|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 |
NOW ROLF AND GRANI QUARREL
OW says the tale that Rolf goes
before the Earl, and tells of
"Thou shalt have thine own way with
him," quoth Thorfinn. "Shall he die by
the hands of my men, or what atonement wilt thou take?"
"I ask not his death," said Rolf. "Give
me his ship to return to Iceland in, and
his goods to repay my mother for all her
sufferings." But of those sufferings, nor
of all that Kiartan had done, the Earl did
not ask until later.
"Thou art easy," said he, "upon him
who sought thy life; but all shall be as
 Then Grani spoke apart with the Earl,
and after that Thorfinn gave orders to his
men. Where the sward lay greenest (for
no snow lay on southern slopes all that
winter) they cut a strip of turf ; its middle
they raised and propped aloft on spears,
but its ends were still in the ground.
Then the Earl called Rolf to come, and
bade all men stand there and hear what
Grani had to say. Before all, Grani told
that he had wrongfully enthralled Rolf,
and led by Kiartan had treated him
unfairly. His sorrow he confessed, and
he asked for pardon.
Answered Rolf: "For this I grant
pardon readily enough."
"Meseems thou sayest that coldly,
man," said the Earl. "Now here stands
Grani to swear blood-brothership with
thee, under this turf. What sayest thou
Now blood-brothership was a sacred
 ceremony, and those who swore it must
uphold each other until death, if once the
oath was taken under such a strip of turf,
by letting blood from the arms mingle in
the ground. And no greater honor might
one man do another than to offer blood-brothership.
But again Rolf spoke coolly,
"Mayhap I am willing to do that."
"Come, then," said Thorfinn. "Lay
aside thy sword, and step under the turf
"Once I swore," replied Rolf, "never
to leave weapon from my reach. And
another oath I call to mind, which later I
may tell thee here. Now since blood-brothership
is asked, here I name myself
Rolf, son of Hiarandi, of Cragness above
Broadfirth in Iceland. And remembering
what Grani said when we were like to
be burnt together, I ask his true name,
and his father's name, and his birthplace."
 "Grani hight I," answered that one.
"Years long have I been fostered here,
and I remember little of my childhood.
But Einar is my father, Fellstead was
our home, and the place is that same
Broadfirth out in Iceland. So much I
know and no more."
Then those who stood by saw Rolf
draw his short-sword and spring at Grani.
At his forehead Rolf laid the sword, the
flat to the skin. "Thus," cried he, "I
laid this sword to thy father's head. But
thus" (and he turned the sword) "I lay
it to thine, edge to thy flesh. And
because I promised to do it, thus I draw
He drew the sword lightly across
Grani's forehead, and the blood started
out in little drops. Then Rolf dropped his
arm, sheathed his sword, and stood quiet;
but Grani, white with rage, snatched a
spear from one of the Earl's men, and
 would have slain Rolf had not the Earl
himself come between.
"Now," quoth Thorfinn grimly, "here
is an odd end to blood-brothership. The
cause of this shall I hear, from first unto
Then Rolf told the story of his father's
wrongs and his own, and Frodi said it all
was true. Grani, though he learned what
his father had done, stood still and said no
word, except that he cried at the end:
"Great insult hath Rolf offered me in
drawing my blood, and for that shall he
pay with his."
"Meseems," answered the Earl, "that
the weight of blood-debt is still on thy
side, and it is well for thee that Rolf took
not payment in full. And this I advise,
that here ye two make up the feud; and
all money atonements I will make to Rolf,
if so be I see ye accorded."
"I will lay down the feud on these
 terms," said Rolf, "if Grani will get me
my homestead again."
But deep anger burned in Grani that
his offer of blood-brothership had been so
answered, by the shedding of his blood.
He strode to the spears that held the strip
of turf, and cast them down. "My feud
do I keep!" he cried.
"Then of thee," said the Earl, "I wash
my hands. But I will take Rolf to me, to
be of my bodyguard so long as he will."
"Lord Earl," answered Rolf, "I thank
thee for the honor, but in the ship which
thou hast given me I must return to
Iceland, there to clear me of mine outlawry
by means of my bow."
And then that meeting of men broke
up, and Rolf set himself to fit his ship for
the outward voyage, and to hire sailors.
He had wealth enough, in Kiartan's
goods, to pay for all his father had lost;
but in the viking's bow he had that
treas-  ure which he most prized, for it should
win him his honor again, and the
homestead which his fathers had built.
He provisioned his ship, and he hired
men and a shipmaster, and soon was ready
for the voyage outward. Now the spring
was early, without storms as yet.
But Grani went unhappily about,
knowing that danger was preparing for his
father, through Rolf, and seeing not what
could be done. For in that place, except
Rolf's ship, lay no vessels plying either
north or south, and none to go to Iceland.
So there was no way for Grani to send
warning to Einar, and no means by which
he himself might go to Iceland, to stand
by his father's side. He would have
challenged Rolf to the holm, but holmgangs
and all duels were forbidden by the
Earl. And now came the day when
Rolf's ship was ready; the wind was fair
from the east, and on the morrow they
 should start. Then Grani went and sat
on the hillside at sunset, watching the
men at a little distance as they worked
about the ship where it lay upon the
strand; but Rolf and Frodi had gone to
the hall, and were feasting there with the
Earl and his men.
Grani thought: "To save my father I
must sail on that ship. Now the night
will be dark, and the men will sleep at the
huts, but Rolf and Frodi at the hall.
Naught hinders me from hiding myself on
the ship, so that on the morrow they will
sail with me."
