girded him for the
conflict, and he and Grettir went down on the sand,
and they fought.
The fight did not last long. Grettir's sword cut
him that he fell and died.
When the news reached Thorgils, he got ready,
and came by boat as fast as he could to see the earl
at Drontheim. He found the earl very angry, but
he said to him:
Thorfin Comes to Grettir's Aid.
"I am a kinsman of the fallen man, and I know
that he treated Grettir with intolerable insolence,
and that he refused every compromise. Then
remember what a benefit has been done to the
country by Grettir, who ridded it of the Red Rovers,
Thorir wi' the Paunch and Ogmund the Bad."
Thorfin also came to Drontheim when he heard
of the straits into which Grettir had come through
killing Biorn. The earl called a council on the
matter, and said he would not come to a decision
till he had heard what Biorn's brother Hiarandi had
to say on the matter. Hiarandi was a violent man,
and he was very wroth. He would hear of no
patching up of the matter, and he vowed he would
not, as he expressed it, "bring his brother into his
purse." As already said, it was customary when a
man had been killed to offer a sum of money to the
next of kin, and if he accepted the money the
quarrel was at an end. When we now speak of
"pocketing an injury," reference is made to this
same ancient usage, by which every offence was
estimated at so much money, and if the wronged
Grettir',s Life inm Dan'ger.
man took money for the offence committed against
him, he was said to pocket it. When the earl went
into the matter, and heard how Grettir had been
wronged and outraged by Biorn, he gave his de-
cision that Grettir had not acted contrary to law,
and that Biorn had justly forfeited his life. Thorfin
offered the sum of money which the earl considered
was sufficient to atone to the relations for the death
of Biorn, but Hiarandi refused absolutely to touch it.
Then Thorfin knew that Grettir's life was in
danger, for Hiarandi would certainly try to take it;
so he begged his kinsman Arinbiorn to go about
with Grettir, and keep on the look-out against the
mischief that threatened.
Now it fell out one day that Grettir and Arin-
biorn were walking down a street in Drontheim
when their way led before a narrow lane opening
into it. They did not see any danger in the way,
and were unaware of this lane. But just as they
had passed it a man jumped out from behind, in the
shadow, swinging an axe, and he struck at Grettir
between the shoulder-blades. Fortunately, Arin-