Icelandic Sagas Vol. 3
21. When king Olaf had thought over with himself the whole matter, he let them blow the trumpets for a great gathering of men, and made them call both the earls thither. Then he spoke thus: "I will now declare before the whole people the settlement between the Orkney earls and myself. They have now agreed to my absolute right over the Orkneys and Shetland, and made themselves my men, and bound that with oaths, and I will now give them in fief, to Brusi one trithing and to Thorfinn another as they have had before; but that trithing which earl Einar owned, that I make fall to me, for that sake that he slew Eyvind Urarhorn, my henchman and dear brother in arms. For that lot of the lands, I will take care as I think good. That, too, I lay on both ye brethren, my earls, that ye take an atonement from Thorkell, Amund's son, for the slaying of your brother Einar; and I wish to lay down the terms of the atonement if ye will say yes to that." But it was now as it was in other things; they said yes to everything the king said. Then Thorkell went forward and bound himself by the king's award, and so that Thing broke up. King Olaf awarded an atonement for earl Einar as though for three kings' thanes, but for cause given a trithing of the fine was to fall to the ground. Earl Thorfinn begged leave of the king to go away, but as soon as he got that he busked him speedily. But when he was all-boun, it fell upon a day when the earl was a-drinking on his ship, that there came to him stealthily Thorkell Amund's son, and laid his head upon his knees, and bade him do with it as he would. The earl asked why he did so, "now that we are already set at one by the king's doom. Stand up, pray." He did so, and said, "That atonement which the king made between us I may trust between Brusi and me; but so far as you have any share in it, you alone shall have your way. Though the king has awarded me my estates and right to stay in the Orkneys, still I know your frame of mind so well that I can never go into the isles unless I fare thither on your good faith. I will bind myself to you," he says, "never to come to the Orkneys, whatever the king may have said about that." The earl held his peace, and was slow to speak, and then he spoke thus: "Wilt thou, Thorkell, that I speak my doom about our matter, and not rest on the king's doom. Then must I have this beginning of our atonement, that thou shallt fare with me to the Orkneys, and be with me, and never part from me, unless thou hast my leave; that thou shalt be bound to guard my land, and do all things that I will have done so long as we two both live." Thorkell answers: "That shall be in your power, lord, as well as everything else in which I may have any voice." Then Thorkell went up (to earl Thorfinn), and bound himself to the earl in everything that the earl laid down. The earl says that he will utter his doom as to the payment of the fine (for Einar) afterwards, but he took there and then oaths from Thorkell, and he turned him then at once to fare away with the earl. Then the earl fared away at once, as soon as ever he was boun, and he and king Olaf never saw each other more. Earl Brusi stayed then after him and took more time to busk himself; but ere he fared away, king Olaf had a meeting with him, and said, "It looks to me, earl, that I am like to have thee for a faithful liegeman there away over the western sea, and so I purpose that thou shalt have two lots of the lands to rule over, those two I mean which thou hadst of yore; and my will is that thou shouldest not be a less man, nor a less powerful, now that thou hast given thyself into my hand, than thou wast before; but I will clench thy faithfulness with this, that I will that thy son Rognvald be here behind. I see then, if thou hast any trust and two lots of the lands, that thou mayest well hold thy own by right against earl Thorfinn." Brusi took that with thanks to have two lots of the lands. Brusi stayed there a little while longer ere he fared away, and came about autumn west to the Orkneys. Rognvald, Brusi's son, stayed behind with king Olaf. He was of all men fairest; his hair was full and yellow, like silk. He was soon tall and strong; the most perfect man was he both for wit's sake and courtesy. He was long with king Olaf. Ottar the black makes mention of these things in that ode which he made on king Olaf:
"Among thy thanes are reckoned
Bold lads of Hialti's land,
Thou gotten hast a handy realm
Of princes of the people;
There was no king on earth,
Ere thou cam'st, warlike lord,
Who underneath his yoke could bow
Those islands of the west."
