Produced by Doublas B. Killings
LIFE AND DEATH OF CORMAC THE SKALD
By Unknown Author
Originally written in Icelandic sometime between 1250 - 1300 A.D.
although parts may be based on a now lost 12th century saga.
Translation by W.G. Collingwood & J. Stefansson (Ulverston, 1901).
CHAPTER ONE. Cormac's Fore-Elders.
Harald Fairhair was king of Norway when this tale begins. There was a
chief in the kingdom in those days and his name was Cormac; one of the
Vik-folk by kindred, a great man of high birth. He was the mightiest of
champions, and had been with King Harald in many battles.
He had a son called Ogmund, a very hopeful lad; big and sturdy even as a
child; who when he was grown of age and come to his full strength, took
to sea-roving in summer and served in the king's household in winter. So
he earned for himself a good name and great riches.
One summer he went roving about the British Isles and there he fell in
with a man named Asmund Ashenside, who also was a great champion and had
worsted many vikings and men of war. These two heard tell of one another
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and challenges passed between them. They came together and fought.
Asmund had the greater following, but he withheld some of his men from
the battle: and so for the length of four days they fought, until many
of Asmund's people were fallen, and at last he himself fled. Ogmund won
the victory and came home again with wealth and worship.
His father said that he could get no greater glory in war, - "And now,"
said he, "I will find thee a wife. What sayest thou to Helga, daughter
of Earl Frodi?"
"So be it," said Ogmund.
Upon this they set off to Earl Frodi's house, and were welcomed with all
honour. They made known their errand, and he took it kindly, although
he feared that the fight with Asmund was likely to bring trouble.
Nevertheless this match was made, and then they went their ways home.
A feast was got ready for the wedding and to that feast a very great
company came together.
Helga the daughter of Earl Frodi had a nurse that was a wise woman, and
she went with her. Now Asmund the viking heard of this marriage, and set
out to meet Ogmund. He bade him fight, and Ogmund agreed.
Helga's nurse used to touch men when they went to fight: so she did with
Ogmund before he set out from home, and told him that he would not be
Then they both went to the fighting holm and fought. The viking laid
bare his side, but the sword would not bite upon it. Then Ogmund whirled
about his sword swiftly and shifted it from hand to hand, and hewed
Asmund's leg from under him: and three marks of gold he took to let him
go with his life.
CHAPTER TWO. How Cormac Was Born and Bred.
About this time King Harald Fairhair died, and Eric Bloodaxe reigned in
his stead. Ogmund would have no friendship with Eric, nor with Gunnhild,
and made ready his ship for Iceland.
Nor Ogmund and Helga had a son called Frodi: but when the ship was
nearly ready, Helga took a sickness and died; and so did their son
After that, they sailed to sea. When they were near the land, Ogmund
cast overboard his high-seat-pillars; and where the high-seat-pillars
had already been washed ashore, there they cast anchor, and landed in
At this time Skeggi of Midfiord ruled the countryside. He came riding
toward them and bade them welcome into the firth, and gave them the
pick of the land: which Ogmund took, and began to mark out ground for
a house. Now it was a belief of theirs that as the measuring went, so
would the luck go: if the measuring-wand seemed to grow less when they
tried it again and again, so would that house's luck grow less: and if
it grew greater, so would the luck be. This time the measure always grew
less, though they tried it three times over.
So Ogmund built him a house on the sandhills, and lived there ever
after. He married Dalla, the daughter of Onund the Seer, and their sons
were Thorgils and Cormac. Cormac was dark-haired, with a curly lock upon
his forehead: he was bright of blee and somewhat like his mother, big
and strong, and his mood was rash and hasty. Thorgils was quiet and easy
to deal with.
When the brothers were grown up, Ogmund died; and Dalla kept house with
her sons. Thorgils worked the farm, under the eye of Midfiord-Skeggi.
CHAPTER THREE. How Cormac Fell In Love.
There was a man named Thorkel lived at Tunga (Tongue). He was a wedded
man, and had a daughter called Steingerd who was fostered in Gnupsdal
Now it was one autumn that a whale came ashore at Vatnsnes (Watsness),
and it belonged to the brothers, Dalla's sons. Thorgils asked Cormac
would he rather go shepherding on the fell, or work at the whale. He
chose to fare on the fell with the house-carles.
