THE STORY OF THE HEATH-SLAYINGS
Of Thorarin's Arraying.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #34
Now when he cometh up with his fellowship, they ride their ways. Thorarin fared long on the road with them, and layeth down, how they shall go about their journey, deeming that much lay on it that they should fare well.
"A place for guesting have I gotten you," saith he, "in Nipsdale, (1) which ye shall take. The bonder whereas ye shall harbour to-night is one Nial. So it is told," said he, "that, as to other men, he is no great thane with his wealth, though he hath enough; but this I wot that he will take you in at the bidding of my word. But now is the man come hither who last night rode from Burgfirth and the south, he whom I sent south this week to wot tidings of the country-side. And this he knoweth clearly as a true tale, that Hermund Illugison will be at the market the beginning of this week with many other men of the country-side. This also ye will have heard, that those brethren, the sons of Thorgaut, have a business on their hands this summer, to wit, to mow the meadow which is called Goldmead; and now is the work well forward, so that it will be done on Wednesday of this week; so that they must needs be at home. Now I have heard that which they are wont to fall to speech of, those Gislungs, when there is any clatter or noise; then say they, 'What! Will Bardi be come?' and thereof make they much jeering and mocking for the shaming of you. Now it is also told north here, and avouched to be thoroughly true, that this have the men of the country-side agreed to, that if any tidings befall in the country such as be of men's fashioning, then shall all men be bound to ride after them, the reason thereof being that Snorri the Priest and his folk slept but a short way from the steads after that slaying and big deed of his. And everyone who is not ready hereto shall be fined in three marks of silver, if he belong to those who have 'thingfare-pay' (2) to yield, from Havenfells to North-water, whereas there dwelleth the greatest number of the Thingmen of the Sidefolk and those of Flokis-dale. So ride ye on the Monday from Nial's, and fare leisurely and have night-harbour on the Heath" (thence gat it the name of Two-day's Heath), "and ye shall come to those two fighting-steads which be on the Heath, as ye go south, and look to it if they be as I tell you. There is a place called the Mires on the Heath, whence the fall of water is great; and in the northern Mire is a water whereinto reacheth a ness, no bigger at its upper part than nine men may stand abreast thereon; and from that mere waters run northward to our country-sides; and thither would I bid you to. But another fighting-stead is there in the southern Mire, which I would not so much have you hold as the other, and it will be worse for you if you shall have to make a shift there for safeguard. There also goeth a ness into the water. Thereon may eighteen men stand abreast, and the waters fall thence from that mere south into the country.
"But ye shall come south on Wednesday to the fell-bothies whenas all men are gone from the bothies all up and down Copsedale; for all the Sidemen have mountain business there, and there hitherto have tarried. Now meseemeth that ye will come thither nigh to nones of the day. Then shall two of your company ride down into the country-side there, and along the fell, and so to the Bridge, and not come into the peopled parts till ye are south of the river. Then shall ye come to the stead called Hallward-stead, and ask the goodman for tidings, and ask after those horses which have vanished away from the North-country. Ye shall ask also of tidings from the market. Then will ye see on Goldmead, whereas ye fare down along the river, whether men be a mowing thereon, even as the rumour goes.
"Then shall ye ride up along to the ford, and let the goodman show you the way to the ford; and so ride thence up towards the Heath and on to the Heath, whence ye may look down on Goldmead whereas ye fare along the river. Now on Wednesday morning shalt thou fare down on to the bridge, whence ye may see what may be toward in the country-side; and thou shalt sunder thy company for three places, to wit, the eighteen all told; but the nineteenth shall abide behind to heed your horses, and that shall be Kollgris, and let them be ready when ye need to take to them.
"Now six men shall be up on the bridge; (3) and I shall make it clear who they shall be, and why it shall be arrayed that way. There shall be those kinsmen Thorgisl of Middleham and Arngrim, and Eric Wide-sight, and Thorliot, Yeller's fosterling, and Eyolf of Asmund's-nip; and for this reason shall they sit there, because they would be the stiffest to thee and the hardest to sway whenas ye come into the country-side, and it behoveth you not that ye lack measure and quieting now and again.
