|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 |
OF SUITS AT THE ALTHING
OLF journeyed to the Althing,
and as he went he fell in with
the company of Snorri the Priest,
and travelled with them. Snorri heard
how the summons had gone, and he asked
whether Rolf had said anything of Grettir.
Rolf answered that he had not. Then
he told of the summons which Ondott had
made, and Snorri laughed. It was not
many days before they came to the Thingvalla,
and Rolf saw that great wonder of Iceland.
For from the plain on which they journeyed
a large part had fallen clean away,
many yards down, and it lay below like
the bottom of a pan. The Great Rift
 was the name of the western precipice,
and there was no way down save by one
steep path; Snorri had held that path on
the day of the battle at the Althing, nor
would he let Flosi and the Burners escape
that way. When Rolf had got down to
the plain, he saw all the booths for the
lodging of those who came to the Althing,
ranged along the river. He saw the places
where the Quarter Courts were held, and
he went to the Hill of Laws, where the
Fifth Court sat to hear appeals. Now
the Hill of Laws is cut off from the plain
by deep rifts, and men showed Rolf where,
to save his life, Flosi had leaped one rift
at its narrowest part, and that was a great
deed. Other wonders were to be seen.
Then on the second day the sitting of the
courts began, and Rolf watched closely
for the calling of his suit. But that came
not until the sitting was near its end.
Now Snorri conducted the case of Rolf,
 and all went in due order. Einar answered
what was said against him, that he was
not present at the slaying of Hiarandi.
Snorri called on the court to say whether
Einar were not answerable, because his
men did the deed. The judges said he
was. Then it came to proving whether
or not the slaying were illegal, and Snorri
said that a man had been found who could
shoot the distance. And this he asked
of the judges:
"Is it not true that when, before witnesses,
an arrow is shot from the boundary
and falls beyond the tree, that will prove
the slaying unlawful?"
"That is so," said the judges.
"Now say further," demanded Snorri.
"Is it not true that in the moment when
the slaying is proved unlawful, the guilt
of Einar is established, so that no suit at
law is needed?"
"That also is true," answered the judges.
 "Now," said Snorri, "one last thing do
I ask, whether or not he who goes to
make the proof by shooting an arrow,
may go and come freely, whatsoever man
"We see no reason why this may not
be so," said the judges.
"Now give that decision here aloud in
the open court," required Snorri.
But Einar arose and said: "One
exception only shall I ask to this, that no
outlaw be allowed to take part in this
suit, by shooting the arrow."
Then said Snorri to Rolf, "They have
learned of Grettir." He said to the
judges: "Well do I know that no outlaw
is ever allowed to give witness in court,
nor to sit on juries. But no such case as
this has ever arisen, and it seems to me
that an outlaw might be permitted to
Then there was great talking on both
 sides, for the greater part of an hour: it
would be tedious to tell what was said.
But the end was, that the judges were
divided, so the question was referred to
the Lawman. And his answer was, that
no outlaw might take part in a law matter
in any way whatsoever. There was an
end to Rolf's hopes to prove Einar guilty
by the means of Grettir.
But Snorri called all men to witness
that when some day a man might be
found to shoot the distance, then Einar
was guilty without going to law. Now
men began to whisper and say that the
end of Grettir's outlawry was but four
years off, and then Rolf could be justified.
So Einar tried to have a limit of three
years set on that time when it was lawful
to try the shooting; but Snorri strove
mightily against that, and that question
went to the Lawman, and he said that
seven years should be the limit.
 That was the end of the suit, and Rolf
got no satisfaction at all. One more
thing was done on that day, for Snorri
went to Einar where he stood with
Ondott, and he asked of the second suit,
for which Rolf had been summoned.
Ondott spoke for Einar.
"We shall not bring that suit."
"That is well," said Snorri, "for ye had
no case, and I could have a fine laid on
you if the case was brought falsely."
Then he took Rolf with him to his booth.
But here is the trick which Ondott had
prepared. For the next day was the last
of the sittings, and Snorri was busy with
many matters; but Rolf stayed at the
booth, much cast down. Then toward
the sunset hour the cases were all finished,
and men left the courts, all save the
judges, who stayed for the formal closing.
Then Ondott brought forward the case
against Rolf, and summoned him into
 court, but no one was there to tell either
Snorri or the lad. Nevertheless it was
the law that the suit might go on, because
lawful summons had been given. And
Einar stood up and said:
"I take witness to this, that I give
notice of a suit against Rolf Hiarandi's
son, in that he slew by a body wound, by
an arrow, my herdsman Thorold. I say
that in this suit he ought to be made a
guilty man, an outlaw, not to be fed, not
to be forwarded, not to be helped or
harbored in any need. I say that all his
goods are forfeited, half to me, and half
to the men of the Quarter, who have a
right by law to take his forfeited goods;
I give notice of this suit in the Quarter
Court into which it ought by law to come.
I give notice in the hearing of all men on
the Hill of Laws. I give notice of this
suit to be pleaded now, and of full
outlawry against Rolf Hiarandi's son."
 All that was said in the manner laid
down by law. Then Einar pushed the
case, and no one was there to answer him.
All steps were taken then and there, and
judgment was called for and given, and
in his absence Rolf was made full outlaw,
and his goods were declared forfeited.
Not till the court had risen, and nothing
might be done, was the news brought to
Snorri and Rolf.
Snorri was angry that he had been
tricked, yet he could see no way to help
himself. This one thing he brought
about, that the judges declared that Rolf,
outlaw though he was, might shoot to
prove his innocence, if he might but get
himself safely to the spot. And Snorri
sought to comfort Rolf, but the lad was
"The farm is lost!" he cried.
"Thou canst win it back," answered
Snorri. "Thou art young and thy
 strength will grow. Before the seven
years are past thou canst make that shot."
"Nay," said Rolf. "I can never do it
until I find some bow as strong as Grettir's,
yet which a common man may string.
Never have I found a bow too stiff for
me, save his alone."
"Skill may beat strength," quoth
Snorri. "Some where mayest thou find
the bow thou dreamest of."
"Where?" demanded Rolf.
Snorri was silent, for he feared no such bow was to be found.
Rolf sighed. "And my mother?" he asked next.
"She shall live with me at Tongue.
And now," said Snorri, "meseems best
that thou goest home at once. Thou
knowest all that is to be done?"
"I know," replied Rolf; and Snorri
believed him, because to the Priest all
the ways of the law were so familiar that
 it seemed all men must know them. Yet
Rolf did not know, and they meant
"Shall I lend thee money," asked Snorri, "or hast thou enough?"
"I have plenty," said Rolf; yet he had
only enough for the journey, whereas
much more was needed. Then Rolf took
his leave of Snorri, and gave him his
thanks; and taking his horse, he went
from the Thingfield by the path up the
Great Rift. And he passed two men of
Einar's, who spoke together that they
were to start very early in the morning.
From the top of the Rift Rolf looked
down on that plain where all men were
still busy, and which in years had brought
misfortune on all his family. Then at
last he went his way.
Now those men of Einar's went to their
booth, and told that they had seen Rolf
departing. "Hasten back at once," said
 Ondott, "and find what direction he
takes." And they went and watched.
"He went northwest," said they, "and
he took not the straight track toward
"Then he is gone elsewhere," quoth
Ondott, and seemed glad. "Hurry, all
of you, for he delivers himself into our
Meanwhile Rolf went northwest to the
valley of the geysirs, and on the second
day found Grettir the Strong cooking his
food at a boiling spring.
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