The Orkneyinga saga (also called the History of the Earls of Orkney) is an historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200. The saga has “no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland”.
1. There was a king named Fornjot, he ruled over those lands which are called Finland and Kvenland; that is to the east of that bight of the sea which goes northward to meet Gandvik; that we call the Helsingbight. Fornjot had three sons; one was named Hler, whom we call Ægir, the second Logi, the third Kari; he was the father of Frost, the father of Snow the old, his son’s name was Thorri; he (Thorri) had two sons, one was named Norr and the other Gorr; his daughter’s name was Goi. Thorri was a great sacrificer, he had a sacrifice every year at midwinter; that they called Thorri’s sacrifice; from that the month took its name. One winter there were these tidings at Thorri’s sacrifice, that Goi was lost and gone, and they set out to search for her, but she was not found. And when that month passed away Thorri made them take to sacrifice, and sacrifice for this, that they might know surely where Goi was hidden away. That they called Goi’s sacrifice, but for all that they could hear nothing of her. Four winters after those brothers vowed a vow that they would search for her; and so share the search between them, that Norr should search on land, but Gorr should search the outscars and islands, and he went on board ship. Each of those brothers had many men with him. Gorr held on with his ships out along the sea-bight, and so into Alland’s sea; after that he views the Swedish scars far and wide, and all the isles that lie in the East salt sea; after that to the Gothland scars, and thence to Denmark, and views there all the isles; he found there his kinsmen, they who were come from Hler the old out of Hler’s isle, and he held on then still with his voyage and hears nothing of his sister. But Norr his brother bided till snow lay on the heaths, and it was good going on snow-shoon. After that he fared forth from Kvenland and inside the sea-bight, and they came thither where those men were who are called Lapps, that is at the back of Finmark. But the Lapps wished to forbid them a passage, and there arose a battle; and that might and magic followed Norr and his men; that their foes became as swine as soon as they heard the war-cry and saw weapons drawn, and the Lapps betook themselves to flight. But Norr fared thence west on the Keel, and was long out, so that they knew nothing of men, and shot beasts and birds for meat for themselves; they fared on till they came where the waters turned to the westward from the fells. Then they fared along with the waters, and came to a sea; there before them was a firth as big as it were a sea-bight; there was a mickle tilths, and great dales came down to the firth. There was a gathering of folk against them, and they straightway made ready to battle with Norr, and their quarrel fared as was to be looked for. All that folk either fell or fled, but Norr and his men overcame them as weeds over cornfields. Norr fared round all the firth and laid it under him, and made himself king over those districts that lay there inside the firth. Norr tarried there the summer over till it snowed upon the hearths; then he shaped his course up along the dale which goes south from the firth; that firth is now called Drontheim. Some of his men he lets fare the coast way round Mæren; he laid under him all withersoever he came. And when he comes south over the fell that lay to the south of the dalebight, he went on still south along the dales, until he came to a great water which they called Mjösen. Then he turns west again on to the fell, because it had been told him that his men had come off worsted before that king whose name was Sokni. Then they came into that district which they called Valders. Thence they fared to the sea, and came into a long firth and a narrow, which is now called Sogn; there was their meeting with Sokni, and they had there a mickle battle, because their witchcraft had no hold on Sokni. Norr went hard forward, and he and Sokni came to handstrokes. There fell Sokni and many of his folk.
2. After that Norr fared on into the firth that goes north from Sogn. There Sokni had ruled before in what is now called Sokni’s dale. There Norr tarried a long time, and that is now called Norafirth. There came to meet him Gorr his brother, and neither of them had then heard anything of Goi. Gorr too had laid under him all the outer land as he had fared from the south, and then those brothers shared the lands between them. Norr had all the mainland, but Gorr shall have all those isles between which and the mainland he passes in a ship with a fixed rudder. And after that Norr fares to the Uplands, and came to what is now called Heidmörk (5); there that king ruled whose name was Hrolf of the Hill; he was the son of Svadi the giant from north of the Dovrefell. Hrolf had taken away from Kvenland Goi, Thorri’s daughter; he went at once to meet Norr, and offered him single combat; they fought long together and neither was wounded. After that they made their quarrel up, and Norr got Hrolf’s sister, but Hrolf got Goi to wife. Thence Norr turned back to the realm which he had laid under him, that he called Norway; he ruled that realm while he lived, and his sons after him, and they shared the land amongst them, and so the realms began to get smaller and smaller as the kings got more and more numerous, and so they were divided into provinces.
3. Gorr had the isles, and for that he was called a sea-king; his sons were they Heiti and Beiti, they were sea-kings and mighty overbearing men. They made many inroads on the realm of Norr’s sons, and they had many battles, and now one, now the other won the day. Beiti ran into Drontheim and warred there; he lay where it is now called Beitsea and Beitstede; thence he made them drag his ship from the innermost bight of Beitstede, and so north over Elduneck, that is where the Naumdales come down from the north. He sat himself on the poop and held the tiller in his hand, and claimed for his own all that land that then lay on the larboard, and that is many tilths and much land. Heiti, Gorr’s son, was father of Sveiði the sea-king, the father of Halfdan the old, the father of Ivar the Uplanders’ earl, the father of Eystein the noisy, the father of earl Rognvald the mighty and the wise in council.
4. Earl Rognvald joined Harold fair-hair when he seized the land, but he (Harold) gave him lordship over both the Mæren and Romsdale; he had to wife Ragnhilda the daughter of Hrolf nosy; their son was Hrolf who won Normandy, he was so tall that horses could not carry him; for that he was called Ganging-Hrolf; from him are come the Rouen Jarls and the English Kings; their son was also Ivar, and Thorir the silent. Rognvald had also base-born sons, their names were Hallad and Hrollaug and Einar, he was the youngest. Harold fair-hair fared one summer west across the sea to chastise the Vikings, when he was weary at the peacelessness of those who harried in Norway in summer, but were in the winter in Shetland or the Orkneys. He laid under him Shetland and the Orkneys and the Southern Isles; he fared west too as far as Man, and laid waste the tilths of Man. He had there many battles, and took as his own lands so far west that no king of Norway has ever owned land further west since. And in one battle, Ivar, son of earl Rögnvald, fell. But when king Harold sailed from the west, then he gave to earl Rognvald, as an atonement for his son, Shetland and the Orkneys; but earl Rognvald gave both lands to Sigurd his brother: he was one of king Harold’s forecastle men. The king gave Sigurd the title of earl when he went from the west, and Sigurd stayed behind there in the west.
5. Earl Sigurd made himself a mighty chief; he joined his fellowship with Thorstein the red, son of Olaf the white and Aud the deep-minded, and they won all Caithness and much else of Scotland, Moray and Ross; there he caused to be built a burg southward of Moray. These two agreed between themselves to meet, Sigurd and Melbricta toothy the Scot-earl, that they should meet and settle their quarrel at a given place, each with forty men. And when the day named came, Sigurd thought to himself that the Scots were faithless. He made them mount eighty men on forty horses; and when Melbricta got to see them, he said to his men: “Now are we cheated by Sigurd, for I see two feet of a man on each horse’s side, and the men must be twice as many again as the steeds that bear them. Let us now harden our hearts, and let us see that each has a man for himself ere we die;” and they got ready after that. And when Sigurd saw their plan, he said to his men: “Now half of our force shall get off horseback and come on them in flank when the battle is joined; but we will ride at them as hard as we can, and break in sunder their array.” And so they met and there was a hard battle, and not long ere Melbricta fell and his followers, and Sigurd caused the heads to be fastened to his horses’ cruppers as a glory for himself. And then they rode home, and boasted of their victory. And when they were come on the way, then Sigurd wished to spur the horse with his foot, and he struck his calf against the tooth which stuck out of Melbricta’s head and grazed it; and in that wound sprung up pain and swelling, and that led him to his death. And Sigurd the mighty is buried under a “how” at Ekkjalsbakka. (9) Guttorm was the name of Sigurd’s son; he ruled the lands one winter and died childless. And when earl Rognvald of Mæren learnt the death of that father and son, he sent his son Hallad west, and king Harold gave him the title of earl. And when Hallad came west, he sate down in Hrossey, but Vikings went about the isles and over in Caithness; they slew and robbed men. But when the yeomen brought their scathe before earl Hallad, then he thought it hard to right their lot, and he grew weary of the dignity; he turned himself out of the earldom, and took up his freehold right, and went back to Norway; and his journey was thought the greatest mark for mockery.
