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Medieval and Classical Library

The Saga of Grettir the Strong
(Grettir's Saga)

Sections LXIV - LXXXI

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #9


There was dwelling at Eyjardalsa in Bardardal a priest named Steinn, a good farmer and wealthy. His son Kjartan was grown up and was now a fine young man. Thorsteinn the White was a man who dwelt at Sandhaugar to the south of Eyjardalsa; his wife Steinvor was young and of a merry disposition. They had children who at this time were yet young. Their place was generally thought to be much haunted by trolls. Two winters before Grettir came North into those parts, Steinvor the mistress of Sandhaugar went as usual to spend Yule at Eyjardalsa, while her husband stayed at home. Men lay down to sleep in the evening, and in the night they heard a great noise in the room near the bondi's bed. No one dared to get up to see what was the matter because there were so few of them. The mistress of the house returned home the next morning, but her husband had disappeared and no one knew what had become of him. So the next season passed. The following winter the mistress wanted to go to mass, and told her servant to stay at home; he was very unwilling but said she should be obeyed. It happened just as before; this time the servant disappeared. People thought it very strange and found some drops of blood upon the outer door, so they supposed that some evil spirit must have carried off both the men. The story spread all through the district and came to the ears of Grettir, who being well accustomed to deal with ghosts and spectres turned his steps to Bardardal and arrived at Yule-eve at Sandhaugar. He retained his disguise and called himself Gest. The lady of the house saw that he was enormously tall, and the servants were terribly afraid of him. He asked for hospitality; the mistress told him that food was ready for him but that he must see after himself. He said he would, and added: "I will stay in the house while you go to mass if you would like it."

She said: "You must be a brave man to venture to stay in the house."

"I do not care for a monotonous life," he said.

Then she said: "I do not want to remain at home, but I cannot get across the river."

"I will come with you," said Gest. Then she made ready to go to mass with her little daughter. It was thawing outside; the river was flooded and was covered with ice. She said: "It is impossible for either man or horse to cross the river."

"There must be fords," said Gest; "do not be afraid."

"First carry the maiden over," she said; "she is lighter."

"I don't want to make two journeys of it," said he; "I will carry you in my arms."

She crossed herself and said: "That is impossible; what will you do with the girl?"

"I will find a way," he said, taking them both up and setting the girl on her mother's knee as he bore them both on his left arm, keeping his right arm free. So he carried them across. They were too frightened to cry out. The river came up to his breast, and a great piece of ice drove against him, which he pushed off with the hand that was free. Then the stream became so deep that it broke over his shoulder, but he waded on vigorously till he reached the other bank and put them on shore. It was nearly dark by the time he got home to Sandhaugar and called for some food. When he had eaten something he told the servants to go to the other end of the hall. Then he got some boards and loose logs and laid them across the hall to make a great barricade so that none of the servants could get across. No one dared to oppose him or to object to anything. The entrance was in the side wall of the hall under the back gable, and near it was a cross bench upon which Grettir laid himself, keeping on his clothes, with a light burning in the room. So he lay till into the night.

The mistress reached Eyjardalsa for mass and every one wondered how she had crossed the river. She said she did not know whether it was a man or a troll who had carried her over. The priest said it was certainly a man though unlike other men. "Let us keep silence over it; may be that he means to help you in your difficulties."

She stayed there the night.


We return now to tell of Gest. Towards midnight he heard a loud noise outside, and very soon there walked a huge troll-wife into the room. She carried a trough in one hand and a rather large cutlass in the other. She looked round the room as she entered, and on seeing Gest lying there she rushed at him; he started up and attacked her furiously. They fought long together; she was the stronger but he evaded her skilfully. Everything near them and the panelling of the back wall were broken to pieces. She dragged him through the hall door out to the porch, where he resisted vigorously. She wanted to drag him out of the house, but before that was done they had broken up all the fittings of the outer door and borne them away on their shoulders. Then she strove to get to the river and among the rocks. Gest was terribly fatigued, but there was no choice but either to brace himself or be dragged down to the rocks. All night long they struggled together, and he thought he had never met with such a monster for strength. She gripped him so tightly to herself that he could do nothing with either hand but cling to her waist. When at last they reached a rock by the river he swung the monster round and got his right hand loose. Then he quickly seized the short sword which he was wearing, drew it and struck at the troll's right shoulder, cutting off her right arm and releasing himself. She sprang among the rocks and disappeared in the waterfall. Gest, very stiff and tired, lay long by the rock. At daylight he went home and lay down on his bed, blue and swollen all over.

When the lady of the house came home she found the place rather in disorder. She went to Gest and asked him what had happened, and why everything was broken to pieces. He told her everything just as it had happened. She thought it a matter of great moment and asked him who he was. He told her the truth, said that he wished to see a priest and asked her to send for one. She did so; Steinn came to Sandhaugar and soon learnt that it was Grettir the son of Asmund who had come there under the name of Gest. The priest asked him what he thought had become of the men who had disappeared; Grettir said he thought that they must have gone among the rocks. The priest said he could not believe his word unless he gave some evidence of it. Grettir said that later it would be known, and the priest went home. Grettir lay many days in his bed and the lady did all she could for him; thus Yule-tide passed. Grettir himself declared that the trollwoman sprang among the rocks when she was wounded, but the men of Bardardal say that the day dawned upon her while they were wrestling; that when he cut off her arm she broke, and that she is still standing there on the mountain in the likeness of a woman. The dwellers in the valley kept Grettir there in hiding.

One day that winter after Yule Grettir went to Eyjardalsa and met the priest, to whom he said: "I see, priest, that you have little belief in what I say. Now I wish you to come with me to the river and to see what probability there is in it."

The priest did so. When they reached the falls they saw a cave up under the rock. The cliff was there so abrupt that no one could climb it, and nearly ten fathoms down to the water. They had a rope with them. The priest said: "It is quite impossible for any one to get down to that."

Grettir answered: "It is certainly possible; and men of high mettle are those who would feel themselves happiest there. I want to see what there is in the fall. Do you mind the rope."

The priest said he could do so if he chose. He drove a stake into the ground and laid stones against it.