When those brothers came west to the Orkneys, Thorfinn and Brusi, then Brusi took two lots of the lands under his lordship, but Thorfinn a trithing. He was ever in Caithness and Scotland, but set up his men over the isles. At that time Brusi alone kept watch and ward over the isles. But in that time they were much warred on, for Northmen and Danes harried much in the west, sea-roving, and came often to the isles when they fared west, or from the west, and seized this or that ness. Brusi complained that Thorfinn had no force out to guard the Orkneys or Shetland, but kept the scatts and dues all to his share. Then Thorfinn made him that offer, that Brusi should have a trithing of the lands, but Thorfinn two lots, and alone keep watch and ward over the land. But though this arrangement was not made all at once, yet at last this settlement came about, that Brusi had a trithing and Thorfinn two lots. This was when Canute had rule in Norway, but Olaf had been forced to fly out of the land.
22. Earl Thorfinn (1) made himself a great chief; he was the tallest and strongest of men, ugly, black-haired, sharp-featured, and big-nosed, and with somewhat scowling brows. He was a mighty man of strife, and greedy both of money and honour; he was lucky in battle, and skilful in war, and good in onslaught; he was then five winters old when Malcolm the Scot-king, his mother's father, gave him the title of earl and Caithness as his lordship, as was written above; but he was fourteen winters when he had war levies out of his land, and harried on the realms of other chiefs. So says Arnor Earlskald:
"The king amid the crash of helms
Died red his broadsword's edge,
Ere fifteen winters he had filled,
Reddener of raven's feet;
Brave chief, of Einar's brothers last,
Lands good to win and guard
He proved himself, a properer man
Is no man 'neath the sky."
Earl Thorfinn had much strength from his kinsman the Scot-king; it was a great help to his power in the Orkneys that that strength was so near. The Scot-king breathed his last just when those brothers, Brusi and Thorfinn, were set at one again. Then Karl Houndson took the rule over Scotland; he thought he ought to own Caithness too, like the former Scot-kings; and he would have scatt from that part of the realm as from other places, but earl Thorfinn thought he had not too great a heritage after his mother's father, though he had Caithness. He said that realm had been given to him, and he would pay no scatt for it; now out of this arose a mighty feud, and each harried the other's realm. King Karl would set up in Caithness that chief whose name was Mumtan or Muddan; he was his sister's son, and he gave him the title of earl. Then Muddan rode down on Caithness, and gathered force together in Sutherland; then news came to earl Thorfinn; and then he drew together a host all over Caithness; there came too out from the Orkneys Thorkell fosterer, with much force to meet the earl; then Thorfinn fared to meet Muddan, and had then the greater host. And as soon as the Scots knew that they had fewer men, they would not fight, (2) and rode up back to Scotland. Then earl Thorfinn fared after them and laid under him Sutherland and Ross, and harried far and wide over Scotland; thence he turned back to Caithness, but Thorkell went out to the isles. The levies of the people also went home. The earl sate in Caithness at Duncansby, and had there five long-ships, and just so much force as was enough to man them well. Muddan came to see king Karl in Berwick, and tells him how his paths had not been smooth. King Karl then got very wrath when he learned that his land was harried; he went then at once on ship-board, and had eleven long-ships and much people; then he held on north along Scotland. Muddan he sent back to Caithness with a great force, and he rode the upper way through Scotland; it was so settled that he should come down thence, and then Thorfinn would be in a cleft stick. Now it must be told of Karl that he never slackened sail before he came to Caithness; and then there was scant space between him and Thorfinn. Then Thorfinn took that counsel to go on ship-board and hold out into the Pentland firth, and he meant to go to the Orkneys; by that time there was so scant space between them, that Karl and his men saw Thorfinn's sails as he sailed east across the firth, and they sailed after them at once. Thorfinn and his men had not seen their sails, and so east he steered along the isles, and meant to go to Sandwick. He ran in from the east under Deerness, and sent word at once to Thorkell that he should gather force together. Brusi had the northermost lot of the isles, and was then there. Thorfinn lay under Deerness, as was written before, and had come thither late. But next morning when it was light, the first thing they found out was that Karl and his men were rowing up to them with eleven ships. There were then two choices on hand: the one was to jump ashore and leave the ships and all his goods to his foes; the other is to put out to meet them and then let destiny have her sway. Thorfinn called then on his men, and bade them get out their weapons; he said he would not run away, and bade them row against them manfully. And after that each side lashed their ships together. Earl Thorfinn egged on his men much, and bade them be hot, and make the first bout hard. As for the Scots, he said few of them would stand. This fight was both hard and long, and it was long before it could be seen which way the day would turn. Of this battle Arnor makes mention in Thorfinn's ode:
"At last I trow our lord hath taught
To mail-linked Karl a lesson,
Away east off Deerness,
The prince's rule prospered:
With war-snakes five the wrathful chief
Rushed 'gainst eleven of the king,
And hating flight himself held on
His course with constant heart.
