The Story of Grettir The Strong
Translated by Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris
Part 3 out of 6
Thorgaut said, "Surely all might is shaken out of you, nor shall I
drop down betwixt morn and eve at such talk."
Now so things go through the winter till Yule-tide. On Yule eve the
shepherd would fare out to his sheep. Then said the good wife--
"Need is it that things go not the old way."
He answered, "Have no fear thereof, goodwife; something worth telling
of will betide if I come not back."
And thereafter he went to his sheep; and the weather was somewhat
cold, and there was much snow. Thorgaut was wont to come home when
twilight had set in, and now he came not at that time. Folk went to
church as they were wont. Men now thought things looked not unlike
what they did before; the bonder would have search made for the
shepherd, but the church-goers begged off, and said that they would
not give themselves into the hands of trolls by night; so the bonder
durst not go, and the search came to nought.
Yule-day, when men were full, they fared out and searched for the
shepherd; they first went to Glam's cairn, because men thought that
from his deeds came the loss of the herdsman. But when they came nigh
to the cairn, there they saw great tidings, for there they found the
shepherd, and his neck was broken, and every bone in him smashed.
Then they brought him to church, and no harm came to men from Thorgaut
But Glam began afresh to wax mighty; and such deeds he wrought, that
all men fled away from Thorhall-stead, except the good man and his
goodwife. Now the same neatherd had long been there, and Thorhall
would not let him go, because of his good will and safe ward; he was
well on in years, and was very loth to fare away, for he saw that all
things the bonder had went to nought from not being watched.
Now after midwinter one morning the housewife fared to the byre to
milk the cows after the wonted time; by then was it broad daylight,
for none other than the neatherd would trust themselves out before
day; but he went out at dawn. She heard great cracking in the byre,
with bellowing and roaring; she ran back crying out, and said she knew
not what uncouth things were going on in the byre.
The bonder went out and came to the cows, which were goring one
another; so he thought it not good to go in there, but went in to the
hay-barn. There he saw where lay the neatherd, and had his head in one
boose and his feet in the other; and he lay cast on his back. The
bonder went up to him, and felt him all over with his hand, and finds
soon that he was dead, and the spine of him broken asunder; it had
been broken over the raised stone-edge of a boose.
[Footnote 16: Boose, a cow-stall.]
Now the goodman thought there was no abiding there longer; so he fled
away from the farm with all that he might take away; but all such live
stock as was left behind Glam killed, and then he fared all over the
valley and destroyed farms up from Tongue. But Thorhall was with his
friends the rest of the winter.
No man might fare up the dale with horse or hound, because straightway
it was slain. But when spring came, and the sun-light was the
greatest, somewhat the hauntings abated; and now would Thorhall
go back to his own land; he had no easy task in getting servants,
nathless he set up house again at Thorhall-stead; but all went the
same way as before; for when autumn came, the hauntings began to wax
again; the bonder's daughter was most set on, and fared so that she
died thereof. Many redes were sought, but nought could be done; men
thought it like that all Waterdale would be laid waste if nought were
found to better this.
Grettir hears of the Hauntings.
Now we take up the story where Grettir Asmundson sat at Biarg through
the autumn after they parted, he and Slaying-Bardi at Thoreys-peak;
and when the time of winter-nights had well-nigh come, Grettir
rode from home north over the neck to Willowdale, and guested at
Audunstead; he and Audun made a full peace, and Grettir gave Audun a
good axe, and they talked of friendship between them. Audun dwelt
long at Audunstead, and was a man of many and hopeful kin; his son was
Egil, who married Ulfheid, daughter of Eyulf Gudmundson, and their son
was Eyulf, who was slain at the Althing, he was the father of Orm, who
was the chaplain of Bishop Thorlak.
Grettir rode north to Waterdale, and came to see his kin at Tongue. In
those days dwelt there Jokull, the son of Bard, the mother's brother
of Grettir: Jokull was a big man and a strong, and the most violent
of men; he was a seafaring man, very wild, and yet a man of great
He greeted Grettir well, and he was there three nights. There were so
many words about Glam's hauntings, that nought was so much spoken of
as of that. Grettir asked closely about all things that had happed.
Jokull said that thereof was told no more than the very truth; "And,
perchance, thou art wishful to go there, kinsman?"
Grettir said that so it was.
Jokull bade him do it not, "Because it is a great risk for thy good
luck, and thy kinsmen have much to hazard where thou art," said he,
"for of young men we think there is none such as thou; but from ill
cometh ill whereas Glam is; and far better it is to deal with men
than with such evil wights."
Grettir said, "That he had a mind to go to Thorhall-stead and see how
things went there."
Said Jokull, "Now I see it is of no avail to let thee; but so it is,
as men say, Good luck and goodliness are twain."
"Woe is before one's own door when it is inside one's
neighbour's; think how it may fare with thyself ere things are
ended," said Grettir.
Jokull answered, "Maybe we may both see somewhat of things to come,
but neither may help aught herein."
They parted thereafter, and neither thought well of the other's
Grettir goes to Thorhall-stead, and has to do with Glam.
Grettir rode to Thorhall-stead, and the bonder gave him good welcome;
he asked whither Grettir was minded to fare, but Grettir said he would
be there that night if the bonder would have it so.
Thorhall said that he thanked him therefor, "But few have thought it
a treat to guest here for any time; thou must needs have heard what
is going on here, and I fain would that thou shouldest have no trouble
from me: but though thou shouldest come off whole thyself, that know
I for sure, that thou wilt lose thy horse, for none keeps his horse
whole who comes here."
Grettir said that horses were to be had in plenty whatsoever might hap
to this. Then Thorhall was glad that Grettir was to be there, and gave
him a hearty welcome.
Now Grettir's horse was locked up in a strong house, and they went to
sleep; and so the night slipped by, and Glam came not home.
Then said Thorhall, "Things have gone well at thy coming, for every
night is Glam wont to ride the house-roofs, or break open doors, as
thou mayest well see."
Grettir said, "Then shall one of two things be, either he shall not
hold himself back for long, or the hauntings will abate for more than
one night; I will bide here another night and see how things fare."
Thereafter they went to Grettir's horse, and nought had been tried
against it; then all seemed to the bonder to go one way.
Now is Grettir there another night, and neither came the thrall home;
that the farmer deemed very hopeful; withal he fared to see after
Grettir's horse. When the farmer came there, he found the house broken
into, but the horse was dragged out to the door, and every bone in
him broken to pieces. Thorhall told Grettir what had happed there, and
bade him save himself, "For sure is thy death if thou abidest Glam."
Grettir answered, "I must not have less for my horse than a sight of
The bonder said it was no boon to see him, for he was unlike any shape
of man; "but good methinks is every hour that thou art here."
Now the day goes by, and when men should go to sleep Grettir would
not put off his clothes, but lay down on the seat over against the
bonder's lock-bed. He had a drugget cloak over him, and wrapped one
skirt of it under his feet, and twined the other under his head, and
looked out through the head-opening; a seat-beam was before the seat,
a very strong one, and against this he set his feet. The door-fittings
were all broken from the outer door, but a wrecked door was now bound
thereby, and all was fitted up in the wretchedest wise. The panelling
which had been before the seat athwart the hall, was all broken away
both above and below the cross-beam; all beds had been torn out of
place, and an uncouth place it was.
Light burned in the hall through the night; and when the third part
of the night was passed, Grettir heard huge din without, and then one
went up upon the houses and rode the hall, and drave his heels against
the thatch so that every rafter cracked again.
That went on long, and then he came down from the house and went
to the door; and as the door opened, Grettir saw that the thrall
stretched in his head, which seemed to him monstrously big, and
wondrous thick cut.
Glam fared slowly when he came into the door and stretched himself
high up under the roof, and turned looking along the hall, and laid
his arms on the tie-beam, and glared inwards over the place. The
farmer would not let himself be heard, for he deemed he had had enough
in hearing himself what had gone on outside. Grettir lay quiet, and
moved no whit; then Glam saw that some bundle lay on the seat, and
therewith he stalked up the hall and griped at the wrapper wondrous
hard; but Grettir set his foot against the beam, and moved in no wise;
Glam pulled again much harder, but still the wrapper moved not at all;
the third time he pulled with both hands so hard, that he drew Grettir
upright from the seat; and now they tore the wrapper asunder between
Glam gazed at the rag he held in his hand, and wondered much who might
pull so hard against him; and therewithal Grettir ran under his hands
and gripped him round the middle, and bent back his spine as hard as
he might, and his mind it was that Glam should shrink thereat; but the
thrall lay so hard on Grettir's arms, that he shrank all aback because
of Glam's strength.
Then Grettir bore back before him into sundry seats; but the
seat-beams were driven out of place, and all was broken that was
before them. Glam was fain to get out, but Grettir set his feet
against all things that he might; nathless Glam got him dragged from
out the hall; there had they a wondrous hard wrestling, because the
thrall had a mind to bring him out of the house; but Grettir saw that
ill as it was to deal with Glam within doors, yet worse would it be
without; therefore he struggled with all his might and main against
Now Glam gathered up his strength and knit Grettir towards him when
they came to the outer door; but when Grettir saw that he might not
set his feet against that, all of a sudden in one rush he drave his
hardest against the thrall's breast, and spurned both feet against the
half-sunken stone that stood in the threshold of the door; for this
the thrall was not ready, for he had been tugging to draw Grettir to
him, therefore he reeled aback and spun out against the door, so that
his shoulders caught the upper door-case, and the roof burst asunder,
both rafters and frozen thatch, and therewith he fell open-armed aback
out of the house, and Grettir over him.