Grettir now fastened a stone in a loop at the end of the rope, and lowered it from above into the water.

"Which way do you mean to go?" asked the priest.

"I don't mean to be bound when I come into the fall," Grettir said. "So my mind tells me."

Then he prepared to go; he had few clothes on and only a short sword; no other arms. He jumped from a rock and got down to the fall. The priest saw the soles of his feet but after that did not know what had become of him. Grettir dived beneath the fall. It was very difficult swimming because of the currents, and he had to dive to the bottom to get behind the fall. There was a rock where he came up, and a great cave under the fall in front of which the water poured. He went into the cave, where there was a large fire burning and a horrible great giant most fearful to behold sitting before it. On Grettir entering the giant sprang up, seized a pike and struck at him, for he could both strike and thrust with it. It had a wooden shaft and was of the kind called "heptisax." Grettir struck back with his sword and cut through the shaft. Then the giant tried to reach up backwards to a sword which was hanging in the cave, and at that moment Grettir struck at him and cut open his lower breast and stomach so that all his entrails fell out into the river and floated down the stream. The priest who was sitting by the rope saw some debris being carried down all covered with blood and lost his head, making sure that Grettir was killed. He left the rope and ran off home, where he arrived in the evening and told them for certain that Grettir was dead, and said it was a great misfortune to them to have lost such a man.

Grettir struck few more blows at the giant before he was dead. He then entered the cave, kindled a light and explored. It is not told how much treasure he found there, but there is supposed to have been some. He stayed there till late into the night and found the bones of two men, which he carried away in a skin. Then he came out of the cave, swam to the rope and shook it, thinking the priest was there; finding him gone he had to swarm up the rope and so reached the top. He went home to Eyjardalsa and carried the skin with the bones in it into the vestibule of the church together with a rune-staff, upon which were most beautifully carved the following lines:

"Into the fall of the torrent I went;
dank its maw towards me gaped.
The floods before the ogress' den
Mighty against my shoulder played";

and then:

"Hideous the friend of troll-wife came.
Hard were the blows I dealt upon him.
The shaft of Heptisax was severed.
My sword has pierced the monster's breast."

There too it was told how Grettir had brought the bones from the cave. The priest when he came to the church on the next morning found the staff and all that was with it and read the runes. Grettir had then returned home to Sandhaugar.


When the priest met Grettir again he asked him to say exactly what bad happened, and Grettir told him all about where he had been. He said that the priest had held the rope very faithlessly, and the priest admitted that it was true. Men felt no doubt that these monsters were responsible for the disappearance of the men in the valley, nor was there any haunting or ghost-walking there afterwards; Grettir had evidently cleared the land of them. The bones were buried by the priest in the churchyard. Grettir stayed the winter in Bardardal, but unknown to the general public.

Thorir of Gard heard rumours of Grettir being in Bardardal and set some men on to take his life. Men thereupon advised him to depart, and he went into the West to Modruvellir, where he met Gudmund the Mighty and asked him for protection. Gudmund said it would not be convenient for him to take him in.

"You must," he said, "find a place to settle in where you need be in no fear for your life."

Grettir said he did not know where such a place was.

"There is an island," Gudmund said, "in Skagafjord, called Drangey. It is excellent for defence; no one can get up to it without a ladder. If once you can reach it there is no chance of any one attacking you there with arms or with craft, so long as you guard the ladder well."

"That shall be tried," said Grettir. "But I am in such dread of the dark that even for the sake of my life I cannot live alone."

"It may be that it is so," said Gudmund; "but trust no man so well that you trust not yourself better. Many are unfit to be trusted."

Grettir thanked him for his excellent advice and departed from Modruvellir. He went on straight to Bjarg, where his mother and Illugi greeted him joyfully. He stayed there several days and heard of Thorsteinn Kuggason having been slain in the autumn before he went to Bardardal. Fate, he thought, was striking hard against him. Then he rode South to Holtavarda Heath, intending to revenge the death of Hallmund if he could meet with Grim. On reaching Nordrardal he learnt that Grim had left two or three years before, as has already been related. Grettir had not received news of it because he had been in hiding there for two years and a third in Thorisdal and had met no one to tell him of what had happened. Then he turned his steps towards the Breidafjord valleys and waylaid those who passed over Brattabrekka. He continued to let his hands sweep over the property of the small farmers during the height of the summer season.

When the summer was passing away, Steinvor at Sandhaugar gave birth to a son who was named Skeggi. He was at first fathered on Kjartan, the son of Steinn the priest at Eyjardalsa. Skeggi was unlike all his family in his strength and stature. When he was fifteen years old he was the strongest man in the North, and then they put him down to Grettir. There seemed a prospect of his growing into something quite extraordinary, but he died when he was seventeen and there is no saga about him.


After the death of Thorsteinn Kuggason, Snorri the Godi was on bad terms with his son Thorodd and with Sam the son of Bork the Fat. It is not clearly stated what they had done to displease him except that they had refused to undertake some important work which he had given them to do; what is known is that Snorri turned off his son Thorodd and told him not to come back until he had slain some forest-man, and so it remained. Thorodd then went to Dalir. There dwelt at Breidabolstad in Sokkolfsdal a certain widow named Geirlaug; she kept as her shepherd a grown-up youth who had been outlawed for wounding some one. Thorodd Snorrason heard of this, rode to Breidabolstad and asked where the shepherd was. The woman said he was with the sheep and asked what Thorodd wanted with him.

"I want to take his life," he said; "he is an outlaw and a forest-man."

She said: "Such a warrior as you has nothing to gain by killing a miserable creature like him. I will show you a much doughtier deed, should you have a mind to try it."

"What is that?" he asked.

"Up there in the mountains," she said, "is Grettir the son of Asmund; deal with him; that will be more fitting for you."

Thorodd liked the proposal and said he would do it. Then he put spurs to his horse and rode up along the valleys. On reaching the hills below the Austra river he saw a light-coloured horse saddled, with a big man in armour, and at once directed his steps towards them. Grettir hailed him and asked who he was. Thorodd told his name and asked: "Why do you not rather ask my business than my name?"

