Laxdaela Hrapp

Laxdaela Hrapp - LAXD/ELA SAGA 3!: Translated with an...

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Unformatted text preview: LAXD/ELA SAGA 3!: Translated with an Introduction by MAGNUS MAGNUSSON AND HERMANN PALSSON PENGUIN BOOKS LAXD/ELA SAGA court and used to spend alternate winters at home in Iceland and with King Hakon. His name was renowned in Norway as well as in Iceland. There was a man called Bjorn, who lived in Bjarnarfjord; he was the first settler there, and the fjord is named after him. Bjarnarfjord cuts into the coast to the north of Steingrimsfjord, separated from it by a neck of land. Bjorn was a wealthy man, of noble birth; his wife was called Ljufa, and they had a daughter called Jorunn. Jorunn was a good-looking, imperious woman of exceptional intelligence; she was considered the best match in all the West- fjords. HOskuld had heard about this woman, and also that her father Bjorn was the most notable farmer in the Strands. So he rode from home with nine companions and went to visit Bjorn in Bjarnarfjord; he was well received there, for Bjorn had heard good reports of him. Hoskuld then made an offer of marriage. Bjorn welcomed the proposal, and said he thought his daughter could marry no better, but left it to her to decide. When Jorunn was consulted she replied, ‘Everything we have heard about you, Hoskuld, would make us wish to give you a favourable answer, for we believe that the woman who marries you would be well provided for. However, my father shall have the final word, for I shall consent to whatever he wishes in this.’ The long and the short of it was that jorunn was betrothed to Hoskuld with a large dowry; the wedding was to be held at Hoskuldstead. With that, l-loskuld rode off home and remained there until it was time for the wedding. Bjorn arrived for the feast from the north with a handsome company; a large number of kinsmen and friends invited by Hoskuld were already there to greet them. It was a magnificent feast, and when it was over, each left for his own home in warm friendship and with suit- able gifts. Jorunn stayed behind at Hoskuldstead and took charge of the household with Heskuld; it was soon apparent from all her ways that she would be sensible and capable and accomplished in many respects, but always rather large-tempered. Hoskuld and 60 KILLER-HRAPP Jorunn got on well together, but they were usually rather reserved with one another. Hoskuld now became a great Chieftain. He was powerful and wealthy, and robust in his dealings; he was considered in no way a man of less account than his father DalanKoll had been. Hoskuld and jorunn had not been married long before child- ren were born to them. Their eldest, a son, was called Thorleik. They had another son, called Bard. Their daughters were Hall- gerd (later nicknamed Long-Legs), and Thurid. They were all promising children.1 Thorleik was big and powerful and very handsome, but taci— turn and brusque in his manner; people thought he showed in his nature that he would not turn out to be a peaceable man. Hoskuld always said that he would very much take after the Strands side of the family. Bard Hoskuldsson was also manly in appearance and powerful and intelligent; he showed signs of taking more after his father’s side of the family. As he grew up he was good-natured and well-liked, and Hoskuld loved him most of all his children. Hoskuld’s prestige and standing were now in their fullest flower. At about this time he gave his sister Groa in marriage to Veleif the Old; their son was Dueller-Bersi. IO. Killer—Hrapp THERE was a man called Hrapp who lived in Laxriverdale on the north side of the river, opposite Hoskuldstead. The farm then became known as l-lrappstead; it is derelict now. Hrapp was the son of Surnarlidi, and was known as Killer- Hrapp. He was Scottish on his father’s side, whereas all his mother’s family came from the Hebrides, and l-lrapp had been born and brought up there. He was a big, strong man who would never yield to anyone, whatever the opposition; and I. Hallgerd Long-Legs is one of the central characters in NiaI’s Saga. She had three husbands, and was responsible for the deaths of all of them; her third husband was Gunnar of Hlidarend. 61 LAXD/ELA SAGA Vigdis had brought with her from Goddastead nothing but her own personal belongings. The men of Hvamm now let it be known that they intended to claim half of Thord Goddi’s estate; When Thord heard this he became very alarmed and rode at once to see Hoskuld Dala-Kollsson to tell him of his troubles. ‘You have often been scared before,’ said Hoskuld, ‘but never with better reason.’ Thord then offered Hoskuld money for his help, and said he would not be sparing with it. Hoskuld said, ‘Everyone knows you would never let anyone else benefit from your money of your own free will.’ ‘lt’s quite different now,’ said Thord, ‘for I want you to take charge of all my wealth. I also want to offer to foster your son Olaf and leave him everything when I die, for I have no heirs here in Iceland and I think my money would then be in better hands than if Vigdis and her kinsmen got it into their clutches.’ Hoskuld accepted this offer, and made a binding agreement on these terms. Melkorka was displeased over it, for she thought the fosterage too lowly. Hoskuld said she was not looking at it the right way : “Thord is old and childless, and all his money will go to Olaf on his death. And you can go and visit him whenever you like.’ Thord then took Olaf, who was seven years old at the time, into his care and soon became devoted to him. When the pursuers in the suit against Thord Goddi heard about this they realized that the money would now be much more difficult to claim. But Hoskuld sent handsome gifts to in marriage, and could obtain a divorce merely by declaration; if her grounds for this action were judged to be valid. she could claim half of the marital estate. There were many recognized grounds for divorce, including incompatibility, non-consummation of marriage (cf. Unn and I-Irut Herjolfsson in N jal’s Saga), and even the wearing of clothes properly belonging to the opposite sex (cf. chapter 34). Her status as a spinster was also protected; it was a punishable offence to compose love-songs to aflwoman, because this was regarded as compromising her honour and therefore her marital prospects. 76 KILLER-HRAPP DIES Thord Gellir and asked him not to take offence at what had happened, for they had no legal claim on Thord Goddi for the money. He pointed out that Vigdis had not brought any valid charges against Thord Goddi which could justify her desertion : ‘Thord was none the worse a man for seeking some means of ridding himself of someone who had been thrust upon him and was as prickly with guilt as a juniper bush.’ When this message from Hoskuld, together with the generous gifts, reached Thord Gellir he was mollified and said he thought the money had come into good hands now that it was in Hoskuld’s care. Thord accepted the gifts and there the matter rested, although their friendship was not as warm now as before. Olaf grew up with Thord Goddi and became tall'and strong. He was so handsome that his equal was nowhere to be found. When he was twelve years old he rode to the Assembly, and people from other districts thought it worth their while to come just to see how exceptionally well-built he was. Olaf’s weapons and clothing were in keeping with this, so that he stood out from all other men. Thord Goddi’s circumstances improved greatly after Olaf came to live with him. Hoskuld gave Olaf a nickname and called him ‘the Peacock', and the name stuck. I7 . Killer-Hrapp dies IT is said of Killer-Hrapp that he became more and more brutal; he molested his neighbours so relentlessly that they could scarcely hold their own against him. But from the time that Olaf grew up, Hrapp could get no hold over Thord Goddi. I-Irapp’s nature remained unchanged even when his strength began to fail with/the onset of old age and' he had to take to his bed. He then summoned his wife and said to her, ‘I have never been prone to ill-health, and it seems more than likely that this illness will put an end to our life together. So when I am dead 77 LAXD/ELA SAGA I want my grave to be dug under the living-room door, and I am to be placed upright in it under the threshold, so that I can keep an even better watch over my house.’ Hrapp soon died and all his instructions were carried out, for Vigdis did not dare do otherwise. And difficult as he had been to deal with during his life, he was now very much worse after death, for his corpse would not rest in its grave; people say he murdered most of his servants in his hauntings after death, and caused grievous harm to most of his neighbours.1 The farm at Hrappstead had to beabandoned and Vigdis, Hrapp’s widow, went west to her brother Thorstein Blach the Wise, who looked after her and her property. And now, as so often before, people went to see Hoskuld Dalla-Kollsson and told him of all 'the trouble Hrapp was causing, and asked him to do something about it. Hoskuld agreed. He went over to Hrappstead with several men and had Hrapp’s body dug up and taken to a spot far remov“ed from any paths or pastures. After this, Hrapp’s hauntings abated a little. Sumarlidi, Hrapp’s son, inherited all his property, which was both extensive and valuable. Sumarlidi started farming Hrapp- stead the following spring, but when he had been there for a short time he went mad, and died soon afterwards. His mother Vigdis then inherited all these possessions, but she refused to go near the Hrappstead lands; so Thorstein Black took charge of all the inheritance. Thorstein was advanced in years by this time, but still very robust and healthy. r. In Icelandic folk—lore ghosts were not simply the insubstantial spirits of the dead, but the corpses themselves, the undead dead, which rose from their graves to terrorize the living by physical violence. The classic example in the sagas is the ghost of Glam, with whom Grettir fought an epic battle in Grettir’s Saga. Ghosts could also assume different shapes, like the seal in Chapter 18. 