Page images
PDF
EPUB

When the dangerous slant was passed, my pony pushed his droll big head under my arm and rubbed it against my side, evidently expecting to have a word of praise.

We crept along the same ledge till a slope of turf allowed us to scramble up to the heithi, and as we were on the wrong side of the river, we had to descend the vale till we reached a convenient spot for crossing the stream.

We came out shortly on a bluff overhanging the junction of the Frithmundara and the Strange kvisl. Both rivers pour through deep chasms; the former, leaping headlong into the rift over a lip of basalt, is broken by a ledge into a second fall halfway down, before it rains into the dark green well below. The left-hand river rolls through a wider gorge, up whose blue vistas the eye traces it from plunge to plunge of foam. At the point of confluence a sharp rock, gashed by the torrent, shoots to a point, and then widens to a triangular plateau, connected with the mam hill only by a sharp neck of rubble, so narrow that one only can walk along it at a time. This is the spot chosen by Thorolf wi' the Deadface (he was so nicknamed from his livid complexion) for his castle; in caves burrowed in the sand strata he sacrificed men, and this pure river, once rolling bits of hacked flesh into the Water-vale, told of horrible atrocities committed here. Thorolf considered the spot impregnable, and for some time he lived here unmolested, preying on his neighbours' cattle. A thrall vanished from some near farm now and then, and for days the lone shepherd up the heithi heard shrieks which were echoed from crag to crag along these ravines. At last Thorstein and Jokull, brother chiefs of the Vatnsdalr, with a large body of retainers, assaulted the robber-fort. Thorstein stood where we are now, and fired arrows into the castle, attracting the attention of the besieged, whilst Jokull crossed the river-head, and tripping lightly over the neck of rubble, crept up the wall at the back of the fort, by thrusting the horn of his axe between the stones and dragging himself up after it. Thorolf was slain and his fort ruined.

I scrambled up to the plateau, picking heart's-ease at every step, and found the traces of a circular mound—very faint they were. No wall remains now, though portions of it existed at the end of the last century, till the undermined rock fell, carrying them with it. A huge node of crag, which is now nearly severed from the cliff, seems to have been drilled by caverns, the falling in of which has cut it off from the main crag; one hollow, six feet deep, is all that remains of the sacrificial vaults of the dead-faced Thorolf.

As rain began now to patter down pretty heavily, we made the best of our way back to Grimstunga.

Vatnsdalr was first colonized (a.d. 900) by Ingimund the Old, who left Norway because some Finns had spared that he should settle in Iceland, and he knew that it was useless to resist destiny. The account of the arrival and establishment of the settlers in Vatnsdalr is so simply and naturally told in the Saga, that I am tempted to give it.

Ingimund had landed in the Borgar-fjord, had crossed the licitlii to Hruta-fjord, and wintered in Vithidalr. But when spring came, and the snows began to thaw in the district, Ingimund said, " It would be a satisfaction for me to know that some fellows went up one of these high peaks, and took a survey of the country, to see whether there be less snow elsewhere; for I do not much fancy erecting our home in this dale. A poor exchange, this, for the glens of old Norway!"

Accordingly some men climbed a lofty mountain, and looked about them far and wide; then, returning to Ingimund, they told him that the country was much less snow-covered towards the north-east, and that it had a pleasanter look altogether. "As for this place," said they, " it seems to be pretty much exposed to bad weather all the year round, and the land yonder looks far more productive."

Quoth Ingimund, " Very well, we shall look up your green lands."

So when spring was well set in, they busked themselves for flitting, and crossed into Vatnsdalr.

"Ah I" said Ingimund, "the Finns' space is come true; I recognize the lie of the land from the description given me: so here we shall settle. Certainly we have bettered our condition, for I see that the land hereabouts is well wooded,* and if it be fertile we shall build."

Now when they came to Vatnsdale river, Vigdisa, Ingimund's wife, said, "I must rest here a while, for I am in my pangs."

Ingimund said, " Very well!" And then she gave birth to a little girl, whom they called Thordisa, after Ingimund's mother.

"We must name this spot Thordisa's Holt," quoth Ingimund.

Then the party descended the vale, and seeing that the produce of the earth was good, that there was plenty of grass, and the hill slopes covered with well-grown woods, very beautiful to the eye, they were rejoiced, and their faces brightened up. Ingimund claimed all Vatnsdalr from above Helga lake and Urthar lake, &c. He pitched on a little dell for his home, and set about erecting a byre, with a great hall one hundred feet long. The mansion he called Hof. Ingimund's men spread themselves all over the dale, and chose sites for habitations after his advice.

