This is based on a story from the beginning of the Icelandic ‘Saga of the People of Vatnsdal’. It takes place in Norway. In Andrew Wawn’s translation of the saga where I came across this story, it was not without excitement, but I think that version may be a little too matter-of-fact for telling around a campfire. Whether my version succeeds in being better for telling around the campfire or not, one thing I should make clear – this poem is not a redundancy. There is much from my own imagination in it that makes it different from any other version of this story. As for location, in the translation of the saga I read Romsdal is mentioned as the location of Ketil’s farm and Raumsdal is the name of Ketil’s farm. Romsdalen is the name of a valley in western Norway through which the Rauma river runs until it reaches Romsdalsfjord. I begin the action next to Romsdalsfjord. Finally, I am a Christian but the characters in the poem are not. I do not espouse their perspectives.
For my Grandma Lee Love
Where the fjord in grey cliff’s shadow
Deep and cold goes to the ocean,
Once there lived a man in Romsdal,
Old, and rich, and ugly Ketil.
War-days were long past for Ketil,
Farming in the peaceful valley,
So he brought Mjoll as his bride there,
Anar Bowbender’s lovely daughter.
She to him bore fair-haired Thorstein,
Who grew handsome like his mother,
But in strength to match old Ketil
Did not show the slightest promise.
On the road from Romsdal winding,
Winding through the deep-carved valleys,
Lonely woods and snow-boned mountains,
Up to Oppland’s summer pastures,
In those days there lay in waiting
(Said the people of the valley)
Some fell killer, fierce death-bringer,
In the darkness of the forest.
Like a hungry beast the forest
Swallowed every man who entered.
Like a snake the road to Oppland
Killed the men who trod upon it.
No one who that dark track travelled
Lived to tell what lay in waiting,
What grim death-hand sped men’s spirits,
Made that road men’s final journey.
Silence only, sadly speaking,
Told the story of the evil,
Left the valley mourning brothers,
Weeping ‘neath the grey cliff’s shadow.
Men then said the mighty Ketil
Should not stand by, weapons idle.
‘In the days before a farmer
Was not he a mighty warrior?’
Illustration by Harry Clarke