"Because," he said, "it is not likely to be very weighty. Are you a son of Snorri the Godi?"

"So it is indeed; we shall now try which of us is the stronger."

"That is easily done," said Grettir, "but have you not heard that I have not proved a mound of wealth to most of those who have had to do with me?"

"I know that; but I mean to risk something on it now."

Then he drew his sword and went valiantly for Grettir, who defended himself with his shield but would not use his weapons against Thorodd. They fought for a time without his being wounded. Grettir then said:

"Let us stop this play; you will not gain the victory in a battle with me."

Thorodd struck at him most furiously. Grettir was tired of it, so he took hold of him and set him down next to himself, saying: "I could do what I liked with you; but I have no fear of your killing me. I am much more afraid of your grey-headed father, Snorri the Godi, and of his counsels, which have brought many a man to his knees. You should take up tasks which you are able to accomplish; it is no child's play to fight with me."

When Thorodd saw that there was nothing to be done he quieted down, and then they parted. He rode home to Tunga and told his father of his encounter witb Grettir. Snorri smiled and said: "Many a man has a high opinion of himself; but the odds against you were too great. While you were aiming blows at him he was doing what he pleased with you. But he was wise not to kill you, for it would not have been my purpose to leave you unavenged. I will now rather use my influence on his side if I ever have to do with his affairs."

Snorri showed his approval of Grettir's action towards Thorodd, for his counsels were always friendly to Grettir.


Soon after Thorodd left him Grettir rode North to Bjarg and remained there in hiding for a time. His fear of the dark grew so upon him that he dared go nowhere after dusk. His mother offered to keep him there, but said she saw that it would not do for him because of the feuds which he had throughout the land. Grettir said she should not fall into trouble through him, "but," he said, "I can no longer live alone even to save my life."

Illugi his brother was then fifteen years old and was a most goodly young man. He heard what they were saying. Grettir told his mother what Gudmund the Mighty had advised him to do, and declared he would try to get to Drangey if he could. Yet, he said, he could not go there unless he could find some faithful man to stay with him. Then Illugi said: "I will go with you, brother. I know not whether I shall be a support to you, but I will be faithful to you and will not run from you so long as you stand upright. And I shall know the better how it fares with you if I am with you."

Grettir answered: "You are such an one amongst men as I most rejoice in. And if my mother be not against it I would indeed that you should go with me."

Asdis then said: "It has now come to this, that I see two difficulties meeting each other. It is hard for me to lose Illugi, but I know that so much may be said for Grettir's condition that he will find some way out. And though it is much for one to bid farewell to both of you, yet I will consent to it if Grettir's lot is bettered thereby."

Illugi was pleased at her words, for his heart was set upon going with Grettir. She gave them plenty of money to take with them and they made ready for their journey. Asdis took them along the road, and before they parted she said: "Go forth now, my sons twain. Sad will be your death together, nor may any man escape that which is destined for him. I shall see neither of you again; let one fate befall you both. I know not what safety you seek in Drangey, but there shall your bones be laid, and many will begrudge you your living there. Beware of treachery; yet shall you be smitten with weapons, for strange are the dreams which I have had. Guard yourselves against witchcraft, for few things are stronger than the ancient spells."

Thus she spoke and wept much. Grettir said: "Weep not, my mother. It shall be said that you had sons and not daughters if we are attacked with arms. Live well, and farewell."

Then they parted. The two travelled North through the districts and visited their kinsmen while the autumn passed into winter. Then they turned their steps to Skagafjord, then North to Vatnsskard on to Reykjaskard below Saemundarhlid to Langholt, reaching Glaumbaer as the day was waning. Grettir had slung his hat over his shoulder; so he always went when out of doors whether the weather was good or bad. Thence they continued their journey, and when they had gone a short way they met a man with a big head, tall and thin and ill clad. He greeted them and each asked the other's name. They told theirs and he said his name was Thorbjorn. He was a vagrant, had no mind to work and swaggered much. It was the habit of some to make game of him or fool him. He became very familiar and told them much gossip about the district and the people therein. Grettir was much amused. He asked whether they did not want a man to work for them and said he would much like to go with them. So much he got from his talk that they let him join them. It was very cold and there was a driving snow-storm. As the man was so fussy and talkative they gave him a nickname and called him Glaum.

"The people in Glaumbaer," he said, "were much exercised about your going without a hat in this weather, and wanted to know whether you were any the braver for being proof against the cold. There were two sons of bondis there, men of great distinction; the shepherd told them to come out and mind the sheep with him, but they could scarcely get their clothes on for the cold."

Grettir said: "I saw a young man inside the door putting on his mittens, and another going between the cow-house and the dung- heap. Neither of them will frighten me."

Then they went on to Reynines and stayed the night there; then to the sea-shore to a farm called Reykir where a man, a good farmer, named Thorvald, lived. Grettir asked him for shelter and told him of his intention of going to Drangey. The bondi said that men of Skagafjord would not think his a very friendly visit and drew back. Then Grettir took the purse of money which his mother had given him and gave it to the bondi. The man's brows unbent when he saw the money and he told three of his servants to take them out in the night by the moonlight. From Reykir is the shortest distance to the island, about one sea-mile.

When they reached the island Grettir thought it looked quite pleasant; it was all overgrown with grass and had steep cliffs down to the sea so that no one could get on to it except where the ladders were. If the upper ladder was pulled up it was impossible for any one to get on to the island. There was also a large crag full of sea birds in the summer, and there were eighty sheep in the island belonging to the bondis, mostly rams and ewes, which were meant for slaughter.

There Grettir quietly settled down. He had been fifteen or sixteen years an outlaw, so Sturla the son of Thord has recorded.


