When I was eight-years-old every bus ride home seemed like a never-ending journey. The rumbling of that monstrous yellow vehicle always could put me to sleep and make the time pass in a heartbeat. This happened except when I sat in the back. All of the popular kids sat to the rear of the bus-such as my brother who was a year above me. On that particularly cold winter New England afternoon, the hot steamy breath of thirty-four children fogged every window on the bus, including the small triangle window right next to the drive. The children's dirt encrusted fingers scrawled all over the bottom windows. If the driver saw someone writing on the top window they would be in trouble. My brother's friend Joe, who was much cooler and older than I, kept urging me on to write the word "fucker" on the top window. I didn't even know what it meant, or even how to spell it for that matter.
I was unsure and worried, so I look around for some assurance or advice. My brother caught my scared glance with stern brows, bulged eyes, and slightly opened mouth, as if to say, "What? Are you stupid, do it!" After quickly consulting with Joe on the spelling, I did it, rather impulsively and messily. It wasn't quick enough to escape the peripheral vision of the driver, who reacted with a bellow that silenced the entire bus of thirty-four children. As in the Icelandic "The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck," Thorstein was faced with a similar call to defend his honor at the demand of a family member despite his desire to. Being typical of Viking feud culture, this honor and family pressure became the catalyst for a feud to fester.
A feud is usually always instigated by an act of violence or aggression between two individuals. In "The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck," this was initiated by Thord, a servant of a wealthy and revered land owner, Bjarni. Often in a feud, the littlest act of violence can soon escalate into bloodshed. In the midst of a horse-fight they arranged, Thord and Thorstein each exchanged blows toward each of their horses. It looked as if Thord had lost; he then dealt Thorstein a blow to the head with a horse-pod. After Thorstein was struck in the head he made an important decision not to continue the brawl. In an attempt to avoid further conflict he decided not to engage with Thord and forget what had happened. Social status, like in many feuds, plays an important role in this situation because, Thord being the servant of a wealthy man, used that to his advantage. In choosing not to exchange blows, Thorstein confirmed his lesser social status as a horse farmer. The manner in which the inciting incident unfolds is crucial to what will follow in the feud and what sides with be formed in the process.
Although Thorstein made the choice not to get involved any further, family honor, an important facet of Viking culture, intervened and forced him to react appropriately. Even though many months had passed since the first incident, time is often viewed as irrelevant to feuds. The fact that something happened is completely unrelated to when it happened. Thorstein's father, Thorarin found out what happened to his son and tells him, "I would not have thought that I had a coward for a son." (678) Because economic and political mobility is important to Viking society, preserving, maintaining, and improving honor via the family name is essential. This is especially important to Thorarin who, in turn, is trying to teach his son a lesson and make sure his family lives on stronger than when it started. Thorstein, is then made to do something that he necessarily doesn't want to do, but is pressured into doing anyways. Similarly on the other side, Bjarni's wife pressures him into defending the death of his servant that Thorstein kills. She uses her status to force Bjarni to take action as Thorarin forces Thorstein. This illustrates that retaining status is more important than the needs of the individuals, and that the elders and other family members can have a lot of power in aggravate a feud.
Another vital provoking element of the feud is how individuals become unsatisfied at a conclusion or verdict. When Bjarni gets an outlawed sentence on Thorstein for killing Thord, Bjarni's servants Thorvald and Thorhall are unsatisfied that Thorstein was not killed. They decide to avenge Thord's death and as a result widen the scope of the feud. This is typical of the culture: individuals outside of the direct action get involved, and it starts the snowball-affect. Bjarni's wife intervenes again and pressures Bjarni to go fight Thorstein himself. Thorarin, is yet again dissatisfied with the results of his son's dual with Bjarni, that he takes the matter into his own hands and shamefully attempts to kill Bjarni. This feeling of being unsatisfied with another person's fight is one of the most influential factors in perpetuating Viking feuds.
Lastly, social status is an important measure in determining the result for a feud. Thorstein's fight with Bjarni offers a noteworthy perspective of fighting in social ranks. When Thorstein killed the servants he didn't hesitate, and their death and fight was quick. However, when Thorstein is face with fighting a man of significantly higher social status, he is respectful. He even lets Bjarni tie his shoes, get a drink of water. At any point Thorstein probably could have finished him off being the younger and stronger of the two men. Yet, there is a high reverence for respecting individuals of higher social status. Killing Bjarni would probably have done more bad than good for Thorstein, so the feud was settled in a draw and he said he would become Bjarni's servant. As a result, Thorstein's father was dissatisfied with the result of his son becoming a servant for Bjarni, he felt as if this was a step down from their current lot in life on the horse farm. Even though all of Thorarin's needs will be met for the rest of his life as a result of his son going to live with Bjarni, that isn't good enough for his pride.
"The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck" offers a unique perspective to the basis of Viking feud culture. The importance of family honor and community is more important than needs of individuals like Thorstein. Whether being involved with a feud, or writing a word on the foggy window of a bus, older family members play an important role in deciding and controlling the destiny of social status.