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Title: Grettir the Outlaw - A Story of Iceland
Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]


                          *Grettir the Outlaw*

                          *A Story of Iceland*


                            S. BARING-GOULD

 Author of "John Herring" "Mehalah" "Iceland: its Scenes and Sagas" &c.


                        BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
                       LONDON GLASGOW AND DUBLIN


                          TO MY YOUNG READERS.

It is now just thirty years since I first began to read the "Saga of
Grettir the Strong" in Icelandic.  At that time I had only a Danish
grammar of Icelandic and an Icelandic-Danish dictionary, and I did not
know a word of Danish.  So I had to learn Danish in order to learn

It was laborious work making out the Saga, and every line when I began
took me some time to understand.  Moreover, I had not much time at my
disposal, for then I was a master in a school.

Now, after I had worked a little way into the Saga, I became intensely
interested in it myself, and it struck me that my boys whom I taught
might like to hear about Grettir.  So I tried every day to translate,
after school hours, a chapter, hardly ever more at first, and sometimes
not even as much as that.  Then, when on half-holidays I proposed a walk
to some of my scholars, they were keen to hear the story of Grettir.
Well, Grettir went on for some months in this way, a fresh instalment of
the tale coming every half-holiday, and it was really wonderful how
interested and delighted the boys were with the story.  Nor was I less
so; the labour of translation which was so great at first became rapidly
lighter, and I was as much interested in the adventures of the hero as
were the boys.  The other day I met an old pupil of mine, and almost the
first thing he said to me was: "Oh! do you remember Grettir?  Thirty
years ago!  Fancy!  I am a married man and have boys of my own, and I
have often tried to tell them the story which made such an impression on
me, but I cannot remember all the incidents nor their order.  I do wish
you would write it as a story for boys.  I should like to read it myself
again, and my boys would love it."  "Very well," I said, "I will do so."

Now my boy readers must understand that I have told them the story in my
own words and in my own way.  I went to Iceland in 1861, and went over
nearly every bit of the ground made famous by the adventures of Grettir.
Consequently, I am able to help out and illustrate the tale by what I
actually saw.  In the original book there is a great deal more than I
have attempted to retell, but much has to do with the ancestors of
Grettir, and there are other incidents introduced of no great importance
and very confusing to the memory.  So I have taken the leading points in
the story, and given them.




      I. Winter Tales
     II. How Grettir played on the Ice
    III. Of the Ride to Thingvalla
     IV. The Doom-day
      V. The Voyage
     VI. The Red Rovers
    VII. The Story of the Sword
   VIII. Of the Bear
     IX. The Slaying of Biorn
      X. Of Grettir’s Return
     XI. The Horse-fight
    XII. Of the Fight at the Neck
   XIII. How Grettir and Audun made Friends
    XIV. The Vale of Shadows
     XV. How Grettir fought with Glam
    XVI. How Grettir Sailed to Norway
   XVII. The Hostel-burning
  XVIII. The Ordeal by Fire
    XIX. The Winter in Norway
     XX. Of what Befell at Biarg
    XXI. The Return of Grettir
   XXII. The Slaying of Oxmain
  XXIII. At Learwood
   XXIV. The Foster-brothers
    XXV. How Grettir was well nigh Hung
   XXVI. In the Desert
  XXVII. On the Great Eagle Lake
 XXVIII. On the Fell
   XXIX. The Fight on the River
    XXX. A Mysterious Vale
   XXXI. The Death of Hallmund
  XXXII. Of Another Attempt against Grettir
 XXXIII. At Sandheaps
  XXXIV. How Grettir was Driven About
   XXXV. On the Isle
  XXXVI. Of Grettir on Heron-ness
 XXXVII. Of Hœring’s Leap
XXXVIII. Of the Attempt made by Grettir’s Friends
  XXXIX. Of the Old Hag
     XL. How the Log came to Drangey
    XLI. The End of the Outlaw
   XLII. How Asdis received the News
  XLIII. How Dromund kept his Word



Thorkell and the outlawed Grettir leave the Assize, _Frontis_.

Grettir challenges Kormak and his Party

Grettir defends Himself from the Mob

Grettir attacked in the Rift by Thorir’s Party

Fording the quivering flood

Illugi defends the dying Grettir


                         *GRETTIR THE OUTLAW.*

                              *CHAPTER I.*

                            *WINTER TALES.*

    _The Birthplace of Grettir—The Peopling of Iceland—A History of
    Quarrels—Stories Round the Hearth—Biarg—The Great Blue Bay—The
    Boy Grettir—The Saga of Onund Treefoot—The Northern Pirates—The
    Fight with King Harald—Onund’s Wound—After the Battle_

It was night—drawing on to midnight—in summer, that I who write this
book arrived at the little lonely farm of Biarg, on the Middle River, in
the north of Iceland. It was night, near on midnight, and yet I could
hardly call it night, for the sky overhead was full of light of the
clearest amethyst, and every stock and stone was distinctly visible.
Across the valley rose a rugged moor, and above its shoulder a snow-clad
mountain, turned to rosy gold by the night sun.  As I stood there
watching the mist form on the cold river in the vale below, all at once
I heard a strange sound like horns blowing far away in the sky, and
looking up, I saw a train of swans flying from west to east, bathed in
sunlight, their wings of silver, and their feathers as gold.

I had come all the way from England to see Biarg, for there was born,
about the year A.D. 997, a man called Grettir, whose history I had read,
and which interested me so much that I was resolved to see his native
home, and the principal scenes where his stormy life was passed.

The landscape was the same as that on which Grettir’s childish eyes had
looked more than eight hundred and fifty years ago.  The same outline of
dreary moor, the same snowy ridge of mountain standing above it,
catching the midnight summer sun, the same mist forming over the river;
but the house was altogether different.  Now there stood only a poor
heap of farm-buildings, erected of turf and wood, where had once been a
noble hall of wood, with carved gable-ends, surrounded by many

Before we begin on the story of Grettir, it will be well to say a few
words about its claim to be history.

Iceland never was, and it is not now, a much-peopled island.  The
farmhouses are for the most part far apart, and the farms are of very
considerable extent, because, owing to the severity of the climate, very
little pasturage is obtained over a wide extent of country for the sheep
and cattle.  The population lives round the coast, on the fiords or
creeks of the sea, or on the rivers that flow into these fiords. The
centre of the island is occupied by a vast waste of ice-covered
mountain, and desert black as ink strewn with volcanic ash and sand, or
else with a region of erupted lava that is impassable, because in
cooling it has exploded, and forms a country of bristling spikes and
gulfs and sharp edges, very much like the wreck of a huge ginger-beer
bottle factory.

What are now farmhouses were the halls and mansions of families of noble
descent.  Indeed, the original settlers in Iceland were the nobles of
Norway who left their native land to avoid the tyranny of Harold
Fairhair, who tried to crush their power so as to make himself a
despotic king in the land.

These Norse nobles came in their boats to Iceland, bringing with them
their wives, children, their thralls or slaves, and their cattle; and
they settled all round the coast.  The present Icelanders are descended
from these first colonists.

Now, the history of Iceland for a few hundred years consists of nothing
but the history of the quarrels of these great families.  Iceland was
without any political organization, but it had an elected lawman or
judge, and every year the heads of the families rode to Thingvalla, a
plain in the south-west, where they brought their complaints, carried on
their lawsuits, and had them settled by the judge. There was no army, no
navy, no government in Iceland for a long time; also no foreign wars,
and no internal revolutions.

These noble families settled in the valleys and upon the fiords thought
a good deal of themselves, and they carefully preserved, at first orally
then in writing, the record of their pedigrees, and also the tradition
of the famous deeds of their great men.

In summer there is no night; in winter, no day. In winter there is
little or nothing to be done but sit over the fire, sing songs, and tell
yarns.  Now, in winter the Icelanders told the tales of the brave men of
old in their families, and so the tradition was handed on from father to
son, the same stories told every winter, till all the particulars became
well known.  At the same time there can be no doubt that little
embellishments were added, some exaggerations were indulged in, and here
and there the grand deed of some other man was grafted into the story of
the family hero.  About two hundred or two hundred and fifty years after
the death of Grettir, his history was committed to writing, and then it
became fixed—nothing further was added to it, and we have his story
after having travelled down over two hundred years as a tradition.  That
was plenty of time for additions and emendations, and the hobgoblin and
ghost stories that come into his life are some of these embellishments.
But the main facts of his life are true history.  We are able to decide
this by comparing his story with those of other families in the same
part of the island, and to see whether they agree as to dates, and as to
the circumstances narrated in them.

In the north-west of Iceland is an immense bay called the Huna-floi,
which branches off into several creeks, the largest of which is called
the Ramsfirth, and the next to that is the Middlefiord.  Into this flows
a river that has its rise in the central desert, in a perfect tangle of
lakes.  Three rivers issuing from these lakes unite just above Biarg,
and pour their waters a short morning’s ride lower through sands into
the Middlefirth.

The valley is not cheerful, running from north to south.  Biarg lies on
the east side, and faces the western sun.  The moor which lies behind
it, and forms the hill on the other side of the river, is not broken and
picturesque, and if it were not for the peak of Burfell, covered with
snow a good part of the year, the view from Biarg would be as
uninteresting as any to be found in the land.  But then, when one rides
down to the coast, or ascends the moor, what a splendid view bursts on
the sight! The great Polar Sea is before one, intensely blue, not with
the deep ultramarine of the Mediterranean, but with the blue of the
nemophyla or forget-me-not, rolling in from the mysterious North; and
across the mighty bay of the Huna-floi can be seen the snowy mountains
of that extraordinary peninsula which runs out to the north-west of
Iceland, and is only just not converted into an island because connected
with Iceland by a narrow strip of land.  That great projection is like a
hand with fiords between the fingers of land, and glacier-mountains
where are the knuckles; but the wrist is very narrow indeed, only about
one English mile across, and there lies a trough along this junction,
with a little stream and a lake in it.  Now, at this wrist, as we may
call it, lies the farm of Eyre, where, somewhat later, lived the sister
of Grettir, who married a man that farmed there, named Glum.

Looking away across the great blue bay, the mountains of the hand may be
seen rising out of the sea, and looking like icebergs.

Grettir the Strong was the son of a well-to-do bonder, or yeoman, who
lived at Biarg, and was descended from some of the great nobles of
Norway. His father’s name was Asmund with the Grey-head, and his
mother’s name was Asdis.

He had a brother called Atli, a gentle, kindly young fellow, who never
wittingly quarrelled with anyone, and was liked by all with whom he had
to do.  He had also two sisters—one was called Thordis, and she was
married to Glum of Eyre—but neither come into the story; and he had
another sister called Rannveig, who was married to Gamli of Melar, at
the head of Ramsfirth.  He had also a little brother called Illugi, of
whom more hereafter. Grettir was not a good-looking boy; he had reddish
hair, a pale face full of freckles, and light blue eyes.  He was
broad-built, not tall as a boy, though in the end he grew to be a very
big man.

He was not considered a good-tempered or sociable boy.  He seemed lazy
and sullen; he liked to sit by the fire without speaking to anyone,
listening to what was said, and brooding over what he had heard.

If his father set him a task, he did it so unwillingly, and so badly
that Asmund Greyhead regretted having set him to do anything.

Now, during the winter, as we have already seen, when there is but a
very little daylight, and the nights are vastly long, when, moreover,
the whole land is deep in snow, so that there is no farm-work that can
be done, and no travelling about to visit neighbours, it was, and is
still, usual in Iceland for those in the house to tell tales, or sagas,
as they are called.  Some of these sagas relate to the old gods of the
Norsemen, some are fabulous stories of old heroes who never existed, or,
if they did exist, have had all sorts of fantastic legends tacked on to
their histories; but other sagas are the tales of the doings of
ancestors of the family.

Now, among the sagas that Grettir used to hearken to with greatest
delight was that of old Onund Treefoot, his great-grandfather, who first
settled in Iceland.  And this was the tale:

Onund, the son of Ufeigh Clubfoot, son of Ivar the Smiter, was a mighty
Viking in Norway; that is, he went about every summer harrying the
coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland.  He joined with three friends,
and they had five ships together, and one summer they sailed to the
Hebrides—which were then called the Sudereys, or southern isles. The
Bishop of the Isle of Man is still called Bishop of Sodor and Man,
because his diocese originally included the Sudereys.  Then out against
them came Kiarval, king of the Hebrides, with five ships, and they gave
him battle, and there was a hard fray. But the men of Onund were the
mightiest warriors. On each side many fell, but the end of the battle
was that the king fled with only one ship.  So Onund took the four
vessels and great spoil, and he wrought great havoc on the coast,
plundering and burning, and so in the fall of the year returned to
Norway.  In the history of England, and in that of Scotland and of
Ireland, we read of the terrible annoyance given to the natives of Great
Britain and Ireland by the northern pirates; and, indeed, they conquered
Dublin, and established a kingdom there, and also took to themselves
Orkney.  Well, when Onund returned to Norway he did not find that
matters were pleasant there; for King Harald the Unshorn had begun to
establish himself sole king in Norway.  Hitherto there had been many
small kings and earls; but Harald had taken an oath that he would not
cut or trim his hair till he had subdued all under his power, and made
himself supreme throughout the land.

A great many bonders and all the little kings united against him, and
there was a great battle fought at Hafrsfiord—the greatest battle that
had as yet been fought in Norway.  Onund was in the battle along with
his friend, King Thorir Longchin, and he set his ship alongside of that
of King Longchin. King Harald ran his ship up alongside of that of
Longchin, grappled it, and boarded it.  There was a furious fight, and
Harald sent on board his Bearsarks, a set of half-mad ruffians, who wore
not bear but wolf skins, and who were said to lead charmed lives, so
that no weapon would wound them.  Thorir Longchin and all his men were
killed; and then King Harald cut away the ship and ran up against that
of Onund.  Onund was in the fore part, and he fought manfully.  As the
grappling-irons of Harald caught his ship, Onund made a sweep with his
longsword at the man who threw the irons, and in so doing he put his leg
over the bulwark.  Then one on the king’s ship threw a spear at Onund.
He saw it flung, and leaned his head back to let it fly over him, and as
he did so one on the king’s ship smote at him with a battle-axe, and the
axe fell on his leg below the knee and shore his leg off. Then Onund
fell back on board his own vessel, and his men carried him across into
that of a friend named Thrand, who lay alongside of him on the other
board.  And Thrand had a great cauldron there of pitch boiled, and Onund
set his knee in the boiling pitch, and never blinked nor uttered a cry.
That staunched the blood.  If he had not done this he would have bled to

Now, Thrand saw that King Harald was gaining the mastery everywhere, so
he fled away with his ship and sailed west.

Onund was healed of his wound, but ever after he walked with a wooden
leg, and that is why he got the name of Onund Treefoot.

After the battle of Hafrsfiord, Onund could only return to Norway by
stealth, and he could not recover his lands there, so he deemed it
wisest for him to sail away and seek a home elsewhere.  That is how he
left Norway and settled in Iceland.

And when King Harald saw himself lord and master through all the land,
then he had his hair trimmed and combed, and it was so long and so
beautiful, that ever after he who had been called "The Unshorn" went by
the name of "Fairhair," and in history he is known as King Harald

                             *CHAPTER II.*

                    *HOW GRETTIR PLAYED ON THE ICE.*

    _An Evil Boyhood—Golf on the Ice—Grettir Quarrels with Audun—A
    Threat of Vengeance_

There are several tales told of Grettir when he was a boy, which show
that he was a rough and unkindly lad.  He was set by his father to keep
geese on the moors, and this made him angry, so he threw stones at the
geese and killed or wounded them all.

The old man suffered from lumbago, and in winter when unwell asked his
wife and the boys to rub his back by the fire; but when Grettir was
required to do this, he lost his temper, and on one occasion he snatched
up a wool-carding comb and dug it into his old father’s back.

Many other things he did which made those at home not like him, and
there was not much love lost between him and his father.  The fact was
that Grettir was a headstrong, wilful fellow, and bitterly had he to pay
in after life for this youthful wilfulness and obstinacy.  It was these
qualities, untamed in him, that wrecked his whole life, and it may be
said brought ruin and extinction on his family. There were great and
good qualities in Grettir’s nature, but they did not show when he was
young; only much suffering and cruel privations brought out in the end
the higher and nobler elements that were in him.

It is so with all who have any good in them, if by early discipline it
is not manifested, then it is brought out by the rough usage of
misfortune in after life.

And now I will give one incident of Grettir’s boyhood.  It was a
favourite amusement for young fellows at that time to play golf on the
ice, and in winter, when the Middlefirth was frozen over, large parties
assembled there for the sport.

One winter a party was arranged for a match on the ice, and a good many
lads came to Middlefirth from Willowdale, a valley only separated from
the Middlefirth by a long shoulder of ugly moor.  The Willowdales-men
had a much better sheet of water, a very large lake called Hop, into
which their river flowed, before discharging itself into the sea; and
the return match was to be played on Hop.

Among the young fellows who came from Willowdale was Audun, a fine,
strapping fellow; frank, well-built, good-looking, and amiable.

When the parties were assembled at the place, there they were paired off
according to age and strength; and on this occasion I am speaking of,
Grettir, who was fourteen, was set to play with Audun, who was two years
older than he, and a head taller.

Audun struck the ball and it flew over Grettir’s head, and he missed it,
and it went skimming away over the ice to a great distance, and Grettir
had to run after it.  Some of those who were looking on laughed.  Then
Grettir’s anger was roused.  He got the ball and came back carrying it,
till he was within a few yards of Audun, and then, instead of dropping
the ball, and striking it with his golfing-stick, he suddenly threw it
with all his force against his adversary, and struck him between his
eyes, so that it half-stunned him, and cut the skin.  Audun whirled his
golfing-bat round, and struck at Grettir, who dodged under and escaped
the blow.  Then Audun and Grettir grappled each other, and wrestled on
the ice.

Every one thought that Audun would have the stumpy, thick-set boy down
in a trice, but it was not so; Grettir held his ground;—they swung this
way, that way; now one seemed about to be cast, and then the other, and
although Audun was almost come to a man’s strength, he could not for a
long time throw Grettir.  At last Grettir slipped on a piece of ice
where some had been sliding, and went down.  His blood was up, so was
that of Audun; and the fight would have been continued with their
sticks, had not Grettir’s brother Atli thrown himself between the
combatants and separated them.  Atli held his brother back, and tried to
patch up the quarrel.

"You need not hold me like a mad dog," said Grettir.  "Thralls wreak
their vengeance at once, cowards never."

Audun and Grettir were distant cousins.  They were not allowed to play
against each other any more, and the rest went on with their game.

                             *CHAPTER III.*

                      *OF THE RIDE TO THINGVALLA.*

    _Thorkel Mani’s Find—Thorkel Krafla—The Halt at Biarg—A Bad
    Prospect—Among the Lakes—The Lost Meal-bags—Suspicion
    Confirmed—The Slaying of Skeggi—The Song of the
    Battle-ogress—Grettir Chooses to take his Trial_

There lived in Waterdale, a day’s journey from Biarg, an old bonder,
named Thorkel Krafla. He was the first Icelander who became a Christian.

In heathen times, among the Northmen as among the Romans, it was
allowable for parents to expose their children to death, if they did not
want to have the trouble of rearing them.  Now Thorkel had been so
exposed, with a napkin over his face.  It so happened that a great chief
called Thorkel Mani was riding along one day, thinking about the gods
that he had been taught to believe in, who drank and got drunk, and
fought each other, and, being a grave, meditative man, he could not make
out what these rollicking, fighting gods could have had to do with the
world,—with the creation of sun, moon, and stars, and the earth with its
yield.  He thought to himself, "There must be some God above these
tipsy, quarrelsome deities; and this higher God must love men, and be
good and kind to men."

As he thought this, he heard a little whimpering noise from behind a
stone; he got off his horse, and went to see what produced this noise,
and found there a poor little baby, that with its tiny hands had rumpled
up the kerchief which had been spread over its nose and mouth.  Thorkel
Mani took up the deserted babe in his arms, and looking up to heaven, to
the sun, said, "If the good God, who is high over all, called this
little being into life, gave it eyes and mouth and ears and hands and
feet, He surely never intended His handiwork to be cast out as a thing
of no value, to die.  For the love of Him I will take this child."

Then Thorkel Mani rode home, carrying the baby in his arms; and he
called it by his own name, Thorkel; but to distinguish it from himself,
it was given the nickname Krafla, which means to rumple, because the
babe had rumpled up the kerchief, so as to let its cries be heard.  So
the child grew up, and kept the name through life of Thorkel Rumple.
This Thorkel became a very great man, and Godi, or magistrate, of the
Waterdale; and, as I have said, he was the first man to become a
Christian, when missionaries of the gospel came to Iceland.

Very soon after Grettir’s birth Christianity became general, and in the
year 1000 was sanctioned by law; but there were few Christian priests in
the land, so that the knowledge of the truth had not spread much, and
taken hold and transformed men’s lives. Thorkel Rumple was now very old.
He was the bosom friend of Asmund, and every year when in the spring he
rode to the great assizes at Thingvalla, he always halted at least one
night at Biarg.  Not only were Asmund and he men of like minds, and
friends, but they were also connected.  In the spring of the year 1011,
Thorkel arrived as usual at Biarg, attended by a great many men, and he
was most warmly received by Asmund and his wife.  He remained with them
three nights, and he and they fell a-talking about the prospects of the
two young men, Atli and Grettir.  Asmund told his kinsman that Atli was
a quiet, amiable fellow, now at man’s estate, and likely to prove a good
farmer; a man who would worthily succeed him at Biarg when he died, and
keep the honour of the family untarnished, and would enlarge the estate.

"Ah!  I see," said Thorkel.  "A useful man, good and respectable, like
yourself.  But what about Grettir?"

Asmund hesitated a moment before answering; but presently he said, "I
hardly know what to say of him.  He is unruly, sullen, makes no friends,
and he has been a constant cause of vexation to me."

Thorkel answered, "That is a bad prospect; however, let him come with me
to Thingvalla, and I shall be able to see on the journey of what stuff
he is made."

To this Asmund agreed; and right glad was Grettir to think he was to go
to the great law-gathering.

Thorkel had sixty men with him, and he rode in some state; for, as
already said, he was a great man. The way led over the great desolate
waste, called the Two-days-ride; but as on this expanse there were few
halting-places, the grass most scanty, and not sufficient to allow of a
stay, the party rode across it down to the settled lands nearer the
coast as quickly as they could, and reached Fleet-tongue in time to
sleep; so they took the bridles off their horses, and let them graze
with their saddles on.  Their road had lain among the lakes, from which
issued the rivers that united above Biarg.  In each lake floated a pair
of swans.  Often they heard the loud hoarse cry of the great northern
diver; but there was hardly any grass, for the moor lies high, is swept
by the icy blasts from the glacier mountains to the south, and is made
up of black sand.  Before them all day had stood towering into the sky
the Eyreksjokull, a mountain with perfectly precipitous sides of black
basalt, domed over with glittering ice.  It resembles an immense
bridecake.  At one place this mountain in former times had gaped, and
poured forth a fiery stream of lava that ran to the lakes, and for a
while converted them to steam.  One can still see whence this great
fiery river issued from the mountain.  Little did Grettir think then as
he passed under it, a boy of fourteen, that, for the three most lonely,
wretched years of his life, that great glacier-crowned mountain was to
be the one object on which his eye would rest.

The men were all very tired after their long ride, and they slept till
late next morning, lying about on the scant herbage, around a fire made
of the roots of trailing willows that they had dug out of the sand.

When they awoke many of the horses had strayed, and some had rolled in
the sand, burst their girths and shaken off their saddles.  But they
could not have gone any great distance, for they were all hobbled.  In
Iceland thick woollen ropes are put round the legs of the horses, below
the hocks, and twisted together into a knot with a knuckle-bone. This
serves as a secure hobble, and the wool being soft does not gall the

It was customary in those days for every one to take his own provisions
with him, and most of those who went to the great assize carried
meal-bags athwart their saddles.  Grettir found his horse at last, but
not his meal-bag, which had come off, and was lost; for the saddle was
turned under the belly of his cob.

The horses could not have strayed far, not only because they were
hobbled, but also because the Tongue where they had been turned loose
was a narrow strip of land between two rivers; but then the slope was
considerable in places, and the meal-bag might have rolled down into the

As Grettir was running about hunting for his bag, he saw another man in
the same predicament.  What is more, he saw that the rest of the party,
impatient to get on their way, would tarry no longer for them, and were
defiling down the hill to cross the river.

Grettir was in great distress.  Just then he saw the man run very
directly in one course, and at the same moment Grettir saw something
white lying under a mass of lava.  It was towards this that the fellow
was running.  Grettir ran towards it also.  It was a meal-sack.  The man
reached it first, and threw it over his shoulder.

"What have you got there?" asked Grettir, coming up panting.

"My meal-sack," answered the fellow.

"Let me look at it," said Grettir.  "It may be mine, not yours.  Let me
look before you appropriate it."

This the man refused to do.

Grettir’s suspicion was confirmed, and he made a catch at the sack, and
tried to drag it away from the fellow.

"Oh, yes!" sneered the man—who was a servant at a farm called The Ridge,
in Waterdale, and his name Skeggi,—"Oh, yes! you Middlefirthers think
you will have everything your own way."

"That is not it," answered Grettir.  "Let each man take his own.  If the
sack be yours, keep it; if mine, I will have it."

"It is a pity Audun is not here," scoffed the serving-man, "or he would
trip up your heels and throttle you, as he did on the ice when golfing."

"But as he is not here," retorted Grettir, "you are not like to get the
better of me."

Skeggi suddenly took his axe by the haft and hewed at Grettir’s head.
Grettir saw what he was at, and instantly put up his left hand and
caught the handle below where Skeggi’s hand held it; wrenched it out of
his grasp, and struck him with it, so that his skull was cleft.  The
thing was done in a moment, and Grettir had done it in self-preservation
and without premeditation.  He was but a boy of fourteen, and this was a
full-grown stout churl.

Grettir at once seized the meal-bag, saw it was his own, and threw it
across his saddle.  Then he rode after the company.  Thorkel Krafla rode
at the head of his party, and he had no misgiving that anything untoward
had taken place.

But, when Grettir came riding up with his meal-bag, the men asked him if
he had left Skeggi still in search of his.  Grettir answered in song:

    "A rock Troll did her burden throw
    Down on Skeggi’s skull, I trow.
    O’er the battle-ogress saw I flow
    Ruby rivers all aglow.
    She her iron mouth a-gape
    Did the life of Skeggi take."

This sounds like nonsense; to understand it one must have a notion of
what constituted poetry in the minds of Icelanders and Northmen.  With
them the charm of poetry consisted in never calling anything by its
right name, but using instead of it some far-fetched similitude or
periphrasis.  Thus—the burden of the rock Troll is iron.  The Troll is
the spirit of the mountain, and the heaviest thing found in the mountain
is iron.  The battle-ogress is the axe which bites in battle.  The
verses that the Norse poets sang were a series of conundrums, and the
hearers puzzled their brains to make out the sense. This time they soon
understood what Grettir meant, and the men turned and went back to the
Tongue, and there found Skeggi dead.

Grettir went on to Thorkel, and in few words, and to the point, told how
things had fallen out. He was not the aggressor.  He had merely defended

Thorkel was much troubled, and he told Grettir that he might either come
on to the assize or go home; that this act of man-slaughter would be
investigated at the law-gathering, and judgment given upon it.

Grettir agreed to go on, and see how matters would turn out for him.

                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                            *THE DOOM-DAY.*

    _The Lava Plain—The Law of Man-slaughter—Grettir’s Sentence—The
    Grettir Stone_

That evening they arrived at Thingvalla.

The great plain of Thingvalla is entirely composed of lava.  At some
remote period before Iceland was colonized a beautiful snowy cone of
mountain, called "The Broad Shield," poured forth a deluge of molten
rock, which ran in a fiery river down a valley for some miles,
half-choking it up, and then spread out over a wide plain where
anciently there had been a great lake.  Then all cooled, but after the
cooling, or whilst it was in process, there came a great crack, crack.
The great mass of lava must have been poured over some subterranean
caverns; at any rate the whole plain snapped and sank down a good many
feet, the lava becoming cracked and starred like glass.  Nowadays, one
cannot cross the plain because it is all traversed with these fearful
cracks, chasms the bottom of which is filled with black water.  Where
the plain sank deepest there water settled and formed the beautiful
Thingvalla Lake.

At the side of one of the cracks where the plain broke off and sank is a
very curious pinnacle of black rock, and this was called the Hanging
Rock, as criminals were hung from it over the chasm.

In one place two of the cracks unite, and there is a high mound of
blistered lava covered with turf and flowers between them.  That is
called the Law Hill, because the judge and his assessors sat there, and
no one could get to them, nor could the accused get away across the

Now it was the law at this time in Iceland that when any man had been
killed his nearest relatives came to the assize, and the slayer appeared
by proxy and offered blood-money—that is to say, to pay a fine to the
relations, and so patch up the quarrel.  But if they refused the money
then they were at liberty to pursue and kill him.  There were no police
then.  If the relations wanted to have the criminal punished they must
punish him themselves.

Upon this occasion the case was discussed in the court on the finger of
rock between the two chasms, the people standing on the further sides of
these gulfs, listening, but unable to come a step nearer; and Thorkel
appeared for Grettir and offered to pay the blood-money.  The relations
of the dead Skeggi, after a little fuss, agreed to accept a certain sum,
and Thorkel at once paid it.  But the court ordered that, as Grettir had
acted with undue violence, and as there was no evidence except his word
that Skeggi had made the first attack, he should be outlawed, and leave
Iceland for three winters.  If he set his foot in Iceland till three
winters had passed, his life was forfeit.  He was allowed a moderate and
reasonable time for finding a ship that would take him out of the

When the assize was over all rode home, and the way that Thorkel and
Grettir went was up the valley that had been half-choked with the lava
that rolled down from Broad Shield.  They came to a small grassy plain
with a gently-sloping hill rising out of it, a place where games took
place, the women sitting up the slope and watching the men below. Here
Grettir is said to have heaved an enormous stone.  The stone is still
shown, and I have seen it. I also know that Grettir never lifted it; for
it has clearly been brought there by a glacier.  But this is an instance
of the way in which stories get magnified in telling.  No doubt that
Grettir did "put" there some big stone, and as it happened that at this
spot there was a great rock standing by itself balanced on one point, in
after days folks concluded that this must have been the stone thrown by

                              *CHAPTER V.*

                             *THE VOYAGE.*

    _Preparations for a Voyage—His Grandfather’s Sword—A Bitter
    Jester—Vain Reproaches—Haflid’s Stratagem—The Tables

Grettir, then, was doomed by the court to leave his native land whilst
only a boy, and remain in banishment for three years—that is to say,
till he was eighteen.  He was not over sorry for this, as he was tired
of being at home, and he wanted to see the world.

There was a man called Haflid who had a ship in which he intended to
sail that autumn to Norway, and Asmund sent to him to ask him to take
Grettir out with him.

Haflid answered that he had not heard a good account of the boy, and did
not particularly wish to have him in his boat; but he would stretch a
point, because of the regard he had for old Asmund, and he would take

Grettir got ready to start; but Asmund would not give him much wherewith
to trade when abroad, except some rolls of home-made wadmall, a coarse
felty cloth, and a stock of victuals for his voyage. Grettir asked his
father to give him some weapon; but the old man answered that he did not
trust him with swords and axes, he might put them to a bad use, and it
would be better he went without till he had learned to control his
temper and keep a check on his hand.

So Grettir parted from his father without much love on either side; and
it was noticed when he left home that, though there were plenty of folks
ready to bid him farewell, hardly anyone said that he hoped to see him
come home again—a certain token that he was not liked by those who had
seen most of him.  But indeed he had taken no pains to oblige anyone and
obtain the regard and love of anyone.

His mother was an exception.  She went along the road down the valley
with him, wearing a long cloak; and when they were alone, at some
distance from the house, she halted and drew out a sword from under her
cloak, and handing it to Grettir, said: "This sword belonged to
grandfather, and many a hard fight has it been in, and much good work
has it done.  I give it to you, and hope it may stand you in good

Grettir was highly pleased, and told his mother that he would rather
have the sword than anything else that could be given him.

Haflid received Grettir in a friendly manner, and he went at once on
board; the ship’s anchor was heaved, and forth they went to sea.

Now, directly Grettir got on board he looked about for a place where he
could be comfortable, and chose to make a berth for himself under a boat
that was slung on deck; then he put up his wadmall, making a sort of
felt lining or wall round against the wind and spray, leaving open only
the side inwards, and inside he piled his provisions and whatever he
had; then he lay down there and did not stir from his snuggery.  Now, it
was the custom in those days for every man who went in a ship to help in
the navigation; but Grettir would not only do nothing, but from his den
he shouted or sang lampoons—that is, spiteful songs, making fun of every
man on board.  They were not good-natured jokes, but bitter, stinging

Naturally enough the other men were annoyed, and they were not slow to
tell Grettir what they thought of him.  He made no other reply than a

After the ship had lost sight of land a heavy sea was encountered, and
unfortunately the vessel was rather leaky and hardly seaworthy in dirty
weather. The weather was squally and very cold, so that the men suffered
much.  Moreover, they had to bale out the water from the hold, and this
was laborious work.  They had not pumps in those days.

The gale increased, and the crew and passengers had been engaged for
several days and nights in baling without intermission, but Grettir
would not help.  He lay coiled up in his wadmall under the boat, peering
out at the men and throwing irritating snatches of song at them.  This
exasperated them to such an extent that they determined to take him and
throw him overboard.  Haflid heard what they said, and he went to
Grettir and reproached him, and told him what was menaced.

"Let them try to use force if they will," said Grettir.  "All I can say
is that I sha’n’t go overboard alone as long as my sword will bite."

"How can you behave as you do?" said Haflid. "Keep silence at least, and
do not madden the men with your mockery and sneers."

"I cannot hold my tongue from stabbing," said Grettir.

"Very well, then, stab on, but stab me."

"No; you have not hurt me."

"I say, stab me.  Then, if the fellows hear you sing or say something
spiteful of me, and I disregard it, they will not mind so much the
ill-natured things you say of them."

Grettir considered a moment, and then, remembering that he had heard of
something ridiculous that had once occurred to Haflid, he composed a
verse about it and shouted it derisively at Haflid as he walked away.

"Just listen to him," said Haflid to the men. "Now he is slandering and
insulting me.  He is an ill-conditioned cur, so ill-conditioned that I
will not stoop to take notice of his insolence.  And if you take my
advice you will disregard him as I do."

"Well," said the men, "if you shrug your shoulders and pay no regard to
his bark, why should we?"

So Haflid, by his tact, smoothed over this difficulty, and averted a
danger from Grettir’s head.

The weather slowly began to mend, and the sun shone out between the
clouds; but the wind was still strong, and the leak gained on the ship,
for her bottom was rotten.  Now that the sun shone, the poor women who
had been aboard and under cover during the gale, crawled forth and came
to the side where the boat was, and where was a little shelter, and
there sat sewing; whilst Grettir still lay, like a dog in his hutch,
within.  Then the men began to laugh, and say that Grettir had found
suitable company at last—he was not a man among men, but a milksop among
women.  This was turning the tables on him, and this roused him.  Out he
came crawling from his den, and ran aft to where the men were baling,
and asked to be given the buckets.  The way in which it was done was for
one to go down into the hold into the water, and fill a tub or cask and
hoist it over his head to another man, who carried it up on deck and
poured it over the bulwarks.  Grettir swung himself down into the hold,
and filled and heaved so fast that there had to be two men set to carry
up the baling casks, and then two more, four in all attending to him.
At one time he even kept eight going, so vigorously did he work;—but
then he was fresh, and they exhausted.

When the men saw what a strong, active fellow Grettir was, they praised
him greatly, and Grettir, unaccustomed to praise, was delighted and
worked on vigorously, and thenceforth was of the utmost assistance in
the ship.

They still had bad weather, thick mist, in which they drifted and lost
their bearings, and one night unawares they ran suddenly on a rock, and
the rotten bottom of the ship was crushed in.  They had the utmost
difficulty in rescuing their goods and getting the boat ready; but
fortunately they were able to put all the women and the loose goods into
the boat, man her, and row off before the ship went to pieces.  They
came to a sandy island, ran the boat ashore, and disembarked in the cold
and wet and darkness.

                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                           *THE RED ROVERS.*

    _Rescued from the Holm—The Sullen Guest—The Outlawed
    Rovers—Yule-tide Gatherings—The Suspicious Craft—Grettir Guides
    the Rovers—The Worst Ruffians in Norway—Grettir Entertains the
    Band—A Crew of Revellers—When the Wine is in—Thorfin’s
    Treasures—Prisoners and Unarmed—Mad with Drink and Fury—One
    Against Twelve—In Hot Pursuit—The Slaughter in the Boat-shed—The
    Last of the Band—Wearied with Slaying—Thorfin’s Return—A Moment
    of Perplexity—Better than a Dozen Men—The Gift of the Sword_

One morning, after a night of storm on the coast of Norway, the servants
ran into the hall of a wealthy bonder, named Thorfin, to tell him that
during the night a ship had been wrecked off the coast, and that the
crew and passengers were crowded on a little sandy holm, and were
signalling for help.

The bonder sprang up and ran down to the shore. He ordered out a great
punt from his boat-house, and jumping in with his thralls, rowed to the
holm to rescue those who were there.

These were, I need not tell you, the crew and passengers of Haflid’s
merchant vessel.  Thorfin took the half-frozen wretches on board his
boat and rowed them to his farm, after which he returned to the islet
and brought away the wares.  In the meantime his good housewife had been
lighting fires, preparing beds, brewing hot ale with honey to sweeten
it, and making every preparation she could think of for the sufferers.

Haflid and the rest of the merchants or chapmen who had sailed with him
remained at the farm a week, whilst the women were recovering from the
cold and exposure and their goods were being dried and sorted.  Then
they departed, with many thanks for the hospitality shown them, on their
way to Drontheim.

Grettir, however, remained.  Thorfin, the master of the house, did not
much like him.  He did not ask him to stay; but then he had not the lack
of hospitality to bid him depart.  In the farm Grettir never offered to
lend a hand in any of the work; he never joined in conversation, he sat
over the fire warming himself, and ate and drank heartily.

Thorfin was much abroad, hunting or seeing after the wood-cutting, and
he often asked Grettir to come with him.  But he was granted no other
answer than a shake of the head and a growl.  Now the bonder was a
merry, kindly-hearted fellow, and he liked to have all about him
cheerful.  It is no wonder, then, that Grettir, morose and indolent,
found no favour with him.

Yule drew near, and Thorfin busked him to depart, with a number of his
attendants, to keep the festival at one of his farms distant a good
day’s journey. His wife was unable to accompany him, as his eldest
daughter was ill and needed careful nursing.  Grettir he did not invite,
as his sullenness would have acted as a damper on the joviality of the

The farmer started for his house where he was going to spend Yule some
days before.  A large company of guests were invited to meet him, so he
took thirty serving-men to attend on him and them.

Norway was at this time being brought into order by Earl Erik, who was
putting down with a high hand the bands of rovers who had been the
terror of the country.  He had outlawed all these men, and that meant
that whoever killed them could not be fined or punished in any way for
the slaying. Now Thorfin, the farmer with whom Grettir was staying, had
been very active against these rovers, and they bore him a grudge.
Among the worst of them were two brothers, Thorir wi’ the Paunch and Bad
Ogmund.  They had not yet been caught, and they defied the power of the
Earl.  They robbed wherever they went, burned farms over the heads of
the sleeping inmates, and with the points of their spears drove the
shrieking victims back into the flames when they attempted to escape.

Christmas Eve was bright and sunny, and the sick girl was sufficiently
recovered to be brought out to take the air on the sunny side of the
great hall, leaning on her mother’s arm.

Grettir spent the whole day out of doors, not in the most amiable mood
at being shut out from the merry-makings, and left to keep house with
the women and eight dunderheaded churls.  He fed his discontent by
sitting on a headland watching the boats glide by, as parties went to
convivial gatherings at the houses of their friends.  The deep blue sea
was speckled with sails, as though gulls were plunging in the waters.
Now a stately dragon-ship rolled past, her fearful carved head
glittering with golden scales, her sails spread like wings before the
breeze, and her banks of oars dipping into the sea and flashing as they
rose.  Now a wherry was rowed by laden with cakes and ale, and the
boatmen’s song rang merrily through the crisp air.

The day began to decline, and Grettir was on the point of returning to
the farm, when the strange proceedings of a craft at no great distance
attracted his attention.  He noticed that she stole along in the shadows
of the islets, keeping out of sight as much as possible.  Grettir could
make out of her just this much, that she was floating low in the water,
and was built for speed.  As she stranded the rowers jumped on the
beach.  Grettir counted them, and found they were twelve, all armed men.
They burst into Thorfin’s boat-house, thrust out his punt, and in its
place drew in their own vessel, and pulled her up on the rollers.

