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 the Outcome of Ondott's Plottings

N OW spring was well advanced, but the work was ever hard at Cragness, and Hiarandi grew very weary. So his melancholy gained on him again. There came a morning when he was troubled in his demeanor, and spoke little. "What ails thee this day?" asked Asdis of him.

"Now," said Hiarandi, "for all my words to Einar, this life irks terribly. Better to be an outlaw, and go where I will—as doth Grettir the Strong, who lives secure from all his foes."

Asdis answered: "And what use then couldst thou be to thy wife and son; and is not the time short enough until the ban leaves thee? Be a man, and wait with patience a little while yet!"

"Yet something weighs upon me," pursued Hiarandi, "for last night I dreamed, and the dream forebodes ill. Methought I was working in the field, and I left my work and my land; some good reason I had, but it is not clear to me now. I did not go a bow-shot beyond the boundary, but from behind a copse wolves sprang out and fell upon me. As they tore me and I struggled, I awoke, yet the fear is heavy on me still."

Asdis laughed, though with effort, and quoth she: "Now take thy boat and fish near the rocks this day. Then no wolves can come near thee."

"Nay," answered Hiarandi, "how canst thou ask me to fish when so much must be done on the farm?"

"At least," said Asdis, "work on the northern slope, at the ploughing, and away from the boundary."

"The frost still lies there in the earth in places," replied Hiarandi. "But on the south slope, where the sun lies, all is ploughed and to-day we must seed."

"Take thy sword, then," begged Asdis, "and have it at thy side as thou workest. Then no wolf will hurt thee."

But Hiarandi answered, "The day is fine and the wind soft. The sun and the air will clear my head, and we will laugh at this at even-tide. I will take no sword, for it gets in the way."

Then he called the thrall and Rolf; and they took the bags of seed, and went out to work. Now that was a fine spring day, so fine that the like of it seldom comes. Old farmers in Broadfirth still call such a day a day of Hiarandi's weather.

But Asdis detained Rolf, and spoke to him earnestly. "Dreams often come true, and wolves in dreams mean death. See, I will lay by the door thy father's sword and thy bow, so that thou canst snatch them at need. Be near thy father this day, for I fear he is 'fey' [as is said of those who see their fate and avoid it not], and watch well what happens."

So Rolf stayed near his father all that morning, working with him and the thrall at the sowing. But nothing happened; and the sun and the air cleared from Rolf's head all fear of ill. Yet Hiarandi was still gloomy and absent-minded. Then when they stopped for their meal at noon, and ate it as they sat together on a rock, Rolf spoke to Hiarandi, trying to take his mind from himself.

"Tell me," he begged, "what sort of man is that outlaw Grettir the Strong, and for what is he outlawed?"

Then Hiarandi told the tale, and as he spoke he grew more cheerful. "Grettir," said he, "is the strongest man that ever lived in Iceland, and no three men can master him. For he himself hath said that he hath no fear of three, nor would he flee from four; but with five he would not fight unless he must. All his life he has been rough, impatient of control, and at home only amid struggles and slayings. Yet for all that he is a man of ill luck rather than misdeeds, for he hath been greatly hated and provoked. And it is great harm for Iceland that Grettir ever was outlawed.

"Now this was the cause of his outlawing. Once in Norway Grettir lay storm-bound with his companions, and they had had much ado to make the land at all. They lay under the lee of a dyke, and had no shelter nor wherewith to make fire, and the weather was exceeding cold, for winter was nigh. Then night came on, and they feared they should all freeze; and when they saw lights on the mainland across the sound, they desired greatly to unmoor their ship and cross, but dared not for the storm. Then Grettir, to save the lives of the others, swam the sound, and came to the hall where those lights were, and therein people were feasting. Then he went into the hall; but so huge is he, and so covered with ice were his clothes and hair and beard, that those in the hall thought him a troll. Up they sprang and set upon him, and some snatched firebrands to attack him, for no weapons will bite on witch or troll. He took a brand and warded himself, and won his way out, but not before fire had sprung from the brands to the straw in the hall. And he swam back with his brand to his companions, but the hall burned up, and all those that were therein. Now there were burned the sons of a man powerful here in Iceland; and for that deed, before ever he returned, Grettir was made outlaw. Because of the injustice he would not go away for his three years, but stayed here. Nigh sixteen years he has been outlaw now, and lives where he may, so that many rue his outlawry. And he is not to be overcome by either force or guile; great deeds, moreover, he has done in laying ghosts that walked, and monsters that preyed on men."

Now so far had Hiarandi got in his story, when he turned to the thrall who sat thereby. "At what lookest thou, man?"

"Nothing," answered the thrall, and turned his face another way.

"Methought thou wert looking, and signalling with the hand," said Hiarandi. "And is there something there in those willows on Einar's land? What didst thou see?"

"Nothing," answered the thrall again.

"Nevertheless," said Hiarandi, "go, Rolf, and fetch me my sword; for I repent that I came without weapon hither."

Now Rolf had seen nothing in the bushes; yet he went for the sword, and hastened, but the distance was two furlongs. Then after a while Hiarandi grew weary of waiting, and he saw nothing at all in the willows, so he said to the thrall: "Now let us go again to work." But they had not worked long when the thrall looked privily, and he saw a hand wave in the willows. Then he cried aloud: "Good-by, master," and he ran toward the place. Hiarandi sprang from his work, and ran after the thrall.

Now the land at that place lay thus. At the foot of the slope was that brook which was Hiarandi's boundary, and toward the sea on Einar's land was the thicket of dwarf willows. And a gnarled oak grew at a place away from the willows, standing alone by itself.

So when Rolf came from the hall, bearing the sword, and having also his bow and arrows, he saw the thrall fleeing, and Hiarandi running after. They reached the brook, and leaped it, and ran on, Hiarandi pursuing most eagerly. The thrall ran well, but Hiarandi used thought; for he turned a little toward the clump of willows, and cut the thrall off from them, where he might have hidden. Yet he might not catch the man, who fled past the oak. Then Hiarandi heard the voice of Rolf, calling him to stop; so he remembered himself, and stood still there at the oak, and turned back to go home. But men with drawn swords started up out of the willows, and ran at Hiarandi. He leaped to the tree, and set his back against it to defend himself.

And Rolf, as he came running, saw how the men fell upon his father. The lad strung his bow as he ran, and leaped the brook, and laid an arrow on the string. When he was within killing distance, he sent his arrow through one of the armed men. Then that struggle around Hiarandi suddenly ceased, and the men fled in all directions, not stopping for their companion; but one of them carried a shaft in his shoulder, and a third bore one in his leg. And then Rolf saw how the thrall had loitered to see what was being done, but he ran again when the men fled. Rolf took a fourth arrow, and shot at the slave, and it stood in the spine of him. Freedom came to the man, but not as he had deemed.

Then Rolf ran to his father, who lay at the foot of the tree. He looked, and saw that Hiarandi was dead.

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