The Saga of Grettir the Strong
Originally written in Icelandic, sometime in the early 14th Century. Author unknown.
This electronic edition was produced, edited, and prepared by Douglas B. Killings (DeTroyes@AOL.COM), June 1995. Document scanning provided by David Reid and John Servilio.
THE FAMILY AND EARLY WARS OF ONUND THE SON OF OFEIG
There was a man named Onund, the son of Ofeig Clumsyfoot, who was the son of Ivar Horsetail. Onund was the brother of Gudbjorg, the mother of Gudbrand Knob, the father of Asta, the mother of King Olaf the Saint. His mother came from the Upplands, while his father’s relations were mostly in Rogaland and Hordland. He was a great viking and used to harry away in the West over the sea. He was accompanied on these expeditions by one Balki, the son of Blaeing from Sotanes, and by Orm the Wealthy. Another comrade of theirs was named Hallvard. They had five ships, all well equipped. They plundered the Hebrides, reaching the Barra Isles, where there ruled a king named Kjarval, who also had five ships. These they attacked; there was a fierce battle between them, in which Onund’s men fought with the utmost bravery. After many had fallen on both sides, the battle ended with the king taking to flight with a single ship; the rest were captured by Onund’s force, along with much booty. They stayed there for the winter, and spent the succeeding three summers harrying the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, after which they returned to Norway.
THE BATTLE OF HAFRSFJORD
At that time Norway was very disturbed. Harald Shockhead, the son of Halfdan the Black, till then king of the Upplands, was aiming at the supreme kingship. He went into the North and fought many battles there, in which he was always victorious. Then he marched harrying through the territories to the South, bringing them into subjection wherever he came. On reaching Hordland he was opposed by a motley multitude led by Kjotvi the Wealthy, Thorir Long-chin, and Soti and King Sulki from South Rogaland. Geirmund Swarthyskin was then away in the West, beyond the sea, so he was not present at the battle, although Hordland belonged to his dominion.
Onund and his party had arrived that autumn from the western seas, and when Thorir and Kjotvi heard of their landing they sent envoys to ask for their aid, promising to treat them with honour.
They were very anxious for an opportunity of distinguishing themselves, so they joined Thorir’s forces, and declared that they would be in the thickest part of the battle. They met King Harald in a fjord in Rogaland called Hafrsfjord. The forces on each side were very large, and the battle was one of the greatest ever fought in Norway. There are many accounts of it, for one always hears much about those people of whom the saga is told. Troops had come in from all the country around and from other countries as well, besides a multitude of vikings. Onund brought his ship alongside of that of Thorir Long-chin in the very middle of the battle. King Harald made for Thorir’s ship, knowing him to be a terrible berserk, and very brave. The fighting was desperate on either side. Then the king ordered his berserks, the men called Wolfskins, forward. No iron could hurt them, and when they charged nothing could withstand them. Thorir defended himself bravely and fell on his ship fighting valiantly. The whole ship from stem to stern was cleared and her fastenings were cut, so that she fell out of the line of battle. Then they attacked Onund’s ship, in the forepart of which he was standing and fighting manfully. The king’s men said: “He bears himself well in the forecastle. Let us give him something to remind him of having been in the battle.” Onund was stepping out with one foot on to the bulwark, and as he was striking they made a thrust at him with a spear; in parrying it he bent backwards, and at that moment a man on the forecastle of the king’s ship struck him and took off his leg below the knee, disabling him at a blow. With him fell the greater number of his men. They carried him to a ship belonging to a man named Thrand, a son of Bjorn and brother of Eyvind the Easterner. He was fighting against King Harald, and his ship was lying on the other side of Onund’s. Then there was a general flight. Thrand and the rest of the vikings escaped any way they could, and sailed away westwards. They took with them Onund and Balki and Hallvard Sugandi. Onund recovered and went about for the rest of his life with a wooden leg, wherefore he was called Onund Treefoot as long as he lived.
MEETING OF DEFEATED CHIEFS IN THE WEST AND MARRIAGE OF ONUND
There were then in the western parts many distinguished men who had fled from their homes in Norway before King Harald, for he declared all who fought against him outlaws, and seized their property. As soon as Onund had recovered from his wound, Thrand went with his party to Geirmund Swarthyskin, who was the most eminent of the vikings in the West. They asked him whether he was not going to try and regain his kingdom in Hordland, and offered to join him, hoping by this means to do something for their own properties, for Onund was very wealthy and his kindred very powerful. Geirmund answered that Harald had such a force that there was little hope of gaining any honour by fighting when the whole country had joined against him and been beaten. He had no mind, he said, to become the king’s thrall, and to beg for that which he had once possessed in his own right. Seeing that he was no longer in the vigour of his youth he preferred to find some other occupation. So Onund and his party returned to the Southern Islands, where they met many of their friends.
There was a man named Ofeig, nicknamed Grettir. He was the son of Einar, the son of Olvir the Babyman. He was a brother of Oleif the Broad, the father of Thormod Shaft. Another son of Olvir was named Steinolf, the father of Una, whom Thorbjorn the Salmon-man married. A third son of Olvir was Steinmod, who was the father of Konal, the father of Alfdis of the Barra Isles. Konal’s son was named Steimnod; he was the father of Halldora, whom Eilif, the son of Ketil the One-handed, married.
Ofeig Grettir married Asny, the daughter of Vestar, the son of Haeing. His sons were Asmund the Beardless and Asbjorn, and his daughters were named Aldis, Aesa, and Asvor. Ofeig had fled from the wrath of King Harald into the West over the sea, along with his kinsman Thormod Shaft and all their families. They ravaged far and wide in the western seas. Thrand and Onund Treefoot were going West to Ireland to join Thrand’s brother, Eyvind the Easterner, who had command of the Irish defences. Eyvind’s mother was named Hlif; she was the daughter of Hrolf, the son of Ingjald, the son of King Frodi, while Thrand’s mother was Helga, the daughter of Ondott Crow. The father of Eyvind and Thrand was Bjorn, the son of Hrolf of Ar. He had had to leave Gautland because he had burnt in his house Sigfast the father-in-law of King Solvi. Then he went to Norway and spent the winter with Grim the Hersir, a son of Kolbjorn the Sneak, who wanted to murder him for his money. Thence Bjorn went to Ondott Crow, who lived in Hvinisfjord in Agdir. There he was well received, stayed the winter, and went campaigning with Ondott in the summer until his wife Hlif died. Eventually Ondott gave Bjorn his daughter Helga, and Bjorn then no longer went out to fight. Eyvind had taken over his father’s ships and become a great chief in the western parts. He married Rafarta, the daughter of the Irish king Kjarval. Their sons were Helgi the Lean and Snaebjorn.
When Thrand and Onund came to the Southern Islands they found there Ofeig Grettir and Thormod Shaft, with whom they became very friendly, for each thought the others had risen from the dead, their last meeting having been in Norway when the war was at its worst. Onund was very silent, and Thrand, when he noticed it, asked what was on his mind. Onund answered with a verse:
“No joy is mine since in battle I fought. Many the sorrows that o’er me lower.
Men hold me for nought; this thought is the worst of all that oppresses my sorrowing heart.”
Thrand said: “Why, you still seem as full of vigour as ever you were. You may yet settle down and marry. You shall have my good word and my interest if you will only tell me whom you fancy.”
Onund said he behaved nobly; but said there had once been a time when his chances of making a profitable marriage had been better.
Thrand said: “Ofeig has a daughter named Aesa; we might mention it if you like.”
Onund said he would like it, and soon afterwards Ofeig was approached on the subject. He received the proposal favourably, saying he knew the man to be of good lineage and to have some wealth in movable property, though his lands were not worth much. “But,” he said, “I do not think he is very wise. Why, my daughter is quite a child.”
Thrand said that Onund was more vigorous than many a man whose legs were sounder.
So with the aid of Thrand the terms were settled. Ofeig was to give his daughter a portion in cash, for neither would reckon anything for his lands in Norway. Soon afterwards Thrand was betrothed to the daughter of Thormod Shaft. Both the maids were to remain plighted for three years.
Then they went on fighting expeditions in the summer, remaining in the Barra Isles during the winter.
FIGHT WITH VIKINGS VIGBJOD AND VESTMAR
There were two Vikings from the Southern Isles, named Vigbjod and Vestmar; they were abroad both summer and winter. They had eight ships, and harried mostly round the coast of Ireland, where they did many an evil deed until Eyvind undertook the defence of the coast, when they retired to the Hebrides to harry there, and right in to the Scotch firths. Thrand and Onund went out against them and learned that they had sailed to an island called Bot. Onund and Thrand followed them thither with five ships, and when the vikings sighted them and saw how many there were, they thought their own force was sufficient, so they took to their arms and advanced to the attack. Onund ordered his ships to take up a position between two rocks where there was a deep but narrow channel, open to attack from one side only, and by not more than five ships at once. Onund was a very wily man. He sent his five ships forward into the channel so that, as there was plenty of sea room behind them, they could easily retire by merely backing their oars. One ship he brought under an island lying on their beam, and carried a great stone to a place on the front of the rock where it could not be seen from the enemy’s ships. The Vikings came boldly on, thinking they had caught them in a trap. Vigbjod asked who they were that he had hemmed in. Thrand answered that he was a brother of Eyvind the Easterner, and the man with him was his comrade, Onund Treefoot. The vikings laughed and said:
“Trolls take the rascal Treefoot
and lay him even with the ground.
Never yet did I see men go to battle who could not carry themselves.”
