Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryTraditionalGrettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Douglas B. Killings, and David Reid, and John Servilio



By Unknown Author

Written in Icelandic, sometime in the early 14th Century.


There was a man named Onund, the son of Ofeig Clumsyfoot, who was the
son of Ivar Horsetail. Onund was the brother of Gudbjorg, the mother of
Gudbrand Knob, the father of Asta, the mother of King Olaf the Saint.
His mother came from the Upplands, while his father's relations were
mostly in Rogaland and Hordland. He was a great viking and used to harry
away in the West over the sea. He was accompanied on these expeditions
by one Balki, the son of Blaeing from Sotanes, and by Orm the Wealthy.
Another comrade of theirs was named Hallvard. They had five ships, all
well equipped. They plundered the Hebrides, reaching the Barra Isles,
where there ruled a king named Kjarval, who also had five ships. These
they attacked; there was a fierce battle between them, in which Onund's
men fought with the utmost bravery. After many had fallen on both sides,
the battle ended with the king taking to flight with a single ship; the
rest were captured by Onund's force, along with much booty. They stayed
there for the winter, and spent the succeeding three summers harrying
the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, after which they returned to Norway.


At that time Norway was very disturbed. Harald Shockhead, the son of
Halfdan the Black, till then king of the Upplands, was aiming at the
supreme kingship. He went into the North and fought many battles there,
in which he was always victorious. Then he marched harrying through
the territories to the South, bringing them into subjection wherever he
came. On reaching Hordland he was opposed by a motley multitude led by
Kjotvi the Wealthy, Thorir Long-chin, and Soti and King Sulki from South
Rogaland. Geirmund Swarthyskin was then away in the West, beyond the
sea, so he was not present at the battle, although Hordland belonged to
his dominion.

Onund and his party had arrived that autumn from the western seas, and
when Thorir and Kjotvi heard of their landing they sent envoys to ask
for their aid, promising to treat them with honour.

They were very anxious for an opportunity of distinguishing themselves,
so they joined Thorir's forces, and declared that they would be in the
thickest part of the battle. They met King Harald in a fjord in Rogaland
called Hafrsfjord. The forces on each side were very large, and the
battle was one of the greatest ever fought in Norway. There are many
accounts of it, for one always hears much about those people of whom the
saga is told. Troops had come in from all the country around and from
other countries as well, besides a multitude of vikings. Onund brought
his ship alongside of that of Thorir Long-chin in the very middle of the
battle. King Harald made for Thorir's ship, knowing him to be a terrible
berserk, and very brave. The fighting was desperate on either side. Then
the king ordered his berserks, the men called Wolfskins, forward. No
iron could hurt them, and when they charged nothing could withstand
them. Thorir defended himself bravely and fell on his ship fighting
valiantly. The whole ship from stem to stern was cleared and her
fastenings were cut, so that she fell out of the line of battle. Then
they attacked Onund's ship, in the forepart of which he was standing and
fighting manfully. The king's men said: "He bears himself well in the
forecastle. Let us give him something to remind him of having been in
the battle." Onund was stepping out with one foot on to the bulwark, and
as he was striking they made a thrust at him with a spear; in parrying
it he bent backwards, and at that moment a man on the forecastle of the
king's ship struck him and took off his leg below the knee, disabling
him at a blow. With him fell the greater number of his men. They carried
him to a ship belonging to a man named Thrand, a son of Bjorn and
brother of Eyvind the Easterner. He was fighting against King Harald,
and his ship was lying on the other side of Onund's. Then there was a
general flight. Thrand and the rest of the vikings escaped any way they
could, and sailed away westwards. They took with them Onund and Balki
and Hallvard Sugandi. Onund recovered and went about for the rest of his
life with a wooden leg, wherefore he was called Onund Treefoot as long
as he lived.


