The Barding Saga

Chapter One

There was a man named Njáll the Wise. He lived in Borg, and men said that no man in Hålogaland knew the law better than he. Njáll accepted this praise, but said that though no man may know the law better, his wife Ingrid the Deep-minded knew still more than he. Ingrid was the daughter of Stuf the Sly, who had been lawspeaker in Borg before Njáll. Ingrid had learned much about the law from her father, and still more alongside her husband, who was wise enough to not ignore her advice.

Njáll and Ingrid had three children: their elder daughter, Thora, their son, Bard the Learned, and their younger daughter, Sarcastic Nereid.

In those days, Harald Fairhair fought to conquer all of Norway. Njáll, Ingrid, Nereid, Thora, and Thora’s husband, Halbjörn Half-troll, went to Iceland. They settled near Þjórsá’s mouth, on the eastern side, and there established a homestead and a hof dedicated to Odin and all the other gods, called Hrafnahof. There they lived for many years, and Njáll garnered a reputation as a wise and fair goði.

Bard, however, remained in Borg, content to live on his farm. But Harald heard of Njáll’s reputation as lawspeaker, and how he had defied the jarl. Harald feared that Njáll’s example would inspire the people of Borg to defy him, too. He seized Bard’s farm, forcing him to take his family to Iceland. He settled across Þjórsá’s mouth from his father’s farmstead, and called it Bardstaðir.

Thora bore two sons for Halbjörn, named Orm and Skeggi, and a daughter, named Aslaug. Bard’s wife, Gudrun, bore him a son named Björn and a daughter named Freydis. The family prospered for some years.

One day, Nereid found a níðstöng erected against her father. It terrified the landvættir away. Njáll’s farm suffered a terrible harvest, and they lost all their livestock in the winter that followed. Desperate and near starvation, Njáll agreed when Njáll Snorrisson offered to pay him handsomely for his title as goði. Though Nereid believed that this Njáll had erected the níðstöng himself specifically to push her father to such desperate ends, and though Njáll and Ingrid did not disbelieve those suspicions, Njáll had little choice but to accept the offer. Njáll the Wise sold Hrafnahof and his goðorð to Njáll Snorrisson and went to live with his son at Bardstaðir.

The silver from the sale helped Bardstaðir to prosper, but Njáll never recovered from that hard winter. He died the following winter of illness, though many said it was truly from shame.

North along Þjórsá from Bardstaðir sat the farmstead of Hogni Olafsson. Hogni had once served Atli Red-cloak, jarl of Vågan, an enemy of Bard’s former jarl. Despite this, he had settled next to Bardstaðir. Though they both bore enmity for one another, the work of establishing new lives in Iceland kept them too busy to pursue grudges from the old country.

One day while playing with the other children, Björn caught Hogni stealing one of their cows. He pretended Hogni was a frost giant and led the children to throw mud at him. Hogni cracked Björn’s skull and took the cow to his farm. Nereid was already there, though, talking to Hogni’s wife Thorunn. When she saw him leading the cow to his property, she recognized the cow and accused him of stealing. Hogni claimed the cow was originally his, and that Bard had stolen it from him. They agreed to settle the matter in court.

Hogni’s goði was Njáll Snorrison. Bard’s goði was a man named Valberg Blood-Jewel. They agreed to go to Skjöldur Brimisson, whom they called Old Dog-Beard, to judge the case. Both men and their goðar travelled together to Skjöldur’s hof. Hogni was armed with a Dane axe, which Bard found suspicious. Bard brought his huscarl Halbjörn for protection, and his mother Ingrid for advice. All three goðar respected her deep knowledge of the law. She planned out Valberg’s defense for Bard beforehand.

While the men of Bardstaðir went on the long journey to Skjöldur’s home, outlaws prowled around the homestead, but Björn Bardsson did not lack for bravery. Though he thought them draugr lurking about in the night, he nonetheless charged out to face them. The outlaw snatched him up and nearly made off with him, had Nereid not chased him down and stopped him.

The next day, Björn, Helga, and the other children encountered the outlaws, three of them, and chose to try to fight them. They did not lack for bravery, but they were no match for such men. The fates, however, had something else in mind for these children, for their neighbor Einar Lambisson happened upon them then, axe in hand, which he sank into one of the outlaw’s skulls. The other two fled then. Nereid had gone to Einar to ask for his help, which he gladly offered.

Before Skjöldur, Valberg related how Bard had bought the cow a year previous with the last bits of silver from Njáll’s sale of Hrafnahof and his goðorð, and who had sold it to him. Hogni became outraged at the accusation of theft and challenged Bard to hólmganga. Skjöldur halted the proceedings, and took Ingrid outside to speak with her. He confided that Hogni was a loathsome professional duelist: he committed crimes of which he knew he would be charged guilty, then challenged the victim to hólmganga in court. If he declined, it was an admission of guilt and he would win the case. If he agreed to fight, Hogni would win, and he would win the case. Skjöldur asked Ingrid what he could do to stop this. Ingrid suggested not letting anyone call for hólmganga until the case ended. Hogni’s crime of theft could be punished with outlawry, and outlaws could not challenge free men to hólmganga.