Onund said that could not be known until it was tried. Then the ships came together. There was a great battle in which both sides fought bravely. When the battle was thick Onund ordered his ships to back their oars. The vikings seeing it thought they were taking to flight, and pushed on with all their might, coming under the rock just at the moment when the party which had been dispatched for that purpose arrived. They launched upon the vikings stones so huge that nothing could hold against them. A number of the vikings were killed, and others were so injured that they could fight no more. Then the vikings tried to escape, but could not, as their ships were in the narrowest part of the channel and were impeded both by the current and by the enemy’s ships. Onund’s men vigorously attacked the wing commanded by Vigbjod while Thrand engaged Vestmar, but effected little. When the men on Vigbjod’s ship had been somewhat reduced, Onund’s men, he himself with them, prepared to board her. On seeing that, Vigbjod spurred on his men resolutely. He turned against Onund, most of whose men gave way. Onund was a man of immense strength and he bade his followers observe how it fared with them. They shoved a log under the stump of his leg, so that he stood pretty firm. The viking dashed forward, reached Onund and hewed at him with his sword, which cut right through his shield and into the log beneath his leg, where it remained fixed. As Vigbjod bent down to pull his sword clear again, Onund dealt him a blow on his shoulder, severing his arm and disabling him. When Vestmar saw his comrade fall, he sprang on to the outermost ship and escaped along with all who could get on to her. Then they examined the dead. Vigbjod had already expired. Onund went up to him and said:
“Bloody thy wounds. Didst thou see me flee? ‘One-leg’ no hurt received from thee. Braver are many in word than in deed. Thou, slave, didst fail when it came to the trial.”
They took a large quantity of booty and returned to the Barra Isles in the autumn.
VISIT OF ONUND AND THRAND TO EYVIND IN IRELAND
The following summer they made ready for a voyage to the West, to Ireland. At the same time Balki and Hallvard sailed westwards, to Iceland, where they had heard that good land was available for occupation. Balki took up some land at Hrutafjord, and had his abode in two places called Balkastad. Hallvard occupied Sugandafjord and Skalavik as far as Stigi, where he lived.
Thrand and Onund went to visit Eyvind the Easterner, who welcomed joyfully his brother Thrand; but when he heard that Onund had also come, he became very angry and wanted to fight him. Thrand asked him not to do so, and said it would ill become him to quarrel with men from Norway, especially with such as had given no offence. Eyvind said that he had given offence before, when he made war on Kjarval the king, and that he should now pay for it. The brothers had much to say to each other about the matter, till at last Thrand said that he and Onund should share their fortune together. Then Eyvind allowed himself to be appeased. They stayed there a long time in the summer and went with Eyvind on his expeditions. Eyvind found Onund to be a man of the greatest valour. In the autumn they went to the Hebrides, and Eyvind made over to Thrand all his share in their father Bjorn’s patrimony in the event of Bjorn dying before Thrand. They stayed in the Hebrides until they married and some years after.
DEATH OF BJORN; DISPUTES OVER HIS PROPERTY IN NORWAY
The next thing that happened was the death of Thrand’s father Bjorn. When the news of it reached Grim the Hersir he proceeded against Ondott Crow and claimed Bjorn’s estate. Ondott held Thrand to be the rightful heir of his father, but Grim contended that Thrand was away in the West. Bjorn, he said, came from Gautland, and the succession to the estate of all foreigners passed to the king. Ondott said that he would hold the property on behalf of Thrand, who was his daughter’s son. Grim then departed, having effected nothing by his claim.
Thrand, when he heard of his father’s death, prepared to leave the Hebrides, and Onund Treefoot decided to go with him. Ofeig Grettir and Thormod Shaft went to Iceland with all their belongings, landing at Eyrar in the South. They spent the first winter with Thorbjorn the Salmon-man, and then occupied Gnupverjahrepp. Ofeig took the outer part lying between the rivers Thvera and Kalfa, and lived at Ofeigsstad near Steinsholt, while Thormod took the eastern part, living at Skaptaholt. Thormod’s daughters were named Thorvor and Thorve; the former afterwards became the mother of Thorodd the Godi at Hjalli, Thorve of Thorstein the Godi the father of Bjarni the Wise.
We now return to Thrand and Onund, who sailed back from the West to Norway. A strong wind blew in their favour, so that they arrived at the house of Ondott Crow before any one knew of their journey. He welcomed Thrand and told him of the claim which Grim the Hersir had raised for Bjorn’s estate.
“To my thinking, kinsman,” he said, “it is better that the property should go to you than to the king’s thralls. It is a fortunate thing for you that no one knows of your having come here, for I expect that Grim will make an attack upon one or the other of us if he can. I should prefer if you would take over your property and stay in other countries.”
Thrand said that he would do so. He took over the property and prepared to leave Norway. Before leaving he asked Onund Treefoot whether he would not come to Iceland. Onund said he wanted first to visit some of his relations and friends in the South.
“Then,” said Thrand, “we must part. I should be glad if you would give my kinsmen your support, for our enemies will certainly try to take revenge upon them when I am gone. I am going to Iceland, and I want you to come there too.”
Onund said he would come, and they parted with great friendship. Thrand went to Iceland, where he met with a welcome from Ofeig and Thormod Shaft. He took up his dwelling at Thrandarholt to the west of Thjorsa.
MURDER OF ONDOTT CROW, AND THE VENGEANCE THEREFOR
Onund went to Rogaland in the South and visited many of his relations and friends. He lived there in concealment with a man named Kolbeinn. He there learned that King Harald had taken all his property and given it into the charge of a man named Harekr, one of his officials. Onund went by night to Harekr’s house and caught him at home; he was led to execution. Then Onund took possession of all the loose property which he found and burnt the building.
That autumn Grim the Hersir murdered Ondott Crow because he had not succeeded in getting the property for the king. Ondott’s wife Signy carried off all their loose property that same night to a ship and escaped with her sons Asmund and Asgrim to her father Sighvat. A little later she sent her sons to Hedin, her foster-father in Soknadal, where they remained for a time and then wanted to return to their mother. They left at last, and at Yule-tide came to Ingjald the Trusty at Hvin. His wife Gyda persuaded him to take them in, and they spent the winter there. In the spring Onund came to northern Agdir, having learned of the murder of Ondott. He met Signy and asked her what assistance they would have of him. She said they were most anxious to punish Grim for the death of Ondott. So the sons were sent for, and when they met Onund Treefoot they all joined together and had Grim’s doings closely watched.
In the summer there was a beer-brewing at Grim’s for a jarl named Audun, whom he had invited. When Onund and the sons of Ondott heard of it, they appeared at his house unexpectedly and set fire to it. Grim the Hersir and about thirty men were burnt in the house. They captured a quantity of valuables. Then Onund went into the forest, while the two brothers took the boat of their foster-father Ingjald, rowed away and lay in hiding a little way off. Soon jarl Audun appeared, on his way to the feast, as had been arranged, but on arriving he missed his host. So he collected his men around him and stayed there a few nights, quite unaware of Onund and his companions. He slept in a loft with two other men. Onund knew everything that was going on in the house and sent for the two brothers to come to him. On their arrival he asked them whether they preferred to keep watch on the house or to attack the jarl. They chose to attack. They then battered the entrance of the loft with beams until the door gave way. Asmund seized the two men who were with the jarl and threw them to the ground with such violence that they were we11-nigh killed.
Asgrim rushed at the jarl and demanded of him weregild for his father, for he had been in league with Grim and took part in the attack when Ondott was murdered. The jarl said he had no money about him and asked for time. Asgrim then placed the point of his spear against his breast and ordered him to pay up on the spot. Then the jarl took a necklace from his neck and gave it to him with three gold rings and a velvet mantle. Asgrim took the things and bestowed a name upon the jarl. He called him Audun Nannygoat.
When the farmers and people about heard of the disturbances they all came out to help the jar]. Onund had a large force with him, and there was a great battle in which many a good farmer and many a follower of the jarl were slain. The brothers returned to Onund and reported what had occurred with the jarl. Onund said it was a pity they had not killed him. It would, he said, have been something to make up for the losses which he had suffered from King Harald. They said the disgrace was far worse for the jarl as it was, and they went off to Surnadal to Eirik Beery, a Landman there, who took them all in for the winter. At Yule-tide they had a great drinking bout with a man named Hallsteinn, nicknamed Stallion. Eirik opened the feast and entertained them generously. Then it was Hallsteinn’s turn, and they began to quarrel. Hallsteinn struck Eirik with a deer’s horn, for which Eirik got no revenge, but had to go home with it, to the great annoyance of Ondott’s sons. A little later Asgrim went to Hallsteinn’s house and gave him a severe wound. All the people who were present started up and attacked Asgrim. He defended himself vigorously and escaped in the dark, leaving them under the belief that they had killed him. Onund and Asmund, on hearing that Asgrim had been killed, were at a loss what they could do in the matter. Eirik’s advice was that they should betake themselves to Iceland, for it would never do for them to remain in the land where the king could get at them. This they determined to do. Each of them had his own ship and they made ready for the voyage to Iceland. Hallsteinn was laid low with his wound and died before Onund sailed with his party. Kolbeinn, the man who was mentioned before, went in the ship with Onund.
ONUND AND ASMUND SAIL TO ICELAND
Onund and Asmund set sail directly when they were ready and their ships kept together. Onund said:
“Hallvard and I were aforetime deemed worthy in storm of swords to bear us. With one foot now I step on the ship
towards Iceland. The poet’s day is o’er.”
They had a rough passage with cross winds, mostly from the south, so that they drifted away to the north. They made Iceland right in the North, at Langanes, where they regained their reckonings. The ships were near enough to each other for them to speak together. Asmund said they had better make for Eyjafjord, and this was agreed to. They kept under the land and heavy weather set in from the south-east. Just as Onund was tacking, the yard was carried away; they lowered the sail and were driven out to sea. Asmund got under the lee of Hrisey, where he waited until a fair wind set in which took him up to Eyjafjord. Helgi the Lean gave him the whole of Kraeklingahlid, and he lived at South- Glera. A few years later his brother Asgrim came to Iceland and took up his residence at North-Glera. His son was Ellidagrim the father of Asgrim.
