The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xvii.

Of Grettir's voyage out.

There was a man called Haflidi, who dwelt at Reydarfell in Whiteriverside, he was a seafaring man and had a sailing ship, which lay up Whiteriver: there was a man on board his ship, hight Bard, who had a wife with him young and fair. Asmund sent a man to Haflidi, praying him to take Grettir and look after him; Haflidi said that he had heard that the man was ill ruled of mood; yet for the sake of the friendship between him and Asmund he took Grettir to himself, and made ready for sailing abroad.

Asmund would give to his son no faring-goods but victuals for the voyage and a little wadmall. Grettir prayed him for some weapon, but Asmund answered, "Thou hast not been obedient to me, nor do I know how far thou art likely to work with weapons things that may be of any gain; and no weapon shalt thou have of me."

"No deed no reward," says Grettir. Then father and son parted with little love. Many there were who bade Grettir farewell, but few bade him come back.

But his mother brought him on his road, and before they parted she spoke thus, "Thou art not fitted out from home, son, as I fain would thou wert, a man so well born as thou; but, meseems, the greatest shortcoming herein is that thou hast no weapons of any avail, and my mind misgives me that thou wilt perchance need them sorely."

With that she took out from under her cloak a sword well wrought, and a fair thing it was, and then she said, "This sword was owned by Jokul, my father's father, and the earlier Waterdale men, and it gained them many a day; now I give thee the sword, and may it stand thee in good stead."

Grettir thanked her well for this gift, and said he deemed it better than things of more worth; then he went on his way, and Asdis wished him all good hap.

Now Grettir rode south over the heath, and made no stay till he came to the ship. Haflidi gave him a good welcome and asked him for his faring-goods, then Grettir sang —

"Rider of wind-driven steed,

Little gat I to my need,

When I left my fair birth-stead,

From the snatchers of worm's bed;

But this man's-bane hanging here,

Gift of woman good of cheer,

Proves the old saw said not ill,

Best to bairn is mother still."

Haflidi said it was easily seen that she thought the most of him. But now they put to sea when they were ready, and had wind at will; but when they had got out over all shallows they hoisted sail.

Now Grettir made a den for himself under the boat, from whence he would move for nought, neither for baling, nor to do aught at the sail, nor to work at what he was bound to work at in the ship in even shares with the other men, neither would he buy himself off from the work.

Now they sailed south by Reekness and then south from the land; and when they lost land they got much heavy sea; the ship was somewhat leaky, and scarce seaworthy in heavy weather, therefore they had it wet enough. Now Grettir let fly his biting rhymes, whereat the men got sore wroth. One day, when it so happened that the weather was both squally and cold, the men called out to Grettir, and bade him now do manfully, "For," said they, "now our claws grow right cold." Grettir looked up and said —

"Good luck, scurvy starvelings, if I should behold

Each finger ye have doubled up with the cold."

And no work they got out of him, and now it misliked them of their lot as much again as before, and they said that he should pay with his skin for his rhymes and the lawlessness which he did. "Thou art more fain," said they, "of playing with Bard the mate's wife than doing thy duty on board ship, and this is a thing not to be borne at all."

The gale grew greater steadily, and now they stood baling for days and nights together, and all swore to kill Grettir. But when Haflidi heard this, he went up to where Grettir lay, and said, "Methinks the bargain between thee and the chapmen is scarcely fair; first thou dost by them unlawfully, and thereafter thou castest thy rhymes at them; and now they swear that they will throw thee overboard, and this is unseemly work to go on."

"Why should they not be free to do as they will?" says Grettir; "but I well would that one or two of them tarry here behind with me, or ever I go overboard."

Haflidi says, "Such deeds are not to be done, and we shall never thrive if ye rush into such madness; but I shall give thee good rede."

"What is that?" says Grettir.

"They blame thee for singing ill things of them; now, therefore, I would that thou sing some scurvy rhyme to me, for then it might be that they would bear with thee the easier."

"To thee I never sing but good," says Grettir: "I am not going to make thee like these starvelings."

"One may sing so," says Haflidi, "that the lampoon be not so foul when it is searched into, though at first sight it be not over fair."

"I have ever plenty of that skill in me," says Grettir.

Then Haflidi went to the men where they were baling, and said, "Great is your toil, and no wonder that ye have taken ill liking to Grettir."

"But his lampoons we deem worse than all the rest together," they said.

Haflidi said in a loud voice, "He will surely fare ill for it in the end."

But when Grettir heard Haflidi speak blamefully of him, he sang —

"Otherwise would matters be,

When this shouting Haflidi

Ate in house at Reydarfell

Curdled milk, and deemed it well;

He who decks the reindeer's side

That 'twixt ness and ness doth glide,

Twice in one day had his fill

Of the feast of dart shower shrill."8

The shipmen thought this foul enough, and said he should not put shame on Skipper Haflidi for nought.

Then said Haflidi, "Grettir is plentifully worthy that ye should do him some shame, but I will not have my honour staked against his ill-will and recklessness; nor is it good for us to wreak vengeance for this forthwith while we have this danger hanging over us; but be ye mindful of it when ye land, if so it seem good to you."

"Well," they said, "why should we not fare even as thou farest? for why should his vile word bite us more than thee?"

And in that mind Haflidi bade them abide; and thence-forward the chapmen made far less noise about Grettir's rhymes than before.

Now a long and a hard voyage they had, and the leak gained on the ship, and men began to be exceeding worn with toil. The young wife of the mate was wont to sew from Grettir's hands, and much would the crew mock him therefor; but Haflidi went up to where Grettir lay and sang —

"Grettir, stand up from thy grave,

In the trough of the grey wave

The keel labours, tell my say

Now unto thy merry may;

From thy hands the linen-clad

Fill of sewing now has had,

Till we make the land will she

Deem that labour fitteth thee."

Then Grettir stood up and sang —

"Stand we up, for neath us now

Rides the black ship high enow;

This fair wife will like it ill

If my limbs are laid here still;

Certes, the white trothful one

Will not deem the deed well done,

If the work that I should share

Other folk must ever bear."

Then he ran aft to where they were baling, and asked what they would he should do; they said he would do mighty little good.

"Well," said he, "ye may yet be apaid of a man's aid."

Haflidi bade them not set aside his help, "For it may be he shall deem his hands freed if he offers his aid."

At that time pumping was not used in ships that fared over the main; the manner of baling they used men called tub or cask baling, and a wet work it was and a wearisome; two balers were used, and one went down while the other came up. Now the chapmen bade Grettir have the job of sinking the balers, and said that now it should be tried what he could do; he said that the less it was tried the better it would be. But he goes down and sinks the balers, and now two were got to bale against him; they held out but a little while before they were overcome with weariness, and then four came forward and soon fared in likewise, and, so say some, that eight baled against him before the baling was done and the ship was made dry. Thenceforth the manner of the chapmen's words to Grettir was much changed, for they saw what strength he had to fall back upon; and from that time he was the stoutest and readiest to help, wheresoever need was.

Now they bore off east into the main, and much thick weather they had, and one night unawares they ran suddenly on a rock, so that the nether part of the ship went from under her; then the boat was run down, and women and all the loose goods were brought off: nearby was a little holm whither they brought their matters as they best could in the night; but when it began to dawn they had a talk as to where they were come; then they who had fared between lands before knew the land for Southmere in Norway; there was an island hardby called Haramsey; many folk dwelt there, and therein too was the manor of a lord.

8 This is about as obscure as the original, which seems to allude to some event not mentioned in the Saga.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/grettir-the-strong/chapter17.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07