THE STORY OF GLAM THE SHEPHERD
from the Grettissaga
There was a man named Thorhall living in Thorhallsstad in Forsaeludal,
up from Vatnsdal. He was the son of Grim, the son of Thorhall, the son
of Fridmund, who was the first settler in Forsaeludal. Thorhall's wife
was named Gudrun; they had a son named Grim and a daughter named Thurid
who were just grown up. Thorhall was fairly wealthy, especially in
live-stock. His property in cattle exceeded that of any other man.
He was not a chief, but an honest bondi nevertheless. He had great
difficulty in getting a shepherd to suit him because the place was
haunted. He consulted many men of experience as to what he should do,
but nobody gave him any advice which was of any use. Thorhall had good
horses, and went every summer to the Thing. On one occasion at the
All-Thing he went to the booth of the Lawman Skapti the son of Thorodd,
who was a man of great knowledge and gave good counsel to those who
consulted him. There was a great difference between Thorodd the father
and Skapti the son in one respect. Thorodd possessed second sight, but
was thought by some not to be straight, whereas Skapti gave to every man
the advice which he thought would avail him, if he followed it exactly,
and so earned the name of Father-betterer.
So Thorhall went to Skapti's booth, where Skapti, knowing that he
was a man of wealth, received him graciously, and asked what the
"I want some good counsel from you," said Thorhall.
"I am little fit to give you counsel," he replied; "but what is it
that you need?"
"It is this: I have great difficulty in keeping my shepherds. Some
get injured and others cannot finish their work. No one will come
to me if he knows what he has to expect."
Skapti answered: "There must be some evil spirit abroad if men are less
willing to tend your flocks than those of other men. Now since you have
come to me for counsel, I will get you a shepherd. His name is Glam, and
he came from Sylgsdale in Sweden last summer. He is a big strong man,
but not to everybody's mind."
Thorhall said that did not matter so long as he looked after the sheep
properly. Skapti said there was not much chance of getting another if
this man with all his strength and boldness should fail. Then Thorhall
departed. This happened towards the end of the Thing.
Two of Thorhall's horses were missing, and he went himself to look for
them, which made people think he was not much of a man. He went up under
Sledaass and south along the hill called Armannsfell. Then he saw a man
coming down from Godaskog bringing some brushwood with a horse. They met
and Thorhall asked him his name. He said it was Glam. He was a big man
with an extraordinary expression of countenance, large grey eyes and
wolf-grey hair. Thorhall was a little startled when he saw him, but soon
found out that this was the man who had been sent to him.
"What work can you do best?" he asked.
Glam said it would suit him very well to mind sheep in the winter.
"Will you mind my sheep?" Thorhall asked. "Skapti has given you over to me."
"My service will only be of use to you if I am free to do as I please,"
he said. "I am rather cross-grained when I am not well pleased."
"That will not hurt me," said Thorhall. "I shall be glad if you will
come to me."
"I can do so," he said. "Are there any special difficulties?"
"The place seems to be haunted."
"I am not afraid of ghosts. It will be the less dull."
"You will have to risk it," said Thorhall. "It will be best to meet it
with a bold face."
Terms were arranged and Glam was to come in the autumn. Then they
parted. Thorhall found his horses in the very place where he had just
been looking for them. He rode home and thanked Skapti for his service.
The summer passed. Thorhall heard nothing of his shepherd and no one
knew anything about him, but at the appointed time he appeared at
Thorhallsstad. Thorhall treated him kindly, but all the rest of the
household disliked him, especially the mistress. He commenced his work
as shepherd, which gave him little trouble. He had a loud hoarse voice.
The beasts all flocked together whenever he shouted at them. There was a
church in the place, but Glam never went to it. He abstained from mass,
had no religion, and was stubborn and surly. Every one hated him.
So the time passed till the eve of Yule-tide. Glam rose early and called
for his meal. The mistress said: "It is not proper for Christian men to
eat on this day, because to-morrow is the first day of Yule and it is
our duty to fast to-day."
