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single - handed. His plight at first is not much worsened by this; for though the simple plan of setting off Thorbiorn against Atli is not adopted, Grettir's case is backed directly by his kinsmen and indirectly by the two craftiest men in Iceland, Snorri the Godi and Skapti the Lawman, and the latter points out that as Grettir had been outlawed before it was decreed that the onus of avenging Atli lay on him, a fatal flaw had been made in the latter proceeding, and no notice could be taken of the death of Thorbiorn at all, though his kin must pay for Atli. This fine would have been set off against Grettir's outlawry, and he would have become a freeman, had not Thorir of Garth, the father of the men he had accidentally killed in the burning house, refused; and so the well - meant efforts of Grettir's kin and friends fall through. From this time till the end of his life he is a houseless outlaw, abiding in all the most remote parts of the island—“Grettir's lairs,” as they are called, it would seem, to this day—sometimes countenanced for a short time by well-willing men of position, sometimes dwelling with supernatural creatures,-Hallmund, a kindly spirit or cave-dweller with a hospitable daughter, or the half-troll giant Thorir, a person of daughters likewise. But his case grows steadily worse. Partly owing to sheer ill-luck and Glam's curse, partly, as the saga-writer very candidly tells us, because he “was not an easy man to live withal,” his tale of slayings and the feuds thereto appertaining grows steadily. For the most part he lives by simple cattle-lifting and the like, which naturally does not make him popular; twice other outlaws come to abide with him, and, after longer or shorter time, try for his richly priced head, and though they lose their own lives, naturally make him more and more desperate. Once he is beset by his enemy Thorir with eighty men; and only comes off through the backing of his ghostly friend Hallmund, who not long after meets his fate by no ignoble hand, and Grettir cannot avenge him. Again, Grettir is warmly welcomed by a widow, Steinvor of Sand-heaps, at whose dwelling, in the oddest way, he takes up the full Beowulf adventure and slays a troll-wife in a cave just as his forerunner slew Grendel's mother. But in the end the hue and cry is too strong, and by advice of friends he flies to the steep holm of Drangey in Holmfirth—a place where the top can only be won by ladders—with his younger brother Illugi and a single thrall or slave. Illugi is young, but true as steel: the slave is a fool, if not actually a traitor. After the bonders of Drangey have done what they could to rid themselves of this very damaging and redoubtable intruder, they give up their shares to a certain Thorbiorn Angle. Thorbiorn at first fares ill against Grettir, whose outlawry is on the point of coming to an end, as none might last longer than twenty years. With the help of a wound, witchcaused to Grettir, and the slave's treacherous laziness, Thorbiorn and his crew climb the ladders and beset the brethren—Grettir already half dead with his gangrened wound. The hero is slain with his own short-sword; the brave Illugi is overwhelmed with the shields of the eighteen assailants, and then slaughtered in cold blood.
But Thorbiorn reaps little good, for his traffickings with
Merits of it.
a not ungenerous Strength, guided by no intellectual greatness and by hardly any overmastering passion, marred by an unsocial and overbearing temper, and so hardly needing the ill luck, which yet gives poetical finish and dramatic force to the story, to cast itself utterly away. For in stories, as in other games, play without luck is fatiguing and jejune, luck without play childish. It is curious how touching is the figure of the ill-fated hero, not wholly amiable, yet overmatched by Fortune, wandering in waste places of a country the fairest spots of which are little better than a desert, forced by his terror of “ Glam-sight” to harbour criminals far worse than himself, and well knowing that they seek his life, grudgingly and fearfully helped by his few friends, a public nuisance where he should have been a public champion, only befriended heartily by mysterious shadowy personages of whom little is positively told, and when, after twenty years of wild-beast life, his deliverance is at hand, perishing by a combination of foul play on the part of his foes and neglect on that of his slave. At least once, too, in that parting of Asdis with Grettir and Illugi, which ranks not far below the matchless epitaph of Sir Ector on Lancelot, there is not only suggestion, but expression of the highest quality:— “‘Ah! my sons twain, there ye depart from me, and one death ye shall have together, for no man may flee The parting from that which is wrought for him. On of Asais and no day now shall I see either of you once her sons. again. Let one fate, then, be over you both; for I know not what weal ye go to get for yourselves in Drangey, but there ye shall both lay your bones, and many shall grudge you that abiding-place. Keep ye heedfully from wiles, for marvellously have my dreams gone. Be well ware of sorcery; yet none the less shall ye be bitten with the edge of the sword, for nothing can cope with the cunning of eld.’ And when she had thus spoken she wept right sore. Then said Grettir, “Weep not, mother; for if we be set upon by weapons it shall be said of thee that thou hast had sons and not daughters.’ And therewith they parted.” These moments, whether of incident or expression, are indeed frequent enough in the sagas, though the oral passages main attraction may consist, as has been "/** said, in the wild interest of the story and the vivid individuality of the characters. The slaying of Gunnar of Lithend in Njala, when his false wife refuses him a tress of hair to twist for his stringless bow, has rightly attracted the admiration of the best critics; as has the dauntless resignation of Njal himself and Bergthora, when both might have escaped their fiery fate. Of the touches of which the Egil's Saga is full, few are better perhaps than the picture in a dozen words of King Eric Blood-axe “sitting bolt upright and glaring” at the son of Skallagrim as he delivers the panegyric which is to save his life, and the composition of which had been so nearly baulked by the twittering of the witch-swallow under his eaves. The “long” kisses of Kormak and Steingerd, and the poet's unconscious translation of Æschylus'