6. Two Dansk Vikings set themselves down in the lands; the name of the one was Thorir tree-beard, but the other’s Kalf Skurvy; and when earl Rognvald learnt this, he took it very ill to heart, and fetched before him his sons Thorir and Hrollaug. Hrolf was then out warring. Rögnvald asked which of them would go west into the isles. Thorir bade him see about his passage. “So says my mind about this,” says the earl, “that thy thriving will be most here, and thy ways lie not hence.” Then Hrollaug asked, “Wilt thou that I go?” The earl says, “Not for thee will the earldom be destined, and the spirits that follow thee lie towards Iceland; there wilt thou increase thy race and be a famous man in that land.”” Then Einar went forward, the youngest of his sons, and said, “Wilt thou that I go to the isles? I will promise that I will never come back into thy eyesight; besides I have here little good to part from, and it is not to be looked for that my thriving will be less anywhere else than here.” The earl says, “Unlikely art thou for a chief for thy mother’s sake, for she is thrall born on all sides, but true it is that I should think it all the better that thou goest soon away and comest late back.” Rögnvaldr gave Einar a ship of twenty benches fully maned, but king Harold gave him the title of earl.
7. Einar sailed west to Shetland, and there folk gathered to him; after that he went south into the Orkneys, and held on at once to meet Kalf and his companion. There a battle arose, and both those Vikings fell. Then this stave was sung: “He gave Treebeard to Trolls. Turf-Einar slew Skurvy.” After that he laid the lands under him, and made himself the greatest chief. He first of men found out how to cut turf out of the earth for firewood on Turfness in Scotland, for they were ill off for wood in the isles. Einar was a tall man and ugly, one-eyed, and yet the sharpest-sighted of men.
8. When the sons of Harold fair-hair had grown to man’s estate, they became most overbearing men and unruly within the land; they fell on the king’s earls, some they slew, but some they drove from their owndoms. Snowfrid’s sons, Halfdan long-leg, and Gudred the bright, fell on earl Rognvald of Mæren, and slew him, and took to themselves his realm. But when king Harold heard that, he grew very wrath, and went out against his sons. Halfdan rushed on ship-board and sailed west across the sea, but Gudred gave himself up to his father’s power. King Harold gave Thorir as an atonement for his father, Alofa harvest-heal his daughter, and the title of earl, and all that his father left behind him. Halfdan long-leg came into the Orkneys, and as soon as it was known that a son of king Harold was come thither, then men became full of fear. Some became Halfdan’s liegemen, but earl Einar fled away out of the isles and up into Scotland. Halfdan laid the isles under him, and made himself king over them. Einar came back that same year, and he and Halfdan met; there arose then a great battle, and Einar gained the victory, but Halfdan leapt overboard in the dusk at eventide. Then Einar sang a stave:
“I see not from Hrolf’s hand,
Nor Hrollaug’s eke, fly
Dart on the foeman flock,
Father-vengeance befits us;
But while we the battle
This even urged on,
Earl Thorir in Mæren
O’er mead-cup sits mute.”
Next morning when it was light they went to look for runagate men among the isles if any had got away; and each was slain on the spot as he stood. Then earl Einar took to saying these words: “I know not what I see in Rinansey, sometimes it lifts itself up, but sometimes it lays itself down, that is either a bird or a man, and we will go to it.” There they found Halfdan long-leg, and Einar made them carve an eagle on his back with a sword, and cut the ribs all from the backbone, and draw the lungs there out, and gave him to Odin for the victory he had won (10) then Einar sung this:
“Man broad-bearded oft is outlawed,
Many a one, for stealing sheep;
But in isles here I for felling
Mighty Harold’s youthful son:
Risk hangs o’er me, say the freemen,
From the king so courage-full,
Harold’s shield I’ve hewn a hole in,
None can call that dint in doubt.”
And again this:
“Ever am I glad since spears,
—-Good ‘tis daring deeds to do,—
Spears of warriors fond of fight,
Bit the boy-son of the king;
Him I hide not they mislike,
There flew gray across the isles
Bird that feasts on body-wounds,
Wounds of Halfdan, joy of hawks.”
After that he made them cast Halfdan’s “how,” and sang:
“Wreakt I reckon Rognvald’s death,
Right in this the Norns have shapen.
Now the people’s prop hath fallen
To my fourth share of revenge;
Scatter stones ye lissom lads,
For a victory we have won,
Scatt to Long-legs here I scatter,
Scatt of stones of grit so hard.”
And when this news was heard in Norway, then his brothers took it very ill, and vowed a vow to fare to the Orkneys and avenge him, but king Harold made them put off their voyage. Einar sung when he heard of their vow:
“For my life forsooth are many
Eager, as I hear them say,
Mighty men of no mean race,
From divers mansions of the earth;
But for that they do not know,
These, until they lay me low,
Which of us the eagle’s claws
Shall bow beneath ere all be o’er.”
But sometime after king Harold fared west across the sea and came to the isles. Einar fled away out of the isles and over to Caithness; after that men came between them and they made up their quarrel. King Harold laid a fine upon the isles, and bade them pay sixty marks of gold. Earl Einar offered to bring out the fine alone, and then to own all the allodial holdings, and the freeholders were willing to do that; for the wealthy thought they would be able to buy back their holdings, but the poor had no money to pay the fine with. Einar paid up the fine, and so it was long after that the earls had all the allodial lands, till earl Sigurd gave back to the Orkneyingers their allodial lands. King Harold fared back to Norway, but earl Einar ruled over the Orkneys a long time, and died of sickness. He had three sons. One’s name was Arnkell, another Erlend, a third Thorfinn skull-splitter. When Harold the fair-haired breathed his last, Eric blood-axe was king two winters.
Then came Hacon Athelstane’s foster-child from England, but Eric fared out of the land. He sailed west over the sea, and harried in Scotland and England. But when king Athelstane heard that he sent men to Eric, and offered to give him some land; he said he had been a great friend of king Harold, and said that he would show that by honouring his son. He said also that he would set him at one with king Hacon his foster son. King Eric accepted this choice, and he gave him Northumberland to rule over; that is a fifth of England. But for that, Eric had little land and many men, he grew short of money. For that he harried during the summers, but in the winters he sat at home on his lands; he kept on doing that while king Athelstane lived. After him his brother Edmund took the realm; he was not such a friend of the Northmen as king Athelstane, he thought it ill that Eric should have Northumberland. And one spring king Eric fared north along Scotland, and thence to the Orkneys, and took with him the earls of the Orkneys, the sons of Turf-Einar, Arnkell and Erlend. Thence he fared to the Southern Isles, and there too he got a great force. Thence he fared to Ireland and harried, and he did the like in Bretland (Wales). Thence he fared to England, and there he harried as he had done elsewhere. Olaf was the name of the king whom Edmund had set there to ward the land. But for that Eric had a great force, he landed and went up away from his ships. Olaf also gathered an overwhelming force and fared against king Eric, and there was a mighty battle. At the beginning of the day the Englishmen fell fast, but where one fell three came in his stead. But towards the close of the day the loss of men turned on the side of the Northmen, and the end of it was that king Eric fell and five kings with him. One of them was called Guthrum; there fell also the earls Arnkell and Erlend, the sons of Turf-Einar. But when queen Gunnhilda and her sons were ware that Eric had fallen and that he had before harried the land of the king of England, they thought they knew that there was no hope of peace for them in England; so they busked them in haste for the Orkneys. Thorfinn Skullsplitter was then earl there. Then the sons of Gunnhilda took the isles under them, and were there in the winters but fared a-warring in the summers. But while Gunnhilda and her sons were in the Orkneys, they heard that there was strife between the king of the Danes and king Hacon Athelstane’s foster-child. Then they thought there was some hope that they might get help from Harold Gorm’s son. Then they began their voyage to the Dane king. But before they fared out of the Orkneys they gave away Ragnhilda, the daughter of king Eric and Gunnhilda, to Arnfinn the son of earl Thorfinn, and then Thorfinn took up his seat (established his rule) in the isles.
9. Thorfinn had five sons. The name of the first was Havard the harvest happy, the second was Hlodver, the third Ljot, the fourth Skuli, the fifth Arnfinn, Ragnhilda Eric’s daughter wrought her husband Arnfinn’s death at Murkle in Caithness; but she gave herself away to Havard the harvest-happy, his brother. Harvard took the earldom, and was a good chief; and in his days were good harvests. Einar oily-tongue was the name of a man, Harvard’s sister’s son. He was a great chief, and had a great following, and went a-warring in the summers. He was guest at a feast at Havard’s, and at that feast they, Ragnhilda and Einar, talked much together. She said such a man was well worthy to be a chief, and better fitted for the earldom than Havard, his kinsman; she called, too, that woman well wedded who had such a husband. Einar bade her not to take to such words; said he (Harvard) was the noblest man in the isles, and she full well wedded. Ragnhild answers: “Short henceforth shall be my and Harvard’s wedded life; true it is that there must be men in the isles who will not let everything grow in their eyes, even if thou puttest aside the honour from thee.” With such upbraidings Einar’s mind turned to greed and guile against the earl his kinsman, and they settled it between them that he should slay the earl, but that she should be wedded to him. And sometime after Einar busked himself to that journey, and then a spaeman spoke, who was with him: “Don’t do this work today, but rather tomorrow, else kin-killing will last long in your family.” Einar made as though he heard it not. Havard was then at Stoneness in Hrossey; there they met one another, and there was a hard battle, and not long ere the earl fell. That place is now called Havard’s crofts. And when these tidings were heard, Einar was thought to have been a mickle dastard for this deed; then Ragnhilda would have no fellowship with him, and said it was all a lie that she had ever given her word. Then she sent for Einar hardchaft; he was son of another sister of Harvard’s; and when they met, she said ‘twas shame on such kinsmen of his who would not avenge him, and she said she would do anything that the earl might be avenged. “Besides, too,” she said, “it is well known that he must be most honoured by all good men who avenges the earl, and that man, too, will have won his way to his realm.” Einar answers: “About this it is said,” he says, “that ye sometimes say other things than what you have in your heart, but whoso does this work must have for it that thou holdest in hand for him the realm and those other things too, which will not be thought less worth having.” So they break off their speech. After this Einar hardchaft fell on Einar oily-tongue, and slew him; but Ragnhilda sent for Ljot their (Havard’s and Arnkell’s) brother, and wedded him. Ljot took the earldom, and became a mighty chief. Einar hardchaft had now slain his kinsman, but was no nearer the earldom than before. Now he is very ill pleased with his lot, and would gather men to him, and seek to have the isles by main force; but he was ill off for men, for the Orkneyingers would only serve the sons of Thorfinn skull-splitter; and sometime after the earl let Einar hardchaft be slain.
