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Wolves in the Booth

Dreamed c.1000 AD by Thórðr "the Terror"

INTRODUCTION

This is a tale of two predictive dreams, one lifesaving, one perversely ignored. It's from chapters 3-4 of "The Story of Thórðr Hreða" (1882), an English translation by John Coles of "Þórðar saga hreðu". The full saga's online at the Icelandic Saga Database.

The date is rougher than for many sagas; it could be several decades off. I haven't found much background on this saga, and I'm no expert on the sagas in any case. If you can refine the chronology, please email me!

Pronunciation: j is pronounced "y"; ð, like the initial "th" in "these"; ö as in German ö or French oe (English lacks this sound; but try blending the vowels in "lurk" and "look".

It opens happily enough, with preparations for a trade-fair...

WOLVES IN THE BOOTH

A short time after Skeggi arrived home, there was news about that a ship had arrived in the White River in Borgar-fjörðr, and when the news came, great number of people from the northern districts, both from Mið-fjörðr and other places, went to trade with the chapmen. Skeggi also prepared himself to ride to the ship with many men. And when Eiðr heard that his father intended going to the ship, he said to Thórðr: "Have you any intention of going to the ship, foster-father?"

Thórðr said: "Why should I want my goods any less than other farmers? I shall certainly go."

Eiðr said: "Then I will ride with you, and hear other people's conversation, and thus acquaint myself with the market."

Thórðr answered: "It will do better for our journey, if you accompany me, my foster-son, for so my mind tells me, that I shall greatly need you on this journey, if my dreams forebode anything."

Eiðr said: "What did you dream, my foster-father?"

Thórðr said: "I dreamt I had come to the White River in Borgar-fjörðr, and was conversing with some foreign men, especially with regard to some bargain, and in the same moment a pack of wolves entered the shop, and I had a great disgust for them; then they turned upon me, tore my clothes, and wished to kill me, but I drew my sword, hewed one of the wolves across the middle, and the head of another. Thereupon they ran at me from all sides, but I seemed to defend myself, and became very wroth; but it seemed as if I could not foresee how it would fare with me. In the same moment a young bear leapt before me, and would defend me, and I woke up. It seems to me this dream forebodes great tidings."

Eiðr said: "It is evident that this forebodes some men's evil minds towards you. Now it is my advice, that you ride from home at the same time as my father, even if you do not converse together."

Thórðr said: "That will I do for the sake of your request."

Thórðr made himself ready, and Eiðr with him. And when Thórðr prepared himself, his sister Sigríðr said: "Brother! I wish you would buy me a cloak, a very choice one."

Thórðr answered: "That will I do, but it strikes me it will be dear enough before the end."

Thórðr and Eiðr rode to the ship at the same time as Skeggi, for Eiðr requested Thórðr to do so. And when they arrived at the ship, they both threw their tent over one booth.

A man by the name of Jón is now introduced into the Saga. He lived at Hvassafelli in Norðrárdalr. He was a wealthy man, unforbearing and much disliked. Guðrún was his wife's name. She was very gaudy in dress, and ambitious. Her brother was Auðúlfr: Glúmr was their father. He lived at Skarðshamrar. They intended to ride to the ship at the same time Thórðr and Skeggi were there. And as they were riding from home Guðrún said to her husband, that he ought to buy her a fine mantle, for she was a dressy woman. This the husband promised. They now continue their journey until they come to Hvítárvellir. Then was the market at the fullest. They, Jón and Auðúlfr, went through the booths.

They came into a booth of a man whose name was Thórir ("the Rich"), and asked for a cloak if it could be had. He said that he had a cloak, "but, farmer, you will think it dear."

Jón answered: "Let us hear what there is to pay." The Eastman valued the cloak, but Jón thought it too dear. Auðúlfr would that he should buy the cloak, and offered him some of his money. Jón went away, and when they came out, Auðúlfr egged him on to buy the cloak, as he had promised his sister to do so. "Why should you not have your own will?" said Jón, "and we will go home for the price." But this caused some delay.

It is said that Thórðr and Eiðr went through the booths demanding goods for purchase. They came into the booth of Thórir ("the Rich") and wished to buy the cloak. Thórir says that he knows Thórðr and his parents, "so I will not put any price on it for you, but wish that you would accept it."

Thórðr thanked him, and said: "This I will accept, and let the cloak lie here while I go and fetch its worth."

"I do wish," says Thórir, "that you had it with you."

"That is of no consequence," says Thórðr; and he and Eiðr went to fetch its worth.

When Thórðr had gone, Jón and Auðúlfr entered the booth, and asked the Eastman to hand them over the cloak. He said the cloak was sold, "for you would not give as much for it as I valued it." Jón said that he would have it; and in the same moment Thórðr and Eiðr came into the booth with the price for it. Thórðr seized the cloak, but Auðúlfr drew his sword, and was going to smite Thórðr. Jón also ran against Thórðr and was going to deal him a blow, but Thórðr immediately drew his sword, turned against Auðúlfr, and smote him in the head, and he fell there and then dead on the floor. Eiðr ran before Thórðr, when he saw Jón's outrage, and warded off the blow with the shield, but took the cloak under his hand. This saw Thórðr, and smote at Jón with the sword; the blow hit him in the middle and cut him in two above the hips. Jón's and Auðúlfr's companions then attacked him, but Thórðr retreated out of the booth, jumped on a pile of rafters, wherefrom he defended himself well and bravely.

The men of the district and those from Borgarfjörðr flocked to the place and wished to revenge the death of Jón and Auðúlfr, but Eiðr went to see his father, and asked him with his men to come and help Thórðr.

Skeggi says: "What has Thórðr been doing that he is not capable to help himself?"