The seamen laid their ships aboard,
Along the thwarts the foemen fell,
Sharp-edged steel in blood was bathed,
Black blood of Scottish men.
The hero's heartstrings did not quake,
Bowstrings sung and blades were biting,
Shafts were shot and sweat was streaming,
Spear-heads quivered, bright and gleaming."
Now earl Thorfinn egged on his men hotly; then he ran his ship aboard of Karl's ship, and there was a very hard fight. Then the Scots held together, just before the mast on the king's ship, and then earl Thorfinn leaps out of the poop and forward on the ship, and fought most bravely. And when he saw that men grew thin on board Karl's ships, he egged on his men to board; and when king Karl saw that, he bade them cut the lashings and hold away. (3) Then Thorfinn and his men cast grappling hooks on board the king's ship. Then Thorfinn bade them bear up his banner, and he followed it thither himself, and a great company of men with him. Then Karl leapt from his ship with those men that were left upstanding; but the most part had fallen on board that ship. Karl leapt on board another ship, and bade them take to their oars, and then the Scots laid themselves out to fly, but Thorfinn chased them. So says Arnor:
So much shorter was the onslaught,
For my lord to honour dear,
Speedy drove at point of spear,
With less force the foe to flight:
O'er that army sorely smitten
Screamed the seamew bird of battle
Ere their red brands sheathed the king's men;
From Sandwick south he fought and won."
Karl held on away south to Broadfirth, (4) and went on shore there and gathered force anew. Thorfinn turned back after the battle. Then came Thorkell fosterer to meet him, and then they had much people; then they sailed south to Broadfirth after Karl and his men, and as soon as ever they came off Scotland they began to harry. Then they were told how Muddan was north in Caithness at Thurso, and had there a great host; he had also sent to Ireland after men, for he had there many friends and kinsmen, and there he waited for this force. Then Thorfinn and Thorkell took this counsel, that Thorkell fosterer should go north along Caithness with some of the host, while Thorfinn lay behind off Scotland and harried there. Thorkell went stealthily; besides all the land-folk was true and trusty to him in Caithness; no news of him went before him until he came into Thurso at dead of night, and took the house over the heads of Muddan and his men and set fire to it. Muddan slept up in a loft, and just as he leapt out and down out of the loft gallery, Thorkell hewed at him, and the blow came on his neck and took off his head. After that the men gave themselves up, but some got away by running. There many men were slain, but there were a very great many to whom peace was given. Thorkell stayed there a short while ere he fared back to Broadfirth; he had then a whole host with him which he had got in Caithness and out of Sutherland and Ross; then he met earl Thorfinn south of Moray, and tells him what had been done in his travels. The earl thanked him well for his toil; then they both lay there a while and harried the land.
Now it must be told about king Karl, that he fared up into Scotland after the battle which he had with earl Thorfinn, and there gathered forces anew. He drew together a host all from the south of Scotland, both east and west, and from the south all the way to Cantire. Then also came to meet him that host from Ireland which Muddan had sent after; he sends too far and wide to chiefs for force, and summoned all that host to meet him against earl Thorfinn; and the place where he and Thorfinn met was at Turfness, south of Broadfirth. There arose a mighty battle, and the Scots had a far greater host. Earl Thorfinn was at the head of his battle array; he had a gilded helmet on his head, and was girt with a sword; a great spear in his hand, and he fought with it, striking right and left. So it is said that he was the foremost of all his men. He went thither at first where the battle of those Irish was; so hot was he with his train, that they gave way at once before him, and never afterwards got into good order again. Then Karl let them bring forward his banner to meet Thorfinn; there was a hard fight, and the end of it was, that Karl laid himself out to fly, but some men say that he has fallen. But Arnor says thus:
"Gleaming edge of swords grew gory,
Turfness hight the battle-field,
Young in years the chieftain wrought it,
'Twas on Monday that it fell;
Then to battle there were singing
Blades so thin near Oikel south,
When the sea-king sharp and shifty
Fared to fight with Scotland's lord.