10. Skuli, Ljot’s brother, fared away up into Scotland, and there the title of earl was given him by the Scot-king. After that he came down on Caithness, and gathered folk to him there; and thence he fared into the isles, and there strove against his brother Ljot for the realm. Ljot gathers folk, and fared to meet Skuli, and had more men on his side; but when they met, Skuli would hear of nothing but fighting, so there was a hard battle, and Ljot won the victory; but Skuli fled over to the Ness and up into Scotland, and thither Ljot fares after him, and stayed there a while, and had more men on his side. And then Skuli rides down from Scotland with a mighty host, which the Scot-king and earl Macbeth had given him, and he and Ljot met in the Dales in Caithness, and there arose a mickle battle. And the Scots were most hot at the beginning of the fight. Earl Ljot bade his men to keep under their shields, but still to stand as fast as they could. But when the Scots could do nothing, Ljot egged on his men, and was himself the hottest. And when things had stood so for a while, then the array of those Scots was broken, and after that they fly; but Skuli kept up the battle, though he fell at last. Ljot took Caithness under him, and then there was strife between the King of Scots and earl Ljot, for the Scots were ill pleased at their bad luck. When earl Ljot was in Caithness with few men, then earl Macbeth came down from Scotland with a mighty host, and he and Ljot met on Skidmoor in Caithness; and earl Ljot had no great force against them, but still Ljot went so fast forward, that the Scots they yielded before him, and there was a short battle ere they fled, who chose life, but many were wounded. Ljot turned back with victory, but his men were much wounded. Earl Ljot also had gotten that wound which led him to his death, and his death was much mourned.
1. The sea in which are the Åland Isles in the Gulf of Bothnia.
2. Now Læssö in the Cattegat.
3. That is, were panic stricken and rushed wildly about.
4. Keel: The ridge of mountains which forms the watershed, backbone, or keel, between Sweden and Norway.
5. Now Hedemark.
6. “He was called Rognvald the mighty and wise in council, and men say both were true names.” R. L.
7. “Both the Mæren” are North and South Mæren, which are divided the one from the other by the Romsdale firth. They stretch north-eastward along the coast from Stadt to Naumdale.”
8. Fl. reads “very wealthy,” as Aud was more commonly called.
9. The banks of the Oikel in Sutherland.
10. The Run. Lex. quotes this passage thus: “Then earl Einar went to Halfdan and carved a blood-eagle on his back in this wise, that he thrust a sword into his trunk by the backbone and cut all the ribs away, from the backbone down to the loins, and drew the lungs out there;” omitting the interesting words as to the sacrifice to Odin.
11. The text of this account of Eric blood-axe has been turned into Icelandic from the Danish Translation, aided by the Heimskringla. In Fl. it is abridged thus: “Then came Hacon Athelstane’s foster-child into the land, but Eric fled away as is before said. Earls Arnkell and Erlend, sons of Turf-Einar, fell in England with King Eric blood-axe, as is written before. Gunnhilda and her sons fared afterwards to the Orkneys, and took them under her, and dwelt there awhile. Then they fared to Denmark, but before they went gave away Ragnhilda, daughter of Eric and Gunnhilda, to Arnfinn, son of earl Thorfinn, and earl Thorfinn established himself in the isles.”
12. Now Stennis.
11. Hlodver Thorfinn’s son took the earldom after Ljot, and was a great chief; he had to wife Edna, daughter of Kjarval, the Irish king; their son was Sigurd the stout. Hlodver died of sickness, and is buried under a “how” at Hofn in Caithness. Sigurd, his son, took the earldom after him; he was a great chief and wide of lands. He held by main force Caithness against the Scots, and had a host out every summer. He harried in the Southern Isles, in Scotland and Ireland. It chanced one summer that Finnleik, the Scot-earl, staked in a battle-field for Sigurd on Skidmoor by a day named, but Sigurd went to ask his mother’s counsel, for she knew many things. The earl told her that there would not be less odds against him than seven men for one. She answers: “I had reared thee up long in my wool-bag had I known thou wouldest like to live for ever; and fate rules life, but not where a man is come; better it is to die with honour than to live with shame. Take thou here hold of this banner which I have made for thee with all my cunning and I ween it will bring victory to those before whom it is borne, but speedy death to him who bears it.” The banner was made with mickle needlecraft and famous skill. It was made in raven’s shape; and when the wind blew out the banner, then it was as though the raven spread his wings for flight. Earl Sigurd was very wrath at the words of his mother, and gave the Orkneyingers their allodial holdings for their help, and so he fared to meet earl Finnleik on Skidmoor, and each drew up his host in battle array. And when the battle was joined, the banner bearer of earl Sigurd was shot to death. The earl bade another man go and bear the banner, and after they had fought a while that man fell. So three banner bearers of the earl fell, but he had the victory, and then the Orkneyingers got back their allodial rights.
12. Olaf Tryggvi’s son was four years in warfare in the western lands since he had come from Vindland— the land of the Wends— ere he let himself be baptized in the Scilly isles. Thence he fared to England — read Ireland— and got there to wife Gyda, the daughter of Kvaran the Irish king. After that he stayed a while in Dublin until earl Hacon sent Thorir the whiner to lure him thence. Olaf sailed from the west with four ships and came first to the Orkneys. There he met earl Sigurd in Osmund’s voe in South Rognvaldsey with three ships, and he was boun for warfare. King Olaf let the earl be called on board his ship and said he wished to talk with him; and when they met king Olaf spoke to him, “It is my will that thou lettest thyself be baptized and all the folk that serve thee, else thou shalt die here at once, but I will fare with fire and flame over all the isles.” But when the earl saw into what a strait he had come he gave up all his suit into the king’s power. The king then let him be baptized, and took as a hostage his son whose name was Hound or Whelp, but the king let him be baptized in the name of Hlodvir. Then all the Orkneys became Christian. But king Olaf then sailed east to Norway, and Hlodvir fared with him, but he lived a short while. But after that earl Sigurd yielded no obedience to king Olaf. He went into a marriage with a daughter of Malcolm the king of the Scots, and their son was earl Thorfinn. Earl Sigurd had before had three sons who were then alive, the name of one of them was Summerled, of the second Brusi, the third Einar.
13. A little while after the agreement between king Olaf and earl Sigurd Hlodverson, the earl took to wife the daughter of Malcolm, the Scot-king, and their son was earl Thorfinn. Earl Sigurd had three other sons, one was called Brusi, the second Summerled, the third Einar wry-mouth. Five winters after the battle at Svolder, earl Sigurd fared to Ireland, to help king Sigtrygg silk-beard, but he set up his elder sons over the lands, but his son Thorfin, he gave over into the hands of the Scot-king, his mother’s father, to foster. But when earl Sigurd came to Ireland, he and king Sigtrygg marched with that host to meet Brian, the Irish king, and their meeting was on Good Friday. Then it fell out that there was no one left to bear the raven banner, and the earl bore it himself, and fell there, but king Sigtrygg fled. King Brian fell with victory and glory.
14. After the fall of earl Sigurd, his sons took the realm and shared it into trithings among Summerled, Brusi, and Einar. Thorfinn was with the Scot-king five winters old when his father Sigurd fell. Then the Scot-king gave Thorfinn, his daughter’s son, Caithness and Sutherland and the title of earl, and set up men to rule the land with him. Earl Thorfinn was early in coming to his full growth, the tallest and strongest of men; his hair was black, his features sharp, and his brows scowling, and as soon as he grew up it was easy to see that he was forward and grasping. Those brothers, Brusi and Einar, were unlike in temper. Einar was a man stern and grasping, unfriendly, and a mighty man for war. Brusi was a meek man, he kept his feelings well in hand and was humble, and ready-tongued. Summerled was like to Brusi in temper; he was the eldest of those brothers, and lived shortest, and died of sickness. After his death earl Thorfinn claimed a share of the realm in the Orkneys. Einar said that Thorfinn had Caithness and Sutherland, that realm which their father had owned, and called it more than a trithing of the isles, and would not grant Thorfinn a share after Summerled; but Brusi was willing to grant it, and gave over the share for his part. “I will not,” he said, “covet more of the realm than that trithing which I own by right.” Then Einar took two lots of the isles under him; then he made himself mighty, and had many followers, was oft a-warring in the summers, and had a great levy of men out of the land, but it was quite another story with the spoil. Then the freemen began to be weary of that toil; but the earl held boldly on with his burdens, and suffered no man to speak a word against him. Einar was the most overbearing of men. A great dearth arose in his realm from the toil and outgoings which the freemen had; but in that lot of the land that Brusi had was great peace and plenty, and the freemen had an easy life; for that he had many friends.
15. There was a powerful and wealthy man named Amund, he dwelt at Hrossey, at Sandwick on Lopness. His son’s name was Thorkell, the properest man of all men who were then growing up in the Orkneys. Asmund was a wise man, and one of the men most esteemed in the islands. It fell out one spring that the earl had a mighty levy, as was his wont, but the freemen grumbled and took it ill, and brought the matter before Amund, and bade him speak to the earl for a little forbearance. Amund said the earl would turn a deaf ear, “and little will come of it; as it is the earl and I are good friends, but methinks there is a great risk if we two should come to a quarrel with our tempers. No,” says he, “I will have nothing to do with it.” Then they told their story to Thorkell; he was loath to do anything, but still promised them his good offices, after being egged on by the men. Amund thought he had been too hasty in promising. But when the earl held a Thing, then Thorkell spoke on behalf of the freemen, told the need of the men, and bade the earl spare his people. Einarr answers well, and says he will give heed to his words: “I had meant now to have six ships out of the land, but now no more than three shall go; but as for thee, Thorkell, don’t now ask this any more.” The freemen thanked Thorkell well for his help. The earl fared away on a Viking voyage, and came back at autumn. But after that, in the spring, the earl had again a levy and held a Thing with the freemen. Then Thorkell spoke again, and bade the earl spare the freemen. The earl answers wrathfully, and said that the lot of the freemen should much worsen for his speech. He made himself so wood and wrath, that he said they should not be both there another spring safe and sound at the Thing. And so the Thing broke up. But when Amund became ware of what had passed between the earl and Thorkell, he begged Thorkell to go away. So he fared over to Caithness to earl Thorfinn, and was there long afterwards, and fostered him, when the earl was young, and was afterwards called Thorkell fosterer; and he was a man of mark. Many were the men of might who fled away out of the Orkneys for the overbearing of earl Einarr. Most fled to earl Thorfinn, some to Norway and to divers lands.
16. As soon as earl Thorfinn was grown up, then he sent a message to Einar his brother, and asked of him that share of the realm which he thought belonged to him in the Orkneys, but that was a trithing. Einar was in no hurry to lessen himself so. But when earl Thorfinn hears that, then he calls out force from Caithness. But when earl Einar was ware of that, then he gathers force, and goes against Thorfinn, and means to fight with him. Earl Brusi also gathers force, goes to meet them, and brings about an agreement that Thorfinn should have a trithing of the realm in the Orkneys which he owned by right, but earl Brusi and earl Einarr laid their lots together. Einar was to have the leadership over them, and the wardship of the land. But if either of them died before the other, then that one of them who lived longer should take the lands after the other. But that settlement was thought to be unfair, for Brusi had a son, whose name was Rognvald, but Einar was sonless. Earl Thorfinn sets men to keep watch and ward over that realm which he owned in the Orkneys; but he was most often in Caithness.
17. Earl Einar was most often in the summers in warfare round Ireland and Scotland and Wales. It happened one summer when he was warring on Ireland that he fought in Ulfreksfirth with Konufogur the Irish king. Earl Einar there got a mighty defeat and loss of men. The next summer after Eyvind Urarhorn fared from the west from Ireland, and meant to steer for Norway. The weather was sharp, and there was a great storm. Then Eyvind put in to Osmund’s voe, and lay there weather bound a while. But when earl Einar learns that, then he went thither with a great force, and he took there Eyvind, and made them slay him, but gave peace to most of his men. They fared home to Norway about autumn, and went to find king Olaf, and told him how Eyvind had been taken off. The king answers little about it, and yet it could be found out that he thought this a mickle manscathe, and wrought more against himself than any one else. The king was short of words whenever he thought anything much against his mind. Earl Thorfinn sent Thorkell, his fosterer, out into the isles to get together his scatts and tolls. Earl Einar laid at Thorkell’s door much of that rising against him which had happened when earl Thorfinn laid his claim out in the isles. Thorkell fared hastily out of the isles over to the Ness, and told earl Thorfinn that he had become sure of this, that earl Einar meant death for him, if his friends or kinsmen had not given him warning. “Now I must choose one of these two things, either to let the earl’s and my meeting be so that we may settle our business once for all; or that other to fare further away, and thither where the earl shall never have power over me.” Earl Thorfinn was very eager that he should fare east to Norway to meet King Olaf. “Thou wilt,” says the earl, “be made much of wherever thou art with honourable men; but I know both your tempers, the earl’s and thine, that ye two would be but a scant time before ye came to blows.” Then Thorkell busked him to go to king Olaf, and fared about autumn to Norway, and was with king Olaf that winter in great love; the king took Thorkell much into his counsel. He thought, as was true, that Thorkell was a wise and very able man. The king found out from his talk that he was very uneven in his stories about the earls, and that he was a great friend of Thorfinn, but slow to praise earl Einar. And early next spring the king sent a ship west over the sea to find earl Thorfinn, and this bidding, by word of mouth, that the earl should come to see him. He did not lay the journey under his pillow, for words of friendship came along with the message.
18. Earl Thorfinn fared east to Norway and came to see king Olaf. He got there a good welcome, and stayed there long on in the summer. But when he made ready to go west, then king Olaf gave him a great and good longship, with all her tackling. Thorkell fosterer made up his mind to go with earl Thorfinn, and the earl gave him that ship which he had brought from the west that summer. The king and the earl parted the best of friends with great love. Earl Thorfinn came back about autumn to the Orkneys. But when earl Einar heard this, he got many men together and lay aboard ship. Earl Brusi went to meet those brothers, and tried to bring about a settlement between them, and so it came about that they were set at one again, and bound that with oaths. Thorkell fosterer was then to be taken into that settlement, and into friendship with earl Einar, and that was also said that each of them should make the other a feast, and the earl was to come first to pay Thorkell a visit at Sandwick. But when the earl was there at the feast, he was treated in the bravest way. The earl was not cheerful. There was a mickle hall there, and doors at both ends. That day on which the earl was to go away, and was busking himself, Thorkell was to go along with him to the feast, Thorkell sent men forward to spy out on the road along which they were to fare that day; but when they came back they told Thorkell that they found there three ambushes and men with weapons; “and we think, to say thee sooth, that treachery must lie under this.” But when Thorkell learned that he put off his busking and got his men together. The earl bade him busk himself and said ‘twas high time to ride. Thorkell said he had much to look after. He went sometimes out and sometimes in. Fires were on the floor. Then Thorkell went in at one of the doors and with him a man who is named Hallvard. He was a man from Iceland, an Eastfirther by kin. He shut the door after them. Thorkell went inside along the hall between the fire and where the earl sate. The earl asked, “Art thou boun now?” Thorkell answers, “I am boun now.” Then Thorkell hewed at the earl on his head. The earl fell forward stooping on the floor. Hallvard said, “Here I see the worst of all wrestling tricks, that ye do not draw the earl from the fire.” Then he thrust an Irish axe (7) under the nape of the earl’s neck, and jerked him up on the bench. Then both those comrades Thorkell and Hallvard, went out hastily, by the other doorway facing that by which they went in, and there outside stood Thorkell’s men armed to the teeth. The earl’s men looked to him, but he was then dead, and the hands of all failed them to avenge him; besides, it was all done in a hurry, for no man looked for such a deed from Thorkell; for they all thought that it would be, as was already agreed, that there should be friendship between the earl and Thorkell. Most of the men too were weaponless who were inside the hall, and many of them good friends of Thorkell of yore. It happened too by that fate by which longer life was allotted to Thorkell. When Thorkell came out he had no less force than the earl’s men. Then Thorkell fared to his ship, but the earl’s men went away. Thorkell sailed away that day east into the sea, and that was after the winter had begun. Then they came safe and sound to Norway. Thorkell went at once to find king Olaf, and he got there a good welcome: The king showed himself well pleased at this deed. Thorkell was with him that winter.
