Gisli the Outlaw
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Pages (PDF): 111
Publication Date: 1866
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A story of cyclic blood-revenge, set off by a casual overheard remark, leading to the protagonist, Gisli, becoming a fugitive from society, and eventually dying in single combat against a dozen foes. Set during the introduction of Christianity to Iceland, there are numerous details about pagan practices which are dotted through the narrative. The Gisli saga is notable for its deep psychological treatment of its lead character, who is tormented during his exile by vivid foreshadowing dreams of two wives, one good and one evil.
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AT the end of the days of Harold Fairhair there was a mighty lord in Norway whose name was Thorkel Goldhelm, and he dwelt in Surnadale in North Mæren. He had a wedded wife, and three sons by her. The name of the eldest was Ari, the second was called Gisli, and the third Thorbjorn. They were all young men of promise. There was a man too, named Isi, who ruled over the Fjardarfolk. His daughter's name was Ingibjorga, and she was the fairest of women. Ari, Thorkel's son, asked her to wife, and she was wedded to him. He got a great dower with her, and amongst the rest that she brought with her from her home was a man named Kol: he was of high degree, but he had been taken captive in war, and was called a Thrall. So he came with Ingibjorga to Surnadale. Thorkel gave over to his son Ari a rich farm up in the dale, and there he set up his abode, and was looked on as a most rising man.
But now our story goes on to tell of a man named Bjorn, nicknamed Bjorn the Black. He was a Bearsark, and much given to duels. Twelve men went at his heel, and besides he was skilled in the black art, and no steel could touch his skin. No wonder he was unbeloved by the people, for he turned aside as he listed into the houses of men, and took a way their wives and daughters, and kept them with him as long as he liked. All raised an outcry when he came, and all were fain when he went away. Well, as soon as this Bjorn heard that Ari had brought home a fair wife with a rich dower, he thought he would have a finger in that pie. So he turned his steps thither with his crew, and reached the house at eventide. As soon as Ari and Bjorn met, Bjorn told him that he wanted to play the master in that house, and that Ingibjorga, the housewife, should be at his beck and call whenever he chose. As for Ari, he said he might please himself, go away or stay, so he let Bjorn have his will. But Ari said he would not go away, nor would he let him play the master there.
"Very well!" says Bjorn, "thou shalt have another choice. I will challenge thee to fight on the island, if thou darest, three days from this, and then we will try whose Ingibjorga shall be; and he, too, shall take all the other's goods who wins the day. Now, mind, I will neither ransom myself with money, nor will I suffer any one else to ransom himself. One shall conquer and the other die."
Ari said he was willing enough to fight; so the Bearsarks went their way and busked them to battle. To make a long story short, they met on the island, and the end of their struggle was, that Ari fell; but the Bearsark was not wounded, for no steel would touch him.
Now Bjorn thought he had won wife, and land, and goods, and he gave out that he meant to go at even to Ari's house to claim his own. Then Gisli, Ari's brother, answered and said: "It will soon be all over with me and mine if this disgrace comes to pass, that this ruffian tramples us under foot. But this shall never be, for I will challenge thee at once to battle to-morrow morning. I would far rather fall on the island than bear this shame."
"Well and good," says Bjorn; "thou and thy kith and kin shall all fall one after the other, if ye dare to fight with me."
After that they parted, and Gisli went home to the house that Ari had owned. Now the tidings were told of what had happened on the island, and of Ari's death, and all thought that a great blow to the house. But Gisli goes to Ingibjorga, and tells her of Ari's fall, and how he had challenged Bjorn to the island, and how they were to fight the very next morning. "That is a bootless undertaking," said Ingibjorga, "and I fear it will not turn out well for thee, unless thou hast other help to lean on."
"Ah!" said Gisli, "then I beg that thou and all else who are likeliest to yield help will do their best that victory may seem more hopeful than it now looks."
"Know this," says Ingibjorga, "that I was not so very fond of Ari that I would not rather have had thee. There is a man," She said, "who, methinks, is likeliest to be able to help in this matter, so that it may be well with thee."
"Who is that?" asks Gisli.
"It is Kol, my foster-father," was the answer; "for I ween he has a sword that is said to be better than most others, though he seems to set little store by it, for he calls it his 'Chopper;' but whoever wields that sword wins the day."
So they sent for Kol, and he came to meet Gisli and Ingibjorga.
"Hast thou ever a good sword?" asked Gisli.
"My sword is no great treasure," answers Kol; "but yet there are many things in the churl's cot which are not in the king grange."
"Wilt thou not lend me the sword for my duel with Bjorn?" said Gisli.
"Ah!" said Kol, "then will happen what ever happens with those things that are treasures--you will never wish to give it up. But for all that, I tell thee now that this sword will bite whatever its blow falls on, be it iron or aught else; nor can its edge be deadened by spells, for it was forged by the Dwarves, and its name is 'Graysteel.' And now make up thy mind that I shall take it very ill if I do not get the sword back. when I claim it."
"It were most unfair," says Gisli, "that thou shouldst not get back the sword after I have had the use of it in my need."
Now Gisli takes the sword, and the night glides away, Next morn, ere they went from home to the duel, Thorbjorn called out to Gisli his brother, and said: "Which of us twain now shall fight with the Bearsark to-day, and which of us shall slaughter the calf?"
"My counsel," said Gisli, "is, that thou shalt slaughter the calf while I and Bjorn try our strength." He did not choose the easiest task.
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