The Saga of Grettir the Strong
Sections XXXII - XLVIII
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #9
XXXII. THE SPOOK AT THORHALLSSTAD. GLAM THE SHEPHERD KILLED BY A FIEND. HIS GHOST WALKSThere was a man named Thorhall living in Thorhallsstad in Forsaeludal, up from Vatnsdal. He was the son of Grim, the son of Thorhall, the son of Fridmund, who was the first settler in Forsaeludal. Thorhall's wife was named Gudrun; they had a son named Grim and a daughter named Thurid who were just grown up. Thorhall was fairly wealthy, especially in live-stock. His property in cattle exceeded that of any other man. He was not a chief, but an honest bondi nevertheless. He had great difficulty in getting a shepherd to suit him because the place was haunted. He consulted many men of experience as to what he should do, but nobody gave him any advice which was of any use. Thorhall had good horses, and went every summer to the Thing. On one occasion at the All-Thing he went to the booth of the Lawman Skapti the son of Thorodd, who was a man of great knowledge and gave good counsel to those who consulted him. There was a great difference between Thorodd the father and Skapti the son in one respect. Thorodd possessed second sight, but was thought by some not to be straight, whereas Skapti gave to every man the advice which he thought would avail him, if he followed it exactly, and so earned the name of Father-betterer.
So Thorhall went to Skapti's booth, where Skapti, knowing that he was a man of wealth, received him graciously, and asked what the news was.
"I want some good counsel from you," said Thorhall.
"I am little fit to give you counsel," he replied; "but what is it that you need?"
"It is this: I have great difficulty in keeping my shepherds. Some get injured and others cannot finish their work. No one will come to me if he knows what he has to expect."
Skapti answered: "There must be some evil spirit abroad if men are less willing to tend your flocks than those of other men. Now since you have come to me for counsel, I will get you a shepherd. His name is Glam, and he came from Sylgsdale in Sweden last summer. He is a big strong man, but not to everybody's mind."
Thorhall said that did not matter so long as he looked after the sheep properly. Skapti said there was not much chance of getting another if this man with all his strength and boldness should fail. Then Thorhall departed. This happened towards the end of the Thing.
Two of Thorhall's horses were missing, and he went himself to look for them, which made people think he was not much of a man. He went up under Sledaass and south along the hill called Armannsfell. Then he saw a man coming down from Godaskog bringing some brushwood with a horse. They met and Thorhall asked him his name. He said it was Glam. He was a big man with an extraordinary expression of countenance, large grey eyes and wolfgrey hair. Thorhall was a little startled when he saw him, but soon found out that this was the man who had been sent to him.
"What work can you do best?" he asked.
Glam said it would suit him very well to mind sheep in the winter.
"Will you mind my sheep?" Thorhall asked. "Skapti has given you over to me."
"My service will only be of use to you if I am free to do as I please," he said. "I am rather crossgrained when I am not well pleased."
"That will not hurt me," said Thorhall. "I shall be glad if you will come to me."
"I can do so," he said. "Are there any special difficulties?"
"The place seems to be haunted."
"I am not afraid of ghosts. It will be the less dull."
"You will have to risk it," said Thorhall. "It will be best to meet it with a bold face."
Terms were arranged and Glam was to come in the autumn. Then they parted. Thorhall found his horses in the very place where he had just been looking for them. He rode home and thanked Skapti for his service.
The summer passed. Thorhall heard nothing of his shepherd and no one knew anything about him, but at the appointed time he appeared at Thorhallsstad. Thorhall treated him kindly, but all the rest of the household disliked him, especially the mistress. He commenced his work as shepherd, which gave him little trouble. He had a loud hoarse voice. The beasts all flocked together whenever he shouted at them. There was a church in the place, but Glam never went to it. He abstained from mass, had no religion, and was stubborn and surly. Every one hated him.
So the time passed till the eve of Yule-tide. Glam rose early and called for his meal. The mistress said: "It is not proper for Christian men to eat on this day, because to-morrow is the first day of Yule and it is our duty to fast to-day."
"You have many superstitions," he said; "but I do not see that much comes of them. I do not know that men are any better off than when there was nothing of that kind. The ways of men seemed to me better when they were called heathen. I want my food and no foolery."
"I am certain," she said, "that it will fare ill with you to-day if you commit this sin."
Glam told her that she should bring his food, or that it would be the worse for her. She did not dare to do otherwise than as he bade her. When he had eaten he went out, his breath smelling abominably. It was very dark; there was driving snow, the wind was howling and it became worse as the day advanced. The shepherd's voice was heard in the early part of the day, but less later on. Blizzards set in and a terrific storm in the evening. People went to mass and so the time passed. In the evening Glam did not return. They talked about going out to look for him, but the storm was so violent and the night so dark that no one went. The night passed and still he had not returned; they waited till the time for mass came. When it was full day some of the men set forth to search. They found the animals scattered everywhere in the snow and injured by the weather; some had strayed into the mountains. Then they came upon some well-marked tracks up above in the valley. The stones and earth were torn up all about as if there had been a violent tussle. On searching further they came upon Glam lying on the ground a short distance off. He was dead; his body was as black as Hel and swollen to the size of an ox. They were overcome with horror and their hearts shuddered within them. Nevertheless they tried to carry him to the church, but could not get him any further than the edge of a gully a short way off. So they left him there and went home to report to the bondi what had happened. He asked what could have caused Glam's death. They said they had tracked him to a big place like a hole made by the bottom of a cask thrown down and dragged along up below the mountains which were at the top of the valley, and all along the track were great drops of blood. They concluded that the evil spirit which had been about before must have killed Glam, but that he had inflicted wounds upon it which were enough, for that spook was never heard of again. On the second day of the festival they went out again to bring in Glam's body to the church. They yoked oxen to him, but directly the downward incline ceased and they came to level ground, they could not move him; so they went home again and left him. On the third day they took a priest with them, but after searching the whole day they failed to find him. The priest refused to go again, and when he was not with them they found Glam. So they gave up the attempt to bring him to the church and buried him where he was under a cairn of stones.
It was not long before men became aware that Glam was not easy in his grave. Many men suffered severe injuries; some who saw him were struck senseless and some lost their wits. Soon after the festival was over, men began to think they saw him about their houses. The panic was great and many left the neighbourhood. Next he began to ride on the house-tops by night, and nearly broke them to pieces. Almost night and day he walked, and people would scarcely venture up the valley, however pressing their business. The district was in a grievous condition.
XXXIII. DOINGS OF GLAM'S GHOST. AWFUL CONDITION OF VATNSDALIn the spring Thorhall procured servants and built a house on his lands. As the days lengthened out the apparitions became less, until at midsummer a ship sailed up the Hunavatn in which was a man named Thorgaut. He was a foreigner, very tall and powerful; he had the strength of two men. He was travelling on his own account, unattached, and being without money was looking out for employment. Thorhall rode to the ship, saw him and asked if he would take service with him. Thorgaut said he would indeed, and that there would be no difficulties.
"You must be prepared," said Thorhall, "for work which would not be fitting for a weak-minded person, because of the apparitions which have been there lately. I will not deceive you about it."
