The Barding Saga

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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Jason

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