Gunnar Gunnarsson.

The sworn brothers, a tale of the early days of Iceland online

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dull and troubled.

" What was the matter with you ? " asked Ingolf
earnestly, and could not suppress a little laugh.

Leif stood a short while without answering, as though
searching his memory for something he had forgotten.
" You needn't trouble yourself about it," he answered
In a weary and rather shy tone, but not without a
certain defiance. " It was not you I hated, but your

" So it was not very strange you could not win,
cousin," answered Ingolf cheerfully. " You are still too
slight of build to fight with the gods."

" I shall not go with you to a feast any more," an-
swered Leif, unaffected by Ingolf 's cheerfulness. " This
once I may be allowed to say it, and I beg you not to
forget it. Your gods and your worship of them are an
abomination to me, and will always be so. Even if it
should lose me my brother, I must say it."

There was a smothered warmth in Leif's words which
made Ingolf serious.

" It is just with you, as you are, that I wish to enter
into brotherhood, Leif," he answered quietly. " Your
relation to the gods is a matter between you and them.
What you think of my worship of them is your own
affair. But I am anxious that you should understand
that I belong with all my soul and will to the gods.
They were my fathers' gods ; if I were false to them, I
should be false to my fathers. Rather would I this
very moment sacrifice myself to Odin than that that
should happen."


" But then it is a sacrifice on your part," answered
Leif quietly, " when you enter into brotherhood with me
who despise the gods, and so have been false to my

Ingolf was silent for a while. " It is another matter
with you than with me," he answered. " I cannot ex-
plain it, but I feel that it is quite another matter with
you. I should become weaker by not believing in the
gods ; you would become so by believing in them. We
are so different, Leif. And I wish to be your brother
as you are."

" I will do my best that you may never regret that,"
answered Leif quietly.

They went to their tents. It was already nearly day-
light. In the east the sky was faintly red; there was
only a short time to the sunrise. Ingolf and Leif did
not talk any more. They crept silently into their
sleeping-bags. But neither of them could close an eye.
They remained lying quiet till nearly midday. When
the sun was at its zenith that day, their brotherhood
was to be sealed.

Leif was the first who rose. When he had met In-
golfs open eyes, he said in a low, cheerful tone : " Let
us run to the stream."

Ingolf sprang up. " Yes, we will." They ran to a
place outside the encampment, where they were in the
shelter of a cliff, and where they had been accustomed
to wash themselves when, as small boys, they visited
their friends at Gaulum. Ingolf dipped his head in the
water, rubbed hard with both hands, and snorted cheer-
fully. But Leif flung away every stitch of clothing


and lay down in the running water. When Ingolf saw
it, he immediately followed his example. And so they lay
side by side in the stream, and let the cold running
water stream over their bodies, as when they were little

Leif looked at the sun. " We shall have to hurry."
They sat for a little while, squeezed the water out of
their hair, and let the sun and the wind dry their skins.
But the water remained in drops on their skins and
would not be dried. Then they took their shirts and
rubbed each other, and then dressed in a trice. " Let
us go slowly back," said Leif, when they had their
clothes on, and Ingolf had to look closer at him, for
such a proposal was very unlike him. Leif answered
his questioning look. " Otherwise we shall be so breath-
less, and we are getting too big now to run like chil-

When they came up from the little valley in which the
stream ran, they saw that the people were already
gathered, and hastened their steps. Leif looked up
hastily at the sun. " It is not yet quite midday," he
said, relieved, but went on.

They arrived at the place at the same time as Atle
Jarl, who as high priest was to conduct the proceedings.
Atle Jarl, generally a mild and amiable man, wore his
severest expression that day. He had the sacrificial
bracelet on his arm and a spear in his hand. A serf
followed him bearing two turf-cutters and two bright,
sharp-pointed knives. The people had gathered round
a circular space, marked out with wooden pegs. They
readily made way for the two cousins and Atle Jarl.