"I shall not give myself up as lost for the ghostlings," he said. "Before I am scared some others will not be easy. I shall not change my quarters on that account."
The terms were easily arranged and Thorgaut was engaged for the sheep during the winter. When the summer had passed away he took over charge of them, and was on good terms with everybody. Glam continued his rides on the roofs. Thorgaut thought it very amusing and said the thrall must come nearer if he wished to frighten him. Thorhall advised him not to say too much, and said it would be better if they did not come into conflict.
Thorgaut said: "Surely all the spirit has gone out of you. I shall not fall dead in the twilight for stories of that sort."
Yule was approaching. On the eve the shepherd went out with his sheep. The mistress said: "Now I hope that our former experiences will not be repeated."
"Have no fear for that, mistress," he said. "There will be something worth telling of if I come not back."
Then he went out to his sheep. The weather was rather cold and there was a heavy snowstorm. Thorgaut usually returned when it was getting dark, but this time he did not come. The people went to church as usual, but they thought matters looked very much as they did on the last occasion. The bondi wanted them to go out and search for the shepherd, but the churchgoers cried off, and said they were not going to trust themselves into the power of trolls in the night; the bondi would not venture out and there was no search. On Yule day after their meal they went out to look for the shepherd, and first went to Glam's cairn, feeling sure that the shepherd's disappearance must be due to him. On approaching the cairn they saw an awful sight; there was the shepherd, his neck broken, and every bone in his body torn from its place. They carried him to the church and no one was molested by Thorgaut.
Glam became more rampageous than ever. He was so riotous that at last everybody fled from Thorhallsstad, excepting the bondi and his wife.
Thorhall's cowherd had been a long time in his service and he had become attached to him; for this reason and because he was a careful herdsman he did not want to part with him. The man was very old and thought it would be very troublesome to have to leave; he saw, too, that everything the bondi possessed would be ruined if he did not stay to look-after them. One morning after midwinter the mistress went to the cow-house to milk the cows as usual. It was then full day, for no one would venture out of doors till then, except the cowherd, who went directly it was light. She heard a great crash in the cowhouse and tremendous bellowing. She rushed in, shouting that something awful, she knew not what, was going on in the cowhouse. The bondi went out and found the cattle all goring each other. It seemed not canny there, so he went into the shed and there saw the cowherd lying on his back with his head in one stall and his feet in the other. He went up and felt him, but saw at once that he was dead with his back broken. It had been broken over the flat stone which separated the two stalls. Evidently it was not safe to remain any longer on his estate, so he fled with everything that he could carry away. All the live-stock which he left behind was killed by Glam. After that Glam went right up the valley and raided every farm as far as Tunga, while Thorhall stayed with his friends during the rest of the winter. No one could venture up the valley with a horse or a dog, for it was killed at once. As the spring went on and the sun rose higher in the sky the spook diminished somewhat, and Thorhall wanted to return to his land, but found it not easy to get servants. Nevertheless, he went and took up his abode at Thorhallsstad. Directly the autumn set in, everything began again, and the disturbances increased. The person most attacked was the bondi's daughter, who at last died of it. Many things were tried but without success. It seemed likely that the whole of Vatnsdal would be devastated unless help could be found.
XXXIV. GRETTIR VISITS HIS UNCLE JOKULLWe have now to return to Grettir, who was at home in Bjarg during the autumn which followed his meeting with Warrior-Bardi at Thoreyjargnup. When the winter was approaching, he rode North across the neck to Vididal and stayed at Audunarstad. He and Audun made friends again; Grettir gave him a valuable battle-axe and they agreed to hold together in friendship. Audun had long lived there, and had many connections. He had a son named Egill, who married Ulfheid the daughter of Eyjolf, the son of Gudmund; their son Eyjolf, who was killed at the All-Thing, was the father of Orin the chaplain of Bishop Thorlak.
Grettir rode to the North to Vatnsdal and went on a visit to Tunga, where dwelt his mother's brother, Jokull the son of Bard, a big strong man and exceedingly haughty. He was a mariner, very cantankerous, but a person of much consideration. He welcomed Grettir, who stayed three nights with him. Nothing was talked about but Glam's walking, and Grettir inquired minutely about all the particulars. Jokull told him that no more was said than had really happened.
"Why, do you want to go there?" he asked.
Grettir said that it was so. Jokull told him not to do it.
"It would be a most hazardous undertaking," he said. "Your kinsmen incur a great risk with you as you are. There does not seem to be one of the younger men who is your equal. It is ill dealing with such a one as Glam. Much better fight with human men than with goblins of that sort."
Grettir said he had a mind to go to Thorhallsstad and see how things were. Jokull said: "I see there is no use in dissuading you. The saying is true that Luck is one thing, brave deeds another."
"Woe stands before the door of one but enters that of another," answered Grettir. "I am thinking how it may fare with you yourself before all is done."
"It may be," said Jokull, "that we both see what is before us, and yet we may not alter it."
Then they parted, neither of them well pleased with the other's prophetic saying.
XXXV. THE FIGHT WITH GLAM'S GHOSTGrettir rode to Thorhallsstad where he was welcomed by the bondi. He asked Grettir whither he was bound, and Grettir said he wished to spend the night there if the bondi permitted. Thorhall said he would indeed be thankful to him for staying there.
"Few," he said, "think it a gain to stay here for any time. You must have heard tell of the trouble that is here, and I do not want you to be inconvenienced on my account. Even if you escape unhurt yourself, I know for certain that you will lose your horse, for no one can keep his beast in safety who comes here."
Grettir said there were plenty more horses to be had if anything happened to this one.
Thorhall was delighted at Grettir's wishing to remain, and received him with both hands. Grettir's horse was placed securely under lock and key and they both went to bed. The night passed without Glam showing himself.
"Your being here has already done some good," said Thorhall. "Glam has always been in the habit of riding on the roof or breaking open the doors every night, as you can see from the marks."
"Then," Grettir said, "either he will not keep quiet much longer, or he will remain so more than one night. I will stay another night and see what happens."
Then they went to Grettir's horse and found it had not been touched. The bondi thought that all pointed to the same thing. Grettir stayed a second night and again the thrall did not appear. The bondi became hopeful and went to see the horse. There he found the stable broken open, the horse dragged outside and every bone in his body broken. Thorhall told Grettir what had occurred and advised him to look to himself, for he was a dead man if he waited for Glam.
Grettir answered: "I must not have less for my horse than a sight of the thrall."
The bondi said there was no pleasure to be had from seeing him: "He is not like any man. I count every hour a gain that you are here."
The day passed, and when the hour came for going to bed Grettir said he would not take off his clothes, and lay down on a seat opposite to Thorkell's sleeping apartment. He had a shaggy cloak covering him with one end of it fastened under his feet and the other drawn over his head so that he could see through the neck-hole. He set his feet against a strong bench which was in front of him. The frame-work of the outer door had been all broken away and some bits of wood had been rigged up roughly in its place. The partition which had once divided the hall from the entrance passage was all broken, both above the cross-beam and below, and all the bedding had been upset. The place looked rather desolate. There was a light burning in the hall by night.