Mischief was a-brewing—that was clear.  So Grettir went down the hill,
and sauntered up to the strangers, with his hands in his pockets,
kicking the pebbles before him.

"Who is your leader?" he asked curtly.

"I am.  What do you want with me?" answered a stout coarse man—"Thorir,
whom they nickname ’wi’ the Paunch.’  Here is my brother Ogmund. I
reckon that Thorfin knows our names well enough. Don’t you think so,
brother?  We have come here to settle a little outstanding reckoning.
Is he at home?"

"You are lucky fellows," laughed Grettir, "coming here in the very nick
of time.  The bonder is away with all his able-bodied and fighting men,
and won’t be back for a couple of days.  His wife and daughter are,
however, at the farm.  Now is your time if you have old scores to wipe
off; for he has left all his things that he values unprotected, silver,
clothing, ale, and food in abundance."

Thorir listened, then turning to Ogmund he said, "This is as I had
expected.  But what a chatterbox this fellow is, he lets out everything
without being asked questions."

"Every man knows the use of his tongue," said Grettir.  "Now, follow me,
and I will do what I can for you."

The rovers at once followed.  Then Grettir took fat Thorir by the hand
and led him to the farm, talking all the way as hard as his tongue could
wag. Now the housewife happened at the time to be in the hall, and
hearing Grettir thus talking, she was filled with surprise, and called
out to know whom he had with him.

"I have brought you guests for Yule," said Grettir. "We shall not keep
it in as dull a fashion as we feared.  Here come visitors uninvited, but
merry, uncommon merry."

"Who are they?" asked the housewife.

"Thorir wi’ the Paunch and Ogmund the Bad, and ten of their comrades."

Then she cried out: "What have you done?  These are the worst ruffians
in all Norway.  Is this the way you repay the kindness Thorfin has shown
you in housing and keeping you here, without it’s costing you anything?"

"Stay your woman’s tongue!" growled Grettir. "Now bestir yourself and
bring out dry clothes for the guests."

Then the housewife ran away crying, and her sick daughter, who saw the
house invaded by ill-looking men all armed, hid herself.

"Well," said Grettir, "as the women are too scared to attend on you, I
will do what is necessary; so give me your wet clothes, and let me wipe
your weapons and set them by the fire lest they get rusted."

"You are a different fellow from all the rest in the house."

"I do not belong to the house.  I am a stranger, an Icelander."

"Then I don’t mind taking you along with us when we go away."

"As you will," answered the young fellow; "only mind, I don’t behave
like this to every one."

Then the freebooters gave him their weapons, and he wiped the salt water
from them, and laid them aside in a warm spot.  Next he removed their
wet garments, and brought them dry suits which he routed out of the
clothes-chests belonging to Thorfin and his men.

By this time it was night.  Grettir brought in logs and faggots of fir
branches, and made a roaring fire that filled the great hall with ruddy
light and warmth.  In those days the halls were long buildings with a
set of hearths running down the middle, and benches beside the fires.

"Now, then, my men," said Grettir, "come to the table and drink, for I
doubt not you are thirsty with long rowing."

"We are ready," said they.  "But where are the cellars?"

"Oh, if you please, I will bring you ale."

"Certainly, you shall attend on us," said Thorir.

Then Grettir went and fetched the best and strongest ale in Thorfin’s
cellars, and poured it out for the men.  They were very tired and
thirsty, and they drank eagerly.  Grettir did not stint them in meat or
drink, and at last he took his place by them, and recited many tales
that made them laugh, he also sang them songs; but they were becoming
fast too tipsy to rack their brains to find out the meaning in the

Not one of the house-churls showed his face in the hall that evening;
they slunk about the farm, in the stables and sheds, frightened and

Then said Thorir: "I’ll tell you what, my men. I like this young chap,
and I doubt our finding another so handy and willing.  What say you all
to our taking him into our band?"

The pirates banged their drinking-horns on the table in token of
approval.  Then Grettir stood up and said:

"I thank you for the offer, and if you are in the same mind to-morrow
morning when the ale is no longer in your heads, I will strike hands and
go with you."

"Let us drink brotherhood at once," shouted the rovers.

"Not so," said Grettir calmly.  "I will not have it said that I took
advantage of you when you were not sober.  It is said that when the wine
is in the wit is out."

They all protested that they would be of the same mind next morning, but
Grettir stuck to his decision. They were now becoming so tipsy that he
proposed they should go to bed.

"But first of all," said he, "I think you will like to run your eyes
over Thorfin’s storehouse where he keeps all his treasures."

"That we shall!" roared Thorir, staggering to his feet.

Then Grettir took a blazing firebrand from the hearth, and led the way
out of the hall into the night.

The storehouse was detached from the main buildings.  It was very
strongly built of massive logs, firmly mortised together.  The door also
was very solid, and the whole stood on a strong stone basement, and a
flight of stone steps led up to the door.  Adjoining the storehouse was
a lean-to building divided off from it by a partition of planks.

The sharp frosty air of night striking on the faces of the revellers
increased their intoxication, and they became very riotous, staggering
against each other, uttering howls and attempting to sing.

Drawing back the bolt Grettir flung the door open, and showed the twelve
rovers into the treasury; and he held the flaming torch above his head
and showed the silver-mounted drinking-horns, the embroidered garments,
the rich fur mantles, gold bracelets, and bags filled with silver coins
obtained from England.  The drunken men dashed upon the spoil, knocking
each other over and quarrelling for the goods they wanted.

In the midst of this noise and tumult Grettir quietly extinguished the
torch, stepped outside and ran the bolt into its place; he had shut them
all—all twelve, into the strong-room, and not one of them had his
weapons about him.

Then Grettir ran to the farm door and shouted for the housewife.  But
she would not answer, as she mistrusted him; and no wonder, for he had
seemed to be hand and glove with the pirates.

"Come, come!" shouted Grettir, "I have caught all twelve, and all I need
now are weapons.  Call up the thralls and arm them.  Quick! not a moment
must be lost."

"There are plenty of weapons here," answered the poor woman, emerging
from her place of concealment. "But, Grettir, I mistrust you."

"Trust or no trust," said Grettir, "I must have weapons.  Where are the
serving-men?  Here, Kolbein!  Swein!  Gamli!  Rolf!  Confound the
rascals, where are they skulking?"

"Over Thorfin’s bed hangs a great barbed spear," said the housewife.
"You will also find a sword and helmet and cuirass.  No lack of weapons,
only pluck to wield them is needed."

Grettir seized the casque and spear, girded on the sword and dashed into
the yard, begging the woman to send the churls after him.  She called
the eight men, and they came up timidly—that is to say, four appeared
and took the weapons, but the other four, after showing their faces, ran
and hid themselves again, they were afraid to measure swords with the
terrible rovers.

In the meantime the pirates had been trying the door, but it was too
massive for them to break through, so they tore down the partitions of
boards between the store and the lean-to room at the side. They were mad
with drink and fury.  They broke down the door of the side-room easily
enough, and came out on the platform at the head of the stone steps just
as Grettir reached the bottom.

Thorir and Ogmund were together.  In the fitful gleams of the moon they
seemed like demons as they scrambled out, armed with splinters of deal
they had broken from the planks and turned into weapons.  The brothers
plunged down the narrow stairs with a howl that rang through the
snow-clad forest for miles.  Grettir planted the boar-spear in the
ground and caught Thorir on its point.  The sharp double-edged blade,
three feet in length, sliced into him and came out between his
shoulders, then tore into Ogmund’s breast a span deep.  The yew shaft
bent like a bow, and flipped from the ground the stone against which the
butt-end had been planted. The wretched men crashed over the stair,
tried to rise, staggered, and fell again.  Grettir trod on Thorir,
wrenched the spear out of him, and then running up the steps cut down
another rover as he came through the door.  Then the rest came out
stumbling over each other, some armed with bits of broken stick, others
unarmed, and as they came forth Grettir hewed at them with the sword, or
thrust at them with the spear.

In the meantime the churls had come up, armed indeed, but not knowing
how to use the weapons, and in a condition of too great terror to use
them to any purpose.  The pirates saw that they were being worsted, and
their danger sobered them.  They went back into the room and ripped the
planks till they had obtained serviceable pieces, and then came two
together down the stair, warding off Grettir’s blows with their sticks,
and not attempting to strike. Then they forced him back and allowed
space and time for those behind to leap down to the ground. If then they
had combined they might have recovered the mastery, but they did not
believe that they were assailed by a single enemy, they thought that
there must have been many; consequently those who had leaped from the
platform, instead of attacking Grettir from behind, ran away across the
farmyard, and those who were warding off his blows, finding themselves
unsupported, lost heart, and leaped down as well and attempted to
escape. The yard was full of flying frightened wretches, too blinded by
their fear to find the gate, and in the wildness of their terror they
climbed or leaped over the yard wall and ran towards the boat-house.
Grettir went after them.  They plunged into the dark boat-shed, and
possessed themselves of the oars, whilst some tried to run their boat
down into the water.  Grettir followed them in the gloom, smiting to
right and left.  The bewildered wretches in the darkness hit each other,
stumbled and fell in the boat, and some wounded went into the water.

The thralls, content that the pirates had cleared out of the yard, did
not trouble themselves to pursue them, but went into the farmhouse.  The
good woman in vain urged them to go after and succour Grettir.  They
thought they had done quite enough.  It is true, they had neither killed
nor wounded anyone, but they had seen some men killed.  So Grettir got
no help from them.  He was still in the boat-house, and he had this
advantage: the boat-house was open to the air on the side that faced the
sea, whilst the further side was closed with a door, consequently
Grettir was himself in shadow. But the moon shone on the water, and he
could see the black figures of the rovers cut sharply against this
silver background.  So he could see where to strike, whilst he himself
was unseen.

One stroke from an oar reached him on the shoulder, and for the moment
numbed his arm; but he speedily recovered sensation, and killed two more
of the ruffians; then the remaining four made a dash together, past him,
through the door, and separating into pairs, fled in opposite
directions.  Grettir went after one of the couples and tracked them to a
neighbouring farm, where they dashed into a granary and hid among the
straw.  Unfortunately for them most of the wheat had been thrashed out,
so that only a few bundles remained.  Grettir shut and bolted the door
behind him, then chased the poor wretches like rats from corner to
corner, till he had cut them both down.  Then he opened the door, and
cast the corpses outside.

In the meanwhile the weather was changing, the sky had become overcast
with a thick snow fog that rolled up from the sea, so that Grettir, on
coming out, saw that he must abandon the pursuit of the remaining two.
Moreover, his arm pained him, his strength was failing him, and a sense
of overpowering fatigue stole over him.

The housewife had placed a lamp in a window of a loft as a guide to
Grettir in the fog; the stupid house-thralls could not be induced by her
to go out in search of him, and she was becoming uneasy at his
protracted absence.  The fog turned into small snow, thick and blinding,
and Grettir struggled through it with difficulty, as the weariness he
felt became almost overpowering.  At last he reached the farm and
staggered in through the door.  He could hardly speak.  He went to the
table, took a horn of mead, drank some, and then threw himself down
among the rushes on the floor by the fire, full armed grasping the
sword, and in a moment was asleep.

He did not wake for twelve hours; but the cautious and prudent housewife
had sent out the carles in search of the pirates.  The dead bodies were
found, some in the yard, some in the boat-house; then Grettir woke and
came to them and pointed out in what direction the only remaining two
had run.  The snow had fallen so thick that their traces could not be
followed, but before nightfall they were discovered, dead, under a rock
where they had taken refuge; they had died of cold and loss of blood.
All the bodies were collected and a great cairn of stones was piled over

When they had been buried, then the housewife made Grettir take the high
seat in the hall, and she treated him with the utmost respect, as he

Time passed, and Thorfin prepared to return home; he dismissed his
guests, and he and his men got into their boat to return home.  No
tidings had reached him of the events that had happened whilst he had
been away.  The first thing he saw as he came rowing to his harbour was
his punt lying stranded. This surprised and alarmed him, and he bade his
men row harder.  They ran to the boat-house, and then saw it occupied by
a vessel, on the rollers, which there was no mistaking; he knew it well,
it belonged to those redoubted pirates Thorir and Ogmund.  For a moment
he was silent with the terror and grief that came on him.  "The Red
Rovers!" he said, when he recovered the stunning sense of alarm.  "The
Red Rovers are here—they are on my farm.  God grant they have not hurt
my wife and daughter!"

Then he considered what was to be done, whether it was best to go at
once to the farm, or to make a secret approach to it from different
quarters, and surprise the enemy.

Grettir was to blame.  He ought not to have allowed Thorfin to be thus
thrown into uncertainty and distress.  He had seen the master’s boat
round the headland and enter the bay, but he would neither go himself to
meet him on the strand, nor suffer anyone else to go.

"I do not care even if the bonder be a bit disturbed at what he sees,"
said the young man.

"Then let me go," urged the wife.

"You are mistress, do as you like," said Grettir bluntly.

So the housewife and her daughter went down towards the boat-house, and
when Thorfin saw them he ran to meet them, greatly relieved but much
perplexed, and he clasped his wife to his heart and said, "God be
praised that you and my child are safe!  But tell me how matters have
stood whilst I have been away, for I cannot understand the boat being
where I found it."

"We have been in grievous peril," answered his wife.  "But the
shipwrecked boy whom you sheltered has been our protector, better than a
dozen men."

Then he said, "Sit down on this rock by me and tell me all."

They took each other by the hand and sat on a stone; and the attendants
gathered round, and the housewife told them the whole story from
beginning to end.  When she spoke of the way in which the young
Icelander had led the tipsy rovers into the storehouse and fastened them
in, without their swords, the men burst into a shout of joy; and when
her tale was concluded, their exultant cries rang so loud that Grettir
heard them in the farmhouse.

Thorfin said nothing to interrupt the thread of his wife’s story; and
after she had done he remained silent, rapt in thought.  No one ventured
to disturb him.  Presently he looked up, and said quietly, "That is a
good proverb which says, ’Never despair of anyone.’  Now I must speak a
word with Grettir."

Thorfin walked with his wife to the farm, and when he saw Grettir he
held out both his hands to him, and thanked him.

"This I say to you," said Thorfin, "which few would say to their best of
friends—that I hope some day you may need my help, and then I will prove
to you how thankful I am for what you have done. I can say no more."

Grettir thanked him, and spent the rest of the winter at his house.  The
story of what he had done spread through all the country, and was much
praised, especially by such as had suffered from the violence of the Ked
Rovers.  But Thorfin made to Grettir a present, in acknowledgment of
what he had done; and that present was the sword that had hung above his
bed, with which Grettir had killed so many of the rovers.  Now,
concerning this sword a tale has to be told.

                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                       *THE STORY OF THE SWORD.*

    _The Light on the Cliff—The Grave of Karr the Old—The Visit to
    the Ness—The Chamber of the Dead—The Shape on the Throne—In the
    Dead Man’s Arms—A Fearful Wrestle—The Dead Vanquished—The
    Dragon’s Treasure—The Tale of the Sword—The Two Swords of

Some little while before the slaying of the Red Rovers, a strange event
had taken place.

Grettir had made the acquaintance of a man called Audun, who lived at a
little farm at some distance from the house of Thorfin, and he walked
over there occasionally to sit and talk with his friend.  As he returned
late at night he noticed that a strange light used to dance at the end
of a cliff that overhung the sea, at the end of a headland; a lonely
desolate headland it was, without house or stall near it.  Grettir had
never been there, and as it was so bare, he knew that no one lived on
that headland, so he could not account for the light.  One day he said
to Audun that he had seen this strange light, which was not steady but
flickered; and he asked him what it meant.

Audun at once became very grave, and after a moment’s hesitation said,
"You are right.  No one lives on that ness, but there is a great mound
there, under which is buried Karr the Old, the forefather of your host
Thorfin; and it is said that much treasure was buried with him.  That is
why the ghostly light burns above the mound, for—you must know that
flames dance over hidden treasure."

"If treasure be hidden there, I will dig it up," said Grettir.

"Attempt nothing of the kind," said Audun, "or Thorfin will be angry.
Besides, Karr the Old is a dangerous fellow to have to deal with.  He
walks at night, and haunts all that headland and has scared away the
dwellers in the nearest farms.  No one dare live there because of him.
That is why the Ness is all desolate without houses."

"I will stay the night here," said Grettir, "and to-morrow we will go
together to the Ness, and take spade and pick and a rope, and I will see
what can be found."

Audun did not relish the proposal, but he did not like to seem
behindhand with Grettir, and he reluctantly agreed to go with him.

So next day the two went out on the Ness together. They passed two
ruined farmhouses, the buildings rotting, the roofs fallen in.  Those
who had lived in them had been driven away by the dweller in the old
burial mound, or barrow.  The Norse name for these sepulchral mounds is
_Haug_, pronounced almost like How; and where in England we have places
with the names ending in _hoe_, there undoubtedly in former times were
such mounds.  Thus, in Essex are Langenhoe and Fingringhoe, that is to
say the Long Barrow and Fingar’s How.  Also, the Hoe, the great walk at
Plymouth above the sea, derives its name from some old burial mound now
long ago destroyed.

The Ness was a finger of land running out into the sea, and on it grew
no trees, only a little coarse grass; at the end rose a great circular
bell-shaped mound, with a ring of stones set round it, to mark its
circumference.  Grettir began to dig at the summit, and he worked hard.
The day was short, and the sun was touching the sea as his pickaxe went
through an oak plank, into a hollow space beneath, and he knew at once
that he had struck into the chamber of the dead.  He worked with
redoubled energy, and tore away the planks, leaving a black hole beneath
of unknown depth, but which to his thinking could not be more than seven
feet beneath him.  Then he called to Audun for the rope.  The end he
fastened round his waist, and bade his friend secure the other end to a
pole thrown across the pit mouth.  When this was done, Audun cautiously
let Grettir down into the chamber of the dead.

Now, you must know that in heathen times what was often done with old
warriors was to draw up a boat on the shore, and to seat the dead man in
the cabin, with his horse slain beside him, sometimes some of his slaves
or thralls were also killed and put in with him, and his choicest
treasures were heaped about him.  This men did because they thought that
the dead man would want his weapons, his raiment, his ornaments, his
horse and his servants in the spirit world.  Of late years such a mound
has been opened in Norway, and a great ship found in it, well preserved,
with the old dead chief’s bones in it.  When a ship was not buried, then
a chamber of strong planks was built, and he was put in that, and the
earth heaped over him.  Into such a chamber had Grettir now dug.

He soon reached the bottom, and was in darkness, only a little light
came in from above, through the hole he had broken in the roof of the
cabin or chamber.  His feet were among bones, and these he was quite
sure were horse bones.  Then he groped about.

As his eyes became more accustomed to the darkness, he discerned a
figure seated in a throne.  It was the long-dead Karr the Old.  He was
in full harness, with a helmet on his head with bull’s horns sticking
out, one on each side; his hands were on his knees, and his feet on a
great chest.  Round his neck was a gold torque or necklet, made of bars
of twisted gold, hooked together behind the head. Grettir in the dark
could only just make out the glimmer of the gold, but it seemed to him
that a phosphorescent light played about the face of the dead chief.

So little light was left, that Grettir hasted to collect what he could.
There stood a brazen vessel near the chair, in which were various
articles, probably of worth, but it was too dark for Grettir to see what
they were.  He brought the vessel to the rope and fastened the end of
the cord to its handle.  Then he went back to the old dead man and drew
away a short sword that lay on his lap, and this he placed in the brass
vessel.  Next he began to unhook the gold torque from his neck, and as
he did this the phosphorescent flame glared strangely about the dead
man’s face.

Then, all at once, as both his hands were engaged undoing the hook
behind Karr’s neck, he was clipped. The dead man’s arms had clutched
him, and with a roar like a bull Karr the Old stood up, holding him
fast, and now all the light that had played over his features gathered
into and glared out of his eyes.

When Audun heard the roar, he was so frightened that he ran from the
barrow, and did not stay his feet till he reached home, feeling
convinced that the ghost or whatever it was that lived in the tomb had
torn Grettir to pieces.

Then began in the chamber of the dead a fearful wrestle.  Grettir was at
times nigh on smothered by the gray beard of the dead chief, that had
been growing, growing, in the vault, ever since he had been buried.

How long that terrible struggle continued no one can tell.  Grettir had
to use his utmost force to stand against Karr the Old.  The two wrestled
up and down in the chamber, kicking the horse bones about from side to
side, stumbling over the coffer, and the brass vessel, and the horse’s
skull, striking against the sides, and when they did this then masses of
earth and portions of broken plank fell in from above.

At last Karr’s feet gave way under him and he fell, and Grettir fell
over him.  Then instantly he laid hold of his sword, and smote off Old
Karr’s head and laid it beside his thigh.

This, according to Norse belief, was the only way in which to prevent a
dead man from walking, who had haunted the neighbourhood of his tomb,
and in the Icelandic sagas we hear of other cases where the same
proceeding was gone through.  The Norsemen held to something more
dreadful than ghosts walking; they thought that some evil spirit entered
into the bodies of the dead, that when this happened the dead no longer
decayed, but walked, and ate, and drank, and fought, very much like
living ruffians, but with redoubled strength.  Then, when this happened,
nothing was of any avail save the digging up of the dead man, cutting
off his head and laying it at his thigh.

When Grettir had done this, he despoiled Karr the Old of his helm, his
breast-plate, his torque, and he took the box on which the feet had
rested. He fastened all together to the rope, and called to Audun to
haul up.  He received no answer, so he swarmed up himself, and finding
that his friend had run away he pulled up what he had tied together, and
carried the whole lot in his arms to the house of Thorfin.  Thorfin and
his party were at supper; and when Grettir came in, the bonder looked
up, and asked why he did not keep regular hours, and be at the table
when the meal began.  Grettir made no other answer than to throw all he
carried down on the supper-table before the master.  Thorfin raised his
eyebrows when he saw so much treasure.

"Where did you get all this?" he asked.

Then Grettir answered in one of his enigmatical songs:

    "Thou who dost the wave-shine shorten,
      My attempt has been to find
    In the barrow what was hidden,
      Deep in darkness black and blind.
    Nothing of the dragon’s treasure
      With the dead is left behind."

By the wave-shine shortener he meant Thorfin; the dragon’s treasure
meant gold, because dragons were thought to line their lairs with that

Thorfin saw that Grettir’s eye looked longingly at the short sword that
had lain on the knees of Karr. He said: "It was a heathen custom in old
times to bury very much that was precious along with the dead.  I do not
blame you for what you have done; but this I will say, that there is no
one else about this place who would have ventured to attempt what you
have done.  As for that sword on which you cast your eyes so longingly,
it has ever been in our family, and I cannot part with it till you have
shown that you are worthy to wear it."

Then that sword was hung up over Thorfin’s bed. You have heard how
Grettir did show that he was worthy to wear it, and also how Thorfin
gave it him.

Now, this tale about the sword will very well illustrate what was said
at the beginning, that the history of Grettir contains, in the main,
truth; but that this substance of truth has been embroidered over by
fancy.  What is true is, that during the winter in which he was with
Thorfin he did dig into the mound in which Karr was buried, and did take
thence his treasures and his sword.  But all the story of his fight with
the dead man was added. The same story occurs in a good many other
sagas, as in that of Hromund Greip’s son, who also got a sword by
digging into a barrow for it.  When the history of Grettir was told, and
this adventure of his was related, those who told the story imported
into it the legend of the fight of Hromund in the grave with the dead
man, so as to make the history of Grettir more amusing.  As you will see
by the tale, no one else was present when it happened, for Audun had run
away, and it was not like Grettir to boast of what he had done.  This
was an embellishment added by the story-teller, and from the storyteller
the incident passed into the volume of the story-writer.

Grettir had now two good swords; one long, which he called Jokull’s
Gift, that he had received from his mother, and this short one that he
wore at his girdle, which he had taken out of the grave of Karr the Old,
and which he had won fairly by his bravery in the defence of the house
and family of Thorfin.

                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                             *OF THE BEAR.*

    _Grettir goes North—Biorn the Braggart—The Bear’s Den—Biorn’s
    Feat—A Hunting Party—The Lost Cloak—Grettir Seeks the Bear
    Alone—Grettir’s Hardest Tussle—The Fall Over the Cliff—Thorgils
    Acts as Peacemaker—Grettir Restrains Himself_

When spring came, then Grettir left his friend Thorfin, and went north
along the Norwegian coast, and was everywhere well received, because the
story of how he had killed twelve rovers, he being as yet but a boy, was
noised through all the country, and every one who had anything to lose
felt safer because that wicked gang was broken up. Nothing of
consequence is told about him during that summer.  For the winter he did
not return to Thorfin as asked, but accepted the invitation of another
bonder, named Thorgils.

Thorgils was a merry, pleasant man, and he had a great company in his
house that winter.  Among his visitors was a certain Biorn, a distant
cousin, a man whom Thorgils did not like, as he was a slanderous-tongued
fellow, and moreover he was a braggart.  He was one of those persons we
meet with not infrequently who cannot endure to hear another praised;
who, the moment a good word is spoken of someone, immediately puts in a
nasty, spiteful word, and tells an unkind story, so as to drag that
person down in the general opinion.  At the same time, concerning
himself he had only praiseworthy and wonderful feats to relate about his
wit, his wisdom, his craft, his knowledge of the world, about his
strength and courage.

Thorgils knew how much, or rather how little, to believe of what Biorn
said, and he did not pay much regard to his talk.  But now Grettir had
an opportunity of seeing and of feeling how mistaken had been his
conduct on board the ship upon which he had come to Norway, when he made
lampoons on the sailors and chapmen, and stung them with sharp words.
He saw how disagreeable a fellow Biorn was, how much he was disliked,
and by some despised; and he kept very greatly to himself and out of
Biorn’s way.  He did not wish to quarrel with him, because he was the
relative of his host, and he was afraid that his anger would get the
better of him if he did come to words with the braggart.

Grettir had grown a great deal since he left Iceland, and he was now a
strapping fellow, broad built but not short.  He was not handsome, but
his face was intelligent.

It fell out that a bear gave much trouble that winter to Thorgils and
the neighbouring farmers. It was so strong and so daring that no folds
were secure against it, and Thorgils and the other farmers endured
severe losses through the depredations of Bruin.

Before Yule, a party was formed to go in search of and kill the bear,
but all that was done was to find the lair.

The bear had taken up his abode in the face of a tremendous cliff that
overhung the sea.  There was but one path up to the cave, and that was
so narrow that only one man could creep along it at a time. Moreover, if
his foot slipped he would be flung over the edge upon the rocks or
skerries below against which the waves dashed.

"When the den of the bear had been discovered," Biorn said, "That is the
main thing.  Now I know where the rogue lies, I’ll settle with him,
trust me. I’ve been the death of scores of bears.  My only dread is lest
he be afraid of me, and will not come on."

And, actually, Biorn went out on several moonlit nights to watch for the
bear.  He saw that the only way to deal with him would be to stop the
track from the den, and fight him as he attempted to come away.  He took
his short sword and great shield with him covered with ox-hide, and one
night he laid himself down on the path of the bear, and put his shield
over him.  He thought that Bruin would come smelling at the great
hide-covered shield, and then all at once he (Biorn) would spring up and
drive his sword into the heart of the bear. That was his plan—and not a
bad plan—only, unfortunately for Biorn, the bear did not come out for a
long time.  He had got an inkling that a man was watching for him, so he
was shy, and whilst he waited before venturing forth, Biorn, who had
been drinking pretty freely that evening, went to sleep.

Presently the bear came out, crept cautiously down the narrow track,
snuffing about, and when he came to Biorn, he plucked with his claws at
the shield, and with one wrench had it off and tumbled it down the

Biorn woke with a start, rose to his knees, saw the huge bear before
him, and in a moment turned tail, and ran as hard as he could run to
Thorgils’ house, and was too scared to be able to boast that he had
killed or wounded the bear.

Next morning his shield was found where the bear had thrown it, and much
fun did this adventure of the braggart occasion.  This made him very
irritable and more spiteful than ever.

Thorgils now said that really something must be done to rid the
neighbourhood of the bear, so a party of eight set out well armed with
spears; of this party were Biorn and Grettir.  They reached the point
where the track to the den ran up the cliff to the lair, and one man
after another tried it.  But there was no getting at the bear; for as
soon as a man came near the beast put his great forepaws forth and
caught and snapped the spear-heads or beat them down.  As already said,
only one could crawl up at a time.

Grettir had gone out that day in a fur coat that his friend Thorfin had
given him, and which he greatly valued.  When the onslaught against the
bear began, he took off his fur coat, and folded it, and put it on a
stone.  Biorn saw this, and, when none observed, he took the fur coat
and threw it into the cave of the bear.  Grettir did not see what had
been done till the party, disappointed with their want of success, made
ready to depart, when he missed it, and then some suspicion entered his
head as to what had been done with it, and by whom, but he said nothing.

As they walked home, Biorn began to taunt Grettir with having done
nothing all day.  He could kill robbers who were unarmed and were drunk,
perhaps asleep, but a bear was too serious an adversary for him.

Grettir said nothing, but as his gaiter thong became broken, he stopped
and stooped to mend it. Thorgils asked if they should wait for him.
Grettir declined.

"Oh," said Biorn, "it is all nonsense.  It is a pretence.  He means to
have all the glory of fighting the bear alone when we have gone on."

He said the truth, but he had no idea when he spoke that it was the

Grettir tarried till the party had crossed a hill and was out of sight,
then he turned and went back to the bear’s den.  He slipped his hand
through the loop at the end of the handle of his short sword that he had
taken from the grave of Karr the Old, and let it hang on his wrist, but
he held the long sword, Jokull’s gift, by the pommel.  His plan was to
use the long sword if needed, but if the bear came to close quarters he
would throw it down and grasp the short one without having to put his
hand to his girdle for it.  Very cautiously he crept along the path.
Bruin saw him, and was now angry and hungry, and came down to meet him.
The bear was somewhat above him; Grettir halted, and the bear stood up
growling on his hind-legs.

At once the long sword was whirled and fell on the right wrist above the
paw, and cut it off.  The bear immediately fell down on all-fours; but
the amputated paw was on the side away from the wall of rock, and when
he went down on the stump he was overbalanced, and came down with his
whole weight on Grettir.

Grettir let fall his long sword at once, and with both hands grasped the
brute’s ears, and held his head off lest he should get a bite at him.
Grettir, in after years, was wont to say that this was the hardest
tussle he had in his life—it was even worse than anything he had to do
with the rovers.  For if the beast had but been able to nip him on the
breast, or shoulder, or face with his great fangs, all would have been
up with him.  Moreover, the ears were so smooth that he had to do his
utmost not to let them slip.  Grettir had the wit to drag back the
brute’s head to the rock, and by so doing the bear could not use his
only uninjured fore-leg, armed with terrible claws, which would have
ripped Grettir’s clothes and flesh.

In the struggle the two went over the edge, and for a moment Grettir
thought, as they spun in the air, that he was lost.  But the bear was
heavier than the lad, consequently he fell crash on the rocks at the
bottom first, and Grettir on him, breaking Grettir’s fall by his great
body.  The bear’s back was broken.

Then Grettir got up, shook himself, left the bear, went up the path and
found his fur coat torn to tatters, and he put it about him, recovered
also his long sword, and took the cut-off paw of the bear.

He now went back to Thorgils’ house, and when he came into the hall
where the fires were blazing, every one laughed to see him in his
tattered coat; but when he gave the paw of the bear to Thorgils the
general merriment exchanged to surprise.  Biorn, however, could not
contain himself for vexation, and launched forth some coarse jest that
made Grettir’s blood tingle in his veins.

"Do not listen to him," said Thorgils.  "You are a brave fellow, and
there are not many your like."  Then turning to Biorn, he said,
"Kinsman, I advise and warn you to keep a civil tongue in your head, or
you will come to rue it, and have to be taught better manners."

"Oh, if I am to learn manners from Grettir, that is sending me to a cub

"I want to know," said Grettir, "whether you threw my fur coat into the

"I am not afraid of saying that I did."

"Will you give me another in its place?"

"I have not the smallest intention of doing charity to beggars."

The braggart knew that Grettir was restraining himself because he did
not wish to quarrel with his host’s kinsman, and he took advantage of
his knowledge.  But Thorgils was greatly distressed and ashamed, and he
said to Grettir:

"Pay no attention to his words.  He has insulted you, and I will pay you
a fine in compensation for his insult, that it may be buried and

That was customary then.  When one had hurt another in body or in honour
by blow or foul word, he was bound to pay a sum of money; if he did not
then the man injured was required by the laws of honour to revenge the

But when Biorn heard this proposal, he shouted out that he would not
suffer the matter to be so compromised; he was not ashamed of his words.
Thorgils drew Grettir aside, and said to him that his kinsman was a
badly-behaved, brutal fellow, but that he hoped Grettir would not take
up the quarrel in his house; and Grettir promised him solemnly that he
would not attempt to take revenge for the rudeness of Biorn so long as
they were both inmates of his house.

"As for what may happen between you later," said Thorgils, "I wash my
hands of responsibility. If Biorn is offensive to those who have never
hurt him, he must take the consequences."

So matters remained; only that Biorn, presuming on his position, became
daily more arrogant, intolerable, and abusive, so that Grettir had to
exercise daily self-restraint to keep his hands off him.  And glad he
was when spring came, that he might get away to another part of Norway.

As for Biorn, he went in the summer to England in a ship that belonged
to Thorgils, trading there for Thorgils and for himself.  Consequently,
all that summer he and Grettir did not meet.

                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                        *THE SLAYING OF BIORN.*

    _The Meeting on the Island—Biorn’s Death—Thorfin Comes to
    Grettir’s Aid—Grettir’s Life in Danger—Hiarandi’s Revenge—A
    Doomed Man_

Grettir left Thorgils very good friends, and he went with some merchants
to the north, but when the summer was over he came back south, and
arrived at a little island in the entrance of the Drontheim firth.  His
intention was to see Earl Sweyn, and perhaps take service under him; but
if so, things fell out other than he had reckoned.  For, as he was in
this island, there came in a large merchant vessel from England, and
Grettir and those with him at once went to see the shipmen, and among
them was Biorn.  The ship was, in fact, that of Thorgils, and it was
laden with commodities bought in England, or obtained by exchange for
the wool, and furs, and women’s embroidery sent out in the spring by

Directly Biorn saw Grettir he turned red, and pretended not to recognize
him; but Grettir went to him at once and said:

"Now has come the time when we two can settle our differences."

"Oh," said Biorn, "that is soon done.  I don’t object to paying a

"The time for paying is over," said Grettir. "Thorgils offered an
indemnity for your insolence, and you refused to consent to it."

Then Biorn saw that there was no help for him but that he must fight.
So he girded him for the conflict, and he and Grettir went down on the
sand, and they fought.

The fight did not last long.  Grettir’s sword cut him that he fell and

When the news reached Thorgils, he got ready, and came by boat as fast
as he could to see the earl at Drontheim.  He found the earl very angry,
but he said to him:

"I am a kinsman of the fallen man, and I know that he treated Grettir
with intolerable insolence, and that he refused every compromise.  Then
remember what a benefit has been done to the country by Grettir, who
ridded it of the Red Rovers, Thorir wi’ the Paunch and Ogmund the Bad."

Thorfin also came to Drontheim when he heard of the straits into which
Grettir had come through killing Biorn.  The earl called a council on
the matter, and said he would not come to a decision till he had heard
what Biorn’s brother Hiarandi had to say on the matter.  Hiarandi was a
violent man, and he was very wroth.  He would hear of no patching up of
the matter, and he vowed he would not, as he expressed it, "bring his
brother into his purse."  As already said, it was customary when a man
had been killed to offer a sum of money to the next of kin, and if he
accepted the money the quarrel was at an end.  When we now speak of
"pocketing an injury," reference is made to this same ancient usage, by
which every offence was estimated at so much money, and if the wronged
man took money for the offence committed against him, he was said _to
pocket it_.  When the earl went into the matter, and heard how Grettir
had been wronged and outraged by Biorn, he gave his decision that
Grettir had not acted contrary to law, and that Biorn had justly
forfeited his life.  Thorfin offered the sum of money which the earl
considered was sufficient to atone to the relations for the death of
Biorn, but Hiarandi refused absolutely to touch it.

Then Thorfin knew that Grettir’s life was in danger, for Hiarandi would
certainly try to take it; so he begged his kinsman Arinbiorn to go about
with Grettir, and keep on the look-out against the mischief that

Now it fell out one day that Grettir and Arinbiorn were walking down a
street in Drontheim when their way led before a narrow lane opening into
it.  They did not see any danger in the way, and were unaware of this
lane.  But just as they had passed it a man jumped out from behind, in
the shadow, swinging an axe, and he struck at Grettir between the
shoulder-blades.  Fortunately, Arinbiorn had looked round at the lane,
and he saw the man leap out, so he suddenly dragged Grettir forward with
such a jerk that Grettir fell on his knee. This saved his life, for the
axe came on his shoulder-blade, made a gash that cut to his armpit, and
then the axe buried itself in the roadway.  Instantly Grettir started to
his feet, turned round, and with his short sword smote in the very nick
of time as the man, who was Hiarandi, was pulling up his axe to cut at
Grettir again.  Grettir’s sword fell on his upper arm near the shoulder,
and cut it off.  Then out rushed some servants of Hiarandi on Arinbiorn
and Grettir, who set their backs against a house-wall and defended
themselves with such valour that they killed or put to flight all who
had assailed them.

Now, this had been a base and cowardly attempt on the life of Grettir,
and Hiarandi richly deserved his fate.  But the earl was exceedingly
angry when he heard the news, and he called a council together. Thorfin
and Grettir attended, and the earl angrily charged Grettir with having
committed great violence, and being the cause of the death of Hiarandi
and some of his servants.

Grettir acknowledged this; but showed his wound, and stated how he had
been attacked from behind; how his life had been saved by the
promptitude of Arinbiorn, and how he had but defended himself against
enemies who sought his life.

"I wish you had been killed," said the earl, "and then there would have
been an end to these disorders."

"You would not have a man not raise his hands to save his head?" said

"I see one thing," exclaimed the earl.  "Ill luck attends you, and you
are doomed to commit violences wherever you are."

The end of it was that Earl Sweyn said he would not have Grettir to live
in Norway any longer, lest he should be the cause of fresh troubles.
But he remained over the third winter, and next spring sailed for
Iceland, the time of his outlawing being ended.

                              *CHAPTER X.*

                         *OF GRETTIR’S RETURN.*

    _Iceland Once More—Life’s Bitter Lessons—Grettir Pays Audun a
    Visit—Some Icelandic Terms—Byres and Sels—A Chief’s Hall—The
    Return of Audun—Grettir’s Second Wrestle with Audun—Bard
    Interposes—The Cousins Reconciled_

When Grettir came back to Biarg, he found his father so old and infirm
as to be no more able to stir abroad, and Atli managed the farm for him
along with Illugi, Grettir’s youngest brother, now grown up to be a big
boy.  Grettir was now aged eighteen, but he looked and was a man.
Illugi was about fifteen, a gentle, pleasant boy.  He and the kindly,
careful Atli were as unlike Grettir as well could be; they avoided
quarrels, they had a civil word for every one, and took pains to make
themselves agreeable, whether to guests in their house, or when staying
anywhere, to their hosts. Grettir never troubled himself to be courteous
or to be obliging to anyone.  Now that he was back from Norway he was
rather disposed to think much of himself as a man more brave and
audacious than his fellows, for, had he not killed twelve rovers, broken
into a barrow, slain a bear, and been the death of one man in a duel,
and another who had attempted to assassinate him?  Atli did not much
like his manner, and cautioned him not to be overbearing whilst at home,
lest he should involve himself in fresh troubles.  But words were wasted
on Grettir.  He was not the fellow to listen to advice, but one of those
men who must learn the bitter lessons of life by personal experience.
It is so with men always.  Some, who are thoughtful, see what God’s law
is which is impressed on all society, and listen to what others have
found out as the lessons taught them by their lives, so they are able to
go out equipped against the trials and difficulties of life.  But others
will neither look nor listen, and such have to go through every sort of
adversity, till they have learned the great truths of social life, and
perhaps they only acquire them when it is too late to put them in

It is with laws and courtesies of life as with the three R’s.  A man
will fare badly who cannot read, write, and cipher.  If he learns these
accomplishments as a child, he does well; he is furnished for the
struggle of life, and starts on the same footing as other men; but if as
a child he is morose and indifferent, and refuses to learn, then all
through his life he is met with difficulties, owing to his ignorance,
and he finds that he must learn to read, write, and do sums; and he has
to acquire these in after years with much less ease than he might have
learnt as a child, and after he has lost many chances of getting on
which might have been seized, had he known these things before.

