The Barding Saga

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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Jason

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