Bright moonlight was there without, and the drift was broken, now
drawn over the moon, now driven from off her; and, even as Glam fell,
a cloud was driven from the moon, and Glam glared up against her. And
Grettir himself says that by that sight only was he dismayed amidst
all that he ever saw.
Then his soul sank within him so, from all these things both from
weariness, and because he had seen Glam turn his eyes so horribly,
that he might not draw the short-sword, and lay well-nigh 'twixt home
But herein was there more fiendish craft in Glam than in most other
ghosts, that he spake now in this wise--
"Exceeding eagerly hast thou wrought to meet me, Grettir, but no
wonder will it be deemed, though thou gettest no good hap of me; and
this must I tell thee, that thou now hast got half the strength and
manhood, which was thy lot if thou hadst not met me: now I may not
take from thee the strength which thou hast got before this; but that
may I rule, that thou shalt never be mightier than now thou art;
and nathless art thou mighty enow, and that shall many an one learn.
Hitherto hast thou earned fame by thy deeds, but henceforth will
wrongs and man-slayings fall on thee, and the most part of thy doings
will turn to thy woe and ill-hap; an outlaw shalt thou be made, and
ever shall it be thy lot to dwell alone abroad; therefore this weird I
lay on thee, ever in those days to see these eyes with thine eyes,
and thou wilt find it hard to be alone--and that shall drag thee unto
Now when the thrall had thus said, the astonishment fell from Grettir
that had lain on him, and therewith he drew the short-sword and hewed
the head from Glam, and laid it at his thigh.
Then came the farmer out; he had clad himself while Glam had his spell
going, but he durst come nowhere nigh till Glam had fallen.
Thorhall praised God therefor, and thanked Grettir well for that he
had won this unclean spirit. Then they set to work and burned Glam
to cold coals, thereafter they gathered his ashes into the skin of a
beast, and dug it down whereas sheep-pastures were fewest, or the ways
of men. They walked home thereafter, and by then it had got far
on towards day; Grettir laid him down, for he was very stiff: but
Thorhall sent to the nearest farm for men, and both showed them and
told them how all things had fared.
All men who heard thereof deemed this a deed of great worth, and in
those days it was said by all that none in all the land was like to
Grettir Asmundson for great heart and prowess.
Thorhall saw off Grettir handsomely, and gave him a good horse and
seemly clothes, for those were all torn to pieces that he had worn
before; so they parted in friendly wise. Grettir rode thence to the
Ridge in Waterdale, and Thorvald received him well, and asked closely
about the struggle with Glam. Grettir told him all, and said thereto
that he had never had such a trial of strength, so long was their
Thorvald bade him keep quiet, "Then all will go well with thee, else
wilt thou be a man of many troubles."
Grettir said that his temper had been nowise bettered by this, that he
was worse to quiet than before, and that he deemed all trouble worse
than it was; but that herein he found the greatest change, in that he
was become so fearsome a man in the dark, that he durst go nowhither
alone after nightfall, for then he seemed to see all kinds of horrors.
And that has fallen since into a proverb, that Glam lends eyes, or
gives Glamsight to those who see things nowise as they are.
But Grettir rode home to Biarg when he had done his errands, and sat
at home through the winter.
Of Thorbiorn Oxmain's autumn-feast, and the mocks of Thorbiorn
Thorbiorn Oxmain held a great autumn feast, and many men came thither
to him, and that was while Grettir fared north to Waterdale in the
autumn; Thorbiorn the Tardy was there at the feast, and many things
were spoken of there. There the Ramfirthers asked of those dealings of
Grettir on the neck the summer before.
Thorbiorn Oxmain told the story right fairly as towards Grettir, and
said that Kormak would have got the worst of it, if none had come
there to part them.
Then spake Thorbiorn the Tardy, "Both these things are true," said he:
"I saw Grettir win no great honour, and I deem withal that fear shot
through his heart when we came thereto, and right blithe was he to
part, nor did I see him seek for vengeance when Atli's house-carle was
slain; therefore do I deem that there is no heart in him if he is not
And thereat Thorbiorn went on gabbling at his most; but many put in a
word, and said that this was worthless fooling, and that Grettir would
not leave things thus, if he heard that talk.
Nought else befell worth telling of at the feast, and men went home;
but much ill-will there was betwixt them that winter, though neither
set on other; nor were there other tidings through the winter.
Olaf the Saint, King in Norway; the slaying of Thorbiorn Tardy;
Grettir goes to Norway.
Early the spring after came out a ship from Norway; and that was
before the Thing; these folk knew many things to tell, and first that
there was change of rulers in Norway, for Olaf Haraldson was come to
be king, and Earl Svein had fled the country in the spring after the
fight at Ness. Many noteworthy matters were told of King Olaf, and
this withal, that he received such men in the best of ways who were of
prowess in any deeds, and that he made such his men.
Thereat were many young men glad, and listed to go abroad, and when
Grettir heard the tidings he became much minded to sail out; for he,
like others, hoped for honour at the king's hands.
A ship lay in Goose-ere in Eyjafirth, therein Grettir got him a berth
and made ready for the voyage, nor had he yet much of faring-goods.
Now Asmund was growing very feeble with eld, and was well-nigh
bedridden; he and Asdis had a young son who was called Illugi, and was
the hopefullest of men; and, by this time, Atli tended all farming and
money-keeping, and this was deemed to better matters, because he was a
peaceable and foreseeing man.
Now Grettir went shipward, but in that same ship had Thorbiorn the
Tardy taken passage, before folk knew that Grettir would sail therein.
Now men would hinder Thorbiorn from sailing in the same ship with
Grettir, but Thorbiorn said that he would go for all that. He gat him
ready for the voyage out, and was somewhat late thereat, nor did he
come to the north to Goose-ere before the ship was ready for sea; and
before Thorbiorn fared from the west, Asmund the Greyhaired fell sick
and was bedridden.
Now Thorbiorn the Tardy came late one day down to the sand; men were
getting ready to go to table, and were washing their hands outside the
booths; but when Thorbiorn rode up the lane betwixt the booths, he
was greeted, and asked for tidings. He made as if there was nought
to tell, "Save that I deem that Asmund, the champion of Biarg, is now
Many men said that there where he went, departed a worthy goodman from
"But what brought it about?" said they.
He answered, "Little went to the death of that champion, for in the
chamber smoke was he smothered like a dog; nor is there loss therein,
for he was grown a dotard."
"Thou speakest marvellously of such a man," said they, "nor would
Grettir like thy words well, if he heard them."
"That must I bear," said Thorbiorn, "and higher must Grettir bear the
sword than he did last summer at Ramfirth-neck, if I am to tremble at
Now Grettir heard full well what Thorbiorn said, and paid no heed
thereto while he let his tale run on; but when he had made an end,
then spake Grettir--
"That fate I foretell for thee, Tardy," said he, "that thou wilt not
die in chamber smoke, yet may be withal thou wilt not die of eld; but
it is strangely done to speak scorn of sackless men."
Thorbiorn said, "I have no will to hold in about these things, and
methinks thou didst not bear thyself so briskly when we got thee off
that time when the men of Meals beat thee like a neat's head."
Then sang Grettir--
"Day by day full over long,
Arrow-dealer, grows thy tongue;
Such a man there is, that thou
Mayst be paid for all words now;
Many a man, who has been fain,
Wound-worm's tower with hands to gain,
With less deeds his death has bought,
Than thou, Tardy-one, hast wrought."
Said Thorbiorn, "About as feign do I deem myself as before, despite
Grettir answered, "Heretofore my spaedom has not been long-lived, and
so shall things go still; now beware if thou wilt, hereafter will no
out-look be left."
Therewith Grettir hewed at Thorbiorn, but he swung up his hand, with
the mind to ward the stroke from him, but that stroke came on his arm
about the wrist, and withal the short-sword drave into his neck so
that the head was smitten off.
Then said the chapmen that he was a man of mighty strokes, and
that such should king's men be; and no scathe they deemed it though
Thorbiorn were slain, in that he had been both quarrelsome and
A little after they sailed into the sea, and came in late summer to
Norway, south at Hordaland, and then they heard that King Olaf was
north at Drontheim; then Grettir took ship in a trading keel to go
north therefrom, because he would fain see the king.
Of Thorir of Garth and his sons; and how Grettir fetched fire for
There was a man named Thorir, who lived at Garth, in Maindale, he was
the son of Skeggi, the son of Botulf. Skeggi had settled Well-wharf up
to Well-ness; he had to wife Helga, daughter of Thorkel, of Fishbrook;
Thorir, his son, was a great chief, and a seafaring man. He had two
sons, one called Thorgeir and one Skeggi, they were both hopeful men,
and fully grown in those days. Thorir had been in Norway that summer,
when King Olaf came east from England, and got into great friendship
with the king, and with Bishop Sigurd as well; and this is a token
thereof, that Thorir had had a large ship built in the wood, and
prayed Bishop Sigurd to hallow it, and so he did. Thereafter Thorir
fared out to Iceland and caused the ship to be broken up, when he grew
weary of sailing, but the beaks of the ship, he had set up over his
outer door, and they were there long afterwards, and were so full of
weather wisdom, that the one whistled before a south wind, and the
other before a north wind.