Grettir’s temper on his return may be judged by one incident that
happened almost directly.  He had not forgotten his struggle on the ice
with his cousin Audun, and he was resolved to have another trial of
strength with him.  So he had not been home many days before he rode
over the hill to Audunstead in his best harness, and with a beautiful
saddle on his horse that had been given him by Thorfin.  The time was
that of hay, and he saw the field round Audun’s farm full of rich grass,
ready to be cut.  He took the bridle off his horse and turned it into
Audun’s meadow.  This was not out of thoughtlessness, but out of
insolence, and was intended to exasperate Audun.  In Iceland grass grows
very little, and only fit to be cut for hay round the farms in what is
called the _tun_, where it is richly dressed with stable-dung.
Consequently hay is very scarce and very precious.  The grass never
grows much longer than one’s fingers, and so even in the tun it is not
plentiful.  He knocked at the door of the farm and asked for his cousin,
and was told that Audun had gone to the highland _sel_ to fetch curds,
and would be back later.  The _sel_ was a farm on the highland, only
occupied in summer, when the cattle were driven to the moors and hills
to feed on the grass there, and to save that in the lowlands against

Here a word or two must be said about Icelandic names of places and
people.  When Iceland was colonized, those who first settled in the land
and built farms, called the places after their own names in a great many
cases; they called them so-and-so’s _stead_, or so-and-so’s _by_ or
farm.  A _by_ is the Scotch byre, and in Icelandic is _bœr_, pronounced
exactly like the Scotch word.  Wherever, in the north and east of
England, Norse settlers came, there we find names of places ending in
the same way, and we know that these were farms and dwellings of old
Norse settlers.  Thus in Northumberland, Yorkshire, and Lincolnshire,
are plenty of Norse place-names. Near Thirsk is Thirkelby or
Thorkel’s-byre, near Ripon is Enderby or Andrew’s-byre.  Not only so,
but where there are high hills there we find also _sels_, that is
summer-farms, like the Alps to which the cattle are driven in
Switzerland.  Next as to the names of people.  What is a little puzzling
to remember is the number of persons whose names begin with Thor.  Thor,
the god of thunder, was regarded with the highest reverence by the
Icelanders; they thought of him even more than they did of Odin, the
chief god of all, who had one eye, and his one fiery eye was the sun.
Thor was called the Redbeard, and the aurora borealis was thought to be
his waving red-beard in the sky.  The thunderbolt they regarded as his
hammer.  To show their respect for him, children were named after him:
Thor-grim means Thor’s wrath; Thor-kel, Thor’s kettle, in which the
sacrificial meat was cooked in offering to Thor; Thor-gil was Thor’s boy
or servant; Thor-hall was Thor’s flint spear-head, and so on.  The
Northumbrian king, St. Osmund, takes his name from the Hand of God, and
the name is the same as Asmund, the father of Grettir.  Oswald means the
elect of the god; in Icelandic the name would be Aswald.

When Grettir found that Audun was from home, he went into the hall and
lay down on the bench nearest the door.  The hall was dark.

The halls of the Icelandic chiefs were like bodies of churches, and were
divided into a nave with side aisles; and were lighted by windows in a
clere-story that were covered with the skin of the lining of a sheep’s
stomach, to let in light and keep out cold, because they had no glass.
In the side aisles were the beds of those who lived in the house, some
with doors and shutters, which could be fastened from within; and a man
in danger of his life would so sleep.  He would go to bed, and then
close himself in and lock the shutters, that no one could get at him
when he was asleep.  The fires and benches and tables were in the nave,
or middle of the great hall.  Over the partitions for the beds were hung
shields and swords and spears, and on grand occasions hangings were put
up all along the sides, hiding the beds and berths in the side aisles.
The arrangement in an Icelandic house at the present day is much the
same, only on a very much reduced scale.  The people live and eat and
sleep in the same room, like the saloon-cabin of a ship, with the berths
round the walls.

Audun arrived in the afternoon with a horse that carried curds in skins
on its back; that is to say, skins were made into bottles, as is still
common in Palestine.  When he saw that a horse with a saddle on it was
wandering about in his meadow, trampling down the grass and eating it,
he was very vexed; and throwing one bottle of curd over his back, and
hanging another in front on his breast to counterbalance it, he ran into
the house to ask who had done this.

The hall was dusky, and Audun’s eyes were accustomed to the bright
summer-light.  As he entered Grettir put out his foot; Audun did not see
it, and stumbled over it, fell on the skin of curds and burst it.  Then
he jumped up, very angry, and asked who had played him this scurvy
trick.  Grettir named himself, and said he had come over about that
matter of the wrestle on the ice.  Audun, still very irate, all at once
stooped, picked up the burst skin, and dashed it in Grettir’s face,
smothering him with curds.  Then he threw down the other curd-bottle,
and began to wrestle with Grettir.  They swung up and down the hall,
kicking over the benches, now upon the floor, then on the stone-paved
fire-hearth in the midst; then they crashed against the walls and
pillars of the bed-chambers, and as they did so the shields and weapons
hung over them clashed like bells.  Some frightened servant-maids came
in, and ran out again in alarm, calling for aid.

Audun felt now that Grettir had outgrown him in strength, but he would
not give in; then they slipped on the curd and both fell, parted for a
moment, rose, and flew at each other once more. Again, up and down,
banging, stumbling, writhing in each other’s arms, twisting legs round
each other, to try to trip each other up, and ever Grettir bearing Audun
backwards, but never wholly mastering him.  Audun could not trust his
cousin, for though they were akin, and though he had not really done him
an injury, there was no telling to what a pitch Grettir’s blood might
mount and blind him; so as they wrestled, Audun took care to twist the
short sword out of Grettir’s belt and throw it away.  As, to do this, he
had to disengage his hand from Grettir’s shoulder, he lost an advantage.
Grettir managed to trip him, and throw him flat on his back.

At that moment, fortunately, a man, big, wearing a red kirtle, and in
full harness, entered the hall and asked what was the meaning of the
noise and fight? As he did not receive an immediate answer, he came to
the rescue of Audun, and drew Grettir from him.

"We are only in play with each other," said Grettir.

"Rather rough play," said the man, "and likely to end in tears rather
than laughter."

"Who are you that interfere?" asked Grettir.

"My name is Bard."

Then Audun scrambled to his feet.

"What is the reason of this rough play?" asked Bard.

Then Grettir answered, by singing:

    "Prithee, Audun, will you say
    How, upon the ice one day,
    You to throttle did essay?
    Now, for that I this have done,
    On Audun honour I have won;
    Curds and wrestle make good fun."

"Oh, I see," said Bard; "fighting out an old grudge.  I have nothing to
say against that.  Now, shake hands, and be loving cousins again."

Audun held out his hand, and Grettir agreed to let the matter end thus.
But he was dissatisfied, and ever after bore Bard a grudge.  However, he
never again wrestled with Audun, and remained on good terms with him.

                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                           *THE HORSE-FIGHT.*

    _Atli’s Roan—The Coming Fight—Unfair Play—Grettir
    Retaliation—Smouldering Fire_

One of the rude and cruel sports that amused the Icelanders in summer
time was horse-fighting. A smooth piece of turf was chosen, and was
staked round.  Into this inclosure two or sometimes more horses were
introduced, and a man attended each, who urged on his own horse, armed
with a goad. By means of these goads the horses were stung to madness,
and attacked each other, biting each other savagely.  Now, Atli had a
beautiful roan, with a black mane, which he and his old father were very
proud of.  Lower down the valley, near the sea, was a farm called Mais,
in which lived a bonder named Kormak, and his brother; they had in their
house a man called Odd the Foundling, a sly, captious fellow, who, like
Grettir, made verses; but his verses were not generally thought to be so
good as those of Grettir.  On the opposite side of the river is a
hot-spring; it is still hot, but not so hot as it was in those days,
when it boiled up and poured forth a cloud of steam, and ran in a
scalding rill down to the river.  There was a convenient level place
near the river for a horse-fight, and it stood above the water on one
side rather steeply, so that it needed only fencing on three sides.
Kormak had a brown horse that fought well, and it was resolved that
autumn to have a fight between the horse of Kormak and the roan of Atli.
Odd was to goad on Kormak’s brown, and Grettir offered himself to his
brother to run with the roan.  Atli did not much like the proposal, as
he feared Grettir’s temper; but he could not well decline his offer, so
he said, "I will consent, brother; only I pray you, be peaceable, for we
have to do with overbearing men, and it will be very unfortunate if a
broil should come of this."

"If they begin, I shall not run away," said Grettir.

"Not if they begin; but be very careful not to provoke a quarrel."

"Quarrels come and are not made," said Grettir.

"That I do not hold," answered Atli.

The day of the horse-fight arrived, and the horses were led to the place
of contest.  They had been fed up and groomed for the occasion, and each
had a band round his middle of colour, by which he who went with the
horse could hold, and the goad of each was tied with a tuft of feathers
at the head, stained the same colour as the belt about the horse.

The two horses were introduced within the inclosure, and were soon
goaded into anger, and began to plunge, and snort, and snap at each
other.  The by-standers outside the railing cheered and shouted, and the
horses seemed to understand that they were to do their best; so they
pranced about each other, struck at each other, and tried to get round
each other so as to bite the flank.  At one moment the roan bit the side
of the brown, and held.  Odd ran his goad into the horse of Grettir to
make it let go;—this was against the rules; he did it to save his own
horse from a terrible wound.  Grettir saw what he did, but he said
nothing.  Now the horses bore towards the river, and were rearing and
plunging close to the edge, and the two men had much ado to hold on.
Then Odd took the opportunity when Grettir’s back was turned to drive at
him with his goad between the shoulders, where was the great scar still
red, and only just fully healed, that he had received from the axe of
Hiarandi.  It was a cruel blow, and this also was against all rule of
fair play.

At that moment the roan reared, and instantly Grettir ran under him, and
struck Odd with such a blow that he reeled back towards the water edge,
and in so doing dragged the brown horse he was holding over the edge,
and both went down into the water together.  The river was very full
with the melted snows, and Odd was brought ashore with difficulty.  It
was found that three of his ribs were broken; but whether with the blow
dealt by Grettir, or by his fall on the rock, or by the hoof of the
horse as it fell and struggled in the river, cannot be said; but the
party of Kormak, of course, charged Grettir with having broken Odd’s
ribs with his stick, and they flew to arms, and threatened the party
from Biarg.  However, the people of the nearest vales and firths
interfered, and no bloodshed ensued.  But the men of Mais and of Biarg
separated bearing each other much ill-will, each charging the other with
having broken the laws of the sport.

Atli did not say what he felt, he was greatly annoyed; but Grettir was
less careful of his words, he said that the matter was by no means
ended, and that he hoped there would be a meeting between the men of
Mais and the men of Biarg, and then—it would not be a fight of horses,
but of men; not a biting of horses, but of sharp blades.

                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                      *OF THE FIGHT AT THE NECK.*

    _The Desolate Moor—Grettir challenges Kormak—Oxmain comes on the
    Scene—Slow-coach taunts Grettir—Grettir’s Vexation_

The next fiord on the west of that into which the river that flowed past
Biarg poured was called the Ramsfirth, and at the head of it lived
Grettir’s married sister.

In the following summer, that is in 1014, Grettir paid his sister a
visit; he had with him two servant-men from Biarg, and he spent three
days and nights at his sister’s.  Whilst there, news reached him that
Kormak, who had been away from Mais for a week or two, was on his road
home, and who was now staying at a house called Tongue.  Grettir at once
made ready to depart, and his brother-in-law sent two men with him, for
it was not safe that Grettir should have only two churls with him, as
there was ill blood between him and Kormak about that affair of the

A high, long shoulder of desolate moor lies between the Ramsfirth and
the Westriver-dale, in which is a confluent of the river that flows past
Biarg.  This shoulder rises to the north into a great hump, called
Burfell, and on the saddle is a little lake.  A very fine view is
obtained from this shoulder of moor over the northern immense bay of
Hunafloi, towards the glaciers and mountains of that curious excrescence
of land that lies on the north-west of Iceland.  I know exactly the road
taken by Grettir on this occasion, for I have ridden over it.  Along the
top of this shoulder the rocks are scraped by glaciers, that must at one
time have occupied the whole centre of the island, and have slowly
slidden down into the firths on all sides.  Here, what is curious is,
that the rocks are furrowed, just as if carved with a graving tool, in
lines from south to north, showing the direction from which the glaciers
slipped down. Now, on the slope of this bit of upland is a great stone
poised on a point, which I have seen.  Grettir came to this stone, and
spent a long time in trying to upset it.  It is called Grettir’s-heave
to this day. The men who were with him rather wondered at him why he
wasted time over this, instead of pushing on.  But his sharp eye had
noticed the party of Kormak leaving Tongue, and he was bent on an
encounter.  He thought that if Odd had seen him going over the hill he
would make a lampoon about him running away from his sister’s house the
moment he heard that danger was threatening.  So he determined to tarry
till Kormak came up and fight him.  He had not long to wait, for
presently over the top of the hill came Kormak with Odd and some others.
Grettir at once rode to meet them, and said, "Now we have our weapons on
both sides, let us fight like men of good birth, and not with sticks as

Then Kormak turned to his men and bade them accept the challenge and

Accordingly they ran at one another and fought. Grettir bade his two
serving-men stand behind his back and defend that, and he, sweeping his
longsword from left to right, went forward against Kormak.  Thus they
fought for a while, and some were wounded on both sides.

Now it so happened that at a rich farm in the Ramsfirth-dale lived a
well-to-do, and very strong man, called Thorbiorn—that is, Thor’s
Bear—nicknamed Oxmain.  He had ridden that day over Burfell-heath, with
a party, and was now returning. As he came along he heard shouts and the
clashing of arms, so he quickened his pace, and presently came in sight
of the fighters.  He at once ordered his men to dash in between the
combatants.  But by this time the passions of those engaged were so
furious that they would not be separated.  Grettir sweeping his
long-sword about him strode forward, and the men of Kormak fell back
before him. Down went two of those who were with Kormak, and one servant
of Atli, Grettir’s brother, was killed.


Then Thorbiorn Oxmain raised his great voice and roared out, that he and
his party would take sides against the first man who dealt another blow.
Grettir saw that it would hardly do if Thorbiorn Oxmain brought all his
force against him, so he gave up the battle; but they did not part till
every one of those engaged was wounded, and two were killed on one side,
and one on the other.  Grettir was ill pleased that the affray had ended
in this manner, and he felt resentment against Oxmain for his
interference.  Unfortunately, Oxmain’s brother, who went by the name of
the Slow-coach, made fun of the matter, and laughed about Grettir
sneaking away from the fight directly he saw that he was getting the
worst of it.  Whatever he said was reported at Biarg, and, as may well
be imagined, did not improve Grettir’s temper, or liking for Oxmain and
Slow-coach.  Nothing further occurred between him and Kormak, probably
he and Kormak were content with the trial of strength that had taken
place, and were disinclined to renew a profitless contest.

Atli took no notice of the loss of his house-churl; he desired peace,
and not a stirring afresh of the fires of discord.  To his peaceable
behaviour it was doubtless due that the quarrel with Kormak came to an
end.  But the vexation felt by Grettir against Oxmain for his
meddlesomeness, and against Slow-coach for his gibes, rankled in his

                            *CHAPTER XIII.*


    _Audun’s Pedigree—His relation to Grettir—Grettir’s-heaves—In
    Willowdale—The Place called Tongue—A very strange Tale_

Grettir remained through the autumn at Biarg, after the skirmish at the
Neck, till September, and then he thought he would ride away east and
see Audun again, with whom he had had that little ruffle that was almost
a quarrel, and which was fortunately interrupted by the entrance of
Bard. Audun was a cousin, though not a near one, and Grettir had no
desire that any bad blood should exist between kinsfolk.  Audun belonged
to what was called the Madpate family; for it had had in it at least two
who had been so odd in their ways that folk said they were not quite
right in their minds. The relationship will easily be understood by a
look at the pedigree.  It will be remembered that old Onund Treefoot,
who had settled in Iceland, had to wife secondly Thordis, an Icelandic
woman, and his son by her was Thorgrim Grizzlepate, and this Thorgrim
bought the estate and house of Biarg about the year 935.  Onund Treefoot
died in or about 920, and then his widow Thordis married again a man
called Audun Skokull, and they had a son who was called Asgeir, who
settled in Willowdale, and either went off his head or proved so queer
in his ways that folks called him Madpate.  This Madpate married and had
a son Audun, and a daughter Thurid who married away west into a very
good family; and she had a son called Thorstein Kuggson, of whom we
shall hear more presently.  Audun of Willowdale’s son was Madpate the
Second, and the lad Audun who wrestled with Grettir and burst the bottle
of curds was the son of this Madpate the Second.  Consequently the
relationship to Grettir was through Grettir’s great-grandmother, and
Audun belonged to a generation younger than that of Grettir, because
Grettir was the son of Asmund’s old age. Moreover, Asmund’s father
Thorgrim had married somewhat late in life, whereas all the Madpate
family had dashed into marriage at a very early age.  Thus it came about
that Grettir’s great-grandmother was Audun’s great-great-grandmother,
and that, nevertheless, Audun was somewhat older than Grettir.

Grettir rode straight up over the hill behind his house.  Now this hill
like the Neck, already described, is rather curious, for on it are a
number of rocks that have been deposited by glaciers, and not only so,
but they have been dragged along by ice, scratching the rocks over which
they were driven forward, and so these beds of rock are rubbed and
scored with lines made by the stones forced over them by ice.  Above
Biarg there is one large stone that has scratched a deep furrow in the
bed of rock and then has stopped at the end of the furrow it had itself
scored.  This remarkable phenomenon tells us of a time when the whole of
the centre of Iceland was covered with glaciers, like the centre of
Greenland now.  These glaciers slided down the slopes of the hills, and
were thrust along to the sea, where they broke off and floated away as

Nowadays folk in Iceland do not understand these odd stones perched in
queer places, which were deposited by the ancient glaciers, and they
call them Grettir-taks or Grettir’s-heaves.  So the farmer at Biarg told
me that the curious stone at the end of the furrow in the bed of rock on
top of the hill was a Grettir-tak; it had been rubbed along the rock and
left where it stands by Grettir.  But I knew better. I knew that it was
put there by an ancient glacier ages before Grettir was born, and before
Iceland was discovered by the Norsemen.  I have no doubt that in
Grettir’s time this stone was said to have been put there by some troll.
Afterwards, when people ceased to believe in trolls, they said it was
put there by Grettir.

Grettir’s ride led him by a pretty little blue lake that lies folded in
between high hills and has a stream flowing from it into a very large
lake near Hop.  But he did not follow the stream down; he crossed
another hill, not very steep and high, and reached his cousin’s house at
Audun stead in Willowdale.  Now this valley took its name from the woods
of willows that grew in it when first settled, but at the present day
none remain; all have in course of time been burnt for fuel, and except
for scanty grass the Willowdale is very dreary-looking.  We may be sure
that Iceland presented a much more smiling and green appearance eight
hundred or a thousand years ago than it does at present.

When Grettir came to Willowdale, Audun received him in a friendly
manner, and Grettir made him a present of a handsome axe he had.  He
remained with him some little while, and they talked over old tales of
Onund Treefoot and his doings, and every shadow of rivalry and anger
disappeared, so that they parted at length in the best of tempers and as
true and affectionate cousins.

Audun would have desired to keep Grettir there longer, but Grettir would
not stay.  He desired to get on to the head of Waterdale, where lived an
uncle of his called Jokull, his mother’s brother, at a place called

So he rode away over the moor, and reached Tongue.  Here a stream comes
rushing through a gorge in a series of waterfalls, and meets another
stream that comes down a valley called the Valley of Shadows further

Tongue is so called because it lies on a grassy slope exactly in the
tongue of land between these two streams.  There is now a good farm
there and a church, and there I stayed a few days.  At the back of
Tongue the hill rises rapidly to a fell called Tongue-heath.  This hill
was covered with snow when Grettir arrived.  This uncle Jokull was glad
to see him.

He was a rough and violent man, very big and strong; and it was clear to
everyone that his nephew took after his mother’s family more than his
father’s, for there was a strong likeness both in build and face and in
character between Jokull and Grettir.

He received Grettir heartily in his rough, blunt way, and bade him stay
there as long as he liked. Jokull had been a seafaring man, and had made
much by his merchant trips.  He would probably have been a richer and
more respected man had he not been so violent and overbearing and ready
to pick quarrels.

Now Grettir had not been at Tongue three days before he heard a very
strange tale.  Jokull’s mouth was full of it, and with good reason, for
the events had taken place not an hour’s ride distant.  It was a tale
about the nearest farm in the Valley of Shadows, a farm called
Thorhall’s-stead, which was reported to be haunted; and so serious had
affairs become there that no servants would remain, and the farmer and
his family had been driven from house and home by the hauntings last
winter, and had come and lodged with Jokull at Tongue, and he had
entertained them for some two or three months.  Now this was not a case
of mere fancy and fantastic fear.  It was something very real and very
marvellous.  But it is a long story, and must be consigned to another

                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                         *THE VALE OF SHADOWS.*

    _A Turning-point in Grettir’s Life—The Farm in the Valley—The
    haunted Sheep-walks—A strange-looking Fellow—"Here is my
    Hand"—Glam keeps Faith—Glam is missing—Following the Red
    Track—The Ghost of Glam—Glam’s Successor—Thorgaut is
    Missing—From Bad to Worse—Fate of the old Serving-man—Thorhall’s
    Perplexity—Grettir offers Aid_

We have come now to an incident which formed a turning-point in
Grettir’s life.  It is a very mysterious and inexplicable story, not one
that can be put aside as we have that of his fight in the tomb with Karr
the Old.  This is a story even more gruesome. It relates to an event
that so shook Grettir’s nerves that he never after could endure to be
alone in the dark, and would risk all kinds of dangers to escape
solitude.  How much of truth lies under this strange narrative we cannot
now say, but that something really did take place is certain from the
effect it had on Grettir ever after.

The richest valley for grass in all this quarter of Iceland, and the
most peopled, is the Waterdale. On the east rises a mountain ridge of
precipitous basaltic cliffs, down which leap waterfalls from the snows
above.  The river that flows through this valley is fed by two main
streams that unite at the farm called Tongue.  The stream on the east
rises a long way inland in a mass of lava, and flows through a valley so
narrow and so gloomy that it goes by the name of the Valley of Shadows.
The high ranges of moor and waste to the south shut off the southern
sun, and the lofty banks of mountain to east and west so close it in
that it gets no sun morning or evening.

A little way up this valley—not far, and not where it is most gloomy—are
now the scanty ruins of a farm called Thorhall’s-stead.  Above this the
valley so contracts and the hills are so steep that it is only with
great difficulty that a horse can be led along. This I know very well;
for in crossing an avalanche slide my horse and I were almost
precipitated into the torrent below.  Further up the valley stands a
tongue of high land with a waterfall on one side and the ravine on the
other, and here at one time some robbers had their fortress who were the
terror of the neighbourhood.  No trace of their fortress remains at
present, but it was to find this place that I explored the valley.

In the farm that is now but a heap of ruins lived a bonder named
Thorhall and his wife.  He was not a man of much consideration in the
district, for he was planted on cold, poor land, and his wealth was but
small.  Moreover, he had no servants; and the reason was that his
sheep-walks were haunted.

Not a herdsman would remain with him.  He offered high wages, he
threatened, he entreated, all in vain.  One shepherd after another left
his service, and things came to such a pass that he determined to have
the advice of the law-man or chief judge at the next annual assize.

He saddled his horses and rode to Thingvalla. Skapti was the name of the
judge then, a man with a long head, and deemed the best of men for
giving counsel.  Thorhall told him his trouble.

"I can help you," said Skapti.  "There is a shepherd who has been with
me, a rude, strange man, but afraid of neither man nor hobgoblin, and
strong as a bull; but he is not very clear in his intellect."

"That does not matter," said Thorhall, "so long as he can mind sheep."

"You may trust him for that," said Skapti.  "He is a Swede, and his name
is Glam."

Towards the end of the assize two gray horses belonging to Thorhall
slipped their hobbles and strayed; so, as he had no serving-man, he went
after them himself, and on his way met a strange-looking fellow, driving
before him an ass laden with faggots.  The man was tall and stalwart;
his face attracted Torhall’s attention, for the eyes were ashen gray and
staring.  The powerful jaw was furnished with white protruding teeth,
and about his low brow hung bunches of coarse wolf-gray hair.

"Pray, what are you called?" asked Thorhall, for he suspected that this
was the man Skapti had spoken about.

"Glam, at your service."

"Do you like your present duties—wood-cutting?" asked the farmer.

"No, I do not.  I am properly a shepherd."

"Then, will you come with me?  Skapti has spoken of you and offered you
to me."

"What are the drawbacks to your service?" asked Glam cautiously.

"None, save that my sheep-walks are haunted."

"Oh! is that all?  Ghosts won’t scare me.  Here is my hand.  I will come
to you before winter."

They separated, and soon after the farmer found his horses; they had got
into a little wood, and were nibbling the willow tops.  He went home,
having thanked Skapti.

Summer passed, then autumn, and nothing further was heard of Glam.  The
winter storms began to bluster up the valley from the cold Polar Sea,
driving the flying snowflakes and heaping them in drifts at every turn
of the vale.  Ice formed in the shallows of the river, and the streams
which in summer trickled down the sides were now turned to icicles. I
was there the very end of June, and then the whole of the mountain flank
to the west was covered with frozen streams spread like a net of icicle
over the black and red striped bare rock.

One gusty night a violent blow at the door startled all in the farm.  In
another moment Glam, tall and wild, stood in the hall glowering out of
his gray staring eyes, his hair matted with frost, his teeth rattling
and snapping with cold, his face blood-red in the glare of the fire that
glowed in the centre of the hall.

He was well received by Thorhall, but the housewife did not like the
man’s looks, and did not welcome him with much heartiness.  Time passed,
and the shepherd was on the moors every day with the flock; his loud and
deep-toned voice was often borne down on the wind as he shouted to the
sheep, driving them to fold.  His presence always produced a chill in
the house, and when he spoke it sent a thrill through the women, who did
not like him.

Christmas-eve was raw and windy; masses of gray vapour rolled up from
the Arctic Ocean, and hung in piles about the mountain tops.  Now and
then a scud of frozen fog, covering bar and beam with feathery
hoar-frost, swept up the glen.  As the day declined snow began to fall
in large flakes.

When the wind lulled there could be heard the shout of Glam high up on
the hillside.  Darkness closed in, and with the darkness the snow fell
thicker. There was a church then at Thorhall’s farm; there is none there
now, since the valley has been abandoned from its cold and ill name.

The lights were kindled in the church, and every snowflake as it sailed
down past the open door burned like a golden feather in the light.

When the service was over, and the farmer and his party returned to the
house, Glam had not come home.  This was strange; as he could not live
abroad in the cold, and the sheep would also require shelter.  Thorhall
was uneasy and proposed a search, but no one would go with him; and no
wonder, it was not a night for a dog to be out in, and the tracks would
all be buried in snow.  So the family sat up all night listening,
trembling and anxious.

Day broke at last faintly in the south over the great white masses of
mountains.  Now a party was formed to search for the missing man.  A
sharp climb brought them to the top of the moor above Tongue.  Here and
there a sheep was found shivering under a rock or half buried in a
snowdrift, but of Glam—not a sign.

Presently the whole party was called together about a spot on the
hilltop where the snow was trampled and kicked about, and it was clear
that some desperate struggle had taken place there. There the snow was
also dabbled with frozen blood. A red track led further up the mountain
side, and the searchers were following it when a boy uttered a shriek of
fear.  In looking behind a rock he had come on the corpse of the
shepherd lying on its back with the arms extended.  The body was taken
up and carried to the edge of the gorge, and was there buried under a
pile of stones, heaped over it to the height of about six feet.  _How_
Glam had died, _by whom_ killed, no one knew, nor could they make a

Two nights after this one of the thralls who had gone for the cows burst
into the hall with a face blank from terror; he staggered to a seat and
fainted.  On recovering his senses, in a broken voice he assured those
who were round him that he had seen Glam walking past him, with huge
strides, as he left the stable door.  The shepherd had turned his head
and looked at him fixedly from his great gray staring eyes.  On the
following day a stable lad was found in a fit under a wall, and he never
after recovered his senses.  It was thought he must have seen something
that had scared him.  Next, some of the women, declared that they had
seen Glam looking in on them through a window of the dairy.  In the dusk
Thorhall himself met the dead man, who stood and glowered at him, but
made no attempt to injure his master, and uttered not a word.  The
haunting did not end thus. Nightly a heavy tread was heard round the
house, and a hand groping along the walls, and sometimes a hand came in
at the windows, a great coarse hand, that in the red light from the fire
seemed as though steeped in blood.

When the spring came round the disturbances lessened, and as the sun
obtained full power, ceased altogether.

During the course of the summer a Norwegian vessel came into the fiord;
Thorhall went on board and found there a man named Thorgaut, who had
come out in search of work.  Thorhall engaged him as a shepherd, but not
without honestly telling him his trouble, and what there was uncanny
about his sheep-walks, and how Glam had fared.  The man did not regard
this, he laughed, and promised to be with Thorhall at the appointed

Accordingly he arrived in autumn, and he soon established himself as a
favourite in the house; he romped with the children, helped his
fellow-servants, and was as much liked as his predecessor had been
detested.  He was such a merry careless fellow that he did not think
anything of the risks that lay before him, and joked about them.

When winter set in strange sights and sounds began to alarm the folk at
the farm, but Thorgaut was not troubled; he slept too soundly at night
to be disturbed by the heavy tread round the house.

On the day before Yule, as was his wont, Thorgaut drove out the sheep to
pasture.  Thorhall was uneasy.  He said to him: "I pray you be careful,
and do not go near the barrow under which Glam was laid."

"Don’t fear for me," laughed Thorgaut, "I shall be back in time for
supper, and shall attend you to church."

Night settled in, but no Thorgaut arrived.  There was little mirth at
table when the supper was brought in.  All were anxious and fearful.

The wind was cold and wetting.  Blocks of ice were driving about in the
bay, grinding against each other, and the sound could be heard far up
the valley.  Aloft, the aurora flames were lighting up the heavens with
an arch of fire.  Again this Christmas night the dwellers in the farm
sat up and did not go to bed, waiting for the return of Thorgaut, but he
did not arrive.

Next morning he was sought, and was found lying dead across the barrow
of Glam, with his spine and one leg and one arm broken.  He was brought
home and laid in the churchyard.

Matters now rapidly became worse.  Outbuildings were broken into of a
night, and their woodwork was rent and shattered; the house door was
violently shaken, and great pieces of it were torn away; the gables of
the house were also pulled furiously to and fro.

Now it fell out that one morning the only man who remained in the
service of the family went out early.  Not another servant dared to
remain in the place, and this man remained because he had been with
Thorhall and with his father, and he could not make up his mind to
desert his master in his need. About an hour after he had gone out
Thorhall’s wife took her milking cans and went to the cow-house that she
might milk the cows, as she had now not a maid in the house, and had to
do everything herself.  On reaching the door of the cow-house she heard
a terrible sound from within, the bellowing of the cattle, and the deep
bell-notes of an unearthly voice.  She was so frightened that she
dropped her pails and ran back to the house and called her husband.
Thorhall was in bed, but he rose instantly, caught up a weapon, and
hastened to the cow-house.

On opening the door he found all the cattle loose and goring each other.
Slung across the stone that separated their stalls was the old
serving-man, perfectly dead, with his back broken.  He had, apparently,
been tossed by the cows, and had fallen on this stone backwards.

Neither Thorhall nor his wife explained his death in this way; they
thought that Glam must have been there, have driven the cattle wild, and
that just as he had broken the back of Thorgaut, so had he now broken
that of the poor old serving-man.

It was impossible for the bonder to remain longer in that place; he and
his wife therefore removed down to Tongue, which lies at the junction of
the two rivers, and there things were quiet.  There he was hospitably
received by Jokull.  Thorhall was able to persuade some of his runaway
servants to come back to him, but no man all that winter would go near
the moor where was the barrow of the shepherd Glam.

Not till the summer returned, and the sun had dispelled the darkness,
did Thorhall venture back to the Vale of Shadows.  In the meanwhile his
daughter’s health had given way under the repeated alarms of the winter;
she became paler every day; with the autumn flowers she faded, and was
laid in the churchyard before the first snowflakes fell.  What was
Thorhall to do through the winter?  He knew that it was not possible for
him to secure servants if he remained on his own farm; besides, he did
not know what loss might come to his stock.  Then, he could not spend
the whole winter at Tongue, for that was another bonder’s house, and
though the farmer there had kindly received him and entertained him for
three months the winter before, he could not ask him to give him
houseroom to himself, his cattle, and servants for a whole long winter.

So he was in the greatest possible perplexity what to do.  Help came to
him from an unexpected quarter.

Grettir had heard the story of the hauntings, and he rode to Thorhall’s
farm and asked if he might be accommodated there for the night.  He said
that it was his great desire to encounter Glam.

Thorhall was surprised, but not exactly pleased, for he thought that the
family at Biarg would attribute the wrong to him were anything to happen
to Grettir.

Grettir put his horse into the stable, and retired for the night to one
of the beds in the hall and slept soundly.

                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                    *HOW GRETTIR FOUGHT WITH GLAM.*

    _Grettir awaits Glam—The Sound of Feet—Glam breaks into the
    Hall—A Strange Figure—Grettir seizes Glam—Grettir’s Last
    Chance—Glam’s Curse—The End of Glam—Was it True?_

Next morning Grettir went with Thorhall to the stable for his horse.
The strong wooden door was shivered and driven in.  They stepped across
it; Grettir called to his horse, but there was no responsive whinny.
Grettir dashed into the stall and found his horse dead; its neck was

"Now," said Thorhall, "I will give you a horse in exchange for that you
have lost.  You had better ride home to Biarg at once."

"Not at all.  My horse has been killed, and I must avenge it."  So
Grettir remained.

Night set in.  Grettir ate a hearty supper, and was right merry.  But
not so Thorhall, who had his misgivings.  At bed-time the latter crept
into a locked bedstead beside the hall; but Grettir said he would not go
into a bed, he would lie by the fire in the hall.  So he wrapped himself
up in a long fur cloak and flung himself on a bench, with his feet
against the posts of the high seat.  The fur cloak was over his head,
and he kept an opening through which he could look out.

There was a fire burning on the hearth, a smouldering heap of glowing
embers, and by the red light Grettir looked up at the rafters of the
blackened roof.  The smoke escaped by a _louvre_ in the middle. The wind
whistled mournfully.  The windows high up were covered with parchment,
and admitted now and then a sickly yellow glare from the full moon,
which, however, shone in through the smoke hole, silvering the rising
smoke.  A dog began to bark, then bay at the moon.  Then the cat, which
had been sitting demurely watching the fire, stood up with raised back
and bristling tail, and darted behind some chests.  The hall-door was in
a sad plight.  It had been so torn by Glam that it had to be patched up
with wattles.  Soothingly the river prattled over its shingly bed as it
swept round the knoll on which stood the farm.  Grettir heard the
breathing of the sleeping women in the adjoining chamber, and the sigh
of the housewife as she turned in her bed.

Then suddenly he heard something that shook all the sleep out of him,
had any been stealing over his eyes.  He heard a heavy tread, beneath
which the snow crackled.  Every footfall went straight to Grettir’s
heart.  A crash on the turf overhead. The strange visitant had scrambled
on the roof, and was walking over that.  The roofs of the houses in
Iceland are of turf.  For a moment the chimney gap was completely
darkened—the monster was looking down it—the flash of the red fire
illumined the horrible face with its lack-lustre eyes.  Then the moon
shone in again, and the heavy tramp of Glam was heard as he walked to
the other end of the hall.  A thud—he had leaped down.

Then Grettir heard his steps passing to the back of the house, then the
snapping of wood showed that Glam was destroying some of the outhouse
doors. Presently the tread was heard again approaching the house, and
this time the main entrance.  Grettir thought he could distinguish a
pair of great hands thrust in over the broken door.  In another moment
he heard a loud snap—a long plank had been torn out of place, and the
light of the moon shone in where the gap had been made.  Then Glam began
to unrip the wattles.

There was a cross-beam to the door, acting as bolt. Against the gray
light Grettir saw a huge black arm thrust in trying to remove the bar.
It was done, and then all the broken door was driven in and went down on
the floor in shivers.  Now Grettir could see a tall dark figure, almost
naked, with wild locks of hair about the head standing in the doorway.
That was but for a minute, and then Glam came in stealthily; he entered
the hall and was illumined by the firelight.  The figure Grettir now saw
was unlike anything he had seen before.  A few rags hung from the
shoulders and waist, the long wolf-gray hair was matted.  The eyes were
staring and strange.  Grettir could hear Thorhall within his locked bed
trembling and breathing fast.

Presently Glam’s eyes rested on the shaggy bundle by the high seat.  He
stepped towards it, and Grettir felt him groping about him.  Then Glam
laid hold of one end of the fur cloak and began to pull at it. The cloak
did not come away.  Another jerk.  Grettir kept his feet firmly pressed
against the posts, so that the fur was not pulled away.  Glam seemed
puzzled; he went to the other end of the bundle and began to pull at
that.  Grettir held to the bench, so that he was not moved himself, but
the fur cloak was torn in half, and the strange visitant staggered back
holding the portion in his hand wonderingly before his eyes.  Before he
could recover from his surprise, Grettir started to his feet, bent his
body, flung his arms round Glam, and driving his head into the breast of
the visitor, tried to bend him backward and so snap his spine.  This was
in vain, the cold hands grasped Grettir’s arms and tore them from their
hold. Grettir clasped them again about his body, and then Glam threw his
also round Grettir, and they began to wrestle.  Grettir saw that Glam
was trying to drag him to the door, and he was sure that if he were got
outside he would be at a disadvantage, and Glam would break his back.
He therefore made a desperate effort not to be drawn forth.  He clung to
benches and posts, but the posts gave way, and the benches were torn
from their places.

At each moment he was being dragged nearer to the door.  Sharply
twisting himself loose, Grettir flung his arms round a beam of the roof,
for the hall was low.  He was dragged off his feet at once. Glam
clenched him about the waist, and tore at him to get him loose.  Every
tendon in Grettir’s breast was strained; still he held on.  The nails of
Glam cut into his side like knives, then his hands gave way.  He could
endure the strain no longer, and Glam drew him towards the doorway, in
so doing trampling over the broken fragments of the door, and the
wattles that lay about.  Grettir knew that the last chance was come for
saving himself.  Here, in the hall, he could hold to posts and beams,
and so make some resistance; but outside he would have nothing to cling
to, and strong though he was, his strength did not equal that of his

Now the door-posts were of stone, and the beam that had served as bolt
went across the door, slid into a hollow on one side cut in the
door-post, and was pulled across and fitted into another hollow in the
other post.  As the wrestlers neared the opening, Grettir planted both
his feet against the stone posts, one against each, and put his arms
round Glam.  He had the enemy now at an advantage; but then, he merely
held him, and could not hold him so for ever.  He called to Thorhall,
but Thorhall was too greatly frightened to leave his place of refuge.

"Now," thought Grettir, "if I can but break his back!" Then drawing Glam
to him by the middle, he put his head beneath the chin of his opponent
and forced back the head.  If he could only drive the head far enough
back he would break his neck.

At that moment one or both of the door-posts gave way; down crashed the
gable-trees, ripping beams and rafters from their places, frozen clods
of turf rattled from the roof and thumped into the snow.

Glam fell on his back outside the door, and Grettir on top of him.  The
moon was, as I said before, at her full; large white clouds chased each
other across the sky.  Grettir’s strength was failing him, his hands
quivered in the snow, and he knew that he could not support himself from
dropping flat on the mysterious and dreadful visitant, eye to eye, lip
to lip.

Then Glam said: "You have done ill matching yourself with me; now know
that never shall you be stronger than you are to-day, and that, to your
dying day, whenever you are in the dark you will see my eyes staring at
you, so that for very horror you will not dare to be alone."

At this moment Grettir saw his short sword in the snow, it had slipped
from his belt as he fell. He put out his hand at once, clutched the
handle, and with a blow cut off Glam’s head, and at once laid it beside
his thigh.

Thorhall came out at this juncture, his face blanched; but when he saw
how the fray had ended, he joyfully assisted Grettir to roll the dead
man to the top of a pile of faggots that had been collected for winter
fuel.  Fire was applied, and soon far down the Waterdale the flames of
the pyre startled folks, and made them wonder what new horror was being
enacted in the Vale of Shadows.

Next day the charred bones were conveyed a long way—some hours’
ride—into the great desert in the interior, and in one of the most
lonely spots there a cairn or pile of stones was heaped over them. I
have seen this mound, which is still pointed out as that under which the
redoubted Glam lies.

And now we may well ask, what truth is there in the story?  That there
is a basis of truth can hardly be denied.  The facts have been
embellished, worked up, but not invented.  The only probable explanation
of the story is this.

