Part 2 out of 7
"It is no work of mine," quoth Swanhild.
"Then go and ask thy mother of it," answered Gudruda.
Now all men cried aloud that this was the greatest shame, and that the
match must be set afresh; only Ospakar bethought him of that two
hundred in silver which he had promised to Groa, and looked around,
but she was not there. Still, he gainsaid Eric in the matter of the
match being set afresh.
Then Eric cried out in his anger that he would let the game stand as
it was, since Ospakar swore himself free of the shameful deed. Men
thought this a mad saying, but Asmund said it should be so. Still, he
swore in his heart that, even if he were worsted, Eric should not lose
his eye--no not if swords were held aloft to take it. For of all
tricks this seemed to him the very worst.
Now Ospakar and Eric faced each other again in the ring, but this time
the feet of Eric were bare.
Ospakar rushed to get the upper hold, but Eric was too swift for him
and sprang aside. Again he rushed, but Eric dropped and gripped him
round the middle. Now they were face to face, hugging each other like
bears, but moving little. For a time things went thus, while Ospakar
strove to lift Eric, but in nowise could he stir him. Then of a sudden
Eric put out his strength, and they staggered round the ring, tearing
at each other till their jerkins were rent from them, leaving them
almost bare to the waist. Suddenly, Eric seemed to give, and Ospakar
put out his foot to trip him. But Brighteyes was watching. He caught
the foot in the crook of his left leg, and threw his weight forward on
the chest of Blacktooth. Backward he went, falling with the thud of a
tree on snow, and there he lay on the ground, and Eric over him.
Then men shouted "A fall! a fair fall!" and were very glad, for the
fight seemed most uneven to them, and the wrestlers rolled asunder,
Gudruda threw a cloak over Eric's naked shoulders.
"That was well done, Brighteyes," she said.
"The game is still to play, sweet," he gasped, "and Ospakar is a
mighty man. I threw him by skill, not by strength. Next time it must
be by strength or not at all."
Now breathing-time was done, and once more the two were face to face.
Thrice Ospakar rushed, and thrice did Eric slip away, for he would
waste Blacktooth's strength. Again Ospakar rushed, roaring like a
bear, and fire seemed to come from his eyes, and the steam went up
from him and hung upon the frosty air like the steam of a horse. This
time Eric could not get away, but was swept up into that great grip,
for Ospakar had the lower hold.
"Now there is an end of Eric," said Swanhild.
"The arrow is yet on the bow," answered Gudruda.
Blacktooth put out his might and reeled round and round the ring,
dragging Eric with him. This way and that he twisted, and time on time
Eric's leg was lifted from the ground, but so he might not be thrown.
Now they stood almost still, while men shouted madly, for no such
wrestling had been known in the southlands. Grimly they hugged and
strove: forsooth it was a mighty sight to see. Grimly they hugged, and
their muscles strained and cracked, but they could stir each other no
Ospakar grew fearful, for he could make no play with this youngling.
Black rage swelled in his heart. He ground his fangs, and thought on
guile. By his foot gleamed the naked foot of Eric. Suddenly he stamped
on it so fiercely that the skin burst.
"Ill done! ill done!" folk cried; but in his pain Eric moved his foot.
Lo! he was down, but not altogether down, for he did but sit upon his
haunches, and still he clung to Blacktooth's thighs, and twined his
legs about his ankles. Now with all his strength Ospakar strove to
force the head of Brighteyes to the ground, but still he could not,
for Eric clung to him like a creeper to a tree.
"A losing game for Eric," said Asmund, and as he spoke Brighteyes was
pressed back till his yellow hair almost swept the sand.
Then the folk of Ospakar shouted in triumph, but Gudruda cried aloud:
"Be not overthrown, Eric; loose thee and spring aside."
Eric heard, and of a sudden loosed all his grip. He fell on his
outspread hand, then, with a swing sideways and a bound, once more he
stood upon his feet. Ospakar came at him like a bull made mad with
goading, but he could no longer roar aloud. They closed and this time
Eric had the better hold. For a while they struggled round and round
till their feet tore the frozen turf, then once more they stood face
to face. Now the two were almost spent; yet Blacktooth gathered up his
strength and swung Eric from his feet, but he found them again. He
grew mad with rage, and hugged him till Brighteyes was nearly pressed
to death, and black bruises sprang upon the whiteness of his flesh.
Ospakar grew mad, and madder yet, till at length in his fury he fixed
his fangs in Eric's shoulder and bit till the blood spurted.
"Ill kissed, thou rat!" gasped Eric, and with the pain and rush of
blood, his strength came back to him. He shifted his grip swiftly, now
his right hand was beneath the fork of Blacktooth's thigh and his left
on the hollow of Blacktooth's back. Twice he lifted--twice the bulk of
Ospakar rose from the ground--a third mighty lift--so mighty that the
wrapping on Eric's forehead burst, and the blood streamed down his
face--and lo! great Blacktooth flew in air. Up he flew, and backward
he fell into the bank of snow, and was buried there almost to the
HOW ASMUND THE PRIEST WAS BETROTHED TO UNNA
For a moment there was silence, for all that company was wonderstruck
at the greatness of the deed. Then they cheered and cheered again, and
to Eric it seemed that he slept, and the sound of shouting reached him
but faintly, as though he heard through snow. Suddenly he woke and saw
a man rush at him with axe aloft. It was Mord, Ospakar's son, mad at
his father's overthrow. Eric sprang aside, or the blow had been his
bane, and, as he sprang, smote with his fist, and it struck heavily on
the head of Mord above the ear, so that the axe flew from his hand,
and he fell senseless on his father in the snow.
Now swords flashed out, and men ringed round Eric to guard him, and it
came near to the spilling of blood, for the people of Ospakar gnashed
their teeth to see so great a hero overthrown by a youngling, while
the southern folk of Middalhof and Ran River rejoiced loudly, for Eric
was dear to their hearts.
"Down swords," cried Asmund the priest, "and haul yon carcass from the
This then they did, and Ospakar sat up, breathing in great gasps, the
blood running from his mouth and ears, and he was an evil sight to
see, for what with blood and snow and rage his face was like the face
of the Swinefell Goblin.
But Swanhild spoke in the ear of Gudruda:
"Here," she said, looking at Eric, "we two have a man worth loving,
"Ay," answered Gudruda, "worth and well worth!"
Now Asmund drew near and before all men kissed Eric Brighteyes on the
"In sooth," he said, "thou art a mighty man, Eric, and the glory of
the south. This I prophesy of thee: that thou shalt do deeds such as
have not been done in Iceland. Thou hast ill been served, for a knave
unknown greased thy shoes. Yon swarthy Ospakar, the most mighty of all
men in Iceland, could not overthrow thee, though, like a wolf, he
fastened his fangs in thee, and, like a coward, stamped upon thy naked
foot. Take thou the great sword that thou hast won and wear it
Now Eric took snow and wiped the blood from his brow. Then he grasped
Whitefire and drew it from the scabbard, and high aloft flashed the
war-blade. Thrice he wheeled it round his head, then sang aloud:
"Fast, yestermorn, down Golden Falls,
Fared young Eric to thy feast,
Asmund, father of Gudruda--
Maid whom much he longs to clasp.
But to-day on Giant Blacktooth
Hath he done a needful deed:
Hurling him in heaped-up snowdrift;
Winning Whitefire for his wage."
And again he sang:
"Lord, if in very truth thou thinkest
Brighteyes is a man midst men,
Swear to him, the stalwart suitor,
Handsel of thy sweet maid's hand:
Whom, long loved, to win, down Goldfoss
Swift he sped through frost and foam;
Whom, to win, to troll-like Ogre,
He, 'gainst Whitefire, waged his eye."
Men thought this well sung, and turned to hear Asmund's answer, nor
must they wait long.
"Eric," he said, "I will promise thee this, that if thou goest on as
thou hast begun, I will give Gudruda in marriage to no other man."
"That is good tidings, lord," said Eric.
"This I say further: in a year I will give thee full answer according
as to how thou dost bear thyself between now and then, for this is no
light gift thou askest; also that, if ye will it, you twain may now
plight troth, for the blame shall be yours if it is broken, and not
mine, and I give thee my hand on it."
Eric took his hand, and Gudruda heard her father's words and happiness
shone in her dark eyes, and she grew faint for very joy. And now Eric
turned to her, all torn and bloody from the fray, the great sword in
his hand, and he spoke thus:
"Thou hast heard thy father's words, Gudruda? Now it seems that there
is no great need of troth-plighting between us two. Still, here before
all men I ask thee, if thou dost love me and art willing to take me to
Gudruda looked up into his face, and answered in a sweet, clear voice
that could be heard by all:
"Eric, I say to thee now, what I have said before, that I love thee
alone of all men, and, if it be my father's wish, I will wed no other
whilst thou dost remain true to me and hold me dear."
"Those are good words," said Eric. "Now, in pledge of them, swear this
troth of thine upon my sword that I have won."
Gudruda smiled, and, taking great Whitefire in her hand, she said the
words again, and, in pledge of them, kissed the bright blade.
Then Eric took back the war-sword and spoke thus: "I swear that I will
love thee, and thee only, Gudruda the Fair, Asmund's daughter, whom I
have desired all my days; and, if I fail of this my oath, then our
troth is at an end, and thou mayst wed whom thou wilt," and in turn he
put his lips upon the sword, while Swanhild watched them do the oath.
Now Ospakar was recovered from the fight, and he sat there upon the
snow, with bowed head, for he knew well that he had won the greatest
shame, and had lost both wife and sword. Black rage filled his heart
as he listened, and he sprang to his feet.
"I came hither, Asmund," he said, "to ask this maid of thine in
marriage, and methinks that had been a good match for her and thee.
But I have been overthrown by witchcraft of this man in a wrestling-
bout, and thereby lost my good sword; and now I must seem to hear him
betrothed to the maid before me."
"Thou hast heard aright, Ospakar," said Asmund, "and thy wooing is
soon sped. Get thee back whence thou camest and seek a wife in thine
own quarter, for thou art unfit in age and aspect to have so sweet a
maid. Moreover, here in the south we hold men of small account,
however great and rich they be, who do not shame to seek to overcome a
foe by foul means. With my own eyes I saw thee stamp on the naked foot
of Eric, Thorgrimur's son; with my own eyes I saw thee, like a wolf,
fasten that black fang of thine upon him--there is the mark of it;
and, as for the matter of the greased shoes, thou knowest best what
hand thou hadst in it."