19. After the falling away of earl Einar, earl Brusi took that lot of the lands which earl Einar had before had, for it was with many men’s witness on what terms Brusi and Einar had gone into partnership. It seemed most right to earl Thorfinn that each of them should have half the isles; but still Brusi had that winter both lots of the isles. But the spring after Thorfinn laid claim to the land against Brusi, saying that he will have half the lands, but Brusi would not say yes to that; so they summoned meetings about those matters. Then their friends went about to settle the business, and so it came out not only that Thorfinn would let nothing else please him than to have half the isles; but he says at the same time that Brusi, with the temper he had, had no need of more than a trithing. “I grudged not,” says he (Brusi), “to have a trithing of the land which I took after my father as my heritage; and no one challenged my right to that; but now I have taken another trithing after my brother by lawful agreement. But though I am unable to strive in rivalry with you, kinsman, yet I will look to some one else rather than consent to give away my realm in such a way.” When things had gone so far at that parley they parted. But when Brusi saw that he could not stand on even feet against Thorfinn, for that he had a much greater realm, besides the trust that he had in the Scot-king, his mother’s father, then he, Brusi, made up his mind to fare away out of the land east to find king Olaf, and he had with him his son Rognvald, who was then ten winters old. But when the earl met the king, he gave him a good welcome. But when the earl unfolded his errand, and tells the king the whole story of what had happened between his brother and himself, and begged the king to lend him strength to hold his realm, he offered him at the same time in return his entire friendship. The king answers, and began first to say how Harold fair-hair had owned all the allodial land in the Orkneys, “but the earls have held it since in fief, but never as their owndom; and that is a token,” says he, “that when Eric blood-axe and his sons were in the Orkneys, then the earls were bound to do them service. But when Olaf, Tryggvi’s son, my kinsman, came there, then earl Sigurd, your father, made himself his man. Now I have taken all the heritage after him. Now I will make thee that choice that thou becomest my man; then will I give over to thee the isles in fief; then we two will try, if I lend thee my strength, whether it shall stand thee in better stead, or whether his trust in the Scot-king, to thy brother Thorfinn. But if thou wilt not take this choice, then must I look after those rights and owndoms which our kinsmen have held there away west.”” The earl bore these sayings in his mind, and laid them before his friends, and asked counsel of them to what he should consent, and whether he should strike a bargain with king Olaf on those terms and become his man. “But it is not at all plain to me what my lot will be when we part, if I say nay; for the king has made bare to me his claim, that he thinks he owns the isles. But with his boldness of purpose, and bearing in mind this too that we have come here, it will be a little thing for him to do just as he pleases with our affair.” But though the earl found manifest fault with both courses, whichever way he went, still he took that choice, to lay all in the king’s power, both himself and his realm. Then king Olaf took from the earl power and lordship over all his lands of heritage, and then the earl was made the king’s man, and bound that with oaths.
20. Earl Thorfinn learnt that Brusi his brother had fared east to find king Olaf, to seek trust from him; but because Thorfinn had before fared to find king Olaf and got himself into friendship there, then he thought he had made it all right there beforehand, and knew that many there would back his cause; so earl Thorfinn takes this counsel: he makes ready his voyage as speedily as he can and fared to Norway, and thought that he should make the passage almost as soon as Brusi, and that his errand would not be brought to an end. But when Thorfinn met the king, it was another way than he had thought; for when he came to see king Olaf, all that bargain between the king and Brusi was made and struck. Besides, earl Thorfinn did not know that Brusi had given up his realm before ever earl Thorfinn had come to see king Olaf. But as soon as they met, the earl and king Olaf, then the king raised the same claim to the realm in the Orkneys which he had already made to Brusi, and bade Thorfinn do the same thing, that he should yield over to the king those lots of the lands which he already owned. The earl answers well to the king’s words, and spoke so as to show that he set great store on his friendship. “And if ye, lord,” said the earl, “think that ye need my help against other chiefs, then ye have won it fully; but it is not in my power to yield you homage, for I am already the Scot-king’s earl, and bound to do him service.” But when the king found that there was drawing back in the earl’s answers as to this question which he had raised, then the king spoke: “If thou, earl, wilt not become my man, there is yet another choice, that I set that man up over the Orkneys whom I will, and my will then is that thou take oath to lay no claim to their lands, and to let them be in peace for thee whom I set up. But if thou wilt have none of these choices, then it must so seem to those whom I set up, as though strife were to be looked for them from thee; then mayest thou not think it wonderful though the dale comes to meet the hill.” (8) The earl answers, and bade the king give him time to think over that matter. The king did so, and gave the earl time and leave to take counsel with his friends as to this. Then the earl begged the king to grant him time till the next summer, and that he might fare home first of all. “All my councillors are at home,” (9) he says, “and I am but a child for my years’ sake.” But the king bade him choose one of the two courses there and then. Thorkell fosterer was then with the king; he sent men stealthily to the earl, and besought him not to think, whatever might be on his mind, of parting so with king Olaf that they were not good friends, just when he had put himself in the king’s hands. He (Thorkell) thought he could see that the only choice left him was to let the king have his will in everything. It seemed to them (Thorkell and his friends) though not at all a good choice to have no hope one’s self of one’s heritage, and to take an oath to the effect that they might have that realm in peace who were not born to it. But because that he thought it uncertain about his going away, then he made that choice to give himself over into the king’s hand, and become his man as his brother Brusi had done. The king found out that Thorfinn was of a much higher spirit than Brusi, and for that sake he trusted Thorfinn less; the king saw too that he would think he might look for strength from the Scot-king, even though he broke this agreement; the king understood that out of his wisdom. Brusi went unwillingly into all the agreement, but spoke nothing but what he meant to hold; but where Thorfinn was he went gladly at everything; as soon as ever he had made up his mind what part he should take, (then he went gladly into every condition) (10) and did not stickle in the least at what the king asked the first evening; but the king doubted that he must mean to go back on some of his undertakings.
1. That is “by witchcraft.”
2. The true text here is preserved only in the Danish Translation, in its place Fl. has a long chapter out of the Saga of king Olaf, Tvyggvi’s son, as contained in Fms. That chapter will be found in the Appendix.
3. Thus, according to the chronology of the Icelandic writers, it was in reality fourteen years afterwards.
4. The Fl. begins here a new section of the Saga thus: “The chapter of those Orkneyingers. A mighty man of war in the Orkneys was earl Einar, earl Sigurd’s son. He was thought no fair man. He warred in Ireland, etc.”
5. Lough Larne in Ireland.
6. Now Osmondswall in the Orkneys.
7. In the original Sparða, some sort of bill or pole-axe. The word occurs as “spart” or “spert” in mediæval lists of arms in England. See Hist. Com. Report for 1877. I. p. 491.
8. A proverb meaning that Thorfinn must not be surprised if the natural result followed.
9. In the Runic Lex. the whole passage runs thus: “earl Thorfinn said, as was true, that most of his councillors were at home.”
10. The sentence in brackets is a repetition.
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.
26. Rognvald Brusi’s son sailed west to the Orkneys, and fared first to those homesteads which his father had owned; then he sent a message to earl Thorfinn his kinsman, and begged to have that trithing of the isles which his father had owned. He made them also tell Thorfinn that king Magnus gave him in fief that trithing of the lands which king Olaf had owned. He begged to have those two lots of the lands at his will of his kinsman Thorfinn. But at that time earl Thorfinn had great quarrels with the Southislanders and the Irish; he thought he had much need of help in men, and he made these answers to Rognvald’s messengers, that he shall take of a surety that trithing of the isles which he owned by right, “but that trithing which Magnus claims as his, then we yielded in that to king Olaf, more for that we were come within his grasp, than because we thought it right; and so we and our kinsman Rognvald will agree all the more if we two talk little to each other about that trithing of the lands; it has long been a cause of quarrel. But if Rognvald will be a trusty kinsman and strengthener to me, then methinks my realm will be well bestowed if he has that trithing as a pastime for himself and a strength for both of us. In short, his help is worth more to me than the scatts which I get from it.” After that the messengers fared back, and said to Rognvald that Thorfinn had yielded to him two lots of the lands, if he will be his strengthener, as ought to be for kinship’s sake. Rognvald says that he had only laid claim to what he thought he owned. But for that Thorfinn gave the lands up so readily, he said he would of a surety be willing to lend him help and to be his entire friend, just as their kinship bound them. Now Rognvald took under him two lots of the lands, and so things stood that winter. But very early in the spring earl Thorfinn sent word to his kinsman Rognvald, and begs him to fare a-roving with him, and to bring as many men as he could get with him. And when these words came to Rognvald, he got ready at once and drew a host together, and gathered to himself all the ships he could get; and when that host was boun, he fared to meet earl Thorfinn; then Thorfinn had also got his host boun; and he gave his kinsman Rognvald a good welcome, and then they went into fellowship together.
27. Those kinsmen Thorfinn and Rognvald harried that summer over the Southern isles and Ireland, and far and wide about Scotland’s firths. Thorfinn laid the land under him wherever they fared. In the summer they had a great fight in the place called Waterfirth; (11) there was a great loss of men. They took to battle speedily, and those kinsmen won a bright victory. Of this battle Arnor earlskald makes mention in Thorfinn’s ode: He was there in the battle.