High aloft bore Shetland's lord
Helm amid the crash of spears,
First in fight in Irish blood
The warrior bathed his ruddy brand.
My bounteous lord put forth his might
Under his British shield,
And Hlodver's kinsman caught the host
And set their farms on fire."
Earl Thorfinn drove the flight before him a long way up into Scotland, and after that he fared about far and wide over the land and laid it under him. He fared then so far south as Fife, and laid the land under him; men went under him wherever he fared. And then while he was staying in Fife he sent away from him Thorkell fosterer with some of his force. And when the Scots knew that, how the earl had sent away from him some of his host, those very same came against him who had already given themselves up to him; and as soon as ever the earl was ware of their guile, he fetched together his force and fared to meet them; then the Scots were slower in their onslaught when they knew the earl was ready for them. Earl Thorfinn made ready to fight as soon as ever he met the Scots; but then they did not dare to defend themselves, but broke off at once into flight, and fled wide away to woods and wastes. And when Thorfinn had chased the fleers, he got together his men, and says that then he will let them burn all that district in which they were then were, and so pay the Scots for their enmity and treachery. Then the earl's men fared among thorpes and farms, and so burned everything, that not a cot stood after them; they slew too all the fighting-men they found, but women and old men dragged themselves off to woods and wastes with weeping and wailing. Much folk too they made captives of war and put them into bonds, and so drove them before them. So says Arnor:
"Homesteads then in blaze were blasted,
Danger that day did not fail them,
Ruddy flame o'er reeking roofs
Leapt throughout the Scottish land;
Manslayers paid their footing painful
To men, and in one summer's space
Thrice they got the lesser lot
Before our chief, the caitiff Scots."
After that earl Thorfinn fared north along Scotland to his ships, and laid under him the land wherever he went. He fared then north to Caithness, and sate there that winter; but every summer thenceforth he had his levies out, and harried about the West lands, but sat most often still in the winters.
23. Earl Thorfinn did that noble deed in the Orkneys, that he furnished all his body-guard and many other powerful men all the winter through, both with meat and drink, so that no man needed to go into inn or boarding-house; just as it is the custom with kings or earls in other lands to furnish their body-guard and guests with meat and drink at Yule. So says Arnor:
"All throughout the scourge of serpents, (5)
Rognvald's royal progeny
Drank the lake of barleycorn,
Then the chieftain gleamed in glory."
At this time earl Brusi breathed his last, and then Thorfinn took under him all the Orkneys. But it must be told of Rognvald Brusi's son, that he was in the battle at Sticklestead when the saint king Olaf fell; Rognvald got away with the rest of the men who fled. He brought out of the battle Harold Sigurd's son, king Olaf's brother; Harold was very much wounded. Rognvald left him to be healed at a small freeman's house, but Rognvald then fared east across the Keel to Jemtland, and thence to Sweden, to find King Œnund. Harold was with the freeman till he was healed; the freeman then gave his son for a guide to Harold, and they fared east to Jemtland, and thence to Sweden, and fared much with hooded head. (6) Harold sung this stave as they ride over some thickets. (7)
Now pass I wood on wood,
Wandering little worth;
Who knows whether I may be
Widely known hereafter."
Harold went in Sweden to meet Rognvald Brusi's son. Thence they both fared east to Russia, and much folk beside who had been with king Olaf. They did not stop till they came east into Holmgard (8) to meet king Jarizleif; he made them welcome for the sake of the saint king Olaf. Then they were made land-warders over Russia, all of them, and earl Eilif, the son of earl Rognvald Wolf's son.
