The Tale of

Geirmund Deathskin


© Peter Tunstall, 2006


Chapter One


Geirmund Deathskin was the son of King Hjor, the son of Half, who Half’s heroes are named after, the son of King Hjorleif.  King Hjor’s second son was called Hamund, also nicknamed Deathskin.  They were twins.  And here’s the story of why they were called Deathskin.  It happened once, when King Hjor had to go off to a meeting of kings, that the queen was with child; and her time came and she gave birth to two boys.  They were both extremely big, and both amazingly ugly to look at, but the most striking thing about their ugliness was that no one thought they’d seen darker skin than there was on those boys.  The queen had little liking for the boys; they didn’t seem very lovely to her.


There was a thrall called Furcap who was foreman over the other thralls.  This thrall was married, and his wife had a son at the same time as the queen gave birth, and this boy was so marvellously beautiful—the one the thrall’s wife had—that the queen couldn’t see a thing wrong with him.  And this boy, she thought, was much lovelier than her own.  Now the queen talks to the bondswoman about swapping the boys.  The bondswoman felt the same way as the queen, that her own son was better, but she didn’t dare refuse to swap boys with the queen.  And now the queen gets the bondswoman’s son and gives him a name and calls the boy Leif.  And the queen says that this boy is her own son, while the bondsoman takes the queen’s sons.  And they’re brought up in the straw with the other slave children till they reach the age of three.  Leif meanwhile crawls about and has all the honour that a king’s son might be expected to have.  But as the boys grow, all the same age, Leif grows fretful.  But that Hamund and Geirmund, the older they get the more they change, and the more they start to take after their ancestors.



Chapter Two


It’s said to have happened once that the poet Bragi came to a banquet with King Hjor and stayed with the king for a time.  And one day, it’s told, the king went hunting with his courtiers, and hardly anyone was left at home in the hall.  Bragi was there, sitting in the seat of honour opposite the king’s throne.  He had a cane in his hand and was playing with it, muttering into his cloak.  The queen was lying on the dais at the top end of the hall, covered under a pile of clothes so that no one would know she was there, if they just walked in.  Leif was sat on the throne, playing with gold, while the brothers Hamund and Geirmund sat in the straw, watching him as he played.  They didn’t see anyone else in the hall.


Then Geirmund said to his brother, “What do you say we go to Leif and take his gold off him, and we’ll play with it for a while?”


“I’m up for that,” says Hamund.  Then the boys ran up to the throne and took the gold off Leif, and he got upset.


“Listen to that,” they said, “how the king’s son has gone and started crying over one gold arm-ring.  One thing’s for sure: what you’re in charge of won’t go well.”  Now the boys grab Leif and push him off the throne and laugh at him.  Then up stands the poet Bragi and walks over to where the queen lay on the dais and poked her with his cane and spoke this verse:


“There’s two inside,

I trust well in both,

Hamund and Geirmund,

born of Hjor,

but Leif the third,

Furcap’s son,

few things will make that one look good;

few men will be worse.”


The queen gets up now and goes off with the boys and swaps them back with the bondswoman.  The truth is now apparent to the queen: that they’ve become more promising lads than they seem, as they had every right to be.  And in the evening, when the king came home and had sat down in his throne, she goes before him, taking the boys with her and tells him the whole story, and how she’d made a deal with the bondswoman, and begs him not to be angry.


The king looked at the boys and said, “I’m pretty sure these boys are of my kin, but I’ve never before seen such deathlike skin as these boys have on them.”  And that’s why they were called Deathskin.


And as soon as they were in their prime, they put to sea and set out raiding and soon won both wealth and fame, and for a long time they captained a great fleet, according to what it says in some reports, and there’s some mention in the latter part of the Saga of Rook the Black of how those brothers were reckoned to be the greatest warriors of all the sea-kings at that time.



Chapter Three


And it happened one summer, when they headed off on a viking expedition to the west, that they got a great haul of plunder much greater than any summer according to what’s been told.  And before they came home, they divided their summer’s plunder.  Each of them received twenty pounds of silver and two pounds of gold.  And that same summer, they broke up their fleet and payed off each of their men handsomely.  The brothers sailed with two ships to the kingdom of Norway, which at this time was ruled by King Harald Finehair.  And the brothers expected to have a safe haven there and split up their remaining two ships, and ended their partnership.  But when the king got news of that, he was not best pleased at their presence, and he thinks it not unlikely that they’ll be meaning to attack him.  Now, some say that Geirmund came to Iceland to escape King Harald who was too powerful for him.  But what Ive heard is that, at that time, when those brothers came home from their expedition to the west, it was generally held that there wasn’t an undertaking more highly regarded, for fame and glory, than to travel to Iceland; and for that very reason Geirmund was all for sailing out immediately that summer when they came back to Norway—it being late in the season—but Hamund didn’t want to.  Instead Hamund went to Helgi the Lean and sailed out with him.



