Grettir The Strong
Part 1 out of 5
The Saga of Grettir the Strong
Originally written in Icelandic, sometime in the early 14th
Century. Author unknown.
This electronic edition was produced, edited, and prepared by
Douglas B. Killings (DeTroyes@AOL.COM), June 1995. Document
scanning provided by David Reid and John Servilio.
THE FAMILY AND EARLY WARS OF ONUND THE SON OF OFEIG
There was a man named Onund, the son of Ofeig Clumsyfoot, who was
the son of Ivar Horsetail. Onund was the brother of Gudbjorg,
the mother of Gudbrand Knob, the father of Asta, the mother of
King Olaf the Saint. His mother came from the Upplands, while
his father's relations were mostly in Rogaland and Hordland. He
was a great viking and used to harry away in the West over the
sea. He was accompanied on these expeditions by one Balki, the
son of Blaeing from Sotanes, and by Orm the Wealthy. Another
comrade of theirs was named Hallvard. They had five ships, all
well equipped. They plundered the Hebrides, reaching the Barra
Isles, where there ruled a king named Kjarval, who also had five
ships. These they attacked; there was a fierce battle between
them, in which Onund's men fought with the utmost bravery. After
many had fallen on both sides, the battle ended with the king
taking to flight with a single ship; the rest were captured by
Onund's force, along with much booty. They stayed there for the
winter, and spent the succeeding three summers harrying the
coasts of Ireland and Scotland, after which they returned to
THE BATTLE OF HAFRSFJORD
At that time Norway was very disturbed. Harald Shockhead, the
son of Halfdan the Black, till then king of the Upplands, was
aiming at the supreme kingship. He went into the North and
fought many battles there, in which he was always victorious.
Then he marched harrying through the territories to the South,
bringing them into subjection wherever he came. On reaching
Hordland he was opposed by a motley multitude led by Kjotvi the
Wealthy, Thorir Long-chin, and Soti and King Sulki from South
Rogaland. Geirmund Swarthyskin was then away in the West, beyond
the sea, so he was not present at the battle, although Hordland
belonged to his dominion.
Onund and his party had arrived that autumn from the western
seas, and when Thorir and Kjotvi heard of their landing they sent
envoys to ask for their aid, promising to treat them with honour.
They were very anxious for an opportunity of distinguishing
themselves, so they joined Thorir's forces, and declared that
they would be in the thickest part of the battle. They met King
Harald in a fjord in Rogaland called Hafrsfjord. The forces on
each side were very large, and the battle was one of the greatest
ever fought in Norway. There are many accounts of it, for one
always hears much about those people of whom the saga is told.
Troops had come in from all the country around and from other
countries as well, besides a multitude of vikings. Onund brought
his ship alongside of that of Thorir Long-chin in the very middle
of the battle. King Harald made for Thorir's ship, knowing him
to be a terrible berserk, and very brave. The fighting was
desperate on either side. Then the king ordered his berserks,
the men called Wolfskins, forward. No iron could hurt them, and
when they charged nothing could withstand them. Thorir defended
himself bravely and fell on his ship fighting valiantly. The
whole ship from stem to stern was cleared and her fastenings were
cut, so that she fell out of the line of battle. Then they
attacked Onund's ship, in the forepart of which he was standing
and fighting manfully. The king's men said: "He bears himself
well in the forecastle. Let us give him something to remind him
of having been in the battle." Onund was stepping out with one
foot on to the bulwark, and as he was striking they made a thrust
at him with a spear; in parrying it he bent backwards, and at
that moment a man on the forecastle of the king's ship struck him
and took off his leg below the knee, disabling him at a blow.
With him fell the greater number of his men. They carried him to
a ship belonging to a man named Thrand, a son of Bjorn and
brother of Eyvind the Easterner. He was fighting against King
Harald, and his ship was lying on the other side of Onund's.
Then there was a general flight. Thrand and the rest of the
vikings escaped any way they could, and sailed away westwards.
They took with them Onund and Balki and Hallvard Sugandi. Onund
recovered and went about for the rest of his life with a wooden
leg, wherefore he was called Onund Treefoot as long as he lived.
MEETING OF DEFEATED CHIEFS IN THE WEST AND MARRIAGE OF ONUND
There were then in the western parts many distinguished men who
had fled from their homes in Norway before King Harald, for he
declared all who fought against him outlaws, and seized their
property. As soon as Onund had recovered from his wound, Thrand
went with his party to Geirmund Swarthyskin, who was the most
eminent of the vikings in the West. They asked him whether he
was not going to try and regain his kingdom in Hordland, and
offered to join him, hoping by this means to do something for
their own properties, for Onund was very wealthy and his kindred
very powerful. Geirmund answered that Harald had such a force
that there was little hope of gaining any honour by fighting when
the whole country had joined against him and been beaten. He had
no mind, he said, to become the king's thrall, and to beg for
that which he had once possessed in his own right. Seeing that
he was no longer in the vigour of his youth he preferred to find
some other occupation. So Onund and his party returned to the
Southern Islands, where they met many of their friends.
There was a man named Ofeig, nicknamed Grettir. He was the son
of Einar, the son of Olvir the Babyman. He was a brother of
Oleif the Broad, the father of Thormod Shaft. Another son of
Olvir was named Steinolf, the father of Una, whom Thorbjorn the
Salmon-man married. A third son of Olvir was Steinmod, who was
the father of Konal, the father of Alfdis of the Barra Isles.
Konal's son was named Steimnod; he was the father of Halldora,
whom Eilif, the son of Ketil the One-handed, married.
Ofeig Grettir married Asny, the daughter of Vestar, the son of
Haeing. His sons were Asmund the Beardless and Asbjorn, and his
daughters were named Aldis, Aesa, and Asvor. Ofeig had fled from
the wrath of King Harald into the West over the sea, along with
his kinsman Thormod Shaft and all their families. They ravaged
far and wide in the western seas. Thrand and Onund Treefoot were
going West to Ireland to join Thrand's brother, Eyvind the
Easterner, who had command of the Irish defences. Eyvind's
mother was named Hlif; she was the daughter of Hrolf, the son of
Ingjald, the son of King Frodi, while Thrand's mother was Helga,
the daughter of Ondott Crow. The father of Eyvind and Thrand was
Bjorn, the son of Hrolf of Ar. He had had to leave Gautland
because he had burnt in his house Sigfast the father-in-law of
King Solvi. Then he went to Norway and spent the winter with
Grim the Hersir, a son of Kolbjorn the Sneak, who wanted to
murder him for his money. Thence Bjorn went to Ondott Crow, who
lived in Hvinisfjord in Agdir. There he was well received,
stayed the winter, and went campaigning with Ondott in the summer
until his wife Hlif died. Eventually Ondott gave Bjorn his
daughter Helga, and Bjorn then no longer went out to fight.
Eyvind had taken over his father's ships and become a great chief
in the western parts. He married Rafarta, the daughter of the
Irish king Kjarval. Their sons were Helgi the Lean and
When Thrand and Onund came to the Southern Islands they found
there Ofeig Grettir and Thormod Shaft, with whom they became very
friendly, for each thought the others had risen from the dead,
their last meeting having been in Norway when the war was at its
worst. Onund was very silent, and Thrand, when he noticed it,
asked what was on his mind. Onund answered with a verse:
"No joy is mine since in battle I fought.
Many the sorrows that o'er me lower.
Men hold me for nought; this thought is the worst
of all that oppresses my sorrowing heart."
Thrand said: "Why, you still seem as full of vigour as ever you
were. You may yet settle down and marry. You shall have my good
word and my interest if you will only tell me whom you fancy."
Onund said he behaved nobly; but said there had once been a time
when his chances of making a profitable marriage had been better.
Thrand said: "Ofeig has a daughter named Aesa; we might mention
it if you like."
Onund said he would like it, and soon afterwards Ofeig was
approached on the subject. He received the proposal favourably,
saying he knew the man to be of good lineage and to have some
wealth in movable property, though his lands were not worth
much. "But," he said, "I do not think he is very wise. Why,
my daughter is quite a child."
Thrand said that Onund was more vigorous than many a man whose
legs were sounder.
So with the aid of Thrand the terms were settled. Ofeig was to
give his daughter a portion in cash, for neither would reckon
anything for his lands in Norway. Soon afterwards Thrand was
betrothed to the daughter of Thormod Shaft. Both the maids were
to remain plighted for three years.
Then they went on fighting expeditions in the summer, remaining
in the Barra Isles during the winter.
FIGHT WITH VIKINGS VIGBJOD AND VESTMAR
There were two Vikings from the Southern Isles, named Vigbjod and
Vestmar; they were abroad both summer and winter. They had eight
ships, and harried mostly round the coast of Ireland, where they
did many an evil deed until Eyvind undertook the defence of the
coast, when they retired to the Hebrides to harry there, and
right in to the Scotch firths. Thrand and Onund went out against
them and learned that they had sailed to an island called Bot.
Onund and Thrand followed them thither with five ships, and when
the vikings sighted them and saw how many there were, they
thought their own force was sufficient, so they took to their
arms and advanced to the attack. Onund ordered his ships to take
up a position between two rocks where there was a deep but narrow
channel, open to attack from one side only, and by not more than
five ships at once. Onund was a very wily man. He sent his five
ships forward into the channel so that, as there was plenty of
sea room behind them, they could easily retire by merely backing
their oars. One ship he brought under an island lying on their
beam, and carried a great stone to a place on the front of the
rock where it could not be seen from the enemy's ships. The
Vikings came boldly on, thinking they had caught them in a trap.
Vigbjod asked who they were that he had hemmed in. Thrand
answered that he was a brother of Eyvind the Easterner, and the
man with him was his comrade, Onund Treefoot. The vikings
laughed and said:
"Trolls take the rascal Treefoot
and lay him even with the ground.
