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 Saying of Those Two Words

N OW the tale turns to speak of Einar and his two children: how they went away from their home with but the clothes on their backs, and with purses nigh empty, and but little jewelry. They came to the hut, to make a home where there was no room for a fourth to sleep, and where there was but a rack of dried meat, and a gray cloak hanging by the door, and little else for comfort.

Grani looks about the farm, and sees how it has a good spring, and a small garden well tended, and a pen for the ewe. Beyond the garden were the other crops; yet the hay had not been cut, nor the grain reaped, and there was nothing stored against the winter.

Said Grani: "Rolf awaited this turn of fortune, and why should he lay up food for us?"

Then he turned about, and looked off from the hillside. There he saw Cragness, and the folk feasting; and he saw Fellstead and many other farms. There lay Broadfirth, and the sea beyond; fishing vessels were thereon. And he saw the ferry to Hvamm, with all the four roads which led to it, where people travelled; but the little farm was far away from all these things. Now it was a bright warm day, and the ewe bleated in the pasture, and the birds called each other above his head.

Then Grani's heart fainted within him, and he cried to Einar: "Better hadst thou chosen exile for us all, rather than condemn us to die in this place!"

Einar sought to excuse himself to his son, but appeased him not. Then Helga said: "Is this all thou didst learn in the Orkneys, thus to meet the fate which thou hast brought upon thyself?"

Then Grani was quiet, and went and fetched water, and wood which was there for the cooking (but there was no great store). After a while he said to his sister, "No more will I complain, though worse things come upon us."

So in the following days he sets himself to work, and cuts the hay, and stacks it in ricks; and cuts and stacks the grain likewise, working hastily lest the snow should come. Einar was of no account in such work, for his body was not used to it; but he watches the ewe upon the mead, and fetches water; and Helga works at the house, and when the grain is reaped she begins to grind it in a handmill; a slow labor that was, to make flour each day for their bread. Now when Grani had finished harvesting he began to cut peat and stack it near the house. It was hard work, for the cold was severe and the ground freezing.

Einar began to complain as the cold came on; he was not warm enough under the gray cloak, but sat much of the day by the fire. He disliked his food and wanted better, although naught better was to be had. It was not easy to bear his complainings; but Helga was patient, and Grani sought to lighten her labors, doing woman's work. Yet he was troubled for the shame of his life, and slept badly, and lost flesh. Now hard frost and bitter winds came, but still no snow. Grani's clothes were thin, and he was not used to the rough life; his hands cracked with the cold, all his joints ached, his feet were sore from his thin shoes, and it seemed as if he would perish with the wind. Yet still he cut peat, hewing it from the frozen ground in a little boggy place; and he brought it home with fingers all bleeding. Then Helga bewailed the weather, how without snow the ground froze ever deeper; but though at first Grani was minded to complain with her, he bethought himself and spoke cheerily.

Helga asked: "Why dost thou conceal thy thoughts?"

"The worst of my thoughts," said Grani, "are so bad that I dare not dwell on them. But the better is that I must be manly; and I have a memory to help me."

"What is that memory?" asked Helga.

So Grani told of that time when he and his thralls were lost in the snow in Orkney, and those two Icelanders bore the cold, but he complained of it. "And they gave me the cloak and the warmth of their own bodies, yet I could not be brave. So now when I shiver in the cold I call to mind their hardiness, and strive to copy it."

"That is well said," quoth Helga, "and I will show courage, even as thou."

So those two fortified each other; but Einar's mind dwelt always on his misfortunes: the great state he had lost, and the trick that had betrayed him, and all those servants who had deserted him. "Years long," said Einar, "I fed many of those men, yet they all turned from me at the end. Not one had the gratitude to follow me hither."

"There is luck in that," answered Grani, "for how could we feed them?"

"Most I hate Hallvard and Hallmund," said Einar, "for I favored them in everything, but now they cling to Rolf."

"He will get small profit from them," says Helga.

