Romsdal V: Conclusion

Submitted by Caleb on Sat, 03/10/2018 - 23:48

Note: A thing, or þing, is a governing assembly. The Icelandic parliament, usually credited with being the oldest in the world, is called the Althing or, in Icelandic, the Alþingi. 

'Who has struck me?’ cried the robber
Pulling Thorstein up beside him
Gripping him with grasp of iron
Hard against the blood-stained bed-board.

'I am Thorstein son of Ketil,'
Spoke brave Thorstein knowing surely
This man’s strength could hurl him deathward,
Make two lie in one great grave-bed.

Through the darkness Thorstein saw then
Dying fire-light dimly glimmering,
In the eye-gaze turned upon him
Of the man who spoke then to him:

‘Thorstein, you have been too hasty,
I, alas, have moved too slowly,
Soon I would have sailed the sea-swells,
Gone to Gotland, shipped my gold-hoard.

Can I not now crack your heart-core?
None could blame me if drag you
Down with me beneath the death-swells,
Make you sleep in forest silence.

None need ever know your death-fate,
Or know mine, when swarms of wood-mice
Leave the bones of two men lying,
In a lone hall of the mountains.'

Slowly spreading in his shirt-cloth
Dark and warm around the death-blade
Dark as heart-thoughts of a wood-fiend
Ebbed his blood-stream — and his words ran:

'Wickedly I passed my life-days
Wisely shall I die — I spare you.
Gold can give me now no glory;
Thorstein can, if he is living.

Hear me Thorstein, hear my name now,
I am Jokul son of Ingimund,
Earl upon the Isle of Gotland,
Where the white cliffs wall the sea-waves.

Glittering gold-rings, amber amulets,
In dread combat I have taken;
Yours they are now with one sword-stroke,
And your life I give you with them.

If you count this gift as worthy
Take a sail-winged storm-steed southward,
Sail out to the white-walled island.
Go to Gotland, greet my mother —

Bring her dead son’s loving greetings,
Tell the tale then of our dealings,
Tell her Jokul’s last breathed wishes —
Ask her for my sister Thordis.

For my death will she grieve greatly
Yet will heed my dying peace-words,
She will guide you to the gift-throne
Seal a friendship with my father.

Great shall be your deeds and daring,
Leading men in battle boldly
None shall ever lack a leader
If they follow you in sword-clash.

Better Thordis wed wise war-thane
Than she be a viking’s plunder —
This I ask you for my life-gift,
Name her son or grandson Jokul.

Yet I fear to raise a sword-storm:
Heed the warning of a dead man:'
And his breath slipped softer, slower,
From between his teeth, stained crimson —

'Never take the throne in Gotland
Though invited by my father,
Never trust my father’s kinsmen —
When he dies, return to Romsdal.'

Jokul pressed a golden token
Into Thorstein’s hand, and told him:
‘Take this so they’ll know I sent you;
Now draw out my treacherous weapon.

Only tell my story foul
To your father and my kinsmen.
My wrongdoing is rewarded.
We will not speak here much longer.'


Riding Jokul’s mountain-racer
Thorstein came out from the darkness
Weighted down with gold and glory,
Blood-bought honour from the forest.

As he rode along the sun-path,
Glinting spearheads far below him,
Thorstein saw, and helmed men riding,
Upward from the valley winding.

‘Twas the men of Romsdal riding,
And his father far before them,
Who, beholding Mjoll’s son living,
Cried for joy and thus spoke to him:

‘When you left, I rued my taunting –
What I spoke to you reproaching.’
‘Little knew you when or whether
I’d return,’ said Thorstein, bitter.

As the fire left untended,
Thorstein’s anger soon subsided,
And he sent to call a Thing then
For the thanes beneath the mountains.

At the Thing, the son of Ketil
Spoke: ‘No more fear bloody raiders
Lurking in the deep-carved valleys,
Lonely woods or snow-boned mountains.

See this plunder spread before you.
Take what’s yours – mine’s the remainder.’
Shouts of praise beside the water
Sounded for the heir of Romsdal,

As at even they lit the torches
Many years ago in Norway,
Where the fjord in grey cliff’s shadow
Deep and cold goes to the ocean.

Here are some pictures to make illustrations:

'Where the white rocks wall the sea-waves' (Photo of Gotland)…

'Swarms of wood-mice' (macabre illustration)…

‘Little knew you when or whether
I’d return,’ said Thorstein, bitter.'…

'Snow-boned mountains'…

Author's age when written


Dark and warm around the death-blade
Dark as heart-thoughts of a wood-fiend

I particularly liked these two lines. "Dark as heart-thoughts" is a peculiarly pleasing phrase.
Perhaps "lovely" is in poor taste, but I did find this a lovely ending to the saga. :)

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

I like the elegiac feel of the sudden reminder that this happened a long time ago. Of course the story of the saga goes on, and though Thorstein was the hero here, nobody is very sympathetic. They usually do not think so long about killing people as Thorstein did in this episode. It's a picturesque poem, but not an all out celebration; there's a certain depth of conscience that is not part of the pre-christian European ethos, and I think I captured that.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

I just realized you got this last part out there. I love this ending, and the whole tale in general. But I specifically enjoyed throughout this adventure how you led us through with the precise meter and wonderful descriptions. I think that enhanced the story and made it more alive in my head. Thank you!

Thanks for your nice comment. Making a picture in other's minds is definitely my aim. I imagine it's possible for an author to give a reader an even more vivid imagination of the scene than the author had to start with!

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

Love this conclusion to your epic! I love that each part transported us to another place and time - I think this one did especially, with its vivid references to what I assume were the culture's approach to subjects of honor, family, and facing death. Also, the pictures as always were a nice touch - "where the white rocks wall the sea-waves" and "snow-boned mountains" were especially colorful parts of this installment. Your descriptions certainly evoke images very similar, if not identical, to the photos you link to. Thanks for sharing! :)

I'm glad the story was transporting. I've definitely enjoyed a book or two in which the characters are set in some place long ago and far away and yet have our exact sensibilities, but I prefer a little difference in ways of thinking to be perceptible. (If everyone's going to think exactly like a 21st century Oregonian, why not set it in 21st century Oregon?)

Jokul's instructions were socially bold at the time, but wouldn't even occur to us to give. It was hard to write because in the saga he says it in a very understated manner. They all talk in an understated way a lot. When Ingimund hears his son is dead he says "He will not have died of any sickness," and first he tells his wife that Thorstein deserves death "not a friendly gift," but later he tells Thorstein "I like the look of you sufficiently to spare your life. It may be also the best way of atoning for my son that you take his place, if you are willing to live here with me, because you have the mark of good fortune about you. It's dishonourable to harm a man who places himself in another man's power."

I always love looking up pictures and videos of places around the world even when not researching for writing, but I looked up pictures of Gotland specifically when writing this:)

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse