The life of Thorfinn Sigurdarson, Jarl of Orkney, by Thormod Morrisson, adapted from Orkneyinga saga with additional material from Brennu Njals saga. Thorfinn Sigurdarson (Žorfinnr Siguršarson) was known as the Mighty and the Raven Feeder, from his prowess in war. Son of Jarl Sigurd Hlodvisson and Donalda, daughter of Malcolm II King of Scots, he was the greatest of the Orkney jarls.
There was a king called Sigtrygg, the son of Olaf Kvaran. Sigtrygg's mother Kormlod, a woman of outstanding beauty but of a wicked nature, had been married to Brian, High King of Ireland, but was then divorced by him. Afterward Kormlod was not best disposed toward King Brian, whose death she actively plotted. She sent her son King Sigtrygg to Orkney with a view to enlisting the help of Jarl Sigurd Hlodvisson in this enterprise. The jarl needed some persuasion and many of his men were against the idea, but he eventually agreed on the understanding that he would have Kormlod for a wife and be high king himself if the expedition was successful.
Kormlod was well pleased at the news her son brought back to her, but made it plain that they would need greater forces yet to overthrow King Brian. So she sent Sigtrygg off to negotiate with two infamous vikings, Ospak and Brodir, who lay off the Isle of Man with thirty ships. Sigtrygg was to promise them whatever it took to win their support.
Brodir was no keener than Jarl Sigurd had initially been to get involved until Sigtrygg offered him what the jarl of Orkney had agreed to as his price - to rule the kingdom and have Kormlod as his wife. All knowledge of this separate agreement with Brodir was kept quiet for fear of it reaching Jarl Sigurd.
Brodir then asked his ally Ospak to join him in the expedition, but Ospak, a cunning heathen, wasn't the least bit pleased about attacking King Brian, who was noble, generous and well liked. The upshot was that they ended up splitting their forces and parted on far from friendly terms, Ospak anchoring his ten ships inside the sound, while Brodir lay outside it with the other twenty.
Brodir had been a deacon once, but then he took to sorcery and heathen ways. Following his decision to oppose King Brian several bad omens appeared to Brodir, including a rain of blood, a mighty clamour, his own weapons turning against him and a frenzied assault by ravens.
Understandably disturbed, Brodir went to see Ospak about it. Ospak was wary and would say nothing until Brodir swore peace between the two of them. Also knowing that Brodir wouldn't kill at nightfall, he put off interpreting the omens until dark.
Ospak then gave his explanation of the omens and it was far from cheery. The blood shower signified that Brodir would shed a lot of blood, his own as well as that of others. The great din was the sound of the world splitting and meant the fall of Brodir and his men. The attack on Brodir by his own weapons was a clear sign that the battle would go against him. And the ravenous birds were the demons Brodir had once believed in when he was a deacon dragging him down to Hel.
Afterward Brodir had the sound blocked with ships, as he didn't particularly like Ospak's interpretation of the omens and planned to kill him in the morning.
Ospak saw the line of ships cabled to the shore and it did little to improve his presence of mind. He knew that Brodir was trying to prevent his escape. He then vowed to be a Christian and to follow King Brian.
Ospak ordered his men to cover their ships and to pole them quietly along under darkness. They cut the cables of Brodir's vessels and waited for them to drift from shore while their crews slept on board. Ospak and his men were then able to escape and headed straight for Ireland, travelling to Kincora to warn the high king about the plot to overthrow him. King Brian took Ospak under his protection and mustered forces.
THE BATTLE OF CLONTARF
Before Jarl Sigurd set out for Ireland he left his elder sons Sumarliši, Brusi and Einar Wry Mouth in charge of Orkney. The youngest boy Thorfinn was sent over to Scotland to be fostered by King Malcolm, his maternal grandfather.
Brodir and his men were mustered ready for battle at Dublin when Jarl Sigurd arrived with his forces on Palm Sunday. As well as his own Orkneymen, the jarl had recruited warriors from Skye, Lewis, Kintyre and Argyll.
Brodir was curious to learn more about the upcoming battle and used divination and sorcery to find it out. He decided not to attack before Good Friday, as he had learned that he and all King Brian's enemies would die as a result. If the assault took place on the Friday however, Brian would win the battle but lose his life.
King Brian refused to raise arms on Good Friday, but as the forces opposing him were drawn up in battle array, he had his army march out of Dublin to meet them. On one flank was Ulf Hreda, the king's brother, on the other Ospak with the king's sons. In the centre was Kerthjalfad, King Brian's fosterson and the bravest of men. Behind his army the king was guarded by a shield wall in respect for his wishes not to fight on that day.
The opposing forces were drawn up with Jarl Sigurd in the centre, while Brodir and King Sigtrygg held the flanks.
The battle started fiercely, with Brodir slaying all before him until he came up against Ulf Hreda. Ulf attacked Brodir with such force that he knocked him down twice, after which Brodir retreated into the woods.
Meanwhile Kerthjalfad cut through Jarl Sigurd's army until he reached the standard bearer, whom he killed. Another man was then told to lift the banner and Kerthjalfad killed him too.
The banner had been made by Jarl Sigurd's mother Eithne, a sorceress, and bore the figure of a raven in flight. Its quality was this: that it would bring victory to the one before whom it was carried, but death to the man who carried it, and that was certainly proving true.
Jarl Sigurd told Thorsteinn Hallsson, an Icelander, to pick up the banner, but a man called Amundi the White warned him not to, as it was certain death to carry it.
Jarl Sigurd then turned to another man, Hrafn the Red, and ordered him to take up the banner, but Hrafn told him to carry his own devil.
The jarl tore the standard from its staff and tucked it beneath his clothing with the words: 'A beggar should carry his own bundle'.
He was killed by a spear shortly afterward.
Ospak drove King Sigtrygg and what remained of the opposing army into flight.
As everyone else was running, Thorsteinn Hallsson suddenly stopped to tie the thong on his shoe.
Kerthjalfad asked him why he'd stopped.
'Because I can't reach my home in Iceland tonight,' said Thorsteinn, and Kerthjalfad took him under his protection.
Brodir saw that King Brian's army was in hot pursuit of their fleeing foes and that the shield wall was now thinly manned around him. He burst out of the woods, hacked through the shields and attacked the king. Brian's youngest son Tadk put out an arm to protect his father, but Brodir's sword cut right through it and carried on to lop off the king's head.
When Ulf Hreda and Kerthjalfad recieved the news that Brodir had killed Brian they turned back with their forces and had tree branches cut. They wanted Brodir alive and so they surrounded him and hemmed him in. Neither he nor his men could make any headway against the mass of branches, as their weapons could'nt break through the tangle, and so they were all overcome and slain.
Brodir was taken to an oak tree where Ulf Hreda cut him open. He was then led about the tree with his entrails winding around it, and that's how he met his end.
DIVISION OF THE JARLDOM
With the fall of their father, Jarl Sigurd, in battle, his three eldest sons Sumarliši, Einar Wry Mouth and Brusi, divided the jarldom between them. Thorfinn, the youngest, was just five winters old at the time, being raised by his grandfather, Malcolm, King of Scots. The king made Thorfinn jarl of Caithness and Sutherland, with picked men to guide him.
It so happened that Sumarliši, the eldest of the brothers, died in his bed. Thorfinn, who was growing into a bold and ambitious child, then claimed Sumarliši's share of Orkney. Einar was having none of this, pointing out that his little brother already had Caithness and Sutherland, which were included in the jarldom, and indeed made up over a third of it.
Brusi, the most easy-going of the brothers, was happy with the share he already had and didn't mind if Thorfinn got what he wanted.
Einar was less accommodating and took the dead brother's share for himself. He proved to be a hard and unpopular ruler, levying heavy taxes on the farmers to such an extent that it led to great hardship and famine.
Those living on the islands where Brusi ruled were far better off.
