|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 KIARTAN RETURNS
S weakness grew on him, Ar the
Peacock kept Grani much by his
side. One day Ar said: "I see
that thou art troubled at times. Is aught
weighing on thee?"
Grani answered: "Rolf is on my mind."
Ar said: "Put away the thought of him."
"That I cannot do," replied Grani, "for
I feel I did wrong in enthralling him, and I
cannot be easy until he hath forgiven me."
"Meseems," quoth Ar, "that thou
expectest Rolf to come and say 'I forgive thee,'
before ever thou hast shown
him that thou art sorry."
Grani answered nothing.
 "Go now," said Ar, "and seek him out.
Confess thyself in the wrong."
"It is hard to do that," responded
"Thou art well named Grani the
Proud," said Ar; but then he added:
"Never have I blamed thee till now, but
thou shouldst have done this thing at
the very first. And the longer this
estrangement lasts, the harder it will be to forget."
Grani made no answer, but communed
for a while with himself; though it was
hard to his pride, at last he decided to
humble himself before Rolf. He went
to the dwelling of Rolf and Frodi; they
were on the headland watching the fishing
fleet, and thither Grani followed. He sat
down at the edge of the cliff beside those
two, and had speech with Frodi; but between
him and Rolf passed at the first
only the good-day.
 Frodi asked: "War with the Scots is
expected in the spring?"
"Aye," answered Grani.
"I would I were in Iceland!" Frodi said.
"Oh ye Icelanders!" cried Grani.
"Why is it ye always burn to
return—whether ye love your foggy isle and plain
men more, or our realm less?"
"In your realm," answered Frodi,
"there are three pests which no Icelander
can bear. The first is your baresarks,
which in Iceland are held in restraint,
but here they go at large. The second
is your vikings, which dare not come to
us, but here they harry the coasts. And
the third is the habit of burning a man
in his house, which by us has been done
some few times in great matters, yet is
always punished; but here it is done in
any little quarrel, and little shame is felt
for it. And if I leave this land without
being burned, then I am lucky."
 Grani laughed, and then Rolf spoke.
Quoth he: "And as for our land of
simple men against thy realm of kings
and earls, all I know is that with us there
is law to restrain all men. But if thy
earls fall out, then the Orkneys are rent
with war. And at all times your lives
lie in the power of the Scots, who any
summer day may come and sweep the
land. Nay, the winter is open: why
may they not fall upon us now?"
"It is possible," said Frodi, but Grani
had nothing to reply.
"And consider this," Rolf said. "Thou
art Grani, fosterling of Ar the thane;
thou hast honor, and a part of all spoils
are thine. But Ar is coming to his end,
and some day another thane will rule
here. When thy honors fall away, and
thou must take thy place like other men:
how then wilt thou think of the doings of
kings and earls?"
 "I fear no misfortune," answered Grani.
"Then," quoth Rolf, "thou art fitted
to be an Icelander. And now I will say
what I have many times thought: that
thy speech is more of Iceland than of this
place. Whence did Ar take thee?"
Grani grew red, but answered: "Thou
hidest thy parentage."
"True," replied Rolf. "Now I crave
thy pardon for questioning thee."
That was the end of that talk, for Rolf
drew within himself, and Grani felt shame
that he could not ask pardon so easily as
the Icelander; and the more he looked
on Rolf's countenance the more it seemed
that they should be friends. He ceased
speaking, and sat with his back half turned,
trying to say the words; but for a long
time they would not come. At length he said:
"Aye?" Rolf answered.
 Grani said nothing for a while more;
at length again he said, "Rolf."
"What is it?" Rolf asked.
But for a second time Grani could not
bring himself to speak. Yet at last he
made ready to speak without fail and ask
forgiveness, and the words were on his
Then suddenly Rolf rose, and pointed
out upon the water, where a ship had
come into view; and he cried, "At last
cometh he for whom I have waited!"
No need to ask whose ship that was, for
Grani saw that it was Kiartan's. And
weakly he put aside the chance to set
himself right with Rolf, and inquired
instead why Rolf waited there for Kiartan
"Tell me first," responded Rolf, "why
he cometh in such haste, with oars and
sails both. He thinks that by this time
I am surely gone; but his debts and
 goods will not flee from him, and he hath
hours before sunset to make the harbor.