Skjöldur thanked Ingrid, went back inside and followed her advice. Hogni was sentenced to full outlawry. Half his homestead was given to Bard. Bard offered to allow Hogni’s wife and daughter to come live with him at Bardstaðir.

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Chapter Two

It was Stekkið, and Halbjörn was off freebooting with Ref Valbergsson. Bard stayed behind to take care of the farm. The women were worried to have only one man protecting Bardstaðir, as they knew outlaws roamed the land around the farm, and the newly-outlawed Hogni certainly bore a grudge. They spoke their concerns to each other as they wove, and Thora suggested to Ingrid that perhaps they could strike a deal with Valberg Blood-Jewel so he might send a few of his men to hunt the outlaws down. Ingrid liked this idea very much.

Nereid was not among the women weaving that day. She wished to bake something sweet for Einar, to thank him for saving Björn’s life. So she walked down to the beach to collect bird eggs. On the beach, she discovered an old shrine in a sea cave, marked with the rune of an unknown god. Tucked away in a notch was a book wrapped in silk and written in a strange language. Forgetting all about the eggs, Nereid took the book home and hid it in a chest.

Meanwhile, Bard was teaching Björn to fight. Njáll the Wise had been left-handed, and noticed that this helped him defeat his opponents, so he taught Bard to fight with both hands. Bard, in turn, was teaching Björn the same strategy.

After the sparring lesson, Bard took Björn down to the shoreline. Seals and sea birds had been less plentiful lately, and Bard wished to find out why. They discovered the reason washed up on the beach: a dead whale, but not too rotted to eat. He and his son excitedly began carving it up, and took as much whale meat as they could carry back to Bardstaðir. The women were overjoyed to see so much meat. Bard sent Nereid to Einarsbær to invite Einar to join them and take some of the meat for himself, and soon everyone was on the beach carving up the whale and carting the meat back home.

Two men in a small boat came ashore then, and claimed the whale for their own. They had two harpoons and said that they had hunted the whale with a third, but no one could find the third harpoon. Ingrid combed the beach for it, finally finding it more than a bowshot away, whale guts hanging from it. She came back with the harpoon. It matched the other harpoons, but had been found too far away for them to have legal claim to the whale. However, Bard did not wish to make enemies, so he offered that they split the whale meat and invited the two men back to his hall to feast and spend the night.

One of the men, Yngvar, spoke little but knew much about boats. Nereid had an idea for a ferry across the Þjórsá that could bring money to the farmstead. She shared this idea with Yngvar, and suggested that her family could provide a house and meal if he ferried people across the river and shared the silver with them. He agreed to it. The other man, Ulf, was a drunkard with no respect for the gods. He made a fool of himself until Yngvar calmly knocked him out. This made the family like Yngvar even more. Ulf did not rouse until morning, when the two men left with the agreement that Yngvar would return to run the ferry once he had tied things up at Eyarbakki.

Ingrid left that morning as well. She went to Valberg’s hof with a package of the whale meat as a gift. Björn went with her so that he might run back for help if something happened to her. The two arrived that evening and were welcomed warmly by their goði. Valberg accepted the gift of whale meat, and agreed to send three of his men back to Bardstaðir to root out the outlaws, if she would help him with a private matter. Valberg confided that he wished to take Njáll Snorrisson’s goðorð for himself. Knowing of Ingrid’s cleverness, he thought perhaps she could help him in this plan. Ingrid agreed, but had a suggestion of her own: that a Þing be held, as in Norway, to determine the laws — and that the freewomen of Iceland be allowed to vote. Valberg laughed at this notion, saying that most women were not nearly as intelligent as Ingrid and thus incapable of the logical thought required of Þingmen.

Ingrid dropped the subject, but before she left the next morning, she spoke to Valberg’s wife, Unn. Unn did not laugh at her, but was skeptical that such a change could be made. Ingrid recognized that Unn would not be persuaded without an indication from the gods that such a thing could be. It reminded Ingrid of the way she herself became convinced of her destiny to become the first gyðja of Iceland — a seiðkona’s prophecy.

Ingrid and Björn returned to Bardstaðir with three of Valberg’s men, led by Egil Blood-axe. Egil came up with a plan to trap the outlaw band: they had previously tried to kidnap Björn, and did not seem to want him hurt. They probably wanted to sell him into slavery. They proposed using Björn as bait. When the outlaws kidnapped him, they could track them in the morning to their den and kill them all.

So that night, the men sent Björn away to get captured. Björn brought an axe to protect himself. Unfortunately, Helga followed him, determined to protect her friend. Not wishing Helga to get hurt, Björn led her to a hiding place in Hogni’s old farmhouse. Hogni was there, and grabbed her up. Björn tried to cut Hogni’s foot with his axe, but one of the outlaws knocked him unconscious.