Now at the farm they took much comfort in their ewe, which never wandered far, and came home at night, sleeping always in the pen. But one morning she was gone and the pen broken down, and no trace of her was to be seen. Then Einar lamented greatly, since her milk was needed; he declared that she was stolen. But in the forenoon came those two, Hallvard and Hallmund, leading the ewe.

"This beast," said Hallvard, "was found eating from our master's ricks."

"Wherefore," asked Grani, "ate she not from our ricks, which were nearer?"

"I know not," said Hallvard, "but she hath been at our ricks; and Rolf has said: Twenty in silver must you pay."

Grani took his purse; and though his father scolded he gave silver, all that he had, and Hallvard and Hallmund went away.

Now this happened again, and to redeem the ewe Grani gave a gold ring. Then he built up the pen again of double strength, so that a bullock could not have broken out; but on another morning the ewe was gone, and unless she were a goat she might not have jumped out. Einar was terribly enraged with an old man's anger, and swore those two ruffians had killed the ewe; yet after a while they were seen coming, leading the beast.

Einar said to Grani, "Take now thy sword and slay them when they come."

But Grani held his tongue and heard those two quietly when they claimed trespass money; he gave them all the jewels that he had, and the twain went away. Then Einar cried, "I have no son at all, but two daughters; and no one will defend me from this shameful persecution."

Grani grew red as blood; but he said naught in answer, and tied the ewe in the pen. When he was alone Helga came to him.

Asks she: "Thinkest thou that the ewe broke out those two times, and leaped out the third?"

He answers: "Those two stole her, yet I cannot prove it, for there is no snow to show their tracks."

"I blame not thy mildness at all," says Helga, "rather do I praise it. But why art thou so quiet under injustice?"

"I call to mind," says Grani, "that when I enthralled Rolf he never complained, but took what fortune brought him, seeing that he could not help himself. He bided his time and avenged his father; and I suffer in silence, to keep my father alive. That lesson which Rolf set me, now I follow; I cannot resist him, save to my death, and what then would become of my father and of thee?"

Now there came another night, and in the morning the ewe was gone; that day Grani yielded her to Rolf, as already told, while Einar upbraided him that he was so unmanly. And in the next days the old man was miserable, missing his milk, and not eating the broth Helga made, though the broth was very good. He made himself sick with his anger and his selfishness, and went to bed in the middle of the day, and scolded from where he lay. "Men tell," said he, "of Gisli the Outlaw, who entered his enemy's house and slew him for the slaying of his blood-brother. But nowadays no man will do such a deed—no, not to save his father."

Then Grani started from his place, and said: "Violence enough has been done in this feud, nor will I ever have hand in such." He went out of the house, and Helga after him.

She said to him: "Be comforted, my brother."

Grani answered: "It is true that I might take Rolf unawares, and slay him. But I remember when he was my thrall in the Orkneys, going with me everywhere, and my life was daily in his hands. For when we were on the cliffs he might have cast me down, and no man would have known he did it. Or when we were fishing he might have drowned me, and have sailed away in the boat. But he never did evil for evil, and I remember it now."

Then Grani planned to sell his fodder, and the money would be welcome. But on another morning they woke in the hut with the crackle and glare of fire, and there were the ricks burning, all of them; Grani could save little from the flames. Now that was a great loss, and Einar bewailed it, saying that since the wheat was gone they would all three starve. Then by day they saw Hallvard coming.

"He comes to insult us," said Einar, and egged Grani on to meet him with his sword, and wound him for punishment. But Grani received Hallvard mildly, and said he had no need of help, and sent him away.

"Now," said Einar, "we might have had help of Rolf, and thou hast refused it."

Grani answered naught to his father, but afterward when Helga asked why he sent Hallvard away, Grani said, "What help gave we to Rolf when he was shipwrecked at our door? Thou savedst his life, else he had been slain in our hall. For very shame we can take no help of him."

Now some days passed, and Einar grumbled ceaselessly, so that life with him was well nigh unbearable; yet he was the cause of all their misfortune. In nothing that she did might Helga please him; and though Grani had grown thin with labor, his father did not spare the lash of his tongue. It was plain that they had not enough food to keep them through the winter, now that so much grain was gone, and their fate was much on Grani's mind; yet he was cheerful.