Can he be pursued by aught? Let us
watch the headland to the eastward."
"There comes another ship," cried Frodi.
They watched that ship appear: a war-ship,
long and low. Grani cried that that
must be a viking, and was for running to
the hall; but Rolf bade him wait. Then
there came a second war-ship, and two
more together, and then a great ship, very
large; after that the nose of yet another
vessel pushed around the headland.
"Is Earl Thorfinn," asked Grani,
"coming to visit his realm?"
"Why should Kiartan," responded Rolf,
"flee before the Earl, who hath sold him
permission to trade here? That is the
fleet of the Scots!"
"More of them are in sight," said Frodi.
So they stayed only long enough to see
 that the fisher fleet, leaving nets and lines,
was hurrying to the shore. Those three
left the headland and ran to Hawksness;
there they told the tidings and gathered
men, arming all those who came to the
hall. The women were sent into the
church with the children, but the men went
down to the beach. There the fishermen
first made a landing, and hurried for their
arms; but when all were gathered
together they were very few against what
must be the might of the Scots.
Then the ship of Kiartan neared the
shore. Frodi said to Rolf: "Before the
Scots come there will be time to claim
thy due of him."
"Not in the face of this danger," answered Rolf.
Kiartan ran his ship upon the beach,
and his men leaped out and pushed her
higher up the shingle. Kiartan ran to
Ar, and begged protection. "Fight thou
 with us," quoth Ar. "We shall be but
six score against six hundred." Kiartan
turned pale and bit his fingers.
Frodi said, "He is as big a coward as I." Grani laughed.
Now when the Scots neared the shore,
the people gave way from the beach and
drew a little up the hillside; and the
nearer the Scots came, the more the
Orkneymen withdrew. Then when the Scots
were landing, some of the Hawksness
men threw away their arms and sat down
where they were; and some fled away
to the downs and the heather, where they
might hide. But Ar said he would not
flee, and went back again to fight. Those
who went with him were only Grani
and Sweyn, and Rolf and Frodi followed behind.
"This is no Icelander's quarrel," said
Ar. "We go to die, but the Scots will
give you peace."
 "Nevertheless we will look on a while," answered Rolf.
Then Ar took his stand on that knoll
whence Rolf had slain the baresark; he
had his church and his hall at his back,
and thinking to die as became a man he
seemed to gain his strength again, and
shot arrows in marvellous wise. Twenty
he sent among the Scots as they landed,
and hurt a man with each; then he took
his spear, and waited for the Scots to
"Now," said Frodi to Rolf, "shall we stay or go?"
"If we stay," answered Rolf, "we
never see Iceland again. Yet I have
not the heart to leave those three as
they stand there." So he and Frodi
drew still nearer to Ar, and stood at
But some archer in the fleet sent forth
a shaft, and it smote Ar; in the throat it
 smote him, and he fell. Like a man he
died there, near his father's hall; and the
Scots, shouting, began to come forward.
"Flee!" said Sweyn to Grani.
"Wilt thou flee?" asked Grani.
A spear struck Sweyn in the leg,
and down he sat. "Here I stay,"
"Then here stay I," answered Grani.
But those fisher-folk who had thrown
down their arms ran to Grani in a crowd,
and cried that he should not stay to be
killed. Some bore Sweyn within the
church, where no Scot would slay him
before the altar; and when Grani saw
that, he suffered himself to be pushed
away. So he came to the hillside before
ever the Scots reached him; and when
they began to shoot at him with arrows,
he ran. And Rolf and Frodi ran along
the hillside a little higher up.
Now the Scots sent swift archers in
 chase. Grani was armed and had heavy
weapons; Frodi was slow and Rolf would
not leave him; so the archers began to
come up on them, and it looked bad for
them. Grani knew the country; he
sought the best ways, calling to Rolf that
they should meet at the Vale of the
Hermit. Then he threw off his mail and
ran freely, and shook off his pursuers
in a little wood. But in that same
wood Rolf took the wrong course; for
thinking he knew the way to the Vale
he led Frodi where should be a glen with
a growth of trees.—Nothing was there
of the kind, but a bare hillside rose,
where was no cover, and the Scots
began to shout as they saw them close in front.
