Icelandic Sagas Vol. 3
104. Gisl was the name of a man; he was Sweyn's tenant and dear friend. He made
a prayer to Sweyn that he should come as a guest to his house, and see how matters
stood with him. He had made them brew liquor, and wated to tap it for Sweyn and
his men. When they came at even to Gil's (12) house, it was told them that earl Erlend had not gone to the ships the evening
before. As soon as ever Sweyn heard this, he sent Margad Grim's son and two other
men to the earl, and bade him take heed to his counsel, though he had not done
so the night before; "but," says he, "methinks it is to be dreaded
that I shall need to take counsel for this earl but a short while longer."
Margad and his companions fared to find earl Erlend, and told him Sweyn's words.
The earl's men said he [Sweyn] had wondrous ways; they said that one while he
thought nothing too dangerous, but sometimes he was so afraid that he scarce knew
how to keep himself or others safe. They said that they would sleep in peace on
land, and not fare to the ships. The earl said it should be so as Sweyn had laid
it down; and the end of it was, that the earl went on board his own ship with
four-and-twenty men, but all the others lay up at the house. Margad and those
who were on board Sweyn's ship lay in another bay a short way off thence.
This very same night earl Rognvald and earl Harold came unawares upon earl Erlend, so that those watchmen who watched on the isle and on the ship were none of them aware of it before they boarded the ship. Orm was the name of a man, and Ufi was another; they were in the forehold on board earl Erlend's ship. Ufi jumped up, and would wake the earl, and could not get him awakened, so dead drunk was he. Ufi caught up the earl in his arms, and leapt overboard with him, and into the after boat which floated by the ship's side; but Orm leapt over on the other side, and he got safe to land. But the earl lost his life, and most of the other men who were in the ships. (13) The men on board Sweyn's ship wakened at the war cry, and cut the cable asunder, and pulled out off the ness, but the full moon gave a strong light, and then they saw that the earls were pulling away. Then they thought they could tell that they must have settled their business with earl Erlend. Sweyn's house carles then rowed away, and fared first to Rendale, but sent a man to Sweyn to tell him such things as they had then seen and heard. Earl Harold was for giving peace to earl Erlend's men, but earl Rognvald would wait first to see whether his body were found, or whether he had got away. Earl Erlend's body was found two nights before Yule; the shaft of a spear was seen standing up out of the seaweed, and when they got to it, that spear stood right through him. His body was borne to the church, but then peace was given to the earl's men, and so too to four of Sweyn's house carles who were taken. John was the name of a man who was called wing; he was a sister's son of John wing, of whom it was spoken before, he had been with Hacon churl, and had got his sister with child, and then ran away a sea roving with Anakol, but now he was with earl Erlend, and yet he had not been at the battle. Earl Erlend's men made their way to Kirkwall, and took shelter in Magnus' church. The earls also fared thither, and then a meeting for a settlement was fixed in the church. Then John could not get an atonement with the earls before he had given his word to keep his wedding with the woman. There all men took oaths to the earls, and they settled that matter rather easily. John wing bound himself over into earl Harold's hand, and became his steward.