When about a third part of the night had passed Grettir heard a loud noise. Something was going up on to the building, riding above the hall and kicking with its heels until the timbers cracked again. This went on for some time, and then it came down towards the door. The door opened and Grettir saw the thrall stretching in an enormously big and ugly head. Glam moved slowly in, and on passing the door stood upright, reaching to the roof. He turned to the hall, resting his arms on the cross-beam and peering along the hall. The bondi uttered no sound, having heard quite enough of what had gone on outside. Grettir lay quite still and did not move. Glam saw a heap of something in the seat, came farther into the hall and seized the cloak tightly with his hand. Grettir pressed his foot against the plank and the cloak held firm. Glam tugged at it again still more violently, but it did not give way. A third time be pulled, this time with both hands and with such force that he pulled Grettir up out of the seat, and between them the cloak was torn in two. Glam looked at the bit which he held in his hand and wondered much who could pull like that against him. Suddenly Grettir sprang under his arms, seized him round the waist and squeezed his back with all his might, intending in that way to bring him down, but the thrall wrenched his arms till he staggered from the violence. Then Grettir fell back to another bench. The benches flew about and everything was shattered around them. Glam wanted to get out, but Grettir tried to prevent him by stemming his foot against anything he could find. Nevertheless Glam succeeded in getting him outside the hall. Then a terrific struggle began, the thrall trying to drag him out of the house, and Grettir saw that however hard he was to deal with in the house, he would be worse outside, so he strove with all his might to keep him from getting out. Then Glam made a desperate effort and gripped Grettir tightly towards him, forcing him to the porch. Grettir saw that he could not put up any resistance, and with a sudden movement he dashed into the thrall's arms and set both his feet against a stone which was fastened in the ground at the door. For that Glam was not prepared, since he had been tugging to drag Grettir towards him; he reeled backwards and tumbled bind- foremost out of the door, tearing away the lintel with his shoulder and shattering the roof, the rafters and the frozen thatch. Head over heels he fell out of the house and Grettir fell on top of him. The moon was shining very brightly outside, with light clouds passing over it and hiding it now and again. At the moment when Glam fell the moon shone forth, and Glam turned his eyes up towards it. Grettir himself has related that that sight was the only one which ever made him tremble. What with fatigue and all else that he had endured, when he saw the horrible rolling of Glam's eyes his heart sank so utterly that he had not strength to draw his sword, but lay there wellnigh betwixt life and death. Glam possessed more malignant power than most fiends, for he now spoke in this wise:
"You have expended much energy, Grettir, in your search for me. Nor is that to be wondered at, if you should have little joy thereof. And now I tell you that you shall possess only half the strength and firmness of heart that were decreed to you if you had not striven with me. The might which was yours till now I am not able to take away, but it is in my power to ordain that never shall you grow stronger than you are now. Nevertheless your might is sufficient, as many shall find to their cost. Hitherto you have earned fame through your deeds, but henceforward there shall fall upon you exile and battle; your deeds shall turn to evil and your guardian-spirit shall forsake you. You will be outlawed and your lot shall be to dwell ever alone. And this I lay upon you, that these eyes of mine shall be ever before your vision. You will find it hard to live alone, and at last it shall drag you to death."
When the thrall had spoken the faintness which had come over Grettir left him. He drew his short sword, cut off Glam's head and laid it between his thighs. Then the bondi came out, having put on his clothes while Glam was speaking, but he did not venture to come near until he was dead. Thorhall praised God and thanked Grettir warmly for having laid this unclean spirit. Then they set to work and burned Glam to cold cinders, bound the ashes in a skin and buried them in a place far away from the haunts of man or beast. Then they went home, the day having nearly broken. Grettir was very stiff and lay down to rest. Thorhall sent for some men from the next farms and let them know how things had fared. They all realised the importance of Grettir's deed when they heard of it; all agreed that in the whole country side for strength and courage and enterprise there was not the equal of Grettir the son of Asmund.
Thorhall bade a kindly farewell to Grettir and dismissed him with a present of a fine horse and proper clothes, for all that he had been wearing were torn to pieces. They parted in friendship. Grettir rode to Ass in Vatnsdal and was welcomed by Thorvald, who asked him all about his encounter with Glam. Grettir told him everything and said that never had his strength been put to trial as it had been in their long struggle. Thorvald told him to conduct himself discreetly; if he did so he might prosper, but otherwise he would surely come to disaster. Grettir said that his temper had not improved, that he had even less discretion than before, and was more impatient of being crossed. In one thing a great change had come over him; he had become so frightened of the dark that he dared not go anywhere alone at night. Apparitions of every kind came before him. It has since passed into an expression, and men speak of "Glam's eyes" or "Glam visions" when things appear otherwise than as they are.
Having accomplished his undertaking Grettir rode back to Bjarg and spent the winter at home.
XXXVI. THORBJORN SLOWCOACH AT HOMEThorbjorn Oxmain gave a great feast in the autumn at which many were assembled, whilst Grettir was in the North in Vatnsdal. Thorbjorn Slowcoach was there and many things were talked about. The Hrutafjord people inquired about Grettir's adventure on the ridge in the summer. Thorbjorn Oxmain praised Grettir's conduct, and said that Kormak would have had the worst of it if no one had come to part them. Then Thorbjorn Slowcoach said: "What I saw of Grettir's fighting was not famous; and he seemed inclined to shirk when we came up. He was very ready to leave off, nor did I see him make any attempt to avenge the death of Atli's man. I do not believe there is much heart in him, except when he has a sufficient force behind him."
Thorbjorn went on jeering at him in this way. Many of the others had something to say about it, and they thought that Grettir would not leave it to rest if he heard what Thorbjorn was saying. Nothing more happened at the festivities; they all went home, and there was a good deal of ill-will between them all that winter, though no one took any action. Nothing more happened that winter.
XXXVII. GRETTIR SAILS FOR NORWAY AND KILLS THORBJORN SLOWCOACHEarly in the spring, before the meeting of the Thing, there arrived a ship from Norway. There was much news to tell, above all of the change of government. Olaf the son of Harald was now king, having driven away jarl Sveinn from the country in the spring which followed the battle of Nesjar. Many noteworthy things were told of King Olaf. Men said that he took into favour all men who were skilled in any way and made them his followers. This pleased many of the younger men in Iceland and made them all want to leave home. When Grettir heard of it he longed to go too, deeming that he merited the king's favour quite as much as any of the others. A ship came up to Gasar in Eyjafjord; Grettir engaged a passage in her and prepared to go abroad. He had not much outfit as yet.
Asmund was now becoming very infirm and scarcely left his bed. He and Asdis had a young son named Illugi, a youth of much promise. Atli had taken over all the management of the farm and the goods, and things went much better, for he was both obliging and provident.
