The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. liv.

Grettir meets Hallmund on the Keel.

Now Grettir fared from Tongue up to Hawkdale, and thence north upon the Keel, and kept about there long that summer; nor was there trust of him that he would not take men's goods from them, as they went from or to the north over the Keel, because he was hard put to it to get wares.

Now on a day, when as Grettir would keep about the north at Doveness-path, he saw a man riding from the north over the Keel; he was huge to behold on horseback, and had a good horse, and an embossed bridle well wrought; another horse he had in tow and bags thereon; this man had withal a slouched hat on his head, nor could his face be clearly seen.

Now Grettir looked hard at the horse and the goods thereon, and went to meet the man, and greeting him asked his name, but he said he was called Air. "I wot well what thou art called," said he, "for thou shalt be Grettir the Strong, the son of Asmund. Whither art thou bound?"

"As to the place I have not named it yet," said Grettir; "but as to my errand, it is to know if thou wilt lay down some of the goods thou farest with."

Said Air, "Why should I give thee mine own, or what wilt thou give me therefor?"

Grettir answers, "Hast thou not heard that I take, and give no money again? and yet it seems to most men that I get what I will."

Said Air, "Give such choice as this to those who deem it good, but not thus will I give up what I have; let each of us go his own way."

And therewithal he rode forth past Grettir and spurred his horse.

"Nay, we part not so hastily," said Grettir, and laid hold of the reins of Air's horse in front of his hands, and held on with both hands.

Said Air, "Go thy ways, nought thou hast of me if I may hold mine own."

"That will now be proven," said Grettir.

Now Air stretched his hands down the head-gear and laid hold of the reins betwixt Grettir's hands and the snaffle-rings and dragged at them so hard that Grettir's hands were drawn down along the reins, till Air dragged all the bridle from him.

Grettir looked into the hollow of his hands, and saw that this man must have strength in claws rather than not, and he looked after him, and said, "Whither art thou minded to fare?"

Air answered and sang —

"To the Kettle's side

Now will I ride,

Where the waters fall

From the great ice-wall;

If thou hast mind

There mayest thou find

With little stone17

Fist's land alone."

Grettir said, "It is of no avail to seek after thine abode if thou tellest of it no clearer than this."

Then Air spake and sang —

"I would not hide

Where I abide,

If thou art fain

To see me again;

From that lone weald,

Over Burgfirth field,

That ye men name

Balljokul, I came."

Thereat they parted, and Grettir sees that he has no strength against this man; and therewithal he sang a stave —

"Too far on this luckless day,

Atli, good at weapon-play,

Brisk Illugi were from me;

Such-like oft I shall not be

As I was, when I must stand

With the reins drawn through my hand

By the unflinching losel Air.

Maids weep when they know I fear."

Thereafter Grettir went to the south from the Keel; and rode to Hjalli and found Skapti, and prayed for watch and ward from him.

Skapti said, "It is told me that thou farest somewhat lawlessly, and layest hand on other men's goods; and this beseems thee ill, great of kin as thou art. Now all would make a better tale, if thou didst not rob and reive; but whereas I have to bear the name of lawman in the land, folk would not abide that I should take outlawed men to me, and break the laws thereby. I will that thou seek some place wherein thou wilt not have need to take men's goods from them."

Grettir said he would do even so, yet withal that he might scarcely be alone because he so feared the dark.

Skapti said that of that one thing then, which he deemed the best, he might not avail himself; "But put not such trust in any as to fare as thou didst in the Westfirths; it has been many a man's bane that he has been too trustful."

Grettir thanked him for his wholesome redes, and so turned back to Burgfirth in the autumn, and found Grim Thorhallson, his friend, and told him of Skapti's counsels; so Grim bade him fare north to Fishwater lakes on Ernewaterheath; and thus did he.

17 Hall, a "stone": mund, is hand, and by periphrasis "land of fist"; so that Hallmund is meant by this couplet, and that was the real name of "Air," who is not a mere man, but a friendly spirit of the mountains.

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