105. When Sweyn Asleif's son heard of the fall of earl Erlend, he fared to Rendale, and met his house carles there. (14) They were able to tell him plainly of the tidings that had happened in Damsay. After that Sweyn and his men fared to Rowsay, and came there at the flood-tide; they took all the tackling out of the ship, and laid her up; they shared the men about among the houses, and kept spies out between them and the earls and others of the great men to know what each were doing. Sweyn Asleif's son went there up on the fell, and five men with him, and so down the other side to the sea shore, and stole right up to a homestead thereabouts in the darkness. They heard a great chattering inside. There were that father and son, Thorfinn and Ogmund, and Erlend their brother in law. Erlend, he was boasting about that to that father and son, that he had given earl Erlend his death blow, but they all thought they had fought very well. And when Sweyn heard that, he springs inside into the house at them, and his companions after him. Sweyn was quickest, and he smote Erlend at once his death blow; but they took Thorfinn prisoner, and had him off along with them, but Ogmund was slightly wounded. Sweyn and his men fared to Thingwall; there dwelt then Helgi Sweyn's father's brother, and they were there at the beginning of Yule in hiding. Earl Rognvald fared to Damsay at Yule, but earl Harold stayed behind at Kirkwall. Earl Rognvald sent men to Thingwall to Helgi, and bade him tell his kinsman Sweyn if he knew anything as to where he was, that the earl wanted to bid him to stay with him at Yule, and said he was willing to have a hand in setting him and earl Harold at one again. And when these words came to Sweyn, he fared to meet earl Rognvald with five men, and was with him the latter part of Yule. (15) But after Yule a meeting to make friends was fixed between Sweyn and the earls; there all those quarrels were to be put an end to which had not been already made up. And when they met, earl Rognvald did his best to make Sweyn and earl Harold friends, but most men there were very hard in their counsel against him, who were not already either kinsfolk or friends of Sweyn; but those men said that trouble would always arise from Sweyn if he were not made away with out of the isles. But that settlement was made, that Sweyn should pay a mark of gold to each of the earls, and lose half his lands and his good longship. Sweyn answers when he hears the award: "This atonement will be best kept if I am not treated with dishonour." Earl Rognvald would not take the fine from Sweyn. He says he will in no wise disgrace him, he says, too, he thinks there is much more gain to be got from his friendship than from his goods. Earl Harold fared after the atonement to Gairsay to Sweyn's house, and dealt there rather wastefully with his corn and other gear that he had. But when Sweyn heard that he brought it before earl Rognvald, and called it a breach of the atonement, and said he would fare home and see after his stores. Earl Rognvald said; "Be with me, Sweyn and I will send word to the earl, and again bring him to speak about your affairs; but I will not that thou shouldst think to strive against earl Harold, for he will be too much of a man for thee in strife, though thou art a mighty man in thyself, and a bold brisk man." But Sweyn would not let himself be hindered, and fared with nine men in a cutter to Gairsay, and came there late at even. They saw fire in the bake house; (16) Sweyn fared thither to it. He wished that they should take the fire and lay it to the hall, and burn the homestead and the earl inside it. Sweyn Blakari's son was the name of a man; he was the man of most weight of all those that were there with Sweyn; he set his face most against this, and said might be the earl were not in the house. But even though he were there, he says that they would not let his wife or his daughters come out; but says that it would never do to burn them inside the house. Then Sweyn and his men went to the doorway, and so in towards the hall door; then those men sprang up who were in the hall, and shut to the door. Then Sweyn and his men became aware that the earl was not in the homestead. But those who were inside gave up their defence, and handed over their weapons to Sweyn and his men, and came out all unarmed, and Sweyn gave peace to all the earl's house carles. Sweyn broached all his drink, and had away with him his wife and daughters. He asked Ingirid his wife where Harold was, but she would not tell him: "Hold thy peace then and point it out to us." She would not do that either. She was the earl's kinswoman. Sweyn gave up some of their arms when they came on shipboard. There was an end of the atonement between Sweyn and the earl when this news was heard. Earl Harold had gone to a little isle to hunt hares. Sweyn held on his course to Hellis isle, (17) that is a craggy isle towards the sea, and there is a great cave in the rock, and the sea came right up into the mouth of the cave at flood-tide. When earl Harold's house carles got their weapons from Sweyn and his men, they fared straightway to find earl Harold, and told him of their dealings with Sweyn. The earl made them launch his ship at once, and egged on his men to row after them, "and let us now bring matters to the sword's point." Then they fell to rowing after them, and each saw the other and knew one another. And when Sweyn sees that the earl and his