When Grettir came to Drangey the following chiefs were in Skagafjord:

Hjalti lived at Hof in Hjaltadal, the son of Thord, the son of Hjalti, the son of Thord Skalp. He was a great chief, very distinguished and very popular. His brother was named Thorbjorn Angle, a big man, strong and hardy and rather quarrelsome. Thord their father had married in his old age, and his then wife was not the mother of these two. She was very much against her stepsons, especially Thorbjorn, because he was intractable and headstrong. One day when he was playing at "tables", his stepmother came up and saw that he was playing at "hnettafl"; they played with big peg pieces. She considered that very lazy of him and spoke some words to which he answered hastily. She took up the piece and struck him on the cheek bone with the peg, and it glanced into his eye which hung down on his cheek. He started up and handled her mercilessly so that she was confined to her bed and soon afterwards died; they say that she was pregnant at the time. After that he became a regular ruffian. He took over his property and went first to live in Vidvik.

Halldor the son of Thorgeir, the son of Thord of Hofdi, lived at Hof in Hofdastrand. He married Thordis the daughter of Thord, the sister of Hjalti and Thorbjorn Angle. Halldor was a worthy bondi and wealthy.

Bjorn was the name of a man who lived at Haganes in Fljot, a friend of Halldor of Hof, and the two held together in every dispute.

Tungu-Steinn dwelt at Steinsstadir. He was the son of Bjorn, the son of Ofeig Thinbeard, the son of Crow-Hreidar, to whom Eirik of Guddal gave Tunga below Skalamyr. He was a man of renown.

Eirik was the son of Holmgang-Starri, the son of Eirik of Guddal, the son of Hroald, the son of Geirmund Straightbeard. He lived at Hof in Guddal.

All these were men of high rank. Two brothers dwelt at a place called Breida in Slettahlid, both named Thord. They were very strong men, but peaceable.

All the men now named had a share in Drangey. It is said that the island was owned by no fewer than twenty men, and none of them would part with his share to the others. The largest share belonged to the sons of Thord since they were the richest.


Midwinter was passed, and the bondis prepared to bring in their animals from the island for slaughter. They manned a boat and each had a man of his own on board, some two.

When they reached the island they saw men on it moving about. They thought it very strange, but supposed that some one had been wrecked and had gone on shore there. So they rowed to where the ladders were. The people on the shore pulled the ladders up. This seemed very strange behaviour and they hailed the men and asked who they were. Grettir told his name and those of his companions. The bondis asked who had taken them out to the island.

Grettir answered: "He brought me out who took me here, and had hands, and was more my friend than yours."

The bondis said: "Let us take our animals and come to the land with us. You shall have freely whatever you have taken of our property."

Grettir said: "That is a good offer; but each of us shall have that which he has got. I may tell you at once that hence I go not, unless I am dead or dragged away; nor will I let go that which my hands have taken."

The bondis said no more, but thought that most unhappy visitors had come to Drangey. They offered money and made many fair promises, but Grettir refused them all, and so they had to return home much disgusted, having accomplished nothing. They told all the people of the district of the wolves who had come into the island. This had come upon them unawares and nothing could be done. They talked it over that winter but could think of no way of getting Grettir out of the island.


The time passed on until the spring, when men assembled at the Hegranes Thing. They came in great numbers from all the districts under its jurisdiction, and stayed there a long time, both palavering and merry-making, for there were many who loved merriment in the country round.

When Grettir heard that everybody had gone to the Thing he laid a plan with his friends, for he was always on good terms with those who were nearest to him, and for them he spared nothing which he was able to get. He said he would go to the land to get supplies and that Illugi and Glaum should remain behind. Illugi thought it very imprudent but he let Grettir have his way. He told them to guard the ladder well since everything depended upon that. Then he went to the land and obtained what he wanted. He kept his disguise wherever he went and no one knew that he had come. He heard of the festivities that were going on at the Thing and was curious to see them, so he put on some old clothes that were rather shabby and arrived just as they were going from the Logretta home to their booths. Some of the young men were talking about the weather, said it was good and fair, and that it would be a good thing to have some games and wrestling; they thought it a good proposal. So they sat down in front of their booths. The foremost men in the games were the sons of Thord. Thorbjorn Angle was very uppish and was arranging everything himself for the sports. Every one had to do as he bade, and he took them each by the shoulders and pushed them into the field. The wrestling was begun by the less strong ones in pairs, and there was great sport. When most of them had wrestled except the strongest, there was much talk as to who should tackle the two Thords mentioned above, and there was no one who would do it. They went round inviting men to wrestle, but the more they asked the more their invitation was declined. Thorbjorn Angle looked round and saw a big man sitting there, but could not clearly see his face. He seized hold of him and gave a violent tug, but the man sat still and did not move.

Thorbjorn said: "Nobody has held so firm against me to-day as you. But who is this fellow?"

"My name is Gest."

Thorbjorn said: "You will be wanting to play with us. You are a welcome Guest."

"Things may change quickly," he said. "I cannot join in your games for I have no knowledge of them."

Many of them said that they would take it kindly of him if he, a stranger, would play a little with the men. He asked what they wanted him to do, and they asked him to wrestle with some one. He said he had given up wrestling, though he once used to take pleasure in it. As he did not directly refuse they pressed him all the more.

"Well," he said, "if you want to drag me in you must do one thing for me and grant me peace here at the Thing until I reach my home."

They all shouted and said they would gladly do that. The man who was foremost in urging that peace should be given was one Haf the son of Thorarin, the son of Haf, the son of Thord Knapp, who had settled in the land between Stifla in Fljot and Tungua. He lived at Knappsstad and was a man of many words. He spoke in favour of the peace with great authority and said:

