Of Yule at Haramsey, and how Grettir dealt with the Bearserks.
NOW the summer before these things Earl Erie Hakonson made ready to go from his land west to England, to see King Knut the Mighty, his brother-in-law, but left behind him in the rule of Norway Hakon, his son, and gave him into the hands of Earl Svein, his brother, for the watching and warding of his realm, for Hakon was a child in years.
But before Earl Erie went away from the land, he called together lords and rich bonders, and many things they spoke on laws and the rule of the land, for Earl Eric was a man good at rule. Now men thought it an exceeding
ill fashion in the land that runagates or bearserks called to holm high-born men for their fee or womankind, in such wise, that whosoever should fall before the other should lie unatoned; hereof many got both shame and loss of goods, and some lost their lives withal; and therefore Earl Erie did away with all holm-gangs and outlawed all bearserks who fared with raids and riots.
In the making of this law, the chief of all, with Earl Erie, was Thorfinn Karrson, from Haramsey, for he was a wise man, and a dear friend of the Earls.
Two brothers are named as being of the worst in these matters, one hight Thorir Paunch, the other Ogmund the Evil; they were of Halogaland kin, bigger and stronger than other men. They wrought the bearserks'-gang and spared nothing in their fury; they would take away the wives of men and hold them for a week or a half-month, and then bring them back to their husbands; they robbed wheresoever they came, or did some other ill deeds. Now Earl Erie made them outlaws through the length and breadth of Norway, and Thorfinn was the eagerest of men in bringing about their outlawry, therefore they deemed that they owed him ill-will enow.
So the Earl went away from the land, as is said in his Saga; but Earl Svein bore sway over Norway. Thorfinn went home to his house, and sat at home till just up to Yule, as is aforesaid; but at Yule he made ready to go to his farm called Slys-firth, which is on the mainland, and thither he had bidden many of his friends. Thorfinn's wife could not go with her husband, for her daughter of ripe years lay ill a-bed, so they both abode at home. Grettir was at home too, and eight house-carles. Now Thorfinn went with thirty freedmen to the Yule-feast, whereat there was the greatest mirth and joyance among men.
Now Yule-eve comes on, and the weather was bright and calm; Grettir was mostly abroad this day, and saw how ships fared north and south along the land, for each one sought the other's home where the Yule drinking was settled to come off. By this time the goodman's daughter was so much better that she could walk about with her mother, and thus the day wore on.
Now Grettir sees how a ship rows up toward the island it was not right big, but shield-hung it was from stem to stern, and stained all above the sea: these folk rowed smartly, and made for the boat-stands of goodman Thorfinn, and when the keel took land, those who were therein sprang overboard. Grettir cast up the number of the men, and they were twelve altogether; he deemed their guise to be far from peaceful. They took tip their ship and bore it up from the sea; thereafter they ran up to the boat-stand, and therein was that big boat of Thorfinn, which was never launched to sea by less than thirty men, but these twelve shot it in one haul down to the shingle of the foreshore; and thereon they took up their own bark and bore it into the boat-stand.
Now Grettir thought that he could see clear enough that they would make themselves at home. But he goes down to meet them, and welcomes them merrily, and asks who they were and what their leader was hight; he to whom these words were spoken answered quickly, and said that his name was Thorir, and that he was called Paunch, and that his brother was Ogmund, and that the others were fellows of theirs.
"I deem," said Thorir, "that thy master Thorfinn has heard tell of us; is he perchance at home?"
Grettir answered, "Lucky men are ye, and hither have come in a good hour, if ye are the men I take you to be;
the goodman is gone away with all his home-folk who are freemen, and will not be home again till after Yule; but the mistress is at home, and so is the goodman's daughter; and if I thought that I had some ill-will to pay back, I should have chosen above all things to have come just thus; for here are all matters in plenty whereof ye stand in need, both beer, and all other good things."
Thorir held his peace, while Grettir let this tale run on, then he said to Ogmund--
"How far have things come to pass other than as I guessed? and now am I well enough minded to take revenge on Thorfinn for having made us outlaws; and this man is ready enough of tidings, and no need have we to drag the words out of him."
"Words all may use freely," said Grettir, "and I shall give you such cheer as I may; and now come home with me."
They bade him have thanks therefor, and said they would take his offer.
