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Medieval and Classical Library


Of The Death Of Thorolf Halt-Foot.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

Now Snorri the Priest let work Crowness wood, and let much wood cutting go on. Thorolf Halt-foot thought that the wood was spoilt thereby, and rode out to Holyfell, and bade Snorri give back the wood, and said that he had lent the wood and not given it. Snorri said that would be clearer when they bore witness who were by at the handselling, and said that he would not give up the wood unless they gave it against him. Then Thorolf took himself off, and was in the worst of minds. He rode in to Lairstead to see his son Arnkel.

Arnkel gave his father good welcome, and asked his errand there. Thorolf answered: "This is my errand, that I see it is amiss that there should be ill-liking betwixt us, and now I will that we lay that aside, and take to kindly ways. For unseemly it is for us to be at enmity together; and moreover it seems to me that we should be great men here in the district with thy hardihood and my good counsel."

"The better it would like me," said Arnkel, "the closer we should draw together."

"Now will I," says Thorolf, "that this shall be the beginning of our peace-making and friendship, that we two claim Crowness wood of Snorri the Priest. It seems to me very ill that he should rule our fortune, but now he will not give up to me my wood, and says I gave it him; and therein he lies," says he.

Arnkel answers: "Thou didst that for no friendship to me when thou gavest Snorri the wood, nor shall I do so much as for thy slandering to quarrel with Snorri about it; and though I wot that he has no due title to the wood, yet will I not that thou have so much for thy lust for evil as to gladden thee by strife twixt me and Snorri."

"Methinks," said Thorolf, "that this comes rather from thy poor heart than because thou begrudgest me sport over your strife."

"Think whatso true thou wilt," said Arnkel, "but as things stand, no strife will I have with Snorri for the wood."

Therewith father and son parted, and Thorolf fared home and liked his lot exceeding ill, and thought that now he might scarce get his oar in.

Thorolf Halt-foot came home in the evening and spake to no man, but sat down in his high-seat and would eat no meat that night, and he sat there after men went to bed, and in the morning, when men arose, there he sat on still, and was dead.

Then the housewife sent a man to Arnkel, and bade him tell him of the death of his father. Then Arnkel rode up to Hvamm, and some of his home-men with him. And when they came to Hvamm, then was Arnkel ware that his father was dead, and sat in his high-seat. But the folk were all full of dread, because to all folk his face seemed loathsome.

Now Arnkel went into the fire-hall, and so up along it behind the seat at Thorolf's back, and bade all beware of facing him before lyke-help was given to him. Then Arnkel took Thorolf by the shoulders, and must needs put forth all his strength before he brought him under. After that he swept a cloth about Thorolf's head, and then did to him according to custom. Then he let break down the wall behind him, and brought him out thereby, (1) and then were oxen yoked to a sledge, and thereon was Thorolf laid out, and they drew him up into Thorswater-dale, and it was not without hard toil that he came to the stead whereas he should lie.

There they laid Thorolf in howe strongly; and then Arnkel rode to Hvamm and took to himself all the goods that were heaped up there, and which his father had owned. Arnkel was there three nights, and nought happed to tell of the while, and thereafter he rode home.

(1)  "Then he let break down the wall behind him and brought him
     out thereby."  The death of Thorolf took place very much in
     the same way as that of Egil's father, Skallagrim, whose
     temper was somewhat akin to that of Thorolf, being tainted
     with weird lycanthropy, though his character was of a higher
     type.  Skallagrim called on Egil to pay him the weregild for
     Thorolf his son, who, in high command in Athelstan's army,
     had fallen fighting in the battle of Vina, and which the
     king had entrusted to Egil for the father.  But Egil was not
     quite ready to give it up, -- in fact, never meant to do so.
     So Skallagrim, having a large hoard of money, makes up his
     mind to pay the son out, and by night rides to a certain
     bog-pit, whereinto he sinks his two chests full of money,
     and afterwards rides home by midnight, goes in his clothes
     to bed, but is found the next morning sitting in his seat in
     the hall, dead and stark.  Egil goes round by the aisle of
     the hall, and seizes Skallagrim from behind, and lays him
     down in the seat and gives him lyke help, i.e., closes his
     eyes and mouth.  Then he bids the southern wall to be broken
     through, whereby they carried Skallagrim headforemost out
     into the open.  In both these cases the proceedings are
     practically the same.  Both these men died within the same
     century, Skallagrim early in it, Thorolf late.  It would
     seem that in those times it was customary to teach him who
     was supposed to be likely to walk again a way to the house
     which did not lead to the door of it, but to the obstructing
     wall -- a custom which seems to trace its origin to the
     imagination that ghosts being brainless were devoid of
     initiative.  To this day the belief exists in Iceland that
     the spirit of the dead visits all localities on earth where
     the person has been, before it passes to its final
     destination.  This journey is supposed to take a
     miraculously short time.