|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 OUTCOME OF ONDOTT'S PLOTTINGS
OW spring was well advanced,
but the work was ever hard at
Cragness, and Hiarandi grew
very weary. So his melancholy gained
on him again. There came a morning
when he was troubled in his demeanor,
and spoke little. "What ails thee this
day?" asked Asdis of him.
"Now," said Hiarandi, "for all my words
to Einar, this life irks terribly. Better to
be an outlaw, and go where I will—as
doth Grettir the Strong, who lives secure
from all his foes."
Asdis answered: "And what use then
couldst thou be to thy wife and son; and
 is not the time short enough until the ban
leaves thee? Be a man, and wait with
patience a little while yet!"
"Yet something weighs upon me,"
pursued Hiarandi, "for last night I dreamed,
and the dream forebodes ill. Methought
I was working in the field, and I left my
work and my land; some good reason I
had, but it is not clear to me now. I did
not go a bow-shot beyond the boundary,
but from behind a copse wolves sprang
out and fell upon me. As they tore me
and I struggled, I awoke, yet the fear is
heavy on me still."
Asdis laughed, though with effort, and
quoth she: "Now take thy boat and fish
near the rocks this day. Then no wolves
can come near thee."
"Nay," answered Hiarandi, "how canst
thou ask me to fish when so much must
be done on the farm?"
"At least," said Asdis, "work on the
 northern slope, at the ploughing, and
away from the boundary."
"The frost still lies there in the earth
in places," replied Hiarandi. "But on
the south slope, where the sun lies, all is
ploughed and to-day we must seed."
"Take thy sword, then," begged Asdis,
"and have it at thy side as thou workest.
Then no wolf will hurt thee."
But Hiarandi answered, "The day is
fine and the wind soft. The sun and the
air will clear my head, and we will laugh
at this at even-tide. I will take no sword,
for it gets in the way."
Then he called the thrall and Rolf;
and they took the bags of seed, and went
out to work. Now that was a fine spring
day, so fine that the like of it seldom
comes. Old farmers in Broadfirth still
call such a day a day of Hiarandi's
But Asdis detained Rolf, and spoke to
 him earnestly. "Dreams often come true,
and wolves in dreams mean death. See,
I will lay by the door thy father's sword
and thy bow, so that thou canst snatch
them at need. Be near thy father this
day, for I fear he is 'fey' [as is said of
those who see their fate and avoid it not],
and watch well what happens."
So Rolf stayed near his father all that
morning, working with him and the thrall
at the sowing. But nothing happened;
and the sun and the air cleared from
Rolf's head all fear of ill. Yet Hiarandi
was still gloomy and absent-minded. Then
when they stopped for their meal at noon,
and ate it as they sat together on a rock,
Rolf spoke to Hiarandi, trying to take
his mind from himself.
"Tell me," he begged, "what sort of
man is that outlaw Grettir the Strong,
and for what is he outlawed?"
Then Hiarandi told the tale, and as he
 spoke he grew more cheerful. "Grettir,"
said he, "is the strongest man that ever
lived in Iceland, and no three men can
master him. For he himself hath said
that he hath no fear of three, nor would
he flee from four; but with five he would
not fight unless he must. All his life he
has been rough, impatient of control, and
at home only amid struggles and slayings.
Yet for all that he is a man of ill luck
rather than misdeeds, for he hath been
greatly hated and provoked. And it is
great harm for Iceland that Grettir ever
"Now this was the cause of his outlawing.
Once in Norway Grettir lay storm-bound with his companions, and they had
had much ado to make the land at all.
They lay under the lee of a dyke, and had
no shelter nor wherewith to make fire, and
the weather was exceeding cold, for winter
was nigh. Then night came on, and
 they feared they should all freeze; and
when they saw lights on the mainland
across the sound, they desired greatly to
unmoor their ship and cross, but dared
not for the storm. Then Grettir, to save
the lives of the others, swam the sound,
and came to the hall where those lights
were, and therein people were feasting.
Then he went into the hall; but so huge
is he, and so covered with ice were his
clothes and hair and beard, that those in
the hall thought him a troll. Up they
sprang and set upon him, and some
snatched firebrands to attack him, for no
weapons will bite on witch or troll. He
took a brand and warded himself, and
won his way out, but not before fire had
sprung from the brands to the straw in
the hall. And he swam back with his
brand to his companions, but the hall
burned up, and all those that were therein.
Now there were burned the sons of a man
 powerful here in Iceland; and for that
deed, before ever he returned, Grettir was
made outlaw. Because of the injustice
he would not go away for his three years,
but stayed here. Nigh sixteen years he
has been outlaw now, and lives where he
may, so that many rue his outlawry. And
he is not to be overcome by either force
or guile; great deeds, moreover, he has
done in laying ghosts that walked, and
monsters that preyed on men."
Now so far had Hiarandi got in his
story, when he turned to the thrall who
sat thereby. "At what lookest thou,
"Nothing," answered the thrall, and
turned his face another way.
"Methought thou wert looking, and
signalling with the hand," said Hiarandi.
"And is there something there in those
willows on Einar's land? What didst
 "Nothing," answered the thrall again.
"Nevertheless," said Hiarandi, "go,
Rolf, and fetch me my sword; for I
repent that I came without weapon
Now Rolf had seen nothing in the
bushes; yet he went for the sword, and
hastened, but the distance was two
furlongs. Then after a while Hiarandi grew
weary of waiting, and he saw nothing at
all in the willows, so he said to the thrall:
"Now let us go again to work." But
they had not worked long when the thrall
looked privily, and he saw a hand wave in
the willows. Then he cried aloud: "Goodby,
master," and he ran toward the place.
Hiarandi sprang from his work, and ran
after the thrall.
Now the land at that place lay thus.
At the foot of the slope was that brook
which was Hiarandi's boundary, and
toward the sea on Einar's land was the
 thicket of dwarf willows. And a gnarled
oak grew at a place away from the willows,
standing alone by itself.
So when Rolf came from the hall,
bearing the sword, and having also his bow
and arrows, he saw the thrall fleeing, and
Hiarandi running after. They reached
the brook, and leaped it, and ran on,
Hiarandi pursuing most eagerly. The
thrall ran well, but Hiarandi used thought;
for he turned a little toward the clump of
willows, and cut the thrall off from them,
where he might have hidden. Yet he
might not catch the man, who fled past
the oak. Then Hiarandi heard the voice
of Rolf, calling him to stop; so he
remembered himself, and stood still there at
the oak, and turned back to go home.
But men with drawn swords started up
out of the willows, and ran at Hiarandi.
He leaped to the tree, and set his back
against it to defend himself.
 And Rolf, as he came running, saw
how the men fell upon his father. The
lad strung his bow as he ran, and leaped
the brook, and laid an arrow on the string.
When he was within killing distance, he
sent his arrow through one of the armed
men. Then that struggle around
Hiarandi suddenly ceased, and the men fled
in all directions, not stopping for their
companion; but one of them carried a
shaft in his shoulder, and a third bore one
in his leg. And then Rolf saw how the
thrall had loitered to see what was being
done, but he ran again when the men fled.
Rolf took a fourth arrow, and shot at the
slave, and it stood in the spine of him.
Freedom came to the man, but not as he
Then Rolf ran to his father, who lay at
the foot of the tree. He looked, and saw
that Hiarandi was dead.
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