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 Soursops, and the Curse Which Hung on Them

O F those things which had been said, Rolf heard all, yet he had not spoken. Now he drew near to his father, and said to him: "Explain to me, father, the things of which the woman spoke. What is the curse upon us, and can such a thing be true?"

Then Hiarandi answered: "Thou knowest we are of the Soursops, who got their name when they sopped with sour whey the fire which was kindled to burn them in their house. Now Gisli, the first of us, slew Kol, his wife's foster-father, for the sake of his sword Graysteel, and Kol laid the curse of misfortune on us. Slayings arose by means of that sword; there came the outlawing of Gisli, the grandson of the first Gisli, and death fell in most branches of the house. Fourteen years Gisli was outlaw, even as has been, to this year, Grettir the Strong, who is the great outlaw of our day. But Gisli was slain, and his brother, while his sister died. Son of that sister is Snorri the Priest, who alone of us has prospered; for though no slayings have ever happened in our branch, unlucky are we all, as is plain to see."

"I have often wondered," said Rolf, "how it is that we live here in this great hall and have but us three and the servants to fill it. There are places for seven fires down the middle of the hall, yet we use but one. And all the benches were once used, since they are worn: seats for fifty men, and the women's seats besides."

"Once," said Hiarandi, "my father had so many on his farm that nightly the hall was full. But those serving-men are Einar's now, and all our riches have passed away to him. Yet this house is the finest in all these parts. I was at the building of it in my youth, and" (here he made sure that the thrall was not listening) "I myself made the secret panels by which we can escape in case of burning. For since that burning so long ago, no Soursop builds himself a house in which men may trap him."

"But thou hast no enemies, father?" asked the lad.

"No enemies, I hope," answered Hiarandi, "but few friends, I am sure, since only Frodi the Smith, my mother's cousin, is of our kin; for I count not Snorri the Priest."

"But why not Snorri the Priest?" asked Rolf.

"My father," answered Hiarandi, "quarrelled with him and called him coward. For Snorri would not take up at arms a suit my father lost at law."

Then Rolf thought awhile. All men knew of Snorri the Priest, who was no temple priest at all but a priest of the law. For the title had come down from heathen times, when leaders had sway over all matters, both in religion and law, and to be priest was to be chieftain. But usage and the new religion changed that by degrees; so that to be priest now meant to be a giver of the law, with a seat at the Quarter Courts and at the Althing, the great yearly gathering to which from all Iceland men went to settle suits. And Snorri the Priest was well known as the richest man in Broadfirth dales, the shrewdest and wisest in all things worldly, and a master at the law.

"It would be well," said the lad, "to have Snorri on our side."

"It is better," said Asdis, "never to go to the law. Lawsuits and quarrels are bad things, and they bring a man's fortune to naught."

And Hiarandi added, "By law we have ever suffered."

Then Rolf was silent, and thought of what had been said: how the old woman had prophesied trouble at the law, and by what man that trouble should come. And as he thought upon the words she and his father had spoken, he thought that they had spoken with knowledge, though of different kinds: for while the woman prophesied vaguely, his father had seemed to know who the man should be.

"Father," asked Rolf, "knowest thou who the man is that came upon the ship?"

"I know," answered Hiarandi.

Asdis asked: "Who then is he?"

Hiarandi said: "Saw ye upon the ship, as it lay below us, the faces of any of the men?"

"Aye," answered they both, "for it was as clear as day."

"Saw ye then," asked Hiarandi, "one who stood by the mast, a tall man with a great beard?"

"I saw him," answered Rolf. "He stood and held by a rope and the mast, and I thought he should be the captain; but he gave no commands, nor did any man heed him, for all worked of themselves."

"Yet, as I guess," said Hiarandi, "the captain was he, and he was the man of whom the carline spoke."

"Who is he, then?" asked the boy.

"Listen," said Hiarandi, "and I will tell thee of one in my family of whom I have never yet spoken. There were two of us when I was a lad, brothers; and the other was named Kiartan. He was younger than I by a year, and different in all his ways; yet I have often thought that my father had not enough patience with him. For he sent him to bad companions rather than weaned him from them, and at last he drove him from the house altogether. Then Kiartan took to the sea—he was not bad, remember, but weak perhaps and foolish—took to the sea, and we saw him not for years. Once only he came back, out at elbow, and asked my father for money. Money he got, but gave the promise to ask nothing from the inheritance; and this was handselled before witnesses, my father giving much, the rest to come to me. Then Kiartan went away again, and not until this night have I seen him. But if that was his ship, then he has prospered."

"Yet it was he the woman meant?" asked Rolf.

"Who else?" returned his father.

"How should he," asked the boy, "bring trouble on thee?"

"I see not," answered Hiarandi, "how he should bring either evil or good."

Then he closed his mouth and became thoughtful, in a manner he had. Asdis motioned Rolf to be silent, and nothing more was said in the matter.

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