THE STORY OF THE HEATH-SLAYINGS
Of Which Only A Part Is Left.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #34
Before putting before the reader our translation of this good and ancient Saga, we think it well to give a very brief abstract of part of the story of Slaying-Stir, or rather of the substance of that part, as given from memory after the destruction of the MS., an account of which will be found in the preface to this volume. We only give so much even of this abstract as is necessary to the understanding of the events told of in the Heath-slayings.
Slaying-Stir, the father-in-law of Snorri the Priest, was a violent and very masterful and unjust man. "Though he slew many men, he booted none." Amongst other high-handed deeds he makes an enemy of one Thorhall of Iorvi, and treats him so ill, that he makes up his mind to flee the country-side at a time when he thinks Stir is away at the Thing. But Stir misdoubts the matter, waylays Thorhall, and slays him after a stout resistance.
Thorhall left two children behind him, a girl, and a lad named Guest, the latter deemed somewhat of a weakling. He lives on with goodman Thorleik, who took the house of Iorvi after his father's death, and is brought up there. Some time after Slaying-Stir comes to guest at Thorleik's house where Guest is. Thorleik speaks for his fosterling to Stir, and craves some atonement for the slaying of Guest's father. Stir insults the lad grievously by the offer of a mocking atonement, much as Thorbiorn Thiodrekson does to old Howard.
Guest watches his opportunity and slays Stir in Thorleik's hall, and escapes.
He then takes refuge with his friends in Burgfirth, who, and especially Thorstein Gislison of By, harbour him, Thorstein at last sending him out to Norway, whence he goes to Constantinople, thrives there, and never comes back to Iceland.
Snorri the Priest takes up the blood-feud after Stir, and marches on the Burgfirthers who had harboured Guest, intending to take legal vengeance on them, since Guest had escaped him.
The Burgfirthers meet him in arms, and he is foiled at first; but afterwards going with a small band, and secretly, he slays Thorstein Gislison and his son Gunnar. One Kolskegg is a foremost man in this slaying; he, with others who were helping at it, goes to Norway. There certain kinsmen of Thorstein, the sons of Harek, find out that he is in the same town with them, and aim at killing him and lifting his goods. Kolskegg seeks help of an Icelander, called Hall, the son of Gudmund, a noble and generous man, who gives him a ship and goods, wherewith he escapes to England.
It must be understood that this Hall has had nothing to do with the feud between Snorri and the Burgfirthers; nevertheless, at this point begins the story of the Heath-slayings. Hall, being now unshipped, takes berth for Iceland with a man named Thorgils. The sons of Harek find out that Hall has taken their foe out of their power, and fix the feud on Hall, just as Snorri did on Thorstein Gislison; they entrap him on an island off the coast of Norway, where he and his shipmates had gone aland, and slay him. The shipmaster, Thorgils, brings all Hall's belongings to Iceland, but keeps this slaying hidden till the Thing of the next summer. There he tells of it, and Bardi, the second son of Gudmund (and henceforth the hero of the story), offers his brother's goods to Thorgils, and hardly can get him to take half of them.
Old Gudmund (the father) goes home from the Thing, so heavy- hearted at the death of his son, that he dies in a month's time. Hall was looked upon as far the best of Gudmund's sons, and Bardi seems to have been accounted of little worth.
It is told, that in the autumn after the Thing above-mentioned, Bardi sat down in the seat of his dead brother; whereon his mother fetches him a clout on the head, and bids him be off, and not to dare sit in Hall's seat while he is yet unavenged.
However, on Bardi lies the burden of the blood-feud. But once more, as in the earlier case, the slayers themselves are out of his reach; for the sons of Harek, shortly after they had slain Hall, were cast away and drowned. Therefore it is to the Burgfirthers, their kindred, that Bardi must turn for atonement for his brother; and the feud that follows takes the shape of something like a war between the Burgfirthers, the southern men, and the men of the north.
Bardi takes counsel of one Thorarin, a wise and foreseeing man, who dwelt at Lechmote in Willowdale, and was Bardi's foster- father. Thorarin advises him to ask weregild of Harek on behalf of his sons at the next Althing, and warns him to be moderate and forbearing. Bardi follows his counsel, but Harek, being old, and having handed all his own goods over to his heirs, says he cannot pay, and turns him off on to his kindred. Bardi goes home quietly, sees Thorarin, who bids him claim atonement again peacefully as before; but he gets no further with his claim, but is well spoken of by all the Mote for his mild conduct of his case.