Grettir embarked on his ship. Thorbjorn Slowcoach had arranged to travel in the same vessel without knowing that Grettir would be in her. Some of his friends tried to dissuade him from travelling in Grettir's company, but he insisted upon going. He was rather a long time over his preparations and did not get to Gasar before the ship was ready to sail. Before he left home Asmund Longhair was taken ill and was quite confined to his bed. Thorbjorn Slowcoach arrived on the beach late in the day, when the men were going on board and were washing their hands outside near their booths. When he rode up to the rows of booths they greeted him and asked what news there was.
"I have nothing to tell," he said, "except that the valorous Asmund at Bjarg is now dead."
Some of them said that a worthy bondi had left the world and asked how it happened.
"A poor lot befell his Valour," he replied. "He was suffocated by the smoke from the hearth, like a dog. There is no great loss in him, for he was in his dotage."
"You talk strangely about such a man as he was," they said. "Grettir would not be much pleased if he heard you."
"I can endure Grettir's wrath," he said. "He must bear his axe higher than he did at Hrutafjardarhals if he wishes to frighten me."
Grettir heard every word that Thorbjorn said, but took no notice as long as he was speaking. When he had finished Grettir said:
"I prophesy, Slowcoach, that you will not die of the smoke from the hearth, and yet perhaps you will not die of old age either. It is strange conduct to say shameful things of innocent men."
Thorbjorn said: "I have nothing to unsay. I never thought you would fire up like this on the day when we got you out of the hands of the men of Mel who were belabouring you like an ox's head."
Then Grettir spoke a verse:
- "Too long is the tongue of the spanner of bows.
- Full often he suffers the vengeance due.
- Slowcoach! I tell thee that many a man
- has paid for less shameful speech with his life."
Thorbjorn said his life was neither more nor less in danger than it was before.
"My prophecies are not generally long-lived," said Grettir, "nor shall this one be. Defend yourself if you will; you never will have better occasion for it than now."
Grettir then struck at him. He tried to parry the blow with his arm, but it struck him above the wrist and glanced off on to his neck so that his head flew off. The sailors declared it was a splendid stroke, and that such were the men for the king. No one would grieve, they said, because a man so quarrelsome and scurrilous as Thorbjorn had been killed.
Soon after this they got under way and towards the end of the summer reached the south coast of Norway, about Hordland, where they learned that King Olaf was in the North at Thrandheim. Grettir took a passage thither with some traders intending to seek audience of the king.
XXXVIII. GRETTIR FETCHES FIRE -- THE SONS OF THORIR ARE BURNTThere was a man named Thorir dwelling in Gard in Adaldal. He was a son of Skeggi Bodolfsson, who had settled in Kelduhverfi, on lands extending right up to Keldunes, and had married Helga the daughter of Thorgeir at Fiskilaek. Thorir was a great chief, and a mariner. He had two sons whose names were Thorgeir and Skeggi, both men of promise, and pretty well grown up at that time. Thorir had been in Norway in the summer in which Olaf came East from England, and had won great favour with the king as well as with Bishop Sigurd. In token of this it is related that Thorir asked the bishop to consecrate a large sea-going ship he had built in the forest, and the bishop did so. Later he came out to Iceland and had his ship broken up because he was tired of seafaring. He set up the figures from her head and stem over his doors, where they long remained foretelling the weather, one howling for a south, the other for a north wind.
When Thorir heard that Olaf had become sole ruler of Norway he thought he might expect favour from him, so he dispatched his sons to Norway to wait upon the king, hoping that they would be received into his service. They reached the south coast late in the autumn and engaged a rowing vessel to take them up the coast to the North, intending to go to the king. They reached a port to the south of Stad, where they put in for a few days. They were well provided with food and drink, and did not go out much because of the bad weather.
Grettir also sailed to the North along the coast, and as the winter was just beginning he often fell in with dirty weather. When they reached the neighbourhood of Stad the weather became worse, and at last one evening they were so exhausted with the snow and frost that they were compelled to put in and lie under a bank where they found shelter for their goods and belongings. The men were very much distressed at not being able to procure any fire; their safety and their lives seemed almost to depend upon their getting some. They lay there in a pitiful condition all the evening, and as night came on they saw a large fire on the other side of the channel which they were in. When Grettir's companions saw the fire they began talking and saying that he who could get some of it would be a happy man. They hesitated for some time whether they should put out, but all agreed that it would be too dangerous. Then they had a good deal of talk about whether there was any man living doughty enough to get the fire. Grettir kept very quiet, but said that there probably had been men who would not have let themselves be baulked. The men said that they were none the better for what had been if there were none now.
"But won't you venture, Grettir? The people of Iceland all talk so much about your prowess, and you know very well what we want."
Grettir said: "It does not seem to me such a great thing to get the fire, but I do not know whether you will reward it any better than he requires who does it."
"Why," they said, "should you take us to be men of so little honour that we shall not reward you well?"
"Well," said Grettir, "if you really think it so necessary I will try it; but my heart tells me that no good will come to me therefrom."
They said it would not be so, and told him that he should have their thanks.
Then Grettir threw off his clothes and got ready to go into the water. He went in a cloak and breeches of coarse stuff. He tucked up the cloak, tied a cord of bast round his waist, and took a barrel with him. Then he jumped overboard, swam across the channel and reached the land on the other side. There he saw a house standing and heard sounds of talking and merriment issuing from it. So he went towards the house.
We have now to tell of the people who were in the house. They were the sons of Thorir who have been mentioned. They had been there some days waiting for a change of weather and for a wind to carry them to the North. There were twelve of them and they were all sitting and drinking. They had made fast in the inner harbour where there was a place of shelter set up for men who were travelling about the country, and they had carried in a quantity of straw. There was a huge fire on the ground. Grettir rushed into the house, not knowing who was there. His cloak had all frozen directly he landed, and he was a portentous sight to behold; he looked like a troll. The people inside were much startled, thinking it was a fiend. They struck at him with anything they could get, and a tremendous uproar there was. Grettir pushed them back with his arms. Some of them struck at him with firebrands, and the fire spread all through the house. He got away with his fire and returned to his companions, who were loud in praise of his skill and daring, and said there was no one like him. The night passed and they were happy now that they had fire.
On the next morning the weather was fine. They all woke early and made ready to continue their journey. It was proposed that they should go and find out who the people were who had had the fire, so they cast off and sailed across the channel. They found no house there, nothing but a heap of ashes and a good many bones of men amongst them. Evidently the house with all who were in it had been burned. They asked whether Grettir had done it, and declared it was an abominable deed. Grettir said that what he expected had come to pass, and that he was ill rewarded for getting the fire for them. He said it was thankless work to help such miserable beings as they were. He suffered much annoyance in consequence, for wherever the traders went they told that Grettir had burned the men in the house. Soon it became known that it was the sons of Thorir of Gard and their followers who had been burned. The traders refused to have Grettir on board their ship any longer and drove him away. He was so abhorred that scarcely any one would do him a service. His case seemed hopeless, and his only desire was at any cost to appear before the king. So he went North to Thrandheim where the king was, and had heard the whole story before Grettir came, for many had been busy in slandering him. Grettir waited several days in the town before he was able to appear before the king.
