In those days Earl Eric, the son of Hakon, and his brother Svein, ruled in Norway. Earl Eric abode as then at Hladir, which was left to him by his father, and a mighty lord he was. Skuli, the son of Thorstein, was with the earl at that time, and was one of his court, and well esteemed.
Now they say that Gunnlaug and Audun Festargram, and seven of them together, went up to Hladir to the earl. Gunnlaug was so clad that he had on a grey kirtle and white long-hose; he had a boil on his foot by the instep, and from this oozed blood and matter as he strode on. In this guise he went before the earl with Audun and the rest of them, and greeted him well. The earl knew Audun, and asked him tidings from Iceland. Audun told him what there was toward. Then the earl asked Gunnlaug who he was, and Gunnlaug told him his name and kin. Then the earl said: “Skuli Thorstein’s son, what manner of man is this in Iceland?”
“Lord,” says he, “give him good welcome, for he is the son of the best man in Iceland, Illugi the Black of Gilsbank, and my foster-brother withal.”
The earl asked, “What ails thy foot, Icelander?”
“A boil, lord,” said he.
“And yet thou wentest not halt?”
Gunnlaug answers, “Why go halt while both legs are long alike?”
Then said one of the earl’s men, called Thorir: “He swaggereth hugely, this Icelander! It would not be amiss to try him a little.”
Gunnlaug looked at him and sang:—
“A courtman there is
Full evil I was,
A bad man and black,
Belief let him lack.”
Then would Thorir seize an axe. The earl spake: “Let it be,” says he; “to such things men should pay no heed. But now, Icelander, how old a man art thou?”
Gunnlaug answers: “I am eighteen winters old as now,” says he.
Then says Earl Eric, “My spell is that thou shalt not live eighteen winters more.”
Gunnlaug said, somewhat under his breath: “Pray not against me, but for thyself rather.”
The earl asked thereat, “What didst thou say, Icelander?”
Gunnlaug answers, “What I thought well befitting, that thou shouldst bid no prayers against me, but pray well for thyself rather.”
“What prayers, then?” says the earl.
“That thou mightest not meet thy death after the manner of Earl Hakon, thy father.”
The earl turned red as blood, and bade them take the rascal in haste; but Skuli stepped up to the earl, and said: “Do this for my words, lord, and give this man peace, so that he depart at his swiftest.”
The earl answered, “At his swiftest let him be off then, if he will have peace, and never let him come again within mv realm.”
Then Skuli went out with Gunnlaug down to the bridges, where there was an England-bound ship ready to put out; therein Skuli got for Gunnlaug a berth, as well as for Thorkel, his kinsman; but Gunnlaug gave his ship into Audun’s ward, and so much of his goods as he did not take with him.
Now sail Gunnlaug and his fellows into the English main, and come at autumntide south to London Bridge, where they hauled ashore their ship.
Now at that time King Ethelred, the son of Edgar, ruled over England, and was a good lord; this winter he sat in London. But in those days there was the same tongue in England as in Norway and Denmark; but the tongues changed when William the Bastard won England, for thenceforward French went current there, for he was of French kin.
Gunnlaug went presently to the king, and greeted him well and worthily, The king asked him from what land he came, and Gunnlaug told him all as it was. “But,” said he, “I have come to meet thee, lord, for that I have made a song on thee, and I would that it might please thee to hearken to that song.” The king said it should be so, and Gunnlaug gave forth the song well and proudly; and this is the burden thereof:—
“As God are all folk fearing
The free lord King of England,
Kin of all kings and all folk,
To Ethelred the head tow.”
The king thanked him for the song, and gave him as song-reward a scarlet cloak lined with the costliest of furs, and golden-broidered down to the hem; and made him his man; and Gunnlaug was with him all the winter, and was well accounted of.
One day, in the morning early, Gunnlaug met three men in a certain street, and Thororm was the name of their leader; he was big and strong, and right evil to deal with. He said, “Northman, lend me some money.”
Gunnlaug answered, “That were ill counselled to lend one’s money to unknown men.”
He said, “I will pay it thee back on a named day.”
“Then shall it be risked,” says Gunnlaug; and he lent him the fee withal.
But some time afterwards Gunnlaug met the king, and told him of the money-lending. The king answered, “Now hast thou thriven little, for this is the greatest robber and reiver; deal with him in no wise, but I will give thee money as much as thine was.”
Gunnlaug said, “Then do we, your men, do after a sorry sort, if, treading sackless folk under foot, we let such fellows as this deal us out our lot. Nay, that shall never be.”
Soon after he met Thororm and claimed the fee of him. He said he was not going to pay it.
Then sang Gunnlaug:—
“Evil counselled art thou,
Gold from us withholding;
The reddener of the edges,
Pricking on with tricking.
Wot ye what? they called me,
Worm-tongue, yet a youngling;
Nor for nought so hight I;
Now is time to show it!”
“Now I will make an offer good in law,” says Gunnlaug; “that thou either pay me my money, or else that thou go on holm with me in three nights’ space.”
Then laughed the viking, and said, “Before thee none have come to that, to call me to holm, despite of all the ruin that many a man has had to take at my hands. Well, I am ready to go.”
Thereon they parted for that time.
Gunnlaug told the king what had befallen; and he said, “Now, indeed, have things taken a right hopeless turn; for this man’s eyes can dull any weapon. But thou shalt follow my rede; here is a sword I will give thee—with that thou shalt fight, but before the battle show him another.”
Gunnlaug thanked the king well therefor.
Now when they were ready for the holm, Thororm asked what sort of a sword it was that he had. Gunnlaug unsheathed it and showed him, but had a loop round the handle of the king’s sword, and slipped it over his hand; the bearserk looked on the sword, and said, “I fear not that sword.”
But now he dealt a blow on Gunnlaug with his sword, and cut off from him nigh all his shield; Gunnlaug smote in turn with the king’s gift; the bearserk stood shieldless before him, thinking he had the same weapon he had shown him, but Gunnlaug smote him his deathblow then and there.
The king thanked him for this work, and he got much fame therefor, both in England and far and wide elsewhere.
In the spring, when ships sailed from land to land, Gunnlaug prayed King Ethelred for leave to sail somewhither; the king asks what he was about then. Gunnlaug said, “I would fulfil what I have given my word to do,” and sang this stave withal:—
“My ways must I be wending
Three kings’ walls to see yet,
And earls twain, as I promised
Erewhile to land-sharers.
Neither will I wend me
Back, the worms’-bed lacking,
By war-lord’s son, the wealth-free,
For work done gift well given.”
“So be it, then, skald,” said the king, and withal he gave him a ring that weighed six ounces; “but,” said he, “thou shalt give me thy word to come back next autumn, for I will not let thee go altogether, because of thy great prowess.”
From: THE STORY/SAGA OF GUNNLAUG THE WORM-TONGUE AND RAVEN THE SKALD
Translated From The Icelandic EIRIKR MAGNUSSON & WILLIAM MORRIS
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