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Njal's Saga, 'then uttered the law as to keeping the Lord's-day and fast-days, Yule-tide and Easter, and all the greatest high days and holidays.'
Such was the new faith to which the Icelanders bound themselves at the persuasion of Thorgeir, Speaker of the Law. It was confessedly a compromise: Thorgeir, it must be remembered, was himself a heathen; and the greater part of those who now received baptism regarded it, in all probability, much as the “primsignaz' had hitherto been looked upon, only as a ceremony which prevented the breaking up of the commonwealth. But heathenism now received a fatal blow; although it was, no doubt, long before its traces ceased to be distinctly recognizable
Ere, from Bethabara northward, heavenly Truth,
Transferred their rude faith perfected and pure.'* * Through the grace and mercy of the Lord,' says the Olaf's Saga, those heathen practices which were now permitted—the secret worship of the old gods, the exposition of infants, and the use of horse-flesh-disappeared within a few winters. But it was not so easy to displace the inner spirit of the old creed of the Northmen. Most of the heathens present at the Althing were baptized in the lake of Thingvalla ; but the plunge into cold water was in general so greatly dreaded, that permission was given to use the hot springs of Reykiadal and Laugardal as baptismal “fonts.' It was on the 24th of June, the festival of St. John the Baptist—when, according to the belief of the heathen North, the hosts of the unseen world were especially powerful -in the year 1000, that Christianity was thus brought into the law;' and within a very short time afterwards nearly all the inhabitants of the island had been baptized. King Olaf Tryggvason received the news of the conversion of Iceland just as he was leaving Nidaros in his famous ship the ‘Long Worm,' on the expedition which ended in the great battle of Svoldr, during which, on the 9th of September in the same year, Olaf, like the Arthur of romance, disappeared mysteriously from the sight of men. During the five years for which he had been King of Norway, he had succeeded in introducing Christianity-rudely, but efficiently as a beginning—throughout his own country, the Orkneys, in the Faroe Islands, in Iceland, and among the Scandinavian colonists in Greenland.
father, and from the difficulty of supporting a numerous family-prevailed in full force down to the change of faith. The horseflesh forbidden to be eaten was that of sacred horses sacrificed before the heathen altars. * Coleridge.
For the character of the Christianity now adopted in Iceland we have no better witness than the Njal's Saga. The first part of the story ends, as we have seen, with the death of Gunnar. The Change of Faith is then briefly recorded ; and the Saga proceeds to detail the events which brought about the burning of Njal—the burning itself—and the ends of the several burners. Hence the sharply-drawn characters in this second part appear under the influence of the new faith, the varying effect of which on their different natures is distinctly marked.
Skarphedinn and the other sons of Njal were led on, through the cunning slander of Mord, the lago of the Njal's Saga, to the murder of Hauskuld, Njal's foster son—the sweetest light of his eyes'—and one to whom, as to Njal himself, Christianity seems to have come as something more than a form. Hauskuld, the priest of Whiteness (the title and the influence still remained, although the temples had been destroyed), was attacked in the early morning, as with his corn-sieve in one hand, and his sword in the other, he was ó sowing the corn as he went':
Skarphedinn and his band had agreed that they would all give him a wound. Skarphedinn sprang up from behind the fence; but when Hauskuld saw him he wanted to turn away. Then Skarphedinn ran up to him and said
6" Don't try to turn on thy heel, Whiteness Priest,” and hews at him; and the blow came on his head and he fell on his knees. Hauskuld said these words when he fell,
"“God help me, and forgive you!
This murder sealed the fate of Njal and of all his family. Hauskald had been killed in a cloak which had been given him by Flosi, the uncle of Hauskuld's wife Hildegunna. When Flosi came to her house after the murder, Hildegunna took this cloak out of her chest, where she had kept it, and
• throw the cloak over Flosi, and the gore rattled down all over him.
Then she spoke and said,
"" This cloak, Flosi, thou gavest to Hauskuld, and now I will give it back to thee: he was slain in it, and I call God and all good men to witness that I adjure thee, by all the might of thy Christ, and by thy manhood and bravery, to take vengeance for all those wounds which he had on his dead body, or else to be called every
man's dastard." 't
Against his will, Flosi was thus drawn into the plot against Njal; the award for the murder was set aside at the Thing; and at a great meeting of friends and followers, summoned by Flosi
* ii. 110.
† ii. 123.
in the Almannagya'— the Great Rift-it was determined to make an attack on the house of Bergthorsknoll, and to kill all who were in it.
Flosi, when the appointed time had come (on a Sunday in August, 1011), 'assembled at Swinefell all his men who had promised him help and company,' and 'made them say prayers betimes on the Lord's day, and afterwards they sat down to meat. He spoke to his household and told them what work each was to do while he was away. After that he went to his horses.
They rode west to Woodcombe and came to Kirkby. Flosi then bade all men to come into the church and pray to God, and men did so.' *
Flosi's Christianity was at least not behind that of certain Northern pirates in the sixteenth century, who captured a priest in order that they might have service duly said on board their vessel every Sunday. Throughout, however, he seems to have been acting half-unwillingly. The whole band of burners,' one hundred and twenty in number, assembled at the ‘ridge of the Three-corner,' and thence came down upon Bergthorsknoll
, where grave portents had appeared, ominous of coming trouble, and where Njal, the foresighted man,' had long before predicted the manner of his death. On the approach of the band, Njal, his nine sons, Kari his son-in-law, and all the serving-men, who at first stood in array to meet them in the yard,' retired into the house and barricaded it. Many of Flosi's men were killed by spears flung from the window-slits; and at last he said, "“We have already gotten great manscathe.