"You have many superstitions," he said; "but I do not see that much
comes from them. I do not know that men are any better off than when
there was nothing of that kind. The ways of men seemed to me better
when they were called heathen. I want my food and no foolery."
"I am certain," she said, "that it will fare ill with you to-day if you
commit this sin."
Glam told her that she should bring his food, or that it would be the
worse for her. She did not dare to do otherwise than as he bade her.
When he had eaten he went out, his breath smelling abominably. It was
very dark; there was driving snow, the wind was howling and it became
worse as the day advanced. The shepherd's voice was heard in the early
part of the day, but less later on. Blizzards set in and a terrific
storm in the evening. People went to mass and so the time passed. In
the evening Glam did not return. They talked about going out to look
for him, but the storm was so violent and the night so dark that no one
went. The night passed and still he had not returned; they waited till
the time for mass came. When it was full day some of the men set forth
to search. They found the animals scattered everywhere in the snow and
injured by the weather; some had strayed into the mountains. Then they
came upon some well-marked tracks up above in the valley. The stones
and earth were torn up all about as if there had been a violent tussle.
On searching further they came upon Glam lying on the ground a short
distance off. He was dead; his body was as black as Hel and swollen
to the size of an ox. They were overcome with horror and their hearts
shuddered within them. Nevertheless they tried to carry him to the
church, but could not get him any further than the edge of a gully a
short way off. So they left him there and went home to report to the
bondi what had happened. He asked what could have caused Glam's death.
They said they had tracked him to a big place like a hole made by the
bottom of a cask thrown down and dragged along up below the mountains
which were at the top of the valley, and all along the track were great
drops of blood. They concluded that the evil spirit which had been about
before must have killed Glam, but that he had inflicted wounds upon
it which were enough, for that spook was never heard of again. On the
second day of the festival they went out again to bring in Glam's body
to the church. They yoked oxen to him, but directly the downward incline
ceased and they came to level ground, they could not move him; so they
went home again and left him. On the third day they took a priest with
them, but after searching the whole day they failed to find him. The
priest refused to go again, and when he was not with them they found
Glam. So they gave up the attempt to bring him to the church and buried
him where he was under a cairn of stones.
It was not long before men became aware that Glam was not easy in his
grave. Many men suffered severe injuries; some who saw him were struck
senseless and some lost their wits. Soon after the festival was over,
men began to think they saw him about their houses. The panic was great
and many left the neighborhood. Next he began to ride on the house-tops
by night, and nearly broke them to pieces. Almost night and day he
walked, and people would scarcely venture up the valley, however
pressing their business. The district was in a grievous condition.
In the spring Thorhall procured servants and built a house on his
lands. As the days lengthened out the apparitions became less, until
at midsummer a ship sailed up the Hunavatn in which was a man named
Thorgaut. He was a foreigner, very tall and powerful; he had the
strength of two men. He was travelling on his own account, unattached,
and being without money was looking out for employment. Thorhall rode to
the ship, saw him and asked if he would take service with him. Thorgaut
said he would indeed, and that there would be no difficulties.
"You must be prepared," said Thorhall, "for work which would not be
fitting for a weak-minded person, because of the apparitions which have
been there lately. I will not deceive you about it."
"I shall not give myself up as lost for the ghostlings," he said.
"Before I am scared some others will not be easy. I shall not change my
quarters on that account."
The terms were easily arranged and Thorgaut was engaged for the sheep
during the winter. When the summer had passed away he took over charge
of them, and was on good terms with everybody. Glam continued his rides
on the roofs. Thorgaut thought it very amusing and said the thrall must
come nearer if he wished to frighten him. Thorhall advised him not to
say too much, and said it would be better if they did not come into
Thorgaut said: "Surely all the spirit has gone out of you. I shall not
fall dead in the twilight for stories of that sort."
