|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 SOURSOPS, AND THE CURSE WHICH HUNG ON THEM
F those things which had been
said, Rolf heard all, yet he had
not spoken. Now he drew near
to his father, and said to him:
"Explain to me, father, the things of which
the woman spoke. What is the curse
upon us, and can such a thing be true?"
Then Hiarandi answered: "Thou
knowest we are of the Soursops, who got
their name when they sopped with sour
whey the fire which was kindled to burn
them in their house. Now Gisli, the first
of us, slew Kol, his wife's foster-father, for
the sake of his sword Graysteel, and Kol
laid the curse of misfortune on us.
Slay-  ings arose by means of that sword; there
came the outlawing of Gisli, the grandson
of the first Gisli, and death fell in most
branches of the house. Fourteen years
Gisli was outlaw, even as has been, to
this year, Grettir the Strong, who is the
great outlaw of our day. But Gisli was
slain, and his brother, while his sister died.
Son of that sister is Snorri the Priest,
who alone of us has prospered; for though
no slayings have ever happened in our
branch, unlucky are we all, as is plain
"I have often wondered," said Rolf,
"how it is that we live here in this great
hall and have but us three and the
servants to fill it. There are places for seven
fires down the middle of the hall, yet we
use but one. And all the benches were
once used, since they are worn: seats for
fifty men, and the women's seats besides."
"Once," said Hiarandi, "my father had
 so many on his farm that nightly the hall
was full. But those serving-men are
Einar's now, and all our riches have
passed away to him. Yet this house is
the finest in all these parts. I was at the
building of it in my youth, and" (here he
made sure that the thrall was not listening)
"I myself made the secret panels by
which we can escape in case of burning.
For since that burning so long ago, no
Soursop builds himself a house in which
men may trap him."
"But thou hast no enemies, father?"
asked the lad.
"No enemies, I hope," answered
Hiarandi, "but few friends, I am sure, since
only Frodi the Smith, my mother's cousin,
is of our kin; for I count not Snorri the
"But why not Snorri the Priest?" asked
"My father," answered Hiarandi,
"quar-  relled with him and called him coward.
For Snorri would not take up at arms a
suit my father lost at law."
Then Rolf thought awhile. All men
knew of Snorri the Priest, who was no
temple priest at all but a priest of the
law. For the title had come down from
heathen times, when leaders had sway
over all matters, both in religion and law,
and to be priest was to be chieftain. But
usage and the new religion changed that
by degrees; so that to be priest now
meant to be a giver of the law, with a
seat at the Quarter Courts and at the
Althing, the great yearly gathering to
which from all Iceland men went to
settle suits. And Snorri the Priest was
well known as the richest man in
Broadfirth dales, the shrewdest and wisest in all
things worldly, and a master at the law.
"It would be well," said the lad, "to
have Snorri on our side."
 "It is better," said Asdis, "never to go
to the law. Lawsuits and quarrels are
bad things, and they bring a man's fortune
And Hiarandi added, "By law we have
Then Rolf was silent, and thought of
what had been said: how the old woman
had prophesied trouble at the law, and by
what man that trouble should come. And
as he thought upon the words she and his
father had spoken, he thought that they
had spoken with knowledge, though of
different kinds: for while the woman
prophesied vaguely, his father had seemed
to know who the man should be.
"Father," asked Rolf, "knowest thou
who the man is that came upon the
"I know," answered Hiarandi.
Asdis asked: "Who then is he?"
Hiarandi said: "Saw ye upon the ship,
 as it lay below us, the faces of any of the
"Aye," answered they both, "for it
was as clear as day."
"Saw ye then," asked Hiarandi, "one
who stood by the mast, a tall man with a
"I saw him," answered Rolf. "He
stood and held by a rope and the mast,
and I thought he should be the captain;
but he gave no commands, nor did any
man heed him, for all worked of themselves."
"Yet, as I guess," said Hiarandi, "the
captain was he, and he was the man of
whom the carline spoke."
"Who is he, then?" asked the boy.
"Listen," said Hiarandi, "and I will
tell thee of one in my family of whom I
have never yet spoken. There were two
of us when I was a lad, brothers; and
the other was named Kiartan. He was
 younger than I by a year, and different
in all his ways; yet I have often thought
that my father had not enough patience
with him. For he sent him to bad
companions rather than weaned him from
them, and at last he drove him from the
house altogether. Then Kiartan took to
the sea—he was not bad, remember, but
weak perhaps and foolish—took to the
sea, and we saw him not for years. Once
only he came back, out at elbow, and
asked my father for money. Money he
got, but gave the promise to ask nothing
from the inheritance; and this was
handselled before witnesses, my father giving
much, the rest to come to me. Then
Kiartan went away again, and not until
this night have I seen him. But if that
was his ship, then he has prospered."
"Yet it was he the woman meant?" asked Rolf.
"Who else?" returned his father.
 "How should he," asked the boy, "bring trouble on thee?"
"I see not," answered Hiarandi, "how
he should bring either evil or good."
Then he closed his mouth and became
thoughtful, in a manner he had. Asdis
motioned Rolf to be silent, and nothing
more was said in the matter.
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