Work Header

The Flyting of Crisp-Kari

Work Text:



Since the day he escaped from the man-burning of Bergthorsknoll, Kari Solmundarson wore his hair cut short on one side. It was said by all that his hair and clothing were in flames when he leapt out of the house, so that his ear was lumpen and his scalp left bare. That is how Kari could be known by sight, from a great distance.

Still, it must be said that people spoke of him as Crisp-Kari, and that name spread among the districts.

His winter at Svinafell was sign to all that Kari had reconciled with Flosi Thordarson, and the matter at Bergthorsknoll should have been finished, but fame and deeds live even while grudges come to an end. Flosi held a feast at Yule to celebrate Christ, and the stories of Christ's valor in battle were told well into the dark of the night. Steinvor Flosi's wife well remembered how her father, Hall of Sida, spoke of the missionary Thangbrand, who defended himself with a crucifix in place of a shield, and struck his enemy down dead on the ground, and all at the table were renewed in Christian spirit.

Flosi's table was rich with foodstuffs, and rich with neighbors who did him honor. But among the guests was a stripling kinsman by marriage, called Narrow-Hrapp, who was the son of Thorkell of Orkney. He was a hale man, well-formed in brow and body, but his mouth was thin and bitter, and all remarked against it. Flosi had sailed with him during his exile, and depended on the strength in his arm many times. Upon their return to Iceland, Flosi found him a wife in hopes that this would soften Hrapp's temperament. But there was no improvement, and Hrapp antagonized all he met.

None in the district had yet relieved Narrow-Hrapp of his head, thanks to Flosi's influence. But it was with ill will that his tablemates met Hrapp, and they turned their faces away from him when he spoke. Late in the evening at the feast, when all had drunk each other's health, Narrow-Hrapp stood to give speech as all the others had done. Flosi raised a hand to stop his speaking, but silence was not what Hrapp gave his host.

"Great warriors and grandmothers," Hrapp told the feast-hall. This ended all other talk at the table, as you might expect. "You do honor to yourselves, allowing such a head-lopping coward among you as that one there." And he pointed to Kari, where he sat close by Flosi.

Kari's term of exile was ended, and besides he had been on a pilgrimage to Rome, which none but Flosi had ever done themselves. Instead of leaping to his feet and slaying Hrapp where he stood, Kari held his temper and asked, "Which head do you mention? I have lopped too many heads to single out only one."

"Your own head has seen some roasting," said Narrow-Hrapp.

"Crisp-Kari they call me, but I have paid back steel for flame," said Kari. This was true, and every guest, Flosi not least, could name the heads he had hewed on that account.

Flosi remonstrated with guest and with kinsman, but blood was in the air by then and they traded insults quickly. Hrapp said, "Gunnar Lambason, whom you killed at Orkney, was struck down without warning."

"Yes," said Kari, "I stopped up his lying mouth with one blow, and if you are not careful you may share his fate."

Flosi brought his fist down on the oaken table and swore that he would not see death done at his table. Kari sat back at this, and nodded to his friend, but Narrow-Hrapp would not be stopped. He snatched up his wood-axe from his belt and stood on the table, while crockery shattered on the floor.

He cried, "We shall see whose mouth is stopped, and whose weapon lies dull from disuse!"

Then that fellow came to know whether Kari's weapon was dulled, as he offered his bones for the son of Solmund to hew. His first blow glanced only, and came down so hard that his axe stuck into the table a finger's width: and Kari lopped off the arm that wielded that axe. While the manless hand clenched and opened on the table, Kari stood firm and asked, "Will Narrow-Hrapp become narrower?"

At this Narrow-Hrapp knew himself beaten, and ended the fight. Flosi saw that his wounds were tended, and named witnesses among the guests, so that all might say that it was Narrow-Hrapp who struck first, and Kari fought only to defend his own life. It was adjudicated at the Althing that year, and all agreed that Kari's blow was far less than Narrow-Hrapp deserved, and far less than he could have given. He held his full strength for Flosi's sake, and because of the pilgrimage he had undertaken. No punishment accrued to Kari Solmundarson, and it may be said that Narrow-Hrapp paid for his insults with his own arm.

"Come," said Flosi, after Hrapp had been disposed of. "This is the end of fighting in Svinafell." As indeed it was, and no fighting has been seen in that district for many years.