Of Skamkell's evil counsel
Now we must tell of Skamkell. He rides after some sheep up along Rangriver, and he sees something shining in the path. He finds a knife and belt, and thinks he knows both of them. He fares with them to Kirkby; Otkell was out of doors when Skamkell came. He spoke to him and said -
"Knowest thou aught of these pretty things?"
"Of a surety," says Otkell, "I know them."
"Who owns them?" asks Skamkell.
"Malcolm the thrall," says Otkell.
"Then more shall see and know them than we two," says Skamkell, "for true will I be to thee in counsel."
They showed them to many men, and all knew them. Then Skamkell said -
"What counsel wilt thou now take?"
"We shall go and see Mord Valgard's son," answers Otkell, "and seek counsel of him."
So they went to Hof, and showed the pretty things to Mord, and asked him if he knew them?
He said he knew them well enough, but what was there in that? "Do you think you have a right to look for anything at Lithend?"
"We think it hard for us," says Skamkell, "to know what to do, when such mighty men have a hand in it."
"That is so, sure enough," says Mord, "but yet I will get to know those things out of Gunnar's household, which none of you will ever know."
"We would give thee money," they say, "if thou wouldst search out this thing."
"That money I shall buy full dear," answered Mord, "but still, perhaps, it may be that I will look at the matter."
They gave him three marks of silver for lending them his help.
Then he gave them this counsel, that women should go about from house to house with small wares, and give them to the housewives, and mark what was given them in return.
"For," he says, "'tis the turn of mind of all men first to give away what has been stolen, if they have it in their keeping, and so it will be here also, if this hath happened by the hand of man. Ye shall then come and show me what has been given to each in each house, and I shall then be free from further share in this matter, if the truth comes to light."
To this they agreed, and went home afterwards.
Mord sends women about the country, and they were away half a month. Then they came back, and had big bundles. Mord asked where they had most given them?
They said that at Lithend most was given them, and Hallgerda had been most bountiful to them.
He asked what was given them there?
"Cheese," say they.
He begged to see it, and they showed it to him, and it was in great slices. These he took and kept.
A little after, Mord fared to see Otkell, and bade that he would bring Thorgerda's cheese-mould; and when that was done, he laid the slices down in it, and lo! they fitted the mould in every way.
Then they saw, too, that a whole cheese had been given to them.
Then Mord said, "Now may ye see that Hallgerda must have stolen the cheese"; and they all passed the same judgment; and then Mord said, that now he thought he was free of this matter.
After that they parted.
Shortly after Kolskegg fell to talking with Gunnar, and said -
"Ill is it to tell, but the story is in every man's mouth, that Hallgerda must have stolen, and that she was at the bottom of all that great scathe that befell at Kirkby."
Gunnar said that he too thought that must be so. "But what is to be done now?"
Kolskegg answered, "That wilt think it thy most bounden duty to make atonement for thy wife's wrong, and methinks it were best that thou farest to see Otkell, and makest him a handsome offer."
"This is well spoken," says Gunnar, "and so it shall be."
A little after Gunnar sent after Thrain Sigfus' son, and Lambi Sigurd's son, and they came at once.
Gunnar told them whither he meant to go, and they were well pleased. Gunnar rode with eleven men to Kirkby, and called Otkell out. Skamkell was there too, and said, "I will go out with thee, and it will be best now to have the balance of wit on thy side. And I would wish to stand closest by thee when thou needest it most, and now this will be put to the proof. Methinks it were best that thou puttest on an air of great weight."
Then they, Otkell and Skamkell, and Hallkell and Hallbjorn, went out all of them.
They greeted Gunnar, and he took their greeting well. Otkell asks whither he meant to go?
"No farther than here," says Gunnar, "and my errand hither is to tell thee about that bad mishap - how it arose from the plotting of my wife and that thrall whom I bought from thee."
"'Tis only what was to be looked for," says Hallbjorn.
"Now I will make thee a good offer," says Gunnar, "and the offer is this, that the best men here in the country round settle the matter."
"This is a fair-sounding offer," said Skamkell, "but an unfair and uneven one. Thou art a man who has many friends among the householders, but Otkell has not many friends."
"Well," says Gunnar, "then I will offer thee that I shall make an award, and utter it here on this spot, and so we will settle the matter, and my good-will shall follow the settlement. But I will make thee an atonement by paying twice the worth of what was lost."
"This choice shalt thou not take," said Skamkell; "and it is unworthy to give up to him the right to make his own award, when thou oughtest to have kept it for thyself."
So Otkell said, "I will not give up to thee, Gunnar, the right to make thine own award."
"I see plainly," said Gunnar, "the help of men who will be paid off for it one day I daresay; but come now, utter an award for thyself."
Otkell leant toward Skamkell and said, "What shall I answer now?"
"This thou shalt call a good offer, but still put thy suit into the hands of Gizur the white, and Geir the priest, and then many will say this, that thou behavest like Hallkell, thy grandfather, who was the greatest of champions."
"Well offered is this, Gunnar," said Otkell, "but still my will is thou wouldst give me time to see Gizur the white."
"Do now whatever thou likest in the matter," said Gunnar; "but men will say this, that thou couldst not see thine own honour when thou wouldst have none of the choices I offer thee."
Then Gunnar rode home, and when he had gone away, Hallbjorn said, "Here I see how much man differs from man. Gunnar made thee good offers, but thou wouldst take none of them; or how dost thou think to strive with Gunnar in a quarrel, when no one is his match in fight. But now he is still so kind-hearted a man that it may be he will let these offers stand, though thou art only ready to take them afterwards. Methinks it were best that thou farest to see Gizur the white and Geir the priest now this very hour."
Otkell let them catch his horse, and made ready in every way. Otkell was not sharpsighted, and Skamkell walked on the way along with him, and said to Otkell -
"Methought it strange that thy brother would not take this toil from thee, and now I will make thee an offer to fare instead of thee, for I know that the journey is irksome to thee."
"I will take that offer," says Otkell, "but mind and be as truthful as ever thou canst."
"So it shall be," says Skamkell.
Then Skamkell took his horse and cloak, but Otkell walks home.
Hallbjorn was out of doors, and said to Otkell -
"Ill is it to have a thrall for one's bosom friend, and we shall rue this for ever that thou hast turned back, and it is an unwise step to send the greatest liar on an errand, of which one may so speak that men's lives hang on it."
"Thou wouldst be sore afraid," says Otkell, "if Gunnar had his bill aloft, when thou art so scared now."
"No one knows who will be most afraid then," said Hallbjorn; "but this thou wilt have to own, that Gunnar does not lose much time in brandishing his bill when he is wroth."
"Ah!" said Otkell, "ye are all of you for yielding but Skamkell."
And then they were both wroth.