Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow - Allen French

Here Rolf Comes to Cragness

Now turns the tale to speak of Einar, how he took possession of Cragness (for he bought the share of the men of the Quarter); and how Snorri the Priest sent for Asdis that she should come to him for the sake of Rolf her son, and wait the three years of his exile. But Asdis answered the messenger of Snorri: "I go to our little farm in the upland, where I can look upon my home. We will see if Einar sends me away also from that."

So she took what goods she might, and drove the milch ewe before her, and went to the turf hut in the upland, there to live alone. Now Einar might have sent her thence, and Ondott was urgent with him that he should; but for very shame Einar could not do that wrong, and that one good deed of his stood him after in stead, as the saga showeth.

Asdis over-wintered there, and folk brought her meal; but Snorri sent her much provision and dried fish, to keep her. Before they went away his men bought wood and drew it for her, and cut turf for burning; and on parting they gave her a purse of one gold-piece and six silver pennies, so Asdis was safe from all want. But no happiness could come to her so long as each day she looked out upon the hall at Cragness, and saw strangers there.

Einar abode in great pride at his new hall, and kept high state, sending to fetch whatever travellers came that way. And when harvest came he had a great feast, with all his house-carles and thralls and bonders and neighbors bidden; notable was the state of that feast.

But Ondott, when all were merry, and those who were bidden were saying that Einar was a great chief, on account of his open-handedness—Ondott let call for bows, and said that all should go down to the boundary. There by the brook he held a mock shoot; and one called himself Rolf and made as if he would shoot to the oak tree, but shot into the brook, and wept, and besought others to shoot for him. The looser sort hooted and thought that sport, and shot toward the oak a little way. Then they cried that Hiarandi was lawfully slain, and Rolf was outlaw.

But the neighbors of the better sort liked that not, and changed their aspect of cheer, and went away early. Einar said to Ondott, "Why didst thou such foolery?"

"That we may know," said Ondott, "who are of thy friends, and who thy ill-wishers. And now we know who are with us."

Einar let himself be pleased with that answer.

So the harvest passed, and winter went by and spring came on, an early spring without storms. All men looked to their plowing and sowing; and Einar took pleasure in the home-fields at Cragness, which were so fertile. But he disliked the lack of storms, for since he came to Cragness no wealth had come to him from wrecks, which he had counted on as part of his riches. And Einar had no custom to light beacons, but all through that spring he and Ondott looked for storms. Men said that storms must come, and that early farers from overseas might be caught thereby. Then at last that steady wind which had blown from the east first dropped, and then shifted, and blew hard from the west, a great gale. All men housed themselves, and a murky night came on.

Now in the hall at Cragness the old crone Thurid sat by the fire and sang to herself; and Ondott, who was ever prowling to hear what men said, came behind her and listened. She sang:

"Bad luck and good

Are both abroad.

If beacon light

Be set this night,

Comes Cragness feud

To quickest good."

"Hearest thou that?" said Ondott to Einar. He sang the song after her.

Einar asked, "Shall we light the beacon?" For he was easily turned in his purposes.

But Ondott smote the old woman, and cried: "Thou singest otherwise than when thou wert with Hiarandi. Ill was it with Hiarandi when he made the beacon, and ill would it be with us!"

He asked if he should thrust the woman from the house, but Einar had not the heart for that. The old woman said she would go ere the light came again, and was silent for an hour.

Now it is said that had Einar lighted the beacon, good would have come of it; for he who saves life is minded to continue in right doing.

Then after a while the carline sang again. She sang:

"Thy rocks beneath,

Men fight with death.

Go, see what woe

Lies there below!"

Einar hurries his men out into the storm, and himself after them. Now though the gale continues the moon is bright at last, and men can see their way.

On the rocks was a ship, and her timbers were breaking away from her and driving down into the cove to the lee. Thither Einar sent most of his men, to save what they could from the sea, of wood, chests, cloths, and all merchandise. But he watched from the cliffs, with Ondott and Hallvard and Hallmund, to see if men escaped from the fury of the sea. He saw no living thing at all, until at the last one man came climbing the cliff toward him. That one had a rope around his waist; when he reached a shelf of rock he made the rope fast, and drew on it, and pulled up a long case and a bundle: he cast down the rope again, and drew up weapons, and cast again, and drew up clothes.

"Fishes he," asked Einar, "with a hook on that rope?"

Said Hallvard: "Other men must be below, helping him."

Then that man threw down the rope again, and waited a while, and held the rope securely; it seemed as if a weight were on it. Then another man climbed to his side, a large man, and they two pulled on the rope together, drawing it up. There came into sight what seemed a dead body; but now, where climbing was easier, those two carried the body to the top of the cliffs, and then drew up the case and the arms. Einar and his men went thither in the moonlight, but ere they reached the place the men took the body between them, and carried it to the hall, and into the hall, those others following. Einar went to the door to see what the men would do.

They laid the body down before the fire, and Einar saw it was a handsome youth. Then the men looked about them as they stood; their backs were to Einar, but the crone Thurid saw their faces, and she hobbled up and said "Welcome!"

"There is no welcome for me here," said the shorter of those men, "till these strange hangings are gone from the hall, and it has been purged with the smoke of fire from their contamination."

Now Einar thought he should know that voice. The seafarer said to the crone: "Tell Einar that here lies his son, who comes back to him so; and if the beacon had been lighted, Grani had come in better wise, for I could have beached the ship in the cove. But yet I think he is not dead. And so farewell to Cragness for a space."

