|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 GRANI'S PRIDE
N the early morning Grani slept
quietly at last, and the household of
Einar had peace. Then Ondott
called Hallvard and Hallmund, and bade
them come with him. To the locked bed
they went, but though the door was still
secure, no sign of those two cousins was
to be found, nor any way of their escape.
And outside the wind had so drifted the
snow that no marks of feet were to be
seen. Ondott and his men searched, and
came at last to the cove where men
watched for the wreckage. He asked if
they had seen those two.
Thither had come, said the men, two
whom they knew not, bearing between
 them old Thurid the crone. Now at that
hour a spar from the ship had just come
ashore, and in it was fixed a great bill, its
blade driven so deep into the wood that
with all their might three men could not
draw it forth; they were about to hew it
out with axes. Then the taller of those
two men came down to the shingle, and
said naught to Einar's men; but he laid
hold of the bill and with one tug plucked
it forth from the spar, and went off
brandishing it and muttering to himself. Next
the two took the old crone again, and
Ondott and his men hurried on their
track, and when they had passed down
into the hollows, there the marks of feet
were found, pointing straight to the little
hut on the hillside where Asdis dwelt, a
league away. So Ondott took more men,
and went thither, and knocked on the
door. Within were Asdis, and Frodi, and
 the carline Thurid; but no sign of Rolf
was to be seen. Frodi sat by the fire and
handled the great bill, and Thurid lay
muffled on the floor as she was wont;
there was a smell of cooking, while very
pleased did Asdis seem.
"Where is thy son?" asked Ondott.
"Find him who can," answered Asdis.
They searched that place and found him
not, and there was no room to have hidden
a man. So Ondott was angry, and he said
to Frodi: "Give us that bill, which is
Einar's, since it came ashore on his
Frodi answered mildly: "I pray thee
leave it me." But as he spoke he thrust
the butt of the bill down upon the floor,
where the earth was tramped as hard as
any stone ; and the butt made a great
dent in the floor. Ondott thought it best
not to meddle with him, and went home
 Grani lay two days sick and weary,
but then he was himself again. Neither
Einar nor any of his men told him how he
came ashore, but spoke as if they had
saved him. Einar sent men everywhere
to find Rolf and seize him; yet in all the
dales no man had seen or heard of him.
So when Grani asked if others got ashore
from the wreck, Einar answered: "That
outlaw Rolf, and his cousin Frodi. And
Frodi is at his smithy again, there not far
from the ferry to Hvamm."
"Where is Rolf?" Grani asked.
"No man knows save Frodi," answered
Einar, "and he sayeth not."
Then spoke Grani, lying on his bed.
"Father, Rolf told a hard tale against
thee in the Orkneys: how thou slewest his
father foully, and now holdest his land in
spite of right. Now tell me the truth of
all this, ere I accept aught from thee."
Then Einar was greatly frightened lest
 Grani should learn the truth and despise
him; he made as if he were offended, and
went away, saying: "And canst thou
think that of me?" But when he was
out of Grani's sight, he sought Ondott in
haste, and asked him what he should do.
Quoth Ondott: "Leave all to me. I
will settle this." So he went to Grani,
and Einar with him. Einar said: "I
have brought Ondott to tell the truth,
for thou wilt better believe some one else,
speaking in my defence."
Then Ondott told a long tale of Hiarandi,
how he was overbearing and insolent, and preyed on Einar's crops and
cattle. Moreover Hiarandi was a dangerous
and violent man, going always armed,
so that one day when he was in the act of
theft and Einar's men were about to seize
him—but Einar had commanded not to
harm him—Hiarandi had so attacked
those men that to save their own lives
 they had slain him. And Rolf had no
right to the land, being outlawed at the Althing.
"Now tell me," said Ondott, "when
ye twain were together in Orkney, did
not Rolf offer peace if thou wouldst but
get him this homestead again?"
"Twice he did that," answered Grani.
"See now," cried Ondott, "the guile
that is in him!"
Then Grani believed all that Ondott
had said, and thought evil of Rolf, and
craved his father's pardon. Einar forgave
him. And when Grani was well again
Einar showered him with kindnesses, for
fearing lest his son should learn evil of
him he did all that he might to earn
Grani's love, sparing neither words, deeds,
nor money. Einar gave the finest of
clothes, and horses, and attendants, so
that not with Ar the Peacock had Grani
had such state. Wherefore he took to
 himself such pride as had been his in the
He went abroad among the Iceland
folk, and saw that they were a simple
people, each man living upon his own
farm and dressing in plain clothes, loving
direct speech and homely ways. So Grani
missed the best that was in the people,
but thought them mean-spirited. He
dressed always in colored clothes, and had
attendants with him, and expected such
respect from men as he had received
when he was Ar's Fosterling. Now at
Cragness honor was always showed him;
but the neighbors of Einar were to Grani
blunt of speech, sometimes biting; and he
loved them little, thinking them rough.
Two more matters troubled Grani.