But when Thorir knew that King Olaf had got the sole rule over all
Norway, he deemed that he had some friendship there to fall back on;
then he sent his sons to Norway to meet the king, and was minded that
they should become his men. They came there south, late in autumn, and
got to themselves a row-barge, and fared north along the land, with
the mind to go and meet the king.
They came to a haven south of Stead, and lay there some nights, and
kept themselves in good case as to meat and drink, and were not much
abroad when the weather was foul.
Now it is to be told that Grettir and his fellows fared north
along the land, and often had hard weather, because it was then the
beginning of winter; and when they bore down north on Stead, they had
much foul weather, with snow and frost, and with exceeding trouble
they make land one evening all much worn with wet; so they lay to by
a certain dyke, and could thus save their money and goods; the chapmen
were hard put to it for the cold, because they could not light any
fire, though thereon they deemed well-nigh their life and health lay.
Thus they lay that evening in evil plight; but as the night wore on
they saw that a great fire sprang up in the midst of the sound over
against there whereas they had come. But when Grettir's shipmates saw
the fire, they said one to the other that he would be a happy man who
might get it, and they doubted whether they should unmoor the ship,
but to all of them there seemed danger in that. Then they had a long
talk over it, whether any man was of might enow to fetch that fire.
Grettir gave little heed thereto, but said, that such men had been as
would not have feared the task. The chapmen said that they were not
bettered by what had been, if now there was nought to take to.
"Perchance thou deemest thyself man enough thereto, Grettir," said
they, "since thou art called the man of most prowess among the men of
Iceland, and thou wottest well enough what our need is."
Grettir answered, "It seems to me no great deed to fetch the fire, but
I wot not if ye will reward it according to the prayer of him who does
They said, "Why deemest thou us such shameful men as that we should
reward that deed but with good?"
Quoth he, "I may try this if so be that ye think much lies on it, but
my mind bids me hope to get nought of good thereby."
They said that that should never be, and bade all hail to his words;
and thereafter Grettir made ready for swimming, and cast his clothes
from off him; of clothes he had on but a cape and sail-cloth breeches;
he girt up the cape and tied a bast-rope strongly round his middle,
and had with him a cask; then he leaped overboard; he stretched across
the sound, and got aland.
There he saw a house stand, and heard therefrom the talk of men, and
much clatter, and therewith he turned toward that house.
Now is it to be said of those that were there before, that here were
come the sons of Thorir, as is aforesaid; they had lain there many
nights, and bided there the falling of the gale, that they might
have wind at will to go north, beyond Stead. They had set them down
a-drinking, and were twelve men in all; their ship rode in the main
haven, and they were at a house of refuge for such men to guest in, as
went along the coast.
Much straw had been borne into the house, and there was a great fire
on the floor; Grettir burst into the house, and wotted not who was
there before; his cape was all over ice when he came aland, and he
himself was wondrous great to behold, even as a troll; now those first
comers were exceeding amazed at him, and deemed he must be some evil
wight; they smote at him with all things they might lay hold of, and
mighty din went on around them; but Grettir put off all blows strongly
with his arms, then some smote him with fire-brands, and the fire
burst off over all the house, and therewith he got off with the fire
and fared back again to his fellows.
They mightily praised his journey and the prowess of it, and said
that his like would never be. And now the night wore, and they deemed
themselves happy in that they had got the fire.
The next morning the weather was fair; the chapmen woke early and got
them ready to depart, and they talked together that now they should
meet those who had had the rule of that fire, and wot who they were.
Now they unmoored their ship, and crossed over the sound; there they
found no hall, but saw a great heap of ashes, and found therein many
bones of men; then they deemed that this house of refuge had been
utterly burned up, with all those men who had been therein.
Thereat they asked if Grettir had brought about that ill-hap, and said
that it was the greatest misdeed.
Grettir said, that now had come to pass even as he had misdoubted,
that they should reward him ill for the fetching of the fire, and that
it was ill to help unmanly men.
Grettir got such hurt of this, that the chapmen said, wheresoever they
came, that Grettir had burned those men. The news soon got abroad that
in that house were lost the aforenamed sons of Thorir of Garth, and
their fellows; then they drave Grettir from their ship and would not
have him with them; and now he became so ill looked on that scarce any
one would do good to him.
Now he deemed that matters were utterly hopeless, but before all
things would go to meet the king, and so made north to Drontheim. The
king was there before him, and knew all or ever Grettir came there,
who had been much slandered to the king. And Grettir was some days in
the town before he could get to meet the king.
How Grettir would fain bear Iron before the King.
Now on a day when the king sat in council, Grettir went before the
king and greeted him well. The king looked at him and said, "Art thou
Grettir the Strong?"
He answered, "So have I been called, and for that cause am I come to
thee, that I hope from thee deliverance from the evil tale that is
laid on me, though I deem that I nowise wrought that deed."
King Olaf said, "Thou art great enough, but I know not what luck thou
mayest bear about to cast off this matter from thee; but it is like,
indeed, that thou didst not willingly burn the men."
Grettir said he was fain to put from him this slander, if the king
thought he might do so; the king bade him tell truthfully, how it had
gone betwixt him and those men: Grettir told him all, even as has been
said before, and this withal, that they were all alive when he came
out with the fire--
"And now I will offer to free myself in such wise as ye may deem will
stand good in law therefor."
Olaf the king said, "We will grant thee to bear iron for this matter
if thy luck will have it so."
Grettir liked this exceeding well; and now took to fasting for the
iron; and so the time wore on till the day came whereas the trial
should come off; then went the king to the church, and the bishop and
much folk, for many were eager to have a sight of Grettir, so much as
had been told of him.
Then was Grettir led to the church, and when he came thither, many of
those who were there before gazed at him and said one to the other,
that he was little like to most folk, because of his strength and
greatness of growth.
Now, as Grettir went up the church-floor, there started up a lad of
ripe growth, wondrous wild of look, and he said to Grettir--
"Marvellous is now the custom in this land, as men are called
Christians therein, that ill-doers, and folk riotous, and thieves
shall go their ways in peace and become free by trials; yea, and what
would the evil man do but save his life while he might? So here now
is a misdoer, proven clearly a man of misdeeds, and has burnt sackless
men withal, and yet shall he, too, have a trial to free him; ah, a
mighty ill custom!"
Therewith he went up to Grettir and pointed finger, and wagged head at
him, and called him mermaid's son, and many other ill names.
Grettir grew wroth beyond measure hereat, and could not keep himself
in; he lifted up his fist, and smote the lad under the ear, so that
forthwith he fell down stunned, but some say that he was slain there
and then. None seemed to know whence that lad came or what became
of him, but men are mostly minded to think, that it was some unclean
spirit, sent thither for Grettir's hurt.
Now a great clamour rose in the church, and it was told the king, "He
who should bear the iron is smiting all about him;" then King Olaf
went down the church, and saw what was going on, and spake--
"A most unlucky man art thou," said he, "that now the trial should not
be, as ready as all things were thereto, nor will it be easy to deal
with thine ill-luck."
Grettir answered, "I was minded that I should have gained more honour
from thee, Lord, for the sake of my kin, than now seems like to be;"
and he told withal how men were faring to King Olaf, as was said
afore, "and now I am fain," said he, "that thou wouldest take me to
thee; thou hast here many men with thee, who will not be deemed more
like men-at-arms than I?"
"That see I well," said the king, "that few men are like unto thee for
strength and stoutness of heart, but thou art far too luckless a man
to abide with us: now shall thou go in peace for me, wheresoever thou
wilt, the winter long, but next summer go thou out to Iceland, for
there will it be thy fate to leave thy bones."
Grettir answered, "First would I put from me this affair of the
burning, if I might, for I did not the deed willingly."
"It is most like," said the king; "but yet, because the trial is now
come to nought for thy heedlessness' sake, thou will not get this
charge cast from thee more than now it is, For ill-heed still to
ill doth lead, and if ever man has been cursed, of all men must
thou have been."
So Grettir dwelt a while in the town thereafter, but dealt no more
with the king than has been told.
Then he fared into the south country, and was minded east for
Tunsberg, to find Thorstein Dromond, his brother, and there is nought
told of his travels till he came east to Jadar.
Of Grettir and Snoekoll.
At yule came Grettir to a bonder who was called Einar, he was a rich
man, and was married and had one daughter of marriageable age, who was
called Gyrid; she was a fair woman, and was deemed a right good match;
Einar bade Grettir abide with him through Yule, and that proffer he
Then was it the wont far and wide in Norway that woodmen and misdoers
would break out of the woods and challenge men for their women, or
they took away men's goods with violence, whereas they had not much
help of men.
Now it so befell here, that one day in Yule there came to Einar the
bonder many ill-doers together, and he was called Snoekoll who was the
head of them, and a great bearserk he was. He challenged goodman Einar
to give up his daughter, or to defend her, if he thought himself man
enough thereto; but the bonder was then past his youth, and was no man
for fighting; he deemed he had a great trouble on his hands, and asked
Grettir, in a whisper, what rede he would give thereto: "Since thou
art called a famous man." Grettir bade him say yea to those things
alone, which he thought of no shame to him.
The bearserk sat on his horse, and had a helm on his head, but the
cheek-pieces were not made fast; he had an iron-rimmed shield before
him, and went on in the most monstrous wise.
Now he said to the bonder, "Make one or other choice speedily, or what
counsel is that big churl giving thee who stands there before thee; is
it not so that he will play with me?"
Grettir said, "We are about equal herein, the bonder and I, for
neither of us is skilled in arms."