As already said, further up the valley, in a spot difficult to be
reached, stood the old fortress of some robbers, with many caves in the
sandstone about it very convenient for shelter.  Now, it is not
improbable that some madman may have taken refuge in this safe retreat,
and may have come out at night in search of food, and carried off the
sheep of Thorhall.  It may be that Glam caught him attempting to steal a
sheep, and fought with him, and was killed, and that in like manner
Thorgaut was killed. Then when people saw a great wild man wandering
about they thought it was Glam, whereas it was the man who had haunted
the region before Glam came there, and had killed Glam.  This is the
simplest and easiest explanation of this wild and fearful tale.

                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                    *HOW GRETTIR SAILED TO NORWAY.*

    _Olaf the Saint—Slowcoach with the Nimble Tongue—Slowcoach
    insults Grettir—Ill Words—Death of Slowcoach—In Search of Luck_

Early in the spring of the year 1015, news reached Iceland of a change
of rulers in Norway.  Olaf Harald’s son, commonly known as Olaf the
Saint, had come to be King of Norway; Earl Sweyn had been defeated in
battle and driven out of the country.  Now Grettir was remotely
connected with the king, that is to say, his father’s grandfather was
brother to the grandfather of Asta, Olaf’s mother.  The cousinship was
somewhat distant; but in those days folk held to their kin more than
they do now.  Grettir thought that a good chance had opened to him for
doing well in Norway, so he resolved to leave Iceland, and enter the
service of his relative, the king.  There was a ship bound for Norway
lying in Eyjafiord, and Grettir engaged a berth in her, and made ready
for the voyage.

Now his father Asmund was very old and feeble, and was well nigh
bedridden.  He had given over the entire management of the farm to his
eldest son Atli, and to young Illugi, who was a few years younger than
Grettir.  Atli was everywhere liked, he was such a prudent, peaceable,
and kindly man.

Grettir’s ill-luck still followed him; for, as it chanced, Thorbiorn,
the Slowcoach, the relation of Thorbiorn Oxmain, had resolved to go to
Norway also, and in the same ship.  Now the Slowcoach may have been
overslow in his movements, but he was overnimble with his tongue, and he
was strongly advised either not to go in the same boat with Grettir, or,
if he did, to mind his words.

Such advice was thrown away on the Slowcoach, who, instead of practising
caution, in order to show himself off, began to brag of his strength,
and to say scurvy things of Grettir, which were duly reported by
tale-bearers to Grettir.  Consequently, when Grettir arrived in the
Eyjafiord with his goods, he was not very amiably disposed towards the
Slowcoach.  However Atli had impressed on him the necessity of
controlling himself, and Grettir was resolved not to quarrel with the
man unless he could not help it.

At the side of the shore, those who were about to sail had run up booths
and cabins for themselves and their stores.  Many of those going in the
boat were chapmen, and they took with them goods with which to traffic
in Norway.

Just as the vessel was ready, and about to sail next day, Slowcoach
arrived, slow as usual, and after every one else was ready, and their
goods on board. As it was the last evening on shore, all the merchants
and seamen were sitting about their booths, when Thorbiorn Slowcoach
arrived, and rode along the lane between the wooden cabins.  The men
shouted to him to know if he had any news to tell them.

Thorbiorn’s eye caught that of Grettir, who was sitting on a bench, and
he answered, "I don’t hear any news, except that the old idiot Asmund of
Biarg is dead."

This was not true; the old man was not dead, but very ill.  Some of
those who heard him said, "That is sad news indeed, for he was a worthy
and honourable old man, and he could ill be spared."

"I don’t know that," said Thorbiorn with a scornful laugh.

"But how did he die?  What did he die of?"

"Die of?" repeated the Slowcoach loud enough to be heard by Grettir.
"Smothered like a dog in the poky little kennel they call their hall at
Biarg.  As for any loss in him, it is news to me that the world is not
well rid of dotards."

"These are ill words," said those who heard him. "No good man will speak
slightingly of old and blameless chiefs.  Besides, such words as these
Grettir will not endure."

"Grettir!" scoffed Thorbiorn.  "Before I face him I must see him use his
weapons better than he did last summer, when engaged with Kormak.  Then
I put my elbow between them, and Grettir was but too ready to accept the
interference.  I never saw a man before so shake in his shoes."

Thereat Grettir stood up, and controlling himself, said, "If I have any
faculty of foresight, Slowcoach, I see that you will not be smothered
with smoke like a dog.  You should have done other than speak foul words
of very aged men.  Gray hairs deserve respect."

"I don’t think more of your foresight than I do of the wisdom of your
old fool of a father," said Thorbiorn.

The end was that they fought.  The insult was too gross to be endured,
and Grettir felt it incumbent on him to strike for his father’s honour.
The fight did not last long; the Slowcoach was slow in his fighting,
slow of hand, only not slow of tongue, and Grettir’s sharp sword wounded
him to death.

Slowcoach was buried in the nearest churchyard; and the chapmen gave
Grettir credit for having restrained himself as long as possible, and
allowed that, according to the ideas of the time, he was justified in
fighting and killing the Slowcoach for his spiteful and strife-provoking
words.  But Grettir was not pleased, he regretted the contest, because
he knew that it left occasion of strife behind, which might occasion
Atli trouble.  Thorbiorn Oxmain would, lie feared, be sure to take up
the quarrel, and then Atli would have to pay a heavy fine in silver to
atone for the death.

The vessel set sail, and reached the south of Norway.  There Grettir
took ship in a trading keel, to go north to Drontheim, because he heard
that the king was there, and his heart beat high with hopes that Olaf
would acknowledge him as a cousin, and would take him into his
body-guard, and treat him with honour; and that so, though he had had
ill-luck in Iceland, good luck might attend him in Norway.

                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

                         *THE HOSTEL BURNING.*

    _Aground in the Fiord—The Light over the Water—Grettir Swims
    Across—The Fight for Fire—The Burned Hostel—At Drontheim_

There lived a man named Thorir at Garth in Iceland who had spent the
summer in Norway when Olaf returned from England, and he had stood in
great favour with the king.  He had two sons, and at this time both were
well-grown men.

Thorir left Norway for Iceland, where he broke up his ship, not
intending again to go a seafaring. But when he heard the tidings that
Olaf was king over the whole of Norway, then he deemed it would be well
for his sons to go there and pay their respects to the king, and remind
him of his old friendship for their father.

On reaching Norway much about the same time as had Grettir, they took a
long rowing-boat, and skirted the coast on their way north to Drontheim.
They preceded Grettir by a few days.  On reaching a fine fiord, in which
there was shelter from the gales that began to bluster violently with
the approach of winter, the sons of Thorir ran in their boat, and as
there was a large wooden hostelry there built for the shelter of
weather-bound travellers, they took refuge in it, and spent their days
in hunting and their nights in revelry.

Now it so fell out that Grettir’s merchant ship came into this same
fiord one evening and ran aground on the opposite shore to that on which
was the hostel.  The night was bitterly cold; storms of snow drove over
the country, whitening the mountains.  The men from the ship were worn
out and numbed with cold, and they had no means of kindling a fire.
Then, all at once, they saw a light spring up on the opposite side of
the firth, twinkling cheerfully between the trees.  This was a sight to
make them more eager for a fire, and they began to wish that some one of
their number would swim across and bring over a light.

"In the good old times there must have been men who would have thought
nothing of swimming across the streak of water at night," said Grettir.

"No comfort to us to know that," said one of the crew.  "It does not
concern us what may have been in the past, we are shivering in the
present.  Why do you not get us fire?"

Grettir hesitated.  The night was very like that on which he had fought
with Glam: the same full moon, with snow-laden clouds rolling over its
face for a while obscuring it, and then the full glare falling over the
face of earth again; and, unaccountably, a sense of doubt and depression
had come over him, as though that evil adversary were now about to
revenge his downfall upon him.  He looked round suddenly, for he thought
that the fearful eyes were staring at him from out of the black shadows
of the fir-wood.

The rest of the crew united in urging him, and at length, reluctantly,
Grettir yielded.  He flung his clothes off, and prepared himself to
swim.  He had on him a fur cape, and a pair of wadmal breeches. He took
up an iron pot, and jumped into the sea and swam safely across.

On reaching the further shore, he shook the water off him, but before
long his trousers froze like boards, and the water formed in icicles
about the cape. Grettir ascended through the pine-wood towards the
light, and on reaching the hostel from which it proceeded, walked in
without speaking to anyone, and striding up to the fire, stooped and
began to scrape the red-hot embers into his iron pot.  The hall was full
of revellers, and these revellers were the sons of Thorir and their
boat’s crew.  They were already more than half intoxicated, and when
they saw a wild-looking man enter the hall, half naked and hung with
icicles, they thought he must be a troll or mountain-spirit.

At once every one caught up the first weapon to hand, and rushed to the
attack.  Grettir defended himself with a fire-brand plucked from the
hearth; the sons of Thorir stumbled over the fire, and the embers were
strewn about over the floor that was covered with fresh straw.

In a few moments the hall was filled with flame and smoke, and Grettir
took advantage of the confusion to effect his escape.  He ran down to
the shore, plunged into the sea and swam across.

He found his companions waiting for him behind a rock, with a pile of
dry wood which they had collected during his absence.  The cinders were
blown upon, and twigs applied, till a blaze was produced, and before
long the whole party sat rubbing their almost frozen hands over a
cheerful fire.

Next morning the merchants recognized the fiord, and, remembering that a
hostel stood on the further side, they crossed the water to see it,
when—what was their dismay to find of it only a heap of smoking embers!
From under some of the charred timber were thrust scorched human limbs.
The chapmen, in alarm and horror, turned upon Grettir and charged him
with having maliciously burned the house with all its inmates.

"See, now," said Grettir, "I had a thought that this expedition would
not bring luck.  I would I had not taken the trouble to get fire for
such a set of thankless churls."

The ship’s crew raked out the embers, pulled aside the smoking rafters,
in their search for the bodies. Some of these were not so disfigured but
that they could recognize them.  Moreover, they knew the ship that lay
at anchor under the lee, hard by, and they saw that Grettir had brought
the sons of Thorir to an untimely end.  The indignation of the merchants
became so vehement, and their fear so great that they might be
implicated in the matter, that they drove Grettir from their company,
and refused to receive him into their vessel for the remainder of their
voyage.  Grettir, in sullen wrath, would say no word of self-defence; he
had to make his way on foot to Drontheim, where he resolved to lay the
whole matter before the king.

The vessel reached Drontheim before him, and the news of the hostel
burning roused universal indignation against Grettir.

                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                         *THE ORDEAL BY FIRE.*

    _Grettir tells his Story—Preparing for the Ordeal—The
    Procession—Attacked by the Mob—The King Intervenes—Wicked or

One day, as King Olaf sat in audience in his great hall, Grettir strode
in, and going before his seat, greeted the king.  Olaf looked at him and

"Are you Grettir the Strong?"

He answered: "That is my name, and I have come hither, kinsman, to get a
fair hearing, and to clear myself of the charge of having burned men
maliciously.  Of that I am guiltless."

King Olaf replied: "I heartily trust that what you say is true, and that
you will be able to rid yourself of a charge so bad."

Grettir replied that he was ready to do whatsoever the king desired, in
order to prove his innocence.

Then said the king to him, "Tell me the whole story, that I may be able
to judge."

Grettir answered by relating the circumstances. He had simply taken fire
from the hearth, when he was fallen upon by those who were drinking, and
who were too tipsy to understand his explanation. He went away with the
red-hot embers, and did not set fire to anything, but the drunken men
kicked the glowing coals about amidst the straw.

The king remained silent some moments, and then he said: "There are no
witnesses either on your behalf or against you.  No man was by who is
not dead. God and his angels alone know whether you speak the truth or
not, therefore I must refer you to the judgment of God."

"What must I do?" asked Grettir.

"You will have to go through the ordeal of fire," said the king.

"What is that?" asked the young man.

"You must lift bars of red-hot iron, and walk with bare feet on
ploughshares heated red in a furnace."

"And what if I am burnt?"

"Then will you be adjudged guilty."

Grettir shrugged his shoulders: "If it must be so, let it be at once;
but whether I be burnt or not, I declare that I am clear of all intent
to hurt those men."

"You cannot undergo the ordeal now," said the king.  "You would be
burned to a certainty.  You must go through preparation first."

"What preparation?"

"A week of fasting and prayer," was the reply.

Then Grettir was taken away and put in ward, and fed with bread and
water for a week, and the bishop visited him and taught him to pray that
if he were innocent, God would reveal his innocence by enabling him to
pass unscathed through the ordeal.

The day came, and Drontheim was thronged with people from all the
country round, to see the Icelander of whom such tales were told.  A
procession was formed; first went the king’s body-guard followed by the
king himself, wearing his crown, then came the bishop, the choir, and
the clergy, and last of all Grettir, his wild red hair flying loose in
the breeze, his arms folded, and his eyes wandering over the sea of
heads that filled the square before the cathedral doors.  The crowd
pressed in closer and closer.  Opinions differed as to whether he were
guilty or not.  Among the mob was a young man of dark complexion, who
made a great noise, shouldering his way to the front, and shouting.

"Look at the fellow!" he exclaimed.  "This is the man who, in cold
blood, burnt down a house over helpless men, and now he is to be given u
chance of escape."

"But he says he is guiltless," argued one in the crowd.

"Guiltless!" exclaimed the youth.  "If one of us had done the deed,
should we have been trifled with?  The king wants him for his
body-guard, because he is so strong."

"He should be given a chance of clearing himself," said one who stood

"Yes—of course—because he is a kinsman of the king.  So the irons have
been painted red, to look as if hot.  I know how the trick is done.  But
he shall not escape me."

Thereupon the young man sprang at Grettir and drove his nails into his
face so that they drew blood; at the same time he poured forth against
him a stream of insulting names.

This was more than the Icelander could bear; he caught the young man, as
a cat catches a mouse, held him aloft, shook him, and then threw him
away, when he fell on the ground and was stunned. It was feared he might
be killed.  This act gave occasion to a general uproar; the mob wanted
to lay hands on Grettir; some threw stones, others assaulted him with
sticks; but he, planting his back against the church wall, turned up his
sleeves, guarded off the blows, shouting to his assailants to come on.
Not a man came within his reach but was sent reeling back or was felled
to the ground. In the meantime the king and the bishop were in the choir
waiting.  The red-hot ploughshares which had been laid on the pavement
were gradually cooling, but no Grettir appeared.


At last the sounds of the uproar reached the king’s ear, and he sent out
to know the occasion. His messenger returned a moment after to report
that the Icelander was fighting the whole town and had knocked down and
well nigh killed several persons.  The king thereupon sprang from his
throne, hastened down the nave, and came out of the great western door
when the conflict was at its height.

"Oh, sire," exclaimed Grettir, "see how I can fight the rascals!" and at
the word he knocked a man over at the king’s feet.

With difficulty the tumult was arrested, and Grettir separated from the
combatants; and then he wanted to go with the king and try the ordeal of

"Not so," answered Olaf, "you have already incurred sin.  It is possible
that some of those you have knocked down may never recover, so that
their blood will lie at your door."

"What is to be done?" asked Grettir.

The king considered.

"I see you are a very wicked or at all events a very unlucky man.  When
you were here before you were the occasion of several deaths.  I do not
desire to keep you in Norway, but as winter has set in you may tarry
here till next spring, and then you shall be outlawed and return to

                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                        *THE WINTER IN NORWAY.*

    _At Einar’s Farm—The Bearsarks—A Visit from Snœkoll—The
    Bearsark’s Demand—Grettir Temporizes—The Bearsark has a
    Fit—Death of Snœkoll—Dromund’s History—Grettir’s Arms—A Pair of

King Olaf had decided that Grettir must leave Norway and return to
Iceland.  If he was not a guilty man he was a most unfortunate one.
Now, the Norse race, whether in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, or Iceland,
believed in luck.  They said that certain men were born to ill-luck, and
such men they avoided, because they feared lest the ill-luck that clung
to them might attach itself to, and involve those who came in contact
with them.

It was not possible for Grettir to return that year to Iceland, for all
the ships bound for his native land had sailed before winter set in, so
King Olaf agreed to allow him to remain in the kingdom through the
winter, but bound him to depart on the first opportunity next year.

Somewhat sad at heart with disappointment, and with the impression that
perhaps Olaf the king was right, and that ill-luck really did weigh on
him, Grettir left the court, and went at Yule to the house of a bonder
or yeoman called Einar, and remained with him awhile.  The farm was in a
lonely place in a fiord opening back to the snowy mountains.  Einar was
a kindly man, hospitable, and he did his best to make Grettir’s stay
with him pleasant.  He had a daughter, a fair, beautiful girl, with blue
eyes, and hair like amber silk, and her name was Gyrid.  Perhaps the
beautiful Gyrid was one attraction to Grettir, but if so he never spoke
what was on his heart, because he knew it would be useless.  He was an
unlucky man; he had made himself a name, indeed, as one of great daring,
but he had won for himself neither home, nor riches, nor favour.

Now it fell out that at this time there were some savage ruffians in the
country who were called Bearsarks.  They were outlaws in most cases, and
they lived in secret dens in the dense forests, whence they issued and
swooped down on the farms, and there challenged the bonders to fight
with them, or to give up to them whatever they needed.  These ruffians
wore bear-skins drawn over their bodies, and they thrust their heads
through the jaws of the beasts, so that they presented a hideous and
frightening appearance.  Then they worked themselves into paroxysms of
rage, when they were like madmen; they rolled their eyes, they roared
and howled like wild beasts, and foam formed on their mouths and dropped
on the ground.  They were wont also, when these fits came on them, to
bite the edges of their shields, and with their fangs they were known to
have dinted the metal quite deep.  Some folks even said they had bitten
pieces out of solid shields. It was usually supposed that these
Bearsarks were possessed by evil spirits, and it is probable that in
many cases they were really mad—mad through having given way to their
violent passions, till they knew no law, and thought to carry everything
before them by their violence.  It was even at one time thought by the
superstitious that they could change their shapes, and run about at will
in the forms of bears or wolves; but this idea grew out of the fact of
their clothing themselves in bear or wolf skins, and drawing the skull
of the beast over their heads as a rude helmet, and looking out through
the open jaws that thus formed a visor.

One day, just after Yule, to the terror and dismay of Einar, one of the
most redoubtable of these Bearsarks, a fellow called Snœkoll, came
thundering up to his door on a huge black horse, followed by three or
four others on foot, all clothed in skins; but Snœkoll, instead of
wearing the bear’s skin over his head, had on a helmet with great tusks
of a boar protruding from it, and a boar’s head drawn over the metal.

It is worth remark that the crests worn later by knights, and which we
have still on our plate and on harness, are derived from similar
adornments to helmets.  Some warriors put wings of eagles on their
head-pieces, others put the paws of bears or representations of lions.
These were badges of their prowess, or marks whereby they might be

Snœkoll struck the door of the farmhouse with his spear, and roared to
the owner to come forth. At once Einar and Grettir issued from the hall,
and Einar in great trepidation asked the Bearsark what he wanted.

"What do I want?" shouted Snœkoll.  "I want one of two things.  Either
that you give me up your beautiful daughter to be my wife, and with her
five-score bags of silver, or else that you fight me here. If you kill
me, then luck is yours.  If I kill you, then I shall carry off your
daughter and all that you possess."

Einar turned to Grettir and asked him in a whisper what he was to do.
He himself was an old man whose fighting days were over, and he had no
chance against this savage.

Grettir answered that he had better consult his honour and the happiness
of Gyrid, and not give way to a bully.  The Bearsark sat on his horse
rolling his eyes from one to another.  He had a great iron-rimmed shield
before him.

Then he bellowed forth: "Come!  I am not going to wait here whilst you
consider matters.  Make your selection of the two alternatives at once.
What is that great lout at your side whispering? Does he want to play a
little game of who is master along with me?"

"For my part," said Grettir, "the farmer and I are about in equal
predicament; he is too old to fight, and I am unskilled in arms."

"I see!  I see!" roared Snœkoll.  "You are both trembling in your shoes.
Wait till my fit is on me, and then you will shake indeed."

"Let us see how you look in your Bearsark fit," said Grettir.

Then Snœkoll waxed wroth, and worked himself up into one of the fits of
madness.  There can be no doubt that in some cases this was all bluster
and sham.  But in many cases these fellows really roused themselves into
perfect frenzies of madness in which they did not know what they did.

Now Snœkoll began to bellow like a bull, and to roll his eyes, and he
put the edge of the great shield in his mouth and bit at it, and blew
foam from his lips that rolled down the face of the shield. Grettir
fixed his eyes steadily on him, and put his hands into his pockets.
Snœkoll rocked himself on his horse, and his companions began also to
bellow, and stir themselves up into madness.  Grettir, with his eye
fixed steadily on the ruffian, drew little by little nearer to him; but
as he had no weapon, and held his hands confined, Snœkoll, if he did
observe him, disregarded him.  When Grettir stood close beside him and
looked up at the red glaring eyes, the foaming lips of Snœkoll, and
heard his howls and the crunching of his great teeth against the strong
oak and iron of the shield, he suddenly laughed, lifted his foot, caught
the bottom of the shield a sudden kick upwards, and the shield with the
violence of the upward shock broke Snœkoll’s jaw.  Instantly the
Bearsark stopped his bellows, let fall the shield, and before he could
draw his sword Grettir caught his helmet by the great boar tusks, gave
them a twist, and rolled Snœkoll down off his horse on the ground, knelt
on him, and with the ruffian’s own sword dealt him his death-blow.

When the others saw the fall of their chief they ceased their antics,
turned and ran away to hide in the woods.

The bonder, Einar, thanked Grettir for his assistance, and the lovely
Gyrid gave him also her grateful acknowledgments and a sweet smile; but
Grettir knew that a portionless unlucky man like himself could not
aspire to her hand, and feeling that he was daily becoming more attached
to her, he deemed it right at once to leave, and he went away to a place
called Tunsberg, where lived his half-brother, Thorstein Dromund.

Now, to understand the relationship of Dromund to Grettir, you must know
that his father, Asmund, had been twice married.  He had been in Norway
when a young man with a merchant ship, and he had also gone with his
wares to England and France, and had gained great wealth; and as he had
many relations in Norway he was well received there in winter, when he
came back from his merchant trips.  On one of these occasions he had met
a damsel called Ranveig, whose father and mother were dead.  She was of
good birth, and was wealthy. Asmund asked for her hand and married her,
and settled on the lands that belonged to her in Norway. They had a son
called Thorstein, who, because he was rather slow of speech and manner,
was nicknamed Dromund; but as we meet with other Thorsteins in this
story, to prevent confusion we will speak of him as Dromund.

After a while Asmund’s wife Ranveig died, and then her relatives
insisted on taking away all her lands and possessions and keeping them
in trust for little Dromund.  Asmund did not care to quarrel with them,
so he left Dromund with his late wife’s relatives and went home to
Iceland, where, after a few years, he married Asdis, and by her became
the father of Atli, Grettir, and Illugi, and of two daughters, one of
whom he named after his first wife.

Dromund grew up in Norway on his estates at Tunsberg, and became a man
of wealth and renown, a quiet man, but one who held his own, and was
generally respected.

Now Grettir went to him, and his half-brother received him very
affectionately, and insisted on his remaining with him all the rest of
the winter till it was time for him to sail to Iceland.

One little incident is mentioned concerning that time that deserves to
be recorded.

Grettir slept in the same apartment as did his brother.

One morning Dromund awoke early, and he saw how that Grettir’s arms were
out of bed, and he wondered at their size.

Presently Grettir awoke, and then Dromund said to him: "Grettir, I have
been amused with looking at your bare arms.  What muscles you have got!
I never saw the like."

"I need strong muscles to do what I have to do."

"True enough, brother," said Dromund.  "But I could wish there were a
little more luck as well as muscle attached to those bones."

"Let me look at your arms," said Grettir.

Then Dromund put his arms out of bed, and when he saw them Grettir burst
out laughing, for they were so thin and scraggy.

"Upon my word, brother, I never saw such a wretched pair of tongs in my
life," he said.

"They may be a pair of tongs, old boy," answered Dromund, "but they are
tongs that shall ever be extended to help you when in need.  And," added
Dromund in a lower tone, "if it should ever befall you that your
ill-luck should overmaster you, and you not die in your bed; then,
Grettir, I promise you, if I am alive, that I shall not let this pair of
tongs rest till, with them, I have avenged you."

No more is related of their talk together.  The spring wore on, and in
summer Grettir took ship.

The brothers parted with much affection, and they never again saw each
other’s face.

                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                       *OF WHAT BEFELL AT BIARG.*

    _Thorbiorn’s Servant—Ali at Biarg—Seeking a Quarrel—A Fair
    Answer—Atli’s Dilemma—Thorbiorn’s Revenge—The Slaying of
    Atli—Atli’s Grave_

Whilst Grettir was in Norway, that ill-luck which pursued him did not
fail to touch and trouble his Icelandic home as well.

It will be remembered that Grettir had been forced to fight the
Slowcoach, and had killed him. Now the cousin of this man was Thorbiorn
Oxmain, who lived in the Ramsfirth.  This Thorbiorn had got a
serving-man named Ali, a somewhat lazy man, strong, but unruly.  As he
did his work badly, and was slow about it, his master rebuked him, and
when rebukes failed, he threatened him.  Threats also proved unavailing,
so Thorbiorn one day took the stick to his back, and beat him till he
danced.  After this Ali would remain no longer in his service; he ran
away, crossed the ridge to the Midfiord, and came to Biarg, where he
presented himself before Atli, who asked him what he wanted.

The fellow said that he was in quest of service.

"But," said Atli, "you are, I understand, one of Thorbiorn’s workmen."

"I was so, but I have left his service because I was badly treated.  He
beat me till I was black and blue; no one can remain with him, he is so
rough with his men, and he exacts of them too much work.  I have come
here because I hear that you treat your servants well."

Atli replied: "I have hands enough, you had better go back to Thorbiorn,
for I do not want you."

"I will never go back to him, that I declare," said the churl.  "If you
turn me away, I have nowhere to which I can go."

So he remained for a few nights at Biarg; and Atli did not like to turn
him out of the house.  Then one day he went to work with Atli’s men, and
worked hard and well, for he was a powerful man. So time passed.  Atli
did not agree to pay him any wage, and he did not send him away.  He did
not feel best pleased at having the man there, but he was too
kind-hearted to drive him away.

Not only did he remain there and work well, but he showed himself ready
to turn his hand to anything, and was the most useful man about the

Now Thorbiorn heard that his churl was at Biarg. The death of Slowcoach
had rankled in his breast. He had felt that it was his duty to take up
the case and demand recompense, yet he had not done so; now he was
angered that Atli had opened his doors to his runaway servant.  He had
covenanted with the man for a year, but the fellow was so disagreeable
that he would have gladly dispensed with his service; but that Atli
should have received him, and that the man should be making himself
useful at Biarg,—that made him very angry indeed.

So he mounted his horse and rode to Biarg, attended by two men, and
called out Atli to talk with him.

Atli came forth and welcomed him.

Then Thorbiorn said: "You are determined to pick up fresh occasion of
quarrel, and stir ill-will between us.  Why have you enticed away my
servant?  You had no right to behave thus to me."

Atli replied quietly: "You are mistaken.  I did not entice him away.
The fellow came to me.  I did not know for certain that he was your
servant, nor did I know for how long he was engaged to you. Show me that
I have done wrong and I will make reparation.  If he is yours, reclaim
him, I will not keep him.  At the same time I do not like to shut him
out of my house."

"I claim the man," said Thorbiorn; "I forbid him to do a stroke of work
here.  I expect him returned to me."

"Nay," said Atli, "take the man, you are welcome to him; but I cannot
bind him hand and foot and convey him to your house.  If you can get him
to go with you, well and good, I will not detain him."

Atli had answered fairly, but this did not satisfy Thorbiorn; he knew
that he could not drag the man back to his farm, nor could he persuade
him to follow, so he rode home in a mighty bad temper, his heart boiling
with anger against Atli.  And now he thought that he would at one and
the same time punish Atli for taking away his servant, and wipe out the
wrong of the slaying of the Slowcoach.

In the evening when the men came in from work, Atli said that Thorbiorn
had been there and had reclaimed his churl, and Atli bade the fellow
depart and go back to his master.

Then the man said: "That’s a true proverb, He who is most praised is
found most faulty at the test. I came to you because I heard so much
good of you, and now that I have toiled for you without wages all the
early summer, as I have worked for none else, you want to kick me out of
doors as winter draws on.  I will not go.  You will have to beat me as
Thorbiorn beat me to make me leave this house, and then, even, I am not
sure but that I shall remain in spite of being beaten."

Atli did not know exactly what to do.  He did not wish to ill-treat the
fellow, and yet without ill-treatment there was no getting rid of him.
So he let him remain on.

One day a warm wet rainy mist covered the land, the hills were enveloped
in cloud; Atli sent out some of his men to mow at a distance where there
was some grass, and others he sent out fishing.  He remained at home
himself with only two or three men.

That day Thorbiorn rode over the ridge that divided the dales, with a
helmet on his head, a sword at his side, and a barbed spear in his hand.
He came to Biarg, and no one noticed his approach. He went to the main
door, and knocked at it.  Then he drew back behind the buildings, so
that no one might see him from the door.  In Iceland the walls of a
house between the gables are buttressed with turf—thick walls or
buttresses that project several feet, and are about six or nine feet
thick.  Such buttresses stood one on each side of the hall door at
Biarg, and behind one of these Thorbiorn concealed himself.

When he had knocked at the door, a woman came to it, unbarred and looked
up and down the terrace or platform on which the house was built, but
saw no one.  Thorbiorn peeped from behind the wall of turf and caught a
glimpse of her, and then backed again into his hiding-place.  The woman
then returned into the house, and told Atli that there was no one

She had hardly spoken before Thorbiorn knocked again.  Then Atli jumped
up and said: "There must be someone there, and I will go and see myself
who it is."

Then he went forth and looked out of the door, but saw no one, as
Thorbiorn had again retreated behind the bank of turf.  The water was
streaming down, so Atli did not go from under cover, but laid a hand on
each of the door-posts, and looked up and down the valley.

Just as he was looking away from where Thorbiorn was concealed, that man
suddenly swung himself round the bank of turf, and with all his might
drove the spear against Atli, using both his hands. The spear entered
him below the ribs, and ran right through him.  Atli uttered no cry, and
fell forward over the threshold.  At that the women rushed forth, and
they took Atli up, but he was dead.

Then Thorbiorn, who had run to his horse, which was tied up behind the
house, rode out on the terrace, and halting before the door proclaimed
that he had done this deed.

Now this was a formality which, according to Icelandic law, made his act
to be not regarded as a murder.  A murder by law was the slaying of a
man by one who concealed his name.

Then Thorbiorn rode home.

The goodwife, Asdis, sent for her men, and Atli’s body was laid out, and
he was buried beside his father, old Asmund, who had died during the
winter. There was a church in those days at Biarg, but there is none
there now.  When I was there I asked of the farmer now living in Biarg
where was the old churchyard, but its site was lost; so I could not tell
where were the graves of Atli the kind-hearted, honourable man, and the
rest of the family.

Great was the lamentation through the district at the death of one so
loved and respected, and hard things were said of Thorbiorn for what he
had done.

                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

                        *THE RETURN OF GRETTIR.*

    _An Old Charge—Trial in Absence—Three Messengers of Ill—Grettir
    and his Mother—Grettir goes to Revenge Atli_

That same summer news reached Iceland of the burning of the hostel by
Grettir.  When Thorir of Garth heard of the death of his sons he was
furious.  He rode to the great annual assize at Thingvalla, with a large
retinue, and charged Grettir with having killed his boys maliciously;
and he demanded that for this offence Grettir should be outlawed.

Then Skapti the judge said: "If things are as reported, then surely
Grettir has committed an evil deed; but we have only heard one side of
the story, and we only know of what has happened at third hand, by
report; there are two ways of telling every story.  Let us wait till
Grettir returns to Iceland. There will be time enough for this action to
be taken.  I will not give my word that Grettir is guilty till we have
heard what he has to say for himself."

But Thorir was such a powerful chieftain that he overbore all
resistance.  It was said that he could not lawfully take action against
a man in his absence; but this was overridden by Thorir, who by packing
the court was able to carry out what he wanted.  Moreover, owing to the
death of Atli there was no one to oppose him vigorously.

He pushed on matters so hard that nought could avail to acquit Grettir,
and he was proclaimed an outlaw throughout the whole of Iceland, and
Thorir also put a price on his head of many ounces of silver, which he
said he would pay to that man who would kill him in Norway or Iceland,
or wherever he might find him.

Towards the close of the summer Grettir arrived in a vessel off the
mouth of the White-river, an exile from Norway.

It was a still summer night when the ship dropped anchor.  A boat came
from the shore, and was rowed to the ship.  Grettir stood watching it
from the bows, leaning on his sword.  As it touched the side of the
ship, he called, "What news do you bring?"

"Are you Grettir, Asmund’s son?" asked a man rising in the boat.

"I am," replied Grettir.

"Then we bear you ill news: your father is dead."

Another man stood up in the boat, and said: "Grettir, he was an old man,
and you can hardly have expected to hear that he was still alive.  But
what I have to say concerns you as closely, and is unexpected.  Your
brother Atli has been slain by Thorbiorn Oxmain."

Then a third man rose and said: "But these tidings concern others first
and you secondly.  What I have to say concerns you mainly.  You have
been made an outlaw throughout the length and breadth of the land, and a
price is set on your head."

It is said that Grettir did not change colour, nor did a muscle in his
whole body quiver; but he lifted up his voice and sang this strain—

    "All at once are showered
    Round me, the Rhymer,
    Tidings sad—my exile,
    Father’s loss and brother’s,
    Branching boughs of battle!
    Many a blue-blade-breaker
    Shall suffer for my sorrow."

The branching bough of battle is a periphrasis for a man, so also is a
blue-blade-breaker; and it is the use of such periphrases that
constituted poetry to Icelandic ideas.  One night Grettir swam ashore.
He thought that his enemies would be awaiting him, and should he venture
to land in a boat would fall on him in overwhelming numbers; so he took
to the water and swam to a point at some distance. Then he took a horse
that he found in a farm near where he came ashore, and he rode across
country to the Middle-firth, and reached home in two days.  He reached
Biarg during the night when all were asleep; so instead of disturbing
the household, he opened a private door, stepped into the hall, stole up
to his mother’s bed, and threw his arms round her neck.

She started up, and asked who was there.  When he told her, she clasped
him to her heart, and laid her head, sobbing, on his breast, saying.
"Oh, my son!  I am bereaved of my children!  Atli, my eldest, has been
foully murdered, and you are outlawed; only Illugi remains."

Grettir remained at home a few days in close concealment.  Even the men
of the farm were not suffered to know that he was there.  He heard the
story of how Thorbiorn Oxmain had basely and in cowardly manner slain
his brother, when Atli was unarmed; and Grettir considered that it was
his duty to avenge his death.

                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                        *THE SLAYING OF OXMAIN.*

    _By the Boiling Spring—Grettir knocks the Nail from his
    Spear—Oxmain places his Son in Ambush—The Fight with
    Oxmain—Grettir’s Spear-head—The Law concerning Manslaying—A
    Rising Black Cloud_

One fine day, soon after his return, Grettir mounted a horse, and
without an attendant rode over the hill to the Ramsfirth, and came down
to Thorod’s-stead.  This is still a good farm, the best on the fiord,
and it is by far the best built pile of buildings thereabouts.  It faces
the south and is banked up with turf to the north, to shelter it against
the cold and furious gales from the Polar Sea.  The soil is
comparatively rich there, and there are tracts of good grass land on the
slope of the hill by the side of the inlet of sea.  The farm buildings
consists at present of a set of wooden gable ends painted red, and the
roofs are all of turf, where the buttercups grow and shine luxuriantly.

Grettir rode up to the farmhouse, about noon, and knocked at the door.
Some women came out and welcomed him; they did not know who he was, or
they would have been more sparing in their welcome.  He asked after
Thorbiorn, and was told that he was gone to the meadow, a little way
further down the firth, where he had gone to bind hay, and that he had
taken with him his son, called Arnor, who was a boy of sixteen.

When Grettir heard this, he said farewell to the women, and turned his
horse’s head to ride down the fiord towards a boiling spring that
bubbles up out of the rock, throwing up a cloud of steam, and running in
a scalding rill into the sea.  Now the rock is perhaps warm there, or
the warm water helps vegetation; certain it is that thereabouts the
grass grows thickly, and there it was that Thorbiorn was making his
bundles of hay.  As Grettir rode along near the water, below the field,
Thorbiorn saw him. He had just made up one bundle of hay, and he was
engaged on another.  He had set his shield and sword against the load,
and his lad Arnor had a hand-axe beside him.

Thorbiorn looked hard at Grettir as he came along, and he said to the
boy: "There is a fellow riding this way.  I wonder who he is, and
whether he wants us. Leave tying up the hay, and let us find out what
his errand is."

Then Grettir leaped off his horse; he had a helmet on his head, and was
girt with the short sword, and he bore a great spear in his hand that
had a long sharp blade but no barbs.  The socket was inlaid with silver,
and a nail went through the socket fastening it on to the staff of the
spear.  He sat down on a stone, and knocked the nail out.  His reason
was that he intended to throw the spear at Thorbiorn, and if he missed
him, he thought the spear-head and the haft would come apart, and would
be of no use to Thorbiorn to fling back at him.

Oxmain said to his son: "I verily believe that is Grettir, Asmund’s son,
he is so big; I know no one else so big.  He has got occasion enough
against us, and if he is come here it is not with peaceable intentions.
Now we must manage cunningly.  I do not know that he has seen you; so
you hide behind the bundle of hay, and lie hid till you see him engaged
with me.  Then you steal up noiselessly behind with your axe, and strike
him one blow with all your might between the shoulder-blades.  When I
see you coming up, I will fight the more furiously so as to draw off his
attention, that he may not be able to look round.  Have no fear, he
cannot hurt you, as his back will be turned to you.  Get close enough to
make sure, and you will kill him with one blow."

Now Grettir came uphill into the field, and when he came within a
spear-throw of them, he cast his spear at Thorbiorn; but the head was
looser on the shaft than he had expected it would be, and it became
detached in its flight, and fell off and dropped into a marshy place and
sank, and the shaft flew on but a little way and then fell harmlessly to
the ground.

Then Thorbiorn took his shield, put it before him, drew his sword and
ran against Grettir and engaged him.  Grettir had, as already said, the
short sword that he had taken out of the barrow, and with that he warded
off the blows of Thorbiorn and smote at him.  Oxmain was a very strong
man, and his shield was covered with well-tanned hide stretched over
oak, and the blade of Grettir fell on it, hacked into it, and sometimes
caught so that he could not at once withdraw it.  Thorbiorn now began to
deal more furious blows.  Now just as Grettir was wrenching his sword
away from the shield, into which it had bitten deep, he saw someone
close behind him with an axe raised.  Instantly he tore out his sword
and smote back over his head to protect his back from his assailant
behind, and the blow came on Arnor just as he was on the point of
driving his axe in between the shoulders of Grettir, so that he
staggered back, mortally wounded.  Thorbiorn, whose eye was on his son,
retreated a step, lost his presence of mind for a moment, and thereupon
down came Grettir’s sword on his shield and split it in half.  Grettir
pursued his advantage, pressed on him, and struck him down at his feet,
dead at a blow.

Then he went in search of his silver-inlaid spear-head, but could not
find it.  So he mounted his horse again, rode on to the nearest
farmhouse, and there told what he had done.  Many, many years after,
about 1250, the spear-head was found in the marsh.  When I was in
Iceland I also obtained a very similar spear-head, only not
silver-inlaid, that was found in the volcanic sand; it had probably been
lost in a very similar manner.

It seems to us in these civilized times very horrible this continual
slaying that took place in Iceland; but we must remember that, as
already said, there were in those days not a single policeman, soldier,
or officer of justice in the island.  When a trial took place, the
prosecutor was the person aggrieved, or the nearest akin.  The court
pronounced sentence, and then the prosecutor was required to carry out
what the law had ordered.  He was to be constable and executioner.  Now
the law, or custom which was the same as law, for there was no written
code, was that when one man had been killed, the next of kin was bound
to prosecute the slayer and obtain from him money compensation, or
outlawry, or else he might kill the slayer himself, or one of his kin.
This latter provision seems to us outrageous, that because A kills B,
therefore that C, who is B’s brother, may kill D, who is brother to A.
But so the law or custom stood and was recognized as binding, and not to
carry out the law or custom was regarded as dishonourable.  It must be
remembered that Iceland was colonized about A.D. 900, and that Grettir
was born only about 97 years after, and that Christianity was adopted in
1000; that is to say, it was sanctioned by law, but no one was forced to
become a Christian unless he liked.  Also, that there was no government
in the island, no central authority, and that the colonists lived much
as do the first settlers now in a new colony which is not under the
crown, or like the diggers at the gold mines.

When Grettir had slain Thorbiorn Oxmain, he went home to Biarg and told
his mother, who said it was well that Atli’s blood was wiped out by the
death of the man who had so basely and in such cowardly fashion slain
him; but she said she foresaw more trouble coming like a rising black
cloud, and that this would make it more difficult for Grettir to get
relief from his outlawry.

