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The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by  Allen French





IARANDI travelled to the Althing all alone; he had a good horse and stout clothes, but in nothing was he noticeable, so that men who passed him on the road gave him only the good-day, yet asked him not to join their company. And he saw how men of power rode with their Thingmen behind them, all in colored clothes and well armed. He saw Hrut, the famous swordsman, how he rode with eleven full-grown sons at his back, and men besides, so that all thought that a grand sight. And many others rode to the Althing with great pride. Then Hiarandi recalled [65] that his own father had ridden in holiday guise to bring his suits; and as he compared his father's state with his own, he who went alone and unnoticed, but at home was called the Unlucky, then his heart was greatly cast down within him.

He came to the Thingvalla, where all the plain was a busy hive of men. And he found humble lodging at a booth, and stabled his horse under the cliff, and spent the night alone amid the throng. Then on the morrow, at midday, he went out to have speech with Snorri. At Snorri's booth he was told that Snorri was at talk with a client within.

"Then I will wait," said Hiarandi, and sat down on a bench at the door. But it was bitter to him that he should sit there, a poor suitor, at the door of his kinsman.

Now he had not sat there long when he heard his own name spoken within, and he knew the voice of his neighbor Einar. [66] And Einar was saying, "Thou art not bound to Hiarandi in any way."

Then he heard another voice, the voice of an old man—for Snorri was advanced in years—saying: "Small enough are the ties between myself and Hiarandi."

Then Hiarandi rose and walked away. And he forgot all he had promised his wife, and all she had said to him: how he should forget himself in struggling for her sake and Rolf's. But that melancholy came over him which was his greatest weakness.

"I am too late," he said to himself, "for Einar is before me. My case is lost, and my farm too; for on whose side Snorri is, on that side has fallen the judgment for this score of years. And the twists of the law are too hard for me to understand, since meseems right hath no place in a law-finding. Yet I will defend myself as I may."

[67] Then on the morrow the Althing was opened, and the four Quarter Courts sat in their places, and the Fifth Court sat at the Hill of Laws. And Hiarandi, as he went to the court of the Westfirthers, saw where Einar walked also thither with Snorri, keeping close by his elbow, and laughing as he talked. Ondott also was there, slinking behind like a fox. And on that very first day Hiarandi's case was called early.

Now Einar had men of the law as his friends, and they had taught him what to say. And he opened the case, speaking loud and clearly, and called on Hiarandi to answer the charges. But Hiarandi stood up alone, without counsel, and spoke for himself. Soon he saw that the case went against him. For Einar and his friends knew so much of the law that their wiles were many, and Hiarandi was soon confused, so that his an- [68] swers were not wise. And Einar smiled where he stood, so that he confused Hiarandi the more. Then Einar demanded judgment unless Hiarandi had more to say. And he was about to give up his case.

Then came some one and stood at Hiarandi's elbow, and said: "Thou shouldst demand a stay in the proceedings."

Hiarandi looked at the man, but he was muffled in a cloak, so that his face was not to be seen. Then Hiarandi asked: "For what reason can I ask a stay?"

The man replied: "It is always permitted to ask it, to get counsel."

But Hiarandi said: "No counsel can save me here. Let an end come now."

"Foolish art thou," answered the man. "Dost thou forget those at home? Do as I bid!"

Then Hiarandi asked a stay, and it [69] was granted him until the morrow. But when he turned to ask the man his advice, he was gone, and Hiarandi could not see him anywhere. Then he went to beg help of those versed in the law, but they said he should have come sooner, for they were now too busy to help him. Once more, thinking again of Asdis and Rolf, he went to ask help of Snorri the Priest; but he was not at his booth, and men said he would be at the courts all day. At that Hiarandi went away again; and he wandered about the Thing-field, seeing no one whom he could ask for help, but beholding everywhere men too busy with their own affairs to heed him. At last toward dusk his courage forsook him once more, and he went and sat down on the bank of the river, believing his case lost. As he sat there the light grew dim, and of a sudden he saw at his side the man muffled in the cloak.

[70] "Now is seen," said the man, "the truth of the old saw: 'He that pleadeth his own cause hath a fool for his client.' For a sound case hadst thou, but it is well-nigh ruined beyond remedy."

"What should I have done?" asked Hiarandi.

"Thou shouldst have asked aid of Snorri the Priest."

"But he," said Hiarandi, "has been in talk with Einar, who sues me."

"Since when," asked the man, "has Snorri been used to pledge himself to all who come to him? Hast thou forgotten he is of thy kin?"

"We are both come," said Hiarandi, "from the stock of Gisli the Outlaw. But if Gisli was his uncle, so also was Gisli the slayer of his father. So Snorri is both against us and for us by the tie of blood; and he forgetteth and remembereth as he chooseth, or as his interest bids."