The third summer Bardi goes once more to Thorarin, before he rides to the Thing he bids him claim atonement in the same way as before, but tells him that he thinks he will not have to do this again; for there is a man come into the business, Gisli, the son of Thorstein, (1) a boastful and masterful man (the same man to whom Grettir the Strong gave the flogging), who will give him such an answer, that the case will be easier to handle than before.
Bardi says he is loth to crave atonement again, but will so do, because he knows that Thorarin's counsels will turn out well for him.
We are now told of a man called Lyng-Torfi, akin to the Gislungs (i.e., the kindred of Thorstein Gislison). He was the greatest scoundrel and ruffler, a strong man, a liar, and full of injustice. He would beat men if he got not his will of them, and lifted what he might; he was here and there about the land, and was content nowhere.
This man Thorarin bade Bardi bring north with him, if he were at the Thing, for that something would come of it.
So Bardi comes to the Thing, and finds Gisli there, and others of his kin, the Burgfirthers.
On a day amidst of the Thing, Bardi goes to the Hill of Laws, and says:
"So are things waxen, that I have here craved boot for Hall my brother twice already; need drave me thereto, but little heed was paid to my case. But now meseemeth that there is some hope in thee, Gisli, for paying somewhat, so I need no longer welter in doubt; and most men will say that we have not pushed the case very hardly; therefore art thou the more bounden to answer well and goodly."
No man answered before Gisli; he spake, leaning forward on his spear-shaft: "Well, we ought to answer somewhat, whereas thou drivest on thine errand, and hast called on me openly, although I deem myself nowise straightly bound up with this affair. Now last summer I was in England at the place called Thuvaston; I sat in the market-place, and had some money to spend, and it lay beside me in a scrip, wherein were seven marks of silver. Now there rode through the market certain hair-brained fellows, and one of them came up to me, and stack his spear into my scrip, and tossed it up to him, and rode away therewith, and no more I wot thereof. Now that will I make over to thee for thy brother's gild; for it seemeth to me this is like to thy case, for I account that silver as a waif and stray; but no money else will we lay down."
Then spake Eid Skeggison: "Let giant hold his peace when naked at fire; evilly and witlessly is this done, whereas such great men have part herein."
Gisli answereth: "He shouteth afar that fighteth few; and that is to be looked for of thee that thou wouldst speak up for thy kindred even as we have now heard;" and he falls to foul words against Eid. But Eid said: "We care not to bandy foul words with thee."
Now men speak with much good will of Bardi's case, and think that the answer has been heavy, so mildly as the claim was put forward withal.
Bardi meets Lyng-Torfi at the Thing, and bids him home to him, as Thorarin had counselled. Bardi goes to Thorarin, and tells him what had happened, and says that it seemed to him to have gone heavily. But Thorarin said:
"Now are things come whither I would, and that has now been laboured out, that wise men look upon the case even in the way we do ourselves; so that it is now less hard to see where the revenge shall be brought home."
Bardi bade him be master therein.
That summer there was with Bardi in his Thing-journey one Thord, the goodman at Broadford in Waterdale; he had two horses, all white except for black ears. These horses he deemed beasts so dear, that he would not miss them for any other horses. But it befell for Thord's faring-mishap that both these horses vanished away.
Now Lyng-Torfi abode behind at Lechmote, and Thorarin treated him wondrous well, so that Lyng-Torfi was light of heart.
There was a man hight Thorgaut, who dwelt at a stead called Sleylech in Burgfirth, (2) a man now much stricken in years, but he had been the stoutest of fighters in his youth. He had a wife, and they two were nought of one mind together, one willing this, the other that; she was exceeding shrewish, and but middling wise. Thorgaut had good weapons in his coffers, which he had not handled since he had given up warfare.
Now a little after these things, Thorarin fell to talk with Lyng- Torfi, and asked him, how friendly he was with his kinsfolk. He answered that there was little love lost between them.
"Wilt thou strike a bargain with me?" says Thorarin. "It is told me that Thorgaut thy kinsman has a good sword, and if thou wilt go and get it for me, I will give thee some goodly stallions."
