Skarphťūinn NjŠlsson

born: 960(?) at BergĢůrshvol in Landeyjar in Iceland
died: 1011 at BergĢůrshvol in Landeyjar in Iceland
married: řůrhildur Hrafnsdůttir

Skarphťūinn was the eldest son of NjŠll. He was bold and fearless and carried the axe called Rimmugżgur (battle-hag). His was always ready with sharp retort or a cutting insult. Today, the insults make for some highly entertaining reading, but in the saga, the insults often created many difficulties for Skarphťūinn and his brothers. He was quick and able at using weapons, and the saga author writes that he looked every inch the warrior.

In this passage from the saga, Skarphťūinn and their brothers planned to ambush řrŠinn to avenge his shameful behavior towards two of the brothers while in Norway. řrŠinn refused to pay any compensation when they all returned to Iceland, and only added to the dishonor by his insults directed towards NjŠll's entire family.

NjŠll's sons learned that řrŠinn planned to travel across the frozen Markarfljůt river, so they waited there to ambush him. As řrŠinn and his men started crossing the ice, the ambush party appeared on the other side and advanced to meet them. Skarphťūinn fell behind to fix his broken shoelace, but he made up for lost time with a bold move.


A broad slab of ice, smooth as glass, had formed on the other side of the river, and Thrain and his men were standing in the middle of it. Skarphedin took off into the air and leaped across the river from one ice ledge to the other and made a steady landing and shot into a glide. The ice slab was very smooth, and Skarphedin went along as fast as a bird in flight. Thrain was about to put on his helmet, but Skarphedin came at him first and swung his axe at him and hit him on the head and split it down to the jaw, so that the molars fell out on the ice. This happened in such rapid sequence that no one could land a blow on Skarphedin; he went gliding away at a furious speed. Tjorvi threw a shield in his way, but he hopped over it and kept his balance and glided to the end of the ice slab.

Brennu-NjŠls saga, ch. 92
translation: Robert Cook, The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, Leifur Eiriksson Publishing (1997).

The ambushers killed many of the others in řrŠinn's party. Skarphťūinn grabbed hold of two of the youngest members of the group, mere boys, and asked, "what shall I do with these puppies?" His brother said he could kill them, but Skarphťūinn chose to release them both. Later, these two lads were in the forefront of the group that burned NjŠll and his family to death in their home.


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