When they reached the place marked out, Atle Jarl
curtly bade the two future brothers take off their shoes
and stockings and step into the ring. While they were
doing so, he himself stepped into the ring, and with his
spear marked off a semicircle within it. Then Ingolf
and Leif each received his turf-cutter with orders to
begin, each on his own side of the semicircle, and cut a
turf loose, taking care, however, that both its ends re-
mained firm. The turf that was to be cut loose was to
remain a living part of the ground. Ingolf was set to
cut on the outside of the semicircle, Leif on the inside.
They each dropped on one knee, stuck their turf-cutters
into the ground, and began to cut. Their task was to
cut a solid piece of turf which would hold fast when it
was raised. Ingolf cut with an even, straight stroke;
he was quiet and undisturbed by the people standing
and looking at him. Leif, on the other hand, was nerv-
ous. He began cutting with all his might ; his edge be-
came bent and uneven, and sweat was pouring from him
before he had got half through. When the spectators
saw their different ways of working, they smiled and
winked at each other.

Orn and Rodmar stood just outside the ring. Orn
did not look happy, but he concealed his displeasure
under a mask of indifference. Rodmar stood and looked
angrily at Leif. He could hardly restrain himself from
shouting to him and correcting him. He saw, however,
clearly that it would only make bad worse, and con-
trolled himself. But he leant towards Orn and whis-
pered as though making an excuse. " Ingolf will need
all his quiet and strength before he can get Leif tamed."


" He cannot be tamed," answered Orn in a low tone,
but with emphasis in his voice. "A horse with the
staggers cannot be broken in ; it is a useless animal, and
brings ill-luck."

" He is my son," answered Rodmar, who always found
fault with Leif but could not bear others doing so.
" You judge him too severely."

" He is your son and my kinsman," Orn whispered
back sombrely, " otherwise this ratification of brother-
hood would not have taken place at least as long as
I had a breath left in my body."

Ingolf and Leif had now cut loose the piece of turf,
and went together to lift it. They raised it carefully
till it stood straight up and formed an arch. Then Atle
Jarl stepped in and placed his spear in the middle of the
arch to hold the turf up. He himself stood and sup-
ported the spear while Ingolf and Leif cut loose an ob-
long turf under the arch. Their blood was not to run
on the greensward, but was to mingle on the bare earth.
When they had finished they gave up their turf-cutters,
and at Atle Jarl's command stepped in under the turf
arch, each on his own side of the spear-shaft. Atle
Jarl now ditcated the oath, and they vowed mutual
brotherhood, each with his right hand on the sacred
bracelet. When the oath had been taken, serfs came
with knives. Atle Jarl received the knives and handed
them to the newly-sworn brothers, with the command to
confirm the brotherhood they had just inaugurated by
letting their blood flow jointly on the sacred earth.
Atle Jarl showed them briefly where they should pierce
their calves with the knives.


Ingolf and Leif both did so at the same moment.
Ingolf thrust his knife-point well in and cut a deep
gash. Leif put his knife right through so that the
point projected a couple of inches on the other side of
his calf. He had difficulty in drawing it out again.
The blood ran down in red streams. The spectators
felt a strange shuddering thrill at seeing how it oozed
out from under the naked soles of their feet. Leif
watched the course of his blood attentively as it ap-
proached Ingolf's on the brown scar of earth between
them. As it seemed to him to go too slowly, he stooped
down, directed the streams of blood with the point of his
knife, and stirred the blood and earth round between
him and Ingolf. A laugh then rang out in the air from
hundreds of throats. Even Orn smiled, though against
his will, and Atle Jarl's eyes assumed a milder expres-

Leif looked hastily up and straightened himself with a
jerk. He looked round, a little astonished, and his eyes
rested on Ingolf. A very pleasant smile lay on Ingolf's
face, and there was a moist glimmer in his eyes.

Atle Jarl now proclaimed that Ingolf Arnarson and
Leif Rodmarsson had entered into legal brotherhood,
and named the witnesses. With that the solemn cere-
mony was at an end. The grass-turfs were carefully
laid down again in order that they might grow firm and
be incorporated with the earth's life.

Ingolf and Leif were now joined together by the
strongest bonds that exist the blood-tie between
brothers, the most sacred and inviolable of all blood
and family ties. The earth by which they had been


formed in different mothers' wombs had now drunk
their blood mingled, and had at the same time given
them new birth, since they had passed together under
the turf arch, a part of earth's living frame. The
earth knew now, and had recognized their covenant
a covenant no power could break. The sons of Atle
were the first who approached to tender their good
wishes on the occasion.

