Traditions and Festivals
One of the traditions in Torvaldsland is to welcome a guest by presenting them a bowl and towel to wash their hands and face, the Jarl of the Hall himself brings the bowl and towel in show of welcome and respect.
Though the hall of Ivar Forkbeard was built only of turf and stone, and though he himself was an outlaw, he had met me at its door, after I had been bidden wait outside, in his finest garments of scarlet and gold, and carrying a bowl of water and a towel. “Welcome to the hall of Ivar Forkbeard,” he had said. I had washed my hands and face in the bowl, held by the master of the house himself, and dried myself on the towel. Then invited within I had been seated across the hall, he had given me a long swirling cloak of the fur of the sea sleen; a bronze-headed spear; a shield of painted wood, reinforced with bosses of iron; the shield was red in color, the bosses were enameled yellow; a helmet, conical, of iron, with hanging chain, and a steel nosepiece, that might be raised and lowered in its bands; and, too, a shirt and trousers of skin; and, too, a broad ax, formed in the fashion of Torvaldsland, large, curved, single-bladed; and four rings of gold, that might be worn on the arm. Marauders of Gor, page 96
Hospitality is something much valued and this quote shows the importance of repaying a host carefully and with much thought to not surpass the generosity of one’s host.
I had not intended to participate in the competition. Rather, it had been my plan to buy some small gift for the Forkbeard. Long had I enjoyed his hospitality, and he had given me many things. I did not wish, incidentally, even if I could, to give him a gift commensurate with what he had, in his hospitality, bestowed upon me; the host, in Torvaldsland, should make the greatest gifts; it is, after all, his house or hall; if his guest should make him a greater gifts than he makes the guest this is regarded as something in the nature of an insult, a betrayal of hospitality; after all, the host is not running an inn, extending hospitality like a merchant, for profit; and the host must not appear more stingy than the guest who, theoretically, is the one being welcomed and sheltered; in Torvaldsland, thus, the greater the generosity is the host’s prerogative; should the Forkbeard, however, have come to Port Kar then, of course, it would have been my prerogative to make him the greater gifts than he did me. This is, it seems to me, an intelligent custom; the host, giving first, and knowing what he can afford to give, sets the limit to the giving; the guest then makes certain that his gifts are less than those of the host; the host, in giving more, wins honor as a host; the guest, in giving less, does the host honor. Accordingly, I was concerned to find a gift for the Forkbeard; it must not be too valuable, but yet, of course, I wanted it to be something that he would appreciate. Marauders of Gor, page 165-166
It seems the people of Torvaldsland know how to celebrate and can be quite boisterous.
We had fed well in the hall of Svein Blue Tooth. During the meal, for Svein was a rich man, there had been acrobats, and jugglers and minstrels. There had been much laughter when one of the acrobats had fallen into the long fire, to leap scrambling from it, rolling in the dirt. Two other men, to settle a grievance, had had a tug of war, a bosk hide stretched between them, across the long fire. When one had been pulled into the fire the other had thrown the hide over him and stomped upon him. Before the fellow in the fire could free himself he had been much burned. This elicited much laughter from the tables. The jugglers had a difficult time, too, for their eyes on the cups and plates they were juggling, they were not infrequently tripped, to the hilarity of the crowd. More than one minstrel, too, was driven from the hall, the target of barrages of bones and plates. Marauders of Gor, page 195
The Thing is a very important tradition in Torvaldsland, there are many games, different types of fights and settling of accounts. Much of fighting is done in good spirits however and/or to win talmits. The quotes say much more the I ever could.
Roped together by the wrist, on the turf of the thing-fair, we grappled.
His body slipped in my hand. I felt my right wrist drawn back, at the side of my head, his two hands closed on it. He grunted. He was strong. He was Ketil, of Blue Tooth’s high farm, champion of Torvaldsland.
My back began to bend backward; I braced myself as I could, right leg back, bent, left leg forward, bent.
The men about cried out. I heard bets taken, speculations exchanged.
