|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 |
KIARTAN AT CRAGNESS
N the morning of the fifth day
thereafter, as Rolf stood by the
gate of the enclosure which
protected the farm buildings, he saw a man
coming on a horse, and knew him for his
father's brother Kiartan. He was a big
man, heavily bearded, dressed in bright-colored
clothes and hung about with gold
chains. His eye was bright and roving;
his face was genial, and he looked about
him as he came as one who is well
contented. Yet Rolf liked him not.
Now Kiartan rode up to the enclosure
and saw the boy. "Ho!" he cried,
"come hold my horse and stable him."
So Rolf took the horse by the bridle and
 held him while the man dismounted.
Then the boy started to lead the beast
to the stable.
"Where is thy mistress?" asked Kiartan.
"My mother is in the house," answered Rolf.
"Now," Kiartan cried, "I took thee for
a stable-boy. But thy father had ever a
love of the earth, and so perhaps hast
thou. Knowest thou me?"
"Thou art my uncle," replied the lad.
"Now," cried Kiartan, staring, "what
spirit told thee of me?"
"Five nights ago," answered Rolf,
"thou stoodst below on the deck of thy
ship, and lookedst up at Cragness. And
our beacon saved thee."
"Aye," said Kiartan. "We had work
to save our lives, and a close miss we
made of the Tusks." But he never gave
a word of thanks, either to Rolf or
to Hiarandi, for the saving of his life.
 "Thou art wise to stay at home, boy; for
see how a sailor's life hangs ever on a
thread. Now stable the horse, and I will
see thy mother. The farmer is likely in
So Rolf stabled the horse, and called
his father from his work; and Hiarandi
came, muttering (though he meant not
that Rolf should hear), "Poor steel comes
often home for a new edge." But he
greeted his brother well, and bade him
stay with them for the winter.
"Even for that am I come," answered
Kiartan. "For my cargo is already sold,
and my ship laid up for the winter near
Hvamm, and I come home to my kinsman.
No poor penny am I this time, to
need any man's help. Perhaps," and he
looked about him, "I can even help
But the buildings were neat and
weather-tight, and the farm was in no
 need of improvement. "I need nothing,"
said Hiarandi, "and I even have money
out at call there in the neighborhood
where thy ship is laid. But come, the
wife prepares the meal. Lay aside thy
cloak and be at home."
And so Kiartan entered on his wintering at Cragness.
Quiet is the winter in Iceland, when
men have no work to do in the field, save
the watching of horses and the feeding of
the sheep and kine. Weatherwise must
a man be to prepare against the storms,
which sweep with suddenness from off
the water and enfold the land with snow.
Yet Hiarandi's flocks were small, and his
sheep-range was not wide, and both he
and Rolf were keen to see the changes in
the weather; and as for their horses, they
stayed ever near the buildings. So all
were free to go to the gatherings which
men made for games and ball-play, in
 times of fair weather. Thither Kiartan
loved to go, dressed in his fine clothes,
and talking much. But nights when he
sat at home he would speak of his travels,
and what a fine place the world was, and
how little there was for a man here in
Iceland. He said it was nothing to be a
farmer, but a great thing to rove the sea,
and to live, not in this land where all
were equal, but where there were kings,
earls, and other great men.
Once as he spoke thus he provoked
Hiarandi to words. "Meseems, brother,"
the farmer said, "that thou hast forgotten
the way our forefathers thought. For it
was to avoid kings and earls that they left
their lands in Norway and came over
the sea hither. And those whom thou
prizest so high are so little thought of here
that we make nothing of them whatever."
"Now," answered Kiartan, "thy neighbor
Einar thinks well of earls, for he has
 fostered his son with the Earl of the Orkneys."
"The lad will understand little of our
ways when he returns," replied Hiarandi.
"For all that," Kiartan said, "I name
the son of Einar luckier than thy son
here. A great court is held in the
Orkneys, and all matters are to be learned
Then Hiarandi made response: "No
court can teach good sense to a dolt, and
no wisdom will flourish unless there be
good ground for it to sprout. I have
seen wise men bred in this little land, and
fools that came out of Norway."
Then Kiartan talked not so much
before Hiarandi of the things he had seen,
nor for a time before Rolf either. But
when there came again the great winter
ball-play, to which all went, and Rolf
shot again with the bow before them all,
and proved himself the most skilful,
 though not yet the strongest: after that
Kiartan made more of the lad.
"Men," said he to Rolf one day when
they were alone, "may be able to shoot
farther than thou with the bow, for two
did it. But none shot so surely. And
some day thou wilt outshoot them as
"I think not much of it," answered Rolf.
"Now," said Kiartan, "thou shouldst
learn to prize thyself higher. For in the
Orkneys good archers are welcome in
the Earl's body-guard, and a man is
honored and well paid."