"Hereby do I declare PEACE between all men, in particular between this man here seated who is named Gest and all Godord's men, full bondis, all men of war and bearers of arms, all other men of this district of the Hegranes Thing whencesoever they have come, both named and unnamed. I declare PEACE and full Immunity in behoof of this newcomer to us unknown, Gest yclept, for the practice of games, wrestling and all kinds of sport, while abiding here, and during his journey home, whether he sail or whether he travel, whether by land or whether by sea. He shall have PEACE in all places, named and unnamed, for such time as he needeth to reach his home in safety, by our faith confirmed. And I establish this PEACE on the part of ourselves and of our kinsmen, our friends and belongings, alike of women and of men, bondsmen and thralls, youths and adults. Be there any truce-breaker who shall violate this PEACE and defile this faith, so be he rejected of God and expelled from the community of righteous men; be he cast out from Heaven and from the fellowship of the holy; let him have no part amongst mankind and become an outcast from society. A vagabond he shall be and a wolf in places where Christians pray and where heathen worship, where fire burneth, where the earth bringeth forth, where the child lispeth the name of mother, where the mother beareth a son, where men kindle fire, where the ship saileth, where shields blink, sun shineth, snow lieth, Finn glideth, fir-tree groweth, falcon flieth the live-long day and the fair wind bloweth straight under both her wings, where Heaven rolleth and earth is tilled, where the breezes waft mists to the sea, where corn is sown. Far shall he dwell from church and Christian men, from the sons of the heathen, from house and cave and from every home, in the torments of Hel. At PEACE we shall be, in concord together, each with other in friendly mind, wherever we meet, on mountain or strand, on ship or on snow- shoes, on plains or on glaciers, at sea or on horseback, as friends meet in the water, or brothers by the way, each at PEACE with other, as son with father, or father with son, in all our dealings.

"Our hands we lay together, all and every to hold well the PEACE and the words we have spoken in this our faith, in the presence of God and of holy men, of all who hear my words and here are present."

Many said that a great word had been spoken. Gest said: "You have declared and spoken well; if you go not back upon it, I will not delay to show that of which I am capable."

Then he cast off his hood and after that all his upper garments. Each looked at the other and woe spread over their lips; for they knew that it was Grettir who had come to them, by his excelling all other men in stature and vigour. All were silent and Haf looked foolish. The men of the district went two and two together, each blaming the other, and most of all blaming him who had declared the peace. Then Grettir said: "Speak plainly to me and declare what is in your minds, for I will not sit here long without my clothes. You have more at stake than I have, whether you hold the peace or not."

They answered little and sat themselves down. The sons of Thord and their brother-in-law Halldor then talked together. Some wished to uphold the peace and some not. Each nodded to the other. Then Grettir spoke a verse:

"Many a man is filled with doubt.
A twofold mask has the prover of shields.
The skilful tongue is put to shame.
They doubt if they shall hold the troth."

Then said Tungu-Steinn: "Think you so, Grettir? Which then will the chieftains do? But true it is that you excel all men in courage. See you not how they are putting their noses together?"

Grettir then said:

"Together they all their noses laid;
they wagged their beards in close converse.
They talked with each other by two and two,
regretting the peace they afore declared."

Then said Hjalti the son of Thord: "It shall not be so; we will hold the peace with you although our minds have altered. I would not that men should have the example of our having broken the peace which we ourselves gave and declared. Grettir shall depart unhindered whithersoever he will, and shall have peace till such time as he reach his home from this journey. And then this truce shall have expired whatever happen with us." They all thanked him for his speech, and thought he had acted as a chieftain should under such circumstances. Thorbjorn Angle was silent. Then it was proposed that one or the other of the Thords should close with Grettir, and he said that they might do as they chose. One of the two brothers Thord then came forward. Grettir stood upright before him and Thord went for him with all his might, but Grettir never moved from his place. Then Grettir stretched over across his back and seizing his breeches tripped up his foot and cast him backwards over his head so that he fell heavily upon his shoulders. Then the people said that both the brothers should tackle him together, and they did so. There arose a mighty tussle, each in turn having the advantage, although Grettir always had one of them down. Now one, now the other was brought to his knees or met with a reverse. So fiercely they gripped that all of them were bruised and bloody. Everybody thought it splendid sport, and when they ceased thanked them for their wrestling. Those that were sitting near judged that the two together were no stronger than Grettir alone, although each had the strength of two strong men. They were so equal that when they strove together neither gained the advantage. Grettir did not stay long at the Thing. The bondis asked him to give up the island, but this he refused to do, and they accomplished nothing.

Grettir returned to Drangey where Illugi rejoiced much at seeing him again. They stayed there in peace and Grettir told them of his journeys; so the summer passed. All thought the men of Skagafjord had acted most honourably in upholding their peace, and from this may be seen what trusty men lived in those days, after all that Grettir had done against them. The less wealthy ones among the bondis began to talk amongst themselves and say that there was little profit in keeping a small share of the island, and now offered to sell their holdings to the sons of Thord, but Hjalti said he did not want to buy them. The bondis stipulated that any one who wanted to buy a share should either kill Grettir or get him away. Thorbjorn Angle said that he was ready to take the lead, and would spare no pains to attack Grettir if they would pay him for it. Hjalti his brother resigned to him his share of the island because Thorbjorn was the more violent and was unpopular. Several other bondis did the same, so that Thorbjorn Angle got a large part of the island at a small price, but he bound himself to get Grettir away.


At the end of the summer Thorbjorn Angle went with a boat fully manned to Drangey. Grettir and his party came forward on the cliff and they talked together. Thorbjorn begged Grettir to do so much for his asking as to quit the island. Grettir said there was not much hope of that. Thorbjorn said: "It may be that I can give you some assistance which will make it worth your while to do this. Many of the bondis have now given up the shares which they had in the island to me."

Grettir said: "Now for the very reason that you have just told me, because you own the greater part of the island, I am determined never to go hence. We may now divide the cabbage. It is true that I thought it irksome to have the whole of Skagafjord against me, but now neither need spare the other, since neither is suffocated with the love of his fellows. You may as well put off your journeys hither, for the matter is settled so far as I am concerned."

"All abide their time," he said, "and you abide evil."

"I must risk that," he said. And so they parted. Thorbjorn returned home again.


Grettir had, it is said, been two years in Drangey, and they had slaughtered nearly all the sheep. One ram, it is told, they allowed to live; it was grey below and had large horns. They had much sport with it, for it was very tame and would stand outside and follow them wherever they went. It came to the hut in the evening and rubbed its horns against the door. They lived very comfortably, having plenty to eat from the birds on the island and their eggs, nor had they much trouble in gathering wood for fire. Grettir always employed the man to collect the drift, and there were often logs cast ashore there which he brought home for fuel. The brothers had no need to work beyond going to the cliffs, which they did whenever they chose. The thrall began to get very slack at his work; he grumbled much and was less careful than before. It was his duty to mind the fire every night, and Grettir bade him be very careful of it as they had no boat with them. One night it came to pass that the fire went out. Grettir was very angry and said it would only be right that Glaum should have a hiding. The thrall said he had a very poor life of it to have to lie there in exile and be ill-treated and beaten if anything went wrong. Grettir asked Illugi what was to be done, and he said he could think of nothing else but to wait until a ship brought them some fire.