Tosti, the foreman, it was should be master of the sheep-gathering: so
he and Cormac went together until they came to Gnupsdal. It was night:
there was a great hall, and fires for men to sit at.
That evening Steingerd came out of her bower, and a maid with her. Said
the maid, "Steingerd mine, let us look at the guests."
"Nay," she said, "no need": and yet went to the door, and stepped on the
threshold, and spied across the gate. Now there was a space between the
wicker and the threshold, and her feet showed through. Cormac saw that,
and made this song: -
"At the door of my soul she is standing,
So sweet in the gleam of her garment:
Her footfall awakens a fury,
A fierceness of love that I knew not,
Those feet of a wench in her wimple,
Their weird is my sorrow and troubling,
- Or naught may my knowledge avail me -
Both now and for aye to endure."
Then Steingerd knew she was seen. She turned aside into a corner
where the likeness of Hagbard was carved on the wall, and peeped under
Hagbard's beard. Then the firelight shone upon her face.
"Cormac," said Tosti, "seest eyes out yonder by that head of Hagbard?"
Cormac answered in song: -
"There breaks on me, burning upon me,
A blaze from the cheeks of a maiden,
- I laugh not to look on the vision -
In the light of the hall by the doorway.
So sweet and so slender I deem her,
Though I spy bug a glimpse of an ankle
By the threshold: - and through me there flashes
A thrill that shall age never more."
And then he made another song: -
"The moon of her brow, it is beaming
'Neath the bright-litten heaven of her forehead:
So she gleams in her white robe, and gazes
With a glance that is keen as the falcon's.
But the star that is shining upon me
What spell shall it work by its witchcraft?
Ah, that moon of her brow shall be mighty
With mischief to her - and to me?"
Said Tosti, "She is fairly staring at thee!" - And he answered: -
"She's a ring-bedight oak of the ale-cup,
And her eyes never left me unhaunted.
The strife in my heart I could hide not,
For I hold myself bound in her bondage.
O gay in her necklet, and gainer
In the game that wins hearts on her chessboard, -
When she looked at me long from the doorway
Where the likeness of Hagbard is carved."
Then the girls went into the hall, and sat down. He heard what they said
about his looks, - the maid, that he was black and ugly, and Steingerd,
that he was handsome and everyway as best could be, - "There is only
one blemish," said she, "his hair is tufted on his forehead:" - and he
"One flaw in my features she noted
- With the flame of the wave she was gleaming
All white in the wane of the twilight -
And that one was no hideous blemish.
So highborn, so haughty a lady
- I should have such a dame to befriend me:
But she trows me uncouth for a trifle,
For a tuft in the hair on my brow!"
Said the maid, "Black are his eyes, sister, and that becomes him not."
Cormac heard her, and said in verse: -
"Yes, black are the eyes that I bring ye,
O brave in your jewels, and dainty.
But a draggle-tail, dirty-foot slattern
Would dub me ill-favoured and sallow.
Nay, many a maiden has loved me,
Thou may of the glittering armlet:
For I've tricks of the tongue to beguile them
And turn them from handsomer lads."
At this house they spent the night. In the morning when Cormac rose up,
he went to a trough and washed himself; then he went into the ladies'
bower and saw nobody there, but heard folk talking in the inner room,
and he turned and entered. There was Steingerd, and women with her.
Said the maid to Steingerd, "There comes thy bonny man, Steingerd."
"Well, and a fine-looking lad he is," said she.
Now she was combing her hair, and Cormac asked her, "Wilt thou give me
She reached out her comb for him to handle it. She had the finest hair
of any woman. Said the maid, "Ye would give a deal for a wife with hair
like Steingerd's, or such eyes!"
He answered: -
"One eye of the far of the ale-horn
Looking out of a form so bewitching,
Would a bridegroom count money to buy it
He must bring for it ransom three hundred.
The curls that she combs of a morning,
White-clothed in fair linen and spotless,
They enhance the bright hoard of her value, -
Five hundred might barely redeem them!"
Said the maid, "It's give and take with the two of ye! But thou'lt put a
big price upon the whole of her!" He answered: -
"The tree of my treasure and longing,
It would take this whole Iceland to win her:
She is dearer than far-away Denmark,
And the doughty domain of the Hun-folk.
