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Medieval and Classical Library


Of Thorolf Halt-Foot And Snorri The Priest.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

That winter at Yule-tide had Thorolf a great drinking, and put the drink round briskly to his thralls, and when they were drunk, he egged them on to go up to Ulfar's-fell and burn Ulfar in his house, and promised to give them their freedom therefor. The thralls .said they would do so much for their freedom if he would hold to his word. Then they went six of them together to Ulfar's-fell, and took a brushwood stack, and dragged it to the homestead, and set fire therein.

At that time Arnkel and his men sat drinking at Lairstead, and when they went to bed they saw fire at Ulfar's-fell. Then they went thereto forthwith, and took the thralls, and slaked the fire, and the houses were but little burned.

The next morning Arnkel let bring the thralls to Vadils-head, and there were they all hanged.

Thereafter Ulfar handselled all his goods to Arnkel, who became guardian over him. But this handselling misliked the sons of Thorbrand, because they deemed that to them belonged all the goods after Ulfar their freedman, and much ill-will arose here from between Arnkel and Thorbrand's sons. Nor might they henceforth have games together, which they had hitherto held, turn and turn about; in which games was Arnkel the strongest, but that man was the best to set against him, and the next strongest, who was called Freystein Rascal, and was the foster-son of Thorbrand, and his adopted son; for it was the talk of most men that his own son he was, but that his mother was a bondmaid. He was a manly man, and mighty of his hands.

Thorolf Halt-foot took it very ill of Arnkel that those thralls had been slain, and claimed atonement for them, but Arnkel flatly refused to pay a penny for them, and then was Thorolf worse pleased than afore.

But on a day he rode out to Holyfell to find Snorri the Priest, and Snorri bade him abide. But Thorolf said he had no need to eat his meat. "Therefor am I come, because I am fain thou shouldst set my matters straight, for I call thee chief of this countryside, and it is thy part to set right the lot of such men as have been wronged already."

"By whose means is thy lot brought low, goodman?" said Snorri.

"Through Arnkel, my son," answers Thorolf.

Said Snorri: "Thou shouldst not make plaint of that, because that thou shouldst be of one mind with him in all things: withal he is a better man than thou."

"That is not the way of it," says he, "because now of all men he tramples most on me, and now will I be thy close friend, Snorri, if thou wilt but take up the blood-suit for my thralls whom Arnkel let slay, nor will I bespeak all the blood-fines for myself."

Snorri answered: "I will not enter into the strife betwixt thee and thy son."

Says Thorolf: "Thou art no friend of Arnkel's; but mayhap thou deemest me niggard of my money. But it shall not be so now," says he. "I know thou wouldst fain have Crowness, and the wood thereon, which is the best possession in the countryside. Lo, I will handsel thee all that, if thou wilt but take up the suit for my thralls, and follow it up so mightily that thou shalt grow greater thereby, but they shall deem themselves put in the wrong who have wrought me shame; nor will I spare any man who has had part therein, be he more or less my kinsman."

Now Snorri deemed that he needed the wood greatly; and so it is said that he took handsel of the land, and took over the blood- suit for the thralls. But Thorolf rode home thereafter, and was well pleased therewith. But that was not talked of over-well by other folk.

In the spring Snorri set forth a case for the Thorsness Thing, at the hand of Arnkel, for the slaying of the thralls. Both sides came thronging to the Thing, and Snorri pushed forward the case. But when the suit came into court, Arnkel claimed for himself a verdict of not guilty, (1) and set that forth as a defence that the thralls were taken with quickfire for the burning of a homestead.

Then Snorri set forth that the thralls were indeed out of the law on the field of deed, "but whereas thou didst bring them in to Vadils-head and slay them there, I deem that there they were not out of the law."

So Snorri pushed the case on, and set aside Arnkel's claim to a verdict of not guilty; and thereafter men busied themselves to make peace, and a bargain was come to, and those brethren, Stir and Vermund, should be umpires in the case; and they put the thralls at twelve ounces each, and the money should be paid there and then at the Thing. And when it was paid, Snorri gave the purse to Thorolf, who took it and said: "I had no mind when I gave thee my land, that thou wouldst follow up my suit with so little manhood, and I wot that Arnkel would not have withheld from me such boot for my thralls if I had left the matter to him."

"Now I say," said Snorri, "that thou hast no shame herein, but I will not stake my worth against thy evil lust and foul deeds."

Thorolf answers: "Most like it is that I shall not seek to thee in cases again; nor yet shall the woes of you folk of this country lie utterly asleep."

Thereafter men depart from the Thing, and Arnkel and Snorri misliked them of this end to the matter, but Thorolf thought worse yet of it, as was well meet.

(1)  "Arnkel claimed for himself a verdict of not guilty" --
     kvaddi Arnkell ser bjargkvithar -- literally, demanded
     Arnkel for himself a saving verdict, which, however, is not
     an absolute equivalent for the original, because of kvithr
     having a twofold meaning; first, a sworn-in number of men,
     consisting, according to the nature of the case, of five,
     nine, or twelve neighbours; secondly, the utterance,
     declaration, or verdict of such a body.  In its first sense,
     we take it, kvithr is an "ablaut" development of the root
     kvath, in the verb kvethja, to call upon, to call out, to
     levy; while in its second it is a similar development from
     the same rooot in the verb kvetha (cf. English quoth), to
     say, to utter, to state, to declare.  The bjargkvithr, then,
     was both a sort of jury called in to give rebutting evidence
     in favour of the defendant, and the utterance or declaration
     given by this body.  The bjargkvithr should consist of five
     persons, nearest neighbours of the defendant; he should call
     them out of the plaintiff's own so-called "frumkvithr", or
     original jury, which, if it consisted only of five
     neighbours, was then bodily called by the defendant; but if
     it consisted of nine, five out of these, all being nearer
     neighbours than the remaining four, should be called: ".v.
     bvar scolo scilia vm biarg quitho alla heimilis bvar thess
     manz er sottr er nema hann se sottr vith ix. bva quith tha
     scal hann thathan quethia v. af theim bvom ix. til biarg
     quithar ser tha er naestir ero vetvang theim er fra var
     quatt."  (Gragas, i. 69, with still more detailed rulings,
     p. 65).  The object of the bjargkvithr was to declare that
     the defendant's objection or objections to the finding or
     findings of the kvithr of the plaintiff, frumkvithr, were,
     in fact, true.