Then my right wrist, to cries of wonder, began to lift and straighten; my arm was then straight, before my body; I began, inch by inch, to lower it, toward the ground; if he did retain his grip; he would, at my feet, be forced to his knees. He released my wrist, with a cry of fury. The rope between us, a yard in length, pulled taut. He regarded me, astonished, wary, enraged.
I heard hands striking the left shoulders; weapons struck on shields.
Suddenly the champion’s fist struck toward me, beneath the rope. I caught the blow, turning, on the side of my left thigh.
There were cries of fury from the watchers.
I took then the right arm of the champion, his wrist in my right hand, my left hand on his upper arm, and extended the arm and turned it, so that the palm of his hand was up.
Then, at the elbow, I broke it across my right knee. I had had enough of him.
I untied the rope from my waist and threw it down. He knelt on the turf, whimpering, tears streaming down his face.
The hands of men pounded on my back. I heard their cries of pleasure. Marauders of Gor, page 138-139
I turned about and saw the Forkbeard. His hair was wet; he was drying his body in a cloak. He was grinning. “Greetings, Thorgeir of Ax Glacier,” said I. “Greetings, Red Hair,” said he. Ax Glacier was far to the north, a glacier spilling between two mountains of stone, taking in its path to the sea, spreading, the form of the ax. The men of the country of Ax Glacier fish for whales and hunt snow sleen. They cannot farm that far to the north. Thorgeir, it so happened, of course, was the only man of the Ax Glacier country, which is usually taken as the northern border of Torvaldsland, before the ice belts of Gor’s arctic north, who was at the thing-fair. “How went the swimming?” I asked him. “The talmit of skin of sea sleen is mine!” he laughed. The talmit is a headband. It is not unusual for the men of Torvaldsland to wear them, though none of Forkbeard’s men did.. They followed an outlaw. Some talmits have special significance. Special talmits sometime distinguish officers, and Jarls; or a district’s lawmen, in the pay of the Jarl; the different districts, too, sometimes have different styles of talmit, varying in their material and design; talmits, too, can be awarded as prizes. That Thorgeir of Ax Glacier had won the swimming must have seemed strange indeed to those of the thing-fair. Immersion in the waters of Ax Glacier country, unprotected, will commonly bring about death by shock, within a matter of Ihn. Sometimes I wondered if the Forkbeard might be mad. His sense of humor, I thought, might cost us all our lives. There was probably not one man at the thing-fair who took him truly to be of Ax Glacier; most obviously he did not have the epicanthic fold, which helps to protect the eyes of the men of Ax Glacier against extreme cold; further, he was much too large to be taken easily as a man of Ax Glacier; their diet does not produce, on the whole, large bodies; further, their climate tends to select for short, fat bodies, for such, physiologically, are easiest to maintain in the therostatic equilibrium in great cold; long, thin bodies, of course, are easiest to maintain therostatic equilibrium in great heat, providing more exposure for cooling. Lastly, his coloring, though his hair was dark, was surely not that of the far north, but, though swarthy, more akin to that of Torvaldsland, particularly western Torvaldsland. Only a madman, or a fool, might have taken seriously his claim to be of the Ax Glacier country. Much speculation had coursed among the contest fields as to the true identity of the smooth-shaven Thorgeir.
Prior to his winning the swimming he had won talmits for climbing the “mast”, a tall pole of needle wood, some fifty feet high, smoothed and peeled: for jumping the “crevice”, actually a broad jump, on level land, where marks are made with strings, to the point at which the back heel strikes the earth; walking the “oar”, actually, a long pole; and throwing the spear, a real spear I am pleased to say, both for distance and accuracy; counting the distance and the accuracy of the spear events as two events which they are, he had thus, prior to the swimming, won five talmits.
He had done less well in the singing contest, though he much prided himself on his singing voice; he thought, in that one, the judges had been against him; he did not score highly either in the composition of poetry contest nor in the rhyming games; “I am not a skald,” he explained to me later; he did much better, I might mention, in the riddle guessing; but not well enough to win; he missed the following riddle; “What is black, has eighty legs and eats gold?”; the answer, though it might not seem obvious, was Black Sleen, the ship of Thorguard of Scagnar; the Forkbeard’s answer had been Black Shark, the legendary ship of Torvald, reputed discoverer and first Jarl of Torvaldsland; he acknowledged his defeat in this contest, however, gracefully; “I was a fool.” He grumbled to me. “I should have known!” Though I attempted to console him, he remained much put out with himself, and for more than an Ahn afterward.
