The Northern Way

The Laxdaela Saga

Chapter 36

About Kotkell and Grima.

These tidings spread far and wide, and were very illspoken of; they were accounted of as men of doomed lives, who wrought such witchcraft as that which Kotkell and his had now shown. Gudrun took the death of Thord sorely to heart, for she was now a woman not hale, and coming close to her time. After that Gudrun gave birth to a boy, who was sprinkled with water and called Thord. At that time Snorri the Priest lived at Holyfell; he was a kinsman and a friend of Osvif's, and Gudrun and her people trusted him very much. Snorri went thither (to Laugar), being asked to a feast there. Then Gudrun told her trouble to Snorri, and he said he would back up their case when it seemed good to him, but offered to Gudrun to foster her child to comfort her. This Gudrun agreed to, and said she would rely on his foresight. This Thord was surnamed the Cat, and was father of the poet Stuf. After that Gest Oddleifson went to see Hallstein, and gave him choice of two things, either that he should send away these wizards or he said that he would kill them, "and yet it comes too late." Hallstein made his choice at once, and bade them rather be off, and put up nowhere west of Daleheath, adding that it was more justly they ought to be slain. After that Kotkell and his went away with no other goods than four stud-horses. The stallion was black; he was both great and fair and very strong, and tried in horse fighting. Nothing is told of their journey till they came to Combness, to Thorleik, Hoskuld's son. He asked to buy the horses from them, for he said that they were exceeding fine beasts. Kotkell replied, "I'll give you the choice. Take you the horses and give me some place to dwell in here in your neighbourhood."

Thorleik said, "Will the horses not be rather dear, then, for I have heard tell you are thought rather guilty in this countryside?"

Kotkell answers, "In this you are hinting at the men of Laugar."

Thorleik said that was true. Then Kotkell said, "Matters point quite another way, as concerning our guilt towards Gudrun and her brothers, than you have been told; people have overwhelmed us with slander for no cause at all. Take the horses, nor let these matters stand in the way. Such tales alone are told of you, moreover, as would show that we shall not be easily tripped up by the folk of this countryside, if we have your help to fall back upon."

Thorleik now changed his mind in this matter, for the horses seemed fair to him, and Kotkell pleaded his case cunningly; so Thorleik took the horses, and gave them a dwelling at Leidolfstead in Salmon-river-Dale, and stocked them with farming beasts. This the men of Laugar heard, and the sons of Osvif wished to fall forthwith on Kotkell and his sons; but Osvif said, "Let us take now the counsel of Priest Snorri, and leave this business to others, for short time will pass before the neighbours of Kotkell will have brand new cases against him and his, and Thorleik, as is most fitting, will abide the greatest hurt from them. In a short while many will become his enemies from whom heretofore he has only had good will. But I shall not stop you from doing whatever hurt you please to Kotkell and his, if other men do not come forward to drive them out of the countryside or to take their lives, by the time that three winters have worn away."

Gudrun and her brothers said it should be as he said. Kotkell and his did not do much in working for their livelihood, but that winter they were in no need to buy hay or food; but an unbefriended neighbourhood was theirs, though men did not see their way to disturbing their dwelling because of Thorleik.

Chapter 37

About Hrut and Eidgrim, A.D. 995.

One summer at the Thing, as Thorleik was sitting in his booth, a very big man walked into the booth. He greeted Thorleik, who took well the greeting of this man and asked his name and whence he was. He said he was called Eidgrim, and lived in Burgfirth at a place called Eidgrimstead -- but that abode lies in the valley which cuts westward into the mountains between Mull and Pigtongue, and is now called Grimsdale. Thorleik said, "I have heard you spoken of as being no small man."

Eidgrim said, "My errand here is that I want to buy from you the stud-horses, those valuable ones that Kotkell gave you last summer."

Thorleik answered, "The horses are not for sale."

Eidgrim said, "I will offer you equally many stud-horses for them and some other things thrown in, and many would say that I offer you twice as much as the horses are worth."

