|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 SAYING OF THOSE TWO WORDS
 NOW the tale turns to speak of
Einar and his two children: how
they went away from their home
with but the clothes on their backs, and
with purses nigh empty, and but little
jewelry. They came to the hut, to make
a home where there was no room for a
fourth to sleep, and where there was but a
rack of dried meat, and a gray cloak hanging
by the door, and little else for comfort.
Grani looks about the farm, and sees
how it has a good spring, and a small
garden well tended, and a pen for the
ewe. Beyond the garden were the other
crops; yet the hay had not been cut, nor
the grain reaped, and there was nothing
stored against the winter.
 Said Grani: "Rolf awaited this turn of
fortune, and why should he lay up food
Then he turned about, and looked off
from the hillside. There he saw Cragness,
and the folk feasting; and he saw Fellstead
and many other farms. There lay
Broadfirth, and the sea beyond; fishing
vessels were thereon. And he saw the
ferry to Hvamm, with all the four roads
which led to it, where people travelled;
but the little farm was far away from all
these things. Now it was a bright warm
day, and the ewe bleated in the pasture,
and the birds called each other above his
Then Grani's heart fainted within him,
and he cried to Einar: "Better hadst
thou chosen exile for us all, rather than
condemn us to die in this place!"
Einar sought to excuse himself to his
son, but appeased him not. Then Helga
 said: "Is this all thou didst learn in the
Orkneys, thus to meet the fate which thou
hast brought upon thyself?"
Then Grani was quiet, and went and
fetched water, and wood which was there
for the cooking (but there was no great
store). After a while he said to his sister,
"No more will I complain, though worse
things come upon us."
So in the following days he sets
himself to work, and cuts the hay, and stacks
it in ricks; and cuts and stacks the grain
likewise, working hastily lest the snow
should come. Einar was of no account in
such work, for his body was not used to
it; but he watches the ewe upon the
mead, and fetches water; and Helga works
at the house, and when the grain is reaped
she begins to grind it in a handmill; a
slow labor that was, to make flour each
day for their bread. Now when Grani
had finished harvesting he began to cut
 peat and stack it near the house. It was
hard work, for the cold was severe and the
Einar began to complain as the cold
came on; he was not warm enough under
the gray cloak, but sat much of the day
by the fire. He disliked his food and
wanted better, although naught better
was to be had. It was not easy to bear
his complainings; but Helga was patient,
and Grani sought to lighten her labors,
doing woman's work. Yet he was
troubled for the shame of his life, and
slept badly, and lost flesh. Now hard
frost and bitter winds came, but still no
snow. Grani's clothes were thin, and he
was not used to the rough life; his hands
cracked with the cold, all his joints ached,
his feet were sore from his thin shoes, and
it seemed as if he would perish with the
wind. Yet still he cut peat, hewing it
from the frozen ground in a little boggy
 place; and he brought it home with
fingers all bleeding. Then Helga bewailed
the weather, how without snow the ground
froze ever deeper; but though at first
Grani was minded to complain with her,
he bethought himself and spoke cheerily.
Helga asked: "Why dost thou conceal thy thoughts?"
"The worst of my thoughts," said Grani,
"are so bad that I dare not dwell on them.
But the better is that I must be manly;
and I have a memory to help me."
"What is that memory?" asked Helga.
So Grani told of that time when he
and his thralls were lost in the snow in
Orkney, and those two Icelanders bore the
cold, but he complained of it. "And
they gave me the cloak and the warmth
of their own bodies, yet I could not be
brave. So now when I shiver in the cold
I call to mind their hardiness, and strive
to copy it."
 "That is well said," quoth Helga, "and
I will show courage, even as thou."
So those two fortified each other; but
Einar's mind dwelt always on his misfortunes:
the great state he had lost, and the
trick that had betrayed him, and all those
servants who had deserted him. "Years
long," said Einar, "I fed many of those
men, yet they all turned from me at the
end. Not one had the gratitude to follow
"There is luck in that," answered
Grani, "for how could we feed them?"
"Most I hate Hallvard and Hallmund,"
said Einar, "for I favored them in everything,
but now they cling to Rolf."
"He will get small profit from them," says Helga.
Now at the farm they took much
comfort in their ewe, which never wandered
far, and came home at night, sleeping
always in the pen. But one morning
 she was gone and the pen broken down,
and no trace of her was to be seen.
