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The Story of Thorsteinn House-Power


Translated by George L. Hardman


In that time, when Earl Hakon Sigurdarson ruled Norway, there lived a farmer in Gaulardal who was named Brynjolf. He was called "camel." He was a landed man and a great warrior. His wife was named Dagny; she was the daughter of Jarnskeggja of Yrja. They had one son who was named Thorsteinn. He was big and strong, hard-minded, and unremitting with anyone who he was dealing with. No one in Norway was his equal in size, and there was scarcely a door that he could easily get through. Because of this he was called "House-power," since he was thought to be too powerful for most houses. He was unfriendly, and so his father got him a ship and some men, and he was alternately plundering and trading, and did equally well in both.

In that time King Olaf Tryggvason took Norway, when Earl Hakon’s neck was cut by his slave, who was called Thormodr Kark. Thorsteinn House-power was made one of the king’s men. The king thought him a brave man, and thought much of him, but he was not well thought of by the king's other men. They considered him sullen and unyielding, and the king used to send him on errands, which the others would not do. Sometimes he went on trading missions to procure treasure for the king.


One time Thorsteinn set off to the east, by Balagardssidu, and there was no wind to sail. In the morning he went on land, and when the sun was in the southeast, Thorsteinn came to a clearing. There was a beautiful mound in the clearing.

He saw a shaven-haired boy up on the mound, and said: "Mother, mine," he said, "get me out my crook-staff and gloves, because I want to go on a witch ride. There is a festival now in the underworld."

Then a crook-staff was twisted out of the mound, which was like a poker. He climbed on the staff and pulled on his gloves and set out, as children are wont to do.

Thorsteinn went to the mound and said the same words as the boy, and then a staff and gloves were cast out, and this was spoken: "Who is receiving these?"

"Bjalfi, your son," said Thorsteinn.

Then he climbed on the staff and rode after, down where the boy was riding. They came to a large river and cast themselves into it, and it was as if they were wading through smoke. Soon it became brighter before their eyes, and they came to a place where the river ran over a cliff. Thorsteinn saw there a built up place and large town. They went down to the town, and there were people sitting at a table there. They went into the hall, and the hall was full of people, and they were all drinking out of silver cups. There was a table sitting on the floor. Everything there was golden, and no-one was drinking anything but wine. Then Thorsteinn realized that no man saw them. His companion went among the tables, and gathered all that had fallen down. The king and queen sat on the high seat. People were happy in the hall.

Next Thorsteinn saw that a man came into the hall and spoke with the king, and said that he had been sent from India, from the mountain called Lukanus, from the earl who ruled there, and said to the king that he was one of the "hidden people." He gave the king a gold ring. No one thought that the king had ever seen a better ring, and the ring was passed around the hall for inspection, and everyone praised it. The ring could be taken apart in four sections. Thorsteinn saw another treasure, which he thought of great worth. That was the tablecloth, which lay on the king’s table. It had a golden border and there were twelve gemstones fastened there, which were extremely fine. Thorsteinn very much wanted to own the cloth. He got the idea to try out the king’s luck, and learn how he might get the ring. Now Thorsteinn saw that the king intended to put the ring on his hand. Thorsteinn grabbed the ring from him, and with the other hand he took the cloth, and all of the food fell in the mud. Then Thorsteinn ran to the door but his crook-staff was left behind him in the hall.

There was now a great commotion, and then men ran out and saw, where Thorsteinn went, and went after him in the same direction. He saw now that they could get him.

He then said: "If you are so good, King Olaf, as I trusted mightily in you, then help me."

But Thorsteinn was so fast that they could not catch up with him, before he came to a river, and faltered. They surrounded him, but Thorsteinn comported himself well, and killed any number of them, before his companion came and brought him his staff, and they disappeared then in the river. They came back to the same mound where they had been before, when the sun was in the west. The boy cast his staff into the mound, and also his sack, which he had filled with dainty morsels, and Thorsteinn did the same. The shaven-headed youth ran in, and Thorsteinn took place at the window. He saw two women, one weaving a precious cloth, and the other rocking a baby.

She said, "What is keeping Bjalfi, your brother?"

"He did not follow me today," he said.

"Who ran off with the crook-staff?" she said.

