Sagas & Legends
Egil and his band slay twenty-five men.
Egil went till he came to Alf's, and was there for the night in good quarters. Next morning he rose before day and made ready for his journey. And while they sat over their morning meal, Alf the master came in. He said: 'You are making a start betimes, Egil; but my counsel would be that you hurry not your journey, but rather look before you, for I think there be liers-in-wait for you in the wood. I have no men to give you as escort who would be any strength to you: but this I offer, that ye tarry here with me till I can report to you that the wood is safe.' Egil said: 'That will be mere nonsense. I will go on my way as I before meant to do.'
So he and his men made ready to go, while Alf tried to stop them, and bade them come back, if they saw that the way was trodden: 'None,' he said, 'have passed the wood from the east since you, Egil, went eastward, except these, who, as I suspect, have gone wishing to encounter you.' Egil said, 'How many will they be, think you, if it is as you say? We have not lost the game, though there be some odds against us.' Alf said: 'I with my house-carles had gone to the wood, and we came on men's footprints; the trail led into the wood, and there must have been many in all. But if you do not believe this that I say, go and see for yourself the trail, and then turn back, if it seems as I tell you.' Egil went his way, and when they came where the road entered the wood, they saw there the tracks both of men and horses. Egil's comrades then advised that they should turn back. 'We will go on,' said Egil: 'methinks 'tis no wonder that men have gone through Eida-wood, for it is a public road.' So they went on, and the footmarks continued, being of a numerous company. And when they came there where the roads forked, then the trail also forked, and was equally strong either way.
Then said Egil: 'Now I think that maybe Alf has told the truth. We will now make us ready as expecting an encounter.' So then Egil and his men doffed their cloaks and all their loose clothing, and laid these on the sledge. Egil had brought in his sledge a very long cord of bast, for it is the wont of those who take long sledging journeys to have with them some spare cord in case the harness need mending. Egil took a large flat stone, and laid it before his breast and stomach. Then he bent thereon the cord, and wound it round and round him, and so encased him right up to the shoulders.
Eida-wood is of this kind: there is reaching to the cultivated land on either side dense forest, but in the middle is a wide space of shrubs and thin copse, with some parts quite bare of wood. Egil and his company turned by the shorter way, which lay over the ridge. They all had shields and helms, and weapons both to cut and thrust. Egil walked first. And when they came to the ridge, there was wood at the foot of it, but above on the rock it was bare. But when they came up to the rock, then seven men leapt out of the wood and up to the cliff after them, and shot at them. Egil and his men turned and stood abreast across the path. Then came other men against them from above on the crag's brow, and cast stones at them, and this was by far the greater danger. Then said Egil, 'Now must you step back and close to the cliff, and cover yourselves as best ye may; but I will try to win the summit.' They did so. And when Egil got past the rock out on the top, there were in front eight men, who all at once set upon him. Of their exchange of blows nought is there to tell: the end was that Egil slew them all. Then he went forward to the verge of the summit and hurled over stones, that none could withstand; and thereafter three of the Vermians fell, but four gat them into the wood sore wounded and bruised.
Then Egil and his men took their horses and went on their way till they came over the ridge. But the Vermians who had escaped brought news of this to their fellows, who were by the bog. They then advanced by the lower road and so beset the way in front of Egil. Ulf said to his comrades: 'We must now go cunningly to work with them, and so manage that none get away. This,' said he, 'is the nature of the ground: the road skirts the ridge, close to the foot of which runs the bog, while a rocky brow is above, and the passage lies between these and is no broader than a footpath. Now some of us shall go forward round the brow to withstand them if they advance; but some shall hide here in the wood, and leap out at their back when they have got on before us. And take we such heed that none escape.' They did as Ulf bade: Ulf went forward round the brow and ten men with him.
Egil and his men went on their way knowing nought of this plan till they came into the narrow path. Then out leapt men behind them, and drove at them with weapons. They faced about and defended themselves. Now also dashed at them those who were in front of the rocky brow; and when Egil saw that, he turned to meet them. Quick were the blows exchanged between them; and Egil smote down some in the narrow pass, but some turned back to where there was more level space. Egil dashed after them. There fell Ulf. And in the end Egil slew there single-handed eleven men. Then he went where his comrades were keeping the pass before eight men: there were some wounded on either side. But when Egil came, then at once the Vermians fled to the wood hard by. Five escaped, all sore wounded, but three fell there. Egil had many wounds, but none serious.
They then continued their journey. He bound his comrades' wounds, none of which were mortal. They sat in the sledge, and drove for the rest of the day.
But the Vermians who escaped took their horses, and dragged themselves from the wood eastwards to inhabited parts. There they got their wounds bound. Procuring companions, they made their way to the earl, and told him of their misadventure. They told how both the Ulfs had fallen, twenty-five men were dead, and but five escaped with life, and they all wounded and bruised. The earl then asked what were the tidings of Egil and his comrades. They answered: 'We know not for sure how much they were wounded; but full boldly did they set on us when we were eight and they four; then we fled. Five reached the wood, but three perished; yet, for all we could see, Egil and his men were as fresh as ever.'
The earl said that their journey had been as bad as could be. 'I could have been content we should have great loss of life, had ye but slain these Northmen; but now when they come west from the wood and tell these tidings to Norway's king, then may we expect from him the very hardest terms.'
Next: CHAPTER LXXIX. Egil comes to Thorfinn's. The harrying of king Hacon.