There was a man called Amundi who had a farm at Sandvik in that part of the jarldom ruled by Einar. Amundi was a wise man, wealthy, influential and well liked, so it was no great surprise when the disgruntled farmers asked him to talk to the jarl about all the dues and duties he was imposing on them.
Amundi was far from convinced that this was a good idea, as Jarl Einar was so hard to deal with. He advised them not to get on the wrong side of the jarl, who was only likely to make their lives even more miserable.
The farmers then had a word with Thorkel, Amundi's son, who eventually gave in to their pleas after a lot of persuasion. Amundi didn't think this too sensible.
Nevertheless Thorkel went with the farmers to meet Jarl Einar, who was getting ready for one of the viking expeditions their taxes were paying for. He explained to the jarl how much the farmers were suffering and asked him to be a bit more lenient with them.
Jarl Einar seemed to take this well enough, and replied that although he had originally meant to have six ships for the expedition, he would now take only three. He then warned Thorkel not to ask him for anything else.
The farmers were well pleased with what Thorkel had done for them, but the next spring following his viking trip, Jarl Einar laid another heavy tax on his subjects and Thorkel once again spoke on their behalf. This time the jarl flew into a rage and told Thorkel that he had only made matters worse, and that only one of them would be around for the next assembly.
When Amundi learned how things had turned out he thought it would be a good idea for Thorkel to put some distance between himself and the jarl. The upshot was that Thorkel crossed over to Caithness and joined Jarl Einar's little brother Thorfinn. Thorkel raised the boy and that's how he came to get the nickname Fostri, the Fosterer.
THORFINN AND EINAR AT ODDS
Thorfinn celebrated his coming of age by repeating his claim for one trithing, or third, of the islands, something his elder brother Einar took a rather dim view of. So Thorfinn started raising an army. When Jarl Einar got word of this he mustered his own forces and set out to confront his little brother, but Jarl Brusi came between them and persuaded them to come to peaceful terms. The result was that Thorfinn got his third of Orkney while his elder brothers put their own thirds together to rule in common. If either Brusi or Einar died the two thirds would fall to whoever survived the other. Thorfinn picked stewards to govern his third of Orkney and continued to spend most of his time in Caithness.
Jarl Einar would often go on viking trips, but the meagre spoils he accumulated on his raids hardly seemed worth the effort. During one of these expeditions, a raid in Ireland, he was beaten by King Konofogor at Ulfreksfjoršr or Lough Larne and lost a lot of men.
The following summer a man called Eyvind Urar Horn was leaving Ireland for Norway when his ship was hit by bad weather near Orkney. Eyvind and his crew put in at Asmundarvagr on Mainlaind while the storm raged. Eyvind was a retainer of King Olaf Haraldsson and held in high esteem. Jarl Einar recieved the news, gathered his men and ordered Eyvind siezed and killed. Most of the crew were allowed to live however, and in the autumn they continued on to Norway, bringing the news of Eyvind's murder to King Olaf. The king didn't say much, but it was clear that he considered Eyvind's killing a personal loss and a grave crime.
Thorkel Fostri went north to the islands to collect Thorfinn's tributes, but returned sharp to Caithness when he was warned that Jarl Einar planned to kill him. Einar blamed Thorkel for stirring things up against him when his little brother Thorfinn claimed his share of Orkney.
'Only two things are open to me,' Thorkel told his foster son back in Caithness. 'Either I have it out with Jarl Einar and settle things or I get as far away from him as I can.'
Thorfinn could tell that it was only a matter of time before things came to a head between his foster father and Jarl Einar, his brother. So he advised Thorkel to leave for Norway, where he would be held in high esteem, and that he should speak with King Olaf. Thorkel accepted the advice and set off for Norway, where he stayed with King Olaf all winter. The king thought very highly of Thorkel and often followed his counsel.
On the subject of the jarls it was plain for King Olaf to see that Thorkel favoured Thorfinn over Einar, and not without good reason.