There were then in the western parts many distinguished men who had fled
from their homes in Norway before King Harald, for he declared all who
fought against him outlaws, and seized their property. As soon as Onund
had recovered from his wound, Thrand went with his party to Geirmund
Swarthyskin, who was the most eminent of the vikings in the West. They
asked him whether he was not going to try and regain his kingdom in
Hordland, and offered to join him, hoping by this means to do something
for their own properties, for Onund was very wealthy and his kindred
very powerful. Geirmund answered that Harald had such a force that there
was little hope of gaining any honour by fighting when the whole country
had joined against him and been beaten. He had no mind, he said,
to become the king's thrall, and to beg for that which he had once
possessed in his own right. Seeing that he was no longer in the vigour
of his youth he preferred to find some other occupation. So Onund and
his party returned to the Southern Islands, where they met many of their

There was a man named Ofeig, nicknamed Grettir. He was the son of Einar,
the son of Olvir the Babyman. He was a brother of Oleif the Broad, the
father of Thormod Shaft. Another son of Olvir was named Steinolf, the
father of Una, whom Thorbjorn the Salmon-man married. A third son of
Olvir was Steinmod, who was the father of Konal, the father of Alfdis
of the Barra Isles. Konal's son was named Steimnod; he was the father of
Halldora, whom Eilif, the son of Ketil the One-handed, married.

Ofeig Grettir married Asny, the daughter of Vestar, the son of Haeing.
His sons were Asmund the Beardless and Asbjorn, and his daughters were
named Aldis, Aesa, and Asvor. Ofeig had fled from the wrath of King
Harald into the West over the sea, along with his kinsman Thormod Shaft
and all their families. They ravaged far and wide in the western seas.
Thrand and Onund Treefoot were going West to Ireland to join Thrand's
brother, Eyvind the Easterner, who had command of the Irish defences.
Eyvind's mother was named Hlif; she was the daughter of Hrolf, the son
of Ingjald, the son of King Frodi, while Thrand's mother was Helga, the
daughter of Ondott Crow. The father of Eyvind and Thrand was Bjorn, the
son of Hrolf of Ar. He had had to leave Gautland because he had burnt
in his house Sigfast the father-in-law of King Solvi. Then he went to
Norway and spent the winter with Grim the Hersir, a son of Kolbjorn
the Sneak, who wanted to murder him for his money. Thence Bjorn went
to Ondott Crow, who lived in Hvinisfjord in Agdir. There he was well
received, stayed the winter, and went campaigning with Ondott in the
summer until his wife Hlif died. Eventually Ondott gave Bjorn his
daughter Helga, and Bjorn then no longer went out to fight. Eyvind had
taken over his father's ships and become a great chief in the western
parts. He married Rafarta, the daughter of the Irish king Kjarval. Their
sons were Helgi the Lean and Snaebjorn.

When Thrand and Onund came to the Southern Islands they found there
Ofeig Grettir and Thormod Shaft, with whom they became very friendly,
for each thought the others had risen from the dead, their last meeting
having been in Norway when the war was at its worst. Onund was very
silent, and Thrand, when he noticed it, asked what was on his mind.
Onund answered with a verse:

"No joy is mine since in battle I fought.
Many the sorrows that o'er me lower.
Men hold me for nought; this thought is the worst
of all that oppresses my sorrowing heart."

Thrand said: "Why, you still seem as full of vigour as ever you were.
You may yet settle down and marry. You shall have my good word and my
interest if you will only tell me whom you fancy."

Onund said he behaved nobly; but said there had once been a time when
his chances of making a profitable marriage had been better.

Thrand said: "Ofeig has a daughter named Aesa; we might mention it if
you like."

Onund said he would like it, and soon afterwards Ofeig was approached on
the subject. He received the proposal favourably, saying he knew the
man to be of good lineage and to have some wealth in movable property,
though his lands were not worth much. "But," he said, "I do not think he
is very wise. Why, my daughter is quite a child."

Thrand said that Onund was more vigorous than many a man whose legs were

So with the aid of Thrand the terms were settled. Ofeig was to give his
daughter a portion in cash, for neither would reckon anything for his
lands in Norway. Soon afterwards Thrand was betrothed to the daughter of
Thormod Shaft. Both the maids were to remain plighted for three years.

Then they went on fighting expeditions in the summer, remaining in the
Barra Isles during the winter.


