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"Stop this abuse!" growled the young man. "There's time enough for that sort of thing another day. Now come, and take off the wet clothes from the guests."
"You need not scream before you are hurt, my good woman," quoth Thorir; "you will want all your words for to-morrow, when I shall carry you and your daughter away with me, and you will have to say good-by to home for many a day. What think you of that?"
"Capital!" roared Grettir. "That is capital."
On hearing this the housewife and her daughter fled to the women's apartment, crying and wringing their hands with despair.
"Well," said Grettir; "as the women won't attend on you, I suppose that I must; so be good enough to hand me over anything you want to have dried, such as your wet clothes and weapons."
"You're different from every one else in the house," spoke Thorir. "I almost think that you would make a boon-companion."
"As you please," answered the young man. "Only, I tell you I don't behave like this to all folk."
Then the freebooters gave him up their weapons; he wiped the salt-water from them, and laid them aside in a warm, dry spot. Next, he removed their wet garments, and brought them dry suits which he routed out of the clotheschests belonging to Thorfin and his freedmen.
By this time it was quite night. Grettir brought in logs, raked up the fire, and made a noble blaze.
"Now, my men," quoth he; "sit at table and drink; for, i' faith, you must be thirsty after all the rowing you have done in the day."
"We are ready," said they; "only we don't know where to find the cellars."
"Will you let me fetch ale for you, or will you help yourselves?"
"Oh, go after it yourself, by all means," answered they.
So Grettir brought the strongest ale and poured out for them. The fellows were very tired, and drank copiously. Grettir stinted them neither in meat nor in drink, and, at last, he sat down at the end of the table and recited merry Sagas, which riveted their attention and delighted them amazingly. First, he told the history of Hromund Greipsson, how he broke open the tomb of the old Viking Thrain, and descended into it, how he wrestled with the demon-possessed corpse in its vault, and bore off its sword like a sunbeam; and how, in after years, Hromund fought on the ice and received fourteen wounds, lost his eight brothers, and, worst of all, saw his bright-flashing sword sink through an ice-floe. After that Grettir told the tale of An the Bow-brandisher, who would not turn his bow to enter the king's hall, but walked forward with it, though the horns stuck in the doorposts, and the bow bent nearly double but did not break.
Not one of the house-churls showed his face in the hall that evening; they slunk about the farm frightened and trembling.
Quoth Thorir—" I'll tell you what, comrades! This lad is one of the best fellows I've clapped eyes on. I don't think we could meet in a hurry with another who would wait on us so well. "What shall we give him? Come, man, ask a boon of us!" Grettir answered, "I demand only one thing,—that if we are as great allies in the morning, as we seem to be to-night, I may become one of your gang: even if I be weaker than the rest of you, be assured I will not hang back in the day of trial."
The pirates were delighted with this proposal, and wanted to clench brotherhood at once, but Grettir objected. "No, no!" said he. "When liquor is in, wits leak out; you may come to a different mind in the morning when you are sober, and regret what you have done. There is no need of hurry, and, as we are none of us famous for our discretion, a little thinking the matter over first is advisable."
They all protested that they would not change their opinion of him in the morning. Grettir, however, remained firm in his decision.
The young man saw now that they were getting rather tipsy, so he suggested that it was time for bed. "Yet first," said he, "you will, I know, like to run your eyes over Thorfin's storehouse."
"That we shall!" exclaimed Thorn-, jumping up. "Come along, my lads, follow me!"
Grettir took a lamp and led the way.
The storehouse was separate from the house, and stood at right angles to it. It was a strongly built place, made of large logs morticed firmly together, the door was also remarkably massive, and was furnished with a strong fastening. Adjoining this building was a lean-to office, divided off from the storehouse by a partition of planks; a flight of steps led to the office door, for the house stood on a breast-high stone foundation.
The sharp frosty air of night, striking on the faces of the revellers, increased their intoxication; and they became very disorderly, running against each other, uttering discordant whoops, and jolting Grettir's arm, so that he could with difficulty prevent the lamp from being knocked from his hand and extinguished.
