|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 MEN ARE SHIPWRECKED
HOSE two ships sailed together,
all that day; but in the night
they became separated, for there
was a little wind. In the morning Grani's
ship was close to a shore, and that was the
Mainland of Orkney. For miles great
cliffs stood up out of the water, the
wind fell, and there was a long
groundswell. Then said Grani:
"Often have I seen these cliffs from
above; now it will be sport to see them
from below. Put in close, and sail along
under the cliffs."
Those two old men who had warded
him in the fight both spoke to him,
saying it were better to keep away. But
 Grani pouted and gave his order again.
"All men say," quoth he, "that the
water is deep there, and no harm can
Then they sailed along under the cliffs,
and a grand sight that was, to see them
high above and stretching far ahead.
Rolf stood in the bow, and he looked
first up at the cliffs, and then down into
the green water. There came a great
wave, larger than the others, and after
it the water fell away. Just before the
ship, Rolf saw a rock break the water
with scarcely a ripple, for it was very
sharp; sea-weed floated around its sides.
Another wave came and lifted the ship
up, and the rock disappeared as if it had
sunk down. Rolf shouted in warning.
But the wave passed, the ship rushed
down into the hollow, and struck the
rock. The planks tore apart beneath the
bow, and all heard the splintering; then
 the water poured in, a wave lifted the
ship, and she slid back into deep water.
She began to sink.
There was scarcely time to throw over
oars and shields, and to leap after them
into the water. The ship went down; the
men were swimming, there under the wall
of rock. They swam toward the cliff, and
those who swam worst clung to the oars.
But the cliff rose sharp from the water,
only hand-hold was to be had, and the
waves bruised the men as they tried to
support themselves. Eighteen men in all
were there, and they swam in a line along
the cliff for an hour, until at last they
found a foothold where a shelf of rock
jutted under water, and all might stand
Then one of the men asked: "Is the tide coming or going?"
They watched to find out, and at last
it was sure: the tide was coming. It rose
 above their waists, so that the smaller
men were lifted by the waves; and it was
lucky that there was no storm, for they
would all have been killed. Then the
tide rose still higher, and men began to
look anxious. There they stayed half an
hour more, and the sea-otters swam about
and looked at them.
Frodi said to Rolf: "What dost thou
think, and why look'st thou so at the cliffs
"They seem to me like the cliffs at
home. Were we there I could climb up."
"Seest thou no way here?" asked Frodi.
"I see two ways," answered Rolf, "yet
neither seems good."
Grani asked: "What are my thralls saying?"
"The water," said Rolf, "will take thy
thralls from thee."
But one of the men had heard what had
 been said, and told Grani. Grani cried:
"Why dost thou not try the climb?"
"Send one of those," answered Rolf,
"who cares to save his life." This he said
of a set purpose, for of the men some
were heavy and some were old. They
all shook their heads and said they could
not win to the top of the cliff. Grani
"I will give thee thy freedom if thou wilt save us."
"Is there a farm above?" asked Rolf.
One of the men said: "Within a mile."
Rolf still stayed where he was. "Why dost thou not go?" cried Grani.
"What of the freedom of my fellow?" asked Rolf.
"He also shall be free," answered Grani.
Then Rolf essayed to climb the cliff by
the way which seemed surest; he went
up quickly until they lost sight of him, so
 that they began to say that now he was
at the top, and would soon bring a rope.
Then something fell with a great splash
in the water.
"He hath reached the top and thrown
down a rock," cried the men.
But that was Rolf himself, for he had
fallen from near the top; presently they
saw his head. All breathless and bruised,
he swam to them and waited a while;
then he sought to climb by the other way,
and that was more in sight of the others;
marvellous climbing they agreed it was.
After a while he went again out of their
sight, and in the end they heard him hail.
So they were sure he was at the top.
Then they waited for him to bring the
rope, and the water rose to the breastbone
of Frodi, who was tallest; but it was at
the chin of the shortest, who had to float,
while Frodi held him. They stayed there
a long time, and the water rose still higher;
 it was cold, and some of the men grew very
faint. At last shouts were heard, and a
rope came dangling down.
Then the shortest man climbed the
rope, and he was glad. But others were
too weak to climb, and had to be drawn
up, one after another. Grani would not
go, but sent up the men in the order of
their height. When he and Frodi alone
were left, Grani said to Frodi: "Go thou next."
"Great is thy pride," answered Frodi,
"and thou wishest to do a brave deed,
yet thy strength is not sufficient. For
see, thou art blue about the lips, and I
am holding thee upright. How shouldst
thou stay alone after I have gone up?