There were two Vikings from the Southern Isles, named Vigbjod and
Vestmar; they were abroad both summer and winter. They had eight ships,
and harried mostly round the coast of Ireland, where they did many an
evil deed until Eyvind undertook the defence of the coast, when they
retired to the Hebrides to harry there, and right in to the Scotch
firths. Thrand and Onund went out against them and learned that they had
sailed to an island called Bot. Onund and Thrand followed them thither
with five ships, and when the vikings sighted them and saw how many
there were, they thought their own force was sufficient, so they took to
their arms and advanced to the attack. Onund ordered his ships to
take up a position between two rocks where there was a deep but narrow
channel, open to attack from one side only, and by not more than five
ships at once. Onund was a very wily man. He sent his five ships forward
into the channel so that, as there was plenty of sea room behind them,
they could easily retire by merely backing their oars. One ship he
brought under an island lying on their beam, and carried a great stone
to a place on the front of the rock where it could not be seen from the
enemy's ships. The Vikings came boldly on, thinking they had caught them
in a trap. Vigbjod asked who they were that he had hemmed in. Thrand
answered that he was a brother of Eyvind the Easterner, and the man with
him was his comrade, Onund Treefoot. The vikings laughed and said:

"Trolls take the rascal Treefoot
and lay him even with the ground.

Never yet did I see men go to battle who could not carry themselves."

Onund said that could not be known until it was tried. Then the ships
came together. There was a great battle in which both sides fought
bravely. When the battle was thick Onund ordered his ships to back their
oars. The vikings seeing it thought they were taking to flight, and
pushed on with all their might, coming under the rock just at the moment
when the party which had been dispatched for that purpose arrived. They
launched upon the vikings stones so huge that nothing could hold against
them. A number of the vikings were killed, and others were so injured
that they could fight no more. Then the vikings tried to escape, but
could not, as their ships were in the narrowest part of the channel and
were impeded both by the current and by the enemy's ships. Onund's men
vigorously attacked the wing commanded by Vigbjod while Thrand engaged
Vestmar, but effected little. When the men on Vigbjod's ship had been
somewhat reduced, Onund's men, he himself with them, prepared to board
her. On seeing that, Vigbjod spurred on his men resolutely. He turned
against Onund, most of whose men gave way. Onund was a man of immense
strength and he bade his followers observe how it fared with them. They
shoved a log under the stump of his leg, so that he stood pretty firm.
The viking dashed forward, reached Onund and hewed at him with his
sword, which cut right through his shield and into the log beneath his
leg, where it remained fixed. As Vigbjod bent down to pull his sword
clear again, Onund dealt him a blow on his shoulder, severing his arm
and disabling him. When Vestmar saw his comrade fall, he sprang on to
the outermost ship and escaped along with all who could get on to her.
Then they examined the dead. Vigbjod had already expired. Onund went up
to him and said:

"Bloody thy wounds. Didst thou see me flee?
'One-leg' no hurt received from thee.
Braver are many in word than in deed.
Thou, slave, didst fail when it came to the trial."

They took a large quantity of booty and returned to the Barra Isles in
the autumn.


The following summer they made ready for a voyage to the West, to
Ireland. At the same time Balki and Hallvard sailed westwards,
to Iceland, where they had heard that good land was available for
occupation. Balki took up some land at Hrutafjord, and had his abode in
two places called Balkastad. Hallvard occupied Sugandafjord and Skalavik
as far as Stigi, where he lived.

Thrand and Onund went to visit Eyvind the Easterner, who welcomed
joyfully his brother Thrand; but when he heard that Onund had also come,
he became very angry and wanted to fight him. Thrand asked him not to
do so, and said it would ill become him to quarrel with men from Norway,
especially with such as had given no offence. Eyvind said that he had
given offence before, when he made war on Kjarval the king, and that he
should now pay for it. The brothers had much to say to each other about
the matter, till at last Thrand said that he and Onund should share
their fortune together. Then Eyvind allowed himself to be appeased.
They stayed there a long time in the summer and went with Eyvind on his
expeditions. Eyvind found Onund to be a man of the greatest valour. In
the autumn they went to the Hebrides, and Eyvind made over to Thrand all
his share in their father Bjorn's patrimony in the event of Bjorn dying
before Thrand. They stayed in the Hebrides until they married and some
years after.


