The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. lxxx.

Thorbiorn Angle goes with his Foster-mother out to Drangey.

Thorbiorn Angle had a foster-mother, Thurid by name, exceeding old, and meet for little, as folk deemed, very cunning she had been in many and great matters of lore, when she was young, and men were yet heathen; but men thought of her as of one, who had lost all that. But now, though Christ's law were established in the land, yet abode still many sparks of heathendom. It had been law in the land, that men were not forbidden to sacrifice secretly, or deal with other lore of eld, but it was lesser outlawry if such doings oozed out. Now in such wise it fared with many, that hand for wont did yearn, and things grew handiest by time that had been learned in youth.

So now, whenas Thorbiorn Angle was empty of all plots, he sought for help there, whereas most folk deemed it most unlike that help was — at the hands of his foster-mother, in sooth, and asked, what counsel was in her therefor.

She answered, "Now belike matters have come to this, even as the saw says —To the goat-house for wool: but what could I do less than this, to think myself before folk of the country-side, but be a man of nought, whenso anything came to be tried? nor see I how I may fare worse than thou, though I may scarce rise from my bed. But if thou art to have my rede, then shall I have my will as to how and what things are done."

He gave his assent thereto, and said that she had long been of wholesome counsel to him.

Now the time wore on to Twainmonth of summer; and one fair-weather day the carline spake to Angle,

"Now is the weather calm and bright, and I will now that thou fare to Drangey and pick a quarrel with Grettir; I shall go with thee, and watch how heedful he may be of his words; and if I see them, I shall have some sure token as to how far they are befriended of fortune, and then shall I speak over them such words as seem good to me."

Angle answered, "Loth am I to be faring to Drangey, for ever am I of worser mind when I depart thence than when I come thereto."

Then said the carline, "Nought will I do for thee if thou sufferest me to rule in no wise."

"Nay, so shall it not be, foster-mother," said he; "but so much have I said, as that I would so come thither the third time that somewhat should be made of the matter betwixt us."

"The chance of that must be taken," said the carline "and many a heavy labour must thou have, or ever Grettir be laid to earth; and oft will it be doubtful to thee what fortune thine shall be, and heavy troubles wilt thou get therefrom when that is done; yet art thou so bounden here-under, that to somewhat must thou make up thy mind."

Thereafter Thorbiorn Angle let put forth a ten-oared boat, and he went thereon with eleven men, and the carline was in their company.

So they fell to rowing as the weather went, out to Drangey; and when the brothers saw that, they stood forth at the ladders, and they began to talk the matter over yet once more; and Thorbiorn said, that he was come yet again, to talk anew of their leaving the island, and that he would deal lightly with his loss of money and Grettir's dwelling there, if so be they might part without harm. But Grettir said that he had no words to make atwixt and atween of his going thence.

"Oft have I so said," says he, "and no need there is for thee to talk to me thereon; ye must even do as ye will, but here will I abide, whatso may come to hand."

Now Thorbiorn deemed, that this time also his errand was come to nought, and he said,

"Yea, I deemed I knew with what men of hell I had to do; and most like it is that a day or two will pass away ere I come hither again."

"I account that not in the number of my griefs, though thou never comest back," said Grettir.

Now the carline lay in the stern, with clothes heaped up about and over her, and with that she moved, and said,

"Brave will these men be, and luckless withal; far hast thou outdone them in manliness; thou biddest them choice of many goodly things, but they say nay to all, and few things lead surer to ill, than not to know how to take good. Now this I cast over thee, Grettir, that thou be left of all health, wealth, and good-hap, all good heed and wisdom: yea, and that the more, the longer thou livest; good hope I have, Grettir, that thy days of gladness shall be fewer here in time to come than in the time gone by."

Now when Grettir heard these words, he was astonied withal, and said, "What fiend is there in the boat with them?"

"Illugi answers, "I deem that it will be the carline, Thorbiorn's foster-mother."

"Curses on the witch-wight!" says Grettir, "nought worse could have been looked for; at no words have I shuddered like as I shuddered at those words she spake; and well I wot that from her, and her foul cunning, some evil will be brought on us; yet shall she have some token to mind her that she has sought us here."

Therewithal he caught up a marvellous great stone, and cast it down on to the boat, and it smote that clothes-heap; and a longer stone-throw was that than Thorbiorn deemed any man might make; but therewithal a great shriek arose, for the stone had smitten the carline's thigh, and broken it.

Then said Illugi, "I would thou hadst not done that!"

"Blame me not therefor," said Grettir, "I fear me the stroke has been too little, for certes not overmuch weregild were paid for the twain of us, though the price should be one carline's life."

"Must she alone be paid?" said Illugi, "little enough then will be laid down for us twain."

Now Thorbiorn got him gone homeward, with no greetings at parting. But he said to the carline,

"Now have matters gone as I thought, that a journey of little glory thou shouldst make to the island; thou hast got maimed, and honour is no nigher to us than before, yea, we must have bootless shame on bootless shame."

She answered, "This will be the springing of ill-hap to them; and I deem that henceforth they are on the wane; neither do I fear if I live, but that I shall have revenge for this deed they have thus done me."

"Stiff is thine heart, meseems, foster-mother," said Thorbiorn. With that they came home, but the carline was laid in her bed, and abode there nigh a month; by then was the hurt thigh-bone grown together again, and she began to be afoot once more.

Great laughter men made at that journey of Thorbiorn and the carline, and deemed he had been often enow out-played in his dealings with Grettir: first, at the Spring-Thing in the peace handselling; next, when Haering was lost, and now again, this third time, when the carline's thigh-bone was broken, and no stroke had been played against these from his part. But great shame and grief had Thorbiorn Angle from all these words.

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