|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 ROLF NAMED WITNESSES FOR THE DEATH OF HIARANDI
T happened that on that morning
Frodi the Smith had travelled to
Cragness to see his kinsmen, and
he arrived at the hour of misfortune.
For he found Asdis weeping and
wringing her hands by the door of the hall,
while below on Einar's land Rolf stood
over the body of Hiarandi. Then Frodi
hastened down to Rolf and wept aloud
when he came there. When he could
speak, he said:
"Come now, I will help thee bear Hiarandi's
body to the house, as is proper."
But Rolf had stood without weeping,
and now he said: "Let us bear him only
 to our own land, for a nearer duty remains
than burial." And he and Frodi carried
Hiarandi across the brook, and there laid
him down; and Asdis covered him with
a cloak. Then Rolf said to Frodi:
"Well art thou come, who art my only
kinsman, and withal the strongest man in
Broadfirth dales. And I would that thou
hadst with thee more weapons than thy
whittle. Art thou ready, Frodi, to help
me in my feud?"
Frodi said uneasily: "A man of peace
am I, and never yet have drawn man's
blood. I am loth to bare weapon in any
cause. And meseems thou hast no feud
against anyone; for Hiarandi was lawfully
slain, since he was beyond the limit which
"That is to be seen," quoth Rolf, and
he went to the edge of the brook.
"Yonder," said he, "stands the tree where my
father was slain, and no step went he
be-  yond it. [And that tree, until it decayed
entirely, was known as Hiarandi's tree.]
Now see," said Rolf, "if I can throw an
arrow so far."
Then he sent an arrow, and it fell short
by three roods; and the second shaft went
but two yards farther, so that fourteen
yards more were needed. Then Rolf tried
again, and put all his skill and strength
into the effort, yet the arrow fell scarce a
foot beyond the second. Rolf dropped
the bow and put his face in his hands.
"I cannot do it," groaned he.
"It is impossible to any man," said Frodi.
"He gives up easily," answered Rolf,
"who hath no heart in the cause. Yet it
remains to be seen if there are not men
who can shoot farther than I. Try thou
Frodi replied: "I am strong for the
working of iron and the lifting of weights,
 but to shoot with the bow is another
matter. That requires skill rather than
"But try!" beseeched Rolf.
So Frodi tried, but he failed lamentably.
"Said I not," asked he, "that I
was not able? And now I say this, that
by all thou art accounted the best archer
in the district. For last winter, when we
tried archery on the ice, and all did their
uttermost, only Surt of Ere and Thord of
Laxriver shot farther than thou, and that
by not so much as a rood. Yet thou art
much stronger each month, while they are
grown men, and their strength waxes not
at all. And if they surpass thee by no
more than a rood, no help is in them for
Rolf knew Frodi spoke wisely, for that
man must be found who could shoot three
roods farther than himself. But he said:
"Would I were the weakest in all
Broad-  firth dales, if only men might be found to
surpass me by so much. But I will not
leave this matter, and all the rest shall be
done as is right."
So Rolf called Frodi to witness that
the man whom he had slain, well known
to them both, was a man of Einar's
household. And Rolf cast earth upon his face,
as a sign that he acknowledged the slaying
of him. Then the two bore the body
of Hiarandi to the hall, where Asdis
prepared for the burial. But Frodi and
Rolf went forth and summoned neighbors,
men of property, who were not
kinsmen of Einar's, to be at Cragness
at the following morning. Twelve men
were summoned. And the Cragness-dwellers
did no more on that day.
But at Fellstead, although there were
some wounds to be dressed, men were
cheerful. For Hiarandi was gone, and
now only a boy stood between Einar
 and the owning of Cragness; and a boy
would be easy to dispose of. The wounded
men were sent out of the way, that they
might not be accused of the slaying;
and when dark came Ondott sent and let
bring the body of the man that was slain,
and it was buried secretly. Then he and
Einar spoke of the future, feeling no
guilt on their souls, since all had been
done lawfully. And no one noted how
the old woman Thurid sat in a corner and
crooned a song to herself.
Now these were the words of her song:
"A tree grows
And threatens woes.
Let axes chop so that it fall.
Let fire burn its branches all.
Let oxen drag its roots from ground.
Let earth afresh be scattered round.
Let no trace stay of oaken tree,—
So shall good fortune come to thee.
But if the tree shall stand and grow,
Then comes to Einar grief and woe."
 Yet as she sat muttering the song to
herself, Einar went by and bade her be
silent, for he was going to sleep. Then
she sang to herself:
"To-night to sleep,
Some day to weep."
After that she said no more.
But on the morrow those witnesses
whom Rolf had summoned came together.
They stood at Hiarandi's side, as the
custom was, and Rolf named the head
wound and the body wound by which
he had been slain. Then they went to
the place of the slaying; they viewed the
tree, and Rolf named it as the spot to
which Hiarandi went farthest; and he
called on those men to witness that the
tree stood there; and the distance was
measured, and the tree was put under
the protection of the men of the Quarter,
so that it might not be cut. Thus all
 was done that could be done, and the
news was taken to Fellstead.
Then Einar said to Ondott: "Where
were thy wits? Had we last night
destroyed the tree and smoothed the ground,
no trial of bow-shooting might ever be
made. Now we may be proved in the
wrong, and this slaying turn against us."
Ondott had nothing to say, save that
no man could shoot that distance. And
they dared not now cut the tree.
That night Hiarandi was laid in his
cairn, which they made of stones, by the
edge of the cliff where all mariners could
see it. And he was remembered as the
first man in Iceland who lighted beacons
against shipwreck, so that those who
sailed by prayed for his soul.
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