Yule was approaching. On the eve the shepherd went out with his sheep.
The mistress said: "Now I hope that our former experiences will not be
"Have no fear for that, mistress," he said. "There will be something
worth telling of if I come not back."
Then he went out to his sheep. The weather was rather cold and there was
a heavy snowstorm. Thorgaut usually returned when it was getting dark,
but this time he did not come. The people went to church as usual, but
they thought matters looked very much as they did on the last occasion.
The bondi wanted them to go out and search for the shepherd, but the
church-goers cried off, and said they were not going to trust themselves
into the power of trolls in the night; the bondi would not venture out
and there was no search. On Yule day after their meal they went out to
look for the shepherd, and first went to Glam's cairn, feeling sure
that the shepherd's disappearance must be due to him. On approaching the
cairn they saw an awful sight; there was the shepherd, his neck broken,
and every bone in his body torn from its place. They carried him to the
church and no one was molested by Thorgaut.
Glam became more rampageous than ever. He was so riotous that at last
everybody fled from Thorhallsstad, excepting the bondi and his wife.
Thorhall's cowherd had been a long time in his service and he had become
attached to him; for this reason and because he was a careful herdsman
he did not want to part with him. The man was very old and thought it
would be very troublesome to have to leave; he saw, too, that everything
the bondi possessed would be ruined if he did not stay to look after
them. One morning after midwinter the mistress went to the cow-house to
milk the cows as usual. It was then full day, for no one would venture
out of doors till then, except the cowherd, who went directly it was
light. She heard a great crash in the cow-house and tremendous bellowing.
She rushed in, shouting that something awful, she knew not what, was
going on in the cow-house. The bondi went out and found the cattle all
goring each other. It seemed not canny there, so he went into the shed
and there saw the cowherd lying on his back with his head in one stall
and his feet in the other. He went up and felt him, but saw at once that
he was dead with his back broken. It had been broken over the flat stone
which separated the two stalls. Evidently it was not safe to remain any
longer on his estate, so he fled with everything that he could carry
away. All the live-stock which he left behind was killed by Glam. After
that Glam went right up the valley and raided every farm as far as
Tunga, while Thorhall stayed with his friends during the rest of the
winter. No one could venture up the valley with a horse or a dog, for
it was killed at once. As the spring went on and the sun rose higher in
the sky the spook diminished somewhat, and Thorhall wanted to return to
his land, but found it not easy to get servants. Nevertheless, he went
and took up his abode at Thorhallsstad. Directly the autumn set in,
everything began again, and the disturbances increased. The person most
attacked was the bondi's daughter, who at last died of it. Many things
were tried, but without success. It seemed likely that the whole of
Vatnsdal would be devastated unless help could be found.
We have now to return to Grettir, who was at home in Bjarg during the
autumn which followed his meeting with Warrior-Bardi at Thoreyjargnup.
When the winter was approaching, he rode north across the neck to
Vididal and stayed at Audunarstad. He and Audun made friends again;
Grettir gave him a valuable battle-axe and they agreed to hold together
in friendship. Audun had long lived there, and had many connections. He
had a son named Egill, who married Ulfheid the daughter of Eyjolf, the
son of Gudmund; their son Eyjolf, who was killed at the All-Thing, was
the father of Orm the chaplain of Bishop Thorlak.
Grettir rode to the north to Vatnsdal and went on a visit to Tunga,
where dwelt his mother's brother, Jokull the son of Bard, a big strong
man and exceedingly haughty. He was a mariner, very cantankerous, but
a person of much consideration. He welcomed Grettir, who stayed three
nights with him. Nothing was talked about but Glam's walking, and
Grettir inquired minutely about all the particulars. Jokull told him
that no more was said than had really happened.
"Why, do you want to go there?" he asked.
Grettir said that it was so. Jokull told him not to do it.