“There was I where Waterfirth
The place is hight in mickle risk,
With my Lord the friend of man,
Of his works I know the tokens;
From the ships the warriors speedy
Bore the shieldburg, Friday morning
There I saw the gray wolf gaping
O’er wounded corse of many a man.”
After this battle they turned back to the Orkneys, and sate still through that winter. And so eight winters went by that Rognvald had two lots of the isles, so that earl Thorfinn made no complaint about it. But every summer they were a-roving, sometimes both together, but sometimes each of them by himself, as Arnor says:
“He who loved was often working,
Ireland’s offspring fell before him,
When he fell on British races,
Fire flew o’er Scotland’s realm.”
28. With those kinsmen everything went always well when they met; but if bad (worse) men went between them (tale-bearing) the disputes were always talked out. Earl Thorfinn sate long in Caithness, and Rognvald in the isles. It fell out one summer that earl Thorfinn harried in the Southern isles and about the West Coast of Scotland. He lay at the place called Galloway, there Scotland and England meet. He had sent away from him a force south to England to land and seize and slaughter cattle, for there where he lay with his force all the folk had fled away, and all the cattle were driven away from him. But when the Englishmen were ware of the Vikings, they gathered themselves together and fell upon them, and took from them all the cattle, but slew of them all the men who were fit for anything, but sent back some runagates, and bade them tell earl Thorfinn how they made Vikings sick of wrong and robbery; and they had besides about it many scornful words. So they fared to find earl Thorfinn, and told him how ill they had fared. He took it ill that his men were lost, but said he could not help it; but this he said he was well able to do, and that was to pay off the Englishmen for all the gibes and jeers which they made out of the matter; and he said he must first of all part from them for a while, but if he were safe and sound next summer he said he and they should meet.
29. At that time Hardicanute was (king) over England and Denmark. After that earl Thorfinn fared to the Orkneys and sate there that winter. Early in the spring he called out his levies over all his realm; then he sent a message to his kinsman Rognvald, and Rognvald agrees to it. Rognvald had a levy over all his realm. Earl Thorfinn drew together a host from the Orkneys and Caithness; he had also a mighty host from Scotland and Ireland, and from all the Southern isles people flocked to him. He held on with all that host to England just as he had promised them the autumn before. Hardicanute was in Denmark when these tidings happened. But as soon as ever the earls came to England they began to harry and waste; but those chiefs who were set there to watch the land fared against them with force, and there was a great and hard battle, and the earls got the victory. After that they fared far and wide over England, and harried, slew men, and burned the farms wherever they went. This Arnor mentions in Thorfinn’s ode:
“One there was that Angles mind
Storm of spears, nor evermore
Shall the lord of rings come thither
WIth a greater force to battle.
Thin-ground swords bit sturdy people,
But the child of ancient Rognvald
Rushed beneath his buckler thither,
South from Man across the main.
On English native land his banner
Bore the earl, and often reddened
Tongue of eagles, troops to carry
Ensigns onward still he ordered,
Fire waxed and homes were blazing,
As the army chased the fleers,
Flames spread fast, and near to heaven
Smote the glare of forest’s foeman. (12)
Many blasts of horns were blowing,
Through the burgs when bold to battle
Rushed the ruler, while his banner
Fluttered bravely in the breeze.
‘Twas on a rainy Friday morning,
When the day scarce beamed for battle,
That the foeman fierce he scattered;
Weapons flew and wolves were fattened.”
Earl Thorfinn had two pitched battles in England, but on the other hand he gave them many defeats and man-slayings. He lay there almost all the summer through, but at autumn he fared hom to the Orkneys, and was there that winter.
30. At this time Kalf Arni’s son fled out of the land before king Magnus. He fared west across the sea to his nephew-in-law earl Thorfinn. Thorfinn had then to wife Ingibiorg earlsmother, the daughter of earl Finn Arni’s son. Then Kalf was in great love with earl Thorfinn. He held about him a great following of men; that was very costly to the earl. There were many, too, then who said out before him that he should not let Rognvald have two lots of the isles, when he had to spend so much money himself. And after that earl Thorfinn sent men out into the isles, and asked for that trithing from earl Rognvald, which earl Einar wrymouth had owned. But when that message came, the earl brought it before his friends and counsellors. After that he calls thither earl Thorfinn’s messengers. Rognvald says, that as for that lot of the isles which they claim, he had taken it in fief from king Magnus, and that the king called it his father’s heritage. Now he said king Magnus had power to say which of them should own that lot; but he said he would not let it go if it were the king’s will that he should have it. On this the messengers fared away, and tell earl Thorfinn those words. They said, too, it was surely to be looked for that this would not be got without a struggle. But when earl Thorfinn heard that, he grew very wrath, and said it was a likely story that king Magnus was to have his brother’s heritage. He said, too, that had been agreed to more because he and earl Brusi were then come into king Olaf’s grasp than because it was a fair and rightful sharing of the inheritance. “Now methinks Rognvald doth not repay me well when I have now let him have that realm in freedom for a while, if I shall not now come near the heritage my brother has left me unless I fight for it.” Earl Thorfinn was so wrath at this, that no long time after he sends men into the Southern isles, and up into Scotland, and drew a force together. He gave it out too, that he meant to come to blows with earl Rognvald, and then take that without forbearance which he could not get when he sought for it in peace. And now, when this is told to earl Rognvald, that earl Thorfinn was gathering a force against him, he summoned his friends about him, and moots this with them, that earl Thorfinn his kinsman means to come to blows with him with a host and strife. He asked then what force they will furnish him with, and says he is not willing to lose his own without one trial of strength. But when he begged for their judgment on this matter then men gave it in very different ways. Some spoke after earl Rognvald, and said it was to be forgiven him that he did not wish to share his realm; but there were some who said it was to be forgiven to Thorfinn that he wished to have the realm for a while, when Rognvald had already had that lot which earl Einar had owned. They said, too, it was bad counsel that Rognvald should lay himself out to fight against Thorfinn with that force which he could get from two lots of the isles, when Thorfinn had a trithing and Caithness, and a great share of Scotland and all the Southern isles. There were men, too, who spoke and said that a peaceful settlement must be sought, who beg that Rognvald would offer earl Thorfinn a half of the isles, and so in that way their kinship might still be saved. But when Rognval found that each had a way of his own, but all were against his resisting, then he laid bare his will, and said that he will not cut his realm asunder by any settlement; that he would far rather give up the realm at once, and go to seek king Magnus his fosterbrother, and look after what strength the king will give him to hold his realm. After that he makes ready for his voyage, and fares east to Norway, nor does he slacken his course before he comes into the presence of king Magnus. And when he is come thither, he tells the king the whole story. The king made earl Rognvald good cheer, and bade him be with him so long as he liked, and to take a fief of him so large that he could well maintain himself and his people; but earl Rognvald told the king that he wished he would give him strength enough to seek back his realm. King Magnus said of a surety he would aid him with strength to get what he asked. Rognvald stayed a short time in Norway ere he began his voyage west to the Orkneys. He had then many picked men whom king Magnus had granted him. And this went with him too; he (the king) sent word to Kalf Arni’s son, that he should have his lands and leave to live in Norway, if he would stand by earl Rognvald in this quarrel between him and earl Thorfinn.
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.
2. Fl. “They were slower about an onslaught.”
3. Fl. “and get all his fleet of ships under way as fast as they could, take to their oars and row away.”
4. The Moray firth.
5. The scourge of serpents “the winter.”
6. with hooded head, very secretly.
7. “when they parted in a thicket.”
8. Holmgard, probably Novgorod.
9. Thambaskelfir, “paunch-shaker,” from his fatness, or “good archer,” “string twanger,” for his skill with the bow.
10. Aldeigjuborg, the burg on the Aldeiga, or Ladoga lake.
11. A firth in the Isle of Skye.
12. forest’s foeman; fire.
31. Earl Rognvald sailed from Norway west towards the Orkneys, and made Shetland from the sea, and drew force to himself, and thence fared south into the Orkneys. There he summoned his friends to meet him, and gathered force thence. Earl Thorfinn was over in Caithness, and news came to him at once of Rognvald’s doings, and he drew force to himself from Scotland and the Southern isles. Earl Rognvald sent at once the message of king Magnus to Kalf Arni’s son, and Kalf took in a kind way all that the king had spoken. Earl Rognvald drew his host together in the Orkneys, and meant to cross over into the Ness. But when he came into the Pentland firth, then he had thirty war-ships, all big and in good trim. There came against him earl Thorfinn, and had sixty ships, and most of them small. Their meeting was off the Red Head, and they ran into battle at once. There, too, was come Kalf Arni’s son, and had six ships, and all great, and did not run into the fight. And now arises the hardest battle; either earl egged on his people. But when things had gone on so for a while, the loss of men turns on earl Thorfinn’s side, and that was most because the difference in the height of the ship’s sides was great. Thorfinn had a great ship, and in good trim, and in that he ran forward most bravely. But when the decks of the smaller ships were cleared, then the earl’s ship was run aboard of on both sides; and then they stood in very great need. Then numbers of men fell on board the earl’s ship, but some were very badly wounded. Earl Rognvald then egged on his men to board; but when earl Thorfinn saw into what a bad plight they were come, he made them cut his ship away from her lashings and rowed to land. He made them bear out of his ship seventy corpses. There, too, went out all those who were unfightworthy for their wounds’ sake. Then earl Thorfinn begged Arnor earlskald to go out of the ship; he was in the earl’s train, and held in great love. He went on shore and chaunted a song:
“This man is loath to go against
Brusi’s son, one’s lord to follow
Is good, that lesson to the people
Ne’er shall I be found gainsaying;
Hard the choice we have before us
If these earls so full of fury
Fall to blows, a time of trial
For friendship we shall surely see.”
