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

Now Rolf and Grani Quarrel

N OW says the tale that Rolf goes before the Earl, and tells of Kiartan's treachery.

"Thou shalt have thine own way with him," quoth Thorfinn. "Shall he die by the hands of my men, or what atonement wilt thou take?"

"I ask not his death," said Rolf. "Give me his ship to return to Iceland in, and his goods to repay my mother for all her sufferings." But of those sufferings, nor of all that Kiartan had done, the Earl did not ask until later.

"Thou art easy," said he, "upon him who sought thy life; but all shall be as thou sayest."

Then Grani spoke apart with the Earl, and after that Thorfinn gave orders to his men. Where the sward lay greenest (for no snow lay on southern slopes all that winter) they cut a strip of turf; its middle they raised and propped aloft on spears, but its ends were still in the ground. Then the Earl called Rolf to come, and bade all men stand there and hear what Grani had to say. Before all, Grani told that he had wrongfully enthralled Rolf, and led by Kiartan had treated him unfairly. His sorrow he confessed, and he asked for pardon.

Answered Rolf: "For this I grant pardon readily enough."

"Meseems thou sayest that coldly, man," said the Earl. "Now here stands Grani to swear blood-brothership with thee, under this turf. What sayest thou to that?"

Now blood-brothership was a sacred ceremony, and those who swore it must uphold each other until death, if once the oath was taken under such a strip of turf, by letting blood from the arms mingle in the ground. And no greater honor might one man do another than to offer blood-brothership. But again Rolf spoke coolly, and said:

"Mayhap I am willing to do that."

"Come, then," said Thorfinn. "Lay aside thy sword, and step under the turf with Grani."

"Once I swore," replied Rolf, "never to leave weapon from my reach. And another oath I call to mind, which later I may tell thee here. Now since blood-brothership is asked, here I name myself Rolf, son of Hiarandi, of Cragness above Broadfirth in Iceland. And remembering what Grani said when we were like to be burnt together, I ask his true name, and his father's name, and his birthplace."

"Grani hight I," answered that one. "Years long have I been fostered here, and I remember little of my childhood. But Einar is my father, Fellstead was our home, and the place is that same Broadfirth out in Iceland. So much I know and no more."

Then those who stood by saw Rolf draw his short-sword and spring at Grani. At his forehead Rolf laid the sword, the flat to the skin. "Thus," cried he, "I laid this sword to thy father's head. But thus" (and he turned the sword) "I lay it to thine, edge to thy flesh. And because I promised to do it, thus I draw thy blood!"

He drew the sword lightly across Grani's forehead, and the blood started out in little drops. Then Rolf dropped his arm, sheathed his sword, and stood quiet; but Grani, white with rage, snatched a spear from one of the Earl's men, and would have slain Rolf had not the Earl himself come between.

"Now," quoth Thorfinn grimly, "here is an odd end to blood-brothership. The cause of this shall I hear, from first unto last."

Then Rolf told the story of his father's wrongs and his own, and Frodi said it all was true. Grani, though he learned what his father had done, stood still and said no word, except that he cried at the end:

"Great insult hath Rolf offered me in drawing my blood, and for that shall he pay with his."

"Meseems," answered the Earl, "that the weight of blood-debt is still on thy side, and it is well for thee that Rolf took not payment in full. And this I advise, that here ye two make up the feud; and all money atonements I will make to Rolf, if so be I see ye accorded."

"I will lay down the feud on these terms," said Rolf, "if Grani will get me my homestead again."

But deep anger burned in Grani that his offer of blood-brothership had been so answered, by the shedding of his blood. He strode to the spears that held the strip of turf, and cast them down. "My feud do I keep!" he cried.

"Then of thee," said the Earl, "I wash my hands. But I will take Rolf to me, to be of my bodyguard so long as he will."

"Lord Earl," answered Rolf, "I thank thee for the honor, but in the ship which thou hast given me I must return to Iceland, there to clear me of mine outlawry by means of my bow."

And then that meeting of men broke up, and Rolf set himself to fit his ship for the outward voyage, and to hire sailors. He had wealth enough, in Kiartan's goods, to pay for all his father had lost; but in the viking's bow he had that treasure which he most prized, for it should win him his honor again, and the homestead which his fathers had built.

He provisioned his ship, and he hired men and a shipmaster, and soon was ready for the voyage outward. Now the spring was early, without storms as yet.

But Grani went unhappily about, knowing that danger was preparing for his father, through Rolf, and seeing not what could be done. For in that place, except Rolf's ship, lay no vessels plying either north or south, and none to go to Iceland. So there was no way for Grani to send warning to Einar, and no means by which he himself might go to Iceland, to stand by his father's side. He would have challenged Rolf to the holm, but holmgangs and all duels were forbidden by the Earl. And now came the day when Rolf's ship was ready; the wind was fair from the east, and on the morrow they should start. Then Grani went and sat on the hillside at sunset, watching the men at a little distance as they worked about the ship where it lay upon the strand; but Rolf and Frodi had gone to the hall, and were feasting there with the Earl and his men.

Grani thought: "To save my father I must sail on that ship. Now the night will be dark, and the men will sleep at the huts, but Rolf and Frodi at the hall. Naught hinders me from hiding myself on the ship, so that on the morrow they will sail with me."

That pleased him well. But before dark Rolf and Frodi returned from the hall, having said farewell to the Earl.

The ship was then pushed off, and all men got them aboard; they anchored off the boat-steads, ready to sail at first twilight in the morning. Then when Grani saw his plan spoiled, in great uncertainty of mind he went to the hall and sat down on the lowest bench.

Quoth the Earl: "Come forward, Grani, and sit here near the dais; for thou didst save my realm as much as did those other two who have just said farewell."

"I know that well, lord," answered Grani.

"Come, sit here by my side," said the Earl, "and what thou askest in reward for thy deed, that I will give thee."

So Grani sat there by the Earl's side until it was dark out of doors, and he knew the stars were out, but no moon. With the feast, Thorfinn waxed joyous, for good tidings had come that day; and he began to press Grani to name the reward he would have for crossing the Pentland Firth to bring him news. So Grani said:

"Stretch forth thy hand now, Earl Thorfinn, and promise to grant me that thing which I ask, which shall take from no man his right or his own."

So the Earl stretched forth his hand in promise, and said: "Ask what thou wilt."

Then all the Orkneyingers listened while Grani made his request. "Oh Earl," said he, "make me thine outlaw!"

"Nay," cried the Earl, "what request is this? Dost thou mock me and my power?" And his men were angry, and some drew their swords.

But Grani said most earnestly, "I mean no insult, but much lies on it that thou shouldst make me outlaw."

Wroth indeed were the Orkneyingers, and thronged around Grani to slay him; but the Earl signed them to give peace, and sat with his eye on the youth, and thought. Then at last he smiled in his beard, and said:

"Thou art a clever lad, and bold withal. Here I grant thy desire." And he stretched out his hand and said: "Outlaw do I make thee in all my lands—not to be fed, not to be forwarded, not to be helped or harbored in any need, save only by masters of ships outward bound. I grant thee three days' space to seek shelter, and here I give notice among my men of thy full outlawry."

Then Grani thanked the Earl with all his heart, and went from the hall; after him the Earl's men scoffed, but still the Earl smiled in his beard.

Now that night a small boat rowed to the side of Rolf's ship, and a man climbed aboard, and the boatmen rowed the boat ashore again. One of the ship's men told Rolf, who sent for that one who had thus come aboard. He stood before Rolf in the starlight, wrapped in a cloak. Rolf asked why he came aboard the ship in that manner.

"Outlaw am I," said that one, "and by law thou must give me shelter when it is claimed."

"Good is the law," quoth Rolf, "and once it helped me ere now. But thy voice is muffled in the cloak, man. What is thy name?"

"No-man is my name," answered the muffled man, "and here is my faring money."

Rolf laughed. "No-man's fare costs nothing," said he, and would not take the silver. "Find thyself a place to sleep; thou art welcome here."

So that one found himself a place to sleep, and early in the morning the ship set sail. Now it is said that when the ship was gone the Earl saw Kiartan on the strand bewailing his loss. Thorfinn ordered that Kiartan be set in a galley as rower, and for two years did Kiartan labor at the oar. Then he escaped, and fled away southward; but he became thrall to a chapman, and was a thrall to the end of his days. So now he is out of the story.

But that outlaw who had come on Rolf's ship lay like a log all the first day, while the ship sped westward; and only at night did he rouse to take food. Four days he did thus, while the ship ran before the wind until the Faroe Islands were well astern. Then on a morning the man rose and walked by the rail, and looked upon the sea. Rolf sent for him to come and speak to him, and when the man was face to face with him, behold, it was Grani!

Then Rolf stood and looked on him, and Grani stood fast and looked on Rolf. And Rolf turned away and walked in the stern, but Grani waited in the same place. At last Rolf came back to him and said:

"Only one thing will I ask of thee. Wast thou indeed outlaw of the Earl?"

Grani stretched out his hand and swore to the truth. "Outlaw was I, and the Earl gave me but three days to quit his land."

"Now," said Rolf, "thou art on my ship lawfully, and naught will I do against thee. We will leave it to the fates, which of us shall prosper in this affair."

So Grani was out of danger of his life. Now that east wind lasted until they made Iceland—a quick voyage. And they sailed along the south of the land, and rounded the western cape, and sailed across the mouth of Faxafirth. But when they would round the cape into Broadfirth the wind freshened, and blew them off the land a day's sail; there they lay when the wind dropped. But then the wind came from the west, and blew them back to the land, and drove them ever faster till there was a high gale. The smallest sail they could set split from the mast, the mast itself went next, and so they came to Broadfirth and drove up it. Night drew near, and the sailors were in fear of their lives.

Now Frodi was in great uneasiness, and clung to his place, and looked upon the waters. Sometimes he made as he would speak, and yet he said nothing. Rolf and Grani stayed at opposite sides of the ship, and were steadfast in all danger, though the waves washed over them.

Then Rolf makes his way to Grani, and says he: "Now we near the land, and it is likely that we shall never need more of it than a fathom apiece, for burial. Therefore here I offer thee peace, asking no atonement from thee or thy father, save only my farm again, if we twain get ashore."

Grani looks upon Rolf, and his heart nearly melts; but he makes himself stubborn and drops his eyes. Says he: "This is no time to speak of that."

Rolf clambers back to his place. The moon rises behind broken clouds, and he sees that the ship drives toward cliffs.

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