The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xxxix.

How Grettir would fain bear Iron before the King.

Now on a day when the king sat in council, Grettir went before the king and greeted him well. The king looked at him and said, "Art thou Grettir the Strong?"

He answered, "So have I been called, and for that cause am I come to thee, that I hope from thee deliverance from the evil tale that is laid on me, though I deem that I nowise wrought that deed."

King Olaf said, "Thou art great enough, but I know not what luck thou mayest bear about to cast off this matter from thee; but it is like, indeed, that thou didst not willingly burn the men."

Grettir said he was fain to put from him this slander, if the king thought he might do so; the king bade him tell truthfully, how it had gone betwixt him and those men: Grettir told him all, even as has been said before, and this withal, that they were all alive when he came out with the fire —

"And now I will offer to free myself in such wise as ye may deem will stand good in law therefor."

Olaf the king said, "We will grant thee to bear iron for this matter if thy luck will have it so."

Grettir liked this exceeding well; and now took to fasting for the iron; and so the time wore on till the day came whereas the trial should come off; then went the king to the church, and the bishop and much folk, for many were eager to have a sight of Grettir, so much as had been told of him.

Then was Grettir led to the church, and when he came thither, many of those who were there before gazed at him and said one to the other, that he was little like to most folk, because of his strength and greatness of growth.

Now, as Grettir went up the church-floor, there started up a lad of ripe growth, wondrous wild of look, and he said to Grettir —

"Marvellous is now the custom in this land, as men are called Christians therein, that ill-doers, and folk riotous, and thieves shall go their ways in peace and become free by trials; yea, and what would the evil man do but save his life while he might? So here now is a misdoer, proven clearly a man of misdeeds, and has burnt sackless men withal, and yet shall he, too, have a trial to free him; ah, a mighty ill custom!"

Therewith he went up to Grettir and pointed finger, and wagged head at him, and called him mermaid's son, and many other ill names.

Grettir grew wroth beyond measure hereat, and could not keep himself in; he lifted up his fist, and smote the lad under the ear, so that forthwith he fell down stunned, but some say that he was slain there and then. None seemed to know whence that lad came or what became of him, but men are mostly minded to think, that it was some unclean spirit, sent thither for Grettir's hurt.

Now a great clamour rose in the church, and it was told the king, "He who should bear the iron is smiting all about him;" then King Olaf went down the church, and saw what was going on, and spake —

"A most unlucky man art thou," said he, "that now the trial should not be, as ready as all things were thereto, nor will it be easy to deal with thine ill-luck."

Grettir answered, "I was minded that I should have gained more honour from thee, Lord, for the sake of my kin, than now seems like to be;" and he told withal how men were faring to King Olaf, as was said afore, "and now I am fain," said he, "that thou wouldest take me to thee; thou hast here many men with thee, who will not be deemed more like men-at-arms than I?"

"That see I well," said the king, "that few men are like unto thee for strength and stoutness of heart, but thou art far too luckless a man to abide with us: now shall thou go in peace for me, wheresoever thou wilt, the winter long, but next summer go thou out to Iceland, for there will it be thy fate to leave thy bones."

Grettir answered, "First would I put from me this affair of the burning, if I might, for I did not the deed willingly."

"It is most like," said the king; "but yet, because the trial is now come to nought for thy heedlessness' sake, thou will not get this charge cast from thee more than now it is, For ill-heed still to ill doth lead, and if ever man has been cursed, of all men must thou have been."

So Grettir dwelt a while in the town thereafter, but dealt no more with the king than has been told.

Then he fared into the south country, and was minded east for Tunsberg, to find Thorstein Dromond, his brother, and there is nought told of his travels till he came east to Jadar.

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