Björn awoke to find himself tied up in a cave with Hogni and two other outlaws. Hogni was scolding Helga for her friendship with Björn. Björn tried to find a sharp rock to cut the ropes that bound him, but one of the outlaws noticed what he was doing and stopped him. Björn came up with the idea of turning Hogni and the two other outlaws against each other. They fought while Helga untied Björn. Hogni and one outlaw killed each other, but the last one understood what Björn had done. He approached Björn to kill him. Björn picked up one of the dead men’s spears, and then threw it into his left hand to throw the man off-balance. Helga leapt up behind the man and sank a seax into his neck.

Egil and his men met the two wounded children on the trail to the cave in the morning. They carried the boy home, calling on Red Þorr to witness the courage of young Björn the Brave, and remarking what a great shieldmaiden Helga would grow up to be. As the women tended to Björn’s wounds, Bard found a new respect for Helga, whom he previously had not wanted Björn to spend time with. He offered to adopt her as his own daughter, but she refused, insisting that one day she would marry Björn — though she told Bard not to tell his son that.

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Chapter Three

As Midsummer neared, word spread across the island of Björn’s bravery. Eyvind, Björn’s cousin and Nereid’s son, got very jealous, even though he had recently found some valuable bog iron for the family. He had heard tale of a “ghost bear” that had been spotted on the island, and told Björn that he was going to kill it to show how he was braver and better. Bjorn tried to dissuade him from this.

Halbjörn returned from freebooting with three Irish slaves. Two were women, and one was a man. Being curious about other lands, Björn took a special interest in these slaves. He tried to talk to one, who was called Caoimhe, but she spoke no Norse. He began to teach her a little, but Bard scolded him. However, the other female slave, Shylah, had noticed. She did speak Norse, and happily answered all of Björn’s questions about her homeland and her god, Jesus Christ. This Bard did not stop, because the slave was very secretive and quiet and did not allow the conversation to be noticed.

Now, Nereid had long hated Njáll Snorrisson, as she believed he was responsible for the loss of her father’s goðorð. So she went to visit Njáll to see how she might sabotage him. She took Björn and Eyvind along, and introduced them to Njáll, along with the story of Björn’s cleverness against the outlaws. Njáll was very impressed with Björn, which left Eyvind seething. Björn tried to give credit to Eyvind for finding the ore, but Njáll did not take interest in that.

Nereid slyly got him talking, and soon Snorrisson admitted that he had had much trouble lately with Håkon Travel-quick. His son Brauggi slew a quest of Travel-quick’s, who happened to be the nephew of Þorsteinn Ingólfsson. So now guards surrounded his hof in case of retaliation. He proposed a partnership with Nereid to start a ferry that would rival Travel-quick’s. Nereid said she would have to go home and talk it over with Bard. Njáll sent his son Bolli to protect her and the two boys on their way home.

Bard liked Nereid’s plan of sabotage, and urged her not to establish any partnership with Njáll, but to make it seem as though she was interested, to keep him talking. Nereid admitted that she was tempted by the wealth such a partnership would bring. She argued that she could hurt Njáll much more easily if they worked closer together, but Ingrid did not approve.

Many years ago, a seiðkona named Hildrid the White had prophesied that Ingrid would speak before the Þing. Ingrid felt unsure about her next move, so she invited Hildrid to Bardstaðir. She arrived protected by two shieldmaidens with their tongues cut out. The two women sat outside by a fire to speak. Nereid came out with them, but Ingrid shooed her away lest she find out about her deal with Valberg Blood-jewel. Nereid felt very insulted by this exclusion, but went back inside.

Hildrid knew of Ingrid’s deal with Valberg without being told, but suggested that it would ultimately only help Njáll. She suggested that Ingrid convince Unn of her conviction by making a generous sacrifice to Freyja, but meat was scarce at Bardstaðir, and she feared she could not afford such a thing. Hildrid left the farm that same night.

Halbjörn walked with Nereid on her second trip to Hrafnahof to protect her from Þorsteinn’s men. He had taken Caoimhe as his bed slave. His wife Þora did not like this, but spoke of her displeasure only to the women of the household. As they walked, Nereid confronted Halbjörn about this. He said he would give up his bed slave if Nereid made Ingrid stop talking about her silly ideas. Nereid suggested that perhaps Ingrid could spend more time away from the farm, visiting other people. Halbjörn agreed to the arrangement.

When Nereid next spoke with Njáll, he revealed that the case between his son and Þorsteinn would be judged by Valberg’s Þing. Nereid suspected that Njáll might erect a níðstöng on Travel-quick’s land to destroy him, as she suspected he had destroyed her father. She decided they must trap him in the act before the Þing ended. While they visited, Njáll, thinking Nereid and Bard his allies, told them that he planned to make the argument that Valberg could not judge the case because of the well-known rivalry between them. That would give him more time to gather up the weregild he would need to pay to Þorsteinn. Nereid suggested that he try to offer gifts to some of Valberg’s Þingmenn like Einar Lambisson to see things his way, but Njáll admitted that gathering such a hefty weregild left him with little to give away.

