Sworn Brothers Saga


Chapter 1  The chieftain Vermund Thorgrimsson lives at Vatnsfjord in Isafjord.  His wife Thorbjorg Olafsdaughter once saved the outlaw Grettir the Strong from some vengeful farmers who were about to lynch him.

Chapter 2  In Vermund’s district live two young troublemakers, the sworn brothers Thormod Bersason and Thorgeir Havarson.  Thorgeir’s cousin is the chieftain Thorgils Arason of Reykjaholar in Reykjaness (both their mothers were daughters of Alf of the Dales).  Because of  Thorgeir’s misdeeds, Vermund orders Havar to move out of the district.  Havar does so, but Thorgeir stays behind anyway, living with either his friend Thormod or his cousin Thorgils.  At his new home, Havar is killed by a neighbour named Jod.  

Chapter 3  Thorgeir kills Jod.  Thormod and Thorgeir, equipped with boat and henchmen, sail for Strandir for a summer of hunting, fishing, and troublemaking.  A storm blows them into Jokulsfirdir where they find shelter with a widow named Sigurfljod, who is at odds with two local troublemakers, Ingolf and his son Thorbrand, followers of chieftain Vermund.

Chapter 4  Sigurfljod persuades Thormod and Thorgeir to confront Ingolf and Thorbrand.

Chapter 5  Thormod kills Ingolf and Thorgeir kills Thorbrand.  Sigurfljod compensates chieftain Vermund, who nevertheless forces Bersi to move to Laugersdal.  Meanwhile, Thormod and Thorgeir spend the summer hunting and plundering at Strandir, after which Thormod winters with Bersi at Laugersdal and Thorgeir makes his way to his cousin chieftain Thorgils’ farm at Reykjaholar.

Chapter 6  En route to Reykjaholar, Thorgeir encounters Butraldi, a troublemaking vagabond who is distantly related to chieftain Vermund.  Butraldi taunts Thorgeir.  Thorgeir kills Butraldi.  Thorgeir winters with chieftain Thorgils.

Chapter 7  Next spring the sworn brothers return to Strandir where Thorgeir kills Thorgils Masson in a dispute over a stranded whale.  Chieftain Thorstein Kuggason promptly has Thorgeir outlawed.  After a successful summer of troublemaking, the sworn brothers have a falling out when Thormod takes exception to Thorgeir’s idly boastful speculation as to which of the two of them is the doughtiest warrior.  Thormod winters with his father Bersi and Thorgeir with his cousin chieftain Thorgils.

Chapter 8  Thorgeir, as an outlaw, must leave Iceland, so Thorgils finds him passage to Norway.  En route to the ship, Thorgeir kills Bjarni and Skuf, two yokels who had commandeered his horse.  To prevent trouble on the voyage, a traveller named Gaut who is related to Thorgeir’s victim Thorgils Masson is denied passage.  Thorgeir departs.  Chieftain Thorgils arranges a settlement with Thorgeir’s prosecutor chieftain Thorstein Kuggason.  Thorgeir becomes a retainer of King Olaf.  For fourteen years he winters alternately in Norway and Iceland.

(Chapters 7 and 8 (Flateyarbok)  After killing Thorgils Masson, the sworn brothers pass a busy summer and an uneventful winter.  In the spring they both ride to the ship.  The falling out occurs for the same reason as in the other texts at a tidal ford where Thorgeir gets across but Thormod stays behind.  Thorgeir proceeds to the ship.  En route he kills two yokels, one named Torfi Bundle, in a fit of pique, and the other, an unnamed shepherd, just for fun.)


Chapters 9 and 10  While Thorgeir is trading between Iceland and Norway, Thormod stays home on the farm.  He takes up with Thordis, daughter of neighbouring widow Grima, a wise woman.  Concerned for her daughter’s reputation, Grima orders her slave Kolbak to attack Thormod, who is so seriously wounded that for the rest of his life he is left-handed.  Kolbak is outlawed and Grima sends him abroad.  Her spells protect Kolbak during the attack, conceal him when Bersi searches for him, and raise a favourable wind for his departure.

Chapter 11  Next, Thormod takes up with Thorbjorg Kolbrun, daughter of the widow Katla, who gives him the sobriquet by which he is afterwards known, Kolbrunarskald.  When Thordis Grimasdaughter accuses him of infidelity he mollifies her by claiming that the Kolbrun verses were really about her.  But Thorbjorg Kolbrun appears to him in a dream and forces him to publicly rededicate the verses to her.


Chapter 12  One spring, en route to his ship in Iceland, Thorgeir kills Haekils-Snorri who resents having Thorgeir’s horses in his meadow.  Haekils-Snorri, you may recall, had a dispute with Thorstein Egilsson about the marsh Gufufitjar.

Chapter 13  King Olaf commissions Thorgeir to avenge an offence committed by an Icelander named Thorir of Hrofa.  Thorgeir travels to Iceland with a carpenter called Veglag, who helps him build a house at chieftain Thorgils’ farm at Reykjaholar.  Thorgeir kills Thorir of Hrofa.  Veglag commits thefts at Reyjaholar but Thorgeir protects him and sends him to live with Thormod.  The next spring, Thorgeir takes Veglag to Scotland where he comes to a bad end.

