Primary Source: Egil slays Ljot the Pale

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Egil’s Saga ca. 1240

Chapter 67 – Egil slays Ljot the Pale.

Thorstein and Egil made ready for their journey so soon as they had ended their errand. They then went their way back, and when they came south over the Dovre-fell, then said Egil that he would go down to Raumsdale, and after that south by way of the sounds. ‘I will,’ said he, ‘finish my business in Sogn and Hordaland, for I would fain in the summer take my ship out to Iceland.’ Thorstein bade him settle his journey as he would. So Thorstein and Egil separated.

Thorstein went south by the dales all the way till he came to his estates. There he produced the tokens of the king and his message before the stewards, that they should give up all that property which they had taken and Thorstein claimed. No one spoke against it, and he then took all his property.

Egil went his way, they being twelve in all. They came on to Raumsdale, there got them conveyance, and then went south to Mæri. Nothing is told of their journey before they came to the island called Hod, and went to pass the night at a farm named Bindheim. This was a well-to-do homestead, in which dwelt a baron named Fridgeir. He was young in years, and had but lately inherited his father’s property. His mother was named Gyda; she was a sister of lord Arinbjorn, a woman of a noble presence and wealthy. She managed the house for her son Fridgeir: they lived in grand style. There Egil and his company found good welcome. In the evening Egil sat next to Fridgeir, and his comrades outside him. There was much drink and sumptuous viands. Gyda, the house-mistress, in the evening had some talk with Egil. She inquired about Arinbjorn, her brother, and other of her kinsmen and friends who had gone to England with Arinbjorn. Egil answered her inquiries. She asked what tidings had befallen in Egil’s journey. He told her plainly. Then he sang:

‘Gloomy on me glowered
In gruesome wrath a king:
But cuckoo faints and fails not
For vulture flapping near.
Aid good from Arinbjorn,
As oft, and peace I gat.
He falls not whom true friends
Help forward on his way.’

Egil was very cheerful that evening, but Fridgeir and his household were rather silent. Egil saw there a maiden fair and well dressed; he was told that she was Fridgeir’s sister. The maiden was sad and wept constantly that evening, which they thought strange. They were there for the night, but in the morning the wind was blowing hard, and there was no putting to sea. They need a boat to take them from the island. Then went Fridgeir and with him Gyda to Egil, and offered that he and his comrades should stay there till it was good travelling weather, and should have thence such help for the journey as they needed. This Egil accepted. They stayed there weather-bound for three nights, most hospitably entertained. After that the weather became calm.

Then Egil and his men rose up early in the morning and made ready; then went to meat, and ale was given them to drink, and they sat awhile. Then they took their clothes. Egil stood up and thanked the master and mistress of the house for their entertainment; then they went out. The master and his mother went out into the path with them. Gyda then went to speak with her son Fridgeir, and talked low with him, Egil standing the while and waiting for them.

Egil said to the maiden: ‘Why weep you, maiden? I never see you cheerful.’

She could not answer, but wept the more. Fridgeir now said to his mother aloud: ‘I will not now ask this. They are even now ready for their journey.’

Then Gyda went to Egil and said: ‘I will tell you, Egil, how things stand here with us. There is a man named Ljot the Pale. He is a Berserk and a duellist; he is hated. He came here and asked my daughter to wife; but we answered at once, refusing the match. Whereupon he challenged my son Fridgeir to wager of battle; and he has to go to-morrow to this combat on the island called Vors. Now I wished, Egil, that you should go to the combat with Fridgeir. It would soon be shown if Arinbjorn were here in the land, that we should not endure the overbearing of such a fellow as is Ljot.’

Egil said: ”Tis but my bounden duty, lady, for the sake of Arinbjorn thy kinsman that I go, if Fridgeir thinks this any help to him.’

‘Herein you do well,’ said Gyda. ‘So we will go back into the hall, and be all together for the whole day.’

Then Egil and the rest went into the hall and drank. They sate there for the day. But in the evening came those friends of Fridgeir who had appointed to go with him, and there was a numerous company for the night, and a great banquet. On the morrow Fridgeir made ready to go, and many with him, Egil being one of the party. It was now good travelling weather.