"I had no hand. If any did this thing, it was Groa the Witch, thy
Finnish bedmate. For the rest, I was mad and know not what I did. But
hearken, Asmund: ill shall befall thee and thy house, and I will ever
be thy foe. Moreover, I will yet wed this maid of thine. And now, thou
Eric, hearken also: I will have another game with thee. This one was
but the sport of boys; when we meet again--and the time shall not be
long--swords shall be aloft, and thou shalt learn the play of men. I
tell thee that I will slay thee, and tear Gudruda, shrieking, from thy
arms to be my wife! I tell thee that, with yonder good sword
Whitefire, I will yet hew off thy head!"--and he choked and stopped.
"Thou art much foam and little water," said Eric. "These things are
easily put to proof. If thou willest it, to-morrow I will come with
thee to a holmgang, and there we may set the twigs and finish what we
have begun to-day."
"I cannot do that, for thou hast my sword; and, till I am suited with
another weapon, I may fight no holmgang. Still, fear not: we shall
soon meet with weapons aloft and byrnie on breast."
"Never too soon can the hour come, Blacktooth," said Eric, and turning
on his heel, he limped to the hall to clothe himself afresh. On the
threshold of the men's door he met Groa the Witch.
"Thou didst put grease upon my shoes, carline and witch-hag that thou
art," he said.
"It is not true, Brighteyes."
"There thou liest, and for all this I will repay thee. Thou art not
yet the wife of Asmund, nor shalt be, for a plan comes into my head
Groa looked at him strangely. "If thou speakest so, take heed to thy
meat and drink," she said. "I was not born among the Finns for
nothing; and know, I am still minded to wed Asmund. For thy shoes, I
would to the Gods that they were Hell-shoon, and that I was now
binding them on thy dead feet."
"Oh! the cat begins to spit," said Eric. "But know this: thou mayest
grease my shoes--fit work for a carline!--but thou mayest never bind
them on. Thou art a witch, and wilt come to the end of witches; and
what thy daughter is, that I will not say," and he pushed past her and
entered the hall.
Presently Asmund came to seek Eric there, and prayed him to be gone to
his stead on Ran River. The horses of Ospakar had strayed, and he must
stop at Middalhof till they were found; but, if these two should abide
under the same roof, bloodshed would come of it, and that Asmund knew.
Eric said yea to this, and, when he had rested a while, he kissed
Gudruda, and, taking a horse, rode away to Coldback, bearing the sword
Whitefire with him, and for a time he saw no more of Ospakar.
When he came there, his mother Saevuna greeted him as one risen from
the dead, and hung about his neck. Then he told her all that had come
to pass, and she thought it a marvellous story, and sorrowed that
Thorgrimur, her husband, was not alive to know it. But Eric mused a
while, and spoke.
"Mother," he said, "now my uncle Thorod of Greenfell is dead, and his
daughter, my cousin Unna, has no home. She is a fair woman and skilled
in all things. It comes into my mind that we should bid her here to
dwell with us."
"Why, I thought thou wast betrothed to Gudruda the Fair," said
Saevuna. "Wherefore, then, wouldst thou bring Unna hither?"
"For this cause," said Eric; "because it seems that Asmund the Priest
wearies of Groa the Witch, and would take another wife, and I wish to
draw the bands between us tighter, if it may befall so."
"Groa will take it ill," said Saevuna.
"Things cannot be worse between us than they are now, therefore I do
not fear Groa," he answered.
"It shall be as thou wilt, son; to-morrow we will send to Unna and bid
her here, if it pleases her to come."
Now Ospakar stayed three more days at Middalhof, till his horses were
found, and he was fit to travel, for Eric had shaken him sorely. But
he had no words with Gudruda and few with Asmund. Still, he saw
Swanhild, and she bid him to be of good cheer, for he should yet have
Gudruda. For now that the maid had passed from him the mind of Ospakar
was set in winning her. Björn also, Asmund's son, spoke words of good
comfort to him, for he envied Eric his great fame, and he thought the
match with Blacktooth would be good. And so at length Ospakar rode
away to Swinefell with all his company; but Gizur, his son, left his
For Swanhild had not been idle this while. Her heart was sore, but she
must follow her ill-nature, and so she had put out her woman's
strength and beguiled Gizur into loving her. But she did not love him
at all, and the temper of Asmund the Priest was so angry that Gizur
dared not ask her in marriage. So nothing was said of the matter.
Now Unna came to Coldback, to dwell with Saevuna, Eric's mother, and
she was a fair and buxom woman. She had been once wedded, but within a
month of her marriage her husband was lost at sea, this two years
gone. At first Gudruda was somewhat jealous of this coming of Unna to
Coldback; but Eric showed her what was in his mind, and she fell into
the plan, for she hated and feared Groa greatly, and desired to be rid
Since this matter of the greasing of Eric's wrestling-shoes great
loathing of Groa had come into Asmund's mind, and he bethought him
often of those words that his wife Gudruda the Gentle spoke as she lay
dying, and grieved that the oath which he swore then had in part been
broken. He would have no more to do with Groa now, but he could not be
rid of her; and, notwithstanding her evil doings, he still loved
Swanhild. But Groa grew thin with spite and rage, and wandered about
the place glaring with her great black eyes, and people hated her more
Now Asmund went to visit at Coldback, and there he saw Unna, and was
pleased with her, for she was a blithe woman and a bonny. The end of
it was that he asked her in marriage of Eric; at which Brighteyes was
glad, but said that he must know Unna's mind. Unna hearkened, and did
not say no, for though Asmund was somewhat gone in years, still he was
an upstanding man, wealthy in lands, goods, and moneys out at
interest, and having many friends. So they plighted troth, and the
wedding-feast was to be in the autumn after hay-harvest. Now Asmund
rode back to Middalhof somewhat troubled at heart, for these tidings
must be told to Groa, and he feared her and her witchcraft. In the
hall he found her, standing alone.
"Where hast thou been, lord?" she asked.
"At Coldback," he answered.
"To see Unna, Eric's cousin, perchance?"
"That is so."
"What is Unna to thee, then, lord?"
"This much, that after hay-harvest she will be my wife, and that is
ill news for thee, Groa."
Now Groa turned and grasped fiercely at the air with her thin hands.
Her eyes started out, foam was on her lips, and she shook in her fury
like a birch-tree in the wind, looking so evil that Asmund drew back a
little way, saying:
"Now a veil is lifted from thee and I see thee as thou art. Thou hast
cast a glamour over me these many years, Groa, and it is gone."
"Mayhap, Asmund Asmundson--mayhap, thou knowest me; but I tell thee
that thou shalt see me in a worse guise before thou weddest Unna.
What! have I borne the greatest shame, lying by thy side these many
years, and shall I live to see a rival, young and fair, creep into my
place with honour? That I will not while runes have power and spells
can conjure the evil thing upon thee. I call down ruin on thee and
thine--yea and on Brighteyes also, for he has brought this thing to
pass. Death take ye all! May thy blood no longer run in mortal veins
anywhere on the earth! Go down to Hela, Asmund, and be forgotten!" and
she began to mutter runes swiftly.
Now Asmund turned white with wrath. "Cease thy evil talk," he said,
"or thou shalt be hurled as a witch into Goldfoss pool."
"Into Goldfoss pool?--yea, there I may lie. I see it!--I seem to see
this shape of mine rolling where the waters boil fiercest--but thine
eyes shall never see it! /Thy/ eyes are shut, and shut are the eyes of
Unna, for ye have gone before!--I do but follow after," and thrice
Groa shrieked aloud, throwing up her arms, then fell foaming on the
"An evil woman and a fey!" said Asmund as he called people to her. "It
had been better for me if I had never seen her dark face."
Now it is to be told that Groa lay beside herself for ten full days,
and Swanhild nursed her. Then she found her sense again, and craved to
see Asmund, and spoke thus to him:
"It seems to me, lord, if indeed it be aught but a vision of my
dreams, that before this sickness struck me I spoke mad and angry
words against thee, because thou hast plighted troth to Unna, Thorod's
"That is so, in truth," said Asmund.
"I have to say this, then, lord: that most humbly I crave thy pardon
for my ill words, and ask thee to put them away from thy mind. Sore
heart makes sour speech, and thou knowest well that, howsoever great
my faults, at least I have always loved thee and laboured for thee,
and methinks that in some fashion thy fortunes are the debtor to my
wisdom. Therefore when my ears heard that thou hadst of a truth put me
away, and that another woman comes an honoured wife to rule in
Middalhof, my tongue forgot its courtesy, and I spoke words that are
of all words the farthest from my mind. For I know well that I grow
old, and have put off that beauty with which I was adorned of yore,
and that held thee to me. '/Carline/' Eric Brighteyes named me, and
'carline' I am--an old hag, no more! Now, forgive me, and, in memory
of all that has been between us, let me creep to my place in the ingle
and still watch and serve thee and thine till my service is outworn.
Out of Ran's net I came to thee, and, if thou drivest me hence, I tell
thee that I will lie down and die upon thy threshold, and when thou
sinkest into eld surely the memory of it shall grieve thee."
Thus she spoke and wept much, till Asmund's heart softened in him,
and, though with a doubting mind, he said it should be as she willed.
So Groa stayed on at Middalhof, and was lowly in her bearing and soft
HOW ERIC WENT UP MOSFELL AGAINST SKALLAGRIM THE BARESARK
Now Atli the Good, earl of the Orkneys, comes into the story.
It chanced that Atli had sailed to Iceland in the autumn on a business
about certain lands that had fallen to him in right of his mother
Helga, who was an Icelander, and he had wintered west of Reyjanes.
Spring being come, he wished to sail home, and, when his ship was
bound, he put to sea full early in the year. But it chanced that bad
weather came up from the south-east, with mist and rain, so he must
needs beach his ship in a creek under shelter of the Westman Islands.
Now Atli asked what people dwelt in these parts, and, when he heard
the name of Asmund Asmundson the Priest, he was glad, for in old days
he and Asmund had gone many a viking cruise together.
"We will leave the ship here," he said, "till the weather clears, and
go up to Middalhof to stay with Asmund."
So they made the ship snug, and left men to watch her; but two of the
company, with Earl Atli, rode up to Middalhof.
