|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 |
HOW THOSE TWO CAME INTO THRALDOM
WO earls ruled in the Orkneys:
Brusi and Thorfinn, half-brothers.
Of the islands, two thirds were
under Brusi, the elder; but besides his
third Thorfinn had inherited Caithness
and Sunderland in Scotland from his
grandfather the Scot king. So Thorfinn
lived on those lands, and Brusi guarded
all the isles; but Thorfinn complained
that the guard was ill-kept, since vikings
harried oft in the isles, coming from
Norway or Denmark.
There was a man named Ar the
Peacock, who was a thane of Brusi the Earl
and lived on the Mainland of Orkney.
Now the Mainland of Orkney is an island,
 and Ar ruled its northern end, having
charge of the tribute to the Earl and the
keeping of order. He lived at that place
called Hawksness in Hawkdale, below the
downs and sheepwalks, where is good
harbor in winter. Forty men he kept, and
a war-ship; his hall was great, and there
was a stone church close by; fisher-folk
and farmers lived in the same settlement.
Ar was a vain man and fond of show,
kindly but weak. Because he had no
child he had taken to him a lad to foster,
who was called Grani the Proud, Ar's
Fosterling. Grani was tall and fair, of
sixteen summers, skilled in games but
ignorant of war. He was dear to his
foster-father's heart, and Ar could deny
That war-ship of Ar's was for the ward
of the isles, and Ar kept it at all times
in readiness. One day news came that
vikings were on the west coast,
plunder-  ing and burning. Ar sent for Sweyn, the
master of his ship.
"Thou shalt take the best of thy men,"
said Ar, "and search for those vikings.
And because Earl Thorfinn has complained
that our work is ill-done, thou shalt take all pains."
Sweyn said he would.
Then Grani stood before Ar, and said:
"Thou hast many times promised I should
go a-fighting. Now may I go with Sweyn,
or wilt thou put me off yet another
Ar remembered that he had heard of
but one viking-ship, so he said: "Thou
"Thou hast promised me thralls when
the next captives are taken. May I choose
them from this ship?"
"Two thralls mayest thou have,"
answered Ar, "but all Orkneymen are to
 When they made ready to go, Ar said
to Sweyn that Grani should be guarded
in the fight, and Sweyn promised to look
well to that. They went on board and
sailed round into the open sea; there they
passed first the great cliffs, and then cruised
along the shore, looking for the ship of the
Now the ship of those chapmen who
had given passage to Rolf and Frodi had a
good voyage; those two Broadfirthers were
the only Icelanders aboard. To them the
Orkneyingers boasted much of their land.
"In spite of what ye say," quoth Rolf
to them, "the Orkneys are no such safe
place as Iceland, as I see clearly, now that
we are nearing land."
"In what dost thou see it?" asked the
"With us are no sea-robbers," answered
Rolf, "but ye have set a watch against
vikings, and fear them."
 This the Orkneyingers could not deny,
for they had kept a look-out ever since
they had neared the land. Yet all their
care did not avail them, for they met a
ship in the Pentland Firth, a war-ship,
weather-stained and hardy; shields hung
along its sides, and it sailed swiftly.
When the chapmen saw the shields taken
from the rail, they knew that was a viking-ship.
So the chapmen prepared to defend
themselves. Rolf got ready to fight; but
when the vikings drew near, Frodi sat
himself down on a rowing bench, and looked
"Wilt thou not fight?" asked the shipmaster.
Frodi answered: "It is not clear to me
what I should do."
"Shame on thee," cried the other, "if
thou wilt not fight for the men who harbored thee!"
So Frodi, all without arms, stood up as
 the two ships came together, and knew
not where to place himself. The vikings
came leaping aboard, and all began fighting
in confusion; but the vikings were
many and were well armed, and the chapmen
had no leader. Men fell dead at
Frodi's side, and a viking came at him
with brandished sword. Frodi caught him
and hurled him into the water.
Then he took those other vikings who
came near him, and cast them overboard
one after another; "and it is no affair of
mine," thought he, "if they cannot swim."
And he cleared a space about him, but one
from a distance cast at him a throwing-axe;
it struck him flatwise on the head,
and down he fell.
