|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 TRIAL OF GRANI'S PRIDE
AY was that harvest feast, and all
men learned how Thurid had died
in the snow on the night of the
wreck. In her cloak had Rolf lived,
serving his mother, and he had travelled
to Tongue and Swinefell in order to
make the plan for gaining his own; but
because Flosi could not come he had sent
Kolbein his son. Rolf gave great thanks
to Snorri and Kolbein, and gifts beside;
with all good wishes they parted on the
morrow. Then Asdis took over the care
of the household of her son, and Frodi
was bidden to live there with them.
They began again the custom of Hiarandi,
to light beacons against shipwreck.
 So now Rolf dwells at Cragness in his
honor, but at the hut on the upland those
others live with little ease.
Rolf looks out sometimes at the little
farm, and sees Grani and his father
working in the field to get in the small harvest,
hay for the ewe and grain for themselves.
Now for Asdis alone that store had been
enough, but for three the outlook was
not so good.
Once Frodi saw Rolf as he watched
them working, and the smith said, "Thou
takest pleasure in the sight?"
Rolf asked, "Rememberest thou what
jewels Grani wore, or his father, or Helga,
that time when they went away?"
"Grani and Einar," said Frodi, "had
rings on their arms and brooches on
their breasts, but Helga wore none at
"Silver pennies also they had in their
purses," said Rolf.
 "What is their wealth to thee?" asks Frodi.
"Much," answers Rolf.
Now the time draws toward winter.
The tale tells next how Rolf kept many
people by him in the hall, to do the field
work and to tend the cattle and horses
(but the sheep were in the fold, save
twenty which had not come in). Now
some of those folk of Einar still dwelt
at Cragness, having deserted their master,
and none at the hall bade them either
go or stay. Yet both Asdis and Frodi
showed them little favor, and one by one
they slipped away to seek livings elsewhere,
save only those two, Hallvard and
Hallmund, men of local talk, strong of
growth but not given to work. Evenings
in the hall they spoke much, and Frodi
scowled thereat; but Rolf sat in his seat
and seemed neither to see nor to hear them.
 Frodi said to him one day: "This one
thing I mislike in thee, that thou keepest
here those two who deserted their master."
Rolf asked: "Was their master worth devotion?"
"Maybe not," says Frodi, "yet ingrates are they both."
"They are free," said Rolf, "either to stay or go."
Frodi grumbled to himself, but said no more to Rolf.
Now October comes in very cold, but
no snow as yet; and all harvests are in.
Grani had stacked his neatly in ricks
against the weather, for there was no
room in the hut. There was a pen
outside for the ewe; she was a good
beast and never wandered, coming home
On a day Rolf called Hallvard and
Hallmund to him, and said: "It were
not strange if Grani's ewe were to break
 out of its pen and eat at my ricks, which
stand not far away." And he looked
hard at Hallvard, who was the slyer of
Said Hallvard with a grin: "That is
likely to happen."
Rolf gave them each a piece of money,
and said: "Beware of that ewe."
On a morning not long after came
those two, leading the ewe. "Master,
here have we found this ewe eating at thy
ricks, nor know we whose it may be."
Said Rolf: "The ewe is Einar's. Take
it to him, and ask payment for the hay
which has been eaten."
So they take the ewe to Einar, and
bring back silver. "Keep that for yourselves,"
Rolf said, "but will the ewe stay now at home?"
"Her pen is not strong," Hallvard said.
So on the morrow those two came
again, bringing the ewe a second time;
 Rolf sent them for money as before. This
time they brought back a gold arm-ring;
so Rolf knew that Einar and Grani had
taken with them nigh empty purses,
and he was glad. He took the ring,
giving the men silver, and said to them
as before: "Will the ewe stay now at
Hallvard answered, "We left Grani
strengthening the pen, but still it is not
And on the morrow they brought the
ewe, saying, "See how fat she hath gorged
Then said Rolf, "Go now and say to
Einar: 'A third time hath thine ewe trespassed;
now must thou pay not only
damages, but the trespass fine, or else
bring this to the courts.' "
They went and brought back jewels,
one arm-ring and two brooches; and
Hallvard said, "All that he had Einar
 gave, rather than trust himself to the
Rolf gave them money, saying: "If the
ewe wanders a fourth time, she will become
mine. Is her pen strong?"
"Grani has no more wood to make the
pen higher," answered Hallvard, "but he
was tying her with a rope."
"Belike the rope is not strong," said Rolf.
And that seemed true; for on the
morrow those two brought the ewe for the
fourth time; they said she had again been
eating at Rolf's ricks.
"Go now," said Rolf. "Say to Einar
'Pay me damages and another fine, or
yield thine ewe.' "
They went and returned, and said to
Rolf: "The ewe is thine."
Then Rolf gave them silver rings, and
they were well content. But Frodi came
to Rolf, and said: "What is this thou hast
 suffered those two to do to thy neighbor?
Now Einar will have no milk for the
Rolf answered shortly: "He can use the
pen of the ewe for firewood, and sell the
hay for money." And he would speak
no more of that.
Now October passed, and November
came, and still there was no snow; the
land was colder for that. One day when
Rolf stood and looked at the hut on the
upland, Hallvard came to him and said,
"Small cheer is there over yonder, master;
yet I have heard that Grani has sold his
hay, and it is soon to be fetched from his
Rolf answered: "See now how all their
ricks stand in a line, and the wind is in
that line, so that a fire which took the
weathermost rick would burn them all.
It was careless of Grani to set them so."
"For fire might come by chance," said
 Hallvard, and he went and spoke with Hallmund.