Never yet did I see men go to battle who could not carry
Onund said that could not be known until it was tried. Then the
ships came together. There was a great battle in which both
sides fought bravely. When the battle was thick Onund ordered
his ships to back their oars. The vikings seeing it thought they
were taking to flight, and pushed on with all their might, coming
under the rock just at the moment when the party which had been
dispatched for that purpose arrived. They launched upon the
vikings stones so huge that nothing could hold against them. A
number of the vikings were killed, and others were so injured
that they could fight no more. Then the vikings tried to escape,
but could not, as their ships were in the narrowest part of the
channel and were impeded both by the current and by the enemy's
ships. Onund's men vigorously attacked the wing commanded by
Vigbjod while Thrand engaged Vestmar, but effected little. When
the men on Vigbjod's ship had been somewhat reduced, Onund's men,
he himself with them, prepared to board her. On seeing that,
Vigbjod spurred on his men resolutely. He turned against Onund,
most of whose men gave way. Onund was a man of immense strength
and he bade his followers observe how it fared with them. They
shoved a log under the stump of his leg, so that he stood pretty
firm. The viking dashed forward, reached Onund and hewed at him
with his sword, which cut right through his shield and into the
log beneath his leg, where it remained fixed. As Vigbjod bent
down to pull his sword clear again, Onund dealt him a blow on his
shoulder, severing his arm and disabling him. When Vestmar saw
his comrade fall, he sprang on to the outermost ship and escaped
along with all who could get on to her. Then they examined the
dead. Vigbjod had already expired. Onund went up to him and
"Bloody thy wounds. Didst thou see me flee?
'One-leg' no hurt received from thee.
Braver are many in word than in deed.
Thou, slave, didst fail when it came to the trial."
They took a large quantity of booty and returned to the Barra
Isles in the autumn.
VISIT OF ONUND AND THRAND TO EYVIND IN IRELAND
The following summer they made ready for a voyage to the West, to
Ireland. At the same time Balki and Hallvard sailed westwards,
to Iceland, where they had heard that good land was available for
occupation. Balki took up some land at Hrutafjord, and had his
abode in two places called Balkastad. Hallvard occupied
Sugandafjord and Skalavik as far as Stigi, where he lived.
Thrand and Onund went to visit Eyvind the Easterner, who
welcomed joyfully his brother Thrand; but when he heard that
Onund had also come, he became very angry and wanted to fight
him. Thrand asked him not to do so, and said it would ill become
him to quarrel with men from Norway, especially with such as had
given no offence. Eyvind said that he had given offence before,
when he made war on Kjarval the king, and that he should now pay
for it. The brothers had much to say to each other about the
matter, till at last Thrand said that he and Onund should share
their fortune together. Then Eyvind allowed himself to be
appeased. They stayed there a long time in the summer and went
with Eyvind on his expeditions. Eyvind found Onund to be a man
of the greatest valour. In the autumn they went to the Hebrides,
and Eyvind made over to Thrand all his share in their father
Bjorn's patrimony in the event of Bjorn dying before Thrand.
They stayed in the Hebrides until they married and some years
DEATH OF BJORN; DISPUTES OVER HIS PROPERTY IN NORWAY
The next thing that happened was the death of Thrand's father
Bjorn. When the news of it reached Grim the Hersir he proceeded
against Ondott Crow and claimed Bjorn's estate. Ondott held
Thrand to be the rightful heir of his father, but Grim contended
that Thrand was away in the West. Bjorn, he said, came from
Gautland, and the succession to the estate of all foreigners
passed to the king. Ondott said that he would hold the property
on behalf of Thrand, who was his daughter's son. Grim then
departed, having effected nothing by his claim.
Thrand, when he heard of his father's death, prepared to leave
the Hebrides, and Onund Treefoot decided to go with him. Ofeig
Grettir and Thormod Shaft went to Iceland with all their
belongings, landing at Eyrar in the South. They spent the first
winter with Thorbjorn the Salmon-man, and then occupied
Gnupverjahrepp. Ofeig took the outer part lying between the
rivers Thvera and Kalfa, and lived at Ofeigsstad near Steinsholt,
while Thormod took the eastern part, living at Skaptaholt.
Thormod's daughters were named Thorvor and Thorve; the former
afterwards became the mother of Thorodd the Godi at Hjalli,
Thorve of Thorstein the Godi the father of Bjarni the Wise.
We now return to Thrand and Onund, who sailed back from the West
to Norway. A strong wind blew in their favour, so that they
arrived at the house of Ondott Crow before any one knew of
their journey. He welcomed Thrand and told him of the claim
which Grim the Hersir had raised for Bjorn's estate.
"To my thinking, kinsman," he said, "it is better that the
property should go to you than to the king's thralls. It is a
fortunate thing for you that no one knows of your having come
here, for I expect that Grim will make an attack upon one or the
other of us if he can. I should prefer if you would take over
your property and stay in other countries."
Thrand said that he would do so. He took over the property and
prepared to leave Norway. Before leaving he asked Onund Treefoot
whether he would not come to Iceland. Onund said he wanted first
to visit some of his relations and friends in the South.
"Then," said Thrand, "we must part. I should be glad if you
would give my kinsmen your support, for our enemies will
certainly try to take revenge upon them when I am gone. I am
going to Iceland, and I want you to come there too."
Onund said he would come, and they parted with great friendship.
Thrand went to Iceland, where he met with a welcome from Ofeig
and Thormod Shaft. He took up his dwelling at Thrandarholt to
the west of Thjorsa.
MURDER OF ONDOTT CROW, AND THE VENGEANCE THEREFOR
Onund went to Rogaland in the South and visited many of his
relations and friends. He lived there in concealment with a man
named Kolbeinn. He there learned that King Harald had taken all
his property and given it into the charge of a man named Harekr,
one of his officials. Onund went by night to Harekr's house and
caught him at home; he was led to execution. Then Onund took
possession of all the loose property which he found and burnt the
That autumn Grim the Hersir murdered Ondott Crow because he had
not succeeded in getting the property for the king. Ondott's
wife Signy carried off all their loose property that same night
to a ship and escaped with her sons Asmund and Asgrim to her
father Sighvat. A little later she sent her sons to Hedin, her
foster-father in Soknadal, where they remained for a time and
then wanted to return to their mother. They left at last, and at
Yule-tide came to Ingjald the Trusty at Hvin. His wife Gyda
persuaded him to take them in, and they spent the winter there.
In the spring Onund came to northern Agdir, having learned of the
murder of Ondott. He met Signy and asked her what assistance
they would have of him. She said they were most anxious to
punish Grim for the death of Ondott. So the sons were sent for,
and when they met Onund Treefoot they all joined together and had
Grim's doings closely watched.
In the summer there was a beer-brewing at Grim's for a jarl named
Audun, whom he had invited. When Onund and the sons of Ondott
heard of it, they appeared at his house unexpectedly and set fire
to it. Grim the Hersir and about thirty men were burnt in the
house. They captured a quantity of valuables. Then Onund went
into the forest, while the two brothers took the boat of their
foster-father Ingjald, rowed away and lay in hiding a little way
off. Soon jarl Audun appeared, on his way to the feast, as had
been arranged, but on arriving he missed his host. So he
collected his men around him and stayed there a few nights, quite
unaware of Onund and his companions. He slept in a loft with two
other men. Onund knew everything that was going on in the house
and sent for the two brothers to come to him. On their arrival
he asked them whether they preferred to keep watch on the house
or to attack the jarl. They chose to attack. They then battered
the entrance of the loft with beams until the door gave way.
Asmund seized the two men who were with the jarl and threw them
to the ground with such violence that they were we11-nigh killed.
Asgrim rushed at the jarl and demanded of him weregild for his
father, for he had been in league with Grim and took part in the
attack when Ondott was murdered. The jarl said he had no money
about him and asked for time. Asgrim then placed the point of
his spear against his breast and ordered him to pay up on the
spot. Then the jarl took a necklace from his neck and gave it to
him with three gold rings and a velvet mantle. Asgrim took the
things and bestowed a name upon the jarl. He called him Audun
When the farmers and people about heard of the disturbances they
all came out to help the jar]. Onund had a large force with him,
and there was a great battle in which many a good farmer and many
a follower of the jarl were slain. The brothers returned to
Onund and reported what had occurred with the jarl. Onund said
it was a pity they had not killed him. It would, he said, have
been something to make up for the losses which he had suffered
from King Harald. They said the disgrace was far worse for the
jarl as it was, and they went off to Surnadal to Eirik Beery, a
Landman there, who took them all in for the winter. At Yule-tide
they had a great drinking bout with a man named Hallsteinn,
nicknamed Stallion. Eirik opened the feast and entertained them
generously. Then it was Hallsteinn's turn, and they began to
quarrel. Hallsteinn struck Eirik with a deer's horn, for which
Eirik got no revenge, but had to go home with it, to the great
annoyance of Ondott's sons. A little later Asgrim went to
Hallsteinn's house and gave him a severe wound. All the people
who were present started up and attacked Asgrim. He defended
himself vigorously and escaped in the dark, leaving them under
the belief that they had killed him. Onund and Asmund, on
hearing that Asgrim had been killed, were at a loss what they
could do in the matter. Eirik's advice was that they should
betake themselves to Iceland, for it would never do for them to
remain in the land where the king could get at them. This they
determined to do. Each of them had his own ship and they made
ready for the voyage to Iceland. Hallsteinn was laid low with
his wound and died before Onund sailed with his party. Kolbeinn,
the man who was mentioned before, went in the ship with Onund.
ONUND AND ASMUND SAIL TO ICELAND
Onund and Asmund set sail directly when they were ready and their
ships kept together. Onund said:
"Hallvard and I were aforetime deemed
worthy in storm of swords to bear us.
With one foot now I step on the ship
towards Iceland. The poet's day is o'er."
They had a rough passage with cross winds, mostly from the south,
so that they drifted away to the north. They made Iceland right
in the North, at Langanes, where they regained their reckonings.
The ships were near enough to each other for them to speak
together. Asmund said they had better make for Eyjafjord, and
this was agreed to. They kept under the land and heavy weather
set in from the south-east. Just as Onund was tacking, the yard
was carried away; they lowered the sail and were driven out to
sea. Asmund got under the lee of Hrisey, where he waited until a
fair wind set in which took him up to Eyjafjord. Helgi the Lean
gave him the whole of Kraeklingahlid, and he lived at South-
Glera. A few years later his brother Asgrim came to Iceland and
took up his residence at North-Glera. His son was Ellidagrim the
father of Asgrim.