In spite of his various losses, he had, even in his own modest opinion, done quite well in the contests. He was in excellent humor.
Perhaps the most serious incident of the contests had occurred in one of the games of bat and ball; in this contest there are two men on each side, and the object is to keep the ball out of the hands of the other team; no one man may hold the ball for more than the referee’s count of twenty; he may, however, throw it into the air, provided it is thrown over his head, and catch it again himself; the ball may be thrown to a partner, or struck to him with the bat; the bat, of course, drives the ball with incredible force; the bats are of heavy wood, rather broad, and the ball, about two inches in diameter, is also of wood, and extremely hard; this is something like a game of “keep away” with two men in the middle. I was pleased that I was not involved in the play. Shortly after the first “knock off”, in which the ball is served to the enemy, Gorm, who was Ivar’s partner, was struck cold with the ball, it driven from the opponent’s bat; this, I gathered, is a common trick; it is very difficult to intercept or protect oneself from a ball struck at one with great speed from a short distance; it looked quite bad for Ivar at this point, until one of his opponents, fortunately, broke his leg, it coming into violent contact with Ivar’s bat. This contest was called a draw. Ivar then asked me to be his partner. I declined. “It is all right,” said Ivar, “even the bravest of men may decline a contest of bat-and-ball.” I acceded to his judgment. There are various forms of ball game enjoyed by the men of Torvaldsland; some use bats, or paddles; in the winter, one such game, quite popular, is played, men running and slipping about, on ice; whether there is any remote connection between this game and ice hockey, I do not know; it is, however, ancient in Torvaldsland; Torvald himself, in the sagas, is said to have been skilled at it. Ivar Forkbeard, or Thorgeir of Ax Glacier, as we might call him, had won, all told, counting the swimming talmit, six talmits.
He was much pleased.
In the morning talmits would be awarded personally by the hand of Svein Blue Tooth.
“Let us, this afternoon,” said Ivar Forkbeard, “give ourselves to strolling.” Marauders of Gor, page 138 to 141
“Let us watch duels,” said the Forkbeard. The duel is a device by which many disputes, legal and personal, are settled in Torvaldsland. There are two general sorts, the formal duel and the free duel. The free duel permits all weapons; there are there are no restrictions on tactics or field. At the thing, of course, adjoining squares are lined out for these duels. If the combatants wished, however, they might choose another field. Such duels, commonly, are held on wave-struck skerries in Thassa. Two men are left alone; later, at nightfall, a skiff returns, to pick up the survivor. The formal duel is quite complex, and I shall not describe it in detail. Two men meet, but each is permitted a shield bearer; the combatants strike at one another, and the blows, hopefully, are fended by each’s shield bearer; three shields are permitted to each combatant; when these are hacked to pieces or otherwise rendered useless, his shield bearer retires, and he must defend himself with his own weapon alone; swords not over a given length, too, are prescribed. The duel takes place, substantially, on a large, square cloak, ten feet on each side, which is pegged down on the turf; outside this cloak there are two squares, each a foot from the cloak, drawn in the turf. The outer corners of the second of the two drawn squares are marked with hazel wands; there is this a twelve-foot-square fighting area; no ropes are stretched between the hazel wands. When the first blood touches the cloak the match may, at the agreement of the combatants, or in the discretion of one of the two referees, be terminated; a price of three silver tarn disks is then paid to the victor by the loser; the winner commonly then performs a sacrifice; if the winner is rich, and the match of great importance, he may slay a bosk; if he is poor, or the match is not considered a great victory, his sacrifice may be less. These duels, particularly of the formal variety, are sometimes used disreputably for gain by unscrupulous swordsmen. A man, incredibly enough, may be challenged risks his life among the hazel wands; he may be slain; then, too, of course, the stake, the farm, the companion, the daughter, is surrendered by law to the challenger. The motivation of this custom, I gather, is to enable strong, powerful men to obtain land and attractive women; and to encourage those who possess such to keep themselves in fighting condition. All in all I did not much approve of the custom. Commonly, of course, the formal duel is used for more reputable purposes, such as settling grievances over boundaries, or permitting an opportunity where, in a case of insult, satisfaction might be obtained. Marauders of Gor, page 145-146
Tarl fights for a young man and his sister and wins the duel for them. After the fight, the young man seeks to thank Tarl and much of the opposite happens.