So those two turned to the door; and Einar ran forward and cast himself on the body of his son, not looking at those men. But Ondott looked on them, and they were Rolf and Frodi, spent with toil in the water and on the rocks. And when Ondott bade his two men seize them, they were too weary to resist; so they were bound with ropes.

Now Einar saw that Grani was not dead, but stunned by some blow. He called the women and bade them bring cloths, and heat water, and use all craft to bring his son to life again. They set to work, and Helga Grani's sister came and looked on her brother's face for the first time since he had been a little boy.

But Ondott brought before Einar those two, Rolf and Frodi, and said he: "Here we have that ravening outlaw and his cousin; now what is thy will of them? Shall they die here under the knife?"

Einar said: "Nay, but rather set them free."

Ondott cried: "What is thy thought? Here they have come again with designs on thee, and wilt thou let them go? And they will dispossess thy son of his heritage; wilt thou suffer that? Rolf is out of the law, and no harm will come of the slaying."

And Ondott pressed Einar with other reasons, saying that most of their men were at the cove for the jetsam, and Hallmund and Hallvard would never tell.

Now Helga heard, and stood before her father, saying: "Take not this sin on thy head, but rather let both the men go."

Yet Einar's heart was turned to evil as he saw how but two of his men were there, and those of the trustiest; so that those cousins might be quickly slain, and buried, and none would know that they had come ashore from the wreck. "Stand aside," quoth he to Helga, "and let these foes of thy heritage die as they should."

But Helga stepped before Rolf and Frodi, and fronted the drawn swords of Ondott and his men. "Unlawful is such a deed," she cried, "until the morning light comes. For all night-slayings are forbidden, even of outlaws, and such slayings are murder." And when she saw her father waver again she told him how even the Earl of the Orkneys (and he was father of Earl Thorfinn) dared not slay those sons of Njal who came into his hands, and so take the sin of midnight slaying on his soul; but he set them aside till morning should come.

"Aye," answered Ondott, "and in the morning the twain were fled."

That Helga knew, and had the same thought in her mind; but she begged her father not to take such shame on himself, rather to let Rolf and Frodi lie in bonds till morning. And at last Einar promised her that those two should not die until the day.

Rolf said to her: "I thank thee, maiden; and when I come into mine own again I shall not forget this. For it has been prophesied me that I shall yet sleep in my father's locked bed, and that means that this house shall be mine again."

Then Ondott laughed. "Not so is the prophecy to be read!" he cried. "Throw them into the locked room of Hiarandi for this night. To-morrow they shall sleep soundly elsewhere."

So in that little room where Rolf's fathers had slept he was cast with Frodi, and there they lay on the floor, and had no comfort of that place because of their bonds.

"Now," grumbled Frodi, "vikings have we escaped, and baresarks, and the Scots, and all manner of dangers, and the sea, only to die here at last. What was that foolish tale of thine about a prophecy? I never heard of such a thing."

"Free me of my bonds," answered Rolf, "and thou shalt learn why I made that pretence."

Frodi strove against his bonds, but they were too strong for him; and so those cousins lay there for a while.

But outside in the hall the women worked over Grani until at last he moved and groaned, and they saw that he would live. So for joy Einar knew not what to do; and he became talkative, and walked about, and so stumbled on those things (the bundle, and the clothes, and the arms, and the case) which had been brought there with Grani. When he examined them the arms pleased him right well, for in the case he found the marvellous bow of the viking. All admired the bow.

But the old woman Thurid muttered to herself as she saw them handling the bow, and at last drew near and asked to see it. The bow she handled, and the arrows she looked on; then at last she shuddered and let the bow fall, and sang of it:

"Enemy fierce

To Einar's fame,

Now lieth here.

Ere thee it pierce,

Or bringeth grame,

Fire it should sear.

Break it and burn!

Thus shalt thou turn

Ill from thy hall,

Ruin from all.

—This I discern."

Einar looked with aversion on the bow where it lay, but Ondott raised it and held it aloft. "Now," asked he, "shall such a beautiful weapon be broken for a crone's rhymes?"

All cried out that it should not be so; and Einar took the bow, and hung it on his high seat, vowing to keep it. Then he said to Thurid she should be gone ere morning, as she had promised. The old woman took her cloak, and went to the door, but on the threshold she sang:

"Here got I

One gray cloak,

One winter's meat:

These from Einar

Here got I.

—One gray cloak,

One winter's meat,

Be given Einar

Ere he die!"

So she went out into the storm. Now the moon had clouded again, and snow fell thickly, a blinding squall; so the old woman was bewildered, and very cold. She found herself a place by a rock, and sat there, singing verses, until at last she fell asleep.

But while all were admiring the bow in the hall, Helga came to the door of the locked bed, and took away the brace that closed it, and cast in a knife, and shut up the door again. Rolf and Frodi saw; and they conceived this plan, that Rolf should hold the knife in his hands, and Frodi should rub his bonds thereagainst. Then that was done, and they freed themselves.

"Yet we are not out of the hall," said Frodi, "and with helping Grani the place will be awake all night."

"Now remember the prophecy which I coined," answered Rolf. "Look here and hold thy peace."

And he showed Frodi how a panel in the wall might be taken out, so that the way was free.

"Come then," Frodi said.

But Rolf would not. "Why stay we here in danger?" asked Frodi.

"I must have my bow," replied Rolf. "How else shall I win my heritage again?"

But when they tried the door into the passage which led to the hall, it could not be opened without great noise; and ever they heard the women walking about, as they tended on Grani.

"Remember," said Frodi at last, "the choice which Grani once offered thee: the bow or thy freedom. Freedom was then thy choice, and afterward thou didst win the bow. Show now the like wisdom."

So they stole away in the first light of the morning.