Snoekoll said, "Ye will both of you be somewhat afraid to deal with
me, if I grow wroth."
"That is known when it is tried," said Grettir.
Now the bearserk saw that there was some edging out of the matter
going on, and he began to roar aloud, and bit the rim of his shield,
and thrust it up into his mouth, and gaped over the corner of the
shield, and went on very madly. Grettir took a sweep along over the
field, and when he came alongside of the bearserk's horse, sent up
his foot under the tail of the shield so hard, that the shield went up
into the mouth of him, and his throat was riven asunder, and his jaws
fell down on his breast. Then he wrought so that, all in one rush, he
caught hold of the helmet with his left hand, and swept the viking off
his horse; and with the other hand drew the short-sword that he was
girt withal, and drave it at his neck, so that off the head flew. But
when Snoekoll's fellows saw that, they fled, each his own way, and
Grettir had no mind to follow, for he saw there was no heart in them.
The bonder thanked him well for his work and many other men too; and
that deed was deemed to have been wrought both swiftly and hardily.
Grettir was there through Yule, and the farmer saw him off handsomely:
then he went east to Tunsberg, and met his brother Thorstein; he
received Grettir fondly, and asked of his travels and how he won the
bearserk. Then Grettir sang a stave--
"There the shield that men doth save
Mighty spurn with foot I gave.
Snoekoll's throat it smote aright,
The fierce follower of the fight,
And by mighty dint of it
Were the tofts of tooth-hedge split;
The strong spear-walk's iron rim,
Tore adown the jaws of him."
Thorstein said, "Deft wouldst thou be at many things, kinsman, if
mishaps went not therewith."
Grettir answered, "Deeds done will be told of."
Of Thorstein Dromond's Arms, and what he deemed they might do.
Now Grettir was with Thorstein for the rest of the winter and on into
the spring; and it befell one morning, as those brothers, Thorstein
and Grettir, lay in their sleeping-loft, that Grettir had laid his
arms outside the bed-clothes; and Thorstein was awake and saw it. Now
Grettir woke up a little after, and then spake Thorstein:
"I have seen thine arms, kinsman," said he, "and I deem it nowise
wonderful, though thy strokes fall heavy on many, for no man's arms
have I seen like thine."
"Thou mayst know well enough," said Grettir, "that I should not have
brought such things to pass as I have wrought, if I were not well
"Better should I deem it," said Thorstein, "if they were slenderer and
somewhat luckier withal."
Grettir said, "True it is, as folk say, No man makes himself;
but let me see thine arms," said he.
Thorstein did so; he was the longest and gauntest of men; and Grettir
laughed, and said,
"No need to look at that longer; hooked together are the ribs in thee;
nor, methinks, have I ever seen such tongs as thou bearest about, and
I deem thee to be scarce of a woman's strength."
"That may be," said Thorstein; "yet shall thou know that these same
thin arms shall avenge thee, else shall thou never be avenged; who may
know what shall be, when all is over and done?"
No more is told of their talk together; the spring wore on, and
Grettir took ship in the summer. The brothers parted in friendship,
and saw each other never after.
Of the Death of Asmund the Grey haired.
Now must the tale be taken up where it was left before, for Thorbiorn
Oxmain heard how Thorbiorn Tardy was slain, as aforesaid, and broke
out into great wrath, and said it would please him well that now
this and now that should have strokes in his garth.
Asmund the Greyhaired lay long sick that summer, and when he thought
his ailings drew closer on him, he called to him his kin, and said
that it was his will, that Atli should have charge of all his goods
after his day.
"But my mind misgives me," said Asmund, "that thou mayst scarce sit
quiet because of the iniquity of men, and I would that all ye of my
kin should help him to the uttermost but of Grettir nought can I say,
for methinks overmuch on a whirling wheel his life turns; and though
he be a mighty man, yet I fear me that he will have to heed his own
troubles more than the helping of his kin: but Illugi, though he
be young, yet shall he become a man of prowess, if he keep himself
So, when Asmund had settled matters about his sons as he would, his
sickness lay hard on him, and in a little while he died, and was laid
in earth at Biarg; for there had he let make a church; but his death
his neighbours deemed a great loss.
Now Atli became a mighty bonder, and had many with him, and was a
great gatherer of household-stuff. When the summer was far gone, he
went out to Snowfellness to get him stockfish. He drave many horses,
and rode from home to Meals in Ramfirth to Gamli his brother-in-law;
and on this journey rode with him Grim Thorhallson, Gamli's brother,
and another man withal. They rode west to Hawkdale Pass, and so on,
as the road lay west to Ness: there they bought much stockfish, and
loaded seven horses therewith, and turned homeward when they were
The Onset on Atli at the Pass and the Slaying of Gunnar and
Thorbiorn Oxmain heard that Atli and Grim were on a journey from home,
and there were with him the sons of Thorir from the Pass, Gunnar and
Thorgeir. Now Thorbiorn envied Atli for his many friendships, and
therefore he egged on the two brothers, the sons of Thorir, to way-lay
Atli as he came back from the outer ness. Then they rode home to the
Pass, and abode there till Atli and his fellows went by with their
train; but when they came as far as the homestead at the Pass, their
riding was seen, and those brothers brake out swiftly with their
house-carles and rode after them; but when Atli and his folk saw their
faring, Atli bade them take the loads from the horses, "for perchance
they will give me atonement for my house-carle, whom Gunnar slew last
summer. Let us not begin the work, but defend ourselves if they be
first to raise strife with us."
Now the brothers came up and leaped off their horses. Atli welcomed
them, and asked for tidings: "Perchance, Gunnar, thou wilt give me
some atonement for my house-carle."
Gunnar answered, "Something else is your due, men of Biarg, than that
I should lay down aught good therefor; yea, atonement is due withal
for the slaying of Thorbiorn, whom Grettir slew."
"It is not for me to answer thereto," said Atli; "nor art thou a
suitor in that case."
Gunnar said he would stand in that stead none-the-less. "Come, let us
set on them, and make much of it, that Grettir is not nigh them now."
Then they ran at Atli, eight of them altogether, but Atli and his folk
Atli went before his men, and drew the sword, Jokul's gift, which
Grettir had given him.
Then said Thorgeir, "Many like ways have those who deem themselves
good; high aloft did Grettir bear his short-sword last summer on the
Atli answered, "Yea, he is more wont to deal in great deeds than I."
Thereafter they fought; Gunnar set on Atli exceeding fiercely, and was
of the maddest; and when they had fought awhile, Atli said,
"No fame there is in thus killing workmen each for the other; more
seeming it is that we ourselves play together, for never have I fought
with weapons till now."
Gunnar would not have it so, but Atli bade his house-carles look to
the burdens; "But I will see what these will do herein."
Then he went forward so mightily that Gunnar and his folk shrunk
back before him, and he slew two of the men of those brothers, and
thereafter turned to meet Gunnar, and smote at him, so that the shield
was cleft asunder almost below the handle, and the stroke fell on his
leg below the knee, and then he smote at him again, and that was his
Now is it to be told of Grim Thorhallson that he went against
Thorgeir, and they strove together long, for each was a hardy man.
Thorgeir saw the fall of his brother Gunnar, and was fain to draw off.
Grim ran after him, and followed him till Thorgeir stumbled, and
fell face foremost; then Grim smote at him with an axe betwixt the
shoulders, so that it stood deep sunken therein.
Then they gave peace to three of their followers who were left; and
thereafter they bound up their wounds, and laid the burdens on the
horses, and then fared home, and made these man-slayings known.
Atli sat at home with many men through the winter. Thorbiorn Oxmain
took these doings exceedingly ill, but could do naught therein because
Atli was a man well befriended. Grim was with him through the winter,
and Gamli, his brother-in-law; and there was Glum, son of Uspak,
another kinsman-in-law of his, who at that time dwelt at Ere in Bitra.
They had many men dwelling at Biarg, and great mirth was thereat
through the winter.
The Suit for the Slaying of the Sons of Thorir of the Pass.
Thorbiorn Oxmain took on himself the suit for the slaying of the sons
of Thorir of the Pass. He made ready a suit against Grim and Atli,
but they set forth for their defence onset and attack, to make those
brothers fall unatoned. The suit was brought to the Hunawater Thing,
and men came thronging to both sides. Atli had good help because he
was exceeding strong of kin.
Now the friends of both stood forth and talked of peace, and all
said that Atli's ways were good, a peaceful man, but stout in danger
Now Thorbiorn deemed that by nought would his honour be served better
than by taking the peace offered. Atli laid down before-hand that he
would have neither district outlawry nor banishment.
Then were men chosen for the judges. Thorvald, son of Asgeir, on
Atli's side, and on Thorbiorn's, Solvi the Proud, who was the son of
Asbrand, the son of Thorbrand, the son of Harald Ring, who had settled
all Waterness from the Foreland up to Bond-maids River on the west,
but on the east all up to Cross-river, and there right across to
Berg-ridge, and all on that side of the Bergs down to the sea:
this Solvi was a man of great stateliness and a wise man, therefore
Thorbiorn chose him to be judge on his behoof.
Now they set forth their judgment, that half-fines should be paid for
the sons of Thorir, but half fell away because of the onslaught and
attack, and attempt on Atli's life, the slaying of Atli's house-carle,
who was slain on Ramfirth-neck, and the slaying of those twain who
fell with the sons of Thorir were set off one against the other. Grim
Thorhallson should leave dwelling in the district, but Atli alone
should pay the money atonement.
