|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 THE LIGHTING OF THE BEACON
N the time after Iceland had become
Christian, and after the burning of
Njal, but before the deaths of Snorri
the Priest and Grettir the Outlaw, there
lived at Cragness above Broadfirth a man
named Hiarandi, called the Unlucky.
And well was he so named, for he got a
poor inheritance from his father, but he
left a poorer to his son.
Now the farm of Cragness was a fertile
fell, standing above the land round about,
and girt with crags. Below lay Broadfirth,
great and wide, and Cragness jutted
out into it, a danger to ships. It had no
harbor, but a little cove among the rocks,
 where Hiarandi kept his boat; and many
ships were wrecked on the headland,
bringing fortune to the owners of Cragness,
both in goods and firewood. And all
the land about once belonged to the farm.
Rich, therefore, would have been the
dwellers at Cragness, but for the doings
of Hiarandi's father.
He would always be striving at the law,
and he was of ill judgment or ill luck, for
what he gained at the farm he always lost.
The older he grew, the more quarrelsome
he became; and judgments heaped heavy
on him, until at last he was so hard put
that he must sell all his outlying lands.
So the farm, from a wide estate, became
only the land of Cragness itself, and
another holding of a few acres, lying inland
on the uplands, within sight of Cragness
and the sea.
In the time when Hiarandi was young,
Iceland was still heathen. He sought his
 fortune in a trading voyage, and sailed
West-over-the-Sea, trading in the South
Isles as a chapman, trafficking in goods of
all kinds. And he made money there, so
that at last when he sailed again for home
he counted on a fair future. But the ship
was wrecked in a storm, and few of the
men came ashore; and Hiarandi himself
was saved by means of a maid who dwelt
at the place, who dragged him from the
surf. So Hiarandi came home on foot,
his clothes in tatters, having lost money
rather than gained it. Then his father,
whose losses pressed heavy on him,
struggled no more with the world, but went to
his bed and died. And in that summer
when all Iceland took to the new faith,
Hiarandi became master at Cragness.
Hiarandi was a silent man, not
neighborly, but hard-working. An unworldly
choice he made of a wife, for he took that
woman who had saved him from the
 waves; she was the daughter of a small
farmer and brought neither dowry nor
kinship of any power. So men said that
Hiarandi had no wish to rise in the world.
He lived upon his farm, with two thralls
and a bondservant; and husbanding his
goods well, by little and little he made
money which he put out at call, and so
bade fair to do better than his father, for
all his poor start in life. And a loving
spouse he had in Asdis, his wife, who one
day bore him a son.
They named the lad Rolf, and he grew
to be well knit; he was not powerful, but
straight and supple, and of great craft in
his hands. And from delight in the boy
Hiarandi changed his ways, and became
more gay, going to fairs and meetings for
the sake of Rolf. And Hiarandi taught
the lad all he knew of weapon-craft, which
was not a little. The lad was swift of
foot; he was skilled in the use of the
 sword and javelin, but most he delighted
in the use of the bow.
And that was natural, for upon the
cliffs sea-birds lived in thousands, hard to
catch. The boy went down to their nests
with ropes, and took eggs in their season,
or the young before they could fly, and
both for food. So skilled was he in this
that he was called Craggeir, the
Cragsman; and no man could surpass him,
whether in daring or skill. But there
were times when there were no eggs nor
fledglings, and from his earliest boyhood
Rolf practised in shooting with his bow
at the birds, and he kept the larder ever
Happy was Hiarandi watching his son,
and his pride in him was great. As the
lad grew stronger, the father made for
him stronger bows and heavier arrows,
until at the age of fourteen Rolf used
the bow of a man. Then one winter
 they went down together into the valley,
father and son, and watched the sports
and games on the frozen mere.
There the men of the place played at
ball, and great was the laughter or deep
was the feeling. Now Hiarandi would
not let Rolf play, for often matters carne
to blows, and he would not have his son
maimed. But when it came to shooting
with the bow, Hiarandi put Rolf forward,
and it was seen who was the best at that
play. For though the men shot, Rolf
surpassed them all, not in distance but in
skill. He hit the smallest mark at the
greatest distance; and when Hiarandi
brought a pigeon and freed it, then Rolf
brought it down. No one there had seen
such shooting. Then those who were not
envious named the lad Rolf the Bowman.