With the gold she is combing, I count her
More costly than England could ransom:
So witty, so wealthy, my lady
Is worth them, - and Ireland beside!"
Then Tosti came in, and called Cormac out to some work or other; but he
"Take my swift-footed steel for thy tiding,
Ay, and stint not the lash to him, Tosti:
On the desolate downs ye may wander
And drive him along till he weary.
I care not o'er mountain and moorland
The murrey-brown weathers to follow, -
Far liefer, I'd linger the morning
In long, cosy chatter with Steingerd."
Tosti said he would find it a merrier game, and went off; so Cormac sat
down to chess, and right gay he was. Steingerd said he talked better
than folk told of; and he sat there all the day; and then he made this
"'Tis the dart that adorneth her tresses,
The deep, dewy grass of her forehead.
So kind to my keeping she gave it,
That good comb I shall ever remember!
A stranger was I when I sought her
- Sweet stem with the dragon's hoard shining - "
With gold like the sea-dazzle gleaming -
The girl I shall never forget."
Tosti came off the fell and they fared home. After that Cormac used to
go to Gnupsdal often to see Steingerd: and he asked his mother to make
him good clothes, so that Steingerd might like him the most that could
be. Dalla said there was a mighty great difference betwixt them, and it
was far from certain to end happily if Thorkel at Tunga got to know.
CHAPTER FOUR. How Cormac Liked Black-Puddings.
Well Thorkel soon heard what was going forward, and thought it would
turn out to his own shame and his daughter's if Cormac would not pledge
himself to take her or leave her. So he sent for Steingerd, and she went
Thorkel had a man called Narfi, a noisy, foolish fellow, boastful, and
yet of little account. Said he to Thorkel, "If Cormac's coming likes
thee not, I can soon settle it."
"Very well," says Thorkel.
Now, in the autumn, Narfi's work it was to slaughter the sheep. Once,
when Cormac came to Tunga, he saw Steingerd in the kitchen. Narfi stood
by the kettle, and when they had finished the boiling, he took up a
black-pudding and thrust it under Cormac's nose, crying: -
"Cormac, how would ye relish one?
Kettle-worms I call them."
To which he answered: -
"Black-puddings boiled, quoth Ogmund's son,
Are a dainty, - fair befall them!"
And in the evening when Cormac made ready to go home he saw Narfi, and
bethought him of those churlish words. "I think, Narfi," said he, "I am
more like to knock thee down, than thou to rule my coming and going."
And with that struck him an axe-hammer-blow, saying: -
"Why foul with thy clowning and folly,
The food that is dressed for thy betters?
Thou blundering archer, what ails thee
To be aiming thy insults at me?"
And he made another song about: -
"He asked me, the clavering cowherd
If I cared for - what was it he called them? -
The worms of the kettle. I warrant
He'll be wiping his eyes by the hearth-stone.
I deem that yon knave of the dunghill
Who dabbles the muck on the meadow
- Yon rook in his mud-spattered raiment -
Got a rap for his noise - like a dog."
CHAPTER FIVE. They Waylay Cormac: And The Witch Curses Him.
There was a woman named Thorveig, and she knew a deal too much. She
lived at Steins-stadir (Stonestead) in Midfiord, and had two sons; the
elder was Odd, and the younger Gudmund. They were great braggarts both
This Odd often came to see Thorkel at Tunga, and used to sit and
talk with Steingerd. Thorkel made a great show of friendship with the
brothers, and egged them on to waylay Cormac. Odd said it was no more
than he could do.
So one day when Cormac came to Tunga, Steingerd was in the parlour and
sat on the dais. Thorveig's sons sat in the room, ready to fall upon him
when he came in; and Thorkel had put a drawn sword on one side of the
door, and on the other side Narfi had put a scythe in its shaft. When
Cormac came to the hall-door the scythe fell down and met the sword, and
broke a great notch in it. Out came Thorkel and began to upbraid Cormac
for a rascal, and got fairly wild with his talk: then flung into the
parlour and bade Steingerd out of it. Forth they went by another door,
and he locked her into an outhouse, saying that Cormac and she would
never meet again.
Cormac went in: and he came quicker than folk thought for, and they were
taken aback. He looked about, and no Steingerd: but he saw the brothers
whetting their weapons: so he turned on his heel and went, saying: -
"The weapon that mows in the meadow
It met with the gay painted buckler,
When I came to encounter a goddess
Who carries the beaker of wine.