Grettir said that would be a very doubtful chance to wait for. "I will venture it," he said, "and see whether I can reach the land."

"That is a desperate measure," said Illugi. "We shall be done for if you miscarry."

"I shall not drown in the channel," he said. "I shall trust the thrall less in future since he has failed in a matter of such moment to us."

The shortest passage from the island to the mainland is one sea-mile.


Grettir then prepared for his swim. He wore a cloak of coarse material with breeches and had his fingers webbed. The weather was fine; he left the island towards the evening. Illugi thought his journey was hopeless. Grettir had the current with him and it was calm as he swam towards the fjord. He smote the water bravely and reached Reykjanes after sunset. He went into the settlement at Reykir, bathed in the night in a warm spring, and then entered the hall, where it was very hot and a little smoky from the fire which had been burning there all day. He was very tired and slept soundly, lying on right into the day. When it was a little way on in the morning the servants rose, and the first to enter the room were two women, the maid with the bondi's daughter. Grettir was asleep, and his clothes had all fallen off on to the floor. They saw a man lying there and recognised him. The maid said:

"As I wish for salvation, sister, here is Grettir the son of Asmund come. He really is large about the upper part of his body, and is lying bare. But he seems to me unusually small below. It is not at all in keeping with the rest of him."

The bondi's daughter said: "How can you let your tongue run on so? You are more than half a fool! Hold your tongue!"

"I really cannot be silent, my dear sister," said the maid; "I would not have believed it if any one had told me."

Then she went up to him to look more closely, and kept running back to the bondi's daughter and laughing. Grettir heard what she said, sprang up and chased her down the room. When he had caught her he spoke a verse:


Soon afterwards Grettir went to the bondi Thorvald, told him his difficulty and asked him to take him out to the island again, which he did, lending him a ship and taking him over. Grettir thanked him for his courtesy. When it became known that Grettir had swum a sea-mile, every one thought his courage extraordinary both on sea and on land. The men of Skagafjord blamed Thorbjorn Angle much for not having ridded Drangey of Grettir, and all wanted their shares back again. That did not suit him and he asked them to have patience.


That summer a ship came to Gonguskardsos, on board of which was a man named Haering. He was a young man and very active; he could climb any cliff. He went to visit Thorbjorn Angle and stayed there into the autumn. He pressed Thorbjorn much to take him to Drangey, that he might see whether the cliff was so high that he could not get up there. Thorbjorn said it should not be for nothing if he succeeded in getting up on to the island and either killing or wounding Grettir; he made it appear attractive as a task for Haering to undertake.

One day they went to Drangey and he put the Easterner ashore in a certain place, telling him not to let himself be seen if he got to the top. Then they set up the ladder and began a conversation with Grettir's people. Thorbjorn asked him whether he would not leave the island. He said there was nothing on which he was so determined.

"You have played much with us," said Thorbjorn, "and we do not seem likely to have our revenge, but you have not much fear for yourself."

Thus they disputed for long, but came to no agreement.

We have now to tell of Haering. He climbed all about on the cliffs and got to the top in a place which no other man ever reached before or since. On reaching the top he saw the two brothers standing with their backs turned to him. He hoped in a short time to win money and glory from both. They had no inkling of his being there, and thought that nobody could get up except where the ladders were. Grettir was occupied with Thorbjorn's men, and there was no lack of derisive words on both sides. Then Illugi looked round and saw a man coming towards them, already quite close. He said: "Here is a man coming towards us with his axe in the air; he has a rather hostile appearance." "You deal with him," said Grettir, "while I look after the ladder." Illugi then advanced against the Easterner, who on seeing him turned and ran about all over the island. Illugi chased him to the furthest end of the island; on reaching the edge he leaped down and broke every bone in his body; thus his life ended. The place where he perished was afterwards called Haering's leap. Illugi returned and Grettir asked him how he had parted with his man.

"He would not trust me to manage for him," he said. "He broke his neck over the cliff. The bondis may pray for him as for a dead man."

When Angle heard that he told his men to shove off. "I have now been twice to meet Grettir," he said. "I may come a third time, and if then I return no wiser than I am now, it is likely that they may stay in Drangey, so far as I am concerned. But methinks Grettir will not be there so long in the future as he has been in the past."

They then returned home and this journey seemed even worse than the one before. Grettir stayed in Drangey and saw no more of Thorbjorn that winter. Skapti the Lawman died during the winter, whereby Grettir suffered a great loss, for he had promised to press for a removal of his sentence when he had been twenty years an outlaw, and the events just related were in the nineteenth year. In the spring died Snorri the Godi, and much more happened during this winter season which does not belong to our saga.


That summer at the All-Thing Grettir's friends spoke much about his outlawry, and some held that his term was fulfilled when he had completed any portion of the twentieth year. This was disputed by the opposite party, who declared that he had committed many acts deserving of outlawry since, and that, therefore, his sentence ought to be all the longer. A new Lawman had been appointed, Steinn the son of Thorgest, the son of Steinn the Far-traveller, the son of Thorir Autumn-mist. The mother of Steinn the Lawman was Arnora, the daughter of Thord the Yeller. He was a wise man, and was asked for his opinion. He told them to make a search to find out whether this was the twentieth year of his outlawry, and they did so. Then Thorir of Gard went to work to put every possible difficulty in the way, and found out that Grettir had spent one year of the time in Iceland, during which he must be held to have been free of his outlawry. Consequently it had only lasted nineteen years.

The Lawman declared that no man could be outlawed for longer than twenty years in all, even though he committed an outlaw's acts during that time. But before that he would allow no man to be freed.

