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Thorstein the Staff-Struck

An old Viking, named Thorarin, was living with his son, Thorstein, on a farm where they raised horses. An unpleasant man named Thord, who worked for the wealthy chieftain of the district around the village of Hóf , a man named Bjarni. Thord arranged a horse fight between one of his boss Bjarni's stallions and one of Thorstein's. During the fight, Thord, whose horse was losing, struck Thorstein on the forehead with a staff, causing Thorstein to bleed. Thorstein bandaged his head and asked that no one tell his quick-tempered father about the incident, but two other of Bjarni's men, Thorhall and Thorvald, kept joking about it and making fun of Thorstein, giving Thorstein the nickname "staff-struck.”

Word of these happenings eventually reached old Thorarin, who confronted his son to find out the truth. After all, according to Viking tradition, revenge should be quickly carried out in response to such a disgrace. Ignoring Thorstein's suggestion that the hit might have been accidental, Thorarin calls his son Thorstein a coward and taunts him until Thorstein has no choice but to ride to the village of Hóf and deal with Thord, the man who struck him with the staff. When Thord refuses either to say he struck Thorstein by accident or to offer to pay Thorstein for his injuries, Thorstein kills Thord, announces the slaying to the villagers, and returns home to tell his father Thorarin. The next spring Bjarni the chieftain has Thorstein outlawed for the murder, partly to keep order and partly because Thord was one of his own workers. However, Thorstein ignores the order to move into exile and continues to work his farm and look after his father.

The autumn after Thorstein was outlawed, Bjarni overheard Thorhall and Thorvald (two of Bjarni’s workers) gossiping among the farm hands, saying that it was a stain on Bjarni's honor to allow Thorstein to go on about his business without being punished for the murder of Thord. The next day Bjarni told Thorhall and Thorvald to ride over to Thorstein's farm and bring back Thorstein’s head. As Bjarni expected, Thorhall and Thorvald’s horses returned that evening with the bodies of Thorhall and Thorvald tied across their backs. Thorstein had killed them both.

That Yule (a winter festival), Bjarni's wife began to nag at him, claiming his men were starting to doubt the value of his support if he would not avenge the deaths of three of his own men (remember that Thorstein had killed Thord, Thorhall, and Thorvald). The next morning Bjarni took his sword and shield and rode to meet Thorstein. Although Bjarni’s wife protested that he should ride without a group of men (as indeed was the custom when dealing with an outlaw), Bjarni insisted on going alone. When he reached Thorstein’s farm, Bjarni demanded that he and Thorstein should fight a duel on the spot.

The two men began the duel with all the customary formalities and with great respect. Although they have no seconds (someone to help them if they get seriously injured) and the proper notice was not given, they observe the law of duels in taking alternating stabs at each other. First, Bjarni takes a stab at Thorstein, then, Thorstein lunges at Bjarni, and so on. Thorstein continually protests that he is no match for Bjarni and is willing to leave the country if Bjarni will take care of his father, Thorarin.

Bjarni finds the duel with Thorstein more difficult than he expected. When Bjarni asks for a break to get a drink of water, Thorstein brings them both new shields and offers Bjarni a better sword, saying the one he has been using can't be the one he fought with at the famous battle of Böðvarsdal (Bjarni was a well respected war hero). When Bjarni shatters Thorstein's shield with his next strike, Thorstein does the same to Bjarni’s shield--and Bjarni now understands that Thorstein has been holding back throughout the fight. Bjarni declares he would consider himself repaid for the deaths of his three workers if Thorstein would take the place of the workers he killed, since he has the reputation of working as hard as three ordinary men. Seeing no reason to continue to fight, Thorstein accepts the offer to work for Bjarni.

All that remains now is to tell old Thorarin the news. Bjarni goes to greet old Thorarin in his bedroom, at first telling him that Thorstein has been killed. Bjarni also tells the old Viking that he will allow Thorarin to come live with him. The nearly blind old Viking Thorarin tells Bjarni to lean closer so they can shake hands on the deal, but Bjarni spots the dagger that Thorarin is planning to use on him and leaps back, calling him a miserable old fart! Thorarin wanted to kill Bjarni for two reasons: first to avenge the death of his son Thorstein (he wasn’t really dead, but Bjarni had told Thorarin that he was because if Thorstein begins to work for Bjarni, Thorstein would no longer be able to look after Thorarin), and second because the Vikings believed that a warrior could automatically go to Valhalla (Heaven) by dying in combat.

Finally Bjarni arranges to have Thorstein enter Bjarni's service at Hóf, while Bjarni sends many workers to work old Thorarin's farm for the rest of his days.

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