Now Grani knew the way better. When
he reached the copse he stood and looked
where Rolf and Frodi ran on the hillside
above him. Then he heard a panting,
 and looked down. There was Kiartan
hiding in the fern.
"Look up now," said Grani, "and see
who runneth there above us."
When Kiartan saw Rolf, first he started
and then he looked sidewise at Grani.
"They can never escape," said he.
"I will call them hither," replied Grani.
"That will bring us in danger!" Kiartan cried.
But Grani leaped upon a boulder and
prepared to shout. Then as he stood
there, Kiartan snatched up a billet of
wood and smote at him from the side:
foul was that assault. The stroke fell
on the shoulder, but Grani twisted his
arm and cast the billet aside; he smote
in return, and Kiartan fell. So Grani
shouted aloud to Rolf, who stood on
the hillside with Frodi and studied his
 So many copses did Rolf see that he
knew not where to go, for most were but
small clumps, where was no safety; and
only one led to the hidden winding water-course
and the secluded dell. But when
he heard Grani and saw him, he turned
thither, although he must go back a little
way. He and Frodi ran hastily, rushing
down the hillside with much speed. And
they saw they could avoid all but one of
That man had run wide of their track,
flanking them lest they should double
back; now he ran in on them and
prepared to strike with his sword. On that
slope was no good footing; but the Scot
braced himself where the Icelanders must
pass, and they could hardly both escape
him without a wound. But when Rolf
rushed down on him, with sword raised,
and those two looked into each other's
eyes, then the Scot did not strike, but
 stood like stone. Neither did Rolf smite,
but Frodi struck hard with the butt of
his bill; they left that Scot lying in
a heap, and sped downward into the
There they found Grani with Kiartan,
and Grani had bound the shipmaster's
hands behind his back. Hastily they
went into the copse, driving Kiartan
before them; they found the crooked water-course
and followed it among the stones;
it was dry and they wet not their feet.
So in a while they came to a little dell,
nestled among the hills, the place was
called the Vale of the Hermit. But no
one lived there, only in one place had
been a farm; the hall had been burned,
but a storehouse still stood stout against
the weather. Thither they went and
rested, knowing that no Scot could find
them in that place.
Grani loosed Kiartan and bade him
 gather wood. "And if thou seekest to
flee thou wilt carry an arrow in the ribs.
Make a fire, for I see beef is in the
storehouse, drying, and the green hide hangs
against the wall. We will sup." So
Kiartan gathered wood and made a fire.
"One thing I fail to understand," said
Frodi to Rolf: "why neither thou nor
that Scot smote at the other, and it was
left to me to knock him down."
"That was strange to me also," said Grani.
Rolf said: "I knew that man, and he
was Malcolm, my father's thrall. For
very astonishment we could not strike."
"Then I gave him a headache," quoth
Frodi, "to make him remember his manner of gaining his freedom."
"Preserve me from such headaches as
thou dealest!" said Rolf. "The butt of
thy bill is worse than the point."
Then Grani told why he had bound
 Kiartan. "And now," said he, "thou
canst take on him thy vengeance, whatever that may be."
"Call him here," said Rolf.
So Kiartan was called thither and
crouched thereby; it was plain that he
expected to be killed. "In what has he
offended thee?" asked Grani.
"Now," answered Rolf, "that which
I say in his hearing will be to him the
worst part of his punishment. He is my
uncle, and through him my father came
to his death."
But when they looked to see him weep,
or hear him blame himself, Kiartan rose
and thanked them that his life was spared.
In loathing they bade him go into the
storehouse and lie; then they laid
themselves down inside the door, and slept.
For the sake of air, they left the door
wide. In the morning they found that
Kiartan was gone; and while they were
 asking where he might be, they heard his
voice at a little distance, saying that
there those three lay in that storehouse,
and the Scots should slay them. Then
was heard the rush of feet.
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