                            *CHAPTER XXIII.*

                             *AT LEARWOOD.*

    _At Hvamsfiord—Iceland Scenery—An Iceland Paradise—One Lucky
    Chance—Kuggson’s Story—Onund’s Voyage—In Search of Uninhabited
    Land—The Landing—Eric’s Gift—A Cold Back!—Better than Nothing—An
    Oversight—Death of Onund—Planning a Murder—Killing the Curd
    Bottle—The Churl’s Axe—The Red Stream—Hard Times—The
    "Wooden-tub"—The Stranded Whale—The Fight over the Whale—Retreat
    of the Coldbackers—Before the Assize—The Judgment—An Evil
    Act—Ill-luck follows Ill_

After the slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain, Grettir would not remain at home,
lest trouble should come on his mother; so he rode across the Neck first
of all to his brother-in-law, at Melar, at the head of the Ramsfirth, to
ask his advice.  His brother-in-law there was called Gamli; he was not
very rich or powerful, and he represented to Grettir that it would never
do for him to remain in such near proximity to Thorod’s-stead, in the
same valley, at the head of the same firth.  This Grettir acknowledged,
so he stayed there but a few days, and then rode over the high
table-land to the Lax, or Salmon-dale, where was the watershed, and the
river of the salmon ran west into Hvamsfiord.  One of the most
interesting and best written of the Icelandic sagas relates to the
history of this valley.  The Hvamsfiord is by nature wonderfully
protected against western storms, for the entrance is almost blocked to
the west by a countless multitude of islands, of which only one is
moderately large, and to the north-west is not only a grassy promontory,
but also a natural breakwater of three long narrow islands.

Outside the cluster of islands are eddies and whirlpools, and the
passage between them is not always safe; but when a vessel has passed
through between the islets it enters as into a wide beautiful inland
lake, the shape of which is that of a boot, with the sole to the east
and the toe turned up north.  Moreover, along the north side of this
sheltered firth are high and steep hills that screen from the water all
gales sweeping from the Pole; and in the glens and under the crags of
these hills exposed to the south are beautiful woods of birch.

Formerly in Iceland the woods were much more extensive than they are
now; for the old settlers found in them plenty of fuel, and the
birch-trees grew to a fair size.  Now, alas, with fatal want of
consideration, the trees have been so cut down that the woods are rare
and the trees are small.  There is hardly a birch-tree whose top one
cannot touch when riding through a wood on a little pony no bigger than
a Shetlander.

Exactly at the toe of the boot is a rich grassy basin, where two streams
flow into the fiord, and here is a beautiful view from the water.  One
sees in front the green basin, and above it rise the mountains to
Skeggoxl, a cone covered with eternal snows and with glaciers streaming
down its flanks.  Here, in a sweet sheltered nook, basking in the sun,
in spring with the river-side and the marshes blazing with immense
marigolds, and with the short grass slopes speckled with blue tiny
gentianella, is the farm, and near it the wooden church of Hvam.  In
another part of the basin is a settlement called Asgard, the "Home of
the gods;" for those who settled there first thought the spot so
delightful, so warm, that they named it after the sunny land of fable,
where it was said that their ancestors, the hero-gods of the northern
race, had lived in the east before ever they crossed Russia and settled
in Norway.  Asgard to their minds was Paradise.

Paradise in Iceland is not a paradise elsewhere; nevertheless, to one
who has travelled over barren hills and between glaciers, this warm nook
with its green grass and woods of glistening birch was a place of
inexpressible charm.  Now, just to the east, where would come the ball
of the toe, looking across the end of this still blue lake-like fiord,
up the valleys to the snows of Skeggoxl, is the farm of Learwood, in a
grassy flat by the water, backed by birchwood and hills, and screened
from the east as well as from the north winds.  Here lived Thorstein
Kuggson. Kuggson’s mother was the daughter of Asgeir, the father of
Audun of Willowdale, with whom Grettir had a tussle on the ice, and whom
he afterwards upset with his foot when he was carrying curds. Kuggson
through his father was related to the influential and wealthy family in
the Laxdale, whose history is well known through the noble saga that
relates the story of that valley.

Grettir spent the autumn with his relative Kuggson.  Now, whilst he was
there he fell to talking one day with Kuggson about his trial of
strength with Audun, and Grettir said how glad he was that nothing had
come of it.  It was said that he was a man of ill-luck; yet luck had
befriended him on that occasion in sending Bard to interrupt the
struggle before both lost their tempers and the quarrel became serious.

Then said Kuggson: "You remind me of the story of Bottle-back, which, of
course, you know."

"It is many years since I have heard the tale," answered Grettir; "for,
indeed, I can be little at home now, and am out of the way of hearing
stories of one’s forefathers.  Tell me the tale."

Then Kuggson told Grettir

                       *The Story of Bottle-Back*

"You know very surely, Grettir, that your great-grandfather was Onund
Treefoot.  He was so called because in the great battle of Haf’s fiord,
fought against King Harald, he had one of his legs cut off below the
knee.  You have been told how that Onund had first to wife Asa, and that
he settled at Cold-back; and he had by his first wife two sons, Thorgeir
and Ufeig, who was also called Grettir, and it is after him that you are
named.  Onund’s second wife was the mother of Thorgrim Grizzlepate, your

"The story I am going to tell you relates to Thorgeir, the eldest son of
Onund, and how he got the name of Bottle-back.  You might think he
acquired the designation from a rounded back.  It was not so, he had a
back as straight as yours.

"But to understand the story of how he got the name, I must go back to
the time when Onund, your great-grandfather, came to Iceland.  That was
in the year of Christ 900; he was unable to remain any longer in Norway,
because the king, Harald, was in such enmity with him.  So he resolved
that he would come to Iceland and seek there a new home. Now this was
somewhat late, for the colonization of this island had begun some five
or six and twenty years before, and there had come out great numbers of
Norwegian chiefs, who fled from the rapacity and the vengeance of King
Harald Fairhair, who outlawed every man who took up arms against him."

But the story shall be told not in Kuggson’s words, but in mine.

Onund sailed to Iceland from Norway in the summer of A.D. 900, and he
had a hard voyage and baffling winds from the south that drove him far
away to the north into the Polar Sea, till he came near the pack-ice;
and then there came a change, and he made south, and after much beating
about, for he had lost his reckoning, he made land, and found that he
had come upon the north coast of Iceland, and those who knew the looks
of the land said he was off the Strand Bay.  To the west rose the rocks
and glaciers of the Drang Jokull, and to the east the long promontory
that separated the Hunafloi from Skagafiord.

Presently a ten-oared boat put off from shore, rowed by six men, and
approached Onund’s vessel, and the men in the boat hailed the vessel and
asked whose it was.  Onund gave his name and inquired to whom the men
belonged.  They said they were servant men belonging to a farm at
Drangar, just under the mighty field of glacier of Drang Jokull. Onund
asked if all the land was taken up by settlers, and the men answered
that along the north coast all such land as was worth anything was taken
already, and that most was also settled to the south.

Then Onund consulted with his shipmates what was to be done, whether
coast along the north protuberance of Iceland in search of uninhabited
land, or go into the great bay and see whether any chance opened for
them there.  They had arrived so late in Iceland after the main rush of
settlers that they could not expect to get any really favourable
quarters. The men advised against exploring the north, exposed to the
cold gales from the Polar Sea, where the fiords would be blocked with
ice half the year; and thought there would be no harm trying what they
could find further south.

So Onund turned his vessel in towards the head of the splendid bay
Hunafloi; but seeing a creek that seemed fairly sheltered, having on the
north some quaint spikes of rock, and a great mountain to the south like
a horn, and finding that this fiord gave a turn northwards under the
shelter of the mountains, the men with Onund’s consent ran in there, and
having anchored the vessel, entered a boat and rowed ashore.  On
reaching the strand they were met by men who asked them who they were
and what they did there.  Onund said he had come with peaceable
intentions, and then he was told that all that fiord was occupied, and
that the owner of the land was Eric Trap, a wealthy man.  Eric came to
the beach and hospitably invited Onund and his ship’s crew to his house.
There Onund told him his difficulty.  He had come to Iceland too late,
and he feared that he would be able nowhere to find unclaimed lands.

Eric considered a while, and then said there was more land that he had
claimed than he could well keep in hand, and that he would be pleased to
accommodate a man of such noble family and character as was Onund.
Onund pressed him to receive payment for the land, but this Eric
generously refused. When he had come there, said Eric, the country had
been unpeopled, and he had just claimed what he liked, and had claimed
more than he wanted.  Now he desired to have neighbours, and if Onund
would be friendly none would be better pleased than himself to have him

This gratifying offer satisfied Onund, but, as the saying is, ’Don’t
look a gift-horse in the mouth,’ he did not at once close with the
offer, but asked to be allowed to see the land Eric was so ready to part

Accordingly he rode with Eric along the coast, passed the headland where
was the horn-shaped mountain, and came upon a fiord where some boiling
springs poured up in the sea out of its depths; the mountains on the
north came down so abruptly to the water’s edge that the only habitable
ground lay at the head of the firth and on the south side, having a
northern aspect.  Moreover there was a lofty range to the south, so that
in winter the sun would never light up this firth.  Onund did not much
like it, he thought that Eric had offered him the place because he did
not care for it himself; so he went across the mountain range and down
into the little bay south of it.  As they rode it was over snow, a long
descent of wintry mountain, till they reached a valley in which was a
hot spring, a little lake, and some grass.  The situation was somewhat
more inviting than that Onund had already seen, but it was not very
attractive, and looking back on the long dreary slope of snow he said,
"A cold back! a cold back! I would like to have had one warmer."  "That
is not easily acquired," answered Eric.  "Further south there is no
fiord for many miles till you come to one occupied by a man called
Biarni.  That I can tell you is a fertile settlement, there are woods
and pastures, and hot springs and good anchorage; but that is not my
land to give you."

Then Onund sang a stave:

    "All across life’s strands do run,
    I who many war-wagers won,
    Meadows green and pastures fair
    Once were mine, and woods to spare.
    Left behind, I rid the steed
    That o’er wave, with wind doth speed.[#]
    Cold—cold, icy back behind,
    This is what alone I find,
    Hard the lot that fate doth yield
    To the bearer of the shield."

[#] _i.e._ a ship.

Eric answered, "Many men have lost everything in Norway, and have got
nothing in exchange. Cold may be the back against which to lean; but
better cold back than none at all."

This was true.  Onund had not received Eric’s offer graciously; but he
now accepted it, and he called the second bay he saw—that into which he
had descended over snow—Coldback, and that remains the name to this day.

Eric behaved very nobly; he gave up to Onund the whole tract of land
from the Horn-headland to the limit where Biarni’s land began.  He
received the whole of Reykjafiord, Fishless Creek, and Coldback Bay.

Then Onund built himself a house at Coldback; and there was no
difficulty about wood, for the Gulfstream flowed up past the great
north-west promontory of Iceland, curled round into Hunafloi, and
deposited a quantity of American timber as drift all along that coast.
Indeed, the drift was so abundant that neither Eric nor Onund made any
agreement about it.  Now, as it happened in the sequel, this was an

Onund prospered at Coldback, and even set up for himself a second farm
at the head of the firth to the north, called Reykja-firth, from the
boiling springs that puffed and bubbled up in the sea at the entrance;
and a hot spring is in Icelandic—Reykr.

Now, a few years after Onund had settled in Iceland, his good wife Asa
died.  He had by her two sons—the elder was called Thorgeir, and the
younger Ufeig Grettir.  After a while Onund went courting a woman called
Thordis, in Middle-firth, and he married her, and by her had a son
called Thorgrim; he grew to be a big man, very strong, wise, and a
capital man at husbandry.  When he was twenty-five years old his hair
grew gray, and so he went by the name of Thorgrim Grizzle-pate, and he
was the grandfather of Grettir.  After the death of Onund, his widow
married, as already said, Audun of Willowdale, and their son was Asgeir,
the father of Grettir’s cousin Audun, with whom he had that affray on
the ice, and then with the bottle of curds.

When Onund was a very old man, then he died in his bed, and he was
buried under a great mound, which you may see at Coldback if you go
there.  It is called Old Treefoot’s cairn.  When he was dead, then
Thorgrim Grizzlepate and his half-brothers, Thorgeir and Ufeig Grettir,
lived together on the best of terms at Coldback, and managed the
property between them.

In time Eric Trap of Arness died also, and left his lands to his son
Flossi.  He had remained in friendship with Onund all his life; but
Flossi, his son, was a grasping man, and he was often heard to grumble
about the Coldback family, and say that they were squatters on his
father’s land, and had no title to show for the land they held.
Thorgrim Grizzlepate and his half-brothers did not wish to quarrel with
Flossi, so they kept out of his company; and when there were sports of
hurling, and wrestling, and horse-fighting, strayed away, so as not to
be involved in a quarrel with him.

Now, Thorgeir was the eldest of the three brothers at Coldback, and he
was mightily fond of fishing.  This was known to Flossi, and he made a
plot for slaying him; for he was envious of the brothers, and wanted to
get back all their lands into his own possession.  He had got a
house-churl called Finn, and he and Finn had some talk together. The end
of this talk was that Finn started secretly for Coldback armed with a
hatchet, and he hid himself in the boat-house at Coldback.

Early in the morning Thorgeir got ready to go out fishing, for the
weather was good, the sea calm and was alive with fish.  His nets were
in the boat, and before sunrise he left his bed and dressed, and went to
the boat-house to start on his excursion. He had not the smallest
suspicion of mischief, and as he was like to be on the water for a long
time, he flung a great leather bottle of curds over his back. As already
said, these leather bottles were no other than the hides of goats or
sheep, sewn up and converted into receptacles for liquid.

So Thorgeir went to the boat-house with the bottle of curd over his
back, opened the door, and went in.  He did not look round, he had no
suspicion of evil, and he did not see Finn lurking in the dark corner.
It was, moreover, very dark in the boat-house.  Thorgeir stooped to get
hold of the boat and thrust her out, when all at once out from the dark
corner leaped the churl, and brought the axe down on Thorgeir’s back.
The blow made the bottle squeak, and all the curds gushed out.  That was
enough for Finn.  He made sure he had killed Thorgeir, so he ran away as
fast as he could back to Arness, burst into the house, and shouted to
his master "I have killed him!  I have killed him!  And he squeaked!  he

"Let me look at the axe," said Flossi.  Then, when he had the axe in his
hand he turned it about and laughed, and said, "Verily, I did not think
that Thorgeir had milk in his veins instead of blood. That accounts for
it, that you have been able to slay him."

This affair was a subject of much comment, and much laughter did it
provoke.  Thorgeir had not received the smallest wound, only his bottle
was split, and ever after he went by the name of Bottle-back.

But a song was made about this event which was never forgotten.  It runs

      "Of the days of old
      Great tales are told
    How heroes went forth to fight,
      Their shields, for show
      Were whitened as snow,
    And their weapons were burnished bright
      The battle began,
      In the weapon-clang,
    The red blood flowed apace
      In rivers shed
      It dyed red
    The shields o’er all their face.
      But nowaday
      We tune our lay
    To tell a different story.
      The churls who fight
      Bring axes white,
    With curds and whey made gory."

When Kuggson ceased, Grettir laughed heartily. "Ah!" said he, "that
cannot be said now, for indeed there flows much blood."

"You speak the truth," answered Kuggson; "and I wish that this red
stream flowed less abundantly."

"That may be," said Grettir; "but I would fain hear the rest of the
story.  I have not heard it told me for a long time; and, indeed, to
speak the truth, much of it I have clean forgotten, though I did hear it
when I was a boy at home."

"If you will hear what follows, it must be as a new story," said
Kuggson.  Again I will tell it in my own words.

                   *The Story of the Stranded Whale*

Hard times came to Iceland, such as had not been known since it was
settled, for the timber that had been thrown up by the sea came to an
end, or very nearly so.  There had been great accumulations, and these
were exhausted, and for some reason or other that cannot now be
explained the Gulf-stream ceased to carry on its current the amount of
timber it had formerly, the wreckage of the forests on the Mississippi,
swept down into the great Mexican Gulf, and thence washed out over the
vast Atlantic, borne on the warm stream to the north, to give fuel to
those lands which were by nature unprovided with trees.  At this time
the axe was laid against the largest and finest birch that grew in the
forests in Iceland.  But none of that timber was big and good enough for
building purposes.

This deficiency in drift-wood continued for many seasons, and if men
required building timber they were constrained to send to Norway for it.
Now, it happened that about this time a great merchant vessel was
wrecked in the fiord in the lap of which was Arness, where lived Flossi,
and he took four or five of the chapmen to his house, and lodged them
there well and hospitably, and the other wrecked men were quartered in
other farmhouses near.  All winter the men were engaged in building a
new ship out of the wreck and what other timber they could get; but they
were not skilful over their work, and they built a badly-proportioned
vessel, over small at the stem and stern and over big amidships; and
this vessel was much laughed at, and men called it the Wooden-tub, and
that bay where Flossi lived was ever after called Wooden-tub Bay,
because this broad-beamed, comical vessel was built there.[#]

[#] It is still so called, Trèkyllis-víc.

Now, it fell out that at the spring equinox there was a great storm from
the north, and it lasted a week.  The waves came in huge rollers against
the cliffs, and spouted like geysers into the air, and all the air was
in a haze with spray, and was full of the noise of the sea.  Those who
lived on the coast were not sorry for the storm, because they hoped it
would blow in drift-wood and other spoils of the deep upon the shores;
and sure enough, when it abated, a man who lived out on Reykja-ness came
and told Flossi that there was a great whale washed ashore there. Then
Flossi sent word to all the farms round to the north.  But hard-by where
the whale had come ashore lived a farmer named Einar, who was a tenant
under the brothers at Coldback, so he took a boat and rowed off to
Coldback, and told them about the monster that was stranded.

When Thorgrim and his brothers Thorgeir and Ufeig heard this, they got
ready at once, and were twelve in a ten-oared boat, with axes and knives
for cutting up the whale.  Another boat put off from another of their
farms, with six men in it, and others were sure to come as soon as they
could get ready.

In the meantime, Flossi and all his company, his kindred, servants, and
tenants, had hurried to the spot, and were already engaged in cutting up
the whale, when round the ness came the boat of the brothers.  Now, the
shore where the whale was cast up belonged to the brothers, and they
called out to Flossi to assert their right to whatever was found on the
strand.  Flossi answered that if they had any right to the drift they
must show their claim. They had, he said, been allowed by his father to
squat on his land, but his father had never given over to them all his
rights, certainly not the lordship over the strand, and claim to flotsam
and jetsam. Whilst the dispute continued, up came other boats of the
Coldback party, and then a long boat, that contained a fellow called
Swan, who lived in Biornfiord, to the south of Coldback, a very warm
friend of the brothers, and a plucky, resolute man.

Thorgrim was hesitating what to do, when Swan told him it would be mean
to allow himself to be robbed.  Moreover, this assault on his rights, if
not resisted would establish a precedent, and Flossi would claim
everything found on their strand, even at their very doors.

So a fight began.  The Coldback men came ashore, and Thorgeir
Bottle-back mounted the carcase of the whale, to drive off the servants
of Flossi. Among these was Finn; he was near the head of the whale, and
stood in a foothold he had cut for himself.  Then Thorgeir Bottle-back
said, "Ah!  I owe you a stroke of the axe, which has not been repaid as
yet," and he smote at him, and felled him.

Flossi egged on his men, and a desperate fight ensued; some fought on
the body of the whale, some about it.  There were hardly any present who
had other weapons save choppers and axes, and they hewed at each other
with these.  But some had no other weapons than the ribs of the whale,
and it is even said that some of the churls flourished great strips of
blubber, with which they banged each other about, nearly smothering each
other in oil, but not doing much harm.

The battle was going ill with Flossi, when there arrived a contingent of
men from Drangar, with many boats, and gave help to Flossi, and then
those of Coldback were borne back overpowered; but they did not retreat
till they had loaded their boats. Swan shouted to the Coldbackers to get
on board as quickly as they could, for he saw more men coming against
them from the north.  Flossi received a wound, but Ufeig, one of the
three brothers, was dealt his death-wound before he could get into the
boat, and he fell on the strand.  Thorgeir Bottle-back at once leaped
out of the vessel, ran to his brother, heaved him up in his arms and
plunged back through the surf with him, and lifted him into the boat,
where he died.  It is told that in this battle one man was beaten to
death by the rib of a whale, and that was one of the chapmen of the
wrecked vessel.

After this, the matter was brought before the assize, for the question
of the right to the shore had to be decided one way or the other.  And
it was decided in this manner: Flossi was condemned to outlawry for his
high-handed proceeding, and because of the death of Ufeig Grettir; but
the question of the rights was thus settled by the judge, Thorkel Moon.
He said, "I cannot see that the claim made by the Coldback men is
established, for no money passed between Onund and Eric.  I know this
about the land that was possessed by my grandfather Ingolf, and which is
now my own.  He received it from Steinver the Old; but then he gave her
a mottled cloak, and that was a pledge of sale; and this has never been
contested.  In the matter of the lands inhabited by the Coldback men, as
far as I can learn, not even a straw was given in exchange.  However, it
is proved that they have held the land, and have taken the drift for a
long time; and that the original owner, Eric, did not dispute their
doing so.  I therefore decide that a compromise shall hold good.  The
Coldback brothers must surrender all the Reykja-firth, and content
themselves with the land south of that.  And I also decide that they
shall exercise full and undisputed rights to the land, to all that grows
on it, to the sea and what it throws up, along that bit of strand that
remains to them."

Now when Kuggson had finished this story, then Grettir said, "You have
not told how my grandfather and great-uncle parted."

"No," said Kuggson.  "There is not much to tell about that.  The two
brothers agreed to separate, as your grandfather wanted to marry in the
Middlefirth. Bottle-back remained at Coldback."

"Now that you have spoken so much about Coldback," said Grettir, "I will
tell you something, though it is to my discredit."

"Say on," answered Kuggson.  "Men are generally more ready to boast than
to discredit themselves."

"When I was a little boy," said Grettir, "my father suffered from a cold
back and great pains in it, in winter, and he only got ease when it was
rubbed with a hot flannel.  I was a bad, idle boy, and I was set in
winter to rub his cold back.  This I resented.  I thought it was a work
fit only for servants, and one day when my father had made me rub his
old back till I was tired, then he said to me, ’You are growing slack;
rub harder, that I may feel your hand.’  ’Do you so want to feel my
hand, father,’ I said.  Then I saw a wool-comb hard by that the women
had used for carding wool, and I caught it and rubbed down my father’s
back with that—so that he shrieked with pain, and I made the blood flow.
It was a wicked act.  I think of it now the old man is dead, and I am

"Yes," said Kuggson, "it was an evil act.  Men say that you are an
unlucky man.  Now, I do not wonder at your ill-luck, for none ever
raised his hand against his father but there followed him ill in
consequence of so doing all his days."

                            *CHAPTER XXIV.*

                         *THE FOSTER-BROTHERS.*

    _Grettir’s Promise—The Yule Ox—Holding the Boat—A Hard
    Pull—Grettir and the Ox—Thorgeir’s Hatred—The Concealed Axe—Evil
    Sport—An Iceland Moor_

Now, the kinsmen of Oxmain heard where Grettir was, so they resolved to
form a party, and fall upon him at Learwood.  But Grettir’s
brother-in-law was aware of this and forewarned Grettir, so he went away
to the north, and he followed Gilsfiord till he reached Reyk-knolls,
where was a pleasant farm near the sea, where also were a great number
of ever-boiling springs, that poured and squirted and fizzed out of
mounds of red-clay.  Here lived a man called Thorgils Arison, and he
asked this man if he would give him shelter through the winter.

Arison said that he would.  "But," said he, "there is only plain fare in
my house."

"I am not choice as to my food, so long as I have a roof over my head,"
answered Grettir.

"There is one matter further," said Arison. "Somehow or other I get men
come to me and offer to become my guests who cannot settle elsewhere,
and I get a rough lot at times.  That comes of being too good-hearted to
bid them pack.  Even now I have two such good-for-naughts guesting with
me, two foster-brothers, Thorgeir and Thormod; rough, unkempt men, of
bad tempers both, and I wot not how you will agree together.  You may
come and put your head within my doors if you will, but on one
condition, that there be no fighting and knocking about of my other

Grettir answered that he would not be the first to raise strife, and
that if the foster-brothers provoked him beyond endurance he would go
elsewhere, and not give his host annoyance by a brawl in his house.

With this promise Arison was content.

Thorgils Arison was a firm man, and he told the foster-brothers that he
would have no disturbance whilst they were with him, and they also
promised to be orderly.  Thorgeir did not like Grettir.  He scowled at
him and contradicted him, but did not pursue his rudeness beyond bounds;
and when Grettir was ruffled, a word from the master of the house served
to appease the rising blood.

So the early winter wore away.

Now, the good man, Thorgils Arison, owned a cluster of islands in the
firth that are called Olaf’s Isles; they lie a good sea-mile and a half
beyond the ness.  On them grass grows, and there the bonder kept his
cattle to fatten in autumn.  Now, there was an ox on one of these isles
that Arison said he must have home before the snows and storms of winter
came on, as he intended to kill the beast for the feastings of Yule.  So
the foster-brothers and Grettir volunteered to go out to the island, and
fetch the ox home.

They went down to the sea and got out a ten-oared boat, and there were
but these three to man it.  The weather was cold, and the wind was
shifting from the north and not settled.  They rowed hard, and reached
the island; but the sea was running and foaming over the shore, and they
saw it would be no easy matter to get the ox on board with such a surf.
So the brothers told Grettir he must hold the boat, whilst they got the
ox in.  He agreed, and went into the water, and stood amidships on the
side out to sea, and thrust the boat towards the shore, whilst the
brothers laboured to get the ox in.  Thorgeir took up the ox by the hind
legs, and Thormod by the fore legs, as the beast refused to be driven on
board, and so they carried the animal into the boat; but Grettir, who
held the craft, had the sea up to his shoulder-blades, and he held her
perfectly fast.

When the ox was hove in, Grettir let go and got into the boat.  Thormod
took oar in the bows, Thorgeir amidships, and Grettir aft, and so they
made out into the open bay.  As they came out from the lee of the island
the squall caught them, the waves leaped and foamed, and Thorgeir
shouted "Now then, stern!  Have you gone to sleep?  Why are you

Grettir answered, "The stern will not lag when the rowing afore is

Thereupon Thorgeir fell to rowing so furiously that both the tholes were
broken.  So he called to Grettir, "Row on steadily whilst I mend the

Then Grettir rowed so mightily, whilst Thorgeir was engaged mending the
pins, that he wore through the oars, and when Thorgeir was ready they
snapped like matches.

"Better row with less haste and more caution," growled Thormod.

Then Grettir stooped and picked out of the bottom of the boat two
unshapen oar-beams that lay there; but as they were too big to go
between the thole-pins, he bored large holes in the gunwales, and thrust
the oars through, and rowed thus so mightily that every rib and plank of
the boat creaked, and the foster-brothers were in fear lest with his
rowing he would tear the craft to pieces.  However, they reached the
shore in safety.

Then Grettir asked whether the brothers would rather haul up the boat,
or go home with the ox. They preferred to haul the boat ashore, and
found that it was hung with icicles, for the water had frozen on the
sides; but Grettir led home the ox, which was very fat, and very
unwilling to be dragged along, so that Grettir became impatient.

When the foster-brothers had finished bailing out the boat, and had put
her under cover, they went up to the house, and on reaching it Thorgeir
inquired after Grettir, but Arisen the bonder said he had not seen him
or the ox.  Then he sent out men in quest of him, for he supposed
something must have befallen him; and when they came to where the land
dipped towards the sea they saw a strange object indeed coming towards
them, and did not know at first whether what they saw was a human being
or a troll.[#]  On approaching nearer they saw that this strange object
was Grettir, who was carrying the ox on his back, and striding up the
hill with the beast, which had the head hanging over his shoulder, the
tongue out, and was lowing plaintively.  The sight was infinitely
comical, and the men who saw it burst out laughing, and this made
Grettir also laugh, so that he dropped the ox.

[#] A troll is a mountain demon or giant.

Now, it must be known that this story is not manifestly absurd, for the
Icelandic cattle are very small, like Brittany cows, and bear the same
relation to a good English ox that a pony does to a horse. Nevertheless
the feat was only such as a strong man could have accomplished.  It had
taken the two brothers to carry the ox down into the boat, and here was
Grettir alone carrying him up hill.

This deed of Grettir was much talked of, and this made Thorgeir, the
elder of the foster-brothers, very jealous of Grettir, and he hated him,
and sought to do him an injury.  One day after Yule, Grettir went down
to the bath that was made by turning a stream of hot water from one of
the natural boiling springs into a walled basin into which also cold
water could be turned from a rill.  In former times the Icelanders were
very particular about bathing, and were a clean people.  At the present
day they never bathe at all, and such of the old baths as remain are out
of order and full of grass and mud.

Thorgeir said to his brother, "Let us go now and try how Grettir will
start, if I set upon him as he comes away from his bath."

"I do not like this," answered Thormod; "you will vex our host, and get
no advantage over Grettir."

"I will try what I can do," said the elder; and he took his axe, hid it
under his cloak, and went down towards the bathing-place.

When he had reached it he said, "Grettir, there is a talk that you have
boasted that no man could make you take to your heels."

"I never said that," answered Grettir, "but anyhow you are not the man
to make me run."

Then Thorgier swung up his axe and would have cut at Grettir; but
Grettir suspected that the man meant mischief, and he was ready, so that
the instant he drew out the axe and swung it, Grettir clashed forward at
him, struck him in the chest and sent him staggering back, so that he
sprawled his length on the ground.

Then Thorgeir shouted to his brother, "Why do you stand by and let this
savage kill me?"

Thormod then laid hold of Grettir, and endeavoured to drag him away, but
his strength was not sufficient to effect this.

At that moment up came Arison, the bonder, and he bade them be quiet and
have nought to do with Grettir.

So the brothers stood up, and Thorgeir pretended it was all sport, that
he had only proposed giving Grettir a fright; but the bonder hardly
believed him.  As for the younger of the brothers, it was well seen that
he had been drawn into the matter against his will.  So the winter
passed, and peace was kept.  This little struggle with Grettir had shown
Thorgeir that it would be ill for him to have dealings with a man so
prompt and strong as Grettir, and he controlled himself and did not seek
to pick a quarrel with him any more.  At the same time he did not like
him any better.  Thorgils Arison got great credit, when it was reported
that throughout an entire winter he had maintained such turbulent men as
the foster-brothers and Grettir under his roof without their having

[#] There is an entire saga relating to the history of these brothers,
called the Foster-Brothers’ Saga.

But when spring came then they went away, all of them, away over the
heaths and moors of the interior.

When we say that Grettir was on the heaths and moors, it must not be
supposed that the region so called was at all like the moors of Scotland
or England.  The heaths and moors of Iceland are upland desert regions
with only here and there a scanty growth of vegetation, a little
whortleberry, no heath at all, but vast tracts of broken stone and mud
and black sand, with perhaps here and there an occasional hill of yellow
sandstone.  Most of the rock is perfectly black, and breaks into pieces
with sharp angles.  What is called Icelandic moss is a black lichen that
grows on the stones, and there is a very little gray moss to be seen.
Where there is a burn or a stream a little grass may grow, but the
amount is small indeed.

                             *CHAPTER XXV.*

                   *HOW GRETTIR WAS WELL-NIGH HUNG.*

    _The Law-man’s Judgment—Snorri’s Compromise—The Compromise
    Declined—Grettir Helps Himself—The Spy—Thirty to One—An
    Undesirable Prisoner—The Gallows for Grettir—Thorbiorg Saves
    Grettir—Grettir Conquers Himself_

Now, after the slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain, his kinsman Thorod took the
matter up, and rode to the great assize with a large train of men.

The relatives of Grettir also appeared at the assize, and they took
advice of Skapti, the law-man; and he said that Atli was slain a week
before the sentence of outlawry was pronounced against Grettir, that
Thorbiorn Oxmain was guilty of that, and his relatives must pay a heavy
fine for the murder.  But he said that Grettir was an outlaw when he
slew Thorbiorn.  Now being an outlaw he was outside the cognizance of
the law, he was as one not a native of the country, as one over whom the
law had no longer jurisdiction; that, therefore, his slaying of
Thorbiorn could not count as expiation of the slaying of Atli; that,
moreover, no suit against an outlawed man could stand—it was illegal:
that the only way in which Grettir could be brought into court was by
the removal of the sentence of outlawry, when at once he could be

Thorod was disconcerted at this; for he could not bring an action
against Grettir, and the Biarg people did now bring an action against
him for the slaying of Atli, and the court gave sentence that he should
pay down two hundred ounces of silver as blood fine for Atli.

Now, at this court, Snorri the judge proposed a compromise.  He
suggested that the fine should be let drop, and that Grettir should be
held scatheless, that the outlawry should be set aside, and the slaying
of Thorbiorn be put against the slaying of Atli, and so reconciliation
be made.

Thorod did not at all want to pay down two hundred ounces of silver, and
the Biarg family were very willing to have the outlawry done away with;
so both parties were quite willing to accept this compromise, but Thorir
of Garth had to be reckoned with.  Grettir was outlawed at his suit for
the burning of his sons, and he must be brought to consent, or this
arrangement could not take place.

But Thorir was not to be moved.  In vain did the law-man Snorri urge
him, and represent to him that Grettir, at large, an outlaw, was a
danger menacing the country, that he was driven to desperation, Thorir
absolutely refused to allow the sentence to be withdrawn.  Not only so,
but he said he would set a higher price on his head than had been set on
the head of any outlaw before, and that was three marks of silver.  Then
Thorod, not to be behind with him, offered three more.

Grettir resolved to get as much out of the way of his enemies as he
could, so he went into that strange excrescence, like a hand joined on
by a narrow wrist to Iceland, that extends to the north-west.  In this
peninsula are two great masses of snow and glacier mountain, called
Glam-jokull and Drang-jokull.  They do not rise to any great height,
hardly three thousand feet, but they are vast domes of snow, with
glaciers sliding from them to the firths, and these fall over the edges
of the precipitous cliffs in huge blocks of ice that float away on the
tide as icebergs. The largest of all the fiords that penetrates this
region is called the Ice-firth, and it runs between these great
mountains of snow and glaciers.  At the extremity of the estuary the
valleys are well-wooded—that is to say, well-wooded for Iceland—with
birch-trees, for their valleys are very sheltered, and the sea-water
that roll in bears with it a certain amount of heat, for it has been
affected by the Gulf-stream.

One of these valleys is called Waterdale, and at the time of our story
there lived there a man named Vermund the Slim, and his wife’s name was
Thorbiorg; she was a big, fine woman.  Another valley is Lang-dale.
Grettir went to Lang-dale—there he demanded of the farmers whatever he
wanted, food and clothing, and if they would not give him what he asked,
he took it.  This was not to their taste at all, and they wished that
they were rid of Grettir.  He could not remain long in one place, so he
rode along the side of the Ice-firth demanding food, and sleeping and
concealing himself in the woods.  So in his course he came to the upland
pastures and dairy that belonged to Vermund Slim, and he slept there
many nights, and hid about in the woods.

The shepherds on the moors were afraid of him, and they ran down into
the valleys and told the farmers everywhere that there was a big strange
man on the heights, who took from them their curd and milk, and dried
fish, and that they were afraid to resist his demands.  They did not
quite know what he was, whether a man or a mountain spirit.

So the farmers gathered together and took advice, and there were about
thirty of them.  They set a shepherd to watch Grettir’s movements, and
let them know when he could be fallen upon.  Now, it fell out one warm
day that Grettir threw himself down in a sunny spot to sleep.  The
glistening beech leaves were flickering behind him, the rocks were
covered with the pale lemon flowers of the dry as, and between the
clefts of the stones masses of large purple-flowered geranium stood up
and made a glow of colour deep into the wood.

It is a mistake to suppose that Iceland is bare of flowers; on the
contrary, there are more flowers there than grass.  Beneath Grettir the
turf was full of tiny deep-blue gentianellas, just as if the turf were
green velvet, with a thread of blue in it coming through here and there.

The shepherd stole near enough to see that Grettir really was fast
asleep, and then he ran and told the bonders, who came noiselessly to
the spot.  It was arranged among them that ten men should fling
themselves on him, whilst the others fastened his feet with strong

They made a noose, and cautiously without waking him managed to get it
about his legs; then, all at once, ten of them threw themselves on his
body, and tried to pin down his arms.  Grettir started from his sleep,
and with one toss sent the men rolling off him, and he even managed to
get to his knees. Then they pulled the noose tighter and brought him
down, he, however, kicked out at two, whom he tumbled head over heels,
and they lay stunned on the earth.  Then one after another rushed at
him, some from behind.  He could not get at his weapons, which they had
removed, and though he made a long and hard fight, and struggled
furiously, they were too many for him, and they overcame him in the end,
and bound his hands.

Now, as he lay on the grass, powerless, they held a council over him
what should be done.  The chief man of that district was Vermund Slim,
but he was from home.  So it was settled that a farmer named Helgi
should take Grettir and keep him in ward till Vermund came home.

"Thank you gratefully," said Helgi; "but I have other business to attend
to than to keep sentinel over this man.  My hands are fully occupied
without this.  Not if I know it shall he cross my threshold."

So the farmers considered, and decided that another man who lived at
Giorvidale should have the custody of Grettir.

"You are most obliging," said he; "but I have only my old woman with me
at home, and how can we two manage him?  Lay on a man only such a burden
as he can bear."

They considered again, and came to the conclusion that one Therolf of
Ere should have the charge of Grettir.

But he replied, "No, thank you, I am short of provisions, there is
hardly food enough at my house for my own party."

Then they appointed that he should be put with another farmer; but he
said, "If he had been taken in my land, well and good, but as he has
not, I won’t be encumbered with him."

Then every farmer was tried, and all had excuses why they should not
have the care of Grettir; and consequently, as no one would have him,
they resolved to hang him.  So they set to work and constructed a rude
gallows there in the wood, and a mighty clatter they made over it.

Whilst thus engaged, it happened that Thorbiorg, Vermund’s wife, was
riding up to her mountain dairy, attended by five servants.  She was a
stirring, clever woman, and when she saw so many men gathered together
and making such a noise, she rode towards them to inquire what they were

"Who is that lying in bonds there?" she asked.

Then Grettir answered and gave his name.

"Why, now, is it, Grettir," she said, "that you have given so much
trouble in this neighbourhood?"

"I must needs be somewhere," he answered.  "And wherever I am, there I
must have food."

"It is a piece of ill-luck that you should have fallen into the hands of
these bumpkins," said she. Then turning to the farmers she asked what
they purposed doing with Grettir.

"Hang him," answered they.

"I do not deny that Grettir may have deserved the rope," said Thorbiorg;
"but I doubt if you are doing wisely in taking his life.  He belongs to
a great family, and his death will not be to your quietness and content
if you kill him."  Then she said to Grettir, "What will you do if your
life be given you?"

"You propose the conditions," said he.

"Very well, then you must swear not to revenge on these men what they
have done to you to-day, and not to do any violence more in the

Grettir took the required oath, and so he was loosed from his bonds.  He
said afterwards that never had he a harder thing to do than to control
his temper, when set free, and not to knock the farmers’ heads together
like nuts and crack them, for what they had done to him.

Then Thorbiorg invited him to her house, and he went with her to the
Water-firth, and there abode till her husband returned, and when Vermund
heard all, then he was well pleased; and deemed that his wife had acted
with great prudence and kindness. He asked Grettir to remain there as
long as was consistent with his safety, and Grettir accepted his
hospitality, and continued there as his guest till late in the autumn,
when he went south to Learwood, where was Kuggson, with whom he purposed
spending the winter.  However, he was not able to stay there, for it
soon became known where he was, and his enemies prepared to take him.
He accordingly left and went to a friend in another fiord, and remained
a short while with him, but was obliged for the same reason to fly
thence also; and so he spent the winter dodging about from place to
place, never able to remain long anywhere, because his enemies were so
resolved on his death, and were on the alert to fall on him wherever
they heard he was sheltering.