Thus the endeavour to remove his sentence broke down for the moment, but there seemed a certainty of his being freed in the following summer. The men of Skagafjord were little pleased at the prospect of Grettir being freed, and they told Thorbjorn Angle that he must do one of the two, resign his holding in the island or kill Grettir. He was in great straits, for he saw no way of killing Grettir, and yet he wanted to keep the island. He tried everything he could think of to get the better of Grettir by force or by fraud or in any other way that he could.


Thorbjorn Angle had a foster-mother named Thurid. She was very old and of little use to mankind, but she had been very skilled in witchcraft and magic when she was young and the people were heathen. Now she seemed to have lost it all. Still, although the land was Christian, many sparks of heathendom remained. It was not forbidden by the law of the land to sacrifice or perform other heathen rites in private; only the one who performed them openly was sentenced to the minor exile. Now it happened to many as it is said: The hand turns to its wonted skill, and that which we have learned in youth is always most familiar to us. So Thorbjorn Angle, baffled in all his plans, turned for help to the quarter where it would have been least looked for most people, namely, to his foster-mother, and asked her what she could do for him.

She replied, "Now it seems to me to have come to this, as the saying is: Many go to the goat-house to get wool. What would I less than to think myself above the other men of the country, and then to be as nothing when it comes to the trial? I see not that it fares worse with me than with you, even though I scarce rise from my bed. If you will have my counsel then I must have my way in all that is done."

He consented, and said that she had long given him counsel for his good. The "double month" of the summer was now approaching. One fine day the old woman said to Angle: "The weather is now calm and bright; I will that you go to Drangey and pick a quarrel with Grettir. I will go with you and learn what caution is in his words. I shall have some surety when I see how far they are prospering, and then I will speak over them such words as I please."

Angle said: "Let us not go to Drangey. It is always worse in my mind when I leave that place than when I arrive."

The woman said: "I will not help you if you will not let me do as I like."

"Far be that from me, my foster-mother. I have said that I will go there a third time, that something may come of it for us."

"You may venture it," she said, "much labour will you have before Grettir is laid in the earth; often your lot will be doubtful and hard will it go with you before it is finished. And yet you are so bound that somehow you must get yourself out of it."

Then Thorbjorn Angle had a ten-oared boat manned and went on board with eleven men. The woman was with them and they rowed out to Drangey. When the brothers saw them coming they came forward to the ladder and began once more to talk about their case. Thorbjorn said he had come once more to hear their answer whether Grettir would leave the place. He said he would treat the destruction of his property and Grettir's stay there as a light thing, provided they parted in peace. Grettir said he had no intention of coming to any terms about his going away. "I have often told you," he said, "that there is no use in talking to me about it. You may do whatever you please; I mean to stay here and abide what happens."

Thorbjorn saw that his end would not be gained this time, and said: "I knew very well with what men of Hel I had to do. It is most likely that some days will pass before I come here again."

"It would not hurt me if you never came at all," said Grettir.

The woman was lying in the stern sheets covered up with clothes. Then she began to stir and said:

"These men are brave and unfortunate; there is much difference between you; you offer them good and they refuse everything. There are few more certain tokens of evil than not to know how to accept the good. Now I say this of you, Grettir, that you be deprived of health, of all good luck and fortune, of all protection and counsel, ever the more the longer you live. I wish that your days may be less happy in the future than they have been in the past."

When Grettir heard that he started violently and said: "What fiend is that in the ship with them?"

Illugi said: "I think that must be the old woman, Thorbjorn's foster-mother."

"Curse the hag!" he said. "I could have thought of nothing worse! Nothing that was ever said startled me more than her words, and I know that some evil will befall me from her and her spells. She shall have something to remind her of her visit here."

Then he took up an enormous stone and threw it down into the boat. It fell into the heap of clothes. Thorbjorn had not thought that any man could throw so far. A loud scream was heard, for the stone had struck her thigh and broken it.

Illugi said: "I wish you had not done that."

"Do not blame me for it," said Grettir. "I fear it has been just too little. One old woman would not have been too great a price for us two."

"How will she pay for us? That will be a small sum for the pair of us."

Thorbjorn then returned home; no greeting passed between them when he left. He spoke to the old woman and said: "It has happened as I expected. Little credit has the journey to the island brought you. You have been injured for the rest of your life, and we have no more honour than we had before; we have to endure unatoned one insult after another."

She answered: "This is the beginning of their destruction; I say that from this time onwards they will go downwards. I care not whether I live or not, if I do not have vengeance for the injury they have done me."

"You seem to be in high spirits, foster-mother," he said. Then they arrived home. The woman lay in bed for nearly a month before her leg was set and she was able to walk again. Men laughed much over the journey of Thorbjorn and the old woman. Little luck had come from the meetings with Grettir, first at the peace declaration at the Thing, next when Haering was killed, and now the third time when the woman's thigh was broken, while nothing had been done on their side. Thorbjorn Angle suffered much from their talk.


The autumn passed and but three weeks remained till the winter. The old woman asked to be driven to the sea-shore. Thorbjorn asked what she was going to do.

"A small thing only," she said, "yet maybe the signal of greater things to come."

They did as she asked them. When they reached the shore she hobbled on by the sea as if directed to a spot where lay a great stump of a tree as large as a man could bear on his shoulder. She looked at it and bade them turn it over before her; the other side looked as if it had been burned and smoothed. She had a small flat surface cut on its smooth side; then she took a knife, cut runes upon it, reddened them with her blood and muttered some spells over it. After that she walked backwards against the sun round it, and spoke many potent words. Then she made them push the tree into the sea, and said it should go to Drangey and that Grettir should suffer hurt from it. Then she went back to Vidvik. Thorbjorn said he did not know what would come of it. The woman said he would know more clearly some day. The wind was towards the land up the fjord, but the woman's stump drifted against the wind, and not more slowly than would have been expected.

Grettir was sitting in Drangey with his companions very comfortably, as has been told. On the day following that on which the old woman had cast her spells upon the tree they went down from the hill to look for firewood. When they got to the western side of the island they found a great stump stranded there.

"Here is a fine log for fuel," cried Illugi, "let us carry it home." Grettir gave it a kick with his foot and said: "An ill tree and ill sent. We must find other wood for the fire."