men were drawing up to them, Sweyn spoke and said: "We must try and seek some plan, for I have no mind to meet him when matters are so hot between us, with the difference in force which there will be; we will take that counsel," says he, "to fare to the cave, and see what turn our matters then take." So Sweyn and his men did. They came to the cave at the flood, laid the ship up there, for the cave sloped up into the rock; then the sea rose and flowed into the mouth of the cave. Earl Harold and his men fared all day about the isle looking for them and found them not; they saw too no sailing of ships from the isle. They wondered much at that; they thought it unlikely that Sweyn should have foundered and sunk. They rowed round and round the isle to look for Sweyn and could not find him, as was likly. Then the most they could make of it was that Sweyn and his men must have borne up for other islands; then they rowed thither to seek them where they thought likeliest. Almost as soon as ever the earl and his men rowed away, the sea fell from the cave's mouth. Sweyn and his men had heard the talk of the earl and his men. Sweyn left his ship behind in the cave, (18) but they took an old ship of burden on the isle, which the monks owned, and held on in her to Sanday. There they went on land, but shoved off the ship of burden and she drove about from strand to strand until she broke up. But Sweyn and his men went up into the isle, and came to that homestead which is called Valaness, there that man dwelt whose name was Bard, Sweyn's kinsman. They called him out by stealth, and Sweyn said that he wished to stay there. Bard said he should do so if he pleased "but I dare not that ye be here save in hiding." They went in and were alone in [a room in] the house, so that only a wall of wattle was between them and other men. There was a secret doorway in the house in which Sweyn was, and stones were loosely piled up in it. That afternoon came John wing earl Harold's steward and seven of them together. Bard gave them a hearty welcome, and fires were made for them, and they roasted themselves at them. John was very wild in his words, and talked about the tidings that had happened in those dealings which the earls had had with Sweyn; he blamed Sweyn much, and said he was a dastardly trucebreaker and true to no man; he had but just now made peace with earl Harold, and yet he would fare forthwith and burn the house over his head: he said too there would never be peace in the land before Sweyn were driven out of the land. The master Bard and John's companions rather spoke up for Sweyn. After that John took to speaking ill of earl Erlend, and said that was no scathe though he had lost his life; he called him such an overbearing man, that no one dared to call his head his own for him. And when Sweyn heard that, then he could not stand it, and snatched up his weapons and ran at the secret doorway, and hurled down the stones out of it. Then there was a great clatter. Sweyn meant to run round to the hall door. John sat in his shirt and linen breeks. And when he heard the noise that Sweyn made he lost no time in lacing up his shoon, but jumped up from the fire, and set off at once away from the house. But it was moonless and pitch dark, and a sharp frost. He came that night to another homestead, and was much frostbitten on his feet, so that some of his toes dropped off. Sweyn gave peace to John's companions for master Bard's words' sake. Sweyn was there that night, but afterwards next morning they fared away thence with a cutter which Bard owned and gave to Sweyn. Then they fared south to Bardswick, and were there at a cave. Sweyn was sometimes during the day at the house and drank there, but slept by his ship at night, and so guarded himself against his foes.
106. It happened one morning early that Sweyn and his men saw a great longship fare from Hrossey to Rognvaldsey, and Sweyn knew at once that it was earl Rognvald's ship, that he was wont to steer himself, and they ran into Rognvaldsey, and thither where Sweyn's cutter lay, and five men went on shore from the earl's ship, but Sweyn and his men were on a height, and pelted the earl's men with stones thence. And when they saw that from the ship, men got out their arms. But when Sweyn and his men saw that they ran down from the height and to the beach, and shoved off the cutter and jumped into her. The longship had run up on shore, so that she was fast. Sweyn stood up in his cutter as they rowed out by the longship, and had a spear in his hand. But when earl Rognvald saw that, then he took a shield and held it before him, but Sweyn did not throw the spear. But when the earl saw that they were about to part, he made them hold up a truce shield, (19) and begged that Sweyn and his men would come to land. But when Sweyn saw that, he bade his men pull to land, and says he would still be best pleased if he could be made friends with earl Rognvald.
12. Thus, by transposition, for "Gisl's." [Back]
13. Fl. "ship." [Back]
14. Fl. reads, "After the fall of earl Erlend, Sweyn Asleif's son fared to Rendale and found there Margad, and his house-carles." [Back]
15. Fl. adds, "in good cheer." [Back]
16. Fl. reads, "they fared to the back of the house, Sweyn wished that they should light a fire." [Back]
17. Hellis isle ] Ellarholm, near Shapinsay. [Back]
18. Because they could not launch her as she was high and dry. [Back]
19. i.e. a white shield as opposed to the red war shield.