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 Men Are Shipwrecked

T HOSE two ships sailed together, all that day; but in the night they became separated, for there was a little wind. In the morning Grani's ship was close to a shore, and that was the Mainland of Orkney. For miles great cliffs stood up out of the water, the wind fell, and there was a long groundswell. Then said Grani:

"Often have I seen these cliffs from above; now it will be sport to see them from below. Put in close, and sail along under the cliffs."

Those two old men who had warded him in the fight both spoke to him, saying it were better to keep away. But Grani pouted and gave his order again. "All men say," quoth he, "that the water is deep there, and no harm can befall."

Then they sailed along under the cliffs, and a grand sight that was, to see them high above and stretching far ahead. Rolf stood in the bow, and he looked first up at the cliffs, and then down into the green water. There came a great wave, larger than the others, and after it the water fell away. Just before the ship, Rolf saw a rock break the water with scarcely a ripple, for it was very sharp; sea-weed floated around its sides. Another wave came and lifted the ship up, and the rock disappeared as if it had sunk down. Rolf shouted in warning.

But the wave passed, the ship rushed down into the hollow, and struck the rock. The planks tore apart beneath the bow, and all heard the splintering; then the water poured in, a wave lifted the ship, and she slid back into deep water. She began to sink.

There was scarcely time to throw over oars and shields, and to leap after them into the water. The ship went down; the men were swimming, there under the wall of rock. They swam toward the cliff, and those who swam worst clung to the oars. But the cliff rose sharp from the water, only hand-hold was to be had, and the waves bruised the men as they tried to support themselves. Eighteen men in all were there, and they swam in a line along the cliff for an hour, until at last they found a foothold where a shelf of rock jutted under water, and all might stand waist deep.

Then one of the men asked: "Is the tide coming or going?"

They watched to find out, and at last it was sure: the tide was coming. It rose above their waists, so that the smaller men were lifted by the waves; and it was lucky that there was no storm, for they would all have been killed. Then the tide rose still higher, and men began to look anxious. There they stayed half an hour more, and the sea-otters swam about and looked at them.

Frodi said to Rolf: "What dost thou think, and why look'st thou so at the cliffs above us?"

"They seem to me like the cliffs at home. Were we there I could climb up."

"Seest thou no way here?" asked Frodi.

"I see two ways," answered Rolf, "yet neither seems good."

Grani asked: "What are my thralls saying?"

"The water," said Rolf, "will take thy thralls from thee."

But one of the men had heard what had been said, and told Grani. Grani cried: "Why dost thou not try the climb?"

"Send one of those," answered Rolf, "who cares to save his life." This he said of a set purpose, for of the men some were heavy and some were old. They all shook their heads and said they could not win to the top of the cliff. Grani said:

"I will give thee thy freedom if thou wilt save us."

"Is there a farm above?" asked Rolf.

One of the men said: "Within a mile."

Rolf still stayed where he was. "Why dost thou not go?" cried Grani.

"What of the freedom of my fellow?" asked Rolf.

"He also shall be free," answered Grani.

Then Rolf essayed to climb the cliff by the way which seemed surest; he went up quickly until they lost sight of him, so that they began to say that now he was at the top, and would soon bring a rope. Then something fell with a great splash in the water.

"He hath reached the top and thrown down a rock," cried the men.

But that was Rolf himself, for he had fallen from near the top; presently they saw his head. All breathless and bruised, he swam to them and waited a while; then he sought to climb by the other way, and that was more in sight of the others; marvellous climbing they agreed it was. After a while he went again out of their sight, and in the end they heard him hail. So they were sure he was at the top. Then they waited for him to bring the rope, and the water rose to the breastbone of Frodi, who was tallest; but it was at the chin of the shortest, who had to float, while Frodi held him. They stayed there a long time, and the water rose still higher; it was cold, and some of the men grew very faint. At last shouts were heard, and a rope came dangling down.

Then the shortest man climbed the rope, and he was glad. But others were too weak to climb, and had to be drawn up, one after another. Grani would not go, but sent up the men in the order of their height. When he and Frodi alone were left, Grani said to Frodi: "Go thou next."

"Great is thy pride," answered Frodi, "and thou wishest to do a brave deed, yet thy strength is not sufficient. For see, thou art blue about the lips, and I am holding thee upright. How shouldst thou stay alone after I have gone up? But I could stand here yet another hour. Thou must go next."

