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Medieval and Classical Library


The Slaying Of Arnkel.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

The autumn after, at winter-nights, Snorri the Priest had a great autumn-feast, and bade his friends thereto. Ale drinking they had thereat, and folk drank fast and were very merry with ale.

Now the talk fell on pairing men together (1) by their worth, and as to who was the noblest man in the countryside or the greatest chief, and thereon were men not at one, as oft it haps when the talk falls on likening man to man. To most of them indeed it seemed that Snorri was the noblest man, but some named Arnkel, and Stir forsooth.

But as they talked hereover, then Thorleif Kimbi answered and said:

"Why do men bicker over such a matter," says he, "when all may see how it is?"

"What wilt thou say hereon, Thorleif," said they, "if thou splittest the case into so many fragments?"

"Much the greatest do I deem Arnkel," said he.

"What hast thou to back this with?" said they.

"That which is true," says he. "For I call Snorri the Priest and Stir but as one man, because of their affinity; but of Arnkel's home-men that Snorri has killed, none lie by his garth unatoned like as Hawk, Snorri's follower, whom Arnkel slew, lies here by Snorri's garth."

This men deemed a big word, true though it were, since the talk had gone so far; but hereat dropped that talk.

But whenas men went from the bidding, Snorri the Priest chose gifts for his friends. He led Thorbrand's sons down to their ship at Redwick-head; and as they parted Snorri went to Thorleif Kimbi and said:

"Here is an axe, Thorleif, which I will give thee; it is the longest handled of all I have, yet will it not reach Arnkel's head when he stacks his hay at Orligstead, if thou heavest it at him all the way from Swanfirth."

He took the axe and said: "Deem well," says he, "that I will not hang back in heaving this axe on Arnkel whenas thou hast wrought the revenge for Hawk thy follower."

Snorri answered: "That methinks is due from you to me, sons of Thorbrand, that ye have spies out to watch for a chance at Arnkel, but blame me then if I come not to meet you when aught may be done if ye make me ware thereof."

Therewith they parted, and both gave out that they were ready to plot against Arnkel's life, and Thorbrand's sons were to have a spy on his goings.

Early that winter was there much ice, and all firths were overlaid therewith. Freystein Rascal watched sheep in Swanfirth, and he was set to spy out an occasion against Arnkel.

Arnkel was a great man for work, and made his thralls work all day from sunrise to sunset. He had under him both the lands of Ulfar's-fell and Orligstead, for no one could be got to dwell on the lands for fear of the violence of Thorbrand's sons. Now in the winter it was Arnkel's wont to carry hay from Orligstead in the night in the new moons, because the thralls did other work at home by day. Nor did he heed if Thorbrand's sons were unware of the carrying of hay. Now on a night of winter before Yule, Arnkel arose and waked three of his thralls, one of whom was called Ofeig. Goodman Arnkel went with them up to Orligstead. Four oxen they had, and two sledges withal.

The sons of Thorbrand were ware of Arnkel's ways, and Freystein Rascal went that night over the ice to Holyfell, and came there by then men had been abed for a space. He took Snorri by the foot and waked him, and Snorri asked what he would. He answers: "Now has the old eagle taken flight to his quarry at Orligstead."

Snorri rose up and bade men clothe themselves. So when they were clad, they took their weapons and fared nine of them altogether over the ice to Swanfirth. And when they came to the bottom of the firth, Thorbrand's sons came to meet them, and were six in company.

Then they fared up to Orligstead, and by then they came there, one of the thralls had gone home with a load of hay, and Arnkel and the others were busy on a second.

Then saw Arnkel and his folk how armed men came up from the sea, and Ofeig said thereon that unpeace was at hand, and there was nought for it but to get them gone homeward.

Arnkel answered: "Good rede can I give thereto, and now shall we each of us do what each best liketh. Ye shall run home and wake up my following, and they will come quickly to meet me, but here in the rickyard is a good place to make a stand, and from hence will I defend myself if they come in warlike wise, for that meseems is better than running; nor shall I soon be overcome, and speedily will my men come to me, if ye do your errands in manly wise."

So when Arnkel had thus made an end of speaking, the thralls set off a-running; and Ofeig was the swiftest, but so afeard he was that he well-nigh went out of his wits, and ran off into the mountain and fell into a force there and was lost, and that is since called Ofeig's-force. The other thrall ran home to the stead, and when he came to the haybarn there was his fellow- thrall before him carrying in the hay. He called to the thrall as he ran to help bear in the hay to him, and belike the thrall was nowise loth of that work, so he went to help him.

Now it is to be said of Arnkel that he knew how Snorri the Priest and his folk went there, and he tore the runner from under the sledge, and had it up into the garth with him. The garth was very high outside, and within it was heaped up high as well; and a good fighting-stead it was. Hay was in the garth, but the garth-pieces of the stacks were cleared off.

Now when Snorri and his folk came to the garth, it is not told that any words befell there, but straightway they set on Arnkel, and chiefly with spear-thrust, which Arnkel put from him with the sledge-runner, and many of the spear-shafts were broken thereby, nor was Arnkel wounded; but when they had spent their shot-weapons, then Thorleif Kimbi ran at the garth and leapt up on to it with sword drawn, and Arnkel smote at him with the sledge-runner, and Thorleif dropped down away from the stroke out of the garth, and the runner smote against the garth wall, and up therefrom flew a piece of frozen turf; but the sledge-runner was broken at the mortice, and part thereof fell out over the garth. Arnkel had laid his sword and shield against a hayrick, and now he took up his weapons and defended himself therewith; but now he began to gather wounds, and withal they came up into the garth about him. Then Arnkel leapt up on to the hayrick, and defended himself thence for a space, but such was the end of the matter that he fell, and they covered him over there in the garth with hay; and thereafter Snorri and his folk fared home to Holyfell.

Over the slaying of Arnkel, Thormod Trefilson made this stave:

     "Snorri the fight-strong
     Fetched for the wound-fowl
     Full feed with war-sword --
     Young he, and fame-fulfilled.
     O feeders of battle-fowl,
     Wild-fire of battle-storm
     Clave the life's coffer,
     Where Snorri felled Arnkel."