Then Einar lamented greatly, since her
milk was needed; he declared that she
was stolen. But in the forenoon came
those two, Hallvard and Hallmund,
leading the ewe.
"This beast," said Hallvard, "was
found eating from our master's ricks."
"Wherefore," asked Grani, "ate she
not from our ricks, which were nearer?"
"I know not," said Hallvard, "but she
hath been at our ricks; and Rolf has
said: Twenty in silver must you pay."
Grani took his purse; and though his
father scolded he gave silver, all that he
had, and Hallvard and Hallmund went away.
Now this happened again, and to
redeem the ewe Grani gave a gold ring.
Then he built up the pen again of double
strength, so that a bullock could not
 have broken out; but on another morning
the ewe was gone, and unless she were
a goat she might not have jumped out.
Einar was terribly enraged with an old
man's anger, and swore those two ruffians
had killed the ewe; yet after a while
they were seen coming, leading the beast.
Einar said to Grani, "Take now thy
sword and slay them when they come."
But Grani held his tongue and heard
those two quietly when they claimed
trespass money; he gave them all the
jewels that he had, and the twain went
away. Then Einar cried, "I have no
son at all, but two daughters; and no
one will defend me from this shameful
Grani grew red as blood; but he said
naught in answer, and tied the ewe in the
pen. When he was alone Helga came
Asks she: "Thinkest thou that the ewe
 broke out those two times, and leaped
out the third?"
He answers: "Those two stole her, yet
I cannot prove it, for there is no snow
to show their tracks."
"I blame not thy mildness at all," says
Helga, "rather do I praise it. But why
art thou so quiet under injustice?"
"I call to mind," says Grani, "that
when I enthralled Rolf he never
complained, but took what fortune brought
him, seeing that he could not help himself.
He bided his time and avenged his
father; and I suffer in silence, to keep
my father alive. That lesson which Rolf
set me, now I follow; I cannot resist
him, save to my death, and what then
would become of my father and of thee?"
Now there came another night, and
in the morning the ewe was gone; that
day Grani yielded her to Rolf, as already
told, while Einar upbraided him that
 he was so unmanly. And in the next
days the old man was miserable, missing
his milk, and not eating the broth Helga
made, though the broth was very good.
He made himself sick with his anger and
his selfishness, and went to bed in the
middle of the day, and scolded from
where he lay. "Men tell," said he, "of
Gisli the Outlaw, who entered his enemy's
house and slew him for the slaying of his
blood-brother. But nowadays no man
will do such a deed—no, not to save his
Then Grani started from his place, and
said: "Violence enough has been done in
this feud, nor will I ever have hand in
such." He went out of the house, and
Helga after him.
She said to him: "Be comforted, my brother."
Grani answered: "It is true that I
might take Rolf unawares, and slay him.
 But I remember when he was my thrall
in the Orkneys, going with me
everywhere, and my life was daily in his hands.
For when we were on the cliffs he might
have cast me down, and no man would
have known he did it. Or when we
were fishing he might have drowned me,
and have sailed away in the boat. But
he never did evil for evil, and I remember
Then Grani planned to sell his fodder,
and the money would be welcome. But
on another morning they woke in the
hut with the crackle and glare of fire,
and there were the ricks burning, all of
them; Grani could save little from the
flames. Now that was a great loss, and
Einar bewailed it, saying that since the
wheat was gone they would all three
starve. Then by day they saw Hallvard
"He comes to insult us," said Einar,
 and egged Grani on to meet him with
his sword, and wound him for punishment.
But Grani received Hallvard
mildly, and said he had no need of help,
and sent him away.
"Now," said Einar, "we might have
had help of Rolf, and thou hast refused it."
Grani answered naught to his father,
but afterward when Helga asked why he
sent Hallvard away, Grani said, "What
help gave we to Rolf when he was
shipwrecked at our door? Thou savedst his
life, else he had been slain in our hall.
For very shame we can take no help
Now some days passed, and Einar
grumbled ceaselessly, so that life with
him was well nigh unbearable; yet he
was the cause of all their misfortune.
In nothing that she did might Helga
please him; and though Grani had grown
thin with labor, his father did not spare
 the lash of his tongue. It was plain that
they had not enough food to keep them
through the winter, now that so much
grain was gone, and their fate was much
on Grani's mind; yet he was cheerful.