ONUND SETTLES IN KALDBAK
Onund Treefoot was driven away from the shore for several days,
after which the wind shifted and blew towards the land. Then
they made land again, which those of them who had been there
before recognised as the western coast of the Skagi peninsula.
They sailed in to Strandafloi, almost to Sudrstrandir. There
came rowing towards them a ten-oared boat with six men on board,
who hailed the sea-going ship and asked who was their captain.
Onund told them his name and asked whence they came. They said
they were the men of Thorvald from Drangar. Then Onund asked
whether all the land round that coast was occupied; they answered
there was very little left at Sudrstrandir and none at all in the
North. So Onund asked his men whether they would seek some land
further to the West or take that of which they had just been
told. They said they would first explore a little further. They
sailed in along the coast of the bay and anchored off a creek
near Arnes, where they put off in a boat to the shore.
Here dwelt a wealthy man named Eirik Snare, who had taken the
land between Ingolfsfjord and Ofaera in Veidileysa. On hearing
that Onund had arrived in those parts, he offered to let him have
such portion as he needed from his own lands, adding that there
was little land which had not already been taken up. Onund said
he would first like to see what there was.
Then they went further into the bay past some fjords and came to
Ofaera, where Eirik said: "Here is what there is to see. From
here down to the lands of Bjorn is unoccupied." A high range of
mountains, on which snow had fallen, rose from beside the river.
Onund looked at the mountains and spoke a verse:
"My lands and my might have drifted away
as drifts the ship on the ocean.
My friends and my home I have left behind me,
and bartered my acres for Kaldbak."
"Many a man," answered Eirik, "has lost so much in Norway that
it may not be mended. I expect too that nearly all the lands in
the main districts have been taken, so that I will not urge you
to leave these parts and seek elsewhere. I will keep to my word
and let you have whatever lands of my own you may require."
Onund said he would take advantage of his offer, and in the end
he took some of the Ofaera land and the three creeks Byrgisvik,
Kolbeinsvik, and Kaldbaksvik as far as Kaldbak's Cliff.
Afterwards Eirik gave him Veidileysa with Reykjarfjord and the
outer part of Reykjanes on that side. Nothing was settled about
the drift which came to the coast, because there was so much of
it that every one could have what he wanted. Onund made his home
in Kaldbak and had a large household. His property increased
and he had another house in Reykjarfjord. Kolbeinn lived in
Kolbeinsvik and for some years Onund lived quietly at home.
OFEIG GRETTIR IS KILLED. VISIT OF ONUND TO AUD THE DEEP-MINDED
Onund was a man of such valour that few, even of those whose
limbs were sound, could measure themselves against him. His
name, too, was renowned throughout the whole country on account
of his ancestry. It happened that a dispute arose between Ofeig
Grettir and one Thorbjornm called Jarlakappi, which ended in
Ofeig being killed by Thorbjorn in Grettisgeil near Haell. The
feud was taken up by Ofeig's sons who assembled a large force of
men. Onund Treefoot was sent for, and in the spring he rode
South to Hvamm, where he stayed with Aud the Deep-Minded. He had
been with her over the sea in the West, and she received him with
welcome. Her grandson, Olaf Feilan, was then grown up, and Aud
was very infirm. She consulted Onund concerning her kinsman
Olaf, for whom she wished to ask in marriage Alfdis of the Barra
Isles, the cousin of Onund's wife Aesa. Onund thought it a very
suitable match, and Olaf rode with him to the South. Then Onund
met friends and kinsmen, who made him their guest. The matter of
the dispute was talked over between them, and finally laid before
the Kjalarnes Thing, for the All-Thing had not yet been
established. Eventually it was settled by arbitration and heavy
weregilds were imposed for the murder. Thorbjorn Jarlakappi was
exiled. His son was Solmund, the father of Svidukari. These
kinsmen were long abroad after that. Thrand invited Onund and
Olaf with his party to stay with him, as did Thormod Shaft. The
matter of Olaf's marriage was then pressed, and an agreement
easily arrived at, for Aud's rank and influence were well known
to them. The settlement was arranged and Onund's party rode home
again. Aud thanked him for his aid in behalf of Olaf, who
married Alfdis of the Barra Isles that autumn. Then Aud the
Deep-Minded died, as is told in the Laxdaela Saga.
DEATH OF ONUND. DISPUTES BETWEEN THE SONS OF ONUND AND OF EIRIK
Onund and Aesa had two sons; the elder was named Thorgeir, the
younger Ofeig Grettir. Soon afterwards Aesa died and Onund
married a second wife, Thordis Thorgrim's daughter of Gnup in
Midfjord, a kinsman of Skeggi of Midfjord. By her Onund
had a son named Thorgrim, who grew up quickly to manhood, ta11
and strong, wise and a good manager. Onund continued to live at
Kaldbak until his old age. He died a natural death and lies in
Treefoot's howe. He was the boldest and most active one-legged
man that ever came to Iceland.
Among Onund's sons Thorgrim was the foremost, although the others
were older. When he was twenty-five years old his hair was grey,
whence they nick-named him Greyhead. His mother Thordis married
again, taking as her second husband Audun Skokull. They had a
son named Asgeir of Asgeirsa. Thorgrim Greyhead and his brothers
had a large property, which they managed together without
dividing it up.
Eirik lived, as was mentioned, at Arnes. He had married Alof,
the daughter of Ingolf of Ingolfsfjord, by whom he had a son
named Flosi, a very promising young man with many friends.
There came to that part of Iceland three brothers, named Ingolf,
Ofeig, and Eyvind, and took the three fjords which are called by
their names, where they lived. Eyvind had a son named Olaf. He
at first lived at Eyvindsfjord, but went later to Drangar. He
was a most capable man.
So long as their fathers were living no disputes arose among
these men; but when Eirik was dead it occurred to Flosi that
those of Kaldbak had no legal title to the lands which Eirik had
given to Onund. Out of this serious dissensions arose between
them. Thorgrim and his brothers continued in possession of the
lands as before, but they would not join in games together.
Thorgeir, the eldest brother, was managing the farm at
Reykjarfjord, and often rowed out fishing, as the fjords were
full of fish. The men of Vik now laid their plans. Flosi had a
man in Arnes named Thorfinn, and sent him to fetch Thorgeir's
head. This man hid himself in the boatshed. One morning when
Thorgeir was preparing to row out with two other men, one of whom
was named Brand, Thorgeir was walking ahead with a leather skin
on his back containing some drink. It was very dark, and as he
passed the boat-house Thorfinn sprang out upon him and dealt him
a blow with an axe between his shoulders. The axe went into
something and made a squeaking noise. Thorfinn let go his axe,
feeling quite sure that no bandages would be needed, and being
very anxious to escape as fast as he could. He ran North, and
reaching Arnes before the day had quite broken, said that he had
killed Thorgeir and that Flosi must protect him. The only thing
to be done was to offer some compensation in money. "That," he
said, "will be the best thing for us after such a terrible piece
Flosi said he must first learn more about it, and that he thought
Thorfinn seemed very frightened after his doughty deed.
We must now tell what had happened to Thorgeir. He turned round
when he was struck, but the blow had gone into the leather
bottle, and he was unhurt. They could make no search for the man
because it was dark, so they rowed on down the fjord to Kaldbak,
where they told what had happened. People made great game of the
affair and called him Thorgeir Bottleback, a name which stuck to
him ever after. A verse was made:
"In days gone by men bathed their blades
in the streaming gore of a foeman's wound.
But now a wretch of all honour bereft
reddens his dastard axe in whey."
BATTLE AT RIFSKER
At that time there came over Iceland a famine the like of which
had never been seen before. Nearly all the fisheries failed, and
also the drift wood. So it continued for many years.
One autumn some traders in a sea-going ship, who had been driven
out of their course, were wrecked at Vik. Flosi took in four or
five of them with their captain, named Steinn. They all found
shelter in the neighbourhood of Vik and tried to rig up a ship
out of the wreckage, but were not very successful. The ship was
too narrow in the bow and stern and too broad amidships. In the
spring a northerly gale set in which lasted nearly a week, after
which men began to look for drift.
There was a man living in Reykjanes named Thorsteinn. He found a
whale stranded on the south side of the promontory at the place
now called Rifsker. It was a large rorqual, and he at once sent
word by a messenger to Flosi in Vik and to the nearest farms.
At Gjogr lived a man named Einar, a tenant of the Kaldbak men
whom they employed to look after the drift on that side of the
fjord. He got to know of the whale having been stranded and at
once rowed across the fjord in his boat to Byrgisvik, whence he
sent a messenger to Kaldbak. When Thorgrim and his brother heard
the news they got ready to go with all speed to the spot. There
were twelve of them in a ten-oared boat, and six others, with
Ivar and Leif, sons of Kolbeinn. All the farmers who could get
away went to the whale.
In the meantime Flosi had sent word to his kinsmen in the North
at Ingolfsfjord and Ofeigsfjord and to Olaf the son of Eyvind who
lived at Drangar. The first to arrive were Flosi and the men of
Vik, who at once began to cut up the whale, carrying on shore the
flesh as it was cut. At first there were about twenty men, but
more came thronging in. Then there came the men of Kaldbak with
four ships. Thorgrim laid claim to the whale and forbade the men
of Vik to cut, distribute, or carry away any portion of it.
Flosi called upon him to show proof that Eirik had in express
words given over the drift to Onund; if not, he said he would
prevent them by force. Thorgrim saw that he was outnumbered and
would not venture on fighting. Then there came a ship across the
fjords, the men rowing with all their might. They came up; it
was Svan of Hol from Bjarnarfjord with his men, and he at once
told Thorgrim not to let himself be robbed. The two men had been
great friends, and Svan offered Thorgrim his aid, which the
brothers accepted, and they attacked valiantly. Thorgeir
Bottleback was the first to get on to the whale where Flosi's men
were. Thorfinn, who was spoken of before, was cutting it up,
standing near the head on the place where he had been carving.