It must be told of Atli that he was the best of the earls who lived in
those days, and he ruled the Orkneys so well that men gave him a by-
name and called him Atli the Good. It was said of him that he had
never turned a poor man away unsuccoured, nor bowed his head before a
strong man, nor drawn his sword without cause, nor refused peace to
him who prayed it. He was sixty years old, but age had left few marks
on him, except that of his long white beard. He was keen-eyed, and
well-fashioned of form and face, a great warrior and the strongest of
men. His wife was dead, leaving him no children, and this was a sorrow
to him; but as yet he had taken no other wife, for he would say: "Love
makes an old man blind," and "When age runs with youth, both shall
fall," and again, "Mix grey locks and golden and spoil two heads." For
this earl was a man of many wise sayings.
Now Atli came to Middalhof just as men sat down to meat and, hearing
the clatter of arms, all sprang to their feet, thinking that perhaps
Ospakar had come again as he had promised. But when Asmund saw Atli he
knew him at once, though they had not met for nearly thirty years, and
he greeted him lovingly, and put him in the high seat, and gave place
to his men upon the cross-benches. Atli told all his story, and Asmund
bade him rest a while at Middalhof till the weather grew clearer.
Now the Earl saw Swanhild and thought the maid wondrous fair, and so
indeed she was, as she moved scornfully to and fro in her kirtle of
white. Soft was her curling hair and deep were her dark blue eyes, and
bent were her red lips as is a bow above her dimpled chin, and her
teeth shone like pearls.
"Is that fair maid thy daughter, Asmund," asked Atli.
"She is named Swanhild the Fatherless," he answered, turning his face
"Well," said Atli, looking sharply on him, "were the maid sprung from
me, she would not long be called the 'Fatherless,' for few have such a
"She is fair enough," said Asmund, "in all save temper, and that is
bad to cross."
"In every sword a flaw," answers Atli; "but what has an old man to do
with young maids and their beauty?" and he sighed.
"I have known younger men who would seem less brisk at bridals," said
Asmund, and for that time they talked no more of the matter.
Now, Swanhild heard something of this speech, and she guessed more;
and it came into her mind that it would be the best of sport to make
this old man love her, and then to mock him and say him nay. So she
set herself to the task, as it ever was her wont, and she found it
easy. For all day long, with downcast eyes and gentle looks, she
waited upon the Earl, and now, at his bidding, she sang to him in a
voice soft and low, and now she talked so wisely well that Atli
thought no such maid had trod the earth before. But he checked himself
with many learned saws, and on a day when the weather had grown fair,
and they sat alone, he told her that his ship was bound for Orkney
Then, as though by chance, Swanhild laid her white hand in his, and on
a sudden looked deep into his eyes, and said with trembling lips, "Ah,
go not yet, lord!--I pray thee, go not yet!"--and, turning, she fled
But Atli was much moved, and he said to himself: "Now a strange thing
is come to pass: a fair maid loves an old man; and yet, methinks, he
who looks into those eyes sees deep waters," and he beat his brow and
But Swanhild in her chamber laughed till the tears ran from those same
eyes, for she saw that the great fish was hooked and now the time had
come to play him.
For she did not know that it was otherwise fated.
Gudruda, too, saw all these things and knew not how to read them, for
she was of an honest mind, and could not understand how a woman may
love a man as Swanhild loved Eric and yet make such play with other
men, and that of her free will. For she guessed little of Swanhild's
guilefulness, nor of the coldness of her heart to all save Eric; nor
of how this was the only joy left to her: to make a sport of men and
put them to grief and shame. Atli said to himself that he would watch
this maid well before he uttered a word to Asmund, and he deemed
himself very cunning, for he was wondrous cautious after the fashion
of those about to fall. So he set himself to watching, and Swanhild
set herself to smiling, and he told her tales of warfare and of
daring, and she clasped her hands and said:
"Was there ever such a man since Odin trod the earth?" And so it went
on, till the serving-women laughed at the old man in love and the wit
of her that mocked him.
Now upon a day, Eric having made an end of sowing his corn, bethought
himself of his vow to go up alone against Skallagrim the Baresark in
his den on Mosfell over by Hecla. Now, this was a heavy task: for
Skallagrim was held so mighty among men that none went up against him
any more; and at times Eric thought of Gudruda, and sighed, for it was
likely that she would be a widow before she was made a wife. Still,
his oath must be fulfilled, and, moreover, of late Skallagrim having
heard that a youngling named Eric Brighteyes had vowed to slay him
single-handed, had made of a mock of him in this fashion. For
Skallagrim rode down to Coldback on Ran River and at night-time took a
lamb from the fold. Holding the lamb beneath his arm, he drew near to
the house and smote thrice on the door with his battle-axe, and they
were thundering knocks. Then he leapt on to his horse and rode off a
space and waited. Presently Eric came out, but half clad, a shield in
one hand and Whitefire in the other, and, looking, by the bright
moonlight he saw a huge black-bearded man seated on a horse, having a
great axe in one hand and the lamb beneath his arm.
"Who art thou?" roared Eric.
"I am called Skallagrim, youngling," answered the man on the horse.
"Many men have seen me once, none have wished to see me twice, and
some few have never seen aught again. Now, it has been echoed in my
ears that thou hast vowed a vow to go up Mosfell against Skallagrim
the Baresark, and I am come hither to say that I will make thee right
welcome. See," and with his axe he cut off the lamb's tail on the
pommel of his saddle: "of the flesh of this lamb of thine I will brew
broth and of his skin I will make me a vest. Take thou this tail, and
when thou fittest it on to the skin again, Skallagrim will own a
lord," and he hurled the tail towards him.
"Bide thou there till I can come to thee," shouted Eric; "it will
spare me a ride to Mosfell."
"Nay, nay. It is good for lads to take the mountain air," and
Skallagrim turned his horse away, laughing.
Eric watched Skallagrim vanish over the knoll, and then, though he was
very angry, laughed also and went in. But first he picked up the tail,
and on the morrow he skinned it.
Now the time was come when the matter must be tried, and Eric bade
farewell to Saevuna his mother, and Unna his cousin, and girt
Whitefire round him and set upon his head a golden helm with wings on
it. Then he found the byrnie which his father Thorgrimur had stripped,
together with the helm, from that Baresark who cut off his leg--and
this was a good piece, forged of the Welshmen--and he put it on his
breast, and taking a stout shield of bull's hide studded with nails,
rode away with one thrall, the strong carle named Jon.
But the women misdoubted them much of this venture; nevertheless Eric
might not be gainsayed.
Now, the road to Mosfell runs past Middalhof and thither he came.
Atli, standing at the men's door, saw him and cried aloud: "Ho! a
mighty man comes here."
Swanhild looked out and saw Eric, and he was a goodly sight in his
war-gear. For now, week by week, he seemed to grow more fair and
great, as the full strength of his manhood rose in him, like sap in
the spring grass, and Gudruda was very proud of her lover. That night
Eric stayed at Middalhof, and sat hand in hand with Gudruda and talked
with Earl Atli. Now the heart of the old viking went out to Eric, and
he took great delight in him and in his strength and deeds, and he
longed much that the Gods had given him such a son.
"I prophesy this of thee, Brighteyes," he cried: "that it shall go ill
with this Baresark thou seekest--yes, and with all men who come within
sweep of that great sword of thine. But remember this, lad: guard thy
head with thy buckler, cut low beneath his shield, if he carries one,
and mow the legs from him: for ever a Baresark rushes on, shield up."
Eric thanked him for his good words and went to rest. But, before it
was light, he rose, and Gudruda rose also and came into the hall, and
buckled his harness on him with her own hands.
"This is a sad task for me, Eric!" she sighed, "for how do I know that
Baresark's hands shall not loose this helm of thine?"
"That is as it may be, sweet," he said; "but I fear not the Baresark
or any man. How goes it with Swanhild now?"
"I know not. She makes herself sweet to that old Earl and he is fain
of her, and that is beyond my sight."
"I have seen as much," said Eric. "It will be well for us if he should
"Ay, and ill for him; but it is to be doubted if that is in her mind."
Now Eric kissed her soft and sweet, and went away, bidding her look
for his return on the day after the morrow.
Gudruda bore up bravely against her fears till he was gone, but then
she wept a little.
Now it is to be told that Eric and his thrall Jon rode hard up
Stonefell and across the mountains and over the black sand, till, two
hours before sunset, they came to the foot of Mosfell, having Hecla on
their right. It is a grim mountain, grey with moss, standing alone in
the desert plain; but between it and Hecla there is good grassland.
"Here is the fox's earth. Now to start him," said Eric.
He knows something of the path by which this fortress can be climbed
from the south, and horses may be ridden up it for a space. So on they
go, till at length they come to a flat place where water runs down the
black rocks, and here Eric drank of the water, ate food, and washed
his face and hands. This done, he bid Jon tend the horses--for
hereabouts there is a little grass--and be watchful till he returned,
since he must go up against Skallagrim alone. And there with a
doubtful heart Jon stayed all that night. For of all that came to pass
he saw but one thing, and that was the light of Whitefire as it
flashed out high above him on the brow of the mountain when first
Brighteyes smote at foe.
Eric went warily up the Baresark path, for he would keep his breath in
him, and the light shone redly on his golden helm. High he went, till
at length he came to a pass narrow and dark and hedged on either side
with sheer cliffs, such as two armed men might hold against a score.
He peered down this path, but he saw no Baresark, though it was worn
by Baresark feet. He crept along its length, moving like a sunbeam
through the darkness of the pass, for the light gathered on his helm
and sword, till suddenly the path turned and he was on the brink of a
gulf that seemed to have no bottom, and, looking across and down, he
could see Jon and the horses more than a hundred fathoms beneath. Now
Eric must stop, for this path leads but into the black gulf. Also he
was perplexed to know where Skallagrim had his lair. He crept to the
brink and gazed. Then he saw that a point of rock jutted from the
sheer face of the cliff and that the point was worn with the mark of
"Where Baresark passes, there may yeoman follow," said Eric and,
sheathing Whitefire, without more ado, though he liked the task
little, he grasped the overhanging rock and stepped down on to the
point below. Now he was perched like an eagle over the dizzy gulf and
his brain swam. Backward he feared to go, and forward he might not,
for there was nothing but air. Beside him, growing from the face of
the cliff, was a birch-bush. He grasped it to steady himself. It bent
beneath his clutch, and then he saw, behind it, a hole in the rock
through which a man could creep, and down this hole ran footmarks.
"First through air like a bird; now through earth like a fox," said
Eric and entered the hole. Doubling his body till his helm almost
touched his knee he took three paces and lo! he stood on a great
platform of rock, so large that a hall might be built on it, which,
curving inwards, cannot be seen from the narrow pass. This platform,
that is backed by the sheer cliff, looks straight to the south, and
from it he could search the plain and the path that he had travelled,
and there once more he saw Jon and the horses far below him.
