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

How Rolf Named Witnesses for the Death of Hiarandi

I T happened that on that morning Frodi the Smith had travelled to Cragness to see his kinsmen, and he arrived at the hour of misfortune. For he found Asdis weeping and wringing her hands by the door of the hall, while below on Einar's land Rolf stood over the body of Hiarandi. Then Frodi hastened down to Rolf and wept aloud when he came there. When he could speak, he said:

"Come now, I will help thee bear Hiarandi's body to the house, as is proper."

But Rolf had stood without weeping, and now he said: "Let us bear him only to our own land, for a nearer duty remains than burial." And he and Frodi carried Hiarandi across the brook, and there laid him down; and Asdis covered him with a cloak. Then Rolf said to Frodi:

"Well art thou come, who art my only kinsman, and withal the strongest man in Broadfirth dales. And I would that thou hadst with thee more weapons than thy whittle. Art thou ready, Frodi, to help me in my feud?"

Frodi said uneasily: "A man of peace am I, and never yet have drawn man's blood. I am loth to bare weapon in any cause. And meseems thou hast no feud against anyone; for Hiarandi was lawfully slain, since he was beyond the limit which Snorri set."

"That is to be seen," quoth Rolf, and he went to the edge of the brook. "Yonder," said he, "stands the tree where my father was slain, and no step went he beyond it. [And that tree, until it decayed entirely, was known as Hiarandi's tree.] Now see," said Rolf, "if I can throw an arrow so far."

Then he sent an arrow, and it fell short by three roods; and the second shaft went but two yards farther, so that fourteen yards more were needed. Then Rolf tried again, and put all his skill and strength into the effort, yet the arrow fell scarce a foot beyond the second. Rolf dropped the bow and put his face in his hands.

"I cannot do it," groaned he.

"It is impossible to any man," said Frodi.

"He gives up easily," answered Rolf, "who hath no heart in the cause. Yet it remains to be seen if there are not men who can shoot farther than I. Try thou for me."

Frodi replied: "I am strong for the working of iron and the lifting of weights, but to shoot with the bow is another matter. That requires skill rather than strength."

"But try!" beseeched Rolf.

So Frodi tried, but he failed lamentably. "Said I not," asked he, "that I was not able? And now I say this, that by all thou art accounted the best archer in the district. For last winter, when we tried archery on the ice, and all did their uttermost, only Surt of Ere and Thord of Laxriver shot farther than thou, and that by not so much as a rood. Yet thou art much stronger each month, while they are grown men, and their strength waxes not at all. And if they surpass thee by no more than a rood, no help is in them for this matter."

Rolf knew Frodi spoke wisely, for that man must be found who could shoot three roods farther than himself. But he said: "Would I were the weakest in all Broadfirth dales, if only men might be found to surpass me by so much. But I will not leave this matter, and all the rest shall be done as is right."

So Rolf called Frodi to witness that the man whom he had slain, well known to them both, was a man of Einar's household. And Rolf cast earth upon his face, as a sign that he acknowledged the slaying of him. Then the two bore the body of Hiarandi to the hall, where Asdis prepared for the burial. But Frodi and Rolf went forth and summoned neighbors, men of property, who were not kinsmen of Einar's, to be at Cragness at the following morning. Twelve men were summoned. And the Cragness-dwellers did no more on that day.

But at Fellstead, although there were some wounds to be dressed, men were cheerful. For Hiarandi was gone, and now only a boy stood between Einar and the owning of Cragness; and a boy would be easy to dispose of. The wounded men were sent out of the way, that they might not be accused of the slaying; and when dark came Ondott sent and let bring the body of the man that was slain, and it was buried secretly. Then he and Einar spoke of the future, feeling no guilt on their souls, since all had been done lawfully. And no one noted how the old woman Thurid sat in a corner and crooned a song to herself.

Now these were the words of her song:

"A tree grows

And threatens woes.

Let axes chop so that it fall.

Let fire burn its branches all.

Let oxen drag its roots from ground.

Let earth afresh be scattered round.

Let no trace stay of oaken tree,—

So shall good fortune come to thee.

But if the tree shall stand and grow,

Then comes to Einar grief and woe."

Yet as she sat muttering the song to herself, Einar went by and bade her be silent, for he was going to sleep. Then she sang to herself:

"To-night to sleep,

Some day to weep."

After that she said no more.

But on the morrow those witnesses whom Rolf had summoned came together. They stood at Hiarandi's side, as the custom was, and Rolf named the head wound and the body wound by which he had been slain. Then they went to the place of the slaying; they viewed the tree, and Rolf named it as the spot to which Hiarandi went farthest; and he called on those men to witness that the tree stood there; and the distance was measured, and the tree was put under the protection of the men of the Quarter, so that it might not be cut. Thus all was done that could be done, and the news was taken to Fellstead.

Then Einar said to Ondott: "Where were thy wits? Had we last night destroyed the tree and smoothed the ground, no trial of bow-shooting might ever be made. Now we may be proved in the wrong, and this slaying turn against us."

Ondott had nothing to say, save that no man could shoot that distance. And they dared not now cut the tree.

That night Hiarandi was laid in his cairn, which they made of stones, by the edge of the cliff where all mariners could see it. And he was remembered as the first man in Iceland who lighted beacons against shipwreck, so that those who sailed by prayed for his soul.

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