REMOVING A RIVAL
King Olaf sent a message of goodwill to Thorfinn in the spring with a request for him to come to Norway. Thorfinn accepted the invitation and set sail, and on his arrival recieved a friendly welcome from King Olaf. Thorfinn was an honoured guest for most of the summer and King Olaf gave him a present of a big well-equipped longship. Thorfinn then gave his foster father Thorkel the ship he had come over to Norway in, and they sailed back home in fine style, having established good relations with King Olaf.
That autumn Thorfinn sailed to Orkney with his foster father, provoking Jarl Einar, who started mustering forces. Jarl Brusi once again made peace between his two brothers, upon which they took oaths. In the spirit of reconciliation it was agreed that Thorkel Fostri and Jarl Einar should patch up their differences by each providing a feast for the other.
Thorkel arranged the first one, a bounteous affair at Sandvik, yet even though he had provided the best of everything, Jarl Einar wasn't in the mood to appreciate it, and when the feast came to an end he seemed impatient to be off. The plan now was for Thorkel to accompany the jarl to the banquet he was supposed to be organising, but he was suspicious of Jarl Einar and had some of his men check the route they were to take. They returned to tell Thorkel that there were men waiting in ambush along the route at not one, but three separate places. It was obvious that the jarl was not to be trusted, and so Thorkel gathered his men. There was a door at either end of the feasting hall, and he had them wait outside one of them while he kept going in and out of the other, appearing very busy.
Jarl Einar told him it was time to go, but Thorkel replied that he had a few things to take care of before he was ready to leave. Finally he came back in and he had an Icelander with him called Hallvard from the East Fjords. Hallvard shut the door while Thorkel strode up to where Jarl Einar was sitting by the long fire.
'Are you ready now?' the jarl asked.
Thorkel said that he was and gave the jarl a hard stroke to the head, knocking him to the floor. Hallvard pretended to upbraid Jarl Einar's men for not pulling him out of the fire, then slipped the curved blade of his Irish axe under the jarl's neck and hoisted him back on the bench. He then followed Thorkel out the other door, where his men were waiting ready.
Jarl Einar's followers could see that he was dead but made no move against his killer. For one thing they were taken by surprise at what had just happened, and for another most had laid aside their weapons for the feast, while Thorkel had strong support from his comrades, and better luck.
KING OLAF LAYS CLAIM
After this Thorkel sailed off to Norway and stayed the winter with King Olaf. As has already been told, Jarl Einar had executed Eyvind Urar Horn, a man the king thought very highly of, so he was not the least bit put out by the news that the jarl himself had been killed.
Back in Orkney Jarl Brusi took over his dead brother Einar's share of the islands, in accordance with their previous agreement. But Thorfinn was of the opinion that he and Brusi should split the jarldom between them, and so he claimed half the islands. Brusi was having none of it and stated that he was only keeping to what had been agreed. Thorfinn said that a third of the jarldom should be sufficient for Brusi, alluding to his peace-loving temperament. However, with neither one prepared to budge on the matter, all attempts by others to reconcile the two fell by the wayside.
Brusi sailed off to see King Olaf, as he knew that he couldn't successfully stand up against his little brother, given Thorfinn's superior resources as well as the armed support of his grandfather, the King of Scots. He took his son Rognvald with him, then ten winters old.
When he reached Norway, Brusi explained to King Olaf that his jarldom was under threat and appealed for his help in maintaining it. King Olaf replied that King Harald Harfagr had originally taken Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides and appointed the first jarl in the islands, which were held in fief. And that, for example, the jarls paid homage to Eirik Blood Axe when he visited Orkney with his sons.
'Your own father, Jarl Sigurd submitted to my kinsman Olaf Tryggvason,' he told Brusi. 'So, as long as you become my man and pay me homage in turn, you can have the islands in fee.'
It would then be decided which had the more weight, he said, his backing of Jarl Brusi or King Malcolm's support for Thorfinn. If Brusi refused to comply, added Olaf, he would take control of all the udal rights for himself.