XXXIX. GRETTIR APPEARS BEFORE THE KING AND FAILS TO UNDERGO THE ORDEALOne day when the king was sitting in judgment Grettir came before him and saluted him respectfully. The king looked at him and said:
"Are you Grettir the Strong?"
"So I have been called," he replied, "and I have some here in the hope of obtaining deliverance from the slanders which are being spread about me, and to say that I did not do this deed."
The king said: "You are worthy enough; but I know not what fortune you will have in defending yourself. It is quite possible that you did not intend to burn the men in the house."
Grettir said that he was most anxious to prove his innocence if the king would permit him. Then the king bade him relate faithfully all that had happened. Grettir told him everything exactly as it was, and declared that they were all alive when he escaped with his fire; he was ready to undergo any ordeal which the king considered that the law required.
King Olaf said: "I decree that you shall bear iron, if your fate so wills it."
Grettir was quite content with that, and began his fast for the ordeal. When the day for the ceremony arrived the king and the bishop went to the church together with a multitude of people who came out of curiosity to see a man so much talked about as Grettir. At last Grettir himself was led to the church. When he entered many looked at him and remarked that he excelled most men in strength and stature. As he passed down the aisle there started up a very ill-favoured, overgrown boy and cried to him:
"Wondrous are now the ways in a land where men should call themselves Christians, when evildoers and robbers and thieves walk in peace to purge themselves. What should a wicked man find better to do than to preserve his life so long as he may? Here is now a malefactor convicted of guilt, one who has burnt innocent men in their houses, and yet is allowed to undergo purgation. Such a thing is most unrighteous."
Then he went at Grettir, pointing at him with his finger, making grimaces and calling him son of a sea-ogress, with many other bad names. Then Grettir lost his temper and his self-control. He raised his hand and gave him a box on the ear so that he fell senseless, and some thought he was dead. No one seemed to know whence the boy had come nor what became of him afterwards, but it was generally believed that he was some unclean spirit sent forth for the destruction of Grettir.
There arose an uproar in the church; people told the king that the man who had come to purge himself was fighting with those around him. King Olaf came forward into the church to see what was going on, and said:
"You are a man of ill luck, Grettir. All was prepared for the ordeal, but it cannot take place now. It is not possible to contend against your ill-fortune."
Grettir said: "I expected, oh king, more honour from you for the sake of my family than I now seem likely to obtain."
Then he told again the story as he had done before of what had taken place with the men. "Gladly," he said, "would I enter your service; there is many a man with you who is not my better as a warrior."
"I know," said the king, "that few are your equals in strength and courage, but your luck is too bad for you to remain with me. You have my leave to depart in peace whithersoever you will for the winter, and then in the summer you may return to Iceland, where you are destined to lay your bones."
"First I should like to clear myself of the charge of burning, if I may," said Grettir; "for I did not do it intentionally."
"Very likely it is so," said the king; "but since the purgation has come to naught through your impatience you cannot clear yourself further than you have done. Impetuosity always leads to evil. If ever a man was doomed to misfortune you are."
After that Grettir remained for a time in the town, but he got nothing more out of Olaf. Then he went to the South, intending after that to go East to Tunsberg to find his brother Thorsteinn Dromund. Nothing is told of his journey till he came to Jadar.
XL. ADVENTURE WITH THE BERSERK SNAEKOLLAt Yule Grettir came to a bondi named Einar, a man of wealth who had a wife and a marriageable daughter named Gyrid. She was a beautiful maiden and was considered an excellent match. Einar invited Grettir to stay over Yule, and he accepted.
It was no uncommon thing throughout Norway that robbers and other ruffians came down from the forest and challenged men to fight for their women, or carried off their property with violence if there was not sufficient force in the house to protect them. One day at Yule-tide there came a whole party of these miscreants to Einar's house. Their leader was a great berserk named Snaekoll. He challenged Einar to hand over his daughter to him or else to defend her, if he felt himself man enough to do so. Now the bondi was no longer young, and no fighter. He felt that he was in a great difficulty, and asked Grettir privately what help he would give him, seeing that he was held to be so famous a man. Grettir advised him to consent only to what was not dishonourable. The berserk was sitting on his horse wearing his helmet, the chin-piece of which was not fastened. He held before him a shield bound with iron and looked terribly threatening. He said to the bondi:
"You had better choose quickly: either one thing or the other. What does that big fellow standing beside you say? Would he not like to play with me himself?"
"One of us is as good as the other," said Grettir, "neither of us is very active."
"All the more afraid will you be to fight with me if I get angry."
"That will be seen when it is tried," said Grettir.
The berserk thought they were trying to get off by talking. He began to howl and to bite the rim of his shield. He held the shield up to his mouth and scowled over its upper edge like a madman. Grettir stepped quickly across the ground, and when he got even with the berserk's horse he kicked the shield with his foot from below with such force that it struck his mouth, breaking the upper jaw, and the lower jaw fell down on to his chest. With the same movement he seized the viking's helmet with his left hand and dragged him from his horse, while with his right hand he raised his axe and cut off the berserk's head. Snaekoll's followers when they saw what had happened fled, every man of them. Grettir did not care to pursue them for he saw that there was no heart in them. The bondi thanked him for what he had done, as did many other men, for the quickness and boldness of his deed had impressed them much. Grettir stayed there for Yule and was well taken care of till he left, when the bondi dismissed him handsomely. Then Grettir went East to Tunsberg to visit his brother Thorsteinn, who received him joyfully and asked him about his adventures. Grettir told him how he had killed the berserk, and composed a verse :
- "The warrior's shield by my foot propelled
- in conflict came with Snaekoll's mouth.
- His nether jaw hung down on his chest,
- wide gaped his mouth from the iron ring."
"You would be very handy at many things," said Thorsteinn, "if misfortune did not follow you."
"Men will tell of deeds that are done," said Grettir.
XLI. THORSTEINN DROMUND'S ARMSGrettir stayed with Thorsteinn for the rest of the winter and on into the spring. One morning when Thorsteinn and Grettir were above in their sleepingroom Grettir put out his arm from the bed-clothes and Thorsteinn noticed it when he awoke. Soon after Grettir woke too, and Thorsteinn said: "I have been looking at your arms, kinsman, and think it is not wonderful that your blows fall heavily upon some. Never have I seen any man's arms that were like yours."
"You may know," said Grettir, "that I should not have done the deeds I have if I had not been very mighty."
"Yet methinks it would be of advantage," said Thorsteinn, "if your arm were more slender and your fortune better."
"True," said Grettir, "is the saying that no man shapes his own fortune. Let me see your arm."
Thorsteinn showed it to him. He was a tall lanky man. Grettir smiled and said:
"There is no need to look long at that; all your ribs are run together. I never saw such a pair of tongs as you carry about! Why, you are scarcely as strong as a woman!"
"It may be so," said Thorsteinn, "and yet you may know that these thin arms of mine and no others will avenge you some day; -- if you are avenged."
"Who shall know how it will be when the end comes?" said Grettir; "but that seems unlikely."
No more is related of their conversation. The spring came and Grettir took a ship for Iceland in the summer. The brothers parted with friendship and never saw one another again.