ONUND SETTLES IN KALDBAK
Onund Treefoot was driven away from the shore for several days, after which the wind shifted and blew towards the land. Then they made land again, which those of them who had been there before recognised as the western coast of the Skagi peninsula. They sailed in to Strandafloi, almost to Sudrstrandir. There came rowing towards them a ten-oared boat with six men on board, who hailed the sea-going ship and asked who was their captain. Onund told them his name and asked whence they came. They said they were the men of Thorvald from Drangar. Then Onund asked whether all the land round that coast was occupied; they answered there was very little left at Sudrstrandir and none at all in the North. So Onund asked his men whether they would seek some land further to the West or take that of which they had just been told. They said they would first explore a little further. They sailed in along the coast of the bay and anchored off a creek near Arnes, where they put off in a boat to the shore.
Here dwelt a wealthy man named Eirik Snare, who had taken the land between Ingolfsfjord and Ofaera in Veidileysa. On hearing that Onund had arrived in those parts, he offered to let him have such portion as he needed from his own lands, adding that there was little land which had not already been taken up. Onund said he would first like to see what there was.
Then they went further into the bay past some fjords and came to Ofaera, where Eirik said: “Here is what there is to see. From here down to the lands of Bjorn is unoccupied.” A high range of mountains, on which snow had fallen, rose from beside the river. Onund looked at the mountains and spoke a verse:
“My lands and my might have drifted away as drifts the ship on the ocean.
My friends and my home I have left behind me, and bartered my acres for Kaldbak.”
“Many a man,” answered Eirik, “has lost so much in Norway that it may not be mended. I expect too that nearly all the lands in the main districts have been taken, so that I will not urge you to leave these parts and seek elsewhere. I will keep to my word and let you have whatever lands of my own you may require.”
Onund said he would take advantage of his offer, and in the end he took some of the Ofaera land and the three creeks Byrgisvik, Kolbeinsvik, and Kaldbaksvik as far as Kaldbak’s Cliff. Afterwards Eirik gave him Veidileysa with Reykjarfjord and the outer part of Reykjanes on that side. Nothing was settled about the drift which came to the coast, because there was so much of it that every one could have what he wanted. Onund made his home in Kaldbak and had a large household. His property increased and he had another house in Reykjarfjord. Kolbeinn lived in Kolbeinsvik and for some years Onund lived quietly at home.
OFEIG GRETTIR IS KILLED. VISIT OF ONUND TO AUD THE DEEP-MINDED
Onund was a man of such valour that few, even of those whose limbs were sound, could measure themselves against him. His name, too, was renowned throughout the whole country on account of his ancestry. It happened that a dispute arose between Ofeig Grettir and one Thorbjornm called Jarlakappi, which ended in Ofeig being killed by Thorbjorn in Grettisgeil near Haell. The feud was taken up by Ofeig’s sons who assembled a large force of men. Onund Treefoot was sent for, and in the spring he rode South to Hvamm, where he stayed with Aud the Deep-Minded. He had been with her over the sea in the West, and she received him with welcome. Her grandson, Olaf Feilan, was then grown up, and Aud was very infirm. She consulted Onund concerning her kinsman Olaf, for whom she wished to ask in marriage Alfdis of the Barra Isles, the cousin of Onund’s wife Aesa. Onund thought it a very suitable match, and Olaf rode with him to the South. Then Onund met friends and kinsmen, who made him their guest. The matter of the dispute was talked over between them, and finally laid before the Kjalarnes Thing, for the All-Thing had not yet been established. Eventually it was settled by arbitration and heavy weregilds were imposed for the murder. Thorbjorn Jarlakappi was exiled. His son was Solmund, the father of Svidukari. These kinsmen were long abroad after that. Thrand invited Onund and Olaf with his party to stay with him, as did Thormod Shaft. The matter of Olaf’s marriage was then pressed, and an agreement easily arrived at, for Aud’s rank and influence were well known to them. The settlement was arranged and Onund’s party rode home again. Aud thanked him for his aid in behalf of Olaf, who married Alfdis of the Barra Isles that autumn. Then Aud the Deep-Minded died, as is told in the Laxdaela Saga.
DEATH OF ONUND. DISPUTES BETWEEN THE SONS OF ONUND AND OF EIRIK
Onund and Aesa had two sons; the elder was named Thorgeir, the younger Ofeig Grettir. Soon afterwards Aesa died and Onund married a second wife, Thordis Thorgrim’s daughter of Gnup in Midfjord, a kinsman of Skeggi of Midfjord. By her Onund had a son named Thorgrim, who grew up quickly to manhood, ta11 and strong, wise and a good manager. Onund continued to live at Kaldbak until his old age. He died a natural death and lies in Treefoot’s howe. He was the boldest and most active one-legged man that ever came to Iceland.
Among Onund’s sons Thorgrim was the foremost, although the others were older. When he was twenty-five years old his hair was grey, whence they nick-named him Greyhead. His mother Thordis married again, taking as her second husband Audun Skokull. They had a son named Asgeir of Asgeirsa. Thorgrim Greyhead and his brothers had a large property, which they managed together without dividing it up.
Eirik lived, as was mentioned, at Arnes. He had married Alof, the daughter of Ingolf of Ingolfsfjord, by whom he had a son named Flosi, a very promising young man with many friends.
There came to that part of Iceland three brothers, named Ingolf, Ofeig, and Eyvind, and took the three fjords which are called by their names, where they lived. Eyvind had a son named Olaf. He at first lived at Eyvindsfjord, but went later to Drangar. He was a most capable man.
So long as their fathers were living no disputes arose among these men; but when Eirik was dead it occurred to Flosi that those of Kaldbak had no legal title to the lands which Eirik had given to Onund. Out of this serious dissensions arose between them. Thorgrim and his brothers continued in possession of the lands as before, but they would not join in games together. Thorgeir, the eldest brother, was managing the farm at Reykjarfjord, and often rowed out fishing, as the fjords were full of fish. The men of Vik now laid their plans. Flosi had a man in Arnes named Thorfinn, and sent him to fetch Thorgeir’s head. This man hid himself in the boatshed. One morning when Thorgeir was preparing to row out with two other men, one of whom was named Brand, Thorgeir was walking ahead with a leather skin on his back containing some drink. It was very dark, and as he passed the boat-house Thorfinn sprang out upon him and dealt him a blow with an axe between his shoulders. The axe went into something and made a squeaking noise. Thorfinn let go his axe, feeling quite sure that no bandages would be needed, and being very anxious to escape as fast as he could. He ran North, and reaching Arnes before the day had quite broken, said that he had killed Thorgeir and that Flosi must protect him. The only thing to be done was to offer some compensation in money. “That,” he said, “will be the best thing for us after such a terrible piece of work.”
Flosi said he must first learn more about it, and that he thought Thorfinn seemed very frightened after his doughty deed.
We must now tell what had happened to Thorgeir. He turned round when he was struck, but the blow had gone into the leather bottle, and he was unhurt. They could make no search for the man because it was dark, so they rowed on down the fjord to Kaldbak, where they told what had happened. People made great game of the affair and called him Thorgeir Bottleback, a name which stuck to him ever after. A verse was made:
“In days gone by men bathed their blades in the streaming gore of a foeman’s wound. But now a wretch of all honour bereft reddens his dastard axe in whey.”
BATTLE AT RIFSKER
At that time there came over Iceland a famine the like of which had never been seen before. Nearly all the fisheries failed, and also the drift wood. So it continued for many years.
One autumn some traders in a sea-going ship, who had been driven out of their course, were wrecked at Vik. Flosi took in four or five of them with their captain, named Steinn. They all found shelter in the neighbourhood of Vik and tried to rig up a ship out of the wreckage, but were not very successful. The ship was too narrow in the bow and stern and too broad amidships. In the spring a northerly gale set in which lasted nearly a week, after which men began to look for drift.
There was a man living in Reykjanes named Thorsteinn. He found a whale stranded on the south side of the promontory at the place now called Rifsker. It was a large rorqual, and he at once sent word by a messenger to Flosi in Vik and to the nearest farms.
At Gjogr lived a man named Einar, a tenant of the Kaldbak men whom they employed to look after the drift on that side of the fjord. He got to know of the whale having been stranded and at once rowed across the fjord in his boat to Byrgisvik, whence he sent a messenger to Kaldbak. When Thorgrim and his brother heard the news they got ready to go with all speed to the spot. There were twelve of them in a ten-oared boat, and six others, with Ivar and Leif, sons of Kolbeinn. All the farmers who could get away went to the whale.
In the meantime Flosi had sent word to his kinsmen in the North at Ingolfsfjord and Ofeigsfjord and to Olaf the son of Eyvind who lived at Drangar. The first to arrive were Flosi and the men of Vik, who at once began to cut up the whale, carrying on shore the flesh as it was cut. At first there were about twenty men, but more came thronging in. Then there came the men of Kaldbak with four ships. Thorgrim laid claim to the whale and forbade the men of Vik to cut, distribute, or carry away any portion of it. Flosi called upon him to show proof that Eirik had in express words given over the drift to Onund; if not, he said he would prevent them by force. Thorgrim saw that he was outnumbered and would not venture on fighting. Then there came a ship across the fjords, the men rowing with all their might. They came up; it was Svan of Hol from Bjarnarfjord with his men, and he at once told Thorgrim not to let himself be robbed. The two men had been great friends, and Svan offered Thorgrim his aid, which the brothers accepted, and they attacked valiantly. Thorgeir Bottleback was the first to get on to the whale where Flosi’s men were. Thorfinn, who was spoken of before, was cutting it up, standing near the head on the place where he had been carving. “Here I bring you your axe,” said Thorgeir. Then he struck at Thorfinn’s neck and cut off his head. Flosi was up on the beach and saw it. He urged on his men to give it them back. They fought for a long time and the Kaldbak people were getting the best of it. Most of them had no weapons but the axes with which they were cutting up the whale and short knives. The men of Vik were driven from the whale on to the sandbanks. The men from the East, however, were armed and able to deal wounds. Their captain Steinn cut off the leg of Kolbeinn’s son Ivar, and Ivar’s brother Leif beat one of Steinn’s men to death with a rib of the whale. Then they fought with anything they could get, and men were slain on both sides. At last Olaf came up with a number of ships from Drangar and joined Flosi; the men of Kaldbak were then overpowered by numbers. They had already loaded their ships, and Svan told them to get on board. They therefore retired towards the ships, the men of Vik after them. Svan on reaching the sea struck at Steinn their captain, wounding him badly, and then sprang into his own ship. Thorgrim gave Flosi a severe wound and escaped. Olaf wounded Ofeig Grettir fatally, but Thorgeir carried him off and sprang on to his ship with him. The Kaldbak men rowed into the fjord and the two parties separated.