"Here I bring you your axe," said Thorgeir. Then he struck at
Thorfinn's neck and cut off his head. Flosi was up on the beach
and saw it. He urged on his men to give it them back. They
fought for a long time and the Kaldbak people were getting the
best of it. Most of them had no weapons but the axes with which
they were cutting up the whale and short knives. The men of Vik
were driven from the whale on to the sandbanks. The men from the
East, however, were armed and able to deal wounds. Their captain
Steinn cut off the leg of Kolbeinn's son Ivar, and Ivar's brother
Leif beat one of Steinn's men to death with a rib of the whale.
Then they fought with anything they could get, and men were slain
on both sides. At last Olaf came up with a number of ships from
Drangar and joined Flosi; the men of Kaldbak were then
overpowered by numbers. They had already loaded their ships, and
Svan told them to get on board. They therefore retired towards
the ships, the men of Vik after them. Svan on reaching the sea
struck at Steinn their captain, wounding him badly, and then
sprang into his own ship. Thorgrim gave Flosi a severe wound and
escaped. Olaf wounded Ofeig Grettir fatally, but Thorgeir
carried him off and sprang on to his ship with him. The Kaldbak
men rowed into the fjord and the two parties separated.
The following verse was composed on these doings:
"Hard were the blows which were dealt at Rifsker;
no weapons they had but steaks of the whale.
They belaboured each other with rotten blubber.
Unseemly methinks is such warfare for men."
After this they made peace, and the dispute was laid before the
All-Thing. On the side of the Kaldbak men were Thorodd the Godi,
Skeggi of Midfjord, and many others from the South. Flosi was
exiled, along with several others who had been with him. He was
put to great expense, for he insisted upon paying all the fines
himself. Thorgrim and his brothers were unable to show that they
had paid any money either for the land or for the drift which
Flosi claimed. The Lawman was Thorkell Mani, and the question
was referred to him. He declared that by law something must have
been paid, though not necessarily the full value.
"There was a case in point," he said, "between my grandfather
Ingolf and a woman named Steinvor the Old. He gave her the whole
of Rosmhvalanes and she gave him a dirty cloak for it; the
transfer was afterwards held to be valid. That was a much more
important affair than this. My advice is that the land be
divided in equal portions between the two; and henceforward it
shall be legally established that all drift shall be the property
of the owner of the land upon which it has been stranded."
This was agreed to. Thorgrim and his brothers were to give up
Reykjarfjord with all on that side, and were to keep Kamb. For
Ofeig a large sum of money was paid, and Thorfinn was assessed at
nothing at all; Thorgeir received compensation for the attack
made upon his life, and all the parties were reconciled. Flosi
went to Norway with Steinn the captain and sold his lands in Vik
to Geirmund Hvikatimbr, who lived there thenceforward.
The ship which Steinn's sailors had built was rather a tub. She
was called Trekyllir -- Tree-sack. Flosi went on his journey in
her, but was driven back to Oxarfjord; out of this arose the saga
of Bodmod the Champion and Grimolf.
THORGRIM SETTLES AT BJARG AND MARRIES. HIS SON ASMUND VISITS
NORWAY AND MARRIES TWICE
After these events Thorgrim and his brothers divided up the
property between them. Thorgrim took the movable property and
Thorgeir the lands. Then Thorgrim went inland to Midfjord and
bought some land at Bjarg with the aid of Skeggi. He married
Thordis, the daughter of Asmund from Asmund's peak who had land
in Thingeyrasveit. They had a son named Asmund, a great man and
strong, also wise, and notable for his abundance of hair, which
turned grey very early. He was called Longhair.
Thorgrim occupied himself with the management of his estate and
kept all the men of his household hard at work. Asmund did not
want to work, so that he and his father got on rather badly
together. This continued until Asmund was grown up, when he
asked his father to give him the means to go abroad. Thorgrim
said he should have little enough, but he gave him some ready
cash. So Asmund went away and soon increased his capital. He
sailed to divers lands, became a great trader and very wealthy.
He was popular and enjoyed good credit, and had many friends
among the leading men of Norway.
One autumn Asmund was in the East on a visit to a certain magnate
named Thorsteinn. His family came from the Upplands, and he had
a sister named Rannveig who had excellent prospects. Asmund
asked this girl in marriage and obtained her through the interest
of her brother Thorsteinn; he settled there for a time and was
highly thought of. He and Rannveig had a son named Thorsteinn,
who became a handsome man, strong, and with a powerful voice. He
was very tall and rather sluggish in his movements, wherefore he
was nicknamed Dromund. When young Thorsteinn was half grown up
his mother fell ill and died, and Asmund cared no more for
Norway. Thorsteinn was taken over by his mother's relations
along with his property, while Asmund went on voyages and became
Asmund came in his ship to Hunavain, where Thorkell Krafla was
chief of the Vatnsdalers. On hearing of Asmund's arrival
Thorkell went to the ship and invited him to stay, and Asmund
went to visit him in Marsstadir in Vatnsdal where he lived.
Thorkell was a son of Thorgrim, the Godi of Karnsa, and a man of
great experience. This was soon after the arrival of Bishop
Fridrek and Thorvald the son of Kodran, who were living at
Laekjamot when these events happened, preaching Christianity for
the first time in the North of the island. Thorkell and many of
his men received the prima signatio. Many things might be told
of the dealings between the bishop's men and the Northerners,
which, however, do not belong to this saga.
There was a girl named Asdis who was being brought up in
Thorkell's house. She was a daughter of Bard the son of Jokull,
the son of Ingimund the Old, the son of Thorsteinn, the son of
Ketil Raum. Her mother's name was Aldis, whom we have already
heard of as the daughter of Ofeig Grettir. Asdis was not
betrothed as yet, and was a most desirable match, both on account
of her connections and her wealth. Asmund now became sick of
travelling about and wanted to settle down in Iceland. So he
spoke up and asked for Asdis as his wife. Thorkell knew all
about him and knew that he was a man of wealth, able to manage
his affairs, so the marriage was arranged. Asmund married Asdis,
and became a close friend of Thorkell. He was a great man of
affairs, learned in the law and very strenuous. Soon afterwards
Thorgrim Greyhead died at Bjarg; Asmund succeeded to his property
and took up his residence at Bjarg.
ASMUND'S CHILDREN. GRETTIR'S CHILDH00D
Asmund Longhair now set up a large and sumptuous household in
Bjarg, where he maintained a numerous retinue and became very
popular. His children were as follows: The eldest was Atli, an
able and accomplished man, tactful and easy to deal with; he was
much liked by all. His second son was called Grettir. He was
very hard to manage in his bringing up. He spoke little and was
rough in his manners and quarrelsome, both in words and deeds.
He got little affection from his father Asmund, but his mother
loved him dearly. Grettir was a handsome man in appearance, with
a face rather broad and short, red-haired and somewhat freckled;
not very precocious in his youth. There was a daughter named
Thordis, who afterwards married Glum the son of Ospak, Kjallak's
son from Skridinsenni. Another daughter was named Rannveig; she
married Gamli the son of Thorhall of Vineland, and they dwelt at
Melar in Hrutafjord and had a son named Grim. Glum and Thordis
had a son named Ospak who fell into a dispute with Odd the son of
Ofeig, which is told of in the "Saga of the Banded Men."
Grettir grew up at Bjarg until he was ten years old, when he
began to develop a little. Asmund told him that he must do some
work. Grettir said that would not suit him very well, but asked
what he was to do.
"You must mind the geese," said Asmund.
"That is wretched work, only fit for an idiot," Grettir answered.
"You do that properly," his father said, "and we shall get on
So Grettir went to mind the geese. There were fifty of them, and
a number of goslings. Before long he began to find them
troublesome, and the goslings would not come on quickly enough.
This put him out, for he could never control his temper. Soon
afterwards some wanderers found the goslings lying outside dead,
and the geese with their wings broken. This was in the autumn.
Asmund was very much annoyed and asked Grettir whether he had
killed the birds. Grettir grinned and answered:
"Always when winter is coming on
I like to wring the goslings' necks.
If among them there are geese
I treat the creatures all alike."
"You shan't twist any more of their necks," said Asmund.
"The friend aye warns his friend of ill," answered Grettir.
"I will give you other work to do."
"He knoweth most who most hath tried. But what am I to do now?"
"You shall rub my back when I am sitting by the fire, as I am in
the habit of having it done."
"Warm work for the hands." he answered. "It is only fit for an
This for a time was Grettir's occupation. As the autumn advanced
Asmund wanted more warmth, and was constantly telling Grettir to
rub his back hard. It was the custom in those days for people to
have large rooms with long fires in them in their houses, where
men sat by the fire in the evenings on benches, sleeping
afterwards at the side away from the fries. By day the women
carded their wool there.
One evening when Grettir had to scratch Asmund's back his father
said to him: "Now you will have to put aside your laziness, you
Grettir answered: "`Tis ill to rouse a hasty temper."
"You are fit for nothing at all," said Asmund.
Grettir saw some wood-combs lying on one of the benches; he took
up one of them and drew it along Asmund's back. Asmund sprang up
and was going to thrash him with his stick, but he escaped. His
mother came up and asked what they were fighting about. Grettir
answered in a verse:
"Oh lady, the giver of treasure, I see,
has dire intent to burn my hands.
With nails uncut I was stroking his back.
Clearly I see the bird of wounds."
His mother was much vexed with Grettir for what he had done and
said he would not grow up very prudent. The affair did not
improve the relations between Asmund and his son.
Soon after this Asmund spoke to Grettir and told him to look
after his horses. Grettir said that would be better than
"You are to do what I tell you," said Asmund. "I have a dun mare
with a dark stripe down her back whom I call Keingala. She is
very knowing about the weather and about rain coming. When she
refuses to graze it never fails that a storm will follow. You
are then to keep the horses under shelter in the stables, and
when cold weather sets in keep them to the north of the ridge. I
hope you will perform this duty better than the two which I gave
Grettir said: "That is cold work, and fit for a man to do; but it
seems to me rash to trust to the mare, when to my knowledge no
one has done so before."