That pleased him well. But before
dark Rolf and Frodi returned from the
hall, having said farewell to the Earl.
The ship was then pushed off, and all
men got them aboard; they anchored off
the boat-steads, ready to sail at first
twilight in the morning. Then when Grani
saw his plan spoiled, in great uncertainty
 of mind he went to the hall and sat down
on the lowest bench.
Quoth the Earl: "Come forward,
Grani, and sit here near the dais; for thou
didst save my realm as much as did those
other two who have just said farewell."
"I know that well, lord," answered Grani.
"Come, sit here by my side," said the
Earl, "and what thou askest in reward for
thy deed, that I will give thee."
So Grani sat there by the Earl's side
until it was dark out of doors, and he
knew the stars were out, but no moon.
With the feast, Thorfinn waxed joyous,
for good tidings had come that day; and
he began to press Grani to name the
reward he would have for crossing the
Pentland Firth to bring him news. So Grani said:
"Stretch forth thy hand now, Earl
Thorfinn, and promise to grant me that
 thing which I ask, which shall take from
no man his right or his own."
So the Earl stretched forth his hand in
promise, and said: "Ask what thou wilt."
Then all the Orkneyingers listened
while Grani made his request. "Oh
Earl," said he, "make me thine outlaw!"
"Nay," cried the Earl, "what request
is this? Dost thou mock me and my
power?" And his men were angry, and
some drew their swords.
But Grani said most earnestly, "I mean
no insult, but much lies on it that thou
shouldst make me outlaw."
Wroth indeed were the Orkneyingers,
and thronged around Grani to slay him;
but the Earl signed them to give peace,
and sat with his eye on the youth, and
thought. Then at last he smiled in his
beard, and said:
"Thou art a clever lad, and bold withal.
Here I grant thy desire." And he
 stretched out his hand and said: "Outlaw
do I make thee in all my lands—not to
be fed, not to be forwarded, not to be
helped or harbored in any need, save only
by masters of ships outward bound. I
grant thee three days' space to seek
shelter, and here I give notice among my men
of thy full outlawry."
Then Grani thanked the Earl with all
his heart, and went from the hall; after
him the Earl's men scoffed, but still the
Earl smiled in his beard.
Now that night a small boat rowed to
the side of Rolf's ship, and a man climbed
aboard, and the boatmen rowed the boat
ashore again. One of the ship's men told
Rolf, who sent for that one who had thus
come aboard. He stood before Rolf in
the starlight, wrapped in a cloak. Rolf
asked why he came aboard the ship in that
"Outlaw am I," said that one, "and by
 law thou must give me shelter when it is
"Good is the law," quoth Rolf, "and
once it helped me ere now. But thy voice
is muffled in the cloak, man. What is thy
"No-man is my name," answered the
muffled man, "and here is my faring
Rolf laughed. "No-man's fare costs
nothing," said he, and would not take the
silver. "Find thyself a place to sleep;
thou art welcome here."
So that one found himself a place to
sleep, and early in the morning the ship
set sail. Now it is said that when the
ship was gone the Earl saw Kiartan on
the strand bewailing his loss. Thorfinn
ordered that Kiartan be set in a galley
as rower, and for two years did Kiartan
labor at the oar. Then he escaped, and
fled away southward; but he became
 thrall to a chapman, and was a thrall to
the end of his days. So now he is out of
But that outlaw who had come on
Rolf's ship lay like a log all the first day,
while the ship sped westward; and only
at night did he rouse to take food. Four
days he did thus, while the ship ran before
the wind until the Faroe Islands were
well astern. Then on a morning the man
rose and walked by the rail, and looked
upon the sea. Rolf sent for him to come
and speak to him, and when the man was
face to face with him, behold, it was Grani!
Then Rolf stood and looked on him,
and Grani stood fast and looked on Rolf.
And Rolf turned away and walked in
the stern, but Grani waited in the same
place. At last Rolf came back to him
"Only one thing will I ask of thee.
Wast thou indeed outlaw of the Earl?"
 Grani stretched out his hand and swore
to the truth. "Outlaw was I, and the
Earl gave me but three days to quit his
"Now," said Rolf, "thou art on my
ship lawfully, and naught will I do against
thee. We will leave it to the fates, which
of us shall prosper in this affair."
So Grani was out of danger of his life.
Now that east wind lasted until they
made Iceland—a quick voyage. And
they sailed along the south of the land,
and rounded the western cape, and sailed
across the mouth of Faxafirth. But when
they would round the cape into Broadfirth
the wind freshened, and blew them off the
land a day's sail; there they lay when the
wind dropped. But then the wind came
from the west, and blew them back to the
land, and drove them ever faster till there
was a high gale. The smallest sail they
could set split from the mast, the mast
 itself went next, and so they came to
Broadfirth and drove up it. Night drew
near, and the sailors were in fear of their
Now Frodi was in great uneasiness,
and clung to his place, and looked upon
the waters. Sometimes he made as he
would speak, and yet he said nothing.
Rolf and Grani stayed at opposite sides
of the ship, and were steadfast in all
danger, though the waves washed over
Then Rolf makes his way to Grani, and
says he: "Now we near the land, and it
is likely that we shall never need more of
it than a fathom apiece, for burial. Therefore
here I offer thee peace, asking no
atonement from thee or thy father, save
only my farm again, if we twain get
Grani looks upon Rolf, and his heart
nearly melts; but he makes himself
stub-  born and drops his eyes. Says he: "This
is no time to speak of that."
Rolf clambers back to his place. The
moon rises behind broken clouds, and he
sees that the ship drives toward cliffs.
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