Haasten pressed Ingolf's hand and whispered con-
fidentially : " You have in Leif made a brother who at
any time and without hesitation will give his blood for
you to the last drop. Keep always a watchful eye on
him, for his mind is as easily moved as a willow, but it
has also the willow's toughness."

Holmsten handed over to Leif a broad-bladed, long-
shafted battle-ax with a handle inlaid with gold, a
splendid weapon, which made Leif colour with joy.
" Here is an ax for you, friend Leif," he said cheer-
fully. " Swing it bravely, but take care that you do
not absent-mindedly come to cleave your friends' heads
with it ! "

Leif was moved to tears. He kissed Holmsten for the
ax. Leif and Holmsten's friendship lasted for whole
days, to the great joy and relief of Ingolf and Haasten.
They had never before been able to keep the peace for
even a few hours at a time. Ingolf began to believe that
the costly gifts which had been exchanged between
Holmsten and Leif must have some special significance.
He felt unusually cheerful in spirits that day. Leif also
felt a peace and sense of security which was strange to
him. It was as though the responsibility which he had


assumed in entering into brotherhood evoked his man-
hood. He seemed to have suddenly grown adult. His
mind had found an equilibrium, which acted beneficially,
and was plainly traceable in his bearing.

Evening came, and the second night of the sacrificial
feast was about to commence. As people began to go to
the temple, Leif said to Ingolf : " I shall not go. I
shall remain at home in the tent."

" Very well, I won't go either," said Ingolf, and tried
to appear as though it were a matter of indifference to

But Leif would not hear of that. " Those who know
me will not be surprised that I remain away," he said.
" It is another matter with you. If you won't go alone,
you will oblige me to go with you, and I don't much like
going there."

At last Ingolf went alone. When he entered the
temple the people were already assembled with great
jubilation and much noise. On the floor there was
burning a fire from one end of the temple to the other
outside the partition-wall. This fire, named Langildene
(" the long fires "), could be crossed at various points,
though only by going through the lambent flames.
Over it hung great cauldrons, whence the fumes of the
meat of the sacrifices filled the air with vapour and smoke
tempting to hungry stomachs.

Tables and benches were arranged on both sides of the
fire. It was some time before each man had his horn.
Then Atle Jarl rose, consecrated the drinking, and
proposed the toast in honour of Odin. It was a toast
for Victory and Might, and everyone had to empty his


horn to the bottom. Some made the sign of the hammer
over the horn of mead. They were those who trusted
in their own power and might. They consecrated their
drinking to Thor. Now other serfs entered, bearing
great dishes. They fished the meat out of the cauldrons
with hooks, filled the dishes, and bore them round.
Then began a festive battle for the best morsels, with
shouting and laughter which shook the temple.

Women now entered, lifted the gods down from their
platforms, took off their dresses, and began to rub them
with the fat of the sacrificial animals. This was a very
solemn ceremony.

When the guests had appeased their first hunger, full
horns stood again before them. Atle Jarl blessed the
drinking, and they all emptied their horns in honour of
Thor. Then they ate again, but now quietly and de-
liberately. The dishes were emptied and filled anew.
There was no scarcity of food or of beer.

They drank horns to Njord and to Frey for peace
and fertility. They drank a horn to Brage, with which
they pledged solemn vows. Last of all, Atle Jarl rose,
always steady on his legs and firm in his voice (he had
tasted mead before), blessed the drinking, and proposed
a toast in memory of their deceased kinsmen. That
toast used not to be very widely observed by that
time many lay under the table. Others had gone out-
side, and the rows of the feasters grew thinner.

When Ingolf had gone to the temple, Leif's newly
found mental equilibrium suddenly forsook him. He
was overcome by a feeling of disquiet, strong and not to
be shaken off a fit of impatience which rankled in his


