|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 |
HERE ROLF COMES TO CRAGNESS
OW 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
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
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
 "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
 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
"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
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
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
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
 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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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