So Grettir took to minding the horses, and went on until Yule-
tide was past, when very cold weather set in, with snow, so that
grazing was difficult. He was very badly provided with clothes
and little hardened to the weather. He began to feel it very
cold, and Keingala always chose the windiest places whatever the
weather was. She never came to the meadow early enough to get
home before nightfall. Grettir then thought he would play a
trick upon Keingala to pay her out for her wanderings. One
morning early he came to the stables, opened the door and found
Keingala standing in front of the manger. She had taken the
whole of the fodder which had been given to all the horses for
herself. Grettir jumped upon her back, with a sharp knife in his
hand which he drew across her shoulder and along her back on both
sides. The horse was fat and fresh; she shied back very
frightened and kicked out till her hoofs rattled against the
walls. Grettir fell off, but picked himself up and tried to
mount her again. There was a sharp struggle, which ended in his
shaving all the skin on her back down to her flank. Then he
drove the horses out to the meadow. Keingala would not take a
bite except off her back, and soon after noon she bolted off to
the stables. Grettir locked the door and went home. Asmund
asked him where the horses were; he said he had looked after them
as usual. Asmund said there must be a storm close at hand if the
horses would not stay out in such weather as there was then.
Grettir said: "Many seem wise who are lacking in wit."
The night passed and there was no storm. Grettir drove out the
horses, but Keingala could not endure the pasture. Asmund
thought it very strange that no change came in the weather. On
the third morning he went himself to the horses and on seeing
Keingala he said: "III indeed have the horses fared in this
beautiful weather! Thy back will not deceive me, my Bleikala."
"The likely may happen -- also the unlikely," said Grettir.
Asmund stroked the back of the horse and all her coat came off on
his hand. He could not understand how she had got into that
state and thought Grettir must have done it. Grettir grinned and
said nothing. Asmund went home and became very abusive. He
heard his wife say: "My son's watching of the horses must have
Then he spoke a verse:
"He has cheated me sorely, and Keingala shorn.
'Tis the pride of a woman that urges her tongue.
Artful he holds my commands in derision.
Consider my verses, oh wife of my heart."
"I do not know," she said, "which seems to me the more perverse,
for you to make him work, or for him always to get out of it in
the same way."
"Now there shall be an end to it," said Asmund. "He must have
something worse than merely making good the damage."
"Let neither speak of it to the other," said Grettir, and so it
Asmund had Keingala killed. Many more childish pranks did
Grettir play which are not told in the saga. He now began to
grow very big, but men did not clearly know what strength he had
because he had never been tried in wrestling. He kept making
verses and ditties which were always a little ironical. He did
not sleep in the common room and was generally very silent.
GAMES AT MIDFJORDVATN
There were then a good many youths growing up in Midfjord. A
certain Skaldtorfa, whose home was in Torfustadir, had a son
named Bersi, an accomplished young man and a clever poet. Two
brothers named Kormak and Thorgils lived at Mel and had with them
a youth named Odd, who was dependent upon them, and was nicknamed
Odd the Needy-Skald. Another was named Audun; he grew up in
Audunarstad in Vididal, a pleasant good-natured youth and the
strongest of his age in the North. Kalf the son of Asgeir and
his brother Thorvald lived at Asgeirsa. Grettir's brother Atli
was then growing to a man; he was most gracious in manners and
These youths used to play at ball together at Midfjord Water.
Those from Midfjord and from Vididal used to meet there, and
there came many from Vestrhop and Vatnsnes with some from
Hrutafjord. Those who came from afar used to lodge there. Those
who were about equal in the ball-game were matched together, and
generally they had much fun in the autumn. Grettir went to the
sports when he was fourteen years old at the request of his
brother Atli. The parties were made up. Grettir was matched
against Audun, the youth already mentioned, who was a few years
the elder. Audun struck the ball over Grettir's head so that he
could not reach it, and it bounded far away over the ice.
Grettir lost his temper, thinking he had done it out of mischief,
but he fetched the ball, brought it back and going up to Audun
drove it straight into his forehead, so that the skin was broken.
Audun then struck at Grettir with the bat that he was holding,
but Grettir ducked and the blow missed him. Then they seized
each other with their arms and wrestled. It was evident to the
people around that Grettir was stronger than they had supposed,
for Audun was very strong indeed of body. They struggled long
together until at last Grettir was thrown. Audun then set his
knees on his stomach and dealt unmercifully with him. Atli and
Bersi and a number of the others ran up and separated them.
Gretti said they need not hold him like a mad dog, and added:
"The thrall alone takes instant vengeance, the coward never."
The rest had no mind to let the affair create discord among them,
and the brothers Kalf and Thorvald tried to reconcile them.
Audun and Grettir were distantly related to each other. The
games went on and there was no further disturbance.
GRETTIR KILLS SKEGGI AND IS OUTLAWED FOR THREE YEARS
Thorkell Krafla now began to grow very old. He was a great
chieftain and held the Vatnsdal Godord. He was a close friend of
Asmund Longhair, as befitted the near relations in which they
stood to each other. He had, therefore, been in the habit of
riding every year in the spring to Bjarg to visit his kinsmen
there, and he did so in the spring which followed the events just
related. Asmund and Asdis received him with both hands. He
stayed there three nights and many a matter did the kinsmen
discuss together. Thorkell asked Asmund what his heart told him
about his sons, and what professions they were likely to follow.
Asmund said that Atli would probably be a great landowner, very
careful and wealthy.
"A useful man, like yourself," said Thorkell. "But what can you
tell me of Grettir? "
"I can only say," he replied, "that he will be a strong man; but
headstrong and quarrelsome. A heavy trial has he been to me."
"That does not look very promising, kinsman!" said Thorkell.
"But how are we to arrange our journey to the Thing in the
"I am getting difficult to move," he said. "I would rather stay
"Would you like Atli to go for you?"
"I don't think I can spare him," Asmund said, "because of the
work and the provisioning. Grettir will not do anything. But he
has quite wit enough to carry out the duties at the Thing on my
behalf under your guidance."
"It shall be as you please," said Thorkell.
Then Thorkell made himself ready and rode home; Asmund dismissed
him with presents.
A little later Thorkell journeyed to the Thing with sixty men.
All the men of his godord went with him. They passed through
Bjarg, where Grettir joined them. They rode South through the
heath called Tvidaegra. There was very little grazing to be had
in the hills, so they rode quickly past them into the cultivated
land. When they reached Fljotstunga they thought it was time to
sleep, so they took the bits from their horses and turned them
loose with their saddles. They lay there well on into the day,
and when they woke began to look for their horses. Every horse
had gone off in a different direction and some had been rolling.
Grettir could not find his horse at all. The custom was at that
time that men should find their own provisions at the Thing, and
most of them carried their sacks over their saddles. When
Grettir found his horse its saddle was under its belly, and the
sack of provisions gone. He searched about but could not find
it. Then he saw a man running very fast and asked him who he
was. He said his name was Skeggi and that he was a man from Ass
in Vatnsdal in the North.
"I am travelling with Thorkell," he said. "I have been careless
and lost my provision-bag."
"Alone in misfortune is worst. I also have lost my stock of
provisions; so we can look for them together. "
Skeggi was well pleased with this proposal, and so they went
about seeking for a time. Suddenly, when Grettir least expected
it, Skeggi started running with all his might along the moor and
picked up the sack. Grettir saw him bend and asked what it was
that he had picked up.
"My sack," he said.
"Who says so besides yourself?" Grettir asked. "Let me see it!
Many a thing is like another."
Skeggi said no one should take from him what was his own.
Grettir seized hold of the sack and they both pulled at it for a
time, each trying to get his own way.
"You Midfjord men have strange notions," said Skeggi, "if you
think that because a man is not so wealthy as you are, he is not
to dare to hold to his own before you."
Grettir said it had nothing to do with a man's degree, and that
each should have that which was his own.
Skeggi replied: "Audun is now too far away to strangle you as he
did at the ball-play."
"That is well," said Grettir; "but however that may have been you
shall not strangle me."
Skeggi then seized his axe and struck at Grettir, who on seeing
it seized the handle of the axe with his left hand and pulled it
forward with such force that Skeggi at once let go. The next
moment it stood in his brain and he fell dead to the earth.
Grettir took the sack, threw it across his saddle and rode back
to his companions.
Thorkell rode on, knowing nothing of what had happened. Soon
Skeggi was missed in the company, and when Grettir came up they
asked him what news he had of Skeggi. He answered in a verse:
"Hammer-troll ogress has done him to death.
Thirsting for blood the war-fiend came.
With hard-edged blade she gaped, o'er his head,
nor spared she his teeth. I saw it myself."
Then Thorkell's men sprang up and said it was impossible that a
troll should have taken the man in full daylight. Thorkell was
silent for a moment. Then he said: "There must be something
more in it. Grettir must have killed him. What was it that
really happened, Grettir?"
Grettir then told him all about their fight. Thorkell said: "It
is a most unfortunate occurrence, because Skeggi was entrusted to
my service, and was a man of good family. I will take the matter
upon myself and pay whatever compensation is adjudged. But a
question of banishment does not lie with me. Now, Grettir, there
are two things for you to choose between. Either you can go on
to the Thing with us and take the chance of what may happen
there, or you can turn back and go home."
Grettir decided to go on to the Thing, and to the Thing he went.
The matter was taken up by the heirs of the man slain. Thorkell
gave his hand to pay the compensation and Grettir was to be
banished for three years.
On their way back from the Thing all the chiefs halted at
Sledaass before they parted company. It was then that Grettir
lifted a stone lying in the grass, which is still known as
Grettishaf. Many went afterwards to see this stone and were
astounded that so young a man should have lifted such a mountain.
Grettir rode home to Bjarg and told his father about his
adventures. Asmund was much put out and said he would be a
trouble to everybody.
GRETTIR SAILS FOR NORWAY AND IS WRECKED ON HARAMARSEY
There dwelt at Reydarfell on the banks of the Hvita a man named
Haflidi, a mariner, owning a ship of his own which was lying in
dock in the Hvita river. He had as his mate a man named Bard who
had a young and pretty wife. Asmund sent a man to Haflidi asking
him to take Grettir and look after him. Haflidi answered that he
had heard that Grettir was very difficult to get on with, but out
of friendship for Asmund he took him. Grettir, therefore,
prepared to go to sea. His father would not give him any outfit
for his voyage beyond his bare provisions and a little wadmal.