Earl Thorfinn mans his ship with the best men he had left. After that he fares to find Kalf, and asked him for help. He said thus, that Kalf could not get bought back the friendship of king Magnus when he had already been forced to flee out of the land. “When thou foundest it no good that thou hadst already been taken into very great love. So mayest thou make up thy mind if Rognvald is victorious over us, and if the power of king Magnus and of him spreads here over the western sea, that then thou wilt not be welcome here. But if we win the day, then nothing shall fall short to you that I have power to give. We two shall be at no man’s mercy here across the western sea, if we two are both of one mind. And thou wilt not surely like to have that on your mind that thou liest here like a cat in a cave, while I fight for the freedom of us both. Besides, there are those ties between us two, that it beseems each of us better to lend the other help, since men who are bound to you by no ties are against us.” But when Kalf heard the egging on of Thorfinn, he called on his men, and bade them put out to battle together with earl Thorfinn. As Bjarni Gullbrar-Skald says:
“We have heard, O Kalf, to hurly
How Finn’s son-in-law thou followedst,
And thy war-snakes o’er the waters
Swiftly swept against the earl;
All unwilling to attack
Brusi’s son so bold in battle;
Thorfinn had thy help at last.”
Now they made an onslaught by rowing, both of them together, earl thorfinn and Kalf. And when they came to the fight, Thorfinn’s host was ready to flee, but very many of them were fallen. The earl ran his ship against the ship of earl Rognvald, and there arose the hardest fight. So says Arnor:
“I saw both my goldbestowers,
Each the other’s henchmen hewing,
On the fitful firth of Pentland;
Thence my grief grew more and more;
Sea was blood-stained, black kept dripping
Gore between the gaping seams,
Sweat was shed on rim of shield,
All the sides with blood were dabbled.”
Kalf ran up against the smaller ships of Rognvald and cleared their decks quickly, for there was a great difference in the height of their sides. But when the levies who had come from Norway saw ships cleared hard by them, they then loosed their ships from their lashings and laid themselves out to fly, so that scarce a ship was left behind with the earl’s ship. Then the fight began to turn. So says Arnor earlskald:
“The lord, so brave in burst of battle,
Then had surely laid beneath him
All that ancient land of Orkney,
— He had far less loss of men, —
If the sea-king son of Endil
Could have brought that host to help him,
Island-born, but Shetland’s lord,
By his army was betrayed.”
And now that the main host had fled, then they, Kalf and Thorfinn, both ran aboard of earl Rognvald’s ship, and then many men of earl Rognvald’s fell. And when earl Rognvald saw in what a straight he was come, and that he could not conquer Thorfinn and Kalf both, then he made them hew the lashings asunder, and laid himself out to fly. Then the day was far spent, and it began to grow dark. Earl Rognvald sailed at once that night into the main, and so east to Norway; he did not slacken his course till he came into king Magnus’ presence; he made him welcome now as before, and bade him be with him; and there earl Rognvald stayed a while.
32. Now it is to be said of earl Thorfinn, that on the morning after the fight he made them row about all the isles to search for the men who had fled. Many were slain, but some came to terms of peace; then earl Thorfinn laid under him all the isles, and made every man come into his hand, (1) and those as well who had been before bound by an oath to Rognvald. He sat himself up then in the Orkneys with a very great band of men, and drew his supplies from Caithness on the other side. But Kalf Arni’s son, he sends into the Southland isles, and let him sit there as a means of strength for himself. But when earl Rognvald had stayed in Norway awhile with king Magnus, he said to the king that he would try back to the Orkneys. But when the king heard that, he called it unwise to fare before the winter abated and ice loosened and the sea began to thaw; said he then would give him ships and crews as many as he needed. Rognvald speaks thus, and said now he was not willing to lose king Magnus’ men; said, too, that it could not be carried out unless with great loss of men, if he gathered a host to come to blows with Thorfinn and Karl, such a large realm as they have there west: “I mean now,” he said, “to hold on west with one ship, and to man it as well as I can; then I ween that no news of us will be borne before us. Then it will either be, that we shall come upon them unawares, and then we may speedily win that victory which we should win hardly or not at all with a great force. But if they become aware of our voyage, then we will let the sea still take care of us.” King Magnus bade him fare as he liked, but to come back to him again as soon as he chose. And after that earl Rognvald makes ready his voyage and takes pains in choosing men to go with him; and some of the king’s bodyguard made up their minds to go with him; then he had a picked force. And when they were boun they sailed away to sea. That was about the beginning of winter. (2)
33. Earl Rognvald made Shetland from the sea; then he learnt that earl Thorfinn was in the Orkneys and had no very great force with him; he had then no fear of war in high-winter. Now Rognvald held on straightway south to the Orkneys. Earl Thorfinn was then in Hrossey, and had no fear for himself. But as soon as Rognvald came into the Orkneys he held on thither where he heard Thorfinn was, and came upon him so unawares, that nothing was heard of them before they had seized all the doors of the house which Thorfinn and his men were in. It was night then, and most men were asleep, but the earl sat then still a-drinking. Rognvald and his men bore fire to the homestead; but when earl Thorfinn was ware of the strife, he sent men to the doors and let them ask, who had sway over the strife. Then it was said that Earl Rognvald was come thither. Then men sprung to their arms. Then nothing could be done in the way of defence, because outlet was shut to all. The house began soon to blaze. Thorfinn gave counsel that men should beg for leave to go of the earl, and he allowed it to all women and unfree men, but said most of earl Thorfinn’s bodyguard would be no better to him alive than dead. So those men were drawn out to whom peace was given and then the whole house was soon burning. Earl Thorfinn broke away a wainscot panel at the back of the house, and sprung out there; he had Ingibjorg his wife in his arms. The night was pitch dark and moonless, and he got away under the smoke, so that the earl’s men were not ware of him. He rowed at once that night alone in a boat over to the Ness. Earl Rognvald burned down the whole homestead, and all those men who were inside it, to whom leave was not given to go out. Now no man thought anything else than that earl Thorfinn had lost his life there. After this earl Rognvald fared about over all the isles and laid them under him. He sent also those words over to Caithness and to the Southern isles, that he meant to claim all that realm that earl Thorfinn had owned. No man gainsaid him in this. Earl Thorfinn was in divers places in hiding in Caithness with his friends, and no news went abroad that he had got away from the burning.
34. Earl Rognvald sat in Kirkwall, and drew thither the stores which he needed to have for his winter quarters. He had a great band of men, and much good cheer. But a little before Yule earl Rognvald fared with a great following into the Little Papey to fetch malt, to be brewed for Yule. And at even, as they were on the isle, they sate long over a roasting fire, and he who made up the fire spoke and said that the firewood began to fall short. Then the earl made a slip of the tongue, and these were the words he spoke: “Then are we full old when these fires are burnt out.” But he meant so to have spoken, that they would then be full warmed. And as soon as ever he found it out, he said “I have not made a slip of the tongue before this so that I call it to mind; it comes into my mind what king Olaf my foster-father said at Sticklestead when I took him up for a slip of the tongue: If it ever happens that I made a slip of the tongue I might make up my mind that I should then have but a short time unlived. May be that my kinsman Thorfinn is yet alive.” And just then they heard how that the homestead was girt round by men. There was come earl Thorfinn. They bore fire at once to the house, and laid up a pile of fuel before the doors. They allowed all to go out save the earl’s men. And when most of the men were drawn out, a man went out into the doorway in linen underclothes, and begged earl Thorfinn to stretch out his hand toward the deacon. But that man rested his hands on the balk of wood across the doorway, and vaulted out over the balk and the ring of men, so that he came down ever so far off all of them, and was lost in the darkness of night. Thorfinn bade them hold on after him, and says there went earl Rognvald, “this is his nimbleness, and no one’s else.” Then they fared to hunt for him, and parted themselves into companies, and Thorkell fosterer went along the sea-shore to search. They heard how a dog barked among the rocks on the seashore. Earl Rognvald had his lapdog with him, and he betrayed the earl. (3) They put him to death at once among the rocks, and it is the story of some men that Thorkell fosterer slew him, because there were no other men who would do it. But he had sworn to do all those deeds which seemed to Thorfinn more for his realm’s safety than otherwise. Thorfinn and his men stayed that night on the isle, and there all the train that had followed Rognvald thither were slain. But the morning after they took a ship of burden and laded her with malt. After that they went on board, and left the shields at stem and prow which Rognvald and his men had owned. They let, too, no more men be seen in the ship than had followed the earl. Then they rowed to Kirkwall. And when the followers of Rognvald who were in the town saw that, they thought that there earl Rognvald must be coming and his men; then they went to meet him, and most of them unarmed. Earl Thorfinn let them there take about thirty men and slay them. They were most of them of king Magnus’ bodyguard and his friends. The earl gave peace to one of king Magnus’ bodyguard, and bade that man fare east to Norway and tell these tidings to king Magnus.
