The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald

Author: Unknown

Chapter Twelve Bersi’s Bad Luck at the Thor’s-Ness Thing.

In the winter, sports were held at Saurbae. Bersi’s lad, Asmund, was there, and likewise the sons of Thord; but they were younger than he, and nothing like so sturdy. When they wrestled Asmund took no heed to stint his strength, and the sons of Thord often came home blue and bleeding. Their mother Thordis was ill pleased, and asked her husband would he give Bersi a hint to make it up on behalf of his son. Nay, Thord answered, he was loath to do that.

"Then I’ll find my brother Bork," said she, "and it will be just as bad in the end."

Thord bade her do no such thing. "I would rather talk it over with him," said he; and so, at her wish, he met Bersi, and hinted that some amends were owing.

Said Bersi, "Thou art far too greedy of getting, nowadays. This kind of thing will end in losing thee thy good name. Thou wilt never want while anything is to be got here."

Thord went home, and there was a coolness between them while that winter lasted.

Spring slipped by, until it was time for the meeting at Thor’sness. By then, Bersi thought he saw through this claim of Thord’s, and found Thordis at the bottom of it. For all that, he made ready to go to the Thing. By old use and wont these two neighbours should have gone riding together; so Bersi set out and came to Muli, but when he got there Thord was gone.

"Well," said he, "Thord has broken old use and wont in awaiting me no longer."

"If breach there be," answered Thordis, "it is thy doing. This is nothing to what we owe thee, and I doubt there will be more to follow."

They had words. Bersi said that harm would come of her evil counsel; and so they parted.

When he left the house he said to his men, "Let us turn aside to the shore and take a boat; it is a long way to ride round the waterhead." So they took a boat — it was one of Thord’s — and went their way.

They came to the meeting when most other folks were already there, and went to the tent of Olaf Peacock of Hjardarholt (Herdholt), for he was Bersi’s chief. It was crowded inside, and Bersi found no seat. He used to sit next Thord, but that place was filled. In it there sat a big and strong-looking man, with a bear-skin coat, and a hood that shaded his face. Bersi stood a while before him, but the seat was not given up. He asked the man for his name, and was told he might call him Bruin, or he might call him Hoodie — which-ever he liked; whereupon he said in verse: —

"Who sits in the seat of the warriors,
With the skin of the bear wrapped around him,
So wild in his look? — Ye have welcomed
A wolf to your table, good kinsfolk!
Ah, now may I know him, I reckon!
Doth he name himself Bruin, or Hoodie? —
We shall meet once again in the morning,
And maybe he’ll prove to be — Steinar."

"And it’s no use for thee to hide thy name, thou in the bearskin," said he.

"No more it is," he answered. "Steinar I am, and I have brought money to pay thee for Cormac, if so be it is needed. But first I bid thee to fight. It will have to be seen whether thou get the two marks of silver, or whether thou lose them both."

Upon which quoth Bersi: —

"They that waken the storm of the spear-points —
For slaughter and strife they are famous —
To the island they bid me for battle,
Nor bitter I think it nor woeful;
For long in that craft am I learned
To loosen the Valkyrie’s tempest
In the lists, and I fear not to fight them —
Unflinching in battle am I.

"Well I wot, though," said he, "that ye and your gang mean to make away with me. But I would let you know that I too have something to say about it — something that will set down your swagger, maybe."

"It is not thy death we are seeking," answered Steinar; "all we want is to teach thee thy true place."

Bersi agreed to fight him, and then went out to a tent apart and took up his abode there.

Now one day the word went round for bathing in the sea. Said Steinar to Bersi, "Wilt try a race with me, Bersi?"

"I have given over swimming," said he, "and yet I’ll try."

Bersi’s manner of swimming was to breast the waves and strike out with all his might. In so doing he showed a charm he wore round his neck. Steinar swam at him and tore off the lucky-stone with the bag it was in, and threw them both into the water, saying in verse: —

"Long I’ve lived,
And I’ve let the gods guide me;
Brown hose I never wore
To bring the luck beside me.
I’ve never knit
All to keep me thriving
Round my neck a bag of worts,
— And lo! I’m living!"

Upon that they struck out to land.

But this turn that Steinar played was Thord’s trick to make Bersi lose his luck in the fight. And Thord went along the shore at low water and found the luck-stone, and hid it away.

Now Steinar had a sword that was called after Skrymir the giant: it was never fouled, and no mishap followed it. On the day fixed, Thord and Steinar went out of the tent, and Cormac also came to the meeting to hold the shield of Steinar. Olaf Peacock got men to help Bersi at the fight, for Thord had been used to hold his shield, but this time failed him. So Bersi went to the trysting-place with a shield-bearer who is not named in the story, and with the round target that once had belonged to Thorveig.

Each man was allowed three shields. Bersi cut up two, and then Cormac took the third. Bersi hacked away, but Whitting his sword stuck fast in the iron border of Steinar’s shield. Cormac whirled it up just when Steinar was striking out. He struck the shield-edge, and the sword glanced off, slit Bersi’s buttock, sliced his thigh down to the knee-joint, and stuck in the bone. And so Bersi fell.

"There!" cried Steinar, "Cormac’s fine is paid."

But Bersi leapt up, slashed at him, and clove his shield. The sword-point was at Steinar’s breast when Thord rushed forth and dragged him away, out of reach.

"There!" cried Thord to Bersi, "I have paid thee for the mauling of my sons."

So Bersi was carried to the tent, and his wound was dressed. After a while, Thord came in; and when Bersi saw him he said: —

"When the wolf of the war-god was howling
Erstwhile in the north, thou didst aid me:
When it gaped in my hand, and it girded
At the Valkyries’ gate for to enter.
But now wilt thou never, O warrior,
At need in the storm-cloud of Odin
Give me help in the tempest of targes
— Untrusty, unfaithful art thou.

"For when I was a stripling I showed me
To the stems of the lightning of battle
Right meet for the mist of the war-maids;
— Ah me! that was said long ago.
But now, and I may not deny it
My neighbours in earth must entomb me,
At the spot I have sought for grave-mound
Where Saurbae lies level and green."

Said Thord, "I have no wish for thy death; but I own it is no sorrow to see thee down for once."

To which Bersi answered in song: —

"The friend that I trusted has failed me
In the fight, and my hope is departed:
I speak what I know of; and note it,
Ye nobles, — I tell ye no leasing.
Lo, the raven is ready for carnage,
But rare are the friends who should succour.
Yet still let them scorn me and threaten,
I shrink not, I am not dismayed."

After this, Bersi was taken home to Saurbae, and lay long in his wounds.

But when he was carried into the tent, at that very moment Steinar spoke thus to Cormac: —

"Of the reapers in harvest of Hilda
— Thou hast heard of it — four men and eight men
With the edges of Skrymir to aid me
I have urged to their flight from the battle.
Now the singer, the steward of Odin,
Hath smitten at last even Bersi
With the flame of the weapon that feedeth
The flocks of the carrion crows."

"I would have thee keep Skrymir now for thy own, Cormac," said he, "because I mean this fight to be my last."

After that, they parted in friendly wise: Steinar went home, and Cormac fared to Mel.


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Chicago: Unknown, "Chapter Twelve Bersi’s Bad Luck at the Thor’s-Ness Thing.," 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 4, 2023,

MLA: Unknown. "Chapter Twelve Bersi’s Bad Luck at the Thor’s-Ness Thing." 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. 4 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Unknown, 'Chapter Twelve Bersi’s Bad Luck at the Thor’s-Ness Thing.' in The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald, trans. . cited in , The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2023, from