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The Saga of Ketil Trout

Chapter 1

Here begins the saga of Ketil Trout.

There was a man named Hallbjörn, nicknamed Halftroll, who was the son of Ulf the Brave. He lived on the island of Hrafnista, which lies near Raumsdal. He was a powerful man and influential over the farmers north of there. He was married, and had a son named Ketil, who grew up to be a big and strong man, and handsome with it. But as soon as Ketil was a few winters old, he lazed in the kitchen, seeming a laughing-stock to brave men, and was taken to be such. This was Ketil's custom, he lay by the fire, with one hand propping up his head, while he lay the other across his knees and poked the fire. Hallbjörn told him not to do this, and said that he must improve his behaviour. Ketil said nothing. He went away for some time, and was gone for three nights. Then he came home and had a chair on his back. He had done well. He gave it to his mother and said for her greater love he had rewarded rather than his father.

There was a time round about summer, a day with good weather, when Hallbjörn went to gather hay along the shore. Hallbjörn went then into the kitchen to Ketil and said: "Now we ride, son, to do good service well, and gather hay in the day. All of us are needed in the hay-making season." Ketil sprang up and went out. Hallbjörn fetched two carts and one serving-woman to work. Then Ketil mowed hay to the fence of the cornfield and went so strongly that in the end there were eight piles in the barn. And although enough had been done already, when evening came, all the hay was gathered, and the corn in both fields was collected. Hallbjörn said then: "Now it seems to me, son, that you have been successful, because you are now young and growing and healthy. But I have become old and stiff and am not as strong as I was." Ketil said he wished that this were not the case. Then Hallbjörn gave him a large axe that was very sharp and a wonderfully good weapon. He said: "Now that you have that, son, I must ask you that you stay indoors as soon as the sun has set, and most of all, do not go north to the islands that lie away from inhabited areas." Hallbjörn told his son Ketil many things.

There was a man named Bjorn who lived not far away. He had always found fault with Ketil and mocked him, calling him Ketil, the fool of Hrafnista. Bjorn often went to sea to fish. One day, when he was out rowing, Ketil took bait, a fishing-line and a hook, and went out to the fishing-bank, where he sat fishing. Then Bjorn passed by, and when he saw Ketil, he laughed a great deal and mocked him harshly. Bjorn did much of this, as he was accustomed. He fished well, but Ketil drew one cod, of very mean quality, but no more. Meanwhile, Bjorn was piling up his catches and now he set off home, and left Ketil, laughing at him. Ketil said then: "Now I will go against the waves with all my skill, and do better than you at my first catch." He caught more cod and set after the ship. He came against Bjorn so hard that he dented his skull, but Bjorn went overboard and dived and came never up afterwards, then he went to land and so both. Hallbjörn had little to say about this.

In the evening after sunset Ketil took his axe in his hand and went north to the islands. However, he had not gone very far from inhabited areas when he saw a single dragon fly out of a hill to the north. It had writhing coils and a tail like a serpent, but wings like a dragon. Fire angrily burned out of its eyes and mouth. Ketil thought he had never seen such a fish, or any other such being, and that he would rather defend himself against a multitude of men than face it. The dragon came at him, but Ketil defended himself well and mightily with his axe. It went that way for a long time before Ketil pierced a coil and then cut the dragon in half. It fell down dead. After that Ketil went home, and met his father out in the courtyard. Hallbjörn greeted his son well and asked, had he had any trouble with the evil spirits that were said to live in the islands to the north. Ketil said: "I know nothing to confirm that account about where I saw the fishes swim, but it is true that I cut a trout in half in the middle of the waters, where you catch little fish." Hallbjörn said: "One day you will think little of playing such a small part, when you try to make such a living with small fish. I will now give you a new name and call you Ketil Trout." Then they went to rest.

Now Ketil sat in the kitchen a great deal. Hallbjörn often went out fishing, and told Ketil to come with him. He said Ketil should not sit by the fire, but should go out sea faring. But when Hallbjörn came to his ship, Ketil was already there, and then Hallbjörn knew he did not have to drive him. Then Hallbjörn went over to the prow of the boat, but told Ketil to go over to the side and push them into the water. Ketil did so, but they went nowhere. Hallbjörn said: "You are unlike your kinsmen, although I expect that there is strength in you. But I am accustomed to seeing my kin able to push out a single boat." Ketil heaved then and pushed the boat so hard forward that Hallbjörn almost fell out onto the shingle, but the boat withstood nothing previously but headed out to sea. Hallbjörn said then: "You do not behave as if you belong to my family, when you almost break every bone in my body. But I will now say that I expect you are sufficiently strong for me to test your strength, and I will stand as I am, but you sit forward as before. I think you show promise." Then they went to the fishing-place. Hallbjörn went to a hut, but Ketil went out to sea. He amassed a great catch. Then he encountered two men who were very warrior-like. They wished he let give up his catch. But Ketil refused that and asked them their names. One said he was named Hæng ["trout"], and the other Hrafn, and they were brothers. They attacked him, but Ketil swung his club, struck Hæng overboard, and killed him there, while Hrafn ran away. Ketil went back to the hut, and went his father to talk to him and Hallbjörn asked if he had met any men during the day. Ketil said he had met two brothers, Hæng and Hrafn. Hallbjörn said: "How went your encounter? But I know better, for I have dealt with them. They are brave men, outlaws out of the dwellings some way away." Ketil said he had killed Hæng by knocking him overboard, but Hrafn fled. Hallbjörn said: "Deadly are you, son, to big fish, and it seems your nickname suits you." The next day went they home with his catch. Ketil was eleven winters at that time, and he was becoming more like his kinsmen.

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