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Chapter IV

NOW people came to the Christmas feast, and those who were to sit together were told off in messes of twelve. Lots were cast to see who should sit next to Astrida, the daughter of the chief Vigfuss, and Eyiolf always drew the lot for sitting by her side. No one observed that they talked together more than other persons did, but still men said that it was fated to come about in that way that he should marry her. The feast came to an end, after being celebrated with great splendour, and the guest were dismissed with presents. Eyiolf went sea-roving for four summers, and was held to be a very valiant man. He gained great reputation and much booty. It happened one winter that a certain Thorstein came to Vorz, who was a great friend of the brothers, and lived in the upland country. He told them of the strait he was in; how the Berserker,  1 who was called Asgaut, had challenged him to the "holmgang," because he had refused to give him his sister, and he asked them to escort him to the field with a large number of men, so that the pirate might not seize on his property. He added that Asgaut had killed many of his people, and that he must give up his sister to him if they would not support him; "for," said he, "I have no confidence in the result of the ‘holmgang,’ unless I have the benefit of the good luck which attends you."
        They did not like to refuse to go with him, and so they went into the upland with thirty men in their company; when they got to the place of meeting the question was put to all the people there, "Was there any man who desired to win a wife by fighting Asgaut?" but though the lady was attractive enough, there was no one ready to win her a that price. Then the brothers asked Eyiolf to bear Thorstein’s shield for him in the fight,  2 but he replied that he never defended any other man, and not even himself in that way. "I shall not like it," said he, "if he is killed whilst he is under my care, and there could be no honour in that." "But if this young fellow is slain on our hands now, what are we to do? Are we to go away again when that is done, or are we to get a second and third man to fight the Berserker? Our disgrace will only increase in proportion as more men are killed on our side, and we shall get little credit by our journey if we go back without avenging him who thus falls, as it were, on our behalf." "Ask me, if you like, to fight the Berserker myself; that is a thing one may do for one’s friends, but what you now ask I will not grant." They thanked him much, but the stake to be risked seemed very great in his case.
        "Well," observed Eyiolf, "my opinion is, that none of our people ought to go back to their homes again, if the man who falls is not avenged, and I think it worse to fight the Berserker after your kinsman is killed than it would be before." So he stepped forward, and Ivar offered to hold the shield for him. Eyiolf answered-- "It is well offered, but the matter concerns me most, and the old proverb is true, a man’s own hand is most to be trusted." Then he went on to the holm, and the Berserker called out, "Is that fellow going to fight with me?" "Is it not true," said Eyiolf, "that you are afraid to fight with me? It may be that you are not of the right sort when you fear a big man, and crow over a little one." "That has never been laid to my charge," replied the Berserker, "but I will explain to you the laws of the combat. If I am wounded I am to get off by paying five marks." "Oh," said Eyiolf, "I do not feel bound to keep any rules with you, when you set your own price on yourself, and that price is one which in our country would be paid for a thrall." Eyiolf had to strike the first blow, and that first blow he struck in such a way that if fell on the point of the Berserker’s shield, and cut it off, and his foot along with it. He got great honour by this feat, and returned home with the brothers. A good deal of money was offered for his acceptance, but he said he had not done the deed for the sake of money, nor for the sake of the lady, but out of friendship for Hreidar and Ivar. Asgaut paid the fine to be released from the duel, and lived a maimed man.
        After all this Eyiolf wooed Astrida, the daughter of Vigfuss, and the brothers went to press his suit for him. They said he was a man of great family, who held a good position in Iceland, and had many kinsmen to back him, and they thought it probable his career would be a distinguished one. Eyiolf himself then said, "It may be that Astrida’s friends think we are boasting in what we say, but many know the fact of my having in Iceland an honourable descent and a good property." Vigfuss answered, "This will be her destiny, though we did not look lower for our kinswoman," and so she was betrothed to him and they sailed out to Iceland together.



1 It is hardly necessary to explain that the Berserkers were men who were ready to fight anybody, and who worked themselves into a frenzy by drugs or other means, as a North American savage does by his war-dance. They appear in some cases to have made a profession of challenging every one, to whose land, or wife, or sister they took a fancy. A story very similar to this is told in the Egil’s Saga, and in the Eyrbyggia Saga Styrr, the son of Thorgrim, gets rid of two of these men by the most unscrupulous treachery. They were probably such a nuisance to society that anything was thought fair against them. The "Holmgang" was so called because the parties used often to fight in a "holm," or small island. Compare the preface to Mr. Dasent’s Nial’s Saga, and Maurer, Enstehung des Isländ. Staats, ss. 596, 599. Se also the story which follows in chapter vi.

2 That is to say to act as his second. See the story of Hermund, quoted by Maruer, from the Saga of Gunnlaug Ormstunga Enstehung des Isländischen Staats, s. 202.

Next: Chapter V