But a man named Einar stood by, and
he lived on the land which Hiarandi's
father had sold. He was rich but
covet-  ous, and fond of show, and fond of praise.
There lived with him one named Ondott,
an Eastfirther who had left his district
and come west, a man without property.
He stood with Einar and watched the
"See," said Einar, "how proud is Hiarandi of his son!"
"Thou hast a son as well," said Ondott.
"How he will shine among these churls
when he returns from his fostering in the
"Aye," answered Einar. "Like an
Earl will he be, and no farmer of these
parts will compare with him."
"And as for the shooting of this lad,"
remarked Ondott, "it is not so fine after
"In the Orkneys," said Einar aloud, so
that others should hear him, "they are
better bowmen than here, and the Earl
will have my son taught everything."
 Now some who stood by brought Hiarandi
this tale. "Have a care," said they.
"Thy neighbor Einar sets himself above
"Then he must set himself high,"
answered Hiarandi with a laugh, "for his
land lies far lower than mine."
Then others carried that tale to Einar,
and he laid it up in his mind; but
Hiarandi forgot all that had been said,
nor did he remember to tell of it to
Asdis when they had returned from the
Then the winter passed on with severe
storms, and ships were wrecked on
Cragness rocks, but no men reached shore.
And Einar envied the more the riches
that came to Hiarandi from the wrecks,
in firewood, timber, and merchandise.
And once a whale came ashore, and that
was great fortune. But one evening, as
those at Cragness sat within the hall,
 Asdis came and stood beside her husband,
and said, "Listen to the wind."
"There is no need to listen," said
Hiarandi. "The wind howls for a storm,
and this night will be bad."
Then Thurid the bondservant, who sat
by the fire, looked up and said, "Ships
are off the land."
"Hearest thou that?" asked Asdis in
a low voice. "The woman is strange, but
she forecasts well."
"Aye," answered Hiarandi, "it is likely
that ships will be on the rocks by morning."
"Now," asked Asdis, "dost thou
remember the time thou camest ashore,
these many years ago?"
"How should I forget it?" responded Hiarandi.
"But no one can rush into the water
here," said Asdis, "to save those who are
 "That is true," quoth Hiarandi. "I
am sorry for the mariners, yet how is one
Then the bondservant raised her head
and sang this song:
"The sea brings money;
Money is bonny.
Bless then the sea
Which brings good to thee."
After that she sat silent and sunken as
"Hear the hag," said Asdis, shuddering.
"But we prosper through the misfortunes
"What is to be done?" asked Hiarandi.
"It is in my mind," said Asdis, "that
if we made a fire-beacon, people could
steer from shore and so into safe harbor
farther up the firth."
"Now," quoth Hiarandi, "that might
"Wilt thou do it?" asked Asdis.
 Then the woman raised her head and
"He is a fool
Who leaves old rule.
Set heart 'gainst head,
How then butter thy bread?"
Then Hiarandi said to Asdis: "No
man has ever yet set beacons against shipwreck.
All men agree to take the fortune
of the sea; and what is cast on a man's
beaches, that is his by old custom."
"Thinkest thou that is right?" asked
"Moreover," went on Hiarandi, "the
sea is but giving me again what it took
"Never can the sea," answered Asdis,
"give thee true happiness through other
"Remember the boy," said Hiarandi.
"Shall I leave him with nothing to begin
the world with? For my own earnings
 bring me at most a mark of silver in the
"For all that," replied Asdis, "it is in
my mind that to do otherwise were to do
better. Now canst thou have the heart
that men should die longer on our rocks,
and we not do our best to save them?"
Then Hiarandi, answering nothing, rose
and paced up and down before the fire.
And the carline sang once more:
"Take what is given.
No man is wise
Who asketh twice
If earth or heaven
Sends him his prize."
But Asdis stood upright, and she sang:
"Suffer not wrong
To happen long,
From heaven be sent."
Now in Iceland all men loved the singing
of skalds; but though Hiarandi had
 heard the carline sing many times before,
never had he heard rhymes from his wife.
So he stood astonished.
Then the bondservant sang again:
"Ill will attend
The beacon's lighting.