24. Rognvald Brusi's son stayed behind in Russia when Harold Sigurd's son fared out to Micklegarth (Constantinople); Rognvald had then the wardenship of the land in the summers, but was in Holmgard in the winters. King Jarizleif esteemed him much, and all the people too. Rognvald was, as was written before, taller and stronger than any man; he was the fairest too of men in his face, and a most gifted man both in mind and body, so that his match was not to be found. So says Arnor earlskald, that Rognvald had in Russia ten pitched battles.
"He flourished as a fruitful tree,
And fierce in fight as battle's God,
Ten storms of swords that file the shield
In Russia's regions won."
When they, Einar Thambaskelfir (9); and Kalf Arni's son, sought out Magnus Olaf's son, east in Russia, Rognvald met them at Aldeigjuborg; (10) then he was just about falling on Kalf until Einar made him aware in what way it stood with their journey. Einar let Rognvald be told that Kalf repented him of that wickedness that he had killed the saint king Olaf from off the face of the land, and now he will atone for that in his son; says that Kalf then wishes to raise Magnus to rule in Norway and strengthen him against the Knutlings. And after that Rognvald softened down; then Einar begs him to make up his mind to a journey with them up to Holmgard, and to back their suit with king Jarizleif, and Rognvald says yea to that. After that they hire themselves carriage in Aldeigjuborg and drive up to Holmgard, and find there king Jarizleif, then they bring forward their errand, and say that the rule of the Knutlings and of Alfifa most of all had got so wearisome to them, that they cannot at all bear to serve them any longer. Then they beg that king Jarizleif would give over to them Magnus Olaf's son as a chief. Then Rognvald backs their suit with them, and so does Ingigerd the queen, and many other chiefs. The king was slow to give over Magnus into the hands of the Northmen, after what they had done towards the saint king Olaf his father: but still it came about in this way, that twelve of the most noble men swore to king Jarizleif this oath, that all was true and trustworthy, but king Jarizleif forbore to take the oath of Rognvald for his faithfulness' sake. Kalf swore that oath to Magnus, that he would follow him without the land and within the land, and do all those things that Magnus thought more or safer for his power. After that the Northmen took Magnus for their king, and became hand-bound to him. Kalf and his friends stayed at Holmgard until Yule went by; then they fared down to Aldeigjuborg and got ship there; they fared at once from the east as soon as the ice loosened in the spring; then Rognvald Brusi's son, made up his mind to journey with the king. They fared first to Sweden, as is said in king Magnus' saga, and thence to Jemtland, and so from the east across the Keel to Verdale. And as soon as Magnus came into Drontheim, all the people came under his power. Then he fared to Nidaros, and was there taken to be king over all the land at the Eyra Thing. After that came about the dealings which he had with king Sweyn, as is said in the Lives of the kings of Norway.
25. When Rognvald Brusi's son came into Norway, he heard of the death of earl Brusi his father; he heard also this, that earl Thorfinn had taken under him all the Orkneys. Then Rognvald was eager to go to his own land, and begged that King Magnus would give him leave to do that. King Magnus saw that this was needful to Rognvald, and stood well with him in this matter. Then king Magnus gave Rognvald the title of earl, and three longships, and all well manned; he gave him also in fief that trithing which king Olaf had owned in the Orkneys, and which he had given to Brusi, Rognvald's father. Then king Magnus promised to Rognvald his foster-brother his entire friendship, and said he might reckon his strength his own whenever he needed it. Thus they parted with such like love-tokens as now were written.
1. The Fl. heads this chapter with the following passage: "King Olaf, Harold's son, got no service from earl Thorfinn, since they parted after earl Brusi and they came to a settlement all together. [Back]
2. Fl. "They were slower about an onslaught." [Back]
3. Fl. "and get all his fleet of ships under way as fast as they could, take to their oars and row away." [Back]
4. The Moray firth. [Back]
5. The scourge of serpents "the winter." [Back]
6. with hooded head, very secretly. [Back]
7. "when they parted in a thicket." [Back]
8. Holmgard, probably Novgorod. [Back]
9. Thambaskelfir, "paunch-shaker," from his fatness, or "good archer," "string twanger," for his skill with the bow. [Back]
10. Aldeigjuborg, the burg on the Aldeiga, or Ladoga lake. [Back]