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

Of Einar and Ondott

N OW the tale turns to speak of Einar and his household, how they dwelt at Fellstead, upon the low-lying land. Einar was a rich man, and he kept a large household of many thralls and servants. And for his pleasure, that he might seem the greater in the eyes of his neighbors, he kept men who did no work, but bore arms wheresoever they went; yet it had never been known that Einar brought any matter to bloodshed. He was not firm in any dealings, but he wished to be thought a great man. His holding was wide, for he owned all that the fathers of Hiarandi had had. Yet from his yard he often looked with no contented eye toward the hall of Hiarandi, where it stood above the crags, looking far over firth and fell.

Now of the men of Einar's household Ondott had the ruling, for he pleased Einar much, yet they were different in all outward ways. For Einar was short and plump, given to puffing and swelling as he spoke, and of many smooth words; but Ondott was tall and thin, lean-visaged and sour, and of surly speech. Einar was fond of dress, while Ondott went in simple clothes; yet they both loved money, and some accused Ondott of hoarding, but Einar spent freely, seeking to gain by gifts what his wit could not win for him. For he was not loved, and men thought little of his counsels.

Of the women at Fellstead one old freedwoman was chief; and she held in especial care the daughter of Einar, Helga by name, who was yet young, being but thirteen years of age. She was of a sweet nature. Now one morning Helga stood with Dalla the old woman before the women's door of the hall, and they saw where came toward them a woman much bent, and covered with a cape and hood; when she came near, they knew her for Thurid from Cragness. She begged them for lodging and work. Dalla sent for Einar.

"How is it come," asked Einar, "that thou hast left Hiarandi?"

"The man," said she, "calls upon his doom, and I will not stay to share it." And she told of the beacon, and how thereby a ship had been saved.

"Now," quoth Einar, "Hiarandi is a fool, so to break an old custom."

"Yet meseems," said Helga timidly, "that it was a kind thing to do."

"Thou art but a child," he answered reprovingly. But she came closer to him and pulled his sleeve.

"Let not the old woman stay here," she whispered. "For I like not her looks, and I mistrust her."

But Ondott, who heard, said: "Nay, let us keep the old carline, if only to spite Hiarandi." And Dalla added: "She is a good worker, and handy to have about the place. Let us give her room." So Einar bade Thurid go within, and do what work was set her, in pay for her keep. But he asked her before he went away:

"Why camest thou here?"

"A rat," said she, "will leave a house that is sure to fall, and seek one which will stand." Then Einar was greatly pleased with her, and bade give her a better cloak. So it was that Thurid dwelt at Fellstead, and paid well with her work for her keep; but at Cragness she was missed, and the work was harder. Yet Thurid made no more prophecies, nor spoke of those which had been made. But it was known that the thralls of Hiarandi were set to light beacons on stormy nights, and he was much laughed at by the dwellers at Fellstead. And his thralls found it hard work, and became greatly discontented; yet since it was winter time, they had little else to do.

Now one of them was named Malcolm, a Scot, and he came one day to Fellstead, when he was not needed at the farm. And Ondott met him, and asked him in, and asked him questions of matters at Cragness. As they spoke by the fire, Thurid passed by, and she sang to herself:

"Evil and ill

Come together still."

Malcolm asked: "Does the woman still make her rhymes with you?"

"Little have I heard her sing," answered Ondott. "But what sang she with you?"

Then Malcolm told of the singing of Thurid and Asdis, and of the prophecies of the old woman. And when he went away, Ondott gave him a small piece of money and bade him come again. Then Ondott called Thurid, and asked her of the things she had said at Cragness, what they might mean. But he got little from her; for first she would not speak, and then she only muttered, and at last all she said was this rhyme:

"No need to teach

Or trick or speech

To him whose mind

All wiles will find."

And Ondott could make nothing out of that; moreover, because it was Kiartan whom Hiarandi had saved, he thought that the farmer had strengthened himself by his deed. For only when the news came of the trick of Kiartan in cheating his brother did Ondott think that there might be something in the old woman's forecasting. And he and Einar spoke cheerfully together of the misfortune to their neighbor. Then summer drew on, and the Quarter Thing was held, and then came bad news to Einar in his hall.

For a seafaring man landed at Hunafloi, and came across to Broadfirth; and he brought word that in the Orkneys Kiartan had foully slain a man of Broadfirth, whose nearest of kin was Einar, so that it was Einar's duty to follow up the blood-suit.

Here it must be said, for those who know not the customs of those days, that the death of a man called for atonement from the slayer, either his death or a payment in money, unless the slaying could be justified. The nearest of kin must take the suit against the slayer; and if the slayer should die, then his nearest of kin must take the defence. And the law is clearly shown by the case of the Heath-Slayings and other famous quarrels, when from small broils great feuds arose, from the duty of kinship and the unwillingness to pay blood-fines for another's deed. Thus Einar took upon him his duty, and vowed that Kiartan should pay with either money or blood.

All stood by and heard this, and they applauded. But Ondott said: "Come now outside with me and speak of this, but give the messenger food and bid him rest here the night."

So that was done, and Einar went out into the yard with Ondott, and walked up and down with him. Said Ondott:

"Long are we likely to wait ere we lay hands on Kiartan. For he hath set his own brother strong against him, and scarce will he dare return to Iceland."

"That may be true," said Einar gloomily.

"I like it not," said Ondott, "that Hiarandi should know this spite his brother has done thee, and yet be free himself. In the old days, which are not so long past, a man would have gone against Hiarandi with weapons. And he hath no relatives to harm thee."

"For all that," answered Einar, "the men of the Quarter would not like it. Lawfully must vengeance be taken, or not at all. Yet it is hard if my money and thy wit cannot rid me of these brothers, who anger me, and Hiarandi more than Kiartan." And he looked across at Cragness with fretting.

"Well mayest thou say that," answered Ondott, "for there stands Hiarandi's hall, which he cannot fill, while thou in thine art cramped for room. It is plainly true what people say, that thou canst never come into the honor which should be thine, while thou livest here, where strangers take thee for Hiarandi's tenant, or even his freedman."

"They take me for his freedman!" cried Einar. "Now that is not to be borne! And I say to thee, get me Hiarandi's house and I will reward thee well."

Then Ondott laid a plan before him. It should be given out that Kiartan was dead: the man who brought the news of the slaying might be bribed to swear to Kiartan's death. Then the blood-suit could be brought against Hiarandi in place of Kiartan; and all men knew that Hiarandi had no money to pay the fine, so that he must sell his farm.

"Now," quoth Einar in great delight, "I will lengthen thy name, and thou shalt be called Ondott Crafty." For that was a saying in those days, to lengthen a man's name by giving him a nickname.

Then they called from the house that man who had brought the news. Because he was an outlander he was easily persuaded to swear to Kiartan's death. Einar gave him money, both for himself and to pay his passage outward. Then witnesses were called to hear the oath; and on the morrow the man departed, and took ship for Ireland, and he is out of the story.

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