That winter much ice formed, and when men went on the ice they found a she-bear with two white cubs. Ingimund was on that trip, so he brought both whelps back with him, and said that the sheet of water should be called Huna-vatn (cub lake), and the frith which opened into it Vatna-fjord. Well! Ingimund built a fine house, and soon became chieftain of the dale and whole adjoining district. He had a great many head of cattle, cows, sheep, and small stock; during the autumn some of his sheep escaped, and they were found in spring in a wood now called Sheepsdale (Sautha dalr), and it shows how productive the land must be that the sheep should stray thus. It fell out that some swine also broke loose, and were not found till next year, and they had increased to a hundred, and were quite wild. One old hog who followed them was called Beigathr. Ingimund gathered his men together, and they drove the swine towards the lake now called Swinelake (Svina vatn), and wanted to bring them to a standstill there, but the boar leaped into the water and swam across, but was so tired that his hoofs dropped off; he scrambled to a hill now hight Brigathr's hill, and there died. Ingimund now took his ease in Vatnsdalr, several districts were inhabited, and law and the rights of property were established.'

* There are at present Do trees in Vatnsdalr.

Hof is planted in a pretty spot, between shale mounds, covered with heart's-ease of all varieties of colour—sulphur, yellow and blue, deep purple. The present farm is very poor, its three gables sadly rickety, and its weathercocks too rusty to turn in the wind.

A pretty little girl offered to lead me to the site of the temple, as her sulky brother was too shy. It is planted on a knoll at the back of the farm, and consists of the foundations of two chambers, some eight feet square. Looking hence across the river to the shingle hill of As (pronounced Ouse), it was impossible to recall without emotion the stirring scenes of the past, and especially one sad deed of treachery, here committed. Mr. Briggs saw that something was on my mind, and asked me what it was?" You shall have the story nearly in the historian's words, as we ride hence," I answered. We mounted our horses. I did not reject the proffered kiss of the little girl, and, as we rode to the river, I began—

2Tf)e &forj) of ?t?rolUifr. t

Ingimund The Old was the only man who would open his doors to two such ill-conditioned people as Hrolleifr (pronounced Hrodlayver) and his hag of a mother, Lj6t, when they were driven from their own district on account of their disreputable conduct. Ingimund was a kind-hearted man, and knowing that they were homeless, and were moreover connected with a friend of his, he took them under his roof at Hof, and nourished them as his own family. They were disagreeable people to have in the house, and stirred up bickerings and strife all day long. Ingimund's sons could not tolerate them, and begged their father in vain to turn them out of doors. At last the old chief made over some land and the farm of As to the hag and her son. Hrolleifr had come into the district without so much as a silver ring on his arm, and now he had a farm with good buildings, sheep, horses, cows, and a right of fishing in the river, all found him, out of kindness, by Ingimund the Old. As for the fishing, there was plenty of it in Vatnsdalr—salmon, trout, and char were abundant. Ingimund's four sons, Thorstein, Jokull, Hogni, and Thorir, had divided the farmwork between them, for in those days the chief's sons were wont to do the drudgery as well as others; and part of their work was fishing. The brothers did not exchange many civilities with Hrolleifr, for they disliked the man and grudged his living at their expense, and repaying every kindness with evil. Now Ingimund's arrangement with regard to the fishing was, that Hrolleifr might fish whenever his own men were not throwing their nets in the river, and then only. However, the fellow was too great a scoundrel to pay attention to regulations of this kind.

* Valnsdala Saga, cap. 15. f Ibid. caps. 22—20.

One evening Ingimund's churls came down to the river and found Hrolleifr drawing his net; so they warned him to be off as their turn had come; but Hrolleifr replied that he cared not a rap for what a set of thralls said. The men begged him to be advised and not stir up a quarrel with Hof-men, for that was rather different from squabbling with the underlings of petty farmers. Hrolleifr answered by bidding them—" Pack! a set of rascally thralls that you are!" and he drove them from the water's edge. They cried out, "You are acting most wrongly; Ingimund is deserving of great courtesy from you, for he received you when you were homeless, and everything you have, land, house, livestock, and fishery, you owe to him; and a good-for-nothing fellow you are, so most folk think!" Hrolleifr answered by picking up a boulder and knocking one of the churls down, and bidding the whole crew cease from arguing with him.

« PreviousContinue »