Grettir asked him to give him some sort of weapon. Asmund
answered: "You have never been obedient to me. Nor do I know
what you would do with a weapon that would be of any profit. I
shall not give you any."
Grettir said: "Work not done needs no reward."
Father and son parted with little love between them. Many wished
him a good voyage, but few a safe return. His mother went with
him along the road. Before they parted she said: "You have not
been sent off in the way that I should have wished, my son, or in
a way befitting your birth. The most cruel thing of all, I
think, is that you have not a weapon which you can use. My heart
tells me that you will want one."
Then she took from under her mantle a sword all ready for use, a
valuable possession. She said: "This was the sword of jokull, my
father's father and of the ancient Vatnsdal men, in whose hands
it was blessed with victory. I give it to you; use it well."
Grettir thanked her warmly and said it would be more precious to
him than any other possession though of greater value. Then he
went on his way and Asdis wished him all possible happiness. He
rode South over the heath and did not stop till he reached his
ship. Haflidi received him well and asked him about his outfit
for the voyage. Grettir spoke a verse:
"Oh trimmer of sails I my father is wealthy,
but poorly enough he sent me from home.
My mother it was who gave me this sword.
True is the saying: The mother is best."
Haflidi said it was evident that she had most thought for him.
Directly they were ready and had a wind they got under way.
When they were out of shallow water they hoisted their sail.
Grettir made himself a corner under the ship's boat, whence he
refused to stir either to bale or to trim the sails or to do any
work in the ship, as it was his duty to do equally with the other
men; nor would he buy himself off. They sailed to the South,
rounded Reykjanes and left the land behind them, when they met
with stormy weather. The ship was rather leaky and became very
uneasy in the gale; the crew were very much exhausted. Grettir
only let fly satirical verses at them, which angered them sorely.
One day when it was very stormy and very cold the men called out
to Grettir to get up and work; they said their claws were quite
frozen. He answered:
"Twere well if every finger were froze
on the hands of such a lubberly crew."
They got no work out of him and liked him even worse than before,
and said they would pay him out on his person for his squibs and
his mutinous behaviour.
"You like better," they said, "to pat the belly of Bard the
mate's wife than to bear a hand in the ship. But we don't mean
to stand it."
The weather grew steadily worse; they had to bale night and
day, and they threatened Grettir. Haflidi when he heard them
went up to Grettir and said: "I don't think your relations with
the crew are very good. You are mutinous and make lampoons about
them, and they threaten to pitch you overboard. This is most
"Why cannot they mind their own business?" Grettir rejoined.
"But I should like one or two to remain behind with me before I
"That is impossible," said Haflidi. "We shall never get on upon
those terms. But I will make you a proposal about it."
"What is that?"
"The thing which annoys them is that you make lampoons about
them. Now I suggest that you make a lampoon about me. Then,
perhaps, they will become better disposed towards you."
"About you I will never utter anything but good," said he. "I am
not going to compare you with the sailors."
"But you might compose a verse which should at first appear foul,
but on closer view prove to be fair."
"That," he answered, "I am quite equal to."
Haflidi then went to the sailors and said: "You have much toil;
and it seems that you don't get on with Grettir."
"His lampoons," they answered, "annoy us more than anything
Then Haflidi, speaking loud, said: "It will be the worse for him
Grettir, when he heard himself being denounced, spoke a verse:
"Other the words that Haflid spake
when he dined on curds at Reydarfell.
But now two meals a day he takes
in the steed of the bays mid foreland shores."
The sailors were very angry and said he should not lampoon
Haflidi for nothing. Haflidi said: "Grettir certainly deserves
that you should take him down a little, but I am not going to
risk my good name because of his ill-temper and caprice. This is
not the time to pay him out, when we are all in such danger.
When you get on shore you can remember it if you like."
"Shall we not endure what you can endure?" they said. "Why
should a lampoon hurt us more than it does you? "
Haflidi said so it should be, and after that they cared less
about Grettir's lampoons.
The voyage was long and fatiguing. The ship sprung a leak, and
the men began to be worn out. The mate's young wife was in the
habit of stitching Grettir's sleeves for him, and the men used to
banter him about it. Haflidi went up to Grettir where he was
lying and said:
"Arise from thy den! deep furrows we plough!
Remember the word thou didst speak to the fair.
Thy garment she sewed; but now she commands
that thou join in the toil while the land is afar."
Grettir got up at once and said:
"I will rise, though the ship be heavily rolling.
The woman is vexed that I sleep in my den.
She will surely be wrath if here I abide
while others are toiling at work that is mine."
Then he hurried aft where they were baling and asked what they
wanted him to do. They said he would do little good. He
replied: "A man's help is something." Haflidi told them not to
refuse his help. "Maybe," he said, "he is thinking of loosening
his hands if he offers his services."
In those days in sea-going ships there were no scuppers for
baling; they only had what is called bucket or pot-baling, a very
troublesome and fatiguing process. There were two buckets, one
of which went down while the other came up. The men told Grettir
to take the buckets down, and said they would try what he could
do. He said the less tried the better, and went below and filled
his bucket. There were two men above to empty the buckets as he
handed them. Before long they both gave in from fatigue. Then
four others took their places, but the same thing happened. Some
say that before they were done eight men were engaged in emptying
the buckets for him. At last the ship was baled dry. After
this, the seamen altered their behaviour towards Grettir, for
they realised the strength which was in him. From that time on
he was ever the forwardest to help wherever he was required.
They now held an easterly course out to sea. It was very dark.
One night when they least expected it, they struck a rock and the
lower part of the ship began to fill. The boats were got out and
the women put into them with all the loose property. There was
an island a little way off, whither they carried as much of their
property as they could get off in the night. When the day broke,
they began to ask where they were. Some of them who had been
about the country before recognised the coast of Sunnmore in
Norway. There was an island lying a little off the mainland
called Haramarsey, with a large settlement and a farm belonging
to the Landman on it.
ADVENTURE IN THE HOWE OF KAR THE OLD
The name of the Landman who lived in the island was Thorfinn. He
was a son of Kar the Old, who had lived there for a long time.
Thorfinn was a man of great influence.
When the day broke, the people on the island saw that there were
some sailors there in distress and reported it to Thorfinn, who
at once set about to launch his large sixteen-oared boat. He put
out as quickly as possible with some thirty men to save the cargo
of the trader, which then sank and was lost, along with much
property. Thorfinn brought all the men off her to his house,
where they stayed for a week drying their goods. Then they went
away to the South, and are heard of no more in this story.
Grettir stayed behind with Thorfinn, keeping very quiet and
speaking little. Thorfinn gave him his board, but took little
notice of him. Grettir held rather aloof, and did not accompany
him when he went abroad every day. This annoyed Thorfinn, but he
did not like to refuse Grettir his hospitality; he was a man who
kept open house, enjoyed life and liked to see other men happy.
Grettir liked going about and visiting the people in the other
farms on the island. There was a man named Audun, who dwelt at
Vindheim. Grettir went to see him daily and became very intimate
with him, sitting there all day long.
One evening very late when Grettir was preparing to return home,
he saw a great fire shoot up on the headland below Audun's place,
and asked what new thing that might be. Audun said there was no
pressing need for him to know.
"If they saw such a thing in our country," said Grettir, "they
would say the fire came from some treasure."
"He who rules that fire," answered the man, "is one whom it will
be better not to inquire about."
"But I want to know," Grettir said.
"On that headland," said Audun, "there is a howe, wherein lies
Kar the Old, the father of Thorfinn. Once upon a time father and
son had a farm-property on the island; but ever since Kar died
his ghost has been walking and has scared away all the other
farmers, so that now the whole island belongs to Thorfinn, and no
man who is under Thorfinn's protection suffers any injury."
"You have done right to tell me," said Grettir. Expect me here
to-morrow morning, and have tools ready for digging."
"I won't allow you to have anything to do with it," said Audun,
"because I know that it will bring Thorfinn's wrath down upon
Grettir said he would risk that.
The night passed; Grettir appeared early the next morning, and
the bondi, who had got all the tools for digging ready, went with
Grettir to the howe. Grettir broke open the grave, and worked
with all his might, never stopping until he came to wood, by
which time the day was already spent. He tore away the woodwork;
Audun implored him not to go down, but Grettir bade him attend to
the rope, saying that he meant to find out what it was that dwelt
there. Then he descended into the howe. It was very dark and
the odour was not pleasant. He began to explore how it was
arranged, and found the bones of a horse. Then he knocked
against a sort of throne in which he was aware of a man seated.
There was much treasure of gold and silver collected together,
and a casket under his feet, full of silver. Grettir took all
the treasure and went back towards the rope, but on his way he
felt himself seized by a strong hand. He left the treasure to
close with his aggressor and the two engaged in a merciless
struggle. Everything about them was smashed. The howedweller
made a ferocious onslaught. Grettir for some time gave way, but
found that no holding back was possible. They did not spare each
other. Soon they came to the place where the horse's bones were
lying, and here they struggled for long, each in turn being
brought to his knees. At last it ended in the howedweller
falling backwards with a horrible crash, whereupon Audun above
bolted from the rope, thinking that Grettir was killed. Grettir
then drew his sword Jokulsnaut, cut off the head of the
howedweller and laid it between his thighs. Then he went with
the treasure to the rope, but finding Audun gone he had to swarm
up the rope with his hands. First he tied the treasure to the
lower end of the rope, so that he could haul it up after him. He
was very stiff from his struggle with Kar, but he turned his
steps towards Thorfinn's house, carrying the treasure along with
him. He found them all at supper. Thorfinn cast a severe glance
at him and asked what he had found so pressing to do that he
could not keep proper hours like other men.
"Many a trifle happens at eve," he replied.
Then he brought out all the treasure which he had taken from the
howe and laid it on the table. One thing there was upon which
more than anything else Grettir cast his eyes, a short sword,
which he declared to be finer than any weapon which he had ever
seen. It was the last thing that he showed. Thorfinn opened his
eyes when he saw the sword, for it was an heirloom of his family
and had never been out of it.
"Whence came this treasure?" he asked.
Grettir then spake a verse:
"Scatterer of gold! 'twas the lust of wealth
that urged my hand to ravish the grave.