Nereid returned again to Bardstaðir. She told Ingrid of her conversation with Halbjörn. Ingrid agreed to the arrangement, as she could make more change by convincing neighbors of her position anyway. The family prepared to attend the Þing.

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Chapter Four

So the family of Bard made their way to the Þing. As they walked, Nereid took Ingrid aside and expressed concern about her son, Eyvind. She made her mother promise that, if the family got their goðorð back from Snorrisson, Ingrid would train Eyvind to be a goði, so he might have a sense of purpose to keep him out of trouble. Ingrid agreed to this. Nereid then encouraged Eyvind to ask Ingrid many questions about the law.

Once they had arrived at the Þing, Bard shared with Valberg his suspicions about Njáll Snorrisson and his father’s goðorð. He told Valberg that Snorrisson wanted him to testify that Valberg hated Snorrisson, so he would not be a partial judge of the case. Bard also told him of his suspicion that Snorrisson put his son up to killing Þorsteinn Ingólfsson’s nephew, sacrificing his son to sabotage his enemies. Valberg thanked Bard for his loyalty with a few bits of silver.

Cunning Nereid had a plan of her own. She cooked a special dish for Þorsteinn, and told him that Snorrisson is sneaky and steals from people. Þorsteinn vowed to make sure Snorrisson died at the Þing. As he was making his vow, Snorrisson entered the hall with his two sons. Þorsteinn attacked Snorrisson at once, but Brauggi protected his father. Bard snatched Snorrisson, dragged him before Þorsteinn, and publicly accused him of cursing his father’s land in order to steal his goðorð. Þorsteinn impaled Snorrisson on his spear. Brauggi raised his axe to kill Þorsteinn, but Bard stepped in to protect him. He and Brauggi did battle, and both died at each other’s hands that day.

Snorrisson’s living son, Bolli, fled the hall with great speed. However, Nereid convinced Valberg that Bolli must too die, for if any of Snorrisson’s family remained alive, they would attack the family of Bard in retaliation. So Valberg sent his men to kill Bolli as well. He then spoke privately to Ingrid, and offered her back her late husband’s goðorð. He asked who in her family would carry the title. Having made the promise to Nereid, she gave it to Einar Lambisson — who would wed Nereid — so it would be passed down to Eyvind when he was ready. Einar and Nereid married immediately thereafter.

When Björn heard of this, it made him quite angry, as he had hoped to be goði. Nereid asked Björn to hate her or Ingrid, but not Eyvind; Björn stood to inherit his father’s farm, but Eyvind had nothing to inherit. Björn told Ingrid, “I will remember this.”

Þorsteinn told Valberg and Ingrid that he planned to organize a Þing of Þings that autumn, wherein all the local goði would meet at his farm at Reykjavík. Ingrid promised that Einar would go, and she would go as well to advise him.

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Chapter Five

Immediately following the Þing, Ingrid, Nereid, Eyvind, and Einar moved to Hrafnahof. Einar’s sister Þorlaug and brother Þorolf also moved to Hrafnahof, to protect it. Bardstaðir was handed to Gudrun to run, with Björn as man of the house, and Einarsbær left to Steinar. Nereid soon became pregnant with Einar’s child, and Ingrid taught Einar and Eyvind the law together.

Halbjörn visited Hrafnahof to tell Nereid of something that had happened while they were at the Þing: he had caught Shylah sneaking out of the house with a strange book. She instisted, in perfect Norse, that the book was evil, “full of heresy and lies.” Halbjörn guessed that she was lying, took the book, and ordered her back in the house. He recognized the writing from Irish monasteries he had raided. At first he thought it might be a good luck charm, but since Bard had died, he told Nereid that perhaps it brought bad luck and they should simply leave it to Shylah to destroy it.

Nereid did not tell Halbjörn that she was the one who had found the book in the first place. She told him she did not like the idea of giving in to a slave. She went to Shylah and demanded to know why the slave wanted the book destroyed. Shylah said it attributed heretical teachings to the White Christ. Shylah’s knowledge of Norse gave Nereid an idea: they could have Shylah teach other families’ Irish slaves Norse, for a profit. Nereid suggested this idea to Shylah, and said that if she cooperated with this, they would burn the book — and raise money to buy Shylah’s freedom. Shylah agreed on those conditions.

Nereid then went to visit Björn at Bardstaðir. She brought with her one of the boundary-markers from Hrafnahof set by his grandfather, Njáll the Wise. She also brought a bowl of milk to give to the landvættir, but accidentally spilled it. Björn and Halbjörn put the boundary-marker in the ground. Nereid asked Björn to swear to Einar as his goði. Halbjörn suggested he should do it because it would help the family. Björn grudgingly agreed, but made Nereid promise he would not end up regretting the decision. But he secretly went to visit Valberg. He wanted to learn the law, but did not want to learn from Ingrid. Valberg said he would teach him, but he would need to leave Bardstaðir to live with him.