Jarl Brusi now realised what a difficult position he had placed himself in by seeking King Olaf's support. He discussed the matter with his followers, but had to concede that the king had the upper hand. The upshot was that he swore fealty to King Olaf and lost direct control of his jarldom thereby.
KING OLAF'S ULTIMATUM
When Thorfinn heard that Brusi had gone to Norway seeking King Olaf's help he was not overly put out by the news. He had faith in the good relations he had enjoyed earlier with the king and was confident about recieving the support of other important people. With this in mind he set sail hard at his elder brother's back, intending to give Brusi as little time as possible with King Olaf before he himself turned up seeking an audience.
He was of course too late, as the king had already settled the affair in a manner neither one of them had quite suspected. King Olaf now had complete control of Brusi's jarldom and wanted Thorfinn's share as well on the same grounds -- that his forebears had always held royal authority over the islands, with the jarls ruling them in trust. He expected Thorfinn to pay him homage as his elder brother had done, and again cited the instance of Thorfinn's father Jarl Sigurd having paid homage to his predecessor Olaf Tryggvason. Thorfinn knew that his father hadn't had much choice in the matter, as he was being threatened with death at the time. (Jarl Sigurd and his people had also been forced into Christian baptism and his young son Hvelp taken hostage. The boy had died shortly after he was taken to Norway and Jarl Sigurd had refused to pay homage from then on).
Thorfinn realised what a tricky situation he was in and decided to try a ploy. He told the king that he would be pleased to give him support when needed, but that he couldn't pay him homage.
'I'm already subject to the King of Scots,' he explained, on the grounds that he was unable to serve two rulers, being a jarl of King Malcolm.
King Olaf wasn't satisfied with Thorfinn's answer. He warned him what would happen if he did not comply with the demands as his brother had. 'I'll appoint a jarl of my choosing to govern the islands, in which case I'll want you tng by the long fire.#to Orkney and cause no further trouble.' He would expect him to swear oaths to that effect.
Thorfinn asked the king for time to think over the matter, as he had to seek the advice of his friends, and the king granted that. Then Thorfinn pushed it a little further by asking the king to grant him till next summer, as he wished to go back home.
'All those who counsel me are there,' he said, 'and I'm only a young lad.'
But the king was having none of it and told him to decide there and then.
Thorkel Fostri, who was still a guest of the king, sent men discreetly to the boy jarl, advising him not to think of parting from King Olaf without settling things in the manner demanded of him, as he was in the king's hands.
Thorfinn could see that there was no other option but to go along with what King Olaf wanted, though it struck him as a poor choice to give up his heritage and swear an oath that those without a natural right to the jarldom should enjoy it without contention. Yet since he was in doubt as to whether he would be allowed to leave otherwise, he gave himself over to the king's hand and agreed to be his vassal, just as his elder brother Brusi had done.
However, King Olaf could tell that Thorfinn had a much bolder spirit than Brusi, and so he had less trust in the boy jarl's promises, given the backing Thorfinn could expect from the King of Scots if he broke the agreement. Brusi had bowed to Olaf's terms all unwillingly and promised no more than he was forced to. For his part Thorfinn seemed glad enough about every condition now that his mind was made up, and no longer wriggled like a fish on a hook over what King Olaf expected. But the king doubted whether he would keep his word.
KING OLAF'S RULING
Once King Olaf had mulled the matter over, he had them blow the trumpets and summoned both jarls to a great gathering.
Then he said: 'I will now declare the settlement between the Orkney jarls and myself. They have acknowledged my absolute right over Orkney and Shetland and have become my vassals, binding their allegiance with oaths. I will now give to Brusi in fief one trithing of the islands and one to Thorfinn as they have already held. That trithing that belonged to Jarl Einar I take for myself, since he killed my retainer and comrade-in-arms Eyvind Urar Horn. And that lot of the land I will do with as I please. The next thing I lay on both you brothers, my jarls, is that you accept an atonement from Thorkel Amundason for the slaying of your brother Einar, and I wish to lay down the terms of the atonement, if you are agreeable.'