Thorleik said, "I am no haggler, but these horses you will never have, not even though you offer three times their worth."

Eidgrim said, "I take it to be no lie that you are proud and self-willed, and I should, indeed, like to see you getting a somewhat less handsome price for them than I have now offered you, and that you should have to let the horses go none the less."

Thorleik got angered at these words, and said, "You need, Eidgrim, to come to closer quarters if you mean to frighten the horses out of me."

Eidgrim said, "You think it unlikely that you will be beaten by me, but this summer I shall go and see the horses, and we will see which of us will own them after that."

Thorleik said, "Do as you like, but bring up no odds against me."

Then they dropped their talk. The man who heard this said that for this sort of dealing together here were two just fitting matches for each other. After that people went home from the Thing, and nothing happened to tell tidings of. It happened one morning early that a man looked out at Hrutstead at goodman Hrut's, Herjolf's son's, and when he came in Hrut asked what news he brought. He said he had no other tidings to tell save that he saw a man riding from beyond Vadlar towards where Thorleik's horses were, and that the man got off his horse and took the horses. Hrut asked where the horses were then, and the house- carle replied, "Oh, they have stuck well to their pasture, for they stood as usual in your meadows down below the fence-wall."

Hrut replied, "Verily, Thorleik, my kinsman, is not particular as to where he grazes his beasts; and I still think it more likely that it is not by his order that the horses are driven away."

Then Hrut sprang up in his shirt and linen breeches, and cast over him a grey cloak and took in his hand his gold inlaid halberd that King Harald had given him. He went out quickly and saw where a man was riding after horses down below the wall. Hrut went to meet him, and saw that it was Eidgrim driving the horses. Hrut greeted him, and Eidgrim returned his greeting, but rather slowly. Hrut asked him why he was driving the horses. , Eidgrim replied, "I will not hide it from you, though I know what kinship there is between you and Thorleik; but I tell you I have come after these horses, meaning that he shall never have them again. I have also kept what I promised him at the Thing, that I have not gone after the horses with any, great company."

Hrut said, "That is no deed of fame to you to take away the horses while Thorleik lies in his bed and sleeps; you would keep best what you agreed upon if you go and meet himself before you drive the horses out of the countryside."

Eidgrim said, "Go and warn Thorleik if you wish, for you may see I have prepared myself in such a manner as that I should like it well if we were to meet together, I and Thorleik," and therewith he brandished the barbed spear he had in his hand. He had also a helmet on his head, and a sword girded on his side, and a shield on his flank, and had on a chain coat.

Hrut said, "I think I must seek for something else than to go to Combeness for I am heavy of foot; but I mean not to allow Thorleik to be robbed if I have means thereto, no matter how little love there may go with our kinship."

Eidgrim said, "And do you mean to take the horses away from me?"

Hrut said, "I will give you other stud-horses if you will let these alone, though they may not be quite so good as these are."

Eidgrim said, "You speak most kindly, Hrut, but since I have got hold of Thorleik's horses you will not pluck them out of my hands either by bribes or threats."

Hrut replied, "Then I think you are making for both of us the choice that answers the worst."