Rumors had circulated now for some months about a “ghost bear,” huge and white like the snow, that had killed several animals on farms upstream. Halbjörn planned to take his boys into the wilderness to hunt this bear and make them men. He took his two sons, Orm and Skeggi, and also Björn and Eyvind. Helga insisted on coming as well. Björn wanted to kill it at a distance, with a trap. Halbjörn dismissed the idea; he said Björn sounded too much like his father, all brains and cunning, and to trap the ghost bear was not manly. They tracked the bear for a long time, when suddenly it ran out from the brush. Halbjörn protected his youngest son, Skeggi, and stabbed at the bear, ordering the children to attack it as well. They killed the bear, but Halbjörn was badly injured in the process.

Halbjörn and the children returned to Bardstaðir with their prize to find the wheat crop blighted. As the slaves burned the field, Halbjörn searched the land and found that the boundary-marker he and Björn had planted was upside-down: a clear sign that the landvættir were angry with them. He set the marker to rights and told Björn about it, suggesting that Ingrid had angered the landvættir. Ingrid arrived from Hrafnahof and told the family at Bardstaðir that Nereid was preparing a feast for all of Snorrisson’s old Þingmen, in the hopes of courting them for Einar. She invited them to this feast, and asked them to contribute some food to it, but Gudrun did not want to come. She felt the feast was all for Ingrid’s glory. She argued that they had almost no food at all, thanks to the blight. Ingrid told her that the goðorð would bring in money for everyone. Björn pulled his mother aside and urged her to attend the feast for the sake of appearances. They gave some of the bear meat to Nereid, along with some of their stored food, and went to the feast.

Two of Snorrisson’s Þingmen, Þorir and Atli, were already feuding and needed Einar to settle their dispute. Þorir accused Atli of reciting a poem insulting his honor. However, Atli said in private that the poem was merely insulting his odor; Þorir never bathed and had a terrible stench. With Ingrid and Nereid advising, Einar came to a decision that pleased everyone. They retained all four of Snorrisson’s Þingmen. People at the feast were also interested in Nereid’s idea of teaching Irish slaves Norse. She announced that anyone could send their slaves to Hrafnahof for winter lessons, at three bits of silver per slave. The money would be shared equally between Hrafnahof, Bardstaðir, and Shylah.

Now the book had to be burned, but Björn was too curious and did not want it destroyed. He stole it and hid it, then wrapped up some sticks and leaves in a package to look like the book. He was about to throw it in the fire when one of the Þingmen, Gellir Grimsson, stopped him. Gellir was once a member of the Varangian Guard in Miklagarðr. He said that books were prized there, that people paid lots of money for them, and that such a valuable thing should not be burned. He took the package from Björn’s hands, revealing Björn’s deception. Gellir convinced Halbjörn that the book’s bad luck came from its bad treatment by people who did not understand it. He promised Halbjörn that he would take the book away and make good use of it, and then the bad luck would stop.

After the feast ended, Björn handed the book over to Gellir. Björn admitted that he wanted to know what was in the book. Gellir read him the entire thing, beginning: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. "

The book related many sayings of the White Christ, but Gellir explained that the Christ in this book was very different from the Christ that Björn may have heard about elsewhere. This Christ was hated by the monks that Halbjörn despised. This Christ suffered to gain wisdom, and pointed to wisdom as a path to godhood, as Odin hung from Yggdrasil to learn the runes, and sacrificed his eye for wisdom. Gellir said that these secret sayings were a path by which mortals like Björn and him could become gods, like Odin or the White Christ before them.

Ingrid invited Björn to come learn law. He agreed to it, but only part-time so he could continue to take care of the farm. He asked Ingrid if she really thought Eyvind should be goði. Ingrid admitted that she made the judgment too quickly and may not have made the right decision.

Back at Bardstaðir, Björn dug a hide near the boundary-marker, to see if someone had been turning it upside-down. He spent the night there but fell asleep and when he woke up, it was upside-down once again.

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Chapter Six

Now that Einar was a goði in good standing, Ingrid urged him to allow women to testify before his Þing. Einar agreed to this, but only on the condition that Ingrid help him learn seiðr, so Ingrid invited Hildrid the White to Hrafnahof, so see if she would teach him.

Upon arrival, Hildred pronounced a prophecy: “Three crows roost upon the eaves of the Temple of Ravens, before the Wise Man’s rightful heir sits upon his seat again.”