But when they came home to the farm, Grettir took Thorir by the hand and led him into the hall; and now was Grettir mightily full of words. The mistress was in the hall, and had had it decked with hangings, and made all fair and seemly; but when she heard Grettir's talk, she stood still on the floor, and asked whom he welcomed in that earnest wise.
He answered, "Now, mistress, is it right meet to welcome these guests merrily, for here is come goodman Thorir Paunch and the whole twelve of them, and are minded to sit here Yule over, and a right good hap it is, for we were few enough before."
She answered, "Am I to number these among bonders and goodmen, who are the worst of robbers and ill-doers?
a large share of my goods had I given that they had no come here as at this time; and ill dost thou reward Thorfinn, for that he took thee a needy man from shipwreck and has held thee through the winter as a free man."
Grettir said, "It would be better to take the wet clothes off these guests than to scold at me; since for that thou mayst have time long enough."
Then said Thorir, "Be not cross-grained, mistress; nought shalt thou miss thy husband's being away, for a man shall be got in his place for thee, yea, and for thy daughter a man, and for each of the home-women."
"That is spoken like a man," said Grettir, "nor will they thus have any cause to bewail their lot."
Now all the women rushed forth from the hall smitten with huge dread and weeping; then said Grettir to the bearserks, "Give into my hands what it pleases you to lay aside of weapons and wet clothes, for the folk will not be yielding to us while they are scared."
Thorir said he heeded not how women might squeal; "But," said he, "thee indeed we may set apart from the other home-folk, and methinks we may well make thee our man of trust."
"See to that yourselves," said Grettir, "but certes I do not take to all men alike."
Thereupon they laid aside the more part of their weapons, and thereafter Grettir said--
"Methinks it is a good rede now that ye sit down to table and drink somewhat, for it is right likely that ye are thirsty after the rowing."
They said they were ready enough for that, but knew not where to find out the cellar; Grettir asked if they would that he should see for things and go about for them. The bearserks said they would be right fain of that; so Grettir
fetched beer and gave them to drink; they were mightily weary, and drank in huge draughts, and still he let them have the strongest beer that there was, and this went on for a long time, and meanwhile he told them many merry tales. From all this there was din enough to be heard among them, and the home-folk were nowise fain to come to them.
Now Thorir said, "Never yet did I meet a man unknown to me, who would do us such good deeds as this man; now, what reward wilt thou take of us for thy work?"
Grettir answered, "As yet I look to no reward for this, but if we be even such friends when ye go away, as it looks like we shall be, I am minded to join fellowship with you, and though I be of less might than some of you, yet shall I not let any man of big redes."
Hereat they were well pleased, and would settle the fellowship with vows.
Grettir said that this they should not do, "For true is the old saw, Ale is another man, nor shall ye settle this in haste any further than as I have said, for on both sides are we men little meet to rule our tempers."
They said that they would not undo what they had said. Withal the evening wore on till it grew quite dark; then sees Grettir that they were getting very heavy with drink, so he said--
"Do ye not find it time to go to sleep?"
Thorir said, "Time enough forsooth, and sure shall I be to keep to what I have promised the mistress."
Then Grettir went forth from the hall, and cried out loudly--
"Go ye to your beds, women all, for so is goodman Thorir pleased to bid."
They cursed him for this, and to hear them was like
hearkening to the noise of many wolves. Now the bearserks came forth from the hall, and Grettir said--
"Let us go out, and I will show you Thorfinn's cloth bower."
They were willing to be led there; so they came to an out-bower exceeding great; a door there was to it, and a strong lock thereon, and the store-house was very strong withal; there too was a closet good and great, and a shield panelling between the chambers; both chambers stood high, and men went up by steps to them. Now the bearserks got riotous and pushed Grettir about, and he kept tumbling away from them, and when they least thought thereof, he slipped quickly out of the bower, seized the latch, slammed the door to, and put the bolt on. Thorir and his fellows thought at first that the door must have got locked of itself, and paid no heed thereto; they had light with them, for Grettir had showed them many choice things which Thorfinn owned, and these they now noted awhile. Meantime Grettir made all speed home to the farm, and when he came in at the door he called out loudly, and asked where the goodwife was; she held her peace, for she did not dare to answer.
He said, "Here is somewhat of a chance of a good catch; but are there any weapons of avail here?"
She answers, "Weapons there are, but how they may avail thee I know not."
"Let us talk thereof anon," says he, "but now let every man do his best, for later on no better chance shall there be."
The good wife said, "Now God were in garth if our lot might better: over Thorfinn's bed hangs the barbed spear, the big one that was owned by Karr the Old; there, too, is a
helmet and a byrni, and the short-sword, the good one and the arms will not fail if thine heart does well."
Grettir seizes the helmet and spear, girds himself with the short-sword, and rushed out swiftly; and the mistress called upon the house-carles, bidding them follow such a dauntless man, four of them rushed forth and seized their weapons, but the other four durst come nowhere nigh. Now it is to be said of the bearserks that they thought Grettir delayed his coming back strangely; and now they began to doubt if there were not some guile in the matter. They rushed against the door and found it was locked, and now they try the timber walls so that every beam creaked again; at last they brought things so far that they broke down the shield-panelling, got into the passage, and thence out to the steps. Now bearserks'-gang seized them, and they howled like dogs. In that very nick of time Grettir came up and with both hands thrust his spear at the midst of Thorir, as he was about to get down the steps, so that it went through him at once. Now the spear-head was both long and broad, and Ogmund the Evil ran on to Thorir and pushed him on to Grettir's thrust, so that all went up to the barb-ends; then the spear stood out through Thorir's back and into Ogmund's breast, and they both tumbled dead off the spear; then of the others each rushed down the steps as he came forth; Grettir set on each one of them, and in turn hewed with the sword, or thrust with the spear; but they defended themselves with logs that lay on the green, and whatso thing they could lay hands on, therefore the greatest danger it was to deal with them, because of their strength, even though they were weaponless.
Two of the Halogalanders Grettir slew on the green, and then came up the house-carles; they could not come to
one mind as to what weapons each should have; now they set on whenever the bearserks gave back, but when they turned about on them, then the house-carles slunk away up to the houses. Six vikings fell there, and of all of them was Grettir the bane. Then the six others got off and came down to the boat-stand, and so into it, and thence they defended themselves with oars. Grettir now got great blows from them, so that at all times he ran the risk of much hurt; but the house-carles went home, and had much to say of their stout onset; the mistress bade them espy what became of Grettir, but that was not to be got out of them. Two more of the bearserks Grettir slew in the boatstand, but four slipped out by him; and by this, dark night had come on; two of them ran into a corn-barn, at the farm of Windham, which is aforenamed: here they fought for a long time, but at last Grettir killed them both; then was he beyond measure weary and stiff, the night was far gone, and the weather got very cold with the drift of the snow. He was fain to leave the search of the two vikings who were left now, so he walked home to the farm. The mistress had lights lighted in the highest lofts at the windows that they might guide him on his way; and so it was that he found his road home whereas he saw the light.
But when he was come into the door, the mistress went up to him, and bade him welcome.
"Now," she said, "thou hast reaped great glory, and freed me and my house from a shame of which we should never have been healed, but if thou hadst saved us."
Grettir answered, "Methinks I am much the same as I was this evening, when thou didst cast ill words on me."
The mistress answered, "We wotted not that thou wert a man of such prowess as we have now proved thee; now shall all things in the house be at thy will which I may
bestow on thee, and which it may be seeming for thee to take; but methinks that Thorfinn will reward thee better still when he comes home."
Grettir answered, "Little of reward will be needed now, but I keep thine offer till the coming of the master; and I have some hope now that ye will sleep in peace as for the bearserks."
Grettir drank little that evening, and lay with his weapons about him through the night. In the morning, when it began to dawn, people were summoned together throughout the island, and a search was set on foot for the bearserks who had escaped the night before; they were found far on in the day under a rock, and were by then dead from cold and wounds; then they were brought unto a tide-washed heap of stones and buried thereunder.
After that folk went home, and the men of that island deemed themselves brought unto fair peace.
Now when Grettir came back to the mistress, he sang this stave--
"By the sea's wash have we made
Graves, where twelve spear-groves are laid
I alone such speedy end,
Unto all these folk did send.
O fair giver forth of gold,
Whereof can great words be told,
'Midst the deeds one man has wrought,
If this deed should come to nought?"
The good wife said, "Surely thou art like unto very few men who are now living on the earth."
So she set him in the high seat, and all things she did well to him, and now time wore on till Thorfinn's coming home was looked for.