The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. lxxxiv.

The Slaying of Grettir Asmundson.

Now it is to be told, that Grettir was so sick, that he might not stand on his feet, but Illugi sat beside him, and Noise was to keep watch and ward; and many words he had against that, and said that they would still think that life was falling from them, though nought had happed to bring it about; so he went out from their abode right unwillingly, and when he came to the ladders he spake to himself and said that now he would not draw them up; withal he grew exceeding sleepy, and lay down and slept all day long, and right on till Thorbiorn came to the island.

So now they see that the ladders are not drawn up; then spake Thorbiorn, "Now are things changed from what the wont was, in that there are none afoot, and their ladder stands in its place withal; maybe more things will betide in this our journey than we had thought of in the beginning: but now let us hasten to the hut, and let no man lack courage; for, wot this well, that if these men are hale, each one of us must needs do his best."

Then they went up on to the island, and looked round about, and saw where a man lay a little space off the landing-place, and snored hard and fast. Therewith Thorbiorn knew Noise, and went up to him and drave the hilt of his sword against the ear of him, and bade him, "Wake up, beast! certes in evil stead is he who trusts his life to thy faith and troth."

Noise looked up thereat and said, "Ah! now are they minded to go on according to their wont; do ye, may-happen, think my freedom too great, though I lie out here in the cold?"

"Art thou witless," said Angle, "that thou seest not that thy foes are come upon thee, and will slay you all?"

Then Noise answered nought, but yelled out all he might, when he knew the men who they were.

"Do one thing or other," says Angle, "either hold thy peace forthwith, and tell us of your abode, or else be slain of us."

Thereat was Noise as silent as if he had been thrust under water; but Thorbiorn said, "Are they at their hut, those brothers? Why are they not afoot?"

"Scarce might that be," said Noise, "for Grettir is sick and come nigh to his death, and Illugi sits over him."

Then Angle asked how it was with their health, and what things had befallen. So Noise told him in what wise Grettir's hurt had come about.

Then Angle laughed and said, "Yea, sooth is the old saw, Old friends are the last to sever; and this withal, Ill if a thrall is thine only friend, whereso thou art, Noise; for shamefully hast thou bewrayed thy master, albeit he was nought good."

Then many laid evil things to his charge for his ill faith, and beat him till he was well-nigh past booting for, and let him lie there; but they went up to the hut and smote mightily on the door.

"Pied-belly19 is knocking hard at the door, brother," says Illugi.

"Yea, yea, hard, and over hard," says Grettir; and therewithal the door brake asunder.

Then sprang Illugi to his weapons and guarded the door, in such wise that there was no getting in for them. Long time they set on him there, and could bring nought against him save spear-thrusts, and still Illugi smote all the spear-heads from the shafts. But when they saw that they might thus bring nought to pass, they leapt up on to the roof of the hut, and tore off the thatch; then Grettir got to his feet and caught up a spear, and thrust out betwixt the rafters; but before that stroke was Karr, a home-man of Halldor of Hof, and forthwithal it pierced him through.

Then spoke Angle, and bade men fare warily and guard themselves well, "for we may prevail against them if we follow wary redes."

So they tore away the thatch from the ends of the ridge-beam, and bore on the beam till it brake asunder.

Now Grettir might not rise from his knee, but he caught up the short-sword, Karr's-loom, and even therewith down leapt those men in betwixt the walls, and a hard fray befell betwixt them. Grettir smote with the short-sword at Vikar, one of the followers of Hialti Thordson, and caught him on the left shoulder, even as he leapt in betwixt the walls, and cleft him athwart the shoulder down unto the right side, so that the man fell asunder, and the body so smitten atwain tumbled over on to Grettir, and for that cause he might not heave aloft the short-sword as speedily as he would, and therewith Thorbiorn Angle thrust him betwixt the shoulders, and great was that wound he gave.

Then cried Grettir, "Bare is the back of the brotherless." And Illugi threw his shield over Grettir, and warded him in so stout a wise that all men praised his defence.

Then said Grettir to Angle, "Who then showed thee the way here to the island?"

Said Angle, "The Lord Christ showed it us."

"Nay," said Grettir, "but I guess that the accursed hag, thy foster-mother, showed it thee, for in her redes must thou needs have trusted."

"All shall be one to thee now," said Angle, "in whomsoever I have put my trust."

Then they set on them fiercely, and Illugi made defence for both in most manly wise; but Grettir was utterly unmeet for fight, both for his wounds' sake and for his sickness. So Angle bade bear down Illugi with shields, "For never have I met his like, amongst men of such age."

Now thus they did, besetting him with beams and weapons till he might ward himself no longer; and then they laid hands on him, and so held him fast. But he had given some wound or other to the more part of those who had been at the onset, and had slain outright three of Angle's fellows.

Thereafter they went up to Grettir, but he was fallen forward on to his face, and no defence there was of him, for that he was already come to death's door by reason of the hurt in his leg, for all the thigh was one sore, even up to the small guts; but there they gave him many a wound, yet little or nought he bled.

So when they thought he was dead, Angle laid hold of the short-sword, and said that he had carried it long enough; but Grettir's fingers yet kept fast hold of the grip thereof, nor could the short-sword be loosened; many went up and tried at it, but could get nothing done therewith; eight of them were about it before the end, but none the more might bring it to pass.

Then said Angle, "Why should we spare this wood-man here? lay his hand on the block."

So when that was done they smote off his hand at the wrist, and the fingers straightened, and were loosed from the handle. Then Angle took the short-sword in both hands and smote at Grettir's head, and a right great stroke that was, so that the short-sword might not abide it, and a shard was broken from the midst of the edge thereof; and when men saw that, they asked why he must needs spoil a fair thing in such wise.

But Angle answered, "More easy is it to know that weapon now if it should be asked for."

They said it needed not such a deed since the man was dead already.

"Ah! but yet more shall be done," said Angle, and hewed therewith twice or thrice at Grettir's neck, or ever the head came off; and then he spake,

"Now know I for sure that Grettir is dead."

In such wise Grettir lost his life, the bravest man of all who have dwelt in Iceland; he lacked but one winter of forty-five years whenas he was slain; but he was fourteen winters old when he slew Skeggi, his first man-slaying; and from thenceforth all things turned to his fame, till the time when he dealt with Glam, the Thrall; and in those days was he of twenty winters-; but when he fell into outlawry, he was twenty-five years old; but in outlawry was he nigh nineteen winters, and full oft was he the while in great trials of men; and such as his life was, and his needs, he held well to his faith and troth, and most haps did he foresee, though he might do nought to meet them.

19 'Pied-belly,' the name of the tame ram told of before.

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