Lyng-Torfi is glad enough to do this; so Thorarin hands over to him a big knife to give to Thorgaut's wife, so that she may abet him.
"I hear tell," says Thorarin, "that those weapons are wealthy of victory. Now thou wilt not be at a loss, how to hatch a lie for a likely cause why thou cravest the weapons."
Lyng-Torfi bids him have no fear of that, and he goes eagerly into the bargain. Then he runs south over the Heath, and comes of an evening down into Whitewater-side to a kinsman of his, Thorbiorn, the son of Bruni, who dwelt at the Walls. He is there the night over, and bids him lend him a weapon, saying that a certain Eastman north in Oxdale had challenged him to a single fight about a woman whom both would have; and that the appointed day was in a half-month's space, and that he might nowhere get a weapon; and he tells a likely tale as to where he had had night- harbours in his journey. Thorbiorn answers that this will be all a lie, and that he will get no weapon of him. Lyng-Torfi was ill content, and ran over to Thorgaut, who had the sword, and tells him what business he has on hand, and about his night-harbours as at the first house.
He was well taken in, but nothing more. Then he prays Thorgaut to lend him a weapon, and says that he will never be in more need of it than now. Thorgaut answers, that other things lie nearer to him than to meddle in Lyng-Torfi's brawls with other folk, and that he may look to his own women-affairs himself, nor should he let go out of his hand the sword to him. So Lyng-Torfi goes to Thorgaut's wife, and tells her of his matter, and gives her the knife; she takes it, and deems it a right good thing, and runs at her swiftest to her husband, and is very shrewish in talk, saying that it is a great shame that he will not help his kindred at a pinch. "What hast thou, an old fretting carle, to do with such a good weapon now thou art off thy feet? It lieth rusting in the chest-bottom, and by this time there is little avail in it."
He answers, as before, that Lyng-Torfi is not so much to him, that he would let his sword go out of his hand to him, that no man would ever have done such a thing as to dare beset him with guile.
Then she goes and breaks open the chest wherein lay the sword, and hands it over to Lyng-Torfi, who straightway steals away for the north, and brings it to Thorarin. Thorarin says that he has carried through his errand well, and bids him take horses and fare first northward a while, to put himself out of the way of his kinsmen. Lyng-Torfi thanks him for the good gift, goes away with the horses, and is out of the story.
[The old MS. of the "Heath-slayings Saga" begins here, but with the broken end of a chapter which will not yield any consecutive tale; and which consequently we omit.]
(1) Thorsteinson, read Thorgautson. Cf. Preface. (2) "There was a man hight Thorgaut, who dwelt at a stead called Sleylech in Burgfirth," &c. The course of the story afterward, especially the description of the journey of Bardi's spies, makes it quite clear, that Thorgaut dwelt, not at Sleylech, but at Thorgautstead in Whitewaterside. The meadow Goldmead was a portion, as still it is, under the name of "teigarnir" = the Meads, of the land of Thorgautstead. This plot of land Bardi's spies have clear in view from Hallwardstead, the nearest house, on the southern side of Whitewater, to Thorgautstead (Chapter XXV). Towards Thorgautstead Gisli flies from Goldmead and is slain against the homefield fence, and carried home and laid at the feet of his father, who is tacitly recognized as the master of the place (Chapter XXVII). From Hallwardstead it was impossible to have any view at all of the house of Sleylech, which from there is hidden behind the southern shoulder of Sidefell (i.e., Whitewater-side-fell), being situate on its northern slope facing Thwartwater. Olafsson's account here of Lyng-Torfi's slippery errand is very faulty. The later saga makes it quite evident that he got a sword from each of the two, Thorgaut and Thorbiorn Brunison. On the day that Bardi starts for the south, Thorarin gives him a sword, telling him of Lyng-Torfi's errand, and saying: "But Thorberg my son hath the other weapon, and Thorbiorn owns that, but Thorgaut owns that which thou hast" (Chapter XXIII); in slaying Gisli, Bardi "hewed at him with the sword Thorgaut's-loom" (Chapter XXVII); and in the fight on the Heath both swords turn up again, one wielded by Bardi, the other by Thorberg -- it is a mere slip, on the part of the saga, when Thorberg is made to wield the sword of Thorgaut instead of that of Thorbiorn (Chapter XXX).