He pushed it out into the sea and told Illugi to beware of carrying it home, for it was sent for their destruction. Then they returned to their hut and said nothing about the tree to the thrall. The next day they found the tree again, nearer to the ladder than on the day before. Grettir put it back into the sea and said he would never carry it home. That night passed and dirty weather set in with rain, so that they did not care to go out and told Glaum to fetch fuel. He grumbled very much and declared it was cruel to make him plague himself to death in every kind of weather. He descended the ladder and found there the woman's log. He thought himself lucky, laboured home with it to the hut and threw it down with a great noise which Grettir heard.

"Glaum has got something; I must go out and see what it is," he said, and went out, taking his wood-cutting axe with him.

"Let your cutting up of it be no worse than my carrying of it home!" said Glaum.

Grettir was irritated with the thrall; he used his axe with both hands and did not notice what tree it was. Directly the axe touched the tree it turned flat and glanced off into Grettir's right leg. It entered above his right knee and pierced to the bone, making a severe wound. Grettir turned to the tree and said: "He who meant me evil has prevailed; it will not end with this. This is the very log which I twice rejected. Two disasters have you now brought about, Glaum; first you let our fire go out, and now you have brought in this tree of ill-fortune. A third mistake will be the death of you and of us all."

Illugi then bound the wound. It bled little; Grettir slept well that night and three days passed without its paining him. When they opened the bandages the flesh had grown together and the wound was almost healed. Illugi said: "I do not think that you will suffer very long with this wound."

"That would be well," said Grettir; "it has happened strangely however it ends; but my mind tells me otherwise."


One evening they all went to bed, and about midnight Grettir began to toss about. Illugi asked him why he was so restless. Grettir said his leg was hurting him and he thought there must be some change in its appearance. They fetched a light, unbound the wound and found it swollen and blue as coal. It had opened again and was much worse than at first. He had much pain after that and could not keep quiet, nor would any sleep come to his eyes.

Grettir said: "We must be prepared for it. This illness of mine is not for nothing; there is witchcraft in it. The old woman has meant to punish me for the stone which I threw at her." Illugi said: "I told you that no good would come of that old woman."

"It will be all the same in the end," said Grettir, and spoke a verse:

"Often when men have threatened my life
I have known to defend it against the foe:
but now 'tis a woman has done me to death.
Truly the spells of the wicked are mighty."

"Now we must be on the watch; Thorbjorn Angle will not leave it to end here. You, Glaum, must in future guard the ladder every day and pull it up in the evening. Do this trustily, for much depends thereon. If you betray us your end will be a short one."

Glaum promised most faithfully. The weather now became severe. A north-easterly wind set in and it was very cold. Every evening Grettir asked if the ladder was drawn in.

"Are we now to look for men?" said Glaum. "Is any man so anxious to take your life that he will lose his own for it? This weather is much worse than impossible. Your warlike mood seems to have left you utterly if you think that everything is coming to kill you."

"You will always bear yourself worse than either of us," said Grettir, "whatever happens. But now you must mind the ladder however unwilling you may be."

They drove him out every morning, much to his disgust. The pain of the wound increased, and the whole leg was swollen; the thigh began to fester both above and below the wound, which spread all round, and Grettir thought he was likely to die. Illugi sat with him night and day, paying no heed to anything else. They were now in the second week of his illness.


Thorbjorn Angle was now at home in Vidvik, much put out at not having been able to overcome Grettir. When about a week had passed from the day when the old woman had bewitched the log, she came to speak with Thorbjorn and asked whether he did not mean to visit Grettir. He said there was nothing about which he was more determined.

"But do you wish to meet him, foster-mother?" he asked.

"I have no intention of meeting him," she said; "I have sent him my greeting, which I expect he has received. But I advise you to set off at once and go quickly to see him, otherwise it will not be your fate to overcome him."

He replied: "I have made so many inglorious journeys there that I am not going again. This weather is reason enough; it would not be possible, however pressing it were."

"You are indeed without counsel if you see not through these wiles. Now, I will advise you. First go and collect men; ride to your brother-in-law Halldor in Hof and get help from him. Is it too wild a thing to suppose that I may have to do with this breeze that is now playing?"

Thorbjorn thought it might be that the woman saw further than he supposed, so he sent through the country for men. Answer came very quickly that none of those who had given up their shares would do anything to help him. They said that both the island and the Grettir affair were Thorbjorn's. Tungu-Steinn gave him two men, Hjalti his brother three, Eirik in Guddal sent him one. Of his own he had six. These twelve rode out from Vidvik to Hof, where Halldor invited them to stay and asked their news. Thorbjorn told him everything fully. Halldor asked who had done it all; he said his foster-mother had urged him much.

"That will lead to no good. She is a sorceress, and sorcery is now forbidden."

"I cannot overlook everything," said Thorbjorn; "I am determined that it shall now be brought to an end somehow. But how shall I go to work to get on to the island?"

"It seems to me," said Halldor, "that you are relying upon something, but I know not whether it is anything good. If you want to accomplish anything go out to my friend Bjorn in Haganes in Fljot. He has a good boat; ask him from me to lend it to you, and then you will be able to sail on to Drangey. It seems to me that if you find Grettir well and hearty your journey will have been in vain. One thing know for certain: do not slay him in open fight, for there are enough men to avenge him. Do not slay Illugi if you can help it. I fear that my counsel may not appear altogether Christian."

Halldor then gave him six men; one was named Kar, another Thorleif, the third Brand. The names of the others are not mentioned.

These eighteen men then went to Fljot, reached Haganes, and gave Halldor's message to Bjorn. He said it was his duty to do it for Halldor's sake, but that he was under no obligation to Thorbjorn. He said it was an insane journey to make, and tried hard to dissuade them. They answered that they could not turn back, so they went down to the sea and launched the boat, which was ready with all her gear in the boat-house. Then they made ready to sail. All those who were standing on the shore thought it impossible to cross. They hoisted the sail and the boat was soon under way, far out in the fjord. When they got right out to sea the weather quieted and was no longer too heavy. In the evening as it was getting dark they reached Drangey.