Eidgrim now wanted to part, and gave the whip to his horse, and when Hrut saw that, he raised up his halberd and struck Eidgrim through the back between the shoulders so that the coat of mail was torn and the halberd flew out through the chest, and Eidgrim fell dead off his horse, as was only natural. After that Hrut covered up his body at the place called Eidgrim's-holt south of Combeness. Then Hrut rode over to Combeness and told Thorleik the tidings. Thorleik burst into a rage, and thought a great shame had been done him by this deed, while Hrut thought he had shown him great friendship thereby. Thorleik said that not only had he done this for an evil purpose, but that, moreover, no good would come in return for it. Hrut said that Thorleik must do what pleased him, and so they parted in no loving kindness. Hrut was eighty years old when he killed Eidgrim, and he was considered by that deed to have added much to his fame. Thorleik thought that Hrut was none the worthier of any good from him for being more renowned for this deed, for he held it was perfectly clear he would have himself have got the better of Eidgrim if they had had a trial of arms between them, seeing how little was needed to trip Eidgrim up. Thorleik now went to see his tenants Kotkell and Grima, and bade them do something to the shame of Hrut. They took this up gladly, and said they were quite ready to do so. Thorleik now went home. A little later they, Kotkell and Grima and their sons, started on a journey from home, and that was by night. They went to Hrut's dwelling, and made great recantations there, and when the spell-working began, those within were at a loss to make out what could be the reason of it; but sweet indeed was that singing. they heard. Hrut alone knew what these goings on meant, and bade no man look out that night, "and let every one who may keep awake, and no harm will come to us if that counsel is followed."

But all the people fell asleep. Hrut watched longest, and at last he too slept. Kari was the name of a son of Hrut, and he was then twelve winters old. He was the most promising of all Hrut's sons, and Hrut loved him much. Kari hardly slept at all, for to him the play was made; he did not sleep very soundly, and at last he got up and looked out, and walked in the direction of the enchantment, and fell down dead at once. Hrut awoke in the morning, as also did his household, and missed his son, who was found dead a short way from the door. This Hrut felt as the greatest bereavement, and had a cairn raised over Kari. Then he rode to Olaf Hoskuldson and told him the tidings of what had happened there. Olaf was madly wroth at this, and said it showed great lack of forethought that they had allowed such scoundrels as Kotkell and his family to live so near to him, and said that Thorleik had shaped for himself an evil lot by dealing as he had done with Hrut, but added that more must have been done than Thorleik ever could have wished. Olaf said too that forthwith Kotkell and his wife and sons must be slain, "late though it is now."

Olaf and Hrut set out with fifteen men. But when Kotkell and his family saw the company of men riding up to their dwelling, they took to their heels up to the mountain. There Hallbjorn Whetstone-eye was caught and a bag was drawn over his head, and while some men were left to guard him others went in pursuit of Kotkell, Grima, and Stigandi up on the mountain. Kotkell and Grima were laid hands on the neck of land between Hawkdale and Salmon-river-Dale, and were stoned to death and a heap of stones thrown up over them, and the remains are still to be seen, being called Scratti-beacon. Stigandi took to his heels south over the neck towards Hawkdale, and there got out of their sight. Hrut and his sons went down to the sea with Hallbjorn, and put out a boat and rowed out from land with him, and they took the bag off his head and tied a stone round his neck. Hallbjorn set gloating glances on the land, and the manner of his look was nowise of the goodliest. Then Hallbjorn said, "It was no day of bliss when we, kinsfolk, came to this Combeness and met with Thorleik. And this spell I utter," says he, "that Thorleik shall from henceforth have but few happy days, and that all who fill his place have a troublous life there."

And this spell, men deem, has taken great effect. After that they drowned him, and rowed back to land.

A little while afterwards Hrut went to find Olaf his kinsman, and told him that he would not leave matters with Thorleik as they stood, and bade him furnish him with men to go and make a house- raid on Thorleik. Olaf replied, "It is not right that you two kinsmen should be laying hands on each other; on Thorleik's behalf this has turned out a matter of most evil luck. I would sooner try and bring about peace between you, and you have often waited well and long for your good turn."

Hrut said, "It is no good casting about for this; the sores between us two will never heal up; and I should like that from henceforth we should not both live in Salmon-river-Dale."

Olaf replied, "It will not be easy for you to go further against Thorleik than I am willing to allow; but if you do it, it is not unlikely that dale and hill will meet." (1)

Hrut thought he now saw things stuck hard and fast before him; so he went home mightily ill pleased; but all was quiet or was called so. And for that year men kept quiet at home.

ENDNOTES:

(1) i.e., old age=Hrut, and youthful power=Olaf, the greatest "gothi" in the countryside. Back

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