The brothers said yes to this, as to every other condition already laid before them by the king.
Then Thorkel stepped forward and accepted the king's judgement, and at that point the meeting came to a close.
King Olaf awarded an atonement for Jarl Einar equal to that for three king's thanes, but the account of the jarl's own offences, a trithing of this amount was to be disregarded.
Thorfinn then asked leave of the king to go, and as soon as it was granted, lost no time in getting himself ready for the trip back home. On the day he was about to set sail, the boy jarl was drinking aboard ship when Thorkel Amundason approached stealthily, laid his head on Thorfinn's knee and put himself at the mercy of his foster son.
Thorfinn asked him what he was about. 'The king's judgement has already settled things between us,' he said. 'So get on your feet.'
Thorkel rose and said that he would accept the settlement King Olaf made in respect to Brusi, but that he was ready if Thorfinn should choose to have his own way in the matter.
'Though the king has granted me my estates in the islands and the right to bide there, I ken your mettle well enough that I could never fare to Orkney without your goodwill.'
He then bound himself to promising that he would not go to the islands, whatever King Olaf had said on the subject.
The boy jarl was quiet at this and slow to speak. Finally he said: 'If you wish my judgement on the matter rather than the king's, then you should indeed accompany me to Orkney, bide with me there, and never part from me without my leave, and that you should guard my lands and do all those things that duty demands as long as we both live.'
'You shall have that, my lord,' Thorkel said, 'as well as anything else in which I have a say.'
Thorkel then bound himself to this with formal oaths, and Thorfinn said that he would make his judgement in regard to the death fine for his brother Einar later. Thorkel then accompanied the boy jarl, who set sail as soon as he was ready. Thorfinn never saw King Olaf again.
Brusi was slow to leave and took more time in his preparations. Before he fared away the king met with him and said: 'It looks to me, jarl, that you are like to be my faithful vassal west-over-sea. So I want you to have the two thirds of the islands that you had before, and that you should be a man of no less standing, nor less powerful than you were before, now that you have given yourself into my hand. But to ensure your loyalty, I want you to leave your son Rognvald here. I would see then, that with two thirds of Orkney and my trust, you should hold your own against your brother Thorfinn.'
Brusi accepted the two thirds with thanks. He stayed on a little longer and then sailed out, reaching Orkney about autumn.
Rognvald Brusason was left behind with the king. He grew to be one of the finest of men, with a fine head of silken blonde hair. Not only was he tall and strong, but he came to be renowned also for his wit and courtly ways. He bided with King Olaf a long while.
Ottar the Black refers to it in his ode to the king:
Kent well among thy thanes
Brave boys of Hjalti's land (Shetland)
Secured ye a handy realm
of folk lords;
No ruler before you on this earth,
Bowed beneath his yoke
the isles of the west.
On returning to the west and Orkney, the brothers took up once again the rule of their lands, Brusi having his two thirds and Thorfinn a trithing. Thorfinn was always in Caithness and Scotland but had men appointed to take charge of the islands on his behalf. Brusi kept guard over the isles. At that time they were always being warred on, for Norsemen and Danes, raiding in the west, often came there to take this or that ness. Brusi was not happy that his younger brother Thorfinn contributed nought to the defence of Orkney and Shetland, yet kept his share of the tributes and dues.
Then Thorfinn made an offer, that Brusi should take one trithing of the islands while Thorfinn took two and the overall duty of warding the jarldom. This didn't come about right away, but gradually came into being, that Brusi ended up with one third, while Thorfinn got two. This happened at the time Knut ruled Norway and King Olaf had been forced to quit the land.