[71] Then said the man: "Thou givest him no good character. Yet at least thou couldst have let him have the say, which way his interest lies."

But Hiarandi answered in bitter mood: "Snorri casteth his weight where is the greater power, that his own strength may grow."

"He would not thank thee should he hear thee," answered the stranger. "Yet methinks that even in matters which concern his own advancement, he should be free to choose for himself."

"Now," asked Hiarandi, "shall I go to Snorri and crave his help?"

"Nay," replied the cowled man, "now it is too late. For this evening Snorri holdeth counsel on weighty matters concerning chiefs from the south firths, who are to meet him at his booth."

"Why, then," asked Hiarandi, "didst thou persuade me to ask a stay of judg- [72] ment? For my fate meets me after all."

"Perhaps even I," said the man, "know more of the law than thou. Now wilt thou be ruled by me?"

"That I will," answered Hiarandi quickly.

"Then shalt thou do thus and so," said the man. And he instructed Hiarandi how he should speak on the next day. "And this shalt thou do even though thou seest Snorri in company with Einar.—Nay, make no question, for else thou art ruined." And with this the man went away.

In the morning all men go to the courts again; and Hiarandi marks how Einar walks with Snorri, and they seem merry together, though Einar laughs the most. Nevertheless, Hiarandi stands up when his case is called, and does as the cowled man had said, for he de- [73] mands of Einar what forfeiture he will name.

"Either," said Einar, "that thou shalt pay down the worth of three hundreds in silver, or that thou shalt be outlawed."

"Now," said Hiarandi, "it seems hard that so much shall be my punishment. But wilt thou take this offer, that we handsel this case to Snorri the Priest, and abide by his finding?"

Einar hesitated. But many standing by said that was fair; moreover, that was a custom much followed. And again, Einar did not wish the outlawing of Hiarandi; but he felt sure that Snorri would lay a blood-fine, which must force Hiarandi to sell his farm. And he thought his cause was sure, so he said after a moment:

"I will."

So they handselled the suit to Snorri, striking hands together before the judges, [74] and agreeing to abide by his decision. Then Snorri stood up to speak. Einar smiled at him that he might remind him of their companionship, but Snorri smiled not at all.

"Thus it seems to me," he said, and all men listened while he spoke—for Snorri was one of those who had known the great men of old time, who had seen the great fight at the Althing after Njal's Burning, and who had swayed its event. "Thus it seems to me," said Snorri. "The case of Hiarandi was a good one at the beginning, yet he has well-nigh spoiled it. But the case of Einar seems strong, yet it is weak. For he has named as witnesses two men of kin to the slain man; also he has not called a man who is nearer neighbor than one he has called. Also three men are neither landholders, nor money owners, nor owners of sheep or cattle; but they live in Einar's hall at [75] his expense. Now let Einar say if all these things are not true."

Then Einar had to speak; and he acknowledged that his witnesses, who should make the jury, were chosen as Snorri had said. Then Snorri set those men out of the jury, and only six were left.

"Seven men are needed to make the tale of the witnesses complete," quoth Snorri. "Therefore it is plain that this case of the slaying shall fall to the ground, and no atonement shall be paid. But as to the case of the striking of Ondott, that is another matter; and it is a case of contempt of the Thing, for one who goes to serve summons in a suit is free to go and come unscathed, and is under the protection of the men of the Quarter. Therefore I doom Hiarandi to the lesser outlawry, after this manner: he shall remain upon his farm for the space of one year, nor go beyond its limits more [76] than the length of a bowshot, upon penalty of full outlawing. But shall he become a full outlaw, then his property, and the inheritance of his son, is not to be forfeit, but only Hiarandi's life is to be in danger. And such is my finding." Then Snorri sat him down.

Then men murmured together, discussing the judgment; and all said that he knew the law to its uttermost quibble, and he knew men as well, for who told him that the jury was wrongly constituted? And Einar was wroth, complaining that Snorri was tender of his relative. But Hiarandi was glad, and a weight fell from him, for he saw how he had been saved from all that threatened him. He went to Snorri to thank him.

Snorri took his thanks, and smiled at Hiarandi. "Now is clearly seen," quoth he, "how much Snorri thinks of his own honor, and how little of that of his kinsmen."

[77] Hiarandi had nothing to answer.

"And it is also plain," said Snorri, "how I always favor the rich, but care nothing for poor men."

"Now I see," said Hiarandi, "that thou wert the man in the cloak."

"Mayest thou perceive as well," responded Snorri, "that thou hast a friend in the world who will help thee when he can." But he would take no more thanks, advising Hiarandi to go home and set his affairs in order, since from the rising of the Althing to its next sitting he must not quit his farm.

"And take heed," quoth Snorri, "that thou losest not thy life from carelessness, or from the wiles of thine enemies."

Then Hiarandi betook himself home.

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