"That was Thorsteinn House-power," said the shaven-headed youth, "a retainer of King Olaf. He got us into a lot of trouble, since he had from the underworld things, such as can’t be had in Norway, and we were about to be killed, when he cast the staff in their hands, and they almost drove him under. I brought him the staff, and he is certainly a brave man. I don’t know, how many he killed. And now the mound closed again.

Thorsteinn went now to his men, and sailed to Norway, and found King Olaf east in Vik and brought him the treasure and told him of his journey, and people were very impressed. The king offered to give Thorsteinn a royal grant, but he said that he wanted to make a journey to the east. He stayed with the king for the winter.


In spring Thorsteinn prepared his ship. He had a swift ship and twenty-four men. When he came to Jamtaland, he stayed in the harbor for a day, and went on land for relaxation. He came to a clearing. There was a large stone there. A short distance away he saw a dwarf, terribly ugly, bellowing loudly. It seemed to Thorsteinn that his jaw was turned up to his eye, and on the other side his nose was down to his jaw. Thorsteinn asked why he was acting so foolishly.

"You, good man," he said, "don’t wonder. Don’t you see that big eagle flying there. He has taken my son. I expect that it is a plague, sent by Odinn, but I would die if I lose the child."

Thorsteinn shot at the eagle, and hit it under the wing, and it fell down dead. Thorsteinn got hold of the dwarf’s son as he fell, and brought him to his father. The dwarf was very happy, and said: "I owe you a lot for the gift of life to my son, so choose now a reward in gold and silver."

"Take care of your son first," said Thorsteinn,; "I am not accustomed to taking rewards for my strength."

"I would not be any less obliged to you," said the dwarf. "Can’t you consider a gift of my shirt of sheep’s wool. You would never be tired, and never be wounded, if you have it on you."

"Thorsteinn put on the shirt and it fit him well, although he thought that it was too small for the dwarf. The dwarf took a silver ring from his purse and gave it to Thorsteinn and bade him to keep it well, and told him he would never be lacking in treasure, while he had the ring.

Then he took a black stone and gave it to Thorsteinn, - "and if you hide it in the palm of your hand, no one can see you. I do not have anything else that I can give you that would be of use. Only a stone will I give you for your pleasure."

He took a stone out of his purse. A steel point accompanied it. The stone was three cornered. It was white in the middle, but red on the opposite side, and a gold ring around the outside.

The dwarf said: "If you prick the point on the stone, there where it is white, then there will come a hailstorm so great, that no one will dare to face it. But if you want to thaw snow, then you should prick there where the stone is gold, and then sunshine will come, so that everything will melt away. But if you prick there, where it is red, then embers will come from the fire in a shower of sparks that no one can endure. You can also aim at whatever you want with the point and the stone, and it will come back into your hand, when you call it. I can’t now reward you any further."

Thorsteinn thanked him for the gifts. He then went to his men, and they thought that the trip was better taken, than not taken. Next they were given favorable winds, and sailed to the east. Now they were beset with darkness and were lost, and they did not know where they were going. It was a half a month, that they continued to be lost.


It was one evening that they became aware of land. They cast anchor, and stayed there for the night. There was good weather in the morning and beautiful sunshine. They came to a long fjord, and saw beautiful cliffs there and woods. No one on board recognized this land. They could not see any living beings, neither animals nor birds. They put up a tent and settled in.

In the morning Thorsteinn said to his men: "I will tell you of my intentions. You shall wait for me here six nights. I intend to get to know this land."

They thought a lot about it, and wanted to go with him, but Thorsteinn did not want that. "If I do not come back, before seven suns are in the heavens," he said, "then you must sail home and tell King Olaf that it has not fallen my lot to return."

They went with him up to the woods. Then he disappeared from them, and they returned to the ship and remained there, as Thorsteinn bade them.

Now to talk of Thorsteinn, that he went the whole day around the forest, and there was nothing of importance there. But as the day drew to a close, he came to a broad road. He followed the road, until it became evening. He then went away from the road and went to a large oak and climbed up on it. There was enough room there to lie down. He slept there for the night.

When the sun came up, he heard a great din, and talking of men. He saw many men riding. They were twenty-two, moving swiftly forward. Thorsteinn was greatly amazed at their size. He had never seen such large men before. Thorstein dressed himself. The morning passed, and the sun came into the southeast.

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