Do you tell me that!

This scene is a classic, so maybe you already know it.  Still, it seems a reasonable place to begin.  It comes from Robert Cook’s translation of Njal’s Saga, aka (spoiler alert!) the Saga of the Burning of Njal, one of (if not the) most famous and admired of the Icelandic sagas.

A word on that: the sagas can be off-putting to read.  They sprawl across families and generations, chasing their tails down blind alleys and around cul-de-sacs.  They will introduce characters, then tell you a couple of chapters later, “He is now out of the saga.”  You may want a program and scorecard to keep track of the family trees, bloodfeuds, and lawsuits; I have wrecked more than one napkin trying to create said map.

Still, if you stick with them, you will be rewarded with some jaw-droppers that will outdo anything you might see at the picture show.

For example, here we have Skarphedin, an ill-favored, maliciously grinning, but brutally capable son of Njal, the saga’s namesake.  The apple has rolled down the hill from the tree in this case.  Njal himself is a wise arbiter; yet, he is beardless and, in related news, no good with an axe.  Skarphedin and friends are feuding with Thrain’s crew, who outnumber them, and things come to a head at a freezing river:

“It happened to Skarphedin, while they were running down along the river, that his shoe-string snapped, and he fell behind.

‘Why are you holding back, Skarphedin?’ said Grim.

‘I’m tying my shoe,’ said Skarphedin.

‘Let’s go on ahead,’ said Kari.  ‘I doubt that he’ll be any slower than we are.’

They moved down toward the frozen arch at great speed.   Skarphedin jumped up as soon as he tied his shoe and had his axe raised.  He ran to the river, but it was so deep that for a long stretch, it was unfordable.   A broad slab of ice, as smooth as glass, had formed on the other side of the river, and Thrain and his men were standing in the middle of it.  Skarphedin took off into the air and leaped from one ice ledge to the other and made a steady landing and shot on in a glide.  The ice slab was very smooth, and Skarphedin went along as fast as a bird in flight.

Thrain was about to put on his helmet, but Skarphedin came at him first and swung his axe at him and hit him on his head and split it down to the jaw, so that the molars fell out on the ice.  This happened in such rapid sequence that no one could land a blow on Skarphedin; he went gliding away at a furious speed. Tjorvi threw a shield in his way, but he hopped over it and kept his balance and glided to the end of the ice slab.  Then Kari and the others came up to him.

‘A manly attack, that!’ said Kari.”

Is this the first skate-by killing?  Would Skarphedin kill twice as many men with the help of Velcro?  And just wait until you hear what he does with those molars!


1 Comment

  1. mordicai said,

    October 2, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Made a feed, will be following.

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