This peace pleased Atli much, but Thorbiorn misliked it, but they
parted appeased, as far as words went; howsoever it fell from
Thorbiorn that their dealings would not be made an end of yet, if
things went as he would.
But Atli rode home from the Thing, and thanked Thorvald well for his
aid. Grim Thorhallson went south to Burgfirth, and dwelt at Gilsbank,
and was a great bonder.
Of the Slaying of Atli Asmundson.
There was a man with Thorbiorn Oxmain who was called Ali; he was a
house-carle, a somewhat lazy and unruly man.
Thorbiorn bade him work better, or he would beat him. Ali said he had
no list thereto, and was beyond measure worrying. Thorbiorn would not
abide it, and drave him under him, and handled him hardly. Then Ali
went off from his service, and fared over the Neck to Midfirth,
and made no stay till he came to Biarg. Atli was at home, and asked
whither he went. He said that he sought service.
"Art thou not Thorbiorn's workman?" said Atli.
"That did not go off so pleasantly," said Ali; "I was not there long,
and evil I deemed it while I was there, and we parted, so that I
deemed his song about my throat nowise sweet; and I will go to dwell
there no more, whatso else may hap to me; and true it is that much
unlike ye are in the luck ye have with servants, and now I would fain
work with thee if I might have the choice."
Atli answered, "Enough I have of workmen, though I reach not out to
Thorbiorn's hands for such men as he has hired, and methinks there is
no gain in thee, so go back to him."
Ali said, "Thither I go not of my own free-will."
And now he dwells there awhile; but one morning he went out to
work with Atli's house-carles, and worked so that his hands were
everywhere, and thus he went on till far into summer. Atli said nought
to him, but bade give him meat, for he liked his working well.
Now Thorbiorn hears that Ali is at Biarg; then he rode to Biarg with
two men, and called out Atli to talk with him. Atli went out and
Thorbiorn said, "Still wilt thou take up afresh ill-will against me,
and trouble me, Atli. Why hast thou taken my workman? Wrongfully is
Atli answered, "It is not proven to me that he is thy workman, nor
will I withhold him from thee, if thou showest proofs thereof, yet am
I loth to drag him out of my house."
"Thou must have thy will now," said Thorbiorn; "but I claim the man,
and forbid him to work here; and I will come again another time, and I
know not if we shall then part better friends than now."
Atli said, "I shall abide at home, and take what may come to hand."
Then Thorbiorn rode home; but when the workmen come home in the
evening, Atli tells all the talk betwixt him and Thorbiorn, and bids
Ali go his way, and said he should not abide there longer.
Ali answered, "True is the old saw, over-praised and first to
fail. I deemed not that thou wouldst drive me away after I had
toiled here all the summer enough to break my heart, and I hoped that
thou wouldst stand up for me somehow; but this is the way of you,
though ye look as if good might be hoped from you. I shall be beaten
here before thine eyes if thou givest me not some defence or help."
Atli altered his mind at this talk of his, and had no heart now to
drive him away from him.
Now the time wore, till men began hay-harvest, and one day, somewhat
before midsummer, Thorbiorn Oxmain rode to Biarg, he was so attired
that he had a helm on his head, and was girt with a sword, and had a
spear in his hand. A barbed spear it was, and the barbs were broad.
It was wet abroad that day. Atli had sent his house-carles to the
mowing, but some of them were north at Horn a-fishing. Atli was at
home, and few other men.
Thorbiorn came there about high-noon; alone he was, and rode up to
the outer door; the door was locked, and no men were abroad. Thorbiorn
smote on the door, and then drew aback behind the houses, so that none
might see him from the door. The home-folk heard that the door was
knocked at, and a woman went out. Thorbiorn had an inkling of the
woman, and would not let himself be seen, for he had a mind to do
Now the woman went into the chamber, and Atli asked who was come
there. She said, "I have seen nought stirring abroad." And even as
they spake Thorbiorn let drive a great stroke on the door.
Then said Atli, "This one would see me, and he must have some errand
with me, whatever may be the gain thereof to me."
Then he went forth and out of the door, and saw no one without.
Exceeding wet it was, therefore he went not out, but laid a hand on
either door-post, and so peered about him.
In that point of time Thorbiorn swung round before the door, and
thrust the spear with both hands amidst of Atli, so that it pierced
Then said Atli, when he got the thrust, "Broad spears are about
now," says he, and fell forward over the threshold.
Then came out women who had been in the chamber, and saw that Atli was
dead. By then was Thorbiorn on horseback, and he gave out the slaying
as having been done by his hand, and thereafter rode home.
The goodwife Asdis sent for her men, and Atli's corpse was laid out,
and he was buried beside his father. Great mourning folk made for his
death, for he had been a wise man, and of many friends.
No weregild came for the slaying of Atli, nor did any claim atonement
for him, because Grettir had the blood-suit to take up if he should
come out; so these matters stood still for that summer. Thorbiorn
was little thanked for that deed of his; but he sat at peace in his
Grettir outlawed at the Thing at the Suit of Thorir of Garth.
This summer, whereof the tale was telling e'en now, a ship came out
to Goose-ere before the Thing. Then was the news told of Grettir's
travels, and therewithal men spake of that house-burning; and at that
story was Thorir of Garth mad wroth, and deemed that there whereas
Grettir was he had to look for vengeance for his sons. He rode with
many men and set forth at the Thing the case for the burning, but
men deemed they knew nought to say therein, while there was none to
Thorir said that he would have nought, but that Grettir should be made
an outlaw throughout the land for such misdeeds.
Then answered Skapti the Lawman, "Surely an ill deed it is, if things
are as is said; but a tale is half told if one man tells it, for most
folk are readiest to bring their stories to the worser side when there
are two ways of telling them; now, therefore, I shall not give my word
that Grettir be made guilty for this that has been done."
Now Thorir was a man of might in his district and a great chief, and
well befriended of many great men; and he pushed on matters so hard
that nought could avail to acquit Grettir; and so this Thorir made
Grettir an outlaw throughout all the land, and was ever thenceforth
the heaviest of all his foes, as things would oft show.
Now he put a price on his head, as was wont to be done with other
wood-folk, and thereafter rode home.
Many men got saying that this was done rather by the high hand than
according to law; but so it stood as it was done; and now nought else
happed to tell of till past midsummer.
Grettir comes out to Iceland again.
When summer was far spent came Grettir Asmundson out to Whiteriver
in Burgfirth; folk went down to the ship from thereabout, and these
tidings came all at once to Grettir; the first, that his father was
dead, the second, that his brother was slain, the third, that he
himself was made an outlaw throughout all the land. Then sang Grettir
"Heavy tidings thick and fast
On the singer now are cast;
My father dead, my brother dead,
A price set upon my head;
Yet, O grove of Hedin's maid,
May these things one day be paid;
Yea upon another morn
Others may be more forlorn."
So men say that Grettir changed nowise at these tidings, but was even
as merry as before.
Now he abode with the ship awhile, because he could get no horse to
his mind. But there was a man called Svein, who dwelt at Bank up from
Thingness, he was a good bonder and a merry man, and often sang such
songs as were gamesome to hear; he had a mare black to behold, the
swiftest of all horses, and her Svein called Saddle-fair.
Now Grettir went one night away from the wolds, but he would not that
the chapmen should be ware of his ways; he got a black cape, and threw
it over his clothes, and so was disguised; he went up past Thingness,
and so up to Bank, and by then it was daylight. He saw a black horse
in the homefield and went up to it, and laid bridle on it, leapt on
the back of it, and rode up along Whiteriver, and below Bye up to
Flokedale-river, and then up the tracks above Kalfness; the workmen
at Bank got up now and told the bonder of the man who had got on his
mare; he got up and laughed, and sang--
"One that helm-fire well can wield
Rode off from my well-fenced field,
Helm-stalk stole away from me
Saddle-fair, the swift to see;
Certes, more great deeds this Frey
Yet shall do in such-like way
As this was done; I deem him then
Most overbold and rash of men."
Then he took horse and rode after him; Grettir rode on till he came
up to the homestead at Kropp; there he met a man called Hall, who
said that he was going down to the ship at the Wolds; Grettir sang a
"In broad-peopled lands say thou
That thou sawest even now
Unto Kropp-farm's gate anigh,
Saddle-fair and Elm-stalk high;
That thou sawest stiff on steed
(Get thee gone at greatest speed),
One who loveth game and play
Clad in cape of black to-day."
Then they part, and Hall went down the track and all the way down to
Kalfness, before Svein met him; they greeted one another hastily, then
"Sawest thou him who did me harm
On my horse by yonder farm?
Even such an one was he,
Sluggish yet a thief to see;
From the neighbours presently
Doom of thief shall he abye
And a blue skin shall he wear,
If his back I come anear."
"That thou mayst yet do," said Hall, "I saw that man who said that he
rode on Saddle-fair, and bade me tell it over the peopled lands and
settlements; great of growth he was, and was clad in a black cape."
"He deems he has something to fall back on," said the bonder, "but I
shall ride after him and find out who he is."
Now Grettir came to Deildar-Tongue, and there was a woman without the
door; Grettir went up to talk to her, and sang this stave--
"Say to guard of deep-sea's flame
That here worm-land's haunter came;
Well-born goddess of red gold,
Thus let gamesome rhyme be told.
'Giver forth of Odin's mead
Of thy black mare have I need;
For to Gilsbank will I ride,
Meed of my rash words to bide.'"