"A strong place, truly, and well chosen," said Eric and looked around.
On the floor of the rock and some paces from him a turf fire still
smouldered, and by it were sheep's bones, and beyond, in the face of
the overhanging precipice, was the mouth of a cave.
"The wolf is at home, or was but lately," said Eric; "now for his
lair;" and with that he walked warily to the mouth of the cave and
peered in. He could see nothing yet a while, but surely he heard a
sound of snoring?
Then he crept in, and, presently, by the red light of the burning
embers, he saw a great black-bearded man stretched at length upon a
rug of sheepskins, and by his side an axe.
"Now it would be easy to make an end of this cave-dweller," thought
Eric; "but that is a deed I will not do--no, not even to a Baresark--
to slay him in his sleep," and therewith he stepped lightly to the
side of Skallagrim, and was about to prick him with the point of
Whitefire, when! as he did so, another man sat up behind Skallagrim.
"By Thor! for two I did not bargain," said Eric, and sprang from the
Then, with a grunt of rage, that Baresark who was behind Skallagrim
came out like a she-bear robbed of her whelps, and ran straight at
Eric, sword aloft. Eric gives before him right to the edge of the
cliff. Then the Baresark smites at him and Brighteyes catches the blow
on his shield, and smites at him in turn so well and truly, that the
head of the Baresark flies from his shoulders and spins along the
ground, but his body, with outstretched arms yet gripping at the air,
falls over the edge of the gulf sheer into the water, a hundred
fathoms down. It was the flash that Whitefire made as it circled ere
it smote that Jon saw while he waited in the dell upon the mountain
side. But of the Baresark he saw nothing, for he passed down into the
great fire-riven cleft and was never seen more, save once only, in a
strange fashion that shall be told. This was the first man whom
Now the old tale tells that Eric cried aloud: "Little chance had this
one," and that then a wonderful thing came to pass. For the head on
the rock opened its eyes and answered:
"Little chance indeed against thee, Eric Brighteyes. Still, I tell
thee this: that where my body fell there thou shalt fall, and where it
lies there thou shalt lie also."
Now Eric was afraid, for he thought it a strange thing that a severed
head should speak to him.
"Here it seems I have to deal with trolls," he said; "but at the
least, though he speak, this one shall strike no more," and he looked
at the head, but it answered nothing.
Now Skallagrim slept through it all and the light grew so dim that
Eric thought it time to make an end this way or that. Therefore, he
took the head of the slain man, though he feared to touch it, and
rolled it swiftly into the cave, saying, "Now, being so glib of
speech, go tell thy mate that Eric Brighteyes knocks at his door."
Then came sounds as of a man rising, and presently Skallagrim rushed
forth with axe aloft and his fellow's head in his left hand. He was
clothed in nothing but a shirt and the skin of Eric's lamb was bound
to his chest.
"Where now is my mate?" he said. Then he saw Eric leaning on
Whitefire, his golden helm ablaze with the glory of the passing sun.
"It seems that thou holdest somewhat of him in thine hand, Skallagrim,
and for the rest, go seek it in yonder rift."
"Who art thou?" roared Skallagrim.
"Thou mayest know me by this token," said Eric, and he threw towards
him the skin of that lamb's tail which Skallagrim had lifted from
Now Skallagrim knew him and the Baresark fit came on. His eyes rolled,
foam flew to his lips, his mouth grinned, and he was awesome to see.
He let fall the head, and, swinging the great axe aloft, rushed at
Eric. But Brighteyes is too swift for him. It would not be well to let
that stroke fall, and it must go hard with aught it struck. He springs
forward, he louts low and sweeps upwards with Whitefire. Skallagrim
sees the sword flare and drops almost to his knee, guarding his head
with the axe; but Whitefire strikes on the iron half of the axe and
shears it in two, so that the axe-head falls to earth. Now the
Baresark is weaponless but unharmed, and it would be an easy task to
slay him as he rushes by. But it came into Eric's mind that it is an
unworthy deed to slay a swordless man, and this came into his mind
also, that he desired to match his naked might against a Baresark in
his rage. So, in the hardihood of his youth and strength, he cast
Whitefire aside, and crying "Come, try a fall with me, Baresark,"
rushed on Skallagrim.
"Thou art mad," yells the Baresark, and they are at it hard. Now they
grip and rend and tear. Ospakar was strong, but the Baresark strength
of Skallagrim is more than the strength of Ospakar, and soon
Brighteyes thinks longingly on Whitefire that he has cast aside. Eric
is mighty beyond the might of men, but he can scarcely hold his own
against this mad man, and very soon he knows that only one chance is
left to him, and that is to cling to Skallagrim till the Baresark fit
be passed and he is once more like other men. But this is easier to
tell of than to do, and presently, strive as he will, Eric is on his
back, and Skallagrim on him. But still he holds the Baresark as with
bands of iron, and Skallagrim may not free his arms, though he strive
furiously. Now they roll over and over on the rock, and the gloom
gathers fast about them till presently Eric sees that they draw near
to the brink of that mighty rift down which the severed head of the
cave-dweller has foretold his fall.
"Then we go together," says Eric, but the Baresark does not heed. Now
they are on the very brink, and here as it chances, or as the Norns
decree, a little rock juts up and this keeps them from falling. Eric
is uppermost, and, strive as he will, Skallagrim may not turn him on
his back again. Still, Brighteyes' strength may not endure very long,
for he grows faint, and his legs slip slowly over the side of the rift
till now he clings, as it were, by his ribs and shoulder-blades alone,
that rub against the little rock. The light dies away, and Eric thinks
on sweet Gudruda and makes ready to die also, when suddenly a last ray
from the sun falls on the fierce face of Skallagrim, and lo!
Brighteyes sees it change, for the madness goes out of it, and in a
moment the Baresark becomes but as a child in his mighty grip.
"Hold!" said Skallagrim, "I crave peace," and he loosed his clasp.
"Not too soon, then," gasped Eric as, drawing his legs from over the
brink of the rift, he gained his feet and, staggering to his sword,
grasped it very thankfully.
"I am fordone!" said Skallagrim; "come, drag me from this place, for I
fall; or, if thou wilt, hew off my head."
"I will not serve thee thus," said Eric. "Thou art a gallant foe," and
he put out his hand and drew him into safety.
For a while Skallagrim lay panting, then he gained his hands and knees
and crawled to where Eric leaned against the rock.
"Lord," he said, "give me thy hand."
Eric stretched forth his left hand, wondering, and Skallagrim took it.
He did not stretch out his right, for, fearing guile, he gripped
Whitefire in it.
"Lord," Skallagrim said again, "of all men who ever were, thou art the
mightiest. Five other men had not stood before me in my rage, but,
scorning thy weapon, thou didst overcome me in the noblest fashion,
and by thy naked strength alone. Now hearken. Thou hast given me my
life, and it is thine from this hour to the end. Here I swear fealty
to thee. Slay me if thou wilt, or use me if thou wilt, but I think it
will be better for thee to do this rather than that, for there is but
one who has mastered me, and thou art he, and it is borne in upon my
mind that thou wilt have need of my strength, and that shortly."
"That may well be, Skallagrim," said Eric, "yet I put little trust in
outlaws and cave-dwellers. How do I know, if I take thee to me, that
thou wilt not murder me in my sleep, as it would have been easy for me
to do by thee but now?"
"What is it that runs from thy arm," asked Skallagrim.
"Blood," said Eric.
"Stretch out thine arm, lord."
Eric did so, and the Baresark put his lips to the scratch and sucked
the blood, then said:
"In this blood of thine I pledge thee, Eric Brighteyes! May Valhalla
refuse me and Hela take me; may I be hunted like a fox from earth to
earth; may trolls torment me and wizards sport with me o' night; may
my limbs shrivel and my heart turn to water; may my foes overtake me,
and my bones be crushed across the doom-stone--if I fail in one jot
from this my oath that I have sworn! I will guard thy back, I will
smite thy enemies, thy hearthstone shall be my temple, thy honour my
honour. Thrall am I of thine, and thrall I will be, and whiles thou
wilt we will live one life, and, in the end, we will die one death."
"It seems that in going to seek a foe I have found a friend," said
Eric, "and it is likely enough that I shall need one. Skallagrim,
Baresark and outlaw as thou art, I take thee at thy word. Henceforth,
we are master and man and we will do many a deed side by side, and in
token of it I lengthen thy name and call thee Skallagrim Lambstail.
Now, if thou hast it, give me food and drink, for I am faint from that
hug of thine, old bear."
HOW OSPAKAR BLACKTOOTH FOUND ERIC BRIGHTEYES AND
SKALLAGRIM LAMBSTAIL ON HORSE-HEAD HEIGHTS
Now Skallagrim led Eric to his cave and fed the fire and gave him
flesh to eat and ale to drink. When he had eaten his fill Eric looked
at the Baresark. He had black hair streaked with grey that hung down
upon his shoulders. His nose was hooked like an eagle's beak, his
beard was wild and his sunken eyes were keen as a hawk's. He was
somewhat bent and not over tall, but of a mighty make, for his
shoulders must pass many a door sideways.
"Thou art a great man," said Eric, "and it is something to have
overcome thee. Now tell me what turned thee Baresark."
"A shameful deed that was done against me, lord. Ten years ago I was a
yeoman of small wealth in the north. I had but one good thing, and
that was the fairest housewife in those parts--Thorunna by name--and I
loved her much, but we had no children. Now, not far from my stead is
a place called Swinefell, and there dwells a mighty chief named
Ospakar Blacktooth; he is an evil man and strong----"
Eric started at the name and then bade Skallagrim take up the tale.
"It chanced that Ospakar saw my wife Thorunna and would take her, but
at first she did not listen. Then he promised her wealth and all good
things, and she was weary of our hard way of life and hearkened.
Still, she would not go away openly, for that had brought shame on
her, but plotted with Ospakar that he should come and take her as
though by force. So it came about, as I lay heavily asleep one night
at Thorunna's side, having drunk somewhat too deeply of the autumn
ale, that armed men seized me, bound me, and haled me from my bed.
There were eight of them, and with them was Ospakar. Then Blacktooth
bid Thorunna rise, clothe herself and come to be his May, and she made
pretence to weep at this, but fell to it readily enough. Now she bound
her girdle round her and to it a knife hung.
"'Kill thyself, sweet,' I cried: 'death is better than shame.'