Beware! for I warn you of evil
When warriors threaten me mischief.
It shall not be for nought that I pour ye
The newly mixed mead of the gods."
And when he could find Steingerd nowhere, he made this song: -
"She has gone, with the glitter of ocean
Agleam on her wrist and her bosom,
And my heart follows hard on her footsteps,
For the hall is in darkness without her.
I have gazed, but my glances can pierce not
The gloom of the desolate dwelling;
And fierce is my longing to find her,
The fair one who only can heal me."
After a while he came to the outhouse where Steingerd was, and burst it
open and had talk with her.
"This is madness," cried she, "to come talking with me; for Thorveig's
sons are meant to have thy head."
But he answered: -
"There wait they within that would snare me;
There whet they their swords for my slaying.
My bane they shall be not, the cowards,
The brood of the churl and the carline.
Let the twain of them find me and fight me
In the field, without shelter to shield them,
And ewes of the sheep should be surer
To shorten the days of the wolf."
So he sat there all day. By that time Thorkel saw that the plan he had
made was come to nothing; and he bade the sons of Thorveig waylay Cormac
in a dale near his garth. "Narfi shall go with ye two," said he; "but I
will stay at home, and bring you help if need be."
In the evening Cormac set out, and when he came to the dale, he saw
three men, and said in verse: -
"There sit they in hiding to stay me
From the sight of my queen of the jewels:
But rude will their task be to reave me
From the roof of my bounteous lady.
The fainer the hatred they harbour
For him that is free of her doorway,
The fainer my love and my longing
For the lass that is sweeter than samphire."
Then leaped up Thorveig's sons, and fought Cormac for a time: Narfi the
while skulked and dodged behind them. Thorkel saw from his house that
they were getting but slowly forward, and he took his weapons. In that
nick of time Steingerd came out and saw what her father meant. She laid
hold on his hands, and he got no nearer to help the brothers. In the end
Odd fell, and Gudmund was so wounded that he died afterwards. Thorkel
saw to them, and Cormac went home.
A little after this Cormac went to Thorveig and said he would have her
no longer live there at the firth. "Thou shalt flit and go thy way at
such a time," said he, "and I will give no blood-money for thy sons."
Thorveig answered, "It is like enough ye can hunt me out of the
countryside, and leave my sons unatoned. But this way I'll reward thee.
Never shalt thou have Steingerd."
Said Cormac, "That's not for thee to make or to mar, thou wicked old
CHAPTER SIX. Cormac Wins His Bride and Loses Her.
After this, Cormac went to see Steingerd the same as ever: and once when
they talked over these doings she said no ill of them: whereupon he made
this song: -
"There sat they in hiding to slay me
From the sight of my bride and my darling:
But weak were the feet of my foemen
When we fought on the island of weapons.
And the rush of the mightiest rivers
Shall race from the shore to the mountains
Or ever I leave thee, my lady,
And the love that I feast on to-day!"
"Say no such big words about it," answered she; "Many a thing may stand
in the road."
Upon which he said: -
"O sweet in the sheen of thy raiment,
The sight of thy beauty is gladdening!
What man that goes marching to battle,
What mate wouldst thou choose to be thine?"
And she answered: -
"O giver of gold, O ring-breaker,
If the gods and the high fates befriend me,
I'd pledge me to Frodi's blithe brother
And bind him that he should be mine."
Then she told him to make friends with her father and get her in
marriage. So for her sake Cormac gave Thorkel good gifts. Afterwards
many people had their say in the matter; but in the end it came to
this, - that he asked for her, and she was pledged to him, and the
wedding was fixed: and so all was quiet for a while.
Then they had words. There was some falling-out about settlements. It
came to such a pass that after everything was ready, Cormac began to
cool off. But the real reason was, that Thorveig had bewitched him so
that they should never have one another.
Thorkel at Tunga had a grown-up son, called Thorkel and by-named
Tooth-gnasher. He had been abroad some time, but this summer he came
home and stayed with his father.
Cormac never came to the wedding at the time it was fixed, and the hour
passed by. This the kinsfolk of Steingerd thought a slight, deeming that
he had broken off the match; and they had much talk about it.
