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out with carmine. A crown of rays extending to the zenith, streamed from behind Esja, which was thrown into grey shadow. Rock and mountain were distinct, as though seen through an opera-glass, every crag and furrow was pencilled with wondrous minuteness, each mountain top cutting against the sky with intense precision. Though no direct rays of sun touched the earth, yet the reflected light from above made everything even clearer than by day, when a slight haze softened outlines and blends colours.
The most perfect stillness reigned, only broken by the rippling of the stream over a bank of pebbles, before it hushed its murmurs in the bogs. In another hour the sun would be above the horizon, so we hastened to our beds on the hard ground, using our saddles for pillows, and our horserugs for blankets.
I cannot say that the first night in the tent was pleasant; the cold was sharp, the ground, where we lay, full of stones, and I was roused at intervals by the horn of the snipe and the melancholy strain of the swan, as these birds flew past our tent, after the sun had broken over the northern hills.
At seven o'clock Giithmundr and Magnus came to look after the horses, and Grimr popped his head in at the door, with the cheerless announcement that the priest had nothing to give us for breakfast, except a bowl of milk and a few cakes of sheep's-dung for fuel.
"That is all we want!" exclaimed the Yankee starting up.
In a few minutes Mr. Briggs was hard at work coaxing the dung into a flame, and the American was busy skinning and cutting up the oyster-catcher. The fragments of the bird were flung into a pot and boiled. Mr. Briggs and I tasted before we served the rations out, and mutually shook our heads.
"It is rather rank, Padre !" said my friend.
"It is so, most decidedly," I answered; "we must put something into the pot to subdue the flavour. What shall we put? I have it! there is a bottle of cayenne gargle I brought with me in case of sore throats!"
That was the oddest breakfast I have had for many a day, oyster-catcher with gargle sauce! still it stopped our hunger, and we all wished for more; one bird between four being short allowance. The guides had breakfasted on stock-fish in the house.
It was late before we started, as the horses had strayed far in quest of grass. Whilst they were being caught by Giithmundr and Magnus, I read over some chapters of the Aigla, the saga of a mighty warrior and chieftain whose house was this same Mosfell.
One of the most beautiful incidents of this saga I shall relate for the benefit of the reader, premising first of all, that the hero, Egill Skallagrimsson (pronounced Ey-il Skadlagreemsson), had fought with King Athelstan against the Scotch, and had been the slayer of the son of King Eric Bloodaxe, of Norway. He was now an old man of seventy-one; and had retired to rest and talk over his mighty deeds in this wild, grim island home, whose scenery was so fully in keeping with his own character.
On a day in the summer of 975, five house-churls belonging to Egill Skallagrimsson rowed to a merchant vessel, stationed in the Borgar fjord, at the mouth of the Hvita or White River; with them was Bothvar, a son of Egill.
The boat started at high tide, which was in the evening, and remained alongside of the ship for a considerable time, whilst divers articles purchased by Egill were handed down the side, and deposited in her. During the time that the churls were thus employed, a fierce wind had risen, and now rolled the sea before it in tumultuous billows, which, meeting the out-current of the river, after turn of tide, formed eddies which engulphed the boat on her return, and every soul on board perished.
Next morning, the bodies were washed ashore in the fjord; that of Bothvar by Einar's-ness, the others along the southern strand, and the boat was found on the beach under the Smoking crags. On the same day, Egill heard the news. He mounted his horse, and rode in search of the corpses: that of his son he found lying uninjured on the shingle, laced round with sea-tangles. He lifted it on his knee, brushed the sodden hair from the young face, placed it in front of his saddle, mounted himself, and rode with the body of his son wrapped in his arms to Digranes, where stood the cairn of his father Skallagrim. Egill fetched a spade and dug into the mound; he was occupied the whole of the afternoon at this work, and in the evening he had reached the wooden chamber wherein lay the ancient warrior, busked for the last battle at the "Twilight of the Gods," with casque about his brows, and sword between his hands. Egill bore the corpse of his child into the tomb, and laid it by that of the grandfather, then filled up the pit he had dug, and restored the cairn to its former condition. After this he rode home, and, without uttering a word, went into the chamber where he was wont to sleep, bolted the door behind him, and lay down on the bed. His face was so stern and grave as he entered the house, that no one ventured to address him. The old man had gone out in the morning, dressed in a scarlet fustian tunic, tight fitting about the body, and fastened with wrought silver buckles at the sides: he had also worn closely fitting hose. On his return, the farm-servants noticed that the kirtle was torn down the back, and the hose split, by the working of his muscles when he dug into the tomb.