“These I give to you, Champion,” said the boy, trying to push into my hands the three tarn disks of silver.
“Save them.” Said I, “for your sister’s dowry in her companionship.”
“With what then,” asked he, “have you been paid?”
“With sport,” I said.
“My thanks, Fighter,” said the girl.
“My thanks, too, Champion,” said the boy who held her.
I bowed my head.
“Boy!” cried the Forkbeard. The boy looked at him. The Forkbeard threw him a golden tarn disk. “Buy a bosk and sacrifice it,” said the Forkbeard. “Let there be much feasting on the farms of the Inlet of Green Cliffs!”
“My thanks, Captain!” cried the boy. “My thanks!”
There was cheering from the men about, as I, the Forkbeard, some of his men, and some of his bond-maids, left the place of dueling. Marauders of Gor, page 150
Proving one isn’t a liar. Ouch.
We passed one fellow, whom we noted seized up two bars of red hot metal and ran some twenty feet, and then threw them from him.
“What is he doing?” I asked.
“He is proving that he has told the truth,” said the Forkbeard.
“Oh,” I said. Marauders of Gor, page 150-151
The peace of the Thing is of all importance and is mentioned over and over again during the Thing.
“Fall back!” cried out Svein Blue Tooth. “The peace of the thing is upon them!”
Men fell back, and, between them, shambling, swiftly moved the three Kurs.
“We are done with them,” said Ivar Forkbeard.
“Tomorrow,” called Svein Blue Tooth, “we will award the talmits for excellence in the contests.” He laughed. “And to-morrow night we shall feast!” Marauders of Gor, page 179
The winning of talmits is a great honor and made to be of great importance among the men of Torvaldsland.
“Never in the history of the thing,” called Svein, “has there been so high a winner in the contests as he whom we now proceed to honor.”
I was not surprised that this was true.
Ivar Forkbeard had won six talmits.
He had won a talmit for climbing the “mast,” a tall pole of needle wood; it was some fifty feet high, and was peeled and smoothed; he had won one for “leaping the crevice,” which was actually a broadjump, performed on level ground; one for walking the “oar,” which was actually a long pole; two in contests of the spear, one for distance and one for accuracy; and one in swimming. He had done less well in singing, poetry composition, rhyming and riddle guessing. He had come in, however, in second place in riddle guessing. Marauders of Gor, page 182
Even when Ivar Forkbeard pulls a terrible ruse on Svein Bluetooth, is Svein Bluetooth made to uphold the Peace of the Thing. Also, as seen in this quote, we see free men address higher Jarls as my Jarl, which shows a great amount of respect for hierarchy.
“That you have disguised yourself tells us,” said the Blue Tooth, “that you are outlaw.”
Ivar looked at him, as though startled at his perception.
“But the peace of the thing is upon you,” said Svein Blue Tooth. “You are safe among us. Do not fear, great Champion. We meet here not to threaten you, but to do you honor. Be not afraid, for the peace of the thing is upon you, as on all men here.”
“Great Jarl,” said Ivar Forkbeard, “will you swear upon me the oath of peace, for the time of the thing, your personal oath, sworn upon the ring of the temple of Thor?”
“It is not necessary,” said the Blue Tooth, “but, if you wish, this oath I will swear “
The Forkbeard bowed his head in humble petition.
The great ring of the temple of Thor, stained in the blood of the sacrificial ox, was brought. It was held in the hands of the high rune-priest of the thing. Svein Blue Tooth grasped it in both hands. “I swear upon you the peace of the thing,” said he, “and I make this oath of peace, for the time of the thing, mine own as well.”
I breathed more easily. I saw the Forkbeard’s men about me visibly relax. Only the Forkbeard did not seem satisfied.