(Chapter 13 (Flateyarbok)  Before Thorgeir departs for Scotland, the sworn brothers travel to Strandir where Thormod rescues Thorgeir, who has slipped while harvesting angelica on a cliff.)

Chapter 14  King Olaf and Illugi, the brother of chieftain Thorgils, both advise Thorgeir not to return to Iceland as usual because he has so many enemies there.  Nevertheless, Thorgeir sticks to his customary routine.  Illugi also returns to Iceland, where two travellers book passage on his next voyage abroad, a farmhand known as Helgi Selseista who is famous for being fleet of foot, and Gaut, the man who had been denied passage when Thorgeir was outlawed for killing Thorgils Masson.

Chapter 15  Eyjolf and his foster brother Thorgils Hofleysa live at Olafsdale.  Their nurse has predicted a falling out between them.  Thorgeir and Illugi winter with chieftain Thorgils at Reykjaholar.  In the spring, Thorgils and Illugi attend the Althing while Thorgeir travels to the harbour to get Illugi’s ship ready.  With him are two other passengers from the district, the brothers Kalf and Steinolf.  When they arrive at the harbour, Gaut is already there.  Gaut taunts Thorgeir by using his weapons as firewood.  Thorgeir responds in kind, then kills Gaut.

Chapters 16 and 17  As Thorgeir and his crew ready Illugi’s ship for sea, a trading vessel bound for Greenland puts into harbour, bearing Thorgrim Troll and Thorarin the Overbearing.  To avenge Gaut, they kill several of Thorgeir’s men and take Kalf and Steinolf prisoner.  Helgi Selseista flees, carrying the news to Thorgils and Illugi at the Althing, but the confrontation continues after he leaves.  Thorgrim and Thorarin board Illugi’s ship, killing Thorgeir and many others.  Thorarin decapitates Thorgeir.

Chapter 18  Kalf and Steinolf are released unharmed.  Thorgrim Troll returns to his farm in Greenland.  Thorarin the Overbearing parades Thorgeir’s head around until it becomes too putrid, whereupon he buries it near Naust in Eyjafjord.  Chieftain Thorgils wins heavy compensation for Thorgeir from Thorarin the Overbearing, who is killed later that year at an assembly in Eyjafjord.  Thormod goes to Norway and joins Olaf’s court.  The brothers Kalf and Steinolf are also at court, as are the foster brothers Eyjolf and Thorgils Hofleysa.  Returning to Iceland, the foster brothers have the predicted falling out.  Eyjolf winters at home in Olafsdal, but Thorgils Hofleysa winters with Kalf and Steinolf.

Chapter 19  The old woman dies who had predicted the estrangement between Eyjolf and Thorgils Hofleysa.  Eyjolf takes the body to church for burial.  Returning to Ilafsdal, he passes the farm where Thorgils Hofleysa is staying with the brothers Kalf and Steinolf.  The brothers see an apparition of Thorgeir Havarson and the others slain with him in the battle with Thorgrim Troll and Thorarin the Overbearing.  Thorgils Hofleysa confronts his foster brother Eyjolf and they spear each other to death.


Chapter 20  Thormod travels from Norway to Greenland with a Greenlander named Skuf.  Also travelling with Skuf is a mysterious taciturn stranger named Gest.  Gest and Thormod cooperate to effect an emergency repair to the ship.  Arriving at Eiriksfjord, Thormod winters with chieftain Thorkel Leifsson at Brattahlid, Skuf with his partner Bjarni at their farm Stokkanes across the fjord from chieftain Thorkel, and Gest at a farm in Einarsfjord called Vik.

Chapter 21  Einarsfjord is also the home of chieftain Thorgrim Troll, whose household includes his widowed sister Thordis and her four offspring the Hamundarsons Bodvar, Falgeir, Thorkel, and Thord.  A fifth nephew of Thorgrim Troll named Ljot resides in the district as well.  At a farm called Hamar in Eiriksfjord live Sigrid and her son Sigurd.  At chieftain Thorkel’s farm Brattahlid, Thormod is assigned a maid-servant who is the spouse of a slave called Lodin.  Lodin is jealous of Thormod.

Chapter 22  Skuf and his partner Bjarni attend a Yuletide feast at Brattahlid.  Lodin assaults Thormod but Bjarni intervenes.  Thormod kills Lodin, arousing chieftain Thorkel’s ire, but Skuf and Bjarni protect Thormod and he goes to live with them.

Chapter 23  Skuf and Bjarni furnish Thormod with an axe and a servant.  At the Einarsfjord assembly, Thormod kills chieftain Thorgrim Troll.  Skuf and Bjarni hide him in a cave in Eiriksford.  Thormod is outlawed by Thorgrim Troll’s nephews the Hamundarsons.  