"'Not so, husband,' she answered. 'It is true that I love but thee;
yet a woman may find another love, but not another life,' and I saw
her laugh through her mock tears. Now Ospakar rode in hot haste away
to Swinefell and with him went Thorunna, but his men stayed a while
and drank my ale, and, as they drank, they mocked me who was bound
before them, and little by little all the truth was told of the doings
of Ospakar and Thorunna my housewife, and I learned that it was she
who had planned this sport. Then my eyes grew dark and I drew near to
death from very shame and bitterness. But of a sudden something leaped
up in my heart, fire raged before my eyes and voices in my ears called
on to war and vengeance. I was Baresark--and like hay bands I burst my
cords. My axe hung on the wainscot. I snatched it thence, and of what
befell I know this alone, that, when the madness passed, eight men lay
stretched out before me, and all the place was but a gore of blood.
"'Then I drew the dead together and piled drinking tables over them,
and benches, and turf, and anything else that would burn, and put
cod's oil on the pile, and fired the stead above them, so that the
tale went abroad that all these men were burned in their cups, and I
"'But I took the name of Skallagrim and swore an oath against all men,
ay, and women too, and away I went to the wood-folk and worked much
mischief, for I spared few, and so on to Mosfell. Here I have stayed
these five years, awaiting the time when I shall find Ospakar and
Thorunna the harlot, and I have fought many men, but, till thou camest
up against me, none could stand before my might."
"A strange tale, truly," said Eric; "but now hearken thou to a
stranger, for of a truth it seems that we have not come together by
chance," and he told him of Gudruda and the wrestling and of the
overthrow of Blacktooth, and showed him Whitefire which he won out of
the hand of Ospakar.
Skallagrim listened and laughed aloud. "Surely," he said, "this is the
work of the Norns. See, lord, thou and I will yet smite this Ospakar.
He has taken my wife and he would take thy betrothed. Let it be! Let
it be! Ah, would that I had been there to see the wrestling--Ospakar
had never risen from his snow-bed. But there is time left to us, and I
shall yet see his head roll along the dust. Thou hast his goodly sword
and with it thou shalt sweep Blacktooth's head from his shoulders--or
perchance that shall be my lot," and with this Skallagrim sprang up,
gnashing his teeth and clutching at the air.
"Peace," said Eric. "Blacktooth is not here. Save thy rage until it
can run along thy sword and strike him."
"Nay, not here, nor yet so far off, lord. Hearken: I know this
Ospakar. If he has set eyes of longing on Gudruda, Asmund's daughter,
he will not rest one hour till he have her or is slain; and if he has
set eyes of hate on thee--then take heed to thy going and spy down
every path before thy feet tread it. Soon shall the matter come on for
judgment and even now Odin's Valkyries[*] choose their own."
[*] The "corse-choosing sisters" who were bidden by Odin to single out
those warriors whose hour had come to die in battle and win
"It is well, then," said Eric.
"Yea, lord, it is well, for we two have little to fear from any six
men, if so be that they fall on us in fair fight. But I do not
altogether like thy tale. Too many women are mixed up in it, and women
stab in the back. A man may deal with swords aloft, but not with
tricks, and lies, and false women's witchery. It was a woman who
greased thy wrestling soles; mayhap it will be a woman that binds on
thy Hell-shoes when all is done--ay! and who makes them ready for thy
"Of women, as of men," answered Eric, "there is this to be said, that
some are good and some evil."
"Yes, lord, and this also, that the evil ones plot the ill of their
evil, but the good do it of their blind foolishness. Forswear women
and so shalt thou live happy and die in honour--cherish them and live
in wretchedness and die an outcast."
"Thy talk is foolish," said Eric. "Birds must to the air, the sea to
the shore, and man must to woman. As things are so let them be, for
they will soon seem as though they had never been. I had rather kiss
my dear and die, if so it pleases me to do, than kiss her not and
live, for at the last the end will be one end, and kisses are sweet!"
"That is a good saying," said Skallagrim, and they fell asleep side by
side and Eric had no fear.
Now they awoke and the light was already full, for they were weary and
their sleep had been heavy.
Hard by the mouth of the cave is a little well of water that gathers
there from the rocks above and in this Eric washed himself. Then
Skallagrim showed him the cave and the goodly store of arms that he
had won from those whom he had slain and robbed.
"A wondrous place, truly," said Eric, "and well fitted to the uses of
such a chapman[*] as thou art; but, say, how didst thou find it?"
"I followed him who was here before me and gave him choice--to go, or
to fight for the stronghold. But he needs must fight and that was his
bane, for I slew him."
"Who was that, then," asked Eric, "whose head lies yonder?"
"A cave-dweller, lord, whom I took to me because of the lonesomeness
of the winter tide. He was an evil man, for though it is good to be
Baresark from time to time, yet to dwell with one who is always
Baresark is not good, and thou didst a needful deed in smiting his
head from him--and now let it go to find its trunk," and he rolled it
over the edge of the great rift.
"Knowest thou, Skallagrim, that this head spoke to me after it had
left the man's shoulders, saying that where its body fell there I
should fall, and where it lay there I should lie also?"
"Then, lord, that is likely to be thy doom, for this man was
foresighted, and, but the night before last, as we rode out to seek
sheep, he felt his head, and said that, before the sun sank again, a
hundred fathoms of air should link it to his shoulders."
"It may be so," answered Eric. "I thought as I lay in thy grip yonder
that the fate was near. And now arm thyself, and take such goods as
thou needest, and let us hence, for that thrall of mine who waits me
yonder will think thou hast been too mighty for me."
Skallagrim went to the edge of the rift and searched the plain with
his hawk eyes.
"No need to hasten, lord," he said. "See yonder rides thy thrall
across the black sand, and with him goes thy horse. Surely he thought
thou camest no more down the path by which thou wentest up, and it is
not thrall's work to seek Skallagrim in his lair and ask for tidings."
"Wolves take him for a fool!" said Eric in anger. "He will ride to
Middalhof and sing my death-song, and that will sound sadly in some
"It is pleasant, lord," said Skallagrim, "when good tidings dog the
heels of bad, and womenfolk can spare some tears and be little poorer.
I have horses in a secret dell that I will show thee, and on them we
will ride hence to Middalhof--and there thou must claim peace for me."
"It is well," said Eric; "now arm thyself, for if thou goest with me
thou must make an end of thy Baresark ways, or keep them for the hour
"I will do thy bidding, lord," said Skallagrim. Then he entered the
cave and set a plain black steel helm upon his black locks, and a
black chain byrnie about his breast. He took the great axe-head also
and fitted to it the half of another axe that lay among the weapons.
Then he drew out a purse of money and a store of golden rings, and set
them in a bag of otter skin, and buckled it about him. But the other
goods he wrapped up in skins and hid behind some stones which were at
the bottom of the cave--purposing to come another time and fetch them.
Then they went forth by that same perilous path which Eric had trod,
and Skallagrim showed him how he might pass the rock in safety.
"A rough road this," said Eric as he gained the deep cleft.
"Yea, lord, and, till thou camest, one that none but wood-folk have
"I would tread it no more," said Eric again, "and yet that fellow
thief of thine said that I should die here," and for a while his heart
Now Skallagrim Lambstail led him by secret paths to a dell rich in
grass, that is hid in the round of the mountain, and here three good
horses were at feed. Then, going to a certain rock, he brought out
bits and saddles, and they caught the horses, and, mounting them, rode
away from Mosfell.
Now Eric and his henchman Skallagrim the Baresark rode four hours and
saw nobody, till at length they came to the brow of a hill that is
named Horse-Head Heights, and, crossing it, found themselves almost in
the midst of a score of armed men who were about to mount their
"Now we have company," said Skallagrim.
"Yes, and bad company," answered Eric, "for yonder I spy Ospakar
Blacktooth, and Gizur and Mord his sons, ay and others. Down, and back
to back, for they will show us little gentleness."
Then they sprang to earth and took their stand upon a mound of rising
ground--and the men rode towards them.
"I shall soon know what thy fellowship is worth," said Eric.
"Fear not, lord," answered Skallagrim. "Hold thou thy head and I will
hold thy back. We are met in a good hour."
"Good or ill, it is likely to be a short one. Hearken thou: if thou
must turn Baresark when swords begin to flash, at the least stand and
be Baresark where thou art, for if thou rushest on the foe, my back
will be naked and I must soon be sped."
"It shall be as thou sayest, lord."
Now men rode round them, but at first they did not know Eric, because
of the golden helm that hid his face in shadow.
"Who are ye?" called Ospakar.
"I think that thou shouldst know me, Blacktooth," Eric answered, "for
I set thee heels up in the snow but lately--or, at the least, thou
wilt know this," and he drew great Whitefire.
"Thou mayest know me also, Ospakar," cried the Baresark. "Skallagrim,
men called me, Lambstail, Eric Brighteyes calls me, but once thou
didst call me Ounound. Say, lord, what tidings of Thorunna?"
Now Ospakar shook his sword, laughing. "I came out to seek one foe,
and I have found two," he cried. "Hearken, Eric: when thou art slain I
go hence to burn and kill at Middalhof. Shall I bear thy head as
keepsake from thee to Gudruda? For thee, Ounound, I thought thee dead;
but, being yet alive, Thorunna, my sweet love, sends thee this," and
he hurled a spear at him with all his might.
But Skallagrim catches the spear as it flies and hurls it back. It
strikes right on the shield of Ospakar and pierces it, ay and the
byrnie, and the shoulder that is beneath the byrnie, so that
Blacktooth was made unmeet for fight, and howled with pain and rage.
"Go, bid Thorunna draw that splinter forth," says Skallagrim, "and
heal the hole with kisses."
Now Ospakar, writhing with his hurt, shouts to his men to slay the two
of them, and then the fight begins.
One rushes at Eric and smites at him with an axe. The blow falls on
his shield, and shears off the side of it, then strikes the byrnie
beneath, but lightly. In answer Eric sweeps low at him with Whitefire,
and cuts his leg from under him between knee and thigh, and he falls
Another rushes in. Down flashes Whitefire before he can smite, and the
carle's shield is cloven through. Then he chooses to draw back and
fights no more that day.
Skallagrim slays a man, and wounds another sore. A tall chief with a
red scar on his face comes at Brighteyes. Twice he feints at the head
while Eric watches, then lowers the sword beneath the cover of his
shield, and sweeps suddenly at Eric's legs. Brighteyes leaps high into
the air, smiting downward with Whitefire as he leaps, and presently
that chief is dead, shorn through shoulder to breast.
Now Skallagrim slays another man, and grows Baresark. He looks so
fierce that men fall back from him.
