The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xxxviii.

Of Thorir of Garth and his sons; and how Grettir fetched fire for his shipmates.

There was a man named Thorir, who lived at Garth, in Maindale, he was the son of Skeggi, the son of Botulf. Skeggi had settled Well-wharf up to Well-ness; he had to wife Helga, daughter of Thorkel, of Fishbrook; Thorir, his son, was a great chief, and a seafaring man. He had two sons, one called Thorgeir and one Skeggi, they were both hopeful men, and fully grown in those days. Thorir had been in Norway that summer, when King Olaf came east from England, and got into great friendship with the king, and with Bishop Sigurd as well; and this is a token thereof, that Thorir had had a large ship built in the wood, and prayed Bishop Sigurd to hallow it, and so he did. Thereafter Thorir fared out to Iceland and caused the ship to be broken up, when he grew weary of sailing, but the beaks of the ship, he had set up over his outer door, and they were there long afterwards, and were so full of weather wisdom, that the one whistled before a south wind, and the other before a north wind.

But when Thorir knew that King Olaf had got the sole rule over all Norway, he deemed that he had some friendship there to fall back on; then he sent his sons to Norway to meet the king, and was minded that they should become his men. They came there south, late in autumn, and got to themselves a row-barge, and fared north along the land, with the mind to go and meet the king.

They came to a haven south of Stead, and lay there some nights, and kept themselves in good case as to meat and drink, and were not much abroad when the weather was foul.

Now it is to be told that Grettir and his fellows fared north along the land, and often had hard weather, because it was then the beginning of winter; and when they bore down north on Stead, they had much foul weather, with snow and frost, and with exceeding trouble they make land one evening all much worn with wet; so they lay to by a certain dyke, and could thus save their money and goods; the chapmen were hard put to it for the cold, because they could not light any fire, though thereon they deemed well-nigh their life and health lay.

Thus they lay that evening in evil plight; but as the night wore on they saw that a great fire sprang up in the midst of the sound over against there whereas they had come. But when Grettir's shipmates saw the fire, they said one to the other that he would be a happy man who might get it, and they doubted whether they should unmoor the ship, but to all of them there seemed danger in that. Then they had a long talk over it, whether any man was of might enow to fetch that fire.

Grettir gave little heed thereto, but said, that such men had been as would not have feared the task. The chapmen said that they were not bettered by what had been, if now there was nought to take to.

"Perchance thou deemest thyself man enough thereto, Grettir," said they, "since thou art called the man of most prowess among the men of Iceland, and thou wottest well enough what our need is."

Grettir answered, "It seems to me no great deed to fetch the fire, but I wot not if ye will reward it according to the prayer of him who does it."

They said, "Why deemest thou us such shameful men as that we should reward that deed but with good?"

Quoth he, "I may try this if so be that ye think much lies on it, but my mind bids me hope to get nought of good thereby."

They said that that should never be, and bade all hail to his words; and thereafter Grettir made ready for swimming, and cast his clothes from off him; of clothes he had on but a cape and sail-cloth breeches; he girt up the cape and tied a bast-rope strongly round his middle, and had with him a cask; then he leaped overboard; he stretched across the sound, and got aland.

There he saw a house stand, and heard therefrom the talk of men, and much clatter, and therewith he turned toward that house.

Now is it to be said of those that were there before, that here were come the sons of Thorir, as is aforesaid; they had lain there many nights, and bided there the falling of the gale, that they might have wind at will to go north, beyond Stead. They had set them down a-drinking, and were twelve men in all; their ship rode in the main haven, and they were at a house of refuge for such men to guest in, as went along the coast.

Much straw had been borne into the house, and there was a great fire on the floor; Grettir burst into the house, and wotted not who was there before; his cape was all over ice when he came aland, and he himself was wondrous great to behold, even as a troll; now those first comers were exceeding amazed at him, and deemed he must be some evil wight; they smote at him with all things they might lay hold of, and mighty din went on around them; but Grettir put off all blows strongly with his arms, then some smote him with fire-brands, and the fire burst off over all the house, and therewith he got off with the fire and fared back again to his fellows.

They mightily praised his journey and the prowess of it, and said that his like would never be. And now the night wore, and they deemed themselves happy in that they had got the fire.

The next morning the weather was fair; the chapmen woke early and got them ready to depart, and they talked together that now they should meet those who had had the rule of that fire, and wot who they were.

Now they unmoored their ship, and crossed over the sound; there they found no hall, but saw a great heap of ashes, and found therein many bones of men; then they deemed that this house of refuge had been utterly burned up, with all those men who had been therein.

Thereat they asked if Grettir had brought about that ill-hap, and said that it was the greatest misdeed.

Grettir said, that now had come to pass even as he had misdoubted, that they should reward him ill for the fetching of the fire, and that it was ill to help unmanly men.

Grettir got such hurt of this, that the chapmen said, wheresoever they came, that Grettir had burned those men. The news soon got abroad that in that house were lost the aforenamed sons of Thorir of Garth, and their fellows; then they drave Grettir from their ship and would not have him with them; and now he became so ill looked on that scarce any one would do good to him.

Now he deemed that matters were utterly hopeless, but before all things would go to meet the king, and so made north to Drontheim. The king was there before him, and knew all or ever Grettir came there, who had been much slandered to the king. And Grettir was some days in the town before he could get to meet the king.

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