The following verse was composed on these doings:
“Hard were the blows which were dealt at Rifsker; no weapons they had but steaks of the whale. They belaboured each other with rotten blubber. Unseemly methinks is such warfare for men.”
After this they made peace, and the dispute was laid before the All-Thing. On the side of the Kaldbak men were Thorodd the Godi, Skeggi of Midfjord, and many others from the South. Flosi was exiled, along with several others who had been with him. He was put to great expense, for he insisted upon paying all the fines himself. Thorgrim and his brothers were unable to show that they had paid any money either for the land or for the drift which Flosi claimed. The Lawman was Thorkell Mani, and the question was referred to him. He declared that by law something must have been paid, though not necessarily the full value.
“There was a case in point,” he said, “between my grandfather Ingolf and a woman named Steinvor the Old. He gave her the whole of Rosmhvalanes and she gave him a dirty cloak for it; the transfer was afterwards held to be valid. That was a much more important affair than this. My advice is that the land be divided in equal portions between the two; and henceforward it shall be legally established that all drift shall be the property of the owner of the land upon which it has been stranded.”
This was agreed to. Thorgrim and his brothers were to give up Reykjarfjord with all on that side, and were to keep Kamb. For Ofeig a large sum of money was paid, and Thorfinn was assessed at nothing at all; Thorgeir received compensation for the attack made upon his life, and all the parties were reconciled. Flosi went to Norway with Steinn the captain and sold his lands in Vik to Geirmund Hvikatimbr, who lived there thenceforward.
The ship which Steinn’s sailors had built was rather a tub. She was called Trekyllir — Tree-sack. Flosi went on his journey in her, but was driven back to Oxarfjord; out of this arose the saga of Bodmod the Champion and Grimolf.
THORGRIM SETTLES AT BJARG AND MARRIES. HIS SON ASMUND VISITS NORWAY AND MARRIES TWICE
After these events Thorgrim and his brothers divided up the property between them. Thorgrim took the movable property and Thorgeir the lands. Then Thorgrim went inland to Midfjord and bought some land at Bjarg with the aid of Skeggi. He married Thordis, the daughter of Asmund from Asmund’s peak who had land in Thingeyrasveit. They had a son named Asmund, a great man and strong, also wise, and notable for his abundance of hair, which turned grey very early. He was called Longhair.
Thorgrim occupied himself with the management of his estate and kept all the men of his household hard at work. Asmund did not want to work, so that he and his father got on rather badly together. This continued until Asmund was grown up, when he asked his father to give him the means to go abroad. Thorgrim said he should have little enough, but he gave him some ready cash. So Asmund went away and soon increased his capital. He sailed to divers lands, became a great trader and very wealthy. He was popular and enjoyed good credit, and had many friends among the leading men of Norway.
One autumn Asmund was in the East on a visit to a certain magnate named Thorsteinn. His family came from the Upplands, and he had a sister named Rannveig who had excellent prospects. Asmund asked this girl in marriage and obtained her through the interest of her brother Thorsteinn; he settled there for a time and was highly thought of. He and Rannveig had a son named Thorsteinn, who became a handsome man, strong, and with a powerful voice. He was very tall and rather sluggish in his movements, wherefore he was nicknamed Dromund. When young Thorsteinn was half grown up his mother fell ill and died, and Asmund cared no more for Norway. Thorsteinn was taken over by his mother’s relations along with his property, while Asmund went on voyages and became famous.
Asmund came in his ship to Hunavain, where Thorkell Krafla was chief of the Vatnsdalers. On hearing of Asmund’s arrival Thorkell went to the ship and invited him to stay, and Asmund went to visit him in Marsstadir in Vatnsdal where he lived. Thorkell was a son of Thorgrim, the Godi of Karnsa, and a man of great experience. This was soon after the arrival of Bishop Fridrek and Thorvald the son of Kodran, who were living at Laekjamot when these events happened, preaching Christianity for the first time in the North of the island. Thorkell and many of his men received the prima signatio. Many things might be told of the dealings between the bishop’s men and the Northerners, which, however, do not belong to this saga.
There was a girl named Asdis who was being brought up in Thorkell’s house. She was a daughter of Bard the son of Jokull, the son of Ingimund the Old, the son of Thorsteinn, the son of Ketil Raum. Her mother’s name was Aldis, whom we have already heard of as the daughter of Ofeig Grettir. Asdis was not betrothed as yet, and was a most desirable match, both on account of her connections and her wealth. Asmund now became sick of travelling about and wanted to settle down in Iceland. So he spoke up and asked for Asdis as his wife. Thorkell knew all about him and knew that he was a man of wealth, able to manage his affairs, so the marriage was arranged. Asmund married Asdis, and became a close friend of Thorkell. He was a great man of affairs, learned in the law and very strenuous. Soon afterwards Thorgrim Greyhead died at Bjarg; Asmund succeeded to his property and took up his residence at Bjarg.
ASMUND’S CHILDREN. GRETTIR’S CHILDH00D
Asmund Longhair now set up a large and sumptuous household in Bjarg, where he maintained a numerous retinue and became very popular. His children were as follows: The eldest was Atli, an able and accomplished man, tactful and easy to deal with; he was much liked by all. His second son was called Grettir. He was very hard to manage in his bringing up. He spoke little and was rough in his manners and quarrelsome, both in words and deeds. He got little affection from his father Asmund, but his mother loved him dearly. Grettir was a handsome man in appearance, with a face rather broad and short, red-haired and somewhat freckled; not very precocious in his youth. There was a daughter named Thordis, who afterwards married Glum the son of Ospak, Kjallak’s son from Skridinsenni. Another daughter was named Rannveig; she married Gamli the son of Thorhall of Vineland, and they dwelt at Melar in Hrutafjord and had a son named Grim. Glum and Thordis had a son named Ospak who fell into a dispute with Odd the son of Ofeig, which is told of in the “Saga of the Banded Men.”
Grettir grew up at Bjarg until he was ten years old, when he began to develop a little. Asmund told him that he must do some work. Grettir said that would not suit him very well, but asked what he was to do.
“You must mind the geese,” said Asmund.
“That is wretched work, only fit for an idiot,” Grettir answered.
“You do that properly,” his father said, “and we shall get on better together.”
So Grettir went to mind the geese. There were fifty of them, and a number of goslings. Before long he began to find them troublesome, and the goslings would not come on quickly enough. This put him out, for he could never control his temper. Soon afterwards some wanderers found the goslings lying outside dead, and the geese with their wings broken. This was in the autumn. Asmund was very much annoyed and asked Grettir whether he had killed the birds. Grettir grinned and answered:
“Always when winter is coming on
I like to wring the goslings’ necks. If among them there are geese
I treat the creatures all alike.”
“You shan’t twist any more of their necks,” said Asmund.
“The friend aye warns his friend of ill,” answered Grettir.
“I will give you other work to do.”
“He knoweth most who most hath tried. But what am I to do now?” Grettir asked.
“You shall rub my back when I am sitting by the fire, as I am in the habit of having it done.”
“Warm work for the hands.” he answered. “It is only fit for an idiot.”
This for a time was Grettir’s occupation. As the autumn advanced Asmund wanted more warmth, and was constantly telling Grettir to rub his back hard. It was the custom in those days for people to have large rooms with long fires in them in their houses, where men sat by the fire in the evenings on benches, sleeping afterwards at the side away from the fries. By day the women carded their wool there.
One evening when Grettir had to scratch Asmund’s back his father said to him: “Now you will have to put aside your laziness, you good-for-nothing you.”
Grettir answered: “`Tis ill to rouse a hasty temper.”
“You are fit for nothing at all,” said Asmund.
Grettir saw some wood-combs lying on one of the benches; he took up one of them and drew it along Asmund’s back. Asmund sprang up and was going to thrash him with his stick, but he escaped. His mother came up and asked what they were fighting about. Grettir answered in a verse:
“Oh lady, the giver of treasure, I see, has dire intent to burn my hands.
With nails uncut I was stroking his back. Clearly I see the bird of wounds.”
His mother was much vexed with Grettir for what he had done and said he would not grow up very prudent. The affair did not improve the relations between Asmund and his son.
Soon after this Asmund spoke to Grettir and told him to look after his horses. Grettir said that would be better than back-fire-warming.
“You are to do what I tell you,” said Asmund. “I have a dun mare with a dark stripe down her back whom I call Keingala. She is very knowing about the weather and about rain coming. When she refuses to graze it never fails that a storm will follow. You are then to keep the horses under shelter in the stables, and when cold weather sets in keep them to the north of the ridge. I hope you will perform this duty better than the two which I gave you before.”
Grettir said: “That is cold work, and fit for a man to do; but it seems to me rash to trust to the mare, when to my knowledge no one has done so before.”