"It would be a most hazardous undertaking," he said. "Your kinsmen incur
a great risk with you as you are. There does not seem to be one of the
younger men who is your equal. It is ill dealing with such a one as
Glam. Much better fight with human men than with goblins of that sort."
Grettir said he had a mind to go to Thorhallsstad and see how things
were. Jokull said: "I see there is no use in dissuading you. The saying
is true that Luck is one thing, brave deeds another."
"Woe stands before the door of one but enters that of another," answered
Grettir. "I am thinking how it may fare with you yourself before all is
"It may be," said Jokull, "that we both see what is before us, and yet
we may not alter it."
Then they parted, neither of them well pleased with the other's
Grettir rode to Thorhallsstad where he was welcomed by the bondi. He
asked Grettir whither he was bound, and Grettir said he wished to spend
the night there if the bondi permitted. Thorhall said he would indeed be
thankful to him for staying there.
"Few," he said, "think it a gain to stay here for any time. You must
have heard tell of the trouble that is here, and I do not want you to be
inconvenienced on my account. Even if you escape unhurt yourself, I know
for certain that you will lose your horse, for no one can keep his beast
in safety who comes here."
Grettir said there were plenty more horses to be had if anything
happened to this one.
Thorhall was delighted at Grettir's wishing to remain, and received him
with both hands. Grettir's horse was placed securely under lock and key
and they both went to bed. The night passed without Glam showing himself.
"Your being here has already done some good," said Thorhall. "Glam has
always been in the habit of riding on the roof or breaking open the
doors every night, as you can see from the marks."
"Then," Grettir said, "either he will not keep quiet much longer, or he
will remain so more than one night. I will stay another night and see
Then they went to Grettir's horse and found it had not been touched.
The bondi thought that all pointed to the same thing. Grettir stayed
a second night and again the thrall did not appear. The bondi became
hopeful and went to see the horse. There he found the stable broken
open, the horse dragged outside and every bone in his body broken.
Thorhall told Grettir what had occurred and advised him to look to
himself, for he was a dead man if he waited for Glam.
Grettir answered: "I must not have less for my horse than a sight of the
The bondi said there was no pleasure to be had from seeing him: "He is
not like any man. I count every hour a gain that you are here."
The day passed, and when the hour came for going to bed Grettir said
he would not take off his clothes, and lay down on a seat opposite to
Thorkell's sleeping apartment. He had a shaggy fur cloak over him
with one end of it fastened under his feet and the other drawn over
his head so that he could see through the neck-hole. He set his feet
against a strong bench which was in front of him. The frame-work of
the outer door had been all broken away and some bits of wood had been
rigged up roughly in its place. The partition which had once divided
the hall from the entrance passage was all broken, both above the
cross-beam and below, and all the bedding had been upset. The place
was scarcely habitable. There was a light burning in the hall by
When about a third part of the night had passed Grettir heard a loud
noise. Something was tearing through the house, riding above the
hall and kicking with its heels until the timbers cracked again. This
went on for some time, and then it came down towards the door. The
door opened and Grettir saw the thrall stretching in an enormously
big and ugly head. Glam moved slowly in, and on passing the door stood
upright, reaching to the roof. He came down the hall holding the
cross-beam with his hand and peering along the hall. The bondi uttered
no sound, having heard quite enough of what had gone on outside. Grettir
lay quite still and did not move. Glam saw a heap of something in the
seat, came farther into the hall and seized the cloak tightly with his
hand. Grettir pressed his foot against the plank and the cloak held
firm. Glam tugged at it again still more violently, but it did not give
way. A third time be pulled, this time with both hands and with such
force that he pulled Grettir up out of the seat, and between them the
cloak was torn in two. Glam looked at the bit which he held in his
hand and wondered much who could pull like that against him. Suddenly
Grettir sprang under his arms, seized him round the waist and squeezed
his back with all his might, intending in that way to bring him down,
but the thrall wrenched his arms till he staggered around them.