35. The body of earl Rognvald was carried to the Greater Papey, and there buried; and it was the saying of men that he has been by far the best bred man and with most friends of all the Orkney earls, and his death was a great grief to many a man. After that earl Thorfinn laid all the isles under him, and now no man gainsaid him in that. Early in the spring came these tidings east to Norway, and king Magnus thought the loss of Rognvald, his foster-brother, the greatest scathe, and said he would avenge him as soon as ever he had time. But he had at that time great strife with king Sweyn Ulfson, who had then let himself be chosen to be king over Denmark.
36. At that time came into Norway Harold Sigurd’s son, the kinsman of king Magnus, and king Magnus gave him half Norway. They were both kings in Norway one winter. Then they called out a levy over all Norway and meant to go south to Denmark. But when they lay in the Selisles two long-ships ran into the haven, and up to king Magnus’ ship. A man went from the long ship in a white cowl, and aft along the ship and up into the poop. The king sate over meat. This man hailed the king, and bowed before him, took up a loaf of bread and broke a bit off and ate. The king took his greeting, and reached out to him the bowl when he saw that he ate the bread. This man took the bowl, and said: “We want peace, messmate.” The king looked at him, and said, “Who art thou?” “I am Thorfinn, Sigurd’s son.” “Art thou earl Thorfinn,” says the king. “So I am called west yonder,” says he, “but I am come hither with two ships of twenty benches each, and rather well manned, so far as we are able. Now I will row on this levy with you, if ye will take help of me. But all my matter and I myself shall be at God’s command and yours, lord, for the sake of those great misdeeds which I have broken against your will.” Then men went up and heard their talk. The king was slow in answering, and spoke thus: “True it is, earl Thorfinn, that I had not meant, if the meeting of us two ever took place as it has now done, that thou shouldst be able to tell of our parting. But now things have happened so, that it beseems not my honour that I should take and kill thee, now thou shalt fare with me, but the terms of our atonement I will utter at my leisure.”” Earl Thorfinn bade the king good-bye, and went to his ships. The king lay a very long time in the Selisles. Then a host gathered thither to him out of the Bay. He meant to sail thence south under Jutland as soon as he got a fair wind. Earl Thorfinn was then often long a-talking with the king. The king treated him well, and took him much into his counsels. It fell out one day that the earl went on board the king’s ship, and aft into the poop. The king bade him sit by him. The earl sat him down, and they both drank together and were merry. A tall brisk man in a red kirtle came into the poop, that man hailed the king. The king took his greeting blithely; that was one of the king’s bodyguard. This man began to speak, and said, “Thee am I come to find, earl Thorfinn.” “What wilt thou of me,” says the earl. “I want to know with what thou wilt atone to me for my brother, whom thou letst to be slain west in Kirkwall, along with other thanes of king Magnus.” “Hast thou not heard that,” says the earl, “that I am not wont to atone for those men with money whom I cause to be slain. And this is how it is, that methinks I have always had good cause when I have let men be slain.” “It is no business of mine how thou hast done by other men, if thou atonest for this one, on whose behalf I make this claim. Besides, I left behind me there some goods of my own, and for myself I was shamefully treated. I have the best right, therefore, to make this claim in my brother’s name and my own, and I will have amends for it. But the king may as well forgive everything that is done against him, if he thinks it nothing worth when his thanes are led out and hewn down like sheep.” The earl answers: “I see plainly that it is all the better for me here that thou hast not had power over me. Art thou not that man to whom I gave peace yonder.” “Sure enough I am,” says he; “it was in thy choice to slay me there and then like other men.” Then the earl answers: “Sooth it is, as the saying goes, that ‘many things happen that one least looks for.’ I thought then that I could never be so placed that I should have to pay for being too peaceable to my foes; but now I am to smart for having given thee mercy. Thou wouldest not be able to cry out against me today before princes if I had let thee be slain like the rest of thy companions.” The king looked at the earl and said: “There it comes out though, earl Thorfinn, that thou thinkest thou hast slain too few of my thanes without atonement.” The king was then as red as blood. The earl sprang up then, and went down out of the poop and on board his ship. Then all was quiet that evening. But next morning, when men were woke, a fair breeze was come. Then men rowed straightway out of the haven. The king sailed then south into Jutland’s sea with all the fleet. The earl’s ship sailed a good deal westward to the open sea at the beginning of the day; but when the day began to wear away, the earl steered west into the main. There is nothing to be said about him before he came to the Orkneys and sate down there in his realm. King Magnus and Harold sailed to Denmark, and stayed there that summer. King Sweyn would not come out to meet them; he was in Scanör with his host. In that summer king Magnus took that sickness which led him to his death. He gave it out then before all the people that he gave all the realm of Norway to his father’s brother Harold. (4)
37. Earl Thorfinn now ruled over the Orkneys and all the rest of his realms. Kalf, Arni’s son, was also mostly with him. Sometimes he went west sea-roving, and harried the coasts of Scotland and Ireland; he was also in England, and was for a while over the Thingmen’s band. When earl Thorfinn heard of the death of king Magnus, he sent then men east to Norway to find king Harold and greet him with friendly words; he says, thus, that he wishes to become his friend. But when that message came to the king, he took it well, and the king promised him his friendship. And when this message came back to the earl, he made ready his voyage, and had with him from the west two ships of twenty benches each, and more than a hundred men, all fine picked fellows. Then he fared east to Norway, and found the king in Hördaland. He gave him a very hearty welcome; and at their parting the king gave him good gifts. Thence the earl sailed south along the land and so to Denmark. There he fared round the land, and found king Sweyn in Aalborg; he asked the earl to his house, and made him a grand feast. Then the earl laid bare his purpose how he meant to go south to Rome. But when he came to Saxony, he met there the kaiser Henry, and he gave the earl a very hearty welcome, and gave him many great gifts. He got him, too, many horses, and then he made ready his journey south. Then he fared to Rome and saw the pope there, and there he took absolution from him for all his misdeeds. The earl turned thence to his journey home, and came back safe and sound into his realm; and that journey was most famous. Then the earl sat down quietly and kept peace over all his realm. Then he left off warfare; then he turned his mind to ruling the people and land, and to law-giving. He sate almost always in Birsay, and let them build there Christchurch, a splendid minster. There first was set up a bishop’s seat in the Orkneys. Earl Thorfinn had to wife Ingibjorg earlsmother; they had two sons, who grew up out of childhood; the name of one was Paul and the other’s Erlend; they were tall men and fair, and took more after their mother’s side. They were men wise and meek. The earl loved them much, and so too did all the people.
38. Earl Thorfinn held all his realms till his death day; it is soothly said that he has been the most powerful of all the Orkney earls. He owned nine earldoms in Scotland, and all the Southern isles, and he had a great realm in Ireland. So says Arnor earlskald:
“All the way from Tuskar-skerry
Down to Dublin hosts obeyed him,
Royal Thorfinn, raven-feeder;
True I tell how liegemen loved him.”
Earl Thorfinn was then five winters old when Malcolm the Scot-king, his mother’s father, gave him the title of earl; but afterwards he was sixty (5) winters earl. He breathed his last about the end of king Harold Sigurd’s son’s days. He is buried at Christchurch in Birsay, which he let be built. The earl’s death was a great grief in the Orkneys and in his lands of heritage. But in those lands which he had laid under him with war, then many thought it great thraldom to abide under his power. Then many realms fell away which the earl had laid under him, and men looked for trust under those chiefs who were there home-born to rule in those realms. So losses were very soon plainly seen when earl Thorfinn fell away.
These songs were sung about the battle between earl Rognvald Brusi’s son, and earl Thorfinn:
“Loath am I to tell the story,
How I witness was when men
Broke the truce between the earls,
Equal corpses got the corbies:
Off the isles the mighty monarch
Tore the sea’s blue tent in twain,
Storm-cold waters then were stiffened,
Striking ships with buffets sore.
Hard mishap uprose triumphant
As the earls in onslaught strove,
Many a man then learnt the lesson
How to fall in bloody fight;
Hard beneath the headland ruddy
Hearty friends of ours fought,
Storm of spear-points followed after,
Many mild folk there met grief.
Gloom o’er gleaming sun shall gather,
Earth ‘neath billow black be merged,
Austri’s burden break to pieces,
Main-sea mount above the mountains;
Ere among those isles a fairer
Chieftain shall again be born,
Thorfinn trusty lord of thanes
Long may God him guard alive.”