So Grettir took to minding the horses, and went on until Yule- tide was past, when very cold weather set in, with snow, so that grazing was difficult. He was very badly provided with clothes and little hardened to the weather. He began to feel it very cold, and Keingala always chose the windiest places whatever the weather was. She never came to the meadow early enough to get home before nightfall. Grettir then thought he would play a trick upon Keingala to pay her out for her wanderings. One morning early he came to the stables, opened the door and found Keingala standing in front of the manger. She had taken the whole of the fodder which had been given to all the horses for herself. Grettir jumped upon her back, with a sharp knife in his hand which he drew across her shoulder and along her back on both sides. The horse was fat and fresh; she shied back very frightened and kicked out till her hoofs rattled against the walls. Grettir fell off, but picked himself up and tried to mount her again. There was a sharp struggle, which ended in his shaving all the skin on her back down to her flank. Then he drove the horses out to the meadow. Keingala would not take a bite except off her back, and soon after noon she bolted off to the stables. Grettir locked the door and went home. Asmund asked him where the horses were; he said he had looked after them as usual. Asmund said there must be a storm close at hand if the horses would not stay out in such weather as there was then.
Grettir said: “Many seem wise who are lacking in wit.”
The night passed and there was no storm. Grettir drove out the horses, but Keingala could not endure the pasture. Asmund thought it very strange that no change came in the weather. On the third morning he went himself to the horses and on seeing Keingala he said: “III indeed have the horses fared in this beautiful weather! Thy back will not deceive me, my Bleikala.”
“The likely may happen — also the unlikely,” said Grettir.
Asmund stroked the back of the horse and all her coat came off on his hand. He could not understand how she had got into that state and thought Grettir must have done it. Grettir grinned and said nothing. Asmund went home and became very abusive. He heard his wife say: “My son’s watching of the horses must have prospered well.”
Then he spoke a verse:
“He has cheated me sorely, and Keingala shorn. ‘Tis the pride of a woman that urges her tongue. Artful he holds my commands in derision. Consider my verses, oh wife of my heart.”
“I do not know,” she said, “which seems to me the more perverse, for you to make him work, or for him always to get out of it in the same way.”
“Now there shall be an end to it,” said Asmund. “He must have something worse than merely making good the damage.”
“Let neither speak of it to the other,” said Grettir, and so it remained.
Asmund had Keingala killed. Many more childish pranks did Grettir play which are not told in the saga. He now began to grow very big, but men did not clearly know what strength he had because he had never been tried in wrestling. He kept making verses and ditties which were always a little ironical. He did not sleep in the common room and was generally very silent.
GAMES AT MIDFJORDVATN
There were then a good many youths growing up in Midfjord. A certain Skaldtorfa, whose home was in Torfustadir, had a son named Bersi, an accomplished young man and a clever poet. Two brothers named Kormak and Thorgils lived at Mel and had with them a youth named Odd, who was dependent upon them, and was nicknamed Odd the Needy-Skald. Another was named Audun; he grew up in Audunarstad in Vididal, a pleasant good-natured youth and the strongest of his age in the North. Kalf the son of Asgeir and his brother Thorvald lived at Asgeirsa. Grettir’s brother Atli was then growing to a man; he was most gracious in manners and universally liked.
These youths used to play at ball together at Midfjord Water. Those from Midfjord and from Vididal used to meet there, and there came many from Vestrhop and Vatnsnes with some from Hrutafjord. Those who came from afar used to lodge there. Those who were about equal in the ball-game were matched together, and generally they had much fun in the autumn. Grettir went to the sports when he was fourteen years old at the request of his brother Atli. The parties were made up. Grettir was matched against Audun, the youth already mentioned, who was a few years the elder. Audun struck the ball over Grettir’s head so that he could not reach it, and it bounded far away over the ice. Grettir lost his temper, thinking he had done it out of mischief, but he fetched the ball, brought it back and going up to Audun drove it straight into his forehead, so that the skin was broken.
Audun then struck at Grettir with the bat that he was holding, but Grettir ducked and the blow missed him. Then they seized each other with their arms and wrestled. It was evident to the people around that Grettir was stronger than they had supposed, for Audun was very strong indeed of body. They struggled long together until at last Grettir was thrown. Audun then set his knees on his stomach and dealt unmercifully with him. Atli and Bersi and a number of the others ran up and separated them. Gretti said they need not hold him like a mad dog, and added: “The thrall alone takes instant vengeance, the coward never.”
The rest had no mind to let the affair create discord among them, and the brothers Kalf and Thorvald tried to reconcile them. Audun and Grettir were distantly related to each other. The games went on and there was no further disturbance.
GRETTIR KILLS SKEGGI AND IS OUTLAWED FOR THREE YEARS
Thorkell Krafla now began to grow very old. He was a great chieftain and held the Vatnsdal Godord. He was a close friend of Asmund Longhair, as befitted the near relations in which they stood to each other. He had, therefore, been in the habit of riding every year in the spring to Bjarg to visit his kinsmen there, and he did so in the spring which followed the events just related. Asmund and Asdis received him with both hands. He stayed there three nights and many a matter did the kinsmen discuss together. Thorkell asked Asmund what his heart told him about his sons, and what professions they were likely to follow. Asmund said that Atli would probably be a great landowner, very careful and wealthy.
“A useful man, like yourself,” said Thorkell. “But what can you tell me of Grettir? “
“I can only say,” he replied, “that he will be a strong man; but headstrong and quarrelsome. A heavy trial has he been to me.”
“That does not look very promising, kinsman!” said Thorkell. “But how are we to arrange our journey to the Thing in the summer? “
“I am getting difficult to move,” he said. “I would rather stay at home.”
“Would you like Atli to go for you?”
“I don’t think I can spare him,” Asmund said, “because of the work and the provisioning. Grettir will not do anything. But he has quite wit enough to carry out the duties at the Thing on my behalf under your guidance.”
“It shall be as you please,” said Thorkell.
Then Thorkell made himself ready and rode home; Asmund dismissed him with presents.
A little later Thorkell journeyed to the Thing with sixty men. All the men of his godord went with him. They passed through Bjarg, where Grettir joined them. They rode South through the heath called Tvidaegra. There was very little grazing to be had in the hills, so they rode quickly past them into the cultivated land. When they reached Fljotstunga they thought it was time to sleep, so they took the bits from their horses and turned them loose with their saddles. They lay there well on into the day, and when they woke began to look for their horses. Every horse had gone off in a different direction and some had been rolling. Grettir could not find his horse at all. The custom was at that time that men should find their own provisions at the Thing, and most of them carried their sacks over their saddles. When Grettir found his horse its saddle was under its belly, and the sack of provisions gone. He searched about but could not find it. Then he saw a man running very fast and asked him who he was. He said his name was Skeggi and that he was a man from Ass in Vatnsdal in the North.
“I am travelling with Thorkell,” he said. “I have been careless and lost my provision-bag.”
“Alone in misfortune is worst. I also have lost my stock of provisions; so we can look for them together. “
Skeggi was well pleased with this proposal, and so they went about seeking for a time. Suddenly, when Grettir least expected it, Skeggi started running with all his might along the moor and picked up the sack. Grettir saw him bend and asked what it was that he had picked up.
“My sack,” he said.
“Who says so besides yourself?” Grettir asked. “Let me see it! Many a thing is like another.”
Skeggi said no one should take from him what was his own. Grettir seized hold of the sack and they both pulled at it for a time, each trying to get his own way.
“You Midfjord men have strange notions,” said Skeggi, “if you think that because a man is not so wealthy as you are, he is not to dare to hold to his own before you.”
Grettir said it had nothing to do with a man’s degree, and that each should have that which was his own.
Skeggi replied: “Audun is now too far away to strangle you as he did at the ball-play.”
“That is well,” said Grettir; “but however that may have been you shall not strangle me.”
Skeggi then seized his axe and struck at Grettir, who on seeing it seized the handle of the axe with his left hand and pulled it forward with such force that Skeggi at once let go. The next moment it stood in his brain and he fell dead to the earth. Grettir took the sack, threw it across his saddle and rode back to his companions.
Thorkell rode on, knowing nothing of what had happened. Soon Skeggi was missed in the company, and when Grettir came up they asked him what news he had of Skeggi. He answered in a verse:
“Hammer-troll ogress has done him to death. Thirsting for blood the war-fiend came. With hard-edged blade she gaped, o’er his head, nor spared she his teeth. I saw it myself.”
Then Thorkell’s men sprang up and said it was impossible that a troll should have taken the man in full daylight. Thorkell was silent for a moment. Then he said: “There must be something more in it. Grettir must have killed him. What was it that really happened, Grettir?”
Grettir then told him all about their fight. Thorkell said: “It is a most unfortunate occurrence, because Skeggi was entrusted to my service, and was a man of good family. I will take the matter upon myself and pay whatever compensation is adjudged. But a question of banishment does not lie with me. Now, Grettir, there are two things for you to choose between. Either you can go on to the Thing with us and take the chance of what may happen there, or you can turn back and go home.”
Grettir decided to go on to the Thing, and to the Thing he went. The matter was taken up by the heirs of the man slain. Thorkell gave his hand to pay the compensation and Grettir was to be banished for three years.
On their way back from the Thing all the chiefs halted at Sledaass before they parted company. It was then that Grettir lifted a stone lying in the grass, which is still known as Grettishaf. Many went afterwards to see this stone and were astounded that so young a man should have lifted such a mountain.
Grettir rode home to Bjarg and told his father about his adventures. Asmund was much put out and said he would be a trouble to everybody.
GRETTIR SAILS FOR NORWAY AND IS WRECKED ON HARAMARSEY
There dwelt at Reydarfell on the banks of the Hvita a man named Haflidi, a mariner, owning a ship of his own which was lying in dock in the Hvita river. He had as his mate a man named Bard who had a young and pretty wife. Asmund sent a man to Haflidi asking him to take Grettir and look after him. Haflidi answered that he had heard that Grettir was very difficult to get on with, but out of friendship for Asmund he took him. Grettir, therefore, prepared to go to sea. His father would not give him any outfit for his voyage beyond his bare provisions and a little wadmal. Grettir asked him to give him some sort of weapon. Asmund answered: “You have never been obedient to me. Nor do I know what you would do with a weapon that would be of any profit. I shall not give you any.”