18. Thorstein Black drowns IN the district of Thorsness at this time, two of Thorstein Black’s kinsmen, Bork the Stout and his brother Thorgrim, were gaining authority; it soon became plain that these brothers wanted to be the biggest and most important men there.1 When Thorstein Black became aware of this he wanted to avoid any clashes with them, so he made it known that he intended to move house and settle at Hrappstead, over in Laxriverdale. After the spring Assembly, Thorstein made ready to leave. His livestock were being driven round by the coast. Thorstein manned a boat and embarked with a party of eleven, including his daughter Osk and son-in-law Thorarin and their daughter Hild, who was then three years old. Thorstein ran into a strong southwesterly wind. They sailed into an area of currents and into a tide-race known as Kolkis— tustraum, the strongest of all the currents in Breidafjord. They had difficulty making progress, chiefly because the tide was on the ebb and the wind unfavourable; the weather was squally, gusting fiercely during showers but windless between them. Thorarin was at the helm with the sail-braces slung round his shoulders, because there was little room in the boat; the cargo consisted mainly of chests piled up high. They were in the narrows, but the boat could make little headway because of the raging current against them; then they drove onto a sub- merged reef, but without wrecking the boat. Thorstein ordered the sail to be struck as quickly as possible and then told his men to use poles to push the boat off. They tried this but failed, because the water on either side was so deep that the poles could not reach bottom; so they had to wait for the tide to rise, and meanwhile the water was ebbing away from under the boat. I. These two brothers also play a part in Eyrbyggia Saga and in Gisli's Saga, which relates the story of how Thorgrim was killed by his own brother-in-law. and how Bork the Stout, having married the widow, tried to avenge the killing. 79 LAXDAELA SAGA Throughout the day they saw an enormous seal swimming in the current; it circled the boat all day. It had huge flippers, and everyone thought its eyes were those of a human. Thor- stein told his men to harpoon the seal, but all their attempts failed. Then the tide began to rise; but just as the boat was about to be refloated, a violent gust of wind broke upon them and the boat heeled over. Everyone on board was drowned, except for one man called Gudmund who was washed ashore with some timber at a place which has been known as the Gudmundar Isles ever since. Thorstein Black’s other daughter, Gudrid, who was mar- ried to Thorkel Fringe, now fell heir to the estate left by her father. News of the drowning of Thorstein Black and the others spread far and wide. Thorkel Fringe at once sent for this man Gudmund, the sole survivor; and when they met, Thorkel made a secret deal with him to give an account of the drownings in the way that Thorkel dictated. Gudmund agreed to do this, and then Thorkel asked him in the presence of witnesses to describe what had happened. So now Gudmund said that the first to drown was Thorstein Black, followed by his son-in—law Thorarin; this would make little Hild the heir, for she was Thorarin’s daughter. Then he said that the girl was the next to die, followed by her mother Osk (who would have inherited from her daughter), and that Osk was the last to drown. This meant that the estate should all revert to Thorkel Fringe, for his wife Gudrid was heir to her sister Osk. Thorkel Fringe and his friends spread this story about; but Gudmund had previously given a different account, and Thorarin's kinsmen found the story rather dubious and said they would refuse to accept it without proof. They claimed that half of the estate was theirs, but Thorkel maintained that it all belonged to him alone and demanded that the issue be put to ordeal, according to custom. The ordeal practised at that time was submission under turf : a strip of turf was cut loose from the soil, with both ends left 80 THORSTEIN BLACK DROWNS anchored to the ground, and the man who was to be subjected to the ordeal had to pass under the turf.1 Thorkel Fringe himself had some misgivings as to whether the drownings really had taken place in the order that Gudmund and he had declared: pagans felt their responsibilities no less keenly when performing such ceremonies than Christians do now when ordeals are decreed? The one who passed under the turf was cleared of guilt if the turf did not fall on him. So Thorkel made an arrangement with two men to be present and pretend to quarrel over something while the ordeal was being performed, and to disturb the