Helga came to him at last, and said,
"Brother, give me of thy courage, for
with my father's harshness and our hard
work I feel my heart failing me. On
what thought dost thou sustain thyself?"
"Dost thou remember," asked Grani,
"that when we first came here I
complained, and thou didst ask: Had I
learned no more in the Orkneys than
to bewail my fate?"
"Forgive me that saying," begged Helga.
"Why not forgive?" Grani said. "For
I was reminded of a boast I made to Rolf
there on the cliff by Hawksness, saying
that I feared no misfortune. And he
answered: Then I was fitted to be an
Icelander. Then, though I had dwelt
 so long in the Orkneys, my heart warmed
to my own land whose children love her
so; and I resolved to show myself an
Icelander, for the sake of winning Rolf's
praise. Therefore I strive, my sister, to
be a true son of this dear Iceland, and
to bear my misfortunes even as Rolf
"Mayhap," says Helga, " Rolf remembers
also that boast of thine."
"Aye," says Grani.
"And mayhap," Helga says, "he sends
these trials only to test thee, for it is clear
that they are of design."
"So I have thought," Grani answers.
"Either it is that, or it is revenge; yet
Rolf has no spite in him."
"Greatly dost thou praise him," Helga says.
"Not overmuch," quoth Grani. "And
now I will say I repent my pride when I
refused his friendship: first at Hawksness,
 when he had done me that slight hurt, and
then on the ship. But I have most shame
that I offered him no atonement when I
was prosperous here in Iceland, and he
was in hiding."
"Go to him now," cries Helga. "Ask
Grani answers: "I asked it not when
I might with honor; it were cowardice to
do so when I am under his feet."
Now Helga wished to argue against
that; but their father called them,
complaining, and there was no more of their
talk. But Grani, while Helga tended on
Einar, ground corn in the handmill (but
there was little of the grain left) and sang this song:
"Once I, most fortunate,
Met swords in fight.
Now, sin to expiate,
I show this plight:
Grind corn to make my bread.—
Evil pursues my head."
 And it seemed to him that scarce ever
had a warrior, not in thraldom, come to
such fortune. Then when he had ground
enough meal for another day he stacked
the grain carefully against the weather,
and went about other tasks, and that
night slept soundly.
But in the morning, waking with the
first light, he heard as it were a scuffling
of feet close outside the door; when he
opened he saw sheep there, a small flock,
eating eagerly at the grain, which was
almost all gone. In despair he rushed
out upon them, and drove them away;
they all fled before him but one lean old
ram, who stood his ground and still would
eat. Then Grani took a club and smote
the ram, and wounded it, so that it ran
away. Next he saw how at a little
distance were Hallvard and Hallmund, who
came and excused them of the doings of
the sheep, which had strayed while the
 men slept. Grani answered nothing,
though his sister wept; but Einar was
nigh out of his mind for anger and
despair, and cursed those twain, and
Rolf their master, until Grani took him
and led him into the house, when those
two drove the sheep away. Einar was
so spent with rage that he fell at last in
a stupor; and Grani went and gathered
all that remained of the grain. There
were but two measures of it left.
Then as he gleaned those few stalks
from the ground, where the sheep had
trodden them, and as he cleansed them
of dust and saved every small particle,
bitterness grew in him, and then wrath,
and he nursed his wrath all that day.
Now Helga was busy with her father,
and saw not how Grani brooded; there
was not much food for him, but he fed
on his despair. And he slept ill that
night, and rose early, and went without
 food to dig in the garden for roots.
There those twain found him, Hallvard
and Hallmund, when they came into the
yard that day for his sword.
Now his back was toward them, and
they asked each other: "Shall we rush
on him and wound him, or slay him, and
so search the place at our will for his
sword?" That seemed to them the best
counsel, and they stole upon him. He
was so busy that he heard them not; and
but for Helga he had been slain. But she
saw the men, and cried "Beware!" So
Grani turned with his spade uplifted, and
they rushed at him. Then he dashed the
sword from the hand of Hallmund, and
struck fiercely at Hallvard. Hallvard he
wounded with the spade, but Hallmund
with his own weapon, and with their
wounds they limped away.
