The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xxii.

Of the Slaying of Biorn.

In the spring Grettir went north to Vogar with chapmen. He and Thorkel parted in friendship; but Biorn went west to England, and was the master of Thorkel's ship that went thither. Biorn dwelt thereabout that summer and bought such things for Thorkel as he had given him word to get; but as the autumn wore on he sailed from the west. Grettir was at Vogar till the fleet broke up; then he sailed from the north with some chapmen until they came to a harbour at an island before the mouth of Drontheimfirth, called Gartar, where they pitched their tents. Now when they were housed, a ship came sailing havenward from the south along the land; they soon saw that it was an England farer; she took the strand further out, and her crew went ashore; Grettir and his fellows went to meet them. But when they met, Grettir saw that Biorn was among those men, and spake —

"It is well that we have met here; now we may well take up our ancient quarrel, and now I will try which of us twain may do the most."

Biorn said that was an old tale to him, "but if there has been aught of such things between us, I will boot for it, so that thou mayst think thyself well holden thereof."

Then Grettir sang —

"In hard strife I slew the bear,

Thereof many a man doth hear;

Then the cloak I oft had worn,

By the beast to rags was torn;

Thou, O braggart ring-bearer,

Wrought that jest upon me there,

Now thou payest for thy jest,

Not in words am I the best?"

Biorn said, that oft had greater matters than these been atoned for.

Grettir said, "That few had chosen hitherto to strive to trip him up with spite and envy, nor ever had he taken fee for such, and still must matters fare in likewise. Know thou that we shall not both of us go hence whole men if I may have my will, and a coward's name will I lay on thy back, if thou darest not to fight."

Now Biorn saw that it would avail nought to try to talk himself free; so he took his weapons and went aland.

Then they ran one at the other and fought, but not long before Biorn got sore wounded, and presently fell dead to earth. But when Biorn's fellows saw that, they went to their ship, and made off north along the land to meet Thorkel and told him of this hap: he said it had not come to pass ere it might have been looked for.

Soon after this Thorkel went south to Drontheim, and met there Earl Svein. Grettir went south to Mere after the slaying of Biorn, and found his friend Thorfinn, and told him what had befallen. Thorfinn gave him good welcome, and said —

"It is well now that thou art in need of a friend; with me shalt thou abide until these matters have come to an end."

Grettir thanked him for his offer, and said he would take it now.

Earl Svein was dwelling in Drontheim, at Steinker, when he heard of Biorn's slaying; at that time there was with him Hiarandi, the brother of Biorn, and he was the Earl's man; he was exceeding wroth when he heard of the slaying of Biorn, and begged the Earl's aid in the matter, and the Earl gave his word thereto.

Then he sent men to Thorfinn and summoned to him both him and Grettir. Thorfinn and Grettir made ready at once at the Earl's bidding to go north to Drontheim to meet him. Now the Earl held a council on the matter, and bade Hiarandi to be thereat; Hiarandi said he would not bring his brother to purse; "and I shall either fare in a like wise with him, or else wreak vengeance for him." Now when the matter was looked into, the Earl found that Biorn had been guilty towards Grettir in many ways; and Thorfinn offered weregild, such as the Earl deemed might be befitting for Biorn's kin to take; and thereon he had much to say on the freedom which Grettir had wrought for men north there in the land, when he slew the bearserks, as has been aforesaid.

The Earl answered, "With much truth thou sayest this, Thorfinn, that was the greatest land-ridding, and good it seems to us to take weregild because of thy words; and withal Grettir is a man well renowned because of his strength and prowess."

Hiarandi would not take the settlement, and they broke up the meeting. Thorfinn got his kinsman Arnbiorn to go about with Grettir day by day, for he knew that Hiarandi lay in wait for his life.

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