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

Of Grani's Pride

In the early morning Grani slept quietly at last, and the household of Einar had peace. Then Ondott called Hallvard and Hallmund, and bade them come with him. To the locked bed they went, but though the door was still secure, no sign of those two cousins was to be found, nor any way of their escape. And outside the wind had so drifted the snow that no marks of feet were to be seen. Ondott and his men searched, and came at last to the cove where men watched for the wreckage. He asked if they had seen those two.

Thither had come, said the men, two whom they knew not, bearing between them old Thurid the crone. Now at that hour a spar from the ship had just come ashore, and in it was fixed a great bill, its blade driven so deep into the wood that with all their might three men could not draw it forth; they were about to hew it out with axes. Then the taller of those two men came down to the shingle, and said naught to Einar's men; but he laid hold of the bill and with one tug plucked it forth from the spar, and went off brandishing it and muttering to himself. Next the two took the old crone again, and went away.

Ondott and his men hurried on their track, and when they had passed down into the hollows, there the marks of feet were found, pointing straight to the little hut on the hillside where Asdis dwelt, a league away. So Ondott took more men, and went thither, and knocked on the door. Within were Asdis, and Frodi, and the carline Thurid; but no sign of Rolf was to be seen. Frodi sat by the fire and handled the great bill, and Thurid lay muffled on the floor as she was wont; there was a smell of cooking, while very pleased did Asdis seem.

"Where is thy son?" asked Ondott.

"Find him who can," answered Asdis.

They searched that place and found him not, and there was no room to have hidden a man. So Ondott was angry, and he said to Frodi: "Give us that bill, which is Einar's, since it came ashore on his beaches."

Frodi answered mildly: "I pray thee leave it me." But as he spoke he thrust the butt of the bill down upon the floor, where the earth was tramped as hard as any stone ; and the butt made a great dent in the floor. Ondott thought it best not to meddle with him, and went home empty-handed.

Grani lay two days sick and weary, but then he was himself again. Neither Einar nor any of his men told him how he came ashore, but spoke as if they had saved him. Einar sent men everywhere to find Rolf and seize him; yet in all the dales no man had seen or heard of him. So when Grani asked if others got ashore from the wreck, Einar answered: "That outlaw Rolf, and his cousin Frodi. And Frodi is at his smithy again, there not far from the ferry to Hvamm."

"Where is Rolf? "Grani asked.

"No man knows save Frodi," answered Einar, "and he sayeth not."

Then spoke Grani, lying on his bed. "Father, Rolf told a hard tale against thee in the Orkneys: how thou slewest his father foully, and now holdest his land in spite of right. Now tell me the truth of all this, ere I accept aught from thee."

Then Einar was greatly frightened lest Grani should learn the truth and despise him; he made as if he were offended, and went away, saying: "And canst thou think that of me?" But when he was out of Grani's sight, he sought Ondott in haste, and asked hinn what he should do.

Quoth Ondott: "Leave all to me. I will settle this." So he went to Grani, and Einar with him. Einar said: "I have brought Ondott to tell the truth, for thou wilt better believe some one else, speaking in my defence."

Then Ondott told a long tale of Hiarandi, how he was overbearing and insolent, and preyed on Einar's crops and cattle. Moreover Hiarandi was a dangerous and violent man, going always armed, so that one day when he was in the act of theft and Einar's men were about to seize him —but Einar had commanded not to harm him—Hiarandi had so attacked those men that to save their own lives they had slain him. And Rolf had no right to the land, being outlawed at the Althing.

"Now tell me," said Ondott, "when ye twain were together in Orkney, did not Rolf offer peace if thou wouldst but get him this homestead again?"

"Twice he did that," answered Grani.

"See now," cried Ondott, "the guile that is in him!"

Then Grani believed all that Ondott had said, and thought evil of Rolf, and craved his father's pardon. Einar forgave him. And when Grani was well again Einar showered him with kindnesses, for fearing lest his son should learn evil of him he did all that he might to earn Grani's love, sparing neither words, deeds, nor money. Einar gave the finest of clothes, and horses, and attendants, so that not with Ar the Peacock had Grani had such state. Wherefore he took to himself such pride as had been his in the Orkneys.

He went abroad among the Iceland folk, and saw that they were a simple people, each man living upon his own farm and dressing in plain clothes, loving direct speech and homely ways. So Grani missed the best that was in the people, but thought them mean-spirited. He dressed always in colored clothes, and had attendants with him, and expected such respect from men as he had received when he was Ar's Fosterling. Now at Cragness honor was always showed him; but the neighbors of Einar were to Grani blunt of speech, sometimes biting; and he loved them little, thinking them rough.