XLII. DEATH OF ASMUND LONGHAIRWe have now to return to where we broke off before. Thorbjorn Oxmain when he heard of the death of Thorbjorn Slowcoach flew into a violent passion and said he wished that more men might deal blows in other people's houses. Asmund Longhair lay sick for some time in the summer. When he thought his end was nigh he called his kinsmen round him and said his will was that Atli should take over all the property after his day. "I fear," he said, "that the wicked will scarce leave you in peace. And I wish all my kinsmen to support him to the best of their power. Of Grettir I can say nothing, for his condition seems to me like a rolling wheel. Strong though he is, I fear he will have more dealing with trouble than with kinsmen's support. And Illugi, though young now, shall become a man of valiant deeds if he remain unscathed."
When Asmund had settled everything with his sons according to his wish his sickness grew upon him. He died soon after and was buried at Bjarg, where he had had a church built. All felt his loss deeply.
Atli became a great bondi and kept a large establishment. He was a great dealer in household provisions. Towards the end of the summer he went to Snaefellsnes to get dried fish. He drove several horses with him and rode from home to Melar in Hrutafjord to his brother-in-law, Gamli. Then Grim, the son of Thorhall, Gamli's brother, made ready to accompany him along with another man. They rode West by way of Haukadalsskard and the road which leads out to the Ness, where they bought much fish and carried it away-on seven horses; when all was ready they turned homewards.
XLIII. THE SONS OF THORIR OF SKARD ARE SLAIN BY ATLI AND GRIMThorbjorn Oxmain heard of Atli and Grim having left home just when Gunnar and Thorgeir, the sons of Thorir of Skard, were with him. Thorbjorn was jealous of Atli's popularity and egged on the two brothers, the sons of Thorir, to lie in wait for him as he returned from Snaefellsnes. They rode home to Skard and waited there for Atli returning with his loads. They could see the party from their house as they passed Skard, and made ready quickly to pursue them with their servants. Atli on seeing them ordered his horses to be unloaded.
"Perhaps," he said, "they want to offer me compensation for my man whom Gunnar slew last summer. We will not be the first to attack, but if they begin fighting us we will defend ourselves."
Then they came up and at once sprang off their horses. Atli greeted them and asked what news there was, and whether Gunnar desired to offer him some compensation for his servant. Gunnar answered:
"You men of Bjarg, you deserve something else than that I should pay compensation for him with my goods. Thorbjorn whom Grettir slew is worth a higher atonement than he."
"I have not to answer for that," said Atli, "nor are you the representative of Thorbjorn."
Gunnar said it would have to be so nevertheless. "And now," he cried, "let us go for them and profit by Grettir being away."
There were eight of them, and they set upon Atli's six. Atli led on his men and drew the sword Jokulsnaut which Grettir had given him. Thorgeir cried: "Good men are alike in many things. High did Grettir bear his sword last summer on Hrutafjardarhals."
Atli answered: "He is more accustomed to deeds of strength than I am."
Then they fought. Gunnar made a resolute attack on Atli, and fought fiercely. After they had battled for a time Atli said:
"There is nothing to be gained by each of us killing the other's followers. The simplest course would be for us to play together, for I have never fought with weapons before."
Gunnar, however, would not have it. Atli bade his servants look to the packs, and he would see what the others would do. He made such a vigorous onslaught that Gunnar's men fell back, and he killed two of them. Then he turned upon Gunnar himself and struck a blow that severed his shield right across below the handle, and the sword struck his leg below the knee. Then with another rapid blow he killed him.
In the meantime Grim, the son of Thorhall, was engaging Thorgeir, and a long tussle there was, both of them being men of great valour. When Thorgeir saw his brother Gunnar fall he wanted to get away, but Grim pressed upon him and pursued him until at last his foot tripped and he fell forward. Then Grim struck him with an axe between the shoulders, inflicting a deep wound. To the three followers who were left they gave quarter. Then they bound up their wounds, reloaded the packs on to the horses and went home, giving information of the battle. Atli stayed at home with a strong guard of men that autumn. Thorbjorn Oxmain was not at all pleased, but could do nothing, because Atli was very wary. Grim was with him for the winter, and his brother-in-law Gamli. Another brother-in-law, Glum the son of Ospak from Eyr in Bitra, was with them too. They had a goodly array of men settled at Bjarg, and there was much merriment there during the winter.
XLIV. SETTLEMENT OF THE FEUD AT THE HUNAVATN THINGThorbfron Oxmain took up the suit arising from the death of Thorir's sons. He prepared his case against Grim and Atli, and they prepared their defence on the grounds that the brothers had attacked them wrongfully and were, therefore, "ohelgir." The case was brought before the Hunavatn Thing and both sides appeared in force. Atli had many connections , and was, therefore, strongly supported. Then those who were friends of both came forward and tried to effect a reconciliation; they urged that Atli was a man of good position and peacefully disposed, though fearless enough when driven into a strait. Thorbjorn felt that no other honourable course was open to him but to agree to a reconciliation. Atli made it a condition that there should be no sentence of banishment either from the district or the country. Then men were appointed to arbitrate: Thorvald Asgeirsson on behalf of Atli, and Solvi the Proud on behalf of Tborbjorn. This Solvi was a son of Asbrand, the son of Thorbrand, the son of Harald Ring who had settled in Vatnsnes, taking land as far as Ambattara to the West, and to the East up to the Thvera and across to Bjargaoss and the whole side of Bjorg as far as the sea. Solvi was a person of much display, but a man of sense, and therefore Thorbjorn chose him as his arbitrator.
The decree of the arbitrators was that half penalties should be paid for Thorir's sons and half should be remitted on account of the wrongful attack which they made and their designs on Atli's life. The slaying of Atli's man at Hrutafjardarhals should be set off against the two of theirs who had been killed. Grim the son of Thorhall was banished from his district and the penalties were to be paid by Atli. Atli was satisfied with this award, but Thorbjorn was not; they parted nominally reconciled, but Thorbjorn let drop some words to the effect that it was not over yet if all happened as he desired.
Atli rode home from the Thing after thanking Thorvald for his assistance. Grim the son of Thorhall betook himself to the South to Borgarfjord and dwelt at Gilsbakki, where he was known as a worthy bondi.
XLV. ATLI MURDERED BY THORBJORN OXMAINThere was dwelling with Thorbjorn Oxmain a man whose name was Ali, a servant, rather stubborn and lazy. Thorbjorn told him he must work better or he would be beaten. Ali said he had no mind for work and became abusive. Thorbjorn was not going to endure that, and got him down and handled him roughly. After that Ali ran away and went to the North across the neck to Midfjord; he did not stop till he reached Bjarg. Atli was at home and asked whither he was going. He said he was seeking an engagement.
"Are you not a servant of Thorbjorn?" Atli asked.
"We did not get on with our bargain. I was not there long, but it seemed to me a bad place while I was there. Our parting was in such a way that his song on my throat did not please me. I will never go back there, whatever becomes of me. And it is true that there is a great difference between you two in the way you treat your servants. I would be glad to take service with you if there is a place, for me."