                            *CHAPTER XXVI.*

                            *IN THE DESERT.*

    _The Center of the Island—Ice, Desert, and Volcanoes—The
    Bubble-Caves—A Dweller in the Desert—Grettir Stops the
    Rider—Hall-mund Stronger than Grettir—Grettir Seeks Skapti’s
    Advice—Grettir’s Night Fears—Grettir Builds a House_

The island of Iceland is one-third larger than Ireland, but then the
population is entirely confined to the coast.  All the centre of the
island is desert and mountain.  One mighty mass of mountain covered with
eternal snow and ice occupies the south of the island and approaches the
sea very closely in the south-east.  Much of this is unexplored; it has
of recent years been traversed once, across the great Vatna-jokull, but
there are passes west of the Vatna.  The mountain masses are broken into
three main masses.  The vast Vatna-jokull is to the east, then comes a
pass, and next the circular Arnafells-jokull, then another pass, and
lastly the jumble of snow mountains that form the Ball-jokull and the
Lang-jokull, the Goatland and the Erick’s-jokull. North of the
Vatna-jokull is a vast region, as large as a big county, covered with
lava broken up into bristling spikes and deep clefts of glass-like rock,
which no one can possibly get across.  In the midst of it, inaccessible,
rise the cones of volcanoes that have poured forth this sea of molten
rock.  East and west of this mighty tract of broken-up lava come
extensive moors also quite desert, covered with inky-black sand which
has been erupted by volcanoes, burying and destroying what vegetation
there was. The extent of desert may be understood when you learn that
there are twenty thousand square miles of country perfectly barren and
uninhabitable, and only partially explored.  There are but four thousand
square miles in Iceland that are inhabited; the rest of the country is a
chaos of ice, desert, and volcanoes. The great lava region mentioned
north of the Vatna covers one thousand one hundred and sixty square
miles, and the Vatna envelopes three thousand five hundred square miles
in ice.  Now, here and there in this vast region there are certain
sheltered spots where some grass grows, valleys that have escaped the
overflow of the molten rock, or the thrust of the glacier; and during
the ninety years that Iceland had been inhabited, every now and then a
churl who got tired of service, or a murderer afraid of his life, ran
away into the centre of the island, and lived a precarious existence on
the wild birds, their eggs, and on the fish that abounded in the
countless lakes. Probably also they stole sheep, and carried them away
to the mysterious recesses of the desert where they had made for
themselves homes.  They lived chiefly in caverns, of which there are
plenty thus formed:—When the lava poured as a fiery stream out of the
volcanoes, in cooling great bubbles were formed in it, sometimes these
bubbles exploded, blew the fragments into the air, which fell back and
made a mass of broken bits of rock like an exploded soda-water bottle;
but all the bubbles did not burst, and such hardened when the rock
became cool.  These bubbles remain as great domed halls, and some of
them run deep underground, forming a succession of chambers.  I have
explored one where a band of outlaws once lived, and found numbers of
sheep-bones frozen up in ice in the place where, after they had eaten
the mutton, they threw away what they could not devour.  At the end of
the cave they had erected a wall so as to inclose a space as a store

These men, living in the desert and rarely seen, were the subject of
many tales, and it was not clearly known who and what they really were,
whether altogether human, or half mountain-spirits. Imagination invested
them with supernatural powers.

When spring came and the snows melted, then Grettir left the farmhouse
where he had been last in hiding, and went into the desert, to find food
and shelter for himself.

One day he saw a man on horseback alone riding over a ridge of hill.  He
was a very big man, and he led another horse that had bags of goods on
his back.  The man wore a slouched hat so that his face could not
clearly be seen.

Grettir looked hard at the horse and the goods on the pack-saddle, and
thought he would probably find some of these latter serviceable to him,
and in his need he was not particular how he got those things which he
wanted.  So he went up to the rider and peremptorily ordered him to
stand and deliver.

"Why should I give you things that are my own?" asked the stranger.  "I
will sell some of my wares if you can pay for them."

"I have no money," answered Grettir, "what I want I take.  You must have
heard that by report."

"Then I know with whom I have to deal; you are Grettir the outlaw, the
son of Asmund of Biarg."  Thereat he struck spurs into his horse and
tried to ride past.

"Nay, nay!  We part not like this," said Grettir, and he laid his hands
on the reins of the horse the stranger rode.

"You had better let go," said the mounted man.

"Nay, that I will not," answered Grettir.

Then the rider stooped and put his hands to the reins above those of
Grettir, between them and the bit, and he dragged them along, forcing
Grettir’s hands along the bridle to the end and then wrenched them out
of his grasp.

Grettir looked at his palms and saw that the skin had been torn in the
struggle.  Then he found out that he had met with a man who was stronger
than himself.

"Give me your name," said he.  "For, good faith! I have not encountered
a man like you."

Then the horseman laughed and sang:

    "By the Caldron’s side
    Away I ride,
    Where the waters rush and fall
    Adown the crystal glacier wall
    There you will find a stone
    Joined to a hand—alone."

This was a puzzling answer.  The meaning was that he lived near a
waterfall that poured out of the Ice mountain, and that his name was
Hall-mund, _hall_ is a stone and _mund_ is the hand.

Grettir and he parted good friends; and as he rode away Hall-mund called
out to Grettir that he would remember this meeting, and as it ended in
friendliness he hoped to do him a good turn yet,—that when every other
place of refuge failed he was to seek him "by the Caldron’s side, where
the waters rush and fall, adown the crystal glacier wall" under
Ball-jokull, and there he would give him shelter.

After this Grettir went to the house of his friend the law-man Skapti,
and asked his advice, and whether he would house him for the ensuing

"No, friend," answered Skapti, "you have been acting somewhat lawlessly,
laying hands on other men’s goods, and this ill becomes a well-born man
such as you.  Now, it would be better for you not to rob and reive, but
get your living in other fashion, even though it were poorer fare you
got, and sometimes you had to go without food.  I cannot house you, for
I am a law-man, and it would not be proper for me who lay down the law
to shelter such a notorious law-breaker as yourself.  But I will give
you my advice what to do.  To the north of the Erick’s-jokull is a
tangle of lakes and streams.  The lakes have never been counted they are
in such quantities, and no one knows how to find his way among them.
These lakes are full of fish, and swarm with birds in summer.  There is
also a little creeping willow growing in the sand, and some scanty
grass.  It is only one hard day’s ride over the waste to Biarg, so that
your mother can supply you thence with those things of which you stand
in absolute need, as clothing, and you can fish and kill birds for your
subsistence, and will have no need to rob folk and exact food from the
bonders, thereby making yourself a common object of terror and dislike.
One more piece of advice I give you—Beware how you trust anyone to be
with you."

Grettir thought this advice was good—only in one point was it hard for
him to follow.  He was haunted with these fearful dreams at night which
followed the wrestle with Glam, and in the long darkness of winter the
dreadful eyes stared at him from every quarter whither he turned his, so
that it was unendurable for him to be alone in the dark.

Still—he went.  He followed up the White River to the desert strewn with
lakes from which that river flowed, and there found himself in utter
solitude and desolation.

A good map of Iceland was made in 1844, and on that fifty-three lakes
are marked, but the smaller tarns were not all set down.  In such a
tangle of water and moor Grettir might be in comparative security.  He
settled himself on a spot of land that runs out into the waters of the
largest of the sheets of water, which goes by the name of the Great
Eagle Lake, and thereon he built himself a hovel of stones and turf, the
ruins of which remain to this day, and I have examined them.

                            *CHAPTER XXVII.*

                       *ON THE GREAT EAGLE LAKE.*

    _The Ruins of the Hut—Erick’s-jokull—A Craving for
    Companionship—A Traitor—Grim Tries to Kill Grettir—Redbeard
    Undertakes the Task—Redbeard’s Stratagem—A Base Fellow—Grettir
    sinks to the Bottom—Caught in his own Trap—Grettir attacked by
    Thorir—The Attack Baffled—The Guardian of Grettir’s Back—A
    Summer with Hallmund_

Grettir was settled now on the Great Eagle Lake.  This lake is shaped
like the figure 8, only that the spot of land between the upper and
lower portion of the lake does not run quite across. On one side of this
spot the rock falls away precipitously into the water, whereas it slopes
on the other. If I had had a spade and pick, and if there had been more
grass on the moor so as to allow of a longer stay, I would have dug
about the foundations of Grettir’s hut, and, who can tell!  I might
perhaps have found some relic of him.  There is no record of anyone else
having inhabited it since he was there, and in the middle of the 13th
century, when the Saga of Grettir was committed to writing, there
remained the ruins of his hut, but no one lived at the place.  Now there
is no human habitation for many miles; the lake was a day’s journey on
horseback from the nearest farm, where I had spent the night.  You must
get some idea of the place where now for some years Grettir was to live.

The moor is made up of rock split to fragments by the frost, and with
wide tracts between the ridges of rock strewn with black volcanic ash
and sand.  It lies high; when I camped out there at the end of June,
there was no grass visible, only angelica shoots, and a little trailing
willow, so that my horses had to feed on these.  The willow does not
rise above the surface of the ground, but its roots trail long distances
under the surface, groping for nutriment; and for fuel one has to dig
out these roots with one’s fingers, and employ those which are dryest.
Every dip in the moor is filled with a lake, and every lake has in it a
pair of swans; in addition there are abundance of other wild fowl, and
on the moor are ptarmigan that live on the flowers of the whortle or

Above the rolling horizon of moor, to the south rises the great snowy
dome of Erick’s-jokull.  This is in reality a huge volcano, with
precipitous sides of black lava towering up like an immense giant’s
castle.  The great crater has been choked up with the snow of centuries,
and the snow in falling had piled up a vast cupola of snow and ice
standing high above the black walls, and sliding and falling over the
edges in a succession of avalanches.  When, at eleven o’clock at night,
I looked out of my tent at Erick’s-jokull, the scene was sublime.  The
sun had just gone under the northern horizon of snow and hill, but shone
on the great dome of Erick’s-jokull, turning it to the purest and most
delicate rose colour, and the walls of upright basalt that sustained the
dome were of the purple of a plum.  Grettir obtained nets and a boat
from home, and such things as he wanted for his hut.  One great
advantage of his present situation was that three different roads or
rather tracks led to it from Biarg, so that those who wanted to come to
him from home could select their way and avoid observation, till they
got among the lakes, when they were in a labyrinth in which anyone might
easily be lost, and any one could escape a pursuer. It is true that it
was a long and arduous day’s ride from Biarg to the Eagle Lake, but the
whole of the course along each of the ways lay through uninhabited land.

Now, when other outlaws heard that Grettir was on the Eagle Lake Heath,
they had a mind to join themselves to him, and Grettir was not unwilling
to have a companion, so lonely did he feel on this waste, and also so
fearful was he of being by himself in the dark.

There was a man called Grim, who was an outlaw; and Grettir’s enemies
made a bargain with him, that he should go to the Eagle Lake Heath,
pretend to be friends with Grettir, seek opportunity, and kill him. They
on their side undertook, if he would do this, to get his sentence of
outlawry reversed, and to furnish him liberally with money.

Accordingly he went to the moor, and after some trouble, found Grettir,
and asked if he might live with him.

Grettir replied, "I do not much relish such company as yours, for you
have got into outlawry through very infamous deeds.  I mistrust you;
nevertheless I will suffer you to remain if you work hard and be
obedient. I do not want idle hands here."

Grim said he was willing, and prayed hard that he might dwell there, and
carried his point.  He remained with Grettir the whole of the winter;
there was not much friendship between them.  Grettir mistrusted him all
along, and was never parted from his weapons, night or day, and Grim did
not venture to attack him whilst he was awake.

But one morning, when Grim came in from fishing, he went into the hut
and stamped his foot and made a noise, seeing that Grettir lay in his
bed asleep; and he was desirous to know how soundly he slept. Grettir
did not start and open his eyes, but lay quite still.  Then Grim made
more noise, thinking that if Grettir were awake he would chide him; but
Grettir made no motion.  Then Grim made sure that he was fast asleep,
and he stepped to his side.  Now, the short sword that had been taken
out of the barrow of Karr the Old hung above the bed-head.  Grim leaned
over Grettir and laid hold of the sword, and put both hands to it to
draw it out of the sheath. At that instant Grettir started up, caught
Grim round the waist and flung him backwards so that he was stunned, and
the sword fell from his hand.  So Grettir made him confess that he had
been bribed to set on him and murder him.  And then Grettir would have
no more of him, and resolved to live entirely alone.  Yet—directly he
was alone, his dreams, and his horror of the dark, returned on him. Now,
Thorir of Garth heard of an outlaw named Thorir Redbeard, a very big
man, who for murder had been outlawed, and was therefore in hiding
somewhere.  Thorir of Garth sent out messengers in search of him, and at
last brought about a meeting, and then he offered him a great deal of
money if he would kill Grettir.  Redbeard said it was no easy task, for
that Grettir was wise and wary.

"It is because it is no easy task that I set you to do it," said Thorir
of Garth.  "You are no milksop to do easy jobs."

This flattered Redbeard, and he undertook to do what was required.  He
came out on the Eagle Lake Heath in the autumn after that winter when
Grim had been with Grettir and made the attempt on his life.  Grettir
was feeling uneasy and troubled, as the days grew shorter, with the eyes
that he thought stared at him from every quarter, and although his
judgment prompted him to refuse hospitality to Redbeard, yet his dread
of being alone in the dark induced him to disregard his doubts.  So he
reluctantly admitted Redbeard to be an inmate of his cot.

"Now, mind this," said Grettir.  "I let a man be with me here last
winter, and he lay wait for my life.  If I find that you are false, then
I shall not spare you."

Redbeard said he wished for nothing else; and so Grettir received him,
and found him to be a very powerful man, and so energetic that he was of
the greatest assistance to Grettir.

Redbeard was with him all that winter (1019-1020) and found no occasion
on which he could take Grettir unawares.  Then set in the next winter
1020-1021, and Redbeard had begun to loathe his life on the heath, and
no wonder, for he saw no one save Grettir; the cold and desolation of
the spot was surpassingly wretched.  Now he became impatient to kill
Grettir and get away.

One night a great storm broke over the moor whilst he and Grettir were
asleep.  The roar of the wind woke Redbeard and he ran outside the hut,
down to the water-side, and with a huge stone he smashed the
fishing-boat, so that it sank; and the oars and bits he had broken off
he threw away into the lake.  So did he with the nets.

When he came in Grettir was awake also, and he asked how fared the boat.

"She has broken from her mooring," answered Redbeard, "and has been
dashed to bits on the rocks."

Then Grettir jumped up, and taking his weapons ran out to the end of the
spit of land on which his hut was built, and saw how the nets were
drifting in the waves and were entangled with the oars.

"Jump in, swim out, and bring them to shore," said he to Redbeard.  The
man shook his head and answered:

"I can do anything save swim.  I have not held back from any other work
you have set me, but swim I cannot."

Then Grettir laid his weapons down by the waterside and prepared to jump
in.  But he mistrusted Redbeard, so he said, "I will get in the nets, as
you cannot; but I trust you will not deal treacherously by me."

Redbeard answered, "I should be a base fellow and unworthy to live if I
were false to you now—after you have housed me so long."

Then Grettir put off his clothes, and went into the water, and swam out
to the nets.

He swept them up together and brought them towards the land, and cast
them up on the bank; but the moment he attempted to land Redbeard caught
up the short sword, drew it hastily and ran at Grettir and smote at him,
just as he was heaving himself up out of the water.  The blade would
have cut into his neck, or between his shoulder-blades, had not Grettir
instantly let go, and fallen backwards into the water and sunk like a
stone.  Sinking thus headlong he reached the bottom, and instead of
rising to the surface again he clung to the rocks under water, and
groped his way along as close as he could to the bank, so that Redbeard
might not see him till he had reached the back of the creek and got

Now, Redbeard stood at the end of the promontory, looking into the
water, much puzzled.  He had not cut Grettir with the sword, and yet
Grettir was gone down, and did not rise.  He thought he must have struck
his head against a stone, and so have sunk, and he looked out into the
water wondering where and when he would rise.  Meanwhile Grettir had
come ashore behind him and was approaching stealthily.  Redbeard was
unaware of his danger till Grettir had his arms about him, had heaved
him over his head and dashed him down on the rocks, so that his skull
was broken.  After that Grettir resolved not to take another outlaw into
his house, though he could hardly endure to be alone.

Thorir of Garth did not hear of the death of Redbeard till next summer
at the great assize; and then he was so angry, and so resolved to make
an end of Grettir, that he collected a body of resolute men, his
servants and others whom he hired for the purpose, to the number of
nearly eighty, to sweep the Eagle Lake Heath and take and kill Grettir.

One day, when Grettir was out on the moor, he saw a large body of armed
men riding towards the lake.  He had time to fly to a hill that rises at
a little distance, where there is a rift in the rock that traverses the
top of the hill.  When I read the account in the saga I could not quite
understand what follows, but no sooner was I on the spot than all
appeared quite clear.  One could see, at once, that Grettir, taken by
surprise, would run to this very spot and no other.  It was the nearest
available place of vantage, with stone and crag.  The situation was not
the best that might have been chosen, as it left Grettir’s back
unprotected; however, he had no time to seek a better.


Thorir came with his men to the bottom of the hill, and shouted to
Grettir and taunted him.

Grettir replied, "Though you may have put the spoon to your lips you
have not swallowed the broth."

Then Thorir egged on his men to go up the slope at Grettir, but this was
not easy.  It was steep, and the rocks were close on either side so that
Grettir could not be surrounded.  Only one man could get at him from
before at once.  Several attempts were made, but all failed; some of the
assailants were killed, some wounded.  Then Thorir broke up his party
into two, and sent one detachment round to the back of the rocks, to
fall on Grettir from behind. Grettir saw the manoeuvre, and did not see
how to meet it.  All he could do would be to sell his life dearly.  He
could not hold out long when assailed simultaneously from before and

Thorir bade the attack slacken till he thought those sent to the rear
would be ready, and then he ordered a grand, and, as he believed, a
combined assault.  Grettir fought with desperation, expecting every
moment to be cut down from behind, but to his surprise and that of
Thorir he was left unmolested in the rear.

Thorir called off his men, and went round the hill to inquire why the
attack from behind had not taken place.  To his amazement he came on a
discomfited party bleeding, faint, and baffled, and to find that twelve
men had fallen in it.[#]

[#] At the time, or rather shortly after I had been on the spot, I
wrote, "There is a nook like a sentry-box in the side of the cleft, and
it was in this that Hallmund ensconced himself, so that he could hew
down anyone who attempted to pass through this cleft to get at Grettir’s
back, whilst remaining himself screened from observation. I could not
understand the saga account before I saw the spot, and how it was that
those attacking Grettir from behind did not see Hallmund. The sight of
the place made all plain."

Then he bade a retreat.  "Oft," he said, "have I heard that Grettir is a
man of marvel for prowess, but I never knew before that he was a wizard,
and able to kill as many at his back as he does in front of him."

When he numbered his men, Thorir found that he had lost eighteen.  Then
he and his retinue rode away, and they carried on them many and grievous

Now Grettir was no less perplexed with the event than was Thorir, and
when the latter had withdrawn he went through the rift in the rocks to
see why he had not been fallen on from the rear,—and he lighted on a
tall strong man leaning against the rocks, sore wounded.

Grettir asked his name, and the tall man replied that he was Hallmund.

"Do you remember meeting me on the heath one day?" asked the wounded
man, "when you tried to stop my horse, and I pulled the reins through
your hands so as to skin the palms’?  Then I promised if I had the
chance to back you up."

"Indeed," said Grettir, much moved, "I remember that right well, and now
I thank you with all my heart, for this day you have saved my life."

Then Hallmund said, "You must now come with me, for time must drag with
you solitary here on the heath."

Grettir said he was glad to accept the offer; so they went together
south to the Ball-jokull, and there Hallmund had a great cave, and his
daughter, a big muscular girl, lived there with him; there the girl
applied plasters to the wounds of her father and healed him.

Grettir remained with them in the cave all the ensuing summer.  But when
summer came to an end, he wearied of being so long in the desert, and
longed to see and be with his fellow-men in inhabited parts once more;
so he bade farewell to Hallmund, and went away to the west to Hit-dale
that opens on the Marshland, through which six or seven large rivers
flow.  Here he had a friend named Biorn living at Holm.

                           *CHAPTER XXVIII.*

                             *ON THE FELL.*

    _The Hollow of Fairwood Fell—Above the Shale Slide—The Outlaw’s
    Lair—The Boaster—A Dandified Warrior—Hunter and Hunted—A
    Skin-dressing—Sadder and Wiser_

Biorn when asked by Grettir to give him shelter declined to do so, not
that the will was lacking, but that he had not the power to protect him.
"You have made," he said, "enemies on all sides, and if I were to take
you under my roof all your enemies would become mine also, and I would
be involved in endless and bitter quarrels.  I cannot give you direct
assistance and shelter, but indirectly I will do what I can for you.
There is a long hill, called Fairwood Fell, that runs in front of my
house on the other side of the river, and ends just above the marshes.
Now, in one place there is a steep shale slide, and above this is a
hollow through the mountain, that might very well be made into a dry and
comfortable place of abode.  From the entrance every one who passes
along the highway, all who come across the marshes, can be seen.  I can
supply you with a few necessaries to fit the place up, but when there
you must shift for yourself.  I must not risk too much by supporting

Grettir consented to this.  So he went up to Fairwood Fell and built up
the cave, and hung gray wadmal before the entrance, so that no one below
could notice that there was anything peculiar or anyone living there.
In this eagle’s nest among the rocks Grettir spent the time from the
autumn of 1022 to the spring of 1024, that is, two winters. Whatever
fuel he wanted, all he had to eat, everything he wanted, had to be
carried up this slippery and steep ascent by him.  Down the shale slide
he came when short of provisions, and went over the marshes to this or
that farm and demanded or carried off, sometimes a sheep, sometimes
curds, dried fish, in a word what he required; and a very great nuisance
the men of the district found him.  Heartily did they wish they were rid
of him, yet they could not drive him from his place of abode, for it was
so difficult of access and so easy of defence.

Now, some years ago, in the summer of 1862, the year after I was in
Iceland, a very similar lair which Grettir inhabited a little later in
the east of Iceland was explored by an Icelandic farmer.  This is his
description of it: "The lair stands in the lower part of a slip of
stones beneath some sheer rocks. It is built up of stones, straight as a
line 4-3/4 ells long and 10 inches wide, and is within the walls 7/8 of
an ell deep.  Half of it is roofed over with flat stones, small thin
splinters of stone are wedged in between these to fill up the joints,
and these are so firmly fixed that they could not be removed without
tools. One stone in the south wall is so large that it requires six men
to move it.  The north wall is beginning to give way.  On the outside
the walls are overgrown with black lichen and gray moss."

Something like this was the den of Grettir on the Fairwood Fell, but it
was less built up, as he had the natural rock for two of the sides and
for the roof.

Whilst Grettir was there, there came a ship into harbour, in which was a
man named Gisli, a merchant, very fond of wearing smart clothes, and an
inordinately vain man.  He heard the farmers talking about Grettir, and
what a vexation it was to them to have him in their neighbourhood.

"Don’t talk to me about Grettir," said Gisli; "I’ve had battles with
harder men than he.  I hope he may came in my way, that I may dress his
skin for him."

The farmer to whom he said this shook his head. "You don’t know of whom
you are speaking.  If you were to kill him you would be well off,—six
marks of silver were set on his head, and Thorir of Garth has added
three more, so that there stand on him nine marks of silver."

"All things can be done for money," said Gisli; "and as I am a merchant
I’ll see to it.  And when we meet—I’ll dress his skin for him."

The farmer said it would be well not to talk about the matter.  Gisli
agreed.  "I will abide this winter in Snowfell-ness," he said.  "If his
lair is on my road thither I’ll look out for him, and dress his skin as
I go along."

Now, whether he talked in spite of the caution given him, or whether
some one overheard what he said, who was a friend of Biorn of Holm, is
uncertain.  Any how Gisli’s threat reached the ears of Biorn, who at
once warned Grettir to be on his guard against the merchant.

"If he comes your way," said Biorn, "teach him a lesson; but don’t kill

"No," said Grettir with a grim smile, "I’ll merely dress his skin for

Now it happened one day that Grettir was looking out of the entrance to
his lair, when he saw a man with two attendants riding along the
highway.  His kirtle was of scarlet, and his helmet and shield flashed
in the sun.  Then it occurred to him that this must be the dandified
Gisli, of whom he had heard, so he came running down the shale descent
to the road. He reached the man, and at once he went to his horse,
clapped his hand on a bundle of clothes behind the saddle, and said,
"This I am going to take."

"Nay, not so," answered Gisli, for it was he. "You do not know whom you
are addressing."

"Nor do I care," said Grettir.  "I have little respect for persons.  I
am in poor and lowly condition myself, so low that I am driven to be a
highway robber."

Then Gisli drew his sword, and called to his men to attack Grettir, who
gave way a little before them. But he soon saw that Gisli kept behind
his servants, and never risked himself where the blows fell; so Grettir
put the two churls aside with well-dealt strokes, and went direct upon
the merchant, who, seeing that he was menaced, turned and took to his
heels.  Grettir pursued him, and Gisli in his fear cast aside his
shield, then, a little further, threw away his helmet, and so as he ran
he cast away one thing after another that he had with him.  There was a
heavy purse of silver at his girdle.  This encumbered him, and as he ran
he unbuckled his belt and dropped it and the purse with it.  Grettir did
not purposely come up with him; he could have outstripped him had he
willed, but he let the fellow run a couple of horse lengths before him.
The end of the Fell is above an old lava bed that has flowed from a
crater called Eldborg or the Castle of Fire, and like an old ruined
castle it looks.  Gisli ran over this lava bed, jumping the cracks, then
dived through a wood of birch that intervened between the lava and the
river Haf.  The stream was swollen with ice, and ill to ford.  Gisli
halted hesitating before plunging in, and that allowed Grettir to run in
on him, seize him and throw him down.

"Are you the Gisli who were so eager to meet Grettir Asmund’s son?"
asked the outlaw.

"I have had enough of him," gasped the fallen man.  "Keep my saddle-bags
and what I have thrown away, and let me go free."

"Hardly yet," said Grettir grimly.  "I think something was said about
skin-dressing, that is not to be overlooked."

Then Grettir drew him back to the wood, took a good handful of birch
rods, pulled Gisli’s clothes up over his head, and laid the twigs
against his back in none of the gentlest fashion.  Gisli danced and
skipped about, but Grettir had him by his garments twisted about his
head and neck, and continued to flog till the poor fellow threw himself
down on the ground screaming.  Then Grettir let go, and went quietly
back to his lair, picking up as he went the purse and the belt, the
shield, casque, and whatever else Gisli had thrown away, also he had the
contents of his saddle-bags.

Gisli never came back to Fairwood Fell to ask for them.  When he got on
his legs he ran up the river to where it was not so dangerous, swam it,
and reached a farmhouse, where he entreated to be taken in.  There he
lay a week with his body swollen and striped; after which he went home,
and much was he laughed at for his adventure with Grettir.

                            *CHAPTER XXIX.*

                       *THE FIGHT ON THE RIVER.*

    _Angry Farmers—A Large Band of Men—The Marshmen are Driven
    Back—The Attacking Party Reinforced—Fighting in
    Desperation—Wearied but Unwounded—The Song of Victory_

Now, whilst Grettir was on Fairwood Fell, favoured by Biorn of Hit-dale,
his presence after a while became unendurable to the bonders who lived
in the marshes.  He had been for two winters in his den on the hill, and
when they saw that he intended to remain there a third winter, and rob
them of sheep and whatever he needed, then they took counsel together
how they might rid themselves of the annoyance.

One day in the winter of 1023, Grettir came down from his place of
vantage, and went over the marshes to a farm called Acres, and drove
away from it two bullocks fit for slaughtering, and several sheep, and
he had got on with them some way over the marshes, on his way to his
lair, before the farmer at Acres was aware of his loss; he had taken six
wethers beside from another farm named Brookbend. This angered the
farmers greatly, and they sent a message to the chief man of the
district, Thord at Hitness, and urged him to waylay Grettir before he
could reach his den.  Thord shrank from doing anything; however, they
pressed him so much that at last he consented to let his son Arnor go
with them.  Then messengers were sent throughout all the country side,
to every farmer who was concerned.  And it was so planned that two
bodies of men should march to the taking of Grettir, one on the right,
the other on the left bank of the Hit River, so as to take him for

Grettir was soon aware that the country was roused.  He was not alone,
he had two men with him—one the son of the farmer at Fairwood Fell, with
whom he was on good terms, the other a farm-servant. They advised him to
desert the cattle and sheep and run for it, cross the river and take
refuge in his place of vantage; but this Grettir was too proud to do.

Presently he could see coming on behind him a large band of men, about
twenty in all, under Thorarin of Acres and Thorfin of Brookbend.  Now,
as these were pursuing him over the marshes, up the opposite side of the
river came Arnor, the son of Thord of Hitness, and with him a farmer
named Biarni of Jorvi.

Grettir managed to reach the river before his enemies came up with him,
and he had also time to secure a place of vantage.  This was a ness of
rock that ran out into the river, or round which the river swept, so
that he was protected by the water on all sides but one.  Grettir said
to the two men with him, that they must guard his back, see that none
came up the sides in his rear, and then he took his short-sword in both
his hands, planted his feet wide apart on the rock, and prepared to sell
his life dear.

The party headed by Thorarin of Acres and Thorfin of Brookbend came up,
twenty in all,—but more were coming, for Thorarin had begun the pursuit
before all the farmers were collected, and he knew that a body of some
twenty or thirty more would arrive before long.  Thorarin himself was an
old man, and he did not enter into the fray, but urged on his men.

The fight was hard.  Grettir was not easily reached where he stood, and
he smote at all who approached.  Some of the Marshmen fell, and several
were wounded.  In vain did they attempt to dislodge him by combined
rushes, he drove them over the edge into the water, or cut them down
with his sword.  At last his arm was weary, and he called to the
farmer’s son to step into his place.  He did so, and held the ground
valiantly, whilst Grettir rested.  Then the party drew back,
discomfited.  At that moment up came the fresh body of men under Thrand,
the brother of Thorarin of Acres, and Stonewolf of Lavadale.  These
egged on their men eagerly, and they thought they would obtain an easy
victory, for Grettir had been fighting for some time, and was weary.

Then Thorarin of Acres called out and advised delay.

"For," said he, "the third party of men under Arnor and Biarni of Jorvi
have not come up on the other side of the river."

This piece of advice was rejected by the newcomers.  What did they want
with more men? They were a large party, fresh and untired, and Grettir
had but two men with him, and they were wearied with fighting.  So the
signal was given for the onslaught.

Then Grettir saw that he must either jump into the river, swim across,
and desert the sheep and bullocks he had driven there, or use almost
superhuman exertions to defend himself.

His position was, indeed, desperate; for, even if he did hold his own
against this second body of men, a third was on its way up the other
bank of the river to intercept him on his way up to the Fell.  For one
moment he hesitated, and then was resolved.  No, he would not run.  He
would die there, and die only after having strewn the ground with his
foes.  Foremost among his assailants was Stonewolf of Lavadale, and
Grettir made a sudden rush at him, and with a tremendous stroke of his
sword he clove his head down to the shoulders. Thrand, who sprang
forward to avenge him, Grettir struck on the thigh, and the blow took
off all the muscle, and he fell, crippled for life.  Then Grettir fell
back to his place of safety, and dared others to come on.  They sprang
out on the neck of rock, but would not meet his weapon, one after
another fell or was beaten back.

Then Thorarin cried out, and bade all draw off.

"The longer ye fight," said he, "the worse ye fare.  He picks out what
men among you he chooses."

The party withdrew, and there were ten men fallen, and five had received
mortal wounds, or were crippled; and hardly one of the two parties was
without some hurt or other.

Grettir, moreover, was marvellously wearied, but had received no wounds
to speak of.

Now, hardly had the men withdrawn, carrying their dead and wounded, than
up came the third detachment under Arnor and Biarni, on the other side
of the river.  There can be no question but that, had they crossed and
fallen on Grettir, he could not have defended himself longer, so
overcome was he with weariness; but Arnor knew that his father had
entered on the matter reluctantly, and he was discouraged by the
ill-success of the other companies. Consequently, he neither waded
through the river at the ford, a little higher, nor did he maintain his
ground and cut off Grettir’s retreat.  Instead, he withdrew with all his
men, and left Grettir to recover his strength, and cross and escape to
the Fell. This conduct of Arnor provoked much comment; and he was
accused of cowardice, an accusation that clung to him through life.
Even his father rebuked him, for the father saw what discredit he had
brought upon himself.

The point on the river Hit where this affray took place is still shown;
and is called Grettir’s-point to this day.

When the fight was over Grettir and the two men went to the Fell, and as
they passed the farm the farmer’s daughter came out of the door, and
asked for tidings.

Then Grettir sang:—

    "Brewer of strong barley-corn,
    Pourer forth of drinking-horn,
    Lo! to-day the Stonewolf fell,
    Ne’er again his head be well.
    Many more have got their bane,
    Many in their blood lie slain;
    Little life has Thorgils now,
    After that bone-breaking blow.
    Eight upon the river’s bank
    In their gore expiring sank."

                             *CHAPTER XXX.*

                          *A MYSTERIOUS VALE.*

    _The Dome of Snow—Cold Dale—A Fair Valley—The Mottled Ewe—With
    Thorir and his Daughters—The Stone on Broad-shield—Thorir’s

In the spring of 1024 Grettir went away from Fairwood Fell; for he had
been there so long, and had preyed for such a time on the bonders of the
marshes, that he himself saw that it would be best for him to remove
into quite another part of the island.  So he visited his friend
Hallmund once more, under the ice of Ball-jokull, and Hallmund advised
him where to go.  He could not give him hospitality himself that winter,
because his stock of goods was run so short that it would hardly suffice
for his daughter and himself; but he told him of a valley unknown to
anyone, save a friend of his called Thorir and himself.  And he informed
him how it was to be reached.

Now, as already said, there are passes in Iceland between the several
blocks of ice mountains, and such a pass exists between Goatland-jokull
and a curious domed snowy mountain called Ok.  The pass is called the
Cold Dale, because it lies for many hours ride between ice mountains,
and under the precipitous Goatland-jokull, whose rocks are crowned with
green ice that falls over incessantly in great avalanches.  It is seven
hours’ ride from one blade of grass to another through that dale.  I
went through it on midsummer-day, and saw the bones of horses lying
about that had died unable to get through; perhaps becoming lame or
exhausted on the way.

Half through this long trough of the Cold Dale stands up a buttress of
rock, or rather a sort of ness, projecting from Goatland-jokull, so
precipitous that hardly any snow rests on it, and this is called the
Half-way Fell.

Now, Hallmund told Grettir he must go through the Cold Dale till he
reached the Half-way Fell, and there he must strike up over the snow and
glaciers of Goatland-jokull, due south, and he would all at once drop
into a valley known to few.

So Grettir went up the moor till he struck the White River, that flowed
out of the Eagle Lakes he knew so well, and under the cliffs and icy
crown of Erick’s-jokull, then he climbed over broken trachyte rocks for
several hundreds of feet, till he found himself in the Cold Dale, and
along that he trudged till he had reached Half-way Fell, standing up
like a wall as though to stop the pass.  There he turned to the left,
and as at this point Goatland is no longer precipitous, but slopes in a
series of steps to the Cold Dale, he climbed up through the snow, a long
and tedious ascent, till he stood on the neck of the mountain, and there
he saw that the snow slopes fell away rapidly to the south, and he
descended and soon beheld before him a valley in which were a great many
boiling springs that threw up clouds of steam, and he saw also, what
greatly pleased him, that there was rich and abundant grass in this
valley. This is what the saga says: "The dale was long and somewhat
narrow, locked up by glaciers all round, in such a manner that the ice
walls overhung the dale.  He scrambled down into it, as best he could,
and there he saw fair hillsides grass-grown and set with bushes.  Hot
springs were there, and it appeared to him that it was the earth-fires
which prevented the ice walls from closing in on the valley.  A little
river ran down the dale, with level banks.  The sun rarely shone into
the valley; but the number of sheep there could hardly be reckoned, they
were so many; and nowhere had he seen any so fat and in such good

Grettir did not see Thorir, Hallmund’s friend, at first; so he built
himself a hut of such wood as he could get, and with turf.  He killed
the sheep he wanted, and found that there was more meat on one of them
than on two elsewhere.

The Saga says:—

"There was one ewe there, brown mottled, with a lamb, and she was a
beauty.  Grettir killed the lamb, and took three stone of suet off it,
the meat was some of the best he had ever eaten.  But when the mottled
ewe missed her lamb, she went up on Grettir’s hut every night, and
bleated so plaintively as to trouble his sleep, and made Grettir quite
troubled that he had killed her lamb."

Now Grettir noticed that at evening the sheep ran in one direction, and
once or twice he heard a call; so he went after the sheep one evening,
and was led by them to the hut where Thorir dwelt.  He was a strange
man, who had spent so many years away from the society of his fellow-men
as not to care any more to meet them, so he did not welcome Grettir very
warmly.  However he had three daughters, and they were glad to have
someone to talk to, and as the winter crept on Thorir himself became
more amiable, and so the winter did not pass as drearily as Grettir had
feared it would.  He sang his songs and related stories, and the party
played draughts with knuckle-bones of sheep.

When spring came, however, he was fain to go; and he did not leave by
the way he came, but followed the little river, and it led him out
between rock and glaciers into a piece of desert, covered with lava beds
that have poured out of a volcano, or rather two that stand opposite
this entrance to Thorir’s valley.  These two volcanoes are quite unlike
each other, though side by side, one, called Hlothu-fell has upright
walls, like Erick’s-jokull, and a crater filled up and brimming over
with ice; but the other Skialdbreith, or the Broad-shield, is like a
conical round silver shield laid on the ground. The entrance to Thorir’s
Dale is completely hidden by a round snowy mountain that blocks it, and
then a second snowy mountain stands further out in front of the opening,
so that not a sign of any valley can be seen from anywhere.

So difficult did Grettir think it would be to find it, that he ascended
on Broad-shield and set up a stone there with a hole in it, so that
anyone looking through this hole would see directly into the narrow
entrance of Thorir’s Dale.  This stone still stands where Grettir had
placed it; but has sunk on one side, so that by looking through the hole
the eye is no longer directed to the entrance.

No one had ever visited Thorir’s Dale since Grettir left it till the
year 1654, when it was explored by two Icelandic clergymen, and an
account of their expedition in Icelandic is to be found in the British
Museum.[#]  The valley as far as I know has not been explored since.  It
is marked on the map of Iceland, but apparently from the description
left by the two clergymen, not from any visit made to it by the

[#] I have given a translation of it in my _Curiosities of Olden Times_,
London, Hayes, 1869.

When the two men visited the valley they went to it in the same way as
did Grettir.  They found no hot springs, and the valley was utterly
barren; but then they had no time to descend it, they only looked down
on it from above.  They found the cave with a door, and a window to it,
which was probably the habitation of Thorir and his daughters.

                            *CHAPTER XXXI.*

                        *THE DEATH OF HALLMUND.*

    _Grim’s Fish Disappear—The Thief Wounded and Tracked—Death of

Now, there was a man called Grim, who was an outlaw for his ill-deeds,
and he thought that as Grettir no longer abode in his hut on the Eagle
Lake, he might go there and occupy it.  This did not please Hallmund,
for Grettir had left him his nets, and he was wont to fish in the lake.

Grim had supplied himself with nets, and he one day caught a hundred
char, large red-fleshed fish, delicious eating; so he piled them up
outside his hut.  Next morning to his great surprise all his char had
disappeared.  Then he went fishing again, and caught even more fish, and
he brought them to land, and heaped them up as before.

Next morning they also had disappeared.

He could not understand it; so he fished again, and had on this occasion
extraordinary luck: he must have netted nearly three hundred fish.  He
brought them home, and put them in the same place as before; but he did
not go to sleep this time: he remained within, and watched his store
through a peep-hole in the door.

During the night he heard someone who trod heavily coming along the
ness, and then he saw a man picking up his fish, and putting them into a
basket he had on his back.  Grim watched till he had filled the basket,
which he now heaved upon his shoulders.  Instantly Grim threw open the
door, rushed out, and whilst the man was still stooping adjusting his
load, he swung up a very sharp axe he held, holding it in both hands,
and smote at the man’s neck.  The axe hit the basket, and that somewhat
broke its force, but it glanced aside and sank into the shoulder.  Then
the man started aside, and set off running with the basket to the south,
skirting a lava field that had flowed out of Erick’s-jokull, and which
now goes by the name of Hallmund’s Lava-bed.

Grim ran after him, and saw that he was making for Ball-jokull; but the
man, who was of great size and strength, though wounded and losing
blood, ran on, and did not stay till he reached a cave in the face of
the cliff, above which was the ice, and with long icicles hanging over
the front.  Into this he entered.  There was a fire burning inside, and
a young woman sitting by it.

Grim heard her welcome the man, and call him her father, and name him
Hallmund.  He cast his basket of fish down, and groaned aloud.

Then the girl saw that blood was flowing from him, and she asked him
what had happened.

Hallmund told what had befallen him, and said that he was wounded to the
death, and that he trusted Grettir would avenge him, for he had no other
friend to do so.

After that Hallmund began a lay, and sang the history of his life, the
achievements he had wrought, and he sang on till his breath failed, and
either he was unable to finish his lay, or Grim could not remember all
of it.  A good deal, however, of Hallmund’s death-song has been retained
and is given in the saga.

But Hallmund’s hope or expectation that Grettir would avenge him was
disappointed, for Grim managed to get away from Iceland, and did not
return to it again during the lifetime of Grettir.