"Yet he is no longer his own man,"
"What of that?" asked Kiartan. "If
for a few years he can see the world, and
make his fortune also, then he is forever
after a greater man at home. Think more
 And at other times he spoke in the
same strain, bidding Rolf value himself
higher. And he told of the great world,
and described his journeys. For he had
been, he said, as far as the great Middle
Sea, had traded in Italy, and had even
seen Rome. And Rolf was greatly
interested in those tales; for the lands across
the sea were of moment to all Icelanders,
since many a man fared abroad often, and
no man thought himself complete who
had not once made the voyage. So he
listened willingly, when Kiartan told his
tales at evening in the hall. The parents
were inattentive; but sometimes Hiarandi,
and sometimes Asdis, would interrupt the
story, sending the lad to some task or to
Now at last it draws toward spring,
and the time approaches when Kiartan
must go away to his ship, to dight it for
the voyage. And it was remembered
 afterward how one evening he drew
Hiarandi on to talk of his savings, and learned
what money he had out at interest, and
with whom. And Kiartan spoke the
oftener with Rolf, praising him for the
fine man he was growing to be. Then
at his last night at Cragness the
shipmaster said, as all sat together before the
"Brother, thou knowest I must go
"Aye," answered Hiarandi.
"Now," said Kiartan, "let me say to
thee what is in my mind. Take it not ill
that I speak freely. But I think it wrong
of thee that thou keepest here at home
such a fine lad as is Rolf thy son." And
he would have put his hand upon the
boy's shoulder, but Rolf drew away.
Kiartan went on: "Now I am going to
the South Isles. Send Rolf with me, and
let him see the world."
 Then Hiarandi grew uneasy, and he
answered: "Speak no more of this.
Some day he shall see the lands across
the main, but as yet he is too young."
"Nay," answered Kiartan, "he is nearly
full-grown. What sayest thou, Rolf?
Wilt thou not go with me?"
Rolf answered: "I will be ruled by my
"I have made much money," reasoned
Kiartan, "and thou canst do the same."
"I care not for trading," replied Rolf.
"There are courts to be seen," said
Kiartan, "and thou mayest serve in them
"I am not ready to be a servant," quoth
"But thou mayest see wars and fighting," cried Kiartan.
"I have no quarrels of my own," answered the boy, "and I mix not in the
affairs of others."
 Now Hiarandi and Asdis had listened
with both anger and fear,—anger that
Kiartan should so tempt the boy, and
fear at what Rolf might answer. But
Rolf spoke with wisdom beyond his
years; and at his last response Hiarandi
smiled, and Asdis clapped her hands.
Then Kiartan started from his seat and
cried: "Out upon ye all for stay-at-homes!"
And he would speak no more
with them that night, but went to his
locked bed and shut himself in. Yet he
spoke to the lad once more in the morning, out by
the byre while Rolf was saddling the horse.
"Surely," said Kiartan, "thou didst
not mean what thou saidst last night, for
the fear of thy parents was in thy mind.
Now let me tell thee what we can do.
I will go on for the lading of my ship,
and that will take a fortnight's time.
Then I will wait for thee at the mouth
 of Laxriver, and thou canst come thither
and join me secretly."
"Now," said the lad, "if I tell my
father this, he will give thee a beating.
Therefore I will remain silent until thy
ship has sailed."
Then Kiartan turned pale, and cursed,
and made as if to strike his nephew. But
Rolf put his hand to his belt, and Kiartan
drew away. Yet Rolf had no knife.
"I see," said Rolf, "that thou art not
quick at arms nor sure of thy own
strength, even against me. And I knew
thou wert a coward long ago, when I saw
thee on thy ship's deck, giving no orders,
but letting other men save thy ship and
thyself. No great deeds of daring would
I see with thee as shipmaster."
When Kiartan rode away, he was as glad
at parting as were those of the house.
"He is not changed," said Hiarandi,
"in all the years he has been gone."
 "Where," asked Asdis, "is the harm
which he was to do us?"
And she laughed, but rejoiced too
soon. For after six weeks men came to
Hiarandi, sent from Laxriverdale, where
traders had given goods to Kiartan upon
his promise that Hiarandi should pay.
And it was discovered that Kiartan had
not only used the money which Hiarandi
had out at call in that region, but had
obtained goods from other men creating
debts. And he had filled all his ship at
Hiarandi's expense. Then Rolf told to
his father his own tale of Kiartan's secret
offer, and Hiarandi was bitterly wroth.
And then began those troubles which
Thurid had foreseen. For when Hiarandi
refused to pay for the goods, but instead
sought to regain his money from those
who had supplied Kiartan, the matter
was brought to the law. And first at
the Quarter Thing, and then at the
 Althing, many small suits were disputed.
But the end of the matter was, that
Hiarandi was beaten by the skill of
lawyers; and he had to lose his money
and pay more besides, and stood stripped
of all which he had laid up against his
age, or against that time when Rolf
should need a start in life. And the
farmer was greatly cast down, recalling
the misfortunes of the Soursops, and how
he himself had been always called the
Unlucky. But Asdis and Rolf strove to
keep him in good heart.
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