The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xxxvii.

Olaf the Saint, King in Norway; the slaying of Thorbiorn Tardy; Grettir goes to Norway.

Early the spring after came out a ship from Norway; and that was before the Thing; these folk knew many things to tell, and first that there was change of rulers in Norway, for Olaf Haraldson was come to be king, and Earl Svein had fled the country in the spring after the fight at Ness. Many noteworthy matters were told of King Olaf, and this withal, that he received such men in the best of ways who were of prowess in any deeds, and that he made such his men.

Thereat were many young men glad, and listed to go abroad, and when Grettir heard the tidings he became much minded to sail out; for he, like others, hoped for honour at the king's hands.

A ship lay in Goose-ere in Eyjafirth, therein Grettir got him a berth and made ready for the voyage, nor had he yet much of faring-goods.

Now Asmund was growing very feeble with eld, and was well-nigh bedridden; he and Asdis had a young son who was called Illugi, and was the hopefullest of men; and, by this time, Atli tended all farming and money-keeping, and this was deemed to better matters, because he was a peaceable and foreseeing man.

Now Grettir went shipward, but in that same ship had Thorbiorn the Tardy taken passage, before folk knew that Grettir would sail therein. Now men would hinder Thorbiorn from sailing in the same ship with Grettir, but Thorbiorn said that he would go for all that. He gat him ready for the voyage out, and was somewhat late thereat, nor did he come to the north to Goose-ere before the ship was ready for sea; and before Thorbiorn fared from the west, Asmund the Greyhaired fell sick and was bedridden.

Now Thorbiorn the Tardy came late one day down to the sand; men were getting ready to go to table, and were washing their hands outside the booths; but when Thorbiorn rode up the lane betwixt the booths, he was greeted, and asked for tidings. He made as if there was nought to tell, "Save that I deem that Asmund, the champion of Biarg, is now dead."

Many men said that there where he went, departed a worthy goodman from the world.

"But what brought it about?" said they.

He answered, "Little went to the death of that champion, for in the chamber smoke was he smothered like a dog; nor is there loss therein, for he was grown a dotard."

"Thou speakest marvellously of such a man," said they, "nor would Grettir like thy words well, if he heard them."

"That must I bear," said Thorbiorn, "and higher must Grettir bear the sword than he did last summer at Ramfirth-neck, if I am to tremble at him."

Now Grettir heard full well what Thorbiorn said, and paid no heed thereto while he let his tale run on; but when he had made an end, then spake Grettir —

"That fate I foretell for thee, Tardy," said he, "that thou wilt not die in chamber smoke, yet may be withal thou wilt not die of eld; but it is strangely done to speak scorn of sackless men."

Thorbiorn said, "I have no will to hold in about these things, and methinks thou didst not bear thyself so briskly when we got thee off that time when the men of Meals beat thee like a neat's head."

Then sang Grettir —

"Day by day full over long,

Arrow-dealer, grows thy tongue;

Such a man there is, that thou

Mayst be paid for all words now;

Many a man, who has been fain,

Wound-worm's tower with hands to gain,

With less deeds his death has bought,

Than thou, Tardy-one, hast wrought."

Said Thorbiorn, "About as feign do I deem myself as before, despite thy squealing."

Grettir answered, "Heretofore my spaedom has not been long-lived, and so shall things go still; now beware if thou wilt, hereafter will no out-look be left."

Therewith Grettir hewed at Thorbiorn, but he swung up his hand, with the mind to ward the stroke from him, but that stroke came on his arm about the wrist, and withal the short-sword drave into his neck so that the head was smitten off.

Then said the chapmen that he was a man of mighty strokes, and that such should king's men be; and no scathe they deemed it though Thorbiorn were slain, in that he had been both quarrelsome and spiteful.

A little after they sailed into the sea, and came in late summer to Norway, south at Hordaland, and then they heard that King Olaf was north at Drontheim; then Grettir took ship in a trading keel to go north therefrom, because he would fain see the king.

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