The woman learned this song, and thereafter Grettir rode on his way;
Svein came there a little after, and she was not yet gone in, and as
he came he sang this--
"What foreteller of spear-shower
E'en within this nigh-passed hour,
Swift through the rough weather rode
Past the gate of this abode?
He, the hound-eyed reckless one,
By all good deeds left alone,
Surely long upon this day
From my hands will flee away."
Then she told him what she had been bidden to; he thought over the
ditty, and said, "It is not unlike that he will be no man to play
with; natheless, I will find him out."
Now he rode along the peopled lands, and each man ever saw the other's
riding; and the weather was both squally and wet.
Grettir came to Gilsbank that day, and when Grim Thorhallson knew
thereof, he welcomed him with great joy, and bade him abide with him.
This Grettir agreed to; then he let loose Saddle-fair, and told Grim
how she had been come by. Therewith came Svein, and leapt from his
horse, and saw his own mare, and sang this withal--
"Who rode on my mare away?
What is that which thou wilt pay?
Who a greater theft has seen?
What does the cowl-covered mean?"
Grettir by then had doft his wet clothes, and he heard the stave, and
"I did ride thy mare to Grim
(Thou art feeble weighed with him),
Little will I pay to thee,
Yet good fellows let us be."
"Well, so be it then," said the farmer, "and the ride is well paid
Then each sang his own songs, and Grettir said he had no fault to
find, though he failed to hold his own; the bonder was there that
night, and the twain of them together, and great game they made of
this: and they called all this Saddle-fair's lays. Next morning the
bonder rode home, and he and Grettir parted good friends.
Now Grim told Grettir of many things from the north and Midfirth,
that had befallen while he was abroad, and this withal, that Atli was
unatoned, and how that Thorbiorn Oxmain waxed so great, and was so
high-handed, that it was not sure that goodwife Asdis might abide at
Biarg if matters still went so.
Grettir abode but few nights with Grim, for he was fain that no news
should go before him north over the Heaths. Grim bade him come thither
if he should have any need of safeguard.
"Yet shall I shun being made guilty in law for the harbouring of
Grettir said he did well. "But it is more like that later on I may
need thy good deed more."
Now Grettir rode north over Twodaysway, and so to Biarg, and came
there in the dead of night, when all folk were asleep save his mother.
He went in by the back of the house and through a door that was there,
for the ways of the house were well known to him, and came to the
hall, and got to his mother's bed, and groped about before him.
She asked who was there, and Grettir told her; then she sat up and
kissed him, and sighed withal, heavily, and spake, "Be welcome; son,"
she said, "but my joyance in my sons is slipping from me; for he is
slain who was of most avail, and thou art made an outlaw and a guilty
man, and the third is so young; that he may do nought for me."
"An old saw it is," said Grettir, "Even so shall bale be bettered,
by biding greater bale; but there are more things to be thought of
by men than money atonements alone, and most like it is that Atli will
be avenged; but as to things that may fall to me, many must even take
their lot at my hand in dealing with me, and like it as they may."
She said that was not unlike. And now Grettir was there a while with
the knowledge of few folk; and he had news of the doings of the folk
of the country-side; and men knew not that Grettir was come into
Midfirth: but he heard that Thorbiorn Oxmain was at home with few men;
and that was after the homefield hay-harvest.
The Slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain.
On a fair day Grettir rode west over the Necks to Thorodstead, and
came there about noon, and knocked at the door; women came out and
welcomed him, but knew him not; he asked for Thorbiorn, but they said
he was gone to the meadow to bind hay, and with him his son of sixteen
winters, who was called Arnor; for Thorbiorn was a very busy man, and
well-nigh never idle.
So when Grettir knew this, he bade them well betide, and went his
way on the road toward Reeks, there a marsh stretches down from the
hill-side, and on it was much grass to mow, and much hay had Thorbiorn
made there, and now it was fully dry, and he was minded to bind it up
for home, he and the lad with him, but a woman did the raking.
Now Grettir rode from below up into the field, but the father and
son were higher up, and had bound one load, and were now at another;
Thorbiorn had set his shield and sword against the load, and the lad
had a hand-axe beside him.
Now Thorbiorn saw a man coming, and said to the lad, "Yonder is a man
riding toward us, let us leave binding the hay, and know what he will
So did they, and Grettir leapt off his horse; he had a helm on his
head, and was girt with the short-sword, and bore a great spear in his
hand, a spear without barbs, and the socket inlaid with silver. Now
he sat down and knocked out the socket-nail, because he would not that
Thorbiorn should cast the spear back.
Then said Thorbiorn, "He is a big man, and no man in field know I, if
that is not Grettir Asmundson, and he must needs think he has enough
against us; so let us meet him sharply, and let him see no signs of
failing in us. We shall deal cunningly; for I will go against him in
front, and take thou heed how matters go betwixt us, for I will trust
myself against any man if I have one alone to meet; but do thou
go behind him, and drive the axe at him with both hands atwixt his
shoulders; thou needest not fear that he will do thee hurt, as his
back will be turned to thee."
Neither Thorbiorn nor his son had a helm.
Now Grettir got into the mead, and when he came within spear-throw of
them, he cast his spear at Thorbiorn, but the head was looser on the
shaft than he deemed it would be, and it swerved in its flight, and
fell down from the shaft to the earth: then Thorbiorn took his shield,
and put it before him, but drew his sword and went against Grettir
when he knew him; then Grettir drew his short-sword, and turned about
somewhat, so that he saw how the lad stood at his back, wherefore he
kept himself free to move here or there, till he saw that the lad was
come within reach of him, and therewith he raised the short-sword
high aloft, and sent it back against Arnor's head so mightily that the
skull was shattered, and that was his bane. Then Thorbiorn ran against
Grettir and smote at him, but he thrust forth his buckler with his
left hand, and put the blow from him, and smote with the short-sword
withal, and cleft the shield of Thorbiorn, and the short-sword smote
so hard into his head that it went even unto the brain, and he fell
dead to earth beneath that stroke, nor did Grettir give him any other
Then he sought for his spear-head, and found it not; so he went to his
horse and rode out to Reeks, and there told of the slayings. Withal
the woman who was in the meadow saw the slayings, and ran home full of
fear, and said that Thorbiorn was slain, and his son both; this took
those of the house utterly unawares, for they knew nought of Grettir's
travelling. So were men sent for to the next homestead, and soon came
many folk, and brought the bodies to church. Thorod Drapa-Stump took
up the blood-suit for these slayings and had folk a-field forthwith.
But Grettir rode home to Biarg, and found his mother, and told her
what had happed; and she was glad thereat, and said that now he got to
be like unto the Waterdale kin. "Yet will this be the root and stem of
thine outlawry, and I know for sooth that thou mayest not abide here
long because of the kin of Thorbiorn; but now may they know that thou
mayest be angered."
Grettir sang this stave thereupon--
"Giant's friend fell dead to earth
On the grass of Wetherfirth,
No fierce fighting would avail,
Oxmain in the Odin's gale.
So, and in no other wise,
Has been paid a fitting price
For that Atli, who of yore,
Lay dead-slain anigh his door."
Goodwife Asdis said that was true; "But I know not what rede thou art
minded to take?"
Grettir said that he would seek help of his friends and kin in the
west; "But on thee shall no trouble fall for my sake," said he.
So he made ready to go, and mother and son parted in love; but first
he went to Meals in Ramfirth, and told Gamli his brother-in-law all,
even as it had happed, concerning the slaying of Thorbiorn.
Gamli told him he must needs depart from Ramfirth while Thorbiorn's
kin had their folk about; "But our aid in the suit for Atli's slaying
we shall yield thee as we may."
So thereafter Grettir rode west over Laxdale-heath, and stayed not
till he came to Liarskogar to Thorstein Kuggson, where he dwelt long
The gathering to avenge Thorbiorn Oxmain.
Thorod Drapa-Stump sought tidings of this who might have slain
Thorbiorn and his son, and when he came to Reeks, it was told him that
Grettir had been there and given out the slayings as from his hand.
Now, Thorod deemed he saw how things had come to pass; so he went to
Biarg, and there found many folk, but he asked if Grettir were there.
The goodwife said he had ridden away, and that she would not slip him
into hiding-places if he were there.
"Now ye will be well pleased that matters have so been wrought; nor
was the slaying of Atli over-avenged, though this was paid for it.
Ye asked not then what grief of heart I had; and now, too, it is well
that things are even so."
Therewith they rode home, and found it not easy to do aught therein.
Now that spear-head which Grettir lost was not found till within the
memory of men living now; it was found in the latter days of Sturla
Thordson the lawman, and in that marsh where Thorbiorn fell, which is
now called Spear-mead; and that sign men have to show that Thorbiorn
was slain there, though in some places it is said that he was slain on
Thorod and his kin heard that Grettir abode at Liarskogar; then they
gathered men, and were minded to go thither; but when Gamli of Meals
was ware thereof, he made Thorstein and Grettir sure of the farings
of the Ramfirthers; and when Thorstein knew it, he sent Grettir in to
Tongue to Snorri Godi, for then there was no strife between them, and
Thorstein gave that counsel to Grettir that he should pray Snorri the
Godi for his watch and ward; but if he would not grant it, he made
Grettir go west to Reek-knolls to Thorgils Arisen, "and he will take
thee to him through this winter, and keep within the Westfirths till
these matters are settled."