By this time the chapmen were ceasing
to fight; but Rolf saw Frodi fall, and
fought the harder, to avenge him. The
vikings penned him by the rail, yet he
broke through them; then when he passed
 near where Frodi had fallen, Frodi rose up
and caught Rolf by the waist, and said:
"Now sit we down comfortably here
together, for we have done our part." That
was the end of the fight, for no men
fought more, and the vikings gave peace
Now men began to shout from the
water, where they were swimming. Three
were hauled up over the side. "How
many," asked Rolf of Frodi, "threwest thou over?"
Frodi turned white and would not answer.
Then the vikings despoiled the ship of
the chapmen and set her adrift, but the
captives were set to row the war-ship.
Rolf and Frodi toiled at one oar together,
and sore was the labor, but not for long.
For on the third day, as they rowed under
a bright sky with no wind, they heard a
clamor among the vikings, who cried that
 a long ship was bearing down on them—an
Orkney ship, great in size. Some of
the vikings snatched their shields from
the bulwarks and armed themselves; but
many, crying that no mercy would be
shown, would take no shields, and instead
cast off their shirts of mail, preparing to
go into battle baresark.
"Never have I seen that," said Rolf,
"though much have I heard of it." For
Northmen, in danger of death, often went
into battle bare of armor, fighting with
fury and mindless of wounds. They
believed that thus they came surely into
Valhalla; but that was a custom of the
heathen, and was not done by Christian
Rolf and Frodi were tied to their bench,
and saw nothing of the Orkneymen as
they came up astern. But at last the
splash of oars was heard; next a grapple
came flying aboard; then of a sudden the
 Orkney ship loomed alongside, and she
was a big ship indeed. So tall was she
that the vikings could not board her; but
from her the Orkneymen sent down
arrows, stones, and spears. Bodies of
men fell among the rowers' benches, and
Rolf and Frodi took each a shield, sat
close together, and warded themselves
against weapons. Then the Orkneyingers,
having cleared the waist of the viking-ship
of fighters, came tumbling aboard.
That was a fight with method, for the
Orkneymen in two parties drove the
vikings to the stem and the stern, and so
either slew them or thrust them into the
sea. Very hot was the fighting, but it
was short; the sixth part of an hour was
not over when the fighting was finished.
Now that Orkney ship was the ship of
Ar the Peacock, and they who led the
fighting were Sweyn and Grani. Sweyn
drove the vikings to the bow; but Grani
 led those who fought in the stern, and
two old fighting-men warded him, one
on either side. Grani did not know that
they were guarding him. When the fighting
was finished, Sweyn and Grani met in
the waist, near where Rolf sat. Sweyn
asked Grani if he had any wound.
Grani said nay thereto. "But I gave
wounds, and this has been a great fight."
"Now," said Sweyn, "let us free those
who worked at the oars."
"Remember," answered Grani, "that I
am to have thralls from the captives."
But of those who had been taken with
the ship, it was found that all the vikings
were either dead or sore wounded; and
all the rowers were Orkneymen save only
Rolf and Frodi.
"No Orkneymen can I give thee as
thrall," said Sweyn.
Grani answered: "Then I take the two others."
 Then Rolf stood up and said: "Icelanders
are we. Since when are Icelanders
enthralled in the Orkneys, and why is this injustice?"
"Ye are captives," said Grani. Sweyn
took him aside to speak with him; but he
would not listen, and said, pouting: "Ar promised me."
"Take them then," replied Sweyn.
Grani said to Rolf and Frodi: "Ye are
my thralls; I will treat you well. What
are your names?"
Rolf answered: "Rolf hight I."
"Of what father and what place?"
"A thrall," answered Rolf, "hath no
father and no home."
Frodi replied in like manner.
"It is plain to see," said Sweyn, "that these two should be free men."
"Let them win their freedom, then," answered Grani.
Then a division of men was made, and
 Sweyn took the chapmen with him in the
large ship, but Grani stayed on board the
viking-ship as its master. They sailed
together for the Orkney coast.
When night came Grani called Rolf
and Frodi, and bade them watch by turns
while he slept. "I will be a good master
so long as ye serve me well."
Rolf thought Grani to be about his age,
yet not so old in mind. Much pleased
was Grani to own thralls. He seemed
kindly, but petulant and uncertain.
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