Grettir said: “Work not done needs no reward.”
Father and son parted with little love between them. Many wished him a good voyage, but few a safe return. His mother went with him along the road. Before they parted she said: “You have not been sent off in the way that I should have wished, my son, or in a way befitting your birth. The most cruel thing of all, I think, is that you have not a weapon which you can use. My heart tells me that you will want one.”
Then she took from under her mantle a sword all ready for use, a valuable possession. She said: “This was the sword of jokull, my father’s father and of the ancient Vatnsdal men, in whose hands it was blessed with victory. I give it to you; use it well.”
Grettir thanked her warmly and said it would be more precious to him than any other possession though of greater value. Then he went on his way and Asdis wished him all possible happiness. He rode South over the heath and did not stop till he reached his ship. Haflidi received him well and asked him about his outfit for the voyage. Grettir spoke a verse:
“Oh trimmer of sails I my father is wealthy, but poorly enough he sent me from home. My mother it was who gave me this sword. True is the saying: The mother is best.”
Haflidi said it was evident that she had most thought for him.
Directly they were ready and had a wind they got under way. When they were out of shallow water they hoisted their sail. Grettir made himself a corner under the ship’s boat, whence he refused to stir either to bale or to trim the sails or to do any work in the ship, as it was his duty to do equally with the other men; nor would he buy himself off. They sailed to the South, rounded Reykjanes and left the land behind them, when they met with stormy weather. The ship was rather leaky and became very uneasy in the gale; the crew were very much exhausted. Grettir only let fly satirical verses at them, which angered them sorely.
One day when it was very stormy and very cold the men called out to Grettir to get up and work; they said their claws were quite frozen. He answered:
“Twere well if every finger were froze on the hands of such a lubberly crew.”
They got no work out of him and liked him even worse than before, and said they would pay him out on his person for his squibs and his mutinous behaviour.
“You like better,” they said, “to pat the belly of Bard the mate’s wife than to bear a hand in the ship. But we don’t mean to stand it.”
The weather grew steadily worse; they had to bale night and day, and they threatened Grettir. Haflidi when he heard them went up to Grettir and said: “I don’t think your relations with the crew are very good. You are mutinous and make lampoons about them, and they threaten to pitch you overboard. This is most improper.”
“Why cannot they mind their own business?” Grettir rejoined. “But I should like one or two to remain behind with me before I go overboard.”
“That is impossible,” said Haflidi. “We shall never get on upon those terms. But I will make you a proposal about it.”
“What is that?”
“The thing which annoys them is that you make lampoons about them. Now I suggest that you make a lampoon about me. Then, perhaps, they will become better disposed towards you.”
“About you I will never utter anything but good,” said he. “I am not going to compare you with the sailors.”
“But you might compose a verse which should at first appear foul, but on closer view prove to be fair.”
“That,” he answered, “I am quite equal to.”
Haflidi then went to the sailors and said: “You have much toil; and it seems that you don’t get on with Grettir.”
“His lampoons,” they answered, “annoy us more than anything else.”
Then Haflidi, speaking loud, said: “It will be the worse for him some day.”
Grettir, when he heard himself being denounced, spoke a verse:
“Other the words that Haflid spake when he dined on curds at Reydarfell. But now two meals a day he takes
in the steed of the bays mid foreland shores.”
The sailors were very angry and said he should not lampoon Haflidi for nothing. Haflidi said: “Grettir certainly deserves that you should take him down a little, but I am not going to risk my good name because of his ill-temper and caprice. This is not the time to pay him out, when we are all in such danger. When you get on shore you can remember it if you like.”
“Shall we not endure what you can endure?” they said. “Why should a lampoon hurt us more than it does you? “
Haflidi said so it should be, and after that they cared less about Grettir’s lampoons.
The voyage was long and fatiguing. The ship sprung a leak, and the men began to be worn out. The mate’s young wife was in the habit of stitching Grettir’s sleeves for him, and the men used to banter him about it. Haflidi went up to Grettir where he was lying and said:
“Arise from thy den! deep furrows we plough! Remember the word thou didst speak to the fair. Thy garment she sewed; but now she commands that thou join in the toil while the land is afar.”
Grettir got up at once and said:
“I will rise, though the ship be heavily rolling. The woman is vexed that I sleep in my den. She will surely be wrath if here I abide while others are toiling at work that is mine.”
Then he hurried aft where they were baling and asked what they wanted him to do. They said he would do little good. He replied: “A man’s help is something.” Haflidi told them not to refuse his help. “Maybe,” he said, “he is thinking of loosening his hands if he offers his services.”
In those days in sea-going ships there were no scuppers for baling; they only had what is called bucket or pot-baling, a very troublesome and fatiguing process. There were two buckets, one of which went down while the other came up. The men told Grettir to take the buckets down, and said they would try what he could do. He said the less tried the better, and went below and filled his bucket. There were two men above to empty the buckets as he handed them. Before long they both gave in from fatigue. Then four others took their places, but the same thing happened. Some say that before they were done eight men were engaged in emptying the buckets for him. At last the ship was baled dry. After this, the seamen altered their behaviour towards Grettir, for they realised the strength which was in him. From that time on he was ever the forwardest to help wherever he was required.
They now held an easterly course out to sea. It was very dark. One night when they least expected it, they struck a rock and the lower part of the ship began to fill. The boats were got out and the women put into them with all the loose property. There was an island a little way off, whither they carried as much of their property as they could get off in the night. When the day broke, they began to ask where they were. Some of them who had been about the country before recognised the coast of Sunnmore in Norway. There was an island lying a little off the mainland called Haramarsey, with a large settlement and a farm belonging to the Landman on it.
ADVENTURE IN THE HOWE OF KAR THE OLD
The name of the Landman who lived in the island was Thorfinn. He was a son of Kar the Old, who had lived there for a long time. Thorfinn was a man of great influence.
When the day broke, the people on the island saw that there were some sailors there in distress and reported it to Thorfinn, who at once set about to launch his large sixteen-oared boat. He put out as quickly as possible with some thirty men to save the cargo of the trader, which then sank and was lost, along with much property. Thorfinn brought all the men off her to his house, where they stayed for a week drying their goods. Then they went away to the South, and are heard of no more in this story.
Grettir stayed behind with Thorfinn, keeping very quiet and speaking little. Thorfinn gave him his board, but took little notice of him. Grettir held rather aloof, and did not accompany him when he went abroad every day. This annoyed Thorfinn, but he did not like to refuse Grettir his hospitality; he was a man who kept open house, enjoyed life and liked to see other men happy. Grettir liked going about and visiting the people in the other farms on the island. There was a man named Audun, who dwelt at Vindheim. Grettir went to see him daily and became very intimate with him, sitting there all day long.
One evening very late when Grettir was preparing to return home, he saw a great fire shoot up on the headland below Audun’s place, and asked what new thing that might be. Audun said there was no pressing need for him to know.
“If they saw such a thing in our country,” said Grettir, “they would say the fire came from some treasure.”
“He who rules that fire,” answered the man, “is one whom it will be better not to inquire about.”
“But I want to know,” Grettir said.
“On that headland,” said Audun, “there is a howe, wherein lies Kar the Old, the father of Thorfinn. Once upon a time father and son had a farm-property on the island; but ever since Kar died his ghost has been walking and has scared away all the other farmers, so that now the whole island belongs to Thorfinn, and no man who is under Thorfinn’s protection suffers any injury.”
“You have done right to tell me,” said Grettir. Expect me here to-morrow morning, and have tools ready for digging.”
“I won’t allow you to have anything to do with it,” said Audun, “because I know that it will bring Thorfinn’s wrath down upon you.”
Grettir said he would risk that.
The night passed; Grettir appeared early the next morning, and the bondi, who had got all the tools for digging ready, went with Grettir to the howe. Grettir broke open the grave, and worked with all his might, never stopping until he came to wood, by which time the day was already spent. He tore away the woodwork; Audun implored him not to go down, but Grettir bade him attend to the rope, saying that he meant to find out what it was that dwelt there. Then he descended into the howe. It was very dark and the odour was not pleasant. He began to explore how it was arranged, and found the bones of a horse. Then he knocked against a sort of throne in which he was aware of a man seated. There was much treasure of gold and silver collected together, and a casket under his feet, full of silver. Grettir took all the treasure and went back towards the rope, but on his way he felt himself seized by a strong hand. He left the treasure to close with his aggressor and the two engaged in a merciless struggle. Everything about them was smashed. The howedweller made a ferocious onslaught. Grettir for some time gave way, but found that no holding back was possible. They did not spare each other. Soon they came to the place where the horse’s bones were lying, and here they struggled for long, each in turn being brought to his knees. At last it ended in the howedweller falling backwards with a horrible crash, whereupon Audun above bolted from the rope, thinking that Grettir was killed. Grettir then drew his sword Jokulsnaut, cut off the head of the howedweller and laid it between his thighs. Then he went with the treasure to the rope, but finding Audun gone he had to swarm up the rope with his hands. First he tied the treasure to the lower end of the rope, so that he could haul it up after him. He was very stiff from his struggle with Kar, but he turned his steps towards Thorfinn’s house, carrying the treasure along with him. He found them all at supper. Thorfinn cast a severe glance at him and asked what he had found so pressing to do that he could not keep proper hours like other men.
“Many a trifle happens at eve,” he replied.
Then he brought out all the treasure which he had taken from the howe and laid it on the table. One thing there was upon which more than anything else Grettir cast his eyes, a short sword, which he declared to be finer than any weapon which he had ever seen. It was the last thing that he showed. Thorfinn opened his eyes when he saw the sword, for it was an heirloom of his family and had never been out of it.
“Whence came this treasure?” he asked.
Grettir then spake a verse:
“Scatterer of gold! ’twas the lust of wealth that urged my hand to ravish the grave. This know; but none hereafter, I ween, will be fain to ransack Fafnir’s lair.”
