Now in summer men ride a very many to the Althing: Illugi the Blacky and his sons with him, Gunnlaug and Hermund; Thorstein Egilson and Kolsvein his son; Onund, of Mossfell, and his sons all, and Sverting, Hafr-Biorn’s son. Skapti yet held the spokesmanship-at-law.

One day at the Thing, as men went thronging to the Hill of Laws, and when the matters of the law were done there, then Gunnlaug craved silence, and said:—

“Is Raven, the son of Onund, here?”

He said he was.

Then spake Gunnlaug, “Thou well knowest that thou hast got to wife my avowed bride, and thus hast thou made thyself my foe. Now for this I bid thee to holm here at the Thing, in the holm of the Axe-water, when three nights are gone by.”

Raven answers, “This is well bidden, as was to be looked for of thee, and for this I am ready, whenever thou wiliest it.”

Now the kin of each deemed this a very ill thing. But, at that time it was lawful for him who thought himself wronged by another to call him to fight on the holm.

So when three nights had gone by they got ready for the holmgang, and Illugi the Black followed his son thither with a great following. But Skapti, the lawman, followed Raven, and his father and other kinsmen of his.

Now before Gunnlaug went upon the holm he sang,—

“Out to isle ofeel-field

Dight am I to hie me:

Give, O God, thy singer

With glaive to end the striving.

Here shall I the head cleave

Of Helga’s love’s devourer,

At last my bright sword bringeth

Sundering of head and body.”

Then Raven answered and sang,—

“Thou, singer, knowest not surely

Which of us twain shall gain it;

With edge for leg-swathe eager,

Here are the wound-scythes bare now.

In whatso-wise we wound us,

The tidings from the Thing here,

And fame of thanes’ fair doings,

The fair young maid shall hear it.”

Hermund held shield for his brother, Gunnlaug; but Sverting, Hafr-Biorn’s son, was Raven’s shield-bearer. Whoso should be wounded was to ransom himself from the holm with three marks of silver.

Now, Raven’s part it was to deal the first blow, as he was the challenged man. He hewed at the upper part of Gunnlaug’s shield, and the sword brake asunder just beneath the hilt, with so great might he smote; but the point of the sword flew up from the shield and struck Gunnlaug’s cheek, whereby he got just grazed; with that their fathers ran in between them, and many other men.

“Now,” said Gunnlaug, “I call Raven overcome, as he is weaponless.”

“But I say that thou art vanquished, since thou art wounded,” said Raven.

Now, Gunnlaug was nigh mad, and very wrathful, and said it was not tried out yet.

Illugi, his father, said they should try no more for that time.

Gunnlaug said, “Beyond all things I desire that I might in such wise meet Raven again, that thou, father, wert not anigh to part us.”

And thereat they parted for that time, and all men went back to their booths.

But on the second day after this it was made law in the law-court that, henceforth, all holmgangs should be forbidden; and this was done by the counsel of all the wisest men that were at the Thing; and there, indeed, were all the men of most counsel in all the land. And this was the last holmgang fought in Iceland, this, wherein Gunnlaug and Raven fought.

But this Thing was the third most thronged Thing that has been held in Iceland; the first was after Njal’s burning, the second after the Heath-slaughters.

Now, one morning, as the brothers Hermund and Gunnlaug went to Axe-water to wash, on the other side went many women towards the river, and in that company was Helga the Fair. Then said Hermund,—

“Dost thou see thy friend Helga there on the other side of the river?”

“Surely, I see her,” says Gunnlaug, and withal he sang:—

“Born was she for men’s bickering:

Sore bale hath wrought the war-stemy

And I yearned ever madly

To hold that oak-tree golden.

To me then, me destroyer

Of swan-mead’s flame, unneedful

This looking on the dark-eyed,

This golden land’s beholding.”

Therewith they crossed the river, and Helga and Gunnlaug spake awhile together, and as the brothers crossed the river eastward back again, Helga stood and gazed long after Gunnlaug.

Then Gunnlaug looked back and sang:—

“Moon of linen-lapped one,

Leek-sea-bearing goddess,

Hawk-keen out of heaven

Shone all bright upon me;

But that eyelid’s moonbeam

Of gold-necklaced goddess

Her hath all undoing

Wrought, and me made nought of.”




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The Story of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Raven the Skald


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This site is about bringing the Ancient Norse & Viking sagas back to life. Each day a chapter or two from a saga will be posted enabling you to read the saga from beginning to end. If you like the saga, it is available to be purchased as a paperback or as an eBook. Abela Publishing is a social enterprise prublisher. By this we mean that a percentage of our profits is donated to charities.
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