Eiðr answered: "He has killed two men."

"Who are they?" says Skeggi.

"Auðúlfr and Jón," says Eiðr.

"What was the reason?" says Skeggi.

Eiðr says: "They would rob him of a cloak which he had bought; and one of the two would have killed him, had I not defended him. Do not let the coolness which has reigned between you go so far, that you take more notice of that than of the fact that he is from the same district as yourself; he is also my life's saviour and foster-father."

Skeggi did not answer. Thereupon Eiðr went away, and to the place where they attacked Thórðr, and drew his sword. And when Thórðr saw Eiðr, his foster-son, he said: "Do not endanger thy life for my sake."

But when Eiðr had gone out of the tent, Skeggi stood up and said: "The pig is sure to squeal, if the sow be killed." Thereupon he took the sword, Sköfnungr, and went to the place where they were still attacking Thórðr; but he had defended himself so bravely, that they had not been able to inflict a wound upon him, but he had wounded many.

When Skeggi came, he went on so furiously, that those who had attacked Thórðr had to retreat. Thereupon Skeggi effected a settlement reconciliation between them; he was to be the sole judge in the whole affair, and he there and then gave his verdict. Thórðr was to pay two hundred of silvers for the murder of Jón, but Auðulfr should fall unholy because of his outrage and plot against the life of Thórðr. Those who had been wounded should carry their wounds without reward, for the sake of their plot against him and attack on him, and thus they parted. When Skeggi was ready, he rode home. At the same time Thórðr rode to the north and Eiðr went with him, but he and Skeggi had no conversation during the whole of the journey. They ride on until they come to the river Miðfjarðará.

Then Skeggi said: "Here we will alight, for I have something to say to you, Thórðr," and so they did. Then said Skeggi: "Ásbjörn, my kinsman, asked me to make a proposal on his behalf, and wished me to woo your sister, Sigríðr, for him; and I should now like to know what your answer might be in this case."

Thórðr says: "Little friendship exists between me and Ásbjörn. Neither have you been much of a friend hitherto, and never came it into my mind that you would seek here an alliance for your kinsman; well do I know that Ásbjörn is a highborn man, rich and a strong fellow, but I do not know how my brothers or herself will like this bargain."

Skeggi answers: "Therefore did I mention the case to you, rather than to your brothers, because I know that they will follow your advice, both as regards this and other matters."

Thórðr answers: "Most likely will they act according to my will, but to no man shall I give her without her sanction; but I expect she will not go contrary to my advice."

Then says Eiðr: "I wish you would give my father a satisfactory answer as regards this wooing, and value highly his recommendation." Thórðr says: "So it shall be; for Skeggi gave me a great assistance in this journey, and I will recognise it; for I will come to terms with you, Skeggi, as to the courting of Sigríðr. She shall sit in troth for three winters, and if Ásbjörn does not arrive within these three winters, then this agreement is of no worth, but should he come to the country before, then he has a right to the marriage of Sigríðr."

Skeggi consented to this. Thereupon held Thórðr out his hand, and Skeggi took it, thus concluding the bargain. Witnesses were then taken as to this promise. Then said Skeggi: "Now have you fared well, Thórðr! but lucky was it that your sister got the cloak rather than the wife of Jón. It seems to me very likely that the men of Borgarfjörðr will remember what kind of meeting yours was. I will therefore lengthen your name, and call you Thórðr Hreða ('the Terror')."

Thórðr said: "I am well pleased if they have some memory of my coming there, and then I have no dislike to the name, but methinks seldom will this district be without a Terror." After this they rode home. When Thórðr came home he was well received ; he was asked what news there was. He told everything in the clearest manner. Thereupon he asked his brothers and sister to have a talk with him, and told them of his promise.

Sigríðr answered: "It seems to me, brother, that you have acted rather rashly as regards the promise of marriage on my behalf, as I was not consulted before."

Thórðr answered: "This agreement shall have no further value than yourself will consent to."

"This I could expect from you, and, with your foresight, I will be content in the matter." Thórðr thanked her for the answer, gave her the cloak, and told her of his quarrel with Jón and Auðúlfr.

After this, Thórðr kept at home quiet, and Eiðr constantly with him.

EDITOR'S NOTE

I've included the aftermath because it shows that Thórðr's siblings defer to him, seeing his dreams as prophetic. Clearly, this warning dream wasn't his first. So when he and young Eiðr take it for granted the dream warns of real trouble at White River (never asking, as we might, if it's just anxiety or symbolic of an internal conflict), perhaps it's unfair to call this superstitious, or indeed belief; they had long experience with Thórðr's dreams. Families may have differed as sharply then as now, in their view of dreams; but this family seems very pragmatic.

And why not? The dream, despite its animal characters, is both specific and accurate: he's attacked in a shop at White River, beheads one foe and cuts another in two at the waist but is surrounded, and is rescued by a youth. Eiðr reads the young bear as himself and agrees to come along; and his role is crucial, both in saving his foster-father's life and starting a family reconciliation. Thórðr still might have survived without him, but the dream certainly helped.

In short, these are not our modern stereotypes of fatalistic, gloomy, superstitious Norsemen, but cautious, practical folk in a violent world, for whom anything that gives you an edge is welcome. Taking warning dreams seriously is, for them, simple good sense. Fatalistic? They're glad to change the outcome.

And yet... later in the same saga, Thórðr dreams he's attacked by 18 wolves; and soon a party of 18 armed men is spotted. His party has only nine, but he needs to live up to the nickname he won in the first brawl: "the Terror." Pride forces him to ignore the dream's early warning, and confront the men. He survives, but loses kinsmen, unnecessarily. Machismo can blind even a foresighted man.

--Chris Wayan



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