The Barding Saga

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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Jason

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