* Aigla, chap. 81.
Hours passed, and Egill did not open the door; he took neither meat nor drink, and so he lay both day and night. Folk walked softly through the house, and the wife listened anxiously on the threshold, but the old man neither spoke nor moved. So passed a second day, yet no one dared to interfere with the master in his grief.
On the third morning, as the day broke, A'sgerthr, the good wife of Egill, ordered one of the freedmen to mount his horse and ride, as swiftly as possible, west away, to Hjartharholt, and tell her daughter Thorgerthr what had taken place, and ask her advice as to what course had better be pursued.
The messenger reached Hjarthar-holt by noon, and related all that had happened. Thereupon, Thorgerthr let a horse be saddled for her, ordered two servants to ride with her, and before sun-down, was at the house of her parents.
She dismounted at the door, and stepped quietly into the kitchen, where she found her mother. They embraced affectionately, and the daughter, as she kissed A'sgerthr, felt that her cheeks were wet with tears.
"My dear!" said the housewife, "tell me whether you have eaten your supper, for, if not, I will order food to be brought you immediately."
"Mother mine!" answered Thorgerthr, in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the house; "I have tasted nothing, neither do I intend touching food till I reach the halls of Freyja: * I can do nothing better than follow my father's example, and accompany him and my brother on the long last journey."
Then she stepped to the threshold and called,—" Father, father! open the door! I wish that you and I should travel the same road together."
All within was silent for a space, but presently she heard the old man's step coming to the door, the bolt was drawn back, and Egill, pale and haggard, stood before her. She passed him without saying a word; then he again bolted the door, and returned with a moan to his bed, but kept his eyes fixed inquiringly on his daughter's countenance.
She lay down in another bed which was in the room, saying,—" May we soon sup with the gods, father!"
Egill answered,—"You act rightly, daughter, in choosing to follow your aged father. Great love do you show in thus joining your lot with mine. Who could think that I should care to live, bowed down beneath the burden of my great and bitter sorrow?"
* Odin received heroes after their death; Frejja took matrons; and Ge§on virgins.
Then both for a while were silent.
There was a small circular opening in the wall opposite the old man's couch, and, through it, the evening sun sent an orange spot upon the floor.
Not a sound in the room but the breathing of father and daughter, yet from without sounds of life were borne in upon the summer air. The river, at no great distance, rushed monotonously, yet with a pleasant murmur, over its pebbly floor; far off, up the mountain side, a flock of sheep were being driven to fold, and the barking of the dogs was distinctly audible in the little chamber: presently, a flock of swans passed, with their strange, musical scream; and, now and then, the whinny of a horse reached the ears of those who had laid themselves down to die.
Suddenly Egill spoke: "Daughter! I hear you munching something."
"So I am father. It is sol (Alga saccharina)," she replied. "I think that it will do me harm; without something of the kind, I might live too long."
"Does it really shorten life?" asked Egill.
"Oh, that it does. Will you have some?"
"I see no reason against it," answered he.
Then she rose from the bed, stepped over to him, and gave him some of the sea-weed.
As the plant is saturated with brine, both she and her father soon became exceedingly thirsty. They lay still, however, for some time, without either speaking. The sweet air of summer blew in at the little window fresh as from the gates of Paradise. Without, the churls were making hay, and occasionally a few grass blades were borne into the room by the draught. One of the thralls whetted his sickle; a girl at the farther extremity of the fun began a song. Within, the golden spot reached Egill's bed-board and began to slide up it. A mouse stole from behind a chest, and stood on the floor, looking round with bright beady eyes, then darted under one of the beds.
The thirst of the daughter became, at last, so intolerable