Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 59

Olaf flushed angrily as he answered: “Nay, it is not for that I came; but, Thorbiorn, I will not seek thy lost sheep a third time.” And as he turned and strode indignantly from the hall Vakr mocked and jeered at him. Yet Olaf passed forth in silence.

The third year Olaf found and brought home all men’s sheep but Thorbiorn’s; and then Vakr spread the rumour that Olaf had stolen them, since he could not otherwise obtain a share of them. This rumour came at last to Howard’s ears, and he upbraided Olaf, saying, when his son praised their mutton, “Yes, it is good, and it is really ours, not Thorbiorn’s. It is terrible that we have to bear such injustice.”

Olaf said nothing, but, seizing the leg of mutton, flung it across the room; and Howard smiled at the wrath which his son could no longer suppress; perhaps, too, Howard longed to see Olaf in conflict with Thorbiorn.

Olaf and the Wizard’s Ghost

While Howard was still upbraiding Olaf a widow entered, who had come to ask for help in a difficult matter. Her dead husband (a reputed wizard) returned [Pg 101] to his house night after night as a dreadful ghost, and no man would live in the house. Would Howard come and break the spell and drive away the dreadful nightly visitant?

“Alas!” replied Howard, “I am no longer young and strong. Why do you not ask Thorbiorn? He accounts himself to be chief here, and a chieftain should protect those in his country-side.”

“Nay,” said the widow. “I am only too glad if Thorbiorn lets me alone. I will not meddle with him.”

Then said Olaf: “Father, I will go and try my strength with this ghost, for I am young and stronger than most, and I deem such a matter good sport.”

Accordingly Olaf went back with the widow, and slept in the hall that night, with a skin rug over him. At nightfall the dead wizard came in, ghastly, evil-looking, and terrible, and tore the skin from over Olaf; but the youth sprang up and wrestled with the evil creature, who seemed to have more than mortal strength. They fought grimly till the lights died out, and the struggle raged in the darkness up and down the hall, and finally out of doors. In the yard round the house the dead wizard fell, and Olaf knelt upon him and broke his back, and thought him safe from doing any mischief again. When Olaf returned to the hall men had rekindled the lights, and all made much of him, and tended his bruises and wounds, and counted him a hero indeed. His fame spread through the whole district, and he was greatly beloved by all men; but Thorbiorn hated him more than ever.

Soon another quarrel arose, when a stranded whale, which came ashore on Howard’s land, was adjudged to Thorbiorn. The lawman, Thorkel, was summoned to decide to whom the whale belonged, and came to view it. “It is manifestly theirs,” said he falteringly, for he [Pg 102] dreaded Thorbiorn’s wrath. “Whose saidst thou?” cried Thorbiorn, coming to him menacingly, with drawn sword. “Thine,” said Thorkel, with downcast eyes; and Thorbiorn triumphantly claimed and took the whale though the injustice of the decree was evident. Yet Olaf felt no ill-will to Thorbiorn, for Sigrid’s sake, but contrived to render him another service.