It is now clear that we shall never master them with weapons.
.' There are but two choices left, and neither of them good. One is to turn away, and that is our death ; the other, to set fire to the house and burn them inside it; and that is a deed which we shall have to answer for heavily before God, since we are Christian men ourselves; but still we must take to that counsel."
Now they took fire and made a great pile before the doors. Then Skarphedinn said,
""What, lads ! are ye lighting a fire, or are ye taking to cooking?"
6" So shall it be," answered Grani Gunnar's son, “ and thou shalt not need to be better done."
“Then the women threw whey on the fire, and quenched it as fast as they lit it. and then
they took a vetch-stack that stood above the house, and set fire to it, and they who were inside were not aware of it till the whole hall was ablaze over their heads.
• Then Flosi and his men made a great pile before each of the
doors, and then the women-folk who were inside began to weep and to wail.
Njal spoke to them and said, “Keep up your hearts, nor utter shrieks, for this is but a passing storm, and it will be long before ye have another such; and put your faith in God, and believe that he is so merciful that he will not let us burn both in this world and the next.”
Such words of comfort had he for them all, and others still more strong.
Now the whole house began to blaze. Then Njal went to the door and said, 6“ Is Flosi so near that he can hear
voice?” Flosi said that he could hear it. ““Wilt thou,” said Njal, “ take an atonement from my sons, or allow any men to go out ? ”
<“I will not,” answers Flosi, “ take any atonement from thy sons, and now our dealings shall come to an end once for all, and I will not stir from this spot till they are all dead; but I will allow the women and children and house-carles to go out.”?*
The women accordingly—all except Bergthora, the aged wife of Njal—went out; and with them went Helgi, Njal's son, wrapped in a woman's cloak. He was recognised, however, and killed by Flosi :
*Then Flosi went to the door and called out to Njal, and said he would speak with him and Bergthora.
• Now Njal does so, and Flosi said,
““I will offer thee, Master Njal, leave to go out, for it is unworthy that thou shouldst burn indoors.”
"“I will not go out,” said Njal, “for I am an old man, and little fitted to avenge my sons; but I will not live in shame."' +
The great duty of revenge was still a principle of life, even with so gentle-minded and thoughtful a convert as Njal.
Then Flosi said to Bergthora, "“Come thou out, housewife, for I will for no sake burn thee indoors.”
""I was given away to Njal young,” said Bergthora, “and I have promised him this, that we would both share the same fate.”
“After that they both went back into the house.
6“We will go to our bed,” says Njal, “and lay us down. I have long been eager for rest.” • Then she
said to the boy Thord, Kari's son, ““ Thee will I take out, and thou shalt not burn in here.”
"" Thou hast promised me this, grandmother,” says the boy, " that we should never part so long as I wished to be with thce; but methinks it is much better to die with thee and Njal than to live after you.” * ii. 172-174.
† ii. 175.
"" Then she bore the boy to her bed, and Njal spoke to his steward and said,
-« Now shalt thou see where we lay us down, and how I lay us out ; for I mean not to stir an inch hence, whether reek or burning smart me, and so thou wilt be
to guess where to look for our bones.” He said he would do so. “There had been an ox slaughtered, and the hide lay there. Njal told the steward to spread the hide over them, and he did so.
'So there they lay down both of them in their bed, and put the boy between them. Then they signed themselves and the boy with the cross, and gave over their souls into God's hand, and that was the last word that men heard them utter.
• Then the steward took the hide, and spread it over them, and went out afterwards.' *
Meanwhile the house burnt, and all perished who were still within it, with the exception of Kari, who, with his clothes and his hair all a-blaze, sprang down from the roof, and so crept along with the smoke.
He ran till he came to a stream, into which he threw himself, and so quenched the fire on him.' Mr. Metcalfe tells us that the place, now a small pit in the swamp below Bergthorsknoll, is still pointed out as 'Karitiörn,' the tarn of Kari. Flosi and his band stayed by the fire until it was broad daylight. Then they rode off together. Flosi never spoke about the deed, but no fear was found in him, and he was at home the whole winter till Yule was over.'
Meanwhile Kari, who had escaped, sought Hjallti, Skeggi's son—the same whom we already know as the successful champion of the new faith at the Althing.
'Kari bade Hjallti to go and search for Njal's bones, " for all will believe in what thou sayest and thinkest about them.”
Hjallti said he would be most willing to bear Njal's bones to church ; so they rode thence fifteen men.
At last they had one hundred men, reckoning Njal's neighbours.
They came to Bergthorsknoll at midday. Hjallti asked Kari under what part of the house Njal might be lying, but Kari showed them to the spot, and there there was a great heap of ashes to dig away. There they found the hide underneath, and it was as though it were shrivelled with the fire. They raised up the hide, and, lo! they were unburnt under it. All praised God for that, and thought it was a great token.
• Njal was borne out, and so was Bergthora; and then all men went to see their bodies.
• Then Hjallti said, “What like look to you these bodies ?” • They answered, “We will wait for thy utterance."
• Then Hjallti said, “I shall speak what I say with all freedom of speech. The body of Bergthora looks as it was likely she wonld