|The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow|
|by Allen French|
|Relates the thrilling exploits of Rolf in the land of the Vikings: how he becomes an outlaw, and a thrall, and at long last gains his freedom and avenges the unlawful slaying of his father. Through his trials Rolf is challenged to grow in manliness, developing courage, self-control, patriotism, and perseverance, and in the end rising above the feud that has consumed him for so long. The story, inspired by Icelandic sagas, serves as an excellent introduction to the prevailing values of the Viking era. Ages 11-14 |
THE ACT OF DISTRESS
OLF told Grettir all that had
happened, and much was the outlaw
disappointed thereat. For he had
counted upon going again among men,
and had hoped to win glory from the
shooting, so he was sorry on his own
account. But also he consoled the boy.
For he spoke of the great world over the
sea, how there were places and peoples to
be seen, and fame to be won. This is
clearly seen by those who read the story
of Grettir, that all his life he sought fame,
and his fate was lighter to him because he
knew men would sing of him after his
death. But no such thoughts uplifted
Rolf, since he grieved for his mother and
 for the loss of the farm, and it seemed no
pleasure to go abroad.
"Now," said he, "far rather would I
stay here in this island, until the time of
outlawry is past. Why may I not stay
"Knowest thou not," asked Grettir,
"that if one fares abroad the outlawry is
for three years, but if one stays it is
twenty? And that is a third of most
"Yet," said Rolf, "I am minded to do
it." For he cared not what happened to
"Now," said Grettir, "listen to me, and
learn what it means to be an outlaw. No
man will take thee within his house, so
soon as he knows who thou art. So must
thou live in the open, like a beast, or else
make hiding-places for thyself. And a
miserable life it becomes after a while.
No man mayest thou trust, lest he take
 thy head. Well do I know that Gisli
thy ancestor lived an outlaw, fourteen
years; yet he lived in holes and caves,
and was slain at the end. He was the
greatest outlaw of Iceland before me, save
only Gunnar of Lithend, who tried to
stay in his home and was slain. But I
have maintained myself sixteen years, and
miserable have they been. Too tender
art thou of years and frame to bear the
life. Moreover, I know my mother mourns
me at home. Think then of thine, and
put this idea from thee!"
Then Rolf was ashamed that he had
ever thought of such a thing. So he
spent a night with Grettir, there among
the geysirs, and wonderful were the
things that he saw. And in the morning
they cooked again at the boiling spring.
Then, as they sat eating, Grettir said by
"Thou saidst thou art poor. Did
 Snorri give the money for the priest's
dues, and the court's?"
"What are those dues?" asked Rolf.
Grettir cried: "Has no money been
paid for thine outlawry?"
"None by me," answered Rolf.
"And thy neighbor Einar," asked
Grettir. "What was he doing when
thou camest away?"
"They were preparing for departure,
so that I heard a groom say they would
start before sunrise in the morning."
Then Grettir sprang up, and went and
caught Rolf's pony; he saddled it, and
brought it to the lad. "Go home!" he
cried. "Too little dost thou know of the
law. For if those dues were paid, then
thou hadst a year in which to take ship.
But they are not paid, so thy enemy can
make thee full outlaw ten days after the
rising of the Althing, by executing the
act of distress at thy house. Three days
 are gone already, and thou art far from
home. For this was Einar hastening
away. Now take my advice, and go south,
and ship thence."
"Nay," answered Rolf, "first I must
see my mother, and perhaps I can reach
home in time. Now fare thee well,
Grettir. When thy outlawry is finished,
then thou shalt gain me my property
But Grettir said nay to that. "Well
do I know," said he, "that we two shall
never meet again. For from here I go
to the island of Drangey, to keep myself
if I may until my outlawry is over. No
stronger place is there in Iceland for
defence. But Hallmund the Air-sprite, my
friend, foretold I should never come out
of my outlawry. Thus I shall never
again mix in this affair of thine."
Rolf could answer nothing.
"And in my turn," said Grettir, "thus I
 foretell thy fate. No man shall help thee
here. With thine own strength and craft
must thou regain thine own, or never
more be master of thy father's hall!"
Then Rolf was heavy-hearted as he
bade Grettir farewell. And Grettir did as
he had said: he went to his home at Biarg,
and went thence with his brother Illugi
to Drangey. How he fared there may
be read in the Grettir's Saga. But Rolf
fared west to his home. He had lost
much time, as Grettir had feared; yet as
he neared Cragness on the eleventh day
after the rising of the Althing he saw no
one, and it was just noon. And only at
high noon might the act be executed
which would make him full outlaw. So
he rode into the yard.
Then there stepped out to meet him
from the house Ondott Crafty, who came
forward with a greeting. He spoke well
to the boy, and bade him alight, yet
 seemed to wish to get very near. Rolf
dismounted on the further side of his
horse. "What doest thou here?" he
"Einar hath sent me," said Ondott,
still coming closer. "He biddeth thee
come to his house, where somewhat can
be said concerning this outlawry of thine,
to make it easier for thee."
But then Asdis came running from the
house. "Flee!" she cried. "Einar and
his men are at the crags, and there they
make thee outlaw. Flee!"
Then Ondott snatched at Rolf with his
lean arms, but the lad felled him with a
buffet. Rolf would have mounted his
horse again to get away, but men
appeared at the gate of the yard, so that
there was no way out. Then Rolf passed
quickly into the hall, and kissed his
mother farewell, and leaped from a window
at the other side, meaning to gain
 the cliffs. His way was all but clear;
for spies had seen Rolf's coming and
reported it to Einar, who sent his men to
seize the lad. They had gone to right
and left around the hall, while Einar
alone completed the act of distress at the
crags; for thus the law said: it must be
done at a barren spot where no shade fell,
not far from the house of the outlaw.
And Einar completed the act, and started
toward the house. He alone stood between
Rolf and his escape. So Rolf ran
at him, drawing his sword.
But Einar fled when he saw the lad's
steel. Then Rolf ran up behind, put his
sword between Einar's legs, and tripped
him. Einar rolled over on his back.
"Mercy!" cried he, and made no attempt to ward himself.
Rolf laid the flat of his sword against
Einar's forehead; he shrank from the cold
steel, but still did not struggle.
 "Now," quoth Rolf, "I go across the
sea, yet thou shalt hear from me again.
And if I meet in the outlands thy son, of
whom thou boastest, I promise thee to
put this sword to his forehead, but with
the edge, and to draw his blood."
By that, the men of Einar were close
at hand. Rolf ran to the crags and let
himself down at a place which he knew
well. When men with spears came to
the edge and looked after him, nothing of
him was seen.
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