Now that night people were stirring in
the hall, for a servingman was sick there;
and in the early morning one came
knocking at the door of Rolf's locked bed,
crying, "There is fire across the valley." So
Rolf threw on a cloak and went out; there
was a great fire at the little farm, where
the ricks were burning. In their light
Grani was seen, saving what he might;
but Einar stood by wringing his hands,
and Helga weeping. So while those of
Cragness stood and watched, Hallvard
and Hallmund came up the hill and joined
"Where have ye been?" asks Frodi.
They had no good answer to give.
When it was day Rolf sent to inquire
of Einar if he had had great loss; Hallvard
was sent. "And ask if they will
have any help of me; and mark how
 much they have saved and where it is
So Hallvard went and returned again,
and said that Grani needed no help.
"But," said he, "the old man would have
taken help, yet the young man would
not allow it. And they have saved no
hay, and but little grain; it is there in
the pen of the ewe."
"Now," Rolf said privately to Hallvard,
"thou and Hallmund shall take my
shepherd and go into the hills, a day's
journey; he shall show thee where are
folded those twenty of my sheep which
came not with the others, and which men
call lost. Send him then home before
thee, and do ye twain drive the sheep.—
And see to it," quoth Rolf, "that those
sheep do no damage to the fodder which
So that day those two took their staves,
and went with the shepherd to do as Rolf
 had bidden. On the second day the
shepherd came again; but on the fourth
came Hallvard and Hallmund, driving the
sheep. Now one of them was all bloody.
"What hath happened to the ram?" asked Rolf.
"We came home," answered Hallvard,
"over the fell which is above Einar's farm;
we pastured the sheep as we came, yet
there is now no good grazing, and the
beasts were terribly thin. So when we
came late at night near to Grani's stead,
and could not make Cragness in the dark,
we rested and let the sheep stray. In the
morning, behold, the sheep had found the
grain which Grani had saved from the fire,
and were eating the last of it when
he came out by the first light. He saw
the sheep, and drove them thence with
fury; but the ram was obstinate, and
would not leave the food, so Grani
wounded him. And he gave us hard
 words before we gathered the flock to
"Take the sheep to the fold," said Rolf,
and he gave each of the men a piece of
Then he went in and sat down to meat;
but Frodi followed him and seemed much
discontented. "What ails thee?" asked Rolf.
"This ails me," said Frodi, "that thou
hast no mercy upon them whose lot is
hard enough. I cannot bear that thou
shouldst use those base men to do such
work against Grani, whom once thou
lovedst. For I perceive clearly that all
this has been done with intention, both
the trespassing of the ewe and the burning
of the ricks; likewise this last happening
is not by chance. What change is on
thee, that thou doest so?"
Also Asdis came and said: "Thou art
hard on those unfortunate ones, my son.
 Leave this persecution and do what is
worthy of thee."
But Rolf said to Frodi: "Hast thou
forgotten that Grani made thee thrall?"
And of Asdis he asked: "Who slew
Hiarandi my father?" The law of vengeance
came to their minds, and they were
silent, yet not satisfied.
Then Hallvard and Hallmund came in
and helped themselves to meat, and began
talking loudly. Said Hallvard, "Thou
art called now, master, to avenge thy
honor. Einar spoke shame on thee while
we were gathering the sheep to drive
from his house, for he said thou hadst the
hope to starve him and his children."
"A great slander is that," quoth Hallmund,
wagging his head. "Many a man
hath died for such; and at least a money-fine
should Einar pay."
"Hold your tongues!" cried Frodi in anger.
 But Rolf rebuked Frodi, and said to
those twain: "I give thanks for your
thought of mine honor. But I do not
desire blood, only money-atonement for
the slander. Einar hath no money; but
Grani hath yet his sword, a fine weapon.
Now you who have my honor in your
care, go to-morrow to Grani. Tell him I
demand atonement; but if he sends me
his sword his father's slander will be
Those two looked at each other in
doubt, for that would be a hard thing,
to get from Grani his sword.
But Frodi sprang from his seat, and
cried: "What dost thou now, to insult
Grani so? Never will an Icelander yield
his sword! Call now to mind when ye
two were comrades, and slept together,
and fought the Scots together, and crossed
the Pentland Firth together in a little
boat, and swam the last mile side by
 side. Put all this in thy mind, and unsay
what thou hast said."
Rolf answered: "All this I remember,
and that is why I send for Grani's sword."
"Then," Frodi cried, "I leave thy roof
now, nor ever are we friends again!"
"Frodi," answered Rolf, "sleep one
night more under my roof; then if thou
art minded thou shalt leave me forever."
Then Frodi called to mind his great love
for his cousin, and yielded, and sat down.
In the morning Hallmund and Hallvard
sat late at meat. Rolf said to them:
"Why linger ye here? Do as I bade!"
Then they took swords, axes, and shields,
and went to the hut across the valley, but
had no heart in their going. Now Rolf
watched from the hillside, and he saw
them go into the farmyard, very slowly;
and he waited a while, and saw them
come out, very slowly. And they came
back to Cragness, and climbed the hill to
 him; and behold, they had not their arms
any more, but were wounded, and complained as they came.
"Grani," said they, "has done this to
us. Now, master, avenge us on him!"
"Now," said Rolf, "all is come about
as I wished." And he bade bring his
sword and his shield.
"Wilt thou then," asked Frodi, "take
up the quarrel of these wretched carles?"
Rolf put on his sword and took his
shield; he made no answer to Frodi, but
he beckoned his housecarles and pointed
to Hallvard and Hallmund.
"Whip me," said Rolf to his servants,
"these wretches from this place; if they
wait till my return they shall feel the
weight of my hand. But as for all the
rest of you, bide ye here till I come again."
Hallvard and Hallmund ran with all
haste away along the cliffs, but Rolf set
out across the valley to the little farm.
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