Hildrid told Ingrid she would teach Einar in exchange for Freydis. Ingrid felt unsure about giving up her favored granddaughter. She asked Freydis if she wished to follow Hildrid and learn seiðr, but Freydis was frightened of Hildrid and wanted to stay home. So Ingrid asked Einar why he wanted to learn seiðr in the first place. He said he wanted the power that came with it. Ingrid decided that if he gained more power and respect as a goði, he would no longer want to learn seiðr, and so she told Hildrid to let Freydis stay.

After that, Hildrid travelled to Bardstaðir to counsel Björn on the situation involving the landvættir. She saw that the problem came from the boundary-marker Nereid had taken from Hrafnahof, where the niðstöng had scared off the landvættir years ago. Björn tried to offer her knowledge of the White Christ in exchange for a cure, but she recoiled and told him that tolerating Christians on the land only made things worse. So Björn gave her a goat, and in return she told him that he could make the boundary-marker feel welcome by sacrificing one of his cattle here. But if he did only that, his problems with the landvættir would continue. So long as Christians remained on the land, the landvættir would be scared away. To solve the problem for good, he would have to sacrifice a Christian.

Once Hildrid departed, the family prepared to go to the vorÞing planned by Þorsteinn Ingólfsson. Ingrid sacrificed a goat to Freyja, asking her to present Valberg’s wife Unn with a miracle that would convince her of the rightness of Ingrid’s cause. Freyja told Ingrid in a vision that the way to do this was to seduce Unn.

Now, at this time, a rumor was spreading that Valberg had gotten very drunk and announced that he would never go to the vorÞing with “that gyðja at Hrafnahof.” Nereid asked Unn about this rumor on the way to the vorÞing. Unn said it was actually Ref, Valberg’s son, who had impugned Einar’s honor in this way. He was simply teasing Einar for the times he had stayed home to look after the farm while his siblings went raiding. Unn agreed to settle it in court at the vorÞing, to lay the rumors to rest. Then Nereid spoke to Valberg, to propose an alliance on Einar’s behalf. Valberg agreed to help Einar gain respect if Einar would help him hurt a rival goði: Skjöldur Brimisson, who was called Old Dog Beard.

At the assembly, Einar kept his promise by publicly making fun of Brimisson’s sword, a famous blade called “Flesh Biter,” forged by the renowned Frankish smith, Ulfberht. Valberg supported him, calling Einar a great warrior and saying that Brimisson was too old and weak to challenge him. But Brimisson did not take lightly these insults to his honor, and challenged Einar to hólmganga. Einar soundly defeated the old man and was about to land the killing blow when Brimisson scrambled out of the circle, dishonoring himself. Einar took the opportunity to suggest making the vorÞing a yearly tradition. There was enthusiastic assent among the Þingmen present.

But the sons of Brimisson did not look happy. This alarmed Björn. He did not want his family to be in danger of retaliation. He strengthened the bonds between his family and Valberg by offering Valberg the other half of Hogniskot in exchange for giving Halbjörn a hall there and command over Valberg’s fleet. Halbjörn set up a marriage between Þorunn and one of Valberg’s strongest sons. Nereid then spoke to Þorsteinn about perhaps marrying Gudrun to someone in his family. Þorsteinn agreed to come visit Gudrun with one of his marriageable family members after the vorÞing ended. Björn also hatched a conspiracy among the children of powerful goði and landowners at the vorÞing, called the Children of Iceland. Ingrid, meanwhile, seduced Unn with a romantic riddle carved on bark. They snuck off together into the trees at the edge of the vorÞing.

Shortly after the Bardings returned, Þorsteinn came to visit with his son. They feasted the two men, and at the end of it Þorsteinn and Gudrun announced that they would marry.

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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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Chapter Eight

When spring came, the family of Bard at last held a proper funeral for Nereid. Einar invited all of his Þingmen to the funeral feast. There he announced a plan to plant a sacred grove in Nereid’s memory, from which no one could harvest wood until nine years had passed. He also told his Þingmen of an idea he had wherein farmers could do labor for each other depending on who needed labor and who was available. Björn, who had been planning to free his slaves and thought this a good replacement for slavery, joined Einar and Ingrid in spreading these new ideas, which found some support among the men at the feast.

Eyvind told Björn that to make up for the unfairness of the goðorð inheritance, he would use his goðorð to fulfill Bard’s dream of establishing an Icelandic king, then leave the goðorð to Björn. Eyvind planned to go to Norway, serve in the king’s court, and hopefully return as Iceland’s first jarl. He asked Björn to help serve this goal in Iceland while he was away, and Björn agreed to this.

Björn freed his slaves, but found he could not return them to Ireland. So he offered them the opportunity to work on his farm for money, to earn their passage home. Shylah decided to stay at Hrafnahof, continuing her work of teaching Norse to slaves. Halbjörn offered her cheap passage on his ship in exchange for information about the richest places to raid in Ireland, promising to leave her home alone. Shylah agreed, but under one condition: that Halbjörn kill Gellir Grimsson and destroy the Christian book.