For he had little happiness in his sister,
who seemed almost always downcast, and
as if disappointed in him. And ever deep
within his heart lay that love of his for
 Rolf, nor could he forget their
comradeship, nor the dangers they had together
borne. He took no great satisfaction,
therefore, to be a princeling on his land,
but away from it to be treated roughly,
and always to have that desire to see
his friend again. Yet he never made to
himself any confession of fault, believing
Rolf in the wrong, both toward himself
and toward Einar. So he hardened his
heart and increased his outward pride,
even while he was ever on the watch for
news of Rolf.
Now one day he rode abroad with
Ondott and his men, and they came to
the hut on the hillside where dwelt Asdis
the mother of Rolf. Summer was come;
Asdis sat out of doors by the spring
combing flax, with Thurid cowled by her side.
No welcome gave Asdis to them, but
asked their errand.
"To learn whether thou hast news of
 thy son," Ondott said. Now that was not
true, for they came thither by accident,
having hunted higher up in the hills.
But Grani said nothing, wishing to learn
"Ever thou liest in wait for blood,"
answered Asdis. "But ask not me for
news of Rolf. Rather of those who have
been near the isle of Drangey shouldst
thou inquire, if none resembling my son
have been seen on the island-top; and
whether he, and Grettir the Strong, and
Illugi his brother, are likely to be won
thence against their wills."
"Now," cried Ondott, "I thank thee
for this news. And one in that land-side,
Thorstein Angle, he is my cousin; he
will let me know if ever thy son comes
"If Thorstein Angle is thy cousin,"
said Asdis, "that shows the saying true,
that all rogues are akin. But if thou
 hearest aught from that region, I pray
thee let me know if my son is well."
Now all the time Thurid sat there, and
combed no flax, nor said a word. "And
yet," said Ondott, "I hear that the
woman works well at times."
"Speak not so loud in her presence,"
said Asdis, "for methinks now she is
tranced. Mayhap when she comes to she
will prophesy and tell me of my son."
"Nay," said Ondott, "the woman is
clean daft, so they say, ever since she
left our house to wander in the cold.
Now who has split the wood that lieth
here, and piled it against the house?
For thou hast not done it."
"I will tell thee," said Asdis, and
lowered her voice. "On that night the
frost got in her brain, mayhap; for
she was ever strange, but now she is
little short of marvellous. Sometimes
she works with a man's strength; and
 at such times she splits wood, or carries
water, or spades here in my little field.
I have done no heavy work since she came.
But she is very silent, nor hath any save
me and Frodi seen her face or heard her
voice. Such is her mood."
"Now let us ride hence," said Ondott
to Grani. "Asdis, I wish thee joy of
"Better live with her than alone,"
So those men rode away, and they
spread abroad the news that Rolf was
gone from Broadfirth dales, for he was
in Drangey with Grettir the Strong, and
none could draw them from that isle.
Steep were its rocks and high, to be
scaled only by ladders, and three might
hold the place against three hundred.
Word was also spread about of Thurid
the crone: how she had fits of man's
strength, and did work for Asdis. Men
 saw her going with great strides, or working
in the field; at a distance she seemed
taller than before, and bigger across the
shoulders; but when one came near she
shrank within herself. Moreover no one
heard her voice now, save when she
Now on another day Grani rode to the
settlement at Hvammferry, and on his
way homeward came by the smithy of
Frodi. Ondott was in his company, with
Hallvard and Hallmund; they proposed
that they should have sport with the
smith, and take from him his bill.
"Sport mayest thou try," said Grani,
"but beware lest it turn out against
"He is soft as custard," quoth Ondott.
"Otherwise was he in the Orkneys,"
replied Grani. But for all that Ondott
rode to the smithy-door, and called Frodi
to come out. He came, and leaned on
 the handle of his hammer, which was so
big that no man had wielded it since he
went away. He asked what they would
Said Ondott: "Here is Grani Earl's
Fosterling to require something of thee."
Frodi said to him: "Was then Grani
fostered by the Earl?" And he fixed
Grani with his eye; but that one blushed
and said naught. For he knew that his
father had boasted of his fostering with
the Earl, and never had Grani said nay
Asked Ondott, "Was he not?"
Frodi said, "He came last from the
Earl's court." So Frodi, who might have
spoken honor away from Grani, made
him feel more shame than if the truth
had been said.
"Now," said Ondott, "bring forth the
bill which is Einar's, and deliver it to us."
"Asks Grani that?" Frodi replied.
 Grani said, "I ask nothing." And he
spurred his horse a few rods away.
Frodi went within the smithy and
brought out the bill, but set also a helm
on his head. Said he: "Here is the bill
for whomsoever wishes it."
But Grani said over his shoulder,
"Leave the bill with him. No use
is it to us, for we have none that can
Then Ondott was wroth that Grani did
not support him in that claim, and he
said: " Now, Frodi, I call to mind that
ere thou wentest away, thou didst assault
me here in this smithy. Outlaw will I
make thee therefor."
Frodi made a sudden step, and behold!
there he was within reach of Ondott,
holding the bill in such wise that he might
have thrust Ondott through, albeit Frodi
neither raised the weapon aloft nor
brandished it. He said:
 "Now for the love which has always
been between us, be so kind as to speak
me free of guilt in that matter, when I
drew weapon on thee."