Two more matters troubled Grani. For he had little happiness in his sister, who seemed alinost always downcast, and as if disappointed in him. And ever deep within his heart lay that love of his for Rolf, nor could he forget their comradeship, nor the dangers they had together borne. He took no great satisfaction, therefore, to be a princeling on his land, but away from it to be treated roughly, and always to have that desire to see his friend again. Yet he never made to himself any confession of fault, believing Rolf in the wrong, both toward himself and toward Einar. So he hardened his heart and increased his outward pride, even while he was ever on the watch for news of Rolf.

Now one day he rode abroad with Ondott and his men, and they came to the hut on the hillside where dwelt Asdis the mother of Rolf. Summer was come; Asdis sat out of doors by the spring combing flax, with Thurid cowled by her side. No welcome gave Asdis to them, but asked their errand.

"To learn whether thou hast news of thy son," Ondott said. Now that was not true, for they came thither by accident, having hunted higher up in the hills. But Grani said nothing, wishing to learn of Rolf.

"Ever thou liest in wait for blood," answered Asdis. "But ask not me for news of Rolf. Rather of those who have been near the isle of Drangey shouldst thou inquire, if none resembling my son have been seen on the island-top; and whether he, and Grettir the Strong, and Illugi his brother, are likely to be won thence against their wills."

"Now," cried Ondott, "I thank thee for this news. And one in that land-side, Thorstein Angle, he is my cousin; he will let me know if ever thy son comes thence."

"If Thorstein Angle is thy cousin," said Asdis, "that shows the saying true, that all rogues are akin. But if thou hearest aught from that region, I pray thee let me know if my son is well."

Now all the time Thurid sat there, and combed no flax, nor said a word. "And yet," said Ondott, "I hear that the woman works well at times."

"Speak not so loud in her presence," said Asdis, "for methinks now she is tranced. Mayhap when she comes to she will prophesy and tell me of my son."

"Nay," said Ondott, "the woman is clean daft, so they say, ever since she left our house to wander in the cold. Now who has split the wood that lieth here, and piled it against the house? For thou hast not done it."

"I will tell thee," said Asdis, and lowered her voice. "On that night the frost got in her brain, mayhap; for she was ever strange, but now she is little short of marvellous. Sometimes she works with a man's strength; and at such times she splits wood, or carries water, or spades here in my little field. I have done no heavy work since she came. But she is very silent, nor hath any save me and Frodi seen her face or heard her voice. Such is her mood."

"Now let us ride hence," said Ondott to Grani. "Asdis, I wish thee joy of thy mad-woman."

"Better live with her than alone," quoth Asdis.

So those men rode away, and they spread abroad the news that Rolf was gone from Broadfirth dales, for he was in Drangey with Grettir the Strong, and none could draw them from that isle. Steep were its rocks and high, to be scaled only by ladders, and three might hold the place against three hundred.

Word was also spread about of Thurid the crone: how she had fits of man's strength, and did work for Asdis. Men saw her going with great strides, or working in the field; at a distance she seemed taller than before, and bigger across the shoulders; but when one came near she shrank within herself. Moreover no one heard her voice now, save when she mumbled hoarsely.

Now on another day Grani rode to the settlement at Hvammferry, and on his way homeward came by the smithy of Frodi. Ondott was in his company, with Hallvard and Hallmund; they proposed that they should have sport with the smith, and take from him his bill.

"Sport mayest thou try," said Grani, "but beware lest it turn out against thee."

"He is soft as custard," quoth Ondott.

"Otherwise was he in the Orkneys," replied Grani. But for all that Ondott rode to the smithy-door, and called Frodi to come out. He came, and leaned on the handle of his hammer, which was so big that no man had wielded it since he went away. He asked what they would of him.

Said Ondott: "Here is Grani Earl's Fosterling to require something of thee."

Frodi said to him: "Was then Grani fostered by the Earl?" And he fixed Grani with his eye; but that one blushed and said naught. For he knew that his father had boasted of his fostering with the Earl, and never had Grani said nay thereto.

Asked Ondott, "Was he not?"

Frodi said, "He came last from the Earl's court." So Frodi, who might have spoken honor away from Grani, made him feel more shame than if the truth had been said.

"Now," said Ondott, "bring forth the bill which is Einar's, and deliver it to us."

"Asks Grani that?" Frodi replied.

Grani said, "I ask nothing." And he spurred his horse a few rods away.

Frodi went within the smithy and brought out the bill, but set also a helm on his head. Said he: "Here is the bill for whomsoever wishes it."

But Grani said over his shoulder, "Leave the bill with hire. No use is it to us, for we have none that can wield it."

Then Ondott was wroth that Grani did not support him in that claim, and he said: " Now, Frodi, I call to mind that ere thou wentest away, thou didst assault me here in this smithy. Outlaw will I make thee therefor."

Frodi made a sudden step, and behold! there he was within reach of Ondott, holding the bill in such wise that he might have thrust Ondott through, albeit Frodi neither raised the weapon aloft nor brandished it. He said:

"Now for the love which has always been between us, be so kind as to speak me free of guilt in that matter, when I drew weapon on thee."