breast, and made him perspire and feel unwell. Some-
thing must be done, he knew not what, until it suddenly
became clear to him that he could not do without Helga
any longer. He ran home to the house and got hold of a
serf, whom he sent with a message to Ingolf. Then
he took a bridle in his hands and a saddle over his
shoulders and went off to find his horse. There was a
strange feverishness in all his proceedings, but he was
cheerful and light of heart, as was always the case when
he had overcome uncertainty and betaken himself to
action. He found his horse, caught and saddled it,
and went straight homewards at full gallop. He dared
not think at all, for it was plain to him that it would
be too long before he could see Helga, and the thought
made his heart sick. A feeling of longing was on him,
a longing of the strong kind, which grows in force if
one gives way to it. His rapid riding gave him relief,
and released him from thinking. He entered into a
strange relation with the paths he rode by, and every
stone and bush which he passed on the way. A pasture
which he went by reminded him of the horse, and he
dismounted, took off the saddle and bridle, and lay
down. The horse rolled on its back awhile, then rose
and began grazing eagerly. This haste seemed to quiet
Leif's longing, and he lay comfortably there. He al-
lowed the horse to still its sharpest pangs of hunger, but
soon his patience was over, exhausted and vanished.
He saddled the horse again and went off at full gallop.
Daylight came, and he was forced to stop and let the
horse breathe and graze a little. This time Leif could
not lie still, while it was grazing. He sat a little, walked


a little, and was restless. Long before the proper
time he saddled the horse again, but before mounting
this time he patted its neck and head, scratched it be-
hind the ear, and spoke kindly to it : " If you hold out,
I will remember you as long as we both live ! "

So it carried him forward again, over hill and dale,
over smooth, grassy plains and stony tracts, over clear
streams and roaring rivers. The horse's clattering
hoofs awoke in the air alternately falling and rising
echoes. So the incredible was accomplished, and the
length of the way slowly overcome. One morning at
sunrise Leif arrived home. Helga stood outside the
house as though she had expected him, and the world
seemed new.

" It is you, Leif," said Helga, and did not conceal her
gladness. Leif had already sprung from his horse. He
ran to her and flung his arms around her. " Helga,"
he said, and kissed her. " I had to come home all at
once." Helga laughed.

" I dreamt of you last night," she said, and kissed
him. " That was what I dreamt."

"What?" asked Leif.

" That I kissed you."

And she kissed him again. That was a happy day.


YEARS passed and nothing happened. There was
much talk of disturbance and disquiet in the
north of the country. The young King Harald and his
uncle, Guttorm, were continually engaged in warfare.
Various raisers of disturbance had already been sup-
pressed, but new ones were continually starting up.
The latest rumour current was, that the young King
purposed, as soon as he had given peace to his King-
dom, to extend it. It did not look as if he had peace-
ful intentions. Dalsfjord as yet was ravaged only by
rumours. No events themselves, only the faint thunders
they aroused, came near there.

Orn, however, was always of opinion that it was safest
for Rodmar to remain; especially as Leif had now
undertaken the management of the property, and Rod-
mar might as well remain in one place as another.

Much beer was brewed in Orn's house. Perhaps it
was not without some connection with this that Orn and
Rodmar's talk took all the more a prophetic tinge.
Obscure and rather disconnected wisdom flowed liberally
from their lips. Leif called this wise talk nonsense, and
was not ashamed to laugh openly in his father's face
when he was more wise and obscure than ever. Ingolf,
on the other hand, although with some difficulty, con-
tinued to invest Orn with a halo of dignity, and showed


him all possible filial reverence. He always consulted
him in important questions, although certainly only
for form's sake. And he never brought forward a
matter without having first procured permission to
speak. This pleased Orn in a high degree, although
he sometimes felt somewhat embarrassed by it, and al-
most always showed peevishness to his son.

Orn was by no means easy to deal with. For ex-
ample, Ingolf, at the beginning of the spring when he
completed his nineteen winters, went to him to hear his
opinion regarding the sowing plans he had made for
the summer, and also about a necessary enlargement
of the salt-kilns. Orn looked up at him with a scornful
and malicious look in his drink-swollen eyes, heard fully
all he had to say, and at last broke out harshly on him.
" You are only a peasant ! A good-for-nothing you
are, although you are tall and heavy enough ! You
wear the family bracelet ! What honour have I from
you? There is no energy in you. Do you think one
finds honour in the fields? Do you think one can
plough it out of the ground? Food you find, but never
any honour. Do you think a man keeps fresh by burn- )
/ ing salt all his life? Keep away from me with your
\ salt-burning and your sowing-plans. Would any one
believe you were a free man's son, and soon full grown ?
Speak with the serfs about it. No Harald, Halv-
dan the Black's son there is a fellow with some stuff
in him ! You'll feel his knuckles one day wait and
see ! He'll mark you all with the brand of slavery
every man of you. Each and all of you will have to
pay tribute to him, if you do not want to be shorter


