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Medieval and Classical Library


Of Uspak Of Ere In Bitter,
And Of His Injustice.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

Whenas Snorri the Priest had dwelt a few winters at Saelings- dale-Tongue, there dwelt a man at Ere in Bitter called Uspak. He was a married man, and had a son called Glum, who was young in those days. Uspak was the son of Kiallak of Kiallak's-river of Skridinsenni. Uspak was the biggest and strongest of men; he was unloved and the most unjust of men, and had with him seven or eight carles who were much in the way of picking quarrels with men in those northern parts; they had ever a ship off the land, and took from every man his goods and his drifts as it seemed them good.

A man called Alf the Little dwelt at Thambardale (1) in Bitter. He had wealth enow, and was the greatest of men in his housekeeping; he was a Thingman of Snorri the Priest, and had the ward of his drifts round Gudlaugs-head. Alf, too, deemed himself to feel cold from Uspak and his men, and made plaint thereof to Snorri the Priest whensoever they met.

Thorir, son of Gullhard, dwelt at Tongue in Bitter in those days. He was a friend of Sturla Thiodrekson, (2) who was called Slaying-Sturla, who dwelt at Stead-knoll in Saurby. Thorir was a rich bonder, and a foremost man among those of Bitter, and had withal the wardship of Sturla's drifts there in the north. Full oft was grey silver in the fire betwixt Thorir and Uspak, and now one now the other came off best.

Uspak was the foremost man there about Crosswater-dale and Enni.

One winter the hard weather came on early, and straightway was there earth-ban (3) about Bitter, whereof men had great loss of live-stock; but some drave their beasts south over the heath.

The summer before had Uspak let build a work at his stead of Ere, a wondrous good fighting-stead, if men were therein for defence.

In the winter at Goi came on a great snowstorm and held on for a week; a great northern gale it was. But when the storm abated, men saw that the ice from the main was come thither all over the outer firth, but no ice was as then come into Bitter, so men went to scan their foreshores.

Now it is to be told, that out betwixt Stika and Gudlaugs-head was a great whale driven ashore; in that whale Snorri the Priest and Sturla Thiodrekson had the greatest share; but Alf the Little and more bonders yet had certain shares in it also. So men from all Bitter go thither and cut up the whale under the ordering of Thorir and Alf.

But as men were at the cutting they saw a craft come rowing from the other side of the firth from Ere, and knew it for a great twelve-oarer that Uspak owned.

Now these landed by the whale and went up there, fifteen men all- armed in company; and when Uspak came aland he went to the whale and asked who had the rule thereover. Thorir said that he was over the share that Sturla had, but Alf over his share and that of Snorri the Priest; and that of the other bonders each saw to his own share. Uspak asked what they would hand over to him of the whale. Thorir answers: "Nought will I give thee of the portion that I deal with; but I wot not but that the bonders will sell thee of that which they own. What wilt thou pay therefor?"

"Thou knowest, Thorir," said Uspak, "that I am not wont to buy whale of you men of Bitter."

"Well," said Thorir, "I am minded to think that thou gettest none without price."

Now such of the whale as was cut lay in a heap, and was not yet apportioned out; so Uspak bid his men go thereto and bear it down to his keel; and those who were at the whale had but few weapons except the axes wherewith they were cutting it up. But when Thorir saw that Uspak and his folk went at the whale, he called out to the men not to let themselves be robbed. Then they ran to the other side of the heap, and those about the uncut whale ran therefrom, and Thorir was the swiftest of them.

Uspak turned to meet him and fetched a blow at him with his axe- hammer, and smote him on the ear so that he fell swooning; but those who were nighest caught hold of him and dragged him to them, and stood over him while he lay in the swoon, but then was the whale not guarded.

Then came up Alf the Little and bade them not take the whale. Uspak answered: "Come not nigh, Alf; thin is thy skull and heavy my axe, and far worse than Thorir shalt thou fare, if thou makest one step further forward."

This wholesome counsel thus taught him Alf followed. Uspak and his folk bore the whale down to their keel, and had got it done or ever Thorir woke up. But when he knew what had betid, he blamed his men that they had done slothfully in standing by him while some were robbed and some beaten; and therewith he sprang up. But Uspak had by then got his keel afloat, and they thrust off from the land. Then they rowed west over the firth to Ere, and Uspak let none go from him who had been in this journey; but there they had their abode and got matters ready in the work.

Thorir and his folk shared the whale, and let the loss of that which was taken fall equally on all, even according to the share which each man owned in the whale, and thereafter all went home.

And now full great enmity there was betwixt Thorir and Uspak, but whereas Uspak had a many men, the booty was soon on the wane.

(1)  Thambardale.  We have left the Icelandic form of the first
     part of this compound uninterfered with, chiefly on the
     ground of euphony, partly also because of the awkward sense
     of Thomb.  See Dict. Thambar = Thamb-ar = of the river of
     Thomb.  Probably the name was given to the river in
     consequence of it having caused some accident to a cow or a
     mare (less likely, a ewe), which bore the name of "Thomb".

(2)  For Sturla Thiodrekson's family connections, see Preface to
     the "Story of Howard the Halt".

(3)  "Earth-ban", jarth-bonn, a common term to this day,
     indicating that all pasture is intercepted by the thickness
     of the snow on the ground: