Njála, 054

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Chapter 54

Now we must take up the story, and say that Gunnar was out of doors at Lithend, and sees his shepherd galloping up to the yard. The shepherd rode straight into the "town; and Gunnar said, "Why ridest thou so hard?"

"I would be faithful to thee," said the man; "I saw men riding down along Markfleet, eight of them together, and four of them were in coloured clothes."

Gunnar said, "That must be Otkell."

The lad said, "I have often heard many temper-trying words of Skamkell's; for Skamkell spoke away there east at Dale, and said that thou sheddest tears when they rode over thee; but I tell it thee because I cannot bear to listen to such speeches of worthless men."

"We must not be word-sick," says Gunnar, "but from this day forth thou shall do no other work than what thou choosest for thyself."

"Shall I say aught of this to Kolskegg thy brother?" asked the shepherd.

"Go thou and sleep," says Gunnar; "I will tell Kolskegg."

The lad laid him down and fell asleep at once, but Gunnar took the shepherd's horse and laid his saddle on him; he took his shield, and girded him with his sword, Oliver's gift; he sets his helm on his head; takes his bill, and something sung loud in it, and his mother, Rannveig, heard it. She went up to him and said "Wrathful art thou now, my son, and never saw I thee thus before."

Gunnar goes out, and drives the butt of his spear into the earth, and throws himself into the saddle, and rides away,

His mother, Rannveig, went into the sitting-room, where there was a great noise of talking.

"Ye speak loud," she says, "but yet the bill gave a louder sound when Gunnar went out."

Kolskegg heard what she said, and spoke, "This betokens no small tidings.

"That is well," says Hallgerda, "now they will soon prove whether he goes away from them weeping."

Kolskegg takes his weapons and seeks him a horse, and rides after Gunnar as fast as he could.

Gunnar rides across Acretongue, and so to Geilastofna and thence to Rangriver, and down the stream to the ford at Hof. There were some women at the milking-post there. Gunnar jumped off his horse and tied him up. By this time the others were riding up towards him; there were flat stones covered with mud in the path that led down to the ford.

Gunnar called out to them and said, "Now is the time to guard yourselves; here now is the bill, and here now ye will put it to the proof whether I shed one tear for all of you."

Then they all of them sprang off their horses' backs and made towards Gunnar. Hallbjorn was the foremost.

"Do not thou come on," says Gunnar; "thee last of all would I harm; but I will spare no one if I have to fight for my life."

"That I cannot do," says Hallbjorn; "thou wilt strive to kill my brother for all that, and it is a shame if I sit idly by." And as he said this he thrust at Gunnar with a great spear which he held in both hands.

Gunnar threw his shield before the blow, but Hallbjorn pierced the shield through. Gunnar thrust the shield down so hard that it stood fast in the earth, but he brandished his sword so quickly that no eye could follow it, and he made a blow with the sword, and it fell on Hallbjorn's arm above the writs, so that it cut it off.

Skamkell ran behind Gunnar's back and makes a blow at him with a great axe. Gunnar turned short round upon him and parries the blow with the bill, and caught the axe under one of its horns with such a wrench that it flew out of Skamkell's hand away into the river.

Then Gunnar sang a song:

"Once thou askedst, foolish fellow, Of this man, this seahorse racer, When as fast as feet could foot it Forth ye fled from farm of mine, Whether that were rightly summoned? Now with gore the spear we redden, Battle-eager, and avenge us Thus on thee, vile source of strife."

Gunnar gives another thrust with his bill, and through Skamkell, and lifts him up and casts him down in the muddy path on his head.

Audulf the Easterling snatches up a spear and launches it at Gunnar. Gunnar caught the spear with his hand in the air, and hurled it back at once, and it flew through the shield and the Easterling too, and so down into the earth.

Otkell smites at Gunnar with his sword, and aims at his leg just below the knee, but Gunnar leapt up into the air and he misses him. Then Gunnar thrusts at him the bill and the blow goes through him.

Then Kolskegg comes up, and rushes at once at Hallkell and dealt him his death-blow with his short sword. There and then they slay eight men.

A woman who saw all this, ran home and told Mord, and besought him to part them.

"They alone will be there," he says, "of whom I care not though they slay one another."

"Thou canst not mean to say that," she says, "for thy kinsman Gunnar, and thy friend Otkell will be there."

"Baggage, that thou art," he says, "thou art always chattering," and so he lay still in-doors while they fought.

Gunnar and Kolskegg rode home after this work, and they rode hard up along the river bank, and Gunnar leapt off his horse and came down on his feet.

Then Kolskegg said, "Hard now thou ridest, brother!"

"Ay," said Gunnar, "that was what Skamkell said when he uttered those very words when they rode over me."

"Well, thou hast avenged that now," says Kolskegg.

"I would like to know," says Gunnar, "whether I am by so much the less brisk and bold than other men,[1] because I think more of killing men than they?"[2]

References

  1. less brisk and bold than other men: " Perhaps his is a statement of post-coital tristesse, post-adrenaline letdown; he now feels a little confused by all the passion he had just shown—sticking it to these men turned out not quite to entail the pleasure he anticipated or indeed felt it to be in medias res." Miller, William Ian. Otkel vs. Gunnar: Chapters 46–56 (p. 122).
  2. I think more of killing men than they: "The absence of Gunnarr’s heroic and calculating stanzas … soften his portrayal in Njáls saga. In the verses he steps forward as a typical fighter and schemer, whereas his acclamation that he found it difficult to kill men … stands unattested in Möðruvallabók … The poetic profile of Njáls saga … underscores the importance of judging the sagas in their correct manuscript context." Guðrún Nordal. Attraction of opposites: skaldic verse in Njáls saga (p. 229).

Kafli 54

Nú er þar til máls að taka að Hlíðarenda að Gunnar er úti og sér smalamann sinn hleypa að garði. Smalamaðurinn reið heim í túnið.

Gunnar mælti: „Hví ríður þú svo hart?“

„Eg vildi vera þér trúlyndur. Eg sá menn ríða ofan með Markarfljóti átta saman og voru fjórir í litklæðum.“

Gunnar mælti: „Þar mun vera Otkell.“

Sveinninn mælti: „Eg hefi oft heyrt mörg skapraunarorð Skammkels því að Skammkell mælti það austur í Dal að þú grétir þá er þeir riðu á þig ofan og sagði eg þér af því að mér þykir illt orðtak slíkt vondra manna.“

„Ekki skulum við vera orðsjúkir,“ segir Gunnar, „en það eitt skalt þú vinna er þér líkar héðan í frá.“

„Skal eg nokkuð segja Kolskeggi bróður þínum?“

„Far þú og sof,“ segir Gunnar. „Eg mun segja Kolskeggi.“

Sveinninn lagðist niður og sofnaði þegar.

Gunnar tók smalahestinn og lagði á söðul sinn. Hann tók skjöld sinn og gyrti sig sverðinu Ölvisnaut, setur hjálm á höfuð sér, tekur atgeirinn og söng í hátt og heyrði Rannveig móðir hans.

Hún gekk fram og mælti: „Reiðulegur ert þú nú, son minn, og ekki sá eg þig slíkan fyrr.“

Gunnar gengur út og stingur niður atgeirinum og verpur sér í söðulinn og ríður braut. Rannveig móðir hans gekk til stofu. Þar var háreysti mikið.

„Hátt kveðið þér,“ segir hún, „en þó lét hærra atgeirinn er Gunnar gekk út.“

Kolskeggur heyrði og mælti: „Það mun eigi öngra tíðinda vita.“

„Það er vel,“ segir Hallgerður, „nú munu þeir reyna hvort hann gengur grátandi undan þeim.“

Kolskeggur tekur vopn sín og leitar sér að hesti og ríður eftir slíkt er hann mátti.

Gunnar ríður nú um Akratungu þvera og svo til Geilastofna og þaðan til Rangár og ofan til vaðs hjá Hofi. Konur voru þar á stöðli. Gunnar hljóp af hesti sínum og batt. Þá riðu hinir að. Móhellur voru í götunum við vaðið.

Gunnar mælti til þeirra: „Nú er að verja sig. Er hér nú atgeirinn. Munuð þér nú og reyna það hvort eg græt nokkuð fyrir yður.“

Þeir hljópu þá allir af baki og sóttu að Gunnari. Hallbjörn var fremstur.

„Sæk þú eigi að,“ segir Gunnar. „Þér vildi eg síst illt gera en eg mun þó öngum hlífa ef eg á hendur mínar að verja.“

„Það mun ekki gera,“ segir Hallbjörn. „Þú munt þó drepa vilja bróður minn og er það skömm ef eg sit hjá“ og lagði til Gunnars tveim höndum miklu spjóti.

Gunnar skaut fyrir skildinum en Hallbjörn lagði í gegnum skjöldinn. Gunnar skaut svo fast niður skildinum að hann stóð fastur í jörðunni en tók til sverðsins svo skjótt að eigi mátti auga á festa og hjó með sverðinu og kom á höndina Hallbirni fyrir ofan úlflið svo að af tók.

Skammkell hljóp á bak Gunnari og höggur til hans með mikilli öxi. Gunnar snerist skjótt að honum og lýstur atgeirinum og kom undir kverk öxinni og hraut hún úr hendi honum út á Rangá.

Þá kvað Gunnar vísu:


17. Víst spurðir þú vasta

viggrennanda þenna,

hrökkviglópur, þá er hleyptuð

harður úr mínum garði

hvort vígstríðir væri,

vér rjóðum spjör blóði,

þess skal eg heiftar hvessi

hefna, réttrar stefnu.


Gunnar leggur í annað sinn atgeirinum og í gegnum Skammkel og vegur hann upp og kastar honum í leirgötuna að höfðinu. Auðólfur þrífur upp spjót og skaut að Gunnari. Gunnar tók á lofti spjótið og skaut aftur þegar og fló í gegnum skjöldinn og Austmanninn og niður í völlinn. Otkell höggur með sverði til Gunnars og stefnir á fótinn fyrir neðan kné; Gunnar hljóp í loft upp og missir hann hans. Gunnar leggur atgeirinum til hans og í gegnum hann. Þá kemur Kolskeggur að og hleypur þegar að Hallkatli og höggur hann banahögg með saxinu. Þar vega þeir þá átta.

Kona hljóp heim, er sá, og sagði Merði og bað hann skilja þá.

„Þeir einir munu vera,“ segir hann, „að eg hirði aldrei þótt drepist.“

„Eigi munt þú það vilja mæla,“ segir hún, „þar mun vera Gunnar frændi þinn og Otkell.“

„Klifar þú nokkuð jafnan, mannfýla þín,“ segir hann og lá hann inni meðan þeir börðust.

Gunnar reið heim og Kolskeggur eftir verk þessi og ríða þeir hart upp eftir eyrunum og stökk Gunnar af baki og kom standandi niður.

Kolskeggur mælti: „Hart ríður þú nú, frændi.“

„Það lagði Skammkell mér til orðs er eg mælti svo er riðið var á mig.“

„Hefnt hefir þú nú þess,“ segir Kolskeggur.

„Hvað eg veit,“ segir Gunnar, „hvort eg mun því óvaskari maður en aðrir menn[1] sem mér þykir meira fyrir en öðrum mönnum að vega menn.“[2]

Tilvísanir

  1. óvaskari maður en aðrir menn: " Perhaps his is a statement of post-coital tristesse, post-adrenaline letdown; he now feels a little confused by all the passion he had just shown—sticking it to these men turned out not quite to entail the pleasure he anticipated or indeed felt it to be in medias res." Miller, William Ian. Otkel vs. Gunnar: Chapters 46–56 (s. 122).
  2. mér þykir meira fyrir en öðrum mönnum að vega menn: "The absence of Gunnarr’s heroic and calculating stanzas … soften his portrayal in Njáls saga. In the verses he steps forward as a typical fighter and schemer, whereas his acclamation that he found it difficult to kill men … stands unattested in Möðruvallabók … The poetic profile of Njáls saga … underscores the importance of judging the sagas in their correct manuscript context." Guðrún Nordal. Attraction of opposites: skaldic verse in Njáls saga (s. 229).

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