Helga came to him at last, and said, "Brother, give me of thy courage, for with my father's harshness and our hard work I feel my heart failing me. On what thought dost thou sustain thyself?"

"Dost thou remember," asked Grani, "that when we first came here I complained, and thou didst ask: Had I learned no more in the Orkneys than to bewail my fate?"

"Forgive me that saying," begged Helga.

"Why not forgive?" Grani said. "For I was reminded of a boast I made to Rolf there on the cliff by Hawksness, saying that I feared no misfortune. And he answered: Then I was fitted to be an Icelander. Then, though I had dwelt so long in the Orkneys, my heart warmed to my own land whose children love her so; and I resolved to show myself an Icelander, for the sake of winning Rolf's praise. Therefore I strive, my sister, to be a true son of this dear Iceland, and to bear my misfortunes even as Rolf sends them."

"Mayhap," says Helga, " Rolf remembers also that boast of thine."

"Aye," says Grani.

"And mayhap," Helga says, "he sends these trials only to test thee, for it is clear that they are of design."

"So I have thought," Grani answers. "Either it is that, or it is revenge; yet Rolf has no spite in him."

"Greatly dost thou praise him," Helga says.

"Not overmuch," quoth Grani. "And now I will say I repent my pride when I refused his friendship: first at Hawksness, when he had done me that slight hurt, and then on the ship. But I have most shame that I offered him no atonement when I was prosperous here in Iceland, and he was in hiding."

"Go to him now," cries Helga. "Ask forgiveness!"

Grani answers: "I asked it not when I might with honor; it were cowardice to do so when I am under his feet."

Now Helga wished to argue against that; but their father called them, complaining, and there was no more of their talk. But Grani, while Helga tended on Einar, ground corn in the handmill (but there was little of the grain left) and sang this song:

"Once I, most fortunate,

Met swords in fight.

Now, sin to expiate,

I show this plight:

Grind corn to make my bread.—

Evil pursues my head."

And it seemed to him that scarce ever had a warrior, not in thraldom, come to such fortune. Then when he had ground enough meal for another day he stacked the grain carefully against the weather, and went about other tasks, and that night slept soundly.

But in the morning, waking with the first light, he heard as it were a scuffling of feet close outside the door; when he opened he saw sheep there, a small flock, eating eagerly at the grain, which was almost all gone. In despair he rushed out upon them, and drove them away; they all fled before him but one lean old ram, who stood his ground and still would eat. Then Grani took a club and smote the ram, and wounded it, so that it ran away. Next he saw how at a little distance were Hallvard and Hallmund, who came and excused them of the doings of the sheep, which had strayed while the men slept. Grani answered nothing, though his sister wept; but Einar was nigh out of his mind for anger and despair, and cursed those twain, and Rolf their master, until Grani took him and led him into the house, when those two drove the sheep away. Einar was so spent with rage that he fell at last in a stupor; and Grani went and gathered all that remained of the grain. There were but two measures of it left.

Then as he gleaned those few stalks from the ground, where the sheep had trodden them, and as he cleansed them of dust and saved every small particle, bitterness grew in him, and then wrath, and he nursed his wrath all that day. Now Helga was busy with her father, and saw not how Grani brooded; there was not much food for him, but he fed on his despair. And he slept ill that night, and rose early, and went without food to dig in the garden for roots. There those twain found him, Hallvard and Hallmund, when they came into the yard that day for his sword.

Now his back was toward them, and they asked each other: "Shall we rush on him and wound him, or slay him, and so search the place at our will for his sword?" That seemed to them the best counsel, and they stole upon him. He was so busy that he heard them not; and but for Helga he had been slain. But she saw the men, and cried "Beware!" So Grani turned with his spade uplifted, and they rushed at him. Then he dashed the sword from the hand of Hallmund, and struck fiercely at Hallvard. Hallvard he wounded with the spade, but Hallmund with his own weapon, and with their wounds they limped away.

