Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga

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Author: Unknown

Chapter XLVII Grettir Returns to Bjarg — Sveinn and His Horse Saddle-Head

Later in the summer Grettir the son of Asmund came back to Iceland, landing in the Hvita in Borgarfjord. People about the district went down to the ship and all the news came at once upon Grettir, first that his father was dead, then that his brother was slain, and third that he was declared outlaw throughout the land. Then he spoke this verse:

"All fell at once upon the bard,
exile, father dead and brother.
Oh man of battle! Many an one
who breaks the swords shall smart for this."

It is told that Grettir changed his manner no whit for these tidings, but was just as merry as before. He remained on board his ship for a time because he could not get a horse to suit him.

There was a man named Sveinn who dwelt at Bakki up from Thingnes.

He was a good bondi and a merry companion; he often composed verses which it was a delight to listen to. He had a brown mare, the swiftest of horses, which he called Saddle-head. Once Grettir left Vellir in the night because he did not wish the traders to know of it. He got a black cape and put it over his clothes to conceal himself. He went up past Thingnes to Bakki, by which time it was light. Seeing a brown horse in the meadow he went up and put a bridle on it, mounted on its back and rode up along the Hvita river below Baer on to the river Flokadalsa and up to the road above Kalfanes. The men working at Bakki were up by then, and told the bondi that a man was riding his horse. He got up and laughed and spoke a verse:

"There rode a man upon Saddle-head’s back;
close to the garth the thief has come.
Frey of the Odin’s cloud, dreadful of aspect,
appears from his strength to be busy with mischief."

Then he took a horse and rode after him. Grettir rode on till he came to the settlement at Kropp, where he met a man named Halli who said he was going down to the ship at Vellir. Grettir then spoke a verse:

"Tell, oh tell in the dwellings abroad
tell thou hast met with Saddle-head.
The handler of dice in sable cowl
sat on his back; hasten, oh Halli!"

Then they parted. Halli went along the road as far as Kalfanes before he met Sveinn. They greeted each other hurriedly and Sveinn said:

"Saw you that loafer ride from the dwellings?
Sorely he means my patience to try.
The people about shall deal with him roughly;
blue shall his body be if I meet him."

"You can know from what I tell you," said Halli, "that I met the man who said he was riding Saddle-head, and he told me to spread it abroad in the dwellings and the district. He was a huge man in a black cloak."

"Well, he seems to think something of himself," said the bondi. "I mean to know who he is."

Then he went on after him. Grettir came to Deildartunga and found a woman outside. He began to talk to her and spoke a verse:

"Mistress august! Go tell of the jest
that the serpent of earth has past on his way.
The garrulous brewer of Odin’s mead
will come to Gilsbakki before he will rest."

The woman learned the verse and Grettir rode on. Soon after Sveinn rode up; she was still outside, and when he came he spoke the verse:

"Who was the man who a moment ago
rode past on a dusky horse in the storm?
The hound-eyed rascal, practised in mischief.
This day I will follow his steps to the end."

She told him as she had been taught. He considered the lines and said: "It is not unlikely that this man is no play-fellow for me.

But I mean to catch him."

He then rode along the cultivated country. Each could see the other’s path. The weather was stormy and wet. Grettir reached Gilsbakki that day, where Grim the son of Thorhall welcomed him warmly and begged him to stay, which he did. He let Saddle-head run loose and told Grim how he had come by her. Then Sveinn came up, dismounted and saw his horse. Then he said:

"Who has ridden on my mare?
Who will pay me for her hire?
Who ever saw such an arrant thief?
What next will be the cowl-man’s game?"

Grettir had then put off his wet clothes, and heard the ditty. He said:

"Home I rode the mare to Grim’s,
a better man than the hovel-dweller!
Nothing will I pay for hire!
Now we may be friends again."

"Just so shall it be," said the bondi. "Your ride on the horse is fully paid for."

Then they each began repeating verses, and Grettir said he could not blame him for looking after his property. The bondi stayed there the night and they had great jokes about the matter. The verses they made were called "Saddle-head verses." In the morning the bondi rode home, parting good friends with Grettir. Grim told Grettir of many things that had been done in Midfjord in the North during his absence, and that no blood-money had been paid for Atli. Thorbjorn Oxmain’s interest, he said, was so great that there was no certainty of Grettir’s mother, Asdis, being allowed to remain at Bjarg if the feud continued.

Grettir stayed but a few nights with Grim, for he did not want it to become known that he was about to travel North across the Heath. Grim told him to come back to visit him if he needed protection. "Yet," he said, "I would gladly avoid the penalty of being outlawed for harbouring you."

Grettir bade him farewell and said: "It is more likely that I shall need your good services still more later on."

Then Grettir rode North over the Tvidaegra Heath to Bjarg, where he arrived at midnight. All were asleep except his mother. He went to the back of the house and entered by a door which was there, for he knew all the ways about. He entered the hall and went to his mother’s bed, groping his way. She asked who was there. Grettir told her. She sat up and turned to him, heaving a weary sigh as she spoke:

"Welcome, my kinsman! My hoard of sons has quickly passed away. He is killed who was most needful to me; you have been declared an outlaw and a criminal; my third is so young that he can do nothing."

"It is an ancient saying," said Grettir, "that one evil is mended by a worse one. There is more in the heart of man than money can buy; Atli may yet be avenged. As for me, there will be some who think they have had enough in their dealings with me."

She said that was not unlikely. Grettir stayed there for a time, but few knew of it, and he obtained news of the movements of the men of the district. It was not known then that he had come to Midfjord. He learned that Thorbjorn Oxmain was at home with few men. This was after the hay-harvest.

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Chicago: Unknown, "Chapter XLVII Grettir Returns to Bjarg — Sveinn and His Horse Saddle-Head," Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga, trans. Armour, M. A. (Margaret-Ann) in Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5ADQ4V57RJYHGRQ.

MLA: Unknown. "Chapter XLVII Grettir Returns to Bjarg — Sveinn and His Horse Saddle-Head." Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga, translted by Armour, M. A. (Margaret-Ann), in Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5ADQ4V57RJYHGRQ.

Harvard: Unknown, 'Chapter XLVII Grettir Returns to Bjarg — Sveinn and His Horse Saddle-Head' in Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga, trans. . cited in , Grettir the Strong, Icelandic Saga. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5ADQ4V57RJYHGRQ.