Grettir said he would take good heed to his counsels; then he rode
into Tongue, and found Snorri the Godi, and talked with him, and
prayed him to take him in.
Snorri answered, "I grow an old man now, and loth am I to harbour
outlawed men if no need drive me thereto. What has come to pass that
the elder put thee off from him?"
Grettir said that Thorstein had often done well to him; "But more
shall I need than him alone, if things are to go well."
Said Snorri, "My good word I shall put in for thee if that may avail
thee aught, but in some other place than with me must thou seek a
With these words they parted, and Grettir turned west to Reekness;
the Ramfirthers with their band got as far as Samstead, and there they
heard that Grettir had departed from Liarskogar, and thereat they went
Grettir and the Foster-brothers at Reek-knolls.
Now Grettir came to Reek-knolls about winter-nights, and prayed
Thorgils for winter abode; Thorgils said, that for him as for other
free men meat was ready; "but the fare of guests here is nowise
choice." Grettir said he was not nice about that.
"There is yet another thing here for thy trouble," said Thorgils:
"Men are minded to harbour here, who are deemed somewhat hard to keep
quiet, even as those foster-brothers, Thorgeir and Thormod; I wot not
how meet it may be for you to be together; but their dwelling shall
ever be here if they will it so: now mayst thou abide here if thou
wilt, but I will not have it that either of you make strife with the
Grettir said he would not be the first to raise strife with any man,
and so much the less as the bonder's will was such.
A little after came those foster-brothers home; things went not
merrily betwixt Thorgeir and Grettir, but Thormod bore himself well.
Goodman Thorgils said to the foster-brothers even as he had said
to Grettir; and of such worth they held him, that neither cast an
untoward word at the other although their minds went nowise the same
way: and so wore the early winter.
Now men say that Thorgils owned those isles, which are called
Olaf's-isles, and lie out in the firth a sea-mile and a half off
Reekness; there had bonder Thorgils a good ox that he might not fetch
home in the autumn; and he was ever saying that he would fain have him
against Yule. Now, one day those foster-brothers got ready to seek the
ox, if a third man could be gotten to their aid: Grettir offered to go
with them, and they were well pleased thereat; they went, the three of
them, in a ten-oared boat: the weather was cold, and the wind shifting
from the north, and the craft lay up on Whaleshead-holm.
Now they sail out, and somewhat the wind got up, but they came to the
isle and got hold of the ox; then asked Grettir which they would do,
bear the ox aboard or keep hold of the craft, because the surf at
the isle was great; then they bade him hold the boat; so he stood
amidships on that side which looked from shore, and the sea took him
up to the shoulder-blades, yet he held her so that she moved nowise:
but Thorgeir took the ox behind and Thormod before, and so hove it
down to the boat; then they sat down to row, and Thormod rowed in the
bows, Thorgeir amidships, and Grettir aft, and therewith they made out
into the open bay; but when they came off Goat-rock, a squall caught
them, then said Thorgeir, "The stern is fain to lag behind."
Then said Grettir, "The stern will not be left if the rowing afore be
Thereat Thorgeir fell to rowing so hard that both the tholes were
broken: then said he, "Row on, Grettir, while I mend the thole-pins."
Then Grettir pulled mightily while Thorgeir did his mending, but when
Thorgeir took to rowing again, the oars had got so worn that Grettir
shook them asunder on the gunwale.
"Better," quoth Thormod, "to row less and break nought."
Then Grettir caught up two unshapen oar beams that lay in the boat and
bored large holes in the gunwales, and rowed withal so mightily
that every beam creaked, but whereas the craft was good, and the men
somewhat of the brisker sort, they reached Whaleshead-holm.
Then Grettir asked whether they would rather go home with the ox or
haul up the boat; they chose to haul up the boat, and hauled it up
with all the sea that was in it, and all the ice, for it was much
covered with icicles: but Grettir led home the ox, and exceeding stiff
in tow he was, and very fat, and he grew very weary, and when they
came up below Titling-stead could go no more.
The foster-brothers went up to the house, for neither would help the
other in his allotted work; Thorgils asked after Grettir, but they
told him where they had parted; then he sent men to meet him, and when
they came down to Cave-knolls they saw how there came towards them a
man with a neat on his back, and lo, there was Grettir come, bearing
the ox: then all men wondered at his great might.
Now Thorgeir got very envious of Grettir's strength, and one day
somewhat after Yule, Grettir went alone to bathe; Thorgeir knew
thereof, and said to Thormod, "Let us go on now, and try how Grettir
will start if I set on him as he comes from his bathing."
"That is not my mind," said Thormod, "and no good wilt thou get from
"I will go though," says Thorgeir; and therewith he went down to the
slope, and bore aloft an axe.
By then was Grettir walking up from the bath, and when they met,
Thorgeir said; "Is it true, Grettir," says he, "that thou hast said so
much as that thou wouldst never run before one man?"
"That I know not for sure," said Grettir, "yet but a little way have I
run before thee."
Thorgeir raised aloft the axe, but therewith Grettir ran in under
Thorgeir and gave him an exceeding great fall: then said Thorgeir to
Thormod, "Wilt thou stand by and see this fiend drive me down under
Thormod caught hold of Grettir's feet, and was minded to pull him
from off Thorgeir, but could do nought thereat: he was girt with a
short-sword and was going to draw it, when goodman Thorgils came up
and bade them be quiet and have nought to do with Grettir.
So did they and turned it all to game, and no more is told of their
dealings; and men thought Thorgils had great luck in that he kept such
reckless men in good peace.
But when spring came they all went away; Grettir went round to
Codfirth, and he was asked, how he liked the fare of the winter abode
at Reek-knolls; he answered, "There have I ever been as fain as might
be of my meals when I got at them."
Thereafter he went west over the heaths.
Of the suit for the Slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain, and how Thorir of
Garth would not that Grettir should be made sackless.
Thorgils Arison rode to the Thing with many men; and thither came all
the great men of the land. Now Thorgils and Skapti the Lawman soon
met, and fell to talking.
Then said Skapti, "Is it true, Thorgils, that thou hast harboured
those three men through the winter who are deemed to be the wildest of
all men; yea, and all of them outlawed withal, and yet hast kept them
so quiet, that no one of them has done hurt to the other?"
Thorgils said it was true enough.
Skapti said that great might over men it showed forth in him; "But how
goes it, thinkest thou, with the temper of each of them; and which of
them thinkest thou the bravest man?"
Thorgils said, "I deem they are all of them full stout of heart; but
two of them I deem know what fear is, and yet in unlike ways; for
Thormod is a great believer and fears God much; but Grettir is so
fearsome in the dark, that he dares go nowhither after dusk has set
in, if he may do after his own mind. But my kinsman Thorgeir I deem
knows not how to fear."
"Yea, so it is with their minds as thou sayest," said Skapti; and with
that they left talking.
Now, at this Althing Thorod Drapa-Stump brought forward a suit for the
slaying of Thorbiorn Oxmain, which he had not brought to a hearing at
the Hunawater Thing, because of the kin of Atli, and he deemed that
here his case would be less like to be thrown over. The kinsmen of
Atli sought counsel of Skapti about the case; and he said he saw in
it a lawful defence, so that full atonement would be forthcoming
therefor. Then were these matters laid unto umpiredom, and most men
were minded that the slayings of Atli and Thorbiorn should be set one
against the other.
But when Skapti knew that, he went to the judges, and asked whence
they had that? They said that they deemed the slain men were bonders
of equal worth.
Then Skapti asked, which was the first, the outlawry of Grettir or
the slaying of Atli? So, when that was reckoned up, there was a week's
space betwixt Grettir's outlawry at the Althing and the slaying of
Atli, which befell just after it.
Then said Skapti, "Thereof my mind misgave me, that ye had made an
oversight in setting on foot the suit in that ye made him a suitor,
who was outlawed already, and could neither defend nor prosecute his
own case. Now I say that Grettir has nought to do with the case of the
slaying, but let him take up the blood-suit, who is nighest of kin by
Then said Thorod Drapa-Stump, "And who shall answer for the slaying of
Thorbiorn my brother?"
"See ye to that for yourselves," said Skapti; "but the kin of Grettir
will never pour out fee for him or his works, if no peace is to be
bought for him."
Now when Thorvald Asgeirson was aware that Grettir was set aside from
following the blood-suit, he and his sought concerning who was the
next of kin; and that turned out to be Skeggi, son of Gamli of
Meals, and Uspak, son of Glum of Ere in Bitra; they were both of them
exceeding zealous and pushing.
Now must Thorod give atonement for Atli's slaying, and two hundreds in
silver he had to pay.
Then spake Snorri the Godi, "Will ye now, Ramfirthers," says he, "that
this money-fine should fall away, and that Grettir be made sackless
withal, for in my mind it is that as a guilty man he will be sorely
Grettir's kin took up his word well, and said that they heeded the
fee nought if he might have peace and freedom. Thorod said that he saw
Grettir's lot would be full of heavy trouble, and made as if he would
take the offer, for his part. Then Snorri bade them first know if
Thorir of Garth would give his leave to Grettir being made free; but
when Thorir heard thereof he turned away exceeding wroth, and said
that Grettir should never either get out of his outlawry or be brought
out of it: "And the more to bring that about," said he, "a greater
price shall be put on his head than on the head of any outlaw or
So, when he took the thing so ill, the freeing of Grettir came to
nought, and Gamli and his fellows took the money to them, and kept it
in their ward; but Thorod Drapa-Stump had no atonement for his brother
Now Thorir and Thorod set each of them on Grettir's head three marks
of silver, and that folk deemed a new thing, for never had any greater
price been laid down to such an end before than three marks in all.
