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 Trial of Skill at Tongue

S NORRI asked of Rolf: "Art thou the son of Hiarandi my kinsman?"

"His son am I," answered Rolf.

"So must thy father be dead," said Snorri. "For I feared he would break his bounds."

"It is yet to be proven," replied Rolf, "whether he be lawfully slain or no."

Then Flosi said: "Let us hear this tale, for it hath not yet come to our ears. Sit here before us, and tell what hath happened."

So Rolf sat there on the stool which had been prepared, and he told his story. All who sat there listened, and the men of the South Firths drew up close. It was a new thing for Rolf thus to speak before great men, and before fighting-men; but he bore himself well and spoke manfully, forbearing to complain, so that they murmured praise of him. And it seemed to them wrong that he had been so treated, and the younger men grew wroth. When Rolf had finished telling of the death of Hiarandi, one of the Southfirthers sprang up and stood before the dais. That was Kolbein the son of Flosi, and he asked: "May I speak what is in my mind?"

They bade him speak.

"This place on Broadfirth," said Kolbein, "is not so far out of our way when we journey back. Let us make a stop there, and pull this man Einar out of his house, and so deal with him that he shall do no evil hereafter."

This he said with fire, for he was a young man.

But Flosi answered: "Now is seen in thee the great fault of this land, for we are all too ready to proceed unlawfully. And men can know by me how violence is hard repaid." All knew he spoke of the Burning, and of that vengeance which took from him many kinsmen. "Let us do nothing unlawful. What sayest thou, Kari?"

Then Kari said that nothing should be done without the law. And the young man sat down again. But Kari called on Snorri for his opinion.

"Methinks," said Snorri, "that the lad hath some way of his own which may serve."

"If that is all," answered Kari, "then we will help him."

"It is only," said Rolf, "that one of you here will shoot with the bow three roods farther than I. Thus can my father's death be proved unlawful, and Einar stand punishable."

With great eagerness the young men sprang up and got their bows. All said they would do their best to help the lad, but it was plain that they regarded the matter an easy one. So Rolf took heart at their confidence. Then all went out to the mead, where was good space for shooting.

"But first," said Kari, "let us get our hand in with shooting at a mark. Then when we are limber we will shoot to show our distance."

So that was done, and all thought that great sport, and a fine opportunity for each to show what man he was. The Southfirthers and the Westfirthers set apples on sticks and shot them off, and they shot next at the sticks themselves, and last they shot at a moving mark. Then they called Rolf to show his skill.

Flosi asked of Kari: "Thinkest thou the lad can shoot?"

"Slender is he," answered Kari, "but strong in the arms and back, and his eye is the eye of an eagle. Our young men will not find their task easy."

Rolf struck the apples, and then the sticks, and then the moving mark. Then they swung a hoop on the end of a pole, and Rolf sent his arrow through it, but most of the others failed.

Kari laughed. "Ye forget," quoth he, "that the lad shoots at birds and cannot afford to lose his arrows. Who among us hath had such training? But now let us try at the distance."

So the ground was cleared for that, and the weaker bowmen shot first, and some good shots were made. Rolf was called upon to say what he thought. He shook his head.

"Ye must do better," he said.

Then better bowmen shot, all those who were there except Kari and Kolbein. Snorri would not shoot, but Flosi did, and a great honor it was deemed that he should oblige the lad. But when all had finished, then Rolf took his bow, and his arrow fell upon the farthest which had been sent, and split it.

Snorri laughed. "So hath my kinsman come here," he said, "and all for naught."

But Kari said: "Kolbein and I have yet to shoot, and we are about alike in skill." So they shot one after the other, and they shot equally, so far that all were pleased, and some ran to measure the distance, finding it three roods and more beyond Rolf"s arrow. Many cried that the matter was now settled.

But Snorri said: "Let Rolf shoot once more. Mayhap he hath not yet done his best."

Then Rolf took his bow again, and the arrow flew; it fell less than a rood behind the arrows of Kari and Kolbein.

So it was proved that none there might help Rolf in his need. Then he was greatly cast down; and he wished to go away at once, but they detained him over night. No men could be kinder to him. And in the morning, when he was to start home, they offered him money, but he would take none. So Snorri gave him a cape, and Flosi a belt, and Kari gave a short sword, handsome and well made; much was he honored by those gifts. Snorri lent him a horse to take him to Hvamm, and there boatmen set him again across the firth.

Weary and disheartened, he came to Cragness on the morning of the second day, and without joy he entered the hall. There Asdis met him in great trouble.

"Here has been," said she, "a great man and a rough, who made me feed him. Misfortunes come to us from all sides, for Frodi is away, and the man took our milk-ewe, and has driven it away before him, going toward the fells."

"When was he here?" asked Rolf.

"Not two hours ago."

"I will seek him," said the lad, and turned from the house.

"Nay," cried Asdis in alarm, "I beg thee, go not! For he was huge and fierce of aspect. Thou art too tender to meet such as he. Put up with this matter and let it pass."

"Mother," answered Rolf, "I am sixteen years old, and since the death of my father I am a man in the eye of the law. Wouldst thou have me less than a man in fact?" And he went his way after the robber.

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