[*] The Baresarks were
men on whom a passing fury of battle
came; they were usually outlawed.
The father of Gudruda was Asmund Asmundson, the Priest of Middalhof. He was the wisest and the wealthiest of all men who lived in the south of Iceland in those days, owning many farms and, also, two ships of merchandise and one long ship of war, and having much money out at interest. He had won his wealth by viking’s work, robbing the English coasts, and black tales were told of his doings in his youth on the sea, for he was a “red-hand” viking. Asmund was a handsome man, with blue eyes and a large beard, and, moreover, was very skilled in matters of law. He loved money much, and was feared of all. Still, he had many friends, for as he aged he grew more kindly. He had in marriage Gudruda, the daughter of Bjoern, who was very sweet and kindly of nature, so that they called her Gudruda the Gentle. Of this marriage there were two children, Bjoern and Gudruda the Fair; but Bjoern grew up like his father in youth, strong and hard, and greedy of gain, while, except for her wonderful beauty, Gudruda was her mother’s child alone.
The mother of Swanhild the Fatherless was Groa the Witch. She was a Finn, and it is told of her that the ship on which she sailed, trying to run under the lee of the Westman Isles in a great gale from the north-east, was dashed to pieces on a rock, and all those on board of her were caught in the net of Ran[*] and drowned, except Groa herself, who was saved by her magic art. This at the least is true, that, as Asmund the Priest rode down by the sea-shore on the morning after the gale, seeking for some strayed horses, he found a beautiful woman, who wore a purple cloak and a great girdle of gold, seated on a rock, combing her black hair and singing the while; and, at her feet, washing to and fro in a pool, was a dead man. He asked whence she came, and she answered:
“Out of the Swan’s Bath.”
[*] The Norse goddess of the sea.
Next, he asked her where were her kin. But, pointing to the dead man, she said that this alone was left of them.
“Who was the man, then?” said Asmund the Priest.
She laughed again and sang this song:—
Groa sails up from the
Death Gods grip the Dead Man’s hand.
Look where lies her luckless husband,
Bolder sea-king ne’er swung sword!
Asmund, keep the kirtle-wearer,
For last night the Norns were crying,
And Groa thought they told of thee:
Yea, told of thee and babes unborn.
“How knowest thou my name?” asked Asmund.
“The sea-mews cried it as the ship sank, thine and others—and they shall be heard in story.”
“Then that is the best of luck,” quoth Asmund; “but I think that thou art fey."[*]
[*] I.e. subject
to supernatural presentiments, generally
connected with approaching doom.