Atli said: "I have servants enough without stretching forth my hands for those whom Thorbjorn has hired. You seem an impatient man and had better go back to him."
"I am not going there of my own free will," said Ali.
He stayed there for the night, and in the morning went out to work with Atli's men, and toiled as if he had hands everywhere. So he continued all the summer; Atli took no notice of him, but allowed him his food, for he was pleased with the man's work. Soon Thorbjorn learned that Ali was at Bjarg. He rode thither with two others and called to Atli to come out and speak with him. Atli went out and greeted him.
"You want to begin again provoking me to attack you, Atli," he said. "Why have you taken away my workman? It is a most improper thing to do."
Atli replied: "It is not very clear to me that he is your workman. I do not want to keep him if you can prove that he belongs to your household; but I cannot drive him out of my house."
"You must have your way now," said Thorbjorn; "but I claim the man and protest against his working for you. I shall come again, and it is not certain that we shall then part any better friends than we are now."
Atli rejoined: "I shall stay at home and abide whatever comes to hand."
Thorbjorn then went off home. When the workmen came back in the evening Atli told them of his conversation with Thorbjorn and said to Ali that he must go his own ways, for he was not going to be drawn into a quarrel for employing him.
Ali said: "True is the ancient saying: The over-praised are the worst deceivers. I did not think that you would have turned me off now after I had worked here till I broke in the summer. I thought that you would have given me protection. Such is your way, however you play the beneficent. Now I shall be beaten before your very eyes if you refuse to stand by me."
Atli's mind was changed after the man had spoken; he no longer wanted to drive him away.
So the time passed until the hay-harvest began. One day a little before midsummer Thorbjorn Oxmain rode to Bjarg. He wore a helmet on his head, a sword was girt at his side, and in his hand was a spear which had a very broad blade. The weather was rainy; Atli had sent his men to mow the hay, and some were in the North at Horn on some work. Atli was at home with a few men only. Thorbjorn arrived alone towards midday and rode up to the door. The door was shut and no one outside. Thorbjorn knocked at the door and then went to the back of the house so that he could not be seen from the door. The people in the house heard some one knocking and one of the women went out. Thorbjorn got a glimpse of the woman, but did not let himself be seen, for he was seeking another person. She went back into the room and Atli asked her who had come. She said she could see nobody outside. As they were speaking Thorbjorn struck a violent blow on the door. Atli said:
"He wants to see me; perhaps he has some business with me, for he seems very pressing."
Then he went to the outer door and saw nobody there. It was raining hard, so he did not go outside, but stood holding both the door-posts with his hands and peering round. At that moment Thorbjorn sidled round to the front of the door and thrust his spear with both hands into Atli's middle, so that it pierced him through. Atli said when he received the thrust: "They use broad spear-blades nowadays."
Then he fell forward on the threshold. The women who were inside came out and saw that he was dead. Thorbjorn had then mounted his horse; he proclaimed the slaying and rode home. Asdis, the mistress of the house, sent for men; Atli's body was laid out and he was buried beside his father. There was much lamentation over his death, for he was both wise and beloved. No blood-money was paid for his death, nor was any demanded, for his representative was Grettir, if he should ever return to Iceland. The matter rested there during the summer. Thorbjorn gained little credit by this deed, but remained quietly at home.
XLVI. SENTENCE OF OUTLAWRY PASSED UPON GRETTIR AT THE ALL-THINGIn that same summer before the assembly of the Thing there came a ship out to Gasar bringing news of Grettir and of his house- burning adventure. Thorir of Gard was very angry when he heard of it and bethought himself of vengeance for his sons upon Grettir. Thorir rode with a large retinue to the Thing and laid a complaint in respect of the burning, but men thought nothing could be done as long as there was no one to answer the charge. Thorir insisted that he would be content with nothing short of banishment for Grettir from the whole country after such a crime. Then Skapti the Lawman said: "It certainly was an evil deed if all really happened as has been told. But One man's tale is but half a tale. Most people try and manage not to improve a story if there is more than one version of it. I hold that no judgment should be passed for Grettir's banishment without further proceedings."
Thorir was a notable person and possessed great influence in the district; many powerful men were his friends. He pressed his suit so strongly that nothing could be done to save Grettir. Thorir had him proclaimed an outlaw throughout the country, and was ever afterwards the most bitter of his opponents, as he often found. Having put a price upon his head, as it was usual to do with other outlaws, he rode home. Many said that the decree was carried more by violence than by law, but it remained in force. Nothing more happened until after midsummer.
XLVII. GRETTIR RETURNS TO BJARG -- SVEINN AND HIS HORSE SADDLE-HEADLater in the summer Grettir the son of Asmund came back to Iceland, landing in the Hvita in Borgarfjord. People about the district went down to the ship and all the news came at once upon Grettir, first that his father was dead, then that his brother was slain, and third that he was declared outlaw throughout the land. Then he spoke this verse:
- "All fell at once upon the bard,
- exile, father dead and brother.
- Oh man of battle! Many an one
- who breaks the swords shall smart for this."
It is told that Grettir changed his manner no whit for these tidings, but was just as merry as before. He remained on board his ship for a time because he could not get a horse to suit him.
There was a man named Sveinn who dwelt at Bakki up from Thingnes. He was a good bondi and a merry companion; he often composed verses which it was a delight to listen to. He had a brown mare, the swiftest of horses, which he called Saddle-head. Once Grettir left Vellir in the night because he did not wish the traders to know of it. He got a black cape and put it over his clothes to conceal himself. He went up past Thingnes to Bakki, by which time it was light. Seeing a brown horse in the meadow he went up and put a bridle on it, mounted on its back and rode up along the Hvita river below Baer on to the river Flokadalsa and up to the road above Kalfanes. The men working at Bakki were up by then, and told the bondi that a man was riding his horse. He got up and laughed and spoke a verse:
- "There rode a man upon Saddle-head's back;
- close to the garth the thief has come.
- Frey of the Odin's cloud, dreadful of aspect,
- appears from his strength to be busy with mischief."
Then he took a horse and rode after him. Grettir rode on till he came to the settlement at Kropp, where he met a man named Halli who said he was going down to the ship at Vellir. Grettir then spoke a verse:
- "Tell, oh tell in the dwellings abroad
- tell thou hast met with Saddle-head.
- The handler of dice in sable cowl
- sat on his back; hasten, oh Halli!"
Then they parted. Halli went along the road as far as Kalfanes before he met Sveinn. They greeted each other hurriedly and Sveinn said:
- "Saw you that loafer ride from the dwellings?
- Sorely he means my patience to try.
- The people about shall deal with him roughly;
- blue shall his body be if I meet him."
"You can know from what I tell you," said Halli, "that I met the man who said he was riding Saddle-head, and he told me to spread it abroad in the dwellings and the district. He was a huge man in a black cloak."
"Well, he seems to think something of himself," said the bondi. "I mean to know who he is."