"I will stay to the last," answered Grani. Then the rope came down again. "I will not go," said Grani.

"Then I shall tie thee by force, and send thee up," said Frodi.

But then was heard a great shouting, and there came a ship which had seen the work of rescue, and had put in shore. Grani said: "I will go in the ship; they are sending a boat." When the boat came from the ship, Grani went in it; but Frodi climbed the rope and told Rolf what had been said.

That was a ship of chapmen, and its master asked Grani who he was, and gave him food and drink, and carried him round the end of the Mainland to Hawksness; but those others who had reached the top of the cliff had no other way than to walk. Four leagues they fared on foot, reaching Hawksness after nightfall. Meanwhile Grani spoke much with the shipmaster, and they grew very friendly. They came to Hawksness about the same time as the other men came from the moors, and they all walked up to the hall together.

Rolf walks with Frodi, but the shipmaster goes with Grani, and passes near them; the shipmaster sees them, but they do not mark him. Then the shipmaster pulls at Grani's sleeve, and draws him aside.

The shipmaster asks: "Those two who walk there are thy thralls?"

Grani said so. Then the shipmaster said: "Didst thou say thou wouldst set them free?"

"Aye," answered Grani.

"It hath come to my mind," said the other, "that they did not save thee, but I did. Moreover, there was no need for climbing the cliff, for I should have been able to save ye all."

"That is true," said Grani.

"Now," quoth the shipmaster, "thou art very reckless of thy possessions if thou settest those thralls free."

"Truly," answered Grani, "I will not free them."

When they reached the hall Sweyn had arrived before them, and the booty of the vikings lay in the hall; but Ar was waiting anxiously for his foster-son, and welcomed him gladly. Then a true tale was required of all that had happened.

Grani told each thing as it had come about. When he told of his thralls, Ar said: "Since those two are Icelanders, who are close to us by ties of blood, it were better to have set them free."

"Thou didst not reserve any save Orkneymen," answered Grani. Then he told of the wreck and the rescue.

Said Ar: "So those two have their freedom in the end?"

Grani called Rolf and Frodi to the dais. "Thou didst not save my life," said he.

"That is true," answered Rolf.

"Moreover," quoth Grani, "the ship would have saved us all."

"That also is true," said Rolf.

"Therefore I see no reason," said Grani next, "why I should set thee free."

Rolf and Frodi answered nothing. "See," said Grani to Ar, "they make no objection; therefore I shall keep them as thralls. But I will give each of them what he cares to choose of the spoil, if thou permit."

Then permission was given, and the spoil of the vikings was spread out there before the dais; there were fine things of many kinds. But Rolf put the gold and silver by, and took only a cloak. Then said Grani: "Choose again."

Rolf took a belt.

"Choose again," repeated Grani.

Rolf took a short sword.

"Choose yet again!" cried Grani. But Rolf would take nothing more, and Frodi took naught but a cloak and a whittle. "A strange pair are ye," quoth Grani.

But Ar called them to him and asked them why they had chosen so little.

"We take only our own," answered Rolf.

"Sea-worn cloaks and weapons," said Ar, "are they dear to ye?"

"His mother," said Frodi, "made me my cloak, but the whittle belonged to my father."

"And thy things," asked Ar of Rolf. "Who gave them to thee?"

"Snorri the Priest," answered Rolf, "gave me the cloak, and Burning Flosi gave the belt; but if ye do not know these names—"

"I know them both," said Sweyn the sea-captain. "But who gave the sword?"

"Kari Solmund's son," answered Rolf, "and that name thou shouldst know best of all."

Sweyn cried: "I know the man himself, for he is an Orkneyman by birth, tribute-taker here under Earl Sigurd, and of great fame. Now tell us the story why he gave thee the sword."

But Rolf would tell nothing. Then Sweyn offered to buy Rolf of Grani, but he puffed out his lips and would not sell his thrall. So nothing came of that rescue by Rolf, save to give him a name among the Orkneyingers.

Now all men sit down for the evening meal. That shipmaster wishes to leave the hall, saying he must look to his ship; but Grani will not let him go. Then Frodi sees him, and pushes Rolf in the side. Says Frodi: "Men said your uncle was dead."

"So they did," answers Rolf. But he does not attend, and falls to brooding. So Frodi says that again. Rolf asks him why.

"Who sits by the dais?" asked Frodi.

Rolf looked on that shipmaster, and it was his father's brother, Kiartan.

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