     Near his hideout, Thormod changes clothes with a vagabond known as Louse Oddi and sends Oddi to Skuf and Bjarni to give them the hint that dark deeds are unfolding.  Thormod uses his disguise to approach the Hamundarsons.  He kills Thorkel Hamundarson and flees, pursued by Falgeir and Thord.  Thormod manages to kill them both, but the struggle leaves him wet and wounded on a skerry in the middle of the night.  Alerted by Louse Oddi, Skuf and Bjarni come to the rescue.  They secretly convey Thormod to the isolated farm of Gamli and Grima, where he hides out for over a year, recovering his strength.

     Thordis, the sister of Thorgrim Troll and mother of the Hamundarsons, is a wise woman.  Through sorcery she discovers Thormod’s whereabouts and with her last surviving son Bodvar sets out to kill him.  But Grima is a wise woman as well.  She is aware of the impending assault and magically conceals Thormod.

Chapter 24  When Thormod has fully recovered from his wounds he goes to live secretly with Skuf and Bjarni, who are preparing to sell up and leave Greenland for good.  Thormod disappears by faking his own drowning and seeks out Sigurd of Hamar.  Together they assault Thorgrim Troll’s nephew Ljot.  They both manage to wound him but in return he wounds Thormod in the calf.  Then Thormod steals a boat and sets off for Vik, where the mysterious Gest is staying.  (Sigurd returns home, and eventually he and his mother Sigrid are taken in by Skuf and Bjarni.)  Thordis is magically aware of Thormod’s doings and sends her son Bodvar Hamundarson to intercept him as he rows to Vik.

     (Flateyarbok:  After assaulting Ljot, Thormod and Sigurd are taken in by Skuf and Bjarni.  Thormod travels to Einarsfjord to attack Bodvar Hamundarson.  Surprised by a servant near Bodvar’s boathouse, Thormod assaults the man and flees in a rowboat.  Bodvar and his men pursue.)

     Thormod eludes Bodvar by faking his own drowning (again).  The ruse succeeds but leaves him wet and wounded on a skerry in the middle of the night (again).  King Olaf appears in a dream to the farmer at Vik, alerting him to Thormod’s predicament and informing him that his guest Gest is actually an Icelander known as Helgu-Steinar.  Gest rescues Thormod.  Thormod and Gest kill Ljot.  Skuf and Bjarni, Sigurd and Sigrid, and Thormod all go to Norway.  Gest stays behind as a guest of chieftain Thorkel Leifsson.

     Back at court, Thormod finds that an impostor has been rewarded for avenging Thorgeir Havarson.  Thormod convinces King Olaf that he, Thormod, deserves all the credit.  On the eve of the Battle of Stiklestad, King Olaf promises Thormod that they will not be separated in life or in death.  On the morning of the battle, Thormod recites Bjarkamal, which the king dubs Huskarlahvot.  King Olaf is killed in the battle but Thormod is unscathed.  He is despondent until a stray arrow gives him a mortal wound.  Then he cheerfully repairs to an infirmary where he assaults an enemy soldier who belittled Olaf’s wounded by claiming that the howling of their wounds was actually the moaning of the men themselves.  Thormod recites verses until he dies with the last line of a poem half-spoken on his lips.  King Harald completes the verse.

     (The Battle of Stiklestad as told in Flateyarbok differs from the other two manuscripts in several ways.  Olaf states that Thormod will join him in Paradise only after spending a week in Purgatory, half a day for each man he has killed.  The house carls themselves dub Bjarkamal Huskarlahvot.  Thormod’s fatal arrow is conjured by his prayer to Olaf.  At the infirmary, Thormod assaults an enemy who tries to steal a gold ring from him as well as the enemy who sneers at the wounded.  The latter has his buttocks sliced off by Thormod.)



Chapter 1  After Thorgeir is killed, Thormod goes to Denmark where King Canute offers him a fee of one mark to enter his service.

Chapter 2  Canute dismisses Thormod, sending him to join the crew of the viking Harek in the prestigious post of prowsman.  Thormod stipulates that Harek must share his authority with Thormod.  Before departing, Thormod demands his fee.  Canute tries to fob him off with half a mark but Thormod holds out for payment in full.

Chapter 3  Harek and Thormod encounter King Olaf’s dragon-ship.  Thormod uses his stipulated authority to force a confrontation.  Thormod kills Olaf’s prowsman, then boards the dragon-ship where he is captured.  Thormod throws himself on Olaf’s mercy, citing his connection with the king’s  man Thorgeir as well as his own intense personal devotion to Olaf.  At Bishop Sigurd’s urging, King Olaf pardons Thormod and takes him into his service.


A merchant from Eyjafjord named Thorarin the Overbearing encounters Thorgeir who has been outlawed “for the killing of Thorgils, the kinsman of Grettir Asmundarson, and secretly slaying Thorir at Hrofa.”  He decapitates Thorgeir, preserves his head in salt, and displays it at the Althing, claiming any and all rewards which may have been offered for it.  He then buries the head in a mound on Vadil’s Horn.  Meanwhile, Thormod has pursued Thorgrim the Troll (now mentioned for the first time in the tale) to Greenland.  When King Olaf learns of Thorarin’s infamous mistreatment of Thorgeir’s corpse he commissions his Icelandic follower Eyjolf Gudmundarson to kill Thorarin.  That fall, both Eyjolf and Thorarin attend an assembly . . .