CHAPTER SEVEN. How Steingerd Was Married To Somebody Else.
Bersi lived in the land of Saurbae, a rich man and a good fellow: he was
well to the fore, a fighter, and a champion at the holmgang. He had been
married to Finna the Fair: but she was dead: Asmund was their son,
young in years and early ripe. Helga was the sister of Bersi: she was
unmarried, but a fine woman and a pushing one, and she kept house for
Bersi after Finna died.
At the farm called Muli (the Mull) lived Thord Arndisarson: he was
wedded to Thordis, sister of Bork the Stout. They had two sons who were
both younger than Asmund the son of Bersi.
There was also a man with Vali. His farm was named Vali's stead, and it
stood on the way to Hrutafiord.
Now Thorveig the spaewife went to see Holmgang Bersi and told him her
trouble. She said that Cormac forbade her staying in Midfiord: so Bersi
bought land for her west of the firth, and she lived there for a long
Once when Thorkel at Tunga and his son were talking about Cormac's
breach of faith and deemed that it should be avenged, Narfi said, "I see
a plan that will do. Let us go to the west-country with plenty of goods
and gear, and come to Bersi in Saurbae. He is wifeless. Let us entangle
him in the matter. He would be a great help to us."
That counsel they took. They journeyed to Saurbae, and Bersi welcomed
them. In the evening they talked of nothing but weddings. Narfi up and
said there was no match so good as Steingerd, - "And a deal of folk say,
Bersi, that she would suit thee."
"I have heard tell," he answered, "that there will be a rift in the
road, though the match is a good one."
"If it's Cormac men fear," cried Narfi, "there is no need; for he is
clean out of the way."
When Bersi heard that, he opened the matter to Thorkel Toothgnasher, and
asked for Steingerd. Thorkel made a good answer, and pledged his sister
So they rode north, eighteen in all, for the wedding. There was a man
named Vigi lived at Holm, a big man and strong of his hands, a warlock,
and Bersi's kinsman. He went with them, and they thought he would be
a good helper. Thord Arndisarson too went north with Bersi, and many
others, all picked men.
When they came to Thorkel's, they set about the wedding at once, so that
no news of it might get out through the countryside: but all this was
sore against Steingerd's will.
Now Vigi the warlock knew every man's affairs who came to the steading
or left it. He sat outmost in the chamber, and slept by the hall door.
Steingerd sent for Narfi, and when they met she said, - "I wish thee,
kinsman, to tell Cormac the business they are about: I wish thee to take
this message to him."
So he set out secretly; but when he was a gone a little way Vigi came
after, and bade him creep home and hatch no plots. They went back
together, and so the night passed.
Next morning Narfi started forth again; but before he had gone so far as
on the evening, Vigi beset him, and drove him back without mercy.
When the wedding was ended they made ready for their journey. Steingerd
took her gold and jewels, and they rode towards Hrutafiord, going rather
slowly. When they were off, Narfi set out and came to Mel. Cormac was
building a wall, and hammering it with a mallet. Narfi rode up, with his
shield and sword, and carried on strangely, rolling his eyes about like
a hunted beast. Some men were up on the wall with Cormac when he came,
and his horse shied at them. Said Cormac, - "What news, Narfi? What folk
were with you last night?"
"Small tidings, but we had guests enough," answered he.
"Who were the guests?"
"There was Holmgang Bersi, with seventeen more to sit at his wedding."
"Who was the bride?"
"Bersi wed Steingerd Thorkel's daughter," said Narfi. "When they were
gone she sent me here to tell thee the news."
"Thou hast never a word but ill," said Cormac, and leapt upon him and
struck at the shield: and as it slipped aside he was smitten on the
breast and fell from his horse; and the horse ran away with the shield
(hanging to it).
Cormac's brother Thorgils said this was too much. "It serves him right,"
cried Cormac. And when Narfi woke out of his swoon they got speech of
Thorgils asked, "What manner of men were at the wedding?"
Narfi told him.
"Did Steingerd know this before?"
"Not till the very evening they came," answered he; and then told of his
dealings with Vigi, saying that Cormac would find it easier to whistle
on Steingerd's tracks and go on a fool's errand than to fight Bersi.
Then said Cormac: -
"Now see to thy safety henceforward,
And stick to thy horse and thy buckler;