Gellir came to Bardstaðir in the middle of the night. He led Björn outside and told him that his destiny was to be the god of the forests of Iceland. Gellir wanted to start a secret order of wardens who would protect the new sacred groves and asked Björn to be the first to swear an oath to become one such warden. Halbjörn had secretly followed them outside and overheard their conversation, and was horrified to hear Gellir’s talk of men becoming gods. He leapt out to attack Gellir, but Gellir cut him with his sword. Björn stopped Gellir from murdering his uncle, dragged him inside, and tended to his wounds. He calmed Halbjörn’s fury by vaguely promising, “Justice will be done.”

“Excellent,” Halbjörn said. “So we will bring it before Einar.”

At this time, a wanderer named Vali Grey-cloak came to Hrafnahof in search of shelter. He presented himself as a pilgrim, paying his respects to all the temples and shrines he passed in his wanderings. Einar welcomed the man in. Though Vali had little to give Odin, he “played raven” and told Einar news of the many places he had been.

The same day, Björn came to Hrafnahof to tell Einar about Gellir, as he promised Halbjörn he would. But he was evasive in describing Gellir’s beliefs and plans, leaving Einar and Ingrid with the impression that Halbjörn was irrational in his accusations of blasphemy.

While Björn was there, word arrived that Skjöldur Brimisson’s men attacked one of Valberg’s farms in retaliation for his humiliation at the Þing. Einar sent word to his Þingmen to prepare for battle. He asked Björn to recruit Gellir for the fight, which he suggested might protect his name against spurious charges of blasphemy, but Gellir was already riding to Hrafnahof to warn Einar of what he knew, that the settlers at Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki had switched their allegiances to Skjöldur and planned to attack Einarsbær in order to split Valberg’s forces.

In response to this news, Einar split his soldiers between Valbergsholt and Einarsbær. Gellir agreed to join in the fight against Skjöldur. He and Vali Grey-cloak knew each other as comrades in the Varangian Guard and former lovers, though they did not tell Einar this.

Halbjörn took his men to Einarsbær, where they won in battle. Halbjörn slew Hásteinn Atlason personally, and recruited some of his men for his fleet. He then told Atlason’s son, Skallagrim, that he would support him taking his father’s place, and had no interest in letting the blood feud continue, but Skallagrim declared that he would avenge his father’s death and walked away.

Meanwhile, Einar’s forces came to Valbergsholt. Vali Grey-cloak used his knowledge of the land to help in the battle. Gellir revealed that Skjöldur had a disowned son, Skum, who was a seiðman. Perhaps they could reveal this shameful secret to Skjöldur’s men, and thereby hopefully turn his men against him. So Einar went to Mount Hekla, where Gellir said Skum lived. Vali reluctantly led him there.

Skum revealed that Valberg was his first lover. Skjöldur accused Valberg of raping Skum, and that was the start of the feud between them. However, when Skum insisted that it was not rape, Skjöldur not only disowned him but sent men to kill him. In his seiðr, Skum said that Odin told him that he had been chosen by him, and since Skjöldur had rejected the man that Odin had chosen, he should use his seiðr to aid Valberg and his allies.

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Chapter Nine

Halbjörn took a longboat to Eyarbakki, but they had longboats of their own. A sea battle followed, which Halbjörn’s men won, taking out the enemy’s two longboats. Halbjörn faced Hallstein in battle and slew him.

Einar faced Harek Skjöldursson. Harek smashed Einar’s shield, but Einar ran him through with his spear. But Harek was a berserker, and his fury allowed him to continue attacking Einar with his axe. As the two fought, lava from Mount Hekla flowed onto the battlefield, forcing the two sides apart. Einar threw Harek off-balance and he fell into the lava, but Einar himself was badly injured. Valberg rescued him. His men lifted Einar up on a shield and carried him away.

Meanwhile, Skallagrim Hofsteinson and his men attacked Einarsbær in retaliation for the death of his father. Björn the Brave took a spear wound to the side, but still slaughtered his enemies with his father’s dane-axe. He split Skallagrim’s skull open, then collapsed. Helga protected him from the warriors that were left.

Once the battle was through, Björn, Helga, and Halbjörn went north to Valbergsholt with the warriors of the south. Einar was already there, recovering, and Ingrid convinced him to let women testify in his court. She asked Unn to speak to Valberg on the subject; the next day, Valberg debated Ingrid on the issue in front of everyone, and she convinced all of the Þingmen that it was right.

Halbjörn told Einar about Gellir’s strange beliefs. The two asked Björn about it, but he denied that Gellir spoke blasphemy, though he would not say clearly what Gellir had said. Fed up with Björn’s hedging, Einar publicly announced that charges had been levied against Gellir, that they would have a hearing then and there, and that Björn would speak to answer any questions.