In a fright Ondott stretched forth his hand and spoke Frodi free of that guilt. So Frodi suddenly shifted the bill in his hand, and the point touched the ground; none who had not looked close would have supposed any threat had been made. Said Frodi: "See how kind Ondott is to me, in asking no atonement, being in no danger from me. Witness ye all that I am clear in that matter."

Grani smiled and rode away, and the men next; Ondott followed, mightily vexed that that simple one had so bested him.

Now the time came for men to ride to the Althing, and with all state Einar rode thither with his son. Their for the first time Grani saw the power of that land which he had despised, for chiefs met there who were greater in riches than Orkney thanes, having great followings, all richly dressed. But all were obedient to the law; and a wonderful thing that was, to see men of such power yielding in lawsuits to lesser men, and bringing no cases to weapons. And Grani learned that his father was of no consequence at all in that place, for men passed him by and gave him no honor. Yet for all that Grani's pride grew, and he said that men should some day recognize him there. And he rode home moodily behind his company.

Now as men rode again toward the west, Grani saw one man whom he had oft remarked at the Thing: Kolbein the son of Burning-Flosi, destined to be a leader among men. Grani wished friendship with him greatly. And Kolbein rode to Grani and said: "Keeps thy father his harvest feast this year as before, asking company thereto?"

"Yea," answered Grani. "Wilt thou come?"

"Gladly will I come," answered Kolbein, "and will bring friends with me, if so be we shall be welcome."

"Welcome will ye all be," said Grani, and rode home cheered.

Now when they were come to Cragness, Helga met them at the door and welcomed them in. They asked if aught had happened in their absence. Said she, "Nothing save that the carline Thurid was here yestreen, and I am the first that has heard her speak since she left here in the spring."

They asked what were her words.

"I was here alone in the hall," Helga said, "for all the women were making cheeses in the out-bower. And Thurid came in and shuffled about the place, looking at things. I bade her be seated, for I would bring her milk and oat-cake; but when I brought them she had the great bow in her hands, and looked at it but would not eat. So I set the food away again; and when I returned she had the bow and the quiver, and was near the door as if to take them away. She said nothing when I asked what she did with those; so I stood in her way, thinking I was stronger than she. With one hand she set me aside, and I might resist her no more than if she were a man. So she bore the bow and arrows from the house, and I thought they were gone; but on a sudden she was back again, and laid them on the bench. And she said in a deep voice not like her own:

" 'Not with women do I strive.'

"Then with great steps she went out of the hall, and came not again."

Those three, Einar and Ondott and Grani, looked at each other with alarm. For if that bow, left in the ward of women, had thus been taken, men could know neither the day nor the hour when Rolf might come, and make the shot at the oak-tree before witnesses, when all would be over with the house of Einar. And ere aught was said E inar took the bow and bestowed it under a settle, where it was well hid. Then they praised their fortune that they had it still.

So all sat down to meat, and ate gladly, for they had journeyed days long from the Thing-field. Then night fell, and they spoke of many things; at last Einar asked his son: "What said to thee Kolbein son of Flosi, there ere our roads parted?"

"He asked me," answered Grani, "whether we hold the harvest feast as last year, and if he and his company would be welcome."

Says Einar, rubbing his hands: "Now the great folk come to alliance with us; and when a few chiefs have visited here, then thou mayest count thyself their equal in all things, even as thou art in wealth. Of course thou badst him come?"

"That I did," says Grani.

So Ondott praised him. "Men have marked thee, there at the Thing, and seek to ally themselves with thee."

But Helga, who had listened, burst into tears.

"What is it," asks Grani, "that makes thee weep?"

Helga dashed the tears from her eyes, and stood before those two, her father and her brother. "Much had I hoped," says she, "that wicked doings would cease in this house—for to mock the dead and the unfortunate is wicked. And if ye hold the feast as last year, and shoot at the boundary as then, laughing at Hiarandi's fortune, then ye tempt your own fate, for such deeds go not unpunished long."

"Now," asked Grani of his father, "hast thou so mocked that luckless man's fate?" Einar said he had, and it was seen that Grani thought that act far too strong.

"Yet see," said Ondott, "what friends that brings you now, for from the house of Flosi comes this offer of friendship."

Now as they spoke someone knocked at the door, and there was a housecarle of Snorri the Priest.

"My master," said he, "passes on his way home from the Althing, and sends me to ask: hold ye your harvest feast as last year, and will he and his company be welcome?"

"Oh, hold it not!" cried Helga.

Then Einar turned to Grani. "The mightiest man in Broadfirth dales offers now his friendship, and thy future is sure. Shall we not hold the feast?"

Grani turns to the housecarle of Snorri, and says: "Beg thy master to come!"