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CHAPTER XVII. THE MIDDLE FRITH.
Glacial Action—Bjarg: the Home of Grettir—Cairn—Spear-head—Carved Stone—Magical Characters—The Story of the Banded-Men: a Saga.
On Sunday evening I galloped with Grimr and the son of the Archdeacon to Bjarg, the farm where Grettir was born and spent his childhood. To reach it, we rode up the vale, passing the church of Statharbakki, and crossing the river where the banks contract and the hills become steeper. Our path lay over the shoulder of a hill, the rocks completely smoothed and grooved by glacial action. The shim ran from N.N.E. to S.S.W. There are, however, no mountains near from which glaciers could have descended. Above Bjarg is a long hill with the rock exposed in several places. I found it everywhere polished. It is strewn with large blocks of stone, one of which, a Grettis-tak measuring 46 feet in circumference and 15 feet 4 inches in height, rests on a pivot, like a logan stone. This huge mass, in being moved along the smooth rock, has scored a furrow about twelve feet long. This is only one among numerous blocks which he thus resting at the end of ruts in the polished surface. The larger of these stones rest on the top of the hill, and they diminish in size towards the bottom of the valley.
Here is Bjarg! This little farm with its red gables and grass-grown roof, and its green tun in a dell full of buttercups! I stood on the rocky platform in front of the house to survey the landscape over which Grettir's eyes must have roamed so often. Below us was the river plaintively murmuring over a floor of pebbles. Beyond it swelled up the heithi, over which lies the road traversed by Grettir, when he rode to avenge his brother's murder. Beyond it rises a snowy mountain head. Turning south, the eye ranges over the wild deserts of Tvidcegra and Arnarvatns-heithies, to the faint white cupola of Eireks Jokull, thirty-seven miles distant, beneath which the poor outlaw spent many years of his exile.
I inquired for the spot where rested Grettir's head, and was shown a green mound in the tun. The saga states that the head was buried in the church at Bjarg, but there is no church there now, nor any trace of one.
I obtained permission to examine the mound at the cost of a dollar, and dug into it till we came to a large stone which we were unable to move without levers. As no iron bars which would serve the purpose were to be discovered in the house, I was obliged to leave the stone where I found it. It may possibly cover the spot where lies the skull, but it is more probably an erratic block which the possessors of Bjarg have been unable to remove, and have accordingly covered with earth.
No remains of antiquity have been found at the farm, nor are they likely to be found, as Icelanders never dig. The only vestige of olden times, which I could procure in the island, was a spear-head of the Sturlunga period, which was discovered in the sand near Myvatn, the day before my arrival there. It is shaped like a knife tapering to a point, and is of highly wrought steel. The blade is twelve inches long, and an inch and a third broad at the broadest part. It was originally fastened into its pole by five nails, one of which has a head turned in a scroll to allow of a bunch of feathers being attached to it.
On our way back to Melr, we visited the priest of Statharbakki, who showed us a handsome brass woman's saddle, covered with embossed griffins, cherubs, and flowers. It was of seventeenth-century workmanship, and had the date, and the name of the maker, in Icelandic characters on the side.
The priest informed me of the existence of a large stone lying on its side, and curiously carved, in the tun of Thorfastathr on the opposite side of the river. I at once crossed the river with Grimr, and visited the farm. We were shown the
stone in question, which is about twelve feet long. The only marks on it are these:—
The larger of the two is certainly intended for Thor's hammer, a magical character. Whether this stone were used in heathen times, for sacrificial purposes, or at a later period, for the incantations of witchcraft, I cannot say.
This table of Icelandic magical signs, I give for the benefit of those of my readers who dabble in the black art.