NOW Gisli had stayed at home all that summer, and all had been quiet. At length the very last night of summer came. Then we are told Gisli could not sleep, nor could any of these three, Gisli, Auda, or Gudrida, sleep. The weather was in that wise that it was very still, and much rime-frost had fallen. Then Gisli says he will up and away from his house to his lurking-place south under the crags, and see if he can get rest there.
So they all three set out, and are clad in long loose kirtles, and the skirts of the kirtles swept the grass and left a track in the dew and rime. Gisli had a staff in his hand, and scored it with runes as he went, and the chips fell down. So they came to the lurking-place. He lays him down and tries to sleep, but the two women watched.
Then slumber steals over him, and he dreams that fowl came into the house called night-hawks: they are larger than ptarmigan, and they looked evil, and had been wallowing in gore and blood. Then Auda asked what he had dreamt.
GISLI, AUDA, AND GUDRIDA.
Still my dreams were not good,” said Gisli, and chaunted a song:
“Wife! what time I rose and hasted,
Forth I wandered on the hills;
O’er these regions wild and wasted
Streams of song I poured in rills.
Then I heard the night-hawk shrieking,
Then I heard his mournful strain;
Soon the dew of Woden 1 reeking
Shall this outlaw shed like rain.”
And when this had happened they hear the voices of men, and there is Eyjolf come and fourteen men with him. They had already gone to the house, and see the trail in the dew, which pointed them out. But when they were ware of those men they clomb the crags hard by, where there was good vantage-ground, and each of the women had in her hand a great club. Now Eyjolf and his men try to come up to them from below, and he called out to Gisli:
“Thy best plan is not to fare farther away, and not to let thyself be hunted down like hare-hearted men, for thou art called a brave fellow. We have often met before, and we now wish this to be the last time.”
“Come on like men,” answered Gisli, “for I am not going to fare farther away. Besides it is thy bounden duty to be the first to fall on me, for thou hast greater ground for quarrel with me than these others who come along with thee?”
“I’m not going,” says Eyjolf, “to leave it in your hands to place my men, but I will draw them up as I choose.”
“Well!” says Gisli, “it was likeliest that such a hound as thou would not dare to cross swords with me.”
Then Eyjolf said to Spy-Helgi:
“’Twould be great fame for thee now wert thou to be first in leading the way up the crags to Gisli. Such a deed of derring-do would long be borne in mind.”
“I have often proved,” says Helgi, “that thou likest to have others before thee when there is any trial of courage; but now since thou eggest me on so hotly, well I will do my best, but mind thou backest me like a man, and keep as close to me as thou canst if thou art not altogether a milksop.”
Now Helgi busks him to the work where he saw the likeliest place, and holds in his hand a big axe. Gisli was armed thus: he had in his hand his axe, and he was girt with a sword, and his shield was at his side. He had on a gray cloak, and had bound it round with a rope.
Now Helgi takes a run and rushes up the crags at Gisli. He hurried to meet him, and brandished his sword, and smote him on the loins, and exit him in two at the waist; and each half of the man fell down from the crags, each on its own side. Eyjolf got up in another place, and there Auda met him, and smites him on the arm with her club so that it lost all strength, and down he topples back again. Then Gisli spoke and said:
“Long ago I knew I was well wedded, though I never knew I was so well wedded as I am. But now thou hast yielded me less help than thou thoughtest, though thy meaning was good, for had I got at him they would both have gone the same path.”
Then two men go to hold Auda and Gudrida, and think they have quite enough to do. And now twelve men rush at once on Gisli, and try to get up the crags. But he defends himself both with stones and weapons, so that great glory followed his deeds. And now one of Eyjolf’s band runs up and calls out to Gisli:
“Lay down thy good arms that thou bearest, and give up at the same time Auda thy wife.”
“Come and take them then like a man,” answers Gisli, “for neither the arms I bear nor the wife I love are fit for any one else.”
That man thrusts at Gisli with a spear, but Gisli smote off the spear-head from the shaft with his axe, and the blow was so stout that the axe passed on to the rock, and one horn of the edge broke off. Then he throws away the axe and clutches his sword and fights with it, and shields himself with his shield. They attack him bravely, but he kept them off like a man, and now they are hard upon each other.
In that bout Gisli slew two men, and now four in all have fallen.
Still Eyjolf bade them fall on like men.
“We are getting the worst of it, but that would be worth little thought if we could only make a good end of our business.”
Just then, when they were least aware, Gisli whisked about and leaps up on a crag that stands alone there, and is called Oneman’s Crag. So he got away from the cliffs, and then he turned at bay and fought. This took them quite by surprise, and now they think that affairs are in a worse way than ever–four men dead and all the rest weary and wounded.
And now there is a break in the onslaught. When they had taken breath Eyjolf eggs on his men warmly, and gives his word to get them many fair things, if they will only get at Gisli. It must be owned that Eyjolf had with him picked men both in valour and hardihood.
It was a man named Sweyn who first was ready to attack Gisli, but Gisli smites at him and cleaves him to the chine, and hurls him down from the crag. And now they think they can never tell when this man’s man-slayings will stop. Then Gisli called out to Eyjolf:
“I wish to make those three hundreds in silver which thou hast taken as the price of my head as dear-bought as I can. And I rather think thou wouldst give other three hundreds in silver that we had never met, for thou wilt only take disgrace in return for your loss of life.”
Now they take counsel, and no one is willing to turn back for his life’s sake. So they fall on him from two sides, and two men are foremost in following Eyjolf whose names are Thorir and Thord, kinsmen of Eyjolf. They were very great swordsmen, and their onslaught was both hard and hot; and now they gave him some wounds with spear-thrusts, but he still fought on with great stoutness and bravery; and they got such knocks from him, both with stones and strokes, that there was not one of them without a wound who came nigh him, for Gisli was not a man to miss his mark. Now Eyjolf and his kinsmen press on hard, for they felt that their fame and honour lay on it. Then they thrust at him with spears, so that his entrails fall out; but he swept up the entrails with his shirt and bound the rope round the wound.
Then Gisli called out and said they had better wait a while:
“Wife so fair, so never failing,
So truly loved, so sorely cross’d,
Thou wilt often miss me wailing,
Thou wilt weep thy hero lost.
But my soul is stout as ever ,
Swords may bite, I feel no smart
Father! better heirloom never
Owned thy son than hardy heart.”
That was Gisli’s last song, and as soon as ever he had suing it he rushes down from the crag and smites Thord, Eyjolf’s kinsman, on the head, and cleaves him down to the belt, but Gisli fell down on his body and breathed his last.
But they were all much wounded, Eyjolf’s companions. Gisli there lost his life with so many great and sore wounds that it was a wonder to see. They say that he never turned his heel, and none of them saw that his strokes were lighter, the last than the first. There now ends Gisli’s life, and it has always been said he was the greatest champion–though he was not lucky in all things.
Now they drag him down to the flat ground, and take away his sword, and bury him there in the gravel, and so go down to the sea. There on the sea-shore the sixth man breathed his last. Eyjolf offered Auda to take her with him, but she would not. After that Eyjolf fares home to Otterdale, and there, that same night, the seventh man breathes his last. An eighth lies bedridden from wounds twelve months, and then dies. As for the rest, they were healed, and got nothing but shame for their pains.
It has been said, in short, by one and all that there never was a more famous defence made by one man in times of which the truth is known.
From: THE STORY/SAGA OF GISLI THE OUTLAW
Translated From The Icelandic Sir George Webbe Dasent D.C.L. With Illustrations By C. E. St. John-Mildmay
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