Thorfinn said: “You don’t seem to take it very seriously; no one ever before had any wish to break open the howe. But since I know that all treasure which is hidden in the earth or buried in a howe is in a wrong place I hold you guilty of no misdeed, especially since you have brought it to me.”
“The monster is slain! in the dismal tomb I have captured a sword, dire wounder of men. Would it were mine I a treasure so rare I never would suffer my hand to resign.”
“You have spoken well,” Thorfinn answered. “But before I can give you the sword you must display your prowess in some way. I never got it from my father whilst he lived.”
Grettir said: “No one knows to whom the greatest profit will fall ere all is done.”
Thorfinn took the treasure and kept the sword in his own custody near his bed. The winter came on bringing Yule-tide, and nothing more happened that need be told of.
BERSERKS AT HARAMARSEY
The following summer jarl Eirik the son of Hakon was preparing to leave his country and sail to the West to join his brother-in-law King Knut the Great in England, leaving the government of Norway in the hands of Hakon his son, who, being an infant, was placed under the government and regency of Eirik’s brother, jarl Sveinn.
Before leaving Eirik summoned all his Landmen and the larger bondis to meet him. Eirik the jarl was an able ruler, and they had much discussion regarding the laws and their administration. It was considered a scandal in the land that pirates and berserks should be able to come into the country and challenge respectable people to the holmgang for their money or their women, no weregild being paid whichever fell. Many had lost their money and been put to shame in this way; some indeed had lost their lives. For this reason jarl Eirik abolished all holmgang in Norway and declared all robbers and berserks who disturbed the peace outlaws. Thorfinn the son of Kar of Haramarsey, being a man of wise counsel and a close friend of the jarl, was present at the meeting.
The worst of these ruffians were two brothers named Thorir Paunch and Ogmund the Bad. They came from Halogaland and were bigger and stronger than other men. When angry they used to fall into the berserk’s fury, and nothing escaped that was before them. They used to carry off men’s wives, keep them for a week or two and then send them back. Wherever they came they committed robberies and other acts of violence. Jarl Eirik had declared them outlaws throughout Norway. The man who had been most active in getting them outlawed was Thorfinn, and they were determined to pay him out in full for his hostility.
The jarl’s expedition is told of in his saga, and the government of Norway was left in the hands of jarl Sveinn, with the regency.
Thorfinn returned home and remained there until about Yule-tide, as has already been told. Towards Yule-tide he made ready to go on a journey to his farm called Slysfjord on the mainland, whither he had invited a number of his friends. He could not take his wife with him, because their grown-up daughter was lying sick, so they both had to stay at home. Grettir and eight of the serving men remained with them. Thorfinn went with thirty freemen to the Yule festival, at which there was much gladness and merriment.
Yule-eve set in with bright and clear weather. Grettir, who was generally abroad in the daytime, was watching the vessels which came along the coast, some from the North, some from the South, meeting at the places agreed upon for their drinking-bouts. The bondi’s daughter was then better and could go out with her mother. So the day passed. At last Grettir noticed a ship rowing up to the island, not large, covered with shields amidships and painted above the water-line. They were rowing briskly and making for Thorfinn’s boathouses. They ran the boat on to the beach and all sprang ashore. Grettir counted the men; there were twelve in all, and their aspect did not look peaceful.
After hauling up their boat out of the water they all made for the boat-house where Thorfinn’s great boat, mentioned already, was stowed. She always required thirty men to put her to sea, but the twelve shoved her along the beach at once. Then they brought their own boat into the boat-house. It was very evident to Grettir that they did not mean to wait for an invitation, so he went up to them, and greeting them in a friendly way asked who they were and who was their captain. The man whom he addressed answered him at once, saying his name was Thorir, called Paunch; the others were his brother Ogmund with their companions. “I think,” he added, “that your master Thorfinn has heard our names mentioned. But is he at home? “
“You must be men who have luck,” said Grettir, “you have come most opportunely, if you are the people I take you for. The bondi has gone from home with all his freedmen and will not be back until after Yule. The goodwife is at home with her daughter, and if I had any grudge to repay, I would come just as you do, for there is everything here which you want, ale to drink and other delights.”
Thorir was silent while Grettir went on talking. Then he turned to Ogmund and said: “Has anything not happened as I said it would? I should not be sorry to punish Thorfinn for having got us outlawed. This man seems ready to tell us everything; we don’t have to drag the words out of his mouth.”
“Every one is master of his own words,” said Grettir. “If you will come home with me I will give you what entertainment I can.”
They thanked him and said they would accept his invitation. When they reached the house Grettir took Thorir by the hand and led him into the hall. He was very talkative. The mistress was in the hall decorating it and putting all in order. On hearing what Grettir said, she came to the door and asked who it was that Grettir was welcoming so warmly.
Grettir answered: “It will be advisable, mistress, to be civil to these men who have come. They are the bondi Thorir Paunch and his followers, and have come, all twelve of them, to spend Yule-tide here. It is fortunate for us, for we have had little company till now.”
She said: “I don’t call them bondis, nor are they decent men, but arrant robbers and malefactors. I would gladly pay a large portion of my property for them not to have come just at this time. It is an ill return that you make to Thorfinn for having saved you from shipwreck and kept you this winter like a free man, destitute as you were.”
“You would do better,” said Grettir, “if you first took off the wet clothes from your guests instead of casting reproaches upon me. You will have plenty of time for that.”
Then Thorir said: “Don’t be angry, mistress! You shall lose nothing by your husband being away, for you shall have a man in his place and so shall your daughter and all the other women.”
“That is spoken like a man,” said Grettir. “The women shall be quite contented with what they get.
Then all the women fled and began to weep, being overcome by terror. Grettir said to the berserks: “Give me all the things which you want to lay aside, your weapons and your wet clothes, for the men will not obey us while they are frightened.”
Thorir said he cared little for the women’s whining. “But,” he said, “we mean to treat you in a different way from the other men of the house. It seems to me that we may make a comrade of you.”
“See to that yourselves,” said Grettir. “But I do not look upon all men alike.”
Then they laid aside most of their weapons. Grettir said: “I think now you had better sit down at the table and have some drink. You must be thirsty after your rowing.”
They said they were quite ready for a drink, but did not know where the cellar was. Grettir asked whether they would let him arrange for their entertainment, which they willingly agreed to. So Grettir went and fetched some ale which he gave them to drink. They were very tired and drank enormously. He kept them well plied with the strongest ale there was, and they sat there for a long time whilst he told them funny stories. There was a tremendous din amongst them all, and the servants had no wish to approach them.
Thorir said: “I never yet met with a stranger who treated me like this man. What reward shall we give you for all that you have done, Grettir?”
Grettir replied: “I don’t expect any reward for my services at present. But if when you depart we are still as good friends as we seem to be now, I should very much like to join your company, and though I may not be able to do as much work as any of you, I will not be a hindrance in any doughty undertaking.”
They were delighted, and wanted to swear fellowship with him at once. Grettir said that could not be, “for,” he added, “there is truth in the saying that Ale is another man, and such a thing should not be done hastily, so let it remain at what I said; we are both little in the habit of restraining ourselves.”
They declared that they did not mean to go back. The night was now coming on and it was getting very dark. Grettir noticed that they were rather fuddled, and asked whether they did not think it was time to go to bed. Thorir said: “So it is; but I have to fulfil my promise to the mistress.” Grettir then went out and called out loud: “Go to bed, women! Such is the will of Thorir the bondi.”
The women execrated him and could be heard howling like wolves. The berserks then left the room. Grettir said: “Let us go outside; I will show you the room in which Thorfinn keeps his clothes.”
They were agreeable and all went out to an enormous outhouse, which was very strongly built, and had a strong lock on the outer door. Adjoining it was a large and well-built privy, with only a wooden partition between it and the room of the outhouse, which was raised above the ground and had to be reached by steps. The berserks then began skylarking and pushing Grettir about. He fell down the in steps, as if in sport, and in a moment was out of the house, had pulled the bolt, slammed the door to, and locked it. Thorir and his mates thought at first that the door had swung to of itself, and paid little attention; they had a light with them by which Grettir had been showing them all Thorfinn’s treasures, and they continued looking at them for some time.
Grettir went off to the homestead, and on reaching the door cried out very loud, asking where the mistress was. She was silent, being afraid to answer. He said: “Here is rather good sport to be had. Are there any arms which are good for anything?”
“There are arms,” she said; “but I don’t know for what purpose you want them.”
“We will talk about that afterwards; but now let each do what he can; it is the last chance.”
“Now indeed were God in the dwelling,” she said, “if anything should happen to save us. Over Thorfinn’s bed there hangs the great halberd which belonged to Kar the Old; there, too, is a helmet and a corselet and a good short sword. The weapons will not fail if your heart holds firm.”
Grettir took the helmet and spear, girt the sword about him and went quickly out. The mistress called to her men and bade them follow their brave champion. Four of them rushed to their arms, but the other four durst not go near them.
Meantime the berserks thought that Grettir was a long time away and began to suspect some treachery. They rushed to the door and found it locked. They strained at the woodwork till every timber groaned. At last they tore down the wooden partition and so gained the passage where the privy was, and thence the steps. Then the berserks’ fury fell upon them and they howled like dogs.
At that moment Grettir returned, and taking his halberd in both hands he thrust it right through Thorir’s body just as he was about to descend the steps. The blade was very long and broad. Ogmund the Bad was just behind pushing him on, so that the spear passed right up to the hook, came out at his back between the shoulderblades and entered the breast of Ogmund. They both fell dead, pierced by the spear. Then all the others dashed down as they reached the steps. Grettir tackled them each in turn, now thrusting with the spear, now hewing with the sword, while they defended themselves with logs lying on the ground or with anything else which they could get. It was a terrible trial of a man’s prowess to deal with men of their strength, even unarmed.