This know; but none hereafter, I ween,
will be fain to ransack Fafnir's lair."
Thorfinn said: "You don't seem to take it very seriously; no one
ever before had any wish to break open the howe. But since I
know that all treasure which is hidden in the earth or buried in
a howe is in a wrong place I hold you guilty of no misdeed,
especially since you have brought it to me."
"The monster is slain! in the dismal tomb
I have captured a sword, dire wounder of men.
Would it were mine I a treasure so rare
I never would suffer my hand to resign."
"You have spoken well," Thorfinn answered. "But before I can
give you the sword you must display your prowess in some way. I
never got it from my father whilst he lived."
Grettir said: "No one knows to whom the greatest profit will
fall ere all is done."
Thorfinn took the treasure and kept the sword in his own custody
near his bed. The winter came on bringing Yule-tide, and nothing
more happened that need be told of.
BERSERKS AT HARAMARSEY
The following summer jarl Eirik the son of Hakon was preparing to
leave his country and sail to the West to join his brother-in-law
King Knut the Great in England, leaving the government of Norway
in the hands of Hakon his son, who, being an infant, was placed
under the government and regency of Eirik's brother, jarl Sveinn.
Before leaving Eirik summoned all his Landmen and the larger
bondis to meet him. Eirik the jarl was an able ruler, and they
had much discussion regarding the laws and their administration.
It was considered a scandal in the land that pirates and berserks
should be able to come into the country and challenge respectable
people to the holmgang for their money or their women, no
weregild being paid whichever fell. Many had lost their money
and been put to shame in this way; some indeed had lost their
lives. For this reason jarl Eirik abolished all holmgang in
Norway and declared all robbers and berserks who disturbed the
peace outlaws. Thorfinn the son of Kar of Haramarsey, being a
man of wise counsel and a close friend of the jarl, was present
at the meeting.
The worst of these ruffians were two brothers named Thorir Paunch
and Ogmund the Bad. They came from Halogaland and were bigger
and stronger than other men. When angry they used to fall into
the berserk's fury, and nothing escaped that was before them.
They used to carry off men's wives, keep them for a week or two
and then send them back. Wherever they came they committed
robberies and other acts of violence. Jarl Eirik had declared
them outlaws throughout Norway. The man who had been most active
in getting them outlawed was Thorfinn, and they were determined
to pay him out in full for his hostility.
The jarl's expedition is told of in his saga, and the government
of Norway was left in the hands of jarl Sveinn, with the regency.
Thorfinn returned home and remained there until about Yule-tide,
as has already been told. Towards Yule-tide he made ready to go
on a journey to his farm called Slysfjord on the mainland,
whither he had invited a number of his friends. He could not
take his wife with him, because their grown-up daughter was lying
sick, so they both had to stay at home. Grettir and eight of the
serving men remained with them. Thorfinn went with thirty
freemen to the Yule festival, at which there was much gladness
Yule-eve set in with bright and clear weather. Grettir, who was
generally abroad in the daytime, was watching the vessels which
came along the coast, some from the North, some from the South,
meeting at the places agreed upon for their drinking-bouts. The
bondi's daughter was then better and could go out with her
mother. So the day passed. At last Grettir noticed a ship
rowing up to the island, not large, covered with shields
amidships and painted above the water-line. They were rowing
briskly and making for Thorfinn's boathouses. They ran the boat
on to the beach and all sprang ashore. Grettir counted the men;
there were twelve in all, and their aspect did not look peaceful.
After hauling up their boat out of the water they all made for
the boat-house where Thorfinn's great boat, mentioned already,
was stowed. She always required thirty men to put her to sea,
but the twelve shoved her along the beach at once. Then they
brought their own boat into the boat-house. It was very evident
to Grettir that they did not mean to wait for an invitation, so
he went up to them, and greeting them in a friendly way asked who
they were and who was their captain. The man whom he addressed
answered him at once, saying his name was Thorir, called Paunch;
the others were his brother Ogmund with their companions. "I
think," he added, "that your master Thorfinn has heard our names
mentioned. But is he at home? "
"You must be men who have luck," said Grettir, "you have come
most opportunely, if you are the people I take you for. The
bondi has gone from home with all his freedmen and will not be
back until after Yule. The goodwife is at home with her
daughter, and if I had any grudge to repay, I would come just as
you do, for there is everything here which you want, ale to drink
and other delights."
Thorir was silent while Grettir went on talking. Then he turned
to Ogmund and said: "Has anything not happened as I said it
would? I should not be sorry to punish Thorfinn for having got
us outlawed. This man seems ready to tell us everything; we
don't have to drag the words out of his mouth."
"Every one is master of his own words," said Grettir. "If you
will come home with me I will give you what entertainment I can."
They thanked him and said they would accept his invitation. When
they reached the house Grettir took Thorir by the hand and led
him into the hall. He was very talkative. The mistress was in
the hall decorating it and putting all in order. On hearing what
Grettir said, she came to the door and asked who it was that
Grettir was welcoming so warmly.
Grettir answered: "It will be advisable, mistress, to be civil to
these men who have come. They are the bondi Thorir Paunch and
his followers, and have come, all twelve of them, to spend
Yule-tide here. It is fortunate for us, for we have had little
company till now."
She said: "I don't call them bondis, nor are they decent men, but
arrant robbers and malefactors. I would gladly pay a large
portion of my property for them not to have come just at this
time. It is an ill return that you make to Thorfinn for having
saved you from shipwreck and kept you this winter like a free
man, destitute as you were."
"You would do better," said Grettir, "if you first took off the
wet clothes from your guests instead of casting reproaches upon
me. You will have plenty of time for that."
Then Thorir said: "Don't be angry, mistress! You shall lose
nothing by your husband being away, for you shall have a man in
his place and so shall your daughter and all the other women."
"That is spoken like a man," said Grettir. "The women shall be
quite contented with what they get.
Then all the women fled and began to weep, being overcome by
terror. Grettir said to the berserks: "Give me all the things
which you want to lay aside, your weapons and your wet clothes,
for the men will not obey us while they are frightened."
Thorir said he cared little for the women's whining. "But," he
said, "we mean to treat you in a different way from the other men
of the house. It seems to me that we may make a comrade of you."
"See to that yourselves," said Grettir. "But I do not look upon
all men alike."
Then they laid aside most of their weapons. Grettir said: "I
think now you had better sit down at the table and have some
drink. You must be thirsty after your rowing."
They said they were quite ready for a drink, but did not know
where the cellar was. Grettir asked whether they would let him
arrange for their entertainment, which they willingly agreed
to. So Grettir went and fetched some ale which he gave them to
drink. They were very tired and drank enormously. He kept them
well plied with the strongest ale there was, and they sat there
for a long time whilst he told them funny stories. There was a
tremendous din amongst them all, and the servants had no wish to
Thorir said: "I never yet met with a stranger who treated me like
this man. What reward shall we give you for all that you have
Grettir replied: "I don't expect any reward for my services at
present. But if when you depart we are still as good friends as
we seem to be now, I should very much like to join your company,
and though I may not be able to do as much work as any of you, I
will not be a hindrance in any doughty undertaking."
They were delighted, and wanted to swear fellowship with him at
once. Grettir said that could not be, "for," he added, "there is
truth in the saying that Ale is another man, and such a thing
should not be done hastily, so let it remain at what I said; we
are both little in the habit of restraining ourselves."
They declared that they did not mean to go back. The night was
now coming on and it was getting very dark. Grettir noticed that
they were rather fuddled, and asked whether they did not think it
was time to go to bed. Thorir said: "So it is; but I have to
fulfil my promise to the mistress." Grettir then went out and
called out loud: "Go to bed, women! Such is the will of Thorir
The women execrated him and could be heard howling like wolves.
The berserks then left the room. Grettir said: "Let us go
outside; I will show you the room in which Thorfinn keeps his
They were agreeable and all went out to an enormous outhouse,
which was very strongly built, and had a strong lock on the outer
door. Adjoining it was a large and well-built privy, with only a
wooden partition between it and the room of the outhouse, which
was raised above the ground and had to be reached by steps. The
berserks then began skylarking and pushing Grettir about. He
fell down the in steps, as if in sport, and in a moment was out
of the house, had pulled the bolt, slammed the door to, and
locked it. Thorir and his mates thought at first that the door
had swung to of itself, and paid little attention; they had a
light with them by which Grettir had been showing them all
Thorfinn's treasures, and they continued looking at them for some
Grettir went off to the homestead, and on reaching the door cried
out very loud, asking where the mistress was. She was silent,
being afraid to answer. He said: "Here is rather good sport to
be had. Are there any arms which are good for anything?"
"There are arms," she said; "but I don't know for what purpose
you want them."
"We will talk about that afterwards; but now let each do what he
can; it is the last chance."
"Now indeed were God in the dwelling," she said, "if anything
should happen to save us. Over Thorfinn's bed there hangs the
great halberd which belonged to Kar the Old; there, too, is a
helmet and a corselet and a good short sword. The weapons will
not fail if your heart holds firm."
Grettir took the helmet and spear, girt the sword about him and
went quickly out. The mistress called to her men and bade them
follow their brave champion. Four of them rushed to their arms,
but the other four durst not go near them.
Meantime the berserks thought that Grettir was a long time away
and began to suspect some treachery. They rushed to the door and
found it locked. They strained at the woodwork till every timber
groaned. At last they tore down the wooden partition and so
gained the passage where the privy was, and thence the steps.
Then the berserks' fury fell upon them and they howled like dogs.
At that moment Grettir returned, and taking his halberd in both
hands he thrust it right through Thorir's body just as he was
about to descend the steps. The blade was very long and broad.
Ogmund the Bad was just behind pushing him on, so that the spear
passed right up to the hook, came out at his back between the
shoulderblades and entered the breast of Ogmund. They both fell
dead, pierced by the spear. Then all the others dashed down as
they reached the steps. Grettir tackled them each in turn, now
thrusting with the spear, now hewing with the sword, while they
defended themselves with logs lying on the ground or with
anything else which they could get. It was a terrible trial of a
man's prowess to deal with men of their strength, even unarmed.
Grettir slew two of the Halogaland men there in the enclosure.
