The Barding Saga

Chapter Seven

Winter fell upon Iceland. Those who had remained at Bardstaðir — Björn, Freydis, Halbjörn, Þora, and their children — came to Hrafnahof for the season. Soon after Yule, Nereid died in childbirth. The baby survived, and was wet-nursed by Vigdis, Steinar’s wife, and they called him Vandrad Einarsson. Einar went to gather wood to build a funeral pyre, but what little he could gather was of little use, so they buried Nereid’s body beneath a cairn of rocks, planning to burn her when the ice thawed.

One day, Halbjörn discovered a flock of crows pecking at the cairn. He and Ingrid chased them off. The crows had not harmed her body, but it was a bad omen all the same. Halbjörn added a new layer of rocks to the gravesite. After this, Ingrid took to standing outside to keep watch over her daughter’s cairn. The others feared she might freeze to death, so Einar went outside to speak to her. He implored her not to despair, but to focus on her still-living child and grandchildren. This convinced her to go back inside.

Einar had his own methods of forgetting. He began carving a weather vane, but had trouble with the details he wanted to include. Björn, who practiced carving often, provided the artistic flourishes. Einar had noticed that when he had gone out to gather wood, he had to walk further than usual. All the trees closer had been chopped down, and the forest was thinning from too much logging. He suggested to Ingrid that they start a tradition of planting a grove of new trees every year, to be held sacred for nine years so no one would cut the trees down while they matured. Ingrid agreed that it was a good plan, and they decided to present it to Valberg Blood-Jewel when spring came, hoping that the support of two goðar might give them better chances.

Freydis was becoming increasingly suspicious of Björn’s interest in the Christian book and his involvement with Gellir Grimsson. She asked him if he was a Christian. He said, “Father believed in the gods, and what did it get him?”

“Valhalla,” Freydis answered.

Björn defended the White Christ as a god of peace, but did not say he was a Christian, only that he found the stories interesting. Freydis challenged him to swear an oath to Þor, Odin, and Freyr on Einar’s ring: an oath to uphold their father’s legacy. Björn agreed, but when Einar asked what they thought his legacy was, Björn said “wisdom” and Freydis said “justice.” On Freydis’s insistence, they both swore to meet every year (when possible) to share one thing each had learned and one thing each had done to bring justice to the world in the past year. Björn readily swore to the gods, and this satisfied Freydis for the time being.

Halbjörn started training his sons and Eyvind in the art of war. As they drilled, Björn, Helga, and Aslaug ambushed them with snowballs. The boys broke formation to run after them. Björn tried to lead them into the wilderness, but slipped on an icy patch and plummeted to the bottom of a rocky cliff. He broke his leg and could not move, nor could anyone hear his cries for help. That night, Björn still had not returned, and the family was very distraught. Nereid sent a dream to Einar as he slept, showing him where Björn was. That very night, Einar took Halbjörn and Þorlaug to the cliff. Halbjörn set Björn’s broken leg, and they carried him back to Hrafnahof. Björn lay in bed to heal his leg. Helga fed him soup, and kissed him. Ingrid noticed this and urged Björn to marry her and start having children, as life was short.

Einar asked Þorlaug if she would train Helga to be a shieldmaiden. Þorlaug said she would train the girl “if she has what it takes.” Upon hearing this, Helga picked up a spear and attacked Þorlaug. The girl fought well, and so impressed was Þorlaug that she agreed to teach her. Einar wished to formalize their relationship with oaths, but Þorlaug and Helga would have none of it.

At winter’s end, Halbjörn sacrificed a goat to thank the gods for sparing Björn’s life and to implore them to keep the family safe.

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Jason

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