Then Grettir fell back to another bench. The benches flew about and
everything was shattered around them. Glam wanted to get out, but
Grettir tried to prevent him by stemming his foot against anything he
could find. Nevertheless Glam succeeded in getting him outside the hall.
Then a terrific struggle began, the thrall trying to drag him out of
the house, and Grettir saw that however hard he was to deal with in the
house, he would be worse outside, so he strove with all his might to
keep him from getting out. Then Glam made a desperate effort and gripped
Grettir tightly towards him, forcing him to the porch. Grettir saw that
he could not put his foot against it, and with a sudden movement he
dashed into the thrall's arms and set both his feet against a stone
which was fastened in the ground at the door. For that Glam was not
prepared, since he had been tugging to drag Grettir towards him; he reeled
backwards and tumbled hindforemost out of the door, tearing away the
lintel with his shoulder and shattering the roof, the rafters and the
frozen thatch. Head over heels he fell out of the house and Grettir fell
on top of him. The moon was shining very brightly outside, with light
clouds passing over it and hiding it now and again. At the moment when
Glam fell, the moon shone forth, and Glam turned his eyes up towards it.
Grettir himself has told us that that sight was the only one which ever
made him tremble. What with fatigue and all else that he had endured,
when he saw the horrible rolling of Glam's eyes his heart sank so
utterly that he had not strength to draw his sword, but lay there
well-nigh betwixt life and death. Glam possessed more malignant power
than most fiends, for he now spoke in this wise:
"You have expended much energy, Grettir, in your contest with me. Nor is
that to be wondered at, though you will have little joy thereof. And now
I tell you that you shall possess only half the strength and firmness of
heart that were decreed to you if you had not striven with me. The might
which was yours till now I am not able to take away, but it is in my
power to ordain that never shall you grow stronger than you are now.
Nevertheless your might is sufficient, as many shall find to their cost.
Hitherto you have earned fame through your deeds, but henceforward there
shall fall upon you exile and battle; your deeds shall turn to evil and
your guardian-spirit shall forsake you. You will be outlawed and your
lot shall be to dwell ever alone. And this I lay upon you, that these
eyes of mine shall be ever before your vision. You will find it hard
to live alone, and at last it shall drag you to death."
When the thrall had spoken the faintness which had come over Grettir
left him. He drew his short sword, cut off Glam's head and laid it
between his thighs. Then the bondi came out, having put on his clothes
while Glam was speaking, but he did not venture to come near until he
was dead. Thorhall praised God and thanked Grettir warmly for having
laid this unclean spirit. Then they set to work and burned Glam to cold
cinders, bound the ashes in a skin and buried them in a place far away
from the haunts of man or beast. Then they went home, the day having
nearly broken. Grettir was very stiff and lay down to rest. Thorhall
sent for some men from the next farm and let them know how things had
fared. They all realised the importance of Grettir's deed when they
heard of it; all agreed that in the whole country side for strength
and courage and enterprise there was not the equal of Grettir the
son of Asmund.
Thorhall bade a kindly farewell to Grettir and dismissed him with a
present of a fine horse and proper clothes, for all that he had been
wearing were torn to pieces. They parted in friendship. Grettir rode to
Ass in Vatnsdal and was welcomed by Thorvald, who asked him all about
his encounter with Glam. Grettir told him everything and said that
never had his strength been put to trial as it had been in their long
struggle. Thorvald told him to conduct himself discreetly; if he did
so he might prosper, but otherwise he would surely come to disaster.
Grettir said that his temper had not improved, that he had even less
discretion than before, and was more impatient of being crossed. In one
thing a great change had come over him; he had become so frightened of
the dark that he dared not go anywhere alone at night. Apparitions of
every kind came before him. It has since passed into an expression,
and men speak of "Glam's eyes" or "Glam visions" when things appear
otherwise than as they are.
Having accomplished his undertaking Grettir rode back to Bjarg and spent
the winter at home.