by a head or to have your necks stretched! It is said
that he intends to subdue all Norway and to become
sole King. How old are you now? Nineteen winters?
He is four years younger ! You are no King no !
You are right in that. But your forefathers were
chiefs, and ruled themselves, and ruled others as the
King's peers. Go off to your fields and your salt-
burning I won't listen to you any more. I won't
see you! Go! Ha! Wait a little. Go first to the
smith, and have your fathers' weapons smelted down
into meat-axes! Have you not increased your stock?
Are you not in want of meat-axes ! No, it was some-
thing different in my youth. If I had been in my
prime now, the good Harald would have found at least
one neck he could not break. Unless, indeed, I had
deemed it wisest to assist him. That also might be a
way to honour. But you have only thoughts for your
fields and your salt-burning. Go ! "

Thus Orn spoke, and was very irritable. Ingolf
listened to him patiently without moving a muscle.
And when he received the command to go he retired with
a respectful salute. He honoured the family in his
father, and did not wear the family bracelet in vain
on his young arm. Ingolf looked after his property;
Leif neglected his. For the first two years Leif had
managed remarkably well alone. But when it no longer
amused him to rule and give orders to the house-ser-
vants, he began to become somewhat careless. It was
to his advantage that his people were reliable and
fond of him remarkably so, in fact. He might scold
them thoroughly, using the whole of his copious vocabu-


lary until his voice failed him. He might beat them
and abuse them, and bid them ten thousand times to
go the straight way north or down to hell. They
admired his readiness of speech and energetic irrita-
bility. It was always enlivening to see him in a rage.
And it was characteristic of him that his wrath was
forgotten as soon as it had blazed up. It flashed up
like a fire of pine-needles and burnt out at once. Be-
sides, he was not small-minded, and let every one manage
his own affairs, so long as he minded his work. He
was a kind and cheerful master to serve under. Many
plants grew in his track, but never the plant of dull-

Ingolf had another way with his people. He imme-
diately became a father and providence for them. He
was considerate towards the old, and let them have
an easy time. They were never weary of blessing him.
He visited them often, and his visit was always like
a gift. He showed an equable temper with his people,
demanded a certain amount of work from them, and
expressed in encouraging words his satisfaction with
work well done. On the other hand, no one had ever
heard a threat from his mouth. He had his own way
of showing displeasure by a certain indifferent silence
which did not fail of its effect. No one liked to feel
himself the object of that quiet taciturnity. His peace-
ful manner diffused a peculiar sense of security around
him. He was careful in his choice when he engaged
new people, which rarely happened. Those whom he
had once engaged remained with him.

Leif could not alter his nature; he was just Leif,


once and for all. When he had managed his property
with diligence and watchfulness for three years it
amused him no longer. He began to slacken, and let
things go at haphazard. And since they did not seem
to go altogether badly that way, he gradually pre-
ferred not to look after them at all. So Ingolf found
him going idle for whole months at a time. Ingolf
wondered at him. How could he choose to go on and
undertake nothing? No, that was going too far. In-
golf secretly kept an eye on Leif's property, and saw
that it was managed in some way without him, although
not thoroughly. So there was all the less reason for
him to interfere in Leif's way of living. There re-
sulted a good deal of restraint between the two sworn
brothers which was unavoidable. Ingolf tried his best
not to let himself be irritated by Leif's idle ways. He
exerted himself to meet him as unconstrainedly as before.
But his openness was not natural as it used to be, and
seemed forced. Leif noticed it without thinking about
it, and the feeling of restraint between them continued.

Only seldom did Leif follow Ingolf to the fields or to
other business. Their unconscious inner tension robbed
their intercourse of all outer comfort or heartiness.
The sense of brotherhood and family feeling between
them decreased greatly, and threatened to vanish.

Ingolf betook himself to work as a defence. He
wrapped himself in business as in a coat of mail, and

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Online LibraryGunnar GunnarssonThe sworn brothers, a tale of the early days of Iceland → online text (page 7 of 22)