They now start, and soon come to the island. There was a fair plain near the sea, which was to be the place of combat. The ground was marked out by stones lying round in a ring. Soon came thither Ljot and his party. Then he made him ready for the combat. He had shield and sword. Ljot was a man of vast size and strong. And as he came forward on the field to the ground of combat, a fit of Berserk fury seized him; he began to bellow hideously, and bit his shield. Fridgeir was not a tall man; he was slenderly built, comely in face, not strong. He had not been used to combats. But when Egil saw Ljot, then he sang a stave:

‘It fits not young Fridgeir
To fight with this warrior,
Grim gnawer of shield-rim,
By his gods who doth curse.
I better may meet him,
May rescue the maiden;
Full fearsome he stareth,
Yet “fey” are his eyes.’

Ljot saw where Egil stood, and heard his words. He said: ‘Come thou hither, big man, to the holm, and fight with me, if thou hast a wish that way. That is a far more even match than that I should fight with Fridgeir, for I shall deem me no whit the greater man though I lay him low on earth.’

Then sang Egil:

‘Ljot asketh but little,
Loth were I to baulk him.
Pale wight, my hand pliant
Shall play on his mail.
Come, busk we for combat;
Nor quarter expect thou:
Strife-stirrer, in Mæri
Stern shield-cutting ours.’

After this Egil made him ready for combat with Ljot. Egil had the shield that he was wont to have, was girded with the sword which he called Adder, but in his hand he had Dragvandill. He went in over the boundary that marked the battle-ground, but Ljot was then not ready. Egil shook his sword and sang:

‘Hew we with hilt-wands flashing,
Hack we shield with falchion,
Test we moony targets,
Tinge red sword in blood.
Ljot from life be sundered,
Low stern play shall lay him,
Quelled the quarrel-seeker:
Come, eagles, to your prey.’

Then Ljot came forward on the field and declared the law of combat, that he should ever after bear the name of dastard who should draw back outside the boundary stones that were set up in a ring round the field of combat. This done, they closed, and Egil dealt a blow at Ljot, which Ljot parried with his shield, but Egil then dealt blow upon blow so fast that Ljot got no chance for a blow in return. He drew back to get room for a stroke, but Egil pressed as quickly after him, dealing blows with all his vigour. Ljot went out beyond the boundary stones far into the field. So ended the first bout. Then Ljot begged for a rest. Egil let it be so. They stopped therefore and rested. And Egil sang:

‘Free-handed gold-giver,
Back goeth yon champion,
In craven fear crouches
This wealth-craving wight.
Not strongly fights spearmen
His strokes who delayeth.
Lo beat by a bald-head
This bragging pest flies.’

These were the laws of wager of battle in those times, that when one man challenged another on any claim, and the challenger gained the victory, then he should have as prize of victory that which he had claimed in his challenge. But if he were vanquished, then should he ransom himself for such price as should be fixed. But if he were slain on the field, then had he forfeited all his possessions, and he who slew him in the combat should take his inheritance. This was also law, that if a foreigner died who had no heir in the land, then that inheritance fell to the king’s treasury.

And now Egil bade Ljot be ready.

‘I will,’ he said, ‘that we now try to the uttermost this combat.’

Ljot sprang swiftly to his feet. Egil bounded at him and dealt at once a blow at him. He pressed him so close, that he was driven back, and the shield shifted from before him. Then smote Egil at Ljot, and the blow came on him above the knee, taking off his leg. Ljot then fell and soon expired. Then Egil went to where Fridgeir and his party stood. He was heartily thanked for this work. Then sang Egil:

‘Fall’n lies the wolf-feeder,
Foul worker of mischief:
Ljot’s leg by skald sever’d
Leaves Fridgeir in peace.
From the free gold-giver
Guerdon none I seek me,
Sport I deem the spear-din,
Sport with such pale foe.’

Ljot’s death was little mourned, for he had been a turbulent bully. He was a Swede by birth, and had no kin there in the land. He had come thither and amassed him wealth by duels. He had slain many worthy landowners, whom he had first challenged to wager of battle for their lands and heritages; he had now become very wealthy both in lands and chattels.

Egil went home with Fridgeir from the field of combat. He stayed there but a short time before going south to Mæri. Egil and Fridgeir parted with much affection. Egil charged Fridgeir with the securing of those lands that had belonged to Ljot. Egil went on his way and came to the Firths, whence he went into Sogn to seek Thord in Aurland. Thord received him well; he declared his errand and the message of king Hacon. These words of Egil were taken well by Thord, who promised him his help in this matter. Egil remained there with Thord far into the spring.


1893 translation into English by W. C. Green from the original Icelandic ‘Egils saga Skallagrímssonar’.


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