turf so obviously that everyone could see that they had caused it to fall. After that the man who was to undergo the ordeal came forward, and as soon as he was underneath the turf these two men came to blows beside it, as arranged, and fell to the ground, and the turf collapsed as was only to be expected. People rushed to separate them, which was not difficult, for they had not been fighting seriously. Thorkel asked for a verdict by consensus on the outcome of the ordeal, and all his men claimed that it would have turned out well if no one had interfered. So Thorkel Fringe took possession of all the movable pro- perty, but the farm at Hrappstead became derelict. I. There were various forms of ‘ordeal’ used in pre-Christian Ice- land, such as the handling of hot iron, or walking on hot metal. In the turf-ordeal, a long strip of turf was cut in a semi-circle and loosened from the earth; with the ends still anchored, it was raised into a precarious arch under which the person concerned, or some- one delegated to take his place, had to pass without bringing the arch down. Passing under the turf was also part of the rites of swearing blood-brotherhood, accompanied by the mingling of blood into the soil. (Cf. Gisli’s Saga, Chapter 6.) 2. According to the Icelandic Annals. ordeals were abolished in lceland in 1248, the year after they were abolished in Norway by Cardinal William of Sabena (the Lateran Council of 12r5 had already forbidden members of the clergy to take part in them). This reference suggests that Laxdtela Saga must have been written before the year 1248. 81 LAXD/ELA SAGA ‘You no doubt think you have done more daring deeds than talking to women,’ replied Thorgerd. Then they began talking, and they talked together all that day, and no one could overhear what they were saying. Before they parted, Egil and Hoskuld were called over, and Olaf's marriage- proposal was raised anew; and this time Thorgerd left the decision to her father. The matter was ,now easily settled, and the betrothal took place at once. In deference to the men of Laxriverdale it was conceded that the bride should be brought to them; the wedding was to take place at Hoskuldstead seven weeks before winter. . After that Egil and Hoskuld parted. Father and son rode home to Hoskuldstead; they remained there for the rest of the summer, and everything was quiet. ‘ Then the preparations for the wedding-feast at Hoskuldstead were made and nothing was stinted, for means were plentiful. The guests arrived at the appointed time. The men of Borgar- fjord attended in great numbers, including Egil and his son Thorstein Egilsson. With them came the bride, and a select following from that district. Hoskuld had a great number of guests waiting to welcome them. The feast was magnificent, and when it was over the guests were given gifts when they left. Olaf gave Egil the sword that King Myrkjartan had given him, and Egil's face lit up at the gift. The feast had been uneventful, and now all the guests went home. 24. Hjardarholt OLAF and Thorgerd lived at Hoskuldstead and came to love one another dearly. It was obvious to everyone that she was an exceptional woman. She was not an interfering person as a rule, but whenever she did take a hand she insisted on having her own way. That winter, Olaf and Thorgerd were alternately at Hoskuldstead or with Olaf’s foster:father at Goddastead. In the spring Olaf took over the farm at Goddastead. That summer Thord Goddi fell ill and then died. Olaf had a mound IOO HJARDARHOLT raised over him on the tongue of land that juts out into Lax River and is called Drafnarness; the mound is surrounded by a wall which is known as Haugsgard, Soon many people began to flock to Olaf, and he became a great Chieftain. Hoskuld was not envious of this, for he always wanted Olaf to be consulted in all matters of importance. Olaf’s estate was the outstanding farm in Laxriverdale. There were two brothers staying with Olaf, both of whom were called An; one was known as An the White, and the other as An the Black. There was a third man called Beinir the Strong. They were Olaf’s smiths, and they were all stalwart men. Thorgerd and Olaf had a daughter who was called Thurid. The lands which had belonged to Killer-Hrapp were all lying empty, as was written earlier. Olaf thought they were well situated, and one day he suggested to his father that they should send messengers to Thorkel Fringe with an offer to buy from him the lands at Hrappstead and the other properties included in the estate. This was easily arranged and the deal was clinched, for Thorkel realized that it was better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush. The agreement was that Olaf was to pay three marks of silver for the land, which was an excel- lent bargain, for the lands were rich and extensive and very productive, with good salmon-fishing and seal-hunting as well, and plenty of woodland. Some distance above Hoskuldstead, to