Then all of Grani's anger left him, and he sat in the house by the hearth, and his father waked and looked at him. Said Grani, "Much didst thou do to Hiarandi for my sake, and harshly has Hiarandi's son repaid me for thy sake. But let us forgive each other, father, before the end of life comes to us."

Asked Einar: "How comes the end of life now?"

Helga says from the doorway: "I see Rolf coming across the valley, and he is armed."

"Thus comes the end," says Grani, and they embraced and kissed each other all three, and Grani made ready for death, and he went out to meet Rolf. Rolf came into the yard, and he had his sword and shield.

Says Rolf: "What hast thou to say to me for the wounding of my housecarles?"

Grani looked on Rolf, and remembered how he had loved him once, and loved him still, yet never might they be friends. "This offer will I make," said Grani. "I will fare abroad, and never come back to trouble thee, if so be thou wilt give my father, while he lives, his winter's food."

"Hast thou nothing better to say?" asked Rolf.

"I will make this offer," said Grani. "I will be thy thrall, and labor for thee, if only thou wilt maintain my father out of thine abundance."

"Canst thou say no better?" asked Rolf again.

Grani remembered how he might have been friends with Rolf, and would not; and how he should have asked forgiveness, and could not. "Nothing better to offer have I," said he. "Nothing worth offering." For he despised himself, and thought his life ended.

"Take then thy weapons," said Rolf, "and fight me here on the level space by the spring."

So Grani took his sword and his shield, and they stood up to fight by the spring, and those in the hut heard the clash of steel. The two looked strangely fighting, Grani gaunt and ragged, and Rolf well fed and in holiday clothes. Now Grani thought to be slain quickly; but Rolf seemed to have no power at first; yet he warmed to the strife, and began to strike manfully, and at last he smote away a part of Grani's shield. Then Grani by a great stroke shore away the half of Rolf's shield.


"Well smitten!" cried Rolf, and they fought on; but Grani found himself growing weak, and marvelled much that Rolf smote no faster. "But if he means to tire me out," thought Grani, "he can win me easily."

Then Rolf drew away, and said: "My shoestrings are loose, I will tie them." So he laid aside his shield and sword, and knelt before Grani to tie his shoes; Grani might have slain him there, but he waited. And not to be tempted to that treachery, Grani looked about; he saw the hut where were his father and sister, and looked off on the firth and the wide land, and waited for Rolf to rise. Then they fought again.

But Grani grew weary and desperate, and his thoughts grew hard. For there were his sister and father close at hand, and the world was beautiful. And while they fought slowly he thought that cruel, so to prolong death, since for Rolf he was no match at all. He wished for death, and exposed his breast to Rolf's strokes, and cared not what happened.

But Rolf drew away again, and said, "I am thirsty," and knelt down by the spring to drink. Then in his great weariness Grani gave way to an evil thought, and cried, "I will free my father, even if the deed be foul." And he heaved up his sword to slay Rolf.

But Rolf rose upon his knees, looking fair in Grani's face; and though Rolf made no defence, Grani stayed the sword in mid-air, and cast it far away. Then he sat down on a stone and covered his face with his hands.

Rolf rose, and came to him, and said "Wherefore didst thou not slay me?"

Grani answered: "Because once I loved thee."

"Grani, Grani," cried Rolf, "has thy pride at last come to its end? Now once more I ask: What hast thou to say to me?"

"For the wounding of thy henchmen, and for all I ever did to thee since first we met," said Grani, "only this I beg: Forgive me!"

"I forgive thee!" Rolf cried, and there they embraced and made peace.

This is the end of the tale, that Frodi slept yet other nights at Cragness than that one, and lived with Rolf his life long. But Grani took his father home to Fellstead, and dwelt there, he and Einar and Helga. Grani was ever the greatest friend of Rolf, but Einar never came into Rolf's sight so long as he lived; and that was not long, for the old man was broken with his shame. Then after that Rolf took to wife Helga the sister of Grani, and the curse of the Soursops never troubled their children. Between the households of Cragness and Fellstead was ever the closest bond, and famous men are come of both Rolf and Grani.

So here we end the Story of Rolf.

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