Bad spirit's guiding
Will bring false friend."
But Asdis sang with great vehemence:
"Let God decide
What fate shall ride
Upon the wind.
Be thou not blind
To duty's hest.
My rede is best.
List to the storm!
Go! Save from harm
Whose fate is near.
To others do
As I did once to you."
And it seemed to Hiarandi as if she
commanded him. Moreover, as he
lis-  tened, the storm roared louder. Then he
seized his cloak, and cried to his thralls,
"Up, and out with me to make a beacon!"
Though they dared not disobey, they
grumbled, and they got their cloaks slowly.
For they saw slipping away from them
the fine pickings from the wreck, which
brought them warm clothes and
handsome. Out they went with Hiarandi into
the storm, and kindled a great fire at the
edge of the cliff. And Rolf toiled too;
but Asdis did best of all, for she brought
out in a kettle great strips of whale's
blubber, and flung them on the fire.
Then the flames flared high and wide, as
bright as day. And Rolf sprang to the
edge of the cliffs and gazed upon the
water. Then, pointing, he cried, "Look!"
Down below was a ship; its sail flapped
in rags, and the crew were laboring
mightily at the oars to save themselves,
looking with dread at the white breakers
 and the looming rocks. Now in the
strength of their fear they held the vessel
where she was; and by the broad light of
the fire every man of them was visible to
the Cragness-dwellers. To Rolf that was
a dreadful sight. But the bit of a sail
was set, and men ran to the steering-oar
to hold the vessel stiff; and behold, she
moved forward, staggered past the rocks,
made clearer water, and wore slowly out
into the firth. Even the thralls shouted
at the sight.
Then Hiarandi left one of the thralls to
keep the fire, and went back to the hall
with those others. There the carline still
"So he is safe past the rocks?" she
asked, yet speaking as if she knew.
"Aye, safe," answered Hiarandi.
"Now," said she, "thou hast brought
thy evil fortune on thyself, and it will be
hard to avoid the extreme of it."
 "I care not," answered Hiarandi, "even
though I suffer for a good deed."
"Nevertheless," said the carline, "the
future may be safe, though without riches,
if thou wilt be guided by me. Wilt thou
follow my redes?"
"No advices of thine do I follow,"
replied Hiarandi. "For methinks thou still
servest the old gods, and canst work witchcraft.
Speak no more of this matter in
my house; and practise not thy sorcery
before my eyes, for the law gives death as
"Now," answered the woman, "like a
foolish man, thou rushest on thy fate.
And I see clearly that thou art not he
who was spoken of in the prophecy. Not
a fortunate Soursop art thou."
"Since the slaying of Kol, who put the
curse on all our stock," answered Hiarandi,
"has but one of the Soursops prospered.
How then should I be fortunate?"
 "Two were to prosper," the woman
replied. "And each was to put an end
to the curse in his branch of thy race.
Snorri the Priest is one of those two,
as all men know. But thou art not
the other; and I believe that thou art
doomed to fail, even as thy father
"So I have long believed," said Hiarandi
Then the carline rose, and her eyes were
strange, as if they saw beyond that upon
which she looked. "More misfortune
is coming than thou deemest," she said.
"Outlawry. Mayhap even death. Be
"Thou art a heathen and a witch," said
her master. "Be still!"
But she said: "I will not abide the
curse. Hiarandi, I have worked long in
thy house. Give me now my freedom
and let me go."
 "Thou hast long been free to go," he
replied. "Take thy croaking to another
man's board! But this little prophecy I
give to thee, that no man will believe
"No great foresight hast thou in that,"
she answered. "Never have I been believed."
Then she drew on her cloak and
hooded her face.
"Thou wilt not go in the storm?"
"All times are alike," the woman said.
"Heed thou this, Hiarandi. Beware the
man who came in the ship thou didst
"He is one," answered Hiarandi,
"whom I fear not at all."
"Beware suits at law," said the carline
again, and she turned to go.
"It needs no great wisdom to say that,"
retorted Hiarandi upon her." But stay!
I send not people from my door
penni-  less. Nothing is owing from me to thee,
yet I will give a piece of money."
"Soon," answered Thurid, "thou wilt
need all thou hast." And she went out
into the night.
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