Grettir slew two of the Halogaland men there in the enclosure. Four of the serving-men then came up. They had not been able to agree upon which arms each should take, but they came out to the attack directly the berserks were running away; when these turned against them they fell back on the house. Six of the ruffians fell, all slain by Grettir’s own hand; the other six then fled towards the landing place and took refuge in the boat-house, where they defended themselves with oars. Grettir received a severe blow from one of them and narrowly escaped a serious hurt.
The serving-men all went home and told great stories of their own exploits. The lady wanted to know what had become of Grettir, but they could not tell her. Grettir slew two men in the boat- house, but the other four got away, two in one direction, two in another. He pursued those who were nearest to him. The night was very dark. They ran to Vindheim, the place spoken of before, and took refuge in a barn, where they fought for a long time until at last Grettir killed them. By this time he was terribly stiff and exhausted. The night was far spent; it was very cold and there were driving snow-storms. He felt little inclination to go after the two who yet remained, so he went back home. The goodwife kindled a light and put it in a window in the loft at the top of the house, where it served him as a guide, and he was able to find his way home by the light. When he came to the door the mistress came to meet him and bade him welcome.
“You have earned great glory,” she said, “and have saved me and my household from a disgrace never to be redeemed if you had not delivered us.”
“I think I am much the same person as I was last evening when you spoke so roughly to me,” said Grettir.
“We knew not then the might that was in you,” she said, “as we know it now. Everything in the house shall be yours, so far as it is fitting for me to bestow and right for you to receive. I doubt not that Thorfinn will reward you in a better way when he comes home.”
“There is little that I want as a reward at present,” said Grettir. “But I accept your offer until your husband returns. I think now that you will be able to sleep in peace undisturbed by the berserks.”
Grettir drank little before he retired and lay all night in his armour. In the morning, directly the day broke, all the men of the island were called together to go forth and search for the two berserks who had escaped. They were found at the end of the day lying under a rock, both dead from cold and from their wounds; they were carried away and buried in a place on the shore beneath the tide, with some loose stones over them, after which the islanders returned home, feeling that they could live in peace. When Grettir came back to the house and met the mistress he spoke a verse:
“Near the surging sea the twelve lie buried. I stayed not my hand but slew them alone. Great lady! what deed that is wrought by a man shall be sung of as worthy if this be deemed small.”
She answered: “Certainly you are very unlike any other man now living.” She set him in the high seat and gave him the best of everything. So it remained until Thorfinn returned.
THORFINN’S RETURN. GRETTIR VISITS THE NORTH
When Yule-tide was past, Thorfinn made ready for his homeward journey and dismissed his many guests with gifts. He sailed with all his men and landed near the place where the boat-houses were.
They saw a ship lying on the sand which they at once recognised as his great boat. Thorfinn had heard nothing of the vikings and told his men to put him on shore, “for I suspect,” he said, “that they are not friends who have been at work here.”
Thorfinn was the first to land, and went straight to the boat- house, where he saw a craft which he knew at once to be that of the berserks. He said to his men: “I suspect that things have taken place here such that I would give the whole island and everything that is in it for them not to have happened.”
They asked how that was.
“Vikings have been here, men whom I know as the worst in all Norway, namely Thorir Paunch and Ogmund the Bad. They will not have dealt gently with us. I mistrust that Icelander.”
Then he spoke many things to his men. Grettir was at home and detained the men from going down to the shore. He said he did not care if the bondi got a little fright from what he saw. The goodwife asked his leave to go down, and he said she was mistress of her own ways, but that he was not going. So she hurried away to greet Thorfinn and embraced him joyfully. He was rejoiced to see her and said: “God be praised that I see you well and my daughter too. But what has happened to you since I left?”
“It has ended well,” she said. “But we were nigh to suffering a disgrace which could never have been wiped out, had not your winter-guest aided us.”
Thorfinn said: “Let us sit down and you shall tell me everything.”
Then she told him fully all that had happened, praising highly Grettir’s courage and resourcefulness. Thorfinn was silent while she was speaking, and when she had finished he said: “True indeed is the word, `Long shall a man be tried’. But where is Grettir?”
“He is at home in the hall,” she answered.
Then they went up to the house. Thorfinn went to Grettir and turned towards him and thanked him with the fairest words for his courageous conduct.
“I will say a word to you,” he said, “which few would say to their friend. I would it might happen that you should need the help of a man, for you to know whether I count for anything or not; I cannot repay what you have done for me as long as you are not in straits. You shall have in my house whatever you desire, and shall be in the highest honour in my household.”
Grettir thanked him and said he would have accepted his offer even if he had made it earlier.
Grettir stayed there the rest of the winter in high favour with Thorfinn. The fame of his deed spread through all Norway, especially in those parts where the berserks had ravaged most mercilessly. In the spring Thorfinn asked him what he would like to do. He said he would go North to Vagar while the fair was on there. Thorfinn said that any money which he required should be at his service; Grettir said he did not want more just then than enough to pay for his living. Thorfinn said that was his due, and brought him to a ship, where he gave him the excellent short sword. Grettir kept it as long as he lived; it was a most precious possession. Thorfinn bade him come to him if ever he wanted any help.
Grettir then travelled to Vagar, which was crowded with people. Many whom he had never set eyes on before greeted him warmly because of his exploit in killing the vikings, and several of the leading men invited him to stay with them, but he preferred to return to his friend Thorfinn. So he took his passage in a trading ship belonging to one Thorkell, a man of some consideration in Salfti in Halogaland. Grettir went to visit Thorkell in his home, where he received a hearty welcome and a very pressing invitation to stay there for the winter. Grettir accepted the invitation and stayed the winter with Thorkell, who treated him with great honour.
ADVENTURE WITH A BEAR
There was a man named Bjorn who was then on a visit to Thorkell. He was of a somewhat violent character of good family and related in some way to Thorkell. He was not generally liked, because he was too much given to talking against the men who were about Thorkell and drove many away from him. He and Grettir did not get on at all. Bjorn thought him of small account compared to himself; Grettir paid him little deference, and it became an open feud. Bjorn was a boisterous swaggering man, and many of the younger men imitated him, loitering about outside in the evenings.
It happened at the beginning of the winter that a savage brown bear broke out of its den and raged about destroying men and cattle. Every one declared that it had been provoked by the noise which Bjorn and his company made. The beast became most mischievous, attacking the flocks in the very face of the men themselves. Thorkell, being the wealthiest man of that part, suffered most. One day he called up his men to come with him and search out the bear’s den. They found it in a cliff by the sea where there was a cave under an overhanging rock, with a narrow path leading to the entrance. Below was a sheer precipice down to the beach, threatening certain death to any one who stumbled. In this den the bear lay in the daytime, going abroad at night. Fences were of no avail against him, nor could the dogs do anything, so that all were in the utmost distress. Thorkell’s kinsman Bjorn declared that the main thing was gained now that they had found the den. “Now we shall see,” he said, “how the game will go with me and my namesake.” Grettir pretended not to hear what he said.
In the evenings when the others retired to bed, Bjorn used generally to go out. One night he went to the bear’s den and found the creature inside, growling horribly. He lay down in the path, placing his shield over him, intending to wait until the beast came out as usual. Bruin, however, got wind of him and was rather slow in coming out. Bjorn got very sleepy where he was lying and could not keep awake; in the meantime out came the bear from his den and saw a man lying there. He clawed at him, dragged off his shield and threw it down the cliff. Bjorn woke up, not a little startled, took to his heels and ran off home, narrowly escaping the bear’s clutches. His friends knew all about it, having watched his movements; on the next morning they found the shield and made great game of his adventure.
At Yule-time Thorkell himself went out to the den with Bjorn, Grettir and others of his men, a party of eight in all. Grettir had on a fur cape which he put off when they were attacking the bear. It was rather difficult to get at him, since they could only reach him with spear-thrusts, which he parried with his teeth. Bjorn kept urging them on to tackle him, but himself did not go near enough to be in any danger. At last, when no one was looking out, he took Grettir’s fur cloak and threw it in to the bear. They did not succeed in getting the bear out, and when night came on turned to go home. Grettir then missed his cloak and saw that the bear had got it into his grip.
“Who has been playing tricks on me?” he cried. “Who threw my cloak into the cave?”
Bjorn answered: “He who did it will not be afraid to say so.”
“Things of that sort do not trouble me much,” said Grettir.
Then they started on their way home. After they had gone a little way Grettir’s garter broke. Thorkell told them to wait for him, but Grettir said it was not necessary. Then Bjorn said: “There is no need to suppose that Grettir will run away from his cloak. He wants to have the honour of killing the beast all alone, and he will say that we eight men went away. Then he would appear to be what he is said to be. He has been backward enough all day.”
“I don’t know how you stand in that matter,” said Thorkell. “You and he are not equal in valour; do not make any to-do about him.”
Bjorn said that neither he nor Grettir should choose the words out of his mouth.
There was a hill between them and Grettir, who had turned back along the footpath. Now he had no others to reckon with in making the attack. He drew his sword Jokulsnaut and tied a loop round the handle which he passed over his wrist, because he thought that he could carry out his plans better if his hand were free. He went along the path. When the bear saw a man coming, he charged savagely, and struck at him with the paw that was on the side away from the precipice. Grettir aimed a blow at him with his sword and cut off his paw just above the claws. Then the creature tried to strike him with his sound paw, but to do so he had to drop on the stump, which was shorter than he expected, and over he fell into Grettir’s embraces. Grettir seized the beast by the ears and held him off so that he could not bite. He always said that he considered this holding back the bear the greatest feat of strength that he ever performed. The beast struggled violently; the space was very narrow, and they both fell over the precipice. The bear being the heavier came down first on the beach; Grettir fell on the top of him, and the bear was badly mauled on the side that was down. Grettir got his sword, ran it into the heart of the bear and killed him. Then he went home, after fetching his cloak which was torn to pieces. He also took with him the bit of the paw which he had cut off.
Thorkell was sitting and drinking when Grettir entered. They all