Then he went on after him. Grettir came to Deildartunga and found a woman outside. He began to talk to her and spoke a verse:
- "Mistress august! Go tell of the jest
- that the serpent of earth has past on his way.
- The garrulous brewer of Odin's mead
- will come to Gilsbakki before he will rest."
The woman learned the verse and Grettir rode on. Soon after Sveinn rode up; she was still outside, and when he came he spoke the verse:
- "Who was the man who a moment ago
- rode past on a dusky horse in the storm?
- The hound-eyed rascal, practised in mischief.
- This day I will follow his steps to the end."
She told him as she had been taught. He considered the lines and said: "It is not unlikely that this man is no play-fellow for me. But I mean to catch him."
He then rode along the cultivated country. Each could see the other's path. The weather was stormy and wet. Grettir reached Gilsbakki that day, where Grim the son of Thorhall welcomed him warmly and begged him to stay, which he did. He let Saddle-head run loose and told Grim how he had come by her. Then Sveinn came up, dismounted and saw his horse. Then he said:
- "Who has ridden on my mare?
- Who will pay me for her hire?
- Who ever saw such an arrant thief?
- What next will be the cowl-man's game?"
Grettir had then put off his wet clothes, and heard the ditty. He said:
- "Home I rode the mare to Grim's,
- a better man than the hovel-dweller!
- Nothing will I pay for hire!
- Now we may be friends again."
"Just so shall it be," said the bondi. "Your ride on the horse is fully paid for."
Then they each began repeating verses, and Grettir said he could not blame him for looking after his property. The bondi stayed there the night and they had great jokes about the matter. The verses they made were called "Saddle-head verses." In the morning the bondi rode home, parting good friends with Grettir. Grim told Grettir of many things that had been done in Midfjord in the North during his absence, and that no blood-money had been paid for Atli. Thorbjorn Oxmain's interest, he said, was so great that there was no certainty of Grettir's mother, Asdis, being allowed to remain at Bjarg if the feud continued.
Grettir stayed but a few nights with Grim, for he did not want it to become known that he was about to travel North across the Heath. Grim told him to come back to visit him if he needed protection. "Yet," he said, "I would gladly avoid the penalty of being outlawed for harbouring you."
Grettir bade him farewell and said: "It is more likely that I shall need your good services still more later on."
Then Grettir rode North over the Tvidaegra Heath to Bjarg, where he arrived at midnight. All were asleep except his mother. He went to the back of the house and entered by a door which was there, for he knew all the ways about. He entered the hall and went to his mother's bed, groping his way. She asked who was there. Grettir told her. She sat up and turned to him, heaving a weary sigh as she spoke:
"Welcome, my kinsman! My hoard of sons has quickly passed away. He is killed who was most needful to me; you have been declared an outlaw and a criminal; my third is so young that he can do nothing."
"It is an ancient saying," said Grettir, "that one evil is mended by a worse one. There is more in the heart of man than money can buy; Atli may yet be avenged. As for me, there will be some who think they have had enough in their dealings with me."
She said that was not unlikely. Grettir stayed there for a time, but few knew of it, and he obtained news of the movements of the men of the district. It was not known then that he had come to Midfjord. He learned that Thorbjorn Oxmain was at home with few men. This was after the hay-harvest.
XLVIII. DEATH OF THORBJORN OXMAINOne fine day Grettir rode to the West across the ridge to Thoroddsstad, where he arrived about noon and knocked at the door. Some women came out and greeted him, not knowing who he was. He asked for Thorbjorn, and they told him that he was gone out into the fields to bind hay with his sixteen-year-old son Arnor. Thorbjorn was a hard worker and was scarcely ever idle. Grettir on hearing that bade them farewell and rode off North on the road to Reykir. There is some marsh-land stretching away from the ridge with much grass-land, where Thorbjorn had made a quantity of hay which was just dry. He was just about to bind it up for bringing in with the help of his son, while a woman gathered up what was left. Grettir rode to the field from below, Thorbjorn and his son being above him; they had finished one load and were beginning a second. Thorbjorn had laid down his shield and sword against the load, and his son had his hand-axe near him.
Thorbjorn saw a man coming and said to his son: "There is a man riding towards us; we had better stop binding the hay and see what he wants."
They did so; Grettir got off his horse. He had a helmet on his head, a short sword by his side, and a great spear in his hand without barbs and inlaid with silver at the socket. He sat down and knocked out the rivet which fastened the head in order to prevent Thorbjorn from returning the spear upon him.
Thorbjorn said: "This is a big man. I am no good at judging men if that is not Grettir the son of Asmund. No doubt be thinks that he has sufficient business with us. We will meet him boldly and show him no signs of fear. We must act with a plan. I will go on ahead towards him and see how we get on together, for I will trust myself against any man if I can meet him alone. Do you go round and get behind him; take your axe with both hands and strike him between the shoulders. You need not fear that he will hurt you, for his back will be turned towards you."
Neither of them had a helmet. Grettir went along the marsh and when he was within range launched his spear at Thorbjorn. The head was not so firm as he had intended it to be, so it got loose in its flight and fell off on to the ground. Thorbjorn took his shield, held it before him, drew his sword and turned against Grettir directly he recognised him. Grettir drew his sword, and, turning round a little, saw the boy behind him; so he kept continually on the move. When he saw that the boy was within reach he raised his sword aloft and struck Arnor's head with the back of it such a blow that the skull broke and he died. Then Thorbjorn rushed upon Grettir and struck at him, but he parried it with the buckler in his left hand and struck with his sword a blow which severed Thorbjorn's shield in two and went into his head, reaching the brain. Thorbjorn fell dead. Grettir gave him no more wounds; he searched for the spear-head but could not find it. He got on to his horse, rode to Reykir and proclaimed the slaying.
The woman who was out in the field with them witnessed the battle. She ran home terrified and told the news that Thorbjorn and his son were killed. The people at home were much taken aback, for no one was aware of Grettir's arrival. They sent to the next homestead for men, who came in plenty and carried the body to the church. The bloodfeud then fell to Thorodd Drapustuf, who at once called out his men.
Grettir rode home to Bjarg and told his mother what had happened. She was very glad and said he had now shown his kinship to the Vatnsdal race. "And yet," she said, "this is the root and the beginning of your outlawry; for certain I know that your dwelling here will not be for long by reason of Thorbjorn's kinsmen, and now they may know that they have the means of annoying you."
Grettir then spoke a verse:
- "Atli's death was unatoned;
- fully now the debt is paid."
Asdis said it was true: "but I know not what counsel you now mean to take."
Grettir said he meant now to visit his friends and kinsmen in the western regions, and that she should have no unpleasantness on his account. Then he made ready to go, and parted with much affection from his mother. First he went to Melar in Hrutafjord and recounted to his brother-in-law Gamli all his adventure with Thorbjorn. Gamli begged him to betake himself away from Hrutafjord while the kinsmen of Thorbjorn were abroad with their men, and said they would support him in the suit about Atli's slaying to the best of their power. Then Grettir rode to the West across the Laxardal Heath and did not stop before he reached Ljarskogar, where he stayed some time in the autumn with Thorsteinn Kuggason.