Björn repeated the same story that omitted Gellir’s blasphemy. Gellir felt he had nothing to hide, however, and urged Björn to tell the truth. Björn admitted that Gellir was a Christian. Gellir confirmed this, but said that his version of Christianity had room for other gods. He believed that both Odin and Jesus sacrificed themselves to gain wisdom, and were examples that people could follow to become gods themselves. He therefore felt he could be trusted to keep his oaths. He followed not the White Christ, he claimed, but the “Red Christ.” Björn announced that he, too, followed this Red Christ.

Einar declared a short recess to consider whether or not this constituted blasphemy. After speaking with Valberg and Ingrid, he concluded that perhaps this Red Christ might inoculate the island against the White Christ, which was far more threatening to the social order. Einar and Valberg both agreed to set up shrines to the Red Christ in their temples, so long as his followers paid and sacrificed to the other gods as well.

They all assembled later that night. Einar declared the religion of the Red Christ not blasphemous, so long as his followers kept their oaths and made offerings to the other gods. To prove themselves, Björn and Gellir made sacrifices to all the gods in Valberg’s temple.

That night, Halbjörn told Helga of how ardently Shylah hated the Gospel of Thomas. Now that Björn had declared himself openly as part of this religion, she would no doubt try to kill him. Helga went to Bardstaðir and killed all of the former slaves.

At the same time, Valberg asked Halbjörn to kill Skum. Like all ergi, Valberg said that Skum would become a ravenous, murderous monster on every ninth day. He said that he had killed several of Valberg’s men before he had stopped him. Now that he had served his purpose in helping them fight Skjöldur, he needed to die. So Halbjörn got Skum very drunk, and then suffocated him in his sleep.

They committed to continuing the war through the summer raiding season, trusting that they would defeat Skjöldur and steal his wealth, which would carry them through the winter in lieu of Irish loot.

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Chapter Ten

Björn set off to return home to Bardstaðir with Gellir Grimsson. Along the way he found the head of Weylin cut off and set upon a pike. Weylin was one of the slaves that Halbjörn Half-troll had brought back from Ireland, and whom Björn had set free. Before he had left, Weylin had asked Björn for permission to take up arms to defend the homestead should they be attacked. He admitted that he would like to take vengeance upon Halbjörn, but he convinced Björn that he placed their friendship in greater regard, and so would not act upon such desires. Instead, he wanted to defend their home against their enemies while Björn was away. Seeing his head upon a pike now, then, filled Björn with dread. He rushed back to the hall, and was relieved to find it standing, but then further puzzled to see the heads of the other two slaves, Caoimhe and Shylah, also on pikes. Inside, he found his wife Helga, who explained that she had returned and killed the slaves, for fear that they would kill him now that he had revealed his devotion to the Red Christ, which these Christians despised with a murderous hatred. Torn by this bloody deed, Björn accepted that there was nothing he could do about it now.

With their court disputes settled, Halbjörn took his men south again to deal with Hallstein Atlisson, whose farm at Stokkseyri lay to the west of Eyrarbakki. Like his brother Hästein, Hallstein had became a þingmann of Skjöldur Brimisson over the winter, and so Halbjörn expected that he would continue to attack Bardstaðir for his goði and to avenge his fallen kinsmen if left alive. Halbjörn sacked the farm, killing many and leaving a man named Ottar Þorkelsson in charge of what remained, on condition that he swore to consider the affairs between them now settled.

As Halbjörn and his men went upriver to rejoin Valberg Blood-Jewel, Björn proposed an idea to Gellir Grimsson and his new neighbor, Ottar Þorkelsson, to sneak into Skjöldur’s home at Árnes and steal his treasure. The plan failed miserably, though. Ottar was slain, but Björn and Gellir managed to escape unidentified.

Meanwhile, Skjöldur’s daughter Solveig, a powerful and respected shieldmaiden, led her father’s men in a series of skirmishes against Valberg and Halbjörn, until she managed to sack Valbergsholt, slaying Valberg and razing his farm to the ground. Solveig escorted the women and children of Valbergsholt, including the goði’s widow, Unn, to Hrafnahof, personally. At the same time, those men who wished to continue the war to fight to avenge their goði’s death rallied to Halbjörn, who decided to head to Hrafnahof to enlist the aid of Einar Lambisson.

Björn, too, had come to Hrafnahof to see what he could do to aid in the events unfolding about them. Halbjörn arrived shortly thereafter with news of what had happened to Valberg, and shortly after him, Solveig arrived with the women and children of Valbergsholt. Her presence there made the situation quite tense, and though they had faced each other as rivals quite often in battle, Halbjörn treated her with the courtesy due to her. It was instead Björn who spoke harshly. Tempers flared, insults were hurled, and soon a hólmganga was challenged and accepted. Björn slew Solveig in that duel. Returning the courtesy she had extended them, Björn and Halbjörn set out to return Solveig’s body to her father at Árnes. Meanwhile, Einar set off for Reykjavik, hoping to enlist the aid of Þorsteinn, the son of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland and perhaps the most respected goði on the island. He hoped that with his real feud ended with Valberg’s death, Þorsteinn’s support might make the war too costly to continue.

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