Then all of Grani's anger left him, and
he sat in the house by the hearth, and his
 father waked and looked at him. Said
Grani, "Much didst thou do to Hiarandi
for my sake, and harshly has Hiarandi's
son repaid me for thy sake. But let us
forgive each other, father, before the end
of life comes to us."
Asked Einar: "How comes the end of life now?"
Helga says from the doorway: "I see
Rolf coming across the valley, and he is
"Thus comes the end," says Grani, and
they embraced and kissed each other all
three, and Grani made ready for death,
and he went out to meet Rolf. Rolf
came into the yard, and he had his sword
Says Rolf: "What hast thou to say
to me for the wounding of my housecarles?"
Grani looked on Rolf, and remembered
how he had loved him once, and loved
 him still, yet never might they be friends.
"This offer will I make," said Grani.
"I will fare abroad, and never come back
to trouble thee, if so be thou wilt give
my father, while he lives, his winter's
"Hast thou nothing better to say?" asked Rolf.
"I will make this offer," said Grani.
"I will be thy thrall, and labor for thee,
if only thou wilt maintain my father out
of thine abundance."
"Canst thou say no better?" asked Rolf again.
Grani remembered how he might have
been friends with Rolf, and would not;
and how he should have asked forgiveness,
and could not. "Nothing better to offer
have I," said he. "Nothing worth offering." For
he despised himself, and thought his life ended.
"Take then thy weapons," said Rolf,
 "and fight me here on the level space by the spring."
So Grani took his sword and his shield,
and they stood up to fight by the spring,
and those in the hut heard the clash of
steel. The two looked strangely fighting,
Grani gaunt and ragged, and Rolf well
fed and in holiday clothes. Now Grani
thought to be slain quickly; but Rolf
seemed to have no power at first; yet he
warmed to the strife, and began to strike
manfully, and at last he smote away a
part of Grani's shield. Then Grani by a
great stroke shore away the half of Rolf's
"Well smitten!" cried Rolf, and they
fought on; but Grani found himself growing
weak, and marvelled much that Rolf
smote no faster. "But if he means to
tire me out," thought Grani, "he can win me easily."
Then Rolf drew away, and said: "My
 shoestrings are loose, I will tie them."
So he laid aside his shield and sword, and
knelt before Grani to tie his shoes; Grani
might have slain him there, but he waited.
And not to be tempted to that treachery,
Grani looked about; he saw the hut where
were his father and sister, and looked
off on the firth and the wide land, and
waited for Rolf to rise. Then they fought
But Grani grew weary and desperate,
and his thoughts grew hard. For there
were his sister and father close at hand,
and the world was beautiful. And while
they fought slowly he thought that cruel,
so to prolong death, since for Rolf he was
no match at all. He wished for death,
and exposed his breast to Rolf's strokes,
and cared not what happened.
But Rolf drew away again, and said,
"I am thirsty," and knelt down by the
spring to drink. Then in his great
weari-  ness Grani gave way to an evil thought,
and cried, "I will free my father, even if
the deed be foul." And he heaved up his
sword to slay Rolf.
But Rolf rose upon his knees, looking
fair in Grani's face; and though Rolf made
no defence, Grani stayed the sword in mid-air,
and cast it far away. Then he sat
down on a stone and covered his face with
Rolf rose, and came to him, and said
"Wherefore didst thou not slay me?"
Grani answered: "Because once I loved thee."
"Grani, Grani," cried Rolf, "has thy
pride at last come to its end? Now once
more I ask: What hast thou to say to
"For the wounding of thy henchmen,
and for all I ever did to thee since first we
met," said Grani, "only this I beg: Forgive me!"
 "I forgive thee!" Rolf cried, and there
they embraced and made peace.
This is the end of the tale, that Frodi
slept yet other nights at Cragness than
that one, and lived with Rolf his life long.
But Grani took his father home to Fellstead,
and dwelt there, he and Einar and
Helga. Grani was ever the greatest
friend of Rolf, but Einar never came into
Rolf's sight so long as he lived; and that
was not long, for the old man was broken
with his shame. Then after that Rolf
took to wife Helga the sister of Grani,
and the curse of the Soursops never
troubled their children. Between the
households of Cragness and Fellstead was
ever the closest bond, and famous men are
come of both Rolf and Grani.
So here we end the Story of Rolf.
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