Of the Great Manhood of Olaf Howardson
Here taketh up the tale the telling of how that Olaf waxed up at Bluemire, and became a hopeful man: men say that Olaf Howardson had bear's-warmth; for there was never that frost or cold wherein he would go in more raiment than breeches alone, with shirt girded thereinto ; never went he forth from the house clad in more raiment than that.
There was a man named Thorhall, a homeman of Howard, and akin to him, a young man of the briskest, who used to get things together for the household.
One autumn the men of Icefirth fared to their, sheep-walks, and gathered but little there, and Thorbiorn of Bathstead lacked sixty wethers. Winter-nights wore, and they were not found, but a little before winter Olaf Howardson went up into the sheep-walks, and all the fells, and searched for men's sheep, and found many, both those of Thorbiorn, and his own and his fathers, and other folk's besides: then he drave the sheep home, and brought his own to each man : whereby he became well-beloved, and he had all men's thanks therefor.
Early on a day Olaf drave Thorbiorn's wethers down to Bathstead, and he got there by then all folk were set down to table, and there was no man without; so he smote on the door and a woman came thereto, Sigrid to wit, Thorbiorn's housekeeper, and she greeted him well, and asked him what he would ; Olaf answered : "I have brought Thorbiorn's wethers here, even those that he lost in the autumn."
But when Thorbiorn heard that the door was smitten on, he bade Vakr go see who was come thither, so Vakr arose and went to the wicket, and there he saw how Olaf and Sigrid were a-talking together; so he got up on the ledge of the door and stood there while they talked. Now Olaf was saying; "No need to go further then; thou Sigrid shalt tell where the wethers are."
She said that so it should be, and bade him farewell: whereon Vakr ran back whooping into the hall: then Thorbiorn asked him why he went on so, or who was to hand: said he: "I believe verily that he, Olaf Howardson the Bluemire booby, has been here, driving home thy sheep that were missing last harvest." "A good deed" said Thorbiorn.
"Ah, methinks there was something else behind his coming, though," said Vakr, "for he and Sigrid have been talking away all the morning, and I could see that she liked well enough to lay her arms about his neck."
Quoth Thorbiorn: "Dauntless though Olaf be, yet is he overbold thus to go about to win my hatred."
So Olaf fared home. Time weareth, and, as saith the tale, ever would Olaf be coming to Bath-stead, and seeing Sigrid; and things went well betwixt them, and the rumour went abroad presently that Olaf was beguiling her.
Next harvest went men to their sheep-walks, and again brought home but little, and again Thorbiorn lacked most: so when the folding was over, Olaf gat him away alone, and went into the sheep-walks far and wide, over mount and moor, and again found many sheep and drave them into the peopled parts, and once more brought each man his own; whereby he became so beloved of the bonders that all men gave him good thanks, saving Thorbiorn, who waxed exceeding grim at him for all this; both that others praised him, and that he heard folk say the country over, of how he came to Sigrid: neither spared Vakr to slander Olaf to Thorbiorn. Now once more it has come to pass that Olaf is gotten to Bathstead with as many wethers as aforetime; and when he came thither no man was without; so went he into the hall, and master Thorbiorn was therein, and Vakr his kinsman, and many homemen: Olaf went well-nigh up to the dais, and smote his axe-shaft down on to the floor and leaned thereon: but none greeted him, and all kept silence; so Olaf, when he found that no man gave any heed to him, sang a stave :
This silence shall I break And to Thanes speechless speak. Stems of the spear-wood tall Why sit ye hushed in hall ? What honour then have those Who keep their mouths shut close ? Now long have I stood here And had no word of cheer.
Spake Olaf then: "It is my errand hither, goodman Thorbiorn, that I have brought home thy wethers."
"Yea," said Vakr, "men know, Olaf, that thou art become the Icefirth sheep-drover; and we wot of thine errand hither, that thou art come to claim a share in the sheep; after the fashion of beggars. ?And it were best to remember him, little as the alms may be."
Olaf answered: "Nay, that is not my errand, neither will I drive sheep here the third time." And he turned away, and Vakr sprang up and whooped after him, but Olaf gave no heed at all to it, but went his ways home.
So wear the seasons; and that harvest men get home their sheep well, save Thorbiorn, who again lacked sixty wethers, and found them not at all: so those kinsmen let out the word that Olaf had a mind to claim share in them, or to steal them else. Now on an evening as Olaf and his father sat at the board together there lay a leg of mutton on' the dish, and Olaf took it up, and said: "A wondrous big and fat leg is this."
"Yea," said Howard, "but methinks, kinsman, it came from our sheep and not from Master Thorbiorn's: a heavy thing to have to bear such injustice!"
Olaf laid the leg down on the board, and flushed red; and it seemed to them that sat by as though; he had smitten on the board; anyhow, the leg brake asunder so sharply that one part thereof flew up into the gable wainscot and stuck there: Howard looked up arid smiled, but said nought. Even therewith walked a woman into the hall, and there was come Thorgerd of Bank: Howard greeted her well, and asked for tidings, and she said that her husband Thormod was dead.
"Yea, but things go amiss with us," she said, "for he cometh home to his bed every night: wherefore I fain would have some help from thee, goodman: for whereas my men deemed it ill dealing with Thormod aforetime, now are things come to such a pass that they are all minded to be gone." Howard answered: "I am passed the briskest way of my life now, and am unmeet for such dealings: why goest thou not to Bathstead? it is to be looked for of chieftains that they should presently use their might in the country-side for the settling of such matters."
She answered : "No good do I look for thence; nay, I am well content if he do me no harm."
Said Howard; "Then do I counsel thee to ask Olaf, my son; meet it is for young men to try their manliness in such wise : time was when we should have deemed it good game."
Even so she did, and Olaf promised to go, and bade her abide there that night; but the next day Olaf went home with Thorgerd, at whose house were all folk down-hearted.
But at night folk went to bed and Olaf lay in a gable-end bed out by the door. In such wise burnt light in the hall, that it was bright aloft and dim below. Olaf lay down in his shirt and breeches (for he never wore other clothes) and cast a fell over him. Now at nightfall Thormod walked into the hall wagging his bald head, and saw that there was a man abed where none was wont to lie; and forsooth he was not over hospitable, so he turned thither, and caught hold of the fell; Olaf would not let it go, but held on till they tore it atwain betwixt them ; so when Thormod saw there was might in him that lay there, he leapt up into the settle by the bed. Olaf sprang up and laid hold on his axe to smite him, but things went quicker than he looked for, and Thormod ran in under his hand, and Olaf had to grapple with him. The struggle was of the fiercest; Thormod was so hard a gripper that the flesh gave way before him wheresoever he took hold: and . most things flew about that were before them. Even in that nick of time the light died out, and Olaf deemed matters nowise amended thereby. Thormod fell on furiously, and it came, to pass in the end that they drave out of doors. In the home-mead lay a great drift-log, and as hap would have it Thormod tripped both his heels against the log and fell aback: Olaf let his knee follow the belly of him and served Thormod in such wise that he did with him as he would. All folk were silent when Olaf came back into the hall; but when he let himself be heard, folk were afoot and the light kindled at one and the same time, and they fell to stroking of him up and down, for he was all bruised by Thormod's handling; every child of man that could speak gave thanks to him, and he said he deemed that they would have no more hurt of Thormod.
Olaf abode there certain days, and then went back to Bluemire; but the fame of that deed of his spread wide through Icefirth, and all the -quarters of the land. Nevertheless from all. this also the hatred of Thorbiorn to him did but wax the more.