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.'