Two rush on Eric, one from either side. The sword of him on the right
falls on his shield and sinks in, but Brighteyes twists the shorn
shield so strongly that the sword is wrenched from the smiter's hand.
Now the other sword is aloft above him, and that had been Eric's bane,
but Skallagrim glances round and sees it about to fall. He has no time
to turn, but dashes the hammer of his axe backward. It falls full on
the swordsman's head, and the head is shattered.
"That was well done," says Eric as the sword goes down.
"Not so ill but it might be worse," growls Skallagrim.
Presently all men drew back from those two, for they have had enough
of Whitefire and the Baresark's axe.
Ospakar sits on his horse, his shield pinned to his shoulder and
"Close in, you cowards!" he yells, "close in and cut them down!" but
no man stirs.
Then Eric mocks them. "There are but two of us," he says, "will no man
try a game with me? Let it not be sung that twenty were overcome of
Now Ospakar's son Mord hears, and he grows mad with rage. He holds his
shield aloft and rushes on. But Gizur the Lawman does not come, for
Gizur was a coward.
Skallagrim turns to meet Mord, but Eric says:--
"This one for me, comrade," and steps forward.
Mord strikes a mighty blow. Eric's shield is all shattered and cannot
stay it. It crashes through and falls full on the golden helm, beating
Brighteyes to his knee. Now he is up again and blows fall thick and
fast. Mord is a strong man, unwearied, and skilled in war, and Eric's
arms grow faint and his strength sinks low. Mord smites again and
wounds him somewhat on the shoulder.
Eric throws aside his cloven shield and, shouting, plies Whitefire
with both arms. Mord gives before him, then rushes and smites; Eric
leaps aside. Again he rushes and lo! Brighteyes has dropped his point,
and it stands a full span through the back of Mord, and instantly that
was his bane.
Now men rush to their horses, mount in hot haste and ride away, crying
that these are trolls whom they have to do with here, not men.
Skallagrim sees, and the Baresark fit takes him sore. With axe aloft
he charges after them, screaming as he comes. There is one man, the
same whom he had wounded. He cannot mount easily, and when the
Baresark comes he still lies on the neck of his horse. The great axe
wheels on high and falls, and it is told of this stroke that it was so
mighty that man and horse sank dead beneath it, cloven through and
through. Then the fit leaves Skallagrim and he walks back, and they
are alone with the dead and dying.
Eric leans on Whitefire and speaks:
"Get thee gone, Skallagrim Lambstail!" he said; "get thee gone!"
"It shall be as thou wilt, lord," answered the Baresark; "but I have
not befriended thee so ill that thou shouldst fear for blows to come."
"I will keep no man with me who puts my word aside, Skallagrim. What
did I bid thee? Was it not that thou shouldst have done with the
Baresark ways, and where thou stoodest there thou shouldst bide? and
see: thou didst forget my word swiftly! Now get thee gone!"
"It is true, lord," he said. "He who serves must serve wholly," and
Skallagrim turned to seek his horse.
"Stay," said Eric; "thou art a gallant man and I forgive thee: but
cross my will no more. We have slain several men and Ospakar goes
hence wounded. We have got honour, and they loss and the greatest
shame. Nevertheless, ill shall come of this to me, for Ospakar has
many friends and will set a law-suit on foot against me at the
Althing,[*] and thou didst draw the first blood."
[*] The annual assembly of free men which, in Iceland, performed the
functions of a Parliament and Supreme Court of Law.
"Would that the spear had gone more home," said Skallagrim.
"Ospakar's time is not yet," answered Eric; "still, he has something
by which to bear us in mind."
HOW SWANHILD DEALT WITH GUDRUDA
Now Jon, Eric's thrall, watched all night on Mosfell, but saw nothing
except the light of Whitefire as it smote the Baresark's head from his
shoulders. He stayed there till daylight, much afraid; then, making
sure that Eric was slain, Jon rode hard and fast for Middalhof,
whither he came at evening.
Gudruda was watching by the women's door. She strained her eyes
towards Mosfell to catch the light gleaming on Eric's golden helm, and
presently it gleamed indeed, white not red.
"See," said Swanhild at her side, "Eric comes!"
"Not Eric, but his thrall," answered Gudruda, "to tell us that Eric is
They waited in silence while Jon galloped towards them.
"What news of Brighteyes?" cried Swanhild.
"Little need to ask," said Gudruda, "look at his face."
Now Jon told his tale and Gudruda listened, clinging to the door post.
But Swanhild cursed him for a coward, so that he shrank before her
Gudruda turned and walked into the hall and her face was like the face
of death. Men saw her, and Asmund asked why she wore so strange a
mien. Then Gudruda sang this song:
"Up to Mosfell, battle eager,
Rode helmed Brighteyen to the fray.
Back from Mosfell, battle shunning.
Slunk yon coward thrall I ween.
Now shall maid Gudruda never
Know a husband's dear embrace;
Widowed is she--sunk in sorrow,
Eric treads Valhalla's halls!"
And with this she walked from the stead, looking neither to the right
nor to the left.
"Let the maid be," said Atli the Earl. "Grief fares best alone. But my
heart is sore for Eric. It should go ill with that Baresark if I might
get a grip of him."
"That I will have before summer is gone," said Asmund, for the death
of Eric seemed to him the worst of sorrows.
Gudruda walked far, and, crossing Laxà by the stepping stones, climbed
Stonefell till she came to the head of Golden Falls, for, like a
stricken thing, she desired to be alone in her grief. But Swanhild saw
her and followed, coming on her as she sat watching the water thunder
down the mighty cleft. Presently Swanhild's shadow fell athwart her,
and Gudruda looked up.
"What wouldst thou with me, Swanhild?" she asked. "Art thou come to
mock my grief?"
"Nay, foster-sister, for then I must mock my own. I come to mix my
tears with thine. See, we loved Eric, thou and I, and Eric is dead.
Let our hate be buried in his grave, whence neither may draw him
Gudruda looked upon her coldly, for nothing could stir her now.
"Get thee gone," she said. "Weep thine own tears and leave me to weep
mine. Not with thee will I mourn Eric."
Swanhild frowned and bit her lip. "I will not come to thee with words
of peace a second time, my rival," she said. "Eric is dead, but my
hate that was born of Eric's love for thee lives on and grows, and its
flower shall be thy death, Gudruda!"
"Now that Brighteyes is dead, I would fain follow on his path: so, if
thou listest, throw the gates wide," Gudruda answered, and heeded her
Swanhild went, but not far. On the further side of a knoll of grass
she flung herself to earth and grieved as her fierce heart might. She
shed no tears, but sat silently, looking with empty eyes adown the
past, and onward to the future, and finding no good therein.
But Gudruda wept as the weight of her loss pressed in upon her--wept
heavy silent tears and cried in her heart to Eric who was gone--cried
to death to come upon her and bring her sleep or Eric.
So she sat and so she grieved till, quite outworn with sorrow, sleep
stole upon her and she dreamed. Gudruda dreamed that she was dead and
that she sat nigh to the golden door that is in Odin's house at
Valhalla, by which the warriors pass and repass for ever. There she
sat from age to age, listening to the thunder of ten thousand thousand
tramping feet, and watching the fierce faces of the chosen as they
marched out in armies to do battle in the meads. And as she sat, at
length a one-eyed man, clad in gleaming garments, drew near and spoke
to her. He was glorious to look on, and old, and she knew him for Odin
"Whom seekest thou, maid Gudruda?" he asked, and the voice he spoke
with was the voice of waters.
"I seek Eric Brighteyes," she answered, "who passed hither a thousand
years ago, and for love of whom I am heart-broken."
"Eric Brighteyes, Thorgrimur's son?" quoth Odin. "I know him well; no
brisker warrior enters at Valhalla's doors, and none shall do more
service at the coming of grey wolf Fenrir.[*] Pass on and leave him to
his glory and his God."
[*] The foe destined to bring destruction on the Norse gods.
Then, in her dream, she wept sore, and prayed of Odin by the name of
Freya that he would give Eric to her for a little space.
"What wilt thou pay, then, maid Gudruda?" said Odin.
"My life," she answered.
"Good," he said; "for a night Eric shall be thine. Then die, and let
thy death be his cause of death." And Odin sang this song:
"Now, corse-choosing Daughters, hearken
To the dread Allfather's word:
When the gale of spears' breath gathers
Count not Eric midst the slain,
Till Brighteyen once hath slumbered,
Wedded, at Gudruda's side--
Then, Maidens, scream your battle call;
Whelmed with foes, let Eric fall!"
And Gudruda awoke, but in her ears the mighty waters still seemed to
speak with Odin's voice, saying:
"Then, Maidens, scream your battle call;
Whelmed with foes, let Eric fall!"
She awoke from that fey sleep, and looked upwards, and lo! before her,
with shattered shield and all besmeared with war's red rain, stood
gold-helmed Eric. There he stood, great and beautiful to see, and she
looked on him trembling and amazed.
"Is it indeed thou, Eric, or is it yet my dream?" she said.
"I am no dream, surely," said Eric; "but why lookest thou thus on me,
She rose slowly. "Methought," she said, "methought that thou wast dead
at the hand of Skallagrim." And with a great cry she fell into his
arms and lay there sobbing.
It was a sweet sight thus to see Gudruda the Fair, her head of gold
pillowed on Eric's war-stained byrnie, her dark eyes afloat with tears
of joy; but not so thought Swanhild, watching. She shook in jealous
rage, then crept away, and hid herself where she could see no more,
lest she should be smitten with madness.
"Whence camest thou? ah! whence camest thou?" said Gudruda. "I thought
thee dead, my love; but now I dreamed that I prayed Odin, and he
spared thee to me for a little."
"Well, and that he hath, though hardly," and he told her all that had
happened, and how, as he rode with Skallagrim, who yet sat yonder on
his horse, he caught sight of a woman seated on the grass and knew the
colour of the cloak.
Then Gudruda kissed him for very joy, and they were happy each with
each--for of all things that are sweet on earth, there is nothing more
sweet that this: to find him we loved, and thought dead and cold,
alive and at our side.
And so they talked and were very glad with the gladness of youth and
love, till Eric said he must on to Middalhof before the light failed,
for he could not come on horseback the way that Gudruda took, but must
ride round the shoulder of the hill; and, moreover, he was spent with
toil and hunger, and Skallagrim grew weary of waiting.
"Go!" said Gudruda; "I will be there presently!"
So he kissed her and went, and Swanhild saw the kiss and saw him go.
"Well, lord," said Skallagrim, "hast thou had thy fill of kissing?"
"Not altogether," answered Eric.
They rode a while in silence.
"I thought the maid seemed very fair!" said Skallagrim.
"There are women less favoured, Skallagrim."
"Rich bait for mighty fish!" said Skallagrim. "This I tell thee: that,
strive as thou mayest against thy fate, that maid will be thy bane and
"Things foredoomed will happen," said Eric; "but if thou fearest a
maid, the cure is easy: depart from my company."
"Who was the other?" asked the Baresark--"she who crept and peered,
listened, then crept back again, hid her face in her hands, and talked
with a grey wolf that came to her like a dog?"
"That must have been Swanhild," said Eric, "but I did not see her.
Ever does she hide like a rat in the thatch, and as for the wolf, he
must be her Familiar; for, like Groa, her mother, Swanhild plays much
with witchcraft. Now I will away back to Gudruda, for my heart
misdoubts me of this matter. Stay thou here till I come, Lambstail!"
And Eric turns and gallops back to the head of Goldfoss.
When Eric left her, Gudruda drew yet nearer to the edge of the mighty
falls, and seated herself on their very brink. Her breast was full of
joy, and there she sat and let the splendour of the night and the
greatness of the rushing sounds sink into her heart. Yonder shone the
setting sun, poised, as it were, on Westman's distant peaks, and here
sped the waters, and by that path Eric had come back to her. Yea, and
there on Sheep-saddle was the road that he had trod down Goldfoss; and
but now he had slain one Baresark and won another to be his thrall,
and they two alone had smitten the company of Ospakar, and come thence
with honour and but little harmed. Surely no such man as Eric had ever
lived--none so fair and strong and tender; and she was right happy in
his love! She stretched out her arms towards him whom but an hour gone
she had thought dead, but who had lived to come back to her with
honour, and blessed his beloved name, and laughed aloud in her
joyousness of heart, calling:
But Swanhild, creeping behind her, did not laugh. She heard Gudruda's
voice and guessed Gudruda's gladness, and jealousy arose within her
and rent her. Should this fair rival like to take her joy from her?
"/Grey Wolf, Grey Wolf! what sayest thou?/"
See, now, if Gudruda were gone, if she rolled a corpse into those
boiling waters, Eric might yet be hers; or, if he was not hers, yet
Gudruda's he could never be.
"/Grey Wolf, Grey Wolf! what is thy counsel?/"
Right on the brink of the great gulf sat Gudruda. One stroke and all
would be ended. Eric had gone; there was no eye to see--none save the
Grey Wolf's; there was no tongue to tell the deed that might be done.
Who could call her to account? The Gods! Who were the Gods? What were
the Gods? Were they not dreams? There were no Gods save the Gods of
Evil--the Gods she knew and communed with.
"/Grey Wolf, Grey Wolf! what is thy rede?/"
There sat Gudruda, laughing in the triumph of her joy, with the
sunset-glow shining on her beauty, and there, behind her, Swanhild
crept--crept like a fox upon his sleeping prey.
Now she is there--
"/I hear thee, Grey Wolf! Back to my breast, Grey Wolf!/"
Surely Gudruda heard something? She half turned her head, then again
fell to calling aloud to the waters:
"Eric! beloved Eric!--ah! is there ever a light like the light of
thine eyes--is there ever a joy like the joy of thy kiss?"
Swanhild heard, and her springs of mercy froze. Hate and fury entered
into her. She rose upon her knees and gathered up her strength:
"Seek, then, thy joy in Goldfoss," she cried aloud, and with all her
force she thrust.
Gudruda fell a fathom or more, then, with a cry, she clutched wildly
at a little ledge of rock, and hung there, her feet resting on the
shelving bank. Thirty fathoms down swirled and poured and rolled the
waters of the Golden Falls. A fathom above, red in the red light of
evening, lowered the pitiless face of Swanhild. Gudruda looked beneath
her and saw. Pale with agony she looked up and saw, but she said
"Let go, my rival; let go!" cried Swanhild: "there is none to help
thee, and none to tell thy tale. Let go, I say, and seek thy marriage-
bed in Goldfoss!"
But Gudruda clung on and gazed upwards with white face and piteous
"What! art thou so fain of a moment's life?" said Swanhild. "Then I
will save thee from thyself, for it must be ill to suffer thus!" and
she ran to seek a rock. Now she finds one and, staggering beneath its
weight to the brink of the gulf, peers over. Still Gudruda hangs.
Space yawns beneath her, the waters roar in her ears, the red sky
glows above. She sees Swanhild come and shrieks aloud.
Eric is there, though Swanhild hears him not, for the sound of his
horse's galloping feet is lost in the roar of waters. But that cry
comes to his ears, he sees the poised rock, and all grows clear to
him. He leaps from his horse, and even as she looses the stone,
clutches Swanhild's kirtle and hurls her back. The rock bounds
sideways and presently is lost in the waters.
Eric looks over. He sees Gudruda's white face gleaming in the gloom.
Down he leaps upon the ledge, though this is no easy thing.
"Hold fast! I come; hold fast!" he cries.
"I can no more," gasps Gudruda, and one hand slips.
Eric grasps the rock and, stretching downward, grips her wrist; just
as her hold loosens he grips it, and she swings loose, her weight
hanging on his arm.
Now he must needs lift her up and that with one hand, for the ledge is
narrow and he dare not loose his hold of the rock above. She swings
over the great gulf and she is senseless as one dead. He gathers all
his mighty strength and lifts. His feet slip a little, then catch, and
once more Gudruda swings. The sweat bursts out upon his forehead and
his blood drums through him. Now it must be, or not at all. Again he
lifts and his muscles strain and crack, and she lies beside him on the
All is not yet done. The brink of the cleft is the height of a man
above him. There he must lay her, for he may not leave her to find
aid, lest she should wake and roll into the chasm. Loosing his hold of
the cliff, he turns, facing the rock, and, bending over Gudruda,
twists his hands in her kirtle below the breast and above the knee.
Then once more Eric puts out his might and draws her up to the level
of his breast, and rests. Again with all his force he lifts her above
the crest of his helm and throws her forward, so that now she lies
upon the brink of the great cliff. He almost falls backward at the
effort, but, clutching the rock, he saves himself, and with a struggle
gains her side, and lies there, panting like a wearied hound of chase.
Of all trials of strength that ever were put upon his might, Eric was
wont to say, this lifting of Gudruda was the greatest; for she was no
light woman, and there was little to stand on and almost nothing to
Presently Brighteyes rose and peered at Gudruda through the gloom. She
still swooned. Then he gazed about him--but Swanhild, the witchgirl,
Then he took Gudruda in his arms, and, leading the horse, stumbled
through the darkness, calling on Skallagrim. The Baresark answered,
and presently his large form was seen looming in the gloom.
Eric told his tale in few words.
"The ways of womankind are evil," said Skallagrim; "but of all the
deeds that I have known done at their hands, this is the worst. It had
been well to hurl the wolf-witch from the cliff."
"Ay, well," said Eric; "but that song must yet be sung."
Now dimly lighted of the rising moon by turns they bore Gudruda down
the mountain side, till at length, utterly fordone, they saw the fires
HOW ASMUND SPOKE WITH SWANHILD
Now as the days went, though Atli's ship was bound for sea, she did
not sail, and it came about that the Earl sank ever deeper in the
toils of Swanhild. He called to mind many wise saws, but these availed
him little: for when Love rises like the sun, wisdom melts like the
mists. So at length it came to this, that on the day of Eric's coming
back, Atli went to Asmund the Priest, and asked him for the hand of
Swanhild the Fatherless in marriage. Asmund heard and was glad, for he
knew well that things went badly between Swanhild and Gudruda, and it
seemed good to him that seas should be set between them. Nevertheless,
he thought it honest to warn the Earl that Swanhild was apart from
"Thou dost great honour, earl, to my foster-daughter and my house," he
said. "Still, it behoves me to move gently in this matter. Swanhild is
fair, and she shall not go hence a wife undowered. But I must tell
thee this: that her ways are dark and secret, and strange and fiery
are her moods, and I think that she will bring evil on the man who
weds her. Now, I love thee, Atli, were it only for our youth's sake,
and thou art not altogether fit to mate with such a maid, for age has
met thee on thy way. For, as thou wouldst say, youth draws to youth as
the tide to the shore, and falls away from eld as the wave from the
rock. Think, then: is it well that thou shouldst take her, Atli?"
"I have thought much and overmuch," answered the Earl, stroking his
grey beard; "but ships old and new drive before a gale."
"Ay, Atli, and the new ship rides, where the old one founders."
"A true rede, a heavy rede, Asmund; yet I am minded to sail this sea,
and, if it sink me--well, I have known fair weather! Great longing has
got hold of me, and I think the maid looks gently on me, and that
things may yet go well between us. I have many things to give such as
women love. At the least, if thou givest me thy good word, I will risk
it, Asmund: for the bold thrower sometimes wins the stake. Only I say
this, that, if Swanhild is unwilling, let there be an end of my
wooing, for I do not wish to take a bride who turns from my grey
Asmund said that it should be so, and they made an end of talking just
as the light faded.
Now Asmund went out seeking Swanhild, and presently he met her near
the stead. He could not see her face, and that was well, for it was
not good to look on, but her mien was wondrous wild.
"Where hast thou been, Swanhild?" he asked.
"Mourning Eric Brighteyes," she made answer.
"It is meeter for Gudruda to mourn over Eric than for thee, for her
loss is heavy," Asmund said sternly. "What hast thou to do with Eric?"
"Little, or much; or all--read it as thou wilt, foster-father. Still,
all wept for are not lost, nor all who are lost wept for."
"Little do I know of thy dark redes," said Asmund. "Where is Gudruda
"High is she or low, sleeping or perchance awakened: naught reck I.
She also mourned for Eric, and we went nigh to mingling tears--near
together were brown curls and golden," and she laughed aloud.
"Thou art surely fey, thou evil girl!" said Asmund.
"Ay, foster-father, fey: yet is this but the first of my feydom. Here
starts the road that I must travel, and my feet shall be red ere the
"Leave thy dark talk," said Asmund, "for to me it is as the wind's
song, and listen: a good thing has befallen thee--ay, good beyond thy
"Is it so? Well, I stand greatly in need of good. What is thy tidings,
"This: Atli the Earl asks thee in marriage, and he is a mighty man,
well honoured in his own land, and set higher, moreover, than I had
looked for thee."