Drawing back the bolt, he flung the door open, and showed the twelve men into the house. Then, slinging the lamp to a hook in one of the rafters, he let the rovers scramble for the prizes. The store was filled with various household goods, piles of costly garments, enamelled baldrics, carved and silver-mounted drinking-horns, some choice bracelets, and several bags each containing a hundred ounces of pure silver. The drunken men were soon engaged in violent altercation over the spoil, as several coveted the same articles. In the midst of the hubbub, Grettir stepped outside, closed the door and bolted it. The freebooters did not notice his escape, as he had left the lamp burning, and they supposed that the door had swung to in the wind: they were, moreover, too intent on selecting their shares of the booty to think of anything else.
Grettir flew across the homestead to the farm door and cried loudly for the housewife; but she was silent, as she, very naturally, mistrusted his intentions, and had besides secreted herself, from fear of the pirates.
"Come, answer!" shouted Grettir; "I have captured the whole twelve, and all that is wanting is a supply of weapons. Call up the thralls and arm them; quick! there is not a moment to be lost."
"There are weapons enough here," answered the poor woman, emerging from her hiding-place. "But, Grettir, I have no faith in you!"
"Faith or no faith," exclaimed Grettir; "I must have weapons at once. Where are the churls? Here, Kolbein! Svein! Gamli! Hrolf! Confound the rascals, where have they skulked to?"
"It will be a mercy of God if anything can be done!" said the housewife; "for we are in a sorry plight, to be sure. Now, look here. Over Thorfin's bed hangs an enormous barbed spear. You will find there also helmet and cuirass, also a beautiful cutlass. No lack of weapons, if you have only the pluck to use them!"
Grettir seized the casque and spear, girded on the sword, and dashed into the yard, begging the woman to send the churls after him. She called the eight men, and bade them arm at once and follow. Four of them obeyed—rushing to the weapons and scrambling for them, but the other four ran clean away.
I must tell you that, in the meantime, the Berserkirs had rather wondered at Grettir's disappearance, and from wondering had fallen to suspecting that all was not right. Then they sprang to the door, tried it, and found it locked from without. It was too massive for them to break open, so they tore down the partition of boards between the store and the office. The Berserkir rage came on them, and they ground their teeth, frothed at the mouth, and burst forth with the howl of demoniacs through the office door, upon the landing at the head of the steps, just as Grettir came to the foot.
Thorir and Ogmund were together. In the fitful gleams of the moon they seemed like fiends, as they scrambled forth armed with splinters of deal, their eyes glaring with frenzy, and great foam-flakes bespattering their breasts and dropping on the stones at their feet. The brothers plunged down the narrow stair with a yell which rang through the still snow-clad forest for miles. Grettir planted the spear in the ground and caught Thorir on its point. The sharp double-edged blade, three feet in length, sliced into him and came out beneath his shoulders, then tore into Ogmund's breast a span deep. The yew shaft bent like a bow, and flipped from the ground the stone, against which the butt had been planted. The wretched men crashed to the bottom of the stair, tried to rise, staggered, and fell again. Grettir planted his foot on them, and wrenched the blade from their wounds, drew the cutlass and smote down another rover as he broke through the door. Other Berserkirs poured out, and Grettir drove at them with spear, or hewed at them with sword; he slew another as the churls came up. They were late, for they had been squabbling over the weapons, and now that they were come they were nearly useless, as they only made onslaughts when the backs of the robbers were towards them, but the moment that the vikings turned on them, they bounded away and skulked behind the walls.
The pirates showed desperate fight, armed with chips of plank, or sticks pulled from some pine-faggots which lay in the homestead. They warded off Grettir's blows, and fled from corner to corner, pursued by their indefatigable foe. In the wildness and agony of despair they could not find the gate, but bounded over the wall of the yard, and ran towards the boathouse with Grettir at their heels. They plunged in and possessed themselves of the oars; Grettir followed into the gloom, and smote right and left. The bewildered wretches climbed into the boat, some strove to push her into the water, whilst others battled in the darkness with their unseen enemy; but some pulled one way, some another, and the blows from the oars fell on friend as well as foe, so that the panic became more complete.
In the meantime the thralls had quietly returned to the