                            *CHAPTER XXXII.*


    _Thorir raises a Party against Grettir—Grettir plays the
    Herdsman—A Daring Trick—Thorir a Laughing-Stock_

Now, during the summer, tidings came to Thorir of Garth that Grettir was
somewhere about on Reekheath in the north-east.  There was his lair
which was examined a few years ago, and which remains in tolerable
condition, as already mentioned when his lair at Fairwood Fell was
described.  Now, Thorir of Garth, when he got this tidings was resolved
to make another attempt to kill him; and no wonder, for with singular
audacity Grettir had come into his neighbourhood.  Grettir no doubt
thought that he had preyed long enough on men who had not harmed him,
and that now he would prey on the goods and cattle of the man who had
made an outlaw of him, and who pursued him with such remorseless
hostility.  Thorir gathered a number of men together and went in pursuit
of Grettir. Grettir was not at that time in his den but out on the moor,
and he was near a mountain-dairy that stood back somewhat from the
wayside, and there was another man with him, when they spied the party
of Thorir, all armed, coming along.  They had not been observed, so they
hastily led their horses into the shed attached to the dairy, and
concealed themselves.  Thorir came along, went to the dairy, looked
about to see if anyone were there who could inform him if Grettir had
been seen, noticed only a couple of horses tied up, but supposed they
belonged to the farmer whose summer dairy this was, and, without looking
further, went on.

As soon as Thorir and his band had gone out of sight, Grettir crept from
his place of hiding, and said to his companion:

"It is a pity they should have come such a ride to see me, and should be
disappointed.  You watch the horses, and I will go on and have a word
with them."

"You surely will not be so rash?" exclaimed the other man.

"I cannot let them come all this way without exchanging words with me,"
said Grettir, and leaving the horses under the care of his comrade, he
strode away over the moor to a place where he was sure he could be
observed.  Now, Grettir had a slouched hat on and a long staff in his
hand, and at the dairy he had found some clothes belonging to the
herdsman usually there, and these he had put on.

Directly Thorir and his party saw a man with a staff striding about on
the moor they rode to him. None of them knew Grettir’s face, for,
indeed, they had not been given the chance.  So they thought this great
rough man was the herdsman, and they asked him if he had seen the outlaw

"What sort of man is he?" asked Grettir.  "Is he armed?"

"Armed indeed is he, with a casque on his head, a long sword, and also a
short one in his girdle."

"Is he riding?"

"Most certainly he is."

"Then," said Grettir, "you had better get you along after him due south;
he has gone that way not so long agone."

When they heard this Thorir and his party struck spurs into their
horses, put them into a gallop, and away they went as hard as they could
in the direction indicated.  Now, Grettir knew the country very well,
and he was well aware that south of where he stood were impassable bogs.
Thorir and his fellows were too eager in pursuit to attend to the nature
of the ground over which they rode; besides, they thought that if
Grettir had ridden that way they could ride it as well.  They were
speedily mistaken, for in they floundered into a bottomless morass; some
of the horses were in to their saddles; the men got off and got out with
difficulty, and they had much ado to get their horses out at all.
Indeed, some were wallowing there more than half the day. Many curses
were heaped on the churl who had befooled them, but they could not find
him when the went after him to chastise him.

Grettir hastened back to the dairy, mounted his horse, and rode to Garth
itself, whilst the master was floundering in the bog.  As he came to the
farm he saw a tall, well-dressed girl by the door, and he asked who she
was.  He was told this was Thorir’s daughter.  Then Grettir sang a stave
to her, the meaning of which was that he who came there was the man whom
Thorir was vainly pursuing.

Much laughter was occasioned by this failure of Thorir to take Grettir
when he was in his own neighbourhood, and by his being so deceived and
befooled by Grettir when he had him in his power.

                           *CHAPTER XXXIII.*

                            *AT SANDHEAPS.*

    _A Deadly Enemy—In the Service of Steinvor—The Way to
    Church—Crossing the Quivering Flood—The Priest’s Caution—A Weird
    Tale—The Old Hag—The Stream-churl—Steinvor’s Husband’s Death—The
    Foundation of the Story—The Troll-woman of Grettir—The Basaltic
    Troll-wife—The Search under Goda-foss—Grettir’s Dive—The Fight
    with the Stream-churl—Runes of the Fight—A Bag of Bones_

The summer was passing away, and Grettir could not remain without
shelter through the winter; so he considered what was best to be done.
He could not ask any farmer in the north-east to shelter him, because
they were all afraid of Thorir of Garth, who would have pursued with
implacable animosity the man who befriended and housed the outlaw.
Moreover, Thorir had his spies everywhere, and Grettir found he had to
shift quarters repeatedly to escape his deadly enemy.

Now, when the first snows fell Grettir sent his man away with his horses
across country to Biarg, and he went further away from where Thorir was;
but never stayed long anywhere, nor gave his real name.  He had no
relatives in this part of the island, and no friends.

Now, a little before Yule—that is Christmas—he came to a farm called
Sandheaps, on that river which is called the Quivering Flood.  This farm
belonged to a widow woman called Steinvor, who had recently lost her

Grettir came and offered his services; he said his name was Guest, that
he was out of work, and that he had come there because he heard she was
short of hands.

Steinvor looked at him, and saw that he was a very powerfully-built man,
and that there was a certain dignity and nobility in his face; so she
accepted him, against the opinion of the rest in the house, who were
frightened at the appearance of Grettir, and did not know what to make
of him, whether he were an ordinary human being or a wild man, half
mountain-goblin or troll.

It came to pass on Christmas-eve that the widow Steinvor was very
desirous to go to church, but the church was on the further side of the
river, and there was no bridge.

Grettir heard Steinvor lament that she could not go to church, so he
said bluntly: "You can go.  I will attend you and see you over the

Then she made ready for worship, and took her little daughter with her.
Now, at times the river froze hard across, and then it was possible to
cross on the ice.  At other times it might be traversed at a ford.  But
when Grettir came to the side of the Quivering Flood, it was plain to
him that by the ice the water could not be crossed.  For there had been
a rapid thaw, and now the river was overflowed and very full of water;
and, moreover, it was rolling down great masses of ice.

When Steinvor saw the condition of the river, she said, "There is
plainly no way across for horse or man."

"I suppose there is a ford somewhere," said Grettir.

"Yes," answered Steinvor, "there is a ford at this place; but I do not
see how it is to be traversed."

"I will carry you across," said Grettir.

"Carry over the little maiden first," said the widow.  "She is the

"I don’t care about making two journeys when one will suffice," answered
Grettir.  "Come, jump up; I will carry you in my arms."


The widow crossed herself, and said, "That will never do.  How can you
manage such a burden?"

But without more ado Grettir caught up Steinvor on his arm, and then he
picked up the little girl and set her on her mother’s lap, and strode
into the water; they were on his left arm, but he kept the right free.
They were so frightened that they durst not cry out.  He waded on in the
river, and the water foamed up to his breast; and then he saw a great
ice-floe coming bearing down upon him.  He put out his right hand, gave
the mass of ice a thrust, and it was whirled past them by the current.
Then he waded further, and the water washed about his shoulders, and
that was the deepest point.  After that the river shallowed, and he bore
the mother and child safely to the shore and set them down.

Now Grettir turned to go back, and he took up a great stone and set it
on his head, and so waded back.  If he had tried to go through the water
without a stone he would have been washed away; but the great stone on
his head enabled him to stand firm and resist the current of the water.
Those who have not been through an Icelandic river can hardly imagine
the intensity of the cold.  I have ridden through these rivers, my horse
swimming under me, and when I reached the further side have thrown
myself off and lain on the sand for a quarter of an hour before I could
recover from the numbness caused by the deadly cold; for some of these
rivers are as broad as the Thames at London Bridge, and the water is
milky because full of undissolved snow.

When Steinvor reached the church every one was astonished to see her,
and asked how she had managed to get across the Quivering Flood.  But
when the priest heard the story, he called Steinvor aside, and said:

"Mind and do not say too much about your new man; do not talk about his
strength, and set folk a-wondering who he may be.  I have my own
opinion, and I think you will do well to house him, and say nothing to
anyone about his being in any way remarkable."

And now there comes into the saga of Grettir a story which is certainly
untrue, but how it comes in can be made out pretty easily.

The real truth was, as the saga writer confesses, that Grettir remained
hidden at Sandheaps all that winter, and no one in the country round
knew that he was there.  But then, the saga writer did not feel
satisfied with such a dull winter, in which nothing happened; so, to
fill out his story and say something interesting, he worked into his
history a wonderful tale.  The story, which I tell in my own words, is

                    *The Story of the Stream-Troll*

There is on the Quivering Flood some miles below Sandheaps a mighty
foss, or waterfall.  The whole river pours over a ledge in a thundering,
magnificent cascade.  The stream in the middle is broken by an island.
You can hear the roar of the falling water for a long way around, and
see the spray thrown up from the fall like a cloud or column of steam
rising high into the air.  This waterfall is called Goda-foss, and was
long supposed to be the finest in the island; but there is another,
which I was the first to see, on the Jokull-river, called Detti-foss,
which is infinitely finer, but which is in a region of utter desert of
sand and volcanic crater, many miles from any human habitation.

It happens that there is a curious black lava rock standing near the
river, higher up than the fall, which bears a quaint resemblance to an
old woman, and this stone is called The Old Hag; and the story goes that
it is a troll-woman turned to stone.

Now, you must know that throughout Norway and Iceland, and, indeed,
wherever the Scandinavian race is found, a superstition exists that
every river has its spirit, that lives in the river; and it was held
that these river-spirits demanded a sacrifice of a human life, at least
once a year.  If a sacrifice were not given to them, then they took some
man or woman, when crossing the water, and carried the victim away.  And
in heathen times there can be no doubt whatever that human sacrifices
were offered to every river; generally an evildoer or a prisoner was
thrown in and drowned, to propitiate the Stream-churl, as he was called,
so that he should not snap at and carry off other and more valuable
lives.  Wherever there was a cataract, there the Stream-churl was
believed to live, hidden away behind the curtain of falling water.  If
the stream was small, then this spirit or demon was small; if, however,
it were a mighty river, then the spirit was a great troll or giant.
Even to this day in Iceland and Norway, the ignorant and superstitious
believe that there are these Stream-churls, and tell stories about them,
and cannot but suspect that, when anyone is drowned, it is the
Stream-churl exacting his toll.

Now, it is quite certain that Steinvor, although she was a Christian,
believed in there being a great Stream-churl living under Goda-foss; and
as she had lost her husband and one of her servants who had been drowned
in the Quivering Flood, she held that they had been carried off by the
Troll of the waterfall.

There had been, as it happened, something mysterious about the death of
Steinvor’s husband.  Two years before Grettir came to Sandheaps, on
Christmas-eve, he had disappeared.  She had gone off to see some friends
at a distance, and when she returned home next day she heard that her
husband had not been seen—he was gone, and not a trace of him remained.
It occurred to her that in all probability he had gone across the river
to church, and had been carried off by the river—that is, by the
Stream-churl. But she could be certain of nothing, and she was greatly
distressed because she could not give his body burial.  A year passed
and not a word about her husband could she hear.  His body had not be
found anywhere washed up by the river, supposing he had been drowned.

Next year she lost one of her men-servants in the same way.  He
vanished, and none knew how or whither he had gone.  If he had run away,
she would probably have had tidings of him; but she heard none, and his
body was also never found.

I have no doubt that she told Grettir about this, and also that she
believed that the Stream-churl who lived under Goda-foss had carried off
both her husband and the servant.  I believe also that, to satisfy her,
Grettir undertook to look, and that he actually dived under the fall,
and came up and searched between the sheet of falling water and the
rock, and found—nothing.

That is the foundation of a wonderful story which has found its way into
the saga.  It did not satisfy those who told the tale of Grettir that he
should have spent the winter at Sandheaps and done nothing—that he
should have dived under Goda-foss and found nothing.

So by degrees old nursery tales got mixed up with this incident about
Grettir’s search for the Stream-churl, and all was worked into a
wonderful story, which you shall hear.

On that night on which Grettir had carried Steinvor across the river, he
returned to the farm, and lay down in his bed.

When midnight arrived, then a great din was heard outside, and presently
the hall door was thrown open and in through it came a gigantic woman, a
Troll-wife, with a trough in one hand and a huge chopper in the other.

As she entered she peered about her, and saw Grettir where he lay, and
she ran at him.  Then he jumped up and went to meet her, and they fell
a-wrestling terribly, and struggled together so furiously, that all the
panelling of the hall side was broken.

She was the stronger, and she dragged Grettir towards the door, and
forth towards the entrance, in spite of all his efforts.  She had got
him as far as the entrance, when there he made a final struggle, and in
the struggle the door-posts and fittings were torn from their place, and
fell outwards.

Then the Troll-woman laboured away with him towards the river, and right
down towards the gulfs.

Grettir was exceedingly weary, yet he saw that his only chance was to
make a last effort, or be flung by her over the edge into the deep,
boiling river.

All night they contended in such fashion, and ever was he drawing nearer
to the edge.  But just as she was preparing to fling him into the water,
he got his right hand free, and he swiftly seized his short-sword, and
struck off her arm; and at that moment the sun rose, and the Troll-woman
was turned into stone.  There she stands with her amputated arm-socket,
as a mass of black basalt or lava to this day.

If the reader will recall the story of Grettir’s struggle with Glam at
Thorod’s-stead, in the valley of Shadows, he will see that this is only
the same story over again almost in every particular,—except that the
first fight was with a man, and this is with a woman.  The reason why
this story was concocted and put in here, was to account for the stone
figure which stands by the river, and which is called the Troll-wife.
So far the story carries its character on its face.

Now we will go on to the next part of the tale. It did not satisfy
people that Grettir should have dived under Goda-foss and found nothing,
so the story was thus told:

When the goodwife, Steinvor, came from church, she thought that her
house had been rudely handled; so she went to Grettir and asked him what
had occurred.  Then he told her all, and she prayed him to go and make a
search for her husband’s bones, under Goda-foss.

Grettir consented, but he asked that the priest might be sent for.  His
name was Stone.  Steinvor sent for him, and Stone was curious to know
whether his suspicions about this stranger were true.  So he asked him
questions, but Grettir answered that if the priest wanted to know who he
was, he must find out.  The priest laughed at the story of the
Troll-wife, and said he did not believe a word about the struggle.

Then Grettir said, "Well, priest, I see that you have no faith in my
tale; now I propose that you accompany me to Goda-foss, and we will
search for the Troll himself, and see if we can recover the bones of
Steinvor’s husband."

The priest, Stone, agreed, and they went together to the side of the
waterfall, and they had a rope with them.

Stone shook his head, and he said, "It would be too risky for anyone to
venture down there."

"I will go," said Grettir.  "But you mind the rope."

The priest drove a peg into the sward on the cliff, and heaped stones
over it, so as to make the end firm, and then he seated himself by the

Then Grettir made a loop in the end of the rope, and put a stone through
the loop, and threw the stone down, and the end of the rope went to the
bottom of the gulf.

"How are you going down?" asked Stone.

"I shall dive," said Grettir.

Then he stripped, but girt on a short-sword, and so leaped off the cliff
into the foss.  The priest saw only the soles of his feet as he went
into the water, and then saw no more.

Now, Grettir had gone in below the fall, and he dived and went under the
curtain of water and came up near the rock.  The whirlpool below the
falls was so strong that he had a desperate struggle with the water
before he could reach the rock.

When he rose, he saw that the water fell over a lip of rock, quite
clear, and that in the face of the rock was a cavern, and that smoke
issued from this cave, and mingling with the spray and foam passed away,
and was not discerned beyond.

Grettir climbed over the stones into the cave, and there he saw a great
fire flaming from amidst brands of drift-wood; and there was the
Stream-churl seated there, a great Troll with a hideous face.  When he
saw Grettir he roared and jumped up, and caught a glaive that was near
him, and smote at the newcomer.  Grettir hewed back at him with his
short-sword, and smote the handle of the glaive and broke it.  Then the
giant stretched back for a sword that hung up to a peg against the side
of the cave, but as he was thus leaning back Grettir smote him across
the breast, and cut through to the ribs, and gashed open his belly.  The
blood poured forth out of the cave and mingled with the stream.  When
the priest saw the bloody foam beneath the fall, he was so frightened
that he ran away, for he made sure that Grettir was dead.

Grettir remained in the cave, standing across the giant, till he had
killed him.  Then he took up a flaming brand and searched the cave
through.  He found nothing more than dead men’s bones, and these he put
together into a bag, threw that over his shoulder, and went again into
the water.

He rose beyond the foss and looked up, but could see nothing of the
priest; so he caught the rope, and by means of that he swarmed up to the
top of the cliff.

Then he sat down, and with a sharp knife he cut runes on a staff.  And
what he wrote was this:

    "Down into the gulf I went,
    Where the rocks are widely rent;
    Where the swirling waters fall
    O’er the black basaltic wall;
    Where, with voice of thunder, leap
    In the foaming darkling deep.
    There the stream with icy wave
    Washes the grim giant’s cave."

He had cut as much as he could on one stick, so now he took another, and
on that he cut:

    "Dreadful dweller in the cave
    Underneath the falling wave,
    Fierce at me he brandished glaive;
    Full of rage at me he drove,
    Desperate we together strove.
    Lo!  I smote his halft in twain,
    Lo!  I smote and he was slain,
    Bleeding from each riven vein."

Then Grettir carried the bag of bones and the staves to the church, and
laid them in the porch.

Next morning when the priest came to the church he found the bag of
bones and the staves.

Such is the story.

Now, it is clear that a good bit of it is simply transferred from the
story of Grettir going down into the cairn of Karr the Old.

The real truth of the tale is no more than what has been stated, that
Grettir went under the waterfall and found nothing.  It is, of course,
possible that he may have hoaxed the priest; but I think it more
probable that all this marvellous matter is simply tacked on to one
simple fact, and that it was taken, partly from the story of Grettir in
the barrow of Karr, and partly from that of his struggle with Glam.

What the saga writer does admit is that the versions of the story do not
quite agree, and that—in spite of this wonderful achievement, folks did
not know that Grettir was at Sandheaps that winter.

                            *CHAPTER XXXIV.*

                    *HOW GRETTIR WAS DRIVEN ABOUT.*

    _Thorir comes too Late—The Needle of Basalt—The Island of
    Drangey—The Terrors of the Dark—Brother holds to Brother_

After a while rumours reached Thorir of Garth that either Grettir, or
someone very like Grettir,—a tall, powerful man with reddish hair, and
one who gave no account of whence he came,—was lodging at Sandheaps, and
Thorir made ready to go there after him.  Fortunately Grettir, or rather
the housewife Steinvor, heard of his intention, and so Grettir made off
out of the valley of the Quivering Flood before Thorir came there in
quest of him.

He escaped to Maddervales, in the Horg-river Dale.  This is a noble
valley of the Horg River, with chains of snowy peaks on each side, of
peculiar shape, barred with precipices of basalt, on which lie slopes of

Some way up this valley are some very remarkable spires of basaltic
rock, one of which that is like a needle is said to have been climbed by
Grettir whilst staying in this valley.  It is not so said in the saga,
but I was told so on the spot, and the tale goes that when he climbed to
the top he slipped his belt round the needle, and there it hangs round
it still—but no one has been up since to find if it be there where he
left it.

He could not remain long there, for Gudmund the Rich, who was farmer at
Maddervales, was afraid to house him for long.  Thorir of Garth would
come and burn his house if he harboured Grettir.  However, he kept him
for some little while, and then he gave him advice what he should do.

It had come to such a pass with Grettir now that no one dared to shelter
him for long, and Thorir had spies everywhere to inform him where
Grettir was.

Gudmund the Rich said to Grettir: "You can find no safety anywhere that
men dwell; for if there be not treachery, yet the news flies about that
you are there.  So I advise you to go where you shall be alone."

"Where shall I go?" asked Grettir.  "I am hunted like a dog."

"There is an island," answered Gudmund, "lying in the Skagafirth, called
Drangey.  It is a place excellent for defence, as no one can reach it
without a ladder.  If you could get upon Drangey, no one could come on
you unawares.  You would see anyone who came by boat to the island, and
you could pull up a rope-ladder, without which no one would be able to

"I will try that," said Grettir; "but I have become so fearsome in the
dark that not even at the risk of my life can I endure to be alone."

"Well," said Gudmund, "that is my counsel. Trust none but yourself.
Treachery lies where least expected."

Grettir thanked him for his advice, and went away west to see his
mother.  And he was most joyfully welcomed by her and his young brother
Illugi at Biarg.  There he remained some nights—not many; for Ramsfirth
was only over a brow of hill, and the tidings of his return home was
sure in a few days to reach the relatives of Oxmain, when he would again
be set on.

I said, after giving an account of Grettir’s adventure at
Thorhall’s-stead with Glam, that there must have been something of fact
in that story, and not pure fiction; and now it has been seen how that
event coloured and affected his whole after life, leaving his nerves so
shaken, that he could not drive off the impression then made on him, and
he was ready to run serious risks rather than be subject to the terrors
that came on him in the dark when alone.

He told his mother and Illugi how it was with him, and how that he had
been advised to go to Drangey, but that he could not; he dare not, in
the long winter night, be on that lonely islet by himself.

Then Illugi his brother said, "Grettir, I will be with you."

"Brother holds to brother as hand clasps hand," answered Grettir, and so
they parted.  All that summer he wandered about in wild places, shifting
his quarters repeatedly, and living how he could.

                            *CHAPTER XXXV.*

                             *ON THE ISLE.*

    _Illugi will go to Drangey—Asdis gives Consent—Asdis prophesies
    Woe—Within Sight of Drangey—Glaum becomes Grettir’s
    Servant—Thorwald rows Grettir to Drangey—Thorbiorn Hook—The
    Bonders visit the Island—Grettir in Possession—An Inaccessible

When summer was now over, and the first snow of winter began to fall,
when the days were rapidly shortening, and the sun had gone out of the
north to the south, where it began to move in a rapidly narrowing arc,
Grettir returned to Biarg and remained there a while.  "But," says the
saga, "so great grew his fear in the dark that he durst go nowhere as
soon as dusk set in."  We can see that the many years strain on his
nerves had broken them.  Hunted about as a wild beast, always forced to
be on his guard, never able to sleep without fear of being murdered in
his sleep, the trial had told on him.  This was now the winter of 1028.
He was aged but thirty-one; his strength of body was not abated, only
his nervous force.  He had been in outlawry altogether fifteen years,
three for the slaying of Skeggi, then he had been outlawed by King Olaf
in 1016.  On his return to Iceland he had been outlawed in 1017; this
was the eleventh year of his outlawry at the suit of Thorir of Garth, an
outlawry not only unjust, but according to general opinion illegal,
because he had been tried and sentenced in his absence, and without any
witnesses having been called to establish his guilt—condemned on hearsay
evidence, and he never allowed to defend himself.

Now Illugi, Grettir’s sole surviving brother, was aged fifteen, and was
a very handsome, honest-looking boy.

"Grettir," said he, "you know what I said.  I will go with you to
Drangey, if you will take me. I know not that I will be of much help to
you, but this I know, that I will be ever true to you, and will never
run from you so long as you stand up. Besides, I shall like to be with
you, for here at home we are ever in anxiety for news about you, always
fearing the worst; but if I am at your side, I shall know how you fare."

"I would rather have you with me than anyone else," answered Grettir.
"But I cannot take you unless our mother consent."

Then said Asdis, "Now I can see that I have the choice of evils.  I can
ill spare Illugi; yet I know your trouble, Grettir, and that something
must be done for you.  It grieves me, my sons, to see you both leave me;
yet I will not withhold my youngest from you, Grettir.  It is right that
brother should help brother."

That rejoiced Illugi.  Then Asdis gave her sons what things she thought
they might want on the island, and they made them ready to depart.

She led them outside the farm inclosure, and then she took farewell of
them, saying, "My two sons! There you depart from me, and I dreamed last
night that you left me for ever, and would fall together. What is fated
none may fly from.  Never shall I see you again, either of you.  Be it
so, that one fate overtake you both.  In my dream I saw your bones
whitening on Drangey.  Be careful and watchful. My dreams have troubled
me greatly.  Above all beware of witchcraft.  None can cope with the
craft of the old."

When she had said this she wept sore.

Then said Grettir, "Weep not, mother, for if we be set on with weapons
it will be said of thee that thou hadst men and not girls for thy
children.  Live on well, and be hale."

So they parted.  Grettir and Illugi went to their relatives and visited
them, never, however, staying long in any place, and so on by Swine
Lake, a long sheet of water in a shallow basin, to the Blend River. This
river is of the colour of milk and water, because it is so full of
undissolved snow, and milk and water is called Bland, _i.e._ Blend, in
Icelandic.  Another river enters it that is called the Black Stream,
because of the dark colour of the water.  Grettir turned up the valley
of the Black River and then over a pass by a pretty lake lying in a
mountain lap, down into a broad marshy valley in which are three or four
rivers, and boiling springs pouring forth clouds of steam on the
hill-slopes.  The valley is commanded by a beautiful mountain peak,
called the Measuring Peak, because the natives thereabouts reckon
distances from it.

Grettir and Illugi went down this valley till they reached the sea, and
now there opened before them a glorious view of the fiord, extending out
north about forty miles, and from ten to fifteen miles across, between
mountains and precipitous cliffs.  A little way back from the eastern
shore stood up the Unadals Jokull, crowned with perpetual snows and with
glaciers rolling down the sides, and on the west, close to the sea,
seeming to rise in a wall out of it and running up into fantastic peaks,
was the range of Tindastoll, famous for its cornelians and agates and
other precious stones.  In the offing, fifteen miles out, right in the
midst of the fiord, stood up the isle of Drangey with sheer cliffs,
about which the sea perpetually danced and foamed.

Grettir and Illugi skirted the shore on the west. The wind was blowing
cold, and snow was driving before it, as they passed a farm.  The farmer
stood in his door, and saw a great man stride by with an axe over his
shoulder, his hood thrown back, and his wild red hair blowing about in
the gale.  "Verily," said the farmer, "that must be a strange fellow not
to cover his head with his hood in such weather as this."  Near this
little farm the brothers stumbled upon a tall, thin man, dressed in rags
and with a very big head.  They asked each other’s names, and the fellow
called himself Glaum.  He was out of work, and he went along with the
brothers chatting, and telling them all the gossip of the neighbourhood.
Then Glaum asked if they were in want of a servant, and Grettir gladly
accepted him, and the man became thenceforth his constant attendant. But
the fellow was a sad boaster, and most people thought him both a fool
and a coward.  He was not fond of work, and he spent his time strolling
about the country picking up and retailing news.

Grettir and his brother and Glaum reached a farm called Reykir as the
day closed in, where was a hot spring in the farm paddock.  The farmer’s
name was Thorwald; and Grettir asked him to put him across in a boat to
Drangey.  Thorwald shook his head and said, "I shall get into trouble
with those who have rights of pasturage on the island. I had rather

Then Grettir offered him a bag of silver which his mother had given him,
and at the sight of this, Thorwald raised his eyebrows and thought that
he might perhaps do what was asked.  The distance was just five miles.

So on a moonshiny night Thorwald got three of his churls and they rowed
Grettir and the two who went with him over.  On reaching his destination
Grettir was well pleased with the spot, for it was covered with a
profusion of grass, and the sides were so precipitous that it seemed a
sheer impossibility for anyone to ascend it without the aid of the
rope-ladder that hung from strong staples at the summit. In summer the
place would swarm with sea-birds, and at the time there were eighty
sheep left on the island for fattening.

A good many farmers had rights of pasturage on the island.  Hialti of
Hof was one, whose brother’s name was Thorbiorn Hook, of whom more
hereafter. Another was Haldor, who lived at Head-strand; he had married
the sister of these brothers.  Biorn, Eric, and Tongue-stone were the
names of three others.

Thorbiorn Hook was a hard-headed, ill-disposed fellow.  His father had
married a second time, and there was no love lost between the stepmother
and Thorbiorn.  It is said that one day as The Hook was sitting at
draughts, she passed, and looking over his shoulder laughed, because he
had made a bad move. Thorbiorn Hook thereupon said something abusive and
insulting; this so enraged her that she snatched up a draught-man, and
pressing it against his eye-socket, drove the eyeball out.  He started
to his feet, and with the draught-board struck her over the head such a
blow that she took to her bed, and died of the injury.  The Hook now
went from bad to worse, and leaving home settled at Woodwick on the
fiord, a small farm.  It will be understood from this story that he was
a violent and brutal fellow, and that, indeed, the life in his father’s
house had not been of an orderly description.

As many as twenty farmers claimed rights to turn out their sheep on
Drangey in summer.  The way they managed it is the way still employed by
their successors.  They take the sheep out in boats, and then put them
over their shoulders, with the feet tied under their chins, and so they
climb the rope-ladder, carrying the sheep up on their backs. Though all
these farmers claimed rights on Drangey, The Hook and his brother had
the largest share, that is to say, the right to turn out more sheep than
the rest.

Now, about the time of the winter solstice, that is just before Yule,
the bonders made ready to visit the island, and bring home their sheep
for slaughtering for the Christmas feasting.  They rowed out in a large
boat, and on nearing the island were much surprised to see figures
moving on top of the cliffs.  How anyone had got there without their
knowledge puzzled them, for Thorwald had kept his counsel, and told no
one what he had done for Grettir.  They pulled hard for the
landing-place, where hung the ladder, but Grettir drew it up before they

The bonders shouted to know who were on the crags, and Grettir, looking
over, told his name and those of his companions.  The farmers then asked
how he had got there? who had put him across?

Grettir answered, "If you very much wish to know, it was not one of you
below now speaking to us.  It was someone else, who had a good boat and
a pair of lusty arms."

"Let us fetch our sheep away," called the bonders, "then you come to
land with us.  We will not make you pay for the sheep you have eaten,
and we will do you no harm."

"Well offered," answered Grettir; "but he who takes keeps hold; and a
bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Believe me, I will not leave
this island till the time of my outlawry is expired, unless I be carried
from it dead."

The bonders were silenced, it seemed to them that they had got an ugly
customer on Drangey, to get rid of whom would be no easy matter; so they
rowed home, very ill-satisfied with the result of their expedition.

The news spread like wildfire, and was talked about all through the
neighbourhood.  Thorir of Garth was the more embittered, because he
could see no way in which Grettir could be reached and overmastered in
this inaccessible spot.

                            *CHAPTER XXXVI.*

                      *OF GRETTIR ON HERON-NESS.*

    _Grettir goes to Heron-ness—At the Games—The Hook’s
    Challenge—Amongst Strangers—The Oath of Safe-conduct—An old
    Formula—A Surprise for the Bonders—Regretting the Oath—The two
    Brothers—Grettir returns to Drangey_

Winter passed, and at the beginning of summer the whole district met at
an assize held on the Herons’-ness, a headland in the Skaga-firth,
between the rivers that discharge into the fiord. It is, in fact, the
seaward point of a large island in the delta of the river that divides
about eight miles higher up, inland.  The gathering was thronged, and
the litigations and merry-makings made the assize last over many days.
Grettir guessed what was going on by seeing a number of boats pass to
the head of the fiord.  He became restless, and at last announced to his
brother that he intended being present at the assize, cost what it
might.  Illugi thought it was sheer madness, but Grettir was resolute.
He begged his brother and Glaum to watch the ladder and await his

Now, Grettir was on very good terms with the farmer at Reykir, and with
some others on that side of the firth, and they were not unwilling to
help him.  Sometimes his mother sent things to the brothers that she
thought they would need, and then there were not wanting men to take
these over to the island.  So Grettir got put across by his friend
Thorwald to the mainland, and he borrowed of him a set of old clothes,
and thus attired he went along the coast boldly to Heron-ness.  He had
on a fur cap, which was drawn closely over his eyes, and concealed his
face, so that no one might recognize him.  Now, in parts of Iceland, the
flies are such torments that men have to wear literally cloth helmets,
with only nose and eyes showing, the cloth fitting tight to the head,
and round over the ears and neck, exactly like a helmet, or a German
knitted sledging cap.  When I was in Iceland, when the flies were
troublesome, I put my head into a butterfly net, and buckled it round my
neck tightly with a leather strap.  Now, Grettir’s cap was something
like those I have described, and no one was surprised at his wearing it,
as the whole of that valley is one vast marsh, and is infested with
flies that blacken the air and madden men and beasts.

Grettir thus attired sauntered between the booths erected on the
headland, till he reached the spot where games were going on.

Now, Hialti and Thorbiorn Hook were the chief men in these sports.  Hook
was specially noisy and boisterous, and drove men together to the
sports, and whether men liked it or not, he insisted on their
attendance.  He would take this man and that by the hands and drag him
forth to the field, where the wrestling and other games went on.

Now, first wrestled those who were weakest, and then each man in turn,
and great fun there was. But when most men had tried their strength
except the very strongest, it was asked who would be a match for Hialti
and The Hook.  These two being the strongest and the roughest of all,
went round inviting each man in turn to wrestle with them, but all

Then Thorbiorn Hook, looking round, spied a tall fellow in the shabbiest
and quaintest of suits, sitting by himself, speaking to no one.
Thorbiorn walked up to him, laid his hands on his shoulders and asked
him to wrestle.

The man sat still, and The Hook could not drag him from his seat.

"Well!" exclaimed The Hook, "no one else has kept his place before me
to-day.  Who are you?"

"Guest," answered Grettir shortly.

"A wished-for guest thou wilt be, if thou furnish some entertainment to
the company," said Thorbiorn Hook.

Grettir answered, "I am indisposed to make a fool of myself before
strangers.  How am I to know, supposing that I give you a fall, that I
shall not be set upon by you or your kindred, and be unfairly treated?"

Then many exclaimed that there should be fair play.

"It is all very well your saying Fair-play now; but will you say
Fair-play, and stick to it, supposing I get the better of this man.  You
are all akin, or friends, and I am a stranger to you all."

Again he was assured that no one would resent what he did.

"But see," said Grettir, "I have not wrestled for many years, and have
lost all skill in the matter."

Yet they pressed him the more.

Then he said, "I will wrestle with whom you will, if you will swear to
show me no violence so long as I am among you as a guest."

This all agreed to, and an oath of safe conduct was made, the form of
which is so curious that it must be given.

A man named Hafr recited the terms of the oath, and the rest agreed to

"Here set I peace among all men towards this man Guest, who sits before
us, and in this oath I bind all magistrates and well-to-do bonders, and
all men who bear swords, and all men whatsoever in this district,
present or absent, named or unnamed. These are to show peace to, and
give free passage to the aforenamed stranger, that he may sport,
wrestle, make merry, abide with us and depart from us, without stay,
whether he go by land or flood. He shall have peace where he is, in all
places where he may be till he reaches his house whence he set out, so
long and no longer.

"I set this treaty of peace between him and us, our kinsmen male and
female, our servants and children.  May the breaker of this compact be
cast out of the favour of God and good men, out of his heavenly
inheritance and the society of just men and angels.  May he be an
outcast from land to its farthest limits, far as men chase wolves, as
Christians frequent churches, as heathen men offer sacrifices, as flame
burns, earth produces herb, as baby calls its mother, and mother rocks
her child; far as fire is kindled, ships glide, lightnings flicker, sun
shines, snow lies, Finns slide on snow-shoes, fir-trees grow, falcons
fly on a spring day with a breeze under their wings; far as heaven
bends, earth is peopled, winds sweep the water into waves, churls till
corn; he shall be banished from churches and the company of Christian
men, from heathen folk, from house and den, from every house—save hell!
Now let us be agreed whether we be on mountain or shore, on ship or
skate, on ground or glacier, at sea or in saddle, as friend with friend,
as brother with brother, as father with son, in this our compact.  Lay
we now hand to hand, and hold we true peace and keep every word of this

Now, this formula is very curious.  It must have been brought by the
Icelandic settlers with them from Norway, for parts of it are
inappropriate to their land.  There are no Finns there, nor do fir-trees
grow there, nor is any corn tilled.  But all that about Christians is of
later origin.

After a little hesitation the oath was taken by all.

Then said Grettir, "You have done well, only beware of breaking your
oath.  I am ready to do my part, without delay, to fulfil your wishes."

Thereupon he flung aside his hood and garments, and the assembled
bonders looked at each other, and were disconcerted, for they saw that
they had in their midst Grettir Asmund’s son.  They were silent, and
thought that they had taken the oath somewhat unadvisedly, and they
whispered the one into another, to find if there were not some loophole
by which they might evade the obligation to observe the oath.

"Come now," said Grettir, "let me know your purpose, for I shall not
long stand stripped.  It will be worse for you than for me if you break
your oath, for it will go down in story to the end of time that the men
of Heron-ness swore and were perjured."

He received no answer.  The chiefs moved away; some wanted to break the
truce, and argued that an oath taken to an outlaw was not legally
binding; others insisted that the oath must be observed. Then Grettir

    "Many trees-of-wealth (_men_) this morn,
    Failed the well-known well to know,
    Two ways turn the sea-flame-branches (_men_),
    When a trick on them is tried;
    Falter folk in oath fulfilling,
    Hafr’s talking lips are dumb."

Then Tongue-stone said, "You think so, do you, Grettir?  Well, I will
say this of you, you are a man of dauntless courage.  Look how the
chiefs are deep in discussion how to deal with you."

Then Grettir sang:

    "Shield-lifters (_men_) rubbing of noses,
    Shield-tempest-senders (men) shake beards,
    Fierce-hearted serpent’s-lair-scatterers (_men_),
    Lay their heads one ’gainst another,
    Now that they know, are regretting
    The peace they have sworn to to-day."

In these staves a number of periphrases for men or warriors are used—and
the use of these periphrases constitute the charm of these verses.

Then Hialti of Hof burst away from the rest, and said, "No, never, never
shall it be said of us men of Heron-ness, that we have broken an oath
because we have found it inconvenient to keep it.  Grettir shall be at
full liberty to go to his place in peace, and woe betide him who lays
hand on him, to do him an injury.  But an oath no longer binds us should
he venture ashore again."

All except Thorbiorn Hook, Hialti’s brother, agreed to this, and felt
their minds and consciences relieved, that he had spoken out as a man of
honour.  And thus was seen how of those two brothers, rude and violent
though both were, Hialti had some nobleness in him that was lacking in
the other.

The wrestling began by Grettir being matched with Thorbiorn Hook, and
after a very brief struggle Grettir freed himself from his antagonist,
leaped over his back, caught him by the belt, lifted him off his legs,
and flung him over his back.  This is a throw called "showing the white
mare," among Cornish wrestlers of the present day, and a very dangerous
throw it is, for it sometimes breaks the back of the man thrown.  The
Hook, however, picked himself up, and the wrestling continued with
unabated vigour, and it was impossible to tell which side had the
mastery, for, though Grettir was matched against both brothers, and
after each bout with one brother fell to with the other, he was never
thrown down. After all three were covered with blood and bruises the
match was closed, the judges deciding that the two brothers conjointly
were not stronger than Grettir alone, though they were each of them as
powerful as two ordinary able-bodied men.

Grettir at once left the place of gathering, rejecting all the
entreaties of the farmers that he would leave Drangey.  And, so, after
all but The Hook had thanked him for his wrestling and praised his
activity and strength, he departed.  He was put across from Reykir to
his island, and was received with open arms by Illugi.

There now they abode peaceably, and Grettir told his brother and his
churl Glaum the story of what had taken place at the assize, and thus
the summer wore away.

There was much talk through the island of Iceland about this adventure,
and all good men approved the conduct of the men of the Skagafiord that
they had kept the oath they had so inconsiderately taken.

                           *CHAPTER XXXVII.*

                          *OF HŒRING’S LEAP.*

    _The Piebald Ram—In want of Fire—Not born to be Drowned—Thorwald
    aids Grettir—A Stratagem—Hœring climbs the Cliff—Hœring’s Leap_

The smaller farmers began seriously to feel their want of the islet
Drangey for pasture in summer, and, as there seemed no chance of their
getting rid of Grettir, they sold their rights to Thorbiorn Hook, who
set himself in earnest to devise a plan by which he might possess
himself of the island.

When Grettir had been two winters on the island, he had eaten all the
sheep except one piebald ram, with magnificent horns, which became so
tame that he ran after them wherever they went, and in the evening came
to the hut Grettir had erected and butted at the door till let in.

The brothers liked this place of exile, as there was no dearth of eggs
and birds, besides which, some drift-wood was thrown upon the strand,
and served as fuel.

Grettir and Illugi spent their days in clambering among the rocks, and
rifling nests, and the occupation of the thrall was to collect drift
timber and keep up the fire in the hut.  He was expected to remain awake
and watch the fire whilst the others slept. He got very tired of his
life on the islet, became idle, morose, and reserved.  One night,
notwithstanding Grettir’s warnings to him to be more careful, as they
had no boat, he let the fire go out. Grettir was very angry, and told
Glaum that he deserved a sound thrashing for his neglect.  The thrall
replied that he loathed the life he led; and that it seemed it was not
enough to Grettir that he should keep him there as a prisoner, he must
also maltreat him.