But I could stand here yet another hour.
Thou must go next."
"I will stay to the last," answered
Grani. Then the rope came down again.
"I will not go," said Grani.
 "Then I shall tie thee by force, and
send thee up," said Frodi.
But then was heard a great shouting,
and there came a ship which had seen the
work of rescue, and had put in shore.
Grani said: "I will go in the ship; they
are sending a boat." When the boat came
from the ship, Grani went in it; but
Frodi climbed the rope and told Rolf
what had been said.
That was a ship of chapmen, and its
master asked Grani who he was, and
gave him food and drink, and carried him
round the end of the Mainland to
Hawksness; but those others who had reached
the top of the cliff had no other way
than to walk. Four leagues they fared on
foot, reaching Hawksness after nightfall.
Meanwhile Grani spoke much with the
shipmaster, and they grew very friendly.
They came to Hawksness about the same
time as the other men came from the
 moors, and they all walked up to the hall
Rolf walks with Frodi, but the
shipmaster goes with Grani, and passes near
them; the shipmaster sees them, but they
do not mark him. Then the shipmaster
pulls at Grani's sleeve, and draws him aside.
The shipmaster asks: "Those two who
walk there are thy thralls?"
Grani said so. Then the shipmaster
said: "Didst thou say thou wouldst set them free?"
"Aye," answered Grani.
"It hath come to my mind," said the
other, "that they did not save thee, but I
did. Moreover, there was no need for
climbing the cliff, for I should have been
able to save ye all."
"That is true," said Grani.
"Now," quoth the shipmaster, "thou
art very reckless of thy possessions if thou
settest those thralls free."
 "Truly," answered Grani, "I will not
When they reached the hall Sweyn
had arrived before them, and the booty
of the vikings lay in the hall; but Ar
was waiting anxiously for his foster-son,
and welcomed him gladly. Then
a true tale was required of all that had
Grani told each thing as it had come
about. When he told of his thralls, Ar
said: "Since those two are Icelanders,
who are close to us by ties of blood, it
were better to have set them free."
"Thou didst not reserve any save Orkneymen," answered Grani. Then he told
of the wreck and the rescue.
Said Ar: "So those two have their
freedom in the end?"
Grani called Rolf and Frodi to the
dais. "Thou didst not save my life,"
 "That is true," answered Rolf.
"Moreover," quoth Grani, "the ship would have saved us all."
"That also is true," said Rolf.
"Therefore I see no reason," said Grani
next, "why I should set thee free."
Rolf and Frodi answered nothing.
"See," said Grani to Ar, "they make no
objection; therefore I shall keep them
as thralls. But I will give each of them
what he cares to choose of the spoil, if
Then permission was given, and the
spoil of the vikings was spread out
there before the dais; there were fine
things of many kinds. But Rolf put
the gold and silver by, and took only
a cloak. Then said Grani: "Choose
Rolf took a belt.
"Choose again," repeated Grani.
Rolf took a short sword.
 "Choose yet again!" cried Grani. But
Rolf would take nothing more, and Frodi
took naught but a cloak and a whittle.
"A strange pair are ye," quoth Grani.
But Ar called them to him and asked
them why they had chosen so little.
"We take only our own," answered
"Sea-worn cloaks and weapons," said
Ar, "are they dear to ye?"
"His mother," said Frodi, "made me
my cloak, but the whittle belonged to my
"And thy things," asked Ar of Rolf.
"Who gave them to thee?"
"Snorri the Priest," answered Rolf,
"gave me the cloak, and Burning Flosi
gave the belt; but if ye do not know
"I know them both," said Sweyn the
sea-captain. "But who gave the sword?"
"Kari Solmund's son," answered Rolf,
 "and that name thou shouldst know best
Sweyn cried: "I know the man himself,
for he is an Orkneyman by birth,
tribute-taker here under Earl Sigurd, and
of great fame. Now tell us the story why
he gave thee the sword."
But Rolf would tell nothing. Then
Sweyn offered to buy Rolf of Grani, but
he puffed out his lips and would not sell
his thrall. So nothing came of that rescue
by Rolf, save to give him a name among
Now all men sit down for the evening
meal. That shipmaster wishes to leave
the hall, saying he must look to his ship;
but Grani will not let him go. Then
Frodi sees him, and pushes Rolf in the
side. Says Frodi: "Men said your uncle
"So they did," answers Rolf. But he
does not attend, and falls to brooding.
 So Frodi says that again. Rolf asks him
"Who sits by the dais?" asked Frodi.
Rolf looked on that shipmaster, and it
was his father's brother, Kiartan.
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