The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald

Author: Unknown

Chapter Twenty-Two What the Witch Did for Them in Their Fights.

At Spakonufell (Spae-wife’s-fell) lived Thordis the spae-wife, of whom we have told before, with her husband Thorolf. They were both at the Thing, and many a man thought her good-will was of much avail. So Thorvard sought her out, to ask her help against Cormac, and gave her a fee; and she made him ready for the holmgang according to her craft.

Now Cormac told his mother what was forward, and she asked if he thought good would come of it.

"Why not?" said he.

"That will not be enough for thee," said Dalla. "Thorvard will never make bold to fight without witchcraft to help him. I think it wise for thee to see Thordis the spae-wife, for there is going to be foul play in this affair."

"It is little to my mind," said he; and yet went to see Thordis, and asked her help.

"Too late ye have come," said she. "No weapon will bite on him now. And yet I would not refuse thee. Bide here to-night, and seek thy good luck. Anyway, I can manage so that iron bite thee no more than him."

So Cormac stayed there for the night; and, awaking, found that some one was groping round the coverlet at his head. "Who is there?" he asked, but whoever it was made off, and out at the house-door, and Cormac after. And then he saw it was Thordis, and she was going to the place where the fight was to be, carrying a goose under her arm.

He asked what it all meant, and she set down the goose, saying, "Why couldn’t ye keep quiet?"

So he lay down again, but held himself awake, for he wanted to know what she would be doing. Three times she came, and every time he tried to find out what she was after. The third time, just as he came out, she had killed two geese and let the blood run into a bowl, and she had taken up the third goose to kill it.

"What means this business, foster-mother?" said he.

"True it will prove, Cormac, that you are a hard one to help," said she. "I was going to break the spell Thorveig laid on thee and Steingerd. Ye could have loved one another been happy if I had killed the third goose and no one seen it."

"I believe nought of such things," cried he; and this song he made about it: —

"I gave her an ore at the ayre,
That the arts of my foe should not prosper;
And twice she has taken the knife,
And twice she has offered the offering;
But the blood is the blood of a goose —
What boots it if two should be slaughtered? —
Never sacrifice geese for a Skald
Who sings for the glory of Odin!"

So they went to the holmgang: but Thorvald gave the spae-wife a still greater fee, and offered the sacrifice of geese; and Cormac said: —

"Trust never another man’s mistress!
For I know, on this woman who weareth
The fire of the field of the sea-king
The fiends have been riding to revel.
The witch with her hoarse cry is working
For woe when we go to the holmgang,
And if bale be the end of the battle
The blame, be assured, will be hers."

"Well," she said, "I can manage so that none shall know thee." Then Cormac began to upbraid her, saying she did nought but ill, and wanting to drag her out to the door to look at her eyes in the sunshine. His brother Thorgils made him leave that: — "What good will it do thee?" said he.

Now Steingerd gave out that she had a mind to see the fight; and so she did. When Cormac saw her he made this song: —

"I have fared to the field of the battle,
O fair one that wearest the wimple!
And twice for thy sake have I striven;
What stays me as now from thy favour?
This twice have I gotten thee glory,
O goddess of ocean! and surely
To my dainty delight, to my darling
I am dearer by far than her mate."

So then they set to. Cormac’s sword bit not at all, and for a long while they smote strokes one upon the other, but neither sword bit. At last Cormac smote upon Thorvard’s side so great a blow that his ribs gave way and were broken; he could fight no more, and thereupon they parted. Cormac looked and saw where a bull was standing, which he slew for a sacrifice; and being heated, he doffed his helmet from his head, saying this song: —

"I have fared to the field of the battle,
O fair one that wearest the bracelet!
Even three times for thee have I striven,
And this thou canst never deny me.
But the reed of the fight would not redden,
Though it rang on the shield-bearer’s harness;
For the spells of a spae-wife had blunted
My sword that was eager for blood."

He wiped the sweat from him on the corner of Steingerd’s mantle; and said: —

"So oft, being wounded and weary,
I must wipe my sad brow on thy mantle.
What pangs for thy sake are my portion,
O pine-tree with red gold enwreathed!
Yet beside thee he snugs on the settle
As thou seamest thy broidery, — that rhymester!
And the shame of it whelms me in sorrow,
O Steingerd! — that rascal unslain!"

And then Cormac prayed Steingerd that she would go with him: but Nay, she said; she would have her own way about men. So they parted, and both were ill pleased.

Thorvard was taken home, and she bound his wounds. Cormac was now always meeting with Steingerd. Thorvard healed but slowly; and when he could get on his feet he went to see Thordis, and asked her what was best to help his healing.

"A hill there is," answered she, "not far away from here, where elves have their haunt. Now get you the bull that Cormac killed, and redden the outer side of the hill with its blood, and make a feast for the elves with its flesh. Then thou wilt be healed."

So they sent word to Cormac that they would buy the bull. He answered that he would sell it, but then he must have the ring that was Steingerd’s. So they brought the ring, took the bull, and did with it as Thordis bade them do. On which Cormac made a song: —

"When the workers of wounds are returning,
And with them the sacrifice reddened,
Then a lady in raiment of linen,
Who loved me, time was, — she will ask: —
My ring, — have ye robbed me? — where is it?
— I have wrought them no little displeasure:
For the swain that is swarthy has won it,
The son of old Ogmund, the skald."

It fell out as he guessed. Steingerd was very angry because they had sold her ring.


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Chicago: Unknown, "Chapter Twenty-Two What the Witch Did for Them in Their Fights.," The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald, trans. Armour, M. A. (Margaret-Ann) in The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2023,

MLA: Unknown. "Chapter Twenty-Two What the Witch Did for Them in Their Fights." The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald, translted by Armour, M. A. (Margaret-Ann), in The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Unknown, 'Chapter Twenty-Two What the Witch Did for Them in Their Fights.' in The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald, trans. . cited in , The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2023, from