Grettir consulted his brother what was best to be done, and Illugi
replied that the only thing that could be done was to await the arrival
of a boat from the friendly farmer at Reykir.

"We shall have to wait long enough for that," said Grettir.  "The
bonders have taken it ill that he has favoured us, and he is now
unwilling to be seen visiting Drangey.  The only chance is for me to
swim ashore and secure a light."

"Do not attempt that!" exclaimed Illugi.  "That is what you did in
Norway, and that led to all your misfortune."

"This case is different," answered Grettir.  "Then I brought fire for
ill-conditioned men, now it is for ourselves.  Then I knew not who was
on the other side, but now I can get the fire for the asking from

"But the distance is so great!" remonstrated Illugi.

"Do not fear for me," said Grettir; "I was not born to be drowned."

From Drangey to Reykir is, as already said, about five English miles.

Grettir prepared for swimming, by dressing in loose thin drawers and a
sealskin hood; he tied his fingers together, that they might offer more
resistance to the water when he struck out.

The day was fine and warm.  Grettir started in the evening, when the
tide was in his favour, setting in; and his brother anxiously watched
him from the rocks.  At sunset he reached the land, after having floated
and swum the whole distance.  Immediately on coming ashore, he went to
the warm spring and bathed in it, before entering the house.  The hall
door was open, and Grettir stepped in.  A large fire had been burning on
the hearth, so that the room was very warm; Grettir was so thoroughly
exhausted that he lay down beside the hot embers, and was soon fast
asleep.  In the morning he was found by the farmer’s daughter, who gave
him a bowl of milk, and brought her father to him.  Thorwald furnished
him with fire, and rowed him back to the island, astonished beyond
measure at his achievement, in having swum such a distance.

Now, the farmers on the Skagafiord began to taunt Thorbiorn Hook with
his unprofitable purchase of the island, and Hook was greatly irritated
and perplexed what to do.

During the summer, a ship arrived in the firth, the captain of which was
a young and active man called Hœring.  He lodged with Thorbiorn Hook
during the autumn, and was continually urging his host to row him out to
Drangey, that he might try to climb the precipitous sides of the island.
The Hook required very little pressing; and one fine afternoon he rowed
his guest out to Drangey, and put him stealthily ashore, without
attracting the notice of those on the height.  For in some places the
cliffs overhung, so that a boat passing beneath could not be seen from
above.  Now Hœring had lain in the bottom of the boat, covered with a
piece of sailcloth, so that the brothers saw nothing of him as the boat
was approaching the islet.

They saw and recognized Thorbiorn Hook and his churls, and at once drew
up the ladder.  Now it was whilst they were watching at the
landing-place that Thorbiorn put Hœring out on another point, where the
cliffs seemed possible to be climbed by a very skilful man, and then
came on to the usual landing place, and there shouted to Grettir.
Grettir replied, and then Thorbiorn began the usual arguments to
persuade the outlaw to leave the isle.  He promised to give him shelter
in his house the winter, if he would do so.  All was in vain.  What he
sought was to divert Grettir’s attention so as to allow time and
occasion for Hœring to climb the cliffs unobserved and unresisted.

The discussion went on but led to nothing.  In the meantime Hœring had
managed most cleverly to get up by a way never ascended by man before or
after; and when he came to the top and had his feet on the turf, he saw
where the brothers stood with their backs turned towards him, and he
thought that now an opportunity had come for him to make himself a great
name.  Grettir suspected nothing, and continued talking to Thorbiorn,
who was getting, or feigning to get, angry, and used big and violent

Now, as luck would have it, Illugi chanced to turn his head, and he saw
a man approaching from behind.

Then he cried out, "Brother!  Brother!  Here comes a man at us with
uplifted axe!"

"You go after him," said Grettir.  "I will watch at the ladder."

So Illugi started to his feet and went to meet Hœring, and when the
young merchant saw that he was discovered, he fled away across the
islet, and Illugi went after him.  And when Hœring came to the edge he
leaped down, hoping to fall into the sea; but he had missed his
reckoning, and he went upon some skerries over which the waves tossed,
and broke every bone in his body, and so ended his life.  The spot is
called Hœring’s Leap to this day.

Illugi came back, and Grettir asked him what had been the end of the
encounter.  Illugi told him.

"Now, Thorbiorn," shouted Grettir; "we have had enough of profitless
talk.  Go round to the other side of the island and gather up the
remains of your friend."

The Hook pushed off from the strand and returned home, ill pleased with
the result of the expedition, and Grettir remained unmolested on Drangey
the ensuing winter.

                           *CHAPTER XXXVIII.*


    _The New Law-man—The Outlawry almost at an End_

The ensuing summer, that is to say, the summer of 1031, at the great
annual assize at Thingvalla, all Grettir’s kin and friends brought up
the matter of outlawry, and contended that he ought to have his sentence
done away with.  They said that no man could be an outlaw all his life,
that was not a condition contemplated by their laws.  They said that he
had been outlawed first in 1011 for the slaying of Skeggi, and that he
had been in outlawry ever since, which made nineteen years.

The old law-man was dead, and now there was another at the assize, whose
name was Stein.  He laid down that no man might by law be in outlawry
more than twenty years.  Now, when they came to reckon since 1011 it was
nineteen years.  It was true that he had been outlawed thrice, once for
Skeggi, then by King Olaf, and lastly by the court for the burning of
the sons of Thorir of Garth, still—the fact remained that for nineteen
years he had been an outlaw, and Stein laid down that by next assize,
that is to say in one year, his outlawry would have expired.

Thereat Grettir’s kinsfolk were pleased, for they thought that he would
only have to spend one winter more on Drangey, and afterwards his
troubles would be at an end; Thorir of Garth and his other foes could no
more pursue him, and the price set on his head would fall away.

But on the other hand, Thorir of Garth, who had not become more
charitable and forgiving as he grew old, became still more incensed and
impatient to have Grettir killed before this year would expire, also
Thorbiorn Hook cast about how he might be avenged for the deprivation of
his rights over Drangey.  The men who had sold their claims came to
Thorbiorn, and told him he must do one of two things: get rid of Grettir
and assert his rights by turning out sheep on the islet, or they would
regard the sale as quashed, by his non-usance of the pasture, and they
would reclaim their shares of the island as soon as Grettir’s outlawry
was at an end, and he left the place.

                            *CHAPTER XXXIX.*

                           *OF THE OLD HAG.*

    _The Hook’s Foster-mother—The Hag’s Request—The Witch in the
    Boat—The Hag’s Dooming—An Unlucky Throw—Working Bane—The Magic

Now it was so, that Thorbiorn Hook had a foster-mother, a woman advanced
in age, and of a very malicious disposition.  When the people of Iceland
accepted Christianity, she, in her heart, remained a heathen, and would
not be baptized and have anything to do with the new religion.  She had
always been reckoned a witch, but with the introduction of Christianity
witchcraft had been made illegal, and anyone who had recourse to sorcery
was severely dealt with.  The old woman had not forgotten her
incantations and strange ceremonies, whereby she thought to be able to
conjure the spirits of evil, and send ill on such as offended her.

When Thorbiorn Hook found that he could contrive in no way to get
Grettir out of Drangey, and when he saw that if his expulsion were
delayed, and Grettir left of his own accord, he would forfeit the money
he had paid for the rights of pasturage on the island, he went to his
foster-mother, and told her his difficulty, and pretty plainly let her
understand that as he could get help nowhere else, he did not mind
having recourse to the black art.

"Ah!" cackled she, "I see how it is, when all else fails, man’s arms and
man’s wit, then you come to the bed-ridden crone and seek her aid.
Well, I will assist you to the best of my power, on one condition, and
that is, that you obey me without questioning."

The Hook agreed to what she said, and so all rested till August without
the matter being again alluded to.

Then one beautiful day the hag said to Thorbiorn, "Foster-son, the sea
is calm and the sky bright, what say you to our rowing over to Drangey
and stirring up the old strife with Grettir?  I will go with you and
hear what he says, then I shall be able to judge what fate lies before
him, and I can death-doom him accordingly."

The Hook answered, "It is waste of labour going out to Drangey.  I have
been there several times and never return better off than when I went."

"You promised to obey me without questioning," said the crone.  "Follow
my advice and all will be well for you and ill for Grettir."

"I will do as you bid me, foster-mother," said Thorbiorn, "though I had
sworn not to go back to Drangey till I was sure I could work the bane of

"That man is not laid low hastily, and patience is needed; but his time
will come, and may be close at hand.  What the end of this visit will be
I cannot say.  It is hid from me, but I know very well that it will lead
to his or to your destruction."

Thorbiorn ran out a long boat, and entered it with twelve men.  The hag
sat in the bows coiled up amongst rugs and wadmal.  When they reached
the island, at once Grettir and Illugi ran to the ladder, and Thorbiorn
again asked if Grettir would come to his house for the winter.

Grettir made the same reply as before, "Do what you will, in this spot I
await my fate."

Now Thorbiorn saw that this expedition also was likely to be resultless,
and he became very angry. "I see," he said, "that I have to do with an
ill-conditioned churl, who does not know how to accept a good offer when
made.  I shall not come here again with such an offer."

"That pleases me well," said Grettir, "for you and I are not like to
come to terms that will satisfy both."

At that moment the hag began to wriggle out of her wraps in the bows.
Grettir had not perceived her hitherto.  Now she screamed out, "These
men may be strong, but their strength is ebbing.  They may have had
luck, but luck has left.  See what a difference there is between men.
Thorbiorn makes good offers, and such they blindly, foolishly reject.
Those who are blinded and cast away chances do not have chances come to
them again.  And now Grettir"—she raised her withered arms over her
head—"I doom you to all ill, I doom you to loss of health, to loss of
wisdom and of foresight.  I doom you to decline and to death.  I doom
your blood to fester, and your brain to be clouded.  I doom your marrow
to curdle and chill.  Henceforth, so is my doom, all good things will
wane from you, and all evil things will wax and overwhelm you.  So be
it."  As she spoke a shudder ran over Grettir’s limbs, and he asked who
that imp was in the boat.  Illugi told him he fancied it must be that
old heathen woman, the foster-mother of Thorbiorn Hook.

"Since the powers of evil are with our foes," said Grettir, "how may we
oppose them?  Never before has anything so shaken me with presentiment
of evil as have the curses of this witch.  But she shall have a reminder
of her visit to Drangey."

Thereupon he snatched up a large stone and threw it at the boat, and it
fell on the bundle of rags, in the midst of which lay the old hag.  As
it struck there rose a wild shriek from the witch, for the stone had hit
and broken her leg.

"Brother!" exclaimed Illugi, "you should not have done this."

"Blame me not," answered Grettir gloomily.  "It had been well had the
stone fallen on her head.  But I trow the working of her curse is begun,
and what I have done has been because my understanding and wit are
already clouded."

On the return of Thorbiorn to the mainland the crone was put to bed, and
The Hook was less pleased than ever with his trip to the island.  His
foster-mother, however, consoled him.

"Do not be discouraged," she said.  "Now is come the turning-point of
Grettir’s fortunes, and his luck will leave him more and more as the
light dies away up to Yule.  But the light dies and comes again.  With
Grettir it will not be so, it will die, and die, till it goes out in
endless night."

"You are a confident woman, foster-mother," said Thorbiorn.

When a month had elapsed, the old woman was able to leave her bed, and
to limp across the room.

One day she asked to be led down to the beach. Thorbiorn gave her his
arm, and she had her crutch, and she hobbled down to where the water was
lapping on the shingle.  And there, just washed up on the beach, lay a
log of drift-timber, just large enough for a man to carry upon his
shoulder.  Then she gave command that the log should be rolled over and
over that she might examine each side.  The log on one side seemed to
have been charred, and she sent to the house for a plane, and had the
burnt wood smoothed away.

When that was done she dismissed every one save her foster-son, and then
with a long knife she cut runes on the wood where it had been
planed—that is to say, words written in the peculiar characters made of
strokes which Odin was supposed to have invented.  Then she cut herself
on the arm, and smeared the letters she had cut with her blood. After
that she rose and began to leap and dance, screaming a wild spell round
the log, making the most strange and uncouth contortions, and waving her
crutch in the air, making with it mysterious signs over the log.
Presently, when the incantation was over, she ordered the log to be
rolled back into the sea.  The tide was now ebbing, and with the tide
the log went out to sea further and further from land till Thorbiorn saw
it no more.

                             *CHAPTER XL.*

                     *HOW THE LOG CAME TO DRANGEY.*

    _Food for the Winter—Cast up by the Sea—The Log comes back
    again—The Worst is come—An ugly Wound—The Hag’s Revenge—Grettir
    sings his Great Deeds—Presage of Evil_

In the meantime Grettir, Illugi, and the churl Glaum were on Drangey
catching fish and fowl for winter supplies.  The fish in Iceland are
beaten hard with stones and then dried in the wind, that makes them like
leather; but it preserves them for a very long time, and they form the
staple of food, as the people have no corn, and consequently no bread.
They put butter on these dry fish, and tear them with their teeth.  What
Grettir did with the fowl he caught was to pickle them with salt water
from the sea, and when the frost and snow came on then he would take
them out of pickle and freeze them.  Now, the whole of the sheep had
been eaten some time ago, except the old mottled ram, which Grettir
could not find in his heart to kill; and, as may be supposed, he and his
brother suffered from want of change of food.  Especially deficient were
they in any green food; and we know, though he did not, that the eating
of green food is a very essential element of health.  He had nothing for
consumption but salted birds and dried fish—no milk, no bread, no
vegetables.  Such a diet was certain to disorder his health.

The day after that on which the hag had charmed the piece of timber, the
two brothers were walking on the little strand to the west of the island
looking for drift-wood.

"Here is a fine beam!" exclaimed Illugi.  "Help me to lift it on to my
shoulder, and I will carry it up the ladder."

Grettir spurned the log with his foot, saying, "I do not like the looks
of it, Little brother.  Runes are cut on it, and what they portend I do
not know. There may be written there something that may bring ill.  Who
can tell but this log may have been sent with ill wishes against us."
They set the log adrift, and Grettir warned his brother not to bring it
to their fire.

In the evening they returned to their cabin, and nothing was said about
the log to Glaum.  Next day they found the same beam washed up not far
from the foot of the ladder.  Grettir was dissatisfied, and again he
thrust it from the shore, saying that he hoped they had seen the last of
it, and that the stream and tide would catch it and waft it elsewhere.
And now the equinoctial gales began to rage.  The fine Martinmas summer
was over.  The weather changed to storm and rain; and so bad was it that
the three men remained indoors till their supply of firewood was

Then Grettir ordered the thrall to search the shore for fuel.  Glaum
started up with an angry remonstrance that the weather was not such as a
dog should be turned out in, with unreason, not considering that a fire
was as necessary to him as to his master.  He went to the ladder,
crawled down it, and found the same beam cast at its very foot.

Glad not to have to go far in his search, Glaum shouldered the log,
crept up the ladder, bore it to the hut, and throwing open the door,
cast it down in the midst.

Grettir jumped up, "Well done," said he, "you have been quick in your

"Now I have brought it, you must chop it up," said Glaum.  "I have done
my part."

Grettir took his axe.  The fire was low and wanted replenishing, and
without paying much attention to the log, he swung his axe and brought
it down on the log.  But the wood was wet and greasy with sea-weed, and
the axe slipped, glanced off the beam, and cut into Grettir’s leg below
the knee, on the shin, with such force that it stuck in the bone.

Grettir looked at the beam; the fire leaped up, and by its light the
runic inscription on it was visible.  Grettir at once saw evil.  "The
worst is come upon us," he said sadly, as he cast the axe away, and
threw himself down by the fire.  "This is the same log that I have twice
rejected.  Glaum, you have done us two ill turns, first when you
neglected the fire and let it go out, and now in that you have brought
this beam to us.  Beware how you commit a third, for that I foresee will
be your bane as well as ours."

Illugi bound up his brother’s wound with rag; there was but a slight
flow of blood, but it was an ugly gash.  That night Grettir slept
soundly.  For three days and nights he was without pain, and the wound
seemed to be healing healthily, the skin to be forming over it.

"My dear brother," said Illugi, "I do not think that this cut will
trouble you long."

"I hope not," answered Grettir.  "But none can see where a road leads
till they have gone through to the end."

On the fourth evening they laid them down to sleep as usual.  About
midnight the lad, Illugi, awoke hearing Grettir tossing in his bed as
though suffering.

"Why are you so uneasy?" asked the boy.

Grettir replied that he felt great pain in his leg, and he thought, he
said, that some change must have taken place in the condition of the

Illugi at once blew up the embers on the hearth into a flame, and by its
light examined his brother’s leg.  He found that the foot was swollen
and discoloured, and that the wound had reopened, and looked far more
angry than he had seen it yet. Intense pain ensued, so that poor Grettir
could not remain quiet for a moment, but tossed from side to side.  His
cheeks were fevered, and his tongue parched.  He could obtain no sleep
at all.

Illugi never left him, he sat beside him holding his hand, or bringing
him water to slake his unquenchable thirst.

"The worst approaches, and there is no avoiding it," said Grettir.
"This sickness is sent by the old witch in revenge for the stone I had
cast at her."

"I misliked the casting of that stone," said Illugi.

"It was ill that it did not fall on her head," said Grettir.  "But what
is done may not be undone."  Then he heaved himself up into a sitting
posture and sang, supporting himself against his brother’s shoulder, a
lay, of which only fragments have come down to us.  A good deal of the
lay refers to incidents in Grettir’s life, of which no record remains in
the saga, and many staves have fallen away and been lost.  So we give
but a few verses:—

    "I fought with the sword in the bye-gone day,
      In the day when I was young;
    When the Rovers I slew in old Norway,
      The land with my action rung.

    "I entered the grave of Karr the Old,
      I rived his sword away;
    I strove with the Troll at Thorod’s-stead,
      Before the break of day.

    "With Thorbiorn Oxmain in the marsh
      I fought, and his blood I shed;
    Against Thorir of Garth have I stood in arms,
      Who long would have me dead.

    "For nineteen years, I a hunted man,
      On mountain, on moor, and fen;
    For nineteen years had to shun and flee
      The face of my fellow men.

    "For nineteen years all bitter to bear
      Both hunger and cold and pain;
    And never to know when I laid me down,
      If I might awake again.

    "And now do I lie with a burning eye,
      As a wolf is fain to die;
    Whilst the skies are dripping and ocean roars,
      And the winds sob sadly by—"

The song was probably composed before, as otherwise it is not easy to
account for its preservation. His head was burning, his thoughts
wandered, and he ceased singing.  He seemed to be dozing off.  But
presently he started and shivered, and looked hastily about him.

"Let us be cautious now," he said, "for Thorbiorn Hook will make another
attempt.  To me it matters little—but to you, brother.  Glaum, watch the
ladder by day, and draw it up at night.  Be a faithful servant, for now
all depends on you.  Illugi will not leave me, so we are in your hands."

                             *CHAPTER XLI.*

                        *THE END OF THE OUTLAW.*

    _The Shadow of Death—Thorbiorn and his Foster-mother—The Hook
    sails for Drangey—Out in the Gale—The Unguarded Ladder—Glaum is
    Captured—The Brothers’ last Evening—Defending the Hut—Grettir
    Wounded—Illugi Taken—The Notch in the Sword—Illugi vows
    Vengeance—Death of Illugi_

The weather became daily worse, and a fierce north-east wind raged over
the country, bearing with it cold and sleet, and covering the fells with
the first snows of winter.  Grettir inquired every night if the ladder
had been drawn up, according to order.  Glaum answered churlishly, "How
can you expect folk to live out in such a storm as this?  Do you think
they are so eager to kill you that they will jeopardize their lives in
trying to do this?  It is easy to see that a little cut was all that
lacked to let your courage leak out."

Grettir answered, "Go! and do not argue with us; guard the ladder as you
have been bidden!"

So Illugi drove the churl from the hut every morning, notwithstanding
his angry remonstrances; and Glaum was in the worst of humours.

The pain became more acute, and the whole leg inflamed and swollen,
signs of mortification appeared, and wounds opened in different parts of
the limb, so that Grettir felt that the shadow of death hung over him.
Illugi sat night and day with his brother’s head on his shoulder,
bathing his forehead, and doing his utmost to console the fleeting
spirit. A week had elapsed since the wound had been made.

Now, Thorbiorn Hook was at home, ill-pleased at the failure of all his
schemes for dispossessing Grettir of the island.

One day his foster-mother came to him, and asked whether he were ready
now to pay his final visit to the outlaw?

Thorbiorn replied that he had paid quite as many visits to him as he
liked, and that he should not go to Drangey again till Grettir left it;
and then, with a sneer he asked his foster-mother whether she wanted to
have her second leg broken, and was not satisfied with the fracture of

"I will not go to Drangey myself," answered the old woman.  "That is
unnecessary.  I have sent him my salutation, and by this he has received
it.  Speed away now to Drangey, and find how he relishes my message.
But I warn you, you must go now or you will be too late."

Thorbiorn would not listen; he said that her advice last time had led to
no advantage when he followed it, and that the weather was too bad to go
out in.

"You need go but this once," said the crone. "The storm is of my
sending, and is sent to work my ends."

Finally he allowed himself to be persuaded.  So he got together men, and
asked his neighbours to help him; and a large vessel was manned.  That
is to say, the other farmers consented to lend him men, but none of them
would accompany him themselves.  The Hook took twelve of his own men;
his brother, Hialti, lent him three; Erick of Gooddale sent one man;
Tongue-stone furnished him with two; another, named Halldor, let him
have six.  Of all these, the only two whose name need be mentioned are
Karr and Vikarr.

Thorbiorn got a large sailing-boat for his purpose, and started from
Heron-ness.  None of the men were in good spirits, as the weather was
bad; moreover, they had no liking for their leader.  By dusk the boat
was afloat, the sail spread, and they ran out to sea.  As the wind was
from the north-east, they were under the lee of the high cliffs, and
were not exposed to the full violence of the storm.

Heavy scuds of rain and sleet swept the fiord; the sky was overcast with
whirling masses of vapour, charged with snow, and beneath their shadow
the waters of the firth were black as ink.  For one moment the clouds
were parted by the storm, the rowers looked up, and saw the heavens
tinged with the crimson rays of the northern light.  A flame ran along
the cordage, and finally settled on the masthead of the vessel, swaying
and dancing with the motion of the boat.  It was that electric spark,
which is called in the Mediterranean S. Elmo’s fire.

A line of white foam marked the base of Drangey; and now and then a
great wave from the mouth of the fiord boomed against the crags, and
shot in spouts of foam high into the air.  Along the western shore of
the firth, which was exposed to the full brunt of the gale, the mighty
billows were beaten into white yeasty heaps of water.  From the top of
Drangey one tiny spark shone from the window of the hovel where lay the
dying outlaw.

Now let us look again at Grettir.

He had been in less pain that day.  Illugi had not left him, but
remained faithful at his post.

The thrall, Glaum, had been sent out as usual to collect fuel and to
watch the ladder, and to draw it up at nightfall.  But instead of doing
as he was bidden, the fellow laid himself down at the head of the steps,
under a shelter-hut of turf that had been there erected, and went to

When Thorbiorn and his party reached the shore, they found to their
content that the ladder had not been removed.

"Good luck attends on those who wait," said The Hook "Now, my fellows!
the journey will not prove as bootless as you expected.  Up the ladder
with you! and let us all be cautious and bold!"

So they ascended, one after the other, The Hook taking the lead.  On
reaching the top he looked into the shelter-hut, and there found Glaum,
asleep and snoring.  Thorbiorn struck him over the shoulders, and asked
him who he was.

Glaum turned on his side, rubbed his eyes, and growled forth, "Can you
not leave a poor wretch alone?  Never was a man so ill-treated as am I.
I may not even sleep out here in the cold."

The Hook then knew who this was.  "Fool!" shouted he.  "Look up, and see
who are come.  We are your foes, and intend to kill every one of you."

Glaum started now to his feet full awake, and shrieked with dismay when
he saw the black figures crowding up from the ladder and surrounding

"Make no noise," said Thorbiorn Hook.  "I give you the choice of two
things; answer the questions I put to you truthfully, or die at once."

The churl answered sullenly that he would speak, and he had nothing to

"Then tell me where the brothers are?"

"In the hovel I left them, where there is a fire. Not out in the cold.
Grettir is sick and nigh on death, and Illugi is with him."

The Hook asked for particulars, and then Glaum told him about the log,
and how Grettir was wounded.  Thereat the Hook burst out laughing, and
said, "Woe to the man that leans on a churl! That is a true proverb.
Shamefully have you betrayed your trust, Glaum."

Thereupon Glaum was dragged along to the cabin where Grettir lay, and
they treated him so roughly, that what with their blows and what with
fear, he was nearly senseless when he reached it.

Illugi had been sitting by the fire with his brother’s head in his lap,
whilst Grettir lay in some sheepskins beside the hearth.  All that
evening the sick man’s eyes had been wandering about the roof, watching
the light play among the rafters, as the firewood blazed up or
smouldered away.  Illugi saw that his fingers plucked at the wool of the
sheep-skins, riving it out, and that he knew was a bad sign.  He felt
sure that Grettir would die that night, and he watched his face
intently, and could not bear to withdraw his eyes from him, for he loved
him dearly. Presently Grettir turned his head, and smiled when he saw
how he was watching him, and said that he felt easier, and would sleep.
In a few moments his eyes closed.

As he dozed, his face became calmer than Illugi had seen it before; the
muscles relaxed, and the wrinkles furrowed in his brow by care and
suffering were now smoothed quite away.  Grettir’s face was never
handsome, but it was grave and earnest, and the sorrow and trial he had
passed through had left its trace on his features.  His breath now came
more evenly in sleep.

All at once there sounded a crash at the door, and the sleeper opened
his eyes dreamily.

"It is only the old ram, brother," said Illugi. "He is butting, because
he wants to come in."

"He butts hard! he butts hard!" muttered Grettir, and at that moment the
door burst open.  They saw faces looking in.

Illugi was on his feet in a moment.  He seized his sword, flew to the
doorway and defended it bravely, so that no one could pass through.

Thorbiorn called to some of the men to get upon the roof, and he was
obeyed.  The hovel was low, and in a moment four or five were on top of
it tearing off the turf that covered it.  Grettir tried to rise to his
feet, but could only stagger to his knees. He seized his spear and drove
it through the roof, so that it struck Karr in the breast, and the wound
was his death.

Thorbiorn Hook called to the men to act more warily—they were
twenty-five in all against two men, and one dying.

So the men pulled at the gable ends of the house and got the ridge-piece
out, that it broke and fell, and with it a shower of turfs, into the

Grettir drew his short-sword—the sword he had taken from the barrow of
Karr the Old—and smote at the men as they leaped upon him from the wall.
With one blow he struck Vikarr over the left shoulder, as he was on the
point of springing down. The sword cut off his arm.  But the blow was so
violent, that Grettir, having dealt it, fell forward, and before he
could raise himself Thorbiorn Hook struck him between the shoulders, and
made a fearful wound.

Then cried Grettir, "Bare is the back without brother behind it!" and
instantly Illugi threw his shield over him, planted one foot on each
side of him as he lay on the floor, and defended him with desperate


The mist of death was in Grettir’s eyes; he attempted in vain to raise
himself, but sank again on the sheep-skins, which were now drenched in

No one could touch him, for the brave boy warded off every blow that was
aimed at his brother.

Then Thorbiorn Hook ordered his men to form a ring round and close in on
them with their shields and with beams.  They did so, and Illugi was
taken and bound; but not till he had wounded most of his opponents, and
had killed three of Thorbiorn’s men.

"Never have I seen one braver of your age," said The Hook.  "I will say
that you have fought well."

Then they went to Grettir, who lay where he had fallen, unable to resist
further, for he had lost consciousness.  They dealt him many a blow, but
hardly any blood flowed from his wounds.  When all supposed he was dead,
then Thorbiorn tried to disengage the sword from his cold fingers,
saying that he considered Grettir had wielded it long enough.  But the
strong man’s hand was clenched around the handle so firmly that his
enemy could not free the sword from his grasp.

Several of the men came up, and tried to unweave the fingers, but were
unable to do so.  Then the Hook said, "Why should we spare this wretched
outlaw?  Off with his hand!"  And his men held down the arm whilst
Thorbiorn hewed off the hand at the wrist with his axe.

After that, standing over the body, and grasping the hilt of the sword
in both hands, he smote at Grettir’s head; the edge of the blade was
notched by the blow.

"Look!" laughed Thorbiorn.  "This notch will be famous in story for many
generations; for men will point to it and say, ’This was made by
Grettir’s skull.’"  He struck twice and thrice at the outlaw’s neck,
till the head came off in his hands.

"Now have I slain a notable man!" exclaimed Thorbiorn.  "I will take
this head with me to land, and claim the price that was set on it; and
none shall deny that it was my hand that slew that Grettir whom all else

The men present said he might say what he liked, but that they believed
Grettir was already dead when he smote him.

Thorbiorn now turned to Illugi, and said, "It is a pity that a brave lad
like you should die, because you are associated with outlaws and

"I tell you this," said Illugi, "that I will appear before you at the
great assize, and there will charge you with having practised witchcraft
to effect my brother’s death."

"You hearken to me, boy," said Thorbiorn.  "Put your hand to mine, and
swear that you will not seek to avenge the death of your brother, and I
will let you go; but if you will not take this oath, you shall die."

"And hearken to me, Thorbiorn," said lllugi. "If I live, but one thought
shall occupy my heart night and day, and that will be how I may best
avenge my brother.  Now that you know what to expect of me—take what
course you will."

Thorbiorn drew his companions aside to ask their advice; but they
shrugged their shoulders, and replied that, as he had planned the
expedition, he must carry it out as he thought best.

"Well," said The Hook, "I have no fancy for having the young viper lying
in wait to sting me wherever I tread.  He shall die."

Now, when Illugi knew that they had determined on slaying him, he smiled
and said, "You have chosen that course which is best to my mind.  I do
not desire to be parted from my brother."

The day was breaking.  They led Illugi to the east side of the island,
and there they slew him.

It is told that they neither bound his eyes nor his hands, and that he
looked fearlessly at them when they smote him, and neither changed
colour nor even blinked.

Then they buried the brothers beneath a cairn in the island, but they
took the head of Grettir and bore it to land.  On the way they also slew
the thrall Glaum.

                            *CHAPTER XLII.*

                     *HOW ASDIS RECEIVED THE NEWS.*

    _A Charge of Witchcraft—A Heroic Mother—Thorbiorn’s
    Sentence—Burial of the Brothers_

Had the old hag, Thorbiorn’s foster-mother, any hand in the death of
Grettir?  Certainly none. It was true that Grettir was wounded in the
way described, by his own axe, but the condition of the wound was due to
the scorbutic condition of his blood, through lack of green food.  This
the Icelanders did not understand; they could not comprehend how a wound
could seem to be healing well and then break out and mortify afterwards,
and they supposed that this was due to witchcraft. Then, again,
Grettir’s kin could not take the case of Grettir’s murder into court,
because Thorbiorn had acted within the law when killing him; but by
charging him with the practice of witchcraft they made him amenable to
the law.  So, partly, no doubt, in good faith, they trumped up against
Thorbiorn the accusation of having effected Grettir’s death by

Now, it must be told how that, one day after the slaying of Grettir,
Thorbiorn Hook at the head of twenty armed men rode to Biarg, in the
Midfirth-dale, with Grettir’s head slung from his saddlebow. On reaching
the house he dismounted and strode into the hall, where Grettir’s mother
was seated with a servant.  Thorbiorn threw her son’s head at her feet,
and said: "See!  I have been to the island and have prevailed."

The lady sat proudly in her seat, and did not shed a tear; but lifting
her voice in reply, she sang:

    "Milk-sop—as timid sheep
    Before a fox all cow’ring keep;
    So did you—nor could prevail
    So long as Grettir’s strength was hale.
    Woe is on the Northland side,
    Nor can I my loathing hide!"

After this The Hook returned home, and folk wondered at Asdis, saying
that only a heroic mother could have had sons so heroic.  When Yule was
over The Hook rode east away to Garth, and told Thorir what he had done,
and claimed the money set on Grettir’s head.

But Thorir was crafty, and just as the Biarg folk sought a charge
against Thorbiorn for his deed, so did Thorir, that he might escape
having to pay the silver.  He answered, "I do not deny that I offered
the money on Grettir’s head, promising it to whomsoever should slay
Grettir, but I will pay nothing to him who compassed his death by
witchcraft; and if what the men who went with you say be true, you did
not slay him with a sword, but hacked off his head after he was dead."

This made Thorbiorn Hook very angry, and when summer came he brought his
suit against Thorir for the money.  But simultaneously Grettir’s kin
brought a charge against Thorbiorn for having practised witchcraft.
Also they had a summons against him for the slaying of Illugi.  Now, the
case was tried, and hotly discussed, and it ended this way:—It was
judged that Thorbiorn had struck off the head of a man who was already
dead, and that he had brought about the death of that man by witchcraft;
thereupon it was judged that he should receive nothing of the money, and
that he should be outlawed from Iceland.

So he went away and never returned.

Now, Grettir and Illugi were brought to land, and their bones lie at
Reykir, where was the friendly farmer who had helped them when they were
at Drangey.  But Grettir’s head was buried at Biarg. There is now no
church or churchyard there, but there is a mound in the _tún_ where his
head is said to lie.  I obtained leave to dig there, and I examined the
spot, but found only a great stone under the turf, and this we had not
the appliances to move. And perhaps it was as well; for if Grettir’s
head be there, it were better that there it should rest undisturbed.

                            *CHAPTER XLIII.*

                      *HOW DROMUND KEPT HIS WORD.*

    _Thorbiorn Hook in Norway—Dromund on Thorbiorn’s Track—The
    Varangians—Grettir’s Sword—Grettir is Avenged_

Now, after that Thorbiorn Hook had been outlawed, he found that he had
gotten to himself no advantage, but great harm by what he had done upon
Drangey.  He was forced to leave Iceland; and he saw, withal, that never
again might he set foot therein again with safety, for all the relatives
of the Biarg family would seek his life.  Accordingly he made over his
farm at Woodwick to his brother Hialti, and also all his rights over the
island of Drangey, such as they were.  Then he collected together what
moveable goods he had, and went on board ship and sailed for Norway.

On reaching Norway he bragged much of what he had done in having slain
Grettir, of whom tales were told in Norway; and, as may well be
understood, he told the tale of the slaying of Grettir in his own way,
magnifying his heroism, and saying nothing about such matters as
lessened the greatness of his deed.

During the early winter tidings reached Thorstein Dromund at Tunsberg
that his brother Grettir was dead, and also that the man who slew him
was in the north of the country.  When Dromund heard the tidings he was
very sorrowful, and he called to mind the words he had said to Grettir
when they showed each other what sort of arms they had. Dromund
considered that he was bound to avenge his brother’s death on his

Thorbiorn Hook also was aware that there was a half-brother of Grettir
in Norway, and when he knew that he was wary, for he suspected that
Dromund would seek his life.  And, indeed, Thorstein Dromund sent spies
to watch Thorbiorn Hook; but the latter was so careful of himself that
Dromund was not able to attempt anything against him all that winter.
No sooner did the soft, warm, spring breezes begin to blow, than The
Hook got away out of Norway by the earliest opportunity.  He had heard
much talk how that the Emperors of the East, at Constantinople, kept a
guard of Norsemen about them, and paid them well, and how that this
guard was held in high esteem.  So Thorbiorn Hook considered he could
not do better than go to Constantinople, and try his fortune there.  But
before he left Norway he talked of his intention, and this was reported
to Dromund at Tunsberg.  So Dromund put his lands and affairs into the
hands of his kinsmen, and got ready for journeying in search of Hook,
whom he had never seen.

He sailed away after him, and wherever he came he made inquiries after
the ship in which Thorbiorn Hook had been, and he was always just too
late. He never could catch the ship up.  And then finally Thorbiorn left
the vessel and journeyed overland, and Thorstein lost his traces.

However, Dromund knew that Thorbiorn Hook was going to Constantinople,
so he travelled thither also, and reached the imperial city.  Now there
were a great many Norsemen and Icelanders there in the company called
the Varangians, who acted as a bodyguard to the Emperor, and among these
men were some twenty or more called Thorbiorn, and which among them was
the murderer of Grettir, Thorstein Dromund did not know.  The Hook, as
may well be imagined, did not tell anyone what his nickname was; not
that he imagined he was pursued, but because it was not a pretty and
flattering name. Thorstein also offered himself as a soldier in the
guard, and was enrolled.  He also merely gave his name as Thorstein, and
told no one of his nickname of Dromund, lest the man he pursued should
take alarm and leave.

So time passed, and Thorstein Dromund could not find out his man; and he
lay awake in bed many nights musing on what he had undertaken, on the
sad lot of Grettir, and on his ill-success in finding the murderer of
his half-brother.  Now, it fell out that on a certain day the order came
to the Varangian guard that they were to be ready, as they were about to
be sent on an expedition of importance.

It was usual, before any such an expedition, that all the men of the
guard should burnish up their weapons and armour, and show them, that
they were in condition.

So was it on this occasion also.  They were assembled in the guard-room,
and each produced his weapon.  Then Thorbiorn held forth his
short-sword—the very weapon that Grettir had taken from the tomb of Karr
the Old, the sword with which he The Hook had hewed off Grettir’s head.

Now, when Thorbiorn held forth the sword all the other guardsmen praised
it, and said it was an excellent weapon; but it had one grievous
blemish, for that there was a notch in the edge.

"Oh!" laughed Thorbiorn, "that notch is no blemish at all.  It is a
memorial of one of my greatest achievements."

"What was that?" asked one of the Varangians.

"With this sword," answered Thorbiorn, "I slew the man who was esteemed
the greatest and most powerful champion of his time; a man who was in
outlawry for twenty years, who had in his time fought and beaten off as
many as thirty or forty who attacked him.  But I was too much for him.
When I went against him, then he had to give way. We fought for an hour
without flagging, and finally I smote him down.  Then I took from him
his own sword, and with it I smote off his neck; and thus got the sword
its notch."

"And his name?" asked Thorstein Dromund.

"His name was Grettir the Strong."

There was a pause; and in that pause the sword was handed to Dromund for
him to look at.

"Thus is Grettir avenged!" suddenly exclaimed Dromund.  He struck across
the table at Thorbiorn with Grettir’s own sword; and so great was the
stroke that it smote through his skull to the jaw-teeth, and The Hook
fell without a word, dead.

It was said, in after times, that Grettir was wonderful in his life, and
wonderful in his death—for in life no man had been his equal in
strength, and had had a sadder span of life; and in death he was
wonderful—for of all Icelanders he was the only one who was avenged far
away from home by the shores of the Bosphorus, in the City of the


    _Date of Grettir’s Death—Mention of Grettir in other
    Sagas—Historical Basis of the Grettir Story_

In the Icelandic annals the death of Grettir is set down as having
occurred in 1033, but the dates are not quite correct, and the real date
should be 1031.

Grettir is mentioned in other Icelandic sagas. He is spoken of and his
pedigree given in the Landnama Book, the Icelandic Domesday, the most
reliable book for history they have.  The persons spoken of in the saga
of Grettir are heard of in several other quite independent sagas, and in
no case is there any serious anachronism.

Grettir, it will be recalled, was taken by the farmers in the Ice-firth.
This incident is also related in the saga of the Foster-brothers; so is
another incident about a contest concerning a dead whale I have not
related, as likely to break the continuity of the history.  In the saga
of Thord, the hero is said to have blessed the Middle-firth in these
words: "Let the man who grows up in this vale never be hung."  And this
blessing was thought to have had something to do with the saving of
Grettir’s neck in the Ice-firth.  The story of Gisli has been told whom
Grettir whipped.  Now, in the Viga-styr saga, the most ancient of all
Icelandic sagas, we hear of this same Gisli, and his character is
painted in the same colours as in the saga of Grettir, but no mention is
made of the whipping administered by Grettir.  The murder of Atli, the
brother of our outlaw, and the consequent slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain is
spoken of in the saga of Bard.  The circumstance of Grettir having lived
in a cave on the farm in Hit-dale is spoken of in the saga of Biorn. In
the history of Grettir mention is made of the strife which took place
between Biorn and Thord, but the full particulars of what is there
alluded to casually are given in the saga of Biorn of Hit-dale. In our
saga, Grettir is spoken of as meeting Bard wounded after a hard fight,
in which he had avenged the death of his brother, but no particulars are
given. In the saga of the Heath-fights we recover the whole story.  Thus
one saga explains and supports another.

It is therefore impossible to set down the story of Grettir as fabulous.
It is historical; but the history has been somewhat embellished, partly
by family vanity which led to the undue glorification of their hero, and
partly by superstition which imagined the marvellous where all was
really natural.

                                THE END.

                          Transcriber’s note:

    The source book’s pages had variant headers.  These headers have
    been collected into the introductory paragraph at the start of
    each chapter.

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