"But midway shall sit other six: the brethren Thorod and Thorgisl of Ternmere" (the sons of the brother of Bardi's father), "then the third man who came instead of Haldor; therewithal shall be the sons of thy mother's sister, Hun and Lambkar; and Eyolf, thy brother-in-law, for the sixth; they shall be somewhat more obedient to thy counsel, and not fare with suchlike fury. And for this reason shall they sit there, that they may look on the goings of men about the country-side.
"But ye six shall fare down (into the country), to wit, thou and Stein and Steingrim, thy brethren, and Olaf and Day and Thord. They will be the most obedient to thy word; yet shall ye have strength enough for those on the Mead.
"Now shall ye fare away forthright after ye have done them a scathe whereas the chase will not fail you, and less labour will they lay thereon, if there be but seen six men of you, and there will not be a great throng at your heels if so ye go on.
"Now shall ye ride away at your swiftest (4) until ye are come to the northern fighting-stead upon the Heath; because that thence all verdicts go to the north, and therein is the greatest avail to you that so things should turn out.
"And yet I misdoubt me that thou wilt not bring this about, because of the frowardness of them that follow thee.
"Now must we sunder for this while, and meet we hail hereafter."
(1) The Nipsdale here mentioned need not necessarily be the name of Nial's house, but rather that of the valley in which it was situated, its name not being given. The valley is still called Nipsdale (Nupsdalr), in which two farmsteads bear the name of Nip (Nupr), distinguished by "upper" and "nether". A name Nialstead (Njalsstathir) is still given to the ruins of an old crofter-dwelling further up the valley, possibly pointing to Nial's eleventh-century habitation. (2) "Thingfare-pay," Thingfarar-kaup, a term signifying both the pay that everyone who attended the Althing received, and especially the tax which was imposed for this purpose, but the standard amount of which is not stated. It was levied on everyone who, free of debt, possessed, for every servant, and every person whom it was his duty to maintain, a "cowgild" (a cow's worth), or a milking cow (havfot ku), or a net, or a boat, and besides all such furniture and appointments as were necessary for the needs of the household. He who had no servants (einvirki) should pay at a double rate, i.e., at the rate of two "cow-gilds" per servant. But it was paid only by those who did not attend at the Althing, while those who did were not only exempt from it, but had their travelling expenses paid out of what the collection from non-attendants amounted to, provided they arrived on the Thursday the Thing assembled, the first day of the session. Many minute rules were prescribed relating to this tax, which was practically a property census, and on which the social status of the taxed depended. See Gragas, Finsen, .s.v. Thingfararkaup. (3) "Now six men shall be up on the Bridge," &c., but only five are mentioned, while to the second reserve of six seven are allowed, one of whom figures oddly enough as the one "who came instead of Haldor," no substitute for Haldor having been mentioned before in the story, nor having any place in it at all. The confusion here is curious. Gefn's-Odd has evidently been the sixth man of the Bridge reserve, for his name does not appear either in the middle watch or among Bardi's attacking party of six. We imagine this may have come about in the following way. In some copy of the saga Odd's name had been left out by inadvertence. A later transcriber of that copy saw the mistake first when he got into the enumeration of the second watch, and not being able to remember by name the person omitted, nor inclined to lose time in looking him up, replaced him by "the man" who, he thought, must have been secured "instead of Haldot", when he backed out of the expedition. (4) "Now shall ye ride away at your swiftest," &c. The point of this whole clause is evidently that, if Bardi and his manage to cross over to the northern side of the mountain water-shed between south and north, then the verdict or jury of neighhours would have to be summoned from their own country, instead of from the country-sides of the enemy. One cannot see whether Thorarin's statement proceeds from the law-principle of "nearest" neighbourship, or from a customary tradition that the verdict in a suit for manslaughter committed on this side of the water-shed of a Quarter should be summoned from the same, irrespective of the distance to nearest neighbours. On this latter point we are not aware that the Gragas contains any provisions.