Snorri said it was unwisely done to make a sport of keeping a man in
outlawry who might work so much ill, and that many a man would have to
pay for it.
But now men part and ride home from the Thing.
How Grettir was taken by the Icefirth Carles.
When Grettir came over Codfirth-heath down into Longdale, he swept up
unsparingly the goods of the petty bonders, and had of every man what
he would; from some he took weapons, from some clothes; and these folk
gave up in very unlike ways; but as soon as he was gone, all said they
gave them unwillingly.
In those days dwelt in Waterfirth Vermund the Slender, the brother of
Slaying-Styr; he had to wife Thorbiorg, the daughter of Olaf Peacock,
son of Hoskuld. She was called Thorbiorg the Big; but at the time that
Grettir was in Longdale had Vermund ridden to the Thing.
Now Grettir went over the neck to Bathstead. There dwelt a man called
Helgi, who was the biggest of bonders thereabout: from there had
Grettir a good horse, which the bonder owned, and thence he went to
Giorvidale, where farmed a man named Thorkel. He was well stored with
victuals, yet a mannikin withal: therefrom took Grettir what he would,
nor durst Thorkel blame him or withhold aught from him.
Thence went Grettir to Ere, and out along the side of the firth, and
had from every farm victuals and clothes, and dealt hardly with many;
so that most men deemed him a heavy trouble to live under.
Now he fared fearlessly withal, and took no keep of himself, and
so went on till he came to Waterfirth-dale, and went to the
mountain-dairy, and there he dwelt a many nights, and lay in the woods
there, and took no heed to himself; but when the herdsmen knew that,
they went to the farm, and said that to that stead was a fiend come
whom they deemed nowise easy to deal with; then the farmers gathered
together, and were thirty men in all: they lurked in the wood, so that
Grettir was unaware of them, and let a shepherd spy on Grettir till
they might get at him, yet they wotted not clearly who the man was.
Now so it befell that on a day as Grettir lay sleeping, the bonders
came upon him, and when they saw him they took counsel how they should
take him at the least cost of life, and settled so that ten men should
leap on him, while some laid bonds on his feet; and this they did, and
threw themselves on him, but Grettir broke forth so mightily that they
fell from off him, and he got to his knees, yet thereby they might
cast the bonds over him, and round about his feet; then Grettir
spurned two of them so hard about the ears that they lay stunned on
the earth. Now one after the other rushed at him, and he struggled
hard and long, yet had they might to overcome him at the last, and so
Thereafter they talked over what they should do with him, and they
bade Helgi of Bathstead take him and keep him in ward till Vermund
came home from the Thing. He answered--
"Other things I deem more helpful to me than to let my house-carles
sit over him, for my lands are hard to work, nor shall he ever come
Then they bade Thorkel of Giorvidale take and keep him, and said that
he was a man who had enow.
But Thorkel spake against it, and said that for nought would he do
that: "Whereas I live alone in my house with my Carline, far from
other men; nor shall ye lay that box on me," said he.
"Then, Thoralf of Ere," said they, "do thou take Grettir and do well
to him till after the Thing; or else bring him on to the next farm,
and be answerable that he get not loose, but deliver him bound as now
thou hast him."
He answers, "Nay, I will not take Grettir, for I have neither victuals
nor money to keep him withal, nor has he been taken on my land, and I
deem it more trouble than honour to take him, or to have aught to do
with him, nor shall he ever come into my house."
Thereafter they tried it with every bonder, but one and all spake
against it; and after this talk have merry men made that lay which is
hight Grettir's-faring, and added many words of good game thereto for
the sport of men.
So when they had talked it over long, they said, with one assent, that
they would not make ill hap of their good-hap; so they went about and
straightway reared up a gallows there in the wood, with the mind to
hang Grettir, and made great clatter thereover.
Even therewith they see six folk riding down below in the dale, and
one in coloured clothes, and they guessed that there would goodwife
Thorbiorg be going from Waterfirth; and so it was, and she was
going to the mountain-dairy. Now she was a very stirring woman, and
exceeding wise; she had the ruling of the neighbourhood, and settled
all matters, when Vermund was from home. Now she turned to where the
men were gathered, and was helped off her horse, and the bonders gave
her good welcome.
Then said she, "What have ye here? or who is the big-necked one who
sits in bonds yonder?"
Grettir named himself, and greeted her.
She spake again, "What drove thee to this, Grettir," says she, "that
thou must needs do riotously among my Thing-men?"
"I may not look to everything; I must needs be somewhere," said he.
"Great ill luck it is," says she, "that these milksops should take
thee in such wise that none should fall before thee. What are ye
minded to do with him?"
The bonders told her that they were going to tie him up to the gallows
for his lawlessness.
She answers, "Maybe Grettir is guilty enough therefor, but it is
too great a deed for you, Icefirthers, to take his life, for he is a
famous man, and of mighty kin, albeit he is no lucky man; but now what
wilt thou do for thy life, Grettir, if I give it thee?"
He answered, "What sayest thou thereto?"
She said, "Thou shalt make oath to work no evil riots here in
Icefirth, and take no revenge on whomsoever has been at the taking of
Grettir said that she should have her will, and so he was loosed; and
he says of himself that at that time of all times did he most rule his
temper, when he smote them not as they made themselves great before
Now Thorbiorg bade him go home with her, and gave him a horse for his
riding; so he went to Waterfirth and abode there till Vermund came
home, and the housewife did well to him, and for this deed was she
much renowned far and wide in the district.
But Vermund took this ill at his coming home, and asked what made
Grettir there? Then Thorbiorg told him how all had gone betwixt
Grettir and the Icefirthers.
"What reward was due to him," said Vermund, "that thou gavest him his
"Many grounds there were thereto," said Thorbiorg; "and this, first of
all, that thou wilt be deemed a greater chief than before in that thou
hast a wife who has dared to do such a deed; and then withal surely
would Hrefna his kinswoman say that I should not let men slay him;
and, thirdly, he is a man of the greatest prowess in many wise."
"A wise wife thou art withal," said Vermund, "and have thou thanks
Then he said to Grettir, "Stout as thou art, but little was to be paid
for thee, when thou must needs be taken of mannikins; but so ever it
fares with men riotous."
Then Grettir sang this stave--
"Ill luck-to me
That I should be
Borne unto earth;
Ill luck enow
To lie alow,
This head of mine
Griped fast by swine."
"What were they minded to do to thee," said Vermund, "when they took
"There many men
Bade give me then
E'en Sigar's meed
For lovesome deed;
Till found me there
That willow fair,
Whose leaves are praise,
Her stems good days."
Vermund asked, "Would they have hanged thee then, if they alone had
had to meddle with matters?"
"Yea, to the snare
That dangled there
My head must I
Soon bring anigh;
But Thorbiorg came
The brightest dame,
And from that need
The singer freed."
Then said Vermund, "Did she bid thee to her?"
"Sif's lord's good aid,
My saviour, bade
To take my way
With her that day;
So did it fall;
A horse she gave;
Good peace I have."
"Mighty will thy life be and troublous," said Vermund; "but now thou
hast learned to beware of thy foes; but I have no will to harbour
thee, and gain therefor the ill-will of many rich men; but best is it
for thee to seek thy kinsmen, though few men will be willing to take
thee in if they may do aught else; nor to most men art thou an easy
Now Grettir was in Waterfirth a certain space, and then fared thence
to the Westfirths, and sought shelter of many great men; but something
ever came to pass whereby none of them would harbour him.
Grettir with Thorstein Kuggson.
When the autumn was somewhat spent, Grettir turned back by the south,
and made no stay till he came to Liarskogar to Thorstein Kuggson, his
kinsman, and there had he good welcome, for Thorstein bade him abide
there through the winter, and that bidding he agreed to. Thorstein
was a busy man and a good smith, and kept men close to their work;
but Grettir had little mind to work, wherefore their tempers went but
Thorstein had let make a church at his homestead; and a bridge he had
made out from his house, wrought with great craft; for in the outside
bridge, under the beams that held it up, were rings wrought all about,
and din-bells, so that one might hear over to Scarf-stead, half a
sea-mile off, if aught went over the bridge, because of the shaking of
the rings. Thorstein had much to do over this work, for he was a great
worker of iron; but Grettir went fiercely at the iron-smiting, yet was
in many minds thereover; but he was quiet through the winter, so
that nought befell worthy telling. But when the Ramfirthers knew
that Grettir was with Thorstein, they had their band afoot as soon as
spring came. So when Thorstein knew that, he bade Grettir seek some
other shelter than his house, "For I see thou wilt not work, and men
who will do nought are not meet men for me."
"Where wouldst thou have me go, then?" said Grettir.
Thorstein bade him fare to the south country, and find his kin, "But
come to me if they avail thee not."
Now so Grettir wrought that he went south to Burgfirth, to Grim
Thorhallson, and dwelt there till over the Thing. Then Grim sent him
on to Skapti the Lawman at Hjalli, and he went south by the lower
heaths and stayed not till he came to Thorhall, son of Asgrim, son
of Ellida-grim, and went little in the peopled lands. Thorhall knew
Grettir because of his father and mother, and, indeed, by then was
the name of Grettir well renowned through all the land because of his
Thorhall was a wise man, and he did well to Grettir, but would not let
him abide there long.
Back to Full Books