Chapter Four


But Geirmund set out at once and brought his ship into Breidafjordur and spent his first winter in Iceland in Budardalur.  But in the spring, he took land from Budardal River all the way to the Fabein River, and set up home there in the place now called Geirmundarstadir.  Geirmund was a great man and never had less than eighty men with him at Geirmundarstadir capable of bearing arms.  He had four other farms besides: one of his farms was in Adalvik in Isafjordur, another in Kjaransvik—there lived Geirmund’s thrall Kjaran with twelve thralls under him—and Geirmund’s third farm was in West Almenningar; that was looked after by his thrall Bjorn.  Bjorn was later found guilty of sheep-stealing and Almenningar, that is the common lands, was his fine.  Geirmund’s fourth farm was looked after by his thrall Atli who had twelve thralls under him, just like Kjaran, and these all served with the same living allowance that he had from Geirmundarstadir.



Chapter Five


There was a man called Geir in the Norwegian province of Sogn, powerful and famous.  He was a man serious about sacrificial worship, from which he got the name Vegeir, that is Sanctuary-Geir.  He had seven children or more: sons called Vebjorn, Vegest, Vemund, Vestein, Veleif and Veorn, and a daughter called Vedis.  And when Vegeir died, Veorn took over the running of his estates along with the respect that people owed him.  He fell out with Jarl Hakon Grjotgardsson, and for that reason, the siblings all moved to Iceland.  They were tossed about for a long time at sea that summer, but made land eventually in the autumn at Hloduvik, west of Horn.  Then Vebjorn set about making a sacrificial meal, but his brothers urged him to leave, so that he neglected the sacrifice, and they all put out to sea and were shipwrecked that same day under high cliffs in a very bad storm, but managed to get ashore at the place that was afterwards called Sygnakleif, that is Cliff of the Sogn folk.  Then the whole crew were put up for the winter by Geirmund’s thrall Atli.  Atli was a hard man to get along with, and a great shape-shifter.


And when Geirmund learnt of this kindness on the part of his thrall, he asked him, “What led you to take on so much as to put up Vebjorn and his companions?”


The thrall answers, “What led me to do it was this: I wanted to show thereby what a great and noble men it was that owned a thrall who dared to undertake such a thing.”


Geirmund thanked the thrall for his daring and, in return for that, gave him his freedom and land to farm.  Many men were given generous gifts by Geirmund, both of lands and money.  He gave Hrolf Kjarlaksson a farm at Ballar River.  Hrolf was Geirmund’s friend; a great lineage traces its descent to him.  His sons were: Illugi the Red and Solvi the father of Thord, the father of Magnus, the father of Solvi, the father of Paul the Priest.



Chapter Six


Geirmund lived at Geirmundarstadir into his old age.  But there was a certain grassy hollow on his land that he said he’d rather get rid of, if he had any choice in the matter, and most of all because, “there’s this one place in the dell that every time I look that way, I get a dazzling light in my eyes which isn’t at all to my liking.  And that light is always shining over that rowan copse that’s grown all on its own under the slope there.”  And if at any time his cattle happened to graze in that dell, he had the milk from them destroyed that day.  And it’s said that one time his cattle had wandered down there in the night.  And when the herdsman got up and saw the cattle in the dell, he was stricken with fear and ran after them as fast as he could to chase them out of it, snapping off a twig from a bush and whipping the cows with it; and he drove them home to Geirmundarstadir.  Now Geirmund had got up out of bed and he sees the herdsman chasing the cows down from the dell, and he wasn’t best pleased that they’d been there; and he goes out to the herdsman and soon notices the rowan stick in his hand and that he’s whipping the cattle with it.  And then Geirmund became so furious at both of these things that he rushes at the herdsman and gives him a severe thrashing, telling him never again to beat his cattle with the wood that grows in that dell, least of all with wood off a rowan bush.  And Geirmund could easily recognise the wood because that was the only place on his land where rowan grew, there where the church now stands at Skard, according to what we’ve heard said by experts.  Geirmund had the stick taken away and burnt, and had his cattle driven into the pasture and their milk destroyed that day.