the north of Lax River, a clearing had been cut in the wood, and you could be sure of finding Olaf’s livestock always gathered there, in good weather or bad. One autumn Olaf had a farmhouse built in that same clearing, using timber hewn from the forest as well as driftwood. It was a magnificent building. It stood empty throughout the winter, but in spring Olaf moved in. Before he moved house he herded together all his livestock, which had multiplied vastly — no one in Breidafjord was richer in livestock at that time. Olaf then sent word to his father to stand out- side at Hoskuldstead and watch his train as he moved to his new home, and invoke a benison upon it. Hoskuld agreed to do this. Olaf now made his arrangements: first in'the line were driven the shyest of the sheep, followed by the milch ewes IOI LAXD/ELA SAGA and cows; next came the barren cattle, with the pack-horses bringing up the rear. The farmhands were placed so as to prevent the animals straying from a straight line. in this way, the van was reaching the new farm just when Olaf was riding out of Goddastead, and there was no gap anywhere in the line. Hoskuld was standing out of doors with his men; and now Hoskuld wished his son wealth and well-being in this new farm — ‘and I have a feeling that this will be so, and that his name will be long remembered.’ ’ His wife Jorunn retorted, ‘That concubine's son certainly has the wealth to ensure that his name is long remembered!’ Just as the'servants had unloaded the pack-horses, Olaf came riding in. Then he said, ‘Now I shall satisfy your curiosity over the question that has been discussed all winter. as to what this farm is to be called: its name is to be Hjardarholt." Everyone thought this name fittingly chosen in view of the purpose the place had previously served. Olaf now organized the farm at l-Ijardarholt; it soon became very prosperous, and nothing was ever lacking there. ' Olaf’s reputation now grew in stature, and there were many reasons for this. He was extremely well-liked, for whenever he intervened in other people’s affairs he did it in such a way that everyone was satisfied. His father helped him in every way to gain prestige; and Olaf also had a great asset in his alliance with the men of Myrar. Olaf was considered the noblest of all Hoskuld’s sons. The first winter that Olaf lived in Hjardarholt he had many servants and farmhands, each of whom had his particular work to do. One of them tended the barren cattle, and another the milch cows. The byre was out in the woods some distance away from the farmhouse. One evening the man who tended the barren cattle came to Olaf and asked him to get someone else to see to the beasts - ‘and give me some other work to do.’ ‘I want you to keep on with the work you've been doing,’ replied Olaf. I "The man said he would rather leave than do that. I. The name means, literally. ‘Herd's-wood’. I02 THORLEIK AND BARD HOSKULDSSON‘ ‘Then you really must think there’s something the matter,’ said Olaf. ‘I shall go with you this evening When you tie up the cattle, and if I think. you have any excuse for this I shan’t blame you in any way. But otherwise you’ll be made to suffer for it.’ Olaf took his gold-inlaid spear which the king had given him, and set out with the farmhand. There‘was light snow on the ground. They came to the byre, which was open, and Olaf told the man to go in first — ‘and I’ll drive the cattle in behind you, and you tie them up’. . The farmhand went to the door, and before Olaf knew it the man came leaping back into his arms. Olaf asked him why he was so terrified. He replied, ‘Killer—Hrapp is standing in the door of the byre and he tried to catch hold of me, but I’ve had enough of wrestling with him.’ Olaf now went to the door and thrust at Hrapp with his spear. Hrapp grabbed the socket of the spear with both hands and wrenched it so sharply that the shaft snapped. Then Olaf tried to rush Hrapp,,but ‘l-lrapp sank into the ground where he had been standing, and that was the end of their encounter: Olaf was left with the shaft, and Hrapp had the spear-head. Olaf and the farmhand now tied up the cattle, and after that they went back home. Olaf told the man that he would not blame him for having complained. Next morning Olaf went to the place where Hrapp had been buried, and had him dug up. l-lrapp’s corpse was still undecayed, and Olaf found his spear-head there. After that he had a pyre built. and Hrapp was burned on it and his ashes were carried out to sea. From that time on no one ever suffered any harm from Hrapp's hauntings. 2 5. Thorleik and Bard Hoskuldsson Now we must tell something of Hoskuld’s other sons. Thorleik Hoskuldsson had been a great sea-going merchant and stayed with people of rank when he was on his trading x03 ...
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Laxdaela Hrapp - LAXD/ELA SAGA 3!: Translated with an...

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