The next thing that happened was the death of Thrand's father Bjorn.
When the news of it reached Grim the Hersir he proceeded against Ondott
Crow and claimed Bjorn's estate. Ondott held Thrand to be the rightful
heir of his father, but Grim contended that Thrand was away in the West.
Bjorn, he said, came from Gautland, and the succession to the estate of
all foreigners passed to the king. Ondott said that he would hold the
property on behalf of Thrand, who was his daughter's son. Grim then
departed, having effected nothing by his claim.

Thrand, when he heard of his father's death, prepared to leave the
Hebrides, and Onund Treefoot decided to go with him. Ofeig Grettir and
Thormod Shaft went to Iceland with all their belongings, landing at
Eyrar in the South. They spent the first winter with Thorbjorn the
Salmon-man, and then occupied Gnupverjahrepp. Ofeig took the outer part
lying between the rivers Thvera and Kalfa, and lived at Ofeigsstad near
Steinsholt, while Thormod took the eastern part, living at Skaptaholt.
Thormod's daughters were named Thorvor and Thorve; the former afterwards
became the mother of Thorodd the Godi at Hjalli, Thorve of Thorstein the
Godi the father of Bjarni the Wise.

We now return to Thrand and Onund, who sailed back from the West to
Norway. A strong wind blew in their favour, so that they arrived at the
house of Ondott Crow before any one knew of their journey. He welcomed
Thrand and told him of the claim which Grim the Hersir had raised for
Bjorn's estate.

"To my thinking, kinsman," he said, "it is better that the property
should go to you than to the king's thralls. It is a fortunate thing for
you that no one knows of your having come here, for I expect that Grim
will make an attack upon one or the other of us if he can. I should
prefer if you would take over your property and stay in other

Thrand said that he would do so. He took over the property and prepared
to leave Norway. Before leaving he asked Onund Treefoot whether he would
not come to Iceland. Onund said he wanted first to visit some of his
relations and friends in the South.

"Then," said Thrand, "we must part. I should be glad if you would give
my kinsmen your support, for our enemies will certainly try to take
revenge upon them when I am gone. I am going to Iceland, and I want you
to come there too."

Onund said he would come, and they parted with great friendship. Thrand
went to Iceland, where he met with a welcome from Ofeig and Thormod
Shaft. He took up his dwelling at Thrandarholt to the west of Thjorsa.


Onund went to Rogaland in the South and visited many of his relations
and friends. He lived there in concealment with a man named Kolbeinn. He
there learned that King Harald had taken all his property and given it
into the charge of a man named Harekr, one of his officials. Onund
went by night to Harekr's house and caught him at home; he was led to
execution. Then Onund took possession of all the loose property which he
found and burnt the building.

That autumn Grim the Hersir murdered Ondott Crow because he had not
succeeded in getting the property for the king. Ondott's wife Signy
carried off all their loose property that same night to a ship and
escaped with her sons Asmund and Asgrim to her father Sighvat. A little
later she sent her sons to Hedin, her foster-father in Soknadal, where
they remained for a time and then wanted to return to their mother. They
left at last, and at Yule-tide came to Ingjald the Trusty at Hvin.
His wife Gyda persuaded him to take them in, and they spent the winter
there. In the spring Onund came to northern Agdir, having learned of the
murder of Ondott. He met Signy and asked her what assistance they would
have of him. She said they were most anxious to punish Grim for the
death of Ondott. So the sons were sent for, and when they met Onund
Treefoot they all joined together and had Grim's doings closely watched.

In the summer there was a beer-brewing at Grim's for a jarl named Audun,
whom he had invited. When Onund and the sons of Ondott heard of it, they
appeared at his house unexpectedly and set fire to it. Grim the Hersir
and about thirty men were burnt in the house. They captured a quantity
of valuables. Then Onund went into the forest, while the two brothers
took the boat of their foster-father Ingjald, rowed away and lay in
hiding a little way off. Soon jarl Audun appeared, on his way to the
feast, as had been arranged, but on arriving he missed his host. So
he collected his men around him and stayed there a few nights, quite
unaware of Onund and his companions. He slept in a loft with two other
men. Onund knew everything that was going on in the house and sent for
the two brothers to come to him. On their arrival he asked them whether
they preferred to keep watch on the house or to attack the jarl. They
chose to attack. They then battered the entrance of the loft with beams
until the door gave way. Asmund seized the two men who were with the
jarl and threw them to the ground with such violence that they were
well-nigh killed.

