The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xxiv.

Of the Slaying of Gunnar, and Grettir's strife with Earl Svein.

Now Gunnar was in the town, and lay in wait for Grettir always and everywhere. It happened on a day that Grettir sat in a booth a-drinking, for he would not throw himself in Gunnar's way. But, when he wotted of it the least, the door was driven at so that it brake asunder, four men all-armed burst in, and there was Gunnar and his fellows.

They set on Grettir; but he caught up his weapons which hung over him, and then drew aback into the corner, whence he defended himself, having before him the shield, but dealing blows with the short-sword, nor did they have speedy luck with him. Now he smote at one of Gunnar's fellows, and more he needed not; then he advanced forth on the floor, and therewith they were driven doorward through the booth, and there fell another man of Gunnar's; then were Gunnar and his fellows fain of flight; one of them got to the door, struck his foot against the threshold and lay there grovelling and was slow in getting to his feet. Gunnar had his shield before him, and gave back before Grettir, but he set on him fiercely and leaped up on the cross-beam by the door. Now the hands of Gunnar and the shield were within the door, but Grettir dealt a blow down amidst Gunnar and the shield and cut off both his hands by the wrist, and he fell aback out of the door; then Grettir dealt him his death-blow.

But in this nick of time got to his feet Gunnar's man, who had lain fallen awhile, and he ran straightway to see the Earl, and to tell him these tidings.

Earl Svein was wondrous wroth at this tale, and forthwith summoned a Thing in the town. But when Thorfinn and Thorstein Dromond knew this, they brought together their kin and friends and came thronging to the Thing. Very cross-grained was the Earl, and it was no easy matter to come to speech with him. Thorfinn went up first before the Earl and said, "For this cause am I come hither, to offer thee peace and honour for these man-slayings that Grettir has wrought; thou alone shall shape and settle all, if the man hath respite of his life."

The Earl answered sore wroth: "Late wilt thou be loth to ask respite for Grettir; but in my mind it is that thou hast no good cause in court; he has now slain three brothers, one at the heels of the other, who were men so brave that they would none bear the other to purse. Now it will not avail thee, Thorfinn, to pray for Grettir, for I will not thus bring wrongs into the land so as to take boot for such unmeasured misdeeds."

Then came forward Bessi, Skald-Torfa's son, and prayed the Earl to take the offered settlement. "Thereto," he said, "I will give up my goods, for Grettir is a man of great kin and a good friend of mine; thou mayst well see, Lord, that it is better to respite one man's life and to have therefor the thanks of many, thyself alone dooming the fines, than to break down thine own honour, and risk whether thou canst seize the man or not."

The Earl answered, "Thou farest well herein, Bessi, and showest at all times that thou art a high-minded man; still I am loth thus to break the laws of the land, giving respite to men of foredoomed lives."

Then stepped forth Thorstein Dromond and greeted the Earl, and made offers on Grettir's behalf, and laid thereto many fair words. The Earl asked for what cause he made offers for this man. Thorstein said that they were brothers. The Earl said that he had not known it before: "Now it is but the part of a man for thee to help him, but because we have made up our mind not to take money for these man-slayings, we shall make all men of equal worth here, and Grettir's life will we have, whatsoever it shall cost and whensoever chance shall serve."

Thereat the Earl sprang up, and would listen in nowise to the offered atonements.

Now Thorfinn and his folk went home to Thorstein's court and made ready. But when the Earl saw this he bade all his men take weapons, and then he went thither with his folk in array. But before he came up Thorfinn and his men ordered themselves for defence before the gate of the court. Foremost stood Thorfinn and Thorstein and Grettir, and then Bessi, and each of them had a large following of men with him.

The Earl bade them to give up Grettir, nor to bring themselves into an evil strait; they made the very same offer as before. The Earl would not hearken thereto. Then Thorfinn and Thorstein said that the Earl should have more ado yet for the getting of Grettir's life, "For one fate shall befall us all, and it will be said thou workest hard for one man's life, if all we have to be laid on earth therefor."

The Earl said he should spare none of them, and now they were at the very point to fight.

Then went to the Earl many men of goodwill, and prayed him not to push matters on to such great evils, and said they would have to pay heavily before all these were slain. The Earl found this rede to be wholesome, and became somewhat softened thereat.

Thereafter they drew up an agreement to which Thorstein and Thorfinn were willing enough, now that Grettir should have respite of his life. The Earl spake: "Know ye," quoth he, "that though I deal by way of mean words with these man-slayings at this time, yet I call this no settlement, but I am loth to fight against my own folk; though I see that ye make little of me in this matter."

Then said Thorfinn, "This is a greater honour for thee, Lord, for that thou alone wilt doom the weregild."

Then the Earl said that Grettir should go in peace, as for him, out to Iceland, when ships fared out, if so they would; they said that they would take this. They paid the Earl fines to his mind, and parted from him with little friendship. Grettir went with Thorfinn; he and his brother Thorstein parted fondly.

Thorfinn got great fame for the aid he had given Grettir against such overwhelming power as he had to deal with: none of the men who had helped Grettir were ever after well loved of the Earl, save Bessi.

So quoth Grettir —

"To our helping came

The great of name;

Thorfinn was there

Born rule to bear;

When all bolts fell

Into locks, and hell

Cried out for my life

In the Tunsberg strife.

The Dromund fair11

Of red seas was there,

The stone of the bane

Of steel-gods vain:

From Bylest's kin

My life to win,

Above all men

He laboured then.

Then the king's folk

Would strike no stroke

To win my head;

So great grew dread;

For the leopard came

With byrni's flame,

And on thoughts-burg wall

Should that bright fire fall."

Grettir went back north with Thorfinn, and was with him till he gat him to ship with chapmen who were bound out to Iceland: he gave him many fair gifts of raiment, and a fair-stained saddle and a bridle withal. They parted in friendship, and Thorfinn bade him come to him whensoever he should come back to Norway.

11 The stone of steel-god's bane in Thorstein; Bylest's kin is Hel, death. The leopard is Bessi Skald-Torfason; byrni's flame, his sword. Thoughts-burg, a warrior's head.

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