Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by Allen French
The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by  Allen French

The Act of Distress

R OLF told Grettir all that had happened, and much was the outlaw disappointed thereat. For he had counted upon going again among men, and had hoped to win glory from the shooting, so he was sorry on his own account. But also he consoled the boy. For he spoke of the great world over the sea, how there were places and peoples to be seen, and fame to be won. This is clearly seen by those who read the story of Grettir, that all his life he sought fame, and his fate was lighter to him because he knew men would sing of him after his death. But no such thoughts uplifted Rolf, since he grieved for his mother and for the loss of the farm, and it seemed no pleasure to go abroad.

"Now," said he, "far rather would I stay here in this island, until the time of outlawry is past. Why may I not stay with thee?"

"Knowest thou not," asked Grettir, "that if one fares abroad the outlawry is for three years, but if one stays it is twenty? And that is a third of most men's lifetime."

"Yet," said Rolf, "I am minded to do it." For he cared not what happened to him.

"Now," said Grettir, "listen to me, and learn what it means to be an outlaw. No man will take thee within his house, so soon as he knows who thou art. So must thou live in the open, like a beast, or else make hiding-places for thyself. And a miserable life it becomes after a while. No man mayest thou trust, lest he take thy head. Well do I know that Gisli thy ancestor lived an outlaw, fourteen years; yet he lived in holes and caves, and was slain at the end. He was the greatest outlaw of Iceland before me, save only Gunnar of Lithend, who tried to stay in his home and was slain. But I have maintained myself sixteen years, and miserable have they been. Too tender art thou of years and frame to bear the life. Moreover, I know my mother mourns me at home. Think then of thine, and put this idea from thee!"

Then Rolf was ashamed that he had ever thought of such a thing. So he spent a night with Grettir, there among the geysirs, and wonderful were the things that he saw. And in the morning they cooked again at the boiling spring. Then, as they sat eating, Grettir said by chance:

"Thou saidst thou art poor. Did Snorri give the money for the priest's dues, and the court's?"

"What are those dues?" asked Rolf.

Grettir cried: "Has no money been paid for thine outlawry?"

"None by me," answered Rolf.

"And thy neighbor Einar," asked Grettir. "What was he doing when thou camest away?"

"They were preparing for departure, so that I heard a groom say they would start before sunrise in the morning."

Then Grettir sprang up, and went and caught Rolf's pony; he saddled it, and brought it to the lad. "Go home!" he cried. "Too little dost thou know of the law. For if those dues were paid, then thou hadst a year in which to take ship. But they are not paid, so thy enemy can make thee full outlaw ten days after the rising of the Althing, by executing the act of distress at thy house. Three days are gone already, and thou art far from home. For this was Einar hastening away. Now take my advice, and go south, and ship thence."

"Nay," answered Rolf, "first I must see my mother, and perhaps I can reach home in time. Now fare thee well, Grettir. When thy outlawry is finished, then thou shalt gain me my property again."

But Grettir said nay to that. "Well do I know," said he, "that we two shall never meet again. For from here I go to the island of Drangey, to keep myself if I may until my outlawry is over. No stronger place is there in Iceland for defence. But Hallmund the Air-sprite, my friend, foretold I should never come out of my outlawry. Thus I shall never again mix in this affair of thine."

Rolf could answer nothing.

"And in my turn," said Grettir, "thus I foretell thy fate. No man shall help thee here. With thine own strength and craft must thou regain thine own, or never more be master of thy father's hall!"

Then Rolf was heavy-hearted as he bade Grettir farewell. And Grettir did as he had said: he went to his home at Biarg, and went thence with his brother Illugi to Drangey. How he fared there may be read in the Grettir's Saga. But Rolf fared west to his home. He had lost much time, as Grettir had feared; yet as he neared Cragness on the eleventh day after the rising of the Althing he saw no one, and it was just noon. And only at high noon might the act be executed which would make him full outlaw. So he rode into the yard.

Then there stepped out to meet him from the house Ondott Crafty, who came forward with a greeting. He spoke well to the boy, and bade him alight, yet seemed to wish to get very near. Rolf dismounted on the further side of his horse. "What doest thou here?" he asked.

"Einar hath sent me," said Ondott, still coming closer. "He biddeth thee come to his house, where somewhat can be said concerning this outlawry of thine, to make it easier for thee."

But then Asdis came running from the house. "Flee!" she cried. "Einar and his men are at the crags, and there they make thee outlaw. Flee!"

Then Ondott snatched at Rolf with his lean arms, but the lad felled him with a buffet. Rolf would have mounted his horse again to get away, but men appeared at the gate of the yard, so that there was no way out. Then Rolf passed quickly into the hall, and kissed his mother farewell, and leaped from a window at the other side, meaning to gain the cliffs. His way was all but clear; for spies had seen Rolf's coming and reported it to Einar, who sent his men to seize the lad. They had gone to right and left around the hall, while Einar alone completed the act of distress at the crags; for thus the law said: it must be done at a barren spot where no shade fell, not far from the house of the outlaw. And Einar completed the act, and started toward the house. He alone stood between Rolf and his escape. So Rolf ran at him, drawing his sword.

But Einar fled when he saw the lad's steel. Then Rolf ran up behind, put his sword between Einar's legs, and tripped him. Einar rolled over on his back.

"Mercy!" cried he, and made no attempt to ward himself.

Rolf laid the flat of his sword against Einar's forehead; he shrank from the cold steel, but still did not struggle.

"Now," quoth Rolf, "I go across the sea, yet thou shalt hear from me again. And if I meet in the outlands thy son, of whom thou boastest, I promise thee to put this sword to his forehead, but with the edge, and to draw his blood."

By that, the men of Einar were close at hand. Rolf ran to the crags and let himself down at a place which he knew well. When men with spears came to the edge and looked after him, nothing of him was seen.

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