Asgrim rushed at the jarl and demanded of him weregild for his father,
for he had been in league with Grim and took part in the attack when
Ondott was murdered. The jarl said he had no money about him and asked
for time. Asgrim then placed the point of his spear against his breast
and ordered him to pay up on the spot. Then the jarl took a necklace
from his neck and gave it to him with three gold rings and a velvet
mantle. Asgrim took the things and bestowed a name upon the jarl. He
called him Audun Nannygoat.

When the farmers and people about heard of the disturbances they all
came out to help the jarl. Onund had a large force with him, and there
was a great battle in which many a good farmer and many a follower of
the jarl were slain. The brothers returned to Onund and reported what
had occurred with the jarl. Onund said it was a pity they had not killed
him. It would, he said, have been something to make up for the losses
which he had suffered from King Harald. They said the disgrace was far
worse for the jarl as it was, and they went off to Surnadal to Eirik
Beery, a Landman there, who took them all in for the winter. At
Yule-tide they had a great drinking bout with a man named Hallsteinn,
nicknamed Stallion. Eirik opened the feast and entertained them
generously. Then it was Hallsteinn's turn, and they began to quarrel.
Hallsteinn struck Eirik with a deer's horn, for which Eirik got no
revenge, but had to go home with it, to the great annoyance of Ondott's
sons. A little later Asgrim went to Hallsteinn's house and gave him a
severe wound. All the people who were present started up and attacked
Asgrim. He defended himself vigorously and escaped in the dark, leaving
them under the belief that they had killed him. Onund and Asmund, on
hearing that Asgrim had been killed, were at a loss what they could do
in the matter. Eirik's advice was that they should betake themselves to
Iceland, for it would never do for them to remain in the land where the
king could get at them. This they determined to do. Each of them had his
own ship and they made ready for the voyage to Iceland. Hallsteinn was
laid low with his wound and died before Onund sailed with his party.
Kolbeinn, the man who was mentioned before, went in the ship with Onund.


Onund and Asmund set sail directly when they were ready and their ships
kept together. Onund said:

"Hallvard and I were aforetime deemed
worthy in storm of swords to bear us.
With one foot now I step on the ship
towards Iceland. The poet's day is o'er."

They had a rough passage with cross winds, mostly from the south, so
that they drifted away to the north. They made Iceland right in the
North, at Langanes, where they regained their reckonings. The ships were
near enough to each other for them to speak together. Asmund said they
had better make for Eyjafjord, and this was agreed to. They kept under
the land and heavy weather set in from the south-east. Just as Onund
was tacking, the yard was carried away; they lowered the sail and were
driven out to sea. Asmund got under the lee of Hrisey, where he waited
until a fair wind set in which took him up to Eyjafjord. Helgi the Lean
gave him the whole of Kraeklingahlid, and he lived at South-Glera. A few
years later his brother Asgrim came to Iceland and took up his residence
at North-Glera. His son was Ellidagrim the father of Asgrim.


Onund Treefoot was driven away from the shore for several days, after
which the wind shifted and blew towards the land. Then they made land
again, which those of them who had been there before recognised as the
western coast of the Skagi peninsula. They sailed in to Strandafloi,
almost to Sudrstrandir. There came rowing towards them a ten-oared boat
with six men on board, who hailed the sea-going ship and asked who was
their captain. Onund told them his name and asked whence they came.
They said they were the men of Thorvald from Drangar. Then Onund asked
whether all the land round that coast was occupied; they answered there
was very little left at Sudrstrandir and none at all in the North. So
Onund asked his men whether they would seek some land further to the
West or take that of which they had just been told. They said they would
first explore a little further. They sailed in along the coast of the
bay and anchored off a creek near Arnes, where they put off in a boat to
the shore.

Here dwelt a wealthy man named Eirik Snare, who had taken the land
between Ingolfsfjord and Ofaera in Veidileysa. On hearing that Onund had
arrived in those parts, he offered to let him have such portion as he
needed from his own lands, adding that there was little land which had
not already been taken up. Onund said he would first like to see what

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryTraditionalGrettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga → online text (page 1 of 16)