The Story of Grettir the Strong
The Story of Grettir the Strong
This book was especially republished to raise funds for charity.
In this saga, Grettir's life is told from beginning to end. As a child, he is rebellious and bad-tempered. He is described as red haired, freckled, and broad around the eyes. But he is also courageous. He takes on and defeats a draugr, a walking corpse or Norse equivalent of a zombie. But in doing so he is cursed, and this is thought to be the cause of his later misfortunes.
At times Grettir falls into the role of a bona fide hero, but he is blamed for setting fire to a hall, killing many men, and is condemned by the Thing (assembly) to outlawry (although many suspect the validity of this sentence). This means that anyone may attempt to kill him without legal penalty and citizens are forbidden to help in any way. Many attempts are made but none succeed. This is not dissimilar to the Saga of Gisli (also republished by Abela Publishing).
Grettir eventuallbecomes the longest surviving outlaw in Icelandic history. When he has completed nearly 20 years as an outlaw, his friends and family ask for his outlawry to be lifted, arguing that a man may not spend more than 20 years as an outlaw (in reality there was no such law in medieval Iceland). After a debate at the assembly, it is decided that the outlawry will be lifted when he has truly completed the 20 years, but not before. His enemies make one last effort, using sorcery causing him to wound himself and finally defeat him in the lonely, fortress-like Drangey off the northern tip of Iceland where he was staying with his brother Illugi, and slave Glaumur.
Later, in Constantinople, where the Norse served as the Varangian Guard to the Byzantine Emperor, Grettirs half brother, Thorsteinn of Dromund, avenges his murder.
Excerpt from The Saga of Grettir the Strong
From CHAP. LXXXIV - The Slaying of Grettir Asmundson.
"Yea, yea, hard, and over hard," says Grettir; and therewithal the door brake asunder.
Then sprang Illugi to his weapons and guarded the door, in such wise that there was no getting in for them. Long time they set on him there, and could bring nought against him save spear-thrusts, and still Illugi smote all the spearheads from the shafts. But when they saw that they might thus bring nought to pass, they leapt up on to the roof of the hut, and tore off the thatch; then Grettir got to his feet and caught up a spear, and thrust out betwixt the rafters; but before that stroke was Karr, a home-man of Halldor of Hof, and forthwithal it pierced him through.
Then spoke Angle, and bade men fare warily and guard themselves well, "for we may prevail against them if we follow wary redes."
So they tore away the thatch from the ends of the ridge-beam, and bore on the beam till it brake asunder.
Now Grettir might not rise from his knee, but he caught up the short-sword, Karr's-loom, and even therewith down leapt those men in betwixt the walls, and a hard fray befell betwixt them. Grettir smote with the short-sword at Vikar, one of the followers of Hialti Thordson, and caught him on the left shoulder, even as he leapt in betwixt the walls, and cleft him athwart the shoulder down unto the right side, so that the man fell asunder, and the body so smitten atwain tumbled over on to Grettir, and for that cause he might not heave aloft the short-sword as speedily as he would, and therewith Thorbiorn Angle thrust him betwixt the shoulders, and great was that wound he gave.
Then cried Grettir, "Bare is the back of the brotherless." And Illugi threw his shield over Grettir, and warded him in so stout a wise that all men praised his defence.
Then said Grettir to Angle, "Who then showed thee the way here to the island?"
Said Angle, "The Lord Christ showed it us."
"Nay," said Grettir, "but I guess that the accursed hag, thy foster-mother, showed it thee, for in her redes must thou needs have trusted."
"All shall be one to thee now," said Angle, "in whomsoever I have put my trust."
Then they set on them fiercely, and Illugi made defence for both in most manly wise; but Grettir was utterly unmeet for fight, both for his wounds' sake and for his sickness. So Angle bade bear down Illugi with shields, "For never have I met his like, amongst men of such age."
Now thus they did, besetting him with beams and weapons till he might ward himself no longer; and then they laid hands on him, and so held him fast. But he had given some wound or other to the more part of those who had been at the onset, and had slain outright three of Angle's fellows.
Thereafter they went up to Grettir, but he was fallen forward on to his face, and no defence there was of him, for that he was already come to death's door by reason of the hurt in his leg, for all the thigh was one sore, even up to the small guts; but there they gave him many a wound, yet little or nought he bled.
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