“Swear, too,” he suggested, “by the side of the ship, by the shield’s rim, by the sword’s edge.”
Svein Blue Tooth looked at him, puzzled. “I so swear,” he said.
“And, too,” begged the Forkbeard, “by the fires of your hearth, by the timbers of the hall and the pillars of your high seat.”
“Come now!” said Svein Blue Tooth.
“My Jarl-“ begged the Forkbeard.
“Very well,” said the Blue Tooth, “I swear by the ship’s side, the shield’s rim, the sword’s edge, the fires of my hearth, the timbers of my hall and the pillars of the high seat in my house.”
He then made ready to brush back the hood, but the Forkbeard drew back once more.
“Will you swear, too,” he asked, “by the grains of your fields, the boundary stones of your holdings, the locks on your chests and the salt on your table?”
“Yes, yes!” said Svein Blue Tooth, irritably. “I so swear.
The Forkbeard seemed lost in thought. I assumed he was trying to think of ways to strengthen the Blue Tooth’s oath. It seemed to me a mighty oath already. I thought it quite sufficient.
“And, too, I swear,” said Svein Blue Tooth, “by the bronze of my ladles and the bottoms of my butter pans”
“That will not be necessary,” said the Forkbeard, generously.
“What is your name, Champion?” asked Svein Blue Tooth.
Ivar Forkbeard threw back his hood. “My name is Ivar Forkbeard,” he said.
Marauders of Gor, page 183-184-185
Different sports to win talmits at the Thing.
“You have six talmits of mine, I believe,” said the Fork-beard.
Svein Blue Tooth looked at him in rage.
“There is one for swimming,” said the Forkbeard, “one for climbing the mast, one for leaping the crevice, one for walking the oar, and two for prowess with the spear.”
Blue Tooth was speechless.
“That is six,” said the Forkbeard. “Never before in the history of the thing has a champion done this well.”
The Blue Tooth thrust the talmits toward the Forkbeard But the Forkbeard, humbly, inclined his head.
Then Svein Blue Tooth, as high jarl in Torvaldsland, one by one, tied about the forehead of Ivar Forkbeard the six talmits.
There was much cheering. I, too, cheered. Svein Blue Tooth was, in his way, not a bad fellow.
“By tomorrow night,” repeated Svein Blue Tooth to the Forkbeard, “when the thing is done, be free of this place. My oath is for the time of the thing, and for no longer.”
“You frown upon me, and would put me below the salt,” said Ivar Forkbeard, “because I am outlaw.”
“I frown upon you, and would not let you within the doors of my hall, said Svein Blue Tooth, “because you are the greatest scoundrel and rogue in Torvaldsland!”
I could see that this compliment much pleased the Forkbeard, who, a vain fellow, was jealous of his reputation. Marauders of Gor, page 190
“You!” cried the Blue Tooth.
I saw the eyes of the Blue Tooth suddenly gleam with avarice. I knew then, surely, that he was of Torvaldsland. There is a streak of the raider in them all.
“The wergild I set you,” said he slowly, “was such that no man, by my intent, could pay it. It was one hundred stone of gold, the weight of a grown man in the sapphires of Schendi, and the only daughter of my enemy, Thorgard of Scagnar.”
“May I pay my respects to you this night in your hall?” asked the Forkbeard.
Svein Blue Tooth looked at him, startled. He fingered the heavy tooth, on its chain, which hung about his neck, that tooth of a Hunjer whale, dyed blue.
Bera, his woman, rose to her feet. I could see that her mind was moving with rapidity.
“Come tonight to our hall, Champion,” said she.
The Blue Tooth did not gainsay her. The woman of the Jarl had spoken. Free women in the north have much power. The Jarl’s Woman, in the Kaissa of the north, is a more powerful piece than the Ubara in the Kaissa of the south. This is not to deny that the Ubara in the south, in fact, exercises as much or more power than her northern counterpart. It is only to recognize that her power in the south is less explicitly acknowledged.
The Forkbeard looked to Svein Blue Tooth. Svein fingered the tooth on its chain.
“Yes,” said he, “come tonight to my hall—Champion.” Marauders of Gor, page 191