"Ay," answered Swanhild, "set like the snow above the fells, set in
the years that long are dead. Nay, foster-father, this white-bearded
dotard is no mate for me. What! shall I mix my fire with his frost, my
breathing youth with the creeping palsy of his age? Never! If Swanhild
weds she weds not so, for it is better to go maiden to the grave than
thus to shrink and wither at the touch of eld. Now is Atli's wooing
sped, and there's an end."
Asmund heard and grew wroth, for the matter seemed strange to him; nor
are maidens wont thus to put aside the word of those set over them.
"There is no end," he said; "I will not be answered thus by a girl who
lives upon my bounty. It is my rede that thou weddest Atli, or else
thou goest hence. I have loved thee, and for that love's sake I have
borne thy wickedness, thy dark secret ways, and evil words; but I will
be crossed no more by thee, Swanhild."
"Thou wouldst drive me hence with Groa my mother, though perchance
thou hast yet more reason to hold me dear, foster-father. Fear not: I
will go--perhaps further than thou thinkest," and once more Swanhild
laughed, and passed from him into the darkness.
But Asmund stood looking after her. "Truly," he said in his heart,
"ill deeds are arrows that pierce him who shot them. I have sowed
evilly, and now I reap the harvest. What means she with her talk of
Gudruda and the rest?"
Now as he thought, he saw men and horses draw near, and one man, whose
helm gleamed in the moonlight, bore something in his arms.
"Who passes?" he called.
"Eric Brighteyes, Skallagrim Lambstail, and Gudruda, Asmund's
daughter," answered a voice; "who art thou?"
Then Asmund the Priest sprang forward, most glad at heart, for he
never thought to see Eric again.
"Welcome, and thrice welcome art thou, Eric," he cried; "for, know, we
deemed thee dead."
"I have lately gone near to death, lord," said Eric, for he knew the
voice; "but I am hale and whole, though somewhat weary."
"What has come to pass, then?" asked Asmund, "and why holdest thou
Gudruda in thy arms? Is the maid dead?"
"Nay, she does but swoon. See, even now she stirs," and as he spake
Gudruda awoke, shuddering, and with a little cry threw her arms about
the neck of Eric.
He set her down and comforted her, then once more turned to Asmund:
"Three things have come about," he said. "First, I have slain one
Baresark, and won another to be my thrall, and for him I crave thy
peace, for he has served me well. Next, we two were set upon by
Ospakar Blacktooth and his fellowship, and, fighting for our hands,
have wounded Ospakar, slain Mord his son, and six other men of his
"That is good news and bad," said Asmund, "since Ospakar will ask a
great weregild[*] for these men, and thou wilt be outlawed, Eric."
[*] The penalty for manslaying.
"That may happen, lord. There is time enough to think of it. Now there
are other tidings to tell. Coming to the head of Goldfoss I found
Gudruda, my betrothed, mourning my death, and spoke with her.
Afterwards I left her, and presently returned again, to see her
hanging over the gulf, and Swanhild hurling rocks upon her to crush
"These are tidings in truth," said Asmund--"such tidings as my heart
feared! Is this true, Gudruda?"
"It is true, my father," answered Gudruda, trembling. "As I sat on the
brink of Goldfoss, Swanhild crept behind me and thrust me into the
gulf. There I clung above the waters, and she brought a rock to hurl
upon me, when suddenly I saw Eric's face, and after that my mind left
me and I can tell no more."
Now Asmund grew as one mad. He plucked at his beard and stamped on the
ground. "Maid though she be," he cried, "yet shall Swanhild's back be
broken on the Stone of Doom for a witch and a murderess, and her body
hurled into the pool of faithless women, and the earth will be well
rid of her!"
Now Gudruda looked up and smiled: "It would be ill to wreak such a
vengeance on her, father," she said; "and this would also bring the
greatest shame on thee, and all our house. I am saved, by the mercy of
the Gods and the might of Eric's arm, and this is my counsel: that
nothing be told of this tale, but that Swanhild be sent away where she
can harm us no more."
"She must be sent to the grave, then," said Asmund, and fell to
thinking. Presently he spoke again: "Bid yon man fall back, I would
speak with you twain," and Skallagrim went grumbling.
"Hearken now, Eric and Gudruda: only an hour ago hath Atli the Good
asked Swanhild of me in marriage. But now I met Swanhild here, and her
mien was wild. Still, I spoke of the matter to her, and she would have
none of it. Now, this is my counsel: that choice be given to Swanhild,
either that she go hence Atli's wife, or take her trial in the Doom-
"That will be bad for the Earl then," said Eric. "Methinks he is too
good a man to be played on thus."
"/Bairn first, then friend/," answered Asmund.
"Now I will tell thee something that, till this hour, I have hidden
from all, for it is my shame. This Swanhild is my daughter, and
therefore I have loved her and put away her evil deeds, and she is
half-sister to thee, Gudruda. See, then, how sore is my straight, who
must avenge daughter upon daughter."
"Knows thy son Björn of this?" asked Eric.
"None knew it till this hour, except Groa and I."
"Yet I have feared it long, father," said Gudruda, "and therefore I
have also borne with Swanhild, though she hates me much and has
striven hard to draw my betrothed from me. Now thou canst only take
one counsel, and it is: to give choice to Swanhild of these two
things, though it is unworthy that Atli should be deceived, and at the
best little good can come of it."
"Yet it must be done, for honour is often slain of heavy need," said
Asmund. "But we must first swear this Baresark thrall of thine, though
little faith lives in Baresark's breast."
Now Eric called to Skallagrim and charged him strictly that he should
tell nothing of Swanhild, and of the wolf that he saw by her, and of
how Gudruda was found hanging over the gulf.
"Fear not," growled the Baresark, "my tongue is now my master's. What
is it to me if women do their wickedness one on another? Let them work
magic, hate and slay by stealth, so shall evil be lessened in the
"Peace!" said Eric; "if anything of this passes thy lips thou art no
longer a thrall of mine, and I give thee up to the men of thy
"And I cleave that wolf's head of thine down to thy hawk's eyes; but,
otherwise, I give thee peace, and will hold thee from harm, wood-
dweller as thou art," said Asmund.
The Baresark laughed: "My hands will hold my head against ten such
mannikins as thou art, Priest. There was never but one man who might
overcome me in fair fight and there he stands, and his bidding is my
law. So waste no words and make not niddering threats against greater
folk," and he slouched back to his horse.
"A mighty man and a rough," said Asmund, looking after him; "I like
his looks little."
"Natheless a strong in battle," quoth Eric; "had he not been at my
back some six hours gone, by now the ravens had torn out these eyes of
mine. Therefore, for my sake, bear with him."
Asmund said it should be so, and then they passed on to the stead.
Here Eric stripped off his harness, washed, and bound up his wounds.
Then, followed by Skallagrim, axe in hand, he came into the hall as
men made ready to sit at meat. Now the tale of the mighty deeds that
he had done, except that of the saving of Gudruda, had gone abroad,
and as Brighteyes came all men rose and with one voice shouted till
the roof of the great hall rocked:
"/Welcome, Eric Brighteyes, thou glory of the south!/"
Only Björn, Asmund's son, bit his hand, and did not shout, for he
hated Eric because of the fame that he had won.
Brighteyes stood still till the clamour died, then said:
"Much noise for little deeds, brethren. It is true that I overthrew
the Mosfell Baresarks. See, here is one," and he turned to Skallagrim;
"I strangled him in my arms on Mosfell's brink, and that was something
of a deed. Then he swore fealty to me, and we are blood-brethren now,
and therefore I ask peace for him, comrades--even from those whom he
has wronged or whose kin he has slain. I know this, that when
thereafter we stood back to back and met the company of Ospakar
Blacktooth, who came to slay us--ay, and Asmund also, and bear away
Gudruda to be his wife--he warred right gallantly, till seven of their
band lay stiff on Horse-Head Heights, overthrown of us, and among them
Mord, Blacktooth's son; and Ospakar himself went thence sore smitten
of this Skallagrim. Therefore, for my sake, do no harm to this man who
was Baresark, but now is my thrall; and, moreover, I beg the aid and
friendship of all men of this quarter in those suits that will be laid
against me at the Althing for these slayings, which I hereby give out
as done by my hand, and by the hand of Skallagrim Lambstail, the
At these words all men shouted again; but Atli the Earl sprang from
the high seat where Asmund had placed him, and, coming to Eric, kissed
him, and, drawing a gold chain from his neck, flung it about the neck
of Eric, crying:
"Thou art a glorious man, Eric Brighteyes. I thought the world had no
more of such a breed. Listen to my bidding: come thou to the earldom
in Orkneys and be a son to me, and I will give thee all good gifts,
and, when I die, thou shalt sit in my seat after me."
But Eric thought of Swanhild, who must go from Iceland as wife to
Atli, and answered:
"Thou doest me great honour, Earl, but this may not be. Where the fir
is planted, there it must grow and fall. Iceland I love, and I will
stay here among my own people till I am driven away."
"That may well happen, then," said Atli, "for be sure Ospakar and his
kin will not let the matter of these slayings rest, and I think that
it will not avail thee much that thou smotest for thine own hand.
Then, come thou and be my man."
"Where the Norns lead there I must follow," said Eric, and sat down to
meat. Skallagrim sat down also at the side-bench; but men shrank from
him, and he glowered on them in answer.
Presently Gudruda entered, and she seemed pale and faint.
When he had done eating, Eric drew Gudruda on to his knee, and she sat
there, resting her golden head upon his breast. But Swanhild did not
come into the hall, though ever Earl Atli sought her dark face and
lovely eyes of blue, and he wondered greatly how his wooing had sped.
Still, at this time he spoke no more of it to Asmund.
Now Skallagrim drank much ale, and glared about him fiercely; for he
had this fault, that at times he was drunken. In front of him were two
thralls of Asmund's; they were brothers, and large-made men, and they
watched Asmund's sheep upon the fells in winter. These two also grew
drunk and jeered at Skallagrim, asking him what atonement he would
make for those ewes of Asmund's that he had stolen last Yule, and how
it came to pass that he, a Baresark, had been overthrown of an unarmed
Skallagrim bore their gibes for a space as he drank on, but suddenly
he rose and rushed at them, and, seizing a man's throat in either
hand, thrust them to the ground beneath him and nearly choked them
Then Eric ran down the hall, and, putting out his strength, tore the
Baresark from them.
"This then is thy peacefulness, thou wolf!" Eric cried. "Thou art
"Ay," growled Skallagrim, "ale is many a man's doom."
"Have a care that it is not thine and mine, then!" said Eric. "Go,
sleep; and know that, if I see thee thus once more, I see thee not