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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