Jarl Thorfinn made himself an outstanding chief. He grew to be among the tallest and strongest of men, ugly, black haired, sharp featured, with a big nose and rather scowling brows. He was mighty in the fray, grasping for gold and honour, having both luck and skill in battle. He was five winters old when his mother's father, Malcolm, King of Scots made him jarl and lord over Caithness, as was said before, and at fourteen winters he was raiding the realms of other chieftains. In the words of Arnor Jarlaskald:
The lord amid helmet crash
Reddened broadsword edge,
Ere fifteen full winters,
Reddened ravens' talons;
Brave lord, brother kin to Einar,
Wins and wards worthy land,
No man better
Jarl Thorfinn got strong backing from his grandfather, the King of Scots, and his power in Orkney was significantly bolstered by having that backing so near at hand. King Malcolm breathed his last at the time Thorfinn and his brother Brusi were reconciled. Karl Hundason then took over the rule of Scotland and, in the manner of previous Scots kings, laid claim on Caithness as well, from which he expected to receive tribute just like the money he was paid from other parts of his realm.
Thorfinn refused to pay any tribute for Caithness, which he saw as his by right from his mother's father, who had given it to him. So a great feud arose from this, with each of them harrying the other's realm. King Karl had it in mind to set up Mumtan or Muddan, his sister's son, in Caithness, with the title of jarl. Then Muddan rode on Caithness and mustered forces in Sutherland.
Thorfinn got word of this and gathered forces from all over Caithness. He was joined by Thorkel Fostri with a strong host from the islands. Thorfinn then advanced on Muddan with a far bigger army. On seeing this the Scots would not stand and deciding to retreat, rode back to Scotland. Thorfinn pursued them, took Sutherland and Ross into his power, and raided Scotland far and wide. He then returned to Caithness and Thorkel went back to Orkney. The levies of the folk likewise fared home.
Jarl Thorfinn bided at Dungalsbaer, or Duncansby, in Caithness, with five longships and just enough of a warband to man them.
Muddan visited King Karl at Berwick and explained that his path to the north had been far from smooth. King Karl grew right wrathful when he found out that his realm had been harried and without wasting any time, sailed north with eleven ships and a great host. Muddan was sent back to Caithness with a large following, to ride the high way through Scotland with the aim of trapping Thorfinn between the two forces. Karl, as it is told, never slackened sail until he reached Caithness and there was not much space between him and Thorfinn.
The jarl went aboard ship and sailed out into the Pentland Firth (Pettlandsfjordr) for Orkney. Karl and his men could see Thorfinn's sails as he headed east across the firth, so near were they, and immediately they set off in pursuit. Thorfinn and his men had not noticed them and kept on sailing east for Sandvik. The jarl reached Deerness and sent word straight away for Thorkel to muster forces. Brusi was in the northern half of the isles. Thorfinn lay under Deerness, having arrived there late. But at first light the jarl and his men saw Karl's eleven ships advancing toward them. There were but two choices to hand; jump ashore and abandon his ships and goods to the foe or head out to confront them and let destiny decree the outcome. Thorfinn told his men to get their weapons ready. He had no intention of running and ordered them to row against the enemy. Then both sides lashed their ships together. Thorfinn encouraged his men to mount a stout attack, as he believed that few of the Scots would stand up to them.
The struggle was long and hard and it was difficult to tell how the day would end. Arnor tells of the battle in his ode to Thorfinn:
I trust our lord has taught at last
A lesson to mail-clad Karl,
East off Deerness,
Prospered the prince's rule.
Full of wrath the chieftain, with five snakes of war
Turned on Karl's eleven,
Spurning flight, he held his course with stout heart.
The sea goers laid their ships abroad,
Foes fell along the thwarts,
Blood bathed sharpened steel,
Scots' gore blackened.
The courage of the hero did not waver,
Blades bit and bowstrings sang,
Shafts shot, sweat in streams,
Gleaming bright the spear points quaked.
Urging his men on, Jarl Thorfinn had his ship drawn alongside Karl's and a hot fight ensued. The Scots gathered before the mast on Karl's vessel and Thorfinn leaped from the poop onto the king's ship, battling courageously. As the enemy ranks grew thin, he egged on his men to jump aboard, and on seeing that, Karl ordered his men to cut through the lashings and bear away. But Thorfinn's men threw grappling hooks onto Karl's ship and a great many of them boarded it, bearing the jarl's banner high. Karl abandoned his ship with those men he had still standing, as most of his crew had fallen. The king clambered aboard another vessel and gave orders for it to pull away fast, with Thorfinn in pursuit. As Arnor puts it:
Short the fray
for that lord of renown,
Spear points swift
Drove foes to flight.