Four of the serving-men then came up. They had not been able to
agree upon which arms each should take, but they came out to the
attack directly the berserks were running away; when these turned
against them they fell back on the house. Six of the ruffians
fell, all slain by Grettir's own hand; the other six then fled
towards the landing place and took refuge in the boat-house,
where they defended themselves with oars. Grettir received a
severe blow from one of them and narrowly escaped a serious hurt.
The serving-men all went home and told great stories of their own
exploits. The lady wanted to know what had become of Grettir,
but they could not tell her. Grettir slew two men in the boat-
house, but the other four got away, two in one direction, two in
another. He pursued those who were nearest to him. The night
was very dark. They ran to Vindheim, the place spoken of before,
and took refuge in a barn, where they fought for a long time
until at last Grettir killed them. By this time he was terribly
stiff and exhausted. The night was far spent; it was very cold
and there were driving snow-storms. He felt little inclination
to go after the two who yet remained, so he went back home. The
goodwife kindled a light and put it in a window in the loft at
the top of the house, where it served him as a guide, and he was
able to find his way home by the light. When he came to the door
the mistress came to meet him and bade him welcome.
"You have earned great glory," she said, "and have saved me and
my household from a disgrace never to be redeemed if you had not
"I think I am much the same person as I was last evening when
you spoke so roughly to me," said Grettir.
"We knew not then the might that was in you," she said, "as we
know it now. Everything in the house shall be yours, so far as
it is fitting for me to bestow and right for you to receive. I
doubt not that Thorfinn will reward you in a better way when he
"There is little that I want as a reward at present," said
Grettir. "But I accept your offer until your husband returns. I
think now that you will be able to sleep in peace undisturbed by
Grettir drank little before he retired and lay all night in his
armour. In the morning, directly the day broke, all the men of
the island were called together to go forth and search for the
two berserks who had escaped. They were found at the end of the
day lying under a rock, both dead from cold and from their
wounds; they were carried away and buried in a place on the shore
beneath the tide, with some loose stones over them, after which
the islanders returned home, feeling that they could live in
peace. When Grettir came back to the house and met the mistress
he spoke a verse:
"Near the surging sea the twelve lie buried.
I stayed not my hand but slew them alone.
Great lady! what deed that is wrought by a man
shall be sung of as worthy if this be deemed small."
She answered: "Certainly you are very unlike any other man now
living." She set him in the high seat and gave him the best of
everything. So it remained until Thorfinn returned.
THORFINN'S RETURN. GRETTIR VISITS THE NORTH
When Yule-tide was past, Thorfinn made ready for his homeward
journey and dismissed his many guests with gifts. He sailed with
all his men and landed near the place where the boat-houses were.
They saw a ship lying on the sand which they at once recognised
as his great boat. Thorfinn had heard nothing of the vikings and
told his men to put him on shore, "for I suspect," he said, "that
they are not friends who have been at work here."
Thorfinn was the first to land, and went straight to the boat-
house, where he saw a craft which he knew at once to be that of
the berserks. He said to his men: "I suspect that things have
taken place here such that I would give the whole island and
everything that is in it for them not to have happened."
They asked how that was.
"Vikings have been here, men whom I know as the worst in all
Norway, namely Thorir Paunch and Ogmund the Bad. They will not
have dealt gently with us. I mistrust that Icelander."
Then he spoke many things to his men. Grettir was at home and
detained the men from going down to the shore. He said he did
not care if the bondi got a little fright from what he saw. The
goodwife asked his leave to go down, and he said she was mistress
of her own ways, but that he was not going. So she hurried away
to greet Thorfinn and embraced him joyfully. He was rejoiced to
see her and said: "God be praised that I see you well and my
daughter too. But what has happened to you since I left?"
"It has ended well," she said. "But we were nigh to suffering a
disgrace which could never have been wiped out, had not your
winter-guest aided us."
Thorfinn said: "Let us sit down and you shall tell me
Then she told him fully all that had happened, praising highly
Grettir's courage and resourcefulness. Thorfinn was silent while
she was speaking, and when she had finished he said: "True indeed
is the word, `Long shall a man be tried'. But where is Grettir?"
"He is at home in the hall," she answered.
Then they went up to the house. Thorfinn went to Grettir and
turned towards him and thanked him with the fairest words for his
"I will say a word to you," he said, "which few would say to
their friend. I would it might happen that you should need the
help of a man, for you to know whether I count for anything or
not; I cannot repay what you have done for me as long as you are
not in straits. You shall have in my house whatever you desire,
and shall be in the highest honour in my household."
Grettir thanked him and said he would have accepted his offer
even if he had made it earlier.
Grettir stayed there the rest of the winter in high favour with
Thorfinn. The fame of his deed spread through all Norway,
especially in those parts where the berserks had ravaged most
mercilessly. In the spring Thorfinn asked him what he would like
to do. He said he would go North to Vagar while the fair was on
there. Thorfinn said that any money which he required should be
at his service; Grettir said he did not want more just then than
enough to pay for his living. Thorfinn said that was his due,
and brought him to a ship, where he gave him the excellent short
sword. Grettir kept it as long as he lived; it was a most
precious possession. Thorfinn bade him come to him if ever he
wanted any help.
Grettir then travelled to Vagar, which was crowded with people.
Many whom he had never set eyes on before greeted him warmly
because of his exploit in killing the vikings, and several of the
leading men invited him to stay with them, but he preferred to
return to his friend Thorfinn. So he took his passage in a
trading ship belonging to one Thorkell, a man of some
consideration in Salfti in Halogaland. Grettir went to visit
Thorkell in his home, where he received a hearty welcome and a
very pressing invitation to stay there for the winter. Grettir
accepted the invitation and stayed the winter with Thorkell, who
treated him with great honour.
ADVENTURE WITH A BEAR
There was a man named Bjorn who was then on a visit to Thorkell.
He was of a somewhat violent character of good family and related
in some way to Thorkell. He was not generally liked, because he
was too much given to talking against the men who were about
Thorkell and drove many away from him. He and Grettir did not
get on at all. Bjorn thought him of small account compared to
himself; Grettir paid him little deference, and it became an open
feud. Bjorn was a boisterous swaggering man, and many of the
younger men imitated him, loitering about outside in the
It happened at the beginning of the winter that a savage brown
bear broke out of its den and raged about destroying men and
cattle. Every one declared that it had been provoked by the
noise which Bjorn and his company made. The beast became most
mischievous, attacking the flocks in the very face of the men
themselves. Thorkell, being the wealthiest man of that part,
suffered most. One day he called up his men to come with him and
search out the bear's den. They found it in a cliff by the sea
where there was a cave under an overhanging rock, with a narrow
path leading to the entrance. Below was a sheer precipice down
to the beach, threatening certain death to any one who stumbled.
In this den the bear lay in the daytime, going abroad at night.
Fences were of no avail against him, nor could the dogs do
anything, so that all were in the utmost distress. Thorkell's
kinsman Bjorn declared that the main thing was gained now that
they had found the den. "Now we shall see," he said, "how the
game will go with me and my namesake." Grettir pretended not to
hear what he said.
In the evenings when the others retired to bed, Bjorn used
generally to go out. One night he went to the bear's den and
found the creature inside, growling horribly. He lay down in the
path, placing his shield over him, intending to wait until the
beast came out as usual. Bruin, however, got wind of him and was
rather slow in coming out. Bjorn got very sleepy where he was
lying and could not keep awake; in the meantime out came the bear
from his den and saw a man lying there. He clawed at him,
dragged off his shield and threw it down the cliff. Bjorn woke
up, not a little startled, took to his heels and ran off home,
narrowly escaping the bear's clutches. His friends knew all
about it, having watched his movements; on the next morning they
found the shield and made great game of his adventure.
At Yule-time Thorkell himself went out to the den with Bjorn,
Grettir and others of his men, a party of eight in all. Grettir
had on a fur cape which he put off when they were attacking the
bear. It was rather difficult to get at him, since they could
only reach him with spear-thrusts, which he parried with his
teeth. Bjorn kept urging them on to tackle him, but himself did
not go near enough to be in any danger. At last, when no one was
looking out, he took Grettir's fur cloak and threw it in to the
bear. They did not succeed in getting the bear out, and when
night came on turned to go home. Grettir then missed his cloak
and saw that the bear had got it into his grip.
"Who has been playing tricks on me?" he cried. "Who threw my
cloak into the cave?"
Bjorn answered: "He who did it will not be afraid to say so."
"Things of that sort do not trouble me much," said Grettir.
Then they started on their way home. After they had gone a
little way Grettir's garter broke. Thorkell told them to wait
for him, but Grettir said it was not necessary. Then Bjorn said:
"There is no need to suppose that Grettir will run away from his
cloak. He wants to have the honour of killing the beast all
alone, and he will say that we eight men went away. Then he
would appear to be what he is said to be. He has been backward
enough all day."
"I don't know how you stand in that matter," said Thorkell. "You
and he are not equal in valour; do not make any to-do about him."
Bjorn said that neither he nor Grettir should choose the words
out of his mouth.
There was a hill between them and Grettir, who had turned back
along the footpath. Now he had no others to reckon with in
making the attack. He drew his sword Jokulsnaut and tied a loop
round the handle which he passed over his wrist, because he
thought that he could carry out his plans better if his hand were
free. He went along the path. When the bear saw a man coming,
he charged savagely, and struck at him with the paw that was on
the side away from the precipice. Grettir aimed a blow at him
with his sword and cut off his paw just above the claws. Then
the creature tried to strike him with his sound paw, but to do so
he had to drop on the stump, which was shorter than he expected,
and over he fell into Grettir's embraces. Grettir seized the
beast by the ears and held him off so that he could not bite. He
always said that he considered this holding back the bear the
greatest feat of strength that he ever performed. The beast
struggled violently; the space was very narrow, and they both
fell over the precipice. The bear being the heavier came down
first on the beach; Grettir fell on the top of him, and the bear
was badly mauled on the side that was down. Grettir got his
sword, ran it into the heart of the bear and killed him. Then he
went home, after fetching his cloak which was torn to pieces. He
also took with him the bit of the paw which he had cut off.
Thorkell was sitting and drinking when Grettir entered. They all
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