The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. lii.

How Grettir was taken by the Icefirth Carles.

When Grettir came over Codfirth-heath down into Longdale, he swept up unsparingly the goods of the petty bonders, and had of every man what he would; from some he took weapons, from some clothes; and these folk gave up in very unlike ways; but as soon as he was gone, all said they gave them unwillingly.

In those days dwelt in Waterfirth Vermund the Slender, the brother of Slaying-Styr; he had to wife Thorbiorg, the daughter of Olaf Peacock, son of Hoskuld. She was called Thorbiorg the Big; but at the time that Grettir was in Longdale had Vermund ridden to the Thing.

Now Grettir went over the neck to Bathstead. There dwelt a man called Helgi, who was the biggest of bonders thereabout: from there had Grettir a good horse, which the bonder owned, and thence he went to Giorvidale, where farmed a man named Thorkel. He was well stored with victuals, yet a mannikin withal: therefrom took Grettir what he would, nor durst Thorkel blame him or withhold aught from him.

Thence went Grettir to Ere, and out along the side of the firth, and had from every farm victuals and clothes, and dealt hardly with many; so that most men deemed him a heavy trouble to live under.

Now he fared fearlessly withal, and took no keep of himself, and so went on till he came to Waterfirth-dale, and went to the mountain-dairy, and there he dwelt a many nights, and lay in the woods there, and took no heed to himself; but when the herdsmen knew that, they went to the farm, and said that to that stead was a fiend come whom they deemed nowise easy to deal with; then the farmers gathered together, and were thirty men in all: they lurked in the wood, so that Grettir was unaware of them, and let a shepherd spy on Grettir till they might get at him, yet they wotted not clearly who the man was.

Now so it befell that on a day as Grettir lay sleeping, the bonders came upon him, and when they saw him they took counsel how they should take him at the least cost of life, and settled so that ten men should leap on him, while some laid bonds on his feet; and this they did, and threw themselves on him, but Grettir broke forth so mightily that they fell from off him, and he got to his knees, yet thereby they might cast the bonds over him, and round about his feet; then Grettir spurned two of them so hard about the ears that they lay stunned on the earth. Now one after the other rushed at him, and he struggled hard and long, yet had they might to overcome him at the last, and so bound him.

Thereafter they talked over what they should do with him, and they bade Helgi of Bathstead take him and keep him in ward till Vermund came home from the Thing. He answered —

"Other things I deem more helpful to me than to let my house-carles sit over him, for my lands are hard to work, nor shall he ever come across me."

Then they bade Thorkel of Giorvidale take and keep him, and said that he was a man who had enow.

But Thorkel spake against it, and said that for nought would he do that: "Whereas I live alone in my house with my Carline, far from other men; nor shall ye lay that box on me," said he.

"Then, Thoralf of Ere," said they, "do thou take Grettir and do well to him till after the Thing; or else bring him on to the next farm, and be answerable that he get not loose, but deliver him bound as now thou hast him."

He answers, "Nay, I will not take Grettir, for I have neither victuals nor money to keep him withal, nor has he been taken on my land, and I deem it more trouble than honour to take him, or to have aught to do with him, nor shall he ever come into my house."

Thereafter they tried it with every bonder, but one and all spake against it; and after this talk have merry men made that lay which is hight Grettir's-faring, and added many words of good game thereto for the sport of men.

So when they had talked it over long, they said, with one assent, that they would not make ill hap of their good-hap; so they went about and straightway reared up a gallows there in the wood, with the mind to hang Grettir, and made great clatter thereover.

Even therewith they see six folk riding down below in the dale, and one in coloured clothes, and they guessed that there would goodwife Thorbiorg be going from Waterfirth; and so it was, and she was going to the mountain-dairy. Now she was a very stirring woman, and exceeding wise; she had the ruling of the neighbourhood, and settled all matters, when Vermund was from home. Now she turned to where the men were gathered, and was helped off her horse, and the bonders gave her good welcome.

Then said she, "What have ye here? or who is the big-necked one who sits in bonds yonder?"

Grettir named himself, and greeted her.

She spake again, "What drove thee to this, Grettir," says she, "that thou must needs do riotously among my Thing-men?"

"I may not look to everything; I must needs be somewhere," said he.

"Great ill luck it is," says she, "that these milksops should take thee in such wise that none should fall before thee. What are ye minded to do with him?"

The bonders told her that they were going to tie him up to the gallows for his lawlessness.

She answers, "Maybe Grettir is guilty enough therefor, but it is too great a deed for you, Icefirthers, to take his life, for he is a famous man, and of mighty kin, albeit he is no lucky man; but now what wilt thou do for thy life, Grettir, if I give it thee?"

He answered, "What sayest thou thereto?"

She said, "Thou shalt make oath to work no evil riots here in Icefirth, and take no revenge on whomsoever has been at the taking of thee."

Grettir said that she should have her will, and so he was loosed; and he says of himself that at that time of all times did he most rule his temper, when he smote them not as they made themselves great before him.

Now Thorbiorg bade him go home with her, and gave him a horse for his riding; so he went to Waterfirth and abode there till Vermund came home, and the housewife did well to him, and for this deed was she much renowned far and wide in the district.

But Vermund took this ill at his coming home, and asked what made Grettir there? Then Thorbiorg told him how all had gone betwixt Grettir and the Icefirthers.

"What reward was due to him," said Vermund, "that thou gavest him his life?"

"Many grounds there were thereto," said Thorbiorg; "and this, first of all, that thou wilt be deemed a greater chief than before in that thou hast a wife who has dared to do such a deed; and then withal surely would Hrefna his kinswoman say that I should not let men slay him; and, thirdly, he is a man of the greatest prowess in many wise."

"A wise wife thou art withal," said Vermund, "and have thou thanks therefor."

Then he said to Grettir, "Stout as thou art, but little was to be paid for thee, when thou must needs be taken of mannikins; but so ever it fares with men riotous."

Then Grettir sang this stave —

"Ill luck-to me

That I should be

On sea-roof-firth

Borne unto earth;

Ill luck enow

To lie alow,

This head of mine

Griped fast by swine."

"What were they minded to do to thee," said Vermund, "when they took thee there?"

Quoth Grettir —

"There many men

Bade give me then

E'en Sigar's meed

For lovesome deed;

Till found me there

That willow fair,

Whose leaves are praise,

Her stems good days."

Vermund asked, "Would they have hanged thee then, if they alone had had to meddle with matters?"

Said Grettir —

"Yea, to the snare

That dangled there

My head must I

Soon bring anigh;

But Thorbiorg came

The brightest dame,

And from that need

The singer freed."

Then said Vermund, "Did she bid thee to her?"

Grettir answered —

"Sif's lord's good aid,

My saviour, bade

To take my way

With her that day;

So did it fall;

And therewithal

A horse she gave;

Good peace I have."

"Mighty will thy life be and troublous," said Vermund; "but now thou hast learned to beware of thy foes; but I have no will to harbour thee, and gain therefor the ill-will of many rich men; but best is it for thee to seek thy kinsmen, though few men will be willing to take thee in if they may do aught else; nor to most men art thou an easy fellow withal."

Now Grettir was in Waterfirth a certain space, and then fared thence to the Westfirths, and sought shelter of many great men; but something ever came to pass whereby none of them would harbour him.

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