Over the army, badly battered
The sea mew screamed, bird of battle.
Red swords sheathed in king's men,
South of Sandvik fought and conquered.
King Karl retreated south to Breidafjordr, or the Moray Firth, went ashore there and began to muster forces.
Thorfinn turned back home after the battle and Thorkel his foster father joined him, so they soon had a great army. They sailed down to Breidafjordr after King Karl and started harrying the country there as soon as they landed. They then recieved word that Muddan was in the north at Thurso in Caithness with a large force. He had sent for help from Ireland, where he had many allies and kinsmen, and now was waiting for them to join him. It was then decided that Thorkel Fostri should take some of the host north to Caithness while Thorfinn lay off Scotland with his ships and plundered there.
Thorkel advanced stealthily as all the land folk in Caithness were loyal and true to him, and no word of his approach was given out until he reached Thurso at dead of night, surrounded the house Muddan and his men were in and set it on fire. Muddan had been sleeping in the loft at the time, and when he jumped down off the balcony Thorkel hewed at his neck, taking his head off.
Muddan's men gave up the fight after that, though some fled. There had been a fair amount of slain but also many granted quarter.
Thorkel tarried a little while there before heading back to Breidafjordr, his army reinforced with men from Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. He rejoined Thorfinn south of Moray and told him about his trip. The jarl thanked him for his efforts and they both lay off the country there, harrying inland.
Now to tell of King Karl, he went to Scotland after the battle with Jarl Thorfinn and mustered fresh forces. He gathered an army from far and wide all over the south of Scotland and from Kintyre. He was joined by a host from Ireland that Muddan had sent for, a great force of chieftains to go up against the jarl, and he met Thorfinn at Turfness south of Breidafjordr.
A mighty battle then took place, with the Scottish forces far greater in number. Thorfinn advanced before his warband, wearing a gilded helmet, girt with a sword and wielding a great spear right and left. It is said that he was to the fore of all his men. He attacked the Irish first, and was so fierce in his onslaught that they gave way before him and failed to rally themselves after. Karl then had his banner borne aloft to confront Thorfinn and a hard battle ensued, but the upshot was that the king fled, though some said that he fell there.
In the words of Arnor:
Gore gathered on gleaming sword edge,
Turfness the place of battle,
Waged by the chieftain, young in years.
Sang the thin blades to battle south
The sea lord sharp and sure
Fared against the Scots king.
Shetland's ruler bore high the helm
'mid spear crash,
In Irish blood his red blade dabbled.
The freehanded chief under British shield,
kinsman of Hlodver,
Pitted his strength 'gainst the host
set fire to their farms.
Thorfinn pursued the enemy deep into Scotland and far and wide laid the country under his power, going as far south as Fife. Wherever he went he prevailed and the folk surrendered. So he sent Thorkel fostri away with some of his forces, and when the Scots got word of this, those who had given themselves up turned against the jarl. On hearing of their guile, Thorfinn mustered his forces and advanced on the enemy. The Scots were half hearted in their onslaught when they saw the jarl was ready for them. Thorfinn moved to attack, but they would not stand and fled away into the woods and wastelands. Thorfinn chased after the fleeing foe and afterward told his men they could burn the land all around where they were as payment to the Scots for their enmity and guile. The jarl's men went among the hamlets and farms and set fire to them all so that not a cottage stood after. Any fighting men they found were killed, but the women and old folk fled into the woods and wastelands, weeping and wailing. Many of the people were taken captive and bound, then driven before them. In the words of Arnor:
Homesteads in blazes that day,
Danger did not miss them,
Flame flared over reeking roofs
Throughout that land --
Warriors paid dearly.
Three times in one summer
the lord left them lacking.