In a fright Ondott stretched forth his
hand and spoke Frodi free of that guilt.
So Frodi suddenly shifted the bill in his
hand, and the point touched the ground;
none who had not looked close would
have supposed any threat had been made.
Said Frodi: "See how kind Ondott is to
me, in asking no atonement, being in no
danger from me. Witness ye all that I
am clear in that matter."
Grani smiled and rode away, and the
men next; Ondott followed, mightily
vexed that that simple one had so bested
Now the time came for men to ride to
the Althing, and with all state Einar rode
thither with his son. Then for the first
time Grani saw the power of that land
 which he had despised, for chiefs met there
who were greater in riches than Orkney
thanes, having great followings, all richly
dressed. But all were obedient to the
law; and a wonderful thing that was, to
see men of such power yielding in lawsuits
to lesser men, and bringing no cases to
weapons. And Grani learned that his
father was of no consequence at all in
that place, for men passed him by and
gave him no honor. Yet for all that
Grani's pride grew, and he said that men
should some day recognize him there.
And he rode home moodily behind his
Now as men rode again toward the
west, Grani saw one man whom he had
oft remarked at the Thing: Kolbein the
son of Burning-Flosi, destined to be a
leader among men. Grani wished
friendship with him greatly. And Kolbein
rode to Grani and said: "Keeps thy father
 his harvest feast this year as before, asking company thereto?"
"Yea," answered Grani. "Wilt thou come?"
"Gladly will I come," answered Kolbein, "and
will bring friends with me, if so be we shall be welcome."
"Welcome will ye all be," said Grani,
and rode home cheered.
Now when they were come to Cragness,
Helga met them at the door and welcomed
them in. They asked if aught had happened
in their absence. Said she, "Nothing save
that the carline Thurid was here
yestreen, and I am the first that has
heard her speak since she left here in the
They asked what were her words.
"I was here alone in the hall," Helga
said, "for all the women were making
cheeses in the out-bower. And Thurid
came in and shuffled about the place,
 looking at things. I bade her be seated,
for I would bring her milk and oat-cake;
but when I brought them she had the
great bow in her hands, and looked at it
but would not eat. So I set the food
away again; and when I returned she had
the bow and the quiver, and was near the
door as if to take them away. She said
nothing when I asked what she did with
those; so I stood in her way, thinking I
was stronger than she. With one hand
she set me aside, and I might resist her no
more than if she were a man. So she
bore the bow and arrows from the house,
and I thought they were gone; but on a
sudden she was back again, and laid them
on the bench. And she said in a deep
voice not like her own:
" 'Not with women do I strive.'
"Then with great steps she went out of
the hall, and came not again."
Those three, Einar and Ondott and
 Grani, looked at each other with alarm.
For if that bow, left in the ward of women,
had thus been taken, men could know
neither the day nor the hour when Rolf
might come, and make the shot at the
oak-tree before witnesses, when all would
be over with the house of Einar. And
ere aught was said Einar took the bow
and bestowed it under a settle, where it
was well hid. Then they praised their
fortune that they had it still.
So all sat down to meat, and ate gladly,
for they had journeyed days long from
the Thing-field. Then night fell, and
they spoke of many things; at last Einar
asked his son: "What said to thee Kolbein
son of Flosi, there ere our roads parted?"
"He asked me," answered Grani,
"whether we hold the harvest feast as
last year, and if he and his company would
 Says Einar, rubbing his hands: "Now
the great folk come to alliance with us;
and when a few chiefs have visited here,
then thou mayest count thyself their
equal in all things, even as thou art
in wealth. Of course thou badst him
"That I did," says Grani.
So Ondott praised him. "Men have
marked thee, there at the Thing, and seek
to ally themselves with thee."
But Helga, who had listened, burst into tears.
"What is it," asks Grani, "that makes
Helga dashed the tears from her eyes,
and stood before those two, her father
and her brother. "Much had I hoped,"
says she, "that wicked doings would
cease in this house—for to mock the
dead and the unfortunate is wicked. And
if ye hold the feast as last year, and
 shoot at the boundary as then, laughing
at Hiarandi's fortune, then ye tempt
your own fate, for such deeds go not
"Now," asked Grani of his father,
"hast thou so mocked that luckless man's
fate?" Einar said he had, and it was
seen that Grani thought that act far too
"Yet see," said Ondott, "what friends
that brings you now, for from the house
of Flosi comes this offer of friendship."
Now as they spoke someone knocked
at the door, and there was a housecarle
of Snorri the Priest.
"My master," said he, "passes on his
way home from the Althing, and sends
me to ask: hold ye your harvest feast as
last year, and will he and his company be
"Oh, hold it not!" cried Helga.
 Then Einar turned to Grani. "The
mightiest man in Broadfirth dales offers
now his friendship, and thy future is sure.
Shall we not hold the feast?"
Grani turns to the housecarle of Snorri,
and says: "Beg thy master to come!"
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