The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. l.

Grettir and the Foster-brothers at Reek-knolls.

Now Grettir came to Reek-knolls about winter-nights, and prayed Thorgils for winter abode; Thorgils said, that for him as for other free men meat was ready; "but the fare of guests here is nowise choice." Grettir said he was not nice about that.

"There is yet another thing here for thy trouble," said Thorgils: "Men are minded to harbour here, who are deemed somewhat hard to keep quiet, even as those foster-brothers, Thorgeir and Thormod; I wot not how meet it may be for you to be together; but their dwelling shall ever be here if they will it so: now mayst thou abide here if thou wilt, but I will not have it that either of you make strife with the other."

Grettir said he would not be the first to raise strife with any man, and so much the less as the bonder's will was such.

A little after came those foster-brothers home; things went not merrily betwixt Thorgeir and Grettir, but Thormod bore himself well. Goodman Thorgils said to the foster-brothers even as he had said to Grettir; and of such worth they held him, that neither cast an untoward word at the other although their minds went nowise the same way: and so wore the early winter.

Now men say that Thorgils owned those isles, which are called Olaf's-isles, and lie out in the firth a sea-mile and a half off Reekness; there had bonder Thorgils a good ox that he might not fetch home in the autumn; and he was ever saying that he would fain have him against Yule. Now, one day those foster-brothers got ready to seek the ox, if a third man could be gotten to their aid: Grettir offered to go with them, and they were well pleased thereat; they went, the three of them, in a ten-oared boat: the weather was cold, and the wind shifting from the north, and the craft lay up on Whaleshead-holm.

Now they sail out, and somewhat the wind got up, but they came to the isle and got hold of the ox; then asked Grettir which they would do, bear the ox aboard or keep hold of the craft, because the surf at the isle was great; then they bade him hold the boat; so he stood amidships on that side which looked from shore, and the sea took him up to the shoulder-blades, yet he held her so that she moved nowise: but Thorgeir took the ox behind and Thormod before, and so hove it down to the boat; then they sat down to row, and Thormod rowed in the bows, Thorgeir amidships, and Grettir aft, and therewith they made out into the open bay; but when they came off Goat-rock, a squall caught them, then said Thorgeir, "The stern is fain to lag behind."

Then said Grettir, "The stern will not be left if the rowing afore be good."

Thereat Thorgeir fell to rowing so hard that both the tholes were broken: then said he, "Row on, Grettir, while I mend the thole-pins."

Then Grettir pulled mightily while Thorgeir did his mending, but when Thorgeir took to rowing again, the oars had got so worn that Grettir shook them asunder on the gunwale.

"Better," quoth Thormod, "to row less and break nought."

Then Grettir caught up two unshapen oar beams that lay in the boat and bored large holes in the gunwales, and rowed withal so mightily that every beam creaked, but whereas the craft was good, and the men somewhat of the brisker sort, they reached Whaleshead-holm.

Then Grettir asked whether they would rather go home with the ox or haul up the boat; they chose to haul up the boat, and hauled it up with all the sea that was in it, and all the ice, for it was much covered with icicles: but Grettir led home the ox, and exceeding stiff in tow he was, and very fat, and he grew very weary, and when they came up below Titling-stead could go no more.

The foster-brothers went up to the house, for neither would help the other in his allotted work; Thorgils asked after Grettir, but they told him where they had parted; then he sent men to meet him, and when they came down to Cave-knolls they saw how there came towards them a man with a neat on his back, and lo, there was Grettir come, bearing the ox: then all men wondered at his great might.

Now Thorgeir got very envious of Grettir's strength, and one day somewhat after Yule, Grettir went alone to bathe; Thorgeir knew thereof, and said to Thormod, "Let us go on now, and try how Grettir will start if I set on him as he comes from his bathing."

"That is not my mind," said Thormod, "and no good wilt thou get from him."

"I will go though," says Thorgeir; and therewith he went down to the slope, and bore aloft an axe.

By then was Grettir walking up from the bath, and when they met, Thorgeir said; "Is it true, Grettir," says he, "that thou hast said so much as that thou wouldst never run before one man?"

"That I know not for sure," said Grettir, "yet but a little way have I run before thee."

Thorgeir raised aloft the axe, but therewith Grettir ran in under Thorgeir and gave him an exceeding great fall: then said Thorgeir to Thormod, "Wilt thou stand by and see this fiend drive me down under him?"

Thormod caught hold of Grettir's feet, and was minded to pull him from off Thorgeir, but could do nought thereat: he was girt with a short-sword and was going to draw it, when goodman Thorgils came up and bade them be quiet and have nought to do with Grettir.

So did they and turned it all to game, and no more is told of their dealings; and men thought Thorgils had great luck in that he kept such reckless men in good peace.

But when spring came they all went away; Grettir went round to Codfirth, and he was asked, how he liked the fare of the winter abode at Reek-knolls; he answered, "There have I ever been as fain as might be of my meals when I got at them."

Thereafter he went west over the heaths.

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