Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
Page: 57The Story. Howard and Thorbiorn
Thus runs the saga of “Howard the Halt”:
About the year 1000, when the Christian faith had [Pg 97] hardly yet been heard of in Iceland, there dwelt at Bathstead, on the shores of Icefirth, in that far-distant land a mighty chieftain, of royal descent and great wealth, named Thorbiorn. Though not among the first settlers of Iceland, he had appropriated much unclaimed land, and was one of the leading men of the country-side, but was generally disliked for his arrogance and injustice. Thorkel, the lawman and arbitrator of Icefirth, was weak and easily cowed, so Thorbiorn’s wrongdoing remained unchecked; many a maiden had he betrothed to himself, and afterwards rejected, and many a man had he ousted from his lands, yet no redress could be obtained, and no man was bold enough to attack so great a chieftain or resist his will. Thorbiorn’s house at Bathstead was one of the best in the district, and his lands stretched down to the shores of the firth, where he had made a haven with a jetty for ships. His boathouse stood a little back above a ridge of shingle, and beside a deep pool or lagoon. The household of Thorbiorn included Sigrid, a fair maiden, young and wealthy, who was his housekeeper; Vakr, an ill-conditioned and malicious fellow, Thorbiorn’s nephew; and a strong and trusted serving-man named Brand. Besides these there were house-carles in plenty, and labourers, all good fighting-men.
Not far from Bathstead, at Bluemire, dwelt an old Viking called Howard. He was of honourable descent, and had won fame in earlier Viking expeditions, but since he had returned lamed and nearly helpless from his last voyage he had aged greatly, and men called him Howard the Halt. His wife, Biargey, however, was an active and stirring woman, and their only son, Olaf, bade fair to become a redoubtable warrior. Though only fifteen, Olaf had reached full stature, was tall, fair, handsome, and stronger than most men. He wore his [Pg 98] fair hair long, and always went bareheaded, for his great bodily strength defied even the bitter winter cold of Iceland, and he faced the winds clad in summer raiment only. With all his strength and beauty, Olaf was a loving and obedient son to Howard and Biargey, and the couple loved him as the apple of their eye.
Olaf Meets Sigrid
The men of Icefirth were wont to drive their sheep into the mountains during the summer, leave them there till autumn, and then, collecting the scattered flocks, to restore to each man his own branded sheep. One autumn the flocks were wild and shy, and it was found that many sheep had strayed in the hills. When those that had been gathered were divided Thorbiorn had lost at least sixty wethers, and was greatly vexed. Some weeks later Olaf Howardson went alone into the hills, and returned with all the lost sheep, having sought them with great toil and danger. Olaf drove the rest of the sheep home to their grateful owners, and then took Thorbiorn’s to Bathstead. Reaching the house at noonday, he knocked on the door, and as all men sat at their noontide meal, the housekeeper, the fair Sigrid, went forth herself and saw Olaf.